Saturday, September 27, 2008

Four weeks à la France!

Next week will be our fifth week in France, and there is general agreement that the time seems to be flying by. This is partially because we have packed so much into these first weeks with all of the Biennale performances. By the time of its close on Tuesday, we will have seen twenty performances in addition to several dance films and our regular classes. It will be good to have some time to discuss the entire experience and put things into perspective.

Our “nuits pour faire la cuisine” –cooking nights—continue to be a success with different people taking the lead as chefs and sous-chefs. We typically spread out into three of the studio kitchens in order to prepare all of the dishes for the meal. We are able to use a large common room with tables and chairs as our dining room, and have enjoyed the pleasures of remaining at table with fruit and cheese and lots of discussion.

One of the highlights of this last week was a "cours de las danses latines" that was held in the evening in Place Terreaux. We were all doing salsa, rhumba, and cha-cha under the direction of a young man from Cuba who spoke an interesting mix of Spanish and French. It was a good way to work off the ice cream-caramel something or other, that was consumed at the cafe beforehand...

As we move into October next week, we will begin our study of French history while continuing dance technique and French language classes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More photos

I’m doing another posting just to give you a chance to see a few more photos. Here are Courtney and Ricki warming up in the studio we’re working in at TDMI, an outdoor performance on cours de Lafayette by a man who is doing a 30 minute solo every day at 13h for 30 days, and our group before a performance at La Toboggan.

Above also also a few more pictures of Le Défile. It was striking to see people of all ages and genders dancing.


Our week has now developed a rhythm that is structured by dance classes, French classes, films, and discussion and is punctuated by one stunning performance after another. Last week alone, among the things we saw were Anna Teresa Keersmaeker’s Rosas Company and re-settings of two historic works: Susanne Linke’s Schritte Verfolgen and Anna Halprin’s Parades & Changes. The Keersmaeker work D’un soir un jour was filled with falling, swooping, and flying movement that made you want to join the dancers on the stage. I was particularly interested to learn how involved with her music Keersmaeker is. The Halprin piece was a recreation of a work from 1965, and it felt entirely fresh, authentic, and joyful. Susanne Linke had reworked her original solo from 1985 into a quartet, and it became a statement on the stages of life as well as an exploration of isolation and communication. We’re seeing thought-provoking dance performances every day, and after “life in the woods of New Hampshire,” it’s an astonishing experience.

We did, however, have a kind of reality check here last week. There have been a lot of people going in and out of the residence building as work is being completed on plumbing, tile, etc. One of our students had left her door open, and someone came into her room and made off with two cell phones and twenty euros. A very nice young man from Spain was also a victim and found that his computer, phone, and money had been taken. Police came, took statements, dusted for fingerprints, and we’ll see what happens. Meanwhile, it has been a wake-up call and a reminder that as friendly and comfortable as everyone is, we are still in a real city, and the residence has to be treated as an apartment building, not as a dorm. Leaving one’s room unlocked just isn’t a good idea. We’ve also spoken with the concierge about our concerns that the building be kept as secure as possible. I don’t think the students feel unsafe, but they are more careful and prudent now.

The other major event of the week was Le Défile—or parade, and it was amazing. It will be hard to convey its scope. There were over 4,000 people in this parade and at least 40,000 watching along its route that went from Place de Terreaux down rue de la Republique, and ended at Place Bellecour. For this event sixteen choreographers were commissioned each to work with community groups (from Lyon and surrounding areas) to create theme, costumes, props, and movement that could travel down the parade route with stops along the way for more extended dance sequences. It was colorful and fun and worth the three and a half hours of standing! The pictures included in this posting are all of Le Défile.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First week of dancing

The area in which the students are living is called Villeurbanne. It’s a quiet, residential area on the edge of the 3rd arrondissement of the city. Our normal mode of transport is to take Tram 3 and then the Metro into the city center, but there is also a bus (99) into town. It became clear by the second day that it would be a very good idea to have student transportation passes for everyone. This allows them to go anywhere on any of the transport systems (metro, tram, bus, trolley, funicular) all day and evening for a single, monthly fee that ends up being less than half the cost of paying by the trip. The passes are essential in that they allow us to get to all the venues of the Biennale, which are all over the city and in the suburbs. It’s also a lot more convenient just to wave your pass at the machine than to hunt around for change for the ticket machine. The transport system is remarkably clean and safe, and (as Courtney says) the tram looks like something from Disneyworld.

We saw our second performance this evening at the l’Amphi of the Opera de Lyon. We got there early enough to watch the break-dancers spinning on the marble floor of the portico of the Opera House. The performance by the company Anou Skan was very different from the previous night’s in that it was very ritualistic and often used slow and gestural movement. It was performed by a company of three dancers with an actor reciting passages from the Aeneid. We spent some time afterwards in café/discussion, and then walked back to Place Bellecour via the Rhone quayside, a walk that allows wonderful views of the lighted bridges and buildings of the Presque’ Isle. These photos show the Opera House with photos of dancers in the windows, one of our café classes, and Frederic the gnome, who goes along with us at times.

After a beautiful Sunday picnic at Parc de la Tête d’Or, we are well into our first week of dance events, and our pace has picked up in every way. I teach a class in la danse contemporaine every Mon., Tues., Wed. from noon until 2 PM at a place called TDMI (Theatre Dance Musique Image).

In addition to our group of ten, there are also ten students from TDMI in the class. They are very nice and friendly and have a variety of experience levels that work well with our own mixed level group. The dance space has a wooden floor and huge windows that look out over the surrounding buildings, and there’s a garden on the roof that we’ve been able to use for lunch and discussions after class. I find that I’m teaching a kind of bilingual class--very good for my French!

The students have begun their supplemental French language classes at Lyon Bleu, and are finding their teacher Stéphanie, along with the rest of the people there, to be très sympathique. There is also internet and wifi to use in a student lounge and a machine for espresso and cappuccino, something that seems to show up here wherever there are students.

We saw our first performance on Monday night. It took place at a venue called Le Transbordeur on the north side of the city. This venue was once a factory and was transformed into a large black box theater with a lovely café attached to it. The company, Wayne McGregor/Random Dance, is from Britain, and they were phenomenally skilled and athletic dancers. The choreography was dynamic and eccentric and results from McGregor’s interest in how the brain and body communicate.

Tuesday was our second grand cooking event for which Lisa cooked the chicken with garlic and dill! (We have a photo to prove it---along with one of the park, and the flower sculpture in Place Poncet.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Settling in

This is the fourth day since the arrival of the students, and it’s difficult even to express how busy we’ve been, from time spent orienting and discovering the city to more time spent taking care of the necessary arrangements of life. Moving everywhere with ten other people has been a rather new experience for me. We are certainly noticed when we walk into a café, and the waiters begin immediately to move several tables so that we can sit together! These photos are of the first day of getting to know Lyon and an afternoon café stop.

Our residence building is just opening up---and I do mean just! The paint on the doors was still sticky when we arrived, and there are plumbers, electricians, and builders everywhere finishing things up and solving problems, i.e., getting the hot water going in all the showers and all the electrical outlets working. Happily, today each student received a huge box with all the kitchen necessities—new pots, pans, flatware, dishes, etc. It’s really quite complete and very welcome because everyone has been “camping” in the rooms and trying to figure out how to eat yogurt and peanut butter without a spoon.

The rooms are attractive and completely new, each with a bathroom and a little kitchen with a fridge, microwave, stovetop, sink, and cupboards, and a table with two chairs. There is also a desk with shelves and a couch/bed. I think that as things get more and more settled, everyone will feel quite comfortable and at home. Our internet has been promised for the 15th, and we’re crossing our fingers… (Yesterday most of the students took their computers to the free wifi spot at my cafe in Place Bellecour, but I think that so many people trying all at once to get on line overwhelmed the wifi. Maybe next time they can take one computer and take turns…)

Tonight we are having our first big cooking event in celebration of the arrival of “les vaisselle” –dishes, etc. We went this morning to the marche (there should be an accent on the “e,” but at times I can’t get my computer to think in French). This market is several blocks long and begins just at the corner of our street on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday mornings. We bought beautiful vegetables to make a huge couscous tonight …with a watermelon for dessert!

BULLETIN: My box of books and CD’s has finally arrived!