Review: Women’s Glee Club Concert

This concert was a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening. I enjoyed the range of songs the two choirs chose. The guest choir, a barbershop a cappella group named Voices in Harmony, mostly performed very percussive songs with plenty of the rich lower notes, while the Women’s Glee Club performed more serene songs with higher melodies and not as much of the alto section. This difference added a good variety to the concert. I only wish the theme, Journey On, had fit the subjects of the songs better.

I was, as always, impressed with the entrance of the Women’s Glee Club. They always file onto the risers, stand in straight lines, and then shift as one so that they are arrayed in window formation. I think my favorite song was “Down to the River to Pray,” because at the beginning most of the women were lined along either side of the main floor, so when they started singing it gave the sound a very universal quality and filled the space beautifully. The solos (in “Down to the River to Pray” and “Kyrie”) were all really well done. Midnight Blue, the Women’s Glee Club a cappella group, also performed three numbers. I like that in the songs Midnight Blue performs most everybody gets a solo, which allows a listener to distinguish the different voice timbres that make up the group.

Voices in Harmony was fantastic. I loved the sparkly black tops they all wore, and their enthusiasm was contagious. They began singing while one of their members was introducing them, which I thought was a very nice touch. There was plenty of choreography, making the songs really dynamic, and even when there wasn’t the women were all moving to the beat. My favorite song was “Bottom of the River”: they produced a beautiful beat by slapping the floor, clinking chains, and clapping their hands in something that reminded me of the hand jive from Grease, and they moved around throughout the song. The low notes in that piece, as well as all the others, really stood out to me, and added gravity to the performance.

These two groups each presented a unified front, enhancing the listeners’ experience. They both choreographed their songs, and they blended very well, using the same articulations (for example, in “Jubilate Deo,” sung by the Women’s Glee Club, they had beautiful staccato notes). When they joined to sing “You’re My Best Friend,” the two groups interspersed themselves among each other: I had been expecting them to stand in blocks, and the fact that they didn’t was refreshing and added meaning to the song as well. It was a wonderful performance, and I’m very glad I was able to go.

REVIEW: Beijing Opera Costume Exhibit

This Wednesday, the Union housed a very special exhibit from the University’s Confucius Institute, a display of hand-embroidered Peking Opera Costumes. I have long been interested in Peking Opera, and actually took a Peking Opera performance class for several months while I lived in Beijing. Despite having experience performing Peking opera, and having worn costumes before, I knew very little about the costumes themselves.

img_3251 When I first walked in, the exhibition was nearly empty.  The present exhibitor leaped at the chance to talk to me, and one of the first things out of her mouth was “do you want to try it on?”  I took one look at the shimmering costume, decorated with delicate embroidery and sparkling details, and promptly refused, too afraid to touch the costume, let alone try it on, lest I somehow damage it.   I don’t know if the she didn’t hear me, or simply didn’t share my fears, because before I knew it she was expertly shrugging the coat over my arms and placing the headpiece on my head.  I hadn’t expected quite how heavy the costume would feel, but it felt like I was being slowly dragged to the ground by its sheer weight.  Despite this one fact, it was surprisingly comfortable to wear, if a bit warm. The particular costume was for the titular character in the popular Beijing opera The Drunken Concubine.  Below is a video showing off both The Drunken Concubine and the beautiful and iconic costumes used in it.

One of the most stunning elements of all the garments in the room was the hand-sewn embroidery.  Featuring popular motifs such as the peony and the phoenix featured below, each design was filled with minute detail and vibrant colors. Sometimes the embroidery had special symbolism.  Empresses tended to wear clothing with phoenixes embroidered onto them, whereas Emperors often would wear garments featuring the five-toed dragon.

Another presenter at the exhibit taught me how to flip and twirl a handkerchief, which might be part of an opera production.  While the technique looked simple enough, I can say from personal experience that it is far from easy.  It would take years, or at least months of practice to be able to flip it as expertly as she did. img_3282

I hope that the Confucius Institute has further such events, as these costumes were too pretty to not be admired on the daily.  To keep up with the events going on, check out the Confucius Institute’s official website.



