La danse: Le ballet de l’Opéra de Paris

July 23, 2010 at 12:56 am | Posted in Dance Review, Film Review | 3 Comments
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Another 2010 Wellington International Film Festival : I went to see La danse:: Le ballet de l’Opéra de Paris .

This documentary by Frederick Wiseman has not real structure: it is 4 (or is it 5 ?) days in the life of the Paris Opera Ballet company. Much of the footage is of ballet: reherasals and performances. The rest of the footage is fly-on-the-wall views of meetings – mainly with Brigitte Lefèvre, the Company’s artistic director.

Wonderfully shot – Paris seems a magnificant place, the Opera house and surrounds just wonderful. Some of the Company’s rehearsal spaces are lit by natural light from big circular windows. The Company’s reputation for flair and flawless technique is confirmed.

The documentary lets the image tell the story, so there are no voice overs or captions to tell you who is in what sequence, nor what work is being rehearsed or performed, nor what the ocassion might be. You only findout that Brigitte Lefèvre is the artistic directory, because it is bought up in conversation – in as much as you can have a conversation with a near devine entity as an artistic director! The dance bits, and they are the vast majority, explain themselves. But the union and company meetings about retirement age will be forever a mystery.

The film is well worth seeing if you have a serious interest in ballet – otherwise wait for the DVD, so that you can break it up. If seeing it at a theatre make sure to park the car somewhere you can leave it for a minimum of 3 hours!


Football World Cup 2010

July 19, 2010 at 1:00 am | Posted in Sporting Event | Leave a comment
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I finally watched the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final – between Spain and the Netherlands – the other night. Of course, I knew the result; I had read much about the Dutch ‘kicking game’. So I was surprised by how intriguing and engrossing it was to watch; I had intended to fast-forward through much of it – instead I watched pretty much every miniute.

This was not a game of beautiful flowing soccer; this was finals soccer – marked by defence. There were few opportunities for individual brilliance, because both sides played a stiffling combination of – in basket ball terms – zone and man-on-man defence. Both team set out to deny time and space to the other team; and they did it brilliantly. It was not pretty, but effective. That said, both sides had opportunities – either not taken cleanly, or denied by brilliant goalkeeping.

The game was very physical, indeed the Dutch often crossed the line between a strong challenge and right out career ending. But what the Netherlands did was allowed within the rules. Let me explain: the Dutch tackled hard, and picked up yellow card after yellow card – nine (?) in all. But there was no sanction that made the negative payoff such that the Dutch stopped. Still, there was no cynical cutting people down – where the tackling leg is used as a scythe. Spain were not entirely blameless – they adjusted to the style of play allowed by the referee – and eventually gave as good as they got.

Given the physical nature of the game, I was impressed by how sporting a contest it was – there were few, if any, outbursts of temper between the teams: players picked each other up (with a gotcha smile at times), and the ‘kick the ball out and return it when someone is injured’ was respected – even to the point where Spain tapped a corner to the Dutch goal keeper.

One point in favour of a more robust physical approach – no one dived ! and there was no head butting !!

So Spain won. Their goal was the result of a series of quick accurate passes – the tired Dutch defenders were unable to establish their zones, and were momentarily outnumbered. It is the right result – football is about kicking the ball, not kicking people.

It all came down to where the referee had set the bar for over vigourous play. The Netherland might have finished the game with eight players, and Spain might have won by more goals, had the bar been set lower. But let us not forget that the Netherlands got ‘kicked out’ of the 1978 final in Argintina in similar circulstances – so the way the game is played (and refereed perhaps) is influenced by its history.

The only decision I would change would be the Dutch player who put his foot into a Spanish player’s chest – he should have gotten a red card. The tackle was not just career ending, but life ending.

Some suggestions to FIFA:

  • the X-Box/Playstation generation is comfortable with technology – introduce it
  • Introduce sin-binning – give referees a tool for cooling players off that does not remove them completely from the game – and thereby distort the game
  • In extra time removing players – 2 players from both sides after 10 minutes; then 2 more after another 10 minutes; …

Hopefully the FIFA 2014 final will be more see more football and less ‘kicking’.

Learning from Light

July 19, 2010 at 12:19 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Learning from Light: the vision of I M Pei at the 2010 Wellington International Film Festival the other morning at Te Papa.

This was a documentary of, what is likely to be, I M Pei’s last architectureal project; he is now 92. The Emir of Qatar had commissioned him to build the Museum of Islamic Art, in Doha. Bo Landin’s documentary follows the build and commissioning phases.

The film focuses on the last few months, and follows master (how else to label an architectural genius of oriental origins) Pei around the building site.

How much effort is it prudent to spend on the asthetics of the building without compromising on the museum’s functions of conservation and education? Well if you have access to oil revenues, compromise is not required! The building is big: it is built on a man made island at one end of a man made crescent-shaped bay!! The museum rises out of the water, and is reached by a massive palm tree lined ramp/concourse – as long as the nuseum is wide.

Master Pei, by his own admission, spent six months researching islamic architecture – searching for the base themes. He, appears to have, focused on two buildings: Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo and the Alhambra in Grenada, in Spain. If one accepts that buildings reflect the people and times when they were built, then the Cairo mosque, built during the rise of Islam is a better exemplar, than the Alhambra built during the peak of Islam’s expansion. Pei settles for the elegant simplicity of the Cairo mosque; I also think that its simplicity also apealled more to Pei than the more lavish features and finishing of the richer Alhambra. Pei’s other building projects shown in the documentary are characterised by clean lines and simple planes and surfaces. Islam’s strictures against depicting likenesses of people and animals mean that Islamic architecture appears dominated by geometry.

Pei decides that Islamic Architecture at its roots is influenced by the dessert and simple geometry.

So the museum is designed around a series of squares, octogons and circles (and triangles). The museum is slightly reminiscent of a fortress – it is surrounded by water reached only by a single (massive) ramp. It faced on the outside with limestone – it blends in well with its dessert surrounds. The inside is also limestone, smooth poured concreate and yellow woods. The grounds and man made bay means that it can never be crowded by highrise buildings – as Qatar expands.

I do not like the building – though it may grown on me. I find it a bit too stark, too clean. But never-the-less a magnificant building – I am moved to blog about it. It is a building that future generations will consider a classic.

I found the documentary a bit contrived. All of the footage of site visits showed very clean work sites and everyone in freshly pressed shirts and ties. The candid conversations seemed staged. I really enjoyed the monologues with Pei – he is a very energetic man, with an air of immense calm. But even these seemed staged, he is always seen immaculately dressed, with drawings and other work products of the museum.

Also, one subject that is not touched on: why a chinese-american architect? Are there no moslem architects? The interior fitout is designed by a top Paris interiors firm. And what was the final cost of the musem?

Definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of architecture or interested in Islam.

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