Tunes for a Monday Morning

Once upon a time in the woods

Today, more wonderful music with Nordic folk roots, this time from Denmark...

Above: "Shine You No More," a traditional tune re-worked by The Danish String Quartet, from their gorgeous new album Last Leaf. The quartet is: Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violin), Frederik Øland (violin), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola), and Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (violoncello).

Below: "Gammel Reinlender fra Sønndala," another traditional piece, from WoodWork (2015). I recommend all of their albums, both classical and folk, which get a great deal of play in my studio.

Above: "A Room in Paris" from the Danish/Swedish folk trio Dreamer's Circus: Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (from The Danish String Quartet, violin), Ale Carr (cittern), and Nikolaj Busk (piano accordion). The song is from their album Second Movement (2015), and the video features the great Danish-Spanish dancer Selene Muñoz.

Below: "The Danish Immigrant" performed by Andreas Tophøj (fiddle) & Rune Barslund (button accordion), from their EP of the same name. The duo emerged from the Nordic/Celtic folk scene in the the city of Odense (which was Hans Christian Andersen's hometown).

And to end, as we started, with The Danish String Quartet:

"Five Sheep, Four Goats," a traditional Nordic tune performed at a radio studio in Seattle, Washington.

Photograph by Anton Balazh


Holding the world in balance

A stag who appears on New Year's Day in Romania (photograph by Charles Fréger)

Ceremonial deer dancers in the Mayan, Portuguese, and Bhutan traditions

Following on from yesterday's post, here's a passage from an interview with Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan noting the role of traditional ceremonies in mediating our relationship with animals:

"There were times when animals and people spoke the same language, or when the animals helped the humans. For instance, our mythology says it was the spider who brought us fire. I’ve thought about these human-animal relationships for years -- is this true? Well, humans and animals existed together for many thousands of years without creating the loss of species. There was enormous respect given to animals. I have to trust the knowledge of indigenous people because it held a world in balance.

"I have a special interest in ceremonies. I look at a ceremony called the Deer Dance. In the ceremony, I watch the entire world unfold through the life of the deer and a man dressed as a deer. The man dances all night. It is as if he were transformed into a deer. This is a renewal ceremony for the people. The deer that lives in the mountains far from the people provides them with life.

"The purpose of most ceremonies -- such as healing ceremonies -- is to return one person or group of people to themselves, to place the human in proper relationship with the rest of the world. I thought that we were out of touch with ourselves twenty years ago. Now, with computers and email and cell phones, we are even more out of touch. How many of us even stay in touch with our own bodies? If we aren’t inhabiting our own bodies, how can we understand animal bodies of the world?"

Deer dancer at the Crane Festival in Bhutan 2

Tibetan Cham Deer  in the early 20th & 2st centuries

Women's deer dance in Bali

An urban deer dance by artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley

"Indian people," says Hogan, "must not be the only ones who remember the agreement with the land, the sacred pact to honor and care for the life that, in turn, provides for us. We need to reach a hand back through time and a hand forward, stand at the zero point of creation to be certain we do not create the absence of life, of any species, no matter how inconsequential they might appear to be. "

Yaqui Deer and Pascola Dancers, Sonora, Mexico

Deer Dance by Kyle Bowman

Yokai spirits in Akita Prefecture, Japan (photograph by Charles Fréger)

Pictures: A traditional stag dancer on New Year's Day in Romania (photographed bCharles Fréger); Mayan, Portuguese, and Bhutan deers dancers (the second photograph by Fréger); a deer dancer performing at the Black Crane Festival in Bhutan; Tiben Cham Deers, early in the 20th & 21st centuries; a women's deer dance in Bali; an urban deer dance by American artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley; Yaqui Deer and Pascola Dancers in procession in Sonora, Mexico; a Yaqui Deer Dancer in Arizona (photograph by Kyle Bowman), and Yokai spirits in Akita Prefecture, Japan (photographed by Charles Fréger). Please note that there are rules and taboos about photographing sacred ceremonies; I've only used photographs taken with permission.

