Katherine Clifford ’14 attends the Winter Dance Concert, “Impulse,” presented by the Wesleyan Dance Department.
The Winter Dance Concert, Impulse, took place on December 7 and 8, 2012. It featured works by dance majors Sally Williams ’14, Kim Ladd ’13, Elisa Waugh ’13, Jiovani del Toro Robles ’13, Elle Bayles ’14, and Naya Samuels ’14.
I was struck by the incredible diversity of the pieces: in their range of styles, their themes, and their influences. Winter Dance is choreographed by dance majors, in collaboration with the dancers in each piece [and under the direction of Adjunct Professor of Dance Susan Lourie]. In this way, each piece was shaped by the various contributions and backgrounds of each of the dancers. As a whole, the concert incorporated a wide range of media and interdisciplinary influences through the use of projected images, performed song, breakdancing, and AcroYoga (acrobatic yoga).
How does one sum up movement through words, words that seem so static on the page? Each piece left me with a resounding feeling, reminding me of the power of dance to leave an impact on the audience and to make a statement. I think it will be sufficient to sum up the dance concert by saying a few words about what struck me in each piece. Hopefully, this will be a small testament to the incredible talent and creativity of the choreographers and dancers.
Sally Williams’ piece incorporated projected written word and a kissing motif, in which the dancers made sloppy kissing noises that reminded one of a loving grandmother. On a whole, her piece was interesting, provocative, and had a captivating quality of movement. Kim Ladd’s piece had a strong group dynamic and a circular unity in the composition of the piece. The dancers started and ended in the same pose, serving as a reference point to the beginning of the dance and all that had passed. Elisa Waugh’s dance was interesting in that there were singers performing on stage, providing background music and context to the dance through song. I was captured by the thrilling music in Jiovani del Toro Robles’ piece, which reminded me of the soundtrack of an adventure movie. The dancers’ movements were bold and exciting and matched the music well. The piece even featured breakdance moves by dancer Dat Tien Vu ’15. Elle Bayles’ dance was beautifully composed and the dancers exuded strength and confidence. The dancers’ interactions with each other reminded me of the trust and support that occurs between close friends. Finally, I would characterize Naya Samuels’ dance by the fantastic contact made between the dancers and the great strength and trust required as the dancers lifted each other and supported each other’s weight in poses resembling AcroYoga. The dancing was fluid, with lingering between movements and shifts in weight, making the movements flow together.
As a whole, Winter Dance spoke to the amazing talent in the dance community. Each piece was remarkable in its own way, revealing the potential of dance to say so many things at once.
Michael Darer ’15 attends a concert presented by vocalist B. Balasubrahmaniyan, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music; as well as David Nelson, Artist in Residence, and violinist L. Ramakrishnan.
One of the most frustrating things about seeing a great concert is how effortlessly the musicians seem to produce their sounds, while at the same time recognizing how complex and daunting the music truly is. As someone wholly ungifted with any sort of instrument (a deficiency for which I compensate with oppressive, too loudly aired opinions), this sort of dual recognition is especially apparent to me whenever I see truly gifted musicians perform. I find myself awed, annoyed and baffled at how incredibly deftly instrumentalists and vocalists produce their art in all its dumbfounding intricacy, while knowing that I would probably break whatever instrument they’re handling if I so much as attempted to play scales. However, there are some times, in the presence of brilliant music, when even this mental poltergeist is unable to sneak into my perception of a show. Sometimes, that seemingly incompatible ease and complexity meld together. My evening listening to B. Balasubrahmaniyan was such an occasion.
Balu, a vocalist specializing in South Indian music and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music at the University, was originally supposed to perform at the Navaratri Festival in mid-October but was, unfortunately, forced to postpone due to illness. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to sing as originally scheduled, for, as someone with little knowledge of Indian music, it would have been interesting to compare his style and material to other acts, but, on the whole, I’m simply glad I got to see him at all.
With Balu that night, was Artist in Residence David Nelson, playing the mridangam (a percussion instrument featured prominently in Carnatic music, which Nelson specializes in) and violinist, L. Ramakrishnan. Sitting in a semi-circle on the stage of Crowell, the three men proceeded to produce two hours of some of the most complex, astounding music that I’ve ever heard.
Before I gush, however, a quick background on Carnatic music:
Carnatic music, which is considered one of the two major types of classical Indian music, is associated mainly with the southern part of India. It is usually performed by three individuals, one of whom is the main performer, while another provides melodic accompaniment, and the third, rhythmic accompaniment. Carnatic music is organized around four main “principles”: relationships in pitch between notes (sruti), cycles of rhythm (tala), the individual note (swara), and the overall structure of the piece (raga). These components pop up both in improvisation and scripted performance and, together, form the essential musical backbone of the genre.
