Thursday, April 2, 2009

Starving Artist Refuses to Eat Her Words

No, non and nay, I will not follow any other career: I can't anyway, it's too ingrained, I have to give it a bloody shot. The splendid theater designer Anya Klepikov likes to greet me by exclaiming how crazy she is to be in this arts business, and how crazy I am to follow her - but I remind her that we haven't got a choice in the matter. Tasting this, we can do no other. (Adrenaline junkies!)

I should do a post on Anya. You should know more about her.

I find myself hungry for better art job resources. So many of the American searches require paid membership, passwords, payment for journals...and the omnipresent Craigslist only features links for Film and TV on the one hand, Writing on the other, and Visual Arts/Graphic design on the third hand.

On the forth hand, the New York Times does not even link to its own dance section on its front page. The performing arts continue to be the black sheep of the "real" world. On the fifth hand, it's such a lark to point out to the "real" world how theatrical and fabricated its very existence remains.

The fun of the performing arts job search lies in its scavenger-hunt, Sherlock-and-Watson, wandering-gypsy feel. The kick in the face comes when all of the aforementioned show no promise of turning up anything but more dead ends.

Even a Starving Artist has got to eat. But then again, that's what part time jobs tutoring or bartending are for.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Deadlines Can Be Good Food, Too

Wise words from Tom Y. Levin during his office hours today: Sometimes, having a tight deadline can be the best possible thing for a work of any kind. Professor Levin is a film, media, surveillance, art, German, radio, and communication luminary. He has the air of an espresso machine (not only running on but also churning out caffeine for others) and while Gore says he invented the internet, Levin probably did. So there. I'm inclined to listen to him.

I also had the experience over the past two weeks of working very hard to make and re-make a solo for my last dance production at University. Some critical feedback lead me to strip all the movements from the skeleton, re-arrange the skeleton to resemble a number of different animals, and then try tacking the movement-flesh back on. Not a pretty sight.

But as tech and then dress rehearsal came and went, I ended up simply taking what I had, solidifying it, committing to it, and performing it as hard as I possibly could. The results seem to have made a bunch of audience members happy, and that's more than enough for me: If they got something out of it, if I didn't bore them by rolling around on the stage from eight or so minutes with kneepads and bloody feet, then the whole thing was worth it.

The deadline was good. The deadline was the only thing that made me, figuratively, shut up and dance., dancing. My own image design for the show poster.

Hooray for Tom Levin, too.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Fallback on Dada's Forward Push

"A central piece of the [First International Dada] Fair was "The Great Plasto-Dio-Dada-Drama" by Johannes Baader (Super-Dada, President of the Earth and the Globe, Chair of the Last Judgment)...This was an installation that dominated the second room. It was appropriately ambitious and aimed to encapsulate the spirit, but mostly the material, of Dada....It gathers together materials from Baader's life, preferably used objects (tickets, programmes, pieces of metallic rubble, wires, a male dummy, and so on) which are arranged over four floors: "The Steps of the Overman", "The Preparation of the Superdada", "The World War" and "World Revolution." The ascent follows the initiation of the Superdada and his final propelling into the ether, where his message will be broadcast 'by radio.' "

- Olga Taxidou, Modernism and Performance, 188-189.

I spent last summer living briefly in a space that had been decorated by the popular contemporary German artist Jonathan Meese. It was the large meeting space at the Watermill Center, where Robert Wilson had invited Meese to come and do an entirely free-reign installation for the summer benefit, in which I was one of many participants.

Meese arrived with a larger-than life personality that reminded me of nothing so much as Alfred Jarry, and began making an infernal mess in that lovely, blank white room. "Kunst" and "Metabolism" and "Scarlett Johannson" got scrawled up every which way, globs of paint staples abused the walls, extensive over-stimulation of the senses, toys and masks and such littering the was shocking and unnerving, after the exquisite balance and line that ruled life at the Watermill Center, and to which I'd been accustoming myself for weeks.

I did not like Meese's installation because, even without having studied Dada or its particular projects yet, I sensed that this had been done before. It had worked its way into our cultural heritage so deeply that for all the shock it still gave my system, it wasn't enough to be new. (A note: This doesn't always apply to his non-installation art and sculpture.) Sure, he "updates" Dada with the images of new celebrities, but although the cultural material with which he works has evolved, he seems to have nothing to add to what broke out like angry lightening in WWI Zurich so many decades ago...

