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August 17 2012

Featured photojournalist: Pilar Olivares

Reuters photographer Pilar Olivares documents students at the Ballet Santa Teresa in Rio de Janeiro. The school is a non-governmental organisation that gives children who live in areas with social risk, some suffering domestic violence, free ballet classes and other activities as a part of sociocultural integration project





July 21 2012

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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June 14 2012

A piece of performance art set in darkness made me see the light

Is Adrian Searle a spectator or an actor in Tino Sehgal's This Variation, an art/dance/music piece with few explanations?

Utter dark. As I walk in, I cannot see a thing, and must depend on sound to get my bearings. Who's there? First a low muttering in my ear, then, further off, a sound like a cooing dove. Call and response. But where am I, and more to the point, where are the other visitors I saw going in before me? The blackness has swallowed us whole. I feel a current of air as a body passes. Performer or spectator?

I entered This Variation at the Documenta 13 art festival in Kassel, Germany, last week during a lull. The piece is by Tino Sehgal (who is presenting the next Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern this July). The performers must have seen my silhouette framed in the doorway as I took my first tentative steps into a darkness without dimension. They've started playing with my head. This could be cheap trick, like a fairground ghost ride. I imagine the audience at a pantomime, all shouting with one voice: "Look behind you!" Except the audience here are all as much in the dark as I am: each of us surrounded, shadows within shadows.

The little vocal sounds multiply, skittering like rain on a roof. A rhythm begins to unfold. A snatch of gospel, a little finger-snapping and foot-tapping, shoe-squeaking and body-swaying. Unn-huh, unn-huh. It starts to sound like sex. Five minutes later and they're really at it, the rhythm going full tilt. By now, I'm making my way through the room, eyes adjusting to the gloom, and I make out the performers, and one or two other spectators blundering about, standing stock still or hanging back in the doorway, unsure what to do with themselves. We have wandered onstage without a role or any sense of what the play is about. Are we witnesses or agents, actors or spectators?

One intrepid explorer has decided to cheat, navigating by the light of a mobile phone. That light is really irritating, I say, and some of the performers take up my words and riff with it, morphing the words into a kind of scat song. The phone-light snaps off.

Back in the dark, the room is an exhilarating clamour. Ride that train. I dimly perceive arms going at it like pistons. A hip sways into me and there's a voice imitating a fuzz-box guitar line sliding through the space. I think it's the opening to Cream's Sunshine of Your Love, which dates me, but the human voice sampling the melody shifts it into what sounds like a Funkadelic groove. "How did we get this far apa-aart?" someone sings, falsetto, right in my ear.

It's a great a cappella disco in here and I almost start dancing around my shoulder bag. We are now into one of those constantly ascending generic club tracks that forever delays release. Do I smell poppers? No, only the sweaty feet of another Documenta visitor in the gloom.

The music is infectious, a machinery of breath and bodies. Something about perfect soulmates and tell me girl and ain't got no money – standard lyrics but somehow uplifting. By now, a thin light is coming in from somewhere. One of the performers is micro-adjusting a dimmer switch, while the music loses its drive, drained to an exhausted aural slop, like spent waves collapsing on a beach at low tide.

"The income derived from producing things of slight consequence is of great consequence," someone announces. This gets a "No" from elsewhere in the room, so they start again. "The income derived from things of little consequence …" "… is of great consequence," another performer prompts. Then they say it all again in German. I don't quite hear what comes next because two Spanish women have wandered in and are chatting as if they were taking an evening walk to a bar for a drink.

One of the performers stands very close to the women and, raising his voice, repeats all this business about things of lesser and greater consequence, just for their benefit and in their own language. This doesn't shut the pair up, but they wander out, oblivious to their surroundings, still talking.

"Variation, January 2009," another performer mutters. There must be about a dozen of them. By now, most of the performers have their ears pressed to the wall, as though they were eavesdropping sounds in another room. I'm standing in a clearing in the thin grey light. Then they slide to the floor. Do I stay or do I go?

I went back two days later, and at 10 in the morning Good Vibrations was in full swing, the performers bending the song, stretching it out, working it this way and that. I thought it might be an all-day version of the Beach Boys hit. At one point, they formed a couple of lines down the centre of the room. Then they were all down on the floor, resting on their hips. Then it turned into talk about producing objects and ideas of little importance, and a more confessional monologue about one performer's relationship with her parents. I presume this was all in the script.

The good vibrations were by now all spent. I was getting bad vibrations about money and income, consumerism and family relationships. It was bringing me down so I went and leaned against the wall. After a bit, a girl came up to me. The music had started up again and she was making little snare drum noises between her teeth. I threw in a few teasing click-talk jives myself and soon we were both at it, having a conversation. There was eye contact in the gloom, then disappointment when she wandered off. At another point, some of the performers began holding one another. I think they were going through Sehgal's 2002 work Kiss, where performers enact famous art clinches, by Rodin, Edvard Munch, and that famous snog between Jeff Koons and La Cicciolina, Koons's former wife.

Is there a playlist? I shall never know how much of Sehgal's repertoire is being reprised and quoted here, how much room there is for improvisation or the cycle of repetition. Sehgal offers nothing by way of explanation or documentation of his works. Although his work is listed on the contents page of the current Documenta guidebook, the page itself is deliberately missing. A short note on the work at the back of the 750-page Documenta compendium of essays, The Book of Books, gives the barest information. The musical director of This Variation is composer and conductor Ari Benjamin Meyers, who has previously worked with Anri Sala, Philippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster; the note also tells me that Sehgal's current work is supported by the Centre Chorégraphique National de Bretagne, Rennes, in France.

Sehgal himself studied dance and economics in Essen and Berlin. His work is invariably captivating. This Variation left me breathless and overwhelmed. It is addictive. I wanted to grab strangers on the street by their lapels and shove them through that doorway into the dark. You have to see this. Or rather, not see it.

This Variation is at Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany, until 16 September


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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 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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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 01 2012

This week's cultural highlights: Into the Abyss and Madonna

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

In a Garden
The Ustinov's ambitious season of modern American plays continues with the British premiere of Howard Korder's play about an American architect summoned to a Middle Eastern country to fulfil an impossible commission. Richard Beecham directs a tale of dangerous misunderstandings. Ustinov, Bath (01225 448844), Wednesday until 5 May.

Film

Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog probes the dark heart of humanity with his death-row interviews. Why do people kill?

Dance

The Royal Ballet: Mixed Bill
The Royal at their adventurous best, with new works by Liam Scarlett and Wayne McGregor, plus a revival of Wheeldon's classy, intelligent Polophonia. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), Thursday until 23 April.

The Eifman Ballet: Anna Karenina (Tue-Weds) Onegin (Fri)
Big, passionate storytelling from this St Petersburg-based company. London Coliseum, WC2 (0871 911 0200), Tuesday until 7 April.

Classical

St John Passion
Stephen Layton's performances with his choir Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are regularly among the best of the annual crop of Easter passions; Ian Bostridge takes the role of the Evangelist this time. St John's, Smith Square, London SW1 (020-7222 1061), Friday.

Aldeburgh Easter Weekend
Beethoven is this year's focus; Elisabeth Leonskaja's performances of the last three piano sonatas are flanked by performances of the Ninth Symphony, with the Britten-Pears Orchestra conducted by Ben Parry, and Schoenberg's rarely heard choral piece Friede auf Erden providing the prologue. Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh (01728 687110), Friday to Sunday.

Jazz

Oxford Jazz festival

Lively, week-long international festival, including Swedish jazz singer Cecilia Stalin (exploring new vocal settings for classic John Coltrane themes) at the Ashmolean Dining Room on Thursday, innovative young guitarist Kristian Borring at COPA on Friday, and a full Easter weekend programme – headlined by bass star Michael Janisch's international group, the New York Standards Quartet at Oxford Playhouse on 7 April. Various venues, Oxford, 1-7 April.

Pop

The Futureheads
In the wake of their a cappella album, Rant – a pretty bold move by anyone's standards – the Futureheads embark on an acoustic and a cappella tour. Tour begins Monday, Komedia Brighton (01273 647100).

Orbital
There's something rather pleasing about the way the reformed Orbital have gone from providing a night out for disco dads to a genuine musical force once more: new album Wonky may actually be their best. Tour begins Thursday, Manchester Academy (0161-832 1111).

Visual art

Remote Control
Exploring the impact television has had on culture, this is more than just artists on the box. This huge group show channel-surfs Richard Hamilton and Richard Serra, Adrian Piper, Taryn Simon, Mark Leckey and many others, from the 60s to the present. ICA, London SW1 (020-7930 3647), Tuesday to 10 June.

Last chance to see

Theatre

Romeo and Juliet
Young, fresh, vibrant and completely heartbreaking, and you can't often say that about Shakespeare's over-familiar tale of star-crossed lovers. A memorable revival from director Robert Icke and Headlong. Hull Truck (01482 323638), until Saturday.

Film

Michael (dir. Markus Schleinzer)
This brilliant and bizarre drama, inspired by the Fritzl and Kampusch cases, shows the banal life of a paedophile. The suspense is unbearable.

Jazz

Get the Blessing
Vivacious jazz-rock band driven by Portishead's rhythm section plays mix of Ornette Coleman-influenced jazz, Morricone-like atmospherics and old-school twangy guitar rock from new OC DC album. Ronnie Scott's, London W1 (020-7439 0747), Tuesday.

