Interview with choreographer and dancer Russell Maliphant

Russell Maliphant, photo Panayiotis Sinnos

 

Star choreographer and dancer, Russell Maliphant, has become known for his mesmeric dance, music and light productions, which have earned him the Olivier and Southbank Sky Arts Award for dance.

He is soon to perform at the Coronet Theatre with dancer Dana Fouras. His collaboration with Fouras attracted 5-star reviews in 2018, with a work entitled Duet, performed to Donizetti’s love aria, Una Furtiva Lacrima. This deeply moving work will be revived and will feature alongside new creations in Maliphant’s third season at the Coronet.

 

Karine Hetherington, from artmuselondon, managed to catch up with him between rehearsals. 

 

What drew you to ballet as a boy?

My mother was a fan of dance, theatre and music. I had two sisters who were going to ballet classes and went along with them when I was nine or ten after I had seen Rudolf Nureyev performing at a gala on television. I was impressed by the power and momentum and the joy of movement. I was the only boy at the dance school at the time and got a lot of attention, which felt good and I liked to have something physical to work on. Classical ballet is difficult but I enjoyed the challenge and found a satisfaction in the improvement that practice gave. 

To what extent has your classical dance training at the Royal Ballet School helped you develop your own contemporary /choreographic style over the years?

The classical training is very rigorous and disciplined. It’s systematic in its development through the levels of beginner, intermediate, advanced and the teachers were excellent at the RBS. I didn’t choreograph when I was dancing in the classical idiom, preferring to put all my time and energy into the dance training – I only started to choreograph after I had worked with more free styles and improvisation, but classical parameters and methods of analysis and vocabulary inform my perception of movement, dynamics, line and rhythm.

What is a typical day for you when you are in production?

It’s slightly dependent on whether I am dancing AND choreographing, or just choreographing, but I generally walk to the studio around 9-9.30am, start a physical practice for a couple of hours, either for myself, or teaching the dancers that I’m working with. Teaching, or moving tends to flow directly into creating material or working on phrases and lighting elements, costumes or set.

Time is always limited in a production, so the period can be intense, watching videos from the day’s tasks and explorations in the evenings tend to be pretty constant. I often edit and try options on the computer. I use video editing a lot in my process to explore and develop sequences and shift relationships between music and movement.

How do you relax?

Seeing my children and being at home with them helps me relax most days. My physical practice includes yoga and chi gong, which both have elements of relaxation and I practise Autogenics and meditation when I can. 

What is it like dancing with your wife, the dancer, Dana Fouras? 

Dancing with Dana is a pleasure for me – we have a similar understanding of movement aesthetics and have worked together on and off for over 20 years, so have an inherent understanding that goes way beyond what can be created during a project timeframe. The intensity can be high, because we have many things to deal with together on top of the creative and there’s no getting away from each other when the going gets tough and pressurised – but the rewards are high. Dana has created the music for my last few pieces so there is a lot of work that gets done at home, around the kitchen table.

Do you have a special routine to keep you in top form – physically and mentally?

I generally try to have at least 90 minutes of personal physical practice daily as a base level – that’s not always possible when I’m choreographing for another group but is the framework I keep as much as I can. 

Your dance choreography has been inspired by studying human anatomy, yoga, pilates and massage. What does this bring to the dance experience?

The process of engaging with the body is an aspect that can be led from many different directions. Fine details often have a subtle but profound effect and I like to use the results and qualities from certain interactions of approach choreographically in creations, and in my personal movement practice.

Will you always animate your dance productions with special lighting and music? How important are they to the overall work?

How light impacts the figure in space, and vice versa, is something that I love to work with.

The body sits at the interface between the elements of movement, light and sound, that is the medium I like working with and each part is equally important in the process for me.

How does age impact on the dancer?

Well, it’s individual of course, but generally there is less elasticity in the tissues so if things go wrong, they take longer to heal. There’s also more time and experience to develop an awareness of the potential effects of things on one’s movement and health. 

What have been your greatest challenges in your dance/choreography career?

Sustaining a healthy, injury-free body whilst developing and exploring new material can be a challenge. 

In most creations there are restrictions…. time on a project is linked to budget, so one of the greatest challenges is time – you want to dig as deeply into material as you can, so want to see what’s important and what’s not – and equally, you can’t push the river, so patience might be needed when you feel pressure to deliver and that’s a state that can be challenging to find consistently.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

Sustaining a life and a family, creating dance works and collaborating with performers who come from diverse and different movement backgrounds and disciplines.

Would you say dance is undergoing a renaissance at the moment?

I’m too involved in it to know.

