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

Pulp Bits

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). Sources this time are:

➥ a2books.org
➥ All About Ann Arbor
➥ Ann Arbor Observer
➥ Concentrate
➥ CTN Ann Arbor
➥ Current
➥ Detroit Free Press
➥ Detroit Metro Times
➥ Detroit News
➥ Encore Michigan
➥ Life in Michigan
➥ Lifting Up A2 Jazz
➥ MLive
➥ The Michigan Daily
➥ The Saline Post
➥ WCBN Local Music Show
➥ We Love Ann Arbor

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. 

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.

A2 Civic’s "Fahrenheit 451" draws parallels to our current political "catastrophe"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Fahrenheit 451

Luc Robinson stars as the book-burning fireman Guy Montag in Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's production of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

In Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, firemen don’t put out fires, they start them with a temperature that burns book paper. 

An authoritarian government has decided that books just confuse people with too many ideas, too many alternatives. They prefer people who like to watch hours of mindless television while their minds gently drift away on drugs.

David Widmayer is directing Bradbury’s stage version of Fahrenheit for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. He said Bradbury’s fears may be more relevant than they’ve ever been. Fahrenheit, along with 1984, Brave New World, and a slew of modern dystopian stories have been in vogue in the last few years.

The American Scream: Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" at The Purple Rose Theatre

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

All My Sons

Ryan Black, David Bendena, Caitlin Cavannaugh star in The Purple Rose Theatre Company's production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

Written and taking place in 1947, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is steeped in the emotional fallout of World War II. One might question the relevance of mounting a new production of the show today: What remains to be gleaned from this 70-plus-year-old work? However, Miller’s observations on the nature of generational sin remain as shattering and relevant as ever -- particularly when staged with the intelligence and sensitivity of The Purple Rose Theatre Company’s new production, running through June 1.

All My Sons takes place on the Keller family’s front lawn in Kokomo, Indiana, lovingly recreated with an artificial lawn, antique furniture, and a rope swing hanging from the rafters of The Purple Rose’s intimate space. Kate (Michelle Mountain) has spent three years in denial since her son Larry, a pilot, went missing in action during World War II. Her husband Joe (Richard McWilliams) and son Chris (Ryan Black) have long accepted Larry’s death and grudgingly tolerated Kate’s insistence on his survival. But their tenuous existence is upended by the arrival of Larry’s ex-girlfriend Ann (Caitlin Cavannaugh), whom Chris has secretly planned to marry after carrying on a romantic correspondence with her.

The plot thickens as details arise about Joe’s business partnership with Ann’s father, Steve, who went to prison for knowingly selling defective aircraft to the Air Force. Joe has maintained his innocence in that situation in the intervening years and has gotten off scot-free. But as damning new information comes to light, the fragile assumptions on which all the characters have built their lives threaten to crumble.

U-M takes on Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd," a musical challenge and a macabre story

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sweeney Todd

Artwork from the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd.

The musical theater students at the University of Michigan will take a walk on the dark side when they present their production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Power Center, April 18-21.

Sweeney Todd is an unusual show, combining dark humor, odd characters, a bit of the music hall, a bit of the opera and quite a lot of blood. 

Stephen Sondheim, the master of modern musical theater, has often taken on unorthodox musical theatre material from a survey of presidential assassins to a grim take on fairy tales to a bittersweet reworking of an Ingmar Bergman film.

But Sweeney Todd goes a few steps further into a grim story of revenge that balances horror with some deliciously off-kilter humor and some complex and compelling music.  

Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s “Mad As A Hatter” Is A Tea Party Reunion With Old Friends

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Roustabout Theatre's Mad As a Hatter

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Whether we’ve read Lewis Carroll's books or not, most of us are familiar with the character Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. One of the more iconic figures is the Mad Hatter with his tea party and nonsense riddles. Alice was based on a real person, Alice Liddell, but what about the Mad Hatter? Playwright Michael Alan Herman has proposed that he was, one Theophilus Carter, a well-known (at the time) furniture salesman and inventor who, according to Herman and others, bears a striking resemblance to Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations of the Mad Hatter. 

Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s Mad As a Hatter -- directed by Joey Albright -- imagines Carter (Russ Schwartz) and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym) as school friends who grew up together then grew apart after Dodgson published his less than flattering portrayal of his good friend in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In the play, Carter is haunted by his literary alter-ego the Mad Hatter, who not only comes to life but also bears a striking resemblance to Dodgson (both Dodgson and the Mad Hatter are played by Jeffrey Miller). 

Ballet Preljocaj's "La Fresque" at the Power Center was arduous, ambitious, and alluring

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Ballet Preljocaj by Constance Guisset Studio

Ballet Preljocaj by Constance Guisset Studio.

French dance company Ballet Preljocaj performed its new full-length contemporary ballet, La Fresque, at the Power Center on March 26 and 27. Ballet Preljocaj, presented by UMS, was in Ann Arbor for the fourth time and as usual, the company did not disappoint. (I was at the March 27 performance.)

La Fresque is based on the Chinese myth of a man who is drawn into a painting of young women. The man falls in love with and marries one of the women but is thrown out of the alternative universe by the woman’s guardians. The ballet ends with him looking at the painting again. Nothing has changed except the hair of one of the subjects, which is now up in a bun, with a flower in place to symbolize their marriage. 

The Rainbow Connection: Randy Rainbow Live Strikes A Welcome Chord at the Michigan Theater

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Randy Rainbow

Robert Mueller opened for Randy Rainbow at the Michigan Theater on Friday night.

Well, that may not be exactly accurate. What really happened was that after sitting transfixed in front of our TVs as news broke that Mueller had finished his report, many of headed out to see the fabulous satirist perform.  Some of us weren’t feeling very good. We had just learned there would be no more indictments, a blow to those who would like to see the Trump family behind bars. But Rainbow knew how to lift our spirits and save the country: He threw paper towels into the house. 

And the very funny entertainer took a moment to be serious. “There aren’t going to be any more indictments,” Rainbow said solemnly. “So let’s enjoy the ones we already have.”