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After a bravura Broadway run in 1998, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake returns to New York's City Center this fall. Amazing how little things have changed since this revisionist take on Petipa's classic ushered in a new era of Dance Theater. Then as now, our political times were in tumult: President Bill Clinton was battling a prickly Iraq, the House Judiciary Committee and a news media determined to excoriate him for sexual conduct unbecoming. Such a swell party for the nation's guardians of morality—too bad they were nowhere to be found on October 7 of that year, when two thugs murdered a 21 year-old University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard. Today our wars in the Middle East rages like wildfire, while around the globe homophobia manifests in ways that range from church-and-state sanctioned gay bashing and inequality to explosions of harassment and bullying that have sparked a wave of teen suicides.
I pondered the bad news as I waited for the curtain to rise, and observed the various factions of gay men taking in the show: yesterday's It Boys who likely saw Lake's original production; Jovian men who'd seen enough Swan Lakes for 50 lifetimes, gents who'd lived through those dark mid-20th Century days where gay sexuality lived in clandestine, closeted whispers; younger men who'd embraced Billy Elliott as their generation's The Red Shoes, or were drawn by this production's myths: it's an all-male production (false) that exults its flesh bearing swan corps (partly true). Our origin stories were likely the same, with minor variations: barely men, we'd fled our repressed hinterlands for a Manhattan that would take us as we were, sans judgment or scorn, transforming our wistful longing into livable lives. We were the lucky ones, strong enough to withstand the slings of harassment until circumstances gave us a way out.
Bourne's Lake could also be read as a dream of escape. Transformation is still the subject, though it has nothing to do with true love's ability to vanquish wicked spells. In this version, finding one's true self is more to the point, which means that the focus lies less on the swan, more on the all-too-human prince driven to suicidal despair. The source of his pain throbs with Freudiana, from the prologue (a child's dream is haunted by the specter of a swan) to moonlit encounters (with both the primal, animalistic swan and his leather-clad doppelgänger) that drive him to madness. The story of a fatherless boy obsessed with his mother is an almost stereotypical recipe for homosexuality. But this Swan Lake could be read as an investigation of myriad masculinity: male competitiveness, bound up in displays of physical and sexual prowess; the search for self in a world where male roles are so narrowly transcribed.
Lake's initial palace scenes spoof both royal obligations to duty and appearances, and familiar TV shots of the Obama inauguration and Tea Party rallies, coronation tropes ripe with designer gowns, fawning media and rabid constituents who treat politicos like rock stars. Bourne swaps the original's swan-hunting scene for another male rite, a drunken night at a dive called the Swanky Bar. Thanks to Bourne and designer Lez Brotherston, it's a 60s fantasia of neon and swiveling hips, full of sketchy eccentrics who embrace the range of ambisexuality and dissipation. Far from liberating the prince, though, this night of debauchery drives him to a state of near suicide.
Which brings us to that infamous lake, and the show's coup de théâtre? Much was made of the production's depiction of swans as they truly were: not delicate victims caught in a trap, but willful creatures imbued with a powerful, decidedly masculine physicality. The details—the pointed, pecking palms (for beaks), the darting necks, and the powerful steps that, combined with dark-circled eyes, marked foreheads and costumes (all Brotherston's genius: in an eerie effect, note how the swan's fringed breeches quiver almost imperceptibly)—still read as freshly as they did in 1998. These empowered swans show the lost prince another way to be.
The performers play it to the hilt. Nina Goldman's Queen is all ice one moment: a volcano indulging her Clintonesque desires the next. Jonathan Ollivier's Swan is an otherworldly creature more curious than sinister. Deploying effortless leaps and aerial turns (I remember Adam Cooper's original as being more earthbound), his portrayal is the embodiment of flight, of freedom.
But Simon Williams gives the evening its soul. Less delicate than Scott Ambler's (who's currently alternating as the Private Secretary) original, the beefy Williams is more of a dirty angel than danseur noble. He's a hapless soul whose impalpable longing gives his early duet with the Queen a sense of desperation worthy of Hamlet. When he and Ollivier's Swan meet in an unsettling dance of mutual submission/domination (you could have heard a pin drop when Bourne froze the image of the Prince clasping the body of the Swan from behind, as if he were mounting him) you sense the Prince is actually dancing with his shadow, or the self he'd like to be.
His epiphany leads to tragedy, and opportunities for Bourne to blow us away with stagecraft. In the second act's ballroom scene the appearance of Ollivier's Stranger (Odile in the original) sets the women's hormones racing, throws the men into fits of derring-do (a United Nations of dance where Russian folk, tango and apache dance roll through the scene like mutant waves of testosterone) and prompts the prince's breakdown. An asylum scene provides a touch of Grand Guignol, with nurses masked to resemble the Queen. In a fever dream of a finale, the prince's bedcovers vomit swans that attack first him, then his inamorato. Soon the prince lies dead, but in the window above we see the swan cradling the prince in an eternal embrace. This diptych of tragedy and affirmation aptly rebukes a society blind to those in need of emotional rescue, making this Swan Lake a trenchant parable for our own dark days.
Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake @City Center, New York City October 13-November 7, 2010,
Direction & choreography: Matthew Bourne;
sets and costumes: Lez Brotherston;
lighting design: Rick Fisher
The Swan/Stranger: Jonathan Ollivier
The Prince: Simon Williams
The Queen: Nina Goldman
Private Secretary: Steve Kirkham
Girlfriend: Madelaine Brennan
When I visited Hungary in the 1980s I saw the Györ National Ballet perform and I interviewed its founder, Iván Markó. I was struck by his categorical statement that he was not interested in bringing his company to perform in the United States, because they already traveled all over Europe. He could not quite explain why, but he clearly felt threatened and had a psychological fear, an instinctive dislike of the hustle and bustle of American cities, especially such a big city as New York.
No one knew at that time how profoundly European history was about to change. Two decades have passed, and on January 1, 2010, it was my pleasure to attend the opening night of the Györ Ballet at the Joyce Theater, commemorating “the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe.” The company presented two contemporary ballets choreographed to music by Stravinsky: Petrushka and Rite of Spring. It has also been almost twenty years since Iván Markó retired. He was succeeded by János Kiss, a founding member of the company who still holds the directorship. The Györ Ballet first appeared at the Joyce eight years ago, and the cultural isolation of Eastern Europe that was a fact of life twenty years ago is a distant memory in the West today. But it is not at all distant to the Hungarian mind, as one must understand to appreciate the program which the Györ Ballet brought to the Joyce on this occasion.
Györ is the sixth largest city of Hungary. It lies on the major European highway linking Budapest and Vienna. Its history goes back to 900 C.E. when the Magyars (as we Hungarians call ourselves) settled there. The city has a noteworthy baroque architecture; it attracts visiting tourists from all over Europe for its picturesque ambiance and also for its culture. Lately Györ has become a regional center for dance; for seven years it has hosted the prestigious annual Hungarian Dance Festival. As Hungary’s second major ballet company, the Györ Ballet has always offered a modern repertoire in contrast with the historically classical one of the National Opera Ballet of Budapest.
