Thursday, June 26, 2008

sacrifice

This is an article I wrote a few years ago for Transmissions. As I currently find myself in a drought of any interesting thought I am cannibalising my past for the hunger of the present.


Two naked people face each other under harsh bright light in a chalk circle. They are surrounded by a number of people dressed in various degrees of formality. They in turn are surrounded by spectators (clothed, of course) on 4 sides. There is a little ritualistic dance of gesture and sound from the "referee" who then yells "Fight!". After a moment of heavy silence and stillness, there is a strike. One of the naked people falls to the ground and collapses on his or her knees, face to the floor, bum in the air. They are exposed, vulnerable, almost ridiculous, in a posture of death that is devoid of any heroism or romanticism, more animal than human.

A king is surrounded and watched by his people as he goes through a rite of passage that requires that he has sexual intercourse with a horse. He fucks the horse, he cuts it up, places the meat AND himself in a simmering cauldron and has to eat this soup while sitting in it, presumably before he himself gets cooked.

The first scene comes from our work Spektator which explores, amongst other things, the play of power between people in the context of bloodsport; while the second scene comes from our work Cyclops which explores man and his relationship to the ocean. The horse-fucking ritual comes from an ancient celtic ritual, references of which can be found in The White Goddess and The Mabinogi (contrary to what some people might think, we don't think up these things ourselves).

In Spektator, there is a notion that, underneath our veneer of civilisation, there runs a primal need to "rut and cull" - to fuck and kill. The text appeals to the need for bloodsport as a vehicle to express our primal need. If not, the text argues, we will inevitably express that need in true plunder and destruction. Better to have this theatre, better to sacrifice this one life to appease our thirst for blood than to lose many more human lives in the real thing. In Spektator, this ritual of violence forms the framework for an exploration of the relationship between individual and the mob, our animal self and our human self, the power shifts between audience and performer, choreographer and dancer, between the slave and master.

In Cyclops, the story of the horse-fucking king is one of the many stories in a work that explores man's savage history with the ocean, where cannibalism, metaphorical and otherwise, is a theme that repeats itself. This scene of the king fucking a horse alludes to the horse as an image related to the sea, to cannibalistic rituals, to the offering of the individual up to the masses. When I hear this story I am struck by the loneliness of the king amidst his people. The sacrifice of his humanity in order for his people to have a king. While researching material for Cyclops, we were most moved by instances of cannibalism when it was carried out methodically: when sailors had to draw lots and the victim often submitted to death calmly. It seemed that to offer yourself up as food to your fellow men was preferable to dying alone in the vastness of the ocean. We are interested in cannibalism as an offering rather than as an act of savage hunger.

When I think of sacrifice, I always think of ritual. When I think of ritual I think of transformation. This is also what I think of when I consider art and performance. I like to think that every work I make is an attempt at creating a ritual in which the space, time and the mind, body and spirit of the audience is transformed from one state to another with the performers presiding as priests/shamans/mediums.

Maybe because, growing up in Malaysia, I saw my share of mediums in trances, experienced rituals from the many cultures and religions co-existing side by side. Maybe because I was moved and surrounded by South-east Asian dance and theatre when I came of age as an artist. Or, maybe because I am an ex-Catholic.

I love ritual. I loved, when I was Catholic, taking part in the esoteric moves and gestures of Mass: the kneeling here, the standing there, the taking of the host (eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ - that's pretty cannibalistic) the singing of songs. I love the salutation - the "sembah" that a South East Asian dancer makes to the powers that be or the audience just before the dance or at the beginning of a dance. I love the the skate and the anthem before the hockey game. I love warming up and putting on make-up before I perform.

But what about sacrifice? Does the performer have to offer something up as a sacrifice in order to fulfil her task as high priestess of this ceremony that is theatre? Does the artist have to make some kind of a sacrifice in order to be an artist in society? As a performer, I can admit to and even insist that it is crucial in the warmup ritual that we leave our everyday bodies and egos behind to become "empty" in order to serve the work. As an artist, as an individual, it's hard for me to admit that sacrifice has anything to do with my life. Maybe to admit that I have sacrificed something to be where I am, I must admit that I have to sacrifice something to get where I want to be. I want to have my cake and eat it. Yet I recognise that there is a cost to everything. When I became a mother I no longer had room in my life to be a martial arts student. I still practised martial arts but I could no longer be in a relationship with my martial arts teacher: that is, pledge the loyalty, responsibility and commitment that comes with having a teacher. All that emotional commitment went to my son instead. I never saw this as a "sacrifice". I thought of it as the cost having a child. That I chose to give up my martial arts teacher instead of dance-making was just cost-management. After all, my career as an artist was, shall we say, in a dynamic phase and my martial arts teacher's best teaching days were over, due to the onset of Alzheimer's. But last week my teacher died. The last time I saw him was more than a year ago. At his funeral, struggling with complicated emotions, I wondered what I had lost really. And I wonder, as I write now, what the difference is between sacrifice and cost.

