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November 11, 2020

Want to engage with artists and activists next semester?

By UMS Education

Engaging Performances

As theaters and venues close worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, artists and presenters are developing innovative ways to inspire and challenge audiences.

In collaboration with U-M arts presenter, the University Musical Society (UMS), Engaging Performances (Winter 2021) will connect undergraduate students with artists and activists who are using the performing arts (theatre, dance, and music) to spark dynamic conversations during trying times.

Students will have virtual discussions with artists from UMS’s newly developed Digital Artists Residency program, 20-21 Research Residency Artist Sacramento Knoxx, UMS arts administrators, and other guest speakers. Students will also participate in selected digital engagements (such as performances, conversations, participatory experiences, discussions, and other activities) outside of the course.

Regular synchronous online class sessions will involve interactive classroom activities, lectures by guests and visiting artists, discussions on weekly readings, response papers on identified engagements and readings, and in-class student presentations. The case studies will be drawn from a variety of artistic styles and media over time and geographical locations.

Class visits by artists and activists active during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students enrolled in the 2021 Engaging Performance Class will engage with digital works by the following seven artists:

  • Actor Wendell Pierce will explore social justice, anti-racism and the Black canon of performance work.
  • Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato will use song as a lens through which to process and navigate the human experience in relation to current events and global concerns in real-time.
  • Choreographer Cleo Parker Robinson, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of her Denver-based company Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, will document, in collaboration with award-winning filmmaker Alan Domínguez, the creative process behind The Four Journeys, a new work that examines the confluence of culture in México from its diverse indigenous heritage to more recent influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
  • Flint-based musician and activist Tunde Olaniran will activate a dynamic residency that features art-making across disciplines, community collaboration and co-creation, emergent technologies, and video animation.
  • Performance artist Brian Lobel, who, along with artists Gweneth-Ann Rand, Allyson Devenish, and Naomi Felix, will playfully interrogate the idea of failure…in art, in life, in public, and in private through an extension of his 2015 performance piece, 24 Italian Songs and Arias.
  • Lebanese composer and pianist Tarek Yamani and the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet will join forces to explore the junctures between Western Classical, jazz, and traditional Arab music, resulting in a new, evening-length commission.
  • Sacramento Knoxx is an Ojibwe and Chicano rapper, artist, and activist based in Detroit whose work is rooted in native resurgence and land-based performance practice. The cycles of the moon and the changing of the seasons will serve as the grounding timeline for this residency, which will feature a series of virtual open-studio events.

Course Information

Term: Winter 2021 // Course name: Engaging Performance
Course Listing: MUSPERF 200, ALA 260, RCHUMS 334.014, WGS 344.1
Instructors: Charli Brissey and Naomi André
Credit: 3 Credits (Humanities Distribution)
Class Schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 am – 1 pm (Online/Remote)

Is it for me?

No previous knowledge of the performing arts is required from students! It is open to undergraduates at all levels and across all departments at the University of Michigan.

Hear from past students

Theresa Nguyen (Information Science, Spring 2020 graduate)
“After taking this class, I’ve learned the importance of an audience and what it means for the performer. Although I was going to see performances for a class, my presence in the audience meant a lot to the performer. The audience can either improve or worsen the overall impression of a performance. I’ve also learned to step out of my comfort zone and be immersed in arts I would never go to.”

Monique Wheeler (English, Junior)
“The most important lesson that I learned was the impact that doing research on an artist can have on the way you interpret a show. I loved getting a chance to know the performers. Some questions that this class raised for me were: How important is venue when it comes to performance? Why do individuals tend to only see performances they know they will like? What genres produce the highest ticket sales?”

Karina Vallejo Vasquez (LSA, Sophmore)
“I think the important lesson that I personally learned was that the performing arts are experienced differently by everyone to some degree based on our experience and lenses. A major question that I now think about more often in regard to performances is how did that make me feel and how has it changed me.”

– Engaging Performance is made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a partnership between the University of Michigan and the University Musical Society (UMS).