Category Archives: Pop Culture

Loving Korbáčiky

For those of you who’ve grown curious at the silence, I am now in Pargue, having arrived here Sunday evening via train from Berlin.

The train ride was lovely, mostly along the Elbe, and I have some out-the-window photos to post of that.

We got in late Sunday afternoon, greeted by a cold, spitting rain, but the flat is lovely & warm.  It’s in the Old Jewish Quarter, and both picturesque and convenient.  More on that to come, too.

I spent the last two days, Monday & Tuesday, locked up in training (the real reason for this trip) in hotel meeting rooms, virtually from dawn to dusk.  So, today, Wednesday, is really the first day I’ve had to enjoy Prague, and the weather cooperated with beautiful sunshine from about noon until 4pm.  A little bit of bright joy.  I took advantage of that and took a tram along the Vltava, walked about on the west bank for a while, had late lunch and then took a tram back up the east bank and back home.

Great food discoveries on this trip include Meda snacks, by Canto, which are light and airy and no doubt terrible for you, but so yummy and addictive.  Also, there’s that amazing smoked string cheese, korbáčiky. It’s thin as a whip and knotted into little bundles.

Yum!!

Many more photos and stories to follow.  Just wanted to get in touch from:

Pra|ha
Pra|gue
Pra|ga
Pra|g

Retro Decorative

Sometimes it’s not just the things we remember, memorialize, preserve.  Sometimes it’s how we choose to do so which has a larger meaning.  Berlin, it strikes me, would be perfectly happy to put the Wall firmly in the rearview mirror of history, but there is a tourist draw there, and that cannot be ignored.  There is also that tendency, so strong in the wartime and post-war generations to Never Forget.

Europeans, in general, have long memories, when they wish to, and short ones when it serves them.  Italy, until recently, flirted for several years with a strongman president, in Silvio Berlusconi, for example, even though there are still people living who remember Mussolini.  Germany, which for generations has lived a kind of collective, historic shame for the way it treated neighbors & citizens alike during WWII, but then just elected to parliament a far-right-wing party for the first time since then.

As I commented to a friend, just before leaving on this trip; The last time a far-right party sat in parliament, my family’s home was bombed.

So, went to get a transit pass today.  A day pass for transit is 7€ and a Berlin Welcome Card, a tourist-focused offering, is 19.20€ for 48 hours.  Since I leave at 11:05 Sunday, I opted for the latter, as it was noon by the time I left my flat, and 48 hours would be just the right time frame.  I would have needed three day passes (they expire at 3AM after purchase) for the same coverage.

Off to the BVG I went, in search of said pass.  It was a harrowing experience, fraught with language barriers, but I ultimately found an obsequious clerk who claimed I had “Perfect German” and sold me my pass.  Now why couldn’t those flustered, German-only speaking public servants before him have just been as fawning?  One is left to wonder.

I hopped the S-Bahn (above ground trains, as opposed to U-Bahn, which are subways) and headed up the right bank of the Spree to Museum Island, where, as one might have guessed, the museums are.  I traipsed around there for a while, before coming to the conclusion that I really didn’t feel like spending my day inside a museum (or five) so I wandered over to the nearest tram stop and headed to Alexanderplatz.  This is a bustling square with malls and open air shops; fairly touristy.  Strolled around there in the light rain a bit, then down into the U-Bahn to ride home.  It was a nice little jaunt into the city, and away from the bleak neighborhood within which I’ve been cloistered so far.

After some lunch, a change of shoes, and a little catch-up, it was back out into the bleak side of things for a bit.  I had decided to check out the East Side Gallery, which is the largest preserved stretch of Die Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall), at 1,316 metres long (just short of a mile).

To get there, I walked down Köpenicker Straße to the Watergate (a music venue) and then crossed the river.  Along Köpenicker Straße is a lot of bleak, a lot of angst and a lot of broken.  Here’s some images from that stroll.  First, however, a little out of sequence, is an eloquent rejoinder to the hopeful logo above:

In case you cannot make them out clearly, or don’t recognize the reference, those items along the right side of the image are 100€ notes.  The rush from national reunification to what is widely perceived as subjugation to the European Union — the loss of the Deutsch mark (a formerly unrivaled store of wealth); the partnership with, and economic support of poorer neighbors, like Spain & Italy; the surrender of sovereignty to a continental body — for many still bitter from years of Soviet rule, the Euro has come to represent all they hate about the powerlessness state in which they find themselves.

