José Saramago - 1922-2010
Saturday, June 19, 2010
There was a man and a dog too this time. Two beasts; counting Old Ben, the bear and two men, counting Boon Hogganbeck, in whom some of the same blood ran which ran in Sam Fathers, even though Boon's was a plebian strain of it and only Sam and Old Ben and the mongrel Lion were taintless and incorruptible.
The Bear, from William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses, 1940
When I found out that Portuguese writer José Saramago died on Friday I knew that sooner or later I would have to write about him He was a big influence on my reading habits and in many ways changed me for the better. Before I go any further I will include, below, a review I wrote for Duthies’ The New Reader
for the fall 1998 issue. I reviewed two Saramago novels, The History of the Siege of Lisbon
, which I read in English, and Blindness
which I read in Spanish. Some things have changed (for the worse) as we no longer have Mystery Merchant or any Duthie bookstores including the Manhattan. The Manhattan’s re-incarnation as Sophia Books closed recently.
One of the singular pleasures of being a reader in Vancouver is that if you frequent a few good bookstores those therein will know what you read. At the Mystery Merchant I may find an out-of-print Arthur H. Upfield novel set aside for me. At Duthie’s on Robson, James Bryner will inform me of a forthcoming Jerome Charyn release. But it can get even better when I visit the Manhattan Bookstore on the off chance that manager Marc Fournier will tell me “Hay un nuevo Mario Vargas Llosa.”
Thanks to the Manhattan I have been able to pursue my passion for reading my favourite Latin American authors in Spanish. Alas! Spanish isn’t going to help me with the recent rash of interesting books by Portuguese authors in English translations.
Happily we may be in debt to two translators, Gregory Rabassa and Giovanni Pontiero, for the new listings from Portugal. Rabassa’s translation into English of Mário de Carvallho’s A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening
may give this novel, set in a Lusitanian town during the twilight of the Roman Empire, the renown that his translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude
garnered for Gabriel García Márquez in North America.
But it is the availability of translations of Portuguese-born José Saramago’s novels by Manchester resident Giovanni Pontiero that has started the buzz that Sarmago is soon to get the Nobel Prize for Literature [indeed awarded a few days before The New Reader went to press, on October 8]. Although new to us in North America, Saramago, is seventy-six, is a literature giant in Europe and South America. One of his novels, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
, caused such a stir in Catholic Portugal that Saramago exiled himself to Spain and from there to the tiny volcanic island of Lanzarote [where he died] in the Canaries, where he lives with his wife Pilar [who has translated brilliantly most of Saramago’s novels and nonfiction into Spanish].
In the History of the Siege of Lisbon, an otherwise dull proofreader, Raimundo Silva, impulsively inserts a “not” into a manuscript, resulting in a passage that says that the Crusader, passing through Lisbon on their way to the Holy Land in 1147, did not help the King of Portugal recapture Lisbon from the Saracens. The “mistake” isn’t found until more than a week after the book goes to press.
Of The History of the Siege of Lisbon
, Pontiero writes in the afterword,
“As in other novels, Saramago’s paragraph-long sentences, minimally interrupted by punctuation, challenge the reader to follow his continuous stream of thought, thus permitting a stronger sense of interaction and a more diverse interpretation of phrases and clauses. Keen that his reader should move easily back and forth between the present, the recorded and the imagined past, in this novel Saramago also freely shifts between past and present tenses, conveying the impression of the timelessness of the human imagination.”
Paradoxically when I was reading the first chapter, a conversation between two men with no paragraph breaks or punctuation except for commas and one period, I found the dialogue so immediate that I felt I was watching an exciting tennis match from centre court. But Saramago is tender, too. Silva woos and is wooed by the much younger María Sara, who is put in charge of supervising the proofreader by the not-too-happy publisher. Of their first meeting at his house Saramago writes:
He drew her gently towards him without their bodies touching, and slowly leaned forward until his lips touched hers, at first the merest touch, the most delicate contact, and then, after some hesitation, their mouths quickly opened, their sudden kiss total, intense, and eager. María Sara, María Sara, he murmured, not daring to use other words, but she made no reply, perhaps she still did not know how to day Raimundo, for anyone who thinks it is easy to pronounce a name for the first time when you’re in love, is much mistaken.
In The History of the Siege of Lisbon
are hints of Saramago’s next novel, as in the description of the muezzin in the besieged city who must wake the faithful to prayer. “Only when a vision a thousand times sharper than nature can provide might be capable of perceiving in the eastern sky the initial difference that separates night from day, did the muezzin awake.” We found out later that he is blind. In Blindness
, one by one the inhabitants of Lisbon go blind (they all “see” white instead of the expected darkness). Blindness
is a brutally depressing novel in spite of lots of black humour where the blind really do rob the blind. A panicking government herds the sightless citizens into an empty insane asylum that becomes sort of a magic realist Lord of the Flies. As order crumbles little by little, the only inmate who can see, the wife of an ophthalmologist (who himself is one of the first to go blind and ironically the only doctor in the asylum) takes command of the place. Although Blindness
does not end on a positive note, Saramago all but takes it away from his protagonists.
Dying has always been a matter of time, said the doctor, But to die just because you’re blind , there can be no worse way of dying. We die of illnesses, accidents, chance events, And now we shall die of blindness, I mean we shall die of blindness and cancer, of blindness and tuberculosis, of blindness and AIDS, of blindness and heart attacks, illnesses may differ from one person to another but what is really killing us is blindness…
Pontiero died on his sixy-fourth birthday, while correcting the proofs of the The History of the Siege of Lisbon
. He left behind his finished translation of Blindness. After I finished Blindness, I was unable to read anything for days.
I could have never read Saramago had I not had the desire to photograph and interview Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in 1992. To prepare myself to my perceived ordeal I had decided to read his total literary output to that year. I found out that Vargas Llosa was difficult to read in English and more so in Spanish. In 1992 I had all but abandoned reading in my native Spanish. Books in Spanish were hard to find in Vancouver. All that traits I mention above about Saramago, his long paragraphs with minimal punctuation were even worse in some of the Vargas Llosa novels. In one, Conversation in the Cathedral
his protagonists have several names and nicknames. Only by knowing all of these names can you understand who is talking to whom. And the time changes in Llosa can only be compared to modern flashbacks that you see in film. In the Argentine oscar-winning film The Secret in Their Eyes
the only way you can figure out the constant shift from the present to the past is by watching the colour of the male protagonist’s hair (black in the past, gray in the present).
When I eventually met up with Vargas Llosa in his Miraflores home in Lima I asked him about the complexity of his novels. His answer made sense, “I want my readers to participate with me in the creation of the novel.” I asked Vargas Llosa who had influenced him on this tack. His answer was that it was William Faulkner and he particularly mentioned the short story (but not short story, depending in what version you read it as it could be considered a chapter of Go Down Moses
) The Bear
A few years later I traveled to New York City to interview and photography Jerome Charyn. I asked him who had been his greatest influence. His answer, by now, did not surprise me, “William Faulkner and in particular The Bear
Both Charyn and Vargas Llosa helped me get away from the predictably comfortable novel that I would call the “ideal” novel to read at 30,000 feet. They prepared me for the delight of finding it easy to read a complex novel. They prepared me for Saramago. If there is anybody here who might want to try I would recommend that first, one paragraph, chapter of Saramago’s The History of the Siege of Lisbon
. It is like a warm-up excercise of calisthenics. Once you polish it off you will be ready for long-distance running.
It was on May 15, 1972 that I received an unintended push (or was it?) into the direction of reading in complexity. Her name was Ana María Ramirez Ponce. She was in my English class at Colgate Palmolive in Mexico City. She was short, very smart, very quick and very efficient. Unfortunately it was many years after before I sat down to read Go Down, Moses
and in particular The Bear
Wherever you might be, Ana María, thank you!
Not all of Saramago's books are complex. I have one of his memoirs in Spanish, Cuadernos de Lanzarote
(1993-1995) where he writes about averyday things. He writes about taking walks the island. He writes of the dogs and his dog. He writes about his Spanish wife Pilar and of his trips abroad to book fairs and book reading. But there is one particular entry that is close to my heart. Saramago is in the kitchen and he is troubled by the brilliant white grout of the kitchen floor tiles. It is much too white. "What can I do about this?" he thinks. Then in an accident he spills some tea on the floor and notices the change of the white and gets all excited. You then read how a man in his 70s gets on his hands and knees to change the colour of the tile grout with tea.
Saramago became a novelist very late in life. As I find it next to impossible to secure work in my chosen field of photogrpahy I sometimes wake up in the morning with the idea that I should simply quit. But then Saramago wrote inventive avant-garde novels late in his life. Many of them are based on of-the-wall premises that used to be in the territory of science fiction novels that I read in my past. One of them Ensayo sobre la lucidez
is about a whole city (Lisbon?) deciding independently (as in citizens) to cast blank ballots during a federal election. What happens subsequently is as excting and as funny as when Portugal and Spain (physically just like a an ice berg from and ice barrier reef) break off from Europe in his The Raft
. I tell myself that my best photographs are still not taken. I will not quit. Some of my best work may be ahead.
Of Football Widows & Widowers
Friday, June 18, 2010
She is urbane, cultured and musical, he likes football. She reads sophisticated mysteries he reads football scores. But he is a kind and attentive husband who takes her to tours of Europe and braves Florence museums as well as the Louvre in Paris just for her. There is lots of give and take in Robert and Patricia’s relationship. It is fun to watch them. They are my friends.
But during the duration of the South African World Cup, Patricia is a football widow. Since she does not like sports this would make her husband a somewhat football widower. I decided to accompany Robert today and give him comfort and moral support during the England versus Algeria match. He has a state-of-the-art flat screen TV and is able to record at will and even rewind a live game (the device stores into memory the game as it progresses while allowing one to “rewind” and look at a questionable foul call).
I showed up at the door, unannounced, and holding a large mug of Kalimi Assam. I was ushered in with a smile and we sat down on his comfortable leather sofa to watch the game. It was not a good game and for once I was at my most diplomatic. I did not ask, “Didn’t you English invent this game? Who are the teachers here?” I tried to ease the pain of the eventual tie by saying that back in Argentina we Argentines used to become irate when questionable teams like the ones of Uruguay, on the other side of the River Plate, would frustrate our "obviously" superior teams. We liked to say, “They did not allow us to play our game.” It would seem to me that in the 21st century more than in the last the ability to win would be more important than to show excellence and virtuoso playing at the expense of a loss.
My Kalimi was soon topped up by a very good bought-in-England brand of tea and a freshly baked slice of pizza was placed before me. Emma the Doberman tried to lick my ear while a dolled up Patricia, unable to even take one more minute of the incessant buzzing of vuvuzelas, went out for the afternoon.
After the disappointing result for England I bid Robert goodbye and went home thinking about other football matches I had watched on TV and of some that I had seen in the stadiums of my native Buenos Aires.
The ones I had watched on TV had been games I had shared with the only football enthusiast in my family. That was my mother. We used to watch how Argentina would perennially lose to the Mexican team in Mexico and we would always blame it on the city’s high altitude. There was a particular sports announcer, Fernando Marcos that my mother despised and gave the deprecatory nickname of “el buitre” or the buzzard. When our Argentina was loosing by one or two goals and there were only minutes left in the game, Marcos would say (he exacerbated our nerves to no end), “Anything is still possible, after all a minute does have sixty seconds.”
Of past televised world cups my daughter Hilary has inherited my mother’s enthusiasm for the albicelestes
as we call “our” (I am now Canadian and Hilary was born in Mexico) national team.
Perhaps one of the only privileges of being a conscript in the Argentine Navy was the fact that in uniform I was admitted free to any football match. During the football season on a Saturday or Sunday that can mean a choice of at least 8 or 9 games. A few remain in my memory. One of them involved the team Club Atlético River Plate (or plainly “Reever”) in its huge stadium overlooking the River Plate. It may have been sometime around 1966 when every once in a while we were sent to barracks because Perón had announced his immediate return from exile in Spain. Or it could have been one of the countless little coups we had before the big one that finally toppled President Arturo Illía and began Argentina’s descent into military dictatorships and the “proceso” of the disappeared. The fact was, that while River was playing (against a team I cannot remember), we could hear the rumble and the telltale clanking of tank treads. We saw the line of tanks headed for the centre of the city. Most of us took it all and stride, shrugged our shoulders and went back to watching the game.
It was soon after that one of the best of the players of a first division team was caught making out in his car. He had parked the car behind La Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada. It was this so-called-school of the navy where countless people were to be tortured years later and women where parted from their newborn babies. The babies were then adopted by childless general, admirals and colonels.
