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Swimming in Swan Lake: Fifth International Dance Gala in Graz

May 10th, 2014 § 1

In his Fifth TanzGala Graz the director of the Graz Ballet, Darel Toulon decided to finish off dance critics once and for all. At half time, it’s already almost ten o’clock. We’ve seen seven excerpts and one full miniature already. The non-writing public is delighted by this cornocopia of choreography. Animated chat and high spirits reign.

The evening began with a short extract from one of Toulon’s own most ambitious works, Swan Trilogy (Schwanentrilogie). I saw the full piece at its premiere in 2009 and Swan Trilogy has aged well. The giant eggs with cracks in them create impressive atmosphere while Dianne Gray looks fabulous as the Swan princess. Michal Zabavik is in great form. The live orchestra give the performance the feel of one Europe’s great cultural capitals like Moscow or Paris. It’s a pity the excerpt was so short.

The next pas de deux came from Roland Petit’s Proust ou les intermittences du coeur. Two men dance naked to the waist as equal partners. Beautiful shapes, tender movement. Gabriel Faurie’s Elegy for Violoncello and Orchestra provided a deeply moving acoustic background for what Toulon correctly noted as a masterwork. 1974 is like today. Rainer Krenstetter and Marian Walter’s communication via movement will be the best we see tonight. A perfect performance of Petit’s perfect piece.

Marian Walter und Rainer Krenstetter in Roland Petits Duett aus Les intermittences du Coeur
Marian Walter and Rainer Krenstetter in Roland Petits
Duett from Les intermittences du Coeur

Swimming in Swan Lake: Fifth International Dance Gala in Graz Continues »

Ballet Graz: Die Liebe Einer Konigin or A Royal Affair in Dance

March 8th, 2014 § 0

One of the the more peculiar and exciting stories of recent royalty came out of Denmark. In 1766, the quite mad Christian VII ascended the throne at just seventeen years of age. He remained in power for an astonishingly long time, considering his limited facilities. A young and beautiful wife from England was brought to him Caroline.

After the birth of an heir, Christian took a trip abroad and came back in the care of a Danish-German physician Johann Struensee. Struensee became both confidante and friend of King Christian, later the lover of Queen Caroline. Together they ruled in Christian’s place for almost two years, before the Dowager Queen led a palace coup in favour of her own son. Result: Struensee executed, Caroline exiled.

In 2012, the Danes themselves made a majestic film version starring Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Struensee called A Royal Affair. Both sensual and intellectual, idealistic and cynical, Mikkelsen is thorougly compelling in the role. His queen is a fascinating and contradictory Caroline, divided between duty and passion.

Ballet Graz artistic director Darrel Toulon’s instinct to treat this story in ballet is unerring. Dance thrives on passion and emotion, love and death. The Struensee affair has all of it.

How did Toulon do?

Ballet Graz: Die Liebe Einer Konigin or A Royal Affair in Dance Continues »

Review: Ballett-Hommage Forsythe | Horecna | Lander at Vienna Staatsoper

December 15th, 2013 § 0

The evening opens with Forsythe’s The Second Detail. When we see works like this, it’s clear Forsythe is such a great choreographer and his current strange experiments become even less comprehensible and more astonishing. But few people cared for Stravinski’s music in the 1920 so perhaps it’s we who just don’t understand.

Horecna Contra Clockwise Witness 1
Horecna Contra Clockwise Witness 1

The Second Detail opens up with a huge bright grey rehearsal space with just the words THE at the front. Thin white horizontal lines dividge the strange into precise grids. The dancers are in the same grey as the floor. I’m not quite sure why Apple is getting away with suing Samsung for packaging as Forsythe had the iPhone and MacBook Air boxing under control back in 1991 in Frankfurt. This is an early great work.

Vienna State Ballet company looks great dancing Forsythe these days. Under Legris, they’ve acquired both the élan necessary and the discipline necessary to put it all together. Strangely, the men have improved more than the women (who have been excellent as along as I’ve been in Vienna). Particularly notable is strongman Vladimir Shiskov but Mihail Sosnovichi also delivers an imposing performance while Eno Peci and Alexis Forbasco look good too. All of the men have developed powerful lower bodies and are a joy to watch.

Review: Ballett-Hommage Forsythe | Horecna | Lander at Vienna Staatsoper Continues »

OntarioDances.ca but no website

November 25th, 2013 § 4

How governments allocate and manage arts projects is a mysterious science.

pouquoi je danse
splash image for pourquoi je danse – see video at bottom of post

This week the Ontario Arts Council announced OntarioDances.ca a program to connect dance companies with dance presenters.

