PREVIEW: Rocky Horror Picture Show

This Saturday at 10 pm catch a one-night only showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show featuring a shadowcast performance by the Leather Medusas! This cult classic will not disappoint as the audience shouts, dances, and throws things all over the theater. To give a summary or a sneak peak into what to expect of the movie would be a grand disservice to those uninitiated, so grab an $8.50 student ticket and let’s do the time warp again!

 

It’s highly encouraged to dress up, if not as a character then as taboo as possible. Follow the cues of the crowd and PLEASE don’t be the Rocky Virgin that comes with the call out script memorized. Just come and let it happen (and don’t forget red lipstick).

 

If it’s any indication of the kind of fun that will be going on Saturday, here’s a list of banned props for the evening:

Rice/confetti
Water guns
Candles/lighters (flashlights are fine)
Whole rolls of toilet paper
Hot dogs/prunes

 

REVIEW: NT Live: The Lehman Trilogy

 The Lehman Trilogy consists of three men, a box, and a piano. From these elements emerges a case study of temporality, American capitalism, and what it means–and costs– to succeed.
At the core of the play is a business. It’s hard to label it as anything more than a business, because as the institution founded by the Lehman brothers changes hands, generations, and locations, it morphs from a simple fabrics store to a convoluted financial empire. This progression is slowed, stopped, and aided as history progresses and events like the Civil War and the Great Depression happen.
The audience watches a century and a half unfold in front of them thanks to a tight script, focused acting, and a clear historic backbone. Without brilliant performances alternating between expositional narration and multiple characters, the narrative would be totally lost. The bare-bones costumes and props further highlight the skill of these actors in how they construct multiple times and places.
Looking at the specific presentational elements of theatre, the construction of this play is pretty impressive. The set, an ever-present rotating glass box, mimics the march of time and the contained, capital-focused world. While we watch sons turn to fathers and fathers turn into moguls, the piano accompaniment plays what feels to be a fourth character, layering interactions with humanity and punctuating sequences with intensity, tragedy, or humor. A changing background screen aids the geographic and tonal shifts without being too flashy or distracting.
I did find some issues with the closure of the work, however. As the play ends with the 2008 financial crisis, the last scene has a sense of helplessness in the face of the Great Recession. This felt a little bit off-base in terms of the structure of the narrative. The play details the highs and lows of business as history affects the Lehman brothers and their business, maintaining a strong sense of continuity. Even through the Great Depression, despite its highly destructive effects, the play shows the eventual turning of the tides that leads to more success. The play doesn’t treat this next trial as a closing element to the narrative but it doesn’t clarify it as a part of the established continuation of effort of the company. If, say, the play hinted that the 2008 crisis would bring about the absolute demise of the company, it would be a much more satisfying ending. We as an audience would have claimed witness to the entirety of the lifespan of the company but instead we see the actors praying to survive and the premonition of a phone call closing it out. There’s no finality, something I would have accepted in the form of a clearer end to the Lehman narrative or in a statement on the vitality and perseverance in their work.
Ultimately, The Lehman Trilogy was an engaging approach to the traditional constraints of narrative timeline, limited actors, and staging found in theatre. Outside of some aspects of closure, it was highly enjoyable and a great way to spend a Sunday night.

REVIEW: Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Once again, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center did not disappoint. It is a joy to witness performances where those onstage are truly enjoying themselves, and this was one. The thirteen performers, in different combinations of instrumentation for each of the four pieces on the program, managed to effortlessly convey the character and emotions of the music, allowing the audience to get lost from reality outside the walls of Rackham Auditorium.

The first piece on the program was Henry T. Burleigh’s Southland Sketches for Violin and Piano, with Mr. Chad Hoopes on violin and Ms. Gloria Chien on piano. The piece was at times whimsical, serious, or soulful, and I was captivated by Mr. Hoopes’s ability to (seemingly effortlessly) draw a matching range of sound colors from his violin. His sound and his playing were flexible in a way that allowed the audience to experience the full range of the piece, and for this reason it was one of my favorites on the program.

