Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 27: Final Post - Athens, Greece and Izmir, Turkey. Wrapping it up in Grand Style:) The Gifts of A Dancer's Life.

We took walks, boats, buses, planes and more buses from Ithaki to Athens arriving at the Intercontinental Hotel late in the evening. What a shift in environment it was! Going from our little island getaways to the business culture of a corporate hotel was a shock to my system. Luckily, I had a secret weapon to ameliorate the situation.. my mother was there waiting to greet me!!!  She joined us for the remainder of our tour and what a joy it was to be with her. I feel so grateful that she traveled all that way (from Houston, Texas) to share in the dance tour experience. My husband has also traveled with me all over the world in support of my dancing - these are memories that I will cherish my whole life through.
  Archive: Mimi, me and Danny on a dance tour in Positano, Italy !  Good times.
During our time together in Athens, Greece Mimi and I took the opportunity to visit all of the historic sites we could and walked until we dropped. Good times!

Together at the Parthenon.

In terms of work :) our performance venue in Athens was the world famous and overwhelmingly historic Herodes Atticus Odeon at the foot of the ancient Acropolis. This was the second time I had the profound privilege to perform there (Thank you Martha Graham). From its stage, the performer has a breathtaking view of the Parthenon lit up by golden light in the dark sky. The theater holds thousands upon thousands of audience members who must sit upon concrete benches with no back support in order to enjoy the performance. Even so, the Athens audience was lively, engaged and respectful. I danced “Errand” again that night with Ben Schultz and magically all of the elements came together. I still missed the sets of Graham’s Errand Into the Maze yet, somehow this ancient theater gave a mystical support to the dance that I had not experienced before. Although there were over 4,000 souls in the audience I felt that I was dancing for one. It may have been my most nuanced performance to date. Again, I am so grateful for that opportunity to be on the stage and live in the dance. 

 My first performance in the sacred space was as Cassandra, 2006 . Photo by Christophe Jeannot.

2014...Dancers doing a barre onstage in a sliver of shade.

A grand view of the Herodes Atticus.
Ben Schultz and I rehearse Errand in the blazing sun.
From the performance. Photo by

Our repertory for the show was the same as most every other venue with one BIG difference, we were joined by dancers from Athens performing Graham’s seminal group work Panorama. AMAZING!! Their director, my friend Penny Diamentapolous had worked these dancers to the point of perfection. The formations of the dance, sometimes linear, sometimes amorphous shone with a clarity I have rarely seen in this work. The dancers had fire in their eyes as they shot across the stage, contracted in mid-air and landed with the authority of Modern dance. Bravo to Penny and all of the dancers!!!!!!!
The Athens dancers were perfection.
The following day, Mimi and I took a side trip to the island of Hydra. OMG!! This was an experience for the books (or my blog). There are no automobiles on Hydra - the mode of transportation is donkey. The donkeys are stationed at the port when visitors arrive on the island. They take your luggage, move appliances whatever needs to be done. It truly is a culture different from my native one. I loved the experience. Mimi and I shared a day to remember.
Hydran donkeys work hard.

Inspiring colors abounded.
I took a swim in the sea - loved it!
My mother is always chic/fabulous.

The final stop on our European Summer tour was Izmir, Turkey which offers a beautiful promenade along the port and has a huge radius with panoramic views of the entire city. The traditional bazaar was just that BAZAAR! When Mimi, Lloyd, Lorenzo, Cain and I entered into it, we had no idea what a labyrinth it would become. All of the company members shopped, wheel-ed and deal-ed and came away with lovely items (some with silk rugs :).

Our performance was lovely as the Izmir audience welcomed us with warmth and enthusiasm. We were joined that evening by dancers from all over Turkey in Graham's Panorama staged once again by the dynamic Penny Diamentapolous. The Graham technique was new to these dancers and I was beyond impressed with their willingness to jump into the unknown. They made it work!!
Bazaar shopping with the crewe.
Mimi and Lloyd shop for rugs after their 100th glass of Turkish tea.
Jellyfish in the harbor. Izmir, Turkey.

Beautiful fixture in the central Mosque.

Classic scene in Turkey - a doggie enjoying a free life. Beauty.
Last show - Rite of Spring. In true Graham fashion, dance yourself to death.

