NZSD: INSIGHT Studio Performance (September 2014)

September 30, 2014 at 6:51 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | 1 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.

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