Vital Conversations: The Stamps Gallery's fall season launches with two exhibitions


STAMPS's The Unfinished Conversation/Encoding/Decoding & Vital Signs for a New America

A captured moment from John Akomfrah's three-screen work The Unfinished Conversation. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

The Penny W. Stamps' website let me know that I could expect to be challenged by The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding and Vital Signs for a New America exhibits.

But despite a deep interest in the overlap of politics and art in the 20th and 21st centuries, I wasn’t quite prepared for this collection of powerful, in-your-face images. I’m also glad that I have until October 14 to fully explore the exhibits.

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Warm, interactive "Every Brilliant Thing" addresses depression and its fallout


Every Brilliant Thing

Every Brilliant Thing takes an openly candid --and frequently humorous -- approach to addressing depression.

There’s a moment in Duncan Macmillan’s play Every Brilliant Thing -- a University Musical Society presentation of the U.K.’s Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company production -- that straight-up gave me chills.

For actor/comedian Jonny Donahoe, playing the son of a woman struggling mightily with depression, briefly discusses how suicide tends to beget more suicide, and that the year after Marilyn Monroe killed herself, the rate of suicide in the U.S. rose by 12 percent.

Why did this pronouncement split the air in the Arthur Miller Theatre like a lightning bolt?

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Spectacular Vernacular: Echoing Air explores music of the Reformation


Echoing Air

Echoing Air's mission breathes life into 500-year-old music.

Five hundred years ago a theological revolution was heralded in by the ping of hammer on nails. When Luther left his theses pinned to the church door at Wittenberg that day in 1517 he didn’t intend to start a schism or to tear asunder the heart of the Catholic Church. But with the posting of his grievances, Luther set into motion a series of events that would forever alter the history of the world, and in so doing, would change the course of all that his movement touched. Swept up in the wave of Reformation was the art of the age, which warped in such a way that new worlds were born -- and now, echoing down the halls of history, the music of that era of transmutation arrives in Ann Arbor.

“Probably the most important change that the Reformation brought us was that music started to be sung in the vernacular,” said Steven Rickards, founder and countertenor of the early music ensemble Echoing Air. “The music of the language is going to affect how the text is set.”

Echoing Air, which will be performing a program of music from the German Reformation at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church at 8 pm on Saturday, September 16, was founded by Rickards in 2009 with the purpose of advocating for music that features the pairing of two countertenor voices, two recorders, and basso continuo.

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Variety Show: A2 Symphony Orchestra's new season offers something for all


Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, 2017-18 season

Some of the views from A2SO this season (clockwise from upper left): Hill Auditorium, Jinjoo Cho, Arie Lipsky, "Blue Cathedral," Zlatomir Fung, and the music of Star Wars.

Saying the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s 89th season has variety would be a gross understatement.

“We like to feature pieces that were written all the way from the Baroque era to the classical era to the romantic era to the 21st century and beyond, even pieces that were written in the last couple of years,” said Arie Lipsky, A2SO’s musical director and conductor. “I think the variety is much more apparent in this season.”

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Shiva Effect: Rasa Festival's dance events will conjure the divine


Rasa Festival dances

The Rasa Dance Festival will present a new work based on the Odissi dance style, which is marked by sculptural poses and a fluid upper body. Pictured left to right: Ishika Rajan, Sreyashi Dey, and Kritika Rajan.

With this prayer, the dance begins:

Angikam bhuvanam yasya Vachikam sarva vangmayam Aharyam chandra taradi Tam numah satvikam sivam.
-- "We bow to the Sathvikam (pure) Shiva whose Aangikam (body) is the world, whose Vaachikam (speech) is the Universal Language and whose Aaharyam (ornaments) are the moon and the stars."

As powerful drumbeats create primal, pulsating energy, Shiva Nataraja, the Hindu God of Dance, comes to life. This dance of Shiva symbolizes the wondrous interplay of dynamic and static energies, symbolizing the five cosmic functions of creation, preservation, destruction, illusion, and emancipation.

When we at Akshara decided to produce the India-inspired, month-long, multi-arts Rasa Festival, a classical dance segment was planned as a key event because it occupies a pre-eminent position in the arts landscape of India. Rasa Dance Festival runs September 23 and 24 at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti. (As a prelude to the festival, we will present a performance at the Ann Arbor District Library on September 21.)

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Rasa's Riverside Arts exhibition features South Asian-inspired multi-arts


Sangchen Tsomo

Sangchen Tsomo's figurative oil paintings mix Eastern themes with Western art styles. Photo courtesy Riverside Arts Gallery.

One component of the ongoing Rasa Festival can be seen through September 30 at the Riverside Arts Gallery in Ypsilanti. Riverside Arts Gallery’s lower-level space houses many large, vibrant, and gestural paintings, and geometric, mandala designs in ritualistic floor art known as rangoli, alpana, or kolam.

The show, Madhavi: Illusion’s Beer, which is a part of 2017’s Rasa Festival exhibitions, collectively focuses on the Navarasa (Nine Rasas). This can also be translated as “the nine moods,” which are various facets of Indian aesthetics. These facets include love/beauty, laughter, sorrow, anger, heroism/courage, terror/fear, disgust, surprise/wonder, and peace/tranquility.

