Monthly Archives: October 2017

Swarthmore Students Embrace Challenge of Summer Intensives

Summer intensives are somewhat of a rite of passage for dance students. Spanning several weeks and taking place at nearly dance school and company around the country, intensives are designed to be just that: intense. Sometimes dancing for 10 hours/day, students take classes in a variety of techniques and styles, from classical ballet to jazz, hip-hop, and flamenco. This past summer, Marion Kudla ‘19 and Sophie Gray-Gaillard ‘20 each attended summer intensives. Their experiences both prove the value of these kinds of programs and reaffirm their demanding structure.

Kudla attended the BalletX summer intensive in Philadelphia for two weeks. BalletX is a contemporary ballet company that “encourages formal experimentation while preserving rigorous technique.” They have performed at Swarthmore several times, and Kudla says they influenced her dancing even before she attended the summer program. Citing a performance from her freshman year, she says, “it was this performance that helped me recognize the far-reaching ways that dance and movement can impact our lives.” The intensive reaffirmed this notion for her, and has inspired her to immerse herself fully in Swarthmore’s dance program during her last two years at school. One of the benefits of attending a summer program with a company rather than at a school is the unique proximity to professional dancers. Kudla talks about watching the company in rehearsal, and the rare sense of intimacy that comes from seeing the dancers off stage. “Somehow, the choreography they were rehearsing took on a completely new form when seen up close and out of costume. The personality of each dancer became all the more apparent, emphasizing the company’s diverse artistry and making me appreciate the individuality integrated into contemporary choreography.”

Sophie Gray-Gaillard spent three weeks at the Cambrians summer intensive in Chicago. The Cambrians are a unique force in the world of contemporary ballet. Their pieces are made through collaborations with several choreographers. Each choreographer will make a piece of the dance, and then the Cambrians will “remix” it, using only the steps that they have been given to create a completely new work. Gray-Gaillard took classes in flying low, a technique that “emphasizes the dancer’s relationship with the floor,” improvisation, cuban technique, and modern technique. She also had to remix her own dances. The Cambrians dancers would give students pieces of dance and stipulate them with “movement tasks.” Gray-Gaillard describes one of these tasks: “My partner and I were assigned a task where we had to take a phrase that was a remix of three other phrases and perform it with our hips never being more than a few inches apart. On top of that, we had to perform it at a super slow speed.” This kind of intellectual challenge is not necessarily typical for all summer intensives, and the Cambrians’ use of this creative pedagogical technique furthers the idea that they, and companies like them, are disrupting the world of contemporary ballet with foundational innovation.

Swarthmore dance professor Olivia Sabee believes that this kind of summer dance study is incredibly important for many reasons: “Beyond simply providing the opportunity to continue to dance over the summer, pre-professional summer dance programs are a critically important way for our choreography and performance-focused students to get exposure to techniques and styles beyond those offered here at Swarthmore. The varied repertory experiences—whether focused on existing or new work—these programs provide also help shape the voices of emerging choreographers by allowing them to experience these works firsthand.”

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20

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A Profile of Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant

Swarthmore Music Department’s newest faculty member, Professor Lei Ouyang Bryant, is no stranger to small liberal arts colleges—this is her fourteenth year of teaching at one. However, her experiences as both a teacher and musician stretch far beyond that scope. As an ethnomusicologist specializing in East Asia and Asian America, she has also traveled to California, Ethiopia, and Taiwan to teach piano, violin, music, English, and dance to age groups spanning preschool to adult.

Professor Bryant’s musical background is as diverse and extensive as her teaching experiences. She studied violin, piano, and ballet throughout childhood and college, and learned Chinese music and dance growing up in her local Chinese American community in Minnesota. She also took up Taiko drumming during a semester abroad in Japan. After her undergraduate studies, she spent two years traveling and teaching, which deepened her interests in ethnomusicology. Says Professor Bryant, “I examine issues of music and memory, identity, politics, race and ethnicity, popular culture, and social justice. Ethnomusicology combines my interests in music, culture, and research.” This year, she will teach “Music Cultures of the World,” “Taiko & the Asian American Experience,” and “Music, Race, and Class,” and is currently co-directing the Music Department’s new Chinese Music ensemble.

Professor Bryant attended a small liberal arts college for undergraduate studies, and highly values the relationships she had with professors and peers in shaping her personal and professional life. When asked about teaching at Swarthmore, she responds, “I am honored to be able to work with undergraduate students in so many different facets of their lives. There is a very long list of reasons why I was interested in coming to Swarthmore, and at the top is the College’s strong commitment to access and civic engagement along with the diverse and highly motivated student body.” Professor Bryant believes her field of ethnomusicology is an ideal fit for a small liberal arts school because of the interdisciplinarity of the subject, and she looks forward to building connections with other courses and professors. “It is incredibly exciting to join a department of faculty to share a deep commitment to students as well as their own professional work as scholars and artists.”

