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Be a part of Migritude's journey.
No contribution is too small - or too large. $2 buys coffee for a volunteer. $15 rents a rehearsal studio for an hour. $100 covers 2 hours of lighting / tech / set design. $500 helps fly Shailja to international festivals!!

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by check. Please email for details.

Friday, October 20, 2006

16 days: Parijat is the bomb

Update: Parijat Desai is now teaching a beginning workshop in Indian Classical Dance in New York, using a contemporary approach. Register online now!

Parijat also offers intermediate classes. In Spring 2009, she'll be in residence at Stanford's Institute of Diverse Arts.

I used to yearn after dance the way you yearn after heat in the depths of a New York winter. In my next lifetime, I said, I will be a dancer. In this one, I'll settle for poetry.

Now I'm shifting. Working with Parijat on Migritude is opening me up in so many ways. To watch her take my words into her body, integrate them, and then unfurl compelling movement that brings new torrents of words out of me, is every bit as satisfying and joyful as I ever imagined it would be to dance myself. And so much less work :-)

That's the second lesson I'm learning from her. I don't have the discipline, the tenacity, the sheer physical determination, to be a dancer. To put in the years of training it's taken her to achieve this virtuosity. To do the daily maintenance - workouts, dance classes, painstaking warmups - that the body requires to be an instrument for dance.

But oh - the moments when it comes together in rehearsal. My words, her dance, the energy of the work. The whole studio quivers and vibrates. I want everyone in the world to see it, feel it, right now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

17 days: what's left behind

One of the sadnesses of bringing something to completion - in this case, Migritude I: The Mother - is having to make final choices about what gets used and what doesn't. Letting go of all the other terrific ideas about how to stage a certain segment. Cutting out favourite pieces from the script, because they're too long, or don't fit with the overall flow.

It's also one of the areas where I dither and hesitate and second-guess myself and wonder constantly if I'm making the right choice. The fear of mistakes paralyses me more often than I'd care to admit.

I've learned one thing from Migritude: it's only a mistake if it stops me moving forward. If I get bogged down in regret for a decision that turns out badly. Even if it cost money and time and took us down a dead alley, it doesn't become a mistake until I get stuck on it. My director has a wonderfully reassuring way of recasting all mistakes as discoveries.

I came across a great tool for decision making. When you're trying to choose a course of action, ask yourself what the consequences will be of each option:

- in ten minutes time
- in ten months time
- in ten years time.

It's amazing how it clears mental fog and puts things in perspective.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

18 days: lips still touched with fire

A reader of this blog sent me this poem, as an antidote to all my stressed-out postings. Lovely phrases from it have been dancing through my body. Thank you, C!

by Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

19 days: Soundscape

On Sunday night, we were at Robert's place in the city, until 11.30pm, recording the music for the show. As well as Vidhu's voiceover for The Mother.

I watched Paris, my sound director, set up mics. Make intricate adjustments to the recording software. Focus on every detail with a single-minded concentration, an acuity of perception, that astounded me. When he said: Quiet on the set, he could hear someone's bangle clink. Hear the cough sweet in my mouth click against my teeth.

I watched Kim, my director, juggle and arrange all the moving parts. Negotiate all the personalities. 3 incredibly talented musicians, with their own very definite opinions about how we should be doing things. Multiple pieces and sounds to capture, in a few short hours. She drew an incredibly strong performance out of Vidhu.

There are moments I am humbled by the range and breadth and volume of talent, skill, craft, that are being poured into Migritude. I wonder how we got so lucky.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

20 days: Producer hell

Here's what it means to be the producer of your own show.

You generate the revenue (if you're lucky, as I was, you have a friend who's a kickass grantwriter)
You write the cheques.
You monitor the budget.
You complete all the compliance documentation and reports for grant funding.
You find rehearsal space.
You book rehearsal space.
You negotiate and sign contracts with director, choreographer, musicians, sound director, lighting designer, videographer, other collaborators, presenters, venues.
You maintain relationships with funders and donors.
You coordinate logistics of rehearsals, meetings, travel.
You check that everyone knows where to show up for what, and has a way to get there and get home again.
You do as much marketing and PR as you can.
You try to find people to farm out some of the above to. They are remarkably scarce.
You recruit volunteers for the day of the show to cover the dozen functions that the presenter is not supplying staff for.
You bear the major part of the risk of the whole venture.

Somewhere in the moments between, you try to reconnect with the joy and power of the work itself. You try to remember why you're doing it. You agonize over the voicework, movement classes, rehearsals, you're NOT able to squeeze in. You have nightmares about losing your voice on the day of the show. About wilting on stage from sheer exhaustion. You remind yourself that if you burn out on doing the production, it will all be wasted.

Monday, October 16, 2006

just booked my travel

to Kenya in December.

Roll on the Summer Literary Seminars, where I will be on the poetry faculty.

Then the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January.

Followed by Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar in February.

Finally, a week in Johannesburg before I return to the US.

The best possible reminder to myself that there is a larger world beyond my present countdown to the premiere. That there is life beyond it.

the urge to shave my head

comes to me every few years.

1993, 1997, 2002.

It surged over me today. There's a sense of freedom, adventure, shift, that accompanies it. Don't know why. It's only hair. Or no hair.

Shailja in Nirali Magazine

Read Meeta Kaur's article on me and Migritude in A Sari Tale - featured in Nirali Magazine's latest issue.

If anything in the article strikes you, please post a comment at the end. The more comments, the likelier they are to run another story on Migritude!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

21 days: Moons, Mothers

Looking at my Luna Press Calendar, I noticed something startling.

November 5th, World Premiere day of Migritude I: The Mother, is a full moon (very auspicious in Indian tradition).

Dec 1st, the evening of our San Francisco show at the ODC Theater, is rising moon at perigee (when moon is closest to earth).

Both days, the moon is transiting Taurus, my mother's birth sign.

My mother's name, Chandrika, means Moonlight. She's always had a special relationship to the full moon. When I was growing up, we went for drives on full moon nights to watch it rise over the Great Rift Valley. One of the most powerful dreams I've ever had involves the full moon and the Rift Valley.

A friend of mine, powerhouse supporter of my work, sent me an email this morning. She said:

I need at least ten mothers. And when that fails, there is always garlic! Garlic is as good as ten mothers. (a film title, by Les Blank)

The moon is definitely one of Migritude's mothers.
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