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Virtually SPEAK-ing with Dr. Alison Arnold’s class

NC State LIVE is dedicated to connecting artists with the Wolfpack community to help our students (and greater community) explore the issues that define our world through a creative lens. And after classes moved online and our live performances were cancelled this spring, we had to get a little creative ourselves.

Our residency with the kathak and tap artists of SPEAK was originally scheduled for April 13 to 18, 2020. At the time of cancellation, we had planned a week of events with over 15 campus and community organizations. These events would give our community the opportunity to explore the complex histories of tap and kathak dance, the dance forms themselves, and to learn first-hand about the creative process that goes into a cross-cultural collaboration of this scale.

When we knew the residency and performances would have to be cancelled, our first order of business was to try to reschedule for the 2020-21 school year. Good news! We are proud to announce the artists will be in Raleigh in February 2021 for a week of educational events and performances. In the meantime, we continued discussions with the artists about how they could help enhance student learning as classes moved online this spring.

On Tuesday, April 14, Rina Mehta and Rachna Nivas, two of the co-creators of SPEAK, led a guest lecture in Dr. Alison Arnold’s Arts and Cross-Cultural Contacts course. In the syllabus, Dr. Arnold describes the course as:

“ a semester-long exploration of works of art that combine two or more cultural traditions. We will examine the ways in which artworks of one culture reflect, allude to, are influenced by, or fuse with artworks or artistic styles of another. Through case studies in a variety of media, we will investigate the reasons for cross-cultural contact and hybridity, including trade, migration, representation of the exotic, cultural translation and reinterpretation, ideology and resistance, and collaboration of artists. We will explore the key concepts of culture, tradition, and hybridity, and consider the impact of globalization, technology, and ideology on multicultural arts.”

After close examination of Dr. Arnold’s syllabus, Rachna and Rina designed a discussion with the class that included:

  • A brief history and social context for kathak dance;
  • An explanation of how their artistic training and philosophies led them to co-create SPEAK with tappers Michelle Dorrance and Dormesiha Sombry-Edwards;
  • A discussion of the similarities and differences between kathak and tap dance;
  • Examination of video clips from SPEAK;
  • A conversation around multiculturalism, cultural assimilation, hybridity, collaboration, and;
  • Ample time for questions from the students.

SPEAK is a project that seeks to find commonalities between cultures and art forms, while highlighting (and celebrating) our differences. Throughout the class, Rachna and Rina provided examples of this by layering their personal histories within larger global contexts. Students gained an inside look at how these artists approach their traditional forms with a spirit of risk taking – a balance of innovation and integrity. Rachna and Rina spoke about how all of the artists involved in the project balance these forces, not only the tap and kathak dancers, but also the jazz musicians and the Indian Classical musicians. They iterated that the project is a conversation between forms; not a fusion. It honors cultural traditions and charts a path for the future.

During the class Rina aptly said, “collaboration begins with a relationship between humans.” And even though these artists were far away, their interactive online discussion was a small triumph of human connection. It was a reminder that despite being separated, opportunities to connect and learn from each other do not end.

For more SPEAK events this spring, please join us:

  • Tuesday, April 28 at 5:30pm (please note the new date) for a happy hour conversation with the artists. We’ll send cocktail and mocktail suggestions in advance! Please register here by noon on April 28.
  • Friday, May 1 at 8:30pm as the artists screen excerpts from SPEAK. Tune in here.

And stay tuned for more about the residency and performances in 2021!

Follow us and the artists of SPEAK: