An All-Night Highlife Dance Party featuring the Abraham Adzenyah Tribute Band was held in celebration of master drummer Abraham Adzenyah, Adjunct Professor of Music, Retired on Saturday, May 7, 2016 in Fayerweather Beckham Hall.
Click here to view the full album on Flickr. Photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Miranda Orbach ’15, Eriq Robinson ’15, and Virgil Taylor ’15 about their theses in Dance, Music, and Studio Art.
With the deadline for theses this Friday, April 10, 2015, Wesleyan seniors from all different majors are hunkering down across campus to complete the projects they have dedicated their year to. Thesis writers in Dance, Music, and Studio Art are presenting their work at the Center for the Arts every week through the end of the semester.
Featuring new works by eight choreographers, the Spring Senior Thesis Dance Concert took place last weekend in the Patricelli ’92 Theater. Closing the first half of the concert was Miranda Orbach’s form[all] training, a piece in partial fulfillment of her honors thesis in American Studies and Dance.
Ms. Orbach’s written thesis, “Monstrous Form: the Ballerina and the Freak,” draws the ballet and the freak show together to examine how each distinct performance mirrors the other. Her thesis reads the ballet through the lens of the freak show, and the freak show through the lens of the ballet.
“Historically we have separated these forms so far away from each other,” says Ms. Orbach. “Bringing them together actually allows us to intervene in the literature about both of them. It’s not that they are the same, but that they are useful for reading each other, as spectacle, body, and display are central themes to both performances.”
In her thesis, Ms. Orbach tells the story of one ballerina: Caroline Shadle ’16, who performs in the piece with two other female dancers. They dance with one foot in a pointe shoe and one barefoot to a sound score that narrates Ms. Shadle’s story, giving powerful insight into the life of an aspiring ballerina.
“The feeling of freakishness is not so far from the feeling of being trained,” says Ms. Orbach. “The two work in tandem. All of these categories that we oppose so starkly in society—form and deformity, ability and disability—are actually inherent to each other.”
Eriq Robinson’s senior recital, Reality Ends Here: The Beginning of the End, will take place this Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 7pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. The recital, featuring a vocal ensemble and a horn ensemble, is one component of Mr. Robinson’s thesis in Music. The vocal ensemble is inspired by South African overtone singing, the music of the Japanese Ainu, and Slavei, an a cappella group on campus that performs Slavic, Balkan, and Georgian liturgical music.
“The performance is a narrative story telling experience with music, based on a cosmological structure that I made up myself,” says Mr. Robinson. His cosmological structure is based on ideas from Buddhism and other Eastern religions, as well as Abrahamic religions and some African religions.
“It’s a story about the beginning of the end of the world,” he explains. “The idea is that humans are the nerve endings of the cosmos. We are all just the end of invisible tendrils that are the cosmos, all part of a giant macro organism.”
In the written component of his thesis, Mr. Robinson gives a short history of Afro-Futurism and attempts to determine if his music fits into that creative lineage.
“Because I’m making up a cosmological structure, I’ve been trying to make music that doesn’t sound familiar,” he says. “The hardest part about it has been trying to make music that sounds unfamiliar, while at the same time not making bad music. What I think makes music good, on an objective level, is having some sort of system and methodology that’s tying it all together.”
Mr. Robinson plans to continue writing his story even after the recital, and hopes this will be the first in a series of performances.
Studio Art major Virgil Taylor’s thesis, Irregular Quadrilateral, will be on display in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery from Tuesday, April 14 through Sunday, April 19, 2015; with an opening reception on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 from 4pm to 6pm.
After receiving a Zawisa fellowship from the Wesleyan Studio Art Department last spring, Mr. Taylor travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the summer to study metal plate lithography at the Tamarind Institute. The youngest person in the program, both of his roommates were university professors.
When Mr. Taylor returned to Wesleyan this past fall, he realized he wanted to shift the focus of his thesis from lithography to intaglio prints. Intaglio refers to a printmaking process in which the image is carved into the plate with acid, a scribe, or a needle.
“Even though I did not end up doing my thesis in lithography, I think my work at the Tamarind Institute this summer really informed me on how to think about compositions,” says Mr. Taylor. “It was an opportunity to spend four weeks doing nothing but printmaking.”
His exhibition will fill Zilkha Gallery with intaglio prints of irregular quadrilaterals, which look like rectangles in perspective. In addition, he has created a large-scale composition resembling his prints that will occupy the back bay of the gallery—a 24 foot long piece of steel painted blue will mirror the many blue lines in his prints, and an eight foot tall drywall panel will appear in the shape of one of his plates.
“I’m interested in work that doesn’t require or desire any explicit content, or really any implicit content, but exists as a formal space,” says Mr. Taylor. “That’s why I like being able to make the giant version, because I can emphasize that it’s simply an arrangement of forms.”
