Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
—W.B. Yeats, “The Land of Heart’s Desire,” 1894
Image: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing. William Blake, 1786
Every subatomic interaction consists of the annihilation of the original particles and the creation of new subatomic particles. The subatomic world is a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing into mass. Transient forms sparkle in and out of existence, creating a never-ending, forever newly created reality.
Bombarded with cultural traditions and unrealistic fantasies, we often forget that a woman is a person and it is her right to define her life in her own terms. When she is allowed to do so, the power, truth and beauty of her uniqueness far surpasses anything culture or advertising has shown us. Men experience cultural objectification to some degree, as well, but are more likely to be rewarded for breaking the mold, while women are most often castigated.
The following is a luscious music video by the Brazilian band Francisco, el Hombre(Francis the Man) from their 2016 album Soltasbruxa (LettheWitchesOut). The video was directed by Rafa Camâra and filmed in an early 20th Century mansion in Havana, Cuba. It features the sultry voice of Juliana Strassacapa backed by guest vocalists Salma Jô, Helena Macedo, Larissa Baq and Renata Éssis, as well as the Cuban dance company Danza Voluminosa. The gentleness of the song and the fluid elegance of the dancers do not diminish the defiant spirit that gives this song power.
Danza Voluminosa was founded in 1996 by Juan Miguel Mas. Unlike conventional dance troupes, they do not pressure their dancers to maintain or lose weight, but seek out heavier body types. They teach their dancers to embrace their bodies and express their emotions through movement. These dancers may move differently than the body types the world is used to putting on display, but they are no less creative and expressive. Their work has been praised for its sensitivity, emotional impact, beauty and uniqueness.
Francisco, el Hombre was formed in 2013 when two brothers, Sebastián and Mateo Piracés-Ugarte, left Mexico and moved to Brazil. There they met Juliana Strassacapa, Rafael Gomes and Andrei Martinez Kozyreff and decided they needed to do something different with their lives.
“Four years ago, us friends felt an urgent need to live, to feel, to learn and grow. The way we found to do that was to get out of our “nest” and travel in order to learn. Music was the means that we found to be able to travel without money. We played on the street, in restaurants in exchange for food, in hostels in return for a night’s stay. And that was inspired by the figure of Francisco el Hombre. Meaning, we didn’t think about forming a band, it was about a learning experience.” –Sebastián Piracés-Ugarte, Billboard Magazine, 11/14/2017
Francisco, el Hombre
Named for a legendary folk musician from Colombia, who sang and played as he traveled, Francisco, el Hombre spends a great deal of time touring throughout Latin America, singing about the struggles of common people. They are no stranger to injustice themselves. In 2015, the entire band was robbed and lost all of their possessions after playing a show in Mendoza, Argentina. They had to crowd source to rebuild the band, but the experience seems to have made them more resilient. They did not travel to the Latin Grammys when Soltasbruxa was nominated, preferring to tour among the people who understand them best.
Latin American art and music has always been among the most political and socially conscious, and Soltasbruxa is no exception. It is a stirring mix of feminism, anti-capitalist and anti-greed sentiment, and idealism shattered and bent by reality. Triste, Louca ou Má is among the gentlest tracks on the album, which starts with the keening excitement of the title track and builds into to the riotous harmonic strains of Calor da Rua (the Heat of the Street), a exposition of domestic violence on the street. The entire album is full of surprises and quick changes in tone. Sensual melodies, daring harmony and infectious dance music are all present and delightful, but it isn’t merely entertaining. It is an explosive shout for those who are tired of losing.
The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul. The true dance is an expression of serenity; it is controlled by the profound rhythm of inner emotion. Emotion does not reach the moment of frenzy out of a spurt of action; it broods first, it sleeps like the life in the seed, and it unfolds with a gentle slowness. The Greeks understood the continuing beauty of a movement that mounted, that spread, that ended with a promise of rebirth.
The word flourish signifies not only rampant growth, but a gesture or set of gestures that personify vitality and life. That gesture may be expressed in words, carpentry, architecture, music, dance, cooking. There is no pursuit known to humanity that cannot be executed with flourish. One of the most striking exhibitions of this creative gesture is in the music and dance style known as flamenco.
Flamenco’s origins lie in Andalusia with the Roma people of southern Spain, known as gitanos. The ancestors of the gitanos came across Europe and north Africa from northern India and were known pejoratively as gypsies. It is no accident that this vibrant celebration of life and passion came from a people who were persecuted and denigrated. The subject matter is often painful and dark, presented with an emotional intensity and controlled artistry that transmutes such feelings into beautiful, cathartic moments.
