Rachael Devecka Cultural Commentary: Alvin Ailey

The performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was incredible! There are many aspects I could write about, but since we covered most of them in Professor Bory’s unit, I would like to focus on what it felt like to be present and among the audience. I attended the second night of Alvin Ailey’s stay in Charlotte, so the dances I saw included En (a modern piece themed around a clock’s movement) and Cry (performed by a Charlotte native). My favorite part of the performance, however, was unquestionably the classic Revelations. The piece reached the audience on a spiritual level, jubilantly celebrating African American culture and resilience while reflecting on the positive and negative influences that led to its creation. While I could analyze it and find rich material, its beauty was partly that I didn’t need to: the dance was so emotional and cathartic. By the end of the show, everyone was on their feet singing, clapping, and swaying along. According to the way I was raised, the performance is for the performers and the audience’s task is to politely watch. I’ve never felt called to join in a performance before, and am usually embarrassed when actors shout for audience participation. But, when the dancers performed a Move Members Move encore, I was on my feet, unabashedly clapping with everyone else, and it would have felt disrespectful for me not to do so.

Campus Commentary Gamut Dance by Skylar McVicar 2/26/2020


Watching the talented dancers of the Gamut Dance Company perform on stage was breathtaking and moving, especially after learning about political movement and activism through dance in Dr. Bory’s Unit 5. All the dances were choreographed by students except for one dance showcasing Dr. Bory’s one-of-a-kind choreographed work called “Instructions for approaching the edge.” In this piece, four girls dressed in black began by stepping in place and repeatedly counting from one to ten in different languages. Each movement was rigid and robotic like, indicating a dehumanization and lack of individual thought. Occasionally, one dancer would stray from the line but eventually conform to the movements of the group. These moves mixed with the number counting could be interpreted in several ways. I saw it as a way to say that all humans, despite different languages and cultures, are the same when stripped down to basic bodily functions. However, others could interpret it as a depiction of rigid confines and instructions in order to succeed in society today. Another thought provoking dance was of four girls with different faces taped on the back of their heads. Almost the entire dance was performed with fake faces toward the audience. Perhaps this dance could be indicating that we are all equal people on the inside and we need to look past outer appearance when assessing people.

Elizabeth Vair Alvin Ailey

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre demonstrated a striking blend of styles and stories throughout their performance. With new pieces and classics such as Revelations, they captivated the entire audience. Yet, the piece that interested me the most was En, a fairly new piece from 2018. I could not see as clearly defined as a story as I saw in the other works. In the Call, I could see the story of a mother. In Revelations, I could understand the gospel stories. In En, I understood the concept of time but not much else. It felt open to the interpretation of a concept everyone faced: the passage of time and our inability to slow it. The overwhelming ticking of the clock could be felt in your chest as you watched the performance, and the ambiguous characters allowed you to place your own storyline to the dance. It could be my bias towards simplicity that drew me to the bright lights and crisp movements or my fascination with the integration reverberating sound in the performance, but En struck me in a way that I can not quite describe.

Yamato: The Drummers of Japan: February 23, 2020

The Yamato Drummers, hailing from Japan, expressed the powerful energy of life by way of rhythm, tempo, and pitch to the audience through their powerful Wadaiko drums. The dynamic choreography of the drummers, combined with the vivid heartbeat-esque cadences played on their traditional 400-year-old drums, shows me the drummers were expressing more than just a song, they were beating their souls into the drums; and, in doing so, into the audience. 

I also found it fascinating how the drummers would communicate into the crowd, not with voices; but rather with their motions, sounds, and rhythms. I was reminded of the material that both Bory and Munger covered in their units with how we understand messages and motion, as well as our bottom-up understanding of performance. 

I remember whispering to a friend during the performance about the way our bodies would shake when the performance would beat their drums. The power behind every thump of the drum was invigorating, ending with us creaming in call and response with the performers. By the end of the performance, we all felt as if we were ready for war; we all felt a massive amount of potential energy coursing through us. I would say this performance was by far one of my favorites. I have never had an experience that makes me feel so alive like this one did.

