Archives for posts with tag: arts

Peter Brook turned 90 yesterday and he’s still at it.

I feel very lucky to have seen a couple of his productions in my life. Once, when he brought Sizwe Banzi est mort to Montreal and then when we went to Paris and I finally had the chance to set foot in the Bouffes du Nord theatre.

As a once-aspiring theatre director myself (I am no longer aspiring in the sense that I have more or less given up), he inspired me with his writings and ideas and experiments. His 60-year-old production of Titus Andronicus became the backbone of my MA dissertation (for which I cherish and hate him. The reasons for these feelings will be obvious to anyone who has written a dissertation about anything). One of the most magical (nerdiest?) moments of my research was when I found my way to the theatre museum archives in London and, while leafing through Brook’s prompt book, worked on deciphering his penciled notes in the margins.

He is an important director with a career spanning 65 years. He is still working. And in January, I got to see his production of Beckett’s Fragments at the theatre he found in 1974 as the home for his company.


Théâtre Bouffes du Nord, before the show

I was happy to be able to smugly say that I would be seeing Beckett in Paris, darling. But I was mostly happy to see the insides of this theatre. I was relieved and thrilled, really, that the building had the same magical feeling that BAM’s Harvey Theater had (also renovated for a Peter Brook production).

You can feel the history, the age, the ghosts in this theatre. The wooden seats, the unpolished clockwork-like ceiling, the distressed paint on the walls… It was great that the performance was funny and moving and that the chosen pieces exposed Beckett’s silly, human side (he can be a bit bleak, can’t he?), but I wouldn’t have cared because the space was so rich in its simplicity (much like Brook’s direction). A bit of history and lots more pictures can be found here.

People of all ages in fancy and/or bohemian Parisian garb sat on the floor in the front rows. We sat on the shallow balcony next to a couple of theatre students with hearty laughs. The place was full.

Bouffes interior

This is the inside of the theatre (stolen from Wikipedia).

I was on a high after the show- the theatre, the play, Katherine Hunter’s amazing voice, being in Paris, taking the metro to a neighbourhood I’d never seen, having a boyfriend who will enthusiastically go see Beckett- but the night was still young. There was still steak frites and wine and beer to have and an old friend to see.


On my bus trip from Montreal to Toronto, I noticed I was wearing shoes I’d bought in Sarajevo, jeans from Barcelona, t-shirt from Zagreb, and socks from, well, Toronto.

On my bus trip from Montreal to Toronto, I thought about how this would be the last bus trip (or trip in general) for a while. I am home now and things are falling into place. I am home and things like babysitting commitments now dictate which city I should be in.  I have found a room of my own and a job that starts after Thanksgiving (which means one more month of vacation! Where should I go?). Things are falling into place and I have a year of unreal memories behind me.

So, for your random pleasure, here are photos of some of my favourite animal street art from my trip. Because I don’t think you want to hear me complain about how overwhelming it is to pack and move house, especially after your entire life fitting into a 40 litre backpack for a year.


Sheep, Barcelona (Spain). “Je suis ceux que je suis.”


Zebra, Pula (Croatia).


Otter?, London (England).


Bush baby, Copenhagen (Denmark).


Rabid squirrel attacking other skinny squirrel, London (England).


Wild menagerie, Copenhagen (Denmark).


Zebra-man. Half zebra, half man, all zebra-man. Berlin (Germany).


Warrior horse (and others), Barcelona (Spain).


Octopus, John Lennon Wall, Prague (Czech Republic).


Snake, Portorož (Slovenia)


Cheetah and baby cheetah, Ljubljana (Slovenia).


Zebra crossing (for a literal take on street art and zebra crossing), Belgrade (Serbia).


Cat (and humans), Mostar (Bosnia).


Birds, Kochi (India).

As part of pretending that I’m still somewhat being productive on my trip around the world, I’m trying to see at least one play in each country that I visit. This gives the impression that I’m doing research and getting inspired for future projects.

Weirdly, I’ve been more successful in my non-mission of eating a burger in each place I visit (there will be a burger round-up in August).

After a failed attempt to see a play in Cambodia (on World Theatre Day of all days!) due to cloudy weather and nausea (thanks, malaria tablets!), I was keen to make up for it in India, a country with strong and vital theatrical traditions. So I saw two plays. Two! I win.


Man applying makeup.


Another man applying different makeup.

In Kochi, I got the chance to take a tourist’s peak into Kathakali, a type of classical dance-drama from the state of Kerala, at a lovely and air conditioned wooden theatre in the old city.

Usually very long (like, 8 hours), they cut and dumbed this one down for tourists, complete with a make-up application demonstration and a quick run-through of the gestures and their meanings. I read the synopsis in two languages and still couldn’t quite follow the plot and my mind wandered a bit.  But I got to see what I’d learned about in my World Theatre course in 2006 in action, so I felt pretty good about that. And the costumes were quite amazing.


In full costume, a type of demon boar.


The boar and the lady.


The main character, being egotistical (spoiler: at the end he’s enlightened and no longer full of ego).

And then, on my last day in India, I was treated to Gasha by the Indian Ensemble Theatre in the beautiful and sleek theatre space Rangashankara in Bangalore.

As the contemporary play was in Urdu, Hindi, and Kashmiri, all I understood that sometimes the two characters were at school (“If you concentrate, you will go far”) and that there was a dead dog at one point.

Though I was completely right on those two points, my friend explained everything to me afterwards and what I thought had been a joyful story of a friendship was quickly revealed to be about the horrors of the political conflicts in Kashmir.

I loved the use of the simple props and quick shift between characters by actors Bhat and Sandeep Shikhar. And the theatre itself made me feel so at home (Torontonians, it was very close to the Dance Theatre). But I guess with a play like this where accents and quick dialogue, it would make sense to understand at least one of the languages spoken…

Ubud, known the artistic capital of Bali, is the place to catch a traditional dance performance. Even the most modest of shows seems to be all gold and flowers and meters of colourful fabric.

Pretty, no?

Pretty, no?

Every night of the week you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by the choice of different dances and all the different troupes performing them in different venues.

Being edgy and adventurous, Yf and I opted for the fire dance. Fire means there’s no way the show would be dull.


They don’t call it the fire dance for nothing.

We bought our tickets from one of the many sellers around town and found our venue one the grounds of a small temple. Although the surroundings were beautiful in a more humble way than, say, the royal palace, I felt a bit like we were in a makeshift tent in a parking lot alone on our plastic chairs.


So many men making such strange sounds.

Luckily more audience members arrived and the show was stunning. No instruments to create the music- just about a hundred men going “chacka chacka chacka” and “op op op!”. I was very close to being hypnotised several times, but camera flashes from the audience snapped me out of it frequently.


My favourite character. Also, the guys cracking themselves and each other up in the background when they thought no one was paying attention to them.

There were three dances for that night’s programme: the monkey dance (Kecak), the little girls’ dance (Sanghyang dedari) and the horse dance (Sanghyang jaran). The narratives were quite complicated and I didn’t follow the plot, but it was never dull.


Horse dance. Watch out! Those burning coconut husks are hot and they fly under the dancer’s feet.

A couple of nights later, I dropped into another dance show on a whim. This one was inside with glossy tickets and an opportunity to have your photo taken with the dancers afterwards.  I enjoyed the fact that the show and orchestra were all women, but it did feel much more tourist-satisfaction-driven, with many short pretty dances and a big barong beast and a bunch of little monkeys at the end. Fine, I’ll admit that that was cool. I do like elaborate costumes.

The stage was brightly lit so pictures were easy to take. I’m glad I saw it, though, to get a taste of the variety of shows and styles (this one was barong and legong dance, a classical and more ‘beautiful’ dance).


