When I ride on the subways in Buenos Aires
, I imagine a shadow self who grew up here, speaks Spanish, drinks mate. It was so arbitrary, the Europeans immigrating to the West in the 20th century. Many of them boarded ships without knowing which country they were going to. Sometimes I imagine that my great grandparents got on the wrong boat. But maybe that fantasy is in place so that I never have to accept the flaws of my home country. I can always claim that my U.S. citizenship was accidental.
It’s a convenient fantasy that serves me when I’m enjoying the sense of familial cohesion that exists in South America. It’s not a convenient fantasy when I am mugged (twice, both times failed) Or when I am stranded somewhere in the middle of the night, lost, tired and pathetically monolingual.
Why is my heart more open in Argentina? Are people more electric while traveling? More electric around travelers? Would this feeling subside if I lived here?
In contact class we practiced heart duets with eyes closed. Partners moved while holding each others hearts. I wandered through the space to make sure that no one crashed into each other and felt privy to the most tender, intimate dances.
When I asked the workshop
participants to invite being seen, Stephania sang a song softly, to herself. She walked through the space, facing us, facing away and I sensed that she was letting go of the pattern of her cells facing one direction, even though she had never heard that riddle/directive from Deborah Hay.
Stephania is from Uruguay, which she had never left until this workshop. She is 25 yrs old. Ema took us to an American style restaurant where Stephania, upon my insistence, had her first lox on a bagel, which she attempted to eat with a knife and fork until I intervened. She asked me how to pronounce the contraction of cannot. We discussed the widespread teaching of British English, how Violeta, my translator, sounds like a European. We discussed the pronunciation of can’t and how the Brits say “caahn’t” which sounds a little like “cunt” and we took pleasure in repeating the word many times.
Ema, who organized my BA workshops told me that after the death of his parents (within several months of each other) he took a workshop with Pina Bausch and that dancing saved his life. Ema has a generous smile and a quiet patience when he’s dancing, eating, listening. Ema trusts.
Elegant Violeta, (the first dancer to teach CI in BA,) and I had dinner after the workshop performance
. We passed by a milonga in the park and then the pulsing, drumming and heat of a Carnival passed us by on a narrow street. We stood pressed against a building and Violeta told me that every neighborhood at this time of year has a Carnival, each with a political or social theme. After seeing a few darker folks dancing in the carnival, I was curious about the conspicuous absence of people of African descent in Argentina. I had asked this question to many people and had been given many different answers: The slaves were all killed, there weren’t that many slaves, they all fled to Brazil, they were used on the front lines of the war with Paraguay... Violeta gave me the most startling answer of all... Historians disagree about what happened to the people of African descent in Argentina. Historians disagree?
A 3 hour meal. A woman sang a tango in the restaurant for money. She had a deep, strong voice and clutched her purse to her chest as she sang. What would happen in the U.S. if a singer came into a restaurant to busk?
The next day I had another 3 hour meal with Ema, Nanak and Adrian. Nanak teaches kundalini yoga and wears diaphanous scarves around her head. One day on the subway someone called her “Taliban.” She laughed, shook her head, and repeated the word “Taliban.”
The next day I had another 3 hour meal with Leo, and Christof, an Austrian musician who has relocated to BA. He explained to me how easy it is to move to Argentina. I did some math: the rent I could gain from my house = living expenses in BA and realized I’m a fool not to live there. A fool. Here
is an excerpt of Me and Leo and Cristof performing in La Plata.
There are coincidences and then there are meaningful coincidences that we call synchronicity. Leo, Christof and I all come from secular, atheist, communist, Jewish families. We were all born and raised on different continents. Although they had played music together for years, Leo and Christof didn't even know about their common heritage until I arrived and broached the subject. Perhaps our commonality doesn't play any role in our improvisational dialogue, but it feels meaningful to me that our
grandparents probably ranted the exact same political philosophies in Yiddish and that our families all struggled with the question of how much to share and how much to hide of their dangerous political beliefs.
In La Plata
I stayed with Cristian, who lives in a masterfully designed home, inherited from his parents, made of mostly windows, skylights and a few bricks. The house is a L shaped around a courtyard. The entry is door inside a square of bricks floating inside a wall of greens and bushes. There is an old dog Bubo who guards the house. At meals Cristian feeds Bubo from the table, just as his father did. His partner, Paula, shakes her head, just as his mother did.
Jose, Leandro and Cristian took me to a restaurant inside of someone’s house. There were four items on the menu. We sat by the kitchen. On the table were books, including one called “the world’s greatest art” in which we all looked for images of ourselves... missing! Cristian played dj on the laptop. We marveled at the 5 years that had passed since I was last in La Plata. Since then, these guys have branched off from music and visual art to performance art. Leandro recently performed a piece where he was homeless for several days and got arrested twice. Jose made a beautiful video piece where he disrobes in the median of a street and pours water on himself. Clouds pass across the sky, cars and people pass. No one stops.
