Performance, Art: UMS's "No Safety Net 2.0" offers theatrical productions that challenge norms

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

No Safety Net 2020

Clockwise from left: images from As Far As My Fingertips Take MeWhite FeministIs This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription, and The Believers Are but Brothers.. Photos courtesy of UMS.

UMS's No Safety Net 2.0 series offers theatrical performances, of course. But it's the sort of theater that even avid theater-goers might not be able to get a handle on. 

After all, it's a long way from sitting in the audience and passively watching the singing and dancing in West Side Story to interacting one-on-one with a refugee as your arm is stuck in a wall during the experimental play As Far As My Fingertips Take Me

The 2020 edition of No Safety Net explores terrorism, addiction, racism, BDSM, transgender identity, patriotism, migration, and a whole host of hot-button issues through four unique theatrical works: The Believers Are but Brothers (Jan. 22-26), As Far As My Fingertips Take Me (Jan. 24-Feb. 9) Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription (January 29-February 2), and White Feminist (February 3-9).

But since a huge part of UMS's mission is education -- whether it's for young members of the community, potential patrons, or those already open to new works -- it always provides tremendous resources for people to take deep dives into the cutting-edge productions the organization throws its considerable weight behind.

This year's No Safety Net's ancillary assets include podcasts, videos, chats, essays, and blogs chock full of information to give you insights and contexts into these challenging works. Below is a selection of No Safety Net media, including the January 16 Penny Stamps lecture at the Michigan Theater by Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater in New York City, which was the official kickoff of No Safety Net 2.0.

Augmented Realities: Stamps Gallery's "Taking a Stand" features multimedia, 3D, and interactive installations

VISUAL ART

Taking a Stand

micha cárdenas, Redshift Portalmetal, 2015 (installation view)

The Stamps Gallery's Taking a Stand exhibition opened on January 17 with a reception that featured a performance by Detroit artist Sacramento Knoxx along with Bianca Millar and White Feather Woman.

Photos from the reception show viewers engaging with 3D films, augmented reality, interactive drawings, and more through the works of artists micha cárdenas, Oliver Husain, Elizabeth LaPensée, Meryl McMaster, and Syrus Marcus Ware.

Taking a Stand curator Srimoyee Mitra writes:

The collectivist impulse of the projects recast the gallery as a catalyst, a site of action and possibility for urgent and meaningful dialogue on culture and politics. The immersive and interactive installations don’t just represent social concerns from our cosmopolitan present, they delve into playful and poetic exchanges with public audiences on empathy and decoloniality to imagine just and equitable futures. Drawing on the themes of science fiction, artists in the exhibition invite audiences to time travel, blurring fact with fiction, weaving fantastical narratives and desires with ancestral knowledge, collective memories, and stories from their natural and urban environments. They acknowledge the vitality of recuperating Indigenous, migrant, and LGBTQI subjectivities and practices to better understand how to heal our damaged planet.

The exhibition runs through February 29 and includes a number of related events:

See photos from the opening-night reception by Nick Beardslee:

AADL 2019 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE

2019 Staff Picks

AADL 2019 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE

Below you will see that 41 Ann Arbor District Library employees composed 18,000 words listing arts and culture that made an impact on their lives in this calendar year. While movies, books, and music released in 2019 figured prominently among our picks, we never limit our selections to material from the past year. Not all timeless art can be discovered and absorbed in a mere 365 days, so we're like Master P: no limits.

Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Yeomen of the Guard" casts a darker shadow for light comic opera

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

UMGASS's Yeoman of the Guard

Photo courtesy of UMGASS.

Comic operas usually live up their genre name: lively songs, light humor, and endings filled with satisfied characters.

For the most part, Gilbert and Sullivan's twist on the style, Savoy operas, are no exception. But their The Yeomen of the Guard mixes playful puns and broken hearts, making for an emotionally complicated environment that is a distinct change from standard comic-opera fare.

The play debuted in London on Oct. 3, 1888, at the 1,200-seat Savoy Theatre, which was built to showcase Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas. The University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society (UMGASS) is staging its take on The Yeomen of the Guard at the 600-seat Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, December 5-8, which will give attendees a more intimate look at a play Sullivan described in his diary as, "Pretty story, no topsy turvydom, very human, & funny also."

Fifth Avenue Press celebrates the release of 9 new books on November 10

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fifth Avenue Press logos and November 2019 authors

The Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press celebrates the release of its latest batch of books with a release reception at the downtown branch on Sunday, November 10, at 1 pm.

AADL cardholders can download PDF copies of the books here; print copies for most titles will be on sale at the reception.

To read interviews with the other authors, click on the book titles below:

➥ The Elements: A Love Letter to All Things Everywhere written and illustrated by Hannah Burr
➥ Intersections by Shanelle Boluyt
➥ All That We Encounter by Bethany Grey
➥ Shape Notes by Judy Patterson Wenzel
➥ Fantastic Planet: Modern Crab Adventures written and illustrated by Douglas Bosley
Over in Motown by Debbie Taylor, with illustrations by Keisha Morris
The Dragon Library by James Barbatano, with illustrations by Douglas Bosley
➥ Breaking Through by Johnny Thompson
➥ The Planet We Live On by Shanda Trent

Lineup announced for the 43rd Ann Arbor Folk Festival

MUSIC PREVIEW

Calexico and Iron & Wine, Nathaniel Rateliff, Ingrid Michaelson, Bettye LaVette

Top: Calexico and Iron & Wine. Bottom: Nathaniel Rateliff, Ingrid Michaelson, Bettye LaVette.

The annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival, a fundraiser for The Ark, returns to Hill Auditorium on Friday, January 31 and Saturday, February 1, 2020. A combined performance by Calexico and Iron & Wine headlines the first night and a solo Nathaniel Rateliff tops the second evening.

Calexico and Iron & Wine released the collaborative album Years to Burn last year, but the groups' artistic relationship stretches back to the 2005 EP In the Reins.

Rateliff is leaving his soul band the Night Sweats at home and will perform songs from his earlier, folk-based albums (but don't let that stop you from shouting out requests for "S.O.B." -- the audience can handle the hand-claps).

Check out the rest of the lineup below along with videos for each of the artists.

The Comic Opera Guild focuses on the funny in "Follies"

MUSIC PREVIEW

Comic Opera Guild logo & singer Tiffany Thorpe

Tiffany Thorpe is one of the singers who will perform at the Comic Opera Guild's Follies. Photo by Larri Slade Photography.

The Comic Opera Guild was founded on the premise that the operetta (or comic opera) was the perfect vehicle to introduce people to opera and the thrill of listening to classically trained voices. Comedy makes everything approachable. Comic songs were common in the last century, either as pop music or taken from Broadway shows. Unfortunately, the comic song is uncommon now, and so we decided to produce a show that brought this idiom to people's attention.

On Friday, Nov. 1, at 7 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location, the Guild presents Follies, a revue-concert featuring high-spirited and comic entertainment reminiscent of the Ziegfeld Follies. Classically trained singers and instrumentalists will cross over into light-hearted music from the 1920s to the present day, from shows, Vaudeville, and even Tom Lehrer and Eric Idle.

The 2019 edition of Rasa -- Akshara's annual multi-arts, inspired by India festival -- hits the home stretch

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Akshara dancers

The fall 2019 edition of Akshara's Rasa Festival is coming to a close, but not before it celebrates with four "multi-arts, inspired by India" events.

"Dances of India: classical and folk traditions" happens Thursday, September 19, at 7 pm, at AADL's downtown location. It will feature classical and folk dances from India, plus a discussion on the historical and cultural context of each.

The following night at 7 pm will be "Music from the East and the West," also at AADL's downtown branch. Indian and western musicians will talk about the concepts behind Indian and western music, and how they collaborate to create new music. This will be accompanied by a short concert.

The largest event of the festival is "Rasa Performing Arts Weekend: dance|music, east|west, classical|folk" on Saturday, September 21, 4 pm, at Towsley Auditorium, Washtenaw Community College. This is an evening of classical and folk dances from India as well as a concert that brings together Indian and western music traditions.

Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito returns to Ann Arbor with a new album and the history of choro at his fingertips

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Danilo Brito

Brazilian mandolin wizard Danilo Brito is returning to the Metro Detroit area for what now annual performances in Ann Arbor (September 1 at Kerrytown Concert House), the Detroit Institute of Arts (August 30), and the GlasSalon in the Toledo Museum of Art (August 29). Brito (mandolin and tenor guitar) will be joined by Carlos Moura (7-string guitar) and Guilherme Girardi (6-string guitar).

Brito's new album, Da Natureza das Coisas (The Nature of Things), is bookended by two important works of Heitor Villa-Lobos, closing with "Melodia Sentimental" and opening with "Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)," which was composed for guitar in 1920 in tribute to composer Ernesto Nazareth. Villa Lobos grew up among choro musicians and said that the soul of Brazilian people is found in choro. Many classical guitarists play this work, but Brazilians such as Turíbio Santos play it with a distinctive verve absent in the others. Brito takes this a step further -- arranging the work for his mandolin in the lead voice with two guitars carrying the others. The bright, clarion sound of his mandolin riding the group's Brazilian drive leaves Brito thinking that it would make Villa Lobos smile. 

"Chôros No. 1 (Chôro típico Brasileiro)" sets the tone for the album which journeys through composers venerated and new. Works of Garoto and Jorge Santos are mingled with newcomers Brito, Penezzi, and Arante.

Brito's U.S. booking agency, Musica Extraordinaria, is based in Ann Arbor and its leader, Michael Grofsorean, conducted an interview with the Brazilian mandolinist. (For even more Brito, Pulp editor Christopher Porter interviewed him before his April 1, 2017, appearance in Ann Arbor.)

Tagging the Spirit World: The Kelsey Museum explores "Graffiti As Devotion Along the Nile"

VISUAL ART

Graffiti at the Kelsey

Top: Graffito of two horses and a bird. Bottom: Two bull heads with hooves. Images courtesy the International Kurru Archaeological Project.

The best-known graffiti in Ann Arbor is in an alley off East Liberty.

But through March 29, 2020, the most important graffiti will be at the University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Graffiti As Devotion Along the Nile: El-Kurru, Sudan explores the practice of carving a picture into the walls of pyramids and temples as an act of religious ritual during the ancient Kush period, which was ruled from the capital of Meroe (300 BCE to 300 CE), a city along the Nile that's around 100 miles north of modern-day Khartoum. The exhibition displays a series of graffiti discovered during a Kelsey Museum archaeological field project on a pyramid and in an underground temple at the site of El-Kurru.

Co-curator Geoff Emberling -- an associate research scientist at the Kelsey Museum and co-director of the International Kurru Archaeological Project -- says the graffiti includes Kush symbols such as the ram, which represents the local form of the god Amun, and a long-legged bowman who symbolized Kushite prowess in archery. There are also intricate textile designs, as well as animals: horses, birds, camels, and giraffes. A press release states: "The most common marks are small round holes gouged in the stone -- by analogy with modern practices, these are likely the areas where temple visitors scraped the wall of the holy place in order to collect powdered stone that they would ingest to promote fertility and healing."