PREVIEW: Lost in Wonderland

There’s an extraordinary amount of talent on this campus, from singers to actors and dancers to speakers. Now, get ready for the best Chinese Yo-yo-ing and glowsticking you’ve ever seen! Photonix and Revolution present Lost in Wonderland, featuring many talented guests from around campus, including Groove, G-Men, Flowdom, and Funktion.

The Mendelssohn Theater at the Michigan League is about to be filled with wonder. If you want in on the action, get your tickets at the door for $7 on April 1. The performance starts at 7pm, so arrive early to get your tickets before they sell out!

REVIEW: It’s TAPpening

RhythM Tap Ensemble perform “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” at their winter show “It’s TAPpening”

That tappened. And it was, well, fanTAPstic.

Puns aside, RhythM Tap Ensemble drew me in from the moment the curtain went up. For the first part of the opening number, “Cry Me a River,” the stage was dark. It was all shadows and the sound of synchronized tapping.

I never would have expected a tap dance to “Cry Me a River,” but it worked. My only complaint was that the taps were louder than the music, an issue that was fixed for the remainder of the numbers.

“It’s TAPpening” was a first for RhythM. In previous years, they teamed up with another student dance group for their show. This year, for the first time, they had a full-length performance dedicated entirely to them.

In that performance, they displayed their creativity and versatility. They used a wide range of songs for their number — from an acoustic version of “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran to the fast-paced “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes to the electro-house beats of “Five More Hours” by Deorro. But RhythM never bit off more than they could chew. The different styles worked together seamlessly. Rarely did something seem off, and when it did, it was fixed by the end of the number.

However, the highlight of the show for me wasn’t any of those songs. It was “Acappella,” the first half finale. As the name indicates, the number eschewed a song altogether. Instead, it created its own song.

I often don’t like a cappella tap numbers, but this one was done well and it was stunning. The group tapped out its own rhythm, perfectly in sync. The dancing became a kind of percussion. The rhythms became harmonies. And at the end, 16 dancers stopped, leaving just one, tapping solo, still creating her own beat. She started out quickly and slowed down gradually, finally giving in to the intermission as she stopped and the curtain fell.

RhythM’s choreography burst with personality on the upbeat songs, especially “Shape of You” and “Five More Hours.” Both small-group numbers, the chemistry between the dancers was evident. In “Five More Hours,” the sass of dancers Emilia McCotter and Lexi Fata combined with their costumes — sparkly green tops and black leggings — perfectly encapsulated the party feeling of the song.

The guest numbers were also a lot of fun, and all five groups that performed were talented. My only complaint was that Photonix — a glowstick performance group — came directly before “Acappella.” Photonix’s performance was so popular it may have overshadowed the following number, the best of the show. Still, the guest numbers provided a nice change of pace and added more to my list of student groups I need to see.

Though RhythM Tap Ensemble is not one of the most popular student dance groups on campus, their show was my favorite I’ve seen so far. Their rhythm, musicality and unique choreography combined to make a show that left me captivated even after the final curtain.

PREVIEW: It’s TAPpening

I first saw RhythM Tap Ensemble as guest performers at Impact Dance’s winter show. They performed a high-energy number to Zedd and Aloe Blacc’s Candyman that left me impressed.  When I began seeing signs on the Diag for “It’s TAPpening,” RhythM’s upcoming performance, I instantly wondered what else they had up their sleeves.

RhythM is unique among university dance groups in that they perform solely in tap, a style no other student organization is dedicated to. Tap focuses on rhythm and musicality, on crisp movements, on looking good and sounding better.

“It’s TAPpening” will feature self-choreographed routines from RhythM as well as guest performances by contemporary dance company Impact, visual performance group Photonix, hip-hop crew EnCore, jazz dance troupe Outrage and a cappella ensemble Compulsive Lyres.

If you’re looking for a sharp, high-energy performance this weekend, “It’s TAPpening” is the show for you. The event begins Friday at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults at the door, the Michigan Union ticket office, or Mason Hall.