The Györ National Ballet was founded by Iván Markó in 1979. The city had theater space available to give a home to the company; it was easily accessible from the rest of Europe and open to innovative artistic experiences. The formation of such a company was a ground-breaking event in a nation that was slowly emerging from a Soviet domination that squashed most artistic innovations. Markó was a man of many talents and the principal moving force of every aspect of the company: executive and artistic director, choreographer and performer. He was born and trained in Hungary, but had spent valuable years in Brussels as a principal dancer for Maurice Bejart’s Ballet of the Twenty-First Century. He brought to Hungary a wide variety of new approaches to dance performance and choreography, and an experimental interest in the Eastern spirituality that was cultivated by Bejart. His dancers were trained at the Budapest Opera Ballet School in the pure Vaganova technique that the Russians had brought to Hungary. The Budapest Opera Ballet had become a truly first-rate company that attracted such supremely talented guest artists as Galena Ulanova. However the repertoire remained limited so as not to risk offending the reigning Communist ideology. The modern approach to content and technique that Markó brought to his choreography was completely new to Hungarian audiences. They loved it and the Györ Ballet became an instant success.
It is difficult and damaging for any country to withstand the psychological ravages of foreign occupation. To understand the Dimitrij Simkin and James Sutherland Petrushka (1995) that the Györ Ballet performed at the Joyce one must remember the rigid ideology and military control that the Soviet Union imposed on Hungary and maintained by dictatorial force. Two Hungarian generations were brainwashed mentally and threatened physically, and learned that the only way of survival was to conform to the rules. In a police state individualistic thinking and the smallest signs of rebellion are punished with economic and social harassment, imprisonment and even death. The explicit story of the ballet is set in the Soviet Union of the 1930’s, but it is a thinly disguised story of the life we experienced in Hungary during the Soviet occupation. The children in pioneer uniforms singing Soviet songs are an exact representation of my own childhood experiences.
The setting of this Petrushka (designed by Zsuzsa Molnár) is utterly unlike the Fokine ballet where the stage glitters with color and is alive with people. Everything here is gray and dark in the Soviet bloc with the customary drab rags for clothing except for the colorful kerchiefs and red neckties and blue uniforms worn by the pioneers. As the curtain goes up we are confronted with a group of young pioneers, lying on their bellies and singing Russian songs: “This is the future and it needs to be cultivated!” In the back, on a rickety high wire construction, a bedraggled and dully illuminated red star dominates the scene. On one side of it is a gray hammer and on the other a gray sickle. Underneath it at the back of the stage a very large detached head of Lenin sits on the floor.
The pioneers stand up and march, awkwardly curved arms framing the head. The stylized quick sharp movements with elbows and hands reflect the drills inculcating the rules of society. Soon a frail bald half-naked youth appears, obviously confused, tentatively looking through the crowd for a place to fit in. Bálint Sebstyén danced the role of this unusual avatar of Petrushka the puppet in the original ballet. At this point, from behind Lenin’s lolling head center stage, a tall figure (Balázs Pátkai) in a security officer’s uniform steps out; with confident large steps he strides to the front of the stage. The crowd parts, everyone fearful; obviously this man exercises the power of the dictatorship. The officer takes one look at the skinny half-naked guy and has him dragged off to prison. At this point Stravinsky’s music helps us recognize the prison cell as a replacement for the puppet’s room in the Fokine ballet. The musical score serves this purpose throughout the piece, evoking overwhelming memories of the original drama and importing its power into the more modern circumstances.
The Rebel is tortured, flung around, made to waltz, and then left alone in his prison cell. When he is eventually released he is confronted by a crowd who try to teach him the rules of survival. The pioneers have grown up and joined the drab population. A woman tries to entice this Petrushka figure to join the Party; they gave him a hat, which he tentatively puts on. A mob begins to form around the Rebel Petrushka, and he throws off the hat (symbol of communism). From upstage Lenin’s head is given a slight shove and it slowly begins to roll. The Rebel stands there waiting, anxious but brave, as the head topples him over and crushes his body. A new crop of young pioneers appears to replace the old ones and the brain-washing begins again, in the form of the rousing sounds of the Russian songs they are taught.
Attila Kun’s Rite of Spring (2006) opens with a breathtakingly beautiful scene. The dancers are all in white and lined up with their backs to their audience. Two men form a second line behind them, holding their partners high above their heads. This gives spatial dimension to the formation: depth, height and an airy supernatural atmosphere as they are bathed in a sharp white light. It is difficult to top an opening scene like this, but as the formation breaks and the eccentric movement begins the ballet comes close to doing that. The technique is European fusion dance, performed barefoot and in cleverly constructed bathing-suit-like costumes with small aprons front and back. The choreographer is more interested in capturing the impression of the music than in telling a story. This is basically an abstract ballet, though it does end (as the title foreshadowed) in ritual human sacrifice, understood as an act of reality. But the music itself is followed, leading the dance to its accustomed ending. After the increasingly excited and wound up crowd dances itself into a frenzied state they capture the sacrificial young girl. She tries to escape in terror, but she is mauled and crushed to death. In the original Stravinsky/Nijinsky version the elders sit in the circle wearing bearskins and watching the sacrificial virgin dance herself to death.
The Stravinsky score injects restlessness and an uneasy alarm into the evocation of spring, driving the composition to its inevitable end in the sacrifice of a young girl to the pagan god to ensure a fertile spring. Vaslav Nijinsky created the original Sacre du Printemps, and history tells us that when he began to teach his choreography to Diaghilev’s dancers he had a near revolt on his hands. His steps, counts and costumes were all new and difficult, and alien to the troupe. The costumes were crafted by the artist and archeologist Nikolai Roerich to resemble the colorful and highly decorated old Slavic peasant outfits made of heavy material and including form fitting, pointed peasant caps and boots. The dance presents an imagined ritual performed yearly by prehistoric Slavic tribes, but the inspiration lies in the Russian folk traditions which provide foundations for both music and dance.
Unfortunately the original Nijinsky ballet is lost, but Millicent Hodson, a dancer and dance scholar, recreated parts of it from annotations on music scores and from photographs. When it was performed by the Joffrey Ballet I was astonished and moved by the power and depth of what she was able to put together. It has helped us to appreciate the influence which this work of genius had upon early twentieth century art. Many eminent choreographers have used the score, including Pina Bausch and Martha Graham, but none of them emphasized the original Stravinsky/Nijinsky folk element. Regretably, folk and ethnic dance have been separated from classical dance for quite a long time now, but in Hungary there are genuine folk traditions that go all the way back to pagan times and are still practiced today. Hungarian folk music is incorporated in the works of many great classical composers, but very rarely in classical dance. The Rite of Spring offers a good opportunity to approach the original Stravinsky/Nijinsky conception through our own Hungarian folklore, and no company is better suited to this task than the multitalented Györ National Ballet.
Billed as a concert and Pow Wow, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers presented an event on February 7, 2010 with a strong community spirit. There were vendors selling Native American goods outside the theatre, and the audience was a wide mix of nationalities and ages. The matinees were particularly geared toward children. The audience was welcomed into the theatre to experience Native American culture through dance, song, and drum. There were five men playing one large drum on the side of the stage with three women sitting behind them. All 8 were singing. The artistic director Louis Mofsie introduced the concert and talked between each dance to tell the audience what was coming next and give pertinent information about the individual dances.
Nations represented by the performers included Mohawk, Iroquois, Lenape, Cherokee, Winnebago, Hopi, Taino, Nanticoke, and Maya Pipil. Each dancer was dressed in elaborate native dress, yet the attires appeared to be personal and very individual expressions. Common themes were bright colors, feathers, and moccasins. For individual dances, new elements might be added such as a shawl, bells, feathered wings, or a hand held musical shaker. The dancers ranged in age from 10-65, and some gave the appearance of having more formal dance technique than others. Donna Ahmadi particularly stood out for her performance presence, stamina, and fluid upper body. Dances were accompanied by the large drum, in addition to singing, and other instruments. The dancers’ feet effectively made a drum of the stage with their strong footsteps sometimes in unison with and sometimes in rhythmic counterpoint to the drum.
The dances of the Iroquois, presented at this event, mostly had a similar floor pattern of a counter-clockwise open circle and were done with a group of 10-16 dancers, yet the dances had separate and distinct elements. These included the Robin Dance, the Fish Dance, and the Stomp Dance. The Robin Dance celebrates spring’s arrival and the dancers were carrying musical shakers. In the Fish dance, the dancers traded places as they moved around the circle so that the order of dancers was continually changing. This simulated fish squirming around after being caught in a net by fishermen. The Stomp Dance had a hypnotic and expressive call and response vocalization and the circle changed directions. Mr. Mofsie explained that it had evolved from a warrior’s dance.
Other dances that particularly captivated me were the Hoop Dance, the Grass Dance, and The Contest Dance. The Hoop Dance originated with the Native Peoples of New Mexico, but is performed more widely now by many Native Americans. It required the virtuosic management of four hoops that the two dancers (Donna Ahmadi and Tom Pearson) manipulated on and off the floor and into beautiful designs never once bending at their waists. To raise the hoops from the floor to arm level without bending over is quite a sight to see! The dancers accomplished this by using their feet and other hoops with remarkable precision. They dropped the hoops over their heads and down their bodies to reach the floor, yet this were done without any abrupt drops, controlling the hoops on their decent with whatever body parts the hoops were passing. At the end of the dance, the dancers manipulated the hoops into a sphere that they held out to the side of their bodies as a final representation of their expert skill.
The Grass Dance originated with the Plains Indians whose life structure involved following the buffalo across the plains. The buffalo were their main source of sustenance for food, shelter, and clothing, so as the buffalo migrated, so did the people. They would send out the Grass Dancers to flatten the tall grasses in advance of the move. At this event, the dance was performed by four male dancers. The dance made me think about the separation of dance from our everyday lives in so many parts of 21st century culture. It made me long for a time when dance might be deemed an essential activity in all cultures.
The Contest Dance of the Winnebago People was presented with audience participation. Two dancers first demonstrated dancing around a feather held upright on the floor of the stage with a little stand, and then picking up that feather with their mouths without allowing hands, elbows, or knees to touch the ground. Children from the audience were then invited to try the “contest.” Mr. Mofsie introduced each child and told where they were from which provided a touching and humorous interlude with the children’s interpretations of where they live ranging from “around here,” and “from uptown,” to Sweden and Viet Nam. There were various ways to accomplish picking up the feather with the limitations imposed, but the favored choice was holding most of the weight on one leg and sliding the other out far to the side, so that the dancer moved closer to the floor without touching the floor with any body part but feet.
In the final dance, the large round drum was moved to the center of the stage, and the dancers moved around it, bringing dancers and drummers together to sing and move as one whole.
The Thunderbird Dancers have a mission to show Native Americans as vibrant, living cultures today, instead of cultures only of yesterday to be studied in history or social studies books. At this celebration, they very much succeeded. The audience was receptive, enthusiastic, and absorbed in watching and participating from the youngest “under 2” set to those of us many decades older. The proceeds of the concert went toward an educational scholarship fund for Native American young people.
The sure-to-be-successful world tour of Flamenco! La obra de Federico García Lorca en un músico español (The Work of Federico García Lorca in a Spanish Musical), began in Buenos Aires at Teatro Astral. On closing night, February 7, 2010, even after over twenty performances, in summer, when so many Baires residents are vacationing at the beach, long lines of last minute ticket purchasers caused a twenty minute delay in the start of the spectacular. At the show’s conclusion, creator and director, Jorge Mazzini, announced that the show would either be extended at another theater in town, or, if arrangements could not be finalized within the coming day or two, would return to Argentina’s capital at the end of its global run.
For connoisseurs of García Lorca – and who isn’t in the world of castellano and in New York, where the Spanish writer once lived? – this show has nods to his most beloved works. It was like a Spanish SAT prep course conducted through music, dance, and drama. But for its size of over thirty performers, it’s a show New Yorkers would expect at Repertorio Español, which regularly has Yerma and Casa de Bernarda Alba on its bill. None-the-less, it’s the sort of production more likely to be tackled by the smaller Thalia Spanish Theatre. Indeed the opening scene was similar to a play Thalia’s artistic director, Angel Gil Orrios, did in Manhattan some years ago about the Generation of ’98, in which he used over-sized masks of authors’ faces.
El mundo de Federico introduced first dancers Jorgelina Amendolara and Claudio Arias, Ballet Flamenco Palma y Tacón, singer Montse Ruano, and principal singer Basilio Cadiz. After a long guitar introduction, the darkened theater awoke to glow-in-the-dark fans, masks, and huge puppets. The women wore purple and chartreuse dresses. The men were in dark trousers held up by chartreuse suspenders of purple tank tops with chartreuse ties. The chartreuse day glowed. Fosse spots hit hands playing castanets. The choreography called for marking and line formations with chests thrust forward. It built to bulerías and fierce unison palmas.
Soledad Montoya, extracted from Romance de la Pena Negra, starred guest dancer Cristina Masdueña, actor Juan Carlos Puppo, dancer Aimara Bianquet, and Mr. Cadiz. In this number, the actor recited as the females danced, one in black and the other in a maroon and yellow bata de cola. With castanets in hands, the mantón was swirled, the train was twirled and gripped in front for footwork, finally unfurled for forceful turns to violin violence.
In a fragment (with liberties taken) from Bernard Alba, actress (Dora Prince as the mother) and dancers (Ms. Bianquet as Poncia, Sol Roldán as Angustias, Argelia Perazzo Olmos as Martirio, Camila Donato as Amelia, Laura Guastini as Magdalena, Rocío Aristimuño as Adela) shared the house of mourning with a melancholic violin. On their stools, sewing a long white stretch of fabric that served as a veil in their imagined weddings, the girls’ conversation in footwork expressed the personality of each. Dialogue and Ms. Ruano’s vocals moved the scene along as the widowed mother and daughters countered each other.
