A dress rehearsal for Faye Driscoll’s Thank You for Coming: Attendance was held on Thursday, November 12, 2015 in the Patricelli ’92 Theater.
Thank You For Coming, a series of works by choreographer/director Faye Driscoll, focus on how you experience yourself in relation to other bodies and the spaces you inhabit. During the Connecticut premiere of the dance theater work Attendance, dancers passed through ever-morphing states of physical entanglement. Intimately staged in the round, Ms. Driscoll crafts a heightened reality of observation, invitation, and interdependence. The audience and performers shared a dynamic, joyful ritual of action and transformation. Ms. Driscoll was Wesleyan’s 2014-15 Creative Campus Fellow in Dance.
Click here to view the full album on Flickr. Photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.
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.
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 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.”
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.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Theater major Sivan Battat ’15 about her Senior Capstone Project, “The Serpent,” created in collaboration with her seven person ensemble, design team, and faculty advisor, Professor of Theater Yuri Kordonsky.
Can you talk a little about the history of “The Serpent” and the play itself?
This play emerged from the Open Theater and was created through a long process of exploring themes of the Bible. Playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie did extensive interviews with each of his actors, and all their text ended up in the script. It’s like a mash-up of biblical narrative and contemporary experience. The play was traditionally done as a kind of a Eucharist, a communion between actors and audience. It’s labeled The Serpent: A Ceremony. Mr. van Itallie wanted it to be a ceremony that reflected the lives and the minds and the experiences of the people performing it. That was the intention of The Serpent from day one. So our production does that. A lot of the text is the actors’ and was generated through a series of devising exercises throughout the first half of the semester. It’s a combination of Mr. van Itallie’s text, text from the Bible that he put in the script, and then our own words to replace some of the experiences in it that were maybe outdated for us or not as accessible.
Why did you choose “The Serpent” for your Senior Capstone Project?
I chose this for my capstone because I was interested in devised theater processes. Devised theater is ensemble-generated material that you then use to create a piece. A playwright or director doesn’t come in with the material, and often it will happen without a director. I was interested in the role of director in devised theater, and I was interested in the elements that make a strong ensemble. What are the things that I, as a director, have to do to make this feel like a safe space, to make this feel like an ensemble, to make this group of people function as one unit that can create? So I was curious about those things, but most devised processes are so long-term. You have to explore for so long and generate for so long, and I was worried that, realistically, with college actors and everyone doing a million other things, to do a legitimate devising process in one semester wouldn’t be possible. So I decided to find a text that I could begin with, as the foundation, and then riff and devise off of the text, and The Serpent was the perfect tool for that. It’s a very flexible text that allowed us to riff in different directions and explore and really dive into the themes of it and generate and then plug back into the text.
How did you cast the ensemble?
I cast it saying I was looking for writers, dancers, actors, musicians, anyone. More than anything I wanted people who I really wanted to work with, people who I wanted in the room every day and who would bring themselves to the process and fearlessly try.
What was your process like?
The whole process was very collaborative. The first half of the semester was really about playing, and while we maybe didn’t have as much time to put the thing together as we would have loved, having the first half of the semester to just play was awesome—to be able to say, for example, let’s all bring in ten images of what comes to mind when you hear “The Garden of Eden,” and then pick one image and make a movement score that represents that image to you in some way, and then someone else make sound for that movement score. It was a process of picking apart our stereotypes of God and challenging our stereotypes of what Eve looked like or what she felt. I remember one of my favorite rehearsals—I brought in an apple and told the actors to respond as Eve might have responded and that we were going to go until they couldn’t think of any other ways to respond. So one by one they took the apple—like a Whose Line Is It Anyway? type of improv game—and they each took a bite and responded a different way. We went for an hour and a half doing this.
What have you learned from the process?
I’m a little concerned that this piece is not very accessible, and I think one of the big things that I’m taking away from this is that I want to make work that is accessible. It bothers me if things are inaccessible, and that’s an important thing to have learned about my own work. I’ve also learned a lot about ensemble building and the tools that are most helpful in making an ensemble. Something I’m always working on is how to negotiate the relationship between actor and director. I’m always learning more about that. With every rehearsal I learn something new. And I’ve learned so much from them—each of the actors and designers has brought so much of themselves to the process.
At the end of the day, what is this play about for you?
I think it’s about being in the middle. I think it’s about transitional moments in our lives—the moment when we bite, the moment when we kill, the moment when we grow up. It’s about being between the beginning and the end, and always this experience of middle-ness because that’s what life is—there are transitional moments, but there are never stops.
The Serpent: Senior Capstone Project by Sivan Battat
Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 8pm
Patricelli ’92 Theater FREE! Tickets required. Tickets will be made available on the day of each performance at the Wesleyan University Box Office. Off-campus guests may call the box office at 860-685-3355 after 10am to reserve tickets to be held in their names until fifteen minutes prior to curtain. On-campus guests must pick up their tickets at the box office. There is a two-ticket limit per person for free ticketed events.
This year, we invite you to join us as we welcome the world to Wesleyan. Artists working in contemporary or traditional forms from 18 different countries will be performing or exhibiting at the CFA over the next nine months.
A centerpiece of this year’s program is Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan, which begins in September. Each of the performers to be featured is Muslim or of Muslim heritage, has a distinct set of personal experiences, and is embedded in a particular place, society, and cultural tradition. It is our way of inviting audiences to celebrate the complexity of Muslim women today, while at the same time exploring the historical and cultural context from which these women have emerged. We are also inviting audiences to participate in the creative process as we give birth to a new play by Leila Buck ’99, based on stories of Muslim and Muslim-American women in our region.
