Friday, December 12, 2008

Lizard Island Pt III

My supervisor has spoken about fieldwork addiction and I very much see what he means. Less than a week into field season three and I am (i) absolutely LOVING it (ii) already sad it is my last field season! The weather is wonderful. The fish are cute and I am now better at outwitting their tricky little blighter manouevres when trying to catch them. The social life at the station is easy and relaxed and so much fun. The island and the reefs and even trusty "Study Site E" is breathtakingly beautiful. Life is very, very good indeed. (I'm trying to enjoy it whilst waiting for the inevitable field season disaster to kick in!)

Here is a picture of a fat nudibranch that I snapped in between learning to recognise one tricky little blighter from another (I think my field assistant who is back with me after helping me out on my very first season 1.5 years ago is amazed at how much I have mellowed and how much less of a stressed slavedriver I am now!)

Cambridge seems very far away but since I have not blogged for ages I've completely missed out writing about New Works. It went very, very well (I think we even broke even, which for a pure contemporary dance show is probably an achievement in itself). It was the most rewarding show I have ever produced -- the company are full of the most amazing dedicated talented wonderful people and over the months and months of almost daily rehearsals and tiredness and laughing and being kicked out of one rehearsal space after another we really became each other's family. It is such a joy to be working with a team where everyone simply piles in and makes things happen because they care. Plus I think we made some rather nice dance -- can't wait to see the video (hopefully we'll put some on YouTube in due course) but meanwhile there are many, many pictures from our usual wonderful photographers here:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rehearsal addiction

What a lovely Saturday. I spent 8 hours of it in rehearsal but feel completely energised as it was all very civilised and spread out such that I actually had time for proper breakfast, lunch and dinner (which I even managed to cook, something I've really missed doing). The weather was not the kindest so it was probably better to spend it indoors anyway.

Musical rehearsal was great fun, we managed to run a very passable Act One and it is fantastic to see it coming together, as someone said there are moments when it really does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand (it is a very dramatic serious musical with a fantastic score, combining everything I love about music and theatre). Cannot wait to see it all on stage with a full band. The cast have been incredibly game about learning all this crazy 'contemporary' dance I'm throwing at them. It must be completely out of left field for them but I think many of them have really enjoyed finding out that dance does not have to be the stereotyped step-ball-change-jazz-hands. A story of this calibre deserves much more than 'moves' done simply to fill stage space or to impress, which is much the same way I feel about dance in general, so it all works out rather well. Here's the website for anyone who's interested.

Sandwiching that were two rehearsals for the dance company's show. It's in a month now, which I'm sure would send me into a bit of a panic if I weren't so caught up with the musical (which is in 1.5 weeks!), but nevertheless I think we will get there, even if by the skin of our teeth. I really love some of the pieces I'm dancing in and am trying to forge on with my own, which is this really rather scarily long piece vaguely based on my PhD (no less!). I definitely seem to have moved into the choreography side of things more and more as we are also fielding two short works which I've made over the past year or so -- so while I'm not on stage quite as much, what creative vision my brain can conjure up definitely is! It's just so much fun being in rehearsal day in and day out with a small group (there are only really about 7 core dancers) who know each other and get along really well. It's small enough to be very focussed and highly quality controlled, but at the same time we spend quite a lot of time in rehearsal laughing fit to bust. We definitely have a fixed programme now and it is just a matter of finishing off making the material (the show is after all called "New Works") and polishing it to a standard we're happy with. Phew!

Life is good, if on occasion a bit overwhelming. This weekend is a wonderful respite because I'm simply rehearsing, which I never fail to enjoy. The PhD analysis work is a little depressing at the moment and occasionally I wonder how on earth I'm going to plan a third field season at the same time as all this other stuff (I'm trying not to simply show up on Lizard without having decided what I'm going to do for my last two months of data collection, but I fear this may happen to some extent). Still, I've decided that the good thing about doing four different things at once (dance, musical, work, supervising) means at least the likelihood of them all going wrong at the same time is hopefully low so there will always be something to cheer me up!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Surely I Should Mention Fish

I should be preparing next week's supervision. So much for having escaped the clutches of procrastination.

