Fall Faculty Dance Concert: “The Perseverance Project”

Choreographers in Fall Faculty Dance Concert
From left: Visiting Instructor in Dance Shamel Pitts, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Milka Djordjevich, Visiting Associate Professor of Dance Doug Elkins, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Maho Ishiguro MA ’12 Ph.D. ’18.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, Chair of the Dance Department and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Hari Krishnan introduces the four choreographers that will be featured in the Fall Faculty Dance Concert “The Perseverance Project” on Saturday, October 31, 2020 at 8pm as they share more about their work. 

The Dance Department’s fall faculty dance concert The Perseverance Project features our new extraordinary dance faculty. Milka Djordjevich, Doug Elkins, Maho Ishiguro, and Shamel Pitts will share their vibrant choreography along with fascinating insights into their creative processes and collaborative adventures. The Perseverance Project promises to be a spectacular virtual evening of dynamic dance, urgent political concerns, thoughtful representations of dance history, and much more. We invite you to engage with these brilliant artists.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Milka Djordjevich
“I create choreography that operates inside and outside dance traditions in order to blur the distinction between ‘dance’ and ‘non-dance.’ In particular, I am interested in subverting Western dance’s history, tradition, codification, and embedded patriarchy, without creating transgressions. I participate in a long and layered process of inquiry, which continually questions the mode of production from which I work in order to examine how it is embedded in a cultural hierarchy. In the form of a self-narrated pseudo video essay, in collaboration with filmmaker Justin Streichman, we visit my garage/studio in Los Angeles, where I currently reside. There I unpack performance remnants as a lamentation of past work and reflect on the impossible return to live performance as we knew it. My last completed work, Kinetic Augmentations (2019)—a solo made in correspondence with Fluxus Artist Alison Knowles’s House of Dust at the MAK Center/Schindler House in Los Angeles—reflects my practice, a going-between of a domestic/private environment to a performative/public reality. I reflect on what was, what is, and what can be.”

Visiting Associate Professor of Dance Doug Elkins
“I began my dance career as a b-boy, house head, capoeirista, and voguing. By the time I came into New York’s contemporary dance scene, I had thoroughly absorbed the hip hop ethos of bricolage, appropriation, sampling, and remixing. I revel in the way that the resonance of dance forms changes as they are put into new contexts and layered alongside and through one another. My dances have been called ‘supercolliders where dissonant cultural referents create a cultural Big Bang.’ I am interested in multiplicity. I make dances that hopefully attempt to represent the world as a tangle or jumble or ball of yarn, to represent the world without in any way diminishing the essential complexity of it or, to put it better, the simultaneous presence in it of very disparate elements that converge to determine each event.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Maho Ishiguro MA ’12 Ph.D. ’18 
“I am performing a piece called Gambyong Retnokusumo, a court style Javanese dance piece from the royal court of Mangkunegaran, Solo, Indonesia. The dance was choreographed during the reign of Mangkunegaran VIII (1944–1987), and depicts a young woman of coming of age, adoring herself, and glowing in her beauty. I am also sharing some aspects of my current research on dances from Indonesia. Audiences should definitely attend this concert to witness the strength, wonder, and hope the diversity of our dance styles bring to Wesleyan, to our students, and the world beyond.”

Visiting Instructor in Dance Shamel Pitts
“My choreographic aesthetic is fundamentally connected to Gaga, the movement language created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. As an artist and citizen, I have a large curiosity towards deviation. This inspires me to make movement-based art that reflects its time. The work that I will share for The Perseverance Project exclusively is a behind the scenes intimate viewing of the creation process for my most recent work in progress duet Touch Of RED, which was filmed by art cinematographer Taylor Antisdel with performers Tushrik Fredericks and myself. All filming was within the most updated COVID-19 safety protocols at New Live Arts.”

Fall Faculty Dance Concert: The Perseverance Project
Saturday, October 31, 2020 at 8pm
FREE! RSVP required for access to virtual event.

An Interview with the Curators of “Reiterate, Resound—Visualizing Time: A Student Video Exhibition”

Reiterate Resound—Visualizing Time: A Student Video Exhibition

 


In dialogue with the exhibition
A SCULPTURE, A FILM & SIX VIDEOS, currently on view in the Main Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, the videos in Reiterate, Resound capture a variety of perspectives on the nature of time. Each of the video submissions for the show responded to the prompt circulated in the spring of 2020: “in this moment, what does time mean to you?” Staged by two student curators, Maya Hayda ’21 and Nia Felton ’21, Reiterate, Resound emerged as a response to this prompt as well as a curatorial interlocutor with Six Videos. The exhibition features recent video works by six student artists and is on view in the Zilkha South Gallery until Friday, October 23, 2020. Zilkha Gallery Exhibitions Intern, Paul McLaren ’21, engaged the curators in a conversation about the exhibitions thematic content, and the process of organizing a group show featuring student work.

Paul McLaren: Can you share a little bit about the process of organizing the exhibition? How did you select, organize and curate the videos?

