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October 11 2011

Guardian young arts critics competition 2011: the winners

Our young critics competition turned up some fearless talent

What makes a great critic? Lots of things: an eye for detail, an instinct for the right adjective, an empathy with audience and artist. A great critic can make a reader feel that they, too, have been there: watching, listening, holding their breath. A great critic's opinion carries conviction; a great critic loves language. And, in a world where everyone has an opinion, and the means to share it, these qualities matter more than ever: a professional 21st-century critic has to look harder, write funnier, be smarter than anyone else.

So it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it – and somebody has to do it after this generation have had their turn. For the fourth year running, we've been looking for the UK's best young critics. We asked for entries in eight categories, and split those into two age groups: under 14, and 14 to 18. Most wanted to write about film, TV, theatre, visual art and music; there were fewer entries for classical, dance and architecture. You told us about your 2011 highlights and lowlights: Bon Iver's "magical" new album, Kevin Spacey's Richard III (not terrifying enough), Gavin Henson's "robot" turn on The Bachelor, the discreet charms of Coventry railway station. You were direct, engaged, enthusiastic, occasionally brutal – and you impressed our judges, who included writer Anthony Horowitz, singer Emmy the Great and Kick–Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman.

In the film category, 13-year-old Francesco Dernie reviewed Project Nim, James Marsh's documentary about the chimp raised as a child, concluding: "I do think he achieved some humanity." For Goldman, this was "the stand-out entry, a beautifully honed balance between information and opinion". Kiera McIntosh-Michaelis's review of Kevin Macdonald's crowdsourced documentary Life in a Day won in the older category. "A little gem that showed natural writing talent," said Goldman.

Among younger pop critics, 13-year-old Holly MacHenry won for her rousing review of Gogol Bordello, with the judges praising its ability to convey the raw excitement of being there ("About halfway through the second song I decided being cool wasn't important and started jumping about"). Julia Smith, 18, was first in the older age group for her review of Bon Iver's recent album. His previous album, For Emma, Forever Ago, she wrote, "hits you right there. You know, there, that space between your head and your heart". Judge Emmy the Great said: "She will doubtless be the sort of music critic who has fans. I am one."

There was a surprising amount of foreign reporting in visual art: Seward Johnson's controversial 26ft Marilyn Monroe in Chicago, two shows at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, ceramics in Switzerland. The Met shows inspired the best writing: 14-year-old Angelica Gottleib's take on Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen retrospective ("a marvellous, skeleton-like back-brace … antelope ears crafted from gleaming twigs"); and 12-year-old Freddie Holker's extraordinarily accomplished review of a homage to Lucian Freud, in particular his painting Naked Man, Back View ("Disgusting. That's what I'm thinking, that's my gut instinct.") Of Freddie, art critic Adrian Searle said: "The writing is tight, the descriptions vivid."

It was a strong year for theatre. Thomas Marshall, 16, won the older category with his review of Kevin Spacey's Richard III: "At about 11pm, a hunchbacked man with a leg-brace is hung upside-down, dead, in a darkened room somewhere in London to the applause of hundreds." (This first line had director and judge Katie Mitchell "hooked".) The under-14s group scored the competition's youngest winner, nine-year-old Laura Stevens, whose review of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Stratford used "beautiful imagery to relate what she'd seen, conveying her enthusiasm and insight", said playwright Lucy Prebble.

There was a confidence and swagger to the TV reviews, pleasing our TV editor, Vicky Frost. Hannah Quinn, 17, won for her savagely cynical review of Gavin Henson's The Bachelor ("The end is nigh! A mad scientist has succeeded in creating a robot and an army of clones!"). Horowitz said: "This is a critic who puts her personality right on the page – great fun to read."

Dance critic Rachel Balmer, 16, wrote one of the bounciest, liveliest reviews. Riverdance, she said, was "the oddest genre of theatrical art", featuring "singing, a bout of flamenco, a candelit vigil … some Irish-style disco dancing complete with cartwheels … I told you it was odd." Our classical music winner was Rosie Busiakiewicz, 18, who reviewed a new recording of Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet.

In the final category, architecture, judge Ted Cullinan declared Michael Sackur, 13, winner in the younger category, for his "beautifully observed formal critique" of Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin: "Criticism like this is hard to write." Fourteen-year-old Mollie Davidson won the older category for her review of Coventry railway station. This, Cullinan said, was a brilliant summary of the "earnest economical period" of architecture just after the second world war.

The winners will receive a Guardian certificate and a £25 book token; their entries are published today at guardian.co.uk/culture. Picking an overall winner was tough, but with Alan Yentob, creative director of the BBC, and Georgina Henry, head of guardian.co.uk, we agreed on 12-year-old Freddie Holker for his amazingly mature critique of Lucian Freud. I would conclude by saying something along the lines of the kids are all right – but that's just the kind of cliche our young critics know to avoid.

• Winner Freddie Holker will be writing for G2 later this year.


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October 05 2011

The artists' artist: choreographers

Five choreographers nominate their favourite living artist in their field

Derek Deane on Jirí Kylián

Jirí Kylián is a dance genius, probably the only one left. Many choreographers lean on other people's styles – it's hard to be original when so much has gone before – yet Kylian's work is completely individual. You instantly recognise his style: it's always breathtaking, always inspirational, the way he blends the dancers' bodies. He doesn't usually concentrate on storytelling, but on emotions. He moulds and manipulates the performers into incredible shapes. He invents whole new ways to move, to balance, to turn the human form inside out.

Since he creates little outside his own company, he works with people he knows intimately. All choreographers match a dancer's style and figure to certain roles, but he goes deeper. He focuses on the mentality of the individual, how their mood matches the moves, how they integrate with other personalities; he selects his dancers not only for their phenomenal technique, but for their physical perfection.

True choreography is inspired by dancers, and Kylian is so worshipped by his performers that they would give him their blood: they are open canvases. His creations are very intelligent, very cerebral and encouraged me to go deeper into my own work. Anyone can make up the steps, bu to influence musicality is exceptional.

Derek Deane has worked with English National Ballet

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on James Thiérrée

James Thiérrée, the grandson of Charlie Chaplin, can create magic on stage. He choreographs all his own shows, which mingle vaudeville, circus, dance and poetry – and cast a spell over audiences. His movements are powerful, clear and liquid, with ideas illustrated through the simplest of means. Raoul is an epic that tells the story of a man confronting his loneliness and fears; at one point, he pretends to be a horse with movements so convincing that you start to believe he is one. It's rare to encounter someone who can make you forget reality. As a choreographer, I always find myself analysing the techniques of a performance, but when I'm watching Thiérrée I lose my analytical side and allow myself to be enchanted.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has worked with Les Ballets C de la B

Christopher Bruce on Ohad Naharin

Because I rate him highly, and because his work is only occasionally seen here, I would recommend that lovers of contemporary dance see the work of Ohad Naharin. His unique style is grounded in his early training with Martha Graham but fused with a loose-limbed dynamic where the dancers appear to be thrown through space. I so enjoy their obvious pleasure in the physicality of the movement.

This seemingly crazy invention is always well structured and set against sections of beautiful simplicity, as in his Tabula Rasa, where a simple line dance is continued for almost a whole movement of Arvo Pärt's score. Importantly, he is not afraid to take risks. The work is sometimes wonderfully theatrical and amusing, but one can sense a deep emotional weight underpinning his composition.

Christopher Bruce has worked with Rambert Dance Company.

Kim Brandstrup on Lloyd Newson

If I had to choose one living choreographer it would be Lloyd Newson. I have always admired the physical and psychological rigour of his work, and his ability to deal with profound and often difficult human issues in a language that is raw and direct, but always beautiful. Although our work is very different, I have always felt a kinship with his commitment to unadorned storytelling. In his work, the movement and the human body always resonate with meaning and purpose. A theatre of essence rather than abstraction – a physical theatre that speaks with precision and clarity.

Kim Brandstrup has worked with New York's Metropolitan Opera.

Shobana Jeyasingh on William Forsythe

I identify with Forsythe because we both had our dance training in a strict, rule-bound classical form. I admire the way he has taken the ballet technique and used it to express something searingly radical. To be subversive, one needs something to subvert and ballet has served as a perfect foil. You can question the legitimacy of a straight back and carriage of the torso (very much a given in classical dance forms) so much more effectively after you have mastered them. His dance works for Frankfurt Ballet did not look like ballets, but could have been realised only by balletic bodies.

His best work takes one on a sly, intellectual rollercoaster. It is the quality of thought and judgment I enjoy most. The movement – although beautiful and powerful – seems almost incidental, a peg to hang the ideas on. Dance often serves as comfort food among the art forms and Forsythe reminds us that it can be far, far more.

