Presburg Mirror

January 20th, 2015 § 0

So this is how Hans felt
before the war. Hitler’s voice drones
on the radio. A toothbrush in his hands,
his eyes in the mirror. Surely,
he thought, it won’t come to this.
Level heads will prevail. Not twenty years
ago the cannons went silent.

But this time my bleary eyes admit,
it’s been seventy years. Three generations
lived and died with just whispers
in the jungles or Balkan piano clatter.
An inconsequential hundred thousand
Arab children may have starved.

Nothing real, nothing like this. Slow heartbeat,
the distant boom of the end, absolute.
Hans’ wife pooh-poohed the menace then
as mine now. Take Gretta with you my love
while you’re out with the dog. Fresh air
will do you all good.
She smiles, urgently
rubbing cream into her forehead. A furrow
across her brow, dismisses any other care.

Real men do not fret about
what they cannot change.
to be taken to school, cannons to load.
Duties to be discharged equally.
Centuries alter not man’s destiny, woman’s
insouciance. Accept the force. Indispensable
nation. Sieg Heil!

Rumi in Flammen: Jochen Ulrich at Landestheater Linz

June 19th, 2011 § 0

The stage is a wooden arena, with benches on all sides including one before the audience. Above the arena sits a drummer who immediately begins to beat a large skinned drum. Talented deep rhythms, slightly foreign to our ears.

A man in a blue martial arts costume stands in the center. Drift in various young men and women in combative poses. The fight begins.

Long bouts of shadow fighting eventually bring in some long legged blondes in the back to watch the combat (Marietta Kro, Lucia Patoprstá). The dojo atmosphere moves towards that of film noir. The long legged blondes end up in writhing embraces with bands our half naked fighters. Very sexy, moving us quickly towards B movies and Russ Meyer and Tarantino.

The two Blondes Marietta Kro Lucia Patoprsta
The two Blondes Marietta Kro Lucia Patoprsta

Group sex where one woman submits to multiple partners against her will appears to be a recurring them in Ulrich’s work. Lots more of it tonight. These fighters and ravishers carry around life size plush lions on their shoulders to amuser themselves between sexual assaults.

A lady in white enters with face hidden behind a wide brimmed hat, followed by the firsts man in a frightening wooden tribal mask. The first amazing dance of a man behind a mask follows. Flinging, lifts, flips. After a struggle nearly to the death an exhausted Fabrice Jucquois is revealed.

Our first clue as to the true nature of the evening has dropped. There is neither story here nor conventional characters. These figures on stage are symbols as in the Life of Man or Tsar Hunger of Leonid Andreyev or later the epic theatre of Berthold Brecht. Death, Life, Despair, Hunger, Desire. Nouns with capitals are come to reveal to us the meaning of life.

An enormous man in a death mask and dreadlocks follows the woman in white into the dojo. As a dreadlocked leather jacketed biker Wallace Jones gives the dance performance of the evening. The speed and grace and power of his long limbs terrorised the audience in his nightmare appearance.

Jones’s overhead lifts of Anna Sterbová astonish.

Rumi in Flammen lifts Anna Sterbova Martin Dvorak
Rumi in Flammen lifts this time Anna Sterbova flies
in the arms of Martin Dvorak

The next character still mystifies me. Mickey Mouse comes on stage. Yes, really, Disney’s guy, the one from the top of mother’s cookie jar from the fifties. Big ears, big eyes, big round smile. But Mickey’s spoiling for a fight tonight and he gets it.

On beat the drums boombity-boom-boom in the steady hands of Mohammad Rez Mortazavi an alternately spellbinding and oppressive rhythm.

We storm the boundary of kitsch here with the mouse and go right over the other side with our next warrior. A downhill skier complete with skis and tall boots. He trudges into the center of the fighting ring and then stops. It turns out there are dancing moves you can do only in ski boots and Emilijus Miliakus does a good job showing how you can lean further forward and back than humanly possible and writhe in spellbinding ways. He throws a woman or two over his head before finally Sterbová pulls the skis and boots from his feet.

At that point the other fighters gang up on Miliakus and beat him to death.

Martin Dvorak is a curious choice for the Master as Ulrich has more overtly charismatic dancers to carry this lead. But Anna Sterbová does great work as his apprentice who is regularly tossed into poses foreign to flesh and blood.