Pop

Le Beat Bespoke Weekender
The Pretty Things, the Sorrows, July, the Poets and the Trashmen: if these are the kind of vintage names that excite you, then this mammoth annual mod/psych event offers nirvana. 229, London W1 (020-7323 7229), Thursday to Sunday.

Kylie Minogue
Who would have thought, 25 years ago, that Kylie Minogue might celebrate her silver jubilee by playing gigs consisting entirely of B-sides, demos and rarities? Tour ends Monday, Manchester Academy (0161-832 1111).

Visual art

Thomas Demand Model Studies
Demand photographs models of real and imagined places – this time working with rediscovered architectural models by celebrated US architect John Lautner (1911-94). Images of haunting, mysterious, decaying places. Nottingham Contemporary (0115-948 9750), until 15 April.

Book now

Theatre

Professor Vanessa's Wondershow
The era of the 1930s and 40s circus sideshow is recreated in a show that will take over the Roundhouse's main space and invite audiences to step back in time. Gawp at the headless lady and the electrifying 27,000-volt girl, and marvel at the human insect circus performers. Roundhouse, London NW1 (0844 482 8008), 23-29 April.

Wonderland
Alice gets a makeover, in an adults-only new piece from the ever-inventive Vanishing Point, which looks at what happens when a young girl leaves home in search of fame and stardom. A tale of dreams, temptations and curiosity. Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (0131-473 2000), 29 August to 1 September.

The Sunshine Boys
It's not so much Neil Simon's tale of a legendary vaudevillian double act that is the draw here as the casting, which is very tasty indeed. Thea Sharrock directs Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths in this tale of showbiz rivalries. Savoy, London WC2 (0844 871 7687), 27 April until 28 July.

Film

This Must Be the Place (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
Paolo Sorrentino's English-language debut has Sean Penn as a retired Goth rocker living in Dublin. News about his father sends him on an American quest.

Dance

International Dance Festival Birmingham
Birmingham's month-long dance programme brings UK revivals for hit shows like Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant's Push, a solo for Louise LeCavalier created by Nigel Charnock, and the premiere of a new work featuring the disabled dance virtuoso David Toole. Various venues, from 23 April until 19 May.

Classical

Einstein on the Beach
Some seats still available for the UK premiere of Philip Glass's groundbreaking stage work, in a recreation of Robert Wilson's original 1976 production. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 4-13 May.

Jazz

Esperanza Spalding

Charismatic young Grammy-winning vocalist/bassist Spalding brings her 12-piece band to London, showcasing songs from her April album release, Radio Music Society. With her stage presence, acoustic-bass virtuosity, graceful vocals and seamless fusion of jazz, pop and classical chamber music, Spalding has star power written all over her. Koko, London, NW1 (0870 432 5527), 28 May.

Pop

Madonna

Whether you think MDNA represents a return to classic form or a more modest achievement, Madonna's UK tour is bound to be one of the summer's biggest musical events. Tour begins 17 July, Hyde Park, London (0844 576 5483).

Visual art

Glasgow international festival of visual art
Interactive art by Jeremy Deller, Wolfgang Tillmans photographs, Richard Wright drawings, LA-based installationist Kelly Nipper at Tramway, a new film co-commissioned with Scottish Ballet by Rosalind Nashashibi, and much more, at venues throughout Scotland's funkiest city. What's not to like? Various venues, 20 April to 7 May.


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March 31 2012

Spring arts calendar 2012

From Snow White to Jack White, and Cumbria to Cannes, the Observer's critics pick the season's highlights. What are you most looking forward to? Post your comments below

Download the spring arts calendar 2012

April

2 Pop Dr John The New Orleans legend decamps to Nashville to record with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach; excellence ensues on the Locked Down LP.

4 Art Damien Hirst The world's richest living artist enjoys a major survey of more than 20 years of his work, including medicine cabinets, diamond skull and a certain preserved shark. Tate Modern, London until 9 September.

6 Film This Must Be the Place Sean Penn plays a retired rock star scouring America for the fugitive Nazi who tormented his father in Auschwitz. Paolo Sorrentino escapes from the art house in his first English-language film.

7 Theatre Where Have I Been All My Life? Following the success of London Road, her verbatim musical at the National, Alecky Blythe documents a local talent show for the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Until 28 April.

11 Art Hans-Peter Feldmann A retrospective for the German conceptual artist whose work since the 1950s has involved collecting and re-presenting everyday cultural artefacts. Serpentine Gallery, London until 3 June.

11 Dance A Streetcar Named Desire Scottish Ballet unite choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and theatre director Nancy Meckler in a new take on Tennessee Williams's psychodrama. Theatre Royal Glasgow until 14 April, and touring.

12 Theatre The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning Before he was a WikiLeaks whistleblower, Bradley Manning was a schoolboy in Wales, and this National Theatre of Wales production is staged in his old Haverfordwest school before transferring to two other Welsh venues. Until 28 April.

13 Theatre Wild Swans Jung Chang's international bestseller charting the incredible lives of three generations of women in China takes to the stage. Young Vic, London until 13 May.

16 Classical Bruckner Project Daniel Barenboim (conductor) and his Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra return to London for Bruckner's three final symphonies, 7, 8 and 9, paired with Barenboim as soloist in two Mozart piano concertos. At the Royal Festival Hall, London for three nights.

19 Dance Artifact Set to the music of Bach and danced here by the impeccable Royal Ballet of Flanders is the subversive new-dance master piece of the American choreographer William Forsythe. Sadler's Wells, London until 21 April.

20 Theatre Sea Odyssey The Sultan's Elephant entranced us in 2006; now Royal de Luxe take over Liverpool city centre with 50-foot marionettes for a street spectacular marking 100 years since the Titanic's maiden voyage. Until 22 April.

20 Art Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art More than 130 artists, including 2009 Turner prize-winner Richard Wright, show work over 18 days at this major visual art festival in Glasgow, now in its fifth edition. Until 7 May.

23 Pop Jack White Jack White's debut solo album, Blunderbuss, is every bit as tremendous as you would hope from this restless former Stripe. There's a new colour scheme – blue – and his touring outfit (coming to the UK 21-24 June) features one all-male band and an all-female counterpart. The album, though, doesn't need gimmicks to sell it. Replete with waltzes, ballads, pianos, bravura guitar solos and troublesome women, it finds the newly-divorced White on energetic, mischievous form.

25 Art Out of Focus Major show featuring 38 photographers, including Ryan McGinley, Mat Collishaw, John Stezaker and Yumiko Utsu, who challenge the received rules of the medium. Saatchi Gallery, London until 22 July.

27 Film Albert Nobbs In a role she created on stage 30 years ago, Glenn Close plays a cross-dressing hotel waiter in Victorian Dublin. Close also co-wrote the script with novelist John Banville. Both she and Janet McTeer were Oscar-nominated for the film.

28 Classical Monteverdi's Vespers 1610 The great Italian choral masterpiece associated with St Mark's, Venice takes over the galleries and balconies of Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow for full spatial effect. The Dunedin Consort hold court.

May

1 Classical Vale of Glamorgan Festival Taking place in spring not autumn for the first time, this contemporary music festival celebrates Gavin Bryars, Philip Glass at 75 and more, across several venues in Cardiff. Until 11 May.

2 Theatre The Rest is Silence Site-specific company dreamthinkspeak kick off this year's Brighton festival with a "meditation on Shakespeare's Hamlet". Expect labyrinthine adventure. Malthouse Estate Warehouse, Shoreham until 27 May.

3 Design Bauhaus: Art As Life A big show of a big school: before the Nazis closed it down, the Bauhaus led the way in defining modern architecture, design and art. Barbican, London until 10 August.

6 Pop Grimes Canadian synth darling Claire Boucher brings her Visions album – already one of the year's most talked-about – out to play in Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester. Until 10 May.

8 Theatre Babel Wildworks, the Cornish creators of last year's acclaimed Port Talbot production of The Passion starring Michael Sheen, stage an outdoor event inspired by the biblical story of Babel. A collaboration with four London theatres involving 500-plus people, this epic show explores what happens when the scattered tribes are called back. Caledonian Park, London N1 until 20 May.

10 Dance Snow White With costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier and music by Mahler, Angelin Preljocaj's darkly adult take on the Grimms' fairytale promises a very sophisticated pleasure indeed. Sadler's Wells, London until 12 May.

10 Pop The Great Escape This Brighton powwow has become a nigh-on unmissable appointment with every new band going. Until 12 May.

11 Film Dark Shadows In Tim Burton's film version of the camp gothic American TV sitcom, an 18th-century vampire (Johnny Depp) is unleashed on the year 1972.

12 Classical LSO and Valery Gergiev The London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev brave evening traffic to play Trafalgar Square for the first time with The Rite of Spring. "The acoustics will be a challenge," says Gergiev.

16 Film Cannes Film Festival Wes Anderson's new film Moonrise Kingdom opens the 65th festival. The Artist's silent march to Oscars success started at Cannes last year – will another winner be unearthed this time round? Until 27 May.

16 Art Bedwyr Williams: My Bad Biggest solo show to date for Williams, whose often hilarious work explores the absurdities of life in his native north Wales. At Ikon, Birmingham until 8 July.

18 Film The Dictator After Borat and Brüno – General Admiral Shabazz Aladeen. Sacha Baron Cohen's newest mock-doc character is the dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern state. Megan Fox appears as a concubine.

20 Art Photographers' Gallery Reopens London's biggest public photography gallery, recently relocated to Oxford Circus, celebrates its £8.9m facelift and extension with an Edward Burtynsky show, until 2 July.

23 Theatre Posh Laura Wade's 2010 Royal Court hit about an elitist Bullingdon Club-style dining institution at Oxford gets a West End transfer to the Duke of York's theatre, London. Until 4 August.

27 Classical King Priam A strong season at the Brighton festival (from 5 May) culminates in this rare chance to hear Tippett's King Priam in concert, performed by the Britten Sinfonia and Brighton Festival Chorus, conductor Sian Edwards.

31 Theatre Wah! Wah! Girls Love against the odds in London's East End drives Sadler's Wells' Bollywood-style musical at the Peacock theatre, directed by Kneehigh's Emma Rice. Until 23 June.

June

1 Design Serpentine Pavilion Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the team who gave Beijing its Bird's Nest stadium, reunite to build the latest of the Serpentine's annual pavilions. Until 14 October.

1 Film Prometheus; Snow White and the Huntsman Beginning of the summer's blockbusters as Ridley Scott's hotly anticipated Alien prequel goes head-to-head with the Grimm Brothers reworking.

6 Dance Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch Month-long season of 10 works by the late, great German choreographer, each exploring a different world city. Barbican and Sadler's Wells, London. Until 9 July.

7 Classical Opera Holland Park Another mouth-watering seven-opera season opens with Lucia di Lamermoor. Also includes Gianni Schicchi, Eugene Onegin and the family-friendly Fantastic Mr Fox. Holland Park, London W8 until 4 August.

8 Pop No Direction Home New boutique festival from the End of the Road people bringing sounds to north Notts's Welbeck Estate. Richard Hawley, Gruff Rhys and Dirty Three headline. Until 10 June.

15 Film Rock of Ages This adaptation of the Broadway/West End smash, a musical constructed around rock anthems, stars a bewigged and mostly topless Tom Cruise as fictional headbanger Stacee Jaxx.

15 Pop Plan B in the Forest The Forestry Commission lures various artists into the trees every year, but urban crooner Ben Drew is probably the most surprising sylvan songsmith yet. Until 7 July.

18 Theatre Kiss Me, Kate Trevor Nunn returns to Chichester Festival theatre for its 50th anniversary, directing Cole Porter's feisty musical based on The Taming of the Shrew. Until 1 September.

19 Art Yoko Ono: To The Light Major London retrospective will include a project called Smile, in which Ono invites people worldwide to email a photograph of their own smile. Serpentine, London until 9 September.

21 Pop Bruce Springsteen The Boss has never been more pumped than on his recent album. Join his tour-cum-rally. Until 24 June

21 Theatre Lakes Alive Les Commandos Percus follow up the arrival of the Olympic torch in Windermere, Cumbria earlier that evening with On the Night Shift, a theatrical lakeside firework display set to music at Glebe recreation ground.

22 Classical Stour Music This tiny 'festival of music in East Kent' held in a beautiful church on the pilgrim route to Canterbury has lured star countertenor Andreas Scholl. Until 1 July.

22 Film Killer Joe Directed by William "The Exorcist" Friedkin, this dark, pulpy film about a murderous cop (Matthew McConaughey) was the talk of last year's Venice and Toronto festivals.

23 Pop Radio 1's Hackney Weekender Hackney's famed football fields play host to a 48-hour Premier league of pop. Jay-Z leads the roll call of international talent, with Lana Del Rey, Jack White and Azealia Banks in defence. The cream of British pop, R&B and hip-hop are represented too (Tinie Tempah, Florence Welch, Emeli Sandé). Best of all it's free. Hackney Marshes, London E9 until 24 June.

24 Pop Nicki Minaj With her Roman Reloaded LP fresh out of the blocks, hip-hop's firecracker is set to dazzle London, Birmingham and Manchester. Until 28 May.

25 Classical The Trojans Berlioz's ambitious masterpiece, conducted by Antonio Pappano and director David McVicar; starring Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Caterina Antonacci and Eva-Maria Westbroek. ROH's Olympic-season climax. Until 11 July.

25 Classical Dr Dee London premiere at ENO of Damon Albarn's masque-cum-opera about the mysterious Elizabethan magician-philosopher, directed by Rufus Norris with conductor Stephen Higgins. Until 7 July.

28 Art Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye The Norwegian artist's interest in photography and film-making is brought to the fore in this major reassessment of his work. Tate Modern, London until 14 October.

29 Film Friends With Kids In this sophisticated Allenesque New York comedy, actor Jennifer Westfeldt makes her debut as writer-director, co-starring opposite her long-time partner, Mad Men's Jon Hamm.

What are you looking forward to this spring? Post your cultural highlights in the comments section below


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March 28 2012

Cambodia's art of survival

The country's rich artistic culture was destroyed in the 70s by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Today, despite terrible poverty, a revival is taking place – and it is gaining international recognition

Down a dusty road littered with motorbikes and tuk-tuks, past the charred red monument to independence and through a leafy courtyard populated by stray dogs, there stands a derelict-looking, 1960s cinderblock school in Phnom Penh where, on weekends, the atonal sounds of Khmer opera waft out of its shuttered windows.

In this ad-hoc dance studio, 15 pairs of feet are pointing delicately upwards, in geometric contrast to the checkered tiles on the floor. As the partners twirl side by side, their fingers bent backwards, shy smiles on their young faces, repeated patterns emerge in their footsteps. "Cambodian folk dance is a visual form of storytelling, about religion, nature, weddings and funerals," whispers Neang Visal, 21, a dancer who is looking on. "This dance, the krama dance, is about farming."

It is hard to imagine a paean to agriculture that would have the same clout in the west today. But in a nation that lost 90% of its artists, musicians, dancers and intellectuals to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-79, remembering the past is a vital aspect of safeguarding the future. Now that a UN-backed war crimes tribunal is investigating past atrocities, studios such as this one – part of the American not-for-profit Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) organisation – as well as government-run art and music courses, international funding and determined local artists, are helping Cambodians to embrace their cultural heritage once again.

Long known for its artistic traditions – most famously demonstrated by the temples of Angkor Wat – this nation of 14.8 million was once home to a vibrant contemporary art and music scene that saw psychedelic rock groups, led by Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea, take south-east Asia by storm.

But when the Khmer Rouge took power – with their slogan "To keep you is no gain; to lose you is no loss" – many artists were a direct target of the new order that killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians within four years. Twenty years of economic hardship followed, preventing Cambodia from regenerating itself artistically. Now the nation's cultural future depends on organisations such as the CLA, which was founded by a Khmer Rouge survivor. It teaches classical Cambodian dance and music to some 300 students, aged five to 30, relying on "masters" – those few dancers and musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge – to instruct students in a circular education programme where students become teachers once they have learned their trade.

Most artists earn just $50 (£31) a month, so it is unsurprising that many would-be musicians and dancers look for more lucrative trades. Yet Khmer artists must pursue their art, says Long Oun, 48, a roneet (xylophone) teacher who doubles as a musician for the ministry of culture and fine arts and regularly performs for the king in royal ensembles for less than $2 a day. "Cambodia is a developing country, so we focus on healthcare and education, but we need to cultivate the arts sector, and the government has a lot to do," he says. "But as individuals we also need to work hard to make a viable future for ourselves."

That, however, requires a capable government, says an insider with close ties to the ministry, who requests anonymity. "The reality is that the ministry of culture and fine arts is one of the poorest in Cambodia and has very limited power. They focus on keeping Cambodian arts alive, but there's simply not enough money to do that."

Consequently, much of Cambodia's artistic regeneration is left to NGOs and large international funders, he says, which "inherently puts a neocolonialist edge on the art that's created. But if you gave artists a living salary, then you wouldn't have to cater to what the west wants to see."

Contemporary performing arts group Amrita recently faced a similar dilemma after funding cuts from their main donor, the Rockefeller Foundation, says project coordinator Kang Rithisal. "We had to rescale: instead of having lots of different projects in both contemporary and traditional arts, we decided to stick to what we were really good at – the contemporary," he says.

Amrita's shows focus on modern-day issues: in Breaking the Silence, Khmer Rouge victims are forced to face the soldiers who killed their families. The play toured Cambodia to rave reviews and is now heading to Rwanda, another victim of genocide.

But, like many contemporary art groups, Amrita faces a "cultural barrier" in getting Cambodians interested in an essentially very new art form. "People come to see us and they wonder what we're doing, but the more they see it, the more they'll get used to it," Rithisal says, admitting that money is an issue. "Cambodians say they like going to performances, but they're not willing to pay the money to sustain a performance or dancer's salary."

That's why some organisations are now targeting the Cambodian middle-class to create a sustainable, local culture scene that transcends those "neocolonialist" tendencies. At Romeet Gallery, on Street 218, Kate O'Hara exhibits contemporary work from up-and-coming Khmer artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO in Battambang in the north-west of the country. Here, huge black-and-white watercolour portraits of Khmer Rouge prisoners hang next to moody, Rothko-like abstracts. "Our buyers are definitely international right now – some are visitors to Phnom Penh, others are working here on the UN [war crimes tribunal] case," she says. "But we're trying to encourage local buyers by capturing the middle-class, fashion-week market, showing them that art is worth investing in."

