The Center for the Arts is one of the rare places in the state where you can consistently experience arts from around the world. This semester is no exception. In January and February, the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery hosts the work of ten contemporary Chinese artists born after the Cultural Revolution who are challenging traditional notions of Chinese identity and inventing new ways to shout out in the global arena. In February, Syrian singer Gaida brings her band to Crowell Concert Hall. At a time when her country is under siege, her soulful voice will remind us of the beauty and power of Syrian music and culture. And playwright Guillermo Calderón will discuss his award-winning works about Chile in the aftermath of the dictatorship.
Finally, the Music Department will host a March symposium on the work of the legendary experimental music composer David Tudor and, in April, the Theater Department offers Wes Out-Loud, a site-specific work created by Assistant Professor Marcela Oteíza and her students.
The semester ends on May 7 with Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter, the second annual eco-arts festival featuring world music bands, educational exhibits, and site-specific performance works by area organizations at Middletown’s Harbor Park, located on the bank of the Connecticut River.
Wesleyan University DanceLink Fellow and CFA Arts Administration Intern Sonya Levine ’17 talks to Associate Professor of Dance Hari Krishnan about internationally acclaimed Indian dancer and choreographer Alarmél Valli, who makes her Connecticut debut on Sunday, October 11, 2015 at 3pm in Crowell Concert Hall as the conclusion of the 39th annual Navaratri Festival. Mr. Krishnan will also have a conversation with Ms. Valli following the free screening of the film “Lasya Kavya: The World of Alarmél Valli” on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at 2pm in CFA Hall.
How does Alarmél Valli bring the forms of music, dance and poetry together?
Seamlessly and with great sophistication and accessibility! As a dancer who embodies the word “articulate” in every fiber of her being, Alarmél Valli is also trained extensively in music, and has an innate love for literature and poetry. So, her dance is literally visual music in the highest order. She is acclaimed as an artist who sings with her body. She has often been described as a painter who uses her body as an empty canvas, painting upon it all the glorious colors, hues, and tints of life.
What are the stories that she tells?
Her stories are always about the sensual and spiritual coming together in a complex, integrated manner. Her stories give great hope and affirmation of life and humanity. Her stories have the unique ability to cut across linguistic, social, political, and cultural boundaries. Alarmél Valli is a rare, one-of-a-kind artist whose dance touches everyone universally.
Why is Alarmél Valli important to the dance world?
Alarmél Valli is an internationally acclaimed superstar Bharatanatyam dancer. She has been a leading light in the industry for the past 40 years, touring major theaters, festivals, and opera houses from Europe to Asia. She has transformed the traditional solo dance of Bharatanatyam into a vibrant, dynamic, and engaging solo dance style—current and relevant for a 21st century global audience. This is why she is much sought after by the most avant-garde theaters and festivals in Europe to the most conservative classical arts-friendly venues in India. On a personal level, it has been a long-awaited dream of mine to have Alarmél Valli’s appearance at Wesleyan. Her dance teacher and my dance teacher were cousins. She is also a dear friend, and I have followed her work since the late 1980s.
Why is Wesleyan an ideal site for this performance?
Wesleyan University is a major site for the performance of Indian dance and music for the past 50 years, and that is why all the great artists of India consider it an honor to perform on this campus. From a dance perspective, Wesleyan is also a major historical site for the preservation of an important strand of courtesan-style Bharatanatyam, so to have someone like Alarmél Valli, who intersects tradition and modernity, is a natural progression as a testimony to this great institution. The audiences are in for a treat on Sunday afternoon where an iconic dance artist who has been compared to [Rudolf] Nureyev and [Mikhail] Baryshnikov will grace the stage. Alarmél Valli Connecticut Debut
Sunday, October 11, 2015 at 3pm
Crowell Concert Hall, 50 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown $18 general public; $15 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff/alumni, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
This year, we are looking forward to introducing you to artists who are asking important questions about our world today, questioning why things are the way they are, and helping us to envision how they might be.