At dinner, one of them took out their ID card and I asked them if they always carry them. Yes. Cristrian demonstrated a habit of older Argentines to touch their back pocket every time they see a cop to make sure they have their ID, a kinesthetic remnant of the military government.
In Argentina, I feel closer to my deceased father, who taught Latin American history, though I remember shamefully little about the history of the country. In light of Britain threatening to declare war on Argentina a few days before I left, History prof, Joel Tannenbaum schooled me via facebook comment:“Nicole, I'll make this as concise as I can:
It is one of the weirder accidents of the 19th century that the British somehow ended up in control of a small archipelago off the southern coast of Argentina. They sent a bunch of British people there who spent the next century engaging in such activities as animal husbandry, woolcombing, and being cold and bored.
Then, one day, in the very early 80s, Argentina's very not-nice military dictatorship took a break from throwing communists out of airplanes and decided that these islands actually belonged to them.
Since the islands actually offered the British no strategic or economic benefit, and the Argentinian junta really had no plans for the place except as parking for one of their weak-ass aircraft carriers, it probably would have made sense for the British to just let them amuse themselves.
But there happened to be a general election coming up, and Margaret Thatcher happened to look at some polling data and realize she was losing very badly, and had one of her signature crazy ideas: Get a last-minute electoral boost by sending a bunch of boats basically the entire length of the planet to briefly fire up the glory days of the empire by "liberating" some islands that had significantly more sheep than people.
This turned out to be a bit more than the Royal Armed Forces was actually capable of, but likely Mrs. Thatcher's nice friend Mr. Reagan loaned her some stinger missiles at the last moment which she used to destroy the Argentinian navy, which consisted of one boat.
This actually won her the election.
Fast forward nearly two decades. The current British Prime Minister, easily the craziest person to hold the office since Maggie, has a general election coming up which he is almost certainly going to lose. And lo and behold, what should appear in the news one day...
Just think of it as another form of 80s nostalgia.”
(Upon reading this Christof mentioned that the discovery of oil on the Malvinas also had something to do with this recent spat.)
I had a dream that I was on a plane with my father. I don’t know where we were coming from or where we were headed, but we stopped for fuel in a small town in Massachusetts. We had a conversation about illness as a an opportunity to ask for help from the people in our lives, a conversation we never had when he was alive. He said “oh, I understand” and then the plane sped down the runway. The plan never made it aloft and snow started flurrying throughout the cabin.
On my way to Rosario some men sprayed moisturizer all over my bag. Then another man came and tried to “help me” clean it. I took his tissues and kept walking. Apparently, if I had stopped to clean my bags I would have been descended upon by many men who would have taken my bags. Instead, I traveled for 4 hours on the bus smelling like lotion. Rosario
is the dream place.
Gabi Morales lives in a high ceilinged house with exposed brick; a sunny, breezy space with beautiful old wood everything. She is a frequent host, often has teachers staying with her when they offer workshops at her studio.
Her studio is also beautiful and she has set a standard in Rosario for high quality, rigorous dance and somatic work. The students who come to her space are smart movers, a pure pleasure to work with. It's a testament to Gabi's dedication, integrity and commitment to integrating somatic work into dance training. The Minister of Education in the province of Rosario has hired her to develop a somatic education curriculum for the public schools. Imagine the lives of young people whose kinesthetic intelligence will be fostered everyday at school?
Gabi was feeling sick so her Hungarian/Swiss partner Peter accompanied me to the studio by bike. After class, we ate by the river. Peter talked about somatics as a way of becoming mindful about the dance, and how we need a mental equivalent of somatics... not quite psychology, but a sort of occupational therapy for the not sick; a way of analyzing our everyday behaviors and making our mental choices more efficient and more aligned with our values. Why do I spend my life´s work looking at the micro-body, and not examine the macro-earth/body? Why do I carefully consider the food I put in my body, but not the origin of the fabric in my bath towels?
As we ate, stray dogs begged for food and children tried to sell things to us. Even in idyllic Rosario, you can´t forget you´re in a struggling country.
On the rio Parana there are these floating plants that coast down from Brazil called Camalotes
As dusk set in we contemplated the astronomy of the South. When we track the sun we´re looking NORTH! so the sun floats from right to left... backwards!
And a slice of the night sky has the same constellations we see in the North, but if you look South, there´s a whole mess of stars we Northerners have never seen, like the Southern cross
We rode back by the river and saw a place with outdoor grills where people can purchase charcoal and cook their own food. We passed a building with boys playing on a huge bike ramp inside. A merry go round, a playground where we stopped to swing with these little girls who heard our English and said ¨Hi!¨ Peter took a lot of pictures
We passed by a monument commemorating the Argentine flag and walls with tons of leftist graffiti. Rosario has a Socialist mayor and is the perfect combination of order and chaos. We rode our bikes on an unpaved dirt path and marveled at how if this was Europe or the U.S. it would be paved, privatized and regulated. In Rosario, the entire waterfront is public.
