in the grim reaper’s tea house

Against my better judgment, I’m watching The Lonely and Shining Goblin, a kdrama starring Gong Yoo and Kim Go Eun about a goblin destined to live for an eternity, until he finds a bride who can pull out the sword in his chest and turn him to ashes. It has a City of Angels moment, which is enough reason for me not to watch it (and seriously, I didn’t even watch City of Angels because I knew that Meg Ryan was going to die, and this was before I even met Mikah), but I’m braving it anyway. Why?

A. Because it’s beautiful. I mean, look at the Grim Reaper’s tea house.

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B. The story is actually very well written and compelling and, as you can see above and below, very funny. People are saying that the friendship between the Goblin and the Grim Reaper is the best bromance ever, and I agree, actually.

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C. I figured that I cried enough watching Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo that I can watch a much better written and realised show. Crying, psssh. Sad scenes, psssh. Can, lah.

During the course of watching this show, it’s not the Goblin and the Goblin’s bride’s story that makes me sad. I guess because I already convinced myself that I can handle their special conundrum – this is why I read recaps before I watch a show, I want to know who dies so that I’m prepared. Also, we obviously shouldn’t take their special relationship at face value – the goblin waits 900 years for a bride to show up and kill him, and then he realises life is worth living after finding love, holy crap that sucks! So I’m not worried about them finding their happy ending.

Instead, I’m kind of overwhelmed by the Grim Reaper (ably portrayed by the very beautiful Lee Dong Wook) and the souls he processes in his tea house before leading them to the hereafter. Those are the scenes that deliver the super punches straight to the gut. There was a scene where this blind guy finds that his seeing eye dog was waiting for him outside the tea house and it was a beautiful reunion. And this scene straight out of But You Didn’t where the guy dies during military service and the girl waited for him for 70 years.

This makes me sad because I used to believe in finding that one person you will love all your life, even when they’re not alive anymore, and well… I’m not waiting. But then, my story is a bit more complicated than this sad, steadfast couple, more complicated than the girl in yellow and the boy in pink in But You Didn’t. No, maybe not more complicated. Just not the same.

But also. The Grim Reaper’s storyline includes this entire reincarnation bit, and this has been used in other films and stories, where you find yourself drawn to the same people when you get reincarnated. So the Grim Reaper finds himself longing for this girl named Sunny-not-Sun-Hee, and she turns out to be someone he loved and miserably hurt in his past life. It’s not in the drama, but I’m reminded of the principle of karma, where you try to correct the mistakes you did in your past life and this determines the situation of your next life (sing with me, how looong till my soul gets it riiiiight???…) And in the Goblin universe, people become grim reapers when they commit the gravest of sins, which turns out to be taking their own life. So reapers actually don’t get a chance to right their wrongs, their punishment is to endure their wrongs. Which is kind of what Mom told me when I was a kid about why Judas can’t go to heaven, because he gave up, because he didn’t have enough faith. This made me sad, too. I like Judas.

I’m not particularly the most religious person and I believed less after Mikah left. I don’t want to believe in an afterlife, or in the next life. I believe in living this one to the fullest so that when it ends, I will have no regrets. But while watching this show, I’ve started wishing that there is reincarnation. I think people deserve that second and third chance of getting it right in their next life. Some specific people especially.

I’ve also briefly entertained and quickly dismissed the thought that maybe I’m already a reincarnation of a very bad person, given all my misery. Instead, I’ve decided that despite all my challenges, I’m having a good life and will strive to get this one right, regardless of whether I have a past or next one. And I want to have faith.

Another thing that struck me about that scene with the old/young couple, that was also resounding in all the other tea scenes throughout the series, was how at the time of your death, at least when you’re in the Grim Reaper’s tea house, it doesn’t matter who you are and what you’ve accomplished, what matters is how you treated other people and how much you loved. Heh, I’m still going to get my PhD and dance till I physically cannot and reorganise my life so that it looks like the Grim Reaper’s bedroom, but I’m also going to keep this in mind. Love is, after all, always a good idea.

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age

My body doesn’t like getting old. Or giving in to old age.

Two weeks ago, I let myself go. it was a deliberate thing. My dance partner was leaving KL. I spent two weeks in the Philippines eating and hardly exercising. I was suffering from a knee injury that I acquired while forcing my turn out, dancing with Jack. A 20- something was flirting with me in a way that was so real, I became so ashamed of my dirty, old self. It was unlikely that I was dancing anything important in January. Time to retire? Time to let the fat creep onto the bones and, oh horrors, stay? Time for my body to let age catch up? Time to be 41?

Body says no. In the most painful way possible.

After a week of just eating, a week of letting the belly fat creep over the abs until there are no abs to speak of, a week of no physical exercise whatsoever (except for the mandatory walk in and out of campus, which I do because it calms me, rather than it counts as physical exercise), a week of no dancing, I spend 4 hours sitting in a car on the way to Penang, the rest of that day sitting in several restaurants, the next day sitting in an arts conference. And my back started to hurt. SO BAD that I could barely walk.