Now, onto the bleak:

Heroin Kids

Heroin Kids

One sees these Heroin Kids print ads (above) all over Berlin, and given the opioid epidemic in the US, can be forgiven for thinking they’re part of a hip awareness campaign.  Nope, they’re just what they say, Ignorant Fashion.  Click the image to see more of this dreck.

Looks like a striking piece of chalk street art, but really an ad for a Windows app which encodes long functions or “macros” onto adjacent pairs of keys (hence “keySstroke”) such as <s> and <x>.  Much of the polished street art one sees around is actually advertising, it seems.

Above is the (recently) burned out shell of a squat.  The pavement out front was littered with charred remains of mattresses, chairs and the like, and an acrid, smoky smell hung in the air.

The following series of photos are all of SOBR’s It’s Time To Dance poster project (Facebook page here).  I stumbled across this, but others have been following this artist’s work for some time.  There’s a pretty good article on the subject here.

One striking element of this poster art is that by this time it’s coming loose, like the girl’s head right below.  These loose pieces flutter in the wind, animating the work, and giving it at once an air of impermanence, fragility and energy.

Above is a current squat, a campground really, which was active as I walked by.  The sounds of loud music, argument, discussion; the smells of cooking, car repairs (reeked of acetone) and more.  The slogan Solidarität Mit Linksunten translates as Solidarity With The Bottom Left, which sounds like some sort of softened anarchy to me.

 

Another piece of street art verging on advertisement.  This directing one to the artist’s web page, where books and more are on sale.

The Wall fell, as it were (actually was opened) on 9 November 1989.  The first construction on it was on 13 August 1961.  So in the greater scope of history, the wall has been gone almost as long (28 years and 2 days) as it stood (28 years, 2 months, 27 days).  It is still recent history, but it soon will just be history.

Update: Mon 5 Feb 2018: Today is the day that the wall has been down for as long as it was up.  Longer, by the time anyone reads this.  As the Washington Post reported:

On Monday, Berliners celebrated a once unthinkable occasion: The Berlin Wall has now been gone for longer than it stood. But on the same day, the city’s authorities confirmed the discovery of a previously unreported stretch of the wall in the district of Pankow in northern Berlin.

It had already been discovered by a man named Christian Bormann in 1999, but the now-37-year-old Berlin resident kept his discovery a secret for almost 20 years as German authorities kept erasing more and more remnants of the city’s division.

“Berlin wasn’t ready for this discovery when I came across it,” Bormann told The Washington Post.

Following are some photos of the East Side Gallery wall segments, but first a juxtaposition, viewed from the Schilling Bridge, looking north:

Just views from one side of the bridge and the other.

Here’s some wall shots.  Remember, most of this graffiti is not historic, but an “artistic” response, years later, to the wall and what it means (meant):

Please see more on Thierry Noir, below.

Oddly enough, as one approaches the end of this stretch of wall, and a luxury office/condo project underway, one finds this warning placed in a gap:

It translates as “Guarded at the hands of City Control.” Brrrrrrr

The following image shows a segment of the wall from an area I walked both on my way home from East Side Museum, but also just a few days ago.  I include it here for historical context, and due to who took the photo.  First the context.  As you can clearly see here, “The Wall” was in fact a “wall system.”  It most often is comprised of two walls, with a “no man’s land” or “death strip”, on the east side of the Wall, here follows the curve of the Luisenstadt Canal (filled in 1932).  This is the exact same area I ventured along in the first post of this trip.

This image of the Berlin Wall was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir at Bethaniendamm in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

The maker of the above photograph, Thierry Noir, is also the artist who made the final wall painting shown above.

