Among the shadows and the flowers : Puente by Diego Piñón


Somehow I ended up in the 8 day workshop intensive with Diego Piñón. That experience will resonate with me my whole life. I have developed such a deep gratitude for this man, and for the opportunity to learn with him.

The night opened with Christopher Mankowski  huddled on the floor. Face down, folded onto his shins, hands bound behind his back in the rear-center of a large white triangle. Slowly, he rises. Just as he seems to get his footing, he falls to his side. There is a sense of struggle, a heaviness that makes it hard for me to breathe. There is a log, a cup, white rope and a dish of dried beans. The beans are cupped into each hand held at his sides towards the audience. As he walks towards the apex of the triangle, toward the audience, a bean drops. Then another. The tension this creates is unnerving. eventually more and more beans fall until there are no more in his hands. Standing on the log precariously with his arms outstretched, I notice his eye. Or more specifically, its the flesh surrounding his eye, red and swollen. Intentional? Serendipitous…He reaches above as a red cloth descends from the ceiling. The cloth is over his face. He is in the middle of the triangle. An egg in the mouth, in the middle of his covered red head. Its disturbing. It brings forth something primordial. A dark past. Still present in all of us. Still clawing at the unconsciousness. Bringing tears to my eyes.

I notice Spider who is sitting next to me is also crying.  The lights are on and its intermission. We hold each other. Digesting something of this offering we have witnessed together.

Then it begins. First, you hear the music. Its crackling and its a fire being fed. Ever so slowly we being to see his form emerge across the stage cutting through the darkness. He is hunched over carrying a bundle of branches atop his back. With purpose, he sets them upright. The sound of cracking branches as he does so. It seems possible he is a thousand years old and has performed this act faithfully, every day. He shows us the unyielding spirit of the beings of earth. Drawing a supernatural strength into this fragile existence.

There is a thick, bright crimson strip spanning the length of the stage. Creating a boarder between Diego and his witnesses.  He approaches this boundary and moves along twitching with arms bending backward. The music harsh and distorted. The darkness descends as he disappears.

Here, at the edge of the stage in the back, the black curtains cast shadows and flickering lights. The suspense is building. Time passes and we watch the shadow play. Actively waiting for what might happen. There is movement behind the curtains. As if  ejected by some spring loaded mechanism, out comes an old rocking horse and Diego, all in black with his head covered in a mask. A bondage inspired lucha libre mask with glimmering diamond accents. This image is striking and disturbing. I hear laughter, deep hearty laughter and I appreciate the opportunity to shift into a lighter mood. He is conjuring up many things in this particular piece. For me, it was about power struggles and expectations. How we choose to interact with our own  self when we interact with others. By the end, the mask is on the horse, his pants are off and he is licking the horse. Hoisting up the horse, he wrangles it off the stage with his whole body.

He appears again dressed all in red. Bright crimson red. A softer mood. More delicate. Fragile. Offering us an invitation to witness his explorations into his own internal sentiments. For a moment he disappears and then the red strip moves. He is crouching down to roll up the fabric. A colorful hat full of flowers bobbing atop his head. He is playful and childlike as he hops across the stage, removing the symbolic divide. At this point I am overwhelmed with emotions. So much gratitude, love and happiness flowing through this whole space. Its hard to remember the rest. Its the swelling of my heart I remember.

There is one more thing. We learned an exercise called the crystal box. Its storytelling through movement and its beautiful to practice and even more beautiful to witness. The whole point is to believe. To embody. Our imagination is one of the most powerful tools we have to transform our lives, our whole world.

“As a whole, I consider ritual dance as an expression of the sacred—a way to transcend our cultural indoctrination in order to communicate with the universe from the organic impulses of our human origins.”  We are invited into a dream. The dream does not speak to the critic in us. The dream speaks directly to heart, to the deepest parts of us. Diego heats and folds the dream into waking life. Forging our perception like a blade. Enabling the witness to cut through the veil and receive more clearly the light of being.



Hubley Classics

Hubley: Modern Arts in Motion

Going to the movies, at its best, is a transformative experience. Even if it is temporary, the great joy of seeing a film has less to do with what happens on screen than how you feel when you walk out. That is how I would describe my reality after Hubley. It may be temporary, but that feeling of being animated in the world struck me, strolling through downtown Portland on my way to the yellow line home. In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s when the Hubley collection, presented by NW Film Center, first debuted, it is very possible that viewers had a more profound transformative experience. At the time, the vast population had seen nothing like it.

Until the 1960’s, most feature films were preceded by some kind of animated film and nobody complained if it wasn’t lifelike. Today, these animations can look choppy and retro, and of course that is why down the road at the multiplex and all over the country, vastly more people were watching Spider-Man, a glorified animation film branded as live action, full of computerized backdrops and characters. But the analog and paper love that these Hubley classics were produced with are no match. And I mean that in favor of Hubley.

I love modern art and jazz. That is why I jumped at the chance to blog this event. Modern art is characterized by a liberal use of color and abstract forms. Unlike post-modern art or even today’s post-post modern, where the physical representation is no longer is required, where a performance can be a dialogue with the audience, modern art still is very tactile. Hubley’s animation is modern art in motion, soundtracked by the modern music of that era: jazz.

When I speak of Hubley, I speak of the duo as if they are one. John and Faith Hubley is a super power couple responsible for a prolific stream of groundbreaking works known as the Hubley collection, restored by MoMa (Modern Museum of Art). Animator and daughter, Emily Hubley, picked these eight shorts in the screening. Each film, usually indirectly, responds to socio-political issues of their day while speaking directly to the compassionate heart.

In Moonbird, two children catch an elusive bird, not with bait or cages, but with song. The Hat is a dialogue featuring Dizzy Gillespie, providing both music and speech, involving two soldiers at some mysterious border, discussing the absurdity of their legal and economic position, yet they can not stop defending it, despite the convincing socratic method of Gillespie’s character, revealing all the absurdities. This was the definite crowd favorite. Eggs has a similar dialectic approach addressing the alarms ringing by 1970 about the industrialization of life itself.

I was carried away by the appearance of everything and the music. The first film (1957) features signature fifties jazz by Benny Carter with walking bass lines and smooth melodies. The newest film (1970) features music by a young Quincy Jones and his totally groovy funk. Dizzy Gillespie’s contribution (1964) caters to my favorite era of modern jazz with its disjointed, energetic, angular riffs and robust emotional experience. Visually, each film carries its own aesthetic, but essentially, every piece involves abstract scenery overlayed by abstract characters with a colorful palette. I didn’t need to follow any storyline to dig it.

Next week, Sunday May 11th, Hubley returns to NWFC’s Whitsell Auditorium with a feature film entitled The Cosmic Eye. I’ll be there to tell you all about it.

READ the article by IndieWire for more information about this centennial exhibition.

Enjoy one of the more tender films below.

Ballet Hispanico

Spring Fever : Ballet Hispanico

The final work of the 2013-2014 season, White Bird presented Ballet Hispanico at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on the last day of April. It seems fitting. The weather just beginning to heat up, the city starting to come alive in the rush of spring, it is a perfect time to spend an evening celebrating Latino culture on the stage.

The program begins with Asuka, an exploration into the struggle of leaving behind ones home and the reward of finding community in the process. I found it challenging to see the struggle. Considering the music of Celia Cruz filling the space with such joy, so full of life. The dancers in an array of bright and vibrant colors. Full skirts twirling, like flowers in full bloom. I sensed the humor, the joy and exuberance.

Ahh, but then there is the static, the radio dial searching for the station and filling the moments in between.  The subtleties of the drama unfolding. A push off the stage. A sense of being lost within the commotion. I began to imagine I was watching an avant-garde  musical number in a provocative and humorous Broadway show. The dancers moved with the fullness of their body, wide open and ready to be swept away.

Sombrerisimo had hats. Bowler hats. Plenty of fun tricks and comical machismo. A bunch of fellows dancing together. There were even hand claps and thigh slaps. The lighting cast big smokey shadows  above the dancers and encouraged my mind to project Broadway infused into this Ballet.

El Beso, the second performance, starts with a curiosity. Playful and alluring. Leading into peculiar relationship dynamics revolving around the kiss. Have you watched the mating dances of birds? I would like to think those strange birds were an inspiration to the choreographer. The body reaching out to fill the space, like the puffing of the chest and the fluffing of feathers. The quirky movements, the strutting,  the push and pull of emotions. I liked the contrast of the dark blue and black modern costume designs with the lighthearted and excitable energy of the dancing. Yes, spring is indeed in the air.

White Bird’s 2014-2015 season begins this coming October. For more information, please visit