Shobana Jeyasingh has worked with Random and Ballet Black


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July 11 2011

Gilded Youth: freestyle dancers – in pictures

Carrie McKee's photographs of young freestyle dancers near their homes in Belfast



June 19 2011

The time of my life

From an illicit Pixies gig to a Mesopotamian ziggurat, Guardian critics recall their biggest moment of inspiration in their respective fields

How to enter this year's competition

Pop: Alexis Petridis

Can any gig you see as a critic ever match the ones you saw as a teenager? Bizarrely, going to a gig when I was 17 was harder work than writing reviews has ever been. It involved not merely getting to London, but lying to my parents about where I was going, lying to my friend's parents about where my parents thought I was going, bunking off school, and then convincing somebody who looked 18 to go to the bar on my behalf.

But none of that mattered the night I saw the Pixies supported by My Bloody Valentine, in September 1988. It's not every night you see arguably the two most important guitar bands of the era on the same stage at the peak of their powers: the Pixies had just released their incredible second album, Surfer Rosa, while My Bloody Valentine had released the astonishing single You Made Me Realise.

It says something about the pre-internet age that, before they walked on, I had no idea what the Pixies looked like. I didn't expect the guy who sang all those dark songs about sex and violence to be chubby and balding. This was nothing compared to the shock of their sound: a ceaseless roar, with the next song starting as the last chord of the previous one was still dying away.

I remember that gig in snapshots. Two roadies having to hold on to My Bloody Valentine's drumkit as Colm O'Cíosóig hit it with such ferocity that it started moving across the stage. The Pixies performing Hey, a song so self-evidently filthy it seemed to have been beamed in from another world. But most of all, I remember feeling more excited than I'd ever been in my life. You could argue that my career has involved chasing that feeling ever since.

Visual art: Adrian Searle

The first serious art exhibition I ever saw was on a school trip to Goya and His Times at London's Royal Academy in 1963. I have seen many Goya shows since and think I know his art well, but he always surprises me, even when I look at paintings I have known for most of my life. How time flies.

I can't say this was the best show, or even the best Goya show, I have ever seen. I was, after all, only 10. But I remember being struck by Goya's weirdness: the distorted faces of the Spanish royal family, the isolated, looming figure of the Duchess of Alba (Goya's lover), the strange skies. Decades later, I saw that the clouds over Madrid often look like old, torn tapestries.

I must have about 20 books about Goya now, including the tiny paperback I bought at the time. It's a useless book – pictures too small, colours all wrong – but I kept it. Another book is Goya's Last Portrait, a play by the critic John Berger. A few years ago, Berger and I had a long talk about that dog Goya painted, the one that could be drowning in quicksand or might just be sticking his nose up over a hill to sniff the sky.

I remember wondering why Goya's paintings meant so much to me when I knew nothing about art and had never been anywhere, least of all to Madrid. Maybe that show only became important later, because of things that happened in my life. Many roads lead back to a kid looking at Goya and understanding nothing.

Classical music: Erica Jeal

It was 10 years ago, but I remember it better than things I heard last week. The Alban Berg Quartet and the cellist Heinrich Schiff were playing Schubert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall: the String Quintet in C, the one with two cellos and the glorious first-movement melody that begins again and again, as if the composer couldn't bear to let it go.

A few minutes in, I knew this performance was different from any I'd heard before. Then I realised why. It was all coloured by death, every note. Something in the Alban Berg's playing made it obvious: Schubert, at 31, knew he was dying, and had composed a love letter to the world that was as sweet as it was sincere, full of anguish, acceptance, anger and serenity. I wondered if I was just a bit strung out: perhaps I was the only one experiencing it this way. But at the end, the usually reserved QEH audience was on its feet.

There are few things more depressing than a performance of a work you love that leaves you cold. But there is nothing more exciting than hearing a musician, or an orchestra, take something you thought you knew, and make you realise there is still more to fall in love with. I felt that way hearing Iván Fischer conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony in January this year. I felt that way in 2003, when I heard veteran tenor Peter Schreier sing a searing Die Schöne Müllerin, somehow bringing an old man's wisdom to a young man's tale.

That was Schubert again. I'm starting to suspect that Schubert understood everything there was to know about the world, and that the answers to all life's big questions might be found in his music. I haven't uncovered them yet, but I'm still listening.

Architecture: Jonathan Glancey

For as long as I can remember, right back to when I was a teenager trying to piece together the story of architecture, the ziggurat at Eridu had been a presence in my life. I was haunted by the thought that somewhere in deepest Mesopotamia, today's southern Iraq, there lay, in ruins and largely hidden under sand, what might be the world's first monumental building: the mother of all architecture in the world's first metropolis.

I finally got to Eridu just months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Somehow I had persuaded the right people to let me go, and a platoon of Saddam's soldiers now escorted me along routes flanked by unexploded munitions dating from the first Gulf war. The heat was intense: 50 degrees. On the way, we stopped to climb the ziggurat of Ur, walking the site's excavated streets in the zig-zagging shadow of the great pyramid.

When we reached Eridu, the young soldiers were as excited as I was. We almost fell on the sands. It was thrilling to palm them away and find the stepped form of its crumpled ziggurat, built and rebuilt over thousands of years. There was a lake here once, and marshes. Eridu, founded in 5,400BC, was a sacred place for millennia until finally being abandoned in the 7th century AD. In 1949, excavations were undertaken, but it became a no-go zone after the first Gulf war.

At the same time as those excavations were taking place, Le Corbusier was designing his astonishing Unité d'Habitation, a block of flats in Marseilles. Although ultra-modern, this building also managed to be as elemental in form and as ancient in spirit. Great architecture connects with the past and pushes into the future.

Film: Peter Bradshaw

In my time as a critic, there have been many films that have made me want to punch the air with joy (and a few that made me want to punch a brick wall). But the film that I come back to, over and over, is Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, a beautiful, sad, sexy, mysterious movie that came out in 2000, when I'd been in this job for less than a year.

The premise is simple enough. The scene is 1960s Hong Kong, and Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung play neighbours who discover their spouses are having an affair. The realisation gives them a kind of intimacy: they have a tragic, erotic quasi-affair of their own. It is electrifying. Leung's desperate sadness is something he cannot admit to anyone, and the final sequence, in which he "confesses" it secretly to himself, is heartbreaking.

So many mainstream films have everything signposted and underlined, leaving no doubt as to what you are supposed to think and feel. In The Mood For Love demands you notice nuances and subtlety; you have to exert yourself to see, really see, what Wong is doing.

Theatre: Michael Billington

The toughest challenge for a theatre critic, and the greatest excitement, comes from responding to something new. How to describe, interpret and evaluate a play that expands the frontiers of drama? My mind goes back to a night in April 1975, when I reviewed the first performance of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land at the Old Vic.

I knew something about Pinter, having seen The Homecoming, The Caretaker and The Birthday Party. But I'd never reviewed a Pinter premiere, and this one had the smell of a big occasion: a production starring Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud.

I know I got some things wrong. At one point, Hirst (Richardson) engages in a prolonged reminiscence with Spooner (Gielgud). I took that as genuine rather than a parodic fantasy. But I did intuit that the play was a reflection of Pinter's own fears: that Spooner, the shabby minor poet, was the man he might have been; and Hirst, the literary celebrity cut off from life, was the figure he was terrified of becoming.

What I remember above all is the crackling comic vitality and sombre poetry of Pinter's language. In the mouths of Richardson, who was all spring-heeled ebullience, and Gielgud, who looked like some seedy, downmarket WH Auden, Pinter's phrases bounced off the walls like a ball in a squash court. In the play's overpowering final moments, one had a sense of Hirst starting to crawl unburdened towards death. Or, at least, to what Pinter poignantly calls a no man's land "which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains for ever, icy and silent". That struck me as theatrical poetry at its best: distilled, precise, yet infinitely mysterious.

Trying to pin down a Pinter play at first sight was exhilarating, like stepping into a ring with a champion boxer: one ran the risk of being knocked out.

Dance: Judith Mackrell

It was a Royal Ballet matinee in April 2001, and the hairs on the back of my neck started prickling: I realised I was witnessing the start of one of the great careers. Alina Cojocaru was just 19 and performing her first Giselle, a role that challenges even the most experienced ballerinas. In act one, she has to play a naive peasant girl, her heart broken by the aristocratic love rat Albrecht; in act two, she is a ghost, her dancing as transparent as air. Cojocaru did more than dance both roles with mesmerising beauty: she made you believe she had performed Giselle in some other, previous life.

I have seen more technically brilliant performances (although in act two, Cojocaru's dancing was so eerily exquisite, her feet barely seemed to touch the floor), but I have never seen a dancer live the role with such intensity. In the mad scene that leads to Giselle's death, Cojocaru's body looked so broken with pain you weren't sure she was acting.

Other great productions I have seen would include Les Noces, created by Bronislava Nijinska back in 1923 with a visual, emotional and musical power that blows your head off; Mark Morris's fierce Dido and Aeneas, with himself as the lead; Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring, a dance to death on a stage covered with black earth; and Frederick Ashton's poetically exact Scènes de Ballet.

The best moments I have as a critic are when I forget I'm working, when nothing I know has prepared me for what I'm experiencing. As I wrote on that extraordinary day back in 2001: "You felt that flukey thrill of being in exactly the right place at the right time."

TV: Sam Wollaston

The best thing I've ever watched on TV? That's impossible. If you're including drama, news, sport, documentary, comedy, everything, how can you possibly say which is better: news coverage of the twin towers coming down (extraordinary but hardly "good") or series four of The Wire (extraordinary, but less important in terms of changing the world)? Then there's Mad Men, The West Wing, The Thick of It, Ali G, The Office. And Big Brother's first series, when Nasty Nick was kicked out, because it changed television for ever. No, I don't dare pick that – too scared of the flak.

I'm going for Seven Up on ITV. Or 49 Up, as the last instalment, in 2005, was called. Back in 1964, 12 seven-year-olds from a wide range of backgrounds told film-maker Michael Apted what they wanted and expected out of life. Every seven years, Apted has been back to check on them. We've seen them grow up, become adults, fall in love, start careers, get married, have children, succeed, fail, despair, get more posh, get less posh, become Australian, have grandchildren.

It's been an extraordinary journey, a social history of this country: we've seen how attitudes to class, work and family have changed, along with clothes and hairstyles. But it's also, more importantly, the story of 12 individuals. This is real reality TV, touching, sad and funny – and about as important as television gets.

• This article was amended on 20 June 2011. The original stated that 49 Up was in 1995


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June 11 2011

Michael Clark Company – review

Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London

Michael Clark, choreographer, ex-heroin addict, and pin-up boy of the 1980s Blitz kids, is 50 next year. And while his work continues to develop and refine within the abstract micro-sector that he has made his own, his deep subject remains himself and his life. Last week, in the colossal emptiness of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, he presented th, a 10-piece programme set to songs by David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Pulp and others. These were performed by his loyal gang of professional dancers, and by a chorus of four dozen amateurs.

The professionals are sleek in Stevie Stewart's black and white all-in-ones, and later dramatic in black and silver. As the music rolls from the speakers, and Charles Atlas's icy lighting picks them out from on high, they map out the 50-yard floor space with Clarke's wary, hyper-reductive steps. All the familiar tropes are here: the nodding-dog heads, the tight couronne arms, the karate-stiff hands, the banking turns. There's no amplitude, no curved line, no surrender to the music's sweep and billow. But then it's the very narrowness of the bandwidth to which Clark confines himself that gives the work its intensity, and there's a humming interplay between his stark choreographic glyphs and the airy vastness of the hall.

There's a relaxing of tension at the end, as Kate Coyne and Oxana Panchenko punch out the opening riffs of Bowie's "The Jean Genie" with stabbing little prances on pointe, and the other dancers swing into the number's sexy mannequin strut, but the main impression is of an artist endlessly reworking the same material in the hope of resolution, and perhaps redemption. For me, numbers like "Aladdin Sane", with their repetitive circuits and overwound toy dynamics, find a parallel in the scratchy self-portraits and neon epigrams of Tracey Emin. There's the same introversion, the same codifying of personal experience, the same close-focused search for meaning. A delicate, momentarily-held frieze of dancers at the end of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" is almost painful in its vulnerability, its blink-and-you-miss-it beauty.

Which is not to say that Clark doesn't respond to the Vatican-like scale of the place. Deploying his dancers at the greatest possible distance from one another, he plays stylish perspective tricks. Here's Benjamin Warbis, inches from the audience, performing a slow développé. And there, high on the walkway, so far away they don't seem to be part of the same event, are the others, stretching and throwing shapes against the darkness. Clark usually appears in his own programmes, if only for fleeting, Hitchcockian moments, as if to emphasise their autobiographical subtext. And there he is, as Bowie mugs to "Heroes" on a screen, all but invisible in a dark hoodie on the floor.

The chorus is a nice touch. Of all ages, visibly thrilled to be taking part, they advance and retreat in waves, dressed in Monty Pythonesque towelling tunics. Sometimes they lie down, legs paddling, pinned to the floor like great black moths. And if it's clear that not all of them could do the steps blindfold, their tentativeness is very human, and highlights the fluency, accomplishment and all-round otherness of the dancers.


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June 09 2011

Michael Clark Company – review

Tate Modern, London

Michael Clark's latest work was created for the vaulting industrial space of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. It is a venue that can easily swallow up a choreographer (hence the joke of the work's lowercase title, th), but here it elicits Clark's best choreography in years.

The evening opens with a massed chorus of 48 dancers. None are professionals. While they may represent Clark's nod to the Tate's history of audience-participation installations, they are also his first-ever corps de ballet. And Clark clearly knows how to choreograph for a crowd. Although the material is restricted to geometric walking patterns and small, hieratic gestures, the rhythmic tension and subtly calibrated detail have his imprint all over them. Set against the insistent music of Relaxed Muscle (aka Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley), the tension between classical form and rock energy does not just fill the hall, it reverberates thrillingly against its walls.

Even when Clark strips the choreography down to his own 12 dancers, he does not lose that sense of the monumental. Irradiated, almost deified by the austere glow of Charles Atlas's lighting, the dancers appear from all points around the performing space, some of them moving on the bridge across the hall, and echoing the movements of those below. The choreography is linear, taut, mysterious, with the dancers drawn into complex enfolding duets, or holding angelically rapt balances against the churning sounds of Bowie, Kraftwerk and Pulp.

As pure movement, this is vintage Clark, but even better is his handling of the space. Working on this scale releases the ecstatic quality of his choreography – a single running dancer takes on heroic levels of drama here – while our proximity to the action makes a flashing sequence of jetes feel like it's being branded on to our eyes.

Rating: 4/5


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May 24 2011

Barbican unveils Olympics arts festival

Programme includes theatre productions starring Juliette Binoche and Cate Blanchett, and major Bauhaus exhibition

The Barbican arts centre in London will celebrate next year's Olympics with an "unparalleled" lineup of international stars, including the actors Juliette Binoche and Cate Blanchett; stage directors Yukio Ninagawa and Peter Sellars; and the first UK performance of Einstein on the Beach, the opera that four decades ago made the reputations of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson.

The centre will host the biggest exhibition in the UK for 40 years on the Bauhaus design school, which flourished in the 1920s and early 30s.

"In 2012, London welcomes the world for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Barbican will be at the forefront of that international moment with an extraordinary range of cultural experiences for all," said Barbican director Sir Nicholas Kenyon.

He predicted that London will "punch above its weight" in the arts festival, and promised "something for everyone", both within the concrete bunker of its Barbican home and in many events across the capital.

"This is not an imported rent-a-festival that is happening all through the world. It is a real collection of things that we believe in that represent the Barbican values."

Kenyon can afford his starry spending spree because the Barbican – whose core funding comes from the City of London – will receive a special grant of £700,000 from the London Olympics organisers to join the nationwide arts festival planned to coincide with the Games.

The Barbican also pulled off a funding coup recognising its eclectic programming – which is both popular and critically acclaimed – when it won a substantial increase in Arts Council funding at a time when hundreds of other organisations were being slashed.

Programme director Louise Jeffreys said the Barbican represented the Bauhaus principles in breaking down divisions between art forms. "We continue to push forward the pioneering spirit. In 2012 stars of stage and screen will rub shoulders with first-timers, international artists will meet local people, and the traditional will meet the new."

The Bauhaus exhibition, Art as Life, will track the design school from its founding in 1919 by Walter Gropius, to its last director, the architect Mies van der Rohe, and its forced closure in 1933 by the Nazis, who detested its radical modernist ethos. The exhibition will include painting, sculpture, film, photography, textiles, ceramics and architecture.

French film star Binoche, who made an acclaimed debut on the London stage at the National Theatre in a dance piece with the choreographer Akram Khan, will return in a more conventional acting role, in Mademoiselle Julie, a new version – in French – of August Strindberg's play about seething class and sexual tensions, with costumes by couture house Lanvin.

The Australian actor Cate Blanchett, star of the 1998 film Elizabeth – and better known to a younger audience as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings – returns to the London stage after 13 years in a new version by the British playwright Martin Crimp of the German play Gross und Klein, in the role of a lonely wife implausibly deserted by her husband. The show will be a co-production between the Barbican and the Sydney theatre company Blanchett runs with her husband.

Co-productions are a feature of the programme: the Barbican is getting together with Sadler's Wells for the first time to bring in one of the most acclaimed dance companies in the world, the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in a month-long season across the two venues.

Classical stars include the New York Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw orchestra from Amsterdam, and the Kronos quartet, which will also play a concert at the Hackney Empire in east London.

Ninagawa, renowned for his take on Shakespeare, will direct a new version of Cymbeline in Japanese, and the theatre season will also include a major new production by Simon McBurney for the Complicite company.

