Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

Traditional museum exhibitions have run their course. We are a multimedia 24/7 society, museums are stale institutions. Including a psychedelically lit corridor does not do it. There is more to life and art than meets the eye, writing snippets of a story on a wall is not it. Fighting for space to read that tiny piece of storytelling, in a sold-out exhibition, is definitely not it. The didactical approach has run its course. Frida Kahlo is more than her eyebrows. Bringing just a handful of her paintings to London is a poor excuse for an exhibition on Frida Kahlo. Screaming that she is very influential means nothing to most. Why is she such a revered figure? Where is her art? Her art is herself, this is what we are told. But that feels like selling Frida Kahlo unibrow costumes for carnival, (incidentally this is what you find online when you type her name). We have strived so hard to democratise...
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Keren Ann and Quatour Debussy Live

Keren Ann and Quatour Debussy Live

A minimalist concert, a string quartet accompanying Karen Ann and her guitar mainly electrified, sometimes acoustic. Sheer class and intense emotions. Sometimes the strings were trying to scream louder but soon the guitar would tell them who is boss. A tiny, figure dressed in black, a powerful smile, smooth melancholy melodies, lulling us safely towards our destination like a sailboat on a smooth, unsettling sea. Liquid music poured into our ears like honey poured from a smooth precious chalice. So many cultures connect in the creative mind of Keren Ann, she seems to make them universal through her art, smoothening differences, distilling them into what is a universal human experience. Her re-appropriation of her own Strange Weather, covered majestically by Anna Calvi together with an inspired David Byrne, brings goosebumps to my body. Her twangy guitar courts and duels with the strings, it plays and dances an ironical battle, her voice dominates her emotions and commands our attention, sweetly but firmly....
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Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra is a modern hero and a drama queen. Shakespeare is claimed to be universal but many a times it just sounds anachronistic. The theatre, being a male dominated world throughout the centuries, rarely manages to portray a female character realistically, so it is no surprise that a play could never be conceived as the hagiography of any woman. Cleopatra is viewed as a highly volatile queen, who brings about Antony’s - her lover but most importantly one of the Roman triumvirate - inglorious defeat and eventual suicide. The story unfolding onstage is a tragedy, valiant people run into swords or die of broken heart, the majestic drama queen commits suicide offering her neck to a live snake on stage, the same snake claims the life of one of her ladies in waiting as well, by design, not by chance. To modern audiences this sounds like farce material. Despite or maybe because of the play’s shortcomings, I loved the ironically nuanced performance....
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Anna Calvi Live

Anna Calvi Live

I had the privilege of meeting Anna Calvi at the end of her fiery performance in Paris, during the Rock en Seine festival. We had a nice chat centred around her new release Hunter and touching on a few hot topics, including but not exclusively, gender identity. Hunter is a sensual, exciting, wild, intriguing, operatic record. Calvi’s performance on stage is mind-blowing. She uses her guitar as a shield and a weapon. She smoothly pours a powerful sonic attack all over us, enchanting us with her nuanced, powerful voice. It is a cathartic experience both for the musicians on stage and the enraptured audience. When I meet her, one hour after her performance, she has left her powerful stage persona behind and is wrapped in a warm white coat, matching her white boots, cuddled on a sofa, in the cool Parisian evening. I envy her for a minute, as I am freezing in my light summer clothes… The interview was published on...
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Monumental

Monumental

Monumental is not new. It was created by Dana Gingras & Noam Gagnon with Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music in mind. Ideally the musicians would be performing live but when it premiered in 2005 the dancers were moving to a recording of the monumental music of alternative Canadian band Godspeed. This is the first time Monumental is performed in London and we are treated to the bonus of having the Canadian band live on stage. They are in the shadows, well at the back of the Barbican’s huge stage. All spotlights are on the dancers. The lighting design by Marc Parent, is dramatic, the action on stage is alienating and aggressive, the dancers mainly constrained to their own footprint, each on a tiny cube, isolated. When they do get in contact with each other, they can only do so by attacking each other, bully each other. Each on their own cube, their existence appears to be marred by obsessions and repetitiveness,...
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Red by John Logan

