REVIEW: Ballet Preljocaj Snow White

Friday April 20th at 8 p.m. the Power Center filled with people excitedly anticipating the talked-about performance of Ballet Preljocaj’s rendition of the beloved Grimm fairy tale, Snow White. The lights lowered, and the audience fell silent. The performance began with a bang, with loud, dramatic music, low lighting, and smoke filling the stage as the curtains parted. A shadowy figure stood behind the smoke, barely visible. She slowly moved forward through the smoke, a creepy, but beautiful figure dressed in an all black, gauzy flowing gown, with black gauze covering her face and her hair, a black crown on her head. She is the pregnant mother of Snow White. In agony she gives birth to Snow White, but dies in the process. The king, also dressed in all black with a towering black crown, enters the stage with his men, and he picks up the baby. The men carry the body of the mother off the stage. And so the show begins! Incredibly dramatic.

Snow Whites Mother
Snow White's Mother

The king dances with his baby daughter, then briefly runs behind a panel of fabric, emerging with a little girl, dancing the part of young Snow White. Once again they run behind a panel of fabric, and out comes the star of the show, the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, Snow White, danced by Nagisa Shirai.

Throughout the performance sets and costumes created a beautifully enchanted fairy-tale world. This production of Snow White is certainly nothing like the Disney cartoon. The characters are darker and creepier, and the entire performance is fused with sexual tension and suggestive scenes. The performance was given a very clear disclaimer that the content is very adult, and that the show contains nudity, so it is not recommended for children to attend. However, I felt that UMS took the idea that this ballet is for adults a bit too seriously, making the audience look for these racy points in the piece, focusing their attention on the fact that it is “adult” rather than taking it as a piece of art without this prior disclaimer in mind. The nudity contained in the piece consisted of one female dancer dancing a part topless, and it was really  in no way sexual. She played a deer, complete with big fuzzy pants and antlers on her head. She was the animal sacrificed in order to protect Snow White from being killed, as the men needed to bring a heart back to the evil stepmother. Scenes that were meant to be sexual, such as the scene with the lovers in the woods, in a place where lovers go to have sex, were obviously not explicit. The dance movements suggested something sexual, but it was also very playful and flirtatious, much more innocent than the disclaimer warned audience members that it would be. This preoccupation with the sensuality of the piece persisted throughout the Question and Answer session with the dancers after the performance, with many individuals asking the dancers about the sexual content in the piece, rather than their experiences as professional ballet dancers in such a world-renown company.

The red scarf used in the scene with the lovers, a symbol of Snow Whites beauty and flirtation.
The red scarf used in the scene with the lover's, a symbol of Snow White's beauty and flirtation.

There were many really exciting and interesting moments in the dance. It was very engaging to see how the company portrayed different characters and scenes, as the story is so well known to its audience. I loved how the mirror scenes with the evil stepmother were portrayed, using a black screen and another dancer on the other side mirroring the character’s movements. It took me a minute to realize that it was another dancer in costume on the other side of a screen rather than a real mirror–the dancers were so precise!

I also loved the scene with the “dwarfs,” in this case miners who were  described by the dancers in the Q&A session as “monks” or non-sexual beings, a necessary component as a way of making sense of Snow White’s residence with these seven men while she was in hiding. They were suspended onto a rock wall, and danced up and down the wall, doing flips and turns. It was so cool to watch.

I also loved the moments between the prince and Snow White. During their meeting in the forest, where the lovers go, the music stopped as they danced together for the first time. It was breath-taking to watch them move together for an entire phrase in silence. They repeated the dance phrase once again and the music came in. It was like experiencing that moment of first falling in love between the two of them, where the world around them doesn’t exist, that intimate moment, and then watching it again from our perspective, on the outside with music. There was also an incredible scene after Snow White is poisoned by the apple, and the prince mourns her death. He flops around her “dead” body, dancing with her, tossing her around and performing a beautiful and tragic pas de deux seemingly completely on his own strength. They really made a wonderful pair dancing together throughout the performance.

