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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Style: Fashion stories and the modern spectacle

It’s pretty clear to the pop culture fans that fashion exhibitions are enjoying a boom in popularity right now. From Charles James: Beyond Fashion to Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty and the upcoming Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the NGV in Melbourne, the idea of fashion as art has increasingly moved into the mainstream.

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A few weeks ago I attended a talk by the journalist Mitchell Oakley Smith for the launch of Fashion detective at the NGV. There was one point that struck me particularly; as fashion shows become more of a performance and as brands turn their advertising and visual merchandising into an exhibition, what does that mean for the modern museum? If exhibitions are entertainment and each collection becomes an exhibition, the line between them must surely blur.

The rise of digital culture and the changing face of fashion media mean that brands have more power than ever before to control their own stories. There are now countless ways to communicate with your customer; whether it’s through the myriad of fashion bloggers, traditional advertising or through new digital platforms. Conversely this makes it harder for brands to cut through the noise, with designers making ever grander statements. This may explain the trend for fashion shows as performance. From Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Supermarket to Marc Jacobs’ nostalgic farewell at Louis Vuitton, so much depends on the spectacle.

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It’s not just traditional forms of showcasing each collection that are evolving. Fashion brands are increasingly traversing the boundaries between commerce and art. Take Prada’s ‘A Therapy’ film directed by Roman Polanski , which was released last year. It showed there’s no longer such a need to rely on the costume department of a big budget movie to showcase your new collection. You can create your own mediums.

So where does this leave the museum? I personally think there’s an important role to play in impartially telling fashion stories. In the same ways magazines have had to adapt to a new digital landscape, there’s still room for careful and authoritative curation of content. That’s why I’m looking forward to the new Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition and the ways the museum will find to tell that story. Also, I need to find a way to get to London next year to catch Savage Beauty at The V&A. Is it too early to start a petition to bring it to Australia?

Panna Cotta Recipe

Blog: How to make panna cotta

Who says desserts have to be heavy? Sweet, delicate and deliciously creamy, the panna cotta is my go-to solution for when I’m in the mood for something beautifully light and refreshing at the end of my meal. Easy-to-make and even easier to eat, it’s the perfect finishing touch for when you want an indulgent treat without the guilt-factor.

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The traditional Italian version uses a simple milk, cream and gelatine recipe; lightly baked, set, and then turned out on a plate with a tantalising wobble. To avoid extra stress in the kitchen, I prefer to set mine in pretty glassware and serve them straight from the fridge. I also commit another sacrilege to purists everywhere by incorporating whatever fruit I happen to have laying around, blending it into a puree or jelly for an extra hit of flavour to offset the cream.

For this version I also folded in a few dollops of strawberry and rhubarb yogurt. It’s a great way to add some instant intensity without compromising the fragile texture of the mixture.

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Ingredients:

Panna Cotta

280ml Double Cream

100ml Milk

150ml Rachel’s Gourmet Low Fat Yoghurt

1 Sachet Gelatine

3-4 tbsp Icing Mixture

1 Vanilla Pod

Jelly

2-3tbsp Frozen Mixed Fruits

2tbsp Caster Sugar

1 Sachet Gelatine

 

Method

Begin by making up a batch of jelly. Using a blender, roughly blend the frozen fruits into a juice. Add one pack of gelatine to 400ml just-boiled water, whisking vigorously until granules have dissolved. Combine both mixtures and pour into the bottom of your containers, placing in the freezer to set quickly.

For the panna cotta, place the double cream and milk into a saucepan, bringing to the boil. Score open the vanilla pod and add to the mixture, leaving it to gently simmer for 5-6 minutes. Meanwhile, make up about 2 tablespoons of gelatine mixture using the same method as before.

Take the cream mixture off the heat and leave to cool down slightly for 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve to remove the vanilla pod, then mix in the gelatine and fold in the yoghurt.

Pour the mixture over the set jelly and leave to set for an hour or so in the fridge. Use fresh fruit to decorate the glasses when ready to serve.

