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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).

Interview: Emmanuel Pahud, flute


A star flutist only comes around once or twice in a generation — and it’s fair to say that this generation’s strongest candidate is the Swiss-born Emmanuel Pahud. We sat down with the Berlin Philharmonic principal flutist last year about his upcoming Ann Arbor recital.

Emmanuel Pahud performs in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.

Celebrating the 2016 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

We’re pleased to honor Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher Beth McNally as the 2016 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year and Ann Arbor Public School Allen Elementary as the 2016 DTE Energy Foundation School of the Year. The awards honors excellence in K-12 arts education.

Beth McNally is honored as the DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year for her passionate commitment to integrating the arts into the core curriculum of Wines Elementary School in Ann Arbor. McNally is especially praised for her exceptional use of arts-integration through her concert performance program, which comprises popular and classic songs, each selected and arranged to reflect the curricular topics of the students’ respective grade levels.

Allen Elementary has become a model among its peers in the integration of arts into the curriculum, in large part because of the collaborative nature of its art and music teachers, Deb Campbell and Kimberly Coulson-Mobley. Campbell and Coulson-Mobley work consistently with the school’s classroom teachers to incorporate the arts with the students’ daily academic curriculum.

Beth McNally and Allen Elemenary were nominated through a public nomination process and will be honored at UMS’s Ovation gala, on Saturday, May 14 at the Crisler Arena Hall of Honors (333 E Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI 48109).

DTE Energy Foundation sponsors this award as part of a $50,000 grant to UMS Youth Education Programs.

View the full press release [pdf]

2016-17 Season Announcement

We’re excited to share our 2016-17 season with you! Explore the season in more detail on our site and watch our announcement video:

Flip through our brochure:

Which performances are you most excited to see? Share in the comments below.

U-M student sings Mariachi song

University of Michigan student Christina Maxwell sings Mariachi song “Besame Mucho.” She learned this and so much more as part of her multi-week internship experience with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Contest: Show us your robot dance to win Nufonia tickets!

On March 11-12, 2016, DJ Kid Koala’s graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall will come to life on stage at the Power Center in Ann Arbor. This live adaptation unfolds via real-time filming of more than a dozen miniature stages and a cast of puppets, while Kid Koala and the Cecilia Quartet provide original live scoring on piano, strings, and turntables.

Win tickets by showing us your robot dance moves!

What: A contest of robot dances. Three winners will receive a pair of tickets to see Nufonia Must Fall. The first place winner also receives goodies from our friends at Green Brain Comics!

How to enter: Create a robot dance video to the music in the above contest video. Upload your video and share the link with us via the comments below, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

  • On Facebook, enter by posting your video on our wall. Be sure to include “robot dance contest” in your video description.
  • On Twitter, enter by tweeting your video @UMSNews. Be sure to include “robot dance contest” in your tweet.
  • On Instagram, tag @UMSNews in your video. Be sure to include “robot dance contest” in your post description.
  • Post a link to your video in the comments below.  Be sure to include “robot dance contest” in your post description.

Contest timeline: Tuesday, March 1 at 9 am to Wednesday, March 9 at 5 pm.

Winners announced: Morning of Thursday, March 10.

Questions? Ask them in the comments below.

25 Years of the UMS Dance Series

UMS celebrates 25 years of the UMS Dance Series in 2015-16 season. It’s been quite an adventure.

Interested in more? Explore dance through our archives.

What you can expect at Taylor Mac

Wondering what to expect from Taylor Mac? We asked his crew. See Taylor Mac in Ann Arbor Friday-Saturday, February 5-6.

Study Up: Tanya Tagaq Teaches You to Throat Sing

tanya tagaqPhoto: Tanya Tagaq. By Ivan Otis.

“Nobody, anywhere, sounds like she does,” said the Globe and Mail of Tanya Tagaq, who performs at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on February 2, 2016.

Tagaq has received many awards, but one of our favorites is Rolling Stone magazine’s “Best Scream” award for her performance at Bonnaroo festival. Her Ann Arbor performance features the Inuit throat singer accompanying a screening of Nanook of the North (1922) with a live score.

How to throat sing

Throat singers produce more than one pitch at a time through the positioning of the lips, tongue, larynx, and jaw. Though unfamiliar to most Western ears, throat singing is part of a number of global musical traditions including those of central Asia, South Africa,
and northern Canada. Inuit throat singing originated as a way for women to entertain themselves and engage in friendly competition while men were away hunting. Two women face one another closely and improvise musical patterns; the first one to laugh or run out of breath loses.

Watch this video to learn more about Inuit throat singing in its traditional form:

In this video, Tanya Tagaq explains the vocal processes used to create the basic sonic building blocks of Inuit throat singing. She usually tells her students to “spend one year trying to sound like their dog.”

Videos excerpted from UMS Learning Guide for Tanya Tagaq.

Tanya Tagaq performs at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre on February 2, 2016.

Conversation: Young Jean Lee

Described by the New York Times as “the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation,” Young Jean Lee is a theater maker with range. Her works Straight White Men and Untitled Feminist Show both explore gender and identity but in very different ways.

Holly Hughes (U-M professor, School of Art & Design and Department of Theatre and Drama) and Tina Satter (U-M Playwright-in-Residence) chat about what’s exciting, provocative, and interesting about these performances.

Transcription of conversation

Holly Hughes: I think it’s really exciting that UMS is bringing in Young Jean Lee because we’re not in a major metropolitan area where there’s a lot of contemporary new theater happening. And she’s definitely one of the more exciting and prolific voices that’s making avant-garde theater today, she’s a woman, she’s a person of color, and she’s working within an experimental but accessible domain, and there’s nudity. So it’s January and I feel like that’s going to heat things up a little bit; I’m excited about that.

Tina Satter: It’s so incredible to see that a play or performance is naked women on stage grappling with deep ideas. That a play called Straight White Men written in the traditional way of a well made aristotelian play is actually slowly cutting away at what that means and asking deeply contemporary questions of straight white male identity.

HH: You definitely should see both because it does speak to one of her gifts which is her range. And if you see one and you think that’s who she is, the other one just seems very different.

TS: You haven’t seen Straight White Men, right?

HH: I’ve seen so many straight white men; that’s all I see is straight white men!

TS: In a way like Destroy the Audience, the title alone in 2014, to call a show Straight White Men, that’s provocative just right there to call it that; it’s already doing so much work. Sometimes it’s like, “how dare she?” We don’t need any more straight white men, but we know she’s definitely going to be playing with that.

HH: Calling something Straight White Men after a whole engagement around identity politics makes us aware in a way that sometimes falls out of the conversation that heterosexuality, whiteness, maleness, those are all performances too; They’re all identities and they’re not just, “the culture”. It’s so rare for women to be allowed to be provocateurs, to really throw people into this level of discomfort and uncertainty. There’s a long tradition of men in culture, white men in culture being provocative and if they’re in fact not really provocative but just offensive, they can always hide behind that role. But with women it’s rare.

TS: I can’t remove the idea of Young Jean Lee’s emotional connection to the project. That’s something that’s always in my head when I leave her work.

HH: Can you say more about that?

TS: Maybe it starts because I’ve literally been on Facebook and I read her emotional connection to it from potentially a couple of years before. And it’s sometimes in a discomforting way, like she’s in there almost in my brain wanting to trigger something in me, in a way I don’t feel in many plays. Even plays that are made from a writer/director and they apparently have a more “hand of the maker” in them; That’s something I have when I leave those shows. What is a straight white man supposed to do with himself? Which actually is a question of the play and then, what is everyone that is not a straight white man also supposed so do with straight white men? Those are huge questions and I think it’s not like she’s even attempting to answer that, but those are underneath that, I think in that play. What does it mean in this contemporary moment to be a straight white man? And I think she’s pulling back to consider that in this antithetically subversive way by putting them in the most natural environment of a well made play about straight white men. I think it becomes a bit of a theatrical laboratory for considering.

HH: I think in Untitled Feminist Show you’re thinking about, or she’s wanting you to think about, when you talk about the performance of gender we’re talking about a kind of choreography of moving through and how your gender presentation informs the way you occupy space and how you do different daily tasks, banal tasks or not banal tasks but a range of tasks; How do you use your body? So if it’s a performance and there’s a kind of choreography for it, and by having different bodies on stage who have a different relationship to biology and different relationships to how they see their gender, she’s really thinking about it as a performance; It’s not an idea. It’s not some theory that somebody dreamt up; it’s a reality. To say gender’s a performance is a statement of fact. You’re really made aware of that. In a different way, using a different forum she’s also thinking about these identities we just thought of like, white people don’t have race, men don’t have gender and now we know that’s not true. I think she’s asking us to think and to feel about that and to not come to a conclusion. That’s different than writing a scholarly paper where you have to have some conclusion, even if it’s an open ended one you’ve got to wind it down.

TS: Yeah, I think the word you just used “to feel, to think and to feel” I think that ties into that thing I was trying to explain about Young Jean’s emotional questions that I somehow can feel present in me afterwards. I think getting to feel this thing unfold in front of you is a huge part of it. As clear as the topics are, from the titles to what you see, it’s not to stir up didactic answers; It is to stay with these questions and feel how confusing, and amazing, and scary it is to be next to these questions in a way that frankly only live performance can make happen to elicit a certain feeling.

See Straight White Men and Untitled Feminist Show in Ann Arbor January 21-23, 2016.

Building Scrooge’s Office

Installing a Victorian counting house inside a modern auditorium:

National Theatre of Scotland’s A Christmas Carol is in Ann Arbor’s Power Center December 17-January 3, 2016.

How to Get Ready for Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah performances are an annual tradition at UMS.

In 2015, we followed conductor Scott Hanoian into a rehearsal with the UMS Choral Union.

Updated 6/2/2017

Artist Internships for 21st Century

Follow U-M student Sophia Deery on her journey through our 21st century internship program.

Open to U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore and junior students, the next session of this arts internship program will take place in the summer of 2016. Chosen through a competitive application process, each student fellow will intern for 5-7 weeks between May and August 2016 with a professional dance, theater, or music ensemble that UMS plans to present during the 2016-17 season.

Interested in more? See photos by this year’s student interns.


Behind the Scenes with Hubbard Street Dancers

We caught up with the dancers from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ahead of their performance of the works of choreographer William Forsythe in Ann Arbor.

Interested in more? Learn more about how William Forsythe changed ballet.

NY Phil at Schools

Last week, New York Philharmonic Assistant Conductor Joshua Gersen visited Huron High School and other Ann Arbor area schools as part of a 5-year partnership between the orchestra and UMS.

Interested in more? Explore more behind the scenes video moments with the orchestra on our Facebook page.

U-M Students Get Ready to Play Beside NY Phil

We are feeling ‪so‬ excited for these University of Michigan students! They’re getting ready to play beside New York Philharmonic musicians as part of the side-by-side chamber concert that kicks off the NY Phil residency and Homecoming Weekend of performances in Ann Arbor.

We asked U-M Professor of Bassoon Jeffrey Lyman about getting ready for the performance:

In our studio class this afternoon, I mentioned to the bassoon students how interesting our rehearsal was to me because it was an entirely different exercise for the four professors than it was for the four students. I found it fascinating to play the parts the NY Phil players will play and to guide our students through all the variables they might encounter in a performance of this great piece. It reminded me not only of the countless ways you can play a Mozart serenade, but it brought back memories of my first performance of it back in college, and of the dozens of times I’ve played, taught and conducted it since that first time back in Philadelphia as an undergrad. Reading this piece with the students on Monday night was like opening a great bottle of wine, an experience which is always better when shared.

The New York Philharmonic performs three concerts October 9-11. The side-by-side chamber concert on October 8 is preceded by a keynote address by conductor Alan Gilbert; both events are free and open to the public.