Something Borrowed, Something New

One pleasure, in my book, one can glean traveling in a different country, is the sample of their culture one gets from their media.  These days that is primarily television, newspapers and print advertising.  Take my last post, for example, on Posters.  Posters are both ubiquitous and populist.  They are put up by bar bands (Bar Stool Preachers) and humongous, multi-national brands (Nike) but they provide a lens into the sensibilities of both the local district and larger culture in which they are erected.

Nearly every person, other than me, on the flight here from Frankfurt (45 minutes in the air) was reading a newspaper.  I having already consumed the International Herald Tribune at the airport, the only English language paper on offer.  These are true “broadsheet” papers here, other than the occasional tabloid (der Spiegle) so when all those in a “three across” row are reading, the leafs overlap and rustle.  Now this avid digestion of the news may be due to the fact that Lufthansa, which dominates FRA the way that few American airlines dominate a particular airport, has racks of free copies liberally sprinkled throughout the airport, but many American airlines either place piles at their gates, or have carts on the planes.  No, I think this is a cultural item, and it is encouraging.

But, as I don’t read German any better than I speak it, I didn’t delve into the papers much beyond an idle page-flip in the airport lounges.

So now we get to television.  The set in my flat, a Sony, is connected to some sort of Free Satellite service, as is common across Europe.  This one has no Internet component, however, which is also becoming common, so I have no access, for example, to YouTube, or Netflix.  There are precious few choices in English, which shouldn’t shock.  There’s a channel which airs BBC news for part of the day (not sure which, yet) and then reverts to scrambled MTV-HD other times (how one determines that MTV is scrambled is beyond me, but the telly assures me it knows).

So what does an American, with just a few memories of those four years “studying” German, watch on telly?  Well, there’s the ever-present Bloomberg mix of business and news “Intelligence,” which, in these fraught times, is both unnerving and strangely welcome.  Unnerving in how they smoothly and glibly finesse a question about tax avoidance (the Paradise Papers imbroglio) and yet pay attention to climate change (with Syria joining the Paris accord, only the US may be outside of it).

In this age when seemingly every institution of modern life, from the grocer on the corner to the websites we visit and the governments which surveil us, all want as much “Intelligence” about us as possible.  Bloomberg, then, to us average, non-dues-paying Joes, gives us that ephemeral sensation of parity.  Just for a moment, we know a thing or two about a Saudi crown prince that maybe he doesn’t know about us.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Then there’s the surfeit of wildlife shows, which are almost universal in that one needn’t, really, know what the narrator is saying to understand that that Tasmanian devil was trying to schtup that other devil (who seemed none too glad, and later, pregnant in the southern winter, just sulks in the cave dwelling).  Animals schtupping is universal, so we easily overcome the language barrier and settle in as the animal-world voyeurs we all have been since those early petting zoo days (or is that just me, too?).

Oddly, most of the wildlife shows here are dubbed British or American episodes, rebranded into some new travelogue-ish scheme, which have their own books and other assorted follow-on products available for order.  Given that the dubbing technique in the video is to mute the narrator, whom we can often see right on screen there, and slather the German language dialogue over the top, one is left to wonder; these books, is the original English-language text over-struck or Sharpie’d and then German text inserted?

In one particularly touching scene in an otherwise run-of-the-mill special on primates, the narrator, a casually dressed African-American gentleman, sits near the bush observing a mountain gorilla and its young, who are foraging and stripping some vegetation for a snack.  The pappa gorilla ambles past, making a big show of ignoring the human, but the juvenile just can’t seem to pass by without an exploratory move.  The young ape skitters over and, reaching out tentatively, grasps the man’s hand, as if to confirm the same-ness of these digital appendages.  The narrator, overcome, says (barely audible in English) “Well that was amazing.”  Over his voice, however, we hear a string of syllables which goes on so much longer that import martial arts films come to mind.

As with the wildlife shows, the plentiful bounty of police procedurals one finds on air here are most often poorly dubbed presentations of American, or more often British or French shows.  Prime Suspect, Life on Mars and others proliferate.  Every effort is made to completely erase the original dialogue and cover it with German.  This strikes me as odd.  In my experience it’s not at all unusual for European broadcasters to option each other’s programming, but it’s almost always subtitled, not dubbed.  When I watch Forbrydelsen — the Danish show which was remade by Fox, for AMC, as The Killing — or any of a number of other, brilliant European programmes on British telly, they are always presented in their original language and subtitled.  Not so here.