When considering these four ideas, it is hard not to notice the dual emphases on individual sounds and the way in which those sounds fit into the larger sonic landscape. When listening to Balu, though I was unaware at the time of the specifics of each aforementioned principle, this was abundantly clear. Each of the three musicians produced an individually magnificent thread of sound, from Nelson’s alternating, multi-faceted tempos, to the violin’s mournful swoops, to Balu’s dynamically wavering voice. Each portion of the whole displayed unprecedented musical eloquence and, on its own, each was magnificent. However, none were really the “focus” per se. Certainly, Balu was front and center, but even his singing never dominated the trajectory of the music. Rather, the unique sounds created by the ensemble, so unique and driving on their own, flowed into one another like tributaries, bleeding together to form a whole, which constantly evolved, writhed, and drew on the diverse energies of its components. The result was nothing short of mesmerizing.
Leaving the performance, I, for the first time in a while, felt as though I had stumbled upon some sort of fundamental musical aesthetic that, if I had unknowingly been conscious of in the past, had for the longest time remained impossible to articulate. The way in which Balasubrahmaniyan and company had blended their sounds seemed elemental, as natural as the mixing of colors to create something richer. At the same time, though, the three men, the music that they played, functioned with such a respect for the depth of each part that the result seemed to transcend the mixture as well as the ingredients, reaching out past the resources that seemed available to tap into something wonderfully intricate and ethereally unified.
Emma Gross ’15 attended a rehearsal for the upcoming production of Rinde Eckert’s “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy,” which will run Thursday, November 15 through Friday, November 17, 2012. Performances will be held in the CFA Theater at 8pm Thursday through Saturday, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday.
In the week leading up to Halloween, I accompanied Sivan Battat ’15 to her evening rehearsal for Visiting Artist in Theater and Creative Campus Fellow Rinde Eckert’s production of “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy.” Rehearsal was scheduled to run from 7pm to 11pm. When I asked how often these four-hour rehearsals were held, Sivan replied, “Just six days a week. But with opening night approaching, I assume Saturday hours will be added as well.”
I began calculating the amount of time Sivan had spent in the CFA Theater since preparation for the play began in early September and how many more hours she would devote to the production in the remaining three and a half weeks before the performance. Though I was slightly overwhelmed by this work schedule, it was Sivan’s next comment that thoroughly shocked me: “And we have yet to see a finished script for the play.”
Thus was my initiation into the unconventional creative process of director Rinde Eckert.
Mr. Eckert is a Grammy Award-winning writer, composer, librettist, musician, performer and director. He was the finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Drama and in 2009 received The Alpert Award for his contributions to theater. In April 2012, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation named Mr. Eckert an inaugural Doris Duke Artist.
In Mr. Eckert’s artist statement, he describes his theater projects as “fiercely interdisciplinary.” He explains: “My work occurs on stage with lights and sound, and usually music, and is deeply concerned with language. Using various theatrical forms to say what I have to say, I am interested more in poetic gestalt than in narrative, though there is usually a central narrative that I treat as a kind of fugue subject or governing metaphor. I need to feel I’m learning with each new project, and that each work is a piece of a much larger puzzle. I think I do my best work in an atmosphere of joy and critical thought, in that order. There is such a thing as soul and good theatre elevates it.”
Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, commissioned Mr. Eckert to develop “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy.” The world premiere of this production will take place in the CFA Theater on Thursday November 15. Additional performances will run through Saturday, November 17.
“‘The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy’ is a story grounded in the experience of the wild child, or a man raised by wolves, who is taken and initiated into the human world,” Mr. Eckert explained. “The piece takes us from the moment the boy is found, through the turning point in his life when he goes back to kill the man responsible for his capture. When the wild child meets this man, however, he finds a broken human being. Consequently, his desire to kill evaporates. The wild child is freed from his thirst for revenge, and his life opens up. The piece is about the education of this boy and his journey, as an older man, to recover his original, less conditioned or acculturated self.”
The night I sat in on the rehearsal, I gained insight into Rinde’s progressive, hands-on, and exploratory approach to developing this piece.
As soon as we arrived at the CFA Theater, Sivan and the seven other cast members changed into their costumes. They emerged in black canvas body suits, complete with a hood and a sheer black flap, which concealed their faces. These outfits also included side pockets filled with chalk. As one actor indicated by sketching a few circles onto his sleeve, the surfaces of the costumes, including the face flap, are entirely chalkable.
“The costumes in ‘The Last Days of the Old Wilde Boy’ are identical to encourage equality among cast members,” explained Assistant Director Claire Whitehouse ‘13. “This is an ensemble production, and gender in this play does not determine character.”
The onstage set included a chalk board that ran the length of the stage, two fifteen foot tall paper man marionettes, close to 200 tiny, rectangular, wooden stools, and three bags of peat moss that hung from the overhead beams. According to one cast member these bags, “were relatively new and their potential had yet to be fully explored.”
Mr. Eckert and the cast and crew arranged the wooden stools into a makeshift platform stage. As an opening exercise, Mr. Eckert instructed the actors to read aloud a partial draft of the play’s script. Roles were assigned and the work was performed with everyone seated on the platform.
Following this reading, Mr. Eckert had the cast switch roles, and recite the text again, this time moving around the set. As the actors performed Mr. Eckert’s work they manipulated the onstage scenery, altered their costumes with chalk, and interacted with one another. Some climbed onto the theater balconies and maneuvered the gigantic marionettes, while others crawled on all fours and rearranged the stools to build walls, pyramids, towers, and cages.
