Sunday, November 17, 2019

Mountains, Bodies, Art

Good morning, Santa Monica

Have you been to the mountains, recently? Temescal Canyon? Skull Rock? Have you braved the eastbound freeways and gone to the *cough* big boy mountains in the San Gabriels. Just kidding. Santa Monica mountains are like, so cute. 

But let's be real. People who aren't from here don't always associate the mountains with Los Angeles, which is odd, because you see them when you fly in. You really can't miss them. And what makes them even more special? They're free. Yes, in addition to the beach, a visit to the Griffith Observatory, and just sitting on a bench by the Echo Park Lake watching beautiful, creatively dressed 20somethings walk by, the mountains are right up there with LA's best free activities.

One of the other things I love about the mountains? You find all kinds of people there. You find all ages, all races, and all gender expressions. You also find all bodies-- which is another form of diversity we often forget, especially when it comes to activities that are deemed or (god forbid, "branded") athletic in nature. As a light skinned POC (which I believe fashion agencies are now calling "ethnically ambiguous"- groan) with a wiry frame, I move through life with a significant amount of privilege. I don't often find adult clothes that fit me, but that's the worst of it. Once I discovered the boys section at thrift stores, it was pretty much smooth sailing. 

How did I get here? More importantly, why:
because the mountains, bodies, and art, are inextricably linked for me; especially now, while working on The Legend of Graham Canyon. 

A long run or hike in the mountains is a solitary, physical roller coaster. At mile 7 you might feel like the strongest person alive, at mile 10 you might feel like you're in abject misery, and at mile 14, you might suddenly feel lighter than air. Also, it's completely self-imposed-- no one asks me to do it, and with the exception of folks on the mountain, who have been known to see a stranger climbing and shout "good work!" as they pass by, no one is going to give me praise for doing it. Yet there I am, putting one foot in front of the other, because it makes me feel at home in my body, like I'm using it for what it was made. 

Equally important to note : many bodies are made for the mountains. For those able to put one foot in front of the other, there are hikes; for those that walk with aid, or are wheelchair mobile, there are still a great many overlooks and campgrounds that can be reached by car; there are several ways to be in nature... 

Yesterday, while climbing Mount Baldy with my girlfriend, we saw bodies who hadn't yet gotten their high school diploma, we saw bodies who definitely had AARP memberships, we saw legs that looked like olive garden breadsticks and legs that looked like kings hawaiian rolls... (does using bread as analog take some of the stigmas and value judgements out of body shape? or at least make the different shapes sound warm and delicious?) 

Why am I here? Again, my time in the mountains is linked with my art practice. I can walk for hours in the mountains, hoping to reach a peak and hoping not to get lost. And when I make art, I sit alone for hours, toiling on a project no one assigned, and maybe no one will see, and again, hoping not to get too lost -- to arrive at something I can show others, something visible above the morass of my other creative projects. I rearrange the same five words, I spend hours making a giant papier-maché cactus, I sometimes have fun and I sometimes feel like I'm pulling my intestines out like a ribbon, inch by inch. But I keep doing it, because it makes me feel at home in my brain, like I'm using it for what it was meant to do.

So that's me. Today. 
If you wanna talk more, come see me at the Beach House, or get at me on twitter, or instagram
and if you absolutely need more
have a good week, everyone

Sunday, November 10, 2019

SAVE THE GAY! upcoming event 11/12

Hi Santa Monica !

It's too pretty to sit in this office much longer, so I'll be out and in the patio for the rest of my office hours. If you're around, I'm the tiny person in bike hat and a torn flannel-- casual Sunday's a thing, right? Anyway, let's do this.

There's a screenwriting book from the early 2000s called Save the Cat. It's about narrative structure, mostly, and it has a pretty helpful breakdown of what should happen at what point in a story (e.g. by page 20something somebody has to make a big decision about somethingrather). It advocates for outlining, for storyboarding, and I guess, at some point, saving a cat (it's been a while, so sue me).