Red by John Logan

Torn between art and making a living, having accepted the biggest commission of his life for a huge upscale hotel chain, Red portrays an imaginary, witty dialogue between the artist, Max Rothko (Alfred Molina), and his apprentice (Alfred Enoch), a fellow would-be artist ready to tear the establishment apart, to create his own groundbreaking artwork. In real life people, even geniuses do not express themselves in John Logan’s polished banter but somehow Molina and Enoch not only make it credible, they make it real. We arrive at the theatre and take our seat while Mr. Molina is on stage, sat on an armchair, already staring with puzzlement at his huge, fake Rothko canvases, surrounding him, tilted against the sides of his studio, Rothko’s studio. He is staring at his masterpieces, lost in its shades of red and its symbolism. Red can be life, blood, passion. Red can be engulfed by its opposite, black, by darkness. From then on, it is an exhilarating...
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All Points East Festival 2018

All Points East Festival 2018

Nothing compares to seeing Patti Smith live. I never tire of seeing her. I never tire of listening to her. Her passion is stronger than life, her passion is stronger than time, time passing fast, pushing her over the 70-year barrier, making her seemingly fragile. She is human, I remind myself while watching her, she will not be there forever. I will miss her terribly when she will give up performing live, and she will, she will. She started her performance reading Allen Ginsberg’s verses, “Holy, holy, holy, holy, everything is holy”, she thunders on stage. She fascinates us with her words, she enchants us with her presence, she conquers us with her musical powers. A powerful band surrounds her, including her son Jackson and the faithful Lenny Kaye. Throughout the show they stare at her, for renewed inspiration. They look at her as if something extremely precious and totally unexpected is happening in front of their eyes. She is beyond...
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Kamasi Washington Live

Kamasi Washington Live

I heard it on the grapevine that Kamasi Washington was good, but after seeing him and his band live, I can testify that he was better than good, he was magnificent. The whole collective, as he named it, was magnificent. Miles Mosley was magnificent, the wizard behind the double-bass creating sounds and vibes so diverse you would have thought elves were hard at work inside his sound box. Mosley made Les Claypool from Primus sound like an amateur. Miles-voodoo child-Mosley made Jimi Hendrix sound like an amateur. He made his double bass vibrate as tightly as a Sicilian scacciapensieri, or mouth harp, and rock as hard as a metal guitar. And the man has a voice as well. But I digress, each solo performance from each of the musicians on stage was beyond impressive. It struck me that all musicians on stage were fueled by water... Kamasi made it clear, this is a collective and it is a collective performance of...
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Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka in Vienna

Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka in Vienna

Living in London we are spoilt for choice as far as art and museums are concerned. Just one problem, they are so terribly crowded, experiencing an exhibition is experiencing a constant fight for space, juggling for the coveted position that would allow you to see and take the creation and the creative process in. You only get a few precious seconds before your privileged position shifts under your feet like quicksand. The experience is made even more unpleasant by the presence of attendants screaming at people trying to steal a picture, a momentum of their experience. You are made to feel like a criminal for even thinking taking a lousy picture with your mobile phone is conceivable. That is why by comparison a visit at the museum in Vienna appears to be heavenly, precious, valuable. It is not a stolen, unhindered moment of a skewed view of a masterpiece, the time at one’s disposal appears to be eternal, I’ve seen...
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The York Realist by Peter Gill

The York Realist by Peter Gill

Going to the Donmar Warehouse is an intimate experience. The action happens so up close and personal, it is like being part of the chorus in a Greek tragedy. Moreover, throughout the performance I am extremely conscious of my laboured breath because of a bad cold, as it feels amplified to the extreme in the many moments of silence and staring, while the actors try to gauge each other’s reaction on stage. The York Realist is a very British affair, a country constantly analysing itself as if on an analyst’s sofa, constantly analysing its idiosyncrasies. A country priding itself on its liberalism though still very much divided into social classes, a nation obsessed with its internal division, a country still reeling from its collective denial of LBGT+ rights, same sex relationships were only decriminalised in the UK in 1967, a nation currently intent on creating even more barriers. It is interesting to view this very British play with my foreigner’s...
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Charlie Parr Live

