Welcome to [art]seen!

Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions.
If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your writing! Read more about Blogging Opportunities here… We review applications and hire twice a year, in September and January.
Email us at arts@umich.edu with any questions.

REVIEW – “Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test” at Red Bull Arts Detroit

Akeem Smith’s No Gyal Can Test exhibition at Red Bull Arts Detroit transgresses disciplinary classifications and the expectancy for a singular ethnographic history of dancehall, which is readily accessible to a globalized audience eager to exploit its cultural legacy.

In Jamaica, upper-class families grill their home to deter robberies of their houses. Smith utilizes these grills to protect the archival dancehall photographic and film footage behind, which ranges the two decades between the 80s and 2000s. Protruding from the flat walls of the building’s underground tombs, these decorative homes symbolize the artist’s attitude toward a global viewership that commodifies the hypervisible women of the movement. The voyeurim of the gallery visitor questions the assumed invitation to peer through cast iron metal shields. What is offered and what is withheld? On the other hand, their installation can also be perceived in relation to wealthy Jamaicans’ refusal to accept the cultural and political revolution of dancehall as a national signifier. Viewers are meant to question their position within, or outside of, the household in order to better understand what is deserving of safeguarding.

In these and other wall works, photographs and videos are intentionally obscured, offering a limited visual scope to the memories they document. Queens Street, an assembled building with an exposed interior,  encases a single-channel video that plays abstracted and slowed-down footage of a dance. Because there is a gap between the welded metal doorway attached to the front of the house and the leftmost edge of the adjacent window, viewers are situated awkwardly outside this personal space peering indoors. The portrait included in Black Queen, a minimal and rectangular wall work made with salvaged, black building remnants, is hidden from view behind an top section of latticework. The woman’s face is almost entirely encased in its shadow.

Curated by Maxwell Wolf and Kenta Murakami, this unique expression of love culminates the preceding twelve years of archival work and outreach to honor the legacy of the dancehall community Smith grew up around in Kingston, Jamaica. Born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in the Waterhouse District in Kingston before returning to Crown Heights, Smith is the godson of Paula Ouch, the founder of the Ouch fashion house, an all women’s team that shaped the visual loudness of the era. Several of their garments on view are draped on mannequins sculpted by collaborative artist Jessi Reaves that commemorate the women of his youth and particularly Sandra Lee, the central fashion and hair stylist. Jewelry by Brando, his grandmother’s former partner, is juxtaposed alongside these original pieces. The interwoven nature of his life is further solidified through his grandma, who raised him alongside his mom, and co-owned La Roose club in Portmore, a coastal city that borders Kingston. Materials – corrugated zinc, tarp, repurposed wood, and breeze – from the building’s facade, as well as other disused social spaces, make up the main components of Smith’s deeply-personal installations.

While Smith’s process implements specific protocols to procure and ethically compensate Jamaicans who provided him with the exhibition material, the extension of these guidelines within the gallery are ultimately left to the discretion of the visitor. What is implicated through the exhibition’s free admission and allowance of photography that facilitates a capturing of images among visitors?

Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test is on view at Red Bull Arts Detroit in Eastern Market every Friday – Sunday from 12 pm – 7 pm until July 30. Reservations are required. Appointments to see the Soursop offsite installation at Woods Cathedral in Detroit can also be made using the same webpage: https://ngct.redbullarts.com

 

Artist Information:

Akeem Smith – Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/akeemouch/

PREVIEW – Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test at Red Bull Arts Detroit

Installation View of Akeem Smith: No Gyal Can Test at Red Bull Arts New York 2020. Photo by Daro Lasagni. All artwork courtesy the artist and Red Bull Arts

Red Bull Arts Detroit is hosting the second iteration of Akeem Smith’s traveling exhibition, No Gyal Can Test. This show, which premiered on April 16 and runs until July 30, explores the dancehall community in Kingston, Jamaica. Through collaborative sonic-sculptures that four-dimensionally collage ephemera – photographs, videos, garments and jewelery, along with architectural materials sourced from musical congregation sites now existing through public memory – Smith transports a display of togetherness resonant today in the ever-evolving and globalized community. Because Detroit’s cityscape reveals prevalent musical archives encoded within architectural fragments of former music and dance spots, I’m excited to see and hear how Smith’s exhibition is intimately recontextualized within a local arts space.

