Center for the Arts Story: When I arrived on campus in 1971, the Center for the Arts was still an architect’s concept, and arts/music/theater/film/dance people made do with classrooms, studios, and performance spaces, scattered all over campus. So what a miracle when the CFA doors opened, giving us access to magnificent galleries, theaters, the auditorium, studio and practice spaces. As a music major (piano), it was a thrill to practice on grand pianos in the soundproofed practice rooms. Though I never became a professional musician, Wesleyan and the CFA planted the seeds for a lifelong passion for the arts. In February, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw the work of Piero de la Francesca, Fra Angelico, and other Renaissance masters, remembering how John Paoletti’s brilliant teaching awakened my love of art of that period. Attending Wes concerts, from early music to gamelan, gave me a taste for musical adventures, and I continue to explore and relish an eclectic range of performances in New York City. A couple of years ago, I was lucky to catch Ralph Samuelson MA ’71 (Ethnomusicology), performing with Japanese shakuhachi master Kinya Sogawa at Roulette in Brooklyn.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to graduate student Samuel Dickey ’14, and seniors Daniel Light ’14 and Emmie Finckel ‘14 about their capstone projects.
Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts offers undergraduate programs in Art & Art History, Dance, Music, and Theater, and graduate programs in Music. In every department, students have the opportunity to create a capstone project in their final year. These projects take myriad forms, each one a reflection of the student’s unique interests and creative voice.
On Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 9pm in Crowell Concert Hall, graduate student in music Samuel Dickey ’14 will present his thesis concert. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mr. Dickey came to Wesleyan in pursuit of a Master of Arts degree in Ethnomusicology.
The two-year program does not require that students produce a concert, as not all ethnomusicologists play an instrument. Mr. Dickey, however, picked up his first guitar at the age of ten and hasn’t stopped playing since. In 2010 he learned to play the Jeli Ngoni, a string instrument from West Africa.
His thesis concert brings together musicians from the Wesleyan community and beyond, including a couple of his bandmates from New York City. Half of the performers are Wesleyan students.
In addition to the recital, Mr. Dickey’s thesis includes a written component of 75 pages. His essay examines the role of the guitar in West African music, and how this once foreign instrument became integrated into the performance of traditional songs. He is looking specifically at music produced on either side of the border between Mali and Guinea.
“Guitars have become a vehicle for translating traditional music into a more popular sphere,” he explains. “But more than the music being westernized by the guitar; the guitar has been Africanized by the music.”
Together, the essay and his recital mark the culmination of his studies at Wesleyan.
“The master’s program has been great,” says Mr. Dickey. “I think it will allow me to pursue the sort of foothold I’ve been after in the music world.”
After graduation Mr. Dickey hopes to attain an ensemble coaching position or become an artist-in-residence.
In addition to graduate students, many undergraduates in the Music Department produce recitals as their senior capstone projects. One such undergraduate is Daniel Light ’14, whose senior recital Resonance took place on Friday, April 18, 2014 in World Music Hall.
The Music Department grants its undergraduate majors a lot of flexibility in designing their senior projects. One student may choose to record an album, while another opts for making a musical.
Mr. Light began with a couple of songs that he had written and ultimately developed a set list of seven original numbers. He performed four of the songs with a full band, one with a string trio, one with a choral group, and one as a solo.
“It felt like a launching point,” reflects Mr. Light. “I remember thinking that I would like to do this again at some point, to use my own material to fuel a concert.”
Much like students in the Music Department, those majoring in Theater have the leeway to design a senior capstone project tailored to their interests. This past November, as part of her thesis, Emmie Finckel ‘14 designed the set for the Theater Department’s production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.
Envisioned as a theater prop house gone to ruin, the set filled the enormous stage in the CFA Theater with furniture and other objects. The audience watched the performance from the stage, immersed in the set alongside the actors.
