Donald’s notes: Summer Arts, Week 1
This is a roundup of news, reviews and notes from the opening week of the CSU Summer Arts program, which is back at Fresno State after a five-year absence. I’ll be updating this post as the week progresses. If you have Summer Arts tidbits or thoughts on a performance you’d like to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the public calendar of events, click here.
An evening with Vicki Lewis
Saturday’s public event (7 p.m., John Wright Theatre) features actress Vicki Lewis, who is teaching in “The Voice Actor’s Ultimate Toolkit” Summer Arts class. Known for her roles on the TV series “NewsRadio,” “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” Lewis is also an accomplished Broadway veteran and voice actor.
At Saturday’s event, Lewis will be doing something similar to an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” format with a discussion of her career, video clips and an opportunity for questions.
(Updated 1 p.m. Saturday, July 1)
Chamber music concert
Friday’s public event (7 p.m., Concert Hall) is a collaborative concert featuring some impressive Summer Arts guest artists: Lorenz Gamma and Mitchell Newman on violin, Dale Hikawa-Silverman on viola, Thomas Loewenheim on cello, and Ming Tsu and Peter Nelson on piano.
The program includes Joaquin Turina’s Piano Quartet in A minor. Tickets are $15-$20.
(Updated noon Friday, June 2)
In the photo above, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, whose writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, speaks Thursday at the John Wright Theatre. (Photo by Todd Sharp, CSU Summer Arts)
(Updated noon Friday, June 30)
Take that, Death Star
The speaker: Bruce Logan, the cinematographer who “made the Death Star explode,” talks about his storied career. He’s a guest artist at CSU Summer Arts teaching a course titled “Expanded Cinematography in the New Age.”
His earliest influences: First and foremost his father, Campbell Logan, a BBC classical drama director, who’d take him on set visits throughout England. His first films to see in the theater were “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Shane.” One of his earliest film memories is a tracking shot in a World War I trench, laboriously shot before the time of Steadicam, by Stanley Kubrick in “Paths of Glory.” Little did Logan know that he’d one day be spending two and a half years in the company of the great director.
The Kubrick odyssey: Logan likes to say his film school was Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” and that he graduated with a credit. Logan was on the film’s visual effects team, a high-stakes and groundbreaking job that exposed him to the often withering critiques of the perfectionist Kubrick. “He was a pretty tough critic,” he says of the director.
Amazing “2001” fact: No computers were used in the making of the film — “except perhaps the adding machine in the accounting office,” Logan says. Yet some of the film’s painstaking sequences look as if they were decades ahead of their time.
Moving to Los Angeles: Logan soon left England for Hollywood, where he racked up an array of impressive credits as a director, cinematographer, director of photography, visual effects supervisor and other behind-the-camera jobs. Those gigs included “Idaho Transfer,” “Big Bad Mama,” “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” “Firefox”, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and even the spoof “Airplane!” (“That was the only film in which the director told me he wanted the visual effects to look really bad,” Logan says.)
The “Star Wars” connection: Yes, he blew up the Death Star. And all those X-Wings and Tie Fighters blowing up on screen? That was him, too. Originally, an impatient George Lucas was talking about using puppeteers dressed in black manipulating flying spaceships on poles because the motion-control technology he wanted to debut was taking so long to perfect. (Thankfully, Logan didn’t have to do use the puppet contingency plan.) In the lecture, Logan shows us photograph in which you can see a shadow of a man on the visual effects set — that’s him — which is the only “proof” that he was actually part of moviemaking history, he jokes.
The “TRON” connection: Talk about groundbreaking. Logan was cinematographer on this futuristic depiction of a digital world. He brought one of the large “cells” (one of the blown-up frames of the film) to show the Summer Arts audience. I remember gaping at “TRON,” by the way, back when I saw it in 1982 at the Aptos Twin movie theater, mesmerized by this alternate world before me. Watching a clip of it today, it looks helplessly rudimentary, but sometimes we forget the impact of seeing a new and cutting-edge technology for the first time.
Still working: Logan just shot an indie film titled “Lost Fare,” which he wrote and directed, which he describes as a dark movie about a child prostitute and a cab driver who go on a journey of redemption together. He showed the audience a couple of scenes (still rough) from the film, which is still in post-production — in effect a world premiere.
The takeaway: Filmmaking just keeps getting more democratic in terms of barriers of entry, Logan says, which is a very good thing. With new cameras being announced every month that are more advanced (and cheaper), it’s easier than ever for filmmakers to do their thing on a budget. “I’ve always believed that film will never be a true artform until the tools are available to everyone,” he says. “I think that day has come.”
(Updated noon Thursday, June 29)
Hybrid Poetics and Narratives
Thursday’s public event (7 p.m., John Wright Theatre) is a reading by three esteemed guest artists teaching in the Hybrid Poetics and Narratives class for Summer Arts. Janice Lee’s most recent work is 2016’s “The Sky Isn’t Blue.” Joshua Edwards is the author of four collections of poetry including “Castles and Islands.” Ricardo Cortez Cruz is the author of “Straight Outta Compton” (the book, not the movie).
