Category Archives: Music

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.

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

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It is breathtaking!

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I then strolled through the district for a while before coming to the Palace square, and the Royal Museums. I chose Mus̩e Fin-de-Si̬cle and am so glad I did. Here the focus is 1868 Р1914, which happens to line up well with interests of mine, and also with a golden era of Belgian art. No snaps from this (I was a good boy) but here are some from their website and online resources:

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

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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!

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

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.

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

Art Is Hard

We just have one thing to say to all of you hangers-on out there, living vicariously through us, our intrepid voyagers; Art Is Hard! This is hard work, what with all of the gallery-going-to, art-looking-at, admiring-comment-making, thoughtful-shrug-giving, donation-avoidance-scheming. There’s the endless-queuing, ticket-wrangling, schedule-management, compatriot-negotiation, stealth-cameraphone-operation, snivelling-kid-dodging. Aircraft, buses, water taxi, subway, funicular, skateboard, walking, whatever means of transport is required to get us before art so that we may systematically observe, appreciate, admire, dismiss and glom onto the art which you so desire us to tell you what to think about.

It is hard work, but we do not shrink from it. No, my good friend, we embrace the challenge and rise to it. Or, as is the case today, we ultimately cower and wither from it. Some days it’s just too hard!

Such it turned out to be today.

We started our day rather late. Neither X nor I slept well at all, and X was in bed so late that A, calling at the civilized (to some) hour of 9 said, “Wake her, she must get onto GMT!” To which X replied, “A has put the MEAN back in Greenwich Mean Time!” Indeed, a stern taskmaster is A.

Finally dragged ourselves from the flat near 1pm, and forged a path to the Design Museum for a gander at their new Paul Smith exhibit. Ooph! What a steaming hot load of design was Mr. Smith wielding!! There is a charming little recreation of his original shop stall, “3 x 3 square metres” says he, and it is a cramped little room to navigate, what with all of the too-too visitors holding their iPhones and Androids out at arm’s length to snap photos. How many fashion victims armed with cameraphones does it take to ruin an exhibit? That I’ll leave you to ponder.

Smith in his first stall

Smith in his first stall

Proceeding on from the reproduction of Smith’s original market stall is a recreation of his study, which is festooned with all of the bric-a-brac and detritus of a messy office (the sign of a healthy mind). From there we enter a reproduction of the cutting room, where all the striped designs Smith is so famed for come into being. A sound track of Bowie loops endlessly from one of the many vintage iMacs in the exhibit.

Smith's study

Smith’s study

Thankfully that’s the end of the recreations. They’re fine for what they are, but are more olde-timey anthropology-museumy than a design exhibit calls for. The next gallery displays the results of collaborations Smith has forged with others, such as Mini, the car brand, or John Lobb, the handmade British shoe label. This room brings design alive with result, while the earlier rooms brood with intent. Input: outcome.

One is struck, almost immediately, by the exhibit text; it is all written in the first person, as if by Smith himself (perhaps it is?). This is quite effective, as he is speaking to us as if we are aspiring designers, ourselves, and not just accolytes or interested observers. He pulls us into his passion for good design, and thus allows us to better appreciate the path he has taken, the decisions he has made, but also leaves us room to say, “Aye, but I’d do it a bit different.”

Smith inspiration wall

Smith inspiration wall

Other prominent parts of the exhibit are a large gallery whose walls are simply covered with images, few of them from Smith himself, with which he adorns all of his personal spaces, be they rooms at home, the office or even on the road. These are images which inspire and motivate him. Some are related to friends he has made over a lifetime, such as Patti Smith and David Bowie, Talking Heads, etc., others are famous artists such as Hockney or Warhol, and then there’s the tons of images sent to him, anonymously or not, unbidden, from people all over the world. This includes oil paintings large and small, photographs, and even childrens’ sketches.

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Of course there are the clothes, from across his career. Here’s some of my favourites:

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From there we repaired, via a long walk westward along the River Thames, to Tate Modern.

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We were too late for it to make sense to pony up the £15 each for both Paul Klee and Richard Hamilton exhibits (that’s £15 each per exhibit, or £60 total) as we would barely have had time to see them. So we decided to be happy with the permanent collection galleries and some special features in those.

