Barbara Mueller’s adventures in Machu Picchu began with arriving early in the morning first in line for the train from Cusco, Peru. But she and her husband were jostled out of line. They followed advice to board anyway and buy a ticket on the train, where they bought one for $3 plus a 50-cent fee. Later, their bus broke down on the way there and they had to wait for another one.

But they spent the day among the 15th-century Inca structures in the Andes Mountains, which remains one of her favorite travel memories.

“It’s partially it’s just the location, up on a mountain, and you can look around and you see all these green peaks,” said Mueller, a retired Casper College instructor, “and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful location.”

More than three decades later in 2007, Machu Picchu and other sites she’s visited were designated as the New Seven Wonders of the World.

This week, Mueller will talk about and show photos of the wonders, each of which she’s visited at least once, as the Demorest Lecture keynote speaker during the 34th annual Casper College Humanities Festival, themed “Around the World.” The festival Thursday and Friday features discussions and performances with local and national scholars.

The sessions range from the cultural significance of bees in cultures around the world through the ages to the African roots of blues music to the opening of Casper College’s next production, “Rashomon,” which incorporates techniques from Kabuki theater.

“The theme should resonate with everyone,” humanities festival chair Valerie Innella Maiers said, “whether you’re interested in traveling the world or hearing stories of exotic locales or learning what is considered to be a modern wonder of the world.”

Adventures around the world

Mueller often told students about her observations and insights from her travels numbering about 140 countries in her cultural anthropology and other classes she taught for almost 30 years at Casper College. She was the anthropology department chair for 25 years and the director of international education for seven years and received Rosenthal Outstanding Educator Award at Casper College. She was twice a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in Bulgaria, Romania and in Poland as a Rotary Scholar, according to the Humanities Festival website.

Mueller’s travels have happened to include all of New Seven Wonders of the World including Machu Picchu in Peru, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Great Wall in China, the Taj Mahal in India, Petra in Jordan, the Colosseum in Italy and Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.

In her “Exploring the Seven Wonders of the Modern World” keynote presentation Thursday, she’ll talk about why they were built, what makes them significant, people who discovered them, and problems including environmental issues and numbers of tourists, which have doubled in some places since they were designated, she said.

Now, Machu Picchu visitors are limited to three hours at the site with a tour guide through only certain routes, and a tourist train from Cusco costs $100, she said. When she visited again 10 years ago, it was still as beautiful as her first visit, though much had changed, she said — especially the crowds.

“Well, basically my conclusion is if you have an interest in exploring the seven new wonders, go now,” Mueller said.

The humanities festival features an exhibit, “Three Continents,” of images by retired photojournalist Jacek Bogucki on display through Friday with a noon artist’s talk that day at the Mildred Zahradnicek Gallery in the Casper College Music Building. The show includes photographs of his hometown, Krakow, Poland. Others he captured on expeditions through South America, some of which have been featured in National Geographic. Visitors will see photographs from Wyoming where he’s made his home in Casper, which he fondly calls “the little town on the prairie.”

“Living on three continents gave me a sort of unique perspective on life and I think a better understanding of this complicated world,” Bogucki said. “And I totally believe that we are much better human beings if we open our minds to different cultures through traveling and experiencing daily life and sharing experiences.”

Bogucki, who has been honored by Wyoming Association of Broadcasters and the Associated Press of Wyoming, started his career in Poland and worked for decades as chief photographer and photojournalist for Casper TV news stations.

After a South American expedition in the early ‘80s, the expeditioners weren’t allowed to return to Poland because of their support for the Solidarity movement there. So Bogucki eventually settled in Casper where a few years earlier they’d spent a couple months working and saving money to continue their expedition, he said. While waiting for political asylum paperwork in New York, Bogucki met his one of his idols, Jacques Cousteau. Cousteau connected him with National Geographic, which sponsored their second and third expeditions to Colca Canyon and helped with a later Amazon expedition, he said.

One piece from an expedition in the show is a photograph of a girl about age 5 in a small mountain village in the Amazon where she lived in a harsh, high-altitude climate. Another is a photo of a waterfall in the east side of Colca Canyon that shows his traveling companions.

“I really like traveling because if you travel and experience different cultures, different cuisines, different customs, it’s a real eye-opener,” Bogucki said. “And I wish everybody could travel more and know this world because it’s so complicated but it’s so beautiful at the same time.”

He says he doesn’t think of himself as an artist. Rather, he records what’s around him.

“I’m just a photojournalist,” Bogucki said. “And if somebody thinks these pictures are kind of art, sure, why not?”

Casper College instructor Will Robinson’s talk, “Buzzin’ Around the Sugar: Cultural Significance of Bees and Honey from Mesoamerica to Mesopotamia” will cover how bees have been part of cultures, arts and every major religion, as well as how humans have affected bees.

Robinson has researched bees around the world, including in Jordan, Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mexico and Brazil.

Bees have been featured on cave and cliff drawings dating back several thousand years, ancient Egyptians depicted bees on tombs and statues, and Mayans revered a species he’s studied in Mexico that is now on the verge of extinction, he said.

Fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds need bee pollination from the more than 20,000 bee species around the world. Bees all over the world are in trouble because of things like industrial agriculture, deforestation and competition from honeybees, Robinson said.

“There’s a lot of press these days about the trouble that bees are facing,” he said, “and probably the last third of my talk or so I will try to address some of those problems and let people know what they can do about them on the individual level.”

His four decades of research, outreach and consultation around the world focused on bees includes work with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development and universities, according to the humanities festival website. Robinson has been fascinated with bees since he took a beekeeping class at Cornell University, where he earned his doctorate degree in entomology with with a specialty in apiculture.

“They just captivate you,” Robinson said. “Their societies are so intricate and so mysterious how they accomplish the things that they do without any real leader or anything like that in a hive.”

Celebrating world travel and culture

Casper College dance instructor Aaron Wood’s presentation, “Michio Ito’s Living Legacy,” covers the life of Ito, who’s considered “the forgotten pioneer of American modern dance,” Wood said.

The talk includes Casper College dance majors premiering a piece he choreographed based on Ito’s gesture series. He’s been given permission from the Ito Foundation to help continue his legacy and learned the gestures while dancing with the Repertory Dance Theatre in Utah, he said. If time allows, the session will end with a chance for the audience to learn movements of the gesture series.

“Learning the gesture series is actually quite meditative,” Wood said.

Ito was born in Tokyo and created gesture series during a successful dance career in the U.S., which ended after Pearl Harbor was attacked and Ito was arrested and detained under incorrect suspicions due to his connections in Japan.

Later the U.S. government sent him back to Japan and after the war he became the dance director at the Ernie Pyle Theater, which entertained American troops. He never created dances again, though his series influenced jazz dance and continues to inspire modern dance forms, Wood said.

Ito, who worked and was recognized internationally, was quoted as saying: “In my dancing, it is my desire to bring together the East and the West. My dancing is not Japanese. It is not anything ‑‑ only myself.”

“They’re simply him,” Wood said. “And I think that that’s something that I really value about our art form, about dance, is that dance is an expression of humanity and our humanhood.”

The Casper College theater department’s costume design and stage makeup instructor Darrell Wagner will lead an “Avoiding Cultural Appropriation” discussion, where he’ll offer many examples of cultural appropriation, such as Victoria’s Secret models wearing American Indian headdresses. He’ll talk about ways to avoid pitfalls and be more aware while creating and producing works of art, music, literature and theater — such as how to appropriately stage characters or art forms of another culture.

“Are you appreciating it and are you paying a homage, or are you taking elements out of a culture, taking significant elements out, and getting a profit or prestige from using those elements?” he said

He’ll include examples from the college’s theater, like last semester’s “Around the World in 80 Days” where an actor who portrayed both a French and British console with her characters differentiated with two different hats. The easiest answer might have been to use a beret for the French character, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate for the role and becomes more of a stereotype, Wagner said. So they took the time to research and find two different hat styles that both said diplomat, he said.

Producing a play like “Rashomon” in Wyoming using an Asian art form of Kabuki also requires time in the production process for research and discussion to teach the students how to produce the play appropriately, he said.

The festival features the Casper College Department of Theatre and Dance’s opening of “Rashomon,” based on the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film and made into a three-time Tony-nominated Broadway play by Fay and Michael Kanin. The play runs from Thursday through March 3.

It incorporates techniques of Kabuki theater, including voice, movements, costumes, makeup and staging. Students learned from lectures and workshops with Kabuki master and director Shozo Sato, who visited in December, Casper College theater instructor Bill Conte said.

“It’s not often that we do this kind of work here at Casper College, and it was wonderful giving the opportunity for students to explore these techniques, which are generationally handed down from masters to students,” said Conte, who’s directing the production.

The play features a story of a murdered samurai and his victimized wife through three characters telling what they remember from court testimonies.

“We can never know finally what happened, especially if all we know is what people are telling us. And certainly I think that speaks to a lot of what we live in today,” Conte said. “We’re often met with people with conflicting stories, and we have to kind of judge based on what we’re hearing — in the absence of any other evidence — who we believe and who do you believe and why do you believe the people that you believe? Because each of these different characters has a different perspective on what they saw, and ultimately what’s happening in their memories is a reflection of themselves.”

Conte learned along with the students through the workshops with Sato, who even performed the tea ceremony, “which was to show us how precision and economy of movement pervades every aspect of Japanese culture and aesthetic,” Conte said. “He really wanted to impress that upon us and the very ritualistic approach that Kabuki actors take to their craft to their art.”

They gained from their experiences with Sato an understanding that their goal should be not to reproduce Kabuki theater but combine Eastern and Western theater forms “imbued with ‘Kabuki-ness,’ as Mr. Sato put it,’” Conte said in a press release.

“I think that as many different artistic and cultural perspectives as we can experience,” Conte said, “is to the benefit of ourselves and our students.”

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Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner


Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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