My EncoreMichigan.com review of ‘Dancing Lessons’ at Jewish Ensemble Theatre

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.10.17 PMConventional wisdom dictates that opposites attract, and that often, the people to whom we grow closest are those who possess the qualities we lack. Inevitably, though, we must acknowledge that the antithesis is true, too: we’re just as likely to fall in step easily with people who mirror our own deficits and damage.

Being confronted by our own weaknesses (in the form of another person) might make us wildly uncomfortable at times, but it also provides us with a natural kinship– a sense of not being painfully alone in our struggles. Mark St. Germain’s play Dancing Lessons, now being produced by Jewish Ensemble Theatre, explores this dynamic as it draws together two New Yorkers who’ve never previously met, but live in the same building: Senga (Sarab Kamoo), a Broadway dancer who recently sustained a career-ending injury when a cab jumped the curb; and Ever (Michael Brian Ogden), an earth science professor with Asperger’s syndrome.

The two meet when Ever comes knocking on recuperating Senga’s door, offering to pay her more than $2,000 for a one-hour dance lesson after the building’s super has clued in Ever on Senga’s profession. Why? Because Ever has won an award, and he must consequently attend a formal dinner that includes dancing–which he has no idea how to do. Plus, he can’t cheat by way of slow dancing, because he finds human contact way too overstimulating. So as Senga–with one leg strapped into a brace – tries to acclimate Ever to moving his body in time to an uptempo song, the two start to share a little more of themselves with each other; but Ever’s bluntness ultimately causes the lesson’s de-railment. Things don’t just end there, of course. Ever later returns, arguing that he didn’t get all the time he’d paid for, and soon, a tentative friendship evolves between him and Senga that far transcends the bounds of dance instruction. READ THE REST HERE

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Things to do around Ann Arbor this week: FoolMoon & Festifools, Hash Bash, Ani DiFranco and more

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Mark Tucker, founder of FestiFools, will bring his students’ (and community artists’) giant puppets back to Ann Arbor’s downtown streets on Sunday for a parade. (Photo by Myra Klarman)

Lucinda Williams, Ani DiFranco and more, presented by The Ark. The Monday and Tuesday night Williams shows at The Ark are sold out – sorry to be the bearer of bad news – but 50 year old Ann Arbor folk venue has lots of other great artists on offer this week, including Wednesday’s 8 p.m. Brad Phillips Family Benefit show, featuring “The Voice” finalist Joshua Davis, Brian Vander Ark, Millish, and May Erlewine and Seth Bernard (tickets cost $25). The always-popular RFD Boys on Friday at 8 p.m. (tickets $11); and Ani DiFranco at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., on Saturday at 8 p.m. (tickets $30-$55). The Oh Hellos will play The Ark on Sunday night, but that, like the Williams shows, are already sold out. (Always have to keep your eye on that Ark calendar, folks!) The Ark’s located at 316 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor. To order tickets for shows, visit mutotix.com, theark.org, or call 734-763-TKTS.

See “Yellowman” playwright Dael Orlandersmith. Part of the U-M Institute for the Humanities Living Room Series. Orlandersmith is known for her Obie-winning drama “Beauty’s Daughter,” as well as her 2-actor, multi-character love story “Yellowman,” a 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Drama finalist (staged by Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre in January 2015). This actress, poet, and playwright presents “Forever,” her semi-autobiographical one-woman drama about a pilgrimage to the famed Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris – the final resting place of such artists as Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison – that prompts a meditation about the relation between the family we are born into and the family we choose. Thursday at 8 p.m. at Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fifth Ave. in Ann Arbor. Free. Continue reading

Things to do around Ann Arbor this week (March 21-28)

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Rock star physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson – and an audience member with really, really red hair – during his last visit to Detroit.

TUESDAY: The Fukushima Tribute Concert, featuring Yamakiya Taiko Ensemble. The U-M Center for World Performance Studies presents a performance by this Fukushima (Japan) ensemble of young drummers ages 12-21, which has managed to stay together even though its members were scattered into exile after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters. Opening act is the Novi-based Raion Taiko & the Great Lakes Taiko Center Drummers. Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Power Center, 121 Fletcher in Ann Arbor. Free.

TUESDAY: Science on Screen at the Michigan Theater. Series of film screenings followed by talks by U-M science professors and area scientists. This week, “Erin Brockovich” (Steven Soderburgh, 2000) takes the screen, and frankly, while hearings about Flint’s water crisis continue, there couldn’t be a better time to re-visit this acclaimed drama about a research assistant who helps a lawyer sue a large utility company that’s blamed for causing a small community’s cancer epidemic. Julia Roberts won an Oscar for her starring role. After the film, Columbia University public health professor David Rosner will speak on the issues of industrial pollution and toxicity. Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. in Ann Arbor. Tickets: $10 (children under 12, students with ID, seniors age 55 & older, & U.S. veterans, $8; MTF members, $7.50), available at the door, or in advance at www.ticketweb.com. Continue reading

My Pulp recap of Diane Rehm’s sold out talk in Ann Arbor

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Longtime public radio talk show host Diane Rehm spoke at Rackham Auditorium on March 17, 2016.

Judging by the ebullient standing ovation welcome received by public radio talk show host Diane Rehm at Rackham Auditorium on March 17, Mick Jagger isn’t the only septuagenarian rock star out there.

Stepping onto the stage in black high heels, and an elegant, knee-length, long-sleeved black dress, Rehm – with her trademark mane of thick, white hair – acknowledged the sold-out crowd appreciatively before taking a seat facing Michigan Radio Stateside host Cynthia Canty.

