Monday, October 15, 2007
The show, party, and matsuri
The show, the show, it finally happened and left, like a dream. A huge event in my life, it was here and gone in a week -- A year of preparations, of painting, of promoting, of moving through fears and anxiety and doubt, love, loss, and ecstasy, the highest joys erupting in the depths of my belly, gone now like a dream, gently down the stream.
Where to start? You all know that I met the incredibly talented butoh dancer Yasuchika Konno in Nagoya after seeing his performance this summer. The moment I told him I was a drummer he said, “Oh, well we should do a collaboration.” I almost shit my pants.
At first I just wanted to see his butoh, then maybe talk to him. I never imagined actually collaborating with the guy! After a few emails and phone calls, we became friends, and he agreed to come down to Shikoku and collaborate with me for my solo exhibition. Yabai.
This was that. This event was collaboration between a drummer, a dancer, and a painting. Yasuchika chose which painting would represent the overall theme of the event. At first, we both looked at the charcoal drawing “Ontology.” (I thought the black and white would look great with his red pants). He shook his head, pointed to the moon painting and said “This one is more ambiguous, mysterious, and our performance will be at night, so it will be dark outside. This painting also represents that aspect of the event well, doesn't it?” I could hear the drums in the distance, causing ripples across that still, blue color-field pond. “Perfect,” I said.
All sorts of crazy synchronicities (or is it synchrony?) happened between us during the performance. For example.., wait, back up. Yasuchika arrived in Niihama at 5 on Friday night. I took him to see the gallery, and then we went down to the baseball park by the river to practice. I sat and drummed outside the pitcher’s circle and he danced in and out of it like a shaman.
All around us, the distant sound of the river and the taiko drummers practicing in their neighborhoods for the festival. It was frickn awesome!
After about an hour we walked back home. Emily had arrived from Osaka while we were away, and we all went out to eat. We ate at a Korean restaurant.
Saturday he asked to see a place that inspired my artwork “I want to connect more deeply to your vision.” So I took him to the tree in front of the Zen temple, which I painted as “Before the temple.” Then we went to the hot spring and bathed together. In the steam room, he sat cross-legged with his eyes closed and slowly moved his fingers, as if he was dancing to the movement of the rising steam. Come to think of it, he sort of danced all weekend. When he saw a large bird, he opened his arms and mimicked flight. When he saw a tree, he traced the branches with his fingers and contorted his body to its shape. He did the bird dance like Eli when he saw the pigeons pecking at the leftovers in the rice fields. How often do we talk and play with our bodies like this? How often to converse with nature? He is also an actor, and recently he played the role of an old lady. I asked him if he studied old ladies for the part and he said “no, not really. We already have all the characters inside us.” This made me think of multiple personalities and archetypes/characters/animals that appear to us in dreams. We indeed have a bunch of stuff inside. (When we dream, the mind plays a trick on us. It creates all these realistic characters and things in the mind, and then identifies with only one of the characters, convincing the self that the others are “other.” But in fact, all of them come from the mind. What amazing intelligence constructs the dream and then presents it to my self? What mind does that? Anyway…)
The performance started with the lights on and my recording of the 100-syllable vajrasattva chant blasting on the speakers, filling the room. This was his idea. A few months ago he had asked me to send him a cd of some of my music. I sent about 8 songs, including a few chants I do before my meditation. The one he chose for the show was a long version of the Vajrasattva. I overdubbed myself like Bobby McFerrin. It's interesting he chose this mantra because Vajrasattva is the Buddhist saint of purity. And not just “pure” as in free from defilements, but pure as in totally free. Pure freedom of expression, pure, creative thought, free from habit.
So after the 100 syllables mantra was chanted three times, lights went out, and we snuck in. I sat on my borrowed djimbe in the middle of the room (see picture). In front of me was a large and medium gong/singing bowl, bell, and my alarm clock radio I used to create static and softer rhythms. I hit the large bell given to me by the owner of the gallery and let the ring permeate the dark, silent space. After two or three chimes, one light came on, and we could see the dancer, sitting in meditation, unmoving in front of the painting.
The fact that he decided to start that way was creepy because it was exactly how I envisioned it few months ago. I often consider artwork as a kind of support for meditation or contemplation (it can hold the attention of the viewer in to the eternal womb of the Now, while also injecting new ideas and possible perspectives into the cognitive framework of the mind)/. The color field painting I did of the moon reflected in a pond is probably the most quiet and calming painting I have ever painted. As some of you know, staring at a reflection of the moon in water in real life is quite a stilling and calming thing to do. And put that glowing form in the middle of dark, interpenetrating color fields of purples, grays, greens, and blues…. anyway, I imagined that if he asked me how I'd like for him to start the dance, I world say ‘Start in meditation in front of a painting.” He never asked, and I never told him this. He started that way anyway. Interesting, yes?
