Who’s Who in the Creation of “The Matter of Origins”

Liz Lerman (Founding Artistic Director) is a choreographer, performer,
writer, educator and speaker. Described by the Washington Post as “the
source of an epochal revolution in the scope and purposes of dance art,”
her dance/theater works have been seen throughout the United States and
abroad. Her aesthetic approach spans the range from abstract to personal
to political, while her working process emphasizes research, translation
between artistic media and intensive collaboration with dancers,
communities and thinkers from diverse disciplines. She founded Liz Lerman
Dance Exchange in 1976 and has cultivated the company’s unique
multi-generational ensemble into a leading force in contemporary dance.
Liz has been the recipient of numerous honors, including the American
Choreographer Award, Washingtonian magazine’s 1988 Washingtonian of the
Year and a 2002 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship. Liz’s work has been
commissioned by Lincoln Center, American Dance Festival, BalletMet, the
Kennedy Center and Harvard Law School, among many others. From 1994 to
1996, in collaboration with the Music Hall of Portsmouth, New Hampshire,
Liz directed the Shipyard Project, which has been widely noted as an
example of the power of art to enhance such values as social capital and
civic dialogue. From 1999 to 2002 she led Hallelujah, which engaged people
in 15 cities throughout the United States in the creation of a series of
dances “in praise of” topics vital to their communities. She created
Ferocious Beauty: Genome, premiered in 2006, with the participation of
more than 30 scientists and has toured it to sites throughout North
America, including the Mayo Clinic and the Ontario Genomics Institute. Liz
addresses arts, community and business organizations both nationally and
internationally. Sites of recent speaking engagements include the Abbey
Theatre in Dublin, the Big Intensive at Sadler’s Wells in London, and
Harvard University. She is the author of Teaching Dance to Senior Adults
(1983) and Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (2003), and has written
articles and reviews for such publications as Faith and Form, Movement
Research and Washington Post Book World. Co-commissioned by the University
of Maryland and Montclair State University, her newest work, The Matter of
Origins, examines the question of beginnings through dance, media and
innovative formats for conversation. Her collection of essays, titled
Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer, is due out from
Wesleyan University Press in spring of 2011. Born in Los Angeles and
raised in Milwaukee, Liz attended Bennington College and Brandeis
University, received her B.A. in dance from the University of Maryland,
and an M.A. in dance from George Washington University. She is married to
storyteller Jon Spelman. Their daughter Anna recently graduated from

Amelia Cox (Creative Producer) has been working in performance since 1989.
For several years post-college she worked nationally and internationally
with Double Edge Theater (MA) and the Gardzienice Center for Theatre
Practices (Poland), making theater happen in spaces from a
nineteenth-century barn in Massachusetts to a hilltop medieval fortress in
Romania. She came to the mid-Atlantic region in 2002 as the technical
director of Baltimore Theatre Project. Since 2005 she has worked at Dance
Exchange, leading production for the premieres of Small Dances About Big
, Ferocious Beauty: Genome, Man/Chair Dances, Funny Uncles, Imprints
on a Landscape: The Mining Project
, 613 Radical Acts of Prayer, The
Farthest Earth from Thee
, Drift and now The Matter of Origins. With Dance
Exchange she has also remounted several other dances, and traveled to
sites from Vancouver, BC, to Burlington, VT, for the company’s animated
keynotes. She holds a B.A. in Theatre from Hope College (MI), and an
M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College (NC).

