May 16th, 2013
Drop everything and watch the sun set. Open your window to it. To the city. To the roads and walls we raise to prove ourselves against death, against nature. There is nature, but there is no death. It is a line we circumscribe because we cannot admit life without some boundary. We cannot admit unity.
Open your window to the clouds curdling on the mountains, light consuming them from within. Light bleeding out of the sun. Watch raindrops on the rooftop and understand that it’s you. Tiny, concentric, evanescent. More precious and finite than your weight measured out in gold. Sunlight and rain simultaneous, the city’s favourite parlour trick.
Drop everything and step out of someone else’s skin. The person you think you are. Stare tragedy in the face, embrace it, kiss its hand as you would a prince’s. It will gut you like a hare and strip you and clean you and give you a new skin of spice, of savour, of what you really are. Food for worms. Fortunate, such fortunate food, gifted with vision between one darkness and another. Lucky me, lucky mud. Vonnegut.
For once in your life. There is no twice.
March 25th, 2013
But I’m rehearsing a speech. I don’t want to deliver it. I don’t want to have to, but I expect I will. Things are black and white lately. All walls and windows, no lattice. This happens I suppose with aging. The endless shades of possibility available to the young heart congeal over time into dire absolutes. I’m sure it only seems that way. It’s cynical, yes. Melodramatic, yes. A matter of perception only and untied to any true foundational law of the universe, yes. But a matter of my perception, so I can’t help but perceive it. I’ve decided to own it instead. By owning I might understand, and by understanding I might solve.
I still fight it, mind you. I give what credence I can to possibility. Likely I cling to it like an infant unwilling yet to give up the romance of its mothers arms. I want that simplicity. Black and white is not simple. Skim a book of optical illusions and tell me it’s simple, if you care to differ. I want the simplicity of being a child and not knowing any different.
Of course I can’t have it. That’s just life. We want what we can’t have, or we want what we have to change into what we want. No easier than changing what we want into what we have. Emotional alchemists, people. Inept as they come. If you can’t be content with copper, why should you be content with gold? To seek transmutation in the first place is to admit dissatisfaction, or a disability to be satisfied. To admit you don’t know what’s enough. So is it better to purify the copper you’ve got already? The lead, the iron, the bronze. Is pure copper better than dirty gold? Purity and dirt each have a lot of character, but they’re opposed. One or the other. Black or white.
All I know, to return to my original if still opaque conundrum, is that I’ve got a piece of gold in my pan and I don’t want to let it go. But I might have to. It’s got a stamp on it already. Somebody else is going to smith it into a ring, whereas I’ve got no such plan. I just like how it gleams.
Maybe there’s gold in the river still for me. Maybe not. There’s only one way to find out.
Tags: friends, snartypants, speech, ultimatum
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March 10th, 2012
Butoh. Japanese post-war dance largely devoid of stricture other than ghostly white make-up and a focus on extremity and absurdity. There are, Sharon told me before the dance we attended yesterday, only three Butoh companies extant in the world. Two American, one Japanese. Their tours are rare and select. This is not to say independent artists don’t or can’t put on Butoh shows or incorporate its elements into their work.
We attended a dance called Rock My Body. Odd title. A half hour piece performed by a single dancer as part of the brief and underpublicised Vancouver International Dance Festival. The accompaniment was performed live by Aunts and Uncles. Neither Sharon nor I expected such contemporary music. I for the most part liked it, though it didn’t work for her so much. The contrast between nearly upbeat indie rock and a half naked man painted like a ghost and wracking his body through movements by turns hyperactive and painfully gradual. All grim. We did however agree that the lyrics detracted from the piece. The dance itself is so primal and direct and the lyrics such borderline high school poetry that it was like hanging Coles Notes next to a Pollack. Still a few of the simpler lines resonated with me. Maybe because the dance itself did, maybe not.
In the first five minutes I wrestled with certain prejudices I hold against dance. I love dance, don’t get me wrong. It is a beautiful and stirring art and needs no translation. A few of the early movements had the ring of hippie-dippie Vancouver, though. I worried that the whole performance might just be spineless interperetive dance in ghostface. But my, how I was mistaken. The cliché forms gave way soon to forms so basic I’d hesitate to classify them as dance except for their repetition. Which was, I cannot stress it enough, intense. The dancer spun in one spot with his arms upraised for what must have been three or four minutes straight. He migrated only by a matter of inches. He did not change the expression on his face. He did not seem particularly winded afterward. He transitioned into a gradual movement which required a high degree of finesse and muscle control and faltered only in the smallest and most forgivable ways.
There were perhaps four such other intense repetitions throughout the piece. Sharon and I both read them as the themes of the dance, and yet they played more like transitions than climaxes. More as rests than choruses. Another example was a sort of organ grinder’s monkey move. Again the dancer stood in place, this time executing a mechanical sort of march which later incorporated a likewise mechanical clap and later still incorporated an Edvard Munch scream face in place of the clap. I almost didn’t buy the scream face but then while his hands retracted for another clap his expression went entirely blank as if to say the scream was purely satirical or superficial. It was a mask designed to conceal, not the naive trope I’d almost mistaken it for. Also, for the three or four minutes he carried out this move he shifted his eyes continuously. Absolutely continuously. Left, right, left, right. Very quickly. Until they were bloodshot. Which stood out terribly against the white make-up.
And the make-up. At first it looked cartoony. It is after all a Japanese rendering much in the Asian operatic tradition of a ghost. Just a hop skip and a jump from George Romero’s blue zombies. But it changed. As the lighting intensified and took on colour and the dancer began to sweat from his exertions the make-up went from a caricature to a full costume slick and revelatory and demonic.
The whole performance deepened as it progressed. Not in any real narrative arc, because the dance seemed more to present a series of vignettes or reflections than any coherent story. Rather it deepened in the sphere of emotion, and it did so exponentially. The audience became complicit in the dance. The choreography and the dancer’s agonized expressions gave off certain signals, and the audience received certain signals, but these signals did not always or necessarily at all share the same content. At two distinct points in the performance I was convinced the dance represented my own personal struggles. This is what any proper art should do. Not only communicate the artist’s state, not only comment on the audience’s state, but tangle them both up until in the tranquility or frenzy of the work it hardly matters who is who because your experience is my experience and mine is yours and everyone’s is everyone else’s because everyone is everyone else and our hearts in joy or torment are one.
I couldn’t decide which of us was which.
This or something very like this was one of the lyrics that struck me. Simple enough premise, plain enough rhetoric. In the moment though it just about knocked me on my ass.
If you get a chance to take in a Butoh show in your lifetime, do so. It might be wildly different from what I’ve seen and described, which was quite different from what I expected. That, it seems, is one of its foundational strengths. It is built to destroy expectation and lure the audience into an experience they would not previously believe. I’m off to see another show on the weekend to test that theory. I’ll keep you posted.