City of Dreams is coming to UM this Saturday. The show at the Ina and Jack Kay Theatre will mark the final activity of a remarkable three-month residency at CSPAC. The premiere is a fitting finale. After giving poetry readings, storytelling workshops, music therapy seminars, etc. I will now get on stage to perform. Doors close, doors open.
I've been thinking lately about the ritual nature of live performance. I remember the time in my life when I'd go to sweat lodges in Upstate New York. A bonfire roasting the bread-loaf sized rocks, a small hut made of thin branches covered with blankets and hides to create absolute darkness, the sweat lodge leader drumming, chanting, and spraying water on the red-hot stones, the prayers, the heat, the groaning, and finally the emergence the stepping outside, back to the real world. Live performance is the same in many ways. Both events are gatherings in darkened spaces where spectacles occur, where flights of the imagination abound, where insight, wonder, and power are discovered. I once had a professor who posed the question, "Who is the most powerful shaman today?" His answer Mick Jagger I'm dating myself here, but you get the point the stage is a form of altar, the performers its celebrants.
My Dad told me that as a baby I was blessed by my "santero," (priest/celebrant of the Yoruba tradition in Cuba), uncle, Tio Anibal, (see poem below). My father told me that on some level he expected I would follow in the footsteps of my uncle, to carry on the tradition. Now, I'm not religious in any way, but I do worship at three temples; "the great outdoors," friendship, and the stage. I am most moved by performers and productions that reach for some kind of transformation, and so, when it is my turn, I try to bring a visionary intensity to the stage not preachy, never sappy, just a performance fueled by deep longing. After all, it is a lot of responsibility to have an audience out there, and a tremendous priviledge. I like to imagine the varied trajectories that bring us together as artist and audience; the twists and turns of our biographies, the desire of audiences to move out into the world of live performance to explore and be moved, the desire of a venue to house the magic and offer it to a community, the technical marvels that make it possible, and the passion and craft of artists on the path of beauty. I am humbled by the commitment made by so many to make that hour and a half on stage be transformative, and simply put, enchanting.
City of Dreams is an enchantment dressed as "Afro-Cuban Jazz meets Spoken Word" slick, funky, and full of "sabor." Please come!
A note on the Mary Harris "Mother" Jones storytelling festival.
Tears were in the eyes of the student storytellers last week when I said goodbye. Their festival was a hit, we talked about what we learned, we toasted with fruit juice and chocolate cake, and then the sadness of farewell came into the room. I told them that life is filled with hellos and goodbyes, and how one door closes so that another can open. It was scant consolation, but they were brave. Lucky me I feel in love with 100 nine year-olds. Doors close, doors open.
by David Gonzalez
eres blanco y negro santo,
fumando tu tabaco
y haciendome las bendiciones Yoruba.
Me metiste Ellegua y Chango
con tus humos y cantos,
y hoy los celebro
y los entretengo,
convivo en este ahora
con ellos rumbando
por mi ser,
como el spiral de tu inspiracion
como tu humo
y como los gestos
de tu propia biografia.
You are a light and dark priest,
Smoking your cigar
And giving me the Yoruba blessings,
You placed the spirits of Ellegua and Chango inside me
With your smoke and incantations,
Today I celebrate them,
I live in my here and now with these forces
Dancing through my being,
Like your smoke,
Like the movement of your breath,
Like the gestures of your biography.