Saturday, September 30, 2006


Last night we saw a triple bill of dance set against the music of Steve Reich at the Barbican. Part 1 was performed by Rosas, featuring Tale Dolven and legendary 46 year old Belgian choreographer and dancer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker who danced to Reich's Piano Phase and Violin Phase. During Reich's Phases, as described by Wikipedia:
"the performers begin by repeating a rapid twelve-note melodic figure in unison. One player continues, keeping tempo with robotic precision, while the other slowly speeds up until they are lined up, one sixteenth note apart, and then resumes the previous tempo. The cycle of speeding up and locking in continues throughout the piece, with a new figure being introduced once the original figure has come full circle".
The performance by Rosas unfurled rhythmically, with the two dancers spinning in and out of unison on a minimalist stage, whirling in and out of white light and black shadows in hypnotic response to the recorded music.

Part 2 featured the Richard Alston Dance company who performed to a live synthesis of Perotin's 12th century Viderunt Omnes and Reich's "speech melody" and "medieval polyphonic" Proverb. This was a much more conventional and disappointing performance with the male dancers in tights prancing like so many impish Pucks across the stage. I was reminded by turns of A Midsummer's Night Dream and Spike Jonze's amateur troupe dancing whimsically in the shopping mall of Fatboy Slim's Praise You video. I was so uninspired that all I could do was "package watch" in between the yawns.

Far more explosive was Part 3's Akram Khan Company, dancing to a live London Sinfonietta performing Reich's Variations for Vibes, Piano's & Strings, which Reich wrote specially for Khan. The Akram Khan Company danced with hard, masculine vigour, sparring with the musicians and whipping everyone up to the night's only standing and rapturous ovation. A triumph.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Voice like honey

Last night we saw Marisa Monte sing at the Barbican. Monte sings "musica popular Brasileira" - or post-bossa nova urban music, combining a myriad of old and new urban styles, from samba and bossa nova to pop and rock. Notable performers of "musica popular Brasileira" include Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and Gilberto Gil - the last two who we've seen sing this year. And of course the beautiful Monte, who has recorded samba and folk as well as songs by Lou Reed and Marvin Gaye, and who has worked with distinctly modern musicians such as David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Laurie Anderson.

Last night she sang with a voice by turns dark and husky (my favourite, rockier, harder edged songs), and airy and light. Her voice resonated against a compelling backdrop of moving walls of light and digital footage of electric butterflies and birds, and reached out to fill the entire hall. The largely Brazilian audience whooped and danced and clapped with joy. Once upon a time it would be lighters held aloft during slow songs. Last night it was mobile phones swaying in the air and recording the music.

Korean peppermint

In the spring of 1999 in the South Korean countryside, a suited man disturbs the 20-year picnic reunion of his own high school by dancing and singing erratically before climbing onto a bridge and into the path of a train. Arms spread wide, he screams "I'm going back!" as the train careens towards him.

Three days previously, the protagonist Yongho has lost all his money, is heavily in debt and has been left by his wife. He's purchased a gun and he intends to kill himself just before he learns that his first love Sunim is lying dying in hospital. South Korea is in economic crisis: the currency has devalued, unemployment is soaring and bankruptcies are rife.

In 1994, Yongho is juggling a small business, an unhappy marriage and an affair with one of his employees. In a restaurant he runs into a man who turns out to have been his torture victim in 1987 when he was a policeman extracting confessions from government dissidents. South Korea in the 80s was a turbulent time as leader General Chun Doo Hwan kept the country in an iron-fisted state of martial law.

Jumping back to 1984, Yongho is a rookie cop traumatised by the torture methods of his colleagues and by his first experience of brutally forcing a confession out of a suspect. And in 1980, we discover that as a solider called upon to surpress a civil disturbance, he accidentally kills an innocent young bystander. The backdrop is the Kwangju Massacre during which a clash between government troops and student pro-democracy demonstrators resulted in 200 dead.

The final scene of Yongho's life is actually the beginning when in 1979 the high school students are gathered at the same tranquil picnic location. Yongho is full of hope with the possibilities of his future and his burgeoning love for Sunim.

We saw the Korean movie Peppermint Candy at the Renoir on Saturday as part of the Firecracker season of Asian films. We found it to be as much a tale of South Korea's turbulent history as a tale of a man's personal disintegration. Compellingly told and broodily acted. Just wonderful.

Afterwards, we ate Korean food at one of my favourite restaurants Bi Won, a spectacular, tiny cafe-restaurant on Coptic Street behind the British Museum. We ate fiery kimchi (pickled cabbage); vermicelli fried with beef, chillis and spring onions in a black bean sauce; and spicy noodle soup. Plus the Korean OB beer.

Sunday was spent doing one of my most dreaded activities: shopping. I try and do this as little as possible, but as the weather is finally turning, I desperately needed some jumpers and wool skirts. Luckily I found everything I needed along Regent and Oxford Streets and now don't have to do this again until next Spring (hopefully)!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Personal history

My paternal grandfather first saw my grandmother brushing her long black hair on the balcony of her father's house as he rode past on a horse on his way to work as a vetinarian in Gauhati, Assam in India. After several days of passing by her house, he plucked up the courage to knock on the front door and introduce himself to her father -- a stern, strict lawyer.

My mother first met my father when she answered his advert for male or female penfriends in an Indian newspaper. He was a lonely young man, recently arrived in London. She was a medical student in Calcutta. They began exchanging platonic letters, and then photos, and then love letters.

