Doug Elkins: A Choreographer AND a Philosopher?

Some of you have heard me say that choreographer Doug Elkins has an encyclopedic memory for details, for music, and for information.  He has an active and fertile mind.  If you listen carefully while he speaks, his references and quotes can unlock new doors to making the most of life. Perhaps he is our 21st-century dance philosopher?

His recent research into making his new work Kintsugi, coming together NOW at DANCEworks, has revealed the following little gems which Elkins shared with us last week during DANCEwork’s Friday Club.

All acts of communication are acts of translation.  Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body
There is a thin semantic line separating weird and beautiful.  And that line is covered in jellyfish.

The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are stronger at the broken places.
  Ernest Hemingway.

Doug Elkins is interested in intersections of cultures and forms. Actually, Doug Elkins is interested in everything! His unique process somehow manages to make each object of interest look better once juxtaposed with the other. Same goes for dance!

While visiting Japan, Elkins coined a word, Japanizing.  To him, it means the Japonization of another culture’s memes, so that once Japanized, it becomes a new thing unto itself and can be viewed differently than its original form. For me, it’s a harmless form of cultural appropriation, taking something I’m very familiar with, such as ice cream sundae or a bacon/cheese sandwich and kicking it up a few notches, making it more enticing and delectable.  My own easy-to-access references!

I hope I’ve intrigued you enough to check out Doug Elkins DW’s Residency.  I can promise you won’t be bored.  I can promise Doug Elkins will give something to think about. Likely, he’ll give you something to laugh about as well.  And, I can promise you’ll be spending time with one of the most gifted and interesting choreographers of our generation!  Be sure to come to the final performance that will preview Kintsugi on September 7 & 8, at the Lobero Theatre.  Tix at box office or lobero.com.  Stay up to date on the residency at www.sbdanceworks.com or on our facebook page.

The Unsung Stories of Being an Arts Administrator

Anniversaries give me the permission to look back, something I generally don’t like to indulge in too much. On the occasion of DANCEworks 10th Anniversary, I began to think way back until the beginning of SUMMERDANCE Santa Barbara in 1997, over twenty years ago! At the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing, other than a strong sense of having dance as a lifelong passion and trusting my instincts. Creating a functioning non – profit organization created a very steep learning curve. Some of it was lots of fun and some of it was not so much fun.

A few days ago, I came across this writing from that time in my life. It made me smile.

2002

For those of you who think running a dance festival looks like fun, think again. What looks from a distance like it is nothing but one rock and roll party from beginning to end, can be, in reality, the food for distressing physical and emotional meltdown.

Reserve a beautiful ballroom with a sprung floor for an important performance at the Carrillo Recreation Center and learn a week before the heavily promoted performance, that the person who reserved it neglected to inform the person who runs the center, because the two can’t stand each other and try whenever possible, not to talk to each other. She, therefore, did not know that a church meets in the space regularly at the exact time we reserved it. You suddenly begin to believe in the power of prayer. (It worked!)

Learn not to schedule anything for a Saturday afternoon mid-summer. No one comes.

Try to prepare an important grant before a looming deadline with a development associate who has a splitting migraine and can’t remember where she put anything. It was only after a year of her repeated migraines that I realized the associate was not the right person for the job. The migraines appeared every time a grant was due. She cost me a lot more than anything she helped to raise which was zero.

Have repeated anxiety dreams along the lines of “I dreamt I produced a dance festival and nobody came.” Fortunately, these scenarios remained only bad dreams.

Hire a new grant writer who tells you months later she actually never completed a graduate degree because of a problem she has completing things. Learn not to trust resumés and apparent enthusiasm by applicants for the task at hand.

You are preparing to print the much-anticipated annual SUMMERDANCE Festival Guide when you’re told by the printers that they’ve have lost the disk your graphic designer needs to complete the job.

