Tuesday, April 28, 2009

music > choreography (a review) pt. one

This year’s Berkeley Dance Project, presented by the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, was inaptly titled Equal Footing, in that it was a peripatetic series of uneven assemblages of dancers from wildly different calibers. But, as an indignant performer of that night told me after I shared with her my feelings about the lack of across-the-board kinesthetic aptitude, it wasn’t about technique. She is right. It isn’t about all of them being on the same level in terms of dancing, and—as an undergraduate production—that would have been near impossible. So, I will suspend my insistence on technical precision and look beyond the clumsiness to locate why the showcase still left me underwhelmed.

The first piece, “MinEvent,” staged by Patricia Lent, was a composition of five dances choreographed by Merce Cunningham. My response to the piece, prima facia, was that it was cringe-worthy to say the least. It felt dated and underdeveloped. I don’t have a problem with abstraction or repetition and I by no means require a narratological through-line to enjoy a dance, so it was difficult for me to ascertain why I was so resistant to this piece. A friend who accompanied me to the show that night hit the nail on its catachretic head when he said that it felt like being at the museum. And for me, it was the difference between the Smithsonian and a warehouse of replicas. If a piece assumes itself as a compendium of works by a dance auteur known for razor-sharp precision, doesn’t the piece have to be immaculate? Each section of this dance seemed labored and over-concentrated. With a sequence of hyper-technical, seemingly simple combinations, the phrasing has to be effortless and precise. It just wasn’t. The costuming added to the dated-ness of the piece, and frankly, many of the dancers looked uncomfortable. So if the dancing wasn’t great and the piece was theme-less and abstract, there just wasn’t anything for the audience to hold on to. I will say, however, that the music provided by David Coll was the main event in “MinEvent.” The atmosphere created by the tonally surprising force of the underscoring provided a solid wave that carried this drudgery toward the finish line. It literally reverberated throughout the entire space, vibrating panels of metal at specific and poignant frequencies.

The second performance, choreographed by the director of Equal Footing, Lisa Wymore, was well-placed, like a sorbet to wash the bad taste out of our mouths from the unpalatable previous piece. “Ain’t gonna be…” was facile and concrete. Drawing from stories and images from accounts of the great dustbowl, Wymore took a very literal approach to choreographing. It was about wind, so the dancers danced as if pushed by great zephyrs. It was about struggle, so the dancers adopted strained looks on their faces and danced as if they were having great difficulty. Again, the music was the best part of this piece (and the latter two—I might as well save my proverbial breath). Though the genres of music (folk and hymnal) too were easy choreographic choices, I appreciated how it was generated by the bodies of the dancers via voice or corporeal percussion. The employment as body as musical instrument illuminated the reality that the travesties of the dustbowl weren’t only economically or agriculturally impacting, but that this accost by nature was physiologically distressing. Erik Lee's solo in the piece was the highlight; he exhibited commitment, ferocity, musicality and full release. All in all, this was a lot easier to digest than the former. I don’t understand, however, why Wymore decided to include herself in the piece as the wind generator and square-dance caller. Seemed a bit self-indulgent. Perhaps she was playing with the stereotype that choreographers have insufferable god complexes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

gmail signature

Work at EQ3, per usual, was uneventful today. Unfortunately, the computer in the showroom downstairs, at which I am damned, is forbidden to access any websites that aren't EQ3 related--stock lists, online catalogue, etc.--or Gmail. To entertain myself, I revised my Gmail signature about 15 odd times. I workshopped some of the versions with those who were logged into Gchat. I'm pretty happy with the final product.

robert andrew perez
51zero.541.373zero . zarkazstic@gmail.com

mfa . creative writing
st. mary's college . moraga, ca

ba . english literature . creative writing
lgbt studies . theater & performance studies
university of california, berkeley

oakland unified school district . substitute teacher
eq3 furniture and design . sales associate

'humor is also a way of saying something serious'
-- t.s. eliot

My friend Julie described it as a 'miniature resume,' while another friend Sean says its very 'e.e. cummings.' Both descriptors I find flattering. What do you think?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

i left out a rule below:

...it should be snowing but it isn't.

my window sweats. The mist
outside may freeze. It will
feel and look like snow
for anyone underneath it.
Only when it thaws should we know
the truth, that it is

a blank white page, bleached
of grand professions falling
to the ground as a soft powder.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

twenty-minute writing exercise #1 - ars's poetica

So, in preparation for graduate school, I’ve started to dust-off some old poetry books and readers I’ve slid underneath my bed or hidden between old issues of GQ and Details. To my providential delight, I came across a copy of The Poet’s Companion, by Kim Adonnizio and Dorianne Laux, a book that was given to me by an ex-boyfriend the first Christmas we spent together. It’s a quite ingenious beginner’s manual for those serious about writing poetry. In it, there’s a chapter entitled "Twenty-Minute Writing Exercises."

