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: Loch na hEala (Swan Lake)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Loch na hEala opens with the spectacle of a nearly-nude man roped to a cinder block at the stage’s center. The man bleats like goat as he circles his anchorage. From this moment, the audience finds itself gripped with a foreboding curiosity as we are introduced to a small ensemble who guides us through a layered and winding three-pronged retelling of Swan Lake.

Included in the bulletin is a piece written by Keegan-Dolan himself as he reflects on the nature of change, “No matter how unwelcome, [change] is an inevitable part of life: nature’s forces are constantly moving, seeking balance so that life can continue to endlessly unfold.” The spirit of this excerpt was something I observed to be an underlying current in this narrative of moving parts; ultimately, a commentary on the sickness of depression that brings imbalance to life.

The formlessness of this performance keeps one on the edge of their seat, for the troupe distracts and enchants through technical proficiency and the dissonance of chaos that rings consistently. We are told that the darkness in any story is there to teach us something, and that lesson from Swan Lake is that the inability to will change and a failure to know one’s deeper hungers can ultimately lead to the corruption of your spirit. The dark tone of this show left a poor taste in my mouth, but I still felt uplifted by the music and choreography that could be found amidst a show that ultimately seems to appeal to more depraved inclinations.

The choreographed numbers weaved throughout this piece proved to be crafted and technically stunning. I found myself drawn in by these sweeping movements up against a backdrop of potential demise held at bay. Another great highlight was the musical score provided by Slow Moving Clouds, a Dublin-based folk band that combines Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences. Often their music was a prominent influence of a scene yet remained well-hidden, otherwise providing tension or joviality to a dynamic.

The evening ended in a standing ovation, and as I rose to join them mid-clap, I paused and asked myself, exactly what are we celebrating here tonight? While Teaċ Daṁsa pours itself out to express the reality of depression and a life’s potential for tragedy, is praising a work that frames dread as the true reality something that deserves to be called beautiful? While it is true that stories that focus simply on the light often do not fully express what it means to be human, it is not enough to celebrate the darkness without conceding that light does outshine it. A praise-worthy work of art should be something that not only acknowledges darkness and pain, but shows us its true value, to point us to the light.

It was a privilege to attend Teaċ Daṁsa’s crafted work, for few performances have truly invited me to enter into such deep reflection of art and form such as Loch na hEala, an experience that I will not soon forget.

REVIEW: Teaċ Daṁsa Loch na hEala (Swan Lake)

This weekend I saw the most interesting interpretation of Swan Lake I could have imagined. It was put on by a traveling group of performers, why have been touring with this show since 2016, and have won several awards, both for their production and choreography. The music is described as “Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences”. So, I expected maybe a little bit of deviation from the normal storyline of Swan Lake. However, when I walked into the theater, there was a man on stage, wearing a cloth diaper, attached to a cinder block by a rope around his neck, bleating like a goat. Immediately I knew this was not going to be anything like what I had expected, and I was certainly correct. Although there was a lot of symbolism and parts of the performance I did not understand, I definitely enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

The story is narrated by an older man, who acted as both characters in the show, as well as sound effects for different elements of scenes. This man was incredibly talented, playing two people with completely unique voices in one conversation, voicing a radio that was changing channels, and being the sounds of a police vehicle, to name a few of the noises he imitated. His talent almost made you forget you had seen him practically naked and making animal noises at the beginning of the performance. Throughout the show, he tells the story of a younger man and his struggles of depression while living on a moor in Ireland.

The story was sometimes beautiful, and sometimes quite unnerving, which certainly made for a lasting impression. One of these scenes was a birthday party which was held for the depressed young man, and the people who showed up clearly were meant to be disturbed or off-putting in some way. They danced around in a halting jumble of bodies and noises while the young man’s caretaker, his grandmother, cackled into a microphone. She was also holding a cake, which several of the party attendees attacked and grabbed chunks of with their hands, shoving it into their mouths with reckless abandonment. By the end of the scene, they had all preyed upon or overwhelmed each other, and the dance ended with them all motionless, lying on the stage. The emotion of the scene was interestingly unreachable; as an audience member, I was unsure of whether I was supposed to feel pity for this party of strange beings, or whether they were enjoying themselves, and had given into carnal desires by the end. I couldn’t tell if it was actually the party that seemed to be unenjoyable, or it was the young man’s depressed interpretation of the scene. It was entirely disconcerting to be unsure of how to react to what was happening in front of me, and these conflicting emotions stayed with me until the end of the show, where I was still wondering what to make of this haunting scene.

