Thursday, March 24, 2011

Q&A About Sunday's Benefit for Japan at Je'Bon

Yesterday, in the midst of scheduling, press-release drafting, and other assorted madness relating to this Sunday's benefit where we will be screening the Tokyo production of PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined (which I've been blogging about -- albeit belatedly -- in parts One, Two, Prologue and sort-of-Epilogue), I got an email from Kaeshi saying that Bellydance Japan wanted to cover the benefit as well as Belllyqueen's Silk Road show, and could we answer some questions for the photoessay.

She took the Silk Road questions, and I fielded the PURE ones.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the mission of PURE -- on a personal, social and cultural level -- and these questions helped me focus and articulate some key ideas about PURE's work.

So here they are....

(1) How did the Je'Bon benefit come together?

In early March, we learned that the DVD of PURE Reflections would be ready by the end of the month, so we planned to do a small screening for PURE members, their friends and family.

When disaster struck Japan on March 11th, we of course wanted to do anything we could to support our Japanese sisters and their country, so we decided to turn the screening into a full-fledged benefit for Japan.

(2) To which organization(s) will the money be donated? 

We are raising funds for two highly-rated non-profit relief organizations: AmeriCares and American Humane Association. AmeriCares specializes in disaster relief, providing invaluable aid to the victims of the 2010 earthquakes in Peru and Haiti, and now has a team on the ground in Japan. The American Humane Association provides emergency relief to animals and has created a special fund to assist Japan in its animal rescue, care and sheltering operations.

We chose to support these lesser-known charities because they have demonstrated tremendous efficiency in their use of funds and are focused specifically on disaster relief.

(3) What you wish to achieve through your performance? 

As members of PURE, we hope that audiences will be moved by our work and come to a new understanding of dance, beauty and women. We also hope that sharing the Yokohama production of PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined with an American audience will inspire a sense of personal connection to and profound respect for these powerful women who are now facing a terrifying struggle.

(4) What is your message for the Japanese people and/or dancers?

We in America -- who endured the tragedies of 9-11 and Katrina -- are watching with awe the inspiring resilience of the Japanese people, who are facing devestation that is beyond our comprehension. You are in our thoughts and prayers, and we will help you in every way we can -- but most of all, we want you to know that we trust you. We trust the strength of your spirit and the power of your community. We stand with you through this crisis, as you have stood with us, and have the deepest faith in your power to rebuild. And we hope that, even through such tragedy, our cultures can develop deeper bonds and greater mutual understanding.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tokyo Story Part II: Preparations, Preparations....

This Sunday we will be screening the video of the PURE Reflections show we did in Tokyo last year to raise money for AmeriCares and American Humane Association's Japan disaster relief.

And though it has taken me months, I still have to tell the story of  How PURE Reflections Came to Japan!

So....continuing where I left off ...too many months ago... (yes, I'm a sporadic blogger, but I'm getting better!!)

My plane tickets to Tokyo were bought; the Yokohama theater was rented. Now that money had changed hands, I knew that PURE Reflections was coming to Japan. Or, at the very least I was coming to Japan!! If, heaven forbid, something went wrong with the planning, I would have a nice week-long vacation in the land of the Rising Sun.

But as of October 2010, it was full-steam ahead.

And so much to be done!!

The Tokyo team stepped right up, finding a clean, inexpensive hotel and wrangling our various schedules (we were all arriving and departing at different times due to our work schedules).

I put together a "Show Information" document to go with the Google Group, so we could keep all information in one place. And, the odd mistranslation notwithstanding, the administrative part was going swimmingly.

Kaeshi and PURE  Tokyo facilitators Aya and Naho worked out a tentative cast list and rehearsal schedule.

I put together a Q & A detailing the technical and performance requirements of the show, and drafted a few group exercises to guide them into thinking symbolically about The Mirror and body image issues, personifying the "healthy" and "demon" aspects employed by the show's narrative.

Naho created stunning translations to the three songs with lyrics: Kristin Hoffman's "The Waking" and "Ocean in Me", and Tamar-Kali's "Ocean" -- all of which are beautifully evocative of the show's message.

