The Tail Of Bob Fosse: A Dancer’s Dark Path From Bali To Broadway

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ACT I – OVERTURE

Bob Fosse knew, from a very early age, that he was different. While his friends were happy spending their days playing in the forest, carefully combing each other for fleas and flinging their own excrement around with wild abandon, Bob wanted more. Much more.

He knew he wasn’t cut out for a country life but just couldn’t put his dissatisfaction into words. That didn’t change as he grew up. No matter how hard he tried, the words just wouldn’t come.

“Give up,” his uncle Cheetah (who was so named not because of any striking resemblance to Tarzan’s sidekick but for his inability to play poker without cheating) snapped irritably at him one day. “You can’t talk. You’re a monkey. What do you think this is, Planet Of The Apes?”

Bob just looked forlorn and flicked his tail in that way monkeys do when they’re left without a snappy aside.

It was yet another example of the mysteries in his life, of which there were many. His reaction, or lack of, to his own kind, for example.

Girl monkeys just didn’t do it for him. Neither did boy monkeys, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Instead, what really knocked him sideways were the tourist girls who wandered the Monkey Forest. But only a certain type of tourist girl – tall, lean, willowy. Who moved with an effortless grace and fluidity. He found them incredibly sensual although he had no idea why.

He wanted to get to know them, talk to them, find out their names, their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Then he wanted to work them relentlessly, from morning to night, treat them harshly until their spirits broke, then rebuild them as efficient, highly-disciplined dancers until they looked at him with respect and a strange kind of dependent, twisted love.

Again, he had no idea why. It just seemed like a good idea.

Then, one day, he had an epiphany. While wandering the city, he stole through an open window into a hotel room. It took his breath away. It was sumptuous, not a word he’d been able to use with much frequency in the Monkey Forest. The curtains, throw pillows and other soft furnishings were of the finest brocade,, Magazines and coffee table books were all over the room, not just on the coffee table, an effect he found bold and ever so slightly rebellious.

Bob Fosse with his lawyer, Dr Gonzo
Bob Fosse with his lawyer, Dr Gonzo

On one wall was a large screen television. Below, a DVD player. He waved a remote around, pressing buttons until the room was flooded with sound.

The screen leapt to life. Song, dance, bentwood chairs dragged across highly-polished floors, hip rolls, finger snaps. Jazz hands, oh how he loved jazz hands. He tried out the moves, tentatively at first then with increasing confidence and found them strangely familiar. The music bumped and grinded, the songs were sexy and provocative. But, most of all, the cast were dressed exactly as he envisaged those tall, willowy tourist girls in his imagination. It was like this movie was plugged directly into his subconscious, beaming his imagination onto the hotel room wall.

The effect was staggering. He knew not just how to do the stuff on the screen. He could improve on it, make it better. Maybe a few more crescent jumps, for a start. But he could work on the details later.

Bob Fosse recognised there and then that he had to get out of Ubud. The stifling provincial atmosphere was holding him back, smothering his creativity.

If he had to see one more production of Oklahoma or Carousel, he’d screech. And bare his incisors. And don’t even mention Michael Bennett. Bob had ventured to the other side of the Monkey Forest to catch Bennett’s latest production and was, quite frankly, bored. Who wants to see a bunch a dancers standing around talking?

Dance was so much more. Dance was sex. You sweated and groaned, contorted your body into strange positions, opened yourself up in every sense of the word. It was a marathon effort and, when you reached the end, when the excitement and applause reached its peak, it exploded in your head and heart. And you slumped exhausted and thought about doing it all over again. But better.

In a moment of clarity, Bob Fosse knew his future lay far from the Monkey Forest and Ubud. The Big City beckoned. He had the name and it was time he did something with it. It was no coincidence, he thought, that the Monkey Forest Road was one-way and it led straight out of town (if you turned left at Starbucks).

At the local markets, he rummaged around until he found black pants and a shirt, which fit his lean frame perfectly. In the mirror, the combination looked OK but it needed more. Bob was already prematurely bald, though barely out of adolescence; a bowler hat would help but, even in cosmopolitan Ubud, it was too tall an order.