The author and academic Toni Morrison is working with Rokia Traore, a singer and song writer from Mali, on Desdemona, a performance incorporating traditional African instruments inspired by an invisible character in Shakespeare's play, his heroine's African nurse Barbary.

Other music highlights will include the return of Sir Simon Rattle as conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra. African and western musicians will also unite in Africa Express, the collective founded by Damon Albarn, which will visit UK towns and cities on its most ambitious tour to date, with the Barbican as executive producer.


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April 30 2011

The Observer Summer Arts Calendar

Our critics pick the season's highlights: From Lady Gaga to Harry Potter, Coppélia to Tony Cragg, this summer has something for all

MAY

4 FILM The Tree of Life
The much-delayed fifth feature from director Terrence Malick, snapped up by Icon for UK release ahead of its Cannes showing, is a multi-generational drama featuring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn – and, reportedly, dinosaurs.

5 CLASSICAL From the House of the Dead
Opera North's production of Janáek's final work, directed by John Fulljames and conducted by Richard Farnes. Stars Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Alan Oke and Roderick Williams. Leeds and touring

DANCE By Singing Light/Romance Inverse

National Dance Company of Wales bring Stephen Petronio and Itzik Galili's arresting double bill to Dance City in Newcastle, with the former set to the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

6 THEATRE Shrek
Nigel Lindsay plays the lime-coloured, lovelorn ogre, with Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona and Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad, in this Anglo-American production at Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

CLASSICAL The Damnation of Faust
Ex-Python Terry Gilliam takes on the devil as director of this ENO staging of Berlioz's masterpiece, conducted by Edward Gardner and starring Peter Hoare, Christine Rice and Christopher Purves.

7 CLASSICAL Steve Reich at 75
UK premiere of Steve Reich's WTC 9/11, part of the two-day Reverberations festival at the Barbican. Then toured by the Kronos Quartet in Glasgow (13 May) and Norwich (17 May).

10 THEATRE The Cherry Orchard
Zoe Wanamaker stars; Howard Davies, who has excelled in the staging of Russian drama, directs in the National's Olivier, with a design by Bunny Christie and a translation by Andrew Upton.

11 FILM Cannes film festival
Robert De Niro heads the jury at Cannes this year, casting his eye over eagerly awaited films by Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodóvar, Lynne Ramsay and Woody Allen, whose Midnight in Paris opens the competition.

13 DANCE Royal Ballet
The season's penultimate triple bill at the ROH includes the Royal Ballet premiere of Balanchine's Ballo della regina and a new work, Live Fire Exercise, from Wayne McGregor, set to a score by Sir Michael Tippett.

FILM Attack the Block
The debut feature from Joe Cornish, of Adam and Joe fame. A "hoodie horror" about aliens landing in south London and teenage gangs uniting to fight them.

14 ART Tate St Ives
Treats at the Cornish gallery's Summer Exhibition include late paintings by Agnes Martin, installations by Martin Creed and sculpture by Naum Gabo.

16 POP Kate Bush: Director's Cut
While fans await an album of new material, the fabulously eccentric Bush has chosen to rework a selection of older songs: "The Sensual World" gains a new title and lyrics from Ulysses.

THEATRE Much Ado About Nothing
Hotly anticipated. David Tennant and Catherine Tate play the sparring lovers at Wyndham's in London. They are directed by Josie Rourke, who takes over as artistic director of the Donmar next year.

18 ART Tracey Emin: Love is What You Want
Tracey Emin needs no introduction, and quite possibly no huge solo retrospective, but this show of sculptures, photographs, films and drawings at the South Bank's Hayward Gallery will no doubt thrill her fans and infuriate her detractors alike.

19 THEATRE Lord of the Flies
William Golding's savage fable, adapted by Nigel Williams, plays in the open air until 18 June at Regent's Park theatre, which is enjoying its most imaginative era for decades.

21 ARCHITECTURE The Hepworth Gallery
The second David Chipperfield-designed gallery in two months. The Hepworth promises to be as good as the first, the Turner Contemporary in Margate. No beach in Wakefield, but a fine permanent collection of Barbara Hepworth's sculpture.

23 POP Lady Gaga: Born This Way
Two taster tracks have overtly recalled Madonna, both musically ("Born This Way") and irreligiously ("Judas"). But the proper follow-up to Monster remains this year's most eagerly awaited pop release.

27 POP Take That
Britain's best-loved manband have sold out 27 nights at the UK's vastest stadiums, with the Pet Shop Boys supporting.

JUNE

2 DANCE Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde!
Dave St-Pierre is the enfant terrible of Canadian dance and has provoked comparisons with Pina Bausch. In this production at Sadler's Wells, his 20 performers are literally and figuratively stripped naked.

3 ART The Government Art Collection
Discover which works of art your government owns; which Lowrys, Turners and Bridget Rileys hang in Downing Street. All is revealed at the Whitechapel Gallery.

4 ART Venice Biennale
Quite simply the most important international art event in the world; 82 artists in the official Giardini pavilions, with many more off site at the Arsenale. Until 27 November.

7 ARCHITECTURE Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
Usually less stuffy than its art counterpart; curated this year by a stylistic odd couple of the flamboyant postmodernist Piers Gough and the more restrained Alan Stanton.

8 DANCE Coppélia
Peter Wright's production of Coppélia with the Birmingham Royal Ballet is a funny, occasionally spooky, family ballet, set to Delibes's irresistible score. At the Lowry, Manchester, and touring.

10 POP Meltdown
Former Kink Ray Davies is this year's curator at the South Bank, recreating 60s TV show Ready Steady Go!, and springing surprises such as the Fugs. But will the Kinks reform?

CLASSICAL Aldeburgh festival
Opens with Simon Rattle and the CBSO. Premieres by Elliott Carter and Harrison Birtwistle , as well as Netia Jones's site-specific Everlasting Light, set in Sizewell. Runs until 26 June.

15 FILM Edinburgh film festival
Instead of an artistic director, EIFF has appointed guest curators, including Isabella Rossellini and Gus van Sant, who should make this year's event particularly interesting.

21 ARCHITECTURE Transport Museum Glasgow
Zaha Hadid now has several UK works to her name, but this will be her biggest public work to date, pending completion of the Olympic aquatic centre.

22 THEATRE Ghost: the musical
Matthew Warchus's production of the 1990 movie moves from Manchester to London's Piccadilly, with music by Dave Stewart. Stars Richard Fleeshman.

POP Glastonbury festival

Barring any mishaps, U2 finally lead the charge at Worthy Farm, with Beyoncé, Coldplay, the Chemical Brothers and Morrissey providing backup. NB: Dengue Fever are a band on the bill, not this year's health scare.

24 CLASSICAL Two Boys
ENO premiere of Nico Muhly's co-production with the New York Metropolitan Opera about a teenage stabbing. With a libretto by Craig Lucas, directed by Bartlett Sher and conducted by Rumon Gamba.

FILM The First Grader
When the Kenyan government introduces free primary schooling, a former Mau Mau fighter, now in his 80s, applies for an education. Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) directs, Naomie Harris co-stars in this British film which won an audience award at Tribeca.

ART Magritte: The Pleasure Principle
Still the best of the surrealists, with this first show in a generation focusing on eroticism, visual revelation and the influence of commercial design. More than 100 paintings at Tate Liverpool.

FILM Bridesmaids
In this female riposte to the stag-party-gone-wrong subgenre, produced by Judd Apatow, Saturday Night Live regular Kristen Wiig (who co-wrote the script) plays a lovelorn maid of honour ill-equipped to organise her best friend's pre-wedding rituals.

29 POP Arcade Fire
First, the Texan/Haitian/Canadian indie wunderkinder took London's O2 Arena. Now, they are taking Hyde Park, with help from Mumford & Sons, Beirut and the Vaccines.

30 ART Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography
Brassaï, Robert Capa, André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy: more than 200 works showing the astonishing impact of this single country on photojournalism, documentary, fashion and art photography. At the Royal Academy until 2 October.

THEATRE Manchester international festival
The flourishing festival will include Robert Wilson's The Life and Death of Marina Abramović and Victoria Wood's The Day We Sang, inspired by Manchester Children's Choir. Runs until 17 July.

JULY

1 ARCHITECTURE Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
Every year the Serpentine asks a famous architect to design the gallery a temporary pavilion. This year it has lured Peter Zumthor out of his Alpine lair.

3 POP Ke$ha
America's second-most outrageous starlet is back on our shores. Ke$ha's Get $leazy world tour is oversexed and over here until 13 July.

5 DANCE Sylvie Guillem
New contemporary works by William Forsythe, Mats Ek and Jiří Kylián performed by the celebrated ballerina. Essential. To 9 July at Sadler's Wells.

6 ART Thomas Struth
One of Germany's most praised photo artists comes to Whitechapel Art Gallery. Includes the celebrated Museum series and recent installations of Cape Canavarel and the Korean shipyards.

7 ART Glamour of the Gods
Hollywood portraiture from the industry's golden age, 1920-60. From Greta Garbo to Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe: portraits that transformed actors into international style icons. At the National Portrait Gallery.

8 THEATRE Double Feature
Four new plays by Sam Holcroft, DC Moore, Prasanna Puwanarajah and Tom Basden - all writers new to the National Theatre - are staged by a new ensemble in the Cottesloe.

FILM Jack Goes Boating
Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directorial debut and stars in this tale of lost souls and confused love lives in snow-bound New York. It's based on a 2007 play in which he also appeared.

12 THEATRE A Woman Killed With Kindness
In what promises to be a radical production, Katie Mitchell directs Thomas Heywood's celebrated but rarely seen play. The domestic tragedy, written in 1603, will be staged in the National's Lyttelton.

15 FILM The Deathly Hallows: Part Two
After 10 years the Harry Potter franchise reaches its denouement with a film set to keep box-offices busy.

CLASSICAL The Proms
The BBC Proms opening fortnight includes Havergal Brian's mammoth "Gothic" symphony, new conductor Juanjo Mena, soloist Steven Osborne and pianist Lang Lang. To 10 September.

POP POP Latitude
The headliners may be iffy – the National and Paolo Nutini – but Latitude in Suffolk is a sublime antidote to the mud and mayhem of other festivals. And Alan Hollinghurst is in the Lit Tent.

POP Snoop Dogg
The lazy drawl of Calvin Broadus has long been eclipsed by the rapper's multiplatform media career. It's worth savouring, as he performs 1993's Doggystyle at Manchester international festival and Lovebox Weekender.

20 DANCE Roland Petit
Triple bill of works by the French choreographer, Margot Fonteyn's lover and husband of Zizi Jeanmaire. Includes the sexy, existentialist Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. ENB at the Coliseum.

FILM Nader and Simin, A Separation
Winner of the Golden Bear award at Berlin in February, Asghar Farhadi's fine film explores class tensions in present-day Iran as a middle-class couple on the verge of separation battle over the care of an elderly relative.

26 CLASSICAL St Endellion festival
An ambitious festival in north Cornwall (stars perform for no fee). Includes Wagner's Die Walkure with Susan Bullock (30 July), which then goes to Truro's Hall for Cornwall (2 Aug).

POP Womad
Womad's organisers are on solid ground with headliners such as Baaba Maal and Rodrigo y Gabriela, but the splendour of Womad is always in the discovering.

29 FILM Horrid Henry
The popular series of children's books about a troublesome pre-teen gets the 3D treatment, with Theo Stevenson as Henry, and Anjelica Huston and Richard E Grant among the adults.

30 ART Tony Cragg
Huge retrospective for Tony Cragg, senior British sculptor, with an emphasis on the cast-art of the last decade. At the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to 6 November.

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April 11 2011

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April 10 2011

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April 01 2011

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February 25 2011

New York daredevil artists' works come to London

Exhibition honours works of Laurie Anderson, Gordon Matta-Clark and Trisha Brown on the roofs of 1970s Manhattan

The city is in the midst of a recession. Public services have been ground down to a minimal level. Buildings lie empty and money is short. This is not a bleak vision of London hit by economic crisis, but downtown New York as it was in the early 1970s.

It was into these abandoned industrial buildings, in the area that is now the unrecognisably chic SoHo, that a group of artists moved – among them the young Laurie Anderson, Gordon Matta-Clark and Trisha Brown.

Lacking money and support, their work was made from the city itself: its skyline, the very walls of the vacant warehouses and factories.

The three artists are the subject of a major exhibition opening in London next week, revealing an improvisatory artistic movement that operated without funding or commercial impetus while, 20 blocks away, Andy Warhol partied at the Factory to the backdrop of mass-produced silkscreen prints.

Brown later became established as one of the US's most significant choreographers, and Anderson as an internationally famous experimental musician. Matta-Clark died in 1978, aged 35, but his work continues to exert a powerful influence on today's artists.

Their patch of downtown New York, according to the exhibition curator, Lydia Yee, was then "desolate at night. It felt a bit like the wild west. Things were pretty dire economically but the artists had a lot of freedom. They had very little to work with – but a lot came out."

Works such as Brown's Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, for example, did exactly what you might expect: in 1970, having adapted mountain-climbing gear for the purpose, the avant garde choreographer sent her husband walking down the side of the seven-storey building where they lived, 80 Wooster Street. It was a deceptively simple work, hovering between dance, sculpture and performance art, which owed as much to John Cage as to the minimalist tradition.

Her Roof Piece (1973) placed dancers on Manhattan's skyline, inviting them to move among the rooftop landscape of water tanks, chimneys and fire escapes above the streets of SoHo.

Meanwhile, Anderson made a work called Institutional Dreams (1972-3) in which she attempted to sleep in various New York public locations, including Coney Island beach and a courtroom. And Matta-Clark created a work called Open House – recreated for the Barbican exhibition – which involved an industrial waste container installed on Greene Street, into which he inserted a series of narrow corridors and doors, and in which he invited dancers to improvise.

The exhibition will recreate some spectacular performances staged by the artists. Walking on the Wall, first staged in 1971 by Brown, features dancers strapped by ropes to a track on the ceiling. They walk on the walls, perpendicular to the floor – a disconcerting experience to watch as one's sense of vertical and horizontal is disrupted.

"New York in the 70s was Paris in the 20s," Anderson has said. "We often worked on each other's pieces and boundaries between art forms were loose." The artists lived close to each other, illegally occupying the disused lofts. "There was a confluence of ideas," said Yee, "and everybody seemed to go out with everybody else at some point."

Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s, at Barbican Art Gallery, London EC2, 2 March-22 May


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February 02 2011

My best shot: Colin Jones

Colin Jones speaks about the hardships of life as a Royal Ballet dancer and photographing Rudolf Nureyev in a pub in Fulham



January 18 2011

Zoë Dominic obituary

Dance and theatre photographer with a gift for capturing the essence of a performer

Zoë Dominic, who has died aged 90, was one of the outstanding group of dance and theatre photo- graphers – including Lord Snowdon, Angus McBean and Anthony Crickmay – who flourished in the postwar renewal of the British performing arts in the 1950s and 60s. She was a pioneer in a man's world and her talent for capturing the essence of a performer endeared her to some of the greatest stars of the age.

Dominic was the "chosen" photographer of Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith. Her career, which started around 1957, coincided with the launch of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court in London, which she documented, and, a few years later, the coming of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

Although she was retained by the Sunday Times and the Financial Times in the early 1960s, her first loyalty was always to those she photographed, and she regarded that relationship as very much a personal one. For 30 years, in her Chelsea workplace, an old artist's studio with north-facing light and a wooden floor, she would oversee every element of the process.

In pre-digital, black-and-white days, that meant many hours in the dark room after the session itself, which performers always enjoyed because of her discretion and lively mind. She only stopped working in the early 1990s after the physical demands of juggling four cameras and jumping up and down stepladders became too much.

She never lost her affection for the first camera her father gave her, a Rolleiflex, but she usually worked with Nikon or the larger Hasselblad cameras and always gave the impression that whichever one she used was an extension of her own arm; she wielded it like a violinist with a bow. She was particularly good at capturing gestures, or the rapid motion of a dancer, and used shadow to much subtler effect than, say, McBean.

An intensely private and dedicated professional, she was attracted by what she called the vulnerability of the great artist. She found common ground, for instance, in Callas and Smith. Callas, she said, feared that audiences would destroy her each time she went out to sing. Smith took Dominic with her to Canada as a kind of publicity comfort blanket when she decamped for a couple of seasons to Stratford, Ontario.

"She is the only actress I know," Dominic once told me, "who can walk in one direction and be acting with her head in the reverse direction. I've always found that hysterically funny. She has immense physical grace, which is why I like to catch her on the move ... when she feels good, and that's the ideal time to photograph anyone, she positively blossoms. She looks like a wonderful peach." Her alluring studies of a refulgent Smith as Rosalind in As You Like It, Millamant in The Way of the World and Amanda in Private Lives bear this out.

Born Zoë Denise Levi, in London, Dominic was the daughter of Lionel J Levi, a fine art dealer who specialised in French antique furniture and had a shop in Mount Street. She was educated at Francis Holland school in Regent's Park and went to a finishing school in Switzerland. She changed her name to Zoë Dominic around 1960. She first worked in the studio of the portrait photographer Vivienne, and was called on at the Royal Court for the first 10 years of its life under George Devine, Tony Richardson and William Gaskill.

There, she photographed Olivier in John Osborne's The Entertainer, Joan Plowright in Arnold Wesker's Roots (there is a wonderfully vivid picture of Plowright clowning, arms folded, hair in curlers) and Edward Bond's baby-stoning scene in Saved.

