For Him the Bells Toll: Wild Up performed Julius Eastman’s "Feminine" at Rackham Auditorium

MUSIC REVIEW

Black and white side portrait of Julius Eastman.

Julius Eastman on the Stay On It album cover. Photo via Week—End Records.

The sound of countless bells, gentle and cloudlike, opened Los Angeles-based chamber ensemble Wild Up’s presentation of Julius Eastman’s Feminine in Ann Arbor’s Rackham Auditorium on the afternoon of Sunday, April 17, as part of UMS’s 2022-23 season.

The bell choir—made up of Wild Up’s members, local musicians, and students from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance—lined the auditorium’s semicircular back. Set against the room’s painted ceiling, in which a darkening night sky extends outward from an intricately designed sun centered above the stage, the bells became stars. Their ringing emerged from darkness once the hall lights dimmed, and the enveloping sound welcomed the gathered concertgoers to an astonishing performance.

Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was a gay, African-American composer and performer whose career involved collaborations with titanic figures in 20th-century classical music such as Peter Maxwell Davies, John Cage, Meredith Monk, Morton Feldman, and others. Yet Eastman struggled to find sustained support from his colleagues and the musical institutions with which he interacted. When he died in 1990, it took eight months for a public notice of his passing to be published, and his legacy as a composer faced similar precarity.

Wild Up is an international leader in the contemporary effort to revive, record, and perform Eastman’s compositions. The ensemble's performance on Sunday confirmed all the praise it has received for the Julius Eastman Anthology project it launched four years ago. 

University of Michigan drama professor Kate Mendeloff passes away from cancer

THEATER & DANCE

Kate Mendeloff laughs while exploring The Arb in Ann Arbor where she directed the annual "Shakespeare in the Park" plays for two decades. Photo from El Kronox's Facebook page

Kate Mendeloff laughs while exploring The Arb in Ann Arbor where she directed the annual "Shakespeare in the Arb" plays for two decades. Photo from El Kronox's Facebook page.

Kate Mendeloff, a drama lecturer at the University of Michigan who directed the annual "Shakespeare in the Arb" plays for two decades, died on Saturday, April 15, from pancreatic cancer. She was 69.

MLive.com staff writer Samuel Dodge wrote a wonderful obituary for the beloved educator, director, wife, and mother:

Take a Leap: Fifth Wall's new abstract chamber-rock opera "The Precipice" debuts at Riverside Arts in Ypsilanti

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Grey Rose Grant and Karl Ronneburg rehearse their original abstract rock-opera The Precipice.

Grey Rose Grant and Karl Ronneburg rehearse their original abstract rock-opera The Precipice. Photo courtesy of Fifth Wall Performing Arts.

Our lives are not static.

We go through changes, we ask questions.

What does leaving home involve? What's it like to move on from relationships? What does any life change entail?

Fifth Wall Performing Arts, a multidisciplinary troupe that does experimental musical theater, tackles questions like these in Karl Ronneburg‘s The Precipice.

Karl, who uses only his first name professionally, created a collage, woven from journal entries, poems, letters to friends, music, and voice memos—his own and those of Grey Rose Grant—to create the abstract chamber-rock opera.

Audiences at Riverside Arts in Ypsilanti on April 29 and 30 will witness the world premiere of The Precipice before the company brings the piece to New York City. 

Turn Down for What?: U-M’s production of “Rent” brightened the corners of the play's darker edges

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The cast of "Rent" performs April 13 at The Power Center in Ann Arbor.

The cast of Rent performs April 13 at The Power Center in Ann Arbor. Photo by Peter Smith.

For me, it’s telling that the most moving moment of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of Rent on April 15 came via a curtain call reprise of the show’s iconic song, “Seasons of Love.” 

Having taken their bows, the performers slowly clustered together in the middle of the stage, and you could palpably feel the camaraderie among them. That camaraderie didn’t radiate from their characters, but from their real-life experiences as college students, including graduating seniors, who’ve grown close while training and building on shows like this one. The warmth coming from that stage made my hair stand on end. 

And in keeping with the program’s esteemed national reputation, the students had hit their marks and their notes (well, most of them) all evening. So why exactly did this polished production feel … well, too buttoned up and tame?

No Restrictions: Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti returns with a full slate

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

iFFY logo

When Martin Thoburn and Donald Harrison launched the Independent Film Festival Ypsilanti (iFFY) in 2020, they offered cinema fans socially distanced, drive-in-style screenings and a momentary reprieve from the pandemic, which had shuttered movie theaters across the country.

Three years later—and one year after finding a new home at the Riverside Arts Center—iFFY is solidifying its spot on the local film scene with an ambitious scope and schedule, running April 19-23. 

"There's also double the amount of programming. An extra day-and-a-half," said Micah Vanderhoof, iFFY operations manager and a University of Michigan alum with a bachelor's degree in screen arts and cultures who previously worked as a programmer for the Portland International Film Festival.

"Michigan-ish," a competitive program of a dozen short films produced in and around the region, kicks off the fest on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30 pm, followed by an after-party at Ziggy's featuring DJ sets and decorations by House of Jealous Lovers.   

Friday Five: The Solution, Telesonic 9000, Saturday's Cab Ride Home, Cat Lung, Dagoretti Records compilation

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Art for the albums and singles featured in this week's Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features soul-rock by The Solution, synth-pop by Telesonic 9000, indie rock by Saturday's Cab Ride Home, prog by Cat Lung, and a Dagoretti Records compilation of vintage Kenyan nyatiti music.

Doors of Perception: J. Michael & The Heavy Burden explores folk-rock and winding jams on its debut album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

J. Michael and the Heavy Burden group photo.

J. Michael & The Heavy Burden's Chris Peters, Chris Georges, Andrew Pfeiffer, Jeff Brach, and Shannon Lee. Photo courtesy of J. Michael & The Heavy Burden.

When one door closes, another may open.

That was the case in 2021 for J. Michael & The Heavy Burden leader Jeff Brach when he parted ways with one band to start another.

“I’d recently decided to close the chapter on another similar project that went by the name Stella Noon,” said the guitarist and singer. “I asked one of the newer members from that band, [singer] Shannon Lee, to join me in this new project and she soon thereafter introduced me to our drummer, Chris Georges.”

Brach combed through social media to fill out the rest of the band, which includes lead guitarist Andrew Pfeiffer and bassist Chris Peters, and the Ann Arbor area group recorded a few singles in early 2021 at Rooftop Studios in Grand Blanc.

“We fully intended on just having something out there to help garner some gigs until we had more time to record a full album,” said Brach, whose first initial and middle name provide the J. Michael part of The Heavy Burden.

That time finally came toward the end of 2022 when the band returned to Grand Blanc to record its self-titled debut and once again work with David Roof, who ended up joining the band as its keyboardist and plays various other instruments on the album.

'Til Tuesday: Terry McClymonds' idiosyncratic trivia nights have built an enthusiastic community over the past 12 years

PULP LIFE INTERVIEW

Terry McClymonds surrounded by trivia players at Argus Farm Stop's Packard Cafe wearing T-shirts with his face on them.

Terry McClymonds (third from left) is surrounded by trivia players at Argus Farm Stop's Packard Cafe wearing T-shirts with his face on them. Photo courtesy of Argus Farm Stop.

Trivia nights in Ann Arbor are not uncommon, but Terry McClymonds' event might have the longest legacy. He started Trivia Night With Terry! in 2011 and has garnered a devoted following for his twice-a-month game, now at Argus Farm Stop’s Packard Cafe.

“It’s like a community,” McClymonds says. “There are students and graduate students, people from that neighborhood and my neighborhood, lots of ages. They’re all so enthusiastic.”

Nature's Way: Cathy Barry's "Connatural" paintings at Matthaei Botanical Gardens explore biological patterns

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

Cathy Berry's painting Biosphere

Cathy Berry, Biosphere

Cathy Barry’s Connatural exhibit at the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens inspires the viewer to look at the natural world through a new lens. 

“Nature is the big umbrella of what inspires and has always informed my work,” the Ann Arbor painter writes in her artist’s statement. “My most recent work focuses on collecting and referencing biological sources and patterns found in nature.”

Some of those biological sources even provide colors for Barry's paintings as well as textures embedded into the works.

"I am extracting colors from local sources—in the backyard or the grocery store—including buckthorn, cattail, turmeric root, forsythia, beets, mulberry, yellow and purple onion skins," the Stamps lecturer writes in her artist's statement. "I then reference older practices by experimenting with inlay work of painted paper, traditionally used to create jewelry, furniture, mosaics and textiles. I am creating motifs and abstract compositions by cutting shapes from my plant-based paintings, fitting them together and assembling them. I am integrating materials with form and subject in my painting to evoke a peaceful wholeness that references the innate wisdom of nature."

Nature isn't the only thing referenced in Connatural, though only fans of one of the world's biggest pop stars might notice.

"For any Swifties out there, take a closer look at some of the titles in the exhibition," she said with a smile.

Barry answered a few questions about the exhibit, which runs through April 30.

Friday Five: Evan Haywood, XV, Lunch, Timothy Monger, "Ypsilanti Folk Singers" comp

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features cosmic folk by Evan Haywood, art rock by XV, no wave by Lunch, folk-pop by Timothy Monger, and a compilation of mid-2000s Ypsilanti DIY artists.