Maya Hayda: In August, we were approached by Ben and Rosemary and asked to curate this show from a group of about 30 videos, submissions from current Wesleyan students and recent alumni. The prompt had already been circulated in the spring, and so we were presented with all of the submissions and really an open ended task of pulling together what the exhibit would become. We were given access to view the Six Videos content, and additionally we each did some readings on video art, just to get our bearings on the medium, its history and its potential to address this larger theme of time. Nia and I then both watched the videos separately, and came together a few times to discuss our initial reactions and then to piece together a cohesive, formally interesting and thematically relevant show. For me at least, it was really important to include works that were making formal investigations into this idea of time, its cyclicality, and its effect on our lives, along with more narrative or thematic explorations of the prompt. 

After organizing the initial exhibit, we also wanted to give an opportunity for the artists to speak about their work to a wider public, since there was no opening reception due to COVID regulations. We hosted a Facebook livestream with four of the six artists, and it was a great chance to hear more about the pieces in addition to the current and future projects the artists are working on. Overall, I think it was pretty successful and I hope that everyone can check out the videos streaming on Vimeo this month! 

PM: How do the videos you selected relate to and build off one another? 

MH: I think there’s a strong connection in all of the videos which connects this idea of time to identity, and the ways in which the past may inform the present and future. There’s this consistent theme of cyclicality which occurs both symbolically and formally in repeating images and sounds. Videos like Ayat’s Dawra (which translates to cycle) show this cyclicality quite beautifully through repeated sounds, including lyrics like the song “going to the chapel and we’re going to get married” paired with repeated visuals like the hot wax brings about this idea of how our existence and self-hood is shaped by patterns and ingrained cycles in many ways. Then there’s also Alessandra’s video, On Conversations with our Fathers, which shows cyclicality in reckoning with trauma (either from events like 9/11 or the emergence of the pandemic or the trauma of dealing with racism) through symbolic and literal layering of family photos within the frame in addition to audio clips recollecting stories. I think each of the videos present a different voice in relation to time, but each remains bound up in this duality of repetition and evolution as the artists speak to their own lives and in their own practice mark themselves as active participants within this current moment. Although each of the videos shows how time passes, I think the very act of creation allows for this intervention which insists on the importance of hearing and seeing each of these voices in the present, and hopes to resonate into the future. 

NF: I don’t want to talk too much about what I think each video means because that right should be given to the artists first and foremost but I think the videos we chose all deal with time in a very intimate and interpersonal way even if the thesis of the videos vary. That intimacy I think is the greatest way the videos build off of each other. Just as an example, the conversations the artists, Alessandra Rizzo and Yichen Zhang, have with their parents is so incredibly poignant.

PM: In the description for Six Videos, curator Ben Chaffee writes, the videos “connect a deep mystical time to the present tense, visualize cycles, and reach into the future for the potential it may hold for transformation.” What’s the relationship, both thematically and materially, between Reiterate, Resound and Six Videos?

MH: One important, albeit somewhat obvious connection, between the two exhibits is their use of video to address this idea of time. Unlike photographs, sculpture, or painting, I think that video is perhaps one of the best formats to think about time and our relation to it. There’s something about how video allows for movement, which is not present in a photograph, which I think speaks to how video is able to connect the past to the present and “reach into the future.” Moments are not presented as fact, or as “document,” but as fluid and inherently connected to other moments, images or frames of reference. In terms of theme, I think that the videos in Six Videos are also in dialogue with this idea of cycles within our lives and social contexts and allow for deeper consideration of these repetitions. Videos like Prodger’s Birdgit and Kahn’s Stand in the Stream offer a look into the intimate connections between an individual lives and their presence in time, in a similar way to Alexa’s Eileen speaks to the the life of the named “Eileen” as someone who is negotiating an identity that is being constantly shaped by those around her and the landscape she inhabits. Another connection between the two exhibits is this idea of hope and faith in futurity, and its ability to learn from the past and present moment in order to evolve into something better. In Six Videos, this motif is exemplified by the “Green Ray,” which has this generational allure of mysticism and largely relies on the belief of the viewer to become actualized. Although Reiterate, Resound does not have a literal “green ray,” I think that the videos touch on similar notes of generational legacies and stories and how they inform the present. By recording instances from the past and the present and showing them in video there’s a kind of agency in both exhibits which allows for an understanding of where we are coming from and t simultaneously a place for the artists and viewers alike to move forward into the future. 

NF: During the curating process, we spent most of our time with the submitted videos and the prompt and not so much with Six Videos although we were told what Six Videos was about and what artists were featured. However, I do think authenticity is a shared theme between the art featured Reiterate, Resound, and Six Videos.  

PM: Is there a particular urgency that you feel the exhibition has given the current climate? What about video?

