Discovering The Skriker and The Eiko and Koma Retrospective Project

I’ve just wandered over to the CFA Theater where the Theater Department is preparing to open THE SKRIKER, by Caryl Churchill. Some of you may remember the department’s call to campus and community members for donations of items from attics & garages: the setting for the play is entirely created from found materials. Old toys, garbage bags, wood remnants, furniture and “stuff” of all kinds fill over half of the seating area. The audience sits on the stage–facing out: are we being asked to reflect back on ourselves and our trash? Robert Bresnick, the play’s director, describes the work as a cautionary tale–a confrontation of our relationship to the environment. As Bresnick said, “The piece remembers a time we took solace in nature…‘nobody loves me but the sun is still shining.’ But in the world of this play, the sun burns and there is no refuge.’” The story centers around two women: one pregnant and one who has committed infanticide. They are haunted by the Skriker, an earth spirit whom Churchill refers to as “ancient and damaged.” They are joined onstage by a shape-shifting bunch of earth spirits, extraordinary puppets by Leslie Weinberg (many of you will remember her puppets from Don Quixote and her masks from Oedipus Rex.) Sound design is by California-based Marco Schindelmann and Michael Raco-Rands and lighting is by Professor John Carr (who also co-designed the set with Weinberg.)

And downstairs from my office, the Zilkha Gallery has become a laboratory for the Eiko and Koma Retrospective. The experiment? How do you create a visual installation about the artistic legacy of performing artists whose work is time-based and often site-specific? As Eiko puts it, “What does it mean for living, active performing artists to have a retrospective? Is putting our heads into a creative closet a creative thing, or a nostalgic thing?” Working with a team of student assistants, many of whom have studied with Eiko at some point over the last four years, Eiko and Koma are creating mini-environments that allow audiences to contemplate their artistic values and inspiration. These are presented alongside video installations and a visual timeline of photographs that date back to when they first met in Japan. It’s amazing to see their faces and bodies when they were in their twenties just beginning to develop their movement vocabulary. You may remember their first performance at Wesleyan in the Zilkha Gallery in the summer of 2002 when they presented Offering, their 9/11 a work about mourning; in 2006, they brought Cambodian Stories, their masterwork performed alongside young people from the Reyum Art Center in Phnom Phen; in the summer of 2007, Quartet and Grain. What you may not know, is that Eiko and Koma have sent both of their sons to Wesleyan! Yuta graduated in ’07, and Shin graduates in ’10.

The Retrospective opens this Thursday, November 19 from 5-7pm, with a performance at 5:30pm followed by a reception. Eiko and Koma will be working on the installation over the course of the next month, so feel free to come by and see how the exhibit evolves.  The Retrospective will have future iterations at Danspace Project in New York, the Walker Arts Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

The Skriker, by Caryl Churchill will be performed at the CFA Theater, November 18-22

Eiko & Koma: Time is not Even, Space is not Empty will be at the Zilkha Gallery, November 19-December 20

Rhodessa and Noah

There are some people whose stage presence literally reaches out into the audience and grabs you, shakes you up and makes you listen. Rhodessa Jones is one of those people. She just arrived in Middletown today and will be here for several days hosted by the Outside the Box Theater Series, a series developed by the CFA and Theater Department. The idea to bring Rhodessa came from Sonia Manjon, Vice President of Diversity and Strategic Partnerships at Wesleyan, and Ron Jenkins, Professor of Theater, who is teaching a service-learning course that takes theater students to develop works with incarcerated women at the York Correctional Institution. Sonia and our President Michael Roth have both worked with Rhodessa when they were at the California College of the Arts, and Michael’s history with her dates back to his years at the Getty Research Institute.

Rhodessa has received numerous awards for her work, The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, a performance workshop that is designed to achieve personal and social transformation with incarcerated women. While she is on campus this week, she’ll be working with Ron’s students, as well as visiting theater classes and giving a workshop for teachers at the Green Street Arts Center. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to see this extraordinary artist live this Thursday night at Crowell. She’ll be performing excerpts from The Medea Project as well as segments from other highly acclaimed works including Big Butt Girls, Hard-Headed Women and The Love Project. (And p.s.: Rhodessa’s brother is trailblazing choreographer Bill T. Jones, who had a major residency at the CFA in the Fall of 2006).


