This Weekend: Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

This weekend, the CFA hosts two performances by the outstanding Liz Lerman Dance Exchange that are not to be missed! The company returns to Wesleyan with brand new pieces using dance to comment on issues of food, land, and sustainability.

The performance features the work of two of the company’s younger choreographers. Cassie Meador is an award-winning dance-maker interested in the intersection of environmental issues and dance. Drift takes the audience on a humorous and wistful journey as a corn field in Cassie’s hometown in Georgia is first transformed into a Piggly Wiggly and then converted into a place of worship. Both the music and movement vocabulary draws on American popular forms of the past 100 years, and makes for a work of poetic and thoughtful dance/theater performed with the added nuances of a multi-generational company.

Meador will also perform excerpts from her newest piece, How to Lose A Mountain, a work designed to reconnect us with the sources of our energy by taking us from her home in DC to a strip-mined mountain in Virginia.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for an athletic, high energy movement piece then Blueprints of Relentless Nature, by Keith Thompson, is for you. Thompson danced with Tricia Brown for ten years – his choreography literally takes over every corner of the stage in a work that manages to be both abstract and celebrate the humanity of each of his dancers.

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
Featuring Drift by Cassie Meador
Friday and Saturday, October 1 & 2, 8pm

CFA Theater
Pre-performance talk by Cassie Meador and Keith Thompson prior to Friday’s performance at 7:15pm in the CFA Hall
$21 General Admission, $18 Wesleyan Faculty & Staff/Seniors/Non-Wesleyan Students, $8 Wesleyan Students

Congratulations to Robert Battle

In case you haven’t heard, I’m writing to let you know some extraordinary news about a longtime friend of DanceMasters, Robert Battle. Ten days ago, Robert was named the new Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater!  See the coverage in the New York Times.

Robert has been in the running for the position for two years, and we are all so excited that he has been entrusted with the leadership of this extraordinary American cultural institution. Robert performed his signature work, “Takedeme,” at the very first DanceMasters Weekend in 2000, when he was a member of the Parsons Dance Company. In 2003, he was awarded the first-ever Wesleyan Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award, and he performed with his then fledgling dance company, Battleworks. Since then, he has never missed a single DanceMasters Weekend, and his classes are often the first to fill up.

I know you will all join me in congratulating Robert, and believe it or not, you’ll have the chance to congratulate him in person this summer. The final performances of Battleworks Dance Company will occur at Wesleyan on July 15 and 16. Sadly, the company will need to be dissolved as Robert takes the helm of the Ailey company. He’ll be performing some of his signature works, including Takedeme, Ella and Juba.

Here’s hoping we’ll see you this summer for these and other great performances and talks, presented in collaboration with the CREC Center for Creative Youth.

CFA Theater
July 15, 16 at 8pm

CFA Student Profile: Emily Troll ’10

What follows is the fourth in a series of profiles of Wesleyan students by Alexandra Provo ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Emily Troll ’10, a music major and accomplished fiddler originally from Boston, to talk about her time at Wesleyan and her plans for the future. Emily is perhaps best known on campus as a founder of Wesleyan’s series of student-run contra dances, along with Anna Roberts-Gevalt ’09, Josh Van Vliet ’09, and Hannah Bary ’09. Contra dance is a traditional American folk dance form featuring a live band intended for dancers of all levels. A caller teaches participants the steps, and every thirty seconds or so the dancers switch partners.

Before coming to Wesleyan, Emily was an experienced contra dancer and fiddler. After being introduced to the form at the age of twelve, she started playing at smaller, low-key dances. Now she travels to gigs throughout New England, though admittedly there is a little less time for that during the school year.

Part of the reason for this is that she is busy making and teaching music within the Wesleyan and greater Middletown communities. The collaborative aspect of contra dance is an apt metaphor for Emily’s interests in connecting people across and within communities. For her senior thesis, Calliope House, she brought together a panel of fiddlers from across New England to discuss theories and methods of practicing, interspersing questions with mini jam sessions.

