Tuesday, April 4
Saturday, April 1
READER COMMENT: Who is Mark Haim?
A friend of mine when he heard his name began pronouncing it in different ways. "MarkHaima, MarKhayam, Mar Khhayam." And finally, "Omar Khhayam". I thought then, that the name fits, but did not quite know why. The Goldberg Variations, which I refused to watch other than live though the video sat on top of the TV for two years, finally gave me the reason to finally call him that. So when I took a walk on Capitol Hill, on Sunday, seeking silence and scents of Spring, I finally called him that. Omar Khhayam, whose book of poems I grew up with, a book whose pages were filled with, humor, pathos, sensuality, solitude and always clarified by a searing fire that defined every emotion, phrase, and transition by un-self concious acts of slicing, cutting, chiselling, all that was redundant. These varations, which they are, can only be desribed in the same fashion. They emerge from an intelligence, which is finally about balance and nature. They build, and flow; expand and contract, begin and vanish, leaving you and imprinting you as seasons do, except that it was but an evening. It's breathtaking scope, and content makes it one of the most viscous yet fluid experiences of my life. I who have kept the company of those who do not hesitate to molest words to fix experiences, found this evening, an inviatation to malleability, to the open eyes of childhood, to a new way of seeing.
And the music! I, who know only what I feel, and am thus suspect to all rational fools, felt it; the music and the silence that Andre held with such care, so that I could see. I heard and I watched. An enabling generosity banished all struggle between sound and motion, allowing the dance to emanate, and swirl around us, despite Andre's persistently inescapable, bent back and the occasional clenced jaw. And that thus was part of this variation, this evening of duets, we call solos, unsentimental, un-divine, just supremely and gorgeously mortal, in it's presence and it's passage.
It is my new book of poems, whose pages I shall turn this Spring, as I remember that other book, Khayyam's Rubaiyat, and my father, who introduced me to music, art, and movement.
READER COMMENT: Mark, Andre and Bach
Mark and I moved here at the same time and have shared an office for almost four years. I knew about Mark's solo and I even watched it on tape. I knew his reputation, I knew his intelligence, his humor, his sensitivity, his beautiful dancing and commitment to dance. I even made him tell me the story of how he created this solo. I was taken back to a time when a woman named Martha locked herself into the Carnegie Hall studio and began her life's work. Mark talked about how he would lie on the floor for days sometimes, waiting for inspiration. I was thrilled to finally see the work live. I want to speak about the choreography. We try to teach our students to trust their intuition and that the first choice may not be the final choice. There may be many more choices before settling. I want to say that TGV is a choreographic masterpiece - a study for all who want to make work. The word that keeps coming back to me is "choices." He made brilliant choices - sometimes the simplest thing, like running in and out of the theatre and ending up at the piano on exactly the last note of the music - thrill us. We burst out with laughter and feel a sense of joy and resolve. And at the same time, the choreographer in me says, "of course - there was no other choice but that one." He made the perfect decision. The way the piece is woven together is another example of this. Why did he pick that moment to break the fourth wall? How marvelous to be a back up singer during one movement of the music and a fountain the next. This is a person who knows how to be a child. But, with that said, unlike another Mark we all know, he does not try to prove to you that he understands the score. "Okay, I get it. You can read music." THIS Mark, Mr. Haim, DOES know the score deeply and intimately. He left no note unturned when making this work. He is a master musician and that is why we see the dance and music supporting each other. We do not see the score on stage being enacted by the dancers in the most obvious way. It is subtle and stunning. Again, the choices he makes - the layering of material - the accumulations and retrogrades. All the "choreographic tools" are hidden and only revealed for a greater purpose. There is one solo where he moves from upstage left to a little past center mark and then retrotrades the movement. We think he will stop with the music, but of course, he does not. He begins the journey again, in silence. He must keep going. It is inevitable. Thank goodness, Mark must keep going. It is his gift to us.
