Proverbial Support

This finals season is most definitely a bag of bricks to the face. When your inner circle is slammed with assignments of their own and your family might not necessarily understand the heftiness of the “Michigan difference,” where do you turn for support? I tried proverbs.

A common misconception is that proverbs are religious. Proverbs are short pithy phrases that state one general truth or a piece of advice. Here are some that felt particularly salient to this dreary day. Feel free to disagree with my projections of meaning.

“If you bow at all, bow low.”

If you’re going to do something, don’t give it any less than a 110% effort. Nothing done is worthwhile if there was no intent in the first place.

“One beam, no matter how big, cannot support an entire house on its own.”

Leaning on others is inevitable. No one is immortal, all knowing, perfect, or fully self-sufficient.

“Every step makes footprint.”

I saw a dual-meaning in this one.

  1. Effort, no matter how small, is still effort. Taking tasks one step at a time is admirable.
  2. Aggression, no matter how small, is still aggression. Think of the one thousand tiny cuts metaphor for micro-aggressions.

“Qui n’avance pas, recule.”

Who does not advance, recedes. Aka, keep on keeping on.

La Fresque

Ballet Preljocaj’s performance of La Fresque showed a surprising amount of variety in an hour and a half. There was ballet, folk dance, modern, contemporary, theater, graphic design, and aerial elements at play. I don’t think all of which were necessary to supplement the intended plot of the choreography, but they were unexpected and interesting nonetheless. The ballet sought to investigate “the mysterious relations between representation and reality, sites at which the dance creates the bonds that link the fixed image and movement, instantaneity and duration, the live and the inert” via a traditional Chinese tale about a painting.

The original story of “The Painting on the Wall” was included in the program to better contextualize the evening length performance. It is as follows.

Once upon a time, there were two travelers, one called Chu and the other Meng. One a rainy, windy day, they arrived at a small temple. In this peaceful place where the silence was disrupted only by squalls of rain, a hermit who lived there invited the two travelers to look at a magnificent fresco painted on the temple wall. The fresco showed a group of girls in a corpse of parasol pines. One of them was picking flowers. She was smiling sweetly, her lips were bright as the flesh of cherries, and her eyes were bright. Chu was fascinated by her long, loose dark hair, the symbol of girls and single women. He stared at the girl so intensely for such a long time hat he felt as if he as floating in the air and was transported inside the painting. The adventure lasted for several years, years of idyll and happiness, until one day some warriors chased Chu out of the world of the fresco. When he returned to the real world, his friend mend had only been looking for him for a few minutes. The two friends looked at the fresco. The girl was still there, but her hair was now in a magnificent chignon, the symbol of a married woman.

Before this show, I’d never seen a story told thoroughly through contemporary/modern dance forms. It felt like a reprise of a story ballet, rather than interpreting the piece’s meta meaning, which is what Im accustomed to doing. The passing scenes onstage corresponded perfectly to the provided traditional Chinese tale, which was beautiful to see. The two men were introduced first then taken to the anticipated painting. The fresque was denoted by stage elements enclosing the space on a vignette of women. They devoted themselves to a dance with their hair before inviting the man inside their world. Before my eyes, a love story unfolded between a young woman and man, just as described in the program. Their pas de deux was tender and grateful, mimicking their growing kin. It was clear that time was passing. The stage darkened, a door smacked the ground out of nowhere, and let light leak through exposing outlines of warriors; the same warriors that banish the man from the painting. Just as quick as he stepped into the frame, he rolled out of the frame: back to his real life. No time had passed outside of the painting, but he’d lived half a lifetime inside the painting. The show ended in that realization, bringing hush and heartbreak over the audience.

I had initial reservations about this performance. Given Ballet Preljocaj’s company ethnodemographics, I was worried that a classic Chinese story was going to be appropriated by Eurocentric culture. Tokenization and exoticism are concepts that I am extremely sensitive to as a Filipino American, and I definitely did not want to see in-genuine fascination with a culture that’s largely unsupported outside of trends. I think the performance was definitely a Western version of the famous Chinese tale, but more importantly, I think it was the concepts within the story rather than the culture that were being examined and used as inspiration. The choreography was less about Chinese elements, and more about the idea of what it means to overcome the laws of time and space and jump between dimensions.

(Image credit: Google images)

“Oh, I’ve only seen the movie.”

Maybe it’s a recent trend, but why why why do people think that seeing the major motion picture of a book is the same as reading the book itself? Simply unacceptable. Let’s bring “well-read” back into style.