Elizabeth Vair Event Commentary: Yamato Drummers

The Yamato drummers of Japan demonstrated an old culture that is often neglected by outsiders. When people study another country, the traditional importance of music can often be overlooked. I have heard that drumming represents the heartbeat of a country or people, and the Yamato drummers exemplify that statement. It is a shame that music is not studied more as a cultural entity. When you plan to go to a new place, and you search it up, the first things that usually come up are traditional foods, clothing, colors, and sports. Music comes up, but it is often regarded as a pleasant or enjoyable experience, not as a profoundly cultural one. We hear it, we enjoy it, and we do not give it much thought regarding its importance. Music is a way of communication that crosses language barriers. Almost every culture has its own form of music that is an act of storytelling and it is time we acknowledge that instead of treating music as simply a pleasant experience.

Rachael Devecka Yamato Cultural Commentary

Walking into the Duke family performance hall, I was unsure of what to expect from a drumming show. Certainly I did not expect the mix of dance, ritual, and vocals that complemented the drumming. One of the interesting things about the performance to me was how multisensory it was. The ritual and dance emphasized vision, while the drums emphasized sound and physical feeling. The vibrations of the drums affected the rhythm of my own heartbeat and made me feel physically connected to the performance. Besides this, the performers wordlessly encouraged audience participation, getting us to yell, clap, and more. In Humes we have discussed the isolating of academic disciplines, but one area we didn’t mention much was art. To me, the arts are tremendously interconnected. I attended an arts-focused middle school in which music, acting, dance, sewing, knitting, painting, creative writing, and almost any other art form you can think of were made one. For this reason, I am always frustrated by how Western society insists on breaking them apart. At Davidson, we have separate buildings for visual arts, music, and theater. While focus is not necessarily a bad thing, I believe depth can be lost from failing to explore interconnections and interdisciplinarity. We need to take a leaf out of Japanese tradition and realize that “drummers” can do far more than just tap out the beat. They – and all of us – can be so much more.

Aliza Cantor Campus Event 6

When I went to the stickwork reception I expected to hear the artist and someone else introduce him. That was wrong. Not only did the artist and a Davidson sculpting professor speak, but also President Quillen and a student who had helped out with the creation of the work, spoke. Each perspective was different and brought a different element to the reception. President Quillen has created a campus that values artwork, and even the people who visit just for a day can see that. The art professors here on campus create and bridge the relationships between the artist and our school, allowing us to have the pieces that we do, here on campus. It was interesting to hear from the students perspective, as it is not everyday that an undergraduate gets the opportunity to work with a world renowned artist. The artist, Patrick Dougherty, was not what I expected. I expected to see a young 40-something year old man.  I did not expect to find a man in his 70’s because from what I could see, creating the stickwork was tedious and strenuous. After listening to him speak however, I could understand why he still was creating these pieces. It is his passion. And on top of that he gets to experience many different cultures with many different people. He spoke for a short period of time, they all did, however after he spoke I saw that his perspective had been influenced by his experiences through creating his art.

Aliza Cantor Campus Event 5

At Susan Rice’s talk, I was surprised at just how open she was to discussing all aspects of her life (personal and career). She did not try to hide anything, nor did she want to. Every question posed to her she answered with poise. What stuck with me most was her familial relationships. Although her job forces her to be pretty open about her political beliefs, her son does not have the same opinions or beliefs as her. When I first heard this I thought, “there is no way they get along long enough to eat dinner on holidays, let alone to talk on a regular basis.” However she quickly explained that while it is not easy, they do have a pretty good relationship, one that does not discuss/include politics. She was candid when discussing that it is not always easy but it is accomplishable. It was interesting for me to hear about a family’s relationship with politics within their household. In our society there are a few things we are taught to never discuss at the dinner table, politics being one of them. Now this was never a rule in my household, and if it had been then most nights we would have broken it, but it was interesting to hear from someone that is so publicly democratic about their relationship with their very republican son. She reminded me that what matters most is not always our beliefs or opinions, sometimes those things can take a backseat when it involves our family.

Aliza Cantor Campus Event 4

Bryan Stevenson’s talk attracted a crowd that challenged those of the basketball games that happen in the same stadium. He reminded me and everyone else in the crowd, that if we want to make a difference in this world, we have to be willing to face the uphill battle. We have to be willing to steer into the uncomfortable if we want to change the troubled aspects of our world. It is how we handle these situations, that dictate the type of person that we are. Passion drives this country, but empathy is what connects us to one another. Although there is a connection between us, there is also a disconnect that blindsThis disconnect often overshadows the connection, but if we want to be able to understand one another we need to remember our connections. If we want to change the world we need to be willing to get closer to those who are struggling and we need to be willing to bridge the gap that divides us. At the end of the day we need each other if we want to change the world. One person can make a difference, but it is not up to one person. It is up to all of us to bridge the gap that divides us.

