PREVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Anyone familiar with the Bible, and even those who aren’t, know the tale of Judas Iscariot, or are at least familiar with this name that has gone down in infamy. The Great Traitor. The ultimate betrayal. Beware of a Judas kiss.

But what if his story isn’t as simple as we thought? What if there’s a lot more to it? What if he’s not the sinner the Bible paints him to be?

Stephen Adly Guirgis unravels the life behind this character — this person — who is so commonly villainized and possibly misunderstood. With special appearances from St. Matthew, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, and, of course, Satan himself, the story of this court case questions exactly what it means to be guilty and what it means to achieve redemption.

SMTD is putting on a student production of this play that delves deep into the flaws of humanity and the decisions that are made. Come to the Arthur Miller Theatre on February 15-18 to watch Judas’s ultimate fate be determined. Showtimes are at 7:30pm, 8pm, or 2pm with tickets at $12 with a student ID or $20 for general admission that can be purchased at http://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/ or at the Michigan League Ticket Office.

 

REVIEW: VSA’s Annual Đêm Việt Nam Culture Show

For people of different ethnicities born in America, it can be difficult to embrace a culture that seems so distant and detached. Through a mix of traditional and modern Vietnamese dances at VSA’s sold-out cultural show, DVN, we followed the journey of Anna as she was immersed into a culture she struggled to identify with.

Traditional dance props included umbrellas, Northern hats, ribbons, lanterns, and fans, twirled and spun and thrown in ways that highlighted the beauty of a proud past unforgotten. This culture embraces these meaningful traditions, and that respect is translated through dances centered around these objects that hold significant history. Whether elegantly simple like the NQT dance or with fast-paced flairs like the Fan dance, and or a mishmash of everything like the Traditional Medley, the traditional dances gave Anna a firm grasp and better understanding of her family’s culture.

The modern hip hop dances reflected the changing of culture, a culture with its roots in the past but includes the times of the present. These dances definitely got the loudest cheers from the audience with their impressive moves. Their use of American and Vietnamese songs point to the mixing of American culture with others, especially found in the new generations born here; nonetheless, the power of these dances proves the ability for different cultures to adapt to new influences while retaining their originality.

 

With the interspersed schedule of traditional and modern dances, the energy never died down throughout the show. Also included was a fashion show displaying various Vietnamese traditional garments and a guest performance by Izzat that further promoted culture. The colorful light work added an extra level of spice and excitement. The emcee dialogue was cringeworthy and the jokes were dry, but most shows are like that. Anna’s journey set up the next dances nicely, moved the storyline along, and united the dances under a common theme — just like culture does.

The hard work of all the dancers, choreographers, behind-the-scenes workers, and especially the DVN board paid off last night as Anna successfully found her light by the end. The DVN show showed that “the culture is with you wherever you go” through the art of dance.

REVIEW: Flux by Cadence Dance Company

Cadence Dance Company performs “Green Light”

“Continuous change or movement.”

That’s the definition of the word flux. But it’s also a summary of Flux, Cadence Dance Company’s winter show.

With a collection of contemporary pieces set to a soundtrack of indie music, Cadence, a self-choreographed dance company, showcased more than just movement. They told stories with every piece, stories that changed and evolved as the dances developed.

Especially in their large-group numbers — which I preferred to the small-group ones — Cadence showed a willingness to take risks with their choreography. The opening number, “8 (Circle)” utilized unique formations and lifts to great effect.

The small-group numbers didn’t have enough dancers to use those formations, so several of them had more standard contemporary moves. That didn’t mean it wasn’t innovative, though. My favorite of the small groups was “All Night,” which featured stools as props.

Cadence was strong technically, especially when it came to their turns.  There you could see the amount of rehearsal they put in; their turns were well synchronized even in complicated turn sequences. But at the same time, they didn’t overdo it on the turns.

However, my favorite technical aspect of Cadence’s dances were the lifts. Many numbers — especially the large-group ones — incorporated impressive lifts that at once showed grace and strength.

I was especially impressed with the finale, “Landfill.” The choreography was unique and affecting. The lifts and turns looked good. And though it was a full-company number, the end featured partner work. The partner choreography added to the meaning of the dance’s narrative about a toxic relationship. The two partners’ chemistry was such that it made you feel something. The number packed a punch and was the perfect ending to the show.

Cadence’s penultimate piece was called “Vor Í Vaglaskógi.” It was a senior number, a concept I haven’t seen from any other student groups. I liked the concept of giving the seniors one last number together, and that added more meaning to the movement.

That said, some of Cadence’s other numbers were somewhat forgettable. They weren’t bad by any means, but there was somewhat of a gap between the best numbers of the show and the others. I may have made the show a little shorter — putting more emphasis on the strongest numbers without really taking anything away.

The guest numbers — from hip-hop crews FunKtion and Encore, a cappella ensemble The Friars and tap dance group RhythM Tap — complemented Cadence nicely without overshadowing the main show.

