The Ann Arbor Russian Festival brings Northern Eurasian culture to Washtenaw

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Russian Festival

For the group that puts the Ann Arbor Russian Festival together every year, it’s about much more than simply having a fun time, it’s about sharing their culture.

“Nobody knows what is Orthodox church,” laughed Leta Nikulshina, the festival’s entertainment director. “People think, ‘Are you Catholic?’ ‘No, we’re not.’ Or, ‘Are you Jewish?’ ‘No, we’re not.’

“Its kind of the way to open up who we are and bring us closer to everyone else,” she said.

The festival’s beginnings also had a slight ulterior motive. 

Civic Theatre’s "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" plays the con game for laughs

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Civic Theatre's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

After directing seven serious dramas in a row, including Jean-Paul Sartre’s vision of hell, No Exit, Glenn Bugala was ready for some laughs.

Bugala is directing the musical comedy version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.  Bugala, who has a Master of Fine Arts in acting from Purdue University, has performed and directed numerous productions at Civic since he became involved with the theater in 1997. His credits include directing Rent, Chess, Tommy, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and Front Page.

Scoundrels, with book by Jeffrey Lane and music by David Yazbek, is based on the 1988 movie starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine as an odd couple of conmen engaged in fleecing rich women on the French Riviera. Caine played a smooth-talking gentleman who cons wealthy women to Martin’s rowdy, lowbrow who is happy snagging $20 from anyone he can.

“I think these days, with the news cycle, we could all use a comedy,” Bugala said. “I’ve known the movie since it came out, and I’ve kept a VHS tape of it since then.”

Art forms will come together at Rasa Festival's "Poetry Through the Ages"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rasa Festival's Poetry Through the Ages

Art forms will interconnect during "Poetry Through the Ages," one of the many events of the second Rasa Festival, which goes from September 1 to October 7. Visual art, dance, and music are to embody the words of Indian poetry in this new addition to the festival on Saturday, September 15, from 8-9:30 pm at the Arthur Miller Theatre in Ann Arbor.

Sreyashi Dey is a conceptual artist, choreographer, and dancer for this event, as well as director of the Rasa Festival and president and artistic director of Akshara, the organization producing the festival. She described the concept of "Poetry Through the Ages" by saying "words of the poetry will find expression in the diverse art forms that will work together to create a new aesthetic tapestry."

The Evil That Men Do: Alice Bolin’s "Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession"

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Alice Bolin and her book Dead Girls

Without a doubt, Laura Palmer’s corpse remains one of the most enduring images to come out of ‘90s television.

Anyone who has watched the Twin Peaks premiere (either at the time of its airing or as part of the younger, revivalist crowd) is certain to recall the eerie impression that Laura is simply sleeping, bound to wake up any minute -- this despite, of course, the fact that she is quite clearly “dead, wrapped in plastic.”

The shot is memorable, perhaps, not so much because of any particular aspect of the composition, but because of the horrible incongruity of its visual and dramatic elements. The viewer is presented with a face apparently at peace, the only hints of death’s presence being the pallor of Laura’s flesh and the slight blue tint of her lips. Faraway from the brutality of Laura’s murder, the image is at such a great remove from the horrific violence behind it that it sits with us in a way that is particularly uncomfortable. But more than that, the image is important for its symbolic significance, for what its very presence on our TV screens says about the way we think and the stories we tell ourselves as a society.

Alice Bolin takes the idea of this symbolic significance as her jumping-off point in a remarkable new collection of essays -- aptly titled Dead Girls -- which she read from on August 17 at Literati Bookstore. A sprawling mosaic of analysis, cultural criticism, and memoir, Bolin’s collection touches on much more than the phenomenon of the “Dead Girl” in the American popular imagination, despite its title.

PTD finds the magic in "Humble Boy"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Humble Boy by PTD Productions review

Felix Humble is a troubled man. At 35, he’s made only small progress in academia as an astrophysicist; he’s overweight and stutters when under pressure; he’s worn out; and he’s very angry about the missing bees.

Charlotte Jones’ dramatic comedy Humble Boy opens with Felix searching with rising frustration for the colony of bees tended by his father, a gentle but distant biology teacher in the rural Cotswolds of England. It matters because Felix is home for his father’s funeral and the bees seemed to be everything to his father.

Ypsilanti’s PTD Productions presents a warm, gently funny and sometimes magical staging of Humble Boy at the Riverside Art Center.

Faraway, So Close: Freddy Cole at Kerrytown Concert House

MUSIC REVIEW

Freddy Cole

There’s an interesting look that Freddy Cole sometimes gets when he’s playing. It’s not a faraway look, exactly, but it’s as if he’s not fully present, not completely in the moment. Sitting behind the keyboard, he stares off into the audience, looking at them but not really seeing them. His hands move across the piano keys seemingly with a mind of their own, coaxing out chords and picking out melodies. It’s like he’s somewhere else.

At least that’s the impression I got last Thursday at Kerrytown Concert House, where the Freddy Cole Quartet gave a pair of evening performances. Made up by Cole on piano and vocals, Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums, the quartet offered a refreshing and skillful taste of straight-ahead classic jazz. 

PTD Productions' "Humble Boy" evokes "Hamlet" while also being funny

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Humble Boy by PTD Productions

This my not seem an obvious time for a play titled Humble Boy -- ahem -- but Ypsilanti-based community theater company PTD Productions will be presenting Charlotte Jones’ award-winning 2001 comic drama at the Riverside Arts Center nonetheless.

“I love plays that are both funny and poignant at the same time, and this certainly qualifies,” said director Laura Bird. “The main character is grieving the loss of his father, but he’s also getting grief from other people about how he’s grieving. And this is a subject I’m passionate about -- that there’s no wrong way to grieve. ... Plus [the play] has these great characters, and flirts with Hamlet in a lighthearted way.”

Out of Many, One Voice: Community Sing with Matt Watroba at The Ark

MUSIC REVIEW

Matt Watroba

The crowd for the third annual Community Sing with Matt Watroba at The Ark on August 16 was not large -- maybe 50, 60 people -- which was perfect. It allowed Watroba to invite us all to bring our chairs to the flat area in front of the stage and form a large circle. It also allowed him to ignore the microphone that had been set up on the stage and instead move around inside that circle, and lead us in singing without using any amplification. 

He didn’t need it.

Roots in Tree Town: Nashbash showcased terrific country-tinged music

MUSIC REVIEW

Annika Bennett

Nashville's Annika Bennett was this year's Nashbash special guest.

Every August for the last 12 years, a bit of Nashville has visited Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown District Association’s Nashbash music festival.

Thursday’s edition of the event coped with extensive road construction around its location at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, along with threatening weather for much of the day. But by the time the festival kicked off, the weather was flawless, the fans dodged the construction barrels, and the smell of barbecue filled the air.

Road of Life: Laura Bernstein-Machlay will discuss her essay collection, "Travelers," at Literati

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Laura Bernstein-Machlay and her Travelers book

There’s a moment near the end of Laura Bernstein-Machlay’s new book of essays, Travelers, in the middle of the author’s conversation with a friend on page 163, when she makes the comment, “I’m a liar … I’ve lied to everyone I know. I lie to myself every damn day.”

Out of context this excerpt might seem to cast the speaker in an uncharitable light -- an appearance that is ameliorated by having come to know the narrator as a genuine and warm person over the course of the previous 15 essays -- but it’s worth mentioning because it speaks to the heart of one of the challenges inherent in the genre Bernstein-Machlay has thrown herself into with this book. When taking oneself as a subject, how can you ever be sure that the truth is what you think it is? How can you weed out the false from the real in the stories we tell about ourselves, reinforced through repeated use?

“I had to be as honest with myself as I possibly could,” Bernstein-Machlay said in an interview. “And that meant moving past the lies I was so easily telling the world. So much that I was telling them to myself. And they weren’t big lies, they were just the stories about yourself that get you through the day.”