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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fiery Flamenco Highlights SCSU Women's Studies Program

Fiery Flamenco Highlights SCSU Women’s Studies Program
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

New Haven, CT -- “FLAMENCO PERFORMANCE” the Southern Connecticut State University ad boldly announced. The capital letters foretold what would be an exclamation point of a dance event highlighting an exciting term of Women’s Studies programs at the New Haven-based center for higher learning.

A tribute to women freedom fighters Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa Mirabal, sisters that led a rebellion against Dominican Republic dictator Jose Trujillo and were mysteriously murdered November 25, 1960, “Canto” was choreographed by noted Artistic Director/Choreographer Melinda Bronson. The free performance, held Wednesday, March 31st on the sprawling SCSU campus, included a panel discussion on women as freedom fighters.

Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, Ph.D., the petite, well-spoken director of the Women’s Studies Program and Vice President of the National Women’s Studies Association, introduced the event, explaining that it was Minerva Mirabal who co-founded the rebellion. She dubbed it the 14th of June Movement and her sisters joined her in the fight. They were collectively known as the “Butterflies”.

SCSU Professor Hector Mirabal (no relation), who added to the short pre-performance intro, said the atmosphere that Trujillo had created was “oppressive and controlling” and the Mirabal sisters’ opposition was fueled by acts of violence and torture against their own family members and fellow countrymen. Trujillo had also prevented Minerva’s efforts to become a lawyer, denying her diploma. The latter was granted posthumously and a law school named after her. The date of her death, November 25th, has also been dedicated as an international day to recognize violence against women.

The performance intro included a few words from Professor Sobeira Latorre, who quoted passages from a book titled, “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez. Exiled from the D.R. in 1960 during the time when the overthrow of Trujillo was attempted, Alvarez focused her work on gender differences and the roles of men and women in D.R. society, and what it was like to grow up in that time. Women were supposed to be dutiful wives/mothers and barred from politics.

Melinda Bronson, a tall, elegant woman dressed in an Asian influenced sari, provided the final pre-performance word. She emphasized “the strength of women and importance of dance as a medium to address issues of social/gender justice.” Bronson’s goal was to position the women dancers featured in “Canto” in stations of strength, mirroring the fierce stand of the Mirabal sisters.

Bronson herself literally set this tone beginning the performance by hammering out a rhythm on a section of sheet metal. This summoned the performers – 11 women in all, of varying nationalities, sizes and faces dressed in white linen outfits -- who marched out in a defiant beat, stomping, thundering and making themselves heard, as if declaring, “We will not be hushed!”

Professor and Coordinator of Spanish Luisa Piemontese provided the taped voiceover, which helped tell the Mirabal sisters’ story as the dance segments continued in a similar vein as they had begun. A Spanish guitar track with accompaniment, provided by musical duo Loli y Manuel, supported. The simple and yet poignant set that served as the backdrop was crafted by veteran set designer Tony Kosloski. Technical direction was supplied by Bill Schaffner, who has enjoyed a 15-year association with Bronson.

“Wow! And wow again!” Tricia Lin aptly summed up as the dance concluded, echoing the feelings of attendees visibly moved by the event. Lin then opened up a Q&A session between the performers, choreographer and audience.

Regarding the choice of white linen outfits for the performance, Bronson explained, “It was important to erase pre-conceptions of traditional flamenco. I wanted each dancer to come out as an individual.”

The choice had the desired effect on the audience. “I was deeply moved by the expression of power in the choreography… of female strength, resistance, especially when harmonizing. It aptly captured the mysterious power and spirit of the Mirabal sisters,” Dr. Roslyn Amenta contributed.

As for the dancers, it was a journey and bonding experience for them all. “We’ve grown together… it was extra emotional,” said Mary Baird, 21, a New York City resident who has been dancing flamenco since the age of eight. “It’s about doing what you feel,” added Vanity David, 22, who began dancing at age nine and under Bronson at 12. Carolina Santos-Read, 23, an accomplished professional who was born in London and raised in Madrid, noted that her Brazilian mother had danced under Bronson. Midori Larsen, 32, admitted to being a pianist first and dance student second pursuing a PhD at NYU and dissertation about learning Spanish classical music through movement. “Dancers are also musicians,” Larsen observed.