In Yerma, the simple costumes in soft biscuit and cream belied the tragedy to befall the childless couple. Ms. Amendolara’s interpretation was agonizing as she danced fiercely from her empty belly with determined, hard-struck plantas. Ms. Bianquet interpreted Fertility. Juan Naranjo danced the role of the troubled, beleaguered husband, Juan. Ms. Ruano sang their woes. The violin, played by Lisandro Pejkovich, again carried the mood and story forward as the wife pranced with rage and anguish. In Yerma, all the elements came together for fine dramatic effect with companionable lighting by Fernando Di Yorio, costumes by Pablo Bonet, and choreography by Fabiana Pouso and Claudio Arias.
In Prendimiento y muerte de Antoñito el Camborio, accompanied by other artists, Mr. Arias starred wearing a bolero jacket adorned with gold chains and trim, a white shirt open to the waist, and black pants. He worked bent, often with his hands behind his back as though manacled. His kicks and toe points were struck with arrow precision. As four dapperly dressed fellows (Pablo Garay, Yamil Rabaj, Victor Zapata, and Juan Naranjo) closely encircled him with unrelenting footwork, a dagger was plunged into him, killing him.
Based on La Guitarra, Guitarra y fiesta por bulerías, was a welcome relief from the grief, the doom and gloom of death. This would have been a good place for an intermission in what was to be a show that ran over two hours and had started late. The respite was brief, however, as a fragment of La cogida y la muerte followed, entitled A Ignacio Sánchez Mejía. Men in black pounded their bastones (canes) before the pink and yellow cape of the fallen matador. As phrases were sung or spoken, they were echoed by a second voice, a powerfully effective repetition of the lines of the poem. The choreography was terse and tense with arm movements and steps that suggested the bandilleros’ strokes and the coursing of the bull. A mourning Ms. Amendolara expressed her grief in soleá. A dulcet escobilla began her solo, as sadness and rage percolated up through her torso. She seized and wrapped herself in the cape. With one arm directed skyward, the not-to-be vanquished flamenca stormed off.
In Sueños de otros días, based on El baile, four galanes of another time, in white suits, boots, and Panama hats charmed women in mustard-topped two-piece traditional style dresses with large suns splashed on their white skirts. This became a pretty, flirtatious guajira of languid arches that teased and heated up the men and the audience. Ms. Masdueño was cloaked and hunched over, an old, hump-backed woman. Manteau removed, she was young again, reborn. At the end, turning, she slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, became bent over to fade out. From a dance perspective, this was very well-conceived.
Three scenes from Bodas de sangre were adapted to create an abbreviated version of the tragic love story. Grand touches were the sevillana in the opening wedding scene, the galloping horse rhythm of Ms. Arias as Leonardo hijacking the bride, the menacingly plucked violin sounding like blood drops to the floor, and finally, the mother’s wearing rant on the futility of the young men’s deaths, her face and hands ghostly white.
With the exception of the pretty and proper black of the Alba daughters and the Yerma couple in hues of La Mancha, Mr. Bonet’s fashions were in an odd mix of colors and prints, especially for the women. The men fared better in general, in straight forward solid dark pants and shirts. The hues and patterns were jarring and often had nothing to do with the themes of García Lorca. The worst, the ugliest, was what everyone wore for the concluding, popular Anda jaleo. The company appeared in red and black. The women’s dresses were one or the other of the basic color with some part of the dress in a fabric of red and black checks, two inch squared. The men’s shirts were entirely of this racing flag patterned cloth. They looked like jockeys without their ponies. That said, as a final number the composition was a success as no one artist or art form overpowered any other. The artists crossed the stage carrying the props from the opening number, signaling the show’s end, as recorded music took over. After posed bows, the actors and dancers formed a line, inviting the musicians (cajonista Lucas Balbo; guitarist Manuel Sosa; the afore-mentioned virtuosic violinist, Mr. Pejkovich; and first guitarist, composer, and musical director, Rodrigo González) forward for a final, much-deserved acknowledgement.
In January and February Danspace Project began a series of workshops, discussions and performances entitled Platforms 2010 as part of a larger endeavor, Choreographic Center Without Walls or CW2. Curator Ralph Lemon brought together five artists from a wide cultural background for this first installment of Platforms entitled, i get lost. The evening under review brought together Souleymane Badolo and Judith Sánchez Ruíz for two magnificent solos as the final event.
These programs and initiatives are noteworthy in a few ways. Until now Danspace Project has tended to present a variety of performers and groups that represent the range of dance in New York outside of the larger companies. Emphasis has been firstly on quality with a secondary goal of showcasing women choreographers and performers. But by organizing major chunks of the season around roughly month-long themed residencies, Danspace will be able to offer greater overall coherence. Secondly, apart from the Out of Space evenings with guest curators, in the recent past the curatorial approach was mostly not utilized. Finally, leaving aside tie-ins with Movement Research, Danspace until now has been more a venue for finished pieces rather than an exploration of dance as a creative process. If the audience enthusiasm is any guide, these new directions should prove popular in addition to being artistically significant.
Judith Sánchez Ruíz offered an engaging, concentrated and highly personal solo, And They Forgot To Love. The first part had an air of art photography: her upper front torso was tastefully covered with irregular pieces of cream-colored tape with an effect similar to loose brushwork on a canvas. Also part of the overall design, her longish hair was pulled tight at the top of her head and then left to explode free form to complement her movements. Her style was eminently communicative with lively upper torso plus long arms given to expanding gestures all supported by her sturdy lower body. A flicking gesture punctuated longer lyric stretches, occasionally while seated on the floor. Carol Mullins’ lighting scheme provided a dramatic note for this section with Sánchez somewhat at a distance from the audience, for this evening seated at the sanctuary end of the space. Then came a change of mood as she pulled up over her torso a black lace-like dress that had been hanging at her waist. Completing her look with black ankle-length tights, she moved to Dafnis Prieto’s soundscape, mostly her voiceovers. In one prominent line: “I am interested in all that I feel”, she acknowledged her inner creative voice that is both sustained and crowded by the non-artistic parts of her life. As her gaze slowly ascended from audience-level, one felt the strength of her personal aspirations. Mullins enhanced Sánchez’s masterful control of the performing space with fade-outs allowing chance to restake positions ever closer to the audience.
What was most striking about this piece was Sánchez’s directness and lack of cliché that is all too common in contemporary dance. It is no wonder that she has been cited as an artist to watch. Cuban-born, she works in New York and internationally in a variety of settings including Trisha Brown’s company and Movement Research.
Souleymane Badolo also presented a dynamic, personal piece. But his solo was more a portrait as a native of Burkina Faso with various intertwined cultural legacies. As he took in the whole audience, Badolo narrated his personal story in French and his local language and explained why he named piece Yaado (“cemetery”), a name with both individual and (French) colonial significance. Led by Mullins’s progressing rectangles of light, he transformed himself from narrator to vehicle. At times his frantic undulating seemed to energize the entire performing space, with arms and shoulders acting as transmitters. This intensity was mirrored in the sheen of his muscled back, a white sarong the sole costume element at this point. In addition to accompaniment by Diabate Youb on the harp-like cora and Kanoté Mamadou on the extremely subtle double-drum tama. Badolo also made a variety of clicking sounds, ventriloquist style, to accompany his piece. Sections connected seamlessly ending in a strong jumping sequence. To cap the performance, Mamadou parked his tama and took a well-applauded turn on the floor. Some of Badolo’s compositional elements will be familiar to those that know French choreographer Mathilde Monnier’s intercultural work, which has involved Badolo as collaborator.
The theme title for these weeks of Platform 2010, I get lost, comes from curator Ralph Lemon’s musings on dance as a creative process. If this program is a guide, Danspace is off to a good start in offering performers and public the chance to explore the nature of dance together.
"Think Africa” was the first thing Karole Armitage said in her opening remarks at the Salon Performance of selections from her Itutu at Abrons Art Center on January 10, 2011. The choreographer for the company, Armitage Gone, went on to say that she was inspired by Africa and the idea of cool (the translation of itutu, her title) as grace under pressure. As far as I could tell, neither of these were evident in the work, save for the occasional inclusion of an African step or two and the four African artists, a singer, musician and two dancers, who interacted with Armitage’s ten member company. Unfortunately they remained segregated within separate aesthetics. They were costumed differently as well, save for sharing the same dark patterned material. The African artists were barefoot in long pants and the soft ballet slipper clad Armitage dancers were in biker tights with close knit tops or short ballet type skirts with halter tops. These costumes by Peter Spellopoulos were definitely designed to show off the leg extensions and pointed feet of the Armitage troupe.
This program was part lecture and part performance with four discussion segments and three dance excerpts in between. On the panel were Ms. Armitage, Lukas Ligeti, composer/musician for the work, and Virginia Johnson, current Artistic Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem. One could not help but note that in this discussion of African influences and culture and its relationship to this work, only one panelist (Ms. Johnson) was Black. Although Mr. Ligeti composed for and performs with the electronic band accompanying the dance from Burkina Faso, Burkina Electric, he is white, born in Austria and educated and raised in the USA. Not surprisingly, Ms. Johnson exhibited more awareness than the other two of the complexity of the issues involved in defining or representing an influence as gargantuan and complex as Africa. Her articulate, intelligent remarks demonstrated her personal and historical understanding of racism, whether internalized or inflicted. For sure, one cannot talk in America about Africa without talking about the racism that lives here. Johnson spoke honestly about her own ambivalence regarding how to define Black culture and how to integrate it with concert Western dance. Other issues were raised as well about communal versus presentational modes of dance expression, the drive to create something new in art through fusions of cultures versus striving to locate a common essence and the similarity and contrast in the physical expressions of musicians and dancers.
Mr. Ligeti who was introduced to native African music through an ethnomusicologist in college, but who has visited Africa several times, gave Ms. Armitage a way to excuse her ignorance of the issues involved by acknowledging that one’s first stab at conversing with African culture and aesthetics cannot help but be superficial. One could not characterize Armitage’s artistic effort as anything more than sophomoric. I have seen even student choreographic efforts to fuse dance forms from disparate cultures more successful. I remember a wonderful LA artist, Kiha Lee, who found a way to integrate her deep understanding of traditional Korean dance and her new found fascination with modern/postmodern movement and choreographic ideas. How impressed I was here in NYC with how Janaki Patrick, a specialist in Kathak, created work with tap dancers, finding their common ground and ways to be inspired by their differences, while respecting both forms. Armitage seemed to not have any idea how to approach integrating these different aesthetics and woefully ignorant of the impact of racism, the dangers of appropriation, the exploitation of what is seen as exotic, and the effects of colonialism. She spoke often of Balanchine and Merce Cunningham, the strongest influences in her training and experience. She talked about Balanchine’s Agon as an example of breaking the division between Blacks and Whites in the 1950’s with the inclusion of Arthur Mitchell, a Black man partnering a white ballerina. Ms. Johnson quickly pointed out the barriers to Black ballerinas in most ballet companies still exist. It must be said also that there has never been a Black female dancer in the Merce Cunningham Company either. Ms. Johnson also noted that Balanchine at one point said that he dreamed one day of a company with 12 ballerinas, six White and six Black, something that clearly has never come to pass anywhere.
Since I only saw excerpts of Itutu I cannot give it a full accounting, but I paid close attention to Armitage’ stated and written intentions. She said that she wanted to respond to the poly-rhythms of the African influenced music by creating a “poly-visual effect,” a blend of elements from multiple sources as in the Spanish 16th century “ensaladas.” This reference to yet another culture and time, perhaps good in a press statement, seemed a completely arbitrary and pretentious apology/justification for avoiding influence and cross cultural exchange. While the rhythmic complexity of the music and tantalizing dynamic range invited response and engagement, all Armitage heard was a pulse. Indeed, in response to a question from the audience later asking if she had problems counting or deciphering the complex rhythms of the music, she seemed to momentarily flounder. Her only response was that the pulse was so much heavier and faster than she was used to working with and that she realized African movement only involved keeping the feet close to the ground but in her movement she needed to use more counts to accommodate high extensions. The only real syncopation I saw was in the few African steps she allowed. The fine African dancers, Vicky and Zoko Zoko, were marginalized except in the last excerpt from the Finale. In it, Armitage’s company stood in lines behind the African dancers (the only time the latter’s movement was at the forefront) following some simple African steps. It truly looked like a beginning African dance class at a community center or local college dance department. I thought how great it would have been if the piece had started there and had grown from that point. The closest these two groups of dancers came was when they sometimes took hands, often to assist one of the company women to balance with her leg up high. One of the most uncomfortable sections was a duet between one of the African male dancers and Mei-Hua Wang. He was relegated to “partnering” her like a male ballet dancer as she posed and turned. Every once in a while he would do a hip movement or backward somersault. His moves were utterly subservient and extraneous. Her dancing was left unaffected.
Based on the three lengthy excerpts I saw the majority of the movement was generic contemporary ballet and could have been in any dance. Indeed it looked utterly dated and unmemorable. It was full of arabesques, hyper-extended limbs-- almost to an obscene extent, movement initiated by a pointed foot and an emphasis on shapes over motion. Save for a hip wiggle here and there I saw no African influence. It also was organized spatially in the most unimaginative ways e.g. circles and lines with lots of unison. I did not see the poly-visuals promised. There was one scene in which the extraordinary singer/dancer Mai Lingani, and guitarist Wende K. Blass interwove spatially through two dancers, Leonides Arpon and Masayo Yamaguchi. It was the only segment that could possibly be characterized as poly-visual. Even though they were not strictly being used as dancers, these African artists, because of the way their bodies responded to the music they were producing, danced exquisitely. And it sharply contrasted with the dancing of the company members. Armitage’s dancers are fine technicians and did the most with the material they were given. I wondered how the four Black dancers in her company felt about this work which so ignored, and gave patronizing lip service to, their African roots, while purporting to honor it. In addition to Mr. Arpon, Ms. Wand and Ms. Yamaguchi, the company dancers were Kristina Bethel Blunt, Sean Hilton, William Issac, Abbey Roesner, Bennyroyce Royon, Marlon Taylor Wiles and Emily Wagner.