This week is going well. I get up, I try to work in the office (in reality spending 50% of my time writing paper outlines and the other 50% choreographing in my head at the desk whilst hoping my supervisor doesn't suddenly come in -- desk choreography is very similar to 'train choreography' i.e. in your head on the train whilst plugged into your iPod; the other passengers very Britishly ignore the crazy person muttering "and one and two and turn arms up" while making strange gestures in her seat), I get to my first rehearsal with the dance company at 6pm, I rush to my second rehearsal with the musical at about 8 or 9pm, I get home at 11, I shower, eat, collapse. And then I get up and do it all over again. It is exhausting, but so much fun!

Too many dance reviews to write. This is the pithy version.
Merce Cunningham: Really interesting stuff. A completely different approach to what I am used to, viz. he makes some steps then he adds some music, some rather unforgiving leotards, and some great backdrops. None of each aspect actually has to be related to any of the other aspects. Fascinating outcome, especially with 'Split Sides' where he played this up to the maximum by having the order of two pieces of music, two sets, two lighting programmes, and two different costumes determined by the throw of four dice just before the start of the performance. How the dancers manage to keep their bearings and keep on doing the same dance with a completely different aural and visual environment I don't quite know, but it all worked perfectly. It was all a little bit "highbrow" and hardly crowd pleasing but I enjoyed it very much. I am clearly getting better at the appreciating weird modern dance thing.

Richard Alston 40/60: Much what I expected. Some really beautiful shapes and I always enjoy watching the beauty of these incredibly controlled dancers -- technically wonderful. A couple of absolute gems in "The Men In My Life" which was a collection of bits of choreography for men he has made over the last 40 years. Pierre Tappon the standout dancer (now that Jonathan Goddard has left!) -- small, lithe, physically powerful, a pleasure to watch. Somebody however commented that Alston's choreography can be a little bit soulless and in a way I agree. It was a pleasant evening, but not hugely inspiring nor thought-provoking, much less so than their June performance at The Place earlier this year (which was only 1/3 Alston choreography).

Australian Ballet with Bangarra Dance Theatre: The first Rite of Spring I've ever seen. Fantastic movement, greatly theatrical with sets and costumes galore (at the end they even came out completely whited out as is I think traditional in Aboriginal dance). The Bangarra dancers were remarkable in their grace, it is such a completely different kind of grace to that of ballet trained dancers, but no less beautiful and powerful. Thoroughly enjoyable. The Massine piece that they did before the interval was very clearly dated, but interesting in a very "oh look, they'd already started to use angular arms in the 40s, how advanced of them" kind of way.

Batsheva: LOVED them. Endless, endless inventiveness with pattern and structure, it was like a choreography masterclass. Some incredible performance skills -- all the dancers maintained this crazy intensity for a full hour of performance -- combined with vigorous athleticism and the occasional choreographic reminder of their vulnerable humanity (also helped by the pedestrian costumes) made for a thoroughly fascinating evening. It was a reminder of the fact that if you have enough choreographic material and powerful enough performers you can take it right back to the basics, you do not need lighting gels or swirly costumes or even dramatic music, and yet you can make the audience completely yours. Inspired and awed!

Monday, October 20, 2008


Spent Sunday afternoon in the deathly silent office trying to get my head around parent-offspring conflict and honest signalling, both fascinating huge topics in behavioural ecology which did my head in as a student, and, as it turns out, still do my head in. It was useful though because I think I actually had an interesting discussion today with my supervision students on it. Huzzah, at least that was worth it.

This week I have an overwhelming timetable that on several nights involves rehearsals for both the dance show and the musical in quick succession (so something like 6-11pm), I am not sure dinner is ever going to come into play here, instead there may be quite a lot of cycling up and down Cambridge very rapidly while I try to switch my head round from interesting and quirky contemporary dance with some of Cambridge's best dancers to getting non-dancers to coordinate their hands and feet whilst bringing a dramatic story about anti-Semitism in America's deep South across. Er.

