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Jack Chelgren ’15 attended the Jay Hoggard Quartet concert as part of the 11th annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend, and reflects on his impressions.

Jay Hoggard. Photo courtesy of Santina Aldieri.

Last Saturday night, vibraphonist, composer, and Adjunct Professor of Music Jay Hoggard gave a concert that found Crowell Concert Hall more crowded than any performance I have been to all year.  The room was unambiguously packed, inundated with a healthy blend of students, families, friends, faculty, and a host of others scarcely connected to Wesleyan beyond their interest in the performance.  A student combo of musicians from the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra (which Mr. Hoggard directs) opened the show, playing faithful but lively renditions of standards by Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Jordan, and Sonny Rollins.  There was a short lull, and then Mr. Hoggard’s band took the stage, the man himself with a theatrical strut, sporting an ultramarine suit and a flashy silver vest.  Silence reigned after the initial applause had died down and the band readied its gear; you could hear people fidgeting in their seats as Mr. Hoggard took out his glasses case and slipped his spectacles inside.  Then he glanced up at the audience, as if just realizing we were there.  “Thank you, and goodnight,” he said flatly, and the ensuing chuckles broke the ice.

The group opened with “Swing Em Gates,” a bluesy, up-tempo chart Mr. Hoggard wrote for Lionel Hampton, one of the most significant voices in big band and an early pioneer of jazz vibraphone.  Mr. Hoggard shared the melody with Marty Ehrlich, who played soprano saxophone, and each member of the group improvised.  “Overview” followed, a slower, more expansive piece for which Mr. Ehrlich switched to bass clarinet and delivered one of his best solos of the night, a dextrous, well-crafted display that showcased his rich, vivid tone on the instrument.  The next song, “Joyful Swamp,” brought out harpist Brandee Younger and hand percussionist Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng, kicking off at a breakneck pace with a scurrying marimba and percussion intro before dropping into its slinky, meandering melody, again in the vibes and soprano.  This piece, Mr. Hoggard revealed, he wrote for another jazz great, the monumental drummer Max Roach.  Next came “Soular Power,” an off-kilter, lilting tune that smacked heavily of Dave Holland’s quintet work with vibraphonist Steve Nelson.  This, in turn, was followed by “You’re In My Heart All the Time,” a duet for piano and vibes and the most candidly gorgeous piece of the evening.  The song had a stunningly spontaneous quality, floating in the air like a cloud between the performers, who, though not rhythmically or melodically in sync with one another, played with an astounding understanding and singularity of purpose.  The subsequent medley “The Right Place / Lessons from My Dad” gamboled from a nostalgic, shimmering opening into a desolate solo by bassist Santi Debriano, whose hoarsely melancholic tone recalled the throatier, more progressive side of cellist Erik Friedlander, before giving way to yet another sinuous groove led by the soprano and vibes.  “Convergence of the Niles” closed the first half of the show, a driving McCoy Tyner-esque bop on which Mr. Hoggard let loose with a fiery solo, pulling farther and farther away from the stormy rhythmic and harmonic structures of the song without for a second coming unmoored.

The group was joined by one last guest for the shorter second half of the concert, saxophonist-composer and Professor of Music Anthony Braxton, who kicked off the song “Piety and Redemption” with a soprano sax solo of his own, lashing out flurries of thirty-second notes and blur-like glissandi. Mr. Hoggard then lead the group into the world premiere of his multi-part composition Sonic Hieroglyphs From Wood, Metal, and Skin, the title of which sounds like a cross between Sun Ra and a Fluxus score.  The group played only three of its four movements, beginning with the brightly optimistic “Let Me Make It Clear (We Need Nuclear Peace This Year)” before proceeding into “Live, Breath”—a serenely open piece with brooding and dissonant undertones which featured qigong artists performing onstage alongside the musicians—and then finally to “The Mutilation of Our Mother, Earth, by Perpetual War and DISPOSABLE CONSUMPTION,” a jaggedly collapsing tune à la Michael Formanek.

It was, in all, a highly memorable evening.  There were times when I wished the orchestration had been a little lighter—it could have been the room or where I sat in it, but the ensemble sound often felt rather cluttered and muddy.  I also noticed that communication among the musicians often seemed a little disjointed.  Mr. Hoggard would frequently look up to cue transitions or solos and have to struggle to get the rest of the band’s attention.  Yet the group held together nicely through these rough patches, in large part thanks to the indefatigable rhythm section of Yoron Israel, Mr. Debriano, and Mr. Obeng, giving a show at once through-provokingly erudite and fundamentally accessible.

To learn more about Jay Hoggard, visit his website.  Click here to watch him performing “Joyful Swamp.”

Sarah Wolfe ’12 reflects on “The Big Draw: Middletown”, a public art event hosted by the Friends of the Davison Art Center.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Friends of the Davison Art Center put together The Big Draw: Middletown this past Sunday. The event was intended to celebrate the art of drawing in its many forms and was a unique opportunity for drawers of all ages and skill levels to try their hand at different techniques for free!

Tableaux vivants. Image by Nam Anh Ta '12.

I had the pleasure of being a member of the student staff for the event. Tired and unhappy about the wet and dreary weather, I trudged over to the Davison Art Center Sunday morning to learn exactly what I would be doing. My attitude almost immediately improved as I watched about 15 Middletown High School students parade around the historic rooms of Davison dressed in costumes ranging from My Fair Lady to Pride and Prejudice to Kiss Me, Kate! That particular workshop, called “Tableaux Vivants” was organized by the students, who were members of the Middletown High School Art Club, provided an opportunity for participants to draw the costumed students in their historic setting.

I was placed at the Earth Day Collaborative Mural Project station. Stationed in the Art Workshops Lobby, I watched drawers aged 3 to 40 come and contribute a drawing of what they thought represented Earth Day on a huge piece of white paper on the wall. (“Go ahead, kids, you can actually draw on the walls today!”) The drawing skills ranged widely, as did the subject matter, the attention span, and the colors used. But by the end of the day, all of the staff was impressed by the beauty of what had been created with so many hands.

Earth Day Collaborative Mural Project. Image by Nam Anh Ta '12.

Nearby was the Scavenger Hunt, one of the activities that would have benefited from warmer, dryer weather. However, many families and students picked up a booklet to save for a later day. The hunt, entirely student designed, was a booklet of twelve different drawing challenges, ranging from: “Find a surface in nature with texture. What does it feel like? Make a rubbing of it by placing this page over and rubbing the side of your pencil on top” to “Draw a tree or a flower you see without looking at your page and without lifting your pencil.” Though there were some young boys who were disappointed with the lack of prizes involved with this particular scavenger hunt, most participants were excited to save it for a day they could do it outside.

Down the hall from where I was stationed was the Model Marathon, where supplies and a nude model were provided for participants to do some figure drawing. This was one of the most popular workshops in the event as it was a phenomenal opportunity for practice figure drawing without having to pay for a class.

These were only four of the ten workshops that were available for free to anyone who came and registered. Despite the grey weather, the turnout was good, and it was wonderful to see such a mix of Wesleyan students and outside community members participating in the joy of putting pencil/charcoal/marker to paper. There are plans to continue and grow the event, and I hope to see it become even more popular in the years to come.

The Wesleyan Theater Department is presenting Gertrude Stein’s “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights” this weekend. Ms. Stein’s play uses the traditional Faust story but departs to examine technology and industrialization as well as perceptions of the self. Earlier this week Sarah Wolfe ’12 sat down with cast member and Assistant Director Lily Haje ’13 to discuss the upcoming performance. The show opens this Thursday, April 26 and ends Saturday, April 28. 

Cast members of "Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights"

The Faust is a popular German legend that has been told most famously through Goethe’s “Faust” and Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.” Can you give me a brief description, in your own words, of both the original legend and what Gertrude Stein has done to it?

The traditional Faust story is about a human scholar who tries to make a pact with the devil to exchange his soul for either ultimate knowledge or ultimate power. The Stein story is rather different. Instead of beginning with the moment of the pact, as the Goethe and the Marlowe do, she begins at the moment of collection. We don’t actually see Faustus make the pact with the devil. Also, rather than exchanging his soul for knowledge or power, this Faustus exchanges his soul for the ability to create electric light. Ms. Stein had been living in the U.S. when electricity had first come into common usage. She then moved to Paris, back to a place where they did not have universal electricity, and re-experienced the introduction of electricity and wrote this play. There’s a lot in it about the process of industrialization and man’s relationship to nature and man’s relationship to himself and to religion.

