Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Getty Center Rethinks Gerome

(Image Gerome's "Police Verso" displayed in Duggan's article.)

A catalog for a current exhibit at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, "Thumbs Up: Reconsidering Jean-Léon Gérôme," receives thoughtful review by Bob Duggan in Big Think. The article discusses the curators' intention to spark debate about Gerome's traditional realism and modernist tendencies, but the essays listed speak mostly to his notorious stereotyping. "Genre work" is always considered a lesser art form. Of interest to me is Mary Robert's "Gerome in Istanbul," which discusses the Orientalists work in terms of contemporary hangups and ethnic tensions. The exhibit runs at the Getty until Sept. 12. The book is

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert Meets Kuchuk Hanem (5)

In Esna, Flaubert's famous encounter with the famed dancer Kuchuk Hanem:

Kuchuk Hanem and Bambeh begin to dance. Kuchuk's dance is brutal. She squeezes her bare breasts together with her jacket. She puts on her girdle fashioned from a brown shawl with gold stripes, with three tassels hanging on ribbons. She rises first on one foot, then on the other--marvelous movement, when one foot is on the ground, the other moves up and across in front of the shin bone. The whole thing done with a light bound. I have seen this dance on old Greek vases.

Bambeh prefers a dance on a straight line; she moves with a lowering and raising of one hip only, a kind of limping of great character. Bambeh has henna on her hands. She seems to be a devoted servant to Kuchuk...All in all, their dancing, except Kuchuk's step mentioned above, is far less good than that of Hassan el-Belbeissi, the male dancer in Cairo. Joseph's opinion is that all beautiful women dance badly." (p. 115-116)

Jean-Leon Gerome from Wikipedia
Flaubert in Egypt:A Sensibility on Tour. Trans. and ed by Francis Steegmuller. Chicago: Academy Chicago Ltd. 1979.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert in Egypt 4 (Dancers)

More on the male dancer Hasan el_Belbeissi in Cairo:

Saturday, December 29, 1849.
After our lunch on that same day, we had dancers in--the famous Hasan el-Belbeissi and one other, with musicians; the second would have been noticed even without Hasan. They both wore the same costume--baggy trousers and embroidered jacket, their eyes painted with antimony (khol). The jacket goes down to the abdomen, whereas the trousers, held by an enormous cashmere belt folded over several times, begin approximately at the pubis, so that the stomach, the small of the back, and the beginning of the buttocks are naked, seen through a bit of black gauze held in place by the upper and lower garments. The gauze ripples on the hips like a transparent wave with every movment they make. The shrilling of the flute and the pulsing of the darabukey pierce one's very breast.

Here is a translation of what the singer sang during the dance:

"A slim-waisted Turkish object has sharp and piercing eyes.

Because of them, the lovers have passed the night enchained like slaves.

I am sacrificing my soul for the love of a doe capable of fettering lions.

O God, how sweet it is to suck nectar from her mouth.

Is that nector not the source of my languishment, my wasting away?

O full moon. Enough of harshness and of torment; high time you fulfilled the promise you made to the languishing lover.

And, above all, make no end to the favors you grant him."

The dancers move forward and back. Expressionlessness of their faces beneath their cheeks of rouge and sweat. The effect comes from the gravity of the face contrasted with the lascivious movements of the body; occaissionally, one or the others lies down flat on his back like a woman about to offer herself, and then suddenly leaps up with a bound, like a tree straightening itself after a gust; then bows and curtseys; pauses; their red trousers suddenly puff out like oval balloons, then seem to collapse, expelling the air that's been swelling them. Now and again, during the dance, their impresario makes jokes and kisses Hasan on the belly. Hasan never for a moment stops watching himself in the mirror.