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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

 

 

 

 

feminism

Society: bigger feminist fish to fry

Yesterday I posted Alecia Lynn Eberhardt’s blog on Facebook about why as a woman, saying “I have a boyfriend” when you want a man to leave you alone is problematic. I agreed with it.

I’ve been accused of demonising all men by the actions of a few. In short, i’m “pitting women against men”, which is an “outdated mode of fighting inequality” and “us against them won’t get us anywhere”.

This stale adage which is starting to make my teeth hurt also cropped up:

“There are bigger fish to fry.”

There is ONE fish to fry. Inequality. I’m frying it on all sides.

I can talk about FGM in the same breath as the fact that Bear Grylls has made a TV show about surviving a desert island with men only (because “it’s about man’s modern struggle”), as both are important.

They’re both symptoms of an unequal society which sees women as commodities or not as capable as men. We should be talking about every element of women’s struggle to be equal. We have to fight everything together at once.

Rape (notionally worse than ‘lesser’ sexist behaviour) happens because our sexist society teaches us that women are beneath men and that assumption festers in every small, ‘insignificant’ inequality.

I will NOT pick my battles.

I will not let the little things go. When a man in the gym asks my male exercise partner if he’s done on the machine and ignores me (yesterday), I will speak up.

The Facebook criticism of Alecia’s blog was that it implies that “all men are predatory and assume a knowing dominance and that women need to defend themselves against men.”

Talking about the actions of predatory men is not the same as saying all men are rapists. Calling out the sexism and misogyny rife in society is not the same as saying all men are sexists.

So what about men who aren’t predatory? The ones who don’t rape?

What about them? Should I congratulate each and every one of them for respecting my rights as a human being?

Let’s apply a similar question to another subject, for fairness’ sake. Because, being one of those people who actually thinks women should have the same rights as men, i’m terribly biased.

“What about dog owners who don’t beat their dogs?”

If a blog about dog cruelty is posted on the internet, I don’t imagine i’d hear the sound of dog owners around the world indignantly typing, “excuse me! I’m a dog owner that respects dogs!” But there’s no such thing as the dog owner’s ego, as far as I know.

If you don’t like hearing that men hurt women, tough shit, it happens, get used to it. I’m not going to shut up about it.

If you don’t like me telling you that men rape, help me change the culture that normalises violence against women by speaking up like I do. If you think my battles are trivial, take up one you think is more meaningful.

Patriarchy hurts men as well as women. It doubly hurts women when they are more focused on protecting the male ego than calling out inequality.

Brody Dalle performs at the Electric Ballroom, Camden

Music: Brody Dalle at the Electric Ballroom

Last night I saw Brody Dalle play the Electric Ballroom and can now finally die happy.

Brody Dalle performs at the Electric Ballroom, Camden 24 April 2014

I’d given up hope of ever seeing the Distillers live. The band imploded in 2004 shortly after the release of Coral Fang at the height of my fandom, which sucked but also probably boosted my obsession.

Then Brody seemed to go off into the musical wilderness (in real life having a couple of kids with husband Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age). Her next project with Distillers guitarist Tony Bevilacqua, Spineerette, was short lived; they released an EP in 2008 but have been quiet since.

I wondered if she’d ever tour again and whether she’d ever perform the Distillers. I figured maturity would mean she wouldn’t want to play songs written by her 22 year old self battling a meth addiction and an unhappy marriage to Tim Armstrong from Rancid.

But last night she played all the best off Sing Sing Death House (2002) and Coral Fang. There was less of the snarling and posturing that made me fall in love with her – she’s more grounded and calm, but she still blew me away.

She seemed shy – she hasn’t performed live much since 2010  - not once looking into the crowd, but she still owned the stage with an incredible vocal range that has changed little since the days of the Distillers. You wonder how she’s still able to sing with such ferocity when it sounds like her vocal chords have been steeped in ethanol.

One thing that was depressing, though. The crowd was shockingly tame. There was a limp mosh pit and the few true punks seemed to want to nurse a cold beer more than throw it over anyone. I felt like we were letting Brody down in the worst possible place, Camden, the home of punk.

