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Beyond the Stage: UMS Community & Audience Programs 2021/22 Rewind

Each year UMS Education & Community Engagement programs invite audiences and Southeast Michigan community members to participate in context-building events, including workshops, panel discussions, and post-performance Q & A sessions with the artists. Experiences like UMS 101 and the You Can Dance series invite lifelong learning and creative exploration.

Ali Chahrour Q&A

Post Performance Q&A with choreographer and theater maker Ali Chahrour, hosted by Mike Khoury

UMS 101

Developed and presented in partnership with Ann Arbor Public Schools Community Education & Recreation, UMS 101 is a 90-minute workshop tailored for audience members who want to familiarize or deepen their understanding of a particular genre and/or performing artist in a fun, casual learning environment. Each UMS 101 workshop is facilitated by a professional, community-based practicing artist/educator and features conversation, engaging activities, and live demonstrations that enhance each participant’s experience with the correlating performance.

Ballet Folklorico UMS 101

UMS 101 workshop for Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández at Cahoots in Ann Arbor

Our 2021/22 UMS 101 series took place at Cahoots in Downtown Ann Arbor, where artist-educators Susana Quintanilla, founder and director of El Ballet Folklórico Estudantil of Flint, and Paulette Brockington, Michigan State lecturer and Swing dance champion, generously shared historical background, contextual learning, participatory activities, and live demonstrations, all celebrating the vibrant culture of Mexico, Lindy Hop, and Swing in two separate sessions.

You Can Dance!

You Can Dance workshop for Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti

Previously offered in partnership with the Ann Arbor YMCA, You Can Dance moved to the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti, where dozens of curious movers of all ages and interests gathered to learn some of the signature dance styles of visiting companies from the UMS performance season. Professional artists like Carlos Flavio Antunez Tiburcio, company director of Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández, Lebanese choreographer and theater maker Ali Chahrour, and SW!NG OUT dance artist Laura Glaess shared their time, energy, and movement vocabularies in hour-long dance workshops.

As our season concludes, UMS staff is planning for the return of our popular You Can Dance – Outside! series in late summer/early fall. To ensure you receive the details about these exciting events, be sure to sign up for our Community Newsletter.

You Can Dance – Outside! Celia Benvenutti

You Can Dance – Outside! with Celia Benvenutti at Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park

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U-M Course – Engaging Performance: Get Up Close and Behind the Scenes

Students in Hill Auditorium
Six live performances. Three humanities credits. Experience the performing arts up close and behind the scenes.

Engaging Performance (Winter 2022) connects undergraduate students directly to the touring, world-class artists who perform music, theater, and dance on the U-M campus. Students will attend live performances, talk with the artists and arts administrators, and explore how the performing arts are an integral part of our lives and the world at large.

The class will include lectures (including some by guests and visiting artists), required attendance at evening performances, interactive classroom activities, weekly readings, response papers about the performances, and presentations from students in class.

Students will attend live performances of:

Engaging Performances

These performances constitute the course’s primary “texts,” and the full package of tickets is available to students enrolled in the course for the dramatically reduced rate of $75.

COURSE INFORMATION

Term: Winter 2022 // Course Name: Engaging Performance
Course Listing: MUSPERF 200.001, ALA 260.001, LSWA 228.002
Instructors: Dr. Shelley Manis and Dr. Brandon Scott Rumsey
Credits: 3 Credits (Humanities Distribution)
Class Schedule: Tuesdays & Thursdays from 1 – 2:30 pm (In-person – room TBD)

Course Listing

By the end of this class students will be able to:

  • Rigorously describe live performance.
  • Imagine how performance asks questions about the world.
  • Identify how structural choices vary across performances.
  • Identify various elements of a performance and discuss how they impact one another.
  • Have knowledge of tools necessary to research a performance’s historical and social context prior to attending a live performance.
  • Consider how performance might be a mode of research—a way not just to ask a question, but to investigate that question in motion, through sound, etc.
  • Learn more about the UMS and what it offers to students.

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; no previous experience or special training in arts is required.


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).

Introducing Ash Arder, Flint Artist in Residence

Ash Arder

Ash Arder; Photo: Colin Conces; Courtesy of the artist and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE.

UMS is pleased to welcome Ash Arder as this season’s Flint Artist in Residence. Ash Arder (she, they) is a transdisciplinary artist whose research-based approach works to expose, deconstruct, or reconfigure ecological and industrial systems. Born and raised in Flint MI, they hope their residency on the University of Michigan Flint campus will put community stories on a platform to be celebrated. Ash’s process-based residency will continue their research of broadcasting as a concept in both agricultural and technological spaces, with the sun as a prominent source of energy.

UMS Education and Community Engagement student staff member Kristin Hanson recently interviewed Ash about their hopes for the residency, personal connections to Flint, and overall artistic process.


What is your connection to Flint, MI and how will it inspire your work during this residency?

Flint is my home. I was born there, raised there, and lived there until I went to college. It’s the classic story of Black families coming up from the south to work in the automotive industries in Detroit and in Flint. There is this constant through-line of machinery and cars in my life, spending so much time in transit for work and play growing up. My dad trusted me a lot, and I learned street smarts when I was able to go off and explore on my own. Flint really created space for me to have a multitude of life experiences. I come home to visit family and be inspired.

It’s important to remember what’s being portrayed in the news about Flint, which in the last decade or so has been a lot of emphasis on toxicity, decay, and health challenges. It’s important for me to remind myself and others that there are so many beautiful things about Flint.

Flint feels like a space that is home – but Flint is also a teacher. Flint finds its way into my work through familial stories and histories, and even literal sound bites and videos collected from inside of the city. It is part of the well-known story of the Great Migration – this co-dependent relationship between the automotive industry and Black families. This relationship is wrapped up in complexity, beauty, and challenge. Well-funded opportunities to make art at home are rare, so this will be really special.

 

You have created work centered around your father’s story as an automotive worker and urban gardener. Could you give an example of how your memories with him and of your childhood influence your work?

Almost 10 years ago I started to explore making fiber from plants harvested around the city of Detroit. When I was doing that work, it was really frustrating because I couldn’t find anybody in the community to show me how to process these plants into yarn.

I found myself calling my dad often to ask for tips on so many things: how to cultivate plants inside, how to make clones of plants, what types of soils to use, what lights to get, how to prune effectively, etc. I don’t know why it took so long to realize that I didn’t need to be going into this work alone. It was a kind of an “Aha” moment when I realized that moving into this work was about the trajectory of my relationship with plants, which started when I was really young. There was always a beautiful garden with strawberries and grapes and watermelon and vegetables growing in our very small backyard. My father was always cultivating herbs and drying them in the kitchen. My dad would play music for plants. He would set up these really involved altars and greenhouses for the plants.

Looking back at the photos, he would set up what looks like an art installation – where mirrors and rocks are sort of intertwined into the plants so that the light can reflect on them. I took these childhood experiences for granted. It wasn’t until I went off into the world on my own that I realized my relationship with plants was sacred and natural, and that I had been exposed to creative gardening in an urban context for as long as I could remember. My art reminds me of that creative gardening, especially in the context of Black people in urban spaces working with traditional and almost forgotten forms of cultivating plants. I started to document those stories and document my current conversations with others, so I could pass them along to other folks that may be asking the same questions.

Ash Arder; Photo: Colin Conces; Courtesy of the artist and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE.

What does your artistic process look like?

My work is really process-oriented and process-based. I’m constantly collecting information and stories. Information for me comes in the form of sound and field recordings. It comes in the form of prompts to interview members of my own family or members in the community where I’m teasing out information about a specific subject or place.

The process also looks like spelunking in sectors and labs and environments that are interesting to me, but unfamiliar. I don’t have any hesitations about cold calling a physicist or an electrician or a biologist and asking if I can observe their lab activity. I don’t always know how what I learn will be incorporated into my work, but I usually come away with information about how questions can be asked differently. I’m never really trying to resolve anything; the final output is rarely a buttoned-up, resolved concept.

Another thing that’s super interesting to me is the tangibility of information. I’m often carrying around a cassette recorder and that’s how I capture the sound clips in the interviews. Sometimes I capture a digital version as well, but there’s something about being able to literally touch a piece of tape – that a physical object and material represents a specific moment in a story. To be able to physically hold on to that moment means something to me. It feels like more of a connection to the person and the event behind the story.

 

Ash Arder

Ash Arder activating ‘Broadcast #3’

You’ve mentioned that your previous work, Broadcast #3, will inform what’s going to happen during your residency. Can you tell us about that connection?

I’m thinking about seeds and soil, and the process of seeds going into soil. It is literally called broadcasting. Seeds are being broadcast into bodies of soil so that they can make more of themselves and grow. What does it look like to think about a generation of people being cast out into the world to amplify or make more of the stories, lessons, memories that they know? What if I’m a seed that’s being broadcast out into space? And what does it look like when I am allowed to grow? What form will that take?

I’m thinking about broadcasting being something in agriculture, but also being a concept in communications. I’m interested in the dual meaning of things, and the ways I can create a moment of pause for people to rethink their relationship with everyday objects or everyday concepts.

Broadcast #3 is showing up as inspiration for this particular project in the way that it uses natural materials, like soil or seeds, and also uses personal and shared narratives to create a meditation or experience for a larger group of people. Broadcast #3 is a sound sculpture that plays an analog synthesizer on a loop when no one is activating it. It kind of sounds like a heartbeat. When I activate the piece, I show up with a cassette tape recorder that holds a pre-composed, 20-minute sound piece. That sound piece is a nonlinear story about some relationship between people and the environment. That story is the literal thing that’s creating a vibration inside of the speakers, that are inside of the sculpture. These vibrations make the seeds move from one place to another – to be broadcasted. Story, history, and personal and shared narratives act as a kind of catalyst, if you will, for some sort of movement of organic material.