At a time when our country is struggling to find its way in terms of race relations, we’ve invited writer/performer Daniel Beaty to campus for a residency that includes the October 9 performance of Mr. Joy, his highly acclaimed tour de force solo show about a community’s efforts to heal in order to dream again.
Composer, visual artist, and new media innovator R. Luke DuBois takes over the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery from September 16 through December 13 with his exhibition In Real Time, creating maps, scores, and videos that use real-time data flows and media footage to raise questions of artistic agency, privacy, and fair use. In time for the election season, the CFA has commissioned him to create a new work using research generated by the Wesleyan Media Project.
All this shares the fall schedule with performances by faculty and students, including the final class performance by students of Adjunct Professor of Music Abraham Adzenyah, who is retiring after teaching Ghanaian drumming at Wesleyan for the past 45 years. You won’t want to miss that concert on December 4.
As always, we hope you will look to the CFA as a place of enlightenment and enjoyment in the months ahead.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to the winners of the Wesleyan University Concerto Competition—Josh Davidoff ’18, Harim Jung ’16, and Paula Tartell ’18—who will be performing a free concert with the Wesleyan University Orchestra on Saturday, May 2, 2015 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
This Saturday, the Wesleyan University Orchestra, under the direction of Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Nadya Potemkina, presents Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and the winners of the Wesleyan University Concerto Competition.
The concerto competition is open to all undergraduate and graduate Wesleyan students. The three winners have the opportunity to play a piece of their choosing, either a published arrangement or an original composition, accompanied by the Wesleyan Orchestra or Wind Ensemble. This year’s winners are Josh Davidoff ’18 (clarinet), Harim Jung ’16 (double bass), and Paula Tartell ’18 (piano).
Mr. Davidoff is a freshman from Evanston, Illinois. He picked up the clarinet in fourth grade, but it was not until his sophomore year of high school that he realized his intense passion for classical music. He came to Wesleyan after a summer spent touring the country with the National Youth Orchestra, a 120-person orchestra of which he was Apprentice Orchestra Manager. He has continued to pursue music at Wesleyan and is currently studying with Private Lessons Instructor Charlie Suriyakham.
“Music has been very prevalent in my first year at Wesleyan,” he says. “It is related in some way to most everything I do.”
This Saturday, he will perform the Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra by Claude Debussy, a piece originally composed for the Paris Conservatory’s clarinet examinations in 1910. Mr. Davidoff describes it as incredibly challenging but deeply satisfying to play.
“This piece is particularly significant in music history because it is one of the first to use blankets of harmony, instead of more traditional progressions of chords,” Mr. Davidoff says. “It explores a pallet of sound, rather than a trajectory.”
A New Jersey native, Mr. Jung is a junior pursuing a double major in Music and Psychology. He played cello until middle school where he discovered his passion for bass. He has rigorously studied classical double bass since the age of thirteen, and also plays electric bass as a hobby. At Wesleyan he studies with Private Lessons Teacher Roy Wiseman.
This Saturday, Mr. Jung will perform the first two movements of Giovanni Bottesini’s Bass Concerto No. 2 in b minor, a concerto he has been practicing all year.
“I am particularly drawn to this bass concerto,” Mr. Jung says. “Not only because of its virtuosity, but also for its romantic and operatic compositional style.”
He describes this particular bass concerto as the Paganini of all bass concertos, heroic and strong.
“I imagine a baritone walking on stage and starting with this strong note,” he says. “That’s the image that comes to mind when I play this piece.”
Ms. Tartell is a freshman from Great Neck, New York. She started playing piano as a six-year-old, taking lessons locally until high school when she began commuting to New York City for her music schooling. After taking a break from music her first semester at Wesleyan, she entered the concerto competition as a way to get back into playing.
“I honestly didn’t feel like myself when I wasn’t practicing seriously,” she says.
This semester, in addition to preparing the concerto, she is studying with Private Lessons Teacher William Braun.
Ms. Tartell will perform Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in a minor in this Saturday’s concert. Premiered in Leipzig in January of 1846, it is the only piano concerto that Mr. Schumann ever completed.