The following evening Peter and I were joined by Chelo, who had translated for me in my workshop. He had been in my workshop in Rosario 5 yrs ago and remembered my performance at the Tango hall where half the audience left because they had been expecting tango.
The three of us walked home. We saw a park full of the trees called ¨drunken wood.
¨ They are bulbous and strange.
We stopped by Chelo’s house so he could burn us dvds of the video
from the workshop performance. He has a large, populous fish tank with one lone fish in a wine glass on top of the tank. He had to separate this male from another male because they had been fighting.
As he burned the dvd I goofed around on his physioball and them flew off it and jammed my toe. On the bike ride home a stray dog ran towards us barking. Peter calmly kept riding, but I frantically turned around. The street was narrow, so I had to dismount my bike, rotate it, remount and then ride away. Peter watched my awkward maneuver, laughing.
I took an excursion to see the rainforest to see the waterfalls in Iguazu
in the North of Missiones province, where the earth is red. In the lawn in front of the airport, on my way back to BA, I dug up some red earth and put it in a plastic baggy for my boyfriend.
Back in Buenos Aires
I stayed with Leonel, Mariana and their son Nico, age 8. Nico let me sleep in his bed. He made me coffee in the morning. He let me ride his skateboard and begged his exhausted daddy, who he calls "Leo," to translate for us so we could communicate. Nico plays rock and roll on the guitar. I love Nico.
Mariana had her first solo art show while I was there and was so nervous she couldn’t sleep. She sold several paintings which will allow the family to make renovations to their home. She names her paintings after people and showed me an image of one online called “Nicole.” It was inspired by an artist, who’s name I can’t remember, who’s work is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The painting is blue
and I like it.
Leo and I had an conversation about no nada, translated as "nothing," literally means no nothing, which logically should be *some*thing. I explained to him that no nada is a double negative which he repeated quietly to himself as he smoked on the hammock in his courtyard: “If no nada means no nothing, it’s something?”
The Courtyard in their house is the central space that connects the kitchen, two bedrooms and bathroom. It's where they eat, smoke, dry laundry, nap in the hammock and also where Nico tears through on his skateboard.
I’ve seen Leo 4 times now, twice in the U.S. and twice in Argentina. During the first visit to Argentina he took me up to Jujuy in the foothills of the Northwestern Andies. We traveled by bus and our hosts tried to lodge us in a whore house and he was stalked by a crazy cellist and we fought over the attention of a beautiful woman named Guchi and I got stranded in a hailstorm in the mountains with a dancer named Maria Paz.
Every time Leo and I improvise it feels like coming home. I appreciate his intense listening skills and the time we've shared together traveling adds layers of experience onto our improvisations. On my last night we performed at Una Casa. A House. Actually, in the basement of Una Casa. Upstairs Charles, the owner of the house and his partner sold beer and home cooked food. I performed Sand in my Soda Pop and improvised with Leo and Cristof. Their music was so lush I wanted to just listen and felt like my dancing was extraneous. I also performed a piece with E°, all of us crushed into windows in the basement, each opening up to brick walls. No escape. We placed candles beneath each window and performed simultaneous solos. As Leandro and Cristian climbed the walls and beams of the ceilings, Jose undressed in the tiny space and pulled out his hair. I spoke a slow quiet monologue about how happy I was to be with them.
On my last day in Argentina, we went to a parilla called Cafe Eros which doubles as a community center where kids noisily play soccer. Christoph mentioned that he had lived in Berlin in the same building as Axel and Andrea... He had been there the same time that Bhob and I stayed at Andrea's 7 years ago, but I didn't remember meeting him. Then he gave me a cd of his, which I already had but hadn't put together that he was the same artist. How bazaar. We had some cheap, delicious steaks and then went back to Leo’s for coffee. It was pouring rain, the first rain of my visit and we listed to sad tango music on the lo fi radio. It felt good to brood, to be in Buenos Aires and to adore my Argentine family
Leo and I call each other cousin because although we’re not related our love for each other is like blood. At the airport I received a text from him: “Everything was so magic, right? We always gonna be together here and there...”
I'm here in Japan for two weeks to dance, rehearse and perform with Corrie Befort. This project was funded in part by a professional development grant from Dance Advance. I'm staying this week in Ebina, outside of Tokyo with Corrie. Next week I'll be staying in Tokyo with another dancer friend of mine from Philly, Rebecca Lloyd Jones.
When I arrived on Sunday the 25th, after 20 hours of traveling, I stood transfixed in the Shinjuku train station, waiting for Corrie to pick me up. A man asked in English if I needed help and I said no. I must have looked a mess standing there in the center of the station, people streaming around me, suitcases and bags strewn at my feet, circles under my eyes, slack jawed, mesmerized by three women in pink bunny costumes dancing in a video ad on the side of a building, standing there as if in the midst of a petit mal seizure. I must have looked terrible, but I was actually very happy. I knew that Corrie would come. I called her cell from a pay phone. Of course, she had said take the "South Exit" and I had taken the "New South Exit". Duh.
Corrie lives in an agricultural area, outside of Tokyo called Ebina. She lives on a quiet, pristine street in a very spacious house. Her husband is in the navy and is stationed in Japan. We went grocery shopping on the Army base. There were bowling alleys, bars, McDonalds, grocery stores and movie theaters. Many of these military families live in Japan, but they stayed in America. Corrie and her husband don't live on base. She's been studying Japanese intensively here for the past 3 yrs and has immersed herself in the Japanese dance community.
On Monday we went to an Aikido class on the army base, where Corrie has been practicing for a few months with a Japanese teacher. I had studied Aikido for one year, ten yrs ago and a lot came back to me; the rolls and terrible wrist twisting. One guy said I was a natural as he winced in pain from my terrible wrist twisting. I was taught how to bow, how to get up with my left foot first and go down with my right. We practiced rolls and pushing each other up and down and wrist twisting. One guy said, "Don't look down, you've been looking down your whole life", which was a condescending thing to say, especially since he had just been showing me how to place my feet *down* on the floor.
The Onsen are natural hot spring baths. We found one hidden in a garden of bamboo trees with wooded pathways, creeks and fire torches. An old man appeared at a sliding door and invited us in. He struck a drum several times as we took off our shoes. For real. We were led to a tea room with Western Classical music playing. It was ornately decorated with chandeliers, and smelled musty. Then we were directed to the hot spring baths where we washed at shower stalls, seated on these tiny stools. Then we boiled in the bath there for awhile. There is an interesting thing about slippers here. They give you slippers to wear indoors, but then there are different slippers to wear in the bathroom, so you're always changing footwear and it's always too small for me. Also many of the toilet seats are heated.
We've been rehearsing at Corrie's community center, a very short bike ride from her house. The studio at the center has windows that open out to rice fields. In our first rehearsal, flocks of sparrows darted towards and away from us. As they flew towards us they expanded and then they contracted as they sped away, all in unison. We performed solos for one another as a way to become acquainted with each other's movement. As we soloed dozens of birds danced behind us. We also practiced improvised text and movement and contact improvisation. At our 3rd rehearsal we were joined by Yuki Enomoto who will be performing with us next week. We directed each other in impromptu solo compositions. One person would dance, another direct and another watch. We did every configuration between us and learned a lot about our different directorial styles. Yuki directed me to find a place where I wanted to be and to make myself very comfortable, whereas I directed her to perform a previously choreographed phrase over and over while singing a song she could barely recall from childhood, to the point of exhaustion. I was very demanding, but her solo was stunning. Our most recently rehearsal was outdoors on a gorgeous day. You can see footage from that rehearsal here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=6CAwxVHrs54
Kazuo Ohno's studio is outside of Yokohama. We had to walk up steep hills and stairs to reach the studio. from the top we saw the twinkling lights of the city. Houses were packed very close to one another, but there were still tons of trees and gardens flourishing in the crevices. The studio was tiny, in a house at the top of the hill, filled with chairs, couches and knick knacks. I think there must be a living space somewhere in the house, because Yoshito Ohno seemed right at home.
Yoshito Ohno's class was the most surreal experience I've ever had. An Italian dancer who's been studying with him for years offered to translate for me. He began by asking us to walk slowly. We walked as he played Western classical music for approx 90 seconds. Then he lectured for 5 minutes on the importance of every moment and how it is a gift to be alive. We walked again for 90 seconds. He made postural adjustments with little fans. Then he gave us all artificial roses and discussed the similarity between us and the rose. He touched the crown of my head and said this is the head of the rose and my feet are the roots. He had us run with the roses, asked us to let go of our ego, to disappear and be the rose, have the rose initiated our running. Then he cut a sheet of paper with a box cutter and asked us to cut the space. He said that if we lift our chins we won't have the power to cut the space. It seemed like an Alexander lesson on LSD.
Then he gave us sheet of gauze and asked us to dance with the gauze and to let the light fabric teach us about delicacy. He said all this was very serious, of the utmost importance, that when we get old we won't be able to dance unless we understand this lesson of delicacy. He talked about other dancers who possess(ed) this delicacy: Martha Graham, Pina Baush, his father, Kazuo Ohno. He had us dance to some ambient music, and then some more classical. At one point he thought we were being irreverent and careless, so he told us to dance for all the children in the world who can't sleep.
Dance for all the children in the world who can't sleep.
In other circumstances, I would have laughed because it sounded so heavy handed, but I was exhausted from standing for 2 hrs, listening to him lecture and the ambient music, My nervous system was totally fried. My dance had very little movement. I mostly just stood there with gauze in my hands, crying. After class we had tea and snacks, chatted and laughed like normal people.
At my second class with Ohno, people were already practicing their slow walking when we arrived. He had us dance with just our hands, then walk backwards, then dance just with our backs, then walk around while threading a needle, then push against the wall, then push against the air as if the wall was there. He talked about Buddhist philosophy, existence and nonexistence. I hardly understood a thing. He played Amazing Grace over and over and I cried while walking slowly. Again we had tea and snacks. Yoshito Ohno had a wonderful sweet presence with his students. He exuded warmth and affection. I told him his class was very meaningful to me, though I didn't really understand a lot of it. He said I taught him as well and he gave me a fake rose and a piece of gauze to practice with. I will practice, though I don't even know what I'm doing when I'm dancing Butoh.
Here is where I list all the strange things I've seen so far:
At 5 o'clock there's a song that plays from huge speakers to let people know it's time to go home from work.
The neighbors warn Corrie not to hang up her clothes on Yellow Dust Day, when yellow dust blows in from China and dirties her clothes.
The Japanese are so economic with their design. Corrie's pantry is in the floor. The sink water feeds into the toilet. They leave their bath water for days, reusing it over and over (showering beforehand)
The technology here is astounding. The rail system is extensive and efficient. Everything talks to you, the escalator, the bathtub. And the bath plays a song that chimes throughout the house when it's full. In some places there are fake flushing sounds at the toilets for modesty.
Everyone is so polite and organized. People line up for the train. Corrie lost a bag of new clothes on the train and retrieved it at lost and found. Not one stole it.
Many people wear masks because of the pollution and/or because they're sick.
Everything really is smaller here, I keep hitting my head on the handles on the trains. I haven't seen a single homeless person.
When I up I check my email and correspond with people who are going to bed. It's yesterday in America. When I go to sleep I check my email and they're waking up.
Flashing lights everywhere.
There is a second hand store called "hard-off", and an Americana shop specializing in super detailed beach boy station wagons called "rod sports".
"bottled water" in a can
We rode a train through the foggy Konagawa mountains - absolutely stunning. We went to Odawara to see the ocean. There were massive concrete dumbbells lining the beach to protect the highway and city from typhoons. The sand was black and there were flying fish. The day was cold and overcast but the water was warm.
The main street of Odawara was lined with colorful translucent balls, strung from building to building
and hyper cheerful folk music played from speakers. I couldn't decide if this was whimsical or creepy.
The next day we rode our bikes along the Sagami river and visited some temples. It's fall here and there were red and yellow leaves falling continuously around it.
I arrived in Tokyo on Sunday and have found the experience to be quite daunting. I'm very allergic to the air here and it's hard for me to figure out what to eat when I'm on my own because I have a lot of food allergies. I feel overstimulated and very foreign most of the time, punctuated by moments of pure magic.
I'm staying here with Beka, her sister, brother in law and their tiny baby in their tiny apartment in Ikebukuro. I feel totally in the way. The only place for me to stretch is on the baby mat. Luckily they work 9-5 and I don't wake up until after they're gone. Otherwise, it would be a zoo. They've been extremely generous with me, cooking me dinner and teaching me how to eat Japanese food. Apparently everyone dips their own spoon in the same dish to serve themselves. I was politely told to hold my bowl close to my face so the food doesn't fly off the chopsticks and onto the floor. Oops. Beka made me miso soup for breakfast and we had mochi with green tea for snacks. It's the real deal.
On my first night here Beka took me to a "rehearsal" with her theater company, Science Projects, directed by Yelena Gluzman. The rehearsal consisted of a meeting at an Italian restaurant, where we stood at the bar for 2 hrs (food is cheaper when you stand) talking about Gurdjieff and expanding consciousness. Yelena, the director, gave them notes for her new piece "Worman" over wine and cheese and I was a fly on the wall. I tried to imagine what the piece looks like from their conversation. There are two casts, the Americans who are savages and the Japanese who are an anthropological film crew studying them. Fascinating.
Then we went to this area of Shinjuku that has dozens of bars that only fit 5 people at a time. We wandered into one that already had 5 people in it. The bartender encouraged us to come in anyway and we squished in. It was very festive in that little room. They all asked Ruskie? Ruskie? Because apparently it was a bar frequented by Russians. The funny thing is that Yelana and her performer, Dima were both born in Russia and speak Russian, though they're American citizens. I'm of Russian ancestry, but don't speak Russian. Beka is Of German ancestry, is American, but was raised in Japan. Lauren, another performer is Australian. So there were all these Japanese people speaking Russian, Japanese and English with us, but couldn't figure out who was what. Every bar in Goldengai has a theme. The decor in this place was eclectic. Lauren speculated that the theme was Papua New Guinea/Folk/JapaneseAvant-Garde/Dance/1970's Performance Art. There were masks on the wall and photos of the owner everywhere, doing ballet, playing the piano, doing expressive dance. This was a very special evening.
I took a contemporary dance class from a woman named Anna (one name only). Her movement was very fast and small and since I was a foot taller than her and the other dancers I looked really dumb doing it. Plus, she played this haunted house sounding music which made it seem even more strange. 10 mins before the end of class I sprained my finger during an inversion and was relieved to have to stop. I iced it and it seems to be fine.
Beka insisted we do this. She explained that Karaoke is just to entertain yourself, not to perform for others. It's true. We got a private room and alternated singing. As I sang she checked the menu for her next song and I did the same. Occasionally we watched each other, but mostly we regressed to age 10, alone in our bedrooms, pretending to be pop stars, singing love songs about boys who "don't even know we exist". She sang Japanese songs from when she was a kid and I sang a lot of Cyndi Lauper. We were required to order drinks so we got Oolong tea. When the guy brought it in, I stopped singing, suddenly embarrassed. This was very different from doing Karaoke in bars in the U.S., which is more like performing for strangers, pretending to be a pop star. This Karaoke was different, it was a solitary affair.
You must be an artist!
I walked around glamorous Shibuya at night feeling alienated. Everyone was posturing and I felt frumpy and foreign. The choreography of the main intersection was amazing. At the red light, the people would pile up as the cars raced by. Then at the green light, bicyclists would cut through the remaining space before the pedestrians completely filled the street. It reminded me of Ohno's image of cutting the space. I watched the filling and emptying several times. The flashing lights and ads on the buildings were seizure inducing. Back in Beka's quiet neighborhood, I was stopped by a Japanese woman who asked me where I'm from. I said New York to make it simple, (Philadelphia? Where's that?) and she asked if I'm an artist. She's a painter and she loves to dance too. She said she knew I was an artist because of the way I look as she touched my fisherman's paints. I was wearing at least 7 different colors, as usual, and probably looked a little crazy, as an artist should. She looked a little crazy with a white furry hat askew, dangling earrings and a long knit sweater. She was pretty, but had yellow teeth and her eyes were kind of intense. I was thrilled to have the company and found it unusual to have a Japanese woman stop to chat in the middle of the night. We talked for 20 mins and exchanged emails. She asked me to meet her sometime and teach her contemporary dance. I sort of smiled and nodded.
Tonight was the strangest class yet. We danced for a total of 12 minutes in the 2 hour class. Yoshito Ohno spent the rest of the time telling us about the history of Butoh. He spoke in poetry so by the time the English translation reached me it was a mess. I did understand that he told a lot of anecdotes about Hijikata. Hijikata didn't eat for 2 weeks before one of his dances, so that he would be as emaciated as the Japanese farmers were during WWII. Ohno said that Hijikata used intense repetitive jumping as a training tool. I remember practicing this jumping with Deborah Butler when I studied with her in Boston. 15 minutes of continuous jumping, followed by extremely slow, contemplative movement. The jumping was very effective in exhausting the body to the point where the ego is totally dead. What's left is just the body moving. Apparently Hijikata went to a cemetery to discover what death smells like?! Butoh is sometimes referred to as the dance of death. Ohno also said it is the dance of babies. Ohno said that he never knew why Hijikata liked to dance to Amazing Grace. He wasn't religious at all, but Amazing Grace was his song. He also talked about Marcel Marceau, and how he possessed the presence of a Butoh Dancer.
We danced with roses and paper again. Then we had tea and snacks. I met a Japanese dancer based in Japan and Amsterdam who curates the Tokyo Contact Improvisation Festival and she invited me to send her my resume to be considered as a teacher there. Serendipity! I also met a Japanese man at the class who is not a dancer, but is a beautiful mover. I asked him what brought him to the class and he told me that his parents met in Ohno's class 30 yrs ago. He is estranged from his parents, but wants to learn more about them, so he is studying Butoh. I was honored that he shared this with me.
I took 4 different trains back to Beka's. As it got later each transfer was more intense. I was catching the last trains before closing. People were running through the stations, packing like sardines into the last cars. Many people were drunk, falling asleep, falling down.
Sushi-go-round: Sushi circles on a conveyor belt and you grab whatever you want, only $1.00 per plate!
Business men read manga (comix)
Each train has it's own song.
Dancing in Shibuya
Beka and I taped a small dance we did in Shibuya in the main intersection. http://youtube.com/watch?v=0soeMuZbwpw
I added some Swedish pop music to the movie because it seemed just right. Please tell me know what you think!
Here is some video of Ohno's class. http://youtube.com/watch?v=K7nSi4e0DLI
I was late to my last class with Ohno because I got on an express train and it took me too far. My most glamorous moment in Japan: I had missed dinner, was starving, so I ate sushi with my bare hands on the train. When I got there he was demonstrating presence and delicacy by having three people dance near buckets of water, sensing the water. Then he talked about the preciousness of life and every moment. Then he had us walk with flowers. Then we ran with flowers and he demonstrated crying out "mama, mama look at the flower run" to show us the level of curiosity and joy we should have while running with the flower. He said that we should dance with the honesty and innocence of a child, that our feelings of sadness, anger and joy should be transparent in our dancing. He asked us to open our eyes, see the space we're dancing in and have a soft, wide gaze.
This class was about watching. He had us watch each other and told us to watch with our bodies, not our minds, to dance as we're watching and have empathy for the people we're watching. He said watching is where you learn, everyday life is our teacher, dancing and gardening are no different. Once again I cried while walking slowly. Ohno's studio has been a sweet reprieve, a place where I can drop in and feel. There's a Japanese woman who I've seen cry at every class. It's lovely to watch her dance because she's so present with herself.
I've felt safer in Ohno's studio than anywhere I've ever been. It's very powerful for me to go to a place where we talk about mortality because I think about death everyday. My father was sick for most of my life and I watched him progressively decay over many years. There's a book of photos of Kazuo Ohno at the studio; haunting pictures of him dancing in women's attire, and then pictures of him aging. The final photos are of him bedridden with his family dancing around him. The last image is of Ohno, mouth agape, hardly conscious, hardly breathing with an infant lying face up on top of him, smiling. I've never seen images of someone so honored at the very end of their lives.
After class we had tea and snacks. There were dancers from all over the world there and it was very festive. Then Ohno performed the most wonderful thing I've ever seen. He performed a Butoh dance with a puppet of Kazuo Ohno to "Can't help falling in love with you". Yoshito Ohno disappeared and all we saw was the grotesque, beautiful movement of the puppet with the crooning voice of Elvis Presley. I would have taped it for you all, but my battery died. Tragic.
Yoko Higashino, the director of BabyQ teaches dance improvisation and technique twice a week at her tiny studio in Koenji. Yoko is an intense lady. One minute she'll be standing calmly and the next minute she'll bend backwards and end up twisted on the floor, effortlessly. When she demonstrates an improvisational concept, she dances full-out as if in performance.
After a long warmup she taught us a movement phrase. It was a very luscious, dynamic and beautiful piece of choreography. It was simple, precise, and juicy, something to sink my teeth into. It was short and easy to remember, but intricate enough to want to repeat and refine. It was fun to play with phrasing. She gave us the opportunity to practice many times in small groups.
It was hot in there. Some of her younger students drew faces in the steamed windows. Yoko was a wonderful blend of precision and passion, amazing to behold. She was always slightly off balance, dancing at the edge of her ability, not in her comfort zone. Unfortunately, she's one of those dancers who would rather be dancing than teaching. She's extremely intelligent, but didn't watch her students closely enough.
After the phrase we improvised for an hour. Her directions we simple: initiate from our pelvis, our head, different body parts, etc. Then we had to sync up a hand with another body part, which made for some unusual unison movement within our bodies. I sensed the energy in the room diminishing and I craved more specific guidance and attention. I craved a teacher Like K.J. Holmes (Hi K.J!), who is able to sense the energy of the room and shift dynamically between internal and external focus, keeping the dancers totally engaged. For example, in one of K.J.'s classes, she had us work with partners, internally focused, touching each other's backs with our hands as we moved. Then, when she sensed us all zoning out, she had us clap our hands in front and behind of ourselves, to wake us up and shift our focus to the outer world.
Though I appreciated Yoko's extreme talent as an improviser, I craved this kind of specific attention from her. I saw her discovering new and interesting things in her body at every moment, but she wasn't able to convey to the class how to be this present and embodied. She spent a total of 30 minutes of class time at her Mac, working on her playlist, which consisted mostly of hip hop, and she spent at least 5 mins staring at the floor, trying to articulate her directions for us. She should have spent that amount of time, before and after class taking notes and trying articulate her methods more clearly.
I spent Sunday with Helena Espvall, my friend from Philly who is here for 2 months playing music. It was her second day here and she had that shell-shocked, wholly-shit-I'm-in-Tokyo look on her face. She described difficulties with the shower and water heater in her apartment, all sorts of technological and logistical mishaps. We went to see a Noh Theater performance, recommended by our friend Gene Coleman. The Noh Theater was so slow and inaccessible to us it was practically unwatchable. Men sang to one another while moving very slowly across the stage, but there wasn't the tension that Ohno has when walking. There was a containment to the walking that made it almost invisible and I became very sleepy.
The BabyQ performance was the opposite of Noh Theater. There were 12 dancers thrashing about to loud electronic music. There was violence, rape, gay sex, straight sex. One guy mimed jerking off and humped the wall. Another man pulled a woman's hair and they pushed each other to the floor. A woman sprayed water all over her body and made farting noises against her wet skin. There was awkward coughing and scratching. In the last scene a man peed or ejaculated on a woman. I'm not sure what it was supposed to be, but it was actually only water, I think. Total spectacle. The few moments of pure dance were beautiful, particularly Yoko's dancing. She was transcendent and was the only one on stage who could embody these painful emotions and experiences authentically. The other dancers seemed to need more direction. They were acting out the *idea* of pain. At the end of the evening the usher handed out feedback forms and I wrote to Yoko that the portrayal of violence without any reflection or insight just perpetuates the violence. For example, during the rape scene I looked around at the audience and several men seemed very aroused. I asked one of the dancers who I had met in class if Yoko's work is typical in Tokyo and she said that BabyQ is definitely the most edgy dance company in town. I wonder if Yoko is exploring all of these dangerous images without reflection because she feels an urgency to perform these taboos?
