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October 18, 2011

Community Spotlight: Rani Kotha

By Leslie Stainton

Editor’s Note: UMS presents Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, performing “Water Stains on the Wall,” on Oct 21 & 22 at the Power Center. Rani Kotha and Howard Hu are co-sponsoring the performance along with Frank Legacki and Alicia Torres.

I’ve worked with Rani Kotha and Howard Hu for the past five years here at the UM School of Public Health, and I think of them primarily as science people—Rani’s the executive director of the UM Center for Global Health, and Howard chairs the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at SPH. So I was intrigued to see they’re co-sponsoring next week’s performance by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. I asked Rani why, and she told me that she and Howard are big fans of UMS—Rani’s a board member—and strongly advocates for the arts. Howard’s mother studied music and taught him the piano, and Rani danced and sang, and their 17-year-old son, Krishna, now plays piano and violin and performs with his school orchestra. Rani says although Krishna’s quite science-oriented, “music has really helped him to nurture the more creative part of his brain and has really built his confidence.”

UMS and the arts are also “very much a community thing,” she adds. Howard’s parents came to the States from China, and he’s got family in Taiwan. Rani’s family emigrated from India. Through Cloud Gate (and later in the season Zakir Hussain, whose UMS performance they’re also co-sponsoring) they’re able to share their cultural heritage with the A2 community.

Rani cottoned onto the idea of co-sponsoring Cloud Gate after hearing UMS programming director Michael Kondziolka describe the company’s work—and show this YouTube video [link]—to the board during a meeting of the programming committee last year. “the performers were so beautiful and lithe and physically strong, and there was almost this acrobatic feel to them, and they had such precision in their movement, but the performance was very simple and austere and meditative … very Asian.” She decided then and there that if they could swing it, she and Howard would help bring Cloud Gate to town.

To hear Rani tell it, meetings of the programming committee are themselves riveting performances. (Maybe UMS should sell tickets.) Here’s her take:

“My absolutely favorite committee meetings are the programming committee meetings, run by Michael Kondziolka. They allow board members to get inside his head and understand what goes into building the UMS season. The meetings are usually three to four hours long, but time goes by so quickly. Michael shares what goes into building a season—recruiting talent; developing long-term relationships with performers; embracing a wide variety of subjects, different genres, styles, different geographic regions of the country and world. It’s almost like a chess game—trying to make the dates work, figuring out where the performers need to be next in their tour, how it will benefit the University of Michigan to have these performers in residence, which venue is going to work, how much preparation will go into the venue to make it work, the cost to cover tickets. So much goes into it. My decisions on what to buy tickets for are based almost entirely on the content of these meetings. I know very little, and then I’ll listen to a recording, or Michael will show a YouTube clip, or he’ll tell a story, and you feel, oh my god, I’m going to buy tickets to that. And by the end of it you feel you need a second job, because I’ve just decided I’m going to buy 30 tickets to things. It’s my favorite activity of the board and such a privilege to be a part of.”



Leslie Stainton is the author of "Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts" (Penn State, 2014) and "Lorca: A Dream of Life (Farrar Straus Giroux 1999)." She'll read from "Staging Ground" at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on Monday, November 3, 2014 at 7 pm.