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July 23 2013

Enfin un article qui parle de cela... moi qui s'était toujours indignée du fait que personne ne…

Enfin un article qui parle de cela... moi qui s’était toujours indignée du fait que personne ne paie les stagiaires dans les bureaux de la Genève internationale (HCR, ONU, etc.)...

Les stagiaires, carburant occulte de la Genève internationale

Les stages sont devenus incontournables, mais ils échappent à tout contrôle. Sans conditions-cadres, les jeunes se retrouvent souvent sous-payés et livrés à eux-mêmes

http://www.letemps.ch/rw/Le_Temps/Quotidien/2013/07/23/Suisse/Images/WEB_GIA_C_Veronique_Botteron_com--672x359.jpg

http://www.letemps.ch/Page/Uuid/2502c3c6-f2d1-11e2-8a12-7cce8a6fe081|0

#stage #emploi #travail #ONU #salaire #HCR #stagiaire #compensation_financière #Genève #Suisse #Genève_internationale

August 16 2012

August 15 2012

John Minihan's best photograph

'This is Samuel Beckett in a cafe in Paris. He set it all up. He wanted the picture to say: This is who I am'

I'd never heard of Samuel Beckett until he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1969. After that, I went to see some of his shows and quickly became fascinated by this Irishman living in Paris. In 1980, he came to London to direct Endgame. Sam was a recluse, with a real aversion to journalists, but an Irish porter at the Hyde Park Hotel gave me a tip-off that he was staying there. I left him a note and, when I called the hotel the next day, I got put straight through.

At our first meeting, I showed him pictures I'd taken at the wake of a woman from Athy, the Irish town where I grew up. She was called Katy Tyrrell and I took shots of her and her family for three days and two nights. Clocks were stopped, fires were put out, and the mirror was covered with a sheet. He was intrigued. Then I took several pictures of him. Sam probably thought this was the last he was going to see of me, but I don't operate like that. To my mind, a 16th of a second is nothing out of someone's life.

After that, I would photograph stagings of his plays, starring everyone from Patrick Stewart to Ian McKellen. Actors would appear for nothing, simply because the work was beautiful to perform. It was perfect for a black-and-white photographer, too. I sent Sam all the photos, and he would write me thank-you notes on postcards.

In 1985, just before his 80th birthday, Sam invited me over to Paris. We agreed to meet at his local cafe in Montparnasse at 3pm on a Sunday. I arrived at 2pm and found a secluded table by the window with good light. I can still see Sam walking towards me with a smile on his face – he knew exactly why I had chosen that spot.

We talked until 4.50pm. He mesmerised me. Daylight was quickly disappearing and I thought the moment had passed. Then Sam said: "John, would you like to take a photograph?" I got out my Rolleiflex and took three frames. They turned out better than I expected because Sam directed the whole scene. He wanted it to say: "This is who I am."

That night, I was so excited to have snapped Samuel Beckett in Paris, his chosen city, that I went out and got completely and utterly pissed.

CV

Born: Dublin, 1946.

Studied: London School of Printing and Graphic Arts.

Influences: Cecil Beaton, EO Hoppé, André Kertész.

High point: "As an apprentice on the Daily Mail, developing images and seeing them appear before my eyes."

Low point: "When I lose a subject I love, like Beckett."

Tip: "Research your subject. If it's a writer, read their books – it will tell you who they are."

• John Minihan is speaking on 27 August at the Happy Days Enniskillen Beckett festival, where his photographs are on display; 23-27 August.


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August 04 2012

Edinburgh fringe theatre roundup

Peep; Still Life; Coalition; After the Rainfall; One Hour Only

On the first day of the Edinburgh festival fringe last week – "preview Wednesday", when venue staff are still wallpapering every flat surface with posters for the month's attractions, and early-up spectators wander around trying not to feel like unworldly partygoers who arrived at the exact hour written on the invitation – I was reminded how shockingly intimate fringe theatre can be.

Nudity did it. Unblinking, close-quarters nudity. Day one at Edinburgh had in previous years cast me as a reluctant hula dancer (that was 2011's Dance Marathon) and a ranging urban troublemaker (2010's En Route, asking of its participants trespass and minor acts of graffiti). This year, hardly off the train, only just done with the great annual question of whether to get a post-journey jacket potato from Tasty Tatties or a scotch pie from Auld Jock's, I was squatting down in a peep show-style booth trying to maintain a stern and professional expression while a candid play about sex unfolded six inches from my face.

Peep was an odd production, a triptych of 20-minute playlets for which the creative team had constructed a new makeshift venue outside the Pleasance Courtyard. Four actors performed in a room little bigger than a double bed, an equatorial line of one-way glass ringing the space at waist height. Behind this sat audience members, each in their own tiny compartment. We were supposed to feel sordid, peering in on performers from our cubicles, and I did. This was especially so during the short entitled "69", a montage about the pleasures and problems associated with sex in modern Britain. At one point, without warning, the semi-clothed actors spun to the glass and hovered close, glaring – giving the audience some idea of what it's like, perhaps, for the luckless who've worked in such booths in real life.

Costume, again, was an impermanent thing across town in the white-walled confines of the Whitespace gallery. Here I saw Still Life, a one-woman show about Henrietta Moraes, Francis Bacon's famous model and muse. Sue MacLaine played Moraes, clad, sometimes, in a burgundy robe, more often in nothing at all. The audience were asked to cluster around with handed-out paper to draw pencil sketches.

"I will hold this pose for one minute," said Moraes, interrupting the story of her life to stand straight-backed. "I will hold this pose for eight minutes," she said later, explaining that Bacon had once asked for her to be photographed in just such a reclining position. The resulting pictures inspired his A Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, which sold this year at Christie's for £21m. The original photographs of Moraes, meanwhile, were sold on as porn in a Soho pub. "Ten bob each."

Written by its gutsy performer MacLaine, Still Life interwove affectionate elements of biography with a more oblique sense of what it cost to be the human starting point for lasting art. Moraes was an alcoholic and heavy drug user. Bacon made her an immortal, but his close attention might have left behind trouble. At one point in the play Moraes begged her scribbling audience: "Draw me now and see if you can get beyond almost… Show it back to me. Show me myself."

Still with the sheaves of sketch paper in my pocket, I went on to the entirely different Coalition, a political comedy at the Pleasance Dome. It presented a near-future Britain, the alliance between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats almost over, the Lib Dems in ruin. No Cameron, no Clegg, the key players here were fictional, the Lib Dems led by Matt Cooper (comedian Thom Tuck), a likable weakling so beaten down by "coalition chess" he can't really remember why there should be anything wrong with the idea of 48 new British nuclear plants. An enjoyable comic play, a little baggy at 90 minutes. Good but not great.

I still wanted great – that brilliant play, seen in its first few outings at the fringe, impressive enough to make you its missionary. Everybody! Everybody! Abandon your plans, get tickets! A single gem is enough, in week one, to make all the early-bird aimlessness and guesswork of the emergent festival worthwhile. On Thursday I saw two brilliant plays, back-to-back.

After the Rainfall told a woozily complex story that strung together ideas about colonialism, revolution, social media and, somehow, ant hills; a story of parallel lives (a scientist, a spy, a sister, a student) lived out over a span of more than 70 years. The group behind the play, Curious Directive, staged a fringe hit last year, Your Last Breath, that was similarly layered, jumping about in time to tell a story about extreme human endurance. Its high point was a memorable dance sequence involving coloured string that criss-crossed the stage.

After the Rainfall needed no similar centrepiece. Its flourishes were fainter: rolling landscape, seen from the window of a low-flying plane, summoned by a simple piece of canvas being manipulated under a spot. Such subtlety characterised script and performance, the unfairness of colonial Britain's artefact-pinching, for instance, inferred not in a lecture but in a believable conversation between strangers on a train. As well as vibrant design, a strength of this rising company is a talent for compactness. After the Rainfall achieved more in a single hour than would seem possible. I left heavy with its weight, eager to sit down and think it all through.

But no time. I was straight to the uppermost floor of the Underbelly venue on Cowgate to watch a third play in two days about sexual exposure. And One Hour Only threatened, for a minute or so, to be as intense as Peep, as solemn as Still Life. In fact it was neither; instead, a terrifically simple love story, a modern Brief Encounter, staged in a brothel with the ticking away of costly minutes threatening the growing liking between prostitute Marley (Nadia Clifford) and customer AJ (Faraz Ayub). Marley and AJ are Londoners, clever and studying to better themselves, but young and naive enough to assume that their knowing, 21st-century ease with paid-for sex will never trouble them intellectually. Of course it does – the worse, over their 60 minutes together, as they begin to fall for each other.

Written by performance poet Sabrina Mahfouz (who last year impressed with dramatic monologue Dry Ice) the play did not spend much time decrying the sex trade. That has been done well, and often, at fringes past. Instead, Mahfouz made quiet study of the strange and even hostile places like-minds can find each other out. Staged in the uppermost room of the Underbelly, a hangar-like auditorium that is arguably the least cosy at the festival, One Hour Only achieved an intimacy that surpassed even those productions put on in a mocked-up peep booth, a life drawing class. The story, not the setting, forced audience proximity here. Everyone kept leaning in closer and closer.


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Edinburgh festival diary: news and gossip

Valentina makes tea, comics pose with pets and a man plays dead for a month

T stands for tedium

Bravest performer at this year's fringe? Early shout for Valentina Ceschi, one half of the duo who perform the offbeat play Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice (Underbelly). For at least 10 minutes Ceschi mimes the role of an absent-minded, tea-making elderly lady. She slowly turns on a kettle, opens cupboard doors, closes them, turns on the kettle again… It goes on and on. In opening week it's fair to say the audience were restless. Some fell to giggles and a few, inevitably, walked out. Ceschi never once flinched. Bravo!

Live on stage? Well, dead actually

A different type of commitment is being shown this month by a supporting player in Matthew Osborn's Shopping Centre at the Gilded Balloon. A man plays dead on stage for the show's entire 55-minute running time. That'll require roughly 1,500 minutes of deadness over the course of the festival. Double bravo!

Pets win prizes

It isn't looking like a vintage year for comedians' promo posters in Edinburgh (and not just because Richard Herring, in a recent broadside against the commercialisation of the fringe, likened festival poster campaigns to "atomic warfare"). There seems to be an unexpected minor vogue for portraits of standups clutching pets: Tania Edwards holds a restless cat, Jim Jeffries a sleepy-eyed dog. Pete Johansson goes for shock, smoking a crack pipe. Loretta Maine, meanwhile, illustrates her show Bipolar with a picture of two polar bears. Mm.

Does that ring a bell?

Verbatim sporting play The Prize (Underbelly) bravely teases the Olympic bother-police by putting circular award crests on its posters. This seems to suggest, from a distance, the famous rings. If we see any stage invasions of The Prize by uniformed IOC strong-arms, you'll know why.

Hooray for Harry's hobby

As well as trialling material for his forthcoming UK tour over the first few days of the fringe, Harry Hill is also showcasing his artistic talents in his first public exhibition of paintings and sculptures, My Hobby, which opened on Friday at White Stuff and runs until 2 September. Characteristically surreal, it features celebrities depicted as you've never seen them – including Philip Schofield as Munch's The Scream (it really suits him), and Britpop stars painted on coconuts. There's also a specially commissioned interview between Hill and cult artist David Shrigley.


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August 02 2012

London arts venues report mixed fortunes during Olympic Games

London 2012 Games causing low turnout at British Museum and West End theatres but National Theatre and BFI report boom

Despite the eerily deserted streets of central London, arts and entertainments bosses are reporting very mixed fortunes during the Olympic Games. Some have seen visitor numbers plunge since the Games started, such as the British Museum where visitor numbers are down by 25% and some West End theatres down by a third, but others including the National Theatre report business as good as last year, with near full houses every night.

Although box-office figures have not yet been compiled, anecdotally many venues report that business is picking up this week as Londoners realise there are bargains to be had, and that travel – after warnings of transport chaos initially scared people into staying home – has so far been easier than before the Olympics.

Terri Paddock, editor of the Whatsonstage website, said many of their posts are reporting empty streets, and theatres surviving by heavy discounting and last-minute sales. "I live in Lambeth, work in Tottenham Court Road and am walking through the West End throughout the day and evening. I can tell you personally that I have never seen it so quiet during my 20+ years living in London," she said.

The British Film Institute is on track for a record month, with the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises sold out for the next six weeks on their giant Imax screen, and at its South Bank cinemas spectacular advance sales for its season of every Hitchcock film. "We are forecast to exceed target for attendance during the month," a spokeswoman said.

However at the British Museum, normally a heaving mass of overseas visitors in August, visitor numbers are down 25% on July/August last year, and there are plenty of tickets available on the day for the major exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World – which was expected to be one of the blockbusters of this summer. "We know this is the general picture from speaking to other venues," a spokeswoman said. "We've very deliberately scheduled the Shakespeare exhibition to run on to 25 November, and we're expecting a very different picture after the Olympics and when the schools go back. It's actually a really nice time now to visit cultural attractions, without the usual crowds and it's so easy to get around in London."

In stark contrast, at the National Theatre it has been standing room only on many nights for all their shows, with the starriest, Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens – traditionally regarded as one of Shakespeare's least appealing plays – selling out for almost all shows, and 90% sold for all the Olympics dates. George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma is doing least well, but has still already sold 60% of available tickets for the same dates.

A spokeswoman said the bulk of ticket sales are to their regulars in London and the south-east, but sales to overseas visitors wandering in on the day are healthy too, and all the free activities in and around the building on the South Bank are very well attended.

The Society of London Theatres, representing 52 theatres mainly in the West End, said numbers are picking up this week, compared to last week when many had banks of empty seats to rival any of the Olympics venues. They also report that people are recognising there are bargains to be had: business is brisk at the TKTS discount ticket booth in Leicester Square, operated by the society. Ticket sales for the Kids Week promotion, now expanded to the whole month of August, which offers free or heavily discounted tickets to under-16s accompanied by a full paying adult, are well ahead of last year – 100,000 tickets have already been sold, compared to 70,000 for the whole promotion last year.

The Tate Modern gallery has been on a roll this summer, with massive publicity for its new Tanks underground space, a string of new exhibition openings, and many of the Festival 2012 events happening around it on the South Bank. However a spokeswoman said that although the place is still buzzing, ticket sales are down for the charging exhibitions. Further down on the opposite bank Tate Britain – not helped by its main restaurant closing until next year for renovations – has also seen a sharp drop in ticket sales.

At the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, which would normally expect 20,000 people a day at this time of year, and long queues outside the gates before opening time, staff say they are "still busy, but noticeably quieter". A spokeswoman added "it makes it a really fantastic time to visit". The Museum of London also reports visitor numbers well down, and suspects that their mainly family audience was put off by the warnings of transport problems.


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July 27 2012

Seven days on stage: Will Olympic tourists sprint over to the West End?

As the curtain rises on the Olympics, London's Theatreland is on tenterhooks about ticket sales, while a new musical prepares to take wing at Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium

Late sprint?

With the Olympics getting into full swing this weekend, London's West End – and its theatres in particular – are on tenterhooks, waiting to discover whether any of the incoming tourists will make the trip across the capital to see a show. Earlier in the year, Andrew Lloyd Webber warned that the summer would be a "bloodbath" for Theatreland, with theatres left empty and ticket sales through the floor. While that doesn't seem likely to happen – according to a report we on the Stage have produced this week – there's still a big question mark over whether the influx of overseas visitors will make up for a "noticeable" dip in advanced sales.

Birdsong in Beijing

In Beijing – the last Olympic host city – an example emerged this week of the potential benefits that the Games can bring to the performing arts. China's National Stadium, better known as the Bird's Nest Olympic venue, is to host its first ever stage musical. Fascination, as it's called, will open this September and will run for three years, playing to a potential capacity of 10,000 people per show.

Less than super

You could be forgiven for not having noticed, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest TV talent show – Superstar – drew to a close this week. The final of the ITV show – held slightly strangely on Wednesday night – played to 3.3 million viewers, less than half the number that similar BBC contests have attracted. As well as not proving a massive hit with viewers, the show has also sparked a few strong opinions within the industry, with Gavin and Stacey star Joanna Page describing the contest as "insulting".

Tattoo close to the bone

Controversy in Germany, meanwhile, where the Bayreuth festival opened this week, but with one notable absentee. Yevgeny Nikitin, the bass-baritone who had been due to sing the title role in a new production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, dropped out of the event after a row centring on a Nazi tattoo emblazoned on his chest. It proved a particularly sensitive subject given the festival's (and Wagner's) historic links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

Stirling work

In Northern Ireland, the new Belfast Lyric Theatre is celebrating its nomination for the prestigious Stirling prize for architecture. The venue is up against – among others – the London Olympic Stadium for the prize, which will be announced in October. Encouragingly, William Hill has the Lyric at 4 to 1 to win, compared to 5 to 1 for the Olympic stadium.

Warehouse to courthouse

London's Donmar Warehouse theatre finds itself facing a lawsuit from David Birrell, an actor who was blinded in one of his eyes after a prop gun misfired during a show. The accident happened during the 2010 production of The Passion. He is seeking £250,000 in damages.

And finally ...

Ghost the musical, which had already announced its closure in the West End this October, will now also bid farewell to Broadway. The show will shutter in New York in August, after a run of 136 performances. Still, it's not quite the end of the road: a Dutch version opens in August, while there are also plans for a US tour and other international versions.

Follow Friday – my theatrical Twitter tips

@lyricbelfast – the official Twitter feed for Northern Ireland's only full-time producing theatre, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Some interesting extra content – pics, videos and the like – available via Twitter, plus the obligatory endless retweets of people saying nice things about the theatre.

@thebenforster – Ben Forster is the winner of ITV's search for a Jesus to appear in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Lots of thanking of his supporters going on at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if he gives an insight into rehearsals for the arena tour.

@jopage – Joanna Page, best known for her role in Gavin and Stacey, but also an established stage actress. Not a huge fan of TV talent shows, it seems, but, judging from her Twitter feed, does seem to like dogs a lot.

Alistair Smith is deputy editor of The Stage. You can follow me @smithalistair


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July 26 2012

Tino Sehgal, participatory art and the Booker prize: a week in the arts

Who's on – and off – the Man Booker longlist, varying responses to Tino Sehgal's new Turbine Hall installation and the Twitter debate about who should be paid in participatory art

The Man Booker longlist – sans Tremain, Lanchester, Amis, McEwan, Pat Barker, Banville, and, most surprisingly, Smith, was announced. Gaby Wood on the Telegraph, who was a judge on the much-criticised prize last year, welcomed the fact that the longlist supports "ambition and experiment". Justine Jordan of this parish, though bewildered by the absence of Zadie Smith (and yes, she has read it) praised the list's "eccentricity and invention". (When pressed in person she suggested that if you're going to read one book on the list, aside from the one you already have – the Mantel – it should be Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil. I'm also hearing from early readers that the Will Self is very good.)

• The new Turbine Hall installation, These Associations by Tino Sehgal, opened. I wrote a report on the work, in which participants approach members of the public and tell them a story about themselves, and Adrian Searle gave it a really enthusiastic, five-star review. Jonathan Jones offered a view on the fact that there are no official photos allowed of Sehgal's work. Alastair Sooke in the Telegraph was less enthusiastic, saying: "There is still a whiff of artifice about their stories, which feel polished and rehearsed."

• There was an interesting piece by Claire Bishop on the Guardian's comment pages about the nature of participatory art, which fed into something that had kind of been bugging me regarding what Sehgal had been saying at the press conference about anarchy and crowds and suchlike: his work is, of course, highly organised and controlled in one sense, presenting a highly wrought structure for the human interactions to take place within. Bishop addressed this. Sehgal's pieces, she wrote, "like so much other participatory art under neoliberalism, serve a double agenda: offering a popular art of and for the people, while at the same time, reminding us that today we all experience a constant pressure to perform and, moreover, this is one in which we have no choice but to participate". I sort of agree with her; on the other hand, Sehgal's work is such an elegant rebuff to the idea of monumental sculpture and such a fascinating way of looking at crowds versus individuals (let's face it, the experience of Tate Modern is usually about the individual (oneself) trying to have a moment with another individual (an artist) despite the hordes, that I'm still inclined to like it.

• This leads me to another debate about participatory art: who should, or shouldn't be paid? The "interpreters" in the Sehgal piece are not professional performers but are taking part in the piece in their free time. They are working in strict four-hour shift patterns with breaks, and paid between £8 and £9 per hour – "a matter of respect", Jessica Morgan, the Tate curator said to me. I suspect it is also a matter of good fortune, since the Tate has its Unilever sponsorship to help pay for this to happen all day every day until the end of October. But, what if you are producing You Me Bum Bum Train? Here the performers are not being paid, as Laura Barnett reported, and Equity is not pleased. It's clear that the blurring of boundaries between the audience and the performers in such works hits a bit of a nerve; are the structures of traditional theatre, including the union, fitted to tackle this kind of experimental work? Marcus Romer, artistic director of Pilot Theatre, wrote a blog arguing that performers always ought to be paid. This came out of an interesting discussion on Twitter, in which that view was challenged by Andy Field, for whose Forest Fringe performers and theatre-makers have worked for free. A flavour of his tweets on Bum Bum: "They're not working, though are they? It's not a 3-month internship or three weeks of rehearsal. You do it in your spare time."; "And what about people that volunteer to work [with] Spencer Tunick? Or Nic Green? Or who run with the Olympic torch?"; "I'm suggesting there's a difference between the demands and expectations of an actor in a play and a performer in Bum Bum."

• It's almost a month now since the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela mambo'd out of town. The debates it raises in Britain go on. A piece in Classical Music magazine was highly critical of the adulation that the Sistema receives on these shores. Marshall Marcus wrote a rejoinder on his blog. Perhaps the most penetrating piece, however, was by cellist and former Maestro judge Zoë Martlew. In several respects, she nails what's going on: she exposes the poor quality of many music-education projects in the UK and, despite her own clearly expressed scepticism at elements of Dudamania, she identifies what's good about the Sistema. "They didn't get there via PC education projects. They have achieved excellence by sheer hard work from a young age combined with an absolute love of the music they play instilled by a fully funded training system." She adds: "I find it supremely ironic that [the Simón Bolívar Orchestra], trained (in part) by volunteers from my own state-funded music generation, is now invited back here to light the classical music fire in the generation Thatcher lost."

What I'm reading

Elanor Dymott's debut novel Every Contact Leaves a Trace. It is very, very engrossing, a kind of fragmentary literary thriller set, in part, in Oxford. But it is much cleverer and more nuanced than that description suggests (the university setting is not just for colour, but becomes thematically active as the place where knowledge is sought and tested). Highly recommended as pacy holiday reading that's also deeply thoughtful and very smart.


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July 21 2012

Timon of Athens; Peace Camp; The Only True History of Lizzie Finn – review

Olivier, London; Cuckmere Haven, Sussex, and other venues; Southwark Playhouse, London

Suddenly Timon of Athens looks essential. Nicholas Hytner's aggressively witty production, which transforms Athens into a city, the City,

of HSBC and helicopters, shows Shakespeare looking into the heart of finance and of debt. Simon Russell Beale makes the central character more coherent than ever before, and more vital, more important, more all-encompassing – part Thersites, part corporation smoothie, part Lear. The evening is a marvel.

This is a play that is rarely performed and hardly ever praised. It's not a mystery that this should be so. An argument rages about how much was written by Middleton. The drama seesaws violently: at one point Timon, snugly surrounded by fawners and flatterers, is beaming away as he puts his hand into his pocket for anyone. At the next, having discovered he is broke, and that his erstwhile "friends" will not help him, he has turned into a raging misanthropic hermit. He has been accused of having no inner life.

Objections now meet their match. Russell Beale, the most intimate and complicated of actors, absolutely melds the two parts of the play. He starts off plummy, slightly bouncing on his well-heeled shoes; he ends up wizened, stooped, the mellifluousness of his voice strained, with a woolly hat and a supermarket trolley full of his "goods". Yet he always suggests, at his smuggest or most excoriating, that he has an internal commentary going on that makes him slightly sceptical of his current mode: when he turns on his former life – "who had the world as my confectionary" – it seems not arbitrary but inevitable. Meanwhile the elasticity of his verse speaking – whole paragraphs of cursing on a single breath – sweeps his character along.

The ability of Hytner's production to press on the present is extreme, and greatly helped by Tim Hatley's design: the play opens in the new Timon wing of the National Gallery – instantly recognisable by the typography – and closes in a cardboard citizens world. There are deft and welcome transpositions of parts from male to female: let's hope this is the beginning of a trail of such roles for the beautifully wary but candid Deborah Findlay. Nick Sampson transforms himself into the essence of sycophancy, his back bent into an "S". Tom Robertson puts in a full-on funny trustafarian turn. Hilton McRae becomes the Fool to Timon's Lear and weariness personified: he announces "Here comes mankind" as if the mere thought quenches his breath. Meanwhile the banquet to which Timon summons his former flatterers to reject them with anti-food is not subtly but suitably remade: Shakespeare specifies water and stones; Hytner gives them piss and poo. Right for our times.

It's 14 years since Deborah Warner introduced angels to Euston in her Tower Project. In Peace Camp she has set out to create "a halo" around the country. For those (such as me) who are allergic to haloes, she has pulled off something better: she's made a work of the imagination that from a distance suggests that a new aurora borealis has dropped to earth.

Produced by Artichoke, the inspired two-woman team who give theatre a gloriously free-wheeling aspect, Peace Camp was co-commissioned by the London 2012 festival and City of Culture 2013 and developed by Warner in collaboration with Fiona Shaw and composer Mel Mercier. From last Thursday to today, camps have been set up in eight places along the British coast, from Godrevy in Cornwall to Valtos on the Isle of Lewis.

Every approach is different and the way you get there is part of the point. The appearance of the camp constantly changes. Faraway at dusk in Sussex it looked like an orange grin painted on the hills. Sometimes it seemed to float. Later, during a half-hour walk through red mud, with the stars covered by clouds, it vanished altogether, then bobbed up as a faint light. Only close up, yards away, did the smear of colour separate and spring into focus as an encampment with orange and white tents like hives, or opened umbrellas, lit from within, sending out a murmur of human and other noises. And it's only when you're next to the tents that you hear the words rising out of them. Love poems, recorded by Eileen Atkins, Bill Paterson and that handy crew, "members of the public". There is a Welsh folk song and Donne's The Good-Morrow, and Stevie Smith's elegant and unexpected verse ("Do other enchanted people feel as nervous/ As I do?") about what it's like being the Frog Prince. Accompanied by fog horns and pipes the poems are the same in all the tents. Still, everyone – silhouettes milling silently – pauses in front of one or another tent as if it might have a different tale. It never does; unison is what's at stake here. Pause is what Peace Camp memorably makes you do.

Spurred on by Kate Kellaway's review and by two consecutive evenings of encomia from friends, I spent a night off in the theatre. I hadn't meant to write about sparky Southwark Playhouse but must. It's so exhilarating to look into the face (a female one) of the future.

I had expected Sebastian Barry's play to be luscious and it is: the news about The Only True History of Lizzie Finn is the director, Blanche McIntyre. The concentration of what she's created, with a lovely lead performance from Shereen Martin, is exceptional: frisky but unfussy. One idea alone, beautifully realised in James Perkins's design, shows her imagination. The set remains the same: scene changes and mood shifts are managed by different forms of light. Nightlights float on water, flame comes up from the stage floor and, to mark a move from exterior to interior, a lamp is quietly placed among the actors. All the action is lambent. Blanche McIntyre will soon be working in a bigger (not necessarily better) theatre. One day she will have a theatre of her own.


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Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 – review

Royal Opera House/National Gallery, London

The National Gallery and the Royal Ballet are collaborating in an uncommon and marvellous way with Metamorphosis: Titian 2012. Leading artists (Mark Wallinger, Conrad Shawcross, Chris Ofili) and more than a dozen of our finest poets (including Seamus Heaney, Christopher Reid and Simon Armitage), along with seven choreographers (Kim Brandstrup, Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and others), not to leave out three composers (Mark-Anthony Turnage, Nico Muhly and Jonathan Dove), have been commissioned to produce Titian-inspired work and, specifically, pieces relating to paintings of Diana and Actaeon.

The National Gallery's exhibition is a stimulating homage. The tricky thing is to resist judging the differing responses as rivals – the show is not a compeTitian. And actually there should be no contest, because Titian's three great paintings hold supreme sway and define Diana. In Diana and Callisto (1556-59) she's a figure of voluptuous ruthlessness, her pointed finger like a lightning conductor. In Diana and Actaeon (1556-59) her flesh looks soft but her look is as hard as the pearls she wears. In The Death of Actaeon (1559-75) she is a murderous force of nature. The paintings have spurred on splendid poetry but are less obvious as a basis for ballet – Diana and her comely entourage could not look less like ballerinas.

Yet at the Royal Opera House, as the curtain goes up on Conrad Shawcross's predatory, grey metal sculpture of Diana – like a praying mantis dominating the stage – it seems not only bold but prudent to have travelled such a distance from Titian. I love Shawcross's crazy, imaginative presumption in Machina. He has translated Diana's mettle to metal and her imperious finger into a robotic proboscis – at the tip of which a light burns like a cigarette in the dark. His Diana is pure intent, as she revolves and evolves to become part of the dance.

Kim Brandstrup and Wayne McGregor's choreography is at once miraculously sensual and, intermittently, mechanical. Carlos Acosta is at his sensational best, conveying ecstasy and sorrow, dancing with a galvanising Edward Watson against a background of fog, and alone with the machine as it turns against him. Nico Muhly's music is a beautiful mixture of trance and foreboding.

In Trespass, the second of three dances, Mark Wallinger's mirrored core of a set makes Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon's choreography seem busier. The inventive dancing complements Mark-Anthony Turnage's agile, driven, percussive score. And there is some virtuoso human sculpture, making it appear easy to be a figurehead standing on another dancer as prow. The fabulous costumes look as if sequined stars have been stitched into flesh. Trespass is intriguing, but I failed to see the piece as voyeuristic, as apparently intended.

Might too many choreographers spoil Diana's aim? Diana and Actaeon, choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett and Jonathan Watkins, is the most narrative-dependent of the dances. After Actaeon sees Diana naked, in a fury she turns him into a stag and his hounds kill him. Chris Ofili sets Ovid's story in a tropical paradise with a decorative 60s feel. A false move, because it shifts visceral tragedy into fey inconsequence. Similarly, although the hounds are wittily choreographed, they have a pantomime feel. And while Jonathan Dove's incantatory music is beautifully sung, it is impossible to hear the libretto. Still, the principals are again impeccable. Federico Bonelli's dashing, purple-suited Actaeon has a matador's grace. Marianela Nuñez's terrific Diana has jittery orange feet, red hair, golden breasts and neurotic energy. She resembles a flame thrower, her body the flame. And after Actaeon's annihilation, she shows what it means to dance on someone's grave.


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June 19 2012

Actaeon stations: Chris Ofili and the Royal Ballet

Chris Ofili has spent two years creating sets and costumes for an epic ballet inspired by Titian. What did he learn?

Chris Ofili comes with a seemingly gold-plated reputation: 1998 Turner prize winner, British representative at the 50th Venice Biennale, paintings held in some of the world's great collections. But two years ago, when he agreed to design a new production for the Royal Ballet, he suffered a flash of paranoia. "I was genuinely scared," he says. "If you fall flat on your face there, you break every bone in your body. You're not going to walk away."

And Ofili could think of a dozen reasons why he might fail. During most of his career, he had worked as a solitary and self-contained artist. He had never created designs for the stage before, let alone for ballet; and he'd certainly never been involved in an enterprise that promised – or threatened – to be as vast, crowded and competitive as Metamorphosis: Titian 2012.

Metamorphosis is the brainchild of the National Gallery curator Minna Moore Ede, who felt the Cultural Olympiad should be marked by some kind of grand Diaghilevean multi-genre collaboration. As a starting point, she proposed three Titian masterpieces depicting stories from Ovid's epic poem Metamorphoses: Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon, and Diana and Callisto. To accompany the literary strand of the project, in which three poets are writing contemporary responses to the works, the Royal Ballet is creating a three-part Titian ballet, with designs by a trio of major artists.

Moore Ede was determined to bring together radically different artists. She believed the scale and energy of Ofili's paintings made him a natural choice, but to offset his work's bacchanalian life force, she opted for the very precise sensibility of sculptor Conrad Shawcross, and a wild card in the form of the reliably unpredictable conceptual artist Mark Wallinger.

Already, that trio added up to an irrepressible mix. But Monica Mason, the Royal's director, had even bigger ambitions. Due to retire at the end of this July, she wanted Metamorphosis to be a farewell present to the seven choreographers with whom she had worked most closely, dividing them into a trio and two pairs. Three very different musical talents – Jonathan Dove, Nico Muhly and Mark-Anthony Turnage – were then asked to compose a score for each part.

"Until the curtain goes up," says Moore Ede, "no one has any idea how it will work." Ofili, speaking at the Victoria Miro gallery in London, can't wait. "This audience is really going to get their money's worth," he says, grinning. "I like Monica's attitude: 'I'm leaving now, so it's all yours. Make a mess and tidy up after yourselves.'"

Ofili was less jokey when he was first teamed up with his three choreographers: Will Tuckett, Liam Scarlett and Jonathan Watkins. He admits to deliberately stalling his way through most of the first year.

"I felt it just wasn't my world. I didn't have anything significant to contribute that wouldn't make me utterly embarrassed." Not only was he inhibited by his ignorance of ballet design, he was daunted by having to measure up to the Titians, feeling that, as the only contemporary painter involved, his work would be most directly compared to the master's. "Honestly, it felt like lambs to the slaughter."

So he turned to Titian's source material: Ovid's story about the young hunter Actaeon, who spies on the virgin goddess Diana while she is bathing with her nymphs; as a punishment, he is turned into a stag and torn apart by his own hounds. Ofili found it a "genuinely gripping read. All of its themes – desire, temptation, pride, beauty, the joy of the kill – felt relevant. The project got into my veins as a story." His confidence was boosted by his first serious meeting with the choreographers, who were all interested in staying close to Ovid's narrative. "We got on well, and it was easy to decide between us which were the most important elements of the story."

Ofili produces a photograph of the backdrop he designed. On one side is Diana, standing beneath her signature crescent moon and a giant curving phallus ("the male burden of desire"). On the other side, nymphs ripple upwards from a bubbling stream. Figures, landscape and symbolism metamorphose into each other with a fluidity reminiscent of Blake, an artist Ofili regards as one of his "torchbearers". But the design is also influenced by the landscape of Trinidad, where Ofili now lives. "There are waterfalls there that lie deep in the forest," he says. "Often when I go walking there, I hear voices of people I can't see." It made him think of Actaeon walking through a forest that was alive with his own sexual fantasies.

Most artists leave the actual painting of the backdrop to professional set-painters. But Ofili opted to do it himself, by hand. "The scale is amazing," he says. "When you first see the stage, that's what gives you the clutch in the intestines." It took him four weeks and the technical staff at the Royal Opera House thought he was mad. Yet, says Ofili, "hands down, it was one of the best painting experiences of my life".

He had an equally good time with the costumes. His first instinct was to take inspiration from Picasso and the "crazy" sculptural creations he created for Erik Satie's 1917 cubist ballet Parade. But the more time Ofili spent around the Royal's dancers, the more he wanted to ensure they could move freely. "I wanted them to feel comfortable, so they could push themselves."

He opted for all-in-one leotard and tights, customised for each character with head-dresses, cloaks, jackets, body hair, and handheld puppet heads for the hounds. He regards the work of the costume department, who converted his sketches into moving, breathing outfits, as little short of genius. But it's the dancers who impressed him most. "One night," he says, "I was standing in the wings and this girl came off stage. She'd looked amazing while she was dancing: shiny and happy. But as she came off she was crying. She said she was in agony, she had flu, she had a new baby and her nose was running like a little child's. Then she went back on and the light just flushed back into her. I thought, 'This is extraordinary.'"

Their bodies fascinate Ofili, too. Marianela Núñez is dancing Diana and he has become obsessed by her back. "The muscles are so alive, so expressive – it's like a face." As for the dancers' feet, he winces at the thought of all the blisters, blood and bunions he has witnessed. "Don't get me started. I had no idea feet could look like that."

When the project was first proposed, Ofili fretted about spending so much time away from work he was already absorbed in. "I knew it was going to be a huge brain-drain." But the intimacy and the fun of collaboration have been a revelation; he hadn't realised how much he would learn, nor how natural the transition from studio to theatre would eventually feel. "Working for the stage," he says, "you're playing a game of pretend. The curtain opens, the audience is absorbed for a period of time. That's very close to what I do as a painter. I make stuff up and invite people to look at it, and then off they go. I like that. I like how simple it is. I like how very wonderful it can be."

The details

The ballet
Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is at the Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), in rep 14-20 July

The exhibition
The Titians will be shown at the National Gallery, London WC2, with sets and costumes created for the ballet from 11 July to 23 September

The screening
The 16 July performance will be simultaneously relayed to a large screen at Trafalgar Square, and to 18 other venues across the UK


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June 18 2012

Yinka Shonibare's ballerina twirls into action above Covent Garden

Artwork commissioned by the Royal Opera House will pirouette above crowds before opera and ballet performances

From this week, and for at least the next five years, if there is an opera or ballet on at Covent Garden, Yinka Shonibare's ballerina on the corner of the building will swirl gracefully into animation, turning slowly on one impossibly long, silk-shod foot, encased in the bubble of her own small world.

"I wanted to make a playful piece, a work that children would like, that would be somehow dreamlike, a figure of fantasy that would draw people into the building," the artist said, smiling up at her in the workshop in south London where his original sketch has been brought to life. "She's also like a lifesize version of those little dancers you get in jewellery boxes."

She may also give spectators an uneasy sense of vertigo. When she is unveiled high above one of the busiest areas of the market, the corner of Russell Street, the vertical wall will become her stage. She will pirouette parallel to the pavement below, and on her shoulders is not the typical dancer's immaculately coiffed head, but a turning Victorian globe of the world.

The Royal Opera House has wanted to commission a piece of contemporary art for the dullest corner of its building since the extension was completed in the 1990s. Shonibare first worked with the Royal Ballet on a film, Odile and Odette, the white and black swans of Swan Lake, and will return at the end of August to curate a weekend festival embracing African culture. He was invited to come up with an idea for the wall after being shown the blank space.

"I had a bit of a panic first about what I could do – and then I saw a photograph of Margot Fonteyn, in this exact pose, and that gave me my idea.

"But I wanted to make her a metaphor for humanity, for inclusiveness, not just a portrait. That is why she has a globe for a head, she is very obviously mixed race, and she wears Indonesian patterned cloth – she has become a universal figure."

Her body is fibreglass but was cast from a sculpture of a real dancer, Melissa Hamilton, a soloist who is regarded as a rising star with the Royal Ballet.

The bubble-like sphere that shelters her was made by a firm in Italy that specialises in aquariums. The company also made the gigantic bottle to hold Shonibare's scale model of Nelson's HMS Victory, which has sailed off the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and moored permanently – after a major public appeal – at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich. There is now a small memorial to the ship and the artist in a corner of the factory floor, his studio assistant revealed.

A lot will be going on in the streets below Shonibare's serene ballerina, particularly late on Friday and Saturday nights.

"What will she think of the people below her?" he wondered. "I think she will be thinking 'You lot stop fighting. Why can't you be magical like me – and dance?'"


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May 27 2012

My muse and me

How does an artist pick a muse? And what's it like to be one? Laura Barnett finds out from a choreographer, a novelist, a painter – and the people who inspire them

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Lauren Cuthbertson

In 2010, when choreographer Christopher Wheeldon began working on his acclaimed version of Alice in Wonderland for the Royal Ballet, he had just one ballerina in mind for the lead role: Lauren Cuthbertson. "I'd worked with her a couple of times at the Royal Ballet School when she was about 16," Wheeldon says, "and again when she was in the corps de ballet. Even then I thought, 'This kid's really got something."' Wheeldon, who at 39 is 12 years older than Cuthbertson, adds: "She has an effortlessness, a way of making whatever she's doing on stage seem inevitable."

There was just one problem: Cuthbertson had been out of action for a year with glandular fever, and was having to sit out rehearsals. So Wheeldon began working with several other ballerinas, while still holding out for Cuthbertson. "There's a kind of wonderment in her performance that I thought was exactly right for Alice. I didn't want it to feel uncomfortable having an adult acting a child – it needed to be an adult who was still in touch with their inner child."

When Cuthbertson was well enough, they began creating the character. Wheeldon had a rough idea: "I wanted her to be unlike any other Alice we'd seen before, while staying true to the story." But he was keen for Cuthbertson to bring her own ideas. "There was trust there," says Cuthbertson. "I would get a feeling of what he wanted and bring something to the table he hadn't thought of. When you're creating a narrative ballet like Alice, you want even the smallest details – the moments, say, when Alice looks at the White Rabbit – to make sense. So if something didn't make sense to me, I would tell Chris, and we would work on it, over and over, until it did."

Their relationship, she says, was intense and instinctive. "I could tell what Chris wanted just by a look or a twitch. I didn't need coffee or Ribena. He feeds energy. We were just playing around with things and having a giggle." Wheeldon agrees. "It was, 'Let's play around and discover who this character is.'"

Wheeldon finds the word "muse" apt. "My definition," he says, "is somebody you work with, probably on a regular basis, who inspires you and informs the way you work in a surprising, unusual way." He draws a firm line, however, between this definition and the sexually predatory connotations that surround some of the great classical choreographers, such as George Balanchine (who married five of his ballerinas) and Frederick Ashton (who, though now widely believed to have been gay, was obsessed with his muse, Margot Fonteyn).

"Ashton said you have to be a little bit in love with your dancers to create beauty," Wheeldon says. "There's something in that, but for me it's a different kind of love: a connection on a childlike level. It's about saying, like kids on holiday, 'Let's go out and build sandcastles.' It's certainly not about sleeping together."

Wheeldon and Cuthbertson are working together again, on Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, a dance series inspired by Titian paintings – and hope their professional relationship will last a long time. "At the end of my career," says Wheeldon, "if I can look back and say Lauren was my muse, I'll consider myself very lucky."

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is at the Royal Opera House, London WC1 (020-7304 4000), from 14 July.

Writer Philip Hensher and Zaved Mahmood

Writers are often told to write what they know. But for his ninth novel, Scenes from Early Life, Philip Hensher turned the maxim on its head: the novel is a semi-fictionalised, first-person account not of his own childhood but of his Bangladeshi husband's, the human rights lawyer Zaved Mahmood.

From the moment they met a decade ago, Hensher has been fascinated by Mahmood's early life in Dhaka, growing up in the shadow of the 1971 war of independence that led to the formation of Bangladesh. "I was always saying, 'Go on, tell me more.' There were moments that were very much like my own childhood – we watched the same TV programmes, for instance – and other moments that were utterly different. There was also the fact that when I was a child, whenever I couldn't finish my food, my grandmother would say, 'Think of the starving children of Bangladesh.' If I'd known I was going to end up married to one, I'd have had a much snappier comeback."

Hensher began thinking that someone really ought to get Mahmood's recollections on paper. Deciding that he was just the man, he sat down with his husband for a series of formal interviews, at dinner times and during a six-hour train journey through Germany. Only when Hensher had finished the first draft did he show it to Mahmood, who couldn't believe how accurate it was. "I was so proud of him," Mahmood says. "The book actually took me back to my childhood, my old familiar life, in a very nice way. I only asked him to change a few things. I felt my family had come across a bit like royalty, when actually we were much more middle-class. But otherwise, it felt amazingly true. It was very nostalgic."

Neither think the term "muse" is quite right. "It's a sort of Alexander McQueen word," says Hensher, referring to the late fashion designer whose main muse was the stylist Isabella Blow. "It suggests you go out looking for someone to inspire you, but that's not how it is with Zav, although it's true that everything I've written has been, to some degree, for him. When I write something funny, I often think, 'Is this going to make Zav laugh?' But 'muse' seems a bit grandiose. Zav is more of a comfortable presence."

Mahmood is, however, intrigued by the parallels between their relationship and famous artist-muse married couples; Picasso and Jacqueline Roque, for instance. But he thinks the most useful definition of "muse" lies in the idea of emotional support. "Without that," he says, "it's very difficult for an artist to move forward. Philip supports my own work in the same way. He is very sympathetic about the way I'm leading my life and vice versa."

Hensher does see Mahmood as a source of wider inspiration, though. "It's interesting thinking about famous painters and the way they interacted with their muses," he says. "I did think of this book as a portrait of somebody I know really well, but with a range of ideas and a world view that isn't the same as mine. That's always a good thing as a writer – to put yourself in somebody else's shoes."

Scenes from Early Life is published by Fourth Estate.

Painter Chantal Joffe and Megan Watkins

Megan Watkins first caught painter Chantal Joffe's eye at the nursery their children were both attending. Joffe's daughter Esme had been there a few months, but Watkins's son Marcel was just starting. Joffe couldn't help staring. "Marcel was wearing a yellow raincoat," she says, "and Megan looked like a character from a book. I kept trying to smile at her, but she was completely caught up in the agony of separation. They both looked somehow naked in their grief."

Joffe was intrigued; when she saw Watkins again a few months later wearing a pair of red shoes, she decided to ask if she could paint her in them. Watkins, however, misunderstood. "Chantal said, 'Would you sit?' I thought she meant 'babysit', so I said yes straight away. Then Chantal explained that she wanted me to sit for a portrait. I still said yes, but I had some reservations. I didn't really know what sitting would involve, and I wasn't sure what it was about me that she found intriguing."

Joffe had never asked a stranger to sit for her before. Until then, she had mainly been using photographs of fashion models cut from magazines as the basis for her paintings. But her instinctive painterly attraction to Watkins has now produced 10 portraits. In several, Watkins is shown as pale and brightly blue-eyed, with an air of quiet stillness. Her capacity to be still, says Joffe, is one of Watkins's best qualities. "She drifts into her own world quite easily and, unlike some people, she doesn't care what you do with her image. She's not going, 'Oh, my nose isn't like that' or 'My hair's different'. It makes me feel very free."

With the models in magazines, Joffe had also enjoyed imagining each woman's life story. Instinctively, she did the same for Watkins, but turned out to be wrong. "I thought she looked quite unhappy. As we talked during sessions, I realised that wasn't the case at all. But then nobody is ever what you imagine them to be."

The concept of the "muse" carries some resonance for Joffe. "I don't know if I would use the word myself," she says, "but I do become fascinated by certain people: both Megan and the models in magazines. I'll paint them over and over, then get tired of them."

While Watkins enjoys the easy relationship they have developed ("We have these very emotional chats," she says), she thinks the dynamic might be different if she were to sit for a man. "The word 'muse' makes me think of a male-female relationship. I would have had more qualms if a man had asked to paint me. It's a very female relationship Chantal and I have: I trust her implicitly."

If the ultimate role of the muse, however, is to allow some essence of yourself to be transformed into art, then that's certainly what Watkins believes Joffe has done. "The first time I saw a finished painting," she says, "I recognised myself so strongly and powerfully, but not as I would ever have imagined. Chantal was able to put across something I hadn't recognised in myself – something evocative of the week when she painted me. The way I was feeling really came through. It was the most incredible thing."

The robber, the singer and the alcoholic

Laura de Noves

If the idealised young woman to whom Petrarch dedicated his Canzoniere did actually exist, evidence suggests she was Laura de Noves, a Frenchwoman six years the poet's junior. He first saw her in church in Avignon in 1327. The infatuation immortalised in his verses was unrequited; she married another and died in 1348 aged 38.

Victorine Meurent

For decades, the woman who posed for nine of Edouard Manet's paintings (including Déjeuner sur l'Herbe and Olympia, detail above, which caused a stir in 1863 for its depiction of , naked and brazenly enticing) was dismissed as an alcoholic and prostitute. But art historian Eunice Lipton now argues that Meurent was a talented artist in her own right.

Kiki de Montparnasse

With her trim dark eyebrows and moon-white skin, the singer, actor and artist Alice Prin (who preferred the moniker Kiki de Montparnasse) inspired the surrealists of 1920s Paris, from Man Ray to Jean Cocteau.

Saskia van Uylenburgh

Rembrandt married Van Uylenburgh, daughter of a Dutch mayor, in 1634. The couple had four children, only one of whom – their son, Titus – survived. She died soon after he was born, at the age of 29, but not before sitting for some of her husband's most radiant portraits.

George Dyer

According to popular legend, Francis Bacon met the man who would become his lover when Dyer attempted to rob his house in 1963. Their relationship was tempestuous, but resulted in some of Bacon's most searing portraits, painted during Dyer's life and after his death in 1971 from a drink and drugs overdose.


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May 20 2012

This week's cultural highlights: The Raid and Bath festival jazz weekend

Our critics' picks of this week's openings, plus your last chance to see and what to book now

• Which cultural events are in your diary this week? Tell us in the comments below

Opening this week

Theatre

Wah! Wah! Girls
British musical meets Bollywood in new love-against-the-odds show set in the East End of London with a cast of 14, almost all British Asians and a Polish handyman. Peacock,London, Thursday to 23 June.

Posh
Laura Wade has updated her Royal Court hit to point the spotlight once again on the Oxbridge dining clubs that spawned the posh boys currently in power. Duke of Yorks theatre, London, until 4 August.

Betrayal
John Simm stars in Harold Pinter's semi-autobiographical play about an adulterous love affair. The power of the piece is that it works backwards from its bitter end to the moment the affair first sparked. Crucible, Sheffield, until 9 June.

Film

The Raid (dir. Gareth Evans)
Brilliant martial arts bulletfest from Indonesia that puts western action movies to shame. Welsh director Evans orchestrates nail-biting sequences. Out now.

Dance

The Royal Ballet Ballo Della Regina and La Sylphide
Romantic illusion and virtuosity combine in this double bill of works by George Balanchine and August Bournonville. Royal Opera House, London, in rep from Monday until 15 June.

Emio Greco/PC: Rocco
Dance is reconfigured as a boxing match in this new work from Emio Greco and Pieter C Scholten, inspired by Visconti's film Rocco and His Brothers, about a prostitute who brings trouble to the siblings. Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London , Tuesday and Wednesday.

Classical

Caligula
The British premiere of Detlev Glanert's 2005 opera based upon the play by Albert Camus. Peter Coleman-Wright is the crazed Roman emperor in Benedict Andrews's production for ENO, with Ryan Wigglesworth conducting. Coliseum, London, Friday until 14 June.

Philip Glass at 75
The latest instalment of Glasgow survey of minimalism pays a birthday tribute to one of its founding fathers, including the British premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Kronos Quartet playing his film score to Bela Lugosi's Dracula, and the man himself giving a solo piano recital. Royal Concert Hall and City Halls, Glasgow (0141-353 8000), Thursday to Saturday.

Jazz

Arve Henriksen/Trio Mediaeval
Norwegian trumpeter Henriksen has taken the ambiguous, muted sound of Miles Davis as adapted by his fellow-countryman Nils Petter Molvaer, and given it a unique contemporary spin with the help of ingenious electronics, and a world-music perspective that includes study of the ethereal Japanese shakuhachi flute. He lends his inimitable variations to the early-music vocals and plainsong of Trio Mediaeval. Sage, Gateshead, Monday. Then touring.

Visual art

The Historical Box
Dissident American art created in the aftermath of Vietnam, 1960s performance and the feminist revolution – mangled things and angry things, from a time when art thought it could make a difference. Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly, London, Wednesday to 28 July.

Pop

Japandroids
The euphoric rock duo preview forthcoming album Celebration Rock up and down the UK. Cooler, Bristol, tonight. Then touring until 29 May.

Jay-Z and Kanye West
Superstar rappers bring their Watch the Throne collaboration to London as a forerunner for gigs in Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield next month. 02, London, tonight and tomorrow.

Last chance to see

Theatre

Making Noise Quietly
Robert Holman's exquisite triptych of mini-dramas that explores what it means to be human in a violent world. Just beautiful. Donmar, London, until Saturday.

Film

Breathing (dir. Karl Markovics)
A tremendous social-realist drama from Austria directed by actor-turned-director Markovics. An orphaned teenage criminal tries to discover his mother's identity.

Classical

The Flying Dutchman
The end of the first run of ENO's new production, much praised for Edward Gardner's conducting, and for performances by James Cresswell, Orla Boylan and Stuart Skelton. Coliseum, London , until Wednesday.

Jazz

Lynne Arriale/Benny Golson
Arriale, a quietly forceful Bill Evans-influenced American pianist with a knack for unusual interpretation and evocative composing invites legendary saxist/composer Golson (the bluesy acid-jazz favourite Killer Joe is his) into her regular Convergence Quartet. Ronnie Scott's, London, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Art

Elizabeth Price
Fetishised objects, great music, scenes in galleries – and in a drowned container ship. These are digital video installations with a hardcore hi-tech sheen from the 2012 Turner prize contender. Baltic, Gateshead, until Sunday.

Pop

The Horrors
Southend-on-Sea's post-punkers conclude the UK leg of their seemingly endless world tour. Brixton Academy, Friday.

Book now

Theatre

Fuerza Bruta
Return of the rave show from the people who brought us the legendary De La Guarda. This isn't in the same league, but if you're looking for excitement and sensation, this shouldn't disappoint.Roundhouse, London, 27 December to 26 January.

Ben Hur
An impossible feat: a stage version of the epic novel featuring sea battles, Roman orgies and chariot-racing, all on a stage the size of a postage stamp. A cast of four play 12,059 characters! Should be fun. Watermill, Newbury (01635 46044), 22 June to 28 July

Dance

Flawless and English National Ballet: Time Is of the Essence
Ballet, street dance and acrobatics test out their mutual chemistry in this new collaboration choreographed by Marlon Wallen and Jenna Lee. HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London, , 1-2 JuneThen touring.

Classical

Spitalfields summer festival
This year's associate artists are the Gabrieli Consort and Players, cellist Matthew Barley and composer Talvin Singh; plus there's a wide range of choral music, from the renaissance to the present day, with new works from Alec Roth, Huw Watkins and Nicola LeFanu. Various venues, London, 8-23 June.

Jazz

Bath festival jazz weekend
This festival always features a wide-ranging jazz weekend: this year's includes saxophonist Jason Yarde's subtle duo with pianist Andrew McCormack, Courtney Pine's genre-bending Europa, pianists Stan Tracey, Tord Gustavsen, Gwilym Simcock and Zoe Rahman, along with Manchester's acclaimed young Beats & Pieces big band. Various venues, Bath, 2-4 June.

Art

Wide Open School
A hundred artists lead courses, lectures and demonstrations open to the public. Get down and dirty with the Gelitin group, take a course in queer home economics, cook offal with Yto Barrada, learn about energy not quality with Thomas Hirschhorn. Hayward, London , 11 June-11 July.

Pop

Richard Hawley
The bequiffed son of Sheffield takes his latest album, Standing at the Sky's Edge, out for an autumn jaunt. Tour begins at Holmfirth Picture House, West Yorkshire, 16 September.


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May 09 2012

Open thread: A new audience code of conduct

What should be included on our new new audience code of conduct?

We are writing a new audience code of conduct. Leo Benedictus has spoken to our arts critics and compiled their suggested list of behaviour that should be outlawed in every cinema, playhouse and concert venue across the land and judging by the comments left under his articles, this is a subject on which you have a lot to say. So, this open thread is your chance to banish antisocial audience behaviour, or at least air your bugbears. Rustling sweet papers, late comers, Tweeting; what behaviour would you like to banish? Please add your suggestions to the thread below and we'll pull the best argued and/or most popular suggestions into the list.

Here's what's been suggested so far:

Don't throw ANY liquids

Suggested by ChristyL:
'throwing away hideously overpriced beer at rock gigs is just weird. Spot fines should be instituted to enable the impoverished to have a drink.'

Ban heckling

Suggested by oldirtybusstop:
'Heckling at a stand-up show is neither expected nor acceptable. NOBODY goes to a stand-up show to hear the audience talk. If somebody interrupts they should be ejected from the club/theatre immediately. Heckling is not an art. 99% of every audience would prefer it if nobody heckled, why try and pretend that stand-up is some sort of gladiatorial arena, it's a spoken word performance not a battle to the death.'

No fondling

Suggested by David91:
'People are increasingly treating both the cinema and theatre as if they were watching at home. Hence, they text, talk, eat, sleep and, on occasions, fondle each other. It's like going back in time to the Pit at The Globe when the unwashed masses jostled each other, holding a Subway in one hand and a coke in the other'

If you're bored, leave

Suggested by Ortho:
'I've pretty much stopped going to the opera and to concerts because I don't want to pay a fortune for a seat and then have to listen to some moron in another seat talking all bloody night.'

List updated at 15:23 with suggestions from Twitter and the thread below

Respect the boundaries

Suggested on Twitter by @TonysConsultant:

Only silent cold food allowed

Suggested by katypie:
'I'd like clarity on the eating issue: what's acceptable and what's not? Clearly sweets and ice cream must be otherwise theatres wouldn't sell them. But where's the line? Not hot food, obviously. I recently had a date pull out a large baguette from a rustly paper bag while at a show and felt very embarrassed...my instinct is that anything small, discreet (noiseless) and coming in little bite-sizes is probably acceptable, but anything that borders on a meal or picnic (sandwiches!), not ok.'

No coughing or blowing noses

Suggested by joolsbaby:
'keep your bloody cold germs at home too. No one wants to hear you coughing and sniffing through a performance.'

Concentrate on the performance

Suggested on Twitter by @acwilson:


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May 08 2012

Portrait of the artist: Trisha Brown, choreographer

'Climbing trees and playing sports were my first lessons in art'

What got you started?

I grew up in Aberdeen, in Washington state, which provided a luscious green environment for an imaginative mind. I climbed trees, played sports, hunted and fished with my dad. These were my first lessons in art. I have early memories of movement while playing outside as a child – and I integrate playing into my dance. Of course, I also had formal training: I studied ballet, tap and acrobatics, although I didn't know whether I wanted to go into visual art or dance. I lived between those two until the Accumulations [a series of accumulating pieces made in the 1970s]. Now I live between them again.

What was your big breakthrough?

It was in a now infamous improvisation workshop in New York led by Anna Halprin in 1959. That's when I first got to "fly" [leaving the ground in a spectacular way]. I've been smitten with improvisation ever since: the spirit of playing, and its rhythmic structure, transports me back to my childhood days. And I've always wanted to fly.

Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?

For me, it's all connected. Anything I've done for my art has never felt like a sacrifice.

Your work is closely associated with the precepts of visual art. Are artists too often expected to conform to just one art form?

I've never been worried about what is expected of me. When I first arrived in New York, much of my work was reacting against convention, pretension, romanticism and sentimentality. It was about art. Not visual art or dance art – just art. I'm disappointed to see these distinctions creeping back in. They were dissolved in the 1960s for good reason.

What song or piece of music would work as the soundtrack to your life?

My life has been located between the notes of Laurie Anderson, Alvin Curran, John Cage, countless marching bands, Bach and recently Jean-Philippe Rameau. It's a diverse and complicated soundtrack, but it is brilliant. Maybe William Christie can conduct it.

What are you most proud of?

My work with the National Arts Council in the 1990s [meeting US politicians to advocate for arts funding]. Art reflects the world around us and what the world could become. Bringing that message to those who control funding was a labour of love.

Which other artists, in any art form, do you most admire?

My dear friend Bob Rauschenberg. There aren't enough words for me to describe the friendship we had.

Complete this sentence, please: At heart, I'm just a frustrated ...

I'm not frustrated. I've been incredibly fortunate to have a rich, varied career where I could follow my impulses.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a dancer. I've said before that I'm a bricklayer with a sense of humour. I'd like people to remember that.

In short

Born: Aberdeen, Washington, 1936.

Career: Worked with the avant-garde Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s. Formed the Trisha Brown Dance Company in 1970 and is also an accomplished artist and opera director. Her company perform on 9 May at the Brighton Dome (brightonfestival.org or 01273 709709).


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Was Bianca Jagger wrong to take flash photos at the opera?

The activist was spotted snapping away during Einstein on the Beach. In his new code of conduct for audiences, Leo Benedictus looks at what sort of behaviour is now acceptable

Last Friday, the theatre critic Mark Shenton was distracted from a five-hour performance of Philip Glass's opera Einstein on the Beach by a woman in his row taking photographs with a flash. It turned out to be Bianca Jagger. She had been snapping in defiance, Shenton claims, of complaints from those around her. Jagger has since said that others were taking pictures, too, adding that Shenton insulted and assaulted her. (He denies the latter, but admits the former with some pride.) The rules of behaviour in today's theatre audiences certainly seem to have changed. So, in the spirit of public service, and after consultation with Guardian critics, here is a new code of conduct.

1 Don't rattle your jewellery

All noise matters when you've come to listen to something. So a rustling packet in a classical concert can be as distracting as someone walking in front of a cinema screen. This makes even minor noises problematic. Vibrating phones are one example (we'll get to ringing). Vigorous page-turning is another. (In German concert halls, apparently, this is looked upon very gravely.)

Even jewellery is a common problem. "It's women who insist on wearing those multiple bangles," says our classical critic Andrew Clements, "so that every time they move their arms, which they invariably do in the quietest passages, you get extra unwanted percussion." Clements also complains about loud snoring, so if you know yourself to be a snorer, perhaps have a can of Red Bull before the show. The weak-bladdered should have half.

2 Do you really need an audioguide?

If you go to a gallery to be told what to look at, then by all means get one. But if you go along to explore, to be surprised, to linger around works that excite you, then all you have to do is, well, walk around. "Will an audioguide help you to get more?" asks art critic Jonathan Jones. "Or will it distract you from a fresh encounter with the art?"

Freedom of movement, he thinks, should be protected: stand where you like, look as long as you like, go back and look again. Anybody who objects can wait their turn. Freedom of speech, on the other hand, can be a nuisance. "What's annoying," says Jones, "is when someone loudly holds forth about a work, oblivious to strangers who are also looking. This can be distracting and destructive – even on the rare occasions when the showoff actually knows anything."

3 Talking, lateness, cameras, food, body odour

Michael Billington describes food as his "chief beef" in theatre audience etiquette, and recalls someone recently bringing a whole Chinese takeaway into The Duke of York's in London. Tim Ashley describes other people's body odour as his great bugbear, and insists other opera critics say the same. "If you're sitting next to somebody who stinks through six hours of Wagner, it can be a trial," he says. Theatre critic Lyn Gardner, meanwhile, is of the firm opinion that "people's bladders have quite clearly got weaker over the last 20 years".

There are difficult choices here. Cinemas and regional theatres often rely on confectionary sales to survive, so they do end up contributing to the rustling menace. As for lateness, there is a feeling that some venues could be far more sensitive about when they let the tardy in. After an overture is OK; between movements of a symphony is not. (Composers could start notating such moments in manuscripts, using whatever the Italian is for "latecomers".)

The principle, in short, is to avoid annoying people. So if you've annoyed somebody, you're in the wrong (and let's face it, you're never going to convince them otherwise). If somebody complains, obey them – and argue about it afterwards.

4 Your right to throw beer ends where my body begins

This observation from rock critic Caroline Sullivan is a reminder that, although gigs clearly have more relaxed rules than most other shows, there are still rules. And beer-flinging is certainly not permitted. "I experienced it most recently at Kings of Leon in Hyde Park," Sullivan says. "The entire audience expressed their enthusiasm by throwing pints over each other."

Accidental flinging also occurs, often as a consequence of lazy carrying. So if you're buying drinks for your friends, you are not allowed to transport more than three glasses at any time.

Sullivan does not object to mosh pits, though. "If you want to mosh, go down there and I'll stay at the back," she says. Her main grievance concerns her view. "Tall people really should play fair and stand at the back," she says. "I think it should be law." The practical considerations here – if a tall person has a short friend, or if he wants to mosh – have yet to be ironed out.

5 It's called "children's theatre" not "nursery"

Quite naturally, parents want to avoid spending time with their children. But the price of a ticket to a children's theatre show does not include babysitting services from those on stage.

This exercises Gardner, especially when parents look as if they know the rules but can't be bothered following them. "What they do is sit there while the show is going on, looking at their mobiles, and allowing their children to wander all over the stage," she says. By the same token, if you've taken young people to the theatre, and they are clearly bored, don't try to force them to be interested. This is unreasonable and counter-productive. "Not all theatre is good," says Gardner. "A lot of it is really rather dull."

6 Hecklers are allowed to say two unfunny things

Standup is unusual in that audiences are expected to try to spoil it. Many comedians disapprove of heckling and in bigger venues it's impractical; even so, people do sometimes shout funny things, and most comics will have a decent putdown ready if hecklers fail to reach a certain standard.

However, heckling is an art for miniaturists. If you think you've thought of something funny to say, but it doesn't get a laugh, then you need to revisit that assumption. Spoiling the performance in an attempt to save face is not the answer. Drunk people are very slow to learn this. At one Scott Capurro gig in Edinburgh, I remember a young woman having to be physically removed by staff because she would not stop interrupting (a surprise, because his audiences are often only too happy to walk out). Perhaps this punishment should be meted out more often.

7 Off means off

About 10 years ago, it became routine for venues to warn audiences to turn off their phones. About five years ago, everybody stopped noticing. This is a forgetfulness problem, in short, and it will never go away. (Phones also ring at funerals, remember.) Instead, we have to manage it. So when you turn your phone off, it should be off, not silent. This discourages you from distracting people, or yourself, with its vibrations or lights. It's tough but necessary. When staying connected is important, there could be limited exceptions. Gardner suggests that theatres should institute special rows of seats for tweeters (as happens in parts of the US).

Billington even recommends turning off your phone with time to spare. He cites the US director Bartlett Sher, who believes audiences need a while to disconnect themselves from all their everyday worries – perhaps 20 minutes. By the same rationale, you should always arrive early, as Ashley does.

8 Don't be so bloody precious

Overreacting is antisocial behaviour, too. So if somebody's annoying you, in any way, act early. Think carefully about what you hope to achieve, and – if you can achieve anything – speak kindly at an opportune moment. Don't just stew until your anger overflows.

In the theatre, where Gardner describes "a sort of war" between the old guard and the new, this is a growing problem. Star-led casting, in particular, brings in people who are not used to the environment. They are more liable to behave badly, but they are also badly needed. If you love the theatre, then you are doing it a disservice by sending them home annoyed. On the other hand, when something is being a distraction nearby, you have a duty to do something. Others further off may be equally annoyed, but powerless, so they are depending on you.

Remember that – and don't rely on having an enraged Mark Shenton at the end of every row.


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April 25 2012

Jeremy Hunt: Can't stop, off to Swan Lake

What has the Leveson inquiry revealed about Jeremy Hunt's taste in art? Did he get to Take That? And how big an N-Dubz fan is he?

On Monday, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted "With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come (Gratiano, Merchant of Venice)", a celebratory quote for Shakespeare's birthday. On Tuesday, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" might have seemed more appropriate.

Perhaps surprisingly, only two of the emails released by the Leveson inquiry this week indicated that Hunt had an interest in the arts beyond the Murdochs' BSkyB takeover bid. One, from News Corp's public affairs executive Frédéric Michel to James Murdoch, reported grabbing the culture secretary "before he went in to see Swan Lake" to discuss the bid. In another, sent later that year, Michel plaintively asked Hunt's special adviser Adam Smith whether Ed Vaizey's refusal to meet News Corp while the deal was going through meant that "you and Jeremy will not be coming to Take That on 4 July".

Between them, Take That and Swan Lake suggest that Hunt has fairly mainstream tastes – and in fact, according to the Royal Opera House, the ballet was an unusual outing; a spokesperson confirms that Hunt is not a regular. Did he or did he not see Take That at Wembley on 4 July? The band's press officer says he has no idea: "He didn't get tickets from us."

In the five years since he was made shadow culture secretary, and then culture secretary when the Tories won the 2010 election, Hunt has given the impression of someone who enjoys the arts without having a deep knowledge of – or passion for – them. To be fair, though, he seems more culturally immersed than his opposite number Harriet Harman, or the shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis.

At a meeting of the rightwing culture thinktank New Culture Forum last year, Hunt said his major policy for the arts was to encourage philanthropy. But this approach ran into trouble earlier this month, after tax relief for philanthropists was restricted in the budget. Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said the Treasury had "completely pulled the carpet from under" Hunt's attempts to encourage rich donors.

The culture secretary appears to have an interest in pop music beyond Take That: a journalist who interviewed him for the London Evening Standard last summer (shortly before the BSkyB bid failed) reported seeing a biography of N-Dubz on Hunt's desk. "Well, Tulisa is going to be gracing our screens, isn't she?" he said, of the N-Dubz member who went on to be an X Factor judge. In 2010, he revealed his classical music preferences to Guardian arts correspondent Charlotte Higgins: "I am still early Schoenberg rather than late." He also enjoys Tchaikovsky, attending Opera North's production of The Queen of Spades and ENO's Eugene Onegin, directed by Deborah Warner.

Russian literature seems to resonate with Hunt, too. He admires the poets Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova, who were dissidents during the Soviet regime, and quoted a poem by Mandelstam in his first speech as culture secretary. Then there's his passion for Japanese culture; Hunt speaks the language after teaching English there.

Like other Tories, Hunt has spoken warmly about their star signing, Tracey Emin. He attended the private view of her retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, and in his first keynote speech on the arts, cited her grafitto "I need art like I need God", sprayed on the sea wall at Margate. "Sometimes graffiti – however objectionable and anti-social it is in principle – can be very thought-provoking," he noted.

But it was culture minister Ed Vaizey rather than Hunt who schmoozed Emin. In 2009, the Guido Fawkes website reported that the pair enjoyed a three-hour lunch at Scott's of Mayfair, and she has also dined with David Cameron at No 10. All this paid off when Emin declared her support for the Tories last year: "At the moment there is a government that actually likes the arts, appreciates the arts and appreciates culture."

Hunt is an admirer of Grayson Perry, too. He went to Perry's recent exhibition at the British Museum, and has a print by the artist on his office wall – alongside a photograph of him meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger in Los Angeles. He picked another contemporary work from the Government Art Collection for his office in 2010: a Mark Wallinger painting from a 1990s series called Brown's (42 sets of silks worn by jockeys riding for racehorse owners called Brown). Alerted to this by the Guardian, the Labour-supporting Wallinger groaned: "That is a shocker. As an artist, it's very hard to vet your patrons – they generally drift rightwards as they get older anyway."

Hunt's trips to the theatre point to a taste divided between blockbusters and political theatre. He saw David Hare's indictment of New Labour, Gethsemane, as well as Lucy Prebble's Enron; the latter might have proved an uncomfortable night for a Tory, though Hunt told New Culture Forum he considered it a prime example of why theatre should keep its subsidy. He has also seen hits such as War Horse, at the National Theatre, and Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, which he attended on its West End transfer in the run-up to the election.

Hunt's most recent direct intervention in the arts world was his decision to fire Liz Forgan as chair of Arts Council England, saying that a new appointment was necessary in order to encourage greater private giving to the arts, and to help the arts sector "make the most of technological changes". John Tusa, Veronica Wadley and Peter Bazalgette have been mooted as possible successors. Whether Hunt will still be around to appoint one of them seems doubtful – unless, in the words of Take That, everything changes.

Correction 26/4/12. The article suggested that Hunt's opposite number is Labour's Dan Jarvis. In fact Jarvis is shadow culture minister. The shadow culture secretary is Harriet Harman. This has been corrected.


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April 17 2012

Cultural Olympiad: but will the tower of mist be ready?

Confused by the Cultural Olympiad? With the 2012 Games just 100 days away, Alex Needham reveals the 10 things you need to know

1 Some of it's already over

The Cultural Olympiad (CO) kicked off in 2008, described by the government as "a four-year programme of cultural activity" intended to showcase the best of British art in the run-up to the Olympic Games. Some projects have launched already, like the celebrations for Charles Dickens's 200th anniversary. And one event has not only opened but closed: David Hockney's landscapes at the Royal Academy. Ruth Mackenzie, the programme director, cleverly got round this by badging it "a countdown event".

2 London is everywhere

Even to seasoned observers, the CO can be confusing. But all will become clear (hopefully) on 26 April, when the final programme will be announced for the big finale. This is called the London 2012 festival (21 June to 9 September) even though it encompasses events all over the country.

3 Why £40m might be bad news

The CO will cost around £97m. Though some projects will be screamingly high profile, they will seem like a slow night at an arthouse cinema compared to the opening and closing ceremonies. More than 1 billion people watched the 2008 opener in China. In December, David Cameron doubled the ceremonies' budget to £81m. This is either a good sign (the plans were so great they deserved even more dosh) or a very bad one (they were so awful only a £40m cash injection could save them).

4 It will feature a very big bell

Directed by Danny Boyle, the opening ceremony, on 27 July, will last four hours and has a 12,000-strong cast and crew ranging from a rumoured Paul McCartney to schoolchildren from the Olympic boroughs. The ceremony has been titled Isles of Wonder after Caliban's speech in the Tempest. At 9pm the biggest bell (27 tonnes) ever cast in Europe will toll, inspired by the one in Boyle's recent staging of Frankenstein at the National theatre. The BBC's coverage includes a skit filmed in Buckingham Palace, starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. There will be a section celebrating the NHS; one on the suffragettes; a soundtrack by Underworld; and, finally, the lighting of the Olympic torch.

5 Perfect people needn't apply

Insiders say idiosyncratic performers were chosen for ceremonies over ones with perfect looks or voices. The director has said he is aiming for the ramshackle charm of Sydney's opener rather than Beijing's epic stage-managed slickness.

6 Musicians are not amused

Masterminded by Kim Gavin, the man behind Take That's recent live extravaganzas, the closing ceremony on 12 August will include a two-and-a-half-hour "mashup" of British music. Much to the displeasure of the Musicians' Union, everything except the vocals will be pre-recorded, which the organisers have justified by blaming everything from the weather to the shape of the stadium. The Rolling Stones, Adele and the Spice Girls have all been rumoured as possible performers – but, tragically, the Sex Pistols have said no.

7 Keith Moon can't make it

The organisers also asked whether Keith Moon, the Who's drummer, was available for the closing concert, despite the fact, as his old agent explained, he died in 1978. Perhaps, like Tupac at Coachella this year, he may appear in hologram form.


8 The mist may be cancelled

The ceremonies will be as mainstream (albeit with an edge) as possible, but there will be highbrow projects, not least Birmingham Opera's staging of Stockhausen's six-hour opera Mittwoch aus Licht (Wednesday from Light). Its finale sees a string quartet performing airborne, in four separate helicopters. Olafur Eliasson's proposed artwork Take a Deep Breath, in which people record their breathing on a website, was turned down for a £1m grant after much rightwing media mockery. There is also little sign of Anthony McCall's Column, a six-mile-high tower of mist planned for Merseyside. One of 12 commissions called Artists Taking the Lead, it is still undergoing tests thanks to fears it could endanger aircraft.

The jury is also out on Martin Creed's Work No.1197: All the Bells in a Country Rung as Quickly and as Loudly as Possible for Three Minutes, which asks everyone in the UK to ring bicycle bells, doorbells and churchbells at 8am on 27 July. Spoilsports the Central Council of Bell Ringers have declared they won't be playing.

9 Aeolus, god of wind, is coming

The strand of the CO dedicated to deaf and disabled arts has received £3m and has big plans. Pointing the way to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, a project called Boomba Down the Tyne, will mashup Geordie and Brazilian culture. Comic Laurence Clark's show, Demotivational Speaker, promises to challenge perceptions of the Paralympics by asking why everyday activities are considered inspirational when disabled people do them. And a collection of disabled theatre companies will be on Weymouth beach performing Breathe, the story of Aeolus, the Olympian god of wind.


10 The Bard travels by tube

Shakespeare will be everywhere. Even if you're not going to the British Museum's Shakespeare: Staging the World, listening to the companion show on Radio 4, or watching the BBC's all-star productions (Henry IV stars Jeremy Irons and Julie Walters), you might find Mark Rylance declaiming monologues on the tube. It's all part of the World Shakespeare Festival, produced by the RSC with partners ranging from avant garde theatremakers the Wooster Group, who are putting on Troilus and Cressida, to the equally out-there dreamthinkspeak, whose "meditation on Hamlet" is titled The Rest is Silence. Amateur theatre groups all around Britain have also been invited to put on Shakespeare plays partnered with the RSC.

Then there's Globe to Globe, in which global companies perform Shakespeare's plays in their own languages – with minimal surtitles. Love's Labour's Lost will be in British Sign Language and Cymbeline in Juba Arabic, of South Sudan. So how do you say "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" in Juba Arabic? Only 100 days to go until it all kicks off and we find out.


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April 01 2012

New faces on Sgt Pepper album cover

Amy Winehouse, JK Rowling, Noel Gallagher, Mick Jagger and the Monty Python foot to feature in update of 1967 original

British pop artist Sir Peter Blake has taken inspiration from his most famous artwork – the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club album cover – to celebrate the British cultural figures he most admires as he marks his 80th birthday.

Twiggy, Amy Winehouse, Grayson Perry, JK Rowling and even Monty Python's emblematic foot all feature in a reworked version of the 1967 cover created for his birthday celebrations.

Blake, often called the godfather of the British pop art scene, said: "I've chosen people I admire, great people and some who are dear friends.

"I had a very long list of people who I wanted to go in but couldn't fit everyone in – I think that shows how strong British culture and its legacy of the last six decades is."

Singer Noel Gallagher, formerly of Oasis, was "chuffed" to be included. "To be on there with the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Mick Jagger and Paul Weller, just those three people alone, is amazing for me as I wouldn't put myself up with any of those," he said.

Rowling said: "Given that I've devoted quite a lot of time to gazing at the original Sgt Pepper album cover, you can perhaps imagine what it means to me to be featured."

Playwright Tom Stoppard said his inclusion was "an honour that outdoes delirium" while singer Elvis Costello said: "I always dreamed that I might one day stand in the boots of [Liverpool footballer] Albert Stubbins."

The original 1967 artwork also featured James Dean, Bob Dylan, Karl Marx and Marilyn Monroe.

The new version has been created for a special birthday celebration of Blake's life at Wayne Hemingway's Vintage festival at Boughton House, Northamptonshire, in July.

Hemingway, co-founder of the Red or Dead fashion brand, said: "The new artwork is a tribute to Britain's standing as the world's leading creative nation."

It was "an incredible honour" for Blake to "reimagine such an iconic work of art", he said, adding: "We are proud to be dedicating the Sunday at Vintage this year to celebrate his 80th birthday and creative and cultural legacy."

Terry Jones, the actor, director and original Python, said: "Monty Python is flattered to have had his foot selected, but there are better parts of his body available at very little cost."

The foot itself was borrowed by Terry Gilliam from Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, a work by 16th century Florentine painter Bronzino.

His Python co-star, Michael Palin, added: "It's a great tribute to a fine foot – just don't tell Bronzino or he'll want royalties."


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