This little passage confirms it because it might as well be a description of Meese's overdecorated room. With the exception that Baader's "Plasto-Bio-Dada-Drama" seems to have the very interesting effect of drawing all its clutter up through the air and releasing it through the medium of radio at the top. Which sounds beautiful. And is what I like about Dada: that no matter how enfant terrible it may seem, it often has some deeply thought-out and deeply meant communication beneath its shock tactics and insulting contradictions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Squeals for Père Ubu!

Just woke up, and feel like an army of baby pigs are checking my brain for truffles. It's because I've been working so hard on these two simultaneous projects: a long written thesis on theatrical modernism, and a long(ish) solo for a dance performance, which I might write about (and upload footage of) later on.

This morning the pigs celebrate because chapter 2 found its first-draft completion last night. Thought I'd include some highlights, because (as anyone familiar with the work of absurdist precursor Alfred Jarry knows) his is a wild and wooly world.

The Argument:

"For centuries, the function of the theater was to manipulate the fortunes of the characters on stage. Tragedy invariably brought its heroes lower; comedy promised to wrap all their struggles up in colorful streamers and weddings. Plays were written and rehearsed for this product – the manipulation of fictional lives in the spectacle on the stage. Then, at the start of the twentieth century, the purpose of certain productions changed. Where the mechanism of theater had been the script, and the spectacle its product, the function changed: Now, the spectacle as a whole became the mechanism, and the experience of the audience became its product. From the manipulation of fictional lives, the theater had moved to manipulations of audience reaction. "

And I've got the Jarry to prove it:

"Jarry was able with only two productions of his outrageous play Ubu Roi to rip into theatrical tradition more thoroughly than perhaps anyone before or since, and to stage the first assault on the new victim of theater – the audience."

Fun, Fun, Fun:

"Assaulting or insulting an audience could hardly be called a new theatrical phenomenon. Performers had shouted obscenities or poked fun at audience members’ expenses since the dawn of the clown, deep in pre-history. Yet before Ubu Roi, such intentionally provocative perceptual violence had never been worked into the structure of a play – into its language, arc, and staging, as well as its content. La Belle Epoque, from which Jarry and the symbolists emerged, had begun to draw the insults of clownish cabaret closer to the artistic theater, as the two merged in Paris’ bohemian subculture. At the later legendary cabaret Le Chat Noir, for example, owner Rodolphe Salis tried to insult each customer as he or she entered."


"It was the language of Ubu Roi that famously attacked the audience first. “Merdre,” exclaimed the actor playing Ubu in a harsh monotone voice. The audience had a fifteen-minute fit. It was not enough that Jarry had opened his much-hyped production with an obscenity; he had created an obscenity of obscenity, by corrupting the mot de Cambronne, the French word for shit, “merde”."

Tyranical Despotism!

Père Ubu: Eh bien, cornegidouille, écoute-moi bien, sinon ces messieurs te couperont les oneilles. Mais, vas-tu m’écouter enfin?
Stanislas: Mais Votre Excellence n’a encore rien dit.
Père Ubu: Comment, je parle depuis une heure. Crois-tu que je vienne ici pur prêcher dans le désert ?

"This frightening picture of King Ubu’s cruel despotism shows him threatening to cut off a peasant’s ears for not listening to him, claiming he has already been speaking for an hour when in fact he has only just entered the man’s home. The word for ears, in French “oreilles,” features the same nonsense corruption as the earlier “merdre,” and again repeats throughout the play. The lack of comprehension between King and subjects takes on dire consequences when Ubu’s smallest whim or displeasure can lead to their violent execution. The play presents a kingdom in which all around Ubu try hopelessly to understand, predict, and reason with their despot, who follows no rules but his own whims, including his either real or feigned ignorance of linguistic conventions."

King Ubu's weird torture devices! In French!

Père Ubu: Ceux qui seront condamnés à mort, je les passerai dans la trappe, ils tomberont dans les sou-sols du Pince-Porc et de la Chambre-à-Sous, où on les décervèlera.

Père Ubu: Je tuerai tout le monde. Gare à qui ne marchera pas droit. Je lon mets dans ma poche avec torsion du nez et des dents et extraction de la langue…et enforcement du petit bout de bois dans les oneilles.

Paris' two warring critics, one of whom loses his job defending the play:

"Bauer praises it as an aggressive and truculent fantasy, crashing in the face of the chimeras of tradition. Fouquier calls all sincere friends of progress to defend it against the play’s creators, and the violence of their stupidities. On no account do the critics disagree that the play has monumental and destructive impact. Both describe it with language of the greatest violence. Only with respect to the benefits of this violence do Bauer and Fouquier disagree."

