NZSD: INSIGHT Studio Performance (September 2014)

September 30, 2014 at 6:51 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the second of two studio performances, held by the New Zealand School of Dance, the other night, and was really glad.

The one hour, gold coin donation, performance started with the NZSD Scholars (who are 14 or younger) dancing to ballet Etudes. Which set the scene for Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco a little later. The programme was predominately a classical one, with excepts from Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Fill Mal Gardee,and Nutcracker.

I was most impressed by Wan Jia Jing dancing the Siegfried’s Variation from Act III of Swan Lake. He was powerful, controlled, precise, and looked princely.

Everyone was impressed by Tirion Law dancing the role of Princess Aurora in the Rose Adage from Act I of Sleeping Beauty. She handled Pablo Aharonian’s difficult staging with aplomb: Tirion did eight, rather than the usual four, arabesques on pointe, in two passages of four – one with each suitor. She was rock solid – most impressive. The audience was fortunate to see such a staging and such a dancer – because this is one piece that will not be in the end of year production. Hopefully, it was all captured by the camcorder, and Ms Law can use it for applications.

Generally, it appears the students have benefited for Qi Huan (formerly a soloist with the Royal New ZealNd Ballet) and Turid Revfiem (former ballet mistress with the Royal New Zealand Ballet) joining the staff at the School of Dance.

Year 1 Showcase

September 14, 2014 at 5:13 am | Posted in Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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Last night, I went to the Whitireia Performance Centre showcase of their Year 1 Commercial Dance students. I always like these comercial dance shows: there is a variety of dance genres, music I recognise, and everyone on stage is generally smiling and having some fun; often, the audience gets involved, and it is a great atmosphere.

There were (I think) 16 students; and they seemed a very talented bunch; including a young man who stood out, not only because he was the only male, but for his strong technique and connection with the audience. Many dancers are clearly classically trained, having come through the ballet school ‘system’ – there were some nice grande jetes, entrechartes, well controlled pirouettes, lifts, and russians. There appears to be a strong group of hip hop dancers, and they produced some interesting work – giving some of the contemporary pieces a hard edged reality (as opposed to the abstraction that so mystifies me). Some of the students can sing and they got to do some cabaret and burlesque items – bravo. Generally, the class was very flexible and showed great extension; and projected their enthusiasm well.

I liked ‘River Deep’, Kitri’s Solo from Don Quixote, which segued nicely into a tongue-in-cheek piece involving a ballet audition. I also liked ‘You’ (and edgy contemporary piece), ‘Mein Herr’ (a burlesque piece), and ‘Happy’ (a comic tap dance number).

‘Happy’ was clever: everyone was dressed in a lime-green version of ‘Wally’ (from the Where’s Wally books), and showcased the dancers’ tap abilities and their miming skills.

I would recommend it, but I went the last show. But I can recommend all of the Whitireia dance shows – for not just their precision, but their energy, and enthusiasm. It is also the only time you get to see anything with a Show Girls flavour.

The Hundred Foot Journey (Film)

September 6, 2014 at 4:33 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw the film of the book – The Hundred Foot Journey – the other day and really liked it. I like films that involve food. The film is also a romance – between two chefs.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The film is many things: a new immigrant story; a romance (more than one romance); food and cooking; things that divide; and things that unite.

The film starts violently, political unrest in Mumbai (India) causes the Kadam family to flee to the West. A timely brake failure sees them settle in the south of France. This violent beginning introduces a violent undertow that takes some time to dissipate – but things do settle down for the good.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is literally a gift to cooking from the gods; trained by his mother in their famiy’s traditional methods and recipes; he is the creative force behind the family’s newly opened restaurant – the Maison Mumbai; he is also able to teach himself cordon bleu cooking from books; and so cross over to a totally different style and tradition of cooking. Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), who cooks in the one Michelin star restaurant across the road lends him the books. As per the title, the film is full of crossing over scenes and analogies. The various characters are forever crossing the road to each other’s restaurant, on some mission or other. At times, “two houses steeped …” seemed to be burned across the screen.

When Marguerite and Hassan meet for the first time, at the Kadam’s broken down van, one knows they are destined for each other and that they will be together: when Marguerite introduces herself to Hassan, she is side lit by the sun, and she is radiant, and he is of course breathless.

Food is important to the Kadams – especially to Hassan – the texture and the taste. They have much in common with the French – who at first don’t know what to make of them. Marguerite’s causal supper that she serves up to the Kadams, after rescuing them, is full of colour and flavour – and it is all local. The audience can tell that the Kadams have food a place they could find many affinities.

For migrants, food is a link to home, to memories of family and friends. The Kadams cling to their traditions. Only Hassan seems willing to try things French. Hassan ends up cooking in the French restaurant – his gift is shared with the world. His fusion of two cooking styles sets the gastronomic world on fire. But in the end it is a traditional Mumbai dish that reminds him of who he is and what is important.

The film is about many journeys: the Kadams physical travels, the Kadams integration into the local village; the locals’ acceptance of these new arrivals; and the journey of food, of east meeting west.

Helen Mirren and Om Puri play the heads of the two respective maisons – to a slightly predictable outcome.

A must see for foodies.

Quai d’Orsay (The French Minister)

September 4, 2014 at 6:05 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Another day, another film; this time is was Quai d’Orsay. For those of you familiar with Yes Minister, The thick of it, The Hollow Men, and their American clones, I don’t really have to say much. Even in France, the same mix of bureaucratic and political behind the scenes goings-on go on.

However, Quai d’Orsay is more subtle; maybe because the Minister’s chief-of-staff is not a shouty person and he sets the tone for the Minister’s office – and the film. Claude (Niels Arestrup) is quiet and soft-spoken – not very french! The Minister, Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermitte) is much more sterotypical french – shouts, demonstrative, etc; or is it because he is a politician? Claude, like all harden public servants, and good parents, is endlessly patient, and speaks slowly and calmly. Claude does all the real work; like: divert a burning ship to avoid a war, using two telephones. The Minister supplies ideas, directions and principles “responsibility, legitimacy, unity”.

The film follows Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz), the Minister’s new speech writer, over the course of a few months. Arthur is new to government and at first he just does not know how to fit in: from wearing the wrong clothes to actually believing what people say. It is all a bit of a steep learning curve, but eventually, he is wearing black shoes, coloured ties and dark suits, like everyone else – except the body guards who do wear black ties. Arthur’s first day is a shock: the Ministry building is like a palace, with its uniformed messengers (in combo morning suits), and everyone is elegantly dressed (this is France). Arthur has no office (or a diplomatic passport) – something to do with him being a contractor – he perches for awhile at the end of a secretary’s desk.

The Minister has an important speech at the UN; all against the background of the looming Second Iraq War (though a mythical country is used to avoid naming Iraq). Poor Arthur ends up re-drafting speeches over and over again, as the Minister changes his mind (or has it changed for him by senior advisors – who remind him of his commitments, the President’s commitments, and France’s commitments), or has to work in ‘helpful’ suggestions from the Minister’s intelligentsia friends.

The Minister is a powerful figure: every time he walks through the Ministry, he is preceded by a sonic boom – the result of the floor to celling doors and the energy with which he opens and closes them – that sends papers flying. The Minister has vision. The Minister is guided by a book (on philosophy). The Minister maybe an idiot, but he has his heart in the right place (procures a residency permit for the parents of one Arthur’s girlfriend’s students), and does not lack for physical courage (he confronts a mob in a former French colony).

There are subtleties (constant references to Belgium and Germany) and non-subtleties (constant refernces to America) throughout the film. Whenever a delegation travels outside of France, they are accompanied by a cryptographic technician – to encode/decode any cables – but who’s services are never required! The english translation of the title – Quai d’Orsay – may be calculated insult to France! Quai d’Orsay is a street in Paris; the whole complex is occupied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, a more appropriate translation might be “The Foreign Ministry” or “The Foreign Minister”.

The film is not laugh out loud – LOL – funny; it is funny, because the only other response is to cry: that a powerful member of the non-aligned west (France has nuclear weapons) is seemingly guided by someone like Taillard. In reality, it is guided by his sleepless chief-of-staff and Pol Pot (the cat that lives in the Ministry and is inherited by successive chief-of-staff’s). There are some amazing moments. A must see for students of government.

La Grande Boucle (Tour de Force)

September 1, 2014 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I went to see this film set around the Tour de France last week, and really enjoyed it.

Clovis Cornillac plays François Nouel – a man obsessed with ‘Le Tour’. It must be many a French boy’s dream to take part in ‘Le Tour’, and François never let go of his dream. François works in a cycle store (part of an global chain of stores); his garage is a ‘bike room’. When events conspire against him and he ends up loosing his job, his wife, his son, and his sobriety, it seems the most natural thing to go for bike ride.

It just so happens that ‘Le Tour’ starts near his town and he ends up riding on the course – one day early. Despite feeling awful (hungover) he manages to finish the section. And decides that he will do ‘Le Tour’ one day ahead of the official riders: having lost everything, he can do anything.