And right now rather than writing this very haphazard entry (rather reflects my state of mind at the moment) I am supposed to be calculating group territory sizes in order to see what sort of spatial effect my removal experiments had on my fish.

My brain cannot seem to turn off and doesn't quite know what to focus on at any one time. Part of me just wants to go 'meep', crawl into a corner and seek escapism in Terry Pratchett and coffee while the rest of the world gets on with all this being productive business. The other part is just masochistic.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


A throat I rather want to rip out, the beginnings of a drippy nose, general muscly yuckiness and a feeling that I just want to fall asleep at my desk -- oh no, can it be early onset fresher's flu? I have not had a cold of any sort since early 2006 post Princeton interview fluiness; put it down to my healthy scuba diving lifestyle training up the immune system of an ox, but alas, all good things must come to an end. Maybe it was simply that I tend to run away from the UK in winter, a season which this week at least is very palpably in the air.

I must not succumb properly because it is most inconvenient to do so this week. The beginnings of the throat came on over a two and a half hour meeting on Tuesday evening in which I spoke loudly and nonstop about Act One of this musical I'm choreographing -- so I thought at first it was merely laryngitis, something that I do get on occasion, usually after too much talking, drinking, or a combination thereof. The beginnings of the drippy nose came on during yesterday's rehearsal for a piece I am making in which I just ignored my throat and shouted out my usual "yes! no! maybe? can you stick your leg up and spin around three times from that position?". Probably this will all just develop slowly over the next 5 rehearsals and 3 meetings I have scheduled over the next 4 days. Not forgetting the supposed 9-5 thinking about fish (ha!). Nor a trip to London somewhere in the middle of it where I will have to control my sniffles as the Merce Cunningham company carve out their beauteous shapes on the Barbican's stage.

Hah! Perhaps my body has gone into pre-emptive strike. More fool it, it should know that it takes more than that to stop me foolishly trying to push my multitasking capacity. Hurrah, ill and rehearsing for two shows at once, this is more like life as I used to know it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Went to see Chris Wheeldon's company Morphoses tonight in their second season at Sadler's Wells. This is a new 'transatlantic' ballet company which takes some of the best dancers in top UK and US companies and makes them work over the summer to produce some of the best stuff ever. In tonight's programme was a new work by Emily Molnar, followed by two by Wheeldon: Commedia (a premiere) and Fool's Paradise (which they premiered last year). The Molnar was a bit of a disappointment. With dancers like those of Morphoses it is hard not to appreciate every movement they make on stage, but by 10 minutes into this piece I was quite simply a bit bored. Despite fairly interesting movement and some nice motifs, it never seemed to go anywhere at all, just movement after movement in solos and pairs without any sort of structure. The endless repetitive Steve Reich music was inoffensive at first, but just as structureless as the piece, and started to grate after a little. At least the dancing was wonderful, with Rubinald Pronk in particular standing out with power and a wonderfully flexible torso.

Loved both Wheeldons, as ever -- I do not think I have ever not enjoyed a Chris Wheeldon piece, from the gentleness of the Tryst pas de deux to the acrobatic fumblings of Polyphonia. Choreographically it seems he can do no wrong! It was nice of him too to come out before the curtain went up and talk to us a little about the evening's programme. Fool's Paradise I had seen before and I had almost forgotten how ridiculously beautiful it is, all golden and shimmering with dancers repeating shape after gorgeous shape, with Joby Talbot's music lending powerful emotional depth throughout. If there is any criticism at all to be made of it, it is that 27 minutes is fairly long to sustain this kind of heart-in-mouth poignant almost-painful slow beauty for. Both times when I've watched it I have occasionally glazed over in the middle somewhere with emotional overload! Still, it is a gorgeous piece, and I'm glad to have seen it again.

