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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 Announces Additions, Changes to 10/11 Season

The 10/11 UMS season opens one month from today with the site-specific theater work Susurrus at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

During our summer performance hiatus, we’ve been quite busy at UMS, closing out the 09/10 season and preparing for the 10/11 events.  We’ve also been working to add some exciting events to the 10/11 lineup that came together too late for the initial announcement in April:

ASSI EL HELANI, Saturday, November 6 at 8 pm, Hill Auditorium.  This Lebanese pop singer has been a major figure in the music scene of the Middle East since the 1990s, participating in numerous important musical events throughout Europe, the Arab World, and America.  Also involved in humanitarian concerns, he is one of the true superstars to emerge from Lebanon.  Tickets range from $10-$60 with a limited number of $150 VIP seats available.

Complicite's A Disappearing Number

Complicite's A Disappearing Number

NATIONAL THEATER LIVE, co-presentation of high-definition broadcasts with the Michigan Theater.  Last season, UMS and the Michigan Theater joined forces to present high-definition broadcasts of three plays from the National Theater in London.  The series was a big hit with audiences, and we’re delighted to announce an incredible line-up of six productions for the 10/11 season, which includes Complicite’s A Disappearing Number, which UMS brought to Ann Arbor two seasons ago.  The titles include:

A Disappearing Number, directed by Simon McBurney in association with Complicite.  Sunday, October 31, 2 pm.

Hamlet, directed by Sir Nicholas Hytner with Rory Kinnear in the title role.  Sunday, January 2, 2 pm.

FELA! Directed by Bill T. Jones, direct from Broadway. The Tony Award-winning musical about the extravagant, decadent, and rebellious world of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti explores his controversial life as an artist, political activist and revolutionary musician.  Sunday, January 30, 2 pm.

King Lear, directed by Michael Grandage with Derek Jacobi in the title role, in association with the Donmar Warehouse and featuring the creative team behind the company’s recent Broadway hit about Mark Rothko, Red.  Sunday, February 20, 7 pm.

Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting).  Wednesday, April 6, 7 pm.

The Cherry Orchard, directed by Howard Davies and starring Zoë Wanamaker as Madame Ranevskaya.  Sunday, July 17, 7 pm.


Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán Date Change.  To accommodate the addition of Assi El Helani, as well as youth performances for schoolchildren, the date of the public concert for Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán has been changed to Friday, November 5 at 8 pm – one day earlier than previously announced.

Kodo Date Change — FAMILY PERFORMANCE ONLY. The FAMILY PERFORMANCE of Kodo will take place on Thursday, February 24 at 11 am, not Wednesday, February 23 as published in the series brochure.  The public performance of Kodo will still take place on Wednesday evening as previously announced.

Single ticket brochures will be mailed in about a week (don’t forget – the internet on-sale date is Monday, August 23, with phone and walk-up orders on Wednesday, August 25.  Donors of $250+ may purchase beginning Wednesday, August 18!).

31 days to the start of the season…let the countdown begin!

UMS’s Arts Round-up: July 30, 2010

arts roundupMany 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. We thought we’d pull together a list of interesting stories each week and share them with you. Welcome to UMS’s Arts Round-up, a weekly collection of arts news, including national and international arts 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

  • Ever wonder just what goes into bringing international artists to the US? For the first time since 9/11, the Federal Government is about to expedite part of the process.
  • Writers, composers, painters, and inventive scientists have all suffered from it. Find out how some of the world’s greatest artists fought creative block.
  • Check out the new trend in theater:  an audience of one.

Artist Updates

  • Chris Lydon of the Huffington Post sits down with jazz pianist Vijay Iyer to talk about about his heritage, growing up in New York, and the spaces in between.
  • Bill T. Jones and others pay tribute to Merce Cunningham with original performances commemorating the first anniversary of this death.
  • Nathaniel Ayers, whose life was the basis for the movie The Soloist,  continues his inspirational battle with Schizophrenia with a triumphant performance at the White House to mark the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • It’s the year 2010, and the Vienna Philharmonic is  in more hot water with the public and government funders and the public over issues of gender equality in hiring practices.

Local Shout-Outs

  • Congrats to the DSO and the DIA, who were both recently awarded major grants by Detroit foundations.
  • U-M’s Residential College celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Shakespeare in the Arb program with performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last month. Here’s a look at this year’s event through a photo gallery.

Just For Fun

Links: UMS in the News

Since the beginning of January, we’ve had a busy and exciting 8 weeks of 12 performances in all the big genres: dance, jazz, world music, classical music, and theater.   It’s definitely a whirlwind experience for all of us on staff to see and talk about so many events – and there’s definitely been plenty to talk about!  In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of UMS in the news:

  • Chris Azzopardi of Between the Lines interviewed Bill T. Jones about his motivations for creating Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray and what’s next for his company.

Bill T. Jones on the stage of the Michigan Theater

  • Two of UMS’s very own staff members boldly journeyed into the blogosphere as guest bloggers.  UMS Director of Programming Michael Kondziolka blogged at on how artistic programs are chosen and what makes an artist special.  UMS Director of Marketing and Communications Sara Billmann blogged for the American Orchestras Summit on the future of orchestral music.
  • Susan Nisbett of reviewed Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray which created some conversation in the comments section.
  • Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press interviewed legendary conductor Pierre Boulez on the occasion of his 85th birthday, and in conjunction with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Ann Arbor performance.

Conductor Pierre Boulez

  • Have you heard of Concentrate?  Managing Editor Jeff Myers has been writing fun, quirky, and media-rich profiles of UMS events for a while — and they’re really fantastic.  If you’re having a hard time convincing your friend to go to a performance with you, Concentrate is just what the doctor ordered.  Check out past profiles on Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Bad Plus, and the Luciana Souza Trio.

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

When asked to write this blog, I have to admit, I was more than a little anxious.  I was stoked but I couldn’t shake the unnerving feeling about doing something way outside the job description.  I was handed the opportunity to leave my usual post in the UMS Ticket Office to work closer than I ever have with our artists.  I was to follow the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company during their educational residency with UMS.

Day One:  Masterclass at Dance Theater Studio, Ann Arbor

As I climbed the stairs to the studio I saw that BTJAZ Dance Company Education Director Leah Cox and dancer Talli Jackson had already arrived.  About 15 high school ballet dancers streamed into the studio excited for a change from their usual routine.  In the beginning half of class, Leah and Talli led an exploration of movement, Bill T. style.  Leah had the class move through different levels and space stressing the importance of creating movement that is aware, yet unrestrained.  The idea is that, in dance, your mind is as much of an active participant as your body.  In actively engaging both you can evoke dance based on specific ideals, like the girls later learned through creating dance inspired by their own heroes.  It was amazing to see Leah communicate this idea to the teen dancers, who then translated this concept in their own original movements.  The same process was used to create Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, the piece the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co. would perform later that week.  Check out my video clip and see the Dance Theater Studio class at work.

So We Think You Can Dance, Dance Workshop for the Ann Arbor Community

After watching the first master class, I was hooked.  So, that evening, instead of observing the community dance workshop, So We Think You Can Dance, at the Ann Arbor YMCA I decided I had to participate—Yikes!!  As a novice dancer, I was comforted to see the wide range of participants brave enough to explore movement with me, and as an UMS staffer I was proud to see such a fantastic turnout!  Leah eased into the class with a warm-up called the developmental patterns.  While we breathed, curled, and twisted, Leah explained that through these movements we were reprogramming our bodies, reteaching ourselves to create movement, not as coordination, but as what we do naturally as human beings.  We then paired off to discover new shapes.  While impulsively traveling through space from shape to shape, I reminded myself to maintain awareness of how my body was moving.  Was it as effortless or beautiful as Leah and Talli made it look?  I’ll leave you to decide…

"So We Think You Can Dance" Community Workshop at the Ann Arbor YMCA

Day Two: Detroit’s Paul Robeson Academy and Cass Tech High School

The afternoon spent visiting Paul Robeson Academy and Cass Tech High School was memorable and eye opening for me.  We’ve all heard about the financial state of the Detroit Public School system and the bad rap the schools generally receive. In spite of the obvious need for more resources and more classroom space, I couldn’t help but notice the excitement of the students at Paul Robeson Academy or the youthful talent of the Cass Tech students.  What I thought was just an ordinary day at these schools changed when I saw how eagerly the students received Leah and Talli.  After watching the students’ earnest participation during the workshops, I felt really privileged to be part of their learning experience with the arts.  I’m sure Leah and Talli felt just the same.

Workshop with Cass Tech Students

BTJAZ Dance Co. Workshop with Cass Tech Students

Leah Cox leads a workshop for students at Detroit's Paul Robeson Academy

Day Three: Penny W. Stamps Distinguish Speakers Series, Michigan Theater

As the performance date of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray neared I began to wonder, what kind of man is Bill T. Jones?  Sure, I knew his methods behind creating the piece but what were his intentions, his message?  Fingers crossed and eager to find out more, I went to his lecture–part of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speakers Series–in the Michigan Theater.  Bill spoke to a full house and shared his philosophy on movement, the words of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman, as well as excerpts from the performance.  He described his own personal relationship to Lincoln as having evolved.  Starting with a child’s unconditional love for a legendary figure, torn down in young adulthood to a man he abhorred, and settling as a hero and inspiration as an adult.  Losing faith in our childhood heroes is easy enough to understand, and Bill’s new vision of Lincoln was an inspiration.  By the end of the lecture Bill asked us to examine his work as pieces of a puzzle, fit them together as we will, and invited us to reclaim Lincoln.  I decided that Bill was prodding us to perceive every motion, every song, even everyday life, and then, ultimately, encouraging us to determine reality on our own terms.

Bill T. Jones on the stage of the Michigan Theater

Bill T. Jones on the stage of the Michigan Theater

I’d like to say I left that lecture with more answers than questions.  Yet, even after the workshops, lectures, the Q & As, and performances, I still find myself stirring from the music and movement of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray.  Following the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s residency with UMS was such a rewarding endeavor for me personally because I was able to see another side of UMS.  My daily interactions with the artists coming through UMS’ auspices are limited to the mentioning of their names over the phone.  After spending the week attending the residency events I was not only amazed at the number of educational opportunities planned to connect with artists and enrich the community, but also at how invested I had became inthe residency overall.

For more photos from the events I’ve mentioned as well as other events including the BTJAZ Dance Co. Youth Performance and masterclasses with Wayne State University and University of Michigan please check out my slideshow.

The Creative Process Behind “Fondly Do We Hope…”

I, along with a group of UMS Staffers, had the opportunity to see the premiere of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray at the Ravinia Festival in September.  There was plenty for us to talk about after the show; both the artistic elements (the visual design, the movement, the strength of the dancers, the live music, the acting) and the narrative themes (Lincoln-as-saint, Lincoln-as-hero, Lincoln-as-human, Lincoln’s legacy and  relevance, how we understand history through our personal experiences, how we create heroes) were compelling.  I left feeling stimulated, intrigued, and curious.  Personally, I prefer artistic works  like this one that tackle complicated questions and meditate on them, but don’t arrive at any concrete conclusions.  The ambiguities in the performance ask me to draw my own conclusions, “to do the math” for myself, and to participate in the creative process along with the artist.   I realize though that this kind of contemporary dance performance, one in which both movements and language are abstracted, can seem cryptic and be incredibly frustrating for an audience.  You could easily walk away feeling like the usher forgot to issue your decoder ring along with your program.  Moreover, the creators of these works may mask their creative motives and processes.  As an audience member, finding a way in can be incredibly challenging.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Fondly… project is that the company has kept a blog that documents the show’s creative journey.  On the blog you can follow the company through the rehearsal process, the premiere, and, now, the tour.  The blog provides a rare glimpse into how the art is made, casting light on some of the more mysterious elements in the performance and providing both artistic and historical context.  If you’re going to see the show at the Power Center, you might want to browse through some of the entries to get sense of what you’re about to see.  On the other hand, I didn’t discover the blog until after the premier, so I’ve found that coming back to it has helped me to understand the performance more deeply.

Some highlights include Bill T. Jones himself commenting on the genesis of the project.  He reflects on the title, the way in which he collaborates with his dancers and technicians, and how he chose to focus on Lincoln’s legacy (particularly the choice to juxtapose the personal autobiographies of the dancers against Lincoln’s biography).  Bill summarizes his broad creative approach this way, ” I’m interested in something as concrete as language against something as fugitive as movement and what happens when they are juxtaposed or overlaid or interrogate each other.”

A few other video highlights from the blog:

And if you’d like to hear more from Bill, don’t miss his interview on the Bill Moyers Journal: