REVIEW: The Nutcracker – Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre

It’s always rather conflicting when attempting to indulge in the holiday spirit during the everlasting finals season. Time spent seeking out the festive spirit typically leaves one in guilt for time loss from studying. However, The Nutcracker was being performed on campus so this would be exempt! There were two different groups performing The Nutcracker on campus. So, I chose to see the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre perform at the Power Center.

The opening scene takes place in the Stahlbaum Home on Christmas Eve. From the beginning, I noted that the acoustics could have been better given that they would need to compensate for not having a live orchestra pit. However during Act I, Scene I, I undoubtedly still felt the Christmas festivity transcending from an evening spent with gifts, sweets, and dancing around the Christmas tree. Unaware of the Ann Arbor Ballet Theatre and all of its members, I was utterly pleased to see so many young performers on stage. From ages perhaps as low as five years old to older teens, it was a sight to see so many young performers expressing themselves through theatre and dance.

Act I, Scene III, The Land of Snow, was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. To my surprise, they had fake snow falling onto the stage! From the snowflake-like blue lighting and  background to the complementing snow fairy outfits and dances, this scene was aesthetically pleasing and beautifully accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s “Scene in the Pine Forest” and “Waltz of the Snowflakes.”

Act II: The Kingdom of Sweets, carries the bulk of the story and most rousing parts. During this, Clara and her newly gifted nutcracker arrive at his Palace high atop Sugar Mountain in the Kingdom of Sweets. (How could we not be the least bit of enlivened by a scene held in a place called The Kingdom of Sweets?) This scene is composed of several intensive and rather intimate waltzes that represent various ethnicities. To begin is Chocolate: a high-spirited Spanish dance. Next is the Arabian Coffee, a sultry, languid dance. Arguably, the most detailed and personal dances of them all with slow, thoughtful movements in sync with their partner. Coffee was the most expressive dance where the audience had the chance to analyze each intentional movement according to the music. In all fairness though, Coffee is the lengthiest and has the slowest tempo of all six dances, so this impression may be biased. Following Coffee was a much more upbeat, high-pitched lively and athletic Chinese inspired dance called Tea. To trump Tea’s lively nature, Trepak outperforms its predecessor with a much faster-paced beat in light of a Russian folk dance that is filled with bravura. To close out the divertissements, we are left with Marzipan, which in contrast, is a pas-de-trois, performed by three people — all followed by an appearance by Mother Ginger and her beloved Sugar Plums.

The curtains begin to close as Clara’s wondrous dream begins to fade while she finds herself back at home with only memories of a magical night. Upon the curtains closing, we are left with a matched feeling in comparison to the characters as we have followed along on their adventurous journey overnight and also come to a silent, peaceful close. Even in a wicked time known as “Finals Season,” time should be allotted for the holiday classic, The Nutcracker.

REVIEW: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

There was blood indeed, and it was unmistakably about Andrew Jackson.

In this musical, Jackson was really developed as a character, showing just how nuanced he was as a president and as a person. Through glimpses of his personal history, we see how his past would shape his beliefs and his behaviors. The songs and scenes summarized his life and his decisions in a way that no documentary or textbook could ever do. Full of rock and unsuspected one-liners, it definitely kept the audience engaged, and the constant laughter, heavy hushed silences, and standing ovation at the end proved that.

One of my favorite songs was “Ten Little Indians.” The female soloist and ensemble were fantastically chilling, to say the least, and its grim reality resonated deeply and intensely. “The Corrupt Bargain” was also a personal favorite.  As a nice contrast to “Ten Little Indians”, this silly, upbeat number was the epitome of satire, exaggerating how politicians were mere puppets that could not be taken seriously. I thought this was brilliantly executed and while that song could have ran on the verge of ridiculous and cringe-worthy, the directorial choice in choreography made this an entertaining little history lesson with a larger societal commentary behind it that still rings true in modern politics.

