Thursday, February 27, 1992

SPRING WRITES REIBLI ROAD


SPRING WRITES REIBLI ROAD

Today, on the way to school, I was struck by the sculptural quality of the oaks, of vines, and hills. Perhaps the clarity and angle of light makes things seem more real. Or is it because the wild cherry-plums have suddenly declared their hiding places, small white plumes along the undergrowth and along the riverfields. Signs of escaped, or abandoned civilizations, the progeny of Europe and Asia Minor blooms in Californian fields. Opportunistic mustard burns the retina—acid-yellow flecked with green. Small riots of narcissi and daffodils declare miniature kingdoms. Freesias, drops of pioneer blood scattered in the fields, inheritors of the abandoned homesteads. Soon, the native lupines will dress the hills with indigo robes, columbine and larkspur embroidered in the folds, and the poppies will blazon each shoulder. The distant snore of a bulldozer punctuates the dominion of someone’s dreams.

The lazy slant of books eases towards the horizon. Goldfish, small birds in the dark water rush up a ladder to the sky. The heart of a blue whale weighs more than one ton. The clock pushes time westward in increments of one. A student gathers endless space in his eyes. My mind is made of small golden chains. Too many hands on the world. Invisible forces shape the poem as much as what is there.

Outside the driveway, the acacias explode into sunlight; the teachers asks why the kids are so crazed. The air, laden with honey needs no explanation. My desire more focused; I want to offer my breasts up in a gesture that is timeless. A man hauls branches to the field, their dark shapes inscribe the sky with a random hope for a spring that will never come. The incense of smoldering apple clippings, like the fragrance of blossoms trapped in wood. Another European settler, the apple. We even brought bees to this continent. From the cradle of Mesopotamia, the acacia, once revered as a sacred wood, no longer frames our doors.

A flock of crows in the bare branches seem out of place—too large and too dark. They are winter’s memory, the darkness of the soil. A triad of horses; the appaloosa’s flecked coat, like the reverse images of stars. Hungrily, he pulls at weak winter grass that creates a deeper hunger, and is not satisfied. The word satiated  is related to satisfaction. The Greek word for witness is martyr. The reintroduction of the horse to the Americas almost saved the Indians. President Woodrow Wilson married the great-granddaughter of Pocahontas. I read Chief Seattle’s letter to President Harding to to my young students. We talk of differing world views, and write our own poems to the earth, to the distant drumming of hammers. What will nourish their children?

I don’t stop to take photos; too late for this valley—a slice of Americana threatened by the encroaching estates. Only poems to outlast memory. Perhaps a daughter of the developers, hungering for something more, will read them and ask, “Daddy, what happened to the mustard fields blooming as far as the eye could see? Where does memory go when there’s nowhere left to go?”

2/27/92 Higham Family School

Tuesday, February 25, 1992

NATIVE AMERICAN WOMAN SPEAK

NATIVE AMERICAN WOMAN SPEAKS:
     —for Gene Ruggles

Sitting
like Buddha, Mary
TallMountain was the guardian,
a black triangle on a vast white plain.
Both solid, and non-solid, her hair, a living bridge
uniting head to shoulder, composed entirely of triangles.
The mantra interspliced dream images of her name. She said life
is a mountain.   Sit tall, become the mountain.  You are always going
to climb your own highest summit. She demonstrated, by sitting
cross-legged, the importance of strong foundations.
Standing, she could've been taller,
but that wasn't the
lesson.


2/25/92
SF National Poetry Week

1994 Waiting to Move the Mountain, CPITS 30th anthology
          whatbook & whatverb e-zine, www.levity.com/interbeing/fall.html

I adored Mary, and scribbled this down after a reading—she asked for this poem in the shape of a diamond mountain. Years later, I found it posted on the internet, which eventually led to creating this blog... Mary made me do it. Embrace the web. I resisted for a very long time. Sadly, the link is dead, I don't even remember the name of the online poetry rag. Maybe Bill Vartnaw (Taurean Horn), GP Scrap, or QR Hand's mag. I just remember the colors on the lage. It was amazing to see our poems on the internet.