Flamenco is a musical tradition that flowered into dance. The dancer embodies the anguish and beauty of the singer’s voice, the rhythmic anxiety and ferocity of the guitar. In most traditions, dancing favors the young, with supple bodies that are flexible and strong. Flamenco favors the emotional palette of the mature dancer and it is not unusual for a flamenco artist to dance well into their fifties and beyond. The duende, or soul of the dance will not give itself easily to the dancer who has not experienced the difficulties of life. In a happy contrast, the flashy and spellbinding footwork is likely to keep the dancer in shape for many years.
This video is from the documentary, Flamenco, Flamenco by Carlos Saura. It’s a beautiful documentary you should check out when you have the time.
The form above is alegrías, or “joys”, a particularly fast paced style, or palo, of flamenco in twelve-eight time, with accents on beat 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12. As the strong beats get closer together in the second half of the bar the rhythm pushes forward with a tense agitation. The dancer is Sara Baras, who has toured the world as a soloist and as the lead dancer of her own company. She has also appeared as a model in London, Madrid and Lisbon, and been featured in Mission: Impossible 2. When she was younger, teachers complained that her feet were too loud, but their percussiveness is a strength and hallmark of her particular gift. Both Sara and her dancing exemplify the meaning of the word flourish in all its shadings.
Sara is a native Andalusian, but it should be noted that, during the Spanish recession, the flourishing of modern flamenco has been sustained and enriched by people from other lands, among them northern Africa, the United States and Japan. It seems fitting that its Roma roots have been extended back out into the global sphere. They carry with them a very important message: We do not flourish when life is easy; we flourish when we surmount our difficulties.
Mary Ann Toots Zynsky, known as Toots, decided as a pre-teen that she was meant to be an artist, beginning her creative life as a painter and sculptor. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which she had been told was the best of the best. And yet, nothing really sparked her interest; everything felt stilted and quiet. In fact, she planned to leave the school at the end of her Freshman year in order to pursue studies leading toward medical school. One day she grabbed a map and decided she would visit each department, perhaps hoping for a reason to stay. Everything changed as she walked down a hallway to a room that had been deliberately placed far from the main studios. Here, loud music played and hot glass swirled in the air, manipulated by artists that moved together to make colorful shapes that solidified into glass. I’m sure the music was loud and the atmosphere somewhat wild… it was 1970 after all…but the voice inside of her must have spoken with a voice to match. The next week, after classes ended, the glass studio, which had recently gained independence from the ceramics department, opened its doors to anyone who was interested. Toots Zynsky did not miss her opportunity.
Video via Corning Museum of Glass on YouTube
It is fascinating to note that Toots was not drawn so much to the final product as she was mesmerized by the process. It was the music reverberating in the space, the concept of collaboration as a kind of dance, the roar of the furnace, the hot liquid glass in motion and the counterpoint of color that quickened her pulse. When art comes from this kind of place, the final form it takes is secondary. It also didn’t hurt that this was a new medium for art and there were few rules to be broken. It was an exciting time to work with glass. On top of that, she earned her BFA working under the guidance of Dale Chihuly, who remains one of the biggest names in glass art worldwide.
In the early 1970s, along with Chihuly and some fellow RISD graduates, Toots was part of the founding team of the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state. Her work was groundbreaking: experimental installations featuring slumped plate glass and forays into video and performance art in collaboration with artist Buster Simpson. Finding new and interesting possibilities, she wasn’t sure she wanted to stay with glass. She returned to the east coast to pursue new projects in new media.
“I started wondering what I was doing with glass and why. There were other materials and ideas that fascinated me, and I started working with cloth, light, wire, and barbed wire. I was interested in barbed wire because it’s such a powerful symbol of the failure of humanity— that we had to come up with this material to keep each other apart.”
In 1980, Toots became assistant director and head of the hot shop at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop in New York City, now UrbanGlass. Here she pioneered works that combined glass with barbed wire, pulling her interests together. She began to work with nets made from heavy glass threads which she dubbed filet de verre. These threads were fused and shaped inside of a kiln. Her first piece made entirely from filet de verre was Clipped Grass (1982). It is a beautiful, humble work of realism, glass fashioned into the image of a nest made from grass clippings. This simple piece was the precursor to the fanciful colored forms which would become Toots’ signature work.
In the early days, she had to employ teams of assistants to pull the glass into threads using an old Venetian method. This took time and resulted in unevenness. There was also a limit to the length of thread that could be produced. When Mathijs Van Manen, an inventor who had also worked with special effects for film and television, came to New York from Amsterdam to check out her work, he was amazed at what she was doing and dumbfounded at how she was doing it. Within 24 hours, he rigged a machine to turn rods of glass into threads. Toots took a trip to Europe to collaborate further on the design of this machine and stayed on the continent for 16 years. Together, she and Van Manen produced a series of kilns which she still uses in her work, although these instruments now incorporate cutting edge software and electronics. She also has special heat resistant gloves that allow her to reach into the kiln and twist the work into shape. These are the product of a desperate moment in Italy when, showing her technique to Italian craftsmen, she plunged her hands into a kiln to rescue a piece that was going awry.
