Author Archives: admin

29 Apr

Bill’s Blog: Who? What? Where? When? How?

April 23, 2016

WHO. Jen Rosenblit. A performance artist whose work I am just getting to know. We are co-presenting her latest work with the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn.

I saw her in Part 3 of Miguel Gutierrez’s Age and Beauty we presented here at New York Live Arts last fall. At one moment as she and a very young performer were grappling just in front of me; Jen and I made eye contact. I think she was looking at me. The look was opaque; neither open or guarded; maybe wary-certainly aware. She employed that gaze much of the time in Clap Hands the other night.

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06 Apr

Bill’s Blog: How much do those pants cost?

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“If the pants you are wearing cost more than $50 turn 10 times!”

This peculiar direction came to us as we, audience/observers of Farah Saleh’s Free Advice performance at New York Live Arts, stood in small groups – some of us in stocking feet – amid brightly colored exercise balls and cardboard signs, gamely participating in what was described as “highly interactive”. The artist herself never spoke, but suddenly her voice in “voice of God” mode came through the P.A. system with a cascade of questions/commands:

  • “If you are barefoot move to the center of the room!”
  • “If you don’t like your job, extend your left foot!”
  • “If you believe you could (should?) use less resources, start acting out!”
  • “If you will use less resources starting tomorrow, sit down!”
  • “If you believe in a cultural boycott of Israel, change your position!”
  • “If you believe in a one state solution, step forward!”
  • “If you are confused, sit down!”
  • “If you believe you are unable to change your reality, leave this space!”
  • “If you believe you are able to change your reality, leave this space!”

As you can see, the questions were certainly designed to be interactive, striving for a variety of confrontations, social, personal, political…

I would like to focus on the pants command as the very next night at our New York Live Arts gala – the most successful to date – we held an auction lead by the strange and curiously delightful auctioneer C.K. Swett. His final lot, number 4, was a dinner at the winner’s home to be prepared by celebrity chef David Waltuck for 7 friends in the company of Claire Danes, Hugh Dancy, Bjorn Amelan and myself. The winning bid – $10,000 – was sold twice.

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Going back to the night before: As I was wearing a pair of Prada leather motorcycle pants certainly valued at more than $50, I was one of only two or three people spinning in the dispersed group of about 30 or 40. I felt foolish and suddenly excluded in this hip audience of inclusion. I did laugh along with the others even when the same instruction was given a second time. Likewise, I laughed nervously at the auction as I was literally being “sold” for the purpose of making the budget that will allow Live Arts to present work that critiques the hold Money, Class and Privilege have on us all and, certainly in the case of our “mid-sized” arts institution in particular.

Here are some images from our Live Ideas Festival: MENA/Future taking place at New York Live Arts and around NYC these past three months.

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One of the most exquisite dancers I have ever seen. It left me feeling like this

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Do you like movies? I saw and “Eye In The sky”, the English thriller dealing with the complex, ethical questions around drone warfare.

What’s next at New York Live Arts?. I am looking forward to Jen Rosenblit’s world premiere of Clap Hands, which we commissioned and will be presented off-site at The Invisible Dog Art Center

A new commissioned work by Half Straddle, Ghost Ringsuntitled-6789

and Arcane Collective’s Return to Absence and Ebb LT5A3040

Wishing you an ever-warmer and productive spring time!

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09 Mar

Bill’s Blog: March

photobloke“Photo Bloke” (2016), by the Pop-realist portrait painter Barkley Hendricks

 

Eiko,

I have been following your Platform series through the committed coverage of the NY Times. You are extremely photogenic. I am, as always, moved by the picture of you sitting alone in an uninhabited room or against a graffiti’ed wall in a South American city. You often project pensive, internal sadness in your photos. I look forward to seeing the only one of your performances my schedule allows on March 17.

A-propos to our conversation, I am struck with how the writers seldom mention your ethnicity. They do comment on what you call your “old Japanese clothes”. I believe this clothing, these poetic rags, are a sort of “envelope of safety” for you, the “perpetual other”. I attribute their power to the unspoken contract we in the US have with the complex history of post-war Japan. You become a sort of cinematic or novelistic phantasm, ghost or projection. We can look at you with compassion tinged with anxiety and regret. There is a moral authority in your otherness.

govislandeikoEiko on Governors Island Ferry

 

You call your solos “A Body in Space”. Are you “just another body in space?” or “any body in space?” I don’t think so. Firstly, you are an accomplished master of the persona you project, but you are – likewise – firmly established as “the other” in our imagination.

When I imagine what my costume would be like offering me a place in the American mythic imagination as you have assumed, it would be a basketball uniform or a rap-artist’s drag circa 1983, or elegantly and impeccably dressed like Miles Davis circa 1961. However, I feel the mythical Black man’s garb I could best employ to match your effect, as this ghost/survivor would be simply naked, or near so, ready for the slave-block, the workhouse or the hanging tree.

And how would my ghost move? … Most likely he wouldn’t!

Your last contribution to our email conversation ends asking me about my own political activism during the 1970’s. Well, I did lead a walkout in my high school fueled by our teenage outrage at a dress code that said that girls could not wear pants. I did refuse to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart at the school’s assembly program. My parents made the self-conscious political choice to name our pathetically underfinanced, mismanaged attempt at opening a restaurant in our small, conservative town “The Kennedy Inn” because, as my mother Estella said, “These biggity (!) white folks don’t like this man because he wants to give the black man a fair break!” Later, I marched in at least one demonstration lead by Caesar Chavez in support of migrant farm workers. But mostly, I indulged in a lot of predictable posturing, as I never had to burn my draft card or flee to Canada to escape the draft during the Vietnam War. Still, I felt I was living a highly charged and political life. Was it asking a white girl to the prom? Was it dancing slowly with Arnie Zane as the only outwardly gay and interracial couple at the Black students’ extremely heterosexual gathering at the State University of NY Binghamton? Was it walking brazenly hand in hand with Arnie Zane into a Department of Sanitation’s warehouse full of leering working class white men who were to be our colleagues for the day in Johnson City, NY to do our monthly roadwork garbage detail that qualified us for food stamps and public assistance?

