Category Archives: Dance

Zara w-n

Profile of Dance Major Zara Williams-Nicholas ’19

Zara Williams-Nicholas ‘19 is an international student from Jamaica, majoring in mathematics and dance at Swarthmore College. Williams-Nicholas started dancing when she was living in Jamaica, beginning ballet classes at the age of two. However, after moving to Massachusetts for high school, she was forced to stop taking dance classes due to financial obstacles.

Williams-Nicholas did not initially consider majoring in dance since dance is not usually associated with economic stability. “I was thinking I had to have a major that would help support me financially,” Williams-Nicholas said. “I chose math because the analysis of structures really interested me.”

Remarkably, it was mathematics that led Williams-Nicholas back to her interest in dance. “It was later on that I realized that the analysis of geometric and other structures could be applied to movement creation as well,” Williams-Nicholas said.

In her junior year, Williams-Nicholas took classes in improvisation and contemporary dance. Because of her experiences in those classes, she reconnected with dance and began identifying strongly as a dancer. “I felt as if I had found dance styles that really resonated with me as an artist in contemporary dance class,” Williams-Nicholas said. “As for improvisation, I began using dance as a framework for everyday life, exploring movement practices and creation even outside of class.

Through dance, Williams-Nicholas has been able to challenge herself, especially since she had to complete most of the major in one year. “I sometimes feel physically fatigued, but my love for what I do pushes me forward,” Williams-Nicholas said.

Furthermore, Williams-Nicholas uses dance as a conduit for self-love. “It is an art form that lets you communicate with the world in a way that I personally find very pleasing,” Williams-Nicholas said. “It is also a process wherein you can really begin to love your body for what it can do, and where you can get out of the habit of disliking the look of your body.”

For Williams-Nicholas, dance is not just about mastering the technical aspects—it is also about discovering how your body moves through space. “You become aware of small movements and tendencies in your body that you may not have been aware of beforehand,” Williams-Nicholas said. “You can create movement that is unique to your body and that tells a story that you want to tell.”

“I have learned bodily awareness for myself and for others, and I have learned about the idea of consent while partnering or doing group work,” Williams-Nicholas continued.

Before coming to Swarthmore, Williams-Nicholas choreographed an original piece at her old school in Jamaica. She attributes that performance as one of the happiest times of her life. At Swarthmore, she has choreographed a piece in response to Thomas DeFrantz’s visit to her contemporary dance class. “The piece focused on blackness in dance and how that tends to be received,” Williams-Nicholas said.

Currently, Williams-Nicholas has many projects in progress. For the upcoming Fall Dance Concert, she is working on Professor Stephanie Liapis’s modern dance piece and on Professor LaDeva Davis’s tap dance piece. Additionally, Williams-Nicholas is a part of student dance group Terpsichore, working on a piece about her personal life, which she hopes to reflect through movement. She recently joined Rhythm and Motion, a tri-co student dance group, and is working on various pieces for that group, as well.

After graduation, Williams-Nicholas hopes to continue dancing. “I hope to use both my majors after graduation, doing some combination of problem-solving and movement for the rest of my life” Williams-Nicholas said. “I want to be financially stable, I want the ability to dance onstage and to choreograph, and I want to continue to develop my dance practice in a safe way so that I can dance for as long as possible.”


David Chan ‘19

Gamelan:CME picture

Gamelan and Chinese Music Ensemble Perform in Joint Concert

When asked what they hope students get out of participating in their respective music ensembles, Professors Lei Ouyang Bryant and Tom Whitman both make reference to communal music-making as a way to escape the numerous pressures experienced by a typical Swarthmore student.  “I think it is great for Swatties to play music for two to four hours a week amidst the rest of their busy schedules,” says Bryant, co-director of the Chinese Music Ensemble (CME).  Whitman, co-director of Gamelan Semara Santi (Gamelan), which plays music from Bali, Indonesia, puts it a bit more bluntly: “It is my hope that students find in Gamelan a place to rid themselves of the stress that is endemic at Swarthmore.”