“The architects were so curious and I was so nervous and the piece just wasn’t going right. All of a sudden, I reached into the kiln, grabbed the vessel, and gave it a big squeeze. Finally, I had the form that I wanted! And I thought, Why didn’t I think of this before? I was fed up with the piece, so I tried something different because I had nothing to lose.”
There is more to her work than technique, innovation and boldness. There is a great deal of sensitivity. As a synesthete, Toots relates sound to color. The rhythms of music are translated into patterns of colored glass that are like frozen portraits of sound.
After going through a period of loss in which she no longer felt like dancing, or even moving or listening to music, she began to create darker pieces with fewer colors and more shading, explorations not of music rhythms, but of the feelings she had for people she had lost. What an honor to be remembered in such a personal way by such a great artist!
Toots Zynsky continues to make beautiful things that fill a need in her life and delight others. She has collaborated on costume and scenic design for theatrical works and continues to explore what glass can express. Please check out more of her work on her website.
When we get caught up in evaluating performance, life, and art, become uninspired. How do we refresh our vision?
I found my seat in the darkened room. A soundless film was projected upon the bare wall and musicians waited in the darkness at the sides of the space. Soon, low electronic sounds began to enter that space, building slowly and steadily, and a dancer began to unfold herself into the light and shadow. The musicians phased in, bathing the room with a matrix of vibrations, living sounds. Something about the way the sound resonated in the room and within my own body reminded me of a session with a friend who plays therapeutic gong. It wasn’t about notes. It wasn’t about narrative. It was about vibration, vision and motion.
The first time I encountered the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective, it took me a solid twenty minutes to slow down enough to shed the excitement and yes, the anxiety and disorientation, that I felt in order to connect with the piece. One is accustomed to a story, or least a framework and purpose that one can perceive. One is used to evaluating the execution of those things. This is a different kind of experience, a physical encounter with sound and how it moves us, not far removed from meditation. I was lucky to have this experience twice last month. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing TSMC again in a few days and enjoying the Zen-like atmosphere these artists create with through the vulnerability of improvisation.
Founder Lynn Lane is an important force here in Houston. He is quite probably the busiest arts photographer in town, shooting performances all over the city: dance, music, theatre. He’s shot me as a member of the Houston Grand Opera Chorus many, many times. But we had never met until my friend Julia Fox invited me to Echoes of Solitude in Grand Central, Transitory Sound and Movement‘s February show at the Rec Room, a new and exciting venue here in Houston that supports local artists with their Artist Residency Program and inexpensive rentals. I didn’t know what to expect, and that always peaks my interest.
Echoes of Solitude featured Ron Kiley’s film of foot traffic through Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Travelers moved through the frame, becoming solid and “real” only when they paused in their walking. In front of this visual offering, dancer AJ Garcia-Rameau and singer Julia Fox moved. Lane provided a matrix of electronic sound and field recording into which Fox and the instrumental musicians could enter, meander and exit, just as the film’s travelers had done physically in Grand Central. Ben Roidl-Ward (bassoon), Emily Nelson (flute/piccolo), Emmy Tisdel (violin/viola) and Caitlin Mehrtens (harp) occupied the shadowed edges of the performance space. The interaction of the aural, visual and physical planes, as well as that of the pre-recorded and the improvised, created a sense of being together and yet being apart, a feeling of loneliness within a group. The work rose and then receded, leaving a feeling of peacefulness, like the calm after a storm.
Echoes of Solitude capitalized on catharsis, the healing element in music and art, which seems often to suffer from our desire to evaluate and sometimes even from our desire to understand. I knew then and there that I wanted to see more. Luckily, there was a private loft performance the following weekend which I was able to experience as well, a different piece with many of the same musicians and familiar, yet different elements. The second time I was swept up immediately. This healing music is habit forming.
Rehearsal for Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, photo credit: Lynn Lane
I wholeheartedly recommend Untitled: Darkness and Light in Eight, the next show presented by the Transitory Sound and Movement Collective at the Rec Room on Tuesday, March 14th. TSMC is presenting a new piece there each month and I can’t wait to see where they will go next. Please follow these artists on the group Facebook page.
These are the ten most viewed articles written in 2016. I am excited that many of them involve experiences and works from our synkronicitiOpen Mics, which were happening once a month until our house flooded in April. I am looking forward to starting them up again sometime in 2017. I miss my tribe!