Third Year and Boxing Gloves
Thursday, 8 September, 2011 | Comments | Make A Comment
The question 'what am I doing here?' was present throughout the whole gruelling morning. From the moment I stepped into Urdang Academy, as I was tying up my Bloch jazz shoes (bought for the occasion), as I warmed up in the registration studio to tunes like 'Hot Stuff'.
It was also there when I stepped into the audition studio, where a Japanese version of Debbie Allen taught us a sequence I hope I never have to repeat in my life, and it was painfully burning when I performed it, almost with my eyes closed (to avoid seeing myself in the mirror), together with two other girls wearing nothing but sequined bras and tights (and more makeup than a drag queen would ever let herself be seen wearing).
Unsurprisingly my number wasn't called out, and out of the thirty-odd dancers in the room only three got through, and just like that, in less than twenty minutes, my chance to join the dancers in Japan's Universal Studios' theme park was gone.
Later on I figured out the answer, as I had a few hours to kill in London before my train was due. Whilst performing anything similar to what we were taught was close to a nightmare for me, this audition meant two very important things. One, a dance job, which although not ideal was a job anyway, and two, the chance to travel to the other side of the world, which way back had been (and still is) one of the things that dance meant for me.
Now, a few days away from starting my third year, I am reconsidering what my professional expectations are and, after a look around, a couple of auditions and conversations with graduates, I realize that the cafetiere has long been steaming and that if we have been avoiding the smell of coffee for this long we've no excuse now to pretend it isn't there.
The company dream is, for most of us, just that, a dream. The notion that fresh out of third year (or even while studying it) you will be picked up by one of the greats, be offered a contract, and will tour the world is becoming a very distant reality.
Not an impossible one, of course, and the Royal Ballet School has kindly let us know how well they've done this academic year contract-wise, which is inspiring in a way, but we also know that they breed a different kind of human body over at Covent Garden and White Lodge. I can't give figures for graduate contracts at NSCD because I don't know them, but if what I hear is true, they are, frighteningly enough, very low.
I do not think that this is necessarily a reflection on the school you train at- I want to blame it on the troubled times we're living in- but what I do think is that considering what kind of jobs are actually out there for us, institutions should reconsider how they are preparing their students, and students should be proactive and prepare themselves for a future in which it is very unlikely that season after season you'll be pampered by the luxuries and commodities of a full-time contract.
'When you work with a company...' is how, in my experience, many teachers begin their advice. Rarely do you, in the middle of technique class, hear 'when you work freelance' or 'when you're skint and have to do class in your living room' or something like that- which today is actually what I think we should be preparing ourselves for.
Granted, the company is something that many hope to achieve, so we shouldn't forget it altogther, and the idea of it motivates many student dancers. I worry that this may become the only possibly route they see in dance, and more than once I've heard things like 'if I don't get into a company staright after graduating I'm going to become a fire fighter.' And it's comforting to know there won't be any major fire catastrophes with the massive influx of graduate dancers into the fire brigade.
I am a fierce defender of technique and its training but have to admit that developpés are not taking us as far these days. Get creative, because there aren't that many opportunities out there, or many that will keep you well fed, so you'll have to create them for yourself.
If you want to dance, find a way to do it, and don't expect someone to set it up for you. If nobody wants you in their piece, create your own. And forget phrases like 'oh, I'm not a creative dancer, I'm good at technique', because if you lift a rock you'll find hundreds of technical dancers (many of them hailing from places like RBS, Paris Opera and Amsterdam, whose floor technique might be flimsy, but who look physically amazing for the most part; and good lines, in whichever context, are always a plus).
Learn to read and write, in case you've ever uttered the ignominous words 'I became a dancer because I couldn't read'. Remember those tedious hours of contextual study in the beginning of your degree? Remember those hours of essay-writing and researching? Those marks you got taken off for the several spelling mistakes? Funding applications are not necessarily fun, they involve careful structuring and research, and any problems with grammar or spelling don't do much in your favour. So as well as pumping it up at the gym after college, why not pick up a magazine or a book- write a review, keep a journal- because the days when you could 'just dance' are far gone.
Unlike models, or actors, we contemporary dancers don't tend to have agents to do our promotioning, so it'll be you that has to sell yourself, and although you may do so brilliantly through interpretative dance, the spoken (or written) word is how it actually gets done.
If you like to keep to yourself, start making friends. And the best place is while still at college, because it may happen that one of your peers did work during contextual studies and succesfully applied for funding and might offer you a job.
There is a lot more that I'm guessing could be said, and I owe this blog a massive disclaimer as I'm not really out there in the professional world and only speak from what I gather.
It is with these realistic thoughts that I enter my final year and although my Japanese experience was somewhat crushing, I'm sure that there is something to the challenge that comes with fighting your way into dance on your own, and I'm sure there's a pride that comes with getting to the other side of the world with a business card that says 'freelance'.
Yorkshire Dance: An Elegy
Wednesday, 30 March, 2011 | Comments | Make A Comment
Were I Milton, or any of his peeps, I would now be invoking all sorts of nymphs and forest sprites to mourn the death of one of the most important entities of Leed's dance scene. Unfortunately I am not given to wearing lace and wigs too often, so I have to appeal to all of you dancers in Leeds and beyond.
There has been a murder on Quarry Hill, and as is often the case, the big names in dance have come out victorious, leaving us students, emerging artists and dancing citizens homeless.
Northern Ballet and Phoenix Dance Theatre have erected their amazing new home just a few steps from the place where for a couple of quid you could take an amazing range of classes, ranging from contemporary and ballet to bollywood beats. A place where many interesting artists delivered workshops and improvisation sessions, and where young and elderly citizens could go and enjoy all the benefits that dance has to offer. But Yorkshire Dance was more than a cheap place to take class- it offered many dance proffesionals a place in which to create and share work, at almost no cost, and it has been the starting point for many interesting creative ventures.
But from April 2011 all this is going to change. The infamous cuts have greatly reduced the dance center's budget, and now it is up to the teachers to book studios and get the required number of students to take their class if they want to pay for them. Rather than telling us the truth- that the costs of classes will inevitably increase, and that many of them will doubtlessly disappear, Yorkshire Dance (bless them) has given us a more optimistic, yet not fool-proof, take on the situation, through and informative leaflet:
'We're going to let our brilliant tutors take over!', they write in bold, and assure us that this change will be for the better.
But we cannot be persuaded. I speak for many of the dance graduates that have chosen to live in Leeds rather than succumb to the expenses of living in London, for whom the classes and spaces at the center were the only way to stay fit and creative. If the number of contemporary and ballet classes is reduced, or if they disappear altogether, very few options remain. The Mandela Center holds two contemporary classes led by RJC Dance a week, for the incredible sum of two pounds, but these are in the morning, and for many who have to work to support themselves, they aren't really an option. For those of us who are still in training, but want that extra bit of ballet, or to try a completely different style just to unwind or add a skill to our repertoire, this too means bad news. Not to mention those who wanted to gain some teaching experience and have done so at Yorkshire Dance. The cost of booking studios will not be low, so they can start to kiss the idea goodbye.
This could turn out to be one of the numerous moans about the cuts to arts funding. All around the nation, as well as the rest of Europe, we are all experiencing losses, probably worse than this. But the difference here lies in the other monumental dance center that sits a few steps from Yorkshire Dance.
Mike Dixon writes that for the opening of Northern Ballet and Phoenix's new home, there was enough food and champagne to feed an entire small country; and he was amazed by the spectacular fireworks display that lit the Leeds skyline when the function was over (Dance Europe, March issue). The center boasts seven huge studios with Harlequin floors- one of them is the biggest studio in Europe-, a spa, physio facilities (with resident physiotherapists), a sauna and a jacuzzzi. Not to mention the beautiful architecture of the building, which has panoramic views of the city and its surrounding woods. It is, without a doubt, an amazing dance center.
At the same opening, Leeds City Council representative Adam Ogilvie, gave a speech in which he called both companies' work 'the jewels on the city of Leeds' crown', and considered Leeds the most important city as regards to dance outside of London. Arts Council rep, Jim Tough, was with him, adding that Leeds is a motor force in the development of dance.
These statements only confirm my fears that these people really are delusional. Can you in any way compare what Phoenix or Northern Ballet do for the community- or for the development of dance- with what Yorkshire Dance has been doing for many years now? How many more people have participated- actively and physically- in YD's classes and workshops, and how much more new dance has been created through its residencies?
Coming from abroad, I can assure both of these men that a real jewel on a city's crown is a place like Yorkshire Dance- where anyone can come in and dance, at an incredibly low cost - and where penniless choreographers and musicians and whatnot can meet and create at almost no cost. This is what develops dance; this is what fuels it, not spectacular productions or small rep companies that can enjoy a soak in a jacuzzi on their breaks.
I still aplaud the work of both companies, and by no means do I intend to devalue it. Northern Ballet, for a small company, has been incredibly innovative with all of its creations (I was awed by Cleopatra in particular), chapeau, David Nixon,
and its academy is in the process of producing excellent dancers. Sharon Watson's efforts at bringing Phoenix back from the ashes are admirable and very fruitful
(although why anyone would want to restage Cohan's Class the way they did still escapes my comprehension). But they simply do not work for the dance community of Leeds in the same way as Yorkshire Dance has done, even if Northern Ballet is extending their number of open classes and Phoenix is leading a flashmob at Kirkstall Abbey.
And neither company is to blame for the demise of Yorkshire Dance's services. Northern Ballet in particular has had a herculeous fundraising campaign, and is sharing its facilities not only with Phoenix but also with Leeds Metropolitan University. But the truth remains that Leeds City Council donated 7.6m to the cause, and the Arts Council granted 4m (according to the Yorkshire Evening Post). Whether we'll be able to take a daily contemporary class for four pounds is a truth that no longer remains certain.