Friday, March 31
Mark Haim vs. An Ex-Boyfriend
I once dated a guy who made a big point of being from New York City. One sunny day I took him to a waterfront park, and as we sat down on the grass I was struck by how uncomfortable he looked on the green. He was trying to be casual, as a person usually feels, sitting on the grass by the water on a sunny day, but there was something in the carriage of his body that wouldn't allow him to be at peace on the grass. He flopped around a lot, changing positions, trying to find one that might look natural. But they were all awkward, and fascinatingly so, as if the blades of grass were actually tiny knives.
The reason I bring up this (thankfully brief and long ago) dating experience is because it came to mind during Mark Haim's solo performance of "The Goldberg Variations." Not because it was a similar scenario, mind you, but because it was a completely opposite experience. Whereas the guy on the grass was unconsciously creating a series of movements that appeared entirely, painfully self-conscious, in his On the Boards performance Haim was quite consciously creating a series of movements that appeared entirely unconscious—that is, thoroughly genuine and free of self-consciousness.
No matter what the grass guy did—sitting up, lying down, on his front, on his back—his body was at complete odds with his environment. No matter what Haim did on stage—graceful leaps, twitching feet, silly faces, naked rolling, anguished laughter—his body was not only at peace in its environment, but so natural it seemed to create its own space.
The guy on the grass made me uncomfortable to be on the grass, because his total, obvious discomfort threw into question my own bodily enjoyment of sitting on grass. Haim's performance, on the other hand, appeared effortless (in large part because his flawless pacing, fluidity, and technique required such effort). His corporeal ease radiated from the stage and out into the audience, making me feel more at home in my own body. There is a generosity--a welcoming--in Haim's movement that renders it infectious, and a joy to watch.
To sum up: I’d much rather go to the park with Mark Haim.
The stage is dark and you hear a voice. Mark Haim, dancer and choreographer of the Goldberg Variations, tells you that when he takes a certain position (a light from above cuts a circle of white into the stage floor and you see Mr. Haim with his arms at his sides bent at the elbow so his palms face up and his fingers point straight out) you should come onto the stage and move him around.
Then everything is black again except for the light at the piano. Bach’s Goldberg Variations begin, and Mark Haim starts dancing.
The Goldberg Variations, along with Bach’s other great solo keyboard masterpiece The Well-Tempered Klavier, are the Old Testament of keyboard literature. A simple, wistful ‘aria’ is followed by thirty variations that play with the chord structure, bass line and melody, ranging from childish ditties to technical tour-de-forces to extreme catharsis.
I am familiar with the Variations, and I just saw Richard Egarr perform them on the Harpsichord at Town Hall. I am not so familiar with dance. But I liked what I saw. Mr. Haim’s work – originally conceived for a single dancer – lives up to the Variations, matching them head-on with some of the most moving and beautiful choreography I’ve seen.
The sheer variety of the work is astonishing. One of the dances had a young man playing football – highly abstracted, of course. Another had a woman taking off her clothes and rolling over them, then over the floor, then back to her clothes again. Then there was a man walking up and down what seemed to be isles – I thought he was shopping at the grocery store.
Then there is the Variation that Mark tells you about at the beginning. I went onto the stage with about ten others, and we moved Mark around, just as he had promised. Mark’s body was completely at our mercy and when he was unbalanced he would topple over into our arms. Then we were told to frieze while Mark arranged us on the stage.
Though he is not capable of handling the most technical passages of Bach’s work, pianist Andre Gribou plays very well, and infuses much of his performance with a shimmering cantabile tone.
Haim’s piece climaxes right where the Variations do – at Variation no. 25. The longest, most tender, and most harmonically adventurous of them all, and Mr. Haim let's Bach work his magic. The dancer is very still and eventually ends up sitting on the floor beneath a light that has descended from the grid. She shakes her head, and as the light draws back up into the firmament she dances around, desperately trying to reconnect with it.
I loved it. And I think Bach would have liked it too.
Generosity and the dancer
For a show that is very long in time due to the nature of its offering, I will aim to be as generous in my thinking as were these dances.
