REVIEW: Dance Mix 2022: Roaring 20’s

As the audience slowly filed in to the Power Center last Friday, excited chatter and laughter spread throughout the packed room. Anticipation filled the room as introductions were made, along with a touching tribute to previous students who had graduated without a chance to perform at Dance Mix due to the pandemic. The show started off with a series of energetic performances, as EnCore performed their first set and were followed by Revolution, who gave dazzled with their unique yoyo sequences that were choreographed to the music. Although RhythM Tap Ensemble put on three different sets, I would say my favorite was their Mamma Mia set, where they wore costumes resembling those in the movie. The Michigan Ballroom Dance Team also put on quite a performance, with the pairs completing spin after spin. I also loved the enthusiasm brought by the hip-hop groups KGayo3 and Dance2XS, both of which brought the house down with their fast and complex dance moves and popular music choices. 

 

The audience remained energetic throughout the show, granting each group a tremendous round of cheers and applause. What made the show stand out to me was that groups from so many different styles of dance were able to come together to create a diverse and entertaining performance. It was also incredible to witness students display their artistic talent as they performed self-choreographed routines. The night ended with a lively and humorous performance by the all-male group FunKtion, who then joined the rest of the groups to take their bows, all coming together to celebrate a very successful show.

REVIEW: Perspectives: An Exhibition of AAPI Expression

I came to the exhibition severely underdressed. Upon entering the gallery, I was greeted with warm lighting, a spaced out selection of art – giving most pieces their own living space to breathe – and a room full of artists and patrons of the arts. Most are dressed well, not to the nines, but in knee-length black dresses or cardigans, getting semi-formal down to a tee. That label was always a bit confusing for me– what constitutes semi, and how much is too formal? Either way, it didn’t matter. What everyone really came here to see was the art.

Placed in each corner of the room, projectors loop videos, rerunning the media art. For the photography, there are display boards that MA:E and the photographers hammered in themselves. Most of the paintings and fine art span the walls, a couple placed in the center of the room.

After the opening remarks and an acknowledgement about the term AAPI and how it generalizes an incredibly diverse community, especially for Pasifika communities, the gallery tour begins. We roam like sheep, tranced by each new work. Everyone cranes their necks to get a better look, arching around one another to see fit. As much as I enjoy how art is in the eye of the beholder, I like hearing directly from each artist. They explain their intentions specific to each piece and the personal meaning behind their art. The distinctness of each artist’s style and voice, and the unique experiences that shape them, are especially apparent.

Some of the pieces that stood out to me:

Riya Aggarwal’s highly-detailed, depthy paintings immediately caught my attention. Each piece flaunts a deliberate to-the-brim intricacy, yet deftly skirts around appearing too busy. I liked how the content of Riya’s paintings were neither black nor white: she specifically explores the cultural tension between “following in the footsteps of my ancestors and creating my own path.” I admired how her artwork elicits feelings of both pride, celebration, and conflict. In True to My Roots, the dark background, body language, and facial expression of the subject evoke a gripping emotionality. 

True to My Roots (2020)

Keri Yang’s paintings pop off the page. I like how even the non-3D elements push the limits of their dimension and create visual allusion. Soulmates plays with border, as the subject encroaches outside of its backdrop.

Soulmates (2021)

Perched high up on the wall, taller than the artist herself, is Michelle Ha’s The Girl with the Iron Fist. With her art, Michelle hopes to “represent Asian American experiences by focusing on representing true narratives rather than focusing on the suffering that prejudices bring.” The lighting in the bathroom of the painting is synonymous to the ballroom’s dim ivory brilliance. “With oil paintings historically being about possession and male pleasure in the western context, I bathed my subject in the light of reclaiming that gaze.” I like how the subject looks half taken off-guard, half-bored yet unwavering. Through peering at the audience, this subject, performing the mundane task of brushing her teeth, confronts “the biases the audience has about East Asian American Women. On another layer, by showing the subject doing an activity anyone may do, I make the experience of being an East Asian American woman more accessible to those that find it hard to find empathy with those different than themselves.”

