Review: Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán

I was waiting for this show for a long time and what a lovely evening it turned out to be!

First we were greeted with an excellent rendition of  “El pastor” by the cute and gifted Sebastian de la Cruz, (all of eight years old!), who was selected to be the best in his category in 2009 Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza Competition. My goodness, his yoddling was so awesome! If at eight, he can sing so well, just imagine what wonders he will do in the musical world when he grows up! The winner of the best female voice in the competition, Karenn Lazo dazzled next! She was all grace and her voice was so powerful!

Sebastien and Karenn performing

Next came the much awaited mariachi band, all spectacular in their costumes and the extravaganza began! What powerful voices & what energy!  What grace, what awesome stage presence! It was really something to be watching that! The songs kept coming one after the other and the strumming of the guitars, the exceptional violin playing, the awesome trumpets, the joking, the dancing  and the most beautiful combination of voices- it was just mindblowing!

I was so happy and grinning from ear to ear the whole time as the music was simply superb. There was so much of variety and so much going on. What clarity in their voices!  The energy and enthusiasm was so infectious- the band played non-stop for almost two and a half hours and it was a big party!

Some of my favorites in the show were “POR AMOR” (POR AMOR– watch this!),Vaqueros, hermoso cariño, Cielito Lindo Son Juasteco and this one- Por ti volare (you really must must see this!).

I was amazed at the multi-tasking of the members. One would come sing (do a lil jig too), and then go play the guitar or the violin and be a part of the chorus! My god- what stamina they must have! It was really a treat to watch them and at the end of the show, the performance had moved me to tears as the music touched me so deeply. I LOVE them!

The Mariachi Vargas band, courtesy UMS
The Mariachi Vargas band, courtesy UMS

The audience was amazing, singing along to most of the songs. In fact, many knew almost all the songs and the band gave a chance to a gentleman in the audience who did a great job (with José ‘Pepe’ Martinez jokingly trying to get the mike away as the singer sang the whole song!)

I was really very very happy after the show, one of the best I have ever seen in the Hill auditorium. This performance of Mariachi Vargas ranks really high in my all-time favorites! I hope I can watch another live performance of them sometime as this is definitely my kind of music! 🙂

Preview: Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán

I can’t remember any another event for which I have been as excited as for this one-  Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán’s performance at the Hill tomorrow! I have really waited for this show for a long time now (well, since I came to know that they were coming!).

Anyway, I am learning Spanish presently and so am getting exposed to a whole lot of new stuff- culture, music, dance and of course the language! So as part of the class, we learnt a little about the music in Hispanic countries and we learnt about ranchera and of course, mariachis of Mexico. I spent some time listening to mariachi music  on youtube and guess who  is considered to be among the best and the finest of the mariachi bands – the granddad of all mariachis, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

This group is really old (it was started in 1897) and has been passed down five generations! For once, ‘old is gold ‘ is an expression perfectly suitable for this kind of music.  This is the kind of music that will make you want to dance with no inhibitions. The band sings the traditional Mexican folk  (like boleros, rancheras, sones) and have incorporated a lot of modern music as well without sacrificing the charm of the original music. It will be a fun evening and I really hope that you get to be part of this fun!

So people, I will see you tomorrow (Friday, Nov 5) at the Hill Auditorium @ 8 pm, verdad? Tickets at Michigan League Ticket Office.

Hasta pronto!

Preview: Halloween Concert at the Hill

It’s halloween. While you are  scratching your heads for finding affordable yet funky costumes ( hopefully and definitely not a ‘Snooki’ or  ‘Lady Gaga’ one- Puhlease!) and choosing which party you want to attend, do not miss this Halloween tradition in Ann Arbor- the Halloween Concert by the University’s Orchestras!

The concert will feature the University Symphony Orchestra and the University Philharmonia Orchestra and will be conducted by grad students in conducting. This  concert is an absolute annual favorite-  a true “of the students, by the students, for all” event! For once, no stuffy suits and mournful all-black attire on stage as the orchestra will be dressed in costumes (so don’t forget yours and of course, please no ‘snooki’ or ‘lady gaga’)!

