Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NYC Reflections, part two

This is my second attempt. Something went kerfizzle a few nights ago--after I had nearly the whole entry written. It's taken me this long to forgive Blogger and/or Internet Explorer. (And this time, I'm using Firefox . . . )

Okay. So my second morning in NYC, I woke up at a leisurely hour and moved about the studio quietly as a rehearsal was going on. Maybe I should explain that. I was staying at Studio 111 in Brooklyn (Williamsburg, to be exact) and the set-up is a front space with two rehearsal/performance spaces and then a living space for three resident artists. One of the artists was out of town the week I was up there and had graciously offered his space to me. I must say, there is something sort of exciting and energizing about waking up in a space full of artists working at their craft. I didn't see or hear what they were working on--it seemed rude to eaves drop on them--but that's beside the point.

It was about 10am by the time I got around to looking for a place to breakfast (or brunch, I guess, by that hour). The morning before, I'd had a really good bagel at a shop in the neighborhood, but I was looking for something more filling. I was expecting this meal to last me well into the afternoon.

I decided to try out a diner-ish looking place called Daniella's Luncheonette on Graham. It was a long, narrow eatery with a one long side of the wall filled with small tables to seat 4 and the other side occupied by a lunch counter and stools. At the counter sat a group of men chatting and giving each other (and occasionally the waitress) a hard time. One guy in particular sort of stood out if only because he was the most boisterous. I didn't hear what preceded his, but at one point, I heard him declare (and try to hear this in your head with a thick Brooklyn accent), "Oh yeah, I'm real genteel. I'm gentilly." Later, someone brought in a bag of what I guessed was sunflower seeds--I didn't get a good luck. The same man was not impressed with whatever it was. "What? You want me to eat bird seed? You want me to cheep, too? Cheep! Cheep!"

Quite the character.

I should also mention that the omelet I had was pretty good. Nothing especially outstanding, but good food and lots of it. Impulsively, when I ordered it, I asked for a side of bacon because, well, because I love love love bacon. (It's how I keep my boyish figure.) This side order was, also, a lot of food. Anyplace that serves that much bacon as a side order gets five stars from me.

Having consumed my daily requirement of fat vitamins, I was ready for my day of checking out upper Manhattan.

My destination was the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Years ago, in grad school, I was doing a lot reading (it's hard for me to call it "research") on Rudolf Laban, the dance innovator and movement analyst of pre-war Germany. I had been trying to find some film of him dancing, which may or may not exist. I'm having some trouble locating it, anyway. The point is, while reading up on Laban, it had been suggested to me that I might try the NYPL collection, as they had a lot of rare footage of early modern dance types. But I get ahead of myself.

I found the Library easily enough. It's by the Lincoln Center, which I found at about noon. I found a NYPL and when I pushed on the revolving door, it pushed back. I looked at the posted hours of operation and they didn't open until 1pm. No problem. When I came up out of the subway, I emerged right by a large Barnes & Noble. An hour is nothing in a bookstore. So I went in there to while away some time.

And I have to say, it's an AWESOME bookstore. Okay, it's pretty much like any other B&N, except twice as big. Maybe more than twice. My main delight was in finding the performing arts section of the store and looking at their dance shelves. In "my" B&N in houston, there is one shelf devoted to dance and it's not too tightly packed. This store had TWO BAYS of dance books.
I wouldn't allow myself to buy anything. All the books I saw I was pretty much aware of and can order through my local store if/when I want to. (Well, the new Yvonne Rainer book was a surprise, but it was, you know, new.) I had packed lightly and didn't want to lug back a lot of books. Well, I did want to, but I was doing m best to be sensible.

Which is a failed enterprise. B&N is currently having a sale--3 remainder/clearance books for $9.99. Of course I had to briefly browse through their stock. I found a book I had been thinking about getting in paperback, and here it was in hardcover for $3.33. So I took that. (Turns out I'm glad I didn't spend more than $3.33 on it, but that's a topic, perhaps, for another blog entry.)

And I bought a magazine.

But that was all. Not bad for a book addict like me.

Back out on the street, I made my way back to the library--only to discover the library I had attempted to enter was a standard branch library. The Performing Arts collection was across the street. And it had opened at noon. Oh well. I still had the rest of the afternoon to spend.

The NYPL has a visitor card for people like me and I had been warned to allow for a lot of time to fill it out and such. It actually took about ten minutes. The people there were friendly, patient, very very helpful. So much for the rude New Yorker.