There was a great hubbub by the railings over the Turbine Hall, a central and dramatic feature of the converted power plant, and saw that preparations were underway for a runway show (it’s Fashion Week here in London) for Top Shop, we think. There were loads of chairs each with a swag-bag, and glitter and lights and risers and such. A crowd was held back, by red velvet ropes, from entering, and were all gazing at their smart-phones. Smaller gaggles of fashionistas were milling in the hall, and were quite easy to pick out from the rest of the art-loving crowd, including the photographers with their telephoto lenses of obscene dimension hanging about their mid-sections, little stair step units to stand on, the better to capture the perfect runway shot.

We ambled through the galleries and enjoyed the Gerhard Richter “Artist Room,” featuring his “14 Panes of Glass – 2011” and also a gallery devoted to the “Cage Paintings,” six of his large dragged pieces from 2006. What a treat to see them all together in one room, where one can dissolve into them.

Cage (1) - (6) 2006 by Gerhard Richter

Cage (1) – (6) 2006 by Gerhard Richter

A pleasant feature of the Tate regime is that they will put up, next to the traditional item identifier plaques, an extra plaque with the thoughts of a volunteer curator, guide or docent. These folk tend to spend a lot of time with particular pieces in the collection, and their notes are accessible and often elegiac in nature. One wishes more museums offered these insights.

Also enjoyed during this visit were several other classics of the modern collection, such as Picasso and Braque, Bacon and Giacometti, etc. etc.

Okay then, enough fine art, we have a performance to attend — Opus, by Australian cirque group Circa and French musicians Debussy String Quartet. We marched further west along the Thames to Blackfriars bridge, north across the river, and then ducked into the tube station for the Circle Line eastbound, via Liverpool Street and Kings Cross, to Barbican. Once there we were able to flag down a slavic water carrier and slake our formidable thirsts with icy carafes of water and sloshing tumblers of vodka and gin (well, okay, they were Martini glasses). Tapas ensued, and once sated, we repaired to the theatre, still feeling weary from our travels, but somewhat deadened by the booze.

This show is hard to explain, but perhaps a brief excerpt from the programme (Yaron Lifshitz, of Circa) will help:

It began when the perceptive and courageous programmer Marc Cardonnel pulled me aside after a performance of one of our works and mentioned that our creations made him think of Shostakovich.

I replied that Shostakovich is the composer I hold most dear. It is his music that I’d like performed for my funeral… I longed to stage some, or even all, of the string quartets. And so this project was born.

So three of Shostakovich’s string quartets are herein deployed by a rather game quartet of viol players — who are, at times, moved about the stage as if chessmen by the cirque performers — and 14 cirque artists, 6 women and 8 men. These performers are stunning in their physique and their prowess. They mystify and amaze us with both the flexibility and strength of their bodies, their beauty and their guile. The choreography is inspired, if a little gymnastic at times (think Olympic floor exercises, but with 14 people all on the matt at once).

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The aerials are illuminating and not too rarely seem death defying.

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We were more than once left gasping, and I often heard nearby audience members let out a sigh of relief or of shock. Oh, and did I mention these performers were, to a one, absolutely ripped? My god! The abs on one young man looked as if they were appliqués of clay, put there by Michaelangelo as if onto a David. I suggested to X that we wait by the stage door to see if we could meet one of these visions (Saturday night we encountered Saskia Portway — Hippolyta/Titania — taking a post-performance smoke out there) and she replied, “Having a smoke? I doubt it buster. Move along!”

Move along, indeed. My back ached from the hours of walking and standing, not to mention the sideways seating in theatre, but I felt I had no right to complain after what we’d just witnessed these brave and foolish souls perform.

So here’s to Brave And Foolish souls, because Art Is Hard!

Filmic Wonder and Balling At The McKittrick

Monday brought us to the Museum of Modern Art for the final day of their exhibit, “Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets.” This retrospective of the twin brothers’ 40 year career creating some of the most iconic and beautiful animated films in existence. We’ve both been fans for some time, X and I, but never thought we’d get to see something like this. This exhibit was the catalyst for the trip, to be perfectly honest.