PREVIEW: Five Bowls of Oatmeal

Tonight, at 7:30 pm in the Mendelssohn Theater, you can witness what is probably the most adorable thing to have hit this stage:  five one-act plays written by 11-to-15-year olds, all somehow involving a bowl of oatmeal.  It’s cohosted by the University Department of English Language and Literature and 826michigan, a nonprofit literacy organization for kids ranging from 6 to 18 years of age.  They provide tutoring and writing opportunities for children, and profits from your ticket ($15 for general admission) will benefit these programs.  So come!  Watch the kids!  And bask in the glory of knowing you’re helping them in more ways than one.

Review: The Bad Plus (++++)

The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Dave King)
The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Dave King)

In high school, in our age of the new driver’s license, I had a crew of friends that became very anti-social.  Most of the kids with new driver’s licenses found a new freedom in planning a night out, not on a dad’s watch- but their own, or not having to ask a mom for a drop off at a girl’s house (or even worse, a pickup at a girl’s house. Awkward).  Instead, these guys asked their parents for use of the family car for the night just to drive around town with each other.  They would pack five in a five seater or seven in a mini van, open all the windows, pass a spliff, and, most importantly, put on a jazz record- full blast.  Then, for hours, just cruise.  The only communication was the focused passing of the spliff and the yelps and groans that were their responses to the jazz record.

I never rode with them. I didn’t smoke but, more isolating, I didn’t know when to yell.  I enjoyed jazz. I always have. But, I enjoyed jazz with the old folk that frequented Hill Auditorium for Wynton Marsalis.  We put on nice clothes on a Sunday afternoon,Wynton charmed us with his anecdotes, and played impeccably. We clapped politely when the set was over.

This was not how the boys in the car on Huron River Drive listened to jazz.  They interrupted when they wanted, responded when they were moved.  They didn’t just let Wynton play for them (well, they quickly wrote Wynton off as a square and a sell out so it wasn’t Lincoln Center from the speakers anyway)- they were fully engaged as a part of the music.  They said this is what jazz, the only true American art form, is about.  Not about playing to concert halls and suits but to people, to individuals, to communities.

So, in order to get a chance to hang out with my friends and stuff, I am trying to learn jazz, “the language of jazz” (as taught by UM jazz prof. and jazz legend Geri Allen).  On Thursday night, as a hands-on lesson, I had the great opportunity to see The Bad Plus, a ridiculous trio with roots in the Midwest.  The Bad Plus is probably best known for covers of well known pop and rock songs including Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold along with a new album of covers- For All I Care- that features vocalist Wendy Lewis.  However, in the second of two shows, The Bad Plus played a set of mostly originals.

These guys are nuts. Ethan Iverson, on the keys, introduces the band and the set list with a stoicism straight out of a Roman sculpture however, upon sitting down, Iverson, the bass man Reid Anderson, and the drummer Dave King swing so hard and with so much emotion.  While Iverson strokes the keys while seemingly doing leg squats over his bench, King pounds then caresses then pounds away at his drum set while pulling out an army of children’s play instruments to augment his sound.  And, King yells just like my friends driving down Main St.  He’s not speaking to his band mates or the audience, he’s yelling at his drum set, the sounds of his trio.  Also, just like the dudes packed into the green CRV, the 9:30 show audience was a hip, young crowd- a bunch of giddy kids in the lobby after the show.

It was still the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater with assigned seating and shiny programs.  There were still nicely dressed ushers escorting us to our seats.  But, Thursday night, the spirit of the communal jazz experience- or, at least, how I am beginning to understand it- seemed to be in full fight with the powers that be, ‘the man’.  Next time, UMS presents the Bad Plus live at the Blind Pig? Doors at 9, $10 cover?  Or, UMS presents Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz playing ‘Flim’ by Aphex Twin (as The Bad Plus did Thursday night)? Or, will I have to start smoking weed to really understand what goes on in the car rides around town?

Over and out, Bennett

(Below are streams of my favorite Bad Plus album, ‘These Are The Vistas’ and the new album ‘For All I Care’) Oh, and for more live jazz, check out the UM Jazz Festival next Saturday.  Christian McBride Band, Geri Allen, Rodney Whittaker, Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble.  Going to be crazy.  Schedule here.  Tickets here from Ticketmaster (or, as others have noted, ‘TicketBastard’).