“The Schumann really spoke to me,” she says. “It speaks not in a conventional, flashy way but reminds me of the person who is soft spoken yet says a lot.”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to stage manager Julia Tyminski ’17, and Albert Tholen ’15 and Grace Nix ’15, who are performing as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in the Wesleyan University Theater Department production of Eugène Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” which runs through Saturday, April 25, 2015 in the CFA Theater.
In 1950, Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco wrote The Bald Soprano, one of the seminal plays of Theater of the Absurd. He was inspired by the cliché dialogues between the imaginary Mr. and Mrs. Smith in an English phrasebook for beginners. Albert Tholen ’15 and Grace Nix ’15 play Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the production by the Wesleyan University Theater Department, directed by Professor of Theater Yuri Kordonsky.
“We are a proper British couple with a twist,” says Ms. Nix with a sly smile.
The entire play takes place in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in their home on the outskirts of London. “It’s a drawing room drama,” says Mr. Tholen. “One that goes horribly awry.”
With The Bald Soprano, Mr. Ionesco rejected coherent plot, character development, and the concept of realistic drama. Through dark and daring humor, the play discusses the futility of meaningful communication in contemporary society, and the tragedy of language in a universe driven by chance.
“It’s a very different logic of causality in this world,” says Ms. Nix. “An illogical logic.”
Ms. Nix and Mr. Tholen, along with the other four actors in the cast (Edward Archibald ’17, Sara Fayngolz ’17, Natalie May ’18, and Peter McCook ’16), have been working with Professor Kordonsky since the beginning of the semester. Together with dramaturge Rachel Sobelsohn ’17, assistant director May Treuhaft-Ali ’17, and stage manager Julia Tyminski ’17, they spent the first two weeks of rehearsal analyzing different translations of the play, originally written in French, to draft their own composite script.
“We spent hours talking about single words,” says Ms. Nix. “Until we arrived at a script, which we felt was the best expression of what this play is trying to say.”
“It’s nice to have ownership over the language in that way,” says Mr. Tholen. “It’s become our script.”
Professor Kordonsky gave the actors a great deal of creative responsibility throughout the process. They would divide into subsets and work on specific moments in the script, then come back together as a cast and share. They created scene after scene, gradually bringing both clarity and complexity to Mr. Ionesco’s absurdity.
“I think more than anything else, Mr. Smith is like a coat that I wear,” says Mr. Tholen. “I don’t get on stage and become him. It’s more of an attitude.”
“It’s the total acceptance of a different world,” says Ms. Nix. “Even though it doesn’t make any sense, it feels right.”
The Bald Soprano invites its audience to view the play from the actual stage of the CFA Theater, rather than from the house seats where one faces a proscenium.
“For this play you want an intimate connection with the audience,” says Ms. Nix. “If the audience were farther away, I think we would lose that connection and some of the urgency of the play.”
Sitting on the stage of the CFA Theater, the audience finds itself right there in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Smith — in close proximity to the play’s simple set: a couch, some chairs, a clock.
“The set looks relatively realistic,” says stage manager Julia Tyminski ’17. “But the minute the show starts you realize it’s an absurd production, yet the actors are playing it as if it’s realism, and that’s where the comedy comes in.”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Miranda Orbach ’15, Eriq Robinson ’15, and Virgil Taylor ’15 about their theses in Dance, Music, and Studio Art.
With the deadline for theses this Friday, April 10, 2015, Wesleyan seniors from all different majors are hunkering down across campus to complete the projects they have dedicated their year to. Thesis writers in Dance, Music, and Studio Art are presenting their work at the Center for the Arts every week through the end of the semester.
Featuring new works by eight choreographers, the Spring Senior Thesis Dance Concert took place last weekend in the Patricelli ’92 Theater. Closing the first half of the concert was Miranda Orbach’s form[all] training, a piece in partial fulfillment of her honors thesis in American Studies and Dance.
Ms. Orbach’s written thesis, “Monstrous Form: the Ballerina and the Freak,” draws the ballet and the freak show together to examine how each distinct performance mirrors the other. Her thesis reads the ballet through the lens of the freak show, and the freak show through the lens of the ballet.
