Barefootblogger: thoughts on dance

My Photo
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Parade of Names - A Diary of New Orleans

I am in New Orleans. A little vacation. A treat to myself before I launch into 2007. I feel my soul settle into this slowed rythym even as I simultaneously reach for my rental car keys in haste. I gotta hurry up and slow down! I bump up against all my urgent ways. For these few days I attempt to slow my pace. My sincere effort reaps rewards. Rewards upon rewards, as practically every encounter I have involves the exchange of first names and eye contact. It is for this reason, and another one described on Day 4, that this entry will, unusually for me, use first names. I could go on and on about each of these folks. In the interest of itching to get this out, this is but a taste.

L.J. - L.J. is my friend who lives here. In his adopted city of thirteeen years (the exact number I’ve been in Minneapolis), he is an intrepid photographer. Witnessing him in action is like watching a pool shark. I see the wheels of his brain turn, plotting his next shot. There is invasion of personal space, physical and emotional. It is a little dangerous, and always magnificent.

Observing him interface with his art and this culture, I am inspired. Though not dancing this trip, my path is nevertheless and once again confirmed through this convergence. Though vastly different, our respective mediums are sympatico. We both say thousands of words with our pictures. For him it seems to be about breaking and redefining boundaries. For me it is about freshness, invention, and creating a history of images.

Day 1

I arrive on Sunday and join a second line parade. Two tubas. Apparently two tubas in a parade brass band is exceptional. After we dance/march along Canal to Chartres, I wind up at a Chanukah party, coincidentally on the same block. This recently renovated second story apartment in the French Quarter is complete with requisite balconies front and back, leopard carpeting, and original wood floors.

The night progresses. I am in another residence, this time in the Treme neighborhood. This is L.J.’s haunted house, built sometime in the 1800’s. These wood floors inspire immediate shoe removal. I think about extending my stay and makin’ up a dance.

Heather - Winding down with a 4 AM dirty martini (with the olives serving as dinner), another social interaction occurs, this time of the heartbreaking variety. Sitting in the open bar window, passersby stop to chat in typical New Orleans fashion. Heather is a stripper, just getting off work. Younger than me, at 33 she looks like she could be my mother. Accompanying her is a 17-year-old boy, her lover. Smoking Marlboro Reds and leading a black dog on a leash, we hear about her pregnancy and the $40 private dance she just performed for her boss. L.J.’s inquisitiveness draws her out and out. As the odd couple prepares to leave, Heather leans against the window frame that separates us. Embracing me to say goodbye, she won’t let go until I kiss her cheek. Perhaps she senses my morbid fascination, my compulsion toward hearing her story. Can she read compasson in my eyes, or fear?

Day 2

Running errands with L.J., I see the city from the inside out. What should take ten minutes takes about an hour and a half. Life is humid here, slower in the thicker air, and as I continue to soak in what this means, enjoying the effect on my skin, I resolve to change the rapidity of my ways. Slower is good, good like organic produce is good. Good like journaling at the end of the day, like grinding my own oily coffee beans and waiting for them to steep in the French press.

Willie – Later I am welcomed to a dinner party that has me sitting next to Willie, a 64-year-old-Guggenheim-Fellow visual artist. Papier-mache and paint. Since 2000, black and white. Triptychs and transitions, his work stuns me and my full belly, satisfied by his partner Joy’s fine cooking. The walls are hung with shades of grey, his latest unfinished works expressing Katrina’s devastation. Texture emanates; I feel it even with my back turned. Willie and I talk. We begin casually enough, but then out comes his exibition book from his current traveling show. I turn the pages on my lap, and Willie tells me about each piece, our mutual excitement growing as we near the end and his latest works. He’s the real deal and good people on top of it. I buy the book but don’t ask for an autograph; I already received his mark.

In this charmed circle, I am embraced by these Seventh Ward citizens, collecting here to meet about their community venture, The Porch. Willie’s brainchild, this burgeoning organization is launching under the careful watch of the most real representation of “diversity” I’ve ever encountered. (Words like “community” and “diversity” are thrown around with the best of intentions in Minneapolis, but here I see it in action.) Sitting in this circle in the middle of Willie’s studio, there is a glow of pure humanity, devoid of color barriers, like the grey on the walls, that burns in its all-embracing understanding. I feel my self-imposed social shackles begin to unbuckle. This town welcomes, and in addition to meeting new folks, I meet with a new self too. In my short time here, here I am, in this right place at this right time, privy. Laughter, even joy, pierces the southern winter night, and I relax.

Resting before re-entering the night, I hit upon a solid idea (or at least a launching point), for a new dance. Thanks Willie.

Day 3

Bill - On the way to breakfast we stumble upon the St. Charles streetcar unveiling. Again, the right place at the right time. There is a high school marching band, indifferently clad in purple uniforms. There is the podium, men in suits lined up to speak, taking turns saying the same words in different configurations. “This is a great day for the city of New Orleans. This is a symbol to the world, showing that we’re on the way to recovery.” The words are true, just a little numbed with the banal repeating. I see the mayor. I see Senator William Jefferson, a.k.a. Dollar Bill Jefferson. I sit in a streetcar; I put a window down. My trip becomes history.

Joy - The afternoon finds me wandering around the FQ. I run into Joy of the night before, charming on her bicycle. She tells me about the great designer discount shop that only a former New Yorker would know about. My immersion is confirmed.

I pass Napoleon House and stop for a quick Pimm’s Cup. I seat myself like the sign directs, pull out my laptop, arrange my bags around my feet, and wait. No service, like I’m invisible. I take it as a sign to not start drinking so early, and leave. Upon relaying the story later, L.J. reminds me that I’m in New Orleans. Oh yeah, it’s slower. Guess it takes more than three days to change my DNA. I decide to extend my stay.

After a dinner of seafood gumbo and jambalaya (that’s even better cold later), we head to the Maple Leaf to hear the Rebirth Brass Band. I’m floored. We edge our way to the front row of the sardine-packed and gyrating crowd. I am hit by the full force of brass instruments playing loudly. I’m so close I can see the spit of the trumpet player hang off the end of his instrument. Puffing his cheeks like nothing I’ve ever seen, he is all raw and sweaty muscularity. He flirts with me during the break. I feel vital.

Ruth - Out back I meet her. Encased in a red nylon jacket with the hood tied fast around her head, she resembles Gollum and is about as old. She asks me the meaning behind my smile after L.J. cracks a joke about my divorce. She must’ve seen right through to the other side of me. She launches into a rhythmic, repetitive, spoken-wordesque narrative distinguishing between fucking, sex and making love. Her heart is all sewn up, “in the dusty library” as she puts it. Only the first two for her. In my head I arrive at a different conclusion: the last two for me, thanks, ‘cause according to Ruth, fucking is for money. I remember Heather.

At the end of the band’s last set, I’m pulled onstage, one amongst a gaggle of Tulane females. I am objectified, but it’s cool. The trumpet player makes his way over and blasts in my ears. I dance.

Day 4

Sean – I oversleep and miss the 10:30 Lafayette Cemetery tour. I decide to go anyway, to wander on my own. I love old cemeteries, especially on a rainy day like this. Upon entering I steal a pink flower from a low bush, roots entangled with those of an ancient oak. Sean walks toward me down the central path. He waves and says “hi” as if we’ve known one another forever. He hands me garlic in jest; we are fast friends. The caretaker of the place for ten years, he takes me around, the best tour I could ask for. So glad I overslept. Wandering circuitously in the rain, I learn about the bones. I learn about the names, that they are still being collected, all those who passed with Katrina and worse, the levees breaking. I introduce myself as Penelope, and he says, “So I can call you Penny?” That familiarity sums it up. Names. I am honored to introduce mine here for this ephemeral time.

I succeed in acquiring a Pimm’s Cup. I write. I drink. I wear my flower. My extra day is hitting the spot. Back at L.J.’s, I pace around, ear glued to a phone as I cancel and rearrange to accommodate my choice to linger. I am self-satisfied. Choosing to stay is my first New Orleanian act: that of throwing caution to the wind.

Tonight’s gallery opening is postponed, so it’s dinner and on to a Burlesque show. The tasteful little Santa dances with pasties are cute, albiet choreographically uninteresting. Some great seed ideas though. My already ticking brain jumpstarts, linking images: Heather and my morbid fascination, Ruth’s wizened and dried up perspective on sex and love, these Burlesque dancers whose sophistication is apparent and earned, my own “objectification” of the night before. What makes a moment or a movement palatable, and when does a thing become grotesque and unacceptable? Who decides? Where is my own very personal and thin line drawn?

Something is percolating in me. Like my French press coffee and my Pimm’s Cup, I think it’ll be worth the wait. And I’m down with that; I’m bringin’ back a 50 lb. suitcase full of patience.

Katrina – This whole last day is rainsoaked. A fittingly romantic setting for my first visit to Café du Monde at midnight. At 2:30 AM I’m off, driving back to Houston, the origin of my trip. It is not lost on me, the extreme wetness and scary, skidding moments as I exit the city on Highway 10. I think about the refugees of Katrina lucky enough to get to where I’m going, to Houston and higher ground. I can’t begin to imagine; it just hurts.

In the blackness I navigate the long bridges heading out. This time I cannot see the stunning, dinosaur beauty of the partially immersed trees just outside Baton Rouge. But I know they are there, holding vigil till daylight breaks. I imagine there is fog on the surface of the water, keeping secrets, remembering.

Penny – I become a new city as my personal flood continues to soak in and errode my soil. Maybe my dances are more like L.J.’s pictures than I thought. Inventing fresh boundaries, that’s me.

L.J. – Thanks go out to you for showing me that life in New Orleans is the parade; it’s not just passing by.