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Once Upon a Time, in a land called The Power Center…

Photo: A scene in Snow White by Ballet Preljocaj.

Every great story rests upon a conflict of good and evil. As children, we might encounter lessons from this kind of conflict through fairy tales, morals and legends. We hear frightening tales with themes of greed, lust, disobedience, and consequences that most often resolve with the poetic justice of a happily-ever- after ending. These age-old tales are an imaginative vehicle for children to relate to the dark side of human nature and to understand the power of choice and free will.

Fairy tales are not just for children however. There’s been an increase in fairy-tale prime time TV, ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm, for example, as well as a surge in live-action movies, Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, to name a couple. As adults, we still love these stories and we still relate to their symbols and themes.

UMS is presenting two artists whose work is influenced by fairy tales: Robert Lepage’s The Andersen Project and Snow White re-staged by Ballet Preljocaj.

The Andersen Project is inspired by the life of Hans Christian Andersen and highlights the fairy tale “The Dryad,” which is set in nineteenth century Paris and follows a young dryad who lives within chestnut tree on the outskirts of the city. The dryad longs to see the Paris she hears about in the stories of those who travel past her. When her wish is granted, she is moved the heart of the city, but her happiness there is short-lived. As Her true desire is not for the city, but for the freedom of movement, it turns out. When this wish is granted, it comes with a heavy cost. Read the whole story.

The Andersen Project also references Andersen’s “The Shadow.” In “The Shadow,” a man loses his own shadow. One night, it returns, knocking on his door and appearing almost human. The shadow grows richer and fatter, while the man grows poorer and weaker. In fact, the man is so ill that his shadow proposes a trip to a health resort, on the condition that the shadow can act as the master. At the resort, the shadow meets a princess, and later when the two are about to be marry, the shadow offers the man a position within the castle if he agrees to become his own shadow permanently. In the end, the secret swap is revealed and the consequences are deadly. Read the whole story.

We interviewed The Andersen Project’s lead actor Yves Jacques. Start at 3:16 mark to learn about how old ways of storytelling influenced director Robert Lepage’s construction of this project.

Snow White may be a more familiar story for most. Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj explains that his narrative ballet is not the myth or legend of Snow White, but the story of Snow White herself. He follows the Grimm brothers’ version version but adds small variations. The wicked stepmother is  the central character of the tale. He examines her through her narcissistic determination not to give up on seduction and on her role as a woman, even if this means sacrificing her stepdaughter. Do you need a Snow White refresher? Read the whole story.

We are living during a climatic time in history and our choices can be felt globally thanks to technology. Is it any wonder that artists are turning to the world of fairy tales to highlight the fight between good and evil or the power of choice? Fairy tales allow us to reach into our imagination and to examine the good and evil that reside in all of us.

Why do you think fairy tales are on the rise? What are your favorite fairy tales?

From the UMS Archives: DJ Spooky

On January 14th 2005 the renowned composer, turntablist, multimedia artist and writer Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), shook the Power Center with his multimedia performance work Rebirth of a Nation.

On Thursday, April 7th at 5:10pm in the Michigan Theater, DJ Spooky returns to Ann Arbor through the U-M School of Art & Design’s Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series. In his Stamps presentation, DJ Spooky explores the theme of sound in contemporary art, digital media, and composition, reconstructing the history of sound and recorded media through works by Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Moby, Chuck D, Pierre Boulez, Jonathan Lethem, Bruce Sterling, Manuel Delanda, and Naeem Mohaimen. Using the essays that are in Miller’s recent book, Sound Unbound, Miller creates a rip-mix-burn-lecture, using historic texts and rare audio recordings and films, to demonstrate the complex relationship between text and art in a multimedia context.

Hope to see you at the Michigan Theater on Thursday at 5:10pm!

Did you see Rebirth of a Nation? Here are some photos from his 2005 presentation at the South Bank IMAX wit the Optronica Festival…

This Day in UMS History: Bill T. Jones & Arnie Zane Dance Company (Jan 22-23, 2010)

Last year UMS had the pleasure of presenting Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, the 90 minute piece inspired by Abraham Lincoln, created by the Bill T. Jones & Arnie Zane Dance Company. The company was here in Ann Arbor for a week long residency.

Please join us in reviewing some of our very first UMS Lobby posts!