Beyond just stress relief, though, Bryant and Whitman hope that their respective groups provide space for community members to either explore a different music culture or celebrate and recognize their own.  Whitman runs Gamelan rehearsals “Indonesian style—without any notation, and with minimal talking or analysis. I’d like our sessions to create a safe space where students can learn about Balinese culture by doing, rather than by reading or talking.”  For her part, Bryant sees the CME “as a valuable site on campus where Asian students, Asian American students, and students interested in Chinese culture can work together and find community with each other.”

Enthusiasm for such a community is evident in the fact that enrollment in CME has more than doubled in its first three semesters.  The ensemble is open to all, although most of this semester’s 25 members came in with some musical training. However, few had experience with traditional Chinese instruments such the guzheng (zither), erhu (bowed fiddle), pipa (plucked lute), yangqin (hammered dulcimer) or dizi (flute).  Bryant’s co-director Guowei Wang, a Shanghai-born erhu artist, arranges folk songs and more recent Chinese and Taiwanese compositions to tailor them to the specific skill levels and talents of the current crop of students.  Bryant describes the CME as “so fortunate to have [Wang] co-directing the ensemble and developing repertoire that everyone, from beginner to advanced, can play within one semester of study.”

Gamelan is also open to students—and Swarthmore community members—regardless of musical background, and is perhaps slightly more accessible to newbies due to the percussive nature of its instruments, which consist of mostly bronze-keyed xylophones, gongs, and drums.  But while hitting a gong might as a technical act be a bit easier than playing a fiddle, for example, the overall musical product is quite complicated, with each person playing an essential rhythmic role. Says senior Aly Ye, who has been a part of Gamelan for all of her four years at Swarthmore, “I love the complexity of the music and the challenge of learning it together, part by part, as an ensemble.”  The tightly interwoven percussive parts result in a soundscape that is, according to Whitman, a “beautiful texture of different layers.”

Another non-sound layer is sometimes added to the mix when Gamelan pieces are accompanied by dance.  Whitman explains that, “in Bali, dance and music are two facets of the same coin,” and that “while there are many pieces of instrumental music that do not accompany dance, all are informed by the spirit and many specific techniques from Balinese dance.”  This close relationship has been evident to Ye, who will dance and play in the upcoming show. She says that “because the dance is so closely tied to the music, I feel like I’ve gained deeper insight into why the music moves and changes in the way that it does…. there are many times when something is emphasized in the music that, when I’m learning the dance, suddenly make more sense.”  Whitman states that his lack of dance training is “one of my biggest weaknesses as a gamelan director. But we are extremely fortunate that our co-directors, I Nyoman Suadin and Latifah Alsegaf, come to campus. They bring to our ensemble that dimension of dance that I am not competent to teach.”

Audiences can come experience this auditory and visual feast in person on Sunday, December 2nd at 3pm, in the Chinese Music Ensemble and Gamelan Semara Santi’s combined end-of-semester concert.  The performance will be held in Lang Concert Hall and is free and open to the public. Families are welcome!

Lydia Roe ’20

ella small

Profile of Dance Minor Ella Small ’19

Ella Small ‘19 is a physics major and dance minor at Swarthmore College. Initially Small did not consider minoring in dance, but she  took dance classes at Swarthmore to have fun and to challenge herself.

“I did not think about minoring in dance until this year (my senior year) when I realized how close I was to finishing the minor, just because I kept taking dance classes for fun,” Small said. “I knew coming into Swat my freshman year that I wanted to explore dance, but I never could have guessed how engrossed I’ve become with the sport through the years.”

Prior to Swarthmore, Small did not have a dance background. She only began taking up dance, specifically ballet, to engage herself in a similar activity as gymnastics.“Before coming to Swat, I was a high-level competitive gymnast for 15 years, but I had never actually danced until taking Ballet I here with Professor Olivia Sabee,” Small said.

Because ballet was unfamiliar, Small found the dance form demanding, but ultimately rewarding because she was able to push past her boundaries. “Dance gives me an opportunity to challenge myself physically and mentally,” Small said.  “Physically, because it is such a demanding sport, and mentally, because I’m a very shy person, and performing does not come naturally to me. Dance gives me the opportunity to be creative and push myself outside of my comfort zone,” Small continued.