It’s the year 2001. It’s a week before the festival. You have an international dance company scheduled to arrive, but many of the dancers are having problems getting visas. You must hire a high priced attorney from San Francisco to expedite things. You also have no idea what you will do if the dancers are denied entry into the USA. It finally all worked out a day or two before they travelled.

It’s time to put up 200 posters around town the weekend before the festival. When you look for them around town, the posters are nowhere in sight. The “poster boy” took off with the posters and never did the job. He was never seen again.

Have what you think is a strong verbal contract with a local theater only to find when the theatre is contacted for a written contract, the performance date has been given away. You have no choice but to cancel the performance. Not a happy moment.

On the days before a performance, no one is at the box office of a local theatre to sell tickets or available to answer the phone.

Your bookkeeper tells you that she simply “didn’t have time to do the budget” before an important board meeting and therefore hurriedly produced numbers that made no sense to anyone at all. She was insulted because the board questioned her figures.

One of your lead artists casually inform you a few weeks before the festival that he has no intention of taking the stage during a performance when the main reason you’ve invited his company is that he’s such an amazing performer. You just assumed he would dance. Learn the importance of the maxim,”Never assume anything. It makes an ass out of you.” Still holds true.

Go all out planning a community salsa extravaganza in a historic downtown adobe. See to it that the street is closed, you buy rolls of tickets, and barricades are put up. Hire a terrific salsa band with dancers from LA to kick off the evening. Contain your disappointment when the “local community” figures out they can dance just as well on the closed street outside the barricades without paying the price of admission! Head away from this unfolding financial disaster to get a stiff drink at a local joint across the street.

Have an artist cancel a visit to town the day before you’ve arranged and planned for 35 important supporters to come to my house to meet him and promote his residency.

Get summoned by the UCSB campus police at the end of an SDSB festival to come out to campus immediately because a visiting artist has totally trashed the apartment we rented for him in the most embarrassing way possible before leaving town. You are invited to look at the appalling mess. You’re mildly amused at the way the police force you to look at all the evidence, but sure you’ll never be able to use this resource for housing again. It must have been a hell of a party!

After a terrific performance that contained some mild nudity, you are told by a know-it-all board member that you will NEVER get a grant in this city again. Ignore her as best you can as well as anyone else who makes a habit of bursting your balloon when possible.

Notice that you have a definite proclivity for hiring not – yet – recovering alcoholics.

Now, CELEBRATE the fact that you’ve survived!!!!

kintsugi?!

One of my pleasures in life is the discovery that one part of my life has unexpectedly overlapped with another. Currently, my work in the world of contemporary dance is aligning with my ongoing love affair with Japan.

Doug Elkins is our 2018 DANCEworks artist-in-residence. Last fall, he accompanied me and my husband to Japan to discover inspiration there for a new work he will create later this summer during his Santa Barbara DW’s residency. As far as I could tell, he spent a lot of his time in Japan and Kyoto wandering around and doing his own personal form of exploration. We’d chat about lots of stuff, enjoy dinners and mornings together. I had no clue until a few weeks ago as to how his Japanese visit would influence him.

doug!doug!doug!doug!doug!

A few weeks ago he made it clear. Kintsugi! I know what it is, but not a lot more. It’s such an interesting concept and so different from the way our own culture regards things that are old and broken, that I want to share it. As a point of departure for a work of dance, I think it will be fascinating. Did I mention that Doug Elkins has a brilliant creative mind that goes where few others can or dare to?

So what is kintsugi? It is the 400-500-year-old art of repairing broken ceramics or other fragile items with lacquer and gold. The repaired item, with its veins of gold, is then regarded as more beautiful and more interesting than the original unbroken item.  Kintsugi was an offshoot of wabi-sabi and like many other pursuits in Japan, it became an art form, studied and perfected.

The repaired item transforms.  What might have ended up in a trash heap, has become a work of art to be treasured and used again.

Is there a personal message here for all of us ?