It would be impossible to explain the Quay’s work in any way that would convey the beauty and magic of it, so best to send you off to search for some of it on YouTube and the like. That’s okay, do it now, we’ll wait…

Welcome back. This exhibit was quite thorough, featuring about 20 of the miniature sets used in making the films, as well as models and sketches, 2D artworks, such as a Blood, Sweat & Tears album cover produced long ago (who’d’a thought?) and reels of the short films and commercial work, such as Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer. Some longer work was shown in its entirety, such as their most famous work, Street Of Crocodiles, based loosely on the Bruno Schultz book. There were separate screenings, in Theater I, of the new The Metamorphosis, based on the Franz Kafka work.

We spent about 2 hours in the exhibit, enjoying it greatly, and after a brief sojourn to the book store (50% off sale!) and acquiring tickets to the 4:30 showing of Metamorphosis, repaired to the flat for a well earned nap.

Back uptown for the film. It was not just a simple screening, but featured live piano accompaniment by Mikhail Rudy. Here’s the museum’s description:

…these screenings of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka mark the North American premiere of the Quay Brothers’ newest film. Commissioned by Russian-born French pianist Mikhail Rudy in affiliation with Cité de la musique in Paris, where it premiered last March, the film is screened with live piano accompaniment by Rudy, performing the music of Czech composer Leoŝ Janáček.

The accompaniment was fabulous, and the film good (but repetitive and obtuse in places) but the entire experience was more than this, as it really delivered a sense of completeness to the exhibit and our experience of it.

We drifted across town and back down to Chelsea for our evening’s entertainment, Crescent City Stomp, a performance of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the McKittrick Hotel. First, though, a quick stop in at Son Cubano for a cocktail (quite good). The McKittrick is the fictional hotel which serves as host for Punchdrunk/Emursive’s production, Sleep No More. This environmental non-performance experience, based upon Shakespeare’s Macbeth, has been packing ’em in since early in 2011. Our show was in a new space, a speakeasy separate from the performance space used by SNM, on the west end of the warehouse block.

Served alongside the New Orleans riffs of PHJB was a menu of light appetizers and cocktails inspired by the Crescent City. We sampled most of the menu (having expected a proper meal here), and had wonderful corn bread, crisp muffalata croquets with tappanade, fried hominy, Brussles sprouts with pancetta and pomegranate seeds and shrimp-stuffed deviled eggs. Yum to all!

The music was stomping all right, the septet (piano, drums, tuba, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and trombone) was tight, upbeat and having a good old time. The two sets, about 50 minutes each, were followed by a 2 song encore, by which time many of the tables had been pushed back and the floor was hopping.

The hall holds about 275 people and was full to the gills. There are an assortment of tables, from a dozen or so deuces arrayed around the stage (centered against one long wall), then 3 and 4 tops, and then larger tables and banquettes for 6 & 8. The bar fills one of the short walls of the room, and is well appointed with a good choice of liquors, liqueurs, wines and beers. Table service is fast and entertaining, the waiter and waitresses all embracing the roles of working a speakeasy.

The musicians were a treat to watch. The trumpeter, Mark Braud, looks like a more corpulent and dissolute Marsallis cousin, and belts out some grand vocals, too. The clarinetist, Charlie Gabriel, carries the aire of the old man of the troupe, while delivering some fine tunes and song. But our favorite was Clint Maedgen on tenor sax and vocals. His saxophone is painted white with fine black detailing, his hair slicked back, he could be Crispin Hellion Glover‘s louche and wayward younger brother.

Clint Maedgen & Charlie Gabriel

Clint Maedgen & Charlie Gabriel

All in all a fabulous night out!

And Now For Something Completely Different

A Note To Our Readers:

It has come to our attention that some of you think we’re being too “safe” in our entertainment choices. “Pawn: Please, think outside the box. Get off the straight and narrow, the safe choices, and try to sample some of the outré offerings Modern London provides.” reads a typical note.

Okay, your wish is our command. Prepare yourself for the next few reviews of events from Saturday, 25 and Sunday, 26, to see what London really holds in store for the adventurous.

The Paper Cinema, Odyssey

Paper Cinema is a hard concept to express briefly, but let’s give it a try: Paper Cinema are an artist collective who produce original, live, animated performances with live musical accompaniment, utilising paper cuts with inking, shot via video cameras before black backgrounds, digitally composited and projected onto a screen.

The Paper Cinema - Odyssey

For this project, begun almost a year ago, there were two hand animators, three musicians, light and sound technicians. There were a few dozen musical instruments – piano, drums, violin, saw, Makita cordless electric drill, thunder plate – and a few hundred pieces of cut paper, card, etc. Through these tools, with no spoken word at all, they told the classic Homeric tale of Odyssey and did so with such originality, wit, love and passion that we hung on every graceful, carefully choreographed move.