All in all, Flux was an impressive concert that brought to the table things I haven’t seen from any other student dance group.  Their passion for what they did shined through and created something unique and bigger than themselves.

PREVIEW: VSA’s Annual Đêm Việt Nam Culture Show

The Vietnamese Student Association is back for their annual culture show, Đêm Việt Nam (A Night in Vietnam), filled with traditional and modern dances to showcase Vietnamese culture.

The show follows the journey of a young girl trying to find her truth with this year’s theme — Find Your Light: Đi Tìm Ánh Sáng. This entirely student run show has over 120 student performers with 10 different dances and guest performers.

Ticket prices are $5 presale, $8 at the door for UM students, and $10 for general admission. Tickets can be reserved here and will be on sale at the Posting Wall in Mason Hall from January 22nd to January 26th from 10am – 4pm. All proceeds will go to Pacific Links Foundation to support the sustainable development of Vietnamese communities such as combating human trafficking, enhancing children’s education, and empowering women to become leaders. Visit the Facebook event page for more information on how to get tickets.

The night of enlightening culture will take place on Saturday, January 27 from 7-9pm in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. Come on out to support an important cause and watch this story unfold onstage through the powerful language of dance.

REVIEW: It’s TAPpening

RhythM Tap Ensemble perform “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” at their winter show “It’s TAPpening”

That tappened. And it was, well, fanTAPstic.

Puns aside, RhythM Tap Ensemble drew me in from the moment the curtain went up. For the first part of the opening number, “Cry Me a River,” the stage was dark. It was all shadows and the sound of synchronized tapping.

I never would have expected a tap dance to “Cry Me a River,” but it worked. My only complaint was that the taps were louder than the music, an issue that was fixed for the remainder of the numbers.

“It’s TAPpening” was a first for RhythM. In previous years, they teamed up with another student dance group for their show. This year, for the first time, they had a full-length performance dedicated entirely to them.

In that performance, they displayed their creativity and versatility. They used a wide range of songs for their number — from an acoustic version of “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran to the fast-paced “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes to the electro-house beats of “Five More Hours” by Deorro. But RhythM never bit off more than they could chew. The different styles worked together seamlessly. Rarely did something seem off, and when it did, it was fixed by the end of the number.

However, the highlight of the show for me wasn’t any of those songs. It was “Acappella,” the first half finale. As the name indicates, the number eschewed a song altogether. Instead, it created its own song.

I often don’t like a cappella tap numbers, but this one was done well and it was stunning. The group tapped out its own rhythm, perfectly in sync. The dancing became a kind of percussion. The rhythms became harmonies. And at the end, 16 dancers stopped, leaving just one, tapping solo, still creating her own beat. She started out quickly and slowed down gradually, finally giving in to the intermission as she stopped and the curtain fell.

RhythM’s choreography burst with personality on the upbeat songs, especially “Shape of You” and “Five More Hours.” Both small-group numbers, the chemistry between the dancers was evident. In “Five More Hours,” the sass of dancers Emilia McCotter and Lexi Fata combined with their costumes — sparkly green tops and black leggings — perfectly encapsulated the party feeling of the song.

The guest numbers were also a lot of fun, and all five groups that performed were talented. My only complaint was that Photonix — a glowstick performance group — came directly before “Acappella.” Photonix’s performance was so popular it may have overshadowed the following number, the best of the show. Still, the guest numbers provided a nice change of pace and added more to my list of student groups I need to see.

Though RhythM Tap Ensemble is not one of the most popular student dance groups on campus, their show was my favorite I’ve seen so far. Their rhythm, musicality and unique choreography combined to make a show that left me captivated even after the final curtain.

PREVIEW: FLUX by Cadence Dance Company

The poster for Cadence Dance Company’s winter show, FLUX, lists three definitions of its title.

First, “the action or process of flowing or flowing out.”

Second, “continuous change.”

And third, “a contemporary dance performance.”

The third definition is obviously not the dictionary one, but nevertheless it fits with the other two. Contemporary dance is a study in flow, in change and experimentation.

The title not only fits perfectly, it makes me excited to see what Cadence has in store.

The first time I saw Cadence Dance Company was at Michigan’s Best Dance Crew, where they placed third. At a competition mostly dominated by hip-hop crews, Cadence’s performance was an intriguing change of pace.

Now, Cadence will put on a full-length performance showcasing their own choreography and style. A contemporary, lyrical and modern company, Cadence “presents a balance between the rigors of studies and freedom of movement,” according to their website.

FLUX by Cadence Dance Company will also feature guest performances by other student groups, including hip-hop crews FunKtion and EnCore, tap dance troupe RhythM Tap Ensemble and a cappella ensemble The Friars. The show is on Saturday, January 20 at 7 PM at the Power Center. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for adults at the door, or free with a Passport to the Arts.