REVIEW: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

What I truly love about UMS is the variety of their performances. This season, we have classical pianists, Indie rockers (as I’m calling James Blake…sorry if that makes anyone mad), traditional Sufi music, and this: an orchestra of ukulele players from England. It was so unlike anything I’ve seen before at UMS. There wasn’t anything to analyze or interpret. Nothing to look at and be like, “Wait…why are there lambs on stage?” It was just exactly what you were expecting: an hour and a half of covers of songs performed on the ukulele. Don’t get me wrong; I like risqué, innovative, renegade material as much as the next person, but it was a nice change to know what was coming.

And it was fun too! Everyone left with a smile on their face. Prior to the performance, audience members were asked to bring their ukuleles and several people did! In the middle of the show, they played Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and uke-playing audience members took up the challenge and played along! It was a really cute way of engaging the audience. And such a great way of utilizing the smallness of the ukulele! It’s such a lap-friendly instrument! I mean, if they had brought a harp orchestra to Ann Arbor, you couldn’t necessarily ask people to bring along their harps to play along mid-show. It was the perfect way of getting the audience involved without making people nervous or annoying those who didn’t want to participate.

One thing that seemed to detract from my personal experience of the show was my age. All the songs were covers and while I did recognize “Pinball Wizard” and a truly fabulous rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, the rest of the songs were from a time before my generation. I understand that UMS audiences tend to be on the older side, so I know there were a lot of people who got more out of the performance than I. Which is fine – I’m happy that they enjoyed the show (and I think they did because oftentimes just after three chords were struck on stage, I’d hear elderly whooping erupt behind me). It was still good music and fun to watch just how awesome all the band members were at the ukulele…I just think I would have liked it even more had I been more familiar with more of the songs.

Great show, lots of fun, and super cute. Glad I went. Going to shop around for a ukulele so I can learn too!

PREVIEW: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Tuesday, November 12 at 7:30 pm in Michigan Theater, UMS presents a quirky group of seven ukulele players in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Members George Hinchliffe, Kitty Lux, David Sulch, Jonty Bankes, Richie Williams, Peter Brooke Turner, and Leisa Rea come together to bring you a very diverse program of classics and modern pop hits. This group is definitely not to be missed.

Annnd if you’re curious to learn more about ukuleles and their history, check out this clever infographic on the ums lobby website, designed and crafted by yours truly 🙂

Hope to see you there!! Student tickets only $10!!

REVIEW: UMS presents Ballet Preljocaj

Thought-provoking, inspiring, and very bizarre, Ballet Preljocaj’s performance of And Then, One Thousand Years of Peace was how I spent my outstanding Friday night. The performance had everything from enormous plastic sheets, 15-foot metal block-wall-things, frighteningly-athletic dancers, and two baby sheep. It was truly spectacular.

The subject of the dance was the apocalypse. As the dancers fought, made passionate love, crouched and swayed, the audience felt the earth crumble and collapse. They performed a few routines using flags of different countries of the world, soaking them in water and whipping them out to dry. As the full arc of the show came to a resolution, all the flags lay dampened on stage. Two baby sheep were released next on the stage, symbolizing a sort of rebirth of civilization, in my opinion. That part was a little much. I was so distracted by the sheep and nervous that they were going to run off stage that I kind of forgot I was watching a dance performance. There was an air pocket in one of the wet flags and one sheep was poking it until finally it daringly leapt over the bubble. With that final image, the dancers faded into the blackness and the curtain fell. It was weird, but awesome all at once. I left the performance breathless and awestruck.

This dance struck me as more complex than any other dance performance I’d ever seen. The dancers moved so fast for so long during the show; I felt breathless. They had a bunch of different props too! The metal block-wall-things, sheep, plaster sheets, silver trays, metal-helmet contraptions, books, and chairs. It was raw and sharp. One of the most memorable moments was when a series of metal chains fell from the ceiling. They would drop two, as one man danced below. And I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this – I certainly hadn’t – but when chains fall, they fall in a straight line before crumbling to the ground with a sharp clang. It was super cool and added to the intensity of the performance.

