Spring shoots

Today is the May Day Bank Holiday in the UK and after a basking in some long overdue Spring sunshine yesterday, it’s time for me to keep my word and share my last two months of gadding about (which, with Mum’s 3-week visit smack-bang in the middle, pretty much disappeared before I knew it).

There have been a few highlights of the stage-and-screen variety since February starting with a ‘goosebumps all-over’ moment as Glenn Close filled the London Coliseum with her performance of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. The BBC ran a gripping six-part adaption of John le Carre’s The Night Manager that starred Hugh Laurie – in fine and menacing form – and Tom Hiddleston which had me transfixed on Sunday nights. (For those of you who don’t know Hugh, think House and Black Adder.)

And I saw a couple of really great movies – Spotlight and Eye in the Sky, the latter being a charity screening at my local cinema, The Phoenix. In his pre-film talk, director Gavin Hood explained that the technology featured in Eye in the Sky is real and out there as we speak. Mind-blowing stuff.

There were also some things I expected to love more than I did. The Maids at Trafalgar Studios was edgy and well-acted but a little too crazy for me and Immortal Tango contained patches of thrilling Argentine Tango but was brought low by too much tinkering with the quintessential drama and passion of the dance. Based on how much I loved The Night Manager, I had another stab at reading le Carre’s novel only to remember how convoluted and unwieldy I find his writing. And reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was spoiled by knowing ‘who dunnit’, having seen it on TV earlier this year (another brilliant adaption from the Beeb).

There have been some firsts as well.

I attended my first political debate on the EU referendum at the London Palladium. It was chockers with people and points of view and while it didn’t really help me to make a more informed decision, I did leave with my view of politics and politicians intact – grandstanding and emotive argument just don’t do it for me.

However what did do it for me was Painting the Modern Garden, an exhibition featuring artists from Monet to Matisse (and many in between) on my first sortie to the Royal Academy.

royal academy (640x361)

I also visited Poole, site of the second largest natural deep-water harbour in the world (after Sydney).

sunny poole

Dorset Quay, Poole

Last but not least, April alone has meant birthdays galore. It started with my two favourite little dudes turning 3 with Mum, Seattle-A celebrating a week later. And on the 30th, my good friend of more than 15 years, Swiss-S, finally turned 40 on the same day that high school friend, Aussie-J, marked her slightly more advanced passage through life (although she’s still younger than yours truly).

And the great Bard himself, Shakespeare celebrated his birthday on April 23rd, the same day as he popped his clogs 52 years later. There’s been much ado about this and for my part, this Bard-themed week has been book-ended by  Shakespeare Live! last weekend and a Shakespeare’s London walking tour on Saturday just gone with the Museum of London.

shakespeare (360x640)

Memorial to John Heminge and Henry Condell, the two actors who published Shakespeare’s First Folio in 1623 in St Mary Aldermanbury’s Garden.

In other news, I was very excited by the Monopoly-themed loos at Marylebone Station…

monopoly loos

I had to wait for everyone to leave the loos before taking these pics so no-one thought I was being weird or creepy (she says, posting them for all the world to see.)

…my fabulous new shoes…

shoes (640x640)

…and that fact that Spring finally ‘sprang’…

spring flowers (640x360)

Delicate Spring flowers  lined my street for about two weeks before they dropped to leave leafy green boughs behind them.

And I think that’ll do. Just as well that the month ended with a 3-day weekend…but the batteries are recharged and I’m ready to go again…

…come what May.

(Geddit? I just couldn’t resist a play on words.)

On transformation

It’s been busy on the extra-curricular front lately and I’ve experienced such an extraordinary trio of events that it’s actually taken me a while to shape all of the amazing stuff I’ve seen and heard into something more than a rambling discourse.

Let me start at the beginning.

I love Flamenco. I’ve loved it ever since the moment I first set eyes on it in Seville in 2002. I love it deeply and passionately, like the spirit of the dance itself. And a little over two weeks ago I was in the audience for Flamenco Gala, the event that marked the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

It was an hour and 45 minutes of pure transformation. Each piece was filled with its own essential character: intense sensuality, sartorial elegance, youthful impertinence. (And that was just the three ‘leading’ men.) There were no stage sets and no props, each performance needing only the cast of dancers, musicians and singers to capture its essence and cast it out into the audience. I reached out to grab it and never wanted them to stop.

These people transformed Sadlers Wells with their passion and fierce charm, drawing us in and holding us in their thrall until the very last compás. As the last note faded, the theatre filled with woops and bravos and cheering and my arms ached from clapping for so hard and so long. It was utterly thrilling (and may have had something to do with my insomnia that night).

