Saturday, June 26, 2010

I'm exhausted! The last two week have been filled with performances and lectures and art, and i'm finally having fun in Berlin and i'm finally meeting people. But now i'm tired.

Right now, i'm a little apprehensive about this lecture i'm supposed to give on Tuesday. It's supposed to be an hour, and it's about the Judson Dance Theater. Which is fine, except that my point of view is one which does not follow the now-prescribed official "history" of the Judson Dance Theater. That official history leaves out too much, and what i want to do with the students is to give them a chance to see how much more varied and multivalent and exciting the actual history of the Judson Dance Theater was. Not just to center it on the usual suspects ("Rauschenberg's babies" as Shigeko Kubota used to call them, i.e., Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown) but let them know about Sally Gross, Carla Blank, June Ekman, Elaine Summers, Ruth Emerson, Beverly Schmidt, Eddie Barton, Freddy Herko... not just the dancers, and not just the artists (Rauschenberg, Robert Morris, Alex Hay, Carolee Schneemann, Robert Huot) but also the musicians like Phil Corner, Malcolm Goldstein, John Herbert MacDowell, and even some of the theater people who were involved, especially Roberts Blossom. I want to show how the Judson Dance Theater wasn't just related to the art scene of Minimalism, but also to (say) the off-off-Broadway scene (and very explicitly in the case of those two classic Al Carmines-Lawrence Kornfeld pieces based on Gertrude Stein, "What Happened" and "In Circles").

And not just all those people (and more) but Robert Ellis Dunn.

And suddenly i am flooded with memories, and it makes me a little sad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

There's hardly a place in the world where we don't have some preconceptions. The mediation of media images infects everything: we've already seen Tokyo, we've already seen Prague, we've already seen Rome. If not in physical fact, at least in some facsimile which has given us the sense that we know something about the world.

So i have to say that, before coming to stay in Berlin for ten months, i had some preconceptions about Berlin. I had visited the city before (to attend the Berlinale more than a decade ago) and so i was familar with a few areas of the city (principally the area around Zoologischer Garten; at that time, the Zoo Palast was the central movie theater of the Berlinale, before the move to the newly built spaces at Potsdamer Platz). And here's where Berlin tricked me up: the other time i had come to the Berlinale, the press office people i dealt with were actually nice and helpful; this time, they were snooty and rude and obnoxious. Wow: who spiked the Kool-Aid? And this winter, i wasn't in the mood to deal with any more horrible behavior. I'd had enough of it all throughout my stay.

But the last few weeks, i've had a wonderful time in Berlin. And i can see why people love it. Ok, i've got to say this about the much-hyped art scene. It ain't happening. No, seriously. It's lively, but... i don't know. So far, i haven't found any rich people. I know that seems like a joke, but i was thinking about it. Even in New York City in the late 1940s, when someone like Jackson Pollock would use whatever money he had on paint and booze, so that he often couldn't pay his rent and had to flop with friends, there were still people like Peggy Guggenheim. And you always had trust-fund babies. Sure, Kerouac and Ginsberg weren't rolling in dough, but William Burroughs was a trust-fund baby. Even with avantgarde filmmakers. Bruce Baillie always needed jobs or grants, and even then, he had to live on the bare minimum, but Warren Sonbert and even Jack Smith were trust-fund babies.

It's like with Bruce, if he was in town, maybe you'd meet up with him at a cheapo Chinese restaurant, and if he had been teaching or something like that, and had a little money, he'd pick up the tab. But sometimes, you knew he didn't have the money, so you picked up the tab, and he was always grateful but it was no big deal. With Warren, if he called and he was in town, you knew you'd go to a really nice, fancy restaurant, you didn't have to worry about what you ordered and you knew he'd take care of the bill. That was the deal.

But Warren was very scrupulous about that fact: he knew that other people didn't have the resources he had, and so he never applied for grants. Ever. He felt that people like Bruce or Ernie Gehr, who needed the grants, didn't need him as competition. For them, grant money was crucial, for him, it wouldn't have made a difference, so that was that. Just as long as his work was appreciated (i remember when Paul Arthur wrote something about Warren's films - was it in The Downtown Review? - and Warren was so pleased, all throughout dinner, Warren kept showing us the piece because he was so happy that Paul was able to write so perceptively about the films), Warren was fine.

And i did what i could. There was the time i was one of the advisors on a series that was sponsored by PBS... it was a series of programs featuring short films which dealt with American filmmakers who had made films about "foreign" cultures. My job was to suggest films. There was a whole agenda which had been given to us, so we knew the criteria. And two filmmakers i suggested were Bruce and Warren. And both were chosen. For Bruce, the money that he got for the film turned out to be really important: that was when his wife was pregnant, and the money turned out to be a "blessing-in-disguise" because they were able to use the money to pay the medical expenses (the hospital stay for the birth, etc.); for Warren, he was thrilled at the prospect of the film getting a broader audience, at the honor of being included in this prestigious series, but the money wasn't that important.

But i always did what i could. (Hell, i even helped Jack Smith get the only grant he ever got in his life!) I tried to find ways of using the system so that artists really could get some help from it.

But everything's changed. It's not that easy. The systems that were set up are on the verge of extinction. So in a very real sense, i came to Berlin to recharge my batteries. And then i got hit by the toughest winter ever. And now it's the summer, and i'm getting ready to leave, and yet finally there was the thaw, and Berlin does seem to be in bloom.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Haven't posted anything in about three weeks, and one reason is that i've actually been sightseeing in Berlin.

On Tuesday, May 11, i went to the O2 Stadium, to see the Lady Gaga Monster Ball Tour. Lady Gaga has sold out every venue in Europe... except Berlin! The mayor of Berlin was quoted last year as saying that Berlin was poor but sexy. Scratch the sexy, Berlin is definitely poor. The problem with the Lady Gaga tour was that the tour was also hitting Munich and Hamburg: the prices for tickets had to be the same, otherwise no one would have bought tickets for Munich or Hamburg, they would just have bought the cheap tickets in Berlin and come over by train. Berlin couldn't afford the prices, so only about 3/4 of the O2 Stadium was sold. (In Dublin, the tickets sold out in about three hours, and another date was added, which also sold out; Dublin is just as cash-strapped as Berlin, but in Dublin, they know what they like, and they'll shell out for the tickets.) Anyway, it was quite the show, it lasted 2 1/2 hours, so i didn't get back until almost midnight.

But i had to wake up so i could meet Christine and Steve at the airport. I checked online, and the website said that the plane was on schedule, but when i got to the airport, that wasn't the case: there was a two-hour delay, which gave me time to rush back to a supermarket and pick up stuff like bottled water (the tap water is hard in Berlin) so that Christine and Steve would have things. Their hotel would probably have bottled water, but it would cost an arm and a leg (actually: 5 Euros as opposed to... less than .50 Euro including bottle deposit). I thought that i'd meet them, we'd go to their hotel, they'd check in and then want to relax: shower, nap, whatever. And i thought i'd meet them later and we'd go to a restaurant. But no: Christine was rearing to go! After we dropped off their bags, we spent six hours walking around Berlin! Six hours! I was exhausted! I haven't walked that much in Berlin... ever!

But it was fun, and it made Berlin seem like a city that had a lot to see.

Maybe it does. But that was May 12, and it's been one long sightseeing tour since then with a break to go to the Performing Tangier 2010 Conference.

And now it's the first of June, and it's back to work, such as it is. By the way: i wish people would stop sending me comments that are in languages that i don't read. I refuse to post anything in any language but English. So if you're trying to send me comments in languages other than English (and you know who you are, and you're not anybody i know), i refuse to post them, and so you might as well stop! (And i should add that when this first happened, Weiji Yu from Singapore was still at the Center, and i asked him if he'd look at this comment i received, and he told me, oh, it's an ad for sex. So please stop!)