Category Archives: Dance

The Last Post

I have a small suitcase of letters from years gone by that I’ve dragged from one house to the next. They’re almost relics, these letters, written by hand and posted, in a letterbox! How quaint. One day I decided to put sentences from the various letters together, just out of curiosity, to see if the people who had written to me would make up a ‘composite friend’.

The resulting letter had its own strange and beautiful logic and although I knew who had written each line, the letter now seemed to have been written by the universe, to itself and to everyone who lived there. So it is with good stories and good art. They seem to have always belonged with you.

A year has passed to the day since I decided to join the world of online scribblers. It’s also the day that I call it a day. I could tizzy up my reasons for stopping but the reality is I’m getting too lazy to want to write it anymore. I figure it’s better to call time rather than post every six months or so like a stalker with chronic fatigue.

Strangely, the year of blogging ended with exactly the same weather conditions as it began. The rain started as I began writing my last post as if it was just popping in for a quick cuppa. Before I knew it, that rain had settled in with its feet up on the sofa and proceeded to turn on the TV. Then it just stayed the night. Unlike last year when the rain was this relentless, this year I was not doggedly (and dumbly) determined to get to a muddy bog of a music festival. Maybe I’ve learned something. But probably not…

Given this is The Last Post, I’m going to do a recap of some ‘Travels in my mind’ posts. It may be nostalgic indulgence but when was it anything else?

I wrote my first post about my annoying and unwelcome habit of needing to go to events that are sold out and difficult. ‘Travels in my mind’ began  with ‘Shine On, you crazy diamond’ in November 2010, when I shared the fab experience of driving to the inaccurately-named ‘Shine On’ festival in driving rain with my friend K. (who thankfully came to her senses and decided we should leave within minutes of our arrival). On the way home, we were attacked by birds.

The weather also played a significant role in ‘Man on plane, I am sorry’, December 2010,  in which I was returning from a visit to my Dad who lives in another state (physically, not metaphorically). I was on a plane which had been delayed due to storms and it was unsurprisingly, a rough flight. At some point during my visit Dad and I had had a conversation about what kind of funerals we would want – we like to keep the conversation light.  That conversation combined with the bumpy flight had made me quite skittish. I got into a weird and awkward conversation with a salesman sitting next to me, causing me to conclude that (a) sometimes I would rather eat my own arms than talk about work and (b) you shouldn’t talk to strangers if you can’t get away from them.

In February I visited Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, better known as MONA, and embraced its underground architecture and Scorpionic themes of sex and death. I loved the intensity and fun, and intense fun of it. But on a second visit not long ago I realised you never get that giddy first date feeling twice. While there were works I didn’t see the first time, some of which I found confronting and some moving, there was little from my first visit that I found compelling on second view. And on a rare sunny day in Hobart, with a wedding party on the grounds and a new admission fee generating the same old gallery demographic, MONA seemed already bereft of its rock ‘n’ roll patina. Possibly I just wasn’t in the mood. I preferred my friend G.‘s exhibition I went to on Saturday. She had made the most delicate drawings of her old Mum and Dad sleeping, drawings that were softly loving and made you ache with the inevitability of old age and its cousin, death.

For Valentine’s Day, I told a love story – a story of my longest first date. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was one of the most popular posts. Everyone loves a love story. (Or was it the KISS video? I admit, I watched that video a few more times than was healthy and had to get ‘I was made for loving you’ surgically removed.)

A friend asked me the other night what had been the most popular post. Right up there was the one about my visit to the Tutenkhamun exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. But as I explained to L., my blog must appear in search results when people are looking for information about the exhibition. My Tutenkhamun post continued to attract hits long past the date I posted it – and as I said to my friend, I feel a bit bad because my post about ‘What I’d learned from the Tutenkhamun exhibition’ was fairly glib. As King Tut’s family history featured some intensive interbreeding and he had a cleft palate and a club foot, I wrote that one thing I’d learned was not to horizontal folk-dance with the siblings. To all those students and foreign tourists searching for actual information, I can only apologise.