He had to settle for a ratty fez he unearthed in the bargain bin of a thrift store, which gives a pretty good idea of exactly how ratty it was. It was made of brocade like the furnishings in the hotel room, which he took as a good omen. A matching brocade vest completed the look.

Bob examined himself in a full length mirror. He tipped his fez rakishly forward on his forehead and lit a cigarette; Bob habitually chain-smoked which, for a simian covered in body hair, had its pitfalls. The brocade wouldn’t be so flammable.

It was just right. He rolled his hips and snapped his fingers. Applause thundered in his head. He was ready.

Bob Fosse recounts his tumultuous live to his Boswell
Bob Fosse recounts his tumultuous life to his Boswell

So Bob Fosse left Ubud, hitching a ride towards his fame and fortune. In his hometown, he was a very small monkey in a very big forest but, once he reached Kuta, well, he soon released that being different had its advantages.

Chicks dug him, they hung on his every word and, on Ladies Nights, when the 50,000 Rupiah arak cocktails flowed like the brackish brown sludge that passed for water in the garbage-choked rivers (which is to say, not very well), they loved him even more. He was a monkey, sure, but a naughty monkey and chicks went crazy for that sort of thing.

He woke the next morning in a small, hot hotel room, with an agonising headache akin to a slim-bladed knife relentlessly probing his eyeballs. His mouth felt like the bottom of an Asian palm civet’s cage. It couldn’t get any worse than this, could it?

Then he noticed he was almost squashed between two naked Finnish backpackers. Memories of the previous night, a procession of crowded noisy nightclubs, raucous laughter, flirting, smouldering gazes, and how he’d drunkenly acted out every last dance move from the “Cell Block Tango” while improvising his own improvements.

As drunk as he was, he recognised he didn’t have blood in his veins so much as glitter.

Bob Fosse grinned a thin, humourless grin and slapped the closest sinuous rump within reach. They didn’t have tails but he could get used to that.

“Wake up, sweet cheeks. There’s lots of work to do,” he growled and lit the first cigarette of the day. The amphetamines could wait till later.

One of the twins, he couldn’t remember which one, woke slowly and favoured him with a lazy smile. She scratched Bob behind the ear. He could get used to that as well.

TO BE CONTINUED

As told to David Latta. © words and photos David Latta 2014

 

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Get Your Motor Running: Taking Stock of Bali’s Motoring Catalogue of Weird and Wonderful Delights

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After a while, you get accustomed to the unusual. Or at least it doesn’t seem as strange as it once would. Something that may have you doing a double-take anywhere else in the world  becomes “forget it, Jake, it’s Bali”.

Like the back section of an aircraft perched on the roof of a building along Jl Kerobokan and which, I’m informed by the brains trust of Bali expats on Facebook, is a new bar (I’ll report back on that one). That definitely had me doing a double-take, hastily pulling up at the side of the road to snap a photo.

Otherwise, the best WTF moments come from the weird and wonderful cars and motorbikes that can be found here. Bali traffic seriously does your head in. Compressed into the southern end of the island are far too many cars and motorbikes on far too few roads. Simple as that. And, with motorbike rentals starting at less than $AU5.00 a day, petrol at around 70 cents a litre, and the absence of a formal licence and/or previous driving experience being no legal hindrance at all, it appears that every second tourist is piloting their two-stroke alongside every other local in a huge motorised love-in.

1951 Plymouth
1951 Plymouth
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the  back streets of Kuta
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the back streets of Kuta
Australian 1961 EK Holden
Australian 1961 EK Holden

The extremely high incidence of road fatalities aside, the heavy traffic and rather haphazard nature of local driving culture doesn’t seem to make Bali the sort of place you’d want to drive expensive or rare vehicles. Yet, I’ve seen quite a few Porsches and Ferraris; I’m not sure how the owners cope with the inevitable nicks, dings and scrapes that every other vehicle on the road seem to accumulate like fleas on a dog. Antidepressants may help.

Night-time is when the truly interesting cars come out to play. Classics, that would have a challenging time maneuvering during the day, take advantage of the lighter traffic. Just as there’s a hard-core band of vintage Vespa fans out there, some surprising classic cars also turn up when you least expect them.

