Monday, April 13, 2015

C'est intéressant w/c 13 Apr

Interesting, intriguing, exciting, amusing, enraging, fascinating things I recommend.

The Guardian: most disturbing novels list
The Guardian asked its writers and readers what novels unnerved them the most. Replies include Brett Easton Ellis, Murakami and many more. I'd add to the list Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn (the violence and self-hate, heightened by the stream-of-consciousness writing style) and David Vann's Legend of a Suicide and Dirt. Those really shook and it took me a good few days to get over them. I reckon it will be another 5 years before I read another Vann novel.

Music: M.O - Preach (Cahill Radio Edit)
This popped up on my soundcloud stream. The original has a sleek, mid-tempo beat, a la Aaliyah/TLC, and the video, while low on production values, emphasises the connection with baggy outfits and classic hip-hop moves. I like it a lot, but not as much as this pumping remix by Cahill. After 15 seconds I was like 'oh ok...' and wanted to be on a dancefloor where I could take my top off. And it made me miss some very good friends who now live way too far away... It's set to be my summer theme tune.

Food: Fennel, feta and bean salad (Leon)
Super simple, quick to make, and delicious. Perfect for when temperatures hit the twenties in the UK next week (no, we don't know why either... well..).

Music: Michelle Williams - Say Yes live feat. Beyonce and Kelly Rowland
Because a Destiny's Child reunion, even if only 7min long, will always have a place in this blog.




Monday, April 06, 2015

A book to make you scream in frustration and disbelief



I've just finished reading And The Band Played On, Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, by journalist Randy Shilts.

Randy Shilts was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle through the 70s and 80s and, as such, was in the eye of the storm. His account is very researched and detailed, focusing on key protagonists in the discovery of and fight against AIDS, starting from one of the earliest cases (a female Danish doctor who had worked in country hospitals in Zaire in the the 70s) up to the revelation to the public that Rock Hudson, one of Hollywood's biggest male stars of his era, was dying of AIDS, in 1985.

It is a gripping story, and sadly, a real-life one.

Reading the movements of Patient Zero (an Air Canada stewart who was at the centre of a cluster of victims in San Francisco, LA, NY and other cities), you can't help but gasp at the guy's refusal to believe his diagnosis and change his lifestyle.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

On my grandmother

10 years on, here is what I never want to forget about her:

- her cooking. Hearty, simple, epitomised in her ‘salmis de palombe’ (a stew of wild doves my granddad would have hunted) and her pasta with cheese gratin (so crusty on the top, so cheesy in the middle. I have never managed to replicate it)
- the blue/purple/flowery colour of the blouses/aprons she would always wear over her clothes. Always useful for cooking, gardening etc
- her habit of wearing lots of layers of clothes and cranking up the heating. Gosh we were always so hot in her house in winter!
- the self-deprecating way she always said she just knew nothing: ‘enfin tu sais moi je n’y connais rien!’
- her evening TV ritual: 6.30pm = quiz show ‘Questions pour un Champion’. That show is still running and everytime I hear the jingle, I am transported back into my grandparents’ front room again.

Friday, March 27, 2015

C'est intéressant w/c 22 Mar

Interesting, intriguing, exciting, amusing, enraging, fascinating things I recommend.

Video - Public Domain Review: Strange Contests in the Netherlands
Public Domain Review explores all the films, images, texts and more that are free of copyright. It's full of weird stuff. In this post, they look at videos of contests such as a 1933 ostrich race, and the use of typewriters to make art in 1937 (the precusor of those images created from signs like ( 3 ^ and the like on Twitter.

Article - New York Times: Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant
I am an immigrant myself to the UK, after all. A simple point: "Logically, if immigrants were “stealing” jobs, so would every young person leaving school and entering the job market; countries should become poorer as they get larger. In reality, of course, the opposite happens."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Breakin' - ten things I love about the 1984 breakdance film

A few weeks ago, I wrote about cheesy dance films I had to see this year. The first one I got to enjoy was Breakin', the story of female jazz dancer  (Kelly) who discovers the street dance of Venice Beach. Here are some of my favourite bits (all the dance sections are a great watch, so make sure you catch the entire movie one day!)