Although Small did not possess previous knowledge about ballet, her transition into Swarthmore ballet classes happened smoothly due to the supportive nature of the Dance Program.“The professors in the Dance [Program] were so encouraging when I first started out, and they kept pushing me to take more challenging courses as I progressed,” Small said. “All of my teachers knew the perfect combination of pushing me to become a better dancer, while encouraging me and reminding me of the progress I’ve made.”

Small identifies one professor in particular whose classes were the most difficult for her. “Every class I take with Professor Chandra Moss-Thorne, I think about how those were [some] of the hardest dance classes I’ve ever taken, and I keep thinking that every week,” Small said.

As Small progressed in her dance classes, she learned much more than just technique. “Working my way from Ballet I to Ballet III and learning to dance en pointe, I’ve discovered so much about dance and performance, and also how my body moves in space,” Small said.

Small even took her dance outside of classes, and she joined the Swarthmore dance group Terpsichore during her sophomore year. By Small’s junior year, she began choreographing original pieces, which were performed in the combined Terpsichore/RnM (Rhythm ‘N Motion, a tri-co dance group) dance concert each semester.

“I remember a bit of a stunned silence after the first piece I choreographed went onstage, because the piece was so intense and unexpected, which encouraged me to keep choreographing for Terpsichore!” Small said.

This semester, Small is choreographing two pieces: a large group piece and an acrobatic piece drawing from her circus and gymnastics background for the upcoming Terpsichore/RnM dance concert on December 15th.

Currently, Small is finishing work for her physics major by taking electrodynamics. She is also amidst graduate school applications, applying to schools that offer a PhD in biomedical engineering. “After Swat, I’m hoping to receive a PhD using both my physics and dance knowledge to study human motion and biomechanics, with the eventual goal of perfecting human-robotic interfaces to help people who have lost mobility through stroke or accident move again,” Small concluded.

David Chan ’19
rachel isaacs-falbel

Profile of Dance Major Rachel Isaacs-Falbel ’19

Rachel Isaacs-Falbel, a senior Dance and Anthropology special major, describes herself as “very much a planner.”  Her ultimate career goal has been consistent since high school; she wants to be executive director of a dance company someday.

Isaacs-Falbel has a long relationship with dance.  When she was a young kid, ballet was offered as a consolation after her mom refused previous requests for figure skating or gymnastics lessons.  It ended up sticking, in large part because she loved being onstage, describing herself as “a huge ham, and a huge drama queen.” It wasn’t until junior year of high school that she began to really enjoy ballet not only as an avenue through which to perform but also as a technique itself.  Her appreciation of regular ballet classes deepened as she embraced the practice “as a learning process within [herself],” and not just to achieve an external goal.

And then, she says, “when I came to Swarthmore and became part of the dance department, that’s when it all really hit me.”  Even more so than in high school, studying ballet and other dance forms proved to be a continuous challenge and avenue for personal growth, as teachers and other students here pushed her to be technically better than she ever thought she could be.  “If someone had told me arriving at this school that I would have the control and technique that I have now,” says Isaacs-Falbel, “I would have been like, ‘you are lying, and I can’t do that.’”

But although she was taking technique classes and had “always sort of thought about majoring in dance,” she didn’t seriously consider it as an academic focus until enrolling in The Arts and Social Change with now-retired Professor Sharon E. Friedler.  Having previously thought that studying movement theoretically would be boring, Isaacs-Falbel found that in fact the class “was amazing, and it changed my life.” She continued with Dance and Diaspora, taught by Professor Pallabi Chakravorty, which “touched on the interest I’ve always had in other cultures and learning about the world and the way that people interact.  I saw that I could do that through studying dance.” After a heart-to-heart with professor and mentor Olivia Sabee in her sophomore year, she decided to combine her interests via a special major in Dance and Anthropology.

It’s proven to be a fruitful choice.  Since then, Isaacs-Falbel has studied dance technique and theory abroad in Nice, France, interned at Boston Ballet School, and is currently at work on her thesis, which focuses on diversity initiatives in pre-professional ballet programs.  Ballet companies are overwhelmingly white, and, she explains, “one of the main things that [they] say when they’re asked about this lack of representation is that they just can’t find good dancers. So it’s important to look at what the schools are doing.”  Although she hasn’t finished her research, Isaacs-Falbel suspects that those schools’ efforts aren’t as sincere as they could be and is exploring in part the “idea of diversity as a commodity” and “the way the term has sort of lost all of its civil rights meanings and has been rearticulated to just mean ‘there’s some black people there,’ not that any structural change has been made.”

While she jokes that someday such a critical analysis will automatically disqualify her “from all the jobs I’ve ever wanted,” she plans to stay immersed in academia for a few more years at least, with the hope of going directly to graduate school for dance studies in France.  There, she’ll continue on the trajectory launched by Swarthmore’s program, using dance as a lens through which to investigate both herself and the broader world.

Lydia Roe ’20
lili tobias

Profile of Music Major Lili Tobias ’19

Like many a Swarthmore student, Lili Tobias ’19 finds herself graduating this year with a somewhat different degree than her younger self had anticipated.  She came to Swarthmore planning to major in linguistics, but soon, as she describes it, “music took over my life. And so now I’m a music major and linguistics minor.”

For Tobias, though, that academic transition was less a tortured decision than natural progression, something that “just happened.”  A pianist in high school, at Swarthmore she began taking classes in theory, composition, and musicology, and joined the Swarthmore College Chorus and the Garnet Singers.  Eventually she realized that most of her classes were related to music, and that those were the ones she really cared about. “The department really felt like home to me,” she says of choosing to focus on music.  “I knew all the professors, I knew all the other majors… it just felt like that’s where I belonged.”

That sense of community is what Tobias names as the best part of her experience in Swarthmore’s music program, which although it may be small—there are only two majors in her year—is plenty mighty.  She sees its size as a defining positive attribute, saying that “it’s so welcoming and we’re very close knit. The best friends I’ve made here” tend to be “connected to the music department in some way.”

The small size also affords a lot of personalized academic attention and opportunities.  Tobias has taken a composition course, the only repeatable course in the department, every semester since sophomore spring.  After one’s first time taking it, the class functions like an independent study, so, she explains, “it’s very individualized.”  She gets tailored listening assignments from Professor Gerald Levinson, a well-recognized contemporary classical composer, that he thinks will relate to the direction of Tobias’s own work.  She’s also had the opportunity to compose several pieces for the college Chorus and Garnet Singers, with the encouragement of its director Joseph Gregorio.

Tobias says she tends to listen to and compose mostly classical music, and especially admires “women composers of the past and of the present.  I identify with them because there’s just a lot fewer women that go into composition.” She’s currently writing her senior comprehensive paper on Amy Beach, a composer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Beach was an American musical prodigy who started composing as soon as she learned to play the piano as a young child, and, although she’s rarely part of modern classical repertory, earned in her own lifetime unusual acceptance and success in an overwhelmingly male field.  For her senior comprehensive, Tobias will not only analyze Beach’s work from a theoretical and musicological perspective, but also perform on piano three of her songs, with soprano Rebecca Regan ’19.

She’s unsure as of yet as her exact plans post-graduation, although she says that “going into music publishing is something that’s definitely appealing to me.”  Tobias got a taste of the business as an intern this past summer with Schott Music, a publishing company in her home city of New York. She describes herself as someone who likes editing and creating a pretty and polished final project, and “really enjoyed” combining those skills with her love of music.

Ultimately, whatever specific path she may take, Tobias feels certain that music “is going to be the main focus of my life somehow.”

Lydia Roe ’20

amy barston

College Ensembles Work With World-Renowned Cellist

Acclaimed cellist Amy Sue Barston will be coming to Swarthmore College to perform and to hold master classes for student instrumentalists. Barston is a renowned soloist and chamber musician, performing all around the world. Her past performances include concerts at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Ravinia, Bargemusic, Caramoor, Haan Hall (Jerusalem), The Banff Centre (Canada), The International Musicians’ Seminar (England), The Power House (Australia), and Chicago’s Symphony Center.

