Preview: The University Opera Theatre presents Così Fan Tutte

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

The cast of University Opera Theatre's Così Fan Tutte.

If you're a fan, get your tutte out to see Così Fan Tutte.

A wager that women can’t be faithful and a bold experiment (with elaborate disguises to prove that point) form the plot foundations of Mozart’s famous comic opera Così Fan Tutte, to be performed by University Opera Theatre accompanied by the University Philharmonia Orchestra.

Deemed scandalous on its premiere, the opera had a troubled production history. Commissioned for the 1789-90 season, Così Fan Tutte received only five performances before the 1790 death of Emperor Joseph II. The new emperor did not hold the same cultural views as his predecessor and the new comic opera received only five more performances. It is rumored that Mozart, who died the following year, never even received full payment for his authorship.

Today’s audiences find this opera comical, yet touching. The complex plot (featuring mixed identities, declarations of love, and fiancée-swapping as two young men don disguises to woo their own girlfriends) is no longer scandalous but extremely amusing. The magnificent score includes such beautiful arias as “Come scoglio,” “Smanie implacabili,” and “Per pieta.”

Directed by Kay Walker Castaldo and conducted by Kathleen Kelly, the U-M production will be sung in Italian with projected English translations.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Performances run from Thursday, March 24 to Sunday, March 27 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 N University Ave, Ann Arbor. For tickets, visit http://tickets.music.umich.edu or call the Michigan League at (734) 764-2538.

No Más Bebés Screening and Q&A with Filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña

REVIEW FILM & VIDEO

Filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña spoke about her film No Mas Bebes

Filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña spoke about her film No Mas Bebes.

On Tuesday, March 15, University of Michigan students, faculty, and community members gathered in the Rackham Amphitheatre for the screening of the documentary No Más Bebés, followed by a lively Q&A session with the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña.

The documentary, first released in June 2015 as a part of PBS’s Independent Lens series, tells the story of a little-known, but landmark event in reproductive justice, when a small group of Mexican immigrant women sued county doctors, the state, and the U.S. government after they were unknowingly sterilized while giving birth at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The film itself takes an unflinching look at the ugly realities of racism within medical and legal institutions, while also capturing the resilency of both a marginalized culture and the individual women who, against great odds and with few allies, filed this monumental, yet almost forgotten class action lawsuit in 1975. The film’s gaze is recognizably feminist, emphasizing the role of the early Chicana feminist movement that significantly impacted contemporary reproductive rights.

Central to the storyline are two whistleblowers, a young, unlikely, radical Jewish medical resident, who first brought evidence against his colleagues and supervisors. The other, Antonia Hernández, the now nationally recognized civil and immigration rights attorney, who first took up the case right after graduating from UCLA School of Law while serving as staff attorney at the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.

By documenting those impacted through interviews and historical archives, the filmmakers give voice to the unsayable. Though many women testified, often their families were unaware due to familial and cultural shaming around infertility. In interviews, the women lament the children they never had, their grief permeating the veil between filmed subject and viewer. While the lawsuit, and its subsequent appeal were dismissed, the case ushered forth vital conversation about women’s bodies and racialized medicine. Improved policy and hospital proceedings soon followed including: the presence of bilingual literature, Spanish-speaking liaisons, and revisions to informed-consent policies.

Following the film was an informative Q&A session with filmmaker and professor, Renee Tajima-Peña. The audience seemed most curious about the tensions between Chicana feminist organizers, white feminists, as well as Chicano labor organizers, who both sidelined the needs of Chicana women during that time. Also of interest was Professor Tajima-Peña’s journey into filmmaking. Though she never attended film school, she felt passionately about human rights and aspired to be a civil rights attorney. It is clear in this film and others, that her work is largely informed by her interest in legal questions and issues regarding social injustice.

