Navaratri Festival 2010

CFA Intern Lucy Strother talks with Professor B. Balasubrahmaniyan (Balu) about this week’s Navaratri Festival.

Tomorrow kicks off the 34th annual Navaratri Festival, celebrating the music and dance of India here at Wesleyan! Five days of performances (Wednesday, October 27 through Sunday, October 31) will offer audiences a wide range of events: concerts by distinguished musicians, dance showcases, a lecture by Wesleyan professors and a traditional Hindu ceremony. I spoke with Wesleyan professor and Navaratri organizer B. Balasubrahmaniyan (better known as Balu) about some of the upcoming festival highlights.

A unique aspect of Navaratri is its ability to integrate the past and present in its celebration of the rich historical traditions of music and dance in India, along with its promotion of important performers in India’s contemporary arts scene. Thursday night features a concert by sisters Ranjani and Gayatri, both widely acclaimed singers and violinists. Balu expressed his excitement for this concert, saying: “They have reached a very high caliber of musicianship in a short period and they are visiting Wesleyan for the first time.” Their performances are known for vitality and emotion and often incorporate an element of playful sibling rivalry that I am excited to witness in action!

Another highlight of Navaratri is sure to be when internationally renowned tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain performs with sitarist Niladri Kumar Saturday night. Balu emphasized Zakir’s superstar status and his amazing ability to connect Indian music with music of other cultures and genres: “He is a top ranking, international artist and has worked with many Indian and non-Indian performers.” It is so thrilling to get the opportunity to see brilliant, world famous artists like Zakir here on campus.

People interested in taking a more active role in the festivities should attend the Natya Mela Dance Party/Showcase or the Saraswati Puja ceremony. Balu shared with me the meaning of Saraswati Puja, saying that the ceremony is dedicated to “offering our respects to the goddess of knowledge, music, and the arts. Students place their books and musicians place their musical instruments in front of the idol or picture of the goddess and get blessings. Anyone can participate and can bring their instruments and books in order to receive blessings.” This event is recommended for seniors who are writing a thesis…

Not only is Balu a major contributor in organizing and promoting Navaratri, he is also featured as a soloist on the concert line up. David Nelson, mridangam, and K.V.S. Vinay, violin, will join Balu Friday night for a concert that should not be missed!

The Full Lineup:
Colloquium–Weaving Sound and Image: Integrating Bharata Natyam and Carnatic Music,
B. Balasubrahmaniyan and Hari Krishnan
Wednesday, October 27, 4:15pm
CFA Hall 
Free admission
Ranjani and Gayatri: Carnatic Music of South India
Thursday, October 28, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Tickets: $15 A, $12 B, $6 C
B. Balasubrahmaniyan: Vocal Music of South India
Friday, October 29, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Tickets: $12 A, $10 B, $6 C
Natya Mela
(Indian Dance Party/Showcase)
Saturday, October 30, 2pm
World Music Hall
Free Admission
Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar
Saturday, October 30 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Tickets: $28, $23 B, $8 C

Saraswati Puja (Hindu Ceremony)
Sunday, October 31, 11am
World Music Hall
Free admission

PRICE KEY: $A General; $B Seniors, Wesleyan Faculty & Staff, Non-Wesleyan Students; $C Wesleyan Students

Life Emergent at Fall Faculty Dance Concert

Lucy Strother, CFA Intern, introduces Life Emergent, a work that will appear on the program of this weekend’s Fall Faculty Dance Performance.

Last spring, Katja Kolcio, Associate Professor of Dance, and Manju Hingorani, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, co-taught an innovative course entitled Body Languages: Choreographing Biology (MBB/DANC108). The course explored the intersection of science and dance, investigating how we can model microscopic scientific processes through dance and movement that we couldn’t otherwise visualize.  Students studied material comparable to an Intro Bio course, while engaging in the creative process of collaboratively choreographing and performing dance. Sometimes the students depicted a particular process or concept in a fairly straightforward way (for example, “The Mitosis Dance,” in which students used their bodies to illustrate mitosis), while other times their movements were merely inspired by a more general scientific idea. Students observed that at the course’s beginning, they typically learned the science information and subsequently applied it to their dance. Yet by the end of the semester, the students felt they were studying the two subjects simultaneously; the two mediums had been successfully intertwined. Although the participating students faced significant challenges in integrating these two disciplines, it’s clear that their efforts resulted in discovery and accomplishment. Kolcio and Hingorani plan to further develop the issues addressed in Choreographing Biology in future offerings of the course.