Maya Kikuchi ’20

Photo by Gary Gold

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., addresses an audience during Harvard Class Day exercises on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., Wednesday, May 23, 2012.  The event is part of the school's commencement ceremonies. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A Journey into Experimental Music of Different Eras

“What might seem the most innocuous music is often the most avant-garde,” writes Ted Gordon on Gunther Schuller’s 1962 oeuvre “Journey into Jazz,” which Chamber Orchestra First Editions (COFE) will perform on Oct. 6 at Lang Concert Hall. Former Congressman and longtime LGBT rights advocate Barney Frank will narrate the piece, a story reminiscent of Peter and the Wolf with an experimental twist: third-stream jazz, or a blend of classical and jazz music. Additionally, NYC-based drummer and composer Gabriel Globus-Hoenich will add a brand-new piece to the COFE program, “Shattered Stones,” which will accompany two of Mozart’s early works, the Piano Concerto No. 21 and Symphony No. 29.

Mozart composed Symphony No. 29 at only 18 years old, while still living in Salzburg, Austria. According to Daniel Underhill Professor Emeritus of Music James Freeman, founder and Musical Director of COFE, Mozart may have paired the intimate feel of the piece with a striking finale in order to convince his father and even himself that he was talented enough to continue his career in Vienna.“It’s unlike any symphony that he had written up until this time,” Freeman said. “To see him suddenly produce a piece like the symphony that we’ll see at the end of the concert is sort of amazing. It just comes out of the blue.”

Both Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 414  and  Symphony No. 29 were written in A major, a key that imparts on them a “lyrical, singing quality,” according to Professor Andrew Hauze, who will be featured as soloist on the Concerto.  Mozart composed the Concerto just after he had arrived in Vienna at last, eight years after he wrote Symphony No. 29.

But what’s Congressman Barney Frank doing at a Mozart performance? After deciding to feature “Journey into Jazz,” Freeman asked himself, “Who would be an interesting narrator for this piece, a person who would perhaps—I hope—bring a different kind of audience to our concerts, a different kind of audience than has ever come before?”

Frank will also participate alongside Freeman and Hauze in a pre-show discussion at 7:30 P.M. before the 8 P.M. concert. Rehearsals for the show will be open to members of the Swarthmore community.

“I would say all of these pieces [in the COFE program] share a kind of vibrancy and energy, and to have Congressman Frank involved… for one thing, I never imagined that I would be the soloist on a program where he’s also the soloist,” Hauze said.

Freeman feels that this season’s COFE program will provide something to intrigue everyone, from connoisseurs of classical to jazz junkies to all Swarthmore students and staff.

“I just want people to experience recent classical new music, because I think people tend to be a little afraid of it as being too hard for them to understand, but’s it not,” Freeman said. “I hope they’ll hear the Mozart pieces and say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know Mozart was that interesting,’ because I think every note that guy wrote was interesting.”

                             Bayliss Wagner ’21

Alonzo King Lines Ballet: Biophony and The Propelled Heart

On Thursday, October 5th, Alonzo King Lines Ballet will perform at 8pm in the LPAC Pearson-Hall Theater. The event is free and open to the public.

A dancer has one, overarching goal when he or she steps onto the stage: to make it all look easy. No one wants to go see a ballet or contemporary performance to watch the dancers grimace and express to the audience the difficulty of what they are doing or the amount of pain they are in. The best dancers can make the hardest steps look easy, but it is their hard work and training that makes the choreography look this way. They have to battle the choreography and challenge themselves to give off a certain image.

Alonzo King works differently. The founder and artistic director of Alonzo King Lines ballet, he creates works that adhere to a specific stylistic goal: fluidity. He makes his dancers move in ways that accept and romanticize the human form, rather than breaking it into rigid techniques, as classical ballet does. His dancers barely look solid as they dance, and one is not constantly reminded of how uncomfortable the movements are or how difficult it is for the dancers. This is not to say that his pieces are easy to dance. They are incredibly difficult and require nearly perfect technique. But they are breathtaking because they look so fluid and unrestrained.

His company will be performing Biophony and The Propelled Heart. Biophony is a collaboration between Alonzo King, natural soundscape artist Bernie Krause, and composer Richard Blackford. For years, Krause made recordings of the natural world, from the sounds of killer whales to the gentle hum of the earth itself. The dancers take on animal form to remind us of the beauty that comes with a connection to the natural world.

The Propelled Heart is a celebration of the human voice. The performances is oriented around the vocalist Lisa Fischer, who has shared the stage with Mick Jagger, Beyoncé, Sting, Aretha Franklin, and more. Her voice is astoundingly powerful, and King wished to pay tribute to this. He explores the “kinetics” of the human voice, and his dancers make visual Ms. Fischer’s soaring music.

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20