Don’t Hide the Madness: An Antithology

An interview with Morgan Hill ’14 by Shira Engel ‘14.

On May 3, the day after Mike Rosen’s senior project was performed in Memorial Chapel, I just knew that I had to interview a member of this group he put together. Morgan Hill, a willing member of the Om Collective, sat down to talk to me about the process of putting together this synchronous, multifaceted, and interdisciplinary project.

The Om Collective, Morgan says, is “an excuse to hang out and do pretty things. It’s an integration of artists from [creative campus icons like] Mad Wow, Wordsmith, weSLAM, which means dancers, poets, emcees, drummers, singers, horn players, guitarists, DJs, and sound engineers. I am honored to be included as a freshman in this group of people who decided to do performance art in a way we hadn’t seen done.”

Don’t Hide the Madness followed the framework of a spoken word performance, but strayed suitably. It was appropriately done in Memorial Chapel, where the Night Kite Revival performed earlier this year.

It all started with a vague idea. Mike contacted a group of artists on campus that he felt were right for the mission of the project. They met at his house one late night at the beginning of the semester to discuss how their diverse talents and styles might come together. Of the collaborative process, Morgan says, “There are a lot of different interests among the members and with those different interests, we can say something new about pop culture, poetry, and art. We can perform spoken word for what it is, showing it is just as legitimate an expression as anything else. The point was to experience the Self on entirely its own terms. We got to make art in the way we really wanted to make it.”

The intention of the performance, which combined spoken word, dance, singing, bass, and audience participation, had to do with Wesleyan as a creative campus, how it fosters art in a variety of forms and is part of a collective of universities pioneering a new one: poetry as performance art. Morgan explains that “slam is hyper-condensed into the past ten years.” It is fairly magical that Wesleyan can play such a huge role in cultivating an art, a means of self-expression and communal appreciation, that is still legitimizing itself.

I asked Morgan what it was like to integrate all these art forms. She responded, “We wanted to provide an explanation for what has been happening on this campus. We’re saying that this is something new that can be seen differently. This is where poetry can be right now; performance art as a denial of a formal structure is dangerous, but so cool, so cathartic.”

She continues with what I believe to be the perfect note to end this post on: “[At Wesleyan] you have so many people that are so talented in many different ways. Why wouldn’t you want to bring them together, all the time?”

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