Australian Ballet Swan Lake Icebergs

Culture: Swan Lake at Bondi Icebergs

It’s one of my favourite locations and one of my favourite ballets, so I couldn’t resist posting these pictures of Australian Ballet dancers at Bondi Icebergs. The company took advantage of the weekly emptying of the iconic beach-side pool to celebrate the new season of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake launching in February 2015.

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Since the ballet’s premiere in 2002, the current version of Swan Lake has undoubtedly become the company’s masterpiece and has a recurring spot on the schedule to match. Having seen it for the first time in Melbourne last year, I fell instantly under Murphy’s spell. Over ten years on from its inception, I think it benefits from increased distance from its tabloid-worthy subject matter (it was originally inspired by the death of Princess Di) to explore more universal themes of love, deception and betrayal.

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Whereas the traditional story sees the black swan Oldie tricking the unwitting prince into betraying Odette, in Murphy’s version, our prince is simply in love with two different women. Rather than casting the female leads as innocent and devious; black and white; they are both suffering from being in love with someone who hurts them – something that I think makes the story more complex and in a way, darker. I find the way the vampy Baroness becomes more vulnerable, while Odette takes on a harder edge towards the end of the ballet, particularly haunting, especially the expression of this through their evolving dancing styles and on-stage presence.

The other thing I love about this version is the clever, bold and quite modern connection between the choreography, score, costume and settings. There’s a scene where Odette is confined to an asylum. Devastated by grief, she becomes passive as people move around her and she stares lifelessly out into the woods outside. It’s here, in the distance, that her imagination is free. As we enter her mind, the walls of the asylum are wrenched away to reveal her swans dancing on an elevated mirror/lake. The movement of the sets with the dancing and musical crescendo come together in a really powerful way to represent how painful and maddening love can be – I defy anyone not to be moved by that at least.

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Culture: The 24 Drinking Game

Before we had Breaking Bad; before we had Mad Men, we had The Sopranos. And while Tony and his dysfunctional gang of nodding hench men were busy changing the face of television as we know it, Jack Bauer was bringing us the perfect light-hearted, explosion-filled antithesis. While the revolutionary new gangster genre brought us things like meaningful layers, complex characters and hard-to-spot references, 24 brought us guns, explosions and more plot twists and changing baddies than could possibly fit into several years, let alone a mere 24 hours.

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Yes, yes I’m sure my A-Level Media Studies teacher would have wanted to point out the contextual themes of a show that first aired in 2001 and is about good guys fighting terrorists. It’s always fun to note how the nationalities of the terrorists change from Russian to Middle Eastern over the seasons. Plus I’m sure there’s some kind parallel to be drawn to the Greek Tragedies in terms of a lone hero going up against both the bad guys and toxic power structures (Why are the politicians and agency heads always so misguided?! Why does no one trust a man that has saved America so many times?!) But the real fun in watching 24 is in not taking things to seriously, which is where the 24 Drinking Game comes in.

So grab some friends, fill up your booze cupboard and join me in drinking to the themes and tropes that make this show so great.

Take a sip every time:

  • Jack says, “Dammit’
  • Jack says, ‘Right now you don’t have any other choice!’
  • Jack says, ‘Like it or not, you’re going to have to trust me.’
  • Jack says, ‘Cover me I’m going in’
  • Jack yells at his boss, ‘You don’t have time!’
  • Someone gets tortured
  • Jack gets tortured
  • Someone gets shot
  • A terrorist gets offered an immunity deal
  • The Justice Department investigates Jack
  • Jack gets arrested
  • Kim or another woman needs saving
  • Chloe rolls her eyes
  • Someone says, ‘CTU has a mole’
  • Anyone else says, ‘Dammit’

 

Finish your drink every time:

  • Jack whisper shouts, ‘You’ve read my file. You’ve seen what I can do’
  • Jack yells at the president/anyone, ‘Millions of innocent lives are at stake!’
  • There’s an explosion
  • Someone underestimates Jack or makes a fate provoking comment like, ‘They’ll never find us.’ (Oh you silly, silly terrorists)

I’ve just realised that based on past seasons, you’ll probably be drinking a lot. I take no responsibility for what happens!