To close, a quote from Shattuck, from his detailed book The Banquet Years:

We cannot mock Ubu. “…Not without dread, we mock, rather, his childish innocence and primitive soul and cannot harm him. He remains a threat because he can destroy at will, and the political horrors of the twentieth century make the lesson disturbingly real.” - The Banquet Years, 235


Huzzah! Atrocities! Stage! Ubu! Good morning, world. Perhaps some of that interests you. I think it's essential to our way of perceiving ourselves today. But that's just me.

- I apologize, by the way, both for not including the whole arc of the chapter, rendering what's above piecemeal and confusing, and also for making the post too long. But on this blog, my will is King. Obese, gluttonous, cowardly King.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Taste is the only one of the senses that requires the destruction of the object. Sight and sound don't even require contact. Smell flits molecules away from the object, but only those that would be released into the air regardless. Touch can have a corrosive or destructive element, but in many circumstances the natural oil of the fingers will not be enough to harm an object's surface.

Taste, however...depends upon the dissolving through saliva of some small part of an object, having it come away on your tongue, stealing it. Taste takes a little part away for its own. Not to mention the destructive connotations of eating, teeth, and digestion. Tasteless things like stainless steel are impervious to the destruction of our tongues, and so escape flavor.

Thoughts from a visual art thesis upstairs, entitled "Taste" and showing permutations of apples.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Berghain Berlin sells you its Music

Some whim just lead me into the arms of record label Ostgut Ton, soundkeeper of the Berghain beat. The Berghain, my uninitiates, is like boiling the essence of Berlin nightlife down into a single techno track, storing it in a huge, bare ex-warehouse, mixing in a little leather, and turning the volume up very, very loud. I only enjoyed the nightlong party for one happy Friday last summer, but it fixed itself hard in my mind, and I'd give anything to go back for another round.

And now I've found its record label. Techno is mine for the taking. Come to think of it, the Berghain and its sister Panoramabar also have a myspace with free music downloads. It gets better and better. And just as I have started looking in earnest for music to play with for my dance show this spring.

Oh yes. And why can I supply you with no photographs of the club interior? Because cameras gets strictly confiscated by its bouncers, who look to exclude anyone less than amenable to its sexual landscape and alternative character. Any kind of reflective surface is likewise banned. No visual judgments. Just joys. A huge, cavernous first level fills with smoke and industrial pipes, while the second level's more intimate bar serves drinks and ice-cream as the beat goes on. And on. And on.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Last Joy

Here's something super-duper interesting that I actually managed to pull together within the maelestrom of academic papers that has recently consumed my life: the translation of a short collection of poems written by Emmy Hennings in 1913. Some of the poems (still german) can be found by following that link...the rest hide away in the International Dada Archive, listed at right. This collection, "Die letzte Freude" as it was originally titled, is one of the most interesting little objects I have come across...

Start with this fact: Hennings and her husband Hugo Ball founded the Dada movement in 1919 by opening the Café Voltaire in neutral WWI Zurich, and moving it quite far avant the guard. Again, skim through the Dada Archive for more fun facts. It suffices to say, that a mere three years before Ball dressed up as a blue pope-lobster and recited african-inspired word salad to inebriated european ex-pats (see image of performance at right) Emmy Hennings was writing beautiful lyric poetry with lovely, hard-to-translate rhymes.

Her forms stay solid, but her content already picks up the erotic energy and disconnect compromising the rest of the decade. Emmy had been a prostitute. She remained an actress and Kabarett performer. And she wrote about these experiences in her little collection of poems, which are framed from the point of view of an ill, drugged up girl confined to a hospital, swimming away from her body in ether-laced sleep to recall lost loves, streetwalking, and images of mortality. Here are a few of the best:

V. A Dream

We lie in an unfathomed lake
And know no part of grief and ache.
We hold ourselves enclosed
And ringed about by water-rose.
We seek and wish and want no more
We have no kind of longing.
But beloved, I feel this,
I retain some lasting wish:
The yearning after yearning.

VII. With me at home

My grandmother lasted the whole night,
Before a grated window watch
- In the green glassware burned a light -
I saw into her sallow face.

On the blue room’s furniture
Clings all of our grief.
And if somebody is deceased
The clock stands still with sickly whimper.

