Organized and moderated by University Professor of Music Sumarsam, the panel discussed performing art as a space for expressing Indonesia-Islam encounters, on February 25, 2015, at CFA Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
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.”
CFA Arts Administration Intern and DanceLink Fellow Chloe Jones ’15 talks to dancer Lucy M. May of Compagnie Marie Chouinard about their upcoming performances at Wesleyan on Friday, February 6 and Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 8pm.
I close the heavy door softly behind me and cautiously step forward into the dark theater. On stage a woman rehearses a solo. She is tall and slender and dances with startling grace. Her long limbs slice through the space, she stops suddenly, pirouettes. With each movement she communicates something—her whole body speaking, from her gesturing hands to her quick feet. She is fierce and beautiful, every cell of her body alive and articulate.
I have come to Hanover, New Hampshire as a Wesleyan DanceLink Fellow to see Montréal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard perform, and I have just walked into dress rehearsal. When the dance finishes, the lights come up in the theater and the company members gather on stage. They go over a few notes with the rehearsal director before heading back to their hotel to prepare for the night’s show. I can hardly wait for them to take the stage again.
Described by The New York Times as “a hurricane of unbridled imaginativeness,” Compagnie Marie Chouinard was founded by choreographer Marie Chouinard in 1990. Today the company tours all over the world.
The company first came to Wesleyan in September 2008 to perform the United States premiere of Orpheus and Eurydice. This weekend, they return to campus with the New England premiere of Gymnopédies (2013) and the Connecticut premiere of Henri Michaux: Mouvements (2005-2011).
Set to music by French composer and pianist Érik Satie, Gymnopédies began as an exploration of the duet form. “She knew she wanted to work with these erotic duets between two dancers,” says company member Lucy M. May. “That was really the first thing we did in the studio: improvise two-by-two, different couples.”
In the process of creating the work, Ms. Chouinard decided she wanted each dancer to learn Mr. Satie’s Gymnopédies and play it on the piano as part of the performance. Many of the dancers had never played the piano, but gradually, with lessons and practice, they all learned. In the finished work, the dancers take turns at the piano bench, their live music adding to the work’s curious sensuality.
Henri Michaux: Mouvements began in 1980 when Ms. Chouinard came upon the book Mouvements (1951) by Belgian writer and artist Henri Michaux (1899-1984). Inspired by the book’s abstract ink drawings and 15-page poem, Ms. Chouinard decided to use it as a choreographic score.
“She brought all of the images into the studio,” says Ms. May. “We had photo copies of all the drawings, and some of them were hanging on clotheslines and others were in big piles of paper all around the place, and we spent a really intensive two weeks making all sorts of different compositions. We were exploring all the possibilities of what we were seeing.”
This literal translation of image into movement is augmented by costumes and set. Clothed head-to-toe in black, the dancers perform on a white floor against a white backdrop so that the stage becomes the book.
Mouvements was one of the works I saw performed at Dartmouth this past September. I was blown away. The dancers’ ability to recreate the ink drawings with their bodies is truly amazing—a dazzling exactitude.
“There’s a balance between a high level of demand—of precision and detail and rigor—and then this amazing amount of freedom,” says Ms. May of Ms. Chouinard’s work.
Indeed Ms. Chouinard’s choreography strikes me as simultaneously precise and reckless, raw, free. The dancers move with extreme clarity—so much of the choreography impossibly intricate, detailed, and fast—yet there is something of abandon in their performance, something intensely wild.
As I watched the performance that evening at Dartmouth, I was riveted by each dancer, each movement, each moment. My eyes did not drift once from the stage. My mind never wandered. I found myself fully immersed in the world of each dance.
They are strange worlds, exciting and new and daring.
Wesleyan University is a center for creativity and innovation, and one of the best places for our community to come together to participate in that energy is at the Center for the Arts. Our year-long exploration of Muslim Women’s Voices in performance continues on February 27 with a rare opportunity to see a dance company coming to Middletown from the northernmost tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. The dances of Tari Aceh! feature quick, highly-coordinated movements of hands, heads, and torsos, punctuated by lively body percussion. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And on April 17 and 18, you can get a first look at a theatrical work-in-progress by playwright and actress Leila Buck ’99 that was commissioned for Muslim Women’s Voices.
In April and May, we present “The Connecticut Meets the Nile,” a two-part happening that will highlight two great rivers. On April 10, Crowell Concert Hall hosts The Nile Project, an all-star gathering of musicians who live in the countries that border the Nile River and have come together to create music that draws attention to the environmental issues of a historic river that sustains millions of people. Then on May 9, at Middletown’s Harbor Park, Wesleyan and regional partner organizations present Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter, an afternoon of music performances, visual art, and kid’s activities that will engage our community with our own beautiful river.
