Available Light

Tags

, , , ,

Available Light

Music by John Adams

Choreography by Lucinda Childs

Stage design by Frank Gehry

Palace Theatre, 6 July 2017

Available Light © JJ Tiziou

Available Light © JJ Tiziou

Everything shone.

At first, mind, the dancers were shrouded in shadow. Some light, then gradual colour and eleven dancers emerged: three in white, four in red, four in black. Their movement, the dancers in white on the upper stage and the others in the stage below (though in time this arrangement varied), created geometric patterns that delighted the eye and teased the mind. Indeed, it was as though Lucinda Childs’ choreography created a combinatorial puzzle (the dancers like colourful counters, sometimes in motion and other times forbidden to move, according to the rules of an idiosyncratic game) whose solution was to be found in John Adams’ music.

When chess reached Renaissance Europe a new form of movement, the dynamic diagonal, came into being and the bishop and the queen (see, for example, Marilyn Yalom’s book) acquired this power. It is an angular movement, derived perhaps (mind, several explanations have been advanced) from the use of maps, the way ships navigated at sea. Childs’ choreography makes frequent and effective use of the dynamic diagonal here, yet even so the effect is not flat and angular but rather full-bodied: her dancers weave and curve and pirouette in Frank Gehry’s generous space, with the human form, as ever, forging its own Wunderweg.

Everything, everyone shone.

Available Light is showing at the Palace Theatre as part of the Manchester International Festival.  Further details can be found here.

Alone in Berlin

Tags

, , , ,

Alone in Berlin

Directed by Vincent Perez

Germany, 2016

HOME, 5 July 2017

Alone in Berlin

One of those ‘not all Germans were Nazis’ films; 13 Minutes, the film about Georg Elser’s failure to assassinate Hitler, was another.

When Otto’s (Otto is played by Brendan Gleeson) son dies on the Eastern Front, his eyes are suddenly opened. A tipping point has been reached. He realises that Hitler’s regime is murderous and rotten. So he, together with his wife (Emma Thompson) go out and about all over Berlin, placing postcards denouncing it.

For Otto, it is important that he watches people as they read these cards: perhaps because seeing their cowardice and complicity salves his own. Or it could be he wants to be caught. Anyway, it is a curious sort of sadism.

There is one telling scene where a suspect (not Otto) is asked to prove that his son is alive (one postcard mentions the death of a son, so the police believe that the perpetrator has lost a son also). The man holds up a postcard-sized photograph of a healthy, happy young man in army (not SS) uniform holding up a dead child on his bayonet. These photos were by no means uncommon (see Christopher R Browning’s Ordinary Men), family mementos of deeds of derring-do. As we know, the Wehrmacht and not only Einsatzgruppen led by the SS, took part in mass murder and killed women and children.

And this is the irony of Otto’s project, heroic though it might be. What his postcards assert is not really news. It is what everyone knows. And it can hardly have come as a surprise to readers of Mein Kampf or those who had witnessed the impact of the Nuremberg laws (i.e. the German populace as a whole) that Hitler’s regime was bent on a murderous Rassenkampf.

Of course, not all Germans were Nazis…

All Eyez On Me

Tags

, , ,

All Eyez On Me

Directed by Benny Boom

USA, 2017

HOME, 5 July 2017
All Eyez On Me

This biopic of the rapper Tupac Shakur  is perhaps a little too earnest.

You can say of him that he came out of a world of casual violence and casual misogyny, a so-called gangsta culture, and was careless with his life and the lives of others. But you must say as well that, while he was in that world, he also reported from it. He saw it plainly and described it straight (‘Kept it real’ may be the phrase I’m looking for, though I cannot do the accent ). We should be grateful for that, at least, and for the wild and infectious tunes he’s left behind.

The disconnection between the ‘civil rights generation’ and the hip-hop generation (the urban poor come from the world of The Corner) is well highlighted here, and there are strong performances throughout. Race is still a live issue in America, as Ferguson and ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests make clear. The past is not yet past.