…and, how will choreographer Doug Elkins create a dance with this theme?

 

The importance of Wabi-sabi in traditional Japanese aesthetics cannot be overstated. According to Wikipedia, In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.[2] The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” 
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Meanwhile, Only in Japan at Takarazuka

Who and What is Takarazuka??

Yikes!  This really exists! (for full affect, do watch the videos.)

Part of what endears Japan to me is the seemingly never-ending discoveries to be made at both ends of the spectrum from the sublime to the ridiculous.  A few days ago we travelled out of Kyoto to attend a performance of The Takarazuka Revue. I’d known about Takarazuka for years, but this year I got reservations as soon as we got to Japan.  It didn’t disappoint.

from NY Times, July 14, 2016

YOKOHAMA, Japan — On any given night outside a theater in central Tokyo, hundreds of women can be found waiting in neat phalanxes, dressed in matching T-shirts or sporting identical colored handkerchiefs — the uniform of what may be the most rabidly loyal fans in Japanese entertainment.

The stars they’re hoping to glimpse are women, too, actresses who play both male and female roles in the 102-year-old Takarazuka Revue, an enduringly successful theater company.

 

Founded in 1914 by a railway company that hoped to lure travelers to a struggling hot spring resort outside Osaka, the group began with a handful of teenage singers and dancers and staged its first performances in a converted swimming pool. A century later, Takarazuka operates five sub-troupes and puts on 900 shows a year, in company-owned theaters in Tokyo and its original western Japanese base. Most of the shows sell out.

Cross-dressing, single-gender theater groups have a long history in Japan.

Takarazuka could not be more Japanese. Training is rigorous and the troupes are strictly hierarchical, with designated “top stars” and ranks of junior performers. Rules are strict and extend beyond the stage: Members are not allowed to marry and often “retire” in their late 20s or early 30s. The most popular make the transition to mainstream acting or singing careers.

By putting women in male roles, Takarazuka is aiming less for transgression or social rebellion than for an added level of escapist fantasy. Its members’ duty, Ms. Mine said, is to be “fairies selling dreams,” onstage or off. “You can’t have the smell of a real life about you.”

Despite its Western trappings, Takarazuka draws on “ideas of purity that are very primitively Japanese,” Akio Miki, a veteran Takarazuka director, said. They show up in its productions and in the way the company — whose official motto is “modesty, fairness, grace” — regulates its performers’ private lives.

“It’s an idealized male image, seen through women’s eyes: The heroes are more romantic, more divine,” he said. “They don’t tend to lie or cheat. It’s what the audience would like from men but doesn’t usually get in reality

from Wikipedia:

Continue reading “Meanwhile, Only in Japan at Takarazuka”

The Top of the Mountain

The universe turns a blind eye to the triumphs, losses, and vicissitudes of our individual daily lives.  After a resounding success or a horrific loss, I expect the world I see when my eyes open to somehow be altered.  It never is.  That can be a source of comfort but is also a source of mild bewilderment.  Last night’s brilliant performance brought many of us to the top of the mountain.

Esteban Moreno and NicoleVaughan-Diaz

Today I am savoring the resounding success of our 2017 DANCEworks residency. In my personal world and in the world of the artists who were with us for a month, I can say with certainty that the world is a better place today. It feels brighter, more loving and more optimistic.  I hope the pleasure and wonder the final performances of the residency generated for everyone in the audience will be present for them today too.

Nayhara Zeutrager and Esteban Moreno

I am still seeing images and hearing music.  The magnificence and passion of the dancers can serve as an inspiration to strive mightily in life to understand and utilize the gifts bestowed on each of us.  In this world that is not so user-friendly to the art of dance, these artists have remained dedicated. Their payback is great, if fleeting.  I can only hope it sustains them through the inevitable difficult times in their careers.  We shared a golden month together.  I am in a state of awe for what was achieved in four weeks time. Continue reading “The Top of the Mountain”