For the first one, the rules are simple: write an ars poetica (about writing), it’s cold outside, identify the time of day, use “we,” and use the word “florid” or any word in an unconventional manner provided by a friend or obtained haphazardly. My good friend Julie Goetzen suggested the word “triumphantly.” The ex-boyfriend’s initials are A, R and S. I dedicate this exercise to him.

(Please keep in mind that this did literally take 20 minutes. I usually need at least a few days to edit down my gratuitous effusiveness and nostalgia.)

ARS's poetica

“To Robert - The best poet I know, and the greatest boyfriend in the world”
-ARS, Christmas ’04, written inside the cover of
The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of
Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux,
from which I took this writing exercise.
I acknowledge that one or both of those statements aren’t
remotely true or, at least, are grossly overstated.

Though we can’t see
our breathing, exhales
floating up out of nostrils
or the mouth into the atmosphere,
we know it is cold
outside of this apartment.
We know that
the other is breathing.
The darkness outside
is the same as it is in.
We read with our fingers the dots
and dashes of our bodies--

the nipples . moles . pimples .
follicles . the scars . like Braille

like a tree with initials
jaggedly chipped into it
meaning something like for eternity.

We write words on each other’s backs.
A Zen sand-garden, the triumphant strokes
of a moment. This is how I write

poetry. The poems I write
are written across your skin,
I read the verse
back to myself
with my palm flat
against you and memorize.
Your breath is in every measure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

what is it called?

I've recently rediscovered Edna St. Vincent Millay and how wonderfully effusive terseness could be. Within a few lines, she can quite literally bring a tear to my eye. This poem, which I stumbled upon during a 15 minute lunch break from my part-time furniture selling job, solicited a drop or two before heading back to the register:

Quite affective, right? The syntax clean but layered. The imagery sharp yet rich and not overdone. But what struck me most was the form. I created a contest on facebook by uploading this image mobile-y:

Yes, it is just kind of weird. To me, the form suggests a tone of something between elegiac and romantic. In any case, I tried my hand at--what I will call--this Millayan nonetspettolet. Okay, that doesn't quite roll off of the tongue. What better subject than another apology poem to my mother?

To Mommy
It’s an impossible task to have a son,
Give a finite answer of what is asked,
To count and repay all that is summed.
This, all, she does in all the salt
That’s in her sweat, until her body’s last
Beat of heart or her milk to malt.
All my successes were of her done.
Then let me try to answer it:
Your love and doing is infinite.

Okay, it's rough, but I have to say, writing one is cathartic.

stricken and egg (a review)

Spectatorship of the world premiere of FACT/SF’s site specific work, Stricken, is analogous to witnessing the birth of a genius: a visceral, awkward and violent apocalypse of rough virtuosity. In a quaint industrial space in the cuts of SOMA, The Garage’s RAW (resident artists in workshop) program made a prudent decision in collaborating with Charles Slender’s young contemporary dance theater project. Admittedly, I am familiar with Slender’s previous choreography, even having been in a short jazz piece of his when we were both undergraduates at Cal, and am good friends with him. Don’t let this admission color my review: I am a compulsive truth teller. Though fresh, FACT/SF’s conceptive mother has matured in a way that has enabled him to bare a piece that is menacingly precise and beautiful. If this is his San Francisco debut, Slender is going to be a big deal.

