finding kin

So, I live in a small town in New Hampshire, in an area affectionately known as “North of the Notch”. (This is often said in much the same tone as one might say “bless her heart” south of the Mason-Dixon Line.) I moved here last summer, a year after my partner came here for a job she couldn’t refuse.  I knew I would be in for some lonely times as an experimental artist, living so far away from any city or scene, and it was hard to leave the community I spent five years finding in Raleigh, but love’s call had to be answered.  I found the box of wool sweaters and mittens, packed up my things and headed north.  I’ve been searching for my art kin ever since.

Seems there are pockets of them here and there, many still around after the closing of Franconia College in 1978.  Have found some good folks fortifying the nest over at WREN.  And I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about the grass-roots, overachieving Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire in future posts.

A few weeks ago, when hanging a group art show featuring local artists at the Cold Mountain Cafe in Bethlehem, I met one of my neighbors, George Manupelli. You might remember him from a few decades ago, when he was making noise in the avant-garde film scene, with strange gems like the Dr. Chicago series starring Steve Paxton.  My friend Heather, who organizes the Farmer’s Markets at WREN, and invited me to show work in the cafe, introduced us when she gave us both a ride to the cafe.

“So, what do you do?” George politely asks from the back seat.

I notice the habit of hesitating before I answer, “I’m a dance artist.”  Then I notice the instinctive way I brace myself for his response.  I’ve grown used to a variety of strange looks, blank stares and uncomfortable pauses whenever I tell someone I’ve just met about my life’s work.  More often than not, I’m talking to someone who has no reference point, for whom the mention of dance brings up a limited array of mental files, including The Nutcracker, Michael Jackson, and maybe, if I’m lucky, the ever popular So You Think You Can Dance.

“Oh,” he says, thoughtfully.  “Like Merce Cunningham?”  My ears perk and my eyebrow shoots up.  “Well…yeah, sort of.  I mean, well…my work isn’t really anything like his, but I guess you could say he’s there for sure in my lineage.  Like my dance grandfather.”  I’m thinking to myself…maybe it was a lucky guess, a stab in the dark…plenty of people have heard of Merce Cunningham, especially after we lost him this past summer.

“I see.  So you’re talking about the Judson folks then are you?”

And we’re off.  Turns out we are related, sharing more than one branch of our art making family tree.  He knew and worked with Cage and Cunningham, Deborah Hay, Robert Ashley, Yvonne Rainer and Judith Dunn to name but a few…all figures I know mostly in the theoretical and reverent way one knows one’s ancestors.

Being a chronic instigator and collaboration junkie, and thrilled beyond words to have found true art family north of the notch, at the end of the two minute ride ride from the old church where George lives to the cafe on Main Street in Bethlehem where we are about to hang our work, I propose-slash-declare to George that we should collaborate.  He answers, without any hesitation, “I’m ready for the challenge, dear.”

So, through a delightfully surprising series of twists, turns and invitations, I find myself preparing to perform with George and my friend and collaborator Jen Green, a Boston based dance artist, in a rather odd little show at a gallery in Cambridge, MA called Outpost 186.  It’s called 11 +1 at  Sidewalk Tzara, and it’s a monthly series of events that’s been happening for a while, now curated by French Clements.  As the February line-up emerged, it took the shape of a mini dance film festival, with 11 short films, and live performances by five filmmakers and choreographers.

In the morning, I’ll drive over to Bethlehem, pick up George Manupelli and his green ninety pound 16 millimeter film projector, and head down to Boston.  Whatever happens, it should be quite a show. . .

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