Ms. Armitage is characterized as a postmodernist. For sure, there was no release technique present, traditional ballet technique and aesthetic dominated. All was very proscenium oriented. Improvisation was not a part, except perhaps for the musicians. In fact, Armitage mentioned the problem posed for her dancers when the musicians improvised, that the dancers just didn’t know what to do. Perhaps her mere juxtaposition of the African and her balletic moves made it qualify as postmodernist, as pastiche is often mentioned as a defining element. However, I found the work utterly mindless and lacking in any researched or conceptual underpinning. Will she try a Hawaiian theme next?
In the last discussion segment, questions were taken from the audience and, despite a very mixed race group, all the questions were from white members, that is, except for the last speaker. The young Black woman actually offered a comment rather than a question. She said that she enjoyed the mix of styles and appreciated the “inclusion of African.” I thought it a most telling statement. I wish that Armitage could have understood that the difference was not just steps but that the African movement came from a different physical stance and cultural a priori. The impetus was different, the foot’s relationship to the ground different, the posture different, and, most of all, the reasons to move different, that is, not to show, but to experience and express. She approached the African movement as a mere style, just as ballet dancers often view modern as just different steps as opposed to a different philosophy of the body. I wonder if she has ever heard of Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus or Talley Beatty or knows of their groundbreaking work. Armitage seemed satisfied with what she had created, seemingly unbothered or unaware of the opportunities she had missed.
Dancing by Ann Cooper Albright; Wesleyan University Press; ISBN: 978 0 8195 7077 29.95 pages; $29.95
From pillar to post, this book is a feast. Additionally, in its presentation of human capital as the ritual food among artists, this book extends an open invitation to explore dialogs and exchanges of creativity and life force. Making Art…. Herein, artists talk about making art and, its impact on the community at large. Visually; the paper stock choices, font decisions, and layout design all facilitate visual and sounds in motion.
Professor of Dance & Theatre @ Oberlin College, Ann Cooper Albright has culled the cauldron(s) filled with creative process to celebrate Isadora Duncan and her seminal impact on literary, dance and visual enclaves. Duncan is renowned as a dance pioneer and feminist whose legacy continues…. Here is a book that celebrates her creative leadership and process of self-discovery as stated in her autobiography: My Life.
I spent long days and nights in the studio seeking that dance which might be the divine expression of the human spirit through the medium of the body’s movement. For hours I would stand quite still, my two hands folded between my breasts, covering the solar plexus… I was seeking and finally discovered the dance.
Equally important to keeping her legacy and BRAND fresh, this book specifically provides in depth research, conversations, insights and viewing of painter Abraham Walkowitz watercolor ‘samplings’ of his muse, Isadora Duncan. He is reported to have drawn over five thousand moving images of Duncan. A sizable number of his portfolios can be seen at the Dance Collection of Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library, University Gallery of the University of Delaware as well as housed at the Zabriskie Gallery. Most of these images are 81/2 X 11 sketchbook or construction papers renderings. His style and devotion to her required that Duncan fill each page’s surface. By size and scale, Walkowitz has Duncan fill each page’s surface. She just about breaks the borders in action that kinesthetically captures her just before she leaves the page.
You have actually recreated her movement much more truly than a moving picture camera would have done. You give the precise feeling of her rhythm, the precision and intensity of her line, her flowing grace, and the massive proportions which served her to design nobility. You see her outside(s) clearly because you understand what is within, and from the inside out.
Walkowitz’s colleague Carl Van Vechhten’s Assessment and Foreword to Abraham Walkowitz, A Demonstration of Objective, Abstract, and Non-Objective Art. (Girard, Kans….: Haldeman-Juleus, 1945), page 6
Cooper Albright best explains Abraham Walkowitz’s keen connection with Duncan through two streams of analysis: Historical data – They were born the same year, 1878 in contrasting hot and cold sites- Duncan in California and Walkowitz in Siberia. Both were precocious youths. They traveled a lot and had devoted unconventional parents/siblings. As developing professional adults, Auguste Rodin brought the two together in 1906 Paris. Rodin was an eternal catalyst, mentor and ‘party animal’ who hosted numerous studio, salon and garden performances of literary, music, fashion, arts &crafts, and dance talents. Walkowitz absorbed and understood Duncan’s artistry. Later, as it was possible he saw her performances stateside in 1915, 1916.
The second stream actually better explains how Abraham Walkowitz could continue to paint muse Isadora Duncan well after her death in 1927. He lived to 1965 and did the better portion of his Duncan input in those later years until he lost his sight. He could do this because Isadora Duncan lives and moved within the bones, muscles and sinews of Abraham Walkowitz. His muscle memory and morphic resonance applied Isadora Duncan’s innovative lessons of freedom so well that you know from his sketches that he danced osmotically as Isadora Duncan.
Each step, every nuance of Joy, the passion palette and stillness is all housed in Abraham Walkowitz’s body…. Not just his pen and watercolor paints. Hey! This is the way professional artists roll; and, those that are really on Pointe with their body maps and kinesthetic sense of congruence can digest and replicate through various non verbal channels.
Author Ann Cooper Albright cites her own remembered example of how this principle of empathic witness can relay action. She shares a Lucas Hoving (Limon) class where a painter sat watching and sketching. He too absorbed and transcribed the fall and recovery experiences of the arc between the two deaths. In other words this painter was a sitting but very active sentinel being engaged in the movement and rhythms (patterns) of infectious harmony. He placed his movements onto his sketchbook and sweated!
Sweat, light, sound, smell, touch and more are all markers that contrast and complement remembrances of things past as well as people who smite us. There is another celebrated titan in this book about Isadora Duncan’s impact on her peers and elders: Gertrude Stein. Gertrude Stein did a series of action word pictures of Isadora Duncan that she entitled Otra
This one is one dancing.
This one has a way of believing and feeling.
This one has a way of feeling, believing and meaning in dancing. (123)
Gender Outlaws are what I call these women. It is apt descriptive labels for Isadora Duncan and Gertrude Stein for they escaped the Laws and Standards of Victorian mores. They both had courage, protean talents and autonomy from the mindset of the ‘male gaze’. Gertrude Stein is renowned in all manner of gerund and syntax that would make Garrison Keillor’s The Writers’ Almanac and the Society of English Majors proud!
The missing link now is you. On your feet! Lift every voice and sing in sotto voice, Gertrude Stein’s prose texts, inhale deeply, and M O V E. Improvise in the best sense that Walkowitz and Jazz combos utilize improvisation. Such creative expressions are ‘live’ and only take place after years of practice, repetition, rehearsals, artistry, and digested life experiences. “Art is Creation and Not Imitation” (Walkowitz).
I am not in agreement with Ann Cooper Albright’s bubbly conclusion that art critic; Patricia Berman is matching what Abraham Walkowitz describes as Improvisation with Berman’s use of the word ‘hieroglyphs’. Hieroglyphs are not spontaneous recordings. They are etched in stone by learned professional scribes. These picture/ideograms are symbolic language that communicates clearly over the millennium. The Rosetta Stone with its transliterated comparison of more common lingua franca provided the means to know the kinetic and tactile (signature) information evident in plain view. Ms. Berman used the hieroglyph metaphor as a mystery to uncover. In other words, each visual artist now using sketches as distinct portraits (rather than preparation for formal work) presents a cartouche of their stylistic signature. A self-referentially drawing style in other words.