We are also bringing one of the United States’ most innovative theater companies working at the intersection of text and technology, The Builders Association, for two performances in October. Their amazing production Sontag: Reborn is a portrait of the younger years of one of America’s most iconic intellectuals, Susan Sontag. In November, the Theater and Music Departments join forces to mount the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights, directed by Theater’s Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento with music direction by Nadya Potemkina, director of the Wesleyan University Orchestra. The musical was the thesis production of Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Theater major who graduated in ’02, who went on to win the Tony for “Best Original Score.” The book was written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who will be a visiting faculty member at Wesleyan this year. It is sure to be an extraordinary production. And throughout the fall, the epic-scale, haunting landscape paintings of Professor of Art Tula Telfair will be on view in Zilkha Gallery. We invite you to enter into the imaginary worlds that Telfair creates in twelve large-scale paintings that are simultaneously awe-inspiring and intimate.
We launched our new website over the summer, and we hope you’ll visit and return often to find out about all of the faculty, student, and visiting artist events and exhibitions this year. We hope you will look to us as a place of enlightenment and enjoyment in the coming months.
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.
As winter sets in, the Center for the Arts heats up with many events and experiences designed to inspire, entertain, provoke and delight. We are welcoming two groups who, like the CFA, are also celebrating their 40th anniversary. The first is Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier dance companies that will perform the New England premiere of Times Bones, an enthralling work that features music by Paul Dresher and poetry by Michael Palmer. Jenkins is one of this country’s master choreographers with an astonishing body of work and we are delighted to be bringing her company to Connecticut. We are also bringing members of Sweet Honey in the Rock to Wesleyan. For four decades, this Grammy Award-winning all female African American a cappella group has brought joy to audiences around the world. Three members of Sweet Honey will be teaching workshops that will culminate in a showing on April 17. This is an extraordinary opportunity for both singers and non-singers to enter into their creation and performance practice. Other highlights of the spring include the first major solo exhibition in the U.S. by Paris-based American artist Evan Roth, whose work lives at the intersection of viral media and art, graffiti and technology. You’ll also have the opportunity to hear Ukranian Vadym Kholodenko, winner of the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, play a program that includes Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, and Nikolai Medtner. Wesleyan’s Music Department will host the 28th conference of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, which will feature a series of concerts where you can immerse yourself in new music by American composers. And Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton will premiere the work Threshold Sites: Feast, which explores how we experience and enact our own corporeality, and how that impacts the way we experience our communities and our environments. At the end of the semester, you’ll have the chance to see the culminating works created by Wesleyan students, and be able to put your finger on the pulse of the current generation of art makers. Highlights include a production of Slawomir Mrozek’s Vatzlav, directed by Lily Whitsitt ’06; thesis performances in music and dance; and three weeks of thesis exhibitions by studio art majors. We have a rich and expansive spring planned for you. Please join us as often as you can.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to DanceLink Fellow Stellar Levy ’15 about Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. Tickets for all three performances by the company this weekend are sold out.
With a basketball hoop in the background and beat-up sneakers on their feet, seven dancers take the stage this weekend in the Patricelli ’92 Theater for the Connecticut premiere of Pavement, an evening length performance by dance ensemble Abraham.In.Motion. One of these dancers, Kyle Abraham, is the founder and artistic director of Abraham.In.Motion and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow.
Cecilia A. Conrad, Vice President of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said of this year’s Fellows: “They are artists, social innovators, scientists, and humanists who are working to improve the human condition and to preserve and sustain our natural and cultural heritage.” As an artist concerned with issues of identity and history, both personal and shared, Mr. Abraham certainly fits this description.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1977, Mr. Abraham’s artistic upbringing reflects a diverse range of influences, from classical music to hip hop. He draws from these influences to create dynamic and deeply personal choreographic works such as Pavement.
Informed by John Singleton’s film “Boyz N The Hood”and the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, Pavement takes place in Pittsburgh’s historically black neighborhoods, Homewood and the Hill District.
On one hand, the history of these neighborhoods is one of culturally rich moments — Ella Fitzgerald’s performance in one local theater, Duke Ellington’s in another. On the other, it is about desolate realities, many of which persist today — extreme poverty, gang violence, and drug abuse. Pavement is an attempt to narrate this past, giving voice to an urban culture faced with a history of discrimination and conflict.
I spoke with DanceLink Fellow Stellar Levy ’15, who worked closely with Mr. Abraham and the members of Abraham.In.Motion as an intern this past summer in New York City where the company is based.
“I think what’s setting him apart right now is his ability to combine dance vocabulary and something that relates to people who don’t necessarily have that vocabulary,” says Ms. Levy.
There’s something approachable, maybe even familiar, about Pavement. The dancers wear everyday clothes and sneakers and perform with a basketball hoop as their backdrop. Even the movement plays with this familiarity, much of it derived from interactions that happen on the street and other everyday encounters. In this way, the stage is transformed into an urban sidewalk, a literal pavement.
Through her internship, Ms. Levy had the opportunity this past summer to see Pavement performed on three different occasions (and countless other times in rehearsals). While working at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors performance in New York City and the Huntington Arts Festival in Huntington, Ms. Levy was approached by enthusiastic audience members who wanted to express their thoughts, feelings, questions, and excitement about the piece.
“It’s definitely a way for people to start thinking, whether or not they understand the piece or think that they do,” Ms. Levy says. “It opens up dance as a way to communicate. It says, ‘This is a conversation we’re having.’”
And it’s an important conversation, one that asks challenging questions about what it means to grow up in an underserved neighborhood, about gang violence, drugs, and discrimination, about equality and seeking freedom, about sexuality and human relationships, about how we tell history and how we make it, how we identify ourselves and how we are identified, questions about being an individual and a member of society, and perhaps more than anything, questions about the importance of community.
“There is a sense of the whole,” Ms. Levy says. “You leave feeling like part of things, or at least like part of something.”