“Historically we have separated these forms so far away from each other,” says Ms. Orbach. “Bringing them together actually allows us to intervene in the literature about both of them. It’s not that they are the same, but that they are useful for reading each other, as spectacle, body, and display are central themes to both performances.”
In her thesis, Ms. Orbach tells the story of one ballerina: Caroline Shadle ’16, who performs in the piece with two other female dancers. They dance with one foot in a pointe shoe and one barefoot to a sound score that narrates Ms. Shadle’s story, giving powerful insight into the life of an aspiring ballerina.
“The feeling of freakishness is not so far from the feeling of being trained,” says Ms. Orbach. “The two work in tandem. All of these categories that we oppose so starkly in society—form and deformity, ability and disability—are actually inherent to each other.”
Eriq Robinson’s senior recital, Reality Ends Here: The Beginning of the End, will take place this Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 7pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. The recital, featuring a vocal ensemble and a horn ensemble, is one component of Mr. Robinson’s thesis in Music. The vocal ensemble is inspired by South African overtone singing, the music of the Japanese Ainu, and Slavei, an a cappella group on campus that performs Slavic, Balkan, and Georgian liturgical music.
“The performance is a narrative story telling experience with music, based on a cosmological structure that I made up myself,” says Mr. Robinson. His cosmological structure is based on ideas from Buddhism and other Eastern religions, as well as Abrahamic religions and some African religions.
“It’s a story about the beginning of the end of the world,” he explains. “The idea is that humans are the nerve endings of the cosmos. We are all just the end of invisible tendrils that are the cosmos, all part of a giant macro organism.”
In the written component of his thesis, Mr. Robinson gives a short history of Afro-Futurism and attempts to determine if his music fits into that creative lineage.
“Because I’m making up a cosmological structure, I’ve been trying to make music that doesn’t sound familiar,” he says. “The hardest part about it has been trying to make music that sounds unfamiliar, while at the same time not making bad music. What I think makes music good, on an objective level, is having some sort of system and methodology that’s tying it all together.”
Mr. Robinson plans to continue writing his story even after the recital, and hopes this will be the first in a series of performances.
Studio Art major Virgil Taylor’s thesis, Irregular Quadrilateral, will be on display in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery from Tuesday, April 14 through Sunday, April 19, 2015; with an opening reception on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 from 4pm to 6pm.
After receiving a Zawisa fellowship from the Wesleyan Studio Art Department last spring, Mr. Taylor travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the summer to study metal plate lithography at the Tamarind Institute. The youngest person in the program, both of his roommates were university professors.
When Mr. Taylor returned to Wesleyan this past fall, he realized he wanted to shift the focus of his thesis from lithography to intaglio prints. Intaglio refers to a printmaking process in which the image is carved into the plate with acid, a scribe, or a needle.
“Even though I did not end up doing my thesis in lithography, I think my work at the Tamarind Institute this summer really informed me on how to think about compositions,” says Mr. Taylor. “It was an opportunity to spend four weeks doing nothing but printmaking.”
His exhibition will fill Zilkha Gallery with intaglio prints of irregular quadrilaterals, which look like rectangles in perspective. In addition, he has created a large-scale composition resembling his prints that will occupy the back bay of the gallery—a 24 foot long piece of steel painted blue will mirror the many blue lines in his prints, and an eight foot tall drywall panel will appear in the shape of one of his plates.
“I’m interested in work that doesn’t require or desire any explicit content, or really any implicit content, but exists as a formal space,” says Mr. Taylor. “That’s why I like being able to make the giant version, because I can emphasize that it’s simply an arrangement of forms.”
You began writing lyrics for your first EP on a trip to Egypt in 2010. What about the trip inspired you to start writing?
I tend to take a notebook with me and scribble wherever I go, and it was the summer before [Hosni] Mubarak was overthrown, so everyone was talking about politics all the time. I was staying in a youth shelter at the time and talking with other Egyptians about what was going on and writing down my observations about how women are treated, about things I felt were unfair in the culture. These are things that I grew up with in America, as well—people take their culture with them. So I started writing things down and not necessarily as an outsider because these things do exist in America too. These inequalities are not just among Egyptians but everybody.
