Sunday, December 18, 2011

Feel the Music and Fill it Completely

Hot on the heels (so to speak) of my previous post in which I mentioned the idea of fully filling up the music when dancing, I have stumbled on this short YouTube clip of Zakharova in class.

I can't help but wonder if 'this is a setup' (!). She takes her time to do each exercise movement but she's sandwiched between 2 others who are in a bit of a hurry and their juxtaposition kind of emphasizes that she is dancing to music vs. doing calisthenics (no offense meant to the others !).

The documentary that this clip came from looks like it might be interesting. It's in my queue :-)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A most beautiful Ballet Adagio (slow section)

I missed the big movie theater live simulcast of the Grand Re-Opening of the Bolshoi in Moscow because they had the nerve to schedule it in the middle of a work day (!).
Happily a video has sprung up on YouTube of an excerpt of a marvelous Adagio section from Swan Lake with Svetlana Zakharova as the 'White Swan'.
This is extremely 'luxurious' and beautiful dancing. I could not keep my eyes off of it.
To me it contains supreme expression of 2 things that I've managed to learn about dancing in the few years that I've been seriously involved in it so far.

I'm a rhythm junky. Since childhood I've been very fascinated by syncopation and emphasis on certain beats in a measure and what can be done with them. The backbeat (emphasis on 2 and 4) the foundation of much popular music and James Brown's invention of emphasis on 'the ONE' are still as fresh today as ever. So, what is now called 'Urban Dance' has always fascinated me. I learned that feeling 'in the streets' (not a dance studio) as a child.
So my first forays into dance as a middle-aged adult were, of course, HipHop where I could express the rhythm (it would always be the same scene coming into a class for the first time, the youngsters would have an attitude 'what's this old guy doing in OUR class'. Of course, once the music starts and the back-beat and the ONE beg to be set free, it usually is clear why I'm in the class.. it's to express the rhythm, and they usually respect that (the roots of that physical expression were planted in me as a kid, and I've never lost it).

There's more to dance than rhythm though and my first 'real' dance teacher Molly Kozma demonstrated to me very effectively a different kind of musicality, done during slow Adagio sections and that was a concept and feeling of 'filling up the entire space of the music'. 'Stretching it out' so to speak. It is a very beautiful feeling..
The above video of Svetlana Zhakarova shows her filling space and time in a way that I've never quite seen before. There are almost no stationary 'poses', there is just a continuous, sensuous 'unrolling' of feeling. It's inspiring.

Another lesson that has stuck with me is the idea of contrasts of expectation, that at certain times 'Less is more', that at the right time small movement can convey a whole lot more meaning than a big dramatic one. HipHop-Jazz teacher Christian Crawford effectively conveyed that concept into me. Right in the middle of some frenetic movements you could halt suddenly and take an entire beat to move only 1 finger and the small movement of that one finger carries a lot of weight because of the way that it has been staged !
In the video, I feel this at 7min 53 seconds during the movement after the pirouette (spin), the leg in the air moves from being bent towards the standing leg, outward. This movement is done very softly, almost like an afterthought. I've seen a number of others to this same part in the Ballet more forcefully, but to me, the way that it is done in this performance is striking and makes a big impression because of it's restraint... In this case it's playing with my expectations in another way. I've been conditioned to expect a more dramatic looking movement, the leg forcefully flung out and held, so when it is not, I take notice.. (the that it is done is also in tune with the overall feeling of 'continuity' of the section)

Marvelous stuff...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve Jobs the Driven One

It seems like a timely thing to post up my one personal encounter with Steve Jobs. Since his recent passing a lot of public press has been focused on his passion for the products that he shepherded, and deservedly so.

By chance, I had been witness to an aspect of the drive that is required to achieve these things.

The scene was the annual JavaOne Java Developer's Conference in the year 2000. These were heady times for the computer industry. The 'dot-com crash' had not yet played out, 9-11 was more than a year away. One of the big things at JavaOne that year was Steve Jobs sharing a Key Note announcing Apple's commitment to the Java Platform.

Jobs was his familiar smooth self on stage, laying out the integration strategy and the benefits of the integration.

I took a break from the ongoing key notes to use the men's room downstairs. This is at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco so the space is BIG. I'm alone down there and the unabsorbed sound pinging off of the porcelain walls and floors only underscores how caverness the space is. Within a minute someone else comes into the space. His breathing is halting, spastic and between gasps he's quietly muttering things to himself. The sounds are amplified by their echoes around the room. All indications are of a person that's a nervous wreck. It was Steve Jobs. A very different person from the smooth one that we all had just seen on stage, all of the difficulty had been suppressed for the show and now that the show is over it could be released. I leave first and he glances over at me, in this private place I have seen a side of him that maybe relatively few people have. I just look him calmly in the eye, a kind of acknowledgement of the situation, give a little nod and leave him in peace.