The dance films ‘Pina’ and ‘The Black Swan’  inspired curiosity about the history of the pointe shoe and ballet, in the case of ‘The Black Swan’ (‘Shall we dance? Or just pointe?’, January) and my return to dance class (‘Minding the pees and queues’, August). Going to a performance by the Nederlands Dans Theater was just a visual feast that reminded me of the variety of permutations possible within human movement and all that is good about watching people move through space (‘An assault on the senses’, July).

There was the post about my sensitivity to people’s voices, inspired by the Southern Gothic baritone of Tony Joe White (‘Tony Joe White’s Sonic Boom’, May), in which I pondered whether a person’s voice is merely a product of anatomy or whether a voice reflects a person’s inner being. A Cat Power gig inspired a conversation about the evolution of stage fright and what it must be like to make music (and a living) while being scrutinised under the spotlight (‘A year of the Cat’, January).

In June, I was preparing to head to Bali and Cambodia.  A simple Google search: ‘music in Cambodia’ led to hours of reading about that country’s music scene now and in its 60s heyday. The contrast between the energetic spirit of contemporary bands in Cambodia with the silencing of musicians under the Khmer Rouge was so compelling that I decided to make a radio documentary while I was on holiday. Returning to Melbourne, I wrote another post about the trip, mostly about the first night of the Kampot River Music Festival and a motorbike ride through the hectic streets of Phnom Penh with Jan, German music producer and ex-soapie star (‘Holiday in Cambodia’, July).

A post about the differing recollections that my friend and I had about how an ex-housemate’s life was saved touched on the elusive nature of memory itself (‘Two of these things are true and one is a lie’, September). Yet the best things about writing ‘Travels in my mind’ has been the triggering of memories, however truthful they may be, and the perennial challenge we all share: trying to communicate something of our experience to someone else.

Thanks for reading; thanks to those who talked back. Your comments and encouragement have been so very welcome.

Yep, that’s all there is.

4 Comments

Filed under Art, Dance, Music, Travel, Uncategorized

That’s (home-made) entertainment

Early this week I woke up surprised to find that my white pillow slip had turned orange overnight. There was further surprise on getting up to discover that I had orange hair and could barely walk. I also had 90s dance floor fillers on constant rotation in my head: Britney Spears’ Toxic, Sing hallelujah! (Sing it! Sing ha-lay-lu-yah. Sing it!). ‘Dear god, please make it stop’ I thought as I hobbled towards the kitchen. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance, Film, Music, Travel, Uncategorized

Minding the pees and queues

1.      One night last week I was talking to a friend about The Police’s album Zenyatta Mondatta, particularly how much I enjoyed Stewart Copeland’s drumming on that record. The next evening I played some tracks from that album before heading out to a party, the theme of which was ‘Greatest Hits of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.’ As I was waiting in the loo queue I got chatting to a guy dressed as a British bobby. ‘I’ve been trying to work out who you’ve come as,’ I said. ‘I’m The Police,’ he said.  Luckily for me, at that point the loo became vacant but before I could move, a woman shot past us and went in. ‘Damn!’ I exclaimed.  Much to my surprise, the Bobby chased her into the bathroom and escorted the apologetic queue jumper out to take her place in line.  He actually was English and it seems they take their queuing seriously. Despite feeling somewhat responsible for this act of party policing and a little embarrassed, part of me began to fantasize about having my very own Bobby to intervene when people neglect to mind their manners. On the train, when people are talking loudly on their phones as I’m trying to read, my Bobby could say something like: “Excuse me, I’m going to have to ask you to shut it. Would you mind awfully?” Come to think of it, though, I think if the Bobby had seen me – or rather “Nancy Sinatra” – karate kicking at a startled Eminem in a dance floor duel to some metal track later in the evening I might have been called over to ‘have a word’. Incidentally, the Bobby wasn’t the only police to turn up at the party. The real Police also dropped by with the obligatory noise complaint. I hope some wag took the opportunity to say “It’s The Police…I didn’t know they were back together.”

2.      A while back I embarked upon a half-hearted, short-lived and unsurprisingly unsuccessful campaign to make Tuesday night the new Saturday. I was reminded of this on Tuesday as I was putting on a glittery cocktail dress and gloves. How rare and exciting to be getting glammed-up on a Tuesday! My friend S. was making a short film and some friends and I had agreed to be extras in the “masquerade cocktail party” scene. Among other masked party-goers, we had to pretend to chat on the dance floor while swaying to a song by Cat Power. About seven or eight times. Whoever said film-making was dull? I have to say, my friend E. and I did a fine job of looking animated, listening to each other intently and aimlessly swaying, while telling each other about what we’d had for lunch that day, what we’d had for dinner the night before, and other riveting tales of meals of the recent past. All this was backdrop to the masked “heroine” sweeping through the crowd to her be-masked beloved to dance in his arms. I found our friend A.’s mask simultaneously scary and hilarious, so I had to avoid looking at her during filming but generally had no problem fulfilling the extra’s duty of being none-too-noticeable. OK, there was one scene in which the following things happened in quick succession:

a.      The camera knocked me in the back of the head

b.       A., with her scare-larious mask surreptitiously pecked me on the shoulder with her beak

c.       The make-up woman, (who was wearing a spectacular corset and long skirt) tripped over my boots and stumbled into me.

d.      I completely lost it and gave in to the giggles.

The hierarchy intrinsic to film-making does lend itself to comedy and I couldn’t help being reminded of the Ricky Gervais series Extras. One of my favourite scenes from Extras features Patrick Stewart (you may know him better as Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek).

3.      I know that I’ve liked dancing since I was a child because my dear old Dad has often demonstrated (particularly to boyfriends) how I used to dance when I was a little girl. This involves a look of intense focus, a weird clodding gallop and one arm held aloft and kind of stuck to the side of the head. The thing is, even when Dad was bounding around the room making us both look foolish, I could always see the joy in this dance.  There’s a scene in Wim Wenders’ film about Pina Bausch, the seminal figure in modern dance, in which a dancer from Pina’s company Tanztheater Wuppertal, talks about the joy of dancing.  In fact, he talks about how Pina had asked him to come up with a movement to express this joy, or “allegria” in his mother tongue. It’s worth the price of admission alone, seeing him dance this movement and the ensemble choreography that Pina created with his movement at its basis. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to dance class – and I’m loving it.  It’s a hybrid contemporary/jazz class involving the usual stuff – watching the teacher demonstrate choreography and the brain working to get the body to replicate the steps and shapes. It involves getting into small groups and the suspense of the count-in: “And Five-Six-Seven-Eight…” as you prepare to move with other bodies across the diagonal of the space. If the thought of any of that terrifies you, you’re probably still harbouring trauma from childhood ballet. In which case I recommend as therapy seeing “Pina”, or any of the films containing great dance scenes that I mentioned in a previous post. Or maybe just dance in your loungeroom like me as a kid, galloping along with one arm stuck to the side of your head. Or dancing like this guy:

PS: The soundtrack of ‘Pina’ is incredible. Here’s one track from Jun Miyake to throw yourself around to:

4 Comments

Filed under Dance, Film, Music, Uncategorized

An assault on the senses

I remember having a pillowtalk conversation about attendance at the arts versus sport in Australia, as you do. My view was that the arts are as popular as sport in Australia – it’s just that people aren’t going to arts events  en masse all the time and they’re going to lots of little events, so arts folk are less visible. ‘If everyone’s going to at least one gig a week, that’s… a lot of people,’ I said, being both too lazy and maths-challenged to actually come up with a number. ‘But most people aren’t like you. You would be statistically (something or other that means abnormal),’ my then-partner said. ‘I’d say most people would go to about one gig a year, maybe two.’ I made various snorting and chortling noises indicating disbelief. What could those people be doing with their time? And what do they do to fend off reality’s nasty side?

‘Coffee?’ I offered. Naturally, while waiting for my favourite morning noise – the merry gurgle of coffee into pot ­- I consulted the Interweb for evidence that I was right. I was wrong. He was spot on. MOST PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA ONLY GO TO ONE GIG A YEAR!! (Cue very quiet snorting and chortling noises indicating disbelief). Return with coffee and a change of subject. ‘Goddamn, that yeti’s been in the garden again.’ ‘I was right, wasn’t I?’ he said.