These are defining images of the modern theatre, as were her pictures of David Warner and Ian Holm in The Wars of the Roses at the RSC, Judi Dench as Sally Bowles, singing lustily in a slashed skirt, in Cabaret, and Peter Gill's DH Lawrence productions back at the Royal Court, where she uncannily conveys the grime and graininess of the performance. At the National, for Olivier, her work is an essential adjunct to any historical survey. Her portrait of Olivier as the Captain in August Strindberg's The Dance of Death tells you everything about the character and performance: it is sly, cruel, on the verge of explosion, as Olivier cocks his right arm behind his head, places his left hand on his hip and shapes up for a tarantella, like a puffed-up matador.

Her portraits of Peggy Ashcroft in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days – the performance that opened the National Theatre's Lyttelton on the South Bank in 1976 – catch, in all its glorious, fleeting evanescence, the elegance, sensuality and absurd stoicism of a woman defying the world as it consumes her.

Dominic Photography, which she ran with her younger colleague and friend Catherine Ashmore, has a library of more than 250,000 transparencies, negatives and digital files. Dominic's publications include Frederick Ashton: A Choreographer and His Ballets (1971), with John Selwyn Gilbert; John Cranko and the Stuttgart Ballet (1973); and Full Circle (1982), with Janet Baker.

She was a member of the council of the London Academy of Music and Drama, a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (where she was given the Hood medal for distinguished contribution in 1986) and was appointed OBE in 2007. A younger brother predeceased her.

Zoë Denise Dominic, photographer, born 4 July 1920; died 11 January 2011


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November 10 2010

Video | Choreographer Wayne McGregor introduces his new dance piece, FAR

The artistic director of Random Dance talks about his new work, which involves a collaboration with composer Ben Frost and installation art collective rAndom International



November 09 2010

Arts cuts: D-day in Somerset

Today, arts groups in Somerset will find out if the council's proposed 100% cut to their grants will go ahead. Could the rest of the country follow?

It's a Monday morning in the Somerset town of Taunton. White-haired women are chatting over teacakes in the Flying Aubergine West Country cafe. The river Tone is flowing prettily past a car park. And inside the Brewhouse theatre, actor Caroline Horton is on stage, wearing a silver-and-white dress that's twice as long as her body. On her head is what looks like an icicle. "Shall I do my white witch face?" she says.

Horton is starring in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, this year's Christmas production at this thriving theatre and arts centre, described last year by the Guardian's Lyn Gardner as "a crucial part of both the local and national theatre ecology". This is the first day of rehearsals, and the actors are in an excitable mood. The financial outlook for the Brewhouse, however, and for arts organisations across Somerset, is not nearly so buoyant. This south-western county, best known for rolling fields, scrumpy and picturesque market towns, is today likely to become the first in the UK to scrap outright a major portion of its arts funding.

Last week, a group of Somerset councillors proposed ending all the direct grants, totalling almost £160,000, that the council currently gives to 10 arts organisations – including the Brewhouse, other busy theatres in Frome and Strode, and Somerset Film, a production company in Bridgwater. This figure is close to half its total arts spending: the rest of the money goes towards "supporting creative industries", although the council seems vague about exactly how this is spent. The final decision on the cut will be made at a full council meeting today.

This is more than a local matter: if the cut goes ahead, and it looks likely, it could have major implications for arts organisations around the country. Many – theatres, dance groups, galleries, concert halls – depend, to some degree, on money from local councils, as well as from the regional arts councils (which are themselves having to tighten their belts: one, Arts Council England, had its budget cut by 30% in the government's comprehensive spending review). If Somerset goes ahead with such a cut, councils around the country could follow suit.

Horton, who grew up in Staffordshire, can't believe the council could cut funding to such an active local theatre like the Brewhouse, which programmes homemade productions alongside innovative touring shows. "I didn't have anything like this near me when I was growing up – if I had, it would have been so exciting. The arts is a subsidised form, yes – but that doesn't mean it's not valuable."

The councillors proposing the cut admit it could see arts groups fail – but they argue this is a necessary evil, and small beer given the council's wider, £43.6m cutbacks, under which 1,500 workers could lose their jobs over three years. Christine Lawrence, the Conservative councillor with responsibility for the arts, says they plan to let arts organisations bid for a share of the other £160,000. So these 10 arts groups would find themselves competing with each other, and with other organisations, for cash they might not get. This will make financial planning difficult, if not impossible.

"How else," says Lawrence, "are we to save money? Take it away from services for vulnerable young people? Or from the thousands of older people who come to Somerset to retire?"

For the many people opposed to the cut – and several hundred protestors turned up at the council last week, including the actor Samuel West and the conductor Charles Hazlewood – the question is one of proportion. Local government spending was slashed in the comprehensive spending review by 26%, so these companies were braced for cuts. But the protesters argue that they should be in the region of 30%, in line with that overall reduction.

"The cut they're proposing," says Hazlewood, who lives in the area, "is just 0.0004% of the council's total spend. And yet those 10 companies bring in more than £3.5m in revenue to the county. It's just horrifying: there isn't enough going on arts-wise in the West Country as it is."

West is passionate about protecting the theatre scene outside London, which is not only where some top-class touring and producing companies – such as Kneehigh and Paines Plough – are based, but is also where many young fringe companies cut their teeth. "Not everyone in theatre started in Somerset," West says, "but everyone started somewhere. You take out one brick, and the rest of the structure can so easily fall."

At the Flying Aubergine, local residents, including 43-year-old priests Bob and Julia Hicks, share these concerns. "We were just talking about the cuts in the car," Julia says. "We're very worried about what they might mean for the region." Bob adds that they often go to the Brewhouse. "They do great Shakespeare productions, and bring in big names in comedy. The arts are so important, especially to a rural community. They're like the light in your life – they make life better."

Robert Miles, the Brewhouse's artistic director, says the £27,300 grant the venue stands to lose won't directly cause its fall – but he is concerned it could lead other funding bodies to lose confidence in the theatre. "Our great worry," he says, "is that we lose the leverage the council's funding gives us with other funding partners, like Arts Council England. This could be the start of death by a thousand cuts."

The cut could force Miles to reduce the variety and quality of programming – a great loss to the local audience, many of whom, he says, don't have the money or the inclination to drive to larger theatres in Bristol or London.

In a church hall in South Petherton, a group of parents and children seem to agree. They are taking part in a dance workshop for under-fives, organised by dancer Hannah Lefeuvre, and commissioned by Take Art, a countywide arts agency, based in a converted barn. The children rush around, clutching cuddly owls and crawling under their mothers' legs as if through a dark forest.

But Take Art might soon have to reduce the number of schemes like this, as it's facing a £49,300 cut. Kirstin Len, who has been bringing her three-year-old Tessa for more than a year, is horrified. "This class is a bit of magic for Tessa," she says, "and such an important part of her development. I've lived in Paris and Berlin and I've never found anything like this class. It's horrendous to think it could be taken away."

Ralph Lister, the agency's director, emphasises Take Art won't go under: the council funding is a relatively small part of its budget (Arts Council England is its main provider). But the company might, he says, be forced to reduce the number and quality of performances they organise in villages. "For lots of people," he says, "this might be the only experience of the arts they have all year. We're not talking high art – this is art as entertainment. But in rural communities, it can make a difference to people's lives."

Touring fringe productions and amateur dramatics societies regularly play the 166-seat theatre at Bridgwater Arts Centre. It also boasts a gallery showing work by local and emerging artists, an art room for classes, and a colourful bar that hosts live music. It's clearly run on a shoestring: the gallery carpet is old and stained. Marketing and development officer Rachel Hill is unsure how they will budget for a loss of £10,400. "We already run a tight ship," she says. "We'd probably have to reduce the number of classes. But the sad thing is that this is what many local people want to access."

On the high street is Somerset Film, whose offices – dubbed the Engine Room – house an internet cafe and film production drop-in centre. "The town seems to appreciate us," says Phil Shepherd, with a smile. "Our offices haven't been burned out yet." It stands to lose £11,500, which would put a severe strain on what it offers. Those who use its three weekly drop-in sessions and film-making classes range from teenagers to the retired, as well as people with learning difficulties. One young company, Film Tank, started out here; they are showing a 10-minute film about Bridgwater's annual carnival on BBC1 later that evening. Another user with learning difficulties has started shooting his first short film.

"The value of a place like this," says Shepherd, "is that it gives people a sense of identity – people who are isolated and disenfranchised because they live in a rural county, with no big cities or university towns. We have people who come in here, learn how to make films, and change their lives. That's why this cut, if it goes ahead, would be such a body blow."


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October 12 2010

How the 60s New York arts scene revolutionised dance

New York in the 1960s saw a creative explosion as dancers, artists, poets and musicians came together – in a church. And the dance world is still feeling the fallout

It's a sweltering September day in New York and Yvonne Rainer, one of the most iconoclastic choreographers of her generation, is having lunch in a SoHo restaurant that offers, among other mysterious and expensive things, "teenage lettuce". It's a world away from the bohemian SoHo that Rainer inhabited back in the 1960s, when the area's lofts were home to artists of every hue.

