His arms thrashed through the air and his toes edged to the front of his rostrum. His passion was palpable as it radiated through his trembling muscles with every instructive signal. Every so often he would stop and his body relaxed as he instructed the musicians: “No, no. It needs to come in waves.” Or, “Bigger, bigger sound.” He sounded not impatient, but his tone urged them onward nonetheless. At times he had specific sections play a melody over and over until he was satisfied.
With time they were able to get through more bars of music, creating a swath of symphonic harmony. Under Gilbert’s watchful eyes, the music swelled and fell, much like the tide he hoped to emulate. Flutes glinted under the stage lighting and a cozy sheen emanated from the cellos. And at the front of it all was Gilbert, his movements as powerful as a dancer’s. By 10:10am, sweat was visible through his black shirt. He pulled out a navy towel to blot his face. It was an exercise in precision and skill for the musicians, and a physical test for Gilbert.
The excitement that crackled from him is mirrored in other events put on by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (CSPAC). Communications Manager Missy McTamney prides the center on its connections outside of the university. “We’re deeply embedded in the community,” she said. Among other events, the center recently put on a production called Fortune’s Bones, which involved people from the Prince George’s and Montgomery County library system as well as other citizen groups in a creative dialogue. “The events were free and focused on the community.”
There are three types of programs at CSPAC—presented programs, and also those sponsored by the School of Music and the School of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. When considering visiting artists, such as Gilbert, the center looks for particular traits. “Primarily, that they’re interested in engaging with students,” McTamney said. Between Gilbert’s instruction to the musicians and the jokes he cracked, it was clear he fit this bill.
In addition to the programs, which provide rich opportunities for students and the outside community to engage firsthand in the arts, another asset to the University of Maryland is its faculty. “They have great relationships in the professional world,” McTamney said, citing Jim Ross in particular. Ross is the Director of Orchestral Activities at the University of Maryland School of Music and also a faculty member at The Juilliard School.
Meanwhile, Associate Professor Brian MacDevitt in the University of Maryland School of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies has won five Tony awards and has been nominated for 11 during his career. His latest was for Best Lighting of a Musical for “The Book of Mormon” in 2011, and he invited two graduate students to assist him with the production.
McTamney sees a great deal of students and the public alike attend productions, and names RENT among its most popular shows. “I believe every show was sold out,” she said. “There were talk backs, pre-show discussions. And it was directed by an alumnus who performed it on Broadway. Students loved coming out to see their friends on stage.”
The Paul Taylor Dance Company will kick off the 2012 to 2013 season on September 8. They’re based in New York City, and Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times wrote, “Emotional complexity is Mr. Taylor’s specialty…[his] versatility is one of his least proclaimed virtues.” His career spans more than six decades and his accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts (awarded by President Clinton). He was also the recipient of the Légion d’Honneur, the highest honor by the French government for exceptional contributions to French culture.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company isn’t the only noteworthy event coming up. Also appearing in September will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a co-production by the University of Maryland School of Theater, Dance, and Performance studies and The National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts. The performance will be bilingual and feature both Chinese and American actors. It is the result of a multi-year collaboration and will be co-directed by Mitchell Hébert and Yu Fanlin.
For those looking for something a little whimsical, there’s “The Better Half,” presented by Lucky Plush Productions. According to the CSPAC Season Guide, it’s about a “villainous husband who tries to drive his wife insane…this rowdy, witty dance-theater piece transcends its sources.” Opening night will be October 4.
But don’t overlook the student-run performances either. The University of Maryland Wind Orchestra will perform on October 7, conducted by Michael Votta. Named “Something Old. And New. And Maybe Borrowed Too,” the event will feature “Fanfare After 17th Century Dances” by Michalsky and “Serenade” by Lampe.
Votta has amassed critical acclaim during his career before joining the faculty. So while Gilbert’s furious energy will be absent, Votta’s own brand of invigorating emotion will almost certainly pour through the notes as they resound through the audience.
Tickets for students are discounted, at $10 with a valid university-issued ID. There are also free tickets available for students in limited quantities starting the Monday before the performance, though these must be reserved in-person. Senior citizens (62 years and older), as well as alumni, receive $5 off the price. Faculty and staff receive 20% off the ticket price. Special deals are also available for subscribers. More information can be found at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center website.