If you have any 24 Drinking Game suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Natalie x

 

 

 

 

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Arts & Culture: The Great Gatsby

Guest post by Nadia Ramoul

I have agonized for weeks now over reviewing Baz Luhrmann’s version of Gatsby. The hours have crawled by as I stare, almost defeated, at a cold, blank Word sheet. The glaring white taunts me, laughing like so many distorted flapper girls dancing in a Beyonce time warp. I am troubled, dear reader, very troubled.

My trouble lies is the fact that I was absolutely certain I would hate this film. So certain in fact, that upon hearing of its inception, posted a snide little blog entry bemoaning the whole sorry affair.

While I claimed to want to ‘give it a chance,’ in truth I was practically rubbing my hands together with spiteful glee, gagging to join the predictable flood of animosity towards it. But now, while I still believe the words ‘Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby in 3D’ should never have been uttered or even considered, I am rendered somewhat speechless. In no way was the movie good, let’s not be ridiculous, but in no way was it particularly offensive either. It just was. My gripe is that I have no gripe.

Admittedly it’s childish to want to hate something so vehemently that you would shell out an obscene amount of money on 3D glasses and limp nachos with the sole purpose of crowing afterwards that you knew the film was going to suck and it did, etc, but this is Gatsby. This is the book. Supposedly unfilmable, beautiful and brief, it stands as a glorious monument to the power of American literature and the raw cruelty of human nature.

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Luhrmann’s version doesn’t even try to represent this hulking, subtle power. Rather it does exactly what you expect it to – and what I, for one expected to be repulsed by – stylizes the thing to shit with gaudy choreography and beats the viewer senseless with plot points and buzzwords as though you’re too hopelessly dense to pick up on what is happening. The green light is alluded to ad infinitum and the eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleburg loom large as the face of God himself over and over, reducing a brilliant narrative device to a hackneyed, overdone metaphor. Somehow though, I was not repulsed. Like Gatsby himself, the excess was strangely endearing.

While DiCaprio admittedly does a pretty brilliant job of humanizing the titular character and pulling out some of the fevered desperation of the novel, he seems constantly at odds with the clunky direction and swooping camerawork. It is as though the settings themselves collude to drown him out entirely and reduce him to a pretty face. The casting of Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, however, is inspired. She is as sinewy and aloof as her original inception, propelling the plot forward with intermittent bursts of excitement before withdrawing completely.

 

The  remaining cast could easily be paper dolls, propped up against lavish backdrops and pulled on glittering strings to glide from one immaculate setting to the next while the real meat of the story is left to fester, untouched, elsewhere. Tobey Maguire is an almost transparent Nick Carraway, doe-eyed and bewildered to the point of irritation. He floats from scene to scene, devoid of any reaction. He is ‘within and without,’ yes, but almost entirely without. He belies no emotion, no soul whatsoever. His rage, which should be palpable and authentic when it appears, is a half-absent whimper.

Somehow though, this soullessness was not all that unpleasant. Once I let go of the fact that this film bore little revelation to the beloved novel I could almost enjoy it for what it was; a big dumb spectacle, completely absorbed by its own luxurious stylization. Perhaps here sits Luhrmann’s genius? In making everything seem an excruciatingly obvious façade, he is truly representing what Fitzgerald grew to despise? An entire selfish falsehood that you can’t really bring yourself to care about until maybe the very, very end? Perhaps. It is this thought that prevents me from hating it.

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In a way, it is a Sparknotes version of Gatsby; the subtle yet grand nuances behind the dialogue hammered out to make way for quotes literally appearing on screen. All the soul of the narrative sucked out to remind you of the key points over and over again like preparation for a GCSE English paper. There is no room for ambiguity, no room for contemplation, just bombast to the point of parody. The ludicrous road scenes and clunky choices to punctuate events (when Gatsby first appears there are fireworks. Fireworks. Seriously. Ugh) are little more than an overblown music video accompanying some very questionable tunes.

The only time the film steps up to the source material is in the New York flat, as Gatsby and Tom confront eachother. It is here that the director seems to pull away and let his cast truly act. It is honestly quite something, infinitely more absorbing than the spangly party scenes.

The film bemused and maddened, sure, but not to the extent that it could be considered bad. Luhrmann’s Gatsby is akin to Gatsby himself; an impressive spectacle, but little more.

