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: The Nutcracker – Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre

It’s always rather conflicting when attempting to indulge in the holiday spirit during the everlasting finals season. Time spent seeking out the festive spirit typically leaves one in guilt for time loss from studying. However, The Nutcracker was being performed on campus so this would be exempt! There were two different groups performing The Nutcracker on campus. So, I chose to see the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre perform at the Power Center.

The opening scene takes place in the Stahlbaum Home on Christmas Eve. From the beginning, I noted that the acoustics could have been better given that they would need to compensate for not having a live orchestra pit. However during Act I, Scene I, I undoubtedly still felt the Christmas festivity transcending from an evening spent with gifts, sweets, and dancing around the Christmas tree. Unaware of the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre and all of its members, I was utterly pleased to see so many young performers on stage. From ages perhaps as low as five years old to older teens, it was a sight to see so many young performers expressing themselves through theatre and dance.

Act I, Scene III, The Land of Snow, was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. To my surprise, they had fake snow falling onto the stage! From the snowflake-like blue lighting and  background to the complementing snow fairy outfits and dances, this scene was aesthetically pleasing and beautifully accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s “Scene in the Pine Forest” and “Waltz of the Snowflakes.”

Act II: The Kingdom of Sweets, carries the bulk of the story and most rousing parts. During this, Clara and her newly gifted nutcracker arrive at his Palace high atop Sugar Mountain in the Kingdom of Sweets. (How could we not be the least bit of enlivened by a scene held in a place called The Kingdom of Sweets?) This scene is composed of several intensive and rather intimate waltzes that represent various ethnicities. To begin is Chocolate: a high-spirited Spanish dance. Next is the Arabian Coffee, a sultry, languid dance. Arguably, the most detailed and personal dances of them all with slow, thoughtful movements in sync with their partner. Coffee was the most expressive dance where the audience had the chance to analyze each intentional movement according to the music. In all fairness though, Coffee is the lengthiest and has the slowest tempo of all six dances, so this impression may be biased. Following Coffee was a much more upbeat, high-pitched lively and athletic Chinese inspired dance called Tea. To trump Tea’s lively nature, Trepak outperforms its predecessor with a much faster-paced beat in light of a Russian folk dance that is filled with bravura. To close out the divertissements, we are left with Marzipan, which in contrast, is a pas-de-trois, performed by three people — all followed by an appearance by Mother Ginger and her beloved Sugar Plums.

The curtains begin to close as Clara’s wondrous dream begins to fade while she finds herself back at home with only memories of a magical night. Upon the curtains closing, we are left with a matched feeling in comparison to the characters as we have followed along on their adventurous journey overnight and also come to a silent, peaceful close. Even in a wicked time known as “Finals Season,” time should be allotted for the holiday classic, The Nutcracker.

REVIEW: halfway between

halfway between was a show about relationships.

Relationships with the other dancers, with the space, with their faces and bodies and the music.

Both the choreography and the dancers themselves captivated, really illustrating the relationships central to the storylines of each dance.

The concert, a senior showcase for three BFA Dance students, began with “b r e a k,” a piece choreographed by Danielle Fattore. Although the piece was technically not a solo, Fattore was the centerpiece while the rest of the dancers served to set the scene. Despite minimal sets, the piece painted a vivid picture of a bustling city as Fattore danced down the streets, completely ignored by the rest of the crowd going about their daily business. The piece was simultaneously upbeat and cynical, the tale of a girl unknown and unnoticed.

Both “Away With It,” choreographed by Callie Marie Munn, and “Ellipsis,” choreographed by Yoshiko Iwai, utilized the entire space in unique ways. The choreography felt animalistic at times as the dancers fought each other, as if each aimed to assert dominance over their own territory. The dancers pulled off this portrayal near-flawlessly, exerting precise control over their body and movement.

The music they used wasn’t easy to dance to, but the dancers proved they were up to the challenge, staying on the beat and hitting their accents. There were a few points where, either by accident or by design, the music stopped, but the dancers handled it with grace, still moving to a nonexistent rhythm. However, at times I felt a bit of a disconnect between the music and the choreography, almost as if the music was just something on in the background while the dancers created a story, and I would have liked to see a greater bond between the music, the choreography, and the dancers.

One of my biggest complaints about modern dance is that the dancers sometimes lack expressivity, and I felt that “Away With It” and “Ellipsis” both suffered from this. They were intriguing explorations of relationships, reminiscent of a piece of performance art, but both lacked the emotion that truly pulls me into a dance. So when Munn performed her self-choreographed solo, “With It Or It,” it was a breath of fresh air to see the emotion on her face. The piece was a lot simpler than those that preceded it, but it was also the one with which I connected the most.

Munn’s two pieces in the show were “Away With It” and “With It or It.” Given the similar titles and the fact that the music she used for both dances was from the same album, I wondered if the solo was meant to be a continuation of the group dance. However, the two pieces didn’t seem similar to me and I couldn’t find a real connection between them.