The first, palpably unsettling leg of Stricken posits the audience in an interactive configuration, demolishing the fourth wall. We’ve seen this, okay. He’s blurring lines of theatrical demarcation. Oh, but so much more is happening. Not all audience members are created equal. Some are relatively safe from interaction, on chairs that are on risers. Or are they? The head-bucketed dancers blindly navigate themselves behind and around even them. The rest of the audience is in a circle on what would be considered the tradition space of performance. Half of the circle is facing a mirror and two light sources (sometimes on and sometimes off). All the while, the audience on the risers watch those in the circle. We are confronted with our own mechanisms of dispersing awkwardness. We see each other cross our legs, uncross them. We whisper to each other and notice a shrug. There’s a forced smile, an involuntary one. We are all watching each other not watching each other watch the dancers who cannot see. It seems like eternity. We then encounter text: a series of numbers with an inaccessible sequence, to us it is random. To the dancers, its part of the choreography; they know which numbers to say when. They eventually all join in unison.

At this point, the four dancers break into smaller scenarios. Some outside smoking and en frottage, seen through a barred dirty-paned window or the sliver of a doorway ajar. Some groping through the dark grasping for light. One dancer, head finally de-bucketed, enjoying some narcissism. Awkward scenario follows awkward scenario. How long will was this going to go on? How long was the water going to be running? This was an experiment of breaking points.

Subsequently, the choreography becomes more synthetic. A pop song, a sexy one, by the Dandy Warhols, a band predicated on kitsch and pop and the choreography of Slender’s at this point followed suit. The technique is facile, at this point, and you feel a sense of relief around you. Finally, the audience has something less maddening to hold on to. However, the dance evolves/devolves into a hypersexual entity. The fun and the sexiness of the choreography start to proliferate into disturbing heights. Perhaps (this may be just me) Slender is making fun of his jazzy roots. In any case, the gyrations and hyperextensions catalyze yet another series of gut-wrenching awkward set-ups. The water is still running.

The dancers revisit their buckets. Two play stop and go. The power dynamics of master and slave parallel that of choreographer and dancer. Spectator and subject. Gender seems less important here than attitude. On a related note, the garments of the dancers play a key undertone in both unifying and characterizing each player. Eric Pennella worked his magic again for Slender, having designed previously for him at Berkeley.

As the piece progresses, the choreography gets more technical and complicated. The dancers execute it with unlabored ferocity. The water is still running.

Toward the end, we are slowly being abandoned by the dancers. Throughout, the dancers appear to abandon one another from time to time. Some are left in the dark longer, underneath their bucket. Alone outside or in the bathroom. The piece culminates to the abandonment of the only male dancer. He stares at himself in the mirror, contemplating something. He screams into the water that has collected into the sink. It is unclear if it is a gesture of embarrassment, frustration, anger or simply unfettered hysteria. The audience is just relieved the water had stopped running. But as we hear the last blubs of the water going down the drain, and we give a short chuckle at its silly noise and the door closes behind the last dancer, we realize that the disturbing-ness of the last 30+ minutes has seeped into our skin. We are, by our selves, startled.

Charles Slender has revitalized a genre that has become pedestrian in the art scene, for me. Yes, challenge the notions of normal and abject. Yes, complicate and problematize gender. Yes, create striking and technical contemporary dance. Yes, be kitsch and be avant-garde and be theatrical. Yes, explore sexual boundaries. Yes, dive into the innate hysteria we fear and possess. But do all of that with some frontal cortex. Create a through-line in your work that marries these objectives and synthesize something novel and intelligent. It isn’t enough anymore to draw lines on your body or rip up a picture of a supermodel. We have moved beyond sex-shock and nudity. We have had our fill of beautiful lines. Give us a third dimension. Sure, Charlie, we’ll take four, if you have it.

someone else's poem: someone else's broken heart


by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I know what my heart is like
Since your love died:
It is like a hollow ledge
Holding a little pool
Left there by the tide,
A little tepid pool,
Drying inward from the edge.

Monday, April 20, 2009


it’s best to play on a level
surface. not all versions of the game
have the grooves
that hold in
place the tiles.

it’s best to play with people you trust.
when you reach into the grey
bag to grab your first 7, do
you caress the tile with your thumb?
your index
finger the carvings
to read the letters without seeing them?
all you feel are [ i ]s.

you are cheating.

the [ ] ones have all
the possibilities (26)
but you have to know them.
there are secrets: master
the two letter dictionary:
do am to in wo ow no za
there are others. [ s ] is the key.
careful what you pluralize.
[ q ] doesn’t always need [ u ].
you will never understand that.

placing those tiles onto the board
is a reckless commitment.
if you try to see the word
coming like a train first
it might be better

than letting it hit you on the table-
top. learn to read downwards
and sideways the words. skip

turns. don’t use a tile because you feel
you need to. the long-term
effects of tile usage can lead to
brain-damage. it will make you say
things you regret later on.
you can forget
your friends and lose your job

over the words you choose.
bends. zodiac. zap. pines.
mind what you pluralize.

you are thinking
the best ones are chemical
compound words.
xanthene, yellow not green,
the words are sterile. there’s no
emotion or aura there.
scrabble takes it

all away from you. [ k ] (5).
[ x ] (10). its too tempting. u
don’t even care if it doesn’t land
on a colored square.
[ i ] (1) [ c ] (3)
[ u ] (1)
slipping away.
you’ve gotten so used

to reading upside down
you’re having trouble deciphering
what’s in front of you
pu edisthgir
pink [ * ]
where it started, you
made your first

mistake. what was
the word, again?
we both can’t
recall it.
subtract the remaining


values of the tiles
in your mouth
left over from
the final score.

pâté de foie gras

how do you discover yourself
without cutting yourself open? at times
i want to peer into my skin. infrared
heat of my organs still glowing invisible.

even if i withstood the pain of driving
the knife-blade down the center
of my body as if to gut myself, fish
for the clues of who i am by of what

i am comprised, what would i find?
an anatomical heart. raw muscle. a wet fist
clenched. coils of flesh tubing—and in it
juices—slick red and pink and marbled

with blue veins. i want to pull out the mystery
and scarf it around my neck like a noose until
i too am blue with epiphany. would i find
more gold, the source of it, the earth’s rock-

core, carbon-rich mantle churning charcoal
into crystal diamond, hope-blue, specked with
mineral, all black and red-hot, millions of years,
the dust of dead giants or just my liver?


the other day i went to trader joe’s with the intent to purchase the ingredients necessary to make my own pesto, improvising along with what i new and i got sprouted wheat pasta too to go with my homemade italian green sauce so then i made it in the blender my mother bought me when i moved into this apartment and i’ve only been using it for protein shakes and frozen daiquiris and margaritas and never anything savory, so naturally i was excited for this new culinary adventure upon which i was embarking, which i had to do in the afternoon because i had gotten complaints about blending things at night from my neighbors, the old bats, and when i made my pesto i think i put too much oil and not enough pine-nuts and i personally feel like it needed more parm’ but it was still good and i poured it over my special pasta and ate it for lunch at work very quickly because i was running late and it felt like the wheat was blooming in me and there were waves of grain like the idyllic portrait that foreigners or children have of america, growing inside me, violently like an arms race. oh, what i have done with my blender!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

it will break

“A well-placed period can be like a spike to the heart.”
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

at the end, the poem—this
piece—being written, of
the line. it will

break, as poems do
usually and often, the way
they are written

are meant to break. i
will crack it [open
wide] open with

my bare hands—
pen, type
and text—

a.) part out into frag-
ile particle matter,
dust. b.) la-

(like glass, the
dawn [whether or
not, you are awake

to see it], young
hearts or guitar-
strings by fingernails)

ment the end. the
poem—this pi-
ece, the matters

(c.) like a voice)
be-ing writ-ten
of of-ten.


the rent is due on the first;
there is a grace

then some

bills: cell phone, cable, car
insurance, student
loans, fines, tickets,
groceries, the accidents that were

my fault and my broken promise/s,
and more fines.

i was late this month. i will defer
again. in my dream
someone dies and i am okay
with it. i wake
crying, remembering smiling
in my dream, into a reality.
i feel clammy and flip the duvet
onto its colder side. i won’t be able to fall asleep again.

this is how my mother sleeps. she imagines herself dead,
she tells me, i will regret it so much, she tells me, when she is gone.
she is right: still i dream her dead. she can’t sleep because she’s afraid
that i might die while her eyes are closed. maybe she could save me if she doesn’t fall

asleep, she tells me.

i offer her a materialist reading: her flesh
is lacerated and these pisos are falling out of the split.
she takes a needle and a strand her own hair to sew it shut.
i pick up the coins from the floor she had spilt to put them back inside her skin,
but she has already finished threading.