Professor of Art Tula Telfair’s A World of Dreams exhibition of new large-scale paintings presenting monumental landscapes and epic-scale vistas that are simultaneously awe-inspiring and intimate, runs through December 7, 2014. Photos from the opening reception on Tuesday, September 16, 2014, in the Main Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
“A startlingly original talent” (The New York Times), choreographer and director Faye Driscoll is a Creative Campus Fellow at Wesleyan during the fall of 2014, researching and developing “Thank You For Coming: Play,” one of a series of works she will be creating over the next several years. Photos from her artist talk on Thursday, September 11, 2014 in the Cross Street Dance Studio. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Sara Guernsey ’15, Wesley Martinez-Close ’15, Jillian Roberts ’15, Eury German ’16, Ari Markowitz ’17, and José Louis Sanchez ’18 about their involvement with “In the Heights,” which is being presented by the Theater Department tonight through Sunday, November 16, 2014 in the CFA Theater.
With book by Wesleyan’s Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater Quiara Alegría Hudes, In the Heights is the winner of the 2008 Tony Awards for “Best Musical,” “Best Original Score” (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Theater ’02), “Best Choreography,” and “Best Orchestrations” (Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, Music ’02).
Mr. Miranda wrote the first draft of In the Heights in 1999 as a sophomore at Wesleyan. Wesleyan’s student theater company Second Stage presented the play in April of that year. Four Wesleyan students—seniors at the time—then approached Mr. Miranda and proposed the play be expanded to a Broadway production.
Nine years later, in March 2008, In the Heights premiered on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
In the Heights tells the story of a close-knit community on the brink of change in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. “I think it was mainly the story that made me want to audition,” said Eury German ’16, who plays the male lead Usnavi, and an ensemble member named Ángel.
Wesleyan’s production brings together students with diverse performance backgrounds.
“We have dancers, we have singers, we have actors, and not all of us were good at everything,” said Sara Guernsey ’15, who plays Camila Rosario. “But we were able to teach each other.”
“I learned a lot of choreography skills that I didn’t know before,” says José Louis Sanchez ’18, who plays Piragua Guy. “I think that’s the beauty of this process—all of us were strong in one suit and through this process we were able to grow in others.”
“Our director, Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, often told us that [this is not the Broadway production], that this is going to be our own different version,” says Ari Markowitz ’17, who plays Sonny. “I’m glad that I hadn’t seen the Broadway production before because I got to come at it with a blank slate, and everything I saw forming was purely ours without any preconceived notions about what the show should be.”
“I went into it with a very open attitude,” said Wesley Martinez-Close ’15, who also plays Usnavi and a member of the ensemble named Jesús. “It was all new to me.”
“Two weeks before school started I was listening to the soundtrack nonstop,” said Mr. German. “The music is unlike any other musical.”
Jillian Roberts ’15 and Naomi Wright ’17 co-choreographed all of the dancing in the production.
“The movement in the show is a fusion of hip-hop, Latin, and Caribbean dance,” said Ms. Roberts. “Naomi and I combined our dance histories, knowledge, and vocabulary to assemble a body of choreography that both represents the fusion of cultures in the show and also the styles of music that are represented in the show.”
Wesleyan’s production of In the Heights has been months in the making.
“I’m really excited for everyone to have their hard work displayed for the larger community,” said Ms. Roberts. “A show that is this multicultural and diverse doesn’t often show up on a main stage university theater, and it’s exciting for us to be a part of this kind of unique theater production.”
“This is by far the most exciting thing that any of us are going to do this semester,” says Mr. German. “I am, deep down, so excited for this to come together.”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Dawn Elder, manager of Riffat Sultana, who makes her New England debut with her band Party at Wesleyan on Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
“Riffat Sultana channels the musical wisdom of 500 years and eleven generations of master musicians from India and Pakistan, bringing a spectacular voice and talent to the world stage.” —Banning Eyre, Afropop Worldwide
In 1995, Riffat Sultana became the first woman in her family to sing in public.
Her father, the late Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, is universally recognized as one of the greatest Pakistani classical singers of his generation. Her mother, Razia, comes from a line of highly respected Shiite musicians in India and is herself a talented vocalist. But as a woman, Razia was prohibited from singing in public, with the exception of Sufi ceremonies held in the family home.
Riffat expressed an interest in music early in life, wishing from a young age that she could study classical music like her four brothers. Denied the opportunity to study music formally, she picked up what she could from traditional and popular songs she heard on tapes and on the radio.
