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.

PREVIEW: Amadeus

On September 15 at 2 pm, UMS will be screening the classic 1984 movie Amadeus in Hill Auditorium, with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing the soundtrack live! The movie, which was originally a play, tells the story of Mozart (Tom Hulce), and the jealous fascination of Vienna court composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, who won Best Actor for role) regarding Mozart’s musical gifts.

Best of all, the score contains some of Mozart’s greatest compositions, including excerpts from The Magic Flute, the Symphony No. 25, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, and his Requiem – all live with the DSO!

For ticketing information, visit the Michigan League ticket office or go to https://ums.org/performance/amadeus/. As always, UMS student tickets are $12 or $20, depending on seat location.

REVIEW: The Farewell

The Farewell is a movie about an ending coming suddenly into sight. Billi (Awkwafina) comes home to do laundry and comes away with the knowledge that her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), has only a few months to live. With that fatal deadline looming, the entire family has decided to lie to Nai Nai, hoping to ease her mind by keeping the diagnosis of lung cancer a secret. Billi, though, has her doubts, complicated, in no small part, by her own need to say goodbye. But the rest of the family is insistent. They will gather together at Nai Nai’s apartment in China under the false pretense of a wedding. They will carry this secret so that Nai Nai won’t have to.

Much of the comedy comes from the fact that no one – not Billi, not her parents, not her uncles or cousins – can bear the weight of that secret entirely. The cracks widen with each barely mustered smile, with each nervous side-glance after a misplaced word. There is a palpable awkwardness to every interaction, as every member of the clan works to maintain a flailing façade. Even the shots are intentionally awkward. Frames are shot from the perspective of an individual in the scene, inserting the viewer first-hand into the lie. We are confronted by the knowing faces and a painful self-awareness. And we laugh as those faces contort into an expression resembling a smile. Because what else is there to do in a situation as dire as a coming death? So, the secret becomes an elaborate distraction, as much for the living’s sake as for the dying.

Together, the family help Nai Nai assemble the wedding. She attacks the tasks with a relentless zeal. There is no danger greater, after all, than a grandmother spurned. Of course, the wedding must have lobster instead of crab. Of course, the couple must be posed to indicate a perfect romance. Anything less would be unworthy of the family she has built. Nai Nia projects such familial fierceness that the false occasion takes on more than a tinge of truth. Feelings that were once faked become frighteningly real. Tensions buried for years bubble up and erupt. For as much as the family is united, they are also fractured in ways that only family can be. Billi’s father (played as a plodding gloom by Tzi Ma) and her uncle (Yongbo Jiang) are constantly at odds. They have been separated by long years and longer distances. While Billi’s father moved his small portion of the clan to the United States, his brother chose Japan. Now, they are brought together once again, back to where they came from. They share cigarettes at night while splitting a much heavier burden. They will have to be the pillars of the family from now on.

These poignant, lingering moments are sometimes interrupted by less poignant moments that linger even longer. The director, Lulu Wang, often uses slow-motion shots for emphasis but it comes off as syrupy instead. There is a sense of trying a bit too hard to romanticize the moment, as if the movie is memorializing this moment just as the characters are memorializing theirs. It is a good sentiment, executed less than perfectly. By, what feels like, the fiftieth poignant moment, you want the film to move on. But it can’t. The movie is stuck. The characters are stuck between celebrating life and mourning death, one that is still approaching. The film is premised on binaries. To tell or not to tell. Lobster or crab. Life or death. But as each character discovers, they reside in spaces that feel not quite right and not quite wrong. The Farewell meanders well, following the characters as they explore the mediums between the extremes. It is the static points where it struggles.

Billi, mainly drifts between the extremes of modernity and traditionally held values. It is also a question of how others perceive her, a young Chinese American living alone in New York City, and how she sees herself, a struggling writer searching for some of that childhood stability. She is, like many first-generation Americans, struggling to reconcile the alienation she feels from all sides. In herself, Billi embodies every influence throughout her life, from the gentle reproaches of Nai Nai and her parents, to the harsher financial admonishments of the American economy. The Farewell, then, is not only a film about moving in ambiguous places but also how those ambiguities can be incorporated within. The Farewell doesn’t much deal with resolute truths. It is more comfortable with lies and half-facts. We all are. And in death, as in life there really is no such thing as an absolute surety.

PREVIEW: Urinetown

Have some particular thoughts about capitalism, the legal system, and bureaucracy? Well then this is the perfect show for you! Urinetown is a satirical comedy musical that takes place in a Gotham-like city, where there is a government-enforced ban on private toilets. Forced to pay for public amenities that profits a single company, the people fight back against the system and plan a revolution. Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s bringing this unique musical to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre this weekend. Tickets are $15 for students, but with a Passport to the Arts, students can attend for free!

REVIEW: Snarky Puppy

To say I’m excited for the new UMS season after seeing the season opener is an understatement. There was no better way to start the school year off right than with Snarky Puppy, a band with skills beyond words and energy beyond wonder.

The night started off with Alina Engibaryan, which was the best way it could’ve started. Michael League, Jason “JT” Thomas, and Chris Bullock joined her onstage, accompanying her as she played the piano and sang the words that found their way deep into your soul in the powerful yet sultry jazz that gave you chills. She sang songs from her newest album, “We Are,” and every word she sang, every note she played, felt very pure and raw and honest. There were moments of improvisation from the members of Snarky Puppy that added an extra layer of meaning to her songs.

With Alina Engibaryan setting the tone for the night, all 3000+ listeners in Hill Auditorium were ready for Snarky Puppy, and the high expectations Alina set on the stage were met the minute the first notes filled the auditorium. The nine amazingly talented musicians of Snarky Puppy took everyone through a rollercoaster of a night, speeding things up with unbelievable improvisational solos, and then slowing it down with that same fading echo. Each member had their moment: JT Thomas on the drums and Nate Werth on percussion had a captivating duet moment; Shaun Martin transformed the keyboard into something much more than 88 keys with his talk box skills; Jay Jennings and Chris Bullock added a range of flare and style on the trumpet and tenor saxophone; Justin Stanton jumped between the keyboards and his own trumpet, sometimes playing both at the same time; Chris McQueen, Zach Brock, and Michael League kept the night going on the guitar, violin, and bass with a flash of rhythm.

Playing new songs from their recent album “Immigrance”, the collective’s most recent tunes brought a whole new meaning to jazz fusion, and even introduced the style of Moroccan Gnawa to everyone. It was impossible to feel disconnected from the music the entire night, but the coolest moment of the night was when everyone started clapping, either in 3s or 4s. The entire Hill Auditorium clapped to form this funky rhythm, and it was in that moment that I felt more connected to all 3000+ people clapping with me, more connected to the members of Snarky Puppy onstage cueing and keeping us onbeat, and more connected to the music that reverberated positivity, peace, and joy through my entire body and the entire venue.

Snarky Puppy was exhilarating, and I have no hesitation calling it one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. With a dash of jazz, a hint of fusion, a kick of funk, and a whole lot of energy and passion, Snarky Puppy’s indescribable presence makes them unique, and their music that transcends all distinct categories makes up the core of Snarky Puppy and what makes them stand out from the crowd.

PREVIEW: Downton Abbey

If you were a fan of the British television series Downton Abbey, which aired on PBS as part of Masterpiece Classic, you won’t want to miss the new film featuring the formidable residence and its inhabitants.

The film, which is set in 1927, is centered around a visit from King George V and Queen Mary. It will mark the return of the many popular characters, including the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and the Countess of Grantham (Cora McGovern). Downstairs characters will also make their return to the screen, including cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), and lady’s maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt).

The film is set to be released in the United States on September 20, but the Michigan Theater is also hosting a special sneak peak screening at 7 pm on September 12! Tickets for the movie (both for sneak peak screening or showings after the release date) may be purchased at the Michigan Theater or online at https://www.michtheater.org/show/downton-abbey/

PREVIEW: Ax Plays Brahms – The Ann Arbor Symphony

Join the GRAMMY-nominated pianist Emanuel Ax and the Ann Arbor Symphony on Friday, September 13 for a night of great music! The headline piece on the program is Brahm’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 83, and it is preceded by Copland’s quintessentially American composition Appalachian Spring, as well as Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. A playlist of the pieces slated for the Ann Arbor Symphony’s 91st season is available on their website.

This concert is on the Passport to the Arts, meaning that with the voucher, you can go for free! Simply pick one up (they are available at many locations across campus) and redeem at the door. Otherwise, student tickets are available online for $10 using the code STU_SPEC10.