Monthly Archives: March 2018

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The Tempest Brews at Swarthmore College

Emily Kennedy, a junior from Portland, Oregon, wasn’t planning on being a stage manager this semester.  She had already stage managed three shows at Swarthmore thus far, and as a Political Science Major with Environmental Studies and Math minors who is also pre-med and going abroad next semester, she had plenty of reason to take a break this spring and focus on academics and other extracurricular pursuits.

But when senior honors Theater major Wesley Han asked her to run their upcoming production of The Tempest, she found herself unable to turn down the “crazy” opportunity.  Kennedy knew Han from previous plays, in which at least one of them was acting, and had also seen their work as the director of last fall’s Senior Company production of HIR.  She describes Han as “such an incredible artist” and the chance to work with them as a stage-manager/director team on a show this ambitious she felt was not one to be missed.

A major part of what sets Han’s Tempest apart from Swarthmore’s usual theater offerings is that dance and music play an integral role throughout.  This makes sense considering their background as a cellist and pianist, whose drama experience during high school consisted almost exclusively of acting, singing, and dancing in musicals.  It’s true that here at Swarthmore, Han “got used to doing straight theater” and even learned to appreciate “how much more room for substance there is when you’re not stopping every five minutes to spontaneously burst into song.”  But after a very substantial and emotionally charged directing capstone last semester in the form of HIR, which involved just four actors and explored family politics with a queer twist, Han is returning to a much more dance- and sound-oriented production this spring with The Tempest.

The whole idea of doing this show originated in large part in the desire to incorporate dance into Han’s theater work, and Shakespeare provided a natural starting point. “So much of [a Shakespeare story] needs to be told nonverbally,” Han says, since “a lot of the language isn’t accessible today.”  And when dance minor Jenny Gao ’18 planted the seed of potentially collaborating, they immediately thought that her background and movement style would make her a good fit for the role of Ariel in The Tempest; in this production, Ariel isn’t just “some dude in a costume covered in feathers who just moves around like a person,” but rather a fully embodied spirit, with a cadre of lesser spirits to do her bidding.

In charge of choreographing most of the movement for that spirit ensemble is Louisa Carman ’21.  Carman, a prospective Political Science major with minors in Spanish and Dance, brings to this project a wealth of dance experience applied in new ways.  In high school, she studied ballet, jazz, tap, and hip-hop, and performed with Chicago’s Evanston Dance Ensemble in several of their large story-based productions, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland.  Through Evanston, she also gained some experience creating her own work, but hadn’t yet combined the two skills—choreographing and storytelling—in a deliberate way until The Tempest.  This combination proved initially difficult, as Carman says “it was a challenge for me to choreograph with the mindset that every element…has a role in advancing the story and adding to the overall atmosphere of the scene.”  She has had throughout the process to balance the worth of her movement for its own sake with how well it contributes to the overall theatrical production.

Sound designer Oliver Lipton ’18 has found himself adjusting to that balance, as well.  Lipton composed most of the show’s soundtrack as an honors thesis for his major in Theater, and while he had previously produced a radioplay called What We Fear as an independent study, this is his first experience creating sound for live theater or dance.  There’s a lot to explore, as not only is he providing the precise cues referred to or suggested by the script, but also the more extensive and rhythmically structured music for dance. Since Ariel in this production doesn’t speak onstage, he’s also responsible for manipulating recordings of Ariel’s voice to stand in for live lines.  All of these have to fit into a coherent soundscape that suggests the particular atmosphere and dynamics of one island, which Lipton decided was a mix of electronic and acoustic sound (dancer Gabriela Brown and Han play flute and cello, respectively, in several of his compositions).  He says that within that general auditory framework, “designing sounds in such a way that they work for the rest of the elements at play has been very interesting.”

Despite the challenges and compromises inherent in crafting all the factors involved in a production of this scope into a harmonious whole, having so many minds in the mix is ultimately quite rewarding.  Carman, for one, says her favorite part of choreographing for the show has been “working with other creative people,” and that she has “learned so much about the decisions that happen behind the scenes for a production like this one.”  Stage manager Kennedy, who gets to follow the whole arc of the project from before auditions to closing night, definitely agrees.  She loves facilitating and watching as “a bunch of people come together to make something cool.” And The Tempest is shaping up to be something cool, indeed.

The Tempest will be showing in the LPAC Frear Ensemble Theater Friday, March 30th at 8pm, Saturday, March 31st at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, April 1st at 2pm.

Lydia Roe ’20

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Sally Wolf Master Class

On Sunday, March 25th, Sally Wolf will hold her annual master class in the Lang Music Center. The event begins at 2:00pm and will feature several Swarthmore student singers. It is free and open to the public.

