The Rite of Spring & Petrushka


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The Rite of Spring & Petrushka

Music by Stravinsky

Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre

The Lowry, 22 April 2014

The Rite of Spring.  Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

The Rite of Spring. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

There’s no denying the power of Michael Keegan-Dolan’s inventive version of The Rite of Spring.

The celebrated ballet becomes in the main a hunt, the maidens hares and the tribal males some kind of pack animal: foxes, dogs, wolves.  Chthonic beasts hungry for blood, engaged in a primal rite of sacrifice.

And the sexual violence, which was always present – it’s there in Nijiinsky’s original choreography (at least as reconstructed by Millicent Hodson) and in Pina Bausch’s brilliant and influential production and implicit above all in Stravinsky’s astounding score – is made, if anything, more stark.  The dance is finely wrought, yet fraught with terrible emotion.  At times you feel as though you want to look away or somehow stop the spectacle that’s happening on stage: it is altogether too intense, anxious, cruel.  Like watching someone you love being bullied or gang-raped.  Yet you keep on watching: rapt, spellbound.

Later other, gentler colours emerge.

The Rite of Spring was followed after the interval by Petrushka.  By contrast, this was rather a tame affair, very much much of a muchness.  OK but nothing special.

The Rite of Spring & Petrushka are touring throughout the UK, further details can be found here.



The Rough Guide to Vienna


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The Rough Guide to Vienna

By Rob Humphreys

Rough Guides, 2011 (Sixth edition)

ISBN: 9781848366817

The Rough Guide to Vienna

Happy to have got ahold of Rob Humphreys’ guide to one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

Vienna is relatively small as capital cities go, hence many of its key cultural attractions are close together, and it is surrounded by beautiful countryside – the much vaunted, verdant Wienerwald.  There’s much to see and do.

In the book there are chapters devoted to each area of the city, both central (e.g. the Innere Stadt, the Hofburg and the Vorstadte) and outlying (Leopoldstadt, Schonbrunn and Hietzing).  The Kunsthistorisches Museum, reowned above all for its Bruegel room, which featured in the film Museum Hours, is given its own chapter.  There’s a lot of practical information: listings of hotels, cafes and restaurants; specialist shops; music and arts festivals; plenty of city maps and the lowdown on the transport system (the U-Bahn in particular is wonderfully efficient for getting about).

Colour sections cover that venerable Viennese institution the Kaffeeehaus, the Secession (Klimt and company’s art movement) and suggest some twenty things to see and do.  However, it is true to say that there’s little colour throughout most of the book, unlike say in Stephen Brook’s DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Vienna, but the density and diversity of information makes up for it.  Also, Humphreys is strong on the often troubled history of Vienna and includes thumbnail essays on Freud, Wittgenstein, Mozart and other Viennese figures of note, two things that Brook’s book doesn’t do.

All in all, an excellent guide.

We are the Best!


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We are the Best!

Directed by Lukas Moodysson

Sweden, 2013

Cornerhouse, 20 April 2014

We are the Best!

This is an enjoyable, fun film which follows a trio of teenage girls who decide to form a punk band in Stockholm in 1982.

It roots for the girls, laughs along with them and not at them: their pretensions were, after all, our own once.  So too their foibles and occasional faux pas are given a wide berth.

The best scene is when one of the girls, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), tunes up a guitar.  Two aging rockers wait, intending to give her ‘the benefit of their experience’.  Slowly, they realise that that won’t after all be necessary.  But thanks anyway, fellers.

There are brilliant performances from the three leads, a convincing sense of place.  A film fizzing with all the energy of punk itself.

Rrose to the Occasion


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Rrose to the Occasion

By John Cage and Thomas Wulffen

Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp No.8

Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2012

ISBN: 9783869843858

Rrose to the Occasion

When, in September 1984, John Cage came to Berlin to give a concert at the Akademie der Kunste in the Tiergarten, Thomas Wulffen, then a young journalist and now a prominent art critic, took the opportunity to speak with him.

This book contains a transcript of their conversation and Wulffen also writes engagingly about his initial discovery of, and youthful enthusiasm for Cage.  And about what the composer means to him still, some twenty odd years after his death.  He remains the avant-garde artist, fearless and implacable, radical and humane, possessing a diamond integrity yet somehow childlike.  His responses here show us a man with an insatiable appetite for experience and an endless curiosity about the world; his enthusiasm for the computer makes it clear that he would have embraced the internet and the promise it holds.  The remark that jumps out at you is this one:

I don’t know who I am. I try to become, each day, someone I dont know.

It catches your eye because it ties in so closely with the man’s artistic practice.  Cage wrote once that chance (the use of aleatory procedures in composition) liberated him ‘from what I had thought to be freedom and which actually was only the accretion of habits and tastes.’  He abhorred whatever was consistent and predictable, hence his difficulties with German (though not only German) organisers, alluded to here.  His creative ambition was to always transcend himself, and clearly this was for Cage an existential (spiritual) aspiration too.  Fanny Howe’s thoughts on bewilderment are not a million miles away:

What I have been thinking about, lately, is bewilderment as a way of entering the day as much as the work…

Read the full article, Bewilderment by Fanny Howe, here.

Rrose to the Occasion is a valuable document of record.  Cage will always, it seems, have the power to provoke.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.




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Directed by John Michael McDonagh

Ireland, 2013

Cornerhouse, 13 April 2014


A comedy, so-called, with a black, black heart.

To be honest, I’m not sure why this film (and certain others of its ilk) is called a comedy.  Most likely because there is a strong element of caricature to the characters, the people in it.  Here they are for the most part evanescent distortions, grotesqueries.  This does not, however, make for a jovial film – curious, that.

The story is that in confessional one Saturday a priest is given seven days to live.  It seems that Ireland is not as enamoured with the Catholic Church as it once was.

Aidan Gillen, an incredible actor of course, delivers another spellbinding performance here – he plays a kind of Ivan Karamazov figure, if anything just a wee shade darker.

A worthwhile watch.

Tom at the Farm



Tom at the Farm

Directed by Xavier Dolan

France, 2013

Cornerhouse, 5 April 2014

Tom at the Farm

Xavier Dolan’s new film is a provocative and heady brew, part Entertaining Mr. Sloane, part Deliverance, part Narrow Rooms.

Tom (played by Dolan himself) goes out to the sticks to his dead boyfriend’s funeral, staying at the family farm, with his lover’s mother and brother.

He is in a compromised position, to say the least.  The mother is unaware that her son was gay, so Tom has to lie.  While the brother, a stay at home son with a penchant for violent sex games, comes on to him.  After the funeral Tom stays on at the farm to milk the cows and such – and because he kind of likes the brother.

It is Tom’s journey, a tale of terror and revelation, whereas I feel the black humour could have been brought out more.  The film kept me attentive and entertained, mind, right through to the Rufus Wainwright song at the end.

A worthwhile watch.

The Godfather, Part II


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The Godfather, Part II

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

USA, 1974

Cornerhouse, 6 April 2014

The Godfather Part II

Looked at again, a great film still: Pacino’s towering performance, the way Coppola swathes him in darkness.

Michael Corleone is a prince.  A man with no obvious vices, concerned with the welfare of his family and colleagues, a student of history, thoughtful and nuanced.  If he is hard on others, he’s harder on himself.  And it’s not the life he wanted.  Yet the shadows collect about him, seeming to obscure and consume his soul.

That’s the paradox at the heart of the film: the intertwining of good and evil that constitutes the character of Michael Corleone.  He is feared, but princes should be feared, or so Machiavelli taught.  Since he cannot forgive others, his strength segues into weakness.

When the credits roll at the end, you realise (again) that you’ve watched a brilliant gangster film, yes, but also a film about fate and freedom, the burden of the past and the promise of America.  The sins of the father as terrible legacy.  A true classic.

The Godfather, Part II is showing again on Wednesday as part of the Matinee Classics season, further details are here.

The Killer Is Dying


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The Killer Is Dying

By James Sallis

No Exit Press, 2012

ISBN: 9781842437407

The Killer Is Dying By James Sallis No Exit Press, 2012 ISBN: 9781842437407

Without wishing it to sound anything like routine: another extraordinary novel from James Sallis.

This one, like many of his others, is hard to pin down exactly.  Paranormal, science-fiction and metaphysical elements vie within a crime story a la Savage Night, about a hitman on his last job.  Perhaps that catch-all label ‘slipstream’ will have to cover it.

The hitman is called Christian and what happens here is that some guy gets to his target before he can press the ‘Execute’ button.  Christian, unsure what’s going on, is driven to contact the cops investigating the hit.  Whoever hired him has put him in the frame.  His professional pride is hurt.

Naturally,  the cops attend other cases and Christian recalls other hits, allowing Sallis to use the topography of the crime novel to edge in allusion and digression, layer the main narrative with diverse meaning.  As is his wont.

Puzzling events pepper a vivid narrative that has real momentum and a melancholy undertow.  An alien visitation, a boy, Jimmie, who can pick up on people’s dreams.  Still, in our world the actual has been outstripping the possible for quite a while now and strangest of all is the phenomenon of the internet, its benign/malign potential, and (a reiterated theme here) the weird way in which animals have adapted to the human-built environment.  What is this (latter) topic doing in a crime novel?  It is a question that Sallis has been asked quite a few times before, and I may have asked him a similar question myself.  At any rate, I think It’s a fair bet that he has seen and enjoyed Werner Herzog’s version of Bad Lieutenant.

An immensely rewarding read.

The publisher’s description of the book can be seen here.


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