WHAT: Photography exhibition
WHERE: London Natural History Museum (map)
WHEN: 21st Oct 11 – 11th Mar 12
ENTRY: Adult £9; Conc. £4.50
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ is an annual wildlife photography competition joint-hosted by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife magazine. It is the most prestigious award of its kind.
- The overall winner of 2011 is David Beltrá from Spain with his photo ‘Still Life in Oil,’ which depicts eight rescued pelicans in the first stage of being cleaned up after the 2010 BP oil spill.
- Hui Yu Kim, winner of the ’10 Years and Under’ category, also deserves special mention. Looking at her photos is to see the world in all its bright glory through a child’s eye. They are beautiful.
- It was a wonderfully soothing and inspiring experience overall, and I felt exhilarated after spending more than an hour in there. Very highly recommended. I’ll certainly be returning next year.
MY FULL STORY: I have always been an admirer of wildlife photography. Back when I was a very little girl, I used to spend hours poring over my Dad’s copies of National Geographic magazine just to gawk at all the amazing photos of animals in there. I’d marvel at how strange and beautiful nature’s creations are, and how incredible it must have been for the photographer to have captured those special moments at exactly the right time. All my memories of those happy days came rushing back when I walked into the ‘Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011′ exhibition at the London Natural History Museum (NHM) last weekend.
Joint-hosted by the NHM and BBC Wildlife magazine, and sponsored by Veolia Environnement, there are few annual wildlife photography competitions in the world more prestigious than this. Their first competition in 1965 drew around 600 entries for the three categories available, but today it has grown to encompass 17 categories, and received over 40,000 entries from 94 different countries this year.
Artistic prizes and competitions, I believe, are usually quite controversial. As I pointed out in my Northern Art Prize article, it is rare for people to like or agree with everything that they see there. Ambling around the large showroom where all the winning and highly recommended entries are on display, however, I was astounded by the quality of literally each and every photo I came across. The competition’s tagline, ‘The Planet’s Best Photographs,’ turned out to contain more than just a nugget of truth.
There were so many photos to take in and it was impossible for me to choose a favourite. A few of the ones I like most, however, are shown here (courtesy of the artists and museum). Before I get on to the overall winner of the competition, I must first mention the very talented winner of the ’10 Years and Under’ category, Hui Yu Kim. With a sensitive eye and a natural sense of curiosity, Kim’s photos are phenomenal even by professional standards – let alone by someone so young. Looking at her photos is to see the world through a child’s eye, and what a wonderful world that is! Her winning entry, ‘Alien,’ for example, is brightly coloured, well-framed, and refreshingly unusual. A fantastic combo that obviously paid off.
The grand title of Photographer of the Year is presented to Daniel Beltrá from Spain, with the brilliantly titled ‘Still Life in Oil.’ It shows eight brown, sorry-looking pelicans in the first stage of being cleaned up after they were rescued following the 2010 BP oil spill catastrophe. To the photographer, they are ‘an icon of the disaster,’ and the image does indeed speak for itself – look at what mankind is doing to nature every day.
Beltrá’s five other photos, which he submitted as part of his winning entry for ‘The Wildlife Photojournalist Award’, show the stunning colours of an oil-dyed ocean. He had wanted to make the point that one does not always need to capture disturbing images to raise awareness for a bad situation – beautiful ones can be just as powerful, if not more so.
I unintentionally ended up staying at the exhibition for more than an hour, but the whole experience was incredibly soothing and inspiring. I may have been hundreds and thousands of miles away from where these exotic photos were taken, but they all seemed to possess the power of transporting me there. I could practically taste the salty ocean air on my lips, feel the cold of the arctic chill down my spine, and smell the fragrance of a gorgeous spring morning in the savannah.
Coming out of the gallery, I felt relaxed and exhilarated at the same time. It is an incredible exhibition, and I have vowed to go back every year from now on. Definitely make sure to get an eyeful of these breathtaking photos if you are in London before it closes on 11th March!