Irene Bauer provides an atmospheric shadow across the back of stage, head to toe in black chiffon. Sarah Deltenre is a convincingly macabre lady in white.

I thought Bauer and Deltenre were Death and Life but they turned out to be Day and Night.

Apparently this symbolic dance drama began with the work of a Persian poet who died about a thousand years ago, Rumi. Rumi’s full name is Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī. Rumi took his nickname from the part of Anatolia where he lives and which used to belong to Byzantium, aka Eastern Rome. In 2007, Unesco celebrated the year of Rumi, with international conferences with as many as 450 presentation. The guy is a big deal: think Persian Chaucer or at least William Wordsworth.

There’s nothing in his writings to suggest a martial nature or a fascination with combat. Rumi was more into long walks and philosophical talks. His idea of love seems to have been more Platonic than consumed with trashy blondes and group sex.

Once again with Ulrich’s work, we are left more impressed with the strength of the conception and the musical choice and performance than the choreography. Nearly two hours of live drums is an impressive sonic experience. The musical score and the performance are the work of a handsome young Persian musician, Mohammad Reza Mortazavi. His stamina and energy delighted both dancers and audience.

The choreography is more focused than Ulrich’s preceding piece Winterreise: the combat area engendered a string of dance and movement events. As well as the action on the center stage also background notes which appear and reappear. Bauer as the night goes up and down the stairs and brings Mortazavi more into the performance. The other fighters/disciples remain on the stage actively observing the action when not participating.

Simon Corder’s lighting is more consistently detailed than the lighting in Winterreise. Again, the tones tend towards the strong, apparently a consequence of the planned outdoor performanes of Rummi in Flammen. In open air, the dojo is to be placed among the spectators and the dancers will circulate freely in the audience.

Rumi in Flammen will be even more effective with the dancers among the audience. It still won’t have much to do Rumi’s poetry and will owe more to B movies than Persian literature, but can survive on its own merits. If Ulrich has managed to expose Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī’s work and Persian literature to more Austrians, his appropriation of Rumi’s name will have done no harm and much good.

Regardless of what the rest of the world and modern Persia may think of Rumi in Flammen at its premiere, Linz stood and applauded Ulrich and Mortazavi’s work for over fifteen minutes of curtain calls.

More info about Jochen Ulrich’s Rumi in Flammen, more photographs and tickets can be found on the website of Landestheater Linz. Photos courtesy of Landestheater Linz (uncredited). Do not miss the open air performance on July 2 on the  MainDeck of the Ars Electronica Center (July 3 in case of rain).

Paean to the Oceans: Dark Side of the Lens

October 4th, 2010 § 2

dark side of the lens whales
dark side of the lens whales
dark side of the lens gulls
dark side of the lens gulls
dark side of the lens diver
dark side of the lens diver

This film is supposed to be about surfing and underwater photography.

For me it is about the sea and it is a paeon to this monument of beauty spanning most of the planet.

I see this and I wonder how we continue to relentlessly despoil this unrepairable wonder with oil spills, deslickers, polluted rivers, radioactive waste.

The wickedness of civilisation, at least in its capitalist extant, is to borrow the profit of today against the misery of tomorrow. Man has been at this a long time though. The folk of Easter Island expired when they consumed their entire food chain.

Even archeology has not been enough to sober world leaders apart from that fleeting glimpse of a president Gore.

But back to the film and the ocean. Don’t miss the splendid soundtrack and the free poetry of the voiceover. Here’s a few strong phrases.

i never set out to become anything particular, only to live creatively…

my heart bleeds celtic blood and I’m magnetised to familiar frontiers…

if i only scrape a living it’s a living worth scraping..


Both words and music strongly wrought by subject and filmmaker Mickey Smith. 

A small SEO thanks to energy drink Relentless for making this possible. Via ISO50.

Really Awful Online Poetry Readings

April 24th, 2006 § 1

My friends in Austria wonder why I don’t much like to speak English anymore. Not in its current bastardised and crude form.

Here’s the missing link..

I’ve rarely heard such awful readings of fine poetry in my life. Of all the female voices only Laura’s reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall would have got you out of high school in Canada in the late eighties.

After suffering through the female readings, I had no stomach left for the men at all.