The hands-on work that Ms. Finckel did for The Seagull comprised the first part of her thesis. The second part is an essay of 30 to 40 pages, in which she examines audience agency in immersive theater design.
Ms. Finckel’s thesis gave her the opportunity to work closely with faculty members, including Associate Professor of Theater Yuri Kordonsky, who directed the production, and Assistant Professor of Theater Marcela Oteíza, who has become a mentor to Ms. Finckel in her time at Wesleyan.
“It was wonderful to feel like they respected me enough to want me to be involved [in The Seagull] as their collaborator,” recalls Ms. Finckel.
Dramatically different in approach and content, these three examples of capstone projects speak to the wide-reaching interests of Wesleyan students and their impulse to innovate and create. The capstone programs provide students an opportunity to synthesize the experiences that they’ve had at Wesleyan, reflecting both on where they’ve been and where they can go.
Center for the Arts Story: I was a senior theater major when the Center for the Arts opened in 1973. I’ve never put much stock in things supernatural, but there was always something freaky to me about the fact that the stage of the new theater was located on the exact spot where my grandparents had once had their house and where my mother had been born. I spent hundreds of fantastic, life-changing hours in the CFA. Before it even opened, I earned some much needed cash during the summer of ’73 working as a carpenter there, building things like the speakers in the new cinema and the cabinets in the design studio of the new theater. As a theater major, I took classes there, ran the (then revolutionary) new computer light board for the first play in the new theater, and I played the Referee in Fritz DeBoer’s production of Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime. As President of WESU-FM, I produced a series of broadcasts of inaugural concerts from various venues, including an all-night-long gamelan concert and shadow puppet performance from the World Music Hall. And as a typical student attending CFA concerts, performances, exhibitions, and lectures, I had my eyes and ears and mind opened for a lifetime to a broad range of artistic expressions.
Favorite Course: Directing for the Stage
Favorite Professor: Ralph Pendleton
Thesis Title: “An Exploration of Simultaneity as a Form for the Theatre”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Lily Whitsitt ’06 about directing the Theater Department production of Slawomir Mrozek’s “Vatzlav” on Thursday, April 10 and Friday, April 11, 2014 at 8pm; and Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 2pm and 8pm, in the CFA Theater.
Written by Slawomir Mrozek and directed by Lily Whitsitt ’06, Vatzlav tells the story of a shipwrecked slave’s encounter with an unfamiliar island and its wildly eccentric inhabitants. Among others, Vatzlav meets a blind Oedipus, a bloodsucking couple, and a revolutionary disguised as a bear.
The set takes its inspiration from circus design and transforms the stage into a jungle gym of raised wooden platforms. Audience members sit on stage with the actors, an invitation to join in the play’s 77 quick and episodic scenes.
Vatzlav draws from 18th-century French philosophical tales such as Voltaire’s Candide and the Marquis de Sade’s Justine to tell a story that is both profoundly political and positively hilarious. It’s a farcical, fall-out-of-your-chair-laughing kind of funny.
The work itself has a political history. Mr. Mrozek wrote Vatzlav in 1968, shortly after he fled Poland and sought political asylum in France. Due to strict censorship laws, the play did not appear in Poland until nearly a decade later.
Vatzlav reflects the life of its exiled playwright, a man writing far from home and in the midst of great political turmoil. “It’s complete satire,” says Ms. Whitsitt. “He takes an axe to every political ideology.”
With a cast of seven Wesleyan students, each character in the play embodies a different political ideology. Together they run the whole gamut of political philosophy and bring myriad perspectives into a witty and engaging dialogue.
The play delves into global questions related to power and authority, belief and hypocrisy, progress and modernity. It also considers deeply personal dilemmas.
“It’s about those moments of choice that we all face,” explains Ms. Whitsitt. “Those moments when you have to confront your own ideals and beliefs.”
It’s a story about growing up — Vatzlav arrives on the remote island shipwrecked and in search of himself, looking for a new life and identity. The zany inhabitants of the island and the trials he faces there incite him to question and come to terms with his own beliefs.
