Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jose Marti: I Grow a White Rose

One of the narrated poems in the "Son Corazon" performance (see previous post) was translated into English, alternating languages every two lines. I'm not a Spanish speaker, but I am a poet, and as I listened, I suspected the translation wasn't doing the original justice. Before we left at intermission, I glanced at someone else's program just long enough to see that the poem was by Jose Marti.

(Everything I know about Marti I learned from Pete Seeger's rendition of "Guantanamera.")

I looked around the Internet this morning and found that the almost-literal translation used at the performance is dismayingly common. But here's one that attempts to preserve the rhyme of the original.

I have a white rose to tend
In July* as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.

And for the cruel one whose blows
Break the heart by which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I give:
For him, too, I have a white rose.

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio* como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazón con que vivo,
Cardo ni oruga cultivo:
Cultivo la rosa blanca.

*I think this should be "June," although "July" turns up in both Spanish and English versions on the Internet. It's amazing how mistakes turn into reality here. I need to find a reputable, actual book.

Here's another version. It seems, amazingly, to be from a publication called Military Review.

I grow a white rose,
In June as in January,
For my true friend
Who gives me his honest hand.

And for the cruel man who tears from me
The heart with which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I grow:
I grow the white rose.

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
en junio como en enero,
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazon con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo:
cultivo la rosa blanca.

The Body and Brain Rhumba

The People's Snob doesn't appreciate good dancing. That is to say, I don't know the difference between good dancing and bad dancing. If the dancers wobble a little when they land, is that bad? What if I don't care? If a dance includes someone dramatically prostrating herself on the stage, is that good? Or bad? What if that particular move drives me bonkers? Would you believe this is not the last of the rhetorical questions this post will pose?

Of course, I do appreciate free dancing, so I was happy to go see a performance of "Son Corazon" by the Latin Ballet at Dogwood Dell last weekend.

I have a memory of seeing a Latin Ballet performance at the Children's Museum of Richmond, where the small space intensified the energy of the dancers and turned the experience of watching into something almost participatory. The large stage and amphitheater of the Dell diluted this feeling, but probably made for a technically better performance.

"Son Corazon" purports to be an "emotional and uplifting journey through dance based on the real stories of Cubans living in the United States," and had we picked up one of the printed programs, we might have followed the journey. (Also, we didn't stay for whole performance, as the young one was so tired that we left at intermission.)

As it was, it simply looked liked beautiful dances based on African and Spanish traditions, with fabulous costumes and a few hats.

Several of the dances included narration, some of which was in Spanish only, and some of which was also translated into English. This didn't strike me as dramatically necessary because it wasn't of a storytelling nature. (Maybe the second half included stories.)

So this performance made me uncomfortable in the same way that I usually feel uncomfortable at dance performances: I don't understand this hybrid of movement and narration, of body and brain. Why must a dance mean something?

Take away the program, the narration, the costumes. What's left is the dance. Movement alone tells the story of any conflict, love, and loss. If I had not known in advance that this performance was called "Son Corazon," that it had something to do with Cuba, would I have enjoyed it more, not struggling to create a historical narrative?

I know that throughout the ages, dance has been used as a means of storytelling, of perserving a people's history. But I don't want to have to try to understand a story; I want it either told to me or not. Am I too uptight--should I let the performance mean halfway?

I think that answer is yes, but I think a better way of asking myself the question is to say, "What can I do to help myself combine the intellectual understanding of a story with the physical understanding of dance, so that both halfway meanings make something whole?" And I suppose the answer to that is to go to more dance performances.