PREVIEW: Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater at the UMMA

1960_1_156The UMMA is currently displaying a collection of prints of Japanese Kabuki theater from their own collection.  Kabuki theater was popular during 18th and 19th century Japan, however it continues to draw viewers even today. These prints were of the most famous and influential Kabuki actors, who amassed many fans rabid for information about their private lives, much as fans behave towards their favorite celebrities now.  In order to sate that hunger, artists would create these colorful and dynamic wood-bock prints which often became wildly popular.

The exhibit will be open until January 29th, so make sure to swing by before it closes!  Tomorrow, Dec 4th, there will be a gallery talk from 2-3 PM for those interested in getting a more guided tour of the exhibition.


REVIEW: Beijing Opera Costume Exhibit

This Wednesday, the Union housed a very special exhibit from the University’s Confucius Institute, a display of hand-embroidered Peking Opera Costumes. I have long been interested in Peking Opera, and actually took a Peking Opera performance class for several months while I lived in Beijing. Despite having experience performing Peking opera, and having worn costumes before, I knew very little about the costumes themselves.

img_3251 When I first walked in, the exhibition was nearly empty.  The present exhibitor leaped at the chance to talk to me, and one of the first things out of her mouth was “do you want to try it on?”  I took one look at the shimmering costume, decorated with delicate embroidery and sparkling details, and promptly refused, too afraid to touch the costume, let alone try it on, lest I somehow damage it.   I don’t know if the she didn’t hear me, or simply didn’t share my fears, because before I knew it she was expertly shrugging the coat over my arms and placing the headpiece on my head.  I hadn’t expected quite how heavy the costume would feel, but it felt like I was being slowly dragged to the ground by its sheer weight.  Despite this one fact, it was surprisingly comfortable to wear, if a bit warm. The particular costume was for the titular character in the popular Beijing opera The Drunken Concubine.  Below is a video showing off both The Drunken Concubine and the beautiful and iconic costumes used in it.

One of the most stunning elements of all the garments in the room was the hand-sewn embroidery.  Featuring popular motifs such as the peony and the phoenix featured below, each design was filled with minute detail and vibrant colors. Sometimes the embroidery had special symbolism.  Empresses tended to wear clothing with phoenixes embroidered onto them, whereas Emperors often would wear garments featuring the five-toed dragon.

Another presenter at the exhibit taught me how to flip and twirl a handkerchief, which might be part of an opera production.  While the technique looked simple enough, I can say from personal experience that it is far from easy.  It would take years, or at least months of practice to be able to flip it as expertly as she did. img_3282

I hope that the Confucius Institute has further such events, as these costumes were too pretty to not be admired on the daily.  To keep up with the events going on, check out the Confucius Institute’s official website.



REVIEW: The Handmaiden

“The Handmaiden” by Park Chan-Wook is the kind of film that can captivate you for the entirety of its run time, entrancing the viewer and drawing them into its twisted and erotic world.  Based off of the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-Wook moved the story of this thriller into Japanese-occupied Korea.  From the moment I saw the trailer I knew that this film would be one to watch, but it far surpassed my wildest expectations.

Without reveal1920ing too much of the plot, the film begins when skilled pickpocket Sook-Hee is recruited by a sly conman to pose as a handmaiden for the aloof and mysterious Lady Hideko, all in order to get at her rather large inheritance.  The development and clever weaving of the story was one of my favorite parts of the entire film, and watching the threads slowly unravel had me utterly enthralled.  Each of the actors and actresses delivered a praise-worthy performance, with Kim Min-hee sticking out for her layered delivery of Hideko.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the plot was the the-handmaiden-reviewuse of language.  Most of the characters in the film are multilingual, speaking both Japanese and Korean.  Even the decision of which language characters use with one another becomes yet another important, nuanced aspect of the plot.  The languages were differentiated by the color of the subtitles, with Korean written in white and Japanese in yellow.

Some of my favorite elements of the movie were the breathtaking set design and costuming.  I truly felt Sook-Hee’s envy looking at Hideko’s various dresses, jewelry and assorted finery.  Additionally, a combination of brilliant cinematography, evocative lighting, and gorgeous set design drew me into every scene.