The magnificent BodyPoet Kazuma, who had worked with PURE NYC earlier in the year and was now back in Japan, led the Tokyo dancers through mirror exercises so that they would get used to working improvisationally with each other. And he guided them through "demon" and "angel" exercises.

This was especially important because we wanted to tailor the show towards the Japanese sensibility. When the Demon figure emerges, it lures and then attacks those areas where we are least secure. While there was a lot of overlap, there were surprising differences. For example, one of our Demon sentences was, "Your butt is huge," which one would think would have resonance in a culture that also prized a lithe form -- yet they opted for "You have small eyes."

In addition to "Demon" sentences, the Japanese dancers had to further search their souls for healing sentences, which come into play at the end.  Not surprisingly, they opted for more indirect affirmations. Instead of, "I am strong" they chose "I can be strong", and so forth.

Each dancer also submitted three photographs: one in early childhood, one in teenage years, and one as an adult, which is accompanied by their own personal quote.

Lastly, I drafted a full narrative of the story, marked in time with the music, for what would be our very first exercise together. I sent it to Naho, who would be my translator in our first exercise... but more about that later.

For final arrangements before leaving, we divvied up the props and costumes that needed to be brought.  I took the free-standing "mirrors" (for which I had found the perfect duffel bag); Kaeshi took the fabric and the mirrors' lighted baseboards.

I meticulously went through each of the four mirror frames -- assembling, marking and disassembling them -- so they would be easy to jam together in a hurry.

The Tokyo dancers had custom ordered Diana Susanto's gorgeous nμde costumes, which Lale and I picked up.

And we were off!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yes, I Really Am A Huge Geek

"Ask Carol, she'll know the answer," I overheard my teacher Ranya telling a fellow student asking about some random something-or-other. "Or at least," she added, "She'll be able to tell you where to find the answer."

Yeah, OK, so I'm a Know-It-All. But not really. I'm probably more of a Would-Like-To-Know-It-All -- or, more accurately, a Has-An-Insatiable-Curiosity-About-Random-Stuff-It-All.

This may have less to do with a desire for knowledge than with a transient indiscriminate obsessiveness about anything that catches my fancy.

In other words, once something lights my fire, I get such a boner to know everything about it, that not doing so leaves me with what can only be described as mental blueballs.

For example, my mime teacher recently sent me this adorable "hand dancing" video ...

... which is done to a song in Italian.

I forwarded it to my father, who wrote back:  "Very entertaining and imaginative. Do you know what the song is about?"

Well ... I didn't.

I know Italian well enough but, except for a few words, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. And I just HAD to know why (as well as absolutely everything else about the song).

After a half-hour's obsessive research and link compilation, I wrote back:

The song is called "Tu Vuò Fà L'Americano" ("You Want to Make [Like] an American") and it's actually in Neapolitan so it's pretty hard for me to make out, but the Wikipedia entry tells all about it. [Side note: Wikipedia, by the way, is like heroin to someone like me -- but truth be told, I was this way long before the internet made my indulgences so damned quick and easy.


The song is apparently about a guy who is pretending to be an American (drinking whiskey & soda, smoking Camels, playing rock & roll, but all the time he is living "out of his mother's purse").

And you can see the lyrics here.

Google translate should be able to render the bottom part readable, as that is in Florentine Italian, but not much of the song itself.

The song used in the video is actually a remix of the 1956 original by Renato Carosone.

The remix is by an Australian duo Yolanda Be Cool (the reference is to Pulp Fiction, when Samuel L. Jackson's character Jules tells Amanda Plummer -- Yolanda -- to "be cool" in the diner scene).

Here is their very cute video.

And... as to the hand dancers themselves ... well I only had about a half-hour for this and had to get some real work done, so it was not included in the email to my dad.

But of course I had to look it up later. So....

They are Up and Over It -- an Irish step dance duo, Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding, who "aim to stretch the concept of Irish Dance to its limits".

And that they do!!