Paper Cinema - James Allen

The show began with a lead animator stepping up to a light table and, putting pen to well and then to paper, drawing for us a guide to the major players in the drama. After this introduction, the real animation began. One cannot do it justice with a verbal description, so please take a look at their website: http://thepapercinema.com/

Paper Cinema's Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre BAC

We saw a Saturday matinee, with several children as young as 4 in attendance, and the show held their attention for the entire 85 minutes. We thought this was an exceptional show, and would love to find a way to introduce this art to our own, local audiences.

Panta Rei Theatre Collective: Rocinante! Rocinante!

Not edgy enough yet? Okay, bus down to Rye Park Lane and the CLF Art Cafe @Bussey Building where Panta Rei want us to climb inside the minds of some seriously sick folk. Sick in the head, that is, like Don Quixote sick, like Hamlet sick, like wandering OCD scrubbing their hands without end sick. What do they do? The conceive a site-specific work, a promenade piece in which we, the audience, wander mostly un-directed through the performance space, while blinds, sheers or scrims are occasionally drawn to partition off a space.

Panta Rei - Rocinante! Rocinante!

What is the action, it is Don Quixote, with Rocinante, his loyal horse, Sancho Panza, his trusty squire and donkey; but no, it is Gary and Lolly, the gravediggers from Hamlet, given more character here than Shakespeare ever did, but different, also. They are discussing whether or not Dolcinea (rather than Ophelia) deserves a Christian burial, a matter of grave concern to Angustias, the cemetery keeper, who is ever and always rinsing raiment properly to wash the dead.

Don Quixote is cracking up, as he rants in Spanish (sometimes with translation, via Sancho, sometimes not) we are treated to the lushness of his dreams, when they are not overrun by the waking dreams of the other characters. Gary, played by the exceedingly petite Ciara D’Anna in a standout performance of mind over dialect, is madly devoted to Lolly (Anna Zehenbauer), but Lolly wants to die, convinced that her life will be more complete once dead. Gary prevails to convince Lolly, via a burial ceremony (books as soil, what does that tell us) that she has now been buried and passed, and this brings at last some measure of tranquillity to their relationship.

Meanwhile Quixote drifts into a feverish dream wherein Dulcinea, in form of a beautiful, diaphanous jelly fish, appears to him, but always between the two are seven dark, evil jelly fish, blocking their reunion.

That is just a sample of the effect with which Panta Rei has brought off their goal: “Interdisciplinary collaborations beyond the realm of performing arts to explore on a deep level issues and topics that are relevant…”

How successful was this effort? Very, for the most part. Aside from Gary, other stand-out performances belong to Daniel Rejano as Sancho and Almudena Segura as Angustias. The staging is plagued with difficult compromises, mostly due to the exigencies of getting actors and audience in and out of the same spaces at the same time. Little accommodation is made to audience comfort, and this maybe should have been made more clear to ticket purchasers. In the second scene, were are seated on two rows of hay bales, set along the long side of a narrow rectangular space; unfortunately, the action is placed alternatively on one end or the other of this space, rendering those in the front row with stiff necks and good views only of their seat-mate’s scalps.

In reality, tho, these are minor beefs. This was a very ambitious undertaking, and we were moved. The beauty of the Dulcinea dream, with draped umbrellas sculpted into sea creatures was alone worth the price of admission.

Silent Opera: La Bohème

Silent Opera - La Boheme - Emily Ward as Mimi

Still with us? Okay, after a day at Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, we trundled back down to the Old Vic Tunnels this evening for Silent Opera production of Puccini’s La Bohème. We first visited the Tunnels last weekend for Eugene O’Neill’s The Sea Plays, which were staged in “The Screening Room” in the upper levels of the Tunnels’ space. For Silent Opera’s piece, we have to thank a couple of developments of the modern age: Digital archival and frequency hopping, spread spectrum radio.

The former has freed up these spaces, specifically “Archway 236~9, Network Rail, Archival and Storage”, which was no longer required by Network Rail and may now be given over to the drug pushers, anorexic models, tarted up showgirls and waifish writers who make up the dramatis personae of the opera.

The latter? Well, Silent Opera is a “peculiar and eccentric idea to come up with…” writes director Daisy Evans in her notes. “I looked at the world around me, and to the modern day fascination with the iPod. Teams of people plug into a world and walk around with a personal soundcloud. Apply this to opera, and you have a personal filmic sound world that enables you complete freedom within the world of the opera.”

We, the audience, are given high-end wireless headphones, pre-tuned to the proper channel to bring us the original orchestral arrangement produced for this project. The performers wear both wireless microphones and earpieces, allowing both for them to hear the music and for the sound crew to mix their voices in for our listening. The effect is profound.

Silent Opera - La Boheme

We are ushered up to Rudolfo and Marcello’s loft space, strewn with the detritus of bachelor living, but more – this is all specifically made for the production, notebooks are filled with Marcello’s sketches, magazines feature his love, Musetta, computer monitors are filled with Rudolpho’s website designs. Soon enough the performers crash into the space, and the game is afoot. The music wells in our ears and the singers engage. They engage! They are amidst us and are engaged with us. This continues throughout the entire performance, and I won’t belabour all of the details, but the point is this: Here is opera, on a professional level, in a compelling performance, right in the middle of us, and that is different and new.

How successful? Very.

Listen, every one of these shows is sold out, solid! What’s more, they’re all filled with a magical thing; Young People! This is what theatre, opera, arts need; Young People! Habits built in your 20s and 30s, attending live shows, will carry throughout lifetime, and this bodes very well indeed for London and for all of us.

Urban Urgency Wrapped in Gossamer Strains

A coworker recently turned Pawn onto You Are Listening To…, a website which mashes up ambient music and police scanners.  Focusing on five cities, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Montreal, the site features a simple photograph of the city you chose, along with the aural pastiche appropriate to those climes.  Check it out, a shockingly soothing audio backdrop for the workplace.

You are listening to Los Angeles

As an interesting experiment,just go looking for some sounds you think might go well together.  I just loaded up the “Ambient” tag at Sound Cloud in one browser window, and the Kennedy Space Center live audio feed in another.

An Evening of Jazz

This evening Pawn found himself wandering over to The Jazz Estate on Milwaukee’s East Side for a little respite of delightful music.  The bookings read “Jeanne Woodall w/ The Jim Poalo Trio”  I have never heard them, but what the hell.

On the walk over the nice man sitting outside Beans & Barley says, “Hey white nigger!”  It’s always pleasant when strangers take it upon themselves to break the ice with a friendly greeting.

At the club, $5 cover paid, I settle into a seat at the bar and crack open my New Yorker under the dim green bulb for a little read whilst I await the trio.  The night unfolds with a wonderful journey through the mid-century songbook of American jazz.  Ms. Woodall favors Sarah Vaugn with some lovely renditions of old standards.  The pianist is inspired, Poalo on bass is steady and smooth.  Krause on drums is just the right prescription.

The arab in the corner nurses his Beck’s and speaks in resonant tones.  The hipster on the end works his Guiness and worries his mustache.  The black trombonist in the middle, his torso a short cubic yard of flesh, sipping a Cosmopolitan, the stem of the Martini glass impossibly small in his hefty mitt, mediates between them.

After two sets I strolled back home, towards Jupitor as he marches across the sky, my appetite for jazz sated for one night.  I’ll be back again soon.  I had forgotten how much I love this club.

Praha Journal – Day 3 – Touts And Louts

What a full evening! I left hotel at 19:00 still not sure what I would do. I thought of Jazz at Club Redotu, but that’s at the west end of the Nové Mestro (New Town), and I didn’t want to do that much more walking. There is a program of Gershwin and Bernstein at Municipal Hall, which intrigues, and Black Theatre, which does as well. I left with just my jacket, leaving my coat behind. I figured I would start by seeing if I could get a cheap ticket for the concert, and then try Black Theatre if I couldn’t. Those are nearby, so I could travel light.

I struck out at the concert hall. Even though the house was opening as I got there, and was well under half sold, the cheapest ticket they would sell me was 700Kc, about $42. For an hour of music, basically 20th century classical pop, that’s just too steep for me. So I went in search of Black Theatre. Oops! Should have done some more research there, seems Thursday is the one night of the week that Black Theatre goes dark, ironic. Okay, jazz it is.

I knew it was far too early for the jazz club, so I decided to just stroll Wenceslas Square. On the way in from the airport, as the driver was giving me tips for my stay, he said “I don’t think you need to bother with Wenceslas Square, that’s for the younger crowd these days.” Well, he was right about that, but it was still a fun walk. The city is overrun with high school and college students right now. Many countries are on spring interval, which contributes to the mayhem. Interestingly, the gaggle of Italian high school girls who moved into my hotel last night have been complimented with an equal sized gaggle of German boys today. I expect international relations to heat up shortly.

Along the square the crowds were already thick before 20:00. There are several Casino along the square, along with nightclubs and bars. The crowds are courted by thickets of touts. These people, toting signs, wearing vests or holding handfuls of flyers, are in front of just about every business. Even McDonalds has theirs. “Casino, Bingo, Craps…” “Good food, you try?” “Beautiful girls, no cost to look…” “Karaoke, cards…” London and New York have their touts, too. In New York it’s the comedy and strip clubs that have the worst reputation. In London there are touts for just about anything, everywhere in the West End are ticket touts, and the signs telling you how many metres to the nearest McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Falafel or whatever are ubiquitous. They have nothing on Prague.

The touts, however, have met their match in the louts. I have long thought that American college aged, men in particular, were the worst louts around. I was wrong, and for that I apologize. Seems that once again globalisation has worked its magic, and louts the world over are pretty much the same. There are swarms of German, Italian, French and Spanish, Russian, Polish, and on and on, strutting and gamboling up and down the square shouting and carousing and spitting and generally making the worst possible case for the ascendancy of their particular homeland. Where is Genghis Khan when you need him?

Even so, it is an interesting spectacle to observe; I shrug off the touts and avoid the louts. As I work my way back from the bottom to the top of the square I decide to cross the shopping strip and see what’s on the other side. Within two blocks I am twice approached by drug touts. These are a subtle breed. Rather than the obvious, in your face style of the normal tout, these use more of an en passant move. You’re walking along, and the tout sidles up along side saying “Fummé, marijuana…” and watching closely for a reaction. Then they move on, as if they have never said a thing. Fine, the last thing I need is to be a poster child for the DEA.

After a lot of wandering and stalling it is finally time to go to the jazz club. I have been in just my jacket this whole time, but I am not really that cold. There are so many open doors (a beckoning tactic here) flooding the street with warmth, and it isn’t that cold, so I am surprisingly comfortable. I have been outside for almost two hours by the time I enter the jazz club, and other than my face, I don’t really feel it.

The club is small and intimate, which is a good thing as I am the only one there, besides the musicians and the staff, when I get there at 21:00. There are artifacts all around of a visit paid here by Bill Clinton, Madelaine Albright with Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus in 1994. I sit in Vaclav Klaus’s seat. A smallish crowd does wander in by the time the first set starts at 21:40, and the quartet plays a set of covers of the likes of Freddy Hubbard and Miles Davis. The latter, from his Spanish phase, gets them rocking, and the audience is getting into it. They play one more and take a break. The second set, and the rest of the show, are originals, and pretty good. I hear influences from Terji Rypdal and Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and others from the late 70’s, early 80’s. A very well played set of music.

I leave the club shortly before closing at 23:45 and start to walk back. The crowds are now reduced to just the drunkest tourists and the most appalled locals. I think I straddle both camps. I stop at one of the street vendors to get a “Classic Prague Würst”. As I approach the stand a pair of middle aged women ask, “Sprachen sie Deutsch?” “Nein,” I reply. The paradox of that catches them. “Was? Sie sprachen Deutsch!” “No, Anglais.” “Oh, English. Are you from England or America?” Those of you who read last night’s post can guess where this is headed. “I’m from both,” I say, and move towards the food stand and away from them. “You want to come to bar? Nice company bar, you know?” they say. “Company” in this context does not mean business… Wait, let me rephrase that. By “Company” they don’t mean firm… Well, you get my drift. They are trying to get me to go to a Cabarét or some other venue where some nice lady (I’m sure) will keep me company for the night, or however long it takes to drain my wallet. No thanks. I pretend not to hear them anymore, get my sausage (stop snickering) and walk away. Behind me I still hear “You speak English…”

Another night of culture in Prague, one of the oldest cities in the world.

Ciao ciao!