The talented cast was absolutely amazing. The pacing was perfect, their chemistry with each other made me forget they were acting, and their personas and voices filled the room. Jake Smith brought the power into the entire Power Center as Andrew Jackson. The grief, the rage, the anguish, the passion for America were all so evident in his energetic performance as our great yet pained president. Garrett Forrestal provided comedic relief from this harrowing journey through history as the Storyteller who refuses to be silenced. As he shrewdly said in his resurrection at the end, “You can’t shoot history in the neck.” Maddison Rotner’s rendition of “The Great Compromise” beautifully captured the suffering of Rachel Jackson. Finally, the penultimate number, “Second Nature”, performed by Josh Strobl (Black Fox) was a stunning summary of what Jackson’s legacy would be, and Strobl’s soulful singing brought as much justice to the sorrows of the past as possible.

I was a huge fan of the rock and roll energy, even though it was nicely balanced throughout by the sensitive emotional scenes. The edgy attitude modernized this otherwise archaic story. I also really liked the backdrop and the vibe it set for the stage, as well as all the other props, including fabrics dictating all the different chapters of his life and the table that continued to stand despite losing a leg to Smith’s fiercely-flaring temper. The music was everything American rock, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall between the four-member band and the cast was a nice change of pace as well. Particularly commendable was Erez Levin’s ability to rock out on the guitar while also channeling his inner fool as the laughable Martin Van Buren. Some directorial choices and parts of the musical were questionable, but overall, this production was really nicely performed and enjoyable to watch.

In the end, Andrew Jackson was a human being who wanted what he thought was best for the American people and the nation. His accomplishments remain extraordinary and controversial. Will there always be a debate around his presidency? Of course. And this musical does not serve as a commentary about what side you should take nor does it try to influence your opinion about him. Rather, it simply provides a look at the life of a complicated, flawed man with a great, tarnished legacy through comedy and rock and roll to help us understand American history and this complicated president on a whole new level.

If you didn’t attend on opening night, I highly recommend going to the Power Center to see MUSKET’s excellent production on November 18 at 8pm and November 19 at 2pm as they bring history alive onstage.

REVIEW: Dance Mix 2017 The Galaxy Edition

What a night. I started walking over to the Power Center with my friend five minutes before the concert started to find a building packed with students. Before the first group took the stage, the organizers announced that this was the second sold-out concert in a row.

 

Some sold-out concerts don’t feel sold out. You can spot empty seats and the audience is tame. Not so for this young, rambunctious crowd that hooted and hollered names of friends in the dance groups all throughout the event. Between the energy of the audience and the students moving around on stage, the 2.5 hour event felt like taking a shot of espresso.

When things get hot and heavy on stage

First off, I have to apologize at not being able to keep track of the names of the groups. Every group that took the stage was incredibly talented in their own unique way. Alas, I did not have a program with me during the concert so I could not tell exactly which group was on stage at a particular time.

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t imagine it’s easy to fit a wide variety of student acts into one concert, but Dance Mix 17 pulled it off through smooth transitions between more traditional ballet (top left picture) and decidedly modern hip-hop (top right picture), as well as dancers that both to the melodies of ballads and rock songs alike.

One of the highlights of the group was Revolution and their stringless yo-yo performance. Countless students walked across the stage slinging their plastic yo-yo’s like divine beings levitating rocks. Those plastic yo-yo’s flew across the stage and around the slingers and every trick drew fresh cheers from the crowd. Even the tricks that failed still felt like successes, and I was definitely not the only one entranced by the performance.

 

Later, Photonix performed in the dark with glow sticks, producing images like the one you see in the header photo of this blog. Towards the end of the performance, they unleashed hundreds of mini glow sticks into the audience.
The audience being composed almost entirely of students, everyone went wild.

Another highlight of the night was a Bollywood rendition of Top Gun (by Michigan Manzil I think). The story was a cliche telling of a young fighter pilot who loses his friend in a fight, but this isn’t a Hollywood film and the performance was one of the standouts of the second half of the night.

