Monthly Archives: August 2018

Why I Love Live Theatre

As I write this, I’ve just spent the last week or so attending shows and events at Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.  I have to say, everything I have seen has been marvellous; from a beautiful production of Julius Caesar (cast as a woman!) to a modernised Coriolanus on a jaw-dropping set, and a Rocky Horror Picture Show that was every bit as raunchy and scandalous as it should be!

Spending so much time at the theatre this week has really got me thinking about why I love it so much, why reading the stories, watching movies or listening to music recordings at home just isn’t enough and why live theatre is SO important.   I know that we may all feel differently about it; some of the reasons that I’ve put together here may strike a chord with some and not with others, and may be just completely meaningless to those who do not enjoy live theatre at all.  Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the reasons why I find live theatre so captivating and that it may motivate you to seek out some live events near you!

(These are in no particular order – each one is just as important as the last!)

 

A piece of art comes to life! 

When we see a play performed live, or musicians playing music right before our eyes, these wonderful pieces of art become real and understandable!  They are no longer words or notes on a piece of paper; they are real characters, plots and stories being put out into the world at that very moment, as they were intended by their creators, and you are a witness to it in the audience!  At home, there is always be some kind of barrier between us and the art – a book that we have to read to get to the story or a device through which we could hear the music.  But at the theatre, the art is being given to us directly, with no obstacle separating us from it, and we can therefore totally engage with it and be immersed in it.  And not just the piece of art itself, as in the play or the string quartet (for example!), but the actual art form too.  Watching talented and professional actors and musicians doing their jobs make those very art forms a real thing and this is something to behold in itself.

 

Different interpretations

I always find it so interesting to watch different interpretations of any piece of art – I feel like the more interpretations of something that I see, the more I explore the art and the better I get to know it,  finding its own meanings for myself.  Whether these are different interpretations as presented by the performers, directors, choreographers, writers, or even those as experienced by other audience members during one performance – seeing a new understanding or meaning to a piece of art that I hadn’t thought of before is really exciting!  This week I was lucky enough to catch two Shakespeare plays, and they couldn’t have been more different.  Coriolanus was set to a modern backdrop, with all modern clothing and even references to modern culture, with things like mobile phones and Facebook messenger.  Julius Caesar was totally old school – the set was minimal, no frills or trills, costumes were old-fashioned and the performance really centred only around the actors and their speech.  For some, the modernisation made that play more entertaining and relatable, while for me personally, I felt much more involved with the old style one, where I really locked into the plot and the language.  At home, we are very limited in what we have available to us – just the book, or a particular recording or two.  One really has to see art live to get these different interpretations and fully understand them.

 

Each one on their own journey

Every time I watch a live performance, I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, to observe the reactions of my fellow audience members.  There is always so much happening in the audience!  Everybody is feeling something different in connection with the art that they are experiencing, each person is on their own journey with it.  In the Shakespeare plays (and in Rocky too, actually!) I found it interesting to see where some people laughed, when people were shocked (even though we all know Brutus kills Caesar, this point still got a few gasps), if some people felt bored, if others looked uncomfortable… And the artists themselves are on a journey too.  We can’t know the details of what led them to this specific performance, about the work that went into it and the mental space they had to get to in order to produce something that they had envisioned or heard in their own heads.  We don’t even know what might be going on in their personal lives which could be affecting their performance, or their relationships with each other on stage, or how they approach the art of performing.  Art makes us feel real emotions, and we all feel them differently.  Being part of that, while experiencing your own personal journey at the same time, is special.

 

Human connection

Similar to the last point but not quite the same, is the importance of watching art unfold together with other people.  At home, we read alone, listen to music in the background while doing other things, watch movies in silence.  But at the theatre, there is a sense of human connection, of experiencing our own personal emotions and journeys with the art WITH other people, audience and performers together.  In that moment, those precious hours while the performance is in progress, we are all as one group doing the same thing.  There is nobody on their phones, answering emails, working or chatting with friends.  We, as one big organism, are going through the same experiences together, and all of our attention is in one place.  In a world that often feels very lonely and hectic, this is so so so important and valuable.

