Stuff the Tree

Family traditions, at least where my family is concerned, are/were born out of impulses and last minute decisions. Such as, the tradition of decorating the house for Christmas on Thanksgiving day came about when I was 14. That year, I grew restless and bored following the Macy’s Parade, and needed to stay busy until dinner was ready. I decided to dig through the garage to retrieve the boxed Santas and metallic garland and make a mess of the house, much to my mother’s protests. Now she lives for the occasion. Another holiday transformation occurred when we stopped going to Pizza Hut on Christmas Eve because a friend worked in a fancy restaurant and encouraged my parents to spend the evening there. Ever since, we’ve been spending way too much on Christmas Eve dinners, but have nonetheless experienced some remarkable places over the years.

I mention this because, while decorating the tree, my mother’s primary concern was not only ample glitz and flare via abundant lighting, but making sure the inside of the tree was just as full and colorful as the exterior. I had to guarantee that I would fill the inside of the tree with those annoying satin balls that would shed their spider web-like threads to reveal the lackluster white styrofoam that lay beneath. That, and I had to maintain count of how many lights ended up on the tree so she could brag about it to anyone who came over… “this year we have 1,200 of those tiny lights, I made Georgie wrap each branch twice.”

The exterior and interior of the tree had equal boasting rights. The low branches were never neglected, and despite the fact that no one ever saw the back of the tree, it had its fair share of accoutrements. If animated, it is hard to say whether or not the tree would want to be full of glass balls, and plastic snowmen, but we forced an identity on the artificial tree, and never realized that what we were doing was assigning an aesthetic, a personality, a way of being to this object that could do nothing more than stand by and take it all in with grace.

My mother wanted me to be a lawyer. My father wanted me to go to Westpoint. My grandparents wanted me to be a doctor. My aunt said I should go into “business” – whatever that meant. I wanted to be an astronaut, pilot, actor, singer, musician, interpreter, king, oil tycoon, and I entertained the idea of being a lawyer because, for no other reason, it sounds impressive. My insides were decorated with wild notions, some of my choosing, and many stuffed in me at an early age which did nothing but confuse me as I grew older. Funny how gaga classes ask us to decorate our insides and let go. My insides have been decorated over and over again. Now I realize that the low hanging fruit on my tree has been dropping to the ground. Unpicked, unripe and or overipe, and heavy. What remains is the stuff that was fed to me years ago, and the stuff that I placed on the inside all by myself. A veritable mish-mash of ideas, notions, and fantasies waiting to either be picked, or waiting to fall to the ground unceremoniously. Is that the letting go part?

We age and by aging we slowly and steadily shed the things that once lived in our fantasies. All the beautiful fruit that is on the tree could be phenomenally lovely, if allowed to ripen; but is largely unseen and falls away. As years press forward, we are asked to trim the fruit, abandon the dreams that once occupied the outer branches. Whether knowingly or not, we release the ideas of being a famous actor, seeing the earth from space, holding court, and releasing that hit single that will get the house in France. You trade in the fruit for security, and the encouraging pat on the head that indicates you did ” a good Job” for you…not necessarily “a good job” where the globe is concerned. The world narrows, gets smaller and we seek the approval of the people immediately around us. We shelter ourselves from the things that are greater than us. When we encounter things that are greater, we discredit, we find the ways in which it fails, and justify our existence by saying…”yeah, well, that’s cool, but it isn’t______________________.” We fill in the blank with our excuses and and justifications for why we aren’t that great choreographer, that amazing novelist, or decent humanitarian.

There is a fine line between inspiration and the feelings of defeat. What delineates the things that motivate us and what suggests that we are so far away from the stuff of our dreams? We can see or be around something that inspires, but quite often, we see and experience stuff that paralyzes. We become gripped by a stupor that originates from seeing the things that are so far beyond our grasp that we have no choice but to accept the middle ground. It’s like wanting to lift a car and move it elsewhere by yourself. We may have the desire, but we don’t have the capability. Do we then aim for moving a tricycle or or do we move on to a different piece of fruit, move to a different asporation?

At age 46, it feels as though it is soon time to trim more fruit. To look more deeply into the what and how and why. Does this mean the years to come will be marked by acquiescing to limitations? Is there “fight” left? Can pleasure be found in the smaller aspirations? Do we take time to mourn the decay of the fantasies? Is there satisfaction to be had in the small stuff? Do we invest in the small stuff when all we ever wanted was the big stuff? Are we caving in? Is this acceptance? Is this maturity? Is this what it means to let go?

When we turn our attention to something new, is that a good thing? More importantly, would it have been better to leave the tree as plain and simple as it was? To let it live without decorations, without lights? Let it exist in the forrest among other bare trees? Keeping it protected and hidden from the world?

Would it have been better off without anyone ever knowing it was there at all?

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look at me

In less than 24 hours I went from being the director of my dance company’s summer intensive in Italy, to being a student at another in Tel Aviv. Being back in Israel is exciting, and this time I am taking part of a more organized course of study for Gaga devotees. I don’t even need to invent my own itinerary, one has already been created for me, and I admit that releasing a little responsibility is a refreshing shift.

I will also admit to questioning my decision to do this summer course. The night before Kathleen and I left for Israel, I thought that our decision to do this was far too frivolous and entirely too decadent. But we were already in for a chunk of money, and although the airlines would have graciously refunded our airfare with smiles and glee, I knew I had to make another trip to the place that had been the source of so much inspiration two years ago. So yesterday, we completed our first day, although it was day two for a large majority of the other participants. Judging from the icy stares and mirthless faces, I assumed that everyone had had exquisite bonding opportunities the day before and were simply annoyed that we crashed the party. Additions to a fete that was already brimming with insecurity, fear, and the need to be noticed. LOOK AT ME! they all secretly scream to Ohad, and WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? They whispered to us.

Staibdance had two remarkable weeks in Italy, with registration numbers that far exceeded our capacity. The dancers were polite, accommodating, eager, and each wildly talented in his or her own right. I never imagined any competitiveness could seep into the beautiful landscape of Sorrento, but apparently it had, and I was totally unaware of any of it. All I saw were our dancers getting sweaty in class, going on excursions, drinking wine,  and partying in ways that made the Jersey Shore folks look like nuns and monks. They all seemed totally supportive of one another. Imagine my surprise when I heard one dancer comment that so many people were treating the Italy experience as an audition. I dismissed the comment and told her to get her act together and dance more like my favorites in the group or I’d send her home, sully her name, and spread rumors that she caused an outbreak of warts.

I know competition. I feel it. It’s in my blood. That’s why I did crossfit until I was too injured to get out of bed. That’s why I play along when watching game shows. That is why I feel defeated when my line at the grocery store moves more slowly than all the rest. To me, everything is a contest; a way to prove superiority over something ridiculous to the entire world and, more importantly, a way to have a tangible  foundation for those fleeting moments of confidence and pride. So how did I not see it? I normally invite the tension of competition anywhere I go. I must like making those around me feel uneasy, or even, make those around me work less diligently if I feel I am going to fail at something. I lure my wife into a pit of mediocrity at the gym while proclaiming that being good at kickboxing, or even Jeopardy, billiards or kitesurfing is really not that important anyway. The answer, I now realize, was pretty easy – I wasn’t in the race in Italy.

One of the immediate things I noticed in this summer gaga course was the way in which almost everyone in the room was  “performing” during the more meditative aspects of class. I questioned how suddenly a leg would fly into the atmosphere when all we had been asked to do was “float” and “make our fingers delicate.” Why was the German dancer going all out when we were sensing our ribs? Why did the English guy dance with an eye on the floor and another directed at Ohad? Why was I so insanely nervous? I did it again – I opened my eyes to not only the possibilities of movement, but I became aware of how others were dancing to be seen and how I wanted to dance to show off my supposed deeper understanding of this dance form. They wanted a job, I wanted to be recognized for my wisdom and amazing connection to what Ohad was truly looking for. My arrogance led me to believe that he and I spoke in code, in tongues, in a way that represented decades of simpatico because we were both teachers and choreographers.  In fact, I swear that when he looked at me, for a brief second, I could feel him say to me” You know George, if only you were 20 years younger and could do more fancy things with your legs, you would totally be in my company. You get me, you really get me.” I joked about that thought to my wife and friend T. Lang, but in speaking it aloud I gave weight to the joke and awoke something that was not so dormant to begin with. Yes, I along with all the others in the room was entertaining the fantasy of being discovered. I spend time justifying the absurdity of that notion with the what ifs, and the maybes, and the “he might need an old Armenian with a big nose and limited flexibility, but remarkable control over dynamics and nuance” – I would have to work on that, too.

Kathleen says I should let it go…she’s heard all of the above a million times. But wouldn’t I then need to take up knitting? What would motivate me to dig deeper as a dancer? Am I dancer?  More sadly, why did I not “get it” when I was in better dancer-ly shape ? More sadly still, why didn’t I work harder?

Today, was our 2nd day and with it came an amazing session by Yaniv. The start of class was sublime, bringing me nearly to tears because of the simple beauty of the simple movement, the abandon, and the opportunity to be alone, focused on no one but me, while in a room with 45 people. I went to physical places I had never been to before. I let go – the world blurring before my eyes, the release in my back, the understanding that some of my limitations were “protecting” mechanisms for my back. Did I just discover that I have the ability to move more freely? Physically? Psychologically? m maybe. I certainly would not assert that at all, but I did want to play with it more. The next class was repertory and that would be my chance to research this idea, play with my newly liberated back, and maybe feel less like a sea turtle around all of these very young, very lithe dancers. Naturally, what was waiting for me was a spasm in my back that appeared as I was practicing a jump from the floor. I was out for the rest of the class. Mentally, I feel I am out for the rest of the course.

Tucking your ego away is no small job, there is so much that has to occur in order to not give in to the tantrums, sobs, and other attention-seeking behaviors that you witness in others, but are too good to use yourself. No. You must be manipulative, mean, and wear an expression of false encouragement for all the others who are kicking ass and taking names. You have to pretend to not care that you were presented with an obstacle. You have to encourage others, be sensitive to those who see what you are going through and are doing the thing you want them to do ( …”.it’s not that important anyway, so I will stop trying, too.”) The labor is exhausting.

I was too affected to deal with any of the additional crap that came gliding my way. The woman who discredited the teacher from the morning essentially discredited my experience, so I was mad at her. I had another class with Ohad and when I asked a question that sounded intelligent in my head,  but came out sounding inane, I was mad that he was dismissive and playing with his phone. “Hey buddy – all of us in this room are paying your rent…can you at least pretend to be nice?” And then there was the cathartic exercise that involved slapping ourselves in a violent way while humming “Silent Night.” A most disturbing and beautiful experience, not to mention tiring. The class ended with Marvin Gaye on the stereo, and all 45 of us gyrating and stretching provocatively on the floor as Ohad ascended the stairs to his office while asking us to “fade out” of class and to not signal that it was over by applauding.

Today was probably more eventful than I was prepared for and still we have tickets to a show and my fellow gaga-ers need to share our notes from classes. This means – more delving into my shit. Currently, Kathleen and T. Lang are on their way to the Ha Carmel market to buy food. I am alone in this exquisite apartment high above the streets on an exquisite boulevard, I am surrounded by modern furniture, lots of windows, and a clean environment. All of my favorite things are with me. The view from ALL of our windows is of Tel Aviv and the breath-taking Mediterranean from 14 stories up. The balcony is surrounded by low, glass walls with silver rails, and open air above. As I sit at the computer and see the sea in front of me, I also see my reflection in all of this glass. Not unlike what my fellow students are reflexively doing; I am looking at me.


Available

If you are ever able to go a gaga workshop; a week or more dedicated to deeper investigation of the concepts of gaga as well as the chance to learn material from Batsheva’s repertory, you are able to purchase a t-shirt. On the front of the t-shirt is the word, boldly spelled out, “Available.” This could be particularly engaging for many men, who upon seeing a young female dancer advertising her status, may search the back of the t-shirt for a price list and menu of services. But for those in the know, it suggests that you are available for movement.

But what a great philosophy to adopt daily. Available. Open for communication, open to discovery, open to changes and differences of opinion, available to the world. It is a simple word, and we tend to use it in myriad ways, more often than not, to suggest our eagerness or ability to give ourselves over to someone else, but how about being available TO ourselves? Listening and unapologetically giving voice to the thoughts and ideas that lay dormant because they aren’t called upon by others, who need us to be available in different ways.

My last two days in Tel Aviv were sad, as predicted, but surprisingly, I felt ready to return. I had done what I wanted to do and I was eager to see whether or not my new state of mind could endure the pressures of wedding planning, rehearsals, additional commitments, the stresses of everyday life that take their toll on the availability of peace. Regardless, I find myself feeling resolute, determined to not allow this and a newfound sense of ownership to be chipped away by my need to make myself über available to others. Appropriately, this happens to be my 21st post on this blog, and consequently, my last one for now. I had no quantity in mind when I began this thing and I find it rather fitting that this  is the magic number with regard to drinking, and more importantly, adulthood. Clearly I have been an adult for a loooong time, but now, I feel like I graduated from a different university and feel grown up in a different way. I will cling to this “diploma” with the tenaciousness of a pit bull.

I decided that no experience worth its weight, will leave you with all the answers and so the questions I bring back center around me and my work, and my interactions with others:

Will I continue to consider my needs more regularly? How does one balance that and being available to others?

What do I have to say as a choreographer? How is it different from what others are saying? Does it have to be that different or can I say the same thing with my own accent? People love accents, right? How unique does one’s vision have to be? How different is Mark Morris from Lar Lubovitch? How different is Maroon 5 from Train from  The Foo Fighters? There seems to be plenty of room for all of those voices and accents, is there enough room for mine? If so, how will I define my accent?

Can I give Kathleen everything she needs, without expectations, with full commitment, indulge the effort and find pleasure in the work of the relationship? Will she forgive all the missteps?

Can I live each day in the present and not as though it is already tomorrow? Can I be in my kickboxing class and not worry about my next appointment while I am trying to remember “jab, cross, kick, jab, cross, jab,jab?”

Can I learn to say “no” and take time to make decisions with Kathleen and myself in mind?

What happens the next 5 years?

We all have these issues and concerns and I am in no way even trying to suggest that this is different from any other human thought that has existed over the last 4,000 years. I only iterate all of the above to signify the preciousness of what has been discovered, and illuminate the delicate act of preserving it. We bury ourselves in the elusive notion of the  “American Dream” we find comfort in the phrase”Everything Happens for a Reason” and by doing so, are we simply avoiding responsibility? Fate is a powerful thing, but can we pre-empt her programming and just grab someone’s or something’s horns ourselves? Can we find what we are looking for without looking so hard? Can we catch a snowflake, admire its beauty and keep it forever? How do I prevent it from melting? Is it so bad if it melts?

I used to think I could no more control any of that or enjoy any jurisdiction over  anything so complicated as I could security efforts at an airport. But I can try. By the way:

Leaving Tel Aviv was more complicated than entering. I was 2nd in line to go through the security check dedicated exclusively to my flight home. Out of 400 hundred people who were going to be traveling the 12 hours to JFK on a flight that departed at 12:05 A.M.! Yes, A.M.! I was 2nd in line. When it was my turn to submit my passport, similar questions to the ones I answered five weeks ago were asked, my passport was taken away, brought back, I then became a powerless observer as the security people unpacked  E V E R Y T H I N G from each of my 4 bags.Some were larger than others of course. I watched them unwrap all of the pottery that was meticulously bubble-wrapped and placed into a small suitcase with the precision of a watch mechanism, unpack 5 weeks worth of clothes and laundry, go through every piece of paper, each book, my laptop, toiletries, etc. etc. Two hours later, I was escorted to the metal screening room, felt-up in a way that normally follows dinner and drinks, taken back to my bags, and personally escorted through passport control. All the while I was told this happens to everyone – bullshit – because after being 2nd in line, I was the only person left in the main entry terminal when I was finally allowed to leave. I had outlasted 399 other people. 

I am home now, enjoying my dog, eagerly waiting for Kathleen to come back from Asheville, and am confronted with a schedule that is just as full as it was before I left. No gentle denouement into my previous life. I hit the ground running and hold on to my unwillingness to go back to the way I used to exist – being available to all people at all times. I refuse to allow myself to get caught up in saying yes, just to please others and make myself miserable. I am available and will be available—usually.

For some reason, I am reminded of how my sister used to help me develop my career as a magician when we were kids. She would let me try out my magic tricks on her and would provide courteous feedback from time to time. I was never happy with the simple card tricks and coin disappearing acts. I wanted to go big! When my parents supplied me with a rather large cardboard box, I asked Rosalind to tuck herself into the box. I closed the box, taped it shut, then retrieved a dozen of my mother’s 24 inch shish kebab skewers. I would then run each skewer through the box, one side through to the other, and try to avoid her fragile, 8-year-old flesh. Never with success, never without a blood-curdling yelp from inside the box. Even when I tried to make pathways and align the skewers in a way that would avoid important body parts, I couldn’t quite make it work consistently. And never with all 12 skewers, the pathways were like a plate of spaghetti. Yet, I was always able to convince her to hop into the box time and again so that we could develop all the skills necessary to turn ourselves into, what we truly believed, would be the next Donny and Marie.