Like the beautiful two-tone 1961 Australian EK Holden that I spied late one night on Jl Petitenget nearly opposite the entrance to the W Hotel. Although brightly-painted and highly-polished, its bodywork showed the heavy toll of the roads.

The garden of mechanical delights that is known as Sanur’s Man Shed has a number of classic Holdens from Australia, along with a 1951 US Plymouth four-door and some whimsical indeterminate curiosities amongst its extensive holdings of cars and motorbikes. It was at a recent Vespa gathering there that I saw a super-cute Heinkel Tourist scooter with matching custom trailer. From the looks of it, it’s a late 1950s 103A-1.

Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1

Scooters with matching sidecars are also a reasonably common sight in Bali. There’s a wonderful candy-striped Vespa and sidecar often parked in Gang Mangga in Seminyak, not far from Café Moka. And the Red Carpet Champagne Bar, nearby in Jl Oberoi, has a scooter with a sidecar fashioned like a bottle of champagne.

Throughout Bali, there’s also a surprising number of vintage Volkswagon Kombie vans. Beautifully restored with gleaming chrome and bright paintwork, they inevitably bear the scars of traversing the traffic.

My Holy Grail, my Moby Dick, is the classic Cadillac rumoured to ply the streets of Ubud late at night. From descriptions I’ve received, it may well be the vaunted 1959 model. I’ll let you know when, and if, I find it.

Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar

© words and photos David Latta 2014

Sun, Sand And Seriously Good Times: The Komune Beach Club Blitzes The Competition

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Beach clubs. Unless you’re a twenty-something with a serious gym addiction, you’ll have a love-hate relationship with beach clubs. In my previous life, my opinion would be “never”. Maybe with “ever, ever” added for emphasis. But since coming to Bali, I’ve been trying a lot of new stuff, some of which has severely confused long-time friends and associates.

Into this category I would put visiting Ubud, ground zero for all things weird and wonderful, and spending any amount of time in vegetarian cafes, especially if it involved eating and/or drinking. Yet I’ve done both several times recently; Ubud I still rank as weird but also most definitely wonderful along with fascinating and endlessly compelling. That it has some great museums and restaurants certainly helps.

As for the vegetarian side of things, I’ve had some truly tasty vegetarian meals and even been gradually getting my palate (and nether regions) accustomed to juicing. Not that vegetables will ever supplant bacon as my favourite food group but, after a couple of heart attacks, I suppose I should exercise some caution.

This has engendered much consternation and concern amongst my friends; when I’ve made such announcements on Facebook, several immediately assumed my account had been hacked.

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Never say never. Approach each new experience with an open mind. And trust people will have your interests at heart when they share their own loves and interests with you. Am I getting a little too New Age?

Then I won’t mention the recent shopping expedition to get a yoga mat. Wait, don’t call psychiatric services just yet. I’m not planning on yoga. Some things really are never, ever, ever (note to self: check back in a few months’ time to see if this still holds). I merely needed some cushioning for the hard tile floors of my room while I do general toning work (push-ups, planks, etc) between gym visits.

There was a close call during the shopping expedition when the only likely candidate I could find was a Hello Kitty yoga mat. I did consider it, however briefly, but irony can be an exhausting concept to justify, especially in a foreign country. What might have flown in the inner city of Sydney was definitely not going to soar too high in Indonesia.

Creep old guy on a yoga mat? Maybe. Creepy old guy on a Hello Kitty yoga mat? I could already hear the sirens in the distance.

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Luckily I persevered and found another mat, much thicker, much better quality, in a fetching battleship grey. Crisis averted.

Anyway, back to beach clubs. There are a few in the Seminyak area, notably Ku De Ta and Potato Head. The former I’ve visited enough times to know I’m just not cut out to socialise with the young, buff and beautiful. At Potato Head, I initially couldn’t even get beyond the style enforcer on the door. And that was when I was wearing clothes. Undressed, I just wouldn’t want to be responsible for the mass panic, the collective fear and loathing that would surely manifest.

Then a friend suggested visiting the Komune Beach Club at Keramas Beach on the East Coast, not far short of Candidasa. In the spirit of opening myself up to new experiences, I reached for my spiritual Magic 8-Ball (which, admittedly, is generally stuck on hell, yeah) and it immediately came up with hell, yeah (what did I tell you?)

