Getting To Know Barry Duncan: Part 2

By Courtney Wagner

C: Do you have the same process for each one you write?  Are you inspired by anything?  I find in choreography artists sometimes have a type of process or "formula" of things they need to be able to work.That can be a certain space, a piece of music that drives the creation, an idea, etc  Is it at all similar for your work?
B: Each palindrome I write is unique – they're usually written for a specific person or event – and lately it seems that I make a technical breakthrough in just about every one.  But a master palindromist is as much a creature of habit as anyone else.
If I'm in my apartment, I'll grab a legal pad, write the alphabet across the top of the page, and sit down on the couch in my living room.  The couch is my favorite place to work because there's the possibility of lying down, putting the legal pad on my face, falling asleep.  If I'm up against a deadline and have no time to waste, I'll move to the kitchen table.  Less comfortable, but no chance that I'll lie down and doze off.
Writing palindromes requires a good deal of creativity, of course, but I also have to know the patterns and combinations that will get me out of a tight spot.  That's why I always say that palindrome writing is both creative and formulaic.

C: Technical breakthroughs are exciting!  What would you count as a breakthrough?
B: Let's talk about dance!  In April of this year, I went with some Monkeyhouse people (including you) to see Quicksilver Dance's performance of “Tempest in a Teacup” at MIT.  Here's a brief description of the six dances in the order in which they were performed:

Caesar and Cleopatra – Smuggled into the palace in a burlap sack, Cleopatra becomes Caesar's partner and equal.
Looking Through Windows – Mariah dances with a laptop computer.
Good Soil – Teachers as gardeners.
Tern's Landing – From a carefree young adulthood to an arranged marriage.  Inspired by the Jhumpa Lahiri book Unaccustomed Earth.
No Sugar, Please – The cultural history of tea.
Muses Anonymous – A re-imagining of five women depicted in Simon and Garfunkel lyrics.

I was so knocked out by Mariah and Hans and the rest of the company that I was determined to pay tribute to them palindromically.  The first section I tackled was “No Sugar, Please,” probably because it included spoken text.

Pots tip. I sit. One. We owe caffeine power. Boss? Oh, tea! Even, mutual, lit. Set? Sate. (Note lines: Aso, Yosa, Sen.) I let one taste still autumn eve. A ethos. So? Brew. Open, I efface woe. We, not I, sip it, stop.

Now I faced a dilemma.  Would I compose five more palindromes of approximately the same length about the other dances?  Or should I just write one long palindrome?  Or maybe a series of short palindromes, one for each dance?  I agonized over it (and filled many pages with notes) for more than a week.  Then the solution was revealed to me.  I ended up going with one long palindrome broken up into six lines:

Tempest in a Teacup

'Tis a wise sum. Gasp. Asp. One Roma, etc.

Is, um, sir, a saga: RAM is too rare. I'm all...It's...
Oh, what lovers!

I till a few as I tend. Net is awe. Fall it is.

Revolt? Ah, who (still) am I? Era. Roots. I'm a raga, saris, music.

Tea. More? No?

P.S. A PS, AG. Muses? I was it.

It would have been perfectly acceptable to have one palindrome for each dance.  But making one
continuous palindrome in which the six pieces are discussed in the exact order of performance was, for me, a breakthrough.  Shortly after that, I wrote a rhyming palindromic poem (my first ever), and I'm now much better at maintaining a strict chronology in my biographical palindromes.  Thank you, Quicksilver Dance!

C: Can you describe the formulaic part of palindrome writing?  Is the alphabet written across the top of the page part of the habit or formula?
B: Writing the alphabet across the top of a page of canary yellow legal paper is definitely part of my routine for composition.  When I talk about palindrome writing being formulaic, though, I'm referring more to patterns I use, words that repeatedly come in handy, combinations I can exploit.  If you had a concordance to my work, you would see that certain words and combinations show up again and again:  still / it's, one / no, now / on, eh, ah, oh, uh, and so on.  I went through a time this year where I kept using the word “apt.”  So, my palette will be different for each one, I'll mine a vocabulary that's appropriate to that subject, but there are always things I can fall back on.

