Category Archives: Arts

An Embarrassment of Museums

Upon arrival in Brussels, Pawn actually had no plans, save one. Knowing well Pawn’s predilection for Art Nouveau, friend P had recommended a tour of the home of Victor Horta, one of the founders of the movement. Yesterday I went, and I must say it was lovely. Located in Saint Gilles, the museum is a faithful preservation of the home and studio of Horta, built between 1898 – 1906, and modified several times over the ensuing decade, the home & studio occupy two plots of land, side by side, and were mostly separate internally.


As much as possible the preservations, mounted over several years from the 1960s, when the building was saved, up until 2012-14, when the most recent renovations were completed, have kept the furnishings and finishes close to the original. In many cases, Horta designed furnishings have been brought from other properties, as have chandeliers, switch plates, etc. Wallpapers and fabrics have been recreated from designs of the times, etc. The effect is quite complete and one feels totally as though you’re seeing the original thing.

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It is breathtaking!

One stunning feature is the sculpture atelier in the basement of the studio, in which we find models and maquettes of many of Horta’s building designs, as well as a large etagere, in which common elements of Horta’s designs are displayed alongside their inspirations from nature — spider’s webs, flowers, plant stems & leaves, birds, skeletons & bones — in such a way that we are drawn to re-imagine these beautiful designs as composites of their constituent natural components.


Today a journey to the Bozar museum for a large range of exhibits in a grand building designed by none other than Horta himself, in the years between the wars. Pawn took the tram down to Royal Park, and finding the entrance to Borza closed (new security regime…) started to look around for the new route. What’s that sound? A strange, fascinating blend of Hip Hop and Brass Band is bleeding out of the park. A little investigation revealed the Royal Park Music Festival to be underway at the Kiosque do Parc de Bruxelles, having just opened with Wild Board & Bull Brass Band.


This group, fronted by Herbert Celis, features tenor & baritone sax, trombone, trumpet, bass and drums, and has a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Here’s a clip from YouTube:

Yowzah!! I grabbed a glass of Cava and a seat in the crowd and stayed until the rains started. What a joy, a real find. If someone has tried this combination before, the rich flow and sharp edge, I sure wasn’t aware.

Oh, and I should mention the armed military presence, which one finds at so many events which draw crowds.


Up with the brolly and down the stairs to the only open entrance to Bozar. One sign makes it clear that one must check bags, and many other signs describe the various exhibitions and ticketing arrangements, but nowhere can one see where to actually get the tickets. Well, carry on. Check the bag in a locker (free) and start to explore. A fine set of photographs by Colin Delfosse, Gbadolite, Versailles in the Jungle, grabbed my eye. Part of the Summer of Photography exhibition. Here’s three:

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But I wasn’t able to look at much more without being able to present a ticket, and finally someone explained to me that I needed to leave the museum(!), go across the street, buy a ticket there, and then return. All of this in a driving rain. Fun.

So, go retrieve my bag from the locker, grab the brolly, cross the street, buy Day Pass ticket (access to all exhibits), cross back, re-enter building, re-check bag…

It was ultimately worth it, as the rest of the exhibits were quite good. I won’t provide full reviews of them all, but at least a list would help:

  • A Lighthouse for Lampedusa
  • Facing The Future: Art In Europe 1945-68
  • After Scale Model: Dwelling In The Work of James Cesebere
  • Dey Your Lane: Lagos Variations
  • The Center For Fine Arts of Victor Horta: A Labyrinth For The Arts
  • Amos Gitai: Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold
  • Vincen Beeckman: The Gang
  • Open Spaces | Secret Places: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna

You can find information on all of these at Bozar’s website.

I did wander through the entire Labyrinth For The Arts exhibit, camera at the ready, as the exhibit was the building, or parts of it, at least.  There are a handful of thoughtfully arranged drafting tables, festooned with blueprints, photographs and other documents from the period of the construction of the building.  This in the hallways outside the grand theatre.  Here’s some snaps, these first are the entrance doors for the private boxes:

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Here’s some snaps I got in before being told not to (no signs) from Facing The Future .

