West African Drumming and Dance, May 6

Watch this short video of a rehearsal for the West African Drumming and Dance

Rehearsal: West African Drumming and Dance 5/3/11

Don’t miss this invigorating performance, filled with the rhythms of West Africa! Drumming and dance students (and guest artists) will perform under the direction of Abraham Adzenyah and choreographer Iddi Saaka on Friday, May 6, 2011 at 3pm in the 
CFA Courtyard 
(rain location: Crowell Concert Hall). 
Free admission.

Spring Dance Concert April 29 and 30

A preview of “Spring Dance Concert: Future Reflections” by Allison Hurd ’11.

Spring Dance Concert: Future Reflections
Spring Dance Concert: Future Reflections

This Friday and Saturday at 8pm, in the Patricelli ’92 Theater, six sophomores (Matt Carney, Kate Finley, Lindsay Kosasa, Kelsey Siegel, Elisa Waugh, and Emily Wolcott) will premiere the first choreographic works that they have made as dance majors.  Their pieces are the result of semester-long choreographic processes, which have occurred in conjunction with the Dance Composition course taught by Katja Kolcio.  I happen to be one of the two stage managers for this performance, and throughout the week, I’ve been confronted with memories of myself presenting the first piece I made as a dance major in the 2009 Spring Dance Concert.  Although each choreographer’s experience in the course and throughout the creative process is different, I thought that reflecting upon my own experience might provide some insight into the investigative journey that sophomore dance majors embark upon as they prepare for the Spring Dance Concert, which, this year, is entitled “Future Reflections.”

Perhaps, the most exciting thing, for me, about choreographing for this concert was that it was the first time in which I had to come in confrontation with myself as an artist and consciously think about why I chose dance as my artistic medium; what most interested me about movement; what I was striving to work on; and what I might consider to be my artistic strengths and weaknesses.  In class, Katja helped us address these questions by encouraging us to ask ourselves, “Where do I believe dance originates from?”  To my mind, this prompting really allowed me to begin using movement in a way that felt not only important, but necessary.  I began learning that the maintenance of a strong commitment to one’s central artistic aim was that which would allow the dance to emerge.

In class, we also developed skills that helped us assume leadership roles in our rehearsals as we brought our dancers through the choreographic process.  I feel that this aspect of the class was absolutely essential to my piece because it allowed my dancers to trust me, thereby, allowing them to trust in what they were doing on stage.  Katja additionally taught us a number of compositional activities to generate movement.  I think my favorite class activity was that which called upon us to take turns acting as the choreographer and making a short dance for the other students in just ten minutes.  Based upon my experience, this exercise resulted in a wonderful sense of creativity induced by adrenaline and the need to work quickly.  When acting as the choreographer, the delightful surprise of the creation illuminated the human capacity to make artistic decisions and execute them well, even when under constraint.

All of these elements were fundamental to the work that I premiered in the Spring Dance Concert and they undoubtedly formed the foundation of my artistic practice today.  As I have helped this year’s sophomore choreographers complete their artistic visions with the added components of staging and lighting (beautifully designed by Ross Firestone ‘12), I feel that they all have created great stepping-stones from which to jump off into their next choreographic endeavors.  Thus, I sincerely hope that you come to the performance this Friday or Saturday and take part in the commencement of what are sure to be six wonderful artistic journeys.

Spring Dance Concert: “Future Reflections
Friday, April 29 & Saturday, April 30, 8pm
Patricelli ’92 Theater
$4 Wesleyan students, $5 all others

“The Narcoleptic Countess” on Friday and Saturday

A preview of the Spring Faculty Dance Concert by Allison Hurd ’11.

This Friday and Saturday, Patricia Beaman’s Repertory and Performance class will premiere the result of its semester-long choreographic process, “The Narcoleptic Countess” at 8pm in Wesleyan University’s CFA Theater.  Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to talk with Patricia and two students in the class about the piece and the experience of its making.  Their discourse informed the content of this post and allowed me to enter into the creative process.

During my conversation with Patricia, Nik Owens ’12 and Christina Burkot ’11, the questions that I asked were primarily driven by my fascination with the idea that eighteen students have spent the semester immersing themselves in the technique and tradition of Baroque dance.  While I have seen Patricia perform a Baroque ballet every year in the Faculty Dance Concert, this is the first time, in my four years at Wesleyan, that students have also taken part in this art form. Based upon my understanding of the Baroque technique, it seems that it requires the embodiment of a different time and place, which, in many respects, are far outside the scope of our current reality. Performing at such a level would be difficult for any dancer.  Thus, I think it is particularly remarkable that this class has brought together a group of students, of varying levels of dance experience, into a full-length production. No one in the class had been exposed to Baroque dance before and many were also new to ballet (its stylistic descendent), but my impression is that each student’s engagement with the material honored his or her distinct movement history.  Speaking towards this point, Patricia said, “Humor helps.”

