Top to bottom: Gregory Pardlo, Star Black, Jennifer Knox, Derek Monk, Jason Schneiderman, Martha Silano. All six read from their newest books at Bardeo Wine Bar in the Cleveland Park neighborhood last night.
Is the audience for dance engaged in a kind of group voyeurism? What is really going on when we watch young and highly trained thoroughbreds push their bodies to unnatural extremes for our entertainment? Is the effect titilating? Listen to the audience as a dancer executes an especially challenging passage, say, the thirty-two fouettes of the Black Swan. And when a dancer falls, is there an element of pleasure in the audiences’ collective gasp?
These questions swirled around me after watching the most recent performance in the continuing Bill Hayward / Miranov Dance / Redress Films The Intimacies Project. Eight of us gathered in Hayward’s studio where he had constructed a mock window out of a plastic sheet and rigged it with an irrigation system to simulate the look and sound of falling rain. We were instructed to stand in front of the barrier to watch the performance on the other side, as if we were looking into a stranger’s apartment. The only props in the “apartment” were a long low steel bench with a moss-covered sphere at one end.
As the house lights dim, we hear a plaintive harmonica and heavy breathing. From behind us, a man (Jason Nowak) carries a limp woman (Jordan Marinov) upside down – his arms are wrapped around her calves. It’s as if he’s carrying a lifeless sack. He places her on the bench, where her hands drop toward the floor. After he leaves, she rouses herself and begins to move about. The music changes from Charlie Chaplin's haunting "Smile" to the driving beat and percussive lyrics of The Roots' "Walk Alone." It was during the next fifteen minutes of solo dance that my comfort level was pushed to its extreme.
Jordan Marinov (pictured above) is a compelling dancer. With her mile-long legs, angular features, and intense expression, it’s tough to take your eyes off her when she’s performing. Even when she’s still, she radiates energy. Watching her through a window felt illicit, yet it is impossible to look away. She makes full use of the space, by turns cowering, uncoiling, reaching, crawling, stretching. Now she’s a frightened animal, now an angry aggressor, a supplicant, a lover. She moves the bench across the floor to below the window, climbs upon and continues to move. She looks out the window, but over, not at, us. We’re eye level with her thighs and torso and her dance is an invitation to examine her bare skin. She’s that close. Yet there’s a barrier, we can’t touch. Then, in a brilliant stroke, we're shaken out of our reverie by Marinov's voice. "I knew a guy once," she says. So rare is the sound of a dancer's voice that the effect is unsettling.
In previous performances in the series, Marinov danced with a partner. Together they animated the push-and-pull of two individuals at once yearning for and repelled by true intimacy. This time, she was alone for most of the performance and drew the audience into her evolving emotions. Without the usual comfort of a theater seat – we stood throughout – or the distance that typically separates the audience from the stage, we felt exposed, vulnerable, perhaps even more so than the dancer before us. I have a feeling that this is exactly the response Hayward / Marinov were hoping to arouse.
The New Year is coming. We take stock of the last 365 days, weigh up the disappointments - always so many, both personal and communal - and relish the triumphs - thankfully, always one or two. We resolve to do better, so that next December, the scales tip less toward sorrow and more toward joy.
Of course, this is hard. It is hard to lose that last ten pounds or quit smoking, to organize the bills or keep the house neater, much less make the world a better, kinder place. But it is important to keep trying.
Probably many of you have seen this photograph before. It's more than twenty years old. But as the year winds down, it might be helpful to take another look, to be reminded of our smallness in the scope of the universe, our fragility, and our consequent responsibility to take care of each other.
This picture was taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. It shows the Earth as it appears from 4 billion miles away.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." - Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
In the watermelon and corn season,
The earth is a paradise, the morning
Is a ripe plum or a plump tomato
We bite into as if it were the mouth of a lover.
Despite the puzzled face of the young fellow
In scarecrow overalls reading a comic book,
It’s all there, the bell peppers, the radishes,
Local blueberries and blackberries
That will stain our lips and tongue
As if we were freezing to death in the snow.
The kid is bored, or pretends to be,
While watching the woman pick up a melon
And press its rough skin against her cheek.
What makes people happy is a mystery,
He concludes as he busies himself
Straightening crumpled bills in a cigar box.
