Shabby Butoh in Peacock Alley

It’s Memorial Day weekend. And maybe this will mark that changing of the seasons when I finally decide to start turning on my little asthmatic air-conditioner–a sad window unit lacking the needed oomph to have a noticeable effect on the entire apartment.

Friday night was an event at URBAN-15, put on by Ramon Vasquez and a poetry group he works with, Writers Block. Ramon is also the head of the AIT-SCM (American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions), a nonprofit cultural center. The event was entitled Crossing Over: Poetry Reading and Dialogue. The event was moderated by Gabriel Velasquez, architect, activist, and mastermind of best SA art event of 2009, Una Noche de la Gloria.

The two featured poets were Ramon Vasquez and Santiago Garcia. They were working on themes of immigration and migration. There was also works on display by two important local Chicano artists, Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez (Ramon Vasquez’s father) and Raul Servin.

After Ramon and Santiago read several poems each, Gabriel asked if anyone was interested to come up and read some poetry. The ubiquitous Eduardo Garcia took to the stage. He had a drum. He was joined by a Native American flute player. Eduardo did two or three pieces. He’s a very talented man, and I love his poetry songs. Next, we had a young man from Peru. He read a lyrical poem in Spanish about the romantic beauty of the Andes. He had also brought with him an English translation–this was read by Eduardo.

The evening closed out with a discussion about issues of immigration and human migration moderated by Gabriel. It was rather spirited, and I think it opened some people’s eyes.

This reminded me of the previous AIT-SCM event at URBAN-15. That was when we watched a film. The following open discussion among the audience caused me to realize just how little knowledge people in San Antonio have about this region’s indigenous heritage.

It seems that when people are taught incomplete historical narratives it’s easy for them to slip into a xenophobic worldview. I’m very disturbed when first generation American immigrants subscribe to the absurd model of America as this beautiful walled city on the hill which is constantly being assailed by these uncouth outsiders who want to bask in our fantastic American way of life without contributing anything. Now don’t get me wrong. The American way of life can be pretty damn fine. But the same can be said of dozens of other countries.

First, we need to pull the plug on that American propaganda machine which pushes such an unreasonable and false narrative of Yankland Übber Alles. Next, we need to smooth out this xenophobic tendency amongst our populace through education. In elementary and middle school we need to assign books which show some fantastic civilizations which don’t have, as their end result, Wal-Mart, P.F. Chang’s, and AIG as their high-water achievements.

Currently I’m reading two books which I think would be perfect choices. One is The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Powerful primary source material. Prescott pulled loads of stuff from this for his huge history. True, it’s a narrative of conquest, but it is also the story of Europeans experiencing an extraordinary and, to them, alien culture. I’m also slowly making my way through Ibn Battuta: Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354. This is one of the great travel narratives of all time. Ibn Battuta traveled the length and breath of the Islamic world at a time when it was a robust and expanding confederation of nation-states. It reads almost like a fantasy novel because all of these extraordinary regions he visits have been so marginalized by the western interpretation of world history. Add Cabeza de Vaca, Marco Polo, and all those amazing travel narratives into the half dozen thriving African civilizations.

If this sorry and shitty state of public education must continue, please let’s make sure to place as a mandatory reading list these great historical travel narratives. If kids in the 9-11 age range were to be exposed to some of these great historical travel narratives, I’d feel a lot better for the future of our country. Because if they learn that the world was once a diverse and wonderful place (much more exciting than these current pathetic textbooks will allow), our kids might come to the obvious conclusion that the current world is also a diverse and wonderful place. Because, dammit. we want our children to take an honest look at the world–roll up their sleeves, and dive in, happy to be citizens of the world…all the while understanding that this world, as wonderful as it may be, has its problems, sure, but it had all those same problems in the past, and we continue to muddle our way through…finding ways to work together.


I was sitting in a gallery space this morning, idly looking at paintings by a diverse group of artists. I found myself becoming very critical, seeing the majority of the work as weak and amateurish. When I slip into this sort of behavior, I try and remember to consider how my film work might appear to others. Many would consider my work weak and amateurish. And I could hardly argue too vociferously, as I’m more aware of the flaws in my work than anyone else.

Narrative films are where my strength is. I rarely need to generate anything more than the most rudimentary storyboards–I do this so I don’t forget to shoot any of the needed camera set-ups. I can usually walk into any environment and know what information (picture and sound) needs to be gathered. I understand the emotional arc of each scene, and thus where the camera should be throughout the linear path of the story. And thus there are few deviations that pop up during the editing process. I usually know how the piece is going to cut together while I’m shooting.

Things get a bit weird when I’m doing something without a strong narrative element driving the piece. With some of the experimental and dance-related pieces I’ve been working on lately, I keep trying to impose a structure, and I think this is creating problems.

I’m looking at the video I shot early today. Maggie Lasher wanted to do something with her China Cat Production. I met up with her and four other dancers at Travis Park in downtown San Antonio. We walked the two blocks to Peacock Alley, which is a great gritty urban setting, with chingos of inner city production value.

I knew right off that I should have scouted the location at various times of the day. We arrived at 11am. The sun was directly overhead. What we should have done was get there at about 5pm. My initial fear of shooting too early or too late was that we’d run up against continuity issues as the shadows shifted on the buildings and fire escapes.

The performance was in the style of the Butoh, which is principally expressionistic, more about the internal state of the dancers than the dance itself. Or so this is how I’ve come to understand this conceptional style of dance. For this piece Maggie wanted the dancers to work through movements, interactions, and behaviors as if they were cats. Many of the movements are pretty nice. The costumes, effective. But I’m dubious that the performance work in such stark lighting. I hope to change my opinion once I start playing with the footage.

Deborah dropped by for an hour or so to take some photos. I’m curious to see how they turned out.

I took a few stills. But I was pretty busy with video. Here’s a cool photo.


I had planned on doing all the shots locked down on a tripod. But it soon became apparent that what was most visually interesting was getting in close to the dancers. It’s also a more spontaneous manner of shooting, as it allows me to become, in a sense, part of the performance. It’s during these sorts of gigs that I understand certain dynamics of the actor and the dancer. It’s really not about a narcissistic ego trip (it might be for some, I guess), but there’s this moment when the ego drops away, and you’re channeling this weird collective unconscious energy. I mean there we all were, seven people behaving strangely–five were dressed in outrageous costumes; I was weaving about among the dancers with my video camera; Deborah was here and there, snapping pictures. I’m sure we could have all stripped naked and been oblivious of the street people strolling down the alley, the tourists looking our way, or the hotel workers up on the loading dock enjoying an occasional cigarette break. Part of this is that strength-in-numbers dynamic that makes group cycling events so empowering. If there are enough of you, you own that environment.

I had loads of fun. I just hope the footage comes out as cool as that weird ad hoc alley performance that the hotel workers on the loading dock were treated to.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s