Most surprising was the early development of No Más Bebés. With her colleague Virginia Espino, Professor Tajima-Peña began the process of tracking down the surviving plaintiffs. This proved challenging having only old medical records and former addresses. Frequently, their investigative work led them to the children of the testifying women, who often knew nothing of their mothers' past political engagement. Though this case had national impact, Professor Tajima-Peña noted, the trauma and cultural stigma experienced by the women often resulted in secrecy.

Given the political climate of reproductive and immigration rights today, the story is relevant, potent and an eerie reminder of the continued fight for women’s bodily autonomy and security.

The event was hosted by the Department of Women’s Studies and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender with support from campus and community partners.


Community contributor CristiEllen Heos Zarvas is the Meetings and Special Events Assistant for the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.

Movie Marathon: My 48 Hours at the Ann Arbor Film Festival

REVIEW FILM & VIDEO

Movie Marathon: My 48 Hours at the Ann Arbor Film Festival

The Michigan Theater, about 38 hours into Elizabeth's movie marathon.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival offers a true marathon of screenings and events, with over 200 individual films screening over the course of just six days. This is not including the satellite events, such as off-site gallery shows hosted by the Work Gallery and Ann Arbor Art Center, various store front installations, panel discussions, workshops, and crowded after-parties hosted by local bars. It is, put simply, A LOT to see. It is also by design, simply too much to see, with many events happening concurrently between the Michigan Theater’s main auditorium and screening room.

I wanted to see it all.

So I designed and accepted this challenge for myself whole-heartedly, with nothing to lose, except perhaps sleep and daily exposure to vitamin D; I committed myself to spending two entire days at the festival. I wanted to watch every scheduled film possible, to experience the festival lifestyle, and to test my own endurance. I was not alone in this challenge--many other audience members became familiar faces and some of them became friends. There were audience members, including local Ann Arborites and those who travel annually to Ann Arbor solely to see the festival, all whom camped out in the theater for the entire six days. I couldn’t possibly compete with that.

But over the course of 48 hours, beginning promptly at 7:15 pm Thursday evening and concluding at who-knows-when Saturday night, I viewed over 50 short and feature-length films. Fifty! More importantly, I experienced what truly makes the Ann Arbor Film Festival special: its spirit, its devoted community, and its sense of collective experience.

My personal challenge began with Thursday evening’s Films in Competition 3 program. It was a beautifully curated program, combining short films by different makers that explored different facets of landscape. Nicky Hamlyn’s Gasometers 3 offered a series of time-lapses, painstakingly made with a 16mm film camera. The stunning time-lapses highlighted the movement of the sky, as clouds and sunlight shifted around sturdy metal gasometer structures that stood still, revealing time passing. The film was silent. And in a theatre packed with people, restless legs, squeaking seats, and small coughs interrupted the silence, which was admittedly frustrating at first. Until I considered how amazing it is, and how rare it must be, for an audience to fill a theater and watch a silent 16mm film.

On Friday, I was excited for the screening of Chantal Akerman’s D’est (From the East).The festival screened three of Akerman’s feature films, celebrating and honoring her career, after she passed away in 2015. Considered a “cinematic elegy,” this 1993 film depicts the filmmaker’s travels beginning in East Germany towards Moscow as the warmer seasons transition to winter. The film was presented in its original 16mm format. The shots are long and revealing, often beginning without action. One shot opens on an empty sidewalk; an older woman wearing a brown dress walks into the frame. The camera follows as the woman shuffles onward, swinging a red plastic bag at her side. Seemingly minute, the small action gains meaning as it continues. The 16mm film print was a bit wobbly on screen. It bounced unsteadily until one staggering moment in which it stopped. A section of film caught in the gate of the projector and burned, visibly onscreen, to an audible and collective gasp. The image bubbled, turning murky brown, and then evaporated entirely. The projector was turned off; the room went dark.