Lastly, I found the use of music to be particularly effective.  There was minimal music during the first part of the movie, which lent to a sparse and oppressive atmosphere. However, as the plot developed, so did the music, and the contrast between the two halves of the movie was particularly effective.

When my friend and I left the theater we spent the entire walk home discussing the film, not able to bring up a single criticism.  It has since quickly jumped to the top of my favorite movies list, battling it out with longtime favorites.


However, before you buy your ticket, I must issue a warning that this movie features several highly graphic sex scenes, and some graphic violence.  Think carefully about what your limits are, and the limits of your movie-going partners, before you buy your ticket.

Show times for The Handmaiden at the Michigan theater can be found at their website (here) , tickets are $8 for students.


Images from The Guardian, A.V Club, CNN, The Hollywood News, 

REVIEW: G’s Out for Harambe- G-men Fall 2016 Concert

If I didn’t already know from the title of tonight’s performance, “G’s Out for Harambe,” by the time I picked up the program at the front of the theater I knew that we were about to see what my friend lovingly described as “a comedy show disguised as an acapella concert.” Describing the G-Men as able to rock audiences with “the power of 100 raging Mark Ruffalo’s,” and suggesting a game with points awarded for catching members “visibly power-hungry,” laughing at their own jokes, or going cross-eyed, the program was representative of the G-Men’s unique sense of fun and levity.

The G-Men were cracking jokes the entire night in between songs, showing off their tangible camaraderie.  Sometimes it felt like the audience was privy to a big inside joke, that while none of us fully understood, we were fully entertained nonetheless.  However, the true star of the show was the amazing musicality displayed by the group.  They opened the performance with “Like Real People” by Hozier, which showcased both their singing and arranging skills.  The trend continued through to their next song, “Dust Bowl Dance” by Mumford and Sons.  I was most impressed by how skillfully they were able to alternate between powerful bursts of sound and quieter moments, moving together as a cohesive unit.  For a sample of this particular arrangement of “Dust Bowl Dance,” check out their performance of it at last year’s Charity Fest below.


The next two songs were “Color My World” by Chicago and “Sunday Morning(s)” by Maroon 5.  The soloists in each of these songs, as well as the entire set list, were fantastic and matched the tone of the song perfectly.  One member even did an impressive saxophone imitation, reflecting the mix of comedy and artistry that G-Men possess.  Check out the video of their performance of “Sunday Morning(s)” at this year’s MacFest below.

The last song before intermission was my favorite of the night, a stunningly emotive rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles.  After introducing the song with a joke of it being, “the 22nd best Beatles song,” they blew us away with the sheer power of their performance.  Below is a video of them performing the song last year.

After a brief intermission, the Sopranos came onto stage and sang two numbers, one of them “Lost in the World” by Kanye West, a video of their arrangement is attached below.  They then invited the G-Men back, who rushed onto the stage with renewed energy and fresh t-shirts, only to perform a stunning rendition of “Shadow of the Sun” together with the Sopranos.

They finished the show with three more songs, “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, “Sandcastles” by Beyoncé, and “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West. Each song was just as polished as the first half.

While snow was falling in blowing frigid air by the time we left the auditorium, my friends and I were filled with enough post-show energy to last for the entire walk home.  The conversation never left the fantastic performance we had just witnessed. If you are interesting in listening to more of the G-men and keeping track of their upcoming concerts, check out their Facebook page!

REVIEW: Athi-Patra Ruga- Penny Stamps Speaker Series.

img_3197Tonight’s choice of organ music was none other than “Over the Rainbow,” from the Wizard of Oz, a fitting tune considering featured guest Athi-Patra Ruga recently put on a show of the same name. Ruga framed his lecture by talking about self-made superheroes, these characters or rather, avatars, that he has both created and embodied to deal with past traumas. These figures have become the central focus of all his varied artistic ventures throughout the years.

performance1One of the very first avatars he created was “Miss Congo,” who he describes as a “club kid.” At this time he took up tapestry work, saying that he would prefer to define his own fate, and his own story, rather than let others do so for him. In particular he wanted to explore the way that black women have been portrayed at art.

