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.

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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Eating My Brown Sugar Fudge

Eating My(Brown Sugar)Fudge

“What is the matter with you?” asked my husband, as I handed him a Martha Stewart recipe for penuche (brown sugar fudge), trying to entice him to whip me up a batch in his spare time. Good tasting, rich and creamy penuche is impossible to find outside New England.  It was a childhood favorite of mine.  In a stroke of genius brought on by an intense craving for something sweet, I googled it and lo and behold, Martha had one that read as perfect.

When my kids were little, my husband would make them a delectable batch of chocolate fudge for Valentine’s Day.   True, it wasn’t Valentine’s Day, nor was it for my children, but given his fudge – making history and my yearning, it didn’t seem like a totally unreasonable request.

Danny’s  question caused me to reflect.  What is the matter with me?  I need a baking pan full of sugar in my kitchen like Obama needs Donald Trump offstage.trump

 

Suddenly, my craving made sense.  In classic Overeater’s Anonymous fashion, I was attempting to fill a now-vacant spot in my daily life.  It was the sweet spot in my afternoon that was provided  each time I dropped by the Lobero Theatre to watch Doug Elkins rehearse Mo(or)town Redux during his DANCEworks residency. No matter how intensely the dancers and the choreographer were working, they would  easily joke and laugh with each other between takes. Regardless of pressing issues in the outside world, the interior space of the theatre and of our minds and bodies were charged with positive energy, love of work, love of process, and the excitement of discovery.  The sweetness and lightness of this creative process were contagious and we each were touched by it.  Filled by it, as well.

doug-elkins
choreographer, Doug Elkins

Well, I guess we all know that finding a reason for a craving might be helpful, but won’t necessarily eliminate it.

Not yet able to dismiss my penuche fixation, but knowing it was in my best interests to do so, I distracted myself by wondering if there can be  a recipe for creativity?   Saying recipe in the same line as creativity is an obvious oxymoron. But could I  isolate some essential ingredients?  In no particular order of importance, here are a few qualities I’d observed in the theatre during Doug Elkins’ wonderful residency.

Talent, inspiration, dedication, technical prowess, vulnerability, receptivity, willingness to fail, respect, craftsmanship, resiliency, support, focus, and collaboration.  Nothing that can be measured, cooked or dispensed or eaten.  But , put together it produced an outcome that gave me a satisfaction and high that far outweighed any other I’d experienced.

I left the house for a few hours trying to put all thoughts of penuche and recipes out of my mind.   Much to my delight, when I returned, my husband had whipped up a delectable batch of penuche. It was even better than I remembered it from my New England days.  We gleefully scraped the mixing bowl together.

Once in a while, you can have your fudge and eat it too.  Happy holidays, everyone!  Whip it up.

evergreen

Martha Stewarts’ Penuche Fudge

INGREDIENTS

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 5 ounces (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 ounces toasted walnuts, chopped (1 cup)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Coat a 5-by-10-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Line with plastic wrap leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides.

  2. Bring evaporated milk, brown sugar, butter, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 236 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 25 minutes.

  3. Transfer to a mixer bowl, and beat in confectioners’ sugar on low speed. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium, and beat until mixture is thickened and smooth, 2 to 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add vanilla and walnuts.

  4. Spread mixture in pan, smoothing top. Refrigerate, uncovered, until firm, about 25 minutes. Unmold fudge using plastic overhang, and discard plastic. Cut into 18 pieces.

COOK’S NOTES

Penuche will keep, covered, for up to 1 week.