I googled my symptoms and the resulting pages all said, you sit down too much. Or I sat down so much after a lifetime of refusing to sit down (even when I was working in an office, I was hardly ever sitting at my desk; also, I drove officemates crazy with my sit-stand desk). At first I thought, oh no, my body is succumbing to its old age. I lay sadly prone in my hotel bed, in pain and unable to move, thinking, this is probably what 41 feels like, and sighed as I accepted the rest of my life.

Today, I was coerced into dancing in the closing improv jam at the arts conference I attended (one does not simply say no to Joseph Gonzales), and we joked that nobody could lift me and I should just do stately walking around with my arms, and my body upright. But the energy was such that walking around upright was out of place and, next thing you know, I’m rolling on the floor, and doing grand allegro around the ballroom.

And then… my back was fine. Not 100% okay again, but better than before I started dancing. As if dancing was the solution. I did try to stretch the day before and continued to try the next day, and simply bending forward was just death. But when I got up to dance, it’s like the God of Death said, Not today.

So now, I’m thinking, maybe my body hasn’t given in to old age. Maybe it’s angry at me because I considered it. Okay, okay.

Oh. It’s a kiss.

@markolich ・・・ #ballet #art #theatre #sketches #drawing #markolich #LeParc #DianaVishneva #KonstantinZverev

A post shared by Diana Vishneva (@dianavishnevaofficial) on

I am on #missioninspiration again, and I was looking at these dancing shots on IG, and found an image of Diana Vishneva in the weirdest partnering-configuration I’ve seen. So I looked up her hashtags and discovered Anjelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc, a contemporary (because of the choreographic style) period (because it seems to be set in the powder wigs period) ballet about society, intrigue and love, in the repertoire of the Paris Opera Ballet. Most of it is set in courtyards where everyone’s in lush ballgowns, but the most popular part is this duet with the two leads wearing only their night shirts. I was like, ehhh at first, because they were just rubbing their heads into each others’ bodies, like my dog rubs his forehead on my lap when he feels I’ve been away for too long. This video I was watching was of Aurelie Dupont and Manuel Legris, and he wasn’t extending his beautiful legs in a fancy jumping turning trick. I was getting antsy. And then she grabs him by the shoulders and kisses him. And he is so overwhelmed, he spins around. So they spin with their lips locked together and wow, that’s what that picture is about. This below is a clearer one of Aurelie Dupont and Nicholas le Riche for your appreciation.

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(I just love how the guy’s arms are just on the side like that. But you only notice that in pictures, because in the video, you only see them spinning.)

I understood then where the duet was coming from because apparently, he had been desperately in love with her all throughout the ballet, and finally, she gives in to him, and yet, she is still in control. I’m still not impressed with the choreography before she grabs his shoulders for the kiss, and I’ve always been divided on the onstage kiss thing, I mean, do you absolutely need it?, but this one, well, wow.

Problem is, I was looking for ensemble dance inspiration, not romantic duets. Come on, brain, cooperate.

EDIT

Just realised that I’ve actually done this move before, in But You Didn’t. Except it’s fewer spins, and I’m not kissing my partner, and he’s holding me because my hands are on his arms, not his shoulders. Wow, that took me a while to realise. It’s the kiss! It’s distracting!

Here’s the video if you have the patience.

There’s a reason why it’s called “a loss”

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Last night, I saw a collection of 4 plays at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) entitled Sisa Sisa (Jack doesn’t know what it means, I will ask another Malaysian friend soon). I loved ALL 4 plays, and marvelled at the brilliance of everyone in the cast. Three Doors (about a new widow sharing the loss of her three sons and facing a life alone; a monologue by Faridah Merican interrupted by almost genius commentary and prompts from Douglas Wong as dead husband and all 3 missing sons, and Ho Lee Ching as imaginary daughter-in-law wannabe, nursing home attendant, and dreadlocked homeless man) was just perfect, the rapport between the three actors was so spot on, and I felt this blow to the heart when Faridah as Mama said her last line, “I will be alone, and I will do just fine.” Another blow when Hanif from Blind Spot shared the moment he realised he had to sacrifice being with his son so that he won’t turn into the thing he feared the most about himself (and another blow while he demanded from Daniel why the latter knew there was such a blind spot in the KLCC parking lots). Not a blow this time, but a chuckle when I realised who the two actors were portraying in The Joy of Solitude (didn’t read the synopsis before coming in is why).

And then there’s Reservations, about a couple dealing with Alzheimer’s. I wouldn’t say it was the best one (I think Three Doors‘ material was much wittier and better realised), but it was the one that touched me the most. I guess because my grandmother died last year, and I’m still making sense of my grandfather’s grief, but also because I was thinking how I jumped over that hurdle of dealing with old age and all its deteriorations and went straight to loss. I loved how May (the wife, played by Amelia Tan) was so patient with her husband Edgar (played by Joe Hasham). I forgot that they were actors and believed that this is their everyday: breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast cooked in a suspicious pan, egg sandwich lor for lunch, and a choice of chicken, lamb or pork for dinner. Patience is not my strong point, but I believe in the power of love, and could see that when she took Edgar’s jacket from him to put away in the next room, although tinged with a hint of despair, you knew that she would go back to the kitchen and patiently defrost the chicken for him.

