Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting Ready for PURE Reflections in Tokyo: Lost (and Found) in Translation

When we first committed to the daunting project of mounting PURE-NYC's body image dance-theater work PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined in Japan, with a mixed cast of PURE Tokyo members and a handful of PURE members from US chapters, it was obvious that communication would be key.

I created a Google group which has a sleek discussion thread feature which, with the touch of a button, completely translates every email in a given thread -- or at least it tries to!

As the Tokyo ladies geared up, organizing everything from logistics to publicity, a flurry of Japanese emails billowed through my inbox. And every day or so, I'd check the translated group page to see what all the chatter was about, and then weigh in, if necessary.

Yesterday's round told me that Tuesday night would be a Special Evening.

PURE-NYC's good friend, the Japanese-English BodyPoet Kazuma, had given them the DVD of  PURE Reflections recorded in April at Columbia -- and many of the dancers who had signed onto the project in blind faith would see the show for the first time.

I chatted briefly online a few hours earlier with Naho, one of the PURE Tokyo facilitators. 

"We're so excited to hear what your reaction will be to it," I wrote.

What I really wanted to say was, "We can't wait to hear what you think of it," but for some reason whenever I talk to a non-English speaker, I always find myself imitating their speech pattern (or at least my perception of it... which, come to think of it, probably ends up comically confusing to them).

"I appreciate all your help and very precise comments and advices :)", she wrote back, and then had to take a phone call.

This morning, I saw a long Japanese email on my mobile and ran to the laptop to read the translated thread.

It started:

"Reflections on DVD today held a meeting 10/28. The report. Here are some details as well as topics mix. ... Performance about 58 minutes, after which the 15-minute Q & A."

OK so far. Then followed a bulleted list of their reactions to the show.

First bullet:

"Acting is terrible."

My jaw dropped. Oh god, I thought, they hate us!!

Then I read through the rest of the list:

Scene 1 -- like birth from the sea, motherhood, accept
Scene 5 -- emotional scenes!
Scene 7 -- Demon, scary!
Scene 9 -- Spiral, wonderful scenes of the sun.

And finally:

"Everyone (even those not moving) to the acting, which everybody understands the meaning of the scene."

In other words: They liked us!! They really liked us!!

So clearly it was just a translator issue... right?

I scrolled back up to the fateful characters --  演技力がすごい -- and brought up a variety of online translators, first and AppliedLanguage.

Both spat back, "Acting is terrible."

Then my inner-HitchHiker took me to AltaVista's blessed BabelFish, which rendered, "Performance power is enormous."  And WorldLingo concurred.

Ahhhhh! Now that's more like it!

But how did this happen?

I broke the phrase down, character-by-character, and fed it to each translation engine.

Piecemeal, it reads something like this: "Performing/Played skill/technology force/power the it does us."

So the issue it seems was in switching "enormous" with "terrible" -- which by colloquial English standards is a pretty terrible thing to do, as we are used it meaning "really, really bad."

But earlier meanings have more to do with awe-stricken fear. Indeed, the word itself stems from Indo-rooted Sanskrit and Avestan for "feared" AND "revered" -- indeed, anything that would cause us to tremble in awe, as enormous things are wont to do.

My guess is that the Japanese character for "force/power" must have multiple meanings which, when combined idiomatically, could render as "terrible," "enormous" -- or, dare I say, awesome ☺ -- and probably dozens of other ways depending on the translator.

Given the vast sea of translational possibilities, the fact that Google and other online translators do as good a job as they do is pretty freaking camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle amazing.

And the fact that there are so many translation engines to offer second, third and fourth opinions is beyond mind-blowing to me.

But in the end, perhaps it is best to remember these two rules of online translation:

(1) Always give your correspondent the benefit of a doubt. Even in the same language, email can be easily misinterpreted; and

(2) Some online translations are best experienced like a John Ashbery poem -- just let let the images wash over, smile sweetly and pretend you understand.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mobile Updates and More Thoughts on Time

"One thing I've noticed about your blog," a friend remarked at dinner last night, "If you haven't posted in a long time, you don't write in your next post, 'Gee, I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted...'"

Actually, I used to do that, way back when I kept a blog on LiveJournal. And I think I've done it a few times here, too. But most of my baker's dozen of regular readers know I'm pretty busy.

My weekdays are spent at work, most of my evenings are spent in classes, rehearsals, performances, or some combination of any or all of these things.

And then there are more workshops and classes (both taking and teaching) on weekends.

So, to save some time, I set up mobile updates, with varying success.

I've tried three so far; the first went OK. The second got lost in cyberspace. And the third (last week's) I had composed with my Android's Swype -- which is pretty cool, as long as you don't accidentally brush your fingertip across the part of the screen that might, say, fire off your email before your done.

I ended up completing the entry by logging in via my mobile browser -- which left me with a very limited interface and no end of trouble when trying to, say, move the cursor around or spell check.

But I was determined to get something posted, so I fired that one off with spelling and formatting errors intact (which are now fixed, incidentally).

Now, as I write this, I'm wolfing down some chow before heading off to class and rehearsal with Bellyqueen and the Rising Sirens, respectively, my usual Thursday night activities which go until 10pm.

Monday is similarly spoken for with PURE, which usually includes dinner at Klong after to kibbitz and go over business.

Tuesday is usually karate night (from 7 to 9:30pm, by the time I'm showered and heading out), and somtimes includes a comedy set at Karma, if I'm feeling up to it. For the past two months, however, I've been taking an improv class at The PIT on Tuesdays, which goes until 10pm and leaves me pretty beat.

That leaves Wednesdays and Fridays -- my swing nights.

