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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Argentina 2011

Argentina (Specifically Buenos Aires) is a lovely and dysfunctional place. Some examples:

1) Some of the bus stations can´t afford ticket sellers. So they have the guys at nearby bodegas selling tickets. You have to wander around to figure out which kiosk is also a ticket seller because there are no signs indicating. Also, they have no bus schedules. At 2am on Sat night four of us bought tickets in La Plata to travel back to Buenos Aires. Turns out the bus company we bought tix for wasn´t leaving til 3am, but several buses from a different company came and went. We stood outside the station, wondering if we should go back to the party we had been at or wait an hr in the station. We got distracted by the stars (strange constellations like The Southern Cross!) and stood in the street mesmerized and exhausted for 20 mins before we realized we hadn´t made a decision. Then we sat in the bus station and watched three people mop meticulously square by square. One mopper´s pants were falling down.

2) Some bad people in Argentina (and other countries too, such as Egypt) are hoarding all the coins and then selling them at higher rates. You need coins to take the bus. Everyone takes the bus. You can stand in line at the bank every week and get a ration of coins or go to a store, buy some crap and beg for change (they might not give it.) The government decided to fix this by creating a universal train/subway/bus card. Only one per person so they can´t be sold on the black market. The other day Violeta took me to some strange kiosk where they took my ID and recorded it to make sure I didn´t already have a card. Then we went to another kiosk to fill it with money. Now I can use it for all transportation except for the buses that still require coins, which are about half of them.

3) The bus I rode with Leo and Nico had a silhouette of a naked woman on the machine where you put your coins. No explanation.

4) No money to AC the old subway cars inherited from Korea.

5) Plenty of money to operate rows and rows of T.V.s in the subway station, showing images of dolphins swimming in the cool, cool ocean.


Some interesting facts...

Their White House is called the Pink House, lit by pink light from below, where the president, Christina works, but she doesn´t live there.

Everybody I´ve talked to loves Christina, although inflation is high, the economy is recovering from the crisis in 2000 and many more people have work. (Leo and Mariana just paid off their mortgage with money earned entirely from music and paintings, amazing!) There´s graffiti everywhere offering her condolences since her husband Nestor, the previous president, died last year.

During the crisis no one could get money out off the bank and neighborhoods created cooperatives where people bartered goods and services. Many people survived almost entirely from bartering.

One remnant of the crisis is that you see huge families at night picking through dumpsters to find things to sell.

Violeta translated the cat-calls we received on the street and some were very surprising. One older man yelled out: "I really love the way you ladies dress. Your clothes are lovely"

Violeta showed me these stencils of white scarves outside the Pink House, representing the white scarves of the grandmas who demonstrated during the dirty war, marching everyday with enlarged pictures on poster board of their missing children. I´ve seen so many images of this in films and it was chilling to be in the place where it happened.

There are a lot of kids with piercings in the cleft btwn upper lip and nose.

'Super dulce de leche' is dulce de leche ice cream with dulce de leche.

There´s no word for "cute" in Spanish.


At our La Plata gig I discovered that my shorts had holes in the bum. I was wearing no underwear. Mariana gave me her underwear. She also wept during the performance. She is a generous and sensitive creature.

Jose performed a piece where he took 20 minutes to slowly sit in a chair. The real time image of his slow sitting was projected onto him in front of a mirror so there were many Jose's slowly sitting.


As I've mentioned before. Rosario is the city of my dreams. The place is run by socialists. Cooperation, sharing and neighborly brotherhood is the norm. The city grid is easy to navigate. The streets are lined with trees and independent stores. People walk slowly. The sleepy Parana river calms the tone of the city. The riverside is minimally planned so that people can self organize. The movement of the people in these spaces is vibrant and improvisational. There are skate boarders and BMX bikers performing tricks on the stairs, large patches of untamed grassy spaces where people picnic, vendors everywhere selling food and stray beggar dogs who can be quite brazen with their affection. There are huge holes in every street and parks every few blocks. There is the perfect amount of order and decay.

