Category Archives: Review

Manifesto! The Velvet Reunion!

As mentioned in an earlier post, this is the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, but it’s also the commemoration of the student uprising of 1974, a full 15 years earlier, and a communist crackdown which followed on the heels of that.

So I went to the National Gallery, and caught my tram, the number 17, suitably enough, on 17 Listopadu, (17 November) street, so named for the more somber commemorative event.

A plaque there reminds us, in English & Czech

This, combined with my early morning hectoring (see a couple of posts down), served to jog my brain’s connective tissues and I suddenly realized why there were no performances at area theatres, etc. this evening.  The Velvet Reunion is today!  That explains those temporary stages I saw being put up in Wenceslas Square yesterday!

Doh!

So I caught my tram up to the Trade Fair Palace, which houses the more modern portion of the Czech National Gallery collection (it’s scattered about among several museums, the main one of which is closed for renovations until 2019).  This building, about a century old, is a functionalist marvel, and pretty darn cool.  Makes a good museum, too.

Turns out that this being the Velvet Reunion day, admissions to national museums is free.  Cool!  Still have to pay for the temporary exhibit I want to attend, but at 150 CK (about $6.50) I don’t mind one bit.  Less than the cost of a matinée at your local movie theater.

And that’s a bargain, since what I’m going to see is the Julian Rosefeldt film Manifesto, as it was intended to be seen, on thirteen separate screens, in one large room, all going at once.  Splendid!!

Those of you who were lucky enough to see this during the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, or on DVD (Netflix has it, which is how I saw it, thanks to X) you already can imagine where this is going.  For those of you who know not of which I speak, allow me to summarize.  Actually, allow the mystically translated words of the National Gallery serve that purpose:

The 13-channel film installation Manifesto pays homage to the moving tradition and literary beauty of artist manifestos, ultimately questioning the role of the artist in society today. Manifesto draws on the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus artists, Suprematists, Situationists, Dogma 95 and other artist groups, and the musings of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers. Passing the ideas of Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, Elaine Sturtevant, Sol LeWitt, Jim Jarmusch, and other influencers through his lens, Rosefeldt has edited and reassembled thirteen collages of artists’ manifestos.

Performing this ‘manifesto of manifestos’ as a contemporary call to action, while inhabiting thirteen different personas – among them a school teacher, a puppeteer, a newsreader, a factory worker and a homeless man – Australian actress Cate Blanchett imbues new dramatic life into both famous and lesser known words in unexpected contexts.

In the anteroom of the gallery is an exhibit of manifesti (what is the plural of Manifesto?), many of which are featured in the film.  Here’s some unartful snaps of them; pardon the glare:

No, I didn’t read them all.  But, the photos are actually pretty hi-res, so I probably still can.  I did enjoy listening to the Czech-lish descriptions of them all from the multi-lingual tour guide who’s group was lagging a little behind me as I browsed.  It was especially fun to hear him explain such concepts as Fluxus, Dada and such in the context of today’s “Fake News!” world (his citation, not mine).

Now into the main gallery.  The darkened room is quickly filled with light from a large projection screen, which is filling with licks of flame as the first of the manifestos is spoken in voice over by Ms Blanchett.  I am drawn not to sit before this screen, however, as I want to get a sense of how the whole thing is laid out.  I enter further into the space.  The walls are all blacked out, as are the pillars.  All that’s not black are the screens and the benches before them.

The screens are scattered around the space, and not too close together.  Not all of the screens have sound on all of the time.  Some have sound throughout, but others only have sound at the “golden moment” (as I’ll call it). Back to that shortly.  Each screen is showing a segment in a loop.  All of the loops are the same length, and all have just the right kind of beginning and ending that they loop seamlessly, more or less.  I hadn’t recognized this when seeing them all strung together into a sequence, in the film.  But it becomes quite clear when you’re watching one and all of a sudden realize that you’ve come around full circle.

You can generally hear some sound from other screens around you, but it’s not intrusive.  Some of the characters voices carry more than others.  The high-strung, severe choreographer, for example, can be heard just about anywhere in the space, as can the vagrant with a megaphone atop the ruins.  The mother saying grace (sort of) is fairly quiet, as is the woman saying a eulogy.  But then the Golden Moment arrives.

This moment comes about 2/3 of the way through the loops, I think, but it’s not really clear to me that all of these loops start and end at the same moment; just that they’re synchronized with each other,  That much is clear.  At this moment, every screen is taken up with a close up of Blanchett’s face, who is staring straight into the camera, and speaking in a high-pitched, almost robotic voice.  Each iteration of Blanchett is speaking words which belong with that incarnation’s manifesto, but there is an almost unison effect between them.  As I’ve previously stated, this is the only time when all of the screens have audio, so it can be quite arresting when the stock trader you’ve been watching in relative silence suddenly is starring straight at you and barking out some pith.