The hapless footballer was shot by a Navy conscript (probably as inexperienced and badly trained as I was) and while the player survived the ordeal his arm was amputated. The young man played professionally for a few more years but did suffer a lack of balance when he dribbled the ball. It was at one of the games of his team that several fouls were committed by his fellow mates and the official had each one thrown out, one at a time, until the team was down to 6 players. The official refused to cancel the game so the 6 sat down on the fiel while the opposing team showered them with goals that were unstopped.
Another time I was in a bus headed for the Boca district. I was going to the classic of classis, the game between the rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate. My train to Retiro Station had arrived late so the game had already begun. There was a terrible din in the bus. I could not discern what it was until we stopped at a light. It was then that I realized the roar was half of the stadium (40,000 perhaps) was shouting in unison, “¡Hijo de puta, hijo de puta!: They were all calling the ref a son of a bitch. When I arrived at the stadium and went up the spiraling concrete corridor to my seats I noticed the floor was wet and that the liquid had reached scary depth. It is a common habit to not go to the bathrooms (they are often dirty) so men (and mostly men go to Buenos Aires football matches) and to simply piss on the wall.
But there is one very definite rosy moment in my memory. I went to watch River Plate play against Santos of Brazil. This, in the middle 60s meant it was the Santos of Pelé at his height.
Pelé past midfield was accosted by two River Plate defenders. He dribbled between them and went on to be faced by two more. Here he kicked the ball with his heel over his head and in front of him. Without the ball, he ran on, past the two defenders and arrived just when his ball was almost arching down. With his foot (I don’t remember if it was his left or his right) he smacked it into the Argentine goal. This was the finest goal I ever saw.
I try to tell most of my friends that I am not really interested in football. I may convince some but a few will take my protestations as suspect. They all must know that on those early mornings when the albicelestes
play I will be glued to my TV hoping that my watching of the game will not precipitate a loss.
Dances For A Small Stage - Whimsy, Gravitas, Humour, Delight
Thursday, June 17, 2010
In past performances of Dances for a Small Stage
(Artistic Producer Julie-anne Saroyan, right) I always expected to be surprised. But this surprise was often one of a contrast between sublime dance performances and some that that were so terrible (and which had nothing to do with dance) that I would cringe and wish the act go away. I accepted with Greek stoicism flamenco dance performances and hip-hop (this is before I discovered Shay Kuebler!). I just knew that Dances for A Small Stage
would always surprise in a sort of uneven manner.
The 22nd version of Dances for a Small Stage
(with exclusive participation of Ballet BC dancers) which I saw last night (Wednesday) surprised but never disappointed me. As in the Season Finale of the Arts Umbrella Senior and Apprentice Dance Company at the Playhouse a few weeks back the first performance was by Montreal-based Giaconda Barbuto, below. She is a compact and extremely cute dark and short-haired pixie who was walking around like a nervous shark last night before the performance.
What could she possibly have worried about? Her piece, Clique
included every member (14 of them) of Ballet BC on the extremely small stage all at one time. Clique
was like a pleasant (no knifings) beach/street gang of teenagers showing off their skills. The music was perfect and the performance of every Ballet BC dancer was superb although Molnar may have to cut Donald Sales’ intake of testosterones. The piece had shades of West Side Story and the cheerleader's ending made me smile.
From Clique every subsequent performance had some sort of quirky and delightful humor. Cori Caulfield’s powdered wig diva in Meringue a l’état sauvage
and Edmond Kilpatrick’s three part series called Boy meets Girl –Boy loses Girl- Boy Gets Girl Back
) was like a superb Moët et Chandon that cleared the palate for the only piece with lots of gravitas, Laurie Stallings’ Zak.
Her piece with dancers Alyson Fretz, Connor Gnam, Delphine Leroux and Peter Smida showcased Stallings’ odd look at the world. Since this was my first experience at a Stalling (below, right) piece I felt like I was listening to Bartok for the first time.
It was difficult but I could not stop looking. I appreciated the musical silence (for most of the piece) which gave me the change of being able to listen to the dancers breathe and gasp for air. This is a dance work that I will hopefully see again and perhaps I will begin to understand. Meanwhile it will serve as a showcase for the rapidly dazzling performances of Alyson Fretz.