WHERE: Bradford Alhambra Theatre (map)
WHEN: 19th Feb, 12
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Electro is a new dance form that originated in Parisian nightclubs, and is usually danced to music that is influenced by electro house, afrobeat, sampling and even classical. It is rarely performed out of France and this is the first time an official show is brought to England.
- I was sceptical at first as the plot follows eight boys through a day at college (I can’t recall any un-cringey school drama…), but it ended up being energetic, colourful and synchronised.
- Plot gets confusing and too much happens simultaneously sometimes, but overall a really interesting experience.
MY FULL STORY [edited version first published on digyorkshire.comon 21st Feb, 12]: Part of the Alhambra’s appeal is that it embodies the perfect theatrical experience: the ornate ceiling, the sophisticated crowd, the seasonal repertoire of mostly well-established musicals. And yet it is also a theatre that is capable of embracing something entirely different, as it did last night when the young dancers of Blanca Li’s Elektro Kif invaded their stage.
Before I go on, I must clarify that I’m no dance expert, and so can only comment on the show based on my inherent fascination with the poeticism of the art form itself. With that disclaimer out the way, I can now say flat out that this was one of the most extraordinary shows I have ever had the pleasure to watch.
Admittedly, I was rather sceptical when the programme informed me that the show follows a bunch of boys ‘through a typical day at college,’ as school drama usually makes me cringe. I was also slightly alarmed when the posh auditorium started vibrating as the speakers blasted out electro house music at top volume. The ensuing performance of Elektro Kif, however, successfully pulled everything off with humour and style. It absolutely blew my mind.
Having been around for barely a decade, electro is a relatively new form of street dance that originated in Parisian nightclubs. This is, incidentally, one of the first times that it has ever officially come to England. The dance is a mix of breaking, disco, vogue, popping and locking, and its music is influenced by electro house, afrobeat, sampling, and bizarrely – classical.
Due to its informal and youthful nature, the audience mostly consisted of adolescents who were more than happy to wolf-whistle when the dancers took their tops off, and clap and bounce along to the catchy beats. As a result, the whole thing practically ended up as a gig, which I think was part of Elektro Kif’s intention anyway – this was never meant to be a show for us to watch demurely with our legs crossed.
The element I really enjoyed about the performance is how visually striking it was. The dancers’ multicoloured costumes and insanely fast body and hand movements, combined with brilliant use of lighting, makes it wonderfully photogenic.
I find that the most interesting scenes were the ones that surprised me. A playground scuffle, for instance, was choreographed to elegant classical piano music. I’m not entirely sure why this was the case – to highlight the underlying friendship rather than violence, perhaps? – but it was nonetheless an interesting and captivating interpretation.
The eight dancers were very much in sync with each other, but their talents as individuals was not lost. I was also amazed by how they managed to keep their energy up for the duration of the 70-minute show with no break in between. They later explained in the post-show talk, however, that they normally practice from 11am to 6pm before hitting the clubs at night, so ‘an hour is nothing.’
The plot was a times a bit confusing and difficult to follow, especially when too many things were happening onstage at the same time, but even so, they managed to hold the audience’s attention throughout.
It was an overall delightful experience, and quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. I am very excited to witness the emergence of a new kind of theatre, and look forward to seeing what lies in store for both the group and the genre!
WHAT: Play (Absurdist Tragiocomedy)
WHERE: West Yorkshire Playhouse (map)
WHEN: 3rd – 25th Feb, 12
HOW MANY TOBIES BARKED WITH AWE (out of 5):
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Waiting for Godot is notoriously dubbed as the play in which nothing happens, twice, but it is also a masterpiece of the 20th century.
- It is essentially about Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) coming up with ways to pass their time as they wait for Godot, the man who never comes.
- The script isn’t really my cup of tea, but is definitely still very powerful. The brilliant cast of five brought the play to life and gave one of the best performances I have ever seen on stage.
