REVIEW: VSA’s Annual Đêm Việt Nam Culture Show

For people of different ethnicities born in America, it can be difficult to embrace a culture that seems so distant and detached. Through a mix of traditional and modern Vietnamese dances at VSA’s sold-out cultural show, DVN, we followed the journey of Anna as she was immersed into a culture she struggled to identify with.

Traditional dance props included umbrellas, Northern hats, ribbons, lanterns, and fans, twirled and spun and thrown in ways that highlighted the beauty of a proud past unforgotten. This culture embraces these meaningful traditions, and that respect is translated through dances centered around these objects that hold significant history. Whether elegantly simple like the NQT dance or with fast-paced flairs like the Fan dance, and or a mishmash of everything like the Traditional Medley, the traditional dances gave Anna a firm grasp and better understanding of her family’s culture.

The modern hip hop dances reflected the changing of culture, a culture with its roots in the past but includes the times of the present. These dances definitely got the loudest cheers from the audience with their impressive moves. Their use of American and Vietnamese songs point to the mixing of American culture with others, especially found in the new generations born here; nonetheless, the power of these dances proves the ability for different cultures to adapt to new influences while retaining their originality.


With the interspersed schedule of traditional and modern dances, the energy never died down throughout the show. Also included was a fashion show displaying various Vietnamese traditional garments and a guest performance by Izzat that further promoted culture. The colorful light work added an extra level of spice and excitement. The emcee dialogue was cringeworthy and the jokes were dry, but most shows are like that. Anna’s journey set up the next dances nicely, moved the storyline along, and united the dances under a common theme — just like culture does.

The hard work of all the dancers, choreographers, behind-the-scenes workers, and especially the DVN board paid off last night as Anna successfully found her light by the end. The DVN show showed that “the culture is with you wherever you go” through the art of dance.

PREVIEW: Ping Chong-Stamps Speaker Series

Ping Chong is a contemporary theater director, choreographer, and visual artist who has amassed many awards and fellowships across his career. Many of his pieces focus on culture and cultural identity.  In total, he has created over 90 different productions, with one of his most recent ones, Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity, currently touring.  Join Stamps for a special peek into Chong’s artistic process, perspective, and inspirations, and gain new insight into Beyond Sacred, which will be making it’s stop in Ann Arbor this weekend.

Ping Chong’s UMS performance Beyond Sacred, will be held in the Power Center on Saturday, February 18th at 8PM.  This event will be included on the most recent passport to the arts, but the voucher must be redeemed in advance.

This talk will be held on Thursday, February 16th, at the Michigan Theater at 5:10 PM.  Like all of the lectures in the Stamps Speaker Series, this one will be free and open to the public. Arrive there 10-15 minutes early for prime seating.  Immediately following the talk there will be a Q&A section for those interested.

REVIEW: Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater

Photo courtesy of the UMMA

Although the UMMA houses many intriguing exhibits, the Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater has become a favorite for visitors of the museum. The art of kabuki theater, which is a classical form of Japanese drama that dates as far back as the 17th century, has been captured by colorful woodblock prints for the public to view. The exhibit currently showcases a collection of these prints, including those made by admired print-artists such as Utagawa Toyokuni and Toyohara Kunichika.

When I first stepped into the exhibit, I was greeted by oriental music and a large wall colored in blue, with text that described the art of kabuki theater. After reading the text, I make my way around the room—it was spacious, with clean white walls that had splashes of color from prints. These depictions of theater showcased famous actors and actresses in scenes from actual plays, as well as fictional ones. Some of the scenes included actors in disguise from enemies, lovers who were reunited, and battle scenes.

Photo courtesy of the UMMA
Photo courtesy of the UMMA

Among the collection of prints was a showcase for a bright red kimono with gold embroidery in the shape of various animals. This kimono was iconic for a specific kabuki actress, who was rarely seen wearing kimonos of other colors.
Next to the kimono was a TV that played a video recording of a kabuki theater performance from the late 1900s, a visual that seemed to bring the prints to life.

Overall, visiting the exhibit was a wonderful experience. I was enlightened of an aspect of Japanese culture that I did not know existed. Don’t miss the chance to view the exhibit for yourself—it will be at the UMMA until the 29th of this month, from 11AM – 5PM on Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12PM – 5PM on Sundays!

REVIEW: Sister Africa 2015

This was the 17th annual Culture Show put on by the African Students Association, and after weeks of hype and social media frenzy, the Michigan Theater was filled to capacity.

Comedian standup comedian Foxy P took the stage and did not hesitate bringing up diversity. It was a pleasant surprise to hear him complementing the diversity in Ann Arbor, as he told us a story about walking into a barber shop downtown and having his hair cut by a white guy named Tim. This story and every other time he came on stage was filled with an energy that kept the audience filled with passion.

There were no bad performances. Whether it was the Amala dancers flowing across the stage, the Uprizin Steel Drum Band reminding us of warming weather, or a blisteringly frank spoken word poem by Adedolapo Adeniji, the audience was on the edge of its seat.

Two standout dance performances by the Michigan Center for Capoeira and the Zuzu Dancers book-ending the second half truly made the Africa Show a worthwhile experience. Not only were the dancers shaped like bodybuilders, but we watched them flip and spin and fly through the air as if they were superhuman. The Zuzu Dancers especially condensed several acts into a short performance that deserved a standing ovation at the end.

Spaced at different points through the show was a fashion show. This was a reminder of Africa’s wide range of cultures and dress, as well as a reminder of how beautiful its people and clothing are.

Like the Fusion Show put on by ASA months before, the Culture Show was something that can only truly be enjoyed in person. This time, at least, there will be a video available of show online at 1Africa. For future reference, this is not an event to pass up when it comes around again next year.


Although it got off to a bit of a slow start, Fusion of Cultures soon picked up and jumped around quickly from one act to another. In an effort to keep people around until the end, the schedule of events was hidden from the audience, but I kind of liked the uncertainty, especially since I didn’t gain anything by knowing who was up next.

First of all, the food. There was a range of Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and African cuisine, and let’s just make it clear that all of it was absolutely delicious. There may be a variety of finals breakfasts and meals around campus, but this kind of food is rare and should be cherished. I drank a sweet Mango Lassi while munching on fried plantains, refried beans and hummus, to name a few of the dishes that I can remember.

Pictured: Not Dining Hall Food

The best part about the food was that it was not even the best part. We (the audience) watched a number of dance routines juxtaposed with poetry readings, videos, and even a fashion show.

Translated Poetry Reading
Translated Poetry Reading

As I’m sure we were supposed to see, the variety of cultures that we saw were surprisingly similar. Yes the exact dance moves differed, but all of them had an invigorating, sophisticated quality that one does not normally see at a frat party.

Pictured: A typical frat party
Pictured: A typical frat party


Furthermore, the poetry read was heated, especially in the weak of recent national tragedies. It is a sad fact that much of what we heard was characterized by oppression and discrimination, but that is the truth of our world for people other than white heterosexual males.

Best of all, I think, the room was packed. This season has been especially filled with protests and anger in our society, and Fusion of Cultures was a reminder of why we want and need to celebrate diversity in the United States. Throughout the night I watched dozens of talented individuals perform for a packed room and everyone was enjoying their evening. To me, that fit perfectly with the name of the event.


REVIEW: San Fran Symphony

Photo Courtesy of UMS
Photo Courtesy of University Musical Society

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra took a residency in Ann Arbor this weekend, with two performances at Hill Auditorium and numerous master classes being given around town (Gil Shaham’s violin master class being one of them). This artistic residency would not be possible without the help of the University Musical Society, which coordinates functions such as these several times a season.

Michael Tilson Thomas received great applause as he first stepped on the stage at Hill this Thursday, raising his baton before a close-to-capacity crowd. With no hesitation, he gave a downbeat to start the nocturnal stroll in the park that is Mahler’s seventh. The SFSO played at a very high level, albeit with some faults that only the musically inclined would have caught. Michael Tilson Thomas, however, put on a show. From stomping his foot at the apex of the fourth movement to his fluid body movements in the andante portion of the work, MTT was definitely a sight to see. It must be noted, as well, that MTT is known for playing Mahler well, and Thursday’s performance was a testament to that notion.

Something must also be said about the choice to play Mahler’s seventh in a college town such as Ann Arbor. Mahler was the product of the late German romantic period, meaning that his works (along with Bruckner and late Brahms) involved some form of intricacy and musical abstractionism that only veterans of the symphony could appreciate. Now, the brand of the SFSO definitely attracted a lot of patrons to Hill, but the ambient-nocturnal nature of the particular piece was not captivating enough for much of the student body. The students that were in attendance, however, were either symphony fans or die-hard Mahler fans. Fortunately, the author is both.

Discrepancies aside, the SFSO played a wonderful show Thursday night. From what I heard, Friday night was also a spectacular performance (they played Mephisto Waltz!). The SFSO received grand standing ovations both nights, and have been very well received throughout their residency here in Ann Arbor.