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.