Everything that sparkles.




Little boys watching the performance and pissing their pants laughing when the monkeys came out. Maybe their friends were performing?

Knowing absolutely nothing about dance other than what I learn from TV and movies (namely Dance Academy and Center Stage, which doesn’t give me any credibility, granted) and even less about classical balinese dance, I think the best review I can give you is: if you have the chance to see the horse dance, go!

They burn a stack of coconut husks and then a guy riding a horse puppet (think a bit more basic than War Horse) dances on the embers in his bare feet. The programme notes explain it pretty well: “An entrance boy dance on a horse (jaran). Behaving like horse. He dance around a bonfire made from coconut busks. If the sanghyang song leads him to fire, then he will dance on the fire.”

Skip the glitz and go with the show with the horse. A good motto to live by, really.

Reaction shot:

Looks like we were quite happy with the experience, inspired to hold our fingers more elegantly in future, and just so slightly confused (manifested in the weird angle of the shot).

Looks like we were quite happy with the experience, inspired to hold our fingers more elegantly in future, and just so slightly confused (manifested in the weird angle of the shot).

I might be heading for an overdose. After nine weeks in the bush where I ended up addicted to Dance Academy (for lack of anything else and because it’s awesome), I arrived in Sydney starved for a bit of artsy-fartsy company.


With volunteering for the Arts Festival and as a workshop assistant at the Australian Theatre for Young People, I had my fill of theatre all day, every day, in one way or another. I haven’t had a moment to make it to Bondi beach yet (and I might skip it, actually, to go see some Shakespeare in the Blue Mountains).


Handing out flyers promoting the festival outside the train station. I met some interesting people, including the righteous king of Northern Ireland.

Walking from my swish hostel to my volunteer job on the wharf every day, I walk past Cate Blanchett’s theatre and rub shoulders with Sydney Dance Company ballerinas on their coffee breaks.

The Sydney Dance Company cafe.

The Sydney Dance Company cafe.

I spend the day playing zip zap zop and telling kids to zip it. Evenings are spent checking out shows at the festival (when I’m not totally worn out). A wonderful perk of volunteering for the festival (or knowing generous artists- thanks Dan and Clare!) is getting free tickets to shows you wouldn’t normally rush out and spend $70 on when you’re a non-gambler on a backpacker’s (or artist’s) budget.

The first show I went to see was a on a sweltering 43 degree day. In the Eruptive Mode from Kuwait didn’t quite have me erupting into uncontrolled applause, but it did make me think about how I don’t know enough about the revolutions in the middle east and how you really need to have extraodinary actors if you show is made up of monologues. I did meet a nice Swiss stats major who accepted my extra comp ticket in exchange for a glass of wine that made me sleepy.

As I waited for the bus after the play, I considered how ridiculous it was that, at 10pm, I was sweating just sitting there in a wind that felt like car exhaust.

The next night, I went to Eraritjaritjaka with Patrick, a guy I met my first days in New Zealand (he took me to a bar that rotates where only tall European ladies are allowed to work and where I had a fancy drink with lychee and elderflower and basil- I like these free tickets in exchange for a drink things I’ve got going on).


View from the fancy rotating bar.

It was a lovely piece that I decided was about poetry to stop me from trying to figure it out and just enjoy the sound of Goebbels’ music and André Wilms’ mesmerizing voice, the fun lighting, inventive use of technology, and the bending of the audience’s expectations. I didn’t get it, but I was transported.

I got to end the week with a fantastic show at the Carriageworks (awesome venue!) by Die Roten Punkte and their hilarious and irreverent punk/comedy/clown/theatre concert. If ever these guys show up at a festival in your ‘hood, check them out and say hi for me. Rock bang!

