Teaching Locally, Learning Globally
The World Comes to Evergreen
by Elizabeth Shé, '99
There are a number of programs at Evergreen with an international bent,” says visiting media studies faculty member Beatriz Flores Gutiérrez. Bilingual (Spanish/English), she’s been to France, England, Italy and Spain and brings that cosmopolitan sensibility to her teaching. Originally from Mexico, she is working on a documentary that deals with border and immigration issues. “There’s a great tradition of studying cinema history from a transcultural perspective.”
I like to do my research with people who can challenge my beliefs, help me laugh at myself, teach me great things, and form lasting relationships. Kind of like teaching and learning at Evergreen.
— Sean Williams, faculty member and ethnomusicologist
Sean Williams is fluent in Irish and Indonesian. “Oddly enough, aspects of the two nations have a few things in common. There is great love for the land, for the power of the spirit,” she says, and “both love to laugh.” She teaches Irish singing because “it’s an essential path to the heart of Irishness. It’s common in Ireland to be invited to sing.” Plus, “it’s portable.”
Williams has lived in Indonesia, Ireland, Japan and Germany, and visited all of Western and Central Europe, most of Eastern Europe, the Near East, North Africa, and Ecuador. “My language capabilities are completely circumstantial: when I’m in Japan, I can speak Japanese; when I’m in France, I can speak French. But I can’t speak Portuguese unless I’m listening to and singing Brazilian music.”
She tends to teach music in the context of cultural studies. “The college purchased a Sundanese gamelan degung ensemble,” she says. “I try to use it in all of my teaching, except the Ireland program.”
Understanding culture is the most important work we can do. Crossing and exploring our differences.
– Ukrainian born faculty member Hirsh Diamant
Diamant speaks five languages fluently plus enough Chinese to get by, he says. “Philosopher Alan Watts believed we should all know at least three languages: our mother tongue; English, for modern commerce and art – it’s very precise; and Chinese, because it’s imprecise – the same word can be a verb, noun, adjective, or pronoun. There’s no gender, no tenses, and multiple meanings. Chinese is the most exquisite language,” says Diamant. “There are so many layers.”
Diamant also has an international background – he’s lived in the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, China, Egypt, Germany, Canada and Israel. “Maybe that’s why I see the importance of that, the connection between cultures,” he says.
Nine years ago Diamant founded and facilitated the local Lunar New Year Festival, “to bring awareness to and awaken interest in Chinese culture.” Over the years the festival has expanded. This year, inspired by Gene Walker, an Olympia man who created a gigantic octopus and dragon out of Christmas lights, Diamant thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to light the outside, to light the campus?” Thus was born the “Gardens of Light,” an outdoor art installation celebrating festivals of light and the Solar and Lunar New Year, which opens in December.
As part of the festival, Master Chungliang Al Huang will lead a Tai Ji workshop, open to the community as well as students, staff and faculty. Seventy-plus years old, Al Huang “is the best ambassador for intercultural communication and bringing Chinese culture to Western audiences,” says Diamant. Al Huang worked with Joseph Campbell, and was a close friend to Alan Watts, the British philosopher who brought Zen Buddhism to Western audiences. This year his workshop, “Golden Flower of Dao,” will be held January 23-25. (If you’d like to attend, contact the office of Extended Education: (360) 867-5515 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Though Diamant’s students will perform an original piece as part of the festivities in mid-February, faculty member Rose Jang is spearheading the Lunar New Year Festival with her “Changing China” program.
Co-taught with Wenhong Wang and David Shaw, “Changing China” covers Chinese history, society and culture, from the classical to the contemporary. Students learn Chinese, and investigate cross-cultural communication and negotiation, as well as philosophy, religion, literature, sociology, international business and economics, visual arts, theatre and performing arts, movement and martial arts. According to the program description, “Our ultimate goal is to understand today’s China as a vital global player.”
I’m proud of the fact that we consistently support at least two international events.
— John Robbins, director of Evergreen Expressions
This is the second year the Lunar New Year Festival is officially part of the Evergreen Expressions line-up. Out of the seven events planned for the upcoming season, three have an international connection: Ann Marie Fleming, Canadian filmmaker born in Okinawa, Sujata Mohapatra, Indian Orissi dancer, and the Lunar New Year Festival.
“We want the different, the unusual, the cutting edge,” says John Robbins.
Last year he brought in Ghanaian pianist, William Chapman Nyaho, a professor of music turned pro who composes songs of the African Diaspora.
The first time Robbins heard Nyaho play his experimental arrangements, “he blew my socks off.”
This year for the Lunar New Year Festival, Jang is bringing Chinese opera and orchestra performers from New York City. “It’s very rare to be able to see real Chinese opera on the West Coast,” she explains. “It’s very different from other types of opera. We’re very lucky.” Robbins looks forward to expanding the festival beyond community groups. “We’re reaching out to the international community,” he says.
Evergreen Expressions events are always connected to curriculum and tied to academic programs. “It’s more like a residency,” says Robbins. “The artists must do workshops with academic programs, as well as perform.” Productions are always sponsored or suggested by Expressive Arts faculty, though they can be co-sponsored by non-Expressive Arts faculty. “Evergreen Expressions is a reflection of what’s happening on campus,” says Robbins. “We’re in line with the times and interests.”
There’s no substitute for study abroad, but there are advantages to studying here first.
— Ratna Roy, faculty member and dancer
A world-renowned Indian dancer and scholar, Ratna Roy teaches cultural studies, literature and dance here at Evergreen. She is the foremost authority on the Mahari tradition of Orissi dance.
“We’re considered a magnet school for Orissi dance training and a national resource of Orissi dance,” says Robbins. “We have a world reputation.”
“You get completely authentic training here at Evergreen,” says Roy. “It is home to the cultural tradition. We even represent Orissi dance in Orissa (India). They love us there.”
Roy is fluent in Bengali, Hindi, Oriya (the language of Orissi dance), and can read and write Sanskrit. Her professional dance company, Urvasi, performs the most traditional representation of Mahari dance in the world. Another resource of Indian culture is the archive of dance films owned by David J. Capers, Roy’s husband. “He must have 1500-2000 hours of dance footage, from 1988 to the present,” she says.
Roy still performs with her company. On January 30, 2009, they will perform as part of Evergreen’s symposium on Asian Cultures in Secular and Sacred Relations.
“My alumni tend to stay connected, with me and with each other,” says Roy. “They even go to India together.” Former student Frank Petty ’95 teaches Orissi in Redmond, and Anne Whitman ’98 teaches in New York City.
The benefits of international exchange are long-term and life-changing. The connections continue on.
— Tina Kuckkahn, Director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center
For the last three years, as part of a pilot artist-in-residence program, New Zealand has sent a Maori artist to Olympia for 12 weeks. Toi Sgwigwialtxw is a partnership between the Longhouse and Te Waka Toi/Creative New Zealand. All residencies include visits with Evergreen academic programs, public presentations and workshops, and exhibitions of new work.
Maori painter June Northcroft Grant was the artist-in-residence in 2008. One of her many projects included painting the canoe that the 2007 resident, Takirirangi Smith, carved in collaboration with local tribal members and Evergreen students—now on view in the Longhouse.
The residency program was such a success from the beginning that it’s been extended and expanded into a back and forth exchange. “Now it’s time for us to send an artist to New Zealand,” says Kuckkahn. And Maori artists will continue to come to the Longhouse every other year. “We have an evolving relationship,” says Kuckkahn, who was thrilled when Te Waka Toi approached her with the residency idea in 2005. “We’re such a small fish, compared with New Zealand’s government-sponsored programs,” she says. “But still, we have something to offer.”