Everyone here has a washing machine but no dryer. The machine takes two hrs and the drying takes two days. All the buildings require a key to get in and out. The building that Chelo lives in is neither old nor new. The elevator doors accordion open with quite a bit of upper body strength. There are vegetarian restaurants and health food stores everywhere. I had expected to eat a lot of Argentine steak, but I haven´t had meat at all.

Gabi's studio is one of the most breezy, beautiful spaces I've ever been in. There are high brick ceilings and rows of balconies. The hall and studios have windows that view into one another so you see through the whole building. She has daily classes in Yoga, Feldenkrais, Pilates, Alexander and a somatic modality native to Argentina called Sensopercepcion. She is cultivating a somatic village.

My workshops have been full and enriching. My translator, Lorena, is a master with words and can practice yoga, sense her body, and express herself in English and Spanish simultaneously. What a gift.

Chelo and I went to an island on the Parana river. The place where we embarked is called ¨Florda¨ and it's been surreal hearing people say everyday ¨I'm going to Florida.¨ We rowed Chelo's canoe across the river around the island and found a shady spot full of mosquitoes. We built a fire and smoked them away but it took diligence to maintain enough smoke. I've made it a full week in this damp riverside city without using OFF or any chemicals to keep the blood eaters away. I forgot my eucalyptus lemon concoction in Philly so my body is one pocked, red welted mess.

The mosquito eggs hatched Friday when Peter and I rode two half-broken bicycles 20 miles to ¨Florida¨ and back. They arrived at dusk on our way back to town and the path was a treacherous parade: Unlit, broken pavement, joggers and children and bicycles traveling in all directions, untrimmed trees every few feet we had to duck under and hoards of mosquitoes. The trip to the riverside beach with Peter was eventful. He put a tropical plant that floats on the river all the way from Brazil, called a camelote, on his head and danced around in the water causing a scene. The roots looked like a mohawk and the green leaves were animated like puppets on his head. Then we swam a little past the ropes. The force of the river was so strong we could only swim in place. If we stopped swimming we drifted away. Some locals screamed from the shore. ¨Where are you from?¨I said ¨New York¨ and they said: ¨You don´t have a river in NY.¨ I said: ¨Yes we do.¨ They said: ¨The Hudson is no Parana. There are alternating currents that create eddies that can suck you under and kill you.¨ I thanked them for the advice and as I got out of the water I saw a huge sign that said ¨Peligro¨ (danger) Oops. Peter was stubborn. He insisted that the Danube was equally strong and that he swam in it as a child, that he knew rivers. He stayed in the water for awhile as the locals called out to him in English: ¨Please come out.¨ He finally got out of the water, indignant, but compliant.

The trip to the river with Chelo was less dramatic, more peaceful. We floated in the canoe on the brown muddy water under a deep blue sky, intense sun, dragon flies and these wispy insect webs that float in the air, tethered to trees, called ¨Devil's drool.¨ We sat for a long time at our smoky campground drinking mate and talking. Yesterday was my first mate ever, just a few sips. I can't believe I made it here three times with no mate! My allergist recommended I avoid it because it can be moldy, but I had no negative reaction yesterday so I decided to go for it today. Chelo taught me the ritual of the preparation and I felt initiated into a new tribe. He added herbs that cut through the bitterness and I felt the drink slowly uplift my mood, not like the spike and crash of coffee, but more like white tea. I now understand the importance of sharing mate. It's the first thing that people offer when you enter their home. In fact, on another shore we ran into a friend of Chelo's who offered us his mate before kissing us hello. Everyone here kisses once on the cheek as a greeting, even if you're meeting for the first time, and everyone here shares the mate calabaza (cup) and bombilla (straw.) There is no germophobia and I can sense my North American sterility fading away.

Chelo's friend had some friends who had seen my performance last night. I asked him what they thought of it and he said he didn't know, but would I like him to call them? I said yes and we laughed as he interviewed them on the phone. I insisted on critical feedback, not just compliments. They said that they thought it was beautiful, but that the music and dance were disconnected in the beginning. They felt that we found each other in the middle, and that it was satisfying to see us meet, but frustrating in the beginning. Chelo speculated that perhaps all interdisciplinary improvisation is about the attempt to find each other and that it rarely begins in harmony. Also, he said that there is the risk of never finding each other, which does happen sometimes and it's the risk that makes the performance thrilling.