What advice would you give a young dancer at the beginning of their career?

Enjoy and practise.

 

 

http://www.russellmaliphantdancecompany.com

Maliphantworks3

Thursday 6 February (preview) to Saturday 22 February at 7.30pm
(no performances on 10, 11, 16 and 17 February)

The Coronet Theatre
103 Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 3LB
Box Office: 020 3642 6606 / https://www.thecoronettheatre.com

A Conversation with Russell Maliphant
Wednesday 5 February at 7:30 pm
Box Office: 020 3642 6606 / https://www.thecoronettheatre.com

KH

Rencontre avec France Mitrofanoff

13063093_266346080375248_2358051694841846098_o

Depuis ses débuts dans les années 70, France Mitrofanoff n’a cessé de peindre. D’abord inspirée par le mouvement Cobra, avec ses créatures étranges, elle s’en dégage pour peindre dès Villes, constructions chaotiques où se cachent les habitants, ombres dissimulées derrière les murs. Plus récemment elle a porté son regard sur la nature, en particulier les arbres. France Mitrofanoff aime les profondeurs de là forêt tantôt sombre, tantôt blanche et lumineuse. Ses tableaux expriment le mystère de la vie dans une quête de l’inexplicable.

En attendant sa nouvelle exposition à Paris, à la Galerie Rauchfeld, intitulée ‘Le dialogue de l’arbre’, Karine Hetherington, d’artmuselondon, est allée la voir dans son atelier.

 

France Mitrofanoff, pourquoi avez-vous intitulé votre nouvelle exposition à la Galerie Rauchfeld: ‘le dialogue de l’arbre?’

Je travaille depuis plusieurs années sur la forêt. L’arbre  qui est notre refuge, puisqu’il nous abrite de la pluie , comme des rayons ardents du soleil,  m’intrigue car nous connaissons peu de chose sur lui. Dans son poème « le dialogue de l’arbre » Paul Valery donne la parole au Pâtre Tityre et au philosophe Lucrèce qui nous raconte le murmure du vent, le bruissements des insectes dans ses feuillures. Ce texte magnifique m’a incitée à donner vie a mes arbres en écrivant sur l’écorce des lambeaux  de ce poème.

Qui vous a inspiré ou qu’est-ce qui vous a décidé à vouer votre vie à la peinture?

Je n’ai pas choisi d’être peintre, je suis née peintre.

 Il est vrai que j’ai vu toute ma jeunesse mon père s’installer le dimanche avec ses peintures sur la table de la salle a manger et agrandir soigneusement une carte postale de Paris achetée le matin  même, s’isolant dans son univers  que personne n’aurait imaginé troubler.

Il nous a d’ailleurs laissé une collection des vues de Paris, parfois maladroites, mais empruntées d’une ambiance poétique et mélancolique qui me touche.

Une journée typique pour vous…?

Toutes mes journées se ressemblent. Je ne résiste pas au désir de me rendre aux Frigos (anciennes chambres froides de la SNCF transformées en atelier d’artistes et d’artisans). C’est là que se trouve mon grand atelier chargé de quarante années de peintures . Là m’attend ma dernière toile en cours de travail qui m’inquiète tant qu’elle n’est pas terminée.

Sur quoi travaillez-vous en ce moment?

Je travaille toujours sur la forêt, mais je sens naitre un secret désir de retrouver un thème que j’ai a peine ébauché et que j’aimerai poursuivre : « les ruines envahies de nature ». 

On reste donc dans la forêt.

Etes-vous devenue mystique?

Si être mystique consiste a aller toujours chercher au-delà des apparences des vérités qui ne sont pas dites, des mystères cachés que l’on ne comprend pas avec l’intellect mais que l’on  subodore avec  l’intuition, alors oui je suis mystique. Pas au sens religieux, mais plutôt philosophique.

Avez-vous eu des moments difficiles dans votre carrière artistique? 

Je n’ai pas le souvenir d’avoir eu des moments difficiles sur le plan de la création .

Sur le plan matériel, des difficultés d’atelier m’ont permis de connaître des populations très diverses comme « les  gens du fleuve », ces personnes qui habitent sur des péniches et qui ne ressemblent en rien aux autres parisiens. Ne trouvant plus d’atelier bon marché j’avais acheté dans les années 90 une péniche, la Monique, datant de la première guerre mondiale, amarée quai Conti face a l’ile de la Citée sur laquelle j’ai installé mon travail de peintre. 

J’ai découvert , naïve comme je l’était que la Seine montait sur le quai en hiver au gré de différentes crues. J’ai compris très vite que la solidarité qui s’exprimait, alors, entre voisins de péniche n’était pas un vain mot.

