Airborne
The New Dance
Photography
Of Lois Greenfield

Designed by William A. Ewing
(Chronicle Books)
Lois Greenfield specializes in stark black-and-white photographs of dancers. But it's not ballet members, locked in rigid steps, in tutus. Rather --- it is dancers suspended (through the magic of photographs) in mid-air, human figures reflected back on each other, shadows and moves that --- for this reviewer --- redefine bodies; in this case, beautiful, elegant bodies.

William Ewing, the book's designer, states that in his visit to one of her shooting sessions, he expected that he would see that "the dancers appear to have lifted themselves into the air, waited for the photographer to snap the shutter."

It was not so, for

    I could see nothing in front of me that remotely resembled a Greenfield image; all I saw were heavy, sweating bodies thudding about, the strenuous movements accompanied by sharp exhalations of breath as they landed.

He goes on,

    I watched the dancers repeat each take with minor variations according to Greenfield's directions but the action never seemed to coalesce into the elegant, ordered motif I was expecting.

There are over 100 shots in Airborne, and they not only redefine bodies, they do the same to the art of dance, and the art of photography. We might say that what we have here are "motion pictures" --- Greenfield stretching the art of still-life (and still life photography) so that there is in the images a powerful frozen motion that --- at times --- seems to make the dancers dance right off the page for us. Indeed, the dancer and the dance become as one.

Greenfield started out twenty-five years ago as photographer for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Time and Newsweek --- but it was her work for Dance Magazine that brought her into this new world of plastic form.

William A. Ewing and Daniel Girardin, in their commentary, take us through the evolution of Greenfield's work --- from working for others, then participating in "a whole new vocabulary and grammar of dance..." Once she set up her own studio, she began work on her own. According to the editors, in this work, she has established six styles of photography --- including "the attributes of a dancer," the use of "literal choreographic material," and full improvisation. As one goes through Airborne, it seems that these categories might well be a bit arbitrary, but...no matter. What Chronicle Books has created here with Ms. Greenfield is a whole new vocabulary of dance, of black-and-white photography, of motion, of the frieze (read the "freeze") of elegant bodies, of a unity of form and function that goes well beyond description.

Some of us, for various reasons, are not to interested in people "jumping around on the stage to the music of Tchaikovsky," as one critic described it. But to see these sinuous creations, moving so stunningly about on the page is to experience a model that defies the old concepts of "dance" and "ballet."

---Lolita Lark


Daring to
Write
Mariana L. Ruybalid
(University Editions)
Those of us in the reviewing business usually skip over the vanity books, with their bad spelling, bad layout, bad design, and, usually, bad writing. This goes double for those firms that specialize in vanity works, like University Editions.

This is not to say that those who publish their own works have to be wretched writers: after all, Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman --- to name two --- were responsible for their own works seeing the light of day. But when we get five to ten books a day (major newspapers get 300 - 500) it's easy, too easy, to overlook those that were paid for by the author.

Therefore it is a surprise, and a pleasant one, to run across something like Daring to Write. Marianna Ruybalid is disabled with cerebral palsy. Her poems can be touching --- as much as for what is said, as for what is not said:

    The table has four strong legs,
    blue and white checked oil cloth,
    and a bright yellow jar from Costa Rica.
    I eat breakfast sitting in the sun.
    Today I will buy some flowers.

    To table is to decide to deal later,
    not sweeping in under the rug, but later.
    Now I will go to College Avenue and
    buy red carnations for the yellow jar.

    I need to table my decision about suicide.
    While I pass thought this time of rage,
    perhaps even going down deep through despair,
    I put the decision and the yellow jar of red flowers on the table.

Ruybalid views her life (and her disability) with complete honesty; her vision of her self, her body, and her life (and her wish to be out of it) is unflinching; her poems have the understatement that makes one want to read more:

    "You're hopeless, you can do nothing. Stop
    the pain by killing yourself! Stop the curse!
    Stop men touching you there! Stop the
    violation of your mind and body! Cut your
    wrists! Die!"...

And then,

    But razors tell me to take ten valium
    To get even for people leaving me.
    I take ten so I won't vomit them up...