Ballet Preljocaj’s performance of Snow White was a really incredible final dance performance for the UMS season. Ballet Preljocaj is a talented company of artists. They are some of the best dancers and performers I have ever seen. They moved completely in the moment, as if it were the very first time they were performing the dance. Their movements were full and luscious, and they were very aware of the other dancers on stage, moving together and feeding off of one another. They were very playful, and stayed in character relentlessly throughout the piece, including interactions and gestures that appeared and felt improvised and genuine. They never seemed to simply dance the steps taught to them, but they completely immersed themselves in the characters, in the movements, exploring the movements and the character, being in them and growing in them to fill them out before the audience. It was so beautiful and rewarding to watch. Ballet Preljocaj is certainly a company to watch out for. I’ll be looking forward to their next production, and I hope they will come back to perform here in Ann Arbor again soon!

To view a clip of Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White, go to:

PREVIEW: Ballet Preljocaj Snow White

This Friday, April 20th, Ballet Preljocaj will make its first appearance at the University’s Power Center in more than 10 years, performing the contemporary ballet company’s original rendition of the beloved fairy-tale Snow White. This is not your Disney fairy tale story of Snow White. The company warns that their show is for an adult audience only, as their take on the story is modern and edgy, containing adult themes and and a shift in perspective, making the evil stepmother the center focus of the production, exploring her desires and inner conflicts. The show looks sexy and fun, while retaining the beauty of classical ballet, and the whimsical world of magic where fairy tales exist.

Ballet Preljocaj will be performing Friday April 20th and Saturday April 21st at 8 p.m. at the Power Center. To purchase tickets go to:

For more information on Ballet Preljocaj, check out the company’s website:

REVIEW: Fontomfrom Drum & Dance

Saturday March 31st at 7:30 p.m. in Palmer Commons, dancers and musicians gathered to perform at the University, having traveled from the far reaches of the globe. The night opened with Rony Barrak, a percussionist from Lebanon. He was incredibly talented, and collaborated with University of Michigan music students near the end of the his set. What an incredible opportunity for our students to work with such a world-renown musician!

Rony Barrak
Rony Barrak

After a 15 minute break to clear the stage, the Fontomfrom Drum & Dance Ensemble from Ghana performed. They are masters of African drum and dance, having been members of the National Dance Company in Kumasi. They opened with a prayer to bless the drums and to thank the trees for their sacrifice in order for the drums to have been created. One man sang the words of the prayer, and the drum would respond after each line. It was really beautiful.

Other dances included a social dance, in which men and women partnered up, a harvest dance which expressed gratitude for the harvest, a dance performed for the in-laws at a wedding, and even a dance performed when a person is being taken away for execution! Each dance was so expressive, with the tiniest gestures and  movements packed with so much meaning. The dancers interacted with the crowd, making faces, smiling, and gesturing toward the audience. There was such a strong connection between dancer and audience, something that is often lost in modern American dance, where there is often an invisible wall between performer and audience. The dancers also connected with each other, and with the drummers as they danced, smiling at one another, and echoing the shouts and songs of the drummers.

I am incredibly jealous that dance is so integrated into their culture and everyday life in Africa. There are dances for every occasion, and specific dances and dress for different regions of Africa as well. It seems as if everyone would dance in that environment, unlike here, where the only opportunities to dance are at a nightclub, or at a dance studio where formal dance classes are taught. I love how dance is such a part of their lives, for so many occasions, for their whole lives.

It was interesting to see nuances of modern-day hip-hop dance in African dance movement. There was a lot of flow and hit in their movements, intricate hand-movements, and hip movements somewhat reminiscent of krumping, but the attitude was so different than hip-hop. Hip-hop dance is often pretty serious, and it comes from a very intense, even angry, place. There are times when hip-hop is more playful, but it seems that it is often in a teasing, making fun of something, sort of way. But African dance is most often very light-hearted and innocent. The dancers smile all the time, at each other and at the audience, something you would rarely see a hip-hop dancer do. Their movements are equally intense–their bodies hold so much tension as they move!–but they are able to maintain a calm and friendly demeanor. I wonder if slavery caused African-American dance to become more angry, and less light-hearted, or if rap music, more serious and impassioned as a result of the roughness of urban living, set the mood for today’s hip-hop dance.

Fontomfrom Dance Ensemble
Fontomfrom Dance Ensemble

I so enjoyed the Fontomfrom performance. The dancers are so incredibly talented, and their movements are perfectly sharp and precise. I loved how the strong drum beats resounded throughout the room–I wanted to get up and dance too! I wish there were more opportunities to learn authentic African dance movements in our community. I think it is important for dance instructors to gain knowledge of world dance forms to offer to their students–I think having a well-rounded conception of dance that is not culture-specific would make a dancer more well-rounded in the way they approach movement, and in the way that their body is trained to move as well. I also would love to see an African dance workout created–the dancers were moving non-stop, and sweating like crazy! They were all really in shape. I think an African dance workout could easily become even more popular than Zumba. The drum beats are fun and energizing, and the movement also seems really fun, but incredibly intense!

