13 September 2020

September 2020 Update

Peter Sparling - September 2020 Update image

Are simplicity, concentration and focus luxuries we cannot afford in these complex, fucked up times? Must my continued and vigilant awareness of and engagement with the pandemic, government corruption and blatant racism override or make irrelevant my need to make art? Or am I compelled to make art that addresses these overriding issues, and must I then commit to finding an audience, a means of distribution, even when I know I would be preaching to the converted? I am so far removed from those racists, white supremacists, Republicans and Trump supporters that I would not know how to “reach” them, much less to cut through my distain and rage to even want to. 

Despite or because of this ambivalence, I have continued to find solace and sustained  engagement in making work. (Click on bold titles.) 

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Calling all kids, parents of kids, or those who are kids in spirit! I am test-screening a new video, my first ever for kids. A retelling of the classic cautionary tale by Goethe, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, my version exploits digital editing effects to clone more than just the apprentice’s broom, as in Disney’s ‘Fantasia”. No water effects, however. I’ll leave that to Hollywood. I also discovered a two-piano arrangement of the score by Paul Dukas and I think it’s really delightful… a bit like the piano arrangement of Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka”. 

PLEASE pass this on and/or show to your kids. I would LOVE their feedback. I’m wondering if, with the special effects of video games and TV/Hollywood productions, my version will seem too elementary, simplistic, and homemade… not BIG enough. I also hope adults might get a kick out of it. 

Op. Posth.
Composed along with two other piano sonatas during the last few months of Schubert's life, D. 959 contains a slow movement that is both lament and outpouring of rage and torment. I improvised this dancer multiple cameras in 2008 but only got around to making a final edit in August, 2020, well into the pandemic. Four upright chairs are the only set; a man imagines his own wake in anticipation of his death. Before final acceptance and resignation, he must purge himself of anger, bitterness and regret.

Starkweather Chapel: A Consecration in Dance
Barry LaRue, friend and civic activist, has overseen an extraordinary renovation of the Starkweather Chapel at Highland Cemetery in Ypsilanti, MI. The chapel, built in 1888 with sandstone, copper and brick, was designed by architects Mason and Rice in the late 19th century Richardsonian Revival style. I asked Barry if I could bring my camera to explore the space with some danced improvisations, and this video triptych is a tribute to his vision and efforts. The bright sun pouring through the west windows created an almost tactile aura I could feel as I carved through the space. Thank you, Barry!
I made a second “take” on the site, inspired by Justin Dello Joio’s turbulent score for cello and piano. Wake treads the liminal space between life and its passing. I populated the chapel, a place where spirits dwell and we try to say our farewells, with acolytes and ghosts of the dead. 

A Month of Goldbergs
I’ve lived with the 1955 recording of the Bach “Goldberg Variations” for four decades and can sing along with the entire recording, like following the bouncing ball in the 50’s TV show. The isolation caused by the 2020 pandemic drove me back into the music; I had made a few short screendances to certain variations in the past but had never taken on all 32 pieces. I know of other choreographers who also couldn’t stay away: among them, Steve Paxton, Jerome Robbins, and Mark Haim. My task was to come up with a month’s worth of different personae, improvise to both the opening aria and one of the variations embodying that persona, and compose for the screen a daily composition built upon that improvisation. Think video diary, revue, vaudeville, or an encyclopedia of movement styles, editing effects and treatments that have come to be my signature looks. For most of the entries, I improvised in front of greenscreen hung in my backyard painting studio; for a few others, I dug into my archives of improvisations shot at U-M’s Digital Media Commons in recent years. I don’t know if I could have lived without this music all these many years, and I don’t know if I would want to die without having attempted to dance to it. Is that too dramatic of me? Then so be it. Blame it on Bach. 

The painting continues! Two self-portraits appear in a grey background. See one of them above. More at slide show.