1. This top. Adolfo 'Shaba-doo' Quinones has amazing style. If only I could rock a jumpsuit like he does!


2. This signature look, worn by Kelly's friend Adam, who takes jazz class with her and is friend with streetdancers Ozone and Turbo. One word: tight. (credit to @ParisLDN, who came to see the film with me, for the joke). In a later scene, Adam pays Kelly a visit in the diner she works for, and wears really tight bright blue trousers. From this, the audience can easily work out that Adam tucks it to his left.



3. Ice T being credited as 'Rap talker' in the end credits. I guess the term rapper didn't exist at the time?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How would you imagine a #dancingmuseum?

French choreographer Boris Charmatz is taking over the spaces of Tate Modern on 15-16 May, with the goal of turning it into a musee de la danse, a museum of dance. I am so there to watch it happen.

I still remember the first time I heard Mr Charmatz speak. It was at a poorly-attended event at Southbank Centre, where a number of artists had been brought together to present ideas, works in progress and the like. He just stood up and started talking, leading us to imagine what a musee de la danse would look like if there was one right here at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. "I was looking at the skaters underneath here, and thought that they would fit in well within a musee de la danse. I would put people in that green space you can look down on from the foyer too..."

He went on with more ideas like that. He was refreshing. His French accent was charming. Now it's kind of happening, in a re-hash of his takeover of MoMA in New York in 2013.

In some marketing copy, the Tate asked "how would you imagine a #dancingmuseum?". Well here is a first list of what I'd like to find in that kind of museum...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

C'est intéressant w/c 9 Mar

Interesting, intriguing, exciting, amusing, enraging, fascinating things I recommend.
Article: This is what it's like to go to jail for trolling (Buzzfeed)
It's not all silly pointless lists over on Buzzfeed... a sobering (!) report on two Twitter trolls who were sentenced to 8 and 12 weeks in jail for online threats.
“I thought in my head actually, that when someone sees something like that and they read it, they’re gonna complain … But you think, ‘This is Twitter’ – you don’t expect to be raided by nine police officers.”

Their song Sonsick made it into my list of 13 tracks of 2013, and it was probably the most played track on my Spotify in 2014. I just could not get enough of it. Their gig at the Village Underground was perfect - hot singers (sorry, can't help it!), awesome brass section, the album played in order with a sprinkle of new tracks. They are back in London in April at the Jazz Cafe: I have my ticket already.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

C'est intéressant w/c 2 Mar

Interesting, intriguing, exciting, amusing, enraging, fascinating things I recommend.

Essay - The New Enquiry: Permanent Records (by Molly Knefel)
Kids are uploading their adolescence in real-time, and the Internet refuses to forget. Will it change the way we live as adults?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Gane: chamge all n into m.

Gane: chamge all n into m, amd vice versa. Go om, do it! Ism't it fummy? How would ome even promoumce sone of those words? Anazimg, infuriatimg - how cam you read that aloud?

This exercise nakes ne thimk about the actual writimg of the letters n and m. Im cursive, n has three 'bridges' (as my prinary school teacher used to describe then), and m has two. How cone they lose ome whem we capitalise then or write in primt? Where did they go to?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What made me cry during the final song of this concert?

Was it its minor key?

Was it its story of childhood memories, powerlessness, and sad resignation?

Was it because it came after two other sad songs - one written for a best friend who 'lost her battle with depression' ('you are a goldmine, you are a prize for winning!'), the other based on the last words of a coal minor, trapped underground and slowly losing air ('oh, how i love you Mary...')?

Was it because the earlier folk harmonies had taken me back to that summer we went mountaineering with dad, aged 14, and, deep in the Pyrenees valleys where the car radio wouldn't catch any signal, the only tape we had to hand was his bluegrass mixtape? (Mr Sandmaaaaan bring me your dreaaaammm)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

C'est intéressant w/c 16 Feb

Interesting, intriguing, exciting, amusing, enraging, fascinating things I recommend.

