CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton about her commissioned work “Threshold Sites: Feast.” This Spring Faculty Dance Event will take place on Friday, April 25 at 7pm, and Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 2pm and 7pm in the new Cross Street Dance Studio, located at 160 Cross Street in Middletown.
Social media such as YouTube and Facebook have all but eliminated formerly unbridgeable distances between people and communities across the world. We are more connected today than ever before.
Coupled with growing concern for the environment, our increased connectivity demands that we reconsider our understanding of community. What does it mean to be part of a community? How can we foster local communities in an increasingly globalized world? How can human communities exist in harmony with nature?
The notion of community is central to this year’s Spring Faculty Dance Event. Created and directed by Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton, Threshold Sites: Feast explores the relationships between bodies, communities, and environments through the lens of food.
“Something about the way you live in and experience your body is related to the way you live in and relate to your community and your environment,” says Ms. Stanton.
Food relates to it all. We eat to nourish our bodies, come together to break bread, and depend on the earth for our food. Food sustains every life, family, and community.
In recent years, food has become a hot topic of debate and conversation.
“There is so much controversy surrounding food production and food security right now,” says Stanton. “So much talk about what diet is good for you and for the planet.”
Threshold Sites: Feast is the culmination of Ms. Stanton’s engagement in the College of the Environment’s 2013-2014 Think Tank: Re-Envisioning the Commons. Over the course of this school year, the Think Tank has made efforts to expand discourse between economists, scientists, ecologists, and ethicists by bringing the humanities and performing arts into the conversation.
Ms. Stanton will perform in the work alongside Rachel Boggia, Deborah Goffe, Nik Owens ’12, and Wesleyan Artist in Residence in West African Dance Iddi Saaka. They are a diverse group, with backgrounds in myriad dance forms and roots across the globe.
“It was an extremely collaborative process,” says Ms. Stanton. “The question being how do all these different bodies come together in a process that feels full and rich and challenging to everyone.”
As part of the rehearsal process, Ms. Stanton prompted all of her dancers to reflect on their personal and shared experiences with food. They collected stories about memorable meals and songs about feasting — weaving many voices together into one rich sound score that backgrounds the event.
Some of the foods discussed in the sound score, many of them cherished family recipes, will be served to the audience. Yes, there will be literal feasting.
Ms. Stanton intends to source some of the food from Wesleyan’s own Long Lane Farm. Greg Foley ’16 has been collaborating with Ms. Stanton on a documentary, which parallels the rehearsal process for Threshold Sites: Feast with the process of getting the farm up and running.
Threshold Sites: Feast will be the first performance to take place in the Wesleyan Dance Department’s new studio on Cross Street. Formerly the A.M.E. Zion Church, the building has been remodeled into a beautiful dance studio that can also be converted into a black box theater.
Center for the Arts Story: I was a senior theater major when the Center for the Arts opened in 1973. I’ve never put much stock in things supernatural, but there was always something freaky to me about the fact that the stage of the new theater was located on the exact spot where my grandparents had once had their house and where my mother had been born. I spent hundreds of fantastic, life-changing hours in the CFA. Before it even opened, I earned some much needed cash during the summer of ’73 working as a carpenter there, building things like the speakers in the new cinema and the cabinets in the design studio of the new theater. As a theater major, I took classes there, ran the (then revolutionary) new computer light board for the first play in the new theater, and I played the Referee in Fritz DeBoer’s production of Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime. As President of WESU-FM, I produced a series of broadcasts of inaugural concerts from various venues, including an all-night-long gamelan concert and shadow puppet performance from the World Music Hall. And as a typical student attending CFA concerts, performances, exhibitions, and lectures, I had my eyes and ears and mind opened for a lifetime to a broad range of artistic expressions.
Favorite Course: Directing for the Stage
Favorite Professor: Ralph Pendleton
Thesis Title: “An Exploration of Simultaneity as a Form for the Theatre”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Claire Marshall ’17, Trouve Ivo ’15, Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14, and CFA Programming Intern Francesca Miller ’14 about the “Living in Song” residency workshops. Participants from the workshops will perform song, movement, and sign language in a free celebratory concert on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 7pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
Three members of the Grammy Award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock® [currently celebrating their 40th anniversary season] have been in residence at Wesleyan over the past month. They’ve been teaching three different workshops for 65 Wesleyan students and Connecticut residents. The workshops have been held at the Cross Street A.M.E. Zion Church, the Green Street Arts Center, and in the Fayerweather Dance Studio on campus.