After asking Patricia about her primary inspiration in writing the ballet’s synopsis, she answered, “Based on my years of Baroque dance, in general, it’s not always that funny.  It’s always about love and betrayal and mistaken identities, but humor is not always the predominant element.  So, I was inspired by the plays of Moliére, which all had fantastic music and dance; there was no difference between a unit of dance music and play-acting.  And they’re just so funny. So, that’s what I embarked upon in the making of this Baroque ballet.”

Thus, “The Narcoleptic Countess,” is a ballet of love and lust in a sleepy French chateau, filled with mistaken identities, a ghost, and gender switching.  Reflecting upon her experience of playing a man’s role and the development of her character, Christina mentioned, “Well, it’s definitely been new to be a man.  It’s been helpful observing the other guys in our class and trying to imitate them.  Patricia also sent me a link of one of the premiere Baroque dancers doing a variation and I’ve tried to copy his style. Nik inspires me too.”  Nik expanded upon Christina’s statement by remarking, “The idea of the character helped us all know how to carry ourselves. I definitely think that learning the Baroque technique around the character helped me pick it up more easily.”

As I brought our conversation to a close, I asked Patricia what she hopes the audience will experience as they watch the ballet, and she responded, “I want to take people away from this time of computers and cell phones and texting and yelping and twittering and have them go back to a more atavistic time.  And they’ll walk out of here, hopefully, feeling uplifted.”

So, I encourage you to come to the CFA Theater this weekend and allow yourself to be taken away, for a little while, by the costumes (that the students helped construct!), the staging, the music, and, above all, the performances of your peers.

Spring Faculty Dance Concert
“The Narcoleptic Countess”
Friday, April 22 & Saturday, April 23, 8pm
CFA Theater
$6 Wesleyan student, $8 all others

Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration: Fascinating! Her Resilience

Gina Ulysse, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University, and composer/turntablist Val-Inc invite you to attend the free Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall:

Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration on YouTube

Gina and Val will perform “Fascinating! Her Resilience” about the significance of the word “resilience” in relation to the different narratives about Haiti in the post-earthquake cultural environment.

The celebration will also feature students and faculty participating in the College of the Environment‘s inaugural think-tank on the topic “Vulnerability of Social, Economic and Natural Systems to Environmental Stress”. College of the Environment Director Barry Chernoff will introduce reports by Jeremy Isard (College of Social Studies), Dana Royer (Earth and Environmental Sciences), Phoebe Stonebraker (Biology) and Gary Yohe (Economics).

There will also be a performance of an excerpt of Dear Mother Earth: An Environmental Oratorio by composer Glenn McClure.

Spotlight on Cheryl Tan ’11

An interview with Cheryl Tan ’11 by Sarah Wolfe ‘12.

The Old Maid and the Thief
The Old Maid and the Thief

Cheryl Tan, a senior music and theater major, will present her senior project The Old Maid and the Thief by Gian Carlo Menotti on Sunday, April 10 at 7pm in Crowell Concert Hall. I sat down with Tan, who plays Laetitia, to discuss the performance and her process. The opera, one in a series of one-act operas composed by Menotti in the middle of the twentieth century, follows the tradition of radio opera. Tan produced the piece more as staged reading than as a traditional opera.

The story takes place in the home of two women: the old maid Miss Todd (Meghan Twible ’12) and her serving maid, Laetitia (Cheryl Tan ’11). They are visited by a beggar, Bob (Matthew Getz ’14) who requests food, “and they let him stay because they’re lonely and sad,” as Tan summarizes.  Worrying that Bob may be a recently escaped fugitive from a few towns over, they nonetheless allow him to stay in their house in order stave off their loneliness. In order to keep him there, they begin to steal from other townspeople. “It’s really about a bunch of awful people being awful to each other, which is great,” quips Tan.

Chelsea Goldsmith ‘13, rounds out the cast by playing the neighbor, Miss Pinkerton. Tan chose this particular Menotti opera because it asks for a small cast.  Originally drawn to the Italian American composer through a challenging aria she encountered, Tan decided early on that she did not want to perform a solo recital. Opera has not been one of Tan’s focal points in her time at Wesleyan, but is the culmination of her work with Voice Teacher Priscilla Gale, who specializes in the operatic style. “I’ve done a lot of musical theater, jazz, theater and taiko,” says Tan, “[but] I’ve been with [Priscilla Gale] for three years, and she’s really made my voice into what it is today. The great thing about this for me right now is that I’m singing every day. Which means everything’s getting stronger, and that’s really exciting.”

The Old Maid and the Thief offers the chance to experience a memorable performance. Sung in English, the cast features four excellent Wesleyan singers, as well as Andrew Chung ’11 on the piano. “Going to be great,” ends Tan, “Going to be so good.”

“The Old Maid and the Thiefwill be presented in Crowell Concert Hall on Sunday April 10 at 7pm. Admission is free.

Spotlight on Samantha Joy Pearlman ’11

An interview with Samantha Joy Pearlman ’11 by Sarah Wolfe ‘12.

Devotedly Sincerely Yours
Devotedly Sincerely Yours

This Thursday, April 7 and Friday, April 8, the Center for the Arts will travel back to World War II to experience the life of an American woman who participated in the USO Camp Shows. The solo performance, titled Devotedly, Sincerely Yours: The Story of the USO, counts as the creative component for Samantha Pearlman’s senior thesis in the Theater Department. Sitting down with Pearlman last week, we discussed how she came to this topic, the history of the United Service Organizations (USO) Camp Shows, Inc., and the process involved in putting on a show at Wesleyan.

The story follows the style of the USO’s radio broadcasts, which featured Hollywood stars like Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Bob Hope singing to American soldiers all over the world, as well as telling jokes and humorous anecdotes. Pearlman’s character and the host for Devotedly, Sincerely Yours is based on the career of Louise Buckley as a USO entertainer.   Pearlman came across the character through a letter Buckley wrote describing her experience as an entertainer.  Pearlman describes the find as, “an 8 page, single spaced letter, one of the most beautiful letters I’ve ever read, and she just poured her heart out about her experience overseas and what it was like living there. A lot of the text of my show is taken from the letter.”

Pearlman also draws on a variety of sources for the text of the performance, inspired by the work of playwright Charles Mee, who wrote Big Love, which Pearlman acted in her freshman year.  She comments that, “he works in collage and assemblage… I always kind of wanted to do something like that, and so this project for me was my chance to get my feet wet in creating some kind of piece of musical theater, and then also taking all the tools I’ve learned as an actress here.” Pearlman took Professor Ron Jenkin’s “Solo Performance” theater class which granted her the skills to create and star in this one-woman theatrical event.

Due to Pearlman’s strong musical background, she was able to challenge herself through this performance by utilizing her voice and musical theater abilities to express the broad range of emotions needed for a powerful show. The songs chosen come from wartime periods between 1915 and 1945.  She found these after long searches through the Music Division of the New York Public Library, Olin Library, and eBay purchases from “people who are auctioning off what’s in grandma’s attic, and have no idea what they have.”  Sorting through approximately 300 songs, she managed to narrow the numbers down to eight that will be performed as a part of Louise’s story.

It was easy to see Pearlman’s enthusiasm and love for the project while she spoke about the process. She spoke with exceptional ardor about the music, stating that it was the part of the performance she most looks forward to. She’s been working with senior Ian Coss, a banjo player, who Pearlman describes as an “amazingly talented, unbelievably dedicated music student”, and they have met together since last semester to compile and arrange the music for the performance. The show includes an eight piece, all-male band.  Each of the men in the ensemble play a soldier who might be watching and experiencing the performance. “I remember, the first band rehearsal [when] they played the opening fanfare of the show . . . I literally was just beaming, I couldn’t believe that this was happening.”

Pearlman, eager to share her work states, “I’m excited to have the opportunity to present my work and have a lot of fun with it, and hopefully make people think about American identity, American wars, and especially about being an American woman.” The show presents American culture and history through an artistic form that will present enthusiastic Wesleyan students.  Not to be missed, Devotedly, Sincerely Yours represents the end of Pearlman’s career at Wesleyan, but a stunning ode to what the time at Wesleyan can allow a student to create.

“Devotedly, Sincerely Yours” plays April 7 and 8 in the CFA Theater at 8pm. Admission is free, but tickets are required. There is a two ticket limit per person. Tickets are available on the day of each performance at the box office, located in the Usdan University Center, 45 Wyllys Avenue, or by calling (860) 685-3355.

The other ensemble members include Ian Coss ’11, Jack Gallagher ’12, William Frakner ‘14, Jacob Hiss ‘13, Myles Potters ‘12, Owen Callahan ‘12, Issac Silk ‘14, Daniel Moakley ‘13, and Zachary Rosen ‘11. “Devotedly, Sincerely Yours” is also inspired by, or takes texts from, Louise Buckley, Grace Drysdale, Maxine Andrews, Ann Miller, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Arch Oboler, Robert B. Westbrook, Tampax Incorporated, Woman Power Campaigns, the National Center for PTSD, Four Jills and a Jeep, the USO Camp Show Inc. “Guide to the Foxhole Circuit,” Command Performance, Mail Call, BBC Radio Broadcasts, and the USO Camp Show Inc. Publicity Records (1941-1945), among others.