Yet Rainer, straight-backed, fiercely cogent and still creating work, remains true to the decade when downtown Manhattan was a pressure cooker of creativity and experimentation. It was a time, likened by some to 1920s Paris, when choreographers, painters, writers and musicians went on a collective mission to reinvent their art forms. And it was a time, in particular, when choreographers and visual artists formed a new bond, collaborating and influencing each other. The results changed both stage and gallery for ever.

"The art world was so much smaller then," Rainer says. "The same group of people were involved in music concerts, art events and dance concerts. It was an exhilarating time, a very heady time."

One of the key venues in this cultural explosion was a large Baptist church, presided over by a former-marine-turned-minister called Howard Moody, who had unusually hip, libertarian views of what his ministry involved. Impressed by the creative buzz emanating from Greenwich Village and beyond, Moody opened up Judson Memorial Church to local artists who needed space to exhibit, rehearse or perform but couldn't pay rent.

The minister astonished everyone with his tolerance of what went on in his church – as long as it didn't happen on a Sunday. Rainer once staged a work with naked dancers. "There was a huge scandal," she says. "I think the church was threatened with excommunication from the main Baptist organisation. But Howard didn't care."

In 1962, Rainer and a small group of passionately experimental choreographers founded the Judson Dance Theatre – but it was never just about dance. Musicians, poets and, above all, visual artists gave in to its pull, all of them participating in collective workshops and many, despite having no training, performing in works choreographed there. The most famous participant was Robert Rauschenberg. "He loved being around dancers," Rainer says. Others included sculptors and conceptual artists Robert Morris and Alex Hay. "We were a community of people who partied together, ate together, travelled together and worked together," says Hay. "I don't see anything like that today." It felt, he adds, like a family.

Pelicans and parachutes

Ideas were transmitted between dancers and artists almost by osmosis. Rauschenberg – fascinated by the idea of extending visual art into performance – was one of the first artists to try choreography. He made his debut with Pelican, in which he rollerskates dangerously around Carolyn Brown, the serene, exquisite Merce Cunningham dancer. Both are wearing parachutes that billow behind them like giant dragonfly wings. Some film of the 1963 piece survives, confirming Rainer's memory of it as an "extraordinary work".

This fascinating footage is one of the highlights of Move: Choreographing You, a new show that opens today at London's Southbank Centre. Its aim is to capture and celebrate that vital moment in the 1960s when, as curator Stephanie Rosenthal puts it, "artists began exploring the world through their bodies as well as through their eyes". As well as dance inspired by Morris's minimalist sculpture and a re-creation of an early "happening" by master assemblagist Allan Kaprow, Move boasts The Fact of the Matter, an installation by William Forsythe that makes its spectators become dancers by having them swing and clamber through a forest of gymnast rings.

Morris performed in many Judson works but also choreographed four of his own. Rainer remembers these as "beautiful pieces" in which Morris's dance language evolved through an unusual method: the performers shunting and shoving huge, free-standing wooden structures about the stage.

But the choreographers were just as fascinated by the visual artists. Rainer tried to find the dance equivalent of Morris's sculpture, his simple objects and pared-down forms. In We Shall Run, she created a seven-minute piece from 12 dancers running in patterns around the floor.

"There were just so many ideas floating around," says Lucinda Childs, another Judson choreographer. "I grabbed on to Bob Morris's minimalism but pop art was fascinating to me, too." Her solo work Carnation was the performance equivalent of one of Rauschenberg's "combines", or works assembled from seemingly random images and objects. Childs, a meticulously beautiful dancer, enacted a grave but nonsensical ritual that involved assembling a hat out of hair curlers and a colander, and making a weeping assault on a blue plastic bag.

"I was always trying to shock the others at Judson," says Deborah Hay, another choreographer. "Trying to make them go, 'Is that really dance?' It was a blast." But, despite the free trafficking of ideas and opportunities, there was one sense in which the dancers felt inferior to the artists. "They had so much more pull than us," says Rainer, "because of their contacts with powerful galleries and critics. Bob Rauschenberg was the most powerful. In fact, it was through him that we began to get invitations to perform elsewhere. In a sense, we were the dancing girls who were brought in at the tail of the meteor."

It didn't last. In the mid 60s, as pivotal members began to go off to explore their own projects, the Judson collective unravelled. But the conceptual links that were forged between them have proved much more durable. Move not only includes work from the Judson era but a huge variety of material built on its foundation in the decades that followed.

Backwards and in the nude

All the issues that so preoccupied Rauschenberg, Rainer and their peers, such as the blurred divide between artist and performer, the relationship between body and space, the possibility of turning gesture into art, remain provocatively alive in the contributions to Move – including the latest work from Spanish performance artist La Ribot, which provides a detailed list of instructions to the spectators, suggesting actions to perform as they watch.

But one of the most telling examples of the power that Judson has wielded over the contemporary art world is Trio A, a work Rainer choreographed in 1966. The piece, which will be danced at the Hayward once a week, involves a four-and-a-half-minute phrase of movement, performed in a studiedly neutral fashion with dancer or dancers averting their eyes from the audience. Over the years, it has been staged in many ways: nude, backwards, as an hour-long solo. Even at its first showing it acquired a degree of notoriety. Rainer had made the decision to have wooden slats thrown loudly on to the side of the stage throughout, causing one irritated viewer to grab a slat, tie a white hankie to it, and signal his surrender.

"Now," Rainer says, "Trio A has become a kind of fetish," and she has started keeping a catalogue of how it has been used in other people's work: there was a collection of paintings by a Norwegian artist, each one inspired by its moves; and a piece of New York performance art in which a film of Rainer dancing was screened alongside four hip-hoppers from Harlem attempting the choreography. "That was a disaster," she grins.

But Rainer also has plans of her own. Soon to turn 76, she is going to dance the work again herself, live. "It will involve a new kind of effort with grunts and groans attached," she says. "It will be a whole new form. I'm going to call it Geriatric Trio A."


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September 23 2010

Picasso's women resurrect a golden age

Victoria and Albert, London

When Lydia Lopokova, a former Diaghilev ballerina, went to see her old company perform in Paris in 1924, it was Picasso's drop curtain for the ballet Le Train Bleu that most impressed her. She found it "moving and alive". The ballet itself has long disappeared, but the drop curtain, of two women bounding along a beach, has survived. And for the first time in three decades, it's on public view, part of the V&A's magnificent celebration of Diaghilev's troupe, the Ballets Russes.

The curtain, hung from ceiling to floor, looks monumental: the rosy solidity of the women's bodies, the cloudy blue of the sky, all on an awesome scale. It's a startling reminder of the size of the stage where the ballet was premiered. But even more arresting are the tiny holes and creases on the curtain's surface – testament to the hard-working life of Diaghilev's troupe as it toured the world between 1909 and 1929.

During those years, Diaghilev famously corralled an extraordinary array of talent to collaborate on the ballets he presented, to which the 300 items in this exhibition pay scrupulous and moving tribute. There are cubist sets and costumes by Picasso, surrealist costumes from De Chirico, jewel coloured costumes from Matisse, along with contributions from Braque. All offer a fascinating slant on the artists' painterly concerns. Some are familiar, some I've never seen before – including an earnestly bizarre industrial set for the 1927 ballet Le Pas d'Acier, designed by the Russian constructivist painter Yakoulov.

The exhibition takes a chronological course through the company's history, pausing on certain individuals and themes. A whole section is devoted to Nijinsky, allowing you to ponder how a dancer whose jump became world famous could defy gravity in costumes so heavy and ornate. En route, the exhibition also accumulates vivid souvenirs from the wider historical context. Early exhibits, indicating the culture out of which the Ballets Russes was born, feature period film of the kind of overstuffed, sentimental ballets that were current before Diaghilev and his radical choreographers changed the artform for ever.

But it's the emotional power of the little objects that hits you, reminding you of the day-to-day labour that went into the creation of the Ballets Russes legend: a display of ballet shoes, stained and worn; the manuscript for Stravinsky's Firebird, crisscrossed with pencil and blue crayon; and, most touching of all, a collection of Diaghilev's personal items – his travel clock, his top hat and the opera glasses through which he watched his triumphs (and occasional disasters) take shape on stage.

Rating: 5/5


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August 24 2010

Michael Clark steps it up at Tate Modern

Why are 78 members of the public dancing around Tate's Turbine Hall? Anarchic choreographer Michael Clark explains to Andrew Dickson

In the 29 years since its oil-fired generators shuddered to a final halt, the Turbine Hall in what is now Tate Modern has been many things: the sky to Olafur Eliasson's miniature sun, an echo chamber for Bruce Nauman's sounds – even, courtesy of Doris Salcedo, an earthquake zone. But, if you've been inside the gallery recently, you'll have seen it acting as something new: what must be London's biggest dance studio.

