Gina Ulysse: Using Her Total Person

There are a number of events on campus this week and next that will help to bring into focus what is going on in Haiti right now.  We are so fortunate to have faculty who can share their personal and scholarly understanding of this magnificent country with us as we try to grapple with the present-day horror and the necessities of the future.

If you have never seen Professor Gina Ulysse (Anthropology, African-American Studies and FGSS) perform before, you must.   I can guarantee that those who have will be flocking to see her again, so I suggest that you plan to arrive early this Thursday night when she performs her dramatic monologue Because When God Is Too Busy:  Haiti, me and THE WORLD.    We have moved the event from the CFA Hall to Memorial Chapel so that we can accommodate a larger audience.  According to the description in the Facebook event page, the monologue “considers how the past occupies the present.  Ulysse weaves spokenword and Vodou chants to reflect on childhood memories, social (in)justice, spirituality, and the dehumanization of Haitians.”  What Gina does that few other solo performers I have seen can do is to weave her scholarly critical analysis of her country with deeply personal experience and use the tools of the artist to integrate them and make them come alive for an audience.   The quality of the knowledge that we gain from her journey is not the same knowledge we would receive from having her read from a memoir or a scholarly article.  It is not the same knowledge we would receive from a spoken word or vocal music performance.  It is all of these multiple ways of knowing in one.  Gina uses her total person, her mind and body, to take us on a journey of words and music, and we feel lucky to have had the chance to take that journey with her.

Because When God Is Too Busy:  Haiti, me and THE WORLD
Thursday, February 4, 6:30-8:30pm
Memorial Chapel, Wesleyan University

The performance will be followed by a faculty panel that will include Alex Dupuy (Sociology) and Liza McAlister (Religion, American Studies) & Gina Ulysse to discuss earthquake.  Haitian Relief Action Team will be collecting a suggested donation of $3 and food and refreshments will be served after the performance.

CFA Student Profiles: Mark McCloughan ‘10

What follows is the second in a series of profiles of Wesleyan students by Alexandra Provo, ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern. These students all have one thing in common: they became deeply engaged with one or more artists presented by the CFA. Sparked by the artist’s workshop, performance or exhibition on campus, they began a lasting relationship that affected the trajectory of their academic exploration. We hope you will send us your comments about these and future interviews.

Last week, after the Eiko and Koma opening reception, I sat down with Mark McCloughan ’10, a senior double majoring in Theater and SISP (the Science in Society Program) who has been working with Eiko and Koma as an assistant and archivist since last spring, to find out more about the character of his relationship with the artists and how it developed.

How did you first hear about Eiko and Koma?

I didn’t really know who they were—at all—and then I saw Eiko’s class [Japan and the Atomic Bomb] on WesMaps when we were freshman, and I just remember thinking it sounded so weird and cool. I was attracted to the inter-disciplinarity. I was really lucky to get one of the four spots for freshmen the first year—I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until the first class when there were something like 75 people who weren’t registered trying to get in. Over the course of the class I started realizing [Eiko] was a working artist, but it still didn’t really hit me until maybe last spring when I started working for them and looking at their archives, seeing the work they’ve done over almost forty years.

Are there specific aspects of the course that you feel affected you the most?

I always find it sort of difficult to talk about the movement and the course because it’s so encompassing of many things…first of all I think the courses [Delicious Movements and Japan and the Atomic Bomb] are important because both are truly inter-disciplinary. For me that was a big realization—that the arts can be really rigorous and very productive, not in a purely aesthetic sense but also productive of real knowledge.

Definitely, I agree. So you were in the courses; how did your relationship develop further?

Last spring they were beginning to speak with Sam Miller ’75 and conceptualize [the Retrospective Project], and it just so happened that they were trying to pull together their archives, a lot of which are at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. They had all these photos and stuff there that no one had really organized, so Eiko asked me if I was going to be home—because I’m from Minneapolis—over spring break.  I was, so I spent three or four days there. Organizationally it was crazy but also it was amazing to begin to get a sense of their whole career. All these photos of pieces; pieces I had never seen or really heard about…to get a sense of the chronological progression [of their work] was really illuminating for me as someone who is really into the movement, because you can begin to see where some of the exercises come from, or you can see them exploring some of the stuff Eiko helps us explore in class. That led to an internship there last summer.

How do you feel your contact with them has informed your own practice as an artist?

It’s been pretty hugely influential, I would say. The big thing that I love about Delicious Movements is that nothing is right and nothing is wrong. I think it taught me how to just do and not worry…it’s been very freeing.

Can you tell me some of the things you’ve been doing? Some of your projects here or elsewhere?

Me and Miles Tokunow ‘10 were in the class together as freshmen and both got into the movement—I remember we moved a lot together in class—and then the next fall we did a piece together called Falling, that was on Foss Hill [yeah, I remember I saw that, it was cool]. I’m also one of the founders of No Face Theater. We work collaboratively, so without a director—everyone has an equal voice, which is…it’s horrible and also wonderful. But going back to Eiko and Koma, they work in that way, they negotiate the piece together…it’s neither one of their visions; it’s something that happens because they’re working together and there’s all this tension and disagreement and negotiation.

