REVIEW: Dance Mix 2017 The Galaxy Edition

What a night. I started walking over to the Power Center with my friend five minutes before the concert started to find a building packed with students. Before the first group took the stage, the organizers announced that this was the second sold-out concert in a row.


Some sold-out concerts don’t feel sold out. You can spot empty seats and the audience is tame. Not so for this young, rambunctious crowd that hooted and hollered names of friends in the dance groups all throughout the event. Between the energy of the audience and the students moving around on stage, the 2.5 hour event felt like taking a shot of espresso.

When things get hot and heavy on stage

First off, I have to apologize at not being able to keep track of the names of the groups. Every group that took the stage was incredibly talented in their own unique way. Alas, I did not have a program with me during the concert so I could not tell exactly which group was on stage at a particular time.






I can’t imagine it’s easy to fit a wide variety of student acts into one concert, but Dance Mix 17 pulled it off through smooth transitions between more traditional ballet (top left picture) and decidedly modern hip-hop (top right picture), as well as dancers that both to the melodies of ballads and rock songs alike.

One of the highlights of the group was Revolution and their stringless yo-yo performance. Countless students walked across the stage slinging their plastic yo-yo’s like divine beings levitating rocks. Those plastic yo-yo’s flew across the stage and around the slingers and every trick drew fresh cheers from the crowd. Even the tricks that failed still felt like successes, and I was definitely not the only one entranced by the performance.


Later, Photonix performed in the dark with glow sticks, producing images like the one you see in the header photo of this blog. Towards the end of the performance, they unleashed hundreds of mini glow sticks into the audience.
The audience being composed almost entirely of students, everyone went wild.

Another highlight of the night was a Bollywood rendition of Top Gun (by Michigan Manzil I think). The story was a cliche telling of a young fighter pilot who loses his friend in a fight, but this isn’t a Hollywood film and the performance was one of the standouts of the second half of the night.

The Bollywood-esque peformance went through half a dozen wardrobe changes without a hitch, in addition to props and set pieces, and above all it was entertaining as heck.

Rounding out the rest of the night were performances by EnCore (picture below), Outrage, and FunKtion again.

I’m incredibly glad I was able to attend this event, and if you’re reading this blog and didn’t go this year, you NEED to attend next year.

REVIEW: A Far Cry with A Roomful Of Teeth

Included in the slew of excellent UMS programs this year was last week’s concert featuring string orchestra A Far Cry and experimental vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. The concert primarily represented the music of two groundbreaking contemporary composers, Caroline Shaw and Ted Hearne, as well as 20th century composer Prokofiev and Renaissance composer Josquin. The concert alternated from the ensembles playing separately and together.

The music of Hearne and Shaw, while being quite stylistically different, both boast the mastery of drawing bold, chaotic, and somehow cohesive pictures from multiple stylistic and thematic threads. In their pieces, they both kneaded into the dissonance of two or more disconnected things happening at once. The various techniques that the composers used to handle these dissonances — intensifying them and then abruptly letting them evaporate, drawing them out over a long period time until gradually relaxing them, and more–were a source of thrilling suspense for both of the composers’ pieces.

Hearne’s pieces were “Coloring Book,” performed by a Roomful of Teeth, and “Law of Mosaics,” performed by A Far Cry. In “Coloring Book,” he juxtaposed austere polyphony with more rhythmically driven, unruly, and playful styles. “Law of Mosaics” was packed to the brim with conversational, interlocking parts, such as convoluted rhythmic pulses with sprawled out melodic lines overtop. The melodies and riffs in “Law of Mosiacs” were improvisational and bursting with personality, and A Far Cry carried this energy successfully.

Caroline Shaw’s pieces, while also possessing this similar ‘mosaic’ quality as Ted Hearne’s pieces, stood out in their patience; in both of her pieces, “Music in Common Time” and “La déploration sur la mort de Johannes Ockeghem” (her arrangement of a piece by Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez), she gave gravity to drawn-out drones and slowly moving polyphony, eventually splattering more rhythmic and angular sections overtop. She has a way of inviting the listeners into huge, thick, open spaces/baselines and then working within those spaces in creative and shocking ways.

As an ensemble, A Far Cry radiated a rock-like energy. Not only are they remarkably virtuosic, but they are conversational players; their communication, sensitivity, and clarity of vision as a group packed their performances with electricity, whether it be in a slow, twisted movement of the Prokofiev or a high-octane and rhythmically aggressive segment of the Hearne.

Vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth represented a library of various vocal timbres styles, and tendencies, but the group was able to sound unified while still providing space for the unique colors of each vocalist to shine. Common threads among the singers such as bright vowels and rich but piercing timbres helped to make the ensemble seem like one body. It was exciting to see each performer lose themselves in their own way, especially during the solo sections; it’s not something that you usually get to observe in traditional Western vocal ensembles.

The night was lined with disorienting, chaotic beauty interspersed with more focused and calm moments. This intricate rhythm of tension made the a concert suspenseful and captivating one.

Review: That Brown Show

As I expected, That Brown Show (TBS) was an impressive array of performances. I’ve got to begin by saying that audience etiquette is very different at this performance than they are in most performances I attend. Here, there was constant shouting from the audience, and sometimes the performers acknowledged them, too. It’s interesting, that interaction, because it’s something I’ve noticed just at TBS really.

The show began with renditions of both the American and the Indian national anthems. Both singers were quite good, but it proved to be quite the juxtaposition between styles of music: Alicia Kalsi, who performed the American anthem, sounded just faintly as if she were trying too hard, adding grace notes and extending her high notes – exactly how everyone that performs the American anthem does. Meanwhile, Vaidehi Dongre, who performed the Indian anthem, seemed to add very little froufrou to the song, and that plus the anthem’s narrower vocal range gave it a comfortable, effortless feel. I find it intriguing to compare the different definitions of a “classically trained” voice between American and Indian culture, because the way these two anthems were sung is a perfect example of the difference.

Most of the acts this year had a story to them. I can’t quite decide whether or not I liked the use of a video to introduce the premise. Some of these premises were surprisingly dark, and while I don’t object to the showcasing of serious themes, it seemed to cast a temporary shadow on an event that is normally (at least as far as I’m aware) on the exuberant side of things.

Each act was strong, very tightly knit and immaculately choreographed. Sahana Music’s performance was so beautifully blended I couldn’t tell who was doing what (though I wish I could have, because they all sounded fantastic). Michigan Raas had an amusing premise, that of one of India’s more well known dating websites) and their synchrony (barring a slight mishap) was excellent. Taal, who themed their performance on Alice in Wonderland, had a larger set piece that obscured some of the text on the screen, but this was more than offset by the way their dancing matched the disjunct quality of the book, and the clever way in which they created the face of the Cheshire Cat. Sahana Dance did a fantastic job of melding multiple dance forms together seamlessly, and their formations were so clean that even though I was in the balcony and not at the right height to appreciate the uniformity, I still did. Maize Mirchi had excellent harmonies and rhythms in their performance, although I’d definitely like to know what songs they sang and/or how they choose their music, because I didn’t see much of an Indian influence in their performance. Novi Nazar, a high school group, was a new addition to the ensemble performing at TBS (or at least they were for me – I’ve never seen them perform before), and I was impressed with their performance. The Michigan Bhangra Team had a wonderfully lively performance, and happened to use a snippet from one of my favorite songs, but I do wish the people dancing offstage in the wings had stayed behind the curtains more. Izzat, the show’s closing act, had an incredibly dynamic performance, with very nicely synchronized movements.

In the lobby of the theater was an art gallery showcasing a series of photographs taken to showcase the South Asian experience, each with a caption. The photographs were beautiful, but I do think the captions told more of a story – or maybe that’s just because I gravitate towards words.

The main impression with which I left the theater was that the choreography had been excellent. It is difficult enough to get two people to move in unison, but twenty? A near impossibility, and yet these groups all accomplished it magnificently. It speaks to the caliber of these groups and the dedication they have towards their art. I’m very glad I got to experience it.

REVIEW: A Far Cry with Roomful of Teeth

A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth receive a well-deserved standing ovation.

I must confess that I’ve been putting off writing this review, and it’s not just because finals are right around the corner. On Wednesday night, UMS was fortunate to host two of the country’s finest chamber ensembles: self-conducted, 18-piece string orchestra A Far Cry, and Grammy-winning vocal octet Roomful of Teeth. The performance was so stunning that I’ve had a hard time putting it into words until now. Here goes.