From the bridge above, the space looks like it has been readied for a giant exercise class, or a modest military parade: three geometrically patterned mats, on top of which, every Friday evening for the last seven weeks, a small army of men and women (more women than men) have been rehearsing. On the evening I visit, most are wearing leggings or shorts; one man, in a smart shirt and trousers, seems dressed for the office. They attempt a precise sequence of moves, then redo them. The music stops and starts. Everyone is concentrating very, very hard.

Peer closely and you might spot something else – dancer and choreographer Michael Clark loping around. It is his company that has just taken up residence at Tate Modern, and whose idea this has been. If he looks anxious, it's understandable: of the 86 dancers participating in his new project, to be debuted in the Turbine Hall this weekend, 78 have had no previous training (the remaining eight are Clark's own dance troupe). Most have never danced in public before, still less attempted precision choreography alongside a professional company. "It's quite challenging," he admits. "But people seem to enjoy it. I know I enjoy being challenged myself, so I assume other people do, too. It's a very exciting moment when someone makes the transition from not being able to do something to being able to do something."

Nice enough in theory, but Lisa Penny, a 34-year-old artist and picture researcher taking part, says the transformation, while enjoyable, has been anything but easy. She took ballet classes as a child, but – the odd nightclub aside – hasn't been near a dancefloor for years. Until now. "Doing this makes you realise there are certain muscles you didn't know you had," she confesses, and bursts out laughing. "After a few beers, I did the sequence we rehearsed last week at a party. But it backfired."

The angular and the robotic

Together, she and the other dancers have had just a few weeks to learn a complicated routine and perform it in front of an audience. They will be split up into three groups, one of which will dance part of the sequence in reverse. The choreography is stripped-down, but looks by no means effortless, with the angular, faintly robotic gestures and sharp, sinuous twists that Clark has made his own.

This isn't contemporary dance meets Britain's Got Talent, says curator Catherine Wood, who runs the performance programme at Tate and is herself taking part. "So much participatory art is, 'Hey, we're all in this together.' This is much more rigorous. Michael is incredibly sweet when you're talking to him, but in rehearsals he's trying to get people to do it properly."

Dance is nothing new to Tate Modern. Choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe have adapted existing work for the space, and participatory art has even become something of a signature – Carsten Höller's slides were a hit with the public in 2006; and during 2009's Long Weekend festival, the performance artist Paola Pivi assembled 1,000 people and goaded them into screaming in unison. With its hangar-like, cavernous interior, there is something inherently theatrical about the Turbine Hall. But this is the first occasion on which anyone has attempted to fill it with a completely new dance piece, or one that makes the public themselves part of the drama.

Clark's work has always trodden a line between formal classical dance and something more loose-limbed. Trained originally in traditional Scottish dance, he became a prodigy at the Royal Ballet School, then famously turned his back on the establishment by joining contemporary troupe Ballet Rambert in 1979. By 1982, he had choreographed his first show; within a few years he was creating dance with musicians including the Fall and designers such as Bodymap – all of it spoken in the cool, clean language of ballet, but combined with moves that were ruder, sexier, spunkier, punkier. One of the films that sealed his fame, Charles Atlas's Hail the New Puritan (1985–86), showed that what was happening in London's clubland was every bit as crucial to his work as anything at the Royal Ballet: made in collaboration with the performance artist Leigh Bowery, it culminates in a scene in which Clark, a seductive fallen angel, leads a mass dance-off in a club.

In the years since – his well-publicised heroin addiction and breakdown notwithstanding – Clark has frequently found inspiration outside the dance world. Atlas is a founding member of his company, and Clark has performed for the collector Anthony d'Offay and worked with the painter Peter Doig. Sometimes, indeed, it has been visual artists who brought him back from the brink: when he was out of cash, he got a job making sculptures for his friend and sometime collaborator Sarah Lucas (he wasn't much good at it, he told the Observer), while Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor both donated works to keep his company afloat in 2006.

"In Aberdeen, where I grew up, the art gallery was somewhere I went on a regular basis," he says. "I knew about Andy Warhol before I knew about the Velvet Underground. It wasn't something I was taught in Scottish dancing, or in ballet – that actually there could be ideas expressed through movement."

Wood argues that Clark's dance often feels as much like performance art as it does choreography. "Michael has always had this expanded idea of collaboration with people who design the clothes, music, objects on stage. His sensibility is so much in tune with contemporary art that it almost feels like he's an artist who just happens to work in dance."

When Clark brought his troupe to Tate Modern, it became clear that recycling an old work simply wouldn't do justice to the space. So he and his dancers set about creating a new piece, and – influenced by the choreographer Yvonne Rainer, who has worked extensively with untrained dancers – decided to get the public involved. A call went out on the Tate website last spring, and would-be dancers were invited to apply on a first-come-first-served basis. The only stipulation was that they should not have been trained, and be available for rehearsals. In mid-July, a lucky few found themselves in the Turbine Hall being put through their paces.

"Before each rehearsal, I have to be really prepared, know exactly what I'm going to ask people to do," says Clark. He laughs gently. "For dancers who know my work, it's not like that at all: decisions are put off and put off. To be prepared so far in advance is beyond my comprehension, really."

Let's fool around

Even so, things are still in a state of flux. The Tate residency will culminate next June in a new commission for the Michael Clark Company, a work that might or might not involve the public. ("We don't know what it'll be," says Wood. "I don't know if he knows yet.") Clark, ever the mischief-maker, clearly can't resist the idea of fooling around in the meantime.

Although the mass participation piece has been choreographed and rehearsed to David Bowie's It's No Game (Part 1) – the singer is a hero of Clark's, and provided the exultant climax to his most recent work, Come, Been and Gone – Clark is considering altering it all at the last minute. "I've made things to completely different pieces of music to what I've shown them to, and obviously how that piece is interpreted is completely changed." He pauses. "But I did it with my own dancers and they were like, 'Woah, maybe you shouldn't try that.'"

The amateur dancers have got more than enough to worry about just getting the choreography down before Friday. "At least it's not like Glee, thank God," mutters Penny, only half-joking. "Maybe he'll throw that in at the last minute – we'll all have to burst out singing David Bowie or something." She heads off to find her bag, flexing her arm, trying a move one last time.

• There are four free performances at Tate Modern, London SE1, this weekend. Details: tate.org.uk


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August 15 2010

Lesley-Anne Sayers obituary

My friend and colleague Lesley-Anne Sayers, who has died after a brain haemorrhage aged 52, was a vibrant scholar of dance, scenography and the visual arts.

A research fellow in dance at Roehampton University, in south-west London, she was recently appointed short-term fellow at Princeton University in the US. With the dance historian Millicent Hodson, Lesley-Anne undertook a substantial project in 2005 to recreate Sergei Diaghilev's innovative, unfinished 1925 ballet Le Pas d'Acier. Lesley-Anne built a mechanised model based on the unpublished scenario co-written by the Soviet designer Georgi Yakoulov and Sergei Prokofiev in 1925. The resulting Princeton production of Le Pas d'Acier was the first staging of the music alongside the action it was written for. Lesley-Anne's model will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of the Diaghilev exhibition due to open in September.

This project set her on a highly innovative programme of investigating the principles of reworking the choreographic heritage of ballet for contemporary dance theatre productions. From 2006 her research was based at Trinity Laban, the conservatoire for music and dance in London. When I researched and recreated Rudolf Laban's Die Grünen Clowns (1928), working with Alison Curtis-Jones on a version to be staged at Trinity Laban, Lesley-Anne directed an insightful documentary film about the process. Enthused by Laban's radical ideas, she ran a successful international conference on his work in 2008.

She was born Lesley-Anne Davis in Romford, Essex. Her family moved to north Wales when she was six. After Bodelwyddan Castle school for girls she studied drama and classics at Aberystwyth University. It was there that she met Peter Sayers, who was engaged in set design work. Together they moved to London and Lesley-Anne began her postgraduate studies at the Laban Centre (now Trinity Laban), gaining an MPhil and later a doctorate at Bristol University and the Theatre Museum, London. She married Peter in 1987.

In her short but packed career she was an associate lecturer on modern art at the Open University at Bristol and a visiting lecturer at Gloucester University. She wrote essays for the books Fifty Contemporary Choreographers (1996), Dance in the City (1997) and Soviet Society and Music Under Lenin and Stalin (2004), and reviewed books for Dance Now, Gender & History and Dance Theatre Journal. She had recently co-developed a new master's module for Trinity Laban and undertaken a project with the composer Michael Berkeley and the choreographer Melanie Clarke to rework the lost Massine/Nabokov/ Tchelitchew ballet Ode (1928).

She is survived by Peter and their sons Samuel and Louis.


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