PREVIEW: Range of Reaction

On Friday, January 29th, Arts in Color will premiere a digital student choreography showcase entitled Range of Reaction.The virtual dance showcase is produced, choreographed, and performed entirely by University of Michigan dance students. Five dynamic choreographers have created short dance films that seek to answer the question “how does the world that we live in right now affect the choices that we make daily?” Range of Reaction showcases thought-provoking art, tackling a variety of topics including colonialism, groupthink, racism, and queer identity.

 

Range of Reaction began as a cathartic discussion of the creative silence COVID-19 has brought to art communities, and transformed into an imagining of what art may look like as our communities heal. Each work was filmed throughout the fall in Ann Arbor, with every party involved strictly following University of Michigan and statewide COVID-19 safety guidelines. This week’s showcase highlights the perseverance of artistic communities, as it offers the premiere of five original works despite the numerous hardships and challenges the pandemic has presented.

 

Range of Reaction will be posted to the Arts in Color Vimeo on Friday, January 29th at 8pm EST and will be available to view free of charge. Supported in part through the School of Music, Theatre & Dance Meta Weiser EXCEL Fund, as well as Arts at Michigan, Range of Reaction is a must-see showcase for those looking for a refreshingly original and thought-provoking performing arts event from the safety of their home.

 

To watch the Range of Reaction Promotional Trailer, visit https://vimeo.com/504178628 . Range of Reaction will be posted to the same channel.

REVIEW: MUSKET’S NEWSIES

Newsies is a musical that is nostalgic and dear to my heart, and when I heard that MUSKET was going to present a virtual concert of it this year, I got so excited. And boy, did MUSKET pull through. Based on historical events of 1899, Newsies follows the stories of New York City’s newsboys as they fight against the injustices perpetuated by the city’s powerful newspaper publishers.

Theater is already a form of art that requires so much creativity and innovation, but that need for thinking outside the box reached new levels this year. Even in the most “stripped down” theater performances, actors rely on their facial expressions to convey attitude and emotion. This year, MUSKET’s actors had to navigate how to portray their characters with a mask covering their nose and mouth. While seeing actors perform in masks felt very strange, I was impressed with how the actors used their eyes and their bodies to tell their stories. Furthermore, each mask had a playful illustration of a mouth on it that matched each character’s costume, which was such a creative touch.

Another component that usually contributes to storytelling in theater is the set design, or the backgrounds where the story takes place. Usually, the cast and crew of a show have the opportunity to work with a set that is designed specifically for that show, but this year, the Newsies team had to get creative. Their utilization of local, non-traditional performances spaces worked well, and their resourceful and artful use of the outdoors was truly beautiful. These visuals and storytelling were elevated by the amazing and evocative camerawork. For example, in “Something to Believe In,” the actors were singing romantically to each other, yet for most of the song, they were socially distanced and not even in the same frame. Although the actors could not hold each other in their arms, these moments were brilliantly shot and still felt intimate and loving. 

This production was simply so fun to watch. There was hardly a moment without movement, and the choreography was outstanding. The dancers were aerobic, energetic, and graceful, notably in “Seize the Day.” In addition to the engaging choreography, the cast of Newsies delivered such strong vocal performances throughout. “Watch What Happens” stood out to me as an especially memorable performance, but there wasn’t a weak moment in the entire virtual concert. The soloists’ voices sounded full and bright, and on ensemble numbers, harmonies were clean and locked in. 

Hats off to the sound technicians for getting all the voices and orchestra synched up and balanced, especially since I’m sure recording was complicated due to COVID restrictions. Whenever the technical aspects of a production are “invisible” (meaning you don’t notice them), that’s a good sign. And the sound on Newsies was seamless.

 

Overall, was it weird to see a socially distanced, shortened version of Newsies? Yes, of course it felt strange, but I am wildly impressed with the ingenuity of the cast and crew because they put together what I didn’t think was possible. Since March, I’ve missed live music and live theater, and Newsies brought me one step closer to experiencing that again. MUSKET’s production of Newsies felt immensely joyful, and joy is something I think we could all use right now. 

The Newsies playlist link is accessible here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7jQ4ZS5Biju4Yi4MvvL6_gEz1HN9XDhj

REVIEW: Paul Taylor: Celebrate the Dancemaker

Though it was not a traditional performance, UMS’s online presentation of Paul Taylor: Celebrate the Dancemaker was nonetheless something special. Near-equal parts dialogue and archival footage, it featured University of Michigan dance historian and educator Angela Kane and Paul Taylor Dance Company Artistic Director Michael Novak in conversation about the works of modern dance choreographer Paul Taylor, as well as the history of the dance company he founded. Because it was a presentation specifically for UMS audiences, Paul Taylor: Celebrate the Dancemaker was also able to provide a sense of local community, despite being an asynchronously viewed video.

One of the best parts of the event was the insight that it offered into Paul Taylor’s wide-ranging and ground-breaking career. Taylor’s experiences as a painter and a collegiate swimmer informed his understanding of depth and movement onstage. Expanding the boundaries of modern dance at the time, he was also one of the first artists to employ a year-round, full-time dance company.  After opening with a rapid-fire montage of selections from Paul Taylor’s 147 works, the video featured Novak and Kane discussing some of Taylor’s most monumental works, and then showing excerpts of them.

The first work explored during the presentation was Taylor’s 1962 work Aureole, which challenged the notion that modern dance was limited to “modern music and weighty meanings.” In fact, Aureole was a lyrical, flowing, light work that, in the grainy black-and-white original film of Paul Taylor and Liz Walton, appeared to be almost be a modern impression of a classical ballet.

Then, Kane and Novak introduced audiences to Aureole’s opposite, Scudorama (1963). Lyricism was replaced with sharp angles, jarring rhythms, and a weighty, almost apocalyptic feel. Given the immediately apparent contrast between these two works, it is no surprise that Michael Novak referred to Taylor as the “master of light and dark.”

If the previous two works illustrated Taylor’s artist range, the next work featured, Le Sacre du Printemps (the Rehearsal), illustrated his artistic genius. A hyper-stylization of Igor Stravinsky’s (notoriously controversial in 190) ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, or The Rite of Spring, Taylor’s work challenges audiences to reexamine the original. Taylor’s work features a rehearsal for Stravinsky’s work inside of it, along with a plot line that closely mirrors that of the original ballet (which reminded me of the musical Kiss Me Kate, which does the same with Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew; also similar in its reimagination of an existing work is Max Richter’s work Vivaldi Recomposed).

After a short clip from the Academy Award-nominated documentary Dancemaker (1998), which offered a candid view of Taylor’s creative process, the presentation culminated in video of Taylor’s monumental work Promethean Fire (2002) in full. Like Aureole, the work juxtapositions modern dance with music that is decidedly not modern (In this case, it is Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement based on three of Bach’s keyboard pieces – the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the Prelude in E-flat minor from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the chorale prelude “Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott.” Chances are, you may recognize the beginning from the Toccata and Fugue in D minor). However, unlike Aureole’s quiet lyricism, Promethean Fire makes a much bolder statement: it is tense, fiery-seeming, and almost overwhelming during parts. In fact, it was the first and last time that Paul Taylor would utilize all sixteen dancers in the company in one work, on one stage. UMS calls Promethean Fire  ”arguably one of his greatest artistic achievements created in the wake of 9/11, proclaiming that even after a cataclysmic event, the human spirit finds renewal and emerges triumphant.” For an audience in today’s landscape, however, the work felt timely, and was a fitting conclusion to an artistically informative presentation.