 

There’s only one shot

This is something that is just as meaningful for both performer and audience!  Although it can riddle any artist with performance anxiety, the fact that they only have one chance to deliver, here and now in this exact moment, adds an electricity to the theatre.  They know this, and the audience knows it too.  Whatever happens, happens – there ain’t no do-overs.  As an audience member, knowing that the art that I am experiencing only exists now, once, in this moment, has caused me to sit up and try not to miss a single thing.  As a performer, this feeling is what has encouraged me to take risks, to just ‘go for it’, and also to feel incredibly nervous.  It is what makes every second of a performance really matter and be something that I care so truly and honestly about.  And isn’t it wonderful to sit in the audience and watch a performer who really cares, to watch them take risks and to see the sparks that fly because of it?!

 

Mistakes!

And following on from the ‘one-shot’ philosophy, are the inevitable mistakes.  I love mistakes.  I think they are brilliant.  Because you can’t get more in-the-moment than a mistake.  When an artist makes a mistake, it means they are really experiencing something real; maybe they took a risk and it didn’t work, maybe they care SO much about what they are doing that they got carried away, or maybe they are just real human beings and not computers!  To me, mistakes are life and they are wonderful.

 

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Culture, Thoughts

Pekka Kuusisto and The Reddress

Photo courtesy of Pierre Boulez Saal

 

When someone asks me to tell them who Pekka is and what he does I find it pretty difficult to answer in any coherent way!  I can tell you that Pekka Kuusisto is a violinist from Finland, that he can play ANYTHING in an astoundingly beautiful way but that he can also create new sounds that one has never heard before.  Pekka crosses boundaries, challenges you to consider life and music in new ways, to listen with new ears and seek out new meanings and ideas.  Whether he is playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, old Scandinavian Folk tunes or even just improvising on the spot, there is an artistry in his work and a special humbleness in his character that creates something truly magical and utterly unique.

I have to admit that Pekka has been a hero of mine for many years (maybe then, this post is a little biased…!).  Throughout my student years, I was that annoying violin pupil that sat in my room for hours, watching and re-watching videos of him playing any repertoire that I was working on, making notes about every small idea or movement that he would make and trying to copy and implement it into my own playing (God, this is embarrassing). When I got to meet and work with him on Beethoven’s Op. 127 String Quartet a couple of years ago, it was a DREAM and I still feel inspired by that experience!   Pekka treated my colleagues and I as equal musicians, listened eagerly to our ideas, cared about us and our group like it was honestly as important to him as it was to us, worked with us for hours and hours after the schedule ‘told’ us to finish and then continued to sight-read Haydn Quartets with us late into the nights, ate ice-cream with us and made us laugh.  It was such a joy to realise that this violinist whom I SO admired, was also such a nice, friendly and beautiful person, and as a result I am now able to call him my friend.

Unforgettable days working on Beethoven Op. 127 and having so much fun! With Hannah Nicholas (Viola), Carlyn Kessler (Cello) and Pekka Kuusisto (Violin)

 

Alright, I think I’m doing OK so far, I think you get who Pekka is – great violinist, great person.  Now let me try to explain the Reddress.

I first heard about the Reddress during those 2 weeks of working on Beethoven with Pekka, when he told me all about its concept and design.  Very literally, the Reddress is like one huge organism; in the centre and high up on a podium is the nucleus of the dress, where the performer stands and commands, and throughout the body and folds of the dress, which take up the entire auditorium, are little pockets (200 in all) where members of the audience nestle in and become part of it.  The dress was designed by artist, Aamu Song, who questioned the traditional concert set up of a musician on stage in relation to their audience, who are usually so far away from them and sitting in de-humanising rows of seats.  She wanted to invent a new way of connecting musician and audience, make them all part of one event and overcome physical separation and distance.  And this is exactly what the Reddress does.

Song originally envisioned the Reddress for a female performer, and you might be wondering what it’s like to see a male artist, such as Pekka, at the centre of such a dress.  Well, when  Song first saw Pekka playing in the dress, she found that he kind of became part of it, that the dress was gender-neutral and that the whole experience was about so much more than just the dress – it became about the power of music and connection in performance.

