plight dancers

Ballet Repertory Performs for Local Showcase

On May 3rd and 4th, the Ballet Repertory class performed their contemporary ballet piece, “Plight,” during the Spring Dance Concert. Dance Lecturer Chandra Moss-Thorne choreographed “Plight” for her class of twenty-two dancers.

The conception and movements of “Plight” arose out of a conversation that Moss-Thorne has with a close friend. “That friend worked tirelessly to thrive and create a new path and I had no idea,” Moss-Thorne said. “My perspective of our reality was instantly altered and caused me to be even more aware of the lens that I viewed other’s through.”

“Plight” is about endurance, during the moments in life that are challenging and unpleasant. “The piece explores one person’s inevitable path and their eventual resolution,” Moss-Thorne said. “I create works that are layered with the hopes that they will be viewed from various perspectives and I hope that audience members are moved by what the dancers create in the space of performance.”

Moss-Thorne incorporated some techniques that she learned working with Kansas City Ballet into “Plight.” At Kansas City Ballet’s second company, Moss-Thorne worked with Dmitry Trubchanov, and together they went through advanced Pointe and Partnering techniques and practices with dancers. “Many of these techniques I have brought back to my class,” Moss-Thorne said. “I was also able to watch company class and rehearsals and make connections for Swarthmore students.”

Moss-Thorne had a challenging task ahead of her, choreographing for twenty-two dancers, especially since Moss-Thorne specializes in contemporary ballet where there are constant shifts in groupings and movements. “In classical technique there are many moments in which the corps de ballet execute the exact same steps,” she said. “That being said, it was daunting to create a work for twenty-two dancers in which they are not all doing the same movements, save one to two people.” Although working with such a large group was a change for Moss-Thorne, she welcomed the challenge because it was an opportunity to meet more students. “I enjoy engaging with the students during the creative process and meeting students where they are, and then exploring avenues of growth,” she continued. “The Swarthmore students are so intelligent in the way they approach new forms of creativity, so I was hopeful for the process.”

Before the Spring Dance Concert, the Ballet Repertory class had an opportunity to perform in Philadelphia for Koresh Dance Company. Every year, Koresh holds a few artist showcases and this year, Moss-Thorne’s “Plight” was accepted into a showcase. “It created a space for the dancers to bond, have an additional performance opportunity and meet dancers from the city and other schools/companies,” Moss-Thorne said. Moss-Thorne views the performance for Koresh as a success because the students worked so well together and navigated the small performance space like professionals. “We were well-received by the audience and it laid a fabulous groundwork for us to build upon for the spring dance concert,” Moss-Thorne continued. “The entire group went to dinner afterwards to celebrate and connect outside of the studio.”

David Chan ’19

Race_MeganHeadshot

Balanchine Expert Gives Lecture to Dance Students

On April 8th, Megan Race, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, came to speak to Swarthmore students and faculty in a lecture on George Balanchine’s 1962 tour of the Soviet Union. Combining her academic research in Slavic Languages and Literatures with a long-established love for dance, Race has been working on a project that explores the Soviet media reception and depiction of the New York City Ballet. And throughout her lecture, she focused particularly on how Balanchine’s “modernist” ballets were received in the Soviet Union, a place where the government had laid out socialist realism expectations for the arts since the 1930s.

Professor Olivia Sabee of the Swarthmore Dance Program first met Megan Race when both were completing their undergraduate degrees at the University of Chicago.

“I met Megan about fifteen years ago when we danced in a production of Le Corsaire together. Though we didn’t know it at the time, those experiences staging (we both also set portions of this ballet and Cinderella on other dancers) would be formative in realizing how work in the studio might intersect with academic research,” Sabee reminisced.

A few years ago, Race’s and Sabee’s paths crossed again when they met at the American Comparative Literature Association conference. At the time, Race was working on her current project researching George Balanchine and Russian emigré culture, and since then, the two scholars have kept in touch, leading to Sabee’s invitation for Race to present at Swarthmore this spring.

Drawing on her past and concurrent research on Vladimir Nabokov and cultural politics of the Cold War, Race placed Balanchine’s 1962 tour of New York City Ballet in the Soviet Union within the context of the Kruschev Thaw. By analyzing Balanchine’s choreography as a whole, as well as providing the history of the balletEpisodes – whose original version, which also included choreography by Martha Graham, is no longer performed – Race drew attention to the inextricable relationship between dance and the wider cultural and historical connotations.