What inspired your second EP, Judgment Day?
I wrote this song after watching a film called The Stoning of Soraya M, based [on] a true story about a woman in Iran who was stoned because her husband framed her for adultery. This actually happened in the 1980s. I was so upset by the film that I wrote a song, not so much about the film, but about what is happening to people of my faith. It was a critique about how I feel some people of my faith have taken religion and made it so evil and how it can really harm people. The song became the title track of the EP.
Judgment Day is a provocative title. What does the title mean to you?
I feel that as a Middle Eastern woman, there is a lot of judgment. We face a lot more judgment than our male counterparts. Our reputation is our biggest asset in a lot of cases. The title was about that feeling of constantly being judged. I feel like every day is judgment day for an Arab woman, a Muslim woman. Everyone else is judging what you should do, what you should say, what you should sing. That’s what I tried to address with the title and specifically with that song.
You say you might have been a journalist, had your life gone a different direction. Thinking about journalism and songwriting as two forms of storytelling, what do you think song achieves that journalism does not?
For me, writing a song can appeal to people’s emotions in a way that hard news just can’t. Often people just want to turn the news off because it’s so depressing, but with song one can elaborate behind whatever story you’re telling to make people really feel. It’s not just the facts, not just what happened. I think the reason song is so effective is that it helps creates empathy in a way that sometimes hard news just doesn’t.
What do you hope people will gain from listening to your music?
I want to make people think. I want people to have a good time, but there’s a lot of music out there that doesn’t necessarily really make people think. To be fair, I think that all music has a place. I don’t think you have to address an issue for the music to be important, like the stuff I’m writing now is more about personal things. I think that’s just as important because I think songwriting attempts to reach an understanding about the human condition. I want people to feel something when they listen to my music. Whether I’m writing about a break up or political evil, I just want them to feel something.
Do you think your songs fall into either a personal or political category, or do you think both the personal and the political are manifest in each song you write?
To me the two are intertwined. How I feel about any given issue is political, and it’s personal. I’m observing, and I recognize that there’s bias in my music. I wouldn’t see it as hard news, so much as an op-ed. It’s personal and political. One of my newer singles that just came out is very personal. It’s about street harassment, about being a woman and feeling unsafe. That is actually something political—there’s a feminist message in the song, [and] it’s talking about the place of women in society—but it’s very personal.
Who are some of your greatest musical influences?
One of the biggest is a singer from Columbia named Juanes. He’s a pop/rock singer-songwriter and a mean guitar player. He’s actually the best selling artist in Columbia, even before Shakira. But if you listen to his older stuff, he was using really catchy melodies to write really meaningful things. He has one song that is so catchy you want to bob your head to it, but then you really listen to it and realize he’s talking about landmines. He made me realize that pop music is actually a really useful vehicle to spread a message, and it doesn’t have to be esoteric or metaphorical to be political. Other than Juanes, I’m influenced by the 1960s—any of the singer-songwriters of the 1960s. Also, India.Arie. She writes some really catchy songs, but there’s a good message behind them. She has soul. I like artists with consciousness, not just political consciousness but any kind.
At Wesleyan, Ms. Hegazy will be accompanied for the first time outside of New York City by drummer Max Maples, bassist Carl Limbacher, electric guitarist Coyote Anderson, and Natalia Perlaza on Arabic percussion and tabla.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 interviewed Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Art Studio Technician Kate TenEyck about a project the Center for the Arts is partnering on with John Lyman Elementary School in Middlefield, Connecticut.
Last year the Center for the Arts teamed up with John Lyman Elementary School, located seven miles from Wesleyan University in Middlefield, Connecticut, to apply for an Arts in Education grant that partners public schools with arts organizations. Out of a total of over 80 applicants, the CFA and Lyman were one of only eight to receive a grant.
The idea for the partnership started when teachers at Lyman had the vision to transform the school’s aging, fading walls into blank canvases for students to fill. They envisioned a series of murals, which students would help design and paint.
