Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MIAF 2008: Questions with notice (and a flagon of rhenish)

One of the advantages in hanging out with fiercely intelligent blogger types like Matt and Jana is that they'll often see great wisdom in what I say, no matter how dull! (The less I say, obviously, the better.) (I'm weirdly tempted to liken myself to Helene in War & Peace!!)

So, last year, when Matt asked me what I thought the theme of the 2007 Festival was, and I replied 'retribution', he imagined that I meant Kristy Edmunds was wreaking vengeance on the curmudgeons at the local 'bored-sheet' by staging a bitchin' (popular, successful, critically unimpeachable) festival. But, at that stage, all of the shows I'd seen had a common crime/guilt/payback narrative element! I didn't have the heart to disabuse him! (Never is too late, mate!)

Anyway, when he asked this year, again quite early in the festival, I think my one word answer was 'capitulation'. The 2008 Festival was extraordinarily deep and of a high standard off-the-plan, I thought, but it was also -- in my mind -- way too safe.

One day, in the middle-distance future, I want to sit down with K.E. and a "flagon of rhenish" and pull the wings off the curatorial process.

I would ask, for example, if Kristy had seen Book of Longing before it came to Melbourne. (I drove to Adelaide, in March, to catch it. My verdict, then, phoned into my Sydney editor was, and I quote: "I wouldn't fucken steal the music... even if I had broadband!") (I bought the CD before the show. I still haven't played the second disc.) (Grrr!)

There's no way in the world I would have brought it to Melbourne.

The Adelaide Festival co-commissioned the piece. So they could hardly bail on it. And, yes, I realise, no Book of Longing would mean no Dedication to Allen Ginsberg. (Well, that just wiped out two of my deadliest-of-the-fest shows!)

I'd ask: is it enough that people will want to see a show? That tickets will sell out? That people will be captivated with the idea, the promise? Is that reason enough to program an event?

For me the answer is an unequivocal "shit no!"

Big name inclusions are a mixed blessing. Only the Philip Glass/Patti Smith Dedication was exclusive to Melbourne. In Australia, that is. The Ginsberg thing is something that the two belt out from time to time when their schedules permit. (Patti's other party trick is to play recitals with son Jackson on guitar and daughter Jesse on pianna. And, yes, I'd love to see that.)

'Book of Lounge-ing' also made it to Sydney earlier this year. Smith and her band, likewise, played the Opera House after their gigs in Melbourne.

Patti Smith's headline status in the Melbourne festival, however, was warranted for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was a kind of residency. She stayed for a week, worked her butt off, there were exhibitions, concerts, recitals and the local premiere of the Sebring film Dream of Life. Compared, say, to Bjork outside the Opera House for a recent Sydney Festival, Smith's inclusion was serious, and vital. Bjork's was puzzling. Or maybe just perfunctory. (Hell, why not include Peaches?) (I can't believe I missed her again.)

Alison muses that we're harsher on our local failures than we are of the imports. My hunch is that's not quite true. Though my angle is slightly different, inevitably. I wrote about cultural cringe turning to cultural sneer in the early 90s -- our artistic inferiority morphing into a superiority complex -- but then the gap was far more noticeable in opera, ballet and physical theatre than it was in legit. theatre. (Barrie Kosky's Gilgul company and Company B Belvoir excepted.)

One other thing I've wanted to comment on, but haven't had the headspace... and it didn't seem appropriate to bang on about it in the comments thread at TN. I've been delighted -- and a bit amused -- to read how La Croggon has been digging under one artistic rock after another and finding -- oh how delightful -- poetry! The logocentric one is finding it everywhere! (I call this WYSIWYP: what you see is what you project.)

I hate to disappoint, ma'am, but dance has been in poetry about a million years longer than poetry has been in dance! That said, I've found the record of your exploration quite, quite fascinating. Ditto your poetic raves about shows I've been unmoved by. Your writing has been so passionate, I've imagined that I've liked the shows too. (I have a vivid imagination.)

At the risk of pissing Jana off, I'll say it again. My absolute favourite review of the Festival was penned by the Mattster. Like Alison, he was reviewing dance from first principles. His review of Batsheva's Three is quite scarily good. (It's not anywhere near as daring, polemical, overwhelming as anything you've written, m'dear... but -- hell -- this ain't about you.) (Sorry.)

Instead of the word, the abstraction, Matt approaches dance as a concrete art -- imagine I've said it in French! -- rather than a plastic art.

At Green Mill one year -- I'm too spent to spend the half hour necessary to tell you precisely when -- Robert Dessaix delivered a paper at Mietta's. There he told a room full of dancers, choreographers, dance writers and teachers that we were all wasting our time. The word had pride of place in the intellectual life of the world. We were all primates, basically. If we wanted to be part of the 'discourse' -- artistic and intellectual -- we had better brush up on our Sontag.

Polemical? Sheeeeet. [Imagine Chris Rock saying "shit" and you're getting warm.] His audience was hyperventilating. Apoplectic. But, finally, silent. Politely inarticulate.

Nowadays, I reckon, the dance community would shrug off such an attack. Or Prof. McKechnie would get to her feet, lean on her ashplant sword, and smile sweetly: "Fiddlesticks."

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Getting my appetite back, Melbourne Festival diary 2

My wrap of the 2008 Festival is in today's Herald Sun.


WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 22, 2008


Scaife had just one request for her birthday. "Make 'the whore' for me."

She might be a slacker in the kitchen, but she always has great kitchens -- granny kitchens with lots of character -- and is a most appreciative eater. We've both been having an affair with The Whore, my version of spaghetti alla puttanesca.

Now, Scaife's birthday fell in the last week of the festival, so if she wanted The Whore, I told her, she'd have to see a show first. "I've decided I don't like plays," she said, firmly. (Been taken to too many mainstage shows... thank you very much Kay!)

By good fortune, it seemed, her birthday coincided with KAGE's Appetite -- "physical theatre, not a play" I assured her -- coincidentally about a woman having a dinner party and existential crisis on her birthday. It was perfect.

KAGE. A great local company. Never seen anything by them I haven't liked, and I reckon I've seen every single show they've done in Melbourne, from the early days when -- a la Pilobolus -- KAte Denborough and GErard Van Dyck [KA+GE, get it?] would do acrobatic things, silly, magical, dangerous things... with their heads in big pots upside down.

For this particular show, Denborough was wrangling some of the finest dancers you will see (Carlee Mellow and Michelle Heaven head the list) and a brilliant team.

Scaife's also a fan of Sally Seltmann, who trades as New Buffalo. And Seltmann was to play live in Appetite. What could go wrong?

What went wrong has been fairly well documented: here, there and everywhere.

I have to say that the audience clapped appreciatively -- even violently -- after the show. Those that were still awake and/or not fuming.

We fled. A cool twenty minutes after the lights went up, this was the scene...


I got a standing ovation for this. Seriously!
Click on the image and drool. (Pic by Scaife.)


Your celeb chef is posing with olive oil, olives, baby capers, garlic, chilli, some big fat anchovies and some finely sliced Spanish onions. 12 and a half minutes after that, with a few late-added segments of vine-ripened tomatoes, we were in Whore Heaven.

And the birthday girl didn't have to think about theatre ever again.

Me? I had to spend the next half dozen hours telling the truth about the show with as little malice as possible.


What's that expression about screwing the pooch?

I was actually looking for an image of the Ben Casey lookalike vet that the Simpsons visit in the Dog of Death ep. The only ones I can find have him giving mouth to mouth to Santa's Little Helper.



But I really wanted a pic of our hero vet disposing of a dead hamster -- the patient he has just lost. Cos all night, while I wrote, I was thinking of his immortal words -- "This is the part of the job I hate the most" -- as he casually lobs the carcass over his shoulder... It lands in a basketball hoop and plops into a bin. Nice.
"I love animals. I spend my life saving them and they can't thank me. Well, the parrots can."
Ah, criticism!

Since the company was founded 11 years ago, I think I've had he opportunity to review just the one KAGE show, Gerard's solo show, The Collapsible Man, in one of its return seasons. Maybe five years ago. A dazzling show.

Boy did I draw the short straw this time...

And god I hate bagging friends.

The only favour I've ever done a friend was to not review her show. [To boldly split infinitives, where no infinitives have been split before.] It was in the grey area -- student or not-quite-pro theatre -- so I could legitimately make that call.

Another time, when I wrote a review which singled out one of my closest friends for particular criticism, I contacted her before the review was published so that she'd hear it from me rather than read it after it hit the streets.

And, guess what? The review was never published. So we went through all that agony cos I had to go and say the critical equivalent of your arse looks really big in that.

But who gives a rats about my agony in the garden? They're the one who are feeling beaten up at the moment.



N.B. This was written before my close encounter with Ross Mueller at the closing night, er, 'bash'. Serves me right for being gentle.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Seen and not heard... unlike me. A Melbourne Festival diary.

On the 19th night, he will rest... and might take in some trash TV! Have I missed much Californicating?

30 shows in 18 days. (The festival's only 17 days long, sharp-eyed reader, but Kitten jumped the starter's gun on the eve of the festival.) One of the 30 was a film, but a ticketed festival event nevertheless.

To make up for the long gap between my last post and this -- my apologies if your expectations were raised by my ten posts in ten days at the start of the fest -- here's something of a festival diary. Working backwards...


SATURDAY OCTOBER 25

That Night Follows Day

Kristy Edmunds has done it again. Again she's thrown us a show at the end of her festival which is like the decoder ring.

Remember the year when George Orwell's 1984 was the opener? Shockin' show -- as sickly and impotent as its tortured hero Winston Smith -- but it served as an overture to the festival. Within it were several motifs that would be sounded out over the following few weeks. That festival closed with Jérôme Bel and Pichet Klunchun's show, which served as a kind of glossary. A back-announcement. A perfect recapitulation.

This festival (That Night Follows Day appeared to reveal) has been about giving voice to the normally voiceless. To those who, traditionally, are seen and not heard: children, blacks, the disabled... and dancers. [Sorry, can't help myself.]


FRIDAY OCTOBER 24

Watching Camille standing between the stage and the audience, barefoot save for her fishnets, watching her dark eyes glitter with diamond tears, I recalled a line about Meryl Streep penned by a New York Times critic. It's possible, he wrote, to enjoy her performance at two levels. Firstly in character. The other pleasure is in watching the act. Watching Streep acting the role: the pleasure in watching an actor exercising talent when reaching for -- and hitting -- the high notes.

So too in Camille's performance. There are many characters. Many personae. But we are equally fascinated by the donning of those roles... like a mid-set change of shoes or the shimmy out of a long dark dress into something less disciplined.

Before hitting the road tonight, I deleted a couple of Scott Walker songs from my full-as-a-goog iPod to make room for some new stuff. I can't listen to the "30th Century Man" anymore... and it's all Bob Downe's fault! I hesitated for a moment before deleting My Death.

Sure enough, Camille opened with a Bowie-esque version of Brel's song. She also sang a couple of blinders from Ziggy Stardust. Rather perversely, she sang the album's closing song 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide' early in the set and closed out with the album opener, 'Five Years'.

I was vaguely hoping Camille might sing Nick Cave's '(Are You) The One I've Been Waiting For', but I was well compensated. Her dry version of 'People Ain't No Good' was wrenching. And her final encore was Cave's 'Ship Song'. Other highlights were Brel's 'Marieke' and a delightful take on Tom Waits' 'Misery is the river of the world'.

Now, I know I've bored readers of George Hunka's blog with this anecdote, but you can have it fresh. Three years ago -- was it really only three years ago? -- I went to the premiere performance of La Clique at the Spiegeltent with TCB. She and I were ushered up to one of the tables on the platform where the stage normally is.

Just before the second half of the show began, some vamp type approached TCB and asked her to vacate her seat for ten minutes. Lights went down, spot light came up... and the vamp sang 'In These Shoes?' to yours-truly. (And before you jump to the conclusion that I was targeted, I have to tell you I was off-duty.) (More to the point, I'm not important enough to seduce!)

Now, I'm no drooly, stalker, groupie type -- I find it more effective being the cool-headed accurate-in-my-feedback non-gibbering-idiot type -- but I know a star when I see one. Especially when she's leaving lippy smears on my glass o' red.

Anyway, after this evening's show, I gave Camille some notes. [Relax, relax, I'm just kidding!] I asked her if she knew Melanie Safka's song 'Some Say (I Got Devil)'. A minute later a piece of paper with the scribbled details was stuffed down her decolletage and she gave me a copy of her EP. Which just happens to have studio recordings of 'In These Shoes?' and '(Are You) The One'. Nice trade, I thought!

So, I just want the record to show... if Camille O'Sullivan starts covering Melanie, it's all my fault. K?

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Friday, October 17, 2008

A recommendation (STO Union) and an interview (Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky that subliminal kid)

If you're sick to death of reading rave reviews of shows that are closed or sold out, here's your big break.

STO Union's 7 Important Things opened last night and runs through to Sunday. It hasn't sold out -- the Fairfax was half empty last night -- it works just fine from the back row of the theatre (take it from me!) so... if it goes close to selling out after the stampede from word of mouth, that shouldn't be too much of a problem!

It's the kind of show you can take anyone to: young or old, straight or bent, dope fiend or wowser, father or son (in the Cat Stevens sense). I reckon it will be adored by MTC and Malthouse subscriber alike. But best of all, it's a blinder of a piece of theatre, utterly simple and utterly authentic. It's a spectacularly good example of STO's "unspectacular intimacy" concept.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The day I speak to Paul D Miller, aka DJ Spooky that subliminal kid, he's gearing up to present a lecture at Google's corporate headquarters. "We're doing a kind of conversation about contemporary issues in law. And, I guess, sampling."

Miller, in fact, is returning a favour. One of the principal figures from Google's legal department contributed an essay to his just-published volume on sound art: Sound Unbound (MIT Press).

You've probably guessed already that Miller is not your average deck-jock. Raised in Washington DC -- the son of a law professor and a businesswoman -- Miller started out as a macro economics student and imagined he'd be a diplomat. He ended up with degrees in philosophy and French literature.

In a way, he hasn't abandoned diplomacy. Art, he says, can build bridges between cultures. It has a "moral responsibility" to do just that.

Principally, Miller is a philosopher of language and a collagist. He once referred to his DJ-ing as a conceptual art project. It's a project that has taken on many lives over many years.


Miller in his more familiar guise: DJ Spooky

Increasingly, he's mixing images, not just words and music. Early in 2005, Miller presented his deconstruction of DW Griffith's hugely influential silent film Birth of a Nation in Sydney. (At the Roxy in Parramatta, believe it or not!) The film tells the story of the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. Through skillful mixing of sound and images, the machinery underlying the film's white supremacist message was revealed.


[CHRIS BOYD:] YOU TALK A LOT ABOUT LITERACY. I REALISE THAT THE PROGRESSION OF YOUR CAREER AS A DJ IS HEADING TOWARDS MULTIMEDIA AND FILM AND THE TOTAL ART EVENT. BUT IT SEEMS TO ME -- AS FAR AS LITERACY GOES -- MORE PEOPLE ARE MORE EQUIPPED TO READ FILM THAN THEY ARE TO READ LITERATURE OR ART OR CONTEMPORARY "CLASSICAL" MUSIC --

[Paul D Miller:] It's the global vocabulary --

LIKE "THE FUTURE IS HERE BUT IT'S UNEVENLY DISTRIBUTED." WHEREAS I THINK LITERACY IN FILM IS MORE EVENLY DISTRIBUTED...

That's why I'm evolving from the whole notion [of] DJ to the VJ. Video playforms like YouTube [are] decentering; democratising what we think about creative film-making in general. Digital implies economies of scale. People [realise] "Hey, I can do something." They don't have to be passive.

When I was in Antarctica, I [took] a mini studio with hi definition cameras that could fit in a backpack! Ten years ago I wouldn't have been able to do that. I would've had to bring a roomful of equipment.


"It's the coldest place I've ever been." Paul D Miller, rugged up.


WHY ANTARCTICA?

Antarctica is edge of the map. "Here be dragons!" Old school, end of the world, edge of the world. Werner Herzog just did a film called Conversations at the End of the World. He went to Antarctica as well. He went to McMurdo Base which is like a mining town or something. I wanted to go to the ice fields.
The idea was to apply DJ technique to the environment itself and sampling [it]. Looking at the world, looking at the ice itself as a kind of text.
Antarctica represents a lot of things. One, very few people on the planet have been there. At any given time there's only about 2000 people on the entire continent. Quite apart from the degree of difficulty getting there, [Antarctica is] a kind of metaphor for End of Empire. There's no nation state there. It's a blank space, not only geopolitically but also when you look at the economics and so on...

Isn't it amazing that we haven't messed it up!

The environment is in a really fragile and twisted state at the moment. And it's probably gonna get more turbulent over the next couple of years.

My thing is that I really feel that art should be able to tell people that another world is possible. It doesn't need to be this way. So I'm always looking at -- and trying to support -- processes, projects, poets, writers and contemporary aesthetics that say: this is not the only way things can be done.


[I'm keen to ask Miller if language itself is a kind of collage. And he is more than obliging. He begins his response by quoting Afro French theoretician Edouard Glissant on the Creolisation of language and the way globalisation and multiculturalism have changed the way we think about distinct regional dialects. We ricochet onto the relative size of the English language and how it eats up other languages.]


[Paul D Miller:] That's what collage and evolution is about. The Normans invaded England, or when the English went into other countries, or when the French went into Africa... It's like when you hear arigatō in Japan, that's actually a Portuguese word. The same with Greek and English. Or Greek or Latin.

Language itself is a kind of a sampling machine. And the way people play those component parts and bits and pieces is... You can connect innovation in language and creativity in general.

My Antarctic project and Sound Unbound are both trying to get out of this idea of art as divorced from the evolutionary processes of culture. Everything is changing and that's okay.

A lot of people -- for one reason or another -- really cling to stability or consistency or normalcy.

THAT IT'S SOMEHOW THE NATURAL STATE...

Right. It's not.

And that's where you get this idea of the religious right or the conservative block that wants to make you [feel] a nostalgia for another era which was safer or less complex...

They find a comfortable middle ground for both the religious right of Islam or the religious right of the Christians scene. They're all looking at ways of stopping time, or stopping change.

The main emphasis [of Sound Unbound] is contemporary art and digital media, but looking at composition. My nickname for it is compositional strategy.

For me, being from downtown New York, and talking about literary theory and digital conceptualism, there's always some kinks in the way people respond to things. In hip hop, and in America in general, there's a kind of anti-intellectualism that I've have to navigate over the years. But luckily it hasn't slowed things down.

Sound Unbound is 36 essays by 36 ego-maniacs!

Brian Eno contributed an essay on the history of Bells in Europe which is really fascinating. Steve Reich wrote the introduction. I also got a gentleman by the name of Cory Doctorow who's actually a really interesting digital conceptualist he's also a major up-and-coming writer.
So, the book's not normal American anti-intellectual stuff! It celebrates intellectualism, it celebrates discourse, dialogue...
Each of the essays could be stand-alone. Jonathan Lethem's essay on plagiarism is really fun because the whole essay is appropriated from people writing about plagiarism.

The audio companion [CD] has really rare material from Aphex Twin, Sonic Youth, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud. Even people like Iggy Pop. We got him to give his voice as well.


Terra Nova Sinfonia Antarctica is at the Arts Centre, Playhouse, until Sunday. DJ Spooky has a more 'traditional' set at Becks' Bar on Saturday at 11pm.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Melbourne Festival: Sunstruck by Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham

I know, I know. I've said this before... But I imagine a festival not based on a theme or programmatic intent, not divvied up into sections to appease the factional groups, not calculated to fill the available theatres or to placate the hairy-knuckled flat-earthers who run the arts pages of the broadsheets, but based solely on the works of Ben Cobham. There are enough of them, certainly, and the spread of the performing arts he has worked in would cover several of the bases typically covered in an arts festival.

It's a ludicrous idea, of course. We would need to clone the man. Or at least set up a finishing school for the countless technicians and artists and magicians and disciples required to replicate his work. Ah, but I can dream...


That's Trevor Patrick daydreaming, by the way. Not me.

Cobham and Helen Herbertson have done it again, with Sunstruck. Created a cosmos in a shed at Docklands. The waiting area is like a boxing ring, elevated, squarish, sprung. We're served good warm sake and green tea while we wait for everyone to arrive. (It takes great self assurance, believe me, to find the place.)

Then the reveal. A dimly lit disc. A circle of chairs in the misty distance. It seems to float towards us. (Having been a crash test dummy in one of their shows, I wouldn't put it past 'em!)

What happens in the next few minutes is a remarkable example of what Cobham, Herbertson and the Bluebottle team know about human behaviour. We're wrangled -- gently but surely -- by "Bluebottle Frog" (as Philip Peck is credited nowadays) with his massive amp on wheels.

Within minutes, we're inside this artistic particle accelerator. Waiting for the atoms to smash. Light and sound whirl around us. The sun gains pace as it loops around us... we might be in the recent remake of The Time Machine.

In this vast creaky barn of a metal shed, light and sound leak in. The ridges of light bothered me a little. I'm guessing that Cobham might have had a couple of acres of black draping if he had an extra zero on the budget. But the sound of the squabbling gulls was so surreal, so perfectly timed, I wondered if it was real or not. Whatever "real" means.

In the Cobham/Herbertson/Livia Ruzic universe, in the ring, are dancers Trevor Patrick and Nick Sommerville. But are we watching two men or the same one at two points in his life? Or is it boy and mother? Patrick takes armfuls of light and clasps them to his bosom. (Exactly unlike Tim Crouch's oak tree.) It becomes a swaddled babe. It's a tragic, joyful moment. At once empty and overflowing.

Like Back to Back's Food Court, vision and sound are ends in themselves. They are the content. They have the starring parts. The words, the moves, the text are merely walls for the real art to shadowplay on. And they fade into insignificance in the last ten minutes.

This is the Cobham universe. One in which the ancients were right... in which the sun doth circle the earth.

And like the candle in the poem, burned at both the ends... it gives a lovely light.


My review is scheduled to run in tomorrow's Herald Sun.


Sunstruck: a premonition of events from memory, fantasy and the imagination. By Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham. Directed by Helen Herbertson. Design and lighting by Bluebottle/Ben. Physical realisation by Helen Herbertson, Trevor Patrick and Nick Sommerville. Set realised by Alan Robertson. Soundscape by Livia Ruzic. Music by Tamil Rogeon (violin) and Tim Blake (cello). Production by Bluebottle/Frog.

Part of the 2008 Melbourne International Arts Festival. At Shed 4, North Wharf Road, Docklands. Two shows nightly. Until Saturday.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2008 Melbourne International Arts Festival: Hey, buddy, you got the time?

Being a critic during a festival is a lot like having the correct time on New Year's Eve. Everyone has an opinion and you finish up going with the loudest voice... usually some deadshit FM-Radio DJ. Right?