This is the end. There is no finality - only to continue. Only to continue - one step at a time. Thank you for participating in my blog. Thank you to all of the dancers, presenters, directors, board members and audiences who made this blog possible. Thank you to my family and friends who encourage me to share my work and to continue it.

Thanks Simona!
Thanks to these kids and all of the dancers - kisses!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ying's "VISA" adventure

Ying's "VISA" Adventure 
By Ying Xin

As a Chinese passport holder, you could learn a lot when applying for a visa to travel. One word for this: unpredictable. One rule: never leave your passport at an embassy when it is uncertain if they will or will not issue a visa for you. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Ying Xin.

I'm a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest dance company in the world, internationally well known. We travel all around the world. And, this summer we are touring in Europe- Italy, Greece, and Turkey. After that we are going to Canada.

It all started when I got my first O1 visa sticker in Beijing. It was a 3 month (with one single entry) visa. This means after I use my single entry (returning from China to America) and I travel to another country (after America), I have to get a new visa to come back into America again, when I'm ready to come home. So, I had to get a new visa while on this European tour. Greece was the best city of choice for me to get my visa in since we would spend most of the time on tour there. So, I finished my application form called 'DS160' and made an appointment for 8 am, the morning of June 30th in Athens. My BFF, Natasha, went there with me. There, at the front of the line, one of the guards asked her "Do you have an appointment"? I swear we both heard it as "Do you have a boyfriend?" Her answer was NO in both instances. We laughed. She wasn't allowed to go in with me. So, she waited outside of the embassy, while I was inside, for 105 min. The reason I know the exact time of waiting is because she had her timer on from the moment I walked in till I came out. She got so bored that she started dancing outside of the embassy. The guards enjoyed her performance very much and they all had smiles on their faces. In the mean while I was waiting, alone, inside of the embassy. Finally my number came up at interview window #9. The moment I saw the lady who was going to interview me I knew something would go wrong. She must have had a couple bad days, or years. After I gave her all the necessary documents she said, "I need more support for your petition"! I asked her if she would like to see my award certificates, as more proof, and she said "NO". I even showed her a post card from my dance company with my picture on it- just to prove that I really am a professional dancer with performances there, in Greece. I swear that I had everything in my package of papers, and I gave it all to her. But, still, she handed me a letter and asked me to come back with more petition support. I emailed my lawyer in NY immediately, sending her the request from the embassy lady. She then faxed back to me the exact same letter that I had already given to # 9 lady at the embassy!

I went back the next day. Natasha went with me again and this time with a fully charged IPod and professional headphones. This time she waited outside for about 35 mins. I met Lady #9, still there, with the same facial expression. After checking my papers she said, "Oh, I already have these". I was screaming inside! Of course you do! This time she said she would need some time to check everything, think about it, then, maybe, she might call me back for a follow up interview. "What? What's wrong with my case"?
Staring at me, her answer was, "You know that O1 visa is for extraordinary ability".
"And I am"! I said

"Do you want to come to see my performance"? I step back a little, ready to dance for her if she needed to see. She said she was not allow to take that offer.
I didn't understand why she couldn't give me a straight answer about my visa, like YES or NO. All I got was more uncertainty for my future. She asked me if I wanted to take my passport back for now. I said, NO. Her question should've been my cue to say "YES". I said no because the idea of having my visa rejected threatened me. I ONLY WANT MY PASSPORT BACK WITH A BRAND NEW VISA STICK ON IT! That was my one and only thought that caused me to make a stupid choice...I left my passport there. Once again folks, never leave your passport behind!

I found out I was in trouble very soon after. We were to perform in different cities around Greece, we would have to take buses and flights to get around. And of course, I left my only valid ID (my passport) with the woman who didn't like me very much: Lady #9 at the Embassy. And to make it worse, it was the 4th of July long holiday weekend. I had to find a way of getting that passport back immediately!

Next, the company will travel to Thessaloniki. There I am supposed to have my premiere for a work called "Echo". But I couldn't go with them. I had to stay in Athens. I needed to get to the embassy first thing Monday morning to get my passport back, no matter what! A wonderful lady named Janis canceled her flight to Thessaloniki, and stayed with me in Athens.
The last bus ride with the company before everyone went to Thessaloniki.