MH: When the prompt went around, I think there was an urgency to negotiate our relation to time, particularly for students. It’s like we’ve been on this trajectory our whole lives, through childhood, moving through college, and then all of a sudden in the middle of the semester time stops, we’re all sent home and the threat of mortality looms in our face as this strange virus takes hold of the nation. I think the urgency of the videos points to a need to respond, and take initiative to define a voice in this particular time in order to not feel hopeless or completely without agency given the context of pandemia, violence, the effects of climate change, etc. This takes forms in a few different ways in the exhibit—for example you have Yao’s video (Along the River) which is a direct response to being quarantined in a hotel room and negotiating that “captive” space by looking and filming out the window as a point of connection. Alexa’s Eileen also addresses the pandemic more directly. In addition, there’s Ben’s Video,  Imagine transcend love, which I think very powerfully affirms that despite our current situation and our organic, mortal, decaying bodies, everyone has the potential to transcend with acts of love and care. 

NF: I’m a bit unsure what you mean in this question. We did feel pressure to watch all the videos, take notes, and make decisions about the exhibition because we were called on during the late summer and the show was scheduled to go up in September. However, I think the art in the exhibition is not temporal. The horror of the pandemic may only be experienced by a few in terms of human history but the art created during this time is an important part of the preservation of human experience.    

PM: How do the videos you included resists, singular definition of time? I’m thinking about the Elizabeth Grosz quote you included in the exhibitions description: “Time has a quality of intangibility, a fleeting half-life, emitting its duration-particles only in the passing or transformation of objects and events, thus erasing itself as such while it opens itself to movement and change. It has an evanescence, a fleeting or shimmering, highly precarious ‘identity’ that resists concretization, indication or direct representation.”

MH: I think we often perceive time as moving perpetually forward. It’s something that “passes” and as people we are simply flowing in the stream. These videos challenge that idea through their emphasis on cyclicality, bringing us back to repeating moments that are fleeting and changing but very much inform the present. One video I’m thinking about in particular is Kyron’s Gentrify Express, which addresses a changing landscape of home through this formally rigorous format. We see the repetition of the subway doors opening and closing and the flow of commuters inside the frame of a compact mirror. The video starts close to the mirror and slowly zooms out, and as viewers we watch these scenes of transit and movement occurring over and over again. You can’t “capture” any of the moments in the video, which I think reflects how a process like gentrification has this kind of “evanescent” quality in public memory, as a process which happens, passes many of us by and that we don’t necessarily register until it is “past,” or “completed.” Kyron’s video brings attention to this transience and highlights through repetition that maybe we need to pay more attention and not just be passive actors in time. In another example, Alessandra’s video is also highlighting this “shimmering” or “evanescent” quality of time by using ephemeral objects (family photographs) in addition to recordings of family stories (which is in itself a time-dependent act). These objects and recordings/stories  have a “lifespan” as material objects but their placement in the video resonates with how their effects extend past this determined lifespan and continually inform our present and future. 

NF: I think that each video has distinct theses about time and that inherently makes them resistant to a singular definition of time. However, to illustrate that more clearly and using examples from artists we spoke to during our Zoom talkback: when a viewer watches Alessandra Rizzo’s video I hope that they feel the genuine and justified fear of Spring 2020 when the future was made entirely obscured in a way that it never would have been without a pandemic. In contrast, Ben Schneier’s video is a hopeful take on time, the future, and human advancement.

 

A SCULPTURE, A FILM, and SIX VIDEOS

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, Associate Director of Visual Arts Benjamin Chaffee writes about the exhibition “A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS,” which is on display now through Sunday, November 22, 2020.

A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS is an exhibition of a sculpture, a film, and a survey of six recent video works presented in a nontraditional, temporal framework in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. Rather than present all of the included artworks every day the exhibition is open, the sculpture is up for the run of the exhibition, the film is being projected three times, and the videos are projected one at a time for two weeks each. Instead of an eight-person exhibition there are in effect six different two-person presentations. As the videos will not be seen in the same place at the same time, they will exist in relation to each other only through memory, engaging one of the fundamental properties of the moving image in the structure of the exhibition itself.

Upon entering the front doors of the gallery you see the smallest work, the sculpture. Nestled into a custom-built atrium in a corner of the gallery, Peter Fischli & David Weiss’ Son et lumière (1990) acts as the pivot or fulcrum for the entire exhibition, the kinetic center around which everything else revolves.

Installation image of "A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS," 2020.
Installation image of “A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS,” 2020. Photo by Benjamin Vuchetich ’22.

Acting as a counterweight, a proto-cinematic object, and a foil, the sculpture is the smallest work included in the exhibition and is given the most time in the gallery. Like most works by Fischli & Weiss the materials list is simple: “Projection with kinetic objects including an army torch (fitted with red and green gels), turntable, corrugated plastic beaker and adhesive tape.” While the materials are self-evident, the effect they create is magical. The turntable is propped up on an angle by a few coins placed under one end and as it rotates the plastic cup rolls around the turntable surface guarded by a masking tape fence. The light from the flashlight refracts through the cup creating a projection on the wall behind making a gentle rhythmic sound as it moves.

