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Students are “Dancing Their Hearts Out” at the Nott

Posted on Apr 27, 2007


cut legs – Steinmetz Symposium dance concert

One of the joys of the Steinmetz Symposium is the annual dance performance, an energetic outpouring of work from dozens of students, staged in the Nott Memorial to standing-room only crowds.

Sixty young performers will step up to the challenge on Friday, May 4, 12:20-1:30 p.m.  in a progam titled "Dancing Their Hearts Out."

The dynamic event will feature 13 ballet, modern, jazz, tap and hip-hop dances.

“Our students have worked hard to present their creative talents and skills, and the choreographies will reflect our program’s interest in promoting diverse styles,” said Dance Program Director Miryam Moutillet, who coordinates the performance each year.

In addition to the student works, faculty member Marcus Rogers will perform his solo, "Status."


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Debate for the ages

Posted on Apr 27, 2007

Some historians call it "The Stirrups Issue."

The Romans didn't have them, so why do so many "Swords and Sandals" films — "Gladiator" to name but one Oscar-winning example — suggest otherwise? (Hint: They don't want their actors getting killed.)

And should either scholars or general filmgoers care?

The necessity of historical accuracy in film "is really something scholars in classics have been talking about a lot," said Stacie Raucci, an assistant professor of classics at Union College. She teaches a course titled "The Ancient World in Film and Literature," focusing on how films "recast and reinterpret classical texts to reflect modern interests." (A television example would be how classical myths are portrayed in the NBC drama "Heroes.")

Academics and filmmakers will gather at Union in Schenectady today and Saturday for a two-day conference "Re-creating the Classics: Hollywood and Ancient Empires." The conference, which Raucci organized, is free and open to the public.

Accuracy not the point

Raucci said some scholars argue that these historical interpretations are pointless for us to watch. "I disagree," she continued. "Hollywood, while they are using the basic premise of the myths, their point is not accuracy, and we as scholars should accept that."

Forget the vans that can be seen in the distance during a pair of scenes in "Braveheart" (1995) — that's just a screw-up. But what about Mel Gibson's movie (which, like "Gladiator," won a best picture Oscar) changing the location of the Battle of Stirling from a bridge to an open field?

Or the Arch of Constantine's prominence in the 1963 film "Cleopatra" — when the Roman edifice wasn't built until three centuries after her reign?

The "I am Spartacus!" scene from Stanley Kubrick's 1960 classic "Spartacus"? One of the most memorable in movie history, to be sure — even if it never could have happened in real life: While Kirk Douglas' character sits anonymously among his captured rebel army, the actual Spartacus is thought to have died in battle.

Taking liberties


Historical dramas owe the spine of their stories to both actual and literary history, whether it's a World War II saga or an epic tale from antiquity. But what does the drama — by definition a fictionalized account — owe to historical accuracy?

Many films take liberties — some inadvertent, others intentional — with historical texts. While these are dramas — fictional, or at least fictionalized — many casual observers draw their historical conclusions from these works. After all, when was the last time you picked up Homer? (Your "Simpsons" figurine doesn't count.)

For years, many classicists have been dismissive of Hollywood treatments based on antiquity, due in large part to the liberties taken with facts. For the truly knowledgeable, details large and small presented incorrectly render the effort a failure.

"We are classicists," said conference attendee Monica Cyrino, a classics professor at the University of New Mexico who has written a book on the HBO series "Rome." "But some people are more accuracy-obsessed and grumpy than the rest of us. … Professors can drive themselves crazy pointing out (errors) like that."

The reason is while these works don't religiously hew to actual events, they can provide a starting point for viewers to find out more on their own. In addition, these films and series often use period films to offer commentary about present-day conditions: "Spartacus," for example, was very relevant to the Civil Rights Movement.

"Maybe I have a more forgiving attitude," said Hans-Friedrich Mueller, chair of Union's Department of Classics. "There is a tradition in classical literature to take what a predecessor did and adapt it. To people who complain about the movie 'Troy' and what they did with Homer, I say (the filmmakers are) just working as they did in the ancient world: They shape it for their own need."

But dramas still have an obligation, of sorts.

