A Dream within a Dream within a Center for Performing Arts

Everybody’s had those dreams where you’re in the middle of some crazy scenario, like walking along an ocean of pink lemonade on a beach of granulated sugar and talking to Russell Brand about hair treatments, when you actually realize you’re in a dream—am I right? Well this very thing happened to me Friday night, except right after I realized I was in a dream I realized that I actually was not in a dream at all but just thought I was. I’m not kidding, that’s just what it felt like attending a Plan performance called “Hallways to Harbors,” directed and choreographed by Kenyon Acton with installations and technical design by Ben Lieberson.

It all started with being ushered down the hallway to Ragle Hall, not to the seats as usual but to the stage door of all places, by senior Ruth Stark, who gestured for us to follow her as if she were wafting the aromatic steam off a pot of soup. We could hear beautiful piano music, and in a closet by the stage, yes a closet, there was the graceful Michaela Woods ’10 standing on a ladder behind a gauzy net, with electronic angle motion sensors on her elbows and knees controlling the colored spotlights. She was slowly turning and climbing up and down and the lights were changing color and the music was making my knees weak and all I could think was, “Where is that beach of granulated sugar?”

And the dream went on from there, as dreams do, as we moved into Ragle to see sea sprites playing in the waves (the seats) under singing stars, a bicyclist powering a disco ball, a troupe of dancers resolving conflicts by rolling over each other with giant phone-line spools, a quartet of angels singing a processional in heavenly four-part harmony, suave couples dancing the tango in the lobby and a girl dreaming about a eerie, glowing, wavy line that comes to life. I mean, the Rudolf and Irene Serkin Center for the Performing Arts is not just a long name, it’s a big building with lots of nooks and crannies and halls and, yes, closets, and this performance had something going on in most of these spaces.

I must still be a wee bit bedazzled from the Embodied Learning Symposium we had on campus a couple weeks ago, because I felt like Kenyon and Ben’s production was a total sensorial workout. You know, instead of just sitting in an auditorium dazed by an entire dance recital we were moving around, changing venues, passing among the performers, seeing others in the audience. We were all crowded together up there on stage, for crying out loud, and I have to say I felt like I sat up a little straighter, breathed a little deeper and took in the whole scene of synchronized sea sprites like I might be asked to dive in at any time.

 

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Fettuccini Al Fresco

You know the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” right? But you might not know it’s corollary, “Give a man a picnic table and you will make every meal a feast of loquats and lychees.” Okay, I made that up, but I don’t really like fish and there is something about a picnic table that brings out the capital “R” Romantic in me. I mean, food just tastes better out in the fresh air, where the sun makes you squint at the glare from your grilled cheese and the wind threatens to blow your salad and potato chips away. I am speaking, of course, of the half-dozen brand-spanking new picnic tables that are now corralled in front of the dining hall.

The picnic tables are just the most visible result of Work Day last week, which happened to be the coldest, rainiest, grimmest Work Day since…well, since the last one in October. Oh, there were the usual intrepid souls wallowing in the compost down at the farm, and a handful of hardy hammerers got a few boards of sheathing up on the OP addition before their hardy hands were numb, and there is always trail work to do if you relish the idea of dragging wet logs and brush through the mud. But some of the most exciting work went on indoors: painting the game room, repotting plants in the library, repairing chairs in Dalrymple, and building new shelves in the science building greenhouse.

The picnic tables were assembled in the maintenance garage and set free on the lawn the next day, which was, of course, sunny and glorious. They’ve moved around a bit in the past few days, like stiff, wooden bison jockeying for greener pastures, but they have been welcomed as a new and vital focus for working, chatting, eating and arguing the finer points of Epicureanism. I’ll leave you with another proverb: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people; if you are planning on educating people, feed them a picnic first.”

 

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I think therefore I am…I think

Being a well-rounded intellectual like myself, you will hopefully forgive me for once confusing Spinoza with Spinosaurus, a dinosaur with a spiny back, or spinets, those tiny little harpsichords, or spirulina, you know, that blue-green algae people like to eat. Baruch de Spinoza, I now know for certain, was the 17th-century Dutch philosopher who was excommunicated by the Jewish community and adopted as a prophet by postmodern Marxists. I know this because I went to politics professor Meg Mott’s presentation last week called “What do you feel about this class?,” part of the Embodied Learning Symposium that took Marlboro by storm over the last few days.

So, Meg’s talk was a half-hour glimpse of her amazing class called Spinoza & Freedom, where students not only learn about Spinoza’s thinking about the trials and tribulations of the mind but put it into practice. They were encouraged to go beyond their well-reasoned thoughts about things and dig deeper into how they felt about them, double-crossing the ol’ Cartesian mind-body duality. Apparently, and I’m a little fuzzy on this part, a fuller understanding of our emotions, or “affections” as our man Baruch called them, will allow us to be more adequate causes of our effects and therefore more “free.” I mean, even if I don’t completely get that, it feels like a good idea.

But this was just one of the many Spinosaurus-tingling moments in the four days of embodied learning extravaganzas. There were condensed classes from Tim Segar on embodied sculpture, T. Wilson on embodied poetry, Kristen Horrigan on embodied dance and Michael Huffmaster on embodied semantics. Seth Harter, who organized this whole embodied shebang, talked about “cultivation and contemplation” in an excerpt from his class on Daoist ritual and practice. There were some amazing invited presenters as well, choreographer Candice Salyers, historian John Watt, writer/director/performer Ain Gordon and more. Livia Kohn, Daoist scholar and Boston University professor emerita, led us participants in a meditation that infused our bodily organs with the colors of the “five phases” and got them all working harmoniously. But to me the highlight was seeing what our own professors were doing in class and that a lot of learning here is, in fact, eminently embodied. You know, since the only other option is disembodied, I take great comfort in this.

 

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Whatsa Matter with Mather?

If you know the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf in Paris and the coast of Sydney, you will be excused for thinking their latest project was Mather House—but you would be wrong. The administration building has been wrapped in assorted garish tents of rugged plastic for several weeks, not as a statement in environmental art but as part of the effort to improve its R-value. “R” is for thermal “resistance;” or for those of us who don’t know heat fluxes from hot flashes, I’m talking about insulation.

So, for the past few weekends these insulation technicians dressed in white suits like the medical team in E.T. have been sucking the old insulation out of Mather and stuffing in new stuff. The reason for the trendy tents is that the old stuff is a foam insulation called urea formaldehyde, which breaks down into toxic dust as it ages. I ask you, why have people stumbled on such nasty things to use for insulation, like asbestos, fiberglass and, holy urine Batman, urea (the vital ingredient in mammal pee) formaldehyde (a toxic organic compound used to preserve biological specimens)? I mean, even I could have told you it was a mistake to stuff all your walls with that, just from the name.

You’ll be happy to know that the E.T. medical team is replacing the old insulation with blown-in cellulose: essentially ground up newspapers. There’s something very fitting about Mather’s walls being stuffed with millions of chopped up words, like a giant free-verse poem about everything that’s been going on and been argued and been thought in the world over the last year. I just hope I get the comics in my walls. Okay, I know it’s spring and all, but the building already feels warmer—I’m not kidding. It’s all part of the college’s efforts to make the campus carbon footprint less of a EEE hiking boot and more of a Cinderella slipper. You can learn more about this at our new Sustainability web page.

 

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