Blog Salon #3 “Finding Midline” by Nina Haft

on Dec 07 in Article, Blog Salon, Blogroll, Mapping by
Blog Salon #3 “Finding Midline”  by Nina Haft

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Mid Life

I have been making dances since I was in the second grade. Yet somehow when I finish a big project, I still wonder if I can get myself back up off the floor to do it again.

Fortunately, the same people who finish these big projects with me usually ask ‘when we are gonna do it again?’ which makes me feel invited to the party, and then I feel like I should fix up some food, both literally (I am a good cook) and figuratively (I make work with a band of stunning collaborators.) Luckily, I have a dose of my mother’s Capricorn stubbornness. I have never quit anything in my life until I exhausted myself trying to make it work. This is how I gave up, among other things, drinking caffeine, full-contact sparring, and sleeping with women who aren’t honest with me.

Some call me still emerging, because my resume does not include certain kudos. I’ve been told that because I now make my living as an educator in my field, I am no longer a real artist. As far as I am concerned, success is mine because I still love what I do, and I do it more every year.

I hit the limits of my energy sooner now, with less room for argument. This forces me to rely on discernment over determination when propelling myself towards a goal or a new experience. I constantly wonder if I am doing enough.

 

Middle East

I failed many times while making my latest performance piece about the Middle East. It is the hardest thing I have ever done.

After my first tour there with dancers, I set out to create a piece about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In addition to my company members, I invited some new friends (a Palestinian scholar, activist and refugee, and some folkloric dancers he knows) to help us make this work.

I missed so many important things. I did not leave enough time to lay the groundwork for directing my first cross-cultural collaboration. I tried to deal with some of the artistic, cultural and political tensions in the room by absorbing them like a gracious hostess. I naïvely arranged for us to work at times in separate studios, thinking it would help us work more efficiently, thereby creating my very own version of a two state solution. No wonder things fell apart.

I failed to draw hardly any folks to the theater that did not already agree with my point of view. I received hate mail. Dancers quit because they decided I was not honest about my politics, or because they found the co-directing arrangement too chaotic.

Ultimately, I earned the trust of those who stayed. I also learned that I could trust the work, even when it seemed destined to implode.

 

Middle of the Night

Not too long ago, I realized that I’ve been acting like sleep was my daily failure to stay awake. A failure to do more, because more is what I’ll settle for if I can’t do enough.

I think maybe doing Feldenkrais is changing all that. OMG.

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Nina Haft is Artistic Director of Nina Haft & Company, a Bay Area-based ensemble known for cultural commentary and site-specific performance since 2000. Nina’s work in new jewish performance has been profiled in Dance Magazine and received support from the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Margaret Jenkins’ Dance Company, Conney Project on Jewish Arts (UW-Madison), Purdue University, the California Arts Council and numerous private and public arts foundations. Nina Haft & Company is also known for the Dance in Unexpected Places Series, including performances in dockyards, synagogues, parking lots, libraries, train stations, bars, government buildings and historic Mountain View Cemetery. Nina has presented her work locally at WestWave Dance Festival, Dance IS Festival, the East Bay Dance Festival, Raw & Uncut/The Garage, Bay Area Dance Series, the Lesbian and Gay Dance Festival, and at numerous other venues. Nina Haft & Co. has performed nationally and internationally, including appearances in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Portland, Madison, Chicago, New York, Amman, Ramallah, Jerusalem and D’heisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Nina teaches at Cal State University East Bay and at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, where NH&Co. is in residence.  To learn more about Nina visit http://ninahaftandcompany.wordpress.com/
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5 Comments

  • Jai says:

    I spent time writing my response and getting deep about it, and then it said my CAPTCHA was INCORRECT and wiped my comment. WTF! I hate when that happens.

    Anyways. I was saying that I love the mids and middles of your piece. and how it makes me think of Amara’s and the imposed duality that creates middles and betweens. but the sturdiness of the image I have of midline, how for me the word implies centeredness and stability and limbs arranging around the spine/pelvis/head creating anchors.

    I was also thinking about your piece about the israeli occupation of palestine. it made me think of when I made a film in thailand about trans-masculinity, and how the director of the residency I was on (a thai cis-man) didn’t get the work and basically thought it was “bad art” and that I could have “done more!” and how I had made myself so vulnerable already in the project and in the film about my gender and my body, and how the last minute failure was devastating. but also, the ways my qtpoc and american context around gender was lost in the thai national context, and that the mis/dis/communication and FAILURE or poverty OF LANGUAGE cross-culturally was the whole point of my film, and that even that was lost on that guy. and how at a certain point I felt all this responsibility to speak for toms and thai people, and how I had failed at that, but how really that is impossible anyways.

    I just thought it was interesting that your piece brought up my project in Thailand, and that we should probably talk about it more!

  • Ruth says:

    Thank you for writing this. What really struck me about it is the contradiction – you talk about failure or lack of recognition but everything you do testifies to the opposite. The ‘failure’ of any given work is so often the fertile seed for the next piece. I’ve seen you cycle through this process so many times. The shock is really how much you’ve been able to create despite living in a country that systemically under values art + artists. In reality you have found a highly successful model within that system to make your work and to engage the next generations through education. It seems actually kind of ideal in the circumstances.

  • Dana says:

    As always, I appreciate your honesty and willingness to investigate.

    I identify with your sentiments regarding making work and teaching, how those two intersect to hopefully make us richer as artists, rather than poorer.

    Having just read Siddartha for the second time, my mind wanders to the passage at the end where he is speaking with his old friend, Govinda. “Words do no justice to the hidden meaning. Everything immediately becomes slightly different when it is expressed in words, a little bit distorted, a little bit foolish.” To talk/write about what we do undermines the feeling we garner as we explore, through bodies moving in space, what is true and honest.

    I commend you on your journey and anxiously await with an open heart, curious mind and an adventurous spirit the next stumble, the next mistake, the next missed opportunity. One can only hope that those lessons will allow our “wounds to blossom, our suffering become radiant, and our ego dissolve into unity.”

  • Nona says:

    Nina, this article made me feel weepy. Your honesty about failure and sleep hit me in the heart. We forget (I forget) so easily that art comes from being human not from transcending being human, which means failure is as organic as sleep. Thank you. Nona

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