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Dance Students Take Flight on Side of Wilson Hall

In a dazzling display of aerial artistry, Washington and Lee University students swooped, spun and flipped off the side of Wilson Hall at the Lenfest Center for the Arts Friday afternoon, introducing a crowd of about 300 campus and community members to an entirely new kind of performance.

The first-ever aerial dance concert, culminating a six-week spring term course, featured 13 students with varying degrees of dance background who represented a variety of different majors.

Friday’s performance will be repeated on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The event is free and open the public.

Although they came at the class and the performance from decidedly different directions, there was no denying that all the performers shared in the combination of creativity and daring.

The course was led and the performance directed by Jenefer Davies, assistant professor of dance, who said she believes this is the first time aerial dance has been performed by students on a college campus. In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week, Davies also said that although the students make it look easy, that is an illusion and that it is in fact “mind-blowingly hard.” Davies choreographed the first dance herself, but all the other dances were choreographed by students. Each performance was different.

The first dancers of the afternoon were dressed in brightly colored yellow, purple and red crinoline-type layered skirts. Each dancer had a 40-foot long piece of fabric that moved with them and extended down to the ground, adding texture to their dance. “It’s about the juxtaposition between the soft feminine side of women and their strong and powerful side,” explained Davies, who choreographed the piece to the song “Brand New Key” by Rasputina. The dancers were Elissa Hanson’09, a politics major in politics, Dana Fredericks ’12, a major in chemistry and engineering, and Mary Beth Edwards ’09, a French major.

The next group of dancers performed in white silk pants with wide bottoms that moved in the air, and had long ties attached to their waists. The dance was choreographed by Sophie Xiong ’10, an East Asian languages major, to the Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” “Joni Mitchell never divulged what exactly “Blue” was about,” said Xiong. “So I created my dance out of a vague nothing, the not-necessarily-sad but empty feeling one gets on Sunday nights when the week is about to start again, and you feel tired but rich.” The dancers were A’rese Emokpae ’10, a major in studio art, Galina Yudovich ’09, an English major and Victoria Dickerson ’12.

Isaiah Goodman ’09, captain of the W&L basketball team and a business major, performed a dance he choreographed himself. Wearing his basketball uniform, Goodman bounced a basketball against the wall in a series of movements that was a combination of dance and sports. “I wanted to involve basketball in my piece because I knew I would have fun doing it, but the dance also demonstrates the hard work needed for both dance and basketball,” said Goodman. The dance was performed to “Second Coming” by Juelz Santanta and “Freestyle” by Africa Bambataa.

A trio of dancers then performed a love song choreographed by Kenneth Hopkins ’10, a business major, to the song “So High” by John Legend. “It is a love song about a man that has fallen completely in love and wants to show his new love everything,” said Hopkins. Adding a new twist, Hopkins surprised the audience by changing his rigging partway through the performance to dance backwards facing the audience. Joining Hopkins on the wall were Emily Wallace ’09, an art history major, and Hanson.

One of the most powerful and energetic dances was performed by David Doobin ’11, a pre-med major, and Fredericks, to the music “Battlefield” by Cirque Du Soleil. Doobin said his choreography was inspired by “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and he used plenty of horizontal movement to make full use of the space the wall provided. “We wanted to use hand-to-hand combat and broad, sweeping battle effects and martial arts elements,” he said, “to explore conflict and the inevitable consequences.”

A dance with a cabaret feel came next, with the dancers wearing long frilly skirts in different colors. Choreographed by Wallace to the music “Spotlight (Into Twilight)” by Mute Math, it combined sharp hand movements with graceful flips, jumps and runs. Wallace said the smaller hand movements were designed to contrast with the more grandiose, sustained movements. “Aerial dance is a progressive form of performance art and is the dance of the future. So I wanted to maintain a futuristic effect in both the movements and the costumes,” said Wallace. The dancers were Margaret Ward ’09, a business major, Edwards and Xiong.

