Paula Jeanine Bennett: In Whom The Heart Is Free To Roam

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    Photograph courtesy The Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation

    Conventional science maintains that the Human Body comprises 60% water with 73% of the brain and heart alone being water. Certainly not the artist, however, of whom that 60% – certainly that 73% of brain and heart – must certainly be spirit? How else could one even begin to explain Paula Jeanine Bennett? Surely what she has done with her artistic gifts cannot have come from anything else? Whether it is the unlikely physiology of the artist that enables him or her to live in the fifth dimension as well may be conjecture at this point, but being made of quintessence might suggest how they are able to perceive that which cannot be perceived by the human eye. Like Paula Jeanine Bennett.

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    Paula Jeanine Bennett and her husband, the iconic New York City composer and pianist Richard Bennett outside their New York City apartment.

    In case you’re wondering who Paula Jeanine Bennett is, you’re not likely to find everything you need to know. Websites – including those of The Ailey School and The Julliard School – offer details relating to their particular sphere of activity and even I wonder how much more I could fit into this piece despite doing considerably more research including an interview with her not long ago during most of which I have to say I was, quite honestly, speechless. How do you explain the incredible contributions that Ms. Bennett has made to music and dance? How do you explain that her genius has been experienced not only in the United States, but in India, Indonesia, Egypt and Morocco as well? I will hazard a guess.

    Artistic genius is something that cannot really be explained. Indeed this is its defining characteristic. Those who live with it are unable to reveal its secrets. Absorbed by its contradictions, ill at ease with the real world, alarmed by their uniqueness blinded by a truth that common mortals can only dimly perceive and swept along by a force that is beyond them, geniuses play like children. Baudelaire made no mistake when he wrote that “genius is no more than childhood captured at will”.

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    Heart and soul, lost in the music

    New York City has a peculiar way of hiding creatures such as Paula Jeanine Bennett. Either that or you will find them hiding in plain sight like that rare breed of performers of genius who have a natural rapport with what they do. In Ms. Bennett’s case that would be the percussion instruments that she often builds and – in the case of those made from ceramic – those that she bakes as well. When she plays them, accompanying herself by singing the music she has composed, they are no longer percussion instruments: they are a violin, a harp, a clarinet, or the whole crashing orchestra together. For it is music in spirit and flesh. When she plunges her hands into the playing surfaces of her drums, she is in her natural element. Away from it she might be like a fish out of water, but once in the music, life is quite a different story.

    Life for Paula Jeanine Bennett is lived in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, which ever since it became part of Ellis Island and vice versa, it came to be a symbol of unfettered freedom. Although she might never need to ‘go there’ for inspiration, for I am convinced that Ms. Bennett ‘sees’ things much further afar as if they were as close as her very heart is. This might explain how she first conceived of her breathtaking opera A Village of One. Ms. Bennett says that it arose out of living in amid the bustle of loneliness in New York. It began life as a cycle of songs ‘adaptable to any locale’, but shortly after it was performed in a village in Java, Indonesia in 2012, it became a full-fledged opera. Although Ms. Bennett had performed many times in various locations in the US and even travelled to Egypt and to India, where she has been recognised as a cultural ambassador from the United States, A Village of One was her first major work.

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