Maybe it's just semantics. Cost makes you feel like an able, organised person exercising free will, sacrifice makes you feel like a martyr, a hero. One is about the day to day cost of living, the other is an archetype that comes with a ritual and gives us strength to go through with daily losses.

Friday, June 20, 2008

crying

Adrienne turned to me after a "modern dance" piece last night and seeing tears streaming down my face, thought that I had been moved by the combination of Beatles music, the Isadora Duncan-like sarongs and adolescent ernestness.

No.

I was crying from grief. The kind of grief one feels as a relationship comes to an end. The feeling of something dying in you, something no amount of love can save.

why do women dance like they have no vaginas?

I went to see Junhong's tap recital last night. Every year I am struck at how differently the boys are taught from the girls. And every year I am filled with relief that I do not have a daughter who might want to be a dancer. The boys dance from the pelvis. The girls dance with their upper bodies. Is this necessary? No. Is this structurally sound? No. Because the centre of your body is your pelvis. One might argue that when you are a full-grown woman and have breasts, it might be a physical necessity to dance with the awareness of their mass, weight and erotic possibilties. But a 6 year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy do not differ very much in their upper bodies. They both, however, have pelvises. And their pelvises contain their sexual organs.

It is disturbing that a girl's sexuality gets distorted at such a young age when her vagina gets taken away from her.

And then she grows up to become a dance object longing for our approval as we fall asleep in our seats.

Dance is an action, not an object.
You cannot act if you do not know how to dance from your cunt.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

me (again)



This is from the photoshoot with Didier Olivre at Le Quartz. He is creating an exhibit of his portraits of the artists at Les Antipodes 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ris de veau

While he was in France recently, Junhong discovered that he loved sweetbreads (Yes! he is MY son!).

Today, while we were having a dinner of lamb and sage sausages accompanied by asparagus, he said, let's have sweetbreads for dinner tomorrow.

So I pulled out my copy of Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking and read to him the chapter on sweetbreads. Even before we got to a single recipe, he said, we haven't got to the recipe and we've already spent 5 days preparing!

Indeed.

All the soaking
the changing of water
the taking care to maintain the integrity of the thin membrane
the weighing down of the glands
the gentle poaching in stock that is barely murmuring
the careful sautéeing (They must be the palest gold, but not brown)

It's all quite intimidating. It's positively Catholic.

But I think that I cannot possibly die a happy woman until I have cooked sweetbreads. Maybe this can be my goal this year.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Narcissus auf Bali

Ten years ago I commissioned a piece of music from Michael Maguire for my experiment in extreme formalism Gecko Eats Fly. The dance work won a prix at Bagnolet which did absolutely nothing for my career.

The music drove everyone crazy.

Junhong was gestating in my womb and heard it everyday all day for his first trimester. He is now completely phobic about insects of even the most benign variety. (The research for Gecko Eat Fly involved David and I spending a week in Taman Negara running away from leeches and mosquitoes)

While he was composing it, Mike would call us and scream that the music was driving him out of his mind and that he was on the verge of jumping out the window so help.

The last 15 minutes of the music as well as the dance was always problematic.

"Fix it!" I would say to Mike.
"I can't!" he would say.

Well, now, 10 years later, he has fixed it.
I was going to post his program notes on this blog.
But they are incomprehensible.
The music still drives me crazy and I haven't been able to get to the end of it yet.
But I like things that drive me crazy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

ennui

I am going out of my mind. I THINK I MIGHT BE BORED.

in-between #3

I am in a morass of restlessness coupled with a desire to sleep all day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

projections

The other day, while walking Junhong home from school, along Main Street in Chinatown, I saw Bill Richardson waiting to cross the street.

My first thought was, my, what a handsome man.
Then, oh, it's Bill Richardson.
Then I caught a glimpse of his satchel and thought I saw, "The White Nation of Canada".
As I got closer I realised with a slight tinge of disappointment that it actually said, "The Writers' Association of Canada".
Cheerfully, I said, "Hey Bill, I thought your bag said 'The White Nation of Canada'!"
At that moment the traffic light turned green and he crossed the street, walking away from me, laughing. Maybe a little nervously, I thought.


I told this story to Caroline Liffman (who is Jewish from Winnipeg, Manitoba) who then told me the story of her brother, who went recently to midnight mass for the first time in his life with a friend and thought he was singing about "Mary most gentile".

brownies

The first time I ever ate brownies was in Malaysia, when I was a teenager. I had accompanied one of my parents (weird that I don't remember which) to a picnic or party where all the men were white american Pinkertons and all their wives were Thai and their children were chapchungs/half-breeds/seranis/eurasians who went to International Schools. The brownies were made by the Thai women.