So, my big takeaway from the incident was that it was an example of what driven people will do in order to accomplish their ends. No one seeing the key note would have guessed that the person on the stage was also perturbed person that I encountered off stage. No matter how hard it is for you, no matter much you're suffering, you do what is required when it's required so that things stay on the course that you want them to be on.

I kind of see a parallel with another anecdote, the time that President George HW Bush (the real war hero one) was so sick at a state dinner in Japan, that he leaned over and vomited into a Japanese officials lap (I can't remember what post he held). This speaks to President Bush's will to go through with the important dinner even if he was feeling very sick.

Not everyone will push themselves like this in order to achieve their goals.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Massive Lava Field

I decide to take a scenic route west out of Sisters Oregon. Highway 126 just out of town is a beautiful narrow road through lush forest lands which suddenly give way to vast, stark, inhospitable lava fields. So inhospitable that no vegetation has grown in the fields for centuries. It's solid rocks.
The first picture doesn't show depth too well, but the field extends way back to and beyond the sharp peak in the middle. You can also see an 'island' to the left around which the molten lava flowed. The 'untouched' island is able to host tree and other plant growth.

The second picture gives some idea of the texture of the field. The average size of a rock is pretty large, probably a few feet across.

Coming down from the mountain range I had to make a decision about the trip. The weather is uncharacteristically good and the Oregon Coast is said to be in for a nice warm clear day tomorrow. I have a feeling though that it's time to start heading home. I decide to do that. As good a chance as a warm Coast is, it's also as well to leave something to look forward to on a future trip. There aren't that many areas of the western states that I have not been. Yes, let's leave that. I'm back over the California border now and will be home tomorrow...

signing off !

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eastern Oregon

I spent a great day traversing North Eastern Oregon. Down U.S. 395 and West along U.S. 26. U.S. 395 undulates and alternates between ranches in the valleys and Forest Parks in the mountains. A good part of U.S.26 follows a river which allows cultivation of the lands along those parts of the highway.
I made a stop in Dayville along U.S.26 (not as in night and day, but rather named after an early explorer/expeditiary John Day. There's also a city 'John Day', various 'John Day' Rivers, etc).
Quite noticeable was the nice decor in the Men's Room at the city park. It was spotlessly clean and even had fresh flowers (see photo). Very refreshing. A place like that would probably not last a day (so to speak) in a medium to large city. Much has been written over centuries about the differences between city and country life. I have nothing original to add...

I make it to Brineville as the day ends. Poking around the net I see that there is an advanced Ballet class in town that started at 6pm. I'm too late to give it a try. I'm beginning to miss city life !

Monday, September 26, 2011

Back on the Road, Go East Young Man...

It's time to head out of Seattle. Ironically, the rain is worse today as compared to yesterday by far. I have to decide: South or East ? If I go South the ride will be wet all day but promises to hold fewer dangers being relatively flat. If I go East the ride will be wet for a few intense hours then warm and dry the rest of the day. The Eastern tradeoff is that I will have to go over stormy mountain passes along a major interstate truck route I-90. Within a few minutes of getting on I-5 going south I have to make up my mind. East it is.. but not so fast.. yipes, it's a traffic jam of people wanting to get to Bellevue from Seattle, at 10 am ! All thoughts that I may have had about living in Seattle start to fade as I sit out in the rain inching along towards my storm drenched fate.
The ride through the rainy Cascades was riveting. I forgot to put in my earplugs so I was getting the full sensory treatment. Wind, Cold, Wet, Noisy. I'm thankful that all of the Truckers that passed me were behaving like professional drivers else it could have been a very harrowing ride. Finally deep into the rain shadow the dry promised land arrived and I could enjoy the cruise. Things are relaxed enough that I can listen to my podcast queue again while the scenery rolls on by. It's getting near time to stop for the day.

Now here's a pop quiz: Given a choice of 2 destinations in which to put down for the night which would you choose:
1. Pendelton, Oregon
2. Walla Walla, Wa

No contest ! It's 40 extra miles away, but how can one resist staying in Walla Walla Wa ?

After setting down I check for dance studios in beautiful Walla Walla. I have enough left over for a class if I can find one. There seem to be 2 studios in town: one a Ballet studio, the other studio offering jazz and tap dancing.. sigh, but neither has any suitable classes on Monday night. It's another night of doing my static balances in a motel room...

