Saturday, November 26, 2011

Charles and Lindsey Engage in Dialectic

For no particular reason I recalled this little poem this morning:
Charles and Lindsey Engage in Dialectic
Grizzly bear and mountain lion at play —
Crushing, his logic: cutting, her touché. 
—Ray Oliver

Monday, November 07, 2011

For Daidie's Seventieth

Eastside Road, November 7, 2011—
A FEW DAYS AGO friends came to dinner and to discuss a little project we're working on together; I don't want to talk about it too much at the moment as it's in process.

At one point one of them asked, point-blank, What are your three basic values? Quick, answer, don't think!

And I said, quickly, Attentiveness, Reflection, Enjoyment.

And then the other said And what are the real Indispensables?

And I said Generosity and Gratitude.

These have always seemed to me to be the minimum and necessary qualities for good life, but I was a little surprised at how readily I was able to express them. I think it was because I was already thinking, had already been thinking, if subconsciously, about the attributes I associate with a friend and colleague who had invited us to a birthday party — a seventieth. At the back of my mind I was probably contemplating the likelihood of proposing a toast to her.
Poplars and canal.jpg

We'd already prepared a card for her, with this photograph of a line of trees in our beloved Low Countries. It stands between the villages of Leuth and Zwyllich, not far from Nijmegen, almost exactly halfway along the Pieterpad, the walking path that crosses Netherlands from north to south, about 400 kilometers. I've walked past those poplars three times (Lindsey only once, that's another story), and each time they, and the path, and the canal they border, which runs along the Rhine at that point, move me tremendously. I suppose they represent for me the wonderful collaboration of man and nature, and of course they're a midpoint; they also happen to mark the boundary at that point between two nations, Netherlands and Germany. But the trees I think know nothing of that.

The road offers the same length to everyone, though some choose to walk more or less of it than others do. It takes us where we want to go, and though we could very well turn round and take it back some distance few of us ever do, and then rarely for more than a little. The sky is open to all of us, to all of us equally; and the trees in their wisdom stand on the earth reaching into the sky, as far as they know to reach, that far and no farther, to nearly the same distance, all of them. They choose, I think, to know that much, finding it essential for some reason I don't know, and finding it inessential to know more.

It was a wonderful party, and we were pleased and a little honored to have been invited.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Nearly Ninety

Palo Alto, November 2, 2011–

Extraordinarily rewarding, finally moving performance here last night of Merce Cunningham's Nearly Ninety2, the final work of the American choreographer whose career, I think, puts him in the category of Picasso, Joyce, Einstein, and his own partner John Cage among the greatest minds of his century.

Cunningham died, at ninety, a few months after the premiere of this work, two years ago; and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company has been making a final memorial tour in the intervening time. (The curtain comes down permanently on the company on December 31, 2011.) The farewell tour has been unique among recent MCDC tours for its revival – "reconstruction" is their preferred and, in fact, more accurate word – of pieces from the repertory, going back to the 1950s. I think last night's performance gained from this retrospection. It's always hard to tell which of many factors is prominent in determining one's understanding, during the event, of as complex an observation of a work like Nearly Ninety2 , of course: scored for thirteen dancers, each of whom is a soloist at one time or another, its 24 sections unfold in eighty minutes, without an intermission, in a spellbinding sequence of solos, duets, quartets, and ensembles, fleetingly fast and glacially slow by unexpected turns, in a series of contemplations, I would guess, of the four elements; for this is an elemental ballet, going to the essence of what it is "about": the body in motion, which of course includes the body at rest.

This is, also of course, a matter of life and death. And, not to be recursive, that makes retrospection, especially in the contemplation of this great body of work, now closed in one very important sense, an inescapable component of responding, as an onlooker, to this performance – as it happened, the final performance by MCDC of Merce's final work, though a number of performances of other pieces remain to be given in the next two months.

I recently read Carolyn Brown's big, important, and rewarding memoir Chance and Circumstance (as felicitous a piece of writing as its intelligent title suggests), and that reading, so informative about Merce and John (and Rauschenberg and others) and about the early years of the Company, must be influential as well in responding to last night's performance. I thought I saw Merce himself, in flashes, in Raschaun Mitchell's strong, stately, athletic, intelligent performances, and Carolyn Brown in those of Andrea Weber, sober, graceful, lithe, and equally intelligent.

Brown writes often, both directly and allusively, about the possible role of "meaning" in Merce's work. (These contemplations, usually either foolish or forbidden in other commentators, are among the historically significant aspects of her book.) A choreographer cannot evade consideration of the place of sex – I refuse the word "gender" – in setting his work on his dancers, and a big part of the impact of Merce's choreography, not to mention the dancers' realization of it, has to be the expression of that consideration. Sex and Life and Death, motion and stillness: big matters, to be returned to, the fates willing, in forthcoming visits here.