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Performance Talks

CWPS Performance Talks is a series of events in collaboration with local arts presenters, which aims to bring performers to campus to foster intellectual exchange between students, faculty and practitioners, as a means of illuminating global perspectives on performance practice.

2018-2019 Academic Year

Gelsey Bell & Erik Ruin: Prisoner's Song
Counter Narrative

Tuesday, September 18, 2018
6:00-7:30 pm
East Quadrangle Room 1405

Prisoner's Song, a critically acclaimed multimedia performance about the experience of the incarcerated in America, will be presented at four different Detroit venues this September, free of charge and open to the general public. University of Michigan's Center for World Performance Studies presents a Performance Talk with Gelsey Bell and Erik Ruin, on Tuesday, Sept. 18th at 6pm. Prisoner's Song is the recipient of a Knight Arts Challenge Grant. 

Prisoner’s Song is an hour-long performance comprised of ten chapters based on various primary sources, approached in an array of performance styles. The performance, by New York-based composer Gelsey Bell and Philadelphia-based (and Detroit-raised) visual artist Erik Ruin, uses shadow puppets, projections, and a variety of musical idioms to portray the prison experience. For instance, the 19th-century British folk ballad “Adieu To All Judges and Juries” tells the tale of a woman yearning for her lover who has been forcibly exiled, set to an original arrangement by Bell and illustrated by an intricate paper-cut scroll 10.5 feet in length. In contrast, an inventory of prisoners’ personal possessions from the Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1930s is performed as an abrupt sequence of voices and percussion, with the silhouettes of found objects starkly flickering across the screen. 

By drawing on historic ballads, poetry, audio interviews with people who have spent time in prison, and other primary sources, Prisoner's Song allows audiences to encounter the states of mind and heart that prison engenders. The New York Times calls Prisoner’s Song“uncomfortably powerful … evoking the restrictive and impoverished reality of incarceration even as it pays tribute to the resilience, ingenuity and poetry that can transcend it.” 

Edgefest Panel Discussion 
Celebrating the Art Ensemble of Chicago & AACM 
Counter Narrative

Thursday, October 18
East Quad Keene Theater

Stephen Rush, pianist and Professor of Performing Arts Technology, leads a panel discussion featuring long time Art Ensemble of Chicago percussionist Famadou Don Moye, and younger generation visionary, cellist Tomeka Reid. The panelists will address their personal journeys as improvisers, and reflect on the capacity of music to form a counter narrative to dominant cultural ideologies. 

Presented in partnership with Edgefest @ Kerrytown Concert House, Oct. 17-20, 2018. Concert info & tickets available at:

2017-2018 Academic Year

Russian Renaissance

January 24, 2018
East Quad Keene Theater

Russian Renaissance brings together tradition and modernity in unique crossover and fusion styles, employing the balalaika (a Russian stringed instrument with a unique triangular body), domra (a long-necked Russian string instrument from the lute family), button accordion, and contrabass balalaika. This quartet prides themselves on presenting high-calibre traditional folk music through a modern, vibrant, and enticing lens. For this talk, members of Russian Renaissance discuss working and collaborating within the large international chamber arts landscape.

UMS presents Russian Renaissance at Rackham Auditorium on Saturday, January 27 at 8:00pm.

Kaoru Watanabe

November 16, 2017
East Quad Keene Theater

Kaoru Watanabe went from being culturally "American," playing classical music as a child in St. Louis and studying jazz flute and saxophone at the Manhattan School of Music, to being a member of the globetrotting Japanese taiko drumming ensemble Kodo and becoming a leading specialist in the bamboo shinobue flute. He now lives back in New York, creating his own genre of music that reflects the entirety of his musical and cultural experiences and collaborating with artists like pianist Jason Moran, filmmaker Wes Anderson and Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble. 

For his talk at the Residential College, Watanabe will address the unending series of adaptations he's dealt with through this journey and reflect on how it has affected his art.

Watanabe also performs at Kerrytown Concert House on Tuesday, 11/14 at 8pm. 


Thursday, February 22, 2018
East Quad Keene Theater

University of Michigan MM Improvisation and Center for World Performance Studies alum Adam Shead brings his quartet with Amsterdam musicians and coordinators of Dutch improv organization DoEk, John Dikeman and Casper Townkeepers, to the Keene Theater on February 22nd for a performance and discussion regarding concepts of improvisation such as cultural memory, tradition, authenticity, innovation, common language, activism through improvisation, and the business of non-commercial music. Adam Shead met both Dikeman and Townkeepers while doing research in Amsterdam, NL where he subsequently recorded a duo album with each performer, as well as interning for DoEk. During Adam's time in Amsterdam he conducted interviews, performances, and recording projects dealing with improvisation such as cultural memory. The opportunities and discoveries brought about during Adam's time with the Center for World Performance Studies have become quintessential to his life's work, ultimately resulting in the formation of a new quartet with John Dikeman, Casper Townkeepers, and Tony Piazza.

The quartet is set to tour the United States in February/March, and will also perform at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti on Thursday, 2/22 at 8:00pm.

Colin Stetson

Friday, April 13, 2018
Watkins Lecture Hall
Earl V. Moore Building | 1100 Baits Dr.

Saxophonist, composer and improviser Colin Stetson speaks about his re-imagining of  Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3, or "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." Performed by a 12-piece band, includes electric guitars, synthesizers, drums, strings, woodwinds, and soprano, Stetson's "Sorrow" employs a contemporary sonic palate, while maintaining the heartbreaking core of the composition.

This event is presented in conjunction with Colin Stetson's performance of SORROW - A Reimagining of Gorecki's Third Symphony on April 14 at the Michigan Theater.  Tickets available at


Bill Bruford

April 17, 2018
Watkins Lecture Hall
Earl V. Moore Building | 1100 Baits Dr. 

Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer Bill Bruford spent a working life as an internationally-known musician and teacher before stepping out of practice to investigate aspects of creativity in popular music performance. His musical character was forged in the fiery furnace of four of the biggest progressive rock groups of the 1970s, including Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and UK. As a musician, he was innovative in the use of advanced harmony, electronics and odd meters in progressive rock and electric jazz. Following retirement from public performance in 2009, Bruford authored an autobiography and received a PhD in musicology from the University of Surrey. This talk will focus on his latest book Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer, recently published by University of Michigan Press.

This event is co-sponsored by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.