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On losing track of time.

38/62

The first of July caught me unawares, so today I decided to count the days. 

It turns out five and a half weeks have passed, meaning 38 days, meaning only 24 days are left. Time is so slippery. At the beginning of the summer two months sounded like a pretty long time, and nine weeks sounded longer, but it turns out it's just 62 days and that's way too short of a time for a city like Barcelona. Now I am searching for ways to slow down time. Staying up later and later and sleeping less. Trying to be present on my walks to and from the dance studios. Reminding myself to leave the house as much as I can. Trying hard to avoid the internet, even though the news from home these past few weeks has been captivating.

Here are some of the ways I have been losing track of time, these last 38 days.

1. Learning Català

The Spain Study Abroad Program includes intensive language classes in Spanish or Catalan for two weeks. I decided to study Catalan, even though as a non-native Spanish speaker, I was advised against it (outside of Catalonia the language has little practical application and so most interns study Spanish). But I loved studying Catalan. It taught me more about the history and culture of Catalonia and helped me connect to Barcelona natives who feel strongly that “Catalonia is not Spain!” It’s also immensely helpful at Varium, where almost everyone speaks in Catalan when they have the choice. Even if I can’t participate in the conversations, at least now I can grasp what is going on. Also, I'm getting to know some Catalonian bands.

I had to laugh at this when my Catalan teacher played it for me... the scenery looks so familiar!

2. Basking in Barcelona. For FREE.

Free knowledge.

Barcelona is FULL of museums, and many of the museums have “free days”. Thanks to Barcelona, I am fully recovered from a bitter childhood aversion to museums. My favorite experience so far has been exploring a network of Roman ruins, literally buried under the city, at the MUHBA Museu Historia de Barcelona. It smells dim and dark and ancient, and my imagination was hard at work reconstructing buildings and listening to voices whispering from the 1st century, B.C.

Free music

From musicians on the metro to drum circles in parks to a free concert by the Barcelona Symphony orchestra on the beach at sunset.

Free green spaces

There are parks everywhere. Parc de la Ciutadella and a beautiful rose garden in my neighborhood are my favorites so far.

Free theatre

Is otherwise known as people-watching, and is my favorite way to pass the time.

Free architecture

Just going for a walk I am guaranteed to come across something gorgeous. Thanks, Modernisme.

Free circus

I went to an exhibition of circus arts in a park one day. I walked on stilts, climbed aerial silks, watched graffiti artists at work, swung on a trapeze, and made friends with the inventor of the DapoStar, a whimsical fabric toy that looks like a star-shaped handkerchief and whirls like a flying saucer.

Here is a random collection of all these things and more.

4. Visiting Morocco

Last week, I went to Morocco. It’s so close to Spain but feels like a different world. I visited the coastal city of Tangier and then the blue oasis of Chefchaouen. I had my skin scrubbed off at a local hammam, a traditional Moroccan bathhouse. I fell victim to classic tourist blunders and paid too much for a shoddy “tour” of the Tangier medina upon arrival. I listened to the call to prayer, and the signal to break the Ramadan fast, resounding from the mosques of Chefchaouen while watching the sun go down.

I also learned a LOT more about Ramadan and marveled at the way entire cities can be on the same gruelingly disciplined regimine and still function. I tried two days of fasting, but couldn’t make it through to the end of either day without giving up and having some water. Needless to say, my compassion for the irate taxi driver on the last day was much higher than it would have been on a full stomach! I was most fascinated by the collective nature of religion in Morocco. I have never been in a place where religious practice—disciplined religious practice—was so definitively mainstream. I was in awe, even a little frightened, by the power of religion to shape the rhythms of the city, and the punishing self-discipline of the body. I wish I had more time in Morocco to meet real people and try to understand better. Being a tourist is a frustratingly superficial experience.

So, now what?

Now that I’m back from Morocco, I will be spending the last month here with heightened focus and intention. I want to dance more, and I want to see more dance. I want to talk to more people. And I want to spend more time on the beach.

My schedule is a little more fixed for this month, and the structure it brings is nice. I will help with the children’s camps at Varium every day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the evenings, from 8-10 p.m. I can take more dance classes at Varium: contemporary and hip hop with a variety of teachers. In between, I will cook food to save money, write, and brave the sticky heat to explore more corners of the city. On weekends, I think I will stay in Barcelona, continuing to absorb. I thought about making trips to other parts of Spain, but I can’t get enough of this particular city, and I don't want to leave! 

Also, this month is the Grec Festival, a huge arts festival of theatre, dance, and music. I’m going to take in as much of it as I can afford, and then share some of it here with you.

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Why Tip the Bubble-Maker? - On street artists in Barcelona

Barcelona’s street art scene is one of the many reasons why I love living in this city. I don’t have to pay for a ticket or set aside hours to go to the art gallery. I just walk to my destination and I’ll inadvertently stumble across something. Whether it’s a mural, an advertisement, a phrase painted bold on a wall, or an image covering one of the corrugated shop doors, I love the way street art makes me stop and take notice of my surroundings.

 Image from http://www.abarcelonaguide.com/street-art-scene-in-barcelona/#prettyPhoto

Image from http://www.abarcelonaguide.com/street-art-scene-in-barcelona/#prettyPhoto

I haven’t done much documentation of street art in Barcelona, but plenty of others have. If you want to see some, check out:

Street Art BCN

Mapping Barcelona Public Art

My friend Tammy's blog 

I could say: “Street art brings Barcelona’s streets to life.” But that wouldn’t be strictly true. It’s the street artists that make the art who bring the streets to life. And there are many more kinds of street artists than painters, muralists, and graffiti artists.

I’m talking about the musicians who play in the metro stations, at the base of the steps of the Catedral, and in corners and alleys of the Barri Gotic.

 Can you spot the guitarist playing outside the Catedral de Barcelona? 

Can you spot the guitarist playing outside the Catedral de Barcelona? 

And the famous living statues of Las Ramblas whose costumes and bodies are the art.

 Photo from: https://forbiddentospeak.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

Photo from: https://forbiddentospeak.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

And the caricature and cartoon artists who line the Rambla. (Sure, you have to pay to get your caricature done, but anyone can stop and watch).

 Image from: http://images.everytrail.com/pics/fullsize/2970359-Street_Artists.jpg

Image from: http://images.everytrail.com/pics/fullsize/2970359-Street_Artists.jpg

I’m even talking about the bubble-makers (who I can watch for hours) sculpting enormous bubbles in parks and public squares to the delight of all children in the vicinity.

 Bubble blower in Parc de la Ciutadella

Bubble blower in Parc de la Ciutadella

Street art and street performance is a public good.

Anyone passing by can hear the music, watch the bubble show, or observe the caricature artist at work, free of charge. And, as with all public goods, there are many free riders. But just because they make work free of charge doesn't mean that street performers don't want to turn a profit.

That's why being a street artist is a commercial venture as much as, if not more than, a creative pursuit.

Next to every street performer, even the bubble-blowers, is a hat or an open instrument case. You don’t have to be Picasso or Mozart to be a successful street artist, but you do need to have business savvy: put yourself in the right place at the right time, and know your market. Street performers station themselves in the places where tourists congregate, like La Rambla, the beach of Barceloneta, Plaza Catalunya, and the larger metro stations, because this is the audience most likely to stop and watch or listen, and hopefully, pay.

When you cater to a tourist market, things like artistic integrity and pushing boundaries are not necessarily the name of the game. I could pass an afternoon counting all the watercolor paintings of Sagrada Familia on La Rambla. And when I hear the strains of another American classic rock ballad blasting shrilly from a portable speaker held by a man with a microphone, I run in the other direction.

If I were to put coins in the buckets of every street performer and musician I saw, I would quickly be out of money. As a blonde, solo, young, and female traveler, I already feel like a target for hawkers looking to make a buck off of the tourist. So for a while, I just put my head down and walked past any and all street performers.

But then I had a conversation that challenged me to think about things differently.

I met the caricature artist at a protest. The living statues of La Rambla were demonstrating against an event called Taste of La Rambla, which had displaced them from their working location for fifteen days. (More about this another day).

This man noticed me struggling through the news article posted on the billboard at the demonstration (lots of complex Spanish vocabulary about contracts and petitions) and asked why I was so interested in the demonstration. I told him I was interested in the relationship between artists and the government in Barcelona, and we fell into conversation. (Which is to say, he talked, and I nodded a lot and tried to follow along).

My new friend told me that he used to work the Rambla as a caricature artist. But then, he explained, there was a screening process of all of the Ramblas artists to determine which would be granted (or renewed) permits to work. He went through the application process, but he did not make the cut.

He explained that he was up front about the work that he did, and didn’t try to make it out to be anything more than what it is. But other artists played up their work to a degree that made them appear more credible or skilled, and so the odds were stacked against him. He made a comparison to steroid usage in sports. Now, he has been without work for several months.

According to my friend, it’s easy to take advantage of gullible tourists, make shoddy, inauthentic work, and make good money as a street artist. He calls these people “buscadores,” or treasure hunters, and says he knows many. (I suspect: the bearded man with the stereo in the metro station).

But he also knows artists who take genuine pride in their work. To him, what separates these artists from the buscadores is their intention: though they work to live, like all of us, they also love their work, and do it with a care and attention to detail that distinguishes true artistry. 

“If you look carefully, you will be able to tell the difference,” he assured me. I took that as a mandate to walk with eyes and ears open, seeking the authentic, and valuing it when I find it.