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Arts & Culture: David Bowie Is

Unless you’ve been living in complete isolation for the past few months you will have invariably heard the hype surrounding the new David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A. You may well be thinking that it couldn’t possibly live up to the media’s expectations and scoffing at your friends and family clamouring to buy tickets. Well then, you would be wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It’s the best thing they’ve curated in years and more than justifies the frenzy surrounding it.

I pretty much leaped out of my chair when offered the chance to go and see this and walked around the exhibition with a big fat grin on my face from start to finish. It’s honestly that good.

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I know no one who dislikes David Bowie. His music seems to transcend boundaries and add an uncannily celebratory power when played. The end credit sequence of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville; Young Americans played over images of Depression-era families and children is so powerful with or without the context of the film it gives me goosebumps every time. And what kind of person didn’t kind of fancy the Goblin King in Labyrinth? I mean, come on now.

But I digress…

It would be impossible to categorise ‘David Bowie Is’ as simply an exhibition of music memorabilia, it is so much more. Part fashion retrospective, part art installation, it tracks a journey from small town anonymity to all-encompassing, boundless expression, floating through space and back again, through drug hazes, ludicrous outfits to piercing, stripped-down clarity. Sure, I’m gushing a tad, but rightly so. The curators have included every conceivable variety of memorabilia, from scrawled lyrics on cigarette packs to some of his most iconic images.

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This exhibition is fantastic in so many ways, a beautiful multimedia celebration of a career so varied and intertwined with popular and niche culture. Every facet of Bowie’s ever-changing image and artistic intention is lovingly explored through a mixture of photography, video installation, literature and, of course, costume. It chronologically charts his progress through varying sounds and identities yet still allows him to remain enigmatic.

I was half expecting him to be roaming round the galleries himself, disguised and slipping unnoticed around the journalists and bloggers. Alas, he wasn’t.

The breadth of Bowie’s immersion in and influence on culture is astounding and thought-provoking. Unlike the majority of today’s crop of “out there” performers, Bowie put a great deal of consideration into his influences, twisting them into something new rather than simply referencing. The exhibition pays special attention to the influence of the work of J.G Ballard, George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick on his music and image, with key pieces of their work positioned in the context of Bowie’s vision. The hollow, savage worlds of Ballard are dangerous yet fascinating, referencing the strange beauty of huge abandoned swimming pools and high-rises while emphasising aggressive sexuality in the smallest of facial curvature, magnified beyond all recognition, as in The Atrocity Exhibition. The exploration of inner space brought out by these works fascinated Bowie and allowed him to construct new identities, new worlds for his music to play in. He invites transformation and expression in himself and his fans, an aspect the exhibition pays homage to.

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His lavish and iconic costumes populate the space on thin white mannequins; of particular interest are an Alexander McQueen tyre track printed suit and the extravagant shapes and textures of  Kansai Yamamoto’s all in ones. There is such a kaleidoscope of colour and effect in these pieces it’s quite difficult to absorb all at once, but the curation places them in the context of transformation and evolution, it all somehow makes sense. For me the most impressive part of the collection is the huge video installation in the central room, thirty foot high translucent screens with concert footage projected, speakers cranked to the hilt. Completely immersive and awe-inspiring, it is an experience that will stick with me for a good long while.

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Whether or not you’re into David Bowie you can’t deny the effect he has had on music, fashion and the way we express ourselves. The exhibition is truly comprehensive, and regardless of if you view him as a highly skilled plagiarist (no) or a trailblazer who was / is way ahead of his time (yes!) it’s well worth spending a good few hours in.

The exhibition opens on the 23rd, as far as I know tickets are selling fast so get in there swiftly…

For more photos check out my Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/nadiaramoul/david-bowie-is-press-viewing/

@NadiaReads

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Arts & Culture: Smirnoff Vodka, #YoursForTheMaking Event

#YoursForTheMaking

Guest post by Nadia Ramoul 

When you’re invited to an evening of free vodka and snacks you don’t turn it down, hoooo no. In this weather anything to keep the blood pumping is welcomed with open arms and empty glasses. You gather your hastily organised plus one(s) and shimmy on down to the Tate Modern concourse feeling totally exclusive and cool.

“Yours for the Making” was Smirnoff’s attempt at getting us to make the most of the extra hour due to the clocks going back at the weekend.

What would you do? Catch up on Breaking Bad? Snooze? Or would you hang out in the presence of the WORLD’S LARGEST DISCO BALL while drinking cocktails?