I met with Noah Baerman in my office last week just as he was leaving for New York for the final rehearsal for his concert this Friday, Know Thyself. Some of you may know Noah through the many roles he plays in life: composer, jazz piano player, writer, professor, husband (to Kate TenEyck, the CFA’s Art Studios Technician) and father to three foster daughters. On any given week you can find Noah directing the Wesleyan Jazz Ensemble, traveling to New York for a gig at the Jazz Gallery, donating his services by playing for a local benefit, or attending parent/teacher conferences at Middletown High School. As the story goes: “I was in the kitchen just having pledged to myself after a year of being exhausted by all sorts of family happenings, that I would take a year off to just center myself again, when I got the call from Chamber Music America.” The Noah Baerman Trio had received one of only sixteen awards given out across the country to commission jazz ensembles to create a new work. What is unique about the grant is that it not only supports the composer’s time, but it also pays for their musicians to spend time on the development of the work.

“I tend to be a really visceral musician and come at my music from an emotional rather than an intellectual or conceptual place,” Noah said as his eyes got wider and his hands began to fly. “The work that I’ll be premiering next week is about the quest for self-knowledge…all of the facets of the exploration that goes into a journey of self-discovery. I hope that it is highly universal, but also know that it is deeply personal. Making the work forced me to organize my thoughts and make peace with certain parts of my past. It’s the most musically ambitious work I’ve ever created and I’m so fortunate that I can debut it at Wesleyan where I feel the support of my community and the trust of my ensemble.”

Like Ellington and Mingus did before him, Noah writes for the individual members of his ensemble in mind. “There was this great moment last week when we were coming to an explosive moment in the piece where Wayne Escoffery (who plays sax) has to take off. I heard him play this section and I thought to myself ‘yes, yes, that’s why you are playing this piece.’” Noah’s ensemble also includes vibrophonist Chris Dingman, class of 2002 and former student of Jay Hoggard.

The moment he knew he wanted to be a musician? Watching Stevie Wonder play Superstition on Sesame Street when he was five: “It was my introduction to soulful music….All these years later, I’m still on a quest to create jazz works that have that kind of emotional directness.”

Performance/Talk by Rhodessa Jones, Thursday, November 12 at 8pm, Crowell Concert Hall

World Premiere of Know Thyself by Noah Baerman, Friday, November 13, 8pm, Crowell Concert Hall

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

A CFA Intern Returns

Amy Crawford ’05 was a government major who sang…actually, she didn’t realize she could sing until senior year. She was a keyboardist in the Jazz Orchestra, and music faculty member Jay Hoggard invited her to take the mic. She returns to Wesleyan this Saturday to perform an evening of her original music at Crowell Concert Hall.

We at the CFA are particularly excited about the concert because Amy was the first Center for the Arts “Arts Administration Intern.” Not only that, she stayed on after graduation to serve as the project coordinator for the town-wide event, Middletown Dances! In her first two years after graduating, she put together a life for herself that included arts administration jobs during the day and gigs as a jazz singer by night. Then she took the job of Education Coordinator for the Grammy award-winning, Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy. The chorus received an invitation to perform with Elton John, and that’s when everything changed: “I found myself preparing the children to sing this music that I had listened to when I was in high school…it was melodic and powerful. We ended up at a rehearsal on a Sony soundstage and I felt the energy of Elton and his band combined with the voices of these children, and I realized this was an energy I wanted to be a part of.” So after the sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden, she set about writing her own songs. Her influences are the Beatles, Dido, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder and Jon Brion. And today, after spending some time at the Berklee School of Music, she has officially made the transition from jazz singer to a more contemporary popular sound. I can tell you she has a beautiful, clear voice. Her sound is upbeat and polished with a vintage sheen.

In addition to working with her own band, most recently she has been touring the country with the band, DeLeon, playing keyboards, singing and co-writing songs with them. The band has opened for Ozomatli, Mike Gordon and Os Mutantes.

She talked about what was most important about her time at Wesleyan: “I discovered how much I cared about the arts… The enormous flexibility of the school… I was extremely indecisive during my time there, but I had the ability to explore what I wanted to explore. The idea that I was a government major but I was still able to do a senior recital was amazing. I can’t wait to be back on campus!”

And I can’t wait to see her.

Amy Crawford
Saturday November 7 at 8pm in 
Crowell Concert Hall

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

Connections Across Borders

Rachel Boggia majored in neuroscience at Cornell and went onto receive her MFA in Dance from Ohio State. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the dance department. Perfect profile for Wesleyan, right? This weekend, we have the opportunity to see her work as a choreographer and as a dancer, alongside her colleague, Artist-in-Residence Iddi Saaka, in an evening of solos and duets entitled, Connection. Some of you may remember that last year Rachel’s faculty dance performance had to be canceled because of a last-minute injury (by last-minute, I mean it happened when she was warming up an hour before her first performance!) So some of us have great anticipation at seeing the work of someone who has been such an energizing presence in the arts here since she arrived in the Fall of 2008.

Saaka, a Ghanaian who heads the department’s West African dance program, will perform a solo he choreographed. Entitled Belonging, the piece addresses the restricted flow of movement across borders. When I spoke with him earlier today, he talked about how many Africans want to leave their homeland to see the world, but so few visas are granted. The work asks the question— how does that kind of hindrance play out in your psyche? He will also perform Looking for Evidence, a duet choreographed and danced with Liam Clancy, Saaka’s former classmate from UCLA’s World Arts and Culture graduate school. The work explores human commonalities despite issues of race. Saaka comments, “On the surface we are the same: we are both male dancers, we look the same, we went to the same school, we are friends, but how are we different? And how are these differences danced?”

Boggia will also be collaborating with former classmates from graduate school at Ohio State. (She said they’ve known each other for over eight years and have kept in very close touch.) Choreographer Vanessa Justice has created a work entitled Visitor, a meditation on personal identity. In an interview, she said that the metaphor of taking off clothing is used. “The character is shedding the layers that society has imposed on her…Since I am performing in my own culture, the work is less about cultural identity and more about personal identity.” The next solo is by choreographer Marlon Barrios Solano who, like Justice, is now based in New York. It is an improvised work inspired by the films of Maya Deren (an American avant-garde filmmaker and theorist of the 40s and 50s).

The final work on the program is Jovain Sweet, choreographed by Boggia and danced by Boggia and Saaka, inspired by the break-up of a relationship. The dancers will wear elaborate headdresses that will conceal their identities allowing the dancers to assume a number of symbolic meanings.

It promises to be a widely varied and engaging concert.

Fall Faculty Dance Concert
Friday & Saturday, October 30 & 31 at 8pm

Patricelli ’92 Theater
Wesleyan University

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

Be Transported: The 2009 Navaratri Festival

I graduated from Wesleyan in 1984 and, while a student here, attended a Navaratri performance of South Indian vocal music by T. Viswanathan. I was completely seduced by the rhythms, the soaring heights and the visceral lows of his voice. I felt that in one evening I was transported out of my student existence into a culture that was new to me–one where both the pleasures of deep listening as a means to spiritual transcendence and the virtuosic capacity of the human voice were celebrated. Viswa founded the Indian music program at Wesleyan, and I had the great pleasure of working with him in my early years as CFA director (Viswa died in 2002). He taught me so much about his music, his negotiating skills, and his belief that this festival should annually give people on our campus and in our community an opportunity to see some of the finest Indian musicians and dancers working today.

Music faculty members B. Balasubrahmaniyan (Balu) and David Nelson (on mridangam) will open the Festival on Thursday night. I spoke with Balu in between classes today and he told me that in 1990 he was one of only eight students selected to learn Viswa’s family tradition in a six-month workshop in Chennai. Seizing on Balu’s talents, Viswa regularly invited Balu to perform with him on tours in India. Balu now leads our South Indian vocal program at Wesleyan. He has a truly “extra” ordinary voice — sometimes when I close my eyes, I think I’m hearing Viswa.

Friday night brings North Indian music on the sarod, a beautiful guitar-like instrument, performed by rising star Alam Khan. Alam is the twenty-seven year old son of the legendary Ali Akbar Khan, who was widely recognized as one of the leading musicians to introduce Indian music to the West. On Saturday, you can attend free workshops in South Indian dance and in ghatam, a clay pot instrument with a rich, distinctive sound. Also, Avon, Connecticut resident and filmmaker Gita Desai will show excerpts of her new film Raga Unveiled, giving audiences a fascinating window into the world of North Indian Hindustani music. And on Saturday night, the CFA welcomes Karnatak music giant Kadri Golpanath, one of the few players of this tradition on the saxophone. “It’s extraordinary how he is able to play the nuances of this music on a keyed instrument,” Balu said. “He has led a whole generation of musicians who are attempting to play this traditional music on new instruments. We are lucky to have him.”

Finally, on Sunday, A.V. Srinivasan, a great friend of the CFA’s, will lead a Hindu Puja, a religious service celebrating the victory of good over evil, followed by a performance of a work entitled “TriShakti” by Chicago’s acclaimed Natya Dance Theatre, a young vibrant group of classical dancers that are some of the best practitioners of Bharata Natyam working in our country today. I had the pleasure of seeing them in New York and I was taken by their energy, their beguiling facial expressions and the joy in their dance.

So please join us for this year’s Navaratri Festival. You will be transported.

