REVIEW: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

It’s not too often that you see dancers en pointe, wearing Hawaiian shirts with sunglasses and holding up a beach towel.

But that’s exactly what Salto Dance Company did in their winter show, Reverence. And though unexpected, it was a move that cemented Salto’s identity as one of the most unique, innovative dance groups on campus.

Reverence is a French word meaning “a feeling of great respect.” At the end of performances, dancers perform a gesture called a reverence to show respect to the audience, and the audience applauds to return that respect to the dancers. After Salto’s opening number, the club presidents came onstage to teach the audience how to perform a reverence. Then they continued the show and put the crowd under their spell.

Salto is known for its blend of many different styles of dance; they are the only student dance group on campus that performs en pointe, but they also perform contemporary and lyrical pieces. Many of their dances transcend genre entirely. And indeed, Reverence provided a perfect blend of tempo, genre and mood.

Say My Name was the first piece that really stuck out to me.  A contemporary piece, the choreography pulled me in from the beginning and the leaps and turn sequences were technically impressive.

Several dances evoked nature with their movement. Revolution, a contemporary pointe piece, flowed like water, and San Francisco, the second act finale, made me envision birds. The technique and choreography were beautiful and captivating.

The solos — mostly classical variations — also impressed. The audience oohed and ahed over the difficulty and quality of movement. However, where Salto really shined was when it went outside its comfort zone.

Sunshine was the first example. Set to the song by Kyle and Miguel, it featured dancers en pointe wearing beach clothes. In the middle of the number, they held up a towel with the words “Salto brings the sunshine.” The dance was full of personality and evoked an almost Broadway feel. It was unexpected from a ballet and contemporary company, but it worked.

And when Salto came on for the second act, their opening number was entitled simply Broadway. Set to a medley of songs from Chicago and A Chorus Line, the musical theatre number was different from anything else in the show. It showcased a completely different side of the dancers and brought out a performance quality that was sometimes lacking in other pieces, especially in the first act.

Another unique piece was Focus, which featured three dancers using contemporary technique and three dancers en pointe. The choreography blended the two styles seamlessly and highlighted the strengths of each individual dancer.

When the show ended and the dancers came out for a curtain call, they did their reverence. And while the gesture was meant to show respect to us to thank us for coming, all I could feel was respect for them for blending so many styles, for displaying a full range of emotion, for pulling me in and never looking back.

PREVIEW: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

My lasting impression of Salto Dance Company was this: as their first act finale in their winter show, their dancers came out wearing pointe shoes and Chance the Rapper’s signature “3” baseball cap. They danced ballet to Summer Friends. And it was captivating.

In my first year writing for ArtSeen, I’ve learned that Michigan has a lot of dance groups, and it especially has a lot of contemporary dance groups. But what Salto — a self-choreographed contemporary ballet company — brings to the stage is completely different from all the others.

In their fall show, they mixed the technical mastery of classical ballet with the artistry of contemporary. They performed both variations of well-known ballets and original pieces — many en pointe — both solo and in groups.

After the first impression, I’m ready for more. That’s why I’m going to Reverence, Salto’s spring showcase. Of all the dance shows I’ve seen in my first year here — and the number is close to 10 — Salto’s winter performance was one of my favorites.

I’m supposed to write what to expect in these previews, but the truth is I don’t know. I thought I knew what to expect the first time, and I was wrong. This isn’t your traditional ballet company. Instead, I’ll say this: expect to see something you’ve never seen before, something you’ve never even thought about seeing before. Something like ballet to Chance the Rapper.

Reverence by Salto Dance Company runs Saturday, April 21 at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for adults and free for children under 12 or with a Passport to the Arts.

REVIEW: Mo Lowda and the Humble

I sat down to write this review and realized I didn’t even know how to begin.

I pulled out my notebook, normally filled to the brim with detailed notes about each song. But this time, my notes were sparse, the specifics absent.

That’s the effect this show had on me.