My friend, a recent Dartington graduate who is premiering her new piece, 'The Smyths', next week,walked into the atrium of the new headquarters and asked if she could leave a couple of flyers advertising it. And the center for the development of dance in Leeds, the place where new dance is to be created and spread amongst the people told her that no, she couldn't, and out she walked again.
I do not know much about politics, and funding is something that fortunately I haven't had to deal with yet, but I certainly will. So I'm not sure how much Yorkshire Dance's death has to do with Northern Ballet's HQ's birth. I do think, however, that instead of printing out optimistic little leaflets, Yorkshire Dance and all of us who make use of it, should not let the real jewel on Leeds' crown gather dust. We may not be aware of what the center actually has to offer us, but we surely will once it is gone.
The Odile Complex
Wednesday, 26 January, 2011 | Comments | Make A Comment
Like a dog that eats grass to binge and purge, so does Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan regurtitate an incredible amount of incongruencies and misconceptions about the dance world to its eager audiences. 'Have you seen Black Swan yet?' is the question of the week at school, and from what responses I hear (quite sadly, from dance students), I have no choice but to credit the film industry with yet another victory for yet another distorted portrayal of what life as a dancer is like.
The film has all the elements required for an authentic ballet drama. A quiet, sensitive heroine with her diabolical alter ego, an unaccomplished and controlling mother, a retiring diva that doesn't quite want to let go, and a despotic and pervy company director (the same characters as in Gore Vidal's 1954 black novel, Death in the Fifth Position , as Roger Salas points out in Spanish newspaper El Pais, together with many parallels in the plot- has anyone seen any reference to the novel in the film's credits?). Incidentally, these are also the dramatis personae of any Gothic horror you put your hands on.
Here lies the question. Do we read the film as a dance film, or as a Gothic-psycho thriller?
We couldn't call the film a documentary- it is too pseudo-Gothic for that- but then, we know how audiences loved to see the pointe-induced blood on the protagonist's feet in Save the Last Dance, and the best moments in The Kids From Fame was whenever Debbie Allen took out her cane to shout at some lycra-wearing student about how they would never make it on Broadway.
Aronofsky also knows this, or else he wouldn't feed us one cliché after another the way he does. A grapefuit as breakfast, ballerinas with severe mental issues that will stab each other for a role, no cake whatsoever for Miss Portman, many moments of bullimic purging in the toilet, and of course, a director that will gladly give you a raise in the company's ranks as long as you too give him a raise. It's our daily bread. In fact just today I nipped into the toilet before centre practice so that my tights would look baggy. I had my grapefuit after class.
Hamburg's own, John Neumeier, is understandably enraged:
'...The ballet world is pictured as inhabited by sick people, monstrous people abusing young anorexic girls. If you portray a foreign, unknown world like the ballet in this unhealthy, negative way, it will only be the bad things people will remember. People are unable to question the images shown and thus take them for granted...'
So, I ask you- if you belong to the dance community in any way-, even when this is a work of fiction, can you honestly enjoy and praise a film that perpetuates so many harmful myths? Perhaps I wouldn't be as bothered about this if it didn't hit so close to home. I suffered a lot, together with many other male dancers in Spain, thanks to misconceptions about homosexuality and dance. I wouldn't support anything that perpetuated these myths.
It is them that make the film attractive, not dance itself. Ballet has been relegated to a third plane and this is obvious due to its lack of quality in the film. First of all, Portman, who can act, is not a ballet dancer, and knowing this I still do not understand the many scenes where they insist on rehearsing the 'swan arms' which she simply cannot, and will not, do! She is not the posessor of the beautifully high arches that climb off her bed, as we later see when she writhes around in it. You have to wonder if there isn't a ballerina out there who can memorize a few lines and dance Odile, or at least move and carry herself as if she could dance it.
The choreographic arrangements by Benjamin Millepied (NYCB) are almost as tragic as Odette and Siegfried's fate. And the production which they rehearse is a Swan Lake I'd love to see - the fourth act takes place near a lake surrounded by huge dolmen-like structures and a steep staircase like the ones in the Aztec pyramids, up which Odette climbs to her death (Swan Lake meets Le Sacre, perhaps?). Dolmens aside, the production seemed a lot easier to watch than Anthony Dowell's for the RB, which I saw last Saturday and which was blindingly baroque.
Yes, you can watch this film and enjoy it as a thriller, and never think about it again until you start getting cuts on your fingers or grow some feathers. But the uninitatied in the world of dance will enjoy the thriller and be reaffirmed that yes, dance is all about anorexic, viciously ambititous and perverse people. I am left wondering why it is that general audiences love to hear about a dancer's woes, and not their joy. Neumeier also wonders this:
'...However, you would never accuse athletes of effecting performance and exercising, of putting special attention to their bodies and from time renouncing things. As a dancer you have to refrain from some things, of course - but there is so much reward in dancing. Human beings are free to choose and to judge what is good for them. Being a dancer is a privilege. Dancers are not as dependent or immature as portrayed in the movie. They are independent individuals who have their own ideas and actively contribute to the art of dancing. They question and, most importantly, they enjoy dancing."