I drummed and played the static and singing bowls and he danced around for about 30 minutes. It was over so quickly.
People asked me after the dance, “What was the dancer trying to express?”
I don't know. Rhythms, movement, dance. At the end of the dance he was lying in corpse pose on the ground. That could symbolize a death. At the beginning he was sitting in a meditation pose, staring up at the moon, in the middle of the room. Not moving. Maybe that had a meaning. Butoh is often about the cycles and experiences of life and death. But the entire point of visual and audible arts is that there is no linguistic, analytic meaning to them. What does the shape of a tree mean? What does the sound of rain on a temple roof mean? Meaning is felt and intuited beneath or beyond the thinking, linguistic mind (art, music, color, dreams are the language of the right hemisphere.) And although it’s hard for people to settle with this type of conversation, trying to explain (“ex-plain” or lay out on a plain) the “meaning” goes against the very nature of the art and is silly.
Although the dance was very serious and powerful, laughter somehow found it’s way into the performance. During one intense moment he was slowly walking toward the audience, towards me, and I had stopped drumming completely. There was only total silence in the hall. And then, one of my older friends used her cell phone camera, and it produced a funny little sound as it turned on. It was totally ridiculous. A few people giggled at the total absurdity, …and he deflated, turned around, and walked away toward the painting. We could feel his reaction…he didn't ignore the ring, but reacted to it honestly. And then, at the end of the performance, for some reason the lights didn't go out like we had rehearsed. A wrong button had been pushed and all the lights turned on! And the owner who is now in his seventies, went back to where my friend Chris was controlling the lights and stated pushing random lights on and off…it was a total disaster to a lights out effect (but kind of interesting if it had been intended). So Yasuchika was lying there, in corpse pose, lights going off and on above him. I was done. He was done. But no lights out. The audience began to understand that there were some lighting problems. I looked back to see what was going on and I saw flashlights and scuffling. Finally, he just sat up, smiled, and said “Ok, it over.” Everyone burst into laughter and applause. Then I stood up and silenced everyone (which he later said wasn't quite right since I was to be applauded as well.) I called over my good friend Mai to be my interpreter.
I chose to have Mai because of his ability to make people laugh. People love him. But also because there were Japanese and foreign people in the audience, and it just made more sense having an interpreter than having me speak in both languages (it also freed me from the distractions of having to learn new words and worry about not being able to say something quite right in formal Japanese.) Oh, Mai was so funny. I started the speech with “First of all, I want to thank you all for coming.” I tried to look at every person in the audience-about 60 people when I said this. The standard, polite Japanese translation is actually something like “First of all, everyone, thank you so very much for giving us your presence here this evening, even though you must have been very busy.”
I said a few things and then thanked Yasuchika for coming all the way down from Tokyo, “Let’sgive him another hand.” And everyone clapped again and then after that Mai said in Japanese “Mr. Konno came from Tokyo” which made everyone burst into laughter, including myself, because everyone had obviously already understood that, and…you get it.
I also mentioned that Terri had baked some delicious cookies that are available by the door, and Mai said “Terri’s delicious cookies are over there, but we have no tea, and you can’t eat them in here, but please…”
I felt the night was a great success. People complimented my drumming, said they had never experienced a dance like that before, etc..But I also felt, as I hinted to at the beginning of this letter, that it wasn't enough. It was “already over” and it now only existed in memory. I immediately wanted to do it again.
Oh, so, about the synchronicities (or synchrony)…there were two or three moments in the show when he was moving and I was playing and then I stopped at the exact same time he did. Total synchronicity. One mind. (synchrony is found all over nature, from the movement of birds and fish, to live music performances, to jinxes when tow people say the same thing at the same time. They are always kind of spooky and clearly point to an underlying connection or unity, as well as the universe's ability to produce order out of chaos. The book SYNC is a very great exploration into the mathematics and mysticism behind these phenomena. "Synchronicities" have to do with meaningful coincidences.)
I heard that the Dalai Lama visited DC this week to get an award. China must be pissed.
"I pray for all of us, oppressor and friend, that together we may succeed in building a better world through human understanding and love, and that in doing so we may reduce the pain and suffering of all sentient beings."
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 1989
Posted by David at 5:47 AM
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