MY FULL STORY: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a play, I was told, in which nothing happens, twice. I was also forewarned that I was going to hate it, which is a fair warning given the fact that I never have much patience for plays like that – why exactly would I waste my time just to go watch someone else waste theirs? However, seeing as this is apparently one of the most significant dramatic works of the 20th century, and Ian Brown’s production (his last after a decade as the Artistic Director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse) has received multiple rave reviews, I decided to give it a go. Besides, I feel like I ought to be reasonable about these things: I would watch it first, and then say how much I hated it.
The play opened with a single dead tree standing in the middle of the stage. Vladimir and Estragon stumbled onto the landscape, and they stayed there. Everything stayed there. Sometimes Pozzo and his rope-chained slave Lucky joined them, but that’s all there was to it. ‘Nothing happens,’ Estragon vented. ‘Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful!’
To pass the time, they would eat, sleep, sing, swap hats, philosophise, compare themselves to Christ, embrace, laugh, cry, piss, and contemplate suicide. They kept talking, they kept quiet, they kept each other company, but ultimately, they kept waiting. And then, the following day (or act), they came back and did it all over again.
‘Let’s go,’ said Gogo.
‘We can’t,’ replied Didi.
‘Because we’re waiting for Godot.’
The strange thing is that those lines summed up how I felt throughout the performance, too. I knew perfectly well that nothing was going to happen and that I should just get up and leave, and yet I couldn’t help but wait with them. In fact, I was unable to tear my eyes away from the stage at all. I barely even blinked. I mean, what if, maybe, just in case…?
And so I just sat there with everyone else for the whole two-and-a-half hours, allowing my emotions to be swept away with the lot: I was sad, happy, angry, frustrated, amused, bored and inspired. ‘There’s nothing to be done.’ Nothing, nothing, nothing, but to watch life go by in the most surreal of ways.
With so little but so much happening, this is an extremely difficult play to take on, and take in. All we had to go by was the characters’ conversation, for there was no music, no change of set or costume to distract and detract us from it. Jeffery Kissoon’s and Patrick Robinson’s performances as Vladimir and Estragon respectively, however, were magical. Not only did they portray the characters flawlessly and breathed life into the text, they also teased the subtle humour out of it with a quirky Caribbean accent whilst keeping everything extremely human.
Cornell S John’s Pozzo was, likewise, a marvel – perfectly arrogant and charismatic at the same time. But it was Guy Burgess’s Lucky who threatened to steal the show. His transformation from a wheezing, slobbering mess to a crazy intellect who delivered one of the most difficult soliloquies in the English language was staggering.
This is the first ever UK production of the play to feature an all-black cast, but I don’t think too much should be made of it as they were all just great actors.
So did I hate the play as much as I thought I would? Yes, absolutely. I walked out of the Playhouse feeling exhausted, as though half my soul had been sucked out of me, and I couldn’t think straight for the rest of the night. However, I must also admit that it is indeed a very powerful piece of theatre, and with a cast as talented as this, it very effortlessly became one of the best performances I have ever watched on stage. Bravo.
WHAT: Play (Musical)
WHERE: Bradford Alhambra Theatre (map)
WHEN: 10th – 18th Feb, 12
MY STORY [first published on digyorkshire.com on 14th Feb, 12]: Chicago was always going to be a difficult musical for me to review, because it is arguably my all-time favourite show. I’ve seen the West End production a few years ago, watched the movie, and listen to the soundtrack whenever I want to feel sexy. And they are all fabulous.
Perhaps it’s because I came to this touring West End show with such high hopes that I felt as though it fell a little short of my expectations. I’m not saying that it was a bad performance – it wasn’t – but it wasn’t perfect either.
At the beginning of the show a beautiful, tall, scantily-clad lady strutted onstage: ‘Welcome,’ she said as her lipsticked mouth curled into a smile, ‘to a show about murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery – all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.’
The musical is set in the late 1920s Chicago, where crime and criminals were, as one of the characters sneered, ‘a source of entertainment.’ We follow the story of Roxie Hart (Ali Bastian), a vaudeville dancer wannabe, who shoots her illicit lover Fred Casely (Ian Oswald) for walking out on her.
