Welcome to [art]seen!

Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions.
If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your writing! Read more about Blogging Opportunities here… We review applications and hire twice a year, in September and January.
Email us at arts@umich.edu with any questions.

REVIEW: Willy Wonka

As the opening chords to the ever-ethereal “Pure Imagination” sang out from the pit orchestra and the lights dimmed, the audience hushed with anticipation. Some in the audience may have been surprised to hear a female voice float out from the stage- I, for one, was excited.

Pioneer High School’s Willy Wonka challenged a lot of my prior notions of what the show should be. With the two leads, Wonka and Charlie, gender bent to become female characters, the fun and frothy children’s tale became a story of women dreaming big and accomplishing even bigger things. These two phenomenal young women blew away the audience with their crystal-clear vocals and undeniable charm in their respective roles. You would never have guessed that it was originally any other way.

Some other highlights of the show included the witty banter between the four Bucket family grandparents stuck in one communal bed in the poor household. Despite their bleak background, they provided an air of comedy and lightness from their mishearings to their unending support of our main character, Charlie. Francisco Fiori, a Pioneer Senior, played Grandpa Joe with a particular level of lovability from the moment he hopped out of bed to wobble hilariously across the stage. The show was riddled with hidden technical gems such as the inflation of Violet Beauregarde into a real-life blueberry and funny moments such as the “Burping Song” where Charlie and her Grandfather literally burp themselves down from flying.

Ethan Steiner as Augustus and Ayla Hoermann as Mrs. Gloop were another delightful surprise, delivering some incredibly realistic German accents and a exaggerated obsession with food that was enough to make anyone smile. I guess no one should be surprised, since Ethan Steiner was recently seen in the stage recording of Disney’s Newsies. No big deal. Of course I couldn’t not mention the Oompa Loompas and the ensemble as a whole, whose strong vocals, choreography during large group numbers, and aptly-timed entrances brought so much to the performance and really took it to the next level. And let me just gush about the set for a minute- an intricate shades-of-grey city backdrop that could turn and fold and move to become the inside of Willy Wonka’s colorful factory really took the audience with the cast on the journey of Charlie’s dismal world turned into endless possibility.

Overall, this show provided some feel-good whimsy and some serious talent not just for high school, but by any standards.

PREVIEW: UM Slam Poetry

This is a student event ran by UM Slam Poetry club and is at the Kalamazoo room in the Michigan League at 7pm on November 19th.

When you go on YouTube and look up great slam poems to watch, 90% of the time it is college students. This is because unlike music or theatre slam poetry doesn’t have a large professional field. This means that the pinnacle of talent is with amateurs at college slams! I’ve attended these slams in the past and have always been blown away by the talent. If you enjoy words spoken strongly backed by emotion, then Slam Poetry is for you.

If you enjoy writing slam poetry, any one can perform at this event. Just show up a little early.

I attached a slam poem, performed by a college student (although not at the University of Michigan).

Danish String Quartet

PREVIEW: Danish String Quartet

This Thursday, the Danish String Quartet returns to Rackham Auditorium to grace the UMS program for the second time. Their program for Thursday includes string quartet pieces by Haydn, Beethoven, and the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen. Although the quartet is now a world-renowned traveling group, they come from stunning humble and interesting origins. The three founding members of the group met at summer camp for musicians when not yet teenagers and formed friendships through playing soccer together. The group was officially formed when the members were just 15 and 16, and despite their notable success over the past 15 years, still name “hanging out with friends” as their favorite part of music.

Listen to the Danish String Quartet:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfuEIHEZobc

REVIEW: Beautiful Boy.

Beautiful Boy is like an idea of a great film, a summation of perfect things – virtuous moral, talented cast, a story with a capacity for emotion as deep as the ocean. It’s posed as an indie centrepiece in the film industry, especially anticipated with leads Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell. But Beautiful Boy, as a sum, is not as magnificent as its separate parts, playing everything a little too safely to hurt, a little too cleanly to feel. The gorgeous visuals and honest dialogue is lost to a sterile mood, a story that’s been overly delineated into clean lines.

As far as addiction memoirs go, this film is on the tamer side, almost feeling inhibited. Some of Beautiful Boy’s appeal is, however, its muted tones, the cyclic styles that the film runs in during its one hundred and thirty-nine-minute duration. It’s almost tiresome, the anticipation of everything falling apart, the highs and lows amid a sunny L.A. backdrop or the dark corner of a bathroom stall. The feeling of an emotional disconnect, the weight of a cyclonic helplessness seeps onto the screen as we follow Nic’s father, David, and his attempts to understand the rise and falls in his son’s addiction and recovery. Just like how David had told a young Nic in the airport in one scene – “Do you know how much I love you? If you could take all the words in the language, it still wouldn’t describe how much I love you. I love you more than everything” – Nic is his sun, as if he were heliotropic, moving in the same motions day and night.

The film isn’t dramatized in the sort of voyeuristic pull that watching a disaster unfold has like in some other drug films. There is a layer of abstraction that comes from Beautiful Boy being primarily focused on David and his otherwise idle life, with shots of rolling green lawns and kids’ swim meets. It’s the kind of complacency that drove Nic to crystal meth, an all-American boy with a suburban emptiness, a lethal boredom, a hole to fill. This mood is perfect in Beautiful Boy.

But for the moments where Beautiful Boy is supposed to emerge from its staid nature with the capability for heartache it has, it feels like a tick box on pain. Timothée Chalamet plays Nic with sensitivity that’s powerful, simultaneously a crude driving force and an acute fragility in each scene, with Steve Carell alongside, growing into his role the longer the film plays on, becoming more and more certain as David with each iteration of Nic’s relapse and recovery. Yet as a whole, Beautiful Boy feels not quite there. Despite a few significant scenes, there isn’t enough for it to rise from the consistent white noise of gloom that drowns the film.

Maybe this is its intention. The film has some rough edges carefully stripped away from the original written memoir, turning it into something more refined and clean and easy to digest. If it wanted to be more accessible, more focused on the particular struggle of loving someone already long gone, more soft-spoken and hopeful, then Beautiful Boy has accomplished that. Otherwise, it feels as if there is a loss of depth, a film that only treads in the shallows, waterlogged, when it was given an ocean.

Check out Beautiful Boy at Michigan Theater.

REVIEW: Weaving

It all started with a quote.

“I said to the sun, ‘Tell me about the big bang.’ The sun said, ‘it hurts to become.’” -Andrea Gibson

This quote actually embodies the theme of the play “Weaving” quite beautifully and fittingly, a story about becoming one’s true self and finding a place of belonging as that acceptance starts to settle in.

Vero and Bastion are two best friends in high school, both struggling to accept an identity that is true yet scary. Avery starts talking to Vero, lending her many books. Dominic and Bastion have been friends for a while, playing basketball every so often, but as Dominic is in his senior year of high school and Bastion is a year younger, confusing tensions and dynamics start to flare up.

In this play, Vero and Bastion were experiencing similar journeys in their denial and reluctant acceptance of their sexuality. However, they both couldn’t bring themselves to admit this to each other, showing how isolating such a revelation can be. It can be hard to admit something that the government and society has deemed as a sin or a vice or an indecent and inhumane act, whether it’s to yourself or your closest friend or your potential love interest that has sparked this all within you.

Bastion delivered a moving soliloquy during his history presentation, using prohibition as a metaphor for the LGBT community. The government can try to restrict people with all its power and the law, but the people will always persevere and push back. There was a rhythm and emotion to this speech, giving it a slam poetry-esque vibe that Sébastian Butler nailed with every trembling word and frantic pace.

Books played an important part of this play, with Avery giving Vero many books as her way of dropping a hint. For her paper, Vero wrote a literary criticism from a feminist lense, and while her teacher failed to appreciate what she had to say since she didn’t follow the prompt and quickly dismissed her objections to the heavily male-dominated curriculum in literature, Vero expressed the frustrations and the desire for recognition that many women feel today.

Hodges Adams wrote a chillingly realistic play of the everyday life of high schoolers in a town they couldn’t stand any longer. Every character in this story had some struggles. No one’s life is perfect, not the bullies or the happy, supportive friend. Natasha felt the pressures of applying to colleges and a suffocating grandfather. Though Marcus beat up Bastion in an act of homophobic violence, he was struggling with a substance-abusive family, having his own powerful take on prohibition. While this doesn’t excuse his intolerable behavior, it just shows that everyone is dealing with something under the surface others can’t see, accurately capturing the complexity of life and people.

I am incredibly grateful that Hodges Adams wrote this important piece of art and that they got to see it come alive in the Keene Theater by the RC Players. This play was incredibly moving and difficult to watch, precisely because it portrays the hard and strong life people of the LGBT community have to live to survive within themselves and within society.

REVIEW: MACfest

As I entered the theatre, it was clear that the A Cappella community on campus is more like a family. With members from various groups socializing amongst one another and with those in the audience, the air was one of amiability. You could tell that many of the performance-goers were close family and friends of the performers themselves.

Rackham Auditorium itself was quite the venue. From the vintage orange velvet seats to the intricate design on the ceiling to the pillars that act as entrances on stage, it provided a nice backdrop for the event.

Albeit a few technical difficulties with the sound equipment and some general disorganization in the entering and exiting of groups onto the stage, the night proved to be one of great entertainment. One of the highlights of the evening included the Friars, an all-male group that’s a subset of the Men’s Glee Club, duping the crowd with the Jonas Brothers equivalent of Rick-Rolling. They were as lovely, wacky, and tall as ever. Maize Mirchi and Amazing Blue both put forward an impressive stage presence and theatrical performance- showcasing their strengths as two of the most well-acclaimed competing groups on campus. With their contagious energy and shifting formations they were both engaged and engaging to the audience. Amazing Blue coins themselves as a group that isn’t afraid to take creative risks and with their unique take on the classic song “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas, they certainly lived up to that claim and I would say, the creative risk paid off. Similarly, Mirchi delivered on their promise of being a group that fuses together influences of South-Asian tradition with today’s music and did so in a captivating and impressive way. The Sirens entranced the audience with a sultry version of none other than the beloved line-dance, Cotton-Eyed Joe. Although a bit unorthodox, it ended up being quite hypnotic, from the soloists crystal clear vocals to the interlocking harmonies of the all-female group.

One of the biggest surprises of the evening was the guest performance by UM-Flint’s sole a cappella group the Flint Octaves, who brought one of the liveliest performances of the whole night, dancing and bright color scheme included. Good News and Kol HaKovad, the Christian and Jewish A Cappella groups on campus, respectively, brought great energy to the stage with fun and really solid-sounding vocals. Another group, the Sopranos, brought great “levels” to their powerful performance. It was really impactful to see such a large group of women singing in solidarity together on stage. The G-Men brought home the performance with their semi-alarming entrance turned into auditory inspiration. The self-proclaimed “premiere a cappella soccer team” know how to leave you eternally wondering when their song will be over but never wanting it to end.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the wide diversity of songs, styles, and presentations that each group brought to the stage and the individualistic twists they each took with their own renditions of music both familiar and unfamiliar to myself. As the semester comes to a close, many of these groups will hold a solo concert showcasing more of their own phenomenal work- if you get the chance, definitely don’t miss them.