Review: ‘Off the Wall’ is easily unique, fun enough to be an annual event

It was a truly unique night at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts last night with the first ever Off the Wall fundraising event. As I was leaving the event, feeling inspired and blessed to have seen so much talent in just three hours, I hoped that the UICA makes this an annual event, and I can safely assume the happy audience around me felt the same.

The event featured eight performers and utilized four levels of the building, with food and drink available on two levels for convenience. Local DJ Adrian Butler took the mic to host and guided guests to each performance, along with other UICA staff that carried signs saying “follow me to the next performance.” In what could have been a very confusing transition for some people, the UICA really thought that out and made it seamless for the guests.

The event opened with the stunning opera of Grace Vanhoven. Wherever guests were — upstairs chatting or in line at the cash bar — she commanded their attention with her voice as it echoed throughout the building. What a great start, because after that, we were all eager to find the next performance.

Zachary Trebellas was next, with his brief lesson on how to view art. He prompted the audience with questions about the art, which was a very interesting piece on the wall. But unfortunately, not everyone was upstairs or paying enough attention, so only a small group got to really experience his piece.

Back downstairs, Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids performed one of its 10-minute plays, “The Rules,” and fortunately this performance really grabbed the room’s attention. The three actresses did great in such a different type of performance space for plays.

The next performance was the most interactive and probably most memorable. The Dance in the Annex was really that, as the five dancers glided around the entire fourth floor, with the crowd moving and following as they went. From climbing up the wall to handstands on the stairs, we were all in awe at the gracefulness of it all. The dancers used audience members sitting in chairs as part of the contemporary dance. The icing on the cake was the live accompaniment by Fiona Dickinson, which was both chilling and calming as it echoed off the walls and throughout the annex.

Even more excited after this performance, we went up to the fifth floor to see Funny Girls, an all-female comedy group. They won the audience over with their skit and a hilarious improv bit with the audience that worked out really well. I wish they had more time, because it seemed to fly by.

Next was spoken word poet Brianne Ross, who read four pieces tackling political and social issues, including a “PSA to the NFL.” What really was reflective of her talent was Ross’ last piece, where she pulled out a piece of paper, saying it wasn’t “ready to leave the page yet” but she wanted to perform it for the audience. That type of raw experience felt like we were all apart of something even more intimate.

The next performance was improv by Plant Parenthood. These four guys were pretty funny, but it was difficult to hear their performance as they didn’t have any microphones. Those standing close crowded around did get a laugh and I definitely wanted to see them perform again in a more intimate space.

Finally, the final performance. I don’t think the UICA could have chose a better finale performance with the rock/jazz/hip hop band Les Créatif. Right off the bat I was excited to hear their music with the diversity in performers and instruments — guitar, bass, cello, drums, saxophone (and rapper) and vocals. They really rocked out the space and had us bobbing our heads and swaying to the music. Some people even took to dancing. It was a fun experience for all. Toward the end, as most people were leaving (and missing out), the cellist started to play a low chord, and the drummer and bassist joined it. Soon the singer and saxophonist joined in and it was magical moment as they freestyled into a song.

After experiencing that, I left feeling like I experienced art in a way I never really had before. Sure, I’d seen performers before and walked through an art gallery. But to metaphorically take the art “off the wall” and into the performance space, really tacks on even more of an appreciation for the arts and what it takes, as you see it performed live in front of you. I really hope the UICA does this event again next year, because I’ll definitely find a way to be there.

Off the Wall
2 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
May 15