Friday, February 21, 1992

Looking Forward, Looking Back: Interview with Ann Woodhead 2/92

LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK:
20 years of Dancing at the Cinnabar Theatre
An Interview with Ann Woodhead  (The Paper)
—by Maureen Hurley   2/92


After a dancer worked with the class, a kindergarten student of mine dictated a poem: “If I were king of the universe, I’d dance for a living!” Dance, the most ephemeral and impractical of arts, takes a special kind of vision, or insanity, to choose as a viable profession. Addicted hoofers proclaim they have no choice but to dance—like Gene Kelly who shouts “Gotta dance!” in “Singin’ in the Rain.” It’s definitely not the medium for making big money (unless you’re lucky like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire), it’s usually expensive to stage, so it’s gotta be for love.

Avant-garde modern dancer/choreographer Ann Woodhead fits the bill to a ‘T,’ or should I say to a ‘2,’ since she uses arabic numerals as a structural basis for some of her floorwork. Woodhead’s choreography, which has received solid and artistic critical acclaim on both coasts, and in Europe, has been enthusiastically praised by audiences and critics alike, as sensuous, challenging, and exhilarating. She has been dubbed the “neo-classic” or “post-modern” avant-garde choreographer on the cutting-edge,“stretching the limits (and concepts) of dance” in America. However, staging dance performances is an expensive proposition: Woodhead, who estimates she loses about $2000 per piece, says she doesn’t do it for the money—“Dance is hopelessly impractical, I feel crazy if I don’t perform, but I feel ecstatic when I dance!”

The Sonoma County-based Ann Woodhead Dance Company’s latest production, “Looking Forward, Looking Back,” spans Woodhead’s illustrious 20-year career as a dancer/choreographer in residence at the Cinnabar Theatre in Petaluma. Woodhead, who estimates she has created over 125 dances at the Cinnabar Theatre since she first performed her euphorically sensuous trademark “Spinning Dance,” in the style of Isadora Duncan, where she literally spins out of her top, will include vingettes from several of her older pieces, as well as present a major new work entitled “Short Stories.”

Woodhead commented about the upcoming retrospective: “one piece is the same as it was in the ‘70s—a musical phrase.” When queried as to why she mines past performances for material, the now long-haired (her short punk orange hair was a familiar trademark), Sebastopol dancer exclaimed, “I no longer have a passion for discovering or inventing ‘new’ movement.”

When Woodhead works with dancers, she likes to work with a very tight structural idea, and utilizes a familiar structure, for example, the shape of a number 2, and then asks them to make their own movements through space within the given shape. “I’m facile at making movement, but I’m tired of it, I’m bored by teaching people steps. I teach people forms. Steps are too time-consuming, we don’t have that kind of time.”

This technique allows dancers to invest in the final product, rather than mirroring her every step. “But, when you lose the people, you lose the dance, it’s ephemeral.” Her modus operandi is to rely heavily upon intuitive approaches, and contact improvisation, drawing from the dancer’s own experiences, thus building a dance piece by the process of accumulation. This process-oriented format reminds me of Stanislavski’s inner-directed approach to acting.

“In Dance” Magazine described Woodhead as “articulate with just the right amount of feistiness, her non-conformity is elusive…. She creates complex, yet deceptively simple pieces that aim at the evocative, rather than the illustrative.”

“Nobody knows what we dancers are doing, dance is too esoteric.” Woodhead laments the general public’s lack of understanding of, and appreciation for modern dance, for which she blames MTV and video. “The odd idea that a dance should be a frontal, frantic 30-second bite of hyper energy—that’s not dance. As a culture, we know less about dance now than before the advent of TV.” She added, “TV has no depth of field, no depth of range, the scale is all wrong. TV trivializes dance.”

“It’s painful to realize the most wonderful dancers cannot bring in a full house. I keep thinking—if only I just did this better, they’d get it. I’ve had to let go of that.” But she is obsessed by the quest for absolute truth in dance movement. “Your body is honest, whether or not you are. I’m after the right movement for this moment, the truthful, authentic movement for the times. Forget about being original, try to be truthful.”

The 50-year-old choreographer compares her structural approach to dance more akin to musical scores and notation, than to language. “I think like a musician, versus a playwright or painter. I never try to tell a story. Language tends to get in the way of dance; poetry and dance often makes a bad mix.” Woodhead said she has only used a poem once to evoke a dance piece, “Copperhead” from a poem by West Marin poet Linda Gregg. She is intrigued by forms about time and space. “Space is very easy for me. I don’t know that much about time. Space is a musical concern. Dance is conscious movement through time and space.”