So that work’s being brought over to this residency. I’m still thinking a lot about interactivity and performance. What’s different for this iteration are the things that I would like to experiment with or prototype. I’m exploring ways to take the project off the power grid so that it can truly be immersed on a site and be its own module – its own kind of entity. Untethering the sculpture from the grid is something that I’m going to be really invested in figuring out.

 

On the subject of taking the project off the power grid, can you talk about that and how Solar Party Detroit will participate in conjunction with your work?

Solar Party Detroit is a low-profit company that I started a few years ago with some friends. We’re continuing to figure out how we can get solar energy into urban spaces. Incorporating art into the organization and showing people how that can look has been super important.

Art is one of those sectors where it doesn’t matter what your job is, or where you’re from, or how old you are. I think it has the capacity to connect with people in a way that feels genuine and emotional, and not always intellectual or didactic.

Solar Party Detroit will act as a support for figuring out how to power this project using solar or photovoltaics. It’ll be really exciting to merge my technical interest in addressing climate catastrophe with the creative, intuitive, art-making part of my brain.

Ash Arder; Photo: Colin Conces; Courtesy of the artist and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE.

What does your ideal world look like? What would your utopia be?

I think often about non-human or more-than-human entities and their perspectives on what’s happening all around us. I think it would be really beautiful if there was a disintegration of the hierarchies that exist between humans and more-than-humans. If we were able to channel indigenous ideas around trees being ancestors and family members, for example, I think there would be a lot more slowness and understanding.

I don’t think time is linear. My utopia would be a space where time is related to experiences and emotion as much as it’s related to systems and logic-based frameworks.

 

You create a lot of time-based media art. What draws you to this type of art-making?

From a very early age, I was interested in making music. I think music is like my entry point into the way I make and receive creative visions. That just translated over to video because it was a natural partner to music.

I grew up watching MTV and being allowed to watch music videos all day long if I wanted to. In the early 2000s, popular music videos reflected a lot of experimentation in world-building. I’m thinking about Missy Elliott videos, and really, many of Hype Williams’ directorial projects.

My dad would always buy me technical equipment, keyboards, and cameras, and things. I was the friend that would document everything – shooting videos of random moments. I’m still doing that. For me, recording isn’t a means to an end. For example, it feels natural for me to record a random bird chirping on my cassette player on a random Tuesday. There’s usually no particular reason I’m doing it other than the process of capturing that time-based thing makes me feel alive. It makes me feel here.

In Conversation with Tunde Olaniran

Tunde Olaniran

As part of his UMS Digital Artist Residency, Flint-based musician and activist Tunde Olaniran has embarked on a project that features art-making across disciplines, community collaboration and co-creation, emergent technologies, and video animation.

UMS 21st Century Intern Catherine Moore recently sat down with Tunde to talk about his UMS Live Session, upcoming projects, and collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma.

Read the interview below:


Catherine Moore: We are so excited to present your UMS Live Session, streaming now until Monday, May 10. What could viewers expect to see in this session? 

Tunde Olaniran: I wanted to create a performance that captured how I’m feeling right now as a person and an artist. I usually would be doing a lot of dancing and rolling around feverishly on stage – well, I might be doing a little bit of that – but recently I have been feeling very protective. I haven’t ever performed my new single “We Don’t Want to Hear It,” and I had to decide how I wanted to present this song. It’s a chance for me to think about my voice, and use it in a way that is more intentional.

I wanted to create something that didn’t feel like I was just going through the motions. I don’t feel like jumping all over the place right now. We’ll have movement, but we wondered: What would that look like if that movement was slower and more deliberate?

The piece is centered in subliminal space, creating doorways and traveling through them. My friend is a set designer, and our idea for filming this project was to use cinematography similar to surgical cameras. Our idea was to literally dig inside ourselves and find intimate spaces that can feel warm and comforting, but also feel like you’re trapped. It creates this duality of emotions.

With our sound, we’re trying to create something that sounds darker and more intimate.

This performance is in anticipation of a record you’re releasing in the fall and an exhibition at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in 2022. Describe to us what you’re planning. 

The Cranbrook exhibition is a performance-based installation with six Michigan area artists, and this current Live Session being released through UMS is acting as a sort of teaser for this larger project.

The Exhibition is called Made a Universe. I’m making a short film that melds real-life experiences from me growing up as a black artist in Flint with surrealist horror, giving shape to the subtle brutalities of capitalism and exploring how we as humans respond to oppression.

The six-part episodic narrative will take place over a day and a night. The main character takes this journey where he’s swallowed up by a series of different portals that unlock actual superpowers. These portals are reflective of inner demons, and personal experiences. The main character has this series of strange and surreal challenges that leads to a questioning of whether these powers will be used for or against him. The project takes my obsession with superheroes and comics and melds them together.