All in all, a decent enough film.

St John Passion

Tags

, , , ,

St John Passion

By Johann Sebastian Bach

RNCM Concert Hall, 23 June 2017

St John Passion

Here the staging was simple but stunningly effective, the performances perfectly pitched.

For fervent Christians and lapsed Catholics and, who knows, even humanist cheerleaders (those who take Unweaving the Rainbow as their Bible) this is a story full of suffering and noble sacrifice and (albeit for some only poetic) truth.

An advantage of Christianity, in our secular age, is that it is interleaved with such magnificent art (here Bach, also Giotto, Cranach, Leonardo… the list is long) that it renders the creed a certain credence. In order to really get the art, you have to suspend disbelief and momentarily embrace the faith.

On one memorable occasion, which must have been more than a decade ago, I attended a performance of the St John Passion at St Augustine’s in Vienna, a church where fine music is regularly performed even during a normal Sunday mass. This evening’s St John Passion, which had Nicholas Mulroy as The Evangelist and the RNCM Chamber Orchestra and the RNCM Chamber Choir in attendance, was every bit as good as that one. And that was no surprise, actually.

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

Tags

, , , , ,

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

The Bridgewater Hall, 29 June 2017

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

Well, turns out there was a Russian theme to the season’s final concert.

We started with selections from Modest Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and followed it with a violin concerto by Prokofiev (the Violin Concerto No 1 in D major, in fact), which led up to Tchaikovsky’s final symphony, the so-called ‘Pathetique’, a harrowing, haunting masterpiece.

Not all of it is harrowing, to be honest, there are the glitzy fanfares and a xyst-trail of a waltz and even a few niggardly moments of joy. Yet their effect, or rather their dread consequence, is to foreground the dark encroaching sorrowful silhouettes, to cast them as stark winter branches raised against a cold titanium sky.

Yes, it is a harrowing, a troubling and mysterious work even now.

Portrait of Jaco

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Portrait of Jaco

RNCM Big Band with Laurence Cottle

RNCM Theatre, 28 June 2017

Portrait of Jaco

‘The most sublime act is to set another before you,’ so wrote William Blake.

For this concert Laurence Cottle chose to showcase the music of Jaco Pastorius, mighty magician of the bass guitar and a prime influence on his own playing. At moments Cottle showed his mastery of the instrument to great effect, but mainly this concert was an opportunity for members of the RNCM Big Band to shine.

And shine they did. There were marvellous solos from Alexander Huxley on trumpet, Dominic Degavino on piano, Caitlin Laing on saxophone and many other band members besides. Meera Maharaj on flute did a lyrical rendition of Blackbird. It sang.

This turned out to be a sublime evening all around.

Slack Bay

Tags

, ,

Slack Bay

Directed by Bruno Dumont

France, 2016

HOME, 22 June 2017

Slack Bay

This is a strange film, with a lot to digest.

In part it is about a weird family who holiday at the coast, with everyone being highly strung and suffering from strange nervous diseases. The family has a boy who dresses and pretends to be a girl – so a gender-fluid flavour, that’s another strain. Also, tourists are going missing and in part it is a mystery with a brutal, bloody heart.

A very French fancy.

My Cousin Rachel

Tags

, , , ,

My Cousin Rachel

Directed by Roger Michell

UK, 2017

HOME, 21 June 2017

My Cousin Rachel

Rachel Weisz is Rachel, an older woman and European to boot.

She has been living in Florence (a brief rooftop scene shows the Duomo floating in the sky), she can speak Italian and German too. God knows what she makes of Philip (Sam Claflin), the naive English lad in whose ambit she finds herself.

What is interesting here is how all the stuff that fuels Philip’s desire for Rachel – her mysterious Florentine past, that foreign elegance, her ice-cold and white-hot sensuality, the eyes, cheekbones and lips that are Weisz’s own – also fuels his paranoia. She is a dangerous, beautiful animal. He suspects betrayal. It is as though sex and death, desire and fear coalesces around the figure of Europa, a Europa about which this young Englishman is profoundly ambivalent. And then she is lost.

It is a crisp adaptation of a savage tale, one of the best of Daphne du Maurier’s baroque melodramas.

Churchill

Tags

, , , , ,

Churchill

Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky

UK, 2017

HOME, 22 June 2017

Churchill

This film is a portrait of Churchill in the days leading up to D-Day.

It has several fine performances – by Brian Cox in the title role and by Miranda Richardson as the wife and by Julian Wadham as that infuriating military genius Monty (Eisenhower called him a psychopath) and others – but is marred by horrendous emotional manipulation.

There seem to be a lot of these ‘Britain fights against Germany and saves Europe‘ films about at the minute, as though to underline our credentials as a European nation post-Brexit: ‘Look, EU, this is what EU’re losing!’ (Oh, we are the one who decided to leave…)

The accusation is often made that Hollywood distorts history; well, they’re not the only guilty party in this respect. On the Western front, America suffered far more casualties than Britain (see Beevor’s books on D-Day and the Ardennes), yet the American soldier’s experience is not represented here. Instead, you’re left with the impression – because the film is about Churchill’s anguish about maybe being responsible for another Gallipoli – that it was a mainly British affair. Well, no, the Americans took the brunt of it – together with the Brits, the Aussies and Canadians, etc. – that was why Eisenhower (here a fine solid portrayal by John Slattery) was put in charge of the Allied forces.

The Art of Rivalry

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

The Art of Rivalry

By Sebastian Smee

Profile Books, 2016

ISBN: 9781781251652

The Art of Rivalry

This thought-provoking book could best be called a micro-history of art.

In it, Sebastian Smee casts a forensic eye over four friendships between artists: Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Matisse and Picasso, Manet and Degas, and Pollock and de Kooning. All were rivals and fellow innovators as well as friends, of course, and while one may have predominantly influenced the other at the start of their friendship, the influence was never going to only flow one way. Artists are ultra-individuals, so there will come a point when they want to shake off influences – seeing them as just another encumbrance – and become more fully themselves; that creates a problem as well. And artists can be dogmatic: what works for them is best.

So to see Matisse and Picasso, two very different personalities, puzzle over each other’s newly minted work and – despite being perplexed – not dismiss it out of hand, is kind of wondrous. There is an element of suspending judgement out of respect, of thinking: ‘For him to do something so silly, well, there must be something to it, though I don’t quite get it at the minute.’

One of the motors here is that one artist covets in the other what he feels he lacks in himself. Pollock’s spontaneity versus de Kooninhg’s measured, careful approach to craft, say, or Degas, the reclusive bachelor, eyeing with envy Manet, married man and man of the world. If a fellow artist values your work, it’s probably OK: that is the constant. Beyond that, each friendship tells a story. As for Freud, it was Bacon’s openness to experience, his willingness to risk all, that was a prime inspiration. He acted as a goad to change. Yet that was also a stumbling block: Bacon’s extreme masochism, the intensity of his relationship with Peter Lacy in particular, was something that Freud just couldn’t get his head around.

There are plenty of intriguing and entertaining quotes in the book, with one favourite being this one from Degas:

A picture is something that requires as much trickery, malice and vice as the perpetration of a crime.

It is an elegantly written book, Smee’s pellucid prose making for a supremely enjoyable and effortless read. There is an important and to my mind convincing (though incomplete) thesis at its heart, mind. That it is the passing of a baton (or rather, a back and forth exchange) between individual artists that is the fulcrum of significant artistic change – not movements, historical eras, schools of art, visionary geniuses and the like. (I thought, while reading the book, of the dialogue between Klimt and Schiele: another instance of Smee’s thesis.) While Smee’s focus is on the modern period (the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), both Rona Goffen and Fred Ilchman have adopted a comparable approach when writing about Renaissance artists, and one could perhaps apply it to contemporary art too.

A beautiful and important book, which the publisher describes here.