“We have spent a lot of time learning how to utilize our costumes and the set,” said Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14. “These items’ malleability and impermanence allows us to explore the relationship between our bodies and the physical space and objects around us.”
Ms. Whitehouse noted this unique rehearsal and production process. “Traditional American theater is produced around a pre-made, completed text. In this play, however, action, movement, and activity with costumes and props are as important as the spoken words. Our rehearsals and specifically the way the actors interact with their physical surroundings inform Rinde’s writing.”
Mr. Eckert noted that while “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” will be completed and ready for viewers this weekend, following its performance he will continue developing and expanding it as a theater piece.
“Rinde has been great to work with,” said Ms. Sanchez-Eppler. “He allows us to feel comfortable abandoning normal production steps. Rinde’s leadership, dedication, and enthusiasm for his work have brought me to trust in him and his creative process.”
Mr. Eckert’s work at Wesleyan marks his first residency creating a production with solely undergraduates. “The students’ willingness to engage in what can be a frustrating and amorphous process is exceptional,” Rinde said. “They hold a beautiful combination of intelligence and enthusiasm, in addition to a level of sheer bravery. These kids are brave, which is a great thing.”
The show, like its unique production process, is sure to be an unconventional, yet thoroughly engaging and exciting experience. I highly recommend stepping into the world of Rinde Eckert and “The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy” this weekend.
Michael Darer ’15 attended a concert by Mac DeMarco, who were promoting their new album, “Mac DeMarco 2.”
On October 25, 2012, Eclectic House paid host to Mac DeMarco, a little known lo-fi band (or, to some, musician with a backing band), following the release of their/his first full length LP, “Mac DeMarco 2” just nine days prior.
The show, opened by Featherwood Bee, followed by Yeoman’s Omen, had been one for which I’d been excited since I had heard about it. This past summer, a friend of mine had played DeMarco’s debut EP Rock and Roll Night Club for me and I was immediately intrigued. The record, which presented itself as a stew of styles and textures, some even meshed together on individual tracks, was daring and confident in ways that few debuts are. It hummed with a self-satisfied irony that might have been irritating if attempted by a less assured outfit, but that, in the hands of DeMarco and company, enlivened each song with the sort of defiant mix of humor and anxiety that defines the college experience.
When I entered the show that Thursday, I had not heard DeMarco’s newest release, a circumstance influenced by my forgetting its release date but rationalized as some sort of aesthetic choice to preserve the integrity of the live performance. Why I decided to convince myself of that, I’m still not sure.
I arrived midway through Featherwood Bee’s set, and posted myself up against once of the room’s walls to enjoy the preceding acts. Featherwood Bee has always been one of my favorite student bands and their performance that evening reminded me why. The vocals of Kelly Lee ’14, declarative yet measured mix incredibly well with the expansive rattling of the surrounding guitars, their mixture just barely concealing the driving rhythm of the drum set of Adam Johnson ’14. The resulting sound is unassuming and playful, memorable without being intrusive, such that individual moments in songs can stick out with abnormal vividness, while the rest of the song works subtly below the surface.
While I had to briefly leave the show, causing me to miss most of Yeoman’s Omen, I returned just in time to catch Mac DeMarco go on stage.
Their performance began quite slowly, songs blended and spaced unevenly in a way that prevented me from really settling in to any sort of complacency. After a while, I stopped trying to catch all of the lyrics, which was probably for the best, considering that, between wild and charged guitar chords and the residual chatter of the crowd, they became near unintelligible, and any attempt to seek them amid the mass of noise would most likely have caused me to miss what amounted to an astonishingly deliberate bouquet of sonic arrangements.
One of the most arresting features of DeMarco’s music is the contrast between the smoky, tranquil nature of the eponymous singer’s voice and the energized, at times even feral, nature of the accompanying guitars. The combination is at times hard to take, mostly so upon first listening, but once it grabs you, it will not let go.
The serenity of DeMarco’s voice at times dips into a wonderfully weary deadpan, which makes the music seem at once listless and honed, an effect only heightened by the band’s willingness to jump between seemingly disparate tones, moving from ethereal meanderings to pulsing garage rock in mere seconds.
One of the wonderful things about DeMarco as an artist is how unconcerned he seems with the categorization of his music. There’s no use arguing that one could draw clear lines of influence from his sound to that of other groups, contemporary and otherwise, but considering the sheer variety of influences such an exercise would turn up, it seems trivial. Listening to Mac DeMarco, you get the sense that the music performed is so organic, so sheer and honest; and, that, in an industry of conscious emulation and gimmick, is relief enough to be revelation.
Emma Gross ’15 reviews “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,” the directorial debut of Emilie Pass ’15 and Gabe Gordon ’15, which ran Thursday October 25 through Saturday, October 27, 2012.
While I have attended plenty of horror movies that caused viewers to gasp out loud, cover their eyes, and grab onto their friends’ wrists, before this past weekend I had never attended a play that managed to evoke this same level of fear. Second Stage’s production of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom achieved this effect. The play’s ability to induce outward horror from its viewers points to the success of its co-directors, actors, and creative team.
Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, written by Jennifer Haley, ran Thursday October 25 through Saturday October 27. The play was part of Second Stage’s fall 2012 season. For those not familiar with Second Stage, it is Wesleyan’s student-run, volunteer theater organization. Second Stage produces works that are entirely designed, directed, and performed by students.
“Emilie and I first read Neighborhood 3 in our Intro to Playwriting course freshman year,” Gordon said. “Throughout the semester we studied a lot of great works, but Neighborhood 3 stood out as a special piece of writing. It is not well known, nor is it by a well known writer, but we both fell in love with it.
Neighborhood 3 tells the story of a tightly regulated suburban subdivision in which parents find their teenagers addicted to a violent online video game. As the story unfolds it is revealed that the game is not strictly virtual, but manifests itself in reality with horrific consequences.
“The play is about familial relationships in a world of suburban pain,” Pass said. “Though it contains topical jokes about the internet and video game culture, the text is also a commentary on the timeless issue of how family members relate to one another. It exposes the nuclear family and its values in a way that shows how this model can be pretty messed up.”
Neighborhood 3 is laced with dark humor and filled with moments of deep suspense and terror; it is the perfect pre-Halloween story. In one scene, the stage goes dark just as a gothic teenage girl aims a fatal blow at her father with a golf club.
“The play is a thoroughly exciting and engaging text,” Gordon said. “When I first read it, I remember visualizing how it could come to life on stage. I thought maybe this meant I should direct it and make that happen.”
In the spring of 2012, Pass and Gordon committed to co-directing Neighborhood 3 and assembled a production team including Paul McCallion ‘15 as stage manager, Cara Sunberg ’15 as set designer, Anders Dohlman ’15 as master carpenter, Rachel Leicher ’15 as lighting designer, Gabe Beaudoin ’15 and Eriq Robinson ’15 as sound designers, and Joe Gonzalez ’15 as costume designer.
Second Stage approved their application before the year’s end, and in early September Eva Ravenal ’15, Mark Popinchalk ’13, Tess Jonas, ’15, and Noah Masur ’15 were cast as the show’s four actors.
“Though Emilie and I had directed a bit in high school, this was really our first significant directorial experience,” said Gordon. “An added challenge was that the majority of our team was not involved in Second Stage and had little to no theater background. The entire process of creating this production was a learning experience for everyone involved.”
Neighborhood 3 was staged in the Patricelli ’92 theater. “The space allowed the play to come to life,” said Pass. “Cara and Anders did a fantastic job making the set as visually engaging as the dialogue on stage.”
Audience members were seated on either side of the stage, which was composed of a series of platform steps outlined with identical cutouts of white houses. As the plot unfolded and suspense increased, the actors gradually migrated up the steps toward the top and final platform.
“Cara collaborated with Rachel, the lighting designer, to create a house shaped projection screen at the head of the theater,” Pass said. Actors posed behind the screen during the robotic, video game style narration between scenes. The characters’ blackened silhouettes added a visual dimension that helped blur the line between reality and virtual gaming world.
“I cannot stress how exceptional our creative team was,” Gordon said. “And in addition, how lucky we were to find such extraordinarily talented actors.”
The four actors faced the challenge of portraying a different character in every scene. Ravenal, Popinchalk, Jonas and Masur’s ability to alter their body language, speaking voices, and emotions to convincingly assume various roles was remarkable. To effectively transition from a drunken housewife to a fearful mother, or from a frightened boy whose cat has been murdered to the murderer himself requires smart and skillful acting.
Neighborhood 3 sold out Friday and Saturday night, even after seats were added. The evening I attended the performance people left the theater claiming they were afraid to walk home alone.
“I was extremely pleased with the final product and so proud to be part of the production,” Gordon said. “Putting on Neighborhood 3 was an incredible experience, and goes to show that you don’t need to be a theater person to be involved with theater at Wesleyan. If you are creative and passionate about a project you can make anything happen.”
Pass agreed, “It was an incredibly rewarding learning experience,” she said. “It underscores the notion that some of the best learning at Wesleyan is done outside the classroom.”
Katherine Clifford ’14 reviews the Fall Senior Thesis Dance Concert, which took place on Friday, October 26 and Saturday, October 27, 2012 featuring two original works by Lindsay Kosasa ’13 and Kelsey Siegel ’13.
Kelsey Siegel’s piece, “Dynamical Systems” explored the intersection between dance and mathematics. Posts connected by strings were used as a visual prop and reference point throughout the dance. In the beginning of the dance, the posts were clustered in the center, and the dancers moved them apart to form a rectangle that framed the stage. The idea of space then was a crucial component of the dance; how the dancers seemed to be constrained by the space they were in, how they physically moved through space, and how they interacted with each other through space. The dancers also seemed to interact with the music, which was a combination of drums, violin, and spoken word, that fit the theme and mood of the dance as it progressed. The dancing itself was marked by stillness and pauses, which had the effect of making each individual dancer’s movement profound and with heightened effect. At times, the dancers would break out of the enclosed space confined by the posts and their connecting strings, and slam against the walls of the dance studio, as if impacted by momentum. The ending of the piece consisted of an explosion of energy in which the dancers moved the previously ordered posts into a jumbled chaos in the corner of the stage. The connecting posts, representing a system of equations, symbolized the constraints of logical thinking. This type of thinking, as the dance suggested, can have the effect of trapping one within a way of thinking, but true reality depends on experience. Thus, in order to experience the world, one must break out of the constraints of logic.