 

Avez-vous accompli tout ce que vous voulez accomplir dans votre travail artistique?

Surement pas. On court toujours après une toile que l’on ne fera jamais. Seule la fin de la vie vous guérit de cette obsession.

Quels conseils donneriez-vous à un jeune, qui souhaite se lancer dans la peinture?

Apprendre un métier qui demande les mêmes compétences techniques que celles de l’artiste et qui permette de s’assumer financièrement  afin de louer son atelier, acheter son matériel de peintre, et se nourrir. Les métiers de passion comme la peinture ne permette pas de vivre, il est  nécessaire d’avoir deux métiers si l’on veut rester libre dans sa création.

L’enseignement est une bonne réponse a ce problème.

Admirez-vous des peintres anglais? Qu’est-ce que vous avez vu comme exposition dernièrement à Londres?

L’histoire de la peinture est immense. Il y a dans chaque pays des artistes passionnants. En Angleterre j’admire surtout Francis Bacon et Henry Moore.

Le peu de temps passé a Londres cette fois-ci m’a permis de voir une jolie exposition à la Serpentine. Albert Oehlen que je ne connaissais pas.Une très mauvaise exposition de Olafur Eliasson au Tate Modern. Et William Blake, toujours impressionnant, au Tate Britain.

France Mitrofanoff expose à la galerie Rauchfeld, 22 rue de Seine, Paris 75006, du 24 janvier au 7 février 2020. (Vernissage le 23 janvier) 

France Mitrofanoff: https://bit.ly/2T5ZALB. France Mitrofanoff Whoozart tv

Interview with artist France Mitrofanoff

13063093_266346080375248_2358051694841846098_o

 

French artist, France Mitrofanoff, has a vast body of work behind her, having commenced her career in the 1970s, a time when she was painting monsters. Her interest turned to modern cities under construction. I remember her eerie-looking inhabitants, staring out at me from dark corners of the canvas. In the past decade she has turned the attention away from urban living to the cosmos and nature. Her large canvases, more often or not, pulsate with life and energy. Mitrofanoff’s spray of colour is astounding, but she is not afraid to explore the darker palette. Her monochrome forests or depictions of the cosmos are a celebration of nature’s awe-inspiring power..

Intrigued by this prominent,  award-winning French artist, who is virtually unknown over here, Karine Hetherington from artmuselondon.com went to interview her at her Paris studio where she is preparing her latest show.

France Mitrofanoff, why have you used the title: ‘le dialogue de l’arbre’ , ‘talking trees’ for your latest show?

I have been painting forests for many years now. The tree is our refuge as it shelters us from the rain and the strong rays of the sun. What intrigued me, is that we know so little about trees. I was inspired by a poem by Paul Valéry*, ‘le dialogue de l’arbre’ , which he wrote in 1943. I was very moved by the words.The wonderful text brings the tree to life and so I decided to ornament the barks of the trees I painted with sections of the poem.

What inspired you, or who inspired you, to devote your life to being an artist?

I didn’t choose to be an artist. I was born that way. However, it is true that during my youth, my father, set up his paints on the dining room table every Sunday. Taking his inspiration from a postcard he had bought that day, he locked himself away and no one would dare disturb him.

He left behind, when he died, a collection of views of Paris. Some paintings were a little clumsy, but all his work was imbued with a poetry and melancholy which touches me to this day.

What is a typical day for you?

My days are similar. I can’t help but make a long journey across Paris to the east of the city, to my studio. It is housed in a large building called ‘Les Frigos’ which the SNCF rail company used for refrigerating goods for many years! My studio is large and is on the top floor. In it I store my canvases from the last 40 years. 

Today I’m staring at my latest canvas which is giving me grief!

What are you working on at the moment?

I am still working on forests. However I have a secret desire to take up again on a theme I had barely started, ‘nature taking over ruins’

Looking at your work, I see the mystic in you?

If you mean that I’m always searching for hidden truths or mysteries that cannot be explained with the intellect, only with intuition, then I’m a mystic! So not in a religious sense but in a philosophical sense.

What challenges have you faced during your artistic career? 

I have never had problems on the artistic level.

They were always on the material level – yes. For a long time, I couldn’t afford a normal studio but found another solution by buying a WW1 barge, ‘la Monique’. I was terribly naive as to the challenges of the river Seine and its tides!

Have you accomplished artistically what you set out to do?

No of course not! The artist always is in search of the elusive work that he will never succeed in painting. This obsession dies only when you reach the end of your life.

What advice do you give young artists?

