Stop making sense

Thursday, March 6, 2008

March 6, 2008

Dear Julie,

Cindy Tower's art defies conventional ideas about beauty. She goes to abandoned factories to paint the deteriorating remains of American industry, capturing the ugliness of that death and the engineered beauty of spaces that once hummed with life and hope.

She recognizes that beauty and ugliness, good and evil are inseparable parts of the same whole. "Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness," said Lao Tsu. "All can know good as good only because there is evil."

Tower's paintings are only one of the subversive acts of art at our River Campus capable of shaking us out of winter's doldrums.

Anyone who attended the university's annual dance concert called Dance-Apalooza afterward walked into the chill wanting to move their body just a bit more than usual.

I've attended dance concerts at the university since the days dance was more of a club than a program. Those I'm OK, you're OK days have given way to dancers who are uniformly agile and graceful, some as talented as could be found on any other college stage.

They danced to Elvis, to Erik Satie and DJ Spooky. To Artie Shaw, Rosemary Clooney and Radiohead. Two of the dances were choreographed by outside sources -- a jazz number by members of the Chicago ensemble called the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project and an edgy street dance by New Yorker Sean Curran.

I wondered how their residencies might affect the student dancers. The proof of the ability of artists to transform raw materials appeared in the heightened confidence, abandon and creativity on the stage.

Dancers waltzed a la Astaire and Rogers and pirouetted in the ways we love to watch. In Curran's piece and faculty members Hilary Peterson's and Philip Edgecombe's creations they danced like an avant-garde troupe you might see in a New York City studio. Edgecombe's extraordinary "Storms and Small Catastrophes" deserves to be exported to other companies.

Not all the dances were pretty in any classical sense. Edgecombe's dancers distorted their faces and spent part of the dance crying. Curran's dance was gritty with emotion.

I walked in shivering and walked out exhilarated.

A few days later the university orchestra's "Carnival of the Animals" concert this week was another antidote to the cold and ice outside. The piano soloists, Tyson Wunderlich and Matt Yount, are both products of the local university. Wunderlich continued on to the New England Conservatory to study conducting and directs local ensembles now. Yount is a music instructor at the university and studies piano at the Indiana University.

In tandem they played a difficult piece by Poulenc and Ravel's gorgeous "Pavane for a Dead Princess." The finale was Saint-Saens' fanciful "Carnival of the Animals." Tom Harte, our resident connoisseur of good food and music, narrated the whimsical poem Ogden Nash wrote to accompany the orchestral instruments' wild-things sounds. "In the world of mules/There are no rules."

Lao Tsu says: "Yield and overcome; bend and be straight; empty and be full; wear out and be new; have little and gain; have much and be confused."

We Westerners can struggle with paradox and unconventional ideas that on their surface don't seem to make sense. Sometimes I think we don't know what we're missing.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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