Sunday, 19 June 2011

Save the arts

Meanwhile, there are initiatives that have spring up to defend the arts, to spread awareness among people about the need to support art education and outreach programmes, to demystify a popular right-wing rant that the arts are nothing but a drain on tax-payers' money.

This video on False Economy, for instance: which explains simple facts about public debt and debt management.

The website Lost Arts which fellow-blogger Swarup B.R. on One for the Road shared with me. Lost Arts catalogues "all the projects, events, initiatives, performances and organisations" lost to the UK due to reduced funding between now and 2015. It makes for a chilling read.

My personal favourite is this ludic and convincing film made by David Shrigley for Save the Arts. I love the way David Shrigley uses the familiar and identifiable device of a parent-child conversation and a working day environment to explain some lamentably hidden aspects of the benefits of art - in terms that someone who is not in the field nor directly affected can connect to. In terms that would make sense to an accountant, or a finance ministry official (I am deploying caricatures this time!)

Save the Arts is a campaign launched by Turning Point, a consortium of more than 2000 arts organisations and artists from all over the UK. They are encouraging people to sign a petition to be sent to the British Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The petition points out "it has taken 50 years to create a vibrant arts culture in Britain that is the envy of the world and appeals to the government not to slash arts funding and risk destroying this long-term achievement and the social and economic benefits it brings to all."

And some images which are worth a few thousand words:
The Angel of the North - as a symbol of arts tomorrow (Cornelia Parker)
Mark Wallinger's Reckless

Hmmmm, I need to see what is happening in France. I've been in and out of the country for too long!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Odds and ends ... some frightening ends

Back home after a whirlwind trip to Amsterdam for Het Ballet Nationale’s double bill featuring two full-length pieces – Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Labyrinth and David Dawson’s timelapse/ (Mnemosyne) – as well as for reunions, production meetings galore and one writing session – all packed into roughly forty hours.

The premiere went off splendidly, with hardly any technical glitches (and dancers cheerfully tackling the few that happened in their stride, so if I hadn't seen the dress rehearsal I would not even have guessed). I won’t dwell much on the pieces themselves though Labyrinth still plays on in my mind, over and over again, nocturnal, luminous and elemental in so many ways. It was a storyteller’s delight with fables and parables woven in and out, but– exceptionally for Cherkaoui – without even a shadow of text. This piece was also striking in its use of ensembles – it was heartwarming to see the corps de ballet given such prominence. But I cannot claim any objectivity here.

Timelapse/(Mnemosyne) was more in the purely balletic vein, but all electronic thunder and lightning (most of it psychedelic) and special effects refracting the spirit of Greek myths through very snazzy dance-club sets. I staggered out like a habitual wallflower after her first night on the disco floor, head spinning a little from the onslaught of sound and lights, the choreography and performance – admirable as they both were – unfortunately being relegated to second place by the excess of other elements.  

What prompted this post, however, were neither the performances themselves nor the joys and woes of racing around a deluged Amsterdam nor the unspeakably divine chocolates at Puccini (reserved for another post, another day), nor the refurbished Thalys interiors (Eurostar, could you please borrow a page out of the former’s book?). This post  was triggered by the announcement on the funding cuts in arts by the Dutch government.

The U.K. saw much consternation earlier in the year after the Arts Councils decisions were announced. In France, structural subsidies for performing arts have been decreasing to favour an event-driven programming. In Italy, the mood has been one of despair for some time now, though they are resisting valiantly.

The petition launched in the Netherlands explains it far better than I could:

As the post title says, there are ends in view. There is change in the air, a change that is being made in the name of larger interest and economy, but those are really debatable points. Larger interest is a term that shields many abuses and omissions. In Europe we are very fortunate to have funding for arts – there are many parts of the world where not only is there no funding, but artists and art professionals have to struggle to present their work, and are even in danger of their lives. But no civilization has advanced by suppressing or discouraging artistic expression. Funding of art is such a sign of social and cultural progress – one obtained after much struggle and reflection. Reneging on cultural policy might make sense in a short-term, profit-and-loss approach – just as cutting down on social security seems to make sense to more and more governments – but a society deprived of non-commercial art is a frightening prospect.

One day soon, then, the plush Muziektheater might only play host to conventions or a 500-euro-per-head gig. One day soon, there might be nobody to support Candoco Dance Company  in its mission of bringing together able-bodied and disabled dancers, of giving them a stage to share their strengths and weaknesses with us. No place to tour Rachid Ouramdane's and Gregory Maqoma's coruscating explorations on colonists rewriting our memories and our tongues.  No audience, then, for Pina Bausch’s colossal, savagely beautiful Rite of Spring.

It might be sooner than we think.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

I Am The Wind by Jon Fosse/Patrice Chéreau. Of you and me, life and death

A few stray thoughts about the play I Am The Wind, which I saw last week and found very, very compelling. Luckily, I hadn't read any of those scathing, superior reactions in English newspapers beforehand or I might have screamed in pain during the performance. After I came home, quite in the grip of those powerful, poignant performances, and a staging and text I found hauntingly effective, I decided to check the earlier reviews (by default, all from the English press since the world premiere had been at the Young Vic and the French ones would only come out later in the week, during the Théâtre de la Ville run). They were almost unfailingly severe, coming down on all the elements I had loved most about the piece. Even The Guardian's reviewer was half-apologetic about liking it (but he did accord it four stars, hurrah!), "whatever it may mean, there is no denying the production's visual bravura." Michael Billington's review

That was one of the rare exceptions, by the way.

Why did they have to be so, so derisive about the writing? Call me an ingenue but I liked it. Like is an anaemic word, it does not reflect the sea of emotions the piece stirs up. I was shaken by the writing (and that includes the translation by Simon Stephens) and Richard Peduzzi's set design (entirely at the service of the story, no vain grandiloquence here) and the staging. The actors, Tom Brooke and Jack Laskey as The One and The Other, were tremendous. Their words and delivery, hesitant in one, urgent in the other, and the archetypes they portrayed, stayed in my head for days. But actors - like many other artistes - are seldom tremendous all by themselves, they seek direction. And Patrice Chéreau is an outstanding actors' director. Think Intimacy with its excoriating performances, think Son Frère (His Brother) with the microscopic examination of the descent into helplessness, the struggle with the pretzel called fraternity. But few of these reviews accorded him any credit for directing the actors.

Great art gives you clues into the labyrinth of one's own universe, and this one did, vastly different though mine is from the sea-raft-anchor reality of the Northern hemisphere Fosse inhabits. The elliptical beast that is time moves with no feet, in unending, repeated orbit.  Perhaps I needed another friend's thoughts on the piece to reveal why Laskey and Brooke felt like such familiar figures. They could be life and death in us. Action and curious despair. Nurture and abandon. The lure of the lightness there will be in an end and a fear of the weight of living. The need for words. The damnable need for words, words, words when they never really signify that thing. That thing you need, that thing you dread....

Only a week later, the landscape has changed considerable. The French media, in the usual magic mirror trick that the two cultures/medias (British/French) indulge in, are more than positive: they are almost reverential. Okay, that's just an aside. What anyone else, expert or otherwise, thought of the piece does not change the impact it had on me: one of illumination. Northern Lights.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Of Jo Shapcott and Mutability

One of the poetry collections that invaded my head for the longest time ever this year (with a rearguard action still going on) was Jo Shapcott's Of Mutability. Here is a link to Hairless, read by the poet:

Hairless - from Poetry Archives