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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Mexico 2012

I have a dream on my second night in Mexico that there are dozens of people body surfing in a cove. The waves become higher and higher until the screams of delight became screams of terror. Then the earth splits into three and millions of people are separated from each other. From the night sky I can see two Earth chunks floating in low orbits. 

The dream must be inspired by the previous morning: I wake up and Rolando and I have breakfast as we watch a live stream of Felix Baumgartner breaking the world record of highest manned balloon trip. He’s in the stratosphere, 125,000ft above ground. In the capsule he goes through a very tense checklist of 30 things before jumping. Then he jumps. We watch him tumble through space in an oxygen suit, with no air resistance at first. He has a radio and mission control keeps asking him to speak to make sure he’s still conscious. His words are unintelligible but reassuring. The camera jumps to images of his family crying and applauding. Then after 4 mins of free fall, his parachute ejects and he controls his landing by manipulating the cords. He lands on his feet then falls to his knees. It’s incredibly moving and stupid. Why do humans do these inane, life threatening things? And yet when they work out it seems absolutely right and obvious to take these risks.

The day I arrive Rolando picks me up from the airport and after I get settled he takes me out for tacos. From inside the taqueria, we see a large dog standing on a platform on the back of a scooter. He looks as if he’s on a huge platter about to be served. Then Rolando takes me to the skate shop. (He had bought a skateboard days earlier, but didn't know how to stop it-- it flew out into the street and was crushed underneath a car). The skate shop owner is generous and gives him half off for another one. It’s hot pink and I try it, also no idea how to stop it.

Rolando is a precocious music school drop out. He is a voracious reader, listener and concert-goer. When he sees me reading Susan Rethorst’s book he says, "Oh I’ve heard of this book" and pulls up Megan Bridge’s review of it on thINKing DANCE on his web browser. I say: "How the fuck did you learn about ThINKing DANCE, a dance blog based in Philly??" he replies "Oh I dunno, I just find things and read about them." He’s 19 years old.

On Sunday, my second day, I go to a concert in a toy museum full of planes, trains, dolls, board games. There are barbies of all kinds: nurse barbie, leathery barbie, a whole row of naked purple barbies and whole row of naked green barbies. There’s an 18 ft high black man’s face with a wide mouth and two big hands playing maracas. A Spaniard named Iñigo explains that this guy came from a dance club where a pianist would play from inside the mouth as it moved up and down. 

At the concert Burkhard and Lisa play an electronics duo. Then Andrea plays a captivating solo that incorporates movement in unison with her sound. She has ear buds that make clicking sounds to indicate when a sound is about to happen so she can move in time with it. I have a long argument with Burkhard after because I voice my desire that more musicians be conscious of their bodies as they perform. He says he isn’t interested in using the body in performance. I reply: “Why perform live then?” I’m not suggesting that all musicians choreograph their bodies, but at least to acknowledge their physical presence being seen. The consciousness that Andrea brings to her presence on stage is refreshing, even when she isn’t moving. 

Waiting for the concert to begin, I talk with Bani, an Iranian filmmaker. She has just completed a feature length film about a Tehran women living a stifled life. Bani was born in Tehran, grew up in TX, moved to NY then to France, then Mexico. She says Mexico City reminds her more of Tehran than any other place she’s been. She says the subways smell the same.

The event begins with a talk about Andrea and Burkhard’s new book, Echtzeitmusik Berlin, about the Berlin music scene. Then there’s a set of improvised music by the Germans and Bonnie. I’m inspired by how these musicians decided to write her own history (since it’s not being documented elsewhere). This makes me want to write.

This is my solo performance of Deborah Hay’s “I Think Not.” Tech starts very late, but goes smoothly. UVA staff takes much care to make the green room cozy with coffee, water and snacks and my name taped to the door in big block letters. Audience members still enter the dressing room, in spite of the name tag. They stream through to enter the stage from the backdoor. This is because my solo performance is billed as a workshop.

Then the show begins without me. No one thought to come check in with me before starting the show.

I hear the applause and am not even in costume. I go to the front and insist they turn the house lights back up and give me 5 more minutes. I’m shaking with rage and confusion, but am calmed by Chris. I channel Deborah Hay’s instruction to notice the feelings and let them go... And there they go!

As soon as I begin the dance, I feel elated, joyous, full, alive. The world is my oyster. I take everything in stride, enjoy the challenges, the impossibility of the tasks, and stay awake to my seeing the whole time.