C: You've mentioned working alone and/or in solitude twice.  Do you know anyone else who writes palindromes?  Are you familiar with other work (other than the word play book from Encore Books)?  I only ask because I was surprised by the number of forums I found on the subject!
B: I'm probably familiar with most palindrome books that have been published since 1979, when I started in the book business.  There are many people who write palindromes (and opine on the subject), as you've seen online.  In March, I participated in the (so-called) World Palindrome Championship – which, by the way, I lost by a very wide margin –  so I also met some people there who had an interest in palindrome writing.

It's always a mistake to think that you have nothing to learn and that you can't benefit from seeing what other people are doing.  If you browse through palindromes, there's a chance that you'll discover combinations that hadn't occurred to you; clustering tendencies are distinctive and instructive.  Anyway, I've seen enough to know that what I'm writing is different.


November Birthdays!

Happy 117th Birthday Busby Berkeley!
 by Katelyn Alcott

This month, on November 29th, we are celebrating the birthday of one of Hollywood's greatest musical choreographers.

Prior to his illustrious career in choreography, Berkley put to use his great talent for direction during his service in World War I. There, Berkley was in charge of the direction of parades. His background in this field would prove useful to him after his return to America, at the close of the war. Berkley stumbled across his directing career rather by chance. Having started out as a stage actor and assistant director in small scale productions, he suddenly found himself in the position of director for the musical "Holka-Polka". It was during this production that Berkley realized his natural ability for large scale dance choreography. From here, his Broadway career took-off, choreographing several productions for Ziegfeld.

As his career carried him to Hollywood Berkley grew skeptic of the way things were produced there. Although choreographers would stage and teach their own numbers all aspects of camera belonged to the director. Berkley, wishing to try his chances at mastering the camera side of his work as well, and convinced all of his directors to allow him to be in charge of what was filmed and shown on screen. Berkley was always finding new and innovative ways to film the beautiful scenes he depicted. He was also one of the first to show close up images of the girls during the film

One of Berkley's most famous works was the production of Warner Brothers "42nd Street". The production was such a success that Warner Brothers signed him for a seven year contract. 

A little known fact about Busby Berkley is that he never once took a dancing lesson! 

Here are some links for more information:

Happy November Birthdays!

We are always grateful for every one of the amazing people who support Monkeyhouse and November is filled with birthdays for many of those people.  Don't forget to send your love to:

If you don't know who all these fabulous people are make sure you take a minute to check out some of the links!  Whether they are famous choreographers or local supporters our birthday boys and girls do some really amazing things.

Want to be on the birthday list?  Click here to update your info and let us know when your birthday is!


Interns In Performance!

by Nicole Harris

You've been hearing a lot about our new interns, Katelyn Alcott, David Makransky and Marie Libbin.  I'm here to tell you about an opportunity to see these talented young people in action.  They will be starring as Tracy Samantha Lord (Marie), C.K. Dexter Haven (David) and Elizabeth Imbrie (Katelyn) in the Natick High Drama production of High Society (choreographed by yours truly) opening TONIGHT!

I am always immensely proud of each and every one of my students and this show is no exception.  Take some time out of your Christmas shopping frenzy and come support the artists of tomorrow.

(featuring music by Cole Porter including "Alright With Me" and "Just One of Those Things")
Natick High School
15 West Street, Natick

November 23, 24, 29 & 30 @ 7:30pm


Getting to Know Barry Duncan: Part 1

by Courtney Wagner

C: For those who don't know, what is a palindrome?          
B: A palindrome is any phrase – letters, numbers, symbols – that reads the same forward as backward.  Though I'm more comfortable with letters, numbers can be surprisingly versatile and useful.

C: When do you use numbers in palindromes? Do you do all number palindromes or use them within a longer one with words/letters?
B: While I'm sure I've never written a palindrome of any length with only numbers, I've become more confident with numbers since 2010.  The most common use for them is probably a person's age or a date.  When my friend LeeAnn started a new job on the 29th of September, I made “9-29” the middle of the congratulatory palindrome I presented to her.  In my palindrome about Greenward, I give the street address (1764), which becomes the amount of a transaction (46.71) when it comes back the other way.  But sometimes I get a little more daring.  

