Friday, June 27, 2008


Things I have done in the recent past:

- Produced and performed a contemporary dance show which was probably the most photographed small contemporary dance showcase in Cambridge's history, it was like being a drunken young star outside a nightclub, there was a camera click for every half movement you made. Despite being desperately, farcically last minute from a production point of view --including the entire venue being a wet mess of broken glass and left over bits of tree from the May Ball when we were trying to run a dress rehearsal the night before (fat chance), one dancer being unable to make it for the performance with 45 minutes confirmed notice, a choir showing up after the show actually started -- the audience actually seemed to think it was very slick (goodness me). Production values aside, I think that the dance itself was really rather not bad, both in terms of choreographic repertoire and performance. And of course the cloisters did their job in being generally gorgeous, and the heavens smiled upon us with beautiful sunshine and a brisk breeze to pleasingly rustle the dancers' costumes. So overall, it was not a bad start for Cambridge Contemporary Dance at all. There is loads to plan for next year so I'm very excited! Photos of Impressions are all linked on its Facebook event:

- Went to a concert by the Gentlemen of St John's in aid of charity. The Gents are the choral scholars of John's, a male-voiced group which on this evening sang everything from early ecclesiastical music (beautiful but a tad boring in bits, particularly without the full ranks of a large choir to fill out the chapel with swelling voices -- although they did manage it with an Ave Maria) to traditional songs (particularly enjoyed Miss Otis Regrets which I thought gently funny and so very English) to, in the last quarter, full-on swinging a capella standards, jazz and a good sprinkling of Beatles. I must admit that I enjoyed the last part much more than the rest, probably making me a bit of a philistine, but it was all so much more fun than the seriousness of the first part of the programme; they even switched their sombre black bowties for comedy patterned red ones in recognition of this! Also I really enjoyed that the close harmony songs gave them the chance to showcase particular voices, instead of it all being a blended choral sound. They all had really wonderful voices, technically so impressive and all with their very own sound. As my friend remarked we really couldn't decide which of them had the best voice because they were all so great and different! I think my favourites were "Is You Is" (..or is you ain't my baby, etc.), and a very energetic "Surfin' USA" complete with vocal acrobatics and a hilarious operatic interlude.

- Saw the one year programme graduation performance at Laban, followed the next night by the Richard Alston company at home at The Place. Somewhat to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and found that they weren't actually as drastically different as I thought they would be, based on previous experiences of both Laban choreography and the Richard Alston company! Laban's style tends towards dance theatre and is often driven by some kind of meaningful avant-garde concept. This can often go right off the deep end of the "be-a-tree-and-then-have-an-epileptic-fit-whilst-wearing-some-bandages" style of contemporary choreography, which I have struggled in the past to enjoy, quite simply because I find it rather boring. However I was very pleasantly surprised to find a whole host of thoroughly engaging pieces -- yes, most were concept driven, but there was bucket loads of exciting dancey movement to watch as well, almost no mooing, and loads of humour, which made the fact that they were concept-driven really interesting rather than some kind of modern-art-huh? drag. I particularly enjoyed a piece where two men tried repeatedly to hug without really wanting to show their need for physical contact -- the epitome of simple and effective.

I always knew I would enjoy the next evening's performance -- Richard Alston almost never fails to delight me -- and with the calibre of dancers that they have you could almost just sit there and admire the superhuman control and energy of the performers even if the choreography turned out to be a bit of a drag. But the choreography was very good indeed. I was surprised at first by a Darren Ellis work 'No More Ghosts'; Alston is generally beautiful, elegant and classical, and here we suddenly had an electronic score, dancers in Converse sneakers and tank tops, frenzied floor work with spins on the knee and a duet involving the woman hanging nonchalantly upside down, cross-legged and -armed, the only support point one knee hooked around her partner's arm. It was fascinating to see the company in this departure from their usual style and I really enjoyed it. This was followed by more traditional fare for Alston with his own 'Nigredo' and then Martin Lawrance's 'Body & Soul'. The latter was a wonderful dramatic work, with live performance of Schumann's Dichterliebe, the dancers dressed in slightly period formal long black greatcoats and dresses which swung about them to great effect as they all engaged in a technical tour de force with emotional power and intriguing psychological relationships all into the bargain.

- Gave a talk on my work to fellow PhD students accompanied by beer and pizza. I feel this went down well enough. Little does not go down well when accompanied by beer and pizza. See, I do try to actually do some work when not engaged in my full time hobby of dance. I've also been starting to explore my spatial data collected from dragging GPS units around after fish, which is exciting in a rather geeky way.

- Went to the Pembroke June Event in lieu of a May Ball (the night before Impressions!). Enjoyed myself tremendously. I think there is a lot to be said for the events where you are less conscious of the fact that you have paid a LOT of money and therefore feel less pressure to do everything (also there is less everything to do which makes things easier). I ate a stupid amount (bangers and mash, fajitas, hog roast, sickening amounts of chocolate -- it was after all themed "The Chocolate Factory"), drank rather more than a stupid amount (including shots of Baileys with dark chocolate liqeur yum and tequila which I'd actually never had before -- I rather like the whole salt and lime faff!), oohed and aahed at the Acrobatic Rock'n'Roll performance, bemusedly bounced around confusedly at a ceilidh that put me rather in mind of human bumper cars, and went home early, full, satisfied, and happily woozy.

- Sat around chatting with friends variously from dance, college and work over rather copious quantities of alcohol about, well, nothing much (if you really want to know: fear of flying, protein crystals, what men want, evolutionary psychology, bird sex, &c.) , which is very much a good way to spend an evening.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Or Why I Love Living In Cambridge.

The past week has consisted of everything I love about Cambridge life. Or pretty much everything; I didn't go sit in Heffers with a novel and a coffee, but that was just because it was too pretty and warm so I sat outdoors with a novel instead!

Friday evening: A free concert in the Master's Lodge by the Aronowitz Ensemble, who played Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat major and Schubert's String Quintet in C major. Was almost in two minds about whether to go, but I was so glad I did. The minute I sat down a very amiable old fellow started chatting to me about music and Trinity and the master and, when I told him I was a zoologist, geese... And then of course there was some glorious beautiful music played absolutely exhiliratingly (it was very energetic stuff, particularly the Schumann, and I thought perhaps the fact that they were all young musicians added to the vigour with which they played it), in a real chamber music format. It is quite something to be sitting in a room of the type which chamber music was designed for (old, small and intimate, portraits of Queen Elizabeth watching over you, drinks receptions waiting outside, lots of distinguished personages nodding away to it all, the summer dusk slowly dimming the view of Great Court and the college clock on occasion gently interrupting), the effect is very different to that of a larger venue. Although neither quintet struck me to the core, I did honestly enjoy a lot of it and pleasantly surprised myself with how complex and interesting I found the Schubert. Having recently read Vikram Seth's "An Equal Music", about a violinist in a quartet, and also in the middle of rehearsing a piece I made last year inspired by Jacqueline du Pre's playing, there was plenty to keep me interested above and beyond the venue and the music, though it hardly needed it!

Saturday: A day of dance. I hauled myself out of bed far earlier than I do in the week (hobbies are always so much more interesting than work!) in order to get to the Royal Opera House on time to queue for day tickets to the ballet that evening. Amazingly they now sell standing tickets as day tickets and so I managed to secure a prime view ticket to the Royal Ballet's much loved (and deservedly so) Romeo and Juliet for eight pounds, believe it or not. After a restocking trip to Chinatown where I did my usual goggling over the vast array of "food from home", I headed off to The Place for my now weekly Cunningham (contemporary dance) class.

The day was rounded off very wonderfully with the ballet. Having seen this production only a year or two ago I knew what I was in for, but as this was one of the best ballets I have ever seen I knew I wasn't to be disappointed at any rate. Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares debuted in the title roles only a few weeks ago, and were much lauded -- and again, I think, deservedly. Nunez is physically wonderful, with a truly awe-inspiring technique. Her control is such that she can take all sorts of wonderful risks with daringly off-kilter balances in her solos, and manages to achieve an amazing degree of heart-rending physical desperation in the steps she dances as Romeo leaves 'the morning after', and then soon beyond that her very reluctant duet with Paris (as ever it is the amount of control she has that enables her to let go more than a less steely technique would). For Nunez it is her dancing that brings the character across, rather than her plain acting (that long moment where she sits on the bed gathering courage to go to Friar Laurence wasn't quite as convincing as it could have been); whereas for Soares it is almost the other way around. His technique is unfortunately not quite as stellar as Nunez's and it shows particularly in the glorious sequences at the beginning of the balcony pas de deux in which Romeo spins and leaps his heart out to his Juliet -- he just didn't quite pull it off for me. He never did seem to be able to let go physically and trust to his technique to carry the emotion, and as a result his Romeo always seemed a little controlled and internal -- but nonetheless convincing for that. In the town scenes with the harlots and the villagers his dancing sparkled much more, and it was in his simple acting that he really became Romeo -- standing like a lovestruck fool when he first meets Juliet at the ball; mind filled to distraction with thoughts of love as his friends tease and cajole, his Romeo seems to love quietly, but so very completely. It is no trouble at all to stand for three hours when you have choreography and music and dancing of this quality to totally engross you.

Sunday: More cultural pursuits but in a much more modest and personal way. I (successfully) interviewed to choreograph a musical for November this year -- I've always admired the diversity and sheer quality of the work of the musical theatre group here and it is wonderful to be part of the creative team of one (I've publicity designed for them in the past but that doesn't really count). Part of the reason I decided to take this on is that I'm getting more interested in where movement comes from, and I think choreographing a rather serious dramatic story will help me to explore that -- no jazz hands in this one! It is exciting also to be working in a different medium to the 'showcase' contemporary dance shows that I'm now very used to. Otherwise I spent the day rehearsing, cooking and even (hurrah) lolling on the backs with a novel! Sadly my schedule meant that I had to miss the Trinity choir singing from the towers and from punts on the river which they do every Trinity Sunday to sort of herald May Week and the summer, but I did faintly make out their harmonious strains whilst I was waiting for my interview in Clare, and later again when we moved our rehearsal to the cloisters to work out spacing, so I didn't entirely miss out.

Monday evening: The Hummingbirds, an a capella group in yet another beautiful old college room (the OCR this time) -- very enjoyable barbershop stuff, with some Scissor Sisters thrown in, because that seems to be the a capella pop source of choice nowadays..

Tuesday evening: Yet more rehearsals.

Wednesday evening: BA Dinner! Crab cakes, roast pork, and the richest chocolate mousse ever. Yum. We even got champagne as pre-dinner drinks instead of sherry, they're pulling out the stops!

Entire cost of cultural and culinary pursuits of the past week: Twenty-four pounds. Where else would this happen?!

Thursday, June 05, 2008


In the thick of rehearsing for Impressions, a small May Week contemporary dance performance we (being our new dance company Cambridge Contemporary Dance) are putting on. Having had a May Week performance first suggested over a "yay I'm back in Cambridge" dinner with some dancers in late April this really has been a very speedy gestation indeed, made possible by a small cast and a essentially mostly a reworking of repertoire rather than making new work. I have thoroughly enjoyed producing this so far. It is such a pleasure to work with a small number of people whom you are familiar with and know you can trust; in addition the novelty of working in the really unusual space of the 300 year old cloisters under the Wren Library in Trinity has made things all very exciting. College has been really supportive, and it's nice to be running about speaking to my Tutor and the Junior Bursar and the Head Porter and Catering, after 5 years of being in this college and never really feeling part of the institutional side of things. I have high hopes for this performance and for Cambridge Contemporary Dance in general; I think we have some really wonderful talent in the group and it is all very exciting. We've even just received a rather large grant from the University's 800th Anniversary Events team, so we're commissioning ourselves to make something Very Very Good for next year. It feels good indeed to be able to be part of taking things to the next level. Scary, obviously, but good.

Dancing, producing for dance, watching dance -- saw some new work in the Linbury at the ROH a couple of weeks ago. Mainly choreographed by dancers within the Royal Ballet ranks, this was always going to be something of a mixed offering but for seven pounds to see Royal Ballet dancers, why not? I heartily disliked one piece, Vanessa Fenton's Monument, which with black unitards and bizarre gestures seemed to me almost ridiculous -- I'm sure it wasn't meant to remind me of a bad MTV style "dance team" routine but it certainly did in parts. On the other hand, I really thoroughly enjoyed three of the works -- two edgy duets by Viacheslav Samodurov (who had the good fortune to be able to choreograph this on co-principals Ivan Putrov and Sarah Lamb) and Matjash Mrozewski, and a group piece by Jonathan Watkins which had a really enjoyable fluidity to it. Reviewers seemed to enjoy a longer, slightly more traditional ballet by Liam Scarlett, but I have to say after the first enjoyable fast-paced witty section this left me cold by suddenly changing moods into something darker and more aggressive, which for me rather killed it all by making it clear that it did not really have anything coherent to say as a piece.

I think I am gradually becoming slightly discontented with movement for movement's sake, and seem to have to look for something more in anything I watch -- certainly not always a narrative or 'message', as I find physical relationships between dancers and space, or a mood and feel, do the job just as well -- so long as it is not just steps placed to musical notes just because those notes are there, so long as the choreography has some kind of aim, it is made so much more interesting for it. At any rate I shall soon have ample ground to test my developing thoughts on choreography as next week I shall be watching in quick succession two performances that possibly represent opposites in London's contemporary dance scene -- a graduation performance at Laban (full of dance theatre and what my Laban friend describes as "epileptic fits on stage"), and then Richard Alston at home at The Place (all Cunningham and beauteous leaping combinations across the stage). I instinctively tend towards the latter, in my watching and my own choreography, but I'm not entirely sure if I may be developing more tolerance and appreciation of the former, even if I still find it almost impossible to keep my attention fixed on people when all they are doing is walking about the stage, mooing. Anyway, I'll try and report back, not that any of you will be much interested (insert usual apology for going into esoteric dance discussion mode here).

All that dance has left not much time or motivation for much else, although I have somehow miraculously managed to stay on schedule with my wrestling with Access and R, and have a sheaf of analysis summaries full of pretty graphs to prove it. I'm at a bit of a halfway point and hope to decide whether I'm heading out again for a third field season very soon. Personally, dance-pangs aside, I would love to head back to Lizard but have to actually think of something sensible to do in it, which is proving rather difficult! Otherwise, more analysis looms large till a conference and holiday break in August. I spent today actually reading some papers in preparation for the next lot of analysis, which was a very novel feeling after having slogged through field work and then stuck straight into statistics for over half a year. I'd forgotten how enjoyable it can be to learn about other people's science, especially when they involve African elephant dominance hierarchies (woo).

Plus, I've even found the time for drinks, dinners out, more experimental cooking, Indiana Jones, Sex and the City, Jude the Obscure, oh and a few weeks back a very nice birthday formal and everyone squished into my room afterwards drinking champagne and eating some very yummy chocolate cake. Life, overall, is really pretty good -- now I just need the sun to come out again so I can resume my lolling about on the backs (sadly interrupted for the past few weeks by a return to the typical miserableness of English weather).