Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hiding in plain sight

This is the fourth week of May, the fifth month of the year. There are six weeks left in the season, then six weeks of vacation. I was in the studio for 3 hours this morning. I will be there again for 3 more this afternoon.

The strongest impression I have from the last five months is of time. How it expands and contracts. How much I resent it at times, craving speed. How big the payoff can be for waiting. And how it heals….much as I hate those old platitudes, there’s truth in there.

I used to think my actions had tangible consequences. I practiced this belief for many years. Cause and effect. Cause and effect. Now it seems it is only partially true. Things don’t come when you want them to. Or they do, but are unrecognizable. The trains keep rolling by, and one of them I’ll get on, and one of them I’ll get off. Premiere curtain falls, nighttime car service speeds through Brooklyn, slips of paper make it all official. Fly west and stack up days. Fly east, days without nights. There is an impulse toward efficiency – knowing which car on the 2/3 to Grand Army Plaza will drop me by the exit – and an urge toward lassitude. Will they have fresh strawberries at the farm stand today? I bike down to check.

Who was that old Russian ballerina who said that for every week she took off from daily training, it would take double that amount of time to get back into shape?
How long does it take for runner’s high to kick in?
How long have we been lying here in the dark?

There is an urge to regiment the moments. To chop time up into increments. Recipe book. Blackberry. Instead, it seeps and pools over, then collects quickly like a ruffle. There is the urge to make order out of chaos. That order is smashed by the trains. They keep coming through the station every 15 minutes. But someone is running for that train and I’m not. I’m just lying here, head rolled to one side, and the bed has sunk under the weight of my body. The moment lasts that long. I hear the train doors open with the sound of a bell.


Spending time with music people was confusing, and required a more fluid and ultimately a more passive approach than I ever acquired. In the first place, time was never of the essence: we would have dinner at nine unless we had it at eleven-thirty, or we could order in later. We could go down to U.S.C. to see the Living Theater if the limo came at the very moment when no one had just made a drink or a cigarette or an arrangement to meet Ultra Violet at the Montecito. In any case David Hockney was coming by. In any case Ultra Violet was not at the Montecito. In any case we would go down to U.S.C. and see the Living Theater tonight or we would see the Living Theater another night in New York, or Prague.” - Joan Didion

There are musicians and time and then there are dancers, for whom time means body time. I knew a former dancer who said she still walked down the street counting in 8s over and over. Just like in ballet class. Repeat every exercise right and left. Bend the legs then lift the legs then jump. Solid into liquid. Cold becomes warm. Burning. My teachers told me that I could dance ballet until I was 30 if I was lucky. After that, deterioration was inevitable. I was 14! This was the threat, the whip being cracked, the reason to stretch every day.

It is the last week of May. I was off for 5 weeks and now have been back to dancing for one. I feel it. The messages from my brain to my body are too slow. I send the message and watch it fizzle and die, never arrive. My legs should retract inwards, but never get the message, 6,7,8…

Every night after Hair we get a standing ovation. I had forgotten about that part until I started performing again this weekend. The people are so happy. They are so begeistert, so pleased. They stand up when we bow, and then they start to clap rhythmically. When the conductor finally gets back into the pit and the notes to the encore begin, they whoop and yell with pleasure. We sing and dance some more. This is my favorite part. In my mind, I shed my afro wig and wrap skirt and sequined shrug, and imagine I am a rock star in torn jeans and a raggedy haircut. I dance around, imagine that if I jumped into the crowd they would catch me. I hide in plain sight, in the sounds around me.

They start to applaud again. We re-form the line, bow again. I don’t deserve this, I think. I’ve done so little tonight. And then I think again: I do deserve this. They don’t know it, but this standing ovation’s not for tonight, it’s for the 20 years before it. For all the days I went to class, and for performing on the street and in art galleries and for working as a secretary and for risking it in the fist place, to stand there in front of people, and for risking it now, in spite of the past 5 months. All those moments collapse into this moment, and for once it’s not painful, that time changes form so easily. That everything takes so long. Or that everything happens so fast. Thank you, I want to say. Wow, is this nice. Thank you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

You suddenly complete me

I've always had this fascination with twins. One of my best friends, with whom I lived for half a year, is an identical twin. I would pry her for details and childhood stories constantly. Did you blame the other one when you were afraid of geting in trouble? (Yes.) Did your parents mix you up? (No...because they kept our ID bracelets on for months as infants) Do you have a special connection that goes beyond words? (Yes.) Then there are the 7 year old fraternal twin sons of a friend of mine. They couldn't be more different, personality-wise, but the cord between them is tight. Whether they're playing or joking or fighting for attention, there's this constant awareness of the presence of the other.

So you can imagine my reaction when Johannes cast me as a twin in his most recent piece, raus bist du. Dream-come-true time.

For those of us who are not twins, I think the attraction lies in having a person who understands us totally, with whom we have an unbreakable, unspeakable connection. Twins seem complete. Like they are not searching for another half, because they already have one.

But I'm getting ahead of myself....

My twin in the piece is played by Eva. In real life we have many similarities, like where we went to college, and the fact that neither of us was raised with TV and both of us have a parent who works in a church. We also have many differences, most visibly our sizes. Now I know you're probably wondering, does that mean I get to play the "bad" twin, since I'm bigger? Gute Frage. For the answer, you'll have to come to the show...

Both famous and obscure twin stories inspired us while we were developing the characters. Johnny and Luther Htoo, for example, the chain-smoking Burmese leaders of a gurilla group in Thailand in the 90s. They believed they had magical powers including invulnerability to bullets and the ability to kill a man by pointing a rifle at the ground and concentrating. And lots of you have probably heard about the twins who were at one point the Prime Minister and President of Poland. Super compelling are the Gibbons twins in England, often referred to as the Silent Twins because they developed their own secret language. They refused to speak to others after the age of 8. Their creativity took the form of writing, and they both finished books as teenagers. But at the age of 15, after a rash of adolescent crimes, they were institutionalized, where they remained for years. They made a pact only to speak if one of them died, and that is what happened. In 1993, after their release, one of the twins mysteriously died, and the other began to tell her story. Google "gibbons twins" if I've got you curious...

And it goes on: there's an open court case here in Germany at the moment, a jewelry robbery at KaDeWe the police can't quite solve. The DNA they've got on the glove they found? It belongs to identical twins.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I spent the last week in NYC. It's been 2 years since I've been back, and I couldn't help but feel like the whole show was going on for my pleasure. I wanted to thank everyone I saw for doing their tiny part in bringing me back to life - the post-NYU grads in leggings and oversized sunglasses, the delivery guys running food into corporate high-rises, the two little rich sisters standing barefoot next to their expensive mother on 58th and 5th, the impudent dogs, the 2 train to Brooklyn, the jamacian patties, the gay salesmen complimenting my coat...

But the best part was getting passed from friend to friend. My feet didn't touch the ground. I didn't work, I didn't dance, it was just one big love fest. I wasn't able to catch everyone on camera, but here's a glimpse. Part 1 is set to a tune by the German songstress Hildegard Knef. She's singing about her home town, Berlin:

in dieser stadt kenne ich mich aus
in dieser stadt war ich mal zuhaus
wie sieht die stadt wohl heute aus?
in dieser stadt war ich mal zuhaus

which is not as catchy in English, but you get the idea:

in this city, i know my way around
in this city, i once made my home
how does the city really look today?
in this city, i once made my home

Part 2 is the summer jump-off...