Originally a native of Santa Barbara, Woodhead studied piano and cello. Like Ginger Rogers, Woodhead excelled in social, or ballroom dancing, and the only other option, ballet, held no appeal. “It had no relationship to dance.” Then one day noted avant-garde choreographer and modern dancer Merce Cunningham taught a master class at Woodhead’s high school, “I was blown away, it was unlike anything I’d ever seen.”

But it wasn’t until her mid ‘20s, at an age when most ballet dancers retire, Ann found her calling. “I realized I was a dancer.” Married at 16, she entered U.C. Riverside as a math major. Divorced and remarried at 22, with two babies by 23, Woodhead migrated north to San Francisco, and survived by writing textbook copy, and taking dance workshops whenever she could.

Woodhead admits her training as a dancer is unconventional. “I have no credentials, except those I’ve created—no, those I’ve forged,” she added. Woodhead discusses the powerful influence German Expressionism had on modern dance; she studied with many noted dance masters including Merce Cunningham and Anna Halperin. She acknowledges both Jennie Hunter as a mentor teacher, and Erick Hawkins (Martha Graham’s choreographer-husband) as the most technically influential. Woodhead debuted her first production in 1969.

When I asked her how she, a dancer, in need of a city to perform and survive, arrived in Sonoma County’s clement backwaters, she quipped, “How else—by following a man.” The relationship fizzled, she loved living in the country, but needed a means to survive, and a good performance space.

Sonoma State University offered Woodhead a job, and the Cinnabar Theatre, formerly an old church, provided the space—the rest is, as they say, ‘her story.’ In the summer of 1972, Woodhead performed her first piece (“Spinning Dance”), founded the very successful Mercury Moving Company in 1973, and in 1980 she formed the Ann Woodhead Dance Company “in order to pursue my choreographic interests more intensively.”

Dean of Performing Arts at Sonoma State University, Woodhead is unconventional, she holds no degrees in dance, but has a M.A. in psychology. Seventeen years of teaching has nourished her performance career (as well as paid the bills), it allows her to constantly move and experiment. Teaching spurs on her choreography. One of the trade-offs in teaching is giving away energy, and finding a balance between being teacher and artist (she sees 100-150 students, six classes, four days a week). “I can get creative on their dances, but I’m giving it away.”

If Woodhead was living in the midwest, or New York, she says her work wouldn’t be any different. Woodhead doesn’t feel she’s bound by regionalism. “My concerns are formal, location is not important. I see very little dance—though my tastes have broadened considerably. Avant-garde is nothing new.” But there’s some trouble living in paradise—and outside the mainstream of the dance world, largely an urban art form. A choreographer in a big city has more options, more funding, less work to publicize. Though even in the Big Apple, it’s hard times for dancers. At one point, Twyla Tharpe, tired of trying to secure funding, disbanded her internationally famous troupe.

Woodhead despises the system used for getting grants, in spite of the fact that she has been very successful at it. She received several grants and awards for her work, including two National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer fellowships, a Sonoma County Foundation fellowship, and a Sonoma County Arts Achievement Award. “Funders want five-minute video tapes; my dances take 20 minutes! I hate toadying for money, I feel defiled by it. Funding on the basis of quality is a joke, it’s about fashion, trendiness, who’s currently popular.” She thinks a lottery system would be a fairer approach, but she readily admits she’s not good at working within the system.

Woodhead cites other trade-offs of living in the country: a lack of public and corporate funders and presenters, little or no publicity, or press coverage, rare reviews, and a scattered, and small audience as major deterrent. “It’s not a very innovative to me for dance right now. It’s tough, it’s never been a gold mine. I’ve survived by teaching. I’m lucky, I do have an audience, I’m able to raise some money.” Her salary from SSU supplements her career as a dancer and choreographer. Expenses include dancer’s salaries (there are 8 in her troupe) , rent, musician, printing, photos, costumes often leave her in debt after the show closes.“There’s very little praise or financial reward for what we do.”

“It’s hard times for modern dance, there’s not enough serious dancers coming up through the ranks.” She added, for young people willing to take the artistic vow of poverty today, “living on the edge is harder to do, because being poor is so much scarier now than it was in the ‘70s.”

