D.C.-area rapper Joey Blanco makes his Michigan debut at AADL

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joey Blanco

Northern Virginia rapper Joey Blanco been called a modern Big Pun or Noreaga because of his suave vocal style and Latin heritage.

And when asked about his influences, Blanco admits that Pun, along with Jay-Z, Big L, Nas, and Biggie, is one of his favorites.

But Blanco has his own cadence and tone, marked by assertive vocals rapping English lyrics peppered with colorful Spanish ad-libs.

"I think it’s doing great," Blanco said of Latino hip-hop, "I just feel as though there’s no artists that perform in English and that are killing it with the Spanish ad-libs. I feel like I’m bringing that to the game. I’m just trying to bring something new to the Spanish culture."

“Ecologies braid into the everyday" for Leslie Carol Roberts, author of "Here Is Where I Walk"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Leslie Carol Roberts by Mara Holt Skov

Leslie Carol Roberts photo by Mara Holt Skov.

Walking in a place can be a way to become more intimately connected to it. That is just what author Leslie Carol Roberts does at the Presidio National Park in San Francisco, California, where she lives. She wrote about these walks and places, including the Presidio, in her new nonfiction book, Here Is Where I Walk: Episodes From a Life in the Forest.

“For what is a walk in the forest if not a chance to fully and deeply celebrate the sauntering and reflective mind?” she asks in the introduction.

Through her walks and the months of the year, which structure the book, she reflects on ecology, experiences from her life, and stories and research on places, including California, Iowa, Maryland, and Tasmania. Through these reflections, she contemplates what nature and wild places are and what humans’ relationship with them is.

Formerly of Michigan, Roberts has covered news around the world as a journalist. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program and teaches and chairs the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts. Her first book, The Entire Earth and Sky: Views on Antarctica, discusses Antarctica and New Zealand.

Roberts will read at Literati Bookstore Monday, May 6, at 7 pm and at Source Booksellers in Detroit on Wednesday, May 8. Here, she shares about her experiences in Michigan, her new book, and her own reading.

Chronicle of a Phenomenal Night: Martha Graham Dance Company at the Power Center

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Martha Graham Dance Company

Photo by Hubbard Nash

I went to the Martha Graham Dance Company's April 26 performance at the Power Center and was blown away. (The troupe also performed April 27.)

I’ve seen the Martha Graham Dance Company (MGDC) on several occasions before, as well as many of the endless companies the group's namesake has inspired, but never before have I loved them so much. The dancers performed four pieces: Secular Games (Martha Graham), Deo (Maxine Doyle & Bobbi Jene Smith), Lamentation Variations (Aszure Barton/Nicolas Paul/Larry Keigwin), and Chronicle (Graham). Each piece was emotional, wholly different, and an example of ferocious physical ability.

MGDC is in its 93rd season, which makes it the oldest dance company in the United States; they first appeared in Ann Arbor in 1932. Watching on Friday night, I was struck by how fresh Graham's choreography feels, even almost a century later. Graham is credited with the creation of a new American art form in modern dance. Her movements use sharp angles and the pull of gravity, both of which set her apart from ballet. Her work is also unbelievably difficult. There are moments in her choreography where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: for example, one dancer did a series of split leaps into the air from a standing position across the length of the entire stage. Even the onstage pauses in movement, which are usually put into a piece to give the audience a moment of stillness and the dancers a moment to breathe, are angular and uncomfortable.

There is no rest for a Martha Graham dancer. 

Keep Talking: Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama, expressed optimism at The Michigan Theater

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Valerie Jarrett

If I had been paying as much attention to national politics in 2009 as I do now, maybe I would have been more familiar with Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama. But her visit to the Michigan Theater on Monday, April 22, gave me the chance to learn more about her story.

I am so glad that I took that chance.

“You never know what can happen with a Michigan Law degree.” --Broderick Johnson

As part of her book took for Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward, Jarrett was in conversation with Broderick Johnson, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Maybe Johnson and Jarrett appeared to be so comfortable on stage because of their work together as advisors in the Obama administration. Maybe it was because their friendship was palpable. Maybe it was because they’re both University of Michigan Law School alumni and this felt like a homecoming of sorts. In any case, it was a pleasure to behold.

Fangs and Twang celebrate a monster of a new album at Ziggy’s

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fangs & Twangs

The local band Fangs and Twang may have started out as a joke, but it’s turned out to be a really good one. 

Combining a rootsy, country-rock sound -- that’s the “twang” -- with songs about monsters and other scary things -- that’s the “fangs” -- the band has been sharpening its sound for the past four years, releasing three albums along the way. 

The core band consists of Joe Bertoletti on bass, Andy Benes on guitar and mandolin, and Billy LaLonde on drums. All three contribute vocals, and the band's sound is augmented by keyboards and fiddle on the album. “This band is all about collaboration and I'm really proud that this collaboration also extends to vocal duties,” Benes says.

Their latest album, the just-released Spirits and Chasers, perfectly balances Fangs and Twang’s offbeat outlook with the members’ first-rate musical chops. The band will celebrate the new album with a record-release show April 27 at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti.

The title track on the new album is a standout, featuring some clever lyrics over a gritty roots-rock sound. “The Ballad of the Legend of the Saga of Swamp Thing” encapsulates the band’s goofy sense of humor. The infectious “Ogo Pogo” sounds like straightforward country, with a long instrumental intro that showcases the band’s instrumental abilities. The album’s six original songs are rounded out by a perfectly-on-point cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.”

The band members jointly answered a few questions via email:

The ManosBuckius Cooperative explore gender politics and the future of libraries in "TheMBC@TheLibrary"

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

MBC Cooperative

Photos by Brenna K. Murphy (left) and Nick Beardslee (right).