My Executive Director, LaRue was pulling strings trying to help me get my visa. My manager, Simona, was struggling with all my other problems. My Artistic Director, Janet, and Rehearsal Director, Denise, were getting ready for back up plans A, B, and C for the casting, if I was unable to get my passport and didn't make the show.

Every dancer in the company was sending their love to me. My dear roommate Natasha arrived at the hotel in Thessoliniki and put 2 little angels above my bed to protect me. I am loved. I know.
2 little angels on my bed.

So, I stayed in Janis' cozy apartment in Athens for the night. I was surprised at how close it was to the cute restaurant where many of us loved to go to when we were staying in Athens. The cute waiter there recognized me and asked me where all my friends were. I was crying inside. I told him that I had something to take care of tomorrow morning and my friends were in Thessaloniki. I could tell he kinda felt bad for me from the bill I received. They gave me free wine and ice cream! That was really cool!

Free ice cream.

That night I was thinking a lot at Janis' place. I was thinking about all the "what ifs". There were so many possibilities but not many of them worked in my favor. Finally, I fell asleep with the musical company of Bach. 

Monday morning arrived. I was going to face my destiny.

Janis came with me to the embassy and my worry about getting in without my passport went away very quickly. My name was on the list, thanks to LaRue! The guards there knew me very well now. Even the lady who hands our numbers to everyone waiting was very happy to see me again. Lol. Anyway, I waited about 30 mins this time. I was so worried about what I would say to lady #9. Soon I was called to the window. Usually, at windows 4 and 5 you hand over your papers. Then you go to interview at window 7 and 9. I thought I would just give the woman a copy of my passport at the first window and go for an interview at window 9, like before. But this time, a different lady with blonde hair was there. Apparently, she was aware of my visit. I could not thank LaRue enough! This blonde lady got up and went back to the office area. I could see she was collecting the papers I had brought in the first time along with my passport. I was thinking F!! They are going to reject me!?! They are giving everything back!! I stood there thinking it's ok, just be cool. At least I can return with my passport to Thessoliniki and stay with the whole company for rest of the European tour. She sat back down at the window and said to me, "You need to get a new passport soon. Your pages are running out". I couldn't really hear everything she exactly said to me. She opened my passport. Now, when I rethink that moment I truly believe that I saw light shinning from my passport. But the possibility that I had heard the word "visa" woke me up a little inside. "I'm sorry, what did you just say? A visa"? 

She looked at me with a playful smile and pointing to the visa on my passport said, "Yes. Visa. I just printed it out a few minutes ago. You don't want it"? I was jumping for joy right there! I was so close to breaking the window to give her a kiss. She passed my passport to me and I kissed my visa so many times! I love you, America! How precious precious it is to have something that was once lost come back to you again. I leapt my way out of the embassy. I think I saw mean lady #9 on my way out. She looked great with her new curly hair cut and pretty ear rings on. She must have really needed that 4th of July long holiday weekend. She was happy. I was happy.

Everything was so amazingly bright and colorful outside of the embassy. While I waited for Janis to pick me up, I sat down at a place and asked for a fresh orange juice. The waitress told me that they didn't have anything freshly made that morning but a minute later she came back and told me they did have it and it was the last only one for that morning. "Today is your lucky day", she said to me. After that I knew everything else would work out perfectly for me. Janis and I were booked onto the next business class flight to Thessaloniki. We both took a very deep breath as soon as we were in our seats on the plane. I arrived back home to my Graham family in Thessoniliki. I missed all of their cute faces so much even just for 24 hours we were apart. My love Natasha had a bag of M&M on my bed in the hotel, welcoming me home with the sweetest little note. Thankfully,was able to make it for most of the tech rehearsal that day. I had my "Echo" premiere that night and my heart melted from all of the love surrounding me.

In China we have a saying, "Huan Nan Jian Zhen Qing (患难见真情)" it means: you will find a true friend whenever you are in need. And I did. With the love I received from my Martha Graham Dance Company Family, I quickly came to understand true friendship. I realized that their help through the difficult times I was faced with, really showed how much they care about me: "Huan Nan Jian Zhen Qing".

This was my adventure, finished with the perfect fairy tail ending. Thank you universe for giving me amazing and loving people in my life. Thank you! I will live to make every moment worth a million.

Love you all my Martha Graham family! 

The happy family picture from Instagram. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guest Blogger Alert: Jorge Andres Villarini writes about "Surreal Survival"

Surreal Survival 
By Jorge Andres Villarini 
I would like to start this blog post by apologizing to Blakeley White- McGuire for the delay in my delivery. I was invited to participate in this blog while we were still in Gardone, the second city in our tour and it is now that we have arrived in Athens for our performance at the Herodes Atticus Theater that I am able to condense my thoughts. Thank you for the invitation Blakeley, and please understand my reasons for such a prolonged delay as I find myself being a first time international traveler. 
Warming-up before the show in the beautiful Gardone.
With that out of the way, I would like to introduce myself; my name is Jorge Andrés Villarini and this is my first time traveling with the Martha Graham Dance Company. This experience has been exciting among many other things, yet the entire team has been unbelievably welcoming through the whole process. I am genuinely humbled for having the opportunity to work with these true mavericks of dance and because of them, this experience has been transformative to say the least.

What I've been able to take from this experience thus far is that no matter what the environment may be, one has to make it work. Survival is the name of the game.

For a dancer, space is a crucial part of everyday life. Movement artists possess a unique understanding of the space within the body, the space enfolding the body and the space surrounding the body. While touring, a lot of the challenges derive from the unfamiliarity to space.

I like to think of life as a constant performance; therefore I enjoy translating these key elements of performance into my day-to-day life. In New York City space is so limited that one needs to cope with what one is given. While on tour, I have come to find this practice of spatial awareness quite helpful. I have to admit that as a 6'4" man it is never easy to deal with space restrictions. I do not fit in most European elevators, rooms, beds, dinner tables, and, last but most certainly not least, stages.

Adapting to the different venues is imperative in order to give the best performance possible and not take away from the work being presented. We have encountered every type of stage; big/small, deep/shallow, roofed/unroofed, sticky/slippery, flat/raked, etc. One thing all these spaces share is that they are all outside venues. Due to time restrictions, I'll be limiting this blog entry to the first two stops of our tour in Italy.

The first stop was Tivoli where we performed at the Festivale Internazionale de Villa Adriana. What a place! We got to perform on sight at the ancient ruins of the estate. Quite the surreal venue for performing such iconic Graham works as Diversion of Angels and Rite of Spring.

Backstage at Villa Adriana. Great spot for warm-up!
The day started with pouring rain so company class onstage was canceled and tech was pushed back for an hour/hour-and-a-half. The crew did their best to dry the stage, yet the area in the wings was completely drenched. We spaced Rite and as we started running the ballet it began to rain once again. As you may have already guessed, the run-through was also canceled.

Once it stopped raining, the company returned to the stage to tech the rest of the works in the program. No time to go back and run Rite, so, as the professionals we are, we had to roll with it. The performance started with a few casualties here and there, nothing major, even though the stage was extremely slippery. Afterwards I had the great surprise to see a good friend Amedeo Amodio, choreographer and dance director with whom I had the great pleasure to work with prior joining Graham. 

Post performance dinner with the one and only Amedeo Amodio.

From Tivoli we traveled on bus to Riviera del Gardo or Gardone Riviera, a curious little town right by the river in the region of Lombardy. We performed at the Teatro del Vitorale, a venue that has housed performances by some of my favorite artists such as Lou Reed, Buena Vista Social Club and Damon Albarn, among others. The estate was donated to the Italian government by a famous poet as a tribute to the country's own heroes of WWI. The stage is a bit raked making it quite challenging for the male chorus of Rite in the many instances in whichever we have to balance on one leg for prolonged periods of time.

The company spacing Diversion of Angels in Villa Adriana.

We had company class on stage which allowed me to keep working on my almost non-existent Graham technique crucial for my survival on the tour let alone for my time in the company. Afterwards we proceeded to tech the whole performance under quite an extreme heat. The performance started sometime around 9:30pm with a breathtaking performance of Diversion of Angels (Graham), Echo (Fiodonakis) and Errand (Graham/Veggetti). No casualties in these first three works; then there was Rite.

In the first few minutes we struggled with normal things; acclimating to the stage, remembering last minute changes for exits/entrances and not having a crossover. Halfway through the ballet it started to rain. Although the stage was covered, the rain poured through the sides of the stage. The wings became puddled and the marley felt as if we were dancing on soap. People were slipping left and right and the dancers who play the priests were pretty much standing under the rain for most of it.

