Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Generosity

At the tail end of a difficult second half of 2010, I encountered some amazing generosity from dance artist extraordinaire, Peggy Baker. Anyone who knows her, knows that generosity from Peggy Baker is not surprising, but infinitely inspiring. Peggy offered me some of her studio time in the beautiful National Ballet School, when she couldn't use the space herself. I add here some pics from the fruitful time there.
A resolution for 2011 for me will be to find similar ways to be generous. Peggy's gesture reminds me that it is really quite easy.






Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chalmers Fellowship: memory, rejection, Butoh, the Titanic

In a Butoh workshop a couple of weeks ago I was reminded of dancing at Phil's and Club Abstract in Waterloo during my university days. About how I learned more about myself as a dancer on their checkered dance floors than I did in the studios sweating and crying my way through ballet classes. (Might sound weird to be reminded of this in a Butoh workshop, but maybe not so if you've ever taken a workshop with Denise Fujiwara/Fujiwara Dance Inventions).

So viscerally I remembered how I used to feel dancing. It was all simmering and I was on the verge of art, of making real art for the first time. Some voice was at the cusp of me. Or I was at the cusp of my own voice. I was totally unconfident but I still felt promise and belief stronger than insecurity.

Shadows came in. People close to me died. I moved to Toronto. I lived with my best friend from high school who, for me, was a swirling cloud of everything I was not and thought I wanted to be. I started in the Professional Program at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, scared to not be in school anymore when so much else in my life was changing. I dated a much older man in whom I placed great faith in his wisdom, simply because he was older. I was sick and refused to see my sickness for what it was. I clung to my former anorexic state in denial of the more erratic state of my eating and my body.

I became my own ghost.
I stopped going out dancing.

I thought the creative possibility I had needed to be sculpted into a Toronto Dance Theatre-type dancer, that it needed to pinned down, described in terms that existed already. I was scared that I wouldn't know what to do with it if i couldn't hold on to it somehow.

I couldn't let the current run through me.
That thing that kept on the dance floor in Waterloo, experimenting and not caring that there were no words for it got squashed.
I was afraid that the current -- if I let it out truly -- would be Isadora Duncan, the way I perceived her: fat, slovenly, lazy, over-wrought.

I have always wanted to be 3 dimensional when dancing and yet I worked to streamline access to my body. And at the same time I was afraid of technique. Afraid that I might work and work to no result. School of Toronto Dance Theatre suggested we part ways and I pursue dance recreationally. They didn't even suggest I choreograph. They suggested I was not emotionally or mentally made for dance.

My way in as a dancer has always been through emotion and imagination. I spent my first 3 to 5 years in Toronto trying to shed that. You can't shed your own skin. Unless you are snake. And even then the same patterns re-emerge in the new derma.

"Let go let go let go" someone yelled at me in an intimate setting. And I couldn't.

But no one ever said, no one has ever said to me, "Trust how strong you are." No one. Not directly anyway.

That buzz, the promise, that visceral being on cusp of everything just died in me for awhile. I had a hard time letting go of the "Stop" that I heard from School of Toronto Dance Theatre. I knew in my heart that someday I would look back on that rejection moment as a good, necessary step in my evolution but for a long time I didn't want to say it out loud. (Happily, I am creating something on the students there this year and so I guess we all have to call a spade and spade and say the bitterness is over.) And it was a good, necessary step in my evolution. My fire came back but that sense of promise never really did. I have made work and stretched and grown technically and intrinsically. But I have felt frustration with myself for not reaching the full potential of my self as a performer. For not feeling as creative as I did dancing for 3-4 hours a night on the dance floor in Waterloo in my little batik skirt and perpetual black t-shirt with waist-long messy hair flying into other people's faces.

While I was pregnant, I could feel it again. After Pablo was born and I was in the studio, I could feel it again. Vibrations. Cellular excitement. The body so ecstatic to speak, the imagination belligerent with sources, the heart huge and strong vascularly and emotionally. Maybe it was because I couldn't get a good hair cut and lived in my batik skirt and perpetual black t-shirt for the first few months?

How perfect that I got to revisit the role of the Titanic/the Ship in Theatre Rusticle's "April 14, 1912". In 2007 when I was first involved in the show I started chopping through my own inner icebergs to reach something more authentic and less about Lucy the noun, more about Lucy the verb (forgive the paraphrase from Tyra Banks). I was able to be a performing body strong, solid, powerful, large, muscular. Nothing was thrown away. Fire in the belly with little stokers heaving coal and a captain up top pushing to 24 knots. I have always known I was lucky to work with this company and revisiting the role in the spring of 2010 was no exception.