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

The Awesome Transience of Weather: Stephen Petronio Company

Stephen Petronio is known for his collaborative interactions with pop culture, high art, contemporary music and fashion. So, it’s no wonder he was able to attract trailblazing photographer Cindy Sherman and genre-crossing composer Nico Muhly, among other artists, into the creative process of building his latest work, I Drink the Air Before Me, which comes to Wesleyan’s CFA Theater this weekend. When I spoke with Stephen yesterday, he was heading out of rehearsal and he reminisced about the last time he was at Wesleyan. It was the Spring of 1998 and he brought NOT GARDEN with music by Bach, Gounod and Sheila Chandra.

His newest work is a “meditation on the speed and power of weather in all its awesome transience.” Wesleyan is in the middle of this year’s Feet to the Fire initiative–an exploration of water in both its power and scarcity. When I heard that Stephen was creating a work that would evoke the movement of water, wind and weather events on stage, it seemed to me that we could offer our audiences a visceral experience of this precious element.

The title of the piece comes from Ariel’s line in Act V of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In his program notes, Petronio explains that he was struck by “Ariel’s desire to hurl himself through a raging storm, with unthinkable speed and utter certainty, in pursuit of his goal” and that the work was inspired by “the whirling, unpredictable, threatening, and thrilling forces of nature that overwhelm us.”

When I asked Stephen what audiences should look for as they watch the work, he said: “Don’t work hard to find literal meanings in the work: look at how the movement is built…I’m an abstract artist that makes ideas in the body, not in the mind.”

Stephen is a hugely charismatic leader in the American contemporary dance scene. He began to dance at Hampshire College in 1974 and went on to become the first male dancer of the Trisha Brown Dance Company (1979-1986). Founding his own company in 1984, the Stephen Petronio Company is celebrating its 25th Season and has performed in 26 countries around the world. He is noted for works of breathtaking speed, heart-wrenching stillness and great sensuality. He is interested in making compelling contemporary dance that resonates with the moment and culture in which it is made. While he often features pop or rock music in his works, for I Drink the Air Before Me, he turned to composer, Nico Muhly. “Nico is his late twenties; a wildly creative classical composer with an electronic music edge,” states Petronio.

Muhly also wrote sections of the score to be performed by a youth chorus recruited at each tour site. I had just heard Michael Gosselin’s Chamber Choir from Middletown High School perform as a part of Wesleyan Music Professor Neely Bruce’s Ives Vocal Marathon, and it seemed a wonderful way to showcase the high caliber of music education we have in Middletown.

I will also note that this work will open the 10th anniversary of the Breaking Ground Dance Series at Wesleyan’s CFA. To our dance-loving patrons who have returned year after year to see new works by established artists like Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown or artists you may never have seen before, such as Brian Brooks and Rubberbandance, we thank you for taking this journey with us and look forward to celebrating this season with you.

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

Welcome to the new CFA blog

Welcome to the new CFA blog and to the opening of our 2009-2010 Season. We are hosting this blog to further connect the campus and community with the work on our stages and in our galleries. For those of you who come to the CFA from outside the campus, we feel that there should be some “value-added” in subscribing to/attending events on a college campus. So we’ll invite you to enter into stimulating dialogue about the works we present by reading the thoughts of some of our faculty, students and visiting artists. You’ll see interviews with some of the artists who are coming to campus and reviews of work that has toured here and has gone on to other cities. You’ll catch up with news of artists who have made the CFA their artistic home over the past few years, read about what our faculty and students are doing on and off-campus, hear about continuing connections between our students and visiting artists, etc. Please send us your comments and suggestions as this is a new venture for us!

My office overlooks the CFA courtyard, and as I write, the Emergency Response Studio has just arrived. Yes, an artist’s studio will be parked in our courtyard until November 8. The artist is Paul Villinski, and he has brought this completely sustainable, off-the-grid trailer to Wesleyan as the core installation of curator Nina Felshin’s upcoming exhibition, Emergency Response Studio, which opens this Friday, September 11 from 5 to 7pm. Inspired by what he found in post-Katrina New Orleans, he transformed a FEMA-type trailer into an artist’s studio/living space. It has a bedroom, a bathroom with a shower, an eat-in kitchen and a workspace. Villinski believes that artists should have the opportunity to “embed” themselves in post-disaster settings and be able to make works that respond to the setting so that the artist’s voice is heard. Nina had heard about the premiere of the exhibition at Rice University, and then happened to have dinner with the interior designer of the bedroom space who told her she had to see it. What she found was an installation that is every bit as beautiful as it is functional…an exhibit that has a great deal to say to those of us interested in living sustainably without sacrificing aesthetics. The exhibition also ties into Wesleyan’s Feet to the Fire program about climate change, which continues this year with a focus on the water crisis and the availability of clean freshwater. I do hope you’ll join us for the opening on Friday and have the opportunity to meet Paul and take a peek at this magnificent trailer.

Best wishes for the new academic year,
Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts