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Hot, Hot, HOT!

September 5, 2007, 12:00 am
A look at five Santa Feans with creativity to burn.  ***image1***

Before Zozobra burns on the evening of Sept. 6, Santa Feans also will get to see performance artist Cohdi Harrell-appearing on this issue's cover-whose fire dancing will be featured for the sixth time at this year's burning. Whether he's dancing on the field at Fort Marcy or teaching in a schoolhouse in India, Harrell impresses as much for his craft as for the joy with which he performs.

Like Harrell, the four other artists featured in this week's issue are devoted to their various fields: food, music, film and art. Despite the challenges of creative life, all are defining their own paths as they pursue their expressive visions. And all do so not for fame or fortune, but simply for the love of doing it. That's hot!

Cohdi Harrell
circus-based performer***image3***

By Patricia Sauthoff

Earlier this spring, at a Muslim school on the Indian subcontinent, Cohdi Harrell performed his contemporary circus act of aerial stunts, yogic movement and trapeze. "All the answers were there," Harrell tells SFR, "this was about connectedness, trust and communication. Everyone understood the artistic ideas, even though we didn't understand the same language."

Over the last few years Harrell, 24, has come of age as an artist. He started as a normal teenager dancing at techno parties and it was there, he says, "where I first started to learn about body movement and control through dancing." He began taking yoga and capoeira, which led to an interest in fire dancing. At 18, he took his first trapeze class and became hooked on flying.

For the last five years-this will be his sixth-Harrell, dressed in a post-apocalyptic white costume, has honed his fire dancing skills in front of thousands at Zozobra.

"It's a huge honor to be invited to be involved in something as traditional as Zozobra," the Santa Fe native says.

This past December, Harrell took his aerial arts overseas. The trip opened his eyes and gave him a humble confidence in his own abilities as a performer. Harrell and another performance artist, Laura Stokes, traveled to India, sponsored by the US Consulate of Artistic Affairs, to perform a show called Escape Artist in a six-week tour of the continent. The trip also allowed them to provide workshops to children as part of a project called Circus Across Borders. Through this program, Harrell works to make connections between privileged and poor children-who often don't speak the same language-and give them the opportunity to work together in the creation of art.

"The problem in our world is that we don't understand each other, there's no communication. There were these kids from the Vivekananda Camp [in New Delhi] who lived across the street from the International School," Harrell recalls, "but they'd never worked together or been in any kind of relationship." In the end, what Harrell hoped would happen, did. The physical movement of circus performance, trapeze and other aerial arts transcended the boundaries between the children in Circus Across Borders' workshops.

At home, Harrell and Alessandra Ogren, a member of Wise Fool New Mexico, live and work at the El Puente Theater in Peñasco, approxi-mately 50 miles northeast of Santa Fe. In the theater, which is still decked out with red velvet seats from the 1940s, they teach camps for kids and work with artists from all over the world, as well as host a summerlong cabaret that features musicians and performers. This summer, an instructor and students schooled in the Indian tradition of mallakhamb, a form of rope dance that integrates yoga poses, came to Peñasco to learn from Harrell and Ogren, as well as to teach the New Mexicans their traditions.

Watching Harrell perform is a treat for the imagination. He swings fire with fearless grace, each move mesmerizing. In aerial performances, his lean, sculpted body folds into seemingly impossible poses that are held so long the audience loses its breath long before he shows any sign of strain. When creeping along on stilts, Harrell is transformed into an otherworldly creature whose movements are familiar, yet so calculated and exact, it's as if his legs really are six feet long. The ease he shows in performances comes from a full-time commitment to learning everything he can about how to move his body.

"I try to explore human existence with this work," he says. "I think about how I can sit up on a trapeze bar and engage the audience with just my toes. It requires me to be totally present." The presence Harrell finds comes from a daily regimen of yoga, dance and strength training, in addition to teaching others his arts.

