I Want to Believe: "Proof: The Ryoichi Excavations" at UMMA asks us to suspend belief

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Patrick Nagatani, Bentley, Stonehenge photo

Patrick Nagatani, Bentley, Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England R5, 1987, gelatin silver print. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Thomas Wilson '79 and Jill Garling '80, 2012/2.135. © Patrick Nagatani Estate.

Proof: The Ryoichi Excavations presents artist Patrick Nagatani’s series of staged, minutely detailed photographs of fictional archeological excavations. The University of Michigan University of Art's exhibition announcement summarizes the content of the exhibit, in which Nagatani uses photographs to present “artifacts” from the life of Nagatani’s alter ego, an explorer named Ryoichi:

Nagatani presents a narrative of Ryoichi’s archeological work, supported by images of excavation sites, unearthed artifacts, and Ryoichi’s own journal pages. According to the photographs, Ryoichi discovered evidence of an automobile culture buried at sites across several continents: Stonehenge, the Grand Canyon, and a necropolis in China.

The photographs represent the various facets of the Ryoichi Excavations project, with photographs of journal pages in Japanese, video stills, photographic representations of the excavations, and curatorial wall text explaining the contents of the images. Some of these are displayed in standing glass cases in addition to the gallery walls. Nagatani’s dedication to creating a playful illusion of an archaeological project questions the assumption that photography is a means to convey unaltered, factual images. 

Beyond 8 Mile: The "History and Future of Detroit Hip-Hop" at U-M

MUSIC REVIEW

Sterling Toles, Jamall Bufford, Khary Frazier

No cyphers broke out during the making of this panel: Sterling Toles, Jamall Bufford, and Khary Frazier talk the history of Motor City hip-hop. 

In June 1990, newly freed political prisoner Nelson Mandela made his way to the United States and eventually to Detroit. Mandela toured the Ford Rouge Plant and UAW President Owen Bieber made him an honorary lifetime member of the union -- experiences and honors that are uniquely Detroit. Mandela’s visit culminated in him addressing a standing room only crowd at Tiger Stadium. But before Mandela spoke, two local rappers, Kaos and Mystro, took the stage and performed in front of the 49,000 people in attendance.

For many in Detroit’s hip-hop community, including Khary Frazier, this was a seminal moment in the development of the D’s niche hip-hop scene.

It was stories like this that dotted the December 4 conversation between Khary Frazier, Jamall Bufford, and Sterling Toles on the U of M campus. The three gathered this past Tuesday in the Dana Building to discuss the "History and Future of Detroit Hip Hop" -- a scene that all the panel participants have had a hand in shaping.

Theatre Nova's annual panto gets goofy for Hanukkah with "The Elves and the Schumachers"

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's The Elves and the Schumachers

Sarah B. Stevens, Dan Morrison, and Elizabeth Jaffe in The Elves and the Schumachers by Carla Milarch and R MacKenzie Lewis at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

In England, the panto (short for pantomime) is a Yuletide tradition. A familiar fairy tale is retold as an excuse for a light-hearted vaudeville of jokes, well-worn comic routines, and song and dance. 

Theatre Nova has adopted the idea as an annual holiday treat. This year a new take on The Elves and the Shoemaker gets reimagined into a Jewish-centered The Elves and the Schumachers, just in time for Hanukkah.

The plot of Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis’ retelling keeps to the basics: elves help a desperate shopkeeper and save the day. But, oy vey, do they wander far and wide into the surreal and the totally silly. 

Wynton Marsalis' annual Ann Arbor appearance is always full of good cheer

MUSIC REVIEW

Wynton Marsalis by Frank Stewart

Wynton Marsalis by Frank Stewart

On November 28, veteran jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis brought the warm winter spirit to Ann Arbor's Hill Auditorium, courtesy of UMS. Marsalis came along with the delightful Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and they played tunes of the season. It was the opening night for their Big Band Holidays Tour and the house was full. 

The music at Hill took on several moods, from contemplative to stirring, with Marsalis introducing each song with commentary, then mostly guiding the band from the back row while also playing with them there. The opener, "Jingle Bells," set the tone for the night and Marsalis played a remarkable solo, his fingers moving quickly as he showcased the instrument's upper range. 

Magical & Unwieldy: Aimee Bender and Philip Metres' prose & poems at UMMA

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Aimee Bender & Philip Metres

Aimee Bender holds a special place in my heart.

Several years ago, I found myself thinking about Bender's work, a story of hers that I remembered. I took to the internet, looking for the name of the story; instead, I found someone’s dating profile, someone who also adored Bender’s writing.

I was sucked in, reading every detail.

In a romantic comedy, this would be the moment I decided to find this girl and make her love me. But I don’t live in a romantic comedy, so I thought, “I should be dating where this girl is dating.”

I followed that girl.

With this in mind, when I learned Aimee Bender would be speaking at UMMA as a part of the Zell Visiting Writers Series alongside poet Philip Metres on November 15, I knew that I, again, would follow that girl.