Opinion piece - Washington Post: Why I'm So Over Dancers As Athletes (Or Why Misty Copeland Is An Artist)
I must say I am guilty of that myself, being in such awe at the dedication, discipline and training regimen of ballet dancers. They commit hours upon hours to learn and refine their art, while I seem to just sit at my desk. But, as Sarah Kaufman reminded me, they are, above all, artists, and their impact on us comes from more than their physique.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Documentary - Storyville: Bulldozers, Paving Stones and Power: The Chinese Mayor


A fascinating documentary about the work of Geng Yabo, Mayor of Datong, a town of about 3m people known for its coal mining industry (which makes it the most polluted city in China) and historical monuments (hanging monasteries, Buddhas etc).

Mr Geng has huge ambitions for Datong, and no time to waste: he is rebuilding the 14th century city walls, watchtowers included, and housing cultural institutions within them. This means demolishing thousands of homes, building thousands of new flats elsewhere and relocating hundreds of thousands of Datong residents.

Pharaonic is the only appropriate term to describe his plans.

For me, its interest laid in the access the film maker was given, as he followed the mayor from meeting to his morning meet with disgruntled locals in need of help from someone in power to solve their problems, via his surveying of the progress of demolition and building works happening around town, and his telling off of underperforming suppliers and colleagues ('the hospital is still not finished!', 'the drain pipes are too small. Can you add one on the other side?').


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

C'est intéressant w/c 9 Feb 2015

Interesting, intriguing, exciting, amusing, enraging, fascinating things I recommend.

Podcast - New Yorker: Psychedelics as Therapy
Discussing the therapeutics effects of LSD on alcoholism, depression and terminally-ill patients. It made me think of all those very old people in hospices and retirement homes who are slowly declining, and how, gently, with ever increasing doses of morphine, they are being led to the end.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Cheesy dance films I have to see this year

Did the 1980s turn out to be the best decade for dance in films? Sure, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were queen and king of the box office back in the 1930s, performing in classics like Top Hat, Shall We Dance and Swing Time, but for sheer range of movies that were about dance and the people who lived for it, it seems to me like the 80s can't be beaten.

As a kid in countryside France with two older sisters, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing were watched pretty much on loop on the family 'magnetoscope' (VCR), and I have a blurry memory of a bit of Chorus Line too. With their stories of dancing against all odds and living for one's passion, they resonated within our young hearts. And of course the soundtracks just made us want to dance ourselves!

The other day, I stumbled upon the trailer for White Nights, a 1985 drama starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. It looked completely over the top: the Soviet dancer defecting to the US, his capture in Siberia after an emergency landing while on a plane journey to Tokyo, his run-ins with a US tap dancer who himself had defected to the USSR, and their ultimate plan of escape. Cold War movie meets ballet and tap - that just sounds too ludicrous not to be enjoyed (no matter how damning the reviews)! Plus it includes Lionel Ritchie's Say You, Say Me in the soundtrack. And also stars Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossellini!



After I shared it with an ironic comment on Facebook, my sister commented: 'I love that film! We used to watch it every Sunday! This scene stills make me cry, like Helen Mirren in it'. I don't remember it at all, but White Nights is definitely on my list of films to watch this year, especially as it includes choreography by Twyla Tharp (see previous link) and bits from Le Jeune Homme et la Mort by Roland Petit.

After a bit of digging, I've come across a few more 1970s and 1980s dance films I just have to see asap. Clearly the success of Fame, Flashdance and Staying Alive got the Hollywood machine excited, a little too excited even as cheese got piled on top of even more cheese.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Joan Didion on computers

I love reading Joan Didion's essays and novels. I regularly feel the need to read On Self-Respect or Goodbye to All That, some sections of which bring a lump to my throat they are so full of truth (my truth).

I also love listening to Joan Didion's voice. So posed, almost bored. I recently found this 1987 interview with Don Swaim for CBS radio, where the conversation somehow lead to this question: 'What sort of computer do you use?'

In 1987, that was an interesting question, and it brought an interesting answer, and a discussion about crying learning to use a laptop, how literal you have to be when dealing with a computer and the value of spell checker. How quaint!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

On 'New Year, New You'

Walking along the Regent's Canal on a crisp January morning, on our way to the gym.
'Notice all the runners today, with their new tops and flashy accessories...' I say.
'It's January' he replies 'oh dear look at that one blobbing along...'
'Come on' I say with mild exasperation (My new year hope is to be less negative and critical of others), 'it's commendable! Give them credit, at least they are making an effort. Maybe they are training for the marathon, for all we know!'
'No - I'll only applaud them in March, assuming they haven't given up...'
'Some people don't even try!'
'Yes and you know who they are? They are the happy ones.'

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Laos trip stocktake


Lost in Laos

- bright blue Uniqlo hooded fleece jacket (probably in some Luang Prabang restaurant I had to run out of to catch a bus)
- digital camera (dropped in a stream at Kuang Si waterfalls)
- SD memory card with photos (I put it in my jeans pocket after the camera went under water, and I reckon it fell off the pocket when I got into my swimming trunk to swim in the freezing, turquoise water)
- travel pillow (in a cafe in Pakse)
- hiking boots (not technically lost, but had to abandon them after they did not survive the exploration of stunning caves, developing several holes in their sole)
- my breath, on several occasions
- 3 kilos (we cycled a fair bit and it was hot)


Nearly lost in Laos

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Dance Umbrella: Talking Amongst Ourselves

The festival Dance Umbrella has been going on for over 30 years here in London, usually in October-November. Last year, a new Artistic Director, Emma Gladstone, took over and brought a new vision to its programming (a focus on 21st century choreography) and lots of new ideas and approaches to presenting dance events.

The one that caught my attention was a different kind of post-show talk. We've probably all experienced Q&As with dancers/choreographers/etc after a performance: it's always enlightening to hear from the artists involved what they had in mind, where they came from, how they worked towards the piece etc, and to get the opportunity to ask them questions.

But what if you didn't like the work? What if you didn't get it? For many of us, it would be a little daunting to admit it to the artist's face. So Dance Umbrella set up post-show discussions between audience members only, without the presence of the artist. Any questions that would arise would be answered via their blog.

I attended the one following a performance by flamenco dancer Rocio Molina at the Barbican and found it so envigorating, open and enlightening. It got me seeing things in the piece I hadn't noticed. About 40-45 people stayed to share their thoughts about what they had just seen. Some people loved Molina's experimentations; others (me!) found them a little self-indulgent sometimes. Some saw references to Lorca, Ginger Rogers, Coppelia in some of her choreography; others thought there was no need to try and find references to hang on to and said so loudly. A couple shared their amazing story of walking past Molina's rehearsal space in Seville, watching her from the street for a few minutes, and being told they should come and see her at the Barbican: flamenco novices, they were blow away by it all.

Everyone was very respectful of others' opinions, and willing to share their thoughts and impressions. And no one hogged the mic!

Not sure whether Dance Umbrella have copyrighted the idea [ ;-) ], but I'd love to see this happening more often across other events.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Pina Bausch - 1980

(In 2012 I saw 10 works by Pina Bausch as part of the World Cities 2012 season. I just blogged moments from the shows I remembered. I am doing the same now for 1980, which Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch is performing at Sadler's Wells this week).

