Thursday September 27th marked the opening of this year’s Clifford Symposium, celebrating “Creativity and Collaboration.” With more than 30 events across multiple academic and artistic disciplines, the weekend offered everything from music and dance performances to panels on peacekeeping and entrepreneurship.
The annual occasion, which falls near the start of each academic year, is named for Nicholas R. Clifford, who taught history at the College from 1966 to 1993 and is a champion of critical inquiry. This year’s symposium was hosted by the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts in honor of its 20th anniversary.
Middmag caught the kick-off energy of the evening’s keynote speaker, Julie Burstein, and opening wire-walking event with the following video Dispatch:
It’s a dreary, drizzly Friday afternoon. The Mahaney Center for the Arts seems hunkered down as water drips from the roof into the muted gray shadows of the back courtyard. Inside, the hallways are long and quiet. It’s just the kind of day that demands hot tea and a nap. Then, dancers emerge. Dressed playfully in harvest hues—pumpkin, burgundy, avocado—they begin to move. They seem to be everywhere—in the corridors, in nooks, on the balcony above the ticket booth. Haunting, melancholy music played by a lone violinist washes through the building.
This is A Curious Invasion-Middlebury, a featured event of the Clifford Symposium on Creativity and Collaboration, September 27–29. It is a true collaboration, sponsored by the Middlebury Council on the Arts and featuring the renowned choreography and performance of the PearsonWidrig Dance Theater, the Dance Company of Middlebury, the Alumni Solo Project, and other Middlebury artists. Versions of A Curious Invasion have been performed around the world, using the surroundings to inspire the dance. Today the arts center is the source of inspiration.
The audience, if that is what you are when the dancing is all around you, flows about the building with the performers, who subtly direct the viewers to different spots. After a while, the dancers migrate outside and the audience follows. Dancers take over the courtyard tables, the courtyard wall, the grass beyond. As you watch, you begin to see the site with new eyes: how metal-like the museum exterior seems, how transparent the Zig-Zag Labyrinth sculpture is, how lush the lawn looks, and how soccer balls on the far-away field seem to float.
Gradually the dancers disappear inside, through a door most people never notice, reappearing in windows that most people hurry past without a thought. And for the next several minutes, those windows get complete attention as the dancers execute an exceedingly slow-motion evacuation through them.
When the performance is over, no one is thinking about hot tea and a nap. Seeing this everyday facet of Middlebury through new eyes has woken everyone up.