Meanwhile, Mourier was eating his lunch at a little round table on the left.
(p. 69-70)

Photo: Wikipedia: Kocek.
Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour. Trans. and Ed. Francis Steegmuller. Academy Chicago Limited. Chicago: 1979.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert in Egypt 3(Dancers)

Already in Cairo, this is Flaubert's first dramatic rendering of a dancer, mostly on the male dancer Hasan el-Belbeissi:

One day behind the Hotel d'Orient, we meet a wedding procession. The drummers (small drums) are on donkey-back, richly dressed children on horses; women in black veils (seen full-face, the veilsare like the paper disks that circus riders jump through, only black) uttering the zagarit;.....a male dancer--it was Hassan el-Belbeissi--in drag, his hair braided on each side, embroidered jacket, eyebrows painted black, very ugly, gold piastres hanging down his back; around his body, as a belt, a chain of large square gold amulets; he clicks castanets; splendid writhings of belly and hips; he makes his belly undulate like waves; grand final blow with his trousers ballooning." (38-39)

Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour. Trans. and Ed. Francis Steegmuller. Academy Chicago Limited. Chicago: 1979.
Photo: Kocek (male dancer) from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reading Notes: Flaubert (2) Landscapes with Slaves

Continuing my literary excursion with Flaubert, the slavery connotations disturb me far more than the prostitutes or the sexualized interpretations of the dancing. The dancers (almeh and bardashes) appear to have some agency, (Kuchuk Hanem employs her own servants and keeps her money in the bank), and are worth conversing with in Flaubert's view. The slavery system depicted--the ships from Nubia, the older women hired to console the young female slaves embarking on their dismal futures, and the man who got away--haunts because the people exploited have no voices, no direct interaction with Flaubert. Flaubert, in his southern most jaunt in Upper Egypt, sees a camel running through the desert with a Nubian man tied to him. Flaubert surmises that the slave is being pulled to freedom by the animal.

Flaubert reports these sights. The fact that he reports them perhaps says what he is able to at that time. But the cool reportage is unnerving mixed in with the detail of an idealized landscape and laced with the specificity that would become part of the future novelist's trademark:
Sunset over Medinet Habu: The mountains are dark indigo (on the Medinet Habu side); blue over dark gray, with contrasting horizontal stripes of purplish red in the clefts of the valleys. The palms are black as ink, the sky is red, the Nile has the look of a lake of molten steel.
When we arrived off Thebes, our sailors were drumming on their darabukehs, the mate was playing his flute, Khalil was dancing with his castanets; they broke off to land.
It was then, as I was enjoying those things, and just as I was watching the wave-crests bending under the wind behind us, I felt a surge of solemn happiness that reached out toward what I was seeing, and I thanked God in my heart for having made me capable of such joy; I felt fortunate at the thought, and yet it seemed to me that I was thinking of nothing: it was a sensuous pleasure that pervaded my entire being."

Hollywood Orientalism 2010

Mia Mask's story on NPR, "Eat, Pray, Love. Leave: Orientalism on the Big Screen, reviews the popularity of modern movies with Orientalist tropes, most egregiously with "Eat, Pray, Love," the story of a woman who "finds herself" while traveling in the East. We still associate the east with barbarism and female sexuality. It's the simplification of Eastern spiritual tropes and the "West"'s (I've been nudged for the vague use of that word too) eagerness to make everything a commodity.

How does this relate to belly dance/orientalish? See Deagon's Patriarchy article (below) or any of myriad articles promoting belly dance for women's empowerment, a theory likely created in the "West" for women in the "west." As an active yogi, I fit the bill twice. I have no plans to quit dancing, to avoid books I want to read (such as Flaubert's degrading but captivating trip down the Nile) or to give up yoga, or..to point fingers at others doing the same. I just hope to take stock of what I do and to continue to carve out my own understanding of why I'm drawn to what I'm drawn toward. That is always a mystery to be pursued. (Note: I didn't read "Eat, Pray, Love" or go to the movie.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Research: Flaubert in Egypt

Continuing researching regarding early travels down the Nile for my Ralph Waldo Emerson project, I've been reading "Flaubert in Egypt." This book, with its fancy Orientalist cover, has been on my shelf for years. I love "Madame Bovary" and was worried this would repel me. Thus far, these accounts of his journey from France to Egypt in the fall of 1849 has proved a fascinating and aesthetically beautiful read. A collection of letters, journal notes, and sections from the memoirs of his travel partner Maxime Du Camp is very, very Flaubert, and very, very little Egypt. He sexualizes the men and the women and the children and even the street animals like that of a horny young artist. He goes of looking for splendor and fantasy and finds it precisely because he is seeing it through his own lens. As the translator and editor Francis Steegmuller states in her introduction he was sensualist and frequenter of prostitutes, male and female. He obsesses over the frequency of people hitting the lower classes, which is alarming. His visual impressions of the colors and scents and foods are worth the read.

Flaubert's literary influences in his perceptions of Egypt came from reading the romantic effusions of "The East" in works by Lord Byron, Victor Hugo's "Les Orientales," and the collected "Arabian Nights." He also, in a letter to his mother, refers to Lane's "The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians" (1836). Steegmuller juxtaposes a scene from Flauber's "pre-Egypt_ Orient and one from his travel account. That tomorrow....

Photos of Gustave Flaubert taken shortly before his Egyptian travels; Maxime Du Champ, his co-traveller. Both from Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Twtty Orientalism" in the New York Times

" She had so much." "But Will it Make You Happy?" The overwhelmingly popular column in the NY Times about a woman who stepped off the earn/spend treadmill and whittled her belongings down to 100 items hooked me. I still like it though I agree the article does oversimplify the "simple life." Among those who took odds with it was Adam Weinstein in "The New York Times' Twitty Orientalism " who criticized the Eastern religion references Hinduism, Sufism, Yoga, and other "eastern" paths that people flit in and out of in oversimplifed form when convenient (I see myself in that list). Weinstein is right in many regards. We're so mired by consumer society that sometimes our winnowing down of items ends up in buying more in the long run. Purge, binge. We use these other belief systems when convenient (and trendy) and just as easily take them off again. Spirituality is hard; commitment isn't popular in our society. Weinstein then moves into more serious territory that results from this winnowing down of that classic "Other." Orientalism exists, he says, with terrifying results though we live in an age that tries to educate ourselves away from it.

Also relevent to this Orientalish thing, Weinstein mentions his own youthful travels to Uzbekistan that made him a suden "expert" on Uzbek culture by local media when he returned. As I read Flaubert's 19th century travel accounts in Egypt, that point struck me as so much of what I'm reading seems Flaubert, Flaubert, Flaubert and very little Egypt. What also strikes me in this 100 items plan is the homes I saw in my last trip to Egypt where the economic situation is dire in the small towns. Some people would kill to own 100 things.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Maureen Fleming at Flushing Library in Queens

Axis Mundi and Other Works:
A Tribute to Kazuo Ohno

By Maureen Fleming
Artistic Director and

Saturday, August 21 7:00 p.m.
Flushing Auditorium, Lower Level
41-17 Main Street
(Directions below)

One of my favorite dancers and teachers performs and lectures this Saturday in Queens. This free show is a rare event. If you're in town, it's worth the effort to get there!

Maureen Fleming was born in Japan. After extensive study there with Kazuo Ohno, co-founder of Butoh, an avantgarde movement developed in post-war Japan, Ms. Fleming went on to perform with Ohno’s son, Yoshito, and tour internationally with performance artist/ choreographer Min Tanaka. This lecture/ demonstration includes excerpts of Ms. Fleming’s work and will be presented with intermittent videos, photographs and narratives that deal with the crucial relationship in her Japanese-influenced work to the changing role of art in society. Photography and visual design by Christopher Odo. Admission is free.
(Photo taken Aug. 2009 at La MaMa Galleria).

Train: 7 to Main Street (last stop) LIRR: Port Washington Line to Flushing-Main Street Bus: Q12, Q13, Q17, Q19, Q20A, Q20B, Q25, Q27, Q34, Q44, Q58, Q65, Q66, QBx1

Field Trip: King Tut at the Met Museum of Art

As the Times Square exhibit continues, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a small scale sister exhibit, the Funeral of Tutankhamen. I attended a gallery tour with Egyptologist Phyllis Saretta. She started the tour with connecting look at Amenhotep the III and his son Akhnaton (credited by some for inventing monotheism in the ancient world) who fathered Tutankhamen. Tutankhamen, a young and relatively minor ruler who died at 18, paled next to the transforming reign of his father. I knew of the monotheism and that he changed the form of art into elongated figures, but what Saretta added to this was the "realism or naturalism of his artistic contributions." That period, known as the Amarna period, showed realistically drawn pharaohs with wrinkles and fat. After Akhnaton died, the priests, threatened by the monotheism that might put them out of business, managed to sway the boy pharaoh back to polytheism before he died.
What does this have to do with Orientalish? The fact that Tutankhamen was a relatively unimportant figure except for the fact that his intact tomb made the European explorers famous and wealthy. They researched and pillaged in the manner of their era (early 20th century), which was probably better than their predecessors did. The artifacts at the Met are modest in number at this exhibit but have beautiful detail. Soon...King Tut in Times Square...before it's gone.

