PREVIEW: Snarky Puppy

It’s a whole new school year, which means a new year of excellent musical performances. Kick off the 2019-2020 UMS season with Snarky Puppy, a Brooklyn-based funk and jazz collective that explores with improvisation the convergence of black and white American music culture. Don’t miss the three-time Grammy winners season opener at Hill Auditorium on Sunday, September 8, with Alina Engibaryan opening the show at 7:00 PM.

PREVIEW: An Evening with Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald, one of Broadway’s most decorated and talented performers, is going to be gracing Ann Arbor with her presence in Hill Auditorium on November 17 at 8pm. She has won six Tony awards and was the first performer to have earned the Tony Grand Slam, winning a Tony award in the four top award categories: “Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play”, “Best Featured Actress in a Musical”, “Best Featured Actress in a Play”, and “Best Actress in a Musical.” The beauty in her voice belongs to a truly beautiful soul, and her love for music and life translates to her love for activism for at-risk youth and LGBTQ rights.

Join renowned performer Audra McDonald on Saturday for an evening of songs from the American musical theater that is sure to be a beautifully phenomenal night.

PREVIEW: 2001: A Space Odyssey

For the 50th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the University Music Society along with Michigan Engineering are co-presenting the groundbreaking film in a special viewing. This free event will feature live orchestral and choral accompaniment by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for a one-of-a-kind experience at Hill Auditorium on Friday, September 21 st 8pm. Registration for the event is currently full, but general admission will open at 7:40pm to people without a ticket on a first come, first serve basis, so it’s not too late to attend this out-of-this-world showing of one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time.

REVIEW: Company Wang Ramirez’s Borderline

Company Wang Ramirez’s performance of Borderline was a breathtaking rendition of how dance can be used to express the metaphor of human connection.  The show began with Alister Mazzotti, the dancer in charge of lifts and rigging, moving the metal cube shown in the featured image into position.  He stood onstage, dressed in all black, for what seemed like a little too long.  Truth be told, the duration of his still, silent position made me a little uncomfortable.  To be fair, that was the point.  Instead of the box simply being a prop the dancers used onstage, it became the Box.  What did it mean?

I had a working theory throughout the performance.  When inside the box, dancers were together.  They were never alone, save one exception.  During this exception, a single dancer hooked up to the aerial rigging system floated through and manipulated the Box so that it was standing on its corner, balancing on the dancer’s rigging line.  Any dance numbers performed inside the Box became reminiscent of life inside structured society.  Compared to the solo dances performed outside the Box, movements were controlled.  The aerial solo display inside the Box reminded me of climbing up a corporate hierarchy, the illusion of floating akin to the euphoria of financial success.

Dances outside the Box, however, really defined the purpose of Borderline.  When performing duets, the dancers played at defying gravity.  They balanced on each other and pulled one another’s bodies in seemingly impossible contortions.  They used two bodies and used human contact to create a singular, fluid body.  Once their partner left them alone, though, the solo dancer’s movements would become frantic.  Still gorgeous, of course, but definitely angrier.  If you’re familiar with Martha Graham, one performance by Honji Wang reminded me of Witch Dance (in costume, emotion, and in choreography).

To me, the message of Borderline was the importance of human social connection.  Dancers needed each other if they happened to find themselves outside the Box.  When alone, they seemed to lose their way.  All of this was displayed with impeccable talent and control on the part of the dancers.

In terms of tech, the team was astounding.  The lighting designer, Cyril Mulon, had incredible talent when it came to outlining shapes.  At times, the dancers appeared to be wreathed in fire.  Other times, the movement of light exaggerated and complemented the choreography onstage.

This choreography couldn’t have been possible without Mazzotti.  Close to the end of the performance, Mazzotti remained visible onstage.  Wang was hooked up to the rigging system.  We got to watch Mazzotti lift Wang into flight.  He became a part of choreography.  The upper body strength necessary to keep that up for 70 minutes is unimaginable.

My only criticism would be the surprising use of dialogue on the dancers’ part.  Out of nowhere, two dancers started having a conversation about rice.  While it seemed out of place and almost tarnishing the authenticity of the performance up until then, the meaning made sense once the dialogue reached its end.  The message was this: people need some sort of energy – negative or positive – to retain their vitality.  The dialogue served to reinforce the need for human relationships in today’s world.

I found the message of Borderline beautiful.  The ability to express the depth of human interaction through (mostly) the movement of the body was very emotional to watch.  While some aspects of the performance didn’t make as much sense to me, thinking outside the box (pun intended) is a defining feature of modern art itself.

PREVIEW: Company Wang Ramirez’s Borderline

Check out Company Wang Ramirez at The Power Center on Friday, March 9 at 8:00 PM and on Saturday, March 10 at 8:00 PM.  The performance is about 70 minutes long.  There will also be a Q&A after tomorrow night’s performance.

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang are a part of the 6 person dance crew which will perform Borderline.  Other dancers include Louis Becker, Johanna Faye, Saïdo Lehlouh, and Alister Mazzotti.

Ramirez and Wang both have a passion for experimentation even though they come from very different training and personal backgrounds.  The dancers will be attached to an aerial rigging system.  According to their blurb on the UMS website, their goals will be to enact “visual metaphors of flight, struggle, freedom, constraint, and the forces that connect us and tear us apart.”  L’Indépendant has characterized Company Wang Ramirez as a crucial part of the “contemporary dance revolution.”

I am incredibly excited to see this show!  If you are able to attend and wish to download a program on your own device, check it out here.

REVIEW: They, Themself, and Schmerm

Like performer Becca Blackwell, it’s hard to define They, Themself, and Schmerm as a specific “type” of performance. Like a stand up comedy special, it’s funny, observational and at times, oddly insightful; but, unlike a regular gig, Blackwell’s narrative highlights scenes from their entire life, like a cohesive, revealing, well-told memoir.

Blackwell’s performance is an attempt to connect the dots in their sexual identity, both for themselves and their audience. They questioned the origins of their queerness (“I wasn’t aware I was a girl between ages 0 to 3” “What makes a man? I acted like a boy, I looked like one, the only thing I didn’t have was a penis.” ). They prodded at their impressions of binary gendered people (“before I took testosterone, men were just shades of grey, obstacles that got in the way of women”). They broke down their insecurities in public life (“I hated the men’s room- there were all these unfamiliar sounds and sights–I had to turn my feet this way and that to pretend I was peeing standing up”). And they shared their various roles in other people’s lives, like when Blackwell was cornered into a mother figure for a niece because the rest of the men “blanked out.”

Blackwell’s delivery is raw and honest. One of my favorite parts of the show was Blackwell’s use of “Blerrgghh” (while jutting out their head and wiggling their fingers) to refer to her femininity. It’s an honest portrayal of the interwoven confusion, annoyance, lust, unpredictability, and fear of the vagina and female hormones. It’s also a metaphor for the confusion that comes with figuring out who we are, who we love/lust, and why we love.

After a dive into their engaging stories, I came out with a better sense of the complexity of gender identity as well as its salience, in the form of socially awkward and even dangerous moments, for people who don’t conform to the binary standard. And it’s resonant, not only with people who are involved in the LGBTQ+ community or remotely identify themselves as such, but also with those who claim to be part of the more mainstream identities. The innocent questions that were brought up in Schmerm were definitely in my head at some point of my life, but I didn’t have enough of the curiosity nor the courage to follow it up even further. And I’m certainly not alone in this. Schmerm is a call to acknowledge, appreciate, and question without fear, the uniqueness of our own identities.

“A schmerm is a schmear of gender. It is basically the sound that people make as they try to figure my gender out.”- Blackwell in a short opening video.