I felt a call upon my humanity with these Goldberg Variations, The piece calls for a sort of accpetance of the nature of dance. The larger scope of the work, asks us to see dance for all its variations, but in my sentimental heart, it was also asking me to see life for all its variations.
It was the in betweens that I had trouble with. Sometimes lengthy in their classical modern dance classroom vocabulary text, yet that served as a counterpoint to the other more theatrical, story vignettes, or downright clowning! Even if moments of the movement vocabulary seemed a bit unconscious by the choreographer, I was still able to ride with the function of all these Variations of humanity, variations of choreography and performance. I think this has to do with the wide range of emotions that the work takes the audience through. One variation has you understanding isolation, and the next has you laughing your ass off, the next rooting for unison/togetherness in a duet. The variation of solo, turning into duets, reverting back to solos...a deliberate(?) representation of the variations of human connection, sometimes it is there, sometimes it is not. The premise for the Goldberg Variations, for that sleepless Count, seems to understand the direct correlation between isolation and wanting connection in the dark midnight hours when odd quiet falls over everyone but yourself. We all at some point reflect on the devices of our solitude and our wanting to join. I found this work to be extrememly personal about Mark and his relationship to the world. Beautiful and sad, an ironic and humorous way of pulling on life.
My interpreting mind really kicked in during the second half, when the dancing for dancing sake seemed to relax. The whole piece took a huge shift when Mark asks the audience to come and move him. The trust Haim had to have to LET these strangers move him was truly a gift. And the audience to go in for it, (not all were dancers!) were very brave as well. What an ALIVE exchange! The playful pursuit of connection, human fumblings, tenderness, a mosh pit, and a whole lot of trust. Then, he proceeded to move them. I thought no gentler way than to explore the role of who is watching who, who is affecting who, who is moving who? When the dust settled from this exchange, as people situated back into their seats, we had entered a new place: A new forum of theatricality came into in the second half, making for me, new discoveries about the intention of the work. On a personal note, it was great to see some peers challenged to move so utterly against their fortes. I was pleased to witness their letting go of what typically "works" for them and diving into building a wider range in their performances, in their beings. What a gift there. They were taking some risks. I believe they can actually push this even more.
Tanya's solo with the "prayer circle"ï¿½ as I will call it, demonstrated the dancer's mystery...the poetic banter continues and is worth presenting, when done with the balance of humanity, a specific clamour in the soul that needs releasing. This was found throughout most of the work, for me, making forgiveable the minor faults. After all, solos are not easy tasks, and require great courage, the strange courage of dancers and choreographers to do that. Dance, with all its drudgery of fitness, competition, and expectation, is a lonely art form. Mark Haim's Goldberg Variations unfold the layers of this loneliness, not only for the dancer from the dancer's view, but for all of us. For me, performances are most useful when they take you through a journey, through the gamet of being alive, our range of emotional workings. Even when dance gets so ambiguous, if it can bring itself back to being human against its virtuosity, then it has a place not just for the eyes of dancers and their friends, but for the eyes of all. It is "virtuousity"ï¿½ that has almost kept dance form furthering itself as an art form. But if we can mischeviously take dance with all it's seriousness ansd self-indulgence, and serve it from our truthful exposing places, representational of our nectar, then it can continue to thrive. Tonight virtousity gained a new definiton. High leg kicks aside, I was moved and connected to. And that to me is what makes dance worth watching.
The Variations very much lived up to their name in Mark Haim's evening-length piece. I would have attended just to hear pianist Andre Gribou's flawless performance of the music. He performed so effortlessly and without any grandstanding, simply lit downstage.
Gribou's performance of The Goldberg Variations was its own act of musical powerful physicality. his sensitivity to the performers was also astounding.
The dancing itself was completely engaging, unfolding simply at first, and then building from those solos into more complex ideas. The choreography mixed modern and classical phrases with acts of pure movement such as running, walking, and undressing. There were several instances that could have seemed gimmicky if not for the devotion of the performers and the overall flow of the pieces which gave every gesture a solid context to work within. Haim's choreography mixed playfulness and moments of gravitas deftly. Each of the six performers not only delivered impressive and impassioned turns with their multiple solos, but also revealed something of the personality of their individual techniques. Jim Kent's quicksilver movements and sychronicity in duets, Amy O'Neal's fluidity, and Ellie Sandstrom's fierce athleticism were all standouts. Which is one of the potential pitfalls of a evening structured around solos of varied techniques and emotional states; they could turn into a collection of moments. Haim's playful to serious continuum is also a delicate balance which the performers calibrated perfectly. And without being a spoiler, Haim ties all of it together, loosely rather than tightly. There is plenty of breathing room in his interpretation. It's the space and the mutual trust between the choreographer and the dancers--and in one very memorable passage, between the audience and the choreographer/performer--that resonates in the work.
Dance for the Goldberg Variations
It has always fascinated me the way that our western culture listens to classical music... hands folded quietly in your lap, face forward, don’t sneeze (!), and for God’s sake don’t squirm in your seat or move your body. They sound like instructions for a child in church, but frankly, I think the stillness is a little unnatural for most of us adults as well. And please don’t get me wrong…I’m not advocating a concert-goers revolt, an upheaval of hundreds of years of tradition. There are reasons – and good ones – that this is the way we listen to a concert of classical music. But to understand my personal reaction to the Bach Goldberg Variations, as choreographed by Mark Haim, it would be helpful to first understand that there is a three-year old child struggling beneath my skin each time I attend a concert of classical music concert (which is in fact, often). A couple other things it might help to know: Music is my greatest love, Bach is my favorite composer, and my personal experience with formal dance training began and ended when I was five because of an overly stern teacher.
And so, on to my evening at On the Boards last night! First of all, the music was beautiful. The Variations are so remarkable and they were performed with love by Andre Gribou, which is the most we can hope for when hearing our favorite works live. The dancing was also performed with love and respect…each one of the dancers quite evidently loved what they were doing as well (this was NOT a chore for them, NOT just a “gig”). And the three-year old inside of me was happy that, since I was not allowed to move much at all myself, at least there were people up there on stage moving to the music. Dance is something I really enjoy, and based on my short explanation above, it’s not very hard figure out why: it is more closely married to music than most (any?) other artforms, also - not to sound trite, but dancing is a beautiful and worthy thing to look at while listening to music, and moving our bodies to music is something that (it seems to me) comes naturally to us. Dance can be aesthetically, emotionally and vicariously satisfying.
The Goldberg Variations were no exception. They were choreographed FOR this piece. They exist because several hundred years ago, Bach was commissioned to create the music and Mark (thankfully) was inspired (even compelled) to create dance to go alongside. And much of him – and thus our empathic human condition – comes through in the movement of the body. Within the dancing, there is struggle, there is triumph, there is love, there is denial, there is strength, there is weakness, there is desire, there is rejection, there is comedy, and there is despair. In other words, there is life. I reckon that if I had Mark as a dance teacher when I was five, I very well may have stuck with it. He seems to understand imperfection, and I mean that as a rather highly paid compliment. This was not a stuffy, sterile, stern, fussy piece – rather, it was human…and that, I liked. The modern dancing was much more natural than our role, as audience. There were moments where I would have liked to know more (that typical “I don’t think I’m getting this” feeling), but there were also moments that made me think. And there were moments where I was more engaged and less engaged. Overall, I was quite happy to be in the audience last night. Perhaps in the same way that Mark seemed to be most overjoyed during the variation where he surrendered control to the audience (who, sock-footed, came on stage to move his body any which way they liked – and let’s face it - he must have liked some positions more and some less...some he understood and some he didn’t), I was happy to hand over control of a couple hours of my life to Mark and his vision.
When I took class with Mark a year ago, I don’t know that I was fully able to appreciate what I experienced. To me, at the time, he wasn’t a celebrated international soloist, he was just Mark. Mark, who would begin every class by saying the same phrase (which also opened last night’s show). Mark, who would give everyone in the class mantras to help us all breath through the movements. Mark, who would make us laugh and dance along with us, enjoying filling out the moves as much as we did. But after seeing how all of that (and more) about Mark came through in last night’s performance, I really began to see why he is considered “a choreographer’s choreographer.”
It isn’t so much that it was technically astounding (it was), but more that each solo revealed something new about Mark and was utterly unpretentious. I could see him in the entire dance last night. His personality came through in every variation: there were the moments that were reflexive and poignant as well as ones that seemed to laugh at themselves. And it was accessible. The choreography drew me in and allowed me to really sink into what each dancer was performing on the stage. The expressions on the performers were incredibly revealing and were, at times, completely priceless. This piece is Mark Haim.
But last night it was also Tonya Lockyer, Sean Ryan, Ellie Sandstrom, Jim Kent and Amy O’Neal. It was fascinating to watch as each dancer brought their own energy to the variations, but in a way that the choreographer was still present. This makes me wonder what the next couple of nights will be like... After seeing it with the company, TGV (for me) is that company and the experience that is to be had of TGV is comprised of their presence. As much as this is Mark’s piece, last night the other dancers had an equal share of ownership in their variations. I know that Mark originally did this as a solo and will do it in that format Friday night, but I have a hard time imagining it without the other five. I’m really looking forward to watching again tonight and seeing what kind of a difference it makes to have Mark perform it alone…
Mark Haim - The Goldberg Variations
The word that best sums up my response to Mark Haim’s The Goldberg Variations is “captivating”. The work slides, gently and compassionately, moving us in and out of a full and imaginative world of images. A playful simplicity shifts into a darker layer. At one moment we are watching a dance, and in the next an intimate human story. The work turns us to it - opening to allow a nugget of silliness, and shifting to reveal a moment of sublime and liquid steadiness. Inside this work you can feel the joy that is at the root of Haim’s deep and layered conversation with Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Rather then remaining stuck in the more traditional role of interpreting or using the music, Mark’s dance continuously allows us to more acutely hear and experience Bach’s music – and yet also allows us to revel in the choreographer’s movement choices and in each of the performers. Mark Haim has a rare gift for creating the kind of space inside a work that allows each element to breath and live simultaneously. The cast is beautiful – each one unique and clearly dedicated to the material. I was drawn into each of their journeys and was grateful for their diversity. This is a mature work – the work of a mature artist but also a work that has been allowed to grow and season and deepen with time. We are lucky to have Mark with us in Seattle and I hope he continues to influence this community through his teaching and his art. I am heading back Friday night to see him take on the whole Variations on his own. Bravo.
Wednesday, March 29
solo after solo after solo
Alice de Muizon
I have to admit, I know these people. And there's something enjoyable and yet stressful about watching people you know really well perform on stage. You're familiar with their bodies, you know how they move, you know how they handle the stage. You hope nothing goes wrong, you hope they don't wobble, or that their back isn't hurting too much when they do that really crazy arch move... I know these dancers and yet these dancers, Mark, Ellie, Amy, Sean, Tanya and Jim (who I don't have the pleasure of knowing very well yet) did not stress me out. Sometimes, I forgot I knew them. These guys are master performers. Each with their quircks and each with their own way.
Then of course, there's the work. Mark has sculpted an evening that is full of grace and personality. He has managed to structure a series of solo (sometimes duets, sometimes other) that make perfect sense together. Of course,there's the constance of the music, but there is still a challenge in creating choreography for the Variations that is not be disjointed and frankly boring. Mark's Variations is neither of those things. I found humor when I needed it, I found technique when I needed, I found passion when I needed it. The timing of the whole is perfect and the architecture, first created of course by Bach and now built upon by Mark, is flawless. The piece gives us a full spectrum of multi-dimensional content. What a huge work, what an endeavor.
And Andre Gribou, pianist, plays live... beautiful and graceful, I sometimes got lost in watching his studious body work at the piano. Playing very difficult music for 100 minutes is a feat of nature.
Lastly, I'll be seeing the work again tonight when Mark performs the whole thing as a solo. I want to see the work in its original format and see just one lonely body fulfill solo after solo after solo...
Nothing Here Yet
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