The next character he explored was “Injibhabha,” which translates from his native language of Xhosa into alopecia, or hair-loss, in English. This character was created directly in response to a specific incident that occurred in his life.  Ruga had been in Switzerland when he saw a poster featuring cartoon white sheep kicking a cartoon black sheep out of the country, with the message promoting “cleaning up” the country by forcing immigrants out of the country.  He had built up in his mind Switzerland as a kind of utopian space, but in this moment it all came crashing down.  He did a piece of performance art in which he dressed up as this avatar by sewing together an outfit of “costume afros,” and entering a pen of white sheep.  He continued to experiment with this avatar for a while, and some of the photos he took at this time of Injibhabha are placed below.

The Death of Beiruth
The Death of Beiruth

The next character he began exploring was “Beiruth,” which was made in response to a news story covering a South African woman that had been attacked by a man in a taxi for simply wearing a miniskirt.  Beiruth was meant to be hyper sexualized, and create an immediate reaction in those that come across her.  However, eventually the weight of these issues began to wear on him, and so he “killed off” both of these characters with a dramatic photo of Beiruth standing in front of the crashing waves.

screen-shot-2012-11-28-at-1-13-59-pmHis next major avatar was “Ilullwane,” which refers to a bat, or in the context of his culture, a boy who goes to circumcision school as a rite of passage. Many young boys would die because of infection and ill treatment during this process, and those who leave the program would have to face heavy social stigma.  He wanted to create a “superhero” that would provide inspiration for these young boys. This idea led to several other interesting works.  One of which being, “The Body in Question.”  He showed the video below during the presentation.

With this series he hoped to raise awareness about transgender rights. One of his more elaborate works with the avatar of Ilullwane involved a performance act in an Olympic-sized swimming pool and 12 synchronized swimmers.  The photo gallery below shows just some of the images from that performance.

night-of-the-long-knives-i1The most recent of his series is “The Future White Women of Azania.”  Azania is a word used to reference the East African coast line since at least 14 AD among the Greeks.  The major motif of this series is Ruga’s body entirely covered in balloons, and by popping these balloons he is “shedding his identity.” This project is ongoing, and he continues to find new ways to explore this series, already producing everything from sculpture to photography to textiles.installation-view4


The presentation ended with the premier of Ruga’s new video, “Queens In Exile,” which marks the start of yet another character. The video started out with Ruga dressed as a queen, with extravagant jewels and costuming.  The video took us through several distinctive sections before ending with the shot you see below.  You can see a clip of the video, and hopefully eventually the full video on Ruga’s Facebook page.


I also got a chance to attend the Q&A session immediately following the presentation.  Nearly every lecture has a Q&A session, and I’ve always found them to be tremendously enriching. This time Ruga discussed in further depth his thoughts on the recent US election, the current trend towards conservatism globally, his process for getting into character, and the influence the internet has had on his life and work.

The Stamps Speaker Series is held every Thursday at 5:10 PM at the Michigan Theater.  There are only two more presentations this semester, but the series will pick right back up next semester.




REVIEW: Battle Espresso Royale-Comco

The line to get into the show
The line to get into the show

I knew I was in the right place for yesterday’s Comco performance because of the gently rumbling din of voices in the distance. The line to get into the auditorium snaked around the corner and into the lobby, despite us having arrived over a half an hour early.  By the time my friend and I made it inside, there wasn’t a seat to be found. We ended up leaning against a wall for the entire performance while even more students packed into the aisles.  Even less-than-ideal “seats” couldn’t take away from how fun the performance was. I can’t remember a favorite skit or moment from the night, because I was laughing the entire time! At one point in the show I even shed a tear or two, it was genuinely that funny.

In the long run, the large crowd added to the excitement in the room.  Audience members were reacting to the jokes and shouting out suggestions with gusto.  For their part, the cast of Comco gave a wonderful performance, keeping the mood light and fun the entire hour and a half, bouncing off each other quick-wittedly, and recovering easily from the few jokes that fell flat.  For those who missed the performance, there is another one coming up December 9th, ready to give you that last jolt of energy right before finals!  To keep up with the latest updates from Comco, checkout their Facebook page, .