Members of the all-female group Tari Aceh taught Saman, a popular dance form from Indonesia that combines text, poetry, and movement, at a workshop on February 26, 2015, at Fayerweather Beckham Hall. 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 graduate student Maho Ishiguro about the Connecticut premiere of “Tari Aceh! (Dance Aceh!)” Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra, taking place on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
After many months of planning and overseas communication, the Center for the Arts is delighted to welcome to campus a group of nine female performers from Aceh, Indonesia on their first-ever tour of the United States.
Between the ages of 14 and 24, these young women study dance at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh province on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra. The dances they practice were originally performed only by men, and in some districts of Indonesia it remains forbidden for women to perform them.
The dances to be performed have been passed down from generation to generation, and contain a great deal of history and tradition. Accompanied by percussion, the performers add to each dance’s striking musicality with their own rhythmic body percussion, and the singing of both Islamic liturgical and folk texts. These dances are some of the best illustrations of the transcultural blending of Islamic and Indonesian culture.
It has been ten years since a devastating tsunami hit Aceh, killing 200,000 people. The performance of Tari Aceh! celebrates the resilience of the people of Aceh, and a new generation of young women whose performance of these traditional dances are contributing to the recovery efforts in this part of the world.
To learn more about the performing arts in Banda Aceh, click here to watch a video that Wesleyan ethnomusicology graduate student Maho Ishiguro put together while visiting Syiah Kuala University last year. She traveled there after receiving a Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship to study the female Saman dance in Indonesia.
While in Banda Aceh, Ms. Ishiguro had the chance to interview all of the dancers. You can get to know some of them here.
Ms. Ishiguro will join Ari Palawi, the Program Coordinator at the Syiah Kuala University’s Center for the Arts, to give a pre-performance talk on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 7:15pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
On Thursday, February 26, 2015 the dancers will lead a free dance workshop, open to all experience levels, at 6:30pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. Click here to watch a video for a taste of what you might learn in the workshop.
Ms. Ishiguro told me a little about Saman dance, and the dancers of the Syiah Kuala troupe:
“Saman dance (also known as rateb meuseukat and ratoh duek) is one of the dance forms popularly practiced in Aceh province, the northern tip of Sumatra Island, Indonesia. A number of dancers sit in a row and perform elaborative and fast movements with their hands, heads, and torsos. The dance is highly coordinated, and its complex choreography includes clapping and hitting the body with the hands, resulting in percussive sounds that add to the performance. Dancers also sing while dancing. Texts of songs entail commentaries about nature, love, relationships, politics, and society, as well as religious teachings of Islam. Islamic phrases such as la ilaha illallah (“There is no god but God,” a testimony of Islamic faith) and assalamulaikum (“Peace be upon you”) are often interwoven within the song texts. The origin of the dance form is unknown; however, it is generally understood that Saman dance was practiced historically as dhikr, a religious exercise which Muslims, especially those of Sufi traditions, employ to feel the presence and remembrance of Allah. In Aceh today, Saman dance is a proud cultural heritage. Both female and male dancers practice the form, though separately.”
“In the past decade, Saman dance has become highly popularized in Indonesia, as well as internationally, for its unique choreography and the feeling of camaraderie that the dance generates among the dancers. Most high schools in Jakarta have Saman dance teams as an afterschool extracurricular activity. Furthermore, many regional and national competitions are held, and the winning teams are sometimes sent abroad for a tour. Today, Saman dance is not only a cultural expression of Aceh; the dance has transgressed the ethnic and regional boundaries among Indonesians, as it is practiced widely by those who do not share ethnic or cultural heritages with the Acehnese. In recent years, the dance seems to be on its way towards becoming a cultural expression not just for the Acehnese but for all Indonesians. There have been a number of Saman dance groups formed by Indonesian students abroad. In such cases, Saman dance is performed as an Indonesian cultural expression. In fact, Wesleyan has had a group of students, comprised of both Indonesians and non-Indonesians, who participated in Saman dance practice on campus over the last several years.”
“The University of Syiah Kuala is one of the largest universities in Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh Province. The dancers of the Syiah Kuala troupe have studied several forms of Acehnese dance since their childhood. The troupe has performed domestically and internationally. As part of the Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan program, the dancers will be in residency at Wesleyan for several days, hosting workshops and engaging in other activities with students and the Wesleyan community. One of the most exciting aspects of hosting this troupe is that the dancers are relatively close in age with our students. We hope that Wesleyan students and dancers will engage with each other at a personal level, deepening cultural understanding through informal and meaningful interactions.”
CFA Arts Administration Intern and DanceLink Fellow Chloe Jones ’15 talks to dancer Lucy M. May of Compagnie Marie Chouinard about their upcoming performances at Wesleyan on Friday, February 6 and Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 8pm.