Choreographer Bronson perhaps best summed up the performance, which closed the Women’s Studies “Herstory” Month, as a “ritual of solidarity.” To see these very different women working as one dance unit and their determined “Stomp”-meets-Flamenco exhibition, one can only agree.

For information about the Women’s Studies Program at Southern Connecticut State University, contact program director Yi-Chun Tricia Lin at 203-392-6133 or via email at   

All Miked Up

All Miked Up
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Three hundred thousand people without power in the tri-state area. Three-and-three-quarters inches of rain over the past 14 hours. Two people dead in New Jersey. Reports of 75 trees down between Easton and Fairfield, CT. Winds of up to 74 miles an hour. Very bad flooding. Suspended Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia. Suspended Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia. Suspended Staten Island Ferry service. Exploding transformers. Predictions of continued rain through the next two days. Suspended service on the L.I.R.R. and NJ Transit lines. Airport delays and diversions en masse.

This was the late night recount on AM-radio station 1010 WINS of the damage and impact inflicted by a fierce nor’easter that assailed the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut region.

The storm’s fury seemed the “perfect” end to a day that had twisted and turned with emotional highs, unexpected moments, perplexing face-offs and the promise of future collaboration.

With just three hours of sleep logged on Friday night, I woke to some fine rain dotting the landscape. Mainlining some java, I tweaked an article I had developed about a Midget Tossing event and shot it out to some 25 contacts. As I did so, my email inbox filled with copies of emails that my agent, Bob Diforio, had been hard at work blasting out to more publishing houses, a generic plea to get them to notice and embrace “Chasing Charley”.

Satisfied things were moving ahead on key fronts, I wolfed down a plate of freshly made pancakes, showered, eyeballed the morning paper and set out to seize the day.

I swooped into downtown, lashed The Limo and strolled into Midas Jewelers to visit with Roger Pomoroy. It had been a while since we first met, when I bought a silver, engraved pocket watch as a retirement gift for my dad. Today, we had other business to discuss – ITEX. Essentially, ITEX is a barter system wherein tradesmen and businessmen who pay a monthly membership fee can exchange services on a cashless basis. In my case, let’s say I need a contractor to put in a window and that contractor needed some marketing materials created. We would provide each other with equally-valued services in a no-cash swap – no cash, that is, except for a 6% broker fee to Roger. It was an exciting concept and, after accepting a much-needed watchband from Roger as a first swap proposition, I took a sign-up kit with me.

I moved down the block to a clothing store where I had made a new friend with an interest in a Shore Tour service I was developing and in writing in general. As a friendly offering, I shuttled in a grilled cheese, which was heartily accepted.

Then it was off to the Westport Public Library where a winter book sale was occurring. Upon arrival, I asked if there was a reporter and/or photographer covering the event as I had a story to share that might have interest. I was directed to Mimi, a pleasant staffer who bent an ear in my direction.

I told her how, back in Spring 2003, I came to a similar book sale being held here and stumbled upon John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”. Unassuming at first, the book would motivate me to embark on a life-changing re-creation of the author’s round-the-country adventure and result in my own book project, “Chasing Charley”. Though I have termed it a “project” – which is not inaccurate, as it certainly has been – I added that I had high hopes that it would be embraced by a publisher and as an “official” printed book.

Mimi was thrilled with the story, remarked, “Oh, you’re that guy” (recalling the initial publicity), and said I had to meet someone, Julie Bodington. The P.R. person and photographer at the library, she was equally excited about the idea after Mimi said to me, “Go on, tell her. I can’t tell it better than you.”

