March 1, 2004

Risley Salutes Dada

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Risley Residential College hosted its first Dada Ball on Friday in the college’s Great Hall as a gesture of thanks from Gordon Sander ’73 for his reappointment as this year’s guest suite artist. Beginning at about 10 p.m., Risleyites and non-Risleyites alike began trickling in, dressed in an assortment of feather boas, plastic rabbit ears and sunglasses, to celebrate the spirit of dada, an artistic movement characterized by its fascination with the bizarre and the nonsensical.

The event kicked off with some dada poetry followed by a brief musical/theatrical performance led by Sander. Afterwards, the party continued with Latino music by the band Rising Sign interspersed with occasional CD-music. Attendees danced, laughed and made use of Risley’s new dancing pole throughout the night, all in the name of the ball’s dada theme.

“Dada is anything goes, nonsense, kind of bizarre; you don’t have to try very hard to be dada,” said Erin Geld ’07, a central organizer of the event.

“Dada is just another synonym for wonderful nonsense,” Sander said. With respect to the party, Sander explained that the poetry, the theatrical performances and the eclectic music together formed “kind of a weird mixture, [and] that is what makes it dadaistic.”

The dada poetry, read by Erin Mcnellis ’05, consisted of three poems comprised of a phonetic array of sounds that mimicked those of specific animals. “I do a lot of work with sound but usually I use words so it was kind of interesting to be able to not use words and just do the pure sound and sounded rhythm,” Mcnellis said. The three poems read were titled Constellation Dance, Fish Dance and Mother Dance. Each one of Mcnellis’s poems was met with great applause.

In addition to the live entertainment, collages of photographs, drawings and paintings were put up around the Great Hall for party attendees to observe during the occasional slower periods. Katherine Schoenfelder grad, also a guest suite artist, was in charge of this decorative aspect of the ball.

The ball itself was paid for and encouraged by Sander in thanks for his reappointment by residents of Risley as guest suite artist for a second consecutive year. The artist position, usually filled by two persons yearly, invites an artist to reside in Risley and serve as a companion and mentor to students while continuing his or her artistic work. Students typically select Risley artists on the basis of a yearly competition for the position. “It’s a very unique job,” said Sander, “it is the only paid position — insofar as room and board constitute pay — that I know of at Cornell whose occupants are solely determined by the students themselves and not by the administration.”

“We are expected to use the residency as a kind of fellowship to continue with our own artistic endeavors, which we are then expected to share with the students,” Sander added.

For example, along the walls of the hallway that led to Risley’s Great Hall, several collages of Sander’s photographic and literary work were on display.

Sander was first Risley guest artist approximately 15 years ago. He then returned to Risley in the fall of 2002 to serve a one-year term. As the end of his term approached, students changed the college charter to allow Sander to return a second year.

Many Risleyites attending the ball made positive comments about both the ball and Sander’s involvement in Risley. “I’m having a good time,” said Elizabeth Badame ’05, in describing her attitude towards the ball.

“All the residents really like [Sander]; he tries to spend a lot of time with everybody; he is really into Risley,” Badame added.

“Gordon [Sander] is one of the more wacky people you can meet, wacky in a good way,” said Ben Rotit, Risley’s residence hall director and disk jockey during the ball. “He is a leadership figure,” Rotit added.

When asked how enjoyable they felt the ball was, Eric Humerez, sound technician for Rising Sign, and Annette marquis, assistant sound technician, answered by saying, “you saw us dancing just there.”

Sander chose dada as the theme for the ball because it encourages a sense of “wonderful nonsense.” In making his decision, Sander explained that he “was using dada in its broadest definition, that is, for wonderful nonsense, as well as montage.”

Sander explained that during his time at Cornell, he was captain of the Cornell Varsity Dada team. “We use to do things like throw water balloons off the bell tower and make impromptu collages on the President’s bulletin board,” Sander remarked.

Sander then said that the dada ball was a continuation “of that spirit, the spirit of good fun.”

Before returning to Risley, Sander lived in London where he worked for the BBC and the Financial Times.

For some, the dada ball will hopefully be the beginning of a popular tradition such as Risley’s Rocky Horror Picture Show and Masquerade. “I think we are starting a new Risley tradition,” said Rue Louthen ’05, “so you have to start somewhere and it grows.”

Rotit agreed saying that “he hoped to make [the ball] a tradition for the Spring semester.”

Though Sander’s guest artist term ends this May, he claims that his experience at Risley has been very positive. “Being artist in residence at Risley has been one of the high points of my life and career,” Sander said. In fact, “I like to think that during my time at Risley I have given back half as much as the students of Risley has given to me!” Sander added.

After the ball, Sander indicated that he felt the event was very positive. “I think the ball was a great success!” Sander said, “It certainly was a magical moment to see all those couples dancing to Rising Sign.”

Badame agreed, describing the ball as “very dada.”

Archived article by David Andrade

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