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.

Sarah R. Baughman's middle-grade book "The Light in the Lake" marries science and magic

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sarah R. Baughman and her book Light in the Lake

Author photo by Ashley Cleveland.

Sometimes it feels like monsters are everywhere and the world is out to get you. At times like this, we all need some magic in our lives to make it better. For 12-year-old Addie, whose twin brother Amos died recently, these truths can all be found in Maple Lake. 

Addie is the protagonist in Sarah R. Baughman’s debut novel, The Light in the Lake, and she spends much of the book in the coveted role of a summertime Young Scientist studying the very lake where her brother drowned three months ago. Using a notebook that Amos left behind and with the help of her new friend Tai, Addie learns that the lake has secrets that include both those of a scientific nature (pollution) and of a more supernatural nature (a mysterious creature described by Amos as living deep inside the lake). Addie straddles the two worlds, one foot firmly in her trusted science and the other not so firmly in a magic realm that she’s not quite sure she believes in but one that might ultimately bring her closer to her late brother. 

U-M grad and Michigan native Baughman says she has always been interested in the “connection between these seemingly different ways of looking at the world.” Though not a scientist by training, “I deeply value scientific knowledge and approaches to problems.” 

Ann Arbor jazz musicians interpret guitarist Sonny Sharrock's avant-jazz masterpiece "Ask the Ages"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Sony Sharrock

Sonny Sharrock played guitar like a boxer throws punches: with fluidity and violence. Sweet-science superfan Miles Davis must have recognized this when he had Sharrock join John McLaughlin in the ax section for the trumpeter's stellar 1971 jazz-rock soundtrack for a documentary on the boxer Jack Johnson.

In the mid-'60s, Sharrock began about a decade-long run playing with his singer wife, Linda, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, flutist Herbie Mann, and others, but he went into semi-retirement from music after divorcing. As with many singular stylists, Sharrock's skills weren't fully appreciated when he first came onto the scene, but his reputation rose up in the 1980s when bassist and producer Bill Laswell recruited him to play in his avant-funk jazz band Material and the punk-jazz supergroup Last Exit. During this time, Sharrock resumed his career as a leader and also played free jazz with Machine Gun, with everything culminating in the 1991 avant-jazz-rock masterpiece Ask the Ages, a Laswell-produced album featuring Sanders on sax, Elvin Jones on drums, and Charnett Moffett on bass. (Sharrock also did soundtrack work for the Cartoon Network classic Space Ghost Coast to Coast.)

But on the eve of signing to a major label, Sharrock died in 1994 at the age of 53. While he died too young, the guitarist's reputation as a major force was sealed forever.

On September 11 at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti, four Ann Arbor jazz musicians will fete Sharrock's Ask the Ages by playing the  album in its entirety. Guitarist Max Bowen transcribed the music on Ask the Ages, which he'll interpret with saxophonist Andrew Bishop, bassist Aidan Cafferty, and drummer Bob Sweet. 

I interviewed Sweet and Bowen about Sharrock, Ask the Ages, and how this project came together.

Civic kicks off a new season with the meta-musical "Urinetown"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A2 Civic Theatre's production of Urinetown

Eeww!

The funny, punny title of Urinetown: The Musical may wrinkle some noses, but the show has been a smash hit off and on Broadway and at theaters across the United States since it opened in New York in 2001. On Sept. 12, the pee-centered satire will kick off the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s 90th anniversary year.

Urinetown: The Musical is the most important musical of the 21st Century with the worst title,” said Rob Roy in an email interview. “In fact, it’s that meta approach to the subject matter that makes it even more relevant to the audience. One is never allowed to just sit and be entertained. Authors Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman specifically brought Bertolt Brecht’s verfremdungseffekt to the show to force the audience to pay attention to the vital subject matter: our way of life is unsustainable.”

Verfremdungseffekt is a German word for a distancing technique used in theater and film to prevent an audience from getting too wrapped up in the story instead of bringing a critical mind to the ideas being explored. 

This meta-comedy is a shrapnel satire aiming for big capitalism and populism, bungling government bureaucracy and corrupt business with a format and musical score that lampoons the very idea of serious-minded musical entertainment, including the seminal work of Brecht and his musical collaborator Kurt Weill on The Threepenny OperaUrinetown was a critical as well as popular success, winning three Tony Awards and many other honors.

Mind-Body Connection: Nora Venturelli's "Body of Work" at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Nora Venturelli, two paintings from Body of Work

Nora Venturelli's Vice Versa No.51 (left), 34″h x x 46″w, and Reaching for the Stars, 36″h x 46″w; both acrylic on canvas.

In Elizabeth Smith's Pulp review of Nora Venturelli's Vice Versa exhibition at WSG Gallery in 2017, she noted that it consisted of "large-scale mixed-media paintings of the human figure in motion, with gestural lines and overlapping forms suggesting the trajectory of the body through space."

That description is true for Venturelli's new WSG exhibition, Body of Work -- except for the "large-scale" part. In an interview published on wsg-art.com, Venturelli says she hasn't "had the time to work on bigger pieces these past two years. Therefore, I decided to show what I had been doing since my last solo at the gallery. Most of the work in this show is the result of short poses during weekly 3-hour sessions."

Ruth Leonela Buentello's "Yo Tengo Nombre" evokes the horrors immigrants face at the U.S.-Mexico border

VISUAL ART PREVIEW

Ruth Leonela Buentello, Desaparecidos

Desaparecidos by Ruth Leonela Buentello, acrylic on canvas.

Ruth Leonela Buentello's Zero Tolerance series was inspired by the Trump administration's inhumane immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border and the subsequent mistreatment of migrant individuals as revealed by media investigations. Six paintings from the series will be displayed at the University of Michigan's Institute for the Humanities under the title Yo Tengo Nombre [I Have a Name] from September 19 to October 31.

While the San Antonio, Texas-based Buentello is an interdisciplinary artist, the works in Yo Tengo Nombre are all acrylic-on-canvas paintings. She asked members of her family to pose for the paintings, telling them to imagine what it would be like if they were in the position of these migrants. "Family and immigration enforcement are personal to many of us with migrant roots," Buentello said in a press release and she tried to capture the terror in her relatives' faces as they acted out moments that immigrants deal with every day.

Buentello, the 2019 Efroymson Emerging Artist in Residence, will talk with curator Amanda Krugliak during the opening reception on September 19, 5:30-7 pm.

Below is a sneak peek at the paintings.

Rachel DeWoskin's "Banshee" follows a woman exploring impulses and freedom after a medical scare

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Rachel DeWoskin, Banshee

Author photo by Annie Li.

Rachel DeWoskin's Banshee is a novel about Samantha Baxter, a woman who faces a serious medical diagnosis and casts about for meaning while acting out in ways inconsistent with the life she has lived so far. She crosses lines in her job as a professor and her roles as wife and mother. Through it all, she recognizes the incongruencies of her actions, but she does not just plow ahead disrupting her middle-aged life; instead, she both makes her choices and contemplates how they unfold.

While her actions appear extreme, ranging from sleeping with a student to alienating her husband, Samantha does not leave her life and home. Her defiance centers on how she acts within her existing family and professional relationships. Samantha says what she wants to, unapologetically follows her impulses, and lets the consequences unfold. Accordingly, the prose consists of her first-person narration of her experiences and perspective as she transforms and reacts to her major health problem and to how she feels in new situations. The plot becomes about what she does or doesn’t do, what she says or doesn’t say, and what she thinks and feels about all of it.

Writer, poet, and Ann Arbor native DeWoskin previously acted in a Chinese soap opera and now teaches at the University of Chicago. She will speak about and sign Banshee at Literati Bookstore on Monday, September 9, at 7 pm. Beforehand, I interviewed her about her writing and new novel.

Author and A2 Pioneer Instructor Jeff Kass Contemplates the Working Life in "Teacher/Pizza Guy"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jeff Kass, Teacher/Pizza Guy

What do you do?

It’s what people ask when they first meet as a way to identify each other, yet our jobs do not have to define us.

When I asked Jeff Kass this question, he answered with three jobs: a full-time English teacher at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, part-time pizza delivery person, and part-time director of literary programs at the Neutral Zone for a year in 2016-2017. During that time, he also worked on drafting the autobiographical poems about this experience that form his new collection, Teacher/Pizza Guy (Wayne State University Press).

Teacher/Pizza Guy reveals Kass’ experiences in the classroom and pizza place, including issues with service industry jobs, challenges of aging, and relationships with colleagues, youth, and family. Despite the possible mundanity of work, Kass offers poetic insights on the situations. The first poem in the collection, “Oh, Splotch of Blue Paint,” not only addresses the paint on the sidewalk outside of the school where Kass teaches but also ruminates about its origins:

…were you trying to paint the sea? A place 

for you to float in? The breeze a lovely, reassuring

friend who brings you cookies and iced tea

and listens to you without judging…? 

This speculative question, in turn, raises a question for me: Isn’t that what we’d all like, a pleasant place, a friend who shares treats, and good conversation? Another poem depicts colleagues crossing paths in the night as Kass returns to home from his pizza-slinging job to see a fellow pizza slinger working his other job of delivering newspapers.

Amidst dishwashing, disastrous delivery runs, and the grind of teaching students in class after class how to write essays, Kass pulls out moments of clarity that describe the working life. One poem describes a break during which he makes a pizza for himself, one that’s not on the menu, and writes, “Believe / for a moment / your time / belongs / to you. / Savor. / Chew.”

Within the drudgery of going from job to job, Kass is not all work; he observes and shows parallels between his jobs and life, recognizing and taking ownership of those moments rather than letting work consume him, almost as if he is both living his life and watching it from the outside. Kass finds meaning in those fleeting moments of entering and exiting customers’ lives to bring them pizza and also seeks respect as he makes ends meet.

Kass, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Karen Smyte, and their children, Sam and Julius, will read from his collection at Literati Bookstore on Tuesday, September 10, at 7 pm. I interviewed him about his poetry and work.

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.)

False Figures make no-frills, minimalist Americana on their self-titled debut

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

False Figures

There’s some irony in the name of the Ypsilanti band False Figures. Taken from a line in one of their songs, “Red Herring,” the name refers to fake idols.

But False Figures’ sound is anything but fake. The band is low-fi and low-profile (their social media presence is limited), creating a soulful, warm sort of Americana music that sounds like it might be played by friends around a campfire.

The core band has mostly consisted of Jim Cherewick, vocals, guitar, harmonica, and violin; Joel Parkkila, vocals, guitar and more; and Jason Lymangrover, bass and guitar. More recently, Stefan Krstovic has joined the band as the regular drummer. All the members have experience in other local bands including Human Skull, Best Exes, Congress, and Hydropark.

Their self-titled debut album is an accessible, engaging listen. The no-frills sound is well suited to the songs, which tend to be short and to the point -- one highlight on the album, “Matchbox,” gets the job done in just over a minute and a half. There’s a thoughtfulness to the lyrics, though, especially in songs like “Stay On” and “Out of Time.”

A second album is already in the works. And although the band has been primarily a studio project, they will play a live date at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, August 28 with Simon Joyner, Raw Honey, and Idle Ray. The show is being produced by Fred Thomas' Life Like Tapes.

The band recently agreed to answer a few questions via email.