Soprano Sally Wolf has led a decorated career spanning over 30 years. She received her vocal training from renowned sopranos Donna Pegors and Margaret Harshaw, and holds an Opera Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music. She was the recipient of a 1981 National Opera Institute Grant, placed first in the 1980 San Francisco Opera Auditions, and was a 1986 winner in the International Pavarotti Competition in Philadelphia. She was also awarded Seattle Opera’s “Artist of The Year” in 1992. She has earned widespread critical acclaim for her roles as Norma at Seattle Opera and Florida Grand Opera, Mimi (La Boheme) at Seattle Opera, Violetta (La Traviata) with Opera du Rhin in Strasbourg, and Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor) with Seattle Opera. She is also an accomplished interpreter of Mozart’s repertoire, including Donna Anna (Don Giovanni) with Frankfurt Opera, and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) at New York City Opera and Los Angeles Opera, among others. A former interpreter of Queen of the Night (Die Zaubeflöte), she performed the role 192 times in some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses.

Ms. Wolf is a master of coloratura, an elaborate vocal style that is usually sung by sopranos. Coloratura singing is dramatic and dynamic, combining runs, trills, wide leaps, and other difficult techniques. Her skill in this regard is part of what makes her such a sought-after instructor. Although coloratura is used primarily by sopranos, it has universal applications in vocal coaching. It combines melody with a number of inventive styles, and once its principles are mastered, they can be used to embellish and ornament almost any piece of music. Ms. Wolf is able to separate and combine these skills as she teaches, producing multi-layered classes that construct and deconstruct simultaneously. It is for this reason that her teaching is as infamous as her own career.

She has also provided meaningful contributions to Swarthmore’s vocal program over the years. In addition to her annual master class, she teaches at the Florence Opera Seminar each year alongside Swarthmore vocal coach Debra Scurto-Davis. Student vocalists from Swarthmore often attend this seminar, learning valuable skills from both teachers in the beautiful Italian city. Sally Wolf is one of the world’s premier vocalists, and Swarthmore students should not hesitate to take advantage of all she has to offer.

 

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels ’20

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An Interview with Natasha Noguiera ’18

As the end of the year draws closer, Natasha Nogueira ’18 has been preparing for her senior recital, a culmination of the music she has studied in her time at Swarthmore.

Nogueira will sing pieces in English, French, Italian, and German, with most of her songs dating from the 17th through 19th centuries. For one piece, “The Flower Duet” by Léo Delibes, she will be accompanied by duet partner Shelby Billups ’20. On her favorite piece, Thomas Arne’s 17th century “Morning Cantata,” she will be accompanied by a small ensemble featuring Jasmine Sun ’18 and Henry Feinstein ’19 on the violin, Ayaka Yorihiro ’20 on the viola, Noah Rosenberg ’18 on the cello, Rachel Hottle ’18 playing the flute, and pianist Debra Scurto-Davis playing the harpsichord. She has agreed to discuss the process of planning her recital, which will take place on March 24 at 8:00 pm in Lang Concert Hall.

How long have you been preparing your recital? How have you prepared yourself?

Nogueira: I have actually been working on this repertoire since last year (January 2017). After reaching the Freeman Scholar level in Music 48 [Music majors, minors, and Freeman Scholars taking Music 048 can apply for funding for a recital. Freeman Scholarships are given to Music 048 students who show exceptional talent.], I was excited to have a senior recital. I also wanted to be well prepared for it, so this recital has been a year in the making. It has been an adventure to learn all this music in the past year and perfect it for performance.

How did you choose the songs you will be performing?

Nogueira: Most of the music was actually chosen by my voice teacher, Nancy Jantsch. However, I have been wanting to do The Flower Duet for the past couple of years, so that was something I chose. As my voice teacher, Nancy knows how to choose music that is well suited to my voice and capabilities. Sometimes, as singers, we fall in love with a song. that unfortunately is not great for our voices. Our teachers ensure that the music we sing matches the type of voice we have. Of course, Nancy proposed all the music to me first, and I spent a lot of time listening to all the songs before agreeing to them.

Does any song have a special significance for you?

Nogueira: My favorite is definitely The Morning Cantata. It is a pastoral piece, so while the textual meaning is not as significant [as some of the other songs], the music portrays the text beautifully and singing with the ensemble has made it really stand out.

How are you feeling about the recital?

Nogueira: As someone who loves music and has been singing for a long time, I am excited to share this night with people, as it is the culmination of a lot of hard work and years of vocal studies. I want to enjoy myself during the recital and share my love for music with other people.