On the international art scene, at least, Cambodia is becoming increasingly popular. From April to May next year, New York City will host the first-ever Season of Cambodia, which will see 200 Khmer artists perform across an interdisciplinary platform. The date already has culture hawks talking. "There's a buzz about what's going on here," says contemporary art-buyer and director Andrew Fitzgerald of the Toronto-based pop-up gallery East. "With the Season of Cambodia show coming up, we want to include more peripheral countries in south-east Asia in our gallery. What's interesting about Cambodia particularly are these common themes of self-identity and memory."

Bands such as Dengue Fever, with their Khmer-surf rock influences, and Krom Monster, which mixes traditional Khmer music in an electronic format, have helped to create a new sense of Cambodian identity and memory. But not everyone is ready to deal with such themes, it seems, particularly the government, which some say could strike against artist or gallery at any time. "This fear of being shut down at random, of threats against artists – one was recently told he'd have his hands cut off – terrifies me," says one gallery owner, requesting anonymity. "People here just disappear. It's not about the law, it's about what goes unsaid. That's why self-censorship is so rampant."

Photographer Lim Sokchanlina, who co-founded the conceptual art space Sa Sa Bassac to explore themes such as sexual identity, social justice and urban development, says the only way around that is by being sneaky. In his series My Motorbike and Me, he poses on a motorbike as an illegal country doctor, selling bogus medicine; as a policeman, asleep on the job. "There's a saying in Cambodia, 'Flow with the river'," he says. "You can say what you want, but you have to be clever about it – and for me that means being funny."

However hard things may be now, they are a welcome break from the past, says Ros Veasna, 63, a classical Khmer singer who trained with Sinn Sisamouth before the Khmer Rouge marched to power in 1975. "I could have done any other work when I left the work camp," she says. "But it was, and still is, only singing that makes me happy."


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March 25 2012

This week's cultural highlights: Roberto Fonseca and Laura

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

I Dreamed a Dream
SuBo is played by Elaine C Smith in this new musical based on the life of the Britain's Got Talent sensation, who has given her personal endorsement to this money-spinner – sorry, show. Theatre Royal, Newcastle (0844 811 2121), until 31 March, then touring.

Fierce festival
Birmingham gets ready for boundary-busting performances from UK and international performers, including Ann Liv Young, Playgroup and Graeme Miller. The festival takes place in unusual spaces all across the city, including the soon to be demolished library and under Spaghetti Junction. Various locations, Birmingham, Thursday to 8 April.

Film

The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross)
Suzanne Collins's teen bestseller is turned into an exciting dystopian thriller. Jennifer Lawrence stars.

Dance

English National Ballet: Beyond Ballets Russes
The second programme of this ambitious mix of revivals and reinventions from the great Diaghilev legend. Coliseum London WC2 (0871-911 0200), 28 March to 1 April.

New Dance Commissions
Enterprising selection of new work commissioned by ROH2 from Sarah Dowling, Laila Diallo and Freddie Opoku-Addaie. Linbury Studio Theatre, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), 29-31 March.

Classical

Parsifal
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Opera give concert performances of Wagner's final stage work, followed in Cardiff the next day by Mahler's Eighth Symphony, and in London by Verdi's Requiem. Millennium Centre, Cardiff (029 2063 6464), Saturday. Then touring to London and Birmingham until 6 April.

Pacifica Quartet
The US group return to complete their Shostakovich cycle with the Ninth to the 15th Quartets. Wigmore Hall, London W1 (020-7935 2141), 26 and 28-29 March.

Jazz

Roberto Fonseca
The piano star and Buena Vista sideman takes Cuban jazz and dance traditions and wrenches them into new identities – mixing in electronica with familiar guitar and percussion sounds, reconnecting Cuban music to traditional and contemporary Africa, and leading a thrilling band promoting his new Yo album. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891) Monday, then touring to 1 April.

Pop

Odd Future
Overhyped or hip-hop's big hope? Perhaps the response to the controversial LA rappers' first major label album, The OF Tape 2, will decide it. Tour begins at O2 Academy, Birmingham (0121-622 8250), 28 March.

Pulp
One-off Teenage Cancer Trust gig by beloved, reconstituted national treasures. Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 4015034), 31 March.

Visual art

Gillian Wearing
Private lives and public personas, false identities and intimate confessions are at the heart of Wearing's humane and humorous art. This major survey of the Turner-prize winning artist also includes new films and sculptures. Whitechapel gallery, London E1 (020-7522 7888), 28 March to 17 June.

Last chance to see

Theatre

Democracy
Cold war politics and flawed West German chancellor Willy Brandt are examined in Michael Frayn's intelligent 2003 play, which gets a masterly revival from Paul Miller. Crucible, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), until 31 March.

Uncle Vanya
Roger Allam, Dervla Kirwan and Timothy West lead the cast in the first production of the 50th Chichester festival season. With so many West End transfers (Sweeney Tood, Singing in the Rain and The Browning Version/South Downs), Jonathan Church's outfit should be enjoying a golden 50th birthday. Minerva, Chichester (01243 781312), 30 March to 28 April.

Film

Laura (dir. Otto Preminger)
This rereleased 1940s noir classic of obsession is a must-see. A cop becomes obsessed with the memory of Laura (Gene Tierney), a murdered ad executive.

Classical

The Rake's Progress
A brief run for David McVicar's coolly stylish new production for Scottish Opera, with Edgaras Montvidas as Tom Rakewell and Steven Page as Nick Shadow. Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-529 6000), on 27, 29 and 31 March.

Jazz

Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet
Young American trumpeter Akinmusire made waves in 2011 for the remarkable purity of his tone, coupled with a punchy American postbop feel laid down by a powerful band of long-time friends. Another original, UK pianist Robert Mitchell, shares this tour. Ronnie Scott's, London W1 (020-7439 0747), 26 March, then touring until 29 March.

Pop

Feist
Canadian singer-songwriter is fantastic live, exploring darker, bleaker waters on recent album Metals. Tour ends 27 March at Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow (0844 847 2487).

Pokey LaFarge
Acclaimed St Louis country-blues and string-band revivalists do not exactly reinvent the wheel, but are a treat on stage. Tour ends at Concorde 2, Brighton (01273 673311), 28 March.

Book now

Theatre

What the Butler Saw
Sean Foley directs a revival of Joe Orton's dark farce, a Freudian nightmare involving cross-dressing, perversion and Sir Winston Churchill's penis. Omid Djalili plays Dr Rance, the government official sent to investigate dodgy dealings at a private psychiatric clinic. Vaudeville, London WC2 (0844 412 4663), 4 May to 25 August.

2008: Macbeth
Grzegorz Jarzyna's version of Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis was a wonder, and now he and Poland's TR Warszawa return to the Edinburgh international festival with a contemporary take on Shakespeare's play set in the Middle East. Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston (0131-473 2000), 11-18 August.

Gulliver's Travels
Romanian director Silviu Purcarete's production of Faust was quite something, certainly memorable for its excesses if not its content. Now EIF gets the premiere of his new version of Jonathan Swift's savage political satire. King's Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-473 2000), 17-20 August.

Film

Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog probes the dark heart of humanity and society with his death-row interviews. Why do people kill?

Dance

Royal Ballet of Flanders: Artifact
A rare UK showing for the first work created by William Forsythe when he was appointed director of the Frankfurt Ballet. Back in 1984, it set down a clear marker of Forsythe's postmodern ambitions, and it still looks subversive today. Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0844 412 4300), from 19 April.

Classical

Bow Down
The Opera Group and London Sinfonietta combine for Frederic Wake-Walker's new production of Harrison Birtwistle and Tony Harrison's hauntingly unclassifiable 1980s theatre piece. Brighton festival, (01273 709709), 17-18 May; Norfolk and Norwich festival (01603 766400), 20-21 May.

Jazz

Cheltenham jazz festival
Guest director Jamie Cullum curates an all-star international jazz lineup, with artists including former Miles Davis producer/bassist Marcus Miller, guitarist Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers trio, a new Radio 3 commission for UK piano giant John Taylor, cutting-edge US pianist Vijay Iyer with radical saxophonist Steve Lehman, a showcase for new musicians from Norway and much more. Montpellier Gardens, Gloucestershire (0844 880 8094), 2-7 May.

Pop

The Charlatans
Tim Burgess's Lambchop-assisted second solo album is more hotly anticipated than you might expect, but at these gigs the Charlatans play their Britpop-era hit album Tellin' Stories. Tour begins 8 June at Hammersmith Apollo, London (0844 844 4748).

Visual art

Hans-Peter Feldmann
Feldmann is a collector of everything from the contents of women's handbags to the views from hotel rooms, seascapes and snatched moments. The Dusseldorf-born artist is part installationist, part joker, part archaeologist of the fleeting moment. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 11 April to 3 June.


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March 19 2012

02mydafsoup-01
Luigi Boccherini's (1743 - 1805) Fandango from Quintet No 4 in D Major, G. 448 in different interpretations

December 30 2011

Pina Trailer--*ENGLISH SUBS*.DivX Quality--2011--Wim Wenders | youtube

Wim Wenders, Pina, German trailer- film release with English subtitles. Genre: Entertainment, Documentary / Drama - directed by: Wim Wenders- Cast: Pina Baus... (Såg just #pina Fantabolous! Missa inte!

 

// oAnth - original source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouEc-3MlGZ

 



December 11 2011

Your cultural highlights of 2011

Our critics have had their say about the cultural highs of the past 12 months – but what did we miss? Tell us which moments from the world of culture made your 2011 a year to remember

As we approach the end of the year, now is the time to reflect on the best performances, albums, architecture, exhibitions, films and TV of 2011. Some of our critics have already listed their favourites: Adrian Searle picked Steve McQueen's film Shame, as one of his highlights; Susannah Clapp declared Michael Sheen's staging of The Passion in Port Talbot "the year's revelation"; and for Judith Mackrell it was Lucinda Childs' luminously structured Dance. Despite Alexis Petridis's momentary fear that he had turned into his dad, he thought AlunaGeorge "suggested the same balance of sonic innovation and commercialism you found in R&B a decade ago". Philip French meanwhile, felt the year's outstanding performances were by British actors: Colin Firth (The King's Speech) and Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin).

Below are the links to all our critics' cultural picks of the year, but what did they miss?

We'd like to know your cultural highlights of 2011. Did you enjoy a summer of music? An autumn of art? Which exhibitions, plays and festivals have taken place in your local area? Post your thoughts in the comments below and we'll print the best, most interesting nominations this week.

Read Guardian critics' highlights of 2011
Read the Observer critics' reviews of 2011


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November 15 2011

John Berger: the dark side of Degas's ballet dancers

Can limbs get lonely in a dance? The famous art critic thinks this could explain the dark patches in Degas's paintings of ballerinas

What lies in the folds? The folds of the classical ballet dancers' costumes and bodies as drawn and painted by Degas, that is. The question is prompted by Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, the exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. The sumptuous catalogue contains a quotation from Baudelaire: "Dance is poetry with arms and legs; it is matter, gracious and terrible, animated, embellished by movement."

In Degas's compositions with several dancers, their steps, postures and gestures often resemble the almost geometric, formal letters of an alphabet, whereas their bodies and heads are recalcitrant, sinuous and individual. "Dance is poetry with arms and legs …"

Degas was obsessed by the art of classical ballet, because to him it said something about the human condition. He was not a balletomane looking for an alternative world to escape into. Dance offered him a display in which he could find, after much searching, certain human secrets. The exhibition tellingly demonstrates the parallels between Degas's highly original work and the development of photography and the invention of the movie camera. These technological advances both led to discoveries about how human and animal bodies move and operate: a horse galloping, a bird flying, etc.

Without doubt, Degas was intrigued by these innovations and made use of them, but I believe that what obsessed him was closer to what obsessed Michelangelo and Mantegna. All three were fascinated by the human capacity for martyrdom. All three wondered if it wasn't this that defined mankind. The human quality Degas most admired was endurance.

Let's go closer. In drawing after drawing, pastel after pastel, painting after painting, the contours of Degas's dancing figures become, at a certain point, darkly insistent, tangled and dusky. It may be around an elbow, a heel, an armpit, a calf muscle, the nape of a neck. The image goes dark – and this darkness has nothing to do with any logical shadow.

In the first place, it's the result of the artist correcting, changing and re-correcting the precise placing of the limb, hand or ear in question. His pencil or pastel notes, readjusts, notes again with more emphasis the advancing or receding edge of a continually moving body. Speed is crucial. Yet these "darknesses" also suggest the darkness of folds or fissures: they acquire an expressive function of their own. Which is what?

Go closer still. A classical ballet dancer controls and moves her entire indivisible body, but her most dramatic movements concern her two legs and two arms, which we can think of as pairs: two couples sharing the same torso. In everyday life, the two couples and torso live and operate side by side, compliant, contiguous, united by a centripetal energy, directed inwards. Yet, by contrast, in classical dance the pairs are separated, the body's energy is often centrifugal, thrown outwards – and every square centimetre of flesh becomes taut with a kind of solitude.

The dark folds or fissures in these images express the solitude being felt by a part of a limb or torso, which is accustomed to company, to being touched by fellow parts, but which when dancing has to go it alone. The darknesses express the pain of such a disconjuncture and the endurance necessary for bridging it imaginatively. Hence the grace and the starkness to which Baudelaire referred when he said "gracious and terrible".

Now look at Degas's studies of dancers who are taking a brief rest, particularly those he made towards the end of his life. They are among the most paradisiacal images I know, yet they are far from the Garden of Eden. While resting, the dancers' limbs are reunited. An arm reposes along the whole length of a leg. A hand refinds a foot to touch it, the fingers matching each toe. Their multiple solitudes are for a moment over. A chin rests on a knee. Contiguity is blissfully re-established. Often their eyes are half-closed and their faces look bland, as if recalling a transcendence.

The transcendence they are remembering is the aim of the art of dancing: the aim of a dancer's entire wracked body to become one with the music. What is astounding is that Degas's images capture this experience silently. With folds but without sound.


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November 06 2011

London 2012 festival: 'It's going to be amazing'

Two years ago the Cultural Olympiad was floundering. Has new boss Ruth Mackenzie turned it around? She talks mass bell-ringing, Barenboim and beaches with Charlotte Higgins

Last year, when Ruth Mackenzie was appointed director of the Cultural Olympiad, the very concept was at a low ebb. No one seemed to know exactly what it meant. The early planning seemed bogged down in impenetrable jargon about Olympic "themes" and dead phrases such as "celebrating youth and diversity". While worthy, these had the kind of committee-speak tang that is the enemy of good art. As one commentator put it, after attending the glossy, self-congratulatory launch in 2008, "it felt like we were all bathed in a warm vomit of inclusivity".

Mackenzie was the cavalry, brought in to give the Cultural Olympiad – which, should you still be in the dark, is the arts programme that will accompany the games, and which has been running, in various forms, since 2008 – a fresh start. She would have to be a sprinter: the opening ceremony might have been two years away, but that was still a hideously short time frame in which to pull together a coherent cultural programme for 2012. Mackenzie's appointment was greeted with relief, however: if anyone could pull it off, it was this former boss of Scottish Opera, Chichester Festival theatre and Manchester international festival. Like her or loathe her (and the arts world seems split, her nickname in some quarters being The Childcatcher, after the villain in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), she is regarded as effective.

"Did I have time to spend two years doing research, which any director of any festival would expect?" she says crisply when we meet at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. "No, I didn't. But there are merits in being decisive. There was no time to linger."

And in many ways – judging from the launch on Friday of her London 2012 festival – Mackenzie does seem to have pulled it off. The festival, running from 21 June to 9 September, will be the climax of the Cultural Olympiad. If all goes well, it will bring some much-needed focus to a rather inchoate programme that has risked lacking a binding identity.

To create the festival programme, Mackenzie and her team examined the work already in development, extracted the good stuff (such as Big Dance week, which saw 1.2 million people dancing in London last year) and quietly dropped the rest. She also opened her contacts book, inviting major international artists to make work that would form the high points of the festival; she cherrypicked projects being run by other institutions and drew them into the festival programme. For example, Tate Modern's regular Turbine Hall commission, which next year is by the Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal, will be regarded as part of the festival.

The problem, perhaps, is that the definition is still somewhat baffling. The festival is not the same as the Cultural Olympiad – there are plenty of Cultural Olympiad events that will happen next summer that are not part of the festival. Nor is the festival, despite its title, a London thing: it will be UK-wide. Some events that are part of other festivals – such as the Southbank's festival of the world – will also be included in Mackenzie's London 2012 festival. Confused? Don't worry, says Mackenzie. London 2012 festival events will be identifiable through branding, a pink ribbon, that she says will give them the imprimatur of quality. "We encourage people to feel that if there is a pink ribbon on it, it's like a critics' pick: trust us, it's going to be amazing."

Wisely, she has ditched the idea of connecting the programme too closely to the sporting events. The only two Olympic "themes" she has dreamed up are the idea that the artists are "exceptional, gold-medal talents, capable of producing something that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity"; and the notion, as a loosely applied metaphor, of the Olympic truce, which in the ancient Greek Olympics was a downing of weapons between the frequently warring Hellenic nations for the duration of the games.

And so, bound together by Mackenzie's curatorship, the London 2012 festival does now have a certain coherence. It is recognisably her taste, whether originated by her or not. She has a bracing (and to my mind commendable) penchant for the European avant garde; there is serious work of all stripes; and contemporary music that is anything but lowest-common-denominator. So Birmingham will see the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey's new epic choral work Weltethos, under Simon Rattle; there will be a strand devoted to the work of composer George Benjamin; Daniel Barenboim will bring the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to the Proms; theatre-makers Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw will create a series of installations on Britain's beaches; and there is the already announced Pina Bausch/Tanztheater Wuppertal retrospective planned for the Barbican in London.

Offsetting all that is more populist fare: David Hockney at London's Royal Academy, a celebration of Alan Ayckbourn in Scarborough and Chichester; and, presumably, the pop and comedy elements of the festival, which are to be announced next year. Skirting between the two extremes are some intriguingly eccentric works, such as Martin Creed's Work No 1197: All the Bells in a Country Rung As Quickly and As Loudly As Possible for Three Minutes. (Yes, Creed wants everyone in Britain to ring something – church bell, bike bell, doorbell – simultaneously to celebrate the opening of the Games.) Mackenzie hesitates to sum up the "tone" of the festivities but, if anything, she says, they will have a certain humour and wit: "There's something about the surprise and quirkiness of them – about being funny as well as touching."

Will the London 2012 festival feel like a festival? As Mackenzie herself says: "Most festivals are in fields or cities; this one is in an entire country." Good festivals involve audiences sharing a stream of thought or experiencing a sense of place. They create a feeling of "festiveness" and a certain camaraderie between audiences and artists. Mackenzie has worked to disperse London 2012 into all parts of Britain, from Shetland to Cardiff, from Enniskillen to Gateshead to Margate. But that geographic generosity could cost her the coherence she wants, as most people are unlikely to get to any but a few events.

Mackenzie counters: "One of our offers is, we bring the events to you: we make sure there are amazing events all round the UK. You will feel a festive spirit in quite a few of our major cities. There is no doubt that there will be a critical mass of cultural events in London, and it's going to feel like it's absolutely at the centre of a festival – that goes for Edinburgh, Derry/Londonderry, Belfast, Birmingham, Stratford, too. What you can't do is have one festival club, you can't, and that's a sadness for us. Would it be easier if it was all in one city? Yes. But if we're to offer 10m free tickets or free places at events – well, you just couldn't do that in one city."

Krapp's Last Tape in Enniskillen

And what – to use a dreaded piece of Olympics jargon – does Mackenzie want the legacy to be? It's partly, she says, about using the strength and power of the Olympic brand to tempt audiences to take a punt on events they wouldn't normally go for. "I don't want to sound pious, but I believe in the quality of these artists. I believe that if you have the chance to see David Hockney or Robert Wilson's Krapp's Last Tape in Enniskillen, I think you will be amazed. I really do. I think you'll remember it; I think it will shape the way you think."

There are more tangible ends in view: the government, for example, has set targets for increasing cultural tourism to Britain once the games have finished. Mackenzie is also keen to raise the cultural stakes for subsequent Olympics, not least Rio in 2016. "If we are lucky, we will change the way future Olympics see their cultural festivals. I don't mind if Rio is better than us: I would like us to be the best yet, but I would be pleased if they were better than us."

The sheer scale of it all prompts more questions. At the latest count – and new projects are still being added – there were more than 1,000 events in the London 2012 festival, and many times that in the Cultural Olympiad as a whole from its 2008 inception. Will there be enough audiences to go round? And will 2013 be a terrible cultural letdown, arts organisations having exhausted their energy and budgets on big Olympic projects? One thing's for sure: far from there being nothing much to see next year, the UK is going to be awash with big ticket arts events. The danger, perhaps, is not cultural impoverishment – but cultural overdose.


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November 01 2011

Dancers can tell us little about Picasso's dance art

English National Ballet's rehearsals alongside the Tate's Picasso show will be fun – but they cannot illuminate his complex attitudes to dance

English National Ballet are to take up residence at Tate Britain next spring, holding rehearsals in the long classical Duveen Gallery that cuts the building in two. Dancers will lead classes at the gallery and their presence will tie together the Picasso show with English National Ballet's Beyond Ballets Russes season.

But Picasso was deeply ambivalent about dance – as is obvious from one of the greatest works in the Tate collection. His 1925 painting Three Dancers is one of the most violent and unsettling works he ever created. It may strike some people that Picasso's cubist paintings are inherently "violent" in the way they take apart faces and rearrange the human form. When the first world war broke out, the dislocated perceptions that Picasso and his close collaborator Georges Braque brought to painting in their cubist revolution offered a way for artists to see the brutal conflict.

But the cubism of Picasso's art before the first world war is not intended to be violent or brutal: it is a scientific analysis of reality. It was when he returned to a jarring cubistic style in works like Three Dancers that his convolutions of face and body became images of psychic tension and crisis – observe the blue hole in a chest that reveals blue sky beyond, the faces reduced to savage cartoons.

What changed? Some of Picasso's anger was, as it happens, the result of dance and dancers. As soon as he became famous, he had been drawn by the impresarios Jean Cocteau and Sergei Diaghilev into the world of ballet, where high art and high society entwined. Picasso worked intensively with the renowned Ballets Russes. It was his doorway to a new upper-class international set – and one result was that he married the Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova. Another result, narrated along with this catastrophic marriage in the third volume of John Richardson's biography, was Picasso's first visit to London to design the Ballets Russes production Le Tricorne. Presumably this is why Tate Britain has invited in the English National Ballet to celebrate its exhibition about Picasso's influence in Britain.

But Picasso was no Matisse, whose art praises dance so ecstatically and calmly, and he was no multimedia postmodernist, either. When you look at his painting Three Dancers you are looking in part at his disillusionment with the classicism and theatricality that he brought to his work with the Ballets Russes.

Picasso's work in ballet was an important part of his biography and he created some powerful stage images, especially in Parade. But how much does it help, in trying to understand his paintings, to have ballet dancers in the gallery? Not a lot, because Picasso on canvas is Picasso on canvas, and his art demands direct engagement with the powerful and complex ideas within it. Nothing can ever turn his art into entertainment. If it is popular, it is because we crave real radicalism of mind and heart, and respond to the power of a truly original imagination if we do not immediately comprehend it. Dancers at the Tate will be fun. But they will not have much to tell us about Three Dancers.


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October 12 2011

Young arts critics competition 2011: the winning entries

Read our top-rated entries to the Guardian's annual competition to find the best young talent in arts writing

OVERALL WINNER

Visual art, under 14

Freddie Holker, 12 – Homage to Lucian Freud, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Disgusting. That's what I'm thinking; that's my gut instinct. It's reminiscent of the swimming-pool changing rooms back at school, where I'm scared to look at anything in case it offends someone. This is the Homage to Lucian Freud, one of Britain's best modern artists, who died on 20 July 2011. Seventeen paintings by Freud are displayed. I'm standing in an eerily plain room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art 3,000 miles away from where I'm comfortable.

The only painting I can easily look at is, funnily enough, Naked Man, Back View. The only one that doesn't contain full-frontal nudity offers full dorsal nudity. It shows a fat man plonked on a footstool. His sitting position pushing out roll after roll of grey white fat, meshed together, leading down to his small feet which are holding up all this blubber. When you look at his head, you can see very little of his face, his one dark eye patrolling the floor. His joined hands give me the impression he is contemplating. He has nothing to hold, nothing to cherish, he doesn't even have any hair. He is simply being.

I realise that there's more to these paintings than nudity; these pictures are giving off emotions. Despair, joy, isolation, shame and most of all secrecy. The one that catches my eye is And the Bridegroom. It is the same fat man as before, but he has a partner, a tiny little creature, half the size of the man: she's pale against his reddish tanned skin. Beauty and the beast. They look like a pair of puppies sleeping in odd positions, one stretching and one curled up. This time it is nude but I'm not surprised or disturbed, because I finally understand what Freud's thinking, what his "vibe" is. He creates paintings of love and despair, a rainbow of feelings, but he tries to explain that the greatest gift of life is living, and that you need nothing to decorate yourself. There should be no shame in being bare, because when you think about it, everyone is equal.

CATEGORY WINNERS

Visual art, 14-18

Angelica Gottlieb, 14 – Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty exhibition fills New York's Metropolitan Museum with the rapture and allure of his art, muted by the grief and tragedy of his death. A buzz of anticipation reverberates through the queue that seems to stretch round the block. However, fashion that was once famed for its exclusivity is now fully accessible, and it's an experience no one would want to miss.

The curator, Andrew Bolton, has clearly embraced the gothic romanticism of McQueen's fashion by incorporating dark and bright lighting with futuristic music that reprises the music played at many of his fashion shows.

Each room becomes more and more intriguing despite becoming increasingly congested. For instance, the Cabinet of Curiosities is the concrete manifestation of McQueen's notable description of himself as a "romantic schizophrenic". The curiosities include a marvelous skeleton-like back brace and antelope ears crafted from gleaming twigs, reminiscent of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Contrasts are everywhere – the exhibition is so public yet the proliferation of gilded mirrors throughout reflects the intimacy of the dressing room. The clothes seem vibrant and vigorous, yet hauntingly, the mannequins themselves are faceless and appear to be wearing death masks.

The precision and perfection of the designs on display contrasts starkly with the uncertainty of McQueen's personal life. The clothes are spine-tingling, as McQueen evokes a cocktail of emotions, visible on people's faces. You may ask: "How could such an icon, a man feted for his brilliance, become so tormented?" Aristotle explains: "No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness." On that basis, McQueen's intensely creative designs seem like vivid scars covering his emotional wounds.

New York is undoubtedly a city "fit for McQueen", yet his Britishness shines through. A room full of tartan dresses pays homage to his Scottish roots and he invites the viewer to revel in his uniquely British eccentricity. Quite rightly, there is an online petition to bring Savage Beauty to the UK. I fervently hope it succeeds so that McQueen's legion of British admirers can share in the awe-inspiring experience of his very grand finale.

Pop, 14-18

Julia Smith, 18 – Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Whether it's a lengthy examination of Justin Vernon himself or a brief review of their eponymously named new album, it seems the oft-uttered phrase (now revered indie legend) "lonely cabin in Wisconsin" is impossible to disentangle from the myth surrounding Bon Iver.

New album Bon Iver, Bon Iver – so good they named it twice? – is a marginal departure from the sound that made this modest band, then merely a solo music project, beloved by the media and the masses. Though For Emma, Forever Ago was by no means a flawless record, will the meaty auto-tune of this release ever replace the softly strummed guitars and breathy silences of the album produced in the little cabin in the woods?