Barston was first contacted by Andrew Hauze ‘04, Lecturer and Director of the Swarthmore College Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. Barston came to Hauze’s mind as a candidate to invite to campus because of the professional relationship that they built over the past years.

“I first met Amy in 2013 through Astral Artists,” Hauze said. “We were scheduled to play some chamber music concerts together, and then I was delighted to discover that she lives right here in Swarthmore!”

“She is a brilliant musician and world-renowned teacher whose students come from far and wide to study with her, and I had always had it in mind that we should invite her to be more involved at the college,” Hauze continued.

This is not the first time Barston has worked with Swarthmore student instrumentalists.

“She worked with the orchestra string section a few years ago, and her teaching was wonderfully inspired and made an immediate difference in our sound,” Hauze said.

Barston’s visits to Swarthmore College provide an opportunity for students to learn from a musician who has cultivated her performance abilities based on her travels and exploration of different musical styles.

“In addition to her extraordinary musicality, Amy brings a knowledge of a wide range of musical cultures and styles and an enormous breadth of experience,” Hauze said.

During her time at Swarthmore College, Barston will hold two master classes with students: one on Friday, November 9th, and the other on Friday, April 5th, 2019. Both of these classes will be conducted in Lang Concert Hall.

“I know that students will be inspired by Amy’s energy and musical sensitivity: she really lives and breathes musical expression, and I can’t wait for the students to interact with her and find their own response to her musical ideas,” Hauze said.

Not only will students learn from Barston’s expertise, they will also have the chance to perform with Barston on stage.

“I am so happy that Amy will get to work closely with students in a variety of formats, and that she will be our soloist with the college orchestra in one of the greatest of all concertos, the Dvorak cello concerto,” Hauze said.

At the end of this semester, Barston will perform with the Swarthmore College Orchestra on Saturday, December 1st at 8:00 pm at Lang Concert Hall. In addition to the performance with the Swarthmore College Orchestra, Barston will also perform with Ieva Jokubaviciute, a pianist, on Friday, March 29th at 8:00 pm at Lang Concert Hall.

Several media outlets have described Barston’s playing style as eloquent, passionate, haunting, and skilled. Hauze is confident that Barston’s two stages at Swarthmore College will not fail to amaze audience members.

“Amy’s performances are always rich in musical depth and alive with communicative energy,” Hauze said. “She also has an extremely beautiful cello sound, and so attending any recital by Amy is a treat!”

David Chan ’19

variant 6

Vocal Group Variant 6 Showcases Student Compositions

Through the Swarthmore College Featured Artist program, Variant 6, a virtuosic vocal sextet, is working with Swarthmore students in recitals, workshops, and master classes throughout the 2018-19 season.

Variant 6 explores and advances the art of chamber music in the twenty-first century by radically reimagining concert experiences through performing rarely heard works, commissioning substantial new works, collaborating closely with other ensembles, and educating a new generation of singers.

Associate in Performance Joe Gregorio first proposed to invite Variant 6 to complete a residency with the Swarthmore Music & Dance Department.

“I had met one of Variant 6’s tenors, James Reese, about three years ago when the Chorus hired him to sing the tenor solos in our performance of Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore,” Gregorio said. “I had suggested to the Department of Music & Dance that we try to bring in Variant 6 for a residency, and was thrilled when our concert manager, Jenny Honig, told me we could.”

As part of their residency at Swarthmore College, Variant 6 will hold concerts, performing alone and with students. Moreover, Variant 6 have two planned composer workshops, one already completed on October 10th and the other scheduled for November 7th, to read original student compositions. Students of Swarthmore Music Professor Gerald Levinson participated in the October 10th workshop, where they sang through choral pieces in progress.

“In this workshop, the members of Variant 6 were able to offer invaluable advice to student composers about the construction of their works and about composing for voices in general,” Gregorio said.

Lili Tobias ‘19, a music major, participated in the October 10th workshop and will participate in the upcoming workshop. Tobias has considerable experience in composing vocal music.

“Many of my friends are singers, and I like writing pieces for us to play together, so voice is one of the instruments I gravitated to from the very beginning,” Tobias said. “I’ve written a bunch of art songs for solo voice and piano, and some choral (or small vocal ensemble) pieces.”

Having Variant 6 present on campus not only provides an opportunity for the group to share their work, but it also gives music students a chance to work in a professional setting and to get feedback from professional musicians.

“We’re very lucky that the Swarthmore Music [Program] is able to get such amazing artists-in-residence, like Variant 6,” Tobias said. “This gives the composition students the opportunity to write for professional-level musicians and get feedback on their music from the perspective of the performers.”

Furthermore, students are exposed to different vocal techniques, especially if they come from a different musical background than Variant 6.

“Variant 6 sings a lot of new music, so during the composition workshop this past Wednesday, they suggested many vocal techniques and subtle differences in voice quality that I was not necessarily familiar with, coming from a background of more traditional, classical music,” Tobias said.

By working with Variant 6, students have the opportunity to expand their voice capability and to enrich their musical education at Swarthmore.

“I think this helped all of us think outside the box regarding what the voice is capable of and the range of sounds it can make,” Tobias continues.

The final compositions generated in these workshops will be performed at the Lunch Hour Concert on November 12th at 12:30 pm in Parrish Parlors. Additionally, Variant 6 will perform a concert of their own programming on Friday, November 16th at 8:00 pm in Lang Concert Hall.

For the 2019 spring semester, Variant 6 will hold a master vocal class for Swarthmore vocalists on Wednesday, March 20th at 3:00 pm. Furthermore, Variant 6 will perform with Swarthmore College Chorus and Garnet Singers on Friday, May 3rd at 8:00 pm. Both of these events will take place at Lang Concert Hall.

“We’ve been lucky over the last few years to have several top-notch choral ensembles visit Swarthmore College: Roomful of Teeth, the Morehouse College Glee Club, and now Variant 6. I feel very fortunate that the campus community has been able to welcome these groups and that choral singers here have had the opportunity to see and hear such high-level choral singing,” Gregorio concluded.

David Chan ’19

An Evening of Traditional East Asian Vocal Arts

On November 3rd, the Cooper Series will showcase three culturally and musically unique vocal arts: Chinese Kunqu opera, Japanese Noh, and Korean Pansori. They are considered by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to be the “national treasures” of China, Japan, and Korea.

Each piece that will be performed tells stories deeply rooted in these cultures. Swarthmore’s very own Professor Peng Xu of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, drummer and chair of the New York Youth Society of Chinese Opera Bin Ma, and first-chair flutist of the Shanghai Kunqu Company Yin Qian, will perform Chinese Kunqu opera, one of the oldest styles of traditional Chinese theater. Kunqu opera is most revered for its classical and elegant musical expression, stylized acting, refined and precise dancing movements, and incorporation of other forms of traditional Chinese performance such as mime and acrobatics. Professor Xu, Bin Ma, and Yin Qian will perform a piece called Tanci orThe Ballad, an excerpt from from a southern Chinese drama Palace of Lasting Life. The scene they will perform portrays the tragic love story between the Emperor of Tang and his most favored consort, Lady Yang Yuhuan.

The audience will also have a chance to witness Noh theater, a style of performance that originated in Japan. Noh also combines drama, song, and dance into a cohesive, usually culturally historical narrative. The main difference between Noh and Kunqu is that Noh theater utilizes decorative and emotive masks to represent characters. Yasuki Kobayakawa, one of Tokyo’s Shite-katas (lead actors), will sing two episodes from the Noh plays Kiyotsune and Hagoromo(Celestial Feather Robe), though Kobayakawa perhaps will not be in full costume and wear a Noh mask. Kiyotsune tells the story of Kiyotsune and his wife, a couple tragically torn apart by banishment and death. Hagoromo depicts the magical encounter of Hakuryō, fisherman, and a celestial maiden.