I'm posting 2 low resolution snapshot stills taken off of my on board Helmet Camera:
One on the wet I-90 through the Cascades, the other near where the Snake River empties into the Columbia River. The I-90 snap should be viewed with deep relentless menacing music while the Columbia River one goes with slow solo harp music played in a major key.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pacific Northwest Ballet

At times over the last few days I questioned just what in the world I was doing. Voluntarily getting baked mid-day, ending the days with the body enveloped with fatigue. I am sure to be spending at least one day getting soaked with the approaching rain front. I could have just hopped a plane midday and arrived in Seattle fresh as a daisy in time for dinner. The All Wheeldon Program by Pacific Northwest Ballet this evening put all such doubts to rest. The dancing was superb, the choreography was innovative and beautiful. Now that I've been a Ballet hobbyist for a few years the genius and freshness of Wheeldon's work is very clear to me. What treat to have a complete program devoted to his work.

The weather forecast speaks of rain AND wind coming tomorrow. Rain I can handle, but rain AND wind I will pass on. The combination of the two makes for some very un-carefree riding. Add to that the other drivers on the road, dome of whom demonstrate no awareness of the increased hazard posed by such conditions and it's just not worth the risk. To me the confluence of these 3 conditions are one of the few times that riding a motorcycle sucks.

Instead I'll have a nice relaxed day hanging in Seattle tomorrow :-)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Almost perfect day

There's nothing like a clear, sunny, cool morning and a motorcycle far from home. It was a perfect morning for a ride and I savored every moment. The afternoon got a bit hot. On a motorcycle you feel more. As the temperatures climbed I could feel the air cool with the altitude gains crossing the passes to give way to hot climes again. At 90 degrees F and above, the air no longer cools you and you have to take countermeasures on the longer rides or pay the consequences of heat fatigue and dehydration (ask me how I know this :-( ). At 100 degrees F and above the wind feels like a hair dryer blowing in your face and the faceshield goes down to keep it away.

So the latter part of the day was a bit hot and tiring.

I made it to Salem, Oregon at about 5 pm.

I soooooo..... wanted to take the 6pm Adult Ballet class that I found on the net at a dance studio in Salem 'Starr Studios', but I was really too beat from the heat of the afternoon and opted to pass on it. My highest priority is to be 100% tomorrow for the Pacific Northwest Ballet program.

The weather is changing and it looks like the North is going to get wet starting Sunday... if so, I'm shelving any ideas about going north to British Columbia and will probably head East to escape the rain. I don't really mind riding in the rain if I have to, but it's not really fun

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And I'm off !

I haven't had a 'real' vacation in about 2 years (the odd 3-4 day weekends not counted). I'm long overdue, so here I am on day one of a week with nowhere to be at no particular time except for Seattle this coming Saturday night where I've got a ticket to a nice seat at Pacific Northwest Ballet's All Wheeldon performance. Spending the week getting around by motorcycle I decided to splurge (by my modest standards) and book a hotel room that is a block or two from the Performance Hall. So all I have to do is rollup late Saturday afternoon, checkin and take it all in :-).

I'm doing this trip on the smallest motorcycle I've ever had. Honda's new for this year CBR250R. I've been wanting a small 250cc sized street bike for a while and until this model year the only real choice has been the evergreen been around forever Kawasaki 250. Honda's release of it's 250 put me over the edge. An msrp of $3999, ride ready weight of only 360 lbs and real world gas mileage in the 60-80 mpg range and a newly designed engine with many innovations, I was ready. The engine has only a single piston. I like the idea of the single piston's up and down motion being mapped onto every inch of the road throughout this trip. The bike makes just enough power to be suitable for a trip like this. It's peak output in the low 20's of horsepower happens at just beyond reasonable freeway speeds. Riding this bike means using ALL of it's potential. Contrast this to my Triumph Speed Triple 1050cc bike for which 20+ horsepower is the engine just getting started at the lower end of it's usable range !
The 250 is just enough. As a corollary it consumes just enough. Good gas mileage, oil changes that require LESS than 2 quarts of oil (really !), the tires, chain and sprockets are likely to have very long service lives because of the low power being transmitted through them.

I like it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bay to Breakers Merry-achis

San Francisco Bay to Breakers Sunday morning means: Party-ers on BART headed for the unofficial race festivities. Here's a pair from a trio of, ummm.... Mariachis headed for a day Merry-ment !

Me, I'm such a party pooper, I'm off for Sunday a.m. Ballet class...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ballet and Martial Arts

I have been involved in Ballet training for almost 2 years now and have now come to a surprising realization of how similar it is to serious Martial Arts training on many levels. Perhaps because the desired use of the body (and mind) while within the possibilities of what is possible to do, requires constant training to progress or to just to simply maintain.