Her interest in practicing and bringing people together also comes through in her work in the Middletown community. Early in her Wesleyan career, Emily volunteered at Green Street Arts Center, and this year, she helped organize Snap Crackle Pop!, a percussive dance show that brings together students from Green Street and Wesleyan dance groups. She has also been working in the after school program at McDonough School in the North End, something she hopes to continue next year since she will be staying on in Middletown. Lately, she has also been teaching music to several six-year-olds living in her off-campus neighborhood, a somewhat unique situation but one that has enriched her own music and expanded her Wesleyan experience. “I’m happy to be out there serving as an ambassador for the Wesleyan community,” she says. “I’ve been able to really be there for people, to get involved.”

Tonight, you can catch Emily and other senior music majors, Lindsay Wright’ 10 and Gabriel Furtado ’10, at the Senior Highlights Concert in the Daniel Family Commons. This Friday, Emily and the Wesleyan Megaband will host the last contra dance of the semester at Beckham Hall.

Senior Highlights Concert
Usdan Connections Series
Tuesday, May 4, 7pm
Daniel Family Commons

Contra Dance
Friday, May 7, 8-11 pm
Beckham Hall

A Good Week for Improvistatory Music: Bennie Maupin and Anthony Braxton

This week’s blog is written by Adam Kubota , Press and Marketing Coordinator at the Center for the Arts.

As many people in the community know, in addition to my work at the CFA, I spend nights playing the bass in various musical projects throughout the region. So, as a musician who improvises, as well as someone whose job it is to promote events at the CFA, I am happy to write about how two major figures in musical improvisation, Anthony Braxton and Bennie Maupin, are performing at Wesleyan this week.

On Thursday in Crowell Concert Hall, Professor of Music Anthony Braxton leads his Large Ensemble, which includes many guest performers. Professor Braxton is productive as ever these days having recently gone into the studio to record his opera Trillium E and is now looking forward to special performances this summer in celebration of his 65th birthday. To augment his lineup for Thursday night, Anthony has invited some major talents in the improvisatory scene including:

-Guitarist Tom Crean MA ’04

-Guitarist Kevin O’Neil, who received his MA from Wesleyan and his Ph.D from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom

-Guitarist/bassist and New England Conservatory faculty member Joe Morris

-Drummer Tyshawn Sorey, a rising force on the worldwide improvisatory music scene, a faculty member at the New School University and a current Wesleyan graduate student

I will also be performing and feel lucky to play with these musicians.

On Saturday night, clarinetist/saxophonist/composer Bennie Maupin will lead his trio at Crowell Concert Hall for a concert that is part of Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend. Performing with Mr. Maupin will be legendary bassist Buster Williams and drummer Michael Stephans.

Ethnomusicology Ph.D Candidate Bill Carbone wrote about it in this week’s edition of the New Haven Advocate and provides some excellent background on Mr. Maupin’s legacy:

Even among jazz fans, saxophonist, bass-clarinetist and flutist Bennie Maupin is not a household name. First recorded in 1965, Maupin was a tad late to the “golden age” of jazz, arriving about the time the Blue Note label’s cohesive, well-packaged sessions and stark, modernist album covers gave way to afros, electric guitars, altissimo saxophone wailing, funk and the mainstream music industry.

In 1969, Maupin joined a large ensemble led by Miles Davis at Columbia studios. After some masterful slicing and dicing at the hands of Teo Macero, the music from these first sessions became Davis’s seminal work Bitches Brew. Though much is rightfully made of the album’s layered percussion and electronic keyboards, the woody tone of Maupin’s bass clarinet is a perfect companion to Davis’s own warmth and is certainly one of the recording’s more haunting and defining elements.