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Ami Dowden-Fant (Adjunct Artist) began her
dance training at the Richmond Dance Center. She has received numerous
special recognitions including the Outstanding Choreographer and Performer
Award from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a two-year scholarship to
attend the Bates Dance Festival, where she worked with Doug Varone, Robert
Moses, Joanna Mendl Shaw and Bebe Miller. Recently Ami pursued her B.F.A.
in Dance and Choreography at Virginia Commonwealth University where she
studied with Gerri Houlihan, Heidi Weiss, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Tania
Issac and Dr. James Frazier. Ami has danced for Starr Foster Dance
Project, Charles O. Anderson and Gesel Mason with Mason/Rhynes
Performance Projects. Her work has been performed at the National American
College Dance Festival Gala in New York City at Barnard College, Koresh Artist
Showcase and the CEC in Philadelphia. Currently Ami is freelancing in
Philadelphia. She is in the lab with her company hersouldances
(hersouldances.org) working on new projects. She dedicates her hard work,
love and commitment for dance to her grandfather.

Thomas Dwyer (Company Member) began a dance career with Liz Lerman
Dance Exchange after retiring from the U.S. government service in June 1988.
His choreography, known for employing community-based seniors, has been
presented at Dance Place, the Church Street Theatre in Washington D.C. and
the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.

Sarah Gubbins (Dramaturg) is a Chicago playwright whose most recent play,
Fair Use, was produced at Actor’s Express in Atlanta after being developed
at the Steppenwolf Theater Company. Her plays have also been read or
developed at the Public Theater, About Face Theatre, Chicago Dramatists,
Next Theatre Company and Collaboraction.

Matt Hubbs (Associate Sound Designer) has recently designed Telephone for
the Foundry Theatre, 1001 at Mixed Blood Theatre, Blueprints of Relentless
and 613 Radical Acts of Prayer for Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, 100
Saints You Should Know
at Playwrights Horizons, and the National
Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. A company
member of the TEAM, he has designed Architecting, Particularly in the
, a Thousand Natural Shocks, and Mission Drift. As an associate
designer, he has recently worked at MTC’s Friedman Theatre, the Ethel
Barrymore Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Horizons, The
Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club and La Jolla Playhouse. He has also
toured with SITI Company and the rachel’s band. He received his B.A. in
Philosophy as a University Scholar at Xavier University.

Ted Johnson (Adjunct Artist) is a dancer of long standing with the
company. He was a member of Bebe Miller Company (1995-2003) and Ralph
Lemon Company (1994-95). He has also worked with choreographers Amy Sue
Rosen, David Alan Harris, Sarah Pogostin, Eun Me Ahn, Cheng-Chieh Yu and
more recently, Colleen Thomas and Bill Young, among others. His
improvisational work has been featured in collaborative ventures onstage
with Kirstie Simson, Gabriel Forestieri and Kayoko Nakajima. Ted has a
background in visual arts (drawing, photography, painting and design),
theater and voice. He has been a student of Klein/Mahler Technique with
Barbara Mahler and Susan Klein for over a decade, and continues a practice
in contact improvisation (CI).

Meg Kelly (Production Coordinator and Assistant Stage Manager) joined
Dance Exchange full time in December 2008 after stage managing The
Farthest Earth from Thee
(Capital Fringe 2007) and Muscle and Mortar
(Capital Fringe 2008). She works behind the scenes to keep Dance
Exchange’s productions running smoothly and serves as the stage manager
for Drift, Blueprints of Relentless Nature, Running with the Wind and
numerous keynotes, company concerts and community projects. She has
worked locally at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Round House Theatre
and holds a B.F.A. in theater design and technology from the University of

Logan Kibens (Projection Design) is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker. Her
work as a video designer includes projects in Chicago for Steppenwolf
Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, Lucky Plush and Lookingglass Theatre, and in
D.C. at The Washington Opera. Her films have screened at venues such as
The Chicago International Film Festival, The Brooklyn Museum of Art and
REDCAT Theater Los Angeles. Currently her film Recessive, a
narrative/documentary hybrid, is touring festivals. She holds an M.F.A. in
Film Directing from CalArts.