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I then strolled through the district for a while before coming to the Palace square, and the Royal Museums. I chose Musée Fin-de-Siècle and am so glad I did. Here the focus is 1868 – 1914, which happens to line up well with interests of mine, and also with a golden era of Belgian art. No snaps from this (I was a good boy) but here are some from their website and online resources:

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What a joy to see such fine examples of Art Nouveau furniture and fittings! These went well beyond the few styles visible at Horta’s house, and included many lovely examples of pottery, glassware and metal work. Pawn was in heaven!


In heaven but starving by the time it was over. A wander down into the neighbourhood led to Café Leffe, a brasserie linked to the brewer. A dish of boef carbonnade was just what I needed, and washed down with Leffe Blonde. Yum!


Okay, home again, blisters on the soles of my feet.

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Geisha’s Miracle

Sorry for the delay; much going on, and moving around.

Pawn’s final performance at ITS Festival 2016 was Geisha’s Miracle, a dance by Jija Sohn. Sohn is the winner of 2015’s Moving Forward Trajectory fellowship program, which gives her, “the opportunity to develop her work and network with the help of five Dutch production houses. The project is a coproduction with Dansgroep Amsterdam and a collaboration with DansBrabant, Dansateliers, Generale Oost, Random Collision and ITs Festival.”

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The venue was a rather remarkable space, Dansmakers, “As generator of talent, Dansmakers stands for research, production and presentation; a production house with stage where makers can search, fail and shine.” It is a lovely space with very nice seating, flexible performance areas, extensive lighting grid and good sound system.

The three dancers started in a clutch in a back corner of the stage and slowly, very slowly, arrayed themselves across the whole space. This slow movement almost brings pain into the bodies of the audience, as we watch their tensed muscles fight against each other to not move too quickly. Eventually the dance resolves into more recognizable modern movements, and a variety of props, effects, instruments and focus shifts are brought to bear to give us at least the outline of a story.

In her treatise, Sohn, “explores how to communicate emotional or formless material with dance and movement to bridge the gap between different cultures.” While I cannot be sure how successful this endeavour was, I can attest the the effective beauty of the piece, and its visceral involvement of us, the audience. All in all, a lovely night at Dansmakers.

The evening was completed with the announcement of four nominees for the 2016 Moving Forward Trajectory. These four will receive mentorship and assistance as they work towards a November mini-presentation, after which one will be selected for the full year’s program.

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Banksy/Warhol @ MOCO

MOCO is a new Museum of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam, next to van Gogh Museum on Museumplein.  Their inaugural exhibitions are Banksy/Warhol, separately presented, in the most part, but with some overlap.

Pawn has seen several exhibit of Banksy, which is always a little odd, since he’s known primarily as a street artist, a Graffito.  Here, however, we see quite a few of his works on canvas, board, metal and wood.

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There are still samples of his street work, such as these, excised from their original locations:


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As for Warhol, while there are many familiar items on display, the real joy was in seeing some of his drawings and paintings without the Pop-Art angle.


There is of course much similarity to be drawn between these two artists, and that is where the strength of this paired exhibition lies.  Here are some side-by-side encounters:


Kate Moss, Gray – Banksy, 2005 Marilyn – Warhol


The problem with this show, however, lies in the simplistic and sometimes baffling text panels.  One wonders if the curatorial staff has any clue.  Pawn was particularly irked by the panel accompanying Forgive Us Our Trespassing, a Banksy work.  Here is the piece, originally conceived in collaboration with Los Angeles schools students:


The original version, in LA, was created by the kids placing graffiti on a wall, and then Banksy painting the window frame and praying boy on top of that.  Here, however, is the text the curators chose to place with it:

Like Cardinal Sin, a work with a biblical theme. “Forgive us our trespasses” is the 7th sentence in the English Catholic Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father, the most used prayer in Christian tradition.

Trespassing is also an act and word strongly associated wit Graffiti and street art, as street artists have to trespass private property in order to get a certain tag or artwork on a particular wall.

In this work, Banksy used a very literal approach by depicting a church window, which is tagged on with colors and by different artists.  In front of the work, a boy is praying for forgiveness.

The implication here is that the boy seeks forgiveness for having tagged the window.  To my eyes, however, the boy is seeking forgiveness for having painted the arches on top of the tags.  He has seen beauty in the colours of  the graffiti, and has converted the mess of tags into stained glass.  I think they’ve got it all wrong!

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An Odyssey

The youth of Europe spoke today with a United voice. A voice at times strident, but more often hopeful. They scolded and coddled, preached and implored. They came from across the continent to speak together but separately. They appealed to our better angels, after reminding us we still have them. Mostly, however, they made clear that it is they who are our inheritors, and they shan’t be denied.

The European Parliament, you might ask; The British? Nee, I speak of An Odyssey, an audacious undertaking by Platform European Theatre Academies, PLETA. This group, along with ITS Festival, Europe by People, and others, brought together eight leading European Theatre schools for this production. Each academy produced a piece for an island from Homer’s tale of venture, nostalgia and return.

Our Odyssey began near a small dog park, next to a ferry launch, about a mile from Centraal Station, Het Stenen Hoofd. At the appointed hour a small squadron of brown-shirted youth arrive and start to bark orders at the audience. These students of Theatre Academy Helsinki TEAK put us on a forced march to Calypso, where we are ridiculed and cajoled, made to march in strict lines, then taken into small groups. Pawn finds himself with a group of 8, sitting around a refugee campfire, where our brown-shirt guide tells us that she will soon put us on a boat out of here, but first we are to partake of a brief ceremony; she is to make for us a pot of coffee, which we will share together, before never seeing each other again. As she prepares the pot of coffee over a propane stove, she sings us a Finnish song, and then explains the lyrics in English. They are of separation and finality.

This isn’t just any Odyssey, you see, This journey is informed by Europe’s current refugee crises. Here is a brief excerpt from the programme:

This project represents a unique connection between future actors, mixing cultures, languages and artistic expression into one vision; to create a performance that mirrors the humanitarian challenges we face today. Never before has the need for tolerance, openness, and respect felt more urgent than now. I believe that a better world is possible, and that anyone can contribute, regardless of religion, beliefs, colour of skin or sexual orientation.

-Andreas Koschinski Kvisgaard (Student Westerdal, Norway)

From our imaginary Calypso, we are led to a ferry, which takes us through Amsterdam harbour and deposits us on the banks by the Tolhuistuin cultural compound. This is where the rest of Homer’s islands will be. But first, along the way, we are provided wireless headphones (Sennheiser Outdoor Cinema, for the curious amongst you) through which we hear seabirds and music, voices and more. We are told a tale of Poseidon, how his bureaucratic duties as God of the sea are boring and wearying him, and how, finally, he lays down his trident and retires. This portion of the presentation is by Theaterakademie August Everding, Munich.

This overwhelmed yet bored Poseidon is based not on Homer, but Kafka. When we finish our journey, however, we are led into the Tolhuistuin compound where we are met by flashy, bikini-clad girls with selfie-sticks and few barriers. They in turn lead us to a boisterous man lounging is a small pool, where we are allowed to share in the Champagne. Suddenly a woman appears in the windows above us and launches into a speech about globalization and corporate responsibility. Inspired by the text of a speech given by Cor Herkstroter, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, the rhetoric here deplores government for demanding too much from corporations, and encourages it to get out of the way and let corporations do what’s best; “scrutinizes the Janus-faced Europe of today, whose values of openness and solidarity are being ground down by the very bureaucratic manchinery designed to protect it.” as the programme tells us.

Near the conclusion of the speech, some White Power nationalists filter through the crowd and commence to shout and chant. They sweep through the crowd and over to a small clearing, where they roust a refugee from a tent, and proceed to rough him up, under the gaze of a black-trenchcoat wearing religious figure. The refugee is finally thrown into a shallow grave, and that’s the end of the Cyclops, brought to us by Akademie Teatralna, Warsaw.


Latvian Academy, Riga, bring us Phaiacians. Rather than the purely theatrical techniques used by the others we have seen heretofore, this group share with us some cold, hard facts. Latvia is a country of 1.95 million people, and have accepted a mere 80 refugees. Even if they take their full allotment over the next decade, that is only 700, fewer than half of which are expected to wish to stay. The citizenry may be up in arms, but the country faces severe depopulation, having lost over 10% of the population in the years since the Iron Curtain fell.

The troupe scheme how to entice the refugees, represented by one young man, to stay. They compose little songs and practice being friendly. The song starts to take form, “Welcome to my country, here you don’t belong. Welcome to my country, here you can go wrong…” They eventually get it right, but the whole effect is to poke fun at the efforts by well meaning progressive forces to coax a reluctant populace to see the benefits of immigration.

Ask many people if they’re familiar with Homer’s Odyssey and they may say yes, but they probably only know the story of the Sirens. Odysseus has his men lash him to the mast of the ship, and then bung their ears with wadding, so they may safely traverse the shoals around the island of these temptress singing maidens. Odysseus becomes the only man to hear the Sirens’ song and survive to tell the tale. Thomas Bernhard Akademie, Salzburg, presents this island to us, with a mixture of dance, spoken word, song and music. It is keening and rich, overlaid with language in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English:

The history of the occident is also the history of tying down the body and the musicality of its languages and hence a history of bodies that get in panic when they are confronted with the otherness of the voice or the voice of the other.

This scene attempts a rhythmic-repetitive bodily and musicalized retelling of the triumph over the jeopardy of the voice…


We watch all of this from a room fronting a canal, the performers on a barge, the musicians in the room with us, video screens providing various translation, full and partial.

Next up we are dragged by a frantic, jubilant woman, to a new space, her island. She is Circe. Erasmus Hogeschool/RITCS Brussels bring us a raucous and bawdy rendition of this island of lions, wolves and pigs. In this version we are serenaded by In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and what amounts to a lurid and yet lyrical dance, which in turn tells us the story of debauchery offered and escaped. This was a truly stunning and unnerving interlude, and quite moving. Doesn’t seem to say much about modern Europe, or refugees, but that’s fine with me. We deserve a break!

Toneelacademie, Maastricht, next bring us Underworld. For this we are led to the mezzanine of a small studio theatre space, where we are looking down into a pit. This stunning piece uses a phalanx of video projectors, painting the floor and walls of this sunken chamber. Odysseus enters the underworld, represented here as a placid pool of water dotted with stepping stones, a small geometric island in the centre. When Odysseus steps onto a stone, the ripples he releases show us the lost souls trapped beneath the surface, tangled webs of bodies trapped in eternal struggle for rest. This is by turns disturbing and alluring.

I cannot even begin to describe just what a gift this revelatory experience was. It is immersive and voyeuristic, knowable and mysterious, beautiful and ugly, all at once. When Odysseus pulls Theresius from the lower depths, and they step out onto the water, the surfaces of this CGI disappear, and we are left only with the underlying mesh scaffolding upon which all of this imagery has been constructed. The effect untethers us, leaves us adrift without reference or anchor. It was profound.

The actors and the CGI are perfect together, bound to each other by 3D-scanner coordination, to great effect. I suspect we’ll see more of this in live performance, for it brings the promise of video augmented live performance to a level Pawn has certainly never seen before.

Return. No Odyssey is complete without return, right? That, after all, is what separates Odyssey from misadventure. Here we find return in a quiet glen, where Odysseus is first confronted by suspicious descendants of those left behind so many years ago. But he is eventually recognized, first by his loyal dog, and then by the rest, as who he is. Westerdal, Oslo, present this with masterful sound design and finely choreographed movement. It is triumphant!