And throughout the winter and spring, you can put your finger on the pulse of what’s inspiring our newest artists by visiting the Senior Thesis Exhibitions in Zilkha Gallery, or by attending thesis performances by music, dance, and theater students performed throughout the CFA.
London vocalist Veronica Doubleday accompanied her singing of Persian-language texts on daireh frame drum, and John Baily joined her on the two-stringed dutar lute on Wednesday, December 3, 2014, at CFA Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
Veronica Doubleday, Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths, London University, considered the emotional impact of songs and dance from the western Afghan city of Herat during a talk on December 3, 2014, at CFA Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.Click here to view the full album on flickr.
Sufi singer Riffat Sultana talked about her experiences as a Muslim woman artist in both America and abroad in Pakistan and India during a conversation on November 6, 2014, at CFA Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
Hkeelee (Talk to Me), a solo performance by Lebanese American writer, actress, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99, exploring family, memory, and politics, took place on Wednesday, October 29, 2014, at CFA Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Dawn Elder, manager of Riffat Sultana, who makes her New England debut with her band Party at Wesleyan on Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
“Riffat Sultana channels the musical wisdom of 500 years and eleven generations of master musicians from India and Pakistan, bringing a spectacular voice and talent to the world stage.” —Banning Eyre, Afropop Worldwide
In 1995, Riffat Sultana became the first woman in her family to sing in public.
Her father, the late Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, is universally recognized as one of the greatest Pakistani classical singers of his generation. Her mother, Razia, comes from a line of highly respected Shiite musicians in India and is herself a talented vocalist. But as a woman, Razia was prohibited from singing in public, with the exception of Sufi ceremonies held in the family home.
Riffat expressed an interest in music early in life, wishing from a young age that she could study classical music like her four brothers. Denied the opportunity to study music formally, she picked up what she could from traditional and popular songs she heard on tapes and on the radio.
Learning songs came easily for Riffat, and soon family friends began to comment on her unusual talent and promising voice. Some even offered to teach her classical music, but her father refused.
But her big break came in 1990, when her father invited her to tour with him in Europe and the United States. Although primarily tasked with tending to the domestic needs of her father and brothers on tour, Riffat was permitted to join them onstage to play the tambura, a traditional string instrument.
Ultimately, Riffat and her brother, Sukhawat Ali Khan, convinced their father to let them move to the United States. Here they found welcoming communities of American-Pakistani musicians who encouraged them to pursue their passion for music. In 1995, Riffat took the stage to sing publicly for the first time.
Riffat’s musical career took off from there. At first, she kept it a secret from her father, but eventually he learned of her growing success, and gave her his blessing to continue performing. He even taught her the classical forms of his unique style of vocalization and music.
That influence is evident in Riffat’s music today. “She has a versatility of taking her vocalization and her improv and fitting it within a western sound, [but also] fitting intimately into a natural folk traditional style,” said her manager, Dawn Elder.
“It’s the warmth that draws me to her music,” said Ms. Elder. “It’s the intimate tonality and the authenticity of her sound. Not a lot of frill, not a lot of fuss—just pure music.”
Riffat Sultana has collaborated with many influential musicians including Quincy Jones and Nile Rodgers. She has shared the stage with Patti Austin, Lionel Loueke, Richard Bona, Michael Franti, and Ben Harper, among others.
“She’s one of the only Pakistani female singers to ever perform with full orchestration,” explained Ms. Elder. “There has not been anyone quite like her, [and] she has certainly opened a door for other women.”
As part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan, Riffat Sultana makes her New England debut this Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall. Performing a wide variety of traditional and modern works from Pakistan and India, Riffat will be accompanied by an all-star ensemble that includes her brother Sukhawat Ali Khan on vocals and harmonium, her husband Richard Michos on guitar, Gurdeep Singh on tabla, dholak, and dhol (double-headed drums), Jay Gandhi on bansuri (bamboo flute), and very special guest Mitch Hyare, an internationally renowned dhol master.
“Her music is unexpected and exciting and really warm,” said Ms. Elder. “She brings you into her backyard. She welcomes you into her home. The stage is her home.”
Hear from Sufi fusion singer Riffat Sultana and Party about her experiences as a Muslim woman artist both in America and abroad in Pakistan and India. Moderated by Lebanese American writer, actress, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99.