Prêt-à-Potter: Avant Garden — Matthaei Botanical Gardens 2016


Get ready to shop deep local at craft fairs the weekend of December 9–11.

“Succulent Dress” (different species of Echeveria, Sedum, Sempervivens, and Senico) and “Moss Suit” (Green Mountain Moss, Ginkgo Leaves, Birch Bark, Spanish Moss, Air Plant).

With the coldest temperatures of the year forecast for this week, you’ve surely noticed that winter has finally arrived in Ann Arbor.

If you’re not quite ready to accept the frigid temps or crunchy snow underfoot and are still in the denial about the transition to winter (which, by the way, officially arrives on Wednesday at 5:44 am EST), treat yourself to a visit to Matthaei Botanical Gardens for a respite in the lovely Conservatory, which is currently hosting the Avant Garden: Weaving Fashion and Nature Together exhibition. (Fun fact! Alden Dow designed the Conservatory in 1964, and he also designed the original part of the Downtown Library building at 343 S. Fifth Avenue.)

Avant Garden is a whimsical convergence of planting design and fashion design in the form of seven “fantasy outfits.” I asked Bob Grese, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, about the exhibit and the use of plants in unexpected ways. He said, “The exhibit is a playful look at plants as a direct material for the fashion industry, with fantasy use of plants for dresses, vests, and suitcoats. Beyond the artistic use of plants in the exhibit, the real message is that we rely on plants for a variety of things in clothing—fibers, dyes, and representation on fabric patterns.” (Full disclosure: Grese was one of my professors in the Landscape Architecture program at U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment)

Part of the joy in this exhibit is wandering through the Conservatory to find each of the creations. The Conservatory is separated into three “Houses,” each replicating a different climate: Tropical, Temperate, and Desert. The dresses are thoughtfully placed within each of their respective garden spaces and the feeling of discovery and exploration is part of the exhibit experience. The shades of green and variety of textures in each of the plant selections bring richness to each design. Each dress has a different style, and all are charming and elegant. I particularly enjoyed the bromeliad dress, which comes complete with a fascinator hat.

Animal Magic: Donald Hall's "Eating the Pig"


Donald Hall

Donald Hall's poetry is the apple of our eye.

If you’re a vegetarian, Donald Hall’s poem “Eating the Pig” might make your stomach churn.

But if you’re a meat eater and are disgusted by Hall’s imagery -- or the pictures in the Eating the Pig: A Dinner Party in Poetry, Photography & Painting exhibit, on display at the Ann Arbor District Library, that document the evening described in the poem -- you need to get in touch with where your animal-based protein comes from and the often brutal ways it gets to your plate.

(Read the "Eating the Pig" poem here or listen to Hall read it here.)

In 1975, Hall left his teaching job at University of Michigan and bought his maternal great-grandfather's farm in New Hampshire, where he spent many summers as a child. With so much of his life spent in a rural area, the 2006 Poet Laureate is deeply in tune with nature and the creatures that populate it. His poems show a clear-eyed vision of how real life is always an ongoing mix of beauty and struggle, inextricably linked and forever a source of consternation and inspiration. Hall recognizes that a gorgeous horse can become a broken down beast of burden; that a majestic but aging rooster’s final morning crow is lost to the wind before his head is chopped off; and that a cute little suckling pig can also be a source of human sustenance.

Hall has written many poems that feature animals -- and no, they aren’t all about eating them. Below is a selection of those poems, which display Hall’s reverence for animals and the many things they provide for humanity. These poems also give additional context to “Eating the Pig,” which ties a single October 1974 Ann Arbor evening spent carving and devouring an animal to a historic ritual of life and death that stretches back to the Stone Age when flint cutting tools first appeared.

Interview: Photographer Michelle Massey/Omeeomi, UMMA/Tiny Expo Award Winner


Michelle Massey/Omeeomi

Omeeomi, we have a winner!

Tiny Expo has become an annual tradition for the Washtenaw-area arts and crafts community, and the juried artists who exhibit their works often leave the downtown Ann Arbor District Library brimming with dinero from all the sales.

But this year there was a chance to take home some bonus bucks.

For this year’s event, which was held December 10, the Tiny Expo/UMMA Store Vendor Contest allowed patrons to cast votes for their favorite artists, with the prizes being:
-- 3rd place: $20 gift card to the UMMA store
-- 2nd place: $30 gift card to the UMMA store
-- 1st place: Select products by the winning artist will be featured and available for sale at the UMMA museum store for 6 months.

The top 3 vote-getters were then vetted by Nettie Tiso, manager of the UMMA store, who chose which artist would get to sell his or her works at the museum.

And this year’s winner is ... [drumroll] ... [really long drumroll] ... [now the drummer is doing a jazz solo, so this may take a while] ... [security breaks the drumsticks and escorts percussionist out of the building] ...

Michelle Massey, a Ypsilanti-based photographer who calls her company Omeeomi.

We talked to Massey about her art and photography in the interview below:

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #622


“You're my star, a stargazer too, and I wish that I were Heaven, with a billion eyes to look at you!”

Former research physicist Helen Sedgwick's The Comet Seekers* will transport readers to the magical world she creates as her protagonists grapple with the big issues of love, family, freedom, and loneliness. See a recent New York Times review.

Róisín, an Irish scientist and François, a French chef, meet at a research base in the frigid wilds of Antarctica in 2017, there to observe a comet. More than their expressed purpose, they both suffered devastating loss and share an indelible bond that stretches back centuries.

"Sedgwick tackles a centuries-spanning interconnected narrative by placing each chapter within the context of a comet’s appearance in the sky. The sections...that explore Róisín and Liam’s star-crossed romance are the standouts, both quietly moving and delicately portrayed. Uniquely structured and stylistically fascinating, the multilayered story comes full circle in a denouement that is both heartbreaking and satisfying." (Publishers Weekly)

Reminiscent of the works of Amy Bloom and Elizabeth Strout (Booklist) for their intimate stories of family drama; its setting and story line will appeal to fans of Midge Raymond's My Last Continent.

Interview: Fred Thomas on his "Voiceover" video


Fred Thomas

Fred Thomas is hearing voices.

Fred Thomas doesn’t evoke regular feelings among his listeners. His smart, wordy songs have grabbed listeners’ emotions for two decades as a solo artist or in bands such as Saturday Looks Good to Me, City Center, and a slew of others.

Thomas is an Ann Arbor native, but over the last decade he's bounced between Portland, New York City, and everywhere in between. But we’ll always claim the prolific songwriter, whose music veers from urgent indie rock to recumbent soundscapes, as our own -- even if his current home is Montreal, Quebec.

He’s just too talented for us to let him go completely.

Thomas has a new album, Changer, coming out January 27. Two tunes have been released so far -- the stripped down and emotionally biting guitar song “Brickwall” and the electronic “Echolation” -- but for “Voiceover,” the third song released into the wild, Thomas made a video.

The clip features Thomas deadpanning his way through strumming a guitar as scenes of everyday activities -- fixing your hair, turning on a lamp, etc. -- are repeated over and over to hammer home that even the smallest moments contain moments of beauty even if everything in the greater world feels like it’s going to hell.

We’ll have a longer feature on Thomas closer to when Changer comes out, but we did a quick chat with him about the making of the “Voiceover” video:

Preview: Student Partnerships in Technology and Performing Arts Showcase

Professor Michael Gurevich is a facilitator.

As the assistant professor and chair of the Department of Performing Arts Technology at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, it’s Gurevich’s job to help his students make connections between seemingly disparate things, be it computer music and improvisation or tap dancing and video games.

On December 13 at 7:30 pm, the public can watch some of these collaborations at the Student Partnerships in Technology and Performing Arts Showcase, the first event from an experimental pilot course Gurevich developed to bring together artists from the tech side (electronic musicians, coders, etc.) and the traditional arts (dancers, instrumentalists, etc.) Held in the state-of-the-art Chip Davis Technology Studio in the Earl V. Moore Building, the multimedia and performance showcase promises to be a head-twisting exploration of artistic intersections.

In the video below, Pulp editor Christopher Porter interviewed Gurevich and asked him about the showcase -- which is free -- and how it all plays into the University of Michigan’s Third Century Initiative: "As U-M prepares to celebrate its bicentennial in 2017, the Third Century Initiative has been established to inspire innovative programs that enhance the student learning experience and develop creative approaches to the world’s greatest challenges."

Review: Academy of Russian Classical Ballet’s "The Nutcracker" at the Michigan Theater



How do you know winter is coming? Nutcracker productions pop up like wildlings.

This time of year some people need to hang lights, some people need to watch It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas? and some people need to attend a performance of The Nutcracker.

The ballet scratches a certain holiday itch with its familiar Tchaikovsky score and story of a Clara, a young girl who receives a nutcracker doll at her family’s Christmas party and, after a bit of magic, helps her now-human nutcracker prince defeat an army of giant mice. They celebrate by traveling through a snowstorm to the Kingdom of the Sweets where they are entertained by politically incorrect dances from faraway lands. All right, the plot isn’t its strong point, but a good Nutcracker hooks a certain segment of the population with its holiday appeal and lovely dancing.

As a member of that somewhat rarefied demographic, I went away satisfied from The Academy of Russian Classical Ballet’s production at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, December 10. I’m betting that the families there -- with children all dressed up and out past bedtime in a grand downtown theater -- also felt the itch scratched. It hit all the right notes with its convivial party scene and high-spirited dancing.

Review: Owen Gleiberman Discusses His Book, "Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies


Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman keeps it freaky.

Nationally known film critic Owen Gleiberman appeared in his hometown -- specifically, the University of Michigan’s Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery -- on the evening of December 7 to talk about his book, Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ann Arbor plays a key supporting role in Gleiberman’s story. Gleiberman moved to Treetown with his family when he was about five, and he grew up during the '60s and '70s -- which happened to be the heyday for U-M’s campus film societies. Gleiberman wrote about film while a student at Pioneer High, and he continued to do so for The Michigan Daily as a college student.

“I don’t know if i would have ever wanted to become a film critic, or a film buff, or everything this book is about if it hadn’t been for Ann Arbor, and the way this place kind of nurtured me,” Gleiberman said before reading a passage from his book on Wednesday night.

But in addition to chronicling his descent into movie madness, Movie Freak also, Gleiberman noted, turned out to be a kind of valentine to analog culture.

Review: UM’s Peter and the Starcatcher celebrates joyful child’s play


Sebastian Gerstner and Olivia Hernandez

Yo-ho-ho, it's a bottle of fun. / Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

Once upon a time ....

All good stories start that way.

The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance is presenting one of those timeless stories told from a different perspective.

Peter and the Starcatcher is a rollicking prequel to J.M. Barrie’s famous play of eternal youth, Peter Pan. Rick Elice’s play, based on a snarky young adult novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is a play about play, child’s play. It’s about taking on different roles, imagining far away places where adults are the enemy, leaping about and sword fighting, rude body humor, scary scenes and, of course, all’s well that ends well happy endings.

It’s not technically a musical but there is a lot of lively music and a few pirate songs and a mermaid song created for the show by Wayne Barker.

Best of all it’s a great piece of theater that stays loyal to Barrie’s original play, full of pirates and a tribe of, well, disgruntled chefs and three lost boys. And this time around, there’s a girl who tells good night stories, but only when she has time away from saving the world and rescuing a nameless young boy from unhappiness.

Review: UMGASS Ensorcells Again with The Sorcerer


One of these things is not canon, but you'd never know it.

Left to right: Pat Johnson as Mr. Wells' Assistant, Lee Vahlsing as Dr. Daly, and David Andrews as John Wellington Wells. Photo by Marilyn Gouin, courtesy of UMGASS.

This weekend, the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society (UMGASS) presents their fall production of The Sorcerer at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. I love Gilbert & Sullivan, but I've only seen The Sorcerer a few times over the years, so I was eager to see what UMGASS would bring to the show that established the template for more famous G&S operettas.

While UMGASS focuses, to my delight, on relatively traditional productions of these hallowed works, they always bring a little something new, and in this production, Artistic Director Lori Gould has taken the rather bold step of adding a new character. I stowed my pitchfork after it became immediately clear that the addition of a comedic Sorcerer's Assistant was a brilliant choice, adding lots of laughs and clever moments without taking any untoward liberties with the source material. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely some liberties being taken, but all in the audience agreed that such liberties were entirely toward.