I spent over an hour in this space, wandering about, standing and watching, or sitting on a bench.  I loved the entire experience!  The multi-lingual tour group from the outer exhibit found their way around, and tended to sit, as a group, before each screen, whilst the guide flitted about stage whispering to them in different languages.  I noticed one couple, man and woman in their 20s, just sat side-by-side in front of the puppet maker screen for at least four or five loops.  They were enthralled with it (easy to understand).

What a great way to spend part of my Friday!  I love this stuff.

There was a lot more to see in the museum, and I did thoroughly enjoy my visit.  Didn’t even drop any dough in the gift shop, because it wasn’t a gift shop, it was a book shop, and I don’t read Czech! 🙂

More photos from the day later.

O Egg
GREAT EGG!
OUTSTANDING EGG!
BONJOUR!

convert this post to pdf.

A Hedda Of A Different Color

I’ve just come from seeing the Divadlo Dlouhé’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Heda Gablerová.  This is the first time I’ve gone to see theatre in a foreign language without some sort of translation services — supertitles, subtitles, assistive technology (audio or visual) — and it was kind of a trip, but more so for how the piece was presented than for the language barrier.

I know Hedda Gabbler very well.  I stage managed a production in college, lo those many years ago, which entails memorizing the entire script (not just one part).  I’ve seen film versions of it; saw Milwaukee’s own Theatre X present it 35 years ago, saw a production in Amsterdam the summer of 2016 (supertitles).  I know the story, so wasn’t really lost in the words.

This lovely little theatre is just a 6 minute walk from the flat, so easy-peasy.  I got there early, paid less than $15 for my ticket (320CK) in the 6th row, center.  The stage was stark.  One set, a sitting room, with an exposed lavatory upstage right and another upstage left.  There was a table mid-stage, some “pit group” type seating downstage right and a patio lounge chair downstage left.  A Lexan (Perspex, Plexiglas, what have you) wall defined the back of the stage, a large projection screen above it.  A digital clock displayed in the top corner.

Another Lexan wall divided the stage left from right, about two thirds of the way over from stage right.  The table pierced this wall, half on each side of the stage.

I already got the metaphor.

Ibsen is famous for a couple of things.  One is for being the first playwright to focus on total realism in his text and settings, his characters and their lives, even in the realization of his productions; sets, lighting, costumes, etc.  All was to be as real as possible.  The other is that he almost exclusively wrote about the sorry lot of women.  His leading characters are women, both in Hedda Gabbler and The Doll’s House.  Like his fellow Swede, August Strindberg, he saw great unfairness in the roles society allowed women to hold, and he pushed back against these in his plays.

Hedda is a fierce creature, she grew up the pampered pet of her strong and important father.  Now she is married off to a bumbling professor of philosophy and bridles at the restrictions of married life.  She has always been the one in control with the men in her life (and there have been, continue to be, a few) and just cannot stand the wifely role of subservience and home life.

The smaller, side of the stage, the right, from the audience’s perspective, was for Hedda.  The large space was for everyone else.

In the production I saw in Holland last year, a similar effect was created by the brilliant set design which was a triangular prism defined by three huge vertical blinds.  A prism which was a prison.  All the characters besides Hedda could walk in and out of this space, but she was forever held within it.

So yeah, I got the metaphor.  It seems nobody can handle Ibsen without steeping the whole thing in metaphor.  Well, hang on, there’s a ton of it here.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the men in this Czech production are all presented as effeminate buffoons.  They’re like a middle-aged, cross-dressing version of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers of the old comix.

As for Hedda, while she starts out in a shift, she’s soon wearing pants, and for the remainder of the show.

The production design is like David Lynch collaborated with Eddie Izzard, with a little R Crumb thrown in for effect.  There’s the strange omni-present lady upstage, behind that Lexan wall, who serves as a narrator of sorts, a few times during the show, while changing from a “slutty nurse” outfit to sailor duds and then nun’s habit.

Hedda’s relationships with all and sundry are played with the wall always, well almost always, between them.  Whether it’s an intense lesbian S&M scene with Tea Elvstedová, the fiancée to her former lover (and husband’s protégé) Eilert Løvborg, played across the table.

Or the flat out (or flat up) sex scene between her and that same ex-lover

By the end of things, however, all of these men are stripped of their feminine finery, either literally, in the case of  Eilert, or have changed in to (mourning) suits, like Tesman, Hedda’s husband, or Judge Brack, the gadabout.

