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September 22, 2003

Two retrospectives celebrating the life and art of Mel Wong set for October

By Scott Rappaport

The life and art of UCSC theater arts professor, dancer, choreographer, and visual artist Mel Wong will be celebrated in two retrospectives during the month of October.

Mel Wong in front of his 1964 painting “The Three Graces.” Photo courtesy of Connie Kreemer
Mel Wong at the Great Wall of China
Photo by Connie Kreemer
Mel Wong performing his own yo-yo dance Photo by Kevin Bubriski

On Saturday, October 11, the UCSC Theater Arts Department will present a special memorial celebration at 8 p.m. in the Mainstage Theater.

The evening will feature guest speakers, dance performances of Wong’s choreography, plus a video montage of his life and work.

A reception will follow the event, and attendees are encouraged to arrive early, as seating is limited. However, overflow seating will be available in the adjacent Second Stage Theater, where a live simulcast of the event will be broadcast.

A retrospective of the visual art of Mel Wong, titled “Other Realms,” will also be on display at the Bridge and J. B. Hall Galleries at UCSC’s Porter College beginning on October 2. Although Wong’s art has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the country, this marks the first time that the majority of his work will be displayed together in one place.

Wong’s artistic work covers a 40-year span, including paintings, drawings, sculpture, and pottery. His drawings were often created in conjunction with his choreography, and the resulting visual art was frequently displayed in New York theater lobbies.

The exhibit will include early figurative drawings, ceramic pots and bowls, abstract paintings and drawings, as well as Wong’s recent return to figurative paintings. Gallery hours at Porter College are Monday through Friday from noon until 5 p.m.

The exhibit will run until October 28 with an Opening Reception set for Friday, October 10, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Wong died of a heart attack on July 17 at the age of 64, after swimming laps in Santa Cruz.

He established an international reputation, first as a performer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and then as a choreographer, teacher, and performer with the Mel Wong Dance Company. He had been a professor of dance in the Theater Arts Department at UC Santa Cruz since 1989.

Choreographer and UCSC lecturer Tandy Beal noted in the San Francisco Chronicle: “He used dance art as a tool to unlock meaning for himself and the audience. His dances were quite stunning, with this air of spatial mystery.”

UCSC theater arts professor James Bierman added, “Mel was very easygoing, but he was also quite playful as a person and an artist. He managed to make all of his students look good onstage, no matter what their skill level might be."

In 1983-84, Wong became the first Chinese American to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in choreography. Throughout his lifetime, he choreographed more than 180 dances, and his works can be seen in the repertoires of companies in Canada, the U.S., Hong Kong, Japan, and Europe.

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