Grass on the stage.
A very Bauschian line of dancers walking, dancing with their arms (opening them, kinda doing the Egyptian, moving their wrists...), walking down into the audience then back the stage.
A game for children: fisherman, fisherman how deep is the waaaater? (it is 75m deep!) And how can I cross it? (by doing the gorilla!/by hoping on one foot!/by rolling on the floor!). Then the fisherman tries to catch the person who is crossing.
One of the dancers impersonating a middle-aged guy, with leather jacket, like some kind of roadie, doing dirty jokes, always saying 'Fantastic!' at the end of everything.
Serving tea to the audience. 'Would you like some sugar with it?'
A woman dancing under a sprinkler, like on a beautiful summer afternoon.
A summer evening - people eating, drinking wine under spot light, listening to a man play the organ, singing with him.
A surreal beauty pageant, each female dancer being introduced, told to 'Smile!' and do a 'winkie winkie!', with the Australian proving the keenest. She has a huge number of hobbies. Then they have to show their front legs and repeat the tongue twister 'Betty bought a bit of butter but the butter Betty bought was bitter'. The men do it too.
Competition around a microphone to sell one's leg ('look at this leg! it's tight! it's beauttiful! and I have another one too!')
Competition around a microphone to share the number of scars one has ('here, here, here and there. appendicitis. car accident')
All the performers walking slowly up stage, and each having to answer a yelling maitre de ceremonie: 'Julie! What are you scared of?' 'Suicide. Worms. Closed rooms'.
Slow line formations
A goodbye scene: one dancer bottom left corner, faces all the others, who are standing quite close to each other. One by one they go to her and say goodbye. They say it quite formally, like what you'd tell someone you don't really know 'Thank you again for coming. It is such a shame you have to go. Best regards'. Only the final dancer gives her a hug. This scene is quite moving and is repeated at the end of the piece, only the lights go down after the dancers take their position. So you know the goodbyes are coming, but they are not given to you.



Friday, January 31, 2014

Boris Charmatz - enfants @ Sadler's Wells

I was listening to an interview with Australian director Simon Stone yesterday, in which he said:

“'Oh my god I can’t believe I am actually watching this’ - This is what theatre should make you feel like.”

I thought yeah he's right, this is how I've felt whenever I've been knocked over by how good a show was.

Little did I know I'd feel this way that very evening, watching Boris Charmatz's enfant at Sadler's Wells. Here are 3 things about it that made me go  'I can't believe I just saw that happen in front of my eyes!'



1. The set.
The stage is bare, with no wing curtains. At the beginning, some kind of crane with a motor (placed front stage right) is pulling pieces of rope that have been taped around the stage and along the wall. Two people are at the end said ropes, and end up being lifted and hanging what must be 5 to 8 meters about the stage floor. They look lifeless, just hanging there. The man is held by one foot, the woman is folded at the waist. The machine brings them up, down, deposes them on the floor only to bring them back up. What is going on?

2. Lifeless children being moved about by adults all around the stage.
They are like rag dolls being played with, made to dance, to sit, to chat. The children are what, aged 5 to 8? For half an hour they stay limp, eyes closed, while the adults move them about, dance around them and go about some crazy business. The sight of those children was funny at first, but turned disturbing for me. A few weeks ago I was sadly in A&E, and witnessed the death of a 3-month-old in the bay opposite mine. I only saw him being carried in by the ambulance people, then the curtain was drawn and I could just hear them trying to save him. Minutes later, a wail from the distraught parents. Their son was dead. Seeing the show reminded me of them, and how maybe in the madness of their grief they may have tried to will their baby back to life. I would have, I think...

3. After the children start singing, they start running around. There are incredible moments where one or two try to run off stage but get caught up by an adult. To them, it may be a game but there was a certain shock/violence that made me gasp. Then it's the turn of the adults to go lifeless while the kids move them around (5 kids needed to move one man, at one point). A bagpipe player (!!!!) then appears and guides all the children and adults around the stage in some kind of crazy celebration/parade. You can tell it's very improvised. There are mad marching steps, screams, rolls on the floor. You can see some kids looking around a little confused, but they soon remember some steps they know they can fall back on (one is scrubbing your eyes, as though you are waking up, or miming crying). I'm watching and I'm like 'What the fuck!?'. It is completely mad, I don't know where it's going but I am in awe of the performers and the vision of the choreographer. Here is the bagpiper being lifted by the crane.

Leaving the theatre, I was completely buzzing. It's hard to explain why, apart from complete surprise at seeing something so different, and so beautiful for it.

If I see another show this year that has the same impact on me, I'll consider myself very lucky.