PREVIEW: DANCE MEDITATION

Dance Meditation

Dance Meditation is a meditative, community dance party happening in Ann Arbor this Sunday. Originated by Michael Patrick Peters, the practice started in Detroit and has migrated toward our town for the weekend. Based on the yogic movement techniques, the practice is inspired by an experimental healing ideology called Transforming Tension Through Creativity. Dance Meditation involves letting loose and moving the body however it needs to in order to expel tension or creative blockage. Two of my friends wo are U of M grads that recently moved to Detroit attended the original Detroit variation. They claimed it was the most invigorating experience they had ever shared with their new community.

For an energetic, cathartic, liberating, rejuvenating, creative evening of dance, don’t miss this unique opportunity to let loose and be free. The event will start at 5:30 pm on Sunday February 24th at Concourse Hall (4531 Concourse Drive). $15 at the door includes space to dance and tea following the meditation. Check out the Facebook event for more details and directions. See you there!

REVIEW: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

ASPEN SANTA FE BALLET

Last weekend, the Aspen Santa Fe performed at the Power Center. It was a rainy Sunday and I spent the morning eating brunch at a hole-in-the-wall cake shop on the Old West Side called Jefferson Market and then watching the matinée performance. The indulgent outing felt  both classic and obsolete: When was the last time I, a.) attended a ballet or b.) went to a matinée that was preceded by brunch on the town? My only justification was that going to the performance was required for my ballet class. But I am very glad that it was because the dance itself was truly a spectacle.

The show was visually stunning, incredibly professional, tightly rehearsed, and impressively physical. The presentation was a breath taking combination of artistry and athleticism that I have rarely seen. The costumes revealed a great deal of skin and muscle on both males and females that really made me wonder how many crunches they all do per day. Half the drama of the show was simply the chiseled appearance of their abs and buns. I’m serious.

The piece was comprised of three acts; Square None (2012), Stamping Ground (1983), and Over Glow (2011). Each act differed from the next in its score, its choreography, its costumes design, and its lighting scheme, but it was clear that they were intended to be a part of a unified, coherent performance.

The first piece used grey lighting and darker musical tones while the second used no music and bright lighting. The first two appeared to make commentary on modern culture: the first was structured around bionic, wind-up-doll-like gestures. The second was very animalistic and primitive, using the body as a drum to make rhythms rather than electronic sound. (The second piece was by far my favorite; it was the most animated, relatable, and story-like whereas the other were more theoretical and abstruse). The last piece was the prettiest, with pastel colors and graceful lifts, leaps, and pirouettes. It was lovely to watch, but was my least favorite act because it felt sort of flat in comparison to the creativity in the previous two.

One thing I have not mentioned yet is the fact that this kind of ballet is not like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. It’s not classical ballet, its neo-classical; its contemporary. It uses the same structure and techniques as ballet (straight legs, delicate fingers, turned out feet) but also incorporates movement that more resembles modern dance. Contemporary ballet allows for a greater breadth of movement and does not adhere as strictly to the lines set forth by the original forms of classic ballet. In many ways, especially after seeing Aspen Santa Fe’s performance, I find myself drawn to this genre. It is still both pretty and recognizable, but also fluid, creative, and unusual.

Sunday brunch and a matinée at the Power Center is one of the easiest assignments I’ve ever been given. Oh, and one last fun fact about the costume design from Square None was that it was designed by Project Runway celebrity contestant Austin Scarlett. Who knew.

Preview: Dance for Mother Earth Powwow

From the Native American Student Association:

The Native American Student Association is hosting the 40th Annual Dance for Mother Earth Powwow next weekend, March 17 and 18, at Pioneer High School. Powwows are gatherings that Native American people use as a place to meet, dance, sing and otherwise renew and strengthen our rich culture.
These gatherings are held year-round and many Native people travel great distances to attend them.

Today, the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow is one of the largest university powwows in the nation; according to USA Today Travel, it is one of “10 great places to be wowed by American Indian culture.” The 2012 Powwow will continue the tradition of providing a gathering place for Native Americans to celebrate and share their culture with one another, and for others who are interested in learning about our country’s strong indigenous heritage. This year’s Powwow will host over 150 dancers, 12 drums, and over 33 vendors/artists from across the nation and throughout Indian Country. In addition, there will be special celebrations to pay tribute to 40 strong years of powwowing for Mother Earth.

Blue Michigan buses will be running from the Michigan Union every half hour all Saturday and Sunday.

40th Annual Ann Arbor Dance for Mother Earth Powwow
40th Annual Ann Arbor Dance for Mother Earth Powwow

REVIEW: Pina

The Oscars happened last Sunday and The Artist was a sweep. But this time next year, look out for the film Pina. See it in theaters now, remember it when awards season rolls around in a year. This spectacle is bound to be a hit.

Based on the life and work of German choreographer Pina Bausch, this 3-D film mixes an explosive combination of mediums: film, dance, choreography, set design, music, sound, lighting, language, graphics, special effects, cinematography. A sensational splendor.

Pina’s work in modern dance escalated in the 1970’s and continues to be influential today. Her role as a director is most prominent in Tanztheater, which translates to “dance theater.” She spearheaded a company in Germany by the same name, though throughout her career she worked with the gamut of cross-continental dance fame. In Tanztheater, Pina created celebrated pieces such as Rite of Spring (1975), and Café Müller (1978). Both are exemplary of her outrageous style: in the former, dancers move about on stage completely covered in soil and in the latter, they aggressively crash into chairs and tables on a café set. Both are reenacted beautifully in the film.

Image from Café Müller

Image from Rite of Spring

So thats the overview of who Pina is: a creative, expressive, and innovative movement artist. And now about this crazy movie that she inspired: Oscar-nominated film maker Wim Wenders has been a fan of Pina since the 80’s and decided to document her work in action. His crew followed hers long before the project took off, building artistic relationships between those in front and behind the camera. Unfortunately, days  before the shooting began, Pina died unexpectedly of a sudden cancer. The fim, therefore, began a tribute to her life more than just a portrayal or her work ethic.

The sets incorporated a wild combination of elements. Here, I mean earth elements: dirt, mountains, water, plant life. Some performances were filmed on a traditional stage, while others sought peculiar venues like rooftops, subway trains, swimming pool decks, or glass paneled houses in the woods.

The dance numbers were performed by professionals from Pina’s company. Their segments were separated by close- ups combined with voice overs in the variety of languages spoken by the worldly crew: Spanish, French, German, Portugese, Japanese, Chinese, English, and more. They talked of Pina as a guiding artist and all that her ingenuity and freedom of expression taught them about themselves, their bodies, and their work.

Counter to the common conception of dancers as always youthful, these workers ranged vastly in their ages. I found this point to be very curious. It spoke to the life long development of artists and how they become enriched as they ripen in their craft. Their ages may be have been evident on their skin, but the astounding strength and nimbleness of the dancer’s bodies far from gave them away. In fact, there was one piece in which dancers of various eras of life were dressed in identical outfits, confusing the audience about who was who. It was a number that could only have been performed for screen dance. I don’t see how this switching of characters could be performed live without the trickery of editing.

I asked my cousin, who works as a professional ballet dancer for the Boston City Ballet, his opinion on the work. “I thought it was beautiful,” he said. “She’s so unique in her choreography.”

And I agree! Watching Pina was one of the most visually pleasing experiences I have had in a long time.It was creative, stunning, marvelous, and inspirational beyond belief. I would feel badly for anyone who misses the opportunity to experience it.

Hurry up and see it! I’m serious, this was a very powerful artistic undertaking. The documentary has already swept up  The European Film Awards and German Film Awards, as well as receiving nominations or Official Selections from The Academy Awards, New York, Telluride, and Toronto Film Festivals. Pina is only playing at the Michigan Theater through this Sunday, March 4th. Check the Michigan Theater website for show times. Also, here’s and interview with director Wim Wenders from the New York Times. For more background on the production, check out the movie’s website .

REVIEW: Defining Movement

Tuesday February 21st at 7 p.m. Washtenaw County Community College’s (WCC)  Dance4Unity resident dance company performed their choreographer’s showcase, Defining Movement. The show was held at WCC’s Towsley Auditorium, a really impressive small auditorium, perfect for intimate shows like this one.

The evening showcased the original choreography of the dancers in Dance4Unity. There was a range of dance styles showcased, with several hip-hop numbers, and a few modern/contemporary pieces as well. The show was aptly titled, as each student choreographer was given the chance to define movement in their own way, through their own original work. It was really wonderful to see students so inspired by movement, expressing themselves through dance. That students showcased their own personal expression through movement choreography on stage for an audience is really wonderful and inspiring to me personally, as a dancer and aspiring choreographer. I often feel too critical of myself as a dancer and a choreographer that I keep myself from choreographing or showcasing my choreography out of fear, but the bravery and openness of the students in this show really impressed me and inspired me to be braver in sharing my creativity through movement as well.

That being said, though the show was really strong in a variety of interesting concepts, many of the dancers’ technique was lacking. However, there were a few dancers that really stood out, like a male hip-hop dancer who performed a solo in “Second Chances”, a piece to Justin Timberlake’s “Losing My Way”. His movements were both sharp and on-point, and smooth and emotive. He could have used more of the stage, but overall he was a really impressive hip hop dancer. Another dancer who caught my eye was a female contemporary/hip-hop dancer who performed in “Chasing Memories”, a really innovative dance set to acoustic music, in which three people walked across the stage, as if they were walking down the street in every day life, then they froze, and she began dancing in a very mechanical way, posing and hitting certain points in the music, creating beautiful contemporary shapes with control and articulation. The dance conveyed a very interesting concept, and she danced beautifully. There were also some really great dancers in the hip-hop ensemble that performed several pieces in the show. However I sometimes felt that in these pieces the choreography was lacking innovative movements, and that the dancers could have used the stage more, creating different formations and using traveling movements. And with the heavily mixed music of today’s club hits, and the frequent booty-shaking, I couldn’t help but think, “This is the stage, not the club!” Most people can dance in a club, I knew these dancers were capable of higher performance-quality movements. I would love to see them raise the bar and work toward this in their next performance.

There were also a few pieces in which it seemed the student choreographers were not taking the show seriously. It was hard to believe they were allowed to have a place in the showcase. For instance, in “Tainted Love” two girls dressed in lingerie and garter belts, one in a bondage-type outfit, the other a french maid outfit, both leaving little to the imagination, danced a gothic bellydance number, to a heavy metal version of the song “Tainted Love”, with a man tied to a chair on the stage. I don’t recall seeing any actual bellydancing, but they did do a lot of crawling on the floor and prancing around the man in the chair on stage. It was very inappropriate and held no artistic value whatsoever. Another dance, a solo called “Everybody Boogie” was also questionable, and could have been emitted from the show. A woman danced around the stage as if she was dancing around her house with the radio on for several minutes. It was very drawn out, and did not appear to be choreographed in the least bit. It was great that the showcase gave everyone a chance to perform, however it sacrificed quite a bit of merit in allowing individuals to perform in the showcase who did not put time and serious effort into choreographing a dance.

All in all, Dance4Unity did a wonderful job in putting on their choreographer’s showcase, and I give them kudos for being creative and expressive through movement! It’s wonderful to see what nearby colleges are doing in the arts, and I will certainly be on the lookout for more performances at WCC.

REVIEW: Bang, Click, and Falala

Last night, I went to an outstanding benefit show for Appreciate + Reciprocate, a group of scholarship students who work to raise money to provide more scholarships to those in disadvantaged positions. The performance involved four groups and lasted a very appropriately-designated hour. GROOVE, RhythM Tap ensemble, 58 Greene, and the Harmonettes joined forces to put on a truly awesome display of passion, music, and energy that was well worth my $7.

First of all, let me just say I am the biggest fan of GROOVE there is. Okay, no, I’m sure there are greater fanatics than I, but seriously, GROOVE is the best thing ever. And I’ve seen STOMP, a similar world-renown group that makes instruments out of garbage cans and broom sticks, but GROOVE brings that youthful energy I think STOMP greatly lacks. They left me on the edge of my seat, wanting more after their three or four songs were over. I’m so there for their spring concert.

I’d never seen and/or heard of the group RhythM Tap ensemble, so seeing them for the first time was really awesome. They’re synchronization and athletic abilities were a marvel. I’m totally going to keep an eye out for their future performances.

58 Greene. Why did you choose those songs? Some oldies mixed with who knows what; honestly, I love the a cappella groups on campus and I am a huge fan, over all, of 58 Green and they’re work. However, this performance was simply not their best. I’m sure their concert will be better, and maybe it was just a weird staging, but I was not a big fan of their work last night.

The Harmonettes, on the other hand, were a huge success. I would say that it was one of their best performances I’ve seen. The soloists were talented, but not overbearing, and the song choices were fun, upbeat, and varied enough to hold my attention.

Wintry Mix was a huge success and I’m so proud of my friend who worked diligently to put on the show. The LSA Emergency Student Aid Fund is such an outstanding cause, working to “pay forward” the due respects they’ve earned through their scholarships to attend the University of Michigan. I’ll be sure to look out for any other future events of theirs.