Ever since David and I traveled to China and Mongolia in 2008 as guests of the American embassy, I’ve
paid particular attention to all things Mongolian-related that might happen in
New York City. When an item about Hamid Sardar’s photography exhibit at the
Tibet House appeared on Manhattan Users Guide (scroll down), I invited my friend Leigh
Wells to see it with me. Leigh lived in
Mongolia for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer and is herself a talented photographer. She’s just back from a month-long visit to her old stomping grounds.
As so often happens in New York, our signals got crossed
and I ended up going solo but I’m hoping to return with Leigh to get an insider’s take on the photographs from both a cultural and artistic
Sardar’s images are breathtaking. If you live in New York City or are planning a visit, put
this show on your agenda. It’s on view
through August 20.
Beginning in 2000, Sardar traveled to Outer Mongolia to
make a record of the country’s remaining nomad tribes. He followed horse-breeders, bear-hunters,
wolf-tamers, eagle-masters, and reindeer riders on their seasonal migrations. His intention was to capture a
nomadic culture on the brink of the great and irreversible change brought on by
a fledgling democracy and encroaching technology.
The 25 pictures on display are large – 18 ½" x 27 ½" -- and
in addition to depicting the brutal conditions facing nomads traversing the
mountains during the harshest weather imaginable (to this city dweller), they
include intimate portraits of family life: a young girl performs the morning
milk dance, a grandmother pacifies her grandchildren on a wolf pelt (above). “Kazak Mother Wolf”, is particularly memorable for both its subject matter and its composition. A Rembrandt portrait comes to mind, where the central figure appears
to glow from an interior light.
Each photograph is accompanied by Sardar’s helpful
description. Some explain the lore behind a particular ritual captured by the image; others are
suspense-filled tales of man facing the elements. A series taken over a period
of days in 2006 shows hunters struggling over a mountain during an especially
brutal snow storm. Sardar can hear
avalanches “crashing down the mountain slopes.” The visibility is so poor that
he can “barely see ten feet ahead.” At one point the fresh snow gives way under his feet and
he plummets down a twenty-foot funnel. From behind, he hears the voice of a hunter:
“Isn’t this wonderful,” the hunter says, urging Sardar to “push ahead until we reach the bottom of the
Leigh and I did manage to catch up this afternoon over
ice-tea and coffee at City Bakery on 18th Street. Leigh handed over a gift bag of aaruul (right), the popular
Mongolian snack made of dried milk curd.
I had sampled it during our 2008 stay and have been haunted by its flavor
ever since. It looks like nuggets of dried
toothpaste and starts with the funky flavor of a strong cheese but has a sweet
finish. (Some varieties are not sweet.) After chewing a few pieces Leigh and I agreed that it would enliven a salad of bitter greens and dried cherries tossed with a
balsamic vinaigrette. You heard it here first! Mongolian aaruul, the next big thing!
Before my love and I decided to live together in a waterside condo, he grew these plush and inky fuchsia roses in the backyard of his duplex apartment.
The neighborhood was of the cracked-concrete-and-power station-on-the-corner sort, with sidewalks fringed with weeds and the occasional scraggly silver button tree. But his L-shaped patch of green sort of gushed with whatever he planted - basil, mint, heather, petunias, and portly roses that would seem to appear overnight and blossom frilly and wide over the course of a week. They would last at least another 7 days after that, or at least that's how I remember it, and we took great pleasure smelling them before we went to work or on weekends when we'd sit on the terrace eating the spinach omelets Mark made for breakfast.
Those roses are one of the reasons he is the bee's knees; he can coax beauty from the unlikeliest of places. Another reason is that his roses reminded me of the ones my mother once grew in our front yard, in canteros, which I only learned recently means "planters" in English. Even though my Spanish is not the greatest, there are certain words I only know in Spanish, like gallegos - what we called the tarnished gold beetles that buzzed along the window screens of my childhood home.
This is where my mother used to grow little and spindly rose bushes in all hues - creamy meringue, lavender, yellow, maroon, and pink. The flowers were no larger than a small apple, and they opened in the dim hours before I left to elementary school. She'd cut a few stems and wrap them in paper and foil, then give them to me to give to my teachers. I don't quite remember handing them off, but I do recall what it felt like when she placed the fragrant homespun package in my hand, petals cool and still wet with early morning, her efforts at lacing our days with a bit of loveliness.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. You too are a forever beauty.