Ms. Whitsitt recalls grappling with many of her own beliefs as a student at Wesleyan, giving her reason to believe that the play would resonate with the students involved in the production and those in the audience.
“I wanted the students to be engaging with these types of questions,” explains Ms. Whitsitt. “For me, as a director, it’s such a personal process for each performer.”
Operating on both a global and a personal level, Vatzlav is a politically charged play about the choices we make as individuals. “At its base it’s about investigating humanity,” reflects Ms. Whitsitt.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton about Dance Theatre of Harlem, Souleymane Badolo, and Ronald K. Brown, who will be featured as part of the 15th annual DanceMasters Weekend Showcase Performance on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 8pm in the CFA Theater.
Mr. Badolo is the 2014 recipient of the Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award. Born in Burkina Faso, Mr. Badolo’s choreography is steeped in personal heritage and infused with worldly style. He began his career dancing with traditional African dance company the DAMA. In 1993, Mr. Badolo co-founded Kongo Ba Téria, a contemporary dance company based in the capital, Ouagadougou. After relocating to the United States in 2009, Mr. Badolo won the second annual Juried Bessie Award in 2012.
Wesleyan Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton says of Mr. Badolo, “He has his own take on how to weave together different forms and find personal expression in them. He represents a growing contemporary dance movement taking place in continental Africa, one that is blossoming in a really interesting way.”
[On Saturday, Mr. Badolo will be performing the New England premiere of an excerpt from Benon (2014), conceived and choreographed by Meritxell Barberá and Inma García, and set to traditional songs from Burkina Faso recorded by Victor Deme, Mahamad Billa, and Dankan Faso. Benonpremiered in February 2014 at Danspace Project in New York City. Roughly translated to “harvest,” Benon is inspired by the Burkinabé tradition of dancing to celebrate the harvest.]
A second artist with a rich history of performing at Wesleyan, Ronald K. Brown returns to campus this weekend with his company, Evidence. Founded by Mr. Brown in 1985, the Brooklyn-based contemporary dance ensemble honors the human experience in the African diaspora through dance and storytelling. Their work fuses traditional African dance with contemporary choreography and often incorporates spoken word.
“There’s this sense of seamless flow in how he weaves together different movements,” says Ms. Stanton, who’s been following their work since the mid-1990s. “There’s something transcendent about him and his dancers.”
On Saturday, Evidence will perform Come Ye (2002), an original work by Mr. Brown set to the music of Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, which had been commissioned by the Center for the Arts in honor of the 30th anniversary of the CFA during the 2003-2004 season [the work received its New England premiere on the Breaking Ground Dance Series in February 2004.]
Mr. Brown has been a strong advocate for the growth of an African-American dance community throughout his career, a community to which the Dance Theatre of Harlem has made invaluable contributions.
Co-founded in 1969 by acclaimed ballet instructor Karel Shook and the New York City Ballet’s first African-American principal dancer Arthur Mitchell, Dance Theatre of Harlem became the first ballet company in America comprised entirely of black dancers. The company has since toured to over 40 countries on 6 continents. Dance Theatre of Harlem encompasses a leading arts education center, founded shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a mission to make dance accessible to all children in New York City, and specifically in Harlem, where Mr. Mitchell grew up.
[Dance Theatre of Harlem will be performing the Connecticut premieres of both New Bach (1999) a witty confection of urban post-modern neoclassicism choreographed by Robert Garland and set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach; and choreographer Helen Pickett’s passionate duet When Love (2012), a journey of discovery as a man and a woman open themselves to the tenderness and wonder of the human embrace, set to music by Philip Glass. This performance at Wesleyan will be the first appearance by Dance Theatre of Harlem in Connecticut since December 2003 at Foxwoods Resort Casino.]
Currently under the artistic directorship of Virginia Johnson, a founding member of Dance Theatre of Harlem and former principal dancer, the company continues to expand its community and education outreach efforts both nationally and internationally with their program Dancing Through Barriers.
