"Do I dare disturb the universe?"
~T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A musical Inauguration brings hope for the Arts

Music played a crucial role in President Obama's inauguration today, and with it came a feeling of invigorating relief and forward motion.

CNN broadcasted the words of American jazz musician/composer/arranger Quincy Jones during their coverage of the Inauguration.  As a friend of Barack Obama's, he is requesting that Obama create a new official cabinet position: Secretary of the Arts.  With arts funding suffering under the previous administration, and especially now, due to the economy crash, our role in being arts advocates is even more imperative.  I might be being too idealistic, but I really hope that Obama's approval will come to pass.  To sign a petition to support it, click here: http://www.PetitionOnline.com/esnyc/petition.html

Regarding other thoughts, a quartet that consisted of Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet) performed "Air and Simple Gifts," arranged by John Williams, at the Inauguration.  The piece opened with Perlman's angelic, rubato strains, and Yo-Yo Ma entered with the deep, resonant tone of the cello.  When the clarinet sang the first familiar phrase from Simple Gifts, one could not help but think of "Appalachian Spring" and the inherent American sound of Copland.  The piano joined and it became a swift journey of the American spirit, and a sound of new hope for the future in this coming era.

Josh Groban, who never fails to move me with his genuine musicality and rich, true voice, performed "My Country 'Tis of Thee" on Monday the 19th with Heather Headley and the DC Gay Men's Chorus, a really fantastic blending of voices.  The two unique voices each brought out different colors and blended fantastically with the choir.  U2 also performed a passionate "In the Name of Love" among other songs on Sunday, one of numerous other artists to perform on inaugural weekend.

Many a marching band also carried this spirit through the parade, including the first openly gay band to march in the Inaugural parade (a contingent from the Lesbian and Gay Band Association).

I only felt that a physical manifestation of this excitement was lacking.  Perhaps a Secretary of the Arts would put dance in its proper place, at the forefront of the arts, for the first time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gaga class in Tel Aviv

As my first post on my new blog, I’d like to share some writing I did following my experience in Tel Aviv this summer, where I spent three weeks studying Batsheva Dance Company’s training technique.

An original technique known as Gaga, developed by artistic director Ohad Naharin, combines elements of improvisation, visualization, focusing techniques, and physicality. The classes in Gaga technique were physically and mentally intense, complex, and amazingly rewarding I took at least two, and frequently three classes per day, which were usually taught by Batsheva Company members or its Ensemble (their training/apprentice company) members. Their knowledge of the body, movement, and the technique was rich and deep, and their passion for sharing their knowledge and dancing with the students was inspiring. The classes were primarily taught in Hebrew (of which my comprehension is little), but phrases and important ideas were translated for us English speakers. I met other Israelis who were warm and inviting, and danced with a few other Americans also studying the Gaga technique. (See Deborah Friedes' Dance In Israel blog: http://www.danceinisrael.com)

The Batsheva technique is simple at its core, but complex if you are trying to grasp all that it offers. During my three weeks of dancing, I learned how to open myself up to the information that was being offered and absorb the Batsheva philosophy. My body began to apply the ideas more naturally as the classes progressed, and I learned how to be more free an uninhibited. While the technique taught at Batsheva is about many things, including allowing the body to be free by releasing excess tension, harnessing one’s imagination as a source of inspiration, and connecting to your own personal passion for movement and dance, I found its core values—understanding the body as a natural source of energy, power, and a positive life force—to be especially powerful. I found myself understanding more than ever before how movement and dance is deeply life-affirming. Many of the classes had elements of a cardio workout and were otherwise physically draining. Some teachers pushed us to a point near exhaustion. However, at the moment that we were able to rest, the energy and life that radiated was one of the most amazing of my dance experiences. The tingle of the flesh, the pounding of the heart’s pulse, and the breath flowing through the body kept me going. Many ideas in Gaga, like this, are equally valuable in metaphor as they are in physical practice. As the classes continued and I began to understand more deeply Gaga’s connection to determination and life. As we shook, suspended, connected, floated, pushed through exhaustion, and danced, the idea of resiliency, strength in perseverance, and harnessing positive energy resonated deeply with me. I found that working in this way, in Israel, was a powerful and meaningful experience.

The Graham tradition is of course deeply rooted in Batsheva, as she co-founded the company. The idea of emotion, drama, and struggle that's inherent in Graham is also present in Gaga. When we were pushed through physically difficult situations (whether it was cardio or muscular fatigue), we were always reminded to find the pleasure in the effort, and the passion through the struggle. I also had two classes with Ohad Naharin, and he is an incredible mover and a passionate, driving teacher. The classes were more challenging, as he really wanted to try to get us to understand the technique at its deepest level.

I was also able to see a number of Batsheva performances, and they were incredible—I especially loved the performance of Shalosh at the Suzanne Dellal theatre, a performance of beauty of human body in motion and humor that crescendoed into a finale of intense physicality and matching emotion. Batsheva will take it’s show, Deca Dance on tour in the States, starting late January.

I am so grateful for this experience I had with Batsheva, and I have been utilizing bringing the technique into and its philosophy my other classes. The ideas inherent in understanding my own sense of energy and power, the ability to conjure life from movement, and the struggle to persevere are now becoming an integral part of dancing.