Sabee further elaborated on how Race’s lecture and research, in addition to having Soviet era implications, can be viewed within the lens of contemporary Russia-U.S. relations:

“Megan’s research is distinguished in part by her ability to draw on her Russian skills to show us a different picture of Balanchine and his reception…[And] through her work on Vladimir Nabokov…[she] shows how Balanchine was part of a larger Russian emigré culture. By examining Balanchine’s work with a wider lens, her work has the potential to connect the history of theatrical dance with a broader picture of what is going on in America and in Soviet-American relations at this time.”

Lectures like Race’s and opportunities to engage in deep academic discussion of the arts distinguish the Swarthmore Music and Dance Programs. From performance opportunities, to exposure to rigorous academic research, classroom and lecture hall, to the studio, students have the possibility to deepen their love for the arts.

Marion Kudla ’19

Ethnomusicology Conference Hosted at Swarthmore

On April 6th and 7th, Swarthmore College hosted the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology (MACSEM) conference. MACSEM, established in 1981, is one of ten regional chapters of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM). Founded in 1951, SEM promotes the research, study, and performance of music in its cultural, social, and political contexts. Each chapter of SEM holds a conference in their respective regions, providing an opportunity for students and ethnomusicologists to share current research. “Because of the smaller nature of the regional chapters it is also a wonderful opportunity to network and get to know other people in the area,” Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant said.

Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant, from the Department of Music and Dance, had several reasons why she wanted Swarthmore College to host this year’s MACSEM conference. The first was to help with the integration of more ethnomusicology into the Department of Music and Dance. Professor Bryant has been offering courses in ethnomusicology regularly, including a seminar on ethnomusicology this semester. “We planned for the seminar and conference to be held in the same semester so my students could help with the planning, hosting, and participation in the conference,” Professor Bryant said. “It was a unique opportunity for students to engage with graduate students, professionals, and faculty from other institutions, who are all working in various aspects of ethnomusicology.” Second, hosting the conference at Swarthmore College gave Professor Bryant the opportunity to work closely with outgoing President of MACSEM and Swarthmore alumna Shalini Ayyagari ‘00. “She was excited to return to campus for this year’s meeting and to work together on the conference planning,” Professor Bryant said. Lastly, hosting the conference at Swarthmore was a good way to bring together local ethnomusicologists from University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and the general region.

This conference’s keynote speaker was Professor Karen Shimakawa (pictured above) from New York University. Her lecture, titled “Catastrophic Sounds: Animacy and Equivalence,” examines the work of performance/video artist Eiko Otake, in her “A Body in Places” series, to consider how it situates viewers in time and space (aural and architectural) in order to make the catastrophe of capitalism perceptible.

Professor Bryant pointed out that in recent years, MACSEM invited speakers who were related, but not directly centered within the field of ethnomusicology. “Professor Shimakawa was invited to present this year’s keynote lecture because of her research and teaching interests in performance studies and Asian American performance, critical race theory, law and performance,” Professor Bryant said. “Her areas of expertise all provide engaged connections to/with ethnomusicology while also speaking to Swarthmore student interests.”

MACSEM was not only a space to share individual research; the conference allowed Swarthmore students to showcase their musical talents and abilities. Two pop-up concerts were held, featuring the Chinese Music Ensemble and the Taiko Ensemble.

Overall, Swarthmore’s hosting of this year’s MACSEM conference was a success, in terms of bringing together local scholars with a diverse range of interests within the field of ethnomusicology. Professor Bryant expressed great pleasure for her colleagues and her students who helped organize and plan the conference because she could not have succeeded without their generous support. “It was a really rare opportunity to have such a broad range of research presentations right here on campus for students to attend and ask questions. I was incredibly proud of their thoughtful questions and for the many engaged conversations they had with visiting ethnomusicologists,” Professor Bryant concluded.

David Chan ’19

swat taiko propel

Swarthmore Taiko Students Represent at East Coast Conference

“Growing Stronger” was the theme of this year’s East Coast Taiko Conference (ECTC), which was held at Cornell University from February 22nd to 24th. ECTC chose that theme with the hope to enrich participants’ knowledge of taiko and its community through the opportunity to learn the roots of various taiko styles, to strategize ways to improve group performances, and to build community. This conference has occurred annually since 2011, and this year’s conference saw an attendance reach up to about 200 taiko practitioners (collegiate, amateur, and professional).

