Sunday, March 31, 2013

Public Service Announcement: Salutations!

Good afternoon, all of you lovely people! As you might have noticed, Grain of Truth is moving toward being back in business! Here are some things that I hope you all will look forward to:

1. I have a backlog of books to review for you. Since we saw each other last, I had the extreme good fortune of being in a young adult literature class, so some seriously exciting things there. I am also currently reading James Brotherton's Reclaiming the Dead, speaking of exciting.

2. Grain of Truth is going to merge (somehow) with my other blog, Tangential. It began as an academic blog and slowly became more and more about art, but I figure it's easier to put everything in one place. Still considering whether or not to move all (or any) of the Tangential posts over here, but the idea is, you might be seeing some of my creative work shortly.

3. Hopefully you will also get an update about my bigger projects soon. Hush hush for now.

4. I will be signalboosting this blog with my tumblr, which you can find here. Follow me and I will follow you back!

5. A blogging schedule/calendar! The idea is to work toward this, so please bear with me.

In fact, please bear with me on all of these things: I am trying to establish a schedule for most parts of my life now that I'm out of school, and it might be a little crazy for a while.

Anyway, toodles, and thanks for reading!

One Night for One Drop with Cirque du Soleil

As it turns out, Cirque du Soleil's founder, Guy Laiberté, is also the founder of a non-profit organization called One Drop, the manifesto of which is "to ensure that water is accessible to all, today and forever." In honor of World Water Day (March 22nd, 2013), Cirque du Soleil put together a one-night show where all proceeds go to One Drop. But, seeing as how not very many people can get to Vegas to see an exclusive one-shot at the O stage in the Bellagio, they also built a website, One Night for One Drop, where potential viewers can access the content for a minimum donation of five dollars. Unluckily for any of you who are just finding out about this, I procrastinated and waited until the last night that content is available (oops!).

The show itself was spectacular. As I mentioned, it borrowed the stage of O in the Bellagio, which is one of the best shows I've had the honor of attending. It was an appropriate choice, as O is a water-based production, and they utilized it in some of the more spectacular ways that O does: namely, synchronized swimmers and extreme high-dive. In addition there were dancers of all sorts, two of the best solo aerialists I've ever seen, and several guest appearances, including Jackie Evancho singing Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water" (alongside a familiar face from O!), David Garibaldi, a spoken word performance by In-Q, and an original quartet by Danny Elfman entitled "Fragility."

Overall the music was stunning. The performances were stunning; one of my favorites featured a swimmer in a mermaid tail and a contortion artist who was "born" out of a seedpod-like structure, like the mythic/folkloric barnacle goose.

The cast incorporated a grand total of two hundred and thirty seven Cirque du Soleil artists and guest performers from twenty countries and ranging from ages two to eighty. The cause is important and deserves to create the ripple effect Guy Laiberté described, what those of us who live on the internet might call signalboosting. However, there was one thing that threw me off guard about this show, and it was some of the costumes.

There were several acts which seemed to serve as a reminder that not everyone in the world is blessed with plumbing, or with access to any clean water (or with the financial flexibility to acquire tickets to a nice, plush seat in the Bellagio, or internet access at home, for that matter). That is all well and good, but the performers in these acts were marked as participating in a non-western culture in one way or another.

The first of these was a dance number which was clearly supposed to represent Indian women searching for water: they were clothed in garments reminiscent of Saris and carried pots, exiting the stage with them full and on their heads.

The modifications to the Sari-like costume (because they were definitely costumes) have arguable, functional purposes. The masks that the performers wore do not. They serve a unifying purpose, yes, in much the same way that an ancient Greek chorus was meant to be a mode of storytelling, not individuals with personalities, and the same way that members of a chorus line are dressed identically. But in the context of the message "these people are less fortunate than you," covering the faces, arguably the most expressive part of the human body, and replacing them with identical caricatures came off as oppressive to me as a viewer. It seemed to emphasize the otherness involved in the situation in a negative way, which was perhaps worsened by the inherent voyeurism in the act of watching a production.

There was a very similar feeling to the 'African' act, where the performers were dressed almost exclusively in animal print. The act, strangely, contained a sort of fashion-show runway walk, which also seemed preoccupied with emphasizing (and in this case exoticizing and sexualizing) the otherness of the people involved. 

There was also a 'South American' act, which featured dancing reminiscent of flamenco and Capoiera, a Brazillain martial art, and women dressed in Carnivale attire (lots of feathers).

This is not to say that all of the choices, or even most of them, were bad - that would be impossible - but several of them gave me pause. One that didn't was an act in which all of the performers were clearly supposed to be penguins and, regardless of phenotype or gender, they were all dressed in black and white vintage punk (items like a bowler hat, vest and tie, spats, and leather tailcoat appeared beside hoodies, striped and skintight dresses, and boots).

The moments that gave me pause were not the dominant strain of the show, and I recognize that One Night for One Drop has made a project of trying to incorporate the global community; these performances were meant to be a celebration of culture. As it was, the execution sometimes felt like parody, not homage. I wonder what the designers had in mind, but I wonder more what people of these cultures would have to say about the show's representation of them. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Going Back

Going through your old things has a way of getting to you, one way or another.

That’s jumping ahead a bit, but there really isn’t any way to begin this story, except, perhaps, before I was born.

When my mom was a teenager, she made friends with two young men. I don’t have strictest permission to write about them publicly, so we’ll call them G and B. They were a couple, and they became fast friends with my mom, her siblings, and the rest of the family. I don’t remember any details of how they met, or where, or how they became so close: it was always just a simple fact that G and B were part of the family and always had been. They were there before my mom went to college, where she met my dad; they were there for both my parents when my dad got in the car accident that took most of his right arm; they were at my parent’s wedding; and they were part of every major family function for as long as I can remember. Every Christmas Eve my mom’s side of the family comes over and we have too much food, too much to drink, generally make merry nuisances of ourselves, and have a gift exchange.

All of this is important because one of them, B, can now only attend in spirit. We honestly think that he does, but that’s a different story. It’s important here because of another reason.

Over the last weekend, I graduated from Western Washington University and, true to my role as a member of the boomerang generation, have moved back into my parent’s house until I can get my feet under me. Moving is an insane process, especially when you’ve been splitting time between two locations and have acquired detritus in both (I come from a long line of pack rats); after coming back there was literally no floor space left in my room, and half the garage was incapacitated. My first reaction was to tear my room apart and get rid of everything I knew could have a better home elsewhere.

The process is still in motion, but while cleaning I came across something I didn’t remember: a blue metal gift box with a gold ribbon. Inside was a gift from B from years ago, an antique beaded purse with the figure of a man, possibly a soldier, astride a horse. There was a note underneath it. B wrote to me about how, when he was a kid, he enjoyed making beaded jewelry. His grandmother noticed this, and, being the dedicated auction-goer she was, bought the purse and brought it to him. She thought he could take it apart to use the beads. He wrote that he “didn’t have the heart to cut it up.” I am so glad that he didn’t, not because I love the purse (though I do), but because if he had, the note wouldn’t have existed, waiting for me to find it.

In loving memory of B, 1945-2011