Photo from 2008 Halloween Concert, courtesy, Ann Arbor News
Photo from 2008 Halloween Concert, courtesy, Ann Arbor News

The graduate students arrange the entire concert- right from selecting the music to selecting the costumes. And they do dress very creatively. Most of the times, the string section dress alike. I am sure it does get spooky for the conductor to be leading an orchestra full of zombies, devilish ghouls and ghosts! But that is the fun part!

The program offers a whole lot of spooky music like  Debussy’s “Fetes from Nocturnes” and Holst’s “Jupiter from The Planets” as well as pieces written for Halloween like Chadwick’s “Hobgoblin” and March of the Little Goblins. For those who are classical music aficionados, the music is definitely worth it and is truly “concert” quality. For those who think orchestral music is not for them, you are mistaken and this is your chance to get to know the ‘cool’ side of classical music.

So see you at your spookiest best then at  Hill Auditorium on Sunday October 31 2010 @ 3 pm.

Tickets ($8) at the League Ticket Office.

Stay Scary!

Review: Sankai Juku

First there was the sound of a drop.

A drop fell from one of  the props (beautifully ornamented top-shaped  glass receptacles with mini-pipettes that was suspended from the ceiling) into one of the  huge shallow transparent bowls  that were arranged in a  wide U-shape around the stage. The bowls were filled with water and looked out-of-the-world in the almost-dark stage that was covered with fine white sand (I learnt later that more than 2 tons of sand was brought in  from the shores of Lake Michigan).

Then there was complete silence.

Dancers covered in white rice powder entered silently like ghosts and lay in fetal positions near the bowls. To the sound of drops, they slowly unfurled themselves to life. And the journey began.

This was how Sankai Juku’s “Hibiki: Resonance from far away” started.  To say, the first dance “Drop” was beautiful would be a huge understatement. It was mesmerising. The dancers slowly came to life- shown by exquisite but very controlled repetitive movements of the dancers rising up and then back down.

To summarise, Hibiki is about the stages of life expressed in a very beautiful, calm and slow manner. It starts with the showing the change of  embryos. Then as they come into the world, there is tension and there is resonance due to this tension and also, due to lack of it. There are changes in the body due to its reaction to the world outside it. Then there is calm inner reflection. And finally there’s light and peace and we go back to where it began. The cycle  repeats, as Ushio Amagatsu says, “this million year drama”.

Sankai Juku’s performance was mindblowing. The dance philosophy that Ushio Amagatsu follows is based on butoh. Slow controlled deliberate movements with focus on the execution rather than on grace and then repetition- these were some of the differences in his style. The dancers were all mature and older and the average age would have been at least 6 years higher than a that of any other dance group. I think  hte experience of the dancers helped to add  more gravity to the dance.

The music was brilliant. There were couple of themes (like “displacement” and “reflection”) which I found was too heavy and tedious for me. And the music at places sounded disturbing (weird too). But it matched the moods and the choreography so well.

The lighting arrangement for Hibiki was exceptional. For instance, the way they showed darkness enfolding was awesome! Two sets of screens  were pulled in two directions( vertical and horizontal) towards each other over a lighted background (when I mean lighted, imagine the brilliant suffused yellow glow of the sun at dawn) thereby creating a shrinking window of light. And then in the end, there was light again!

Outer limits of the red
“Outer limits of the red”, courtesy, “Pomegranate arts”

For “the outer limits of the red” sequence, red dye was poured into one of the bowls and the light shone over it creating a red glow which was in contrast with the pure white gowns of the dancers (they were all male but they wore some form of a corseted gown) and the effect was just breath-taking.

During the dance, the sand was kicked up a bit and the lighting effects made it seem as if rays of light were streaming through misty climes thus casting a very mystical and ethereal aura on the stage.

According  to me, the way these lighting effects, props and movements melded together was what makes Sakai Juku such an unique group. Here’s something to think about.

“An embryo, one month after conception, will
From ichthyic to amphibian,
Reptile to mammal.
This million year drama,
Emerging upon the shores of the
Paleozoic era,
Is enacted by an embryo
Within a matter of days.”- Ushio Amagatsu

Isn’t that beautiful?