The following week I went hear Thomas Heatherwick speak on surprise, ingenuity and transformation. This is the man who has hit the headlines here in London with his new London bus design and who alongside Joanna Lumley, has been inspired to transform Londoners’ relationship with the Thames through the Garden Bridge proposal. He is also the man who, during London’s 2012 Olympic Games, transformed the Opening Ceremony: an extraordinary moment in Olympic history that showed how the true spirit of the Games – a coming together of 204 nations in a single endeavour – could be epitomised in the lighting of the flame.

He has been doing many other things and for just over 2 hours, talked passionately about transforming our urban environments through a unique blend of redefining the brief and solving ‘the problem’. I didn’t love every project he showed us but I had a strong opinion on each and for me, that’s what sets this catalogue of innovative design ahead of the rest.

And then last Sunday I went to see an interview with novelist and academic Howard Jacobson. I’ve never read any of his books but I had read articles he’d been quoted in and was curious to hear what he had to say. His new book J, imagines a dystopian future where many ‘Js’ are banned – no jokes, no jazz and no Jews.

The discussion became less about the story itself (excellent, no spoilers!) and more about ideologies and the human need for argument to keep such ideologies alive. Being Jewish himself (the interview was part of Jewish Book Week), he particularly talked about the notion of Christian/Jewish argument being at the source of each of these ideologies and that without one, perhaps the other would not exist. He posed the question that if the opposing view just disappeared and there was no need to defend a position, would an ideology simply run out of steam? I thought about that all the way home.

The theme that has so enchanted me about these three events has been their ability to transform, whether in bringing a passionate past to life, a striking twist to an urban landscape or a thought-provoking version of a possible future. I love that these experiences stimulate my imagination and for days afterwards, I felt inspired creative and somehow emboldened in my day to day endeavours.

And it seems to me that these people and others like them – who keep exploring the what ifs about our world – are the ones who, with every step, design or idea will inspire us to break out of our comfortable cocoons and strive for new horizons.

monarch-butterfly

Bourne again

I’ve been enjoying a little staycation for this ‘week between’ Christmas and the start of the New Year. It’s been a week of pottering about at Gidday HQ: literary lie-ins (aka indulgent reading in bed until somewhere around 10am), comfy couch sessions and bouts of cleaning with a few dips into some local delights – a trip to the Phoenix Cinema to see Gone With The Wind (all 4 hours of it – at last) and a fab girly catch up over cocktails & lunch at Skylon – in between.

After a couple of brisk, blue-sky days, the weather is wet and a bit dismal today so amid continued bursts of cleaning up, I’m aiming to tick a few more movies off the I-haven’t-seen-it-yet list with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes already under my belt this morning.

Speaking of ticking things off my list, I want to tell you about my Boxing Day. You see, I went to Sadler’s Wells to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake as a Christmas present to myself. Yes peeps, Happy Christmas to me.

I first saw Matthew Bourne‘s work in July last year. Play Without Words left me thrilled and awestruck and his take on Sleeping Beauty was clever and fun and brilliant. His Swan Lake, which premiered in 1995 with an all-male ‘swan ensemble’, has something of a reputation. So even though my previous experiences of Swan Lake had left me bored and wondering what the point was, I took my seat just before 2.30pm feeling quite excited.

The first familiar notes of Tchaikovsky’s score swelled from the orchestra pit soon after, the curtain rose and I was riveted.

It was theatrical and dramatic and witty, filled with light and shadow and the most extraordinary dancing I’ve ever seen. And for the first time I really felt the story. It was visceral – I could feel the fear and liberation in the prince, the reined-in majesty of his mother and the sycophantic expectation of his subjects. But most of all I felt the magnetism and menace of the swans. Their flapping fury, their drooping necks and piercing eyes, the muscular ebb and flow of sweeping, swooping limbs that were, it seemed, inseparable from the music.

Images sourced from www.sadlerswells.com

It was an amazing show and for me, it was if Tchaikovsky’s powerful score had finally met its match in the powerful movement on the stage. I felt incredibly emotional and as the cast took their final curtain call, I was on my feet applauding furiously.

Thinking back, I can still feel the moment that the final note evaporated into the air and the curtain fell. The slight prickling of my skin, the full feeling welling in my chest and the profound sense of being touched by something extraordinary.

 

Another Spotlit Stage…

It all started in Seville in 2002. It was an additional excursion, added on top of an already busy trip. Tourist-y it may have been but it was spell-binding.

In the deepening twilight, we’d driven down from our dinner in the hillside village of Mijas Pueblo to join the throngs at a tablaos flamencos in Seville. It was crowded and we had to push our way through to our reserved seating in the front rows (one of the perks of much-maligned organised tours). 

Before long the show began: the pounding feet, arched poses and haughty profiles holding my attention, challenging me to avert my gaze elsewhere if I dared. Women danced, men danced, women and men danced together. Skirts and shawls swirled and swayed, fingers flicked and clicked and the cantaores (singers) wailed and clapped. It was powerful and passionate and provocative.