I’m responding egregiously solely because I’ve witnessed this foul assumption arise around works of my forever favorite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Just because because you’ve seen another one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s starring films doesn’t mean you understand, or even begin to fathom, the gravitas of the world that Fitzgerald created in that body of text.

The final words of The Great Gatsby.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

If you have only seen the movie, you certainly don’t pick up on the nuances of this final knife twist. Pick up the book, it’ll ruin your life for the better.

 

Better yet, let’s address another qualm of mine: why do “notable works” of Fitzgerald begin and end with The Great Gatsby? Why aren’t Tender is the Night or This Side of Paradise well-recognized, except to a select few? Are those books meant to be kept secret?

Let these two excerpts take you into their clutches.

From a chapter break entitled Egotist Food for Consumption.

“Don’t let yourself feel worthless; often through life you will really be at your worst when you seem to think the best of yourself; and don’t worry about losing your “personality,” as you persist in calling it; at fifteen you had the radiance of early morning, at twenty you will begin to have the brilliant melancholy brilliance of the moon, and when you are my age you will give out, as I do, the genial golden warmth of 4pm.You are bound to go up and down, just as I did in my youth, but do keep your clarity of mind, and if fools or sages dare to criticize don’t blame yourself too much.”

From a later portion of the book: let it be known that I’ve replaced the names with he/she to eliminate spoilers.

“His love waned slowly with the moon. At her door they started from habit to kiss goodnight, but she couldn’t not run into his arms, nor were they stretched to meet her as in the week before. For a minute they stood there, hating each other with a bitter sadness. But as he had loved himself in her, so now what he hated was only a mirror. Their poses were strewn about the pale dawn like broken glass. The stars were long gone and there were left only the little sighing gusts of wind and silences between…but naked souls are poor things ever, and soon he turned homeward and let new lights come in wit the sun.”

 

In conclusion, let’s agree to read more books and be not only well-read, but well-versed too. 🙂

abscission

After being beaten down by one of the harshest Michigan winters yet, early hints of spring are finally beginning to materialize. The gray is getting a little less gray and people are looking less like their outerwear, and more like themselves. No wonder spring is associated with rebirth and newness; as nature comes back to life, so do we. After spending some well-deserved time under the warmth of the sun, I feel the Ann Arbor start to thaw. Be soft with my scribblings.

 

the sun came out today and so did you.

coaxed out by warmth and distant birdsong, a small flower started growing from my collarbone.

 

i fall in love too fast

i fall in love too hard

i want it all at once,

like wanting to climb the nonexistent branches of an infantile sprout.

it’s the promise that hurts the most.

 

in the teachings of mother nature,

good things come to those who wait so,

i’ll bide my time, i won’t rush,

but i will recognize

when the plumule becomes a bud, becomes a stem, becomes leaves, becomes a flower.

 

please don’t wilt, stay as you are.

 

i am the hug of humid morning air.

i am the gentle fingertips of a penetrable ray.

i am the wisps of a stretching cloud.

i am the golden dust particles that hang inches above the grass at dusk.

i am the lain blanket on our sticky sweet night.

one flower became two strewn across my chest.

 

***

 

the sun left today and so did you.

so i left

the door of my house open

and stood in the middle of the street

away from the streetlights

so that i may look upon the stars how they were intended to be seen.

 

the only stars that are visible are ones that are dying.

i’m embarrassed to ask so much,

to have this audacity,

to demand answers from a thing slipping from existence.

is this the only choice?

 

the breeze just barely disrupted the abandoned sneakers on the power lines, but somehow

i can’t hear myself breathe anymore.

 

my eyes betrayed me as I continued to stare at heaven’s fated departures for my missing virtue.

i failed to notice that my flower petals had fallen, the petals drifted into the wind,

 

and left me too.

Art outside of UMMA and the DIA

The Stamps Gallery is a new arts initiative through the University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design aiming to provide an accessible, ever-changing space to the community. Disclaimer: this gallery is NOT on north campus! It is smack in the middle of downtown Ann Arbor on South Division Street between Wilma’s and Bar Louie, and coupled with free admission, there is absolutely no excuse to leave the place unexplored.

This past week, an MFA thesis exhibition named Dry Socks in a Submerged Canoe highlighted the works of graduate students Masimba Hwati, Laura Magnusson, Bridget Quinn, Rowan Renee, and Mayela Rodriguez. All evocative and visceral pieces—there were great examinations of cultural intersectionality, social justice, and ephemeral natural beauty. In the corner of the room, quietly hidden, were faint lights of blue bleeding onto the wall. That’s what lured me into Blue by Laura Magnusson.