You see, Hedda, trapped in her marriage, pregnancy, society…feeling powerless, exercises what power she has by preying on and playing with those around her.  She ruins who she can, but ultimately is ruined by them and herself.

The downstage stage lift provides near tectonic effect, and a final resting place.

This was a splendid production all around.  The costuming was cartoonish, almost too much so, but grew more and more somber as the evening progressed.  The performances were brilliant, and I can say that without having understood more than “yes,” “no” and “please” (“ano,” “neh” and “proseem”).  Lucie Trmíková was downright bewitching as Heda, and I could have watched her all night long.  Robert Mikluš, as Eilert was amazing.  The rest of the cast shone just as bright.

The visual effects — videotext scrolling by, with various language’s versions of the seven deadly sins; snow falling; big, bold comic book style “Bang” and such — not so great, but certainly not a defect.  The lighting was effective without being intrusive, which could have easily happened.  The set, all metaphor as it was, worked well.

convert this post to pdf.

London Journal, A November Week

Just over a week ago the US held a national election. Then we fled the country.

That’s the simple version of events, but it’s really never the simple version, now is it?

The trip itself was fairly uneventful. Prompt off the ORD runway, quickly through LHR border control, and little turbulence in between.

Our first real encounter with a local was our cabbie on the way from Paddington to our flat in Southbank. Upon hearing our accents he asked if we were happy with our election outcome. Further discussion revealed that he was a firm Brexit supporter, entirely due to immigration fears. Had we told him we intended to settle, however, I’m sure he would have welcomed us, given our colour.

As with our last team visit here, X & I hit the ground running, as it were, with a show our very first night: Wordless! a jazz concert cum lecture put together by illustrator Art Spiegleman and jazz musician Phillip Johnston. It’s a history of the graphic novel layered atop a jazz sextet performance. Great stuff.

He opens with the works of Lynd Ward and moved on to Frans Masereel, H.M Bateman, Otto Nuckel, Milt Gross and Si Lewen. Spiegelman closed with a new, short, autobiographical sequence — Shaping Thought — which he introduced by referring to “America taking a nihilistic mudslide to apocalypse!”

Indeed.

But prior to our theatre experience at Barbican Centre, we stopped in at their Martini bar.

1556martini_bar_pattern3_e1

This garish pod of craft cocktailing is a holdover from the Designing 007 exhibition from a few years back.

designing-007-barbican

Our bartender, a willowy waif, starving artist type with blackened fingertips, stringy hair and not the slightest whiff of pretension about him, took our order (£5 happy hour!) and then tendered his apology thus: “To all of my American customers I say, `I’m sorry’.” He then proceeded to whip up a couple of truly spectacular drinks. Dowsed the ice in a rocks glass with vermouth, chilled the Martini glasses with ice water, added spirits (vodka for X, gin por moi) to each glass after draining off the vermouth, and then stirred with ennui. Finally decanted into the now cold glasses, the drinks were served sans garnish (at our request) and met with accolades by us both. I think it was the ennui that did it.

An inquiry into the cause of the previously mentioned blackening of his fingers revealed him to be an art student, who just that afternoon had been dying paper pulp. Pawn suggested rubber gloves for future such projects.

Saturday, coincidentally enough, was the Lord Mayor’s Show day, which consists of a flotilla up tthe River Thames followed by a procession through the streets of The City, and culminating in fireworks from Victoria Embankment at dusk (an early 5pm here). Despite mist and drizzle we slogged our way across the river and up to Ludgate Circus and got prime viewing just as the procession approached.

The City of London these days most often refers to the financial centre of the country, but has historical roots dating back to Roman times. Indeed the London Wall — remains of the original fortifications of Londinium — define what is also called The Square Mile or, simply, The City. Even as the monarchy arose and various stages of city and state grew around it, The City has remained fiercely independent. The Lord Mayor does, however, extend the occasional invitation to the monarch to come and visit, and this is one such occasion.

The procession is comprised of various guilds and orders, Masons and Joiners, Nurses and Accountants, as well as military units, government bodies, municipal grandees, etc. It was a joyous event, that’s for sure. Here’re some snaps (note: coming soon).

Finally a repast at Slug & Lettuce in St Mary Axe, and a meet-up with our friend A. She had been fighting through obstructed traffic to try to get in some long postponed shopping, and seemed glad for the burger and tea we had waiting for her. Then off to Whitechapel and Thick Time, an exhibition of works by William Kentridge.

X & I had enjoyed a large retrospective of the South African’s work, several years ago, at MoMA in New York. This smaller exhibit focused on recent works, including environments, films, animations, book-arts and studies for an opera, Lulu, which, coincidentally, we were to see in two day’s time. A was tickled to learn that!