There is another character in Ms. Stein’s play named Marguerite Ida and Helena Annabel. She exists outside of Faust’s urban, industrial, technical world, and she is both four women and one woman. The way we have her in the play she’s sometimes one, sometimes four, sometimes two, and sometimes five women. This brings up this idea that the play grapples with: what is the self and how are identities both singular and multiple.

The play is less about characters in a traditional realist sense than it is about the language, which is beautiful. There are very few words in the play that have more than two syllables. It’s very simple, very much everyday language that then is constructed in completely bizarre and wonderful ways. For example:

I am I and my name is Marguerite Ida and Helena Annabel, and then oh then I could yes I could I could begin to cry by why why could I begin to cry.

And I am I and I am here and how do I know how wild the wild world is how wild the wild woods are…

How has Wesleyan adapted Gertrude Stein’s intentions for this play?

What Ms. Stein was writing about was the newest kind of technology. For her, electric light, which we take for granted now, was a completely innovative thing which opens up the world of what light is like. So we’ve been trying to take a similar approach to the show in terms of thinking about what is technology now. So we have lots and lots of lights, doing all kinds of crazy things. And we have a lot of projections, which is the most exciting new technology in theater that is still connected to light. It is all light, it is just a very different way of using light.

Furthermore, a lot of the production is not trying to hide what is not real. We have actors operating puppets, we have actors operating flashlights to operate the puppets. All of the masking goes away and you can see actors sitting on the side of the stage. All of the lighting instruments are visible. It’s very much about creating a theatrical event that is consciously a theatrical event. We have many people playing many different characters. With the exception of Mephisto [the devil], who is played by the same two people for the duration of the piece, pretty much every character gets played by multiple people, often at the same time. So it isn’t just Marguerite who is one and four and two and five, but Faust is also played by almost all of the men in the cast at one point or another. There are often two Fausts on stage at the same time.

The Theater Department has branched out in terms of design for this project. Designing sound is Demetrio Castellucci, of Dewey Dell. Designing lights is Ji-Youn Chang, a graduate of Yale School of Drama who previously collaborated with the Theater Department on The Tragedy of Richard III. Can you describe the experience and challenges of working with designers who were spread across the globe?

One of the things that’s both been cool and challenging about the process is that it is such a tech-heavy show. Demetrio only got in a week ago and Jiji was here a little before then. Everything that we’ve created has been videotaped and put on Dropbox so that Demetrio could be in London, seeing what we were doing and creating scores for it and same thing with Jiji and the lighting. It’s been fascinating to see how you can put a show together over huge distances. It has been a challenge given how much we interact with the lights and sound and projections, to not get those elements until very late, but now that we have them we’re working very intensely with them. 

What should the audience expect to take away from the show when they see it this weekend?

I think that it’s a show that benefits from watching it at face value first. Because it isn’t character driven in the traditional sense and because it isn’t plot driven in the traditional sense, I think the best way to watch it is without trying to make sense of it until it is over. There’s so much to look at and to hear and to engage with in it on its own terms before trying to analyze it. It does have a logic. It does make sense. But you kind of have to let it make sense instead of trying to make sense out of it.

Come see “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights” at the CFA Theater, from Thursday, April 26 to Saturday, April 28. The show starts at 8pm.

Wesleyan University’s Precision Dance Ensemble presents its annual dance show, “Chaka Pose: Khan Style” in the Memorial Chapel, located at 221 High Street in Middletown, at 8pm on Friday, April 20 and Saturday, April 21, 2012. Admission is free, tickets are not necessary.

In conjunction with the show, the public is invited to attend a dance workshop and learn some moves from the show. The free workshop will be in the Fayerweather Dance Room on Saturday, April 21, 2012 from 3pm to 4pm.

For more information, please email Precision Dance Ensemble co-director Cynthia Tong ’14 at ctong@wesleyan.edu.

