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Community Spotlight: Rani Kotha

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

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

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

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

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

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


[VIDEO] Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

In a long-awaited performance, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan presents Lin Hwai-min’s newest work, Water Stains on the Wall, on October 21 & 22 at the Power Center.

Below, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan in the words of Ann Arbor’s Taiwanese community.

And an interview with Artistic Director Lin Hwai-min upon his arrival in Ann Arbor:

And a little bit more about his inspirations:

Performances for the Whole Family: Filling the master calendar with UMS events

Part of the excitement of coming back to town at the end of summer is collecting all the calendars—Ann Arbor Public School’s holiday and half-day calendar, Huron High School’s band calendar, Clague Middle School’s orchestra calendar, King Elementary School’s PTO calendar, the crew calendar, the soccer calendar, the academic games calendar, University of Michigan’s football calendar, Washtenaw Community College Lifelong Learning calendar, Rec and Ed, Parks and Rec, etc.—whew!—and finally sitting down to map them all out onto one big master calendar in order to see what our year is going to look like.

My favorite calendar to pore over with the kids is the one from University Musical Society (UMS).

This year, the University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies is celebrating its 50th anniversary. As usual for an academic department, they have all sorts of lectures and films and special events and conferences planned. University of Michigan Museum of Art is supporting this celebration with a contemporary Chinese woodblock print exhibit. University Musical Society is supporting this celebration with an Asia performance series. I am excited.

When the UMS catalog arrives, the kids keep grabbing it away from one another. They dog-ear the pages that interest them. They recall other concerts and dance performances we have attended.

Little Brother is captivated by the photograph of the old woman and old man sitting in trashcans. What could that possibly be? (Gate Theatre of Dublin) How to explain Beckett’s “Endgame” and “Watt” to a seven year old?

Our pianist, Niu Niu, complains (again) that she likes playing piano but does not like watching piano, but when we begin discuss how the dazzling Yuja Wang recently rocked the Hollywood Bowl with her very short very tight very sexy orange dress, about which reviewer Mark Swed wrote: “Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight, that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult.” Oh, and her legendary speed, too. Now Niu Niu is convinced. Our first concert marked on the calendar.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan is my choice. I have already heard many Taiwanese American friends discussing how the choreography is inspired by Chinese calligraphy and classical landscape painting. Local Chinese calligraphers will be demonstrating and displaying their work before the performance to connect these two artforms.

Hao Hao wants to go see AnDa Union from Inner Mongolia. I thought it was because her great-grandfather was born in Inner Mongolia, but really it is because she remembers the Mongolian throat singers we once heard perform at the Ann Arbor District Library.

M is intrigued by the Chamber Ensemble of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra because she knows more about Chinese music than any of us, but the Ballet Preljocal looks amazing. An antithesis of Disney’s Snow White? It looks dark and grim and sexy and strange—irresistible for teenagers dressed all in black.

Now, big sigh, the tickets.

I was so grateful when UMS began their teen ticket program a few years ago, at last an affordable way to bring my teenagers to UMS programs. I was even more grateful when I was able to go with the children’s school field trips as a chaperone. This year, UMS is launching a new UMS “Kids Club” program for students in grades 3 to 12: “Two weeks before opening night, parents can purchase up to two kids’ tickets for $10 each with the purchase of an adult ticket for $20.”

Great! So now we can take the whole family.

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