The aerial dance performance was rounded out by a lighthearted improvised dance at the end featuring the music “Brandinburg” by Black Violin. Dancers were Fredericks, Hanson, Xiong, Doobin, Wallace, Dickerson and Edwards.

The aerial dance project was made possible by a $7,000 Mellon Grant from the Associated Colleges of the South.

W.Va. and W&L

Nanya Friend, the editor and publisher of The Charleston Daily Mail, spun a wonderful story in The Daily Mail last week about the Lewis Scholarships at Washington and Lee. The article, titled “Lewis Scholarships target W.Va. kids,” tells the story of W&L alumnus J. Edward Lewis of the class of 1929 and his wife, Elizabeth, and how they came to establish an endowed scholarship program that has led generations of West Virginians from the Mountain State to Lexington. For Friend, the story is a personal one, since her son will graduate next week. As she explains, she had wondered for four years about the people who made it possible for her son to attend “this shining jewel of a school.”

Their Day

Their Day

Kenneth P. Ruscio
President, Washington and Lee Universit

At Washington and Lee University, the university president gives the commencement address each year. I strongly endorsed this custom until I actually had to write my first such address. My devotion to the tradition has further weakened each year since.

Washington and Lee imposes this annual duty on the president not because of some lofty principle, but rather to avoid a repeat of a memorable occasion nearly 80 years ago.

In the early 1930s, the university invited a politician who was also an alumnus to give the commencement address. As the story goes, the speaker approached the podium with a stack of jumbled index cards and held forth for several hours as he went through the cards — not once, not twice, but three times.

In response, the university’s faculty, which had endured this lengthy oration while wearing long, black academic gowns on a hot summer’s day, called an emergency meeting. The professors voted unanimously to have the president, not an outside speaker, give the commencement address from then on. W&L’s board of trustees agreed, ensuring that in future years our graduates and families should rest easy, knowing that if they had to endure a commencement address, it would at least be short and, as an added bonus, free.

Over the years, we have seen a few exceptions to this custom. A distinguished senator accepted our invitation to receive an honorary degree. He also accepted an invitation we did not extend, to speak to our graduates. In this instance, we were caught on the horns of an etiquette dilemma, which we resolved by listening ever so politely to a very thorough analysis of the problem of nuclear proliferation. (That undoubtedly set just the celebratory mood for graduates and their families.)

Each year at this time, as colleges and universities welcome celebrities to address their ceremonies, I know that our graduates must be envious. Their friends at these other institutions will report on having heard this actor or that politician at commencement and then ask who our speaker is. “The president,” our students will dutifully report and quickly add, “Not the President. Our president.”

I sympathize with the students’ plight. And yet, as we see every year, securing the biggest-name speaker is not without potential peril. Celebrity is relative. And, besides, complaining about commencement speakers is a time-honored tradition among graduates.

This is not to suggest that our custom makes us better than our peers, or that there are not impressive speakers whose memorable speeches make a graduation ceremony special. But the issue of who should be charged with providing graduates a last bit of advice is not an entirely frivolous question. To answer it, we ought to wonder what it is, after all, that we hope commencement to be.

We surely want the day to be memorable, but for the right reasons. A walkout in protest of the speech or the speaker, for example, certainly makes for colorful stories at the 50th reunion.

In my view, our primary goal is to create a setting in which our graduates and their families can celebrate together.

It is their day, not our day. It is a time for them to reflect on what they have achieved, a time for them to bask in the collective accomplishments that have brought them to this time and place in their lives.

When I sit down to write the words I will deliver to Washington and Lee’s Class of 2009, I will know that my words are almost certainly not going to make national network news. That is not my aim. I do want to say something meaningful, of course. But it may have meaning only to the students and their families who have taken the journey of these past four years with us. And if I can do that, if what I say has meaning to them and only to them, then that’s as it should be.

(This piece first appeared in Inside Higher Ed.)

Generals Sweep ODAC Honors

For the sixth consecutive year Washington and Lee’s varsity athletic teams won the Dan Wooldridge Overall Sports Champion Cup (sponsored by Farm Bureau Insurance®), emblematic of the top finishes in all conference sports. The Generals won six sports championships during the 2008-09 athletic season, and also claimed the Women’s Commissioner’s Cup for the sixth successive time. But there’s more. Two of W&L’s student-athletes won the conference’s scholar-athlete awards. Harry St. John (lacrosse) won the Harry G. “Doc” Jopson Scholar-Athlete Award as the league’s top male student-athlete, while Anne van Devender won the Marjorie Berkley Scholar-Athlete Award.

New Novel Features Lexington and W&L

You might recognize a few places around Lexington and Washington and Lee University in a new novel, The Widow’s Season, by Laura Brodie, visiting assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee.

Scheduled for publication on June 2 by Berkley Books (part of Penguin Books), the book is part ghost story, part marriage story, and is set in a town called Jackson (Lexington), with a river and college campuses and many recognizable sites.

“The story was inspired by a chapter from my doctoral dissertation at the University of Virginia on widows in literature,” said Brodie. “That chapter focused on husbands who fake their deaths in order to spy on their wives, something that shows up a lot in 17th century drama.”
Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book in April 2009 and observed the author was “expertly walking the line between reality and fantasy, life and death, heartache and love, leaving readers hoping for the best and prepared for the worst—without ever really knowing the truth—until the final five pages.”

The Widow’s Season has had some early success. It won the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom award for best novel-in-progress—a national contest sponsored by a New Orleans literary society. German and Dutch publishers have also purchased the book and it will appear in at least three languages.

The book will be released nationwide at Barnes and Noble, Borders and other book stores. Brodie will start a tour with a reading and a party at Lexington’s Books and Co., on Friday, June 5, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. She is also scheduled for a reading during W&L’s Parents’ Weekend in the fall of 2009.
“We in the English department feel very lucky to work with Laura Brodie,” says Lesley Wheeler, head of the English department. “As well as being an accomplished writer, she is an extremely popular teacher who covers an impressive range of fields, from Jane Austen to 20th-century poetry.  I remember hearing her tell the ghost story years ago that eventually blossomed into this novel, so I feel particularly excited about its publication.”

Brodie, whose first book Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women was published in 2000, is working on a third book that is due for publication by HarperCollins in April 2010. It will feature Lexington in more obvious ways because it is a memoir of one year when she homeschooled her daughter Julia for the fifth grade. She says that every page of that book will be filled with Lexington places and people — Waddell, Lylburn Downing, VMI, W&L, the Lexington coffee shop, the Orchardside Yarn Cottage and Mark Cline’s Escape from Dinosaur Kingdom.

Vote Early and . . .

Washington and Lee’s Campus Kitchen has made a difference in the Rockbridge County community. Of that, there is no doubt. In 2008, for instance, Campus Kitchen served 13, 444 meals and recovered almost 2,000 lbs of food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Now it’s your turn to make a difference for Campus Kitchen with a few clicks of the mouse. True Hero is a non-profit organization that grants cash awards to student organizations based on votes it receives during the academic year. So your vote could mean as much as $4,000 for the Campus Kitchen program. As of last night, the Campus Kitchen had 728 votes, which was good for sixth place on the list. True Hero gives monetary grants to the top seven college program vote-getters — more votes, more money. The voting runs through June 30. So go to the True Hero page and vote today.

Sculpting Business as Usual

Even the still images on the Charlotte Observer Web site make artist Bob Trotman’s latest exhibition seem dramatic and eerie. In person, it must be an incredible exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte. The exhibition, titled Business As Usual, is not unfamiliar to members of the Washington and Lee community. Bob, a member of W&L’s Class of 1969, had the show in display in the Staniar Gallery last May. Now it’s in Charlotte, where it received a strong review in the Observer. Critic Mark Washburn made the connection between the AIG meltdown and Bob’s figures of businessmen and businesswomen appearing to sink in quicksand. Writes Washburn: “They look like figureheads of a clipper ship bound for purgatory. Anguished and agonized, wretched and woe begone, they are souls petrified in eternal torment.” If you’re in Charlotte, you can see the Mint Museum exhibition through November.

W&L Mourns Loss of Art Historian Joan O’Mara

June 24, 2009 Update:

At Homecoming Weekend on Oct. 9 and 10, the Art Department will sponsor a celebration of the late Joan O’Mara’s life and would especially like to invite her former students to participate in person or to send remembrances for sharing at the event. For more information, please contact Pamela Simpson, professor of art history, at simpsonp@wlu.edu.

The Art Department has created the Joan Hertzog O’Mara Award to recognize outstanding achievement in art history. To contribute to the award fund, contact the Development Office:

Phone: (540) 458-8410
Mail: 204 W. Washington St., Development Building, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450-2116

May 25, 2009:

Joan O’Mara, associate professor of art history at Washington and Lee, died Sunday, May 24, 2009. She was 63.

The wake will be held at Harrison’s Funeral Home in Lexington, on Wednesday, May 27, from 5 to 7 p.m.. The Mass of Christian Burial will take place at St. Patrick’s Church at 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 28. Burial will take place at a later date in the Mausoleum of Our Lady of Sorrows on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

“Professor O’Mara was dedicated to her students and her profession. She was a careful scholar who demonstrated how art can reveal so much about the history and culture of a society,” W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio said. “She will be missed on our campus and among the community of East Asian scholars.”

O’Mara, the Elizabeth Lewis Otey Professor of East Asian Studies and former director of W&L’s East Asian Studies Program, joined the faculty in 1989. She held a B.A. from Carleton College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

O’Mara taught the history of Japanese art, the history of Chinese art, Asian art history and Western art history. Her areas of research included the Japanese tea ceremony; relationships between the Japanese print and 19th-century European art; and relationships between words and images in Japanese art.

O’Mara was active in ASIANetwork, a national consortium of undergraduate liberal arts institutions with Asian studies programs. She served as vice chair from 2003-2004, chair from 2004-2005 and ex-officio board chair from 2005-2006. She also belonged to the Japan Art History Forum; the Society for Values in Higher Education, where she was elected a fellow; and the Association for Asian Studies, among other associations.

She wrote many publications, including book chapters, reviews and papers. O’Mara also was the editor of ASIANetwork’s Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts, and the editor of W&L’s East Asian Studies Newsletter from 1998-2005.

She was a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic parish, where she served as a lector at Mass.

The daughter of the late Charles D. and Ruth Jarvis Hertzog, she was born in 1946 in Philadelphia, Pa., and is survived by her husband, Philip F. O’Mara of Lexington, her son, Philip Martin O’Mara of Brooklyn, New York, and her daughter, Caitlin Ruth Song O’Mara of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Other survivors include her sisters, Jan Neander of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Beverly Solow of New York City, and her brothers, Gene of Henderson, Nev., and Philip of Stuart, Fla.

Close, but…

Remember Max Adler? The 2004 Washington and Lee alumnus was the subject of a blog item way back in March when he announced that he was launching a bid to earn a spot next month’s U.S. Open golf championships at Bethpage Black in New York. Max, a former member of the W&L golf team, is currently a writer for Golf Digest and Golf World. So he has been writing an on-line diary about his quest. Last Saturday, in his tenth diary entry, Max was looking back with regret over a few missed putts that might have cost him a chance to realize his goal. As he explains, he’s still in the hunt for a qualifying spot, but only barely. By virtue of shooting a 70 and then winning a three-way playoff at the Misquamicut (R.I.) Local Qualifier, Max is now the second alternate. That means he could still make it if two people who finished ahead of him don’t show up on June 8 at the Sectional Qualifier at Purchase, NY. Max’s own assessment of that possibility: “fat chance.” But, you never know. You can read all of Max’s entries, including his account of his session with nationally regarded sports psychologist Bob Rotella, at the Golf Digest site.

W&L’s Doornbos Earns All-America Honors at the Division III NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

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