When I’m trying to explain to people what I think is grand and noble about movement, I say that the reason it is our most valuable connector as human beings is because that person onstage, who has a body similar to ours, is using that body in proxy for us. That kind of transference and connection is a very poetic way of saying something that I think the doctor’s given his life to understanding: how an idea about movement can actually be felt. This fact is the way that I’ve been able to deal with issues of identity. And the making of art, the sharing of it, is in some ways — healing sounds way too sentimental — but it bridges the gap between individuals. When I read some of Dr. Sacks’s meditations on how the brain works, in a way he demystifies these things that I have a feeling about. But in another way he encourages me to look with more courage at the physical world.
Shinichi Maruyama‘s previous photographic works captured the momentary stances of water, using a high speed camera to freeze images of fluid in motion. For his new series, NUDE, Maruyama teamed up with choreographer Jessica Lang to create photos that encapsulate every granular moment of a nude dancer’s motion. Each image is composed of 10,000 photos of a brief instance.
Gorgeous in its dervish-ness.
While editing a post on Rosh Hashanah, women, and sealed spaces for On Being, I found myself enchanted by this choreography set to Ani DiFranco’s “Splinter.” Makes you feel good and peaceful, doesn’t it?
Tap, Ball Tap, Hop, Shuffle, Tap!
National Tap Dance Day is celebrated every year on May 25th, which is the birthday of American Tap Dancer and actor, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Poston, Arizona. A young evacuee of Japanese ancestry entertains her fellow evacuees with a demonstration of her tap dancing ability. This was one number in an outdoor musical show.
Francis Stewart, photographer. From the Central Photographic File of the War Relocation Authority
It’s Friday. It’s Memorial Day weekend. Lay it down!
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Expanding Our Definition of Dalcroze Eurhythmics
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Photo by Lee/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0
Kathy Thomsen, president of the Dalcroze Society of America, took issue with the way we described the function of Dalcroze eurhythmics in both our script for “Meredith Monk’s Voice” and in Krista’s journal entry about the interview. Rather than slapping us on the hand, she provided this helpful clarification, which we will most certainly incorporate into the script if we rebroadcast this show again:
“I enjoyed listening to your recent interview with Meredith Monk but was dismayed to hear your description of a musical experience Ms. Monk had as a child. You said, “She learned a musical method called Dalcroze eurhythmics, a music method to correct early problems with bodily coordination.” In the online interview you write, “Dalcroze eurhythmics uses music to create physical alignment.”
Whatever benefits Ms. Monk reaped from Dalcroze eurhythmics, those descriptions are not apt. Dalcroze, a Swiss music educator (1865-1950) believed the body was the principal instrument of musical expression and response. Dalcroze eurhythmics engages the whole person — body, mind, and sensibility — in the captivating and often joyous pursuit of moving to music. This whole-body movement is purposeful, and is connected intimately to the music, which is usually improvised on-the-spot by the teacher in response to the students’ movements.
While improved bodily coordination may be a result of Dalcroze eurhythmics, its purpose is to promote discovery — discovery of music and of one’s deep connection to it. And Dalcroze is not just for young children. We have classes in colleges and music conservatories, in public and private schools, and in community music programs for people of all ages. I’m delighted to learn that Dalcroze eurhythmics was part of Ms. Monk’s early music education and that it left a lasting impression.”
Many thanks for the correction, Kathy, and we promise to get it right next time.
Meredith Monk’s Voice: A Sensory Experience That Reaches Beyond Anything in Print
by Krista Tippett, host
The singer and composer Meredith Monk is a kind of archeologist of the human voice. She’s also an archeologist of the human soul, with a long-time Buddhist practice. Through music and meditation, she reaches to places in human experience where words get in the way — and she shared with me what she has learned about mercy and meaning, about spirit and play.
For years we here at On Being have meant to, planned to, interview more musicians. Then in the last months, for varying reasons, conversations with Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, and now Meredith Monk fell into place. What joy.
After this experience with Meredith Monk, I’m shying away from describing her with the label “performance artist.” Her music is avant-garde, but it also feels primal, ancient. She’s called herself an archeologist of the human voice. The woman we meet in this conversation is also an archeologist of the human spirit. She has a long-time Buddhist practice. Playfully, and reflectively, she mines life and art for meaning.
As listeners to On Being know, I begin every conversation, however accomplished or erudite my guest, by learning something about his or her childhood. We can all trace interesting and substantive lines between our origins and our essence, wherever we are in life. These can be joyful. They can painful. But they are raw materials that have formed us. In Meredith Monk’s case, a life in music was almost inevitable; three generations of musicians preceded her. She struggled with eyesight problems and issues with bodily coordination. Her mother — a singer in the golden age of radio — found a program called Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which uses music to create physical alignment. Later on, as a young artist, Meredith Monk describes a moment of “revelation” that the voice could be flexible like the body — fluid like the spine — something that could dance and not merely sing.
She sang before she could speak in any case, as she tells it, and after experimenting with classical musical education in college, she gave herself over to her own distinctive voice, her own art, which is rich with songs that use words sparingly or not at all. As our show with her opens, you hear her singing a hauntingly beautiful piece, “Gotham Lullaby.” It is a demonstration of one of the things she talks about, eloquently, in this conversation — the power of music to reach where words can get in the way. This can be unfamiliar, even uncomfortable for the listener, as for the performer. But it is a deeply human experience, essentially contemplative and yet infused with the emotion that music can convey like no other form of human expression.
There is so much I carry with me out of this interview. It simply enlivens the world, and deepens its hues a bit. “The human voice is the original instrument,” she says, “so you’re going back to the very beginnings of utterance. In a way it’s like the memory of being a human being.”My teenagers stretch me to appreciate that this is the redemptive effect even of music that is strange and unfamiliar to my ears and my body. Meredith Monk brings this home to me as well, but differently.
