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 disappearing...no 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.