The new work Commedia was a wonderful antidote to the seriousness of Fool's Paradise. With harlequin patterned bodysuits and the occasional colourful flouncy tutu, this was lighthearted and athletic good fun, filled with Wheeldon's trademark play with shape. What made it special though, I think, was that it wasn't overdone by any means; there was a magic subtlety to the way it played with the Commedia theme without ever doing anything too obvious and clowny. Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson danced a central pas de deux which was absolutely brilliant -- there was no pyrotechnics, just immense skill used to make everything seem effortless and fascinating. It could have gone on forever and I would have been happy. Following this there was a fantastic little bit of group work, which was so visually clever I actually can't really describe it properly at all, but played with partnered and solo variations on shapes done in a delicious series of surprising moments emerging from a synchronous whole. Immensely satisfying.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Red cooked pork

Cooking a kilogram of pork in an entire bottle of soy sauce (plus some other things) for two hours results in extremely yummy melting meaty soy saucey goodness.

Plus, it is incredibly easy, and you can do laundry and download videos in the meantime: a pleasing way to spend an evening.


(I think I've been reading too much Douglas Coupland.)

Sunday, September 07, 2008


I spent most of August away in the States, at a big behavioural ecology conference in Ithaca and then a holiday in Boston and New York. Had a packed wonderful day in Boston, whale watching (saw 30 humpbacks!), following the Freedom Trail, and wandering through the North End. It seems an immensely live-able city. Then there was a week in New York. Now that I've been a few times it was great to not feel like I had to do anything, so we simply spent much of the time wandering about, particularly in the Village where we were staying, which rapidly became my favourite part of the city -- it is so filled with quirky cafes, restaurants, clothes and record shops, and perfect for an aimless afternoon. I even managed to go and take a dance class at Merce Cunningham's studio, literally a 10 minute stroll up Bleecker, and thoroughly enjoyed myself carving out those wonderful clean Cunningham shapes with the Manhattan skyline out the 11th floor studio windows. My sister gave us a foolproof list of great places to eat; my favourite was Ippudo (at St Mark's) -- wonderful bowls of unbelievably savoury ramen served in an actually reasonable quantity hit exactly the right spot for a couple of lunches. Although the pastrami on rye at Katz's was pretty darn good too. And parpardelle in ragu and a couple of glasses of vino at Frank's made for the perfect late dinner. And... oh dear, must stop now that I am back in the land of egg mayo sandwiches for lunch!

Now that I am back I am faced with that pesky but rather joyful problem of having signed myself up for too many fun things to do. In the upcoming 3 months I am:
1) Producing, designing, choreographing for and dancing in a full-length 2 night show of entirely new work with our new company Cambridge Contemporary Dance at the Mumford Theatre. Because we only actually have about 10 dancers, it is going to be an interesting exercise in stamina.
2) Also for Cambridge Contemporary Dance, doing long term planning and preprarations for further performances in January, March and November of next year in Cambridge and with luck, London.
3) Choreographing a musical which will run for 5 nights at the ADC Theatre
4) Supervising Trinity second years in the behavioural section of Animal Biology
5) Finishing off analysis from my second field season
6) Planning a third field season for which I leave 24 hours after the dance show
7) Attempting to stay sane


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Talking to young 'uns

I spent today helping to man the Natural Sciences booth at the university's Open Day (more tomorrow), talking to sixth formers and their parents visiting Cambridge to find out about coming to university here. Late in the day we were standing about talking about how shockingly young some of the prospective applicants looked when I realised that this lot were born in the NINETIES and are applying to university. Much shock and horror from us ancient PhD students. People born in the decade after us have no right to be fully formed human beings yet, surely.

It was actually a fairly enjoyable way to spend the day out of the office and feel like you're doing something vaguely worthwhile. I did really enjoy the NatSci course and it is nice to be enthusing about it to young 'uns. Without the course there would be no way I would be working on the Great Barrier Reef following little blue and yellow fish around -- this was definitely not part of the game plan when fresh out of my high school's molecular biology-heavy A level course. I'm not sure when the epiphany struck. Possibly actually very early on, in the first week of Evolution and Behaviour lectures in my first year, when our sage old Cambridge don lecturer demonstrated to us the courting behaviour of the male long-tailed widow bird by crouching behind the lectern, then leaping all at once squawking into the air. What better subject could there be?

