As Smooth as Silk Road

The Silk Road refers to the ancient historic trade routes stretching from Europe to Asia, but to learn more about the cultural exchanges that came from its influences you only need travel to the Arlington Theatre next weekend, when famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma brings his Silk Road Ensemble to town. Seventeen musicians hailing from such exotic locales as India, Iran, Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China and Korea – many of whom are considered stars at home – comprise the nine-year old ensemble for this West Coast tour that stops in Los Angeles and Seattle as well as Santa Barbara.

But only here has there been a quarter-long interdisciplinary exploration of the cultural phenomenon as inspired by the Silk Road, including a full credit class taught by Bill Powell, assistant professor of East Asian languages and cultural studies and religious studies, who has studied the Silk Road and Chinese Buddhism for more than 15 years and written two books about the trade route. Powell’s current class, “The Silk Road: Sights, Sounds and Stories,” was made available to the general public free of charge this quarter, and the professor pronounced that he was “surprised at how well it worked.”

“The two groups really meshed, with about one hundred and ten people each from the school and the city,” Powell says. “My most eager students have been the ones from town. The locals have been thrilled to be invited into the university environment.”

The good news is that you can still drop by the class for its final two weeks – held Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:30 pm to 7:45 pm at 1910 Buchanan Hall – which includes two special events tied in directly with the concerts. Members of the ensemble will perform and discuss the venture on Tuesday, March 6, and on Thursday, March 8, Victor Mair will reprise his discussion of the Tarim Mummies from the previous evening at Karpeles Museum.

“It’s thrilling that Yo-Yo Ma chose Santa Barbara to do this rather than, say, UCLA or Stanford. This just dropped in my lap,” said Powell, who has been teaching a course on Silk Road since the late 1980s.

“But this allowed me to expand the class by a big factor, involving musicians and art historians, cuisine and more,” Powell continued. “The beauty is that it integrates all these disciplines that are usually isolated and insulated at the university. I hope they try it again.”

For tickets to the concerts, which feature a different program each day, call Arts & Lectures at 893-3535.

Santa Barbara Sweeper

With Oscar night over, the final Santa Barbara International Film Festival scorecard shows that a most impressive six Academy Award winners attended the festival this year, including three of the four acting Oscar recipients (Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson) and the producer of the best picture (Graham King for “The Departed”). But executive director Roger Durling, whose prognosticating skills are astounding, did even better than that in his own predictions on his SBIFF blog – following a last-minute change of heart on Sunday afternoon when he switched from “Babel” to “The Departed,” Durling correctly foresaw the winners of all top eight categories, including the one big shocker of the night, supporting actor Alan Arkin over favorite Eddie Murphy…. Montecito moments: Screenwriter Walter Davis, who attended the Santa Barbara Community Action Network Oscar bash at Madison’s, says he’s putting screenwriting aside to work on his first novel. “They change so much of what you write for a movie,” he says. “It would be nice to have people read what I actually wrote.”