Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Travels Around North East America Part II: New York: Homelessness

The homeless slouched on their blankets, sitting with their dogs is a familiar sight in most major cities in the world. Everywhere I have lived and travelled I have seen homeless men, women and children living and begging on the streets; London, York, Brighton, Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Brussels, Baltimore, DC, Philadelphia, New York, wherever. But since having come to America I have either become highly more aware of the homeless or distinctly more sympathetic towards them.

Although I had been told that Baltimore isn't a particularly wealthy city and has a high rate of crime, I hadn't fully appreciated how impoverished the city was until I had begun visiting Baltimore since February. Driving past the Health Care for the Homeless Center in Baltimore, which was established in 1985 to care for the underserved populations of Baltimore, brought the human-ness of the issue home. Outside the centre the pavement is covered in blankets and littered with flattened cardboard boxes. There must have been dozens of men and women wrapped up in blankets and hats and scarves. The temperature was dropping under -10C/14F early this year; I wonder how many of those men and women survived that winter without shelter.

I have always walked past the homeless, rarely giving them money when they beg. What use is a couple of pounds anyway? And what good will come of giving anything more than £25? I always (wrongly?) assume that it will simply be spent on alcohol or drugs. Or is that just an unfair stereotype?

Anyway, on Wednesday I was walking down Broadway in New York and I passed a man, slouched over, with his hood up and his head in his arms. On the cardboard sign in front of him it read:

"I just want to buy a bus ticket to get me back to Montana to go to my father's funeral".

Of course, the statement may have been made up to pull on the heart strings of people like me, to make his begging slightly more successful. But there was something deeply unhappy in his body language and in his person. It unsettled me, but I didn't stop, I carried on walking, swept forward in the fast pace of the crowd around me.

As the homeless man disappeared further behind me, I started to think about it more. I have always disregarded the homeless as individuals who wasted away their lives or their money or their relationships. I rarely gave them the benefit of the doubt, because I believed they didn't deserve it. But- we are all human, and some mistakes will push us further out than others. So why are we so quick to judge whether these people deserve our help? And why are we so quick to ignore those in need? It's all well and good donating once a year to Sports Relief or Red Nose Day (don't get me started on Red Nose Day, I could write five blog posts about my feelings there), but why are there thousands upon thousands of homeless people in each of our cities and we do nothing to help individually?

Furthermore, it seems that there is more grief to being homeless than simply not having money. Without a permanent address it is almost impossible to open a bank account, find a job or enrol in education. And in turn, without a job or a bank account, it is nearly always impossible to find a permanent address. Why limit the number of options open to the homeless when they need the most amount of options available? It seems completely maddening.

As I was walking away from the homeless man on Broadway it suddenly occurred to me that he will struggle to even buy a bus ticket. Buying a ticket in cash is very often ludicrously more expensive than buying online. But to buy a ticket online requires a credit or debit card. And to own a credit or debit card requires a permanent address. Maddening!

Why is it so hard for a man to travel seven states to attend his father's funeral? And furthermore, why was no one helping him? Do we resent the homeless, or are we just afraid of them? Are we a nation of fear-mongerers that simply blame the homeless for crime? And why are we so incredibly reluctant to help the desperate, who we mindlessly walk past everyday?

Monday, 19 May 2014

REVIEW: Glass Pieces - Jerome Robbins, New York City Ballet

Jerome Robbins' three-part 'Glass Pieces' is a powerful and quick-moving exploration of traditional ballet vocabulary intermixed with postmodern work, accompanied by music composed by Philip Glass. Set against a graph paper backdrop, the New York City Ballet dancers' fast pace and sudden bursts of energy are reminiscent of the unmistakable urban energy of the city. 

The work opens with the full cast walking swiftly about the stage, dressed in costume designer Ben Benson's mismatching shades of red, pink, blue, green, gold and grey. The space is alive with bodies and colour, as the dancers charge forward through a scene that could be a busy train station or city street. Glass' Rubric with its repeated rhythms, shifting patterns and sweeping force drives the dancers through the space. From the outset Robbins asserts and captures the repetitive and fast paced energy of urban American life. Amongst the chaos of the dancers, sudden bursts of energy erupt as female dancers are lifted by their male counterparts, and as soloists suddenly jump or leap before returning to a fast walk. The sporadic bursts of energy are crisp amongst the fast pace of the dancers' abrupt changes in direction.

The second part, set to Glass' Facades, sees the female corps de ballet lined against the back of the stage. The silhouetted bodies of the female dancers roll across the front of the backdrop as they perform bouncy walks and repeated sustained arm movements and pliés, which match the tempo and rhythm of the music. In front of them an intimate and athletic duet unfolds, performed by principal dancers Wendy Whelan and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Whelan is carried on and off stage by Danchig-Waring, lifted at the waist, her arms and legs effortlessly split and held almost horizontally. Facades has a much slower pace overall, yet the direct correlation of movement to music maintains the steady pace of the entire work. 

Finally, 'Glass Pieces' is concluded with an incredibly powerful and driving performance by the male dancers of the cast, accompanied by an excerpt from Glass' opera 'Akhnaten', Funeral of Amenhotep. The men respond to the fast rhythm of the hammering drums and drawn out strings by grounding themselves into the floor, as they run and leap in unison, before the female corps de ballet rejoin them for the conclusion of the work. The rich, deep sounds of Funeral of Amenhotep is distinctly different from Rubric and Facades, separating the conclusion from the rest of the work and creating a successful climax to the ballet.

'Glass Pieces' is a hugely expansive and athletic ballet that consumes the space and breathes Glass' score. Robbins is successful in creating a dazzling ballet that incorporates the elements of postmodernism and examines the fast pace of urban life. 

Georgina Pazcoguin and Adrian Danchig-Waring talk about how the corps makes the dance in this Robbins favorite with music by Philip Glass.

Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Composer: Philip Glass
Production design: Robbins, Ronald Bates
Costume design: Ben Benson
Lighting design: Ronald Bates
Conductor: Clotilde Otranto

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Travels Around North East America Part I : Philadelphia and a bit of New York City

Left Goucher on Monday 12th May after having spent a couple of days with Mum in Towson and Baltimore City. We took the Amtrak from Penn Station, Baltimore, to Philadelphia where we stayed in a very small, chic hotel near the centre. Philadelphia seemed to be a lot more metropolitan, a lot older, wealthier and happier than Baltimore City. There are fewer homeless people (-yet there is still a great deal of homelessness), fewer derelict buildings and generally cleaner streets.

Baltimore Inner Harbour (aka the nice bit)
The Bolt Bus from Philadelphia to New York took around two and a half hours and dropped us off about fifteen minutes away from the subway. We arrived at 6pm, ready to meet the lady responsible for handing us the keys to the little apartment we'd rented. But, as our luck often turns out, we couldn't understand a word she said to us on the phone (and I don't think she could understand us either) so we ended up waiting for a little over an hour for her to arrive. Luckily a friendly Persian lady invited us to wait in her apartment downstairs with her daughter. We drank Persian tea (so tasty, everyone must try Persian tea once in their life), ate macaroons and listened to her stories. 

When we eventually got into the apartment it looked nothing like the photos on the internet. But then nothing (and nobody) looks anything like their photos on the internet, so I shouldn't have been so surprised.. 

But I am finally here in New York City; I am walking the same streets and seeing the same sights as all the great contemporary dance pioneers before me did. At last I have a solid connection to Graham, José, Cunningham, Duncan, Dunham and Humphrey that isn't just based in history books. I am in the same city where some of the most renowned contemporary dancers have lived and breathed and danced. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


Finally finished rehearsals with my dancers last week and we presented Suppressed at a formal showing with lighting and costumes at Goucher College on Tuesday 6th May. The piece went well and I got a great deal of positive feedback from everyone. I am going to miss choreographing and rehearsing with my dancers, but the process has inspired and motivated me to continue choreographing this way after I leave America.

 I already have burning ideas and plans...

Here is the final video of Suppressed (excuse my nervous hand movements and dress tugging at the beginning).