All this is by way of saying that I have seen a fair number of performances.  So when I saw Nederlands Dans Theater recently, it was gratifying to know that I’m not jaded by my accumulated years of arts consumption. Far from it – during the show, I thought I might have some kind of beauty coronary. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, a dancer would assault me with some other divine combination of limbs moving through space, or the train of a dress, a grand swathe of blue silk that covered the entire stage, would suddenly billow in sympathy with the Phillip Glass score. (You can see the beginning of this in the YouTube footage at about 5:05)

Also enjoyable was the post-show, breathless, high camp/Valley Girl-type conversations with people who’d also seen this performance. ‘Oh my God! Did you nearly DIE?’ ‘I think I was shallow panting the whole time!!’ ‘It was like…Oh my God’. ‘My friend kept making little squealing noises.’ ‘I want them all to live at my house. I want them to run the country!!’ The next morning, I was on the phone to a dancer friend, telling her she must sell her child if necessary to get to the final show.

At the end of the third and final work, Silent Screen, choreographed by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, my friend and I joined the rest of the audience in applauding the company until our hands hurt. Other audience members shouted and whooped as the company returned again and again to receive the love. When a performance has moved me, I try to store as many images in my memory as possible but inevitably before I’ve left my seat, much has disappeared into the ether. But then, the ephemeral nature of performance is also part of its magic. We left the theatre, somewhat dazed after being so roundly assaulted by beauty, to join the ‘Saturday night in the city’ world outside, where the next performance we encountered was a busker with a long mullet playing a bad rock solo outside Flinders Street Station on his electric guitar. All aboard the Reality Express!

For a peep at what I loved so much about the Nederlands Dans Theater performance, this promo features excerpts from two of the works I saw:

 

And a question to ponder, if you’re so inclined: if writing about music is like dancing about architecture, what’s writing about dance like?

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Dance

Raggamuffin tops

About half an hour after arriving at the Raggamuffin reggae festival, I worked out what was unfamiliar about the crowd. Not one person was wearing over-sized, black-framed glasses and black skinny jeans. None of the girls were wearing 80s polyester dresses or looked like 1950s virgins. There were Rasta mamas with their locks piled high and curvy girls wearing short shorts or mini-skirts, there were big broad Islanders, suburban white kids, a smattering of forest hippies, young African guys in green, red and gold B-boy caps, a couple of  older surfers…it was a mixed race, mixed bag kind of crowd that reminded me of street festivals in London. It also reminded me how white my suburb is.

‘Hey,’ I said to my friend S. ‘There are no hipsters here.’  No Ray-Ban Wayfarers or shirts buttoned up to the neck. Just a sea of original looks that had my friend and I entertained for hours in a game of ‘Would you get away with that outfit?’ How about The Original Wailers’ backing vocalist’s tight, bleach-splashed jeans, stiletto heels and a ruched, black satin shirt? Or Jimmy Cliff’s backing vocalist’s long strapless dress in bold green and gold stripes? What about taking on the Queen herself – Mary J. Blige, now 40, who emerged on stage in sunglasses, a black leather shoulder-padded jacket, white singlet, wide black leather cummerbund, leopard print tights and boots that would make a dominatrix call for mummy? I don’t think so.

There are no hipsters at a reggae festival  because reggae is not cool and the  scene is so roots-y that hipster irony would get bear-hugged to death. When The Original Wailers invited the crowd to sing along to ‘Buffalo Soldier’, they sang along. When Maxi Priest wanted ‘to hear all my ladies scream’, the ladies screamed. When Jimmy Cliff sang ‘I can see clearly now’, the audience chanted that indeed, it was a ‘bright, bright, sunshine-y day’. Wave your arms in the air? Of course. And at the end of the night, when Mary J. asked everyone to light up the night in celebration of her first Australian visit, Sidney Myer Music Bowl was transformed by phones and lighters into a glowing cavern.

Many had come to Raggamuffin to see Mary J. Blige. Eighteen years, nine Grammys, nine albums and no Australian show until Raggamuffin. One fan was screaming so loudly I thought she’d take out my left eardrum. Other fans were looking forward to seeing dancehall artist Sean Paul and were disappointed by a no-show that was neither explained at the gig, nor flagged on the Raggamuffin website. But I defy anyone to remain disgruntled in the face of Jimmy Cliff’s charm offensive. ‘He’s like the Leonard Cohen of reggae,’ S. said.  It was true that, as with Leonard Cohen, the good vibes just seemed to emanate from him, making everyone, including his band, grin like idiots.

