Worth The Wait

Written by Susan Reiter on . Posted in Dance, Posts.

It has taken nearly two
decades for Kaija Saariaho’s only dance composition, Maa, to reach New York, but the intrepid Miller Theatre has made it
possible, opening its season with the American premiere of this unusual and
atmospheric work, choreographed by Luca Veggetti. The Miller has become known
as the go-to venue for adventurous contemporary music programming, and it has
become something of a tradition in recent years for its season to open with a
dance event. Veggetti, an Italian choreographer with a strong interest in
contemporary scores, has developed an ongoing connection with the Miller. He
directed and choreographed Xenakis’ Oresteia
to open the season two years ago, and seems unfazed by the considerable
challenge of choreographing a production of Saariaho’s 75-minute score with
four weeks of rehearsal, working with mostly unfamiliar dancers.

At an Upper West Side café
on his day off from rehearsals, he exudes considerable enthusiasm for the
project. “I’ve been familiar with Saariaho’s music for quite some time. I’m
very drawn to her sound universe. Her use of electronics is really striking.
That generates a sense of space that is vital for what I do, that of course
would be very difficult to achieve with acoustic instruments alone,” he says.
“The electronics bring out an extra dimension that is very important. This
particular piece has a dreamlike quality that suits my ideas about movement,
about what a dance piece can be.”

Commissioned by the Finnish
National Opera in 1991, Maa was
choreographed by Carolyn Carlson, the American who has long been based in
Europe. Veggetti never saw that version, and the ballet has not been staged
since. The score was recorded, and excerpts have occasionally been heard in
concert. The Finnish composer was then in the early stages of a burgeoning
career that has gone on to include several acclaimed operas. Maa (the title can be translated as
earth, world or land) is in seven sections and calls for seven musicians (flute,
harp, percussion, violin, viola, cello and harpsichord), plus electronics
recorded on tape, consisting primarily of processed sounds from nature. According
to the publisher’s note on the score:

“Both scenography and music
are shrouded by deliberate mystery and characterized by a lucidity and
minimalism of gesture.”

“It’s basically a poem
about the place of men on earth,” Veggetti says of the score. “The entire piece
is about transformation—from one material to the other, from one state to
another; passing through one element to another element; traveling in time and
space—with an ever-shifting quality. Each section somehow contains musical materials
from the previous sections, and is transformed. So in the choreography, there
is a strong analogy to this procedure.”

Melissa Smey, director of
the Miller Theater since last year, is an avid Saariaho enthusiast, and Maa has been in her wish list for a
while. This is the first season she has programmed entirely, and opening with
this work makes a strong personal statement. After last year’s Saariaho program
in the Miller’s “portraits” series was a sold-out success, “I knew that I must
find a way to make this ballet possible for opening night of my first season,”
Smey says. “This combination of dance with contemporary music performed live is
such a natural fit with what we do. There’s so much interest now in Saariaho’s
music, and so many artists who are dedicated to her work. It’s pretty lucky for
us that we get to have the U.S. premiere.”

Veggetti’s ensemble of
seven dancers includes current and recent Juilliard students (he will
choreograph a work for the school’s third-year class in December), and includes
the striking Frances Chiaverini, with whom he has worked on many freelance
projects. He has the advantage of being able to rehearse in the theater space
itself, and the spatial design of the piece is crucial in his mind. “I’ve come
to realize that we really perceive the changes in time through changes in
space. If we don’t see the space changing, then somehow time eludes us. So for
me, space is something elastic.

Working with the dancers in the empty theater recently, the
choreographer observed and guided Chiaverini through a sensuous, meditative
solo to the score’s third movement, which is for solo violin with electronics.
Three couples then seemed to float through hovering, suspended lifts in a
portion of the final movement—the only time the full musical ensemble plays
together. “Basically, it’s a piece for 14 performers,” Veggetti emphasizes.
“Whether they are musicians or dancers, they share, and inhabit, the same
world. All the dancers and all the musicians will be in the space from beginning
to end. Nobody enters

or exits.”