She availed herself to torture, I connected to sinister pleasure. Together we were forging pathways to stardom. I would have fewer cuts and puncture marks, however.

Available, hmm…….. I really am.

wow


Toda Raba (Hebrew for: thank you very much)

I can’t state this with any degree of certainty, but I am sure that five weeks in a state penitentiary go by fairly slowly. The daily grind of eating powdered eggs, making license plates, breaking rocks apart, washing your striped suit, avoiding furtive glances cast in your direction by Bubba, and hauling that ball and chain around make for agonizingly slow days and short nights.

But in a place like Tel Aviv, five weeks go by with the velocity of lightning. It seems like I just arrived, but at rare moments, when I am walking along Yehuda Halevi Street and I talk to a friend who rides by on her bike, for instance, I feel like I have been here for quite some time.  Once you are recognized, and you are enveloped into the fold of other people’s lives, and you start to get a sense of pacing, it all helps to contribute to feeling anchored in some way. If I wanted to feel like a part of something, well then, I guess I can say I succeeded.

I had been advised, on numerous occasions, to not expect too much, don’t get your hopes up, take things as they come, don’t go – it’s too dangerous. I also had tremendous support from every angle you could possibly imagine. It is really a rare gift to take leave of your normal routine to experience something that has life-changing power. In short, this trip was all that I had hoped, exceeded my expectations, and has offered me a chance to connect to a part of myself I maybe knew existed, but happened to be tucked away, hiding.

There really is no need to do a recap, it is here in all these cyber words, in my journal, in my memory. There are new ideas that live in my body and in my choreographic imagination. There are new friends, there are new ways of thinking, and new ways of connecting. I am here, geographically closer to where I was born than I have been since 1977. I am also close to a people who define what I remember so vividly. More importantly, I feel I moved closer to my internal home; a place that is authentically me, not an idealized version. There is an ease with which I let go of encumbrances from the past, ideas that were faulty and only served to keep me from using my voice. I connected to my voice, I connect to pleasure.

There has been a reawakening. A renewed vigor and enthusiasm for dance which I was worried would begin to dissolve without the chance to once again be a student. There has been inspiration and there has been a defining. There has been frustration and there has also been doubt. I delighted in how short-lived both were and revel in my ability to now discard the junk and connect to the effort of good work.

There are many very important people to thank for this gift, this journey. I will not, however, thank Delta for making skymiles a difficult thing to deal with. I refuse to thank Visa for being so slow in replacing my debit card. I also absolutely, 100% DO NOT thank the absurd price of of a friggin’ martini over here. If you can get one…

Those who I would like to recognize are:

Sally Radell, who took a chance on me 10 years ago by offering me my position at Emory. She was willing to give me the space I needed to explore my life as a teacher, had confidence in my ability despite minimal experience, and nurtured me every step of the way.

Anna Leo who eagerly jumped into the process of helping me prepare my proposal for and application to the Winship Committee for the award that made this possible. Her excitement for me was humbling.

The Winship Committee  who gave me the affirmation, and  for believing in this project.

Judy Raggi-Moore, Susan Haigler Robles, and Kristen Wendland for all of their very important guidance in helping me prepare my application.

Anne Walker and Kendall Simpson for taking such good care of me and the dance program at Emory.

My Emory Colleagues for giving me the space to just be and a joyous place to be everyday.

My Staibdance dancers for their unbridled enthusiasm for what we have done, what we do, and the incredible places I hope we go.

My sister for being the most amazing wedding planner in the history of the universe. But more importantly for being the most influential, guiding force anyone could hope to have. When you have history with someone you love so much – anything is possible.

Abby, my dog, for hopefully not forgetting me and connecting me to all that is pure, simple, and honest.

My new, dear friend Boaz, whose energy for dance and life are as contagious as laughter, and whose generosity is touching beyond words.

Deborah Friedes for guidance, easy conversations, and for bridging a gap so effortlessly that I felt she was family the moment I saw her.

My Gaga teachers for unlocking a world that I never knew existed. For giving me fresh eyes, fresh ears, and a moving body that I am growing to like again.

Hila for her heavenly kindness, wisdom beyond her years, and encouragement and interest in my life and growth that leave me breathless.

My parents for taking a break from worrying about me  – even for a little bit – and letting me have so many experiences that I am sure made them crazy but also whose pride feels like an ancient pillar.

To a woman who reminds me why we are on this earth, and why we have been given the capacity to love. a woman whose beauty both inside and out could inspire an infinite amount of Renaissance art. A woman whose imagination and vision could alter the course of the planets. a woman who in the midst of all the planning, all the work, all the dog sitting, enthusiastically said “GO” the day before I left when I was scared as hell. a woman whose face I lived to see on skype everyday. a woman who makes me feel like anything and everything is possible. a woman who has helped removed fear from my life. a woman without whom I would never know the meaning of friend, confidante, soul mate. a woman who will soon be my wife.

Kathleen, who I love with all my heart, and I dare say, more than anything I could ever own from Hermes.

To Tel Aviv, Suzanne Dellal, Gaga, all the folks back home:

a humble, heartfelt, and sincere :

toda raba

george

My last post will be completed when I get back home. Consequently it will be my 21st post, a rather symbolic number. Not just where drinking is concerned, but where one enters adulthood. I find this a bit fitting.


Who did Cain Marry?

-and other unanswerable questions…

Some people will leave their home country and take residence in a foreign place, being drawn by romantic notions, work, or the need to simply shock the system. No matter where you go, there is the inevitable culture shock. You can move from tiny town USA to Los Angeles, from the mountains to the beach, from a country where you have 50 cereal choices, to a place where the washing machines can hold a washcloth and maybe two socks. There is a whole new vibe to adopt and being in Tel Aviv, for a while, a new schedule. The weekends are Friday and Saturday and Sunday is equal to Monday, and there is a holiday every five minutes The most difficult adjustment is understanding that the short and exasperated answers to your questions do not mean that the people you encounter find you as simple-minded as a common earthworm. That is just the way things are. But beyond the psychological implications, the way of life in this and European countries, for me, begs so many questions.

The States, the adolescent child of the world, has many major advancements, but at the same time, are surprisingly primitive in the way the way we as a people get around, connect to science, connect to each other. I am left with so many questions that do not necessarily suggest that where I am is better, these questions only ask, why did some things not make it across the ocean?  McDonald’s had no trouble getting overseas, therefore, why will it be so hard for me to find those peanut cheesy poof things? On one hand, I am happy for the exclusivity, it makes trips so much more exciting. What is more at question, for me, are the following, more grand puzzlements:

Traveling by Train: 

This should be something that is a greater part of our lives, don’t you think? The industrial revolution basically began with the steam engine and railroads were all the hype in the early part of the 20th century. So why do we have so few options with regard to getting around from town to town. There is Amtrak, but I am talking about more local options. LIke getting from Atlanta to Savannah or Valdosta quickly and easily by train. Maybe it exists, and I am just not privy to that information. Regardless, it sure would be nice. Plus, trains are so elegant, and rarely produce motion sickness.

Dual Flush Toilets:

I am just now starting to see these pop up, but Europe had had them for AGES. These are the toilets with two flush options. One for a, hmmm, light, delicate deposit that will include a minimal amount of non-liquid waste. Then there is the grand-daddy flush. Strong enough to eliminate the waste of your average elephant. What a great water conservation thing. I only request that we never abide by the Greek toilet ritual which is, not flushing the paper. There is a separate can for that. And yes, it is as gross as you imagine.

While on the subject:

Bidets:

A more glorious piece of porcelain has never been invented, nor will ever be invented again. Who would NOT want that fresh out of the shower feeling all day, every day? Even the most primitive models, which are employed in Iran, are such a great way to feel extra special and clean. In Iran, the bidet is basically a used bleach bottle, that has been cleaned and is kept full of tap water right next to the toilet. No elaborate plumbing necessary, but you do have to be OK with water that is a bit chilly.

Honestly I don’t get why people are so grossed out by bidets – I think that NOT having one is kinda gross. In Las Vegas, my friend Yumiko, a top saleswoman at Hermes, also started selling the “Washlette,” a portable bidet system that fits on top of the toilet seat. She said it would revolutionize America. It would keep us all healthy. These were her reasons for moonlighting in the toilet industry. There has been no Washlette revolution and I am sure Yumiko was more concerned about her 30% commission on each $950 Washlette than she was about by butt health.

High Fructose Corn Syrup:

You really cannot find it anywhere else in the world. This is why Coke and Peach Iced Tea taste so much better here and in Europe, and I am sure that is why the bread is irresistible. The candy is less sugary yet still satisfying and kid cereal is easier to eat without the guilt. I am sure we have HFC to help plentify our food, but there are also a lot of people here to feed, so what gives? I had never considered this as an issue until my lovely wife to be made me aware of the ubiquity of this sugar, now I am certain that my need for liposuction is based on this devil of an additive and I am wondering to whom I may send the bill for the procedure.

Holiday Shutdowns:

It is really remarkable to see such a vibrant city go to sleep. I love how it honors the past with an homage that is stirring, and it also reminds those who aren’t Jewish, that everyone needs time to rest. Watching Tel Aviv enter its slumber on Friday evening and watching it re-awaken Saturday evening has been beautiful The peace and quiet are so rare in this world and rarer still in a place that is often victimized by war and tension. For 24 hours, there is calm.

Weekly Gatherings

…in this case, the Sabbath dinner. What a wonderful tradition. Whether you want to include the prayers and singing can be up to you, but how nice to meet, drink, eat and talk and know that you can do this every week with your family and friends. I am certain many have their own form of this type of gathering, and I decided I want one, too. So I am letting people know that I will eb available to receive invitations starting next week. I was able to go to a sabbath dinner last Friday. The hosts were so gracious, generous, kind, and very animated. They were also VERY kosher in what they served, how they served it, and when.

Being kosher developed out of health concerns regarding food and digestion. These people put every ounce of faith in this method of eating, in fact the meat fork could not be anywhere near the vegetable fork. I enjoyed hearing about all of these health precautions after dinner, when everyone sat around smoking and getting high.

Patient Waiters

If you take a seat in any restaurant or cafe, you should expect to get a really good arm/shoulder workout because of all the times you need to flag down a server who just assumes you intend to nurse your cappuccino for about 3 and a half hours. Don’t expect a menu or the bill to be delivered quickly – and honestly, that is really nice. You are encouraged to eat slowly, talk a lot, and linger. What this extra time does for me is encourage me to buy more stuff. “A red cabbage slaw to accompany my beer? Why, that sounds delightful! Yes, I’m sure the vinegar is a lovely companion to the bold hoppy flavor of the beer.”