Additionally, Hingorani and Kolcio were commissioned to co-create an interdisciplinary work entitled Life Emergent, which will premiere on Friday, October 22, as part of the Fall Faculty Dance Performance. Life Emergent will be performed by Wesleyan students, including several of the students who were enrolled in Choreographing Biology. The work further investigates the intersection of dance and molecular biology and specifically concerns the evolution of life in light of recent advances in the development of synthetic cells. I recently attended a rehearsal for Life Emergent and was struck by how collaborative the preparations for performance were. Although the rehearsal was directed by Kolcio and Hingorani, various student dancers choreographed sections of the piece themselves and relayed their ideas and moves to the others. Students then received feedback from both their instructors and each other and slight amendments were made. Throughout the rehearsal, the students and instructors transformed countless thoughts and suggestions into a more polished, cohesive dance. It will be exciting to see Life Emergent in its final form this Friday!

Fall Faculty Dance Concert:

Friday & Saturday, October 22 & 23

Patricelli ’92 Theater

Tickets: $8 A, $8 B, $6 C

Chopin@200 Concert Series Starts This Week

What follows is a a blog entry by Wesleyan Senior and CFA Intern Lucy Strother:

This weekend kicks off with the first two concerts of Wesleyan’s Chopin@200 Festival, which celebrates the 200th birthday of the beloved composer, Frederic Francois Chopin! The concert series, a brainchild of professor and pianist Neely Bruce, will feature works by Chopin, his contemporaries, and composers who were influenced by him.

Neely Bruce describes how the festival came into existence:

In the mid-1990s I began systematically to relearn the piano repertory of my youth. I realized that Chopin, whose music I had always liked but to whom I had not paid a great deal of attention, was emerging as one of my favorite composers. If you play the piano because you enjoy the physical sensation, nothing feels better to a pianist than playing Chopin, so it was both instructive and fun to practice the music. I was also struck with his originality. Pieces that had baffled me for years started revealing their secrets—most notably the Polonaise-Fantasie. (I’m still waiting to figure out the scherzos.) I began to teach a music major seminar in Chopin, first in 2003 and again in 2008.

2010 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Chopin, and this semester I’m teaching the seminar for the third time. I asked my pianist colleagues if they would like to join me in playing some concerts. All of them responded, and the events quickly expanded their focus. 2010 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert Schumann, the first critic to recognize Chopin’s genius in an unqualified, enthusiastic manner. He was also one of Chopin’s few close friends who was not a Pole. My pianist colleagues all wanted to include not just Chopin and Schumann, but compositions by composers in the intervening two centuries who were influenced by Chopin’s unique mix of strict classical training as a composer, immersion in Polish folk music, relentless experimentation with musical form and harmony, and undying popularity. (He may be the most popular composer who ever lived. Beethoven would seem to be his only competition.) So we have Liszt and Debussy and Szymanowski and George Crumb and Radiohead—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The worlds of American pop music and jazz and even boogie-woogie are also influenced by Chopin (one of Jelly Roll Morton’s favorites).

So we are all going to get together, with eight of our students and former students, and our colleague David Westfall at The Hartt School, and Wesleyan alumnus Donald Berman, and have a blast playing for each other! We hope lots of people will join us in the audience.

This is an exciting opportunity to see dynamic performances by both Wesleyan piano faculty and talented piano students!

Chopin @ 200: Concert One

Saturday, October 9, 8pm, 
Crowell Concert Hall
$5, $4 Wesleyan Students

Chopin @ 200: Concert Two
Sunday, October 10, 3pm, 
Crowell Concert Hall
$5, $4 Wesleyan Students

More Chopin @ 200 concerts on November 5, 11 & 12.