The ManosBuckius Cooperative (The MBC) says the aim of its performance pieces is to “embrace purposelessness!”

Artists Melanie Manos and Sarah Buckius say this half-facetiously since their absurd performative art explores humanity’s relationship with technology: “Our aim is to energize a space with our activities, and suggest new interpretations for existing structures both in the social/political and environmental/architectural sense.”

The MBC's most recent collaboration, TheMBC@TheLibrary, took on the future of libraries and explored gender politics by disrupting the space in University of Michigan’s Art, Architecture & Engineering Library on Friday, April 12. The performance resulted in an installation that will remain on view until May 26 as part of the Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library, a “multi-venue exhibition” curated by Guna Nadarajan of University of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

The performance will also be made available in the form of a final, edited video that compiles footage from the multiple cameras that recorded the bi-level performance piece. In general, the artists work in various media as part of The MBC, including “photography, mediated performances (live-feed to video monitor or projector), live performance with projections, videos, video installation with projections, and video installation with sculpture.” 

U-M music professor / Beatles expert returns to AADL to discuss the "White Album"

MUSIC PREVIEW

The Beatles' White Album

Walter Everett, professor of music theory at the University of Michigan and author of The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology, returns to AADL on Thursday, April 25, to deliver a lecture titled "Children of Nature: Origins of the Beatles' Tabula Rasa" in honor of the Fab Faux's upcoming performance of the "White Album" at Michigan Theater on Saturday, May 11.

The Beatles continually reinvented themselves. In 1966, Revolver announced itself with a warped reinvention of the 1-2-3-4 count-off that had introduced their first album. A year later, for Sgt. Pepper's, they created another band in their own image. The slate was wiped clean again with the "White Album," not only by their desire to return to the natural state sought in their early-1968 Himalayan meditative rituals but also through their 180-degree turn from the lavish artifice of Pepper, an album high with artistic pretensions, groundbreakingly imaginative lyrics, radically colorful instrumentation, and a deep exploration beyond the limits of four-track recording, its extravagance marked by a groove intended only for dogs, all wrapped in a cover as opulent as it was mystifying.

In contrast, the plain white cover of the 1968 double album emblematized the group's return to nothingness just as surely as did their removal of the garish 1967 paint jobs from three of their guitars, now stripped down to bare wood. This new blank slate cast the group not in the austere, somber tones of the With the Beatles cover photo from 1963, but in a new light as if an optimistic eggshell of unlimited possibilities was about to hatch. In this presentation, Everett aims to show that in many ways, a post-India back-to-nature simplicity may be seen to have guided much of the "White Album"'s motivational impulses.

Check out the videos below of Everett's previous visits to AADL when he discussed Sgt. Pepper's and Abbey Road.

Almost Like Being in Love: Encore’s "Brigadoon" is a must-see musical treat

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Brigadoon

Dale Dobson as Archie Beaton and José Martinez-Chavarria as Harry Beaton. Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

The Encore Musical Theatre has taken on a new look for its production of Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon. Seating has been arranged to create a theater-in-the round with a literal circle in the middle.

Director Matthew Brennan in his program notes writes that he was taken with the idea of a circle of community, love, commitment, and, since the play’s action occurs on the day of a wedding, the symbolic wedding band. So this classic, romantic musical comedy lends itself well to a center stage with action playing along all aisles, making the audience residents for a night in the close-knit community of Brigadoon.

We feel the magic of this town and its people in this near-perfect production.

UMGASS Delights with "The Gondoliers"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

The Gondoliers and their Wives. None of them will be a Queen.

In foreground, left to right: Chris Kendall and Megan Maloney as Marco and Gianetta, and Ben Powell and Laurel Baker as Giuseppe and Tessa. Photo courtesy of UMGASS.

Beloved community institution UMGASS (The University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society) is back this weekend with a lovely production of Gilbert & Sullivan's last hit, The Gondoliers, or the King of Barataria.

Director and UMGASS staple Lee Vahlsing points out in the show notes that The Gondoliers was the product of a compromise by producer Richard D'Oyly Carte to get another comic opera out of the simmering tensions of the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan (at the time in 1889, Sullivan had already been knighted by Queen Victoria, but Gilbert would not be knighted until years later, in 1907, by King Edward); if they would collaborate on another comic opera, D'Oyly Carte would produce Sullivan's Grand Opera, Ivanhoe, and he would be taken seriously by high society at last, or something.

At any rate, as Vahlsing notes, this arrangement led to greater collaboration between the two than the rut they had fallen into, and the result is one of their best and most beloved Operettas. Lovingly staged with two charming sets and including truly impressive costuming, the only hint of modernity in this faithful production is a bit of Charleston in the choreography -- and perhaps a touch of Iron Maiden here and there.

"Orion"'s Return: Mark di Suvero comes to Ann Arbor with his iconic sculpture for a rededication at UMMA

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Mark di Suvero's Orion at UMMA

Mark di Suvero's Orion photographed during an UMMA After Hours event.

The Diag. The Arb. Nickels Arcade. Kerrytown. Michigan Stadium. 

These are among the most popular sights of Ann Arbor.

But another equally famous landmark has been missing from Tree Town for the past year.

Mark di Suvero’s Orion -- the tall, orange-red sculpture outside the University of Michigan Museum of Art -- was removed in April 2018 when UMMA made upgrades to its grounds to deal with storm-water repairs. Orion was shipped back to di Suvero's studio in New York for conservation work, including a new coat of paint.

On April 23, di Suvero's 53-foot high, 21,220-pound steel sculpture will be reinstalled in front of UMMA, taking up its familiar spot on the front lawn, not far from Shang, the artist's other piece that welcomes visitors to the museum. The kinetic sculpture outside UMMA's entrance invites passersby to swing on its suspended platform.