The sense of loss was palpable. People whispered in the dark, pulled out their cell phones, and waited. It was later determined the film print was too damaged to continue (but only after a second, gut-wrenching burn). This event, this shared experience of both pleasure and loss, overshadowed the day’s later screenings. It was a singular experience, one that brought strangers together, perhaps more so than the film itself.

On Saturday morning I returned to the theater only slightly sleepy-eyed for the 11 am Films in Competition 5 (Ages 6+). The theater was starting to feel more like home than my real home. Having become so comfortable there, I could feel a change in the space - the theater was stirring. The audience included many children. They ate popcorn and kicked their small feet in anticipation for the films to start. The program included Standish Lawder’s Catfilm for Katy and Cynnie. In one section, the screen was just a wash of white. There was a vague image, but it didn’t look like anything at all. I worried that it wasn’t captivating enough for the young audience. I looked around to gauge their interest. I looked back at the screen, and slowly, the white started to move. Collectively, we realized we were watching cat tongues lapping at milk, and that our perspective was from underneath the bowl. Pink cat tongues and noses pushed milk around the glass surface and children squealed. It was delightful, funny, not unlike the joy of an Internet video, except that we were all experiencing it together, at the same time.

My 48 hours at the Ann Arbor Film Festival showed me that the movie theater is still a magical place. I saw films that made me laugh, moved me, and tested my patience. I saw films with many strangers. I ate popcorn for dinner two nights in a row. And I decided that next year, I would like to do it all again.


Elizabeth Wodzinski is a Desk Clerk at the Ann Arbor District Library and she wishes that Catfilm were available on YouTube so she could watch it over and over.

Preview: Fukushima Tribute Concert featuring Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble

PREVIEW MUSIC

The Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble will take the stage at the Power Center for a free concert on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

The Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble will take the stage at the Power Center for a free concert on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate life’s endurance through hardship and turmoil with a performance of the Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble at the Fukushima Tribute Concert March 22nd at the Power Center! Special guests include the Great Lakes Taiko Center - Raion Taiko from Novi, MI.

This youth ensemble, ranging in age from 12-21, was nearly hopelessly scattered after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Their commitment to music and each other has kept them together, but some of the members are graduating from high school and preparing to move on. This concert will be, as they describe, “a thunderous expression of gratitude and optimism to the world - a concert in the US, that might encourage all to remember what Yamakiya members have learned to remember daily - namely, that which is precious in one’s own heart.”

If you can't make the Tuesday evening performance, there's one more opportunity to see them perform. The Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble was featured in the movie Threshold: Whispers of Fukushima, which will be screened at Stamps Auditorium on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 7:00 pm – followed by a brief post-concert by Yamakiya Taiko! You can watch the film's trailer here.

The group is here as part of the University of Michigan Center for World Performance Studies Artist Residency program. During their stay, the Yamakiya Ensemble will also conduct taiko workshops at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


The Yamakiya Ensemble are performing a free concert on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at 7 pm at the Power Center (121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109). In addition to the concert, there is a free screening of the film "Threshold: Whispers of Fukushima" at Stamps Auditorium (1226 Murfin Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48109) on Thursday, March 24, 2016, at 7 pm. Both of these events are free and open to the public and are brought to you by the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater & Dance (SMTD), the Center for World Performance Studies (CWPS), and the Center for Japanese Studies (CJS).

Preview: Rise Up Cabaret, Neighborhood Theatre Group

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Neighborhood Theatre Group rises to the occasion with their premiere show.

Neighborhood Theatre Group rises to the occasion with their premiere show.

There's a brand-new theatre group in the area. Founded by Kristin Anne Danko and Aaron Dean, who recently relocated to the area from Chicago’s experimental theatre scene, Neighborhood Theatre Group is based on the belief that theatre can bring individuals together.

The company, based in Ypsilanti, intends to cultivate a welcoming and collaborative environment for local theatre artists and has assembled a talented group of singers and performers for their March production, Rise Up Cabaret. Featuring songs of many different genres and styles all centered on the theme of rising up, this musical evening shines a bright, positive light on current, difficult, and important social issues.