So, in response to your question, I am tempted to say that my most consistent political struggle is reflected in the fact that taken how antagonistic the culture was to various aspects of my personal identity – I did not die! What do I mean? I spent a great deal of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood hiding… Hiding my race, my class, my sexual dilemma. My worldview – my politics if you will – was forged in desire to be “integrated”. Yes, integrated and yet visible. I regret to say – though it hurts me like the ghost-pain in an amputated arm – I continue to do so in our era at once roiled by questions of gender, race and class. Even in this field we call the art world, which thinks itself free, color-blind and progressive.

—TBC’d

***

At the Armory Show in Jack Shainman’s Gallery booth, the painting at the top of this entry – the black man in the pink suit – like so many artists in Shainman’s stable, took my breath away as I realized this man in the pink suit was the new paradigm, the ultimate insider, no longer “the other”, but representing an image of self that is industry standard for suave, sexually desirable, charming and VISIBLE!

***

There have been some very provocative performances recently at New York Live Arts. Our Live Feed artist, Gillian Walsh and the main stage presentation of Champagne Jerry in the Champagne Room. Both these works are dealing with volatile issues of appropriation and conversations around cultural currency. It’s my hope that I can talk Neal Medlyn and Gillian Walsh into a sit-down question and answer session that I hope to include in my next blog.

***

There have been two notable personal events this past month:

The Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala at NY’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel during which I was awarded their Visibility Award. Big night! Circa 1,000 people in attendance; the major political fundraising vibration. My co-honorees for the evening were Governor Andrew Cuomo who received the National Equality Award and Sigourney Weaver the Ally for Equality Award. I am not sure if the Governor was doing a political star turn, but he was certainly impassioned in his defense of transgender rights. Sigourney Weaver was elegant and moving, speaking of one of her latest films in which she plays a religiously conservative mother’s transformation from homophobe to vocal activist for equality. The great Kathleen Turner, a new friend and powerful advocate for social change gave my introduction.

15th Annual HRC Greater New York Gala

On February 15 (my 64th birthday!!!) I performed a talking solo 21 (1983) as the closing speaker of TED’s 2016 opening session. It was received with great warmth and interest. I must say it was one of the high points of my entire performing career.

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Spring will soon be here and we will be celebrating our annual spring gala on March 24th. Our host this year is Hugh Dancy and the evening will feature performances by Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Company, Sarah Jones, Tony Award-winning Playwright and Performer, Okwui Okpokwasili, Sonya Tayeh and the Bengsons, and YoungArts Alumni. More information here!

Yesterday, flying into Salt Lake City on our way to Park City where the company performs tonight, I was bowled over to see An (Sweet Bean Paste) a film by Naomi Kawase. This film succeeds on so many levels. It’s warm, it’s delicious in its depiction of what goes into a humble pastry and it’s profound in the subtle revealing of its theme of who gets included and what is a life well lived. I highly recommend it!

 

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03 Feb

Bill’s Blog:

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Dear Eiko,

It was a remarkable evening we shared last week. Sitting in the dinner theater audience at Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below with you and Bjorn watching Ben Vereen seemed almost dreamlike at the time and certainly more so with the steady stream of events, personalities and places we live through every day.

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12 Jan

Bill’s Blog: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

As has been the case for the past 22 years, this final week of 2015 here on the mesa of Northern NM, provides an opportunity to look back and forward.

Following the strange and abrupt premiere of A Letter To My Nephew in France (watch the trailer here, pw btjaz), the reality changing experience of which I commented upon in my last blog, the company performed a series of successful performances at the Maison de la Danse in Lyon, France. Bjorn and I left the company after its premiere, driving through the Alps to Alba, Piedmont, to accept the invitation of the Ceretto family to spend a week as guests of their artists’ residency program set amidst their beautiful Barolo vineyards.

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While Bjorn worked on a painting, I spent my days in the Bill Katz designed artists’ studio and at the The Sol LeWitt and David Tremlett Chapel (in nearby Brunate, La Morra), rehearsing my first solo in 8 years, a collaboration with the wonderful contemporary music ensemble, yMusic, to a new score composed by Marcos Balter titled Which Enables Us To Fly.
This solo, alternating with Diane McIntyre dancing to the same score, was premiered at Live Arts on December 9 and marked the culmination of yMusic’s participation in our first music residency program. It was an honor to share this music with Diane, and yMusic are fantastic players and wonderful people to work with!

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The New Year opens with our Live Artery Festival with over 35 performances in 2 weeks both here at Live Arts and off-site at JACK and Abrons Arts Center, including a work-in-progress showing of the second installment of my company’s trilogy, Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka The Escape Artist. (Tickets here)

I am honored to be featured at the APAP Conference (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Opening Plenary Session Making the Arts Matter, with a special dancing lecture at NY’s Hilton Hotel on January 15. In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference, the piece will be called Making and Doing. It will be followed immediately by a panel with Stephanie Schneider (arts educator), Carla Dirlikov (founder, CEO and artistic director, The Canales Project) and Paula Kerger, (president and CEO, PBS). The panel will be moderated by Anna Deavere Smith.

We are delighted that the brilliant Sarah Jones will be bringing a preview of her much-anticipated Sell/Buy/Date directed by Caroly Cantor (Jan. 6-10 & 12-16 – tickets here).

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As those of you who have been following this blog know, I started reporting of an ongoing email conversation I’ve been having with choreographer Eiko Otake and here is its third installment.

A Conversation with Eiko (part 3)

Dear Eiko,

When the idea of our casual email conversation occurred to me out of my reading your introduction to and translation of Kyoko Hayashi’s From Trinity to Trinity, I thought it would be easy to find our back and forth, digging into our various work-methods, responses to issues of identity, memory, history, ethnicity and feelings such as disgruntlement or anger. Boy was I mistaken!

I had never considered just how much emotional and logistical efforts must go into creating my work with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, supporting New York Live Arts’ administrative team and Thomas Kriegsman its Director of Programs.

Likewise, I could not have foreseen the stress of a premiere of a “pièce d’occasion” A Letter To My Nephew for our tour in France and most certainly I could not have imagined how the world would change as we finished our first performance at Créteil’s Maison des Arts in Paris and walked out to witness this important city reeling from a Jihadist attack in its vibrant center. And then, making my first solo in 8 years, I had forgotten how much one must shut out the world even as one listens to hear what this naked ritual of creation needs in order to find truth. Yet, the New Year finds me full of optimism at the prospect of restarting our conversation.

Picking up where we left off in Blog #7…

September 23, 2015:

Dear Eiko,
It is my hope we will be able to “swap questions” and start talking to address any number of issues that will frame our conversation such as:
• How do the specifics of our persons affect and inform the work we’re doing?
• How the reality of time and place affects us and our work?
• Does a “universal” in life and art really exist?
My first question will deal more with you than your subject of Kyoko Hayashi’s From Trinity to Trinity. In the beginning of your introduction you say “Hayashi’s work quietly and brilliantly chronicled the experience of hibakusha…”. (Hibakusha is the Japanese name for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) Later you describe what you admire in Hayashi’s writing, “…straightforwardness, perseverance, dark humor and profound quietness.”
An anecdote: My brother, an aspiring Zen Buddhist, who was living in San Francisco at one point and meditating daily at the Zen Center located literally in the “hood” largely populated by Black people, asked his teacher why the Zen temple was not more involved in its surrounding community. His teacher responded that Zen is about quiet and Black people are not quiet.
My question is: Is quiet inherently Japanese or is it a learned quality? How does this question live in your work and life?
Warmly,
Bill

From Eiko, September 23rd, 2015

Thanks Bill.

Our conversation had started when we spoke in Jodee Nimerichter’s house, I think…
It was indeed new to talk to you eye to eye.

Can you give me some context to your second and third questions? I feel I know where the first question and your last question about “quiet” come from. But the second and the third questions are more abstract and I do not even know how to start…
Can you tell me why and how you arrive at these questions and why and how you address them to me? Or are these a set of questions you generally carry and ask of others as well? Are these your recent questions or decade long questions?

love eiko

From Bill, December 21, 2015

Thanks Eiko.

“Why you and why now?”

As I read your translation and its introduction, I was struck by the contrast between the notion of “quietness” and Ms Kyoko Hayashi’s (and yours?) controlled sense of outrage.

Your choice of translating Hayashi’s disturbing report of being a victim of America’s atrocious military gesture coupled with the prejudice she experienced as a “hibakusha” (the Japanese word for victims of the atomic bombings) at home, allowed me to see you – perhaps for the first time – as a Japanese artist offering a specific worldview as opposed to the “universal” one we “downtown artists” have been encouraged to adopt as a sort of passport of neutrality.

I felt you were, with the most gracious politeness, objecting and drawing attention to what separates you from the downtown, race-blind, class-blind world that gave us our artistic identities. You are using history. You are stressing the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This made me wonder if anyone in our progressive, well-educated field had dared ask you about your feelings about the war and if you would be willing to speak out frankly in the complex emotional way Kyoko Hayashi has done in her writing.

I was also able to look at how I, like many others who appreciate the work you (and Koma) have done over the years, tacitly attribute its “strangeness” to your “otherness”, your “Japanese-ness”.

Now that this country’s discourse is yet again racked with questions of race and its never healed wounds, I am critical of the avant-garde’s smug confidence that we are all “the same” and can teach the world how to “get along”.

Yes, I can honestly say I have always carried these questions and yet, recent events around police violence, Black men, Black people and others have made these once again fresh and urgent.

To be continued…

Now, back to my dreamy last few days here on the mesa under a grey sky, cold wind and snow as the fires roar in our wood-burning stoves.

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Yesterday, I visited Bette Winslow, a much loved dance teacher and owner of the studio that bore her name until she retired a while back. Bette and I have been friends since my early visits to the area when I rented her studio to rehearse. Ms Winslow, age 96, is still as elegant, smart and warm as ever…

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Hope to see you around New York Live Arts where our season continues with many programs you don’t want to miss.

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19 Nov

Bill’s Blog: November 15, “Qu’est qui c’est passé?” (“What happened?”)…

Our new work, A Letter to My Nephew, made especially for the first two stops in our three city French tour had just finished its second performance.

The first one had been at the Hippodrome in the north city of Douai and this one – at the Maison de la Danse in the Créteil suburb of Paris, a space the company has been regularly visiting for the past 20 years or so – had met with a very warm response from an enthusiastic public. It was, unfortunately, to be the only one for the time being!