At the opening of the concert, I was struck by how A Far Cry played the arrangement of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, Op. 22  as if they were engaging in a group discourse. The performers (minus the cellists) all stood together, moving freely with the music and communicating fully with their bodies. They played so convincingly that the audience was moved to laughter after some of the more light-hearted movements. Although there were only string players onstage, A Far Cry exploited the timbral possibilities of their instruments so expertly that there were instances where I could have sworn that I heard a piccolo or a trumpet.

Roomful of Teeth came out next, having adopted composer and tenor Ted Hearne for the evening in order to perform excerpts from his song cycle, Coloring Book, which set texts by Black American writers. The piece embodied the diversity it celebrated in the myriad of stylistic approaches it used, and Roomful of Teeth demonstrated their skill in numerous singing styles as they effortlessly switched between warm, hymn-like lyricism and grittier, groovier textures. The performance of the piece brought me to a profound place of empathy, and I was reminded of the reason why I enjoy going to concerts in the first place.

The second half was again opened by A Far Cry, this time playing experts from Ted Hearne’s Law of Mosaics––a piece that I had heard for the first time just a few days prior to the concert and had been itching to hear live. Even though I had heard the piece before, I still wasn’t prepared for the singularly powerful event that took place. The piece is a true sonic mosaic if there ever was one: as soon as appreciators of nearly any genre of music, be it classical, contemporary, or club music are able to catch a glimmer of their favorite music, the piece has already moved on to the next thing. It was certainly one of the more exciting pieces of the evening.

Roomful of Teeth joined A Far Cry for the final two pieces of the concert: an arrangement of Josquin des Prez’ Nymphes des bois/Las deploration sur la mort de Johannes Ockeghem, and Caroline Shaw’s Music in Common Time. Shaw’s arrangement of the des Prez, a 500-year-old work, had such dense, powerful polyphony that it seemed as if Rackham auditorium had suddenly transformed into a cathedral. Shaw’s piece, just three years old, was powerful in a very different sense. A profound sense of togetherness pulsated throughout the hall: the music was simultaneously complex yet approachable, simple yet mesmerizing, virtuosic, yet easy to connect to. You didn’t know what beautiful sound was going to come next, but you were more than willing to discover the unexpected as Shaw’s music gently guided the audience to the next moment.

This concert was definitely one of my favorite UMS performances this season. It was incredible to witness such a high level of musicking by performers who clearly loved what they were doing. There were many bodies onstage, yet they breathed and created music together as one organism. I spoke with a handful of the performers after the show, and was delighted to find that they are every bit as kind and intentional as their music-making suggests. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next opportunity where I can listen to either group again.

Preview: That Brown Show

Michigan Sahana is a student organization that performs Indian classical dance and music. That Brown Show is an annual celebration of South Asian performing arts, featuring performances by not just Sahana members, but also other music and dance groups on campus. South Asia is a vibrant, colorful place, and this show highlights that: when I saw it two years ago, I walked out feeling the urge to dance.

The show is at the Michigan Theater Saturday, April 15 at 7:30pm. Tickets can be bought at the door (student price $12), or free admission is available with the Passport to the Arts.

PREVIEW Dance Mix 2017 The Galaxy Edition

Sometimes you need to take a break from exam studying and paper deadlines. That’s where Dance Mix 2017 comes in!

Where: The Power Center (121 Fletcher St)

When: Tuesday, April 18th @ 7 PM

Cost: FREE with Passport to the Arts

Tickets are also on sale at the Mason Wall posting wall April 14th & 17th, 10-4pm

A quick list of all the groups performing:

  • EnCore
  • FunKtion
  • Impact Dance
  • RhythM Tap Ensemble
  • Cadence Modern Dance Company
  • Dance2XS University of Michigan
  • The Ballroom Dance Team at the University of Michigan
  • Michigan Izzat
  • Michigan Manzil
  • Outrage Dance Group
  • Salto Dance Company at the University of Michigan
  • Photonix
  • Revolution Chinese Yo-Yo

Here’s a link to the Facebook Event so you can put that you’re attending