Kinetic Sculpture Meets Dance: Chunky Move (Mar. 30 & 31)

Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge discusses Australian dance company Chunky Move, who present the Connecticut premiere of their hour-long work “Connected” on March 30 and 31.

The Center for the Arts has never hosted a dance company from Australia before, and it’s high time that we do, considering the strength of contemporary dance that is touring the world from down under.  And I can guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it.

Chunky Move: Connected. Pictured: Alisdair Macindoe and Marnie Palomares. Photo: Jeff Busby

Beginning with simple movements and hundreds of tiny pieces, the dancers build their performance while they construct a kinetic sculpture in real time. During the performance, these basic elements and simple physical connections quickly evolve into complex structures and relationships.  The work, Connected, is the brainchild of Chunky Move’s Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek and California artist Reuben Margolin.  The two met at PopTech, the renowned conference that brings great minds together to focus on social change through current innovations in science, art and economics. The result is thrilling: athletic and agile dancers’ bodies twisting and hurtling through space, alongside movements from everyday life.  As Aldous Huxley wrote:  “All gods are homemade, and it is we who pull their strings, and so, give them the power to pull ours.”

Suzanne Sadler, the CFA’s Assistant Technical Director, said they’ve created two line sets that work in tandem, each with a truss, and the sculpture is attached with a circular pipe.  220 strings are suspended from there:  “I can’t wait to see it in the space. It’s going to look really beautiful.”

Chunky Move, along with Australian Dance Theater and Lucy Guerin’s company, have garnered great acclaim as they have toured the world.  The Dance Department and CFA were interested in bringing Connected because of its interdisciplinary nature.  When I was speaking with Kristy Edmunds, a faculty member in Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance, and the Director of UCLA Live (formerly the director of the Melbourne Festival), she said: “What is particularly intriguing about Gideon is his fascination and willingness to explore and collaborate with design and technologies. Increasingly, he is able to forge unique collaborations with artists from other fields, and orchestrate that discourse into a work of art where dance is the central vehicle.”

So we invite you to experience Chunky Move at the CFA this weekend – and if you come at 7:15pm on Friday in the CFA Hall, you’ll have a chance to hear dance scholar Debra Cash contextualize their work, and give you some things to look out for. Join us!

Chunky Move: Connected
Connecticut Premiere
Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 8pm
CFA Theater
Pre-performance talk by dance scholar Debra Cash on Friday at 7:15pm in CFA Hall
Tickets: $21 general public; $18 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students, $6 Wesleyan students

Nik Owens ’12 interviews choreographer Garth Fagan about performance at DanceMasters Weekend (Mar. 10)

On Saturday March 10, the 13th annual DanceMasters Weekend Showcase Performance will feature the work of Garth Fagan Dance.  Nik Owens ’12 interviewed Garth Fagan about the upcoming performance.

Nik Owens ‘12: How did you get started in the dance world?

Vitolio Jeune of Garth Fagan Dance performing "Talking Drums" (an excerpt from the work "Senku", 2006). Photo by Brandan Bannon.

Garth Fagan: Well, way back in high school in Jamaica, someone got injured for a Christmas show that was being put up, and my gymnastics coach suggested that I fill in. I did – and everyone said I was the best thing since ‘sliced bread’; I was just doing what my partner for the show was telling me to do.  Afterwards, this same partner said I should take dancing lessons.

Next thing I knew I was dancing with a company in Jamaica. They were able to travel to places that I couldn’t go and they had access to resources that I didn’t have at the time and, as a result, I moved to the States and attended college at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.  Pat Wellings, a professor at Wayne State at the time, helped me choreograph my first piece called Contemplation. This piece was done in silence, which in the ’60s was quite daring and bold.  The daring and boldness that I had was characteristic of many young people in the ’60s. It was a great piece.

Later on, I joined Dance Theater of Detroit and was a principal soloist and choreographer with them.  I had a junior high school boys’ dance company at the time as well.  All of these things helped to establish the foundation for Garth Fagan Dance.  Since then, I’ve choreographed for New York City Ballet, Limón Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and other companies as well.

NO: Your website mentions that some of your greatest influences as an artist are Pearl Primus and Lavinia Williams.  What about their work most influences you during your choreographic process?