At the same time, Maupin began exploring other territory in Mwandishi, a group founded by keyboardist Herbie Hancock. Mwandishi embraced popular African-American music culture elements and the avant-garde, often intermingling the two comfortably within extended jams. However, Maupin has undoubtedly been most heard as a member of Hancock’s next project, Headhunters. That band’s hard-grooving 1973 eponymous debut, which features the jam session classic “Chameleon,” is among a fistful of the best-selling jazz recordings in history. And I’ve only gotten to 1973.

Maupin, of course, continued performing and recording at a feverish pace. With the exception of a few late ’70s recordings, Maupin didn’t record as a leader until the 21st century. His four albums on Cryptogramophone Records are both inside and out; in short, they reflect Maupin’s assimilation of nearly four decades worth of music.

Bennie Maupin Trio
With Buster Williams, bass
and Michael Stephans, drums
Saturday, May 1, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$18 General; $16 Seniors/Wesleyan Faculty & Staff/Non-Wesleyan Students;
$6 Wesleyan Students

Anthony Braxton Large Ensemble
Thursday, April 29, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Free Admission

Earth Day 2010: Joining Art and Science

This Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, an annual day of environmental awareness. Events are happening all across campus, from a student-organized sleep-out on Foss Hill to a Connecticut trail maintenance outing this weekend to the bi-weekly farmer’s market that has become such a staple feature of campus life.

The CFA is also hosting several events. In recent years, we have become increasingly interested in exploring environmental issues. As you may know, with Feet to the Fire we began a campus-wide initiative to investigate climate change using art as a catalyst. Our intent was not only to shed light on a matter of urgent societal concern but also to experiment with how science and art intersect and inform one another.

In celebration of Earth Day and in the spirit of Feet to the Fire, the CFA and Environmental Studies have teamed up to present a panel discussing the role of the arts in illuminating environmental issues. Panelists include Marda Kirn, founder and executive director of EcoArts; Cassie Meador, member of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange; Godfrey Bourne, associate professor of biology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis and director of the CEIBA Biological Station in Guyana; and our own Barry Chernoff, professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program. We’ll also be premiering Paul Horton’s 30-minute documentary film Connections Within a Fragile World, about Chernoff’s and Meador’s co-taught course which took place in Guyana.

Environmental awareness is also featured in this weekend’s presentation of Reggie Wilson’s The Good Dance—dakar/brooklyn. While The Good Dance, which explores the secular and religious traditions of river cultures in Central Africa and the Mississippi Delta, does not take a specific stance on environmental issues, it does feature the striking visual image of over 300 plastic water bottles on stage. Continuing our collaboration with student environmentalist groups on campus, the CFA is collaborating with the TAP THAT! bottled water awareness campaign, a program of the Wesleyan’s Environmental Organizers Network (EON). During the Q&A sessions following the performances, EON will distribute the water from the bottles to the audience and provide information about bottled water in the lobby. After the performance, EON will reuse the bottles in an art installation in the Usdan Campus Center, after which all of the bottles will be recycled.

Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration:
Joining Art and Science to Engage Environmental Issues
Thursday, April 22, 8pm
CFA Hall
Free Admission

Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group:
The Good Dance—dakar/brooklyn
Friday & Saturday, April 23 & 24, 8pm
CFA Theater
Pre-performance talk by Allison Hurd ’11 on Friday, April 23 at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

For more Earth Day events happening this week, see the calendar organized by SAGES, Wesleyan’s Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship.

A Student’s Journey with The Good Dance

Reggie Wilson is a choreographer who has spent years traveling throughout Africa to research traditional and contemporary dance forms that inform the work of his Brooklyn-based company, Fist & Heel Performance Group.   Many of his friends and fans were thrilled when his latest work, a collaboration with Senegal’s Compagnie 1er Temps, The Good Dance: dakar/Brooklyn, was selected as the final event of the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival.  In her December 17 review, Claudia La Rocco of the New York Times writes:  “It’s hard to imagine going out on a higher note than this meticulously constructed, beautiful work”.

The CFA wanted to offer the opportunity to a student to follow this work in development and gave its first Creative Campus Internship to junior Alison Hurd.  Hurd assisted Wilson, choreographer Andréya Ouamba and their combined companies as they spent two weeks last summer in rehearsal at the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven which culminated in preview performances.  (Hurd was enlisted to run the sound board).   She then worked on the company’s archives at their Brooklyn office and this year, at Wesleyan, organized an advance visit by Wilson who met with students and faculty and toured the CFA Theater.

Here is what Hurd has to say about The Good Dance:

And here is an audio file of her interview with Reggie Wilson.

The Good Dance:  dakar/Brooklyn
Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group
Friday & Saturday, April 23 & 24, 8pm
CFA Theater

Pre-performance talk by Allison Hurd  ’11 on Friday, April 23 at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

Studio Art Theses In Conversation

Alexandra Provo ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern, interviews Studio Art majors whose senior theses are being shown in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery March 23-April 11.

The second week of studio art senior thesis shows opens today. Each week, the work of 4 to 6 artists is installed in the Main and South galleries of the Zilkha Gallery. A wide variety of media are represented, from plaster sculpture, painting, woodcuts, photography, and even eggs. The first week of shows by Nicolina Baxter, Patrick Serr, Eric Bissell, Gregory James and Lorena Estrella has closed, but there are still opportunities to see this week’s and next week’s exhibitions. I sat down with a few of the artists to find out how the thesis process has been going for them.

Though the students I spoke to indicated that while for the most part crafting a studio art thesis is a solitary procedure, in a liberal arts setting there is ample opportunity for conversation and dialogue, both among artists and academic disciplines. “I’ve been trying to balance this academic requirement and just wanting to make things,” says Angus McCullough, an architecture student whose work, Dormant, goes up in the third week of exhibitions, “but I think that’s been really fruitful—I’ve definitely come up with a lot of ideas I’m not necessarily going to use in my thesis, but could use in the future.” His work, a large-scale sculpture-room, deals with latent architectural spaces. Rachel Schwerin, who is presenting work this week that tells the story of a Chicago superhero named Red Hot Chicago, says she was inspired by both her courses at Wesleyan and her summer experience taking courses at Northwestern. “I think all of my art history classes have been really influential in terms of the way I intellectually think of the art I’m making,” she says. Eric Bissell noted that his coursework in Buddhism and anthropology—specifically ethnography—has been instrumental for his process.

For me, the most exciting part of this series is getting to see the work of people I know—both personally and academically. In the first week of shows, I found myself noticing ideas and patterns that I remember several of the artists discussing in class or working through in the studio. For example, both Eric Bissell’s HERE IS EXPANSIVE and Gregory James’ SATISFIXATION dealt with themes I’d seen them working with in Professor Jeffrey Schiff’s course, Topics in Studio Art, the former exploring our understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the latter using eggs as a medium to explore human contact and sexuality. I also remember seeing an earlier series of Nicolina (Nyki) Baxter’s work related to her thesis show, Flay, our sophomore year at her Sculpture II show.

The familiarity and consistency that arises out of working in a setting like Wesleyan is also important within the community of art thesis students. Eric, who has worked with Professor Jeffrey Schiff for all four years, remarks, “To have someone watch your progression as an artist is a really interesting thing; it allowed him to know when to really step in and give me advice. I really respected that.” Rachel noted that for the printmakers, who share one space unlike other thesis students who typically share a studio with two other students, “it’s been really interesting working in one big room. You’ll see a lot of common images and themes across our work, despite the fact that we’re working in very different styles. That’s something you get out of a shop mentality, which is cool.” Even in the smaller studios, though, thesis students are in dialogue with one another. “I’ve been going around as much as possible…it’s important to [look at each other’s work] because you look at your own work every day, until you can’t see it anymore,” says Angus. Nyki notes, “I think we’re always a sounding board for each other. You’ve established a little bit of a style or a conceptual vein they’ve seen in your work, [and] even if you don’t have a specific question to ask, being in the studio late at night and just having a conversation—even off topic—will lead you back to where you need to be.”

Remaining shows:
Tuesday-Sunday, March 30 – April 4
Reception: Wednesday, March 31, 4-6pm
Sarah Abbott, Julian Wellisz, Rachel Schwerin, Megumu Tagami and Yang Li

Tuesday-Sunday, April 6 – April 11
Reception: Wednesday, April 7, 4-6pm
Genesis Grullon, Lily Bushman-Copp, Ray Brown, Angus McCullough, Anna Mendes, and Josh Lederer

Turkish Music: A Different Sound World

“You enter a different sound world,” says Wesleyan’s Private Lessons Teacher and renowned guitarist, Cem Duruöz, when describing the music of his homeland, Turkey. “The scales and rhythms are uniquely intricate and beautiful. I grew up hearing them on my mother’s radio.” This Saturday, Duruöz will give the pre-show talk prior to the final Crowell Concert Series performance of the year, a concert by the Boston-based Turkish music ensemble, Dünya.

According to Professor of Music Mark Slobin, Turkish music is “one of the great art musics of the Middle Eastern complex that includes Arabic and Persian music and dates back many centuries.” Slobin’s former student, Robert Labaree, who received his Phd from Wesleyan in 1989, founded Dünya and is also chair of the music history department at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Slobin describes his dissertation as a “pioneering comparison of medieval music and Middle Eastern music examined through the songs of the troubadour.”

Wesleyan’s Concert Committee selected Dünya to perform in support of the University’s recent establishment of the Middle Eastern Studies Certificate Program. It also helped to have the resounding endorsement of Duruöz, who serves on the Committee. Duruöz grew up in Turkey at a time when conservatories did not offer the opportunity to study Turkish classical or folk traditions. He went to Stanford, San Francisco Conservatory and Julliard and then launched an international touring career performing classical Spanish and Baroque guitar music. Five years ago, he reconnected with the music of his youth and recently released Treasures of Anatolia, a CD of all-Turkish music for solo guitar.

According to Duruöz, “Many of the instruments audiences will hear on Saturday are the basis of Western classical instruments as we know them today including the ney (end-blown flute); the ud and saz (Middle Eastern short and long-necked lutes); the ceng (harp); the kemence (spike fiddle); and the darbuka (drum). Dünya are masters of a wonderful spectrum of music including folk songs from the rural areas, classical music from the Ottoman court and Sufi music that is more spiritual.”

Saturday, March 27, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Pre-concert talk at 7:15pm by Cem Duruöz

Reflecting on Feet to the Fire

Many of you know that Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art was a multilayered project that, from 2008 to 2009, took us from Middletown’s Veteran’s Park, to the Green Street Arts Center, to campus classrooms and CFA venues in a shared exploration of climate change using the arts as a catalyst. (The Feet to the Fire brand continues on campus this year, with a focus on water resources.)

We put together this summary video for a convening of higher education leaders hosted by the Association of Arts Presenters in January in New York City. The gathering, a follow-up to the 2004 American Assembly “The Creative Campus: The Training, Sustaining, and Presenting of the Performing Arts in American Higher Education,” sought to understand what creative research programs like Feet to the Fire can tell us about the impact of the arts on learning. Directed by Middletown’s own Paul Horton, we wanted to share it with you.

Also, please save the date for Wesleyan’s Earth Day Celebration on Thursday, April 22 at 8pm in the CFA Hall. We invite you to the premiere of the full-length 30-minute documentary film produced and directed by Paul Horton. The documentary is about the course on tropical ecology co-taught by Professor Barry Chernoff, Director of the Environmental Studies Program, along with Cassie Meador and Matt Mahaney of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange that took place in Guyana in spring 2009. During the course, students combined data collection and analysis with movement research, gaining first-hand knowledge of the tropical ecosystems of Guyana and creating site-specific artworks in the field.

Preceding the film, a panel of artists and scientists, moderated by Jeremy Isard ’11, will discuss current thinking about the envisioning of our environmental future.

Co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program and Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.