A Star of Radio Kabul Performs at Wesleyan (September 28)

Ustad Farida Mahwash is an astonishing woman.  She was a secretary in the 1960s at Radio Kabul and someone heard her singing.  Before she knew what had happened, she was singing on the radio and soon became one of Afghanistan’s most beloved singers.  In the 1970s, the Afghan government awarded her the title of “Master” or “Ustad,” the first woman in the country ever to be awarded this title.

But in 1991, after the Taliban took over, she was forced to flee Afghanistan and went to Pakistan until she was given political asylum in the United States.  She settled in Fremont, California, a suburb of San Francisco, in a neighborhood that is referred to as “Little Kabul.”

Voices of Afghanistan
“Voices of Afghanistan” performs Friday, September 28, in Crowell Concert Hall at Wesleyan

The internationally renowned director, Peter Sellars, asked Ustad Mahwash to perform inan evening that also featured Dawn Upshaw in George Crumb’s Winds of Destiny, about a female veteran returning from the war in Afghanistan.  The ensemble that performed with her during those performances became Voices of Afghanistan, now on its first U.S. tour.  On Friday night, Wesleyan audiences will have the opportunity to hear instruments and music that are rarely seen in this country.

There will be a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm given by Wesleyan Professor of Music Mark Slobin. Slobin is the author of Music in the Culture of Northern Afghanistan and is one of the foremost scholars of Afghani music of the 1960s, said to be the cultural and political golden age of Afghanistan. Slobin explains that with the plethora of languages and ethnicities in Afghanistan, unification was difficult but crucial. The creation of a popular music style, played on the national radio station Radio Afghanistan, aided in Afghani cultural unification. The music style takes from both localized folk music and nineteenth century sub-continental courtly music, what Slobin calls “light classical Indian music.” Ustad Mahwash was a star of this new popular music style and consequently an icon in Afghanistan at the time. Although Mahwash has spent a large part of her life outside of Afghanistan, her music has continued to be a reflection of the 1960s “golden age,” evoking nostalgia in the Afghani people and giving an authentic snapshot of Afghanistan in the 1960s through the lens of evocative and beautiful music.


Voices of Afghanistan

New England Premiere
Featuring Ustad Farida Mahwash, Homayoun Sakhi
& The Sakhi Ensemble:
Khalil Ragheb, harmonium
Pervez Sakhi, tula (flute)
Abbos Kosimov, doyra (frame drum)
Zmarai Aref, Afghan tabla

Friday, September 28, 2012 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Pre-performance talk by Wesleyan Professor of Music Mark Slobin at 7:15pm
$22 general public; $18 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty & staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
Buy tickets online.

“The ensemble’s music, alive with cyclic tabla rhythms and spiraling rubab phrases, somehow echoed the sounds and intensity of the times.”

—The New York Times

Vocalist Ustad Farida Mahwash, the only woman to receive the title of “master” in Central or South Asia, is celebrated around the globe for her exquisite approach to poetic ghazals (folk songs). Artistic Director and rubab (double-chambered lute) virtuoso Homayoun Sakhi creates an acoustically rich crossroads for sawol-jawab (an interplay of questions and answers), exploring traditional and contemporary Afghan melodies on the inaugural tour of Voices of Afghanistan, which includes the musicians of The Sakhi Ensemble on tabla, harmonium, doyra (frame drum) and tula(flute). A Crowell Concert Series event presented by the Music Department and the Center for the Arts.

Watch and listen to a music video for the song “Josh,” composed by Homayoun Sakhi. The song features Homayoun Sakhi and Abbos Kosimov of Voices of Afghanistan.

Voices of Afghanistan is the first performance of Music & Public Life, a year-long campus and community-wide exploration of sounds, words, and the spirit of music in public. Music & Public Life consists of concerts, workshops, gatherings, and courses, all designed to cross disciplines and to engage the campus and Greater Middletown communities. For more information, please visit www.wesleyan.edu/mpl

Monica Tinyo ’13 interviews Jessica Weinstein ’02 of Anonymous Ensemble (September 22)

On Saturday, September 22, the Center for the Arts presents Liebe Love Amour!, an interactive work by Anonymous Ensemble. CFA Intern in Arts Administration Monica Tinyo ’13 interviewed Jessica Weinstein ’02, Anonymous Ensemble member and Wesleyan alum.