Like For Emma, the lyrics this time around aren't particularly descriptive, but I feel that's where this band really shines. Rather than crafting four minutes of disco pop around a questionable refrain about not answering a telephone call in a club because you're "k-kinda busy", Vernon et al manage to pick lyrics out of the guitar reverb and spin them into allusive poetry. Something about the arrangement of chords and the swirling rawness of Vernon's voice has made For Emma stand out in the minds of millions, I'm sure, as an album that hits you right there. You know, there, that space between your head and your heart where the child of logic and emotion rests only to create total loneliness and insecurity. There.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver may not be as isolated as the last record was, but I can safely say that I see myself enjoying this album, synthesizers and all, in the months to come. Tracks like Holocene are a slight throwback to the echoing Bon Iver of old, but there's something in the masterful composition of the likes of Perth that comforts the insecurity that has waited, bated, in the three years since Vernon left that cabin in the woods. Even without an alternative indie fairytale story behind it, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is sure to be a magical chapter in the evolution of this band.

Pop, under 14

Holly MacHenry, 13 – Gogol Bordello, Womad festival

It was only my second Womad festival, the most amazing place I've been in my life – all the different smells, rhythms, cultures and stalls selling exotic treasures. We'd had a pretty mellow weekend, but all that was about to change …

On Sunday night we went early to get a good spot at the open-air stage where Gogol Bordello were the closing act of the festival. For those of you who don't know, Gogol Bordello are a gypsy punk band from New York, consisting of nine members from all over the globe. The charismatic Ukrainian lead singer, Eugene Hutz, fronts an eccentric bunch of skilful musicians, with a reputation for starting parties wherever they set foot.

They started with Pala Tute from the latest album. At first I wasn't sure what to do, so just clapped in time to the song and raised my arms now and then for good measure. About halfway through the second song I decided being cool wasn't important and I started jumping about as the band worked the crowd, beckoning them with their hands as if to say "Come on, is that all you've got?".

Suddenly, everyone was airborne. I started getting bashed about like a pinball and before I knew it I was in the midst of my first – and quite possibly Womad's first – mosh pit! I was boiling and could feel the heat of all the people around me, but every time I jumped I could feel the cool night air before disappearing back into the crowd. By the time the band played Immigrandia (We Comin' Rougher) most people seemed to have lost their inhibitions.

For Gogol Bordello, it's not the fame or money that matters, it's the music, the crowd and their message of unity between people. They're not content until everyone's up on their feet having a good time. The blend of the frantic fiddle-playing and the manic energy of the band is infectious and before you know it you're part of the act.

Film, 14-18

Kiera McIntosh-Michaelis, 16 – Life in a Day

Over 4,500 hours of footage. 493 countries. More than 80,000 entries. All of this edited into a poignant 90-minute film about what it means to be human. The incredible medium of YouTube and director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void) called to the world to submit a short film of their daily lives on 24 August 2010. The result? Mass montages of the sun rising, getting up, washing serve to show that all across the world the same things happen and that folk aren't so different. Immediately this connects the watcher to the film – relating their life to those of thousands. Each scene is linked together by a similar theme, perhaps of time or through the soundtrack of one leaking into the next, giving the film an unstilted flow and maintaining audience interest. Although at times some of the editing feels slightly manipulative, it is outweighed by the genuine honesty and emotion of the subjects. There is no hiding from the pain of life – a young mother's tale of living with cancer or the graphic slaughter of a cow demonstrating this. However, the tone of the film is overwhelmingly joyful and hopeful. The moment when an older couple renew their vows in a rather saucy manner, a wife laughing at a husband's failed attempt to look strong, women singing as they go about their work – all gave me joy, laughter and hope. Life in a Day is a masterpiece; its creation shows the beauty and mundanity of life as a human being.

Film, under 14

Francesco Dernie, 13 – Project Nim

I recently went to see Project Nim, a film-documentary recounting the experiences of a unique chimpanzee that was selected for an experiment and went by the name of Nim.

It progressed chronologically through key events in Nim's life, starting with the time when he was placed with a foster family where he grew close to his human foster mother. Unusually, the film focused on the emotional consequences of science – a plot that centred on teaching Nim to communicate through sign language. Why would anyone do this, you might ask? "It was the hippy mentality," remarks the woman's daughter.

During the experimental phase, live interviews with key players in the experiment proved fascinating – their own characters came through as they recounted their personal experiences with the chimp. The combination of footage and still photographs from that era helped the audience take their own view of this diverse group of people, as well as understand the tensions within it and those surrounding animal experimentation in general.

As the story continues, the tempo slows as it charts the fall of the experiment and Nim's subsequent experiences in terrible laboratories and cruel institutions. How could they do this to such an adorable animal?

The final part details the time when his human foster mother visits him in Texas, where he has grown unhappy and solitary. Taking it for granted that his feelings towards her are unchanged from when he was living with her, she enters his cage without heeding the warnings of his aggressive behaviour. He attacks her (but does not kill her) as if genuinely angry that she let him be taken away from her to be put through terrifying laboratory experiences.

Perhaps the experiment to teach him language could never have worked, because for him it would have been just a communication device (like say an email is for us today), not like language that's part of human culture. But I do think he did achieve some humanity – more perhaps, than the experiment could hope to give him and more perhaps than the scientist could understand.

Theatre, 14-18

Thomas Marshall, 16 – Richard III, Young Vic

At about 11pm, a hunchbacked man with a leg brace is hung upside-down, dead, in a darkened room somewhere in London to the applause of hundreds. Then he gets down again and takes a well-deserved bow. The man is Kevin Spacey and he has just completed another dazzling lead performance in Richard III.

One of the most fascinating things about Sam Mendes's production is the ease with which it is transposed into the modern era without jettisoning the grandeur of the original. Beside the visual Mussolini reference, Richard's military gear has a whiff of the 1930s dictator about it; and much of the production employs film, photography and word projection, whilst Act 2, Scene 3 – traditionally involving citizens on a London street – takes place on the Tube. Updating the play in this manner has a weighty resonance, too – Shakespeare's kingly tyrants are hauntingly mirrored by modern-day presidents.

This is a play with a large cast, most of whom are impressive. Of particular note are the female characters Lady Anne, Lady Margaret, and Queen Elizabeth, who all exude helpless grief and anguish. Chuk Iwuji's Buckingham is also memorably slick; when he grins you can almost picture him welcoming the audience to a quiz show.

Good though these characters are, they fail to carry the momentum unless Spacey is on the stage. Equally at home bouncing off others' suffering or withdrawing into his own brooding, this is a truly acting Richard, a man utterly convincing in his friendly air. There is a moment when the crowd is urging him to be the next king and the expression on his face is that of mild-mannered perplexity, yet with great engines churning behind his brow. He plumbs Richard's humorous lines for all their worth throughout, and conveys his pre-battle crisis particularly effectively. If there is a criticism which can be levelled against him, it is that he is never a completely terrifying villain.

But this is a small niggle with an otherwise excellent production, and I would urge anyone to do whatever it takes to obtain tickets for the international tour.

Theatre, under 14

Laura Stevens, 9 – A Midsummer Night's Dream, Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford

My review is on William Shakespeare's classic, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Set in ancient Greece, this funny love story is brought to reality by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon.

At the entrance of the auditorium, you expect to see a great forest background with dark tangled trees and twisted paths. Instead, a variety of chairs suspended on a string from the ceiling are lowered and raised throughout the performance. Although this makes the stage look bare, the lighting is so imaginative and effective, it makes a dreamlike atmosphere.

The mischievous fairies really helped to create the atmosphere with their many leaps and swivels and the way they seem to creep into the background then suddenly leap back out again like chameleons that keep changing their mind about where to hide.

Bottom, played by Marc Wootton – who also played Mr Poppy in the film Nativity – did a great job of being the brash fool always full of misplaced confidence leading him to play the main part of Pyramus and Thisbe, the tragedy performed at the end of the performance. His part was played hilariously and was one of the highlights from the show.

The most enjoyable part of the show for me was, as mentioned before, Pyramus and Thisbe being played by Bottom and a group of ordinary villagers to perform for Hypolita and Theseus, rulers of Athens, on their wedding night.

Helena, played by Lucy Briggs-Owen, was very funny as she embarked on her very own quest, to gain Demetrius's love. Many times she fell to the floor almost crying about Demetrius and his love for another.

With the combination of the modern, the old and the fantasy all in one production, it brought a great performance to the stage. I would recommend this to anyone with a sense of humour who is prepared for surprises. Just remember, the course of true love never did run smooth …

Television

Hannah Quinn, 17 – The Bachelor

The end is nigh! A mad scientist has succeeded in creating a robot and an army of clones! Oh no, hang on, this is The Bachelor, that robot is rugby "star" Gavin Henson, and those clones are battling to win his heart/a career in TV rather than to take over the world. Phew. The end is slightly less nigh than previously imagined.

We are reliably informed that 25 girls are about to embark on the "adventure of a lifetime" in the south of France, which in this episode (SPOILER ALERT!) involves a lot of awkward stilted chit-chat from Robot Gavin. I love an adventure. Highlights: one girl tries to get him to carry her upstairs! Twins! Tia's half-pagan, half-Wicca and that makes her ker-azy! Someone called Carianne has an annoying voice!

Meanwhile, Gavin calls a reality TV contestant "innocent and genuine" without laughing, which is more than I could do, so fair play to him. Although it might just mean some circuits are faulty. Quick, call a technician! One girl writes him a love letter, which causes someone to start hissing about how they're going to have to act really sweet and nice now, as if before that her plan was to turn up, smack him in the face, and scream "Love me!". It would have worked too, because Gavin would have just crumbled. Gavin, I'm starting to learn, is a bit of a wuss. He falls for that creepy love letter, too, and gives the girl responsible the you're-through-to-the-next-round rose, because this show is romantic, honest; look, we have roses, don't be so cynical, this is a beautiful insight into Gavin finding true love after having his heart broken by someone called Charlotte Church, who totally isn't more famous and talented than he is, no she's not. And breathe.

At the end, Gavin gives out a whole pile of roses to the 15 girls he's deemed worthy, while looking as blank as ever. Ker-azy Tia doesn't make the grade, but Squeaky Carianne does – obviously RoboGav's hearing circuits are faulty as well. Poor luckless RoboGav. He just wants to be loved.

Architecture, 14-18

Mollie Davidson, 14 – Coventry railway station

I want to explore Coventry railway station because it is different. It is not the most noticeable of buildings; however I feel there is some significance to it. WR Headley designed it in 1962. It was built as part of the modernisation of the railways and as part of the rebuilding of Coventry after the blitz.

It is not beautiful. The building is very angular and is coloured in different shades of grey. The building is a collection of rectangles joined at right angles to each other. You enter the station to a large booking hall which is imposing. The hall is brightened by the huge windows letting the light through. Moving through the station is easy. You are on a direct path to wherever you need to be, the platforms or the coffee shop.

Hidden away by the waiting room is a small rectangular goldfish pond, giving passengers something to focus their minds on while waiting for their trains. There are also a couple of gnomes enjoying fishing. All of the doors and the ceilings are made of vanished hardwood. There are small tiles in blocks covering the walls. The floor in the booking hall is made of polished granite, dark with blotches of white.

The balcony overlooking the booking hall is a good place to look at people and a good place to be seen. It is a place to look for those who are arriving and a place to wave to those who are departing. The station is obliged to have advertising everywhere, which means you focus your attention on this, not on the building. Overall it is sincere and it does what it is meant to. It is not very ambitious but it works for the people of Coventry.

Architecture, under 14

Michael Sackur, 13 – Jewish Museum, Berlin

Berlin's Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, is housed in a building that makes an unforgettable impression. Its location, set among uniform apartments in a residential area of Berlin, makes it seem all the more striking. The structure has many unmistakable features: its twisted zigzag, Star of David-inspired shape, and its scar-resembling slashes for windows, which immediately reminded me of the wound that has been left on history by the Nazi holocaust. The colours used in the building – stark, dark grey – and the various bolts visible on the exterior give it a raw, industrial feel, which even spills out into the museum's garden.

In the Garden of Exile, olive trees sit atop 49 grey concrete pillars, just out of reach. This theme is appropriate for a museum which focuses partly on the industrialised killing of 6 million innocent people. Playing on our apprehension of the unknown, visitors take a flight of steps underground in order to enter the main building, and emerge in a tangle of tunnels. Emptiness is another recurring theme; a huge void 20 metres tall slices through the building, and in the museum tunnels, exhibits are lodged into the walls, making the spaces feel strangely bare. I interpreted this as an attempt by the architect to convey the void that emerged in the Jewish community following the genocide of 6 million of its members, as well as the hole left in German society after the extermination of its Jewish component.

The most extraordinary structure in the museum, however, is the Holocaust Tower, a great slab of concrete that is neither heated nor cooled, lit only by a tiny shaft of light at the top. It is simple, but its darkness and its surreal, unearthly echo make it a highly appropriate commemoration of the victims of Nazi tyranny and a disturbing experience for all who enter. The architecture plays an important part in a museum shouldering such an appalling burden of history, but Libeskind has designed a radical building, which meets the challenge.

Dance, 14-18

Rachel Balmer, 16 – Riverdance, Dublin Gaiety theatre

Having never encountered Riverdance before, I was totally clueless as to what to expect. What followed next was possibly the oddest genre of theatrical art I have – and probably ever will – see.

For those who have never seen Riverdance and would like to know what it involves, I am still none the wiser. And I've been to see it. A quick peruse of Google has just told me that it's the "Irish dancing phenomenon". It's certainly phenomenal. In a kind of whoa-there-how-on-Earth-is-he-moving-his-legs-so-fast way. And there's lots of Irish dancing. So I suppose it is as accurate a three-word summary as you could ask for, apart from the fact it doesn't mention that it's not just limited to Irish dancing. There was singing, a bout of flamenco, a candlelit vigil after a booming voice announced that "your leader is DEAD!" (did I mention there was a plot?), some Irish-style disco dancing complete with cartwheels and even a pan-pipe solo. All with some Irish dancing thrown in, sometimes in medieval costume. I told you it was odd.

Regardless, the dancers were amazing. Talented and ridiculously energetic; I wanted to bottle their exuberance. The leads were fantastic, and at one point our budding Michael Flatley almost propelled himself off the stage, his legs were moving so fast. Before long I started wondering whether it would be a viable business if I were somehow able to harness the heat being produced by their feet for electricity generation. To a casual onlooker, it was as if their legs were in a state of perpetual spasm.

It did, however, have an undoubted sense of "Irishness" to it. More than once I had the urge to stand up and shout "Bejaysus!". The dancers played upon the audience's enthusiasm – the majority being tourists, as I'm sure no single Irish person will openly admit to seeing Riverdance – and the show received a standing ovation. A feast for the senses, a little definitely goes a long way. Even if Irish dancing isn't really your thing, it'll certainly have you attempting to do some leg-kicking on the way home.

Dance, under 14

Thomas Holmes, 13 – Romeo and Juliet at the 02

The atmosphere at the 02 on 19 June 2011 was intense. The Royal Ballet was performing Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan, with the score of Sergei Prokofiev.

The three-act ballet starts in the marketplace of Verona, with the company on the huge set, designed by Nicholas Georgiadis. MacMillan's choreography told the compelling story of Shakespeare's great work.

The technique was impeccable, from the gorgeous pas de deux (performed by the exquisite Tamara Rojo in the role of Juliet and the inspiring Carlos Acosta as Romeo) to the jaw-dropping fight scenes. The controlled and elegant movement from the Royal Ballet really inspired me and everyone else in the audience, too.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played Prokofiev's challenging score. The conductor, Barry Wordsworth, lead the orchestra in harmony with the dancers, providing an exciting soundtrack.

The big screens, which showed fine detail and occasional video in the musical interludes, provided a close-up view of the facial expressions and, in particular, to Tamara Rojo's technical "potion scene". It added an extra approach for ballet, and in a new generation – it worked!

The original production, which was premiered in 1965 at the Royal Opera House, starred Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Sir Frederick Ashton was director at the time, and participated in the production direction.

The elevation and flexibility of the company really inspired me to go further in my dance training. As a ballet dancer myself, I understood the stamina of the dance, and the pure effort needed for the male roles in particular.

Carlos Acosta is a world-renowned Cuban dancer who is famous for his technique and elevation, and Rojo an elegant and awarded Spanish dancer who provides a story for the audience. The famous balcony scene at the end of Act I was breathtaking. The pas de deux was sensitively portrayed.

Overall, this production of Romeo and Juliet was to an excellent standard by the Royal Ballet, showing the company at its best along with its incredible dancers. It inspired me and thoroughly enjoyed it as my first ballet experience!

Classical music

Rosie Busiakiewicz, 18 – Quatuor Byron: Shostakovich Eighth and Ninth String Quartets

Every time a new recording of Shostakovich's Eighth string quartet is released, the classical world sits up – the emotional and technical demands of the work are notoriously difficult, and Quatuor Byron unfortunately falls prey to them.

Some movements are significantly faster than Shostakovich indicated. Each melodic line is saturated with so much non-functional harmony that you should savour each dissonance; the terrors of the Holocaust are represented in the modal shadings of C minor. Shostakovich is famous for these heart-wrenching harmonies, yet here they are lost. This fast tempo also causes much vibrato to evaporate, giving the quartet a shallow tone which is incongruous against the work's emotional, programmatic context. It serves as a haunting musical autobiography to the composer, quoting his 10th, first and fifth symphonies alongside his passacaglia from Lady Macbeth as well as his DSCH monogram (his musical "signature", in which four repeated notes represent his first four initials). Poignantly, the quartet is seen as Shostakovich's suicide note due to his referencing of Wagner's Götterdämmerung, yet this tragic nature is tragically lost in the childlike non-vibrato of the strings.

The players' hesitance is evident elsewhere in the recording. Whilst the frantic eruptions at the opening of the fourth movement should allude to bombs, or to the Gestapo knocking at the door, Quatuor Byron's interpretation only brings to mind a rabbit thumping its hind leg. Similarly, whilst the allegro molto opening of the second movement is a tremendous contrast to the first, none of the pictures of Jewish outrage are capitalised upon, despite the perpetual rhythmic movement and violent chords that should make the music powerful and intense. The third movement's satiric "grotesque waltz" is, however, captured well – the lighter mood cleverly mitigates the previous movement, and Quatuor Byron's playing is effervescent. Yet it may be telling that the only movement in which this recording excels is in the third's playful irony. It reflects a quartet that is comfortable with the absolutist works of Haydn and Beethoven, but are perhaps out of their depth with the emotional sophistication of Shostakovich.


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