REVIEW: SpringFest

This past week marked the annual SpringFest capstone event hosted by MUSIC Matters. Founded in 2011, MUSIC Matters purpose is to “utilize the power of music to unite the Michigan community and promote educational accessibility.” The organization spends the entire year hosting various events on and off campus to promote music and create cohesion amongst students. SpringFest is their culminating project that attracts an audience of 10,000 people for their daytime and nighttime events.

 

This year, the Daytime festival took over State St. and North U., hosting over 80 student organizations, 7 food truck vendors, live performances, and various pop-up shops. One of the newest additions to this year’s Daytime festival was hosting Ann Arbor artisans. Traditionally, corporate sponsors were invited to have pop-up shops but this year focused on inviting smaller companies and student sellers. Aside from this addition, the festival included live dance and music performances from student organizations such as Maize Mirchi, the Men’s Glee Club, and FunKtion. Another component of the festival that I personally enjoyed was the presence of various orgs that promote health, wellness, and sustainability. There were interactive events for yoga, sustainable food practices, and CAPS even had representatives from their CAPS In Action student committee. It was really inspiring to see so many talented, ambitious, and creative students showcasing their work and talent to the campus community.

 

Following the immersive Daytime festivities is (what I believe to be the more known of the two) the Nighttime Concert. Since 2012, MUSIC Matters has hosted artists Common, J. Cole, 2 Chainz, Migos, and Lil Yachty in Hill Auditorium. As a junior who is also a big fan of well-known hip-hop artists, this was surprisingly my first time ever attending. This year’s headliner was A$AP Ferg, otherwise known as a member of A$AP Mob. Amongst some of Ferg’s most popular songs are Plain Jane, Shabba, New Level, and Work REMIX. His opening acts consisted of two DJs and two performance groups.

 

The first DJ was Jeff Basta. Had it not been for him being the DJ to play as people were still entering the auditorium, I think he could have gotten a lot more energy out of the audience. I really enjoyed his music choice and his energy while playing was admirable considering not many others were entertained/paying attention. The second DJ was Namix who served as a transition for the first opening act — Tracy Money (IG: prodbytracy). “TracyGang #333” is a group of three current and former U-M students who go by the names of $cottie Pimpin’, Fatz, and Tracy D. Although this was not my first time seeing them perform, this was my first time seeing them own the stage in a large auditorium. Their performance got the crowd on their feet and ready for the night.

 

Following Tracy Money was B Free from Detroit. I could be biased, but my personal preference for style, originality, and overall entertainment purposes would choose Tracy Money over B Free’s performance. Nonetheless, both performances were a well-needed segway into opening for A$AP Ferg.

 

Ferg was full of energy and was an authentic performer. You could sense his desire to be just as engaged with the audience as we were with him. However, this desire quickly led to some shockingly inappropriate comments on his behalf targeted at several women in the audience. I think it’s reasonable for a performer to want to feel more connected with the audience and interact with them but to single specific women out and express sexual desires in front of everyone, into the microphone, was embarrassing and disgusting. The remainder of the concert left me feeling odd and distraught as I was stuck questioning “Did he really just say that”?? Carrying on, he performed all of my favorite songs and it was a fun concert. I’m certain that this will be remembered as one of my favorite undergraduate experiences, despite the belittling comments that put a damper on my overall impression.

Photos courtesy of IG: vinsanityproductions.co

REVIEW: The Lute: Cai BoJie (Chinese Opera)

The grand finale of the Confucius Institute was the best show I have seen in all my four years at Michigan. I appreciate the Confucius Institute for making my experience at U of M much more cultural and special, and congratulate them on all their success on U of M’s campus.

Chinese operas are more comprehensive than western operas because of the emphasis on movement and acting in addition to music and singing. These actors train their whole lives to be able to express subtle but deep emotions in their movements. I love how precise the movements align with the percussion and cymbals. Even when the actors were not moving they would stand in a beautiful pose flaunting their hands by elegantly contorting their fingers. Some other major differences between Western and Chinese opera include: Chinese opera has limited facial and mouth movements when actors sing, most of the singing from both male and female characters is an extremely high pitched falsetto, and the most important part of the clothing/costume is the sleeves. The costumes are extravagant. Dainty, light, silky, colorful dresses and robes combined with beautiful makeup and jewelry lining their hair. The male characters all had a feminine look to them because of the intense makeup and lack of facial hair. Still, sleeves are the most characteristic part of their clothes because of how the actors use their sleeves. Sleeves usually covering their hands would fly inward and outward with precision and control. The actors would twirl the sleeves occasionally allowing a glance at their fingers.

The plot was extremely Chinese because it was all about filial piety. It was a depressing story about a failed son without a happy ending. Still, this play was surprisingly comical. Cai BoJie often had me laughing, especially when he interacted with Lady Niu. Besides the irony and intended comedy in their scene together, something about how respectful and orderly he was to Lady Niu was funny. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of his esteemed attitude and his melancholy feelings. Maybe it was how unnatural their relationship felt having to address each other as “honored lady/husband”. One thing for sure is that the movements in Chinese opera give a sense of comedy vacant in Western operas or American musicals because we don’t have to wait for a joke to laugh, the subtle movements of the actors do the work.

The acting of the characters was truly incredible. Cai Bojie did a great job acting sorrowful and regretful. No matter what he was doing he always seemed conflicted. The scene where he was on his knees mourning his parents death was riveting.  WuNiang was an incredible actress as well. Wuniang had a persistent look of worry the entire play. This showed the hardships she had been through and helped the audience understand the depth of her depression. The most comical character was the monk in the temple. He had a silly face and was constantly laughing. His singing sounded more like a fools chant than a monk reciting a prayer or sutra.  I am curious if this was a commentary on monks? The monk seemed to care more about sucking up to Cai Bojie than actually performing rituals. Seeking money and donation must be his first priority.

Music is a central component of the story. It is through music that characters displayed their true emotions. The most beautiful music was when WuNiang told her tale through the pipa. In fact, this play is named after the pipa, lute means pipa in English. My favorite sounds besides the instruments were when the actors would laugh or cry.

My favorite scene was scene 3. It was interesting that Lady Niu wanted to fervently punish Cai BaoJie when it was WuNiang who had to endure all the hardships because of Cai BaoJie. Yet, WuNiang didn’t want any vengeance on Cai BoJie and was willing to go back and mourn for another twelve years. The best part was when WuNiang revealed the name of Cai BoJie and she and Lady Niu simultaneously shrilled.  All of a sudden they started to mimic each other, even slouching in the same manner.

This was a once in a lifetime treat that I will never forget; being able to see a first-class Chinese opera, in the front row and with English subtitles.

REVIEW: Bookmarks: Speculating the Future of the Library

Spread across campus in the Hatcher Graduate Library, Shapiro Undergraduate Library, and the Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, Bookmarks: Speculating the Future of the Library is a mixed media exploration that does just that.

The main installation in the Hatcher Graduate Library, In Search of the Pale Blue Spin, is an audio walk through the library created by Stephanie Rowden & Jennifer Metsker. Visitors may use their own personal device or borrow an mp3 player and headphones from the information desk. The walk is inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, and although I found the context of the story confusing, I must believe that that was part of the point.

More than anything, In Search of the Pale Blue Spin encourages “travelers” to stop and notice the details of the library. The calm voices in the recording, along with ethereal string bass and clarinet, usher listeners out of the everyday. You may have spent hours doing homework at the Hatcher Graduate Library, but have you ever stopped to take in the mosaic-like paintings in the North entrance, the arched ceiling of the reference room that is reminiscent of a train station, or the carvings of men in horses on the second floor? As the voice in the recording led me through the stacks in search of a mysterious book about Earth, I was able to be present in the library in a way that studying there doesn’t allow. I had never really stopped to take in the illuminated stained-glass window depicting a boat at sea, and I certainly had never noticed that it includes the letters “U M” at the top. Furthermore, I had never even been to some of the areas that the audio walk took me through.

Along the way, there are other pieces of art that are a part of Bookmarks. One of these works, Sophia Brueckner’s work Captured by an Algorithm, appears to be a set of Victorian-style porcelain plates at first look. However, further scrutiny, and a reading of the artwork’s description, reveals that the plates are printed with images made by applying Photoshop’s Photomerge algorithm to scans of romance novel covers. Each plate also includes a Kindle Popular Highlight from a romance novel. In other words, the set is a juxtaposition between what is old and what is new, and between what appears to be and what is.