A contingent of Swarthmore students from the Taiko Repertory class attended this conference, led by Professor Joe Small. These students are Josie Hung ’19, Hunter Lee ’19, Haruka Ono ’19, Shuang Guan ’19, Kira Emmons ’20, Faye Ma ’20, and Jason Wong ’21. This was the first ECTC for Swarthmore students and Professor Small could not have been more excited to bring his students to this year’s gathering. “I am overjoyed that Swarthmore students made the trip and got involved,” Small said. “Certainly one learns a lot from both theory and practice, but taking part in the community is a whole different way of understanding one’s self while learning about the art.”

Guan can attest to Professor Small’s sentiment that participating within a wider community of taiko practitioners is a very different way to practice and to learn taiko. “At Swarthmore, we learn taiko through preparing for one performance piece for the spring concert,” Guan said. “We don’t really get time to talk about the complexity and diversity of taiko, like its sociocultural/political importance, and what doing taiko looks like outside of Swarthmore. ECTC helped to expose me to some of its multitudes, whether that was the different instruments and playing styles of taiko, the different structures and purposes of other taiko groups, or the diverse peoples that are part of taiko.”

At the final concert of the conference, Professor Small, his colleague Isaku Kageyama, Hung, Emmons, and Wong all performed Small’s original composition called “Propel” as the opening performance. The piece is demanding, requiring stamina and technique, but Professor Small is proud of his three students who were able to excel under the pressure. “The audience’s response was an immediate and thunderous standing ovation,” Small said. “The best remark I heard was that it didn’t seem like ‘three students being pulled along by two professionals,’ but a performance where they carried their own weight and that of others.”

Hung felt deeply honored to have shared the stage with such talented and wonderful people, and she was surprised by the audience’s reception. “I did not expect that an opening performance could get a standing ovation,” Hung said. “But it was extremely rewarding getting a standing ovation as the first act of the night and then having various people come speak to us afterwards about being blown away and really enjoying it.”

All of the Swarthmore student attendees found that ECTC generated discussions among themselves about taiko’s relationship to Asian America. “The conference started some discussions among us Swatties about the nuanced ways taiko interacts with identity formation and empowerment, especially within Asian-America, and we’ve continued to have those discussions back at Swat,” Guan said.

At the same time, ECTC was critiqued for not addressing certain issues. “At ECTC, I found myself debating whether or not there should have been more room for critical conversations of taiko, positionality, and identity within the short span of the weekend,” Hung said. “The question is, considering the dynamics and demographics of the Asian American community now and the need to challenge the centralization of East Asians in conversations of Asian American identity and issues, can the taiko community be more inclusive to the wider Asian American community, and if so how?” Hung further extends this question to ask whether taiko can also be inclusive of non-Asian people of color.

Overall, ECTC has been an eye-opening experience for the Swarthmore students in attendance, with some of the seniors now contemplating joining a taiko group after graduation. The conversations about taiko’s relation to race, class, gender, and colonial history still continue today for these students back on campus, especially since Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant offers a seminar called “Taiko and the Asian American Experience.” In that class, students have an opportunity to develop a greater understanding of taiko within historical, cultural, and artistic contexts. Professor Small hopes that attending ECTC will become an annual tradition for Swarthmore students, and that they continue to take part in the greater taiko community even after college.

David Chan ’19

Profile of Music Minor Moses Rubin ’19

Before Moses Rubin ‘19 even arrived at Swarthmore as a freshman, they had the love and passion for music instilled within them. Rubin took their opportunity as a child of a musician living in New York City to explore and learn how to play different genres of music. When Rubin began taking guitar lessons at age seven, they became inspired by singer/songwriters like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. As they grew older, they explored punk and jazz music, admiring artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown. During their high school years, Rubin took their musical exploration even further and went out multiple times to various venues in New York City where live music was playing. They recall visiting “a bunch of jazz clubs and bars when [they were] in high school,” and they soon realized that no matter what they did with their life, they “needed to be around [music] all the time.”

Upon arriving at Swarthmore, Rubin didn’t originally intend on studying music in an academic setting, however, they still found a way to keep their passion for music alive by joining Caboose, a band which still actively performs today. Their involvement with Caboose helped fill the “artistic vacuum” Rubin said they felt during that time of their life. Caboose gave Rubin a community to belong to. Though Rubin writes their own songs and at times enjoys music on their own, being a part of Caboose helped them realize that they were their  “happiest when [they] were playing with other people”.

As they started to invest more dedication to Caboose and their individual musical pursuits, Rubin decided to study music academically to improve their musical skills. However, what Rubin values most from their music classes is not so much rooted in academics but more in the “spiritual” experience of music. Rubin learned through their classes to “think critically about music,” to appreciate its history and current stature while at the same time being able to criticize its limitations. According to Rubin, space is one realm of music that they “never really understood before Swarthmore.” Rubin sees Swarthmore as “a reflective and thoughtful place”, especially when it comes to the idea of taking up space though presence or expression, and “the most important skill” the music program has taught Rubin is to listen to the space they are taking up as an artist. By listening and engaging with the space that both the audience and performers are simultaneously altering, Rubin says “it becomes a shared experience,” and though Rubin has been around music their whole life, Rubin recognizes this “shared experience” of music as something “unique to Swat.”

Though many experiences Rubin has had with music are unique to Swat, they still plan to take all they have learned and apply it to their life after graduation. This summer, they will use their background in production by working as a sound designer for a dance company. In addition, they and another musician are working on an application to the Fringe Festival in Philadelphia. When Rubin graduates this spring, they will leave Swarthmore  “very excited to start [their] own musical projects.”

Maria Consuelo de Dios ’21

chorus

Variant 6 Performs with Garnet Singers and Chorus

On Friday evening at 8:00 in Lang Concert Hall, the Swarthmore College Garnet Singers and the Swarthmore College Chorus will present their spring concert under the direction of Joseph Gregorio and alongside featured guest ensemble Variant 6.

This concert will cap off Variant 6’s yearlong term as Featured Guest Artists, which included a masterclass with the Garnet Singers, a masterclass for solo singers, and several reading sessions for new works by student composers. “Variant 6 has contributed a great deal to the education of singers and composers in our Department this year,” says Professor Gregorio. “Singing alongside and getting helpful feedback from such highly polished and professional musicians elevated the level of music-making among our singers, and hearing Variant 6 read student compositions was an invaluable opportunity for student composers to learn about writing for voices.”

On the first half of Friday’s concert, the Garnet Singers will be joined by Variant 6 for their entire set, which comprises music composed by Sulpitia Cesis, John Wilbye, Francis Poulenc, David Conte, Lili Tobias ’19, and Benjamin Britten. All of the Garnet Singers’ pieces are connected in some way to the theme of plants, according to Gregorio. “I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a strange theme,” he says, “yet each of these pieces met the group at the right level and helped us grow as an ensemble.”

Variant 6 will perform an excerpt of Caroline Shaw’s To The Hands to conclude the concert’s first half.

The Chorus, accompanied by an orchestra of strings, brass, and chamber organ, will perform a set of polychoral music on the second half of the concert. Once again, in various roles determined by the needs of the music, Variant 6 will take part.  “Polychoral music comes in many varieties,” explains Gregorio.  “Much music for multiple choirs is written in eight parts, for two roughly equal choirs. However, music for three or more choirs also exists, as does music written for two unequal choirs.  Chorus will be lucky to have Variant 6 helping us bring this music to life in several ways — for example, Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin (which he wrote when he was only sixteen years old!) asks that Choir II be sung by a semi-chorus or solo quartet. Variant 6 will serve as this small ensemble, while Chorus serves as Choir I. In Jacobus Handl’s Alleluia, cantate Domino canticum novum, which is scored for three choirs, Variant 6 will serve as one of the choirs, and Chorus, split in half, will serve as the other two. And in the other works Chorus is singing, which are scored for two equal choirs, Variant 6 will sing spread out among the members of the Chorus, as they will have done on the first half with Garnet Singers.”

Several facets of this semester’s choral concert stand out as unusual. “Aside from the remarkable and unique opportunity our singers will have to perform alongside Variant 6, the concert will feature two particularly noteworthy contributions from students,” Gregorio says. “For Wilbye’s madrigal Flora gave me fairest flowers, the combined forces of the Garnet Singers and Variant 6 will be led by assistant conductor and bass section leader Deondre Jordan ’19, who has rehearsed the piece all semester with the singers and shaped a beautiful interpretation of it. The Garnet Singers and pianist Mia Shoquist ’21 are also very proud to present the premiere of Herbae Ignotae (Unknown Plants), a piece by Lili Tobias ’19 that sets the names of plants in a language constructed by Hildegard of Bingen. I’m quite glad this concert features Deondre’s and Lili’s work so prominently; they have been stalwart members of both choral ensembles during their time at Swarthmore, and both groups and I will miss them dearly when they graduate. We’ll also be saying goodbye to soprano and tenor section leaders Rebecca Regan ’19 and Ben Warren ’19, who have likewise contributed immensely to Chorus and Garnet Singers.”

Desta Pulley ’17

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Student and Faculty Choreography Shines in Spring Dance Concert

The semesterly Dance Concerts are opportunities for students participating in Swarthmore’s Dance Program to showcase the work they have been doing over the past semester. This spring’s show will feature ballet, tap, African, and taiko, as well as student-choreographed pieces. Students from all levels and backgrounds of dance participate, forming a collection of individual pieces that, together, reveal the depth and dynamism of Swarthmore dance.

Professor Chandra Moss-Thorne will be showing her newest piece, Plight, at this year’s event. Featuring more than 20 dancers, this contemporary ballet work is set to the music of Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. Professor LaDeva Davis’s tap dancers will be dancing to music by Aretha Franklin in a piece called Think. The lyrics of the song were written by Ira Tucker Jr. to “accommodate a public service campaign” about the “dangers of driving under the influence.” Professor Saleana Pettaway’s MISS Understandings is set to the music of Rick Allen, Beyonce, the Ibiza Royal Drums, and Me’Shell Ndegeochello. The work is a “tribute to the female experience…It celebrates the power of the female collective and the beauty of our diversity.” Finally, Professor Joe Small’s taiko drummers and dancers will perform a set of arrangements from Japan and beyond. While Soma Bon Uta is a “popular standard at obon across Japan and overseas,” the employment of the ukulele “pays homage to the connection between Japan, Portugal, and Hawaii.” Additionally, Kris Bergstrom’s Jack Bazaar showcases “not the iki of Edo, but Los Angeles.”

The Spring Dance Concert will also feature student works from Zara Williams-Nicholas ’19, Lia D’Alessandro ’21, and Marion Kudla ’19. These pieces allow student choreographers to demonstrate both their technical abilities and their skills in visual composition. Zara Williams-Nicholas’s original work titled Weeping Blue Mahoe, is a piece about identity formation and the “exploration of the self in relation to others.” More than that, Williams-Nicholas says that her dance is reflective of her own experiences here at Swarthmore: In some sense, this work is an “autobiography of [her] journey of finding [herself] at a predominantly white institution.”

Lia D’Alessandro’s piece, Progression, is a contemporary ballet work about the “escape from the traditional image of females in ballet as delicate and dependent upon men.” D’Alessandro says it was inspired by her journey as a ballet dancer “who does not fit the stereotype. It showcases the strength and athleticism of a female dancer in the 21st century.”

Marion Kudla will be presenting her piece titled, Into Interior. Kudla says the work is an extension of a piece she choreographed last fall, called Imprints, which explored the biological concept of rewilding. Rewilding is “an environmental conservation tool that reintroduces ‘native’ species into an environment and lets nature take over to return to an ‘original’ state. Her new piece takes this idea and uses it to explore nature as an “emotional, psychological space.” A work of contemporary ballet, Into Interior “plays on the duality of the word ‘interior’ as both a signifier for nature as well as a personal, reflective process.”

The Spring Dance Concert allows everyone to participate in the incredible diversity of Swarthmore’s performing arts. Faculty works are shown alongside student pieces, and radically different styles occupy the same space. Swarthmore’s dance concerts are a chance for members of the community to experience the hard work of students and faculty, who together reveal the unique kind of joy and catharsis that dance can provide.

The Spring Dance Concert will be held on Friday, May 3rd at 4:30 PM, and Saturday, May 4th at 8:00 PM in the Lang Performing Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20

CME F18

Chinese Music Ensemble Highlights Student Soloists

On Sunday, April 28th, the Swarthmore College Chinese Music Ensemble will hold its spring concert, performing traditional and contemporary music inspired by musical traditions from a variety of ethnic groups and regions across China and its Diaspora. Students will also perform on traditional Chinese instruments such as the guzheng (zither), erhu (bowed fiddle), pipa, (plucked lute) yangqin (hammered dulcimer), dizi (flute), and percussion. Both the students as well as the co-directors, Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant and Professor Guowei Wang have rehearsed every week as an ensemble and individually in preparation for this day.

According to Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant the program lineup for this semester is “definitely driven by the individual and collective talents of [the] particular group of students in the ensemble.” At the beginning of each semester, Professor Bryant and Professor Wang assess the interests, experience, and abilities of the students and suggest pieces for them to practice during the semester and eventually perform near the end. However, nearly all of the students who performed in the Chinese Ensemble during the fall semester continued on this spring, so there was more room this semester to work on each student’s strengths.

Some special features this semester include solos by Josephine Hung’19 on dizi (bamboo flute) and Shirley Liu’22 on guzheng (zither), and a small group of erhu students, Han Chen’22, Rebecca Lin’22, Faye Ma’20, and Jeffrey Zhou’19, with Daisy Lee’22 on ruan (lute). Liu says it is a “great honor for [her] to perform the solo piece ‘Dawn in Spring on the Snowy Mountain’” and is striving to “present this piece at her best capacity this Sunday.”

If an audience member is familiar with Chinese music, Professor Bryant says that “there should be some recognizable pieces in [the] spring program to enjoy.” However, for an audience member who is not familiar with Chinese music, the hope is for such people to “enjoy the variety of pieces on the program,” to “understand what the individual instruments each sound like as well as how the ensemble sounds together,” and to appreciate the fact that “though the instruments in the ensemble each carry different histories in, into, and around China, the modern Chinese orchestra is something that emerged in the nineteenth century.” Audience members are encouraged to come and witness the Chinese Ensemble perform, even if they have attended the ensemble’s recitals in previous semesters, to see “different students featured, a new repertoire, and a continued development of [the] Chinese Music Ensemble at Swarthmore.”

The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 28th, at Lang Concert Hall.

Maria Consuelo de Dios ’21

Orchestra concert hall

Orchestra Tackles Symphony, Opera, and Student Composition

With the semester coming to a close, the Swarthmore College Orchestra is preparing for their final concert of the 2018-2019 season.

Coming off of their performance of the classic Dvořák Cello Concerto last semester with Amy Barston, director Andrew Hauze ’04 describes the SCO’s upcoming program as an “exciting mix of familiar and unfamiliar music.” The concert will feature Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, debuted in 1896 as the first symphony ever published by a female composer. Beach herself was heavily influenced by Dvořák’s work, and wrote the “Gaelic” Symphony as her own take on the concept of a “New World Symphony.” “I’ve been wanting to program the piece for years,” writes Hauze, “but a new edition didn’t come out until 2017, finally correcting many errors and making the parts easy to read (they had previously been copies of old handwritten parts!). It’s an intensely powerful work, filled with Irish folk tunes blended into Beach’s own grand style.”

Along with the Beach symphony, the Orchestra will also be playing two operatic classics: Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville and “Micaela’s Aria” from Bizet’s Carmen featuring Rebecca Regan ’19, as well as debuting On Narrow Foot-Bridges, a tone poem by Swarthmore’s own Lili Tobias ’19.

“There were many lovely coincidences surrounding the first half of the program,” Hauze explains. “Lili has been a force for community building in our program over the last several years, as she has been regularly showcasing student performers in premieres of her own music and revivals of neglected works by women composers in Parrish lunchtime concerts and on her own senior recital. Lili’s comprehensive exam was on her specialty, the music of Amy Beach, so I was delighted to be able to include a new work by Lili alongside the Beach symphony.”

The coincidences don’t end there. Rebecca Regan, a soprano and Swarthmore’s 2019 Concerto Competition winner, regularly collaborates with Tobias to debut vocal works, and her original composition will be conducted by assistant conductor Shira Samuels-Shragg ‘20 on Saturday.

The Swarthmore College Orchestra will perform on Saturday, April 27th at 8:00 PM in Lang Concert Hall.

