PREVIEW: It’s TAPpening

I first saw RhythM Tap Ensemble as guest performers at Impact Dance’s winter show. They performed a high-energy number to Zedd and Aloe Blacc’s Candyman that left me impressed.  When I began seeing signs on the Diag for “It’s TAPpening,” RhythM’s upcoming performance, I instantly wondered what else they had up their sleeves.

RhythM is unique among university dance groups in that they perform solely in tap, a style no other student organization is dedicated to. Tap focuses on rhythm and musicality, on crisp movements, on looking good and sounding better.

“It’s TAPpening” will feature self-choreographed routines from RhythM as well as guest performances by contemporary dance company Impact, visual performance group Photonix, hip-hop crew EnCore, jazz dance troupe Outrage and a cappella ensemble Compulsive Lyres.

If you’re looking for a sharp, high-energy performance this weekend, “It’s TAPpening” is the show for you. The event begins Friday at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults at the door, the Michigan Union ticket office, or Mason Hall.

REVIEW: I, Tonya

I, Tonya is subjectivity. The movie declares this in every facet of its being, from the emphatic, forceful title to the assertiveness of its style, which is part documentary, part fiction. Unlike other biographical films, there is no pretense of being unbiased. Instead, the movie plunges its audience headfirst into Tonya Harding ’s turbulent life, both before and after the ‘Incident’. Although, it assumes those watching may have some prior knowledge of the scandalous ‘Incident’, the film dedicates much of it time to defining the circumstances in which Harding grew up. Introduced to the ice by her hard-talking, abusive mother (Allison Janney), Tonya (Margot Robbie) proves to be a natural skater. However, her talent only complicates her life and relationships further. Her mother’s distance and relentless drive pushes her fatefully towards the one person who professes to love her without restraint, her boyfriend and eventual husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Gillooly’s love, though, proves to be as much of a façade as her mother’s. Yet, Tonya cannot pull herself away from either toxic relationship. It is this twisted trio that drives the true conflict throughout the film, not the skating competitions, and not the supposed rivalry between Harding and her fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. Tonya Harding merely wants to be loved: by her mother, by her husband, and by the American public who spurns her for the more conventionally beautiful skater.

It is a movie that is above all dedicated to its main character. This is especially apparent in its choice to use recreated interviews as a framing device. The movie seemingly begins like a documentary with Tonya, her mother, and Jeff speaking to the camera. Then, it flows into movie sequences that depict their accounts of the event. The interviews, which occasionally become fourth wall breaks, allow Tonya to speak directly to the audience in a way that feels both intimate and accusatory. They draw the audience in while simultaneously reminding them that they, too, are part of the Tonya Harding’s tragedy. There is an inherent helplessness when Tonya looks straight into the camera while being slammed into a wall by Jeff. The audience is present, yet completely distant from the situation. The camera plays a large part in creating this feeling by maintaining its role as a remote observer, even during the dynamic skating sequences. Although the movie audience is allowed closer to Tonya than the crowds in the stands, there is still a lack of interiority, a necessary separation. Along with the terrific camera work, all the actors execute their roles admirably both in the faux interview sequences and in the main movie, with the stand out being Margo Robbie. Her face, especially, is expressive both on and off the ice. Every time she stares straight down into the camera before her routine is tense, beautiful, and gripping. Sebastian Stan adds a terrifying physicality as Jeff, his rage and desperation quivering off of him. Overall, the style and the movie’s consideration of celebrity and America work together perfectly to create a sympathetic portrait of an otherwise controversial figure.

REVIEW: Hair & Other Stories by Urban Bush Women

I’m an international student. So when I took a class to fulfill the Race and Ethnicity requirement for my LSA degree, I was initially very uncomfortable. My class holds a lot of in-class discussions that revolve around racial issues, especially- at least up until now- racism towards African Americans. A lot of times I was skeptical about things like institutional racism because I thought, just by seeing black artists on movies, I could assume that America HAS progressed from the Civil Rights movement. I thought some students were too sensitive at times when they talked about their experiences with racism. Basically, I didn’t understand what the minority experience was like in the U.S and the extent, for some, of its negative implications.

But by 10pm on Friday when Urban Bush Women’s performance ended, I think I gained a little more sympathy. The experiences of students I listened to with a deaf ear and authors I had to read about with a blind eye, came alive in the performance. One of my favorite scenes was one where four dancers enacted a scene where a young black woman got her hair “done,” which I learnt was the painful process of straightening supposedly “ugly” original hair into the straight, “TREsemee- smooth” hair that was socially acceptable. The tension between the beauty you see in yourself and the beauty norms that others inflict on you was well-expressed by the jerky, restless movements of dancers impersonating strands of hair being viciously pulled out. What differed in this performance from a regular discussion or lecture was its ability to TRANSFER the feelings created by this personal anecdote to other people. Pain, irritation, and confused anger. The vicarious feelings that reached out to me found an audience within my own memories. I know the feeling of succumbing to peer pressure about ideas of beauty that I know doesn’t apply to me. I know the awkward confusion and uncomfortableness of finding personal values that clash with the status quo.  And they all resonated with what I saw on stage.

In other words, I related. This was the transcendental power of Urban Bush Women’s multi-dimensional performance Hair and Other Stories.

PREVIEW: I, Tonya

Another year, another biographical film. Every Oscar season, a new ‘based on a true event’ story is dug up from the past to entertain and most importantly, compete for awards. But not all are created equal. By taking on controversial events or figures in history, these films allow us to reevaluate the past and reframe the present.  I, Tonya, is just such a movie.  The movie stars Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, the all American, champion figure skater. It chronicles her life up to the event that changes the course of her career and her future. Perhaps what makes Harding such an interesting subject, strangely enough, is that she was not an influential, world-changing figure. Instead, she was a merely athlete, whose superhuman talent did not stop her from being subject to the same human flaws that plague us all. Bringing such a relatable story to the screen will hopefully prevent I, Tonya from some of the more sentimental or worshipful tendencies of other biographical films. I, Tonya is currently showing in the State Theatre.  Purchase tickets ($8 for students with ID) online at the Michigan Theater website or at the box office.

PREVIEW: Hair & Other Stories by Urban Bush Women

Summary:

“Hair & Other Stories” is a collection of performances combining different forms of dance, singing, and acting that relay stories peeling at issues relating to identity. Performances will be accompanied by original music composed by the Illustrious Blacks.

Questions to keep you going:

How does UBW intend to extend current conversations on American social justice? What does it mean to explore these issues through movement? How will this be more effective in reaching audiences than say, a more “straightforward” lecture or a poetry reading?

Where/when do I go?

Power Center at 8:00pm, Jan 12 2018.

Very inspiring teaser?

 

REVIEW: I, Tonya

To be perfectly honest, I had only the vaguest background knowledge on the infamous Tonya Harding scandal before I saw this film. I knew that the affair had something to do with competitive skating and foul play, but was ignorant of the details. I came across a recent New York Times interview with Mrs. Harding Price, which is what piqued my initial interest in the film.

I wasn’t sure of what to expect. If anything, I anticipated a sober, first-person account of the events surrounding “The Incident” (as the scandal is referred to in the film). However, the audience received a quirky, almost playful set of mock-interviews from the actors portraying different figures in Tonya’s life, from her ex-husband to her mother (think: Emperor’s New Groove- esque). There is dark humor prevalent in this film, sardonic and bitter, which draws the viewer into Tonya’s backstory, from her first encounter with the ice rink as a three year old. The dark comedy extends to make the people in Tonya’s life, from her abusive mother to her abusive ex-husband, more human.

Tonya Harding led a difficult life. From a childhood devoid of parental affection to a violent and toxic relationship with her ex-husband, all she really longs for is to be loved. In fact, later on in the film, after completing her famous triple-axel, she relishes the cheers of the audience, reveling in how finally, she feels loved and adored. In almost every aspect of her life, Tonya is denied of a concrete expression of validation from the people in her life, and this makes her beaming response to her achievement hard to watch.

In many ways, I, Tonya is a film about classism. From her early years on the ice, Tonya struggled fiercely with her background as a child from a poor, working-class background in the world of figure skating, which nearly requires skaters to exude airs of luxury, to be princess-like in speech, manner, and dress. Tonya’s unconventional music choices for her routines, as well as her hand-made skating outfits, branded her as an outcast, a label she worked hard to overcome. However, the film is also about love and violence, and how the two coincide.

This film has caused me to view Tonya Harding in a more sympathetic light. Without spoiling some of the best scenes in the film, I would like to point out that while her role in The Incident is true, it does not stop me from empathizing with her and everything she has been through. Margot Robbie did a fantastic job portraying Tonya Harding, and I found myself laughing, weeping, and wincing, sometimes all at once.

I, Tonya will be screened at State Theater until January 18. Student tickets are $7 and can be purchased here.

Image credit: Rolling Stone