Whatever has happened to music is a sign of an apathetic culture. It felt like no one in the venue had any punk spirit in them, no fight to give. Brody can explain:

I was so lucky to grow up in the ‘90s. It was the revolution, it really was. There’s such a fucking plethora of amazing music to pick from, from Hole to Bikini Kill to L7 to Babes in Toyland to Elastica. There was Kim Gordon. There were so many women. It was just such an awesome time. I really hope that happens again.

I think it’s been a good twenty years, so, usually things go in cycles. I’m hoping that maybe in the mainstream, female-driven rock ‘n roll or just rock ‘n roll in general kind of gets its place again.

You know? It’s been dominated by dance music and I agree with Shirley Manson actually, she says it’s because of 9/11. And that’s absolutely where things kind of changed. We all got very PC and didn’t want to rock the boat and just wanted to hear meaningless fluff, I guess. I don’t know. I would think that people would run in the other direction.

Where’s the counter culture gone? We’re living in dispossessed times, but that’s what punk was born out of. We need a return of the Riot Grrrls. With feminism becoming part of the mainstream, the timing would be perfect.

Brodie quote from an interview in Bust Magazine.

Udaipur India Lake

Travel: Six weeks in India

There’s no preparing for the sensory assault that awaits the incoming traveller at New Delhi airport. As the doors swing open to the arrival terminal, you find yourself simultaneously confronted with a wall of noise and of heat, even in the middle of the night. Hawkers and taxi drivers flood the building, bustling and yelling over each other to drum up business. Welcome to India: the most beautiful, painful, frustrating and life-affirming places you will ever be lucky enough to visit.

Snake charmer in India

When I told people I planned to spend six weeks travelling with my girlfriend to India, the reactions were incredibly polarising. People were either cheerily supportive or bluntly disparaging. “Aren’t you worried you’ll get gang-raped?” one soon-to-be-former acquaintance sneered at me.

Perhaps I could have picked an easier destination for my first attempt at backpacking; somewhere English was more frequently spoken and the path was a little better-trodden but having recently graduated from uni, I was desperate to get out and see the “real world”. And India is nothing if not “real”. Backpacker hostels are few and far between and you’d be hard pressed to find the party bus atmosphere of your more typical gringo-trail spots, but for the brave traveller there are rewards that far make up for the challenges.Udaipur crowd watching ceremony

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You could call me naive for rocking up to a developing country without either a Lonely Planet or local currency to my name. An ATM at the airport quickly solved the first problem but the second would have me kicking myself for the impulsive decision to leave the bulky backpacker’s bible at home while packing. I soon found that without something to point to as I asked for help, people quickly developed selective hearing, opting to offer to take you to their friend’s “tourist office” instead.

In India, never expect the truth from people who stand to gain from your ignorance. A disastrous attempt to navigate New Delhi railway station led to a man in an official-looking uniform ushering us into a conveniently placed rickshaw. In a cramped and faded office full of photos of Princess Di, we found ourselves drinking sugar-laden chai tea and handing over credit cards for vastly inflated train tickets to Agra. An important lesson had been learned; we were going to have to toughen up if we were going to last the trip with enough money to get home.374_529974327895_4179_n

None-the-less we were soon on our way south in a second-class carriage, where a kind travelling salesman offered us daal and roti freshly made by his wife that morning. “No visit to India would be complete without at least one journey by rail”, he told us. “Best train system in the world, absolutely.”

Once a monument to colonial power, now battered by overcrowding and corruption, the country’s trains are a great place to see what life is really like for the people who live here, even if it’s just a glimpse of the packed commuter trains from your slower, safer cross-country route. Anyone who has ever complained about their journey to work gets a serious reality check. Those jokes about people sitting on the roof are not an exaggeration.

In a nation with over a billion people and only precarious law and order, there’s a delicate balance that stops the whole country simmering into chaos. To survive in India, a traveller must quickly learn to adjust their pace of life, slow down and take life as they find it. Trains may leave one, two or three hours behind schedule, your taxi may be stuck in traffic because there’s a cow in the road. Deal with it.

If I achieved anything during my six weeks here, perhaps it was the small assimilation that allowed me to let go of my constant expectations and judgments enough to just enjoy myself.

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