"Border Crossers" asks viewers to consider a boundaries-free world in the tech age

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Chico MacMurtrie's Border Crossers

Chico MacMurtrie holds a prototype for Border Crossers at the University of Michigan's Wilson Student Team Project Center. Photo by Robyn Han.

Border walls are only as strong as the robot overlords who can smash them to rubble allow them to be.

Sorry, that line was meant for my dystopian sci-fi novel. Chico MacMurtrie's Border Crossers project has a much more positive outlook.

Restored “Porgy and Bess” Score to Be Showcased at Hill Auditorium

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Porgy and Bess

Left: Todd Duncan (Porgy) and Anne Brown (Bess), 1935. Right: John Bubbles (Sportin’ Life) and Brown, 1935. Photos courtesy the Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts.

The version of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess that will be performed at Hill Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 17, won’t be tremendously different from other renditions familiar to audiences through the decades. But it will be the closest thing anyone’s heard in quite some time to the “folk opera” performed just the way its creators intended.

Saturday’s opera is part of the Gershwin Initiative -- a long-term partnership between the Gershwin family and the University of Michigan. Presented by the University Musical Society and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the event will mark the public debut of a new, scholarly edition of the opera’s score. Morris Robinson as Porgy and Talise Trevigne as Bess lead the cast; the performance will also include the University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Kiesler; the UMSMTD Chamber Choir, directed by Jerry Blackstone; and the Our Own Thing Chorale, directed by Willis Patterson.

Natural Process: Hydropark expands on its hypnotic sound for a new EP

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Hydropark band photo

Hydropark blurs the lines between hypnotic 1970s German rock and 1980s British post-punk. Photo by Elliot Bergman.

Evolution is real, but it's usually something that's out of view, the process hidden over the course of many years. But the Ann Arbor group Hydropark evolved before our ears -- and quickly.

The band formed as a trio in 2013 when drummer Chad Pratt, keyboardist Chuck Sipperley, and guitarist/keyboardist Fred Thomas would get together and create noisy instrumental jams that focused more on texture than melody, hammering out aggressive, improvised space rock. You can hear these practice-room freak-outs on four cassettes the group released in 2013-2014, two of which are on Hydropark's Bandcamp page.

U-M's "You for Me for You" is a surreal, sensitive take on immigration

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

You for Me for You cast photo

U-M students Levana Wang (left) as Junhee and Amanda Kuo as Minheein You for Me for You by playwright Mia Chung. Photo by Peter Smith Photography.

Time, space, and matters of the heart converge in Mia Chung’s surreal drama You for Me for You.

Chung’s 2012 play hits on two red-hot topics -- immigration and the tension between North Korea and the United States -- in a story of two loving sisters who become separated in time and space.

You for Me for You will be presented Feb. 15-18 by the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.

Fantastic Beasts: Neighborhood Theatre Group's "Cryptic"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Cryptic poster for Neighborhood Theatre Group

Everyone gathered once all the tables had been pushed together in the center of the room and enough chairs had been scrounged. Scripts were handed out and a notebook was passed around for the actors and crew members to write their names, roles, and contact info while introductions were made around the large makeshift table.

There were no monsters or mythical creatures in sight.

Chekhov, Mate: "Wild Honey" is a comedic adapation of an unfinished tragedy

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW

Wild Honey graphic

Everybody loves Anton Chekhov’s plays. They’re thought-provoking, they’re poignant, and they’re hilarious crowd-pleasers.

OK, that last one might be a bit of a stretch, but at least Wild Honey, Michael Frayn’s adaptation of Chekhov’s untitled first play, is a hilarious crowd-pleaser.

Art & Performance: Joseph Keckler returns to Ann Arbor as a multifaceted star

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joseph Keckler

Joseph Keckler in Alyssa Taylor Wendt's feature film/video installation HAINT.

Joseph Keckler is a writer, artist, actor, musician, and singer with a three-octave range, and he often blends all those talents while creating his art. Because of his multidimensional skills, Keckler is frequently called a performance artist, which is fine by him.

“I didn’t intend to be one," the Michigan native said, "but it’s a good umbrella term for me and people like me who don’t fit into a particular discipline. ... So while I’m still not sure I am (a performance artist), the label has given me a great deal of permission to create my own way of working and to pursue certain traditions outside the traditional realm.”

Keckler graduated from the University of Michigan and he makes his triumphant return to Ann Arbor on Wednesday, Feb. 7 as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series where he'll read from his recently published book of essays, Dragon at the Edge of a Flat World: Portraits and Revelation.

Synthcity: U-M professor Anıl Çamcı creates a virtual universe with sound

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Anıl Camcı

Anıl Çamcı is a builder, but the materials he uses aren't wood and nails. The assistant professor of Performing Arts Technology at the University of Michigan creates worlds from soundwaves, constructing sonic cities with software and synthesizers.

This is Çamcı's first year teaching at U-M, coming from the University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory and, previous to that, Istanbul Technical University's Center for Advanced Studies in Music. But he's already managed to rework some of his compositions to take full advantage of the Chip Davis Technology Studio, a multimedia lab funded by the U-M grad and Mannheim Steamroller founder.

Penny Seats' "Edges" is a song cycle about navigating your 20s

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Detail of the promotional poster for The Penny Seats' production of Edges

Detail of the promotional poster for The Penny Seats' production of Edges, written by Tony-winning U-M alumni Benj Pasek and Justin Paul when they were 19-year-old sophomores.

The Penny Seats Theatre Company has a celebrated history of presenting high-quality productions of shows that may not be especially well known. Peter and the Starcatcher, and Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well... are some of the just-out-of-the-mainstream productions the theater company has offered the last few years.

The Penny Seats' newest production, Edges, written by University of Michigan alumni Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (of The Greatest Showman, La La Land, and Dear Evan Hansen fame) is no exception. Edges is a song cycle, which means there isn’t much plot, but instead a central theme; in this case, navigating the adventures and struggles that come with being in your 20s. (The musical's best-known tune is "Be My Friend," aka "The Facebook Song.")

Edges is being staged at the Kerrytown Concert House from Feb. 8-16. I spoke with cast members Matthew Pecek, Kristin McSweeney, and Logan Balcom about the differences between working on a song cycle and a more traditional musical, the show’s relevance for people in their 20s and beyond, and more.

"Ruth Gruber, Photojournalist" exhibit celebrates the brilliant trailblazer

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Ruth Gruber

In her 105 years on the planet, Ruth Gruber didn't half step anything. 

Born in Brooklyn in 1911, Gruber earned a Ph.D. at age 20 from the University of Cologne in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature, and Art History -- the youngest person in the world at that time to complete a doctorate.

By age 24, she was an international foreign correspondent and photojournalist whose life reads like an adventure book.