Creative Campus music blogger Jack Chelgren ’15 reviews the headlining act of Zonker Harris Day 2012, Tanlines.

Photo courtesy of Wesleying.org

“You all have great smiles,” beamed Jesse Cohen, looking out over the crowd assembled in the WestCo courtyard.  Cohen, who is a percussionist and producer, is half of Tanlines, the Brooklyn electro-pop duo formed in 2008 with singer and guitarist Eric Emm.  Tanlines was the featured act of this year’s Zonker Harris Day, Wes students’ unofficial celebration of psychedelia and hippie-dom and one of the more historically controversial fixtures of WesFest weekend.  Fortunately, the band seemed to know what they’d gotten themselves into.  “We got an email warning us about this event,” Cohen smiled.  “Reminds me of how I spent four years of my own life.”  Cohen bantered playfully with the narcotized audience throughout the show, turning adjustments to the sound system into an open “comments section” with the audience, which in turn concluded that what the band really needed was “more denim” (both men wore dark blue jeans, and Emm was sporting a washed-out denim jacket as well).  Emm was the quieter of the pair and made only a few scattered remarks, including one rather awkward shout-out for Ray Bans.  Between songs, Cohen switched on a bizarre recording of wind chimes jangling in a breeze, perhaps to toy with or indulge the blissed-out spectators.

The band put on a good show, a fuzzy, sun-splotched crowd-pleaser replete with straightforward melodies and danceable percussion.  Tanlines peddle almost exclusively in major-key pop grinds, which they spice up sagaciously with mild syncopations, calypso polyrhythms, and samples of conga drums.  Cohen and Emm aren’t out to push the boundaries of songcraft and genre, and though they’re often billed as “experimental pop,” there’s nothing in their repertoire that would pull the average listener up short.  (Cohen has noted that Brothers, a single from their new album, Mixed Emotions, reminds him of a Bruce Springsteen song.)  This is music built on simple, conjunct melodies, well-crafted choruses, and the occasional steel drum synth, but most of all, it’s music built on rhythmic intensity; the secret to Tanlines’ success, hallucinogens aside, is tasteful, persistent repetition.

Particularly in the moment, however, certain aspects of the performance bothered me.  Though Emm’s rough and leathery voice proved just as compelling in person as on record, his pitch wavered throughout the show, particularly in the low end.  The audio mix also left a lot to be desired—from where I was standing, you could barely hear the guitar at all.  Most of all, I was struck by how little of the music seemed actually to have been performed onstage; more than once, I looked up at the stage and realized that, although a percussionist and a half’s worth of rhythm section was pounding away from the speakers, neither Cohen nor Emm was anywhere near a drum or drum pad.  The effect was even more comical later on, when Emm’s vocals were suddenly buttressed by a backup singer not present onstage (even though Cohen had a mic and took care of the backup vocals on other songs).  Especially in the moment, this irked me; I waxed indignant on behalf of musicians who actually subject themselves to the contingency of performing all of their music on the spot and without computerized assistance.  My mind drew parallels with the 2004 scandal when Ashley Simpson was caught lip-synching on Saturday Night Live.  I realize in retrospect, though, that the difference between Ashley Simpson and Tanlines (or rather, one among many) is that Tanlines made no attempt to conceal their tactics.  “We play a lot of stuff live, and a lot of time you can’t really tell which is real and which is fake,” Cohen told NPR.  “That’s sort of a thing that we like to play with” (see Tanlines: Grown-Up Problems, With A Beat, NPR Music).

I acknowledge that, in assailing Tanlines’ musicianship based on their generous use of samples, I’m representing a relatively conservative camp in the music world.  Maybe I’m wrong when I assert above that Tanlines aren’t out to challenge listeners and their preconceived notions about music; maybe they are innovating in precisely a way that I’m not prepared for: by shaking up the expectation that good musical performance is all about creation in the moment.

