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Campus arts are redefined by ambition and excellence

By Craig K. Chang

It has been a year of renewal and courage for campus arts. Many groups finally tore through the cobwebs of past mediocrity and revised the expectations of audiences for the better: A tradition suggesting students' heavy workloads hurt quality dissolved in sight of the past year's excellent performances.

The most improved groups of the year featured the collective strength of many students. A case in point was February's revitalized MIT Musical Theatre Guild. After several years of mediocre and occasionally awful musical theatre productions, the Guild hit the nail squarely on the head with their production of Stephen Sondheim's Company. Director Bob DeVivo inspired his cast to work as a closely-knit ensemble, a fact which was reflected in the show's impeccable cohesiveness.

Equally impressive in its transformation was the MIT Symphony Orchestra. It and the MIT Concert Choir joined forces in May to sing and play their hearts to admirable heights in a performance of Brahms' German Requiem. By the end of the show, the performers seemed to have taken an exhilarating - and successful - journey. The MITSO also gained strength from recruiting a group of excellent new players in the fall. In October, their wonderful performance of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony attested the power of many students coming together to express their love of music.

Nowhere was the rallying for the arts more apparent than in the year's dance concerts. In September the MIT Capoeira Club declared its mission to inform others of Brazilian capoeira, a kaleidoscope of dance, music, and martial arts. With the Seventh Annual Capoeira Angola Encounter in Kresge Auditorium, the group also advertised free capoeira lessons during this year's Independent Activities Period. The MIT Dance Troupe also sought to woo dance lovers with its November Definitions concert. Since its revival in 1994, the troupe has not only tripled in size but has begun offering a large number of dance class and choreography workshops.

Risk and innovation breed success

The year's most memorable successes did not come from playing it safe; the best events and programs of the year were also the most challenging. In March's An Evening with Steve Reich, students and faculty took the seeds of Steve Reich's experimental and minimal music and discovered a new world of expression.

A student performance of Different Trains, a multimedia piece splicing Reich's childhood train rides and the similar train rides taken by Holocaust victims, entranced listeners with serendipitous evocations. The real music-making lay in a sort of faith, a dedication to simple musical kernels, sprouting and folding back upon themselves to make the performance rest in the audience's capacity for self-revelation.

Campus artists also reached out to forge new collaborations, both between disciplines and between ranks. One example has been the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble work with MIT Gamelan Galak Tika to choreograph and orchestrate a spring performance of The Tempest.

For its part, the MITSO frequently invited student soloists and composers to contribute. Talented musicians like Douglas R. Abrams '96 and Patti Lee '98 shared the spotlight with composer Jose Luis Elizondo '95 (whose brilliant Estampas Mexicanas deserves special mention) last fall. Along with two Boston University faculty members, MITProfessor Marcus A. Thompson and Senior Lecturer David Deveau began a new piano quartet, Sonos.

All told, the year's campus arts attest to the strength of MIT's commitment the arts. Continued hard work and innovation should spell an even stronger year for the arts in 1996.