Monthly Archives: March 2005

live art day jobs (but not mine)

Easter Bunny Pummeled By Boy At Mall.

Ben’s niece Charlotte had her third birthday the weekend before last. Entertainment courtesy of MagicPrincess.com. I really feel like it could go both ways, if you know what I’m saying.

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art

I saw visual art that is the equivalent of what I want to be as a theater artist and writer, so I thought I should tell you about it.

Nicky (BFF!!) visited me this weekend to commemorate our 10th anniversary. We went to SF MoMA, and were blown away by the exhibit of the 2004 SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art–does this name make anyone else giggle?) Award winners.

I’ve long been a believer that we are not in a period of postmodernism, but are, or should be, working towards something I think of as Reconstructionism. Meaning–we’ve taken everything we can apart. We know everything must be considered within the constructs of its cultural context. It’s difficult to speak, when all your given circumstances and varied languages of expression can so easily be deconstructed. “Hence the irony,” as Todd Polenberg wrote in his version of the Passover haggadah, the pomo replacement for “Amen.”

Deconstructionism has provided us tools by which to read and attempt to understand the world. Unfortunately, the impulse to take it all apart can lead to art that is hesitant, self-reflexive, insular and paralyzed.

The SECA winners (Simon Evans, Shaun O’Dell, Rosana Castrillo Díaz and Josephine Taylor) are over it.

Each artists spoke art with a distinct voice: Evans–neurotically categorizing the world in cramped words and images that skated along the borders of sense and nonsense; O’Dell–creating vivid, abstract dreamscapes with graphically intricate, precisely inked symbols and signs; Taylor–confronting the unspeakable that bubbles under the surface of families and childhood, painting through the supernaturalistic to reach the grotesque on flat swaths of butcher paper; and Díaz–whispering out a 30-foot sculpture put together entirely with circles of scotch tape–part spider’s web, part single-cellular organism, part ghost.

Such distinct, clearly different voices. But all their voices rang with a tremendous confidence and honesty–I saw absolutely zero hesitancy or reserve in any of the work. Very exciting.

random bits

So many goddamn people in the Bay Area have iPods, with the tell-tale white headphones, that the communter BART ride looks like some movie of a dystopic future where people are controlled by the government via headphones which are surgically installed–receiving their morning doublespeak instructions or news or something.

***

Coach Pat Summitt, the woman responsible for pretty much creating and shaping the current face of women’s college basketball, reached the record for the winningest coach in Div. 1 Basketball History. The University renamed the floor “The Summitt.” All day, when I think of it, it literally brings tears to my eyes.

***

Why I Love Pauline Kael, Reason 476:

From her review of Raging Bull,

I’m supposed to be responding to a powerful, ironic realism, but I just feel trapped. Jake says, “You dumb f–k,” and Joey says, “You dumb f–ck,” and they repeat it and repeat it. And I think, What am I doing here watching these two dumb f–ks?

***

ALSO–watching an all-time family fave, South Pacific, and thinking about the tremendous suspension of disbelief the audience must maintain–a leap in faith I take almost too willingly–to access the pleasures of the musical. Not just in terms of storyline, or the convention of characters bursting into song in order to communicate in the play-world, but in terms of the dated, embarrassingly well-meaning, sexism and racism of the era.

I’ve been watching musicals because I want to direct one, hopefully very soon. And I think these cringe-worthy, tricky moments might provide wonderful interpretive opportunities. A director I greatly admire once told me that during her time as a student at Yale Drama, she did a Brechtian de-construction of “Bali Hai” from South Pacific. At the time, I thought it was simply clever, but I really get it now. I’m interested, now.

a love letter to helen lai

In late September, Ben and I spent 10 days in Hong Kong. Hong Kong exploded into international prominence as a kind of libertarian wonderland: no taxes, free trade, all gateway, no fee. The results, then, are not surprising: the life of the city revolves around working all the time to make lots of money, and in your brief spare time, spending that money so when you go back to work, you can show off. We found ourselves in malls even when we were consciously avoiding them, because every building had one. Terrible pollution problems, that they are only now starting to solve. Not much of an idea of civic responsibility or identity or funding. Most of the public spaces and public art are designed by or part of corporate structures.

So of course, it’s the last place I would have expected to see some fantastic live performance.

Enter the City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), a Hong Kong modern dance company. We saw Silver Rain, a retrospective of their 25-year history. I’ll get the hyperbolic superlatives out of the way: it was easily the finest live dance performance I’ve ever seen, and certainly in the top ten live performances I’ve ever seen. Watch the clips, they’re just fantastic.

And one choreographer stood out: Helen Lai.