Despite my enjoyment of In Search of the Pale Blue Spin, I cannot agree with its view of the library’s future. After heightening listeners’ appreciation of the library, the audio concludes, “Some of us have appointments to get to. Some of us are just tired. We need to say goodbye now. We need to say goodbye to the library, though we hope that it will still exist.” The World Book Encyclopedia may have become obsolete in the age of the Internet, but this does not mean that libraries are dead. They certainly are changing and must continue to, but evolution is the very thing that prevents extinction. In the twenty-first century, libraries have the opportunity to embrace and expand their role as epicenters of community and education, and we should be giving them new life by working to make them as accessible and relevant as possible, not mourning their death. We should not and cannot write off libraries just because the world (inevitably) is changing.

Bookmarks: Speculating the Future of the Library is free and open to the public and will continue through May 26. For more information, visit the exhibition’s webpage.

PREVIEW: Sweeney Todd

One of my regrets from High School was not seeing my school’s production of Sweeney Todd, but thanks to the department of musical theater I have been granted an opportunity to fulfill a past mistake. I am not a fan of anything scary, I have never seen a real horror movie because I can’t even make it through most commercials. I am making an exception for this show because I know it is going to be fantastic.  Sweeney Todd is about a barber who uses his barbershop to get revenge on the world. This musical has been on Broadway, won multiple awards including Tony awards, and has been critically acclaimed.

You can see this show Thusday (4/18) at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday (4/19-4/20) at 8pm or the Sunday matinee show at 2pm.

Review: The Lute

It is so cool that the Chinese opera came to Ann Arbor this past weekend and, while I don’t think I’ll become an avid fan of the art form, I’m really glad that I can say I’ve had the experience. I didn’t realize that this performance is in honor of the Confucius Institute ending its ten year contract with Umich. Apparently the University is planning on better incorporating the study of Chinese culture and history into its academics in lieu of a continued partnership with the Institute. However, I find it hard to believe that the University will be able to do so to the extent of the Confucius Institute and its programming, such as going to Chinese Americans’ homes for traditional cooking and cultural exchange. The director also stressed the difficulty in planning the opera’s visit to Ann Arbor during opening remarks Saturday night which makes me wonder if the current state of US-Chinese politics has something to do with it.
The performance itself was vibrant and expressive. While the singing wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I loved the costumes made of beautiful mixes of bright and pastel silk, interesting hats, and jewel encrusted headdresses. I especially appreciated that the performance featured a translation which was projected onto the back wall of the stage throughout the show. In my experiences with European opera you’re usually expected to know the German/Italian or just follow along based on the acting and music.
My expectation that the storyline would feel different from the typical European opera was correct. When I read the description of the story before seeing the performance I expected the opera to follow Cai Bojie’s trip to the capital and his first wife’s struggle to care for his parents then end with their reunion. Instead, the performance started with Cai Bojie finding his wife’s painting of his parents in the temple and focused mainly on hum reuniting with his first wife and the second wife coming to terms with the situation. While it felt a bit abrupt, like we had started in the middle of a story, it tracks with what I’ve been told and experienced in non-western storytelling as this opera focused on the human relationships and emotions rather than a grand quest.

Image courtesy of the Michigan Theater.

REVIEW: The Public

What an interesting movie. It managed to tackle some of the hardest social issues that we are facing today, but it was also comical and uplifting. The movie felt real. The cinematography almost felt like it was from a high quality documentary and the movie didn’t feel overly polished or perfect. It was perfectly down to earth and genuine. The many actors and extras playing homeless men throughout the film felt authentic and even led me to question if the production included current or former homeless folks in the cast or as extras. The movie wasn’t perfect. The female characters in particular felt a bit off. The female librarian and main character’s love interest felt like caricatures of real women with the first being the stereotype of a social justice warrior hipster while the second was kind of like a manic pixie dream girl, taking manic to the max. Despite this lack in character development, the script treated its homeless characters well. It didn’t try to romanticize the homeless or show them as perfect; it showed the mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction that plagues the community. However, it also showed their humanity and background. We learned that many of them were veterans, came from families, had lives in the past. We learned about camaraderie that exists within this community. The audience also got to see that homelessness is not permanent. There are people like the main character who turn their lives around. Meanwhile, we also got quite a few laughs and left with a general feeling of joy and promise. The entire theater burst out in laughter when 100 men came out of the library completely naked singing in unison. However, that amusement was tinged with just a bit of sadness when one character said “they’ll never forget this” and the audience knew that this story would be like any in the world today where the forgotten and oppressed continue to be forgotten and oppressed.

Image courtesy of medium.com.