Installation image of Peter Fischli & David Weiss, "Son et lumière" (1990).
Installation image of Peter Fischli & David Weiss, “Son et lumière” (1990). Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

Turning the corner into the main space of the gallery there is carpeting over the cork tile floor and a large-scale projection wall dividing the vaulted space. The videos are projected here in a darkened space. Works are included by Renée Green ’81, Karrabing Film Collective, Trisha Baga, Stanya Kahn, Arthur Jafa, and Charlotte Prodger. More information about each of the works can be found on the exhibition website. Individually these works address continuities, discontinuities, place, and displacement in time. They connect a deep mystical time to the present tense, visualize cycles, and reach into the future for the potential it may hold for transformation.

Installation image of Karrabing Film Collective, "The Mermaids or Aiden in Wonderland" (2018)
Installation image of Karrabing Film Collective, “The Mermaids or Aiden in Wonderland” (2018) in “A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS,” Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, 2020. Photo by Benjamin Vuchetich ’22.

Tacita Dean’s 16mm film The Green Ray (2001), also included in the exhibition, refers to a naturally-occurring phenomenon, a flash of green light crossing the sky after the sun has set. In the 19th century it was a widely-held Romantic belief in Europe that observing the green ray gave the viewer a heightened perception of the world and viewing the ray was indicative of a coming transformation. In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), the green flash is seen as a sign that a soul has returned to the living. Jules Verne encapsulated that ideal in his 1882 novel The Green Ray referring to the color as “the true green of Hope”. In her collected writings, Dean explains that “looking for the green ray became about the act of looking itself, about faith and belief in what you see.” The green ray grounds the temporal framework of the exhibition itself and the specificity of media’s relation to time, delineating difference of time in sculpture, in video, in film, in performance, in event, in exhibition. The Green Ray will be projected two more times over the exhibition run, on Wednesday, October 28 and Friday, November 13, 2020. Both screenings are at 12:10pm.

Tacita Dean, "The Green Ray," 2001, 16mm color film
Tacita Dean, “The Green Ray,” 2001, 16mm color film, mute, 2 1/2 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris. Copyright Tacita Dean.

On the podcast What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Alice Notley asks Precious Okoyomon, “How do you think about the future? And do you think about the future with love? Now we’re at the hazy place where we have to think about the future out of this present and how do we think about it?” These questions have been haunting me lately. How do we imagine a future out of an unsustainable present? Amidst the grief and loss of the global pandemic, systemic racialized violence, a divisive political sphere, the economic crisis, and the larger backdrop of our climate emergency? When Okoyomon returns the question, Notley shares that she doesn’t believe in future, only in an expansive present. Perhaps the way forward is not out but in. As our experiences of our present time are increasingly measured by their proximities to ending(s) this exhibition looks for continuities in time. While we reimagine a way forward to what degree can we look to the form of time itself to hold the power for transformation?

All of the exhibition programming is online at the exhibition website, designed by Everything Studio. More information is available about each of the artworks included in the exhibition and some of the videos are available for limited online screening.

Here’s a list of the upcoming online programming:

Artist Talk: Stanya Kahn
Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 8pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Performance by Tosh Basco (aka boychild): “Untitled: darkness” (2020) 
Saturday, November 7, 2020 at 2pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Conversation: Collective for Radical Death Studies and devynn emory with Anthony Ryan Hatch, Associate Professor of Science in Society at Wesleyan
Monday, November 9, 2020 at 7:30pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Artist Talk: Karrabing Film Collective
Wednesday, November 11, 2020 at 6pm

Talk and Reading: Victoria Pitts-Taylor
Tuesday, November 17, 2020 at 6pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Artist Talk: Renée Green ’81
Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 6pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

A tribute to S.P. Balasubrahmanyam

S.P. Balasubrahmanyam
S.P. Balasubrahmanyam (left) with Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan in 2019. Photo: Krishnaprakash

Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan shares a tribute to S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, “a rare combination of humanitarian and legendary singer,” to whom the Navaratri Festival Committee has dedicated Wesleyan’s 44th annual Navaratri Festival.

The iconic singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam (1946-2020) was one of India’s most celebrated artists. Shattering world records for singing more than 40,000 songs in sixteen different languages, SPB or Balu Sir (as he’s fondly referred to), was unmatched in his vocal range for Indian cinema, throughout South Asia, spanning multiple popular and classical genres of music.

For me, he was not just a musical legend, he was also one of the most compassionate humanists that I have met and interacted with. He held many unbreakable records in his music career for the past five decades starting from the mid 1960s as well as holding equally unbreakable records in generosity, compassion, and humility!

I have experienced his love and affection from my recent meeting in 2019 (pictured above).

His recent demise on September 25, 2020 has left millions of his ardent fans feeling devastated and empty.

Wesleyan dedicates its 2020 Navaratri Festival to S. P. Balasubrahmanyam as a testimony to his unique musical ability to unite South Asia and South Asians in truly interconnected ways, transcending language, ethnicity, caste, class, and more.

For a detailed insight into this genius singer’s life, see this recent BBC profile:

SP Balasubrahmanyam: Legendary Indian singer dies

 

Graduate music student Suhail Yusuf reflects on Navaratri Festival and shares YouTube playlist

Shakti
“A Handful of Beauty” is the second studio album released by the world fusion band Shakti in 1976.