Did you love Hilda? If you saw Hilda in the interactive video preview or on stage in Liebe Love Amour!, you undoubtedly love her. I had the fortune of talking to the creator of Hilda (also known as Tall Hilda when on stilts), Jessica Weinstein, who is just as dynamic and charming as her alter-ego Hilda. Jessica is an actress and performance artist currently with Anonymous Ensemble, as well as a Wesleyan alum. As explained in her bio, “Jessica believes in life as theater and theater as life, has insatiable wanderlust, speaks and sings in many languages, and has a thirst to explore new forms of performance every day.”

Jessica has been creating fantastical characters since her time at Wesleyan. Her bio goes on to say that she “has a history of renegade solo missions […] She was […] part of the infamous DOUFAS. When Doofa disappeared in 2004, Dufa embarked on a worldwide quest to find her lost soulmate. Jessica’s latest partner in crime is a body double who is an exact replica of herself, who she has taken on adventures including a 30 hour Amtrak train ride from New York to the Florida Keys.” Jessica’s characters are not created for a specific performance piece but rather are born organically. Hilda first appeared on stage as the MC for the performance piece, TheBest [Weinstein’s first performance with Anonymous Ensemble], in which she walked around the stage on stilts. Hilda has been living both on and off the stage for almost a decade.

Jessica’s current company reflects her creativity. Anonymous Ensemble describes themselves as “the intrepid pioneers of stage and screen.”  They “manifest the extraordinary by refusing to be daunted by boundaries between genres, barriers between cultures, discrepancies in budgets or the limits of what is possible. […] When approaching a new project AnEn starts out with an insane premise: a narrative dance party, an opera imagined by a computer, a cinematic love affair with an audience, or a piece of children’s theatre that is actually cool!” Jessica explains that anything can happen in live spaces with real bodies [both the audience’s and artists’ bodies]. In Wanderlust, another piece by Anonymous Ensemble, the audience was moved through multiple spaces in a massive circus tent. Audience members played the non-speaking roles, which enables a distinctly different experience every time. Jessica describes a nervous energy when using non-actors that always adds a layer of excitement. Although it was scripted, the audience was intrinsically part of the narrative: “AnEn [always] creates audience-based work and considers the audience to be the co-creators of each event.”

With each new piece, Anonymous Ensemble continues to conceive structures that involve the audience and act as a platform for flexibility and spontaneity. In Liebe Love Amour!, the ensemble toys with the idea of how to create a “live film” and how to bring in the audience even more so than in the past. The ensemble combines the most magical aspects of film, the intimate gaze into someone’s soul, with the real time and space of the theatre. “AnEn accepts the pervasive power of the Screen in our current times but demands that the screen be transfigured by the unpredictable, the human, the never-to-be-repeated possibilities of the Stage.”

Although Jessica wasn’t with the company when the title was created, the title of the company always made sense to her in terms of their performance practice. When asked how the company came up with the name “Anonymous Ensemble,” Jessica explained the project always seemed more important than the “ensemble;” whatever project Anonymous Ensemble is doing is the focus rather than a manifestation or showcase of the company. She talked about the fact that the company is always changing; everyone who has been part of the ensemble at some point is and will always be part of the ensemble. The common thread between the projects that are seemingly so different is that there is always a quest. In Liebe Love Amour!, the audience goes on a quest for love with the insatiable Hilda. At the Wesleyan performance, the audience was seamlessly, lovingly, and humorously incorporated into the quest; the audience, as “co-creators of [the] event,” were so enveloped in the narrative that magical “Old Hollywood” notions of love seemed plausible.

We hope you enjoyed the performance Liebe Love Amour! on Saturday and will return to see Jessica in Lee Breuer’s Glass Guignol on February 16, 2013!

(Quotations are from Anonymous Ensemble’s website.)

A scene from "Liebe Love Amour!"
A scene from “Liebe Love Amour!”

Anonymous Ensemble: Liebe Love Amour!

