Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Elena's images of the performers in You'll Always Come Back

Elena Dorfman's images of the You'll Always Come Back performers, captured in the Spalding mansion

The Spirit of the Spring ~ Shane Gilmore

The Panther in the Chapel ~ Idrissa Ekundayo

The Spirit of the Spring ~ Shane Gilmore

The Hexenmeister ~ Burley Thomas

The Ancestress ~ Kim Perkins

The Panther on the stairs ~ Idrissa Ekundayo

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Return of the Krampus ~

While I'm posting blurry images, this one has been in my mind of late ~ ( a pic of the pic will have to do ~ it's from a new historical survey of Early American Photography ). It is a documentary photo, of a past event re-staged as a performance - yes, RE-staged. The event was the kidnapping of a North Carolina Republican, back in the days when the Republicans were against slavery, by the Klu Klux Klan. Before his whipping could take place, he was rescued by a marshall who happened to be a former Klansman himself. The marshall was a shrewd self-promoter, or a theater director as they're sometimes called. He re-staged the event, using the outfits of the arrested Klan members. An added strangeness is that if you look closely at the hands in the photo, you notice that the Klan actors in this tableau are black, whether friends or hires is not known.

What surprised me is the costumes. These early Klan outfits have horns and beards ~ they look like the Krampus. Are the KKK direct descendants of the Krampus, Woden/St. Nick's "Black Peter," bringing switches, coal, and a beating to children, such as black men and abolitionists, who haven't behaved? Is this a photo of the Germanic Mannerbund? Or does the boogie man always have horns and a beard?

The cone-shaped headpieces have ancient European precursors as well, as I discovered in the ballad research on The Wife of Usher's Well. Some examples of the old shamanic head-cones, representing, so it is thought, empowering light rays, from the sun, or perhaps the otherworld anti-sun, have been found in ancient burials, made of hammered gold. In The Wife of Usher's Well, the hats worn by the returned dead sons are made of bark, possibly birch, one of the rune trees.

The Scout in the Dining Room ~

Idrissa in the dining room, awaiting his shoot with Elena ~ from Kim's iphone.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Overwhelmed ~

Yesterday was quite a day. I was up before daylight and headed for Louisville for a YACB photo shoot in the strange art deco mansion at Spalding, just across the street from the ballroom, our soon-to-be performance site. Once there the convergence began, first with Kasey, (my piscean twin ~ we were born on the same day) administrative director of the Kentucky School of Art, our presenters, then a barrage of phone and text messages as the others arrived. Next was Shane, early (! yah!) with his 100 watt smile. Then Evan, the ferryman, rolled in with the fabulous Little Feather (Elena) and Idrissa, the rock. They were followed by Kim and Burley, Elizabeth (the new arts reporter for the Courier, whom I now count as a friend), my wondrous sister, Sarah, with our dear friend Robert in tow, and soon after Wu and her lovely daughter. Wow!

The occasion was for Elena to make some photographs of the YACB dancers in full garb. You'll see the images soon. From what I saw on Elena's laptop, prepare to be amazed. She is simply one of the best photographers, and I think the site and subjects were so in her zone. Like every artist who is really really good, Elena has a busy schedule. She made the trip to Louisville and worked hard all day to capture the magic out of sheer love and mutual admiration. As did everyone - well, it's true that Elizabeth was on the job for the paper, but I think she was having a good time too! Add to this, not present, but behind the scenes, William and Kirby, who loaned the lights for the shoot and helped make it possible, and then, Steve and Laura Lee, whose belief in my work brought it all together. Wow. And there are more ~ all the performers, all the supporters, all the friends and family who have helped enrich, guide and shape the process.

What overwhelms me is the belief in the work that I do. It is everything to me, and sacrificing time and energy for it is my life and my joy, so I'm always glad to be working on "the project." That people whom I love and admire are willing to sacrifice their time and energy is humbling. I don't know any way to express my gratitude and love except to make the best art that I can.

My love and thanks to everyone in the YACB complex! (

The pic shows Elena and Evan getting ready to snap Idrissa on the stairs ~ I really think that when an amateur photographer like myself takes a photo of a great photographer like Elena, it's better if it's blurry and badly lit.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Seems Impossible May Not Be ~

(I've been so busy with work on You'll Always Come Back that I've neglected to blog for some time. I'll return soon with more about the work, but for now, consider this:)

Geraldine Dutton Ledford & myself

The workshop performance of You'll Always Come Back, here in my hometown last Saturday, went wonderfully well - much better than I expected. After the performance several people in the audience approached me with interesting stories evoked by the songs, images and dance. One of those turned out to be a cousin I had never met. He was interested in family history and we spent a few moments talking about the show. A few days later his wife got in touch with me and told me that her husband had told his mother, age 93, about the show, and incredibly she remembered Pete Dutton. (!)

The reason she remembered him vividly is that he had scared her. Her family had lived near Dutton Hill, but at the time she was a girl they had moved into town. She would have been about 11 at the time of this memory. She told me that she had a pony and was riding it back out toward Dutton Hill when she met Pete walking toward town. She said that it scared her so bad that she turned the poor pony round, whipped it as hard as she could, and flew back toward home. The reason embarrassed her now, she had been told that any black man would rape her. The irony of this was that Pete was headed to her parents home to visit them.

It boggled my mind to think that anyone living had seen Pete alive. And this was only because Pete lived into his late 90s, and she appears on the way to that feat as well.

Just before I left to visit with her and record what she could remember about Pete, I happened to remember the Elmer Foote collection of magic lantern slides in the University of Kentucky Library archives. Elmer Foote was a photographer who made a number of photographs of african-americans living in our county early in the 1900s, along with scenic views. These photos were printed on glass and hand-colored for viewing with a device called a magic lantern. I knew that he had been at least close to the Dutton farm, because Dutton Hill appears in one of the images. Amongst the magic lantern slides is this one, of an elderly black man walking on a road. I decided to take a print of the image with me in hopes that we could use it as a comparison and conversation starter, so that I could say "Did Pete look anything like this?" expecting her to say "No, he was taller, shorter, wider, thinner, etc etc. and that possibly the image would spur her memories in general.

Imagine my shock when she said, "Oh he was more bent over than that when I saw him, but yes, I remember he had that beard, and walked with a cane." (!)

I still find it hard to believe that I may have found an image of Pete, and I realize that it may not be him, but I'm thrilled and haunted to know that what seems impossible may not be.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Body Theater ~

The other day I ran into an article on the work of a German theater director, Rene' Pollesch, that reminded me of what we're trying to do with You'll Always Come Back, situate the bodies of the performers exactly in the present, in a way that accentuates consciousness without masking response, while, at the same time, maintaining ties to the forces of history and nature that shape narrative. Here's an excerpt:

(Pollesch's work)..."developed under the influence of Happenings, performance art, and institutional critique, this model privileges the actor's singular bodily presence as opposed to the reproducible role, thereby emphasizing the autographic as opposed to the allographic components of performance. Analogously, theater's live element is foregrounded, while competing media such as film and television are marginalized.

Works in this vein advance a critique of alienation, one that seeks to invert the function of the theater with regard to compensatory tranquilization; since we have to play roles in our everyday, capitalist lives and not allowed to be ourselves, then in the theater we must work experimentally with that which is forbidden to us - namely corporeality, extreme fantasies, the act of breaking boundaries of role through a character thought of as endless, unitary.

Pollesch is reacting to our contemporary moment in which performances of body and self are precisely what the social norm requires from its subjects, and in which people would prefer alienation to forced authenticity."

Diedrich Diederichsen on Rene' Pollesch