Sunday, July 31, 2011

From Gilded Serpent: Orientalizing Orientalism

I just came upon this article, "Orientalizing Oriental" by Paola in Gilded Serpent, a dance review about UNESCO's dance conference. Despite somewhat typical complaints, this writer offers interesting pauses including the optomistic: "We need healthy, robust debate about our dance’s identity, and we need more scholars willing to brave the front lines of the intellectual battle. We need to discuss, doubt write, question, agree, disagree, and make proposals – in the spirit of sisterhood and advancing not only the cause of our dance, but the cause of modern-day women’s community." The above picture comes from the full article, Orientalizing Oriental , at Gilded Serpent.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kazuo Ohno performs "Admiring La Argentina"

This famous tribute to the Spanish dancer "La Argentina" keeps coming to mind after seeing Elena Lentini's new work with her company, Caravanserai. The following clip was released a year ago by the Ohno studio around the time of this master's death. I'm not certain of Ohno's age in this clip, but the haunting (video) representation of this older man inhabiting the spirit and art of an older woman will never lose its effect on me.

Additionally, in a previous post I quote Federico Garcia Lorca's " In Praise of Antonia Merce, La Argentina."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Writers on Dance: Lorca on "La Argentina"

Spanish Civil War-era writer Federico Garcia Lorca's searing poetry and tragic life has been covered many times. A favorite portrait of mine is one that ran in the New Yorker many years ago, "Looking for Lorca" by Elizabeth Kolbert. In his short book of essays, In Search of Duende, he offers an introduction he gave for the famous Spanish (Argentinian born) dancer "La Argentina," who was visiting New York City. (Butoh master Kazuo Ohno also danced a tribute for her.) The excerpt below from: "In Praise of Antonia Merce, La Argentina," his specific and poetic imagery and his identification of her real name (which many others don't do) keep it from falling into the traps of cliche that often comes when portraying dance.

Whereas Said, in writing about Tahia Carioca, defends culture and dignity, the poet in Lorca focuses on the search for harmony in this dancer's art:

"...In the art of dance, the body struggles against the invisible mist that envelops it and tries to bring to light the dominant profile demanded by the architecture of the music. Ardent struggle, endless vigil, like all art. While the poet wrestles with the horses in his brain and the sculptor wounds his eyes on the hard spark of alabaster, the dancer battles the air around her, air that threatens at any moment to destroy her harmony or to open huge empty spaces where her rhythm will be annihilated...The dancer's trembling heart must bring everything into harmony, from the tips of her shoes to the flutter of eyelashes, from the ruffles of her dress to the incessant play of her fingers. Shipwrecked in a field of air, she must measure lines, silences, zigzags, and rapid curves with a sixth sense of aroma and geometry, without ever mistaking her terrain. In this she resembles the torero, whose heart must keep to the neck of the bull. Both of them face the same danger--he, death; and she, darkness.

" She must fill a dead gray space with a living, clear trembling arabesque, one which can be vividly remembered. This is how she speaks, this is her tongue. And in all the world, no one is as good as Anotonia Merce at inscribing the drowsy air with that arabesque of blood and bone. She combines her intuition of dance with a rhythmic intelligence and an understanding of bodily forms possessed by only the great masters of the Spanish dance. . . [She] is a heroine of her own body. She is a tamer of her own facile desires, which are always the most tempting. She has earned the reward of pure dance: double vision. I mean that when she dances, her eyes are not trained on herself; they are looking ahead, governing her movements, making her expressions more objective, and helping her receive the blind, impressive bursts of pure instinct. "
Photo from Wikipedia: La Argentina

(In my previous post featuring Edward Said on Tahia Carioca, I mentioned these two sections were written in response to a teaching assignment given me by Wah Ming Chang for her class at Barnard. Thanks, Professor Chang!)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Counterpoint: My Experience of the Sahara (January 2010)

Because I just posted Tanya Hurley's animation of Paul Bowles' poetic statement "Baptism of Solitude" about the Sahara that's making the airwaves today, I have to offer my experience traveling from Siwa to Bahariyya Oasis through the Western Desert and the Great Sand Sea. This took place midway on the 10-hour caravan my driver and I were a part of, and I asked several of the drivers how they would dance to the music blasting from their stereos across the dunes. (This crew would have nothing to do with Egyptian/Arab pop.) Though it's not obvious in this clip, riders from the other vehicles are on a blanket having tea prepared on a bunsen burner. Unlike Bowles' depiction, my experience was comprised mostly of laughter and bright, glaring beauty.