She’s choreographed a piece that combines figure ice skating with tango (sounds just wrong, I know, but the excerpt with two men tangoing was delightful and witty and sexy and perfect). She did a stunning piece about SARS that had dancers in gas masks, carrying suitcases filled with dirt, watching TV, tossing their suitcases and then dropping themselves into a hole in the ground. One excerpt, from “The Comedy of K,” featured a series of dancers coming onstage in suits, removing those suits, and then flying onto and doing absurdly athletic moves and bounces and slips and turns on and around and through a iron-framed twin bed.

Every piece she choreographed was athletic; theatrical; fiercly and complexly feminist and political; utterly unselfconscious about gender bending and genre mixing; precise in its dancerly technique and storytelling. It was just some of the smartest staging and choreography I’ve ever seen.

If this is an exercise in writing, with specificity and passion, about a production I liked, I’m probably failing. But it certainly has set the bar very high in terms of dance.

metallica, modern dance, and march madness

Just had coffee with a lovely young woman who’s getting her M.A. in Performance Studies at Northwestern. It’s good to know that I’m not just imagining things–every high-level academic theater program in America promises to converge theory and practice, and doesn’t, not really.

Last night, watched the Metallica documentary, Some Kind of Monster, which follows a two-year journey of the world’s most famous metalheads recording their most recent album, St. Anger, as they lose their bassist due to creative differences, lose their lead singer to rehab for 9 months, sell multimillion dollar art collections, sue Napster, and ultimately, come out on top again.

Apparently, Metallica hired the documentarians to produce something for VH-1 to compete with “The Osmonds,” and then decided that wasn’t the direction they wanted their careers to go in, so pulled back, bought back the rights to all the footage, and this the result. For a great review, read Andrew O’Hehir’s for Salon.com. He always seems to say pretty much exactly what I’m thinking about any given movie (including Confessions of a Dangerous Mind).

Amazing levels of verite going on in the documentary, not surprising given Metallica’s business sharps vs. the directors’ storytelling chops and eyes for personalities. Ben observed that the only characters who seem real are the surprisingly frank, unselfconscious Metallica members–especially next to the walking stereotypes who populate the rest of the movie–the overaged producer “Bob Rock”, Phil, the creepy therapist/performance coach who over time starts thinking himself as part of the band (starts saying “we” instead of “you guys”).

I missed day two of the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tourney to see ODC Dance do their latest at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. They’re athletic, great dancers–and Anne Zivolich was stunning in the final piece, “On A Train Heading South,” a kind of meditation on global warning (the set consisted of huge blocks of ice hanging from thick black ropes, and the entire piece the ice melted onto the stage).

I think I might have rather watched basketball. I mean, they were great. It’s not just the basketball. I’ve been spoiled. (see next entry).

and the land we belong to is grand

Ben’s getting irritated by my singing of showtunes. But damn, they’re just so good! I’m in love with Gordon McRae–what a voice! My dad had a big crush on Shirley Jones–she’s pretty dern cute in the movie. Next up: Carousel, which I’ve never watched; and an old family favorite, South Pacific.

Working (or trying to work) on two grant apps coming up. It’s a beautiful day, I’d rather be riding a bike.

mothers and daughters

Saw Lisa Kron’s* Well last night at A.C.T.

Pre-show, the stage stands magnificently bare, like a empty SoHo loft, except for a cluttered corner downstage left, her mother’s tschotschke-filled living room, with the actress playing Lisa’s mother–older, heavy, in a bathrobe and flip-flips–snoozing in a Lazy-Boy armchair.

The lights go down, and Kron comes onstage with a stack of notecards. She announces that what we are about to see will be a theatrical “exploration” of sickness and wellness; and that this play is not about her and her mother, though they will be used as examples. So it’s kind of cleverly metatheatrical, and she starts showing scenes from her life, and her mom interrupts, of course, and then–

The play falls apart. But, like, on purpose. Every layer of theatrical device begins to peel away, deliberately drop off, so delicately at first that you just think, “eh, the play’s not so great,” because you don’t realize what’s happening. And then you realize, and it’s just breathtaking. As Ben noted, it’s one of the rare times where the modern condition of analysis-paralysis gets turned inside out and transformed into a constructive creation.

No attempt was made to solve the unsolvable problems of sickness, wellness, hypochondria, race relations, the million struggles comprising a mother-daughter relationship**. Instead, they were just brought onstage in their full complexity, and left there–not forgotten, just accumulating. Just as, at the same time, set pieces began accumulating on the stage itself, abandoned, as scenes were attempted and abandoned. Well really took a lot of well-established genre expectations and well-worn thematic territory and took it to some next-level shit. Bravo.

