The virtual opening reception for the 40th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition will take place online on Saturday, March 13, 2021 from 5pm to 7pm. This event is sponsored by the Middletown Board of Education, Middletown Public Schools Cultural Council, and Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts.
Every spring for the past 40 years, the Middletown Public Schools K-12 Art Show has transformed Wesleyan’s Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery into a joyous, wall-to-wall riot of color. From ceramics to collage, the annual exhibition is a multimedia celebration of the creativity of Middletown students, the vision and dedication of their art teachers, and the community that supports both. It is a beloved event: last year, more than 2,000 people attended the exhibition opening on Saturday, March 7, 2020—just days before it closed early in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Middletown Public Schools K-12 Art Show turns 40, goes virtual, and is a testament to an unprecedented year of teaching, learning, and art-making.
“The art teachers are unsung heroes,” says Julie Shvetz, K-12 Visual Department Head for Middletown Public Schools. “They are doing amazing things in their classrooms, making it work simultaneously for kids in the room, kids who are hybrid and will be in the room tomorrow, and kids who are fully remote.” Since last spring, teachers have been packing up supply kits full of pencils, markers, watercolors, air-drying clay, and sculpting tools to ensure that kids at home can fully participate and have a supported creative outlet.
“Students need a way to express themselves and how they’re feeling, with everything going on in the world right now,” says Shvetz. During January’s Presidential inauguration week, she challenged her high school students to create an expressive collage on a topic that concerned them, from COVID-19 and the election to Black Lives Matter and their own futures. They drew a range of emotions, and then incorporated those into a collage of images, text, and 3-D elements that summed up how they felt and what they had to say (some of these will be on view in the virtual show). Says Shvetz, “This show is a perfect means for bringing the community together, from Pre-K to kids who are about to graduate. We celebrate all our students, all our schools, and all our teachers—and this virtual year, we are so glad we still have that opportunity.”
This week we focus on Elevator Repair Service’s new theater work in progress “Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge.” Actors Greig Sargeant and Ben Williams and director and founder John Collins will discuss the development and process of creating the work on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 8pm.
In January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters around the world, I saw an early open rehearsal of a new work by renowned theater company Elevator Repair Service. The company presented an excerpt of a new show they were developing, Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge. Actors Greig Sargeant and Ben Williams performed an extraordinarily moving verbatim excerpt from the original debate between civil rights activist James Baldwin and the father of modern American conservatism William F. Buckley, Jr. In 1965, Baldwin and Buckley had been invited by Cambridge University Union to debate the proposition “The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” Baldwin offered a riveting speech stating that the legacy of slavery and white supremacy had destroyed his sense of reality.
“It comes as a great shock around the age of five, or six, or seven, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you. The disaffection, the demoralization, and the gap between one person and another only on the basis of the color of their skin, begins there and accelerates – accelerates throughout a whole lifetime.”
Buckley acknowledged discrimination but said that America was a “mobile society” and Black people had every opportunity to improve their condition. This historic debate became a touchstone in both men’s lives and a marker of the Civil Rights Movement. The initial performance by Elevator Repair Service in 2020 created an incredible echo between the language and rhetoric being used in 1965 and much of the contemporary national conversations around race and equality in America. It was a performance filled with emotion, expression, desire, and an impassioned assertion of civil rights that I felt was important for our Wesleyan students and community to experience.
Elevator Repair Service is an acclaimed New York-based theater ensemble founded by director John Collins and a group of actors in 1991. Traditionally, the company has worked with found or literary texts. In 2006, the company changed the landscape of American theater with their eight-hour production of Gatz, which reenacted the novel The Great Gatsby on the stage. Gatz initiated a trilogy of American literature: Gatz, The Sound and the Fury, and The Select (The Sun Also Rises). This lengthy process of devising work from non-theatrical texts became the company’s signature. They are also known for innovative use of technology, imaginative choreography, and dense soundscapes in their productions. Elevator Repair Service creates its performances through extended periods of collaboration; a typical development cycle includes four to six intensive work periods within a two-year window followed by work-in-progress showings before touring.
Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge was originally set to premiere at The Public Theater in the spring of 2020. After the pandemic shut down theaters, Elevator Repair Service was forced to delay its opening. During the past year, the world has undergone major seismic shifts with the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, the insurrection at the Capitol, the end of the Trump presidency, and more. Although the company started working on the production in 2019, by the time the show will premiere in late 2021 or early 2022, the lens through which audiences will see this important show has shifted.
The Center for the Arts plans to bring Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge to Wesleyan in February 2022. In the meantime, we are thrilled to host a conversation with Greig Sargeant, Ben Williams, and John Collins to discuss the show’s origins, how COVID-19 disrupted its development process, and how Black Lives Matter has heightened the lens through which audiences will now experience the production. The discussion will be moderated by Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl and Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21.
We hope you join us on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 8pm for this dynamic conversation moderated by Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl and Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21. Reservations are free through the Center for the Arts Box Office.
Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts
Center for the Arts
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:
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.
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.”
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.
Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts
Center for the Arts
May this provide an update and entry into our present work at the Center for the Arts should this be of interest or helpful to you in this time. Although there is a lot to absorb online right now, we wanted to share with you some of our current projects.