It was interesting talking to them because it reminded me how competitive and important it all seemed back then. (Not that it isn't actually competitive and important, it just seems less so in hindsight.) You had to choose the right subjects; know what to say in a personal statement; be prepared for interview; worry about whether 89.8% counts as 90% (!), and it just sort of goes on and on in a big stressful litany. Thank goodness that's all over (though I probably speak too soon, as the selection process for the real world rather than university still lies somewhere in my fuzzy future). Speaking to loads of new people was also really fun -- they run the gamut, from those who come right up to you and say, they are going to do neuroscience, what are the research opportunities and do I need to find a third year project as early as I can; and then there are those who "like animals"! Personally I rather like the ones who just like animals. Like I tell them, it's a pretty good start.

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).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Risi e Bisi

Not really risotto, but as far as I can tell it is just as yummy and you don't have to stir! Hurrah. Rice, peas, onion, pancetta, parsley, chicken stock and Parmesan. Voila.

High culture and sunbathing

Friday evening I went to see the Ballet Boyz 'Greatest Hits' at Sadler's Wells. For the uninitiated the Boyz are a couple of ex-Royal Ballet male dancers with a 'trendy' moniker that has unfortunately stuck (I, too, would much rather say that I went to see George Piper Dances, their preferred but sadly not quite as catchy original company name). I have seen them multiple times in the past and have never tired of their brand of top quality contemporary dance interspersed with tongue in cheek videos. It was a great pleasure to watch again Chris Wheeldon's Mesmerics. It had a huge impact on me choreographically speaking when I first saw it years ago at the Cambridge Arts Theatre and I was pleased to see that I was still, well, mesmerised -- although now that I have seen more Wheeldon I don't think Mesmerics is the best of his work.

Towards the end of the evening there were a couple of pieces which I had not yet seen. One of these, EdOx, a Rafael Bonachela pas de deux for Edward Watson and Oxana Panchenko, was for me the very best part of the show. Edward Watson! What a dancer. I am not sure that I have ever seen him before and certainly not in this kind of work (despite having a poster of him and Alina in Chroma on my wall -- a work I have always very sadly missed). Edward is unique amongst male dancers for his flexibility and probably because of this it was a very unusual pas de deux in that it was very almost completely equal. They are both able to twist and bend and throw up 180 degree extensions and for quite a lot of the work they are not in contact at all, instead dancing the same steps if not in unison -- steps that most other male dancers could probably simply not do at the same level. They both seemed to take to the style of fluidly twisted spines and shoulders in a very similar way and in this respect they must have been a perfect pair to dance together. All this alone would have made it fascinating but there were also many semi-supported lifts which again were roughly equal in terms of who was lifted and who supported -- very impressive for Oxana as besides being flexible Edward is also tall and probably solid heavy muscle. So on the rare occasions when Oxana is lifted right up into the air at arm's length, seemingly without any effort at all, it is all the more an unexpected and wonderful surprise for the audience. I am afraid I am not able to be very eloquent about this work. But I loved it all -- the style in the upper body movement, the uniqueness of the equality of the work, and of course the gorgeous performance.

Saturday was busy -- dance class and then rushing back to Cambridge for a meeting (very exciting emerging dance/music collaboration project) and in the evening going to a concert of the Dante Quartet in King's. I am a music ignomarus but it seems the Dante Quartet is very well regarded and they certainly played (to me) gorgeously even in King's Hall which does not have the best acoustics. Of all the pieces I loved the most Puccini's "Crisantemi", which is a gloriously dark elegiac work that flows and emotes in an indescribably beautiful way that seemed to take me on some kind of journey in my mind. I now think that in watching concerts or performances often all you really need is one piece that strikes you to the core and it is all worth it. EdOx; Crisantemi; and I remember a year or two ago watching the Malaysian Philharmonic play Arvo Part's Fratres, which struck me so much I went on to make possibly one of my best dances on it. There was also the world premiere of a new work by the composer Roxanna Panufnik, inspired by Canto 23 of Dante's Commedia. It was for me a rarity to be listening to completely current modern classical music, and I have to say I was slightly surprised by how much I managed to enjoy it when forced to listen properly. Dissonant and almost astructural, certainly, but also so wonderfully rich and with such wonderfully disturbing emotional currents and quite simply very beautiful in parts.