Learning songs came easily for Riffat, and soon family friends began to comment on her unusual talent and promising voice. Some even offered to teach her classical music, but her father refused.
But her big break came in 1990, when her father invited her to tour with him in Europe and the United States. Although primarily tasked with tending to the domestic needs of her father and brothers on tour, Riffat was permitted to join them onstage to play the tambura, a traditional string instrument.
Ultimately, Riffat and her brother, Sukhawat Ali Khan, convinced their father to let them move to the United States. Here they found welcoming communities of American-Pakistani musicians who encouraged them to pursue their passion for music. In 1995, Riffat took the stage to sing publicly for the first time.
Riffat’s musical career took off from there. At first, she kept it a secret from her father, but eventually he learned of her growing success, and gave her his blessing to continue performing. He even taught her the classical forms of his unique style of vocalization and music.
That influence is evident in Riffat’s music today. “She has a versatility of taking her vocalization and her improv and fitting it within a western sound, [but also] fitting intimately into a natural folk traditional style,” said her manager, Dawn Elder.
“It’s the warmth that draws me to her music,” said Ms. Elder. “It’s the intimate tonality and the authenticity of her sound. Not a lot of frill, not a lot of fuss—just pure music.”
Riffat Sultana has collaborated with many influential musicians including Quincy Jones and Nile Rodgers. She has shared the stage with Patti Austin, Lionel Loueke, Richard Bona, Michael Franti, and Ben Harper, among others.
“She’s one of the only Pakistani female singers to ever perform with full orchestration,” explained Ms. Elder. “There has not been anyone quite like her, [and] she has certainly opened a door for other women.”
As part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan, Riffat Sultana makes her New England debut this Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall. Performing a wide variety of traditional and modern works from Pakistan and India, Riffat will be accompanied by an all-star ensemble that includes her brother Sukhawat Ali Khan on vocals and harmonium, her husband Richard Michos on guitar, Gurdeep Singh on tabla, dholak, and dhol (double-headed drums), Jay Gandhi on bansuri (bamboo flute), and very special guest Mitch Hyare, an internationally renowned dhol master.
“Her music is unexpected and exciting and really warm,” said Ms. Elder. “She brings you into her backyard. She welcomes you into her home. The stage is her home.”
Hear from Sufi fusion singer Riffat Sultana and Party about her experiences as a Muslim woman artist both in America and abroad in Pakistan and India. Moderated by Lebanese American writer, actress, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99.
Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge discusses the development of the work “SPILL” by Leigh Fondakowski. Ms. Fondakowski will give a free talk about the future of “SPILL” on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall.
As the third Outside the Box Theater Series event of the year, playwright Leigh Fondakowski will give a talk on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall.
As part of the course, Ms. Fondakowski and Mr. Chernoff accompanied the students on a ten-day trip to the Gulf Coast region visiting laboratories and research institutions, touring wetlands, and meeting the people who live in the affected communities. Upon their return, the students created performances that combined science and art to tell the story of the effects of the spill.
This course inspired Ms. Fondakowski to write a new theatrical piece, commissioned by the Center for the Arts and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, which she entitled SPILL.
Ms. Fondakowski went back to Louisiana and collected over 200 hours of stories in the following months from people who lived in the parishes hardest hit by the disaster. In collaboration with visual artist Reeva Wortel (American Portrait Project), Ms. Fondakowski created SPILL, which had its first staged reading at Wesleyan in February 2012.
Since then, Ms. Fondakowski has continued to work on the piece, including a presentation at the Culture Project‘s Women Center Stage Festival in New York in July 2013, followed by the premiere in March 2014 at the Reilly Theatre at Louisiana State University, performed by Baton Rouge’s Swine Palace.
In her talk this Thursday, Ms. Fondakowski will share the journey that her play has taken since she first showed it at Wesleyan, and will discuss its path for the future.
Center for the Arts Engagment Intern Sharifa Lookman ’17 talks to Leila Buck ’99 about “Hkeelee (Talk to Me),” a solo performance which will have its Wesleyan debut on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall as part of “Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan.”
Written and performed by Lebanese American writer, performer, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99, Hkeelee (Talk to Me) is a dynamic one-woman show that seeks to reconcile the personal and political contentions related to her heritage, familial memories, and the meaning of being American through an explorative and interactive performance.
In the performance, Ms. Buck attempts to move her Lebanese grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease into assisted living. The performance’s narrative is rather straightforward: Ms. Buck unpacks a suitcase of belongings. This action proves dualistic—in addition to setting up a simple narrative, it sets the foundation for a performance dialogue of stories related to Ms. Buck’s heritage, exploring both the beauties and the trials.
“It’s very rooted in the oral storytelling tradition—so actually, very simple—me, a few objects, a music stand, a chair, and a microphone mainly for recording purposes,” Ms. Buck said in an interview when describing the piece. “I may use a bit of music here and there, played from my own iPod on stage. But other than that it’s a back to basics piece about a woman trying to figure out how to hold on to the stories of her family, which to pass on and which to let go. So it’s very raw in places as I piece together fragments of stories/memories/objects, asking the audience to participate and along the way attempting to put together the fragments of a life formed in, and by, transition.”
This performance addresses issues that are specific to Ms. Buck’s personal journey, but that are also universal. “We all feel unsure of ourselves, confused, and lost sometimes,” Ms. Buck said.
Ms. Buck hopes that “those who come will leave with a more personal lens into Lebanon, dementia, and what it means to be(come) American; that they will recognize their own families, struggles, and stories in mine; that they will engage with people and places they may never otherwise have encountered, and in doing so, realize the connections between them.”
Ms. Buck has also been commissioned to create a new theatrical work as part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan. This new piece will have two work-in-progress showings on Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8pm in World Music Hall. Ms. Buck invites members of the Wesleyan and Connecticut community to share in her workshops that seek to challenge our understanding of stories in their power, interactivity, and universality.
Earlier this month, Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan was featured on WNPR’s Where We Live with Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge joining Dr. Feryal Salem, Assistant Professor of Islamic Scriptures and Law, Co-Director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program, and Director of the Imam and Muslim Community Leadership Certificate Program at the Hartford Seminary, and Sufi fusion singer Riffat Sultana (who will perform at Wesleyan on Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8pm). Click here to listen to the broadcast.
A number of exciting Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan events are on the horizon. On Friday, October 24, 2014 at 8pm in the Memorial Chapel, Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio presents the premiere performance of the multimedia work To Not Forget Crimea: Uncertain Quiet of Indigenous Crimean Tatars, a response to recent political changes in Crimea. Featuring live music and dance in collaboration with New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble Musical Director Nariman Asanov and Yevshan Ukrainian Vocal Ensemble Conductor Alexander Kuzma, the work explores issues of historical memory, cultural narrative, and the quest for human rights, as they relate to the history of Tatars, native inhabitants of Crimea, and their complex relationships with Ukraine and Russia. A free panel discussion, “Indigenous Ukrainian Perspectives of Crimea Post Russian-Invasion, will take place before the performance, on Friday, October 24, 2014 from 6pm to 7:30pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall.
Next week, on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall, Lebanese American writer, actress, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99 explores family, memory, and politics in her free solo performance Hkeelee (Talk to Me).
Ms. Buck will also give a free workshop performance (Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8pm), where she will present a work-in-progress showing of a collaborative theatrical work commissioned by the Center for the Arts as part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan.
In the meantime, we hope you will join us for all of these upcoming talks and performances.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Benjamin Zucker ’15about the Vijay Iyer Trio, who perform on Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
This Saturday, Grammy Award-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer takes the stage in Crowell Concert Hall, along with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Tyshawn Sorey MA ’11, for what promises to be a landmark performance in the history of jazz at Wesleyan.
A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Mr. Iyer has been named “one of the world’s most inventive new-generation jazz pianists” (Guardian), “an American treasure” (Minnesota Public Radio), and “one of the best in the world at what he does” (Pitchfork).
What Mr. Iyer does is complex and multifaceted, innovative and cutting edge. “He’s doing a lot,” comments Wesleyan Music major Benjamin Zucker ’15. “He is literally and figuratively all over the world.”
Mr. Zucker describes Mr. Iyer’s music as “intricate, rhythms against rhythms, and repeating figures that layer over each other.”
A polymath with a background in math and science, as well as the humanities and the arts, Mr. Iyer received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music from University of California, Berkeley.
“He was studying the cognitive perception of music at U.C. Berkeley at the same time that he was playing in an active jazz scene in San Francisco and Oakland,” says Mr. Zucker. “He is someone who has thought a lot about what music can do and how we can get it to do what it does.”