"Baptism of Solitude": A Tribute to Paul Bowles by Tanya Hurley

Thanks to Mikhail Iossell on Facebook, I caught Tanya Hurley's dramatic animation of Paul Bowles' famous recording : "Baptism of Solitude." Bowles is of course, one of the great Orientalists at its best and worst. Anyone who has read The Sheltering Sky (or at least seen the movie) knows his vision of the Moroccan Sahara represents violence, silence, and overwhelming emptiness. However, much of this borders on that idea of the violent and animal "other," which is uncomfortable for those of us with far different, if not opposite, experiences. Still, as is often the quandary, Bowles' language is so evocative and disturbing and evoked so beautifully it becomes something (if not accuracy). My favorite line: ..."Loneliness presupposes memory."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Writers on Dance: Edward Said on Tahia Carioca

My good friend Wah Ming Chang asked me to visit her writing class at Barnard to talk about Writing and Dance. In preparation, I looked up two of my favorite dance descriptions, Edward Said writing about his admiration for the famous Tahia Carioca (1919-1999) who comes in this essay, to represent the fluctuating politics and social mores of her beloved Egypt, and Federico Garcia Lorca's written introduction for "La Argentina."

I chose the following excerpt from Said's essay (which appears in his collection of essays Reflections on Exile) for obvious, pedagogical reasons. In these paragraphs, he begins with his eloquent definition of why her dance is specifically Egyptian ( "As in bullfighting, the essence of the classic belly dancer's art is not how much but how little she moves...") and then deftly transitions to a paragraph that concretely describes her movements with such clarity, a reader with some knowledge of the dance could enact the movement. Specificity and definition and context were, of course, fundamental in Said's quest to understand and avoid generalizing those with less power.

The essay, "Homage to a Belly Dancer," (which originally appeared in the London Review of Books) is a great find to anyone interested in belly dance, Tahia Carioca, or the process of writing about dance and the body. Here is an excerpt, starting with Said as a teenager infatuated with this woman who was for many, the essence of beauty and feminity:

"...We were about as far from the stage as it was possible to sit, but the shimmering, glistening blue costume she wore simply dazzled the eye, so bright were the sequins and spangles, so controlled was her quite lengthy immobility as she stood there with an entirely composed look about her. As in bullfighting, the essence of the classic Arab belly dancer's art is not how much but how little the artist moves: only the novices or the deplorable Greek and AMerican imitators, go in for the appalling wiggling and jumping around that passes for "sexiness" and harem hootchy-kootch. The point is to make an effect mainly (but by no means exclusively) through suggestiveness and--in the full-scale composition Tahia offered that night--to do so over a series of episodes kintted together in alternating, moods, recurring motifs.

"Her diaphonous veils were laid over the modified bikini that was basic to the outfit without ever becoming its main attraction. The beauty of her dance was its connectedness: thefeeling she communicated of the spectacularly lithe and well-shaped body undulating through a complex but decorative series of encumbrances made up of gauzes, veils, necklaces, strings of gold and silver chains, which her movements animated deliberately and at times almost theoretically. She would stand, for example, and slowly begin to move her right hip, which would in turn activate her silver leggings, tnad the beads draped over the right side of her waist. As she did all this, she would look down at the moving parts, so to speak, and fix our gaze on them too, as if we were all wathcing a separate little drama, thythmically very controlled, re-configuring her body so as to highlight her semi-detached right side. Tahia's dance was like an extended arabesque elaborated around [the seated singer who shared the stage]. She never jumped, or bobbed her breatsts, or went in for bumping and grinding. There was a majestic deliberateness to the whole thing that maintained itself right through even the quicker passages. Each of us knew tha we were experiencing an immensely exciting--because endlessly deferred--erotic experience, the likes of which we could never hope to match in real life. And that was precisely the point: this was sexuality as a public event, brilliantly planned and executed, yet totally unconsummated and unrealizable."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

HYPHEN Magazine on the Syrian Lesbian Blogging Hoax

Lisa Nakamura's blog post at Hyphen Magazine: Syrian Lesbian Bloggers, Fake Geishas, and the Attraction of Identity Tourism is a well considered report on recent blogging scandals and, more importantly, the motivations behind these thefts of not only identity but image of other cultures. She quotes Gayatri Spivak who writes in her book, Can the Subaltern Speak? about the too frequent practice of: "...white men...saving brown women from brown men." (Graphic from the Hyphen Magazine post.)