Traditional Arts Apprenticeships Announced!

We  are delighted to announce the awarding of 10 new Traditional Arts Apprenticeships.  These Mass Cultural Council grants support the transmission and vitality of our state’s traditional arts by funding a master artist to mentor an apprentice in a 10-month learning experience.

Here are the 2018-2019 year recipients:

Nepalese sarangi playing: Shyam Nepali, master artist and Pranawa Phuyal, apprentice, Watertown, MA

Cambodian folk dance  Tim Chan Thou, master artist and Maddox Yang, apprentice, Lowell, MA

Odissi dance Shipra S Mehrotra, master artist and Priya Bangal, apprentice, Framingham, MA

Guitar making:  Benjamin Pearce, master artist and Deitrich Stause, apprentice, Cambridge, MA

Westfield whipmaking:  Carol Martin, master artist and Stephanie Harder, apprentice, Westield, MA

Music of Epirus: Vasilis Kostas, master artist and Lysander Jaffe, apprentice, Boston, MA

Carnatic violin: Surya Sundararajan, master artist and Bharath Ramesh, apprentice, Westford, MA

Kathak dance: Urmi Samadar, master artist and Anishka Yerabothu, apprentice, Southborough, MA

Carnatic vocal Tara Anand Bangalore, master artist and Diya Godavarti, apprentice, Framingham, MA

Carnatic mridangam: Mahalingam Santhanakrishnan, master artist and Shivendran Vytheswan, apprentice, Lexington

Apprenticeships are awarded every other year. The next application deadline will by April 2020.

Nepalese Lakhe Mask Dancer Raj Kapoor

“I work from childhood in this art field.”  Raj Kapoor, Nepalese dancer

Within the small (roughly 1,500 people) but growing Nepalese community living in the Greater Boston area, talented musicians and dancers are dedicated to sharing their traditions with the world. Each week at Watertown’s Chulo Nepalese Restaurant, traditional and popular Nepalese music is performed live on a makeshift stage adjacent to the bar. One Saturday evening this past spring, I was there to introduce friends to this local taste of Himalayan Nepalese culture. Shyam Nepali, the sarangi player we’d met months earlier, had invited me to bring my fiddle and to sit in with the musicians. Midway through the evening, he introduced me to Raj Kapoor, saying he was talented dancer and folk dance choreographer who had recently relocated to Massachusetts from New York City.

Eager to learn more about Kapoor’s role in Nepalese dance, we arranged to meet for an interview. In the interim, Shyam sent me a copy of a clipping from the New York Times, showing a picture of Kapoor on stage at a 1998 Symphony Space performance. The concert, sponsored by the World Music Institute, featured Kapoor in the Nepalese Lakhe Mask Dance.

On June 26, I drove to Watertown to pick up Shyam Nepali. When I arrived, he let me know that Raj Kapoor preferred we come to him – he lives near a large park where he would have space to dance. So Shyam, a young Nepalese American man visiting from New York, and I got in my car and drove through Watertown traffic, finding our way to Kapoor’s home, a two-story small town house in a long row of town houses. After greeting Kapoor (they refer him this way), Kapoor and Shyam went into the bedroom just off the small living room so Kapoor could get into costume. The process takes two or three people. After donning a red shirt emblazoned with a gold hexagram and a multi-layered skirt, there was a lot of wrapping of material to create a head turban and colorful ribbons around the arms.

   

The belt was adorned with silver medallions depicting peacocks and dragons, as well as multiple brass bells that ring with the body’s motion.

And then there is the mask, which is both magnificent and frightening. Made of made of brightly painted papiermâché, the mask is topped with a full head of coarse black hair from a yak’s tail.

Once Kapoor was dressed, we left the house and crossed the asphalt parking lot into Domenick Filippello Playground. The park is enormous and well groomed. After climbing up onto a bench to pose for pictures, Kapoor looked around for a suitable place to demonstrate the mask dance on the open grass.

Shyam offered to take video on my iPhone while I used my Nikon for stills. As we were scouting out spots, the sprinkler system suddenly came on, forcing us to scramble to move my equipment bag out of the way. The sprinklers did not discourage Kapoor from dancing.