Time to move… moving… Move on… with Modern Gestures.
For me, this movement from the past to the present describes exactly the trajectory of Walkowitz’s drawing of Duncan dancing. When I first looked at them, they marked a historical loss and another time. Now that they have become familiar to me, they hold a vibrant life in the present. They sing to me inspiring me to look at and listen to the world with a little more awareness- and a little more Joy.
Ann Cooper Albright - 2010
by Yutian Wong; Wesleyan University Press; ISBN: 978 0 8195 6703 1; 280 pages; $27.95
Though most citizens seldom consider the United States as the subject of anthropology and ethnographic “OTHER” research, the USA has been assessed as early as 1835 by Alexis de Tocqueville, Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal in 1944, and Patrick Moynihan in more recent times… among others. However when dance is the subject as well as object of discourse and research, there has been very limited coverage and acknowledgement of the large input of Asia, Asians and Asian Americans to USA modern dance heritage. This ‘third rail’ of dance legacy has been packed into the matrix by our dance pioneers. This was so, even as Asia and its peoples, cultures, ways to move, costumes and sets & more… were appropriated. We used to say who pays the piper… calls the tune. This aphorism has been turned on its heel to mean that the pipe, piper, currency and ‘samples’ of booty are melodies in the environment… looking for the rightful owners that can spin the wheels of narrative, fancy and Americana.
Can You Name An Asian American Choreographer?
This query begins this book of acknowledgement, Introduction, six chapters: Situating Asian American Dance Studies, Club O’Noodles’s Laughter from the Children of War, Rehearsing the Collective: A Performative Autoethnography, Interlude The Amazing Chinese American Acrobat: Choreography as Methodology, Mapping Membership: Class Ethnicity, and the making of Stories from a Nail Salon, Writing Nail Salon and Pedagogy of the Scantily Clad: Studying Miss Saigon in the Twenty-first Century, plus; Epilogue, Notes, Bibliography and index.
Situating this research at the intersection of Asian American cultural studies, dance history and ethnographic writing in order to take account of the multiple ways in which Asian American bodies choreograph and perform, I investigated Asian American corporality by attending performances, participating in rehearsals, creating performance work, and writing about past performances. A close study of performances and rehearsal processes seeks to reveal the parameters within which Asian American performance artists “choreographs” selective identities in order to align or distances themselves from each other depending on political objectives, related to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and /or class identification.
This volume is organized as a performative autoethnography, each chapter providing how the theoretical positions outlined in this introduction affect the production of contemporary Asian American performance. In tracing a body engaged in different acts of performing research, I attempt to rewrite the Asian American body back into staged and written practices of representation. A close reading of Club O’Noodles’s performances and rehearsal process illumes the creativity with which Asian American artists struggle against the conflation of race and nationality while negotiating varied degrees of personal, familial, historical and artistic connections to Asia.
pg 21-22 Introduction; 4th and 5th Paragraphs
Can you name An Asian American choreographer…???
New York’s dance community contains H.T. Chen, Dian Dong, Muna Tseng, Maura Nguyen Donohue, Kazuko Hirabayashi, Eiko & Koma, The Tokunaga Sisters, Potri Ranka Manis, Young Sung Kim, Amy Chin, Yoshiko Chuma, Sun Ock Lee, Ping Chong, Saeko Ichinohe, Lori Chinn, Iris Park, Min Tanaka, Eleanor Yung, Chang Ching, Mariko Sanjo, Yuriko, Kamala Caesar, Hakari Baba, Mel Wong, Satoru Shimazaki (sic), Allan Tung, Mari Kajiwara, among other working, retired, or deceased choreographers. Even with this abridged working list, most shards of awareness of employed Asian dance workers would not perceive the impact of stereotypes and multicultural political hype about this population. They are invisible and minimized and yet also touted as “The model minority”. Additionally Wong’s insights on Hollywood Block Buster movies about Vietnam provide explanation and currency to the needs of USA citizens to rationalize the carnage of a sovereign nation in the name of a ‘Communist Domino Theory. After reading this book, readers will reflect and maybe look again at the movies of Wong’s analysis for their dynamic impact in the realms of the senses and propaganda. The movies include: Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Rambo, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan and The Deer Hunter.
Author Yutian Wong moves deftly from coast to coast as well as interiors in these narratives that cite production models that constantly address four interdependent categories of motivation: Political, Artistic, Therapeutic and Recreational. These categories feed the collective and individual Body Politic expressions.
Choreographically, Club O’Noodles (CON) draws on post modern dance vocabularies and choreographic strategies to provide a space for aesthetic experimentation and to maintain an atmosphere of inclusiveness. The democratic principles proposed by post modern choreographers and the focus on process over production in Club O’Noodles’s rehearsal and workshops create a sense of community among its membership. In the late 90’s, their rehearsal process was unique because it did not resemble the traditional notion of rehearsing a work. Instead of dedicating each meeting to work on materials directly related to an upcoming performance or a work – in –progress, most often the company would devote a good portion of the rehearsal process to establishing cohesive relationships between the members through movement improvisations and discussions of personal feelings about issues related to individuals as well as group identity.
Page 100; First Paragraph
Club O’Noodles’ production process and performances of Laughter from the Children of War, or, Stories From A Nail Salon are given in-depth descriptions and evaluation. The former shares the experiences of Vietnamese boat people and refugees while Nail Salon is clearly a post-USA citizenship narrative of working conditions and niche economy successes and stresses on kilt and kin. During her tenure with Club O’Noodles, Wong takes great notes and keeps journaling information throughout her ‘outsider’s observation stance. As her professional eye and memory for sequences are drawn on by guests, coaches and fellow participants, Wong becomes an honorary Vietnamese with the insider’s distillation of the Asian Diaspora solidarity. Her research spans years of activism and provides analysis of Miss Saigon, M. Butterfly and other high visibility consumer icons of Edward Said’s Orientalism discourses.
I assert that the political intention of Asian American performance depends upon a refiguring of the ideology under which Asian bodies are visually perceived. In order to identify performance as a tactical move, one must avoid draining the body of its agency; otherwise the “body” becomes a collection of physical markers defined as Asian American rather than a thinking agent in the process of creating history in the moment for the future. It is important to pay attention to bodily actions because the physicality of the performer reveals complex relationships between the body and its environment. To consider the body also reveals the ways in which the category of “artists” is romanticized as the rebellious individual who becomes an appropriate symbol for collective interest.
Page 40; Second Paragraph, lines 6 – 16
In this new decade of the millennium, the time is ripe to tell the missing role and discoveries of Asian dance input on Ruth St Denis, Martha Graham, Loie Fuller and other dance mavens. Culture Critic and Historian, Yutian Wong made these discoveries from the past century, but equally important is her recent field work and personal testimonials from Asian Americans dancers and choreographers. These dance folks are not dancing traditional dance styles and acrobatic ‘family’ entertainment choices. Instead: as we spoilt New Yorkers can attest; the dancing that Yutian Wong is primarily writing about are from Asian American modern and contemporary dance agents. So here in New York we have wonderful Asian American dance talents. But here in NYC, as well as throughout the USA, consciousness – raising is in order. Here’s a list of some of the numerous stereotypes and cultural myths examined throughout these chapters that inform Americana where Asian Americans are concerned.
