See also Dancing grass seeds
Monthly Archives: June 2011
It was sometime at the beginning of the second world war, I can’t remember the actual year. But I do remember the excitement caused by the news that a hospital train would be passing through our mining village on it journey from Wolverhampton to Dudley and beyond.
Coventry, not many miles away, had already been devastated by enemy bombing, and the mood of community togetherness had an intensity that is not easily comprehended in a time of relative peace.
As the time for the train’s arrival approached crowds gathered. They lined the footbridge linking the platforms. They leaned over the wall of the small road bridge. Others pressed against the pailings bordering the station garden and platform. Every vantage point was taken.
Two hoots announced that the train was here and the steam engine, pulling four or five coaches, appeared under the road bridge and, belching smoke, chugged proudly on. The corridor of the train was lined by soldiers, all dressed in their hospital blue uniforms – a loose-fitting royal blue suit-type outfit with red tie and white shirt. Those who could waved enthusiastically – some were in slings or on crutches and found waving difficult. They were all young men.
The crowd of spectators and well-wishers cheered and cheered and waved Union Jacks.
And then, in less than a minute, it was all over. Or was it?
For me that experience was so potent, so deeply etched, that it remains with me to this day.
‘More a social than an artistic experiment’, was how one critic described the Royal Ballet’s recent performances of Romeo and Juliet at the O2 Arena.
It was an apt description. It is difficult to imagine two venues for ballet more diverse in size and clientele. The Royal Opera House, the home of the Royal Ballet, is a comparatively intimate theatre populated by a knowledgeable audience of around 2000 who tend to enjoy their glass of wine and light refreshments during the interval.
The O2 is a vast arena accommodating audiences of 12000 plus and is primarily a venue for pop concerts. The staple fare comprises hot-dogs, pizzas and beer, often consumed while performances are in progress.
So huge is the O2 that for some of the audience the stage was a distant 160 metres away – almost the length of two football pitches. To compensate, three large screens were used to provide close-ups at key moments. The music, provided by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was amplified through the hall’s sound system.
The choice of ballet was important. Romeo and Juliet is a gripping story. MacMillan’s choreography ranges from the tender to the macho, and Prokoviev’s orchestral score is colourful and dramatic. The result was a spectacular production.
But was the experiment a success?
In box office terms it certainly was. The four performances attracted a combined audience in excess of 45000. Artitstically, too, the ballet critics were generous in their comments, especially when writing about the principals, Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo
And the audience – how did they react? Initially they behaved in the manner to which they were accustomed, that is, there were some who wandered in as and when they felt inclined, often clutching a hot-dog in one hand and a drink in the other. Significantly, as the ballet progressed they became increasingly wrapt in what was happening on the stage and screens and the end of the performance was greeted with a roar of approval – for the right reasons!
So what has been learned?
I see a strange parallel with the advent of package holidays in the 60’s. A previously untravelled clientele flew to the Costas to enjoy a new cocktail of sun, sand and sangria. Many were happy to return year after year to repeat the experience. A small number took the trouble to learn something of the language to improve their understanding and their communication skills, and a few went on to explore other parts of Spain and Spanish culture.
Like the Costas package the O2 experience was a taster – a mere dip into the world of ballet. What it most certainly did not do was to provide a basis for a definitive decision, such as ‘I like/don’t like ballet’. Hopefully it demonstrated that ballet as an artform is not elitist (even though the behaviour of some ardent enthusiasts may be!). Like any other language (and dance is a language – a vehicle for expression) a little time spent understanding a few conventions – the equivalent of the traveller’s phrasebook – will bring vast rewards.
At the same time, the artist Monet offered a word of caution and was critical of those who searched too deeply for ‘meaning’ in his paintings: ‘as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.’
Let us hope that the O2 audiences will have been released from any lingering misconceptions, prejudices and elitist inhibitions.
See also RomeO2:Never Mind the Hot Dogs
Water has repeatedly provided the subject and inspiration for my abstract images. I am totally captivated by the constantly changing patterns caused by the play of light both on the surface and beneath.
I am happy to spend long periods of time wrapt in the magic of the sea transforming the shapes of rocks beneath or the kaleidoscopic play of sunlight on the waves. It is a very personal, an intimate relationship with the subject bordering on a state of meditation.
Looking through my photos it is possible to identify five broad categories:
Sunlight on water (eg., Water Abstract, Water Abstract 2 etc)
Sunlight through water (eg. Patterns under the water etc)
At the water’s edge (eg. At the Water’s Edge etc)
Reflections (eg. Calm Sea, Reflections on the Broads etc)
Disturbance of the surface (eg. Creating a Splash, Galaxy 1, Mountain Stream etc)
Of course, there is often a degree of overlap with photos relating to more than one category. But all exploit the elements of light, colour, pattern and texture.
In most cases very little has been done to enhance the images: far greater attention has been given to selection and cropping.
We all – each and every one of us – see the world differently. For example, a group of individuals looking at the same object, scene or picture will each see something different; how different will depend upon the varied life experiences in relation to the subject matter, that is, what they bring to the seeing process.
The point is, there is a distinction between LOOKING and SEEING and when creating a picture it is the exploration of this difference that interests me. Rather like peeling an apple or orange. I need to remove the outer layer to get to the substance. Direct representation is seldom sufficient. I need to get beyond the outer appearance to the inner meaning, the essence of the subject matter.
The Viennese photographer Ernst Haas wrote, ‘A picture is the expression of an impression’. Frequently I ask, ‘Why do I want to take this photograph? Why have I stopped? What feeling, what impression has the subject evoked in me? How can I best capture and express that feeling?’ If I cannot answer these questions satisfactorily I have nothing to contribute; no creative energy with which to enliven or interpret; nothing to say.
This image was created at the time when Guantanamo figured prominently in the headlines. I was idling one day with two or three paper clips and the rigidity of the clips seemed to symbolise the severity of treatment experienced by the prisoners.
I have been an avid follower of Neighbours since the days of Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue). I have seen the parachuting into stardom of Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Alan Dale, Kimberley Davies, Natalie Imbruglia, Delta Goodrem, Holly Valance et al.
I have been present at countless weddings, seen innumerable characters trapped in disused or burning buildings, have searched with parents and neighbours for lost children, and have even witnessed the resurrection/reincarnation of Harold Bishop who had been washed out to sea.
Of course, there have been, and still are, aspects that annoy me. For example, plot lines and dramatic scenarios are repeated; the quality of acting is uneven (although, overall, it is better than many critics would have us believe); officers in authority (such as the police and representatives of the social services) are constantly surly and aggressive; the doctor and the lawyer are seldom at their jobs and mostly eat at the local cafe; the school seems to have only two teachers, one of whom (the principal) walks around with his shirt outside his trousers, is addressed by the pupils as Michael, and also eats at the local cafe.
Occasionally characters undergo a personality change – probably due to the large number of plot writers used and the difficulty of maintaining continuity in a story that has been unfolding five nights a week for twenty five years.
This list of irritations provides sufficient reason for me never to watch another episode. And yet, like Philip Pullman, I watch no other soap but return unfailingly for my daily fix.
Why do I do it?
Is it because I enjoy the exuberance of the youthful cast?
Is it because I feel I know the characters and have a genuine interest in what happens to them?
Is it because I welcome the challenge of solving the various dilemmas – what would I do?
I’m not sure what the answer is. Help please!