remember being approached by one of the producers of the film, Gandhi,” recounts Salman Rushdie during the 2002

press conference announcing the decision to premiere Midnight’s Children in Ann Arbor, “[she had] one little problem with it, the political bit wasn’t necessary [and] she would intend to leave it out.” Political views in artistic works are familiar to both Rushdie and organizing agencies like the University Musical Society and the U-M Office of Major Events. While U-M supports and swears by free speech and expression, it is not blind to the political views behind, in front of and on stage. Audience members paying $25 to go see a theatrical spectacle should not be blind to these beliefs either. The presence of shows on campus is about more than an enjoyable evening at the theater. They allow the audiences to immerse themselves in different cultures and traditions. And the university always benefits from the publicity that comes with hosting an enterprise as prolific as the Royal Shakespeare Company. The drama on stage is actually a culmination of the beliefs and convictions of the writers, actors and presenters. Fred Ho’s production of Voice of the Dragon: Once Upon a Time in Chinese America plays Tuesday, March 25th at the Power Center. Rushdie’s play premieres nationally Wednesday, March 12 at the same location. Both plays bring with them a plethora of cultural and political commentary. Trained in stealth assault techniques and recruited by the U.S. Special Forces, Ho says he used his martia arts in situations where there was either no access to weapons or when he wanted no evidence of their use. Rather surprisingly, Ho says he made a smooth transition from assassin to thespian because he didn’t “see a difference between a committed artist and a warrior.” Completely fed up with the racist imperialism of the U.S. Army, Ho says he turned to theater and music as a way to express his anger. “When you see all colors, you become color blind,” says Ho about the multi-cultural casting of the play adding, “I am the democratic spirit of America.” Ho syas he has no qualms about blurring the line between art and politics. He claims his action-adventure martial arts ballet, based on a 17th-century Chinese legend, is about “political opportunism.” Relating it to current day politics, Ho says he wants the play to highlight the complexities of American oppression and colonialism and stresses “the need for liberation from the ruling white supremacists.” “[Fred’s belief’s] are a bit extreme but everyone has their own way,” says choreographer Jose Miguel Figueroa, explaining his views on political theater. “I just see [it’s] beauty and want to ensure the proper representation [of the art].” Being politically blind and viewing art for art’s sake can be an exercise in futility when dealing with authors like Rushdie. Midnight’s Children is critically his most successful book and has sold over two million copies worldwide. Yet Rushdie is most well known for The Sa-

Political Theater at the Power Center “I
by Prashant Rajkhowa

Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie

“With political plays, you get the truth being told,” says Midnight’s Children actor Kulvinder Ghir. “It’s not just a song and dance, it’s provoking politics, we are forced to ask questions within ourselves.”

tanic Verses and the consequential fatwa, or religious edict calling for his life, issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini, Islamic cleric and former leader of Iran, for blaspheny against the Koran. Midnight’s Children may appear to be a fantastic tale of Saleem Sinai, whose life follows and seems to affect the lives of three countries, but contains a lot of political commentary, specifically about former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. Audiences might miss this political commentary, which created a lot of controversy in India, because they would be looking for anti-Muslim sentiments, despite the fact that the fatwa was issued years later and for an entirely different book. “With political plays, you get the truth being told,” says Children actor Kulvinder Ghir. “It’s not just a song and dance, it’s provoking politics, we are forced to ask questions within ourselves.” Rushdie’s “Booker of Bookers” work has had an arduous journey to the stage. “It had to be me who did it,” he says about the scripting process. “Everyone else was being too reverential.” From book to failed five-hour miniseries to this script, the play took almost 22 years to realize. “It is spectacular!” says Ralph Williams, associate chair of U-M’s English department. “The audience will be groping for meaning to understand [the] history [of India as they] participate in a profoundly theatrical performance.” Bound by the Statement on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression, presenting organizations like UMS and Office of Major Events are committed to giving equal
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March 2003

CURRENT

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Orchid Power…
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and late summer, while others bloom in winter. Those who enjoy growing them inside their homes may even put certain plants outside for the warmer months. The society also organizes field trips to see orchids in the wild. Harder recalls seeing two native orchids in bloom last spring on a visit to the Gerald Eddy Geology Center in the Waterloo State Recreation Area, just northwest of Chelsea and only about a 20-minute drive from Ann Arbor. During the heavily anticipated weekend of March 15 & 16 the society presents its annual Ann Arbor Orchid Festival, which attracts up to 1,700 people every year. Participants include area orchid societies, orchid vendors and individuals. The festival aims to help educate people about orchids and their cultivation and preservation, while also reveling in the sheer love of the plants. Judges involved in the American Orchid Society judge submitted orchids in various categories and additional judges are brought in to help in the areas of orchid artwork, cut flower displays and orchid photographs. Other fun features include exhibits of flowering plants, educational diplays, talks, vendors, supplies and an orchid raffle. At the Grand Valley Orchid Society Show I visited in January at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, attendees represented a lovely slice of diversity. There were guys wearing Carharts and baseball caps, gay couples, young families with long trails of small children, and senior citizens. They seemed to come from all walks of life and they all studied the flowers with a combination of lust and admiration. Kevin March guarantees excitement at the Ann Arbor Orchid Festival. “There’s always something unusual

Phalaenopsis ‘Golden Sun’ x ‘Ching Her Goddess’ (a hybrid)

on sale at the shows—like an interesting species or a new hybrid,” he says. In addition to the wide variety of exotic orchids from around the world at this year’s show, one grower presents a variety of carnivorous plants. A.A.O.S. President Yoshiko Hill eagerly anticipates the big weekend. She also attests to the power of orchid passion: “As an avid orchid collector I can hardly wait until the vendors unpack their plants on Friday evening.” The Ann Arbor Orchid Festival runs Saturday and Sunday, March 15 & 16, from 10am- 4:30pm each day at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Rd. in Ann Arbor. Exhibits open at noon on Saturday and 10am on Sunday. Admission is free. For more information e-mail annarboros@aol.com. ■

Political Theater…
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opportunities to every production that comes their way. The final decision as to who gets how many shows is a middle ground between what the production company can offer and what the university expects from them. “I like to put artists and audiences in the same place and time and see what happens,” says Kevin Gilmartin, director of the Office of Major Events who brings Dragon to Ann Arbor. “Watching their interaction is a spiritual moment in my life.” According to U-M president Mary Sue Coleman, the UMS forms its relationship with the RSC based on “big, bold and brand new artistic products.” When offered to include Midnight’s Children in this year’s residency, former president Lee Bollinger jumped on the idea. Yet UMS President Ken Fischer reacted differently. “Let’s first talk with our Arab friends,” says Fischer of his first reaction. Given the political baggage that Rushdie would bring, he says he wanted to make sure that they were on board with this endeavor. While artistic expression is everyone’s first priority, no one could afford to be blind to politics, not even if that connection was not entirely obvious to most. “Performing arts venues tend to be too narrow and not visionary enough,” says Ho about UMS’s preference of the RSC. “If you bring me in, you get something that is organic, radical and fun.” The convictions of the performers and writers are as varied as the message with which the audience takes home. The one consistent message is to appreciate the 122 CURRENT March 2003

Voice of the Dragon

production for it’s artistic value, political viewpoints. Wrangling comes second. As Williams sums it up, “It’s art, not politics lightly veiled—it’s art. I urge audiences to keep in mind that what is being presented is art. The measure of whether it will succeed or fail is not in terms of it’s enforcement of political viewpoints but in terms of whether it succeeds in being a powerful theatrical experience.” The Royal Shakespeare Company presents the US premiere of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children at the Power Center Wednesday, March 12 to Sunday, March 16. Tickets: $30-$60. For more information, visit www.umich.edu/pres/rsc/ and for tickets, call 764-2538. Voice of the Dragon: Once Upon a Time in Chinese America shows at the Power Center Tuesday, March 25 at 8pm. Tickets: $25 ($20 student/youth) are available at the MUTO or 763-TKTS. For more information, visit www.voiceofthedragon.com or call 936-9358. ■

PHOTO BY KEEFAHMAX