It is a funny thing, that when I am out with Junhong, sometimes strangers will ask me with no irony at all, "Is your son half-asian?". (Why yes, that would be MY half). These strangers are often Asian.

Junhong has complained more than once that people always ask if he is half-asian and never if he is half-Canadian.

These are the best brownies and apparently, they come from Katharine Hepburn; so they are also glamourous brownies.

1. Melt together 1 stick of butter and 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate, then take the saucepan off the heat.
2. Stir in 1 cup sugar, add 2 eggs and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Beat mixture well
3. Stir in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
4. Bake brownies in a buttered and floured 8-inch square pan at 325ºF for about 40 mimnutes.

Now I put these recipes on my blog because I know there are some of you out there who just are dying to cook like I do. But really it is so I have access to my recipes while I travel without actually weighing down all the baggage I carry even more with cookbooks. But as proof that nothing is universal, 1 stick of butter or 2 squares of chocolate makes no fucking sense in Europe.

When I am not drunk on half a bottle of valpolicella I will translate the north american measurements into metric and call the brownies moelleux au chocolat.

6 o'clock in the evening

Yesterday, Adrienne came over to lie on the floor before going to do her last few shows at Hive. She fell asleep while Junhong and I watched an episode of Top Gear on youtube. Meanwhile David got ready for his gig at Christchurch Cathedral during which he would sing "I want to live in your cunt, forever to be your howling runt", while lying on the altar. While David gargled salt water and Adrienne snacked on left-over ribeye steak and chunks of parmiggiano, I heated up the rabbit stew and sautéed red peppers and snap peas with garlic in olive oil. After David had left in a nervous but nice-looking bundle, Adrienne, Junhong and I ate the rabbit accompanied by a primitivo that the guy at the Marquis recommended (very pruney). After the rabbit was eaten, Junhong and I sent Adrienne off to make art with a hug.

Later I fell asleep at 9pm, as I have been doing for the last few weeks, exhausted, from not making any art.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

the whole beast

at the alibi room





Pictures by Amy Pelletier.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

my gaze #2


I like this picture of a complete (albeit good-looking) stranger, that I took at Richard Serra's installation at the Grand Palais.

I like how his curiosity is transformed into an act of sacred supplication by the meeting of my gaze with the artist's work.

definitions

Marc Olive said, about love, il faut le construire. You construct it. Then you put the person in it. He also said it is all that matters in life.

Caroline Liffman said that love was willingness. (We were also talking about backbends and I think the same holds true for backbends)

David said, love is an emotional surrender to the time and place that you encounter in the person.

Me?

I no longer know.

folding and unfolding

Recently, I actually heard the lines from George Harrison's "While my guitar gently weeps".

I don't know why nobody told you
how to unfold your love



I have a black skirt with a hundred pleats. I look hot in it, but it is a pain in the ass. Even the drycleaner refuses to iron all the pleats in. So I look to the skirt as an opportunity to work out my obsessive-compulsive disorders. I think, ah, instead of picking at my skin, at my pimples, at my nails, I can spend all summer ironing the pleats into my skirt.

But no,
I ironed all the pleats in in less than an afternoon.

Now I am faced with a whole summer of picking and pacing, folding and unfolding my skin, my organs, my sanity.

I need to dance.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

my young man

I am reading the Iliad to Junhong.
He is, as am I, appalled by the violence in it.
"This is a terrible story!" he says, wanting me to stop. "But it's so INTRIGUING", he says, wanting me to continue.
He thinks Paris is an asshole.
He likes that Achilles (for now) is on strike.
He is worried about Hector.

I'm afraid to tell him that it doesn't end well for any of them.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

the cake

Over the years, I have had the privilege of making the birthday cakes. I have made a Humpty Dumpty cake, a choo-choo train cake with oreo cookie wheels, a Peter Rabbit Cake. This year Junhong wanted to decorate his own cake.
I put up a little fight.
But he convinced me that it was HIS birthday after all.

It reminded me of the moment he first ate solid food. A mouthful of banana. A mouthful away from my breasts, away from me.
Today it was one cake away from me.
One cake towards being his own man.



Junhong & Max



Today was Junhong's birthday party, a week later than his actual birthday because on that day I was too busy provoking a conversation.

For quite a number of years now, Junhong's birthday parties only have one guest - Max - and his entourage i.e. his family. This is Junhong's choice. Somehow, very early on in his life, he realised that it was too stressful when different parts of your life - different friends - collide under the influence of cake and presents, and decided that he only wanted to hang out with one friend at a time.

Max and Junhong have known each other since they were 2 and in these 8 years, they have never once needed an adult to help them resolve a conflict.