Reading a book like this makes you see films and other scripts (tv shows, plays) with a keener eye. You notice when stories take forever to get going (you're 30 minutes into a heist movie and you haven't even met the thieves yet -- yes that's right "Ocean's 8," I see you). You also notice when films rely on racist or homophobic clichés to further along plot-- well worn tropes like that of the "black character dies first," and "dead lesbian syndrome." In addition to being killed off, characters in POC or Queer communities deaths seem like tools to further the storyline, or, more egregiously, to further the arc of the main character, who is almost never a member of a marginalized community.

When I started creating the project The Legend of Graham Canyon, I wanted to create a story that was not only about a queer, latinx person of the old west, but one who doesn't die because of their queerness (that's not a spoiler alert, maybe Graham dies and maybe Graham doesn't, but it's not on account of being queer). For inspiration, I searched high and low for queer stories that didn't involve tragic ends, and unsurprisingly (but still disappointingly) I came up damn near empty. The only queer character I found who didn't meet a tragic end was that of Toddy in "Victor/Victoria," though one could argue that as an out gay man in 1930s Paris, he wasn't too far removed from folks in his own queer community being put into concentration camps.... gosh now that I think of that I hope Toddy never went to Berlin. Toddy if you're there, write and tell me you're safe.

Don't get me wrong, despite the fact that "Brokeback Mountain" and "Fried Green Tomatoes" both follow these tropes, they're still two of my favorite stories/books/movies. That said, I'm eager to create stories in which marginalized people not only get to survive, but thrive. If we represent these stories and people, then perhaps the way we see one another will change, as well.

If you'd like to hear more about all the movies I googled with sad, queer stories and how I'd like to rewrite them, then please join us at the Beach House this coming Tuesday, 11/12, at 6:30pm for a showcase and talk with queer writer and artist Veronika Shulman.

Oh and just a general PSA: please wear your helmet. I crashed my bicycle today and almost became my very own buried gay cliché, but due to the foresight/paranoia of my girlfriend (who has advocated for helmet use even in car free zones like the bike path), I am alive and telling the tale. Bruised and scabby, but very much alive.

stay safe, Santa Monica.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Fall Back, Spring into Winter Blues, and how to stay sane when the days are short...

Hi Santa Monica,
it's Analisa, again. Excited to say be saying hello from my second full week in the residency. I'd been wondering what I was going to tell you all about, what news I'd report from the art corner of the Beach House, and I figured this week I'd spend a little time talking about how to stay inspired in the winter. Now, I have many "East Coast" friends (and I use quotes because many of those people are transplants to that coast), who claim that winter doesn't happen in Los Angeles. I beg to differ. Winter does happen, here. And okay, sure, it doesn't get that cold (though I'd challenge any self-proclaimed East Coaster to walk dogs before sunrise and not wear at least a fleece). But the time does change-- as it did last night-- and though for one day we wake up feeling fat with sleep, what we get in return is several months of early nightfall. It gets dark early and often, and with that comes The Cloak of seasonal depression, wrapping itself around me like a chenille boa constrictor (according to Psychology Today, 10million people are affected by seasonal affective disorder annually, if you were looking for a number). As The Cloak wraps itself around me, I find it harder and harder to keep working past 4pm, and easier and easier to throw myself into a volcano of anxiety over the lack of daylight/ perceived lack of TIME to do all the things I have to do before bedtime. The one thing that's been saving me recently: Drag. Drag in all its forms, from what most folks might think of (RuPaul, the Birdcage), to what some of the incredible drag performers of LA are doing currently (if you're interested, I highly recommend seeing Drag Brunch at the Lyric Hyperion, or going to Exposure Drag at the Offbeat Bar).