Beka took me to a party with her Capoeira friends. Most of them have gone to Brazil to study. I asked them why they chose a Brazilian martial art when there are so many Japanese martial arts. They said they were attracted to the creative aspect of Capoeira. It's not just a sport, but includes song, dance, and improvisation. The more experienced Capoeristas had the forward slopped shoulders that develop from years of practice, very different from the typical Japanese posture where the shoulders are more balanced from front to back.
Beka and I were worried because her whole family had a stomach bug. We ate Korean bbq at the party, but were concerned that we might start vomiting at any moment. Beka kept saying "don't think about it, don't think about it". One of the Capoeristas is studying acupressure and traditional Chinese medicine. He gave Beka a strange tincture that he said contained bull's testicles and sheep's uterus. She drank the whole thing and said it tasted like umeboshi plum. It's supposed to give you energy. She was revved up for the rest of the night and the next day too.
The Korean bbq was amazing, all different parts of the cow grilled and wrapped in a huge lettuce leaf with rice and kimchi. They complimented me on my use of chopsticks, then later, once they were more comfortable with me, admitted my performance was only so-so. I asked them what their struggles are, since everyone seems so affluent and comfortable here, employed, housed, feed and well dressed. They told me that there are homeless people, but they stay in the parks and by the river, invisible to the foreigner who stays in the bustling neighborhoods. They also told me that the Japanese struggle with suicide, that 5 x's more people kill themselves than are killed in car accidents.
I couldn't get a clear answer as to why the suicide rates are so high. It's puzzling.
Our performance was not the culmination of my work here. This writing is. Our venue was changed last minute due to double booking at SuperDelux, through no fault of Corrie's. The curator, who had messed up the scheduling found us a spot at restaurant. After all this site-specific work I was open to the idea, but the space was too challenging, too many variables, so I decided not to dance. The other performers went for it and there were some truly amazing moments, like watching the waitstaff contend with the dancers in their space. Corrie is brilliant at picking up on the movement that's already happening in a space and enlivening it. She's a masterful improviser. The other two dancers were less facile in this environment. They resorted to typical dance moves that looked trite in this environment. Corrie and I discussed the evening afterwards. She was incredibly understanding of my decision not to dance. We made plans to meet again in Seattle and Philadelphia and decided that this evening was not the culmination of our work together, but just one awkward evening.
I'm Beka's first American friend to see her home. She is extremely graceful at flowing between cultures. She grew up here, but has lived in the states since she was 14. She seems totally at home here even though everyone assumes she's a foreigner and marvels at her perfect Japanese.
Beka's neighborhood is very peaceful, trees, quiet, tiny specialty shops. Just a few blocks away is lights, cars, chaos. It seems that tradition and modernity live side by side here.
If it weren't for Corrie and Beka helping me find my way, I would not have been able to accomplish so much in 2 weeks. Left on my own, it would have taken me months to find my way.
Old world/New world. In Europe and Asia there's a sense of of cultural history everywhere. In the Americas everything still feels young and ripe with possibility. The new world feels clumsy, like it's still finding it's legs. The old world is rooted, has integrity and depth, but change happens slowly.
I loath to admit that I've been frequenting starbucks. The Japanese have the best tea in the world, but they don't know how to make coffee.
I met a guy named Michael Barron who is in the cast of Worman. Coincidentally, he was in Argentina when I was there and I met him at my BsAs performance.
Everyone warned me about the expensive food. I've found tons of cheap, healthy food, full meals for $5-$10. What's expensive is dance classes: $20-$30, performances: $40 and the trains: $15-$20/day.
Vending machines sell cans of hot corn or bean soup.
There are free eyeglass cleaning stations outside of eyewear shops.
People shout into bullhorns and microphones outside of stores.
People stand with advertisement signs at intersections for hours.
People hand out free tissues with advertisements on them.
There are no garbage cans anywhere, but everything is clean. Where do people put the garbage?
People wear costumes to work. In restaurants and stores all the salespeople have matching hats and jackets.
Women wear shorts and high heeled boots in winter w/out tights.
Pachinko http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pachinko is an addictive game where men sit in smoky halls, paying to move tiny balls around in this machine and if they do a good job they win prizes like a rice cooker or shampoo.
There are people pushers on the morning trains, wearing white gloves. They direct people and push them on the train to pack them in.
fatigue from pollution/nosebleed
mystery swollen knee
kewpie doll http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kewpie_doll_(toy)
an individual cup with a lid and screen that you can brew tea in
t-shirts with nonsensical strangely lewd English
extremely fine tipped pens
business card holder (they love business cards here)
thin bungy cord for my bike basket (every bike here has a basket)
reflective gear for my bike spokes