 

The Girl with the Iron Fist (2021)

Dorothy’s Masked is striking, from both afar and up close. From across the room, at first I thought the aquamarine on the girl’s face looked like tears. The painting emphasizes the importance of masks, and Dorothy chose her subject, her friend Angela, “because of the increase in racism against Asians at the time since the AAPIA community was being blamed for the virus.”

Masked (2020)

Angeline Tran’s Missing Eye, “an experimental top made of denim, selvage, and buttons sewn together both by machine and hand,” was my personal favorite. The material is sewn “to overlap itself and create the illusion of an eye socket and the buttons are placed in the middle, depicting the pupil.” With one eye lying on the breast, and the other at the belly, the garment represents heart and gut instinct. I loved this piece because of its visual attractiveness, message, and frankly, because it’s just so cool. It was also one of the only 3D, sculptural works in the gallery. I am just starting to take a STAMPS sewing mini-course, and hope to take a garment construction class in the future. As someone who expresses creativity largely through writing, exploring visual mediums has been a therapeutic, refreshing process. Angeline’s inventiveness and utilization of scrap material and selvage inspires me to create with intention and take risks with garment sculpture!

Missing Eye (2021)

Event Program: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/66499721/perspectives-gallery-digital-program

REVIEW: RCP Red Eye Winter 2022

Each semester, the RC Players hold their Red Eye Theatre, a spectacular event that is succinctly contained within the confines of a 24-hour period, starting on Friday evening and ending in a showcase performance on Saturday night. What happens in between?

Students audition to write, direct, and/or act in pieces that are concocted and created based on the group of performers present. The group comes together for the first time on Friday evening in East Quad, meeting each other briefly before teams split up to do their own work. While the actors sharpen their improv skills and bond with each other, the writers are banging out comedy skits for their assigned casts. 

Sometime in the early morning, the actors and directors finally receive their scripts, and from then on it’s a race against the clock to put it on the stage: fully blocked, set, costumed, memorized, and energized. This is all unseen to the audience, who roll in at about 8pm to witness the products of this bizarre sleep-deprivation process.

      

Before the Red Eye acts, there was a delightful performance by the Improfessionals—a UMich comedy improv group who set the stage for the wacky comedy ahead. 

The Red Eye acts did not disappoint. The first act took a “princess switch” approach to a prince who doesn’t want to get married (Kyle) and a lonely peasant who just wants a girlfriend (Mina). In a fantastic fairy tale ending, the prince follows his musical dreams and gives a concert for the kingdom, the queen falls in love with the Mina’s rock-eating mother, and Mina ends up with the princess Kyle was supposed to marry. The second act was a twisted play on Dora the Explorer: Boots is feeling like Dora doesn’t see him as an important part of the team anymore. As Backpack and Map are mysteriously murdered one after the other, it’s discovered that Boots will truly stop at nothing to get Dora’s attention. 

Broad summaries don’t do justice to the amount of comedic detail and timing put into the performances, a testament to the work put into these pieces over the span of just 24 hours. The actors brought full energy and action to the pieces, and it worked: even I, who had gotten a full 8 hours of sleep, found myself cackling at the delirious humor that had been created and performed as the result of a group collective all-nighter.

The next Red Eye won’t be until the Fall 2022 semester, but if you’re interested, keep an eye out for how to get involved. Or, if staying up all night isn’t your style, at least make sure to check it out next time it hits the stage.

REVIEW: Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back by Pure Dance

Apparently, the dancers at Pure Dance had been busy last semester.

Their annual showcase took place last Sunday evening and featured nine stunning student-made choreographies complete with all the twirls, body rolls, and hair whips you could ask for. Furthermore, we were treated to a diverse range of guest performances by Salto, Gimble, FunKtion, Groove, Blue Bop Jazz, DB3, and Flowdom. Sitting in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, the energy of the crowd was close-knit and infectious–people were not shy about loudly cheering for their friends on stage. 

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the showcase’s theme coming in, but I found that they were able to present a really interesting curation of dances embodying “resurgence”… and dare I say sexiness?

My favorite number had to be Illusion of Bliss, which was impressively performed in black high heel boots. The contrast between the slow hard beats of the beginning section with these incredibly sensual movements backed by Alicia Keys’ soulful raspy voice and the ending section with the imagery of the dancers sinking to their knees in prayer as she sings “I don’t wanna be a fallen angel” told a compelling story. Meanwhile, Mad at You and War of Hearts approached the concept from a more modern/contemporary angle, with flowing cascades of movement. Like a Boy seemed to pull from old-school hip hop influences with sharp jutting elbows while Toxic had a high-energy hard rock edge such that the dancers were practically throwing themselves into poses.

I also thought the guest performers did an incredible job. Hip hop dance practice videos on Instagram are probably one of my guilty pleasures, so I loved FunKtion’s tight transitions and incorporation of humor as well as Flowdom’s clean hits and charisma. Plus, it was nice to see Blue Bop Jazz’s saxophones hyping each other up during their solos!

The final choreography was Bride, which created some beautiful visuals out of the entire ensemble. The dancers wore a pretty pastel/neutral color palette and had a continual flow of synchronized bodies passing on and off stage, which paired well with the bubbly hopeful music. As a goofy ending note, the showcase fittingly concluded with everyone dancing to Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack for the curtain call.

Congratulations to all the performers who were a part of the event! I look forward to seeing what Pure Dance will bring next.

PREVIEW: Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back by Pure Dance

I don’t typically frequent dance events, but with a name like “Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back,” I had to check this one out. 

Pure Dance is a student-run organization at the University of Michigan that welcomes dancers with a broad range of backgrounds. They will be hosting their annual showcase this Sunday, featuring member-choreographed dances and guest performances from an exciting mix of a capella, instrumental, and other dance groups.

Although I have long buried my childhood ballerina days, I am excited to see some of my friends perform on stage. Additionally, I look forward to getting to know some of the other performance groups on campus. While Pure Dance is known for doing contemporary and jazz dance styles, I have also been told to look out for ballet, hip hop, and K-pop!

Come support Pure Dance on Sunday, January 23rd at 6:00 pm at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater! Free tickets are available through this month’s Passport to the Arts.

Event info: myumi.ch/488My

REVIEW: Blue Bop Jazz Orchestra Winter Concert

When a band says they only rehearsed their set for two months, I do not expect the level of quality and pizzazz that I heard at the Blue Bop Jazz Orchestra’s Winter Concert last week.

The Blue Bop Jazz Orchestra is a student-run swing band at UM! As they warmed up in the Hussey Room at the Michigan League before the concert, I marveled at how they got the whole band to fit in such a tiny space, music stands and elbow room and all. The rhythm section was tucked away behind the piano so sadly from my seat I couldn’t see them very well. The advantage was that their sound truly filled the whole room.

They alternated between classic jazz pieces and holiday songs, lending each one a great interpretation of swing and mood. Complicated, syncopated rhythms are one of the trickiest parts of playing jazz music. The student leader/conductor of the band was also playing guitar, so the players only got a quiet count off at the beginning and then had to find their own way without a conductor for the rest of the piece. They did a fantastic job of it and had such a strong sense of rhythm with each other.

Improvisation is another defining element of jazz. I could never do improv but it’s one of my favorite things about jazz. It involves players spontaneously coming up with melodies over the chord progressions and accompaniment lines played by the rhythm section. It’s basically music composition on the spot!

The improv soloists were all so impressive. When a player was about to solo in the middle of a piece, they would stand up from their chair and rock the room for anywhere from a few seconds to a minute while the other sections backed them up, then sit back down to wild applause from the audience.

Overall I’m so glad I discovered this group and I cannot wait for their next concert. Their last piece of the evening was my favorite. I included a short clip of the beginning of it down below…let me know if you recognize the tune in the comments 🙂