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Fall 2002 l Capital University Journal
Capital Arts - The Next Generation
story by Laurie Hall
photos by Sherry Mark

The Capital Region abounds with artists who got their start in the concert halls, classrooms, studios and theatres of Sac State. Building on that tradition is a energetic crop of new creative talents, destined to add to the University’s imprint on the arts community. These five students are just a few of the up-and-comers to watch for.


Joseph Candelaria
modern moves


Photo of Joseph CandelariaBeing chosen to choreograph for Sac State’s popular Dale Scholl Dance/Art company is a coup for a dancer. But if you’re still an undergraduate student like Joseph Candelaria, it’s also a rarity. “It’s unusual. I was surprised,” Candelaria says. “Generally it’s only faculty or outside choreographers who work on choreography for the shows.”

The 21-year-old has been a part of every Dance/Art production for the last year and a half. He relishes the opportunity to experiment with different types of music and often uses contemporary artists such as Madonna, David Bowie and–for the troupe’s fall production–U2.

But he resists the temptation to interpret the songs’ lyrics into a live music video. “I try to get the essence of what the music says and go with that. I want to tell a story but though metaphors and images.”

Candelaria also teaches dance at an area high school as an ArtsBridge scholar. Sac State’s ArtsBridge program is part of a statewide effort to match top arts majors with schools wishing to enhance their arts curriculum.

His work as a choreographer began attracting attention with a piece he created as a tribute to his high school dance teacher. It was one of eight works, out of nearly 50 submitted, selected to be performed at a national competition held in Montana.

Candelaria prefers not to dance in his own projects because he finds it easier to choreograph for other dancers. “When I perform one of my own pieces, I’m so aware of what everyone else is doing that I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing,” he says.

The challenge came in developing his own style rather than imitating the movements of other choreographers. “After my first choreography class, I didn’t understand what the professor was talking about,” he says. “Then over the summer I started experimenting with movement and found how to define my style.

“Each time I do a new work I try to do something different. I’m always learning from my mistakes.”


Christopher Cook
Musical Mayhem


Photo of Christopher CookHe’s been seen on campus walking on stilts. He rewards his elementary school band students by standing on his head on the piano. But while Christopher Cook approaches life lightheartedly, his professors take his clarinet-playing skills seriously.

Cook has been in clarinet choir since he was 14, but when he first started playing he was hardly first-chair. “In fifth grade I was horrible like everyone else but I stuck with it,” he says.

He decided to come to Sac State after meeting music professor Robert Halseth. “Bob Halseth showed up to conduct an honor band when I was in high school,” Cook says. “Four other students he conducted ended up here as well.”

Now 22, Cook is frequently called upon to perform with Sac State faculty and in the community. At last year’s annual Festival of New American Music, he sat in with the Wind Ensemble. His playing can be heard on one of flute professor Laurel Zucker’s CDs and he worked with clarinet professor Deborah Pittman and puppetry professor Richard Bay on a puppet theater production of Peter and the Hood, which toured area schools. Over the summer, he played in the woodwind section for three productions at Sacramento’s Music Circus.

But where Cook shines is in composition. He wrote the music for last semester’s production of Medea, a puppetry interpretation of the Greek tragedy. However, most of his works aren’t nearly so dark and he’s not afraid to push the envelope. One piece for a student composition competition featured three saxophones—and two bicycles. Another incorporated movement and spoken word. “It was a stretch,” he admits, but he’s not about to stop tweaking tradition.

“We as musicians get very into the idea of coming out on stage and giving a concert. It’s very scripted,” Cook says. “But we’re entertainers. So we should entertain. I look at it theatrically. I want to reach out and grab the audience.”

His final recital this fall, “The Lady and the Clarinet,” promises to be typically over-the-top. “I hope to end it swimming in the American River,” he says.


Barbara Norris
Behind the Scenes


Photo of Barbara NorisLike many students, Barbara Norris is spending hours in the library preparing her master’s thesis. But at the end she won’t file it on a shelf—it will be seen by a live audience.

The student director’s production of M. Butterfly will be one of the theatre and dance department’s spring offerings. It’s one of four campus plays she’s had the opportunity to direct, including productions of The Vagina Monologues, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and How I Learned to Drive. But this time she gets the bigger room, access to set and costume designers and, perhaps most importantly, a budget.

