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Archive for the ‘Other Ramblings’ Category

Never one to turn down an opportunity for a new experience, I found myself at the ballet earlier this week.  To clarify “new experience”, my knowledge of ballet doesn’t extend beyond The Red Shoes, Black Swan and Billy Elliot.  It is no surprise that my awareness comes from the movies, but it is also very appropriate as my introduction to the art form was Swan Lake, the background to the movie Black Swan.  The venue was Birmingham’s fantastic Hippodrome, the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet since 1990.  For those who know even less than me here is the synopsis provided by the Birmingham Royal Ballet:

Ballet’s greatest love story returns in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s lavish production. This romantic fable of ill-fated passion, powerfully illuminated by Tchaikovsky’s legendary score, has bewitched audiences for generations.

By a moonlit lake, a grieving prince witnesses the transformation of a swan into a beautiful princess. Compelled by an evil spell to spend her days in the form of a bird, she can only be saved by the power of love.

Filled with exquisite ensembles, lyrical pas de deux and bravura solos, this Swan Lake is atmospheric, romantic and beautiful – an unforgettable experience.Birmingham-Royal-Ballet-shows-Swan-Lake (1)

The story is split into four acts:

  • ACT I: A COURTYARD IN THE CASTLE
  • ACT II: THE LAKESIDE BY MOONLIGHT
  • ACT III: THE BALLROOM OF THE CASTLE
  • ACT IV: THE LAKESIDE

The first was possibly the weakest and felt a little repetitive.  Things got going in act two with the introduction of  Odette, Von Rothbart (the evil sorcerer, who has enchanted Odette) and the swans.  It came as a surprise how long it took to introduce the main character (remember my knowledge costumes and what appears to be hugely technical and complicated dancing and the introduction of Odile (The Black Swan).  The final act starts with the shows standout moment.  For a performance that is all about dancing, the breathtaking moment came from total lack of movement.  The curtain rises on the lakeside we saw in act two.  The stage is filled with dry ice smoke like an 80’s disco (or a scene from Alien).  As the mist pours out over the edge of the stage into the stalls and orchestra pit it reveals a stage filled with the swan-maidens.  The whole performance lasted around three hours including two intermissions, the time flew by.Birmingham-Royal-Ballet-shows-Swan-Lake

You may have picked up from my tone that I enjoyed it, the surprising thing is just how much I enjoyed it.  I have never had any interest in dance or dancing but found the whole spectacle enchanting and enthralling.  I know nothing about technique or the positions and movements associated with ballet but anyone with an interest in art can appreciate aesthetics and form, but like a football match you know when someone has done something special or spectacular.

If you want to know how good the lead dancers were look for a review from someone who knows what they are talking about.  Odette/Odile was performed by Céline Gittens and Prince Singleton by Tyrone Singleton.  I looked them up after the show, they are very highly regarded.  Both are mixed-race, a big deal was made of this when they first took these roles three years ago “it will be the first time the ballerina role has been taken by a black dancer in the UK”.  Although this was portrayed as a positive moment for ballet, it is a shame that it is something was even worth mentioning.  The one thing I did go in knowing a little about is the music.  I have a few albums (yes real albums on vinyl) of ballet music.  It is the one form of classical music that I enjoy.   I am pleased to report that the music performed by The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was fantastic and I would have happily listened to it even if I hadn’t enjoyed the visual performance.rs-swan-lake-celine-gittens-and-tyrone-singleton-sorrow_1000

I am not about to sign up for a season ticket and declare myself as ballet lover, but may well go again in future.  For those interested Swan Lake is on for another few days in Birmingham before going on tour.  

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Once in a while I go off on a tangent and write about something other than movies. On Saturday , I did something a little different. Looking online for things to do on his planned visit to Birmingham, Jon, a friend from university came across Keyhunter.

In the words of their own website: “Keyhunter is an entertaining puzzle-based live escape game; a new form of entertainment where you must escape from a room you are trapped in by finding hints and clues that point you to the right direction to solve various puzzles. These puzzles are the key to the objective of the game: unlock the safe, get the key, and escape.”Keyhunter

Not knowing exactly what to expect we booked online and headed down on Saturday morning. Located in an unassuming building on the fringe of Birmingham city centre on the aptly named Sherlock street. There is a choice of three games: “The Triads, The Double Crossing and The Red Curse”, we went for the middle difficulty The Double Crossing. After a short briefing we were locked in a room with an 1 hour countdown timer on the wall. The Game involves finding clues to unlock locks. These in turn lead to further clues to open other locks, until eventually you get to a safe containing a key to escape the room. They did give us a two-way radio allowing us to ask for up to three hints. Not wanting to give anything away, I will not say any more about the game.sherlock street

Starting slowly, taking ten minutes and needing to use one of our hints to solve the first puzzle, we quickly got the hang of things and finished the game with just over ten minutes to spare. The organisers recommend between three and six members per game, so we felt pleased with ourselves to complete the game with just two of us.Keyhunter Andy and Jon

Brilliant in its simplicity, amazingly I can’t find anyone else doing anything similar. If you are ever in Birmingham, I would recommend you give it a try. Jon is already planning a return visit with his wife Helen keen to join in too. Find out more on their website HERE.

 

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11 11 11With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

“For The Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

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I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

American Pie by Don Mclean

This morning I heard the sad news that that music store HMV has appointed an administrator. If a buyer isn’t found for the struggling retailer, it could see the end of a British institution. Starting life out as a gramophone company in the 1890’s, their first store opened Oxford Street, London in 1921 by composer Edward Elgar. Following the demise of Virgin Megastores (renamed Zavvi after a management buyout then went into administration) and Tower Records, HMV are the last remaining large high street music and video retailer in the UK. With the onslaught of online retailers and music downloads, high street retailers have being fighting on two fronts for more than a decade and in recent years have been losing.His Master's Voice

This sadly isn’t the end of the demise of traditional media retailers. Booksellers could follow in the footsteps of music stores. With sales of ebook readers and tablet computers, book sales could go the same way as CD’s. Home video has been given a stay of execution in the form of the high picture and sound quality of DVD and Blu-ray, but how long will that last? More and more people are streaming and downloading movies and the quality is improving all the time.kindle

The real sad thing about the changing way we consume media is not just the tactile and physical pleasure of owning a book or record but the social aspect of it. Whether on your own or with friends, there is something special and magical about browsing book and record stores that you don’t get from downloading and online ordering. Looking a book covers and reading a the first page or looking at album artwork and sleeve notes are all part of the process. Talking to friends who are shopping with you or the staff in the shop about the product, and listening to recommendations of other artists or authors has always been a great way of discovering new things. Online retails try to replicate this, but it is far from the same thing.book_as_gift

Online ordering is a solitary experience, but it does however give the purchaser the same solid item to have and to hold that a virtual download does not offer. This may seem like a small point, but it does prompt the question, have you ever given or received a book, CD or DVD as a gift? I imagine most people reading this has probably done both. I would also suggest many people will have lent or borrowed a book, CD or DVD from a friend. I have introduced many people to movies, music and books that I love and have gratefully received the same from friends and family. I have never given nor received a virtual book, movie or record and wouldn’t know how to! I still own every CD or Vinyl record I have ever owned, I’m not convinced by the security of my backups and with it the security of my downloaded music. My parents have recently given me some of their old records some of them dating to the 60’s. Will people in 50 years time be sharing their old MP3’s?Francoise Hardy tous les garçons

I am not a total Luddite and appreciate many forms of technology, I’m just not impressed with the effect they seem to be having on retailers and consumers alike. The real threat to the music industry in the modern age may not be piracy, but apathy! It isn’t all bad news, there is a wealth of music and books in circulation. And I still have the last bastion of sanity in my hometown, Birmingham, The Diskery; A privately owned second-hand record store specialising in vinyl records that is still going strong after more than fifty years. 

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As mentioned before I try to avoid political comment on my blog, but what’s the point of having a virtual soapbox if I don’t stand on it once in a while. Earlier today three members of the Russian “feminist punk-rock musical collective” Pussy Riot (Maria Alyokhina 24, Yekaterina Samutsevich 29, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova 22) were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment for “hooliganism.” What was their crime? The judge described what they had done “crudely undermined social order”. What the actually did was sing a protest song in church:

The impromptu performance took place On March 3 this year at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and is said by the band to be a protest at the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s support for Vladimir Putin. I don’t speak Russian so can not comment on alleged blasphemy of the song, but based on the fact the charge wasn’t blasphemy I suggest this is a red herring. Amnesty International have called the ruling a “bitter blow for freedom of expression in Russia” and have quoted a group of Russian lawyers who published an open letter stating “the actions of the three women could not be qualified as a crime and that bringing charges against them was in violation of Russian law.”

Any government or religious group that isn’t open to reasonable criticism or even ridicule isn’t fit to rule or to preach and only helps the case of those who criticise and ridicule in the first place. The fact that the church and president Putin have received support from a lot of Russian people proves that they are strong enough to not need the support of an over zealous legal system. I don’t see this as a matter of right and wrong on the side of the band, this is a reflection on the government and the legal system. I would like to think that even those who support Putin agree with Pussy Riot’s freedom of thought, expression and speech. Freedom of speech that challenges authority has to be a good thing for society especially in a country like Russia that is looking to the future and not its imperial or communist past.

This isn’t just a political rant, it does have a (vague) movie connection, given the coverage the case has received and the fact the band record their stunts, there must enough footage and interest for someone to make a documentary.

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99.99% of this blog is about movies but once in a while I am compelled to write about something else. This time because there aren’t any movies coming out, they have all been scared of by Christopher Nolan and a little sporting event happening in London.

We British often revel in our sporting failure as plucky losers, but once in a while we have something to shout about. After just a week, it has already been a successful London Olympic games, both as a spectacle and for the home team, but tonight things got just a little special.

At 5’5” Jessica Ennis is by no means small, but in the company of other athletes in her chosen event, the heptathlon she looks tiny. And yet she is amongst the best in the world. She has become the “poster girl” for London 2012 and Team GB despite never competing in an Olympic games before (she was forced to drop out of the Beijing Olympics with three stress fractures in her right foot).

Going into the 800 metres, the last event of the heptathlon Ennis was 258 points ahead of her nearest competitor having set three personal bests in the first six events. As the race started Ennis took the front from the start and crossed the line at the end of the first lap in first place but soon dropped back to fourth place. As they came round the final bend she found herself boxed in but found her way through to the front for a final sprint to the line. She crossed the line with her hands in the air knowing she had won the Olympic gold medal beating her own British record. Before the medal ceremony she did a lap of honour draped in a union flag to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s Heroes. If it were a movie we would all dismiss it as sentimental and clichéd. But it isn’t a movie, it is true and it has just happened at London 2012!

But is doesn’t end there, as I type this Team GB have won two more gold medals: Greg Rutherford wins the long jump, the first British winner in this event for 48 years: Mo Farah is the first ever Briton to win Olympic 10,000m. To put this in prospective we only won four athletics medals in Beijing (1 Gold, 2 Silver and 1 Bronze).

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Carina Round

I am taking one of my occasional breaks from rambling about movies to talk about one of my other great passion music. For just over a decade my favourite singer has been Carina Round. Not as well know as she should be, Carina is a truly talented singer songwriter to restore your fair in music in this X Factor/Pop Ideal celebrity obsessed age. Click HERE to see her new video on the Rolling Stone website

Her new album Tigermending is out tomorrow, you can hear it HERE via AOL album stream. If you aren’t already familiar with her music it is also worth checking out her previous releases, most notably her 2001 debut The First Blood Mystery. As good as her albums are, she really comes into her own playing live, whether on her own with an acoustic guitar or backed by a full band Carina always gives a memorable performance. This is a live version of my favourite of her songs:

For more information and tour dates check out her official website.

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