The Quiet Hollers and Mo Lowda and the Humble — two little-known and criminally underrated indie bands — served as dual headliners. Both played for about an hour, and unlike some other groups I’ve seen at The Ark, they didn’t do a lot of talking in between songs in their set. Instead, they let the music speak for itself.

“This is a song you can dance to,” the lead singer of The Quiet Hollers said while introducing his song Medicine. “It’s about panic disorder.”

That sentence was a good summation of their set. The band’s lyrics referenced social issues ­— toxic masculinity, the prison-industrial complex — and mental illness. But their sound was loud and full. Their instruments were typical of those used in a rock band, except for one thing: they had a violinist.

The violin added depth to many of their numbers, and its parts were often the highlight of their numbers for me. The unique acoustics of The Ark only added to the experience.

Watching Mo Lowda and the Humble was like watching a jam session. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a band get more physically into their music. So it’s no surprise that their instrumental breaks were the highlight of their set. They also varied the vibe of their songs — playing something louder and harder one minute, and a more mellow, acoustic piece the next. The variation added depth to their show. Not all bands can make both loud and soft stuff work; Mo Lowda and the Humble could.

Normally, this is the place where I’d describe my favorite songs from both sets or where I’d do in-depth analysis on their structure or lyricism. But that’s the thing. I enjoyed the show so much that the idea that I had to write down the details slipped my mind. By the time I realized, it was too late. I can’t tell you why I enjoyed each part of the set, only that I did. That I enjoyed it so much, I neglected my duties as a reviewer.

The thing about music is that it’s easy to get lost in it. Sometimes I sit down fully intending to do homework, but I make the mistake of putting on a good song first. I get wrapped up in the harmonies and carried away by the melodies. And when it’s live, that effect is only magnified. I was sitting there for two and a half hours, my sole job to watch this concert and review it. Take some notes. Remember which songs I liked. But I forgot what music does, and I got lost.

And that’s the best compliment I could give.

PREVIEW: Mo Lowda

Senior year of high school, a friend texted me a Spotify link.

This was par for the course with this particular friend; we had similar music tastes and we would always send each other the songs we obsessed over. This time, he sent me a song I had never heard of: Curse the Weather by Mo Lowda and the Humble.

So I put on my headphones and gave the song a listen. I figured it would be the traditional indie rock we both listened to. I was wrong.

Curse the Weather was, and still is, one of the most unique songs on my playlists and I love it. I love the guitar riff that makes up most of the chorus. I love the lyrics — “I always listen to the optimistic spirit in me” is always running through my head. I love Mo Lowda’s raspy voice.

So, as has happened several times this year, I was browsing through the calendar for The Ark when I saw an artist I recognized.

A band I know and like at my favorite venue in town? Sign me up.

Mo Lowda and the Humble — with opening act The Quiet Hollers, an indie songwriter band who sing about the social landscape — will bring a different sound to The Ark than the venue is traditionally associated with. That’s my favorite thing about The Ark — even if I know the band, I’ve learned that I never really know what to expect. Every show is unique, and every show leaves me in awe.

Mo Lowda and the Humble with The Quiet Hollers come to The Ark tomorrow, March 26, at 8 PM. Tickets are $15 online, at The Ark or at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.

REVIEW: Edges

College is a time for doing stupid things, they say. And having done more than my fair share of them myself, I can attest to the highs and lows of adulting. But at least I learned a little about myself in the process.

That’s the feeling Pacek and Paul — Michigan students themselves when they wrote the show — knew all too well. And it’s the feeling Edges hits right on the head.

Edges is more a song cycle than a full musical with a plot and fleshed-out characters, a show that feels more like an intimate confessional than a Broadway spectacle. Penny Seats’ staging did justice to that. Kerrytown Concert House is literally a converted house, adding to the idea that these characters were more than just written constructs — they could have been any of us.

The first half of the show was set up almost like a group therapy session. The only sets were a pair of stools, and when it was each character’s turn to sing, they would take a stool and tell their story as the other actors watched from the audience. This worked with the material of the show, but at the same time, some of the actors sat on the right side of the stage, where there were no audience members and where the majority of the audience couldn’t see. I don’t want to fault the company for working within the confines of their space, but this setup annoyed me slightly throughout, as the actors would be turned to the side at times singing to the other characters, making them hard to hear.

