REVIEW: Purple Rain

Great as a preserved performance, so-so as a movie.

My overall review is that even though the movie was interesting enough as a record to experience Prince’s performance, it wasn’t watcher-friendly.

The movie follows Prince and his problems when he was a young, aspiring star, presumably telling the story around the time when he first played his hit ‘Purple Rain’ in front of the public.

As mentioned, as a recording of the music performance, it was great. I felt as though I was actually in a concert and the camera used angles that were very efficient in portraying the performance style of Prince. Even though I had never seen videos of Prince performing before, I could get the sense of his style and ‘coolness’. The camera also did not fall into the mistake made at some band performances – focusing on the vocal yet using too many angles and effects. This may captivate the watcher’s attention but would draw the attention away from the personal aura of the performers. However, Purple rain focused on the lights, fog, and motion of Prince; the real elements on stage that draw the watcher’s attention to the actual movement of Prince.

As for the storyline, it wasn’t articulated enough for the watchers to be immersed in the story. I couldn’t help comparing the with Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that took a similar format of songs from an iconic artist and told a story about the artist. The impression I got was that Bohemian Rhapsody laid out the story more carefully. Bohemian Rhapsody made the characters likable. It gave enough information on the context of the character’s emotion so that the watcher could understand and build an emotional attachment with the character. Enough description was given on characters so that felt lively as well. However, In Purple rain, the story seemed to be an assembly of pieces. Strong emotional events were given – relationship with Apollonia, the conflict between Prince’s parents, and discontent from the band members. However, instead of building the foundation of each story and how it developed, the storyline only threw strong events at the audience without providing room for the audience to emotionally understand or resonate with the character. Also, the characters were flat. Think of Apollonia-why did she join Morris and how does her feelings toward Prince develop? What’s Morris’ opinion of Prince and what’s the story behind the conflict between Prince and the Band? What is needed for it to be resolved? All these questions, which are well developed, could have been an interesting human drama, were glazed over and not discussed.

In all, I recommend this movie to people who miss the heat of the concert scene and miss the music from the era before digital beats took over. It was also fun to imagine how Prince’s performance would have affected artists of later generations because a lot of his movements reminded me of scenes I’ve seen on contemporary artists’ performances. However, if you’re looking for an emotionally well-told movie with a sound track-you might want to look for something else.

PREVIEW: 35th Annual Storytelling Festival

Tomorrow, the 35th Annual Storytelling Festival takes place at The Ark.

In the event, six local and regional Storytellers will tell a story of different styles and types, including personal stories, tall tales, folk tales, literature, and a few songs from the folk tradition. The storytellers are from Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild, Lansing Storytellers, and Detroit Association of Black Storytellers.

When I first heard about the event, my mind wandered off instantly to try to remember when was the last time I heard a decent story. Not a chat, not a recite from an epic day of a friend’s life, not Youtube videos with flashy visuals to raise clicks. It has been such a long time, and to think about it, we have, at least I have long forgotten the art of a good story. The true value of things can be seen when all the additional decorations are taken away. Imagine how enchanting and powerful it is to be immersed in a story not accompanied by digital subsidies like the way we are used to now, and go back to the experience of bedtime stories where the teller’s voice was all that guides us and the rest is filled up with our imagination: isn’t this exciting?!

Entrance is free for U of M students who have the Passport to the arts! Information on where to get the ticket can be found here:


Also, the festival is live-streamed through The Ark’s Facebook Live page and YouTube channel. Links to more info on the event and live stream can be found here:

PREVIEW: Purple Rain

This Friday, at 10 pm, the movie ‘Purple Rain’ is played in the Michigan Theater.

Anyone not alien to the pop culture would have encountered at some point in their life the famous cover of the iconic album with Prince dressed in purple riding the motorcycle. Inducted in the Grammy hall of fame and being sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, the album ‘Purple rain’ of Prince is mentioned as one of the most iconic albums in the pop scene of all time. My first encounter with the album was at a modern vinyl shop in Seoul. Purple rain was displayed as the test record to get the taste of music played from vinyl, and I, as a self-defined rock and funk fan went for it. I was a bit surprised-I had thought that Prince was a rock/funk style artist. What I heard was an R&B style, soul vibe. I still remember that experience as an unexpected, surprising one.

The film that will be played this Friday features the album as the soundtrack. It’s a rock musical with Prince acting as himself. It’s about Prince and his band, a taste of their music and life.

U of M Students could get in free if they submit the passport to the arts or use a passcode to get tickets online. More information on where to find and how to use the passport to the arts can be found here:

It’ll be a great way to celebrate the start of spring break.


Recreating a classic comes with benefits and costs. You get to explore the precious parts that made the art classic, and yet, this implies the challenge to live up to the original arts and numerous former creations that interpreted the original piece in different styles. Performing Antigone in the 21st century after the original version was written more than 2000 years ago shares the same questions. The audience (a lot of them, presumably) know that Antigone is going to die (Apologies for the spoiler if you did not have the chance to encounter the original story yet) and they are keener on seeing how the production team had called the old heritage to life in their own creative way instead of knowing what’s going to happen to the characters. Antigone performed by the U of M Department of Theater & Drama had clear stances on what it inherited and recreated. I must disclose in advance that this was my only experience of seeing modern recreation of Antigone, so my review lacks any insights from comparison from other works.
The performers managed to bring back the emotions and awe the ancient Greeks felt. All actors placed heavy emphasis on the emotions they were experiencing, the universal emotions like fear, anger, doubt, and sadness. Played with the vigor of young actors, the fear of the oppressor has of the disobedience of the oppressed and the dignity of denouncement were powerfully demonstrated on stage. They also managed to bring more complicated forms of emotional resonance with the ancient Greeks-the rapid change of voice of Tiresias, very impressively done, combined with a sudden change in the color of the lighting to an abnormal red reminded the fear and awe the ancient people had for prophecies, and the dramatic movement of choruses reproduced the grandeur that was a myth was treated with. Energetic yet honoring the old story, the team had done a great job in making the old story still relevant.
The ‘new’ that the production team wanted to add to the project was very clear. It was clearly stated at the very start of the performance. Even before Antigone entered the stage, the chorus marched holding the pictures of women. I was not familiar with who they were, but I could guess from the grave manner that the march was done that they were being honored. To consider the theme of Antigone, my guess is that the women in the picture were the ones who fought for civil rights against oppression. Another thing to notice was that a good proportion of the people in the picture were people of color. The performance was expanding the story and the value celebrated in it outside the fiction from ancient times: they were stating that people, like Antigone, live up to their dignity, and thus we should honor them; the challenge and questions Antigone and other characters faced lived on, and suggest that that’s why we should bring this into awareness in this time in the theater.
One minor regret was that there were parts where it was hard to comprehend what the actors were singing. I think it was due to the combined effect of speaking in ancient styles and echo colliding with each other due to the location of my seat under the Mezzanine floor. Still, this was a well-created performance with details I couldn’t address here due to length but made the old story trendy again.

REVIEW: Dogfight

I was seriously impressed that this was a student production.

Produced by the basement arts, a student theater organization here at the University of Michigan, dogfight told a story of a young US marine who fell in love with a waitress who he had invited to a party with a bad intention. Although the theme of war inevitably cast a shadow of tragedy over the story, the production team did not permit the gloominess to eat up the vibrant energy of student actors and the production team. There were so many precious moments of humor that made the show so enjoyable, like in the scene where Rose, the girl who the main character, Eddie, asks out for a date, show him how capable she is of speaking foul languages after she was annoyed because Eddie swore too much.

The first compliment I would like to give is about the music composed for this performance. They were not only good to hear but cleverly constructed to fit the story. The number where this stood out most was a scene of a date night where Eddie asked Rose out after apologizing to her. They sang a song together about their feelings while they are wandering the streets. The characters’ emotions wouldn’t have been ripe enough to sing a full love sonnet. Eddie had done wrong to Rose and Rose was angry at him a while ago, so the romantic lyrics would have been too much. Here, the composers did an interesting twist that the characters would express their feelings with the humming of ‘Bum Bum Bum’, a playful but hopeful tune that explains the excited but uncertain emotional state of the two characters. Nicely done.
This song was performed by the two main characters, but a lot of other songs involved the whole ensemble. The tone of the dance was cheerful to reflect the dauntless marine boys who were too young to face the fear of the war, and the performers nailed this psych with bold movements and occasional humorous scenes. I would also like to shout out to the light designers as well. There were many scenes in the play where the performers had to be in a separate space but are visible at the same time. Lights were used in such cases to create the boundaries between spaces, which I found very creative. There was also a scene where the marines sang about America before they went to war. Red, blue and white lights were flashed on each group as the ensemble formed three groups that faced different directions This is still fresh in my mind as I write this review.

Although the story itself is a familiar one that has a male character and a female character falling over each other unexpectedly, the production design, the vigor of performers, and exciting music transformed the common story into a unique production. I look forward to seeing what surprise the basement arts will have for the university community.


*Featured photo from the Michigan Daily, photo by Jack Zeile

REVIEW: Layl (Night)

The dance! The dance, the dance, the dance, the dance.
With only 5 performers on stage, simple props, withheld words, and dim lights, the performance told a beautiful tale of love and separation. Beautiful was the right word. The performance talked about tragedy but in such a beautiful way.

This performance was different from the shows that capture people’s attention by giving accessive stimuli. 5 people filled the stage from the start to finish. They were wearing black clothes and no stage props used exuberant colors. This made a really grave and chic look to the performance by emphasizing every movement of people on stage, their flesh as the only glowing and colored thing moving on stage in the dark. The show started with a female performer with a powerful voice singing what this performance will be about. Quoted, it was “a show about the fatal struggle of lovers struck by distance and parting its dancers are lovers who have refused to let separation dry their tears”, and the song proceeded to state that the show is about the “victims of love” who “died of longing”, “died crucified”, “were slaughtered”, “committed suicide”, and other forms of horrible deaths. Then it was said that in love, there is “desire and disease, there are the seeds and the bubbles of a pool in rain, there is the stability of one who is anchored, there is agitation and turmoil”, and so on.

As can be seen even from these short quotes, the rush of poetic and sincere images was poured at the very start. It was a very clever way to start the show because it not only immediately seized my and the audience’s attention to the show but also managed to give guidance to the audience on how to interpret what’s going to happen on stage. This was especially necessary considering that the main communication of the performance that followed was mainly nonverbal and symbolic as it consisted of movements and music. This introduction was accompanied by two dancers who were jumping while they were thrusting their arms and legs. Bizarre and exuberant, this almost reminded me of a person possessed by a powerful external force. Although I cannot mention every detail, these kinds of simple but powerful motions were commonalities of movement throughout the show, capturing the audience not with flashy movements but with exceptional pauses, limited movements, and perfect resonance with the music. After the show, a short Q&A was followed with the enthusiasm with the audience. Questions were mainly focused on the cultural background of the choreographer and the performance and all of them were based on appreciation for the show.

The part that really stood out to me was how the show broke the barriers distinguishing the musicians and dancers as can be seen in lots of performances. In this show, musicians dropped their instruments and fluidly joined as dancers, or the musicians would lie down on the floor while dancers danced around and above them. This made me take in music and movement as a whole. Also, every instrument being laid on the floor while the lights and the steel structure where they hang coming down to create the image of the war, demise, or ruin was highly impressive. It was misbalanced but aesthetically very complete.

My only regret was that the English subtitle was provided for partial scenes. The show was performed in Arabic. I could tell that the language was an important part of the show because the producer chose to have the performer singing throughout the performance while keeping everything else concise, so I felt that I was not getting the full aspect of the show when I couldn’t understand the lyrics. Also, the lyrics were really beautiful in themselves so it would have been so beautiful to savor the words simultaneously with the dance.

In all, this performance, going over the language barrier, was truly beautiful, mystic yet powerful, just as its title entails. I’ll definitely look forward to seeing more production from the choreographer, Ali Chahrour.