If Emily Molnar is able to secure funds to keep her company going this year she should establish a special fund to declare Donald Sales a Vancouver National Monument. The Brazilians attempted this ploy to try to keep Edson Arantes do Nascimento from bolting to the better paying European Football League. Sales provides Ballet BC with whimsical choreography and manly performances. It will not be long before our city’s standup comics will be imitating the Sales shifting shoulder swagger. On the other hand Sales himself, if we are to correctly judge his hilarious Oops Sorry LOL Sh^t
could be a standup comic, too. Connor Gnam was perfect as the nervous teen lothario and Makaila Wallace proved that prima ballerinas can picnic, too!
Maggie Forgeron in Moon on White Crow, with her long hair (can anybody with short hair ever do a Margie Gillis, left with Emily Molnar, piece?) and swaying arms moved with grace in an extremely small area of stage territory.
Cherice Barton’s Temptation
, in the heels of her piece ’59 at the Playhouse a few weeks back in which she brought the music of the 50s and mated it with the Arts Umbrella Senior Dance Company’s, gave us little gravitas but amply compensated with humorous but steamy sexual performances. The costumes by Kate Burrows, below, were such that I could not take my eyes off Marianne Grobbelaar as the prostitute in red with that black garter. In fact for most of the evening I came to the conclusion that one of the few dancers that can perhaps match Donald Sales in oozing sex is Grobbelaar.
But of all the pieces (and all satisfied me in some way) the one that I found to be the most whimsical and magical was Farley Johansson’s pocket full of hoyle
. Alexis Fletcher (Arty you gave us Connor Gnam, Shannon Ferguson, Alyson Fretz, Alex Parrett, Acacia Schachte, Amber Funk Barton and the soon to be star Alex Burton, what gives with Arts Umbrella?) and Gilbert Small pulled cards from pockets here and there and kept pulling them until I lost count. While most know that Edmond Hoyle established many of the rules of card-playing I saw this entertaining but complex piece as a salute to the other Hoyle, the astronomer and science fiction author Fred Hoyle who coined the term “big bang”. Johansson’s piece gave me the most bangs for my 20 bucks.
Congratulations to Julie-Anne Saroyan, Emily Molnar (and her dancers) and finally Kate, relax. I loved your costumes.
Dances for a Small Stage continues today and tomorrow.
Donald Sales On Space
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Here goes my best shot. Firstly when I'm approached there are certain things I HAVE to know. One of those things is the setting/mood of the environment. I create accordingly. When I think in terms of space, it's not limited to the stage only but the space offstage as well. The whole entire environment is the stage when I'm creating. So we could either say the space isn't small at all or we could say it's very small if we are to compare that isolated building called the Legion to the rest of BC. With my piece Oops Sorry Lol Sh*t
I knew the atmosphere would be very casual, relaxed and fun and wanted to compliment it with something humorous. I experimented with isolating most of the dance on the faces rather than what we usually use as tools for dance. In this space I hope the performers Makaila Wallace and Connor Gnam take away how Small equals Big. I hope you enjoy.
Donald Sales, Choreographer and Dancer (Ballet BC) and Choreographer for Dances for a Small Stage.
Edmond Kilpatrick On Space
When I made Love in an Elevator I knew it was for a small space in the Dances for a Small Stage format. I wanted to take an equally small space, an ordinary elevator, and create in it a whole different world from the one beyond its doors. A space where my dancers could embark on the epic themes of finding love, loosing love and winning it back. Where we can see deep inside them as they uncover the flower of their true selves. Where they desperately fight for that what is most precious to them. A world that, once the doors open, must inevitably dissolve.
Edmond Kilpatrick, choreographer for Dances in a Small Stage
seen here with Acacia Schachte, left, and Sandrine Cassini.
Cori Caulfield On Space
I am very much alive but not feeling at all capable of saying anything intelligent let alone some thing about space. I am a spacial idiot. I wrote several research papers about this in school actually. I have no sense of direction - I have spent a lot of my allotted hours on this earth crying in my car. This may be one of the reasons I love to make dance - the space is almost always prescribed, delineated, clear, open, and free of obstacles - so unlike real life. Filling such space and animating it is really, really fun.
That's all I can come up with at this moment. Oh, and the Dances for a Small Stage space is really, really small! I love to force my creativity with such a constraint.