In the miraculous and  incredible way that life sometimes works, I was lucky enough to get the chance to see Pekka perform in the Reddress at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin.  It was one of those pinch me moments – I somehow got a very last-minute ticket, jumped on a train from Hannover and just went for it, because I knew I might not get the chance again.  When I arrived at the hall, dry ice and atmospheric electronic sounds greeted me in the foyer and all the way up the stairs and into the main auditorium.  I heard other audience members gasping as they also arrived at the hall, asking ‘What’s going on here?!‘.  Because it was such a spontaneous decision to go to the concert, I sadly hadn’t managed to get a ticket for one of the pockets of the dress, which meant that I was sitting on the balcony and viewing from above.  But actually I found this to have some advantages – I could see the whole thing in action at once and, because of the magnitude and height of the dress, I still very much felt involved.

When the music died away and the lights dropped, Pekka walked out into the room, whistling and making sounds with his voice into a microphone, as he walked between the people in the pockets of the dress.  When it came time to get into the dress, a woman helped him up into it, zipping him in and Aamu Song passed his violin up to him from her own spot in the dress.  Pekka began to play folk music, alternating between deep and moving sounds, upbeat dance movements, cold and shuddering harmonics and improvised ideas.  He played each tune in many different fragments, which were then electronically looped, on top of which he added the new fragment, creating a really rich tapestry of music.  Sometimes the looping stopped and he took the mic off his violin, letting himself play alone, just a sweet violin playing a simple Finnish folk tune in a red dress.  The Reddress also had the capacity for 360 degree rotation, and this gave Pekka the freedom to constantly move as he wanted; he played to every single person in that room, constantly switching his direction, moving left to right and vice versa, up and down, sometimes bending right down to the ground, other times reaching as far up as he could, and I felt that he was always trying to establish a connection with everybody that was present.

When he came to the end of the performance, the ritual of exiting the dress began; the violin was passed back down to Song, the woman who had helped him into the dress unlocked him from it and he climbed back down into the folds of the audience.  The concert ended with Pekka walking again among the body of the dress and the live bodies inside it, playing the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin, adding his own ornaments and decoration in his typical ‘Pekka’ style and silently leaving the auditorium and Reddress behind.

I found it really interesting to watch the emotional reactions of the people who were inside the dress.  There were those who sat up, wanting to be actively a part of the event, those who were tapping their hands along to the beat of the tunes, couples who shared the experience together, children who were fascinated by everything, and even those who were probably asleep.  The Reddress gave this audience total freedom to be who they wanted to be during this performance, and they in turn made up part of the performance itself.

Like me, you might be bursting with questions about the physical logistics of the dress.  How is it maintained?  How do they pack it up and transport it?  What is it made of?  When I first laid my eyes on the Reddress, I was immediately struck by the sharpness of its colour and by how perfect it looked.  The majesty and passion of the red colour that was totally unblemished was extremely powerful.  I was so interested to read about the cleaning process of the dress, which is of utmost importance to Aamu Song, who insists on this for each and every performance.  Apparently the dress, which is made of wool, felt and satin,  is vacuumed and frozen at -20 degrees, and it takes several people to set up and lay out!  Once you see the vast size and sheer volume of the dress, you can only imagine how much work this takes.

Song and Pekka have both remarked on the addictive quality of the Reddress;  Pekka commented that he now misses that same connection to the audience in any normal concert and that the Reddress is his absolute favourite performance platform.  And I can also say, as a member of the audience, that I will definitely miss feeling so much part of a performance as I did on that night.  Both as an audience member, watching concerts from some distant little chair in the dark, and as an artist, performing from a stage which feels so lonely, just seems to make NO sense now!  It feels so unnatural and false.  Of course something like the Reddress is so huge and awesome that it would be practically impossible to bring it, or even something like it, to every performance.  But being part of the performance of the Reddress has really got me thinking about how we, both as musicians and as audiences, can work to make this connection something real and break down that silly boundary between us.  Should we be rethinking the design of the typical concert hall?  Should we reimagine our performance style altogether? Are the general public of audiences and of artists on board for this transformation?  Personally, I am hoping that the Reddress starts a revolution!

