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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

allegroassai:

Uliana Lopatkina in Swan Lake 

Just adore how she holds her right hand.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

allegroassai:

Uliana Lopatkina in Swan Lake 

Just adore how she holds her right hand.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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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.
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Bill T. Jones~Bill T. Jones

Identity. Just another one of the paths we can take when we finally orchestrate an interview with the great choreographer for On Being. Oh, and we will do so one day. *smile*

(via trentgilliss)

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kthread:




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.


Wow. Link.



Gorgeous in its dervish-ness.

kthread:

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.

Wow. Link.

Gorgeous in its dervish-ness.

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trentgilliss:

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?

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todaysdocument:

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

todaysdocument:

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

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Expanding Our Definition of Dalcroze Eurhythmics

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Tree SpiritPhoto 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.

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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. Meredith Monk in Songs of AscensionThrough 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. Meredith Monk's Most Meaningful SongsThe 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.

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"Poetry is to prose what dancing is to walking." —John Wain, British novelist and poet (1925-1994), from Personal Choice: A Poetry Anthology
Photo by Steven Depolo. (Taken with instagram)

"Poetry is to prose what dancing is to walking."
John Wain, British novelist and poet (1925-1994), from Personal Choice: A Poetry Anthology

Photo by Steven Depolo. (Taken with instagram)

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Dancing the Stories of the Orishas

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Callejon de Hamel

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.

Dance teachers Alfredo O'Farril Pacheco and Barbara GutierrezHe 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)

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Choreographer Alvin Ailey’s “Blood Memories”: Revelations Turns 50

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Alvin Ailey's "Revelations"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)

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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!

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Looking Beyond Your Own Window
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

"if you want to trace yourself back to kings or the pyramids or whatever, that’s nice, but then it’s very important that you turn away from this narcissistic mirror and you begin to look out the window and you begin to realize there are other people out there with different histories, different mythologies, and that your job now is to enter out into the world. Your history, your ideas, is a gift and you’re also in a position where you receive the gift of other peoples’ culture, and that’s the exchange…"
E. Ethlebert Miller in "Black and Universal"

In the quote above, the poet makes a point about the importance of knowing your cultural history while not being so myopic that you close yourself off to other traditions. After seeing a stunning work of contemporary dance by Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrão, this idea is percolating inside me.

Beltrão came up as a hip-hop street dancer in Rio in the 1990s, but over time he grew creatively frustrated with the conventions of a genre that celebrates individual virtuosity and has a predictable soundtrack. He formed his all-male dance troupe Grupo de Rua to push the boundaries of what hip-hop street dance could be if it evolved to include other traditions and movement vocabularies.

Bruno Beltrão/Grupo de Rua de Niteroi

Speaking after this weekend’s performance, Beltrão explained that some audiences react negatively to his work because he doesn’t deliver on people’s expectations. He no longer performs, saying that dancing is an intimate act he prefers to do it at home and with people who are dear to him.

All of this has me thinking about the tension between being a follower versus a shaper of a particular tradition. Are some traditions (artistic, religious, cultural) more open to expansion and reinvention? And, if so, what makes them this way? Is it harder to stay open to change if your tradition has been ignored, misunderstood, or devalued? I don’t have easy answers to these questions and wonder what others think?

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Moving to Think
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

Listening to neuroscientist Adele Diamond’s conversation with Krista, I couldn’t help but think of the talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson has written several books on education, the arts, and creativity, and he’s on our “big list” of potential future guests.

One thing Diamond mentions is a lifelong love of dance, which brought to mind Robinson’s story about Gillian Lynne, who’s best known for choreographing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. He tells the story about how Lynne’s “learning disorder” turned out to be her life’s calling (jump to 15:15 in the video for the story, or read the transcript below):

"… Gillian and I had lunch together one day and I said, ‘Gillian how did you get to be a dancer?’ And she said it was interesting; when she was at school she was really hopeless. And the school in the thirties wrote to her parents and said, ‘We think Julian has a learning disorder.’ She couldn’t concentrate, she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD, wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930’s and ADHD hadn’t been invented, you know, at this point, so it wasn’t an available condition, you know. People weren’t aware they could have that.

Anyway, she went to see this specialist in this oak-paneled room and she was there with her mother and she was led and sat on this chair at the end. And she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school.

And at the end of it — because she was disturbing people and her homework was always late and so on, a little kid of eight — in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said ‘I’ve listened to all these things your mother has told me. I need to speak to her privately.’ So he said, ‘Wait here. We’ll be back. We won’t be very long,’ and they went and left her. But as they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk, and when they got out of the room, he said to her mother, ‘Just stand and watch her.’ The minute they left the room she said she was on her feet moving to the music and they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, ‘You know, Mrs. Lynn, Julian isn’t sick — she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.’

I said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘She did. I can’t tell you, sir, how wonderful it was. We walked into this room and it was full of people like me; people who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.’”

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Dancing “Heaven”
Marc Sanchez, associate producer

Up and coming choreographer Morgan Thorson recently premiered her new work, “Heaven,” at the Diverse Works Art Space in Houston. Here’s her description of the piece:

"This project is inspired by the rigor and austerity of religious practices while decrying the barriers that religion creates. We will approach our research as a devotional practice allowing this intension to essentialize our communal purpose. Simplicity and economy can demonstrate how extreme restriction can be turned into powerful kinesthetic expressions. This project seeks to create a performance that is the sum of perfect gestures and total sensory engagement."

The performance also features original music by Alan and Mimi Sparhawk of the band Low. And, upcoming performances are scheduled at PS 122 in New York, Wesleyan University in Middletown, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

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