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Journalism advocate Wallace House expands programming to engage the public

Wallace House, Lynette Clemetson, Lydia Polgreen, David Fahrenthold, Alec MacGillis

Clockwise from left: Wallace House director Lynette Clemetson, Huffington Post editor Lydia Polgreen, Washington Post journalist David Fahrenthold, and ProPublica's Alec MacGillis.

Wallace House at the University of Michigan features two major programs that recognize the work of early career and mid-career journalists.

"The Knight-Wallace Fellowships for journalists is a residential program here at the University of Michigan," said Lynette Clemetson, director of Wallace House. "We bring roughly 20 mid-career journalists to the university every year for an academic year of immersive study related to their work as journalists. Our other program is The Livingston Awards, which is an awards program recognizing excellence in journalism by journalists under 35."

Wallace House was a gift from 60 Minutes's Mike Wallace and his wife, Mary, but its offerings aren't strictly for journalists and the organization is expanding its public programming. On Thursday, September 14, award-winning political reporter Alec MacGillis will give the 32nd Hovey Lecture, and he'll cover income inequality in the U.S. and the perilous implications of winner-take-all cities and left-behind places. The additional talks feature the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold (October 26), who was awarded a Pulitzer for his reporting on the Donald J. Trump Foundation, and Lydia Polgreen (January 16), editor of The Huffington Post.

We chatted with Clemetson about these upcoming events, demystifying journalism, and its vital role in a functioning democracy.

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Magical Connections: Bookbound's Open Mic & Share Poetry Series turns 5


Bookbound open mic

Leslie McGraw (left) curates the Open Mic & Share Poetry Series at Bookbound, which is co-owned by Megan Blackshear (right).

There are those who believe the poets will save us all, and those people are probably correct. Lucky for us locals, there are several places around town that feature live poetry readings including the independently owned and operated bookstore Bookbound on the north side of Ann Arbor.

Every second Thursday (except in August and January) at 7 pm finds poets and poetry lovers gathered in Bookbound’s comfortable space. Self-described poetry enthusiast Leslie McGraw curates and leads the Open Mic & Share Poetry Series, which can veer from scheduled poets to open mic explorations and pure party slams.

“There are many poets who write it because they love it and not because it’s their 'career,'" McGraw says. "Poets who have self-published or published with independent presses may not get that big 'book launch' feeling and all of them should still have the chance to market their work. One of the best ways to do this is for readers to meet the person, hear them reading their creations.”

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Dwelling on the Tongue: South Asian women poets at Literati


Ambalila Hemsell, Tarfia Faizullah, Ashwini Bhasi reading at Literati as part of Rasa Festival

Ambalila Hemsell, Tarfia Faizullah, and Ashwini Bhasi took to Literati's lectern as part of the Rasa Festival. Photos by Sairah Husain.

“It’s a small world,” is a clichéd phrase we sometimes use to convey the less than average spaces between physical existences.

Fellow Ann Arbor residents Sreyashi Dey and Paroma Chatterjee experienced this exact phenomenon upon finding themselves together on a return flight to the States from Kolkata, India last year. Discovering that their shared final destination was Ann Arbor, these strangers turned friends took to discussing the state of Ann Arbor’s arts and culture scene, particularly from a South Asian perspective. Their conversation was informed by a national environment infused with rhetoric that seems to jettison the importance of inclusivity and multicultural awareness.

Agreeing that there was South Asian dance representation in the Ann Arbor area, and the occasional UMS performances featuring South Asian musicians, Dey and Chatterjee brainstormed about filling that gap to feature multiple art forms on a more regular basis. Their brainstorming produced multi-cultural, multi-arts organization Akshara that seeks to present “art inspired by India.”

One of the arts featured on Wednesday, September 6 was poetry, during Akshara's first annual Rasa Festival.

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Crossing Borders: National Theatre of Ghana explores Tennessee Williams’ "Ten Blocks"

National Theatre of Ghana

National Theatre of Ghana will turn Ten Blocks on the Camino Real into a Ghanaian Concert Party."

Theater-goers in Southeast Michigan will soon have four chances to see a unique production of Tennessee Williams’ one-act play Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, the foundation of his later expanded work Camino Real. The National Theatre of Ghana -- aka Abibigroma, the Ghanaian name of the theater troupe -- will perform the one-act play at outdoor venues in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit in a performance style known as Ghanaian Concert Party.

David Kaplan, the production’s director and also the curator of the annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival in Massachusetts, said he “learned about Ghanaian Concert Party in 1997 from someone in the Peace Corps who had seen performances in Ghana. Concert Party is a form of outdoor theater that combines African stock characters, clowning, singing, and dance -- and social satire. I love clowning that delivers insight."

Kaplan "thought for years about a suitable text" to adapt for a Ghanaian Concert Party "and it seemed a perfect fit for performing Ten Blocks on the Camino Real. The American actor Greg McGoon, who had worked with Abibigroma, introduced me to the ensemble. It fit their mission, too, performing popular theater as a way to build community.”

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