One of the reggae originals, star of the 1972 film ‘The Harder They Come’, Jimmy Cliff is now 63. Not only is he still touring, he’s limber as a cat. He’s also one of the only people who can get away with wearing a T-shirt bearing his own name and an entirely red outfit with glittering gold shoes. What else marks him as a higher being is hearing him sing songs like ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ – a song he wrote in 1969 – as if no-one had ever heard it before. When he lets rip with the soaring opening line, he’s still feeling the pain of being a stranger in England, trying to find his way over those many rivers. And it still gives me the chills. Hearing the song build as his backing vocalists deliver the big gospel chorus response was almost painfully good.

Strangely though, it was during Jimmy’s happy sing-along set, to the strains of ‘No more war’ in the song ‘Vietnam’ that I saw an act of aggression. A young woman came flying towards me through the crowd. She’d been propelled by two fierce women who wouldn’t have looked out of place among the teeth-challenged backwoods folk in the recent film ‘Winter’s Bone’. The women glared at the poor girl, who burst into tears as her friend tried to shuffle her out of harm’s way. Later I saw that one of the scary women had ‘Attitude’ tattooed at the base of her spine. ‘You really need to advertise that?’ I thought.

The scary women had disappeared by the time the banks of keyboards, mikes and a towering drum kit had been rolled out for Mary J. Blige. Raggamuffin is billed as a reggae event but Mary J. is in no shape or form a ‘reggae’ artist. She’s a hip hop/ R& B star, she has a big, beautiful voice and a show that includes three backing vocalists and two dancers who were the bomb. Look, I enjoyed the spectacle but after a few songs, I felt guilty for having such a primo position at the front and gave it up to one of Mary J.’s many adoring fans. R&B has never really been my thing.

Dancehall – reggae’s fast and loose cousin – is something else again.  It’s the salty to reggae’s sweet.  But if you think women can do better than be a man’s bling, dancehall can be a guilty pleasure.  Let’s just say that an alien, from watching a lot of dancehall videos, would think that men on Earth wear clothes while women wear bikinis, and men stand upright while women writhe on all fours.  Between eye rolling and laughing, I can seem quite unhinged while watching these videos. But it’s a complex world, isn’t it? I love dancehall. I watch the video of Sean Paul’s 2002 hit ‘Get Busy’ and think about entering the pre-no smoking law fug of reggae/dancehall club night More Fire * back in the early years of the noughties. Friends and I would go there at midnight or so and dance for a couple of hours until the pounding bass and cigarette smoke drove us back out into the night. Sean Paul, I would have been in heaven if you had turned up to Raggamuffin and performed ‘Get Busy’. I would also have loved to have gone to the party depicted in this video.  Sean Paul, you didn’t show.  And I’m not at the party in this video. So given that imperfect universe, we’ll just have to turn up the volume and shake it.

*Chant Down celebrates ten years of  More Fire on Saturday February 12.  It’s now smoke-free, of course.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance, Music

Shall we dance? Or just pointe?

This week’s travel involved my friend H. and I taking ourselves on an excursion west-side. Destination: the fabulous art deco Sun Theatre to see the film ‘Black Swan’. The last time I headed across town to a deco cinema, it was to The Astor to see ‘The Red Shoes‘, a flick about…a tortured ballerina aiming for perfection. One of the scenes in ‘Black Swan’, in which ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) is dreaming herself into the lead role in Swan Lake, reminded me of a documentary about the soccer player Zinedine Zidane.  In that film,  the sound design sometimes takes the viewer into Zidane’s private experience – you hear the sound of thousands of fans as the sound of an ocean’s swell from far away, infinitely softer than the thud of the ball off his boot. Similarly, in ‘Black Swan’, the sound of Nina dancing is so precise and intimate that the viewer is taken into her world.  In hearing the brush of a shoe against surface, the breath of exertion –  one is reminded that this ‘dancing’, or in Zidane’s case, this ‘playing’ of sport, is hard physical work. As the camera closed in on Nina’s crippled toes, I thought how bizarre it is that ballet dancers do this work en pointe, especially when most of the time it looks kind of dumb. ‘How did this tippy-toes dancing come about?’ I wondered. I turned to the interweb. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Dance, Film, Uncategorized