October 27th, 2010

The Voice of Daniel Catán

At last month’s Western Arts Alliance conference, I had the privilege of attending the opening keynote address by Mexican composer Daniel Catán. Catán’s name has been all over the news in recent weeks as a result of the tremendous success of his most recent opera Il Postino at LA Opera. The opera, sung in Spanish and based on the popular 1994 Italian film, stars Plácido Domingo. The University of Texas’s Butler School of Music recently announced that it has commissioned a new opera by Catán, based on the 1941 Frank Capra comic drama “Meet John Doe.” This spring, the Butler Opera Center, will also present another of Catán operas, La Hija de Rappaccini.

Catán’s address touched on a number of important issues faced by the performing arts community today, including:

• The responsibility of artists & arts presenters for continuing and strengthening arts education programs, in spite of (if not because of) the dwindling offerings in public schools
• Differences between artists and celebrities and the roles these classifications play in programming decisions
• The role of Hispanics in America and in the arts

Related to this final point, Catán also spoke about the vital role that the U.S. plays in broader performing arts ecosystem of the Americas:

“Latin America is a complex web of countries with great differences between them. When an artist from Latin America comes north, he is not only trying to sell his art to a wealthy market. He also seeks validation throughout the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. An Argentinean tango, for example, is not likely to enter the Venezuelan market, unless it is validated in the US first. And by that I do not mean “Hispanic US” but “Non-Hispanic US.”

It is very important for “Non-Hispanic US” to understand its role as validator, as unifier of the Latin American markets (notice I use the plural here). And of course, this gives the Western States of the US a unique opportunity to lead over this enormous group of people. The links between “Hispanic US” and the rest of Latin America could not be stronger: there’s a deep and powerful culture, there are family relationships and commercial interests. But Hispanic US and Non-Hispanic US need to link up in order to complete the circle with the rest of Latin America. This is why these two groups, these two cultures must embrace each other, for together they have a fantastic future.”

I have not heard a more succinct and accurate assessment of this cultural phenomenon, and I’ve been thinking about this speech for weeks now.

Catán is one of the most eloquent and thoughtful voices in the arts today, and someone to whom we must be sure to listen.

October 4th, 2010

UT Faculty Member leads stagecraft workshops in Cartagena

Over the summer, UT’s Department of Theatre & Dance Professor Rusty Cloyes spent several weeks in Cartagena, Colombia spearheading the most recent collaboration between The University of Texas at Austin and El Colegio del Cuerpo (“The College of the Body”), Colombia´s first contemporary dance choreographic formation center and educational program for disadvantaged children. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Professor Cloyes led workshops in lighting, audio, and scenic design at El Colegio’s headquarters in Cartagena. Along with El Colegio’s Technical Director, Jhón León, Cloyes taught students enrolled in the school’s dance performance program, exposing them to other aspects of theater and diversifying their skill sets in hopes of creating new professional opportunities for the students in the future.

Professor Cloyes talks with a student at El Colegio del Cuerpo (Photo: Jhón León)

Professor Cloyes talks with a student at El Colegio del Cuerpo (Photo: Jhón León)

There are few possibilities to study stagecraft and design in a formal academic setting in Latin America, and there are no degree programs currently offered in Colombia. This results in a shortage of qualified, professional theater technicians in a country with abundant artistic talent and where artists compete for the services of a small number of talented production personnel. This issue was raised early on in discussions with El Colegio’s Founder and Co-Director Álvaro Restrepo during his first visit to Austin in the spring of 2008. The workshops represent a first step towards addressing this issue, creating exciting opportunities for students in Colombia, as well as faculty here at the University. These activities are a follow-up to last spring’s ground-breaking “Canción del Cuerpo” project, on which Cloyes served as Technical Director and Adviser. The plan is continue and expand upon the workshops next summer.

June 7th, 2010

Summertime News from ArtesAméricas: Vamos ao Brasil!

During the summertime, life on UT’s campus slows down. Whether it’s the heat or the absence of most of the 50k students, things just move at a different pace. However, at Texas Performing Arts, summer offers only a brief “intermission” between the last performance of one season and the preparations for the next one. For ArtesAméricas, this summer is busier than normal. In addition to planning the details of the performances and surroundings activities for an exciting slate of artists who will perform on campus this year, we’re hard at work on the details of an exciting collaboration with the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) called “Arts & Empowerment in Brazil: Seminar and Curriculum Development Project for Educators” . The project is a result of a $88,843 grant from The US Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad (GPA) Program. The project is a unique opportunity for fourteen secondary school teachers from across the country to spend a month in Brazil this summer, learning about arts-based education and social programs. The group will spend one week in each of four Brazilian cities (Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo), working with a different performing arts program. Here are some links to brief video clips about the various artists involved, each doing remarkable and vital work in their communities:

Nós do Morro (Rio de Janeiro)
Guri Santa Marcelina (São Paulo)
AfroReggae (Rio de Janeiro)
Corpo Cidadão (Belo Horizonte)
Didá Educational & Cultural Association (Salvador)

According to LLILAS Outreach Director Natalie Arsenault, who will co-direct the project with ArtesAméricas Director Joe Randel, “the immediate beneficiaries of the project are teachers in middle and high school who are interested in teaching about Brazilian culture. Participants will develop interesting curriculum units that are readily usable in a variety of classes, and we will create a multi-media web site for wide dissemination of the new curriculum across the nation. In this way, arts projects in Brazil can help teach students in the United States about Brazilian culture and the transformative power of the arts.”

This is the second such grant that LLILAS and Texas Performing Arts’ ArtesAméricas Program have received together. In 2007, the two units were awarded a GPA grant to fund “Exploring Mexico: Performing Arts and Culture,” a program in which 15 teachers traveled to Mexico and experienced classical music concerts, cutting-edge theatre, modern dance performances, and tours of archeological and artistic sites.

Follow along starting in late June, as the educators will be keeping a blog and posting photos throughout their month-long adventure in Brazil!

February 22nd, 2010

“Canción del Cuerpo” project featured on University of Texas Home Page!

Phase III of the “Canción del Cuerpo” project has arrived! Nine members of El Colegio del Cuerpo from Cartagena, Colombia have returned to Austin for two final weeks of rehearsals in preparation for a series of performances as part of Dance Repertory Theatre’s annual spring concert. The concert will feature the world-premier of “The Rope: Tres Momentos,” a new piece co-created by UT Professor Lyn Wiltshire and El Colegio’s Founder/Director Álvaro Restrepo. An article on the project entitled “The Beginning of a Movement,” including video footage from rehearsals as well as a slide-show of images from Phases I & II, was published today as the banner story on the University of Texas at Austin’s web site. Check it out: http://www.utexas.edu/features/2010/02/22/cancion_cuerpo/

January 17th, 2010

Musical line-up announced for Gilberto Gil’s upcoming performances at Texas Performing Arts!

We’ve just confirmed that Brazilian superstar Gilberto Gil will be performing with cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and Gil’s son, Bem, on guitar during his two upcoming concerts at Hogg Auditorium, Tuesday & Thursday, March 23rd & 25th.

Gilberto Gil: "The String Concert" featuring Jacques Morelenbaum & Bem Gil

I’m particularly excited about the addition of Jaques Morelenbaum. In addition to performing with legendary artists ranging from Egberto Gismonti and Milton Nascimento to Ryuichi Sakamoto, Morelenbaum’s compositions have appeared on countless albums and film soundtracks, including his score for the Academy-Award nominated film “Central Station.” Along with his wife Paula, Paulo Jobim (son of Antonio Carlos Jobim), and Daniel Jobim (grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim), Jaques is a member of Quarteto Jobim Morelenbaum. Click here for a clip of the Quarteto performing the bossa nova classic “Desafinado.” It’s even got English subtitles in case you’ve ever wondering what they’re singing about!

If there was ever any question (doubtful!), this guarantees an unforgettable evening of truly amazing music!

December 25th, 2009

Ever wonder how a piece of dance gets its name?

Following the successful open rehearsal on Saturday night, the creative team behind “Canción del Cuerpo” went out to celebrate. Over dinner, the group took on the looming task of coming up with a name for the new piece. Choreographers Álvaro Restrepo and Lyn Wiltshire, along with an “advisory panel” consisting of myself, El Colegio Co-Director Marie France Delieuvin, and El Colegio Board Member Leopoldo Combariza, began brainstorming possible titles and key words, recording each idea in a notebook.

(Photo: Joe Randel)

(Photo: Joe Randel)

After a wonderful Italian meal (and a few mojitos), the group narrowed the possibilities to a short list of contenders. Finally, a winner appeared to emerge:

As with all works-in-progress, the name is still subject to change. However, for now, the piece will be called “The Rope: Tres Momentos,” and will be made up of three sections: “Tight,” “Rope,” and “Walker.”

The name refers to elements of “The Tightrope Walker,” a text by French writer Jean Genet which was used as the point of departure for the new piece.

You heard it here first!

December 25th, 2009

12/19: A live audience!

After 8 days of rehearsals in Cartagena, the time came to take a step back and allow others to observe the work-in-progress. On Saturday, the local daily newspaper, El Universal, ran an article on the “Canción del Cuerpo” project and invited the public to attend open rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday evening at El Colegio’s studio.

Members of the local dance community, representatives from area universities, and others curious onlookers packed the upstairs studio at El Colegio for a glimpse of this unprecedented collaboration. Here’s a sample of what they saw:

This was the first time the company had performed the work (now nearly 45 minutes in length!) from start to finish before an audience. The response was overwhelmingly positive:

While there is much work left to be done, the piece now clearly has a framework. The final week of studio rehearsal, followed by a week of tech rehearsals will occur in Austin in late February with the premier on March 5, 2010 at the B. Iden Payne Theatre on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. Tickets are on-sale now, and I promise you, this event is not to be missed!

December 25th, 2009

12/17: Day-Trip to the Island of Barú

[My apologies for the lapse in posts: I learned the hard way of my hard drive’s disdain for tropical heat and humidity.]

