PMA expands international opportunities for students

With a residency from Chinese artists and visitors offering lectures and workshops on global performance traditions, the Department of Performing and Media Arts has expanded its international learning opportunities this fall.

The next visitor to the Schwartz Center will be Diana Looser PhD ‘09, who specializes in theatre of the Pacific islands. Looser will visit Nov. 23 to deliver a public lecture, “(Dis)appearing Islands: Climate Change and the Future Geographies of Oceanic Performance” at 4:30 p.m. Looser will also offer master classes and work with students in the Global Stages class, taught this semester by Sara Warner, associate professor and author of a grant that PMA won from Global Cornell to support internationalizing the curriculum.

“The Global Stages course came out of our curriculum changes from theatre, film and dance to performing and media arts,” Warner said. “The old course, History of World Theatre, was taught on a chronological model that privileged Western European theatre and we wanted to get away from that.”

While the course has always had a global focus, “with this grant, we wanted to give our students the opportunity to explore more traditions in two specific geographic areas, Asia and the Americas,” Warner said.

Along with Looser, other visitors this fall have offered classes and performances related to their work, from Rasa Boxes (performance techniques using Hindu dance drama) to a Yiddish theatre festival. Spring visitors will teach about hiphop theatre and Japanese Suzuki acting methods, among other topics.

“Through this approach, students learn the theoretical material in class, but they also get to put it into practice,” said Karen Jaime, PMA assistant professor, who will teach the Global Stages class in the spring.

“The idea is that this embodied dynamic will foster a different kind of understanding of cultural difference,” Warner said. “When you actually participate in the rehearsal process or learn certain kinds of techniques, it’s a completely different understanding of emotion and what motivates the actor.”

Kiki Hosie ‘17, said the classes with Paula Cole on Rasa Boxes were particularly effective in this way.

 “Over the course of two class periods, we jumped from Rasa Box to Rasa Box, becoming and embodying the essence of anger, fear, happiness, seduction...the list goes on,” Hosie said. “It was vital to our understanding of the various assigned texts at the time, but also informed our knowledge about our own ability to take on and try out new techniques. The engagement also had the unintended effect of bonding the students in our class together.”

Students in this fall’s Global Stages course also participated in the three-week residency of Caochangdi Workstation, a Beijing performance art and documentary film/video company founded by filmmaker Wu Wenguang and choreographer Wen Hui.

That residency and other Chinese/Cornell cultural exchanges are being funded through a different Global Cornell grant, written by PMA faculty, including Jumay Chu, senior lecturer in dance.

Along with classroom visits, master classes and workshops, the five artists worked with a group of students, as well as visiting lecturer Jeff Guyton, to put together a dance/theater/multi-media performance at the Schwartz Center Sept. 26.

The process was a new one for many of the students, who worked four hours a day for two weeks to create and prepare the piece.

“In dance, our department is more formalist in the way we work,” Chu said. “We work with compositional or theoretical ideas. But Wenguang and his colleagues work more narratively, more dramatically, more in line with the way theatre is taught.”

The piece they developed complemented a documentary film the artists had already created on hunger and memory related to China’s Great Famine of 1958-61.

“We improvised, doing different studies delving into the ideas of memory and of poverty,” Chu said. “We talked about what it means to be hungry, not only in terms of physical hunger but the metaphorical as well.”

Though the performance was changing up until curtain time, Chu said the students were comfortable with the process.

“It was about following your instincts and going with them,” said Siobhan Brandman ’17, an English major who wants a career in acting. “It was refreshng to do something that was malleable and constantly changing.”

Brandman said the process reinforced the reasons she wants to be involved in theatre. “It’s about telling a story or communicating a culture to people who might not know anything about it.”

Aleksej Aarsaether ’17, said Caochangdi Workstation’s performances “truly revealed the struggles of the Great Famine of China, and the solo dance piece in the beginning gave me new insight on the generational divide of culture within Chinese families,” though he thought the portions of the show comparing current student/faculty problems to these greater Chinese problems took away from its impact.

Chu will bring Caochangdi Workstation back to Cornell next year and include Cornell film students in the process. She is developing a student exchange program with the Study Abroad office so that Cornell students can study with the artist in Beijing.

Likewise, Warner is applying for a second Global Cornell grant, hoping to bring more artists from two more regions — the Middle East and Africa —to campus for interactions with students next year. 

Photo: Siobhan Brandman ‘17 works on a scene for the Caochangdi Workstation performance in September.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.


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PMA students in a dance studio