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Bernstein festival of the arts sneak preview

By Maxwell Price

Section: Arts

March 13, 2009

<i>ORIGINAL PAINTING: This portrait was featured in last year’s festival.</i>

ORIGINAL PAINTING: This portrait was featured in last year’s festival.

For many students working in creative arts departments at Brandeis, the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts acts as the culminating event of a year’s worth of hard work and imaginative discovery. Yet the intense and varied outpouring of youthful creative energy serves not only as a showcase for talented artists, but enriches the cultural life of Brandeis for all students. The annual festival will take place this year from April 22-26, with performances and visual art installations occurring throughout campus, including the Slosberg Music Center and the Shapiro Campus Theater.

The Bernstein festival is the legacy of the groundbreaking American composer and early Brandeis faculty, who collaborated in 1952 (along with other notable artists, like actress Lotte Lenya and poet William Carlos Williams) to create a forum for innovative artistic expression. The festival’s philosophy has emphasized the links between the arts and our age’s social foundations. In keeping with Brandeis’s emphasis on social justice, the festival seeks out works that foster the symbiotic relationship between artistic creation and cultural understandings at the core of our generation’s lives.

Festival participants may apply for grants through the Office of the Arts, and this year’s winners offer us a window into the multifaceted event’s overarching themes. If Bernstein’s principle of art revealing the collective feelings and spirit of a society holds true half a century after he articulated it, the winners of this year’s grants show the innovative forms that develop in a pluralistic liberal arts setting. Cultural hybrid figures prominently in the performance of Mochila, an East-meets-West ensemble that melds Arabic and Indian instrumentation with jazz, reggae, and classical influences. This cross-cultural conversation also takes place through the visual arts, notably in Danielle Garfinkel’s ’09 use of Indonesian Batik textile design to represent food logos, considering globalization and gaps in nutrition around the world.

Likewise, several artists have chosen to work in multimedia formats or integrating multiple types of expression into unique works. Mu-Xuan Lin (GRAD) will unfold an original narrative through chamber music, dance, and video, while Catherine Wagner’s ’09 All Springs based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses straddles the line between theater and dance. Bekah Richards ’10 will use text, photography, and collage to explore trust and transgression in “Who Will Ever Believe in Oaths.” One of the most exciting creative syntheses lies in the intersection of art and science. The Brandeis Physics Club is constructing a solar-powered kinetic and sound sculpture that one can only hope will harness not only energy but also the imaginative wonder of natural world.

Yet not all arts projects for the Bernstein festival feature such creative intermixtures. Many, such as Tim Pracher-Dix’s ’09 original play based on the lives of immigrant Brandeis custodians, serve as the capstones of students’ in-depth studies in a particular discipline. In a similar vein, several dance performances are choreographed by graduate students; Susan Dibble and the Brandeis Dance Collective will also showcase new works.

The fascinating part of attending an arts festival is that each person will have a unique experience. Whether you choose to see new electronic music or classical interpretations, theater of the absurd or a high tragedy, the way you view the Bernstein festival will differ from the way others perceive it. Although the content of every work might focus on different themes through a variety of media, however, we can only hope that this year the festival will serve as incontrovertible proof that the arts are alive and well at Brandeis.

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