And dancing through barriers is precisely what the work of Mr. Badolo, Mr. Brown, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem does. It is their ability to gracefully meld dance forms from disparate places, traditions, and eras that unites their work.
As Ms. Stanton phrased it, “There’s a fusion of techniques from across the African diaspora.”
They dance across borders and choreograph in the space between past and present, drawing from history and tradition to propel contemporary dance forward.
“The performance makes you ask a question about tradition,” says Ms. Stanton. “What do we mean when we say something is ‘traditional’ or not? What does it mean to be ‘contemporary’?”
Thirteen Master Classes will provide an opportunity for intermediate to advanced dance students and dance professionals to explore diverse dance techniques. Asterisks (*) denote the four teachers who will be teaching their first DanceMasters Weekend Master Class at Wesleyan in 2014.
On Saturday, March 8, Master Classes will be taught by the following six teachers:
To see the full Master Class schedule, please click here. DanceMasters Weekend Master Classes are $19 per class for the general public (plus a $6 registration fee), and $13 per class for Wesleyan students. A Weekend Pass, which includes five Master Classes and one ticket to the Showcase Performance, is $100 for the general public (plus a $6 registration fee), and $73 for Wesleyan students. To register for Master Classes, or to purchase a Weekend Pass, please call or visit the Wesleyan University Box Office at 860-685-3355.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Wesleyan DanceLink Fellow Cynthia Tong ’14 about Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, who will be performing the New England premiere of “Times Bones” on Friday, February 14 and Saturday, February 15, 2014.
In 1970, a young Margaret Jenkins returned home to San Francisco where her family had lived for generations. She had been studying with dance legend Merce Cunningham in New York and brought back with her the new and exciting ideas emerging in the field of modern dance.
The founding of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in 1973 was a milestone for the city of San Francisco, signaling the spread of the American avant-garde movement that had begun on the east coast with Mr. Cunningham and his contemporaries.
Although the company has for decades been at the heart of the local arts scene in San Francisco, the company has also gained international acclaim. In the late 1970s, the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company began touring the United States on a regular basis, and has since then traveled throughout Europe and Asia to perform.
This weekend their journey brings them back to Wesleyan University for the New England premiere of Times Bones, a fitting venue given that this season is the 40th anniversary for both Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and the Center for the Arts. [Margaret Jenkins Dance Company previously performed at Wesleyan in April 1990. This weekend is also the first performance by Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in New England since 1998.]
In thinking about a way to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the company, Ms. Jenkins began revisiting past works. She reread journals and notes, mined her extensive archives, and examined all 68 works recorded on videotape, all the while asking, “What were the stories in those pieces that were still untold?”
To use the language of the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris that partly inspired her process, she was gathering the “bones” of her repertory. From these fragments, she has choreographed a new whole: the evening-length piece titled Times Bones.
But the work is not as simple as a dance down Memory Lane. The hope in returning to previous choreography was never to go back in time, but rather to push forward.
“The piece as a whole is aiming to find a new beginning,” says Wesleyan DanceLink Fellow Cynthia Tong ’14, who worked closely with Ms. Jenkins and the members of the company as an intern in San Francisco this past summer. “It’s a look toward the future.”
Ms. Tong describes the studio where the company rehearses as a safe space with a positive atmosphere, a place where experimentation and productivity go hand in hand. “Work was getting done while ideas were being thrown around,” she recalls.
Like many of her former works, Times Bones is the product of a deeply collaborative process. As Ms. Jenkins explains, “The role of the dancers in making my work is absolutely substantive and primary to my process.”
The aura of collaboration in the studio invites the dancers to speak up and share their opinions and ideas. “She’s very open to hearing what other people have to say,” Ms. Tong remarks.
The role of the interpreter is crucial to her work. While choreographing she asks her dancers to interpret various prompts and experiments, and in performance she invites the interpretations of the audience, never declaring one right or another wrong.
“She believes that when audiences go see her work there are a hundred different possible interpretations and that is part of her goal,” says Ms. Tong. “The audience is the final collaborator.”
Cynthia Tong will give a pre-performance talk on Friday, February 14, 2014 at 7:30pm in the CFA Hall, 287 Washington Terrace, Middletown. Margaret Jenkins will teach a free master class on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 11am in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Studio, 247 Pine Street, Middletown.
Margaret Jenkins Dance Company: Times Bones New England Premiere Friday, February 14 and Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 8pm
CFA Theater, 271 Washington Terrace, Middletown
$25 general public; $21 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff/alumni, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
Spend Valentine’s Day at the CFA – click to view special “prix fixe” menus that will be available at five Middletown restaurants for dinner on Friday, February 14, 2014.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Nick Benacerraf ’08, Edward Bauer ’08, Jess Chayes ’07, and Stephen Aubrey ’06 of The Assembly about the work “HOME/SICK,” which will receive its New England premiere on Thursday, January 30 and Friday, January 31, 2014 at 8pm in the CFA Theater.
In the summer of 2006, Stephen Aubrey ’06, Jess Chayes ’07, Nick Benacerraf ’08, and Edward Bauer ’08 traveled to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to perform We Can’t Reach You, Hartford, an original work of theater which became Ms. Chayes’ senior thesis at Wesleyan. Over seven years later, the four Wesleyan alumni are still making work together, and this week they return to campus for the New England premiere of HOME/SICK.
HOME/SICK tells the story of a handful of student activist leaders in the 1960s who, searching for justice and an end to the Vietnam War, became convinced that violence could pave the way toward peace. With ambitions to overthrow the government, they formed the Weather Underground after taking control of the Students for a Democratic Society movement in 1969.
“It is a deeply political work without trying to be didactic,” Mr. Benacerraf said when I spoke with the four of them earlier this week in the CFA Theater.
HOME/SICK was co-authored and co-created by the members of The Assembly, a Brooklyn-based theater ensemble co-founded by Mr. Aubrey, Mr. Bauer, and Mr. Benacerraf. “It took a year to develop the original script,” explained Mr. Bauer, “and it was written to varying degrees by all of us.”
Political and personal histories converge in HOME/SICK. Having identified a number of sub-topics within the larger historical period, the ensemble set about researching, discussing, questioning, writing, and rewriting. According to Ms. Chayes, “HOME/SICK fuses historical sources with deeply personal material,” a style that has become the hallmark of The Assembly’s artistic process.
They first performed HOME/SICK in 2011 at the Collapsable Hole theater in Williamsburg, only one month before the Occupy Wall Street movement began in Manhattan’s Financial District. The production couldn’t have been more timely. With Occupy Wall Street at the forefront of local and national news, and quickly garnering international attention, the story told in HOME/SICK suddenly gained a heightened sense of immediacy.
Mr. Benacerraf recounted how the reactions of their audiences changed in accordance with the action unfolding just across the East River. “It was inspirational to a lot of people to know that you could be this committed to trying to change the world,” he said, “or that it was even possible to think this way.”
One year later, when The Assembly performed HOME/SICK again, they were met with different reactions. “When we did it again, after Occupy Wall Street had mostly fizzled out, we had people who were inspired the first time weeping in our arms, literally weeping, at intermission,” Mr. Benacerraf recalled.
Rooted in history yet relevant to the present day, HOME/SICK asks the question: “How far would you go to make the change that you feel is necessary?”
Mr. Aubrey, Mr. Bauer, Mr. Benacerraf, and Ms. Chayes are quick to give credit to Wesleyan for instilling in them a “liberal arts ethos,” as Ms. Chayes described it, which has guided and defined their work. “We are interested in finding many different ways of interrogating the same question,” she said.