Today, so far, has been spent in a far less culturally aspiring way -- chiefly lolling about on the backs in the sun with a horrendously expensive iced coffee concoction, watching the punts go by (always good entertainment as not only do you get tour guides repeatedly giving you a potted history of Trinity and the Wren Library, but also, well, lots of people falling in, other people trying to retrieve stuck punt poles, Canada geese having hissy fits, and even, bizarrely, two people actually going for a proper swim in our disease-and-old-bicyle-infested river) and reading an old Coupland. One of the benefits of living finally in the main part of college really is being so much closer to the backs, I have been there so much more often since moving here and it is always so beautiful and idyllic, and often wonderfully peaceful.

More experimental cooking tonight in the form of risotto. Yum.. hopefully!

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Perfectly Lazy Sunday

Ah, I have been reminded why at heart I really am a lazy bum. At first I bemoaned the fact that once off Lizard my urge to work slaloms downhill at a precipitious pace, leaving me with that frustrating feeling (that I am alliterating too much) that procrastination provokes (still doing it). But the joy, the joy of a day off in an incipient summer, is that when not on Lizard I actually can enjoy it fully. Despite improving by leaps and bounds I never quite figured out how to totally switch off whilst living at a research station that, however wonderful, does suck my research money out of me second by second. But here in Cambridge I am a master at the art.

So. Sunday was a very nice day indeed and I should warn you that I am probably going to be sickeningly smug about how much I enjoyed doing nothing all through it. I woke about lunchtime, which to me is very much the Right Time to wake up on a weekend, and after all I had been up late the night before industriously updating a society website (, so I felt that I deserved that glorious feeling when you wake up under the quilt and stretch out and all is sweet and silky and swept with late morning light filtering in through the curtain, and then you go back to sleep. Whilst still in this pleasant drowsiness the boyfriend called, and there is a no better way to be introduced to the day.

Having eventually gotten up I went to market and had my weekly ostrich burger, which is according to the stall that sells it the "low fat red meat of the future" but in my books just exceedingly yummy, and wandered about peering at the crafts and Caribbean pasties whilst munching. And then to get a Caffe Nero mocha, takeaway because it is really so beautifully warm of late, and then chats with my Mum and sister on the phone variously whilst walking through Cambridge, sitting at Jesus Lock watching the ducks who were in turn watching small children smearing ice creams all over their faces, and standing in Sainsbury's in the midst of an enormous pre-experimental-cooking shop.

During this walk I saw a couple walking seven, yes seven, full grown Golden Retrievers at once! They were all so well-behaved. A pack of beauties. Then half a minute later I saw a Great Dane, who was so well behaved he wasn't even on a lead. He was kind of trotting along between his owners looking longingly at the ice creams they were eating which were, after all, held at about the same height as his head. What a temptation.

This took most of the early afternoon, and by the time I'd gotten home there was not much to do but sit and read Peter Carey's Theft: A Love Story, which I'd bought for one pound (!) on Euston Road on Saturday whilst dawdling on the way to dance class at The Place, and which was rollickingly enjoyable. Eventually I bestirred myself to laboriously work out the combination setting of my microwave oven and make a potato bake and chicken cacciatore out of my new Italian cookbook. What fun! In the end both were not entries for the Greatest Hits of my cooking repertoire, but certainly tasty enough, and they had better be too because I foolishly made enough to feed me for most of the rest of this week; but I've put some in the freezer so I can have a break in the form of good old garlic fried rice tomorrow.

And then I meant to do some work in the evening. But of course instead I just sat reading my book, and reading my book, in a more and more horizontal position on my sofa, and of course at 11pm what was there for it but to transfer my horizontal self to the bed where it could be more satisfyingly horizontal, and then of course it was a matter of just feeling pleased as punch that I could enjoy a book so thoroughly that I'd read the whole thing by the night after I'd bought it (and it weren't no Harry Potter neither).