So, for now, that’s the best I can do – and I hope I did Pekka and the Reddress justice!

 

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Culture, Music

A Few More Berlin Gems For A Lazy Day

It’s fair to say that I’ve written about Berlin at great length here on my blog.  It is truly a fascinating city, with SO much going on and so many different kinds of life being lived there – if you are curious to read more about my thoughts on the city and why I love it, please check out my post ‘5 Things I Love About Berlin’.  If you are heading to Berlin and are in need of some specific recommendations, I also wrote a trilogy of blog posts featuring my favourite ‘Restaurants’, ‘Drinks’, and ‘Attractions’ in the city, so feel free to explore those too!

The thing about Berlin is, every single time you go there, you uncover some new amazing place that you didn’t know about before!  The city is constantly evolving, new eateries, exhibitions and shops are springing up all the time and the city is so progressive, which is something that I love so much about it.  I recently had a free day to spend in Berlin, and I decided NOT to return to any of my old favourite haunts (where I would normally go), but instead chose to explore only new places that I hadn’t yet been to.  I found some real gems that you may not yet know about, as well as a couple of more well-trodden corners that you probably do, so I thought I would collect them all here in one post, for the next time you (or I!) might need some fresh suggestions for ways to spend a lazy free day in Berlin.

Bites To Eat

First off and most importantly: food.  Always a very difficult decision when in Berlin, because there is SO MUCH good food on pretty much every street.  I do have a couple of new recommendations for you though, and they are both incredible and must-gos.

For breakfast/brunch, I decided to try Commonground (a sister cafe to Silo, which I have also mentioned on my blog before and also an AMAZING brunch spot).  Commonground is a big open plan cafe – I happened to visit on a hot summers day, and they had all the front windows and doors wide open which was heavenly.  The food is ridiculously great; I had poached eggs on their unique Sironi bread, smashed avocado and salsa verde, and LOTS of bacon (by the way, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options!).  The coffee is also spot on.  I would say Commonground is perfect if you have a group of people, the staff are all SO friendly and the vibes are just great!

The Commonground breakfast!

Brunch at Commonground pretty much kept me going all day, until about 9pm, which is when I decided to grab some dinner at Cocolo Ramen.  I chose this place because I fancied some ramen and all the reviews online claimed that this was the BEST ramen in Berlin, so my expectations were pretty high.  Things to know about Cocolo Ramen before you go there: they take no reservations, and it is a tiny and extremely popular restaurant, so you have to be prepared to queue out the door for anywhere up to an hour (at popular times).  I would suggest going later, maybe around 10 or 11pm, and not to go in big groups – as I was by myself I actually got seated ahead of a lot of people which was a plus.  I have to say though, the ramen is totally worth it – it is delicious.  The kitchen is right out front, and if you can manage to bag a seat at the bar, you can watch them cooking which is fun.  The menu is pretty small – you can basically choose from about 4 or 5 different ramens (and a few other things on the menu), ranging in price up to about  €10 – and their turnover is fast, so don’t take too long over your food!  But the atmosphere is fabulous and this place is a real little gem!

I got the pork broth – delicious!

Coffee

If you are like me, then coffee is an absolute priority, and just spending an hour in a cute coffee shop is the perfect plan for a sunny afternoon!  Berlin offers some really fantastic and locally owned independent coffee jaunts – they are all over the city so please never, ever, feel like you have to rely on Starbucks for your pick-me-up!  This time, I tried a new coffee place, Ben Rahim.  It is absolutely tiny, and totally hidden away – if you didn’t know about it, I don’t think you would ever find it!  You sort of have to find your way through an alley and then a courtyard and then another alley and then you might spot it.  If the weather is good they put little tables and benches outside, and as it is so tucked away, it feels very peaceful and lovely to enjoy your coffee outside. (But there is also some seating indoors for the cold days too.)  Ben Rahim specialises in Arabian coffee and tea, and you can definitely also get your own preferred style of coffee there too.  As it was such a hot day when I visited, I decided to try their iced latte, and I thought how they made it was genius; they make the espresso shots in ice cubes and freeze them, and then add them to milk when one is ordered.  As you drink it the ice-cube melts and the coffee gets stronger as it slowly dissolves into the milk, which I just loved.  It was a beautiful coffee and I would love to go back there and try their other blends too.