Lindsay Kosasa’s work, “Navigable Möbius,” explored the context of postwar Japan. The backdrop was a video projection, which began with footage of clear, moving water. However, food coloring and debris were slowly added, so that they swirled around and piled up, muddying the previously pure water. To this backdrop, the dancers were dressed in white and with hair in high buns, and moved with fluid, organic, and rounded movements. They often rolled on the floor and over each other, as if in a sort of fetal, protected innocence. In the end, the dancers moved slowly together, expressionless, and in a trance-like state to music that sounded angelic. This seemed to suggest that purity, innocence, and inner peace were maintained despite the figurative backdrop of a postwar state and the literal backdrop of raining debris. Water continued to course through the muddied debris, but it was not enough to clear up the destruction. Throughout the dance, there was a consistent theme of layers and texture. This texture was evident in the continuous accumulation of color and particles being added in the water footage, and in the movement of the dancers, as their story progressed in a linear fashion. This dance ultimately explored movement in a historical context with emphasis on the ideas of resilience and innocence.
Both works demonstrated the creativity and artistic talent of these seniors and how dance is a collaborative process between choreographer and dancers. The dance concert also highlighted how dance can form a powerful intersection with other academic subjects.
Rebecca Seidel ’15 sits down with Lana Wilson ’05, curator of the “Performance Now” film series, presented in conjunction with the Zilkha Gallery exhibition focusing on performance art (on display through December 9, 2012).
The Performance Nowexhibition at the Zilkha Gallery merits multiple visits – there’s just so much to experience and absorb. Performance art naturally exists only in the moment it is created, but this exhibit does an excellent job of immortalizing the performances it displays. Curated by Roselee Goldberg, Performance Now will be on view until December 9, so you still have time to head over and browse the exhibit yourself.
To further enhance your appreciation of performance art, the exhibition extends into a three-part film series at the Powell Family Cinema. The first set of films – two films featuring French conceptual dance – were screened on September 20. The next set, featuring films by Danish artist Jesper Just, will be screened this Thursday, October 25. The final group of films, showcasing recent works by Daria Martin and Laurie Simmons, will air on November 15. Admission to these films is free.
I got a chance to interview Lana Wilson, the curator of this film series, about what viewers should expect from the screenings. Lana, a 2005 Wesleyan graduate, had a lot to say about her film selections for Performance Now. She gives some helpful context for the French films that aired in September – films that offered quite a memorable experience for viewers, as you know if you were there. Above all, Lana is excited to air the remaining installments of the series. She will be at the cinema to introduce the Jesper Just films this Thursday. You can read our discussion below:
Why did you select the films that you did? What about them made them especially relevant to the Performance Now exhibition?
I selected these films to accompany the Performance Now exhibition because I think they represent a very small sample of some of the most exciting performance films made by artists in the last decade. These screenings include both filmed documentation of performances, and films that have a lot to do with live performance, but are specifically made for the camera, because I think that both types of work are important. It’s a film series, but it’s about live performance, so I wanted to include samples of different places in the spectrum between the two.
All of the work being shown is also by artists who have been a part of the Performa biennials, including the first-ever Performa Commission (Jesper Just’s True Love Is Yet to Come, from 2005). But the artists themselves all come out of slightly different contexts – Jerome Bel and Boris Charmatz are choreographers, for example, while Laurie Simmons is a photographer and visual artist.
What kind of viewing experience should we expect from the upcoming two screenings? Anything to look out for in particular?
I was so thrilled to have the chance to program films for the one of the beautiful screens in Wesleyan’s Center for Film Studies. I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity by showcasing works that are visually gorgeous, and made at a scale that would make sense to show in a large cinema, rather than on small monitors in a gallery. I also wanted the programs to be made for the audience to sit through from start to finish, with their attention fully engaged. So none of these screenings are dry conceptual events – each program is visually lush and – at least in my opinion! – will be very exciting to watch on a big screen.
The two French films screened on September 20 differed aesthetically in some pretty stark ways. Do you think there are any common threads between them?
It’s true – both of those films are very different aesthetically. But they are both made by choreographers who come–in very different ways – out of traditions of the Judson Dance Theater, and both artists are now seen as key figures in the wave of “conceptual choreography” that emerged in France in the 1990s.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Judson Dance Theater was a loose coalition of artists, choreographers, and musicians who had a series of performances at New York’s Judson Church in the early 1960s that radically broke with the conventions of concert dance. The dances created by this group, which would later be called “post-modern,” reduced the medium to its most essential elements, discarding drama and expressionism in favor of pedestrian movement, repetitive structures, and improvisation, and rejecting the notion of the artist or performer as virtuoso in favor of what they thought of as more “democratic” dance.
