Monday, February 21, 2011


                                                                                Halprin Dancers Workshop

       We stay up late because we love late nights and silence, and rarely set the alarm. Except for Thursday mornings, when I wake early because I’m going to Dance. On the Mountain. In the studio that has windows, not mirrors, so you look inward or outward, not at your reflection. Or, if it’s nice, we dance on the extraordinary deck among the Redwoods, where Merce Cunningham was once photographed leaping across the length of it.

       Once I wanted to be a dancer, but there was that injury, and lost extension, and then there was rheumatoid arthritis at 30, and only being able to walk to the corner, (which is four doors away), and the slow build up to two miles each morning.

       The dance class begins with a long, slow, meditative warm-up on the heated floor, and there's the music - the music! Last rainy, blustery week the Mountain was hidden behind a low fog bank, and wisps of cloud were snarled among the trees, and then it poured, giving us another rhythm to dance to.   Every week dance-mind and dance-body return to this aging one, but what is aging when your teacher is 90?
                                               “Aging is like enlightenment at gunpoint”. says Anna

    When I saw the film about Anna Halprin, Breath Made Visible; when I saw her dance the cancer out of her body, and dance Intensive Care after her husband had been there, and score the elderly in rocking chairs, I knew I would attend her Thursday morning class.

"When I was a young girl, I danced to rebel!
  When I was half a hundred, I danced for peace
  and justice.
  When I was seventy-two, I danced to understand
   the ants,  the insects, the birds, fish, the mountains,
   deer, the rolling hills, and the ocean.
   And when I will be eighty, I will seek to be a healer.
   And when I become ninety, I will dance the essence of things…"

      Anna & Larry. If the 60s & 70s on the West Coast were about changing models and embracing change, alternative life styles, and facing the fact of race, who were more innovative than the Dancer and the Architect? Collaborating on new forms of community, new ways to integrate the public into what Lawrence Halprin was designing, new forms of response, public scores, and unpatterned dance, choreographed from inside out. After a workshop I once took with the Halprins, I realized that the basis of community was myth, symbol and ritual, and no class I ever taught (except perhaps for Logic, but that’s another story), was complete without that realization.

      I am not one who looks back to the 1960s and 70s with pure nostalgia, since I experienced the shadow side of that era, as well as its creative expressions. But I think, in these traumatic times, when expectation and possibility seem to be shrinking, that Anna’s work is like a silk ribbon extending from an era when the words ‘human’ and ‘potential’ were often uttered one after the other.

                                                      for Anna
                                                                    “I’ve searched my whole life to find
                                                                      a dance that means as much to me as my
                                                                      grandfather’s dance meant to him”  
                                                                                                      Anna Halprin

                                                                    "Trauma culture": bodies, morgues, 
                                                                     brain-bits, addicts, skulls, strife…….”
                                                                                                       John MacIntyre

Anna  how many dances have you made?   Was one most meaningful
or is it still to come?  I too have watched those rapt Hassids 
heads covered   bodies god-filled    I too have been overtaken  
flung lovingly upward     

Trauma culture arrives from the menacing side    how words and film revel
in our darkness now that Hell’s no threat   Have we made these urban
underworlds to feed us   blood and bone?    

You can dance death   skulls    strife     you can hip-hop drugs   guns
Anna how do you bear it?   not all dance    not all dance that brings release   
embraces life


Friday, February 4, 2011

The Memory of Light


        Egypt. Another Uprising! Another nation of people fed up with with their immovable dictator. On January 15th the President of Tunisia had done what deposed dictators did - he’d fled the country - as the news sources say.  Who knows if Egypt’s 30 year dictator will finally step down or create heavier reprisals, using thugs loyal to Mubarak.  Today I read Thousands including families with children flowed over bridges across the Nile into Tahrir Square, a sign that they were not intimidated after the protesters fended off everything thrown at them by pro-Mubarak attackers . Many of us have cheered the protesters on, signed petitions, and joined virtual and actual demonstrations in support. And we resuscitate hope.
        In June 2009 Iranians marched against an illegally elected president. Do you remember the beautiful young university student?  “Her name was ندا Neda. It means voice or call in Farsi. She is the voice of the people, a call for freedom”.  She became the martyr of the revolution when we saw her fall to the ground, shot, and watched her die on video, some of us so privileged we’d only seen
people die of a bullet wound on-screen. Her death by thugs loyal to Ahmadinejad signaled the abuses of power and repression that would follow. Many of us had cheered the protestors on, signed petitions, and joined virtual and actual demonstrations in support.  And we resuscitated hope. 
     And we remember the 10 foot Spirit of Democracy, erected in Tiananmen Square in 1989, when there were 10,000 demonstrators, and how that spirit, (That Spirit!), created 300,000 more demonstrators in the following days. And millions of us saw the tank that pushed Her over - how  the torch struck the ground first, breaking off - as thousands were injured, and thousands died. Months later, without a single life lost, the symbol of all that was divided , the Berlin Wall, came down.
     The Berlin Wall had become synonymous with the Iron Curtain of my childhood, which I imagined as barbed wire suspended from metal rods like those that held up my mother’s drapes -but thousands of miles long. Behind the Iron Curtain, I imagined millions of people like Millet’s Reapers, who were permanently bent over in a rococo frame in my grandparents‘ home. These poor people labored in darkness,  and could never leave. We, on the other hand,  were Free, and heirs of a successful revolutionary war, (though when I was a child, revolutionaries were called Commies.)

      I have been reading The Discovery of Heaven, by Harry Mulisch. In it, Lucifer has recruited Francis Bacon, founder of the scientific method. Ultimately, technologized humans turn away from God’s laws, and develop the tools that make pollution, mass slaughter and the Holocaust possible. Like a discarded fiancé, God wants the tablets He gave to Moses returned.  Satan has won the final round of the bet that he originally made with God over Job.
     I did not like the Book of Job as a child. God allowed suffering and loss to befall Job, betting Satan that Job would not turn away from Him. When Job questions God, He answers by citing all the wonders of His Creation, all that He has accomplished, all the Powers He can call upon. What mere human could comprehend Him? But I couldn’t find evidence of Mercy or Compassion, and I had been taught that  those were His qualities. It was just God and Satan in a struggle for power -  just like Uncle Sam and the Russian Bear - and Job was the pawn. Yes But, you say - it is a struggle between Good and Evil. But what amorality and cruelty does Good resort to in its attempt to defeat Evil? What justifications?
     How many billions of us are still pawns of Power? Whenever there is an uprising, it seems as though some new light is shining in the world, and all the media turn toward this potential light and if it fails, there is dejection. The next uprising we cheer them on, sign petitions, and attend virtual and actual demonstrations in support. And we resuscitate hope. How do we hold the memory of light?
The Memory of Light

How rare when joy enters history
like fireworks  
and lasting about
as long

How rare when joy enters history
It used to arrive at war’s end -
I was maybe 3   parading
hitting a pot with a big spoon  all us kids and
The War Was Over and even if you
didn’t understood it was so good
to be banging that pot
but wars don’t end now

How rare when joy enters history:
November 4 2008   as soon as
the announcement came horns were honking 
strangers were hugging   we cried and
yelled   the young ones jumped up and down
a year later   anger   bitterness   fear

How do we hold the memory of light?