Do you know what I was remided of when after I saw “Sankai Juku”? Earthbenders in the series “Avatar:the Last Airbender”.  (If you haven’t seen “Avatar:the last airbender” anime series,oh my god, what are you doing?  But, oh well,  I will save it for another time! :-))

Still Enamored, yours truly

Preview: Sankai Juku

Dance means different things to different people. To some, it is ballet or  classical dance forms full of graceful movements.  To some, it is an expression of their reaction to music- hip-hop, jazz dance, tap dance,etc.  To others like me who are not so graceful or particularly born to dance, it is a fun way to  exercise. And to some, like Sankai Juku’s founder Ushio Amagatsu, it is butoh.

Ushio Amagatsu
Ushio Amagatsu

According to Amagatsu, the dance form of butoh represents “a dialogue with gravity”.  Be it ballet, hip-hop, Irish dance or any other dance, gravity defying movements are a huge focus of modern-day dance. But butoh is about “sympathisizing with gravity” (to quote Amagatsu) and thus it comprises of entirely different set of movements.

What I feel Sankai Jukus butoh symbolises- the call of gravity
What I feel Sankai Juku's butoh symbolises- embracing the call of gravity

Sankai Juku will be performing the work “Hibiki: resonance from Far Away”, at the Power Center this weekend. Be prepared for stunning imagery and some inventive and impressive choreography.

Show times:

Saturday, October 23 | 8 pm
Sunday, October 24 | 2 pm

Power Center

Tickets @ the Michigan League Ticket Office; more info on the UMS webpage

Review: Pentecost at the U!

It is such a pleasure to watch anything at the Arthur Miller Theatre as I feel that the stage there is very thoughtfully constructed. You can get a great view and it doesn’t feel cramped and the high ceiling there somehow makes the place look even more spacious than it is. And to top it all, you feel like you are at a private performance. I love that stage! And watching “Pentecost” there was very enjoyable indeed!

The play is about the status of politics and art in a fictitious post-Cold war European country.  It is a very cleverly written play.

For a summary, here goes: it all starts in an abandoned church. A museum curator brings in an English professor of art (who is a staunch proponent of restoration of art) to show him her discovery- a religious fresco that could very well change the history of  her country and thus help in proving that her country wasn’t alwasys this bad. And when news of this fresco spreads, the Catholic church, the Russian  Orthodox Church, another art professor- a  conservationist this time- and of course, the government all get involved.  To whom does the fresco belong? Should it stay in the church or be “restored”? Well, as this debate continues, a group of refugees storm into the church and hold the curator and the professors hostage. What happens to the fresco, the refugees and it all is what the play is about.

What I found most interesting was the clever way in which the large issues in politics and art came to the fore.  The characters seemed pretty isolated from one another  as if each was just alone and there wasn’t much depth to the characters. There wasn’t much of a human element in the crisis of the refugees and the theme was largely concentrated on the politics- of art, of religion and of course of politicans. But in the end,  instead of resigned depression, there is hope (with irony of course).

As for the use of the various languages, I was left with the impression that the playwright brought it in because it could be done. If the refugees had spoken in English, would it have made less of an impact to the theme? No- as the emotional  condition of the refugees by itself and hence their espression of it in whatsoever language  had very less to do in the play. Actually in the end, as the refugees are negotiating, the three protagonists figure out how the fresco might have come to be and so it appeared as if the point of the refugees was to just help illustrate a point.  So I felt that the introduction of these varied languages was more of a novelty and “it-would-be-cool-and-clever” rather than a “need-it” thing. And  how did anyone from Eastern Europe understand Sinhalese enough to interpret it? That was kind of weird.

As for this particular production by director Malcolm Tulip, it was a great performance by the actors.  The costume design was good and well-suited for the play. The set design was exceptional!  I loved the way they showed the details of discovering the fresco, the restoration and other such tiny details.  The lighting effects were great. And the actors had done a great job learning all those languages.

Overall, the play was worth it.