Edges operates in two halves — essentially, falling in love and falling out of love. After the opening number (a quintessential “I want” song about being afraid to be who you really are), various characters took their turn singing about all of love’s messy parts. The songs themselves were intensely relatable, but adding to that was the fact that the characters are not given names, adding to the idea that they could be any of us.

One highlight was “I Hmm You” — one of the few songs in the first half sung by two characters — which was equal parts awkward and delightful. The actors executed perfectly what it was like to be a 20-something in love.

But Edges had its share of emotional numbers as well, my favorite of which was “Lying There.” The song, about lying next to the person you love, unable to sleep wondering if they feel the same way, was resonant and heartfelt.

The show’s shift happened at “The Facebook Song,” the first ensemble number since the opener. “The Facebook Song” was hilarious (even if slightly outdated — the number one way you can tell this show was written in 2005 is that Facebook was not only the go-to social network for college-aged kids, it was still called “the Facebook”) and the choreography — where each character held up a cardboard Facebook icon and turned it over to reveal certain postings — only added to the song’s comedy. However, I also felt that the song almost didn’t belong in the show. The other numbers, while not necessarily connected, showed a clear arc, but “The Facebook Song” seemed to not fit in with that arc. It seemed almost as if it were in the show as a marker of sorts between the first half and second half. However, “The Facebook Song” brought down the house and for good reason, so I’m loathe to say it didn’t belong.

In the second half, the audience learns that the relationships set up in the first half haven’t been going well, as the various characters come back onstage and sing an array of breakup songs that are at times hilarious and heartfelt. Actor Emily Manuell — who nailed the emotionally-resonant “Lying There” in the first half — was given a complete change of pace in “In Short,” a number about all the ways she wished the person that once kept her awake would just die. She nailed the comedic timing of the piece, another showstopper that left me laughing out loud.

The show wrapped up with another ensemble number where the characters come together saying they’re ready to be loved again. They’ll likely go through all the same feelings again, but at least they’ll be better for it. And that’s where the show packs its real punch.

At times, Edges was almost painfully relatable, eliciting uncomfortable laughter and the kind of awkwardness that’s funny because it’s real.

That’s how you know they nailed it.

PREVIEW: Edges

Thirteen years ago, two 19-year-old Michigan students had a problem. They were being shunned from their school musicals.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were still cast, but were given background roles. That’s not out of the ordinary for underclassmen. But, well, theatre kids and college students can be cocky — I should know, I’ve been both — and Pasek and Paul weren’t satisfied. So they decided to write their own show, Edges, about their experience. After all, when you write the show yourself, you can have whatever role you want.

Ask most people today, and they’ve never heard of Edges. And it’s mostly theatre buffs who know the names Pasek and Paul. But their other works are a different story.

La La Land. Dear Evan Hansen. The Greatest Showman.

The accolades are piling up for the pair. They’ve won Golden Globes, Oscars, Grammys and Tonys — a meteoric rise for two guys who graduated only a decade ago.

And while Pasek and Paul are more known for their recent work, Edges — a coming-of-age song cycle written about our generation — is still a cult classic among a certain subset of college students. Edges is no slouch, either, as it won the pair a Jonathan Larson Award (named after the late Rent composer) at the age of 19 — the youngest to ever win.

This week, we, too, can return to Pasek and Paul’s roots and be transported into a world not so different from our own.

I wonder what Pasek and Paul, the 19-year-old theatre “rejects,” would think if you told them that in 2018, their story would almost seem like one right out of a musical — the cocky youth, the show-within-a-show, their rise to the top.

And I don’t know about you, but I want to see where it all began.

Edges, presented by the Penny Seats Theatre Company, runs at the Kerrytown Concert House February 8-9 and 14-16 at 8 PM and February 11 at 4 PM. Tickets are $15 general admission online or at the door, or free with a Passport to the Arts.