The event, which ran just over 90 minutes, was part of a national tour to promote Rehm’s new memoir, On My Own, which chronicles the end of her husband’s life and his struggle with Parkinson’s; Rehm’s transition to a life without her partner of 54 years; and her ongoing fight to promote “death with dignity,” or patients’ rights to have a say in how and when they arrive at their life’s end. READ THE REST HERE

Things to do around Ann Arbor this week (March 14-20)

Longtime public radio talk show host Diane Rehm will be in Ann Arbor this week.

Longtime public radio talk show host Diane Rehm will be in Ann Arbor this week.

54th Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival. AAFF is one of the oldest (and one of the most prestigious) experimental/independent film festivals in North America and features 6 days of film screenings, panel discussions, and parties. This year’s event begins on Tuesday and culminates in screenings of award-winning films on Sunday. The competition showcases new experimental and independent 16-mm, 35-mm, and digital films and videos in a wide range of genres, with screenings at the Michigan Theater, the State Theater, and more. Tickets: $100 (members, students, & seniors, $85) for the entire festival and $60 (members, students, & seniors, $50) for weekend passes, available in advance at aafilmfest.org, and $10 (students, seniors, & members, $7) per show at the door. Visit the AAFF website to see a detailed schedule of events.

Apollo’s Fire presents Bach’s “St. John Passion.” University Musical Society presents this acclaimed Cleveland Baroque orchestra, founded and conducted by Jeannette Sorrell, an award-winning harpsichordist. At Tuesday’s show, AF will feature 5 vocal soloists, as well as their renowned professional chamber choir, Apollo’s Singers, in Bach’s dramatic and theatrical oratorio. In this acclaimed interpretation, the action is staged on a theatrical platform within the orchestra, with the soloists performing the main roles and the chorus evoking the wild mob with fierce intensity. With Grammy-winning tenor (and U-M grad) Nicholas Phan as Evangelist, acclaimed baritone (and U-M grad) Jesse Blumberg as Jesus, and accomplished stage actor and baritone Jeffrey Strauss as Pilate. Also, international operatic soprano Amanda Forsythe and Michigan-born, Washington, D.C.-based mezzo-soprano Kristen Dubenion-Smith. Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 2250 E. Stadium in Ann Arbor. Tickets cost $45 and $55, available in advance at ums.org and 734-764-2538.
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My Pulp review of The Chieftains, presented by UMS

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The Chieftains delivered a knockout show at Hill Auditorium on Saturday evening.

Just a wee bit in advance of St. Patrick’s Day, the University Musical Society brought the Chieftains to Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium on Saturday, March 5th. And if this charming, 90-minute show failed to get you in the mood for the holiday, nothing would.

The Chieftains have been torch-bearers, and set the gold standard, for Irish music for more than half a century now. One of the group’s founding members, Paddy Moloney, still sings and plays the pipes and tin whistle at center stage. The band’s current roster also includes Tara Breen (violin, saxophone, dance), Jon Pilatzke (fiddle and stepdance), Kevin Conneff (bodhran and vocals), Matt Molloy (flute), Triona Marshall (harp and piano), and Tim Edey (guitar and accordian), with featured stepdancer Nathan Pilatzke, and featured vocalist and dancer Alyth McCormack.

The Chieftains – perhaps not surprisingly, given their longevity – have a pitch-perfect sense of balancing up-tempo, foot-stomping reels with more delicate numbers. Following a spirited fiddle solo (and dance) by Breen early in the show, Conneff sang “The Flower of Magherally,” largely without any musical accompaniment, letting us focus entirely on the melody and story. Then a quick take on “Cotton Eyed Joe” played out before McCormack appeared on stage to sing the moving ballad, “The Foggy Dew” (previously recorded by the Chieftains with Sinead O’Connor). READ THE REST HERE

Things to do around Ann Arbor this week (March 8-13, 2016)

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UMS presents “Nufonia Must Fall” this Friday and Saturday. (Photo by AJ Korkidakis)

“Rupaul Drag Race” Season Premiere/Express YoSelf Party at Lampshade. Attendees are invited to wear costumes and bring nail polish, makeup, friends, and fabulousness. Angel Vanas is donating two fabulously redone-did wigs to raffle along with other fun prizes. Feel free to bring a dish to pass and donate to the space. This is also a fundraiser. Makeovers, live performances, live music, magical dress up time and more, all while streaming the season premiere of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Lampshade, 206 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti.

Penny Stamps Speaker Series presents Guruduth Banavar: Cognitive Systems. Check out this talk by an IBM Research cognitive computing VP who leads the team responsible for creating the artificial intelligence systems known as Watson. Thursday at 5:10 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St. Admission is free. Continue reading

My Concentrate feature story: As arts coverage fades, how will local arts organizations attract audiences?

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The cast of The Purple Rose Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” (Photo by Sean Carter Photography)

After having launched my career as an arts reporter at The Ann Arbor News in 2004, I had become, over the course of nearly 12 years, the only long-term staff entertainment writer left standing in Ann Arbor when MLive Media Group announced a round of layoffs on January 6, 2016.

This time, though, my name was on the list, too.

Beyond my own personal circumstances, the layoff meant that artists/local arts organizations would take yet another hit in regard to press coverage, and thus find it even harder to share their triumphs, struggles, ambitions, and events with the community. Yes, the rise of social media has made it possible for arts organizations to be in regular contact with their subscriber list – but how, without minimal press coverage, will they now reach beyond that?  READ THE REST HERE