Thank-you Kristy Edmunds for -- at last -- scheduling shows so we can double (or triple) up in a night. That said, after five days and ten shows, I still haven't yet crossed paths with La Croggon. Perhaps she's finally sloughed her consumptive skin and emerged as the intellectual wraith that burns (with a gem like flame) within.

Anyway... I know you're all reading her words of wisdom, but you might not be following a few of the outer blogs. I thoroughly recommend the reviews at Long Sentence No Suggestions. Start with An Oak Tree if you want a good purge!

Stephanie Glickman's review of Batsheva's Max is excellent as is Jana's more discursive response.

Hey, if you've read any ripper reviews on-line -- good, bad, ugly -- please link to it/them in a comment. Ta.

BTW, my review of Patti Smith's Melbourne concert is in today's Herald Sun. So too is my review of Max.

I should warn you, if you click on "read more...", below, you're gonna be disappointed (or relieved!) -- cos there's nothing there.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Footnote to Howler... I'm sorry, I'll read that again. Patti Smith and Philip Glass do (over) Ginsberg.

Hey, Patti, the word is holy. Don't fuck it up. Get an auto-cue or use a larger font on your printer. Rehearse! Do a sound check. Whatever it takes. To do a dedication, you have to be dedicated.

As I mentioned elsewhere, Patti Smith talks like a Jersey Girl. Piano becomes piana, yellow yella, that kinda thing. It gets her into trouble when she's talking about Allen Ginsberg's blue Volvo... as Melbourne audiences discovered to their consternation tonight!

Somehow I can't seen Allen climbing into a vulva to go to temple. (For so many reasons!) The last time he was in a vulva, I'm guessing was around 1950 in one of his rare pre-Peter Orlovsky forays into the hetero-sex.

At least vulva was, in a way, the right word. As were ab-dome-n and sensate, as crazily as they were pronounced... And we've come to love Patti's word plays: static for ecstatic is a classic, circa Radio Ethiopia.

The bits where Patti just got the fucking words wrong were soul destroying. Catch-up became ketchup, myriad mirrored, midwinter became midSUMMER... though this might rate as "local content." (It was midsummer here, under the Southern Cross, when it midwinter for Allen, right?)

But where to begin? The people of Ninevah calling out to their good [sic] in Notes to the Future? Luckily, God heard. The furnace in Tiger Tiger mysteriously became a forest. [In what forest [sic] was thy brain, Patti?]

The hemispherical season swap was in Wichita Vortex Sutra, which was the very first collaboration between Glass and Ginsberg, later included in the chamber opera Hydrogen Jukebox. (Ginsberg's poems featured... as did Allen himself, as narrator.)

Before I find some things to appreciate, I've gotta rail about one more thing: the amplification of Glass's piano. It was fucking disgraceful. It hurt to listen to his etudes. It was so jangly and disgusting, the harmonics so jumbled, I wondered if the Steinway hadn't been tuned properly. Or that Glass was bangin' the wrong keys.

Actually, I might just give you the set list and take a cold shower.


1. Notes to the Future (performed by Smith & Glass)

2. Wichita Vortex Sutra (Smith & Glass)

"William Blake... invisible father of English visions..."

3. The Blue Thangka (Smith & Glass)

"Rise old man, walk up on the water.
Heaven is a daughter who dreams of you."

4. Wing (from the CD Gone Again) (Smith & Lenny Kaye on acoustic guitar)

5. Helpless by Neil Young (Smith & Kaye)

6. The Tiger by William Blake (Smith, a cappella)

7. My Blakean Year (from Trampin') (Smith & Kaye both with acoustic guitars)

8. Etude #2 (Glass, piano solo)

9. Etude #10 (Glass, piano solo)

10. Beneath the Southern Cross (from Gone Again) (Smith, Glass & Kaye)

11. On the cremation of Chogyam Thungpa Vidyadhara (Smith & Glass)

12. Magic Psalm (Smith & Glass)

Encore: Footnote to Howl (released as 'Spell' on Peace and Noise) (Smith & Glass)


Dedication to Allen Ginsberg. Patti Smith and Philip Glass in recital, with Lenny Kaye. Playhouse, the Arts Centre, Melbourne. Monday October 13, 8pm. Part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Batsheva Dance Company: Max

Death is a dance a ballroom a glove...


Don't imagine that I have Patti Smith on my mind (just) because she's here in Melbourne. I really must point out that I quoted this very line of hers in a review of the Batsheva Dance Company last time they were in Australia, in January last year, when they performed Mamootot for the Sydney Festival. So... I'm no more obsessed than usual. Agreed.

Just as there's an unheard click track that the dancers are moving to, in Max, there is an unseen dance partner. The glove. And I reckon it's mortality. Not quite The Grim Reaper, but the usual things that young, beautiful, athletic, extraordinary dancers might (quite reasonably) fear. Death, decay, age, unbalance, unbeauty, disability...


"Bang, bang, I hit the ground..."


The solos in Max reminded me, weirdly, of contact improvisation. But instead of the weighty, mute, physical contact with another corporeal body, reacting to one another in real time, the invisible partner, here, is... is what? Momentum? Balance? The outer limits?

The ten dancers in Max (actually all of the dancers in the Batsheva company) have an uncanny ability to find their centre. To hold it. To whirl with it. To trust the purification process of their body's centrifuge. To give into the forces operating with and against them. To harness their vulnerability to those forces.

To my eye, Max is a superior work to Three, performed on Friday and Saturday. It has an unseen but steely through-line. There are only two performances however. The season -- and Batsheva's stay in Australia -- ends tonight.


UPDATE, OCTOBER 15: My review (see what can be crammed into 150 words!) is in today's Herald Sun. See also Stephanie Glickman's review. She concludes: "It’s only the first week of MIAF, but I am fairly certain this is my pick of the fest!"

See also my interview with Batsheva director Ohad Naharin.



Max, choreographed by Ohad Naharin. Music by Maxim Waratt. Costume design by Rakefet Levy. Lighting design by Avi Yona Bueno ("Bambi"). Music production and mix by Ohad Fishof. Sound design by Moshe Shasho [try saying that rapidly! Might explain the snuffly soundtrack]. Batsheva Dance Company. State Theatre, the Arts Centre, Melbourne, Sunday October 12, 2008. For the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Patti Smith concert, set list...

A bit of a family and friends concert, this one. Apart from a song from Gone Again (1996) and one from Gung Ho (2000), all of the original songs date from the latter half of the 1970s.

Kimberly (Horses)
Frederick (Wave)
Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix
Ghost Dance (Easter)
Within You Without You by George Harrison
Grateful "written for Jerry Garcia" (Gung Ho)
Beneath the Southern Cross (Gone Again)
Free Money (Horses)
We Three "dedicated to Tom Verlaine" (Easter)
Dancing Barefoot (Wave) [Can't believe she left her boots on...]
Because the Night (Easter)
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Cobain, Grohl & Novoselic
Horses (Horses) segued into Gloria (Horses)

Encore: Rock 'n' Roll Nigger (Easter)

All of the covers (was there some Cream in the extended version of 'Are You Experienced'? Help me out here!) have been recorded by Patti and released on last year's Twelve.


My review will be in the Herald Sun in a coupla days.

In the meantime, here's a flashback (from my D.I.Y.) to the Palais, St Kilda; to Patti's first visit to Australia:


FRIDAY JANUARY 24, 1997

[...]

Patti Smith was twenty years too late. But so good. Once her voice warmed up and her PA started working reliably, she was overwhelmingly good. I've never heard her sing this well live, and I've heard plenty of official and bootleg recordings of her.

There was a moment though, just after she walked on, when anything could've happened. The audience freaked when her mike fucked out. She came on chanting Piss Factory. She didn't know what we were freaking about. The first song fucked out too. It looked like she was going to abandon the concert. We would have destroyed the place!!

The new stuff was brilliant, especially a song for Robert Mapplethorpe about falling leaves and another about cities. People Have The Power finally made sense. She performed it as a poem. A stupid song became the shining poem that spawned it again.

The songs I played to E. this afternoon, all featured. Apart from Piss Factory, Smith played Ghost Dance and Because the Night. Even Ain't it Strange and Radio Ethiopia, with a rave about Uluru grafted in. What else? Free Money and Kimberly from Horses, with Gloria as the final song of the night. Rock 'n' Roll Nigger was an encore too. She peeled off her shoes and one sock during Dancin' Barefoot without it looking contrived or just plain stupid.


Rock 'n' Rimbaud. Patti Smith and her band. [Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, Tony Shanahan and Jackson Smith.] At Hamer Hall, the Arts Centre, Melbourne. Saturday October 11, 2008, 9pm.


UPDATE: Here's the October 12 set list:

Redondo Beach (Horses)
Birdland (Horses)
Dancing Barefoot (Wave)
Ghost Dance (Easter)
My Blakean Year (Trampin')
Beneath the Southern Cross (Gone Again)
Ain’t It Strange (Radio Ethiopia)
Peaceable Kingdom (Trampin')
People Have the Power (Dream of Life)
Because the Night (Easter)
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Cobain, Grohl & Novoselic
Gloria (Horses)

Encore: Helpless by Neil Young/Rock 'n' Roll Nigger (Easter)/Machine Gun


October 2008 Tour Dates:

October 18, Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles
October 20, The Warfield, San Francisco
October 30-31, Hammerstein Ballroom, New York (with The Black Crowes)

Also November 1, The Metropolitan Museum, New York (Patti, Jackson and Jesse Smith)

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dedicated to the future, Patti Smith. Interview.

I'm guessing I won't be alone in being able to say this. Because of Patti Smith, I wrote poetry. Because of Patti Smith, I played the electric guitar. Because of Patti Smith, I sang. Sorta.

Yet it was kinda shocking to hear one of my oldest friends say, last night, that his recollection of me, at 16, was of someone obsessed... with Patti Smith.

My recollection is that she was just one of the pantheon. That Horses and Radio Ethiopia were no more important to me than, say, Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent or Born to Run, or Desire by Bob Dylan, or even Nightbirds by Labelle.

It's that thing about emotional and musical puberty. The intensity of the connection -- the potential of it -- is dialled up to ten. We find the artists nearest in phase to us.

But, and maybe this is the point, you also fall out of phase with artists. After Desire, Dylan came over all Christian. (I never bought another Dylan album.) Labelle, divided, were never the same. And Springsteen came over all bossy. (Bought one, regretted it. Don't mind the very latest stuff tho, especially 'Radio Nowhere'.) Suddenly "the future of Rock & Roll" became its past. Became its old testament. And I was moving on to the Au Pairs and the post punk thing.



But I stayed in phase with Smith. Not just for those first four releases: Horses, Radio Ethiopia, Easter, Wave. But even after she became Mrs Fred 'Sonic' Smith. When Dream of Life appeared -- out of nowhere -- after seven or eight years or silence, there she was again. All grown up. Having the first mature relationship of her life... at exactly the same time as me. Imagine that.

Then another long break. Another seven or eight years of dead air. Apart from Beethoven, she's the longest musical affair of my life! LOL. I think I have every single album. Some out of courtesy (Trampin') some belatedly (Twelve) to complete the catalog. But just when I think our phase is irretrievably outa whack, she does something extraordinary... like the new Coral Sea set with Kevin "My Bloody Valentine" Shields. Her words, her booming voice, teamed with his improvised musical raves. Two separate live recordings based on the same poetry, about her friend Robert Mapplethorpe.

Thanks to the persistence of Claire Vince at the Opera House, and latterly the Melbourne Festival team, the tedious jockeying to have a chat with Smith paid off, in August.

After months of niggling, suddenly the opportunity materialised: "Can you do it tonight? After midnight?" And then, suddenly, The Boss (that's my boss, not Bruce!) decides to hold the proverbial presses. We have first crack at her, and he's determined to press home the advantage.

Interview in the wee hours, file copy by start of trade, it's in the newsagents barely 24 hours after we ring off. People have the power an' all that jazz.

Patti & I spoke a few days after Steven Sebring's film, Dream of Life, had its U.S. premiere. It's a late summer morning in New York, and cold, dark late-winter night in Melbourne.

It feels like I've been pacing around 30 years wondering what to ask. Or, more to the point, how to ask it.

I really want to wonder aloud with her. Chat about what Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix might have been doing, if they hadn't died the year before Patti's stage debut in New York City.

But she's known too much of death. Her dear friend Robert, her husband Fred, her brother Todd, collaborators, musicians, you name it. One woe doth tread upon another's heels... And I'm far too respectful of privacy to be a good journalist.

An hour or two before the call is made, I rummage through some boxes to find my copy of Witt and other slim volumes of her poetry. I find Babel, an early anthology I guess you'd call it. I open it. And there it is. The dedication. The book is dedicated to the future. That's my hook.


[CHRIS BOYD:] I FOUND MY COPY OF BABEL: "THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE FUTURE." IT LIT UP MY MIND. I'VE BEEN WANTING TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE BALANCE BETWEEN LOOKING FORWARD AND LOOKING BACKWARD IN YOUR LIFE. HAS THAT CHANGED? I'M REALLY INTERESTED IN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REMEMBRANCE AND NOSTALGIA.

[Patti Smith:] I'm not a nostalgic person. I just honour our past. I love history and I don't think having a love of history waxes nostalgic.

I just am fascinated with history. With the work that people do. I'm fascinated with what Giotto did. What the Renaissance painters did. With what Picasso did. I'm interested in art... As some people are interested in their roots, their own blood ancestry, I'm interested in our cultural ancestry.

And I'm also interested in, as an artist, the next thing. For my own self, I'm not a kind of person that sits around listening to my old records and looking at my old books. I'm always thinking of a new song or new poem or taking another photograph. People say to me, well what's your favourite poem or what's your favourite photograph? And I always say: the next one! The one I haven't done yet. It reaffirms that I'm still working, that I still am motivated that I still have an imagination.


[It looked, here, that Smith has pinched the bait from my hook and plunged into the cold dark waters beneath us... that the most I'd get from her would be rote answers. Then, suddenly, she surfaces again. Nibbles. Or, rather, offers some bait of her own.]


"self imposed and happy exile"

ARE YOU SLOWING DOWN? I DON'T MEAN THIS AS AN AGE THING. I MEAN THIS MORE AS A TIME-OUT THING, OF LINGERING AND ENJOYING THAT LYRICISM OF SOLITUDE. OR IS THIS SOMETHING YOU'VE HAD --

For 16 years I was out of the public eye and I lived very reclusively with my husband raising our children and studying, so I have a long period of self-imposed and happy exile. I had.

You know, I spend a lot of time, even now, by myself. I certainly have enough opportunity for solitude. But I like to work. Even if I went on a vacation I would take at least a notebook and a camera and a couple of books to read. I love to be engaged in new ideas and creating things and in a way it's the artist's curse. I love the sea. But it's very hard for me to just go by the sea. I go by the sea and then I wanna write by the sea. It's just -- it's what I do.

YOUR WORK IS PLAY, REALLY, ISN'T IT?

It's what I -- it's as familar to me as eating or sleeping, and it would be as strange and difficult for me as not eating for a day.

TELL ME THEN ABOUT THAT 16 YEARS. THAT TURNING INWARD. WHAT DID YOU DO IN THAT TIME?

My husband and I studied. We did a lot of studying. My husband was highly intelligent. He taught me a lot of things. I learned everying from politics to sports -- especially Detroit sports teams -- I learned about golf, I learned --

THE CLARINET!