In “The Vocal Movement Experience” workshops, Dr. Nitanju Bolade Casel shows participants how movement and breath can serve as a catalyst for sound. Dr. M. Louise Robinson leads “The Rhythm Ring,” workshops designed to spark musical conversation in the oral tradition of call and response. Those in Dr. Shirley Mary Childress’ “Songs in the Way of Hand” workshops learn to understand and communicate songs visually using the vocabulary of American Sign Language.
Although each of the “Living in Song” workshops has a unique focus, they all center on ideas of community. Part of the mission of Sweet Honey in the Rock® is to engage with and empower its diverse audience. Dr. Casel, Dr. Robinson, and Dr. Childress have achieved just that with their “Living in Song” workshops.
“Looking around the room and recognizing our different backgrounds has been really empowering to me,” says Claire Marshall ’17. “It’s been a chance to drop into a world where people don’t all come from the same place.”
The workshops provide a unique opportunity for Wesleyan students to learn alongside Middletown residents. There are participants commuting from other parts of Connecticut as well, including a few women who sing in a choir in Hartford.
“It’s a lot more about the community than about us Wesleyan students,” says Trouve Ivo ’15.
“The group is incredibly diverse and it has been wonderful to play in this way,” comments Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14.
A couple adults are participating alongside their home-schooled children, further broadening the age range of the workshops. “The children are super enthusiastic,” says CFA Programming Intern Francesca Miller ’14.
Playful and enthusiastic seem to describe the general mood of the workshops. “Everyone is always super excited to be there,” describes Mr. Ivo.
The energy cultivated in the workshops is radiant, and participants are bringing what they’ve learned into the community. Two Wesleyan students are taking the “Songs in the Way of Hand” workshops as a way to become familiar with deaf culture in anticipation of living in Sign House next year.
The “Living in Song” workshops speak to the power of song to foster community, all the while honoring the voice of the individual.
“I’ve grown to be more comfortable with using my own voice and using song to bring a group together,” reflects Mr. Ivo. “Vocal expression should be more present in creative communities because it’s a really incredible, uniting thing.”
Living in Song Showing
Thursday April 17, 2014 at 7pm
Crowell Concert Hall, 50 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown FREE!
Favorite Professors: Samuel Green & Heinrich Schwarz
Center for the Arts Story: Work began on the Center for the Arts while I was an undergrad. We never saw any part of it finished, but, in keeping with Wesleyan’s penchant for the exotic and barely practical, we felt proud that it was projected to have an entire building dedicated to just the gamelan orchestra. My professor and advisor in Art History was the beloved Sam Green, who painted in a traditional realism style but favored all things modern. Sam was instrumental in securing approval for Kevin Roche’s modernist-brutalist plan for the CFA. We all had some concern about what we had wrought as the massive monolithic temple blocks were lined up in the woods, and the joke on campus was, “It looks like something designed for the Mayans but rejected by them.”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Lily Whitsitt ’06 about directing the Theater Department production of Slawomir Mrozek’s “Vatzlav” on Thursday, April 10 and Friday, April 11, 2014 at 8pm; and Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 2pm and 8pm, in the CFA Theater.
Written by Slawomir Mrozek and directed by Lily Whitsitt ’06, Vatzlav tells the story of a shipwrecked slave’s encounter with an unfamiliar island and its wildly eccentric inhabitants. Among others, Vatzlav meets a blind Oedipus, a bloodsucking couple, and a revolutionary disguised as a bear.
The set takes its inspiration from circus design and transforms the stage into a jungle gym of raised wooden platforms. Audience members sit on stage with the actors, an invitation to join in the play’s 77 quick and episodic scenes.
Vatzlav draws from 18th-century French philosophical tales such as Voltaire’s Candide and the Marquis de Sade’s Justine to tell a story that is both profoundly political and positively hilarious. It’s a farcical, fall-out-of-your-chair-laughing kind of funny.
The work itself has a political history. Mr. Mrozek wrote Vatzlav in 1968, shortly after he fled Poland and sought political asylum in France. Due to strict censorship laws, the play did not appear in Poland until nearly a decade later.
Vatzlav reflects the life of its exiled playwright, a man writing far from home and in the midst of great political turmoil. “It’s complete satire,” says Ms. Whitsitt. “He takes an axe to every political ideology.”
With a cast of seven Wesleyan students, each character in the play embodies a different political ideology. Together they run the whole gamut of political philosophy and bring myriad perspectives into a witty and engaging dialogue.
The play delves into global questions related to power and authority, belief and hypocrisy, progress and modernity. It also considers deeply personal dilemmas.
“It’s about those moments of choice that we all face,” explains Ms. Whitsitt. “Those moments when you have to confront your own ideals and beliefs.”
It’s a story about growing up — Vatzlav arrives on the remote island shipwrecked and in search of himself, looking for a new life and identity. The zany inhabitants of the island and the trials he faces there incite him to question and come to terms with his own beliefs.
Ms. Whitsitt recalls grappling with many of her own beliefs as a student at Wesleyan, giving her reason to believe that the play would resonate with the students involved in the production and those in the audience.
“I wanted the students to be engaging with these types of questions,” explains Ms. Whitsitt. “For me, as a director, it’s such a personal process for each performer.”
Operating on both a global and a personal level, Vatzlav is a politically charged play about the choices we make as individuals. “At its base it’s about investigating humanity,” reflects Ms. Whitsitt.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Sierra Livious ’14 and Emily Weitzman ’14 about the Spring Senior Thesis Dance Concert (Thursday, April 3 through Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 8pm). All performances are sold out.
Tickets are sold out for this week’s Spring Senior Thesis Dance Concert. Featuring original works by six graduating seniors, the performances mark the culmination of their time in the Wesleyan Dance Department.
For those completing a thesis, this concert has been a year in the making. The dance thesis requires approximately twenty minutes of choreography, divided between a fall and spring concert, as well as a research paper between 60 and 100 pages. Others are doing senior projects, which entail a semester-long research engagement and an abbreviated number of choreographed minutes and written pages.
The performances will be held in the Patricelli ’92 Theater [located at 213 High Street], followed by a site-specific work at Alpha Delta Phi [located at 185 High Street]. The concerts will cover a lot of ground — the dances are a reflection of the unique and varied interests of the choreographers.
The concert opens with a piece by Sally Williams ’14. Also majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, her thesis examines the intersection between the dancing body and the diseased body with a focus on Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
In the dimly lit theater, while dancers wait in the wings, a glowing MRI scan of a deteriorating human brain is projected onto the floor of the stage. What follows is an arresting display of dancing bodies, caught in the act of remembering and forgetting. Their movement is gestural and disoriented, ethereal and detached.
Another choreographer, Sierra Livious ’14, designed her own University major, which brings together Neuroscience, Biology, and Dance to study movement analysis or kinesiology. Influenced by artists such as Irene Dowd and Andrea Olsen, her research focuses on the efficiency of goal-oriented movement through the lens of dance.
“Thinking of the body as a machine,” Ms. Livious elaborates, “I wanted my dance to explore the relationships between elements of the body.”
Ms. Livious hopes to further develop her research after graduation, focusing on real world applications of the ideas she’s exploring in her senior project. Interested in injury prevention, she intends to pursue a career in physical therapy.
Also majoring in English, Emily Weitzman ’14 is writing a non-fiction thesis about her experience at a medical clinic in Mombasa. She became fascinated with the waiting room in the clinic, as a site of both movement—people passing through and strolling by—and stillness, waiting.
Her interest in the waiting room prompted her to choreograph a piece about place, or rather “non-place.” A non-place is somewhere that exists only for one to leave it — an airport, for example, or a bus stop.
“It’s about the non-place as it relates to home,” explains Ms. Weitzman. “It’s about how people can be home, places can be home, objects can be home.”
At once playful and profound, the piece features three dancers and two wooden benches. The trio moves and manipulates the benches in the most inventive ways—climbing on them, crawling under them, flying off them—so that the benches seem to also dance. It’s as if the benches become the dancers and the dancers become the benches.
Another piece [by Elle Bayles ’14] draws inspiration from Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch to explore how modern dance and psychology both offer opportunities for self-reflection and ways of understanding the human experience. Another [by Naya Samuel ’14] poses current yet timeless questions about socially constructed identity, personal history, and perspective.
For the final piece [by Emily Jones ’14], the audience is ushered from the Patricelli ’92 Theater to the nearby Alpha Delta Phi house for a site-specific work influenced by Punchdrunk’s production of Sleep No More. The dance takes place throughout the house and viewers are free to roam, so that it’s the steps each audience member takes that determine what they see and where.
Together these six stand-alone pieces make for a diverse concert rich with movement and meaning.