If you have the opportunity to see Fontomfrom, or another African dance performance, I would highly recommend that you go! It was an incredible experience.

REVIEW: Fool Moon

Friday March 30th the Ann Arbor community gathered downtown after sunset for the Fool Moon festival, the first event of FestiFools. People of all ages brought their hand-made luminaries to showcase, and many people got dressed up in wacky outfits for the event.

Luminaries included a colorful bird, floating above the crowd's head, and a bright yellow hand making a peace sign.
More luminaries! A shining half-moon, lips, and the Cheshire Cat!

A luminary hat!

The crowd paraded through the Diag, through Nickels Arcade, and into downtown, showing off their luminaries. Downtown, near Frita Batidos, there was a tent with live entertainment, and what looked like beer, though I couldn’t get close enough to find out! There were live musicians as well, including a man with a tuba, and a few students banging on buckets that were hanging from their necks, as they walked through the crowd. There was also video being projected onto the side of a building, though the clips seemed somewhat random, and there was no sound. However the randomness fit well with the theme of the night.

People cast shadows in front of the projector as they passed by
People cast shadows in front of the projector as they passed by

The event felt like pure craziness. There seemed to be little organization, and everyone stood around in their silly costumes, holding their luminaries and looking around at everyone else. Other than the live music and the beer, there really wasn’t much else going on. There was a guy with a moon pie luminary hat selling “fool moon pies” for $2. Other than that there was no other food for sale, or any other activities going on. It was really fun to go and see, but I didn’t stay very long, as there really wasn’t much to do but stand there and look at all the luminaries. I think in the future it would be good for the event to be more organized, and for there to be more entertainment and food downtown for the event. It would also be nice to have a line-up of all the luminaries and maybe have a contest awarding prizes for the best ones–maybe people could vote, or cheer for their favorites. The idea of Fool Moon is really interesting and fun, but I think there needs to be more planned components of the event in order to make it a lasting tradition. I can’t imagine putting so much work into making a luminary just to stand there in the street downtown in a crowd of people for a few hours. I think there needs to be more to it than that.

All in all, the event was interesting and fun to go to. It was really cool to see the street lit up with hand-made luminaries in all different crazy shapes and sizes, with people dressed up in silly costumes, and loud, electronic-rock music blasting–it was a really unique experience! If you weren’t able to make it to Fool Moon this year, I would definitely recommend checking it out next year. It’s one of those events that if you live in Ann Arbor, you must experience it once!

Larger than life luminary!
Go Blue!
Go Blue!

REVIEW: Ann Arbor Student Film Showcase

As a part of the annual Ann Arbor Film Festival, this Wednesday evening, March  28th from 5-7 p.m., featured a free showcase of student films, created by University of Michigan students, as well as students from Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, College for Creative Studies, Interlochen Arts Academy, and Oakland Community College. In total, 15 short films were shown, each film standing apart from the others in uniqueness of concept and subject. There were only a select few films that I really liked, including “Instructions for Urban Exploration,” a dance film by Perry Janes, Noah Stahl, and Sadie Yarrington, all University of Michigan students. The film was shot in an abandoned warehouse in Detroit, in which a female dancer recited a poem about urban exploration, and moved as she spoke. It was beautiful! I loved the shots of her dancing in front of a wall of window-panes, a wall of light behind her, silhouetting her movement.

I also really liked “A Series of Kinetic Sets Tell A Story,” by Shannon Kohlitz, which begins with an elderly woman putting a few random objects into a box and carefully closing the top, shifting to an animated scene inside of the box, a slideshow of her memories, giving significance to the objects within her past, when she first met her husband, and they got married, and he was in the war… It was really touching. The film was dedicated to Shannon’s grandparents, with old photos of her grandparents when they were young displayed on the screen as the credits were shown. It was such a sweet and meaningful concept, with so much communicated in only 5 minutes of film.