In contrast, the performance documentation of Bel’s Veronique Doisneau, 2004, reduces aesthetic concerns to a bare minimum, instead throwing its concept into high relief. In September 2004, Paris Opera Ballet dancer Veronique Doisneau, age forty-one, is about to retire after over twenty years of dancing in the background as a member of the corps de ballet. On the final night of her career, she at long last appears alone on stage, in front of an enormous audience in the Paris Opera House. Dressed in rehearsal clothes, and wearing a headset microphone, Doisneau calmly tells the story of her life in dance—her low-ranking position in the hierarchy of the ballet company, the injury that almost ruined her career when she was twenty, even the amount of her monthly wages. She then performs excerpts from several pieces, including a variation from La Bayadere, with no music other than her own soft singing and counting; a segment from the lead role in Giselle, a part that Doisneau says she wishes she could have danced (earlier, she speculates, “I don’t think I was talented enough”);and a portion of the corps de ballet part from Swan Lake, in which Doisneau stands perfectly motionless in various poses while the stars dance in center stage. Watching Doisneau perform her life’s history as a dancer, with all its attendant joy and frustration, shows the audience things they had never noticed before. Like the work of the Judson artists, it reveals the assumptions underlying dance, bringing them into the open to re-construct them in an entirely new way. It is one of my favorite performances of all time.
In France in the 1990s, a wave of new choreographers emerged that was both reacting to the highly theatrical French dance of the 1980s, and inspired by Judson. Les Disparates, from 1994, is a film directed by Cesar Vayssie that two young French choreographers, Boris Charmatz and Dimitri Chamblas, collaborated on right after becoming the teenage sensations of the French dance scene with A Bras le Corps (1993), a duet that has a real thrilling physicality to it. In Les Disparates, a man (Charmatz) dances in four different locations as the film jumps between them all, using his movement to explore the possibilities for fragmenting time and space through editing. Shot in the rainy landscape of Sienne, a city in the north of France, the film leaps from bar to boathouse and back again–it’s very much a dance made for the camera. The choreographysuggests the influence of Judson member Steve Paxton’s weight and flow-based contact improvisation techniques, while the film’s crisp compositions and elegant visual motifs—highlighting patches of saturated red and blue within the industrial scenery, for example—resemble contemporary European art cinema.
Do you have a favorite film out of the entire series, and if so, what is it?
This is a tough one. Jesper Just’s It Will All End in Tears will be spectacular on the big screen – let’s just say that there are some amazing special effects. And for Meryl Streep fans, that actress is a star of Laurie Simmons’s The Music of Regret (2005), where she has an unforgettable turn singing a duet with a ventriloquist dummy.Too hard to choose!
The Films of Jesper Just
Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 7pm
Powell Family Cinema, Center for Film Studies
Introduced by Performa Film and Dance Curator
Lana Wilson ’05 with reception to follow.
Other Worlds: Daria Martin and Laurie Simmons
Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7pm
Powell Family Cinema, Center for Film Studies
Michael Darer ’15 takes on “Voices of Afghanistan,” a CFA concert hosted last Friday, September 28 in Crowell Concert Hall.
It’s very easy to take the power and ubiquity of Western music for granted. For many of us, it’s the only music we hear. When we turn on the radio, the television, when we go to the theater, the majority of the music we encounter stems from our corner of the world. Of course, this is an incredibly blinkered view and even those who find themselves beholden to it are often aware of its influence and limiting power. Even so and despite the vast opening of the world which the digital age promised to herald in, we still find ourselves immersed in the familiar.
I know that I myself am guilty of this in spades. Anyone who took an hour to explore my iPod or my computer’s music library would be hard pressed to find anything that couldn’t be, in some way, categorized as Western, European, Anglicized or something along those lines. Even the most “foreign” music that most of us encounter is filtered through a lens describable in the aforementioned terms. Hell, we’re at a place where Vampire Weekend’s use of “African” music in their own compositions is seen as groundbreaking, despite the distinctly westernized feel of the end result.
This past Friday, the Wesleyan CFA made an attempt to expand our musical horizons, as Crowell Concert Hall paid host to a magnificent performance dubbed, Voices of Afghanistan.
Voices graced its audience with a twelve song set by some of the most renowned Afghan musicians in the country, including vocalist Ustad Farida Mahwash, of whom the New York Times wrote: “[her] beautifully expressive voice retains remarkable range, flexibility, and soul-searing intensity. And her spirit continues to soar.” Accompanying Mahwash were Homayoun Sakhi, a critically acclaimed rubab (a lute-like string instrument and the national instrument of Afghanistan) player and the Sakhi ensemble. Together, the group lit up the evening with an ethereal and potent set of intricately woven songs, which both entranced and educated listeners.
When I entered Crowell that evening, I had absolutely no background on Afghan music, whatsoever. In the past, I’d heard bits and pieces of different music from the general region but I’d never been given much information on those snippets and certainly didn’t have the chance to sit down and analyze any of them.