In the end, my criticisms may be too harsh.  As I watched the show and mulled over my reactions to it, I was reminded of an article I read a few months ago in The New Yorker, in which Sasha Frere-Jones mounts a lukewarm defense of Lana Del Rey.  “Del Rey is not likely to be good onstage,” Frere-Jones conceded, “but this puts her in the company of about fifty percent of recording artists.”  It’s a valid point.  On a list of qualities that constitute “good music,” perfectly riveting and errorless live performances might be lucky to make the top ten.  And Tanlines, I should grant them, made a far better than average display.  Perhaps they were just having an off day.  Or perhaps it was just me—everyone else I talked to found the show “fantastic,” “really cool,” and “awesome.”  In any case, Tanlines make an excellent listen on record and put on an exceptionally enjoyable live show, and that, when I think about it, is more than enough to ask for.

Be sure to check out footage of Tanlines performing longtime hit Real Life here at Wesleyan, as well as their remix of Au Revoir Simone’s Shadows.

Hannah Cressy ’13 continues her report on the service learning factor of Wesleyan’s inter-disciplinary course Ritual, Health, and Healing.

Photo by Marie Scarles.

Our “Ritual, Health, and Healing” class returned to Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Brooklyn this past Saturday to continue our conversations with community members and to do more historical research and neighborhood exploration.  We are focused on seeing and collecting (interviews, photo, film, trash, and more) and are planning to give our account to members of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg neighborhood in two weeks.  Our projects range from a short film to a waste transfer station walking tour, but all are meant to aid local grassroots organizations with their long-running goals of community awareness, communication, and activism.  The past two visits have greatly expanded our concepts of health and healing; both are intertwined with environmental conditions, politics, neighbor dynamics, educational equality, and simply feeling seen and heard in a city of 8 million.

David and Pat Dobosz, two local public school teachers, met with us again to have breakfast and taught us much more about educational reform in New York.  They spoke of the influx of charter schools and its effect on the economic, academic and emotional lives of local families.  Having met and married as public school teachers in their youth, they have been active for over forty years in the struggle for inclusive and equal public education for Brooklyn’s children.  Both David and Pat teach in buildings recently invaded by charter schools; they described the plunge in self-worth experienced by their students when charter school students receive better facilities and supplies than their public school.  Furthermore, we were surprised and upset to learn that charter schools generally do not accept students with Individual Education Plans, learning disabilities, and developmental disabilities, effectively reversing disability activists’ endless struggle for integrated classrooms.  David and Pat are active in the Grassroots Education Movement of New York and showed us much of their film, “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman”.

Photo by Marie Scarles.

A group of students especially interested in education equality continued the conversation with David and Pat while the rest of the class split into working groups to address other areas of interest, including garbage equity and environmental justice, neighborhood women’s histories, and archival research of the Greenpoint Hospital site which now houses St. Nick’s Alliance. The trash group, who is working with OUTRAGE, went on a tour of the neighborhood; they learned that many of the mini-dumps, plastic factories, and piles of trash they saw aren’t officially classified as waste transfer stations by the city, and thereby go unrecognized by outside environmental protection organizations.  In class on Monday, students recalled a baseball field above the Exxon Mobil oil spill, sandwiched between piles of street salt, discarded sheet metal, and plastic.  The group is collecting video and photos, and is working on a brochure to direct the public in a similar walking tour.

My group returned to the Brooklyn Public Library in the afternoon to continue poring over newspaper articles up to 100 years old detailing the long-running struggle to keep the Greenpoint Hospital open and in the hands of the community.  The area has a history of healthcare turmoil: we saw that current activism against insufficient and inequitable healthcare started long ago in Greenpoint-Williamsburg.   We hope that by presenting and recording our findings, we may provide further historical insight into the resilience and devotedness of the citizen-activists of the neighborhood.  In two weeks, we’ll return for a final weekend, where we will gather with many community members to celebrate the history of ideas, people, and place in Greenpoint-Williamsburg.  On that day, our professor Jill Sigman will also officially begin The Hut Project at St. Nick’s, in which she will build a hut out of found materials to serve “as a catalyst for local activities such as performance, video, artistic collaboration, and community dialogue”, as she has done in several other sites around the world.  We are all busily working on transcriptions, videos, posters, brochures, and websites, and are eager to share what we’ve learned with neighborhood residents on April 22, 2012. We hope this gathering of community members will be a step in healing a place that has faced years of struggle for health, education, unity and equality.

Wesleyan Theater Professor Ron Jenkins was invited to present a new work at a Harvard University conference on race, class, and education called Disrupting the Discourse: Discussing the “Undiscussable’’, sponsored by the Graduate School of Education’s Alumni of Color, March 2-3, 2012. The work by Jenkins, which was commissioned by the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan as part of Feet to the Fire: Fueling the Future and was presented as a reading at Wesleyan on September 28, 2011 under the working title Recylcing Pain, has been revised and retitled To See the Stars.

The play is based on interviews conducted with participants of Jenkins’ prison education program inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Department of Justice Report on the Federal Prison Industry’s electronic recycling program. The play serves as a reminder that the importance of conserving and recycling the human resources in our jails is no less important than the challenge of conserving and recycling the natural resources of the planet.

“The play is an outgrowth of my prison outreach class,” Jenkins described. “I was happy to present it for a conference at Harvard that focused on the issue of race in education, because the prison system is one of the most blatant examples of racial injustice in American society, and the course gives students a chance to learn about that system from the inside and do something to help change it. The title of the conference was “Discussing the Undiscussable”, and I think it was important for the students of color in my prison outreach class to be part of a national discussion about race that included formerly incarcerated women of color, whose voices are rarely heard in public discourse. In addition to performing and participating in the post-performance discussion, my students had a chance to listen to Harvard Professor Sara Lawrence Lightfoot’s eloquent keynote address on the challenges that higher education faces in regards to social justice.”

Amber Smith ’13, who took the prison outreach class last year, expressed her experience at the conference. “It’s hard to come from an affluent college and go into prison, but these are people who are just like us. We are all related to them, because we are all affected by the prison system and we have to do something to help.”

Amber Smith ‘14, Esi Quagrainie ‘14, and Alma Sanchez-Eppler ‘14 sang during the performance. The performers with them were Saundra Duncan, Lynda Gardner and Deborah Ranger, who also performed at Wesleyan for Recycling Pain.

To See the Stars was also invited to perform at Brown University on March 1 as part of Arts in the One World: A Life’s Work conference. The conference focused on best practices for art in the prison system.

A personal account by Shira Engel ’14 of “Ritual, Health, and Healing”, a course which is part of the Creative Campus initiative of the Center for the Arts.

Photo by Hailey Still.

“Ritual, Health, and Healing” is an interdisciplinary class that transcends disciplinary boundaries. It is cross-listed in Anthropology, Science in Society, and Dance. It is co-taught by Anthropology professor Gillian Goslinga and Artist in Residence Jill Sigman. Gillian Goslinga has an academic background in ethnographic research on ritual practices. Jill Sigman comes to Wesleyan from New York City, where she is a choreographer working in performance and installation, and directing her company jill sigman/thinkdance. She is currently engaged in her Hut Project. She also has a background in philosophy. The course is a true blend of the disciplines it is cross-listed in as well as the disciplines of the professors. As a student in the course, I find my mind being constantly expanded to think not in terms of a singular discipline, but to creatively combine them in ways that allows the material to sink in.

The course is divided into two segments. The first quarter of the semester, we learned about ritual, health, and healing and what these broad terms means to different cultures. This comprised the necessary theoretical component of the course that feeds into the service learning we are currently doing in Williamsburg-Greenpoint, Brooklyn (but I will let my lovely classmate Hannah elaborate on that in posts to come).

The course is also comprised of a three-hour seminar on Mondays and a movement lab on Tuesday evenings. On Monday, we discuss readings on the cultural and theoretical significance of ritual, health, and healing and on Tuesdays, we embody those readings and theories in movements that transcend the definition of dance.

Because we are constantly encouraged in this course to be self-reflexive, I will come out and say that I was attracted to this course in large part because on WesMaps, the description said that people without any dance experience are encouraged to apply. I do not consider myself a dancer and this course allows for a lack of labels. It allows for a blurring of the lines between disciplines, as well as a blurring of the lines between self-identified labels of artistic identity. After class, I talked to Jill Sigman about what makes this course creatively unique and she said, “This isn’t strictly a dance class. We may be using dance in the context of learning about other things, but there are people who are totally not here to learn to point their foot and that’s what makes it fascinating to me.”

This course shifts disciplinary boundaries in ways that make us – the students – uncomfortable, thrilled, challenged, self-reflexive, and on our toes. It challenges preconceptions of academic work, teaching us that it is inherently creative. Jill Sigman’s studio in Brooklyn is called “The Border.” In many ways, we exist on the border between disciplines, definitions of art, activism, and service in this course as we grapple with definitions of ritual, health, and healing. I am excited to see how these definitions will continue to unfold as we progress into the service learning, creatively translating the work we have done in the seminar and movement lab into practice, while realizing that all is part of the same process.

Hannah Cressy ’13 reflects on Ritual, Health and Healing, co-taught by Gillian Goslinga, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Science in Society, and Jill Sigman, Choreographer and Founder of ThinkDance.

Photo by Hailey Still '12.

Last Saturday, our Ritual, Health, and Healing class took our first trip into Brooklyn to begin the service learning aspect of the course.  The class is cross-listed in Anthropology, Dance, and Service Learning, and during the month of April, we meet three times per week: once for a classroom seminar, once in a dance studio, and once in St. Nick’s community center in the heart of Williamsburg.  We have been invited to participate in a project with the citizen-activists of Greenpoint-Williamsburg that mixes community building, archival, art, and oral history, and found on Saturday that these three weeks will undoubtedly be more influential for our own ideas of community, activism, citizenship, art and democracy than we’d thought possible.

We arrived very early Saturday morning to St. Nick’s Alliance, and entered a former hospital basement and homeless men’s shelter that is now filled with the brilliant paintings of local children.  We were introduced to community members who’d lived in Greenpoint-Williamsburg their entire lives, and a few who’d just moved into the area.  Much like many post-graduate Wesleyan students, they were just beginning to learn what it means to live in the neighborhood.

Photo by Hailey Still '12.

We went around the circle to introduce ourselves; even in these first moments, we heard everyday people begin to tell their stories, naming lists of organizations they’ve been involved in for ten, twenty, or thirty years.  Issues faced by the community seemed endless, but so did the people and grassroots organizations that have long worked to better the area’s social and environmental climate.  Personal histories arose of unfair housing situations, families plagued by the same disease, identification with toxic sites—but never a hint that anyone wanted to leave.  This is their home, and they will stay and fight to make it safe.  Other community issues that came up in open-circle discussion included environmental justice, in reaction to a high density of waste stations in the area, fairness in education, the struggle to unify across ethnic, racial and income boundaries, gentrification and rising housing costs, and the loss of a community feel due to modernization.

Photo by Hailey Still '12.

Smaller groups formed to address more specific issues with organizations such as GREC (Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation) and OUTRAGE (Organization United for Trash Reduction and Garbage Equity), while others took the opportunity to hold one-on-one conversations with community elders and longstanding citizen-activists from Greenpoint. Three students, including Haley Perkins ’13, Val Pucilowski ’13, and myself, will be conducting further archival research at the Brooklyn Library on the history of the Greenpoint Hospital complex that now houses St. Nick’s, affordable housing, and a smaller homeless shelter.  The use of the remaining unoccupied space is highly contested, and neighborhood activists are currently battling real estate developers to reclaim a building to be used for a much-needed affordable senior home.

In class on Monday, we discussed the most striking idea we’d heard on Saturday: we agreed, nearly unanimously, that Jan Peterson summarized the day’s most personal and influential message: wherever you live, you must be involved.  “You can’t just have brunch.”  Because we are in a community, we must give to it.  We should know our neighbors.  We are lucky to have the opportunity to join this community for the next few weeks in helping to preserve its spirit and connect its population while ourselves learning what it means to be a neighbor.

The Spring Senior Thesis Dance Concert will be on Thursday, April 5 through Saturday, April 7, 2012*, and will include new works by the senior dance majors. Come support the seniors and the culmination of all the incredible work that went into their theses. Katherine Clifford ’14 asks each performer about their individual theses.