Campus Commentary- Bryan Stevenson

The Bryan Stevenson talk a couple of weeks ago was incredibly moving and beyond inspiring. He had my attention at every second, and he is easily the best speaker I have ever heard.

The one point that really stuck out to me was the one about proximity. Stevenson was absolutely correct when he said that we need to get out of our comfort zone and help those who we do not see everyday. However, Michaela made a great point in another class we have together (Race, Gender, Migration (German 351)). She said that we cannot make a difference in the world unless we fix our own community first. There are plenty of things to do around your own community, and that is a good place to start if you want to make some sort of a larger difference. 

To be quite honest, there is not much I am doing right now to be making a difference. Besides learning the history of racism in some of my classes, I would say that I am not being very productive in changing the way we view race in our country. Even at Davidson, our school is still very segregated, and people usually tend to stick to members of their own race. 

To “change the world,” we need to step outside of our comfort zone and actually deal with the worldwide phenomenon which is racism. It can be hard to accept the fact that you may be more comfortable being around people that are more like you, everyone is, but the only way to expand your mind and the minds of others is to do something you are not comfortable with.

In this world, we need to change the idea that staying only within your comfort zone is okay. The best way to learn how to appreciate our world and culture is to delve into others. If one only spends time with someone they are familiar with or never leaves the comfort of their familiarity, they will never grow as a person or learn to appreciate what our world has to offer. 

Campus Commentary- David Shneer

At the David Shneer lecture last Thursday afternoon, I learned some more interesting things about his time and his studies with Soviet Jew photography. I wrote down a couple quotes and anecdotes that really stuck out to me during the lecture.

  • I knew that Jews had to give up their glasses once they arrived in the concentration camps, but it never resonated with me that they really could not SEE. Some of them could not see properly until they were out of the camps, or if they were killed in the camps, could not properly see for the rest of their lives. Some of those in the camps never had a clear vision of what they were going through.
  • “Those sentenced to death were forced to dig their own graves.” Could you imagine digging your own grave? Carving the hole where your body will lay for the rest of eternity? That is possibly one of the scariest things one could ever think of. 
  • Shneer talked about grief photographs, and how they shaped a lot of people’s visions and perceptions of the war.
  • During the question section, fellow humster Alec Stimac asked a question about what David Shneer thought about this certain Susan Sontag quote, “There is no war without photography.” I can so see how this quote can be true (even though there were wars before photography was invented- yet there are tons of pieces of art which depict the horrors of war) and how this could shape a lot of his research.

“Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust” Commentary: by Alec Stimac

Dr. David Shneer, a Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, composed a novel about photojournalism to view the relationship between Jews and the Soviet Union through the lens of repression and silence. Shneer explores the archive of numerous photographers, ranging from Evgenii Khaldei (1917-1997) to Dmitrii Baltermants (1912-1990), to analyze how these wartime witnesses were the first liberators to show Nazi atrocities from a perspective no one else could see. These acts of liberation occurred as early as 1942, not as late as 1945 which has been assumed by many scholars, altering the course of this history. Additionally, Shneer underscored the different visual icons, such as gates, gas chambers, empty, ravines, and people themselves, that have been used or exploited in images across diverse platforms. In the end, both the weight of World War II and the Holocaust have been imbedded in Soviet Jewish identity, changing how we can think about the Holocaust more generally outside of Germany’s borders. Shneer did an excellent job highlighting how Jews strove towards universalism in the Soviet Union and worldwide to ensure the Jewish story was told while resisting the Nazi dehumanization of their identities.