Then a small man took the stage. He was not handsome or well-built. He had a hard, weathered face and a small wiry frame.  But he exuded a raw magnetism and as his heels started their gentle tempo against the floor, he looked out into the darkened audience over his hooked nose, turned swiftly, sharply and raised his arms.

From my seat in the front row, I could feel the heat of his body, see the beads of sweat rising on his face as he pounded the floor. I held my breath, my heart thumping in my chest and my eyes glued to this stomping, whirling, arrogant dervish in front of me. It seemed to last forever and be over in a minute. As he remained still for that last time, it was a few seconds before I could leap to my feet and applaud, so mesmerised was I by his performance.

Ten years later, my pulse still races when I remember the man on that small stage in Seville, dancing with such arrogance and magnetism. And it fuelled an ongoing desire to immerse myself in that wonderful Flamenco spirit at every opportunity.

This weekend I went to see Paco Pena and his Flamenco Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells. It’s the third time I have been to see this unassuming master of plucking, picking and strumming since I’ve lived in London and he has lost none of his musical magic.

This latest show, Quimeras, is a fusion of Spain and Africa. It is filled with foot stamping, arm waving movement that spends two hours weaving in and out of haunting wails and tempestuous rhythms. It was unbelievably good. So good that I was on my feet at the end, cheering and clapping until my arms hurt.


Yet for all its wonderful-ness, as I walked back to Angel tube station, my mind wandered and I was taken back to another small man on another spotlit stage.

My heart skipped a beat and my soul soared again.

Speechless

In the midst of preparations for last weekend’s Gidday Soiree, I took a break and went to Sadlers Wells to see Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words. This was both my first Bourne and even more remarkably, given my love of dance, my first visit to Sadlers Wells. And apart from it being another bonza deal unearthed during my daily travels, Sadlers Wells is an easy commute down the Northern Line from Gidday HQ so I suspect that this cultural pocket of London will feature amongst my erstwhile ramblings a little more often.

Anyhow, Play Without Words is set in London in the early Sixties and is based on Robin Maugham‘s novel, The Servant. The action starts as we see leading man, Anthony (all 3 of them) sign the lease on a swanky new pad. He hires manservant Prentice (3 of them), a maid Sheila (only 2 of these), meets up with an old friend and then hosts a party with his glacial financee Glenda (yes, 3 of these too) by his side.

Image sourced from www.sadlerswells.com

The trios and duos interweave to show the same character captured in three different moments in time, adding power and depth to the wordless storytelling.  There’s friction and frostiness as the relationship between Anthony and Glenda disintegrates. There’s wit and clever visual repartee as Prentice and Sheila insinuate themselves into the household. And there’s sizzle and sexual tension and lust and betrayal – and I LOVED IT!

But more than anything, it’s Bourne’s visionary eye that makes this a seamless and sensual masterpiece. I was entertained, uplifted, moved and thrilled…and determined I’d be back for more.

So as I left, I picked up the program for the rest of the year and amongst the turned-down page corners, you’ll find the San Francisco Ballet, the Rambert Dance Company, Paco Pena and…yes you guessed it, Matthew Bourne and his world premiere of Sleeping Beauty.

It might be baked beans on toast for a while should I let myself indulge in this passion.

Now where is my debit card?


If you are in London between now and August 5th, make sure you get along and see Play Without Words. I kid you not – it’s absolutely brilliant! And I even got an Editor’s Choice for my review on Weekend Notes.

ps…if you’ve been under a rock ignoring me not reading my posts all the way to the end, Birthday Number 43 is fast approaching. You are down to only 13 shopping days peeps so let’s make that a lucky 13 shall we? Don’t let a little superstition get in the way of celebrating…well…me.

 

A Highland Fling…

After travelling for the last couple of weeks for work, on Friday night I was looking forward to a quiet weekend, catching up on a few chores and squeezing in a bit of chilling out. But in actual fact, Saturday became one of those days that kept unraveling and unfolding as the day progressed. 

After a slight over-sleep (meaning no chores pre-departure), a planned catch up with A-down-the-hill prior to a regular appointment at the hairdressers developed into somewhat of a larger day and after an impromptu movie matinee (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows if you must know, and yes it was great!) I found myself at a Ceilidh.

‘A what?!’ I hear you say.

A Ceilidh.

A Ceilidh, pronounced ‘kay-lee’, is a traditional Scottish knees up, comprised of kilts, whisky and haggis. But mainly, it is about dancing, informal, fast-and-furious, ‘catch your breath between sets’ kind of dancing. So it’s just as well I had come completely unprepared for a night out – flat boots, jeans, long sleeved t-shirt and not a scrap of make-up – because before long, I was sweaty and ‘unkempt’, and absolutely loving it!