Directed by Kristin Anne Danko, Rise Up Cabaret features Nick Brown, David Galido, Eric Hohnke, Emily Rogers, Mary Rumman, Angela Tomaszycki, Craig VanKempen, and Kelly Rose Voigt, with Tom Hett on piano.

Neighborhood Theatre Group has also partnered with Ypsilanti’s Ozone House for this production, and representatives from the organization will attend each performance with information on Ozone House and its mission.

So, why not try something new? Neighborhood Theatre Group promises a memorable musical evening filled with uplifting songs. Local audiences can also look forward to future Neighborhood Theatre Group productions including original works, sketch shows, cabarets, and self-produced videos.


Tim Grimes is manager of Community Relations & Marketing at the Ann Arbor District Library and co-founder of Redbud Productions.


Rise Up Cabaret runs from Thursday March 24th through Saturday March 26th at Dreamland Theater, 26 N. Washington St. in Downtown Ypsilanti. All shows are at 8 pm. To reserve seats, or for more information, email neighborhoodtheatregroup@gmail.com.

Radio's Rehm Rouses Rackham

REVIEW WRITTEN WORD

Diane Rehm visited Rackham Auditorium Thurday to discuss her new memoir.

Diane Rehm visited Rackham Auditorium Thurday to discuss her new memoir.

Judging by the ebullient standing ovation welcome received by public radio talk show host Diane Rehm at Rackham Auditorium on March 17, Mick Jagger isn’t the only septuagenarian rock star out there.

Stepping onto the stage in black high heels, and an elegant, knee-length, long-sleeved black dress, Rehm – with her trademark mane of thick, white hair – acknowledged the sold-out crowd appreciatively before taking a seat facing Michigan Radio Stateside host Cynthia Canty.

The event, which ran just over 90 minutes, was part of a national tour to promote Rehm’s new memoir, On My Own, which chronicles the end of her husband’s life and his struggle with Parkinson’s; Rehm’s transition to a life without her partner of 54 years; and her ongoing fight to promote “death with dignity,” or patients’ rights to have a say in how and when they arrive at their life’s end.

Thursday’s program began with a discussion about how, after Rehm’s husband John had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 9 years, he announced that he was ready to die. The doctor in John’s room at an assisted living facility sympathized, but because of legal, moral, and ethical reasons, he couldn’t help.

“After the doctor said that, John said, ‘I feel so betrayed,’” Rehm told the audience. And when the doctor suggested John could determine his own fate by no longer eating, drinking, and taking his medications, John began his 10 day descent toward death.

“Jenny (the Rehms’ physician daughter), on the phone, said, ‘But Dad, we can keep you comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I don’t want comfort. I’m ready to die,’” Rehm recalled, noting that John also, just one day after making his decision, “looked great. He said, ‘I feel better than I have in months.’ And I think it was because he’d taken his life back into his own hands.”

On the final night of this 10-day period, Rehm said she’d been trying to sleep on two chairs that she’d pushed together in John’s room when, at 2 am, she pulled out her iPad and “began writing – what I was thinking and feeling and how awful it was… He couldn’t carry out his death in the way he wanted to.”

When a caregiver arrived, Rehm went home to shower and walk the dog. Though she hadn’t planned to be away long, she soon got a call telling her she needed to return immediately, and when she got back to the facility, John had died 20 minutes earlier.

“I hated not being there to hold his hand,” Rehm said. “I’d held his hand half the night.”

The on-stage conversation’s tone shifted significantly, when Canty asked Rehm to talk about how the couple met. Rehm beamed at the question, saying he looked like a football player, with broad shoulders developed by working on the rock quarry at his father’s farm, and a crew cut.

“I heard John before I saw him,” said Rehm. “He had this huge, booming voice.”

John worked as a foreign trade attorney, while Rehm had a secretarial job at the State Department. Rehm hadn’t attended college, and because the people around her were so educated, she strove to learn more on her own, and had gathered a stack of books – Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, etc. – on her desk. The collection of classics intrigued John, who asked her about them, and soon they made a bet on the World Series (Rehm won) and made a dinner date.

The rest, as they say, is history. And while Rehm told stories of cooking together and dinner party crises, she also took pains to be candid about the struggles in her marriage, emphasizing the idea that no marriage is perfect.

“John was raised by himself,” said Rehm. “For John to share his life with one other person was very hard.”

Rehm spoke of John’s intense need for solitude (while she was gregarious), and the way he would sometimes not speak to her for weeks at a time. Even so, Rehm maintained they generally had a good marriage. She said that now, each morning, when she starts work and records promos for her show, “I look through the glass behind me…and I look up at the sky and I talk to John. That’s part of my grief. That’s part of my connection to him. And I swear he talks back.”

When Canty asked Rehm to define grief, the radio host confessed that she didn’t believe in closure, and said, “Grief is taking the pillow from the left side of the bed and, after 54 years, moving it to the center.”

Rehm also talked about her plan – made before her husband’s death – to retire this fall (“the younger generation needs to hear younger voices,” she said), but told the crowd, “You and I have had such a long relationship that it’s hard to leave.”

The point Rehm returned to again and again, though, is the need for everyone to have a candid conversation with those closest to them about what they want, regarding treatment, when confronted by death.

“It’s something we need to plan for as carefully as we plan and save for college,” said Rehm, who also later noted, during the Q&A, “Medical students are taught the importance of keeping patients alive. You try the next treatment, you try another therapy. But too often, what they’re not taught to do is listen to what the patient wants… We here in this country are death-averse. We shy away from it. But our population is aging. We’ve got to confront the reality that death is as inevitable as birth.”

Rehm also noted that she didn’t believe that death was an end. “It was raining outside once, and John said, ‘I wonder if there’s rain in Heaven. Maybe the drops will be bigger,’” Rehm recalled. “I thought that was wonderful. He was looking ahead.”

The Q&A portion of the night began with a fan asking Rehm to imagine being on stage with Donald Trump instead of Canty. “I don’t think I would be here,” quipped Rehm.

In the end, not every fan who lined up behind two microphones got to ask a question – if they did, the event might still be going – but after Rehm finished her final response by saying, “By the way, I love you, too,” the night ended as it began: with a thunderous standing ovation.


Jenn McKee is a former staff arts reporter for The Ann Arbor News, where she primarily covered theater and film events, and also wrote general features and occasional articles on books and music.

Review: Penny Stamps Presents David OReilly

REVIEW FILM & VIDEO

David OReilly delivering his Penny Stamps lecture as part of the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival.

David OReilly delivering his Penny Stamps lecture as part of the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival. / Photo by Doug Coombe

Artist David OReilly has worked in a variety of media from film to video games to concept art, but he added a new medium to that list Wednesday night at the Michigan Theater: public speaking. OReilly appeared as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, presented in conjunction with the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Taking the stage after an introduction he self-deprecatingly described as “hyperbolic,” OReilly immediately sought to manage his audience’s expectations. “I don’t know how to follow that up,” OReilly said. “This is going to be a total letdown.”

However, OReilly proved himself a more than capable speaker over the course of his nearly 90-minute presentation, entertaining, inspiring, and at times genuinely dazzling the crowd. OReilly began by examining how he developed his unique style of 3D animation, which he’s now best known for. After early attempts to emulate Austrian artist Egon Schiele’s expressive figure drawings, OReilly became involved in animation through a job as a concept artist. Around 2004 he became fascinated by the untapped potential he saw in 3D animation, a field dominated at the time by many Pixar imitators and very few individual auteurs. OReilly described working with 3D animation software as “a constant process of the thing falling apart,” and early on he started maintaining a computer folder of the various glitches that resulted from his experiments. “All of these felt like something the software wanted to do, the trajectory of what it wanted to do,” he said.

So OReilly developed an artistic style that welcomed the quirks of his medium and drew attention to its rougher edges, rather than hewing towards a perfectly polished finished product. He demonstrated the evolution of that style from his 2007 debut short film RGB XYZ to 2009’s Please Say Something. OReilly described the former, an extremely glitchy acid-trip tale of a creature moving to the big city, as “pretty awful.” But the latter showed just how quickly OReilly developed his talent. Please Say Something, a very funny and surprisingly affecting tale of a tumultuous marriage between a cat and a mouse, embraces those glitches and rough edges with intent and artistry.

OReilly has since done a variety of work, including an episode of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, animated segments of the movies Her and Son of Rambow, and music videos for U2 and M.I.A. In between commercial works he’s also found time for more personal projects–like his 2014 video game Mountain, which creates a personalized mountain on which players can watch slow and often surreal changes in real time. Typical of his unpretentious presentation, OReilly said he enjoys commercial work as much as his pet projects. “I don’t know if it’s ideal if I just stayed doing my own stuff,” he said. “Every time I do a job I end up getting out of my comfort zone, being forced to learn stuff that I’m not familiar with.”

OReilly saved his best for last, presenting an extended demo of his forthcoming video game entitled Everything. The game presents a universe in which one can play as literally anything. OReilly began by exploring a sunny field in the character of a bear, which moved around by comically rolling head over tail. From there he jumped into the characters of a clump of grass, bouncing along at ground level, and then a Douglas fir, which moved majestically over the landscape. Those demonstrations were entertaining, but OReilly had only scratched the surface of the world he’d developed for the game. He jumped down to a smaller scale to explore the microscopic world between blades of grass, playing as various molecules and germs. The audience broke into applause, but OReilly still wasn’t even close to finished. Taking a trip to the other end of the cosmic scale, he played as a continent swimming around the earth, then an asteroid orbiting the planet, then as a galaxy spinning in space. Surrounded by other glittering galaxies, OReilly’s galaxy joined up with them and moved in a rhythmic “dance” as numerous audience members uttered audible gasps of wonder.

Those gasps, and the laughter and applause that permeated the presentation, were proof positive that OReilly has repeatedly hit on something singular, accessible, and human in his highly unconventional works. Refreshingly, the man behind them was consistently, exceedingly humble. OReilly closed by noting with some bewilderment that he’d been asked to address in his presentation how his work “fits into the bigger picture of humanity.” He tackled that request by reading a scathing critical review of Mountain, followed by a letter he received from a mother who thanked him for the way the game had drawn her autistic son out of his shell. “That kind of response is worth more than all of the impact in the world,” he said. “I feel very privileged to get to have that effect, as small as that is.”


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.

Ann Arbor Film Festival Opening Night

REVIEW FILM & VIDEO

The opening night screening gave attendees a taste of everything they will see at the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival.

The opening night screening gave attendees a taste of everything they will see at the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival.

On Tuesday night, the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival began with an Opening Night Reception and a screening of ten short films from around the world. The reception was a packed and energetic event, completely filling the main lobby of the Michigan Theater with donors, filmmakers, and excited movie-goers. The music was loud, the bites of local food were delicious, and the vast space was packed to the rafters with anticipatory chatter. The total variety of people and apparel gave off the vibe of unadulterated welcome. Some were dressed to the nines in neckties or heels and floor-length dresses, and some were wearing their usual old jeans, sneakers, and plaid shirts, so no matter what, it seemed that this event was made for you.

This was my first experience at AAFF, or a film festival of any sort, and I was a bit apprehensive. Part of my newcomers’ fear was that I’d choose a movie I didn’t enjoy and be stuck with it for the two-hour duration, so it took the pressure off to discover that the Opening Night Screening consisted of a number of short films. The experience was more of a sampler: all the unique flavors of films that you might encounter at AAFF, helpfully squashed into one session.

The films themselves were a mixed bag of narrative, documentary, animated, and experimental, and they ran the emotional gauntlet—from sad and serious, like Hotel 22, a documentary about the homeless taking refuge at night on a 24-hour bus line in San Francisco, to hilarious, like Discontinuity, a film about a couple losing touch with each other and with reality, amongst a sea of disappearing and reappearing cats.

Attendees and lobbies alike were decked out for the Opening Night Reception.

Attendees and lobbies alike were decked out for the Opening Night Reception. / Photo by Doug Coombe

Some films were so experimental that I didn’t even recognize them as films, like REGAL, a fuzzy 2-minute interlude that appeared to be clips of an old pre-movie disclaimer reel interspersed with Internet icons and occasional pauses for buffering. I didn’t realize it was a movie until it was over and my companion clued me in. My first film of the festival and, technically, I missed it.

While some of the films were as avant-garde as I had worried they would be, I found them each to be surprisingly stimulating in their own way. Back Track, a remix of 1950s black-and-white films, had a captivatingly dark, noir vibe. Curt McDowell’s homey A Visit to Indiana effortlessly harnessed the drama and comedy of everyday conversation. Drive In, a close-to-home look at one of the last drive-in theaters in the Detroit area, evoked feelings of sunny summer nostalgia while The Place, a documentary about an isolated weather station, plunged the audience into the cold stillness of a Polish winter. The charmingly untidy animation of Isola del Giglio gave sketch-like impressions of a cozy Sunday morning on an Italian island, while Life with Herman H. Rott told the wordless yet highly comic story of a chain-smoking, drunken rat whose life is tidied up by a neat and proper cat with a love for cleanliness and classical music.

Even when lost among the swirling colors and fuzzy images of an experimental film or staring deep into the impossibly still and dull Polish snowscape, each movie pulled me in and left a genuine impression. I entered the event unsure of what I would find, and when I left, while still unsure what more I would encounter, it was with much more eagerness than apprehension.


Nicole Williams is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library and she hates popcorn, so this has been a harrowing experience on many fronts.

Preview: Charley's Aunt, Skyline High School

PREVIEW THEATER & DANCE

Dating is a drag in Skyline's production of Charley's Aunt.

Dating is a drag in Skyline's production of Charley's Aunt. / Photo by Lisa Gavan.

This weekend, Skyline High School Theatre presents Charley's Aunt.

Long before Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire - 122 years ago, in fact - the cross-dressing comedy Charley’s Aunt has been keeping audiences in stitches. Playwright Brandon Thomas wrote this British farce about a couple college buddies who rope a third friend into dressing up as an elderly aunt/chaperone for their girlfriends. They hope “she” will be a more reasonable alternative to the girls’ over-protective and overbearing male guardian...but of course it turns out to be a little more complicated than that.

Charley's Aunt is the quintessential British farce,” says director Anne-Marie Roberts, explaining that the show isn’t just entertaining for the audience, it’s also educational for the participants. “Exposing the students to a gem of the British theater is one of the goals for educational theater.”

Skyline's production features Jianmarco Barbeau and Jakub Hann as the college friends; Leah Bauer and Amanda Wilhoit as the girlfriends; Riley O'Brian as the guardian; and Theo Billups as "Charley's Aunt". Rounding out the cast are Peter Dannug as Sir Fancis; Madison Burk as wealthy widow Donna Lucia De Alvadorez; Sonja Mittlestat as her young ward Ela; and Luke Wertenberger as Jack's put-upon butler, Brasset.


Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


Charley’s Aunt runs March 17,18, and 19 at Skyline High School Auditorium at 7:30 pm each night. Tickets are available at www.showtix4u.com for $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. Tickets will also be available at the door for $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors.