Next up was Antonín Dvořák’s Quintet in E-flat Major for Two Violins, Two Violas, and Cello, Op. 9, followed by Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Both were flawlessly executed, and the Bernstein Sonata was fascinating in that is was his first published piece.

That said, for me, the real culmination of the evening was the final piece: Appalachian Spring Suite for Ensemble by Aaron Copland. Often hailed as one of the most quintessential works by an American composer, Copland in fact won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. While Appalachian Spring was originally premiered in 1944 as a ballet commissioned for Martha Graham scored for thirteen instruments, Copland wrote an orchestral suite version the following year, removing about eight minutes of the original music. The version performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was completed by Copland in 1958, and it is an arrangement of the 1945 orchestral suite, but with the original instrumentation. For me, it was particularly interesting to hear this version after the Ann Arbor Symphony’s recent performance of the orchestral version, because I somehow expected that orchestration in my head. Instead, each entrance was a new surprise. I especially enjoyed the chords in piano during the opening of the first movement, and how it fit with the scoring of the chamber version. Although it is not Copland’s original version, this 1958 version gives a sense of how the music must have sounded when the ballet premiered at the Library of Congress. For me, it is impossible to hear Appalachian Spring (in any version) without conjuring images of frosted landscapes, sunrises over the mountains, and running streams. It is a true musical escape, just like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Friday evening performance of it.

REVIEW: Out There: A Performance by art duo Princess

There is a distinct difference between natural weirdness and the sort that is manufactured. Entitling an album “Out There” is far too self-realizing a move to truly belong to the former distinction. Things can be disastrous in cases like these, and unfortunately Princess’ performance veered quite drastically into the side of inorganic. This is not to say that there was no value in their work; quite the opposite, the intentional obscurity of meaning, though cringeworthy, was useful in forcing me to figure my own ideas about what I was seeing and hearing.

A concept album seems perhaps the wrong medium for what these two are doing. There is simply a lot going on, and their work suffers as a result.  They have a good sense of rhythm and tune (especially the flow of the rapping sections), but whatever their flat choreography was supposed to be doing was not being accomplished. The lyrics were often impossible to glean much meaning from. Most notably, the “party-party-party” song, most of whose words were about as inspired as you might imagine. I could speculate on what the song’s purpose is, perhaps some link to the procedural, routine nature of party culture, and the poisons that hide within its mindlessly indulgent atmosphere–the sexual harassment and assault, the brainwashing of men to be hunters who deserve prey, of women to bat their eyelashes and be a thing to desire. But to expect an audience to leap this far to make any conclusion of meaning is a bit much.

A bit too dark to see, but they are currently on the ground in anatomical position.

The space travel motif’s linkage to the album’s purpose was unclear. And though it was often visually striking, I found it relied too heavily on a single type of color scheme (red/blue combination and the vibrant, neon flat coloring of random objects). Also, the repetitive, jerky movements of the characters and objects in the video got old about halfway through the act. However, it still must be noted that the complex layering technique of visual artist Jennifer Meridian was impressive, if at times monotonous. Her work might perhaps be more suited for shorter videos and advertisements that demand the sense of excitement her design provides so well.

Mostly what I find fault with in the performance was its over-the-top brashness. I find it distracts from an audience’s ability to gather meaning from what they are experiencing. It’s more closely related to modern art than an exploration of misogyny in society. In all its spectacular glory I feel they are unable to develop their ideas into anything beyond the surface level. This is a shame, because the two clearly have an enormous creative capacity. I feel that, if they used their potential differently, they could have great success in creating thoughtful, deep, provocative art. While I and others in the audience can certainly derive our own meaning from the performance, the chasm over which we must stretch to get there is too wide. Perhaps this is the result of too many strongly creative people collaborating on a single project–in the process it became too much of a conglomeration than a precise piece of art.