Here’s a preview:
(Updated 11 a.m. Thursday, June 29)
Byron Wolfe: Photos past and future
The speaker: Byron Wolfe, photographer and scholar, whose work focuses on themes of place, history, time and perception. He’s a guest artist at CSU Summer Arts teaching in a course titled “Landmarks: Photographed Ciphers of Time and Place.”
The big picture: Wolfe has long been fascinated with rephotography, the act of seeking out the locales of famous photographs of landscapes and remaking an image of the same scene. But it’s more than just a “then and now” approach. Wolfe engages in “an artistic dialogue that spans time and distance.” A photograph might be a fraction of a moment, but in terms of a longer continuum, a landscape captured years or centuries apart can act as a kind of time exposure itself, depicting not only great change (thanks mostly to human development) but also near-permanence.
The projects: Wolfe, who is program director for photography at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, guides the audience through some of his interesting endeavors and artistic partnerships over the years. In a wonderful bit of foresightedness, the U.S. government paid professional photographers in the 19th century to document some of the nation’s great vistas, including the Grand Canyon, and Wolfe was able to return 100 years later to survey the same scenes. Other projects include photographs in Yosemite National Park and a journey to Central America to document the photographs of the strange and mystical Eadweard Muybridge.
The human story: One of the most interesting series of photographs shared by Wolfe is titled “Four views from four times and one shoreline.” It incorporates images taken by Muybridge, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Wolfe and his photographic partner, Mark Klett. Wolfe tells the story of a (fifth) man who approached the pair and told them he had honeymooned at the lake 40 years ago, and now he was there to scatter the ashes of his wife. A standard afternoon of rephotography became a deeply affecting moment. “Photographs and places connect in unexpected ways — we just have to be paying attention,” he tells us.
The Central America trip: Muybridge is best known for inventing the technique to photograph high-speed motion, finally proving that a galloping horse has all four hooves off the ground for an instant in mid-stride. He was also quite an odd and volatile man, and after murdering his wife’s lover (and being acquitted by a sympathetic jury) in California, in 1875 he took off down the Pacific coast for a nine-month photographic trip. Wolfe and Scott Brady, while tracking down the places where Muybridge made his photos, discovered many interesting things about Muybridge’s techniques, including his penchant for adding the same set of clouds to different images. (Once he even added a set of volcanos to a vista.) “Manipulation did not begin with Photoshop,” Wolfe tells us. “It’s built into the very beginning of photography.”
The new book: “Phantom Skies and Shifting Ground: Landscape, Culture and Rephotography in Eadweard Muybridge’s Illustrations of Central America” will come out in August.
Takeaway No. 1: Photography is an art form made possible by technological advances. (Just think if Muybridge had an iPhone and how much easier his life would have been.) Some of the book projects completed by Wolfe, such as his Grand Canyon series, which included a DVD-ROM (remember those?) are little over 10 years old, but the technology already seems quaint. Yet the creativity at the core of the project still resonates. Wolfe has lots of big plans for the future, and he tells us sometimes it’s “about waiting for the right tool to come along.” Who knows what he’ll be able to come up with in, say, five or 10 years?
Takeaway No. 2: Landscapes can have an emotional connection with the viewer. The great painters of the 19th century knew this as they strived to capture the “sublime” in their grand vistas. But sometimes, as with the Lake Tenaya images and the story of the man scattering his wife’s ashes, you have to be a bit more patient and look a little harder to find that humanity.
Takeaway No. 3: I’m intrigued by another line of Wolfe’s in the lecture, how one of his rephotography endeavors in Yosemite, of the Merced River, was complicated by the change in the river’s course over the last 100 years. Human time and geologic time are on vastly different scales, but in the long run, nothing is permanent. Certainly not the ground beneath us.
(Updated 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 28)
Bruce Logan, force of cinematography
Wednesday’s public event (7 p.m., John Wright Theatre) is a lecture by one of the biggest names at Summer Arts: Bruce Logan. He has more than 30 years of experience as a director of photography, and has worked on countless films, television programs, commercials, and music videos. His work includes “Tron,” “Star Wars,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Bird,” “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Logan is teaching in the “Expanded Cinematography in the New Age” Summer Arts class.
Tickets are $10 general, $8 students and seniors.
(Updated 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 28)
Tuesday’s public event (7 p.m., John Wright Theatre) is a lecture by noted photographer Byron Wolfe, program director for photography at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University.
Byron Wolfe uses photography and a diverse range of digital tools and visualizations to reflect on broader notions of culture, the passage of time, landscape, and the construction of perception. The results are combinations of scholarly and historic research, creative expression, and personal narrative.