Research: Emerson at Philae, Part 1

During research on Ralph Waldo Emerson and his voyage down the Nile in 1872, I spent this weekend reading his essay: "Napoleon, or, Man of the World." Yes, that Napoleon, Napoleon Bonaparte of the Egyptian Campaign, 1798-1801. Emerson's essay focused on this conqueror's character and will. For the sake of cultivating his personal philosophy and ethics, Emerson studied rigorously the character traits great men and women had in common--their nature-- and this is the focus of his essay. According to Emerson's study, Napoleon's strength seeps most from his ability to act, "the execution of ideas," never on impulse but on calculation. Emerson portrays Napoleon's unparalleled ability to gain power over men while gaining their respect; they saw in him a role model that a common man can conquer the aristocracy. Emerson, Calvinist and American and Transcendentalist, admired Napoleon's organic rise to power through his wits.

But from the beginning of Emerson's essay, a shadow lurks. Emerson deliberately shows how Bonaparte subordinated all of his great powers and vision toward the material. They hit the mark…and ended there. He set aside "sentiments" such as beloved wife and children. According to Emerson, Bonapart invested his powers into the world, "never weak and literary," he acted. (In an essay on Plato, Emerson states the philosopher's fault was that he was "literary;" Plato's greatness was diminished because he didn't invest in the world.) In his journal during his Egyptian Campaign he wrote: "I have conducted the campaign without consulting anyone…my actions were as prompt as my thoughts." The savants and artists he took aboard, though heralded for advancing culture, brought material ends as their catalog and works became propaganda machines immortalizing his name. Napoleon says of his own character: "My ambition was great, but was of a cold nature."

Napoleon's grasping turned on him at the end. France and Europe tired of his egotism and reviled him. I think of the derogatory cliche that remains, a "Napoleon Complex." Emerson says, "As long as our civilization is essentially one of property, of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions. Our riches will leave us sick…Only that good profits which we can taste with all doors open, and which serves all men." (Paintings: Top, "The Egyptian Expedition under the orders of Bonaparte" by Leon Cogniet; center, "Bonaparte Before the Sphinx" by Jean-Leon Gerome both from Wikipedia, "French Campaign in Egypt.")

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Article by Andrea Deagon: Belly Dance in Patriarchy

"Belly Dance in Patriarchy: The Switzerland of the Soul," by Andrea Deagon on The Gilded Serpent, offers a considered view of many of fallacies consistent in the current belly dance scene. The use of goddess imagery is questioned, the uncomfortable conundrum between being drawn to belly dance for its acceptance of body types and learning quickly that what sells is typical slender good looks that meet a stereotype, the "dumbing down" of belly dance as it becomes more popular, and the belly dance scene's commodity driven belittling of Arab culture.

An excerpt: Also, we unfairly deny this sort of aesthetic expression to men in our own culture. We fail to acknowledge the aesthetics of the Arab world that created this dance, and we do that all-too-colonial thing: we feminize the Arab “Other,” which, in the metaphor of all patriarchies, aligns him with inherent flaws and inevitable defeat. In claiming that Belly dance is fundamentally feminine, we truthfully reflect the often-empowering ideals of our own culture. However, we also we fall prey to the limitations our patriarchy imposes on both genders, limit our own freedom of expression, exclude men, and repress Arabs all in one fell swoop. Deagon has several articles published in The Gilded Serpent that are well worth reading. Check out the Serpent!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

August 2010 Choreography at NYU

Here is our final dance class of the summer! How hot it was, and yet, how quickly it went. All of these dancers did amazing work in a very short amount of time. And now they leave to school, life, new faculty positions and beyond. Keep dancing everyone!