I close the heavy door softly behind me and cautiously step forward into the dark theater. On stage a woman rehearses a solo. She is tall and slender and dances with startling grace. Her long limbs slice through the space, she stops suddenly, pirouettes. With each movement she communicates something—her whole body speaking, from her gesturing hands to her quick feet. She is fierce and beautiful, every cell of her body alive and articulate.
I have come to Hanover, New Hampshire as a Wesleyan DanceLink Fellow to see Montréal’s Compagnie Marie Chouinard perform, and I have just walked into dress rehearsal. When the dance finishes, the lights come up in the theater and the company members gather on stage. They go over a few notes with the rehearsal director before heading back to their hotel to prepare for the night’s show. I can hardly wait for them to take the stage again.
Described by The New York Times as “a hurricane of unbridled imaginativeness,” Compagnie Marie Chouinard was founded by choreographer Marie Chouinard in 1990. Today the company tours all over the world.
The company first came to Wesleyan in September 2008 to perform the United States premiere of Orpheus and Eurydice. This weekend, they return to campus with the New England premiere of Gymnopédies (2013) and the Connecticut premiere of Henri Michaux: Mouvements (2005-2011).
Set to music by French composer and pianist Érik Satie, Gymnopédies began as an exploration of the duet form. “She knew she wanted to work with these erotic duets between two dancers,” says company member Lucy M. May. “That was really the first thing we did in the studio: improvise two-by-two, different couples.”
In the process of creating the work, Ms. Chouinard decided she wanted each dancer to learn Mr. Satie’s Gymnopédies and play it on the piano as part of the performance. Many of the dancers had never played the piano, but gradually, with lessons and practice, they all learned. In the finished work, the dancers take turns at the piano bench, their live music adding to the work’s curious sensuality.
Henri Michaux: Mouvements began in 1980 when Ms. Chouinard came upon the book Mouvements (1951) by Belgian writer and artist Henri Michaux (1899-1984). Inspired by the book’s abstract ink drawings and 15-page poem, Ms. Chouinard decided to use it as a choreographic score.
“She brought all of the images into the studio,” says Ms. May. “We had photo copies of all the drawings, and some of them were hanging on clotheslines and others were in big piles of paper all around the place, and we spent a really intensive two weeks making all sorts of different compositions. We were exploring all the possibilities of what we were seeing.”
This literal translation of image into movement is augmented by costumes and set. Clothed head-to-toe in black, the dancers perform on a white floor against a white backdrop so that the stage becomes the book.
Mouvements was one of the works I saw performed at Dartmouth this past September. I was blown away. The dancers’ ability to recreate the ink drawings with their bodies is truly amazing—a dazzling exactitude.
“There’s a balance between a high level of demand—of precision and detail and rigor—and then this amazing amount of freedom,” says Ms. May of Ms. Chouinard’s work.
Indeed Ms. Chouinard’s choreography strikes me as simultaneously precise and reckless, raw, free. The dancers move with extreme clarity—so much of the choreography impossibly intricate, detailed, and fast—yet there is something of abandon in their performance, something intensely wild.
As I watched the performance that evening at Dartmouth, I was riveted by each dancer, each movement, each moment. My eyes did not drift once from the stage. My mind never wandered. I found myself fully immersed in the world of each dance.
They are strange worlds, exciting and new and daring.
Wesleyan University is a center for creativity and innovation, and one of the best places for our community to come together to participate in that energy is at the Center for the Arts. Our year-long exploration of Muslim Women’s Voices in performance continues on February 27 with a rare opportunity to see a dance company coming to Middletown from the northernmost tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. The dances of Tari Aceh! feature quick, highly-coordinated movements of hands, heads, and torsos, punctuated by lively body percussion. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And on April 17 and 18, you can get a first look at a theatrical work-in-progress by playwright and actress Leila Buck ’99 that was commissioned for Muslim Women’s Voices.
In April and May, we present “The Connecticut Meets the Nile,” a two-part happening that will highlight two great rivers. On April 10, Crowell Concert Hall hosts The Nile Project, an all-star gathering of musicians who live in the countries that border the Nile River and have come together to create music that draws attention to the environmental issues of a historic river that sustains millions of people. Then on May 9, at Middletown’s Harbor Park, Wesleyan and regional partner organizations present Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter, an afternoon of music performances, visual art, and kid’s activities that will engage our community with our own beautiful river.
And throughout the winter and spring, you can put your finger on the pulse of what’s inspiring our newest artists by visiting the Senior Thesis Exhibitions in Zilkha Gallery, or by attending thesis performances by music, dance, and theater students performed throughout the CFA.
A panel discussion exploring indigenous Ukrainian perspectives of Crimea post Russian-invasion took place on Friday, October 24, 2014, at Fayerweather Beckham Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
The Planet Hip Hop Festival featured an evening concert 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. Photos from the evening concert on Saturday, September 20, 2014, at Fayerweather Beckham Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.