PREVIEW: GenAPA Cultural Show 2019: “TECHNICOLOR: Vivid past, vibrant future”

Come out for GenAPA’s (Generation Asian/Pacific American) Cultural Show! GenAPA was founded in 1995; they are the biggest Pan-Asian cultural show in the Midwest. Their shows happen every winter semester.

This year’s show celebrates individual talents and experiences through vibrant colors and pictures that symbolize the Asian and Pacific American community. This is a really great example of the intersection of art, social justice, education, and culture. 

A lot of different performance groups will be featured, including:

  • – KPL x PAPhi Step and Stroll
  • – Michigan Taekwondo
  • – K-Motion
  • – Hula Michigan
  • – VeryUs
  • – rXn Traditional
  • – Sinaboro
  • – Seoul Juice x Emily & Jae
  • – DVN Guy-Girl Traditional
  • – DB3

Tickets: $12 at the door

Location: Lydia Mendelssohn Theater

Date/Time: 3/15/19, 7pm


REVIEW: Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Awareness and Prevention in the Performing Arts

Immediately following a panel discussion on sexual and gender-based misconduct awareness and prevention in the performing arts, Strength & Sensitivity and Carla Dirlikov Canales of The Canales Project presented a truly fascinating performance.


Strength and Sensitivity is “a multimedia concert experience that blends contemporary music, poetry readings, and audience interaction to catalyze dialogue on themes of gender Dynamics, intersectional feminism, and empathy,” and their performance expounded on the themes discussed during the panel. One of the most thought-provoking works was Improvisation by Colleen Bernstein on piano. As she relayed to the audience, in the aftermath of one of the Michigan Daily articles concerning sexual misconduct and people associated with the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Colleen Bernstein sat down at the piano, opened a voice memo on her phone, and improvised at the piano to try to make sense of what she was feeling. This recording was played through the sound system in Hankinson Rehearsal Hall on Tuesday night. For the duration of Improvisation, interactive questions appeared on a screen behind the stage, and audience members could text responses to a given number. Question included “What does this community need to do to make progress towards gender equality?” and “Describe how you feel right now in one word.” As I sat and watched the responses fill the screen, changing in size according to how many people had submitted that same word, I could hear hope, grief, and a sense of tranquility permeating the music. I especially appreciated that even the performance was continuing the dialogue that had been started.


The second part of the performance was presented by Carla Dirlikov Canales of The Canales Project. An SMTD graduate and acclaimed opera singer, Ms. Canales started Hear Her Song as an initiative that honors “distinguished women leaders through new songs inspired by their words, written by leading female songwriters and composers.” The project has commissioned over 40 songs to date. Ms. Canales’s performance was, without question, my favorite of the evening. My only disappointment was that due to time constraints, she was able to perform only three of the five programmed songs (how I would have loved to hear “This is What” in honor of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, or “What Greatness is Possible” for Jennie Boelkens!). She sang “Foster Love,” a song honoring Lynn Price, who has dedicated her life to reuniting siblings separated by foster care, and “Mercy,” honoring Sister Marilyn Lacey, founder of Mercy Beyond Borders. She then closed with the organization’s theme song, “Hear Our Song” by Katie Pfaffl. Although the audience at that point had dwindled to only about 30 people, the energy was palpable as Ms. Canales’s voice soared to the hummable, empowering anthem. In fact, she will perform that song later this month at the United Nations in celebration of International Women’s Day, which is March 8. It was an uplifting conclusion to an evening of hard conversation.


Tuesday’s performance on the theme “Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Awareness and Prevention in the Performing Arts” has given me hope that together, we can address the issues that need to be addressed.

REVIEW: Complex Rhythms

This past weekend, the School of Music, Theatre and Dance’s Department of Dance staged a fantastic performance entitled Complex Rhythms at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Featuring four separate works, each had its own unique character and feel.

The performance opened with 7 x 12 and a Little Bit of Cha-Cha, a work by Robin Wilson with a jazzy and joyful, toe-tapping feel. Featuring live music by members of the Grammy-nominated ensemble Straight Ahead, I was immediately taken by the musicians’ position onstage, rather than off to the side. Before the dancers entered the stage, the musicians treated the audience to a jazz feature, solidifying the fact that they were an integral part of the work. Throughout the dancers’ rhythmic choreography, it remained evident that music was intended to play a very central role in 7 x 12 and a Little Bit of Cha-Cha. Additionally, the costume design, with bright colors and swinging skirts, complemented both the choreography and the music.