“Mend,” choreographed by Fattore, was the perfect finale. The only dance in the show to a song with lyrics, “Mend” played like a theatre performance, telling the story of a night in Paris with friends. I was especially impressed by the first soloist in the piece, Kiara Williams, whose expressions truly carried the narrative. “Mend” explored many of the same themes as the rest of the show: relationships, group dynamics, and identity.

My favorite thing about halfway between is that it wasn’t mere entertainment; it made me think about themes familiar to every college student. And that’s what marks a good piece of art.

halfway between runs for one more night, tomorrow at 8 PM at the Dance Building, and if you’re looking for somewhere to be, I highly recommend this unique show. Tickets are $7 general admission at the door.

PREVIEW: Sasha Velour at Necto

This Friday night, the 8th, stop by Necto to see the most recent champion of the emmy-winning TV show RuPaul’s Drag race, Sasha Velour!  Sasha is a Brooklyn based queen who uses her training in visual art to create dynamic and emotive performances that are a treat for the eye and the mind.  Since her win she’s traveled the world, stopping in Australia, South America and Europe, before finally gracing our small town of Ann Arbor!

The dragster events are held once a month, and feature performances from both internationally famous drag queens and tremendously talented local performers from both the Detroit area and all across the state.  This week’s event will be hosted by Jadein Black and Chanel Hunter, and the show will also feature a cast of local talents.  The event will be 10$ at the door for those under 21, and only 5$ for those over!  Necto is an 18+ venue so be sure to bring your ID.  She’s expected to draw quite the crowd so arrive early, although the first show officially begins at 9:45 with an encore at midnight!

PREVIEW: halfway between

For dance students at Michigan, their coursework concludes not with a thesis or project, but with a concert.

halfway between, a BFA dance concert, is the culmination of four years of hard work for three students: Danielle “Dee Dee” Fattore, Yoshiko Iwai, and Callie Munn. The concert consists of solos and group work choreographed and performed by the students themselves.

The dance program consists of technique classes, mostly in ballet and modern dance, and labs in improvisation and chorography as well as coursework on the history, culture, and biomechanics of dance. This concert is the consummation of that work. As someone who has recently gained a deeper appreciation for the art of dance, I’m eager to see their performances.

halfway between runs this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (December 7, 8, and 9) at 8:00 PM at the Betty Pease Studio Theater in the Dance Building. The show runs about an hour with no intermission. Tickets are $7 general admission at the door.

REVIEW: Straight to the Pointe

In a word, Straight to the Pointe, Salto Dance Company’s winter show, was captivating. Their technique, skill, and creativity was evident at every turn.

Salto is unique because they perform both contemporary and ballet — the only dance group on campus to do so — and one of my favorite parts of their performance was how they blended the two styles.

Their opening number, “Felix Culpa,” was a perfect example. The dance pulled me in right away. It was performed en pointe, but it wasn’t a simple variation from a classical ballet. “Felix Culpa” was a dynamic routine that incorporated modern elements, and it really set the tone for the rest of the performance.

Salto continued to showcase innovative choreography with numbers like “Summer Friends,” a point number set to the song of the same name by Chance the Rapper. Before this show, I never could’ve imagined ballet set to rap music, but choreographer Emma Bergman proved that it may be unconventional, but it works.

Overall, I enjoyed the solos and small groups more than the large groups, as the bigger numbers could look a little cluttered at times. That’s natural — the more people on stage, the harder it is for them to all stay synchronized. And sometimes in the larger groups, some of the dancers seemed to lack connection to the music, making the numbers seem less cohesive.

About half the cast performed solos in the show. The solos were as varied in style as the group numbers, from classical variations to modern pointe to contemporary. Each solo impressed in a different way. Caroline Richburg’s “La Esmeralda,” a variation from Jule’s Perrot’s ballet of the same name, stood out for her effortless use of a tambourine, tapping it along to the beat while she performed technical movements. Another of my favorites, Holly Borla’s contemporary solo “Vision,” showcased Borla’s musicality and connection to the piece. The solos gave each dancer an opportunity to showcase her individual strengths and provided a nice change of pace from the groups.

Interspersed with the dance numbers were guest performances by hip-hop group FunKtion, a cappella group 58 Greene, and Irish dance company Leim Dance. I have mixed feelings on the guest performances; while each group was talented, I thought at times that they took away from the mood and flow of the show. However, the guest appearances made me interested in seeing what those other groups were about, providing mutual benefit to both Salto and the other organizations involved.

To close out the show, the full company surprised with a jazz performance to “Jingle Bell Rock.” I enjoyed the number, especially as someone who loves everything Christmas, but I thought it was a bit of an odd conclusion to the show since the number didn’t fit the style or mood of the rest. That said, a conclusion doesn’t necessarily need to be cohesive if it leaves the audience with a good taste in their mouth, and the finale certainly did that, revealing a different side of Salto that the audience hadn’t yet seen and injecting a bit of fun into an otherwise-serious performance.