Arts & Culture

Behind the Beard: Cooper ’79 Captures Images, Stories of Professional Santa Clauses

santa book

Ron Cooper ’79 is the author and photographer of We Are Santa.

A couple years ago, Ron Cooper ’79, a retired corporate executive-turned-travel, documentary, and portrait photographer, was in New Mexico to photograph cowboys, Civil War re-enactors, gunslingers, and snake-handlers. After completing the shoot, one of the subjects asked if he could show Cooper a very different character that he also portrayed.

“I agreed and he went to change. He came back as Santa Claus in a terrific Western-style Santa suit, complete with bolo tie. As it turns out, he had a side gig during the holiday season as Santa Claus at a shopping mall in Albuquerque,” Cooper recalled. “Not long after that, I saw a news story about the Charles W. Howard Santa School, a venerable institution that’s been around since 1937 and has trained hundreds of professional Santas. Then I learned that Santa Claus is the most photographed character in the world. I’ve always been interested in meeting and photographing people who follow their passions, especially when those passions take them outside of, or beyond, the realm of their daily lives.”

Gamelan Ensemble Provides Virtual Mini-Concerts, Demonstrations During Pandemic

On Nov. 19, students from the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble presented their work-in-progress, a number of compositions in different tuning systems, and formal musical structures.

On Nov. 19, students from the MUSC 451: Javanese Gamelan-Beginners class presented their work-in-progress as part of a virtual mini-concert series. Both the beginning and advanced classes are allowed to perform in person as long as they remain six feet apart and wear masks and disposable gloves.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of Wesleyan’s musical activities and classes were canceled, drastically adjusted, or moved to virtual platforms. Fortunately, for Wesleyan’s Javanese gamelan classes, students were still allowed to meet in-person as long as they followed strict guidelines: wear a mask and disposable gloves, social distance, and frequently use hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

“The university made all of these available to the students in the World Music Hall, where the gamelan meets,” explained Winslow-Kaplain Professor of Music Sumarsam. “The gamelan instruments were set up six feet apart, and the students were required to maintain that distance while playing or sitting in the audience area for discussion, and when lining up to enter or exit the hall. We also planned to have occasional online lectures and discussions, so the group did not have to meet in person as often.”

In the process of planning their hybrid MUSC 451: Javanese Gamelan-Beginners and MUSC 452: Javanese Gamelan-Advanced courses, Sumarsam and fellow gamelan instructor I.M. Harjito, University Professor of Music, decided to create a biweekly series of virtual mini-concerts and demonstrations, each one showcasing a different theme or style in 30-minute formats. “The production staff of CFA has worked tirelessly to publicize and produce these virtual mini-concerts and demonstrations,” Sumarsam noted.

Otake on “An Artist’s Practice in the Year of Pandemic and Political Cries”

As a dancer and choreographer, Wesleyan’s Visiting Dance Artist-in-Residence Eiko Otake spent the past 45-plus years of her career presenting her work in theaters, universities, museums, galleries, outdoor sites, and festivals worldwide. But like other artists navigating through the crisis, Otake was forced to find creative ways to re-focus, re-imagine, and share her work during the ongoing pandemic.

In March 2020, the Center for the Arts invited Otake to begin a Virtual Creative Residency, during which she began shifting her performance-based art to an online venue named Eiko Otake’s Virtual Studio. Here, Otake posts her new creations, dialogues, and reflections.

On Nov. 15, Otake led a virtual tour and conversation titled “An Artist’s Practice in the Year of Pandemic and Political Cries.” She was joined by two of her collaborators, DonChristian Jones ’12 and Iris McCloughan ’10. McCloughan also moderated the discussion.

The group shared works such as Your Morning Is My Night, Fish House, Visit, Attending, A Body in a Cemetery, Saving, and others.

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On Nov. 15, Eiko Otake, DonChristian Jones ’12, and Iris McCloughan ’10 presented a live, virtual conversation titled “An Artist’s Practice in the Year of Pandemic and Political Cries.” McCloughan also moderated the discussion. In 2020, Otake was invited by Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts (CFA) to its first Virtual Creative Residency. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Otake created Virtual Studio, a space to share newly created and newly edited video works, written reflections, the voices of her collaborators, dialogues with artists and writers, and response from viewers.

2 Wesleyan University Press Books Win 4 Awards

booksTwo Wesleyan University Press music titles garnered four awards, from the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and the American Musicological Society (AMS) this month.

Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine, by Maria Sonevytsky, received the 2020 Lewis Lockwood Award from the AMS. The Lockwood Award honors a musicological book of exceptional merit published during the previous year in any language and in any country by a scholar in the early stages of his or her career who is a member of the AMS or a citizen or permanent resident of Canada or the United States.

Music and Modernity among First Peoples of North America, edited by Victoria Lindsay Levine and Dylan Robinson, received the 2020 Ellen Koskoff Edited Volume Prize from the SEM, which annually honors a book collection of ethnomusicological essays of exceptional merit edited by a scholar or scholars. Music and Modernity among First Peoples of North America also received the 2020 Ruth A. Solie Award for edited collections from the American Musicological Society (AMS), which annually honors a collection of musicological essays of exceptional merit published during the previous year in any language and in any country and edited by a scholar or scholars.

In addition, co-editor Dylan Robinson received the SEM’s Helen Roberts Prize for his chapter contributed to Music and Modernity among First Peoples of North America, “Speaking to Water, Singing to Stone: Peter Morin, Rebecca Belmore, and the Ontologies of Indigenous Modernity.” The prize recognizes the most significant article in ethnomusicology written by members of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

7 Wesleyan Faculty, Alumni, Graduate Student Make Presentations at SEM Annual Meeting

semFour faculty, two alumni, and one graduate student participated in the virtual Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Meeting held Oct. 22–31.

As part of a panel addressing contemporary musical issues in Iran, Bridgid Bergin MA ’17 spoke about the Iranian Female Composers Association (IFCA), which was established in 2017 by three female-identifying Iranian composers: Anahita Abbasi, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, and Aida Shirazi. IFCA supports Iranian female-identifying composers by encouraging organizers and ensembles in Iran and beyond to commission and engage these composers in collaborations, while also discovering and mentoring young female composers who are fighting against all odds to become contemporary classical composers in 21st-century Iran. In 2018 the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) became an organizational partner in reinforcing IFCA’s platform as well as advocating for its members. Bergin presented three composer portrait videos and explored IFCA’s “her-story”—its founding members and an analysis of the intersections of gender, music, politics, and identity.

Eric Charry, professor of music, spoke about “An Ethnography of the Five Spot Café,” as part of a panel on rethinking jazz canons. Drawing on cultural geography, Charry examined from multiple perspectives the Five Spot Café (on the Bowery, 1956–62), one of the most important venues in jazz history: as an object in the Lower East Side and in downtown New York City jazz club landscapes; as a place imbued with sociocultural meaning; as a phenomenological space with a unique feel; and as a flashpoint in a historically dynamic scene. Moving beyond reports by American and European journalists, over a half-dozen live LP recordings, and published interviews with musicians, Charry focused on photographs taken inside the club. In this talk, Charry investigated race, gender, age, and especially modes of participation in jazz performance, and explored how an expanded view of ethnographic analysis of the inner workings of a historic venue has much to offer the history of jazz.

Theater Department Performs Socially-Distanced Fall Show, SLABBER

The Theater Department presented its fall show, SLABBER, Oct. 16–18 on the Center for the Arts green. The socially-distanced performances were open for groups of 48 audience members at a time.

Directed by Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl, SLABBER introduced the audience to a group of enigmatic figures who have traveled to Wesleyan to diagnose their mysterious condition—one they have been suffering from for years. As they reveal their research, audience members are pulled deep into a fable of an outcast little girl, the history of Middletown, and a soap-cutting machine known only as the slabber.

This performance asked the Wesleyan community to consider notions of social and physical contamination, and whether it’s possible to come close to someone else without ever leaving your chair. Originally created by the interdisciplinary theater duo PearlDamour, the work was re-devised by the Wesleyan Student Ensemble, Here and Now, for the current socio-political moment.

Photos of the performance are below: (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

slabber

Baerman, Wesleyan Community Pay Tribute to Randall ’12 with New Album, Love Right

Love Right

A new album created by pianist and composer Noah Baerman, director of the Wesleyan University Jazz Ensemble, features more than 80 minutes of performances honoring his friend and former student, vocalist Claire Randall ’12, who was murdered in December 2016.

Love Right, produced by Resonant Motion, Inc. (RMI) Records, showcases songs written by Baerman alongside more than 40 Wesleyan-affiliated instrumentalists and singers who navigate a broad multitude of musical styles. It was released on Oct. 9 and is Baerman’s 11th album.

Love Right is by far the most stylistically eclectic thing I’ve ever done,” Baerman said. “I’ve incorporated different styles before, but there are songs here that are so radically different in genre that they wouldn’t normally appear on the same album.”

The album’s diverse musical repertoire is the result of having different ensembles of singers and musicians on every track. In fact, 100 performers contributed to the album in the styles of jazz, blues, samba, a cappella, folk, gospel, Afropop, and soul.

BIPOC Artists and Theatermakers Discuss the Challenges of Working in White Spaces

Inspired by August Wilson’s 1996 keynote address to the Theater Communications Group, Wesleyan's Theater Department presented a discussion titled "Re-Evaluating the Ground on Which We(s) Stand(s)" on Sept. 25.

Inspired by August Wilson’s 1996 keynote address to the Theater Communications Group, Wesleyan’s Theater Department presented a discussion titled “Re-Evaluating the Ground on Which We(s) Stand(s)” on Sept. 25.

The event, hosted by Assistant Professor of Theater Maria-Christina Oliveras (left) and Associate Professor of English Rashida Shaw McMahon (right) explored how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and theater-makers are engaging in conversations about the challenges of BIPOC theater in predominantly white spaces.

The event, hosted by Assistant Professor of Theater Maria-Christina Oliveras (left) and Associate Professor of English Rashida Shaw McMahon ’99 (right) explored how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) artists and theater-makers are engaging in conversations about the challenges of BIPOC theater in predominantly white spaces. Oliveras is an actor, singer, and educator whose career spans theater, film, television, and voice-overs. On Broadway, she originated the role of Gina in Amélie, and also appeared in Machinal and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. McMahon, an author and researcher, is the author of The Black Circuit: Race, Performance, and Spectatorship in Black Popular Theatre (Routledge, March 2020). Her current research projects include an investigation into the hypervisibility of African American women characters within the plays of August Wilson.

Guest speakers and acclaimed actors Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park and You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway; Showtime’s The Chi) and Brandon Dirden (Martin Luther King, Jr. in All the Way starring Bryan Cranston and Jitney on Broadway; FX’s The Americans; Netflix’s The Get Down) were the event's key panelists. Guest speakers and acclaimed actors Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park and You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway; Showtime’s The Chi) and Brandon Dirden (Martin Luther King, Jr. in All the Way starring Bryan Cranston and Jitney on Broadway; FX’s The Americans; Netflix’s The Get Down) were the event's key panelists. 

Acclaimed actors Crystal Dickinson (Clybourne Park and You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway; Showtime’s The Chi) and Brandon Dirden (All the Way and Jitney on Broadway; FX’s The Americans; Netflix’s The Get Down) served as the event’s guest speakers. They also presented, as actors, scenes from four plays which served as anchoring points to engage the audience in direct conversation with the work, its themes, and its resonance and relevance today. “It’s important for you to see our work and see us perform, but our goal and our mission—the purpose of the work, the purpose of the art—is to educate and to inform,” Dickinson said. “All the work that I choose, it doesn’t matter if it’s TV or theater, I’m always hoping people will have a conversation at the end of it—there’s something that sparks, something uncomfortable, or something sticky. We’re interested in how the work affects society, how the art can change and mold how people are imagining the America we live in.”

The event featured excerpts from plays by Adrienne Kennedy, Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Dominique Morriseau,

Dickinson and Dirden performed excerpts from plays by Adrienne Kennedy, Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Dominique Morriseau, and spoke about them afterward.

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Dickinson and Dirden perform a scene from Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67. The play depicts the race riots that ravaged Detroit in 1967. “This play in particular, we’ve been talking about it in white spaces. This is not a secretive conversation that we’ve kept to ourselves,” Dirden said. “Detroit 1967. The fact that that it isn’t taught in our schools. We were doomed to repeat it, and that was about police brutality.”

Co-sponsored by the Theater Department and the English Department.

The audience was encouraged to ask questions via chat throughout the event.

Watch the full event recording online here. And RSVP for the Theater Deparment’s next event, “A Conversation with Associate Professor Rashida Shaw McMahon” at 4 p.m. Oct. 19.

“Thank you again for all your support and presence,” Oliveras said. “The first of many conversations, as we collectively lean into the stickiness and beautiful potential change of this moment.”