Last night, for example, while reading the New Yorker, I had on, in the background, a couple of episodes of the single-season British show Life On Mars, starring John Simms as a disoriented, time-traveling cop plopped down in a mid-’70s Manchester station house.  A success in the UK, this somehow failed in a US remake, a couple years later, on ABC.  In this German dubbed edition, in which evidence centred largely around team scarfs for Man United, the whole topic of team fealty seemed oddly detached.

So why is it that the Germans prefer dubbed to subtitled foreign programming?  One is left to ponder.  At first blush, it’s easy to assume that the length of German language words might preclude subtitling, without needing to skip text or fill the screen with it.  The tendency, in German, to compound words together certainly does make for longer and longer strings of text, that’s for sure, but let’s take the example of the Danish/Swedish co-production Broen|Bron (Bridge) from 2011.  The series opens with a body found on the Øresund bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmö, right in the middle, so detectives from each city’s police forces, Danish inspector Martin Rohde (Rafael Patterson) and Swedish Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) must cooperate on the case.  The characters, he a gruff, slovenly womanizer and she an autistic, precise, exacting, clueless to social cues and oblivious to common sexual mores, are meant to reflect each country’s perception of the other.  Thus the entire show serves as a sort of split group social catharsis.

It’s a good show, as reflected by the fact that, after having shown it, subtitled, to warm reception, British and French networks Sky & Canal+ teamed up to produce their own version, The Tunnel, starring Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in the British and French roles, as Karl Roebuck and Elise Wasserman, respectively, with similar cross-cultural stereotyping.

Likewise, FX remade the series as The Bridge, for American and Mexican audiences, with the American being the uptight one, casts Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir in the lead roles, again as stereotypes.

Interestingly, the original team wanted to set this on the bridge connecting Detroit to Toronto, rather than El Paso and Juarez, which leaves one wondering what the social contrast would be.  No doubt the American would have been the rude one, which would go against the grain of FX’s parent company’s politics..

The reason I mention all of these is that there are at least four versions (a Russian/Estonian version was made, too) the Germans could have chosen to remake, and they chose not the original Danish/Swedish, but the Anglo-French.  Why this one, one wonders?  Is it that the Germans prefer tunnels to bridges?  Or is it the ease of obliterating English and French dialogue (yes, in a first the original was bilingual) with German versus some difficulty doing the same vandalism to Danish and Swedish, or American English and Mexican Spanish?

Well, that’s the something borrowed, for sure.  Here’s the something new: Crusti Croc Flips:

Crusti Croc Flips

Crusti Croc Flips

These are like Cheetos or any other such extruded corn puff food, but what makes these stand out is the Erdnuss (peanut) variety.  Imagine a low-sweetness version of that peanut-flavoured breakfast serial that you’ve seen other people’s kids eating (Puffins or Gorilla puffs, or Cap’n Crunch).  They’re really quite good, but one feels there must be something wrong here.  Rather than turning orange, one’s fingers feel a little… smudgy?  Not sure how to describe it.

Well, I like them, so that’s what matters.

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…

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.

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.

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.

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!

 

Level 9 Food Porn

The day of Brexit voting was also notorious as the day A and I were evacuated from Level 9 restaurant at new Tate Modern Switch House, right after ordering champers.  Then couldn’t get back up, due to bollocksed-up lifts.

This evening we returned.  This is an account of our visit.

For starters we had the Cornish Blue Double Baked Soufflé:

20160625_190233

A says Yum!

20160625_190238

And for mains, Rump of Lamb with Heritage Vegetables:

20160625_192137

For the record, the veg were asparagus, beets, baby onion, baby carrots, in a parsnip puree.  We also added some more asparagus.

20160625_192140

Finally, for pud we got the Strawberry & Apricot Salad.  That lime green stuff is some fanciful pistachio creation.  The base is a very thin white chocolate slab:

20160625_200326

Our review?  Four Yums!

Don’t get us started on the building, lifts, windows, chairs…