WHAT’S GOING ON THIS WEEK ON THE INTERNET
Some weeks on the Internet are all about plays and theatres. Some weeks are concerts and cabaret. This week seems to be mostly dance and visual arts. I never know what I’m going to find and what all of you are going to find for me. And the longer I do this the more I fall in love with the Internet and its endless possibilities to reach all over the world. This week I watched The Persians, Aeschylus’s drama, live from Epidaurus, in Ancient Greek (with English subtitles) and the reality of being able to see a 2500-year old play, in its original language, in the amphitheatre for which it was written, with real actors in real time, just blew me away. And that’s just one of the wonderful things the Internet is doing this week. Here are some of the others.
Our Empty Theatres
My show of the week is this series of photographs by Helen Murray. Do take a look at these arresting images and read the comments alongside from a variety of theatre practitioners about their widely varying reactions to the pictures and the implications of what is happening to their world, always and necessarily live, now silent. Some are profound, some are funny, all are heartfelt, and, to me, some are so touching that I finished trawling the pictures and words with tears falling on my keyboard.
Blues Suite – Alvin Ailey
Blues Suite is the ballet that launched the sensational Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 and it was the 27-year old Alvin Ailey’s first masterpiece, two years before he made Revelations. Blues Suite is where he first found his choreographic voice in presenting real people on the concert dance stage. I like the description (not mine, unfortunately) in comparing Blues Suite with Revelations as “that spiritual work’s secular counterpart, a representation of the Saturday night sinning that precedes the Sunday churchgoing”. The characters are the men and women who frequent a ‘sporting house’, drinking, dancing, and flirting to the music of the blues over the course of a night that ends with the early morning sounds of a train and church bells. Forget the technical quality, enjoy this remarkable piece of dance history performed by Ailey’s own company and introduced with his famous charm by the late Alvin Ailey himself.
National Gallery – The Renovation of Room 32
Room 32 is the largest room in the National Gallery in London and it’s been closed for more than a year, not because of coronavirus but because it has been being renovated. Sounds dull? It isn’t. Everyone from the architect to the man applying gold leaf to the curator responsible for hanging the painting and the framer who has reframed the works now hanging in the gallery are passionate about what they do and this short film shows what goes into such a reconstruction. I was riveted. I hope you will feel the same way.
Rigoletto - Metropolitan Opera
On Wednesday, July 29th, a chance to see the Met’s breathtaking Rigoletto with the best cast ever. Here is Placido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubas, and Cornell Macneill in 1977, all at the very height of their powers, and conducted by James Levine, at the very height of his. Yes, I know that Domingo and Levine are in disgrace now but I remember this production and the transcendent singing and conducting and I, at least, am not going to deny myself the joy of hearing it again. You must make your own decision as to whether what they did off stage justifies you not watching them on stage.
Renee Fleming live in concert – August 1
While we’re talking about the Met, next Saturday, August 1, 1pm EDT/6pm BST, brings the second of their concert series. Desperate to keep the Metropolitan in the public eye during this enforced hiatus, and equally desperate to earn some money to keep it going, they are streaming live some of the greatest singers in the world in solo concerts once a fortnight from some stunning locations. They began last weekend with Jonas Kaufmann in a beautiful but somewhat dead Bavarian abbey, singing some of the greatest tenor lollypops. It may sound ungrateful but, without an audience, even Kaufmann sounded a bit hollow and I missed all the trappings of opera. I expect the Met thought that these arias were so famous that the audience didn’t need context to place them in their operatic settings. To give Kaufmann’s voice a break (these concerts are live) the Met inserted some clips of his performances on stage and that was a mistake because suddenly we realised what we were missing – the sets, the costumes, the atmosphere of an opera house when an opera is playing. And, elegant though the abbey was, and wonderfully though Kaufmann sang, it couldn’t compete with an operatic staging. Next Saturday, it’s Renee Fleming’s turn and she’ll be performing in the magnificent setting of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC. The Met is charging $20 for these concerts which doesn’t seem to me excessive for the experience of a live concert with these singers.
In a Brilliant Light - Van Gogh in Arles
From the Met Opera to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a fascinating film about Van Gogh. Narrated by the actor Edward Herrmann, it tells the story of Van Gogh’s most productive period, the time he spent in the Southern French city of Arles. He lived in Arles for just 15 months but during that brief period of 444 days he painted 200 Paintings and made more than 100 drawings. This film presents the stories behind many of his works alongside beautiful footage of daily life in Provence, as well as glimpses of rarely seen canvases held in private collections. This film is less about his life, dramatic and explosive though that was, than about his paintings. The filming is awkward and the script is stiff and academic but it gives insights into this unique artist that I’ve seen nowhere else. See what you think.
Masculinities – Liberation Through Photography.
This is a walk-through tour of Masculinities, the newly opened photographic exhibition at the Barbican Gallery, given by Alona Pardo, who is the exhibition’s very knowledgeable Curator. She has an absolutely maddening verbal tic which is to insert “kind of” into every sentence, indeed, every phrase. It’s just as annoying as teenagers saying “like” all the time. She also has a tendency to spout the usual curatorial jargon about what the photographs symbolise when what you really want to do is just look at them. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot about the nature of masculinity which is, after all, what the exhibition is about. However, what she has to say about the exhibition is often interesting enough to attempt to get over how she’s saying it. And you could always turn down the sound.
Scrounger – Finborough Theatre
Athena Stevens is playwright in residence at the Finborough Theatre and her play Scrounger will be available to stream free from Aug 1-3, next weekend, and on Aug 31. This play had extraordinary reviews when it opened at the Finborough this past January (feels like centuries ago, doesn’t it?) and was nominated for six OffWestEnd Awards, a London Pub Theatres Standing Ovation Award, was named one of The Stage’s Top Five Theatre Shows and was Time Out’s Show of the Week. The title character, wheelchair bound, is spurred into action when an airline destroys her wheelchair. Scrounger highlights the realities of how Britain is failing its most vulnerable citizens and the extreme cost paid by those seeking justice. The playwright, herself confined to a wheelchair, wrote and performed in the Olivier nominated world premiere of Schism, the only wheelchair-bound performer ever to be nominated for an OffWestEnd award.
The Sleeping Beauty - Royal Ballet
If you’re yearning for a good old traditional production of a classic, do I have a beauty for you, The Sleeping Beauty, in fact. In 1946, to celebrate the reopening of the Royal Opera House after the destruction of the Second World War, Dame Ninette de Valois, ‘Madame’ to those of us who remember her ramrod straight back and her unbending standards, created a new production of the 19th century classic. Refurbished and recreated by Monica Mason, the former Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet and Christopher Newton in 2006, utilising Oliver Messel’s extravagant sets and costumes, not changing so much as a tutu, the production is completely traditional with no ‘concepts’ or directorial ‘adjustments’. The heavenly music of course is Tchaikowsky’s. In this production Princess Aurora is danced by Fumi Kaneko opposite the Prince Florimund of Federico Bonelli. The Lilac Fairy is Gina Storm-Jensen and Carabosse, the wicked fairy, is Kristen McNally. Relax and wallow.
And if you want to catch up with The Persians from Epidaurus, it’s still available, although intermittently. Here’s the link:
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.