In the coming months, you will ‘see’ us online more intentionally through a series of experiments with our creative community of students, faculty, alumni, and guest artists as outlined below. We welcome your feedback and participation.
Virtual Artists in Residence and Commissions: Eiko Otake has been engaged as our first CFA Virtual Artist in Residence, and we will begin circulating video journals of her work in development for those interested. We are also engaging in a select number of virtual commissions with guest artists who know our community well and will be announcing these projects shortly.
Arts Departments: Each spring, the CFA supports an abundance of faculty and student concerts, performances, and exhibitions. We are working in partnership with Art and Art History, Dance, Music, and Theater to explore how best to showcase their endeavors through alternative formats.
Creative Campus Initiative: Since 2006, we have been providing support for guest artists working in Wesleyan classrooms in partnership with non-arts faculty. In the past week, we awarded modest grants to Wesleyan faculty members (both arts and non-arts) to resource online collaborations with thirteen artists to support and complement coursework and/or to share the labor of mentoring and inspiring students at this difficult time.
Middletown Public Schools: Closing our 39th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition early was tough for all of us, and while we recognize nothing can replace moving through the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery with the works of our local public school students, we will be sharing images of their work in the hope that the circulation of our future artists might be wider than previously imagined.
#WesCreative: We will be collecting and putting a spotlight on the remarkable skills and imagination of the Wesleyan community.
You will hear more about each of the extraordinary initiatives from various Center for the Arts staff members over the course of the spring.
The CFA has always served as a platform for our creative community on campus, in Middletown, and beyond, and we intend for that to continue through this complicated and difficult time.
Please be well. You are loved and appreciated and we will get through this together.
Center for the Arts
With the CDC reporting cases of COVID-19 nationwide doubling since Monday, and Governor Ned Lamont declaring a public health emergency in Connecticut, it has become clear just how rapidly this virus is spreading. After Wesleyan University consulted with a variety of public health experts and other higher education institutions around the country, we wanted to let you know that all on-campus events and exhibitions have been canceled until further notice as a preventive measure. The University will continue to update the website with the latest available information.
Anyone who purchased tickets in advance will be issued a refund from the box office starting the week of Monday, March 16, 2020 and artists who were scheduled to perform this spring will be compensated. We encourage you to utilize your refund to re-invest in the arts through a donation, album, artwork, or ticket to a future performance. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to donate your tickets to the Center for the Arts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-685-3355 Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm.
Thank you for your continued support of the arts, and for your understanding about this decision.
Stay well and we will be in touch again soon.
Center for the Arts
It is astonishing to me that Friday April 1 is my last day at Wesleyan University, after nearly seventeen years. I wanted to send you a note to thank you for being patrons of the Center for the Arts. There is simply no way we can ever welcome artists to Wesleyan without the presence of an engaged and committed audience. You have no idea how wonderful it was for me to look out at you from the Crowell Concert Hall or CFA Theater stage, or to see you at an opening in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. I knew that you were there to join me in celebrating what the arts can tell us about other cultures and other worlds; how they can help us to make sense of the world in which we live; and how they can make us feel both the exhilaration and the sadness of what it means to be alive. I want to thank you, in particular, for the times you bought a ticket to a performance by an artist whom you didn’t know but, because we at the CFA felt it was an important artist or group, you took the risk.
In these last days at my desk overlooking the CFA Courtyard, I am reflecting on so many great moments when we shared such joy and excitement not only for visiting and faculty artists, but also when we marveled together at the virtuosity and creative power of Wesleyan students and all that they have to offer us.
I will miss my Wesleyan and Middletown families greatly, but as an alum and parent of a member of the class of 2016, I know that I will return often and continue to experience the arts as only Wesleyan can present them. I also want to take the opportunity to introduce Laura Paul, Interim Director of the Center for the Arts, who will lead the CFA in its next chapter. Together we have been planning a 2016–17 season of performances and exhibitions that I know you will enjoy.
If, by any chance, you are free this Friday, April 1, I will be in Crowell Concert Hall at 8pm to introduce the great Wu Man and the Shanghai Quartet. I would love the chance to say goodbye and thank you in person; if not, I hope you will come to visit me this summer at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts (if you missed the announcement in January, I’m going there to be their new Executive Director)!
Thank you again for your generous support of the Center for the Arts.
The Center for the Arts is one of the rare places in the state where you can consistently experience arts from around the world. This semester is no exception. In January and February, the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery hosts the work of ten contemporary Chinese artists born after the Cultural Revolution who are challenging traditional notions of Chinese identity and inventing new ways to shout out in the global arena. In February, Syrian singer Gaida brings her band to Crowell Concert Hall. At a time when her country is under siege, her soulful voice will remind us of the beauty and power of Syrian music and culture. And playwright Guillermo Calderón will discuss his award-winning works about Chile in the aftermath of the dictatorship.
Finally, the Music Department will host a March symposium on the work of the legendary experimental music composer David Tudor and, in April, the Theater Department offers Wes Out-Loud, a site-specific work created by Assistant Professor Marcela Oteíza and her students.
The semester ends on May 7 with Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter, the second annual eco-arts festival featuring world music bands, educational exhibits, and site-specific performance works by area organizations at Middletown’s Harbor Park, located on the bank of the Connecticut River.