Wesleyan graduate music student Suhail Yusuf, a sarangi player, vocalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, reflects on the Navaratri Festival and shares a YouTube playlist.

The playlist below consists of ten recordings by some of the greatest legendary musicians of North India and Pakistan and a few contemporary ones. The performing artists through these recordings were carefully selected on the basis of––keeping in mind––their connection to Wesleyan, especially with the Navaratri Festival, or the artists’ creative ideas aligned with the vision of our world-famous ethnomusicology program, offered in the Music Department.

From the impeccable upbeat rhythmic structures to utterly complex melodic runs, the opening track in the list is a power packed instrumental called “Kriti.” With its roots fixed in the Carnatic (South Indian classical) music tradition, this particular recording was made by the internationally acclaimed group known as Shakti. The members of this super group consisted of L. Shankar (who earned a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974), John McLaughlin (Carnatic music student at Wesleyan in the 1970s), Zakir Hussain, and Vikku Vinayakram. Apparently, McLaughlin met Shankar at Wesleyan around the mid ’70s and went on to form this super group.

Although “Kriti” is more likely to raise our excitement levels with its raised tempo and breathtaking virtuosic performances, the track after is a rather peaceful rendition of the raga “Jaunpurī.” In the recording, the artist performing this raga is the late Buddhadev Dasgupta. While “Jaunpurī” is a beautiful early morning raga from the Hindustani (North Indian classical) music tradition, it has healing properties and provides a soothing effect to the soul. This particular rendition was specifically made for a series of recordings featured as part of musicologist and ethnomusicologist Joep Bor’s book The Raga Guide. The book is a historical and an ethnomusicological outlook on the raga system of North Indian music. Indic music scholars at universities across the world include chapters from this book into their syllabi.

After a glimpse of traditional sounds from both North and South Indian classical music, the playlist will now move on to discover some of the contemporary approaches used in twenty-first century Indian music. Although a lot has been explored under the banner of “contemporary Indian music” sounds, e.g. composer Philip Glass’ collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and The Beatles and the Rolling Stones incorporating Indian sounds into their albums, amongst others, for the sake of this playlist, I will focus on collaborations from the last twenty years.

Track number three, “Amirah,” is a composition by U.K.-born sarangi player Surinder Sandhu. In the track, one can hear cinematic musical influences combined with traditional Indian sounds. What I absolutely love about this piece is the almost avant-garde approach in Sandhu’s sarangi playing and the orchestral arrangement given to the Indian instruments––a practice that became popular during India’s colonial days.

While maintaining the contemporary vibe, track four moves away from highbrow orchestral sounds and transitions into an earthy combination of U.K. folk and Indian Sufi sounds. The song “Westlin Winds” by the U.K. based Indo-jazz-folk trio Yorkston/Thorne/Khan was originally written by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). However, in this version the trio translates Burns’ song into Hindi. They do this by borrowing Hindi lyrics from Indian Sufi poet Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) and as critics have said, “gave new lungs to the song.”

Moving forward on the lines of fused sounds, the next track features critically-acclaimed Indian pop duo Hariharan and Leslie Lewis, popularly known as Colonial Cousins. In this playlist the duo’s featured song is “Krishna,” based on a composition that was popularized by T. Balasaraswati and other musicians of her family. As the story goes, Hariharan’s mother learned this song from T.Brinda (T.Vishwanathan’s cousin’s sister) and passed it on to Hariharan. Hence, a very strong connection with the Carnatic music legacy of Wesleyan University. In their version, Colonial Cousins, while giving it a western touch, maintain the prayer-like feeling of the song: requesting Kriśna (Hindu mythical God), Jesus, and Allah to come and save the world; indeed, a song we all need in these unprecedented times!

On the other hand, track six “Dubla” presents an interesting combination of the North Indian version of Solkattu (vocalized rhythmic syllables) and electro-dance beats. It is written and produced by U.K.-based tabla player and DJ Talvin Singh. The song was released as part of Singh’s highly-acclaimed album Ha in 2001. With a blend of folk, jazz, orchestral sounds, and new age electro-beats, our contemporary Indian music section in the playlist comes to an end. In contrast, the remaining four tracks will lean back towards the traditional approaches used in Indian music.

Although the playlist began with separate showcases of each of the Hindustani and Carnatic music traditions, this last leg of the playlist will explore interactions, amalgamations, and cross-cultural togetherness that has brought Hindustani and Carnatic musicians together through music-making. Track seven is a unique 1935 vintage recording featuring the doyen of Hindustani music Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. In the recording Khan sings a Carnatic raga “Karharapriya,” probably one of the earliest documented renditions of a Carnatic raga sung by a Hindustani vocalist.

The next track is a beautifully crafted instrumental duet of the late Sultan Khan (Hindustani sarangi player) and the late U.Sriniwas (Carnatic mandolin player). While revamping each other’s traditions, in the recording both Sultan Khan and U.Sriniwas masterfully performed raga “Hemavati.”