Cori Caulfield, Choreographer for Dances on a Small Stage
Lauri Stallings On Space
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
i look forward to you experiencing my choreographic
work for the first time, in live, human form, this week.
it is a very busy time, begin a new creation today with
David Hallberg, for Jacob's Pillow next month. time is so valuable.
no an empty window to write an artists' statement
specifically for Zak. these things always take a down time
that is scarce at best.
however, to assist in your needs of how i digest and utilize space in my works, from my point of view, i have attached some most recent artists' notes for you to incorporate in your week's blog series, that is specifically in regards to space, the use of it, thoughtfully and in present time.
Zak, however, is an introduction not so much to specific space,
but the specific language and viscera that lives in all the works.
The process was too short to investigate the next layer
Zak is my first work for BBC, and i needed to simply introduce
the "taste, the eyes," to the dancers. this was the modest but
genuine aim of the work. They did wonderfully.
any questions, please feel free to ask.
Stallings on her recent work Bloom
A site specific performance pursuing the meaning of how the life of places are inherently made by the people and objects in them, is Bloom. Bloom is an attraction that draws man’s center to the hear and now, setting its senses on what surrounds us, the palpability of people, things and the community we live in through highly emotional, physical, three dimensional art..Between performer and viewer unfolds a complex, freshly unpredictable voyage, inviting the public to reassess their own perceptions of who they are, what art is, and where it occurs. Bloom aims directly at the material world’s lure, power, and unique properties in today’s culture.
Stallings on her work Halo
(June 14, NY City)
Reflecting a collective desire to forge in the 360 world, is Halo’. Physical mapping with the “inter” human, proximity, and resistance to social formatting, Halo’ is marked by an intense physical discipline, and keen sense of humor. Halo’ aims to the draw the eyes to the gut as it explores the phenomena of reception, invention and interpretation, inviting the audience to reassess their own perception of the hear and now.
Stallings'work Zak will feature Ballet BC dancers Alyson Fretz and Peter Smida seen here with Stallings.
Emily Molnar, Crystal Pite - Einsteinian Space & Time
As it gets closer to Thursdays three-day performances of Dances For A Small Stage 22
I realized that both Emily Molnar and Crystal Pite had told me back in May 2008 some interesting things about dancers and their relationship with space. The small stage at the Commercial Legion puts severe constraints on both choreographers and dancers. Space is at a premium and what choreographers and dancers do with it will ever be fascinationg. Here is the blog from May 1, 2008
It has taken 65 years for my concept of space and time to change, even after having read here and there about Einsteinian time and space. It all suddenly changed for me some five years ago when Vancouver contemporary dancers Emily Molnar and Crystal Pite discussed space, time and movement in my studio.
The shortest definition of relativistic movement I have ever heard came from Molnar (35) who said, “Movement is the observer.” This means that from a position of rest we the observers can discern the movement of a dancer on stage. Of time Pite (37) said, “The ephemeral of dance exists only in the present movement. We are left with traces of movements that are gone as they are being created. As we carve space with our bodies they leave a ghost, the trail which affects our future moves and informs the observer of our past moves.” I then understood that those past moves are much like the contrails that high-flying jets leave in the sky.
In 1996 I photographed Crystal Pite who was leaving Ballet BC for William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet. I had seen her Ballet BC farewell performance of her own work, Moving Day
. I was amazed by her elegance and style but immediately saddened that I might not to see her dance again. In 1998 I photographed Emily Molnar who returned from the Frankfurt Ballet to assist John Alleyne’s direction of Ballet BC. Fortunately for us all Alleyne made her dance, too. In between, Pite and Molnar met and danced for two years in Frankfurt. Pite returned to Vancouver 6 years ago where she directs Kidd Pivot
, her own dance company.
Rebecca, my precocious 10 year-old granddaughter with whom I attend as many ballet and modern dance performances as we can, may be well ahead of her lumbering grandfather. She has declared to me that her favourite Vancouver dancers are Crystal and Emily. We agree.
It was with Rebecca that I saw Pite do part of her full-length ballet for the Frankfurt Ballet called Field Fiction
. On stage, assisted by the excellent Cori Caulfield, and dressed in a stylized military uniform she removed her Prussian type spiked helmet and inserted her head into a noose that hung from the ceiling. On her tiptoes she did an exquisite and alternately horrific interpretation of a man hanging. I can only imagine what the scope of the silence that followed this performance must have been when it premiered in Frankfurt. Behind me was Sylvain Senez, Ballet BC’s Ballet master whispered in my ear, “Crystal is the future of dance in Vancouver.”
When Molnar (she is striking at 5 ft 11in) entered my studio for her first picture in 1998 she quietly sat in a corner in a fetal position for 10 minutes before facing my camera. Since then, thanks to Molnar, Pite and the performances of some of William Forsythe’s works by Ballet BC I have come not only to appreciate why Forsythe’s choreography and his company were rated about best in the world but also why Molnar and Pite talk physics. Asked on how he pushes the boundaries of the form of dance Forsythe once said, “I don’t think so much of the body when we are doing this. We are thinking about ‘the thinking body’ or we’re trying to understand how the body thinks about its own presence.” Or the way the ever-succinct Molnar put it to me, “Dance requires the entire body and the mind.”
Molnar has her own company, Emily Molnar Dance
. When possible I attend whatever performance of hers I can find. More often than not she is busy choreographing for companies in Europe and New York. I sometimes catch her rehearsing the senior dancers at Arts Umbrella on Saturdays. Her principal role performances for several of John Alleyne’s full-length works including The Faerie Queen
linger in my memory. On the rehearsal of the latter Rebecca first noticed her and insisted on meeting her. It was in Molnar’s solo performance of Speak
choreographed for her by Margie Gillis that I finally fell hard for her. I had to photograph Molnar for a local publication and she offered to go through the whole performance (just for me!) so I could pick a dance move for the photograph. In such close proximity I learned how strenuous dance really is no matter how effortless a dancer makes it seem to be. I now sit in the front row for dance performances, as part of the rewards of watching dance is to be able to hear the dancers breathe. In retrospect when I think of Molnar and Speak and watching her long limbs I smile remembering what Pite says of her, “There is always this extreme quality of her movement. The extreme doesn’t come from her extremities, although the result is extreme. The extremity is internally motivated. The motivation comes from her core.”
For me watching Pite or Molnar dance (they have yet to dance together in Vancouver) puts other dancers with them at a disadvantage. Pite and Molnar stand out and the others just fade much in the same way as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s dancers used to disappear for me when I watched Evelyn Hart dance.
The uniqueness of Pite’s and Molnar’s style is perhaps best explained by Molnar’s take on Pite. "She is an artist of the highest caliber. She is defining dance in the future. She has a movement understanding that is absolutely three-dimensional. You know it’s Crystal when she dances, whether you see her face or not. There is uniqueness, creativity and a sense of humour in her statements. There is a grounded articulation in her physicality. There is no one like Crystal, and what that is, is still evolving." While Crystal’s definition of Molnar involves lots of physics I can safely say that Sylvain Senez was only half right. The future of dance in Vancouver is not only Crystal Pite but Emily Molnar, too.
It is a special delight when either Molnar or Pite appear in one of my favourite Vancouver dance programs, Dances for a Small Stage
. The restraints of a small stage are a problem when you consider that both Pite and Molnar agree that when you, for example, throw an arm out, the distance cast is infinite. For a while, I selfishly hope, that their movements do not exceed beyond the borders of our fair and doubly lucky Vancouver.
The Difference Engine
Monday, June 14, 2010
Just a few days ago I received an email from Ballet BC. It is here
. I have attended most of the 21 previous incarnations of Dances for a Small Stage
. What makes this one unique is twofold. For one all the dancers in this occasion will be the dancers of Ballet BC. Ballet BC is out to woo a new crowd of modern ballet enthusiasts who might be lured to attending QE performances by seeing the company in other locations. It is no accident in my books that when the different Stallings left Ballet BC, the company was soon exhibiting a new and just as different Emily Molnar
fresh from her stint in Ballet Frankfurt. That these two women have collaborated in conjunction with Dances for a Small Stage
producer Julie-anne Saroyan is a guarantee that this 22nd edition will surely please.
The second reason is the list of choreographers:
Gioconda Barbuto (Montreal)
Cherice Barton (USA)Cori Caufield
Farley Johansson (Germany)Edmond Kilpatrick
Lauri Stallings (USA)
All of the above are splendid (expect something humorous and off the wall from Cori Caulfield and something classy from Donald Sales) and I would like to cite Gioconda Barbuto
who choreographed two pieces for the Senior and the Apprentice Dance Company of Arts Umbrella for their season finale a couple of weeks ago. I was most amazed by her touch. The rest do not need an introduction except for Lauri Stallings. Who is Lauri Stallings?
Lauri Stallings danced for a couple of years in Ballet BC and left for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. While here a few of us noticed and appreciated that rare talent of difference. Stallings had it and I used to brag that I could watch her dance from the ankles down and know she was the one dancing. This uniqueness of approach which Stallings told me (a couple of weeks ago when she was here to rehearse her piece Zak at the Vancouver Dance Centre) came from the early influence of her parents is now manifesting itself in Stallings as Stallings the choreographer.
It is precisely today that I read a review of one her works at DMAC-Duo Multicultural Dance Center in East Village in New York City. The review is not all that unflattering and it begins with Roslyn Sulcas saying that Stallings’ work Halo is presented by her “unpronounceable company gloATL which is based in Atlanta. In my files I have other reviews from the NY Times including one by the scary and venerable dance critic Alastair Macaulay on a piece that Stallings did for the American Ballet Theater. If these reviews are good but not glowing it has all to do with the slightly conservative dance scene in New York as compared to (can you believe that? I do!) our more lively and adventurous one of Vancouver. Stallings is difficult to peg.
As a dancer Stallings was pretty well the best I ever saw in Vancouver. I have no doubt that as a choreographer her piece for Dances for a Small Stage 22 starting this Wednesday, June 16 and on until the 18 will be a performance to savour.
I asked Stallings to send me some explanation on her work and her concept of space. The blog that follows is her answer.Much More Lauri Stallings
A Star Danced And Under That I Was Born
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Benedick: “No the world must be peopled.”
William Shakespeare - Much Ado About Nothing
Saturday was a day that started well and ended well. I took some iPhone snapshots of Lauren in the garden who has been recently telling me proudly that I no longer have to worry about her closing her eyes. In the evening Rebecca and I went to the inaugural performance of Bard on the Beach’s Much Ado About Nothing
Rebecca is still too young to take advantage of a tradition that Rosemary and I have of reading the chapter on the Shakespeare play we are about to see in Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare – The Invention of the Human
. I could have told Rebecca to expect that the best role would be Beatrice played by a superb Jennifer Lines. Bloom says that Much Ado About Nothing
, “…is not one of Shakespeare’s comic masterworks.” This amateur would agree but I would add that the play is worth seeing simply to watch and listen to the dialogue between Beatrice and her reluctant husband-to-be, Benedick, ably played by John Murphy. The rest of the cast, as good as it is, is simply there to carry the plot. Of this play Bloom says:Shakespeare’s inventive exuberance in Much Ado is lavished upon Beatrice who is a solitary eminence in the play. Benedick, the audience sympathetically feels, does his best to keep up, while Dogberry (alas) seems to me one of Shakespeare’s few failures as a comedy. The Dogberrian malapropisms constitute only one joke, which is repeated too often to be funny.
I would strongly disagree with Bloom’s opinion on Dogberry who is a hapless and rather stupid constable played superbly by Simon Bradbury (shades of the Subhuman's Wimpy-Roy). Bradbury spins and struts like a most fearsome British parade master sergeant and who has a tendency to slip on stair steps. Rebecca and I both laughed and laughed. Rebecca has told me that she wants to see all of Shakespeare’s comedies but wants to skip the tragedies. I think that this particular comedy which has some serious, while witty dialogue, will perhaps tempt her to see some of the tragedies.
We brought a blanket. After the interval Rebecca told me, “How nice it is to be here and to wrap ourselves together with the blanket. I like this kind of theatre.” And so do I.
I was a bit confused when the play started with some fine flamenco dancing and the flamenco theme persisted throughout the play. How could the Italians in Messina dance flamenco in WWI? It took me a while to figure it all out. The original play had the Spaniards (after all there is Don John, seen here, left, as played by Parnelli Parnes, and Don Pedro, Martin Sims is the Prince of Aragon) in Southern Italy when they were, indeed in Southern Italy. This production moves the action from Shakespeare's time to the beginning of the 20th century. Rebecca particularly liked the spiffy uniforms.
When the play ended she pointed at a girl slightly younger than she and told me, “I heard her say to her mother that she wanted to sleep in tomorrow. I think I will do the same.”
D. Pedro. Your silence most offends me, and to be merry best becomes you; for, out of question, you were born in a merry hour
Beatrice. No, sure, my lord, my mother cried; but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born. Cousins, God give you joy!