Seeing Well came two days after watching a rehearsal of my friend Jane Chen’s Chinese Clown Show Cabaret. Jane performs the show in her clown character, and her mom actually emcees: interrupting, assisting, facilitating, translating a Spanish song into Chinese, going into the audience in the middle of one of Jane’s songs to try and get a date for her daughter, scolding, getting scolded. It’s great, just great–the clown stuff gains such a depth within the context of this daughter/immigrant mom relationship, and performed relationship.

Go see them do a workshop performance of the cabaret on Monday night at The Marsh.

*FYI: Lisa Kron originally came to some prominence in New York as a member of the Five Lesbian Brothers, one of the many awesome feminist/queer theater troupes that kicked ass at the WOW cafe in the late 1980s-early 90s (including my favorite, Split Britches.) She’s been doing a lot of solo stuff (check out excerpts of her marvelous 2.5 Minute Ride in Extreme Exposure) in the past few years, and this is her latest effort.

**Orchids: For my latest favorite film that tells a great story AND grapples beautifully with a lot of complex American anxieties AND doesn’t try to solve any of it AND you might have missed, watch Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the autobiography of Chuck Barris (Gong Show host), written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by George Clooney, and starring Sam Rockwell.

Other orchids: Doonesbury’s week-long tribute to Hunter S. Thompson.

nice news

I’ve been raised under the sensible dictum that, while one should not give up over failures or get lazy over successes, one should still take a proper moment to mourn or celebrate, respectively.

A couple of months ago, I applied for a small grant. Yesterday, months before I expected to hear from the foundation, I received an envelope with their logo. I expected a form “thanks and we regret” letter. I did not, in any way, shape or form, expect what was inside: a check.

My first grant.

Now, organizations have gotten grants to hire me–but this is the first time I, as an individual artist, have applied for money for a project and received it. The check is barely 1/10th of what I need for this particular piece, which I have barely started–but I’m going to use my blog to take my moment to say:

Yay!

white people singing

So I’ve been watching musicals–Hello Dolly disappointed, mostly because of lack of any real story or solid clever plot twists. Plus, I heard that Walter Matthau absolutely detested Barbra Streisand, and you can kind of tell–they have zero in the way of chemistry and it makes the whole thing unbelievable. Also, wasn’t Dolly supposed to be “of a certain age”? I love how young character actresses historically end up playing women 20 years their senior–of course it’s impossible that a young woman should have both character, self-possession and a sense of humor.

Started Oklahoma! and so far am pretty excited. The picture quality on DVD is so fantastic that the colors are saturated, the white people flourescent and everything damn near leaps off the screen.

Also:

Andrea, hi! So glad to see you here, and yes, I loved the Butoh quotation! Maybe I’m making up the switchboard button in my head, but it’s the one which literally just bumps the whole board to black. Perhaps it is simply “blackout.” I wish I had a lightboard in front of me. Come do a show with me in SF.

viva you, viva me

Towards the end of the first act came to the moment I was waiting for: the portrayal of birth of the mestizo Mexican. An entire nation of race identity can be traced to the subjugation of the indigenous peoples by the conquista—I found it unimaginable that a show like this, a jazz recital on steroids, would even attempt to represent such a troubled consummation.

It began with a swellingly romantic pas de deux between a handsome Spanish soldier and lovely, delicate Indian maiden (throughout Viva!, ballet was used to portray “beauty” and “grace” of the Native Americans, in itself an odd Western cultural oppressiveness.). He pursues—she resists; he chases, she submits; against their own better will and judgment of their peoples, they intertwine and love one another.

Suddenly, the music shifts: romantic violins to war-like trumpets. The dance turns into a vicious onstage battle between the Natives and Spaniards, guns, cannons, hand-to-hand combat, agonized screams, casualties and all. It ends with our two lovers facing the audience, at the far ends of downstage, trembling in the spotlights, gasping for breath. Narration booms out of the speakers:

“The Indians and the Spanish were to have many battles; and in the end the Indian would be defeated, but not destroyed; this religion would become a mixture of paganism and Christianity; this blood would mingle with Spanish blood to bring forth”—

Then—a spotlight gapes open high on a hill upstage center to reveal a man in a sombrero and poncho, standing tall and proud—

“…this blood would mingle with Spanish blood to bring forth [spotlight on]: the mestizo—”

Any remaining words were drowned out by cheers and screams as the audience, mostly El Pasoan—just goes wild.

On that note, lights come up for intermission. The moment succeeded so well with the audience, that the second act began with the exact same narration—only now, our lovers placed far upstage, in the past, and the mestizo standing front and center.

Again, with the phrase “…the mestizo”—the audience went wild, and the cast swooped into the Mexican culture section of the show, consisting of grand folklorico dance numbers, loosely threaded together by a good-naturedly burlesqued tale of courtship.

That’s when I caved.