Words: The first passage above is from an interview with Linda Hogan by Camille Colatosti, published onlne in The Witness. (Alas, it no longer appears to be available.) The second passage is from Hogan's essay collection Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (WW Norton, 2007), which I highly recommend. All rights reserved by the author.

Further reading: "Deer Woman and the Living Myth of the Dreamtime" by Carolyn Dunn, "Where the White Stag Runs" by Ari Berk, and two previous posts: "Wild Folklore" and "Homemade Ceremonies."


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Pilobolus' ''Shadowland''

This morning's videos feature dance and movement of various kinds, beginning with "Transformation" from Shadowland, a show devised and performed by Pilobolus Dance Theatre, based in Connecticut. Created in collaboration with writer Steven Banks and composer David Poe, Shadowland is "a fusion of shadow theatre, illusion and dance using dynamic screens, where exotic creatures and beautiful images are magically conjured seemingly out of thin air."

Below, "Myth and Infrastructure" by Miwa Matreyek, an animator and performance artist from Los Angeles, with music by Anna Oxygen, Mirah, Caroline Lufkin, and Mileece.  Matreyek describes her work as "an exploration of shadow and animation and themes of domestic spaces, dream-like vignettes, large and small cities, magical powers. I feel like it’s really based on me being a night owl and working in the middle of the night that feels like it could last forever -- creating little secrets and being inspired by what’s around me." It's a magical piece -- and becomes truly amazing about one third of the way in, so please stick with it.

Miwa

Above, a poignant and strangely beautiful video for "Wandering Star” by the alt rock band Poliça (Minneapolis), directed by Eugene Lee Yang (Los Angeles), with choreography by Yemi AD (Czech Republic). In this twist on the Greek myth of Pygmalion, an elderly artist, alone in her studio, is surrounded by memories of past paintings and loved ones who come to life, rousing her from emotional slumber. (I particularly love the moment when she's embraced by the last of the single dancers, who I imagine to be a representation of her younger self.)  "I’ve forever been fascinated by the fanciful prospect of art observing us," says Yang, "similar to the old adage, 'if these walls could talk'…or in this case, if these paintings could dance. I am a fervent believer that dance is the body’s way of communicating when the voice cannot."

Below, Sergei Polunin (Kherson, Ukraine) dances to "Take Me to Church" by Hozier (Wicklow, Ireland), in a gorgeous video directed by multi-media artist David LaChapelle (Los Angeles), with choreography by Jade Hale-Christofi (North London). Polunin was a principal dancer with the British Royal Ballet and now dances with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre and the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre. Compared to the layered complexities of the other videos, the power of this one is in its simplicity: just light, mist, and the human body in motion.

Art copyright by Alan Lee
Drawing by Alan Lee


Tunes for a Sunday Morning

Tap shoes

This week's tunes are going up a day early in honor of my music-loving, tap-dancing husband's birthday: foot-taping tunes from France, Germany, England, Greece, and America. ♥

Above, the fabulous French electro-swing band Caravan Palace perform "Rock It For Me" live at Le Trianon in Paris.

Below, "St. James Ballroom" by Alice Francis and her band. Francis comes from Timisoara, Romania and now lives in Cologne, Germany.

Above, "When I Get Low, I Get High," the old Chick Webb/Ella Fitzgerald standard, performed by The Speakeasy Three, a vocal trio from Brighton, England. They are backed up here by The Swing Ninjas, also from Brighton.

Below, Cissie Redgwick, from Yorkshire, England, updates the classic "Gimme That Swing."

Let's add zombies and magic to the mix:

Above, "Black Swamp Village" by The Speakeasies Swing Band from Thessaloniki,  Greece.

Below, "Tightrope" by the American soul/rhythm and blues singer Janelle Monáe. She was born in Kansas City, studied in New York and Philadelphia, and now lives in Atlanta. 

Oh heck, one more:

"Valentine" by Electric Swing Circus, an adorable young electro-swing/breakbeat/house/dubstep/circus arts band, from Birmingham, England.

I hope this kicks off your week with a smile. If you'd like a little more, try "Bright Lights Late Nights" by the Speakeasy Swing Band (Greece),  "That Man" by the great swing and jazz singer Caro Emerald (The Netherlands), and "Suzy" by Caravan Palace (France).


The dance of joy and grief, part II: a meditation on loss

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

"Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive."  - Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

"All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes."  - Cormac McCarthy (The Road)

"[In The Lord of the Rings,] Frodo's quest is a middle-aged man's quest, to lose something and to give something up, which is what you start to realize in your thirties is going to happen to you. Part of the rest of your life is learning to give things up."  - Ellen Kushner (Locus interview)

"It is Story that heals us, that shapeshifts us, that saves us."  - Sylvia V. Linsteadt

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

 The paintings today are by the great Austrian book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger, for Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina.

The video below is "Thought of You," an animation by Ryan Woodward, with music by The Weepies. I've posted it once before, but that was way back in 2011, and it's worth a re-visit.

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger


Tunes for a Monday Morning

After posting photographs of the Morris troupe dancing near Fingle Bridge last week,  I was reminded of my favorite local troupe: Beltane, performers of the wild, almost shamanic form of the dance called Border Morris.

A Beltane Border Morris dancerAmericans tend to view Morris dancing as a quaintly charming slice of "olde England," and don't often realize how many of the English themselves find it hopelessly twee.* (This is the kind of dance they're generally thinking of.) As an oft-repeated quote (variously attributed to Thomas Beecham, Wilde, Shaw, and others) says snidely: "Try everything at least once once, my dear, except incest and Morris dancing." Personally, I like Morris dancing of all sorts (thereby "outing" myself as deeply uncool); and I especially love modern Border Morris as practiced by younger troupes like Beltane, with goth, punk, and neo-pagan leanings.

Border Morris originated in the west of Britain -- probably sometime in the late Middle Ages, arising from dance traditions that were older still -- developed primarily by dancers and musicians along the border of England and Wales. The distinguishing characteristics of Border Morris (as opposed to other forms) are shorter sticks, higher steps, ragged costumes, A Fire Dance on Dartmoorblackened faces, and larger bands of musicians. The history of the blackened face is much disputed: it may have had ceremonial significance in the dance's deeply pagan origins; or it might have been a form of disguise adopted in years when Border Morris was frowned upon as rowdy, subversive, and un-Christian.

It certain is rowdier than most other forms of Morris; it's also more overtly pagan, and thus (to me) more powerful. Often performed at sacred times in the Celtic lunar calendar, the dances invoke a palpable magic tied to the land, the seasons, and the mythic wheel of life, death, and rebirth. Like other forms of sacred dance the world over, the drum beat and the dancers' steps weave patterns intended to keep the seasons turning and maintain the balance of the human/nonhuman worlds. Yet in contrast to other, more mannered forms of Morris, Border dancers unleash an energy that is earthier, lustier, more anarchic...both joyous and unsettling to watch, especially by dusk or firelight. 

Beltane Border Morris, Devon, UK

Howard and I  once came across Beltane dancing in our village square, just as dark began to fall. At one moment in the dance, the music went quiet. The troupe dropped to their knees in unison, sticks pounding the ground in a slow, steady rhythm. Then, just as slowly, the dancers rose...the music started faintly...quickened and loudened...and the dance romped on again. It was breathtaking to watch: both beautiful and chilling. If a portal into Faerie had opened at that moment, I would not have been at all surprised.

In the video at the top of this post, Beltane performs a Fire Dance at the dawn of May Day (Beltane), 2012. The dance took place on Dartmoor, on a foggy crossroad near Hay Tor.

Below, a dance for Winter Solstice at Stonehenge, filmed last December.