Charlie Parr Live

A joyful evening, stripped down of all the hat tricks of the music business, the show business. The location, the smallest pub in the world, without a stage, a man with a guitar followed by another man with a guitar. Daffodils in vases dotted all over the Alice in Wonderland themed pub. Pretty much the whole of Guildford is themed around Alice in Wonderland, as it was the chosen place of residence and burial of Lewis Carrol, its author. We catch the tail end of the performance of Hope Convention, an acoustic musician hailing from Dartford, telling us he knows he should polish his guitar tuning banter but hey, he’s got nothing to say, you know coming from Dartford and all. I was still recovering from the shock of how tiny the place is, how minimalistic, for the lyrics of Hope Convention to register but his guitar playing is fascinating. It just ends too quickly because of our late arrival,...
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Viktor – Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Viktor – Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

I came across Pina Bausch’s work after her death in 2009 and thanks to Wim Wenders’ 3D tribute. Her world seems drenched in great melancholy and to date I cannot find any other art form that better depicts the absurdity of our lot in life than Bausch’s hybrid choreography. Her creations of theatrical performances created a new vocabulary crossing over between dance and theatre, allowing total freedom of expression to the performers, making each and every one of them the protagonist. Life is a choral performance, there are no solo performances. In Viktor’s case life in all its absurdity dances its way into a huge mass grave, with a gravedigger constantly trying to fill it in. The sound of the detritus falling on stage gently mixes in with the soundtrack of many traditional Italian songs along with classical pieces and Bolivian folk tunes. The effect is soothing and unsettling at the same time. The infinite lines of performers on stage...
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Grayson Perry – Let Them Eat Conceptual Art

Grayson Perry – Let Them Eat Conceptual Art

There was a time when it was normal to see Grayson Perry cycling around east London in a frock, turning heads, stopping the traffic. He is so busy and in such demand these days that even being in the audience at one of his talks today is quite a steep order, sold out even before it is advertised. Perry is such a master of ceremonies, stunning presence, allergic to stereotypes, he arrives on stage the grand dame of the pantomime, he jokes, this is me. The pretext for the comment is an exchange with the audience, you can always count on the participation of the audience as a member of the cast in the UK. Grayson warns the organizers that he might need some water at some point as he will be talking nonstop for over one hour and the audience goes Behind You!, referencing the pantomime season just over and pointing to the water bottle and glasses on a...
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Network – National Theatre London

Network – National Theatre London

I’m mad as hell and I cannot take it anymore! The stage becomes a screen where hundreds of faces are projected while screaming into their mobile phone, I’m mad as hell and I cannot take it anymore! This is the most powerful scene in a perfectly choreographed and perfectly acted play, a spin off from a cinematic release from the seventies. In Sidney Lumet’s film, Peter Finch landed the role of the anchor-man/ newsreader going mad live on tv, announcing his suicide live on TV. He becomes the news because, in his words, he could not handle the bullshit anymore, the bullshit he was reading while doing his duty as a news reader. On stage Bryan Cranston takes over the role. His performance is up close and personal, he is seeking contact with his audience, literally sitting next to a young member of the audience “I see you have dressed up for the theatre” he quips coming out of character,...
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Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri

There is always an underlining ironical nuance in Frances McDormand’s characters and attitude to acting as if inside she is laughing at the absurdity of the world around us and the pettiness of the individuals that populate it. Her performance in Three Billboards will probably earn her all the top acting prizes and quite rightly so. This is a light hearted, heavy-weight drama and a vehicle for McDormand's performing skills. She cuts a powerful figure as a mother demanding justice for the rape and murder of her teenage daughter. She acquires status and power with every minute rolling on screen and becomes this holier than thou figure who can almost literally get away with murder because she is the wronged one, she can and feels she has a duty to set the place on fire until justice is done. In her journey on screen she is surrounded by many interesting characters, the reflection of how stereotypical we all become in...
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Conte, Kauflin, Plant, Giddens

Conte, Kauflin, Plant, Giddens

13 November 2017 A very musical week full of inspiring musicians, starting with the London Jazz festival and ending in Bristol, at the Colston Hall, a historical venue celebrating 150 years of service. We start with the elderly Italian poet and jazz enthusiast Paolo Conte conducting his full band in front of a full house at London’s South Bank Centre. This is not the first time I see Conte live. It is remarkable he still feels the urge to entertain despite his getting weaker with age. The concert is slick and observing his musicians move between instruments onstage is like witnessing a well-choreographed ballet. The music slides smoothly on our tired limbs after a busy working day. Conte’s understated but steadily influential music and rough but velvety voice and rhymes lull us into a sense of false security, transporting us into a world of glamorous, cool musical cats. One just hopes reality never sets in and we can be transported forever...
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Basquiat Boom for Real

Basquiat Boom for Real

Was Basquiat just a meteor in the modern art world? He just kept on pushing boundaries by breaking into the modern, contemporary art world scene, a scene dominated by white western males. Breaking the rules was this tiny, elfish being whose inquisitive eyes were crowned by rebellious dreadlocks, questioning the rules of society, questioning the fabric of our civilization. From his puzzling messages tagged SAMO (same old, same old) on the dangerous, dirty streets of New York in the 70ies to becoming Andy Warhol’s protégé, painting ferociously in haute couture suits, his pattern has been meteoric, but his star was only crashed by a heroin overdose, aged just 27. A self-made, very political rock-n-roll star painter shaking the art world at its core. His paintings are uncomfortable statements, starting from his minimalist, painted diploma declaring his qualifications were not gained in conventional schools but on the streets of NY and devouring everything around him, the culture and the trash around...
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Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan

Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan

The set up is sparse, a DJ in one corner spinning old Bob Dylan’s songs on a turntable, a dancer in the centre of a stage, her immaculate white shirt the centre of attention surrounded by almost complete darkness. Ms Gruwez moves pulsate with the rhythm, they start minimal, they become ferocious, obsessive, tailored to the music and to our state of mind. Dylan’s voice and acoustic guitar are given life in a minimalistic setting, no need for anything else really, just the expressive, suffering face of the dancer tells many storie The only other visual input is the casual coolness of her DJ, Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, a composer and musician in his own right. He only joins Gruwez on the dance floor for an unusual, poetic pas de deux, he just discreetly follows Gruwez’s body with a soft light, old style spotlight, enhancing the reflection of her body moving in impossible yoga poses on the shiny black surface. Gruwez...
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Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds live

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds live

I usually avoid large venues for any performance of any kind, venues like the Electric Halle in Düsseldorf are designed for sporting events, not music but the urge to finally see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds live again is too strong and I surrender to it. The location is so wrong for so many reasons, on so many levels. The current tour is promoting one of the most intimate recordings ever issued by the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree. It is raw, painful and anything but loud while, in stark contrast to the music being performed, the venue is so terrifyingly huge. Hard-core fans have been queuing since the morning to get the best positions… I find myself relegated to a terrible spot behind many very tall German people. There is only one choice, that is viewing the concert from the sides in what would be the equivalent of a balcony in a theatre but our position is so angled...
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Jim Jarmusch Revisited

Jim Jarmusch Revisited

Nothing is more inspiring than beautifully crafted cinema or as inspiring as meaningful music. Jim Jarmusch and his quirky, quiet, poetic films have put a spell on me. The music he chooses for his films are equally spellbinding and his soundtracks are works of art in their own right. I could not possibly miss an evening dedicated to the music in his films. It must have been hard for David Coulter, the artistic director to make a choice when preparing a set list for these 2 evenings at the Barbican theatre in London. Where would you start? I guess the choice of available talents to impersonate the music eventually dictated what to do next. The performance was quite a treat starting with the band hidden by a gauze-like material onto which moving images taken from Jarmusch’s films were projected. Jarmusch has used a lot of black and white in his visually stunning creations and gigantic black and white images dominate the...
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PJ Harvey, Route du Rock Festival

PJ Harvey, Route du Rock Festival

I have been in the crowd witnessing PJ Harvey on stage through many years. I have been playing her music in my headphones for even longer. I have seen her changing from her angry rock guitar persona to a gentle, brooding piano player, moving on to a plethora of musical instruments both ancient and new and a diversity of collaborators throughout the years. There is an urgency, a passion to her music that is so totally unlike any music written by any other woman in the musical world, she is so very English and so very atypical, she is tiny and powerful, classy and minimalist. She is touring a few festivals during the summer and I witnessed her gig at the Route du Rock at the Fort St Père near Saint Malo, in France. There are hundreds, thousands of festivals during the summer, it has become big business, huge business. Most festival goers are not even interested in the music, it...
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Girl from the North Country

Girl from the North Country

The musical genre does not sit well with me. It feels utterly uncomfortable the way actors all of a sudden start singing on stage at the end of a perfectly conventional conversation with other characters. It feels awkward and most of the times it feels like the plot is an excuse to introduce the music. It is like opera gone wrong. And the singing style is all strutting and showing off of some starlet’s vocal range. Though I find it utterly boring, the audience just love it. I am not sure what I expected from the Girl from the Northern Country, for sure not a musical, but a play featuring Bob Dylan’s songs, I did not realise that it would feature some of Dylan’s best-known songs, including Like a Rolling Stones alongside some more obscure ones all taken from his back catalogue. I resented that at times the play was overly sentimental, I was not impressed to say the least...
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Devendra Banhart live

Devendra Banhart live

We are mainly inspired by fusion, by artists crossing boundaries, moving the goalpost further and further. We are inspired by artists like Devendra Banhart. Proud of his Venezuelan roots, perfectly bilingual, totally at ease with both his inner yin and yang side. We are in awe of his musical and visual talent, we are inspired by his quirky, deceptively simple creations. Live on stage at the Hackney Empire in East London, I was expecting Banhart to be somewhat aloof and distant, instead from the very first notes he was gregarious, inclusive, joyous, funny, a pleasure to watch. At some point he even lamented the physical distance from his audience, which was in reality minimal. He cuts a very tall figure on stage, his tall, slim body and body language reminded me of the Italian director Nanny Moretti, his beard more Latin American hero than hipster cool and I could see some of Beck’s naivety in his moves. At times when...
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Angels in America

Angels in America

I only recently saw Angels in America, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, in its star-studded, HBO miniseries version (Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson come to mind) and approaching the theatrical version in the knowledge that I would sit through a marathon 9-hour performance, my biggest question was, how would they portray the angels on stage? The staging is actually magical, thanks to master puppeteers playing the angel’s shadow and wings. Tony Kushner’s writing is excellent, engaging and engaged, the jokes are funny, the Pulitzer winning plot digs dip into the recent history of the US and its idiosyncrasies, the domineering force is what in the eighties was considered a new plague, the red plague, Aids. The play was written in 1993 but has not aged one iota. The comparison with the TV series actors was impossible to avoid (i.e. Nathan Lane v. Al Pacino portraying historical lawyer and hate figure Roy Cohn, Andrew Garfield v. Justin Kirk...
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Diamanda Galás

Diamanda Galás

Owner of the most powerful voice and provocative personality in the music business, Diamanda Galás can be scary. She can be ice cold and sinister, her scathing voice is made to dig inside our deepest, inner self, a part of ourselves we would never confess existed not even to ourselves. Black is her state of mind and her attire, a grand piano her only accompaniment, nothing else is needed. Above all that voice reaching deeply into our soul and lifting us up to the highest, vertiginous grounds, nothing is safe during a performance by Galás. I seem to remember her previous performances might have been slightly more sober as far as the lights and effects on her voice were concerned, though the extreme whiteness of her facial make up, vertiginously high shoes and infinite nails can always be relied on. She fascinates and terrorizes us as she incarnates our primordial instincts buried under centuries of indoctrination in what we consider...
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Jazz sous le pommiers – Garbarek and Gurtu

Jazz sous le pommiers – Garbarek and Gurtu

A trip along the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy, an area well known for oysters, radioactive power and Jazz sous les pommiers, a Jazz festival named after one of the biggest resources in the area, apple trees. So while sipping locally brewed cider and savouring oysters produced along the infamous WWII landing beaches, we skip in between venues and performances in Coutances, a smallish French town still quiet despite the musical circus hitting it for over 30 years now. It all feels odd, in a French way, during what appears to be the hottest and humid day ever. Extremely hot, and amazingly ugly appears to be the Salle Marcel-Hallé that hosts the main events of the festival, including the concert that sees Norwegian saxophonist, composer and all-round jazz legend Garbarek and India’s most talented and inventive percussionist Trilok Gurtu. I had dreamt of a performance under beautiful apple trees in full bloom, festival goers relaxing on the grass and fields of...
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Queer British Art 1861 – 1967 Tate Britain

Queer British Art 1861 – 1967 Tate Britain

I am finding it harder and harder to enjoy exhibitions. The way they have been traditionally organized for years, they are static, crowded, uncomfortable, expensive experiences in dire need for a revolutionary change. I am talking mostly about the large popular museums in the big cities. Though the exhibition celebrating 50 years of partial decriminalization for homosexual relationship at the Tate Britain was quiet enough in terms of attendees, it felt as if the curators wanted to cover too much in too small a space. Homosexuality or in any case a sexuality that is different from heterosexual, has always puzzled the rest of the world, when lucky, it has become cause for oppression and repression in many societies that would otherwise have been considered civilized in many respects, including the British society up to 1967, the time boundary set by the title of the exhibition. The subject matter is interesting and visually heterogeneous, it engages our senses and our brain in equal...
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From Selfie to Self-Expression – Saatchi Gallery

From Selfie to Self-Expression – Saatchi Gallery

I could only manage a taster of Saatchi’s Selfie exhibition as I was running against the clock, closing time being 5 pm, while I was hoping it would be at least 6. My bad. I often stroll around the Saatchi Gallery as it showcases the work of many contemporary artists from all over the world. Still vivid in my mind Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s artwork during an exhibition dedicated to China, 10 years ago. Their work Old Persons Home displayed life-sized statues of elderly and fragile people, closely resembling famous, or rather infamous, world leaders on wheelchairs set on a collision course in a large clinical room in the gallery. World leaders battling it out on wheelchairs despite themselves despite their infirmities, the irony of it all, just brilliant. And the selfie exhibition appears to be just as revolutionary and playful. I particularly enjoyed the interactive room displaying on video selfies painted in the past, or self-portraits as they...
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Obsession, Barbican Theatre

Obsession, Barbican Theatre

What pushes Toneelgroep, a Dutch theatre company, to revive the story behind the neorealist cinematographic debut for Italian director Luchino Visconti in 1943? The story is originally taken from The Postman Always Rings Twice, a novel by James M. Cain, written in 1934, therefore US origins, Italian transposition, a version plagued with censorship and lack of distribution during the fall of the Italian fascist regime. The premises are melodramatic, the story itself and some of the dialogue during the performance feels dated, though the feelings are universal: lust and ambition and the feeling of entrapment that a woman feels, the narrow options at her disposal to get out of poverty, hence marriage to an older man running a restaurant and annexed garage. A dreary life till the arrival of a drifter changes it all. The drifter on stage has the looks of Jude Law, getting closer in his features to Michael Caine in is mature days. The play directed by...
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Caetano Veloso introducing Teresa Cristina

Caetano Veloso introducing Teresa Cristina

Veloso is a superstar and his London concerts attract large crowds, I’m surprised I’m able to grab return tickets the night before the actual concert. It is a double-bill with Veloso introducing  Brazilian Samba star Teresa Cristina. The latter is touring her new album, Canta Cartola, where she pays homage to the great poet Cartola from the Mangueira Samba school. She hits the stage accompanied by Carlinhos Sete Cordas on guitar. The performance is velvety, elegant, theatrical. Cristina’s performance becomes smoother with each song, with each sip in between songs from a glass containing a golden liquid. We are all hoping she is feeding her voice a good, stiff Rum but it is only tea, she reassures the audience. I am not sure we believe her, though. Visually and musically, the whole performance is stunning. Her colourful dress perfectly fits Cristina. her deep, smooth voice, caresses our soul and I feel as if I am in the presence of an...
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