Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This is what I look like, generally speaking, after a day of rehearsals. I spend most of my working days in either shapeless cotton that could double as pajamas or in stretchy, thin things that could double as swimsuits, if they weren't so ratty and utilitarian. I look like a bedraggled character from a Dr. Seuss illustration. My clothes are mostly sweaty, my hair has gone mad, and I am usually stiff, bruised, or otherwise aching.

1. Ballet class remains hard, incredibly and painfully hard, about two decades after my first one.
2. Last week, I was very lazy. I had a light rehearsal schedule, so I skipped class on four days out of the possible seven. Still, I danced for twelve hours. And this is me being as slothful as I probably can without going on vacation. Usually, it's 30 hours or more.
3. All of this practice--class, rehearsal, being on stage--all of these hours and hours, thousands and thousands of them, add up to a certain level of skill that still leaves me working on such difficult things as Standing Up Properly.

Dance, for me, has lost its glamour. It's still beloved and beautiful, still capable of offering intellectual sparring, rapturous pleasure, and that particular satisfaction of time spent on something so worthwhile and good that you can't wish it had been allotted to anything else. But it has lost its slickness and soft unreality. I've lost the illusion that disconnects the magical, floating, impossible creatures onstage from the damp and unromantic confines of the studio.

It's a side effect of familiarity. Something like the sharpening of focus that takes place when you've known someone for years. It's intimacy in action and the exhaustion of mistruths. It's commitment and honesty and all that is good and solid and thrilling-yet-not. It's infinite possibility, and I am glad to have it. Even at the expense of glamour.

Friday, April 22, 2011

of possible interest, #1

Alex Ketley, who is blast to work with, a choreographer, and a man in possession of a quite strange, though frequently gut-socking, artistic mind, is premiering a new piece at Ballet Nouveau Colorado this weekend. He made a very odd little film for it (a preview? a trailer? I do not know...) that mostly involves pandas staring at people. You should watch it.

- Happiness - from Alex Ketley on Vimeo.

Why is the panda so angry? Why is the panda so creepy? Don't you wish you were in Colorado so you could find out? If you are, you lucky duckster, why not assuage curiosity?
The wonderful Kat Howard recently interviewed me about being a dancer and a writer for the Interstitial Arts Foundation. I was really, really honored that they were interested in my work, and Kat's questions were fun to think about. 

Next weekend, burns : work will be showing an excerpt of the new piece at Dancing in the Park, this great San Francisco dance extravaganza organized by Mark Foehringer Dance Project every year. A stage gets set up in that great space between the De Young and the California Academy, and starting from noon, you get five whole hours of dance, from all kinds of companies and schools. Hopefully, the weather will be nice. I'm excited. I like dancing in unusual spaces, and an outdoor stage takes me back to those years before I understood how hard dance can be, when it was all larks and we performed at fairs.

Grilled corn on the cob. Fried potatoes. Ferris wheels. Calliope music. And dancing. That's how it used to be.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

girl books and boy books

Some of my friends (Kat Howard, Morgan Dempsey) have been discussing Gina Bellafante's review of the new HBO adaptation of "Game of Thrones."

Let me first say that I agree that it's an oddly unpleasant, completely unenlightening piece of writing. There is a weird aggression and resentment in sentences like:

"Game of Thrones" is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch... The imagined historical universe... gives license for un-hindered bed jumping... The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

And while I, as a lady, a woman alive, am offended by the assumption that (firstly) I wouldn't want to watch a gritty fantasy epic without being thrown a juicy bone of gratuitous and graphic sex, and that (secondly) because I am inescapably female, I am only capable of truly appreciating quiet and spare novels that do not involve anything so dirty as magic, I must say that I do believe there are such things as "girl books" and "boy books." Not in broad, sweeping genres. I don't think that women, by virtue of their biological lot, can only enjoy cozy mysteries and cannot be excited by wicked books with flashing guns. I don't think that men, because of their one-legged chromosome, are barred from falling in love with Jane Austen, or have a monopoly on a predilection for spaceships.

However. In my head, there are "girl books" and "boy books." Not all books fall into one or the other of these categories, and they aren't labels that automatically come to mind, but sometimes I read a book and find it definitively male, or definitively female. It's a characteristic of the book itself, not of its possible or deserved audience. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the gender of the author, or even the gender of the characters. A book just is, sometimes and to me, a girl book or a boy book.

GIRL BOOKS (off the top of my head)
How to be Good/Nick Hornby
The Golden Compass/Philip Pullman
White Teeth/Zadie Smith
Atonement/Ian McEwan
Swamlandia!/Karen Russell
The Baron in the Trees/Italo Calvino

BOY BOOKS (off the top of my head)
High Fidelity/Nick Hornby
Saturday/Ian McEwan
Oryx and Crake/Margaret Atwood
The Autograph Man/Zadie Smith
Kafka on the Shore/Haruki Murakami
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel/Susanna Clarke
(my sister would like to add: "Anything by Chuck Palahniuk... Not that girls can't enjoy them too. But, definitely, BOY BOOK.")
It took me a little while to write this. In the meantime, someone pointed me to this essay by Neil Gaiman: "All Books Have Genders." Which articulates what I'm trying to say, about the gender of books as opposed to the assumed gender of their audiences, much more gracefully.

Friday, April 15, 2011


The Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is one of the halls in the Place des Arts in Montreal. It seats 2,990 people and is a classic proscenium stage. Beyond that curtain, there is a sea of hinged seats covered in red velveteen; there are balconies and boxes; there are foyers, bars, and a cloakroom that charges a loonie and a toonie to care for your coat.

Look up, and a towering void threatens to fall on you. It houses lights on rigs and flattened worlds. Suspend belief, it says. Not you on the stage. You're supposed to stand here, or there, in this light and not in that one. It's so bright and so warm that you threaten to sweat, except for the moment when the curtain hauls up and it seems like everything is spilling out in the plushy dark beyond.

Theater Artaud was once a factory belonging to the American Can Company. It was built in 1925, in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Cracks and gaps around the windows let in rogue chills, sometimes blocked by the enormous curtains provided for artificial blackout. It seats 256 people, and the seats climb steeply. There is more face to face here. If you find yourself at the front of the stage, you could hold a conversation with the first row in comfort. The stage is deep, though, and the audience can see right up to the ceiling, so there's a tiny rush of bottom of the well vertigo. 

The Garage is what we call a "black box." Black floor, black walls, black ceiling. Encased in black. Floating in black. It's easy to lose track of where you are in this situation. Limbs feel outrageous in length. Feet are a distant country. The Garage was once a garage, and now it's a black box. Not many people can fit. It's nearly eye to eye here, and there's something secret about the whole venture, like you're in the center of a clamor and all around are sound-proof walls.

CounterPULSE is almost a white box. It's a few streets away from the Garage in the SOMA district of San Francisco. It holds, probably, about 80 people. You are pinned to the floor here, exposed. White walls cut your outline neatly from the surrounding space. Houselights up or houselights down, there's a finite spareness. You are on the spot. Hiding is not an option.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

march reading

The Family Fang
by: Kevin Wilson
(forthcoming, August 2011, HarperCollins/Ecco)

This novel is so lovable, so smart, sharp, and bizarrely funny, that it overcame my long-held prejudices against the brilliantly dysfunctional family saga. The Fang family is odd. In fact, the four characters who make it up--Caleb and Camille (Mr. and Mrs.), Buster and Annie (brother and sister)--are downright weird. Caleb and Camille are performance artists, the kind of people who wreck carefully planned havoc on ordinary life in order to say something, to make the quotidian into an occasion that is probably surreal, embarrassing, and shocking, but, at the very least, unforgettable. They throw their children (child A, child B) into their pieces and, predictably, leave them with scars. Annie becomes a drunken, moderately successful actress. Buster grows up to be a moderately successful journalist who persistently fails to finish his second novel.

But as their story becomes increasingly strange, the family Fang becomes increasingly less so. They grow familiar. They have hearts and warmth to them. They refuse to be limited by quirk, turning into people who you want to spend time with and want to get back to. They put on performances full of flashy, unlikely incident for each other and for themselves, but they are so tenderly written that you feel like you're standing on stage right next to them, watching their faces while they read their lines.

I liked it so much that I'm going to hang onto my ARC, just in case I want to read it again before it comes out. And just look at what a magical cover it has!

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
by: Charles Yu

This is one of those books that I appreciated, but didn't feel. It's ambitiously and elegantly well-written. I get why it received sheaves of thrilled reviews (NY Times, for example, or WIRED). It's perfect for anyone, especially men (it's built around a son's search for his father, who is lost in time), who has a fondness for both Douglas Adams and Jonathan Safran Foer. It's an extravagant, circuitous time-travelling journey that might have turned into a farce if it weren't so longingly sad.

But, for me, it just didn't hit the right spot.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

golden dinners and milkfat

On Sunday I had the very great pleasure of seeing the lovely Neil while he was in town over the weekend. We discussed jetlag and stories and music and exercising to old books (I am convinced that Tom Jones--the Fielding, not the musician--would be an excellent companion on the treadmill. Neil put forth Tristram Shandy, which I think I would be more kindly disposed to if I hadn't seen Michael Winterbottom's film version when I was feeling sick and hallucinatory.), and he introduced me to Olga Nunes, who is a wonderful musician herself.

I've just been listening to the samples that Olga has up on her site, and now I'm really excited about her current project. LAMP is going to an album AND a series of art installations, stories, letters in bottles, and other happenings... How fun is that? Very!

* Random interjection: I just looked up Tristram Shandy on Wikipedia, and it says that it originally appeared in nine volumes, the first two published in 1759 and the next seven coming out over the following TEN YEARS. Ten years! Can you imagine waiting a DECADE to get your hands on an entire book? The cruelty!*

We went out to dinner with a bunch of really wonderful, really hilarious and excellent people, at Farina over on 18th, between Valencia and Guerrero. The food was decadent Italian, but very well done. Heavenly burrata and this dessert that was basically the sweet version of fried cheese, feather light and smooth. I consumed so much milkfat that I'm convinced my blood actually thickened and sent me into a miniature hibernation as soon as I got home and climbed into bed. I even tried a tiny bite of the prosciutto, since someone assured me it was the best to be had in the city and I had just lovingly described it in a story, without ever having bothered to taste it.

*Random interjection: Things I blithely described in this story without knowing (or remembering) what they taste like: prosciutto, Grand Marnier, chocolate cake with a Grand Marnier reduction poured on top, pomegranate juice, ash.*

The thing about going out to dinner with Neil is that you feel you are at a dinner party in a book, one of those that happen at long tables, outfitted with comfortable chairs under golden lamps. Everyone is good natured; everyone is sharp and funny. Stories, both clever and odd, are thick in the air, and the conversation ranges from Australian radio contests to the physics of wrecking balls.

And the best part is that this golden, brilliant dinner doesn't obliterate the ordinary heft of everyone. We all still possess our jet-laggy fatigue or faint awkwardness or brash naivete, but we sit in our comfortable chairs and have a grand time anyway.

It was a really nice Sunday.