We would hope that Ms. Ruybalid would work to make her poetry a bit more ...well, poetic. That is, not to use end-stops thrown in there willy-nilly; to develop more natural breaks; to work on structure. We would also hope that she would be able to follow such strong lines as

    I am trapped and alone.
    My hands clench. I drool...

with ones that almost come to be parody, e.g.,

    ...I want white wine's gentle doom.
    Fly zoom, to the moon.

In all, her writing is terse, vigorous, and well worth it.


--- Carlos Amantea


What is
Meditation?
Buddhism for
Everyone

Rob Nairn
(Shambhala)
Buddhism has to be the most diabolical religion of them all. It demands that we do the impossible: not 10,000 Hail Marys; not tithing 10% of our salary to the church; not studying, endlessly, the Torah; not journeying to Compostela on our knees; not prostrating ourselves, five times a day, towards a mythic, golden place far to the east; not abasing ourselves before the image of a man born 2,000 year ago and hung --- naked --- on two slabs of wood.

No, it asks a discipline that is far more difficult. It asks that we shut up the babbling headtalk. Make the brain-pan stop its endless torrent of memories dreams reflections angers loves hates strife wondering plans hopes and fears.

Furthermore --- and as difficult --- Buddhism demands that we begin to quell the passions of the flesh, be kind to all living creatures, and --- probably the most difficult of them all --- be gentle to ourselves.

If we fail, if we continue to misuse this life in manipulation, greed, envy, and lust, if we fail to clear the mind of its daily sludge of desire, regret and scheming, if we continue to give pain to others (in any form whatsoever) --- they have a special penalty for us.

It is not a murky hell, with pitch-forks, fire and sulphur, bodies flaming in the stygian charnel-pits of brimstone for a mere eternity. No, they have something far worse.

For if we fail to set ourselves on the path to inner and outer joy, kindness to all sentient beings, calm and love for self --- they are going to make us come back and do it all over again.

We will be forced to return --- not once, but many times, to live out other lives, here on earth. Other eternities of hag-ridden, bone-aching, soul-wrenching misery-and-woe pain-and-disease-wracked lifetimes, countless centuries, back again on earth. Yet again. And again. And even yet again. Until we finally get it right.

Try to prove that this scenario of the Buddhists is a kinder, more gentle vision than the one of dancing devils with pitchforks, in the smoke-filled pits of hell. Just try to prove it.

          

For anyone starting out on this difficult (some would say almost impossible) path, Buddhism for Everyone is an appropriate guide. It is short, to-the-point, and written in none but the simplest language. "Buddhism is a religion and a philosophy," Nairn writes, "but most of all, it is a way of life." He takes us through the history of Buddhism, and offers four of the most salient demands that it makes of us:

  • Tolerance --- acceptance of all people and all other religions;
  • Compassion and Wisdom --- the willingness to help others and have compassion for ourselves; finding wisdom through liberation;
  • Impartiality --- making the Buddha's teachings available to others, all the while not jamming it down their throats; and
  • Refuge --- going into one's own "inner wisdom nature."
The author describes the three main schools of Buddhism, then offers a how-to-do-it on meditation and the quieting of the babbling mind. He defines the three distractions that haunt most of us, namely --- yesterday, today, and tomorrow, distractions guaranteed to give the most difficulty to those who are trying to shut up what the Tibetans call "the waterfall:"
  • Following the past, reliving experiences, grieving, regret, mulling, "going on sentimental memory journeys..." which, he says, "swamps us and blots out the present altogether" making it "a form of insanity."
  • Thinking in the present, thinking on, say, eating, with elaboration and involvement --- what we think of as "thinking," something that "holds us in bondage."
  • Planning, or getting involved in the future, anticipating things "that have not happened and in fact may never happen."
Nairn claims that our "condition of distraction" is so customary that we have to use other means --- television, music, movies, alcohol, this computer I'm writing on right now --- to distract us from our distraction.

The freedom that comes from recognizing the three distractions and distancing ourselves from them is not quick, but as it begins to come, it will create what he calls "the strong mind: a mind that is capable of remaining totally in the present moment without deflection or distraction."

Excellent lessons for those who wish to begin what they call "the practice" of Buddhism.


--- A. W. Allworthy


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