On occasion, these chilly, dark evenings make me not want to leave my home. On those nights, I take comfort in the drag I can find on the world wide web. So without any more fuss, here's a list of the best Drag I've watched this week:

"Tipping the Velvet" - this is a BBC miniseries about male impersonators of the Victorian Era music halls... the writing is hit or miss, and we get some moments of grueling, turn of the century melodrama (the protagonist is down on her luck! she's starving and bleeding and unable to find even a spoonful of porridge!)... but I dare anyone not to fall in love with Kitty Butler as played by Keeley Haws, who folks might now know as the Home Secretary (may she rest in peace) from Netflix's Bodyguard (also spoiler alert for that, sorry)

The Birdcage- do I need to explain this one? Nathan Lane is a true vision in this, but upon rewatching, Robin Williams' performance is subtly gut wrenching and extremely grounded. After all, he's just a father willing to do anything for his son, including putting on his own drag king act in order to be convincing as a hyper masculine "cultural attaché to Greece," a job about which, to this day, I know absolutely nothing.

Some Like It Hot- again, doesn't need an explanation nor an endorsement from me... but I'd offer this. Two "no good musicians" find their humanity not just because they're asked to dress as women, but because women of the day were expected to perform their femininity daily-- and I would argue that Marilyn Monroe is just as much in drag as Tony Curtis when it comes to performing gender.

Victor/Victoria - it surprised me that this came out in 1982, because it's both a throwback and incredibly relevant. At one point, Julie Andrew's character says, "I'm not sure I want to stop being a man." It's worth it for that line, alone. And for James Garner, who is the visual equivalent of a hug from your high school crush.

More to come on this list as my time in the residency progresses. And always excited to hear some suggestions, and curious to see if anyone who hasn't seen these will reach out -- remember, it's @anirayflo on twitter and ig. Until then, happy fall back into the time of short days and cozy nights.
Siempre, Analisa

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Inclusivity for Dummies, and by "Dummies," I mean all of us...

Here's a funny thing. Imagine you have an old blog account, let's say, oh, from 2008. And that blog account was never fully deactivated, because, well, who has time to pick up each and every crumb of your digital past lives? So let's say you (and by you I mean me) created a blog in 2008 for the sole purpose of complaining about the customers at your day job and the bosses at your night job and the undergrads to whom you taught with varying degrees of success, the 5 paragraph essay. And in your infinite wisdom (and by yours I mean mine), you thought: I won't use my name, I'll use a pseudonym: Mrs. God. I thought it was a combination of silly and otherworldly, which is probably what I hope everything I do is: a fifty fifty split on goofy and ghosty. It's also the name of my music project, so if anyone reading this is inclined to dig deeper (as an internet K hole aficionada, I would) feel free to checkout Mrs. God on soundcloud. The point being, if you're wondering why "Mrs. God" is talking to you through the Annenberg Beach House blog, it's because I can't figure out how to consciously uncouple myself from that old blogger account. And, maybe more significantly, I've decided it isn't that important.

So, hi. It's me, Analisa Raya-Flores, the current Artist in Residence at the Annenberg Beach House. I'm so so excited to be here and make art in this 100 year-old space that, wikipedia assures me, hosted guests like Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable. While here, I'll be working on a project called: The Legend of Graham Canyon. It's a myth about a woman born in the Old West who leaves her life in the Central Valley, starts dressing and living as a man and leads an adventurous life with a gang of criminals. It's good, trust me, and I definitely know that because it's definitely almost done. This is how manifesting works, right?

In addition to working on my own projects, I have the opportunity to host a few events, one of which just happened this past Tuesday. The event was titled, "Tragic Women of Color," and was intended as an exploration of the stereotypical portrayals of women of color in art, literature, and media. After a reading from our guests (poet Monique Mitchell, writer and cook Saehee Cho, content developer Wendy Cortez),we held a conversation. The audience was mostly friends and friends of friends, which turned out to be a good thing. Why? Because familiarity, in conversations that can so often be tricky, is a good thing.