Lisa LaCharite-Lostritto (Tea Graphics Designer) is a designer currently
operating in the Boston area. With a professional education in
architecture, Lisa’s research, practice and teaching focuses on harvesting
history, culture and collective human consciousness in the experimental
shaping of visual environments. Lisa is co-founder of 0095b6, a
collaboration providing services in graphic, media and architectural
design. Before relocating to the Boston area in 2010 she was an adjunct
instructor at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. In this role she
revised and evolved the advanced digital graphics courses for interior and
exhibit design students.

Sarah Levitt (Company Member) is a dancer, choreographer, and teacher
based in the Washington, D.C. area. She received her B.A. in Dance from
the University of Maryland, College Park in 2007, where she held a
Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship in Dance and was awarded the
Dorothy Madden Emerging Artist Award upon graduation. Sarah has danced in
the work of Robert Battle, Liz Lerman, Gesel Mason, Cassie Meador, Tzveta
Kassabova, PearsonWidrig DanceTheater, and Keith Thompson. Sarah began
working with the Dance Exchange in 2007, and became a full-time company
member in 2010. She has performed and taught with the company at theatres,
universities, senior centers and in community settings across the U.S. and
abroad. Sarah’s work has been presented by Dance Place, McDonogh School,
and Artomatic, and she is the recipient of Individual Artist Awards from
the Maryland State Arts Council in Choreography (2009) and Solo
Performance (2010). She and company member Benjamin Wegman are 2011
recipients of the Kennedy Center’s Local Dance Commissioning Project for
their new work, Hammock, which will premiere in fall 2011 on the Kennedy
Center’s Millennium Stage.

Michael Mazzola‘s (Scenic and Lighting Designer) critically lauded designs
have been in venues in the U.S. and Europe, ranging from opera houses to
circus tents to outdoor amphitheaters. A three-time BESSIE Award winner,
he has recently designed lighting and scenery for National Ballet of
Finland, Oregon Ballet Theatre, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Bebe Miller
Company, Rumpus Room, Royal Ballet of Flanders and Liz Lerman Dance
Exchange. In the past two years Michael has achieved awards on the West
Coast for his lighting of musical theater and drama.

Paloma McGregor (Adjunct Artist) is a New York-based dancer,
choreographer and co-founder of Angela’s Pulse, a collaborative performance company.
Her choreography has been presented throughout New York, including
at The Kitchen, Harlem Stage, EXIT Art, the Brecht Forum, Tribeca Performing Arts
Center and Bronx Academy of Art and Dance, as well as at Yale University,
UCLA, The Dance Place in Washington D.C. and Cleveland Public Theatre. Her
current project, Blood Dazzler, is a dance theater adaptation of poet
Patricia Smith’s award-winning book about Hurricane Katrina; the
evening-length work premiered in September 2010 at Harlem Stage. Paloma
has performed at City Center, the Joyce Theater, the Kennedy Center, BAM
and the United Nations. She toured internationally for five years with the
critically acclaimed Urban Bush Women dance company. Paloma earned her
B.S. in Journalism (Florida A & M University) and her M.F.A. in Dance
(Case Western Reserve University).

Cassie Meador (Company Member) is a choreographer, performer and teacher based
in Washington D.C. Originally from Georgia, she joined the Liz
Lerman Dance Exchange in 2002. She has created dances in communities
throughout the U.S. and internationally in Japan, Canada, London, Ireland
and Guyana. As an educator, she has taught at the Maryland Institute
College of Art, Dance Center — Columbia College in Chicago, Brown
University, Wesleyan University, Kyoto Arts Center, The Place, Sadler’s
Wells, Royal Opera House in London, Bates Dance Festival and American
Dance Festival. Cassie received her B.F.A. in Dance from The Ohio State
University, where she was the recipient of an honor’s research scholarship
in Choreography. Cassie currently serves as a Project Director and
choreographer at the Dance Exchange. In 2006 she co-directed the premiere
of 613 Radical Acts of Prayer: Opening Acts with Liz Lerman at the New
Jersey Performing Arts Center. In 2008, Cassie received a commissioning
grant from John F. Kennedy Center for her work, Drift, which has been
presented at the Kennedy Center, Dance Place and Kohler Arts Center. Her
work has also been presented at the Bealtaine Festival in Ireland, the
Asian Contemporary Art Museum in Fukuoka, Japan, Round House Theatre,
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and the Camden Opera House. She is
the recipient of the 2009 Metro D.C. Dance Award for emerging
choreographer. In 2009, Cassie was part of the Feet to the Fire project at
Wesleyan University, where she co-taught a course on tropical ecology with
artist Matt Mahaney and Professor Barry Chernoff. The team traveled to
Guyana and worked with science and art students to bring both artistic and
scientific tools to bear on such topics as ecology and global warming. Her
current choreographic project at the Dance Exchange, How To Lose a
, will include a 500-mile journey on foot from Washington, D.C. to
West Virginia to trace the sources of the energy that fuel her home.