As an intern at UMS, I got to ask people what they thought of the show and record their reactions after the performance. I talked to a few dance majors who were so astounded and inspired by the performance that they could hardly contain their enthusiasm. Others felt that the performance was strange, albeit beautifully done. I didn’t hear any overtly negative reviews. The harshest criticism I overheard was just: “What was that about?” (To see some of the video clips of reactions check out this page on the UMS Lobby website!) There’s something in letting go while watching these sorts of performances – you have to just sit back and let the show wash over you. I think this is why dance, especially modern dance, takes some viewing experience. I’ve found that the more modern dance I see, the more I am able to let go and just roll with the performance without overly analyzing what I’m seeing.

Thanks to UMS for bringing this immensely-talented dance company!

P.S. If you liked this (or think you would have), be sure to check out Compagnie Käfig when they come to UMS in February!

REVIEW: Hubbard Street

Dance is somewhat of a challenge for me to understand. I lack the proper vocabulary and background knowledge to truly and accurately describe what I see performed in front of me. That said I thoroughly enjoyed Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s amazing performance of, One Thousand Pieces. I will do my best to tell you why.

First off, it’s beyond beautiful. The dancers move with such grace and precision – I sort of made up this game to try and see if I could see someone’s knee twitch or foot slip out of place, but I never caught any slip-ups. Every move was deliberate and precise. They would rush to complete a phrase then slow to a gentle glide across the sleek dance floor. It was spectacular. Their performance also featured a mist curtain, hanging as a billowy and ever-changing backdrop to their movements. The scene change with the mist curtain also left the stage littered with water droplets, in which the dancers continued to glide and float on stage to the rhythms of Phillip Glass’s music. The sound of the water could reach me in the balcony. I was even able to make out sparkling droplets of water dancing through the air as the artists flipped their arms in the mist.

This dance performance was not a story ballet or anything – the aim, as defined by Hubbard’s first resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo, was to show how images are shaped and distorted through stained glass. Why stained glass? The choreography was inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows, as seen on display at the Chicago Art Institute. The props were simplistic but did include a few mirrors, tilted this or that way. It was also cool to watch the dancers when the lighting adjusted to show a vibrant reflection in the floor beneath their spinning bodies. So many of their movements seemed to me to be in a singular plane, moving within some sort of field of restraint. When I would glance at the dancers’ reflections in the mirrors or the floor, their movements seemed flattened and more distant – as if I were watching the performance through a window. It was unlike anything I’d seen before. It gave a whole new dimension to the work for sure.

Hubbard Street is an amazing company and worthy of all the praise they receive. Bravo to the dancers and thanks to UMS for bringing this fabulous company to our Ann Arbor stages.

PREVIEW: Hubbard Street Dance!

This weekend come check out the UMS presentation of Hubbard Street Dance. Performing a piece inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows and written by Hubbard Street’s first resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo, the performance is sure to take your breath away. Cerrudo, when interviewed, commented on how windows shape and distort images – this is the inspiration of the piece. They use water effects, like mist curtains, and special backlighting to exemplify the beauty of the dancers. It is sure to be a spectacle of a performance, so get on those tickets, folks!

REVIEW: Audra McDonald

Vocal perfection? Thy name is Audra McDonald.

This evening, I had the absolute pleasure to hear Audra McDonald perform for the second time in the always amazing, Hill Auditorium. She began the first half with several numbers that were classically-Audra but never overused: “Stars and the Moon,” “I’ll be here,” “When did I Fall in Love” to name a few. Some interesting new additions, at least for me having seen her two years ago, were a moving rendition of the classic, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as well as a number from the not-too-popular Kandor and Ebb musical Steel Pier entitled “First You Dream.” The latter was dedicated to her father who sadly passed away in a plane crash, a plane he was piloting himself. The song is sung by the main character, a pilot who dies but doesn’t yet know he is dead. His final piece of advice to the woman he is trying to inspire is a clear message on how to begin: “first you dream.”

With a rousing first half, it was hard to imagine anything could be more impressive. Of course, Ms. McDonald never begins something to finish with anything less than her best. With her on stage for the second half came the entire University of Michigan Music School Orchestra to back her up in a slew of Gershwin songs, paying tribute to the new pact between the Gershwin family and the University of Michigan. This new collaboration project with provide a collected and accessible database of Gershwin repertoire, complete with original manuscripts and composer notes. Judging by the gasps of excitement from the Musical Theatre majors I was seated around, I’d say this is more than fantastic news for wolverines cravin’ that Gershwin swing.

What a fantastic performance by a truly special talent. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Ms. McDonald perform once again while here at Michigan. She’s a goddess in her own right and knows how to wield the amazing gift with which she’s been blessed.