Washtenaw County Dive Bars: A Thorough Review

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Banfield's and Thompson's bars

Banfield's in Ann Arbor and the peguin mascot for Thompson Bar & Grill in Saline.

*This story was originally published June 7, 2018.*

A truly excellent dive bar is an exceedingly special place. Slipping in through the door -- preferably dirty and unmarked -- one should lose all sense of time and place. The bathroom walls should be scrawled upon; the darts, the pool, and the jukebox should be cheap; and there should always be the sneaking suspicion that the bartender is watering down your drinks, even if all you’ve ordered is a pitcher of Labatt. 

I’ve spent many a conversation lamenting that 8 Ball is the last true dive bar in Ann Arbor, once even making the bold statement, “If 8 Ball goes, I go.” After one of these conversations recently, I started thinking about other good dives in the area. I remembered fondly the summer afternoon I found myself at Fenders in Milan and wished for the umpteenth time that Powell’s in Ypsilanti was closer to me. But there had to be some other good ones that I was missing or -- gasp -- didn’t even know about, I figured. And that’s how the idea for this piece, in which I attempt to find the best dive bar in Washtenaw County, was born. 

After making a list of all the potential dives I thought needed to be explored (and overcoming my disappointment that Zukey Lake Tavern is outside county lines), I asked my fellow dive-bar-loving friend to come with me on the journey. It turned out that the day that worked best for us to embark on the trip was a random Tuesday at the end of May. “Are dive bars open on Tuesdays?” I texted my friend. “They are if they want to be considered BEST OF WASHTENAW COUNTY,” he responded. “Excellent point,” I said.

Finding the best dive bar in any county is a marathon, not a sprint, so we started in the early afternoon at the county’s northernmost bar:

Audra McDonald demonstrated the power of a good song at Hill Auditorium 

MUSIC REVIEW

Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald took her audience on a fascinating tour of American musical theater history Saturday at Hill Auditorium.

She incorporated songs she’s performed in stage productions, some classics from the genre, and some lesser-known gems, both old and new. It all worked together to make a compelling case for the enduring power of musical theater songs.

McDonald is one of our truly great current stage stars. She knows exactly how to connect with an audience on a personal level, and Saturday’s performance, sponsored by the University Musical Society, displayed her extraordinary abilities as a singer. 

Her tone, range, and phrasing are all impressive, but equally effective is the way she inhabits each song, not just singing it but acting it as well. It makes sense, of course, given her accomplishments as an actor as well as a singer -- six Tony Awards, for starters. 

Encore’s "Hello, Dolly!" is still looking swell

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore's Hello, Dolly!

Photo by Michele Anliker Photography

After all these years the adventures of New York City matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi are still going strong.

Dolly is now working her magic at the Encore Musical Theatre, where Hello, Dolly!’s jaunty style, catchy title song, and lively dances make it the perfect sprightly bauble for the coming holiday season. 

Hello, Dolly! was a hit right from the start. The original 1964 New York production starring Carol Channing became the longest running musical on Broadway up to that time, with numerous leading ladies filling the role that Channing made famous. The title song became a mega-hit record for Louis Armstrong, briefly toppling The Beatles from the top of the charts. The musical has been revived numerous times on Broadway, most recently last year with a smash hit staging starring Bette Midler. 

Musique Non-Stop: The 2018 Ann Arbor Synth Expo in pictures

MUSIC REVIEW

Photo by Josh Barnhart

Last weekend the Ann Arbor Synth Expo (formerly Mini MoogFest) returned to the basement of the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown branch for an afternoon of hands-on music-making and knob-twisting fun.

Approximately 350 patrons over the course of four hours had a chance to play with various synthesizers in the AADL Music Tools collection as well as talk to instrument and effects creators such as Vintage King, Zeppelin Design Labs, and North Coast Modular Collective. The day also featured performances and talks by Robot Rickshaw, Alex Taam (Mogi Grumbles) and Anıl Çamcı, and companies such as Sweetwater, ReverbPittsburgh Modular, Perfect Circuit, SynthCube, Electro-Faustus, Arrick Robotics, and more provided branded T-shirts, stickers, pens, screwdrivers, and more to the visitors. 

Below is a collection of photos from the 2018 Ann Arbor Synth Expo by AADL staffers Josh Barnhart and Christopher Porter.

Dennis Jones’ “Candyland” is a graffiti-inspired exploration of post-painterly art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Dennis Jones' Candyland paintings

Clockwise from top left: Chewy Swirls, acrylic, latex, spray paint, paint marker, and paint fragments on canvas, 2014-18; Candyass, acrylic, latex, spray paint, paint marker, and paint fragments on canvas, 2017-18; Sugar Pills, acrylic and paint marker on canvas, 2014-18.

Dennis Jones’ Candyland at the University of Michigan North Campus Research Complex Rotunda is for those who like to have a little contact high to go along with their art.

A 2014-2018 14 masterwork concoction crafted by this adjunct faculty at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, Candyland is a full-throttled exploration of post-painterly art whose graffiti-inspired abstraction is more than enough to push your glucose level beyond its prescribed limit.