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March 30, 1998 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1998-03-30

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:I9g th BOO
Joyce Kombluh and Brigid O'Farrell c
their "Rocking the Boat: Union Wom
Their book profiles the lives of 11 wo
American labor movement. Discussio
+ O o
muses at
k how
By Anders SmIth-Lndall
Daily Arts Wrter
"Rejoice in this moment / and many
hereafter / sweet and holy be the sounds
of your laughter," sang Victoria Williams
this past Thursday at the Ark, setting the
tone for the evening by opening with
"Let It Be So." She penned the joyful,
lebratory song for her sister's wed-
ing; it appears on her new album,
"Musings of a Creekdipper" (Atlantic).
Joining Williams were her husband,
ex-Jayhawks Mark Olson, Mike "Razz"
Russell, the fiddler and mandolinist
known for his work with the Jayhawks,
and musician Joe Henry. The three com-
prise the Original
Harmony Ridge
.. Creek Dippers, an
Victoria informal group
Williams which recently
released an album
The Ark only available via
March 28, 1998 mail order.
The trio were
backed by a full
band, including a
cornetist, key-
boardist, drummer
and two guitarists.
The small Ark
ge was crowded with so many musi-
cians, microphones, amps and instruments
that the performers could barely move.
This lineup changed constantly
throughout the evening. Williams played
two or three different acoustic guitars, a
red Stratocaster, banjo, harmonica and
piano. Olson, a rhythm guitarist with his
former band, stayed almost exclusively
with the electric bass on this evening, but
so played acoustic guitar, harmonica

elebrate the publication of
en's Voices, 1915-1975."
amen who helped build the
n begins at 8 p.m at Shaman


Check out a review of "Bent,"the film about Nazi persecu-
tion of homosexuals during the Holocaust.
March 30, 1998

'Screw' turns in despair

Courtesy af Atlantic Records
Victoria Williams brought much musical emotion to the Ark last Thursday.

and conga drum.
Instrument-swapping was only one
symptom of the playfully informal
atmosphere. From her place at the center
of the loose configuration of seated per-
formers, Williams' usual bubbly person-
ality radiated a relaxed confidence. She
talked and joked casually with the crowd
and happily complied with requests.
And though the atmosphere was loose,
the performances were unerringly tight.
The large band made the songs live and
breathe onstage as they shifted easily
from the folksy back-porch feel of
"Humming Bird" to the impressionistic
majesty of "Periwinkle Sky" and
"Kashmir's Corn." Cornetist John
Birdsong was the evening's most pleasant
surprise, but the tried-and-true did not
disappoint: Russell's nimble mandolin
and understated fiddle, not to mention
Olson's familiar vocals, were highlights.
Olson's much-anticipated return to the
stage on this tour has proven little more
than a cameo appearance, and
Thursday's performance was no excep-
tion. He eschewed the spotlight and
shunned his old, well-known material,
taking the lead only for a beautiful
"Valentine King," a rambling duet ver-
sion of "Humming Bird," and a subdued
"Run With the Ponies." All three songs
appear on the Original Harmony Ridge
Creek Dippers album; a much different
version of "Humming Bird" can be
found on Williams' new release.

Olson's reticence placed the focus
squarely on Williams - and indeed, he
seemed happiest when she was singing
or when the crowd was cheering her, as
they did often. Williams' struggles with
multiple sclerosis are well-documented,
and on this night Olson exuded a protec-
tive sense of concern and care for her.
Olson's adoration of Williams was
equalled by that of the crowd. She is a
transfixing, charismatic performer; her
magnetic - and often unpredictable -
persona demands attention.
A key ingredient in the easy chemistry
both within the band and between the
performers and the audience is the rela-
tionship between Williams and Olson.
Their love for one another is clear and
their joy at playing together apparent.
The set closed with a rousing version
of "You R Loved," a soulful tune from
Williams' 1994 album "Loose." After a
standing ovation, Williams returned for
two songs - "Imagination" and "What A
Wonderful World"-in which, accompa-
nied only by the piano, her charmingly
unique vocal stylings took the fore.
Then, rejoined by the full band,
Williams confirmed the magic of the per-
formance with emotional, transcendent
versions of "Grandpa in the Cornpatch"
and "Blackbirds Rise." Together, the two
pieces captured the essence of the evening,
balancing a stark realization of mortality
with a reverential faith in the simple but
profound power of love and happiness.

By Christopher Tkaczyk
Performing and Fine Arts Editor
In a world of demonic despair, only the strong survive.
Whether the strength of a young governess can or cannot save
the life of a boy, the world of evil is much stronger than either
of them. The same is true within the world of opera, where
the strength of a singer's voice can be overpowered by the
orchestra. In the efforts to stay on top of things, an opera
singer sometimes concentrates too hard on sticking to the
notes, and, in turn, ignores the clarity of his or her voice.
Such was the case on Thursday, when University
Production and the School of Music presented their spring
opera, "The Turn of the Screw." While the presentation
included one stand-out performance, the rest of the small cast
didn't captivate. The main problem existed because the per-
formers didn't enunciate their words. Because most of the
opera is sung dialogue, it is important to concentrate on most
of the words, at the very least. ,
"The Turn of the Screw," written by Benjamin Britten, is
based upon a ghost story by Henry James. The story tells the
tale of two children who are overtaken by the presence of two
supernatural spirits, who provoke them to misbehave. A new
governess takes over their charge, and she is disturbed by the
unnatural apparitions.
Directed by visiting opera director Nicolette Molnar, "The
Turn of the Screw," showcased the divine talents of Jennifer
Larson, an acclaimed soprano who shined as the Governess.
Her light, yet strong, voice captured the emotions of Britten's
music and brought a realistic interpretation to her disturbed
A satisfying performance was delivered by Andrew Foster,
who portrayed Quint, a former man-ser-
vant of the house whose ghost haunts
the children. His sweeping vocal range
swept the children into a trance-like
The Turn of state, reminding opera-goers of the
the Screw famed "Phantom of the Opera."
Mendelssohn Portraying the other poltergeist was
Theater Julie De Vaere as Miss Jessel, a former
March 26, 1998 governess to the two children. Her
singing remained strong and powerful
throughout the opera, as her acting
grew stronger and stronger; making her
character become more and more evil
and grotesque as the night wore on.
Eliza Warner, who portrayed Mrs.
Grose, the housekeeper, was slightly
disappointing in her performance. While it was apparent that
Warner was skillfully singing her role, it was hard to under-
stand anything she was singing.
As the two children, Deborah Lifton and Hugh Dowell
seemed playful siblings. While Lifton's excellent singing far-
outshined the other supporting cast members, she appeared to
have been entirely mis-placed in such a smaller role. Dowell,
a singer from the Boychoir of Ann Arbor, represented the

Courtesy of University Productions
Deborah Gover and Alex Vassos star as the Governess and
Miles, respectively, in "The Turn of the Screw."
youth of the opera well. While his singing remained breathy
and airy, his performance was a great challenge for an ama-
teur singer and he did well.
Accompanied by members of the University Philharmonic
Orchestra, the opera's strongest moments were delivered by
the talented group of musicians. Conductor Martin Katz, a
Music professor, should be commended for the performance
he brought out of his students. Britten's music is very intelli-
gent and challenging. He made the orchestra sound near-per-
feet. The musicians gave the best performance of the entire.
Katz's influence gave an even greater depth to Britten's
music, bringing life to the transitions between the many
moods through which the music passes. At one moment, the
music can be bright and stirring, but at the turn of a screw it
can become demonic and daring. The artistic beauty of the
opera lies within its score.
It came as a surprise to see the University present "The
Turn of the Screw" as part of its spring opera. With such a
small cast of six performers, the opera is usually reserved for
professional companies. With such a plentiful supply of tal-
ented singers on campus, it was a shame to display only a
handful of good performers.

Letham brings life to nothingness

By Morgan Johnson
For the Daily
How can a man compete with nothing? If your girlfriend
left you for nothing, what could you do? This are the ques-
ns posed in Jonathan Letham's entrancing new novel, "As
Ie Climbed Across the Table" It's the story of a love trian-
gle between a man, a woman and nothingness.
Philip Engstrand, the protagonist of the novel, is a profes-
sor of interdisciplinary studies - meaning he watches and
studies other professors. If the academic world is once
removed from real life, than he is twice. His peculiar place-

ment at a university

is a brilliant vehicle for Letham's obser-
vations about college life.
Letham's criticisms of the university
experience, which could have been
scathing attacks, instead take the form
of brilliant satire. In one particular
scene, in which Philip attends an end-
of-term party with other faculty mem-
bers, Letham spoofs Deconstruction-
ists, women's studies and college life in
Philip is in love with Alice, a physics
professor, who loves someone else.
Alice, while attempting to recreate the
Big Bang under laboratory conditions,
instead creates a void, a nothingness.
The nothing is a character named Lack.
Once Lack is born, Alice begins to

watch. Philip suspects everyone he meets of being Alice's
secret love interest, refusing to suspect Lack.
Lack, though, is fascinating. He devours what he touches,
but he is a picky eater. Lack swallows "a slide rule, a bowl-
ing shoe and ... a spayed female cat ... named B-84.' Lack
also absorbs two of the book's most striking characters, Evan
and Garth, two blind men whose banter defines their world.
The idea for their characters was "a really lucky accident,"
Letham said. "I was on a city bus in Berkeley, one day, and I
just saw them."
Evan and Garth ask each other constantly about the time,
the placement of objects and about reality itself. "What
would you do if I'd been lying about the precise location of
certain objects?" asks Garth, illustrating the extreme subjec-
tivity of their universe.
At one point or another, every character tries to get close to
Lack, but Lack is choosy. Lack refuses nearly everyone, even
Alice. Lack's refusal of Alice, breaks her heart and her des-
peration to be devoured is heart wrenching to read.
As Alice grows increasingly obsessed with Lack, Philip's
world falls apart. Philip, with the help of a visiting Italian sci-
-entist, discovers that Lack has made an impression on Alice
and only eats what she likes and refuses what she doesn't like.
Philip realizes that Lack represents a truly objective proof of
Alice's love. If Lack devours him, Alice loves him.
Letham, also the author of "Gun, with occasional music"
and "Girl in Landscape," has written an amazing book in
"As She Climbed Across the Table," drawing on Don
Delilo's "White Noise," John Barth's "End of the Road"
and Stanislaw Lem's "Futurological Congress," for inspira-
Jonathan Letham will be reading from his other new novel,
"Girl in Landscape" at Borders tonight at 7:30.


drift from Philip. She spends more and more time away from
their shared apartment and slowly moves into the lab where
Lack is. Philip is blind to what's going on, and his attempts to
preserve his relationship can be agonizingly embarrassing to



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