On this day, the group ventured to the nearby Island of Barú. The trip provided a change of setting for the dancers, as well as further context to understand the challenging yet inspirational work of El Colegio del Cuerpo. Barú is a large island southwest of Cartagena, on which the brutally impoverished often come face to face with some of the wealthiest Colombians. You can read more about the tensions this causes here.

There is no bridge or causeway that connects Barú to the mainland, so the group chartered a bus and then took a ferry across the channel to the island.

(Photo: Gabriela Alcalá)

(Photo: Gabriela Alcalá)

Once on the other side, the bus bounced along a dusty, rutted dirt road for 30 minutes, finally arriving at the small, poverty-stricken village of Barbacoas. Barbacoas is home to a small, ecologically-friendly (meaning all open-air construction out of natural materials) public primary school where El Colegio del Cuerpo operates on of its “nucleos” or “dance with education” programs.

(Photo: Emma Lawrence)

(Photo: Emma Lawrence)

The open-air dance studio was built with the financial support of the Fundación Mario Santo Domingo, in partnership with the school and El Colegio del Cuerpo. Members of El Colegio’s dance company travel to Barú weekly to teach classes to students at the school and in the local community. The studio has no air-conditioning, no fans, and like all El Colegio studios, no mirrors.

(Photo: Joe Randel)

(Photo: Joe Randel)

Following company class, the UT and El Colegio dancers further developed the new work for “Canción del Cuerpo,” despite the blazing heat, inescapable dust, and hostile native wildlife (one dancer was stung by a bee!).

(Photo: Joe Randel)

(Photo: Joe Randel)

(Photo: Emma Lawrence)

(Photo: Emma Lawrence)

(Photo: Emma Lawrence)

(Photo: Emma Lawrence)

On this day, the school was closed for Christmas recess. However, many local youngsters quickly heard about the rehearsal and stopped by to watch.

(Photo: Joe Randel)

(Photo: Joe Randel)

When I first met Álvaro a few years ago, I remember him telling me passionately of his students: “Why can’t these kids have access to world-class dance, music, art? We can’t cheat them. They deserve the best, only the best. Why not?” At one point this afternoon, I stepped outside to take a few photos of the campus. As I stood outside a few hundred feet from the studio, the sounds of Phillip Glass’s “Low Symphony” wafted through the stifling, dusty air, over the sounds of meandering cattle and machetes clearing brush. “Why not?” indeed.

After many hours of intense rehearsal, the group stopped at a nearby beach for some well-deserved relaxation and a couple of not-so-deserved sea urchin stings.

(Photo: Gabriela Alcalá)

(Photo: Gabriela Alcalá)

December 18th, 2009

More updates from “Canción del Cuerpo”- 12/16

Things are beginning to come together in the studio, as the new piece takes shape.

Lyn Wiltshire, Marie France Deliueven, and Alvaro Restrepo discuss the second section of the piece (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

Lyn Wiltshire, Marie France Delieuvin, and Alvaro Restrepo discuss the second section of the piece (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

Shelby Smith and Eduard Martínez (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

Shelby Smith and Eduard Martínez (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

Ricardo Bustamamte and Yvonne Ferrufino (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

Ricardo Bustamante and Yvonne Ferrufino (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

In between rehearsals, members of the UT production/design team visited Teatro Heredia.  Jhon Leon, El Colegio del Cuerpo’s Technical Director, led the tour of Cartagena’s most famous theater, which he helped restore during the mid-1990s.

Stage Manager Joey Lepage & TA Chell Parkins tour the grid at Teatro Heredia (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

Stage Manager Joey Lepage & TA Chell Parkins on the grid at Teatro Heredia (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

December 15th, 2009

Beyond the studio in Cartagena

On their day off, students in the “Canción del Cuerpo” Project participate in various cultural activities to better understand the world in which El Colegio’s dancers live and work. On this day, the group visited a rural school in Bayunca where El Colegio operates a dance program.

Lyn Wiltshire)

UT students peering into a classroom at a local elementary school (Photo: Lyn Wiltshire)

Lyn Wiltshire)

Inside an elementary school classroom in Bayunca (Photo: Lyn Wiltshire)

Lyn Wiltshire)

ArtesAméricas Director Joe Randel interviewing UT Dancer Elissa Marshall for a documentary on the project (Photo: Lyn Wiltshire)

The group then toured the site of the future El Colegio del Cuerpo campus in nearby Pontezuela.

The future home of El Colegio del Cuerpo

The future home of El Colegio del Cuerpo (Photo: Alee Franklin)

Lyn Wiltshire)

Alvaro Restrepo & Elissa Marshall touring the site (Photo: Lyn Wiltshire)

Lyn Wiltshire)

The UT group at Pontezuela (Photo: Lyn Wiltshire)

In the evening, the group attended a performance at Cartagena’s premier theater, El Teatro Heredia.

Alee Franklin)

View from a box seat at the beautifuly restored Teatro Heredia (Photo: Emma Lawrence)

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