July 4, 2008

Arts, Upclose and Visceral

By Donald Munro, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

Jul. 4--The California State University Summer Arts program, now in its 10th season at Fresno State, got off to a rousing start Sunday with an opening performance of the Brooklyn-based dance company Urban Bush Women.

Plenty of public performance opportunities remain in the coming weeks. The program, which is expected to draw 120 guest artists and 520 students, continues through July 25.

This weekend's featured events are gospel musician James Hall (7 p.m. today, Fresno State Concert Hall), an "Evening of Saroyan" by the acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Com- pany (7 p.m. Saturday, Fresno State John Wright Theatre) and a photography lecture by Photoshop expert Tim Grey (7 p.m. Sunday, Fresno Art Museum).

At the Summer Arts Bulletin Board thread at fresnobeehive.com, you can find event reviews, reader comments, daily schedules and news tidbits. Here's a sample from the festival's first week (for more, go to fresnobeehive.com/donald):

Urban Bush Women A highlight: In the second piece of the evening, the rousing "Shelter," the company updated this 1988 work with a blistering dose of contemporary social commentary. At turns frantic and contemplative, the title of the piece finds a whole new meaning when connected to Hurricane Katrina. Not once but twice, troupe founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar declares that "N'Orleans don't raise no chumps" and then adds: "I ain't fled nothing. My country fled me." In this jarring context, the dancers offer intensive movements that range from limb-shaking (they quake and jitter as if bugs are eating them alive) and stiff (they clomp, straight-legged, onto stage in a gait that suggests a goose step) to eerie calm, as if they're in the eye of the storm.

In a visual image that I won't soon forget, we're confronted with the dancers on the ground, curled up in fetal positions, and as the percussionist (a fine Bashir Shakur) bangs a cymbal, they jerk as if a voltage jolt is coursing through their bodies. It's as if they've touched a live wire.

It was, in short, an electric performance. And a particularly fine way to kick off Summer Arts.

Nevada Wier If anyone out there doubted the public interest in photography these days, you only had to go as far as world-traveler-photographer Nevada Wier's Monday lecture at the Fresno Art Museum. It was a packed house. Wier gave an overview of her long and sprawling professional career. Part travelogue and part pep talk, with a few photo tips thrown in, the lecture was sure to inspire wanderlust in even the most sedentary Fresnan.

Her travels include extensive work in South America, Africa, China, Thailand and India, and she has made it a special focus in her career to document indigenous peoples.

The Santa Fe-based Wier describes herself as a "extrovert loner," which she says is a great combination for a photographer interested in different cultures. Relationships with people are a key to taking great photos. She's a strong proponent of upclose photography (she loves using wide-angle lenses, which require a close shooting proximity) and insists that it's up to her to build an atmosphere of respect with her subjects. No standing off at the edge of a village for her and snapping photos with a telephoto lens -- she wants to get in people's faces, and if they have a problem with that, then she isn't doing her job.

The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or (559) 441-6373.


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