An undertaking of this scope and scale would be laudable in the best of times, but what makes this piece so extraordinarily suited to this time, to this moment, is the events of recent days. Not a week ago, even, England and Wales have dealt what could be a lethal blow to the European project. Last night, parties unknown deployed automatic weapons and suicide bombers in the Istanbul airport, killing 41 and injuring over 200. Funerals have already started and we don’t even have final casualty counts.

It is against this backdrop that these students have spoken, have sought a voice which says No! They want Europe, they love Europe. They embrace this ideal of shared cultural norms with separate histories and traditions.

One cannot experience this and not find hope for our future, regardless of the orange-haired monsters in our midst.

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Three One Acts – ITS Amsterdam 2016

Almost forgot to write this one up.  Oops!


While the title “Theatre Triple Date #2” doesn’t convey too much information, it was an interesting night of theatre.  First up was Play Maids by ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem, directed by Mart van Berckel and performed by Margreet Blanken, Anne Freriks and Robin Kuiper.  The latter two play a pair of maids, Claire and Solange, loosely based on Jean Genet’s The Maids, by way of Grey Gardens. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on The Maids:

Solange and Claire are two housemaids who construct elaborate sadomasochistic rituals when their mistress (Madame) is away. The focus of their role-playing is the murder of Madame and they take turns portraying both sides of the power divide. Their deliberate pace and devotion to detail guarantees that they always fail to actualize their fantasies by ceremoniously “killing” Madame at the ritual’s dénouement.

In Play Maids, these games appear at first to be more playful than anything, but we shall see.  Performed in the round (mostly) the set consisted of a sort of wire-frame wardrobe from which hung garments and from which sprouted work surfaces and other accoutrement necessary to the maids’ work.  The setting and props were fresh and inspired; the performances frenetic, farcical and fun.  Blanken as the matron was marvelous, and her seeming obliviousness lent much to the production.


Perhaps a bit longer than was needed, the entire enterprise was well done and a joy to watch, perhaps more so because of the physical similarity of the two young actresses.  I could see this doing well in a Fringe (and, indeed, they will be at Fringe Amsterdam this September).  Interestingly, fashion label Maison the Faux is listed as a collaborator, for Scenography.

Next up was De Spectacular Schandelijke van Een Jong Meisje en het Tragische Einde Dat Daarop Volgde, again from ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem.  Herein a single performer, Laurien van Rijswijk, performs an augmented monologue.  I can’t tell you too much about it, as it was all in Dutch, which I don’t speak.  I think the gist of the piece was that this young woman is coming into her own as her mother is dying of cancer, but that’s just a wild guess.  It did have moving scenes, which I could judge by the waterworks in the audience.

Lastly was The Sound of Circles, Codarts Circus, Rotterdam.  Ralph Ollinger and Marko Hristoskov conceived and present this piece of juggling accompanied by string bass.  It was lovely and well executed.  Seemed an odd fit after the earlier entertainments, but it did leave one with a clear head.

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Hedda a resounding Success!

Pawn loves a good drama, especially something new and edgy, and if it’s got a dark and funny aspect as well, more the better.  No, this is not another Brexit article.  That’s tonight’s performance of Hedda in spades!

Director Loek de Bakker has collaborated with fellow script writer Belle van Heerikhuizen and scenographers Studio Dennis Vanderbroeck to present a taut and suffocating take on Ibsen’s classic drama.

The original Hedda Gabler, along with Ibsen’s similar pieces, particularly Doll’s House, are the very first “Modern” theatre productions, in that they had fully realized three-dimensional, sets, not simply flats and drops. The script begins with a description of the single set, and tonight this was read aloud by the actress playing Hedda:

A spacious, handsome, and tastefully furnished drawing room, decorated in dark colours.  In the back, a wide doorway with curtains drawn back, leading into a smaller room decorated in the same style as the drawing-room.  In the right-hand wall of the front room, a folding door leading out to the hall.  In the opposite wall, on the left, a glass door, also with curtains drawn back.  Through the panes can be seen part of a verandah outside, and trees covered with autumn foliage.  An oval table, with a cover on it, and surrounded by chairs, stands well forward…

Vanderbroeck turns this on its head, or perhaps more accurately on its side.  The set could barely be simpler than it is.  A white triangle, parallel to the stage, hangs 8 feet above it.  From this strong horizontal element hang three pairs of “Vertical Blinds” of the kind found on patio doors or glass-walled conference rooms.  That’s all.


The device is brilliant, absolutely brilliant!!  Throughout the play, various characters open and close one or more blinds, making windows, doors, archways.  They lurk and listen on the other side, they draw a door and walk through it, or open a window and peer out it, or walk behind a wall and listen at it.  They twist the panels from thin slats to opaque panels, sometimes to devastating effect.

The script is another wonder.  Pawn has bridled at poor cuts of Hedda Gabler in the past, but cutting this otherwise 3 hours behemoth is not at all unusual.  In this case the story is modernized, a lot of historical referential cruft is tossed out (along with all minor characters), and along the way a bounty of hidden humor is uncovered, all to great ends.  The show tonight came in at a tight 75 minutes, which is amazing, given that all of the bones of the story remain.

I would give nods to the performers, but without a cast list, that’s hard to do.  I will say this; there was not a weak performance in the lot.  Here are the performers, I just cannot tell you who played whom: Sven Bijma, Yela de Koning, Marit Meijeren, David van Uuden and Abel de Vries.

Costumes by David Laport were spot on for a late ’60s country club feel, with Hedda in a pale blue shift, Thea in a tight, short tennis outfit, Judge Brack in professorial-looking corduroy, Eilert Lovburg a disheveled mess and Tesman in a pale pink shirt and khaki shorts.

If there is a weak point in this production, that would be the lighting design, uncredited in the only guide I’ve got.  The choice was made to use only low sources, mostly from oblique angles, which yields long shadows and poorly lit faces in many scenes.  While I might be able to be convinced that there were valid artistic reasons for this, I’m at a loss to tell you what those might be.

I hope this production sees more life than just this single performance.  It’s a real gem, and all involved should be very very proud.  I’ve spent about $70 for tickets to five shows at ITS Festival 2016, and if this were all I were to see, it would be worth it.  It’s worth the visit here.  Luckily, given how good Een Lolita was earlier today, I have no worry that it need be all there is.

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ITS Festival 2016


Coincident to my visit to Amsterdam is ITS Festival 2016.  Here’s how they describe themselves:

Every year, at the end of June, the latest crop of performing artists will flood the city of Amsterdam. Graduating actors, dancers, mime artists, (film) directors and other performing artists – national and international – will make their first appearance at several professional theatres in the cityheart of Amsterdam.

The International Theatre School Festival Amsterdam is the biggest European student festival where you can scout over 200 theatre talents in more than 50 unique productions. It is a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of how the performing arts will look in the coming years. Alongside the productions, the festival programme is filled with inspiring debates, lectures and workshops.

Fertile ground for this fan of New Work and New Talent.  This afternoon I saw Een Lolita, a meditation on a future for Nobokov’s characters, taking off on the idea of unrealistic expectations which faced the young anti-heroine and her lustful suitor:

We all know the famous characters of Nabokovs masterpiece. The sensual teen Lolita and the more-than-twenty-five-years-older man Humbert Humbert who falls madly in love with the girl, with fatal consequences.

In this play a man and a woman, no longer man and girl, wander around in the memory of the most important memory of their lives, thirty years ago.
With might and main they try to keep the memory alive. What if the highlight of your existence lies far behind you?

Quite good, although I sat too close to be able to both read the supratitles and watch the acting.  Lesson learnt!

Tonight brings Hedda, a modern take on Ibsen’s classic:

It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

She is gorgeous, rich, adventurous, bored and suicidal. She is the female Hamlet and a desperate housewife. She is Hedda.