I felt the possibility simmering in every moment, even while sinking, a doomed ship.

I have been also lucky in receiving a Chalmers Fellowship this year (administered by the Ontario Arts Council) which has made the process of writing such things as this a necessary part of my day. I have been typing this, elaborating from rehearsal notes, while my 16 month old baby has been crying in his crib (you know -- extremely tired by unable to admit it). He is now silent and I too have run out of cries.

These shadows were cast. That time was lost in a deadzone. I will not draw on them directly but trust that they are in my cells and will surface when it's time to express shadows and angry sadness. Life is titanic, even if you are just one small animal in the great green cacophony.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Trying to figure it all out

It is not the cacophony of a chaotic house with a toddler (the house is not that noisy or disorganized) but the cacophony of my own head which is holding me up. My own desires that confound me now that a baby is here.

There is so much time to make up for....times when I have not been as considerate of my partner as I would like to have been, times for active pausing, allowing relativity to be a friend in the days I am with Pablo, compression of time while training -- I can't do 4 hours a day, 5 days a week every week; I have to find a way to get the same conditioning done in 2, maybe 3 unless I'm rehearsing.

There is the desire to purge my life of things that attach to a suddenly irrelevant past, things purchased when low or selfish, things that encroach on the breathing space I feel we all need as a threesome.

Breathing! OH if i could only remember to do that. And again I don't mean from the rushing, I mean very peacefully remembering to inhale and exhale fully. Only when Pablo is upset or resisting sleep do I concentrate on slowly my heart beat and smoothly breathing. I often fall asleep too in these moments, succumbing to the regular rhythm of myself and the warm baby in my lap.

I'm sure other mums feel this. I'm sure other non-parents feel this in relation to similarly profound and important shifts, additions, subtractions.

I feel like I'm going backwards some days because I always feel myself in relation to myself right now. A true, embodied memory (beyond visceral, emotional, muscular somehow) is never accessible so I forget that me now is different, evolved from me two years ago. I am me two years ago plus pregnancy, birth, creative processes, a vacation, a tour, many challenging performances, dull days, sad days, mild drunks, colds, utter joy, utter hurt and lots of cookies.

Trust. I've forgotten to trust. The details I trust. The big picture, the whole thing oh how I try to clutch you. (Come let me clutch thee -- ha!). I try to hold without focusing my eyes on the details. And then focusing on weeding out the details that are no longer important or maybe I just can't see anymore because my eyes are getting old?

When I'm with Pablo and Dennes, I'm very good at being in the present moment -- sometimes too good, AKA hormonal....I still await the post-pregnancy lunar shift. It is somehow easy to be in the present moment with babies because they are constantly noticing, remarking, discovering. Pablo is always noticing how light reflects off water, mirrors, other shiny things and creating dapples of light along odd places on the wall or ceiling. He makes sure I notice too.

How do I do this when I'm dancing, speeding, processing, expressing, forming and reshaping, saying, thinking, feeling? I want to express everything all at once, but that is impossible.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

a little mortality music

drip drip drip
cells escape
flying over their aerial tricks
of sonic dulce
adagio, legato...hidden beneath
sudden hits
the pulse
that no longer sparks in my
belly
just phantom limbs twitching
if i could turn the corners of my
eyes upwards,
slightly
fill impossible vales, crevices
with good humour
---ah but there's always
beauty een in the shadows and cracks---
what i cannot face settles in
the pit of my stomach as home and hearth
here. here. here. here. here.
5 steps more
the heart stops
she learned that move in the mountains over blistered fingers
she -- heroine of cinema alone
in a box in a box in a box
projected on a 2 dimensional box
geometry confounds
soars
the architecture of my soul
seems limited by the skeleton
it cannot imagine as my breath
can.
what age was she when
the cells rained down in
cantankerous form?
are we there yet?
possessed of pen
of heart
of mind
of breath
where is the spark, the phantom limb
the small voice
"it is because you are a small
animal."
you are useful.
how do you know?
how does a heart break from
so much love, from the
surrounding of potential
deaths in the bodies of
beautiful life. there goes another
one.
like hummingbirds, they don't
hover, linger without stopping
"stand still!" I can't say it
unless I am standing on a chair
wearing the suit of the love
of my life
(and it must be a metal folding
chair, red and black and slightly
tottering)


drip drip drip
music peters out, the ears might
not discern flight anymore
the eyes might not make out
the smoke until it's too late.
what do you and you and i do then?
hold on to each other
like hummingbirds
like super novaic collisions of
geese in snow flapping over
Manhattan -- or maybe it's
Brooklyn --
like the hardedged line of fog
beneath the bridge
that is the end of this known
world.