My iced-latte at Ben Rahim

Independent and Vintage Shopping

Of course, Berlin has a large (and slightly tedious) shopping district.  But if you are more into cute little boutiques and vintage shops then I have a few suggestions for you!  For clothes, I would definitely recommend checking out Paul’s Boutique.  It is a little hole-in-the-wall style shop, full of second-hand and vintage clothes for men and women.  They have lots of cool brands and vintage style garments, including a selection of Doc. Martens and Levis.  Even if you don’t find something you like, or you aren’t particularly looking for anything, it is really fun to just look around and see what you can find.  If you are looking for a larger selection of second-hand and vintage clothes, check out Humana – there are actually a few of these stores around the city, and they tend to be pretty big.  Humana offers a wide variety of clothes and ‘stuff’, for men and women, at a range of different prices, from €2 to €200, so again, it’s just fun to see what you can find.  I have had a lot of luck there was things like concert clothes, jeans, shirts… it’s a cool store!

If you are a bookworm looking for some great deals on second-hand books in Berlin, definitely head to St. Georges English Bookshop.  There is a huge selection of all kinds of books here, from floor to ceiling (literally), mainly in English but also in a few other languages too.  From novels to cookbooks, books on Hitler and the war, religion, kids books… it is definitely a little nook to get lost in for a while!  They also sell some new books at regular prices too, and if you are looking for something in particular and are going to be in Berlin for a while, they will happily order it for you.

Attractions

If you fancy spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert in Berlin, I’ve got you covered.  Berlin is FULL of artistic events going on all the time; every single day there are literally 1000s to choose from.  I wrote a blog post recently on my experience visiting the ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie (read it here!), and if you happen to be in Berlin until the 16th September 2018, definitely get yourself to that!  If not though, or if painting isn’t really up your street but you are interested in other mediums of art, Museum Island is a great place to start in Berlin.  It is a little island in the middle of the city, where all the big museums are located.  If you really want to throw yourself into art and culture you can purchase a day ticket which will allow you entry into all the museums in one day!  Otherwise, I can tell you that the Pergamon Museum (also mentioned previously on my blog!) which houses the Gates of Ishtar, amongst several other amazing things, is seriously awe-inspiring, incredible, mind-boggling and you HAVE to see it.  I mean, you get to actually see a whole Greek temple inside the museum.  It is awesome.

Alte Nationalgalerie, Museum Island, Berlin

If you are seeking a good concert to go to that is maybe a little removed from the mainstream concerts of the Philharmonie hall (which are nevertheless fantastic), check out the newest addition to Berlin’s concert hall scene, the Pierre Boulez Saal.  This hall, nicknamed the Oval Office of concert halls, is the result of a project initiated by Daniel Barenboim.  It is a smaller, more intimate chamber hall which is dedicated to hosting exciting and innovative concerts and music projects in Berlin, which don’t stay strictly true to old-fashioned style classical music concerts.  Keep an eye out for a blog post coming soon on the breath-taking concert that I was lucky enough to witness there when I visited (and which was the sole reason for this day that I got to spend in Berlin!).

Sneak peek of an upcoming post, telling you all about this unique and stunning concert that I saw at the Pierre Boulez Saal

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Culture, Travel

Taking A Feminist Stance

I’ll be completely honest – this wasn’t the blog post I had planned for today.  I had a post all ready to go that is well formulated and structured, looks nice and has good content!  But last night, I watched a movie and I feel that I just HAVE to comment on it.