GF: I danced with Lavinia Williams (who was Sara Yarborough’s [a highly esteemed dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater] mother). She gave me a truly strong sense of the movement of the back as well the use of polyrhythms.  Pearl Primus taught me about learning things QUICKLY and at a very fast pace.  She would have a rehearsal in the morning, run it again in the afternoon, and then have the performance at night. Both Lavinia Williams and Pearl Primus were Caribbean women, which helped to make my learning experience and my relations with them even stronger. Other teachers included Martha Graham, who taught me about discipline; José Limón, who taught me about the importance of looking at your roots and heritage; and Alvin Ailey, who was one of the most important people I’ve ever met.  He helped me with my confidence as an artist as well as giving me money to get started in the world of dance in America.

NO: What aspects of the Caribbean tradition do you covet most in your works?

GF: Mostly the polyrhythms, polyrhythms with ease. In Jamaica it’s usually pretty hot (86 degrees underneath a tree) so we always do things with ease. You see polyrhythms oozing all over the place. But I’m really and truly a diehard modern choreographer.  However, I do have a lot of ballet in my work, but even then I stretch from it.

NO: What made you decide to start you own dance school?

GF: I wanted to see certain things on stage that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else.  I love the speed of ballet but wasn’t going to be in dances about swans and princesses.  I love the polyrhythms from the Caribbean.  I love the weight of modern dance. And I love the issues that postmodern dance deals with.  I wanted to see all of that combined on stage.

NO: Which works will you be presenting during DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan University on Saturday, March 10, 2012?

GF: I will be featuring two works at Wesleyan: Talking Drums by Vitolio Jeune, and Thanks Forty, which celebrates Garth Fagan Dance’s 40th anniversary. This work features Steve Humphrey, Lindsay Renée, Shannon Castle, and Norwood Pennywell (who is the rehearsal director for Garth Fagan Dance as well a Bessie Award recipient).

13th annual DanceMasters Weekend Showcase Performance
Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 8pm

CFA Theater
$27 general public; $20 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $8 Wesleyan students

The DanceMasters Showcase will feature performances by Pilobolus, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and Garth Fagan DanceNatalie Rogers-Cropper of Garth Fagan Dance will be teaching a Master Class at 11am on Saturday in the CFA Dance Studio.

JoAnna Bourain ’12 interviews choreographer Camille A. Brown (Mar. 10)

On Saturday March 10, the 13th annual DanceMasters Weekend Showcase Performance will feature the work of Camille A. Brown & Dancers. Center for the Arts Intern JoAnna Bourain ’12 interviewed Camille A. Brown about her creative process and her upcoming performance.

JoAnna Bourain ’12: How does your creative process work? Why are you drawn to certain subject matters? Do you derive your creativity from your own everyday experiences or is it more abstracted and observational?

Camille A. Brown. Photo by Matt Karas.

Camille A. Brown: My process is different for every piece that I create. I believe that the space is a living organism, so it’s important to have some sort of spontaneity when creating a new work. Sometimes I’m immediately drawn to music, a singer/composer/musician, or something that I’ve heard or was suggested that I research. From there, the music inspires the movement. Other times I have an idea in my head that I decide to explore in space. To be honest, the latter is harder because, now that I have the ‘perfect’ image in my head, the task is to marry the movement and concept with music. It must align perfectly! Since I love injecting aspects of theater in my work, I bring in an actor and dramaturge with whom I have close relationships to work with the company to fully portray characters with integrity. We have acting classes, group discussions; we allow these things to inform where the piece goes. It also challenges me to look at the work objectively. Having those extra sets of eyes from a different perspective is a jewel.

The dancers give the work breath. I am greatly influenced by their choices in space, their approach to the movement, how they grow within the work, making it their own. Their connection to space, the earth, their spirit. It all helps to show individuality within the ensemble works that I create.

As a choreographer, I am interested in that space between dance and theater where interdisciplinary work defies category and takes flight. Music is one of the main driving forces of my work. As an artist, it is imperative that I “drink” the music and move in a way that is the music. For me, there is no separation in my understanding of choreography; I move seamlessly between music, theater and dance. Informed by my music background as a clarinetist, I create choreography that utilizes musical composition as storytelling. I love investigating the silent space within the measure. Singers also influence me — how they each use their vocal tone and modulation informs me in how to use my body in creating multiple levels of expression.

