Duke's 2014-15 Visiting Artist lineup includes a dance company that will explore tablao traditional dance of Spain, a theatrical group that immerses the audience in their interactive productions, and a residency that will bring together new music and rare footage about life in the North Carolina Piedmont in the early 40s.
The goal of the Visiting Artist Program is to support projects that will enrich the life of the university and broader community, augment the curricular efforts of a range of departments and programs, facilitate the interaction of artists and scholars, foster the reputation of Duke University as a place where the arts are vital and diverse, and contribute to the arts as a whole.
The arts at Duke are for everybody, whether or not you intend to major in the arts. Learn about opportunities to participate in Music, Visual Arts, Dance, Theater, Creative Writing, and Film-making in Duke arts departments and student organizations. Hear about the amazing presentations at the Nasher Museum and Duke Performances, and meet faculty and students engaged in the arts at Duke. Three chances to attend Saturday, August 23 at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm. 204B East Duke Building, East Campus.
Three Duke dance students — Jennifer Margono , Sonia Xu, and Jullian Goncalves — are in China this summer to participate in a special project to see how the arts, leadership, and entrepreneurship can come together to empower and transform lives. Duke SITAC (Social Innovation through the Arts in China) and IDEAS (Initiative for Development of Education and Service) Foundation U-Motion Camp, the two programs around which their trip to China developed, are the settings in which they will engage with young students to encourage leadership, creativity, compassion, and inspire them to explore their passions.
This is not the first summer that Duke students have taken the arts to China. Last year we profiled Duke Alum Luou Zhou, who organized a trip for the Duke Dancers to participate in the 2011 Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, China; that was a return visit for Zhou. It built upon his prior Duke Engage experiences in China resulting in a life-changing impact that helped him choose a new and exciting career path. We expect this summer to be no different for these students.
Join Jennifer, Sonia and Jullian on their journey to China and see (and read) how Duke students continue to take the arts across the globe and transform lives.
Andrea E. Woods Valdés
Andrea E. Woods Valdés, Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance at Duke, is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer. Her academic focus is on women in the arts, Afro-Cuban dance and music, and the history and culture of the African diaspora. She is also a video artist and musician.
She normally teaches dance technique and repertory and also a class called Dance for the Camera. In addition, she is currently the director of Duke in Ghana, a program offered through Global Education and cultural anthropology. In that role, she takes a group of Duke students to Accra during the six-week Summer 1 session, instructing them in fieldwork and research methods.
Her creative roots are primarily in modern dance. She entered college with a strong sense of herself as purely a dancer—a vehicle for the choreography but not a choreographer. Within a few years of graduating she came around, though, and it was when she began to choreograph that she came into her own as an artist. It was a dance she created for herself that brought her to the attention of Bill T. Jones, who then invited her to join the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company—a breakthrough moment for her, both artistically and professionally.
Currently she is the artistic director of SOULOWORKS/Andrea E. Woods & Dancers, a company she founded as a vehicle for work that, in her words, "explores the intersection between dance, music and writing as my own brand of performed folklore." But much of her choreography is done on student dancers. Every semester, she and her colleges create new dances for November Dances and Choreolab, the dance department’s fall and spring showcases. Through these shows, the department is able to keep its students constantly engaged in the cycle of creating and realizing fresh, challenging works.
Woods Valdés’ work is striking not only for its quality but also for a stylistic and conceptual range that goes from pure movement to programmatic pieces to narrative theater.
This is What I Heard, a piece she created in 2011 for her Modern Dance Repertory Class, is on one end of that spectrum. It is the music of jazz pianist Randy Weston translated into movement. There is no story line. Midway through the semester Weston was able to visit the class to see the work in progress. His delight was palpable. For the students it was an exceptional opportunity to meet one of the greatest living masters of African and African American music.
For an earlier piece based on recordings by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, she drew on the spirit of the music more than its abstract flow and structure. Responding to the communal spirit of the rural African American ballads and dances that the Chocolate Drops have so lovingly reanimated, she treated the ensemble as a community and portrayed its social rituals.
She describes her latest work, The Amazing Adventures of Grace May B. Brown, as a musical spirit dance / folk performance. It is explicitly narrative and theatrical, with a story and a script. There is a mix of recorded music, which functions like movie music, and live music integrated with the action, performed by Woods Valdés. The piece was created for SOULOWORKS and was presented this past May at the PSI theater in downtown Durham.
The Amazing Adventures of Grace May B. Brown (photo: Alex Himwich)
About a week before the show opened I spoke with her about it and about her history as a dancer and choreographer and the pleasures and challenges of teaching a performance art in an academic setting. What follows is an edited transcript.
Video by MFAEDA student Libi Striegl
Every year, the Sudler Prize is given to the graduating senior with the most exceptional record of artistic achievement throughout his or her undergraduate years. This year's winner was violinist and composer Wenjia Xu, a double major in Music and Biology.