Of course I made up for it all today by going into department on a Bank Holiday and making myself rather sad but at least virtuous feeling by banging my head against stats for the best part of the day. Work hard and play harder, eh. I came back through the late May dusk to microwaved chicken cacciatore and Ian McEwan's absolutely gorgeously written Saturday, which both very pleasantly drove the stats from my mind. Life is good.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Being Back

Bad Things about being back in Cambridge:
1. I have to sit in the office doing stats all day. Or more accurately teaching myself to do stats half the day and then doing it the other half of the day. Or, more accurately yet, surfing the web aimlessly procrastinating half the day, teaching myself to do stats the other quarter, going to tea, and then building maybe one little mixed model between 5:45 and 6pm.

2. Sometimes it is cold and wet (you don't say). But really overall the weather has not been that awful, getting very rapidly better since the two degrees it was when I first arrived back in England, so I have little to complain about, which I am sure is a state of affairs that cannot last.

Good Things about being back in Cambridge:
1. I am DANCING again. Finally. After 6 months of exile this is such a gorgeous feeling, accompanied with much masochistic enjoyment of delayed onset muscle soreness. Last week I did a bikram yoga/pilates class (everything hurt the next day, which was a fantastic feeling because it meant that everything had been worked), contemporary at The Place in London, and my on-and-off crazy London jazz class which is just great fun taken at a severely dehydrating pace. I may add a fourth class into the weekly mix, perhaps a good old ballet one or another contemporary. If I don't tire of the schedule I may maintain Lizard levels of fitness yet! Not only do I get to dance but also watch it, as Sadler's Wells has a fantastic season on and it is only really a desire to have some money left at the end of my PhD that is stopping me from going pretty much every weekend. Next up the Ballet Boyz, hurrah!

2. This evening I got to go to a lecture by Prof Lord Robert Winston (he of The Human Body etc. plus some rather good science) for the princely sum of one pound. And this Thursday similarly I get to listen to Jeremy Jackson talk about the ocean, which is also exciting in a rather geeky marine biologist kind of way.

3. Food that I don't have to cook for myself! Last Friday college very kindly provided for us graduates -- again for a somewhat nominal fee -- a very handsome dinner of sherry, king prawns (albeit English 'king' prawns which are 'shrimp' to anyone from the Indo Pacific region), white wine, duck, red wine, profiteroles with chocolate sauce, chocolate mints, coffee and Baileys. Tomorrow evening another college dinner beckons, this time as a reward for going to a graduate biologist seminar in which I will hopefully learn oodles about natural selection in mammalian promoters and then promptly forget it all during dinner with the high table menu, which for some very odd reason sometimes includes scrambled eggs on toast after dessert. It feels good indeed to be back in this mollycoddled Harry Potter- esque world.

4. My very lovely new room in the main part of college, which for all intents and purposes is a self-contained (bedder serviced) apartment with its own separate bedroom, gyp room (kitchen) and bathroom. I feel quite house proud really and have thus far managed to maintain levels of neatness previously unknown. There is even a pot of flowers and three pots of herbs. Before I know it I shall be baking cakes and inviting people round for cream tea.

I'm glad there is much to take one's mind off the fact that half a world away there is an island that I love sitting gloriously amidst a painfully bright blue sea. Ah, it's got to be blowing 35 knots out there nonstop (I tell myself).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Day in the Fish Life

Many apologies for the long absence (again).

Truth is life has been remarkably full and wonderful. Most times when I fail to write anything in this blog it is because there is nothing to report but the dismal, and as I see this blog as entertainment for the readers I would rather reserve any pathetic moaning about life being awful boohoo to a private diary or conversation. I think failing to write has also been because life here on Lizard, while rather stunningly wonderful, is really fairly routine and difficult to spin pithy blog entries out of. But I'll give it a go.

Most days here are pretty similar, so here is today's, rather in the spirit of that day in the life thing done in the UK a while ago where everybody was encouraged to write in a detailed description of the mundanities of their lives that day so as to capture a snapshot view of how people lived circa 2007.

