PREVIEW: Compagnie Kafig

Looking for something fun to do for Valentine’s Day? How about an evening at the Power Center watching a dance troupe from Rio de Janeiro dance, move, jump and amaze you with their talent. Through a combination of martial arts and circus skills, these performers tell personal narratives in two pieces. The international phenomenon has been gathering popularity and now descends upon Ann Arbor. French choreographer Mourad Merzouki discovered hip-hop in his teens and thereafter created a company that would dazzle thousands.

UMS presents Compagnie Kafig this weekend on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm. Tickets are available online or at the League (day of student rush tickets are only $10!) So grab a friend or a date and go check out the show. See ya there!

Compagnie Kafig

REVIEW: Oscar – Nominated Animated Shorts

These animated films featured a mixed bag in terms of origin, tone, genre, and visual quality.

One film was in a post-industrial style, using currently- common animation style (similar to Pixar, at least to my eye), and depicted robots as humane beings and animals. This film was about the everlasting friendship between a robotman and a robotdog, and the loyalty binding them. Another was more pencil-sketched, all in black and white, and quite dark in tone, about a feral child who, after being taken and sent to school by a hunter, escapes a civilized life through a mystical, transcendental dissolution of his material body. As the feral boy dissolves, he morphs through several configurations as various wild animals, finally becoming rain for the forest and creatures.

One film is about a squirrel searching for a scarf, encountering a handful of forest creatures during his search, and aiding them through philosophical conversations, offering his counsel. Finally the squirrel realizes the world will end eventually and that his scarf doesn’t matter, and is soon killed in a freak accident. This film expresses a combination of darkness and playfulness uncommon in popular animation. I loved the wisdom of the moral, that one may spend their lives philosophizing, but in the end, life is precious and fragile. Another film is a meditation on Japanese folklore. In Japan, a caption says, unused or misused objects carry trapped spirits. During the film, a man is stranded in a hut in the jungle and cannot escape until he puts a handful of neglected materials to use. These objects are personified throughout the film, and mutual gratitude is expressed at the end. Finally, in a British film, a witch and her cat travel around, showing compassion toward various forest creatures, and inviting them to ride on the witch’s broom, although there is not ample space. A dragon tries to eat the witch and the forest creatures band together to scare off the dragon and save the witch.

These synopses depict a clear theme in this year’s animated shorts : a celebration of the individual nature, and a prioritization of one’s material and spiritual freedom and present-mindedness. As I had anticipated, the general tone was brighter than non-animated shorts, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the depth and dynamic of moral and emotional material. A few of these films are unapologetically inspired by classic folklore (the British and the Japanese especially), and most involved mystical elements. These animated films used technology and gorgeous artwork  to bring sequences of images into the mind’s eye, otherwise impossible for the viewer to experience. These images enabled emotional and moral experiences, equally unique and rare.

2014 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

REVIEW: Oscar Award Nominated Shorts (Foreign)

2014 Oscar Foreign Shorts

This collection of foreign shorts is an intense experience. The primary characters in each, respectively . A dying child wants to know his fate in the afterlife, and a hospital janitor risks his job to save his soul with a fable. A man in a straightjacket proves  to a skeptical psychiatrist that he is God. A woman and her children are frightened for their lives as they attempt to flee from an abusive father. A husband and wife are doctors in a war-ravaged country and become subject to terrible violence and assault, ultimately choosing the path of compassion. Lastly, a much-appreciated comedy about a wife’s struggles to manage her family’s preparation and arrival for a friend’s birthday party.

Perhaps the theme of this year’s foreign Oscar shorts is domestic issues and death — that was my impression, at least, on a more shallow level. But on a deeper level, perhaps this year’s foreign shorts are inspired by questions of empathy for the “Other.” In most of these stories, a failure to act with empathy toward an adversary or companion resulted in a regrettable situation. In multiple stories, a protagonist risks everything in the attempt to avoid such a regret. The subject matters of these stories — sexual and physical violence, domestic struggles, family, sickness, death, war, hierarchal and institutionally-driven repression — these are some of the most prominent themes I gathered from the films. The overarching expression through these short films, however, is a striding yearning toward compassion and peace.

These films are unapologetic in their rawness, vividness, and depth. I cried once, and grimaced a good amount, and held my date’s hand a little too hard through some tense passages. The general level of intensity remained consistent, excepting brief moments. These films were made by risk-takers with large moral and expressive aspirations, and so it makes sense they are critically celebrated.