My most creative use of numbers (Arabic and Roman) is in a series of palindromes I composed late last year.  Harvard University celebrated its 375th anniversary in 2011, and one of the celebratory events was an exhibition (and a book) of photos by five photographers from the Harvard News Office.  I wrote 6 PALINDROMES FOR 10 EYES:  A TRIBUTE TO 5 HARVARD PHOTOGRAPHERS.  There was one palindrome for each photographer; the sixth palindrome (the only one with numbers) was about the reception for the opening night of the exhibition at 1730 Cambridge Street on the 3rd of November.  Here it is:

5, eh? Two wine. Pix I spot. No? Visit. It's 1730. Sit? Never. It's as time was in a f-stop's eye. I made, “Wow!” I saw it on 11-3-11, not? I. Was I wowed? Am I! Eye spots fan. I saw 'em. It's astir.  Event is 0371st? (It is IV on top.) Six I pen, I. Wow: The 5.

It starts and ends with a number (as well as containing the words “two” and “six”), and the date is a natural middle.  I remember being very pleased with “It is IV on top.”  IV (4) added to 371 makes 375. IV can also be pronounced as “Ivy.”

C: When and how did you become interested in writing palindromes?

B: In 1981, I was working at Encore Books in Philadelphia.  I saw a wordplay book (by Willard Espy?) that had a section on palindromes.  Something just clicked when I read them.  I thought to myself, “I can do this.”

C: How would you compare the palindromes you wrote in 1981 to work you have now?  I imagine it is the type of skill that develops with time?
B: Oh, there's no comparison.  In 1981, when I was just beginning to learn about reversibility, I was like a baby making its first gurgling and sputtering attempts at language.  Now, thirty-one years later, I have achieved fluency in the language.  If I was a baby then, now I'm the chatty old windbag who sits behind you on the bus and just won't shut up and makes you desperate to reach your stop.  

Palindrome writing is like any exacting discipline, like any craft that demands a long apprenticeship. First, you learn how to build the machinery.  Next, you learn how to operate the machinery.  Finally, you learn how to hide the machinery.

C: I did some googling and was reading some blogs about palindrome communities in forums and other such websites...what is the palindrome community like?  How would you describe it?  Where do you fit into or how are you involved in it?
B: If there is a palindrome community, I'm definitely not involved in it.  Or, to put it another way:  I belong to a palindrome community of one.  I've always followed my own path, and the results have been gratifying.  I guess it's the same in every field.  If you hope to achieve real excellence, it's usually necessary to break away from the pack, go your own way, rise above the prevailing mediocrity.


Barry Duncan in Brooklyn

Barry & Monkeyhouse
Monkeyhouse has been collaborating with Master Palindromist, Barry Duncan on a new piece for the Against the Odds festival (Look out for details about festival dates soon!).  Many of our supporters have been curious about how Barry thinks in reverse and this weekend folks in Brooklyn can find out first hand...

Making Nothing Happen:
The Strange Poetics of Barry Duncan, Master Palindromist (and his friends).

This is the first event of ArtHelix (formerly The Bogart Salon) that will take place at their temporary event space, The Seltzer Room, 102 Ingraham St. on Friday, November 16th (through to November 18).
Beginning the weekend of November 16th-18th the very first gallery exhibition of Barry Duncan, the world’s greatest palindromist, will be producing in real time a master work of artistic/poetic reversibility in situ. Like a modern day Michelangelo, Duncan will work on his large scale palindrome from a scaffold, creating for his audience an original master work of reversibility, but now for the first time his method of seeing the world “backwards” will be laid bare for all to witness. Alongside Duncan a host of artists (among them, Lisa Levy a self-proclaimed artistic psycho- therapist) will be working near Duncan interpreting his other palindromes in their own distinct styles. Using the famous adage of W.H. Auden that “poetry makes nothing happen”,  the gallery space will be a bee hive of poetic activity, but not in the traditional method of poetic recitation, instead the gallery will try and make visible the act of poetic process through art.