I advise them to have two jobs!  Firstly to have a job which requires the same skills as an artist, for example teaching. You need a job to pay the studio, your materials and to eat. Being solely an artist does not allow you to live. Having a job which pays the bills and more, allows you more creative freedom.

Do you admire any British artists? What exhibition did you see when you were last in London?

I love Francis Bacon and Henry Moore.

Last November I saw a good exhibition by Albert Oehlen at the Serpentine Gallery. A very bad one, Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern. And I always find William Blake impressive, who was on at Tate Britain.

France Mitrofanoff will be exhibiting at the Galerie Rauchfeld, 22 rue du Seine Paris 75006, Paris from 24th January – 7th February 2020.

*Paul Valéry 1871-1945 French poet, essayist and critic.

Film in which we see artist, France Mitrofanoff, the studio and her work: https://bit.ly/2T5ZALB. France Mitrofanoff Whoozart tv

My Favourite Things : Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’

600px-Battle_of_Borodino_1812

Battle of Moscow (Borodino) 7th Sept 1812 by Louis-François Lejeune

 

Christmas is nearing and every year I find myself irritable and exhausted and walking over to my bookshelves for literary solace. Dancing over rows of black paperwork classics, my fingers slow over my favoured volumes, all epics. Worlds of past existence inhabit my weighty tomes of one thousand pages plus. Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, The Chartreuse of Parma. I finally pull out Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

What is it about these monumental works that make me read them over and over again? War and Peace especially.

IMG_20191212_131310_resized_20191212_011552441

My dog-eared ‘War and Peace’

Running my eyes over a pared-down list of characters (five hundred and eighty in total to be found War and Peace!) I find myself reciting the beautiful Russian names, employing the Russian roll of the ‘r’s for the Rostovs. Bolkonsky, Bezukhov and the cruel Kuragin. And there is my favourite: Princess Anna Mihalovna Drubetskoy and her son Boris Drubetskoy.

All of this because my Russian grandmother introduced me to Tolstoy as a child. The names meant something to her. She was not only receptive to their musicality and their importance in Imperial Russia, but like most Russians, she revered Leo Tolstoy himself.  Like the French however with Proust, she, together with her fellow countrymen, had  not read War and Peace in its entirety. Nor had her brothers, my Russian Great-Uncles, who selected the military scenes: The Battle of Austerlitz, The Treaties of Tilsit and the duels. Their wives and my grandmother meanwhile, chose to skip anything military, preferring to dwell on the delightful domestic and romantic details.

Nowadays, it would be foolhardy to separate ‘the War’ from ‘the Peace’, for both combined, fuel the main theme of the book, namely humanity in all its guises, and the chaos caused by war and notably the Napoleonic invasion of Russia.

Tolstoy’s descriptions of the battlefield are up with the finest writers. Rather than glorifying war, Tolstoy describes the mess of it, the unpredictability and guesswork required in a time where technological support was many centuries away. Generals can only imagine troop movements, hussars charge blindly on their horses into impenetrable fogs to their death. And life behind the lines, the alliances, the meetings between the generals, the Russians and Austrians, the misinformation, the endless waiting for treaties to be agreed and signed. More than anyone, Tolstoy encapsulates the grinding machine of decision-making and military administration.

For Pierre Bezukhov, Tolstoy’s central character, the war is his wake-up call, something to be experienced and never forgotten. For the military characters, it is an endless cause of frustration, despair but also the only means to hold back Napoleon, the ‘anti-Christ’.

It is hard nowadays after reading history books of Napoleon, to imagine how feared and reviled Napoleon really was by Russians of the time. Tolstoy evokes brilliantly all that apprehension felt by the those attending the salons of St Petersburg in the opening scenes.

Tolstoy’s description of domesticity is equally alive with detail. The Rostov family home, described at length, is replete with laughter, tears, dance, card games and conviviality. It is a household the reader feels safe in, even though, the head of the household, Count Ilya Rostov, is teetering on bankruptcy owing to his son’s, Nikolai Rostov’s, one foolhardy gambling spree. 

Tolstoy’s loveable characters are perfectly flawed. Natasha Rostov, (NIkolai’s sister) is both disarmingly charming and annoyingly inconsistent in love. But we forgive her, for, Prince Andrei’s hesitancy is maddening! Her inconstant nature notwithstanding, we are still shocked when she plans to elope with lustful Alphonse Kuragin.

Tolstoy has the knack of springing things on us. His characters, even the most lucid ones, can display incredible ill judgement and some, like Natasha, don’t know what they are doing from one minute to the next. But that is youth and Tolstoy expresses that perpetual state of hopefulness and excitement admirably.

Pierre Bezukhov probably displays the biggest learning curve in the book, commencing as a hard-drinking student and fervent supporter of Napoleon to someone who embraces freemasonry and charity and then gets disillusioned.

He is probably the most sympathetic character, who doesn’t shy from battling his demons. When Napoleon’s troops near Moscow, Pierre pays for a militia force and goes to the battle of Borodino on his own. The scenes he witnesses on the deadliest day of the Napoleonic war, are vivid and heartrendingly sad. By confronting war, Bezukhov lets his hero-worship of Napoleon die.

In my younger days, War and Peace was a means of escape, but increasingly I find it to be a truthful work. 

A fervent pacifist, Tolstoy thought long and hard about the society he lived in. Equally he sought solutions to man’s ills not only in social reform but in spiritual solace.

Pierre Bezuhov, Prince Andrei and even action-led Nikolai Rostov, though very different from each other, are all characters drawn to the sky above their heads at critical moments in their life.

‘If there is a God and a future life, then there is truth and goodness, and man’s highest happiness consists in striving to attain them. We must live, we must love, we must believe that we have life not only today on this scrap of earth but that we have lived and shall live forever, there, in the Whole,’ says Pierre Bezukhov to the more cynical Prince Andrei. 

I often find myself staring up at the sky these days pondering over Bezukhov’s passionate outpouring to his friend.

KH

Interview with Dancer, Dickson Mbi

On 25th January, Pop City UK, will host the street dance event of the year in our capital. Four hundred and fifty Hip Hop and Popping artists will compete in a day-long international dance competition which will be live-streamed using Instagram Live. As well as attracting the finest dance artists in the business, the event aims to attract aspiring dancers of all ages from our London communities.

*Popping artist, Dickson Mbi is Creative Director of Pop City UK. With his dance company, Fiya House, Dickson has done much to promote street dance throughout the world. He has been nominated for many awards, including ‘Best achievement in Dance’ at the UK Theatre Awards 2017 and for the ‘Southbank Sky Arts Breakthrough Award’.

 

 

IMG_0186

Dickson Mbi Dancer and Creative Director PopCity UK

 

Were there any dancers in your family when you were growing up? 

No, but my granddad, who was also named Dickson, was a musician and did do a few dance performances in his time. 

Who and what inspired you to street dance in the first place? 

Michael Jackson and many Hip Hop artists of the 90s and really, I did it to impress the girls. However, this all changed when I realized how much the dance gave me.

What do you enjoy most about street dancing? What type of dance/style of dance suits you best?

I enjoy exchanging and dancing with other people, who don’t believe they can do this as I was that person once. The style that suits me best is popping and I have been doing it for 16 years.

When did you set up Fiya House your dance company?

In 2012 with my dance partner Brooke Milliner

What have been your biggest challenges in your career up until now? 

Staying current, making an event that caters for everyone, and always trying to remember to keep on having fun, as sometimes things can get really serious.

With your dancing – how much is set routine, how much improvised in the moment?

It all depends on the context. If I am in a dance battle or a club/party then it’s all improvised to music that I have probably never heard before; if it’s for a show then it’s all set routines with the freedom to improvise in parts.

Your most memorable performance?

Performing in front of 16k people at the Stade de Paris in 2007

Do you dance with other Hip Hop artists or solo? (In an ensemble?)

Both. There’s so much freedom in Hip Hop and so many opportunities to come together to perform with others in this community. 

Have you ever done ballet? Have you danced with ballet dancers?

Yes, I did ballet in school (Lewisham College and London Contemporary Dance School) and I have danced with several ballet dancers. 

Do you personally train dancers? 

Yes, I do. On our Fiyahouse Friday training sessions at the Base Dance studio in Vauxhall.

What advice would you give an aspiring street dancer?

Keep on practicing and most of all keep on having fun.

In what countries are the hip hop and popping competitions held?

They are now pretty much held all over the world now. It is so much easier now to do that because of internet and social media. 

How are the dances judged (how many judges are there?) 

Every judge is different, contestants are usually judged on musicality, creativity, foundation, technique, confidence, flava, originality, quality of movement and the vim (the unexplainable feeling they get from watch). There can be as many judges as possible; I think the best is not to have an even number.

Any new projects on the horizon after Popcity UK 2020?

Yes, after Popcity we will be planning for our Easter camp training and jam at Fyia House. 

Do you feel you have a mission? Have you achieved it yet?

Our mission is to develop, share our community with other communities and connect dance to everyone in the nicest way possible. 

Do you have your favourite djs/music artists to dance to?

My favourite Djs are usually the ones that play music from the 90s and my favourite music artist is Michael Jackson.

Other ambitions?

No, not really, I just want us to keep on going, growing and connecting with the rest of the world. 

Like music – do you think dance can create a better world?

Yes, I do believe dance creates a better world and gives people more confidence and self-awareness as it did for me.

 

KH

*Popping brings together dance styles such as the Robot, Waving and Tutting and much much more. Popping is performed in battles and club settings, where participants try to outperform each other in front of a crowd.

Tickets for the event: Box Office: 0207739 6176. Online booking:https://shoreditchtownhall.com/book.html?ei=Popcity2020

Popcity UK vol.5 is presented by Fiya House, funded by Arts Council England, and supported by Shoreditch Town Hall and Team London Bridge. 

Event 11am-midnight. Tickets from £10.00

 

 

Wagner Singing Competition at the Wigmore

Unknown-2

Climatic scene from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde 1910 Rogelio de Egusquiz

 

1979 was my A-level year. Also the year I discovered Richard Wagner.

We had one good stereo system in our sitting room which pumped out rock, pop, jazz and classical at all hours, to all corners of our Victorian house in Barnes.

One Sunday afternoon, hunched over Frank Wedekind’s play, Frülingserwachen (Spring Awakening), I heard a slow, rising, crescendoing soprano voice drift up the stairs to my bedroom at the top of the house. Liebestod, Mild und leise, from Tristan and Isolde, was my first introduction to Wagner. Never had I heard anything so sweet and so gut wrenching. Isolde’s climatic cries ran right through me. To say that I was blown away is an understatement. 

Jesse Norman singing Mild und leise. Tristan and Isolde

Some people find Wagner excessive, his operas too protracted and let’s not even talk about his moral and political shortcomings! There is no doubt that he was complicated. He did hold anti-semitic views and yet had close Jewish friends. His step-father meanwhile, was not only rumoured to be his true father, but also Jewish. Hitler’s championing of Wagner after his death, did the composer no favours of course.

On the music front, Wagner was and is phenomenal. He revolutionised opera, injected it with high drama, and by doing so, he really made the singers live their roles. His music  was not only romantic and rich, it was multi-layered and exciting, his haunting recurring leitmotifs, climatic highs, took opera to another level.

Despite being seduced by his music from an early age, I am no connoisseur. There have been few fully staged Wagner operas on offer in the UK for the past few years. However I was heartened by the news that Tristan and Isolde is coming to ROH in April 2020. This coupled with semi-stagings of the RingCycles at the Festival Hall, set for 2021, is an exciting prospect.

So it was with great interest that I came across the Wagner Society Singing Competition last week. The final was to take place at the Wigmore Hall.  Prizes and bursaries were on offer, also the chance for the winners to travel to Bayreuth to sing on the prestigious Student programme. Each of the finalists were to perform a piece by Wagner and a second one by a composer of his or her choice.

At the Wigmore, I perused the programme which stated that 2019 had produced a record number of participants. The biographies revealed three sopranos, two baritones and one tenor who had made it to the final seven. I looked round the art and crafts auditorium,  and thought I spotted Hugh Canning, Sunday Times music critic and one of the judges, up above in the balcony looking down on us mortals.

Out stepped the first entrant, James Corrigan, Scottish baritone. Corrigan sang Wolfram’s Act 2 aria from Tannhäuser, where Wolfram performs in a singing competition at the medieval court of Wartburg. (Might Corona have chosen this aria for this reason?) It is a simple aria about holy and courtly love. Corrigan’s baritone was pleasingly golden, his performance discrete but assured and in character.

Lucy Anderson, who followed, sang a engaging Eva from Die Meistersinger Quintet, with lovely rises, hitting the top notes confidently, but it was her Magda in Menotti’s The Consul that showed her true grit. This opera, conceived at the height of the Cold War, is drama personified and not out of place in a Wagner competition. A sample of the libretto below…

‘Started crying and I couldn’t stop myself

I started running but there’s no where to run to

I sat down on the street and took a look at myself

Said where you going man you know the world is headed for hell

Say your goodbyes if you’ve got someone you can say goodbye to’

It was a challenging sing, a brave choice, but Anderson has the personality to carry it off. Look forward to seeing her Tatiana in Tchaikovski’s Onegin at Opera Holland Park 2020, where she’ll be taking part in the excellent young artists’ scheme.

Dominic Bevan’s interpretation of Lohengrin’s Farewell, In fernem Land was sung with fervour and great delicacy. The tightness in Bevan’s voice, brought about by nerves, made his performance all the more touching and moving.

Meanwhile powerful soprano, Australian born Kiandra Howarth, risked dislodging a few tiles from  Wigmore Hall’s gold cupola at full volume. What a voice! Howarth who has been on Royal Opera’s Jette Parker programme, showed perfect vocal control and made light work of Elsa’s Dream, Einsam in trüben Tagen (Lohengrin) Radiant in a bright orange chiffon dress, she brought great energy and brightness to the soberly-lit hall.

The very elegant mezzo-soprano, Yuki Akimoto, a vision in red this time, brought gravitas and tremendous feeling to her Isolde role, performing Mild und leise to perfection.  I had come to the competition hoping to hear it and I was not disappointed. A very professional and assured performance. (Just the over enunciation of German ‘d’, ‘t’s in English, which needed toning down a bit)

Baritone, Jolyon Loy, has a beautiful baritone, but at the competition his talents didn’t come to the fore, lost between two spectacular soprano performances. I have since listened to him on Youtube and I think you will all agree, he is going places https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeNhc7NamgMbnT56_-Btq_A Here he is singing Wolfram’s aria, O du mean holder Abendstern, which he sang at the competition.

Finally, I need to take a breath before announcing this young woman. She is Ukranian, petite with a  sublime voice! Her Wagner aria was superbly executed but it was singing Verdi’s Ave Maria (Otello), that Nataliia Temnyk brought the house down! Goose bumps, heart racing, I dropped all my papers when I rose from my seat.

A remarkable event and at my time of writing I still don’t know which singers will be making their way to Bayreuth next summer!

KH

The Wagner Society. Only £30 to join up for the year for which you enjoy great perks. https://wagnersociety.org

 

In Search of Dora Maar

62350981_1_x

Model, Assia Granatouroff photographed by Dora Maar

 

Walking into the Tate Modern show on Dora Maar, a question wouldn’t go away. Would Maar’s best work turn out to be what she produced during her years with Picasso?

The Barbican show I had attended on artistic couples, in January of this year, was still fresh in my mind. It had been a fascinating exploration into the creative process and showed how women, like Dora Maar, had not only been muses but artists in their own right. Dora Maar was one of many female creatives who had to fight their patch to get recognised. (See my review here)  https://artmuselondon.com/2019/01/12/love-in-a-creative-climate/.

Taking up where Barbican left off, Tate Modern has organised a retrospective of Maar’s work. It spans decades, right up to her death in July 1997. Here, we were told by the curator, the focus was to be less on Picasso, whose fame and force of personality wolfed up the limelight, and more on Maar’s extensive output. With two hundred photographic and painted works to peruse, it promised to be quite a show.

In the room entitled On Assignment Maar’s advertising work was displayed. The inter-war years presented opportunities  for women photographers to work in the fashion and beauty industry. Out of the rows of tastefully lit monochrome images of women with swept back hair and silken slip dresses, there are few that really stand out. The Years Lie in Wait For You c 1935  however is inspired. An apprehensive-looking young woman, stares out at us through a spider’s web superimposed on her face. A remarkable image, it is thought it was used for an anti-ageing cream. 

Outside advertising, Maar excels in photographing the female nude. Maar was lucky to have the model, Assia Granatouroff at her disposal, whose sensuality and confidence in front of the camera, allowed Maar, not only to explore the female form but also female identity and sexuality (see Header pic) These photographs must have earned her a good deal of money in her time and to this day such erotica reaches a fine price at auction, for the work is adventurous, artistic and proud.

On the Street in Room 3, takes us outside the studio and into the streets of Paris, London and Barcelona. Having researched the subject for my 1930s novel set in Paris, I was interested to watch a short film documenting the poverty, the street children, the political riots of the era. Both right-wing and left-wing riots paralysed Paris for many years as governments came and went. Moving on from the film, I was disappointed in Maar’s prints, which did not reveal anything exceptional. It was probably to do with the lack of contrast in the printing. I prefer a rough, grainier print for documentary work of this kind, a form of printing which would become de rigueur in the 1960s with photographers such as Don McCullin, Diane Arbus.

I largely skipped Room 4 entitled The Everyday Strange, feeling like I seen too many images of the ilk: a man with his head down a hole, inspecting the sidewalk, does not strike me as that strange but maybe I’m being unfair.

More interesting was the Surrealist room. The curator quite rightly points out that, at the time, photography, considered factual, was not thought to be the best medium for the surrealist genre which highlights the subjective and the imagined world. Collage and photomontage techniques was a way around that.

I was amused, but had a sense of deja vu viewing the surrealist montages, having already pored over many surrealist photobooks in my lifetime. One photograph however caught my eye, Portrait of Ubu, produced in 1936. It is an extraordinary shot of what is now believed to be an armadillo foetus up close. It is clearly disturbing with its Dumbo ears, lemon-shaped face and two-fingered horny claws. 

IMG_20191119_103730_resized_20191122_113638195.jpg

Maar was inspired by Alfred Jarry’s play, Ubu Roi performed in Paris, way back in 1896. Ubu Roi, the play’s central character, is ugly, dishonest, petty and cruel who carries out political assassinations and generally causes havoc. For left-wing intellectuals such as Maar, Ubu Roi symbolised the right-wing dictators of the day.

In the Darkroom and the Studio my interest spiked as we had reached the Picasso-Maar room. A negative of Picasso, taken by Maar, is attached to the wall. I had already seen the print at the Barbican and recalled the scribbled fringe running around Picasso’s face and half obscuring it. Picasso peers out at us with one eye. A peeping Tom? Jesus crowned in black thorns? A leonine male? All three? It is hard to fathom whether she was just being playful or ridiculing him.

Also of interest (both at the Barbican and Tate Modern) is Lee Miller’s candid photograph of Maar (1956)  when Maar was nearing fifty years of age. With her hair up and without a scrap of make up, Maar looks older than her years. She is sitting in a chair, looking out of the window, ghostly pale. Our eye moves up to the central mantelpiece, where an unfinished portrait of her hangs. It is Picasso’s rendering of her as a younger woman. Her beautiful eyes show an intensity of character, her pursed lips, pride and her inherent sadness. The face is incomplete however. One could ask why? What is striking is that, in this simple portrait, Picasso captures what I believe to be the real Maar. She is not the composite of womanhood, The Weeping Woman, made up of geometrical triangles, garish green and reds and gushing tears; she is just Dora.

Unknown-4

At the show, I read that Picasso never painted her from life. It obviously rankled her. The portrait in Lee Miller’s photograph, is the only one Maar liked of herself and now, in hindsight, one can understand why.

For all his faults, Picasso did encourage Maar to paint. A large canvas dominates room 6. It is of  two women sitting, one full-breasted blond-haired woman facing out, the other dark-haired, with her back to us, offering just a sliver of the side of her face. The Conversation painted by Maar, with its bold outlines and flattened features, is so reminiscent of the cubist style that I had to check that it wasn’t painted by Picasso himself. The blonde woman is of course Marie-Thérèse Walter, who, having borne Picasso a child, still continued to see her old lover throughout his relationship with Maar. It is strange that Maar has chosen to have her back to the viewer. Marie-Thérèse meanwhile is in the spotlight, as if on trial. The painting is strangely still though, very much at odds with the catfights they were supposed to have had!

Dora-Maar-The-Conversation

The Conversation by Dora Maar, 1937.

Guernica follows and from then on I lose Maar. Her expressionist paintings of her house in Ménèrbes and its surrounding landscape made little impact on me. Having visited the Provençal village myself and stood outside her beautiful house and seen the stunning setting of the hill top village, I do wonder why her paintings translate simply into a blue wash.

More impressive were her engravings for an anthology for poet André du Bouchet (1924-2001) entitled Mountain Soil in 1956. Her light ink impressions of nature are charming here and suit the poetry. 

Maar’s photograms at the end of the show, which she made by placing household objects  or personal items on photo-sensitive paper, was an attempt by Maar to deconstruct the whole photographic process. Rather like Matisse with his cut outs. Unremarkable, they are nevertheless a record of her continuing quest to create in her final years.

Returning to the thorny problem of Picasso. There is no doubt Picasso had much to be grateful for from Maar. She was not only his muse, his model, his confidant. She was his mentor – it was she who persuaded him to paint Guernica. Picasso hadn’t been particularly politically engaged up until that point and his heart-rending canvas of the Spanish Civil War massacre would become the painting that defined him and gave him political gravitas. 

To say that Maar created Picasso is an exaggeration. Picasso was his own man. I do wonder however, if her energies would have been better employed developing the theme of The Conversation, which showed great promise.

The Tate Modern is an interesting and overdue retrospective of Dora Maar’s work. By showcasing her achievements particularly in the interwar years, we get a sense of the energy and the passion she devoted to her photography and her political engagement.

Worth visiting, but I would recommend reading about her life as this is the missing link here. The lack of biography was a problem for me. I would have engaged more with her work, had I had more information about her life, her friendships and her lovers, before and after Picasso.

KH

Tate Modern’s Dora Maar runs until 15th March 2020