Choreography by Naadu Bentsi-Enchill ’12, James Gardella ’12, Nik Owens ’12, and Hsiao-Tung Huang ’12 will be performed Thursday, April 5 through Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 8pm in the Patricelli ’92 Theater.

Left to right: Naadu Bentsi-Enchill, James Gardella, Nik Owens, Hsiao-Tung Huang, Elena Georgieva.

*Elena Georgieva’s Interactive Presentation Bridging Science and Dance will be on Friday, April 20, 2012 at 6pm in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Studio, 247 Pine Street.

Here’s what the seniors had to say about their theses:

Naadu-Bentsi-Enchill:

“My piece explores the different levels of existence as a person, body, and mover in space. It’s a very internal dance that concludes my movement research on audience perception and choreographer relationships.”

James Gardella:

“My thesis addresses the Yoga Sutras, which is the foundational text of the philosophy of yoga, one of six major schools of thought in Indian philosophy. I critique the Sutras’ assertion that mental stillness is a prerequisite to self-realization and freedom. In the fall I created still mystery, a site specific work performed by an ensemble of five dancers in the CFA lawn. Once the performance ended, viewers were left unexpectedly with a resounding quiet, the very thing my research rejected. My upcoming spring piece embraces the unknown and accepts stillness as a valid, and potential, state of being. I return to the theater to perform a deeply personal and also highly conceptual solo titled Indelible. Indelible may be viewed as a dance of reclamation, and/or a metaphor for the philosophy of yoga itself, as I yearn for freedom through movement.”

Nik Owens:

“I am interested in looking at how behavior is reflected through dance performance and translated to and by an audience. This thesis topic originates from an interest in and hyper-awareness of how I change my behavior to match whatever context I’m placed in. For example, when I’m with my friends I’m very energetic, charismatic, loud and funny, where as when I’m at work I’m more quiet, reserved, mature, and knowledgeable. Now I’m sure this is the case for a lot of people, but the extent to which I shift is considerably more drastic than others in my opinion. So I wanted to investigate this phenomena and I decided to use dance performance as a proxy.

Additionally, since the link between dance performance and behavior can be interpreted in so many different ways, I chose to look at this link through a pedagogical framework; meaning that I’m investigating how social mores and values are established and taught through dance performance and then later translated into behavioral patterns that are context specific. I’ve chosen three (really four) distinct areas of dance performance that vary from each other. The first is looking at Nigerian Yoruba and Cuban Santeria ritual dance performance, particularly their dances that praise their gods. The second is Vogue dance in the ballroom scene of Harlem, New York during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s and the role that vogue battles play in establishing social framework and hierarchy at the ballrooms. Lastly I will be looking at how Merce Cunningham and his use of chance procedures on the proscenium stage evoke new notions and behavioral relationships with modern dance amongst the audience members that have watched his work.

For the final chapter of my thesis I will investigate my own two-semesters worth of choreography, culminating in two different pieces, and how these choreographic processes have helped to give me insight into answering the question: how is behavior reflected through dance performance and translated to and by an audience?”

Hsiao-Tung Huang:

“My thesis is on Pina Bausch and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, her dance theater company in Wuppertal, Germany. I am most interested in how history and culture (she grew up in postwar [West] Germany) influenced her as a person as well as how these influences are reflected in her choreographic works. My piece is a personal experience in developing a deeper knowledge of Bausch’s creative process as well as understanding Bausch as a dancer and choreographer.”

Elena Georgieva:

“While historically science and dance have been indelible from our understanding of the world, nowadays they seem to be more dichotomized than ever. To address this misconception, in my thesis I study how dance and science inform each other in the fields of education, research, and performance to make something called science choreography, a novel term describing the embodied connection between the two. In my research process I look mostly at all science-dance intermediary work that has emerged in the last 20 years and I explore some of it through movement. Thus I hope to better understand what science choreography is and how it works, with which I am aiming to define the status quo of the field and lay out a base for future research. In addition, by stressing the importance of developing this emerging field, with my own work I hope to popularize the concept of science choreography among the broader audience.”

Come see the dance performances, Thursday, April 5 through Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 8pm in the Patricelli ’92 Theater; and Friday, April 20 at 6pm in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Studio, 247 Pine Street.

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