jueves, 20 de octubre de 2011



Not perfect, this; not refined or well–edited … but no matter, I won’t fall prey, this night, to perfectionism, I want to get this out there.
Have always felt, for years now, that musicians are also dancers, or ought to be; just that the movement is sometimes so inside, so subtle … but as Lettvin said, the grace notes are the flick of the fingers, the subtle movement of the eyes … we are ALL dancers, we humans.

How it begins: man rear stage L … or is it a man? I have the impression that he has the head of a beast, a lion or a bear, magnificently hirsute. All we really see is the beautifully-muscled torso, and the hands –which seem immense—placed on the fronts of his thighs. He scarcely moves. Just breathing, in and out.

Then the woman –front stage R—almost entirely naked, very pale body, high-heeled shoes, completely and pitilessly lit, a brusque contrast to the man’s mystery.
Her song, not lamenting or nostalgic or conventionally beautiful: no, it is a war-dance song. At the end --a jump-out-of-your-seat shock to many-- a raucous scream that sounds like the shriek of a bird of prey.

The geometry of the stage. All square but often asymmetrical. Never a circle.

The geometry of the space they define. At a certain point about halfway through I notice that not once have the arms been lifted above shoulder level. No lifting-up of torsos, no reaching to heaven. Someone says afterwards when we are talking about this, “Like birds”. But later still, I realise that’s not true: some birds at least –like raptors—DO lift their wings enormously as they plunge.

Somewhere about halfway through –and I continued to observe this as I assimilated and the piece progressed—I realized that no one ever touches anyone else, there is ZERO physical contact between or among the dancers.

Their own bodies, as the piece progresses, become percussion instruments. This is beautifully set up from the beginning with tiny hints of what is to come …

That rapid gliding through space. Feet so soundlessly GLIDING across the stage. Once you look carefully you realize it is the feet, but even so it looks like something a human could not do.

It all challenged me to think about my ideas of Dance.

At some climactic point about 2/3 of the way through, the image projected on the backlit screen behind the dancers, is of a bird half-drowned in oil, struggling to lift its wings and escape from the filth in which it’s mired. Repeatedly projected. The dance going on in front of this horrific image just goes on.

The music, at this point, intentionally and almost unbearably brutal, repetitive, violent. I say intentionally because it MUST be: the music before is so well done as a backdrop, an accompaniment to the other sound events and to the dance, and sometimes it takes more of a protagonist’s role.

It is after this, I think, that there’s a sequence with the six men, in which they all end up stage front, bent over on their knees (like yoga child’s pose), with arms bound behind them. Well, but they are NOT bound, they are only holding their hands together. But nevertheless they writhe and struggle as tho’ they were bound. Beautiful, beautiful back muscles, deltoids, biceps.

Is part of the idea that we SEE that they’re not really bound, that all they have to do is loose their own hands (bonds) and they will be free? An incredible tension generated by this feeling.

Anyway, they all draw back to the rear, disappearing into the shadows, still struggling on their knees. All except one, who manages to rise to his feet, hands still (self-)bound behind him, and stays stage front for a while, gradually drawing back. Still on his feet, I praying from guts and heart for his liberation, he arches his back –finally we see the torso fully open … but then after a very long time, what seems like an eternity, he too draws back into the shadows, vanquished.

So much. I tried to remember everything, EVERYTHING so as to tell my very dear friend M*** the Dancer, with whom I have a Special Bond About Dance. I’m not telling everything here because it’s late and it would take so much time. Every time I think about it I remember more, altho’ not always in the correct sequence.

I think at first I was dismayed because there seemed to be no opening up of the body, no leaps, that striving toward the heavens that I so love and which seems to me one of the particular gifts to us of dance, it was always the closest we could get to flying. The dream, and the doom, of Icarus: to defy gravity. But now, just as I am writing this, I realize that it’s that GLIDING across the floor that’s the defiance of gravity in this dance.

That rapid fluttering of the fingers, that we see almost from the beginning. I find out in the after-conversation, from Australian friends who know about such things, that this is an element in hakka (sp., correct I think, check it out on Google) a war-dance of the Maori. I knew something about hakka but no details. Fascinating. Is it modelled on birds and their movements, I wonder? Didn’t occur to me to ask them in the moment.

After that climactic and awful half-drowned bird moment (that goes on forever), a bird-man appears on stage, in the same place as the beast-man at the beginning: with the head of (I think) an albatross or frigate-bird. Extensively tattooed all around the waist. We’ve seen him before as one of the six male dancers, I remember the tattoos peeking out from his trousers or whatever. Now he is naked, except for the gigantic bird’s head, and a sort of codpiece affair which is half prick and half tail, because it extends to his knees and curls around looking almost, at that point, like a ram’s horn. Nothing even remotely sensual about it. He looks hieratic, and at the same time oddly innocent. His movements are not hieratic: when he turns slowly this way and that it is only the torso, and not completely somehow; I think that is where the innocence part comes in for me.

When he starts to move directionally, still to the rear and towards stage right, it is with the gait of a bird, or rather with the gait of a man become half-bird, the legs look unnaturally long, the relation of the thorax to the waist which is no longer exactly a waist … eery, terribly sad, because he walks off and we know he is gone forever, like the bird struggling to fly out of the oil. Maybe this is the human memory and incarnation of that bird. How we preserve it, keep it sacred.

So this piece, evoking the relationship of human with animal and bird in its most profound way, that is in how we as humans have sought to put ourselves INTO THEIR BODIES, their fur, their feathers; run with their joyful legs and soar with their tireless wings … says an awful –awe-full— lot about that magical relationship in all its mystery, without in any way trying to explain it, which would of course be fatal.

It was so dense, so complex. The impact took a while to take effect. I just wanted to be quiet and alone afterwards but then there is the talking which is also interesting. It wasn’t until I gave a goodnight hug and kiss to L***’s assistant Juan that I practically collapsed into his arms and burst into tears. Almost.

martes, 11 de octubre de 2011



http://www.therestisnoise.com/2011/10/beijing-chill.html ...

I read this brief piece by Alex Ross, and then the Nick Frisch NYT piece he cites, and am struck by several things:

1. What happened with Ay Wei Wei earlier this year, and the shameful silence about it on the part of a major USian museum, which was also about to embark, if memory serves, on some sort of collaboration with the People’s Republic. And speaking of Ay, the news has been rather silent on that score of late, I think.

2.The not-so-veiled implication in Frisch’s article that institutions (including arts ones) in the US are prepared to forgive China a great deal because they have a great deal of cash. Pretty yucky. Especially now that the Occupy Wall Street people’s movement seems to be catching on. As Paul Krugman and now a bunch of others have pointed out, the mere fact that the OWS folk are attracting the ire of the bankers, and the politicians they bankroll, is enough to tell us that what they’re saying hits home.

Had a lovely coffee today with dear friend T*** who is a very fine writer. We got to talking about something I’ve written about before: how in the US art and society in general have persistently failed to knit themselves together. He told me about some mutual friends, people really committed to the arts, just returned from a 6-month sabbatical based in Barcelona. While working and everything, they still managed to take some trips around Europe –I mean really, who wouldn’t? Both said that what they brought away from this experience was primordially how every European country they visited has incorporated the arts into its life AND its ECONOMY.
To many, this may sound like a “DUH” sort of situation, but I think it’s close to the heart of at least one of the significant fault-lines that I see opening up in the US.

Let historians and economists deal with the minutiae of this question: to me it is clear that to have a more humane country –with a lower infant-mortality rate and a far lower percentage of its people in prison, just to pick two salient examples– you MUST have a country in which people are engaged with dance, with theatre, with music, with poetry.

And not only that -- I mean engaged AS PARTICIPANTS. Why? Because when you are trying to make a poem on something you really care about, suddenly you have something to lose apart from the miserable paycheck you more than earn. If you make an enormous paycheck which you can’t even imagine how to earn, the experience will give you humility. When you yearn to play the fiddle or the guitar like one of your heroes, in order to see if you are progressing you must really listen to yourself. From this you can learn both critical thinking and listening, as well as compassion. And, when you accomplish part or all of what you strove for, you get to experience well-deserved pride.

When all this is part of a group or collective effort, as in chamber music, in a choir, or in something like the Venezuelan “El Sistema” youth orchestras, the critical thinking, the humility, the compassion, and the pride –most of all the love— are multiplied a thousand-fold … and you also learn the epiphany of collective effort. If you don’t know about “El Sistema”, google it. It should be part of everyone’s store of everyday knowledge.

I live in the state of Guanajuato, in México. This is far from being a mushy liberal tree-hugger sort of state. Nevertheless, in practically every town –even the tiniest and most remote— there is a “Casa de la Cultura” -- literally translated, a House of Culture. In FIFTY-FIVE of them there is a PIANO. There are many things that can be improved, but at the end of the day the fact that this exists signifies that there is some sort of awareness here. There is also, just by the way, the Seguro Popular, which is completely gratis and which is basically free health insurance for people who can’t afford anything else. And you know what? I believe you can enroll in it even if you are a foreigner.


