Fall events include U.S. & New England Premieres, Navaratri Festival, Lucier Celebration

Center for the Arts Fall 2011At a time when so many of us are turning to YouTube to see performances by our favorite artists, we can lose sight of what it’s like to experience live performance. This fall, the Center for the Arts offers you a wide range of performances and exhibitions that will connect you with some of the brightest minds in contemporary art-making, transport you to foreign lands, and inspire you to think about the world in new ways—and the performers will never be more than 69 feet away!

We recognize that it has become increasingly difficult to classify a work as strictly music, dance, theater, visual art, or film as more artists are blurring the boundaries among disciplines. So we have merged our visiting artist performances into a single Performing Arts Series. We hope this will lead you to cross the boundaries of your own comfort zone and discover new artists and art forms.

Highlights of the fall season include the American premiere of the ground-breaking Italian movement theater collective Dewey Dell and the return of Philadelphia’s Rennie Harris Puremovement, that has been a trailblazer in taking hip hop forms from the street to the concert stage for nearly twenty years. We’ll also host two New England premieres: the astoundingly brilliant throat-singers and musicians from Inner Mongolia, AnDa Union and, continuing our collaboration with the College of the Environment, we’ll welcome Water is Rising, a breathtaking performance by a group of 35 dancers and musicians from the Pacific Island atolls, the first islands predicted to be submerged due to climate change. In November, the Music Department and CFA join forces to celebrate Alvin Lucier, internationally renowned composer who has just retired after serving on our faculty for four decades. Alvin Lucier: A Celebration features a major symposium, concert series, film screenings and an exhibition curated by Andrea Miller-Keller.

With performances and exhibitions by visiting artists, students and faculty, there is an extraordinary amount of good work to see at Wesleyan this fall, with 60% offered free to the public or at ticket prices that make us one of the most affordable venues in the state. Tickets are on sale now online. Starting at 10am on Tuesday, August 16, you can call or visit the Wesleyan University Box Office at 860-685-3355 to receive a 10% discount on your purchase of four or more Performing Arts Series events (and if you buy six or more “Performing Arts Series” events, you’ll save 15%!) Starting August 16, you will also be able to buy subscription packages for both the 35th annual Navaratri Festival (a 15% savings) as well as the Alvin Lucier Celebration (a 25% savings!)

Please join us. We appreciate that you believe, as we do, in the power of the arts to add meaning to our lives and to remind us of the capacity of the human spirit. Thanks for making Wesleyan’s CFA your center for the arts.

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts

Navaratri Festival 2010

CFA Intern Lucy Strother talks with Professor B. Balasubrahmaniyan (Balu) about this week’s Navaratri Festival.

Tomorrow kicks off the 34th annual Navaratri Festival, celebrating the music and dance of India here at Wesleyan! Five days of performances (Wednesday, October 27 through Sunday, October 31) will offer audiences a wide range of events: concerts by distinguished musicians, dance showcases, a lecture by Wesleyan professors and a traditional Hindu ceremony. I spoke with Wesleyan professor and Navaratri organizer B. Balasubrahmaniyan (better known as Balu) about some of the upcoming festival highlights.

A unique aspect of Navaratri is its ability to integrate the past and present in its celebration of the rich historical traditions of music and dance in India, along with its promotion of important performers in India’s contemporary arts scene. Thursday night features a concert by sisters Ranjani and Gayatri, both widely acclaimed singers and violinists. Balu expressed his excitement for this concert, saying: “They have reached a very high caliber of musicianship in a short period and they are visiting Wesleyan for the first time.” Their performances are known for vitality and emotion and often incorporate an element of playful sibling rivalry that I am excited to witness in action!

Another highlight of Navaratri is sure to be when internationally renowned tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain performs with sitarist Niladri Kumar Saturday night. Balu emphasized Zakir’s superstar status and his amazing ability to connect Indian music with music of other cultures and genres: “He is a top ranking, international artist and has worked with many Indian and non-Indian performers.” It is so thrilling to get the opportunity to see brilliant, world famous artists like Zakir here on campus.

People interested in taking a more active role in the festivities should attend the Natya Mela Dance Party/Showcase or the Saraswati Puja ceremony. Balu shared with me the meaning of Saraswati Puja, saying that the ceremony is dedicated to “offering our respects to the goddess of knowledge, music, and the arts. Students place their books and musicians place their musical instruments in front of the idol or picture of the goddess and get blessings. Anyone can participate and can bring their instruments and books in order to receive blessings.” This event is recommended for seniors who are writing a thesis…

Not only is Balu a major contributor in organizing and promoting Navaratri, he is also featured as a soloist on the concert line up. David Nelson, mridangam, and K.V.S. Vinay, violin, will join Balu Friday night for a concert that should not be missed!

The Full Lineup:
Colloquium–Weaving Sound and Image: Integrating Bharata Natyam and Carnatic Music,
B. Balasubrahmaniyan and Hari Krishnan
Wednesday, October 27, 4:15pm
CFA Hall 
Free admission
Ranjani and Gayatri: Carnatic Music of South India
Thursday, October 28, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Tickets: $15 A, $12 B, $6 C
B. Balasubrahmaniyan: Vocal Music of South India
Friday, October 29, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Tickets: $12 A, $10 B, $6 C
Natya Mela
(Indian Dance Party/Showcase)
Saturday, October 30, 2pm
World Music Hall
Free Admission
Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar
Saturday, October 30 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Tickets: $28, $23 B, $8 C

Saraswati Puja (Hindu Ceremony)
Sunday, October 31, 11am
World Music Hall
Free admission

PRICE KEY: $A General; $B Seniors, Wesleyan Faculty & Staff, Non-Wesleyan Students; $C Wesleyan Students

Be Transported: The 2009 Navaratri Festival

I graduated from Wesleyan in 1984 and, while a student here, attended a Navaratri performance of South Indian vocal music by T. Viswanathan. I was completely seduced by the rhythms, the soaring heights and the visceral lows of his voice. I felt that in one evening I was transported out of my student existence into a culture that was new to me–one where both the pleasures of deep listening as a means to spiritual transcendence and the virtuosic capacity of the human voice were celebrated. Viswa founded the Indian music program at Wesleyan, and I had the great pleasure of working with him in my early years as CFA director (Viswa died in 2002). He taught me so much about his music, his negotiating skills, and his belief that this festival should annually give people on our campus and in our community an opportunity to see some of the finest Indian musicians and dancers working today.

Music faculty members B. Balasubrahmaniyan (Balu) and David Nelson (on mridangam) will open the Festival on Thursday night. I spoke with Balu in between classes today and he told me that in 1990 he was one of only eight students selected to learn Viswa’s family tradition in a six-month workshop in Chennai. Seizing on Balu’s talents, Viswa regularly invited Balu to perform with him on tours in India. Balu now leads our South Indian vocal program at Wesleyan. He has a truly “extra” ordinary voice — sometimes when I close my eyes, I think I’m hearing Viswa.

Friday night brings North Indian music on the sarod, a beautiful guitar-like instrument, performed by rising star Alam Khan. Alam is the twenty-seven year old son of the legendary Ali Akbar Khan, who was widely recognized as one of the leading musicians to introduce Indian music to the West. On Saturday, you can attend free workshops in South Indian dance and in ghatam, a clay pot instrument with a rich, distinctive sound. Also, Avon, Connecticut resident and filmmaker Gita Desai will show excerpts of her new film Raga Unveiled, giving audiences a fascinating window into the world of North Indian Hindustani music. And on Saturday night, the CFA welcomes Karnatak music giant Kadri Golpanath, one of the few players of this tradition on the saxophone. “It’s extraordinary how he is able to play the nuances of this music on a keyed instrument,” Balu said. “He has led a whole generation of musicians who are attempting to play this traditional music on new instruments. We are lucky to have him.”

Finally, on Sunday, A.V. Srinivasan, a great friend of the CFA’s, will lead a Hindu Puja, a religious service celebrating the victory of good over evil, followed by a performance of a work entitled “TriShakti” by Chicago’s acclaimed Natya Dance Theatre, a young vibrant group of classical dancers that are some of the best practitioners of Bharata Natyam working in our country today. I had the pleasure of seeing them in New York and I was taken by their energy, their beguiling facial expressions and the joy in their dance.

So please join us for this year’s Navaratri Festival. You will be transported.

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts