Monday, May 21, 2007


I almost called this blog entry "Cooking, yoga and novels" but then I realised that makes me sound a bit like a new agey housewife (where oh where is the PhD work in this pithy rundown of bloggable bits of my life?). Hence domesticism. Actually the PhD work is at this moment being a little frustrating and aimless, so it is far better to write about cooking, yoga and novels...

So. Over the weekend in one of my usual epic waste time on the web sessions I wandered into the brave new world of podcasts courtesy of the iTunes store. Podcasts being the only thing you don't actually have to pay for in this store I had a little browse. And I found Gordon Ramsay making sticky lemon chicken with champ! Having almost all the ingredients already I decided to give it a go. It was most exceedingly novel to have Gordon yammering away in full colour and sound on my iPod (what a way to follow a recipe, just plug yourself in whilst in kitchen) as I've not used its video function before. I was spared almost all stove-top swearing, perhaps because it was for Times Online. Have to say it smelled really lovely all the way through cooking. I am not really a fan of lemony anything in my main course (other than fish I suppose), but still it was more than passably yummy. I cheated by not using stove heated double cream + full cream milk in my champ (glorified mash with spring onions in), I used my regular semi-skimmed instead, which I am sure deadened the full creamy taste of the champ and I should be ashamed of myself really and what would Gordon say, but on the other hand I can claim to have made the 2% committed dieter's version of sticky lemon chicken... voila. Microwaved leftover version for tomorrow's dinner. Hee.

Such a splash-out dinner must have been just reward for the bikram yoga class I went for earlier this evening. It's a series taught by a dancer I'm friends with, but I'd just never managed to drag myself over to class before. It was tough! I've only ever really done one or two yoga classes in my life before and I think they were more ashtanga. But this! I fell out of balances all the time and I am absolutely certain I will ache like anything tomorrow. Think I may try to keep going for it -- it's not as fun as a dance class because it requires such iron determination (in dance class the music and the performance aspect usually keep me distracted from the pain), but it is a good challenge. We also did some Pilates work, which I hate because my abs are nonexistent, but it will be very good for me, what sort of fake dancer doesn't have a strong core huh.

Finally I treated myself to a bunch of novels on the last of my book tokens from college, one of which was David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green". So very very readable, I found myself staying up till 4am last night finishing it off. I am not sure I have that much to say about it. I could only describe it as another nostalgic isn't adolescence such an awful and wonderful journey book, but that would only be its structure I think and not really its heart. Not how it carries you along on such an enjoyable ride. The only other David Mitchell I have read is Cloud Atlas, which was a world away, wonderful but I am always wary of 'gimmicky' devices like that of Cloud Atlas, so I didn't quite expect this straightforward, feel-good, funny, intimate narrative. But it was quite simply a good read. What an unsatisfying review this is. I should've left it as "I recommend it"!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Darcey dancing.

Yesterday in a bit of a birthday treat to myself a friend and I went to Darcey Bussell's 'Farewell' show at Sadler's Wells. It was an amazing evening which lived entirely up to all the most ridiculous heights of expectation I'd elevated it to, helped by the centre front of stalls seats I had managed by some miracle to get (they were the last two seats in the entire five night run of the show). Funnily enough it wasn't so much Darcey that I enjoyed so much as the chance to watch varied excellent choreography, all of which I had heard of often but never managed to watch before. Of course, though, she was as beautiful and as amazing as ever. She still has ridiculously high extensions. She still reaches all those extensions with a gorgeous fluidity that melds itself, chameleon-like, into wildly varying choreographic styles. It is simply a real pleasure to watch her -- those giant grant jetes (and giant they are -- you don't quite realise how tall she is until well into the show when tiny Tamara Rojo comes on) eat up the stage in a truly exuberant fashion that is hers alone.

Funnily enough, for a dancer who has danced all the biggest classical roles, I enjoyed the Sylvia pas de deux the least in the entire show, perhaps because sometimes these classical pieces can seem a little odd taken out of context, perhaps because I am perhaps no longer as enamoured as I used to be with the classics. On the other hand, I really enjoyed her Cinderella variation, shown on film, Ballet Boyz style, while she changed backstage betwen dances. Such speed! Such turns! Such neatness! It really does put paid to all the "Darcey is too tall to dance Ashton" myths.

The rest of the first half was made up of two modern pas de deux, both of which I loved. The first, from William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated, was fantastically exciting and sexy to watch. From the moment the sinfully good looking Roberto Bolle swaggers onto stage and muscles his way into an off-centred balance it holds you in a really physical way. And then Darcey comes on and the remainder is a whirlwind of thrown 180 degree extensions as she is manipulated into one impossible angular pose after another. If anything I liked Chris Wheeldon's Tryst pas de deux even more. Johnny Cope came out of retirement to perform this with Darcey and I could not imagine this being danced by any other than these two gorgeous dancers on whom it was created. In feel it could not be further from the Forsythe, all melting gentleness from which emerge the most breathtaking moments of counterbalance and flexibility that if you hadn't seen for that split second between all the rest of the flowing moment you would think weren't humanly possible. Whilst the Forsythe for me blended into one long impression of Darcey's leg up by her ear, the diversity of the beautiful images left indelibly by Tryst I think makes it for me the more appealing of the two works (though both were brilliant in very different ways!). Darcey on pointe in fourth, tipping so perilously and yet also so stably from side to side, pendulum-like, balanced on just one of Johnny's arms round her waist; Darcey held high as if caught upside down in soaring mid-flight, balancing for one long beautiful moment on the soles of Johnny's feet; Darcey in a full split sitting almost comfortably across his thighs in an expansive grand second plie, look ma no hands. It shouldn't have been possible, but they did it, and they did it in such an unassuming and quiet way that made it all the more powerful and impressive.

The second half of the night was a full performance of Kenneth MacMillan's Winter Dreams, based on Chekhov's Three Sisters. Not being familiar with the play I had a lot of fun concocting my various theories of what complicated love entanglements were going on -- though I did understand that it ended it tragedy for everybody (not uncommon for Chekhov I understand). But more seriously, this was perhaps the most satisfying part of the evening. I've already waxed on and on about MacMillan's ability as a dance dramatist in this blog, but I can't stress it enough. His ballets have an amazing ability to make me lose sight of the dance for the story that they are so movingly telling. In a way I suppose this is a pity because I rather enjoy enviously admiring the beauty of an arch or the line of an arabesque, but on the other hand this is the dramatic form of dance at its very very finest. I thought that of all the choreographers of the evening perhaps MacMillan understood Darcey's dancing the best, with her lush fluidity more obvious here than anywhere else. Jonathan Cope was a revelation, such an amazing actor; his was truly tortured role as the husband who is left by Masha (Darcey) for another man, layered with complexity and filled with so much pathos. But again, it was a quiet, internal torture that he put himself through, and the choreography was quirky but so very, very effective in his hands. Their farewell pas de deux, again, was fraught with emotion.

I tried to understand, what it is I love so much about these ballets, why being moved by the story and the characters is so emotionally fulfilling. Why not, indeed, watch a play, where they are not restricted to stylized dancing but instead can speak their despair, where lovers can fall into each others' arms without triple pirrouetting first? I don't really have a good answer, but some part of it would be that the dance form really is more global. Other than the obvious language issue, the minute you open your mouth you are labelled, particularly in this land of a thousand accents, and with that labelling comes a host of associated social contexts which I think many of the stories that are told through dance can shed. True, this makes them simpler, less interestingly complex. But that doesn't make their simple stories any less powerful. Another part of my answer would perhaps be that often, in our deepest agonies of joy and despair, there are no words, not if you aren't Shakespeare. It is a physical feeling, falling in love as Masha does, being tied to your loneliness as her husband is; and dance is perhaps one of the best ways to express such things. Don't we all want to leap for joy sometimes, even if it's not with pointed feet and in a full split as Darcey can?

Enough rambling, I must have utterly lost all of you by now; forgive me but I no longer write a diary and thus have no other outlet for these ramblings that could only interest, well, me.

I had a really lovely birthday, despite the fact that I spent most of it working as usual. After work I had a really nice long dinner with a friend who shares my birthday, and I've also received in the mail not only my teddy bear all the way from Australia (hurrah) but also this ecstatically received present from the boyfriend. He knows me and my gluttony inside out and I love him for it :)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bank Holiday Weekend

Came down to London for the weekend after finishing unpacking (I had to move back into my college rooms which I had fully vacated during field season), mainly to see whether I had left vital items -- chequebook, office keys -- in my sister's house. Thankfully I had, along with mountains of other crap I had to shed on the way to Oz, and I will not have to do some embarrassed foot shuffling in front of our facilities manager (who is actually very nice, but probably still wouldn't be pleased if I had actually lost my keys). Speaking of embarrassed foot shuffling I did however have to do this in e-mail form to the (again, very nice) directors of Lizard Island Research Station to explain that, of all the things to inadvertently leave behind, such as important pieces of scientific equipment or diving gear, I had left my teddy bear. It took me days to build up the confidence to write this embarrassing email. Why I am now publishing this on the world wide web I do not know.

Time in London really quite nice despite being quite disappointed that my sister and her husband had gone off for a Bank Holiday Weekend jaunt in Lisbon and so I had to spend it by myself (no dog to play with either as it's gone off to the dog sitter's!). I have managed to avoid too much couch potato-ing (the temptation is always very strong when I stay here at my sister's because I don't watch telly otherwise, the common room always seeming far too far away) by means of going for a jazz class at a nearby dance studio that I've always meant to try (a fantastic workout, loads of fun and it just felt so good to be dancing again after two months of exile), wandering through the National Gallery's Manet to Picasso exhibition (all paintings in the permanent collection which I have seen before, but I do still enjoy looking at them and the exhibition audio guides were full of quirky little art history details), and hitting the Chinatown grocery stores! Well I also hit a clothes store -- not in Chinatown -- and they gave me a pair of dungarees for free. It would never cross my mind to buy a pair of dungarees. Perhaps I am not alone in this, hence being given them for free. What to do with them? I feel that I need to paint some walls.

In Leicester Square tube a rather nice looking Indian bloke came up to me whilst I was debating with myself the relative benefits of the Northern or Piccadilly lines and started up a rather flattering conversation. This does not happen to me often. When it does it usually comes from drunken and extremely unattractive hairy men. I couldn't stop myself being quite happy, really, that I can actually be hit on by a normal person -- although I must be terribly naive to think that someone who tries to pick up girls in tube stations could be normal at all -- but he did seem it, anyway, so I will allow myself the delusion. I almost wished I'd stayed to chat instead of rushing off with my two gigantic bags of Chinese groceries, but of course I didn't...