During ARTS FIRST weekend April 30-May 3, Harvard’s campus will be transformed into a theater of artistic activity. Wherever you go, you can view art galleries and exhibitions, you can watch live theater outdoors, and you can even see some of your favorite professors in ballet shoes. One of the most exciting things about ARTS FIRST weekend is the abundance of new works of art created and composed by Harvard students themselves. I spoke with four of the student artists whose work will premiere this ARTS FIRST weekend about the inspiration behind each of their works, what they learned throughout the creative process, and what they hope audiences will take away from each experience.
Mallika Snyder ’17, King of the Catwalk, an original children’s musical
King of the Catwalk is a musical written by the Harvard Story-Time Players, the only organization at Harvard to bring story theater to children in hospitals and community service organizations. Our greatest inspiration as a creative team is the remarkable optimism and courage that greets us every time we perform, and it is our hope that our shows, which blend zany comedy with discussions of deeply relevant social issues, will continue to bring joy to the audiences we serve. Working on this musical has taught us all a great deal, not only about how to create interactive children’s theater, but also how important a role theater can have in making people smile and think about important questions in their lives. King of the Catwalk is the heartwarming story of a dog who dreams of participating in an exclusive cats-only tradition, the Catwalk, and who teams up with his personal trainer, a mouse, to stand up to the mostly unfriendly cats who control the Catwalk and chase his dream. This theme of striving to achieve your dreams despite social exclusion is extremely relevant to all audiences, and we hope to leave our ARTS FIRST audience entertained and inspired. Story-Time performances also tend to be very interactive, and we’re really excited about performing in the Yard, which is a perfect venue for the kind of theater we do.
King of the Catwalk takes place 2 p.m. Saturday May 2 in front of Memorial Church in Tercentenary Theatre, Harvard Yard.
Sam Wu ’17, Tree of Life, a musical and visual art composition
I was a visual artist before I got into music. I have always wanted to collaborate with a visual artist, particularly because audience members have commented to me about the imagery they see when they listen to my works. My first piece about the visual arts is inspired by the sounds of ink pens, charcoal and paintbrushes in action – triptych, for cello obliggato and strings ensemble premiered by the Brattle Street Chamber Players last fall. Tree of Life is my second piece inspired by the visual arts. I hope audience members will see the theatricality and beauty in the act of painting on a silk canvas, as well as hear the music as a part of the tree that is being painted. I have learnt that when I am fortunate enough to work with an incredible musician, she can put interpretive and even improvisatory touches on my work that I never could have imagined. Our pianist, Chuhan Zhang (Yale ’18), is truly amazing. She got into the final rounds of the 2015 International Chopin Competition. So Tree of Life reaffirms for me that the creative process is never over when I convert my Sibelius file to a PDF – it continues
each time the piece is rehearsed and performed.
Tree of Life will take place 1, 3 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday May 2 in front of Memorial Church in Tercentenary Theatre in Harvard Yard. Read more about the project.
Maria Jaakkola GSD Loeb Fellow, (Dis)connected, impressions inspired by Jean Sibelius
(Dis)connected started with the notion that the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was born 150 years ago this year. He was synesthetic, hearing colors. Sibelius’s music strikes a chord in my soul, reviving the connection to my roots in Finnish landscape. And landscape for me is both an inspiration and a livelihood. Music and art came together in his life, and they do in mine, too.
My year a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Design School has been divided between studying landscapes and cities to nurture my professional self, and continuing to explore visual and performing arts to do the same for my personal one. The year is, in a way, about reconciling life so far and life ahead – and above all about discovering new worlds. This event is about celebrating that. The piece will be a celebration of color, synergies, serendipities and a desire to connect with surroundings, people and emotions. The opening seeks to be a comprehensive art event celebrating all aspects of the (dis)connect theme. By connect and disconnect, we are reborn and rediscovered in new
circumstances. Like the students at Harvard who come here to pursue their dreams and to transform, become and emerge. I have long explored and experienced places by making watercolor sketches on site. Places inspire me, and you always learn about them when you stop to listen to their silent stories. This time they will act as a medium to connect disconnected things. New methods, art forms and collaborations have come into play. And I seem to re-learn the challenge and reward of coordinating, connecting and exposing along with every exhibit.
(Dis)connected will take place 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday May 2 at Dudley House Dining Room in Lehman Hall, Harvard Yard.
Miriam Huettner ’16, Movement in the Museum, a dance piece inspired by Harvard Art Museums’ Calderwood Courtyard.
I was inspired to work on this piece by the architecture of the Harvard Art Museums. The regal, ancient Roman-seeming walls of the first and second floor contrast with the modern glass and open space of the upper levels. I like the idea that new art is always being built on top of the old, and the idea of art being constructed at different times by people with different ideas parallels the goal of this collaborative project with composer Sam Wu. I’m also always looking for new spaces and ways of using space for dance, and the possibilities of open second level excite me. I hope the audience will take away a sense of fusion and harmony between different art forms. I create on the basis that, though the art forms can appear vastly different at times, they spring from the same source and desire of human expression. In that sense, they are one and the same.
Movement in the Museum will take place 3 p.m. Saturday May 2 in the Harvard Art Museums’ Calderwood Courtyard.
For more information about ARTS FIRST, Harvard’s annual public celebration of student and faculty creativity (April 30-May 3) visit: ofa.fas.harvard.edu/arts. ARTS FIRST is produced by the Office for the Arts at Harvard.