I’m also challenged by her insistence that in our media-saturated world, we must, for the sake of our souls, continue to seek out direct experiences like live artistic performance. The very point of art, she says, like the very goal of spiritual life as the Buddha saw it, is to wake us up. The sense of transcendence we sometimes feel in these settings is not a separate experience but an effect of being awake, of being fully alive.
But this is too many words. Meredith Monk’s voice, and the radio we’ve crafted from it, is a sensory experience that reaches beyond anything I could print on this page. Listen. And enjoy.
And, if you have some time, I highly recommend listening to our playlist of Meredith Monk’s most meaningful songs from across the years, which she personally selected for us while doing research for my interview. Stream all eleven tracks and listen at your leisure.
Dancing the Stories of the Orishas
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
In Cuban Santeria (also known as La Regla Ocha and La Regla Lucumi), orishas are revered deities who rule over different earthly elements. They are called through dance and drum rituals to interact with humans.
Oshun, for example, is an orisha associated with fresh water. She represents female sensuality and beauty. Oshun’s movement is fluid and coquettish, which is what you’d expect from a goddess of beauty. Her signature color is yellow and she typically carries a fan with her, which she sometimes wields as a weapon. When Oshun laughs, she’s preparing to punish someone. It’s only when she cries that she’s truly happy.
This summer, I realized a decades-old dream of traveling to Cuba to study Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, specifically the dances of the orishas. Before the trip, I understood the dances as reflections of the orisha’s personality. But Alfredo O’Farril Pacheco (pictured below, in red shirt), a master dance instructor based in Havana, says that the orisha dances also tell a story. When you know the story, it changes how you embody the dance.
In the case of Oshun, one dance movement pantomimes the orisha splashing water on her body. You can see this in the video at about 53 seconds. Oshun is bathing in a river, preparing to seduce the warrior Ogun.
At the time, Ogun was ”ranking off a lot of people’s heads,” as O’Farril Pacheco explains in Spanish. The other orishas knew they couldn’t stop Ogun by force, so Oshun was recruited to seduce him out of the forest and stop him from killing. Before she could begin her temptation, Oshun first needed to clean herself after menstruating; so she washes herself in the river, splashing water over her back during the process.
I learned this Oshun movement years ago, but never knew the story. Before I would scoop my arms forward, towards my heart. O’Farril Pacheco offered the image of the river and the story of the seduction and I started lifting my hands higher, above my heart, and “tossing the water” over my back.
He also taught us to think about the environment the orishas inhabit when we’re dancing. Some of the orishas live in the forest. When you walk in the forest you have to pay attention and pick up your feet. There’s also a difference between owning the forest and living in it. When you live in a place but don’t own it, you tread with alertness and caution. These narrative elements aren’t extraneous. They convey rich layers of meaning through movement.
Another dancer I met on my trip, who is initiated into Santeria, told me that an enduring theme of Oshun’s narrative is that people constantly underestimate her. In a parallel way, I underestimated the narrative richness of the orisha dances. I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface and have so much more to learn. Oh what a gift to learn these stories, and dance these stories anew.
About the lead image: Callejon de Hamel. (photo: Amy Goodman/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Choreographer Alvin Ailey’s “Blood Memories”: Revelations Turns 50
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Revelations, the choreographic masterpiece of the late Alvin Ailey. The dance tells the story of the African-American experience and the struggle to resist and transcend oppression seeded by slavery and arrive at a collective liberation as a people.
Since its New York City debut in 1960, Revelations has been performed in 71 countries on six continents. The musical score features traditional spirituals — some of them echoing songs Joe Carter sang for us, including “Wade in the Water” and “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?”
In “Celebrating Revelations at 50,” Alvin Ailey and artistic director Judith Jamison reflect on the meaning, spiritual roots, and enduring legacy of this dance work. As Ailey describes:
“The first dances I ever made were what I like to call ‘blood memories.’ My roots are also in the gospel churches of the South where I grew up. Holy blues. Paeans to joy. Anthems to the human spirit.”
In the finale of its concluding suite “Move Members Move!” the female dancers are outfitted in their Sunday church best with long yellow dresses, matching fans, and elegant hats. As company member Briana Reed explained to The New York Times, Ailey dancers are trained to hold their hands and elbows in very specific ways: “not by your hip, like you’re being sassy, but up near your ribs, so that it gives the upper body a more dignified carriage.”
The significance of dignity is something Joe Carter spoke about too. The spirituals provided a path for expressing and claiming one’s dignity within the constraints of a demeaning, all-encompassing racist social system. As Joe Carter tells it, they helped slaves to articulate hope through song:
“[T]hey were the expression of the great pain and the sorrow. But at the same time, they were always looking upward. They were always reaching. There was always some level of hope, as opposed to the concept of the blues. The blues was just singing about your troubles, and there was no hope. But there’s always the glory hallelujah someplace saying, ‘Oh, and on that glory hallelujah, then we fly.’”
Joe Carter’s voice carries forward through the words of Judith Jamison describing Ailey’s artistic vision for the rousing concluding phrase of Revelations:
“He understood about when someone would chug down the aisle because they had that spirit going through them. They weren’t just doing a dance. They actually felt something. And it was their great faith, and their great belief. We are joyous in that we see hope from despair. Always. It is never-ending hope.”
(photo: Ailey Archives)
Flight Attendants Choreograph Gaga
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
We talk about all the ways people give new meaning to their lives. The conversation points are often complex and deep. But, sometimes it just takes jazzing up the mundane tasks of our work lives, like these Cebu Pacific Airlines flight attendants did with a bit of Lady Gaga — and choreographed to boot. Fun and fantastic!