We arrived with A-down-the-hill’s Scottish contingent (McHubster is from north of the border you see), snaffled a table and the boys went off to queue for drinks and a spot of haggis. I had grand intentions getting my vegetarian haggis later in the evening but, well, I got rather busy. You see, the music started and the caller invited everyone to take the floor. After a walk through of the dance – usually comprised of a series of steps set to 16 bars which is then just repeated – we were off. And that’s pretty much the way the night went…all night.

The first dance was The Gay Gordons (don’t ask!) and then a little into the second dance, I was delighted to find I had just renewed my acquaintance with The Virginia Reel, a dance I learnt in primary school.

Three and half hours flew by. There was The Dashing White Sergeant, Strip The Willow, The Flying Scotsman, The Canadian Barndance, The Eightsome Reel and a few that we didn’t catch the name of, made stuff up (because we had no idea what we were doing) and had a laugh anyway. The haggis was piped in (and I do mean bagpiped) half way through the evening and Burns’ Address To A Haggis read with due ceremony, much theatre and sense of occasion (for those of you who don’t know, Burns’ Night falls this Wednesday on January 25th).

It was a fantastic night – young and old alike took the floor and it was a refreshing change to see the guys itching to get onto the dance floor to strut their stuff. There was a sense of joyful abandon in the hall – maybe the flow of whisky helped a little – but this was just a great, old-fashioned knees up and the best thing to do was leap off the deep end and give it a whirl.

If you are interested in finding out more you can click here for upcoming ceilidhs in London and here if you feel you really must swot up on a few of the steps.

But there’s really no need…sometimes a little improv. makes the best fun of all!

Strictly Heartstopping…

Every so often I experience something that affects me so deeply, I just cannot get it out of my mind.

Settling in last night with a bit of Ben & Jerry’s, I was all ready to be entertained and uplifted (to a degree) by my regular Saturday night double dose of guilty pleasure, Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor.

But not like this.

After nine amazing performances on last night’s Strictly, this happened:

I was mesmerised. Absolutely spellbound. For the whole 90 seconds, I think I actually stopped breathing.

I kept seeing it over and over in my head all night, despite the brilliant performances on the X Factor Final (part one) that followed.

It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning. And just to double-check I wasn’t imagining it all, I watched it again before posting – twice.

My heart still skipped a beat.

Exciting. Aggressive. Passionate. Uncompromising.

I have nothing further to say on the matter.

ps…oh wait, hang on. I need to let you know that there are only 14 sleeps before Christmas is upon us. That’s only 14 shopping days left so chop chop peeps. You don’t want to be late!

2010…Born To Be Alive…

Happy New Year folks!!!  Sorry there has been a bit of a void in your giddayfromtheUK fix…only 4 blogs for December!  Shall endeavour to ‘pull my socks up’ but hope you know I was thinking of you anyway…

Well we are 3 days into 2010 and after last year’s run of death, illness and hard times for me and my nearest and dearest, I have found myself wondering what this year will bring and where we will find ourselves this time next year…in 2011!!!!  Gulp!!

And then I heard a blast from my past that blew all of that away and left me feeling inspired and, quite frankly, ‘kick-ass’.  

In 1979, I danced to this over and over in my pre-teen bedroom (I was ten!) and in 1982, a small group of 12-13 year-olds ventured on stage at the George Jenkins Theatre in Frankston (Melbourne, Australia) to perform the first of many Monterey High School Variety Night dance routines to this disco classic. 

And 30 years on, it is still the greatest disco track ever…and a fitting theme for the year ahead.

So sit back peeps, dial up that volume and take a trip back in time…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H12wNmn87KM

Yeah baby…

Diversity for the Queen…

Britain’s Got Talent – so they claim – but with all the fuss in the press about songstress Susan Boyle, I’d kind of gone off it all…until I heard that dance act Diversity took line honours in last night’s Final. The prize (for those of you who don’t know) is that they get to perform at the Royal Variety Performance 2009…oh and they also get £100,000. Nice!!!

I love great dancing and it was with chills up my spine that I watched Diversity’s Finals performance on Britain’s Got Talent on youtube this morning – amazing, amazing, amazing! The choreography alone left me speechless enough (what an awesome future, Ashley Banjo has…and he’s studying physics???) but the execution by the guys was just extraordinary and it made me smile and go ‘wow!’ in alternate breaths and I felt thrilled and disappointed (in an ‘I just want to see more’ way) when it was over. So I went back to see their other BGT performances:

First Audition:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPcGy77Gru8&feature=related
The Semis:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pg3fvanDDc&feature=related
The Final:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJIz8BgRQc0

What a showcase! And what worthy, worthy winners…Britain really does have talent!