Can you fall in love with a place?

The answer is no. You cannot fall in love with a place. You can fall in love with the people who animate the place. The people who build and develop the place. I am in love with the Argentineans. I love their streets and architecture, but their Spanish and Italian inspired buildings uninhabited would be meaningless. It's the people's movement through them that makes me swoon.

I love the cobble stone streets, the old ornate churches and government buildings. I also love the holes in the sidewalk.

I took a series of photos of holes in the street. Big ones with hazard tape around them and garbage thrown inside, holes that seem resigned to live there for awhile. Leo said he loves the holes too. It's like walking in an urban wilderness.

I love this place so much I don't even mind the dog shit, no one scoops the poop. I don't even mind the lack of street signs, or stop signs. The cars speed through intersections and you're at their mercy. I love this place so much I don't even mind the disgusting heat in the subway during my morning commute to teach.

I love the old wooden paneled parillas and bars with bazaar murals painted on the walls of western indigenous scenes and t.v.s in every corner. But my experience in these places is colored by all the conversations and collaborations I'm having with the *people*.

I had an argument with Peter last week. He wanted to know why there weren't any clear descriptions of BMC exercises one could learn from a book. I explained that working within the field of somatics requires a paradigm shift. The writing about the work is a support, but the work itself is in the relationship between teacher and student, between colleagues and within one's own explorations. We can't study somatics the same way we study math or science. There are no absolute discoveries that can be updated and agreed upon field-wide as there are in science... Somatics is experiential and the research within the field is more of a layering of ideas upon one another.

The work is in the relationships between people, the interchange of ideas and experience.

And that's what I'm working on right now, relationships. My relationship to the somatic and dance material that I've been cultivating, my ability to share it with others and watch it deepen through the transmission. My relationship to my colleagues and friends here. My relationship to this place, which is tied to the people.

I had a difficult time leaving Rosario, which is the most idyllic place I've ever been that I could tolerate (I've been to perfect places which nauseate me with their perfection, such as Portland Maine, but Rosario is also very real, flawed and I love it for it's flaws; the mosquitoes, the holes in the sidewalk, the lack of soy milk, etc.) I had a micro-meltdown in the bus station where I learned that since it was a holiday (carnival, which doesn't even really happen here. Most people just use it as an excuse to get away for a long weekend) I should have reserved a ticket. I had planned to travel with Chrisof, who had reserved a seat for a 4pm, but I couldn't get a ticket til 6pm. I negotiated with the bus driver to let me on if someone didn't show and he agreed, but unfortunately the bus was full. I sat in the smoggy, white noised, television infested, florescent lit station replaying my week in Rosario in my mind. I was happy, sad, happy, sad. I cried a bit, which is always nice to do in stations in far away places where no one knows you.

I arrived in BsAs in the evening on Monday. I met Leo who let me in to his mother in law's house (Silvia, who wasn't there) and I stayed up til 4 am watching video footage of our performances and sorting through photos.

The next day I slept in and Leo came over for a long session of lunch and video / sound editing. We talked about the business of making art. Apparently, the crumbs of funding that we artists in the U.S. compete over don't exist here at all, so there's really no choice but to support yourself and your art. For example, the choice of whether to apply for arts funding (and try to legitimize your work through foundation support) vs. subsidize your work through teaching is a question that many of us struggle with. I've chosen to mostly subsidize my own work because I prefer the freedom and also my grant writing sucks. But Leo, a brilliant artist has no real paying gigs here (there are none) and supports his family through teaching. There is no other choice. I learned that there's only one paying contemporary dance company in Argentina. ONE!

Being with Leo feels like coming home. He is the perfect, neurotic, hilarious big brother. He came over one morning to pick up his son but said, oh I just wanted to see how you look in the morning (awful.) He texts to check up on me, to make sure I got home safe or am feeling okay. LOVE!

Christof and I went to a parilla that was a buffet where you pick your own vegetables and then go up to a man where you point to various cow parts on a grill and he cuts them for you. I asked for the vacio, the ¨regular¨ part. We had an interesting conversation about the accessibility or lack thereof of interdisciplinary free improvisation. I've noticed that the more comfortable I become with the unknown, the strangeness of the sound and movement that arises, the more comfortable I perceive audiences to be. I wonder if there's a subconscious interchange between performer and viewer? I just feel that over the years audiences seem to be more and more open to the work, even in smaller cities like Rosario, where most of the folks have never seen experimental performance before. I wonder how much of this is my perception, or is my work changing?

I taught a three day a contact workshop I call ¨Blood, Sea,¨ inspired by embodying the fluids. As you might imagine the people who showed up were all very witchy women, except for one 22 year old theater student, Santiago. When I asked participants what brought them there, everyone said that the workshop description fascinated them. I've included the workshop desc below in case you're interested in reading. I'm surprised and delighted by those who arrived as a result of this whimsical writing I did a few months ago, having no idea how we would actually work with this material in dance. It was like a game, coming up with explorations and scores to embody the fluids, blood, lymph, cerebrospinal, etc. I kept finding the need to discuss the containers of the fluids: Blood and lymph vessels, the three maters (pia, arachnoid, dura) in the central nervous system, the cells themselves, as a way of preventing us from becoming puddles on the floor. It reminded me that whatever material I'm exploring, I need to find it's opposite in order to understand it's true nature.

I think often in contact improv circles there's a lot of ¨We're all one¨ hullabaloo. And yes, sure, it's true, we're all made of the same stuff, the same star dust, yeah. But finding the duality of YOU and ME is the only way we can find the meeting point in the dance, the shared intention that's neither YOU or ME. The old yogi's said you can't have non-duality without first understanding duality. Yep.

We all hung out after class one day and I spoke with a contemporary dancer, Amaral, who told me that she speaks absolutely no English because she is a socialist and as a political statement never wanted to learn. I told her that I am also a socialist, that I come from line of socialists and that we all speak English because we happened to land in the U.S. She conceded and we had a wonderful conversation about dance and somatics. When it got too complex Violeta translated for us.

By the end of the lunch I was sure she no longer believed that all Americans suck, (at least not I,) and I was happy about that. I've witnessed this several times on these trips, a change of heart about U.S.-loathing. It's unfortunate, the image that the U.S. exports of itself. True, our government is exploitative and war-mongering, and there are huge swathes of tea-partying retards in the U.S. but there are some wonderful things about us. We are innovative, creative, friendly, we smile a lot and we give hugs.

On Friday night I went to a restaurant / performance in someone's home. On the roof actually. Violeta asked me to meet her in front of a train station, but when I arrived I saw only train tracks and no ¨front¨ of the station. I asked some cops where the ¨front¨was and they had no idea. I texted Violeta with a description of where I was and waited. The cops were very concerned about my safety. I was a bad neighborhood, they said. They let me use their phone to call Violeta since calls from mine cost mucho dinero. Violeta said I went to the wrong place and would meet me there shortly. Meanwhile, the cops waited with me and asked me many questions. When I apologized for my terrible Spanish they agreed, it's terrible. When I said I was from Philly one of them hummed the tune to Rocky. They asked me what the cops are like in Philly and I said ¨very nice.¨

Violeta had pointed to the wrong place on my map, but I tried to let it go and just enjoy the long walk we had to the house. It was easy to forget my frustration because she arrived smiling in a beautiful dress with some bling around her neck (they love the bling here) and a tear drop bindi painted on her forehead. Violeta is stunning. 50-something but appears ageless. She has violet streaks in her asymmetrical hair, blue toe nails and a petite, athletic, charged frame. She speaks perfect English with a British accent and swims breezily between English and Spanish. She is half Basque, half Russian Jew. What a combo! She makes her living teaching Contact Improvisation and basically is my hero.

Coming home late to Silvias house... the houses have shared private alleys so you get a little window into rows of homes, their sounds and smells. In Silvia's alley there's a sliver of sky above with those strange stars, clothes swinging from rooftops and decks and tons of Jasmine growing all around. At this hour there was a dog opera, dogs from various houses singing to each other.

The next day it rained hard. After that temperature changed and suddenly it was fall. We had our final performance at the house of one of Leo's trumpet students. She's 18 and still lives with her parents. Her parents said okay to the house show. She and her boyfriend cleared out the living room and we had an intimate space with high ceilings, wood floors, exposed brick walls and incandescent lights. It worked.

About 30 people came, 5 from my workshop, and we ate, drank and performed at 11pm. We created a 40 minute piece which we compartmentalized by taking turns, giving each other solos and shifting the focus and intensity of the lighting. The audience was so attentive I felt almost embarrassed by their gaze. The three of us became very sad during the piece because it was our last gig together. Santiago said the piece seemed lonely. And it was.

After we all talked for a long time. I asked for criticism and several young people said they had been expecting something that looked more like dance. Amaral's only criticism is that I should REALLY LEARN SPANISH for my 4th visit to Latin America. Si. Cristina, one of my workshop organizers who has been dancing in BsAs for years, said that there's no improvised performance happening in Argentina. And that musicians and dancers don't collaborate. And that my pared down approach to movement, embracing the stylized and the pedestrian is also rare. Interesting. These are things we take for granted in the U.S. and Europe since Judson.

My last full day. Leo and fam and I went to the park for a picnic. Their son Nico, 9 yrs old, went to the skate park to practice some terrifying looking tricks under the tutelage of some talented pot head teenage skaters. Nico was wearing a baggy t shirt with some shiny gold print (love the bling), and jeans with a huge hole in the front revealing boxers with little hearts on them. Awe. We sat in the park for hours. A friend from La Plata who I stayed with last year, Paula, visited with us. She's a print maker and brought me t-shirts that she made, all originals, and some tight shorts with pink animals on them.

On my last night Christof tricked me into drinking coffee at midnight and talking with him til late about how I should move to BsAs part time as he did. He can be very convincing.

On my last day I had lunch with Santiago. We sat on Silvia's deck and I tricked him into singing Tom Waits songs with his wonderful Columbian accent (wait, wait, how does that one go?)

Mariana's father drove me to the airport as he did last year. We didn't say much on the drive, but as we said goodbye he said "See you next year." which felt just right.


Blood, Sea: salty, fluid dances

In this class we will explore several threads of Body-Mind Centering within our Contact Improvisation dances: Phylogenetic: our evolution from the ocean to land, ontogenetic: our journey from the amniotic sea of the womb to adulthood and the embodied anatomy of the fluids; how they can inspire and support movement.

The title is drawn from the writing of Italo Calvino. His short story, "Blood, Sea" refers to the balance of salinity in our blood and in the ocean from which we humans evolved: “Bathed by the primordial wave which continues to flow in the arteries, our blood in fact has a chemical composition analogous to that of the sea of our origins.” As we evolved into terrestrial beings, we brought the sea inside of us, onto land.

The blood spirals though the arteries and veins, carrying nourishment to all of the cells of the body. The arteriole blood travels out toward the distal points of the body and has a repetitive, pulsing rhythm. The venous blood travels back toward the heart and has a wavelike, swinging rhythm. The place where the arteriole and venous capillaries meet is called the isoring, a balanced resting place between coming and going. By balancing this inward and outward flow and finding the meeting place of stillness, we can move with more facility between solo, duo and ensemble dances.

Some physical ways we will explore the circulatory system include: running, inverting, breathing, finding deep rest, sensing our heart beat, giving and receiving weight, moving towards and away, body surfing with an aquatic frame of mind, hearty and bloodful laughter, etc.

This workshop delves into the spiralic, rhythmic, oceanic nature of the blood to find momentum, gravity and flow within our contact dances. Tuning in to the fluid movement within, we will discover how the spiralic nature of all the systems of the body, including muscle, bone and fascia can support our dancing and we will dance with heart.


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