Enough about society and justice and all, that was my rant for the day. Things that
are really beautiful here the last couple of days:

IT IS RAINING. We have been horribly short of rain this year. This is High Desert, geographically. Normally it rains –if one can talk about “normal” weather anymore, which I guess we can’t—starting in late May or early June. There is a gradual crescendo from a little afternoon shower during the first few weeks to a daily rainstorm in August; always in the afternoon to late evening. Then in September it starts to taper off, and there is a gradual decrescendo to late October. Then it Stops Raining –I mean Completely –until late May or early June of the following year. It’s not unusual that it starts raining late, but it always generates uneasiness.

This year, as in 2009, it started late and never really got into its rhythm. Now, suddenly in late September-early October, it is starting to act almost like August. A couple of sweet slow rains that go on for hours: just what we need to fill the presas, the reservoirs; and our souls.

WHAT TIME DOES TO MUSIC: TO LISZT, TO URIBE, TO CABRERA BERG. Nothing new here, just that every time it happens, it feels like an epiphany, a miracle. I work on these pieces really hard, with the utmost concentration; I perform them, I record them at home, I meditate on them and then play again. And then I let them rest, in this case just for a few days … and ¡¡EPIPHANY!! All that patient incremental work suddenly bears fruit and they take flight. It is indeed a miracle.
When that happens I think, Ay dios, let me just be in my cavern, holed up and listening, listening and playing, listening and meditating, playing and listening.

Why o why is it so hard to Protect my Time? But the truth is that, while I must as always work to protect my own time, I would also feel fundamentally incomplete if I didn’t participate in the artistic community of which I am a part, and even in the community of my barrio, my neighborhood, which had absolutely no idea of what I do, or appreciation of it, however much I said about it … until they saw me on TV a couple of months ago.

This DOES have to do with the voice of the interpreter, and centrally. I must write about this, it’s something about which I’ve thought so much. Rodolfo Coelho’s penetrating question a little over a year ago brought it to the forefront once again. What I wrote then got lost with Laptop Theft Number Four. A large part of the almost unmitigated rage I felt about that was the loss of some writing I’d done which was not recoverable. I guess I’m largely over that now, and so can start to re-stitch that particular lost thread. I’ll do it soon.

I leave you all with this quote from Arrau on the interpretation of Liszt, which Russell Sherman –another hero of mine— quotes in his amazing book “Piano Pieces,” jam-packed with wisdom, passion, and humor:

Claudio Arrau on Liszt: “Declamation. Uninhibited expression. One must not feel ashamed of playing this music. The idea that he can be ‘corrected’ by understatement is utterly wrong.
“Continuing: ‘In general, when actors in this country [speaking of the US] do Shakespeare, they almost always underplay. They act as if they are ashamed of their roles and lives. They think people will laugh at them. If they would go all out, all the way, they would find that people would not laugh but be riveted. They would weep. Certain performances must make you weep, either for the sheer beauty of it of for the depth of feeling.’ [From The Essential Piano Quarterly].”

I will go a step further, and say, One must not feel ashamed of playing ANY music. If you feel ashamed about it, or even NEUTRAL, you shouldn’t be playing it. Find a way to be utterly convinced and passionate about it, or find other repertoire.

CPE Bach: “Play from the heart, not like a well-trained bird.”

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2011




I know various people in the diplomatic service who work honourably, giving their imagination and compassion as well as their entire professionalism to the work they do as diplomats. Which at the end of the day, in my eyes, is a very noble work indeed.

The NYT article seems to say that State Dep’t colleagues feel that Van Buren is a sort of traitor for speaking out as openly as he has. Oh hell, I don’t know. This is a true moral dilemma, one of the oldest I suspect. Do you try to work through channels, give the process time to do its glacial work? Or do you finally decide that the more immediate moral imperative is indeed more urgent, and can’t wait for the process to do its work, especially considering that there’s a very real chance it won’t be able to do that? I imagine that the brave person who sneaked those photos in Abu-Ghraib –and then even more bravely decided to make them public (or was that second choice already made in the moment of taking the photos? perhaps … ) was moving towards such a decision and then made it, in the blinding flash of a moment teetering over the abyss. Countless millions of other such choices over the course of history, I am sure.

I feel as tho’ this script is already written, for something like the Iraq version of Robin Williams’ Good Morning Vietnam. (Too bad I’m such a movie illiterate: maybe someone has already MADE this movie.) I mean, nothing I read in this article is in any way surprising. This is my rule for reading stuff in the paper: will it surprise me, will I learn anything from it? If it’s just something I already intuit, or that looks as tho’ it won’t challenge me, I don’t read it: life is too short.

Not quite sure why I read this one: perhaps because a friend sent it, perhaps because one way or another, and over the years, I have come to know people in the diplomatic service. Because of the kind of people they are, as I mention above, I persist in believing that being a diplomat is a noble calling. Also because, at its best, it has to do with communication, and what I do has so fundamentally to do with communication.

The resignation letter –dated 7 Feb 2003, I find when I miraculously locate it in some file rescued after the theft of THREE laptops-- written by John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat whose last post was, as far as I know, as Political Attaché in Athens, sticks in my mind, in this connection. I re-read that letter and still find it moving and compelling. I am going to try and attach it here, hope this works … OH POOEY, for some reason it doesn't want to accept a PDF. What to do? Oh well, here it is as Raw Text, who uses THAT anymore?
JOHN BRADY KIESLING RESIGNATION LETTER, AS PUBLISHED IN THE NYT (amazing that I found it stashed in my PEACE WORK folder after all these years; SO SAD how it is still so present). The intro is from a former US Ambassador, colleague of a cousin of mine who served long and honorably as a Foreign Service officer.
Subject: Patriotism of the highest caliber
Here's an example of patriotism of the highest quality. It's the letter of resignation by an American diplomat, printed today in the New York Times. His reference to "oderint dum metuant" means "Let them hate so long as they fear." (A favorite saying of Caligula. I didn't know this. I had to look it up).
"February 27, 2003 U.S. Diplomat's Letter of Resignation
The following is the text of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Kiesling is a career diplomat who has served in United States embassies from Tel Aviv to Casablanca to Yerevan.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7.
I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.
It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world.
I believe it no longer. The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.
The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam.
The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to do to ourselves.
Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo? We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and mercenary U.S. interests override the cherished values of our partners.
Even where our aims were not in question, our consistency is at issue. The model of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies wondering on what basis we plan to rebuild the Middle East, and in whose image and interests.
Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the Occupied Territories, to our own advice, that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism? After the shambles of post-war Iraq joins the shambles in Grozny and Ramallah, it will be a brave foreigner who forms ranks with Micronesia to follow where we lead.
We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal.
Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials? Has "oderint dum metuant" really become our motto?
I urge you to listen to America's friends around the world. Even here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system, with the U.S. and EU in close partnership.
When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?
Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the President goes too far.
We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America's ability to defend its interests.
I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share."

I wrote to my cousin, who’d sent this on to me from his friend the retired Ambassador:
This letter gives me great sadness, and also great pride. Sadness, because John Brady Kiesling expresses with great precision and eloquence my own feelings as an American citizen --and former Fulbrighter!-- when he says "my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country ... My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal ... the United States ... as a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet ...". I never have had a diplomatic arsenal, in any narrow sense, but that feeling of the US being a beacon was always, for me, a powerful part of my own personal patriotism. So I am sad because of the great disillusion and pain I read between the lines of Mr. Kiesling's letter; feelings which I share. Here he is, someone for whom being a career Foreign Service officer was a "dream job", giving up the thing that most impassioned him, because the job, under the current administration, no longer permitted him to do what he most values: be a diplomat and proudly represent his country.
I feel pride because Mr Kiesling elected to do what I too feel was the moral choice remaining to him: resign and make public his reasons for doing so. For me this shows that he is truly a diplomat, not only by career but by passion. As I read his letter, he elected to exit from a situation which, if he'd stayed on, would have required him, effectively, to lie about what is central to him, not only as a professional but as a human being.
During my Fulbright year and afterwards, I've had the opportunity to meet and get to know some people in the Foreign Service both of Mexico and of the US. The good ones are people of vision, thoughtfulness and, often, contagious enthusiasm, who really believe in the ability of diplomacy to make a difference in our sorely troubled human affairs. Obviously Mr Kiesling is one of those, and of a very high order. He shows his quality in the choice he made here, which cannot have been an easy one.
I saw an excerpt from Mr Kiesling's letter in a MoveOn.org mailing this evening ... it came as a grateful surprise to receive the full text from you a few minutes later. Thank you so much for sending it on ... and thanks to Don Pelton for the translation of the Latin. I not only wasn't sure of the translation, I didn't know it was uttered by Caligula (which, sadly, ought not by now to surprise us ...)
Love to you from