A Beltane Border Morris dancer at Winter Solstice

And last, just for fun:

Dancing in the sea. This video (complete with wind and barking dog) was filmed at Teignmouth on the south Devon coast.

Beltane Border Morris: dancers and musicians

* The American equivalent of the English word "twee" would be "hokey" or "corny."


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today tunes....

"Man on Fire" (above), the new video from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, celebrating the various dancers of New York...

...which reminded me of "Be My Honeypie" (below) by The Weepies, which was also filmed in New York City. I've posted this sweet video before, but it bears repeating!

I hope these two joyous tunes get your work week off to a lovely start.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes The Weepies
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes; and The Weepies


Telling our stories

Alan Lee & John Howe

"Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories."  - Elie Weisel

Daughters of ElvinThe drawing above is by Alan Lee & John Howe. The photograph is of my husband as a unicorn dancer with Katy Marchant's medieval music troupe Daughters of Elvin, performing in a medieval church.


Butoh and Paint, Smoke and Ash

Cabaret art by Rick Berry My friend Rick Berry (who is one of the people who first taught me how to paint with oils) has a new series of painting inspired by a stage production of Cabaret -- which can currently be viewed at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH; and also on Rick's website. All of his art is gorgeous, but I've always liked this kind of monochromatic "oil paint sketch" the very best. 

"These are not renderings," he says, "but impressions of dancers from the KitKat Klub, the setting for a production of  at the Oberon Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As I watched rehearsals, the movement coach, Steven Mitchell Wright, had the performers go through Butoh training. I'd heard of Butoh, seen stills from various dances, but never experienced it in action. Crushing really. So instead of doing some sort of rogues' gallery pastiche (as had earlier been imagined being hung in the venue) I did these. I wanted something like images of ghosts projected on smoke and ash. Just at the moment you think you've resolved them, they shimmer and erode before your eyes. Color paintings of a world that's lost all sense of it."


The Spirit of the Ainu

I've long been fascinated by the Ainu culture of northern Japan, with its rich mythology and earth-centered spirituality. In the video above, a group of dancers sponsored by the Ainu Association of Hokkaido perform their traditional Crane Dance for a UNESCO celebration of indigenous cultures.

Ainu girl in traditional dress"The Ainu," they explain, "are an indigenous people who today live mostly in Hokkaidō in northern Japan. Traditional Ainu dance is performed at ceremonies and banquets, as part of newly organized cultural festivals and privately in daily life; in its various forms, it is closely connected to the lifestyle and religion of the Ainu. The traditional style involves a large circle of dancers, sometimes with onlookers who sing an accompaniment without musical instrumentation. Some dances imitate the calls and movements of animals or insects; others, like the sword and bow dances, are rituals; and still others are improvisational or purely entertainment. Believing that deities can be found in their surroundings, the Ainu frequently use dance to worship and give thanks for nature. Dance also plays a central role in formal ceremonies such as Iyomante, in which participants send the deity embodied in a bear they have eaten back to heaven by mimicking the movements of a living bear. For the Ainu, dance reinforces their connection to the natural and religious world and provides a link to other Arctic cultures in Russia and North America."

Ainu family in traditional dress, 1962

The Ainu Iomante ceremonyAn Ainu family in traditional dress, 1962; and a scroll painting of the Iyomante ceremony, circa 1870.

The video below features the Ainu Rebels, a group of politically-minded young Ainu who celebrate their ethnicity by mixing traditional dress, dance and language with hip-hop and rap. It's not very slick in production values, but the video is captivating nonetheless as these young people reclaim pride in their ancient traditions and fuse them with the modern world. 

If you're interested in reading more about the Ainu, I particularly recommend the following books: Our Land Was a Forest: An Ainu Memoir by Kayano Shigero, Harukor: An Ainu Woman's Tale by Hatsuichi Honda, Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, edited by William W. Fitzhugh and Chisato O. Dubreuil, and Specimens of Ainu Folk-lore by John Batchelor.