Do you have any plans for what you’d like to do next?

Nogueira: One of the easy things about being a singer, is that your instrument is with you wherever you go. Wherever I end up after graduation, I will continue singing.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Emilie Hautemont ’20

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Forbidden Songs

At the two-day festival “Forbidden Songs,” attendees will hear long-lost music by Roman Palester and view an iconic film about how Warsaw’s street musicians fought the Nazi invasion, presented for the first time with English subtitles. Although Palester was one of the most distinctive composers of twentieth-century Poland, his compositions have been virtually forgotten, due in large part to censorship in communist Poland. “Forbidden Songs” brings Palester’s neoclassical and lyrical style to a new audiences and also explores his substantial work with film.

On the first day of the festival, the English-subtitled version of the film Forbidden Songs (1947) will see its world premiere at Swarthmore. The film tells the story of everyday life in Warsaw during World War II through popular “street songs” banned during the Nazi occupation. The film score was created by Palester and includes newly composed music as well as arrangements of the featured songs. Professor Barbara Milewski of Swarthmore College will introduce the film and reveal some of the hidden stories it has held since its creation. As she explains, “The film compels us to consider the tensions between personal and official acts of remembering—and forgetting—within the contexts of Poland’s historically oppressive regimes and the nation’s contemporary politics. It also gives us a glimpse into the ways in which music helped Polish Jews and non-Jews alike to reclaim notions of community in the immediate postwar years.” Mackenzie Pierce ‘11, a PhD Candidate in musicology at Cornell University, will deliver the Peter Gram Swing lecture earlier that day: “Beyond Historical Rupture: Classical Music and the Second World War in Poland,” which will place Palester in a broader musical and historical context.  

Day two of the festival will feature performers Xak Bjerken, Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, Susan Waterbury, and David Colwell in the American premiere of Palester’s chamber music and vocal works, which span Palester’s entire career from the 1930s to the late 1970s. Says Pierce, “In Poland today, memory of the Second World War is inescapable. By looking at music during the war and in its immediate aftermath, we can peel back some of these later political interpretations and recover the complexity and ambiguity of the heady postwar moment.” Pierce is particularly fascinated by the difficult choices musicians in postwar Poland faced: leave the country and work abroad, or stay and endure the risks of an authoritarian regime. Those who left often had their music banned and subsequently forgotten, like Palester.

Milewski and Pierce first met at Swarthmore as professor and student, but now see each other as colleagues with shared scholarly interest in the music of mid-century Poland. Both emphasize the great interdisciplinary value in this festival, which will draw people interested in European cinema and music, WWII history and politics, and Holocaust studies. On the significance of Palester’s life and work, Pierce says, “He had to overcome two authoritarian regimes: first, the brutal and terrorizing Nazi occupation and then the repressive communist government that rebuilt Poland from the rubble up. His compositions provide insight into how music creates a sense of continuity over rupture. They also remind us that every step towards war and censorship strikes at the lifeblood of an artistic culture.”

The Forbidden Songs Festival will take place on Thursday, March 22nd and Friday, March 23rd. On Thursday, Mackenzie Pierce will give his lecture on “Classical Music and the Second World War in Poland” at 4:30 PM in Lang Concert Hall. This event will be followed by the world premiere of the film Forbidden Songs at 8PM in LPAC 101 Cinema. On Friday, the performance of Roman Palester’s works will take place at 8PM in Lang Concert Hall. These events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit https://www.swarthmore.edu/music/concerts-events or forbiddensongs.org

Maya Kikuchi ‘20

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Profile of Dance Major Bo Lim Lee ’18

Bo Lim Lee ‘18, a Chemistry major and Dance minor, came to Swarthmore with an eclectic background in dance. After suffering a foot injury in high school, she didn’t think she would be able to dance again. Despite this setback, Lee has become one of the most active members in Swarthmore’s dance program, taking part in a wide range of classes and performing at every opportunity.  Lee was originally trained in classical ballet, but became exposed to more modern and contemporary techniques high school. During this period, she also joined a hip hop dance troupe, an experience that motivated her to join the tri-college hip hop group, Rhythm n’ Motion, later on. She has continued to pursue a wide range of styles since coming to Swarthmore, and while she enjoys many of them, her favorite is umfundalai, a contemporary African dance technique that is made up of movement traditions from throughout the Diaspora.

