Saturday, 19 March 2011

Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore

Art i am lusting after... Harland Miller's new penguin prints from Other Criteria. What's annoying is when i first saw one of these and loved it, it was £500. now they are selling for £1,250. Fuck, bugger, bollocks.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Most Incredible Thing

The Pet Shop Boys and Javier de Frutos' ballet interpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen story The Most Incredible Thing is indeed just that; The Most Incredible Thing. or at least i thought so as i sat there grinning manically and thoroughly caught up in the gloriously dynamic innovation of this magical story. The tale itself is a simple one - a king promises  his daughter's hand in marriage to the person who presents him with the most incredible thing. and that incredible thing (made by the simple carpenter you are rooting for who just happens to be in love with the princess, and she him) proves to be a truly knock-your-socks off clock which draws you inside, to its inner workings which are a multifaceted, kaleidoscopic world of pure wonder. there's some too-ings and fro-ings as sinister elements collude to overturn harmony, but it all ends well - with a marriage and the jolly pronouncement that 'no one was jealous'.

This production was conceived by The Pet Shop Boys, and there's a definite pop music cut and thrust to the ballet - it's upbeat and pacey from the get-go and there's no pretentious messing about when it comes to emotional impact - love, anger, danger and innovation are boldly articulated through both the music and movement. It works perfectly on stage; intensely dramatic, moving and punchy. I'm no expert when it comes to things like choreography, but all i can say is this - you feel every twinge of emotion in every sinuous flex as the bodies dance about - the angry tension, the fluidity of love, the resistance, compliance, nerves, joy and fear. It's magical.

The ballet opens with the pulsating ferocity of a video projection - numbers flash, followed by the laborious and intricate cutting of  paper into pretty shapes. when the curtain rises there's a paper castle suspended above the stage. it's double sided as if reflected in a mirror. this idea of two sides of one whole, opposites inextricably linked and reflections is one that recurs throughout the ballet, via the use of mirrors and monochromatic visuals. This theme culminates with the destruction of the clock; which is seen as being incredible as its creation. White goodness is set against the shadowy greys of evil. The stage floor is reflective, a melting pot for the two. This floor later proves the perfect foundation for a hall of mirrors which prevents the hero and heroine from meeting. They are both there, but they see only themselves. Creation is destruction, evil is the other side of good. it's a concept that's arresting, powerful, disturbing and fascinating.

The story is set in a communist-esque Russia... there's Soviet lettering and typeface, the corps de ballet are drone-like workers, moving about with mechanical grace - robotic movements, angular limbs - while the evil henchmen have a Ruski vibe with their collarless shirts and baggy trousers tucked into boots. The feel of the piece reminded me of the Futurists, or Vorticists... the sharp edges and breaks in the dancing and the music like the angularity of their paintings.

But for me, the performance truly took flight when the story was swallowed by the clock. the whole stage becomes the mechanical turning parts of the clock at the centre of which is the clock face - pared down to an inter play of black and white - a sort of 1960s/70s op art play of monochromatic light. the series of worlds within this clock, rather than being biblical as in the original story, are like artistic movements - surrealist, expressionist etc realisations of worlds - you get a dance routine on a lips sofa while noses and ears wander about. one dancers routine is enturely inside the framework of a piano, in another internal world it's all splishes of colour.

I just didn't expect to be as bowled over as i was. but i left buoyed by the imaginative journey and the brilliant marriage of dance and music and was still completely entranced by the time i arrived home.

The most Incredible Thing is on until March 26th at Sadler's Wells.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Kneehigh's The Red Shoes

Kneehigh's darkly unnerving subversion of the fairy tale The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen was one of their first productions, and given how much of a fan of theirs i've become over the years, it was interesting to see a revival of play (at the BAC) that 10 years ago catapulted them from bucolic creative exile in Cornwall into the mainstream cultural throng of the capital - this year sees their latest production, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, open in the heart of the west end.

The Red Shoes as presented by Kneehigh takes the Christian moral of the original story, which condemns vanity, moral turpitude and self interest and praises religious subservience,  and tweaks it slightly but significantly. In the original the heroine is a vain girl besotted with her red shoes; she wears them continually, shamelessly flouting social and religious convention; she becomes demonically possessed by the shoes, which cause her to dance all the time, never giving her pause for breath so she is forced to have her feet amputated - only in death does she find religious salvation and relief. In this production the heroine is a much more sympathetic figure, a rescued waif who once possessed by her scarlet demon dancing clogs is categorically rejected by the church when she asks for help - the prospect of death after her physical mutilation is less a relief than the ultimate punishment for her sins. God (in a flying cap) seems to drag her kicking and screming into the afterlife. there's no sense this is a good outcome and so she flees - it's an escape that seems to suggest that being different and doing your own thing should not be condemned.

What initially rocks the moral boat is the cast of outcasts who tell the story. The tale is narrated by a flamboyant tranny standing on high - prancing about on a platform above the stage. He's confident, wry, cocky - no morelising authority in the traditional sense. Down below the 'puppet' actors who act out the tranny's words are dressed like members of the lunatic asylum in grubby underwear and with shaved heads - they silently act out the story, accompanied by stirring music, and sporadically don accessories which give a hint of a costume - a pair of glasses and a cape, or a floral headpiece and and an apron. you're never allowed to forget that these characters are really madmen - lost, confused and controlled by a puppet master. Their mime-style performances contribute to a haunting, eerie and unsettlingly dark message, but flashes of humour  light up the stage like strobe lights - it's mesmerising, sinister, disturbing.

The tricks of performance are what maks it so special though - the fishing rod which whips the amputated red shoes about the herione's head, the dances and songs which are links in the chapters of the story, the sound effects which inject the fairy story with real horror (the sawing and crunching of bone as the butcher amputates the feet set your teeth on edge). It's magically sewn together - stitched with invisible thread, you easily follow the episodes of story, but they only really come together towards the end, when forgotten elements suddenly glow with relevance. It's no surprise it's been such a hit.

Monday, 7 March 2011


Last week I was invited along to the first in a series of seven deadly sins salons hosted by art collective ContainerPLUS, of whom i am a MAJOR fan. Held in their very cool offices in Shoreditch, the theme was lust, and racy talks by Coco de Mer founder Sam Roddick and historian Hallie Rubenhold (something of a historical specialist in wanton ladies) both titilated and amused, as did the aphrodisiac cocktails (pomegranite and lavender) and sexily sumptuous nibbles (incuding delicious dense brownies to die for). Before i left, i was blindfolded and led into a lust confessional booth where one of the women from saucily provocative dance troupe the Lady Greys elicited some sensual secrets from me and prescribed a deliciously fruity remedial tincture.  The next event, scheduled for mid-April has the theme of Greed...

Friday, 4 March 2011

Mini Bar for the Mind

The school of life has hooked up with Morgan's Hotel Group - each room now has a mini bar for the mind as well as a chic fridge filled with over-priced alcoholic delights. i love the idea of getting steaming drunk on miniatures and launching into pretentious drunken conversations WITH A POINT. or a purpose. or a direction. or something. very pretty packaging, isn't it?

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Grandfather Clock: Maarten Baas

Whilst wandering around the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam this weekend i stumbled across this grandfather clock... it's a video installation by Maarten Bass which appears to have a man inside it who draws the hand s of the clock to mark the time. insanely cool.