An ancient art

The curtain in Brehmer Theater opened to reveal Yamai Tsunao kneeling under a single spotlight on stage. He was dressed in a stiff, dark-colored Hakama costume, and his only prop was a brightly colored fan. He sang in a deep, full voice, moving through a series of deliberate, careful gestures.

The audience watched intently, and there was a sensation of suspense in the dimly lit theater on February 10. Tsunao’s expression and poise made it clear that this type of performance required intense concentration and advanced memorization.

This rendering was part of an interactive performance about Japanese Noh theater, one of the world’s oldest theatrical forms. Noh differs greatly from Western drama. The performers are storytellers whose movements on stage suggest the essence of a story rather than a plot, thus creating a style of theater that is inherently subtle.

Tsunao is a distinguished Noh actor and a member of the Komparu School. For him and many others, Noh is a family tradition passed down through the generations. His grandfather encouraged him to do his first performance at age 5, and his first major performance at age 12.

Tsunao’s Colgate performance was followed by an interactive workshop. First, audience members were given lyrics to Takasago, a celebratory song often performed at weddings. Through listening to Tsunao and reciting along with him, the audience learned to sing the song. Then, he invited people on stage to receive a basic dance lesson. Volunteers learned the slow, methodical actions that make up Noh theater, at times visibly struggling not to rush the movements.

“Trying Noh for myself was far more difficult than I expected,” said Monica Hoh ’16, a theater major. “It required a discipline of my entire body that I was not used to having. But due to that, I was far more aware of what my body was doing in each moment while onstage.”

— Emma Loftus ’16


Center of attention

An architectural model of dowtown Hamilton including David Adjaye’s design for the Center for Art and Culture

An architectural model of David Adjaye’s design for the Center for Art and Culture, which will be set in downtown Hamilton, across from the Colgate Bookstore. (Photo by Andrew M. Daddio)

Construction will begin this summer for Colgate’s new Center for Art and Culture (CAC) in the Village of Hamilton. The $21 million, 17,000-square-foot structure — designed by renowned architect David Adjaye — will consist of three connecting “volumes” that will be used as flexible and spacious galleries. A sculpture court and walkway will connect Utica and Madison streets to the site, which will be in the space formerly occupied by Parry’s hardware store (18-20 Utica Street), across from the Colgate Bookstore.

The building and the exhibitions it will host will serve as a resource for Colgate’s curriculum and for the Hamilton and wider communities.

“Relocating our museums is a monumental task,” said Anja Chávez, director of university museums, who has been planning for the relocation of works from Colgate’s Picker Art Gallery and Longyear Museum of Anthropology. She said the new center will ensure the long-term stewardship of Colgate’s collections and provide access for research and study. “Students from many disciplines also will have the opportunity to curate exhibitions there and to learn from the museum’s staff and from Colgate’s faculty.”

Crucial financial support and expertise for the project have come from Colgate trustee Nancy Crown P’10 and trustee emeritus Mark Falcone ’85, P’12. Crown is a trustee at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, where she has helped lead the charge for arts education in that city. Falcone, who chairs the CAC board of advisers, has a personal and professional passion for art and the ways it connects people and cultures. As a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, he led the way in 2003 for construction of a new permanent home for the museum.

Colgate has also purchased the adjacent property, currently home to the 22 Utica Street Café, which had been listed for sale privately by the owner. It will connect to the CAC and house a community room, offices, and a café.

The CAC — which received a $750,000 grant from the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council — will have an estimated annual economic impact of $4 million in the community and create many jobs in central New York.


Tongues afire

Professor Morgan Davies reading to his class

Professor Morgan Davies (forefront) read several sections of Paradise Lost in a 19th-century Welsh translation during the Miltonathon. (Photo by Zoe Zhong ’17)

Devil’s food cupcakes, chili said to be hotter than Hell, and Adam’s apple turnovers were just a few of the extra touches that brought the story of Satan, Adam, and Eve to life during the reading of Paradise Lost on March 1. The “Miltonathon,” as such events have been dubbed worldwide, was a marathon of more than eight hours. Students and professors took turns reading John Milton’s 10,000-line epic poem aloud in the Fager English Lounge.

“I was moved by the turnout and the enthusiasm shown by many readers,” said English professor Deborah Knuth Klenck, who initiated the Miltonathon.

The event served in part to honor George Hudson, the late professor of English emeritus who had taught Milton at Colgate for more than 40 years before his death in November 2013. Klenck, who now teaches the class, also “hoped the event would make more members of the Colgate community aware of the energy and accessibility of Milton’s verse.”

Paradise Lost distills many aspects of the classical epic tradition, and it is, really, all by itself, a crash course, not only in language and literature, but also in history and geography,” Klenck explained.

Although the Colgate group had to abandon their project after nine of the epic’s 12 books because of a blizzard, there is hope for next year; Klenck plans to turn the Miltonathon into an annual event.

— Meredith Dowling ’17


Animal Krackers

Charging Elephants by Roger Birn  ’68 is part of the menagerie that he's photographed around the world.

Charging Elephants by Roger Birn ’68 is part of the menagerie that he’s photographed around the world.

At first glance, the shapes that Roger Birn ’68 photographs might just look like chipped paint on a building or a newspaper littering the street. But Birn sees a menagerie, and not only lions, tigers, and bears — but also exotics like a sea horse, cockatoo, charging elephant, and an anteater.

A lifelong professional photographer, Birn started snapping his Animal Krackers series a few years ago after he and his wife took a trip to Vietnam. There, he captured a wildebeest, a rooster, and a whitefish. His collection has since grown to several hundred photos of “animals” found everywhere, from New Mexico to Mexico, and Binghamton to the Bahamas.

The pictures represent a confluence of two of Birn’s longtime interests: artistic and cultural depictions of animals, and his take on trash.

“Globally, humanity is composed of throw-away societies, and consequently, one of the great visual contributions nations have made are mountains and canyons of refuse that populate landscapes,” Birn wrote in his artist’s statement for his upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Art in Newport, R.I.

Birn, then, makes the most out of the debris — for example, collecting a discarded Dum Dum lollipop wrapper that resembles a dog and a torn red roof shingle that looks like a parrot.

In addition to these found objects that he saves for exhibition, Birn’s photographs portray abstract animal shapes resembling folk and nomad art.

“If there is less time and inclination for makers to depict animals in spiritual settings, they nevertheless endure in other, less formal and established settings,” he explained.

“I’m always looking down or up, left or right, trying to make sense and elegance from the visual racket of that which is discarded or demolished or left to slowly weather.”

So, where do you look, and what do you see?

If you’re in the Newport area, you can see Birn’s exhibition starting May 23 and running through the summer.


Out of [the] Ordinary

Portrait of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith. (Photo by Marlene Lillian)

French philosopher Pierre Hadot believes that an ancient philosopher wasn’t someone who wrote masterpieces, but who lived philosophy as a way of life. Likewise, Tracy K. Smith is a poet who lives a life of poetry. Her experiences, observations, and even her favorite singer have become her source of creation.

On February 11, students, professors, and community members filled Persson Auditorium for Smith’s poetry reading — introduced by English professor Peter Balakian. She read an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, Ordinary Light, and poems from her published collections, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Life on Mars.

Family memories inspired many of Smith’s works. Her mother died from cancer shortly after Smith graduated from Harvard, and “that trauma was something that I’ve written about quite a lot,” she said. The death of Smith’s father, who was an engineer working on the Hubble Space Telescope, spurred her third book, Life on Mars. “Thinking about space as a real place helped a lot in dealing with that grief,” said Smith, who is a creative writing professor at Princeton.

Smith explained that she “stole” the title of Life on Mars from musical artist David Bowie. She said she loves the fact that Bowie “does think about life on Earth and the distances and the heartbreak of that.”

The name of her second book, Duende, came from the Spanish poet Federico Lorca. Ever since Smith was a student, Lorca’s concept of duende — which she defined as “a passionate and relentless, and potentially destructive creative energy that the artist is seeking to unleash from within” — fascinated her. A trip to Spain and her divorce furthered this idea for Smith, so many of the poems in this book are different metaphors for “that same struggle as duende,” she said.

As she wrote in her memoir, “I wanted to write the kinds of lines that I carried from moment to moment on a given day without even having chosen to.” And Smith has lived that out.

— Iris Chen ’17