Accuracy "does matter, but at the same time you have to make a distinction between documentary and film work," said Jonathan Stamp, a BBC documentarian who served as a historical consultant for the HBO series "Rome." "That is a real concern, because (these dramas are) largely where people get their history." (Note: "Rome" removed stirrups from horses for close-ups.)

Changing the surface

Niels Mueller, brother of the Union professor, served as writer, director and producer of the 2004 drama "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" (2004), based on a real 1972 incident in which a distraught man (played in the film by Sean Penn) plotted to hijack a plane and bomb the White House.

In that film, "sometimes I would change surface facts to get to a deeper truth," Mueller said. The filmmaker chose to make minor factual changes from the record to further the narrative.

That said, extraordinary effort goes into getting little details right, Mueller said, from the types of planes used in his film set in 1972 to clothing.

"You want everything that you can possibly keep accurate: There is no reason not to be accurate," Mueller said. "You want to be with the details as accurate as you can. Most of the filmmakers I know are obsessive."

 But sometimes errors are made: You can find thousands detailed on the Web. Sometimes things simply get missed. Sometimes there is no time to reshoot a scene or change location. CGI can't fix everything.

"If the choice is between getting the scene and not getting the scene," said Niels Mueller, "you get the scene."


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PBK chapter sponsors speaker

Posted on Apr 26, 2007

The Alpha of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Union, which recently admitted 30 new members, hosted a talk by Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Thomas G. Rawski last week. Co-sponsors were the East Asian Studies Program and Department of Economics. Rawski, professor of Economics and History at the University of Pittsburgh, presented “What Can Economists Learn from China’s Long Boom?” His research focuses on the nature and implications of recent developments, and long term changes, in the economy of China.  His book with co-author William W. Keller, titled “China and the Balance of Influence in Asia,” is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press.

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People in the News

Posted on Apr 26, 2007

Maritza Osuna, lecturer of Spanish, delivered a paper at the annual meeting of UNTELE (Usages des Nouvelles Technologies dans l’Enseignement des Langues Etrangères) in Compiègne, France, last month. The paper was titled, “Constructing Latin-American Identities through Information and Communication Technologies.” 

Younghwan Song, assistant professor of Economics, has had a paper accepted for the Review of Economics of the Household relating to “The Working Spouse Penalty/Premium and Married Women’s Labor Supply.”

Dan Lundquist, vice president for Admissions, Financial Aid and Communications, will address the annual College Clinic in Westchester, N.Y., next month. He will present “Bridging the Divide: Issues Facing the Next College Generation” with John M. McCardell Jr., president emeritus of Middlebury College. The annual program, co-sponsored by the Westchester/Putnam/ Rockland Counseling Association, serves hundreds of high school and college admissions counselors in the Hudson Valley. 

The Science News recently ran a story describing research by Professor of Mathematics Julius B. Barbanel and New York University political scientist Steven J. Brams. The article, “Cutting a Pie is No Piece of Cake,” describes the two collaborators’ efforts to find a way to slice a pie that is “envy-free,” equitable and efficient. The pie research is instructive for dividing such things as land borders or homes in settlement disputes.

George Gmelch, professor of Anthropology, was an invited speaker at Rhodes College and Skidmore College this month. At each institution he gave a talk on “Baseball and American Culture.”



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Union celebrates jazz with Chris Rogers Quartet

Posted on Apr 26, 2007

Chris Rogers (Jazz Quartet)

Union celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month with New York City-based jazz trumpeter/composer Chris Rogers, who will perform his original compositions and arrangements Monday, April 30 at 8 p.m. in Emerson Auditorium in the Taylor Music Center. Admission is free with a Union ID ($5 for all others).

Rogers has performed extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Japan and South America as a featured soloist with prominent artists in jazz and Latin music.

Son of the late trombonist Barry Rogers, he was influenced by the many musicians he met while growing up, especially Michael and Randy Brecker and Lew Soloff. Another important influence is trumpeter Tom Harrell, who recommended Rogers as his replacement in Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band. Rogers also has played with Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mel Lewis and Maria Schneider, as well as with Latin bands led by Machito, Ray Barretto and Eddie Palmieri.

At Union, Rogers will be joined by Professor of Music Tim Olsen, piano; and area musicians Eric Walentowicz, sax; John Menegon, bass; and Dave Calarco, drums.

“This promises to be an evening of lyrical and intense music making,” says Olsen.


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