PREVIEW: Patriot’s Day

Most likely, the events that took place on April 15, 2013, the day of the Boston Marathon Bombing, are still relatively fresh in your head. This act of terror and its aftermath were broadcasted widely to the public at the time. However, the investigation behind the bombing is not too well known. Patriot’s Day (in theaters now) tells this story; the story of the bombing and the investigation that ensued in midst of the aftermath. Besides the fictional main character played by Boston native, Mark Wahlberg, the movie’s story is very accurate to the real events. If you are at all interested with these events or the investigation behind it, then I would suggest seeing the movie.

Patriot’s Day is currently showing at theaters all around Ann Arbor and student tickets are $8.50

REVIEW: Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature

Meredith Monk and her ensemble.
Meredith Monk and her ensemble.

My high school English teacher once said that if you want to convince someone to care about a certain thing, defensive argument never does the job. The best way to convince another person that something matters, he said, is to sing an ode to the thing.

That’s how I would best describe “On Behalf of Nature” (notice how it isn’t called “In Defense of Nature”): it is a work that praises the fundamental elements of our existence. By expertly weaving together unique vocalization techniques, fluid dance movements, and instrumental music, Meredith Monk and her ensemble successfully reimagined essential human experiences using their bodies as instruments: capturing emotions like the hypnotic power of fascination, the joy of working together, the frustrations of learning to communicate one’s desires, and the serene beauty of being with a loved one.


Ms. Monk composed all of the music for this 75-minute work, in addition to directing, choreographing, and performing in it. Nothing about the piece was obtrusive or aggressive. It was clearly not meant to force an agenda on its audience. It would’ve been difficult for it to do so even if that were the creator’s intention–no words were ever spoken or sung for the entire 75-minute work. Many moments came across as improvised, because they sounded and seemed as natural as they would have been difficult to coordinate perfectly. Like the natural world, many elements of the piece seemed simple on the surface, but were teeming with complexity underneath. Meredith and her ensemble have worked together for years, which was made evident by the coordination of body and mind that they achieved.

The instrumentation was completely unique. One ensemble member played keyboard, violin, and french horn; another played a variety of woodwind instruments; and the percussionist constantly switched between vibraphone, marimba, and an odd collection of cymbals, sticks, pans, and other objects that helped create shimmering textures. The instrumentalists played off to the right side of the stage, and were boxed in on two sides by the marimba and keyboards, but this setup did not prevent them from taking part in the vocalization and dances that took place onstage. They moved fluidly between their roles as musicians and dancers, sometimes bringing their instruments out to center stage with them. The ensemble was also accompanied by electronic textures that blended incredibly well with the live textures created onstage.

The set was minimal––the stage was bare, save two strips of white cloth flooring material that stretched across upstage and downstage, and the instrumental ensemble setup on the right side of the stage. This would come as no surprise to one who was familiar with Monk’s other pieces––she tends to make minimalist design choices in order to draw the audience’s attention to the music and movement. Because Monk’s goal was to create an art piece that wasted little money or materials, she had her costume designer create the cast’s outfits from their own clothing. Shirts became quilt-like coats, dress shirts became skirts, and the mismatching patterns somehow created a muted, earthy tone overall.

There was constant activity onstage, but it never felt overwhelming. There was always something to look at, but the work did not come across as showy or flashy. It was well-paced, balancing tender scenes with joyful ones, and progressing gradually between the two moods. The piece overall seemed to embody a living organism. It breathed. It sang. It wept. It danced.

The thing I enjoyed most about the work was that the composer in me was constantly wondering where each sound was coming from. One moment, the ensemble would be playing and singing something live, and the next you would discover that they had been seamlessly replaced by a pre-recorded track; the vocal textures often sounded like a synthesizer, or had the warm quality of a woodwind instrument, electronic drone textures crept in unnoticed––it was a delightful experience to be continuously proven wrong about what I assumed was going on underneath everything.

The collage-like arrangement of scenes and music in this piece reminded me of a hand-stitched quilt––every element of the work, while it may have seemed disconnected or strange at first, was lovingly hand-selected and crafted into a beautiful covering of love for the world it portrayed.