Scene from Listen

“Listen,” created by a group of students from Washtenaw Community College, was entertaining to watch, though it felt more like an Ann Arbor music video than a meaningful film. “Belle Isle Zoo” by Barb Morrissey from Washtenaw Community College, contained an interesting subject, scenes from the dilapidated Belle Isle Zoo, however the film didn’t explore much beyond this basic subject. With eerie music, the film felt very creepy, but I think something could have been manipulated in order to have something happen in the film, like having a person standing in the ruin in the end, creeping around the corner, instead of merely showing scenes of the ruin as it is.

Scene from A Series of Kinetic Sets Tell A Story
Scene from Belle Isle Zoo
Scene from Belle Isle Zoo

Another film I really enjoyed was a documentary by Scott Allen from Washtenaw Community College, called “Turn the Camera Around,” about a photographer named Doug, who takes photos of music artists for the Detroit Metro Times. Doug is a really interesting guy, and the film was really well done–this is definitely not your average boring documentary. It was really entertaining, heartfelt, and funny.

You can watch this film online!

Dubstep Informational Nature Video Series

Though there were a number of films I really liked, there were also some films that I just didn’t get. For instance, “Dubstep Informational Nature Video Series” created by an EMU student contained computer graphics, dubstep music, and video and images of animals, including possums, spiders, and dolphins, with silly, un-factual “facts” about these animals. Huh? Also, “Forward Aikido Roll,” a film made by a Washtenaw Community College student was also pretty goofy. This guy basically talked about how he’s the master of the Aikido Roll, basically a tumbling move, and he just kept doing it over and over again. Some people thought it was funny, but I didn’t get the joke. It seems like a lot of time and effort to put into a “film” that resembles a silly youtube video.

Forward Aikido Roll
Forward Aikido Roll

All in all, the student film festival made for a really entertaining evening. There were several really well-done films created by students in our community, and it is so great that these students are recognized at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, one of the most popular annual arts events in Ann Arbor.

For more information about the films shown at the 2012 student film festival, check out the website!

REVIEW: Joints 4tet for Ensemble

In the Institute for the Humanities Gallery on S. Thayer Street a video installation exhibit by Charles Atlas is on display through Saturday March 31st. Joints 4tet for Ensemble is a touching homage to the life and movement of famous modern dancer/choreographer, Merce Cunningham, who recently passed away in 2009, at the ripe-old-age of 90. [want to learn more about Merce?:]

Merce Cunningham
Merce Cunningham

The exhibit consists of exactly what you see in the photo above, nothing more, nothing less. The room is dimly lit, with small, hidden spotlights illuminating the arrangement of various sized box-shaped televisions on sturdy metal stands, casting larger-than-life shadows on the walls behind them. The arrangement of televisions and speakers, along with the giant shadows cast on the walls, create the image of a choreographed arrangement of bodies in space, the televisions the empty beings transmitting the remnants of the movement of Merce Cunningham. Images of Merce’s hands, arms, knees, and feet are portrayed on the various screens, video footage taken by Charles Atlas during the time that he worked as an assistant stage manager for Merce’s dance company. In between rehearsals Charles would videotape Merce exploring movement and gesture in his own body, focusing in on one small movement of the body–the twirling of his wrist, the bending and straightening of his knee, the extension of his arm. Each movement done purposefully and thoughtfully, beautifully. A soundtrack of street noise projected from the speakers–traffic, church bells, people talking as they pass by.

As I sat on the bench facing the screens, alone in the gallery, I felt as if I were in a sacred space paying my respect to one of the most influential dancers and choreographers who ever lived. I imagined that I was in a park, with Merce Cunningham himself, and I was Charles Atlas, holding the camera as Merce moved. Traffic and people buzz by, missing the simple beauty in the artistic genius standing before them. And I stand mesmerized by his movement.

I loved that Charles chose these everyday movements that are so relate-able, the idea of the everyday further enforced by the street noise projecting from the speakers. It made me feel like I was having an intimate moment with Merce, that I knew him personally–I saw the beauty in his movement, as a dancer, but also as a person. It made me miss him, as if I knew him like Charles did. The street noise as well as the red lines moving upwards that would sometimes appear on the screen in place of the videos of Merce reminded me that he is gone, and the world continues turning.

This exhibit hit straight to my core, in a very unconscious way, and I realized that this is because this is how a dancer sees the world. We appreciate the natural choreographic arrangement of objects in space, the slightest movement is awe inspiring art, and the noise of everyday life is music.