Thursday, 29 March 2012
Wednesday, 28 March 2012
For some reason, when I was reading Peggy Phelan's essay on Trisha Brown's Orfeo, this statement felt important. Unfortunately, I was on the bus and by the time I got home, I'd forgotten why. Then again, I am quite happy just to name check Phelan and Brown, to show off how I use the trip up to the psychiatric clinic educationally .
Brown is important to me because her For MG was performed by Scottish Ballet. Since, for once, I am too young to have seen her work at the Judson Memorial Church - she was part of the gang of choreographers who came up with "post-modern dance", a category I love - this connection is important. And because I am always going on about how I am a post-modernist critic, I instinctively warm to Brown's career.
Now, what was I thinking? The music and dance relationship must have been important. Brown's earliest works, back in the 1960s, didn't have music, as such. That could be argued to parallel her choreography, which wasn't dancing, as such. So embracing music - she'd done a Carmen, and directed a version of Monteverdi's Orfeo - marked a willingness to get back into the more expected tradition, of dance as movement to music.
I know that Merce Cunningham used to randomly select bits of John Cage for his dances, insisting that the only connection between choreography and composition was that they finished roughly at the same time. But Cunningham was before Brown, a modernist, if you will.
Seriously, what's my point? A choreographer using music: whatever next? A speedway rider deciding he likes to wear a crash-helmet?
The Russian Woods comes complete with a song book. The lyrics read far worse than they sound sung. The blunt delivery of the chorus - who represent symbolic characters - and the awkward movements of the recruited performers lend the play a strained formality. The Woods themselves are a simple metaphor for contemporary Russia (or possibly late capitalism or whatever we call neo-liberalism these days): a dragon guards the oil, the bears are the Orthodox church. Celebrity, the workers, politicians all get a corresponding animal. Artists, represented by fox-spiders, fiddle with the perception of reality. Or maybe these creatures are the media in general.
Perhaps the naive production is deceptive: The Russian Woods comes on like a simple morality tale, a Marxist version of a medieval allegories. The final creature discussed - and there is no narrative, no drama, just a series of introductions to the animals - is the hamster. As Chto Delat's main-man points out in the (compulsory) post-show chat, the hamster is the modern citizens: switched on to the internet, not necessarily to reality.
My instinct is to shout "fuck off" very loudly and repeatedly at the stage. Quite rightly, this could be condemned as an ideological response. I have no time for the use of Marxism as a foundation for aesthetic endeavour. From the way that the show segues into the discussion, with no chance for escape, the simplicity of the correspondences between the mythological denizens of the woods and social groups, the drab choreography of the performers and the self-consciously didactic performance of the singers, it is like a parody of agit-prop theatre: more concerned with getting to the issues and the discussion that making anything that could be mistaken for light entertainment, it takes itself seriously. The little jokes - like the character who keeps complaining that they ought to have had a seminar and not an artwork - come across as attempts to forestall the obvious criticism.
However, it was free. And if I haven't sussed out that Arika want to engage their audiences' politically by Episode 3, I am stupider than I imagined. And while I might be able to entertain my critical person by noting that The Russian Woods has echoes of Greek Tragedy and the propaganda plays of the early Soviet era, strolling along to a festival that had staged a four hour reconstruction of transcripts from Guantanamo Bay and expecting frivolity was absurd.
So, yes, The Russian Woods is a play that exists to provide the basis for further discussion. Yes, the post-show was vital. And a mythology to describe the contemporary condition is viable. It's nice to understand something easily. There's no attempt to hide the agenda.
Plus, it was short.
Fight Club, comparatively, is dishonest. A big budget blockbuster, it has a subversive message. That makes it either a cunning way to buck the system, or a moral compromise that undermines its intention by the use of a corrupted medium.
My bellowed obscenities are quietened. Honesty is good. Being able to understand is good. The lack of compromise is good.
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Thanks to Sven Brown's long relationship with BOAC, which goes back to his time up in Perth, Glasgow gets some bi-annual Banging. They turn up at the start of Minimal Extreme, head into battle with the London Sinfonietta over Andriessen's Hoketus. Then they do an early slot on Saturday to showcase their repertoire: no Thurston this time but a funky spot of Reich's Electric Counterpoint. They might not quite be as spectacular as Rammstein, but they seem to be determined to prove that attitude isn't the sole preserve of the street tough rocker.
It could just be that I am clinging onto a desperate sliver of youth as I lose my hair and swap hip-hop for baroque, but I feel that BOAC have a strong connection to the sort of music I used to love as a kid. Hoketus - and the companion piece on Friday, Workers Union, had the same brutal, truncated attack I dug in SWANS. When bass man Robert Black lays down the groove on Reich's 2x5, I hear the relentless drive of Big Black. Sometimes they even look like a rock band: 2x5 has the classic line-up of 2 guitars, a bass, drums and keyboard. And there is the inevitable fun of watching Ziporyn simultaneously conduct and hoot on the clarinet.
When Reich talks about works like 2x5, he is adamant that it is "clearly not rock and roll", adding suspiciously that "it's completely notated while rock is not." He then admits that the lines are pretty vague these days and anyway, his appropriation of rock gestures is in the same tradition as Haydn robbing folk melodies. Being a determined post-modernist, I supposed to be above simple categorisation: being a critic, I can't wait to shove stuff into a box so my eager readers know where it is coming from.
But BOAC do mess up the categories. Some day, I hope to see them booked by Cry Parrot - or feature a work by someone out of Uncle John and Whitelock.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
I am just annoyed I don't have more of his back catalogue.
Hoketus would be the loudest event of the weekend. It kicks off three days of hot classical action, both the intense (Bang on a Can have a very NYC energy about them, and a leader who plays the clarinet like it is a rock guitar) and the drifting (see my rambles about Feldman and Riley). Andriessen says that he isn't all about the volume, but he does want it to be intense.
In my brief conversation with Andriessen - and through my pitiful research - I realised that here was a composer who stood right at the cross-roads of jazz, improvisation and what he doesn't like to call minimalism. I kept on describing his work as "minimalist", but he patiently pointed out that that is more a technique than a style of music. Then I decided to ask him about his use of modern technology, noting that his recent compositions involved film. He observed that film isn't all that modern.
There's nothing I enjoy more than making a fool of myself in front of an artist that I both admire and - as the interview progressed - really liked as a person. As I flicked over his lists of works, the names of his collaborators jumped out at me: Hal Hartley and Peter Greenaway (fim makers), plus texts from Homer, Dante, Nietzsche, Job out of the Old Testament...
In the meantime, here's an appropriately trippy version of another Riley classic, A Rainbow In Curved Air. I can hear the similarities with Dark Side of the Moon period Floyd - it was released before it, so I console myself with the thought that the hippies were ripping off the classical composer. Fortunately, it doesn't have Roger Waters shouting all over it (an experience akin to going on a date with a man who explains why you ought to fancy him throughout the film).