Woodhead continued, “aerobics has killed us.” Those who used to take dance classes for pleasure and exercise, forsook dance for the trendy fitness phase, but they’ve discovered their bodies can’t keep it up. Some are returning to the more ergonomically sound techniques of dance, and aerobics teachers are beginning to use dance in their exercise programs.

Woodhead briefly talked about the role of the older dancer. With the exception of superstars like Margo Fontaine, who is cosseted, Woodhead is a pioneer in the field of the aging of American dancers. “We modern dancers always have to make our own work. I ache every morning, my feet always hurt, mornings are hell, I’m literally too stiff to roll over. (Ibuprofin is a dancer’s best friend .) I succumbed to dance. I’m not young, I’m not skinny, but, hey, I’m still dancing.”

The red-headed dynamo claims she’s basically lazy—a paradigm if ever there was one. The secret to her success? 90 percent of the magic is just showing up at the studio every day, says she. “The rest is improvisation.”

“Dance the first art form, not even sound can happen without movement. Movement is the mother of arts, the source, it remains the most completely human of the arts.” She gets more praise as an actor without any “acting chops. Our literalness is what separates us from actors; acting is not real, it’s illusion, while dance is truth.




One of the joys of transcribing these print articles is that I can provide links, and articles that weren't available to me when I wrote this piece. I was dancing with Ann four days a week at Sonoma State during the late 1970s. We were required to watch videos of other dance companies. Thus began my training to write this piece which appeared in The Paper. I have no publication date  for this piece, just this file that said 2/92—but that was the date I last "saved" it onto a floppy disk, not its origin date. I think it's written during the late 1980s—I quoted a line from a kidpoem that came from Mark West School where I was teaching poetry in the mid-1980s. I think this piece was published in The Paper during Nick Valentine's reign as editor).   —MH

Links for further reading:

Dance DreamsChoreographer Ann Woodhead stages final piece (2001 North Bay Bohemian—aka The Paper)


GOLDFISH IN WINTER


GOLDFISH IN WINTER


In the other classroom
someone drops some marbles.
Next to the lazy slant of books
easing towards the horizon,
the calendar has its own agenda
in the rhythm of days.

Trapped behind glass, solarium plants:
impatiens and begonias smolder
against dreary winter clouds.
As my students write,
goldfish, like small birds,
rush up a dark ladder to the sky.

When we hauled branches
to the field for burning
their dark shapes scratched the sky
with random hope for a spring
that will never come.

2/21/92


Wednesday, February 19, 1992

WHERE CREDIT IS DUE


WHERE CREDIT IS DUE


At oblique angles to the rain,
the blinds divide the sky into sectors.
Below an American flag,
a single crutch on the carpet,
gloves, a knapsack, the hat, empty of thought.

The clock pushes time westward in increments of one.
We are all one people proclaims a poster.
A student gathers endless space in his eyes.
The alarm in my mind is made of small golden chains.
Filing cabinets achieve another kind of order.

Sometimes it seems there's too many hands on the world.
Whose job is it to make the sun rise?
Asleep in winter, the fan no longer severs
the air, offering it some chance of rest.
The rooster gives credit where credit is due.


2/92


POEM FOR SARAH


POEM FOR SARAH


While Sarah sits working her poem
into the metaphoric depths of elm trees,
she sheds words, more like a flurry
of buckeye leaves into the fire of summer.
Aestivating, pooling precious water
during the annual drought, the buckeye is tough,
knows when to conserve, how to pull back—
Innate structure cannot be taught.
I warn my students the verb “to be”
engulfs poems like a black hole.
A builder of hidden realms, the beetle
devours the inner thoughts of the elm.
Because only the thin cambium layer is alive,
& has no defences against the small engineer
boring into the dead heartwood,
the hefty elm, riddled with rot, will fall
during a storm several years hence.
Sarah's name sounds like wind
in the elm leaves of summer.
I want to tell her of Daphne's escape
from the hunter,
that I witnessed her mother's grief
for the baby sister who died in the fire,
& the streets of Russia are lined with trees.
Though she strives to be the towering elm,
sap coursing through her capillaries,
she is also the architectural beetle,
excavating into the very center of  self.
No drought or dryrot will weaken her
because she grows from the inside out,
shedding the unnecessary foliage,
gaining strength with each new line.


2/19/92

1996 Voices Israel
published in CPITS anthology NAME?