REVIEW: Mission Improbable: Yotonix Spytacular

As the lights dimmed in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater on Saturday night, a huge cheer went up from the crowd. As a senior, I knew why — we were back for an annual tradition that we hadn’t seen since our freshman year.

Yotonix is the annual show featuring a collaboration between two very talented student orgs on campus: Revolution and Photonix. Revolution is our Chinese Yo-Yo team. Photonix is known for their glowsticking and visual arts performances.

The 2020 Yotonix show was tragically scheduled for March 14, the day after things officially turned topsy turvy, and they had to cancel due to the pandemic. 2021 Yotonix was a brilliantly crafted virtual show . But nothing can replace a live, in-person arts performance. This year marked the return of the in-person version of the show, and everyone in attendance was ECSTATIC. It was a night full of amazing art and there wasn’t a dull moment.

The show was, as it promised, both “Spy-tacular” and spectacular. The performers made their craft look so easy, but that was just the mark of their talent and months of practice.

The Chinese Yo-Yo, or Diabolo, is not what most people picture when they think of a yoyo. It evolved completely independently of the Western yoyo in China and grew popular as a toy in Europe. It requires a lot of skill to do most Diabolo tricks because you need to constantly maintain a fast enough spin so it stays stable…while it’s being whipped around and jumped over and caught all over the place.

Glowsticking originates from poi, a performance art first practiced by the Maori people of New Zealand that involves swinging weighted tethers called poi in geometric patterns. Glowsticking evolved from this as a performance done in the dark while either swinging glowsticks attached to strings, twirling glowing batons, or “freehanding” it by tossing/spinning the glowsticks directly in each hand. Learning this also requires a great deal of skill because you need to swing the glowsticks at high speeds for them to trace continuous patterns in the dark and it’s easy for them to get tangled or smack you in the face in the process.

It makes sense why, in the weeks leading up to the show, I often saw both orgs practicing in Mason Hall late at night! They were not taking on easy routines. My photos really don’t do them justice.

I really liked the choreo both groups demonstrated this year. Most Yoyo shows I’ve seen tend to stick to the same high-energy EDM music that gets a little overused after a while. Revolution’s creativity really shined through in the routines they put together to all sorts of musical genres, both fast and slow. Photonix also came through, experimenting with innovative glow suits with lights sewn into them and adding hula hoops and music-synced lights into their performance. *applause*

I also want to write a little ode to an oft-underrecognized part of any performance: the audience. I love the energy of the crowds during these student shows. We’re not there to see a professional, polished thing – we’re there to cheer on our pals. When someone drops their Yo-Yo or tangles up their glowstick and has to dart offstage, we only cheer and clap even louder in support. Because everyone in that theater was there to celebrate the passion and creativity and camaraderie that these students poured into this show – for once, not for any resume or class assignment or final project – but simply to HAVE FUN and express themselves.

I give Yotonix 2021 five out of five stars 🙂

PREVIEW: Stew & The Negro Problem

In case you missed Tony Award-winning playwright and singer Stew last night, you have another chance tonight! Don’t miss out on a homage to the art and activism of James Baldwin in a music and theater experience through a contemporary commentary on Baldwin’s 1955 collection of essays on being Black in America. Notes of a Native Song is an irreverent and spirited rock ‘n’ roll song cycle that uses Baldwin’s work to explore race, love, class division, and politics through an exciting mix of rock, jazz, and soul. Catch Stew & The Negro Problem at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre tonight at 8!

REVIEW: Eurydice

“This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house. The houses of your neighbors look dull and lacking in moonlight. But he is always going away from you. Inside his head there is always something more beautiful.” – Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice

 

Eurydice read like bundle of freely associating thoughts and tasted, on occasion, cloyingly maudlin. Nevertheless, I appreciated the relative lightheartedness of this rendition that held it distinct from the tragic tone of the original tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, and its refreshing perspective shift to that of a female protagonist. Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice not only rewrites but also seems to directly challenge the classic Greek myth; instead of being centered around the husband Orpheus’ (Kieran Westphal) epic journey to retrieve his wife Eurydice (Maggie Kuntz) from the depths of the Underworld, Ruhl centers the play around Eurydice’s personal experiences and the ultimate verdict she must make: returning to the living world with Orpheus or remaining in the Underworld with her father. In spotlighting her verdict, Ruhl allows Eurydice’s character the empowerment and dimensionality that the classic Greek myth denies her, whilst introducing themes beyond the frailties of human trust and spirit, such as the complexities and ephemeralities of memory, communication, language, and love.

Though the Rude Mechanicals‘ cast, direction, production, and design did an overall wonderfully impressive job in effectively conveying the refreshing eccentricities of Sarah Ruhl’s play, I couldn’t help but search for more within Ruhl’s dialogue and writing, which collaterally impaired the rhythm of the production. For some unperceived reason and for the entire duration of the production, I found myself either cringing at saccharine one-liners, snickering with the audience, or passively waiting for the closing of a scene. Though it’s plain to see that Ruhl intentionally chooses to structure Eurydice in a more painterly storytelling manner marked by freely associating motifs and ideas, I saw a disconnect between the intention of emotional release from the audience and certain syrupy moments in the production that occupied a disproportionate amount of stage time. It was during superfluously long scenes such as the Father unravelling the string ‘room’ he constructs for Eurydice that I felt the most passive in my viewing, and therefore disconnected from the emotions of defeat and hopelessness that the scene is meant to elicit.

Despite the slight awkwardness in timing and emotional translations, I enjoyed the red string motif present throughout the production. Intuitively, I interpret red string as a symbol of connection and of relationships impacted by fate – I thought that this motif translated especially well in the context of Ruhl’s Eurydice, in which the miscommunication and overall character differences between Eurydice and Orpheus are highlighted. This miscommunication and hesitance on Eurydice’s part is what ultimately causes Eurydice to call out and violate the rules Orpheus’ must follow in order to revive her. This scene appeared the most impassioned and dynamic to me; both Kuntz and Westphal beautifully portrayed the hesitancies and doubts both characters’ spirits were in turmoil with in the most artistic fashion. After expressively pushing and pulling with the string in a shifting, dance-like sequence, Eurydice eventually calls out to Orpheus, who turns back as the pent up tension from the mutual string-pulling comes to an abrupt climax and subsequently two simultaneous outbursts from each character. The cast’s various interactions with the red-string were notably artful and succeeded in showcasing the tension running through Eurydice and Orpheus’ strained marriage as well as the imperishable relationship between Eurydice and her Father.

PREVIEW: Eurydice

On November 2nd at 8 pm, and November 3rd at 2 pm in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, the Rude Mechanicals will be presenting the tale of Eurydice through Sarah Ruhl’s contemporary lens. The show is a rendition of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice – two star-crossed lovers who become tragically entrapped in a tale of trust, passion, and grief over the trials and tribulations of love. Orpheus, a skilled musician, finds himself on a journey to bring Eurydice, his wife, back from the underworld after her accidental departure from the living. What follows next is a series of trials that test both Orpheus’ faith and spirit and the frailties of the human condition that determine our behavior in the practice of love.

This event is both available for purchase and on the new Passport to the Arts voucher.

Tickets ($7 for students; $10 general)

PREVIEW: Merrily We Roll Along

Runyonland Productions, Ann Arbor’s new theater company, is bringing Sondheim’s iconic Merrily We Roll Along to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater as a staged concert production. The musical revolves around Franklin Shepard, starting with the peak of his songwriting career and moving backwards in time to show the big moments of his life and the choices he and his friends made that led to the present. Showtimes are February 28 and March 1 at 7:30 PM and tickets can be bought online at https://runyonland.ticketleap.com/merrily/.

REVIEW: Thus Spoke AnnArbor Fall 2018 Performance

I had been made extremely curious about this semester’s performance by “安娜说 / Thus spoke Ann Arbor” from viewing the gorgeously illustrated posters brightening up campus in the weeks leading up to the show.  While I had been aware of the group for several years now, I finally decided to attend their performance for the first time, and after seeing it I can confidently say that I couldn’t have made a better decision.  After arriving early to make sure to get seats near the front of Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, we were informed that it would be a full house, which hardly came as a surprise at that point due to the fact there was only a few empty seats in sight and the noise level had grown to a nonstop roar.

One of the elements I appreciated the most about the show was the choice to divide the performance up into three shorter plays. It gave many more of the club’s members time to shine in a leading role than if they had just done one play, and the group was also able to challenge themselves to perform three distinctly different styles of play, suiting different members individual strengths.

The first play was a comedic romp titled “黑暗中的喜剧 / Comedy in the Dark.”  The play used physical and situational comedy as characters unveiled hidden secrets in a darkened apartment after a freak power outage. The second play, “人质 / Hostage“ was the shortest of the three, and featured a very limited cast and set. Instead it was more figurative dark comedy to the first play’s quite literal one, with two thieves mistakenly taking a suicidal girl hostage in an attempt to escape the police hot on their trail, and the intense interplay that followed.  The third and last play was “立秋 / The Start of Autumn” set around a century ago in China.  This was by far the most serious of the lot, and told the story of several families internal drama as well a competition between tradition and newly adopted Western ideals.  

The transitions from play to play were quick and painless, with crew members scurrying about to clear the relatively complex set up of the first play for the instead very minimal one of the second.  Considering how long the night was already, nearly reaching a full three hours, I appreciate the brevity in these areas.

The one drawback to the set up was that by the time the third play began most of the audience, myself included, seemed to be getting restless.  With no intermission, the last play with its distinct five chapters and several scenes basically revolving around intense discussions about banking and finance, I’m not proud to say that I was more than a little glazed over myself.  But the fact that the group did manage to hold the audience in rapt attention for the nearly two and a half hour run of the show is impressive in and of itself. 

Additionally, while there were undoubtedly a few intentionally humorous moments in the second two plays, especially the second one, because the audience had been primed to laugh in the over-the-top comedy of the first play, I noticed that the audience, myself included, began to burst into laughter even in otherwise inappropriate moments.  

While the group could have easily put on the play without adding subtitles on projections on either side of the stage for the very small percentage of the audience with less than fluent Mandarin, I appreciated the extra effort put in to make the performances accessible. As a member of that small percentage myself, I definitely found myself referring to to the subtitles frequently throughout the night, especially if a character was talking quietly and I was struggling to hear what they were saying in the first place.

That being said, with so much physical comedy getting the most laughs in the first play, and the more subtle acting in the second two, the experience was definitely better when ignoring the subtitles and instead focusing on all that activity on stage. The actors and actresses couldn’t have done a finer job, and I didn’t catch a single slip up as they all seemed to have prepared their lines to perfection. There was one humorous moment in the first play, however, when one of the sofas being used as props collapsed to the floor.  But like true professionals the actors and actresses continued undeterred, even finding time to prop the sofa back up, resulting in another wave of laughter. I was impressed by the professionalism of cast and crew alike, with the obvious hard work preparing for the show paying off.  I definitely plan on keeping an eye out for their performances in the future, and attending all that I can.