In contrast to some of the more interesting sequences, there were some beautiful dances that mesmerized me. When the young man goes to commit suicide, he is stopped by a young woman in white with angel wings, and they are joined by others in the same outfit. They danced together, in a mix of lyrical and fluid styles. The way the women in white whirled around the young man, almost touching him but not quite, was a display of the immense work they had put into the dance as it was impossible to look away from their ducking and weaving around each other, so close but not quite touching. The ending of the show was definitely the most impressive part, as the different dancers helped to spread small white feathers all over the stage. There must have been pounds of feathers drifting all over, as they threw them up into the air, swirled them around themselves, and even brushed them into the audience. It was amazing how much it looked like it was snowing, and it was even cooler how the dancers’ individual movements were all it took to push the feathers into the sky.

Although the dancing was the focus of the show, the music was by far my favorite part. A small group at the back of the stage played mostly string instruments, sang, and certainly set the mood of each dance. The music was haunting, and soothing, and graceful, all with an undertone of Irish melody. It certainly was a key ingredient in making this show spectacular.

At the end, I wasn’t sure what exactly I had just experienced, but I knew I enjoyed it. I spent the rest of the evening thinking about the show, and what different dances or parts might have meant. I think that is the mark of a good performance- one that makes you think about it long after exiting the theater.

REVIEW: Sankai Juku, Meguri: Teeming Sea, Tranquil Land

After experiencing the Japanese dance form of butoh through Sankai Juku’s meditative performance, I felt both emotionally disturbed yet liberated. The continuous 90-minute ‘dance’ performance, composed of seven distinct acts, is supposedly choreographed to emanate the circularity within processes and systems such as the earth’s transformation and its movement through the four seasons. The eight performers are powdered a stark white from head to toe, donning bald heads, asymmetrical earrings, and mostly white, sarong-like costumes on their lower halves. They move in correspondence to emotionally dynamic music and express a “dialogue with gravity” through both graceful and grotesque movements marked by spinning, jumping, and eerie bodily gesturing. It is personally difficult for me to describe Sankai Juku through a traditional ‘dance’ perspective; I fail to see it confined to any form of dance theatre that I have experienced before. Sankai Juku as a whole feels more akin to a poetically disturbing expression of the human experience, while their interpretation of meguri translates as a storytelling experience that is facilitated by the mostly monochrome stage lighting that changed with each act.

I thought Ushio Amagatsu’s portrayal of the grotesque within the context of meguri communicated to the audience particularly well; Act V, titled Forest of Fossils, left me especially disturbed with my thoughts asunder. It was during this section that I finally reached some sort of understanding of the performers’ wide, gaping, mouths and permanently perturbed eyes – to me, they communicated agony in discovery and marked the climax of the program. During Act V, only three performers are present on a stage set aglow with greenish light; the music is both tensely trembling and pulsating with the sounds of rocks grinding, which calls to mind the natural shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates. Paralleling the earth’s provocations are the performers, who appear the most agitated that they have been, with one performer gesturing the most frantically and in the most ‘agony’ – at one point, that performer drags his limbs across the powdery ground in a tight spiral to form two symmetrical circles, then subsequently emotes in pure tension and agony around the formation of those two circles. The remaining two performers respond in an unsettling symmetry, and their generally upwards arm movements seem to be grasping at some unattainable substance or idea. The desperation and agony contained within this grotesque imagery, combined with the increasingly jarring music, left me feeling deeply unsettled and in rumination of Amagutsu’s artistic intent behind that section.

As much as I enjoyed the dichotomy between the grotesqueness of Amagutsu’s work and the beauty in the circularity and meguri it conveyed, I think the most uniquely beautiful aspect of Sankai Juku is how the performance manages to maintain universality in evoking the most visceral of emotions from its audience. My disturbed reaction to and interpretation of agony from Act V, Forest of Fossils, differs from the next audience member, yet the emotional impact of this does not seem to suffer in the face of Sankai Juku’s widely interpretable themes derived from the human experience.

 

 

REVIEW: Climax.

With films like Black Swan, Suspiria, and now Climax, dance is a staple in horror, both sublime and dangerous. Some kind of magnetism exists to the art, an incredible fascination with the primal power behind the lofty, elegant institutions of dance. Climax is already a bit stripped down in this sense – there is no renowned ballet school, no classical compositions to be centered around. Instead, the film is focused on a diverse dance troupe, and the pace is set from the first major dance sequence to be erotic, sensual, and chaotic.

Climax feels like an amalgamation of limbs and sound, as if it were a strange animal pulsating with bass and red lights, with a feral energy that doesn’t stop until the party’s over. There isn’t really a script, and it was noted by the director Gaspard Noé that most of the scenes were improvised, shot linearly, over the course of only a few days. It feels organic and crude, surreal in some ways and too real in others.

The cinematography is unusual, with brutally long takes, and the camera primarily focused on the mesmerizing choreography and disorientating scenes that almost seem to amount to nothing. If there is supposed to be a story line, a significance behind everything that unfolds over the course of the movie – then it’s lost to a special echelon of hell that spills across the screen.

At first, the film starts off like any other onscreen party: a bit hedonistic, a bit messy, full of drama and gossip and dancing. The audience is exposed to the private problems and personal relationships between the members of the troupes through cuts towards the different characters at different points during the party.

Things are amplified when the group realizes that their sangria had been spiked with LSD, and all pleasures and desires reach unthinkable magnitudes before turning dangerous. Dance is melded with violence and paranoia, and the scenes turn into an unending, bizarre, sensory surge. While this feeling is nearly normalized by the end of the movie, a few scenes we see through the eyes of some of the only coherent characters are the realizations of the nightmarish reality.

Climax is a polarizing film, strange in composition and delivery, but undoubtedly powerful. It’s a movie that is difficult to make sense of with the traditional parameters of good film-making, and is probably most aptly described as a bad trip – perfectly filmed as such, and unforgiving in how far it takes the viewer down a path of indistinguishable pleasures and pains. The ending reveal almost feels insignificant in comparison to the trauma of the rest of the movie.

While beautifully shot and unmistakably special, Climax is difficult to watch and reads more like an abstract exploration of the moraless, raw side of the human condition than an actual plot. It’s interesting, it’s an experience, and it’s probably a masterpiece in its own genre, but it is definitely not for everyone – maybe not even for most people.

REVIEW: The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon was a wonderful production, put on by Broadway in Detroit at the Fisher Theatre. It is undeniable that the stage was almost glowing throughout the entire show. The bright lights and set decor were a defining part of the experience, giving it the livelihood that such a musical, with compelling identities and enthusiastic characters, deserves. The vibrant colors of the costumes further complemented these strong production aspects, while also playing well into building the separate identities of the characters. The animated performances of the cast were obviously doing the heavy-lifting. Between the identifiable characters, the strong choreography, or the catchy, witty tunes, the cast managed to bring life to the entire show.
For people who are unfamiliar with the show, here it is: two 19-year-old mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Young, are sent out to Uganda for their first two year mission, and it’s not what they expected. Price had hoped to be sent to Orlando Florida, and follower Young just wanted to be Price’s sidekick – but instead he ends up converting many Ugandans on his own terms. Through their adventures with religion, culture, and interaction, the show expresses satire, and sometimes even deeper emotion.
My favorite parts of the show would have to be the songs “Baptize Me” and “Joseph Smith, American Moses” and the choreography. In the former, Elder Young goes through the process of baptizing Nabulungi, which is full of sexual implications. I think I loved this one because Young is such a charismatic character – he brings many laughs to the show, while also forcing the audience to empathize with him because of his low self-esteem. In the latter, the villagers put on a show for the Mormon missionaries, which is entertaining thanks to the juxtaposition between the Ugandans and the Americans reaction. The choreography is a major part of the show, paying tribute to all different genres and parts of musical history. Such complexity and variety from song to song is refreshing, fun, and completely classic. I guess it’d be foolish to expect anything but hyper-theatricality, even if it is a show focused on Mormons in Uganda.
The only issue I had with the show was, well, the show. I knew that it was somewhat controversial, but generally hailed as a brilliant production. However, as I sat through the first act, it took me some time to warm up to the jokes and feel comfortable with them. This is not because I don’t like or am not used to comedy – I love it. And beyond that, find it to be an extremely effective means, specifically when battling confusing identities, ones that are often stereotyped or oppressed. Comedy is awesome. But for some reason, the portrayal of the Ugandans, an imperative part of the show, was not cutting it for me. And despite having thought and read about the story, I still cannot put my finger on what exactly turned me off. It could be due to the current climate our world is in – one where outlandish, seemingly ridiculous ideas that appeared and functioned as jokes are finding their footing in societies that are supposed to be increasingly “progressive” and “forward-moving.” It could be a variety of reasons, objective or subjective. I’m toying with ideas here, still trying to understand why I didn’t love my matinee musical experience quite as much as I hoped that I would. Instead I’ve been left as a slightly confused google-searcher and review-hunter.
However, I saw that by the second act, as a whole, the Ugandans were more humanized and credible. They knew that everything Young was spewing to them, about kissing frogs to cure AIDS and yatta yatta, was metaphors. And by the end of the show, we’re on a positive note again, just as hopeful as Elder Price was at the beginning when he hoped to be sent to Orlando, acknowledging the importance of religion and beliefs to many people, no matter their differences. All in all, I’d say The Book of Mormon is a put-together production worth seeing, and one worth taking a more critical look at, too.