After the performance, one of my friends shared with me that within hours of being inaugurated, our nation’s 45th president removed “climate change” from the White House website. It was disorienting for me to receive it at first––Monk succeeded in creating a completely new world, as she said she tries to do with every work, and this world was so pleasingly simple, innocent, and natural-feeling that this information served as a rude awakening. As a recipient of the National Medal of Arts from President Obama, Meredith Monk is a living, breathing example of the impact artists can make in the world. “On Behalf of Nature” invites the audience to experience empathy, which is one of the most powerful forces for peace in existence. That’s why art gives me hope.

REVIEW: La La Land

The movie opens with a traffic jam on an L.A. highway which quickly turns into a song and dance performed by those stuck in the traffic, before settling quietly on our two main characters as they also wait in this traffic. This kind of grand outburst, followed by relative normality is the modus operandi for the film. Like most musicals, this singing is not commented upon, but otherwise, La La Land is not like most musicals.

Everything is vibrant. Every outfit is a color that pops. Every setting is swathed in bold hues. Nothing in this movie is ever dull. It can be harsh on the retinas–they don’t get a break for two hours–but otherwise this color madness works to La La Land‘s advantage. One of the great strengths of the film is how it manages to portray emotions not as some inner, personal machinations of the mind, but outside the body and into the world. In the first half of the film, what we see is how falling love feels. And though Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s acting is stupendous, the great, sweeping emotions of the film are portrayed in great, sweeping gestures. There is nothing subtle, nothing quiet about this work. It is like listening to a lovely scream for two hours straight.

But while wonderful to watch, this lack of moments where viewers can take a moment to breathe, to digest can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Worse, it can leave us feeling unattached to these characters. We are not a part of what is happening. This movie exists outside us, outside of our reality, in a world that plays by different rulebook. We are disconnected from it. This is Hollywood reality–this is where two people with big dreams can fall in love and continue to pursue, continue to work for their passions. The hopelessness of such pursuit never fully sets in, never becomes the main focus of the film. Though we might see Emma Stone crying about how she’s not sure she’s good enough to make it, we can only shake our heads and think Emma, you’ve already made it. It’s a movie about love and it’s a movie about dreams, but most of all, it’s a movie about Hollywood, and in true Hollywood fashion, this fact supersedes the rest. Ultimately, this film is a love letter to Hollywood…from Hollywood.

Your own reception of the film will probably depend on how much of a romantic you are. If you have fallen in love, truly fallen, or at least dream of such things, then you might find yourself swept along with the madness. If you haven’t, then well, be prepared to find yourself standing outside the hype.

The movie will continue to play at the Michigan Theater. Student tickets are $8.

PREVIEW: Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature


UMS is fortunate to present Meredith Monk and her ensemble this weekend for the performance of her work, “On Behalf of Nature.”

Experimental vocalist, composer, filmmaker, dancer, choreographer, and inter-disciplinary artist Meredith Monk has succeeded in changing the landscape of what is possible in the art world today. She is most well-known for pioneering unique vocal techniques and creating immersive concert experiences that consist of live music, dance, and vocalizing. She has garnered numerous accolades for her powerful work, including a MacArthur fellowship and a National Medal of Arts from President Obama.

Monk said this about working on “On Behalf of Nature:”

“I asked myself the question: ‘How would one make an ecological art work, one that didn’t make more waste in the world?’ What came to mind was the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and his notion of bricolage: the process of assembling or making something from what is already at hand. In pre-industrial societies, one object could function in many different ways by an act of imagination.”

You can find more of Ms. Monk’s words about the project in this interview.

To give you a sense of the other-worldly nature of Monk’s creative work, here is a compilation of excerpts from the piece:

The performance will take place on Friday, January 20th, at 8pm in the Power Center. Tickets are available here or at The League Ticket Office. Do not pass up the opportunity to see such an influential artistic pioneer perform live!

REVIEW: Collage Concert


U of M’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance celebrated their 40th anniversary at the annual Collage Concert.  Not only that, but they also celebrated the University of Michigan’s Bicentennial and the legacy of Professor Emeritus of Conducting Gustav Meier, who founded Collage in 1977.