Monday, 17 January, 2011 | Comment | Make A Comment
When I was sixteen and suffering through the agonies of my first heartbreak, I remember reading an interview to Alicia Alonso in which she declared that 'the Dance' (her capitalization, not mine) was her only lover. Being the hormonal yet keen dance student I was at the time, I took her words to heart.
Who cared that my first unrequited crush (who happened to be a considerable amount of years older than me) had dumped me on the day of my 16th birthday, as I poured us some of the dodgy-looking martini I had stolen from my parents' cupboard? My heart had room only for the Dance, which was a very possessive lover but would surely never leave me for someone closer to its age (or with whom it was actually legal to have a relationship).
I went with my newfound knowledge to my ballet teacher at the time, and maybe because she had experienced many more years of mal d'amour than I had, or because her CV was more an exercise in creative writing than a record of an actual career, she snidely said of Alonso's words:
'Well, that's fine for her to say, she's been happily married for more than twenty years and has danced all she ever wanted!'
Her bitterness could not affect the romance my epiphany with the director of the Cuban Ballet had begun, but life certainly did. For a month I had dates at the barre or would stay in, watching a DVD and stretching with my abstract lover, and I couldn't be happier. But then I kind of lost interest and strayed away. I met somebody else, and after that more people, and whenever it didn't work, I'd come back running to the Dance with my tail between my legs, but the Dance wasn't always up for taking me back.
And although I could sometimes find solace in the studio, or could take my mind off things by working hard, the pain of being rejected, or seeing love end, is not something that dance can cure. And of course it can't touch you like a person can.
It's been a few years since I read the interview, and looking back now, and I'm not particularly a fan of the over-the-top character that is Alonso, I have to admit that there may be some truth to her words. I've matured now and do not fall love-sick every fortnight, which means that my relationship with the Dance is a lot healthier, and we've reached a very interesting point in it.
Perhaps because I've advanced considerably in my training since when I was sixteen I can see what Alonso meant. The satisfaction that small things- a slightly more turned-out foot, an extra turn you fit in, jumping that bit quicker- give me now are sometimes a lot more rewarding than many of the dates I've been on. I don't mind sleeping alone the days I know I have danced the best I can (not that I do when I feel rubbish), and the thrill that is attacking a new piece of choreography, with all its challenges, can be nearly as exciting as the first time you make love with someone new.
By no means do I think that dance fulfils all my physical or emotional needs. But it is true that as time goes on, I find more satisfaction in it than in people who are not worth the time you're giving them. Time during which you could be getting that extra pirouette in.
So yes, I'm single, and in a profession in which (as we were told on the first day by the Principal of NSCD) relationships are a tough job, but somehow having the Dance to go back to every day can ease off the need for someone else- or even get rid of it. And if all be said, having a relationship with dance is difficult in itself- it may always be there for you, but it can be treacherous, beguiling and cruel.
But that I shall write about after the divorce.
A Grimm Dominatrix
Saturday, 18 December, 2010 | Comments | Make A Comment
Angelin Preljocaj, master of enticing pelvises and possesor of a wildly perturbed imagination, brought his Snow White to Gran Canaria, where the show was publicized as a Christmas family event and where we were promissed, by the numerous posters around the city of Las Palmas and through many television ads, the delicious suppleness and articulation of Nagisa Shirai's body.
A family show it was not; and Shirai's only appereance was in the cover of the programme; instead we got an equally supple but less engaging Caroline Jaubert as Snow White.
Entire families sat eagerly in the auditorium of the Galdós Theatre, ready for some authentic Christmas entertainment. The moment the curtain went up, however, such expectations were cruelly broken. Snow White's mother, clad in black, performed a beautifully excruciating solo to 79 D's disturbing sound effects- a solo through which she both gave birth and died. With little compassion for his deceased wife, the King- also in black- picks up his baby, orders his wife to be taken away, and dances with his daughter- who grows from an infant into a young woman in the space of two minutes- Jaubert hiding behind one of the black columns desgined by Thierry Leproust, and substituting the little girl who played the young princess.
What follows is probably the biggest deception of the ballet- a very strange court scene, where the King, with much ridiculous flapping of his cape (making him look like an over-performed villain of a melodrama) commands dancing and other forms of merry-making from his courtiers. The dancing here- a modern, very Preljocaj take on court dances- lacked the engagement or strength that the choreographer's group scenes tend to have: not only were formations unclean, but the timing seemed to be confused at times. The exception here was a trio performed by three female dancers, where the staccatto music was perfectly protrayed by their movement and which had moments of nicely contrasting lyricism.
Enter the Stepmother. The palace, with its elevated thrones (bravo, Leproust) and the odd chair here and there, is transformed into a 1930's BDSM brothel. In her leather corset, triangular head piece and red emblems, Patrizia Telleschi looked like the bondage fantasy of the Führer himself. With her were two cat-woman-like minnions, who unexplicably terrorized the entire court. The King abandoned his paternal love for this evil woman, whose cruelty was not fully realized through the choreography or her performance.