The second to last track on the list is a Thumri (semi-classical song in Hindustani music) composed in raga “Sindhi Bhairavi.” It was sung and recorded by Pakistan’s legendary vocalist Salamat Ali Khan, who visited Wesleyan in 1982 in order to participate in the Navaratri Festival. Every time I hear this recording it feels as if I am drenched in a shower of blissful melodic notes falling from the sky.

With astonishing singing from Salamat Ali Khan, we have now reached our final track in the playlist. And as per the tradition goes in Carnatic music performances and also at Wesleyan’s Navaratri Festival music performances, a concert must end with a drum solo––popularly known as taniavartanam. Therefore, this last track presents a rhythmic dialogue between master drummers Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram, performing a “taniavartanam” in a complex rhythm cycle set to 9 1⁄2 beats. I have to say, they sound like fire! Thank you for listening and I hope you have enjoyed this experience of active listening. Please stay safe.

Click here to watch the complete playlist of ten videos on YouTube.

Playlist
1) “Kriti” (Shakti)
2) “Raga Jaunpurī” (Buddhadev Dasgupta)
3) “Amirah” (Surinder Sandhu)
4) “Westlin Winds” (Yorkston/Thorne/Khan)
5) “Krishna” (Colonial Cousins)
6) “Dubla” (Talvin Singh)
7) “Karharapriya” (Abdul Karim Khan)
8) “Hemavati” [(Sultan Khan and U.Srinivas) watch first three minutes]
9) “Sindhi Bhairavi” [(Salamat Ali Khan) start at 2:43 onwards]
10) “Taniavartanam” [(L.Shankar, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram) start at 42 minutes]

Listen: “Music of India for Wesleyan Navarati” Spotify playlist by Joseph Getter MA ’99

Music of India for Wesleyan Navaratri
“Music of India for Wesleyan Navaratri” Spotify playlist.

From Joseph Getter MA ’99, director of the Youth Gamelan at Wesleyan University:

“This playlist represents some of my favorite artists from India and beyond, primarily in the South Indian Carnatic tradition as well as a few from the North Indian Hindustani style. Most performed at Wesleyan University during our Navratri Festival, and a few were faculty members.”

Listen to this playlist on Spotify.

 

Aditi Mahesh ’21 on Wesleyan’s 44th annual Navaratri Festival

The Hindu goddess Durga.
The Hindu goddess Durga.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, Navaratri Festival Intern Aditi Mahesh ’21 writes about the annual festival that celebrates traditional Indian music and dance.

Navaratri has long been a vital part of Wesleyan’s history, bringing in established Indian artists to celebrate the auspiciousness and showcase the depth of Indian classical art forms. Navaratri, held in the honor of Hindu goddess Durga, is a prominent festival celebrated in India for nine (nava-) nights (ratri). Each day signifies a different avatar of Durga, nine avatars in total (navadurga). On the tenth day, Durga defeats the demon Mahishasura, celebrating the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness. This last day is Vijayadasami or Dussehra, the most auspicious day of the year for beginning a new endeavor, especially in the arts.

Click here to listen to a playlist I created on Spotify of a range of traditional and contemporary, instrumental and vocal devotional songs centered around the three goddesses (Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati), ending with Aigirnandini.

Wesleyan’s commitment to Indian music, dance, and culture was one of the main reasons I chose to apply to the University. Coming from a family of Carnatic vocal musicians and being an Indian classical Bharatanatyam dancer myself, I couldn’t see myself thrive anywhere else. I’ve taken Bharatanatyam classes from Chair of the Dance Department and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Hari Krishnan, and Carnatic vocals from Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan, giving me both a well-rounded Wesleyan education and a robust insight into the inner workings of the Navaratri festival held at the Center for the Arts each year.

Back in 2017, when I was a freshman, the University brought the distinguished Mallika Sarabhai and her company to perform for the Wesleyan audience. Her work really challenged the traditional notions of Bharatanatyam. It was more than just a dance form; it was a powerful mode of political communication. This very sentiment was reflected in my Bharatanatyam classes with Professor Krishnan, who challenged the ‘Brahminical’ perspective of the artform, teaching us the courtesan style of Bharatanatyam and instilling in us the powerful responsibility to use our platform for social good (very characteristic of a Wesleyan education!). This deepened my own narrow preconception about the dance form, allowing me to apply my art beyond the walls of the classroom, communicating powerful stories.

On the musical side, Wesleyan has always brought diverse artists, celebrating both North and South Indian musical styles. Last year, we heard from Ustad Amjad Ali Khan on the sarod, who powerfully captivated the audience with his music. We also have our very own talent, Professor Balasubrahmaniyan, who performed on the Friday evening of the festival [with Adjunct Associate Professor of Music David Nelson]. In past years, his South Indian voice class has been an opener to his concert, allowing for Wesleyan students to showcase their learning and play a crucial role in the festival.

The Navaratri Festival not only draws in a Wesleyan audience but also a local Connecticut audience, allowing for greater community interaction and education about Indian art forms.

As a result of the global situation, Navaratri at Wesleyan has adapted to a virtual platform. Despite these challenges, the Center for the Arts is bringing in rich talent while still maintaining its core integrity of social responsibility through the arts. We hope you join us for this year’s virtual festival!

Aditi Mahesh ’21
Navaratri Festival Intern

Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 4:40pm  Music Department Colloquium with Anna Morcom (Professor of Ethnomusicology and Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair of Indian Music at U.C.L.A.’s Herb Alpert School of Music): “Music, Exchange, and the Production of Value: A Case Study of Hindustani Music.”

Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 8pm “Sakthi Vibrations” Film Conversation with Director Zoe Sherinian. Moderated by ethnomusicology doctoral student Bianca Iannitti. The film will be available for viewing online before the event with a link included with the reservation confirmation.

Friday, October 2, 2020 at 7pm Rethinking “Navaratri.” A conversation with Artistic Director of the contemporary Indian dance company Ananya Dance Theatre Ananya Chatterjea and Chair of the Dance Department and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Hari Krishnan.

 

The Era Footwork Crew at Wesleyan

The Era Footwork Crew
Photo by Wills Glasspiegel courtesy of The Era Footwork Crew.

 

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week we focus on a virtual residency at Wesleyan featuring The Era Footwork Crew from Chicago.

I first saw The Era Footwork Crew perform in November 2019 at Links Hall in Chicago. The show, In the Wurkz, was an extraordinary combination of Chicago footwork, live DJs, spoken word, documentary film, and community spirit. I was struck by how The Era had been able to integrate every aspect of its ambitious artistic mission into one inspiring and beautifully crafted performance. The energy emanating from the audience, comprised of family, friends, neighbors, and children from The Era’s youth footwork summer camps, was palpable. The show was a love letter to the local neighborhoods which have supported The Era and a message of hope to the youth. This was a remarkable model of how the arts can truly strengthen and uplift a local community, and it felt urgent that Wesleyan students and the Center for the Arts audience be able to learn from this group of dedicated artists and community activists.

Footwork is an improvisational, competition-style form that encompasses music, dance, and a distinct Chicago culture. It is an inter-generational, community-based artform that is taught and passed down through dance battles, clubs, house parties, dance downs, and recently formalized through youth summer camps on the south side of Chicago. The Era is known not only for their incredible mastery and elevation of Chicago footwork but also for their social justice initiatives. The Era proclaims to anyone who will listen that “footwork saves lives.” They mean this in the most literal and non-hyperbolic sense possible. This saying is what drives an extraordinary partnership between The Era Footwork Crew and their non-profit, Open the Circle (OTC). OTC takes its name from crowded Chicago dance floors. When the floor gets overly packed, two people will lock hands and spin through the crowd–“opening the circle”–to make space for dancing. In this spirit, OTC is committed to opening tightly-knit circles of power and resources in society, re-centering them to benefit artists and youth in divested communities. The Era and OTC work hand-in-hand to promote dance education, document the development of footwork, recover and highlight women’s contributions to the artform, and elevate the visibility of footwork through performance. At Wesleyan, The Era and OTC will talk to students and our audience about how footwork has the ability to truly transform and, indeed, save lives.

The Era will join us this fall for a series of virtual engagements. On Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 7pm, there will be a documentary film screening, “Footwork on Film.” Dance filmmakers Brandon Calhoun and Wills Glasspiegel have been documenting the art and history of Chicago footwork for the last decade. They will share a series of short film clips from their archive, introducing the audience to The Era Footwork Crew, the cultural history of footwork in Chicago, and the rise of the dance form.

This event will be followed by a footwork technique workshop on Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 7pm. The Era Footwork Crew will give an introductory dance workshop, open and accessible to everyone regardless of dance background or experience, followed by a community conversation with the Hartford-based street dance collective 860MVMNT. The Era and 860MVMNT will explore differences in regional dance styles and how community culture can give rise to dance forms. They will also talk about their respective youth education initiatives and the impact they have had in the Chicago and Hartford communities.

Finally, on Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 7pm, Open the Circle will join members of the Wesleyan Dance Department for a panel discussion on OTC’s community engagement work and racial justice initiatives in the south side of Chicago.

Please join us for a dynamic series of virtual engagements that immerses our audiences in Chicago footwork and The Era’s racial justice work. We hope this introduction to The Era inspires you to join us again in fall 2021, when The Era will be in residence on the Wesleyan campus to perform In the Wurkz and engage with Wesleyan students and our regional community.

Fiona Coffey
Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts
Center for the Arts

The Era Footwork Crew Residency Events at Wesleyan

Kristina Wong at Wesleyan

Kristina Wong
Kristina Wong performs “Kristina Wong for Public Office.” Photo by Annie Lesser.

We are excited to open the 2020-2021 Performing Arts Series this fall with the extraordinary theater-maker, performance artist, writer, cultural commentator, and satirist Kristina Wong

Wong is an activist artist dedicated to forging meaningful social change, interrogating heteronormative standards, subverting racial and gender stereotypes, challenging complacency, and empowering audiences—a model for the values that we hold here at the Center for the Arts. 