One question, in particular, has been sticking with me. One of my friends asked (and I'll paraphrase for clarity): "How do I, as a white man, write for characters who are unlike me, and if I write for characters outside of my race, what is the line between representation and exploitation?" I'd like to pause briefly and share some context: this is a white, cis-gendered, hetero guy who asked a panel of POC female identifying folks this question. And while history has been full of cis-het white men getting plenty of polite applause, I think in this case, it's warranted. These are the questions that force us to take the first steps toward better representation in all facets of media. So I thank him for that. And now that I've thanked him, I'm going to take the question to task.

The question stuck with me, and after a few days, it hit me. It's the notion of fear. Why is it so "scary" to write outside of one's own race or ethnicity? It seems that the fear stems from writing exploitatively, inaccurately, or to boil it down: incorrectly. Perhaps white writers are afraid to write non-white characters for fear of getting them "wrong." Of course the problem with thinking there's a wrong way means that you think there's a right, or rather, singular way, to write a non-white character. There are first generation immigrant kids who talk like valley girls and there are others who speak the language of their parents. There are Afro-Cuban comic book nerds and Korean-American rappers. I'm being simplistic for the sake of a point, but the point remains there are just as many ways to be a non-white person as there are ways to be a white person.  It brings us right back to representation, and why it's so important. For the folks who aren't lucky enough to grow up in a diverse environment (and meet all the different types of non-white people) then what they see on television, or in film, or in the media.... well, it matters.

If you're up for it, here's a little writing prompt/thought experiment. The scenario: a person goes to the grocery store, gets cut in line. That's it. First, think of how you (just you!) would be in that person's shoes. Now swap in someone else, and consciously make it someone who is of a different race/ethnicity/sexuality/gender identity. Just go for it. Now compare. When you wrote it for you, what did you take into account? Your backstory, your bad or good day, what your grandmother thought of rude injustices, what your own neuroses told you about making a scene. So when you write the scene for this other person, this person that in some ways is "un-like" you, consider that they too have a backstory, a bad or good day, an authority figure who taught them not to cut in line, and a set of idiosyncrasies that keeps them teetering, moment to moment, on the edge of sanity. It's simple, but it's a start.

Let me be clear, this is a much longer and ongoing conversation, one I'm having internally (between myself and my voice memo app as I commute from the East Side), and externally (with other artists and friends). And it's a conversation I'll probably be having until I die, or my brain gets uploaded into the cloud, and then I'll be having it digitally under the username Mrs. God because I still won't have figured out how to change it.

I'll be at the Beach House most Sundays. Come say, "Hi." And if you'd like to find me digitally, I'm on twitter & instagram @anirayflo
Have a good week, Santa Monica.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Interactions 2

On Saturday September 7, I had my second experience interacting with visitors at the Annenberg Beach House, asking them, again (the first interaction happened at the begging of the residency), to imagine a dance piece on the facilities. This time the interaction happened within the patio area with orange umbrellas. 

All the visitors I approached this time coincidentally suggested to centered my performance on dances from different parts of the world, while they identify foreign expressions with colorful costumes and happy vibes. They felt the aesthetics of those dances matches the space. They suggested Polynesian dances, Hula dances, among other styles. A person even suggested to bring a blend of styles from different parts of the world to make the event even more exciting. All participants imagined a group of dancers moving and none of them suggested a solo or a duet. 

One of the visitors suggested as costumes white dresses with smooth and flowing fabrics that would move with the wind. This person says that her ideas about dances focus on the visuals while she is a photographer. 

A group of visitors that were siting in a table discussed their opinions within the group and came up to the conclusion as a collective that the music for the performance should be percussive and should start before the dancers enter the space. They also suggested that the dancers should enter the space one by one from different directions and that the audience should be all around the dancers while any perspective of the performers would be interesting.  

I had another interaction with a group of visitors from Argentina. Some of them did not speak english, so we had most of our conversation in Spanish. One of them suggested some type of Jewish dance for my performance, but the rest of the people in the table did not received well the proposal. They consider it was not pertinent for the space. Another person suggested a folkloric dance from Argentina. Another person suggested that the producers of the Annenberg performances should incorporate food as part of the event, so they can get some earnings out of it. Also this person said that food can work as a hook for people to come and see the performances. She also mentioned that it would be very important to offer some information about the history of the place as part of the performance. She believes that the community does not know enough about the donors and contributors that have made the Annenberg beach house a public space for all.  

That day of the public interactions, my son came with me, and before I started connecting with visitors, him and I participated in one of the guided visits at the guest house.  A sweet woman from Argentina showed us the guest house and shared with us details about its history.  Our tour was in Spanish, so my son had the opportunity so practice and show of his Spanish speaking skills and the guide made the experience it kids friendly. We had a wonderful time.

Friday, September 6, 2019


Willy, my collaborator, is not only an incredible dancer, but he is also a musician. I am fascinated by rhythm, and I have studied it through the lens of flamenco dancing for an extended period of time. However, I have always felt like an amateur in relationship to music.  Willy's dance training is in African and contemporary dance and my training is in flamenco, contemporary, some African dance and salsa. We share the interest in rhythm, and we both have experienced the challenges of navigating a dance world that is still mostly white and Euro-centric. My work belongs to both the center and the periphery, and it claims my double identity (triple, quadruple). My work fights for visibility for those dance styles and any hybrid form that exists outside of the "first world" culturally, politically, and economically.  

The Euro-centric dance traditions have a way to relate to rhythm that often differ from the perspective of "ethnic dances'" in this area. Once a flamenco teachers told me that you can not perform a flamenco sequence of steps unless you are able to sing it.  When I started dancing flamenco, sequences were a succession of movements that happen to produce a sound. But in flamenco dancing each step has a sound, so the sequence of steps eventually become like a songs in your brain. After years of flamenco practice I have noticed that if the musical information is clear in my brain, the specific technique required to perform the movements in a sequence is not longer that important, and the body would be able to figure if out the little details if the musical information is there to rely on. On the contrary, if I can not recall the specific sound of a step I would not be able to performed. I could move similarly, based on the organization of the body, but I would not be able to perform the step (or sequence of steps) as it is in the meter, while for that I would need to be able to sing "its song" and recall it "before" performing the step.

I have noticed a similar approach in this regards between flamenco and Ghanian dance while in both traditions steps are associated with rhythms that can be sang. In the case of flamenco the song comes from the sound that the steps produce, and in the case of Ghanian dances the songs come from the drumming.

On the other hand,  contemporary dance functions differently in relationship to movement and rhythm, while the timing of movements is relatively loose if one compares it with the specificity and intricacy of other styles. Within the contemporary dance context the rhythmical experience comes from breathing, from the time that it takes for the body to perform a specific task, or from an external source, such as the choreographer request, the musical track, but not from a song in my brain. So in this style one does not need to "recall a song" as a prerequisite to organize and deliver movement.

For the piece I am creating during my residency, I am looking for a multicultural approach about how rhythm and movement relate to each other. The perspective offered by the work includes different ways to organize the sound/movement interaction and its causality.

We have experimented a lot about who leads who?  We have tried one person producing their own sound and dancing at the same time. For this exercise each individual has sang songs that correspond to the sequences of steps that he/she is doing, and he/she has performed those movement sequences while singing.

We have also tried to deliver movements that do not belong to the song that we are singing, and to deliver movements that belong to the contemporary dance style while still singing rhythms that are related to steps from other dance traditions. It is challenging to detach the sound of a given step from the step it self. It feels like speaking two different languages at the same time: flamenco with your voice and contemporary dance with your body.