In martial arts training I have felt it. When trained up a special type of acuity becomes woven into you. Your body/mind is different and the manifestation of the training shows itself in surprising ways. Miss a few days training, or train for a few days 'without intent' and the ability is gone. You don't know that its gone until you realize that some things that used to happen spontaneously just don't seem to happen anymore. It just slipped away from you. Ballet dancers have a saying about training 'miss a day or 2 and you know it', 'miss more than than that and the audience knows it'.
I believe that this is because we train up specialized abilities, but 'everyday life' conspires to take it all away. As Sun Si-Quan, the author of the book pictured above mentioned within: 'Martial Artist s are different from other people. The way that we stand, walk and move is different'.

One thing special about Ballet training is the emphasis on training 'at the Barre'. These are the basic exercises that train up the special things that make Ballet what it is. These are the things that have the body do the things that are not done in normal life. In true martial arts (as opposed to pretend martial arts that don't train up any 'special' abilities) there is an emphasis on 'basic' or 'foundation' training. These are the special things that make Martial Arts what it is. There is a martial arts saying about basic training: 'If you just practice forms (kicking, punching routines and sparring) and don't practice the foundation, even if you practice into old age, you'll end up with nothing'. This is because without it you'll just be kicking and punching 'like a regular person'. Fast and accurate perhaps, but without that 'extra something' that only the specialized art can get you.

The Ballet Barre is the dancers 'foundation'. The training that yields the special flavor.

I'm of the impression that foundation training is often overlooked because it doesn't seem like the activity that one originally set out to do. Training at the Ballet Barre doesn't look like 'dancing'. As far as Martial Arts goes, I went through a period of 'floundering'. It was rather frustrating spending years of training and knowing that I was not really progressing. After about 8 years of this I finally stumbled on a teacher that had 'the secrets'. Progress was fast after that. A year of training was more than the entire decade that preceded it. The 'secret' was an emphasis on foundation training. His particular foundation consisted of standing still for an hour, every day at the beginning of class. Breathing, nothing but natural breathing. Standing around, not moving for an hour seems as far from doing 'Martial Art' as it's possible to do, but paradoxically my skill levels jumped up to the next level after investing in that practice. It was the beginning of being able to do things that 'regular people' can't do. As I mentioned earlier, skip a few days practice though and it's lost (!).

In Ballet as in Martial Arts, every moment spent training the 'foundation' must be with intent, start to finish. In mechanical terms, the mind is being trained to perform. What one does in training is what one will do when the heat is on. Habitually doing sloppy endings or 'not doing it for real' is how one will internalize the practice.

In more serious pursuits improper training can have deadly results. There is a famous incident in the annals of Law Enforcement which is known as 'The Newhall Massacre'. In this incident a group of law enforcement officers lost their lives in a shootout against armed fugitives. One fact that came out in the post event investigation was the finding of empty shell casings in the pockets of at least one of the slain officers. The presence of the casings was interpreted as the result of the repeated habit of emptying the revolver's spent cylinder casings and placing them in the pocket so as not to have to pick them up later. It was surmised that this ingrained habit learned from constant rehearsal at the shooting range became the way that they performed the task of shooting when under pressure. Further, the time taken to perform this action, rather than just dumping the spent casings straight to the ground may have cost them their lives !

Training is serious time. It is the time that we use to make ourselves what we want to be. Ballet and Martial Arts. :-)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

German Gems 2011

Bummed that I've missed 2 years of the San Francisco 'Berlin and Beyond' German Film Festival

I was excited to see that another film festival 'German Gems' was on screen this weekend in SF.

I caught a film each on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday's film 'The Architect' was the unfolding over a disasterous weekend of a highly dysfunctional family coming to terms with itself. The sordid details of the situation would have made for an hour plus of grimacing and squirming if not for the liberal application of humor throughout. Recommended viewing !

Sunday's film 'Celebration of Flight' is a documentary centered around a (then) 78 year old retired pilot's dream of building and flying his own airplane. On the surface, not an unusual story. What makes this case so special is the magnetic personality of David (the pilot), and the fact that he was building this plane in the garage of the house that he built on a hill in the middle of the tropics of the Dominican Republic. His friendships with the people of the Island are quite an uplifting affirmation of life. During the Q&A, it came up that the filmaker sacrificed quite a bit the making of her self-financed film which took many years to complete. Happily, she reported that she got Clint Eastwood to see the film and as a result may get some backing to create another feature film about the life of David. From the glimpses of that life that we got this afternoon from the film and the Q&A session, a film about his life adventures would make an engrossing movie indeed.