Each episode will play out in six distinct visual settings created by Michigan artists that work in sculpture, dance, and video art.

Tunde Olaniran by Landon SpeersTunde Olaniran Photographed by Landon Speers

 

What’s your connection to superpowers and comics? 

I’ve been a casual X-Men fan for a long time. A couple of years ago, I had a conversation before one of my shows where we talked about how the X-Men are queer coded.

I realized, then, that they were less this team of heroes and more this team of freaks who had been ostracized because of something they were born with and could not change. They’re not like Superman or Wonder Woman. They seep acid out of their pores. It’s not attractive – it’s scary. They find their own family and home, and they discover that the very thing that makes them frightening or demonic is what gives them their power.

My favorite thing about the X-Men is that they don’t win all the time. They actually lose a lot.

The past year has transformed the performing arts industry and how artists and audiences approach creating and experiencing art. How has your role or process in creating performance art shifted?

There was a quote that I saw recently that read, “We’re not machines, we’re gardens,” meaning that we have different needs depending on the season and time of day. In planning the UMS Live Session, I had to ask myself what I needed from my own artistry. I realized that I needed to feel totally enveloped in this project. Because this session is referencing the tone of the script for Made a Universe, my work on that project has also changed how we approached the session.

I finished the script for Made a Universe throughout 2020, and of course, living through this pandemic has shifted the tone that I have written with. It’s influenced everything from the way we’ve envisioned filming the short film to the character development of the protagonist. I’ve been home alone by myself for this entire year, so this feeling of isolation and drilling down into the space around you is going to be a theme throughout this entire project.

Tunde Olaniran by Landon SpeersTunde Olaniran Photographed by Landon Speers

 

You came together with Yo-Yo Ma in 2019 for the Flint Day of Action. How has being from Flint influenced you and your artistry? And what was it like to bring an artist like Yo-Yo to your hometown?

When Yo-Yo was planning to come to Flint for the Day of Action, the residency’s planners asked me to participate with him in some way. I was able to drive him around and give him a tour of the city, giving him a sense of the geography and meanings of the landscape within the city. I think he brought some great folks in the community together.

For me, being from Flint has always made me want to contextualize history as much as I can when I work with other people.

Flint’s history, especially when it comes to the Black working and middle class, is really strong. This history has given me an insistence on bringing a class analysis whenever I’m working on a project – it’s in my DNA. If I wasn’t from Flint, I don’t know if that would be how I would operate. I’ve been raised by people who are focused on ensuring that their history is not erased. I can help continue to create community and contribute to the cultural scene.

Yo-Yo sees all the blessings in his life, and he wants everyone to also have blessings in their lives. Throughout his travels, he has grown to see everyone as being part of one human race, and he wants others to see this, as well. He was a great collaborator for this advocacy.

After the Day of Action, you recorded a song with Yo-Yo. What was the inspiration and process behind that recording?

I hit it off with Yo-Yo and hoped that the Day of Action wouldn’t be the last day we would hang out! Later, I was touring in Boston, and I was asked if I wanted to get in the studio with Yo-Yo, and I was like “Um, Yes?!”

I had two weeks to plan the recording. I remember sending voice memos to my recording engineer, and I asked my producer to come from LA to Boston for the day. He created the session for our recording in the airport – you don’t get Yo-Yo for more than three hours, and I wanted to make the most of the session.

Yo-Yo and I talked on the phone about what we wanted to say with the song. I wanted to make sure that he could speak through my lyrics. In our conversation, he said that as he got older and further into his career, he wanted to be able to bring as many people into his space of connection and love as possible. I was fascinated and inspired by his ideas, and it gave me a great idea about the chord progression and shaping the tone.

I was trying to create a humming chant that felt like a meditation. Yo-Yo played over and over the progression. He played for two hours and we recorded all of it – it was so beautiful. As a vocalist, I had never felt an emotional connection like that to an instrument.

Months later, I puzzle-pieced his recordings together with lyrics that spoke to my conversation with Yo-Yo about how fleeting time is. The song is about reflection, and knowing that you’ve done something worthy of the life that you’ve been able to have.

Yo-Yo Ma and Tunde OlaniranYo-Yo Ma and Tunde Olaniran at the Flint Day of Action, 2019

 

You and Yo-Yo are very different artists. What was it like to collaborate with an artist who often works in such a different genre? 

I didn’t grow up singing in any sort of tradition – church, choir, anything. Sometimes these opportunities can be a benefit.

When working outside my usual genre, having a collaborator between me and other artists can help translate my ideas to their traditions so that we can best work together. When I was recording with Yo-Yo, our engineer was amazing at working out string arrangements, which was something I would not have been able to do.

When you’re an indie artist, there’s pressure to do and be everything at once. That’s why I like working with specialists, because they’re able to bring ideas that I would have never been able to come up with, and in turn, I’m able to enrich their practice. We are able to learn from each other, and support each other’s artistry. 