This lecture brought to mind Susan Sontag’s novel Regarding the Pain of Others, where she reckons with humanity’s response to war and photography. While photography is not vital to war’s occurrence, it is an integral part of the history of war. The image that struck me the most was Khaldei’s “Scorched Earth” (Murmansk, June 1942), where a distressed woman was walking into a decimated residential area. Smokestacks were the only parts of the home that had remain intact. These pieces were not only once part of the home but also were at the heart of what family and warmth stood for. However, they now have become living witnesses to the destruction and chaos surrounding the Jewish community. Images help fill in the gaps of history, the parts we cannot see in the written word. They emulate parts of the human experience we will never experience but can empathize with. History without photography would be less complete and whole. In order to uncover the larger story of Nazi atrocities against the USSR taking place in people’s backyards, the people who live through these experiences must be heard and seen. The events shown happened so close to the people affected and it is through photography that we can get a glimpse into the true horror of World War II’s history. The purpose of photos will change over time, from news to memorial, but will forever add to the historical archive.

Rachael Devecka Kelley Lecture Commentary

The slavery of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and 12 Years A Slave is only part of the picture; there is a forgotten story. Native Americans didn’t all die from smallpox. As is typical of indigenous history however, their enslavement didn’t make it into American textbooks.

As Andrés Reséndez stated in this year’s Kelley Lecture, we picture “neat historical boxes… Natives died, and Africans were enslaved.” In reality, 2.5-5 million indigenous people––primarily women and children––were enslaved by colonizers and their descendents throughout the Americas by colonizers, beginning 26 years before the first recorded smallpox case.

The brutal conditions conditions and racist justifiations we recognize from African slavery were also true of this “other” slavery. But when the 13th amendment passed, indigenous slaves in the US were excluded from its protections. Native Americans did not become full citizens until the 1920s.

I am infuriated that I didn’t know any of this before the lecture. And if I didn’t know that as someone who has actively studied indigenous history, then the average American student has no clue at all. The way schools teach about indigenous history––if they mention it at all-–it is as though everyone died of smallpox and then the survivors were finished off on the Trail of Tears.

Native American culture is not restricted to the dead past, though, and it is clear from these statistics that the US government owes them the same visibility and justice that it owes to people of African descent.

Native Foods of the Cherokee: February 3, 2020:

Initially, I attended this meeting being told by a friend that I would receive food. Although that was not the case, I was able to gain a new perspective on food sovereignty, which is the people’s right to healthy and culturally-appropriate food by way of  ecologically sustainable methods. 

The program consisted of a four-person panel––three members from a Cherokee Tribe in North Carolina and lawyer dedicated to disputes between Native Americans and the United States Government––of people who were involved in the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative with a mission to enhance the health and wellness of their tribal communities. In order to fulfill their mission, these leaders focus on finding strategies through the legal system, policy, and finding ways to educate and empower tribal community members. 

The tribal members primarily focused on Cherokee recipes passed on from generation to generation, they especially talked about bean bread and ramps recipes as tribal delicacies. Bean bread is a very difficult recipe that few on the reservation were able to cook up. Ramps are a vegetable that is often considered to be delicious, but many tribal members were not a fan of their pungent smell.
The lawyer spoke about his experiences and his client’s difficulties in trying to grow their cultural foods that mean a lot to their tribes because of the influence and restrictions the United States Government poses on Native American Tribes.

Campus commentary #2- Dr. Andreas Resendez – Jamie Aciukewicz

Dr. Andrés Reséndez, a professor visiting from the University of California at Davis, gave a talk summarizing his book, The Other Slavery. The talk was fascinating and I learned a lot about a topic I really had not heard about before. In the United States, we talk a lot about the enslavement of Africans, but I never really realized how widespread and how many people were affected by the enslavement of Native Americans. Most enslaved natives were women and children, with men costing the least out of any group as most Native slaves performed more domestic tasks. This practice began with the Mayas and Aztecs as they needed bodies to sacrifice in religious ceremonies, but soon this procedure covered the whole region. Natives would be taken from their homes, often by deception at a young age, and shipped all over the world. Many ended up in Spain against their will, despite the trade of Native slaves being illegal. Most slaves that made it to Spain were eventually freed by the Spanish Crown. 

One part of his talk that I found to be the most interesting was the role the Mormons played in perpetuating the trade of natives. The Mormons used the same logic as the Spanish Conquistadors in that they were buying slaves in order to “free” them and that they would be saved if they were part of the Mormon church. As the Mormons moved West, this practice became more and more common. I had never heard about the slave history of the Church, but when I did hear it, I was not surprised. This was a great talk about I subject that is not discussed in today’s society and also contributes to how we, as a country, look at Native Americans.