I love watching the bubblemaker’s face as he concentrates on sculpting the largest, longest bubble, and the smile when he sees the awe on a young child’s face. To me, and to my friend, this care, attention, and joy in work is artistry.

I don’t want to be another sucker turista losing my money to a buscador. But I do want the individuals who bring beauty, music, life, and a sense of enchantment to the streets and metro stations of Barcelona to be seen and heard, and to have a meal on the table when they go home. We pay taxes to compensate for free riders and to assure that public goods can remain open and free to all. By putting a euro in the cup of the bubble-maker, I can do my small part to keep the streets alive with art for everyone.

incredible pianist on Barcelona street

For more on the fascinating world of Barcelona street art and the artists who make it, check out this documentary, The Streets Talk. I haven't watched it yet, but it's on the list.

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Varium: Movement space in Barcelona

Bón Día from Barcelona!

It has been an incredible three weeks since arriving here. As usual when traveling, I started with the best of intentions to write every week, which were quickly overpowered by the drive to be outside, absorbing and exploring. It's past time for an update!

My internship placement is at Varium Espai di Movimente, a sunlit studio is quickly becoming my home away from home. This is a very special place. Varium successfully balances broad outreach (over 500 students are enrolled in a year) with depth and quality of training and professionalism with play. In three weeks here I have been blown away by the warmth of community, quality of dance pedagogy, and diversity of programming at Varium.

 

WHAT IT IS

The literal translation of “Varium Espai di Movimente” is “Varium Movement Space,” which is the most concise and accurate description I can think of. Varium is a center for community movement, offering an array of classes that range from traditional studio offerings like ballet, hip-hop, acrobatics, and contemporary, to those you might find in a gym: pilates, yoga, stretching/toning, etc.

In addition to these community oriented classes, Varium is a training ground for professional dancers. Anna Sánchez directs Varium’s pre-professional program, “Formación,” a 1-3 year program of intensive study that attracts dancers—anywhere from 17-30 years old—from throughout Spain, France, Switzerland, and other European countries.  (More to come on this program later!)

Finally, Varium supports many dance companies in residence who train and rehearse in the studio spaces:

Brodas Bros is a professional hip-hop crew with international acclaim. These guys are incredible:

 

Many of the Brodas dancers are engaged in Varium in other ways, teaching classes or broadening their dance training through the Formación program.

 VariumKids is a junior hip-hop company for youth from 10-16 years old:

GetBak is the next step, an amateur hip-hop crew made of youth and young adults.

 

With so many opportunities in hip-hop, there is somewhat of an opportunity gap in contemporary dance. Manama Varium, a new program, aims to fill this gap. Similar to VariumKids, this program will be a pre-professional company for youth who want to go further in contemporary dance.

All housed at Varium, these companies offer rich sources of opportunities for students to grow and get engaged beyond taking classes.

WHY I CARE

 Back in the U.S. when I hear the phrase "dance studio,” my gut response is skepticism. In my experiences, studio atmospheres are often highly competitive and image-driven, confuse tricks with technique, and undervalue or suppress dancers’ creative drive and individuality for the sake of a uniform aesthetic. (See these discussions on Dolly Dinkle studios, competition dance, ballet and eating disorders.)

Personally, a lot of my dance education in high school and college was dedicated to unlearning the things I learned growing up in a dance studio.

But Varium is different.

At Varium, the guiding philosophy is that each dancer is different; everyone will apply the training they receive to their own personal style or movement practice.

The atmosphere is both professional and familial. In class, students and teachers are focused and motivated; outside of class, relaxed and warm. Over the course of the day I see teachers and students talking and laughing together; kids playing in the sunlit patio before classes, parents chatting with whoever is sitting behind the front desk; students in Formación taking a little food together between classes. Founders and directors Anna Sanchez and Xavier Fruitós keep watch over it all, smiles ready and faces open, eyes and ears always sharp and alert.

I wish I had a Varium when I was growing up.

Since coming to ASU, I have had very little interest in returning to the world of the dance studio. It seemed impossible to connect the pedagogy and somatic techniques I was learning at ASU to a studio setting. But seeing the way Varium operates makes me rethink this assumption, and reimagine the role of dance studios in community life if we reframed the “dance studio” as a “movement space.” 

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¡A Barcelona!

Hello from the Philadelphia Airport, where I am in the depths of an 11-hour layover before attempting a standby flight to Barcelona! I've been spending a lot of time people-watching, eating trail mix, and conducting 30-second one-member yoga flash mobs. (I think I'm going to start a petition on MoveOn.org to put yoga studios in every airport). Flying standby is an adventure to be sure. If I can get on the flight tonight, then tomorrow morning I will be in Barcelona, Spain. And if I can't, then tomorrow morning I will be grouchy, sleepless, and in need of a shower.

