Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

21 July, 2009

On Publication

There are people who take the comparison between pets and children very badly; I am one of those curmudgeons. I am quite certain that, similarly, there are many who would consider the launch of a book a sad and inappropriate approximation to childbirth. And yet, as I have discovered, there is something oddly familiar about the sensation of putting a book out into the world, the first of which is amnesia.

Over the last six months, I have managed to forget several things. I have forgotten who I was before The Book began to be read by people over whom I have no control. I have forgotten that no matter how hospitable a world I try to create for The Book, eventually it has to leave my forgiving embrace and grow its own legs and heart and ambivalence. I have forgotten that whatever I put into The Book through hours of writing and revision and fact-checking and editing before it got typeset and bound and dressed up in its finery and posed for its glamor shots, is its essence; the rest belongs to the friends it picks up along the way and the various juries of its peers who remain undefined by age or gender or national origin. I have forgotten that I can only speak of The Book in the language in which I wrote it, and that it has acquired languages I will never speak and, therefore, will move and grow and, perhaps, be crucified by words I will not understand. I have forgotten that before there was The Book, there was me, the writer, and that though the bond we share cannot be severed, we are two separate beings. I have forgotten that after today, July 21st, 2009, The Book and I will look at each other from a safe distance, loving and blaming each other and that we will both be right.

Publish, v.tr, means both to prepare for public distribution and also to bring public attention to (the document issued forth). Publishing therefore, is a strange bedfellow. To see publication as being reflective of success should come naturally to a writer and, objectively, I see that it is. I hand out my post cards, I speak about my book, I answer “I am a writer” when people ask me what I do. But in order to feel that publication is a singular achievement, to seek the attention of the world only to The Book, I would have to commit to defining myself as a writer and become comfortable in giving this aspect of myself primacy in my life. I would have to slough off my many skins and be this one thing: the writer of The Book.

Which makes me think of mothers who are not simply people who create children. They are human beings with interesting or even mundane passions, weird predilections, unspent talents, and reservoirs of energy for things that have nothing to do with the birthing, raising and nurturing of their children. Likewise, I am a woman who is involved in politics, who loves public life and making connections between people who do interesting things for the world, and freelances as a political journalist. I am a woman who is devoted to teaching and performing Latin/ballroom and Middle-Eastern dance, and also to public education. I am a woman who is upset by the fact that the best library of my suburban library system – which is ranked as one of the top twenty in the country – is slated for a $11.1 million renovation while the Philadelphia public libraries are being closed down. I am a woman who wants to make the donation of new books to those city libraries part of the fund-raising efforts of our national blue-ribbon ranked suburban public school system. I am a woman who, upon learning from my fellow patient at Lankenau Cancer Center, that there has never been a welcome-home parade for veterans of the Vietnam War, is wondering how to organize one. I am a woman who is deeply involved in raising three daughters. And I am a woman who writes fiction.

In thinking through and writing this blog post, I have remembered all that I had forgotten, the most important of which is that in writing as in motherhood, life, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, is not lived as a single issue but rather among multiple and often knotty, entangled threads. Today, therefore, I have decided to take a page from mothering. I will assume that blessed mantle and say a few words to The Book: You are not perfect, and I could have done better by you, but I gave all that was possible for me to give. You are not lesser or greater than your future siblings, or any of your friends. You are a part of me, but more than that, you are yourself. Go forth and prosper.

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4 May, 2009

Ailey II, Philadanco, Bliss

A few years ago I found myself in a packed theater in a small town in Maine. The Waterville Opera House is one of those gems that we want to keep close; complete with scrolled sides and ornately framed, curving proscenium, an orchestra pit, and sloped seating. Not to mention people with the arts in their veins. On that particular evening, the Opera House was playing host to Ailey II, the brainchild of Alvin Ailey who began the ensemble in 1974 by gathering together the most promising scholarship students from the Ailey School to study, perform and teach.

There is something hungry about the Ailey II dancers. Most of them are, by the very nature of the program, brand new and eager. They can do what most dancers in major companies can do, but they are still “en route.” That makes all the difference. Their potential sparks off their bodies, their dreams of success, within their grasp but just beyond, ignite the air. Their movements are, therefore, full of the quality that makes dance joyful. It pours off the stage and picks up the audience and makes us all, even the hardiest hardy-Mainer leap to his feet. During that particular performance, mistakes were made, entrances botched. At least one dancer’s legs trembled as his partner flew through the air to brief safety in his arms. But being able to see the human, his frailty, his vulnerabilities, underneath the awe-inspiring virility of the dancer, is what makes that kind of performance memorable, and other, more perfect, ones, utterly forgettable. Their grand finale, a completely exhilarating, defiant and sexy interpretation – complete with some pursed mouths and neck action – of the spiritual, ‘Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,’ was the perfect ending.

Last night I was reminded of that performance when I went to see Philadanco at the Perelman Theater here in Philly. The program, New Faces, showcased the work of four young choreographers working with the talented ensemble. Again, the most striking of the performances were not the ones that were most technically perfect. The somber, controlled and well executed Red Envelope (Zane Booker, World Premiere) had less to offer than the story-told vibe of Be Ye Not (Hope Boykin, World Premiere) which was both moving in its depiction of the desperation of staying out/fitting in, as it was exuberant in the way it dramatized that tension with one just-short-of-perfect dancer and the shoal like symmetry of the rest of the troupe. And while Rapture (Tony Powell, Company Premiere)was beautiful to watch and uplifting, with its theme of the ebb and flow of emotional and spiritual being, its very fluidity lulled the mind. On the other hand, Those Who See Light (Camille A. Brown, World Premiere) which consisted of all the dancers moving now together, now apart in a sort of crazy-making, syncopated urgency which brought to mind mysterious worker bees striving at some unending task in a different corner of the planet, had the edgy, street-creds of using every part of the dancer including and most specially, their stomach muscles heaving rhythmically with the music, to draw us in. Having made those distinctions, however, I also have to say that they are negligible on the strength of the work of the choreographers themselves who have created something well outside the scope of the ordinary.

Both these things, the youth and future-focus of the Waterville performance and the creative spirit of the Philly show seem to have been captured in the latest experiment in happy ingenuity set to sweep the nation or, in this case, the world. Watch, listen, enjoy. The fact that the “starter version” of the track was done by the now deceased Roger Ridley just adds to what is left behind. Click for an unforgettable rendition of ‘Stand By Me.’

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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