The Creative Process Behind “Fondly Do We Hope…”

Keepin’ up with the Joneses: BTJAZ Dance Co. in Residence

People are Talking: Bill T. Jones & Arnie Zane Dance Company

UMS Living Archive Interview: E. Daniel Long (Part One)

E. Daniel Long is one of Ann Arbor’s most beloved music teachers. Above,  Mr. Long reminisces about some of his favorite moments on the Hill Auditorium stage and the most important ingredient needed when creating music.

Stay tuned for part two where Mr. Long discusses bringing his students to see performances. His pivotal role in promoting student attendance of live music helped UMS form our Youth Education Department.

UMS Arts Roundup: December 3

Many members of the UMS staff keep a watchful eye on local and national media for news about artists on our season, pressing arts issues, and more. Each week, we pull together a list of interesting stories  and share them with you.  Welcome to UMS’s Arts Round-up, a weekly collection of arts news, including national issues, artist updates, local shout-outs, and a link or two just for fun. If you come across something interesting in your own reading, please feel free to share!

Arts Issues

Artist Updates

UMS News

Local Shout-Outs

  • Acclaimed composer and University of Michigan faculty member Michael Daugherty has been nominated for a Grammy Award. Congrats Michael!

Just For Fun

  • How much would you pay for the King of Pop’s glove? How about a scan of Einsteins brain? Find out here just how much these and other items just went for.

Stew, Space, and UMS: UMS Off-site

Can you imagine how it would feel to watch a football game on the stage of Hill Auditorium? Or how about listening to a string quartet in the Michigan Stadium? Just plain wrong, right? These questions are comical, but not unlike the questions UMS has to ask when deciding on where to present our artists.

The subject of venue space is an important factor in arts presentation. By its nature, each venue has a character or personality of its own. When exploring the choices of where to present a particular artist, UMS has several factors to consider. First, we must consider whether the venue can deliver practically and technically for the performer. Second, is the place acoustically right for this performer? The third and possibly most important question is does the space add or subtract from the experience as a whole?

This week UMS presents Tony award-winning Stew and his eclectic and theatrical band, the Negro Problem. Stew and the Negro Problem combine biting social satire, gritty folk with psychedelic pop. When UMS decided to present Stew, the subject of space–where to present his concert–was an extra hot topic around the UMS offices. What kind of space would give patrons the best Stew experience? We wanted a space that we could make into our own. We searched for a space that is casual, cabaret and would allow the audience to move around throughout the concert. We wanted a space that was grungy and downtown; a place that perhaps could feel a little bit like New York City for Stew and the audience. We found all these factors and more in the warehouse-like space at 523 S. Main Street, which is the former Leopold Brothers. Come check it out.

UMS loves playing with space and has been presenting off-site for decades. Here are, in no particular order,  our top 10:

1.       Twelfth Night by the Globe Theater in the Michigan Union Ballroom (November 18-23, 2003)

2.       Susurrus at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens (September 9 – October 3, 2010)

3.       River , a butoh-inspired work by Eiko and Koma in the Huron River/Nichols Arboretum (September 11 and 12, 1998)

4.       A concert by U Theater from Taiwan in the Nichols Arboretum (September 16-20, 2003)

5.       So Percussion’s strolling concert through the U-M Museum of Art (February 6, 2010)

6.       James Galway’s mini concert at the Gandy Dancer Restaurant (March 11, 1999)

7.       Shostakovich String Quartet concerts in the Apse at UMMA (January 25-29, 1994)

8.       Jazz @ Lincoln Center Swing Dance “participatory concert” at the EMU Convocation Center (February 4-5, 2000)

9.       The Vienna Philharmonic at the Detroit Opera House (February 27, 2003)

10.   Pushkin’s Boris Godunov directed by Declan Donnelan at the U-M Sports Coliseum (October 29 – November 2, 2003)

Do you have a favorite UMS experience from a off-site performance?

UMS Living Archive Interview: Joyce Holmes, Volunteer Usher

We continue our “UMS Living Archive” with a video interview with Joyce Holmes, volunteer usher. Joyce began ushering for UMS with her husband, Ken, in 1961, the same year they met and were married. Joyce shares the importance of UMS for her and Ken, who passed away this past spring. She also recalls a great memory from the May Festival of 1984 that literally blew open the doors of Hill Auditorium.

We dedicate this video to the memory of Ken Holmes, former UMS Tickets and Door Supervisor. Ken, you are greatly missed.

They say it takes a village – well my village is the UMS Usher Corps

Six years ago, UMS hired me to be their Front-of-House Coordinator, which largely included organizing the UMS Usher Corps. You can imagine the intimidation I felt when I learned that as a 24-year-old-brand-new-college-graduate I would be leading a group of 500+ volunteers!

My fear, however, quickly subsided when I realized that this was the best group of people to know in town! In fact – they are Ann Arbor.  As someone who was brand new to town (and no longer a student) they invited me in and took me under their wing. They showed me where the best restaurants are, told me about the free birthday yummies available, and taught me the feeling of living in a small town amongst 50,000ish students.

And then there is their amazing commitment to UMS! For many – countless hours arriving early for performances, stuffing programs, and preparing to transform the various U of M venues we rent into a home for UMS for the evening. This group of people has the ability to set the beginning of what we hope will be a powerful evening of music, theater or dance by welcoming and seating our patrons.

Two years ago, UMS promoted me from Front-of-House Coordinator to Assistant Ticket Office Manager. It was a great opportunity which I gratefully accepted, but I was slightly worried that I would lose the incredible relationship I had cherished throughout the previous four years.  Yesterday afternoon I was proved wrong. I was managing the ticket office at Rackham Auditorium for the Schubert Piano Trios and was asked to come to the inner lobby. I was then greeted with applause by the Rackham ushers and two large gift bags for my-very-soon-to-be-born first child!

What a shock! I am overwhelmed with gratitude. After two years, not only had word spread that I was going to be a mom, but this amazing group gathered money (in a very challenging economic time) to purchase a complete nursery set. I am so reassured that this is the right community to raise a child in. Thank you, UMS ushers, for your support over the past 6 years, for the wonderful baby gifts and most of all, thank you for being my village.

David Soyer, Guarneri Cellist, passed away 2/25/2010

UMS has just learned of the sad news that David Soyer, founding cellist for the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away yesterday, one day after his 87th birthday.

Mr. Soyer, the violinists Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley and the violist Michael Tree formed the Guarneri at Marlboro in 1964, and for over 40 years, the musicians of the Guarneri were among the highest-ranking aristocrats in the chamber music world. In 2001, Mr. Soyer retired  while one of his former students, Peter Wiley, joined the quartet. The quartet retired as a whole in 2009.

The Guarneri String Quartet made their UMS debut on February 25th, 1971 in Rackham Auditorium in a program which included works by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Webern, Josef Suk, and Schumann.

Prior to Mr. Soyer’s retirement in 2001, the Quartet performed 18 stand-alone concerts in Ann Arbor as well as two complete Beethoven quartet cycles: the first cycle spanning five performances during the 1976/77 UMS season, and a second complete cycle spanning six performances over three successive seasons beginning in the 1984/85 season. During the 1981 winter season, the Guarneri appeared twice on the UMS Chamber Arts Series in programs consisting entirely of compositions by Béla Bartók. In November 1999, the Guarneri appeared alongside the Orion String Quartet in a program featuring Mendelssohn’s Octet, Op. 20. In April of 2005 UMS celebrated the Guarneri String Quartet’s 40th anniversary season in the Quartet’s 30th appearance under UMS auspices as the Ford Honors Recipient. As part of the program, Mr. Soyer joined the Quartet in a performance of Schubert’s Cello Quintet.

Guarneri Quartet backstage with Ken Fischer

Following the 2005 Ford Honors Program, the Quartet returned twice more (but with new cellist Peter Wiley). On February 9, 2008 they performance a concert with the Johannes String Quartet. Together the Quartets performed the Bolcom Octet and the Medelssohn Octet, and the Guarneri performed Derek Bermel’s “Passing Through” (2007), apiece commissioned for them. They returned for their final UMS performance on January 11, 2009 as part of their Farewell Tour—and performed Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127, followed by Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in a minor, Op. 132.

Do you have any memories of the Guarneri String Quartet? Pleaes share them with us! We’d love to hear from you.

When the Bela Fleck performance ends, we hope you’ll stick around…

Join us in the Hill Auditorium lobby after the Bela Fleck concert this coming Wednesday, Feb 17th, for our first live UMS LOBBY event!

The UMS LOBBY is all about having great conversations with other people who enjoy the performing arts.  So while you wait to have your CD signed by Bela, check out the new site by using the laptop stations we’ll have setup in the main lobby at Hill Auditorium.

Share your views with fellow concert-goers both online and in-person, chat with UMS staff and volunteers, and checkout our special giveaways. is a new place to gather for conversation about arts and culture. Help us spread the word!