But I will still be going to Barcelona.

I will be there for nine weeks with a program called Performing Arts Abroad. PAA offers volunteer, internship, training, and performance opportunities all over the world, and it's definitely worth checking out if you are a performing artist in music, theatre, or dance. I will be working as arts administration internship at Varium Dance Center. I'll learn more details about the assignment when I get there, but it is supposed to involve least some substitute/assistant teaching, which is definitely exciting. 

When I'm not doing the internship, this is what I want to be doing:

1. Making myself at home. Nine weeks is long enough to settle into a rhythm and build relationships with real people. I'll be living with a host family, and I don't want to run off to see a new part of Spain every weekend. I would rather feel like I know my way around Barcelona and have strong connections within the city than try to see every corner of Spain. I want to feel comfortable running in the city, getting lost and found, knowing where to find cheap food, having places I return each week. 

2. Learning Spanish. I want to be able to offer dance classes in Spanish, and I am hoping this summer will get me to a place where I can do that. I'm not quite sure if this will work, though--the websites for Varium is in Catalan. 

3. Dancing. Shocking, I know. There is so much in Barcelona. Varium will probably be the easiest point of connection, and seems to primarily offer a mix of contemporary dance and hip-hop. Outside of that, there's salsa, and flamenco, and the night life. If I'm not dancing every day, then I am doing something wrong. 

Expect some sort of update here about once a week. I'll try to keep them varied, bite-sized, and interesting! 

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No permit necessary: dance and the camera in public space

I've always loved photos of dance in alternative spaces. Photography like The Dancers Among Us place dance in the context of the everyday and capture the spontaneity and joy of movement, in a way that planned studio shots can't seem to do. 

Doing this photo shoot with Ashley Baker gave me an opportunity to try that out, and it was wonderful. I saw my city in a whole new way by dancing in it, noticing nooks and crannies I'd probably never notice otherwise. I felt like a dance ninja doing a sneak art attack on the three-piece suits at Tempe City Hall.

It's interesting how having a photographer legitimizes dance in public spaces. I've danced in public without a camera before, and was surprised at the number of people that averted their eyes. This made me feel vulnerable, invisible, and even a little embarrassed. But when there was someone with a camera, people seemed to feel they had permission to stop and watch. Their discomfort, and mine, was gone. Somehow the camera gives permission to everyone. I have an audience (the photographer) and there is a visible, external motivation for why I am dancing. People watching don't doubt my sanity.

It's the same thing that happens when people have kids, and everyone can see you're talking in a silly voice or dancing or doing silly things for the cute child you are with. And because everyone can understand, they feel like they are allowed to watch people with their kids. But if you did those things without a child--totally different story. Somehow, kids and cameras make social deviance more permissible. 

Anyways- a big thank you to Ashley Baker for the experience and the photos! If you are looking for some fun dance photos at affordable rates, I'd recommend this gal.

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Performing Wednesday in SAY SOMETHING: LIVING STORIES, TELLING LIVES

Recently I've been getting outside of my box to explore solo theatre performance, through Dr. Marivel Danielson's incredible class on solo queer performance art. Tomorrow, I'll be performing a solo work, "I Don't Pray Anymore," that I developed in her class. In the piece, I struggle with my questions about religion, faith, and the presence/absence of God. 

There are going to be some incredible performances tonight from the entire class. People going deep, taking risks, and getting outside of their comfort zones. Come to support and enjoy the original theatre!

When: The Empty Space, ASU Performing and Media Arts Building. Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

When: Wednesday April 29, 2015 @ 6pm

What: Please join us for a celebratory showcase of original performance work by students of Professor Marivel Danielson’s Transborder Queer Performativity course (TCL/WST 490).

Our original performance showcase will take place this Wednesday 4/29 at 6pm at the Empty Space Theater. This event is free and open to all.

The Empty Space Theater, a beautiful black box theater space, is located in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication performance space in the ASU Performing and Media Arts (APMA) building off the NE corner of University and Rural (behind the Del Taco), look for the building with the ASU logo on the front, and follow the signs to room 121. Ample free parking is available in front of the building.

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"Welcome" in Galvin Plaza

OPEN DRESS REHEARSAL: Sunday, April 26, 6:30 p.m.

PERFORMANCE: Monday, April 27, 6:30 p.m.

Galvin Plaza, Nelson Fine Arts Center.

You are invited. Over the past months, we have been carving out a home in the Galvin Plaza through movement, writing, improvisation, and exploration, asking:

What does it mean to "make yourself at home?" 
Is home a place, an idea, a person? 
Is home something we carry with us, on our backs? 
How do we make others feel at home?

We invite you to come see what we have been building together. We built it for all of us. We hope that, by the end of the night, you will feel at home here, too.

To follow the "Welcome" project and get a window into the process, check out the Facebook event here

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