Sunday, September 25, 2011

Passion as art

Israel Galván interacts
with a guitarist and singer
in his intense and stylized
flamenco dance.

Flamenco dance is a glorious departure from normal.

Hence, this must be an American speaking. Someone with the romantic languages in her blood and popular culture fatigue in her bones. Car chases. Faces pummeled. Guns exploding. Women raped. Enough. Give me Andalusian soul music. Show me your beating heart.

Today I had the great fortune to see flamenco dancer Israel Galván in one of his last performances in NYC this fall. It’s a 10-minute walk from when I’m staying and despite this week’s rave review in the NY Times, I managed to get the best seat in the house.

Here’s what today’s flamenco performance was like. And though the performance, titled “La Edad de Oro,” is avant-garde by traditional standards, what I describe here is pure flamenco:

Three men on a stage — one dancer (Israel Galván), one singer (David Lagos) and one guitarist (David’s brother Alfredo). They’re all dressed in black, though at one point Galván changes to white shoes. The stage is bare except for their chairs and a speaker for the guitarist. The backdrop is black. Lighting is often from above and it’s minimal. Everything that happens happens between the men and the music and the audience.

It’s intimate. Us and them.

The performance feels like a long story that Galván starts off by stepping into the solitary beam of light and beginning a percussive dance with, at first, no accompaniment. Sometimes the only sounds are his vocalizations. Sometimes he is completely still and there is only silence. David begins to sing and Alfredo plays his guitar. They trade off, Galván sitting while David or Alfredo continues. It’s a conversation, told in music and dance, that lasts for an hour and a half. Exuberant, plaintive, funny in parts, the dance and music portray us, in conflict, in love, in loss. And when Galvan stomps his feet and arcs his entire body with arms straining toward the ends of the universe, it is unbearably intense.

Olé! Sí! Bravo! I found I was amid a Spanish-speaking audience, used to joining in, at times, with expressions of appreciation and exclamations of joy. It felt as if we were at a juerga — a spontaneous gathering, perhaps in Spain at some small pub — drinking wine, reflecting on our lot in life. The dancer or singer begins a lament and soon everyone joins in.

This art comes from the heart and is transformed by skill and training and generations of dancers and singers and guitarists evolving to this, where Galván is on the edge of something old and new.

What I describe is passion and I express tremendous gratitude to know passion and to recognize it in others who take it whole and shape it into beautiful art.

As we left the theater, I heard one man say to his group of friends: “I feel so lucky to have witnessed this.”

Perhaps he's also saying is that he feels fortunate to be understood. That his passions have a place in his life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The bullied pulp

Obama comes in last at the
Iowa State Fair pie-eating contest.

Dr Rae psychoanalyzes Barack Obama

Dr Rae does not want to come back from vacation mode, where she has been happily rewriting a novel. Dr Rae has been at play in the fictional world, a fun fantasy land where people live and die as the mood strikes her.

Zap. There goes another one.

Imagine, then, the horror upon returning from summer vacation to find the world unchanged. Men still acting badly.

Let us not waste time, then. There are a lot of men acting very badly. I’ve watched the reruns of Mad Men on Roku this summer. I know how bad men can be.

The man with me on my couch today, the man awaiting psychoanalysis, needs no introduction. Few will be surprised to see that Barack Obama, our president, is heaped here like a tired-out whoopee cushion. He has just fled the Republicans, the Vineyard and Hurricane Irene, and way too many sticks of fried butter hurled by cranky farmers while he was scoping out the Midwest from his hulking black Skulk-o-Van.

Mr. President, with all those state fair fried butter sticks and clumps of fried dough you’ve encountered the last few days, dare I ask, why are you so scary skinny?

Dr Rae, I confess, I ate sparingly as a youngster. The habit has stayed with me.

Sorry, sir, but did you just refer to yourself as a youngster?

As a boy, then.

That’s better. And as said boy, did you take lunch money to school with you?

That I did. Folks back then carried quarters to school for cafeteria lunches. Fish sticks. Tater tots. Michele says potatoes have potassium. I’m not opposed to tater tots. For that matter, I am not opposed to veterans. Gays, well, that’s another story.

So you enjoy a tater tot on occasion?

I never had the pleasure of a tater tot, Dr Rae.

Just as I expected. Tell me, commander in chief, if the scenario I describe sounds familiar:

You are walking to school. A bit of a distance ahead on the sidewalk, you see another human being coming toward you. You reach into your pocket, take hold of your small treasure, and you exclaim, “Please! It’s all yours.” You hurl your quarter, your precious lunch money, gift wrapped, polished, worth 20 times what it’s worth now, toward the approaching person. But before you can ask that toddler on the tricycle for her vote in return, off she trikes, marveling at her good fortune and practically smelling the five Snicker’s bars in her immediate future.

Dr Rae, you are so smart. How do you do it?

I took one look at you and said to myself, “You only get that skinny by giving away your milk money in kindergarten.”

Diagnosis. Sadly, our president has weak bones, particularly in the area of the spine. This is from a dearth of milk and its all important component, calcium, in his formative years. Without a family hawk to teach him bully-bashing maneuvers, he gave it up. Every day he gave it up. And, fellow citizens, as you can see nothing has changed.