I realised I hadn’t seen any theatre for Sydney yet, though I tried to get the cheap day-of tickets for The Secret River several times and even tried to book very not-cheap tickets, but it was always sold out.  It’s apparently the new Australian classic- important in scope, production, and cultural/historical/political significance. I guess I’ll just have to read about it for now…

But I did manage to see Rust and Bone at Griffin Theatre. I felt at home instantly in the Monday rush-ticket line- unlike at the festival shows where I felt underdressed, no matter how clean my t-shirt was. The new Australian play was intimate, stark, horrifying, and hilarious all at once (and part of it was set in Red Deer). And at 70 minutes, it is my favourite kind of theatre (short and cut to the bone).

The Griffin Theatre lobby. My new favourite theatre.

The Griffin Theatre lobby. My new favourite theatre.

Weirdly, in the lobby, I met a couple who had stayed at the retreat I’d worked at (I’d served them dinner and I remembered them because it was the first time I’d heard the term “amaze” to mean “amazing”). If that wasn’t coincidence enough, one of them is a theatre director and they are thinking of moving to Canada.

Sometimes you meet people whose paths your meant to cross and plays you were meant to see. Others, not so much.

When I got to Wellington, I hadn’t seen a play in over a month (and a month in traveller-time is a long long time), so I was psyched that I was within walking distance of at least three theatres. If that (plus the fact that I refuse to even think about any of the extreme activities that people do when they come to New Zealand and go to bed at 8pm every night) makes me a nerd, well then.

After checking into the YHA, I booked a ticket to Music and Me, a new play by young Kiwi performer (Victoria Schmidt), playing at Bats Theatre (across the street!) about all sorts of disenfranchised people in South Auckland (which, I learned from two different plays, is a tough part of town- theatre can be educational and edgy).  It was a good for a first full-length play and I forgave the ungrounded stage presence of some of the actors because of Schmidt’s skills as a writer, performer and (mostly) spoken word artist. There were only about six people in the audience (including a texting-girl in the front row and a pen-clicking girl behind me), but it was really cool to feel like I discovered a bit of young artists doing their thing.

Bats Theatre, across from the hostel

The next day, I walked to the Downstage Theatre (three doors up the street!) to see Flowers from My Mother’s Garden. Not having done my research and my cultural reference points for New Zealand culture ending at Heavenly Creatures and Katherine Mansfield, I didn’t know that I was about to experience a unique piece of theatre by the legendary theatrical family of Harcourt (the poor man’s Richardson-Redgraves?). It was apparently a first in the autobiographical theatre genre when it was staged 14 years ago, but to me it was quite a lovely, straight-forward, funny, touching piece of not-too-avant-garde theatre. A look at a mother-daughter relationship that subtly teaches you a thing or two about New Zealand’s history and culture.

There was a talk-back afterwards and the lighting/projection designer was really good-looking (and his work was too).

After having written off Circa Theatre because of ticket prices (student tickets are $38), I realised that Manawa was opening the next day which meant they had a more affordable preview, which I booked straight away. And maybe I should stop with my unacknowledged and hypocritical rule that I don’t pay more than $25 for a ticket. Because then maybe I’d see gems like this one a bit more often.  A fascinating story (that was so precise and convincing that I wasn’t sure was based on real events or not. It’s not.) about two prisoners negotiating the New Zealand justice system, media, and obsession with the protection of native birds. The music, writing, performances, seamless transitions (and this was a preview) and challenging topic made this play one of the best I’ve seen in the past few years.

Other performances I attended that week include:

Quirky-cool with warm vocals and a good sense of humour. This colourful band played a cute bar. Don’t remember either the name of the band or the name of the bar.

My first time watching a rugby match. Very violent, but also very theatrical (starting with the players doing the Haka and foregoing soccer’s crocodile tears).

Sadly, my week did not include attending Bret Mackenzie’s Q&A session (I missed him by 8 hours- damn non-changeable ferry-tickets!). I still cry myself to sleep 2 weeks later.

Had I seen this notice 3 days earlier and been able to schedule my ferry crossing accordingly, I’d have a much cooler story to tell.