Immigration Policies and Exclusionary Laws
The Yellow Peril
Asian Females as Prostitutes and Asian Males as Emasculated weaklings
Block Buster Vietnamese War Movies Tropes
Multicultural and Post Racial USA society
Here in St. Elsewhere, 2011 is being celebrated in Southern USA as the anniversary of the Confederate Declaration of Secession from the Union. The Civil War then began as the war to abolish the slavery that maintained southern hegemony. When the southern states loss the war in 1863 and their freed former property had the option to leave, there was a large immediate need for a replacement ‘cheap’ labor force. Additionally, the cross country railroad was now being built. Male Chinese workers were imported as temporary workers who lived in bachelors’ societies (enclaves). Families for these men were not allowed and the only Chinese females allowed were ‘comfort girls’ for this population. The ratios of men to females were quite skewed for many years of US historical records. These exclusionary laws were de jure well into the 20th century. Immigration Policies relaxed a bit after 1965 given the changes needed during and after the Vietnam War.
I assert that the political potential of Asian American performance depends upon refiguring of the ideology under which Asian bodies are visually perceived. In order to identify performance as a tactical move, one must avoid draining the body of its agency; otherwise the “body” becomes a collection of physical markers defined as “Asian American” rather than a thinking agent in the process of creating history in the moment for the future. It is important to pay attention to bodily actions because the physicality of the performer reveals complex relationships between the body and its environment. To consider the body also reveals the ways in which the category of “artist” is romanticized as the rebellious individual who becomes an appropriate symbol for collective interest.
Page 46; Third Paragraph, lines 6 -16
Asian American performances suffer from the double lack of both written and oral histories. For this reason artists/scholars and scholar/artists like the three panelists* are going out into the field, or have to come in from the field, to make the history evident as a form of activism. This is particularly the case if one contextualizes performances within Asian American studies as a tradition of resisting or transforming Eurocentric canons of history, literature and culture.
Page 128; First Paragraph, lines 1-7
Most Asian women and girls coming to the USA were either mail-order brides or sex industry workers… All foreign Asian workers were perpetual foreigners and thus US authorities were concerned with returning them to China once the mission was accomplished of enriching the robber barons and new territories of USA. The yellow peril tropes were propaganda myths and drawings that were seen in the newspapers, recited from pulpits and workforces so as to keep the Asian workers and their fragmented families isolated and scapegoat for employment and housing woes. Lots of riots, lots of stereotypes… Who killed Vincent Chin?
Mind you the extermination of indigenous people also continued and expanded greatly with the massive killing of buffaloes as sport (removal from the train tracks and routes) and deliberate strategy to prevail from coast to coast. Those exclusionary laws for Asians in the Americas prevail even during all the exchanges of commerce from Admiral Perry with Japan, or the annexation of Samoa, Philippines, Hawaii as US Territories.
Anyway there is so much more to say and discuss within the annals of the ‘model minority’ who still continues to be invisible. Howard Zinn, John Hope Franklin and others sought to remedy USA history records; but institutional bodies like the Texas Education Board of Regents- which produces the majority of school textbooks(for various states ordering grade schools materials) publish the information for this new expression of global imperialism.
O.K., O Kay! This is not the data of dance steps and choreography right? And yet: all these things and everyone have an impact on quality of life, opportunities, community, artistic, political, therapeutic and recreational options. And no, pleading the 5th amendment and innocence / ignorance does not provide traction. Yutian Wong’s Choreographing Asia America cauterizes the core notion of ‘dumb’ dancers, focused on the adrenaline high of performance and our hot house environments of class, rehearsals, & performances, love on the side hold the mayo and childcare duties.
In place of complacency, ignorance and Empire, Wong initiates constructive re-tooling of USA Dance Heritage. It is time to roll up sleeves; place on thinking caps and thinking bodies to document the full dance coalition of the USA.
And don’t get me started on Miss Saigon. I have a personal coffin nail under my craw for it. Let’s start by saying this fact: Miss Saigon is not history and for it to have so much traction and be ‘educational’ curriculum materials dispensed, touted and cherished as authentic representations of the Vietnam War years and aftermath is clearly ‘the White Man’s Burden”. OK so the helicopters and bikinis are indeed a lot to keep accurate inventory of. But just when will the long term impact of Agent Orange be acknowledged?
The accessibility of popular representation of the Vietnam War reduces Vietnam itself to a war absenting it of culture, language and people. Instead, Vietnam has filled a psychic space in the US imagination as a geographical expanse defined by an historical moment with no past and no future. It is an exotic and foreign locale inhabited by dead or about -to - be - blown away Vietcong, whores, oppressive jungles and anonymous bodies dressed in black pajamas and conical hats, running around screaming unintelligibly. Liberal representation of the Vietnam War may also include a “critique” of war by showing wanton US violence against Vietnamese women and children, but the anti-war sentiment is always embodied by an individual enlighten white soldier who is horrified by what he sees. If he is more liberal, he may also go as far as recognizing past wrongs and see the necessity for reuniting Amerasian orphans with American fathers.
Page 203; First Paragraph
People as commodity and the garden variety systemic racial and gender hierarchy is what takes place throughout MISS Saigon. Here is my personal pitch for why I stand in solidarity against Miss Saigon. In 1991, Charlton Heston was President of Actors Equity Association (AEA) in addition to his duties as upcoming chairperson for the National Rifle Association. He threw down the gauntlet that if, the Broadway debut of Miss Saigon was not performed as intended and, as it was staged in England with casting of Europeans in yellow face, he would resign from AEA. It did not matter to him all the dues paying members of color who only had employment of Broadway through the so called Non Traditional casting. In other words, we were all just paying dues to keep the options open of going to professionals only audition notices, and then, be the ‘first’ cut in the cattle call. He did not care about the picketing, he could care less about fairness or, AEA actually having true employment opportunities beyond say the all Black Hello Dolly or Filipinos casted as Vietnamese understudies. Readers: This was not that long ago that The Great White Way finally had open borders and job possibility to non – European talents. I wrote a letter to him in protest and sent him my union card with the request to be removed from the privilege just paying union dues. I got my card in the seventies so that is a lot of monthly dues payments for naught. Thank you so much Ms. Wong for this opportunity to vent.
In closing, you will learn a different process to making art from Yutian Wong’s book. I strongly recommend it. Some of the missing data from the dance heritage records of the United States waits. Too few professional and grassroots performers, students and academic fellows know how extensive the tap root of Asia and its numerous people are to American (USA) cultural narratives. From Yutian Wong’s book, more questions and answers will be sought… Better yet; with better answers and Asian dance talent and input acknowledged, we will see America dancing.
* Joann Kealiinohomoku, Cynthia Novack, and Jennifer Fisher