In addition to his background in math and science, Mr. Iyer’s identity as a South Asian American informs his music. “There is a tradition of Asian American jazz, especially in the Bay Area,” explains Mr. Zucker. “But Vijay is at the forefront of a new wave of multicultural jazz and improvisation.”
A prolific composer, Mr. Iyer has released an astonishing eighteen albums over the years. His first album with the Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity, came out in 2009 and quickly became one of the most influential and acclaimed albums in contemporary jazz.
“The trio is a very cohesive whole,” comments Mr. Zucker. “It really is a full give-and-take with everyone providing their own contribution to the overall rhythm.”
Mr. Iyer and the Vijay Iyer Trio speak to the ever-changing and dynamic nature of jazz music. According to Jazzwise Magazine, “The Vijay Iyer Trio has the potential to alter the scope, ambition and language of jazz piano forever.”
Mr. Zucker will give a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm this Saturday, October 11, 2014, prior to the performance at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11 (Theater), Stage Manager/Video Operator for The Builders Association, who present the Connecticut premiere of “Sontag: Reborn” on Thursday, October 2 and Friday, October 3, 2014 at 8pm in the CFA Theater.
Through Wesleyan actually. I met them my senior year when they came and did a workshop. [Actor Moe Angelos and Video Designer Austin Switser presented the talk “Inside The Builders Association: Integrating Media and Performance” in February 2011 in CFA Hall.] Austin Switser came to my Media for Performance class. I never anticipated that I would work with them because at the time I wasn’t particularly interested in multimedia theater or multimedia performance. That has since changed.
[After graduating] I decided that I wanted to move to New York and pursue theater. Acting is actually my passion and what I’m most interested in, but when I got to New York—and this is where Wesleyan comes in again—my friend Rachel Silverman ’09 (Theater and Sociology) who had graduated [from Wesleyan] two years before me and who was working for New York Theatre Workshop emailed me and said that they were bringing this show with The Builders Association called Sontag: Reborn to New York Theatre Workshop and needed a Production Assistant.
So I became the Production Assistant, and I got to know Moe Angelos who is the performer and adapter for Sontag: Reborn. I spent a lot of time with her backstage running lines. I also took control of the set, which is not big but is very complex because there are hundreds of books and notebooks and everything has to be in a very precise order.
And then at the end of our run at New York Theatre Workshop, the Managing Director for The Builders Association, Erica Laird, came up to me and said that they had been invited [to bring Sontag: Reborn] to a festival in Seoul, Korea in October 2013, and would I be interested in joining them for that. I said, “Yes!”
It’s been very humbling and incredibly inspiring to see these artists work. They are totally brilliant, and I do believe they are changing the way that people think about theater.
Where did the idea for Sontag: Reborn come from?
Artistic Director Marianne Weems knew Susan Sontag, and Susan had been on the board of The Builders Association. [Then] Moe started reading Susan’s journals—her son [David Rieff] had published them after her death—and thought, you know, this could be a really cool thing and not your average one-woman show.
So Moe brought the idea for Sontag: Reborn to The Builders Association?
Yes. This show was Moe’s brainchild, [but] the way The Builders Association works is incredibly collaborative. I’ll give you an example of that: This show has a script, but they don’t always have set scripts, so then what happens is Austin Switser, the Video Designer, starts playing with stuff, and [Lighting Designer] Laura Mroczkowski starts playing with lights, and [Sound Designer] Dan Dobson is like a magician creating music—it’s unbelievable. They literally jam together to create the world of the work. It’s unique. It’s exciting. And it’s exciting to be a part of.
Does any of that collaborative, and at times spontaneous, process of making the work carry over into the final performance?
Absolutely. For example, this show is actually a dialogue. It’s a one-woman show, but it’s really a dialogue between Moe and a video. As you will see, if you come to the performance, there is a piece of recorded video footage that is Moe as older Susan Sontag in dialogue with live Moe [playing a younger version of Susan Sontag]. I run the video footage of old Sontag. Basically there’s a mini keyboard that controls the video footage, and I essentially speed it up and slow it down according to Moe’s performance, so it’s a live performance.
What is it like to be an actor in The Builders Association?
I’ve spoken with Moe a lot about that and it’s very different because you are constantly interacting with the multimedia aspects, especially in this show where there are no other actors. All she has to respond to is the video, the lights, the sound, and the other aspects of the video design.