With an additional overlay that all during this time an independent filmmaker from Brooklyn, Michael Rossi, will be documenting this event for his forthcoming film on Duncan, entitled The Master Palindromist (see the trailer for this at www.rossifilms.com). So witness the poetic act firsthand, while all involved, including the artists and the audience, are offered to a session of “therapy”, and as all of this is being filmed. Thus, the mind of Duncan is made concrete, and visible…a poetic version of “Being John Malkovich” that allows for playfulness, connectivity, and strangeness, all crucial components of the actual artistic act, which are usually only inferred from the work in an exhibition, are now made central as the exhibition.

Opening Party Friday 6-9pm, November 16th
12-6pm Saturday/Sunday November 17th and 18th
102 Ingraham (opposite Brooklyn Fireproof)


Upcoming Events!

Mariah Steele
By Caitlin Meehan

This fall, I have been fortunate to work with Mariah Steele in part of her body of work for the Boston Center for the Arts Dance Residency. Mariah Steele/Quicksilver Dance will be presenting Epoch Tales, a new work combining dance and science to explore the process of evolution. Echoing the movement of early life-forms, the work will bring science to life by illuminating how the world may have moved in different evolutionary epochs. Other repertory featured will include a playful jaunt into the world of Frank Sinatra and an investigation into the cultural history of tea. I am included in the Frank Sinatra piece, a duet about two sisters which has been great fun to learn thus far. I'm looking forward to performing it!

The details: Epoch Tales will be performed at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., Boston MA 02116.  
Performances are Friday, November 16 at 8pm and Saturday, November 17 at 3pm and 8pm.

Tickets are $15 general admission and $12 for BDA members. 
They are available online at Boston Theatre Scene or by calling the box office at 617-933-8600.

Dance for PD
by Nicole Harris

Many of you have heard me talk about the Dance for PD Program run by David Leventhal and the Mark Morris Dance Group.  After my own medical adventures of the past year or so I am looking forward to beginning a dance class for students with Parkinson's here at Monkeyhouse.  If you don't know anything about the program, please take a minute to check them out.  There is a really wonderful video that I recommend you watch!

For those of you in the New York area, first, Monkeyhouse sends our love and support your way as you deal with the aftermath of Sandy.  I hope you are all safe and dry and able to begin putting your lives back together.  If you need a little something to make your day brighter, head over to check out Dance for PD in Performance!  I can't imagine anything more uplifting than watching these amazing people.  Tickets are free but you have to reserve your spot so do it today!
Sunday, November 11@3pm 
Mark Morris Dance Center  
3 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn


You CAN Make a Difference!

If you're anything like us, you are sick of all these campaign ads and never ending political badmouthing.  Luckily, no matter what the turnout is Tuesday, the ads will be over.  But first comes the moment where you get to make a difference in the future of the country and the lives of those around you.  We have talked exhaustively about the economy and the sustainability of our nation moving forward.  No matter which side of the presidential race you land on, what you say and do matters because you are a part of the 99%, the 47%, the 1% and all the other groups and populations being discussed. 

In between presidential debates we have had a similar series of conversations here at Monkeyhouse.  This year we lost not only three loved ones but some of Monkeyhouse's biggest supporters, artistically, financially and personally.  We are also facing the recent news that Springstep, our artistic home, is closing and the building is for sale.  These two major events combined mean some really big changes around the office, starting with the fact that we may not have regular rehearsal space very soon.  How do we keep this organization that started with a promise, was created by the pure will of one person and has grown to be bigger than any of us could have imagined when we got in that van twelve years ago, a functioning sustainable organization amidst all this chaos?

How do we develop the sustainability of Monkeyhouse and what can YOU do to help?   
  1. Take a minute to think about how choreography plays a role in your life. Is it a performance that you've seen that stretches your idea of what the human body is capable of, or the way that you know what people are thinking based solely on their body language, or the way that dancing stimulates the nerves in your brain triggering new thoughts and ideas.  
  2.  Share these discoveries with the people around you and you might be surprised by what you learn about them and yourself in the process. This spark to get people moving with meaning is at the heart of Monkeyhouse. 
Even a ten dollar donation can provide for rehearsal space or teaching tools for elementary school programs. Sharing a dance performance with new audience members will build our community, person by person. A hundred dollar donation can subsidize the cost of a dance class for someone with Parkinson's Disease who has limited resources. Volunteering for events or to help spread the word will help free up members of the organization to develop new ideas. For five hundred dollars you can provide music rights for two new pieces. A weekly donation of two hours will help generate educational content for our monthly newsletter. A donation of one thousand dollars can support the work of a series of outside choreographers to be part of Against the Odds. Every penny, every thought, every action given towards our goal will help connect your community to the choreography that exists in all our lives.    

Already, a few things that have taken place since August that give us hope for not just moving beyond but strongly rising above our current situations. 
  • This fall, Monkeyhouse gained not one but FOUR interns who have again and again reminded me why Monkeyhouse is important.  They have risen to the challenge of large sections of the blog and newsletter with intelligence and style.  They have begun volunteering at events and spreading the word about Monkeyhouse to a whole new population of people.
  • At Your Just Desserts in September we had a large showing from our teen students in Natick.  They even banded together to bid on (and win!) a homemade apple pie from Pam Harris.  This outpouring of love and support from so many young people means a whole new generation of supporters of the arts!
  • Speaking of Your Just Desserts, our amazing event committee consisted largely of people who are brand new to Monkeyhouse!  We are so grateful for all their help and look forward to working with them again!
  • We have had $1200 in donations from people commemorating members of the Krolak family, keeping their love for Monkeyhouse alive.


Mystic River Celebration

by Caitlin Meehan

photos by JK Photo

On October 20th, Monkeyhouse had the opportunity to perform outside in some glorious fall weather during the Medford on the Mystic festival. Organized by the fantastic Alli Ross, this festival included live music, food, hula hooping and various vendors.
Monkeyhouse dancers Courtney Wagner, Sarah Friswell, Sarah Feinberg, Nikki SaoPedro Welch, Nicole Harris and myself arrived on the scene and began to work our magic on a lovely stretch of pathway by the river. We had an improvisation game to play- and audience participation was encouraged!

On our stretch of walkway, we divided into groups and began at either end with various words "labled" on us. "Sneak," "Float," "Twirl" and "Wiggle" were just a few examples- our assignment was then to embody these words while traveling from one end of the path to the other. Partnering and interaction ensued when we met other dancers along the way. The challenge (and fun part!) was having two or more words to embody at once- such as the memorable crossing where I had "Hide" and "Fly," which led to me running and trying to hide behind the one skinny tree nearby!

Some of our audiences were fleeting; families passing by stopped for a moment to watch and moved on. Others really joined in- we had one very enthusiastic puddle-jumping fellow, and another who claimed he didn't want to take part... until he did! Two new Monkeyhouse fans played follow-the-leader with Nikki, and another did a lap with her walker! It was especially nice that there was live music being played in the band shell right next to us, for added inspiration.

We also played a game of "One-Up," in which one member of the group must always be in the air (can't touch the ground!) Both Courtney and Nikki took turns flipping and turning, supported as our group moved from one end of our path to the other. We discovered some interesting new lifts! All in all, it was a perfect day to improvise outside, and to discover new ways to travel from point A to point B!


Do You Know David and Katelyn?

by Nicole Harris

I'd like to take a minute to introduce the first two of our four new interns to you.  For the past eleven years I have been working with the Natick High School Drama program (along side Monkeyhouse supporters Margaret Hagemeister, Zach Galvin and Benjamin Rogers.  Monkeyhouse loves NHS!) as choreographer.  I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of incredible young artists, many of whom have gone on to do amazing things.  (Monkeyhouse guest artists Sarah Feinberg and Sarah Friswell and C2C intern Sarah Grace all graced the NHS stage during their high school careers!) 

This year marks the fourth year of working with seniors Katelyn Alcott and David Makransky.  When they both expressed interest in pursuing the arts after high school we came up with an internship program that would give them the opportunity to study dance a bit more extensively and to gain some arts administration knowledge and first hand experience along the way.  They are both exceptional people and I can't wait to see what sort of magic they being into the world.  In the meantime, they have made a funny little interview video for you to learn a little more about them!


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