I am interested in telling stories beyond just dance. I have always been fascinated with history — the past, the everyday lives of my ancestors. I love exploring an “understanding” of their lives, tying history to my personal experiences and bringing those things to life. I build dance vocabulary from a very personal place. Characters are facets of my life; my experience is a lens into the past and the present. The work of the company is strongly character based, expressing whatever the topic is by building from little moments, modeling a filmic sensibility.

The work comes from both personal experiences and observational ones. I am generally a private person, so most of the time you will not be able to pinpoint what is my true story versus the observational one. They’re kind of one-in-the-same. I like moving through concepts — becoming a character, and allowing my personal experiences to give a unique, personalized breath to the voice. I inject the personal in the pockets of storytelling.

JB: I have been watching your work online over and over again trying to pin down what is communicated to me in your choreography and performance. Words that come to mind are:  power, speed, dynamism, narrative, communication, theater, history. If you had to choose words or messages that you try to communicate in your work, what would they be?

Unrestricted storytelling
Earthbound movement
Spatial exploration
Weight shift
Plié- oh how I love the plié!
Celebrating history with a direct connection to the present

JB: Why do you think people should come to the performance?

CAB: This is a hard question because the answer I give will obviously be from a subjective place. Dance is what I live and breathe every day. It’s my movement through space and life as a whole. I would say people should come to the show to get an intimate view of who Camille is — who Camille A. Brown & Dancers are. Hopefully they will see our personal stories and that will provoke them to share their own. This is what sharing your work is about. I am looking forward to introducing my voice to Wesleyan.

13th annual DanceMasters Weekend Showcase Performance
Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 8pm

CFA Theater
$27 general public; $20 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $8 Wesleyan students

The DanceMasters Showcase will feature performances by Pilobolus, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and Garth Fagan Dance. Ms. Brown is the 2012 winner of the Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award. Ms. Brown will be teaching a Master Class at 1pm on Saturday in the CFA Dance Studio.

Artist in Residence Hari Krishnan brings his Toronto-based company inDANCE to Wesleyan Mar. 2 & 3

Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge discusses the Spring Faculty Dance Concert with Artist in Residence Hari Krishnan.

inDANCE. Photo by Miles Brokenshire.

If you’ve not encountered Wesleyan’s Artist in Residence, Hari Krishnan, you must.  He came to Wesleyan’s Dance Department in 2001, and since then has developed a real student appetite for bharata natyam (South Indian classical dance) on our campus.  What is less known about Hari is that he is the Artistic Director of one of Canada’s most respected dance companies:  Toronto’s inDANCE.  Wesleyan presented the American debut of this company in 2006 [during the annual Navaratri Festival that October] and since then, inDANCE has made its New York debut and has been presented by performing arts centers around the world.

You’ll have the chance to see inDANCE again this weekend at the CFA Theater when nine male dancers from the company will perform U.S. premiere of Quicksand, hailed by Michael Crabb of The Toronto Star as “rambunctiously provocative work…a techno-hip, strutting declaration of freedom from the constraints of tradition and conventional sexuality.”

“Quicksand” will be followed by the world premiere of “Nine”, which depicts Navarasa, the nine archetypal emotions popular in Indian classical dance, choreographed on dancers from Wesleyan Dance Department‘s repertory and performance course. ”Nine” almost serves as a kind of backstory for “Quicksand.”

When I met with Hari yesterday, he said the evening is an exploration of a single idea from two perspectives, two languages, the classical and the post-modern.  Taken in its totality, the program serves to enmesh two aspects of his choreographic life that have, at times, been at odds with each other.  He’s the Artistic Director of a major contemporary dance company and a professor of classical Indian dance, so respected that he was asked to perform at the prestigious Music Academy in Madras this past January.  “’Quicksand’ is a personal manifesto of sorts….its feeling is free and liberating…it uses the traditional form as a springboard to create a personal dialogue relevant to today, and asks the question, how current can you make the traditional feel?” “Nine” reveals the classical bharata natyam take on these emotions.

Hari’s dancers arrived on Tuesday night and have put our students through their paces by taking over the Modern I-III classes. This weekend, students in Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance will also have the opportunity to meet Hari, discuss his work, and see his performance.

Spring Faculty Dance Concert
Friday, March 2 & Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 8pm

CFA Theater

$6 Wesleyan students, $8 all others