 

In this video shot by Shyam, Kapoor demonstrates typical moves of the Lakhe Mask Dance.  After Kapoor finished demonstrating, we packed up and went back inside so I could do a short interview. Although it began as a traditional Nepalese folk dance dating back over 5,000 years, the Lakhe dance is now also considered a classical dance.

The Newar, one of the castes that live in the Kathmandu Valley are credited with originating the Lakhe Mask Dance. It is done during Indra Jatra (a festival celebrated throughout Nepal, but especially in the Kathmandu Valley). Indra means God and Jatra means festival.

Kapoor almost sighs as he describes Nepal, “So many festivals and so many God and Goddess dances.” Shyam explains that Lakhe is a reincarnation of God Shiva, “It’s an angry reincarnation of him. He came to earth in that form of art to take away the bad things. His message is to come with good energy.” Kapoor adds, “When He’s dancing, He give a message: forget bad energy; come with good energy.”

 

I am struck by the similar function of the Lion Dance which is traditionally associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year. Also performed on urban streets, it symbolizes the cleansing of evil spirits lingering from the old year, bestowing only good fortune and prosperity in the New Year.]

Kapoor nods, “Exactly same thing, only expression is different.”

I asked about the colors (red, yellow, green, and black) on the mask, costume, and ribbons. Shyam interprets these as representing different energies – fire, the cosmos, the earth, “All are elements of where we are living. When bad energy [comes] from there, He can just blow away all.”

One of the remarkable things about the Lakhe dance during Indra Jatra is its duration. As Kapoor notes, “The Lakhe dance is not only for five minutes, ten minutes dance. This is continuously; they are dancing seven days, nine days. Traditionally and historically . . . [the people] who are doing Lakhe dance, they know they are doing one day, two day, three days continual dance, then they feel they have a lot of energy, come from reincarnation. It’s true. It’s a true thing.” Shyam adds that it is similar to trance.

Although Kapoor is not from the Newar dance caste known for the Lakhe tradition, he has been dancing, teaching, and choreographing in both traditional and classical Nepalese dance for many years. He came to the United States in 1996, settling in New York City. Soon after, he established the Dance Theater of Nepal.

When I asked if the Lakhe dance is being carried on here in the United States, Kapoor responded by saying, “Yes they carry, but only in community. But I did on stage, in New York City.”

And he will do that again, when we present a showcase concert on September 8, 2018  at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA. Which makes me ponder, what are the implications of performing a tradition within the ethnic community in which it arose versus on a stage for those outside the tradition? Music and dance traditions take place all the time within local ethnic communities where they are woven into the fabric of everyday community life. Most go unnoticed by the mainstream public.

I leave you with Kapoor’s words, “The world is only one; we have to share.”

Maggie  Holtzberg is Folk Arts & Heritage Manager at the Mass Cultural Council.

Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Opportunity

Apprenticeships are a time-honored method by which an individual learns skills, techniques, and artistry under the guidance of a recognized master. Since its founding in 2001, the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s  Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program has funded  over 100 artists in a vast array of traditions, both old and new to Massachusetts. Applications are now available.

Recent apprenticeships funded by Mass Cultural Council’s Folk Arts and Heritage Program include mentorships in Cape Breton step dancing,  design and building of wooden ship’s steering wheels, Cambodian traditional ornamentation, wooden boatbuilding and restoration, West African dance, Scottish & Cape Breton fiddling, and Mithila and Warli arts.

The deadline for applying is April 12, 2018. Guidelines and applications are now available. 

2018 Fellows & Finalists in the Traditional Arts Awarded by Mass Cultural Council

We are delighted to announce the 2018 Artist Fellows and Finalists in the Traditional Arts, awarded by Mass Cultural Council. Fellows each receive $12,000 and Finalists each receive $1,000. The next opportunity to apply for these awards will be October of 2019.

ARTIST FELLOWS:
Kieran Jordan, Traditional Irish step dance

At the age of five, Kieran Jordan watched Irish step dancing for the first time in a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Soon after, she was taking lessons in her parish hall on Saturday mornings. Thus began her life-long journey to becoming not only a renowned Irish step dancer, but also a cultural activist and an invaluable resource within the Irish-American community.

Jordan is a gifted dancer, choreographer, and teacher of old style Irish step dances, a tradition that is intricately tied to Irish history, local culture, and traditional music. She displays the aesthetic assurance that naturally evolves from the dedication of a gifted artist who has danced competitively within the Irish traditional step-dancing sphere.

Panayotis League, Greek lauto playing and oral poetry

Panayotis League specializes in traditional Greek music and oral poetry indigenous to the Greek island of Kalymnos, Crete, and their diaspora communities. With family roots in the Greek community of Tarpon Springs, Fla, League pursued his interest in traditional music by journeying to the Greek islands to study laouto and tsabouna, with older master musicians on Kalymnos in 2001 and violin on Crete in 2003.

Today League is one of the few in the US who specializes in the laouto music of Kalymnos. In addition to concerts and festivals, he is a frequent performer at local marriage celebrations, baptisms, and feast days in the Greek diaspora community. He is also a scholar of Greek music. His dissertation focused on the music of Boston’s Anatolian Greek diaspora. League is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, where he is managing the digitization and cataloguing of James Notopoulos’ field recordings from his 1952-53 trip to Greece and Cyprus.

Sidi Joh Camara, Malian dance and drumming

Sidi Mohamed “Joh” Camara grew up in Bamako, Mali surrounded by musicians, praise singers, and story-tellers. He began his formal training with Mouvement Pionnier, and then went on to work with Troupe Sewa and Troupe Districte de Bamako before relocating to the United States in 1996. He has experienced West African dances in their purest traditional form, where a particular dance is unique to that village and the movements have remained unchanged for centuries. Though West African dance companies in urban centers keep the traditions alive, often the context and meaning in which these village dances originated gets lost. “Once they are performed by dance companies in the cities, they are taken out of context. . . As a ballet, it is no longer a part of the ceremony it accompanies.”

Joh’s research has taken him all over Mali to see the dances in the ceremonies of which they are a part. He and his young son Tiemoko were awarded a 2017 MCC Traditional Arts Apprenticeship They focused on the learning of  four dances (Didadi, Korodjuga, Mandiani, and Madan), the songs that accompany these dances, as well as why and in what context they are danced. Father and son will also take part in ceremonies within the Malian and Guinean diaspora community both here and in New York.

FINALISTS:

Geoffrey Kostecki, liturgical painting

Geoffrey Kostecki excels at the sacred art known as liturgical painting. As a young man, he was inspired by the powerful imagery of Catholicism, first created for the Church during the Renaissance. Kostecki moved to Italy to study at University Lorenzo Di Medici in Florence. There he gained advanced painting techniques required for liturgical painting which include site-specific design, fresco painting, figurative sculpting, stencil design, gilding, and marbleizing.

After returning home and earning an MFA, Kostecki apprenticed under  figurative painter Graydon Parrish, who himslef had trained through the Atelier method, and with trumpe-l’oeil painter Robert Bock.

Kostecki’s original work and restorations can be seen in churches throughout Central Massachusetts and upstate New York, including  St. Paul’s Church in West Warren, St. John’s in Worcester, and the 30 x 40 feet nave mural depicted here,  commissioned by St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid, NY.

Fabian Gallon, Colombian tiple player

Fabian Gallon grew up in Pereira, the mountainous coffee region of Colombia, where he learned to play the tiple from his father and brothers. He went on to study with Maestro Benjamin Cardona before entering the conservatory of Universidad Technologica of Pereira.

Similar in shape but distinct from the guitar, the 12-stringed tiple is considered the national instrument of Colombia. It recently gained a renaissance when it began to be played more as a solo instrument. The style Gallon developed went from simple strumming to a complex blend of sophisticated picking and rich variations of strumming figures.

Before moving to Boston, Gallon was very active in Bogata’s musical scene, performing and recording with Trio Ancestro, as well as dedicating himself to bringing up the next generation of leading Colombian tiple players.  He recently recorded with several Latin American musicians in Boston. He continues a tradition of well-known tiple players like Gonzalo Hernandez, Pacho Benavides, and David Puerta. Eduaro Carrizoa, Orquestra Conductor says, “Colombian tiple has in Fabian Gallon its best passionate and knowledgeable interpreter.  In his hands lay the responsibility of keeping the path of the development of the technique and interpretation of the instrument.”

 Emerald Rae Forman, Cape Breton & Scottish fiddle player

The distinctive fiddling style of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia has roots in the strathspeys and reels brought to Canada by early 19th century Scottish immigrants. Emerald Rae Forman has mastered both Scottish and Cape Breton fiddling. She began her study with Boston based Barbara McOwen, renowned for her private library of Scottish music books. Emerald went on to compete in the US Scottish Fiddling Championships, winning the US National Champion title at 18 years old. She went on to earn degrees from Berklee College of Music and the University of Glasgow.

Fiddle and dance are closely related; to become a great traditional fiddler, it helps to know the dance steps the fiddle tunes accompany. In 2011, Emerald Rae completed a Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship in Irish step dance with Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellow Kieran Jordan. In 2016, she was awarded a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship to mentor Elizabeth Kozachek in Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle playing. Emerald Rae works as a professional performer and teacher of multiple styles of fiddle and step dance. She leads workshop at the Boston Fiddle Club and has served on the Boston Celtic Music Festival

Soumya Rajaram, Bharatanatayam dancer

Soumya Rajaram performs and teaches Bharatanatyam dance, a South Indian classical tradition with strong spiritual connections to Hindu religion and mythology. Although originally a hereditary tradition, the teaching of Bharatanatyam has become institutionalized. Indeed, Soumya came up within a deep lineage of dance teachers trained at the Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, India. In addition to her years of dedicated training in the technique and expressive elements of Bharatanatyam, she has extensive training in Carnatic music, which is integral to Bharatanatyam dance.

Known for her exacting standards, Rajaram is skilled in nritta (abstract dance) and abhinaya (emotive aspect). She performs regularly at festivals and concerts and is thought of highly by senior dance teachers who first brought Bharatanatyam to southern New England. Soumya is an active contributor to the India arts community in Greater Boston. She continues to enhance her learning under the mentorship of Sheejith Krishna, spending a few months a year at his studio and home in Chennai.

 

 

Here’s what happens when . . .

. . . you have the opportunity to hire a professional film crew and still photographer  to capture master musicians and dancers performing in a beautiful venue. Videos by Blake Road Productions and stills by Brendan Mercure.

Below are links to each segment of the concert – shot and edited by, Blake Road Productions.

Apply for an Artist Fellowship in the Traditional Arts

Mass Cultural Council is pleased to announce that guidelines and applications are currently available for the next round of  Artist Fellowships in the traditional arts.

Recent recipients include architectural woodcarver Dimitrios Klitsas, Cambodian ceramicist Yary Livan, Irish flute player Shannon Heaton, wooden boatbuilder Harold A. Burnham, and Malian balaphon player Balla Kouyaté. To see a complete list of past fellows in the Traditional Arts category, see here. All were recognized for their artistic excellence within art forms that are deeply rooted in traditional and ethnic culture.

The traditional arts include music, craft, dance, and verbal arts that are created and preserved within communities defined by cultural connections such as a common ethnic heritage, language, religion, occupation, or geography. Whether sung or told, handcrafted or performed, traditional art forms reflect a community’s shared sense of aesthetic heritage. The folk and traditional arts typically are learned during the course of daily living from someone steeped in the tradition, rather than through books, classes, or other means of institutional instruction. Artist Fellowships are for individuals not groups.

Fellowships in the traditional arts are awarded biennially. The postmark deadline to apply is October 2, 2017.

 

 

Angkor Dance Troupe’s impact

Take a listen to this podcast about how ancient Cambodian dance continues to embolden youths in Lowell, Massachusetts. Anita Walker, Executive Director of Mass Cultural Council, speaks with Linda Sopheap Sou. Linda’s parents moved to Lowell in 1981 as Cambodian Refugees. Her father, Tim Thou, is co-founder of Angkor Dance Troupe.

Linda danced with the troupe for 25 years and spent several years as the dance troupe’s executive director. She currently works at Lowell Community Health Center.

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: Folk Masters of Massachusetts Showcase Concert

We are excited to announce a May 14  showcase concert featuring the excellence and diversity of music and dance traditions thriving in Massachusetts today. Performers are past or current recipients of an Artist Fellowship or Traditional Arts Apprenticeship, prestigious awards granted by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Come experience a Dominican carnival procession led by Stelvyn  Mirabal, then be enthralled by leading exponents of South Indian vocals, violin, and percussion, Irish flute, uilleann pipe and old style step dance, and West African balafon (xylophone), djembe drum, and ceremonial dance. The concert will take place at the stunningly beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on Sunday May 14 at 5:00 pm.

Carnatic music of South India is one of the oldest music systems in the world. Built upon talas (rhythmic cycles) and ragas (melodic scales), the basic transmission of this venerable South Indian tradition is done via face-to-face lessons in which the guru vocalizes first and then demonstrates the lesson.

  

   

Irish tradition has deep roots in Massachusetts. Tunes once played at crossroad dances traveled the ocean in the hearts, hands, and feet of Irish immigrants. Boston in known for its active scene of pub sessions, concerts, competitions, and classes.

  

  

In parts of Mali, West Africa, dance, music, and song are an integral part of everyday life. Birth, death, initiation rites, and marriage are all marked with specific dances and songs. Many musicians and dancers are hereditary artists, meaning they are born into the tradition.

 

The concert will take place at the stunningly beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on Sunday May 14 at 5:00 pm.  A perfect outing for Mother’s Day!

Maggie Holtzberg runs the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the  Massachusetts Cultural Council.

 

A new round of Apprenticeships are awarded!

We  are delighted to announce the next round of Traditional Arts Apprenticeships funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Master artists will work one-on-one with apprentices in the following traditional art forms: wooden boatbuilding and restoration, the design and making of wooden steering wheels, Cambodian traditional ornamentation, West African dance and drumming, Cape Breton and Scottish fiddle, Cape Breton step dance, and North Indian Mithila art. Apprenticeships last for ten month and culminate in some sort of a public event.

Wooden boatbuilding and restoration:  Harold A. Burnham, master artist and Alden Burnham, apprentice.

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Wooden ship steering wheels: Bob Fuller, master artist and John O’Rourke, apprentice

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Cambodian traditional ornamentation: Yary Livan, master artist and Panit Mai, apprentice

YaryLivan_Panit_full

West African dance and drumming: Sidi “Joh” Camara, master artist and Tiemoko Camara, apprentice

SidiCamara_Tiemoko_full

North Indian Mithila art: Sunanda Sahay, master artist and Anindita Lal, apprentice

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Cape Breton and Scottish fiddle: Emerald Rae Forman, master artist and Elizabeth Kozachek, apprentice

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Cape Breton step dance: Mary C. MacGillivray, master artist and Jennifer Schoonover, apprentice

    Mary MacGillivray     Jen Schoonover dancingd

Traditional Arts Apprenticeships are awarded every other year. If you are interested in applying, the next deadline won’t be until April of 2018.

Apply for an Artist Fellowship

Guidelines and application forms for our next upcoming Artist Fellowships in the traditional arts have just been posted!

Recent recipients include craft artists, dancers, and musicians:

Yary holding brown bowl
Yary Livan, Artist Fellow 2012
Elizabeth James Perry with Wampanoag weavings
Elizabeth James Perry, Artist Fellow, 2014
Jimmy Noonan at Boston College Jan 23 2014. Photo: Paul Wells
Jimmy Noonan, Artist Fellow, 2014
Kieran Jordan Irish sean nos dancer
Keiren Jordan, Artist Fellow, 2008

To see a complete list of past fellows in the Traditional Arts category, see here.