According to the group’s website, which has been incredibly helpful in giving me background on their stylistic rooting, much Afghan music is based on a dialogue of questions and answers, known as sawol-jawab. Though not limited to music, the concept has found itself deeply ingrained in much of the work that the Voices ensemble does. Suggesting that only the most thoughtful questions can truly find answers, sawol-jawab, creates an incredibly complex lyrical and thematic foundation within many pieces of Afghan music.
The result, as displayed on Friday, is nothing short of breathtaking. Each of the pieces played possessed a unique rhythm and texture, a wholly distinct relationship between the instruments and vocals, as well as an individualized relationship between the instruments themselves.
Many, if not most, of the songs rested on Homayoun Sakhi’s rubab, which provided the pieces with a galloping energy, its twang both earthy and electric. Throughout each and every piece Sakhi displayed an incredible sensibility for the passions of his fellow musicians, surging and backing off in volume at various points so that the sounds of other instruments might poke through to deepen and expand the disposition of the music.
The most arresting feature of the music, however, came from the vocals as provided by Mahwash. Whereas a great deal of music tends to segregate vocals from instruments, this was not the case with Voices. Mahwash’s crisp lyrical voice swooped and dove alongside the cascading strings, weaving amongst the different sounds until it seemed like just another instrument. Despite my inability to understand the language, Mahwash pulled me in like few singers I’ve witnessed. Her voice itself seemed to be the meaning of the lyrics, a visceral poetry that transcended whatever literal meaning her words conveyed. As it wound its way around the jack-rabbiting melodies, I felt as though I was within the music, surrounded by the labyrinthine compositions, as they exploded outwards from the instruments.
The group’s website explains to readers that Afghanistan “is home to a stunning array of musical genres. Each is distinct, yet they all share a vibrancy and depth indicative of their importance in the larger fabric of society.” Over the years, the site reveals, these various genres have intermixed, classical pooling into folk song, and traded an increasing number of motifs and techniques. When listening to Voices, this is not hard to believe. The beauty of the music filling Crowell that night was not simply it’s overarching sound, but rather, the underpinnings beneath each grand note, the feeling that below every superficial sonic gesture were thousands upon thousands of cogs in one great musical machine, that as the compositions pushed forward they did so naturally, hundreds of symphonic organs pulsing and prodding, each an individual contributing to the showcase on display.
The true wonder of the music that I heard on Friday was that each piece existed simultaneously as one solid experience and as the sum of many smaller movements, sounds, and sensations, working together. While seeming deceptively simple, each song seemed to cover immense ground and touch on more than seemed possible given only six musicians.
Even for those who may not have been as wildly enthusiastic as I was about the show, I would posit that something, even if it was just one thing, of interest poked it’s head out of that music to grab the attention of each listener. I would guess that each and every audience member found something in that music that they hadn’t seen or heard or felt before, didn’t have access to in their familiar musical repertoire. And if I’m right about that, even if I’m wrong about everything else I felt about this music, then I think Voices of Afghanistan can be called a resounding success.
Katherine Clifford ’14 provides us with a preview of “visible,” a dance piece presented this Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 8pm in the CFA Theater.
Jawole Wllla Jo Zillar and Nora Chipaumire’s piece “visible” will be performed at Wesleyan this Saturday, at 8pm in the CFA Theater. The two choreographers were on campus on Monday, October 1st to speak to a group of students and dance and arts faculty to preview their work over a lunch and discussion. During this talk, the artists spoke about their backgrounds in dance, their collaboration, and what “visible” is about. The conversation illuminated several important themes central to their work, sparking excitement to see the creative outcome and movement behind their ideas and stories.
Both Jawole and Nora were attracted to the idea of “advocacy through dance.” Nora, from Zimbabwe, a graduate of University of Zimbabwe’s School of Law as well as of Mills College (in CA) where she studied dance, drew a parallel between dance and the law. She spoke about how through dance, one can get “immediate advocacy,” whereas in the legal world, “it takes longer to get immediate impact.” This immediate impact is due to the physicality of dance; Nora remarked, “The power of dance is that we’re physically doing it. It has a way of changing the person who connects to it.” It is also a way to change oneself. She discussed how she “felt compelled to explore her inner landscape:” her roots in Zimbabwe, during her time at Mills College, which she described as “amazing dance, but so American.”
Jawole founded the company Urban Bush Women in 1984, under the theme of using “cultural expression as a catalyst for social change.” She spoke of the influence of the Black Arts Movement during her college years, which she said was instrumental in “dismantling the hierarchy of what dance form was supposed to be.” She was thus interested in the idea of advocating for a dance based on personal experience, a dance that dealt with “pedestrian movement,” and one that was truer to her African American identity.
Thus, both Jawole and Nora were interested in making a distinction between white, “American” dance and a dance influenced by their own cultures and identities. This translates to the central theme behind “visible” of the idea of migration and how that relates to identity and visibility. Both artists spoke of the idea of romanticizing a place and how that can be problematic. Nora discussed her story of immigrating to America from Zimbabwe and her imagined future based on the myths of America as a land of “milk and honey” and as a place of true democracy. In the U.S., Nora struggled with the idea of how she could be visible in this new place, and the difference between an identity as African versus as African American.