The conversation afterward with the audience is fantastic. It’s an opportunity for me to contemplate and articulate my work with Deborah and all that it means to me; the values that I share with her, the ways she has influenced my aesthetics through her process.

The audience talk back is intimate and runs longer than the dance. Rolando translates. Emilio and Chris ask provocative questions. Some younger dancers ask why I don’t care about the audience (they believe this presumably because I don’t express an explicit story or feeling). And we have a long conversation about why I and many other artists have decided to move beyond spoon-feeding experience to viewers. I’m not sure how much of a dent I make in their assumptions about dance, but at least it’s a beginning. 

Afterward two other young dancers come up to me with wide eyes asking me how they can study with Deborah Hay. Their minds have been blown apart.

When we arrive at UVA, Chris has set up the theater beautifully for his 8pm concert with Juan, Emilio and Fernando.

There’s a 6pm event that Chris has devised, an experiential concert in the park adjacent to UVA, culminating in a duo with me and Misha, playing baritone horn. 

Chris leads us through 3 experiential exercises inspired by his work with Pauline Oliveros and Jennifer Monson. The first is a 15 min sound walk through the park, listening to the sounds near, midrange and far. As the 20 of us enter slowly, mindfully walking, the tone of the park changes. 

There’s a canopy of dense bird sounds. Cars in the distance. Airplanes even further. The crunching of leaves underfoot. The sound of my own breath. Runners passing by. Children screaming. Dogs intermittently barking.

There are some very strange exercises being performed by park goers: pseudo-aerobic movements of the arms and torso that are jerky and appear very uncomfortable. I’m curious about where these people are learning to exercise?

We convene in the center and partner for the next part: Whisper a conversation with your partner about what you heard, walking towards and away from one another, playing with the threshold between language and sound.

Then the third exercise: Show your partner a direction to look in, see the furthest thing and slowly track your eyes closer and closer, scanning the sagittal landscape as your partner traces your bones from distal to proximal. The vantage points we choose are lush. The park is full of knotty trees, bushes, ornate/rusty benches, paths and arches.

By the time we reconvene as a group, all of our senses are awakened and enlivened. Then Misha and I perform a 10 minute duo. The instructions for viewing are for the audience to watch us 50% of the time and the rest of the time view or listen to the surroundings. This invitation to consciously choose where and how to attend actually allows more space for them to witness us. Sometimes the pressure to be a good audience member can constrict the viewing / listening experience, the person zones out, loses consciousness and doesn’t even realize where they’ve gone.

The duo with Misha is very concrete and simple. After participating in the perceptual exercises, improvising is an effortless stream of non-thinking, sensing and relating on a bone level.

It’s dusk. The sun sets during this duo. For the finale 7 police motorcycles streamed through the park, their headlights beaming into the audience’s eyes.

The concert in the theater is a feast of sound and space. My capacity for listening and enjoying subtlety of sound has increased exponentially on this trip. I feel the potential to listen for hours and never be bored. Every concert feels too short and I’m always left wanting more. This quartet, base, percussion and electronics is quiet and sensitive. the sound travels from one end of the room to the next. There are bowed things and metal and glass vibrating in the most beautiful tones. It’s a composition by Chris and the material is quite limited, but performed with total commitment and attention.

One night I go with Chris and Bonnie to look at a new apartment for them for the following week. We walk for 40 mins at dusk through the center of the city. We walk through a department store that reminds me of my childhood: Macy’s with those old wooden escalators. We enter the post office, which is unbelievably ornate: old fashioned elevators pulleyed by chains, traveling through glass channels. Chris mentions it’s funny that the P.O. is so grand, meanwhile the mail system is so broken that the mail rarely arrives.

Another day I take a walk and see an open air hair salon with an old hound dog sitting outside, huge paws, long ears and it’s skin piling up around itself on the sidewalk. I go to a park and see 50 teenagers hula hooping. One of Rolando’s friend’s, Sebastian, tells me that Dali hated Mexico City because it was more surrealistic than he was. 

Chris and I co-teach an improv workshop. We strive to blur the line between musician and dancer so we create parameters for scores that could be interpreted as sound or movement. The participants aren’t all trained, but are very open and smart in their choice making. Rolando translates and is incredibly facile. He could listen to me or Chris speak about multiple subjects for 5 mins and then repeat everything in the exact order of topics.

The place where the workshop and performances are held is called UVA:

It was built on the site of the 1968 student massacre:

Apparently the police bombed the students, revealing Aztec ruins in the process. On the walk to UVA we see these ruins lining a lawn. And also, built from the stones of these ruins a 16th century church standing right next to it. This city is just history piled on top of history. The biggest church in the center of the city was built on top of pyramids, from the stones of the pyramids. And the whole city was built on a drained lake that’s sinking in many places. Row houses adjacent to each other are tipped at odd angles, lopsided, nothing is level here. In the cab ride back to the apartment I see a church with full trees growing out of the crevices in between the stones.

I meet Misha in front of the Cathedral for a walk. Another incredibly ornate and grand building. We wander through the Cathedral then through the center of the city, past the national palace “where the president hangs out” as Chris says. We walk on new pedestrian streets that were built by the richest man in the world. He bought downtown and revitalized the whole thing. The center had been abandoned after the big earthquake in the 80’s when over 100K people were killed. Rents were stabilized and landlords couldn’t afford to renovate, so they let their buildings go fallow. Everyone moved to outlying neighborhoods and the center became a ghost town. So it’s generally believed that this revitalization has been a good thing. But the security guard with a machine gun outside of a jewelry store is a little disconcerting. And the cops all look like riot cops. They have helmets and huge shields, as if they’re expecting trouble. 

In the center there are indigenous people in loin clothes performing cleansing rituals for 10 pesos. This includes being saged, beaten with branches and being prayed/sung over.

We then walk by a major one way street with 5 lanes. Two buses are trying to pass cars going in the WRONG DIRECTION. Cops look on without doing a thing. 

The curb is bordered by a gate, lined with prostitutes. Cops stand on the building side of the sidewalk. There are an equal amount of cops and prostitutes on opposite sides of the street.

We head into the dense, sprawling La Merced (market). It takes us a hour to walk through it. Stalls stand should to shoulder with narrow walkways. Everything you could imagine is being sold.

There are at least 20 stands just for cactus. I wonder, who buys all this cactus? Misha says, DF is a big city, there are millions of people and they love cactus. The vendors cut the spikes off of the flat, turgid leaves and pile them up in huge bags.

There’s an onion section that makes me cry and chili peppers that make me cough. There are herbs to “cure” every malady, including cancer. Materials for shamanic rituals. Piñatas. Kitchenware. Children’s toys. Underwear. Bags. Jeans. Dried, edible crickets. Caramelized pumpkins worshipped by swarms of bees. An indigenous kind of mushroom that grows in the stalk of corn, that is apparently delicious, but outlawed in the U.S. Dozens of varieties of mole paste in huge tubs. Seafood. Pigs feet. Powdered spices the deepest hues of red, orange and brown. 

And throughout the 3 hr walk in the thick, bustling, impossibly crowded, smoggy, loud, cacophonous city: A periodic window down a street offers a view of the surrounding mountains and a reminder that we’re on the planet Earth.

Then we board a bus toward UVA that stops at an intersection for about 10 minutes for no apparent reason.

On my last night we look for a dance club, but only find one with 90’s american pop music. So we bring a laptop and speakers up to the roof for salsa. Misha and Emilio invite some of their friends to join us, including a dancer named Claudia.

Claudia gives Andrea, Bonnie and I salsa lesson. She’s fluid, precise and understatedly sexy. I am beyond humbled by my undifferentiated hips. 

Then she hollers, the only way for us to really learn is to dance in partners. Luckily, I get to partner with her a bit and sense the music through her movement. 

The security guard to the building comes up to the roof at around 3am and says “no parties after 2am...” We can make can make all the noise we want until 2am on a weeknight and it’s totally fine, but not after 2am!

Bonnie plays some music without speakers from her little ipod and we all crowd around and dance very quietly.

I talk with Claudia lying on the ground, stargazing... There are actually some stars through the smog.

Claudia says she recently went to NY for the first time, had been hesitant to go to the U.S. as many Latin Americans are because our government has so thoroughly fucked them over, but she was impressed and happy to learn that she likes the U.S., at least NY. I’ve had this conversation so many times before. Latino(as) express the realization to me that the American people are distinct from their government. Yet I still feel shame. Even though I have socialist values, I benefit from the wealth the U.S. steals from other nations. 

Claudia tells me that she performs folkloric dance from all over the world. She makes some of her living dancing but spends a lot of time modeling for magazines and artists. She says every moment she’s not dancing feels like wasted time. Lo entiendo.