REVIEW: ENSPIRED

While EnspiRED is a fashion organization, they described the showcase last night as their annual multimedia event.  The purpose was to highlight the work of all artists around campus, making last night “more than just fashion.”

There were two paintings and a photo print making up the display part of the event, while the majority of the night consisted of live performances.  There were no labels on the visual art but I got a photo of the canvases near the door.

Chase Garrett, a poet, was the first live performer.  It was a political narrative preaching optimism even though the state of America is less than favorable at the moment.  It seemed to resonate with the audience, who was very responsive throughout the evening.

Next was a singer/guitarist, Jake Lemond.  While he reminded me a little of The Lumineers’ main singer, he was unique with his stage presence and skill with the guitar.  He played three songs, most of them alternating between a Travis pick-style verse and a strummed chorus.  There was a lot of strum pattern and vocal variation which made each song different.  He even used harmonics at the end of his last song!

Dennis London, another poet, came next.  His first piece was a rap in the middle of a song played over the speakers.  His second was, in my opinion, a love poem.  He called himself a “photographer by day” and talked about his newly-published book.  The book is about how happiness is earned.  The motivational speech he gave at the end of his performance seemed to be a snippet of that message.

After that, the dance group Ambiance performed.  They were an all-female group.  Their performance was an interesting mix of modern dance, showcasing fluidity of movement and form.  They also incorporated some ballet movements into the piece (which I only recognized because of a history of dance class I’m taking this semester) as interludes between dance exchanges.  I was sitting near the back, however, so it was difficult to see what they were doing sometimes as there was a lot of groundwork.

Unfortunately, my phone died during intermission and I was unable to take notes for the second part of the night.  It was, overall, a very cool experience.

PREVIEW: M-Agination Film Festival

First, watch this film:

That’s only a taste of what you’ll see at the 16th Annual M-Agination Film Fest.  M-Agination Films is a student group operating out of UAC. Producers work with directors, actors, and other film crew members to make passion projects a reality. All films made throughout the year are screened at the festival in April.

When: Thursday, April 6. Doors open at 8 PM and the show starts at 8:30

Where: The Michigan Theater

Cost: FREE!

Also includes FREE T-SHIRTS & POPCORN!

Link to Facebook Event

Link to the M-Agination Films Vimeo Page

PREVIEW: The 55th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF)

The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival in North America (from the Web Site).

The festival is full of indie and oddball films, characteristic of Ann Arbor culture. Over the course of the six day festival, viewers can choose from over 180 films from over 20 countries. Genres include documentary, fiction, animation, and experimental.

March 21 – March 26 (Full Film Schedule View)

Michigan Theater, North Quad, & The Ravens Club

Cost: $12 for adults, and $8 for Students/AAFF Members

There are also FREE Events

Facebook event page

The AAFF is popular enough to warrant an SNL sketch parodying the kind of festival it is.

REVIEW: The Vagina Monologues

By the start of Saturday’s show, the Vagina Monologues had raised over $2,500 for Safe House, which was wonderful to hear. There were far more women than men in the audience–either it was the subject material, or maybe it was because the men were too busy watching the latest NCAA Tournament game.

The show was split into two halves: the first half consisted of students on campus telling their stories, and the second half a rendition of Eve Ensler’s play of the same name. Out of respect for the women in the first half, I won’t post any quotes or pictures. Instead, a checklist of things I gathered:

  1. Found out what the clitoris is
  2. That virginity is a social construct meant to control women
  3. PCOS (polycistic ovary syndrome) makes you have irregular periods, and makes it really hard to lose weight
  4. There is a huge lack of women and diversity in Hollywood (duh)
  5. Don’t spray perfume up your vagina!
  6. Just because you enjoy Anime doesn’t mean you have yellow fever (probably)
  7. Don’t hook up with girls and then refuse to date them
  8. Don’t refuse to take girls out to eat, but then offer to eat them out later
  9. No means no.

The second half–Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues–was in a way more concise than the previous monologues. This was partly due to the fact that each monologue was actually from a compendium of interviews Ms. Ensler had conducted with over 200 women in preparation for the play.

Some stories were raunchier than others, some were funny and some were so serious that the Rackham Amphitheater got so quiet you could hear the breaths of the people in the audience.

One women said the word cunt, and then kept repeating cunt, as well as words that were related and/or sounded like cunt.

Another woman was obsessed with making other women happy, so she stopped being a lawyer to become a sex worker that worked only for women. She was a dominatrix that loved hearing women moan, and the audience received quite the description of the different moans she had heard from various women.

There was only one moment when I felt the urge to “man-splain” something. Regarding Pap smears, one woman wondered aloud why she had to wear a papery apron instead of a velvet robe, and why they used such uncomfortable instruments rather than something else more pleasurable. If Pap smears were like that, the hospital bill would probably be a lot higher than it currently is for the procedure. But alas, I am a graduate student in a physiology program, so medical things stand out to me.

Overall, the Vagina Monologues is a worthwhile event to go to, especially if you are a man. Although not as provocative as it might have been in a more conservative town, the Vagina Monologues is still a raunchy, R-rated show that can help you expand your horizons if you let it.

 

 

REVIEW: Moonlight Film Screening OSCAR WINNER

I’m glad Moonlight won Best Picture over La La Land.  Most  of Moonlight is bleak, yet beautiful; it’s simple, yet incredibly diverse in the range of emotion that flit across the screen.

The film follows Chiron through three stages of his life: “little” catches him as an adolescent boy, “Chiron” offers a few scenes from his teenage years, and “black” shows us a glimpse of the man he eventually becomes. One of the things I liked most about Moonlight was that it never ties anything up neatly in a bow.

At every moment, even in the final shot of the film, Chiron struggles with his sexuality and identity. Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, plays an anchoring father figure during the first third of the film. Then, tragically, he disappears from Chiron’s life due to an off screen death, leaving Chiron floundering when he needs a powerful male figure the most. Chiron eventually becomes a drug dealer, just like Juan, and even adopts the same clothing style and mannerisms as his de facto father.

Although Mahershala Ali won the Oscar for best supporting actor, every single performance in Moonlight is incredible. The film is minimal on dialogue, so the actors do much of the speaking with their faces and body movements. When we do hear someone speaking on screen, the words seem so much more powerful, even though most of the time they’re phrases we hear in everyday conversation.

Somehow Moonlight manages to look incredible on a 1.5 million dollar budget. Much of the film is tinged with cool tones, marked at times by swaths of violent red.  The lighting is deliberate, and complements perfectly a story Juan tells about being called “Moonlight” when he was a boy. The cinematography too is powerful, capturing the range of emotions that occur in each scene.

Moonlight would have felt a lot like a modern day Boyz n the Hood if it wasn’t for the haunting, string-heavy score throughout the film. Almost like in a horror film, the strings quickened during key sequences, but remained beautiful.

I was happy to see a packed room at the Michigan League.  Moonlight is an incredible movie, and I agree in every way that it deserved Best Picture over La La Land. Moonlight has no fears about shoving us face first into questions of what it means to be human without bothering to answer them. Moonlight knows that being human and finding your identity is complicated, and it doesn’t wrap things up in a neat little box.

REVIEW: A Night of Rakugo

Sitting on a 2’x2’ cushion on stage, in front of a large audience, telling a funny story — that is the 400-year-old art of Japanese storytelling, or rakugo.

Having some prior knowledge of rakugo, the moment I heard about a live performance in Ann Arborfree of charge — I knew. I was there. Doors opened at 6:30PM in U-M’s Modern Language Building Auditorium 4. The performance was planned for 7PM sharp. Although my friend and I arrived on time, we were greeted by a full house. In fact, it was so crowded, people were standing against the walls. We were handed a very nice program that was half in Japanese and half in English, detailing the night’s schedule.

Organized by the U-M Japanese Language Program and Center for Japanese Studies, I saw the faculty dressed in kimonos. In case you don’t know what kimonos are, they’re long, loose robes with wide sleeves and tied with a sash, originally worn as a formal garment in Japan.

Seeing beautiful and intricate patterns, colorful fabric, wooden sandals, I could feel my heart punch a hole through my chest. This was the real deal.

Well, thanks to my punctuality, my friend and I found front row seats…on the floor. The faculty handed us Japanese newspapers to sit on and apologized that there were no seats left. It was really no trouble, though. Sitting on the floor was a pain in the butt, but the show was free, and we had a great view of the stage. It was red, with a lush purple 2’x2’ cushion sitting on top of it. A paper lantern stood on each side.

The show began by first teaching the audience a little bit about rakugo and giving a short demonstration as to how a typical performance is done.


Rakugo
is a traditional comedic performance that definitely throws anyone for a loop the first time around, but it’s actually pretty easy to understand. Long story short, the performer sits on the cushion on stage and tells a story. They do this by enacting every character in the story, and using their only two props: a paper fan and a tenugui (Japanese towel). They may stand up on their knees but never on their feet, so the performance never leaves the cushion.

Because the performer has so much to act out, their creativity and skill shine through the performance. They can use the fan as a pair of chopsticks or as a pen, they can use the towel as a letter or a book! The performance really delivers the story.

After the crash course on rakugo, the performances came next. Because the show was organized by the university’s Japanese Language Program, students studying Japanese were able to participate in this unique art of storytelling. One by one, short stories a couple minutes long were told by each student.

One of the students told a story about a little girl greeting her father who had come home from a seaward trip. The girl urged to see his photos of the ocean, gushing over the fish swimming underwater. In one photo, the girl found a sea creature that was uglier than the rest and, disgusted, she asked her father what it was. Then the father scolded her, because it was not a fish — it was her mother!

In rakugo, the story typically leads up to a hilarious punch line at the very end. And honestly, they were really funny! I was cracking up on the floor, trying to hold in my hideous snorts.

After the students were the two Japanese rakugo performers, who had flown to the United States all the way from Japan as cultural envoys. Rakugo professionals.

Yanagiya Sankyo (柳家さん喬) and Yanagiya Kyonosuke (柳家喬之助) are two widely famous rakugo performers in Japan, and tickets to see their shows are priced usually over $30 per person! It was the biggest honor to be able to see their performances for free. I was just happy to be there. Even if I was sitting at eye level with people’s feet.

Unfortunately, photography was prohibited for the two famous rakugo performers. But I promise you, they were amazing. Sitting up there with their commanding presence, their expressions and voices varying with every character — it was truly an art. Just by a small turn of their torso, they suddenly became a different person! Their performances were definitely the highlight of the night.

Yanagiya Kyonosuke (柳家喬之助) performed first with the story Hatsu Tenjin (初天神, “First Tenjin Festival”), which was summarized in the program: “A precocious boy named Kinbou convinces his father to take him to the festival at the Tenjin shrine, on the condition that he won’t bother his father to buy him anything. At the festival, of course, Kinbou can’t help asking for everything he sees, causing problems for his father.”

It was a hilarious performance, and the room roared with laughter as Yanagiya Kyonosuke pouted and wailed as the child. Kinbou was one spunky child, and I loved every second of his character on stage. It was an incredible performance by an incredible performer!

The last performance carries the most prestige in a rakugo show. After a brief intermission, Yanagiya Sankyo (柳家さん喬) delivered the last performance, telling the story of Shinigami (死神, “The God of Death”). In the program, it was summarized: “The God of Death tells a man who has decided that he wants to die that it’s not his time yet and teaches him a way to make a living as a doctor. He grants the man the ability to see the God of Death and teaches him a spell. If the God of Death is sitting by the patient’s feet, then the patient will recover. He simply has to recite the spell and the sick person will get well. If the God of Death is at the patient’s head, there’s nothing that can be done for him. The man becomes very wealthy but spends lavishly on trips and ends up broke. When patients stop coming, he becomes desperate to regain his fortune. But is it possible to trick the God of Death?”

Shinigami (死神, “The God of Death”) is one of the most popular and famous rakugo stories out there, and although it’s a little on the scarier side, it has its funny moments. Shinigami was beautifully told by Yanagiya Sankyo. Everyone was plunged straight into the story as he acted out the God of Death and the cheating doctor. As the God of Death, Yanagiya Sankyo held the fan like a cane under his hands, chuckling at the man’s misfortune. I was enraptured by his performance, visualizing the elements that weren’t there. It was a wonderful story told by a wonderful performer to end a wonderful night.

If you ever catch the word rakugo keep your ears peeled. A story will be told!