We have also explored the option of having one mover and one speaker/singer. In one version of the exercises the task for the mover is to react to the sound heard by replicating a movement that is "the same" as the sound heard and to deliver the movement at the same time that the sound is happening, so the mover would have to anticipate the rhythm.

We also have tried the option of the mover developing other types of connections with the sound heard.  The mover could replicate or not what the singer is bringing into the conversation and would not longer be a follower of the sound, who monotonously accentuating the strong beats of the music.  The mover would have more independence, and their task would be to build layers into the movement-sound dialogue that stimulate complex interactions that involve tension, contrast and a notion of balance and harmony that is not flat and predictable.

In another exercise a mover and a singer are interacting having the dancer as the leader.  The singer task is to follow the mover by delivering a song that replicates what the dancer is doing, so the singer would have to anticipate the dancer's choices. Using this same structure, we have have explored using the whole body as a percussive instrument that follows the movements, instead of producing sound only with the voice.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Partnering Dancing

Willy, my dance collaborator, amazing performer with extensive training in Contemporary and African Dance, does not have experience with social dancing, and that is why I am particularly interested in exploring with him salsa and other partnering dance styles. My intension is not to teach him how to dance salsa, or merengue, but to witness a body making choices within a foreign territory. I have noticed that no matter the movement background and the long term experience in dancing, keeping the ongoing pattern of the lower body within the rhythm, independently from the interaction that is happening with the other person in the upper body, it's always a challenge.

I learned how to dance latin styles and particularly salsa at a young age in my country Colombia. I never took a dance lesson for that. The skills were gained by dancing in parties and gatherings, and by interacting with other bodies in "real time".  Back then social dancing was a fundamental part of social life. I studied in a "girls only" school until I graduated from high school, so my interactions and connections with boys throughout my teenage years happened almost exclusively in parties and through dancing. The gender roles in dancing were very strict and well defined: Females would wait until a male invited them to dance, and males lead, while females follow. It would basically mean that as a female you would have to always listen your partner's movement proposal,  process the information, and accept any movement initiative that the male would generate by delivering with your body the expected movement or some movement would matches his own.

Sometimes when I have explained "the follower role" to people that did not grew up in the culture of social dancing, the idea of being a follower arises strong reactions while they perceive the movement power dynamics, as unfair. I can see why, and I understand the social and political connotations of someone having to follow over and over someone else's ideas with out a space to disagree or state openly their own statements. However, there is little in this world that gives me more pleasure than following a good salsa partner.  I feel complete freedom in my 'submissive role" of doing what my partner is asking me to do. I feel relieved from having to answer the question "what to do", while I am only focusing in how to do it. I can direct my attention in little details such as delaying an action (that I am not even been very concious about what it is), to hit an accent in the music, or making a decision about how much strength or resistance I am going to bring into the "conversation", or how much weight I am going to release to my partner at any given movement. I can also chose not think anything at all, just listen to the music while paying attention to my partner's body. I is like a guessing game. The What is often not part of my experience, nor are the specifics about the movement or the space in relationship to the directions in which I am turning, nor what arm or leg I am using at any given time. All of that is taking care for me by my body/non conscious brain. My body knows better than my conscious mind how to handle that, so I don't have to think rationally to be able to  deliver a movement while in this context, it just happens automatically. I could think rationally about what I am doing, but I don't have to, and I am often amazed by the level of difficulty in the tasks that my body performs while salsa dancing without the help of my rational brain. It feels like having the chance to experience the joy of movement without having to even think about it. So putting that rational brain on pause, definitely feels like a liberation instead of a subjugation.

But pausing that rational brain and trusting the body you are interacting with takes time. I have noticed that the issue is precisely overthinking about what is happening. Throughout the weeks Willy is starting to trust and allow his body to take control over the situation. It is very interesting when we arrive into blurry places where the partnering is something in between contact improve and social dancing. Those are the events I am interesting in capturing in the piece: Physical interactions that are stylistically undefined and that can belong to more than one place.