Can you describe your artistic process?

The mixtape is a great example of my process. I wanted to do something that was unrelated to the record I’m recording and was fun and for myself.

For me, the mixtape was a way to connect with people after being alone for most of this year. I started hitting up artists that I admired and people that I’ve always wanted to write for. I started having all these collaborative zoom calls with artists.

It’s been a lot of trial and error, and I’ve learned how to be comfortable and get something out of a very sterile format. Designing an artistic process is unique to the person and situation, but safety and comfort are always necessary. “Studio Granny” was my nickname because I’d always bring a bag full of snacks and cough drops and tissues to sessions to make sure that everyone was comfortable in the space that they were working in. People need to feel safe in your space, whether virtual or real.

Before we start creating. I always ask, “Why are we doing this?” because that really shapes the process.

As I create, I try to also ask, “Is the spell working?” Good art is like a spell that’s being cast. For me, that’s “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B. No matter where that song was played people were entranced by it. It transforms spaces, reality, people.

Tunde OlaniranTunde Olaniran Photographed by Steven Piper

 

What are your post-pandemic dream plans for future performances and collaborations? 

I have no idea what the future will look like as far as performance goes, and I’m trying my best to not cling to any sort of semblance of the past.

With the film I’m currently creating, I’d love for that to open doors to more film-making. I’m currently working on a TV pilot script right now with someone that’s connected to this project, and I’m learning a lot about the pitching process.

I’d also love to be working for other artists and producers more. There are artists on this mixtape that I’d love to be directing their Grammy performance one day.

All I want is to make more music that would connect with other people in whatever way possible. Of course, I want to keep being ambitious with how my music is performed, but that’s my main goal.

 

(This interview was edited for clarity)

Introducing Sacramento Knoxx

Scramento Knoxx

UMS is pleased to welcome Sacramento Knoxx as this season’s Education and Community Engagement Research Residency Artist. He is a founding member of the Aadizookaan, a dynamic collective of creatives who, guided by ancestral indigenous-based knowledge systems, tell uplifting cultural stories through multidisciplinary art and music.

In this residency, Knoxx will base his work on Anishinaabe teachings to explore themes of environmental justice, exploitation, and the connection between the spirit and the land. The winter solstice, December 21, marks the first performance of the residency, Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon), where Knoxx will invite audiences to meditate on the changing seasons over Zoom and be part of the creation of a new piece of music. Register for the event

UMS 21st Century Intern Catherine Moore recently sat down with Knoxx to talk about his artistic practice and hopes for the residency. Read the interview below:


What are you most looking forward to in this residency?

I’m most looking forward to the creative process. I want to bring Anishinaabe teachings into this phase of winter, as traditionally that’s when a lot of stories get told and shared. It’s in alignment with Anishinaabe cultural ways and lifestyles, and it feels amazing to share it with others. It’s all about creating the magic in the music, because sometimes when you’re in the studio by yourself, the magic stays there. This is a good opportunity to show the ingredients and to share the entire process, and uncover gems for everyone to share in.

The winter solstice is coming up, which is a ceremony time and seen as the final day to take care of one another. It’s the moment where the poles shift. To put this residency in the context of all this and sharing it with others as a young person with the grit of Detroit, it puts a lot of perspective on why these teachings are important and meaningful now.

 

The name of your organization you founded, Aadizookaan, means “the sacred spirit of the story.” Why do you think it’s important to share these sacred stories through this residency, and why is it a guiding principle of your organization?

I wanted to create something for myself that combined storytelling, language, spirit, art. I believe that I am assisting the telling of this sacred story, creating a framework for sharing these traditions. My ultimate goal is to keep the sacred spirit of the story going. I think of it as crowd-surfing – right now it’s my turn, and I have to pass it on. It’s a gift to be able to share my perspective and my understanding. I can provide these stories to others to interpret as they need, so they can continue to pass these teachings on.

 

In this year, there has been an increased reliance on nature and finding peace in change. Your UMS residency performances revolve around the Lunar Calendar, the first performance occurring on the evening of the Winter Solstice (Mon Dec 21). What do you think is the significance of reflecting on the lunar calendar and change of seasons, especially now?

This speaks to environmental justice and the sacredness of our land. We all do our efforts to take care of it, but we’re also all part of systems that exploit it. That is the essence of the effects of colonialism, that it’s a disconnect between the body, mind, and soul, from the land.

The land is our family member, we’re all connected to specific areas and we must respect the land that we live on because it supports us. Native folks were some of the first in this area to be stewards for the protection of land and work through social problems and exploitation because connecting with the earth is a part of our lifeway.

We have to ask ourselves, “What is my relationship with this land, my family member?” We need this connection with the land, and there is a grounding nature to being refreshed by taking a break from the monotony of looking at screens and working all the time. With COVID, I’ve noticed a new wave of people connecting with the universe and nature. I want to be able to provide these people with the Anishinaabe teachings to help guide these connections and push them toward justice.

 

Your recent album is called The Winter Tried To Kill Me: Sad nDn Love Songs. As you begin to craft another piece about winter and your relationship with it, what nuances are you bringing? How does this tie in with approaching the winter again, and creating your new piece for this residency?

That project was never planned. To me, it was just therapy. I have dealt with a lot of trauma in this time of winter; it always surfaces, and I never catch it. The project stemmed from needing to be raw and vulnerable and reconnect to these Anishinaabe teachings in a different way.

The Anishinaabe teachings tell us to prepare for the winter because the winter is a medicine. It’s going to calm everything down. There’s a teaching about the winter. It says that “the Winter tried to kill the Anishinaabe people because they were being greedy and wouldn’t slow down and follow the natural progression of life.” This story spoke to me because I was being hurt by not facing certain things in my life. This winter will be amazing because I used to keep all this hidden, but now I am comfortable with my struggles, and I feel a new wisdom.

 

What do you hope the audience gets out of these Anishinaabe stories and teachings?

The two important elements of Anishinaabe teachings are “being with nature” and “undoing and reclaiming.” With the history of colonization in this country, to practice “native” things and religion was illegal up until 1978. The Civil Rights movement, the efforts of different cultural groups, and the American Indian movement pushed for policies that helped these Native folks practice traditional lifeways. The older people before me reclaimed these practices and instilled it in me as a youth, and I grabbed it and continue to evolve and shape these teachings and ways of life.

What’s most critical in preserving these lifeways is showing people what native people look like in the future. Most depictions of Native American art and history are in a past context. I embrace the futurism of creating and portraying new traditions and new ceremonies that hold on to the things of the past. This residency is part performance, part recording and archiving, and part processing and planning. It’s the planning of future ceremonies that are representative of these Anishinaabe teachings.

 

Your work is grounded in indigenous knowledge systems and environmental justice. How do you act on that in your creative process, and in your everyday life? How do you want your audience to incorporate these teachings into their everyday lives?

When I see people that have no prior knowledge of indigenous knowledge systems, I have to ask, “how I can pull them in the conversation or the work in a way that’s genuine and fun?” With work surrounding social movements and justice, it becomes easy to get caught up in the excitement of the protest, but difficult to know what to do next. That’s where the Anishinaabe teachings come in. The Anishinaabe teach that people should “come as they are.” Then, through visits, you learn who this person is and see where they fit into systems.

When I rap, there’s a lot of concepts I realized I have to explain before or after the song. With visuals, I’m able to help decode these lyrics and create a dynamic story-telling experience. As I’m creating this residency work, I’m paying attention to who’s watching, and how they’re going to utilize it. But I want to bring more people in. I think backward a lot – I think of my end goal and what I want people to come away with, and I shape my creative process around that.

 

The root of your work and essence as an artist and Anishinaabe storyteller is engaging with your audience. How are you adapting to our new virtual performance world?

I’ve done a few virtual performances, and I’ve noticed that the pressure’s not there like it is when you’re about to go on stage. I think it’s because you don’t feel the spirits of the audience in the room. It’s almost beneficial for me, because whenever I perform, I get nervous, but you miss the magic of that pressure dissolving away when you connect with your audience.

I’m excited to be able to sample the textures of the Zoom call during the residency performance because that is totally unique to virtual performance. It’s experimentation in the limitation and exploring.

 

As you said earlier, reflecting on the winter is a highly vulnerable process for you, and is seen as very restorative in Anishinaabe teachings. What advice would you give to your audience on how to be vulnerable and engage with your work?

There are certain animal relatives that fought the winter for the Anishinaabe people. There is a cycle of life from being a baby, to growing old, to passing away, to returning to the earth. When you make your rounds, there’s this North-Winter spirit that is wise because it’s traveled through this entire circle.

I’m going to share this story with the audience. The story of these animals and plants that stood up and protected the Anishinaabe people when the winter said, “I’m going to kill everybody, I’m going to make everything cold.” Obviously now we can control the elements with electricity and heat. But through looking at the moon time and feeling the connection to the natural world and nature, I hope to create a feeling and appreciation for the spirits that surround us is important in this moment. The snow and the cold help us remember that we have to keep our lifeways grounded and remind us of the teaching of the North.

 

(This interview was edited for clarity)

 

The UMS Research Residency Program is made possible through generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Want to engage with artists and activists next semester?

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).

Meet the 2020/21 Season 21st Century Artist Interns

Each year, UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance pair students with an internship working for a dance, theater, or music ensemble that UMS will present in its season. In the 2020/21 Season, they will be working directly with UMS staff and Digital Residency Artists.

The 21st Century Artist Internship is a highly competitive program developed to prepare students for new demands that working artists face in the contemporary marketplace. In addition to generating outstanding creative work, today’s artists are also tasked with reaching potential audiences in innovative ways. This unique program provides real-world work experience and professional connections to help develop these skills within the context of UMS’s programming.

The 21st Century Artist Internship program is made possible in part by the Jay Ptashek and Karen Elizaga Family.

This Year’s Interns

Kristin HansonKristin Hanson

Class of 2022
Major: Dance
Minor: Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship
Focus of Internship: UMS Performance Playground

Kristin Hanson is currently a student at the University of Michigan pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. When she’s not in the studio, she also studies Performing Arts Management and History of Art. She is currently President of Dance Student Assembly and is producing a dance choreography showcase for Arts In Color, an organization focused on DEI within dance. As a dancer, Kristin has been fortunate enough to train with Marcat Dance in Spain, BAIRA MVMNT/PHLOSPHY in Detroit, and DanceWorks Chicago. She has performed in original works by Joshua Peugh, Joel Valentin-Martinez, Robin Wilson, and Kelly Hirina all over Ann Arbor and Chicago. Kristin has also presented her own choreography at the American College Dance Association conference and collaborated with Red Shoe Company for Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner Ballet.

As an arts administrator, Kristin has worked for University Musical Society as an Education and Community Engagement student staff member and has interned in the offices of DanceWorks Chicago and the Detroit Dance City Festival. Kristin has even performed as a multitude of princesses for the Southeast Michigan company, Crowning Jewel Productions. She is passionate about interdisciplinary collaboration and loves supporting artists through arts administration.

Catherine MooreCatherine Moore

Class of 2022
Major: Choral Music Education
Minor: Performing Arts Management & Entrepreneurship
Focus of Internship: Marketing/Digital Artist Residencies

Catherine Moore, from Westfield, NJ, is a junior majoring in Choral Music Education, with a minor in Performing Arts Management & Entrepreneurship. She is a passionate advocate for diversity in the arts, and this is central to her work as a performer and educator. She currently works as a Communications and Program Assistant for the Arts Alliance, and as the Media Manager for Connecticut Summerfest. She loves to teach piano and voice lessons, run and practice yoga, and is a section leader at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor. Catherine is excited to help bring virtual arts programming to a now global audience with the UMS Marketing Team.

Sammy SussmanSammy Sussman

Class of 2022 (currently on gap year)
Major: music composition
Minor: musical theater composition
Focus of Internship: Tarek Yamani and Spektral String Quartet

Sammy is a composer, bassist and investigative reporter from Bedford Hills, NY. Though currently on a gap year, Sammy plans on returning to U-M for his senior year in September 2021. As a composer, Sammy’s compositions have been recognized by the American Composers Forum, the Foundation for Modern Music and the National Association for Music Education. His music also received an honorable mention in the New York Philharmonic’s New World Composition Challenge. Recent composition projects include a full-length musical, “Diseducated,” with book, music & lyrics by Sammy Sussman and Allison Taylor.

As a reporter, Sammy has written for The Michigan Daily, Bridge Michigan and VAN. His investigative reporting has been featured in the Columbia Journalism Review and the Detroit Free Press‘ year-ending series “This journalism made us jealous in 2018.” Over the summer, Sammy began writing a book about his great-grandfather, an Austrian Jewish refugee who spent the year before the Anschluss reporting on the rise of Austrian Nazism for a Belgian newspaper under a Belgian pen name. Excerpts from this book will soon appear in The Detroit Jewish News and The Michigan Daily, among other outlets.

Announcing the 2020 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

UMS and the DTE Energy Foundation are pleased to honor Thurston High School English teacher Rachel Bomphray as the 2020 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year.

The award recognizes and celebrates educators who value the importance of arts education and create a culture for the arts to flourish in their school communities.

Ms. Bomphray has worked over the past four years to grow a poetry program at Thurston High School, organizing opportunities for her students to work with the University of Michigan on collaborative creating writing sessions. Using the creative arts as a catalyst, she organizes trips to the U-M campus where her students get to work on projects with U-M students, learn to attend performances with a critical eye, and imagine their future as college students.

Ms. Bomphray goes above and beyond her call of duty, not only helping her students learn writing skills but developing the whole person and widening their view of the world, themselves, and their place in it.

Bomphray was nominated through a public nomination process. As part of the award, UMS will provide complimentary tickets and transportation for Ms. Bomphray to bring one class to a UMS School Day Performance next season, when in-person performances and school field trips are expected to return, additional complimentary tickets to a mainstage UMS performance, and a $200 award honorarium. UMS will also work with Ms. Bomphray to bring a UMS touring artist to Thurston for a class visit or school assembly.