Can you describe the sound score for Sontag: Reborn?
It’s music and sound effects composed by Dan Dobson with other pieces that are referenced by Susan Sontag. Dan’s a genius. He is one of the original members of the Blue Man Group. If you sit around during lunch breaks in the theater, that’s when he jams and creates this music. It’s unbelievable.
Is this a typical show for The Builders Association?
I would say that this is actually an unusual subject matter for The Builders Association. It’s basically a portrait. In many of the other Builders Association shows there’s more of a commentary, or at least some political aspect. For example, House / Divided blends the story of The Grapes of Wrath with the housing crisis. There’s a lot of intermingling of classic texts and contemporary socio-economic political issues, which there isn’t in Sontag: Reborn.
It’s a portrait of a life, or a part of a life, and the goal with it was to examine how this amazing intellectual mind became herself. You don’t get a lot of her philosophy in this show, and we don’t use much of her fiction or essays. There’s a little bit of it, but it’s mostly from her journals [and] examining how she became who she was as a person.
What was your reaction the first time you saw Sontag: Reborn?
I thought it was totally beautiful. It is totally beautiful and incredibly compelling. It’s a fascinating show because it examines how Susan Sontag’s mind evolved from age fifteen when she was reading more books than I will likely ever read in my entire life, discovering her sexuality and what it meant to be a woman in the time that she was growing up, and battling with her intense intellect.
How do you expect Wesleyan students will respond to the show?
I really feel like this piece is going to appeal to Wesleyan students because Susan Sontag is fiercely intellectual in a way that I think Wesleyan students—at least from my experience—are encouraged and challenged to be. I think most students here can relate to her struggle against her intellect, as a driving force in her life, and how she didn’t want to let that consume her.
Pamela Tatge, Director of the Center for the Arts, discusses the Planet Hip Hop Festival, curated by Nomadic Wax, taking place on Saturday, September 20, 2014 as part of “Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan.”
This Saturday, audiences have a rare opportunity to witness performances by three international Muslim women in hip hop, including Montreal-based Algerian singer-songwriter and rapper Meryem Saci, the Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter, poet, and emcee Maimouna Youssef a.k.a. Mumu Fresh, and Tavasha Shannon a.k.a. Miss Undastood of Queens, New York.
The Planet Hip Hop Festival is an anchor event of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan, a year-long exploration of Muslim women in performance. Each of the performers to be featured is Muslim or of Muslim heritage, has a distinct set of personal experiences, and is embedded in a particular place, society, and cultural tradition. This yearlong program is our way of inviting audiences to celebrate the complexity of Muslim women today, while at the same time exploring the historical and cultural context from which these women have emerged.
Anyone who writes poetry, raps, or sings is invited to attend three workshops this Saturday from 11am to 5pm in World Music Hall, before the evening concert in Fayerweather Beckham Hall at 9pm, where the women will be joined on stage by the Nomadic Wax Collective, a live backing band that will include bass, drums, keys, guitar, and a DJ. The evening concert will be hosted by Boston’s Mr. Lif.
Ms. Saci will lead the first of Saturday’s workshops, Music is Medicine: Hip Hop Therapy for the Bifurcated Soul, which will unpack the therapeutic and spiritual benefits that music can provide. A refugee herself, Ms. Saci moved from Algeria to Canada at the age of thirteen where she quite literally found her voice. Drawing from her own history and life story, she will explore what it means to be a refugee, an artist, and a Muslim woman.
I wish I had been at the R.A.W. (Rap Assembly at Wesleyan) weekly freestyle rap cipher on Wednesday night where Ms. Saci joined a circle of students rapping and singing together. Believe me when I say that she, like the other performers in this Saturday night’s Planet Hip Hop Festival concert, will strike a chord deep within you.
Planet Hip Hop Festival Curated by Nomadic Wax
Afternoon workshops and evening performances by international Muslim women in hip hop, including the U.S. debut of Montreal-based Algerian singer-songwriter and rapper Meryem Saci as a solo artist, the New England debut of Washington, D.C.-based and Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter, poet, and emcee Maimouna Youssef a.k.a. Mumu Fresh as a solo artist, and Tavasha Shannon a.k.a. Miss Undastood of Queens, New York. The evening concert will be hosted by Boston’s Mr. Lif, and will also feature the Nomadic Wax Collective, a live backing band that will include bass, drums, keys, guitar, and a DJ.