Wong began her career as an activist and performance artist in 2000 as a senior at U.C.L.A. with her fake mail-order bride site www.bigbadchinesemama.com. This internet performance installation was Wong’s first experiment to see if “the act of protest [can] actually be funny and enjoyable.” This philosophy, and her approach of using humor, parody, and satire to expose painful truths about race, class, gender, and the fallacy of the American dream is central to Wong’s work. She followed this inaugural work with projects such as Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (2011–2013), which explored the stigma surrounding depression and rates of suicide in Asian-American women, and The Wong Street Journal (2015–2017), which broke down the complexities of global poverty, privilege, and America’s influence in the world while charting Wong’s own brief role as a hip hop star in Northern Uganda. Her YouTube channel, Radical Cram School, encourages Asian American children to explore revolution, social justice, the power of their identities through puppets, community storytelling, and comedy. 

During a time when civil liberties are being eroded on a daily basis, our nation is convulsing with protests over police brutality and systemic racism, and our healthcare system and federal response to the pandemic is in tatters, Wong’s voice is needed more than ever. She is a remarkable example of an artist who is responding in real time to the current moment and who is also translating her community activism into art and performance. What an extraordinary model for Wesleyan students and our audiences to have.

At Wesleyan, she will present two shows for us this fall. On Thursday, September 10, 2020 at 7pm, Wong will perform Kristina Wong for Public Office which details her real-life experience running for office in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Blurring the lines between performance and politics in a way that has become all too familiar, Wong re-enacts her campaign for elected representative of Wilshire Center Koreatown Sub-district 5 Neighborhood Council. A mash-up between a campaign rally, church revivals, and a solo theater show, the piece explores the anxiety leading up to the 2020 presidential election, questions the differences between performance art and politics, and challenges audiences to get civically engaged. Public Office will be co-presented with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center.

Wong joins us again on Monday, October 5, 2020 at 7pm for a performance borne from the COVID-19 pandemic: Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord. Wong charts the experience of creating a “homemade face mask empire in just ten days,” gathering together a sewing squad of volunteer “Aunties” making free masks for people “the government didn’t care about.” The Auntie Sewing Squad has been featured on NBC News, Good Morning America, and USA Today, and has made and distributed over 50,000 masks. This performance looks at the significance of Asian American women and women of color performing this historically gendered and racialized, invisible labor.

Wong will also join Wesleyan students for a virtual residency that includes class visits, career talks, open rehearsal/directing sessions, and one-on-one conversations with students doing senior theater capstone projects. Finally, on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 at 6pm, Wong will give a speech about the intersections between her political activism and her art for Wesleyan’s Engage 2020 initiative with the Allbritton Center for Community Partnership

Our Performing Arts Series this fall will be virtual, and all events will be free. We hope you join us for an inspiring series of events and performances with this extraordinary activist and artist Kristina Wong. 

Fiona Coffey
Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts
Center for the Arts

Kristina Wong Residency Events at Wesleyan

 

Prison Voices: Reimagining Dante’s “Divine Comedy” Behind Bars

Students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course "America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars."
Students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course “America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars.” First row (from left): Kayla Cabán ’22, Veronica Cañas ’23, Milton Espinoza, Jr ’22; second row (from left): Monique Gautreaux ’23, Mosab Hamid ’23, Avanti Sheth ’23.

This past Spring, six students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course THEA 115 “America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars,” collaborated with incarcerated men at the Cheshire Correctional Institution on monologues created in response to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. These six short monologues are written by those men, and are introduced and performed on video by Jenkins’ students (pictured above). For the first half of the semester, students met weekly with their incarcerated partners to discuss Dante’s journey from hell to heaven and its relevance to the prison experience. When the pandemic made personal visits to the prison impossible, the students kept in touch with their partners remotely. Through support from the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative, the students were also able to consult remotely with two formerly incarcerated men, Dario Peña and Dennis Woodbine, who had previously taken Dante workshops with Jenkins in Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Professor Jenkins writes:

“Ten years after reading Dante in prison, these two men spoke with the students about the poem’s continuing relevance to their lives. Woodbine and his lawyer had included a line from Dante in the opening paragraph of his application for clemency, which resulted his early release. Peña spoke about reading the poem as a turning point in his life behind bars. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy after having been exiled from his home and family in Florence, knowing that his conviction would lead to his being burned at the stake if he ever returned. Having facilitated Dante workshops in prisons in Italy, Indonesia and the U.S., I am always impressed by the degree to which men and women behind bars identify with Dante’s journey. Yale Divinity School Professor Peter S. Hawkins attended a Dante performance we staged in a Connecticut prison several years ago. His analysis of the theme of transformation in the Divine Comedy helps explain the poem’s appeal to incarcerated individuals: ‘… it is not the penitents’ suffering that the poem dwells on,’ Hawkins writes, ‘it is the degree to which art, music, language—beauty of all kinds—assist in personal transformation.’”