Review: Third Coast Kings Rule at Ferndale’s Magic Bag

REVIEW MUSIC

The Ann Arbor-based funk ensemble Third Coast Kings.

The Ann Arbor-based funk ensemble Third Coast Kings.

Ann Arbor-based funk ensemble Third Coast Kings were off their home turf in their Friday night show at Ferndale’s Magic Bag, but that didn’t stop the group lighting the stage and the dance floor on fire with material new and old.

Friday’s show marked something of a return for the Kings, who are just resurfacing on the local scene after an injury last year left high-energy frontman Sean Ike limping and relying on a cane. But the band used its brief off-time to put together some new tunes with an eye towards hitting the studio later this year, and they worked out some of that new material at the Magic Bag. The Kings performed some tunes for only the first or second time live, but delivered them with confidence–no surprise for this tight group of professionals. Among the new material, one minor-key groove came off particularly well, with a fiery trumpet solo from Ryan Dolan that had the audience howling its approval.

The Kings made plenty of time, though, for favorite tunes from their previous releases, including a number of tracks from their 2014 album West Grand Boulevard. Alec Cooper’s menacing baritone-sax groove in “Sporting Life (I’m a Man)” inspired Ike to mix some comical boxing and rowing moves into his dance routine. “Birds and Bees” found the Kings settling into a rare slower jam, with guitarist Andy Filisko laying down a wonderfully warm wash of wah-wah-laden rhythm work. And although the band faked an exit after playing the dance-floor call to arms “Get Some, Leave Some,” the exceptionally charged-up rendition of that tune certainly could have passed for a satisfactory show closer.

It’s impossible to talk about this band without recognizing the near-superhuman contributions of Ike, perhaps the best–and undoubtedly the most entertaining–frontman Ann Arbor has to offer. In distinct contrast to his bandmates’ tan and gray suits and vests, Ike was clad in a red satin vest and gold tie over black pants and shirt, the band’s unmissable focal point. Within three songs his bald pate was covered in a sheen of sweat as he pranced, danced, and shook a tambourine like it owed him money. “This is the only Friday night we got and we got it here together,” Ike proclaimed early on, and from the energy he put into the performance it seemed he believed that. With a killer voice, unflagging energy, and a strong sense of visual pizzazz, Ike could go toe to toe with James Brown in just about every department except ego.

While it’s hard to take your eyes off Ike during a Kings show, ample credit is also due to the exemplary outfit backing him up. At six, the current Kings lineup is a bit smaller than it’s been in the past, but the band’s sound is powerful as ever. Although they’re only two men, Cooper and Dolan make for a robust horn section. Dolan handles most of the leads with a laid-back, jazz-inspired style that cuts a nice contrast to even the Kings’ most furious grooves. While the horn players make a rather cool, impassive duo onstage, the guitar-slingers on the other side of Ike are all goofy energy. Bouncing enthusiastically as his mop of curly hair sways back and forth, Steve Barker lays down rock-solid grooves on the bass. Filisko mugs and dances as he carves up slice after slice of wah-drenched guitar. Perhaps the least showy player–and, at the back of the stage behind Ike, the least visible–is drummer James Keovongsak. He isn’t much for solos. But rhythm is the essential element of what this band does, and Keovongsak handles that with unflappable precision.

The crowd at the Magic Bag demonstrated abundant appreciation for the Kings’ work Friday night. Although not sold out, the venue welcomed a sizeable crowd that spanned an impressive range of ages and races. It took a surprisingly long time–two whole songs!–for the dance floor to really fill up, but once the crowd got going they were loath to stop. Ike’s departure from the stage after delivering a few a cappella bars of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” drew raucous screams of “One more song!” The audience seemed to take Ike’s proclamation of “the only Friday night” seriously–and with a band this committed to having a good time, how could they not?


Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He can be heard most Friday mornings at 8:40 am on the Martin Bandyke morning program on Ann Arbor's 107one.