Wednesday, May 31, 2006

and another thing...

It's not everywhere that one hears people roaming the halls at night muttering lines from Dante's Inferno to themselves.

Magic. Madness. Magic.

SITI Day 3 tells me it's 70 degrees outside. That may be true, but in my room it's at least 80 with the humidity/sweat/tiger balm factor.

I'm doing laundry, eating cashews, and drinking tea (fuckit, factor that in with the heat).

I continued my dance with death today, also known as basic #4. There was one moment where I felt a little closer to successful execution of that form...and by 'successful' I mean simultaneous, oppositional action within my center and my feet didn't slide all over the place.

I keep hearing J Ed's voice in my head - "bring yourself to the point where you're just about to fall over and then stop yourself [from falling.]" It's convenient, his voice in my head, since he's not actually here (but he will be next week).

But, definitely, I learned something about up and down and about my ankles and their pronation problem (which, on the whole, is gradually shifting to a stronger, less pronated place).

We watched a video of an 82 production of Suzuki's The Trojan Women (review here: featuring the inimitable Kayoko Shiraishi.

Time to ponder our composition, sweat it out while the clothes dry, and collapse in a heap.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

SITI Day 2

I think the biggest challenge facing our composition for next week is energy, or lack thereof, at the end of a day of training. I want to soak in the bath right now, not traipse through the rain to look at sites around campus for our piece. The bottoms of my feet hurt.

I continue to learn so much about the differences between my right and left sides. Basic #1 on the right side poses very differeny challenges than basic #1 on the left. My hips are a little different - specifically, I think, my psoas, to say nothing of my knees.

This electronic transmission must be interrupted for a recognition of:

stunning thunder. A glorious summer storm.

I should change in preparation to stroll through the rain with my composition group.

In other news: Basic #4 used to be my nemesis. Now, I think, we are on the path to becoming fiery, violent lovers.

hot cha!

Well, we looked at a whole bunch of neat sites and slogged through our highlighted Seagull texts.

And now, to bed!

Monday, May 29, 2006

HaZamir reunion concert backstage at Lincoln Center

That's me, unshaven, followed by two pics of yours truly with the inimitable Jesse Rodin.

SITI Day 1

I survived. We all did. Quite gloriously, in fact.

I've just read a new translation by Michael West of The Seagull with my composition group.

Warm and exuberant group of people: one very funny, zesty woman from Spain, one sweet chocolate-bearing man from Germany, a fella (who may also be my new handstand partner) who went to Yale and now lives in Boulder, a sassy woman with a thick Chicago accent, and one of the younger participants who's still in college.

We had our first composition showings today and I experienced my usual sense of panic, being the first director in our group. I think the piece (an abstract story about the Arkadina-Treplev-Masha V) went all right - definitely lacking in sufficient jo ha kyu and it had more tableau and less action than I would include if I were to revise it. All in all, though, a lot of fun to create and it was certainly fun to perform and watch the other compositions.

Earlier in the day Anne asked us to reveal the central, Sisyphean struggle in our work today. Sometimes it feels like there's a new boulder every day, but the one I chose to discuss had to do with limitations - acknowledging the vast array of emotions I experience when I encounter a physical limitation, honoring those feelings, and still making conscious choices to change and work with what I have and can do...I think, especially in light of my experience in composition class today, I'd better extend that to limitations in general and...specifically, dealing with the guilt/shame/anxiety I sometimes feel in reaction to having negative/self-critical feelings. Negative, self-critical feelings and fear are inevitable and important parts of my growth, my process as an artist and a human being...and I need to honor them, plunge into them even, and still come up for air and recognize that those feelings are a pool of sorts...there's a deep end and a shallow end and places in between and I can choose whether I stand, wade, flail, or drown at any moment.

So, my new Sisyphean task is, I think, to celebrate creative leap into the deep end of the pool without looking and have faith that I can tread water for a long time if need be and swim with the best of them (whoever they may be ;)). I don't really want to get out of the water.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Now that I've posted that article...

My blog has become one of those horrible endless-text-eyesores.

What do I do?

I couldn't figure out how else to post it without posting merely a link, which would soon become inaccessible to non-subscribers.

Rad article in the Times arts section: collaboration between a choreographer and an architect

At the New JetBlue Terminal, Passengers May Pirouette to Gate 3

Published: May 28, 2006

THE Grand Foyer at Radio City Music Hall has been described as many things: a tour de force, a people's palace, even an Art Deco masterpiece. But it has not typically been described in the language of dance, as it recently was by the architect and set designer David Rockwell. The commanding room, he said, functioned as a kind of ballet master: a magnetic presence that forced people to move well and look good. "I have a vivid memory of the first time I walked up that stairway," he said, referring to the huge yet perfectly proportioned flight of steps to the mezzanine. "I had bad posture, but just being on it made my posture improve."

Individual behavior is only part of the story; the Grand Foyer also alters the behavior of crowds, who instinctively know how to use it. Much as a dancer doing pirouettes keeps her eyes focused on a reference point so she won't get dizzy, visitors, without even realizing it, use the room's precisely deployed architectural signposts — stairway, chandelier, mirrors, doorframes — to align themselves and stay on track. As a result, Radio City can pull 5,900 people through its lobby without contusion or confusion; more than that, it does so with the theatricality and orderliness that you might imagine at a formal ball.

For Mr. Rockwell — whose mother, once a vaudeville dancer, had hoped to be a Rockette — the dance of people in public space is not so much a matter of inborn grace or hours spent at the barre, as of how the built environment pushes us around and how we push back. His designs have explored these dynamics in a variety of settings, from upscale hotels and restaurants to the viewing platform at ground zero.

But his latest project involves one of the most notoriously pushy environments there is: an airport terminal. Last year his firm was hired to design the "interior experience" (arrival, departure, retail space) of the new JetBlue Airways terminal being built at Kennedy International Airport. And in what may be a first for architectural collaboration, Mr. Rockwell hired a choreographer — his Broadway colleague Jerry Mitchell — to help him.

The two men thought a lot about which public spaces in New York were well "choreographed" — that is, which shaped people's movement successfully — and which were not.

Mr. Rockwell had been pondering the general subject for decades. Even while a student at Syracuse University, he would stand on the roof of the architecture building and study the patterns carved in the snow by a sort of unspoken group will, patterns he would later connect to those described by the urbanist William H. Whyte in his classic studies of public space. What caused them? It wasn't just expedience, because the paths were often curved, where a straight line would be more direct. People moved as they did, Whyte believed, at least in part because they sought out pleasing experiences; they voted with their feet.

If Whyte was right, then why are so many public spaces so deeply unpleasurable — and sometimes almost dangerous — to move through? How could the exquisite choreography of Grand Central Terminal, with its powerful beams of natural light making what Mr. Rockwell called a "gateway inviting people into the city," coexist with the claustrophobic purgatory of Penn Station? (Penn Station seems to sneer and say, "Get lost!") How could the Grand Foyer at Radio City have the same function as the bewildering entry to the Marquis Theater on Broadway, which is cruel enough to suggest that the place was named for the Marquis de Sade?

With their traffic-stopping lady-or-the-tiger mystery corridors, their dizzying hairpin escalators, their misproportioned steps that send people tumbling, such places actually seem intended to enhance human clumsiness. Whyte certainly thought so.

"It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people," he wrote. "What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished." In New York, if you want to feel like an oaf with two left feet, there are many places that will gladly assist you. Quite often these will be places that people cannot choose to avoid. Jury pens, Social Security offices and ticket lobbies of hit shows, facing no competition, are usually disasters, to say nothing of emergency rooms, which only a corpse on a gurney could love.

But even those seem like successful designs compared with most airport terminals. With people and vehicles and luggage going every which way, these have always been difficult spaces to organize. A few architects have managed elegant, even poetic solutions, like Eero Saarinen's 1962 TWA terminal at Kennedy, whose soaring gull-shaped roof and swooping interiors invited travelers to imagine that they were flying even before they left the ground. But prosaic concerns like increased ridership and heightened security have turned the old buildings into dinosaurs and left what Mr. Rockwell calls their "generic and soulless" successors facing an apparently unsolvable puzzle. How do you move so many people, safely and logically and with a feeling of freedom, around a huge space that cannot in fact be free?