Pretty chaotic situation, right? Well no one stopped dancing! Our energy stayed at the same level and it was this collective focus that saved the rest of the show. The entire team delivering towels off stage and even our Executive Director was backstage covering the dancers with plastic bags. A truly striking thing to witness.

I will never forget how the audience stayed with us anxiously under the rain, hungry to see the piece through its exhilarating culmination. This show allowed me to see the collective energy that makes this company so incredibly special. The magic within this ephemeral chaos led to the understanding that even when every dancer is so unique in the movement ideals there is something bigger than us that unifies us and that is the Work itself. Being a part of Martha Graham's legacy is something I'll treasure until the day I'll die, no matter how long my stay in the company may be. 

Teatro del Vittorale.

It is highly unlikely that one can find the comforts of home in every place one visits. The concept of home is often held to too high of a pedestal, yet the only way to survive a tour is to feel at home with the space that is given. My personal survival in the company has had little to do with my technical prowess and my muscle memory. I owe my fellow dancers all the success I may achieve while with Graham.

As much as I have discovered myself in this trip, I have come to understand that for a dancer to be successful on tour, he/she needs to be able to feel at home while away from home. A courageous act that demands a hunger for growth, love in order to conquer selfishness and faith in the work. Without these there is no survival, however surreal it may be.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 19: Pop-Up Performances : Thessaloniki and The Island of Ithaca.

 The past few days have been a blur of sweaty out-of-door performances and travel. We are so fortunate to have beautiful accommodations to make the challenging aspects of tour more amenable. In Thessaloniki, Masha and I enjoyed rehearsing “Diversion of Angels” in the pool - a stark contrast to the blazing hot stage!!

Butterfly jumps and tilts are both easier in the pool :)
Thanks Pei Ju for taking these pictures!
The outdoor market in Thessaloniki.
An audience member captured a moment from the end of Graham's Rite of Spring.
After our two shows in Thessaloniki we boarded a bus and hopped on a ferry heading for the Ithaca - the storied island of Odysseus. This is our second year performing on the island and many, if not most, of the islanders remember us. What a treat! The dancers were hosted by different hotels and thus saw varied views of the island life.  I love my hotel!! My room is called “Red Passion” !

Dancers search for Wifi while waiting in a cafe for the ferry to arrive.
Arriving to Odysseus' island of Ithaki.
The audience in Ithaca was stupendous - cheering "Thank You" at the end of the show. I can imagine how special it must be for them to host dancers from around the world for a performance on their remote island. Special - yes! At the end of the night, the islanders hosted a street party in our honor with homemade food, local wine, music and of course DANCING AND BREAKING PLATES! OPPA! (not sure about the spelling of oppa). Here are a few more pictures from this adventure.
Port of Vathi, Ithaki.
Poolside view from my hotel.
The beautiful entrance to our hotel. I love the colors here. 
View from the harbor.

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To all of the people of Ithaki... THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Day 14: Napflio, Greece - I Walk in Beauty.

Graham dancers rehearsing “Echo”.  Photo by the brilliant Guilherme Licurgo!!!
Oceanside European towns with cafe-spotted promenades are among my favorite places to visit. In Greece these towns come with ancient, heroic and sometimes sordid histories. Napflio, Greece is said to be the spot where Agamemnon departed for the Trojan War. I can see that.

There are fortresses and deserted castles that tell the story here. Amid the charming present-day shops with again, fun waterside canopied cafes where one can sip on a Caffe Freddo, there are stories.

My first photo collage. Selfies, street art and nature.

Self-portrait with cactus and hat.
Our dressing rooms were here at Hotel Agamemnon.

Here in Napflio I danced the Chosen One in Graham’s Rite of Spring. The sea, wind and isolation gave me a new environment to explore. I let these elements move me and felt somehow more vulnerable in the role than ever before.

Our performance site.


My surroundings brought to mind a prayer that I first encountered as a young dance student at the Martha Graham School in New York City. It is the Prayer and Blessing of The Way attributed to the Navajo Peoples of North America, I share an interpretation of that blessing here (ref. Holistic Quantum Relativity):

Walking In Beauty (Blessing)

Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.

In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.

I dedicate this post to my beloved family and friends.