Naoko Nagata (Costume Design) started her career as a biochemist in Japan.
In 1998 with no formal training, Nagata created her first costume (for
Jeanine Durning). Since then, she has been creating non-stop for a diverse
group of choreographers and dancers, collaborating with Amanda Loulaki,
Bebe Miller, David Dorfman Dance, Doug Elkins, David Neumann, Ellis Wood,
Gina Gibney, Liz Lerman, Nina Winthrop, Nora Chipaumire, Reggie Wilson,
Tiffany Mills, Urban Bush Women, Zvi Gotheiner and many others. Nagata
helps bring to life what she calls, “the creation of a shared dream.”

Tamara Hurwitz Pullman (Adjunct Artist) has danced with companies
including the Jose Limon Dance Company, Ann Vachon Dance Conduit, Pacific
Dance Ensemble and Rosanna Gamson Worldwide. As a dance educator, she has
taught dance to people of many ages and abilities in different settings
ranging from dance conservatories to YMCAs. She received her B.F.A. from
UMass Amherst and M.F.A. from Temple University. The Matter of Origins is
Tamara’s second project with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. She and her family
live in Los Angeles.

Shula Strassfeld (Company Member) began dancing “too late” and has been
dancing ever since. After training in New York with members of the Jose
Limon Company and Collete Barry and Susan Klein, Shula lived in the U.S.,
Israel and Canada. She has danced with choreographers Susan Rose, Joy
Kellman, Flora Cushman, Mirali Sharon, Jan Van Dyke and Sandra Neels.
Shula has an M.A. in Dance Education from Columbia University and has
taught at Trinity College (Hartford, CT), Rubin Academy of the Hebrew
University, York University and at the professional schools of Canadian
Ballet Theatre, Ballet Creole and the Kibbutz Dance Company. She joined
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in 2007.

Keith Thompson (Adjunct Artist and Rehearsal Director) is a choreographer,
performer and educator. He completed his M.F.A. Research Fellowship in
Dance from Bennington College in 2003. He performed with Trisha Brown
Dance Company for ten years, the last three of which he also served as
rehearsal director. Keith continues to represent TBDC in the sharing of
technique and repertory both at the Trisha Brown Studio in New York City
as well as at festivals, schools and workshops around the world. He has
also worked with Bebe Miller Company, Creach/Koeser Company and Danny
Buraczeski. As a choreographer and teacher, Keith has been on the
faculties of American Dance Festival, Shenandoah University, George Mason
University and Temple University. He continues to immerse himself in his
choreographic work with his own company danceTactics performance group,
which was formed in 2005. Keith has been commissioned to create works at
numerous universities including Muhlenberg College, Barnard College, James
Madison University, Duke University, Ursinus College and University of
Maryland College Park. Keith continues new research for new works and has
received support from the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and the
Bossak/Heilbron Charitable Foundation Inc. His company is currently on the
boutique roster of Jodi Kaplan and Associates.