Umfundalai means “essential” in Kiswahili. Its technique is centered around the idea of an “essence of African dance” that “lives wherever African people reside.” In this way, umfundalai situates its dancers both in the past and the present, creating a contemporary amalgamation of traditional styles that become representative of African movement in a wider sense. Several members of Swarthmore’s Dance faculty were trained in the technique and have brought their own artistic voices to its instruction. Despite their different approaches, they all place particularly high importance on the narrative component of umfundalai, which is something that Lee deeply appreciates: “I have fallen in love with the dance’s unique ability to intertwine narratives into the movements,” she says.

Lee was part of the tri-college group, Rhythm n’ Motion, during her sophomore and junior years. The group is made up of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, and focuses on movement traditions from the African Diaspora, including jazz, salsa, hip hop, and African. They rehearse every weekend and perform two shows each year at the end of the fall and spring semesters.

Lee also had the opportunity to create her own pieces in choreography class. When she came to Swarthmore, she had not been particularly involved with choreography, and so appreciated how the class pushed her to “explore beyond [her] comfort zone.” Of the works she created for the class, she says that she was primarily influenced by “music and/or certain themes. “I can’t really choreograph from free-style so, I like having some structure to work with when I choreograph.”

Lee will be working as a research technician in a lab at the University of Pennsylvania over the next two years, after which she will attend graduate or medical school. She hopes to continue taking dance classes on the side.

Gabriel Hearn-Desautels  ’20

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Improvisation and Identity in Didik Nini Thowok’s Traditional Indonesian Cross-Gender Performance

In a departure from the composed and choreographed nature of many Western Classical styles of music and dance, students at Swarthmore will get a taste for the improvisatory art of traditional Indonesian dance when Didik Nini Thowok comes to campus on Tuesday, March 6. Didik Nini Thowok is a traditional cross-gender dancer from Java, Indonesia who performs in a variety of dance traditions, including topeng, Sundanese, Cirebon, Balinese, and Central Javanese.

Professor Tom Whitman of the Music and Dance Department is excited for Didik Nini Thowok to work with the Swarthmore Gamelan ensemble, a group of dancers and percussive and wind musicians who practice this classical music and dance form from Bali, Indonesia, as part of the lecture. Professor Whitman is hopeful that this event will expose the Gamelan ensemble to the improvisatory art that Didik Nini Thowok can offer.

“We’re not able to do a lot of dances that are improvisatory in nature. The dances that we do are always choreographed dances. Having Didik Nini Thowok here is an opportunity for us to work with a very high-level Indonesian dancer and to give my students and the audience a sense of what improvisation is all about. I think it’ll be a good learning experience for me and for my students in the Gamelan and I hope the audience will find it interesting too.”

Along with the workshop with the Gamelan ensemble, the event will include a lecture hosted by Didik Nini Thowok, co-sponsored by the Music and Dance Department, Asian Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Professor Whitman believes that Didik Nini Thowok’s visit to campus will resonate with many Swarthmore students, not just as dancers or musicians, but also as individuals seeking identities within a shifting political and cultural climate. As Professor Whitman pointed out, and as Didik Nini Thowok mentioned in his 2011 TEDx Talk, Indonesia’s currently pluralistic government does not fully support the kind of message that Didik Nini Thowok delivers through cross-gender performance. The courage it takes for Didik Nini Thowok to publicly cross-dress is something Professor Whitman is certain Swarthmore students will appreciate and relate to.

“This is an artist who has grappled with issues of identity and what it means to be an artist in a very pluralistic setting that will speak to a lot of Swarthmore students. Just this notion of how one forges an identity and how one reconciles one’s own inner direction as an artist with a great tradition, I think is something all artists struggle with in a lot of ways, and I think it’s relevant.”

In his TEDx Talk, Didik Nini Thowok identifies with the struggles he has faced as a Chinese descendant in Indonesia and a man playing the role of a woman in his cross-gender performances, saying: “Since I was little, I’ve always experienced what it felt like to be a minority.”

But despite the discrimination as a result of the political situation in Indonesia, Didik Nini Thowok continues to deliver messages of love and acceptance across the globe.

Didik Nini Thowok’s lecture and demonstration is on Tuesday, March 6th at 4:30 PM in Lang Music Concert Hall. This event will be free and open to the public.

Marion Kudla ’19

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A Glance at Student Projects

Swarthmore can be a hectic place for students, who are required to balance academics, jobs, extracurriculars, and a social life (and, occasionally, sleep). It is especially so for Music and Dance students, who have the added pressure of auditions and practice. Yet, somehow, a number of Music and Dance majors have found time to pursue their own projects, and to share them with the community.

Andrew J Kim ’18 is a music major specializing in conducting. Despite the pressure of senior year and grad school applications, he found the time to apply for a choral conducting master class, held in Pittsburgh in the week before spring break.