Andy Zhang ’22

courtyard dancers

Courtyard Dancers at New York Kathak Festival

In the context of the United States, Kathak dance, a classical North Indian dance tradition, occupies a marginal space within a larger landscape of dance cultures. That is why an event such as New York Kathak Festival has generated much excitement among patrons of Kathak dance. The New York Kathak Festival will be held from April 19th to April 21st, and Professor Pallabi Chakravorty will be bringing her company, Courtyard Dancers, as well as some Swarthmore students to the festival.

The New York Kathak Festival is a newly formed organization that aims to bring together the American Kathak community together for a dynamic and diverse exchange of movements and ideas. “It is the first time that such an inclusive festival is happening in America, although this is not the first Kathak festival happening in this country, since there have been other big Kathak festivals,” Professor Chakravorty said. “But it shows that Kathak is really growing in the diaspora as a dance form among various communities, so you could see that it is very vibrant and something that people want to be part of.”

The organizing of New York Kathak Festival defies the traditionally conceptualized model of cultural sharing; that is, the idea that culture is passed down from the older generation to the younger generation. This time, the younger generation is spearheading the movement to promote Kathak to a wider audience at the cultural center of the United States. “These are young Indian Americans who want to see their culture in this particular landscape of America,” Professor Chakravorty said. “They wanted to include various different choreographers coming from various different traditions within Kathak.”

Being that this festival brings together a diverse group of Kathak practitioners, Professor Chakravorty saw this as a good opportunity to expose Swarthmore students to the Kathak community that spans from the local to the global. “The students will be exposed to an international community of professional Kathak performers and choreographers, so this will be  like a cultural immersion, even though the duration will be short,” Professor Chakravorty said. “They will see how India’s diversity of religion, language and costumes are expressed through movement, gestures and sound. Altogether, I am hoping it will be a transformative experience.” All students from the Kathak technique class were invited to attend this festival, and those who signed up will be making the trip soon.

Kathak dance belongs to the North Indian music and dance culture and it is both an Islamic form as well as a Hindu form. “It is a very syncretic dance form, and the dance form itself has a lot of diversity woven into it in terms of identity and aesthetics,” Professor Chakravorty said. In general, Kathak dance is high-energy, featuring a lot of turns and a lot of footwork. Rhythmically, the dance comes from percussion tradition, giving the form that high-energy. Yet, it is the more subtle aspects that Professor Chakravorty is currently interested in exploring: “All of these aspects are exciting, but I have always been interested in the more subtle aspects of Kathak like the subtle breath that goes into the movement, or the subtle hand gesture, or the expressive aspects of the face and how that integrates with a tilt of the torso. These are very fine-tuned things that the dance has so the dance is so strong yet so delicate.”

Courtyard Dancers will perform at New York Kathak Festival on its opening day, April 19th. The company functions as a performing group and as a school to train people in Kathak, with Professor Chakravorty as the company’s Founder and Artistic Director. The company seeks to find the relationship between movement and sound, as well as to create choreographies that explore social issues such as violence between Hindus and Muslims in India, Partition, and the delegitimization of courtesans as dancers to name a few topics. “We are really trying to figure out how to tell stories of modern times using the idiom of tradition since the dance traditionally tells mythological stories or various kinds of spiritual stories,” Professor Chakravorty said.

At the festival, Courtyard Dancers will be performing a piece that they have already showcased elsewhere, called Find Metiabruz. The title of the choreography references a place in Kolkata as well as a glorious history lost by the violent processes of colonialism. “It is a historic place which has completely lost its identity, and through this performance, we try to invoke that particular history so people can know a little bit,” Professor Chakravorty said. “This history relates to the Muslim aspects of Kathak dance, which has been under attack because of Hindu fundamentalism going on in India right now.” Find Metiabruz is accompanied by recorded music, tambourines, and recitations from the dancers.

As of now, the members of Courtyard Dancers are rehearsing as much as they can, since every member has a busy work schedule. They are engineers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, and students outside of the company, but because each of them want to see the uplifting of Kathak within America’s cultural landscape, they volunteer with much passion. Professor Chakravorty concludes, “The dedication I have from them is stupendous, and we work with very little resources, without grants, or without space. This is truly a labor of love.”

David Chan ’19
Photo by Sasha Fornari