The evening will also include Korean Pansori, a relatively new theatrical style of musical storytelling, performed by a singer and drummer. Accomplished singer Min Hye Sung and drummer Choi Hyodong will perform the beginning scene of an eight-hour long piece entitled Chunhyangga. One of the most popular Pansori pieces, the scene tells the story of the character Mongryong, falling in love with another, Chunhyang.

Professor Xu organized this event with hopes that it will inspire students to become more curious about East Asian cultures. It is important, she says, that she does her part as a faculty member and contribute to Swarthmore’s inclusive community by introducing and inspiring “more cultural diversity on campus.”

There is also a “second layer,” Professor Xu says, for why she prepared this event. While Noh, Pansori, and Kunqu are recognized by UNESCO as “Intangible Cultural Heritages,” the specific Kunqu style that Professor Xu will be performing is “almost forgotten”. Professor Xu sings a traditional style of Kunqu that, as many other traditional arts, was banished by the Chinese government during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In fact, Zhu Fu, Professor Xu’s Kunqu master, had to learn and practice it in a solitary house where his singing could not be heard. Before Professor Xu came to the United States, master Zhu Fu passed this “supposedly cast away” art form down to her. Unlike the mainstream Chinese Kunqu, which has regained some cultural influences in China ever since its recognition by UNESCO in 2001, Professor Xu says the traditional Kunqu style she learned from Master Zhu has become “almost forgotten”. By performing in this concert, it is her wish to bring this abandoned art to light again. When Professor Xu sings this weekend, she will stand on stage representing a “branch of the Chinese heritage that has almost been forgotten but needs its voice to be heard.”

The performance will take place in Lang Concert Hall on Saturday, November 3, at 8:00 PM, and English translations will be provided. This event is sponsored by the William J. Cooper Foundation and the Promise Fund.

Maria Consuelo De Dios ’21

ARC Program Notes

In ARC our intention is to bring together two very different drumming traditions of tabla from North India and taiko from Japan.  We sought to find choreographer/dancers whose artistry would include a responsive sensitivity subtle enough yet expansive enough in order to interpret the enormous dynamic and physical range of the arc between these two poles.

We also see a second relational graph producing an arc between the electrodes of tabla and the dance/movement with taiko—an art form comprising both drumming and choreographed full-body movement in equal parts—as the resultant voltage that will illuminate the relationship between the three components.

We hope for exploration as well as reconciliation of these disparate disciplines.  Thundering taiko drums will offer a dynamic contrast to the quieter, complex rhythms of tabla; and as the taiko drummers explore a complex personal kinesphere with the space and volume of their drums, dancers will seek out sonic spaces and the rhythms that define them.

While tabla drums—played as a pair—are now played all over India, these drums are traditionally found in the north of India.  The two drums typically produce as many as twelve distinct sounds and the rhythm cycles can consist of over one-hundred beats.  All rhythmic phrases can be spoken as recitative as can rhythms of Taiko. Tabla often accompanies dance traditionally and today.  The dancers too recite these rhythmic syllables as part of the process of choreographing, teaching, and performing.

Taiko—a term that means ‘fat or big drum’—have traditionally been played for folk festivals and religious rituals in temples, shrines and in sacred forest sites.  Stimulated by massive economic growth of postwar Japan and its concomitant move of large populations to the cities, these urban communities soon developed a nostalgic interest in rural traditions and values and ultimately in their efficacy for the revitalization of their home village communities.  Also, in response to the notion of the Japanese community that the incessant intrusion of the modern was a product of Western enlightened reason, new forms of artistic expression were born. These forms often reflecting traditional source, but in opposition to customary decorative art, sought to express in a diverse and experimental manner a search for post-war identity.

The development of contemporary Taiko has played a role in this search.  In 1971 Den Tagayasu created Ondekoza, the first group that would take taiko from traditional performance sites to international concert stages. The name means ‘demon drumming’—derived from ‘Ondeko’,  a demon drum-dance invocation for a successful harvest or fish catch. Den Tagayasu describes Ondeko as having a contagious, spiritual, shamanistic power found in Shinto ritual.