We were winding down a spirited toast with family, friends and members of the audience in the lobby of the theater when its Artistic Programmer, Fanny Bertin (our longtime supporter, Didier Fusillier, has recently left Créteil to become President of Paris’s La Villette) inquired nervously from us whether we were going directly to our hotel because there was news of “a riot and shooting in the area of République”. At this moment I experienced a kind of splintering of consciousness. The post-performance delirium, fueled by a glass of champagne, the question of where to go for dinner, quick notes to Janet Wong for the next day’s performance and, now, this ominous warning as we were about to head to the metro.

Having walked through the Créteil shopping mall closing down for the night, all seemed normal, though the space was sad and surreal as such spaces are when not filled with shoppers, we boarded the almost empty train headed to the center of Paris. Our metro car was soon invaded by a large group of graffiti splattered, yellow overall wearing medical students singing bawdy songs and drinking – what I am not sure. We exchanged nervous, tolerant smiles with the one other passenger sitting near us as the students – in what I learned was an ancient ritual of their order – banging on walls, floor and ceiling of the car, just a step away from real violence, shouted scatological, sexual and disruptive songs repeating the refrain “Salope, Salope…” (something between “bitch” and “slut”)! With all their boisterousness, there was something sweet and even tender as these obviously bright young caregivers of the future were letting off a little steam. Little did they know – as we were about to understand – what their party was about to step out into from the train.

When we disembarked at our stop, “Liberté”, debating whether we should jump on our rental scooter to head deeper into the city for dinner at an African restaurant, we recalled what we had heard about this “riot” and, feeling not quite up to another late night such as we had experienced the evening before amidst the café goers, the crowd of the Champs Elysées, the sleek limousines, young folks of every color, we decided to investigate food options in the vicinity. The hotel lobby’s attendant gave us no indication that anything was amiss, but only said that nothing was open at that late hour in the area except a pizzeria next door.

The pizzeria was empty save for its wait staff and a large animated family group at a side table ignoring the ubiquitous TV screens, all showing images of a soccer stadium as if the game had just finished and many fans had rushed on the field, or so I thought! And then reality began to dawn on us that the game – at the Stade de France -which we had passed headed into town from the Charles de Gaule Airport a few days earlier – had been interrupted by a suicide bomb just outside.

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A suicide bomb in Paris?

This chilling news was shunted aside by yet another report of “seventeen people killed in Paris’s center by machine gunners running down
the street, shooting randomly into cafes” some of which we had passed by the night before at about the same hour. And then there was the concert hall, Bataclan, just behind the Cirque d’Hiver where I had performed back in the 90’s. Now there was talk of hostages, more dead… The numbers kept rising. By the time we left the restaurant, the handsome, though ashen, faces of news commentators were reporting of 69 dead plus countless wounded.

While we were sitting in the pizzeria, certain hungry members of our cast and crew came in and some of them, suddenly realizing that there was a terrorist attack afoot, abandoned their dinner plans to race away and call family back in the States.

Back in our room, the full horror of it landed as we thought back to the Charlie Hebdo episode not so very long before and even the train bombing in Madrid, the metro bombing in London and, of course, our very own initiation into the new “normal” of war, 9/11…

Not being new media savvy enough to reach for Facebook or Twitter, we performed what even now, two days later, seems like a quaint ritual, going through our mental contact book to send emails and text messages to loved ones and other strategic individuals in the life of New York Live Arts to say “something horrible has happened in France, you’re probably just hearing about it, but we want you to know that though it is a terrible night for Western Europe (wasn’t it in fact the first suicide bomb in a major Western capital?) we are unhurt.”

Sleep was nearly impossible. The window was open as the night was humid and heavy inviting mosquitoes to attack us, adding yet more voices to the liminal post performance note-giving that played in my head: A Letter to My Nephew’s images of mob violence, relentless migrations, preening, vogue-ing, a burning car in Baltimore, a man shot in an Ohio park, the fierce, angular attack of a hip hop dance phrase, my nephew in his hospital bed, the cement wall and endless playing field of Créteil’s stripped stage echoing the TV news images of the stricken audience on the turf of the Stade the France, panicked revelers escaping the Bataclan and someone repeatedly shouting “Qu’est ce qu’il ce passe?” (“What’s happening?”)…
The next morning we woke up, both of us feeling we’d had a nightmare that was not dissipated with dawn, but confirmed by the online NY Times, Huffington Post and, it seemed, every news outlet in the world.

Our European agent, Gillian Newson, answered the question would A Letter to My Nephew have its second performance with the news that all theaters, museums, cinemas, sporting events and other public gatherings were cancelled!

The company, crew, Kim Cullen and Gillian Newson all met in the lobby for updates, logistical planning and just basic comfort. The company would be going on the next day, today, to our next venue the Maison de la Danse in Lyon. Nick Hallett and Matthew Gamble, our music team for A Letter to My Nephew, were departing and we now had serious time on our hand in a city that was once again rattled, saddened and defiant.

What’s happening:                                                                                        

Wunderbaum have just finished a raucous and lively season at New York Live Arts and, on Friday, yMusic returns with our commissioned world premiere of Come Around Part III.

Please look for the continuation of my Conversation with Eiko (Part 3) in the next blog entry.

Stay safe!

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05 Nov

Bill’s Blog: organiOctober 22

So, the autumn is on us, a time for reflection and shoring up of resources for the season ahead… New York Live Arts continues to ask questions and look for solutions. Our Interim Executive Director, Kim Cullen, with Programming Director, Tommy Kriegsman, Development Director, David Archuletta, and myself have been taking a hard look at the challenges facing the organization and considering bold moves to sustain it. Okwui Okpokwasili has just brought her highly praised and much anticipated Bronx Gothic to our stage. I saw it and it moved me to tears.

OkwuiOkpokwasili-IanDouglas-006 Looking forward we welcome back yMusic. They return with composer Marco Balter’s commission, to which Dianne McIntyre and myself will create and perform two different choreographies.

It has been my intention that this blog come out at shorter intervals, but the activity of the last month or so has challenged that. When we found out that next month’s company tour in France could not show Analogy: Dora/Tramontane for various reasons (budgetary and language) we decided to create a “piece d’occasion”. As this found us working on the second installment of the Analogy trilogy, Analogy: Lance/Pretty, aka The Escape Artist, we took this to be an opportunity for a side trip creating a tangential work arising out of related materials and to title this work A Letter to my Nephew. This work stripped of the Analogy décor and the oral history I conducted with my nephew, Lance T. Briggs was shown in our studio earlier this week as a work in progress. I must say that this creative turn of events has taken on – for me and the company – an intensely personal dimension in that Lance’s health has taken a dire turn and I am flying out on Monday to Tampa, FL, where he is hospitalized to offer support to him and his mother at this uncertain time. Here is a study we have been developing to a song – sung by Matthew Gamble in an arrangement by Nick Hallett – written by Lance titled Thank you for Sharing my Pain.:

In a period jam packed with commitments and creation, I am overjoyed to have accepted the invitation from the Academy of American Poets and the NY Public Library to participate in a public dialog with Mark Doty (winner of the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry). As these events go, this one was remarkable in that, waking up the next day, I felt I had gone to a wonderful party and met one of the most lively, warm and probing human beings I could ever wish to know. I highly recommend his latest book of poetry, Deep Lane.


A Conversation with Eiko (part 2)

This blog will be largely devoted to a conversation I am having with Eiko Otake of Eiko and Koma. Our email exchange with each other has already proven to be probing and voluminous (as Eiko says in describing herself “chatty” and I am as well).

The bulk of this conversation will be in the form of email exchanges between us. This exchange will continue in future blogs…


August 10, 2015:

Dear Eiko,

I received your very lovely translation of From Trinity to Trinity have read the introduction and started reading the poetic text. I am very interested, but have some questions. Here is a paragraph from my recent blog that I edited out:

” ‘Time and space are malleable.’ Eiko said this to me at the warm gathering ADF Director Jodee Nimerichter threw in honor of Eiko’s presentation and BTJ/AZ Dance Co. following our closing performance. Eiko was saying that this idea of space and time being ‘folded’ was brought home to her when she learned that the subject of our latest work Analogy: Dora/Tramontane uses not just another Holocaust story (there are thousands of them says Eiko), but that our subject – Dora Amelan – was alive and, what’s more, Bjorn Amelan’s mother.

Curious: why does a character in a work like Dora/Tramontane gain more dimensions/validity by being alive if this work is based on oral history of a person of extreme age? There will certainly be a time when the subject is no longer alive. Will the work lose validity as a result? I look forward to continuing this conversation.”

Now, having plunged into your book and understanding more about this great writer and survivor of Nagasaki, I am interested in talking with you about what this means to your work and what my trilogy of characters might mean to my own. I propose a casual email exchange where we ask and answer each other’s questions.

What do you think?

Warmly,

Bill

***

Dear Bill,

How  nice to hear from you.

I am deeply grateful that you are giving your precious time to From Trinity to Trinity, a book that is dear to me.

I have been in Japan and have watched many documentaries and news coverage on Hiroshima, Nagasaki and World War II as this year is the 70th year anniversary. The average age of the current survivors of the A bomb passed 80. Surely the day will come when we will hear the news that will announce, ” the last surviving victim from the atomic bombings has just passed away.”

I was interested in how you chose to work on Dora now… not before not after… but now.  I imagine Dora’s age might be a factor.  The World War II precedes our generations’ direct experiences, but we have lived with, and in many ways were formed by, the people for whom the War left such a mark. We did not experience that war, but we have experienced those people who experienced the war. They will die, many of them before us perhaps, and the only place their lives will remain are in the minds of us who knew them, unless we make such effort as to tell their stories as our own or in our own way, which you do. In a small way I have done that, too, in the Trinity book and in my teaching. I teach one college course a year about the atomic bomb and am concerned how we can personally and collectively remember what we did not live through.

Thanks for your invite to correspond…

Let me briefly try to answer your question:

… I am not saying that because Dora is alive your work that utilizes her oral history is more valid… There is this story of hers, beautifully rendered on the American Dance Festival’s stage in Durham and there is another connected story–her body that currently exists in France and holds her memories. There is this distance of TIME between the story two and more stories, one on stage and one of her body then and now.  But the way your work covers a span of time, the distance between the time of existing Dora and the time that is depicted and talked on stage changes, expands and shrinks.

And there is another distance– physical distance on this earth, how many miles between two places– her body in Europe and the American Dance Festival (ADF) stage.

These many years and many miles distances, however, are not always felt the same, though the distance of, say Durham and her house, stays the same. There seems to me some punctures, penetration. This sense of malleability, puncture, and elastic movement of the distance are important to me. The viewer’s recognition of how time and space are malleable puts us – viewers – in the movement and we make time and space move. What was once far can radically come close. This duality and malleability is sensuous.

Once the real Dora is gone, your work will continue to radiate. I have no doubt.  But again I think it makes a difference that you and your performers knew Dora as a real person. Future young performers will know someone who knew her.  So there is an evidence and insistence that she was there and here.