New England Premiere

Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 8pm

CFA Theater

$23 general public, $19 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty & staff, non-Wesleyan students, $6 Wesleyan students


“Behind all the frenetic and seemingly spontaneous activity is a very cleverly constructed ‘performance script,’ with the audience expertly managed to suit the show’s needs.”
—Circus Sideshow Magazine


Liebe Love Amour! is a theatricalized “live film” of an epic search for love. In this latest work of interactive theater, Anonymous Ensemble creates Hollywood magic using cameras, a green-screen, live video processing software, and the opulent imagery of silent film director Erich von Stroheim. The show unveils a panoply of love affairs between Tall Hilda and a string of paramours including a fictionalized Erich von Stroheim, a devout Gloria Swanson, and the audience in the theater. Throughout the narrative, the audience is drawn into and onto the silver screen as their own stories become part of the fabric of the piece. The show is a tryst between cinema and live performance that invites the audience to voyeuristically participate in the artifice of cinema and the magic of theater simultaneously. With its lush, cinematic orchestration and rapid, real-time editing, Liebe Love Amour! spins layers of romance and reality as it reels towards its inevitable Hollywood finish.

Tickets are available online or by phone (860-685-3355) or in person at the Wesleyan University Box Office in the Usdan Center at 45 Wyllys Avenue.


To learn more about Anonymous Ensemble, click here:



And for Jessica Weinstein’s blog, click here:


Performance Now Opens at Zilkha Gallery

A blog post by Pamela Tatge.

Wesleyan faculty, students and graduate students have a long history of exploring the intersection of visual art and performance. Professor Ron Kuivila tells me that performance artist Charlotte Moorman performed the legendary Nam June Paik’s TV Bra for Living Sculpture at the first-ever opening at Zilkha in 1973… featuring a different baseball game on each breast!

Christian Jankowski, “Rooftop Routine” (detail), 2007. Photo courtesy of Performa.

Today I’m thrilled that the Zilkha Gallery will host an opening celebration for the debut of a new exhibition:  Performance Now:  The First Decade of the New Century, curated by RoseLee Goldberg and co-produced by Independent Curators International (ICI) and Performa.

You’ll see the work of 19 artists from a vast repository of new performance from around the world since 2000, a period that has witnessed exponential growth in the field. Museums around the world are creating performance departments to increase the presence of performance in institutional offerings and to harness this new energy.

The debut also coincides with the establishment of Wesleyan’s new Institute of Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP), a post-graduate certificate program that is the first of its kind in the United States.  ICPP brings artists, presenters, managers and other arts professionals together with Wesleyan faculty and some of the finest performance curators working today for a nine-month low residency program. Our students develop a responsive curatorial practice that takes the best from the fields of visual and performing arts. Performance Now is an important show to integrate into this year’s ICPP curriculum, while also resonating with community members and many of our undergraduate and graduate arts students interested in exploring contemporary performance practices and their social and historical contexts.

Beginning with the Futurists in the early 20th century, performance art has sustained and expanded its presence in artistic communities but only recently has its history and practice begun to be articulated and discussed. The lack of discussion in the past may very well be related to the difficulty of defining and categorizing performance art, a form that is situated in an ambiguous space between visual and performing arts.

Among the “must sees” in the exhibition are the works of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Omer Fast and Marina Abramović, all of which are presented here as video documentation of live art performances. Allora & Calzadilla’s piece Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy, No. 2 presents a restructuring of the prolific symphony “Ode to Joy” in which the performer plays from a hole cut from the inside of a piano, creating two inoperative octaves, while moving around the exhibition space. The piece facilitates discussion on music and sound as well as a reassessment of “Ode to Joy” historically and politically. Omer Fast’s Talk Show, inspired by the childhood game “telephone,” is a social critique and personal exploration of communication and its universal malfunctions. In Talk Show, a person tells an actor a personal story (that connects to larger political themes) on stage that the actor must then recount to another actor; the audience watches the story change as it is recounted. In Marina Abramović’s Seven Easy Pieces, the artist “re-performs” seven performance pieces that were originally presented in the 1960s and 1970s by six artists (two pieces were Abramović’s) in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. The piece is presented as a multi-screen video installation documenting the seven performances of Seven Easy Pieces.

During the run of the exhibition, we’ll have a number of special events including a film series curated by Wes alum Lana Wilson ’05, a panel of Wes alums currently engaged in performance art, and a lecture by RoseLee Goldberg.  For a complete listing of events, please visit: www.wesleyan.edu/performancenow