And it’s not as if she’s just submitting to this life without complaint; her real anxieties are revealed when she calls up the Malacca Grill to make dinner reservations and bewails that it’s been “closed for 20 years oredi.” But she sees how affected he is, remembers the man he used to be, and because she is still the woman who fell in love with that man and because she does still remember all that he has probably forgotten, she stays.

And that’s why it’s called a loss. It meant something to you. Edgar was weeping at the end of the play because he knows that whatever it is he can’t remember was valuable to him. Mama lost her husband but is grieving more over the loss of her sons and her own sense of self. Hanif sacrificed true love and his true self to save face for his conservative family, and then sacrificed his family to save them from himself, because having rejected his true self, it is only the possible monstrous version of it that he sees. If you don’t really care about something when you lose it, it’s not a loss. It is not grieved over, it is quickly replaced by other more important, more profoundly moving people, experiences.

As someone who has experienced such a loss, Sisa Sisa is gold. But I want another play to help me not be so afraid of losing again, and not be so afraid of caring so much about something I could lose. Maybe I should just be more patient.

Shining Again

I found this in my Notes, written a few days before M’s death anniversary. I share it now, because the reason why I was going through my Notes is I am writing again. Or at least, it isn’t as difficult as it was the last year. Now, encyclopedia entries are much easier to write, and I’ve already published an essay on what’s happening in the contemporary dance scene in the Philippines, and a review of a site specific festival featuring some of the most exciting choreographers in Malaysia.

Also, I’m starting to shine again. Life is good.

April 27, 2015, 1:22 AM

I don’t seem to be writing these days.

Mikah calls the year when I was writing my MA thesis the worst year of his life. He was always depressed, it seemed and I was never there for him, I was writing. He only told me this after I graduated, and I felt so horrible because I had no idea. The song he wrote for me has this lyric:

With you, I’m shining

Without you, I’m fine

I realise because it was very clear to both of us that I could live without him. But now that I am living without him, I am not always sure how fine I really am.

I started writing in my journal again after he died because there are too many thoughts running riot in my brain that I’m sure none of my family and friends should be burdened with. Aside from that, I have been pushing to finish my commitments to the encyclopedia of Philippine art project that I’ve been working on since 2013. After that, I don’t feel compelled to write about anything, like my brain wants a rest from thinking. Well, no not from thinking, it kinda does that on overdrive. My brain wants a rest from working. Once I have to organise thoughts on paper, the brain goes, “too tired, lah. Oh look, your floor needs sweeping…”

When Mikah broke up with me in 2010, I threw myself into dancing to get over my heartbreak. This year, I have done more dancing than any year of my life, of course besides the years I was professionally employed as a dancer and that’s all I did all day and night. Dancing again to get over my heartbreak. Hey, it works.

He has been dead for 363 days. This was definitely the worst year of my life. And yet, I have to say it was also a pretty good year. I am moulding the minds of future dance makers, I am dancing my heart out. But I have to start writing again.

Part of the Process

I was thinking of changing the music of my upcoming choreography for the UMa Dance Showcase, because it was so big and overwhelming and I didn’t know if I could challenge my dancers enough to embrace it. Song in question is the Infernal Dance of the King Kaschei from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird. Yikes, right?

While looking for new possible replacements, I stumbled onto a demo of a song Mikah was writing in 2009. The song was at the time called “Telex.” It was just keys and drums, in a very somber drum n’ bass way. I listened to it over and over the next two days, became somewhat enamoured with the thought of finally “working together,” and thought, let’s see how this goes.

So, I had a rehearsal with one of my dancers tonight and though we changed the counting, the steps actually fit the music. I was also able to elaborate on some of the sequences. I think one of the problems with Firebird was the music was so demanding and I had to fill it up somehow, as if someone was rushing me. Without that pressure, I was able to clarify things, improve things. It felt good.

Interestingly, though, while thinking of a “next step,” Sim, my dancer, said why was I so tense? What? I asked, because I actually felt so relaxed. He said I shouldn’t worry so much, just be happy, because dancing makes us happy. I laughed at that, partly because he said it to make me laugh but also partly because, um, this dance is about anger, and how it is perfectly okay to be angry. I think Sim missed the briefing.

But that made me think. Was it the music? That was written by a boy I loved with all my heart, who is now in the ether, and cannot advise me about my choreographic choices? Was the aura heavy because of that?

Watching back the video I took of our last run, while pleased that I had generated so much material, there was just something off. The feel of the work was heavy, yes, but I wasn’t achieving the part about being okay with your anger. I decided, ehh. Stop being such a coward and rise to the challenge that is Igor Stravinsky.

But thank you, Bliebie, for the clarity, for allowing me to breathe while I compose this dance. And maybe I will use “Telex” someday. Maybe when the dance is not about losing you.