So it seems to me, from the audience perspective, that the fact you started this work while she is alive is significant because her existence is an anchor now and that now will becomes an anchor in the future.

Sorry, I feel like I cannot say this clearly enough, but I think this is a tender time historically and that makes our generation a conduit.

Thanks again for who you are. Love,

Eiko

***

September 23, 2015:

Dear Eiko,

It is my hope we will be able to “swap questions” and start talking to address any number of issues that will frame our conversation such as:

  • How do the specifics of our persons affect and inform the work we’re doing?
  • How the reality of time and place affects us and our work?
  • Does a “universal” in life and art really exist?

My first question will deal more with you than your subject of Kyoko Hayashi’s From Trinity to Trinity. In the beginning of your introduction you say “Hayashi’s work quietly and brilliantly chronicled the experience of hibakusha…”.  (Hibakusha is the Japanese name for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) Later you describe what you admire in Hayashi’s writing, “…straightforwardness, perseverance, dark humor and profound quietness.”

An anecdote: My brother, an aspiring Zen Buddhist, who was living in San Francisco at one point and meditating daily at the Zen Center located literally in the “hood” largely populated by Black people, asked his teacher why the Zen temple was not more involved in its surrounding community. His teacher responded that Zen is about quiet and Black people are not quiet.

My question is: Is quiet inherently Japanese or is it a learned quality? How does this question live in your work and life?

Warmly,

Bill

To be continued…


You like movies? He Named me Malala Having heard Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s remarkable father describe her and her journey in a clear and extremely emotional TED Talk, I was still unprepared for the power of this documentary. This is a must for those of us who are looking for a reason to believe that an individual can make a difference.

 

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04 Sep

Bill’s Blog: Another Summer Closes Down as the Future Opens 

Hello,

This has been quite some August! Maybe the best way I can talk about it is to just list some of its “landmarks”:

1) Our dear Dr. Oliver Sacks, the subject of our first Live Ideas Festival passed away this morning… Ren Weschler, the curator of our first two Live Ideas (The World of Oliver Sacks – 2013, & James Baldwin, This Time – 2014) sent us the following moving email this morning:

Oliver died this morning. Peacefully.  He had just been sleeping more and more and now this.

My daughter Sara, his goddaughter, got the news in Kampala, where she happened to be rereading The Fire Next Time. And texted me this: ‘It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death — ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.” – line of James Baldwin I just read.

And he did. They both did.  I am tempted to say Amen. Only Oliver would have given me that look. Or not. Who knows.

Love to you both.  Ren

LiveIdeasHead_web

“The Man Who Took His Life as a Dance”

He was so important to many in our community and around the world. Our condolences to his companion, Billy Hayes and his trusted assistant Kate Edgar.

2) August 6 and 9: I am embarrassed to say that the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have slipped by my awareness were it not for my longtime friend and colleague, Eiko Otake of Eiko and Koma engaging me in a conversation around the publication of Trinity to Trinity (published by Station Hill of Barrytown) by Kyoko Hayashi that she translated. The book is a fabulous read both for Eiko’s probing introduction and for her moving translation of Hayashi’s – a “hibakusha” i.e., survivor of the Nagasaki bombing – recounting her pilgrimage to Los Alamos, NM and the Trinity Site (where the first atomic test occurred).

trinity

Here is an email I sent Eiko shortly after receiving the book:

I received your very lovely translation of Trinity have read the introduction and started reading the poetic text. I am very interested, but have some questions. Here is a paragraph from my recent blog that I edited out:

‘Time and space are malleable.’ Eiko said this to me at the lovely gathering ADF Director Jodee Nimerichter threw in honor of Eiko and the BTJ/AZ Dance Company following our respective closing performances at this year’s Festival.

Eiko was saying that the idea of space and time being ‘folded’ was brought home to her when she learned that the subject of our latest work “Analogy: Dora/Tramontane” uses not just another Holocaust story (there are thousands of them says Eiko), but that our subject – Dora Amelan – is alive and, what’s more, Bjorn Amelan’s mother.

Curious: why does a character in a work like Dora/Tramontane gain more dimensions/validity by being alive if this work is based on oral history of a person of extreme age?

There will certainly be a time when the subject is no longer alive. Will the work lose validity as a result?

I look forward to continuing this conversation.

Now, having plunged into the book and understanding more about this great writer and survivor of Hiroshima, I am interested in talking with you about what this means to your work and what my trilogy of characters might mean to my own. I propose a casual email exchange where we ask and answer each other’s questions.

It is a first attempt at starting a conversation with Eiko on the subjects of memory, history and time, which we are both addressing in our works at this point. Eiko has graciously agreed to start this dialog that I hope to report on in a future blog and, perhaps, make the subject of a future Open Spectrum at NY Live Arts.

3) All praises to Babs Case and her super crew for making our residency and performances of Analogy: Dora/Tramontane at Jackson Hole’s Center for the Arts a big success and a delightful week.

WY-Bill1 WY-Bill2

We are so honored to partner with this force of nature, Babs Case, as she sets about building a legacy of support for her Dancers’ Workshop and we are doubly proud that our own longtime friend of BTJ/AZ Co. and current resident of Jackson Hole, Carol Tolan, not only underwrote for the second year in a row our residency, but pledged to take the lead in insuring future creative residencies and presentations of the next two sections of the Analogy trilogy.

One of the most moving moments of our time there was during a Q&A session following an open rehearsal when – just as I had asked the audience what encountering Dora’s story had given them – a 9 year-old dance student asked, “What have you learned from Dora?” The appropriate answer can be found in the trilogy, New York Live Arts and the naked conversations around this era we’re attempting to live through…

4) The Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles partnership with the BTJ/AZ Co. was launched during an exhilarating week of events led by Janet Wong and I-ling Liu. Here is the copy of Janet’s text and photos (with former company member and current Associate Professor of Dance, Roz LeBlanc Loo. This partnership is made possible thanks to the support of Roz LeBlanc, Patrick Damon Rago and Dean Bryant Alexander

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Team LMU. Just finished. It was great.  We’re exhausted-Janet

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5) Here are a few pictures taken in the past two weeks, which Bjorn and I have spent in our little house high up on the mesa of Northern NM.

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6) Back in NY, Kim Cullen leads our staff with a firm hand as we reassess and reconfigure. We would like to bid a fond farewell full of gratitude to Katie Jennings (Marketing) Elizabeth Cooke (Press) and Carley Manion (Stage Manager, BTJ/AZ Co.) for all they have given the organization and how they have left us in a position of strength. We welcome to our organization consultants TASC Group (press) and Heidi Riegler (Marketing).

We hope you will join us for our coming season, which opens on September 9th with performances by Louise Lecavalier

You like movies? Ironically, the most interesting cinema we have seen recently has been TV. The first season of American Crime is an excruciating, dramatic investigation of our criminal justice system. Ray Donovan confirms my belief that we’re privileged to live through a golden age of TV writing.

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04 Aug

Bill’s Blog: Now!

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This is part of a series of monthly blog posts–penned by Bill T. Jones–designed to provide further insight into his creative process, inspirations and more.

 

 

 

While everything changes, everything remains the same as well…
-Aristotle

As I entered the lobby of New York Live Arts on a recent hot July afternoon, I observed for the second time in a week a group of young people in animated conversation much like the one I had observed the day before. In the midst of this group was the Emmy-nominated actress, Uzo Aduba, known for her role as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in the Netflix original television series Orange Is the New Black (2013–present). Uzo and I have been acquainted since I choreographed her in Will Power’s The Seven at New York Theater Workshop some years ago. Uzo enthusiastically introduced me to two of the young actors- Caleb Grandoit and Charlie Jackson, who had just participated in a master class she had led on the Live Arts’ stage for Opening Act’s yearly workshop.

Everyone was quite excited by a work Caleb had just shown that, in his words, chronicled the journey from slavery through the Civil Rights movement to our present moment of protest around issues of police brutality and racism.

At one point I asked Caleb if he was saying in his piece that things had changed and he answered that no, he didn’t think things were that different…

His answer was so stark that I do hope that we have a further opportunity to delve into what is meant by “things have not changed!”

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Caleb Grandoit, myself, Uzo Aduba and Charlie Jackson

 

Cobble Hill Opening Movement from Opening Act NY on Vimeo.

The above encounter came in the wake of having just returned from the American Dance Festival (ADF) in Durham, NC, where, as always, questions of tradition, innovation and creativity are stirred up.

Now… Now, Now, Now, Now! If you calm down you will find that all the work and details are in your body. Replace the mental chatter with something else.

Sometimes, I just say ‘Now’ to give myself something else to do so as not to give in to anxiety. Calm down and do the most with what you have!
- Angie Hauser* teaching Intermediate Technique Class –ADF July2015

Now? Rather than fixating on Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s performance at the Durham Performing Arts Center that night, or allowing the paralysis of memory with all its ghosts and long ago events to shut out the present, I decided to go where the new dancers were. So I dropped into Angie Hauser’s intermediate technique class. The class spent the first 40 minutes on the floor. The participants were instructed to roll across the floor “as if each cell in your body was oriented down into the floor. Allow your body to be totally splayed as if growing tentacles for suction, pulling and pushing as one hungry body part is replaced by another fighting inertia.” The exercise encouraged a deeply inner-focused exploration.

This first sortie across the floor was belly down. They were then told to start another on their backs. “Everything is engaged!” Angie said as the class took on the aspect of one of those military training exercises designed to crawl under barbed wire.

“Figure it out as you go!”

The next traverse of the room started in a crouched sitting position. Angie demonstrated expertly one foot pushing along the floor in the desired direction as the entire body stayed engaged, roiling tentacle-like, clinging, repulsing. Each dancer was encouraged to evolve from the crouch to the back to the belly before returning to the opening position.

The accompanist, Adam Crawley, used a laptop to generate a heavy, beat-driven atmospheric cacophony that seemed, at first, at odds with the inner focus demanded by Angie, but perhaps actually encouraged it. Does this generation, constantly assaulted by sounds, images and stimulation, find its “still-point” in this way?

At this point Angie was saying something to the effect, “Getting from your knee to your soft belly is your problem to solve. Practice it over and over. Sometimes a pointed foot gets in the way of what you’re trying to do. Interrogate the use of your foot. Explore the palate of your feet. What does the moment call for?”

Now!

Angie’s style of teaching would not have been alien to those of us at the American Dance Asylum under the leadership of Lois Welk or Jill Becker. The American Dance Asylum was a collective of dancers and choreographers (aspiring!) that Arnie Zane and I were members of in Binghamton, NY, back in the 1970s. Some of us would sometimes parody “traditional” technical training that relied on existing forms (ballet, jazz, Graham, etc.). We adopted an attitude that resulted in a practice that insisted that technique is anything one does every day that provides one with the skill needed to perform one’s work. If your work demanded that you pick your nose, you should pick your nose every day and investigate nose picking as a practice!