REVIEW: The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden is a difficult movie to discuss without ruining the film. It’s one of the films best to watch knowing as little as possible. The trailer is sufficient preparation–it gives you a sense of what the movie is about without actually telling you what the movie is about. I don’t intend to write any spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet and have any desire or intention to, stop reading right here. Don’t read any other reviews. Don’t watch any scenes on youtube. You can watch the trailer, but that’s it. It’s a good movie. Just go watch it.

Still, even if I lost some (or all) readers there, I am obliged to go on with this review. I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.

The premise of this film is that as part of a conman’s plot to marry a rich orphan and gain her fortune (before declaring her insane and throwing her into an asylum), a thief is planted in the house as the rich orphan’s handmaiden. It is her duty to aid the conman and get her mistress to fall in love with him.

Complications arise.

I won’t go in to anymore plot details, but what I will say is that the film manages, very successfully, to pull you along. Things move at a quick enough pace that viewers don’t have time to wonder what if or maybe or hmmm–they have only the time to comprehend what is before them. We do not have time to ask the questions–let alone figure out what the real questions are. It is not rushed however. Individual scenes are not flashes. Rather, individual scenes are chosen carefully so that while they may be long and sufficient, they also always keep the plot moving just enough.

From a visual angle, the film is often beautiful, and more often disturbing. Sexual sadism rears its head in this film, and while the worst is heard and not seen, the atmosphere is persistently perverse. There is something wrong about this home and the people in it. Though the details and depths of this depravity are not revealed for sometime, the sense that something sinister lurks is present from first sight. That is not to say the atmosphere is gloomy or anything like that–there are many moments of levity and even sensual scenes. The wonder of this film lies in how it is able have us entangled in all its running themes, in both the romance and the dread.

And, of course, the suspense.

The movie will be playing at the Michigan Theater throughout the week. Student tickets are $8.

REVIEW: Helicon’s Synesthesia

Friday night’s Synesthesia was the first Helicon event I’ve attended, so I had no idea what to expect – which is usually the most interesting way to enter into an art show. It was what I can only describe as a down-the-rabbit-hole experience; from walking in the door, past crowds of people, art was found in the corners stairwells, in the basement, in the attic. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was standing in line for the bathroom or for an art installation. Not only did I double take at the art, but at UM faculty milling about past students: not an everyday occurrence outside of the classroom, at 10 p.m. on a Friday night. Synesthesia featured the work of dozens of students; mediums ranged from sculpture to photography, from painting to video installation.

Image from @umicharts

The space itself was immersive; as I stood looking at sculptures in a basement where exposed cement walls and open staircases were not an artistic design choice, I began to fear for the strength of the structure as I could hear every footstep and movement above me. The element and adventure of risk became a theme as I climbed past people up steep stairs not equipped for a dual-flow of traffic. As I sat on the floor of an attic, staring at an image projected onto a sheet asking myself when the show was going to begin or when the technical support was going to arrive, I realized it already the show had already begun. The fuzzy image on the screen was the art, the music in the back the focus. It was then I began to question whether or not I am equipped to “get” art. Regardless, my favorite piece of the night, a readymade (which is the embodiment of comedy gold in the art world; an artist with a sense of humor) consisting of a Virgin Mary figurine titled Abstinence. Lesson learned: you do need to be literate in the ways of painting/drawing/sculpting to be considered an artist, merely innovative.

Image from @umicharts

If Synesthesia intended to create an experience, an art piece in itself, it succeeded. At one point, while standing in a hallway waiting for a mass of people to pass by, a person crawled out from behind a black sheet, pulling themselves up from what I can only hope was a work of experiential art. Some say you can find yourself through art; if this holds true, I’ve come to find I am the equivalent of a suburban mom of the art world. I may not understand what’s going on, but I am so ready to cheer on every student out there making, creating, and putting their work and themselves out there.

REVIEW: Moonlight

Moonlight is a beautiful movie. This is indisputable. In terms of color, the movie is full of scenes that are bright and bold without also being oversaturated or unrealistic. They emphasize the color of a moment in a believable way, as if this color wasn’t cultivated, wasn’t deliberately placed before our eyes–instead, it is a kind of color that looks like it belongs in the world. There is, however, a special emphasis on the color blue, with a multitude of scenes throughout the movie highlighted by it.

Beyond color, Moonlight’s visuals also stand out because of the bold cinematography. From the dizzying opening scene that has the camera spinning on an axis and takes viewers in a whirl around the ghetto as two characters carry a conversation, to a later scene where the camera follows one character on his march around the school yard, deliberately concealing the true nature of the scene until it pans back but still building tension, every shot of this movie is clearly, carefully set. A scene is not dictated only by the action and dialogue of the characters but also by the framework–and here, the framework is itself a masterpiece.

Moonlight is divided into three parts, each corresponding to a different name of the main character, and thus a different period in his life. Each thus has distinctive themes and overtones, but the true beauty of the film is how they interweave together to create a story that is connected, almost obvious, yet still persistently, consistently tragic. Viewers watch as the protagonist of the film follows a path thrust upon him by the forces which surround and entangle him. What makes the movie remarkable, however, is how we don’t see it like that exactly. We don’t look at this character as a victim to a collusion of forces and wills; we don’t see him as someone with the odds slated against him (though they are); we see only the life he leads, one singular life, and though in the aftermath it is obvious how his life was destiny, as we watch it, the moments remain individual. There is no will he won’t he in regards to whether he will be able to escape “the life,” but there are little will he won’t he moments, there are questions of words and kisses, of fists and money. Due to this, the tragedy of Moonlight is grand, but not artificial, not needless, not overblown.

The movie is still playing at the Michigan Theater. Student tickets are $8.


Image from @ummamuseum on Instagram

I arrived early to the museum, and I watched the people slowly drift in, until all at once the chairs were filled and people were standing around the edges of the room. From the front of UMMA’s apse, it looked like any other performance, yet the back of the room resembled a concert pit; people standing, craning to catch a glimpse of what’s going on, resigning themselves to peering between heads. The performance, Image in Motion, attracted a diverse audience; there were groups of students to parents to faculty. The dances were choreographed by students themselves. As they were inspired by UMMA’s collection Europe on Paper, which consists heavily of line drawings (which were described as very graphic by the museum guide), I was interested to see how the dancers would interpret the art. I chatted with the girl sitting next to me as we waited for the performance to begin, and she expressed her worries that she would not understand what was going on in the dances, having not seen the art. Once the show began, though, it became evident that – had we not known the source of inspiration – it could’ve assumed this was another “dance for dance’s sake” show. While the dancers themselves likely saw the ties between movement and art, in my eyes they were two separate things.

I came to the unfortunate realization that not everything I love, when combined, becomes better. For me, art and dance seem to exist in two separate hemispheres; both forms of art, yet there is not a direct correlation. Separate, though, I loved both. I commend anyone who is willing to put their art and talent up for display, to make themselves vulnerable to an audience. The first couple of dances were costumed in nude colors, embodying the Greek statues situated behind them in the space. The dancers themselves, though embodying a completely different collection of art, came to embody the statuary, giving the solitary figures breath, movement, and life. Many dancers chose to highlight the color red, pulling the inspiration from the prints. I enjoyed that, while the focus of the performance was dance, they did not shy away from involving the audience’s other senses. Some dancers spoke during the dance, or used breathing as a form of accompaniment in itself; one performance studied the interplay between a solo French horn player and a dancer, this specific piece causing me to question which performer was inspired by which? Before this last piece began, the audience was asked to stand and rearrange themselves in the back of the apse, creating a circle around the room. I loved this; I felt as though I was in the piece itself, and it caused the audience to rethink the classic mode of watching a performance.

While Image in Motion intended to explore the relationship between art prints and dance, the relationships between the dancers and the space and the accompaniment was much more dynamic. One of the most meaningful moments of the night was when a member of the dance faculty, preluding the show, discussed the current tensions and fears within today’s recent culture, and how dance and art serves as a means of expressing and strengthening oneself in the midst of outside turmoil.