“It’s actually less pressure than everything else,” laughingly notes Kim. “I heard about the master class from Joe Gregorio [the director of choral ensembles at Swarthmore], and we worked on the application together — there was a written application, and I had to submit a video of me directing. The Dean’s office is also funding part of trip, through student conference funding.”

The class is part of a larger conference held by the regional chapter of the American Choral Directors Association and will feature workshops and lectures by choral conductors and teachers from across the United States. Kim and other students in the masterclass will prepare and conduct two pieces, working with a choir provided by the conference. He will also work closely with Dr Jerry Blackstone, the renowned Professor and Chair of Conducting at University of Michigan, who has previously taught choral directing to another Swarthmore alum.

Says Kim, “[You should] be constantly on the lookout for things to join into…just be confident about your strength as a musician. It doesn’t hurt to apply, so just try and put your best foot forward…it’s very cool to seek out opportunities, to meet other students doing the same thing as you and find out what other experiences they have.”
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Rachel Isaacs-Falbel ‘19 took advantage of her semester abroad to supplement her dance education. A Dance Studies and Anthropology special major who specializes in the study of ballet, she spent the fall of 2017 in Nice, France taking classes in dance theory at the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis through an IES Abroad program.

Explains Isaacs-Falbel, “It gave me a sense of how France interacts with ballet, and brought me a more critical perspective on the U.S. In terms of going into dance as a field, having French language skills is super helpful [Isaacs-Falbel is a French minor]. To learn about ballet history, you really need french to go into the archives and the vocabulary.”

Her classes included Theory of Choreography, and the History of Dance. She also took an advanced adult ballet class, which she describes as “…the fastest paced class I have ever taken – each exercise was set at a tempo twice as fast as I am used to, and they really pushed flexibility in a way I never experienced. [But] it was also super friendly and chill, they threw a going away party when I left.”

Isaacs-Falbel got to discover how French and American dance culture is different, particularly regarding ballet. French dancers must receive an official state diploma before they are approved to work as professional dancers. Isaacs-Falbel also noted that the Université de Nice Dance department works closely with the Music and Theater departments, sharing resources and frequently collaborating on projects, resulting in ballet – and more widely, dance – having a distinguished and protected standing in French culture. Her time in France allowed her to gain a new perspective on ballet in general, as well as new material for her thesis (on the intersections between race and class and the accessibility of ballet education in the U.S.).

“It’s totally possible to go abroad while being a dance or music major — there are lots of schools you can do exchanges with,” says Isaacs-Falbel. “It’s such a valuable experience, because… you gain a new perspective to bring back and critically think about, and think about what you’re learning at home and how that’s important.”

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Dance majors can also participate in programs that are closer to home. Marion Kudla ’19, who also specializes in ballet, attended a five-day dance intensive held by Complexions Contemporary Ballet, a dance company based in her hometown of New York City. Like Kim, she heard of the program from one of the Music and Dance department instructors, Chandra Moss-Thorne.

“I was asking around for classes and programs, and Chandra, who was a professional dancer, recommended the program and the company, because I live in New York…you submit a video to apply. [The dance] was different to what I’m used to doing here, I felt like the movement resonated with me. It was exactly the way I wanted to move, artistically speaking. It was also really fun to explore where I could go with that…to see how each person could interpret moves differently.”

For the program, Kudla spent four hours a day at the Complexions studio: two hours in a ballet class, which incorporated elements of contemporary dance, and two hours in a rep [repertory] class, where she learned some of the Company choreography. Undergoing such intensive classes on a daily basis was a very different pace from Swarthmore, where dance classes must be balanced with academics and extracurriculars. Furthermore, combining ballet and modern dance in such a close way was a new experience for Kudla. “Most of my training has been in ballet…I did some Modern with an alum who graduated last year, but not as much, and this was was really a new way of moving and making it a mix of ballet and modern techniques…I really got to experience my artistry in a different way. And of course the four hour a day schedule was different…I think it was just the right amount, I felt tired but really good.”

One of the major advantages of such programs is that they allow students to develop new techniques and skills, and incorporate them into their performances and work at Swarthmore. They also allow them to go beyond the Swat bubble and meet other musicians and dancers with similar interests, so that they may share their experiences. Kudla participated in the Complexions program alongside dancers from a variety of background, from high school seniors to conservatory students and members of other dance companies.

To any students who may be nervous about participating in similar programs, she advises “[The program] really was an array of dancers with different abilities. Taking our similar experiences and exploring them in different ways, and seeing each person grow in their technical and artistic abilities, is what it’s about…and it would be applicable to anyone who is interested in exploring dancing.”

Emilie Hautemont ’20