- Got up late, about 8:30. Such a pleasure to sleep in as not diving till later than usual today. Finally got out of bed as it started to really properly tip it down, monsoon style, and sleeping further not really an option. Sleep-ins pretty difficult anyway on the island as when not raining it is too hot and you get sweated out of bed at about 9am. Breakfast of raisin toast, which I think is quite an Aussie thing and which we've all grown to crave, with, um, refried beans (had an open can left over from taco night!).

- Cleaned the house a little, sorting out our mountains of food as we are moving house in a couple of days to another one of the visitor houses (there are four). We seem to have enough food to feed an entire African village for about 3 months. It is difficult to really get it right when you only get food every 2 weeks and must place your order over a week in advance of it arriving. Some things still pretty mysterious though, e.g. how on earth we acquired six (SIX) separate opened jars of Vegemite (Aussie Marmite but really not the same). Being kicked out by a large group of 15 year old boys who will I imagine somewhat noisily invade our research station for 6 days next week -- now that the Aussie summer is over the mix of people at the station is shifting from bona fide researchers to various schoool/uni groups out here on excursions.

- Fed the fish which I'm keeping in the flow-through seawater aquaria. After over 800 15 minute focal watches and 300 dives they are still cute. Amazing.

- Late morning, went on a focal dive. Bit of a miserable weather day, still very grey and also fairly windy. Rather English really. Makes a huge difference to one's spirits -- when it is baking hot and sunny and calm life is so much easier! But didn't make much of a difference underwater, well at the second study site that we tried anyway (there was strong current at the first site but flexibility is one's best friend in the field), where it was really actually lovely and clear and calm and gorgeous. Watched some fish and did the usual data collection, chiefly counting foraging bites. I count everything slightly compulsively now: foraging bites, footsteps, mosquito bites (no not really -- too many to count).

- Back to the station for an hour where we had leftovers for lunch and I collapsed onto my bed for 10 minutes, waking up every 2 minutes with a start thinking I was late.

- Another dive laying out transects and videoing along them in order to get a measure of habitat quality. Exhausting stuff, these video dives, as we end up swimming each 30 m transect at least 4 times (laying it, videoing it, etc.). Large-ish white tip reef shark animal life highlight of the dive.

- Back to the station again for another hour. Caffeinated ourselves in order to be able to keep going for the last dive of the day, ate some more raisin toast (seem to have been nibbling on things all day and still hungry!), then headed out again. Our dusk dives are pretty uneventful but I don't mind them much; it's rather peaceful hanging about waiting for the fish to get it on, I practice hovering midwater and do somersaults whilst waiting. Tonight's was slightly more exciting than usual however as halfway through the dive it suddenly went very very dark underwater. I popped my head up as we were only about 2-3 m deep anyway to see a big black cloud in the sky; asked my assistant who was being boat person to let us know if it started to get worse and headed back down only to not be able to find my fish anymore. Three minutes later it was even darker and raining and the boat seemed to have very suddenly swung out of sight, after which it was a bit of a race to get back on the boat and try and get home in some whipping wind and really rather painful rain that had come up faster than I've ever seen a storm hit before. Driving very bumpily back I wondered about our almost empty fuel tank and what really would happen if we hit the reef and made a hole and the boat sank and which bits of kit I would grab first (I decided on the boat's safety box with radio and big orange V-sheet and flares and also fins and mask) and whether we'd be able to swim for it and how horrible it would be to swim without a snorkel... These dismal thoughts sustained me till we got back to the station. Still alive, huzzah!

- Rather less dramatically we made two pies for dinner, yum. Quite exciting really as never actually made a pie before.

Very sleepy now. Probably meant to write more in this blog about my Christmas hols, but think I'm going to have to leave it. Hope you are all having a lovely civilised time in all your cities going to restaurants and the theatre. Despite how I seem to have made life here sound pretty awful, I love it and really don't miss restaurants or the theatre very much at all; I'd much rather be watching fish and driving a small aluminium dinghy through tropical rainstorms!