where too many types of rocks
have funnelled into one
another and mountains are made
to slide to their twins beneath
the ocean.

if i could just breathe that air
forever -- or even for a couple
of weeks
i might close my eyes
without a tear --

(june 17, 2010)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Top 10 Music for Babies

For something a little lighter than my usual fare: inadvertent music for babies. By this I mean music made for baby-listening that wasn't actually made for baby-listening. Toss out your "Baby Einstein" CDs (I mean get some classical music from somewhere super affordable like Naxos and skip the whole Disney-fication of Einstein and classical music).

1. Radiohead: especially Kid A and OK Computer. (Dennes and considered naming our baby Kid A for a brief time but then realized our second choice for a name, Pablo, was also a Radiohead album and probably would garner less teasing at school).

2. Sarah Slean: Pablo particularly likes The Baroness, tracks "The Lonely Side of the Moon" and "Willow".

3. Arcade Fire: anything and just about everything

4. Modest Mouse

5. Sam Roberts: Pablo used to squirm in my belly when "Them Kids" would play.

6. Flobots: especially "Rise" and "Combat", what can I say, he's a politically minded kid.

7. K'naan: "ABCs" unlike the usual alphabet song.

8. Arvo Part: just about everything he's written can act as a great lullabye.

9. Alexander Balanescu: "Bee Dress" from the Angels and Insects soundtrack. Pure lullabye honey.

10. Leon Redbone: anything at all by this dude.

BONUS: Tina Turner: "Proud Mary" -- just because it was the first song that came on the radio on the drive home from the hospital with Pablo.

I really believe the "music for babies" industry is a crock. They need to hear real music not the plinky-plunk of synthesized xylophones (hey you can get that on Kid A plus a little bit of emotional and poetic content as well!) Lullabyes can be anything, really. Pablo likes "Karma Police" (recognizes it when it comes on the radio) and "The Lonely Side of the Moon" and Gary Jules' version of "Mad World".

Monday, April 26, 2010

Home, the hardest part

Sad, home from tour. Joyous, while I have a whole week to just hang out with Pablo (and do LOTS of laundry) but I am saying goodbye to playing the ship Titanic again. I love performing "April 14, 1912" with Theatre Rusticle. It is one of my favourite things I've ever performed. Even though there were times on the tour when I thought my body could use a break for one more day, I feel like I could go on exploring, testing, deepening the role for years and years. There is no concrete plan for the future of this play...

The week with Pablo went so quickly. I was upset to go back into rehearsals....and I went into a heavy rehearsal week to boot. When we were trying to get pregnant -- the whole 5 weeks we tired before success! -- I was worried about work after Pablo was born and somehow this year has been a heavier workload than many other years. I suppose I could say the Fates are asking me to choose wisely and feel deeply, both at work and at home.

There was a lovely fantasy quality to touring. Spending time during the day with baby and Dennes, Dennes working remotely and assertively while we had coffee by the ocean, swimming in hotel pools to warm up for the show, the ritual of putting on make up and doing hair -- these are things I never do at home. I'm lucky if I remember to put on mascara and have time to blow dry my hair. And that's not because I have a baby, that's just the way I've always been, excluding those heady hairspray days of high school wherein my tresses resembled those of Robert Smith, but kind of not in the cool way.

And the discipline of preparing for the show physically....this I cannot rein in satisfactorily when I'm not working on a show. This is part baby, but also partly due to my disinterest in most of the technical dance classes going on in Toronto. Yet a dancer at heart, I feel guilty for not being in daily class, though that has never been my forte or the thriving place.

At home my training of late consists of bouncing on the mini-trampoline while Pablo is in the jolly jumper of the exersaucer...or squeezing in Donna Krasnow's CI training DVD while baby naps. Pleasurable, but I'm starting to crave more.

I would also like to go to Cuba.
How's that for rambling all over the place.
Dreaming all over the place, like a messy head.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Still touring....Salt Spring Island

Well, the inevitable happened. I've been told it happens to every baby....he fell off the bed in the hotel. I've heard stories of falling off beds, change tables, down stairs while strapped into a stroller, but it still didn't stop my breath from being taken away as I saw his little face as he went down.

We are now in week two of the tour, on Salt Spring Island in the beautiful Salt Spring Inn. Pablo was playing with my copy of the Dance Current magazine and got excited while I brushed my teeth at the sink next to him, watching him in the mirror. In the blink of an eye, over he went. I caught him before he made complete impact with the floor. My stomach and intestines have not settled, even though he cried for just a few minutes and has been in a good mood for most of the rest of the day. I can't believe it happened. He fell. I could not stop it. I'm not sure I'm prepared for what is going to happen for the rest of my life with Pablo.

I refuse to believe I'm a terrible parent...I've heard too many stories about babies falling, especially once they figure out how to crawl, roll over, toddle etc....and you can't stop them from making mistakes. They need to faceplant every once in a while in order to figure out how to do things themselves. But I have a horrible bloody imagination and can see in almost every situation how things could become fatal or gruesomely sad. I say it's a genetic flaw, or too many teenage days spent reading and writing morose poetry. Makes no difference now as the vivid images or possible tragedies creep in.

On another note entirely, our opening on Salt Spring Island was mind-blowing. The audience was so receptive. A standing ovation! Today we have struck a good balance, Dennes and I. I played with Pablo early in the morning while Dennes did some work back east for his "real job" -- i.e. not his "nanny job". We lunched together between sessions of rehearsal in the theatre and napped together between rehearsal and opening. We have traded off on rounds of drinks in the hotel bar. I had round one, Dennes round two. I type this as Pablo stirs in the bed (the scene of this morning's accident!) and falls back to sleep. I can hear the cast having a good time downstairs and buoyed by my glass of wine, I hope that we are starting to figure this out: how to be a family with a performer who may indeed tour again.

I wish with all my heart that I had enough work so that Dennes could just follow his wishes for work and time with Pablo. But today was a beautiful, drizzling day that feels like we are on the cusp of discovering a soft and gentle road through this.

I was feeling that I was screwing up on all fronts, letting everyone down, or at least stressing them out. I try very hard to sort things out myself, but self-sufficient and not bother anyone with my nervousnesses or questions. But I am learning that trying to be stoic often leads me to be completely wild and quivering.

Tomorrow a day with baby and Dennes, perhaps some mussels and chevre and good coffee.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Touring with Baby Part 1

I love flying. I love the surge of take off and the expectation of the wheels touching down. I love looking at the pattern of 'civilization' and nature from way up. I love being reminded of the similarity between the patterns we build and the patterns nature builds -- we are made of her.

I am taking off from Toronto, flying to Calgary for a brief stopover and then on to Kelowna with Theatre Rusticle -- touring "April 14, 1912", the show in which I play the Titanic. It is one my favourite things to perform, because the team involved is brilliant on every level, because there is no phoning it in. If you do, the whole show sinks -- and not the good way.

I have my baby in my arms and my amazing husband in the seat next -- he has taken two weeks off work to come along so that we can all be together. I am suddenly not so thrilled to fly. I am excited by the idea that Pablo gets to fly, see mountains and ocean before he is a year old, that Dennes and I are continuing to do the things we would have done without a baby...of course taking into consideration Pablo's needs, but not becoming complacent to life, especially our desire to travel, and have vacations. (Next stop for Pablo: Cuba? where we decided on his name.)

I am suddenly frightened, as the wheels leave the ground, of the fragility of all of this, of the utter incomprehensibility of this grimy metal bird of gigantic proportions with all of us in it taking off into the air. What if the laws of physics just suddenly stop obeying themselves? Have we discovered a principle that guarantees that these laws will always behave in a certain way? Perhaps it is the research for this show that has me thinking of the mysteries of the world (eg: the depths of the ocean that we understand less than the depths of space). It all seems a very delicate balance, a delicate battle, to use the title of a Matjash Mrowzewski ballet, and I am not sure I am willing to put Pablo into this uncertainty.

But Pablo's hand reaches to the wall of the plane. He places his palm flat against it and, feeling the vibrations, he smiles at me.

And then he doesn't cry for the whole 4 hour flight.
He has prunes and a bit of avocado salsa from Daddy's hamburger in the Milestones (ugh) restaurant in the Calgary airport and then falls asleep for most of the second flight to Kelowna.
What an amazing kid.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

opening night

I am sitting at my dining room table staring out at my new view -- a large oak tree between me and a park where dogs run like wild horses. Baby sleeps in my lap. He has just started to crawl this week and in his incredible mobility he is napping better and sleeping through the night once again. The trouble we left behind by moving at the beginning of the month seem to have cleared his little mind.

Tonight is the opening performance of Theatre Rusticle's new production, Birnam Wood. It is the most extraordinary thing I've been part of as an artist. Perhaps even surpassing the experience of working on April 14, 1912 with Theatre Rusticle (the company's previous production). The most freedom, the most precision, the most play, the greatest number of multiple realities channelling through our performer bodies. Big challenge. (Runs March 18-27th at Theatre Passe-Muraille www.theatrerusticle.org)

And of course that once-banished part of my psyche -- her name is Insecurity -- has returned from exile. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I am surrounded by some of the most gifted artists I have ever worked with -- from designers to crew to performers to director. Perhaps it is because the energetic make up of me has changed....I still feel like electric currents of baby in me, even though he is 8 and 1/2 months old now. His residue has shifted how things feel, developed new suppleness, new strengths: unfamiliar.

But oh so exciting.
I'd like to blame the restless self-criticism on being mercilessly ridiculed from grade 3 til the end of high school, but really that was long ago and far away and I don't even have the same name anymore so surely I am divorced from that psychological beating? (Besides I saw one of my tormentors on the subway last week and he looked miserable and liquor-bloated. I trust the universe to balance things eventually.)

With the opening of any show I crave a sense of great risk, of potentially opening myself to the point of exposed veins and tendons. Theatre Rusticle work is no exception. I am no longer afraid of this exposure. I trust completely my director, my castmates...and I believe they trust me. So why the rearing of the type-A personality?

I'm 5'8" and 125 lbs., but there's a whole universe inside me that can collapse on itself if I listen to that voice that begins each sentence with "should".

Dogs are running in the park behind the old, giant oak and Pablo is now awake in my lap saying "mama...mama...mama". No matter what, I will go on stage tonight and fling myself completely into the world of Birnam Wood. That much doesn't take bravery, it just takes a step.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A shadowy, human-shaped hallway.

My first proper show since Pablo was born. Luckily I was too tired to get exceedingly nervous -- will people be comparing my dancing, my body, my ideas to pre-baby times? Am I delusional in my sense that my body is looser and psychically more open now that baby is here? and the classic: am I delusional in trying to be a dancer in the first place. My husband is extremely tired of this last question. It is the evil twin of the good question that keeps one honest as a dancer: Why am I doing this? But not asked in a desperate or cynical tone, instead from the standpoint of curiosity. Why am I doing this? Why does this dance need to exist? Why do I need to dance it?

After reading a lot of Einstein and Bergson in the last couple of years I am of the opinion that not much exists on this planet that does not have need to be there. Nature is very economical and practical in its creativity. Man pushes towards excess and production.

So I stepped on stage in the post-partum era. I walked as a strange creature into a downpool of light and tried to submerge into the world of black floor and light pools. For 9 minutes I forgot I was Pablo's mummie. Well, almost. Those things flicker around in the back of my brain even if I don't sense them consciously.

At the end of the piece, back in that downpool, lying on the floor staring up into the source of the light, my hands on my belly, I felt the flickering, lingering presence of baby. There he is, little bits of his energy still, like lightning bugs in my belly. Scar tissue taking flight, sparking. There he is!

Before the show opened, I felt confident in a new wildness and abandon...I watch the video from this show -- always dangerous -- and I doubt it all. But I don't doubt that this piece needs to exist and I need to dance it. The judgement I lay down is purely stemming from years of not-so-great training and discouragement and my own timidity -- a crutch to shy away from success. It is the habit formed by a scared little girl that I've never quite been able to banish.

What rises above this? The growing sense that I am not a creator, but a vessel. A shadowy, human-shaped hallway through which ideas and emotions can slip, flinging limbs and heart in a pattern that might resemble language.

I'm sure I had more 'deep thoughts' to write here, but I am distracted by the systematic and comedic dropping of toys. Pablo reminds me not to take anything too seriously, except curiosity. He says, take curiosity very seriously.