Benjamin Wegman (Company Member) is a performer, choreographer, and
teacher based in the Washington, D.C. area. Originally hailing from a town
called Normal, Benjamin joined the Dance Exchange in 2007.  With the
company he has worked to make dances with communities across the United
States and internationally in Canada, Japan, Ireland, Switzerland, and
France. A respected teacher, he has taught at the American Dance Festival,
University of Maryland, Towson University, Indiana University,
International Festival of Arts & Ideas, and the Japan Contemporary Dance
Network’s Dance Life Festival.  Benjamin had the honor of co-directing the
premiere of Hidden Snow Memory with Keith Thompson in Sapporo, Japan and
Tour Starts Here at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.  In 2010, he
collaboratively choreographed and directed House of Cars, a site-specific
work in a downtown D.C. parking garage, in collaboration with the National
Building Museum.  Currently, Benjamin is working on a new piece, Hammock,
with Sarah Levitt, set to premiere at the Kennedy Center in fall 2011.  As
a performer, he has danced with Jeanne Ruddy Dance, Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers,
Keith Thompson’s danceTactics, Headlong Dance Theater, CityDance Ensemble,
SCRAP Performance Group, The Pillow Project, Troika Ranch, Meyer Chaffaud
Dance and was recently a featured dancer with the Washington National

Broadway and off-Broadway, Darron L. West‘s (Soundscape) work for dance
and theater has been heard in more than 400 productions all over Manhattan
as well as nationally and internationally. Among numerous nominations his
accolades for Sound Design include the 2006 Lortel and AUDELCO Awards,
2004 and 2005 Henry Hewes Design Awards, the Princess Grace, The Village
Voice OBIE Award, and the Entertainment Design magazine EDDY Award. He is
the sound designer and a founding member of Anne Bogart’s SITI Company. As
former Resident Sound Designer for Actors Theater of Louisville, his
directing credits include Kid Simple for the 2004 Humana New Play
Festival, Big Love for Austin’s Rude Mechs (Austin Critics Table Award
Best Director) and SITI’s War of the Worlds Radio Play National Tours and
Radio Macbeth.

Martha Wittman (Company Member) has been teaching, dancing and
choreographing for more than 50 years. As a young performer she danced
with the Juilliard Dance Theatre under the direction of Doris Humphrey and
in the companies of Ruth Currier, Joseph Gifford and Anna Sokolow. For
many years she was an associate choreographer with the Dances We Dance
Company directed by Betty Jones and Fritz Ludin. Her awards include three
National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Doris Humphrey Fellowship
from the American Dance Festival, Individual Artist Awards from the
Maryland Council on the Arts and two awards from Dance/USA’s National
College Choreography Initiative. She was a long-term member of the
Bennington College dance faculty in Vermont, and has been a guest artist,
teacher and choreographer in numerous colleges, universities and summer
dance programs around the country. Martha joined the Dance Exchange in
1996 and has been happily working with them ever since.

An Art/Science Experiment with Tea, Chocolate Cake and iPads

The Center for the Arts has had a deeply creative relationship with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange for the past eight years.  This Thursday, we partner with the company on an experiment that explores these questions:  What happens when you take the theatrical experience and place it at the heart of the campus in a non-traditional setting?  What happens when you employ the arts as a means of entering into scientific questions?  What’s it like to sit at a table with tea and chocolate cake and have a facilitated conversation about where we come from? (And you aid this exchange with iPads, projections, dancers, and yes, Wesleyan faculty, too!) We’ll see this Thursday when Time Has Set the Table for Tea: A Matter of Origins Project is presented at Beckham Hall at 7pm and 9:30pm.