He often collaborates on complex long-term research projects with students and colleagues in fields that range from Visual Arts to Humanities to the Natural Sciences. He has authored or co-authored five books and his work has appeared in Harpers Magazine, The New York Times, Orion magazine, and more. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and his work is held in the permanent collections at The George Eastman House, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, among others. Wolfe is the Program Director for Photography at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Wolfe and Scott Brady collaborated on the book “Phantom Skies and Shifting Ground: Landscape, Culture, and Rephotography in Eadweard Muybridge’s Illustrations of Central America.” A description from Wolfe’s website:
In the dead of night in 1875, just after being acquitted for the murder of his wife’s lover, Eadweard Muybridge boarded the Pacific Mail Steamship Company’s vessel The Honduras. He temporarily took on the name Eduardo Santiago Muybridge and spent a year photographing all along the Central American Pacific Coast with particular emphasis given to his travels in Guatemala and Panamá.
Upon his return to California in 1876 he produced and published a very limited number of albums that he sold or gave away. The albums – eleven known to date – are exceedingly rare and each is unique in size and scope. They are a complicated record of the past from an enigmatic and important figure.
But they’re a complicated record not just because of the varied makeup of each album; Muybridge was exceptionally adept at combining different negatives to form single composite images. That means that the exact same landscape view might appear in different albums with completely different skies and clouds! Or the exact same clouds might appear in dozens of different landscape scenes! And some landscapes might even have had volcanoes added or subtracted from the scene.
Starting in 2007, Dr. Scott Brady (a cultural geographer and colleague at Chico State) and I traveled to Guatemala and Panamá to relocate and rephotograph a substantial portion of Muybridge’s photographs. I also compiled a catalog of every known Muybridge Central American picture, complete with a detailed visual analysis of all the wacky things he did with clouds and volcanoes.
Wolfe is teaching in the “Landmarks: Photographed Ciphers of Time and Place” Summer Arts class.
Tickets are $10 general, $8 students and seniors.
(Updated 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 27)
In the photo above, CSU Summer Arts arrive Monday for an orientation session and a chance to get to meet each other. (Photo by Todd Sharp, CSU Summer Arts)
(Updated 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, June 27)
Powerful kickoff with Contra-Tiempo
The opening: “I’ve waited five years to say this: Welcome back, Summer Arts,” says Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities. He’s standing on the stage of the John Wright Theatre before the show begins. He jokingly adds: “Permanently!” (A wry chuckle follows from some of in the audience who know how hard the university fought to bring the annual arts summer school and public festival back to Fresno.)
The event: A Monday performance by the L.A.-based dance group Contra-Tiempo. This was the official kick-off of California State University Summer Arts, which returned to Fresno after a five-year absence.
The crowd: Most of the couple of hundred students attending the festival’s first two-week session are here — they arrived earlier in the day, eager and willing to immerse themselves in an extended frenzy of creativity — along with many of the Fresno-area community supporters of the program. It’s nearly a full house.
The program: Contra-Tiempo has a commitment to “socially astute and physically intense performance,” and the six professional dancers here at Fresno State, who just met their students today, deliver a combustible evening. The performance includes excerpts from the company’s well known “Agua Furiosa,” inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Oya, the Afro-Cuban deity of wind and storms, and a new, profoundly political piece tentatively titled “joyUS,” which explores the power of resistance.
The style: Fierce, athletic and provocative. “The revolution will taste like breast milk! It will still be warm!” we hear through a megaphone. With doses of salsa, Afro-Cuban, urban and contemporary dance-theater, the movements feel combustible, and even though the dancers sometimes come together in unison, there’s a sense of spontaneity and individuality throughout.
The acting: It strikes me that these artists are asked not only to own the stage in terms of their physicality but also emotionally and in terms of character. This type of dance requires more than just technical precision but also feeling, passion and perhaps a bit of rage as well.
Among my favorite moments: an excerpt devoted to the exhilaration and speeded-up societal price of caffeine, which includes a jittery and explosive set of movements. (The routine could have been sponsored by Dutch Bros.) The number is accompanied by a rapid-fire recitation of three-letter acronyms (CIA, MRI, KFC, BFF, MIA, etc.), perhaps suggesting that when we can’t even slow down to sound out entire series of words but rely on verbal shorthand, we’re moving too fast.
One more memorable moment: I’m blown away when dancer Chris Cuenza starts clutching his upper chest in what you might call a severe vibration motion, his rib cage seeming to jump and pulse of its own accord in beat to the pounding percussion. His heart takes on a palpable presence, as if his heart is trying to get out of his body. This hip-hop nod to “popping” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen live and up close, and the visceral (and, frankly, disturbing) result makes a big impression on the audience.
The takeaway: With its ability to rouse an audience and get the blood pumping, Contra-Tiempo is a strong launch for Summer Arts. If you wander through campus in the next two weeks and see a dance circle at any hour of the day or night, you’ll know what’s going on.
The student showcase: For another chance to see the kind of work created by Conta-Tiempo, you can attend a free showcase at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 8, in the John Wright Theatre. I’m sure the participating students will be pumped up after a two-week immersion in a world of dance, theater and music.
(Updated 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 27)
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