Next was the premier of Studio A, will you die with me? by Jennifer Harge, “a fire ritual that works to disrupt the anti-black, heteronormative, and capitalist structures that live within the fabric of Western dance studios and dance curriculums.” Featuring a backdrop of rows and rows of lit (electric) candles, ashen-colored costumes, glittering masks, and a long blue piece of fabric spread across the front of the stage, it was a performance that was at once unsettling and challenging, confusing and thought-provoking. Additionally, the soundtrack of the choreography was norm-defying and fascinating – it was an aural hodge podge that was not exclusively music, and for a length of time it was a recording of what seemed to me to be a woman humming singing while washing dishes.

My personal favorite of the evening was Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, a new work by Bill DeYoung set to a recording of Leonard Bernstein’s “Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs” by the University of Michigan Symphony Band. With a backdrop of lights that resembled a collage of starry night sky and brick wall, the entire performance had a swinging, urban vibe that hearkened back to another era, while simultaneously remaining modern.

Last was probably the most monumental of the evening’s works, Shelter by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. First staged in 1988 “to address the suffering and isolation of homelessness,” the version performed by the Department of Dance was adapted after Hurricane Katrina “to address the lives of the people that the hurricane left homeless.” It was a powerful performance, featuring spoken word (by Associate Professor Robin Wilson, original company member of Urban Bush Women, who first staged Shelter in 1988) and percussion as accompaniment to the emotive choreography. “I ain’t fled nothing. My country fled me,” Professor Wilson emphatically repeated.

Complex Rhythms explored a wide variety of human emotion and struggle, and it was a boundary-challenging, thought-provoking performance. Congratulations on an excellent performance to all those involved!

REVIEW: Swaranjali

This year, Swaranjali was a little more limited in scope than it has been in the past – I believe there were fewer performances than I’ve seen in previous years. However, the performances were, as always, of excellent caliber. Every time I attend a Sahana concert, I find something different to consider as I watch the performance. This time, there were two things that struck me.

First, one of the performances was a Kathak piece, Kathak being one of India’s classical dances. About 15 years ago, I used to take lessons in Bharatanatyam, another Indian classical dance. I’ve seen multiple performances of both styles of dance and others before, yet it was only last night that I consciously registered that there is a difference in the way Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancers hold their hands. The way you hold yourself – what I know from partner dancing as ‘frame’ – is incredibly telling about the feel of a dance. I’m amazed it took me this long to see the distinction, but after having realized this, it was interesting to think that to experienced performers, the difference, of course, must be a night-and-day contrast.  And yet Sahana often does performances that blend different styles of music and/or dance, and the way they navigate that blend has never been jarring. I think their performances are stronger for it, and in fact, that was the theme of another dance piece at Swaranjali. This one was first danced in Bharatanatyam, then in Odissi (a third classical dance), and then in a combination of the two. It was incredibly intriguing to see two dancers, each experienced in one style, try the other’s style and manage to put their own spin on it. The performance worked very well, showing that interdisciplinary work often produces the most innovative results.

The second thing that struck me as a result of Swaranjali was the very different air around performances of classical music. In India, classical music seems to flow much more freely between improvisational and structured music. It also seems to have a much more collaborative air (although, not having attended very many jazz concerts, I can’t make an authoritative comparison to jazz). When listening to Indian classical music it always seems like a team effort even if there’s only one person playing at the moment – I think it might come from a general sense on my end that the musicians are all very attuned to each other, and that the music they’re improvising is still stylistically cohesive with the piece they’re playing, both of which I find don’t always happen in other improvisations.

And, of course, there’s a certain joie de vivre about an Indian performance that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. Sahana’s performances always evoke for me that sense of tight-knit belonging, humor, and pride that I feel when I am surrounded by my cultural heritage.

REVIEW: SMTD@UMMA Performance: Press A-Flat to Play

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never played most of the games referenced at Sunday’s concert “Press A-Flat to Play” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, but nevertheless, it was one of the most fascinating concerts I’ve been to this year. The event was very well attended, with very few open seats. Centered around Dr. Matthew Thompson’s research of video game music, the evening consisted of performances by the six students that make up his video game music piano studio.

Presented in the museum apse, there was a juxtaposition between the video game scenes projected on a screen behind the piano and the large classical paintings surrounding the audience in gilded frames. In part, I think, this highlighted one of the purposes of the concert – to feature video game music as art.  From the program notes: “Game music is crafted to further plot development, much like music in an opera, a music or for a film…Video game music, native to the Age of the Internet, is relevant, important, and as much art as anything else you’ve heard in this space.”

I particularly enjoyed the concert because, unlike traditional performances where the performers play the pieces in the program one after another, Dr. Thompson spoke in between the pieces, highlighting various parts of the upcoming piece. For instance, prior to the performance of “Stand Your Ground” from the game Final Fantasy XV, he discussed the difficulty of creating a piano arrangement that mimics the sound of the full orchestra that the piece was originally scored for. Before the audience enjoyed “Concert Paraphrase on Dearly Beloved,” Dr. Thompson mentioned that the piece references works by Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin. For me, these reflections added to the value of the performances, such that even though I was not familiar with most of the music, I still greatly enjoyed the concert.

One of the pieces that I couldn’t not recognize, and probably one of the audience favorites of the evening, was a jazzy version of the Super Mario Brothers theme. As not Dr. Thompson noted, not all arrangements of video game music attempt to be faithful to the original!

Finally, I could not help but notice the acoustics of the museum apse. Underneath the high ceilings and surrounded by stone columns, each note echoed through the space, creating a unique sonic effect that you wouldn’t normally experience in a concert hall!

REVIEW: Yule Ball

I attended the Michigan Quidditch Team’s Yule Ball with the idea of evaluating how well it brought the magic of Hogwarts into a Muggle college world. As a result, this post is not about the success of the ball as a social event and fun excuse for dressing up; it is about the success of the ball as an artistic interpretation and translation of Hogwarts.

As I understand it, the purpose of the Hogwarts Yule Ball was to provide a formal setting for the students to enjoy themselves and interact with other students. I think the UM Yule Ball could have done better on all three fronts – my overall comment is that it was a little disjointed. For one, instead of producing a Yule Ball experience, they attempted to provide a more generic Hogwarts one. Their decorations included a chess set with knee-high pieces, a Sorting Hat photo booth, and two sets of Quidditch hoops festooned with string lights. While successfully evocative of Hogwarts, these pieces didn’t do much to convey the sense of elegance I would have expected of a Yule Ball. Naturally, the Michigan Quidditch Team doesn’t have the same budget Hogwarts presumably has, or the ability to create decorations out of nothing. However, having planned similar events myself, I do believe it would absolutely have been possible to come up with an equally photograph-worthy set of elegant decorations that didn’t exhaust the budget, especially since this is something the Quidditch team holds every year and therefore the purchases they make could be seen as long-term investments.

In accordance with that, I think it was unclear exactly how formal the ball was intended to be: while most people did dress formally, there were others wearing casual clothes and even within the formal clothes there was a wide range of formality. I rather imagine Professor McGonagall would not have approved.

It was interesting to note, however, that teenagers have not changed much. I was reminded of Harry and Ron sitting on the side refusing to dance with their dates, partially courtesy of the number of phones that were being looked at while their owners slouched at the periphery of the League Ballroom, completely disengaged from the rest of the happenings. So as a venue for “fraternizing,” as Ron put it, there was very little of that happening either. Even in Hogwarts people were more willing to ask other people to dance (recall both Parvati and Padma Patil being asked to dance by boys from Beauxbatons), whereas here there wasn’t even that much dancing. The only real enthusiasm came with the select few songs people obsess over (like “Africa”). A major contributing factor to this was probably the fact that the playlist appeared to have been crowdsourced, so nobody had curated a list of dancing-appropriate songs in an order that made sense. This added to the overall disjointed nature of the event – at the Hogwarts Yule Ball, the Weird Sisters performed for the entire duration of the ball.

For a more faithful interpretation of the Hogwarts Yule Ball, the UM Yule Ball could have done with a little more vision. A cohesive conception of how they wanted the ball to go, and some added structure in how they set about achieving that conception, would have improved the experience of the Yule Ball considerably.