For some reason there are only nine theatres included:

OntarioDances.ca but no website Continues »

Ai Weiwei Never Sorry – Assange’s Chinese Shadow

November 23rd, 2013 § 0

Imagine being a world famous artist. Imagine designing national monuments. Imagine thinking that you are invulnerable to repression. Imagine speaking out against human rights abuses at your country’s Olympics (Olympics for which you designed stadiums). Imagine being warned to shut your fat trap. Imagine you keep talking. Imagine that a few months later they come to arrest you and lock you away for 81 days. Imagine you come back with the strict warning that if you continue to make an international media spectacle damaging to the regime which is buttering your bread, you will go away not for three months but forever.

If your imagination is rich, you will have just lived the three years of artist Ai Weiwei’s life who for many years had a blessed position as Lear’s fool in Beijing. His nonsense answers and ironic commentary on the regime probably even amused the higher party bosses. A useful fool.

Ai Weiwei Never Sorry - Assange's Chinese Shadow Continues »

Bratislava Castle in the Fog, the Night before the Euro Fell

October 11th, 2011 § 0

Bratislava Castle in Fog
Bratislava Castle in Fog

Little did I know just 18 hours later, the Euro was to fall under its watchful walls. Despite, Bratislava’s castle’s air of history, the castle was in ruins for over a hundred years in Pressburg before the Slovaks rebuilt it in Bratislava.

I’m still astonished that Radicova foolishly linked her government AGAIN (this is about time number five) to a vote in Parliament. While she has been a very good prime minister, this death wish in the form of votes of confidence is an absurd game of Russian roulette.

Well now we’ll have an election. Hopefully the bailout package will still not pass. This EU becomes troublesome: a plaything of the international banks, like Congress in the United States. The majority of the European population is against these unlimited bailouts.

Wünderbar Vienna

September 22nd, 2010 § 0

There’s a bar you’ll never find in Vienna filled with people you may never meet. Particularly visual artists. It’s called the Wünderbar. I was taken there after the MAK nite.

It’s somewhere near Alt Wien in the first district. The light is very distinctive and dark. Service is Mad Hatter-like from Alice in Wonderland. The waiter comes three times to ask you what you like to order but you never get your drinks. But’s always well-spoken and friendly.

Wunderbar post MAK nite Jaschka Lammert and Rita Nowak
Wunderbar post-MAK nite actress Jaschka Lämmert and photographer Rita Nowak
Wunderbar post MAK nite Jaschka Lammert Rita Nowak and Irina Gabich
Wunderbar post MAK nite Jaschka Lämmert, Rita Nowak, and Irina Gabich
Wunderbar post MAK nite Jaschka Lammert Rita Nowak Irina Gabich Christoph some guy who needs a hair cut
Wunderbar post MAK nite Jaschka Lämmert, Rita Nowak, Irina Gabich, Christoph some musician who stepped out of the original Shaft

Jaschka Lämmert can be seen now at Künsthistorisches Museum in the project 

 

Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 Spectre Film Review

March 24th, 2010 § 0

I was twice in Film Museum this weekend. Once for the rather poor Out 1: Spectre. I amused myself to read the German subtitles and check them against the spoken French and try to learn a few new words.

Juliet Berto Jacques Doniol Valcroze
Juliet Berto as Frederique, Jacques Doniol Valcroze at Etienne:
Life is just a giant chess game but for keeps

The problem with the film Out 1: Spectre is that it is all on the spot improvisation. If you’ve ever done much improvisation, you know that even when it goes well it usually takes some time longer to develop. There is a lot of going in circles to get the plane off the ground. Spectre One documents those circles. For the twenty five minutes of successful drama you are forced to sit through four and a half hours of film, three hours of which are actors warming up to their subject and another half hour just extraneous long shots.

Perhaps most interesting as a social document if we trust the director to accurately document avant garde theatre practice and mœurs of the time. Some contemporary French critics did praise the sociological side at the time, so let’s presume that the clothing and behaviour is correct. In that case, it is astonishing how much people smoked and drank in that time. They didn’t take it easy on the coffee either.

Out 1: Spectre ostensibly treats Balzac’s Thirteen: thirteen who consider themselves above society and who are willing to cooperate to break any laws to get what they want.