I was able to look at three video tapes, none of which were exactly what I was looking for but none of which were disappointments, either. I had actualy written down some call numbers for videos before I left Houston and had ranked them in importance. I was focusing on Denishawn, the proto-modern company that gave us Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham, and, of course, Rudolf Laban.

From the Denishawn side, I saw a very informal lecture given by Barton Mumaw at Jacob's Pillow, the dance studio/center founded by Ted Shawn (which is still an active and vital dance center-- that I have to visit before I die). Mumaw was one of the last of the Denishawn dancers and principal dancer for Ted Shawn's Men Dancers. A couple of years ago, I had read Mumaw's memoirs, so it was great fun for me to watch him tell some of the same stories he told in his book.

There was another film I watched that was also a video of some gathering of dance pioneers. Mumaw was part of that as well. In that one, I got to see him lead a class of yound dancers in Denishawn technique. It wasn't a full class, just a few scenes played under narration. But it was kind of interesting. You see the rebellion against ballet, but not yet the rigor of, say, Graham technique. The other dancer I recall in that video was Hanya Holme, a German emigrate who had been a student of Mary Wigman. Holme choreographed many Broadway musicals of the fifties, including some that featured Barton Mumaw. It was really quite fascinating for this dance history geek.

The last film I watched was a more polished documentary on German expressionist dance. This had a lot of content about Laban, but alas, no dancing. There was one snippet of a dark-haired man demonstrating Laban's swinging gestures within a life-sized icosahedron, Laban's multifaceted sphere of movement. I rewound that snippet several times but could never get a good enough look at the face to tell if it was Laban himself. I'm guessing not, more likely one of his students. But this had more of his movement work than I'd ever seen before, so I was quite pleased to see this documentary.

There was also a lot of content on Mary Wigman and Kurt Jooss, the two most famous of Laban's students.

All in all, it was an afternoon well spent.

But it wasn't over yet. I then headed a few more blocks north to Times Square to indulge my other geek interest--comics. Midtown Comics was hosting comics artist and theorist, Scott McCloud for a signing of his new book, Making Comics. I won't say much about this except to say that it was pretty cool to meet Scott and his family, who is joining him on a nationwide, year-long bookstore tour of the United States. It turns out that this was also his first stop on the tour and so I may very well be the first person in Texas to have a signed copy of Making Comics. It's the little claims to fame, isn't it?

And that was pretty much my second day in NYC. I still had the evening in Battery Park with the free dance concert and then Saturday morning before heading back to LaGuardia. I'll type about all that in a couple more days. Hopefully not another week from now . . .

Sunday, September 10, 2006

NYC Reflections, part one

So last week Wednesday (9/6) I got up and caught a plane to NYC. I had about 2 hours of sleep because I couldn't sleep. It's not everyday a farmboy from Paige, Texas goes to NYC.

I was going for a Fieldwork facilitator training session. The Field ( is a national network of independent performance artists and Fieldwork is their 10 week workshop wherein artists develop new work with weekly feedback from the other artists in the workshop. It then culminates in a showing of new work or works-in-progress. I've participated in Fieldwork in Chicago and Houston and Several Dancers Core, the sponsor for Fieldwork here in Houston and in Atlanta, sent me to NYC for the facilitator training.

All of which isn't terribly interesting unless you're involved in the Field, so I won't talk much about that.

But I made arrangements to hang out in NYC for a couple of days extra because I've never really been to NYC. Or as I told people who asked if this was my first visit, I answered, "It may as well be." You see, back in 1982, I was a senior in Giddings High School, and the drama teacher had found a fairly reasonably priced package for student groups to go to NYC---for a weekend. As I recall, it was a long weekend. Maybe Friday through Sunday? But that was more than 20 years ago, I didn't know enough to really look for the things NYC has to offer, and we were pretty well herded about our routes by tour guides and sponsors. So it's hard to say I actually experienced NYC on that trip. Perhaps the most interesting thing I recall about that experience was that our Beta Club (does Beta Club still exist?) had been to Austin to see the road show of Annie and then we saw the Broadway version in NYC. (Our original Broadway choice, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, had just closed a week or two before and we'd listed Annie as our second choice before we knew the Beta Club was going to Austin to see the road show.) So this future theater major got to see the differences between the road show and the Broadway show while still in high school, which I guess was sort of a remarkable thing for someone from Giddings.

The only other time I'd been to NYC was when I was in New Jersey a couple of years ago and a group went into the city to eat dinner. And that's all it was, really. Took a train into NYC, ate, took a train back to Jersey. Not really a trip to NYC.

So. This may as well be my first trip there. I was pretty much on my own and was able to wander around a bit without anyone's agenda but my own.

We were done with the Fieldwork training at noon on Thursday and so my adventure began then. I had lunch with a Fielder from Atlanta, a little Cuban place on 8th Avenue, if I recall, and then I went back uptown to the Field offices on 6th Avenue and Spring Street, to get my bearings.

I walked a whole lot after that. A whole very lot.

From Spring Street, I walked south to Christopher Street, to visit Oscar Wilde Books, said to be the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore in the world. I was fairly impressed. My experiences with gay bookstores have not been terribly positive. Most of them are over half, if not 80% or more, porn. Oscar Wilde Books has a small section of skin mags, but for the most part, it is a bookstore with honest to goodness literature on its shelves. Of course, they didn't have the one book I'd sort of been keeping my eyes open for, but I did pick up a clever little graphic novel by German cartoonist Ralf Konig called Maybe . . . Maybe Not. I'd run across the name before, but had not seen any of his books and I did find it clever and fun. My souvenir from Oscar Wilde Books.

Then I walked a few more blocks south to meet up with an internet connection that is really the result of my working at Northwestern University Press during my Chicago days. I'd say more about it, but it might sound more impressive than it really is. It's a nice connection to have in the world of book publishing and I'm grateful to have it and it was a very pleasant hour spent in Cafe Loup, chatting about books and such. But to say much more might give more weight in my readers minds than it has in my mind.

This acquaintance asked me what my plans for the evening was and I said I'd seen an ad in the Village Voice for a dance concert in Battery Park, assuming I could find Battery Park. He suggested that I just continue walking down 6th Avenue and take in the city some. This turned out to be a very good suggestion, as I did get to see things above ground that I might have missed underground on the subway. There weren't a lot of very touristy sort of things, really, but it gave me a feel for the city in a way I might not have otherwise had.

And that route took right to the one site that everyone was talking about, the one that I was neither seeking out nor avoiding, but suddenly I was one the edge of the crater that is Ground Zero.

I suppose I should say something about NYC and the week before th 5th anniversary of the attacks, especially since I type here on the eve of said anniversary.

First, there's not much in the print media about it, but I found a variety of attitudes about the World Trade Center. Of course, there are signs all over the city of the collective grief. I walked past a fire station and just inside the open garage doors is a huge memorial with pictures of all the men who died from that station. There are plaques and other signs in businesses memorializing the friends and family members lost. I was staying in Brooklyn and each day I walked past a small granite marker memorializing, I presume, people from that neighborhood who died that day. So there's that, which is to be expected.

But there were other opinions expressed, some spoken to me, others overheard. There's a definite feeling by some folks of wanting to move on, not dwell on the event. I heard a comment about how the Towers were ugly and disliked anyway. I heard small rants about how tired of the sentimentality one person was, the manipulating of emotions to carry forward all sorts of agendas, personal and political. This is a city that not only grieves, but is trying to move on from the grief and is feeling held back by the grief.

Obviously, it's complicated. I can't imagine living there through all of it.

It's hard to say much about the enormous crater. If I didn't know what it was, it could easily been seen as a construction site. I kept looking around at the buildings around the crater. There were a few on the south side that appeared to still show signs of the destruction, but I was amazed at how pristine other buildings looked. Then I realized that I didn't know what had been there before and maybe these pristine buildings had been protected by other buildings that were now gone. I just don't know.

Going back, a minute, to that 1982 trip to NYC, we country kids were herded through the World Trade Center plaza. I remember being between the two towers. It was a misty, foggy day and the towers disappeared into the mist above us. We were supposed to go into one of the towers, but we'd lost time somwhere in the touring and didn't have time to go in. I do have a picture of them, though, in my old photo album with all my NYC pictures. I also remember taking the pictures, getting down on my knees next to them, looking up and clicking.

I did eventually get to Battery Park, but I think I'll save my dance reviews for the last NYC blog, talk about them all at one time. It was a treat, to say the least, to see companies like Pilobolus, Trisha Brown, and Phildanco for free . . .

Briefly, I want to mention that when I got back from NYC last night, I had in my mailbox an acceptance letter for a short story. It seems my "Vernal Visitation" will appear in the next edition of Windhover, published by the University of Mary Hardin Baylor. I always hear aspiring writers despair about rejections and things never getting published. By way of backhanded encouragement, I'd like to point out that this story has collected a few rejections letters since I first wrote it---in 2003. You know, actually I think I wrote the first draft in 2002. I don' t think I got around to revising it until 2003, though. Anyway, the point is this: These things take time. Aspiring writers, take note!