In fact, as I related my tale, others gathered around, a mix of both staffers and library visitors. I was peppered with questions, acknowledged with smiles and asked when “Chasing Charley” would be available. And as I addressed all the queries, Julie pulled out a camera and began snapping away. She captured not only my interactions with this cluster of people, but my beginning to thumb through rows of books the same as I had nearly seven years earlier.

And as I combed through and scanned the book spines, strange coincidences began to occur. First, between the focus of CC and some of the books I pulled and studied here – titles related to journeys or “Chasing” something or even an early 70s paperback about a guy who walked across America. Julie and I also had much in common, with similar backgrounds in marketing/advertising. We spoke about “the trip” but also the journey my career had been to get to this current point.

When Julie felt she had captured enough detail to pen an article with accompanying pics, I was released on my own recognizance to continue poking through the sale. I had already half filled a brown Trader Joe’s shopping bag.

Select titles continued to excite me, in particular Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” which was nestled in the same spot where “Travels with Charley” had been lodged. I called Mimi’s attention to same. I also got on the phone to my agent to mention this experience and the press pick-up. At the same time, I asked him what he thought of another guy I had noticed through some online research who was developing a similar project, called “Travels with Steinbeck”. This other writer, towing an Airstream Trailer and toting a circa 1959 road map, set out in pursuit of Steinbeck’s path much as I had. The discovery made me nervous enough to shoot a reference by email to Bob, suggesting we need to “put the pedal to the metal” before this other guy steals my thunder. I was sure that this had motivated Bob to send out all the emails, like he had this morning. While I expressed my gratitude for his efforts, I think he was miffed about having to do this work on a Saturday, and that I was bugging him again in the afternoon. He was in an insurmountable funk for the moment, counter to my elated feeling of being back in this familiar environment.

The latter interaction led me to put my own pedal to the metal and sweep through the remaining books (and tapes, videos and records). At the “check-out” table, I found myself serving – quite happily – as a bag boy for the person in line before me. Not only did the woman have a broken wrist but the elder woman manning the table and handling the transactions had a bad shoulder. So, I efficiently bagged up the woman’s book purchases and said playfully, “There you go, ma’am… and here are your double coupons. Thanks for shopping with us today.”

There was one more person to which Mimi had wanted me to say hello and that was Library Director Maxine. I found her in the hall standing by two glass doors playing the role of security. She was also trying her best to hold the afore-mentioned doors closed, as increasing wind gusts outside found their way in and around us and pulled at these. I recited the abbreviated version of my tale then finally departed, bound for home at last. My large sedan was literally hydroplaning as whipping winds lashed open spaces and created ripples in rain puddled streets. Conditions had definitely worsened and, I suspected, we were in store for much worse.

Moments before I arrived home, BLINK, the area went dark, with the exception of 7-Eleven, on a parallel street behind our house. Apparently, it operates off its own generator, so suddenly became a destination for the lightless many. I was among them, spontaneously deciding we needed to not only get a few essentials but also a number of non-essentials with which to throw… a Hurricane Party!

Onto the counter I piled beer, chips, candles, limes, streudel, peanuts, soda, ice and more, two-stepping back to the house and into the company of accumulating neighbors. These included Bob & Lynn Foote, Tom & Sally Landry and drop-ins like the Milici family and young Elliot Dolzani. Candles had been ignited and placed, cheeses lopped and plated, grapes adorned and wine poured. In lieu of electronically produced tunes, elder son Evan became our music minstrel, strumming and strolling with his electric guitar and a portable battery-operated amp. The Milici girls, Finula and Bella, added to the entertainment, performing some Riverdance-type action in our kitchen. The kids held candles and flashlights under their chins, to effect ghostly countenances. Bob Foote made his hula dancer tattoo wiggle. And all was merry while outside the tempest grew more furious.

By morning, sand had been pushed up and over waterfront seawalls, trees had snapped and fallen on anything in their path – cars, houses, roads, fences, people – multiple inches of rain had resulted in area flooding and roof and other house accessories had been damaged.

It was a wooly storm indeed – a last guffaw to put a period at the end of Winter 2009-2010.