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Image-9-Michael-Clark-by-Richard-Haughton-high-res.previewLast year’s big contemporary ballet première at the International Festival was Mathew Bourne’s fun adaptation of Dorian Gray.  This year Scotland’s own Michael Clark presents New Work.

I think it’s fair to say that Clark doesn’t have the same narrative flare as Bourne. Rather than follow one single story, New Work‘s unrelated pieces take inspiration from glam rock, the 1970s and Clark’s personal history.

I haven’t seen much contemporary dance, and to my inexperienced eyes the first piece ‘SWAMP’ seemed a little slow and occasionally bumpy.  Several dancers broke long poses to plant a foot and start again.  It was the first night, so this may have just been jitters, but the disjointed choreography can’t have helped.  I suspect that perhaps as an uncommonly talented dancer Clark placed too high expectations on his company.

The second piece ‘come, been and gone’ contained both the best and worst moments of the evening.  Sequences put to David Bowie were explosively rhythmic and exciting to watch, particularly towards the end from when  ‘Aladdin Sane’ began.  The solo set to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’ was embarrassingly literal.  I don’t see a problem with Clark exploring his history of addiction through dance, but trussing up a ballerina in a nude body-suit punctured all over with hypodermic needles and getting her to roll about on the floor is another thing all together.  Cringe worthy.  I suppose at a stretch you could see her as a skewered Saint Sebastian, but the flopping about of the foam needles set my teeth on edge.

Aside from the heroin body-suit the costumes were quite nice; most had a Pam Hogg feel, although there were a few too many silly arm and leg-warmers tacked on in the first piece.

From where I was sitting the performance didn’t seem to go down too well the audience.   I started a conversation at intermission with a nice couple next to me who wanted to know if they were missing something.  They too had seen Dorian Gray last year and were a bit confused by the wobbles and the slowness of the first half.

New Work
Michael Clark

Edinburgh Playhouse
28/08/09

It seems to be all Rufus, all the time leading up to the première of Prima Donna on Friday Night (I’ve already taken note of things I anticipate will annoy me in press coverage of the event here.)

Last night BBC1 aired a documentary about Wainwright and his new composition, combining a quite thorough profile of his life and career thus far with some great footage of early Opera North rehearsals for the upcoming show.

A highlight was an interview with Renée Fleming, who was very complimentary towards Wainwright’s music and spoke out against the way opera is increasingly becoming a museum art form.

Wainwright spoke passionately about opera “his religion and saving grace”, and shared some hilarious videos of himself as a teenager acting out his favourite operas with his cousins.  In Tosca he played Scarpia and swept about narrating in an impeccable pantomime villain voice.

If you want to see an example of Rufus’ love of opera, google his video “April fools” (It’s not on youtube at the moment for some copyright reason or another).  It’s just one of his pop songs, but in the clip he gallivants around with several doomed opera herones, including Tosca, Cio-Cio San from Madama Butterfly and Mimi from La Boheme.

The program suffered from some of the usual hyperbole  “…we follow Rufus as he takes on his biggest challenge yet.  Creating from scratch a new opera” (as opposed to all those old operas he’s composed by running together advertising jingles), and excessive focus on his personal life and struggles with drug addiction.

As I’ll be reviewing Prima Donna on the weekend I might as explain how I came to be a fan of Rufus (the story of why I’m a fan of opera is a longer story that will have to wait for another day).

It starts with Bowie.  All good stories begin with David Bowie.  I was at a music shop and picked up a copy of Wainwright’s fourth album, Want Two, thinking it was David Bowie’s  The Man Who Sold the World. They do look pretty similar:

Bowie in a dress.

Bowie in a dress.

Rufus in a dress

Rufus in a dress

I eventually realised that it wasn’t some new release of Bowie, but bought the CD anyway and was very impressed by Rufus’ melodic, instrumental style.  I saw him play in Sydney early last year and was blown away by his performance on stage.

Now I’m not claiming that Rufus is going to win the prize for young-ish-musician-sort-of-like-Bowie (because I’ve already handed that prize out to someone who shares his interest in electronic music) but I think Rufus and Bowie have a similarly theatrical performance persona.

I’m not jumping to any conclusions about what sort of composer Wainwright will be.  I realise Prima Donna might not be any good.  At very least he seems to be passionate enough about the form to give it a really good shot – non-traditional composers have done opera really well before.

But I love new music, and can’t wait to get to Manchester and have a look.

Orange

On Monday night I was lucky enough to see Patrick Wolf’s London show at the Electric Ballroom in Camden.  Most of the songs he played were from his new album The Bachelor, but he did play a few songs from his last album The Magic Position; the title track and ‘Accident and Emergency’.

Wolf and crowd

I’m a big fan of Patrick Wolf. He’s one of a few pop/indie musicians around at the moment who write really interesting music

Patrick Wolf and violin

This quite interesting article goes into Wolf’s background in performance art collectives and electronic instrument construction.  In it he is compared to my favourite pop musician David Bowie.

I’m not entirely sure that you can compare the two.  The 1970s had a very different musical landscape, and Bowie’s experimental approach to performance was ground breaking at the time.  But the more I think about it the more the comparison makes sense.

For one thing look at this –

Bowie’s first dabble with electronic music Earthling (released in 1997):
bowie-earthling

And a better view of Wolf’s flag outfit on Monday night:
Union jack

The lyrics for Bowie’s ‘Battle for Britain’:

Don’t be so forlorn, it’s just the payoff
It’s the rain before the storm
Don’t you let my letter get you down
Don’t you, don’t you, don’t you, don’t you

Don’t you let my letter get you down, down, down, down
Don’t you, don’t you, don’t you, don’t you
Don’t you let my letter get you down, down, down, down
Don’t you, don’t you, don’t you, don’t you

Down, down, down, down, down, down
Down, down, down, down, down, down
Down, down, down, down, down, down

And Patrick’s ‘Battle’:

Battle the Patriarch
Battle for equal rights

Battle, battle, battle
Battle back your liberty
Battle the long night
Come on
Battle battle battle
It’s your time

So I suppose even if Wolf isn’t the new Bowie, they certainly both have a penchant for union flag clothing and defiant British electronica.

What is great about Partrick Wolf isn’t really his outlandish outfits or confident stage presence, but his musical talent.  Wolf has the confidence to try different styles of music and write songs about different emotional, political and fictional themes.  Listening to Wolf you can really feel his passion for sound.  And I can never resist a fellow harpist.

Patrick Wolf is touring the US for the rest of June, heading back to the UK for the beginning of festival season.  Highly recommended.

Patrick Wolf

02/05/09
The Electric Ballroom, Camden.

Quick edit to add:

Here is a post from Style Bubble about Wolf’s clothes and costumes.  And here is a more recent post on his Battle costumes, including a very Saint Sebastian-esque speared jacket.

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