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: Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back by Pure Dance

Apparently, the dancers at Pure Dance had been busy last semester.

Their annual showcase took place last Sunday evening and featured nine stunning student-made choreographies complete with all the twirls, body rolls, and hair whips you could ask for. Furthermore, we were treated to a diverse range of guest performances by Salto, Gimble, FunKtion, Groove, Blue Bop Jazz, DB3, and Flowdom. Sitting in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, the energy of the crowd was close-knit and infectious–people were not shy about loudly cheering for their friends on stage. 

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the showcase’s theme coming in, but I found that they were able to present a really interesting curation of dances embodying “resurgence”… and dare I say sexiness?

My favorite number had to be Illusion of Bliss, which was impressively performed in black high heel boots. The contrast between the slow hard beats of the beginning section with these incredibly sensual movements backed by Alicia Keys’ soulful raspy voice and the ending section with the imagery of the dancers sinking to their knees in prayer as she sings “I don’t wanna be a fallen angel” told a compelling story. Meanwhile, Mad at You and War of Hearts approached the concept from a more modern/contemporary angle, with flowing cascades of movement. Like a Boy seemed to pull from old-school hip hop influences with sharp jutting elbows while Toxic had a high-energy hard rock edge such that the dancers were practically throwing themselves into poses.

I also thought the guest performers did an incredible job. Hip hop dance practice videos on Instagram are probably one of my guilty pleasures, so I loved FunKtion’s tight transitions and incorporation of humor as well as Flowdom’s clean hits and charisma. Plus, it was nice to see Blue Bop Jazz’s saxophones hyping each other up during their solos!

The final choreography was Bride, which created some beautiful visuals out of the entire ensemble. The dancers wore a pretty pastel/neutral color palette and had a continual flow of synchronized bodies passing on and off stage, which paired well with the bubbly hopeful music. As a goofy ending note, the showcase fittingly concluded with everyone dancing to Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack for the curtain call.

Congratulations to all the performers who were a part of the event! I look forward to seeing what Pure Dance will bring next.

REVIEW: Belle

I REALLY wanted to like Belle.

I’ve loved many of Mamoru Hosoda’s other movies: Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and of course the O.G.: Digimon Adventure 1999 (my childhood). My gut reaction after watching Belle was to go back and rewatch all of those instead.

Belle is an animated film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast that follows a high school student named Suzu who escapes the insecurity and loneliness of her real life through ‘U’, a dazzling virtual alternate universe where she can be someone completely different. Her virtual persona quickly rises to extreme popularity and she has to navigate these dual versions of herself while going through the trials and triumphs of high school, love, friendship, and grief.

Let’s start with the Good:
[1] The animation was BEAUTIFUL. I mean OH MY GOODNESS can we sit and appreciate how far animation has come in the last decade? The depictions of the alternate Digiverse ‘U’ were so effective at showing how vast it was, how many detailed moving parts there were within it. The characters truly came alive on screen as people with blood, sweat, and tears.
[2] The sound design was also incredible. Suzu’s singing features prominently throughout as a metaphor for her confidence in herself and her love for her mother. The songs were all super catchy and well written and lingered in my mind long after the movie ended.

Alas, now we must go onto the reasons this movie was not my cup of tea, despite the great art and sound:
[1] The story was a big bowl of confusion soup. In a sci-fi movie about the metaverse, I expect the plot to be a little out there, but some things in this movie just go beyond logical human behavior. After the umpteenth weird sideball I could no longer suspend my disbelief. The story felt weak and underdeveloped.

[2] This movie wanted so bad to be a character-driven film, and it almost got there! At the beginning, the writing was strong – the main character Suzu had a powerful backstory that set the audience up to understand her struggles and root for her. And listen, I admire an aspirational storyteller. But if stories are onions, this one had about 10 too many layers. There’s a random scene that’s supposed to nod at Beauty and the Beast but it doesn’t make sense given the characters and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the story. Near the end of the movie the tone suddenly goes from adventurous to extremely serious and then back to playful so quickly I got whiplash. Not even the most masterful chef could fold that many plotlines into one and tie them up with a neat little bow. But that is what this movie tried to do and the result was a cliche ending that didn’t seem resonant with the important questions posed at the beginning of the movie: How do we continue living with joy when we’ve lost the irreplaceable? How do we learn to love ourselves? How do we rediscover our love for the things we loved as children? I’ve heard Hosoda described as a “maximalist” storyteller and here I’d have to agree — there was too much, and as a result there wasn’t enough.

All in all, if you’re an anime connoisseur then I would say give this a watch for the dazzling animation. But life is short, and in my humble opinion Hosoda’s Summer Wars is much, much better — spend your two hours in that world instead.

REVIEW: The Shining

As the night grew cold and the streets of Ann Arbor became quiet, horror enthusiasts and casual moviegoers alike herded into the beautiful interior of Michigan Theatre. The theatre’s 10 pm screening of The Shining was a part of their Late Nights at the Michigan series, promoting one-time screenings of classic films across all genres. I was particularly drawn to The Shining; I’d seen it before, but I’d never had the chance to watch the film in theatres, where it was intended to be viewed in all its horrifying glory. The theatre’s vast open spaces and elaborate antique decor mirror the atmosphere of The Shining‘s infamous Overlook Hotel, in which the film takes place; a troubled family lives in the vacated hotel for a long winter, falling victim to the effects of isolation and the hotel’s dark history. In addition to the actual venue drawing me into the movie, the experience of the big screen and immersive sound made the viewing experience infinitely better than the other times I’d watched The Shining on small screens at home.

One thing I’ve noticed about moviegoers at Michigan Theatre is that they truly love movies. The crowd reacted collectively to the scariest moments and even laughed at parts, appreciating the film’s quality while keeping a lighthearted attitude. After the two and a half exhilarating and exhausting hours, applause echoed throughout the room, moviegoers excitedly discussing the experience. If you’re looking for a passionate group to appreciate artistry with, the Michigan Theatre is the place to go.

The Shining was a wild ride; Jack Nicholson’s warped facial expressions are infinitely more terrifying when his face is twenty feet tall, and the huge screen has the same effect on the empty hotel’s menacing interior. I love The Shining for its simplicity relative to other popular horror flicks; it relies on psychological manipulation, incredibly slow build-up, and just enough context clues to keep the audience scared of the mysteries that lurk behind each corner, rather than constant jump-scares and disturbing imagery. The few scenes that revolve around actual violence and horror, rather than the threat of it, are so powerful and wisely executed that they are all timeless images ingrained in pop culture. Even the cast is minimal; all three main actors deliver incredible performances, so the film never feels phony— sometimes Shelley Duvall’s terror felt too real.  From Jack Torrence’s cold “Kubrick stare” to the motif of the axe and a blood-filled hallway, The Shining has found a way to be beautifully simple and avoid horror overkill while reigning as the king of horror for forty years, scaring generations to come.

Although this screening was a one-time event, Michigan’s Late Nights at the Michigan series continues through February. Tickets are only $8.50 for students, and they’re selling fast, so be sure to check out upcoming screenings for an exciting way to spend a Friday night!

REVIEW: Drive My Car

Warning: Slight spoilers for the film’s exposition

Just yesterday, a few of my classmates and I went to see the premiere of Drive My Car (2021) in the State Theater. The Japanese film was directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and based on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami, whose works have been bestsellers within and outside of Japan. 

I went into the film expecting a touching or tragic romance, the exposition of the film began to hint at the latter when the main character Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) walks in on his wife Oto Kafuku (Reika Kirishima), in the throes of passion with a young actor that she works with. I expected a dramatic confrontation between the husband and wife, but Yūsuke’s response to the incident is passive, as he simply walks away before Oto or the actor sees him. 

Despite the cheating, their love appears genuine, as both of them are drawn together by the art of storytelling; he is a stage actor, and she is a writer for television dramas. However, the movie takes its turn from the romance as Oto soon passes, and Yūsuke fails to gain closure in regards to the relationship with his wife.

The second act begins when Yūsuke is hired a driver, the young Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), when he takes a job to be a director for a stage play of Uncle Vanya. Their relationship starts with indifference towards each other yet progresses each time he requests Misaki to play the recording of his wife reciting lines from the play for him to practice with. Misaki has past grievances of her own and together she and Yūsuke help each other find closure with each of their dead family’s strange behaviors.

At first, Yūsuke did not want anyone other than him to drive his car, but he soon grows comfortable with Misaki’s driving and it is as if he has finally let go of that independent passivity that held him back from confronting his wife. This allows Misaki to reveal her trials of being raised by the abusive mother who she let die during a mudslide that collapsed her house. The comradery that the two find together is wonderfully developed without the need for overt displays as they simply build their trust in each other with each facet of information they release.

Being three hours long, the movie’s pacing is quite slow. The exposition itself took almost an hour to set up. However, if you have the patience and want to watch a film that touches your heart with a unique friendship, make sure to catch Drive My Car at the State Theater.

REVIEW: Schwarze Adler (Black Eagles)

Last Friday the German Department hosted a free curated screening of the 2021 independent documentary film “Schwarze Adler” (translated from German: “Black Eagles”). The space they held it in at North Quad was great – it was huge, with floor-to-ceiling windows spanning the length of one wall, whiteboards and cushy chairs spanning the other, and a big blank wall up front to project the film onto. The physically-distanced chairs they’d set up in the room were fairly packed with people coming for the event.

Watching this documentary was a pretty emotional experience for me (which is why it took me so long to write this review!).

Steffi Jones, former defender for the national team

Seeing footage in 2021 of fans at a soccer game doing the Hitler salute will do something to your psyche. I’m privileged — some people don’t have the choice of whether to turn away from the screen, because they live through this every day. Imagine being a player on a professional sports team where the only difference between you and your teammates is that your skin is a shade darker. You’re trying to focus on the game you’ve trained for for most of your life when you suddenly hear 1000s of fans in the stands surrounding you, most of which are from your own country where you were born and raised, yelling at you to go back where you came from. That’s an experience that was recounted by every single German soccer player interviewed in this documentary.

The way fans treat athletes is something worth having a whole discussion on. Cheering for your favorite players and booing when the other team scores is all good fun. But when that morphs into jeering, chanting hateful racial slurs, and hurling insults at players, that’s when it becomes absolutely cruel. Michigan football games are not immune to this behavior. We put athletes on pedestals, but they are not made of titanium, they’re made of flesh and blood! They’re humans just like us and when fans dehumanize them, they deprive them of so much: joy from being on the field, joy from being with their teammates, and the focus they need to stay in the game.

Gerald Asamoah, former forward

Many of the players in the documentary talked about how hearing those shouts of “go back to your country” and “kick out the negro” would affect their playing, and they thought about it for the whole rest of the game. At one point one of the players, Gerald Asamoah said he had “never seen such hate anywhere else before.” One of his fellow teammates of color left Germany to play for Ghana because of the experience. Another player, after being subjected to it for half a game, picked up a small red crate on the sidelines and threw it down in a fit of anger. His teammates said nothing to him — the referee just handed him a yellow card. Another recounted how sad it made him when he saw that not only were the parents chanting slurs, but their small children were too.

Almost all of the players also made connections between the way they were treated to Germany’s dark history. “How can you show this behavior when we have seen exactly where it leads?” I think the same could be said of racism in our country. The U.S. has an equally dark history, it’s just that it’s usually glossed over in our history textbooks.

When the credits began to roll, I was feeling kind of hopeless and defeated. I know that’s not the right response to world issues, but I couldn’t help it. But then one of the professors from the German department got up to say a few words.
Here’s what she said, paraphrased:
“Don’t be disheartened. These thoughts of racism have accrued over centuries and it will take time to undo them. Martin Luther King Jr. was only assassinated 52 years ago so really we’re just at the beginning of the work to undo it. And don’t feel bad if you are not the one who goes out and marches and shows up in a big way. The small acts matter to. Every act of kindness, and every act that does something to acknowledge the humanity in others matters.”

So go out and show up in a small or in a big way this week, and know that we have a long way to go but every act matters.

PREVIEW: Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back by Pure Dance

I don’t typically frequent dance events, but with a name like “Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back,” I had to check this one out. 

Pure Dance is a student-run organization at the University of Michigan that welcomes dancers with a broad range of backgrounds. They will be hosting their annual showcase this Sunday, featuring member-choreographed dances and guest performances from an exciting mix of a capella, instrumental, and other dance groups.

Although I have long buried my childhood ballerina days, I am excited to see some of my friends perform on stage. Additionally, I look forward to getting to know some of the other performance groups on campus. While Pure Dance is known for doing contemporary and jazz dance styles, I have also been told to look out for ballet, hip hop, and K-pop!

Come support Pure Dance on Sunday, January 23rd at 6:00 pm at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater! Free tickets are available through this month’s Passport to the Arts.

Event info: myumi.ch/488My