Students, Faculty Perform West African Drumming and Dance

African Studies and Akwaaba Wes invited members of the Wesleyan community to a West African Music and Dance performance on Sept. 25 on the Rugby Practice Field. 

African Studies and the African Students’ Association (ASA) invited members of the Wesleyan community to a West African Music and Dance performance on Sept. 25 on the rugby practice field.

The socially-distanced event featured live student performances and a welcome message from the African Students’ Association.

The socially distanced event featured live student performances and a welcome message from the ASA.

Assistant Professor of Dance Iddi Saaka performed a solo dance. Saaka is teaching DANC 111: Introduction to Dance; DANC 260: West African Dance I; and DANC 360: West African Dance II this semester.

Assistant Professor of Dance Iddi Saaka performed a solo dance. Saaka is teaching DANC 111: Introduction to Dance; DANC 260: West African Dance I; and DANC 360: West African Dance II this semester.

John Dankwa, assistant professor of music, also performed a solo. Dankwa is teaching MUSC 300: Seminar for Music Majors and MUSC 446: West African Music and Culture this fall. 

John Dankwa, assistant professor of music, also performed a solo. Dankwa is teaching MUSC 300: Seminar for Music Majors and MUSC 446: West African Music and Culture this fall.

West African dance is a gateway to the cultures and ways of life of its people. It is the medium on which the very existence of the people is reinforced and celebrated. In this introductory course, students will learn the fundamental principles and aesthetics of West African dance through learning to embody basic movement vocabulary and selected traditional dances from Ghana. The physical embodiment of these cultures will be complemented with videos, lectures, readings, and discussions to give students an in-depth perspective on the people and cultures of Ghana. Students will also learn dances from other West Africa countries periodically.

The socially distanced event featured live student performances and a welcome message from the ASA.

The event was sponsored and organized by the Provost, the Fries Center for Global Studies, the Freeman Athletic Center, and Physical-Plant Facilities.

The event was sponsored and organized by the Provost, the Fries Center for Global Studies, the Freeman Athletic Center, and Physical-Plant Facilities. (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

Wesleyan Illuminates 2 Campus Buildings in Support of Restart Day of Action

92 theater

On Sept. 1, members of the Wesleyan community participated in the Red Alert Restart Day of Action by illuminating the Patricelli ’92 Theater and Center for the Arts Theater in red lights to show support and solidarity to colleagues in the entertainment industry. The industry has been shut down due to COVID-19 for more than four months. The purpose of the Restart Day of Action is to urge Congress to vote for the RESTART Act, led by senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Wesleyan alumnus Michael Bennet ’87 (D-Colo.), which would support an extension and expansion of benefits for independent contractors as part of a comprehensive pandemic relief package.

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Wesleyan’s buildings were among 1,500 nationwide that were lit for the cause. Lights were provided by Northern Lights, a longtime vendor of Wesleyan University that has been hit particularly hard by the closing of theaters and canceling of events in Connecticut. (Photos by Robyn Joyce)

Potemkina Wins Orchestral Programming Award

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Nadya Potemkina. Photo by Pavel Terpelets.

Nadya Potemkina (Photo by Pavel Terpelets)

Nadya Potemkina, adjunct associate professor of music, placed third in The American Prize competition, in the category of orchestral programming.

The American Prize—Vytautas Marijosius Memorial Award in Orchestral Programming—honors the memory of the great Lithuanian conductor Maestro Vytautas Marijosius, who served as the music director of the Lithuanian State Opera and the director of orchestral activities at the Hartt School of Music. The prize recognizes and rewards “the best achievement in the unique field of orchestral programming, where the selection of repertoire by knowledgeable, creative and courageous music directors builds orchestras and audiences, educates young people and adults, and enriches the community,” according to the prize’s website.

At Wesleyan, violist Potemkina directs the Wesleyan University Orchestra and Concert Choir, coaches chamber ensembles, teaches instrumental conducting and orchestral literature, and is the music director of FluteFest and AD HOC BACH, both performance and community engagement initiatives.

She’s also served as an assistant conductor of The University of Memphis Orchestras, as the music director of Mid-South Young People’s Orchestras in Memphis, Tenn., and was a founding conductor of Memphis Occasional Orchestra, an all-volunteer community outreach ensemble.

This fall, she’s teaching Materials and Design (MUSC 103), Wesleyan Concert Choir (MUSC 436), and Wesleyan Orchestra (MUSC 439).