Of course you would!

The good people at Smirnoff treated us to delicious fruity cocktails and complimentary snacks of vegetable crisps – not exactly my bag, those bizarre crisps but I can see the appeal.

The views over London were breathtaking, however heading outside to see the giant mirror ball get raised we were instantly reminded that holding a semi outdoor event in October was always going to be a hit-and-miss affair and shivered accordingly. No amount of free booze can contend with the Thames’ chill. But nonetheless, you can’t not be at least a little impressed by the world’s biggest disco ball, I mean, come on now. The thing was huge.

DJ Maya Jane Coles played a fine set of house-y dubstep which perfectly complimented the frosty evening and got the sparse crowd feeling lively as the mirrorball reflected the Thames. A few brave souls busted some interesting moves in the chilly night air but the rest of us were content to huddle together for warmth and nod our heads approvingly to the music.

The premise behind Smirnoff’s #YoursForTheMaking campaign – the clocks go back so we all have an extra hour, use that hour to do something out of the ordinary – was fantastic. I hope they do this again next year with a bigger turnout, it could end up being something really special.

By Nadia – @NadiaReads

and Dean – @Scieh

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Culture: Rob Delaney at the Soho Theatre

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Guest post by Nadia Ramoul 

Rob Delaney is a funny guy. A seriously funny guy. If someone on your Twitter feed hasn’t RT’d a couple of his peons to Adele or ‘quotes’ from Mitt Romney then truly you have earned my deepest sympathies because you my friend are missing out. At the risk of sounding like the most crawly sycophant; his tweets brighten up my otherwise doom and gloom feed like a gleaming SAD lamp in a poorly lit room. Imagine then, if you will, my unadulterated fangirlish joy when he announced some shows at the teensy intimate Soho theatre. Creepy, right? I’m not ashamed one little bit.

I first came across Rob Delaney by reading his Vice columns which varied from choice chat-up lines to a sinister blow by blow account of Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’ which did the internet rounds. Ho ho, good stuff. But he really struck a chord with me when I was sent ‘On Depression & Getting Help,’ a blunt and bleakly funny look at unipolar depression with a firm positive message that I’d recommend everyone give a read.

It’s this positive undertone to occasionally pretty grim stuff that makes his comedy so effective, translating well through both monologues on stage and one-liners on Twitter. I don’t want to hear about how we’re all terrible people going straight to hell, nor do I want Russel Howard-y relentless joy. I want cheery sex and poop jokes. Clever poop jokes, mind. Poop jokes that make me cackle at an uncomfortable volume and swish my pint about to and fro so much so that those sat next to me begin to edge away in fear. I want to see someone celebrate the occasionally rubbish bits of life while laughing heartily at it (not just poop jokes. But quite a few.)

Being there for the first night of a week of shows I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but as every London date had sold out the place was heaving and luckily a jolly mother- son combo on a night out graciously let us hog their table. Thanks guys! The set was a well honed hour or so of meandering stories with punch lines scattered gratuitously throughout; any first night jitters Delaney may have had were well disguised by observations on folk who brag about McDonald’s only ever being a last option and what to do if offered a hand job from John Travolta (accept it, obvs…) Belly laughs were had throughout until my stomach threatened mutiny. I got my poop jokes (and sweat and puke thrown in too) alongside some sobering yet ludicrous scenes from rehab centres and jail and cockle-warming views on family life. Ahhh…

A notable absence from the live show is the political humour that his Twitter account is rife with; dear old Mitt didn’t get a look in. While this may seem weird to online followers, the set worked perfectly fine without it, demonstrating that although his fame originated in Twitter, Rob Delaney can really hold his own without the 140 character confine and easy material from technologically stunted politicians.

This first night in Soho was a massive success all round, and probably one of the last times he’ll be performing in a venue so small. The audience hooted with laughter throughout soo much so that my friend and I were in considerable pain by the end. If you get a chance, he’s back in the UK in April, and you’d be a steaming idiot to not go see him.