The Bollywood-esque peformance went through half a dozen wardrobe changes without a hitch, in addition to props and set pieces, and above all it was entertaining as heck.

Rounding out the rest of the night were performances by EnCore (picture below), Outrage, and FunKtion again.

I’m incredibly glad I was able to attend this event, and if you’re reading this blog and didn’t go this year, you NEED to attend next year.

REVIEW: The Little Mermaid

Tonight I had the opportunity to see The Little Mermaid performed by students in U of M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and it was wonderful!!!  It brought me right back to my childhood and dreams of being a Disney princess.  There honestly was not one character in the show that I didn’t like.  The audience immediately fell in love with the quirky, adventurous mermaid Ariel (Halli Toland) and the charming Prince Eric (Trevor Carr).  And Sarah Lynn Marion rocked those crazy Ursula solos, with thunderous applause after each one!  Other noteworthy characters included Ariel’s best friend Flounder (Matthew Kemp), the “smart” seagull Scuttlle (Barrett Riggins), Ariel’s father King Triton (Jordan Samuels), Prince Eric’s guardian Grimsby (Elliot Styles), and the crustacean Sebastian (Liam Allen).

“Under the Sea” (Photo Credit: Peter Smith Photography)

 

The applauses were endless after numbers like Halli Toland’s beautiful solo of “Part of Your World”, the biggest number with dancing fish and even a giant stingray – “Under the Sea”, and Sarah Lynn Marion’s evil “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.  If I could see this show over and over again, I would!

The Little Mermaid can still be seen Saturday and Sunday April 15-16 at 2pm.  Tickets are on sale now: Reserved seating $26-$32 and Students $12 with ID.

Ticket information can be found at: http://tickets.music.umich.edu/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=3001

PREVIEW Dance Mix 2017 The Galaxy Edition

Sometimes you need to take a break from exam studying and paper deadlines. That’s where Dance Mix 2017 comes in!

Where: The Power Center (121 Fletcher St)

When: Tuesday, April 18th @ 7 PM

Cost: FREE with Passport to the Arts

Tickets are also on sale at the Mason Wall posting wall April 14th & 17th, 10-4pm

A quick list of all the groups performing:

  • EnCore
  • FunKtion
  • Impact Dance
  • RhythM Tap Ensemble
  • Cadence Modern Dance Company
  • Dance2XS University of Michigan
  • The Ballroom Dance Team at the University of Michigan
  • Michigan Izzat
  • Michigan Manzil
  • Outrage Dance Group
  • Salto Dance Company at the University of Michigan
  • Photonix
  • Revolution Chinese Yo-Yo

Here’s a link to the Facebook Event so you can put that you’re attending

PREVIEW: The Little Mermaid

This weekend, take a journey “Under the Sea” with the University of Michigan’s School of Music Theatre & Dance at the Power Center!  The Little Mermaid will awaken the child in all who see this Disney classic.  Those who didn’t grow up with this princess will still surely fall in love with the story, the characters like Flounder and Sebastian, and songs such as “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World”.

The Little Mermaid is the tale of a young mermaid named Ariel who wants to adventure into the human world, but her father King Triton won’t allow her since it is too dangerous.  Ariel saves Prince Eric after he falls off of his ship, and falls desperately in love with him.  So in love that she trades her voice for legs with the evil sea witch Ursula.  Ariel finally gets the chance to experience human life!  She gets help from her beloved friends, Flounder the fish and Sebastian the crab, along the way.  The only catch is that she must kiss the prince within 72 hours or else she will lose her voice, and her freedom to Ursula forever.

The Little Mermaid can be seen Thursday April 13 at 7:30pm, Friday April 14 at 8pm, and Saturday and Sunday April 15-16 at 2pm.  Tickets are on sale now: Reserved seating $26-$32 and Students $12 with ID.

Ticket information can be found at: http://tickets.music.umich.edu/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=3001