Jawole discussed the influence of jazz on her work, where everyone can have a distinct voice. This translated into an attempt to “bring in the mother tongue of all the dancers [in her company] and to learn to communicate in order to find each other.” In fact, the cast performing on Saturday is very international, with artists from Burkina Faso, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Holand, Japan, and Washington D.C. Most of the dancers thus have different migration experiences to New York. These dancers are united by the idea of shifting identity upon entering a new place, and by their different experiences as compared to romanticized myths. The combining of these migration stories and experiences of identity and visibility of the dancers and choreographers combine to form the piece “visible,” the exploration of these experiences through dance. As Nora elegantly said, “It isn’t possible to separate who you are from what you dance.”
Don’t miss this provoking and culturally rich performance this Saturday, October 6th.
Michael Darer ’15 reflects on his experiences at an Eclectic concert presented by R. Stevie Moore, on Saturday, September 22.
I couldn’t help but feel out of place, walking up the steps to Eclectic that Saturday night, the only one of my friends unversed in just who or what R. Stevie Moore, actually was. When I had prodded them around the table during dinner at Usdan, they had urged me to just wait, that they wouldn’t be able to explain. Occasionally, someone would throw out a generalized description, usually orbiting around some variation of “father of lo-fi music” but on the whole, my inquiries did me no good. We can’t explain him, they told me, sharing smiles almost conspiratorially between assurances that I would in fact enjoy myself.
In retrospect, they were right to announce their inability to make sense of what we would be seeing and hearing later that night. Any description they would have given would probably have seemed wholly incongruent with the end product and any accurate rendering of the man or his music would have ended with only deeper confusion on my part. In some ways, this is all very unfortunate, considering that I now find myself here in a similar position, self-tasked with painting a picture of an experience so weird and transcendent and disconcertingly beautiful that to actually present it accurately would entail a neutering and a draining of those in-the-moment energies that made the affair so, if you’ll pardon the seeming hyperbole, magical.
As one totally uneducated about R. Stevie Moore until very recently, I would feel awkward lecturing about the man’s background or oeuvre with any sort of expert’s confidence. In truth, all one really needs to know is that Moore is known both for how prolific he is (having released numerous albums through labels in addition to over 400 cassettes and CD-R albums independently) and how genre spanning his music tends to be. He’s dabbled in lo-fi and punk, power pop and spoken word, jazz, new wave, experimental rock. In many ways, it would appear that Moore’s music defies the concept of genre, that any successful attempts to pinpoint the trappings of a specific musical culture within his output are purely incidental.
When I got to Eclectic that Saturday night (late enough to miss the opener, early enough to still get soaked by rain on the trip over), the atmosphere into which I entered was absolutely otherworldly. The entire house, including those areas not in use, was permeated by an oddly charged calm, like a coiled spring was nestled beneath each and every molecule of air. Weaving throughout the space were trills of guitar, which seemed to move between the audience members. On the stage stood the man himself, clad in pajamas and looking like Santa Claus after a particularly rough weekend. Oddly enough, the first thing that came to my mind was Ethan Hawke’s description of Walt Whitman in ‘Dead Poets Society’: “a sweaty toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brain”.
On either side of Moore were two other musicians, whose clothes would be incrementally shed throughout the remainder of the performance. The trio seemed weirdly distant from one another and somewhat detached from the world beyond their small stage.
The music that they made over the next few hours was some of the strangest and most wonderful that I’ve heard in a long time, ricocheting back and forth between ethereal and prayerful strands of melody that hung out in the air like newborn birds, vulnerable, petite, in danger of being swallowed up by the stirring vigor of the sweaty crowd and raging forests of sonic bedlam, where individual notes dissolved in a hungry aural clamor which tore around the room in bouncing, clawing strides.
Every so often Moore would interrupt himself to say something, most of which was indecipherable. At one point he seemed to complain about the quality of the house’s PA system (confirmed by the Wesleying blog article on the event) before praising the crowd. While to the musicians these may have seemed like digressions, for me, they were no different than any other portion of the performance, bits of coarse sonic expression spit out for the audience to absorb into our own mass of noise. Every bit of sound that left that plinth on which the band stood seemed so indisputably organic, so fundamental and essential to myself and every other person standing near me, that even when I had no idea what was being sang, said or done (which was often, considering the bustle), I felt like I had known it would happen before it did, as though it were just some magnificently externalized somatic process, splayed out in exquisitely tinted tones for my befuddled enjoyment.
And Moore must have felt something like this as well, for it was not long before any trappings of a standard show were abolished. R. Stevie at one point found himself wandering over to play the Eclectic piano and, right before the show was broken up by Public Safety officers, stumbled out into the crowd for no apparent reason.
Leaving with the rest of the crowd, I felt as though I was taking a bit of the performance with me back to my dorm, while, at the same time, I was struck by the realization that what I had experience could only ever exist in a place and moment that had since dissolved. Certainly, the most meaningful things, especially those rooted in art embody similar qualities: an ephemeral truth that somehow strives to survive beyond the boundaries of its prescribed universe. For as long as I can, I intend to nurse this experience as best I can, even though I know it will eventually fade away. In life and in music, I can’t think of a better thing to feel.