Liz Lerman talks about the origins of this project:

It happened that the summer before meeting Gordy [Gordon Kane, Director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics] I’d read a wonderful book, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’ s American Prometheus, about J. Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the atomic weapons research activities at Los Alamos during World War II. In it, one sentence in particular caught my eye and my inner ear: the mention of Edith Warner, whom Oppenheimer had hired to feed some of his fellow physicists on the secret project a few nights a week at her desert tea house. In an instant I imagined these people in her little space, eating, talking, questioning, wondering, and I mused on the possibility of the same for an audience.

[Time Has Set the Table for Tea] is inspired by tea house gatherings of Edith Warner, and the question of what could happen if we combined the active minds of you in a convivial atmosphere with a few stimulants: tea, cake, a team of table hosts (we call them provocateurs) from diverse backgrounds … along with a few surprises. It is a laboratory of its own, so find your table setting and join us for this experiment, a chance to converse, react, muse, or just observe, listen and enjoy Edith’s own chocolate cake recipe.

Thursday, February 24, 7pm & 9:30pm
Fayerweather Beckham Hall
$4 Wesleyan students,
$5 all others

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

New Repertoire for the Guitar

A preview by Center for the Arts Intern and Music Major Lucia Strother ’11

When you enter Crowell Concert Hall this Friday, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet will not be performing traditional guitar repertoire. The vast majority of the pieces the Quartet have chosen to perform were not written for the guitar, much less an ensemble of four guitars.  The only two pieces on the program originally written for guitar were actually written specifically for the Quartet by living composers! The industrious Quartet writes all their own arrangements, and I look forward to hearing their refashioned renditions of beloved pieces written for other instruments.

The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet will play Windy, one of Piazzolla’s beloved Argentinian tangos. Piazzolla was a virtuoso bandoneon player (an accordion-like instrument popular in Argentina) and developed his own style called “Nuevo tango,” which combined the traditional tango with elements from jazz and classical music. His widely popular music has been arranged for all kinds of ensembles and instrumentation, and Yo-Yo Ma’s wildly successful 1997 album Soul of the Tango brought the music of Piazzolla to even wider audiences. It will be interesting to hear such familiar music in an ensemble arrangement that is somewhat unusual and unfamiliar to me.

An equally beloved piece, Debussy’s Petite Suite was written in 1889 for piano, four hands, and rewritten by Henri Busser in 1909 for full orchestra. It was written early in Debussy’s career, and its simple yet expressive melodies contrast much of his other work, which is more impressionistic and harmonically adventurous. The unassuming beauty of the four short movements of this piece appeals to wide audiences, so I look forward to hearing another well-known piece reworked for this unique ensemble.

A thread that runs through Friday’s program is the intersection of folk music and classical tradition. Three Finnish Pieces was written by living composer and accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, who was classically trained but focused her attention on performing and composing music based on Finnish folk music. Three Finnish Pieces will certainly satisfy Wesleyan’s population of world music aficionados.

Additionally, Joaquín Rodrigo’s Cuatro Piezas, originally composed for solo piano, extensively incorporates themes from Spanish folk music. It’s interesting to me that the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet would choose this Rodrigo piece to perform, since he composed so much music for guitar and played such a central role in establishing guitar in classical mainstream repertoire. (Interestingly, his Concierto Andaluz is one of the few pieces actually written for an ensemble of four guitars.)

The program will also feature three Baroque trio sonatas, two by Purcell and one by Corelli, both original arrangements by the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet. I am eager to see the Quartet’s interpretation of these pieces. I assume that they will perform them on their modern classical guitars, the dimensions of which weren’t established until the 19th century, but it will be interesting to see whether their other musical choices, especially with regards to voicing, attempt to preserve Baroque performance practice or create an altogether different effect.

Finally, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet will also perform two pieces commissioned specifically for them by living composers. A Scottish Fantasy was written in 1996 by David Crittenden, a classical guitarist (formerly a member of the Quartet) and composer based in St. Paul, MN. Additionally, the Quartet will perform Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Ghetto Strings, written in 2001. Roumain is a Haitian-American composer who combines elements of classical music with features from contemporary black popular music. I am excited to hear these two, and I’m sure they’ll be well received since Wesleyan audiences have such a voracious appetite for new music.