Much of Harrell's work is done in collaboration with other artists. He often collaborates with musicians, as he did in 2005 and 2006 with D Numbers at the High Mayhem Festival. This year at the Festival, (which runs from Friday, Sept. 21-Sunday, Sept. 23) he'll be performing on Sunday night with Rio En Medio, a native New Mexican folk singer whose ukulele provides an aural element to Harrell's aerial work. He is also working with Wise Fool on Circus Luminous, a circus performance accompanied by live music that sells out the Lensic each year. For Harrell, collaboration is the most profound part of his work.

"Every job or activity is something where you can learn about life," he says. "Working with another person creates a deep intimacy. Especially in the work that I do, where you're holding someone 30 feet in the air by the neck."

At the end of 2007 or in early 2008, Harrell will return to India with Circus Across Borders. He says the circus is working on a curriculum it can take around the world. At first he was afraid that people wouldn't understand what he was trying to do, but Harrell says the experience has given him "a lot of hope for human beings' abilities to receive." The performance at the Muslim school in India taught him about artistic integrity and "how a performance can touch and connect people who don't share a common language, only common emotions."

Despite his youth and broad travels, Harrell feels most at home in Santa Fe. "It's important to have a place to come back to," he says, "a place where the community is always welcoming and a place that, no matter how much it changes, always stays the same." Harrell has become a recognizable figure in Santa Fe's art scene. "Sometimes there's a sense of anonymity that I wish I could have when I'm here," he says, "but not if I had to give up what I do."

For Harrell, there is no alternative to performance. "I hate when people ask me what I'd be doing if I weren't doing this," he says. "There's nothing. It's what I'm built to do, what I've built myself to do and I don't ever imagine what life would be like if I couldn't perform. That reality just doesn't exist for me."

Ronnie Sanchez***image4***

By Gwyneth Doland

From the docks of Alaska to the beaches of Florida, Ronnie Sanchez has cooked in kitchens across the country, but it wasn't until he'd completed a life-changing internship in Spain that this New Mexico native decided to come home.

After spending six months in the kitchen at the famous El Bullí restaurant, Sanchez returned to the United States full of enthusiasm for the leisurely pace of Spanish meals and equipped with the knowledge and skills to actualize Spanish food in its highest form. He found a place here at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, where he shows off his Spanish skills with elaborate tasting menus. But it is his ambition to someday open his own truly authentic tapas restaurant.

In 2002, after two previous applications, Ronnie Sanchez became one of only 18 chefs accepted for an unpaid six-month internship at El Bullí, a restaurant in southern Spain that is often described as one of the best in the world.

"It was like being in boot camp," Sanchez recalls of his stint at El Bullí. "The chef de cuisine was like a general and we [interns] were all at the bottom of the pole, busting our butts." Still, he counts the experience as one of the most valuable of his career. Although the ingredients used at El Bullí may be familiar to the average diner, the techniques used to make them are so cutting edge that the experience of dining there sounds like something from a science fiction novel.

***image9***One of the first dishes Sanchez learned to prepare at El Bullí was something called coconut milk ravioli. First, he and several other interns were instructed to crack open several cases of fresh coconuts. Then they fed the cleaned coconut meat through a juicer, pouring small amounts of the resulting liquid into ice cube trays so that it could be frozen into flat lozenges. While the coconut milk froze, Sanchez used a meat slicer to cut wafer-thin slices of frozen cuttlefish (think squid with a bone). Then he swaddled the coconut milk lozenges in the cuttlefish wrappers and put them under an industrial broiler called a salamander. The "ravioli" were only cooked for about 10 to 15 seconds, just long enough to melt the coconut milk lozenges inside. The result, Sanchez explains, is that "you have the texture of calamari and then this explosion of straight coconut." Garnished with freshly grated nutmeg and a sprinkle of English Maldon salt, the ravioli were presented individually, on Asian soup spoons. This is an example of the so-called "molecular gastronomy" of El Bullí's chef Ferran Adrià, and it is just one of many, many courses that are part of a meal at El Bullí.

After his internship in Spain was over, Sanchez took a job at a high-profile restaurant in Alaska. He loved working with local fishermen to procure the freshest seafood, but he found it difficult to incorporate the skills and aesthetic he had picked up at El Bullí. "My first tasting menu [in Alaska] was 11 courses and the food and beverage director freaked out." After a series of negotiations, Sanchez was forced to cut his menu to five courses. "In Spain, whether you're eating at a mom 'n' pop restaurant or at a Michelin-starred restaurant, you get smaller plates but a lot more of them. The American palate is used to soup or salad, an entrée and a dessert. That's quite boring," he says ruefully. "As Thomas Keller [from The French Laundry] said in his first book, you want to have a course that's one, two, three bites at most. After the fifth bite it's boring already. You want to move on."

After three years in Alaska and 11 years away from New Mexico, Sanchez decided it was time to come home. "My parents were getting older and I missed the sunsets, the food, the chile, the people," he says. When he applied for a job at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, he was interviewed by Executive Chef John Cox, who oversees all of the restaurants in the Noble House Hotel and Resort family, but is stationed in Santa Fe. "We  bounce ideas off each other," Sanchez says. "He's like 25, 26 years old and very, very intelligent." Cox also gives Sanchez room to get creative with multi-course tasting menus.

Because Cox is executive chef and Sanchez his sous chef, a relationship not unlike a president and vice-president, it is Cox who gets most of the credit and recognition for the menus they create together. "He does get all the credit," Sanchez admits, "but he deserves it, too. I get a little bit of credit now and then but, you know, I'm the one who took the position."  When asked if he would like to get more credit he demurs. "I wouldn't mind, but it's not a big deal. I just let my cooking speak for me."

Eventually, Sanchez, 35, would like to strike out on his own.

"I'd love to open a real, authentic Spanish tapas restaurant," he says, adding "It's a huge risk. It's the biggest risk you could ever take." The success of a restaurant, he says, lies not only in the skill of the chef but in other factors sometimes beyond his control. "It depends on location, food, service, atmosphere, wine, all of that. If one of those factors is missing the whole thing fails."

Despite the risks, Sanchez says cooking is in his blood. "It's an adrenalin rush being in the kitchen and being really slammed. When all the diners loved what they got, that's really gratifying. That keeps me coming back for more." That and, of course, his love of food. "Food is the one thing in this entire world that brings people together."

Paul Rivers Bailey ***image5***

By Gabe Gomez

Paul Rivers Bailey is as relaxed on stage as a seasoned music veteran.

At a recent gig at the Santa Fe Brewing Company, his face fills with an easy smile as he presses the button on his music player to reveal the bass-heavy groove of a track titled, "The Beginning" from his new and independently released record, Innerchild. Bailey enters the song gingerly, above the recorded music. He closes his eyes and begins to lift and bind a towering melody with a controlled and crafted voice. This singing stops all movement in the room, save for dancing and bobble-head neck thrusts. His next song, "Guardianship" is a punchy groove-heavy jam, but it's not until his sixth song, "Salvation," the one he nails after another tune "Human Family," (a ringer for Curtis Mayfield's Roots-era vocals) that Bailey draws a collective gasp from the audience as he expels an assured, crystalline and howling voice that can drill right through you.

The music Bailey creates is soulful, restless and ready for audiences that stretch well beyond the Santa Fe music scene. With an impending tour and a clear and undeterred focus, Bailey is poised to claim his spot on the national stage.

Bailey, 29, who is originally from Queens, NY, moved to Albuquerque as a senior in high school and eventually enrolled at the College of Santa Fe in 2001. There, he earned a degree in-surprisingly enough-film.

"I've always loved film and television," Bailey says with a laugh. "I had the TV schedule down, man. I would be the type of kid who would stop playing outside to come in and catch a show."

His father, Seta Majkia, a music producer in New York, exposed the young musician to the inner workings of making music.

"I grew up in a recording studio," Bailey notes of his father's home studio where he tracked demos. After moving to New Mexico with his mother, who served as his informal vocal coach, Bailey's passion for film began to take shape and his musical inclinations began to take root. "I think of music visually," Bailey says as his mind trails off into distant thought. He's pensive, affable and has lived well beyond his years. At the age of 20, he married and had two daughters, Mikayla, age 9, and Nalani, age 4. He divorced a few years later and is now engaged to Mizahn Jackson, a dancer and the choreographer of his live show.

***image10***Bailey is optimistic about the future and his new album and is equally excited about his adopted home.

"I want to be able to do something musically for this region of the country as an artist that came from here," Bailey says. "If an opportunity arises to live in other places then great, but home is here. I would always find a way to get back to Santa Fe."

Releasing records isn't new territory for Bailey. His former hip-hop group, Duality, a partnership he had with Josef "JD" Branch, released a self-titled record in 2005 after Bailey graduated from CSF. The duo performed around town, worked in youth programs and quickly made a name for itself in the small but vibrant local hip-hop scene. Through a meeting with Seattle music producer "Buddo," Bailey decided to head in a new creative direction, "I wanted to create a sound that sounded nothing like Duality," Bailey says.

Although the sound for Innerchild isn't that distant from the soul-infused hip-hop of Duality, it's enough of a departure to be considered a reinvention. The album blends a variety of styles with a soul and R&B foundation and gives Bailey the opportunity to flex his vocal talents. In fact, his vocal range is the component of his music that is most striking.

"I have inspirations from a lot of different artists from the past, but the sound is updated. It's hip-hop based, there's some jam band kind stuff, a popish ballad and hip-hop. It's all over the place, it's like eclectic soul," Bailey says, as he struggles to define his music.

In the end, Bailey is most concerned with the message behind the music and it is that on which he focuses. He uses his experiences as a basis for his songs and hopes to positively impact the lives of young people.  According to Bailey, the album's title reflects his youthful optimism.

"It's life music. It's music about how people live. The message is more important to me than a certain sound or a niche market, because it can resonate in people's lives."  

The migratory patterns of musicians leaving New Mexico for greener pastures would rival any gaggle, flock or clutch of birds, so it's a relief when Bailey, whose talent is unquestionable, realizes that his home and his source of strength are tethered here.

Back at the Brewing Company, the pre-recorded music Bailey has been using has worked well. And his humble demeanor easily wins over the crowd. Finally, he launches a capella into his tune, "Always Beautiful." And it is.

Lexie Shabel***image6***

By Emiliano Garcia-Sarnoff

When Rio en Medio-based filmmaker Lexie Shabel told her parents she had breast cancer, they told her to come home to New Jersey. The 40-year-old award-winning director and cinematographer has been making increasingly personal films but, in an instant, she realized she was going to begin her most personal work yet. "OK," Shabel told them, "but I'm making a film, and I am bringing a crew."

The footage, which she began to shoot in October of 2005, is being incorporated into The ME Film, a documentary tracking her physical and emotional transformation and people's reactions as she deals with the disease.

It was the natural course of events for an artist who has always used her skills of observation to document the world around her.

Shabel, whose family has been struck with cancer for four generations in a row, believes there is a connection between cancer and
emotional trauma, so the return home and the making of the film also served another purpose: to search for clues to the tumors growing inside her. Fortunately, her mother is also an obsessive documentarian. "There were tons of photographs," Shabel recalls. "I made my mother go through everything. I would just lay on the floor and cry and writhe and look at things." The photos transported her back to her childhood.

Shabel grew up in a preppy, verdant Catholic suburb called Moorestown, just across from Philadelphia, on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. As a self-described "mock Jew," she never quite fit in. "The terrain and lifestyle was never something that made sense to me," Shabel says. Her father is a lawyer and her mother is  a Francophile who once taught French. The couple traveled frequently-without little Lexie. "I was taught to be very independent, very early."

So, as is all too frequently the case in the childhoods of American suburbia, Shabel was often alone and alienated from the world she inhabited. Her refuge was rock music. "I had four speakers surrounding me and I would sit in the middle and blast Pink Floyd," Shabel says. "My room was called 'The Lair.'" Music eventually became central to her filmmaking.

When Shabel could not hide in the embrace of music, she tried to get a handle on her surroundings through that family habit of documenting (her father has since published a book, Are the Lights Still On In Paris?, about the experiences of a lawyer whose daughter is diagnosed with breast cancer). "I kept a journal from kindergarten," Shabel recalls. "And I asked for a black and white Polaroid camera for my eighth birthday."

She was also a budding filmmaker. Her first film, made with the family's Super8 when she was 12, was about an insane asylum and was called The Loony Bin. "For my birthday party I forced my friends to each learn a character," Shabel recounts. "One was a Gypsy, another was a nurse."

After high school, Shabel studied photography, graduating from Syracuse University in 1989. But after a few years working in New York and later in Abiquiu as a photographer, she sensed something was lacking in her work.

"The stories were missing," Shabel says. "I didn't have the chops as a photographer to tell the stories. I started playing with panoramic portraiture and thought, 'Wow, look how much more I can see.' Then I found myself thinking, 'I want to hear these people.'"

So Shabel traded in her Hasselblad, a fancy professional camera, for a beat-up, secondhand Hi8 camcorder. In 1999, after years of paying dues as a location scout, camera assistant and camerawoman (at one point among 600 horny college students on a cruise ship for MTV reality show Road Rules), she took the big leap and made her first film. Called House of Rock, it's a documentary about the oddball universe of people in the Southwest who live in cave-homes fashioned by dynamiting holes into behemoth rocks. The film is replete with explosions and fascinating characters, including a "celestial pluralist" family with one husband, three wives, 39 children and a whole lot of holes in its half-mile-long rock. House of Rock toured at more than 25 film festivals and won Best Documentary at Valleyfest Film Festival in Knoxville, Tenn.

With her next project, the rockumentary We Like to Drink: We Like to Play Rock 'n' Roll, Shabel incorporated her passion for music into her filmmaking. Completed in 2006, We Like to Drink chronicles the rise, fall and rebirth of the sweaty, hard-drinking party band The Unband. Full of burning guitars, male full-frontal nudity and tour bus squabbles, it has played at film festivals from California to Prague, and won numerous awards, including the Really Fucking Cool Award at the New Haven Underground Film Festival. It will play Thursday, Sept. 6 at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

As Shabel finished We Like to Drink, she was also awaiting the results of a mammogram. "I went to Pagosa Springs, and I remember thinking I should enjoy this because this might be the last few days before I have a very different life," Shabel recalls. Then, alone, she called the doctor. The prognosis was breast cancer; the immediate recommendation was chemo with mastectomy.

Shabel, against the sometimes-angry advice of friends and family, opted against the mastectomy. But she underwent chemo five times. "Going through chemo is like dying. I experienced death and rebirth five times," Shabel says. Now she is pursuing and documenting her experiences with alternative medicine.

Faced with a life-threatening illness, Shabel has questioned her path as a filmmaker. "I was loathing We Like to Drink," Shabel says. "I was going to Ashrams and I had just finished a film glorifying rock stars. I thought, 'Oh! I can't believe I did this, what a waste of time.' Then I decided, no-I have been given a gift by God. I make documentary films. I am starting to do this well. Now it's about making films that can inform people in a different way."

Katherine Lee***image7***

By Zane Fischer

In a small spot of light within an otherwise dark expanse, 22-year-old Katherine Lee slumps to her knees on the ground. Her body is torqued to one side, perhaps in pain or maybe in response to the orange industrial electrical extension cord that binds her arms against her ribs and behind her back. Her eyes are covered with a red, paisley-patterned bandana that is fastened tight against the back of her head and bunches up her fine, golden-brown hair. A stream of blood, spittle and phlegm hangs from her mouth, and it's hard to tell if she's about to give up and pass out, or to arch her back into a spasm of resistance and let out a scream with whatever hoarse notes she can still conjure from her throat.

It's not a pretty sight, but it is beautiful. It's a small and detailed painting, one of several in Lee's Hostage series. It's not a portrait-the hostages she depicts are anonymous-but sometimes when Lee needs a model, the easiest thing to do is to set her camera's self-timer and get the job done.

Standing in her small studio, where finished canvases, sculptures and supplies have been coaxed into every crevice so as to allow access to an easel and a small work table, Lee explains how she came to attend the College of Santa Fe as an art student.

***image11***"The art department at my high school in Iowa was weak and tiny and most of the kids just harassed the art teacher by pouring glue in the fish tank. I really didn't even know what art was-what it would mean to study it and spend my time making it-before I came to art school, but I always knew that it was what I would do."

Lee didn't come to Santa Fe for the fabled high-desert light that draws painters like gnats to a bug zapper, and she didn't care about Santa Fe's increasing popularity as a contemporary art center. The art department at CSF is one of a handful of programs Lee claims to have remembered to file her application for by the deadline. "It's just the school that I got into," she says. Quick with both praise and criticism for different aspects of her education at CSF, Lee acknowledges that her time has been productive and that she's received an unexpected amount of attention for her paintings.

These days, her work is in several of Santa Fe's most distinguished and discerning collections. Over the past summer, Lee's paintings have drawn inquiries from galleries, museums and collectors in New York.

The Hostage series, which relies on Lee's friends and family being bound and gagged in the service of art, features bodies alone, painted in furious detail against a black background, in various states of violence and capture. Originally conceived for a collaborative project at school, the series has become an ongoing investigation of fear and torture that, especially in the current political climate, never fails to stun audiences into rapt focus.

"I'm dark enough to be intrigued by painting the violence," Lee says. "The blindfolds create a good sense of anonymity, but at the same time a lot of the face is hidden, which makes it hard to really brutalize someone in paint."

Contextually, the paintings descend from Francisco de Goya's Disasters of War and Fernando Botero's startling, and much more recent, depictions of Abu Ghraib. But Lee's gripping and graphic contemporary illustrative style puts the questions provoked by her work into an unrelenting present. Aside from the voyeuristic view into such intimate violence, aside from the unnerving manner in which the works tend to implicate the viewer as kidnapper, as torturer, there are practical concerns for how best to represent the horror Lee is trying to convey. "I'm painting my mom next," she says. "I might slit her throat or something."

A parallel series of interior and exterior landscapes brings Lee away from the tight concentration of painting blood and bound hands. Using a signature combination of transfer paper markings, oil paint and industrial spray paint, Lee assembles distorted fantasy horizons of empty suburban traffic interchanges, institutional buildings, temporary traffic blockades and ghostly architectural forms. Above and beyond such scenes, she adds purple, marbled mountains and clouds riddled with fading sunlight, or an expanding, streaky galaxy.

"They are not real moments," she says. "They are sort of subconscious amalgams of what I think might be beautiful, of moments that I imagine."

Despite her status as a celebrated talent at CSF, Lee is spending the current semester at the Santa Fe Community College. The need-based scholarship that had allowed her to attend CSF was revoked for this year, and merit scholarships are only awarded to incoming freshmen. "Someone in the accounting office thought my family could afford to pay the full tuition," she says, "but they can't." Like a lot of Santa Feans, Lee is working two jobs and plans to help pitch in to finish her final semester at CSF in the spring and graduate with her peers.

And then she'll have to decide how to handle the clamor that only increases with each new body of work that she completes. Currently, galleries are lined up to show her work, including strong interest from cutting-edge New York operations. But Lee isn't sure that's the route she'll take.

"I'm glad I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and I'm glad I went to an art school that isn't on anyone's map. I think if you want to make contemporary art you sometimes have to leave the contemporary meccas," she says. "I don't want to be a fad."



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