I had known M since college but we rarely saw each other and we mixed in different social circles. After college, we spent several years pursuing our own lives in different places, only occasionally bumping in to one another at parties. One night in 2004, I was stting at the NFT about to watch the Wong Kar-Wai movie Days Of Being Wild when I looked across and saw, seated a couple of rows in front of me, a familiar figure.

The rest, as they say, is our personal history.

Tentative steps

It's been a whirlwind year (since the last time I posted here): newly engaged to M in Thailand in February, new house in North London in March, new job in Noho (just north of Soho, obviously!) in May and in the midst of all this I've still been enjoying London. Last week, for example, we saw Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem perform Sacred Monsters at Sadler's Wells in a sexy modern mesh of classical Indian and classical Western dance forms.
"I have spent my life studying and performing kathak. It is the source of my creative process. Working with Sylvie Guillem is an exciting new challenge, giving me the opportunity to explore another classical dance language with one of its greatest exponents, and as a result unearth the things that are most often lost between the classical and modern world" Akram Kahn.
My first encounter with Akram Kahn
My second encounter with Akram Kahn
My third encounter with Akram Kahn

We also saw a couple of films from London's Asian Film Festival - Firecracker: the tempestuous modern Indian gothic movie "Ek Hasina Thi" (2004) directed by Shimit Amin about an unassuming young woman wreaking havoc and revenge on the dashing lover who has embroiled her in his murky underworld dealings; and a melancholy triptych of stories about love and loneliness in Singapore by director Eric Khoo - "Be With Me" (2006), which received a five minute standing ovation when it premiered in Cannes and which had me sobbing by the end.

The films haven't always been good. Last night I was out with my friend R, who is leaving London for Ireland, India and Hong Kong soon, and we were bored out of our minds by the rom-com movie Trust The Man. I had wanted to see it for a little light chick flick entertainment after a hard week at work, but it was too bland to be entertaining.

Our unsettling excitement of the night - save for several glasses of very nice Pinot Blanc at the Cork & Bottle Wine Bar off Leicester Square and some lovely sushi at Taro in Soho -- was towards the end of the movie when out of the corner of my eye I spied a shadowy figure walking past me. He hunkered down low on a seat two rows in front of us and when I looked over, all I could see shining through the darkness was the whites of two eyes peering through the gaps in the seats at me. I trained my eyes on the screen and after a few minutes I felt him move back past me to the other side of the seats and hunker down again. I alerted R and we scurried out of the cinema before the movie ended, relieved to be away from the white-eyed man and the boring film.

My trip home on the Tube was equally eventful, but in a sweet way. At Kings Cross, a gaggle of drunk girls in their mid to late teens hopped on the train in short skirts, high heels and flashing rabbit ears on their heads. It was close to midnight and one girl kept shouting out to her friends, "Four minutes to go, four minutes to go, and then I'll be nineteen!!". Midnight came and all her friends sang happy birthday, encouraging the rest of us to sing along too. Another woman sitting in front of me rose as the train lurched into a station and she wished the girl a happy birthday and pecked her on the cheek then said it was her birthday too. The girls shrieked and sang her "Happy Birthday Kate" as she got off. A few stops later another passenger told the girls that they had made him happy because it too was his birthday. Not believing their luck, the girls launched into "Happy Birthday Kevin". By the time I got off the train, the entire carriage was smiling or laughing - a rare occurrence on the London Underground!

In recent weeks I have discovered the sublime wonder of Yauatcha in Soho - Alan Yau's gorgeous all-day teahouse and dim sum restaurant that serves 150 varieties of tea (including the subtle and fragrant white tea which apparently has more antioxidants than green tea) as well as 24 varieties of dim sum and a range of exquisite pastries (my favourate being a blackcurrant mousse sitting on a biscuit base and topped with fresh blackcurrants); and the chilli hot revelation of Bar Shu also in Soho - a Sichuan restaurant in which most of the dishes are flavoured with Sichuan pepper, to tongue tingling and numbing effect! On my birthday in August my fiance M took me to the fabulously expensive Roka restaurant and Sochu Lounge where we downed saki and shochu cocktails and ate incredibly flavourful and fresh sushi and other Japanese dishes.

I've also been discovering new places to eat through work: Navarro's tapas restaurant, Fino tapas restaurant and Italian restaurant Passione, to name a few.

Since my last post, I made the leap from the charity to the corporate sector and my new job at a big international digital marketing agency is also very hectic and exhilerating.

On top of all this work and play, we've been managing to find time for a spot of wedding planning. We realised recently that there is a February theme to our relationship: we started dating in February 2005, we got engaged in February 2006, and we're getting married in February 2007. So we've been busy registering our intention to marry with the local council (last week) and booking a venue (in Hampstead by the Heath), sorting out catering (today), music (nearly there - found a classical Indian band), working out the guest list and invitations.

A few weeks ago we attended the civil partnership ceremony of two female friends of ours who have been together for 10 years and have 3 children. I was honoured to be one of the witnesses. The ceremony itself was simple and moving and the party the next night raucous and fun. On top of the sheer happiness we felt at witnessing the official celebration of the union of two of our closest friends, we began getting very excited over our own ceremony next year.

But now I've tentatively started blogging again, I'm sure you'll be bored by all sorts of wedding planning!