Watching this class, which asked young dancers to go inside themselves first and to approach training as a highly internal and individualistic pursuit, I asked the question, “does the work performed inform the training or is it the opposite?” I don’t know who the young dancers were, so I am going out on a limb here, suggesting, “These are the children of an individuated, democratic, non-hierarchical ethos in pursuit of… What?”

We hold these truths…

Each era has its own set of assumptions, values and expectations that its “innovators” subscribe to. What is the art that comes from this era’s perceived truths? I recall with pleasure and mild uneasiness hearing legendary director of ADF, Charles Reinhart, say in an interview that of an era much besotted with Eastern philosophy, “There is too much Tai-chi onstage these days!”

One of our goals at New York Live Arts is to identify the most potent expressions and give them a platform.

Curiously enough, when Angie’s class stood up following its long floor session, it began a series of standing exercises: pliés, tendus, legs, feet, spine; exercises that would not have been alien to Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon or a young Merce Cunningham. Was this a choice of the teacher or was it a pragmatic requirement of the Festival that the young dancers should have the widest exposure, offering the best preparation for the “brave new world” and its burgeoning choreographing population in search of something deep, resonant and durable?

Tradition?

Angie-Hauser-Class-PhotoAngie Hauser with Chris Aiken at Bates Dance Festival 2014. Photo by Arthur Fink.

Now/Tradition

The next afternoon at ADF, I dropped in on an exciting panel entitled “Dancing on the African Continent”. The panelists were Gregory Maqoma (South African choreographer), Ivy Birch (moderator), Chuck Davis (Choreographer, founder of Dance Africa whom this year’s ADF was dedicated to), DD Kodolakina (dance critic from Togo). It was a lively, amicable exchange – warm and moving for several reasons.

Certain moments stand out:

  • Chuck Davis, irrepressible as always, when making his framing comments commanded us all to our feet to find “the pulse, the rhythm” exhorting us to chant “Dancers united will bring peace to the world!”
  • French speaking DD shared through his translator that he feels a bit isolated, as he is one of a handful of professional dance-writers working on the continent. He went on to say that he relished being at ADF as he could see many forms of dance there as opposed to the steady diet of French choreographers dominating the dance world in his country.
  • However, it was Gregory Maqoma’s comments and the ensuing discussion around the notion of tradition that resonates most as I look back at the event. Gregory told us that because dance was such a part of his world growing up in South Africa it was barely understood as a profession! Growing up near a hostel for migrant workers from across Southern Africa, he was thrilled to see their display of traditional dances.
    Gregory declared that he uses tradition to aggressively reframe and reference questions of power, history, identity and the future – all questions relevant to his countrymen. His ultimate purpose, however, is to bring joy!
  • DD Kodolakina responded that Africa’s creators are questioning themselves about the future and the now. Dance in Africa is no longer traditional. He feels that African creators are preoccupied with getting their work “out of Africa” (in several senses of the word, I believe…). He feels they must, as a result, evolve, lest the very traditions we were discussing die.

Now!

And then there was Bjorn’s and my first visit to Fire Island. “Your first time?!!!” People said with disbelief. “How is that possible?” I had never given it much thought, but I suppose it was because my identification with Gay culture has always been a wary one. I was of the belief that one should be suspicious of any tradition that came with prescribed rituals and geography. Arnie Zane and I declared we were not interested in living in any “ghetto” be it religious, racial, sexual or artistic.

Following the crush of passengers disembarking the ferry at The Pines, I was bombarded with feelings and questions. Why was I so filled with excitement and anticipation? Was it the hoards of buff, shirtless gods and their admirers, the beauty of the place, the promise of unbridled pleasure, of security, of inclusion?

It could have been simply that here was an institution, a tradition, that was built on the need for safe-haven and that I was coming “home” just as wider acceptance of “expanded sexualities and genders” could be making it all irrelevant…

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You like movies: Check Finding Vivian Maier on Showtime!

*Angie Hauser is a Bessie award winning dancer and choreographer. Her dancing life is marked by two long-time collaborations – she has created dances with Bebe Miller since 2000 and with Chris Aiken since 2003.  These collaborations have yielded years of making, performing, and thinking about dance with a family of brilliant dancers, musicians, writers and artists. Hauser is deeply influenced by Miller and Aiken, as well as other collaborators, who currently include Jennifer Nugent, Darrell Jones, Paul Matteson, Omar Carrum and Claudia Lavista and musician Mike Vargas.  She is an Assistant Professor at Smith College.

 

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31 Jul

Announcing Live Core!

The Associate Artist Program is now Live Core. Live Core is a creative incubator, network, and platform for artists to elevate and propel their ideas forward. Utilizing the resources of New York Live Arts, Live Core empowers artists to connect with larger audiences, raise funds to support their work, and engage with industry professionals and other Live Core artists to bolster their professional and artistic development. Putting creativity front and center, Live Core artists enliven the ecology of performance in New York City and beyond.

We are maintaining features like low 6% processing fee for fiscally sponsored donations and a range of discounts from tickets to New York Live Arts season performances, workshops and even advertising within our programs we are enhancing the program with a series of professional development workshops and community events plus access to liability insurance. For a full list of benefits click here.

To join Live Core click here or contact Rakia Seaborn at rseaborn@newyorklivearts.org

Be on the lookout as we announce a robust season of in-house professional development workshops and opportunities to meaningfully engage with the Live Core community.

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  • The Live Arts Blog has the latest information on New York Live Arts events, artists and issues affecting the body based performing arts field. Current contributors include New York Live Arts Staff, Jess Barbagallo and Paul David Young.

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