After failing to persuade her kind but dim-witted husband Amos (Jamie Baughan) to take the blame, Roxie is sent to Cook County Jail, where she meets a prison-full of seductive murderesses. Amongst them is ex-vaudeville star Velma Kelly (Tupele Dorgu), who subsequently becomes Roxie’s rival when the newcomer steals her limelight as Chicago’s most notorious criminal.
Gorgeous and ruthless, Roxie is prepared to do anything to save her life and climb up the ladder of fame. With the help of corrupt prison matron Mama Morton (Bernie Nolan) and smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (Stefan Booth), a long journey of bribery and debauchery begins.
I was very impressed with the brilliant singing and choreography, there were moments when their talents as performers really came through, and they brought the songs to life with grace and precision.
Coupled with dramatic spot lighting, the murderesses successfully captured the sexy and quirky essence of crowd favourites such as ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Cell Block Tango’. I was also completely razzle-dazzled by Stefan Booth’s rendition of ‘All I Care About’ despite knowing that his character is all charm and no good, while ‘Mr. Cellophane’ made you want to give Jamie Baughan’s Amos a hug.
The most mesmerising actress on the show, however, was without a doubt Tupele Dorgu. Her interpretation of Velma Kelly was spot on, and we loved and hated her in equal measures. She was a tough act to keep up with though, and unfortunately the other characters came off as being painfully shallow by comparison.
My other main criticism of the performance is that the director edited the script expecting the audience to already know the plot. Several crucial parts, such as how the ending was achieved, were missing, which would have made it a little difficult for those who were unfamiliar with the story to follow. Certain scenes could also have used some fleshing out to draw out the suspense even more.
Despite this, I did enjoy the show and would still recommend it for a fantastic evening out. It may not have received a standing ovation, but it was nonetheless a lot of fun – plus the catchy songs made wonderful earworms afterwards!
WHAT: Art exhibition
WHERE: Leeds Art Gallery (map)
WHEN: 25th Nov, 11 – 19th Feb, 12
MY STORY: Due to various silly reasons, I almost disastrously missed the Northern Art Prize (NAP) exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery. Everyone was talking about it at the turn of the year, and now that it’s ending there has been a final mad rush on Twitter and other social networking sites yelling at me to go and see it. I had no real excuse not, after all, given my close proximity to it. And so one cold morning, I dragged my lazy legs down.
The prize, now in its fifth year, is awarded to the ‘best’ (I use this word loosely, of course) contemporary visual artist living in Northern England. The artists were nominated by one of twelve arts professionals chosen by the NAP, and the winner was decided last month by a panel of qualified art experts. £1,500 was awarded to each of the three runners up, and the winner walked away with a whopping £16,500. Not bad, really…
Leeds Art Gallery has been displaying works of the four shortlisted artists across three main rooms. Looking at them, I wondered how difficult the judging process must have been, considering how much the art and artists varied in style, medium and approach. Each is striking in their own way.
Upon entering the first room, I was immediately drawn towards James Hugonin’s works. They all resemble a sort of psychedelic optical illusion, and I was hypnotised by their colours and patterns. I even tried looking for hidden messages in their meticulously rhythmic beauty – but have so far found none. I did however, upon closer inspection, find some sort of order amidst the chaos: beneath the colours lie faint traces of pencil marks, which form the backbones of the paintings. According to the catalogue, there are over 55,000 marks on each large painting, and each colour block was preplanned in Hugonin’s notebook before the paint was applied. The end results are a marvel to behold.
Liadin Cooke’s works share the room with Hugonin’s, but unlike Hugonin, her pieces are drastically different from one another. Her most eye-catching piece is probably ‘Felicific Bar’, which is a very long, green-wax-coated brass pole propped up precariously against the wall. Its title was inspired by Jeremy Bentham’s algorithm ‘felicific calculus’, which according to a reliable source (also known as Wikipedia), is used ‘for calculating the degree or amount of pleasure that a specific action is likely to cause.’ I have to say that I was not sure what to make of that – the danger of balance is certainly represented clearly, but shouldn’t ‘pleasure’ be a little prettier to look at than that?