“This department has been so supportive. I feel honored and blessed,” she says. “Everyone has gotten behind me and said, ‘Yes, yes.’”

Norris has been interested in theater for as long as she can remember. “Theater is my first love and my greatest love,” she says. “But for a while it was more of a hobby.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in theater, Norris married and “had a life” which included raising her two daughters and taking care of her terminally ill father. She had always wanted to go back for her master’s degree, and when her father died, she decided it was time.

“I’ve learned so much,” she says. “The seminars are good, and demanding. And I learn from my fellow grad students all bringing something into the mix.”

Her training also gets put to use at the community theater she opened in her hometown of Fairfield. “We do alternative theater—edgy stuff,” she says.

She came to directing gradually. “I’m an actor. And over the course of time, you just progress,” she says. “As artistic director at the theater, I sat in on a lot of rehearsals and found I really, really enjoy it.”

Norris also enjoys working with the actors in the theatre and dance department. “I give them direction and just let them go. An actor can come up with so many creative things that I wouldn’t have thought of,” she says. “As director, you need to have a vision but you also need to let them do what they do best.”


Sergio Saenz
Art of Life


Photo of Sergio SaenzAs a child in Mexico, Sergio Saenz earned money selling Canel’s gum at the train station. The tiny treats are still a part of his life, but now as the medium for his art.

The 25-year-old graduate student painstakingly glues the individual pieces to panels, mimicking the striped design of a swatch of Mexican fabric. The gum comes in a big box of mixed flavors and he spends hours separating the eight varieties by color before he can apply it to the backing.

“The gum inspiration came partly out of memories of my childhood,” Saenz says. “I grew up poor in Mexico and to make money we sold gum. I think of those times when we’d go to the train station and wait for the train to come. I’d play with the different colors. I do the same thing now.

“These compositions are hard to define. They represent things I’m dealing with, my identity,” he says. “There are so many labels–Mexican, Hispanic, Latino–that don’t define who I am. So I’ve created things that look like paintings but they’re not really paintings. Anyone can define what they think they are.”

Saenz didn’t expect to become an artist. In high school and junior college he was more interested in chemistry than art. But fate stepped in in the form of a photography class. “I stumbled into art,” he says. “It was like chemistry, mixing the chemicals and everything, but it was more fun.”

His gum artwork was featured at this year’s California State Fair. “It was nice to have people who wouldn’t normally go to the galleries see my work,” Saenz says.

He has also had his photography displayed in galleries on campus and he sets up “phantom galleries” in empty buildings during the city’s Second Saturday art events.

His current series features close-ups of painted-over graffiti in midtown Sacramento. “It’s a form of strange public art in my neighborhood. It’s kind of like abstract expressionism, like found art,” he says. And like his other work, it’s not easily defined. He thinks that when people look at it they’ll wonder, “Is it photography or is it painting?”


Ben Waller
Reading Into Things


Photo of Ben WallerSometimes, mother knows best. When Ben Waller was trying to decide what he wanted to do as a career, he followed the lead of his mom–a student in Sac State’s English department–and enrolled in the department’s graduate program.

And it was there he learned that he definitely wants to be a literature professor.

As a kid, Waller never expected to be on this path. “I hated reading and I hated school until the end of high school,” he says. “Then I discovered something. I started taking an English class and I saw I could do this. It’s fun.”

He says he now feels his choice of career is more meaningful because it survived the years when he wanted nothing to do with school. “No one suggested I should teach,” he says. “I realized it on my own.”

Waller’s primary focus is English literature, looking at criticism theory on a broad range of topics. “I analyze literature in terms of approach,” he says. “I’m exploring all the ways literature can have meaning and impact for people. There are many different ways to look at it.

“Studying literature is like studying life. It’s one of the most important things you can do in educating people.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree elsewhere, Waller is thrilled by his choice of graduate school. “My department is superb,” he says. “They know how to present concepts and inspire students to want to do the same.”

The faculty has also sparked his interest in studying mythology, which led him to look for examples of the mythological approach in other types of literature. “I like the really old and really new mythology as well as medieval Old English and Middle English,” he says. He also studies recent works on the ramifications of modern theories of criticism.

While he finishes his degree, he’s paying his way with either the dream job–or expensive temptation–for a literature buff. He works at a bookstore. “It’s terrible,” he says. “I see so many things I want.”



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