The Arts: Living Well in Both Worlds

Harvard's name usually comes in for some heavy tarnishing when the subject of the performing arts is raised. The University is "very provincial" in its attitude towards the arts, Martha A. Gray, director of the Summer School's Dance Center, says. "It's very pathetic how they treat people on the Faculty in the arts."

Leon Kirchner, Rosen Professor of Music--and one of the people in that category--agrees. Kirchner says he's getting tired of repeating the same old arguments about the importance of music performance in a community "which has not been very understanding of non-verbal forms of intelligence."

Traditionally Harvard has not looked kindly on awarding credit for courses involving performance. Nor is the University particularly noted for its financial generosity to the extracurricular organizations that have served as the main outlet for artists at Harvard. "When there are economic problems, the arts are the first to be cut," Kirchner complains.

But if Harvard stubbornly slights the performing arts in the winter, its rigidity thaws in the summer sun. Both Gray and Kirchner credit that thaw partially to Thomas Crooks, director of the Summer School, under whose aegis has grown a program of arts performance and instruction unlike anything in the winter University.

The different parts of this program--which includes forays into theater, dance, music, arts administration, and even woodworking--call for varying levels of expertise; some are designed for trained professionals, others accept the rawest beginners. As a whole, the program serves a dual function, Crooks says: it allows student artists "to perform as professionally as they can under professional supervision," and it provides a service to the Boston community by alleviating what otherwise, Crooks says, would be a local "cultural famine."


With the successful development of the summer arts behind him, Crooks, unlike Kirchner, is optimistic about the future of the performing arts at Harvard. "The pressures for educating the other half of the brain are growing every year," he says. "People here say, 'We don't want to become a conservatory.' Of course we don't. A conservatory doesn't want to become Harvard either--of course it doesn't. But some people can live well in both worlds and benefit from it."

And for those people, the heat and humidity notwithstanding, the Summer School provides a far more congenial habitat than its winter counterpart.

The Dance Center

The Dance Center is perhaps the Summer School's most ideal blend of classroom instruction and actual performance, of hard-core professional training and enthusiastic dabbling.

At the core of the center's program are four dance concerts presented by members of its resident company of professional dancers and choreographers, and by students in the program. Performers at night, the company metamorphoses in the daylight hours into a faculty which offers courses ranging from "Modern Technique" and "Ballet" to the less tiring "American Dance History, 1792-1976."

The schedule for students and faculty is heavy--classes often from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rehearsals at night, informal workshops every Wednesday evening. "You can dance six hours a day, and then some," according to Gray, who is already the victim of a sprained ankle.

The intensity of the collaboration between the pros and their protegees--most of whom Gray says are intermediates--is balanced, ideally, by its informality. The four-year-old center aims to create "an atmosphere of hanging around together," Gray says.

"The students who come here are very questing," she says. "They say 'Here I am involved in a crazy art from which people say is going to spell doom for my life.' They need contact with people who've found some answers."

The Repertory Theater

Harvard's most elegantly appointed theater is already decked out with red, white and blue streamers to publicize the opening of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple--the first of three Harvard Summer School Repertory Theater offerings.