If you’d like to check out the album for yourself, it’s currently available for preorder at their website bandofprincess.com. There you can witness one of their songs under the “videos” tab, and find other information about the band, including tour dates and background on the duo’s origins.

 

PREVIEW: Isango Ensemble: The Magic Flute

In its UMS debut, the Isango Ensemble, a South African theatre company, will be presenting three performances of a re-imagined look at Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s captivating score, transcribed for an orchestra of marimbas. This production provides a familiar and classical background alongside a vibrantly-contrasted foreground of a South African township setting.

This show will be playing October 16th, 17th, and 19th at the Power Center. I’ve been anticipating this performance for as long as I have known about it, for alongside being captivated by the works of Mozart, the Isango Ensemble’s work has been highly praised for its inventiveness and captivating performance! Be sure not to miss the Isango Ensemble this week!

Isango Ensemble: The Magic Flute

REVIEW: Gala Mukomolova Poetry Reading and Book Signing

In the first reading of the Helen Zell Visiting Writers series, I sat excited and enthralled to witness the arrival of poet Gala Mukomolova. It was lovely being back in the UMMA Auditorium for the 2019 inception of the series, with the warm light suspended by translucent threads, giving it the quality of floating Hogwarts candles; the dimness of the room lulling me into a kind of aesthetic trance; poetry washing onto the shores of my mind. And so entered Mukomolova’s work into one of my beloved programs at Michigan. 

In her reading, Mukomalova read from her debut poetry collection Without Protection. Mukomolova has many identities she explores in her work. She is Russian, Jewish, refugee, New Yorker, lesbian. These intersecting identities ground her work into her own universe, and she enters this space she has invented with the agency, authority, and recognition of her own power. I am currently unraveling what it means to write about your identity in your work– how much of it seems like “material” you’re performing, and how much is actually authentic. I haven’t read Mukomolova’s work in full and am only acquainted with the work she read to us, but it seems to me that she enters her poetry as her own creation. When she writes in Russian, or explains deeply personal situations, she seems to explain the narrative not for us, but for herself; the work, in some ways, seems to be the many aspects of her identity in conversation with the other parts in one place. To me, this seems wildly liberating, not the puppeteeting that might structure other inauthentic works. 

Mukomalova’s poetry collection explores the story of the old Russian fable about the young girl named Vasilyssa trying to escape from the witch Baba Yaga. Her power, bravery, and divine feminine energy guide her to enter Baba Yaga’s home Without Protection. The collection includes a multiplicity of narratives colasing into one, delicately woven together, the old and new and personal and universal all in conversation. One sentence will be about the story of Baba Yaga, the next an anecdote from Mukomalova’s life, another an advertisement on Craigslist. It’s a brilliant tapestry of multiplicity and power that Mukomolova crafts in her poetry. 

There is, moreover, a definite belief in the power of women, and more specifically, in the sexuality of women. Mukomalova writes:

 

I want everything. I want to be fucked like the wife who waited

for her soldier’s return, fucked: the island, the sand, the nymph, 

the lust that strands him. Fucked: the witch’s sword against his dick before she 

opens. Ill deep throat, I’m sayin’

it’s April, 72 degrees, I’m in love and wearing platforms. This song is just like 

my first years in America, the jump off. What I mean is reckless, performing 

a kind of hope.

 

Mukomalova’s poetry is unabashed about desire, about the complex highs and lows of wanting and not having, or wanting and having and being a woman. There is an erotic energy weaved into her poetry that gives it power and shamelessness, an unapologetic ode to her womanhood and sexuality. 

Overall, I enjoyed the reading very much. Rereading some of her poetry here to write this blogpost reminded me how thrilling it is to read it, and I have to admit that I enjoyed reading it more than I did hearing it. In any case, I think this makes it easier for you, dear reader of this blog post, to go out and read Gala Mukomalova’s stunning and multi-layered debut poetry collection Without Protection

Sources: https://coffeehousepress.org/products/without-protection, poetry except from https://pen.org/four-poems-by-gala-mukomolova/