Blue is a single channel video that locates the artist on the seafloor, arduously moving, exhaling, and burrowing through the afterlife of sexual violence. The medium of water, with its destructive potential and capacity to heal and the weight of an air tank, with its promise of survival and threat of impending emptiness, hold the fullness of traumatic experience. In this silent, psychic landscape, Magnusson bears witness to the complex nature of trauma and the ongoing process of recovery.”

I entered the dark room to be welcomed by two benches facing a seascape, which I soon realized was a short, silent film. I sat and watched the whole thing through twice. My body was paralyzed by the sheer strength that Magnusson evoked in her work. Wearing nothing but a coat, underwear, and snow boots, she braved the newfound gravity that accompanies full-submersion. She buried herself, her belongings, her experience in the seafloor—the only evidence of life was the constant flume of bubbles from her oxygen tank, surely a byproduct of breathing in a place unwelcome to doing so. As day turns to night turns to day again, Magnusson grapples with the upheaval and swelling of coming to terms, and then recovery.

There was no sound component, only silence. Much like the silence of victims of sexual abuse. Any witness to Blue was challenged to listen in other ways, observe the nuances of other sensory stimuli, and bear support and space for those who aren’t strong enough for themselves yet. Taken further, Magnusson urges the message of respecting silence. Too often, we feel the need to fill the silence: with empty conversation, with a needless hobby, with simple fidgets. In something as delicate and serious as trauma, talk is cheap. Having a voice is obviously critical in the matter, but not if its premature. We are capable of listening in other ways; listen with your eyes, listen with your hands, listen with you heart. Blue was a deepening exercise in empathy that reinforced the notions that there are other ways of communicating and healing past the verbal medium.

Here’s a MFA spotlight video on Magnusson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=14&v=KXfkloGzh9Y

Here’s a link to current and upcoming exhibitions coming to the Stamps Gallery: https://stamps.umich.edu/exhibitions/

What it feels like to be a dance major

This one goes out to all the skeptics of successful artists. We are not myths. We are not lesser than. We are just as professional as you. We are just as career-oriented as you.

Uncomfortable and unacceptable interactions surrounding the topic of ‘dance as a major’ mostly come up when I introduce myself.

Dismissively, “do you have classes for that?”

With glassed over eyes and a pitiful attempt to look interested, “thats so great that you’re pursuing your passion.”

Most large men go straight to, “you must be really flexible.”

What’s even more interesting is that I can feel the attitude visibly shift when I decide to integrate my dual-degree status and STEM pursuits. These reactions are indicative of a gross misunderstanding of the arts and what it means to be successful. By insulting those attaining a higher education in the arts, you are only confirming your own ignorance to the matter. Careers aren’t limited to doctors and lawyers, just like college education isn’t limited to lecture halls and lab sections.

Despite popular belief, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance has requirements. We have to fulfill a large distribution of technique credits, complete a composition class series geared towards choreographic development, and participate in large scale productions for repertory credit. We have anatomy, kinesiology, and body somatic courses to supplement our working knowledge of our own bodies’ mechanics. We learn how to produce and present artistic work, alongside figuring out how to propagate that knowledge through pedagogical training. We take regular classes in English, music, theater, art history, and dance history to understand the robustness the world of art has to offer. We are constantly in late night rehearsals that lie outside of the enforced degree requirements because we are taught to always be making and finding and performing. If that already wasn’t enough, most every student in the Department of Dance is interdisciplinary who actively seeks out all the resources that the University of Michigan has to offer—whether that be another minor, major, or degree altogether.

We turn in papers and take exams just like the conventional college student. But unlike the accepted norm, we are asked to reveal the deepest parts of ourselves and not only put them on display, but make them available for criticism. It’s all a part of the job: to embody human experience and be a vessel for communication through a kinesthetic medium.

I implore whoever reads this to spread the word. This is not a slap on the wrist, this is a call to action. Reshaping what it means to have an education in the arts is going to require change from the ground up. Respect your peers and never underestimate the power of art.

Sometimes I question how people would look at me if I weren’t getting a dual-degree. Its almost as if microbiology coursework legitimizes my place here as a serious Michigan student, and dance stands in as an outstanding extracurricular.

 

(Image credit: Derek Crandall)