Download Full Press Release

Bringing the Community Together: A Profile of UMS Community Partners

In the 2019/20 season, UMS was fortunate to collaborate with over 30 community partners, and over the past few weeks our Education and Community Engagement team has been actively checking in with them. We were amazed to hear how our community partners have adjusted to these tough times and how they are adapting their operations in order to keep serving the Southeast Michigan community. Here are a few of their stories:

Flint School of Performing Arts

Flint School of Performing Arts

Flint School of Performing Arts (FSPA) has moved approximately 75% of instruction online, and has increased its social media presence by including more content generated by students, faculty, and FSPA alumni.

Normally, FSPA serves nearly 4,000 people annually through dance and music lessons, classes, performance ensembles, and music therapy, both on-site at the Flint Institute of Music and at locations throughout Flint and Genesee County. For decades, FSPA has worked to increase accessibility in the arts for traditionally underserved populations by developing culturally sensitive pedagogy and through tuition assistance programs. With the COVID-19 crisis, their focus has shifted to making sure that their teachers have the necessary training and equipment to instruct virtually and that their students have access to technology so they can continue to learn.

The crisis is exacerbating the gap between those with resources and those without, whether because of a lack of technology or heightened financial need. FSPA is currently creating a new fund to support their students’ needs beyond tuition, such as repairing a bow, purchasing pointe shoes, or procuring reeds for wind instruments.

Check out their pages on social media to see how students and teachers are connecting in very creative ways! Facebook. Twitter. Instagram.

 

Riverside Arts Center

Riverside Arts Center

Riverside Arts Center (RAC), an accessible facility that serves as a hub for a variety of artistic ventures, has developed a number of online resources to empower the Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County community during the crisis. They have created an online gallery entitled PRESENT, consisting of 99 images by 26 artists; digitized their creativity toolkit; and are planning to host a new virtual leadership series and offer free online classes to spark creativity.

Typically, RAC supports the creative community in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County, and the surrounding area by providing affordable spaces for events, offering visual arts and dance classes, presenting local theater companies, hosting civic/social events, and curating thought-provoking art in their community art gallery. They also have a K-12 program that places teaching artists in Ypsilanti Community Schools.

Since the pandemic, RAC’s biggest challenge has been financial. They have had to furlough staff in an effort to help the organization survive through the pandemic without their normal revenue streams. Despite the current financial constraints, RAC is overwhelmed by the love from the community and struck by how the arts sector in Washtenaw County has been a pillar of strength.

Currently, RAC is hopeful to present a modified version of its 2020 summer camp program while keeping community safety top priority.

 

El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil

El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil

For over 25 years, El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil (EBFE) has empowered and fostered the Mexican culture of mariachi music and folkloric dance, providing bilingual theater and Mexican cultural enrichment events throughout the Greater Flint area. They serve over 100 youth and adult students through ensemble classes, private lessons, and summer workshops, and last year presented 40 performances drawing in 9,000 audience members.

To continue serving their students and audiences during this pandemic, EBFE has migrated all their instructional classes, recitals, and performances to online and social media platforms, overcoming hurdles with internet connectivity and sound delays during digital instruction. In addition, they are focusing more attention on broadening understanding of Mexican culture and history.

After moving online, EBFE has noticed that families are getting more involved with lessons and are helping students practice their Spanish. EBFE plans to launch a video/audio archive of their performances, rehearsals, and instruction soon.


We encourage you to learn more about these outstanding community organizations, Flint School of Performing Arts, Riverside Arts Center, and El Ballet Folklórico Estudiantil, by visiting their websites, where you can find out how to support their efforts.

One of the Most Interesting Courses at U-M

Students in Hill Auditorium

Eight live performances. Three humanities credits. Experience the performing arts up close and behind the scenes.

Engaging Performance (Winter 2020) connects undergraduate students directly to the touring, world-class artists who perform music, theater, and dance on the U-M campus. Students will attend live performances, talk with the artists and the arts administrators who help get them here, and explore how the performing arts are an integral part of our lives and the world at large.

Class will include lectures (including some by guests and visiting artists), required attendance at evening performances, interactive classroom activities, weekly readings, response papers about the performances, and presentations from students in class.

Students will attend live performances of:

These performances constitute the course’s primary “texts,” and the full package of tickets is available to students enrolled in the course for the dramatically reduced rate of $120. 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).

Course Information

MUSPERF 200.001, ALA 260.001, HISTORY 230.002
Instructors: Victoria Langland and Mark Clague

Meets Tuesdays & Thursdays
11:30 am – 1 pm
Angell Hall G127

Register Online

By the end of this class students will be able to:

  • Rigorously describe live performance
  • Imagine how performance asks questions about the world
  • Identify how structural choices vary across performances
  • Identify various elements of a performance and discuss how they impact one another
  • Have knowledge of tools necessary to research a performance’s historical and social context prior to attending a live performance
  • Consider how performance might be a mode of research—a way not just to ask a question, but to investigate that question in motion, through sound, etc.
  • Learn more about the UMS and what it offers to students

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; no previous experience or special training in arts is required.

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).

Love great music, theater, and dance?

Love great music, theater, and dance?

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