Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers rocked their weekend residency at The Blind Pig

MUSIC REVIEW

When Pulp talked to Joe Hertler in March 2017, he explained that for him and his group, The Rainbow Seekers, “Every show is a celebration in human connection. We are honored to cultivate an experience where people can have fun and be themselves.” 

Two years later, the connection still remains.

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers played at The Blind Pig on both March 30 and 31, their second two-night stop in Ann Arbor this academic year. Before the March 31 show even began, people were hollering at the band from the floor and taking pictures of flower-strewn stage. 

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.”

Theatre Nova’s "Mazel Tov, John Lennon" engages with an odd couple true story

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Mazel Tov, John Lennon

Forrest Hejkal stars as John Lennon in Theatre Nova's world premiere of David Wells’ Mazel Tov, John Lennon.

In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sought help from an immigration lawyer to extend their visas by six months so that Ono could continue to make her case in custody proceedings for her 8-year-old daughter.

They were put in touch with a mild-mannered, admittedly “square” immigration lawyer who had never heard of John Lennon, though he did know a little about The Beatles. Leon Wildes would find himself drawn into the muck and mire of the Nixon administration, a landmark immigration case, and a friendship with the mercurial, brilliant, and troubled rock star, cultural icon, and political activist.

Theatre Nova is presenting the world premiere of Mazel Tov, John Lennon, David Wells’ engaging take on this true story of an odd couple who became friends in a fight against government oppression.

The Weinstein Effect: Ronan Farrow and Ken Auletta at The Wallace House

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Ken Auletta and Ronan Farrow

New Yorker journalists Ronan Farrow and Ken Auletta came to the University of Michigan on March 19 to discuss their work in breaking the Harvey Weinstein story. In particular, they spoke about what changed between 2002, when Auletta first attempted to write the story, and 2017, when Farrow succeeded. Farrow and Auletta were here on behalf of journalism powerhouse The Wallace House, and the crowd was full of noteworthy journalists. I waited in a long, snaking line to enter Rackham Auditorium and felt slightly inadequate.

For his writing on Weinstein and other powerful harassers, Farrow, along with The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Pulitzer joins a long list of Farrow’s other accomplishments: he graduated (yes, graduated) from Bard College at 15, earned a Yale law degree, worked for the State Department, and wrote the New York Times bestseller War on Peace: the end of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence. At some point in there, he also had a cable news show, became a Rhodes scholar, and is currently finishing a PhD from the University of Oxford. Ken Auletta is no slouch either, with 11 books and more than 25 years writing for the New Yorker under his belt. All of this is enough to make anyone feel that their life has been nothing but a pointless meandering of time.

Unlocking Creativity: The 24th Annual Prison Creative Art Project Show

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

PCAP art - James Alexander's The Bear and Harvey Pell's Phoenix Fire

Left: Phoenix Fire by Harvey Pell. Right: The Bear by James Alexander.

It is no secret that the American prison system is harsh, socially isolating, and unequal in its treatment of minorities and the poor. For most of us, that uncomfortable acknowledgment is followed by an awkward pause and a polite change of subject. 

But visual artist and activist Janie Paul decided 24 years ago that she wasn't having it. Along with her husband, fellow activist and writer Buzz Alexander, she helped found the Prison Creative Arts Program, an ongoing project that connects men and women incarcerated in the Michigan prison system to the outside world through art. The 24th Annual PCAP Art Show, with original artworks by prison artists, opened March 20 at University of Michigan's Duderstadt Center Gallery.  

Generation Next: "Inner Fragments: Contemporary Art by Iranian Women Artists"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Elahe Farzi

Solitude Memories by Elahe Farzi, acrylic on canvas, 38” x 60”.

Art exhibits get organized for lots of reasons. In the case of Inner Fragments, a traveling exhibit of 16 young Iranian women artists that landed recently (and briefly) in the University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Gallery, the organizers aim to correct what they see as some misperceptions in the West about contemporary art and artists in Iran.

Their work, varied in style and tone and featuring media from painting to  sculpture to video, suggests that Iranian women artists share more with their Western sisters than the sum of their differences might suggest.

Representation, Now: “Art Now 2019: Painting” at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Judith Bemis' painting Waiting for His Grace

Judith Bemis, Waiting for His Grace, oil on canvas, 60" x 48". Roula David and Judith Bemis at the opening night for Ann Arbor Art Center's “Art Now 2019: Painting” exhibit. Images courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

Continuing with the fifth installation of its semi-annual exhibition themes, the Ann Arbor Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting illustrates the vitality of this perennial art form in our contemporary arts.

Given the dramatic permutations that some art mediums have experienced in the last century -- fabrics and ceramics come readily to mind -- the transitions that painting underwent are seemingly under the radar. But this statement, of course, is not the case.

After all, it was only a little more than one brief century ago that the fury of expressionism was beginning to be felt in European art. Ultimately, various abstractions were going to rule the cutting-edge roost for all intent and purposes through mid-century to be supplanted by the playful shock of Neo-Dada in the 1950s and then branch into the various -isms that would amaze audiences through the balance of the 20th century.

Representation -- expressive or otherwise -- was always a predominant force in painting that worked itself around these flashier kinds of headliner aesthetics. And as the Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting heartily shows us, representations -- expressive or otherwise; particularly portraiture -- are still front and center in the visual arts same as it ever was. 

Axis of Strategery: "Dispatches From the Dumb Decade" takes on the 2000s with song and humor

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Dispatches From the Dumb Decade

Craig VanKempen plays the Sean Hannity-type talk-shot host George O’Bannon in Neighborhood Theatre Group's original musical Dispatches From the Dumb Decade. Photo by Crysta Coburn.

People sometimes struggle with how to refer to the first 10 years of the 21st century. The zeros? The aughts? Ypsilanti playwright A.M. Dean has put forth his own nickname for these transformative years in our nation’s history: The Dumb Decade.

Neighborhood Theatre Group’s original pop/rock musical Dispatches From the Dumb Decade follows its characters as they come of age in the age of 9/11, George W., Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Axis of Evil, "strategery," and the birth of fake news. All these things that I had put behind me were brought alive again through music and song. We were so innocent back then. 

Influence & Appropriation: Carrie Mae Weems at the Michigan Theater

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Carrie Mae Weems photo from her Kitchen Table Series

Carrie Mae Weems in a photo from her Kitchen Table Series. Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Sometimes we remodel because we’ve been left out.” --Carrie Mae Weems

I guess I would call myself superstitious. At least that’s how I think about it in those moments when I feel like the universe is pushing me in one direction or another.

I went to see Carrie Mae Weems speak on February 14 as a part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. This was my second time in the Michigan Theater in the space of one week and for someone who sees herself as a person of somewhat nerdily pedestrian interests, I find myself off-kilter when I frequent what I think of as a higher-brow spot. I’m more Netflix than Michigan Theater.

Weems, though, is a name that I have come to know through encountering her work here and there -- and then having an I-have-to-know-more-about-this-artist moment, finding again, I am looking at Weems’ work.