The concert started with welcome speeches by Dean and Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music, Aaron P. Dworkin, and Director of University Orchestras, Kenneth Kiesler.  Then tribute was paid to the Bicentennial by performing multiple pieces from the year 1817.

Following the celebration of the Bicentennial, the showcases of the different ensembles, theatre groups, dances, etc. began.  I finally understood why multiple people told me that I had to see this concert.  The talent was phenomenal and it was interesting to see the many different groups within SMTD.  Following the intermission, former Dean & Professor Emeritus, Paul Boylan, honored the legacy of Gustav Meier.  The second half was just as thrilling, if not more, than the first!  Recognizable tunes were played/sung such as “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, “Defying Gravity, and “Let it Go”.

If you ever want to find out what the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance does and what it is made up of, this is the concert to be at!  Definitely one of the best concerts that I’ve been to at the University of Michigan.

REVIEW: Jade Simmons: Art of Impact

Jade Simmons

There is something undeniably electrifying about being in the same room as someone who is completely herself. It is the common denominator of every world-changer throughout history, such as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom pianist and speaker Jade Simmons honored this weekend with her tribute concert titled “The Art of Impact.”

A classical pianist since the ripe old age of 8 years old, Jade has since additionally become a highly sought-after speaker, activist, author, and performance artist, as she gradually realized that her God-given purpose was not just to play the piano.

Through storytelling and music, Jade Simmons illustrated how she came to understand her purpose of empowering others by coming back to the the things that came most naturally to her. She established her classical chops as she performed Rachmaninov, Beethoven, and Chopin, but also demonstrated her affinity for rhythm and rap through her own unique arrangements for piano and electronics.

In the middle of the show, Mrs. Simmons started talking about the responsibility all artists and educators (both amateur and professional) have to share the spotlight with others. She made some excellent points, but honestly, I don’t remember much of what she said on this matter, because before I knew it she had called the name of my classmate, jazz piano major Brendon Davis, to join her onstage, followed by my name…

Brendon and I had met Jade Simmons after a career talk she gave to SMTD students a few days before this performance, but she managed to remember our names, instruments, and promise to attend her concert. We had no idea she would call us out during the performance, but soon we were improvising at the piano altogether. She played an atmospheric, chromatic figure in the middle register, while Brendon took the bass and I took the treble range. I couldn’t tell you what we played. All I remember is feeling my heart pounding with excitement, feeling slightly concerned that I might fall off the crowded bench, and loving every note that cascaded from the three of us working selflessly together––not trying to impress anyone, only making the music that we loved together. It was powerful. I will remember that moment for a very, very long time.

The sole unifying factor behind the classical repertoire, improvisation, electronic music, and rap that made up this concert adventure was Jade Simmons. She was, at all times, her complete self. Certain types of music might not have appealed to everyone in the room, but no one could deny the excellence and authenticity behind every aspect of her performance. That’s what was so inspiring. People left Stamps Auditorium feeling like they, too, could accomplish their dreams by being their complete selves.

The evening ended with a Q&A session between Jade Simmons and Dean Dworkin, in which she shared her philosophies of the artist’s role in society and opened up about the failures she experienced in her life which propelled her to the place she is today. Now, she says, whenever she experiences failure, she becomes excited about what better opportunity will rise to take its place.

SMTD Composition and Violin Performance double major Stuart Carlson joined Jade Simmons for the final piece, which was his own arrangement of “Amazing Grace” for violin and piano. Stuart’s stunning, gentle tone sparkled alongside Jade’s improvised embellishments to the arrangement, which Stuart had encouraged her to add. The result was the sound of two people collaborating selflessly, sharing themselves with a touched audience. “How sweet the sound,” indeed!


Surprise collaborators! From left to right: Karalyn Schubring, Jade Simmons, and Brendon Davis.
Surprise collaborators! From left to right: Karalyn Schubring, Jade Simmons, and Brendon Davis.
Jade Simmons and Stuart Carlson.
Jade Simmons and Stuart Carlson.