Just before Fall Break, The Center for World Performance Studies hosted an incredible guest artist by the name of  Taous Claire Khazem. The actress/activist performed a one-woman, self-starring theatrical performance called “Tizi Ouzou.” Named for the real life town in Algeria from which her father’s lineage descends, the play recounted the tales of ten imaginary emigrants or citizens of the mountainous village, exploring their struggles, values, dreams, disappointments, and distinctions. Taous created each character using simple props: a pair of shoes, a scarf, a coffee cup, a cane, or a pair of glasses, a cigarette. The set was bare, so the only way to enter the story  was through the performer’s movements, utterances, and expressive behaviors. It was astounding how developed each character became as Taous donned the accessories that defined the separate story lines. The cast included an old man who believed the cultural revolution of thirty years previous was current news; a young woman who wanted to move to America and find a basketball player for a husband; a sweet French girl who had fallen in love with an Algerian man; a grandmother who bakes bread and doles out unsolicited life advice; a religious teenager; a travel agent with strong opinions about Algerian men, and many more. In a question and answer session following the performance, Taous declared that each character had been adapted from real-life counter parts. Her personal history of immigration, multi-cultural values, language barriers, and even discrimination came alive in this animated narrative. Though the plot is specific to French-Algerian culture, it somehow felt relatable to the entire audience. The characters she developed are archetypal and familiar. Their challenges and triumphs are pertinent to nearly any group of people in the world, particularly those who have crossed country lines in their lifetime. The characters felt close to heart, though they are from a far off land called Tiz Ouzou.

For more about events hosted by The Center for World Performances, click here. For info on Taous, click here. See you next time!

REVIEW: Mary Sibande

Mary Sibande

This semester, a number of venues across the entire campus, from The Slusser Gallery in the A&D Building on North Campus, to the  UMMA Commons, to the Institute for Humanities, to the DAAS Gallery in Angell Hall, to the Penny Stamps lecture series, are featuring the work of Mary Sibande. The South African artist is young, bright, and inventive. For a woman her age, she has already seen enormous success, exhibiting her work in Paris, at The Smithsonian, and more. I know how both young and bold she is because I had the pleasant opportunity of having coffee with her the other week (she is in the middle in the photo above).

The professor to whom I am a research assistant, Frieda Ekotto, is writing an article about Mary Sibande’s work and invited me to join her for the interview. We met at Amer’s on State Street and sat near the window, talking about the processes of the artist’s creations from start to finish. To illustrate some of her main points, Mary popped open her computer and started showing us photos she had snapped in her studio. I felt like I was accessing an inside look at the personal snapshots of Mary Sibande’s work. Her images sell for thousands in museums, yet there they were- simple jpegs on her PC.

We discussed the sculpture work that is currently on exhibit at U of M. Sibande has created an almost infamous character called “Sophie.” This larger-than-life mannequin is made of wax and acrylic. The fluorescent dresses she dons are also creations of Sibande’s. Not only is this artist a sculptor and a photographer, she is also a seamstress, fashion designer, story teller, and painter. When I asked how she identifies as an artist,  she responded that she gives no title to her trade lest she limit her capacities to the practice of one particular medium.

In the photo above, which I took in the gallery on North Campus, “Sophie” is weaving tangled black thread into an image of a woman’s face. Who is this woman, you might ask? It is Madame CJ Walker, the woman behind the invention of hair straightening products used in the 1950’s by many women of African decent. This product revolutionized an American culture and she is both a heralded and controversial figure. The relationship between the figure of the weaver Sophie and that of Madame CJ Walker leads the viewer to ponder implications of race, gender, class, culture, self presentation, and more themes provoked by this piece.

Besides this one, Sibande’s exhibit features another of fascinating pieces. Be sure to take a look at Mary Sibande’s exquisitely original work. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have coffee with her, you have numerous opportunities to become absorbed in her art this semester on campus. Enjoy!

REVIEW: Rachel Mazer

Rachel Mazer

A few weeks ago, U of M School of Music Jazz singer/saxophone player extraordinaire Rachel Mazer performed her very own songs at the Canterbury House on 721 East Huron Street.With the accompaniment of a medley of musicians from the School of Music as well as several alums, Rachel amazed the intimate audience with her incredibly luscious voice. As classic as Billie Holiday and as fresh as Beyoncé, Rachel delivered five original songs and one inspired by the greats. In fact, after her performance I asked her what her vision had been for her show and she said something along the lines of  “to make jazz approachable, easy, and hip to our generation.” The possibility of adding  Jazz overtones to some Beyoncé covers is one of the projects she has up her sleeve- one day, after hopefully recording her own work first. I have heard Rachel play saxophone before, but until her show I had never had the pleasure of hearing her belt it out on stage.  It was a treat for all who were present, and I will definitely be waiting for her Beyoncé remixes to come out on vinyl.