‘Ondekoza’ refers both to ‘demon dancers’ or ‘artisans’ and is also present in ARC’s culminating section which features references to the demon-sword dance Oni Kenbai, originally a danced offering in order to comfort ancestral spirits, and later, provide inspiration and courage for soldiers before or after battle.  While Oni Kenbai consists of rhythms from the distant past, our performance will incorporate the rhythmic framework of the classical Indian tehai creating an expectant, forward momentum for both dancers and drummers. Our hope is our Oni Kenbai, as well as the full ARC performance, will not only provide comfort to our ancestors, but engagement and inspiration to all in our audience.

Professor Kim Arrow


ARC Residency at Swarthmore College

For a three-week period in July 2018, an entire cast of performers gathered at Swarthmore College’s Department of Music & Dance in order to create a performance titled ARC. This performance project combines music and dance idiosyncratically to explore how different musical genres collaborate or clash and how dancer/choreographers interpret the uniquely created rhythms.

This evening-length performance suite will bring together drumming traditions of tabla (from North India) and taiko (from Japan), along with contemporary Western, African Diasporic, and Southeast Asian dance.

“For instance, how does taiko drumming, known for tremendous sonic impact, interact with the complex rhythmic cycles and sounds of the tabla?” Swarthmore Dance Professor Joe Small asked. “How do the dancer/choreographers interpret the array of rhythms and sounds they can hear?  And conversely, how do the drummers respond to the actions of the dancer/choreographers?”

Taiko, or “fat drum” in Japanese, refers to designs and drums played in Japan and to the art of drumming in various formalized manners. Taiko has had a long history as an instrument, but as performance music, taiko is a post-WWII phenomenon. In North America, taiko was brought over by mostly working-class Japanese immigrants who used it as a form of community entertainment.

“As taiko involves physical dynamism – that is, it’s an embodied form of drumming that can be considered choreography in and of itself – practitioners (especially anyone who feels underrepresented) find the art quite empowering and a means to express their identity particularly in a manner that the public will take notice,” Professor Small said.

Tabla originates from the Indian subcontinent and consists of a pair of drums. Tabla is particularly important in Hindustani classical music since the 18th century. Playing the tabla involves extensive use of the fingers and palms in various configurations to create different sounds and rhythms.

Because of the combination of different musical genres, each artist had to step out of their comfort zones to better understand each other’s work and methodology. Therefore, the effective collaboration needed to create ARC’smusic and dance during its creative residency highly depended on an environment of mutual openness.

The cast consists of three tabla artists: Lenny Seidman, Jonathan Marmor, and Daniel Scholnick; three taiko artists: Joe Small, Kristy Oshiro, and Isaku Kageyama; and three choreographers/dancers: Laurel Jenkins, Annielille Gavino and Orlando Hunter.

ARC was conceptualized by Lenny Seidman, a tabla player and teacher, a composer, Co-Director of Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra, and Jazz Curator for Painted Bride Art Center. Seidman began studying tabla in 1971, but it was only when Seidman became a student of tabla maestro, Zakir Hussain, that he directed his performing focus exclusively to tabla.

As for Professor Small, he is not only an Assistant Professor of Dance at Swarthmore College, but also a professional taiko drum artist. His creative approach often incorporates postmodern choreography and performance art. Professor Small has been a member of Marco Lienhard’s ensemble, Taikoza, since 2009. He is a disciple of pioneering taiko artist Eitetsu Hayashi and the sole foreign member of his Japan-based professional ensemble, Fu-Un no Kai, since 2012.

“I was contacted by Lenny [Seidman] some time in 2016, inviting me to be part of the ARC project, as I’m a professional taiko drum artist” Professor Small said when asked how he became involved with the performance project.  “Having had the chance to collaborate with Lenny during my time as a Swarthmore undergraduate dance major in 2004-2005, I happily agreed to collaborate.”

ARC will be performed on Friday, October 5 at 8 pm in the LPAC Pearson-Hall Theater, and was financially made possible by support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and Swarthmore’s William J. Cooper Grant.

David Chan ’19