The past two Wednesdays went to the NY Press Karaoke contest thingey, which was too strange (and I'll go into all that another time), but normally I'll either take an improv class/Anything Goes with Artistic New Directions or Carl Kissin, or ballet with Broadway Dance

And if I can escape from work early enough, there is no substitute for Dalia Carella's advanced bellydance/modern fusion class, which ends just in time for Bellyqueen's Djam at Je'Bon a few blocks away.

That leaves Friday.

I've been working on so many projects lately, that Friday has been my solo rehearsal day. But at other times (if I'm even in town), I love the Vinyasa Yoga class at NY Health & Racquet Club.

But Fridays are almost always full with other stuff. Like, this Friday will be a special workshop with Yousry Sharif, and next Friday is the Halloween Party at Lafayette Grill, which I'm hosting and dancing in.

And then on the weekends...

Well, during the summer, I try to devote my Saturday mornings to my sailing club TASCA, as I have to teach a certain number of sessions per year to maintian my instructor status (plus it's a really fun way to spend a Saturday). But often I run off to this or that workshop or rehearsal during the afternoon, and don't get much of a chance to practice riding the winds myself...

This fall and winter, I'm taking a Shakespeare class with Charles Gerber of the Workshop Theater Company, and have been planning to take Amir's advanced dumbek class at Bellydance America, but last week it was canceled.

And then Sundays... If at all possible, I try to sleep in and get stuff done at home. But more often than not, there is a rehearsal, show (attending or performing in) begging my attention.

But this Sunday I'm hoping to catch a movie, since I have four movie vouchers that need to be used before the end of the month.

Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some Random Thoughts on the Way to Rakkasah

Killing time on a delayed train to New Brunswick I came across this article about the perecetion of time: How to Live Forever! Or Why Habits are a Curse.

Appropriate, huh?

At that particular moment, it seemed like we'd been waiting for ages when in fact it had barely been ten minutes. Now as I write this over a half-hour later my contentedly occupied mind barely felt the moments pass.

It's often joked that the length of a minute depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on, but the article's author observes that time is also lengthened or condensed during activites of non-expertise. When one is "expert" at physical routines, our focus is no longer on the minutae of the tasks but the meaning behind them. Indeed, focusing on the details can impair the "expert" level of performance -- it will also make time seem to pass more slowly.

The author finds an interesting irony in our culture, which prizes both expertise AND perpetually vital youth, and so suggests changing our familiar routines and taking up new and challenging activities could make each day seem like an eternity of perpetual youth.

Cute, huh?

But beneath this glib thesis is perhaps a valuable insight: Getting out of our practiced routines forces us to connect with the physical world in ways that can be uncomfortable, but will give greater richness and depth to each moment (and, yes, I think this holds true even for the bathroom scenario.), that could both make time pass more slowly (i.e. richly) and more quickly.

When we are comfortable, too much at ease in our well practiced, routine lives, we are not quite in our bodies and not quite connecting to the world around us. (This point is made beautifully in the classic arty film My Dinner with Andre: "When you're just operating by habit, then you're not really living."). But in order to live full, rich, engaged lives we must stay in contact with the world around us and all of its attendant joys and discomforts.

And contrary to the author's observations, this richness of experience is key to feeling youthful and vital, and has little to do with the sense of the passage of time, but rather with a feeling of engagement with the world.

The best example of this is any activity in which we feel passionately interested -- regardless of whether we are "expert" at it. Then time can seem to disappear, yet the accomplishment is deeply felt, so time passes with a visceral richness -- both quickly and slowly at once.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September Events Archive

Wednesday, September 8th @ 8pm
Dancing at
Bellyqueen's Djam Under Je'Bon
15 St. Mark's Place, NYC
$10 cover/$5 minimum

Sunday, September 12th @ 6pm & 8pm
Dancing and Emceeing in Anasma's
On Your Marks,

Get Set... DANCE!

A unique, innovative, global live dance show, where dancers improvise to YOUR suggestions, and

YOUR music selections -- so bring your iPods!!

The Producers' Club, Grand Theater
358 West 44th Street @ 9th Ave, NYC
$20 adv/$25 at the door
Buy 5 tickets, get one free!!
(NOTE: The 6pm & 8pm shows will have DIFFERENT line-ups. I will be dancing a solo ONLY in

the 8pm show.

Wednesday, September 15th @ 8pm
Performing Stand-Up Comedy in
Scott Erik's Prodigy Comedy at
The Eastville Comedy Club
85 East 4th Street @ 2nd Ave, NYC
Reservations: (212) 260-2445
$5 Cover
2-Drink Minimim
Free Guacamole Served!

Saturday, September 18th 11am-2pm
Teaching the PURE Foundation Choreography for
PURE's Weekend of Dance Workshops
440 Studios
440 Lafayette St, 4th Fl @ Cooper Sq, NYC
(212) 529-0259
$30 adv/$35 at the door

Saturday, September 18th @ 7:30pm
Emceeing and Dancing PURE's Variety Show
at Je'Bon
15 St. Mark's Place, NYC
No cover/$5 minimum

Sunday, September 19th 5pm-7pm
Dancing in PURE NYC's Annual Procession
Performing two PURE Choreographies on
The High Line Elevated Park
(West Village, from Gansevoort Street to Chelsea, 20th Street & 10th Ave)
at the Chelsea Market Passage and Tenth Ave Square
then Processing north of the Park to Pier 66
Join us anywhere along the way!

Emceeing and Dancing in PURE's
Identity-Themed Variety Show
at the Docked Boat
Lightship Frying Pan
Pier 66 @ 12th Ave & 26th St, NYC
No Cover