I learned to play clarinet. And my own private studies. I was studying Japanese literature. I was studying Russian film. I was studying -- there was no end of things. Reading... there was an excellent new Genet biography by Edmund White and I studied that. I restudied Genet. Hundreds of things.

I wrote my first novel, which I've never published, and my second novel, which I've never published. I raised two children. So I was certainly busy...

WAS THAT LIKE PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT WAVE OF CREATION?

No, it was creation. I don't think you have to put your work into the world to validate its existence. I finished a lot of work. I wrote songs with my husband. We recorded Dream of Life. And I learned about taking care of my roses. I learned about tree diseases! I learned about all kinds of things.

I consider that one of my most productive periods because not only that, I evolved as a human being. I was still -- even at 30 -- like a late blooming adolescent. And I learned that I wasn't the centre of the universe. I learned that -- to take care of children, to wash diapers, to cook.

I was well busy.

I LIKE TO TELL PEOPLE I LEARNED HOW TO SEE AT THE AGE OF 39. I LIVED IN THE BUSH FOR 18 MONTHS. ONCE YOU GET AWAY FROM THE CITY AND ALLOW YOUR SHIELDS TO COME DOWN, YOUR SENSES SHARPEN.

And also your sense of your place in the world because -- it was as simple as this -- I suddenly was living in a more remote area outside of Detroit. And I had trees in a yard. And one day I looked up and I realised I had a pear tree. And one of these pears fell on the ground and my child picked it up and handed it to me. And as she did that, I had just seen a National Geographic special, I believe, on Somalia and they had a terrible famine. And children my daughter's age were dying for want of a pear. And living like that, having children, and having time to consider our place in the world and what other people experience as their place in the world... it was enlightening.

[...]

IS JACKSON COMING TO AUSTRALIA WITH YOUR BAND?

Yes. Absolutely. He is. He's a great guitar player. I really look forward to people seeing him because he's just er... He magnifies his father.


[By now, you're probably hearing -- in your mind's ear -- the slow, dark, authoritative voice of Patti Smith the performer. Stop. Re-read the above and imagine the little girl voice at the end of the song Wave. When Smith speaks about her daughter Jesse, she sounds like a young 'mom' from Jersey... proud of her wise young daughter who "plays the piana". Yep, she says piana, not piano. It's endearing. Smith is relaxed. She's at home. Sitting at the desk where she writes. If she resents the intrusion into her private space, her private time, her creative time, she hides it well. She's gracious and generous with her time. She might be playing hard to get, but at least she's playing...]

"Music is the genre I choose when I want to communicate with the most people...
TELL ME ABOUT THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN YOUR LIFE, AND WHEN YOU CHOOSE SPOKEN WORD OVER MUSIC?

I've always loved music. I've always loved opera. My father exposed me to Jazz. My mother really liked popular music like Bennie Goodman and Artie Shaw. I grew up in the era where rock'n'roll was born. So I loved rock'n'roll and R&B music but I always loved opera, since I was a child. So I have a diverse relationship with music.

But in terms of me as a worker, I'm not really a musician. I'm really more of a performer. I don't think of my role as an artist as really being a musician. I think that my role as a communicator is obviously within the realm of music. But I really consider myself more of a performer.

[Music] is the genre I choose when I want to communicate with the most people. If I want solitude, I might write a poem. If I want just a moment with myself to create, I'll take a photograph. But if I really want to communicate with a large number of people about any subject -- whether it's love or politics or a human rights issues -- writing and performing songs is one of the great vehicles to communicate with a lot of people.

I REMEMBER SEEING YOU PERFORM 'PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER', YOU CHANTED IT. AND IT JUST MADE SO MUCH MORE SENSE TO ME AS A SPOKEN PIECE RATHER THAN A SUNG PIECE.

Well, 'People Have The Power' was written as both a poem and a song. The line "people have the power" was my husband's. And my husband wanted me to write a song using that phrase. And I wrote the lyrics more as a poem. So it has -- I think it crosses over either way.

I wanted to write something that could be used in any situation from a stadium... or in the most intimate of circumstances. It's a prime example of when I'm trying to find the right words to communicate with as many people as possible.

[...]

I feel like I can write my whole life. And so if my writing takes a little longer to get out into the world, it's better to do the things that are more physical, or things it would serve better to be done now.

I can always write, I can always edit, I can always work on my poetry. So, right now, I'm doing the things that I think are... more a propos to our times and the needs of the people and what I'm physically strong to do. I am 61 years old, so I'm trying to use my time wisely.

I'm very very sturdy and I'm in very good health, but I still would like to do the things -- make the statements that I want to make in the rock 'n' roll arena at this time of my life, so that's what I'm concentrating on now.


Patti Smith (and her Polaroid Land camera) are in Melbourne this week. Her first concert is tonight. She and Philip Glass -- who performed at Allen Ginsberg's memorial in New York City (just to give you some idea of how long ago that was, it was the night that the final ep. of Seinfeld went to air in the US) -- get together for a celebration of Ginsberg's work on Monday night.

Steven Sebring's film Dream of Life -- which had it's Australian premiere on Thursday -- has a couple more screenings at ACMI this weekend. There are also a couple of exhibitions of Smith memorabilia and art work.




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Friday, October 10, 2008

In the Moshé-pit with Batsheva boss Ohad Naharin...

A proportion of every major interview I do nowadays is spent asking inane, obvious questions. I've learned that the so-called truth isn't out there at all. Fact check or else. Rely on Wikipedia at your peril. Sad to say, the arts are not what you would call hotly contested... unless there is kiddie porn involved.


You're gonna get a whole lotta Bat-crack in Batsheva's Three, trust me...

Free information is, all too often, worthless information. The stuff that ends up near the top of a Google search is the story that will catch on. It's the version of the truth deemed most likely to succeed... by a search algorithm.

But in sitting down to write about Patti Smith, just now, a few ancient memories popped up. I remember a scathing review of Wave, Smith's fourth studio album [unchecked fact] when it came out in 1979 [unchecked memory]. The reviewer thundered about Smith's obsession with her father and made all kinds of grossly insulting Oedipal/Elektral claims. Why? Cos Smith uses the word Papa in the title track. It was pretty obvious to me -- and anyone with half a brain and an eye for detail -- that she was singing about the Pope... who also answers to the moniker "papa". Hell, she even croons "Oh Albino" in the same song... about the short-lived papacy of the [then] recently deceased John Paul 1, Albino Luciani [an unverified but confident memory]. Actually, the whole song is about a man waving at a crowd from a balcony and Patti feeling like he was waving to her! Kinda Popish, no?

Another review of Wave -- a high profile review in a major international magazine -- damned Smith's cover of the Byrds' song 'So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star'. It was dark and ugly, it was a travesty, Smith got it wrong. Bless em, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman -- who wrote the thing -- spoke out in her defence. They loved it. She got it.

Another "straw man" review that caught my eye recently damned a recent programme of works by Batsheva Dance Company for not including any works by Wim Vandekeybus, Billy Forsythe et al.

It's an interesting piece for a couple of reasons. Firstly, and weirdly, it's an interview/profile piece that editorialises even more than I do! But don't take my word for it. Here's a chunk, verbatim.
"There are no new concepts", he said. "Everything has already been done. What is left is reorganisation. I re-work my ballets constantly, and questions on my work are best answered by simply watching my dancers, eighteen of them, chosen from all over the world for their musicality, virtuosity, and sheer love of dance".

Be that as it may, answers were not that obvious in Deca Dance, the programme presented recently at the Theatre of Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines. Although the company possesses works by Kylian, Vandekeybus, Preljocaj and Forsythe in the repertoire, a range of Naharin's works from the past ten years were shown, extracts from eight of his best pieces being adroitly crafted into a coherent whole. Classical, contemporary and rock, for the most part easy on the eye despite the underlying violence of the second half, entertained for two hours. However, works of distinction rubbed shoulders with the inexplicable. Too obviously theatrical, it was a little difficult to grasp the significance of the aggressively made-up woman on stilts striding around or the monks washing themselves with mud.

Huffing and puffing about Batsheva's failure to include works by Kylian & co. is absurd. The company -- under Ohad Naharin's direction -- hasn't performed works by guest choreographers for more than a decade. Maybe even a decade and a half. [Ohad Naharin's unverified memory, this one!]

The above inter/review (by Patricia Boccadoro) and its subtle inaccuracies have dogged Naharin. I think he was actually grateful that I gave him the opportunity to scotch them. "True, but old," he explained, exasperated. "Where does this information come from?"

An Israeli cultural organisation links to the article, adding to its authority.

Another widely disseminated and oft-repeated half-truth is that Naharin's movement system Gaga was created as a response to a serious back injury he suffered. It was not, in fact, the result of his back injury, but that injury was "a very important station" in the development of Gaga.

Obviously factual errors are on the mind of the local dance community at the moment. A colleague of mine was shocked to learn, last night, that getting a name wrong -- even a piss-spelling -- is a sackable offence at the Herald Sun. Yep, even at a Murdoch tabloid. [I wonder how they rate at The Aged?] And, as many of you will know, I'm kinda proud of the fact that I normally find my own errors before they're pointed out. [Repeat: normally!] [People in glass houses shouldn't get stoned.]

Anyway, more about Patti very soon, including some juicy bits from our conversation in August.

But first, a bit more about Mr Naharin, who sounds like a gentle version of Henry Kissinger. Speaking to him over the mobile network -- he was in Tel Aviv -- it sounded as if someone had Pro-Tooled his voice down an octave or two. He'd make a great Dalek.

We spent the last few minutes of the conversation talking about Gaga. (And, yes, before you make any silly cracks... allow me! When I rang off, the tape still running, you can just hear me singing "do do, do doop, just dance." Yep, that musical virus... by the lip-synchin' lass herself: Lady GaGa. How deliciously apt!) (Actually, I wish she had lip-synched on Rove! Dear God!)

Gaga, Naharin explained, has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. Even as a curious kid. Before he knew he wanted to be a dancer. Gaga is Naharin's way of connecting to movement, to the world, to himself, to the elements.


Another still from Ohad Naharin's Three.

[Ohad Naharin:] An important station [in the development of Gaga] was this injury, because then I was already choreographing. Then I was already [needing] to communicate movement to dancers and [needing] to stay in shape. I was still performing.

And the injury... created a lot of irreversible damage in my back. And it was almost a blessing because I've learned a lot of new things about efficiency of movement, about the connection of pain and pleasure, about the instinctual movement, about physiology, about effort and explosive power. I became a little bit like the clean slate for learning new things.

[CHRIS BOYD:] IS IT SIMILAR TO YOGA OR -- I FORGET WHAT IT'S CALLED -- AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT... WHAT'S THAT ONE? OR ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE? IS IT AT ALL SIMILAR TO ANY OF THOSE?

Well, for me, in Gaga, it's not about inventing, it's about discovering. And I think a lot of people discover the same things all over the world.

IT WAS FELDENKRAIS, THE ONE I WAS TRYING TO REMEMBER...

It was Feldenkrais? [pause] Well, my mother was a Feldenkrais specialist.

I was lucky. I was even lucky to see him [i.e. Moshé Feldenkrais] teaching. Because when I was five years old she took me to one of his classes. Did that transmit without [me] knowing? I believe very much in this technique.

So there are elements/
Not movement elements/
But there are rules and/
The philosophy/
I don't like to use this word/
I feel I share things with those methods.

The thing that in Gaga it's/
Maybe the difference between what you mention/
Yoga is very physical too, but it's very static...

With Gaga, it's really important to remain very active, very physical, connected to your passion to move. It connects to the multidimensional movement... In Gaga we speak a lot about a lot of things that are not discussed so much in those methods, but help people to become very virtuosic.


[Naharin explained that there is now a venue where non-dancers can learn and use Gaga. Open classes are conducted at the company's HQ in Tel Aviv.]


WHEN I READ ABOUT GAGA, I WONDERED IF THE PERFECT EXAMPLE OF IT MIGHT BE THE FIRST SECTION OF MAMOOTOT WITH THE GIRL BOUNCING AND MOVING TO ONE SIDE... INCREDIBLY CONTROLLED. SHE MADE IT LOOK SO EASY. BUT I ALSO REALISED IT WAS AN INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT THING TO DO WELL. IS THAT A GOOD EXAMPLE OF IT?

Yeah. I think it is a good example. It's true, it looks difficult, but it becomes not difficult.

Because when you connect to your physiology, and your animal quality and strength, with the knowledge of someone who [doesn't] just react but create... you can constantly go beyond your familiar limits.

You live happily with your limitations... But you also realise that you can constantly go beyond. It's a small thing, but it happens daily. And eventually things that are difficult today, you know, in three months are not [difficult] anymore. And that happens constantly to the dancers in Gaga.


[We spoke a little more about the bouncing move from Mamootot.]


Actually, it's really not so hard. It's more a matter of co-ordination.

AND RELAXATION?

It has a lot to do with what I call falling into movement. You use the success of falling in order to actually lift you. It has a lot to do with recognising where you're blocking yourself. So it's not about power but it's about efficiency of movement, this particular one.



Batsheva Dance Company's Melbourne Festival season opens tonight with Three (also tomorrow afternoon and evening) and continues with Max (reviewed here) Sunday and Monday.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Of Kitten and the Cats... oh, and CATs too.

"...in my heart
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within..."


Watching Kitten was alarmingly like watching the Cats lose the grand final. Excitement and optimism to start with, a quiet and sustaining confidence in the tried-and-tested team when things weren't quite going to plan, a sinking feeling as time ticked by and the players still hadn't hit their stride, the disastrous slump after half time, and a catch-up quarter where the team does little more than dig its claws in.



The Kitten team, on paper, is unbeatable. Count the all-Australians... Captain-coach Kemp. Tregloan, Verhagen, Pajanti, Herbertson. With on-ballers Natasha Herbert, Margaret Mills and Kate Kendall. A star team. A team of stars. How could it possibly fail?

Like football, theatre doesn't always follow the script. And three top players can't win by themselves.

My expectations, I reckon, were to blame. Just because the characters are named Jonah (is he in the whale or not?), Kitten (Jonah's wife) and Manfred (J's best friend, and rival) doesn't mean that this is gonna be another of Kemp's dreamy archetypal meditations. Alas. This is no Call of the Wild or Black Sequin Dress.

Jonah is missing believed drowned. (No surprise there!) I even deduced, from his best friend's Byronic name that the J-man has probably topped himself. (One thing Byron's Manfred [etext available at The Literary Gothic] rather bravely failed to do!!)

Kitten -- ha! -- goes troppo and needs a C.A.T. team! (God. Is "CAT team" one of those awful redundancies? Like ATM machine? Ick! If so, sorry... I've never had to call one.) (Or had one called for me... [hard to believe, I know!]) [Apparently it's not - Ed.]

But there are no archetypes here. Little of Kemp's usual schtick . Little of her extraordinary womanly fascinations... More's the pity. It's a brilliant study of mania, true. But it's just a play. A little play.

AKH exclaimed "too many songs" after the show. I retorted: "The songs saved it for me." Actually, Natasha Herbert's voice (and her mad African booty-shaking) kept me awake. My eyes open wide.

The opening scene (on the cliff top, again, how Byronic) is pretty strong. I liked the feeling that the scrim between the audience and the players was aurally translucent as well as visually translucent. It seemed to strip frequencies from the sound of the voices just as it blurred the visual. The voices seemed dislocated and disembodied... as if amplified. Some of the sound remained on the far side of the cloth. Then the lights came up a bit more. And, guess what, the actors actually were amplified a little.

The festival's about to begin. It officially kicks off tonight. I'm glad the Malthouse jumped the gun. I like being at the Australian content up front.

One year, not that long ago, at La Mama, Lloyd Jones greeted me with an emphatic: "You're a fucking snob." Cos I was seeing more of the international stuff than the local, I guess. (Either that or I'd missed another of his sadistic theatrical extravaganzas.) Mate, I shot back, it's the first night of the festival and I chose to be here, at Headquarters, instead of at the Arts Centre watching the Steppenwolf company make its local debut.

He pulled his head in.

Well, you know... If you're the Artistic Director's spouse, you probably shouldn't be dissing the critics in any case. Or, at least, not the friendly ones. The "work experience" are easier game. (Go easy, David!)


N.B. My review will be published in Friday's Herald Sun. (The October 10 edition.) See also Michael Magnusson's review.


Kitten by Jenny Kemp (writer and director). Set and costume design by Anna Tregloan. Sound design and original music by Darrin Verhagen. Lighting design by Niklas Pajanti. Choreographed by Helen Herbertson. Dramaturgy by Richard Murphett, Maryanne Lynch and Francesca Smith. Performed by Chris Connelly, Natasha Herbert, Kate Kendall and Margaret Mills.

Kitten was jointly commissioned by Melbourne International Arts Festival, Malthouse Theatre and Black Sequin Productions.

At the Beckett Theatre, Wednesday October 8. Season ends October 25.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Backyard & Melbourne Spawned a Monster

If you're an indie dance artist, you had better choose your venue carefully. In the last ten days, I've been to two shows at Dancehouse -- one Fringe Festival show, one not -- which were full to the roof, and two at Gasworks -- both Fringe Festival -- at which the audience barely outnumbered the cast.

Stephanie Glickman tells me that she had a command performance on Wednesday night at Paper on Water. One dancer, one critic. That same night, Jo Lloyd, up town, had a waiting list. (I know... I was on it!)

Now, Fringe Festival PR is pretty much non-existent. (I received a guide in the post. That was it.) But is Gasworks in Port Melbourne any more off-the-beaten-track than Dancehouse in North Carlton? Or is it that Dancehouse has reached a critical mass after 15 years of consistent activity?

Certainly it's not about calibre of artist. The one-on-one 'command' performer was Delia Silvan, a star-with-a-capital-S. Jo Lloyd is a star too, but she from the wave that broke after Silvan.

There are even attendance vagaries when it comes to venues in the same suburb, even those that share management. Arts House at the Meat Market, it seems to me, pulls bigger crowds than Arts House at the nearby North Melbourne Town Hall.

So much of Fringe (for critics and punters alike) is about opportunism. So I went to a matinee of Backyard on Wednesday cos I had a window of opportunity. I didn't recognise the names of the dancers or choreographers, but that's what Fringe is for, right? (And, Ming-Zhu, to be tired of theatre is to be tired of bad/dead/anti theatre. To be tired of dance is... well... unimaginable.) (Or is to be just plain tired!)


Jo Lloyd -- on fire in Melbourne Spawned a Monster.

Backyard's dancers and crew (and their BYO usher!) were about to forfeit when I arrived, but were persuaded not to. I'm so glad they didn't. Their show turned out to be as detailed and sophisticated, in its way, as Jo Lloyd's Melbourne Spawned a Monster.

Perhaps not in choreographic terms, or imagination... but in sheer theatricality and attention to detail, this trio of young dance-makers were as on-the-money as Lloyd and her team.

Lloyd again had the advantage of Duane Morrison's brilliant, driving, groindy music. It reminded me of early Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream... though there was a moment of vertigo when it could easily have plunged into sexy dance floor trance. I'm thinking Kris Menace or even, dare I say it, Eric Prydz!

Backyard used existing music (a ripper lo-fi song from Psuche -- a.k.a. Oscar's Psuche -- and a neat little loop of Lisa Mitchell's 'Neopolitan Dreams') but the soundscape was as carefully constructed and precisely executed -- and as indispensible -- as Morrison's.


playtime at Gasworks... click on the image to enlarge.

Lloyd used spills of coloured bud lights and a simple but delightful cityscape by Rob McCredie. (The design concept was Lloyd's.) Backyard used astroturf, a clothes line and part of a picket fence in a stylised -- or should that be romanticised? -- naturalism.

Lloyd began her solo in the dark with the sound of tennis balls being thrown against a wall. (Live, not recorded.) Lloyd is a commanding presence -- think Tilda Swinton only far far more corporeal -- and she began her show with a lateral hip-swing manoeuvre, one arm out straight to the side, the other arm hooked over her head, parallel to the lower arm. (Anyone remember Jimmy Page playing the theremin in The Song Remains The Same?) Lemon coloured dress. Barefoot. Three little pig tails.

Throughout the piece, her dance seems to be in service of the throbbing, pulsing music. Not enslaved by it, but delighting in it. Late in the piece, there's a moment when Lloyd throws her arms out like wings, in a low swoop, maybe a foot above the stage, and it's the most utterly musical -- utterly right -- gesture I've seen in ages; she does this ostrich thing with her arm, wrist and hand, making an impossibly tight triangle; she headbangs like Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's over in half an hour, but it's complete. Dizzying. Satisfying.



It's not the biggest or most ambitious thing she's done; that would have to be Apparently That's What Happened, performed at the Meat Market in June. (Apart from the final third of that piece, danced in thrilling unison, Duane Morrison's anxious, inventive, buzzing, brilliant music completely eclipsed the dance and the zombie choreography.) But, I reckon, Melbourne Spawned a Monster is far and away the best original work we've seen from Lloyd. I'm guessing it might have something to do with the fact that it's one of the purest dance pieces we've seen from her. Head switched off, body switched on.


Backyard makes an interesting contrast. (Not just because I saw it the same day!) It's representational, not abstract. It's dance theatre, not pure dance. It's conventionally feminine -- girlish, really -- while Lloyd is weib. It has a mission, I think, while Monster just squatted there, poised and primal.

In Backyard, co-creators Megan Inglese and Melanie Trojkovic try to coax memories out of their bodies. Some of the movement, inevitably, is banal. Ipsy-wipsy spider stuff and bug catching, sewing gestures and mime. Hanging out clothes and folding them. But, unexpectedly, the play of fingertips on a throat or a knee-bounce or the gate-swing of an arm with an oscillating hand will detonate something deep within us.

More impressive than the choreography is the control Inglese and Trojkovic exert over the production elements. It takes skill to pull an audience in, to focus on a tiny move.

I wanted something more substantial, I guess. And the actual dance was a bit too constrained, on the whole, for my liking. But it held its audience for an hour, easily.


L-R: Megan Inglese, Sarah Cooper, Melanie Trojkovic

Intriguingly, the third dancer, Sarah Cooper, who isn't billed as a creator of the work, did best with the choreography. So, it'll be interesting to see what Inglese and Trojkovic can do on other dancers.

Backyard has a couple more performances in the next week, so too does Paper on Water. You shouldn't have any trouble picking up tickets... more's the pity.


Backyard by Megan Inglese and Melanie Trojkovic. Film editing by Melia Rayner. Music editing by Hayden Annable. Perfect Flaw Productions. Studio Theatre, Gasworks Arts Park, until October 11.

Melbourne Spawned a Monster, choreographed and performed by Jo Lloyd. Music by Duane Morrison. Costume by Tim Jomartz. Set and lighting concept by Jo Lloyd. Cityscape by Rob McCredie. Lighting realisation by Tristan Bourke. Dancehouse, until October 5.

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