Friday, February 18, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$23 general public; $18 seniors, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
Pre-concert talk at 7:15pm by Carver Blanchard, Wesleyan Private Lessons Teacher

Master Class with Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, featuring performance by Wesleyan alum Lu Yang ’10
Daltry Room (Rehearsal Studios 003)
Saturday, February 19, noon
Free admission

Sarah Ruhl: The Interplay Between the Actual and the Magical

This Thursday, playwright Sarah Ruhl will pay her first visit to campus for this year’s Outside the Box playwright’s residency. (Past playwrights have included Tony Kushner, Charles Mee, Moises Kaufman and David Henry Hwang.)  As a part of her residency, Ruhl will give a lecture on Thursday evening, visit classes and meet with the cast of the Theater Department’s upcoming performance of her Melancholy Play.

Ruhl, who grew up in Illinois, started her career as a poet and published her first book by the age of 20. Now she writes imaginative and unusual plays that often feature unlikely, dreamlike occurrences. In a 2008 article in The New Yorker, Ruhl said that her characters exist in both “…the real world and also a suspended state.”

Routine activities continue amidst strange developments—in Melancholy Play, for example, one character turns into an almond!—and highlight “the interplay between the actual and the magical.” Amidst its elements of fantasy, Ruhl’s work raises serious questions about human experience and psychology. Melancholy Play presents moments of genuine sorrow. But Ruhl creates these moments while maintaining a witty humor that keeps the tone of the play lighthearted; she explains: “Lightness isn’t stupidity. It’s actually a philosophical and aesthetic viewpoint, deeply serious, and has a kind of wisdom—stepping back to be able to laugh at horrible things even as you’re experiencing them.”

Ken Prestininzi, the director of a 2007 production of Melancholy Play at Brown University (where Ruhl received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1997 and 2001) suggests that Ruhl’s upbringing could be responsible for the distinctive tone of her work, pointing out that Ruhl “grew up in the Midwest, where there’s this assumption that you’re supposed to smile, mow your lawn and get on with things. You’re not supposed to stare out the window and think of a line from a poem for a week.”

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

Paris-based Compagnie Vincent Mantsoe to Celebrate Story of Khoi-San People at Dance Performances This Weekend

This Saturday and Sunday, legendary choreographer Vincent Mantsoe will bring his Paris-based company to the CFA Theater to present two performances of his newest work, SAN. Known for its fusion of traditional South African movement and street dance forms, the company has been praised by the New York Times for a “…sophistication and beauty in the way traditional African dance motifs…are woven together with more sinuous abstract movements.”

SAN celebrates and tells the story of the Khoi-San people, hunter-gatherers and aboriginal inhabitants of the Southern African plains, commonly referred to as Bushmen. Mantsoe writes:

“Restricted from the open land, which has slowly but consistently been converted to farmland or taken into possession for mining, the San have been silenced, fenced out, subjected to hangings intended to break their spirit, and endured the terrors of genocide… SAN asks how, in the face of change, which spreads like wild roots, we can sustain the freedom to express our sense of beauty, emotions and attitudes without shame or guilt of who we are.”

Interestingly, this past Thursday marked a major victory in the Khoi-San’s defense of their rights, when Botswana’s Court of Appeal revoked a 2010 ruling that had denied the Kalahari Bushmen access to water on their own lands. (More information on this legislation is available online here). 

The themes of SAN take on new meaning with this hopeful news, and this weekend’s performances by Compagnie Vincent Mantsoe should be especially moving in light of this important milestone.

Saturday, February 5, 8pm & Sunday, February 6, 3pm
Pre-performance talk by Debra Cash in the CFA Hall at 7:15pm before the Saturday performance
CFA Theater
$21, $18 seniors, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students, $8 Wesleyan students

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts