Chloe Gray’s Fun Girl dance company blends quirky movement with thoughtful activism in “Girlfriend”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray photo by Erika Ruch.

On June 22 at Riverside Arts Center, I had the pleasure of attending the first show presented by Fun Girl, a new Ypsilanti-based contemporary dance company created and run by Artistic Director Chloe Gray.  The company offers paid rehearsals and performances to their dancers, as well as apprenticeships, and acts as a platform for technically based dancers to explore quirky movement while applying thoughtful activism.  

Artistic Director Chloe Gray’s credentials are extensive, with her training beginning at the age of 6 with the Toledo Ballet and continuing at the Toledo School for the Arts throughout her high school years.  She graduated from Eastern Michigan University where she double majored in Dance Performance and Women’s and Gender Studies, and her choreography and dancing have been featured in performance opportunities through Kristi Faulkner Dance (Detroit), ARTLAB J Dance (Detroit), Koresh Dance Company (Philadelphia), and Side Street Art Studio (Chicago).

“I always thought that I was going to wait until I was older to start my own company,” says Gray.  “My plan was to graduate from college, move to a big city to dance, and then eventually come back to Ypsi to plant some roots. Through careful consideration and after falling in love with a Michigander, I decided to stay in Ypsi and go for it. We have to create in places and spaces where the art we want to see does not exist. If we all take off to big cities, how will art exist in our community?”

The show, entitled Girlfriend, featured four original pieces choreographed by Gray and performed by Fun Girl, as well as four pieces that were chosen through the Ypsi Dance Swap organized by Gray in January, in which choreographers from across the state could submit their work to be performed in a show at Riverside Arts Center.  Several of the choreographer’s pieces would then be chosen by a jury to be presented at Fun Girl’s Girlfriend recital in June. 

What's Love Got to Do With It: The Purple Rose's comedy "Welcome to Paradise" offers a dreamlike romance -- or is it real at all?

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Purple Rose Theatre's Welcome to Paradise

Rory (Ryan Black) and Evelyn (Ruth Crawford) trip the light fandango in The Purple Rose Theatre's production of Julie Marino’s Welcome to Paradise. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

In Julie Marino’s play Welcome to Paradise, a young man who has been backpacking through Europe helps an elderly woman who is having difficulty at the airport. Rory doesn’t just help Evelyn to her cab. He accompanies her to her beach house on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Sebastian, a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. Exhausted, he tries to find an inexpensive place to spend the night, but accommodations are costly in paradise. She invites him for the night.

He stays a good deal longer. He rearranges her flowers. He rearranges her furniture to better see the sunset from the couch.  And just by being there, he rearranges her life. 

In a detailed and nuanced performance, Ruth Crawford embodies Evelyn, at turns feisty and flirtatious, basking in the attention of an attractive fellow as young as her grandson who caters to her needs before she knows she has them. Ryan Black is a fine Rory, thoroughly at home in Evelyn’s home and life.

Encore goes "Crazy" for the Gershwins

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Crazy for You

Matthew Brennan as Bobby Child and Megan Grosso as Zangler Follies Girl in Encore Musical Theatre's production of Crazy for You. Photo by Michelle Anliker Photography.

“I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?”

If you do, put on your dancing shoes and head to the Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter for a feast of George Gershwin tunes and Ira Gershwin lyrics.

Crazy for You is a post-Gershwin, Gershwin musical. The 1992 Tony Award-winning best “new musical” brought light singing, dancing, and frivolity back to Broadway. Conceived by and with a book by Ken Ludwig, the play uses the Gershwins’ 1931 Broadway hit Girl Crazy as the framework and then adds numerous songs from other Gershwin stage and film musicals, a few tweaks to the story, and ample room for dance routines. The result is an appropriately bubbly, silly, charming tribute to a style of musical that lit the lights of Broadway in the 1920s and early '30s with great music that lingers on.

Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories, Songs & Videos

Pulp logs

Photo by Ashley Cooper/Corbis

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.

Featuring articles on what's happening at UMMA this summer, the Nevertheless Film Festival, the latest episode of Ann Arbor Tonight with Bob Ufer's son, a rare video of the grindcore band Repulsion playing Schoolkids Records in 1991, and many more.

To the Beat of Their Own Drummer: The Rasa Dance and Theater Festival spins off to highlight works from India

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Akshara Ensemble

Akshara Ensemble. Photo courtesy Rasa Festival.

Sometimes a multi-arts celebration does such a good job at presenting its multiple arts -- dance, theater and musical performances, visual arts exhibitions, literary events, film festivals, and culinary showcases in the case of Akshara's India-inspired Rasa Festival -- that it has to split itself up just so those interested can find the time to attend.

Rasa has filled venues in Washtenaw County every September and early October since its 2017 inception, but Ann Arbor's Sreyashi Dey -- dancer and president and artistic director of Akshara -- admits the dozens of high-quality events the festival presents became something of a traffic jam.

"What we were finding is that everything being concentrated and focused on in one month left a lot of people out even though they were interested in various events," she said. "There's always conflict and it's a busy time when people are coming back to school and other things are picking up."

The Rasa Festival will still be roaring throughout September 2019, but some of the dance and theater elements now have their own summer spotlight. On June 15, three dances and one dastangoi (storytelling) performance will happen at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti, with many of the works featuring a strong feminist point of view. (There will still be some dance mixed into the fall fest, too.)

Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories, Songs & Videos

Pulp Bits, Common People

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.

Featuring a new mix of Ghostly music by Shigeto and Charles Trees to celebrate the Ann Arbor-launched label's 20th year, the NSFW debut video by Ypsi rap duo Guttatown, the EMU-graduates-made fantasy film "Pandora's Wish," and much more.

Living While Black: Theatre Nova’s production of James Ijames' “Kill Move Paradise” is powerful

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's Kill Move Paradise

Photo by Golden Record Media Company.

The list is long, much too long.

Sometimes it seems like every few days a black American is gunned down by a police officer. They are often unarmed, unthreatening and involved in confrontations with the police that should have never escalated into deadly violence.

Sometimes the police officers involved go to jail, many times they don’t.

This tragic story of two American cultures in deadly conflict is the theme of James Ijames' play Kill Move Paradise, being presented in Michigan for the first time by Theatre Nova.

In a burst of blinding light, gunshots, and the cacophony of urban noise, a man is thrust on to a stage, a bare closed room from which he can not escape. It’s a sort of limbo, where he waits for a judgment about what it was that brought him here. He is a fatal victim of police violence. He is in turn followed by three other black men into this limbo. As one victim says, it reminds him of an episode of the old Twilight Zone TV show.

And they are in a show because the audience is visible to the four men. They comment on the audience and come to believe that the audience will decide their fate. In this case, and Ijames must have thought in most cases, the audience at Theatre Nova’s opening night was primarily white.

This message is for them.

Redbud Productions takes on the power of family in the Michigan premiere of "The Herd"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Redbud Productions' The Herd

Lisa Coveney as Carol in Redbud Productions' presentation of The Herd.

Redbud Productions explores with humor and heart the dynamic of a family raising a child with special needs in The Herd by Rory Kinnear.

Mother Carol (Lisa Coveney) is anxiously putting together the perfect 21st birthday party for her son Andy, who is severely disabled and living in a care home. Also invited to the party are Carol’s parents, Patricia (Lenore Ferber) and Brian (Michael Haifleigh), and Carol’s adult daughter Claire (Katie Whitney), who takes this opportunity to introduce her new boyfriend Mark (Chris Krenz) to the family. Carol’s estranged husband Ian (Brian Hayes), who abandoned the family when Andy was a baby, also chooses to attend unannounced. In the words of producer Tim Grimes, “The intrusion does not go well.”

Now in its 20th year, Redbud Productions, offers acting classes for adults and high school students using the techniques of Sanford Meisner, which, among other things, focus on emotional work. 

Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories, Songs & Videos

Pulp Bits

Photo collage used Eck Stanger's photo "McOmber/Ullman Wedding - June 30, 1945" from The Ann Arbor News and Pulp's album cover for Different Class.

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). 

Featuring new music by The Kelseys and Stef Chura, plus a short film about sleeping in various public spots in Ann Arbor at 5 am, and much more.

Neighborhood Theatre Group Brings the Laughs with Original Sketch Comedy Show "Trending Now"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Neighborhood Theatre Group, Trending Now cast

Ypsilanti's Neighborhood Theatre Group closes their 2018-2019 season with original sketch comedy show Trending Now, highlighting the humor found in "fads, fashion, and fandom." 

NTG has always had its hand on the pulse of popular culture. In previous seasons, their annual sketch show has asked, "What is love?" (Sketchual Healing, 2017) and "Can I Help You?" (focused on customer service, 2018). There is catharsis in poking fun at ourselves (and each other) and having a good laugh. 

Topics this time around include a Klingon wedding, Grandma's misuse of internet initialisms, Lite-Brites, spoiler alerts, who is the best Doctor Who, dance-offs, how Facebook knows our every desire, #RaisingAwareness, and a rousing game of Craft Beer or Race Horse? with audience participation (it's harder than you might think).