A Student’s Journey with The Good Dance

Reggie Wilson is a choreographer who has spent years traveling throughout Africa to research traditional and contemporary dance forms that inform the work of his Brooklyn-based company, Fist & Heel Performance Group.   Many of his friends and fans were thrilled when his latest work, a collaboration with Senegal’s Compagnie 1er Temps, The Good Dance: dakar/Brooklyn, was selected as the final event of the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival.  In her December 17 review, Claudia La Rocco of the New York Times writes:  “It’s hard to imagine going out on a higher note than this meticulously constructed, beautiful work”.

The CFA wanted to offer the opportunity to a student to follow this work in development and gave its first Creative Campus Internship to junior Alison Hurd.  Hurd assisted Wilson, choreographer Andréya Ouamba and their combined companies as they spent two weeks last summer in rehearsal at the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven which culminated in preview performances.  (Hurd was enlisted to run the sound board).   She then worked on the company’s archives at their Brooklyn office and this year, at Wesleyan, organized an advance visit by Wilson who met with students and faculty and toured the CFA Theater.

Here is what Hurd has to say about The Good Dance:

And here is an audio file of her interview with Reggie Wilson.

The Good Dance:  dakar/Brooklyn
Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group
Friday & Saturday, April 23 & 24, 8pm
CFA Theater

Pre-performance talk by Allison Hurd  ’11 on Friday, April 23 at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

Studio Art Theses In Conversation

Alexandra Provo ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern, interviews Studio Art majors whose senior theses are being shown in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery March 23-April 11.

The second week of studio art senior thesis shows opens today. Each week, the work of 4 to 6 artists is installed in the Main and South galleries of the Zilkha Gallery. A wide variety of media are represented, from plaster sculpture, painting, woodcuts, photography, and even eggs. The first week of shows by Nicolina Baxter, Patrick Serr, Eric Bissell, Gregory James and Lorena Estrella has closed, but there are still opportunities to see this week’s and next week’s exhibitions. I sat down with a few of the artists to find out how the thesis process has been going for them.

Though the students I spoke to indicated that while for the most part crafting a studio art thesis is a solitary procedure, in a liberal arts setting there is ample opportunity for conversation and dialogue, both among artists and academic disciplines. “I’ve been trying to balance this academic requirement and just wanting to make things,” says Angus McCullough, an architecture student whose work, Dormant, goes up in the third week of exhibitions, “but I think that’s been really fruitful—I’ve definitely come up with a lot of ideas I’m not necessarily going to use in my thesis, but could use in the future.” His work, a large-scale sculpture-room, deals with latent architectural spaces. Rachel Schwerin, who is presenting work this week that tells the story of a Chicago superhero named Red Hot Chicago, says she was inspired by both her courses at Wesleyan and her summer experience taking courses at Northwestern. “I think all of my art history classes have been really influential in terms of the way I intellectually think of the art I’m making,” she says. Eric Bissell noted that his coursework in Buddhism and anthropology—specifically ethnography—has been instrumental for his process.

For me, the most exciting part of this series is getting to see the work of people I know—both personally and academically. In the first week of shows, I found myself noticing ideas and patterns that I remember several of the artists discussing in class or working through in the studio. For example, both Eric Bissell’s HERE IS EXPANSIVE and Gregory James’ SATISFIXATION dealt with themes I’d seen them working with in Professor Jeffrey Schiff’s course, Topics in Studio Art, the former exploring our understanding of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the latter using eggs as a medium to explore human contact and sexuality. I also remember seeing an earlier series of Nicolina (Nyki) Baxter’s work related to her thesis show, Flay, our sophomore year at her Sculpture II show.

The familiarity and consistency that arises out of working in a setting like Wesleyan is also important within the community of art thesis students. Eric, who has worked with Professor Jeffrey Schiff for all four years, remarks, “To have someone watch your progression as an artist is a really interesting thing; it allowed him to know when to really step in and give me advice. I really respected that.” Rachel noted that for the printmakers, who share one space unlike other thesis students who typically share a studio with two other students, “it’s been really interesting working in one big room. You’ll see a lot of common images and themes across our work, despite the fact that we’re working in very different styles. That’s something you get out of a shop mentality, which is cool.” Even in the smaller studios, though, thesis students are in dialogue with one another. “I’ve been going around as much as possible…it’s important to [look at each other’s work] because you look at your own work every day, until you can’t see it anymore,” says Angus. Nyki notes, “I think we’re always a sounding board for each other. You’ve established a little bit of a style or a conceptual vein they’ve seen in your work, [and] even if you don’t have a specific question to ask, being in the studio late at night and just having a conversation—even off topic—will lead you back to where you need to be.”

Remaining shows:
Tuesday-Sunday, March 30 – April 4
Reception: Wednesday, March 31, 4-6pm
Sarah Abbott, Julian Wellisz, Rachel Schwerin, Megumu Tagami and Yang Li

Tuesday-Sunday, April 6 – April 11
Reception: Wednesday, April 7, 4-6pm
Genesis Grullon, Lily Bushman-Copp, Ray Brown, Angus McCullough, Anna Mendes, and Josh Lederer

Turkish Music: A Different Sound World

“You enter a different sound world,” says Wesleyan’s Private Lessons Teacher and renowned guitarist, Cem Duruöz, when describing the music of his homeland, Turkey. “The scales and rhythms are uniquely intricate and beautiful. I grew up hearing them on my mother’s radio.” This Saturday, Duruöz will give the pre-show talk prior to the final Crowell Concert Series performance of the year, a concert by the Boston-based Turkish music ensemble, Dünya.

According to Professor of Music Mark Slobin, Turkish music is “one of the great art musics of the Middle Eastern complex that includes Arabic and Persian music and dates back many centuries.” Slobin’s former student, Robert Labaree, who received his Phd from Wesleyan in 1989, founded Dünya and is also chair of the music history department at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Slobin describes his dissertation as a “pioneering comparison of medieval music and Middle Eastern music examined through the songs of the troubadour.”

Wesleyan’s Concert Committee selected Dünya to perform in support of the University’s recent establishment of the Middle Eastern Studies Certificate Program. It also helped to have the resounding endorsement of Duruöz, who serves on the Committee. Duruöz grew up in Turkey at a time when conservatories did not offer the opportunity to study Turkish classical or folk traditions. He went to Stanford, San Francisco Conservatory and Julliard and then launched an international touring career performing classical Spanish and Baroque guitar music. Five years ago, he reconnected with the music of his youth and recently released Treasures of Anatolia, a CD of all-Turkish music for solo guitar.

According to Duruöz, “Many of the instruments audiences will hear on Saturday are the basis of Western classical instruments as we know them today including the ney (end-blown flute); the ud and saz (Middle Eastern short and long-necked lutes); the ceng (harp); the kemence (spike fiddle); and the darbuka (drum). Dünya are masters of a wonderful spectrum of music including folk songs from the rural areas, classical music from the Ottoman court and Sufi music that is more spiritual.”

Saturday, March 27, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Pre-concert talk at 7:15pm by Cem Duruöz

Reflecting on Feet to the Fire

Many of you know that Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art was a multilayered project that, from 2008 to 2009, took us from Middletown’s Veteran’s Park, to the Green Street Arts Center, to campus classrooms and CFA venues in a shared exploration of climate change using the arts as a catalyst. (The Feet to the Fire brand continues on campus this year, with a focus on water resources.)

We put together this summary video for a convening of higher education leaders hosted by the Association of Arts Presenters in January in New York City. The gathering, a follow-up to the 2004 American Assembly “The Creative Campus: The Training, Sustaining, and Presenting of the Performing Arts in American Higher Education,” sought to understand what creative research programs like Feet to the Fire can tell us about the impact of the arts on learning. Directed by Middletown’s own Paul Horton, we wanted to share it with you.

Also, please save the date for Wesleyan’s Earth Day Celebration on Thursday, April 22 at 8pm in the CFA Hall. We invite you to the premiere of the full-length 30-minute documentary film produced and directed by Paul Horton. The documentary is about the course on tropical ecology co-taught by Professor Barry Chernoff, Director of the Environmental Studies Program, along with Cassie Meador and Matt Mahaney of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange that took place in Guyana in spring 2009. During the course, students combined data collection and analysis with movement research, gaining first-hand knowledge of the tropical ecosystems of Guyana and creating site-specific artworks in the field.

Preceding the film, a panel of artists and scientists, moderated by Jeremy Isard ’11, will discuss current thinking about the envisioning of our environmental future.

Co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program and Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

An Immersion in Dance

I’m on a plane flying to Washington to meet with the National Endowment for the Arts about its continued support of the CFA, and I’m thinking about the caliber of dance artists we have been able to bring to Middletown thanks to the generous support of that agency and the continued support of our campus community and our Connecticut audiences. For the past five years, the NEA has helped to build DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan, an annual immersion in dance that happens every year right at the start of our Spring Break. This Saturday and Sunday, students in dance schools around the state and their teachers will join Wesleyan students for two intense days of modern, jazz, tap, African and hip hop classes. Their bodies are exposed to techniques they may never have experienced before, and their spirits enter into the passion of master artists from companies as diverse as Limón, Alvin Ailey and Brian Brooks. (Some class slots are still available, by the way.)

And on Saturday night, they join the public for a showcase of three masters of American dance…and this year there is real star power. We’ll open with a solo by Carmen deLavallade, a true luminary not only because she is an exquisite choreographer and dancer (she was a original Ailey dancer, founded her own company with her husband, Geoffrey Holder, taught at Yale for many years) but also because she is one of the first interdisciplinary dance makers. Her work has regularly intersected with theater, film and opera. She will be performing a new solo that premiered last July. We’ll then have the opportunity to see a series of duets by dancers of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company that span thirty years of his choreography, performed with live music by John King. The company is currently on a final two-year legacy tour following Cunningham’s death in July of last year, and we are so fortunate that two of the company dancers will be performing on our stage.

And we’ll close with Paul Taylor’s masterpiece, Esplanade, performed by the dancers of Taylor 2. In 1975, Taylor was inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch a bus and decided to create a work based on pedestrian movement set to two Bach violin concertos. If you’ve seen it before then you’ll never forget the joyful exuberance of the opening, the final section with dancers careening fearlessly across the stage, and the celebration of what it is to be human that happens in between. If you haven’t seen it before, then you should; it is truly a masterwork in the dance cannon.

DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan University
Saturday & Sunday, March 6 & 7, 2010
Classes on Saturday and Sunday; Showcase performance Saturday at 8pm in the CFA Theater

For more information, visit http://www.wesleyan.edu/dancemasters

Unexpected: Student Perspectives

Alexandra Provo ’10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern, interviews students in this week’s production of Unexpected: Voices of Incarcerated Women

This Thursday and Friday, Unexpected: Voices of Incarcerated Women, directed by theater professor Ron Jenkins, will be performed in the CFA Hall. Unexpected is a multimedia theater piece comprised of spoken word, music, and visual art performed by both Wesleyan students and formerly-incarcerated women from the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut. It combines excerpts from the anthology I’ll Fly Away, edited by Wally Lamb, with the art and writings produced in Wesleyan theater workshops by women incarcerated at York. Wally Lamb will be reading from his book at Thursday’s opening night performance.

The goal of the work is not only to humanize incarcerated women and to share their stories but also to empower the women to create and perform those stories themselves. Joanna Bourain ’12, an FGSS and prospective studio art major who took both Professor Jenkins’ Solo Performance and Activism and Outreach Through Theater courses, worked primarily with Lynda Gardner, a formerly incarcerated woman. “I met Lynda because she was working in my group and—ah, I’m so corny—but it’s such a cool experience to meet someone in a seemingly very different life point—she’s sixty, she’s incarcerated, suffering from a really bad gambling addiction, drug problems—[and then] to realize that we have the same colored soul, is what I like to say. We ended up becoming really close friends. We bonded over the fact that we’re both visual artists, that we both really like expressing ourselves and using art as a cathartic medium.”

Joanna became involved in Unexpected primarily through Lynda, who is performing in the play and also has provided the artwork shown in the projections. Joanna has been working to coordinate those projections and has created an exhibition of Lynda’s artwork in one of the glass cases at the Usdan Center. She contextualizes the artwork by including documents and items from Lynda’s prison time in the display. Joanna drew on her experience researching contemporary curatorial practices in Professor Mari Dumett’s course, Contemporary Art: 1980 to the Present.

Samantha Pearlman ’11, a theater major who took Solo Performance, remarked “abstractly, working in a women’s prison as a female who goes to Wesleyan makes me reflect a lot about what it means to be female, what it means to have an education, what it means to be an artist.” In her own work she hopes “to focus on how art either helps females figure out who they are or makes them define who they are, what they see.” Sara Schieller ’12, also a theater major, remarked “This is something I could see myself doing in twenty years.”

Unexpected: Voices of Incarcerated Women
Directed by Ron Jenkins
Based on the anthology I’ll Fly Away edited by Wally Lamb and other
writing by the Women of York C.I. in the Wesleyan Theater Workshop.
Thursday & Friday, February 25 & 26, 8pm
CFA Hall

For more information: http://www.wesleyan.edu/cfa/events.html#theater

Going Places with the Shanghai Quartet

On Friday, the music of Mozart, Debussy and Penderecki will fill Crowell Concert Hall performed by the Shanghai Quartet, one of the most virtuosic quartets touring today.  (You may remember seeing them on the cover of our spring brochure in their jazzy red sports car.) Our classical music audiences have been waiting all year for this concert, and I know they won’t be disappointed. Known for their passionate musicality and impressive technique, the group was founded over twenty-five years ago at the Shanghai Conservatory, and today features violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li, and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras.  At Wesleyan, the quartet will be performing Debussy’s String Quartet, Mozart’s Quartet in D Minor and Penderecki’s Quartet No. 3 (a work they commissioned.)

Under the group’s logo on their website, the tagline reads “Going Places” and they do.  For the past 27 years, the group has been touring, teaching, and innovating in the field of classical music all over the world. In addition to regularly touring the North American continent, they have toured in such places as Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and several countries in Europe. They regularly perform at Carnegie Hall and last season were featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  They are also committed educators having taught for thirteen years at the University of Richmond, and now serve as the quartet-in-residence at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where they perform, coach chamber music and teach individual lessons. They are also guest professors at the Shanghai Conservatory in China and have served as Graduate Ensemble-in-Residence at the Juilliard School.

In terms of music education, an interesting note about cellist Nicholas Tzavaras:  His mother is Roberta Guaspari, the public school violin teacher in East Harlem whose story was retold in the 1999 movie Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep.

The Shanghai Quartet has not only ventured far and wide geographically, but also in terms of the direction and scope of their music. In its fusion of “the delicacy of Eastern music with the emotional breadth of Western repertoire,” the group transcends the boundaries of genre. A peek at their extensive discography reveals that their repertoire ranges from Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Bach to Chinese folk songs and classical interpretations of Disney favorites. They also commission contemporary works, including their 2008-2009 commission of Krzysztof Penderecki’s String Quartet No. 3, which appears on Friday’s program.

Come early and have the rare opportunity to hear our renowned Professor of Music Alvin Lucier discuss the works to be performed.

Shanghai Quartet

Performing works by Debussy, Mozart and Penderecki

Friday, February 19, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Pre-concert talk by Alvin Lucier, Professor of Music, at 7:15pm

For Young Organists, a Chance to Be Heard

For many young organists, the only time they play in a concert setting is during a competition. According to University Organist Ron Ebrecht, “They win the competition but then they have nowhere to perform their concert for an audience.”

Giving young organists this valuable opportunity is the inspiration behind Young Organ Virtuosi, celebrating its tenth anniversary of biennial concerts. This year’s guest artists are Adam Pajan, who will perform works of Tournemire, Franck, Demessieux, Bach and Reger on Friday night and Jacob Benda, who will perform works of Bach, Franck, Alain, and Guillou on Saturday evening. Pajan studied at Furman University in South Carolina and is now completing a Master’s program at Yale. Benda began as a pianist but over the course of his college career became enamored of the organ and has been playing ever since.

With the Young Organ Virtuosi concerts, these artists will get a chance to play in a non-competitive atmosphere. Not that the selection process isn’t rigorous–but Ebrecht says he doesn’t exclusively book competition winners. He also takes people who have placed second in competitions, because he says those people can be “more musical than the people who won the competitions. Sometimes the people who win are so concentrated on playing the right notes, they don’t make them into music.” In this setting, Ebrecht hopes to offer a more congenial atmosphere focused more on the music and less on status. “There are no razorblades between the keys,” he says. “They get to be nice to each other.”

It’s not just the friendly atmosphere that makes the concert a different kind of experience. In the past five or six years, the program has expanded to include other events beyond the Wesleyan campus. People who have previously performed now host their own editions of the event, and in March this year’s two guest artists and Ron will travel to Seattle to play a Young Organ Virtuosi concert at the University of Washington.

The event is also unique for its involvement of Wesleyan students. Organ classes at Wesleyan are consistently enrolled to capacity; many students, about half of whom are music majors, return year after year. Ebrecht is deeply committed to engaging his students in all aspects of organ performance. This year students will also be learning about the technical side of the organs helping to restore the console of the recently donated second practice organ in addition to performing in the annual Organ Romp, the student performance associated with the course. With the Young Organ Virtuosi Concert Series, Wesleyan organists have the opportunity to perform in a Saturday afternoon recital.

Ebrecht is constantly reminding students of where they can go with their organ playing. He is an extremely accomplished musician who’s played all over the world–this August he’ll be playing a Bach recital in Erfurt, Germany on one of the few organs Bach actually played that is still in original condition–and the practice organ in the lower level of the chapel is surrounded by posters of where he has played. “It’s fun for students when practicing to see where they could potentially go,” he says, and with the Young Organ Virtuosi concert they’ll get another chance to learn about the possibilities by interacting with other organists their age, hearing about their experiences in conservatory programs and what it’s like to work as an organist.

Young Organ Virtuosi
Friday, February 12, 8pm and Saturday, February 13, 4pm & 8pm
Memorial Chapel
Free Admission

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

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.

Striving for Perfection

The CFA and the Dance Department were interested in having the Breaking Ground Dance Series acknowledge for the first time the truly innovative work happening in Minneapolis, a hotbed of creative work in dance. After months of planning, we are delighted to welcome Morgan Thorson and her company to campus this weekend. Thanks to support from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation we were able to connect her work, HEAVEN, to faculty and students in Religion and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and a number of activities are going on this week (see below) in conjunction with the performances of her work at the CFA Theater.

Morgan is a creative researcher… the movement and music in her work comes out of deep exploration and experimentation. In HEAVEN, she researches perfection: What is the nature of both corporeal and ecstatic perfection present in religious practices, and how does it manifest itself? When I saw the piece at P.S. 122 last November, I was struck by the power of her dancers and the sense of ensemble that she creates onstage, particularly integrating the musicians from the indie rock band, Low, with her company. While Morgan is exploring religious practices, she is also showing us the ritualistic power of dance and the emotional, physical and communal power of what a group of performers can achieve together.

Lydia Bell, ’07, wrote to me after she saw the work and said, “I felt like the piece was asking, if we don’t believe in X, what do we believe in? There is a sort of activism in this question that I like–re-framing things in the positive and of course, I felt like Morgan’s answer to this question was clear–everyone can take solace in art-making and being part of a community, which have always been core parts of any religious or spiritual practice.”

When I spoke with Morgan about the work she commented: “In this piece I try to communicate my devotion to space. With extremely simple material, the body and space unite in a powerful unison where temporal shifts underscore this relationship. For example, a quick acceleration leaves a ghostly residue, of what just was. The departure is the gesture. …The presence of various body types is very important. I purposely wanted to blend groups of variously gendered people—not to just convey the power of drag (creating your gender the way you want to), but to approach an all new manifestation of gender identity, a roving, third gender. We modeled this idea after angelic shape-shifters, which often play an important role in the Bible. I also wanted to convey the power of the voice and song. Tonal resonance and harmony can spark an energetic or emotional shift in the performer and viewer, and I really wanted to play with this power in HEAVEN, and juxtapose this kind of material to vigorously moving bodies. I intentionally complete the piece with shape-note singing, so that the focus is no longer corporeal, but sonic and vocal. The communal gesture of singing elevates HEAVEN beyond a physical presence, sending the piece off to a new expressive dimension, and revealing the essence of pure group intension. “

Many choreographers, including many on our series, have explored dancing with live music onstage, but few have succeeded in so fully integrating the musicians as Morgan has. When I asked her how she came to work with Low, she said she was introduced to them by one of her dancers: “We talked about religion in general and ideas of god, and performance structures for this piece. They are known for working the edges, for initiating delicate, soft tones or loud and abrasive gestures, and I was interested in those edges– that restriction– and what it forced me to do choreographically.”

You’ll have the opportunity to meet Morgan and discuss her work following each of the performances, and on Friday night, she’ll be joined by Nicole Stanton, Chair of the Dance Department and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Assistant Professor of Religion and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, who will both share their perspectives on the work.

Morgan Thorson & Company
Featuring live music by the indie rock group Low

Friday & Saturday, January 29 & 30, 8pm 
CFA Theater

Pre-performance talk by Debra Cash on Friday, January 29, at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

Related Events: January 27 at 7pm at Usdan Daniel Family Commons: A Dinner/Discussion about Queer and Transgender Themes in HEAVEN; January 29 at 6:15pm at the Bayit: Aaron Freedman ’10 leads a movement ritual Shabbat.

For complete listing of activities, visit http://www.wesleyan.edu/cfa/events.html#breaking