When Lyman first approached the CFA about partnering on the grant, Director Pamela Tatge knew that Wesleyan Visiting Professor of Art Kate TenEyck should be involved because Ms. TenEyck, in addition to being a gifted artist, is a generous community citizen. But Ms. Tatge didn’t know that Ms. TenEyck had attended school in the same regional school district.
Excited about the prospect of collaborating with Lyman, Ms. TenEyck signed on as faculty advisor to the project. She then assembled a team of four students from the Wesleyan Art Department to assist her: Addie McDowell ’16, Zach Scheinfeld ’16, Virgil Taylor ’15, and Sonya Torres ’17.
“I couldn’t ask for a better team,” says Ms. TenEyck. “It’s truly the perfect team to be doing this project.”
Every Tuesday and Friday, Ms. TenEyck and the Wesleyan students go to Lyman to work with the eighteen students in Phil Moriarty’s fourth grade class. Together they are creating the first of the murals made possible by this grant.
“I think for the Wesleyan students it’s really nice to go into the community and understand a little more about the place where Wesleyan exists,” says Ms. TenEyck. “I think that’s a huge benefit.”
For Lyman, a Higher Order Thinking School with a strong emphasis on arts integration, it was important that the project be imbedded into the curriculum.
“The subject of the first mural is the school’s core ethical values: courage, kindness, respect, honesty, and responsibility,” says Ms. TenEyck. “Phil had his students do writings about these values, and they came up with all sorts of wonderful ideas that ranged from very straightforward—‘courage is getting up in front of people and performing’ or ‘responsibility is cleaning up after yourself’—to very abstract.”
Ms. TenEyck gave a lesson on how visual representation can communicate meaning. As examples, she showed the students a painting by Pieter Bruegel, a print by Kathe Kollwitz, and a sculpture by Tom Otterness. The students then set about drawing their ideas on Lyman’s core values. Their images, like their writings, ranged from straightforward to abstract.
One fourth grader came up with the image of a killer whale to represent honesty. Another drew rays of sunshine illuminating a tree and field of grass.
“When you’re in fourth grade you’re not quite at the point where you’re trying to draw realistically, so you draw more symbolically,” says Ms. TenEyck. “And your motor skills aren’t quite there yet, so between those two things the images tend to be really fabulous and engaging.”
The Wesleyan students scanned all the images and, using graphic design technology, cut and pasted a landscape based on the drawings. This composite landscape was taken back to Lyman and projected onto a smart board in Mr. Moriarty’s class. Students could go up to the board and physically trace the figures, change their size, and move them around. What the students created became the final composition for the mural.
“The idea is that the kids really are doing it,” says Ms. TenEyck. “Not that they do something and then some professional comes in and does it all fancy.”
Next, Ms. TenEyck and the Wesleyan students brought in the white boards of the mural, which together measure six feet high by twelve feet wide. They projected the new composition onto the boards and let students trace the images. With the composition outlined, students began painting the mural just last week.
After this mural is complete, Ms. TenEyck and the Wesleyan students will team up with a different class of either third or fourth graders to make a second mural on the topic of math and computation.
Lyman’s ultimate goal is to have the majority of its hallways house student-painted murals. The idea is for the building itself to reflect the integration of the arts that is central to Lyman’s educational philosophy and school community. The hope is that Wesleyan students, under the direction of Ms. TenEyck or another faculty advisor, will return to Lyman each year to make new murals with new classes.
“There’s definitely a sense of pride over the mural,” says Ms. TenEyck. “My favorite part was when we brought in the digital version that combined their drawings, and we put it up on the screen. All of a sudden they were just so excited about it, saying: ‘That’s my killer whale!’ and ‘There’s my tree!’”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to graduate student Maho Ishiguro about the Connecticut premiere of “Tari Aceh! (Dance Aceh!)” Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra, taking place on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
After many months of planning and overseas communication, the Center for the Arts is delighted to welcome to campus a group of nine female performers from Aceh, Indonesia on their first-ever tour of the United States.
Between the ages of 14 and 24, these young women study dance at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh province on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra. The dances they practice were originally performed only by men, and in some districts of Indonesia it remains forbidden for women to perform them.
The dances to be performed have been passed down from generation to generation, and contain a great deal of history and tradition. Accompanied by percussion, the performers add to each dance’s striking musicality with their own rhythmic body percussion, and the singing of both Islamic liturgical and folk texts. These dances are some of the best illustrations of the transcultural blending of Islamic and Indonesian culture.
It has been ten years since a devastating tsunami hit Aceh, killing 200,000 people. The performance of Tari Aceh! celebrates the resilience of the people of Aceh, and a new generation of young women whose performance of these traditional dances are contributing to the recovery efforts in this part of the world.
To learn more about the performing arts in Banda Aceh, click here to watch a video that Wesleyan ethnomusicology graduate student Maho Ishiguro put together while visiting Syiah Kuala University last year. She traveled there after receiving a Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship to study the female Saman dance in Indonesia.
While in Banda Aceh, Ms. Ishiguro had the chance to interview all of the dancers. You can get to know some of them here.
Ms. Ishiguro will join Ari Palawi, the Program Coordinator at the Syiah Kuala University’s Center for the Arts, to give a pre-performance talk on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 7:15pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
On Thursday, February 26, 2015 the dancers will lead a free dance workshop, open to all experience levels, at 6:30pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. Click here to watch a video for a taste of what you might learn in the workshop.
Ms. Ishiguro told me a little about Saman dance, and the dancers of the Syiah Kuala troupe:
“Saman dance (also known as rateb meuseukat and ratoh duek) is one of the dance forms popularly practiced in Aceh province, the northern tip of Sumatra Island, Indonesia. A number of dancers sit in a row and perform elaborative and fast movements with their hands, heads, and torsos. The dance is highly coordinated, and its complex choreography includes clapping and hitting the body with the hands, resulting in percussive sounds that add to the performance. Dancers also sing while dancing. Texts of songs entail commentaries about nature, love, relationships, politics, and society, as well as religious teachings of Islam. Islamic phrases such as la ilaha illallah (“There is no god but God,” a testimony of Islamic faith) and assalamulaikum (“Peace be upon you”) are often interwoven within the song texts. The origin of the dance form is unknown; however, it is generally understood that Saman dance was practiced historically as dhikr, a religious exercise which Muslims, especially those of Sufi traditions, employ to feel the presence and remembrance of Allah. In Aceh today, Saman dance is a proud cultural heritage. Both female and male dancers practice the form, though separately.”
“In the past decade, Saman dance has become highly popularized in Indonesia, as well as internationally, for its unique choreography and the feeling of camaraderie that the dance generates among the dancers. Most high schools in Jakarta have Saman dance teams as an afterschool extracurricular activity. Furthermore, many regional and national competitions are held, and the winning teams are sometimes sent abroad for a tour. Today, Saman dance is not only a cultural expression of Aceh; the dance has transgressed the ethnic and regional boundaries among Indonesians, as it is practiced widely by those who do not share ethnic or cultural heritages with the Acehnese. In recent years, the dance seems to be on its way towards becoming a cultural expression not just for the Acehnese but for all Indonesians. There have been a number of Saman dance groups formed by Indonesian students abroad. In such cases, Saman dance is performed as an Indonesian cultural expression. In fact, Wesleyan has had a group of students, comprised of both Indonesians and non-Indonesians, who participated in Saman dance practice on campus over the last several years.”
“The University of Syiah Kuala is one of the largest universities in Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh Province. The dancers of the Syiah Kuala troupe have studied several forms of Acehnese dance since their childhood. The troupe has performed domestically and internationally. As part of the Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan program, the dancers will be in residency at Wesleyan for several days, hosting workshops and engaging in other activities with students and the Wesleyan community. One of the most exciting aspects of hosting this troupe is that the dancers are relatively close in age with our students. We hope that Wesleyan students and dancers will engage with each other at a personal level, deepening cultural understanding through informal and meaningful interactions.”