Wenjia's principal teacher, Ciompi Quartet violinist Hsiao-mei Ku, describes him as an extraordinary student, not only for his musical skill but also for his commitment to music and to service. He was concertmaster of the Duke Symphony Orchestra for two years. He took a leadership role in the Duke Chamber Players, the Graduate Composers’ New Music Ensemble, and the pit orchestra for productions by Hoof'n'Horn. As a participant in many different chamber groups, he was notable not only for his fine violin playing but also his ability to get the best out of the whole ensemble by encouraging and supporting of the other players.
In Ku's words...
Wenjia outdid himself each semester at Duke, and his performance simply amazed me at each recital. Wenjia was not simply taking on an elective; he came to me with a purpose to search for the art of possibilities, to create something that is truly magical and meaningful, to discover the unknowns, to speak the unspeakable and initiate communication from heart to heart.
Wenjia's dedication to music is matched by a commitment to service. Ku found this especially striking the summer he joined her DukeEngage program in Zhuhai, China. The program sends Duke students to Zhuhai No. 9 Middle School, where they use performing and visual arts to teach English and to enrich the school's curriculum in other ways. Ku was struck by Wenjia’s energy, resourcefulness, generosity, and optimism. In addition to English, Frisbee, and Acting—something he taught in spite of a complete lack of experience—he created the school's first musical ensemble, a mix of Chinese and Western instruments, for which he arranged the music.
Back at Duke, he was an active member of HANDS (the Health Arts Network at Duke Students), a group that performs music for patients at Duke Hospital. He was also a volunteer at George Watts Elementary School. This community-oriented attitude carried over to his time on campus, where he was both an advocate for music and the arts and a mentor to his fellow students. As the unofficial undergraduate representative for the Music Department, he was an energetic advocate for the arts on campus.
For Graduation with Distinction, Wenjia presented a recital and composed new music for string quartet. For his composition, Elemental Suite, he pursued a project that links his musical skills with his scientific ones—he devised musical representations of chemical elements and compounds. His advisor was Anthony Kelley. In a process he describes in the first of the accompanying videos, the piece starts with hydrogen and ends with DNA. The other video documents an intense, jovial reading of the piece by the Ciompi Quartet.
Baldwin Auditorium reopened this past fall after a two-year, $15-million renovation funded by the Duke Endowment. In the year since, it has proved to be a beautiful place to hear music, both acoustically and visually.
In his remarks at the hall's gala re-dedication on September 14, 2013, President Brodhead said that the most tactful description he could muster of the hall in its former incarnation was "profoundly suboptimal."
Looking out on the transformed space, with beautifully restored Georgian columns nestled in warm wood paneling, he continued, "It mades me so happy that instead of refurbishing Baldwin, we have actually created a whole new Baldin. We have created the great music hall inside this building that goes with its always beautiful and graceful outside. We've created the great musical space that never was, that now is, and that always will be as a result of the work we celebrate here."
Sounds and images from the new Baldwin
The finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Duke Symphony and Chorale, Harry Davidson conducting, April 5, 2014
Soon after Brodhead spoke, the hall was christened with the pellucid opening notes of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, played by a chamber orchestra of music faculty. Over the course of the year, the Music Department presented three more special concerts to celebrate the hall's transformation. The series was brought to a close with the titanic finale of Beethoven's Ninth, a piece that showcased not only the superior acoustics of the hall but also the greatly expanded stage, which can now accomodate a full orchestra surrounded by a massed choir. It was a grand musical spectacle befitting a grand concert space.
Soon after the opening gala the renovated hall hosted another celebration, this one marking 50 Years of Black Students at Duke University. The main event that evening was the premier of Enlightened Souls, a composition by jazz pianist and composer Billy Childs, commissioned by Duke Performances for the occasion. Childs' six-piece jazz ensemble plus the Ying Quartet and the supreme vocalist Diane Reeves brought the lyrical, thoughtful composition to life.
Baldwin is now a primary venue for Duke Performances, a world-class hall where world-class pianists and chamber ensembles can be heard and appreciated in all their nuance. An impressive lineup of renowned soloists and ensembles took its stage this year. Many of them played to sellout crowds, including The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Imani Winds, and King's Singers; pianists Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, and Chick Corea; and the Tetzlaff, Emerson, Ariel, Ébène, Kronos, and Pavel Haas string quartets.
Baldwin also resumed its day-to-day service as the primary rehearsal and performance space for the Music Department's large ensembles. Their debut in the new hall was during parent's weekend. The Jazz Ensemble and Djembe Ensemble played on Friday night with trumpeter Willie Murillo and vocalist Becky Martin as guests. The Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and Wind Ensemble followed on Saturday with a diverse selection of music covering many centuries, including pieces by faculty composers Scott Lindroth and Stephen Jaffe.
There was great fanfare when the hall reopened. It can now be declared a resounding success and a great asset to the community.