Culture

I do have to reiterate that the love of dance is so strong here. The fervor, the excitement, and the appeal is so striking, that I wish we could find this same enthusiasm in our country, especially with regard to funding, audiences, and notoriety. There seems to be a NEED that people have to see dance, a sense of duty to attend shows and a wonderful energy and willingness to talk about the performances afterwards. ( Early in my trip I sat next to a woman at a show who announced how guilty she felt because she hadn’t been to a dance performance in five weeks.) The culture of seeing and taking in culture is refreshing, and although anyone who is reading this blog is in the choir I preach to, it sure would be nice to have audiences eagerly attend dance performances without having to promise them free beer and a cheese plate after a show.

Right now I am staying at Boaz’s place for my last two nights. The apartment owners returned from China, forcing me to relocate. Being in transition is always tough for me. The anticipation of re-entering my life is overwhelming: the struggling with the suitcase, packing, getting caught up, mail, sleep, all those things that prove to be such nuisances that all you can do is live for the normal-ness that will ensue afterwards. I am not taking it easy here, however. My last two days will be full of dance performances, a release class, a trip to the dead sea with Hila, and enough hummus to put any bidet to good use.

too much information?


Gagahhhhh

Boaz has been doing Gaga for three and a half years. He attends class daily, often twice a day. He is still discovering, still learning, and aspires to be a “Gaga People” teacher. After three years of consistent study, Ohad still feels he is not ready. This work is intense and Boaz has such an eye for noticing if someone is really “in it” that I know consistent class takers look to him for feedback, encouragement, and discipline. I think he would be a tremendous teacher. I refer to him as the Mayor of Suzanne Dellal, his enthusiasm for Batsheva, Gaga, and dance is larger than the entire dance compound and the entire neighborhood of Neve Tsedek for that matter.

I am staring down my final classes here and this realization comes with a great deal of sadness and worry about when I will have another experience like this. Gaga classes transport me to someplace I have never been, and like Boaz, I have been taking multiple classes a day. At least two, and on Thursdays, 3 classes. It does not get old. Despite having a familiar framework, the places our teachers have taken us have been profound. The dynamic range, the rhythmic structure, the imagery, and the inventiveness have been so challenging, unexpected, and thrilling that it is impossible to even recognize myself, let alone remember all the discoveries.  Despite writing as much as I can remember in my journal. I’d say for every entry, there are probably 4 more ideas that evaporate from my mind and my only hope is to get it all back in some other way. I got my wallet back – so I am hopeful!

Gaga is so much more than simply writhing around as though there were an alien trapped in your torso ( as so eloquently stated by my friend, Helen.) There is room to play, room to rapidly switch dynamics, the movement possibilities boggle the mind, and the exploration as a performer is a welcomed by-product. The hardest thing to do is explain how these classes differ from other improvisation classes and I am summing it up and defining it as “detailed.” The directives are so specific and produce one very clear image that I feel as though I can work with a single idea for days and continue discovering. What I love is that the movement does not simply reside in simple wiggling, but also in taking HUGE risks, and going someplace wild an unimagined. One second you are as calm as a lake, the next severely percussive.

I often tell my choreography students to be certain that their vocabulary is congruous with what it is they are trying to say. I have seen way too many pieces that claim to be about political injustice, but somehow pirouettes and leaps make their way into the work. Albeit, the dancers are doing them with grimaces on their faces, but that only makes matters worse. In Gaga, there is no superfluous story laid on top of the movement, just the physical image that is supposed to manifest itself. In today’s class especially, I saw the beauty of the expressive body through the movement instruction, allowing us to say more than any sort of arbitrary facial expression or harangue in a show program that tries to define an hour’s worth of dancing. The bound elbows, the unyielding legs, had infinitely more power than any words could ever hope to have.

For some Batsheva dancers who were part of the company in the early stages of Gaga, about 10 years ago, Gaga was the ONLY training they had. There was no ballet background for some, maybe theatre, but certainly no rond de jambes in their past, but they were open to investigating minutia. These days, the dancers may get one or two ballet classes a month, the rest is all Gaga – and they meet almost everyday. Granted, the new crop of dancers hail from Julliard and many other cream of the crop dance schools – so they have a leg up – tee hee – how punny! But this emphasizes Ohad’s interest in deepening the experience for the dancers.

I have had the pleasure of experiencing a wide range of teachers: Gavriel and his goofy approach, Stefan with his über sexual gruntings and pantings, Caroline who stops us if she doesn’t see what she wants, Shoachar and Adam who are the gentle souls of the group, and tomorrow I’ll have Idan, reputed to be the best. Each has a different focus but they use similar devices and imagery, it is just that some are energetically relentless, others more quiet, all are surprising and unpredictable. None allow us to be lazy and all compel us to motivate internally and manifest externally, always moving in an alert way and never burying ourselves in cumbersome thought.

Ohad is now offering the first ever certification program for Gaga teachers. This is a nine month course designed to deepen one’s practice of Gaga and will focus on the subtleties that make this technique what it is. The selection process for teachers is rather rigorous, requiring letters of recommendation, a substantial dance background, the ability to speak multiple languages, and a fierce resolve to work deeply and with unwavering focus. This course is based on the detailed language of Gaga and is a journey through the differences between “quaking and shaking, ” “floating and suspending,” “circles and arcs.” The list feels endless.The images are vivid and for me, offer a new way to think about the relationship each body part has to the other. They are delicious nuggets of motivations and are so sublime in what they produce. They awaken all the senses, even the sense of taste. Yes, taste; it’s a focus in class. AND – did you know you can use the back of your neck to take the temperature of the room? Neither did I!

Understandably, Ohad is very protective of this method and has encouraged everyone to use these ideas and explore them on their own, however, no one is allowed to call it Gaga, except of course, upon completion of the 9 month intensive. The governing body of the Gaga concept or institution has been vigilant in their efforts to protect the name. and rightfully so. Think of it the same way you would think of Pilates, especially with regard to licensing the name. It is all the rage, all the buzz, and few can even begin to understand the depth. Even after my five weeks, it is clear that there is much much more. In fact, here, no one, I mean NO ONE is allowed to attend a single class. It is impossible, regardless of what one’s situation is. Either you are in for a period of investigation or you aren’t in at all. Period. It would be easy to recreate a Gaga class almost anywhere under any circumstances, but that would not do the history of the concept justice, and could potentially dilute the sensation, and possibly take away the beauty of this way of moving. Being a total fan, I do understand the one class rule, even though it may make the experience feel all too exclusive and secretive. In addition, I do intend to share some ideas and concepts which I will morph into my own verbage ( a request from the teachers as well ), yet I admit that I know as much about Gaga as I do about thermodynamics, so what I bring back is just what I was able to glean from the 30 or so classes I have had. I will tread lightly and respectfully, knowing that there is way more to learn, and calling myself an expert would just be wrong. Plus, the LAST thing I would want is to face the wrath of Ohad.

Tonight I see Fresco Dance Company, and per Boaz’s suggestion, I will see it after taking a Gaga class. I’ve done this before and he is right , watching dance after a dance class enriches the experience. I saw Michael Miller last night – no need to review it at all. Throw on the soundtrack from Kanye West’s VH1 Storytellers performance, put 6 high school girls on stage, do the same phrase for an hour, and ask for money.

I really do hope Boaz makes it into the Gaga teacher’s training program. I’ll admit – it is such an amazing opportunity. But at $9,000, it is a bit too rich for my blood! However, for Boaz and his experience, I believe he would be an asset to the teaching community. All you need to do is watch him continue dancing well after the class has concluded to recognize, Gaga can lay claim to changing someone’s life. It certainly did for Boaz, and for me, well, it goes without saying.


Does this Crucifix come in burgundy? um, do you have a larger one? Could I wear it to a dance show?

Being shallow definitely has its advantages. For me, the quality I love most about my politically unaware being and my less than sufficient ability to find meaning and symbolism in even the most simply constructed works of art (except James Cameron’s Avatar, I mean, I’m not brain dead,) is my amazing fashion sense. Very little escapes my attention where sartorial affairs are concerned, thus prompting my inevitable and obvious recognition in 8th grade as “Best Dressed.” This superlative was the result of never having owned a pair of jeans, and my gift for making even clothes from K-Mart, JCPenney, and Sears have the same look and “je ne sais quoi” as any major fashion house in Paris.  The red plaid suit I wore to a family reunion shortly after the birth of my Chinese sister, to the Garanimals matching ensembles featured at Sears, to the direct plagiarism of any mannequin that crossed my path, gave me the title of style icon, even in my youth. I am certain, had I been a subscriber to GQ at the time, I would have seen my 6 year old, front-toothless image, gracing the cover. I believe this godly gift came from my father, who to this day takes tremendous delight in assembling outfits for my mother. Were it not for him, I really believe she would only ever be seen wearing a beige nightgown with those wooden Dr. Scholl’s slippers that at one moment can protect your feet against the harsh pavement, and the next be used, if aimed properly and thrown with enough force, to thwart any sort of menacing behavior I was intending to take against my sister.

My day-to-day attire consists of cargo pants and t-shirts, and quite often the same pair of cargo pants; provided they pass a strategic sniff test.  This look is neither noteworthy nor fashion forward, but it doesn’t have to be. I have tremendous wardrobe power and if I choose not to use it, well then, that is entirely my prerogative. I need to prove nothing because my gifts are always at the ready, prepared to be unleashed with the force of a semi-annual sale at Nordstrom’s. There is however, one teeny limitation to what I am able to accomplish with my clothes, and that little teeny something is money. I am like Harry Potter without his wand, George Bush without the dumb, gaping mouth, the Royal Couple with just a cupcake for their reception. I am almost powerless in light of the fact that I cannot afford all the necessary layers and accessories to truly make a John Varvatos ensemble soar to its full and proper glory. I have therefore learned to be a strategist, conservationist of “power” ingredients in my wardrobe, and astute with regard to making purchases that are on the cusp of trendy yet enduring. I am clairvoyant. I am the Miss Cleo of Clothes, and no one can tell me any different. Even in my ridiculous Dora the Explorer-esque Flip-Flops and matching v-neck t-shirt.

Consumerism is the way of the world. I don’t care where you are, what your political affiliation is, or the limitations that people have to endure given their governments’ ideologies. We love to buy things and will buy anything. We buy tacky denim outfits that somehow survived the 80’s and made their way to Israeli Bus Stations, we buy Pigeons from pet stores – yes, they are actually for sale here, (side note – isn’t that the height of laziness? In a place where there are approximately 43 pigeons for every human, why would you not just catch one yourself? ) We look through millions of identical wooden rosaries to find just the “right” one to prove that we had been to Jerusalem. We buy tickets to shows, we purchase the services of plastic surgeons, and we buy each other. We sometimes hate buying things: replacing a hot water heater for instance, but we LOVE to buy most things. It feels so good. Even when money is tight, splurging on orchestra seats is a joy, and the sting of the credit card balance is eradicated once you strut into the theatre and egotistically walk down the aisle to the seats that seem to be bathed in divine light. It is a neurological massage, and it is an addiction no one will admit to having.

Shopping is just yet another way we have to categorize ourselves. We love to show the labels of our preferences and we also do not mind commenting on the preferences of others. We look to see what others have, what they do, where they go, and we align ourselves accordingly. We follow trails that have already been forged and we rarely venture into new territory. Ask a Brooks Brothers shopper how often he/she goes into Club Monaco. Do Stallone fans really visit the artsy foreign films cinema? Do release dancers go to see Mark Morris? The answer is most likely “no” and placing myself on the same chopping block, I admit the sadness of that answer. 

Last week I saw two very different dance shows with two very different audiences. The Batsheva Ensemble performed an evening of work created by the dancers, and Barak Marshall presented “Rooster.” Each concert had value, each had not so great moments, each were educational. Neither shared similar audience demographics.

Batsheva’s work was exciting for the most part, but the dances lacked a sense of refinement and completion. Many of the ideas were very interesting yet lacked total fulfillment and focus. Many were marked by constant shifts, awkward transitions, and bizarre music choices. This is how I would characterize the dances:

Imagine if you will. I’ll take two sugars, please. It is obviously much more soft and absorbent than other leading brands. Yes, but will she be able to shimmy when it is all over. Jingle Bells Jingle Bells. Did Abby poop on the carpet or just on the wood floor. Peace Out.

The dancing was superior. What stood out to me the most however, was that without coaching, without a great deal of attention to detail, and minimal rehearsal, compared to what I had seen in work by Ohad, the dancers looked young. Not youthful, but less wise in their delivery. This speaks volumes about the process, the massaging of the work, the tweaking, the exploration. The lack of polish was evident, but again, the dancers are exceptional, so even with them at 75%, they still soared.

On the other hand, Marshall’s dancers were coached to utter perfection. ”Rooster” had unison that mesmerized and precision that would rival any competitive cheerleading organization, and sadly, with so much attention to frontal unison work, that is where I went. Cheerleader land. His ideas could run their course if the actual choreography does not become more layered, more varied, more communicative. He is masterful at creating unique gestures, but when the same ideas repeat intending to say something different each time,  I was left with a lot of hype and little connection. I thought the storyline was insultingly spoon-fed to us and I longed for the less obvious, the more mysterious. There were lengthy bits of narration and one did not have to know Hebrew to put two and two together, and just when things started to feel drawn out, dancers emerged performing intricate movements, in unison, to some rather compelling music.

In addition to being shallow, I have the attention span of a gnat. Magazines, honestly, can often be my preferred reading material. Their bullet point how-tos on style, the fashion Q& A, the ads, especially the ads, all satisfy the urge to get information as quickly as possible. Give me a quick glance at the latest Armani ad and I can tell you spring trends, show me a page or two on grooming and you have my attention – but not if I have to skip to the back of the magazine to catch the end of the article. Hopefully nothing too important lingers in those back pages. I’d hate to find out that the most important step to exfoliating your scalp is buried within the ads for x-ray glasses and corporate gifts. 

The Batsheva audience was made up of friends of the dancers, and had the same young vibe as the performers did. You can easily tell that the audience is younger, not merely by appearance, but by the high-pitched “wooooos” that seem to exist in every culture during the applause. The Marshall audience was much older, a majority had clearly seen the piece before, and many seemed to be in it for the visual spectacle rather than the narrative as the narratives received very little response. Not even a jaded chuckle. The well-coordinated music/dance sections received all of the reaction, the dialogue interludes in turn, seemed to have been something people sat through to get to the next “routine.”

If you were to tell a group of “indie” dancers about Batsheva, you could predict the looks on their faces. If you talk to a “trendy”group of dancers about Yosi Berg, you could predict their reaction. At times, I think these two very different dance worlds get along like oil and water, despite coming from the same place. It’s like parents having two very different children. One child leaves the house, explores, finds something new, returns home, takes a shit on the living room carpet, telling the parents he/she has always hated the carpet, is ashamed of anything that looks like the carpet, and wants to make sure to never look at anything like that carpet again. The other leaves the house, explores, and returns to take care of the parents well into their old age. But along the way, introduces the parents to cell phones, computer technology, maybe cleans the shit off the carpet, using some of the new things he/she learned and is proud of the carpet and wants to show it off. Needless to say, there is tremendous tension between the two very different children from the same dance parent. Each child pretends to like the other, but each is judging the other. Plain as day. Neither really wants to go to the other’s house, but will if absolutely necessary, looking tortured the whole time.

Regardless of how one truly feels about dance, oops I mean, the carpet, it doesn’t take away the necessity of responsibility and mindfulness toward what one offers up for public consumption.  Dialogue, honest dialogue, is so critical and I admit that that is definitely a strong suit here. In fact, during a sharing of choreography where I provided feedback, I was asked: Be honest in the Israeli way, not the American way. This means, maybe we don’t have to be served a dead cockroach on a used piece of toilet paper, be told it is filet mignon on Wedgewood china, then get handed a bill, and swallow the experience bitterly, then pretend to like it.  If we are open, we avoid situations that put is in situations that are less than savory. In short, each child could learn a lot from the other if they weren’t each so stubborn.

 I doubt that I would ever update my wardrobe at “Forever 21” but that isn’t to say I couldn’t find a nifty necklace, or cool leather bracelet. Certainly if I were in a spending mood I could find something of interest.  In addition, just because I can’t afford a custom Armani suit certainly doesn’t stop me from browsing and entertaining the idea that maybe one day I’ll have one. However, if I were a little drunk, who knows, the suit could end up on a credit card. More than likely, I will just pine for the day when my wardrobe equals that of my friend Natasha’s – except with man clothes. She is a woman of inimitable style and class, whose inner beauty is already magnificent, but whose outward appearance is poetic. I’ve never seen her in the same piece of clothing twice. Ever. She carries herself with grace and her clothes don’t define her, but have simply become a part of her African voice.

My time in Israel is sadly drawing to a close, and if I can remind myself to take away an important lesson, it is that I can shop to my heart’s content. I can browse the racks of tacky denim, cages full of pigeons, and even consider the latest kippa. Browsing won’t identify me as anything different than what I am, even buying, for the most part won’t inescapably lock me into someone I’m not. All I seek is accurate product information, humility, and sensitivity. It’s fun to look, fun to buy, and even more fun to enrich.