Mr. Benacerraf mentioned the Wesleyan Theater Department for the rigorous theoretical engagement it demands of its students, a practice these alumni have carried with them into the world. He also spoke of Second Stage, the student-run organization that oversees student theater on campus, for having influenced they way they work — collaboration forming the core of their creative process.
“What’s it like to be back at Wesleyan?” I asked.
“Wonderful and strange,” Mr. Aubrey responded. “Now my mentors, the professors who taught us to make art, are sort of like colleagues, and it’s wonderful to think that they want us back, not as students but as artists.”
“It still feels like home,” Ms. Chayes added, “It feels like where this company was forged.”
The Assembly: HOME/SICK
New England Premiere Thursday, January 30 & Friday, January 31, 2014 at 8pm
Post-performance Q&A with activist Mark Rudd, a founding member of The Weather Underground, on Thursday, January 30, 2014
$23 general public; $19 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff/alumni, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
As winter sets in, the Center for the Arts heats up with many events and experiences designed to inspire, entertain, provoke and delight. We are welcoming two groups who, like the CFA, are also celebrating their 40th anniversary. The first is Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier dance companies that will perform the New England premiere of Times Bones, an enthralling work that features music by Paul Dresher and poetry by Michael Palmer. Jenkins is one of this country’s master choreographers with an astonishing body of work and we are delighted to be bringing her company to Connecticut. We are also bringing members of Sweet Honey in the Rock to Wesleyan. For four decades, this Grammy Award-winning all female African American a cappella group has brought joy to audiences around the world. Three members of Sweet Honey will be teaching workshops that will culminate in a showing on April 17. This is an extraordinary opportunity for both singers and non-singers to enter into their creation and performance practice. Other highlights of the spring include the first major solo exhibition in the U.S. by Paris-based American artist Evan Roth, whose work lives at the intersection of viral media and art, graffiti and technology. You’ll also have the opportunity to hear Ukranian Vadym Kholodenko, winner of the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, play a program that includes Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, and Nikolai Medtner. Wesleyan’s Music Department will host the 28th conference of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, which will feature a series of concerts where you can immerse yourself in new music by American composers. And Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton will premiere the work Threshold Sites: Feast, which explores how we experience and enact our own corporeality, and how that impacts the way we experience our communities and our environments. At the end of the semester, you’ll have the chance to see the culminating works created by Wesleyan students, and be able to put your finger on the pulse of the current generation of art makers. Highlights include a production of Slawomir Mrozek’s Vatzlav, directed by Lily Whitsitt ’06; thesis performances in music and dance; and three weeks of thesis exhibitions by studio art majors. We have a rich and expansive spring planned for you. Please join us as often as you can.
Center for the Arts Story: Most productions of The Tempest do not feature a death scene in which the clown Trinculo delivers a dying soliloquy composed entirely of duck-quacks, as he is devoured by a Balinese dragon puppet. And I humbly believe that they are the poorer for it. In Wesleyan University’s 2005 production Caliban Remembers: A Balinese Tempest, Ron Jenkins and Nyoman Catra transformed the massive Center for the Arts Theater into a small, intimate venue, blocking off the regular seating section and bringing the audience onstage so that they could get a closer view of the masked actors and intricate shadow puppets used in this unique adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I was lucky enough to play Trinculo in this ensemble, whose rehearsal process involved everything from master classes with Bill Irwin (who played Trinculo in the New York Theatre Festival production) to traditional Balinese dance training from Nyoman Catra, one of Bali’s most renowned performers. We worked intensely with masks, with musical instruments, with shadow puppets and with one another to create a piece that drew from myriad cultural traditions and theatrical movements. Not only did that production introduce me to a diverse array of theatrical techniques, it also showed me how an author like Shakespeare—who epitomizes the Western canon—can find new expression and vitality when combined with Eastern influences.
Favorite Course: Solo Performance
Favorite Professor: Ron Jenkins
Thesis Title: “America’s Madwomen: Jewish Female Comedians in the 20th Century”