So one ordinary man’s attempt to ride ‘Le Tour’ becomes the film and the vehicle for showing what is good and back about sport and professional sport. At first it is all about the ride – his ride. But he builds up a following – first word of mouth, then national television – and next thing you know he has sponsorship; so much so that he has obligations again! François becomes a mobile billboard – just like his heros! The professionals are a little piqued, but the big sponsors and ‘Le Tour’ are not amused at all. Even drug doping gets a look-in.

Some of the scenery is magnificent. The effort required to ride day in and day out is staggering. This requires the biggest suspension of dis-belief, can a slightly chubby, albeit cycle-fit middle age man ride every day for 20-odd days covering 3,500 km, sleeping in a tent, and relying on the help strangers (in lieu of a support team)? But who cares – films are dreams given form.

Along the way François: re-discovers himself, gets his son back, gets his wife back, and fulfills his most cherished dream.

Begin Again

August 27, 2014 at 1:32 am | Posted in Film Review, Musical Review | Leave a comment
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Another day, another film, … this time “Begin Again“.

Warning: plot discussed.

Keira Knightley sings – she plays Gretta, a song writer, and occasional singer. Gretta was also half of a couple who wrote songs for each other, but Dave (Adam Levine) is plucked from obscurity and sucked into the Machine, in New York, by a big record label. Dave’s head is turned, and Gretta is adrift in New York. She ends up in Steve’s one room ‘apartment’. Gretta, Dave and Steve were friends in Bristol. Steve is trying to make it big in the Big Apple. James Corden, as Steve, puts in a fine performance – he is like a musical young Ray Winstone!

I was a bit doubtful at first, but Knightly won me over – after 10 minutes she was Gretta, song writer and occasional singer – she certainly sings well enough to occupy the part. For Gretta, it is about letting the song be itself, not turning the song into a ‘hit’

This is one of films challenges: are songs for the song, or are they for the audience? The latter leads to the Machine – find the next young thing and cash in quick. Or do you let the song stand front-and-centre, let it do the work, not be overshadowed by the presentation?

Gretta leaves Dave’s Label supplied posh mega loft and squats on Steve’s couch. This another of the film’s challenges: two song writers doing their thing, one has a big label, the other gets by busking. It all seems to be about the money. Not the art or the journey.

Gretta meets Dan (Mark Ruffalo) a burned out record producer, who has been moved sideways by everything he valued in life – his record label, his wife, and his daughter. Dan is damaged goods. While the focus is on Gretta – the camera loves knightly in an Audrey Hepburn way – a strong storyline is Dan’s: will he get his life back? He was once a young turk of the recording industry. He loves his 14 year old daughter, and she loves him, yet they are further apart than the usual age gap. And he still burns with the betray by his with with a rock star in Europe. Ruffalo puts in a great performance. The director and writer, John Carney, dangles an unsympathetic portray of Dan in front of the audience, at the start of the film, to set a broad canvas. Yet, by the end of the film you rooting for Dan.

Then there is Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), the slightly confused daughter who wants her dad back – and the hot boy at school. Dan wishes she would add more area to her clothing; Gretta offers style advice.

It is a nice movie. the music really works; in parts it is almost a musical. Gretta composes are ‘you bastard, you broke my heart’ song, on a napkin and she and Steve sing it into Dave’s voicemail.

There is the tension and uncertainty of the relationship between Dan and Gretta – will they be more than friends who collaborate. I was pleased with how that ended up.

Carney even manages to pull it off the tricky one point in time from three perspectives sequence.

I enjoyed this film. I like that it had no violence. I like the well crafted feel on the film. I like seeing the creative process in making an album being executed by people who looked like they were enjoying it. I like the satisfying conclusion. It made me think: do we like something because we like what we perceive (in this case hear) or do we like something because we like what it helps us to perceive (helps us to hear)? At the start of the film Dan like Gretta’s song, not just for what she sings, but more so for what it could be.

Lucy

August 25, 2014 at 11:59 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Another Scarlett Johansson film, it must be a science fiction film. I went to see Lucy the other day.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

It is very much a Luc Besson film: slick fight choreography (Matrix/martial arts); crazy car sequences (Lucy drives the wrong way through Paris -at speed); rough unshaven cops; slick bad guys; and tight shots.

Johansson’s performance holds the film together and in many ways up. She plays Lucy – the ‘heroine’. The film starts in Taiwan and Lucy through a dodgy boyfriend ends up being offered a ‘can’t refuse deal’ from the Korean Mafia. Why Lucy is studying in Taiwan is never explained, and therefore that part of the back story unbelievable.

Lucy becomes a reluctant drug mule – this film can’t do good things for tourism in Asia. Her new business associates inexplicably detain her and beat her so badly the drug sachet inside her body ruptures and releases a massive does of some new tailored recreational drug into her system, and as it shows in the trailers, she starts accessing all of her brain – not just the 10% attributed to folklore. Lucy moves from party girl with interesting past issues to driven superior being.

Morgan Freeman plays the role of a neurologist – who is used to introduce some nice natural photography shots and explain brain pseudo-science to the films audience. Its quite a clever way to explain what purportedly happens if we used all of our brains.

Thats all really, there are some nice CGI of cell division, some kick-ass gun battles and there is a not too surprising end.

Deep Breath (Dr Who: Series 8, Episode 1)

August 24, 2014 at 6:33 am | Posted in Film Review, Show Review, TV Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Having hidden behind the family sofa, as a young boy, while watching Doctor Who, I found myself unable to resist seeing the ‘new Doctor on the big screen. I went to see Deep Breath (Doctor Who: Series 8, Episode 1) at the Embassy Theatre this afternoon – it was a sellout.

Warning: Plot elements discussed.

The new Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, looks and sounds like a serious cross between Rowan Atkinson and Billy Connelly!

The ‘old’ Doctor is gone – regenerated. How will Clara, played by Jenna Coleman, cope? What would you do if your best friend (maybe more than that) went from looking like your cousin to looking like your uncle?

There is a hilarious deprecating send up by Stax, a Sontaran turned butler (with mixed results), played by Dan Starkey. All of the past Doctors are introduced in Strax’s “blog”! The rest of the Paternoster Gang also appear. Madame Vastra (a Silurian, played by Neve McIntosh) and Jenny Flint (a human) provide an example of how you can make an odd relationship work. They also provide some local colour and a bit of intelligent muscle – though less so in the case of Strax.

No sooner does the Doctor appear – dazed and confused after a regeneration – than London needs to be saved. Watch it when it screens on TV to find out from what. He really does need Clara’s support; but, who will support Clara while she comes to grips with the change in the man in her life?

Having explored the companion dynamic when the Doctor is the same physical age as the companion, in Series 7, the writers can now look at a relationship between a older man and a younger woman. Where will it go?

While still pitched at a wide audience, this episode deals with some meaty issues.

Certainly by the end of the extended episode, Clara has come to accept an older looking Doctor. But it does take a phone call from the previous Doctore to tip her over the edge. This sets a dangerous plot device precedence – the Doctor can phone ahead and presumably phone back. There is no need to contrive to bring the actors al together: a voice will do. Causality is dead.

Still I enjoyed it. The special effects are world class CGI: long gone are the Jon Pertwee days, when half the props looked like they were borrowed from the producer’s son’s toy box.

As with any good episode 1, it hangs out some very tempting glimpses of where the series might go – like an official girl friend for the Doctor! who runs heaven (or does she?).

Predestination (2014) – Trailer Review

August 24, 2014 at 5:45 am | Posted in Film Trailer Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see the first episode of Dr Who with Peter Capaldi in the starring role, and one of the trailers was for Predestination.

For once, the trailer matched the feature.

Predestination looks like a film about a rookie (Sarah Snook) time cop who needs to makes his bones – under the watchful eye of a veteran (Ethan Hawke).

Would you kill someone if they were going to bomb 1000’s of people?

It looks promising.

Allegro – RNZB 2014

August 21, 2014 at 8:00 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I was not going to see the Royal New Zealand Ballets’ latest production – Allegro – but I found myself buying tickets when events conspired. There were five works:

  • Allegro Brillante – by George Balanchine;
  • Les Lutins – by Johan Kobborg;
  • Satellites – by Daniel Brown;
  • Mattress Suite – by Larry Keigwin;
  • Megalopolis – by Larry Keigwin.

Allegro Brillante, as it was probably danced in 1956, seems a bit predictable in a geometric kind of way. It provided a nice historical beginning to the production.

Les Lutins, was my favourite. The dancing was sincere and there was real between the dancers, the violinist (Benjamin Baker), and the pianist (Michael Pansters). Rory Fairweather-Neylan got to show both his skills, and also a bit of his cheerful self. Yang Liu was flighty and flirty. Arata Miyagawa rounded off the affection-triangle. It was good to see Rory Fairweather-Neylan and Arata Miyagawa throwing down!

Mattress Suite made me think a bit – and it was a bit sad. There is a queen sized (at least) mattress and it does move around.

Megalopolis was just full of dance forms, and had lots of energy to it.

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