The Fat Director (Michel Lonsdale as Thomas) is one of the most irritating personalities to ever grace the silver screen. He has a huge head, a great big rump, tiny shoulders, persistently dirty hair. Throughout the film, he pontificates with his mouth full of nuts or sandwiches or booze or cigarettes. He manages to put his oily hands on every attractive woman crossing the screen. Partcularly incredible is when he sits on the bed stroking his ex-mistress Sarah, while his current mistress sits on the floor, even bringing water to Sarah at his request.

Very amusing is the scene where he shares an apartment by the seaside with the most beautiful actress of his troupe and a bearded youth. The relationship isn’t sorted out clearly but it looks like this Dionysian young acolytes are sharing the same bed with old Satyr. What Michel Lonsdale is doing to merit this very special treatment is difficult to fathom. His carnal facility must rival the gourmandise of his eating – a hideous image but at least one level on which one can engage with Spectre One – distaste for a personnage so strong that you can taste it. He seems to have built a cult of personality within the group.

The most engaging actor is Juliet Berto in her role as seductress/thief/blackmailer. The different tricks she plays to part foolish men and their money are entrancing for a man. Have you ever been a dupe to a broad on the make? Watch her performance and you know you have been. Her most formidable adversary is Etienne (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) who is one of the conspiratorial ringleaders. His gravelly voice and polite strength were incredibly impressive. Apart from a single scene at the end where he and Michel Lonsdaleare talking around the conspiracy, Doniol-Valcroze’s improvisation is the most fluent and convincing. You know that he’s dealt with any number of duplicitous women and is not phased by them in the least.

Jean Loud seems to be lost here. He is the glue binding all the different parts of the film together with this investigation of the thirteen.

My favorite director Eric Rohmer appears briefly in a cameo as a university professor discussing Balzac. Not a particularly convincing performance but an amusing enough inside joke. It’s amazing how old Rohmer was even back in 1972. Astonishing that he is still making movies. Eric Rohmer gave up on automobiles in his thirties and since then cycles everywhere (I am not sure that is presently true granted his age). Rohmer made the decision to abandon automobiles for environmental reasons. Hopefully, cycling/car abandonment has a very positive effect on my own long term vitality and productivity.

But in the end Out 1: Spectre disappoints. So much time for so little.

The image is also hideous. I don’t know what the original print looked like but what’s left in the can is a washed out pink and orange mess. You can hardly see the colours. The visual inadequacy of the material in this case is a substantial problem. Out 1: Spectre is most successful as a social document. In a social document, one wants to be able to clearly see the clothing and design, to taste and feel the surroundings.

So somebody saved some money with inadequate development facilities. No wonder they were worried about cost issues with dozens of hours of footage to tie together.

Curiously enough, the full Out 1 times in at twelve hours and forty minutes. It was supposed to be a miniseries for French television. TF1 refused to air it. Jacques Rivette didn’t want to see his work thrown away so he edited it down to the 225 minute version we saw. Apparently, the longer version makes more sense. I don’t have twelve more hours of my life to find out.


Timing in at 246 minutes and even longer, La Maman et la Putaine is otherwise the inverse of Out 1: Spectre. There are only three core characters. The action takes place in a minimum of settings (Café aux Deux Magots, a street by the Pantheon, a dormitory room and a filthy apartment).

All the three characters do is talk and drink. But the relationship lives its own life. Every moment is absorbing as you sink further and further into their psychosis and realise that despite their connection, a trainwreck is up ahead.

Most people are familiar with Jean-Pierre Léaud flippant work in Truffaut’s film as his own alter ego Antoin Doinel. Later in life Léaud slummed with half hearted efforts at acting. But here in La Maman et la Putaine, he is entirely persuasive as the café wastrel pocket philosopher. The line between life and cinema seems to disappear entirely.

While the text seems absolutely natural, it is in fact tightly scripted. None of the improvisational excesses of Spectre One. The difference in quality between these two similarly dialogue driven films from the same epoch with many of the same concerns should be a case study in the dangers of improvisation in the feature film format. A tight script makes all the difference between inspired and boring.

Both Bernadette Lafont and Françoise Lebrun are brilliant as Léaud’s companions in their ménage à trois.

Jean Eustache made few feature films in his relatively short life (43 years), committing suicide.

The one trait the two films have in common are the prodigous quantities of alcohol, coffee and cigarettes consumed.

No wonder most Parisians in their forties look a damn wreck.


References

It can be hard to find good information about Out 1: Spectre so here are some references to help.

Detailed plot entry at Wikipedia.
Jonathan Rosenbaum review with pics
A rather weak IMDB entry

Draft originally written in April 2009