Mr. Rockwell's job at the JetBlue terminal — which is being built next to the Saarinen building, now empty — required him to think both inside the box (Gensler & Associates was responsible for most of the architecture) and outside it, given JetBlue's reputation for stylish practicality. "We began with the idea of using movement to personalize the experience and deal with the emotions of travel." Or as Richard Smythe, the JetBlue executive in charge of redevelopment at the airport, put it, the job was to make the customer's movement through the terminal feel "sexy."

Making movement feel sexy (or at least not random and leadfooted) is one possible definition of dance, which is why Mr. Rockwell brought Mr. Mitchell aboard. In the musicals they had already worked on together — "The Rocky Horror Show," "Hairspray" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" — Mr. Rockwell's sets had seemed not only to shape some of the dancing but also at times to participate in it. That the two men were about to collaborate on the musical adaptation of "Catch Me If You Can," a tribute to the innocence of flight in the Jet Set '60s, seemed like another positive omen.

Even so, a choreographer is about as typical in an architectural design process as a dentist or a woodchuck, and the idea of the highly theatrical Mr. Mitchell presenting his ideas to structural engineers and efficiency experts probably raised a few eyebrows. But Mr. Rockwell likes unusual collaborations; he enlisted Todd Oldham, the fashion designer, to help develop the color scheme for the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and had the underground cartoonist Gary Panter working with him on a Disney cruise ship project.

In any case, Mr. Mitchell took one look at the JetBlue terminal flow simulations and started dancing around the conference table at the Rockwell Group office on Union Square. "The original design made it hard to understand where you were supposed to go, either entering or leaving," Mr. Mitchell said. "Traffic diagrams showed a huge amount of path-crossing. I started to think it would be fabulous to eliminate all this crisscrossing and straight edges, which cause anxiety when they go on too long. David asked me what dance patterns I would use, and I said, 'People move easiest in circles: off and on the merry-go-round.' "

From his many "nightmare" hours spent at O'Hare International en route to or from his family, Mr. Mitchell recognized another problem: The design did not account for what he called the "different emotional experiences" of arrival and departure.

"Coming into an airport when you're leaving on a trip you have to slow down," he said. "You've got to arrive two hours early, and you've got security, luggage, kids, older people to deal with. That experience has to be made more leisurely. Coming back, to New York at least, you want to get out of the airport as fast as possible. You want a little Hot Wheels acceleration as you're coming off the plane and heading to the exit."

Mr. Mitchell was talking about feelings, but for a choreographer, feelings are what get expressed through pattern and rhythm. So he and the architects looked for ways to alter the shape and pace of passenger movement within the terminal, drawing less on transportation hubs (which are patronized of necessity) and more on urban spaces that people actually choose and enjoy. At Union Square, as Mr. Rockwell explained on a recent tour through some of those sites, the paths are wide enough for pedestrians to move along them in both directions at once, allowing for the pleasure of proximity without discouraging eye contact. (Squeeze people too close, as on a rush-hour subway train, and they won't look at one another.) The paths are also gently curved, allowing some surprise about what's around the next bend. And those curves seem to stretch time; as we circulated slowly, we were always aware of how we were deviating from the Manhattan grid, which nevertheless persisted as a faint impression, like a distant drumbeat.

"Friction is crucial for creating successful movement," Mr. Rockwell said. At Union Square — a green platform raised like a stage between streets that bustle with normal urban activity — that friction causes pedestrians to slow down, even if they don't mean to stop. At Times Square, where the streets do not recede but instead seem to multiply, the ambient rhythm accelerates. If a tourist unfamiliar with the beat stops to gawk, he is inevitably shoved along. (Successful movement doesn't always mean leisurely movement; Whyte liked a "nice bustle" of up to seven people per foot of walkway a minute.) At the Channel Gardens arcade leading down to the ice rink in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the contrast between the mass of the buildings on either side and the void in between sucks passers-by down toward the rink with an accelerating force that feels almost gravitational.

But an even more fundamental rule of human movement was in operation at all these spots: People will not generally walk into large objects. So if you want the foot traffic to turn left, put an obstacle — a statue, a row of planters, a large building — on the right.

"It's like they tell you in white-water rafting," Mr. Rockwell said. "Follow the water because it avoids the rocks."

Out of such thoughts, and Mr. Mitchell's choreographic insights, came the Rockwell Group's solution for the JetBlue terminal. Various obstructions (principally two large bleacherlike seating areas rising up like icebergs after the security checkpoints) would subtly lead outbound travelers toward the periphery of the space — the longer, more circular route — while inbound travelers would be directed straight between them, down a level and swiftly out. The periphery walls would be curved like the paths at Union Square to slow down the outbound experience and, not incidentally, enhance the likelihood of lingering over merchandise. And the bleacherlike seating areas, improving on the usual pods of wee chairs and tables at floor level, would encourage people to get above the action and watch the shapes of the promenade that they were recently part of.

Mr. Rockwell calls that kind of alternation, which he had pointed out in all the successful urban places we visited, "public theater": "Are we the actors? Or are the actors the other people we're looking at? What's thrilling is that it keeps flipping back and forth. The ambiguity allows people to be whatever they want."

Mr. Mitchell expressed it less abstractly: "Is it an airport? Is it a Broadway show? What's the difference?"

It will take a while to find out; the terminal isn't expected to open until 2008. But for Mr. Rockwell the interplay of architecture and choreography has already begun to inform his purely theatrical work. In its evocation of a biomorphic 1960's urban "eventorium," "Hairspray" contains a direct reference to Saarinen, and the show's blinking jewel-tone backdrop owes a debt, Mr. Rockwell said, to the 20-foot waterfall at the back of Paley Park on East 53rd Street. Both the waterfall and the backdrop act as unifying focal points that drag the viewer through the fourth wall, whether literally at Paley Park — it's hard not to walk in — or figuratively at the Neil Simon Theater.

Whyte was a big fan of Paley Park; in his documentary film "City Spaces, Human Places," he showed how its architecture altered people's movement (and mood) in specific, predictable ways. That's what dance does too — to the dancers at least — and why the connection between choreographers and architects is not so far-fetched.

The urbanist Jane Jacobs referred to the dynamics of her Greenwich Village block as the "ballet of Hudson Street," a phrase often interpreted as a tribute to the randomness of people's unpredictable daily choices. That's surely part of it, but given Jacobs's aesthetic and political convictions, it must also be a reference to the thousand quite nonrandom decisions about scale and setback and zoning that shape people's randomness. Successful public spaces invite you to join the dance of city life by first helping you to see it; without the rhythm of the street grid there could be no languorous fox trots like Union Square, no elegant struts like Bryant Park, no jitterbugs like Times Square, with everyone hopping around the traffic and bending off at Fosse angles. The city is more choreographed than we may like to think, and for better or worse, we're all hoofers within it.

downtown Saratoga Springs

What a beautiful place. I've been wandering around town for about two hours.

We drove from Carol's house to Saratoga (TOGAmura...cue spooky music) this morning. Tobias had the privilege of sitting in the front seat next to my father, who has become an exceptionally agitated, easily distracted, anxiety-ridden driver. HE panics about not having precise directions, is easily disoriented, forgets directions he's just received, and requires that the person to his immediate right supply him with a continuous stream of Diet Coke to keep him in some kind of chemically hydrated stupor. As an unfortunate side effect, he also flatulates copiously whenever we stop and he gets out of the car. I suppose this is measurably better than having him fart *in* the car, but I'm sure he let 'em rip while we were all asleep (and who could blame him?). In addition to receiving the dual desgination of official soder pourer and navigator/peacekeeper, Toby got to stare at a splattered insect carcass on the windshield directly at eye level and, later, an ample glob of bird poop.

In any case, I'm here. Eating wasabi tuna and veggies and feeling terrifically excited.

Looking at the contact list, there seems to be a lot of people from Australia, a smattering from Europe, one person from Brazil, one person from Malaysia, two from Canada, and a bunch from all over the States. Eric Miller (of TJT fame) and some other people originally from the Bay Area are here.

And I'm here. With my foolsFURY water bottle. And a book full of Chekhov plays. And some new text to memorize. And an (illicit?) crockpot so I can make tea in my dorm room. And probably way too much clothing.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 26, 2006

By Popular Demand

I am starting a blog. I have some ambivalence about blogs, so it may vanish quite suddenly.

Like this:


Or, it may become the most sensationalistic, exhibitionistic, ritualistic spew vehicle out there in the great, wide interweb.

Only time will tell.