Twitter: @NadiaReads

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Arts & Culture: Ignore The Haters, Watch Girls

UK telly lovers, if like me  you are getting progressively more fed up with auto-tuned X-Factor contestants and their sob-stories, you’ll be pleased to know that the brilliant and funny HBO show Girls is coming to Sky Atlantic this month. If you’ve never heard of Girls, then you’re in luck, because you’ll get to enjoy an awesome programme that perfectly portrays how shitty it is to be part of the ‘lost generation’ of unemployed, spoiled, homeless 20-something arts graduates without all the haters taking the fun out of every little thing. In fact, you should probably stop reading this blog now and just enjoy it in peace. However, if like me, you’ve got a thing for US culture blogs, you’ve probably heard enough vitriol about Girls to make you never want to even consider watching it, hear about it or admit liking it. Ever. Ever.

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This would be a mistake though as it really is the best comedy to come from HBO since Flight of the Conchords. As soon as I stumbled on Girls, I was instantly hooked and ended up watching the whole series pretty much in one sitting, choking on my pop-corn in laughter and then crying silently as I realised I was almost watching my own life. Girls follows hapless arts graduate Hannah and her three equally confused friends as they try to adjust to real grown-up life in New York City. Hannah has been interning unpaid for two years, is still supported by her parents and has dreams of becoming a writer.

Well observed and at times horrendously painful to watch, we get to see her navigate the process of finding gainful employment as well as being cut-off by her parents (not to mention awkward encounters with her not-boyfriend Adam). Scenes like the one where she gets herself all egged-up to ask for a paid position from her boss but ends up losing her internship can only be watched through your hands. She desperately tries to backtrack while her boss assures her that he gets hundreds of emails a day from people who want to be where she is so he wishes her all the luck in the future. Seeing as we now have a whole lot of young people, both in the States and here, who are finding themselves either terminally unemployable or forever in unpaid internships, this scenario cuts fairly close to the bone. One of the reasons I love Girls so much is that it’s one of the first mainstream shows to explore what it’s like for a whole generation to feel like they’ve been thrown on the rubbish-heap of life and for that alone it deserves to be lauded.

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Unfortunately, while I was giggling at dialogue like “I’m grown-up, my parents only pay for half of my BlackBerry,” certain other bloggers were busy getting offended and ripping the show and its creator Lena Dunham a new one. The crime? They felt absolutely disgusted that out of four main characters (and two or three peripheral boyfriends) not one of them was from a minority. Jezebel, in particular is one blog that I usually adore, but who seemed to take great pleasure in expressing massive outrage over the issue, again and again.

Now I feel tempted to say here, “I’m in no way a racist,” but as that’s an impossible assertion to prove, I think we should move on. I do agree that we need more shows and movies that represent people of minorities but I don’t think that inserting a ‘token’ character into every show is the solution. The main characters in Girls are all white, with some of the extras and smaller roles filled with actors from minority ethnic groups and this didn’t strike me as odd when I watched it. The reason for this is that we are watching a small group of over-privileged graduates, from a similar background, who were friends at uni and are struggling to branch out into the big, bad world.   Part of the humour is that they are shit scared about establishing their lives and identities after university, now that everything suddenly feels really uncertain, so they cling onto each other rather than making new friends of different backgrounds. This is particularly clear in Marni’s case as she finds her long-term boyfriend more and more suffocating but is too afraid to let him go and face the possibility of being alone.

I just don’t understand why blogs like Jezebel keep attacking Lena Dunham and Girls. Although I don’t agree with their criticisms, I would respect them writing a coherent and well-argued piece to explain their views. They didn’t do this. Instead we got snarky article after snarky article with the commenters getting equally worked into a frenzy by deploring the show as THE MOST RACIST THING, LIKE EVER! Why did they pick out this particular issue in this particular show? I’m really taken aback by the hostility displayed. It’s almost as if they’ve gone looking for a fight and insisted on having one based on the most tenuous of reasons.

The weirdest part is that Girls is really good and is one of the few shows out there written by a young woman and focusing on issues facing this demographic. As a feminist blog, I would expect Jezebel to celebrate this fact in an age where women are still sidelined on TV and in films. I know being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to be all sweet and supportive of every single woman but can’t we just celebrate this one small victory? After all, if this show does well, perhaps we can have more shows that explore different view-points and hopefully some of these would include  those from ethnic minorities. I  don’t see how taking Girls down is going to achieve the goal of getting more diversity into mainstream pop culture. There are so many shows out there paying lip service at best to issues like gender, race and identity. Can’t we please leave the one show alone that is actually exploring at least one of these issues in an honest and funny way?

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