Actually, Miles and I are working on another dance for the spring. So that partnership has been ongoing. I’m really excited about that one.

Could you say, in a sentence or so, a lesson or insight that you’ve taken away from working with Eiko and Koma?

There are so many…I’d say that I’ve learned to be in the present moment in my body, which has been really helpful for me as a performer. I feel like since I’ve met Eiko and worked with her and Koma my focus in performing has changed. Now I’m really interested in the body…not just as a vehicle for representing a character but the body as a thing.

How much has this been a factor in your Wesleyan experience?

It’s pretty much changed my life. Working with Eiko, I feel much more sure that what I want to do is going to be what I really want to do, it’s going to be mine…that sounds so possessive.  It’s given me a confidence to figure out a path that’s what I really want.

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

CFA Student Profiles: Asa Horvitz ’10

What follows is the first in a series of profiles of Wesleyan students by Alexandra Provo, ’10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern. These students all have one thing in common: they became deeply engaged with one or more artists presented by the CFA. Sparked by the artist’s workshop, performance or exhibition on campus, they began a lasting relationship that affected the trajectory of their academic exploration. We hope you will send us your comments about these and future interviews.

Last week I sat down with Asa Horvitz ’10, a music major with a passion for performance. Though he was involved in physical theater prior to coming to Wesleyan, he marks his encounter with international artist Ang Gey Pin as a turning point in his artistic life and a true catalyst of his expression.

Gey Pin, originally from Singapore and of Hokkien Chinese descent, attended the University of Hawaii and studied in California in the 80s in the Objective Drama program at UC Irvine. There, she worked with Jerzy Grotowski, an influential Polish theatre director. She went on to work with him in Italy from 1994-95 and 1998-2006 and was the lead performer in One breath left (1998-2002) and Dies Irae: My Preposterous Theatrum Interioris Show (2003-2006).

Theater Faculty member Claudia Tatinge Nascimento suggested Gey Pin to the CFA’s Outside the Box Committee. Nascimento had included Gey Pin’s research methods in a recent book. Gey Pin was invited to teach a quarter-long course and present public performances in the fall of 2006.

Grotowski is actually what drew Asa to Gey Pin’s course. He saw a poster advertising the class and recognized Grotowski’s name, which his high school theater teacher had mentioned as a strong influence. For Asa, the class “already held this aura for me…I had this sense about the work of this group of people.”

Though he was initially put on the waiting list, he was eventually admitted to the course. There, he and roughly 16 other students unlocked blocks in their bodies through intense physical training. According to Asa, it was “very linked to play, very much like a game but with specific images associated.” There was also a singing element to the class and students each developed a short individual project, which Asa compares to an etude.

Though the course lasted only one quarter, Asa developed a strong relationship with Gey Pin. He attributes this partly to the eagerness of first year students and their willingness to throw themselves into projects wholeheartedly. He also accounts for his intense involvement in terms of loss: in high school he had worked with a theater company for five to six hours per day for credit, and without that full time commitment “I was honestly freaking out,” he says. “I approached [the course] with desperation.”

He reported a curious response to seeing Gey Pin’s public performance later in the semester. “It made no sense to me, I didn’t really like it…afterwards I couldn’t stop shaking and I had sort of an embarrassing public meltdown underneath World Music Hall. I’m tempted to say that something in her mode of presence, her extreme embodiment, spoke to my body directly…I had a vivid sensation of being reminded of something that I already knew but had forgotten. It was a reminder of the needs of my body and that the freedom I had experienced as a kid could be something to work and rediscover as an adult living in a de-physicalized society. It was a serious wake up call.”

After returning home for winter break and digesting what had happened, he wrote her a letter asking to work with her again. She replied that she was going to be in Poland that summer, and why didn’t he come? “So I went to Poland, not knowing what I was getting into.”

Well, what he got into was two weeks of intense study with Gey Pin (sometimes working from 7 am to 1 am!) and exposure to other performance groups. According to Asa, what’s been valuable for him is that “she is empathetic but also has really high standards.” He notes that it was transformative for him to have “someone who is a professional treating me seriously, holding me to professional standards. To have that kind of pressure put on you, the growth is just exponential.”

Back at Wesleyan, Asa’s growth as an artist is certainly evident. After his summer in Poland, he returned to Wesleyan in the fall of 2007 and formed a theater company, called No Face Theater, with Mark McCloughan ’10 and Gedney Barclay ’09. They are still working–their most recent performance was last spring.

Rather than seeing his experience with Gey Pin as an opportunity to engage in theater outside of his academic life, Asa noted that he views the two as “a network of things that inform each other.” His understanding of his own artistic production and that of others “has been tempered by my critical education…I couldn’t do without either.”

The relationship continues to thrive. Asa spent this past summer with Gey Pin and her partner in Tuscany and Umbria, and next year will be apprenticing with Theatre Zar (a Polish performance group he met through Gey Pin). “When artists take you seriously you realize if you want to make it happen you can,” says Asa.

— Alexandra Provo, ’10

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