I did enjoy the several duets by Snow White and the Prince (Julien Thibault), during the court scene, the forest scene and later on, when Snow White is left, supposedly dead, lying on a glass pane on top of several rocks. The latter had beautiful moments in which the Prince finds all sorts of amazing ways to dance with the corpse, perfectly accompanied by Mahler's music, and it would have been an emotional coup de force had it not its eerie necrophiliac element to it.
The seven dwarves were the most exciting part of the piece; flying about a rocky backdrop on harnesses and incorporating Snow White into their virile, playful movement vocabulary. There were a few incongruencies in their choreography, however, like when Snow White bites the Stepmother's apple- I couldn't quite believe their 'Snow White is dead! Quick, let us grand jetté several times!'; nor their ease at leaving the dead princess lying alone in the forest.
The biggest anti-climax came when, after resucitating, Snow White marries the Prince and everyone is enjoying the wedding. The Stepmother, dressed in a raggy cloak (but still wearing a luscious black leather corset beneath it) enters the scene, and infuriated by Snow White's good luck, literally kicks up a scene that would have looked perfect in Lord of the Dance , but which didn't quite portray the mental breakdown intended.
The biggest assets of the production would have to be Leproust's designs (the elevating thrones, the starlit trees, the dwarve's mine and the huge magic mirror) and Jean Paul Gaultier's costume designs (the Stepmother did look spectacular, and the court's costumes, interestingly, drew from many different time periods and styles but were not set in any of them). The company has many talented dancers with extremely able bodies, who understand Preljocaj's language perfectly well, but this was a shy performance that left the audience wanting a bit more emotional charge from a twisted, pseudo-oedipal libretto that definetely deserved it.
The Canarian Russian Ballet Folly
Wednesday, 8 December, 2010 | Comments | Make A Comment
I am back on my other island- the tropical one- for the Christmas break and as much as I enjoy temperatures over 20 degrees, the Mediterranean diet and spending time with my family, it has only been two days and I feel that one week more of this could possibly make me jump into one of the volcanos that are conveniently spread over the archipelago.
Because, other than in summer, when soaking up all the sand on the beach can take up the entire day, the island can get very tedious. I'm also working my way through loads of Nutcracker and Cinderella reviews and can't help thinking that everything is happening elsewhere, and that what does happen here can easily make you join me in my suicidal volcano dive.
We too, have a Christmas dance season. We have been delighted by a series of Nutcrackers and Sleeping Beauties over the past few years, brought over from- amazingly enough- Imperial Russia. The finest Soviet ballet seamstresses and theatre ushers have walked our stages and danced trepaks and reed flutes until their feet bled. And the Canarian audience attended in flocks, and year after year return home from the theatre believing they have witnessed the miracle that was Nijinsky's ballon.
It makes me cringe when I hear people tell me they are going to see the 'Rrrrussian Ballet' (note the drawl, which isn't just a British sign of ridiculous pretenciousness, but which also happens in Spanish for the same purpose). They may as well say they are going to see the Ballet Russes; the fur coats (and I must remind you of the tropical temperatures we tend to have in December) or smoking suits they sometimes wear indicate that they believe they have paid 20 euros to see the original cast of Le Pavillion d'Armide.
I have seen these Russian companies on several occasions. The two that have struck me the most are Renaissance Russian Ballet, with a Sleeping Beauty that should have never woken up; let alone existed, and The Imperial Russian Ballet (of which empire, I'm still clueless), with a Nutcracker that should have been more aptly called A Nightmare Before Christmas.
The former: Canarian high society gathered eagerly to watch the christening of Aurora, which was also attended by a royal court straight out of Night of the Living Dead, although the zombies in the 1968 cult classic had a bit more spice in them than this corp de ballet. Everyone was amazed, however, by the fairies, especially by the Lilac Fairy, who could have modelled for Green Giant ads anytime, even when off pointe. The rest of her squad had somewhat of an identity complex- Bird Song was also Breadcrumb, without a tutu change to help us understand anything, although she may as well have been Iberian Ham fairy- that was what each thigh of hers looked like (and I've no problem with the size of dancers; I'm just commenting on the disproportion of the entire cast, that, and that I suspect that may be why she couldn't quite close her fifths at times).
The second act waltz had a Chinese peasant who was wearing glasses; the four princes would've rather been having some vodka elsewhere than dance with Aurora; a snail crossing a road would've been more exciting than Carabosse; and the Lilac Fairy gave us a lot of booty as she sent everyone to sleep. I'd comment on the grand pas de deux but there was none; the wedding variations were passable (but if the dancers had indeed graduated from any ballet school, so they should be).