There was a lot to like, and some to love, in this compendium. Of particular note was the large installation, The Refusal of Time.

williamkentridge_install-view
This collaboration with a team of artists comprises sound, light, video projection, a large “Breathing Machine” and more. It was truly a stunning, enveloping experience. Other favourites include the many artist books on display and the film Second Hand Reading. The exhibit closed with another installation piece, smaller and more theatrical, Right Into Her Arms, which included footage, imagery, illustrations and sound from the workshop process for Lulu.

installation-view-of-right-into-her-arms
It was wonderful to have this little taste of this work prior to seeing the show.

Surprisingly, no show Saturday. After parting ways with A, we returned home to Southbank and stayed in. This is a fairly nice flat, tucked into a block-long side street, behind the OXO wharf, just west of Blackfriar’s bridge. There’s a Little Waitrose two blocks away, a couple of cafés around the corner, our choice of pubs, even a cake-making school! A damp terrace abuts the lounge through lovely French doors, adding some light and greenery to our stay.

A “Supermoon” hung in the sky as we traipsed uptown to Islington and the Hope Theatre (above the Hope & Anchor pub) for a Sunday performance of Rigor Mortis, an Irish two-hander of recent vintage. Jazz Dancing Criminals brought this stiff little one-act, fire breathing, chest thumping, pogo-sticking, drug addled, funereal farce to the Hope for it’s British premier following a successful run of its earlier “incarnation,” Urbs Intact Manet in Waterford, Ireland.

A drunken tosser has pinched his late friend, casket and all, from the mortuary, he discovers when he awakens, hung over, to the pounding on his door from his equally dissolute mate. They proceed to wok their way through a monumental pile of cocaine and a couple cans of stout as they wake their friend and debate what to do with his remains.

Irreverent, loud and at times barely indecipherable, it was a fun 75 minutes of Irish mayhem. Thumbs Up!


NPG have Picasso Portraits on special showing, so we went and saw it. Lovely stuff, as one might expect. The real treat here, aside from the expected and widely known masterpieces, such as woman with hat and self portraits, were the small sketches from his youngest days.

woman-with-hat-olga-1935 picasso-self-portrait-uncombed-hair
Often meant as throw-away pieces, these are little gems. Whimsical and light. Unfortunately, no good samples on the web to show here.

Lulu, the aforementioned opera directed and designed by William Kentridge, is based upon “the Lulu plays” by Frank Wederkind, by Alban Berg, and completed by Friedrich Cerha (English translation by Richard Stokes). This production originated at Dutch National Opera, and last appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The fourth producing company is Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Each country providing a new cast, the real attention getter is the stunning, almost literally, as in hit-you-over-the-head, visuals; a combination of projection, props and constantly unfolding set (set design Sabine Theunissen).

Here are a few images from the production (most from ENO, but some from other stagings):

lulu

lulu-kentridge1 lulu-eno-coliseum-778-700x455

lulu-solo

“Solo Performer” Joanne Dudley

Lulu is 3½ hours of discordant music, striking imagery and implausible story, but a wonderful time. The “Solo Performers,” Joanna Dudley and Andrea Fabi nearly stole the show, but Brenda Rae, in the title role, was amazing, as was James Morris as Dr Shön/Jack the Ripper (yes, really).

More to come…

convert this post to pdf.

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.

horta-ex

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.

horta4 horta3 horta-stairway

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.

horta5

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.

20160703_111635

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.

20160703_114338

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:

20160703_115605 20160703_115614 20160703_115625

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:

20160703_122313 20160703_122316

20160703_123555 20160703_123450 20160703_123348 20160703_123245 20160703_124910

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

20160703_125704 20160703_130023 20160703_130037

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:

GillionCrowetCollection gillioncrowet3 gillioncrowet2 gillioncrowet1

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!

majorelle-gc138-l1

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!

le-leffe-deventure-avec-terrasse-53654

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

convert this post to pdf.

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.”

jija sohn

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.

convert this post to pdf.

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.

20160629_101318 20160629_101342 20160629_101443

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

20160629_100546

20160629_101208 20160629_101223 20160629_101259

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.

20160629_102052

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:

20160629_101758

Kate Moss, Gray – Banksy, 2005 Marilyn – Warhol

20160629_101709

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:

20160629_101538

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!

convert this post to pdf.

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.

20160629_155728

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…

20160629_162718

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!

20160629_171909

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.

convert this post to pdf.

Three One Acts – ITS Amsterdam 2016

Almost forgot to write this one up.  Oops!

playmaids2

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.

playmaids1

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.

convert this post to pdf.

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.

20160627_212020

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.

convert this post to pdf.

ITS Festival 2016

fontys_fremdkorper_2015_-_foto_jochem_jurgens

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!

 

convert this post to pdf.