Tuesday, September 02, 2003

intellectualizing kali interpretations of poetry

Eileen sent me a comment/question from one of her 8 million peeps:

Recently I had the good fortune to watch someone demonstrate Pentjak Silat, an Indonesian martial art at the local Sunfest and it was most fascinating. The man actually had a smile while demonstrating the movements, which seemed like a cross between tai chi and dance, a combination of hard and soft. His physical control and timing was impeccable, and it was clear that he had been training in the art for quite some time. I would be most interested to see how Gura combines the Filipino martial art of Kali with poetry performance.

Hmmm...that's a very interesting point...I never really thought about how I go about doing that.

Pentjak Silat is a beautiful art form, very closely related to several Filipino martial arts. Actually there's a Filipino variant of it around somewhere.

Now the reason I haven't really thought about it, even though I've done it so many times (I recently did a collaboration with poet maiana minahal that she took to NYC for a show.), is because when I'm doing the kali I'm not really thinking. Hell, half the time I feel like I'm not really there, it's like I'm watching it from a third person position. Like when I talked about hitting that other guro in the nose (in the "because you understand the fight in me" series of posts), I saw it in slow motion and really couldn't keep myself from doing it. It's like autopilot.

Now that begs the question, "then how do I stay connected to the poet if I'm not really there?"

hmmm....[i sit listening to the bell chimes rotating around the water fountain clearing my thoughts]

It is necessary for me to prepare and give myself cues and anchors to grab for. I'm not really there, but I am kind of conscious and if I concentrate enough I can find those anchors I set and grab onto them in the moment.

First I listen to the reader/poet read the piece. I'm listening to story, emotion, cadence, rhythm, etc. Sometimes while they read phrases and words pop repeatedly in my head and I note them. I'm trying to understand the music of the words so my body can match that beat and hopefully land distinct movements on those beats. And while I listen, I'm imagining what I might be able to do.

I also have to keep track of time. There are limitations to my physical body. Kali is very intense emotionally, physically and spiritually and so I have to create a arch for the kali as well, give myself breaks to rest a bit. The breaks also allow the audience a bit of breather. So those phrases that hit me during the initial reading, I'm thinking hey slow down here, rest, then bring it up again, change direction, etc.

Lastly, in knowing what the poet/poem brings and what I can bring with the kali, I'm trying to calculate the arch of the audience as they follow along. I want them to be mesmerized, I want to hit them in ways they didn't think they could feel, I want them to watch then replay moments of it in their heads for the rest of the day. I want a lasting impact, something that makes people think and feel and wonder. I've been fortunate enough to be able to come close to that on several different occasions.

In all, it's one big dance between me, the poem/poet and the audience. It's an experience I'm presenting.

But all of this prethinking is not so intense. It comes to me as single words here an there, a feeling, a pause, etc. But I remember to look for these things when I go out there.


so what is the real moment like? None of my movements are planned explicitly. I create a physical structure on the ground, like I mentally map that I'm going to go to this section then that section then over here, etc. So I know the general direction I need to go.

It starts, I draw my circle of protection, open myself, meditate with a prayer for a moment, then go. From here on out it's like riding the wind. I start with a few simple moves to warm up, then progress to other ones. In the meantime, I'm listening for the words that I remembered and timing more visually distinct strikes and pauses for those moments. The poem is my music and I am merely expressing my reaction to it through the kali.

Then as I'm going, enemies start to appear (I have to pretend I'm hitting something) that help me turn and move and pull different techniques out of me. Of course, it's all in my head. When a demo goes particularly long, fatigue brings me out of the trance which is a problem. When I think too much, I don't flow as well, which means I'm more apt to err, which is not a good thing when you're holding a knife. That's what happened in Sonoma at the demo with Eileen, I lost my balance and fell back. It's not noticeable on the camera, it all looks intentional. When it happened, I was pretty scared I might fall, but allowed my body to continue and my body caught itself. Falling out the trance in the middle is hard because for a moment I'm not sure where I am. Fortunately I'm experienced enough to ride it out.

At PAWMA, I was trying to connect to Gabriela's spirit. I called to her during my meditation. This is both exciting and scary because there's a chance Gabriela might not like me or she may be too intense for me to handle. Yet, that's the risk I take.

Well, back to the poetry. Once the moment starts I give myself up to the moment. Whatever my body creates, it creates. I just have to hope my body is able to follow the flow and hit the right spots on its own. Thus far, it's done a fine job of it. The pauses and accented movement during key phrases/words/emphasis in voice are meant to give the audience a snapshot of the moment. watching watching watching FLASH watching FLASHwatching watching watching FLASH. And these moments hit them. Very often these moments are emphasized with stabs or strong poses while the in between is carried through with long sweeping motions. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to do for a certain moment and sometimes I hear myself scream, "now!" and I jump to that pose on the phrase.

I listen for the words that mark the ending of the piece or my part, then I close myself, close my circle and leave.

At this point, I am totally spent and just get offstage to the nearest chair to breathe. I have no idea what it looked like. I remember one woman coming up to me at the PAWMA demo and she asked what this hand movement was, and I was like, "I don't know exactly, it's just how the energy expressed itself."

The best and worst part of it all is that I can't repeat it. It only happens once. Even if I try to repeat it, it's never really the same: the moment is different, the audience is different, I'm not the same person tomorrow, the poem feels different. It's also hard for me to do so many halads/offerings in a short span. As I've gotten stronger, I can endure more, but it still sends me on a bit of a rollercoaster since it's a very intense emotional/physical/spiritual ride. Doing too many in a short span makes me ill, throws a lot of stuff out of balance.

Reading this, it seems hard. But it's really a lot less thinking and more a feel of everything. In general, I have a rough idea of what I might do with a general framework, then I let the moment fill in the gaps.

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