Loek de Bakker graduates with his own version of Ibsens Hedda Gabler (1890). His Hedda is young and wants to live life to the fullest, but she can’t escape being bored to death. In an attempt to feel any kind of excitement, she manipulates the people around her. When she’s about to lose her last shred of freedom, she leaves this humdrum life with a bang. If no one around her acts big, she will.

Tomorrow I have a triple-header of shorts, following my conference, but I may not be able to actually make that.  Wednesday brings The Odyssey, in which 8 different theatre academies each undertake to dramatize one of the islands in Homer’s tale, with heavy metaphorical reference to today’s refugee crisis (or so the promotional materials imply) in a performance which will have us audience trudging around from place to place.  Not sure I have the best footwear for that, but I think so.

The Odyssey – a theatrical investigation freely based on Homerian motifs

One of the most pressing problems facing our society at present is that of refugees, people who leave their home country for a variety of reasons in search of help, security, and a new start. And most of them come to us because of an idea: the idea of Europe. Europe is more than a common economic area and common external borders. Europe has a common system of values which starts with human rights and cultural similarities. It is absolutely true that this will change the very core of our society. But there are achievements that we can agree on, that make us who we are and are therefore part of our identity. To this end, the Platform of European theatre academies starts a theatrical investigation with the purpose of exploring this question of cultural unity. We do not want to leave this research to sociologists; we are interested in the attitudes of young people who are currently about to join the cultural sphere.

Finally, Thursday is Geisha’s Miracle, a dance piece featuring three young Asian performers testing the limits of western stereotypes of Oriental womanhood:

Three Asian performers invite you to experience their universe; shiny and blue, light and white. They take you on a journey to a place in between live and death, a place in between a transformative reality and a fountain of imagination. Geisha’s Miracle is a synesthetic physical experience that reaches out to the perception of the audience. The surreal visual and musical landscape speaks not only to the ratio but also to the irrational sides of our beings, and asks us to immerse in the absurdity..

Lots to see!


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Elevation, Evacuation and Rapture

The day began with a stroll east along the Regent’s Canal to Cambridge Heath and Vyner street, to meet with the lovely ladies of Degree Art, my favourite gallery in London.  Along the way I received an email from Is:

Am currently sitting in the coffee shop on the corner of Vyner St as I had to lend my keys to one of the members of staff yesterday and because of the storms and flooding, the trains are very delayed and everyone is running behind schedule, so if I spot you coming down Vyner Street before I get into the gallery, I might leap out and grab you for a coffee in here!

There had been raging thunderstorms in the overnight.  Nothing too severe to my Midwestern sensibilities, but quite out of the ordinary here.

Sure enough I fond Is sitting in the cafe, and as we waited for the rest to show up, we had a nice chat about art & business.  Then off to the gallery to look over some new artists and confer on recent purchases.  A joined us there, and once all was sorted, she & I said our farewells and hopped a bus down to Millennium bridge and over that to Tate Modern and its new Switch House expansion.

The Switch House represents a significant expansion of the already mammoth Tate complex, and is a stunner.  Rising 10 storeys, just to the south of the Boiler House and Turbine Hall, Switch House springs from large concrete silo bases.  We first queue with many others for one of the four elevators to the observation deck on 10.  Shockingly, each elevator is quite small, claiming a capacity of 17 each, but we figure more like 12.  People pack into each car, often to the point where doors won’t close.  The whole lift situation seems poorly considered.

Here are views from the 10th floor:


A points out just how new this addition is; the paint is still wet!


The Shard, commonly known as The Salt Cellar.



The neighbours likely didn’t expect this level of exposure.




New Blackfriar’s Bridge.


St Paul’s, across the Millennium Bridge, Boiler House in the foreground.

Once done on 10, we descended to 9 for the restaurant.  We were seated, ordered a glass of champaign, and made our selections — blue cheese soufflé starter and lemon sole main — when all of a sudden a klaxon sounded and a voice came over the PA, “Please follow your steward’s instruction and evacuate the building by the nearest exit.”