There was one piece that I did enjoy, though, which is called ‘Colour D.’ Cooke has said in interviews that she often associates spaces and even numbers and letters with a colour, and ‘Colour D’ is an example of that. In looking at the pale greyish-blue blob, I became fascinated by the possibilities that it embodied – did the colour remind her of a person? A place? Does ‘D’ stand for anything? Dampness? Dread? Death? I’m not sure, but either way, my imagination had a whale of a time toying with different ideas.
After making my round a couple times, I left the room and entered another, in which Richard Rigg’s collection is housed. Focusing more on carpentry than painting, his works aim to reconsider everyday objects. ‘Some rest on six occasions,’ for instance, is a clever piece consisting of three identical chairs he made himself – a sort of fun, quirky ‘beast with two backs’, if you will. (Who knows, it might even be quite handy for that…!) Rigg also demonstrated his prowess as a painter, however, in ‘The fort was here before it was built.’ The use of colour here is sensual and complex, as he subtly explores how a 3D knot structure would appear on a 2D canvas.
So far so good, and I was relatively impressed with – or at least amused by – what I had seen. I walked into the final room, home to Leo Fitzmaurice’s creations, expecting to be gobsmacked. He is, after all, the man who won the top prize. But alas, I have to confess that I was rather underwhelmed. His main work, ‘Horizons’, was no doubt impressive to the eye. It consists of 12 paintings from the Leeds Art Gallery collection, all of which were made in the 19th and early 20th century. Fitzmaurice lined them up so that they moved from day to night, with their horizon lines connecting to give the illusion of a single long painting. According to Michelle, one of the lovely ladies who work at the gallery, the artist chose the works by taking photos of everything that was available in the gallery’s archive, picked the ones he thought he’d like to use, and carefully aligned them in their current form.
Except this prompted me to ask a fundamentally problematic question; one that I feel like should only be asked in hushed tones. But I mean… is that really his art? It took me back to all the debates I had with friends after watching Banksy’s ‘Exit Through the Giftshop.’ If the artist didn’t create the art himself – should he still be credited as the creator? Isn’t it cheating? Of course, I understand that a lot of care must have gone into the selection process, and after Googling images of Fitzmaurice’s other works, I find that he has indeed made some very compelling and beautiful pieces. And yet I’m still not entirely convinced that he should have been the final winner.
His other piece, ‘The Way Things Appear’, is a slideshow of 60 images of random things he captured in his daily life with his phone. The photos were never intended to be exhibited, apparently, but Michelle told me that they were there to provide some context for his works. I was still not particularly impressed. Yes, there were some unconventional and interesting shots, but they hardly set the standard for great photography – or great art, for that matter. If they were indeed merely intended as a visual form of note-taking, then perhaps they should not have been presented as a work in itself, but rather as evidence of his thought process. There is, I believe, a difference between inspiration and presentation. While the latter is a direct product of the former, the former cannot necessarily become the latter. I do, however, agree with Michelle’s view that ‘at least one more work is needed to really complete his collection.’ Perhaps I would have been less critical if I were able to see a larger variety of his works. After all, all the other shortlisted artists do have at least four pieces on display.
Although I am hesitant in fully agreeing with the NAP committee’s final decision, however, I did genuinely appreciate everything I saw. They were not necessarily all beautiful – if beauty is your way of judging ‘good art’ – but they were definitely all thought-provoking, if not controversial. And I suppose that is an important part of what art is supposed to do. Out of all four artists, I would say that I admire James Hugonin’s works the most. They may not have as much variation as other artists’ creations, but he has clearly found a formula that works, and stuck with it. Besides, I believe that patience is an art form in itself, and the careful attention to detail he gave to each mark of colour deserves immense credit.
I cannot say that this was the most gorgeous and breathtaking show I have ever been to, but it was nevertheless still an interesting experience. It made for some great conversation afterwards and is definitely worth a visit – if only as a platform to contemplate what contemporary art has come to be about these days.