The latter: the fact that this was the Imperial Ballet caused such a stir in the Canaries that Adolfo Dominguez could have shut store for the holidays, such were his fur and suit sales. Starring alongside the company's cook and hairdresser were the kids of one of the local dance schools. The overture may have been stolen from Bourne's darker take on the classic: a very old and camp Drosselmeyer walked across the stage endlessly, taking very young children from wing to wing. The party that followed was a ball of confusion. Clara, who was about to reach menopause instead of coming of age, was followed around the stage by a herd of kids who were costumed for their primary school's Christmas pageant. Drosselmeyer wafted about like a true Blackpool drag diva; and and incredible ammount of the music was put to waste with his eerie pantomime with the children.
Act two was equally bizarre. Arabian Coffee looked like a scene from Top Girls; the flower waltz had Copacabana-like costumes and the grand pas adage, which has as accentuated a music as you can get, was extremely off timing. This, however, did not stop the audience roaring; they jumped from their seats screaming 'bravo'; no flowers were thrown onstage because fortunately, they still had a bit of decency left.
After such a circus, the audience left elated, and I suppose the unitiated do have an easier job at getting entertained. It just makes me wonder what ballet- or bad ballet- has that can cause such a fuss. Is it the everlasting myth that attending 'the ballet' raises your social status somewhat, even if you fall asleep on your chair? Or is just nice to watch tutus and crowns (however frill-less) and pointe shoes (even when those fifths aren't quite crossed?). And why did the audience leave the auditorium in numbers during butoh company Sankai Juku's performance of Hibiki, which regardless of its weirdness, was extremely better performed than the two ballets I've described?
The Canarian audience is, sadly, unlearned and easily pleased; and I think we may not be the only Spanish audience in this situation. I am left wondering what can be done to change this- if budget is the question, perhaps Duato's now deceasing monopoly of the dance scene has something to do with.
Miss Rojo did put it quite bluntly to Dance Europe: 'It is a shame that Spanish audiences would rather pay to watch any Russian company than the company they pay with their own taxes.'
A Room of One's Own
Wednesday, 17 November, 2010 | Comments | Make A Comment
I'm sorry for the considerably long time that has elapsed since my last entry. It has been a stressful time, what with college and the magazine, and a brief stay at Hebden Bridge (which is a lovely little town, I highly recommend you visit it), and, to add to all that, I've moved house and am now living in a little flat on my own (hence the title of the entry; I am not continuing my rant on women and gay people's right to political correctness, sorry Mrs. Woolf).
Before we broke up for the summer holidays, my housemates and I went to see a massive house that a friend of ours was going to let. It was indeed huge but as for what else the house was I wasn't sure- what seemed like half a century's worth of dust covered any space that wasn't already covered by an assortment of furniture, appliances, and basically, crap. The house had potential; it had many rooms, one of which we wanted to make a dance studio; it was incredibly cheap, and the landlord, who'd be the one who'd fix the house up, said it'd be in perfect living conditions by September.
It didn't occur to me to believe him; and so I said afterwards, but rather than Carlos my name should be Cassandra (who could tell the future, but due to Apollo's curse was never actually believed), and my housemates agreed to move in come September, and I followed in line.
Luckily I wasn't the first one to arrive in September, and didn't have to make my way through the jungle of furniture and crap that had only grown thicker during the summer months, like one of my housemates did; or had to survive without water for a couple of days. When I did arrive, however, I had to share a bed for over a month, as I had no room; several of the windows were open to the public 24 hours, which allowed an icy draft into the house; electricity ran on ten pound pay-as-you-go cards, which meant that several times there was no electricity in the kitchen- and you know what happens to frozen meat when the fridge goes off.
As I sat having breakfast one day, in my anorak, scarf and gloves, I thought surely this was not a healthy way of living.
And Cassandra struck again. Soon we all started getting coughs. One night I kept hearing them from different rooms of the house- it felt like a Victorian TB sanitarium. And it's not wonder- coming out of the shower, or getting into it, was agony- and many times my bed was almost wet from the humidity.
When a house is that big, you'd expect that what happens in the first floor will be almost inaudible in the third. Another broken expectation. One Friday night (or morning, rather), on the weeked before Dance Europe goes to press, which is my busiest time of the month, my housemates decided to have an impromptu drumming session after a night out. I could hear every single drum, but not only that- every single word they said was perfectly clear. I came down from my room in the third floor, in a rage (and in my pants),screamed at them, and we almost didn't speak for two days after.
It was clear I had to leave. I loved my housemates- we're all Spanish and had lived together for over a year; one of them is my best friend since I came over to Leeds five years ago and another is in my year at NSCD. But training as a dancer, and working in something intellectually demanding as is the magazine means you have to stick to a different type of living- one that includes windows and central heating.
So I found a little flat for myself. I've only been here for two weeks, but I can sort of tell the difference already. The cough and the runny noses are gone. If I decide to go to bed at ten, or at midnight, I'm not awoken by people who don't have to get up at 7 am and who can afford to stay up until late hours chatting. And somehow, the hours I spend alone at home (which, due to my schedule, are not that many) serve to kind of cool me down, as if they centered my body and mind and got me ready for the next day.
More than once I've gotten bored out of my mind, and can't be bothered with centering my body or mind, and I head over to the other house, which is round the corner. And it's great, because I'm no longer moaning about the cold or wondering if I'll be able to sleep. I can just enjoy being with them.
And of course I'd love to live with them and stay up past midnight and join in on the impromptu drumming sessions. But what appears to be this year's running theme comes back to mind: I want to succeed in a career that demands more than it often returns and living as healthily as possible is up there on the top of its requirement list.
Political Correctness Incorrectness
Saturday, 23 October, 2010 | Comments | Make A Comment
One of the things that still amazes me the most about living in the UK is the strange conception of political correctness that people seem to follow. I thought it was more a matter of what you can or cannot say to people, but that this day and age, and particularly through a medium such as contemporary dance, you could say what you wanted when you went onstage.
Yes, a very idealist thought, as I've found out.
I recently created a piece for a student platform called 'Ain't No Closet Big Enough'- a piece about the desire to be straight when you're gay, in a nutshell. The first part of the piece had a text from a Spanish gay author, which talks about cruising and the first time he was kissed by a girl, who happened to be Asian and 'a bit morbidly obese'.
I was very happy with the result, and got a lot of positive feedback- people loved the piece and laughed all the way through, at which I was very surprised, as I thought much of the text- particularly the cruising bits- were a bit sad.
After such good reactions to it, I was in a bit of a high, when I was suddenly stopped in my tracks. I was told that there was a reference in my text that could have been read as very offensive, and that I had to be very careful with.
I ran through a list of the things I thought could have been offensive, and came up with:
- 1. The use of the words 'fuck', 'tits', 'fiercely pointing nipples', 'sperm'...
- 2. Suggesting that all gay men go cruising in dark parks
- 3. My slightly mysoginistic approach to women (within the context of the piece)
- 4. A display of violence against women when I pushed one of the female dancers and threw her on the floor, whilst smiling.
- 5. Dressing one of the other female dancers like an 80's hooker.
The list could go on, as the more I thought about it, anything, if you wanted to read it that way, could be offensive. But none of these seemed to be the problem. Where I messed up was by saying that the first girl who kissed me was 'Asian' and 'morbidly obese'.
Before I go on, I just want to say that I am extremely sorry if anyone was offended by these two words, I have absolutely nothing against Asian or morbidly obese people, and the point of the piece was not, in the least way possible, to make fun of them.
Apparently, the Arts Council is endeavouring to create all sorts of performances that reach out to all races and unite them and the whole nine yards. Which of course if a beautiful thing to do. And which in turn makes my reference to the unsuccesful kisser something completely banal.
But I wonder: if the girl had been, say, Spanish and morbidly obese, would there have been so much trouble?
And I am not in any way comparing races but I do find that the actual thought of thinking that saying 'Asian' and 'morbidly obese' is offensive is actually more racist than going onstage and saying it. Are we not, by having to walk on eggshells when it comes to particular races, making the divide even bigger? I have seen numberless references and jokes about Spanish and gay people in the UK- onstage, TV, everywhere- and never have I been offended, because within the context of humour you need to understand references for what they are- jokes.
And that brings me to another point: why was it only offensive that I mentioned the Asian girl, and not that I implied that gay men like to and are destined to go cruising, or by depicting women purely as sexual beings, or by throwing a woman around the stage? Is it only particular races and physical conditions that deserve this sort of propiety? Is it alright to be as offensive as you want to the gay community and women?
This has been a very discouraging experience. For once I went onstage and spoke about something that was real to me and, in many ways, heartfelt. I communicated with my audience and we had a good connection. And I am told off for it, which makes me think that I should perhaps go back to the abstract contemporary dance that has very little to say.
But I can't see that as the way to go. It may be a matter of the place where I am now- and their views on what dance artists should or shouldn´t express- but for me, contemporary dance is about contemporary life, about bringing out what is inside and around you. I see absolutely no point in exploring time and space endlessly, as we seem to be asked to do. I don't care about either of them, but I do care about my self and what I experience. And it seemd like people would rather watch my insides than my exploration of two abstract concepts which our beloved Merce and Trisha already did to the point of exhaustion.
My conclusion: political correctness is an incredibly ironic thing that applies only to some and leaves many out, and is a perfect way to censor individual voices.
Letter to a Nephew
Monday, 27 September, 2010 | Comments | Make A Comment
It's been almost two weeks since I last saw you at the airport, where your eyes seemed about to burst with every airplane you saw take off, and it's cold and rainy here in Leeds which may be why I'm thinking about you and everyone else at home so much these days.
You're not even two years old, and although it'll be years before you can understand any of this, I thought I'd write you and tell you how much I miss you anyway.
I had a great summer with you. The beach, the sun, the bars...nothing quite compares to how much I enjoyed watching you kick a ball with near adult dexterity, or walking up and down the streets with you looking for dogs whose tails you could pull. It baffled me how you could grow so much in such a short time and as amazed as I was by you I couldn't help feeling a strange sadness at the pit of my stomach.
I want to apologize for not being there with you most of the time, for missing out on all the daily wonders you experience. I am very far doing something that I love, and when you grow older you'll realize that often we have to sacrifice very special things in order to follow some crazy passion.
Because, in a very irrational way, I was kind of hurt when I found out that, with your limited vocabulary, you could ask for a lolly but hadn't given me a name still. It was a relief, however, that you ran up to me the day I got back. You are learning so much every day that I was scared you might forget about people you don't see often in an attempt to retain all you discover about the world around you.
Don't think, however, that I'm not up to date on your daily antics. I knew, from the moment you started doing it, that for some inexplicable reason you used the Basque word for 'grandad' to call your grandfather (although nobody in our family speaks Basque). I laughed my head off when I heard you had angrily bit your grandmother when she told you off for playing with the VCR. And I had a picture of you dressed like a bear, looking like a little dancing brown teddy bear with two pokey ears, a couple of hours after you went to your town's carnival parade. I still use it as a wallpaper and see you every time I check my phone.
And I try to make up for my abscence whenever I'm home. I'll gladly put aside my football phobia and kick a ball with you for hours, and shout with the same effusion as when Spain won the world cup every time you score a goal. I'll let you sit on my shoulders as you stare out the garden walls at home, noseing about the street and mumbling a never-ending soliloquy that only you understand. Not to mention the time spent on the suspiciously warm kid's pool, where you love to splash about during the hottest hours of the day, when everybody else is having a nap.
As I said, one day you'll understand that we often have to do painful things in order to achieve what we want. It saddens me every day to think that you are changing by the hour and that I'm not there to see your transformation. But I also hope that one day you'll also understand that although people may be far from each other, they can also be extremely close, and that distance does not mean you aren't in my mind every day, and will always be there.
Luckily I didn't miss the greatest event you've experienced yet, and I think that I can also call it the greatest moment I've lived through. I was there when you were born, and held you before you were even a couple of hours old. I'm sure one day you'll be able to do the same, and you'll understand why I can't quite find any words to write what it is that I felt.
I'll keep on following your daily news, and three months isn't that long if I think I'll be seeing you after them.
Could you find a name for your uncle in the meantime?
Madrid in Retrospect, or How I Emptied Up my Closet
Tuesday, 31 August, 2010 | Comments | Make A Comment
Having a few hours to kill in Madrid before my flight home I decided to walk around my favourite spots in the center, with a risky jump into the periphery, until I came back to a café full of memories (both for me and for half the gay community of Madrid), Mamá Inés, where I'm sat now, trying to organize the emotional stir fry that this tour has brought about. Although much of what I have to say has little to do with dance, I will use this entry as a form of auto-exorcism, something we all need to do every now and then.
So I got off the train at Sol, and saw the new station- it was still being built when I was last here, last August. Other than that there weren't that many changes- a few places had closed down, but, rather inconveniently for the melodramatic poetics of this entry, I think just for the summer.
I wandered along the streets under the asphixiating heat and came across Maty, the dance shop where I fell in love with Sansha Pro and decided to burn down Bloch and Casimiro- and like that, many different spots in which I saw perfectly vivid recreations of memories from last year. I got the subway to the conservatoire (a waste of a euro on an incredibly silly nostalgic whim, as I knew the park complex the school is in would not open until mid-September), and again, an assault of memories in their different levels of emotional intensity.
Why was the city having this effect on me? When I returned to Leeds, or when I go back home, yes, I remembered things, but never to this level of vividness. Everywhere I went earlier today seemed to shoot a fireball of emotions at me, fireballs which I had to face and diggest before I could move on (and by diggest I also mean having the respective post-meal cigarrette. I sound like a truck driver who smokes four packets a day by now).
It dawned on me that Madrid, the city, and what happened in it (at the personal, proffessional and educational levels) had bitch slapped me in the face like nothing had ever done before, and in doing so it had whipped assed me into shape. It's a city that taught me I had to become an adult before I got run over by its hectic traffic.
And the slap hurt;it still does, and I can feel its five fiery fingers on my face day on and day off.
So I sit here now with a caña and some crisps and I realize that I have, finally, faced many of the ghosts I left wandering aimlessly about when I left Madrid. And a curious feeling, one which I try not to feel too often, pride, overcomes me. I've faced them, and what's more, I can say that I've come out stronger after my urban struggle. My body is moving towads where I want it to be, I have a good job and great people around me. My experiences and disappointments here have toughened up my skin and have allowed me to get going where I want to go.
I also walked past a little bar where I once sat alone having a drink after a terrible day at college. A lady walked into the bar and asked me if I wanted my fortune telling (as only happens in Chueca, Madrid) and I accepted, not because I believed in tarot cards but because I was starting to feel very self-conscious. She told me that the current hard times (she even described several of them, which was eerie) were only a process of self-discovery that would take me places. It may sound like a very generic fortune, but whoever that lady was, I wish I could find her now and buy her a drink to tell her how right she was.