It was just a matter of getting there. I’d been quoted Rp400,000 (around $AU37.00) each way for a car and driver from Seminyak to Keramas. But I also knew this could be a worthy introduction to exploring the more distant parts of Bali, so I determined that, without any previous experience, I would hire a motor scooter and ride there myself.

And that, my friends, will be the subject of another post.

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So long story short, I booked a room at Komune, charted my journey via Google Maps (a total of 35 kilometres, I was informed, about 40 minutes) and set off. The route was pretty much idiot-proof as I took the Sunset Road then the Ngurah Rai by-pass towards Sanur.  It was just a matter of following my nose until I was roughly east of Denpasar. This road was a direct route to Ubud but, taking notice of the unusually assistive signage, I branched off onto (deep breathe) Jl Professor Doktor Ida Bagus Mantra towards Candidasa.

In all, and taking into account over-shooting the Keramas Beach turn-off, I arrived in the parking lot of Komune about 90 minutes later. So much for Google Maps (and that will definitely be another post).

It’s billed as a four-star resort with 66 guestrooms and suites. The rack rate for rooms is $AU150 but on-line booking sites go as far down as $AU75. For suites, rack is $AU192, with discounts as low as $AU113. A number of package deals are also available. Eat, Play, Surf includes room, daily breakfast, five massages, two night surfing lessons or two yoga sessions, two sunset cocktails and one dinner. Packages are for a minimum of five or seven nights.

The guestrooms are air-conditioned with comfortable beds and large bathrooms. There is a well-stocked mini-bar, enough power points, loads of natural light, and the only drawback I could really note was an unusual design flaw that allowed neighbours to be heard quite distinctly, even if they weren’t particularly noisy. And it stands to reason that if you can hear them, they can most certainly hear you. You’ve been warned.

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The beach club aspect is a real winner. Walk through reception and the vast tropical gardens and you’re a grassy field overlooking Keramas Beach. A large swimming pool, bracketed with wide plush day beds, looks out on the surfers attempting to dodge the rocks and master the breaks.

At one end is an elevated two-level beach shack with a shabby-chic-meets-Ralph-Lauren vibe. Spotlights directed at the beach are used for night surfing. At the other end is an ultra-modern dining area nestled under the sloping angle of what appears to be a tropical interpretation of a 1950s Hollywood flying saucer (very The Day The Earth Stood Still, the Michael Rennie version not the atrocious Keanu Reeves remake). Just beyond that is an outdoor cinema; if there are no thrill-seekers ingracious enough not to provide night surfing entertainment, at least there’s a fall-back.

After the pricing of Seminyak’s Potato Head or Cocoon, which is much more in line with an upmarket Sydney bar, food and beverage at Komune is a delight. The Big Barrel Burger, with egg, cheese, bacon and beetroot, costs Rp80,000 ($AU7.37), the same price as the Chorizo and Calamari Salad and the Komune Roast Vegetable Salad.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the flying saucer, while lunch and snacks are always available around the pool area. Weekdays are the time to visit; on the weekends, especially Sundays, families take control of the pool.

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Komune is especially proud of their green credentials. Their solar farm provides much of the electricity, the organic garden many of the vegetables, they have a dedicated team for cleaning the beach and adjoining river, they treat their own waste water and use it to water plants and garden, and they also make their own bottled water.

Located far enough away from the tourist hordes to deter those who would frequent Potato Head and Ku De Ta, Komune is a very special experience. Did it reshape my view of beach clubs? It did. Will I return? Most definitely; I’ll be there again in a few days. Despite the distance, it’s still close enough to home (and Ubud, should I feel like a side serving of weird with my burger) to merit a day trip.

It’s in a beautiful part of the world, with Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida in one direction and the looming presence of the semi-retired volcano, Mount Agung, in the other, a dark sand beach and cold eager surf that carries a taste of salt to the day beds. Basking in the sun, cocktail at hand, music prickling your consciousness, there seems no better way to celebrate yet another perfect day in Bali. And, with the right company, there probably isn’t.

© words and photos David Latta 2014

A Close Shave: Strange Days and The Doors of Perception Opened at Bali’s Only Traditional Barber Shop

A  close shave at the barber of Bali
A close shave at the barber of Bali

Ah, male pattern baldness. It runs in the family, both sides, so I really didn’t stand a chance. In my late teens, I had long hair, half-way down my back, centre-parted, very David Cassidy. And a widow’s peak.

In my 20s, what I remember most is the eternal search for a good hairdresser which, as any woman will tell you, can be extremely frustrating. The late 1970s was the early days of “product”, otherwise known as gel, and a large chunk of the mornings spent blow-waving my raven locks to generate just the right degree of tousled insouciance. That was the Bryan Ferry period, mixed with a healthy dose of how Ian Fleming would characterise the dark comma of hair falling across James Bond’s right eye.

That continued into the mid-80s, and luckily I avoided the worst instances of that decade’s hair crimes; I can only imagine what could have transpired had my tastes in music veered more towards A Flock Of Seagulls than Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

By the 90s, when it was apparent I was being denuded by the follicular equivalent of continental drift, acceptance came fairly peaceably (although there was one ill-advised flirtation with a perm; luckily, photographic evidence no longer exists following the sad events surrounding the mineshaft explosion).

Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978
Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978

My father had a comb-over, so I wasn’t going there, while an uncle was overly attached (if you’ll pardon my pun) to a budget hairpiece that, increasingly, began to resemble a small, malnourished woodland creature that had crawled onto his head to die (he still wears it, God bless him).

No, in a sterling example of clear thinking, I decided I’d face baldness head-on (oops, sorry, another pun). Like Bruce Willis, whose own capillose complications paralleled my own, I went for the buzz cut and, eventually, shaving my head.

In Sydney, I’d have my head shaved once a week; I lived in an area that would once have been described as “edgy” back before an average tumbledown cottage fetched upwards of a million dollars and there was no shortage of traditional barbers, born clutching straight razors in their pudgy fingers.

In Bali, however, it’s another matter. I’ll rarely shave my own head. The front and sides aren’t the problem, it’s the back and neck, impossible to do with any degree of accuracy. For the time I’ve been here, I’ve used a pair of clippers for a permanent buzz cut.

Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana
Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana

However, necessity calls and I’m pleased to say I’ve found the solution.

The Barber of Bali bills itself as the “only gentleman’s barber” on the island. It’s located just off the extreme northern end of Jalan Seminyak. It’s the brainchild of Shierley Koval, who filled me in on the concept at a recent InterNations function. I’d like to say I made an immediate beeline for the place but it ain’t so; I stumbled across it by chance a few weeks later.

The Barber is on the first floor, Jl Basangkasa 8X, up a spiral staircase from the Rumba Bar. Koval’s Shampoo Lounge, billed as Bali’s premier salon, is on the ground floor.

The Barber offers haircuts, shaves, manicures, facials and massages in air-conditioned comfort. It’s also a bar; a cold Bintang, Russian vodka or espresso coffee goes down awfully well while the stylists are doing their work.

In 1978 with the "dark comma"
In 1978 with the “dark comma”

Walk-ins are welcome and, on the day I was there, the place was consistently busy. The music couldn’t be faulted; Beach Boys and Doors and some of the more notable corners of my music collection were in high rotation. Staff were friendly and plentiful and seemed so effortlessly familiar with cutting implements that I had no hesitation in leaving my skull in their hands.

Once seated with a strong black coffee within reach, the barber solemnly presented a new razor blade and inserted it into the straight razor. Now I should mention how nervous I am with sharp implements in close proximity to my head and there have been times (notably some years back in Durban, South Africa, where a rusty pair of electric clippers occasioned considerable blood-letting and a subsequent period of extended angst) when necessity overrode my natural hesitation.

This time, I had no such fears. The shave was expert and relaxing. I’ll be back. Not every week, mind you, but when I need a clean-up, I know exactly where to come.

The Barber of Bali
Jl Basangkasa 8X, Seminyak
Tel: 0361 843 9867 (walk-ins welcome)
http://www.xisle.me/barber

© words and photos David Latta 2014