The movie I am talking about is a silly one, it likely won’t have much of a far-reaching impact, and it probably doesn’t even deserve to be spoken about, especially in its own blog post… but maybe it does!  Maybe it is EXACTLY media like this that SHOULD be talked about and thought about!

So, last night, after a long day, my mom and I decided to check what Netflix had to offer us in the way of some light-hearted entertainment.  We ended up choosing the first thing we saw, a film called ‘Like Father’.  We watched the little preview that Netflix gives you if you hover too long at the top of the page, and it seemed perfect for us; a fun, light comedy.

Here is the premise of the movie: we meet Rachel, a ‘workaholic’ for a big corporate advertising company, on her wedding day.  Up until the moment she walks down the aisle, she is sending emails and making work calls, and ultimately, it is for this reason that her fiance decides to leave her jilted at the altar, not being able to see a future with a woman who is this dedicated to her job.  Now for the sub-plot: Rachel’s long-lost father, who left his family to follow his own career path when Rachel was only 5 years old, has turned up to the wedding.  After things go pear-shaped at the ceremony, Rachel and her father end up reconnecting, get very drunk, and find themselves on the cruise ship honeymoon that was intended for the newlyweds.  Together with the help of a team of quirky characters on board the ship, including a gay therapist, an elderly couple, and of course, a comedic supporting African-American couple (I mean, could they have tried any harder to tick all their token boxes for this movie?!) Rachel must face the fact that it is because of her priorities, and her work-life balance, that things haven’t worked out for her, i.e. that she hasn’t been able to get married.  The question remains: can she really change all this and learn to put her phone away so that she can find happiness ( which means finding a man who will finally marry her)?

I just couldn’t really believe the movie I was watching – it felt like it belonged in the 90s, not in 2018!  Here we are presented with this character, Rachel, who is pretty much a  total bad-ass!  She works incredibly hard and has earned herself a great job (in a corporate company – never an easy task for a woman which shows tremendous strength of character on her part).  She’s ambitious, she has goals and dreams and she puts them above any man!  She is committed, she somehow manages to find the time to always look amazing and she also invested in a romantic relationship – I mean, wasn’t the fiance the idiot for not realising until his wedding day that her number one priority was her work and that he would never get her top spot?! It seemed to me that she was always clear about that!

However, this movie sought to portray her as a complete failure!  It was always deemed to be terrible when Rachel attended to work calls and emails on her phone.  The fact that her fiance left her at the altar was HER fault, because of her shortcomings.  And they made it pretty clear that if she didn’t change and realign her priorities, she would end up like her father and live a miserable and failed life.  Because marriage = success, happiness and fulfilment.  I just can’t find the sense in this.

What is perhaps even more shocking, is that the co-writer and director of the movie was a woman!!  We have to look at the movie in the context of what is happening in our world today. Women, and especially women in Hollywood, are finding their voices!  Time’s up! Do we really want to use our voices to preach this old-fashioned, out-dated message about women only finding happiness in men and not in their own personal work? I so believe in the ‘women empowering other women’ movement, and I think it is really important, even more so in 2018 and with someone like Trump in the Oval Office.  How could the woman who directed this movie be OK with putting her own heroine, Rachel, down like that?!

Maybe I’m being too hard on the movie, maybe one could say that is was just meant to be a shallow, light and funny movie and not dissected in any feminist way.  But isn’t this the whole problem?  That this is the kind of comment that our society can make about a woman and that it can just be allowed to fly because it’s not ‘serious’ or ‘real’.

Maybe I am the one to be criticised because I chose to watch it.  Alright, I accept that.  I didn’t need to engage, and I have worked really hard at disengaging from things I find toxic or that I don’t like online or within my own connections, so why would I choose to watch this movie, and watch until the very end?  Well, maybe it was some kind of outraged and morbid curiosity.  Maybe I am still a product of our society and, whether I like it or not, I simply can’t escape from being taken in by these ridiculous, glamorous, white Hollywood stories.  But it has certainly provoked me to think more about this, what I engage in, and to be more aware of what progress really is, or isn’t, being made.

 

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Thoughts