Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road’s Message about Creativity and Children by Diana Rivera

Taken from KPCC

I am a ponderer. I’ll write something and I am mulling over things for weeks later. I discussed in the last blog, and consequently ranted for days later, about the nature of having a message in one’s art work. Does it give more sound to the painted colors on canvas? Does it give more texture to the music of your orchestration? For me, it’s a rhetorical question about the relationship between a creator, their work and an audience that led to some spicy commentary.

In one case, I spoke to TV/Film Composer Roger Neill and his partner about art–be it works in the visual and performing arts–having a message. Roger explained to me that he disagreed and thought it was too didactic. In fact, I agreed with his disagreement: art should allow people to experience ‘universalities’ or ‘truths’ (lower case ‘t’ on that one), allowing the audience full reign to create the bridges of comprehension. Whether it be take-away messages, morals or themes, art should raise the bar of its audience allowing them to be thinkers and multi-sentient comprehenders in the process.

Fair enough. That’s how I like to experience art like a grown-up woman: one who can think on her own and create her own meaning with sand, water and a shovel.

Then the day I met Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, I got to thinking again. At a recent stop in L.A., Yo-Yo made sure to roll into Inner City Arts Organization before his performance that week at the Disney Hall. Yo-Yo played and showed the power of music with the help of dancer Lil’ Buck. He called it a “creativity strike.” Here is a glimpse of that day.

Yo-Yo later explained to journalists at KPCC that our creativity crisis in the U.S. can be best challenged through creative practice. As Yo-Yo  explains, “The best way to get to innovation and creative imagination and the most efficient way is through movement, visualizing, sound and writing.” He went on to say that we can build community through imagination and empathy. Empathy shows that we care. To listen to the full interview: click here.

Is this about message? Maybe. For me, it’s all about the depth of this artist. Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t just roll into LA, play and hit the road. What makes him a talented and multi-layered cellist is his empathy. He cares about others. He sees the power of his work and his colleagues as a basis for humanizing and fomenting community.

If that were a message and if messages were important, this would be a powerful one. Show that you care. Show that your work matters. Show that your art has meaning to others. If not, that empathic could be a descriptor  defining a world-renowned artist puts my thoughts to rest.

POINTS TO PONDER:

Where does empathy exist for you?

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William Sidis: Harvard grad and destitute genius

Have you heard of William Sidis? If you did, you would know that he was the youngest student to graduate from Harvard University. He was admitted at 11 and by the end of the year, lectured to colleagues in his math club on the 4th dimension. Just based on his situation, you’d think he was eminent for having succeeded at such an early age.  You may also wonder, like me, if someone can be born that way or do they become it.

I am boggled by this concept in my creativity research and observation: can we learn to be creative or is it something within our DNA? The case of Sidis is tragic enough to also think: is tragedy nurtured or is it born into?

Sidis came from an immigrant Russian family with a father who was convinced by his own theory that he could make his son a genius. Through structured homeschooling, mounting curriculum above his grade level, and enforced rigor and discipline in a variety of subject areas, William epitomized early age genius. He entered into high school at 8, and understood advanced mathematical concepts like integral calcus at 10 and this was before he was admitted to Harvard at 11.

There is an important rule to all this. If you want a genius child, you can’t allow them to function through play or socialization like other children do. You keep them isolated from the world, removing rubbish distractions like friends. Sound enticing?

There is a shadow side to fostering a genius. Sidis became a bitter and disillusioned man who couldn’t complete graduate school, failed at a teaching position at Rice University and ultimately passed away destitute and unemployed. Now, he could have held the keys to ongoing mysteries in the sciences and humanities, if his creative thought process was not so tightly monitored by a parental control unit named dad.

Based on category of information, William’s upbringing was tragic and harsh to the social needs of a child and should be considered in light of his father’s psychology, the environment of the place and time in history. How does William Sidis relate to you though?

It’s ultimately a question of upbringing and how your creativity was fostered and/or squelched. Everyone has a story and for those most successful in their creative industry, the story of your past will work in your favor. For those experiencing defeat, the story will appear darker than a rain cloud, and will work against you. Do you have control over the story? Yes, you do.

There are realities to everyone’s reality with experiences as harsh as nails on a chalkboard. At a certain time, it is up to your own consciousness to recognize how the story has lined up, played out and either allowed you to fall victim, become your worst arch-nemesis or redeem your inner superhero.

POINTS TO PONDER:

What was your upbringing in creativity? What worked for you? What could have been different? What can you do to change the story of your past to work in favor of your artistry?

Published in: on March 1, 2011 at 7:08 am  Comments (1)  
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Giulietta Masina, Gypsy and a Classroom of Children by Diana Rivera

How many film artists, actors and designers all draw inspiration from Federico Fellini’s magnificently constructed worlds, connecting thoughtful story structure and characterization? Countless. It’s curious to think about when one artist inspires another’s work, it’s a co-creation of a separate entity. Like any great piece of art, it takes on a life with legs to walk, hands to mold and eyes to direct the way.

Fellini’s wife and collaborator, Giulietta Masina, did that to me. The first time I saw her in Fellini’s “La Strada” she performed the role of Gelsomina, a fey young woman sold off to a strongman by her mother. There is a whimsical quality to her that captured my kaleidoscopic imagination. Here is a rolling image bank showing her with the strongman, becoming a performer for the circus act, and an emotional progression which leads to a very sad story end:

So, how does Giuletta Masina connect to a swanky cabaret in San Francisco and ultimately a character I developed named Gypsy that I recently taught to children?

In San Francisco, I produced, along with an amazing ensemble of creators, a fellinesque hybrid cabaret called “Rococo Risque.” We incorporated original material driven by eclectic character’s dealing with human conflicts, a bizarre life experience or some kind of human need. Inspired by Masina’s portrait of Gelsomina, I drew from the authentic quest for the unknown and thirst for unleashed talent to create Gypsy.

Gypsy, also known as the little girl, embodies curiosity or as much as she could being performed in a smoky-yet-hip whisky bar in San Francisco. The character discovers, through a unique journey with her cohort, Piglet, her greatest talent: she can turn into anything. Gypsy was a hit for many of the adult audience members and I had a hunch that even though the run of our show came to a close, Gypsy still had a longer life line.

It was true. Years later during a residency in Los Angeles at the Music Center, I had an opportunity to build curriculum for a 1st grade class in any specialized aspect of the art of performance. It dawned on me: take the story of Gypsy and revamp it so that it would be 1st grade friendly. This would be a rare opportunity to make her not just a child-like character performed by an adult actor, but have her be interpreted through the eyes of children and be performed by them.

To make it suitable, I had to slash some aspects of the original story and add other details. In brief, the result was a symbolic transcendence of how Gypsy found a key which led her through a theatre, which led her to know her greatest talent to transform into anything. I brought the story and a carefully constructed curriculum to a classroom of first graders. It was a huge hit as they stepped into the role of Gypsy and used other techniques of performance, including mime, to tell the story within a 6-week process.

Watching my students complete their final performance, I realized something. Gypsy symbolized the art of performance, which is to me, the art of transformation. This was why I appreciated Giulietta Masina in the long run: as an actor she could turn into anything. Her petite frame seemed to illuminate the dramatic gestures of her face where every emotion multiplied. Her style of performance was a house of mirrors reflecting the elegance of a knight or the buffoonery of a court jester. The character Gypsy had that same quality about her too, except she was a child herself and could speak to the imagination of other children.

As you can see, the connections of inspiration create a circle and then a spiral. Somewhere in between is me, the artist, co-creating with Giulietta, with Gypsy and with children.

a thank you card from my students

POINTS TO PONDER:

Where does inspiration go to next? Once a story has been created, it has a mind, heart and spirit of it own and directs the artist along the path it believes it should go. In that process, you hold the key to your imagination and the doors of creative perception to continue up-leveling the process one step at a time.

This is a potential, yet it’s more than just goodwill that transforms inspiration into art. At any moment that you deny the hunch, limit yourself from the possibility of where your art can go or fail to connect how the original inspiration has called on you to make that art, it disrupts the natural process of creation. Creation is having the key and with certainty and confidence unlocking the door to its destiny.