It makes me laugh that a certain Google Adwords expert is praised as a fine speaker in English – he sent me an audio CD to promote his products (the guide is not bad) – it’s like listening to a bad radio commercial promoting AmWay. Hey, that’s his other life.

His speaking was dire enough, I almost didn’t buy the book.

It seems that nobody in America has any idea what good speaking public or private – sounds like anymore.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t like speaking English much anymore, apart with literarily inclined Brits. It used to be that Aussies sounded rough around the edges, but next to the Americans commercial whinings – even an Australian voice is beginning to take on the characteristics of a nightingale.

Does anybody have a list of some very fine free readings of poetry in English online?

French, Russian and German would be fine too.

Eines Unmögliches Schones Mädchen

March 14th, 2005 § 0

speaking of molecular biology and reincarnation
with an intelligent and lovely scientist, there
is another life after this one she insists, dances
another one stoned and impossibly beautiful
slender waist, pushing bosom, shoulders round
features aquiline and fine, skin like cream.


if a scientist believes not in the the chemistry of existence
but in the holy spirit, reincarnation and destiny
what is left for the hewer of words or the drawer of sentiment
to believe in but the stoned and impossibly beautiful?

and so we shall believe and live to see another sunrise
and forget time and tomorrows and remember that these days
and nights are ours and ungone belong to us, our small sliver
of the universe to see and to live as we once kissed.

A Christmas Poem for Anna

December 21st, 2004 § 0

The taste of Anna and red wine.
So lovely to drink and drink.
Somehow without her sweet nectar
the wine is not so fine.

Also ohne Anna und ohne Wein
Muss Mann manchmal leben.

No Jane Austen Heroines…

December 20th, 2004 § 1

No Jane Austen heroines for me
all prose and no poetry,
reason and norm insistent
in every dawn and
a faultless sense of society,
infallible propriety.
I’ll dally to ventilate
the tight sphincter which cramps
her every breath
in hope to release the emotions
stifled so long below.
Hopeless though, these women –
function of their most intimate organs
governed so strongly from the head
and not the heart. One pure breath
of unfiltered emotion, more, sadly
than six months of stifling devotion.

Self-censorship: the inner voice and the artist in society

December 7th, 2004 § 0

John Cassavetes on creativity:

you have to fight every day to stop censoring yourself. and you never have anyone else to blame when you do. what happens to artists is that it’s not that somebody’s standing in their way, it’s that their own selves are standing in their way. the compromise really isn’t how or what you do, the techniques you use, or even the content, but really the compromise is beginning to feel a lack of confidence in your innermost thoughts. and if you don’t put these innermost thoughts on the screen then you are looking down on not only your audience but the people you work with, and that’s what makes so many people working out there unhappy. these innermost thoughts become less and less a part of you and once you lose them then you don’t have anything else.

Internal censorship. The deadliest kind. I catch my self at it every day. Making the thing as we wish. In my case, it would probably be a lot more licentious and funny and a lot less serious. Decadent as it were.

Just be oneself, is the contemporary mantra. An impossibility. The civilised man or woman is never him or herself, but a projection of a conceptualised self. Ask someone about their sexual fantasies. Expect a real answer. Usually not.

The conceptualisation of self can happen at a higher or lower level depending on self-awareness and sense of society’s own filters and behavioural models.

So how much of that interior world do we share with others, how much of it do we allow to flow through ourselves? Ultimately, that may be the question that Cassavates may be asking. Something to note is the difficulty many great artists have with socialisation.

To take some a surprising and Christian one, Soren Kierkegard – despite private fortune and connections – was a terrible social anomoly and unable to live a normal sentimental life. Lev Tolstoi was a total outrage until his great fame, running around mowing fields with peasants and running crackpot peasant literacy programs. And that’s not to discuss, individuals like French poet Rimbaud who stopped writing at 19 to adventure through Africa, followed later by the articulate and dangeourous prince of clouds, Céline. (At least unlike Rimbaud, Céline managed to come back on his own two feet and not in a box.)

On the other hand, there are men like Henri de Stendhal and Pierre de Ronsard who lived civilised and mondain lives as diplomats, while beginning the oeuvre which will live on forever.

These latter two are an argument to make the battleground internal. Not external.

Compromise with the forms and appearances of society and make war on its corruption and hypocrisy from within.

But how then not to mute the internal voice under the damping of convention?