Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adding to the wall

I have just pinned up the first page of my soon-to-be-published journal paper on our group noticeboard of publications in the corridor outside the office. This group paper wall has grown massively in the last 6 months as our group has burgeoned in size, and I am more than pleased to be able to add to it! (We are not quite up to the level of the meerkat group across the corridor whose noticeboard threatens to fall off the wall for weight of paper, but there must always be something to aspire to...)

Huzzah, science is kind at times (after 7 months of ego-bruising-rejection).

Meanwhile, post-show is also kind in the sense that it gives me time to actually do some science. Thesis writing progresses when the going is good; when the going isn't so good thesis writing stands still whilst I rewrite entire sections of chapters that I thought I'd already written at some point 3 months ago (it happens; generally the rewrite much improves things, but net progress is unfortunately 0%). Nevertheless, work of some description is happening, although slightly dented at the moment by a nasty sniffly coughy cold (it is proper winter now... possible snow, big black woollen coat and all). January will be a bit of a panic month as I try to get everything done before my legal right to study in this country expires, but meanwhile I'm just trying to get on with it before a welcome Christmas break in London, Bristol and Bath. This is the first time in 3 years I'll have a cold Christmas. Ice skating, Christmas lights and turkey! (When you can't spend Christmas day wallowing in the sea with a beer, you must make do.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

In the Senate House

In between our two performances at the Senate House. Last few days have been a blur of Very Late Night Production Meetings in the ADC bar, endless muso-related woes, quite a lot of gaffer tape, scheduling too many people trying to do too many things in not enough hours, and the occasional realisation that I am also meant to be a dancer. Yesterday, my little company put on an absolutely unique dance/music/art performance in the University Senate House to a sold out house -- we somehow appear to have pulled it off. Who knew. This morning my body feels somewhat broken, but I am looking forward (I think ;)) to doing it again tonight! Am thankful for the brief lull this morning; it is a beautiful early winter day and I read a book over coffee, then wandered the backs watching geese and swans and bare trees against the clear blue sky; a gentle ease back into the real world.

It will be a little while before our usual array of photographs and videos come out but I will point at them on this blog when they do.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

True to the tagline

Watching: In the midst of a slightly overenthusiastic series of Saturday trips to Sadler's Wells to make the most of their brilliant autumn season. Highlights so far include an absolutely magical new solo by Russell Maliphant with an animated light projection by Michael Hulls that spilled light organically across the floor, leading and following the dancer as he swirled, Nijinsky-like, in a beanie and sweats. Understatement gets me every time. Also saw Morphoses' new season -- despite enjoying Christopher Wheeldon's latest, in a way slightly disappointed as it did not seem to have the utter compelling genius of Fool's Paradise or Commedia. Oddly, highlight of the evening was neither of the Wheeldon ballets, but instead Lightfoot and Leon's Softly As I Leave You, wonderfully danced by Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk. In true NDT style, gorgeous and technical yet with an immense emotional depth and complexity. There is no other company that does this with quite the same finesse. A few more midnight train journeys back to Cambridge to come yet -- am particularly looking forward to Rambert this year. Their "Comedy of Change" is meant to be about Darwinism and bird behaviour, scientifically advised by one of the zoology/psychology professors here in Cambridge who lectured me way back when. My science and dance worlds have absolutely collided recently and although it is a bit of a shock to the system (being used to living a somewhat double life), I am absolutely thrilled by it all.

Making: The company is now in full swing rehearsing for our December's Senate House performance, having casually swung and leapt our way across the ADC stage sometime last week with what a reviewer called "aplomb" (ha!). We've just started rehearsals for a couple of our professionally choreographed pieces and I am really enjoying the process and keen to see what will emerge over the next few weeks. It is really nice to see the art emerging from all that planning! I started rehearsals for my own short piece a little ahead of everyone else, so I've actually just finished it and am not unpleased, in a radical departure from epic aggressive jazzed up fish hierarchies it appears to be a pretty brief amalgation of all those Maliphant and Wheeldon influences, and not complex at all, but I hope it will suit the Senate House and that the audience will enjoy it. Sometimes you don't have to try to say too much (I tell myself). Production work is something of an ever-stressful nightmare, but between the three of us core admin slaves and our ever growing production team, we take it in turns to mildly panic, and that means that the whole thing drives forward continually. for more!

No time to read. Am slowly working my way through Dubliners. Really enjoying most of it, it is such a pleasure after grappling with and being defeated by Ulysses.

No time for this either. In my first coffee break in weeks yesterday I sat in my favourite cafe Benet's with a mug of goodness, but I was reading about the integration of cooperative breeding work and cooperation theory, so although pleasant it was not exactly chill out time.

Chugging along. I am slightly worried that the dance company is trouncing my ability to actually finish writing this thesis, but I am making inch-by-inch (word-by-word) progress, and thesis.doc actually exists now which is more than could be said the last time I blogged. The aim is still January, argh, should I put this in the public domain in case I don't make it? I think I should, as the embarrassment of overunning much longer than that will perhaps be motivation to just write the damn thing. I am just about to submit about 20,000 words to a college to see if they want to give me some money in order to enable me to pursue more fish watching in coming years, so it is nice to see that I actually have 20,000 words, although of what dubious quality, I wonder?! Words are very much my work life at the moment, and I miss the actual fish very much, but to this end I have put a large picture of a chevroned barracuda on my computer desktop, which is cheering in a rather melancholic sort of way.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Harold et al

Meet Harold the Venusian slug, Kylie the slightly radioactive cat, E7_2+ the bicolor angelfish, and Jerome the Neptunian bigfoot:

Because of course I have nothing better to do with my borrowed overunning 4th year PhD time than to make FIMO animals. So much evening fun. I must admit to dropping Harold shortly after he came out of the oven to the loss of his left eye, but I've superglued him back together and he is as good as new:

Other unusual pursuits of last week involved an evening's sloe picking on the path between Coton and Hardwick (really beautiful and the sunset was something to be seen), followed by another evening of painstakingly pricking each sloe berry with a needle and dropping them into a gin bottle with sugar. Come this Christmas I should have some sloe gin to celebrate the festive season/drown my thesis sorrows.

Rehearsal madness shortly oncoming, so I am trying to make the most of this pre-term lull. Yesterday we cycled out to Anglesey Abbey and wandered amongst the glorious parkland full of Austen-esque statuary and rose gardens and sweeping vistas of chestnut tree avenues and beautiful autumnal colours. Then we came back to Cambridge and went straight to chavland (the Grafton) where I had a Crunchie milkshake (well deserved after the cycle back from the Abbey straight into the wind), watched a kiddie film, and then had dinner at Shanghai Ren Jia along with a whole restaurant full of people celebrating Mid Autumn Festival, winding up finally at The Free Press for a pint. The spice of life.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cupcakes, culture & clotted cream

Whoops, it's been an age since I last wrote. Perhaps an indication of the boring woes of being a PhD student in that interminable "finishing" stage. Nonetheless the past couple of months have certainly not been unenjoyable. On the whole it was a better summer than I think we have had for a few years, the sun shining beatifically upon this normally grey little isle for weeks on end (although it also rained with a vengeance in July, just to balance things out a bit -- had two exceedingly sodden bike rides back from the wilds of southern Cambridge). So despite being rather full speed ahead with work most of August, it was pleasant interspersing this with the occasional hour or so sitting on the Trinity backs reading and watching the punts go by.

I had a couple of crazily fantastic weekends in August. First off I flew to New York for less than 48 hours to help my second sister to choose a wedding dress! Great fun although it did mean that I spent most of Saturday and Monday afternoons feeling a bit like a grumpy bump on a log despite copious caffeination to get me through wedding dress fitting and work respectively. It was so much fun being served cupcakes whilst critiqueing white satin confections of another sort. She must have tried on 50 dresses, but I think it was worth it. As they say you only do it once. Managed to fit in some New York favourites too, lunching at Chelsea Market, having dinner in the East Village, and having a big bowl of savoury ramen for Sunday brunch at Ippudo on St Mark's. Whilst at lunch we were having a slightly confused conversation about the wine of the night before, when our water waiter interrupted to give us a gentle masterclass on the grape under discussion. Only in New York. Still haven't found a city to beat it.

The next weekend, after some truly insane days at work and on email with the dance company trying to leave things in order before a big stint away, I headed up to Edinburgh for the last weekend of the Festival. Certainly lived up to expectations, but perhaps that's because we crammed 10 shows into two days. There is such an amazing buzz about the place. Highlights were the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (one Scotsman, a cardboard stand, two socks, lots of costumes and a falsetto voice is all you need for an hour of side splitting hilarity), Baba Brinkman's Rap Guide to Evolution, and Jason Byrne. He reminds me a bit of an Irish Catholic Jack Black, a ball of manic hilarious energy with a show variously about being brought up in Ireland, raising kids himself, misadventures with various skeletal joints, and cutting up men in cardboard boxes... Absolutely fantastic.

From Edinburgh I flew straight to Cornwall to spend three weeks in its darkest western depths choreographing Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado for performance at the Minack Theatre on the cliffs of Porthcurno. This is the society's 48th year doing this stint at the Minack, so it is a very venerable tradition and one that I'd heard lots about from my theatrical friends so I thought it was time to give it a go! The theatre is a truly remarkable thing, built right into the cliffs near Land's End, with the sea as a backdrop for the stage. In fact the entire experience is also pretty remarkable as the entire cast, production team, and orchestra all sleep on airbeds on the floor in a village hall in lovely Paul (just up the road from better known fishing village Mousehole, near Penzance) for the three weeks: two weeks of rehearsal from scratch and one week of performance. (Although I cheated and moved out to a cottage in Mousehole for the last week, so I only really had the share the floor and the single shower with 50 other people for a couple of weeks...) Despite being pretty hard work for the first week or so when we were rehearsing flat out in the hall, the church, the carpark etc. (and choreographing in between), it was a great experience to spend time with such a lovely bunch of people and also get my teeth into some good old cheesy G&S choreography, although my allergy to cheese was helped by the fact that I got to make pretty geisha dances as well as pirate ships (what else for "Yeo ho, heave ho," etc?).

Cornwall itself was absolutely beautiful, at least in the second half of the trip when the weather cleared (I arrived to find Paul quite literally in a cloud). By show week I was freed from the rehearsal room to enjoy myself and think managed to get in a good varied holiday in between endlessly watching the show. One lovely thing was the chance to experience a little of the local culture as we sang in the Paul church service one Sunday we were there (as a token of our gratitude for being allowed to noisily invade their village for three weeks!), and also experienced a grand old singalong in the pub with the members of the Mousehole Male Voice Choir. I did a little Cornish sightseeing, visiting the almost tropical gardens of St Michael's Mount at Marazion, pottering about Penzance and Mousehole, walking from Sennen Cove to Land's End where I sent the obligatory postcard. And of course there were all the endless beautiful beaches and the sea, the glorious sea. Between a matinee and an evening we all trooped down to the beach (also built into the cliff, so there is actually a cliff path straight from dressing rooms to beach -- where else?!) and leaped into the freezing sea and got well buffeted by the waves and then froze for a bit trying to soak up the last rays of sun. Ah, very English. I even managed to fit in a couple of dives at Lamorna Cove in probably the best UK diving conditions ever (15 degrees and 8 m vis!). It was pleasant to be underwater again, and the kelp beds were quite pretty, and I found a lovely little cuttlefish, plus lots of bass and wrasse and shrimp and limpets and anemones, but to be honest I did it mainly so that I could say that I had actually dived in the UK and I'm not sure if I can be persuaded to do it again ;) And of course, I consumed a glut of pasties and clotted cream. That's Cornwall done I think! A really lovely part of the country.

Back in Cambridge and wading back into the dual jobs of PhD and dance company. Thankfully I arrived with the weekend to get myself up to date with the latter, but it's back on the former tomorrow morning at work, and then it will be the usual juggling act I love to complain about but that I know makes me happy really. I've also moved back out to Burrell's Field (being a 4th year PhD student - gasp - means all my privileges have been roughly removed, perhaps as a sort of incentive to actually finish); I have yet to see if all my belongings will fit into my dinky little bedsit after several years of gradual expansion into a couple of enormous Trinity 'mansionettes'!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Last night I dreamt

that I was diving somewhere in SE Asia, under a jetty in some godforsaken isolated outpost frequented only by hardcore divers.

Underwater, amongst the wooden pylons, there were schools of fusiliers and frogfish hidden amongst the fronds of soft coral. In quick succession, I saw:
- a movement out of the corner of my eye; it is a whole school of fusiliers streaking upwards to the surface. Followed by the most enormous barracuda ever, some kind of 1.5 m monster, sleek and predatory and full of big shiny teeth and silver and gorgeous. I'm not sure if barracuda in real life do herd fish to the surface, but this one did so very impressively.
- another monster of a giant moray lurking under the jetty, which upon noticing me actually came out of his hole and hovered, snake-charmer like, upright in the open, tail curled upon the ground. Now, I'm pretty sure morays don't actually ever do this, but in dreams all things pander to you..
- heading out to the blue beyond the dropoff, there was some kind of crazy baitball of who knows what, and sharks of all kinds circling in and out of them, primordial and savage and so ridiculously, gracefully beautiful. It was very Blue Planet.

I think from this dream one can tell two things:
1. Perhaps I am ultimately a fan of the Big and Impressive when diving rather than macro. Galapagos, here I come.
2. I really, really miss the sea.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Marylebone High Street

A perfect middle aged Sunday. Upon waking it is miraculously sunny and beautiful and a wonderful change from an endlessly drizzly Saturday. Wander up Marylebone High Street to Le Fromagerie for my usual Sunday morning breakfast of coffee and two happy organic half boiled eggs with soldiers for an exorbitant amount of money. Miraculously am there before it opens at 10am, this has never happened to me on a Sunday morning before. So a quick stroll through the farmer's market whilst waiting, admiring the quiches and huge bunches of lavender. After walking D up to Baker St tube past the mystifyingly huge hordes of tourists waiting to see the waxworks I very directionlessly wander back down the high street, past more happy Sunday brunchers.

Daunt Books beckons with its lure of travel to exotic far flung destinations (you know, like the ones I hail from), but I stick to the fiction section and end up with a rather handsome slim volume of T.S. Eliot poetry. I always bemoan my lack of poetry reading so I am at last attempting to make some amends. I am only a few poems in so far but thoroughly enjoying them...

Farther down the street I nip back into the farmer's market for two oysters, freshly shucked, one with tabasco and lemon, one plain and tasting perfectly of the sea. Gorgeous. I share words of delight with the man next to me at the table, busy eating his half dozen. Yet farther down I veer off the the west and end up in Selfridges. It is something of a magnet, particularly its chocolate section by the food hall. I fail to resist both chocolate and a couple of cheap tops on sale, and eventually munch on a salt beef sandwich from the Brass Rail for lunch.

Head up to Angel for Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray. Really enjoy it; there is much to be said for his brand of hugely accessible dance theatre that draws enormous lay audiences. Dorian Gray appeals much more to me than his usual formula (family friendly comedy-shtick modern reworkings of big fairytale ballets) because it is Bourne for adults -- sexy, dark, dealing with all the usual themes of the novel very cleverly updated to the modern world obsessed with celebrity and fashion and that fragile outer surface. Some electrifying moments, particularly in the pas de deux between Dorian and Basil (turned into a fashion photographer). I particularly enjoyed the references to MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet -- the Sibyl in Bourne's version (typically for Bourne turned into Romeo rather than Juliet), dying of a drug overdose, struggles masochistically way across the stage and up and over the central bed in direct echo of Juliet's final death in MacMillan's ballet. Dance theatre like this I can certainly applaud and enjoy (I often struggle with the more avant-garde dance theatre which seems to abound in dance colleges). If you're going to make a piece of theatre about physical beauty, using a caste of limber sexy physically articulate dancers is certainly not a bad way to go about it. A very stimulating afternoon -- but I did miss slightly the moments of heart in mouth beauty that (I continue to believe) is the reason why we all go to the theatre. For that I am guessing Morphoses (Chris Wheeldon's company) will provide amply come their autumn season at Sadler's.

Monday, July 06, 2009


First evening to myself in what feels like forever. I'd forgotten the simple pleasures of not doing anything much, on my own time. Left work about 7pm, although with the 16 hour summer days it felt like much earlier. For the first time in maybe months I revisited my old favourite activity, sitting about in Borders reading dance magazines and the Economist over a hot drink. Then a rather pleasant evening making meatballs for a steamboat tomorrow (hurray for dinner parties Malaysian style) and cooking enough sausage casserole to feed a small African village (or just me for the rest of the week).

A bit too much intense verbiage at work recently. Writing, writing, writing -- on Sunday afternoon I was sitting there falling asleep over my laptop, thinking "must.. keep.. typing". Over 24 hours later I still haven't the foggiest whether any of those words, one in front of the other, actually make any sense. But still, I'm making progress (I hope). I suddenly feel very much back in the thick of it, after the strangeness of June which despite one's best efforts always gets lost to May week mayhem and other such diverting pleasures. But it will be nice, in a bit, to have a break from writing -- I foresee having to do a bit of statistics for the next chunk of work. Who knew that one day I would look forward to statistics! I'm trying to go full steam ahead for the next couple of months as I'll be away for much of September, choreographing G+S in Cornwall. Something to work towards!

Notables over the past 1.5 months... spent my birthday weekend in Seville, drunk on Andalusian sunshine and oranges and tapas and breathtaking flamenco and endless cheap cerveza and good coffee everywhere and chanced-upon salsa parties in the street and gorgeous Mudejar palaces. It made us feel rather self-congratulatory. Trinity May Ball, my fourth, felt a little like it was suffering from the credit crunch and various organisational hiccups, but had an absolutely fantastic time nonetheless. Highlights perhaps the silent disco (very hilarious being in one when you don't have your headphones on, watching people bop about to nothing), an enormous helter skelter, duck confit, and that old standby the 4am ceilidh. Night whizzed by and it was 6am survivors before we knew it. Theatre experiences -- my usual raft of dance shows, the standout probably Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant in Push. The piece that stood out for me was Russell's solo. A master class in choreographic minimalism. They could take you anywhere, those two. Also, a very very pleasant sunny afternoon at Glyndebourne with family and friends. Falstaff, black tie, picnicking, Pimms and bubbly, arguing over whether white blobs in next field were sheep or cows! I sat next to a very nice gentleman whom I discovered had read Classics in Cambridge back in his day, and whose grandfather sang Henry Ford in the very first English performance of Falstaff in 1896. All one could want Glyndebourne to be: surreal, English, very wonderful. Also trying to make the best of this wonderful summer, the first real one we've had for three years. Cycling down to Grantchester for evening drinks and dinner (peanut butter parfait perfection) at the Rupert Brooke; punting on a silent river at 10pm under the Bridge of Sighs experiencing a city view uniquely unchanged for centuries; listening to the punt guides tell tall stories to tourists from the banks of the Cam; long moments watching the waxing moon from Trinity bridge in the long magical summer dusk. Good for whatever soul I may have.

Busy also producing my own little bits of 'art' -- Cambridge Contemporary Dance restaged much of our Dante performance in late June. Slightly stressful working in a non-theatre venue but pulled it off in the end, we're not sure where all these Dante dance aficionados turned up from but they certainly came. Also now getting very excited about our next big project, a big evening of new work in December which will be performed in a venue no less august and unique and scary and wonderful as the university Senate House, that 280 year old neo classical edifice of imposing beauty which I walk past every day, now with an added frisson of excitement. Can we do site specific contemporary dance in it to celebrate the University's 800th Anniversary, we asked the Vice-Chancellor's office. They said yes! Who knew.

No wonder I don't seem to have achieved an awful lot of work over the past few weeks. Must embrace the verbiage (third year PhD student hat), the producing and planning (dance company co director hat), the creativity (various choreographing commitments hat), the dinners and teas and punting trips (the being-a-friend hat), the girliness and more planning (bridesmaid hat!) and the general happiness (the being-me hat).


Monday, May 11, 2009

Enter cheese, pursued by statistics.

Can you tell it is late and I am tired from this blog title? Quite possibly.

Out of bed at eleven. Sunny. As is traditional for my late Sunday mornings, to market -- although I reneged on my usual ostrich burger and instead had a perfect cappucino from the guy with the little cart in market. Don't know how he did it, it was magic. Thus fortified, got picnic supplies from M+S and then lolled about very, very happily on Jesus Green eating said supplies. Sadly, attempted en route visit to the Cambridge Cheese Shop in All Saints Passage failed because it was closed! Not as dire as otherwise could have been as my cheese cravings are being assauged by the magical introduction of cheese courses to BA dinners, hence last Friday being faced (after smoked salmon, guinea fowl, and chocolate brownie ice cream) with an entire huge wheel of Camembert. Bliss! Anyway, cheese diversions aside, it was a very nice -- if cheese-less -- picnic lunch. We watched mallards and dogs and small boys pushing their big brothers around in strollers, and enjoyed the sun, and thought longingly about the sea.

After this I came home and slogged away for hours at some statistics (successfully, so I am pleased, as slogging away at the same dataset all Friday with nothing to show for it was really very depressing), and then cooked a huge vat of herbal chicken soup (you know, filled with mysterious bits of root and seeds that come out of a plastic packet from Chinatown), and then slogged for another few hours at dance company administration.

Rather odd to start the day extremely chilled and then have it degenerate into very tiring computer work, as my natural inclination is to do it the other way around, but all in all I suppose must congratulate myself at somehow having been productive and completely blissed out on nothing at all in the same 24 hours.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fish! Dance! Who could ask for anything more?

My apologies for the yonks it has been.

I spent the first half of April in Indonesia, mainly diving off a gorgeous boat in Raja Ampat and then living it up (well actually still diving) in Bali. There were pretty fish, ranging from the small and cute (pygmy seahorses), to the large and majestic (manta rays) and with a very close encounter with a large and bemused great barracuda at the USAT Liberty; and also non-fish excitement in the form of a whole congregation of stingless beautiful moon jellies that we snorkelled with and an unbothered little turtle hanging out in the current. This is all it takes to keep me happy as a pig in muck. Oh, and iced coffee. And far too much good Indonesian food. And indescribable natural beauty, karst islands descending into a preternaturally dead calm sea. And the grand old fun of standing up on a surfboard (on a very very very baby wave). And wonderful company. (And an onboard masseuse.) And general cut-off-from-the-world peace.

Back in Cambridge life continues; I've been drafting more papers. My supervisor seems to think I am somehow going to be able to turn these things into a thesis. (I only hope he is right, as my thesis word count remains at zero.) Work is alright, really -- I'm getting used to the whole writing malarkey. It is painful at times but I am perhaps getting the hang of it, now I just need to keep on doggedly doing it for the next 6 to 8 months or so and try not to go insane meanwhile.

The dance company continues as usual. Last weekend we premiered three new pieces derived from Dante's Commedia. They were really interesting for the company to do as for the first time we had external choreographers. One of the pieces was set in Purgatory and I can now claim to once have danced "Sloth" (for which I lay on the floor not doing an awful lot) and to very, very almost really have been a tree on stage (there is a perennial in-joke in contemporary dance about how it is, or isn't, mainly about 'being a tree') -- I didn't get to be a tree, but I did get to be grass in the Garden of Eden. By comparison the other piece I danced in, a Paradiso piece, was conventional, although danced entirely in silence with only the dancers' breath for synchronisation -- a real test of how well the company's dancers now dance with each other. I think it's showing, all those 9am Sunday rehearsals together week after week. The final piece, which I wasn't in, was choreographed by Vanessa Fenton of the Royal Ballet. Somehow the company seems to be moving up in the world, which is fantastic.

We move on next to a development period for a performance we will put on in November for the University's 800th Anniversary. It's nice in the meantime to be able to not rehearse quite so much and take class instead. I'm making myself go back to ballet -- that technique is irreplaceable. By now I know that all I really have in ballet is ballon and not much else, but I'm resigned to that now and can just get on with working with what I have! I'm also really looking forward to getting into a good contemporary class again -- I think I will restart my Saturdays in London to this purpose.

The weather has been kind recently, to the point of actually allowing for walks along the river and lazing on the grass in weekend afternoons. (More woe to the undergraduates who have a month of exam fever ahead of them before they can join us.) When the sun goes down I continue the long process of educating myself the philistine scientist by going to poetry readings and the opera (and in a similarly experimental vein somehow signing myself up to choreograph Gilbert and Sullivan in an open air theatre set on the cliffs of Cornwall). The precious work/dance/life balance is magically holding steady!

Friday, March 27, 2009


The paper edits continue. It's been a long week but I am in high spirits because we've finally gotten to the point where we've sent it off for some external feedback, and this weekend I leave for a boat upon which we will mooch around Irian Jaya and occasionally hop off to go diving (no clove oil or nets or stopwatches involved!) and also I am getting to said boat via Hong Kong and Bali where I am fairly keen to have a go at standing up on a surfboard. Woohoo.

Meanwhile this afternoon after a bit of frustrated searching I was inordinately and geekily pleased to find that
does what I want it to do. Enough said about my working life I think. No wonder I'm always blogging about dance.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rather enjoyed contemporary dance

Looking at this, I feel I should probably start talking about science a bit more...

Wordle: Contemporary Dance

Yet more da---

Had a very lovely weekend enjoying the continued run of atypical sunshine. Alas, in England whenever it is nice one lives in a sort of constant fear that this will be it for the year and that this is all the summer we will get!

As is usual for me in London I did rather a lot of dance related things. Friday evening went to see the London Contemporary Dance School postgraduate choreography presentation evening at The Place (it was free and I was at a loose end). I was perhaps more surprised than I should have been to find it really incredibly dense and of the epileptic-fit-and-bandages style of choreography. Many of the pieces were more performance art than dance. In one which I actually quite enjoyed five performers stood in a line and laughed hysterically at the audience for several minutes, then made lots of strange faces for the next ten minutes, then laughed a bit more. I am not entirely sure why we train dancers for years only in order to completely throw all technique out the window. Much as I feel that art is not solely for entertainment, that it does have some role to move our cultural understanding forward, to challenge the audience into rethinking humanity, society, life, it still has to do so in an accessible way. What is the point if it is so dense and arcane that 95% of the public will feel it is so unfathomable that they cannot even try to get to whatever message the choreographer has in mind? And even then, I don't believe we always need a message. Graham Swift said it so wonderfully in Ever After when he argued that much as we like nowadays to snobbishly rave about art that makes some kind of incisive social commentary, and much as it is unfashionable to simply love it for its beauty, beauty is often what great art is about to many people. It is why we come back to it again and again from our harried daytime lives. Transcendence is the word I always think of... at its best, it is transcendent. Why is so much modern art so preoccupied with running full pelt in the other direction?

Anyway, rant done: the next evening I went to the Royal Opera House for a somewhat needed more conventional dose of dance. The mixed bill of Isadora and Dances at at Gathering was a good chance to see rather a lot of principal dancers all at once (and at six pounds for a standing ticket a steal). Isadora, a recreated staging of an old MacMillan work, was disappointing. Tamara Rojo did her heroic best to save it with some lovely dancing and acting, but why on earth did the RB decide to bring this back into the repertoire when in comparison to the MacMillan masterpieces that are for many the highlight of the company's work it pales in comparison? It is just a sort of collage of some nice bits of dancing and some entertaining but fluffy bits of film. It never gets beyond entertaining, it never even gets close to transcendence. Whereas Dances at a Gathering certainly does. A Jerome Robbins gem, it is lyrical and beautiful and subtle and it doesn't need to make any sort of statement beyond that (and is probably the better for it). Yuhui Choe, dancing Alina's role, was striking not only for her resemblance (in the head, the carriage of the arms) to Alina but for some incredibly controlled and articulate dancing. Very definitely a rising star -- the more I see of her (and she is on stage a lot these days) the more I like her. I also rather enjoyed Sergei Polunin's incredible jumps, that boy simply defies gravity.

When not watching dance I made it to a couple of classes at Danceworks. It was nice to be in a contemporary class again after simply too long away, I'd almost forgotten how calming and enjoyable I find the beautiful shapes and awareness of all the possible movement in the back that is Cunningham technique.

In a bid to improve my cultural awareness beyond my narrow world of contemporary dance I went to the Picasso exhibition on at the National Gallery (and got some street theatre in Trafalgar Square on the way). It was really very enjoyable -- I never used to like Picasso at all but recent encounters with him in the Fitzwilliam and elsewhere gave me an inkling that may have changed. His work is incredibly immediate. You can't just sort of stand back from it and appreciate it objectively -- it is vibrant and loud and often humorous and amazingly sensual and left me very aware that there was a human artist behind every painting. I found myself smiling at the humour of some paintings, enthralled by the lyricism of others. After coming out of the exhibition, being in the National Gallery, I simply had to head across to the 1700-1900 galleries to gaze reverentially upon Whistlejacket, that life size phenomenal racehorse painting by George Stubbs. Along the way I waved at the Constables and Turners and Gainsboroughs that I also love. It is such a wonderful place!

And in between I enjoyed the culinary delights of the big city. Takeaway sushi (I have a rather limited choice of this given the general fish ban but still enjoyed it) eaten in Embankment gardens where I bemusedly watched a large group of American teenagers accosting a bobby for photographs (he was very tolerant). Noodles, teh tarik and cendol at C&R post-ballet (hurray for Chinatowns and Asian food and late nights). Eggs laid by very happy organic hens and a huge frothy cappucino at Le Fromagerie, the perfect lazy Sunday breakfast place. And a trek to Canary Wharf hugely well rewarded as my friend cooked an exceedingly tasty lamb roast for Sunday lunch!

Oh yes and somewhere between dance, art and food I managed to get my hair cut. I have a bob! It hasn't been this short for over a decade; I'm rather pleased to have a new look.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Collops (of life)

Recent notables:

1. College Commemoration Feast last Friday. Having missed it for the past two years due to being in Australia (one can't have it all, it seems), it was so lovely to be able to go again, possibly for the last time! I had a very genial and stress-free time of it as for the first time I was sitting with the 'commoners' rather than the glitz and glamour of high table. We were served collops of beef ("larger than a slice but smaller than a dollop", the fellow I was with drolly explained) and 1977 port amongst other delicacies. It all went down very well indeed and the choir sang a glorious Amazing Grace arrangement by Eriks Esenvalds in addition to their usual. After three hours of feasting the students proceeded to the College Bar for the Dean's Party (where we were provided with "entertainment appropriate to our status" -- the fellows and guests proceeded to the senior common room for the same; I rather think theirs probably involved a bit more cheese and port), where I ended up chatting very amiably about climate change, modern art, and Pink Floyd. Ah, university life.

2. Going to a performance by the small but very slick and innnovative company Ballet Black at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. To my slightly starstruck surprise we were sitting next to the choreographer of one of the pieces, Martin Lawrance. (I recognised him from doing a workshop with the company he's worked with for decades, the Richard Alston Dance Company). I managed to squeak a hello and a "enjoyed your work" and was momentarily extremely confused as he seemed to think he knew me -- turned out he thought I was somebody else! Still, a confused conversation with a rising choreographic star in the UK contemporary dance scene is still something :)

3. The weather. I pick and choose my extent of Britishness, but this weather really does need to be mentioned. It is gorgeous! Sunny and blue for days and the narcissi are basking in it all on the backs. I should take myself to Jesus Lock to see if the daffodils have come out yet.

4. Sylvie Guillem, Russell Maliphant and Robert LePage's Eonnagata at Sadler's Wells was something rather undefinable and full of the most gorgeous images. It was not really dance but rather stagecraft. But what stagecraft! Sylvie silhouetted in shadow play inside the drapes of a silken gown; Russell in a mesmerising and gracious fan dance; some absolutely stupendous lighting design by Michael Hulls bringing to life everything from a martial arts arena to a symbolic joining of man and woman; and best of all, a long sequence towards the end involving a mirrored table and the most mind-bogglingly beautiful confusion between one performer, another, and each other's reflections. It is a work in progress, and not as consistent as it should have been, but I don't really mind, because the moments that worked were quite simply breathtaking.

5. A couple of friends from my second field season on Lizard visiting for the weekend. We had a very relaxed and Cambridgey time of it, lunching in the Copper Kettle and getting coffee at Indigo's, wandering down to Grantchester along the backs and the river for tea and scones at the Orchard, going for curry and a cheesy 'bop' in the Clare Cellars, nosing around market on a blindingly bright sunny Sunday, visiting King's Chapel and yet again staring up in awe at that sublime fan vault, reading the newspaper over yet more coffee in Bene'ts, making pancakes and caramel sauce in a nod to our Lizard Island day-off traditions, and heading to the theatre... oh, but it's a good town, it is.

6. Zoology Seminar Day on Friday afternoon filled with really interesting talks from group leaders from all over zoology. It really is a crazily diverse department, there were talks on climate change and red deer, cuckoo chicks, Drosophila gut movements, Y RNA, Ichthyostega, Francis Crick (by Peter Lawrence), the energetic cost of rods (the photoreceptor kind), etc. Fascinating. It was really good because group leaders being who they are, they were almost all excellent speakers and knew exactly how to pitch a talk to a scientific but unspecialised audience. The Y RNA talk was possibly the first ever molecular talk I have ever understood and enjoyed in my life.

7. And still working on that paper...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aggression and Light

So, yesterday morning I had a meeting with my supervisor, and we worked out a sort of way for me to phrase this short "summary" paper I am writing: about 1000 words taking in most of my PhD, I kid you not. I spent all afternoon writing this. Late afternoon, having just finished a first complete draft, I had another impromptu meeting where we talked through a completely different better way for me to phrase this. I have spent all of today writing this.

Now my brain is pretty much mush from in two days producing 2000 carefully considered words talking mainly about how and why some fish beat up other fish.

In the evenings yesterday and today I was/will be at the Queens' Contemporary Dance performance Sprung! performing a slow, sustained, elegant, beautiful, transcendant, choral-music, mostly-balancing-on-one-leg piece of dance called Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light).

I often feel like my life is full of the strangest disconnects, but at least it keeps things interesting!

:) pt II

At the end of a paper I've just read in Proceedings of the Royal Society London (B), about assumptions in reproductive skew models:

"The author thanks C---, H---, M---- and S---- for valuable comments and suggestions, and J--- for the teddy bear. Funding was provided..."

I feel more enthusiastic about science already!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Perhaps Perfect

Is life at the moment. Only perhaps, because if one could somehow magically combine life here with a tropical coral reef teeming with life and powder white beaches then it would be a (very odd sort of) paradise indeed.

Work proceeds in as smooth a manner as can be expected given that it is a PhD and I am queen of procrastination. I've finally started to write (a paper rather than the thesis, but I tell myself it is stringing words together of any sort that counts), which is actually rather nice, although as painful and slow as I anticipated. It is always good to have an end product and although there is precious little space for stylistic joy in a scientific text, there is still satisfaction to be derived from gradually organising over two years' worth of confused thinking about blue and yellow fish into something more coherent. I am aware of course that the novelty of writing is going to pale very quickly. But I shall enjoy it while I can!

Dancing is at a very happy level too at the moment. Unlike the true insanity of October and November last year when I did not have time to eat or sleep or even pretend to do my PhD, I'm now rehearsing about twice a week with the company which leaves enough time and energy to go for class (the ritual and concentration and effort of class is a kind of homecoming) and simply enjoy rehearsal. We are in preparation for a very casual show next week in Queens' College, and also an exciting collaborative experimental performance project based on Dante's Commedia in Robinson's in April. Working with the company makes such a huge difference as we have masses of repertoire in easy reach, we all have some kind of creative shorthand with each other now, and putting work together is efficient and creative all at once, which is pretty amazing. We now seem to casually make small pieces of dance in about 4 hours flat and then just wander on stage and perform them. It's buckets of fun! Outside of the studio I am starting gearing up with administration work for projects later in the year (we are doing a big evening in November for the 800th Anniversary, and I've just cooked up an idea to repeat our Trinity cloisters performance in May Week). It is a massive labour of love but I do honestly think it is worth every email I send.

The other nice thing about not being in rehearsal every waking moment is that I have had plenty of time to expand my social and cultural horizons, as sickening as that sounds. In the past few weeks I've been to the ADC to see the Footlights, the Medics Revue, and in a failed attempt to see the RAG stand up comedy night we simply ended up in the bar chatting instead. Last night, an a capella gig by a group called Over the Bridge in Trinity's OCR, simply wonderful entertainment (hurrah for the Beatles) and another reminder that I am very lucky to be living in a town where everybody is young and ridiculously talented and full of creative energy. Dinner and drinks at various wonderful places in Cambridge ranging from extremely tasty and cheap Chinese to restaurants more reminiscent of what I think of as Cambridge's 'Maryleboneisation' (no really, we're getting all the same shops -- Cambridge is already gentrified, so this is a step above); from good old English pubs to pretty-people cocktail bars to a cheesy club or so. A long-delayed afternoon in the Fitzwilliam museum where I fell in love with a Rodin cast. In London, an amazing piece of theatre (very physical and very movement based, which of course I loved) called On The Waterfront, high tea at the Lanesborough, a trip to the Natural History Museum, and (upcoming) various highly anticipated trips to Sadler's Wells and the Coliseum and maybe the Opera House to be inspired by the likes of Sylvie Guillem.

Do I sound rather ridiculously pleased with life? Well, better than grumbling my way through it, I think. Only a few more weeks of this happy work/dance/life balance and then I go DIVING in INDONESIA. There's a blue blue sky outside and sunshine pouring in through the windows. Pretty perfect.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A ramble

What do I do with an entire evening in? After a hectic week running about meeting up with friends, and before that two months at a research station where we all lived on top of each other in a big convivial marine biologist mess, it feels rather odd to be reading quietly in my room for a couple of hours. But as the rest of the week looks jam packed with events I am telling myself to savour it while it lasts.

The weekend was chilled out (by recent standards -- all relative) and really rather lovely. I got a dose of creativity in rehearsal for a new piece and in putting soft pencil to paper again for the first time in years, helped prop up the economy by buying new boots (woo, shoes, I am such a girl sometimes -- and they're not even heels), saw a film and had lovely meals with good friends, helped celebrate my sister's birthday in London where the food was tasty and the company wonderful fun, and even -- very surprising this one -- did some work. A pretty wonderful two days. It is all about appreciating life as it comes, I think. I'm glad to remember how lovely life here can be as well, it assuages the pain of no longer being on our beach with the boats bobbing out front and the blue sky melting into bluer sea and.. oh, I mustn't think of it too much!

But --

The beauty of Lizard is ridiculous, a piercingly bright compelling paradise almost-unreal kick-yourself beauty that I never really got used to despite 10 months of living there. Being out in the environment day in and day out makes you appreciate it that much more -- the island has its moods, from gently overcast grey over a glassy sea to proper tropical storms and 2 metres swell to the tropical paradise of the photographs and postcards. Best appreciated either on the 10-20 minute daily "commute" on the boat out to the study site, the world quiet except for your outboard and you; or on a day off, on a late afternoon wander down our beach to the rocks at the end, where at low tide you can get round to this great big expanse of flat rock where you can lie down and feel the day's warmth coming back up from the rock to your back, and it feels like there's no one between you and the end of the world. If it is possible to fall in love with an island I lost my heart to Lizard a while ago.

I shall have to somehow someday engineer Lizard Island Pt IV -- some loves have to be pursued apparently (particularly when they are made largely of granite and calcium carbonate).

What an odd entry! I shall post now and hope not to regret later. :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Weather tours

The human body just isn't really adapted to experience, in the space of seven days or so:

1. A beautiful tropical island paradise on the Great Barrier Reef, where one spends an average of 4-5 hours a day actually under water, and much of the rest of it on a boat speeding over glassy calm seas (meep, I miss this so much already). However, said paradise is occasionally threatened by tropical cyclones, sometimes to the extent where we tie all the boats to the trees and hide in the library. A storm in January swept half our beach, the incinerator bins and the entire barbecue away; then three days later it was back to paradise.

2. High dry heat of close to 40 degrees in Melbourne's wide planned grid system. Gorgeous really although I think without a healthy Lizard tan walking around for a couple of days in this would have been quite dangerous! Shady laneways and big trees in the botanic gardens offered very welcome relief.

3. Endless drizzle for 36 hours in Townsville. I swear it must have rained for 90% of my time there. Sunny Townsville not really being built for this, I visited the museum of tropical queensland and the perc tucker art gallery, and in doing so I think exhausted Townsville's rainy day potential in about 3 hours flat.

4. Rather nice weather in Brisbane really!

5. I'm not sure what the weather was actually like in Singapore as it was evening, and I spent most of it in that amazing underground warren that is the junction of Orchard and Scotts Road linking the MRT station and three or four different shopping malls, so that you never really have to emerge into the 95% humidity... not a bad thing given the weather, but malls make me feel a bit claustrophobic sometimes -- one could be anywhere on the planet when in one, what is the point? More a lack of weather than extreme weather of any kind.

6. Freezing cold and snow back in Cambridge. I do sort of feel the snow makes up for it, we got a good 1-2 inches yesterday afternoon and it was lovely to see Great Court in the white. A bit bizarre as I still have a bikini tan and my body isn't used to the weight of all these clothes, but I'm enjoying having a bit of a winter for the first time since 2007.

Cold aside it is nice being back; I've conquered jetlag at last and am stuck into analysis at work, and it's lovely catching up with everybody over various dinners and happy hours and suchlike. Also getting back into the 'extracurricular' life with hot yoga yesterday and a documentary film screening on the evolution vs intelligent design debate tonight that is part of the Darwin celebrations. There's simply too much to do in this town -- if not for the film I could have gone to (1)more yoga (2)a contemporary dance class (3)BA dinner (4)Death of a Salesman at the ADC (would've if it hadn't sold out!) or (5)Iolanthe at the Arts, etc. etc. It's a far cry from research station life, I do love them both but at times the adjustment can be a bit of a shock to the system!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Transit Joy

The best way to spend 5 hours in transit in Singapore EVER:
- breeze out through the airport, somehow manage to re check-in a 29kg bag without the check in dude even batting an eyelid. In the 9 planes I have been in over the past week I have managed by hook or by crook to avoid excess baggage charges. A minor miracle.
- catch the MRT to Orchard where I relive my secondary school days grabbing a cheap bowl of very yummy noodles and tako pachi at Takashimaya food court
- very spontaneously go to a friend's wedding at the Shangri-La and wander around the swanky ballroom in my travel clothes saying hi to everyone I know. Get fed yummy Indian food. The hotel is just behind my old secondary school too so I get off at my old bus stop and walk past the campus. The nostalgia! Our pagan statue of Athena still stands proud at the side gate.
- get back to the airport to find that my flight has been delayed by half an hour. This is perfect as it allows me to shower (for three quid!), feel very human again, and then check my email for free.

Time to go. Some good movies should further my denial of the arrival back in the UK and The Onset Of Cold.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Diving the Poor Knights

Or, nudibranchs and swimthroughs make me very happy even in 18 degree water! :)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Southern Hemisphere Shindigs

Christmas on Lizard

Was the best ever. My very first hot Western Christmas had me utterly sold on the whole idea of Santa under the antipodean sun. The day started with breakfast on the beach, then Secret Santa presents which showcased exactly how resourceful and ingenious marine field biologists really can be (top artistic marks for a huge driftwood fish sculpture which would probably sell pretty well in an art gallery, and humour marks for a flintstones snorkel set consisting of bamboo snorkel, coconut husk mask, brick weights on a rope weightbelt and plywood fins). After this all 42 people at the station (researchers and some of their families) retired to the houses to cook far too much food, with each research group bringing about enough food for 42 people, which if you do the maths all adds to rather too much food. Nevertheless excess is what Christmas is all about, and we all dug in with gusto at the beach hut. Personal highlights of this feast were a huge 3 kilo ham that someone in our house cooked up, and (our very own) enormous bowls of chocolate mousse. Whilst making this chocolate mousse (20 eggs, about 2.4 litres of cream, 9 bars of dark chocolate, and who knows how much sugar) I was not sure I would ever be able to face chocolate again, but it was so good it was entirely worth it. Post lunch everyone stumbled down to the sea and bobbed about complete with large amounts of alcohol, water guns for the kids, and Santa hats all round (this pleasant activity is very technically known in Lizard Island lingo as 'wallowing'). Wallowing lasted for a very, very long time -- till sunset in fact, which was in true Lizard style absolutely gorgeous. Just one of the best days I've had in a long time.

New Zealand
In general has been ridiculously beautiful. Highlights include:

Marine Mammals at Kaikoura

A little coastal town on the east side of the South Island. It is a novel feeling to be in the sea with views of the gorgeously craggy snow capped South Island mountains. We spent a long day swimming first with New Zealand fur seals, then with dusky dolphins. I had never met either before and they were both absolutely wonderful. You feel ridiculously lucky and excited when you are surrounded by these gorgeous creatures streaking through the water all around you (unlike the manatees, they are both extremely fast and leave you feeling very very ungraceful underwater!). The seals like to really look at you -- eye contact with one of these guys is pretty special. And the dolphins like to swim round and round you in very fast small circles which leaves you breathless trying to keep up with them whilst simultaneously singing songs through your snorkel which is apparently what they like (we were told that we are there to entertain the dolphins rather than the other way round).

Marlborough Wineries

Great wine and food are definitely a defining feature of New Zealand if you can tear your eyes away from the scenery. New Year's Eve dinner at a winery called Herzog was excellent. The food was incredibly tasty and beautifully presented and helped along by paired wines with every course (about six). Full marks especially for a fantastic main of Angus beef. All washed down with some lovely champagne. So after these 5 or 6 glasses of wine, the next day, for some unknown reason, we had booked a full day's winery tour. I must admit I started this a little bit tired(!!). But perked up quite rapidly. Tasted so much Sauvignon Blanc ('Savs'!) it all sort of blurred a bit, although a gin tasting halfway through the day seemed to wake most of us up. Found some favourites -- 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from Highfield Estate, where we also had a really excellent lunch with views of the vineyards and the hills in the distance; also Pinot Gris from a fantastic tiny little winery called Bladen where they do the tastings essentially out the back of their house; and general all round excellence from Cloudy Bay. It is really interesting to visit these wineries and really figure out what you like or don't like -- makes the whole experience of a glass of wine with your dinner much more meaningful. It wasn't poncy at all -- just full of casual people really passionate about wine, and you felt that you were free to like or not like whatever you wanted, which is the way it should be with all things really. We also did a cruise and mussel farm tour on the Pelorus Sound -- unfortunately it was rather rainy and grey (we had been very lucky with South Island sunshine otherwise), but it was really interesting to have some mussels freshly opened and served to us raw (fantastic with a few drops of Tabasco). Plus of course washed down with yet another glass of Sav!

Wellington in 4.5 hours

I actually had just over 24 hours in Wellington, but we spent the first half day wandering about on a food tour. It was really interesting, particularly a great tour through the national museum Te Papa with a focus on Maori foods from native NZ plants and fish, and we had some amazing cheese and chocolate tastings. However my favourite thing to do in a new city is to grab a map and walk it all, which I only got round to today when I was left to my own devices as my family have now headed homewards. Thankfully Wellington lends itself very well to this kind of exploration. I started with a wonderful cup of coffee at Floriditas on Cuba St (I have learned to order a 'flat white'), then headed north along the quays, visiting a Leonardo da Vinci machine exhibition at the Academy of Fine Arts, catching the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens, wandering (very rapidly) through them and back down to Parliament (not quite the same as Westminster), and serendipitously jumping on a bus back down to Te Papa where I did a whirlwind tour of the permanent exhibitions on Pacific and Western immigration to New Zealand and the art gallery. Sadly, I didn't have time to look at the colossal squid (which I am told was not quite colossal, but merely very big, something which is a small consolation). Wellington packs a huge amount of stuff to do into a very small space, which I like very much -- it was a happy 4.5 hours. Good coffee, great museum exhibitions, and a poster for Sylvie Guillem, Russell Maliphant and the Royal New Zealand Ballet -- it is probably somewhere I could live very happily!

Half a day later and I am in a youth hostel in Whangarei having arrived on a little propeller plane which took only 25 minutes to get here from Auckland. Life is suddenly pretty different from the tasting menus and winery tours of Blenheim. Nevertheless, I'm pretty excited about diving the Poor Knights Islands tomorrow -- here's hoping I don't completely freeze and that I see, er, lots of fish...