We walked down countless flights of stairs and spilled out into the rear courtyard. Here’s the crowds outside

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We did ultimately get back inside, but had to settle for a rubbish meal at Leon’s.  Here’s some of the art from the permanent and temporary exhibits within:

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We did try to go back up the tower, to the member’s lounge on 8, but the lifts were totally unusable, and after waiting about 15 minutes, we gave up.  Grumpy, we left Tate.  “Coffee and cake!” declared A, and off to Paul, a posh French patisserie,  we went.


Shortly after we settled in to chairs at Paul, with our coffee and cakes, a downpour ensued.  Everyone in the shop looked on with awe at the sheer volume of water coming down; fists full of rain lashed the windows and overtopped the table umbrellas outside the door.  We hid out there over an hour, waiting for the storm to clear.  I went to find the gents, and what I found was a toilet spewing shit into the air, overwhelmed by the torrents of rain hitting the sewers.


A long, grueling bus ride up to Camden Town took us to Oxford Arms and Etcetera Theatre for Rubber Duck Theatre’s production of Rapture.  This taut little show envisions a near future in which medical wonders have rendered much disease moot, and with the long lives which ensue, there is now a need to cull the population.  The process by which this happens is the Citizen Review.  Our four protagonists are there to represent, to justify their existence.  A fifth, the auditor, is there to facilitate the process.

I won’t delve further into details, but it was a good and thought provoking piece of social commentary, especially crisp on this night of Brexit.  Kudos to the entire cast, who took on archetypal roles with gusto and nuance (more than was written for them) and found humanity within each of them.

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London 2016, Day 2, Summer Exhibition

Yesterday was an art and recreation day.  After fitful sleep and early rising, breakfast ensued.  Then a voyage down to Green Park underground and out into the hustle & bustle.  My destination was the Royal Academy of Arts for their annual Summer Exhibition.  This is a riotous celebration of art, with over 1,200 works selected from 12,000 entries by a hanging committee of 10, including architects & artists, sculptors & painters.

Pawn was especially drawn this year by the news that among those selected was Sophie Derrick, six of whose pieces are in Pawn’s collections.  Sophie’s Shift 6 hangs in gallery 11:

There is so much to see in this show, and it fabulously presented.  Here are a few shots to give you an idea of just how dense the show is.  I would draw your attention, however, to how many “red dots” there are!):

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Above overview and detail of The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci, by Kutlug Ataman.  On these hundreds of small LCD screens appear faces of people with whom Sakip Sabanci, a prominent Turkish business tycoon and philanthropist interacted.


138: When They Come Out o Play, Mick Rooney; 143: Apartment, Seung Yeon Choi; 147: Facade, Tom Down; 137: Lesson, Max Renneisen; 144: Princess Aurora, Stella Parsons; 145: I Am Rick, Kirsten Goemaere.


637 (left): How To Operate As A Human Artist, Or The Antichton, Alex Anikina; 638: Jane Eyre – What She Wrought, Charlotte Cory.


599: Snowfields, Nadia Attura; 601: Grand Hotel II, Tracey Emin; 598: Inishowen, Tim Allen; 602: Grand Hotel I, Tracey Emin; 597: Puppet, Stephan Balkenhol; 603: Billiards, Stephan Balkenhol.



576: Solo In Blue, Eileen Cooper; 582: Luna, Eileen Cooper.


963: At The Sign Of The White Horse, Tom Barker.  The text reads, “A charming Georgian tableau, a young woman with a familiar dilemma, has she overpacked?  The coach awaits, Tobys loiter, perhaps the situation will have its benefits.”


1196: Rave In The Basement Of The Elks Lodge, Braddock, Mark Neville; 1197: Shift 6, Sophie Derrick; 1199: Mouthwatering, Oliver Dunsch.


1139: Iggy, Stephen Haines.


1051: David Noble Tractus, John Humphreys.


1109: What Unites Human Beings Is Huge And Wonderful, Bob & Roberta Smith.

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