IX. After the Kabarett

I go home early in the mornings.
The clock strikes five, the sky’s grown pale,
But light still burns in the hotel.
The Kabarett is finally closing.
In a corner children huddle,
To the market farmers travel,
To church goes one silent and old.
From the steeple the bells toll earnestly,
And a whore with hair curled wildly
Still strays about, night-worn and cold.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Dances of Anachronism

Give me the past elegance of satin boned corsets and fishnetted legs in long black boots...ah, wait. That's not accurate. That's just our weird, modern history fetish for bits and pieces of antiquated costumery, poverty fetishizing, and WWI eroticization, all pulled together with masking tape into some jumble of pure, inauthentic fantasia.
A stunning german woman just linked me to a NY-based group that organizes afterday parties of dance and entertainment, plucking the plumpest fruits from various eras of history and mélanging them together into something which, if inauthentic fantasia, I'm sure is divine. (Stunning german women will do that to you.)

Check out Dances of Vice: They bring the avant-guard and the rococo too, they list Art, Music, and Spectacle (with capital letters) on their C.V., and with all the Walter Benjamin I've been reading lately I do appreciate a good, commodified, fetishized Spectacle.

Next up is "Visions of Weimar" in Brooklyn tomorrow night: German cabaret songs, Anita Berber toying-withs, a fellow from The Dresden Dolls, and (inexplicably) burlesque dancers from San-Francisco. And shadow puppets! Charleston and swing dance lessons. A musical saw.

For $20? My devil (on the left shoulder) tells me I ought to go, but my angel (wearing a cardigan) reminds me that I have to write 25 pages in three days.

My devil also wants to point out that I recently completed a writing/directing project on the German Kabarett, authentic songs and all, which I fought tooth and nail to pull back from the brink of sexy modern anachronism. So take my good-natured mockery with a pinch of salt. I'm sure it will be excellent.

Go, little kiddies, go! And come back and tell Auntie Starving Artist all about it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Farewell my Photograph

Photography succumbs to the digitalization of life: as I have, as you have, as music and friendships and sex and practically every true pleasure but food has. Sitting here in analogue land, with my fingers and brain cells plugged in to digital country, I come across reports of the lamentable demise of color photography. Note that this is a misnomer. It's not color photography (verb) which is strange mad scientist has sapped the world of pigment. But color photographs are apparently not long for this printed world. Our old friend the polaroid faces an even more rapid extinction. The loyal group "SAVE POLAROIDS" wants to save your yellowed plastic-backed instant prints. Not only yours, but those of the world. Writers compare the flippy objects to Proust's Madelines.

Ah, Madelines for the starving artist...

Changes in the category of memory may indeed be the key effect of our visual digitalization. Recently, I stumbled across some dreadful photos taken years ago of a friend now passed away. These objects, printed, suddenly became so transient: one last visual record. The digital photo takes reproductive permanence to a level beyond. There, I might have replicated my friend a thousand times, and then casually deleted what I didn't like. It would have been a more constructed memory, selected to be flattering and charming. As it stands, it's real.

* A regular film print has object value, but lacks permanence or instantaneous value.
* A polaroid has object value and instantaneous value, but lacks permanence.
* A digital image has permanence and instantaneous value, but lacks object value.

I fall fully into the trap of constructing my own reality-memory when it comes to the facebook photos tagged in my name. I shamelessly delete things I find unflattering, or things I don't want to remember. And so, I forget them. In fact, a friend of mine wrote on her profile that she was "morally opposed" to the rejection of unattractive photos. Whereas I skew my image of myself, and other's image of me, to a positive construct from my own mind.

Thoughts on photography and memory in the digital age. Here: the too-appropriate credits of a great film.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Exercise for the Generation of Banal Tensions

Two individuals, one a clerk and one a customer. Crisp, dry dialogue: it's nothing more than a transaction. It could be, for example:

(A hands B some strips of paper)
(B takes and examines, hands back)
You can only take four at a time.
(A considers, adjusts, while B waits.)
(A decides, and hands the papers back.)
How long will this take?
Fifteen to twenty minutes. Your number is one.
Where's the screen?
Directly above.
Thank you.

(A goes back to A's seat, and sits.)

Now they might both speak as inconsequentially as the transaction. They might both be occupied dreaming of very different things. B might be close to tears, A could be remembering a recent joke. Or, they could be occupied in the very real difficulty unfolding before them - and this becomes both more interesting, and more realistic. For a performer to be occupied with the contents of their immediate space draws the spectator's focus more fully into their own present. The real illusion of the stage comes only from the absorption of the audience. How to draw and hold their attention? Light and movement - we are predators. But we are also prey. We turn our attention where our neighbor's is focused. Hence the intensity of a watching group, the intensity of theater. The action's power then increases thousandfold when their absorption augments the audience's absorption in the contents of the stage - one reason why I mistrust method acting.

How to generate a banal tension in this transaction as "compelling" as the artificially conjured grief or humor I suggested before? Paradox. A speaks all A's lines with a slight, pleasant smile in the voice. B bites back, again only slightly, but enough that we know the story: a patient customer, an aggravated, rude clerk. Reverse these, and there's variation two. Now, smooth A over into a neutral agent, give B the slight smile, and give the slight smile a thin, sardonic curl. B sees something in A that A cannot. Does A have a mustard seed in A's teeth? Or is B sleeping with A's spouse? The audience must charge themselves to wonder, because such unexplained paradox demands explanation. Reverse this. Who are they? Who are they to each other? What do they know?

The roles are almost irrelevant. With any lines sufficiently neutral, the rub of paradox between two active agents swells to fill the vacuum of story. In more interesting ways, I momentarily believe, than a finished story can.

UP NEXT: How to cook a dry idea until it's squishy and tender.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Womanizer, Womanizer

Inspirational anecdotes from one of my little books 'o research, "Bertolt Brecht" by John Fuegi...and your first taste of my interest in the playwright, drama theorist, director, and provocateur that it concerns.

- Of the numerous women he impregnated in his early 20's, the great man said, "let them grow these little Brechts!"

- To the two impregnated women demanding to know which one he would marry: "Both!"

- While carrying a riding crop and quoting Nietzsche: "When you deal with women, don't forget the whip."

- His thoughts on man: "The way he takes things into his body, goes around in wind and rain, makes little young humans out of other humans, by gluing himself to them and filling them with fluids, to the accompaniment of groans of pleasure."

- And finally, my favorite rumor, finally confirmed here in Fuegi's words: "Those having an affair with Brecht were required to wear a close-fitting woolen coat that reached almost to the ankles. The coat was never to be buttoned, but was to be held closed with one's elbows across the stomach. Thus all of Brecht's mistresses were highly visible to one another and to everyone else in Berlin."

I take this time to assure you that had I lived in his city, I would never have let myself fall to his suspect, unwashed charms, no matter the strength of my draw to his theatrical philosophy and work. No. I'd be bitterly icy and cool, resisting the fates of theatrical mistresses Marieluise Fleisser and Helene Weigel...

UP NEXT: How to make a Wedding Gown from toilet paper and toothpaste.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ballet Class En Masse

It's my great, great fortune that the kind and clever Zvi Gotheiner happens to be teaching our University course this fall. Over break, I've finally ventured into his lauded, crowded midtown NYC ballet classes. I'd like to serve up a demi-tasse of a review, because over the past week I've found this quite a special experience.

He starts with a gentle plié and tendu combination that stays consistent every day, letting your brain warm into the class. His combinations always have something to challenge the brain: maybe an unusual port-des-bras, or a rhythm that counts two against three. My body best appreciates how Zvi has us repeat each combination twice. I find his floor tendu combination an enormous mental challenge. The adagio is three-dimensional, turning corners and using all facings of the room. Likewise with his long floor phrase. He makes you move; the steps connect with the fluidity of contemporary choreography and send you back and forth rapidly in the space. Turns come mixed throughout and lumped together at the end of this phrase. He does a very brief jump warmup, and then combines petite and grande allegro into one complex mid-length combination. Actually, there isn't any real grande allegro, which I do miss. Throughout Zvi never stops to correct, but he will sometimes adjust a dancer with his hands mid-combination.

This is a healthy, challenging, beautiful class. The atmosphere is relaxed: people laugh. It's been crowded with upwards of thirty dancers every day that I've been there, ranging from true ballerinas to ex-dancers just looking to feel the ritual of morning warmup. The barres get so crowded that people stand with one hand on the wall. It reminds me of the profi classes in Berlin more than anything else, and it gets my limbs flowing, to be surrounded by so many other moving bodies.

Downsides? The City Center studio has no windows, and with the masses of people, much of the second half of class is spent waiting for the rare chance to go across the floor. Other than that?...

The photos are of Zvi's company, performing his choreography. Enjoy some video clips and more information on his company, ZviDance...

City Center, back entrance. $15 a class, cash.
Monday - Friday, 10 AM - 12 PM, but it seems to start around 10:15 every day.
Saturday, 11 AM - 1 PM.