Saariaho will attend the premiere, and will join Veggetti,
with Smey moderating, Monday for a program of excerpts and discussion at the
Guggenheim’s Worksand Process series, which is also co-producing this
adventurous premiere.


Sept. 22, 24, 25, Miller
Theatre, 2960 Broadway (at W. 116th St.), 212-854-7799; 8, $25 and up. Also, a
preview on Sept. 20 at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Worth The Wait

Written by admin on . Posted in Opinion and Column.

Harvard and Princeton have a waiting list and now CUNY does as well

By Jay Hershenson

As the fall semester nears, The is brimming with a record number of students—more than the University can accommodate.

For the past 10 years, CUNY’s baccalaureate programs have seen increasing enrollments even as more rigorous entrance requirements were instituted. Now the University’s community colleges are swamped by applicants who, like community college applicants nationwide, need only a high school diploma or GED for admission.

For the first time, CUNY has established waiting lists for more than 3,000 people who applied after the May 8, 2010, deadline for admission to the university.

But CUNY has found a way to turn their wait into a benefit.

The typical community college freshman needs at least one remedial class to prepare for college-level work, although those classes do not count toward a degree. Why not place wait-listed students into remedial work in the fall, so they will be ready to enroll in academic courses in January 2011?

That’s the idea behind CUNY Start, which offers prospective students an intensive program in pre-college math or academic reading/writing for 12 hours a week over 13 weeks, in day or evening sessions. For a modest fee and the cost of their schoolbooks they can improve their skills and jumpstart their college career.

CUNY Start builds on the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP) and College Transition Initiative (CTI), full-time programs that help students develop the skills needed for college-level study.

That includes GED graduates who don’t get the results of their tests until June, too late to meet admission deadlines. For such students, the transition to college is a critical time, and maintaining momentum is a high priority.

CUNY Start represents one of many ways that CUNY, like public colleges and universities across the country, is responding creatively to a changing higher environment, as shrinking state funding conflicts with national imperatives to maintain access and increase the country’s college graduates.

Demand is surging at the 23 institutions that make up the nation’s largest urban public university. In the fall, CUNY expects 267,000 students to enroll; that’s about 3 percent more than last fall and fully one-third more than 20 years ago.

Without doubt, the economic downturn has factored into rising demand for college education, but the economy is only part of the story behind CUNY’s increasing popularity. Since 1999, CUNY has added about 65,000 students.

A decade-long academic transformation has created new opportunities for students and reshaped CUNY’s classrooms.

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and CUNY’s Board of Trustees grabbed headlines in 2001 when they launched the William E. Macaulay Honors College.

The last decade has also seen the launch of CUNY’s School of Professional Studies, offering professional programs in partnership with business and industry. The school also houses CUNY’s online baccalaureate degree programs. The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism is highly regarded and a CUNY School of Public Health is preparing graduate level health professionals.

The new Advanced Science Research Center at The City College of New York, now under construction, will house researchers from across CUNY’s campuses.

Investment has not been limited to the sciences, however. The number of full-time faulty members has risen from less than 6,000 in 1999 to more than 7,100.

Encouraging student access and success remains at the heart of CUNY’s mission. If CUNY Start represents that commitment writ small, the university’s plans to open a new community college, its seventh, demonstrate that mission on a much larger scale.

The college, CUNY’s first in four decades, is expected to open in midtown Manhattan in fall of 2012.

Students will enroll full-time for at least the first year and take a common first-year core curriculum including math, professional studies and the college’s multidisciplinary City Seminar course examining the complexities of New York City.

It’s a bold initiative, suited to a higher education environment that demands innovative thinking. Just another reason that CUNY is increasingly worth the wait.
Jay Hershenson is Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Secretary, Board of Trustees at CUNY.

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