Opera Ithaca flaunted a raw and striking sold out performance of Pagliacci Saturday night. The site-specific production housed in Ithaca’s very own Circus School remained authentic to the Ithacan aesthetic — small and impactful. The show, directed by Zachary James, tells the story of an ensemble of circus performers trapped in a dramatic love triangle. The company, already embraced and well loved by the Ithaca community, is entering its fourth season. Though Ithaca Opera has finished its final performance of Pagliacci, the company has five remaining shows lined up for their 2017/18 season including The Mystery of the Magic Flute, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, and Carmen.
Convergence, Rebecca Rutstein’s exhibit on view at the John Hartell Gallery in Sibley Dome, is full of visual paradoxes that play with the eye, mind and soul. One glance into the gallery space draws the viewer into a state of total optical stimulation, complete with an experience that includes captivatingly rhythmic patterns and whirlwinds of unexpected colors. A deeper look at the collection prompts a realization of the true genius of visual contradiction, all skillfully created by Rutstein. Rutstein, a Cornell alumna (M.F.A. class of 1993) has participated in ocean mapping expeditions that spanned from the Galapagos Islands to California and from Vietnam to Guam. Convergence is fundamentally inspired by the ocean maps, geography, geology and water of these trips.
“Maybe it’s a fact we all should face / everyone makes judgments based on race”. This lyric, from the musical Avenue Q, was one of the first things that popped into my mind as I walked out of Smart People at the Kitchen Theatre — a play that delves unreservedly into the difficult, yet ever so relevant conversation of race, prejudice and, most importantly, our fear of that conversation itself. Written by the award-winning playwright Lydia R. Diamond and directed by the talented Summer L. Williams from Company One Theatre in Boston, Smart People is wildly funny, gripping and remarkably thought-provoking at its core. It dares us into the daunting task of thoroughly reevaluating ourselves and the world around us. With an innovative opening sequence involving projections of various news headlines and the voice recording of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign announcement, the play unfolds around four main characters: Brian, a white neuroscience professor at Harvard who has dedicated himself to finding a neurological explanation for racism and prejudice; Ginny, Brian’s fellow psychology professor at Harvard who studies and counsels Asian American women suffering from anxiety and depression; Jackson, Brian’s best friend, a black surgeon in residency; And Valerie, a young black actress who participates in Brian’s study and later works for him as a research assistant.
Richenburg’s works, once exhibited in the Ninth Street Show of 1951, along with canvases of Pollock, Krasner and the de Koonings, have since become neglected. The Johnson’s exhibit finds it necessary to remind spectators, frequently, not to confuse Richenburg with his better-known soundalike, Rauschenberg — who, ironically, was one of the first artists to break from abstract expressionism. Once part of the avant-garde New York School, Richenburg moved away from the city and its art scene in 1964, when he felt that his experimental teaching practices were being restricted by the Pratt Institute. He moved north. In 1964, he became a professor at Cornell University.
Over the past summer, I met a kid who is born and bred in Ithaca in my lab. Ah well, I guess making fun of one’s hometown isn’t exactly the best way to start a conversation. He spent half an hour trying to convince me how incredible the art scene in this tiny little town is, and I finally paid my first visit to the Hangar Theatre last week. It was more than impressive — I cried, just saying. Alas, I wonder how many awesome productions I missed my freshmen year.
“Usually, when I tell people that I make music, I don’t reference Primary Colors,” says the polite, affable sophomore. “Instead I say, ‘Check me out on Soundcloud.’” Sitting in front of me with his work neatly put aside to accommodate this impromptu interview is Paul Russell, who is an opinion columnist for The Sun and is otherwise known by the name ‘Paulitics’ under which he raps, sings and writes music. We’re sitting at a table in Temple of Zeus on Friday afternoon, the last day of class before Spring Break. Over the course of this winter break, I grew familiar with Paul’s work, after he granted me permission to use some of his songs in a feature-length film I was co-directing. Naturally, this level of familiarity with his work made me want to learn more about the artist behind the music I was so generously given access to; Hence this interview.
Race has long been a salient topic in the United States, but the production of Baltimore by the Department of Performing and Media Arts and the Ithaca Civic Ensemble demonstrates why it is so important to talk about right now. The play touches on crucial concepts such as police brutality, the black-white binary, intersectionality and jokes that go too far, all on a college campus. An African-American student and RA named Shelby (Edem Dzodzomenyo ’20) goes to interview her university’s new dean, Dean Hernandez (Irving Torres ’18) for the newspaper, and they argue about his convocation speech and the issue of race on campus, which Shelby prefers to ignore. She leaves frustrated about his views on race and goes to vent about the encounter with her best friend, Grace (Sabrina Liu ’20). During their conversation, Grace receives a message and informs Shelby that someone has drawn a caricature of a black woman on the door of Shelby’s resident, Alyssa, who is black.
The entire cast and directing team is black, a deliberate shock to the conventional theatre world. Or, should I say Cornell’s theatre world? The first full-length play to stage exclusively people of color in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, Life Sentence was written by the trailblazing playwright Gloria Majule ’17. “Coming here my freshmen year I felt a need for more roles for people of color. At first it was more out of anger for the lack of people of color and then it became something more.” Majule began the writing process over two years ago as her thesis, and will finally witness her goals embodied on stage Thursday in the Blackbox Theatre of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
In turbulent times, art and its artists find themselves thrown into a space of ambiguity and with it comes a host of questions regarding their purpose. Artistic and political space inevitably intersect. Is this by accident or by unbending intent? More broadly, what is the role of the artist? For Kadie Salfi, a local Ithaca artist and an active member of the Alice Cook House community, these questions are addressed through an invitation for dialogue. Located in the Willard Straight Hall Art Gallery, Salfi’s exhibit Red Guns is part of a poignant and enduring conversation about gun violence in America.
I can tell you that Alicia Hall Moran is a singer with countless biographies woven into her lungs; that Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon are poets of vast interpersonal awareness; that LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs is a sensitive purveyor of visual and sonic incisions. But this conveys only who they are on paper and not what they became in person when their forces cross-pollinated in Cornell’s Kiplinger Theater last Tuesday night. The title of their performance, THROUGHLINE, felt like both descriptor and mission statement as they drew lines through the curio cabinets of our minds even while rearranging them, jumping from soul to soul until only a singularity of verbal perfume was left. Amid top notes of citrus and spice, girlhood’s questioning turned into womanhood’s indestructibility and floral mids scented the skin of forgotten children, while a base of grasslands and burnt umber evoked the muck of conflicting narratives from which these four singular artists excavated common themes. Moran’s voice carried ahistorical futures written in historical registers.