Welcome to [art]seen!

Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions. Take a look back at some of our most memorable reviews of arts events this past year by clicking on the Year in Review(s) 2023 tag. See what our bloggers went to and read what they thought!

If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your writing! Read more about Blogging Opportunities here… We review applications and hire twice a year, in September and January.
Email us at arts@umich.edu with any questions.

REVIEW: Wall to Wall Theater Festival

Wall to Wall Theater Festival was formerly an annual event in the Walgreen Drama Center before the pandemic. I am thrilled to see its return — back and better than ever. Producers Jeff Wagner, Kate Ivanov, and Tate Zeleznik have revitalized the festival at The School of Theater, featuring five unique works directed by SMTD students.

Wall to Wall is described as an “immersive performance experience [where] five different short-form interactive pieces play throughout the hallways, classrooms, and studios of the Walgreen Drama Center. Each performed several times through the night, giving audiences a chance to curate their own experience traversing through live music, theater, and performance art offered through the festival.” It juxtaposes a normal theatrical experience allowing the audience member full control over their space and consumption of the art.

Juliet Schlefer singing Rachmaninoff’s 6 Romances.

The first piece I wandered into seemed like a mini-haunted house. Instantly, I knew this sinister set-up was the work of senior directing student Mirit Skeen. Through a maze of dark fabric, There was a haunting voice looming inside—singing Rachmaninoff Op. 38 otherwise known as “6 Romances”. This set was performed by the glittering soprano, Juliet Schlefer and lyrical pianist Eric Head.  I loved this creative and eerie presentation of a rather mysterious operatic song cycle.

Drake Zhao and Sarah Hartmus performing a scene from “Hookman”.

 

Two performances featured scenes from straight plays. Shakespeare’s Corner (dir. Olivia Ray) featured a short scene from The Taming of the Shrew, which follows the marriage of headstrong Katharina to Petruchio, who employs various strategies in an attempt to dominate her. In the hallway upstairs, a part-comedic-part-horror scene from Lauren Yee’s Hookman was being performed (dir. Katy Dawson). The scene revolves around two college girls being followed by a (you guessed it) man with a hook.  It was a totally unassuming and endearing scene, with such a great use of the hallway space.

UMPH Jazz Band and Musical Theater student Sage Taylor.

UMPH is an up-and-coming Ann Arbor jazz band featuring Cole Oswalt, Luke Pisani, Shudane Hendrix, Max Rubin, Max McDermitt, and Alex Lahti-Thiam. This band brought a roster of musical theater students to sing R&B and funk tunes. I loved the concert-like vibe in the room, it was a nice juxtaposition to the theater.

The final piece I watched was downstairs in the basement. The group of eight performed two numbers from Dave Malloy’s chamber choir musical Octet, a musical about internet addiction. This show does not use any musical instruments, only the human voice. The team included Marcus Byers (Choreography) Alex Confino (Music Director), and Kate Ivanov (Director), who masterfully assembled this lesser-known gem with an all-star cast of vocalists.

I do hope Wall to Wall returns again! The creative use behind each space in the Walgreen and the simplistic brilliance of each nugget of theater came out to be a ton of fun. The creativity within the students of SMTD is truly remarkable.

 

 

April 7th, 7pm. Images thanks to Jeff Wagner. Title Image: Kate Ivanov’s Octet.

REVIEW: Will Liverman and Karen Slack at Stamps Auditorium

April 7th, 2pm.

The Department of Voice and Opera eagerly welcomed Will Liverman and Karen Slack to a residency this semester, both of whom have enjoyed wildly successful careers as opera singers worldwide.

Karen Slack is an American soprano known for her powerful and emotive voice, as well as her versatility across a range of musical styles. She has performed with major opera companies and symphonies worldwide, in both traditional operatic repertoire and contemporary works. Slack debuted the role of Billie in Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones at the Metropolitan Opera in 2019, as she maintains a strong commitment to performing the work of living composers. She was awarded the Sphinx Medal of Excellence in 2022, a prestigious award for artistic achievement. She is an active educator and coach in Universities across the country, including our own! In addition to her vocal presence, she also hosts an interview web series called #KikiKonvos. It began on Facebook Live in the height of the pandemic and has continued ever since.

Will Liverman is an American baritone with a collection of prestigious operatic credits as well as successful discography and concert work. He debuted the role of Charles in the Metropolitan Opera’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones, by the fabulous Terence Blanchard. (The album of which won the 2023 GRAMMY Award for Best Opera Recording.) Last season, he sang the title role in Anthony Davis’ groundbreaking work, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X at the Metropolitan Opera. As well as a highly desired singer, Liverman is also a composer. The Lyric Opera of Chicago presented the world premiere of Liverman’s new opera, The Factotum, which he starred in and composed with DJ King Rico. He has performed worldwide in operas and recitals while making time to educate and coach in universities across the country. He also has the most fabulous shoe collection I have ever seen.

The two held a 3-day residency at the School of Music Theater and Dance, holding a departmental Q&A, a vocal masterclass, and finishing out with a stunning recital featuring the two. It was incredible to hear these performers speak about their lives as opera singers, as they have been instrumental figures in modern-day classical music.

The recital featured a collection of songs by Margaret Bonds, Harold Arlen, Nina Simone, Florence Price, Undine Smith Moore George Gershwin, and Shawn Okpebholo! The repertoire choices were predominantly by Black and female composers, a majority that is not often represented in the classical canon. Their performances of these art songs and arias were each thoughtful and provocative, with thoughtful emphasis on the text. There was a true connection and conversation within each piece, along with some of the most virtuosic vocalism I have ever encountered.

The two wrapped up the recital with the iconic duet from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, “Bess You Is My Woman Now”. A beautiful and heartwarming duet, I thought a wonderful way to end the evening—until their encores! Liverman performed a beautiful and pensive song he composed, and Slack sang Giordanni’s “Caro mio ben”, a tune brought into the mainstream from Beyonce’s new album.

Their residency was truly spectacular, filled with inspiring vocalism and encouragement for aspiring singers. What a gift to welcome these educators and performers to our University!

Review: Student Choreography Showcase

After a long break, the dance department’s Student Choreography Showcase (SCS) made a much-anticipated comeback. This year, I decided to take part in choreographing and performing a solo for the showcase. The months leading up to the showcase were filled with creativity and excitement as I, along with other dancers, began creating our works. For dancer majors, SCS is a unique opportunity to choreograph and perform work, and that usually doesn’t happen until their senior year. So, SCS became the perfect platform for dancers to finally showcase their creativity and performance abilities! On March 30, majors, minors, and non-affiliated students all came together for a night of love, heartbreak, and fun!

The performance showcased interdisciplinary works like Ladina Schaller’s solo, which involved a projection with a video that she edited herself. Her work was an ode to her home in Switzerland, featuring beautiful landscapes and her navigating interesting sculptures. Nicola Troschinetz, a musical theatre major, choreographed a duet with Evan Tylka, also a musical theatre major, that brought extremely engaging dynamics and interesting partnering techniques. It was extremely exciting to have musical theater majors and Audrey Andrews a theatre major perform in this show. Expanding the love of dance beyond the dance department welcomes new people to the program and opportunities to perform in this beautiful art form. The talent and dedication of these performers was truly inspiring, showcasing their creativity and passion for dance. 

The last three pieces were solos performed by Claire Schick, Amelie Vidrio, and me! I bring these up because–as most audience members can also admit–the last three pieces were especially sad and emotionally heartbreaking. Claire’s solo was to the song “Audrey” by Bread, a song that she heard often throughout her childhood. It mixed youthful elements like cartwheels with complex floorwork and music-based quick movements. Amelie Vidrio’s solo was to “Sayonara No Kane” by Hako Yamasaki, a 70s heart-wrenching Japanese ballad. Amelie used a chair throughout the piece in unconventional ways: as a dancing partner, a tool to balance on, and eventually spun in a circle with it and threw it to the audience (creatively avoiding hitting anyone,of course!). My piece also utilized a prop, a house lamp, and a pile of clothes. Robert, the lighting designer, did a great job at creating the perfect atmosphere that worked with the onstage lamp perfectly. Toward the end of the piece, I took off the shade of the lamp, and that created a huge shadow of my body onto the backdrop. It was better than I could have imagined. 

This event will hopefully continue each semester from now on, giving more students the opportunity to choreograph a dance piece and perform on our amazing stage. I highly recommend coming to the next show to see a diverse range of dancers and styles performed with creative lighting that is unlike any other show you will see at this university.

REVIEW: Impulse V: Roots (hosted by MEMCO)

Another unforgettable MEMCO (Michigan Electronic Music Collective) Impulse event at Club Above!! The theme of this month’s event was: Roots. It celebrated and highlighted black DJs, reminding all of us of techno music’s history–it was created by black people, specifically not too far from Ann Arbor in Detroit, Michigan. This event was paired with a film premiere of a new documentary (12 years in the making) about Detriot techno called God Said Give Em’ Drums and a panel discussion with legendary Detriot Djs like Stacy “Hotwaxx” Hale, Delano Smith, John Collins, and DJ ETTA. I sadly was unable to attend the screening and panel but the good news is the film will be in theaters soon! So when you are all able to, go watch it!!!! Then, come celebrate at a MEMCO event. If you haven’t been to one yet this is a great time to start, and if you want a preview of what you could experience…keep reading! 

I go to most MEMCO events, but I was especially excited for this one. I am originally from Los Angeles, California, and coming to Ann Arbor, Michigan, it was hard for me to feel a part of the community. I don’t like sports games, I don’t call soda “pop,” and I’m not sure I could tell you anything about the automotive industry (not to diminish Michigan culture to these three things, but I hope you get the point). Learning about the origins of Techno music and going to my first MEMCO event, I felt right at home and proud to call Michigan my new home. Roots was the first MEMCO event I’ve gone to with only black DJs. It was some of the best sets I’ve heard. There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t want to dance and move my body. Even when DJs switched the transitions were smooth and intentional–there was never a moment of stillness. 

My personal favorite sets were from DJ ETTA and MEMCO’s own NAPHTHA. DJ ETTA’s set was extremely fun, mixing hip-hop music with funky techno beats. She did an amazing job pacing each track and the evolution of each sound, i.e., adding sounds, distorting them, and playing with pacing/types of beats used. NAPHTHA was surely my favorite, though. His set had everyone dancing and gasping at the perfect transitions from track to track. I remember Club Above turning the lights on at the end of the set, and a group of us were so distracted by his set that we wouldn’t stop dancing. It’s one of those things where “you had to be there”. Looking up at the DJ booth, it looked like NAPHTHA was a scientist and was carefully using the mixing board–he knew how to use it so well I swear he could’ve made the board himself. It made me so excited that NAPHTHA is a UMICH student, and that someone so talented gets to share the campus with all of us. He is also currently a junior and will be around next year, DJing for more events so if you get the chance you must hear him play!!! I would not recommend anything more. The next MEMCO event is on April 20th at Club Above. The theme is Femme Fatale, and all of the DJs will be femme DJs!! Another very exciting event ending the semester with a BANG!

REVIEW: Samara Joy comes to Ann Arbor

Let me start this off by saying that I don’t have much experience in music. It started with the obligatory piano lessons in first grade from my Korean parents, then a short-lived, shame-riddled violin career in eighth grade that never left the classroom. That’s all to say that I have little to no credentials to be reviewing Samara Joy, two-time Grammy-winning jazz vocalist at only twenty-four. Yet here I am, still listening to her hit album, Linger Awhile, and writing my thoughts on her performance. This “review” will be drawn from the haphazard notes I took from March 27, meant to be more of a poetic retelling of my experience than a critique of the evening.

Joy’s performance began with a phone loudly ringing and a baby’s cry slowly fading off as they were escorted out from their seat. Still, Samara’s lilting voice reverberated as she took the audience across the map of her musical notes. The accompanying band fell into her rhythm, Evan Sherman on the drums shining in particular as his light beats sped through the composition. The crowd stilled as Joy went through her vocal runs, until we broke into cheers of awe. Following family tradition, Samara joy began singing in church and later at a jazz band at Fordham High School for the Arts. She later attended SUNY Purchase’s jazz studies program, meeting the late Barry Harris, to whom Linger Awhile is dedicated to.

Throughout the program, there were moments where each artist could shine; Jason Charos on trumpet took the stage in You Stepped Out of a Dream (Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Gus Kahn) as Samara stepped to the side, her vocals accompanying the lead of his trumpet. Trombonist Donovan Austin got the limelight as he performed his original A Fool In Love Is A Clown, a slower rendition from the previous song. Transitions between instrumentation and vocals were incredibly seamless, the synergy pulsating from the stage.

The lighting team were part of this synergy; the slow shift of magenta into blues, rimmed with a golden light at the perimeter. A truly beautiful moment was when the light shifted into a red pink hue as A Kiss From You (Benny Carter) opened up, and later, into a soft purple as Now and Then (Barry Harris), arranged by alto saxophonist David Mason, was performed.

Perhaps one of my favorites was Samara Joy’s take on Sweet Bumpkin, originally written by Ronnell Bright and later covered by Gloria Lynne. The genre blending, the plays with silences, pauses, skips of beat, before sliding back into a playful burst of energy. Kendric McCallister on tenor saxophone particularly shined during this performance. And of course, I have to give a shoutout to the classic bossa nova Chega de Saudade (Antônio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes), which has been a top track in one of my many playlists, truly highlighting the beautiful duo performance between Charos and Donavan Austin on trombone.

More information of Samara Joy’s tour can be found on her website, and if you can’t make it to one of these venues, I highly recommend you all to listen to her music on any of your streaming platforms. A big thank you to UMS for their amazing programs; more can be found on their site!

Image thanks to the University Musical Society.

REVIEW: The G-Men’s Winter Concert, ‘One G-Rection’

Last Friday, I decided to attend my first acapella concert in two years on a whim. After learning about the G-Men’s winter concert last week, I was intrigued – I had attended several years of G-Fest in the past, an “annual showcase of the best student groups the University of Michigan has to offer,” per the G-Men’s website. I’ve always enjoyed this eclectic collection of performance groups and was curious to see what a different style of showcasing looked like for this all-male acapella ensemble.  

Upon arriving at Rackham Auditorium and picking up my ticket, I was immediately invited to scan a QR code to view the concert’s program. This provided an instant glimpse into the essence of the evening. From the beginning of their concert, the G-Men exuded an energy that was both goofy and charmingly awkward, yet unmistakably self-aware. This tone was established from the moment I opened the virtual program. One of the highlights for me was the group members’ comical bios and photos, which set the stage for the tone of the night’s festivities. Despite the lighthearted approach, the program still provided essential information, such as the set list and social media handles. Throughout the evening, each song was introduced with a cheesy yet endearing preamble, perfectly capturing the group’s spirit of ‘silly men, serious music’. This energy was also evident in the group’s comedic approach to explaining their concert title, ‘One G-Rection’.

If you were wondering, I can confirm: Pitch Perfect really does emulate the accurate energy of college acapella concerts. The G-Men’s performance never disappoints. Senior G-Men member Max Crandell arranged seven songs for the evening, and I remain consistently impressed by his theory skills. The group’s blend was impressive, and each soloist brought their own personality to the song as they stepped forward to lead. I particularly enjoyed the soloist performance by Leo Kupferberg, a junior member who performed “Blow” by Kesha, as he exuded confidence and joy that are no doubt characteristic of his approach to the G-Men as a group. Overall, I was impressed by the musical performances of the G-Men in their winter concert. This came as no surprise to me, as the quality of each song I’ve seen performed by this group is always high.

The only other student performance group listed on the bill was Midnight Book Club, known across campus for their short-form improvisational comedy. I have to admit, I’m not always the biggest fan of college improv, but I thought this group did well in their scene work, especially considering the number of audience members they had to work with.

Unfortunately, the concert itself was not highly attended. As I looked around at the audience, I noted the age of my fellow spectators. I saw very few University of Michigan students – it seemed that most of the attendees were parents or family members of the G-Men’s members, and I would estimate that the Rackham Auditorium seats were about 25% full, give or take. While I did love the amusing song introductions and I mostly enjoyed Midnight Book Club’s performance, the minimal audience attendance definitely skewed the comedy of the night to prompt an awkward chuckle, as opposed to raucous laughter. After attending G-Fest for several years, I know this group has the potential to draw a larger crowd. I believe that there is room for growth in the G-Men’s marketing strategy, and the performance itself may have been better attended if more performance groups were listed on the bill, similarly to G-Fest. 

The University of Michigan boasts an established and engaged acapella community, with fourteen groups affiliated with the Michigan Acapella Council, but this minimally attended performance led me to ponder how frequently these groups interact after the ICCAs conclude each year. When each group gets immersed in their own winter programming, does the community momentarily disband?

I look forward to attending more G-Men events in the future, and I sincerely hope that more students get the opportunity to check out their impressive performances. Keep an eye out for the next G-Men album, which was recorded recently and will be released in late 2024.