Week 267 – Mapping Melbourne

The heatwave powered on through the last four days of November, and I made the most of it before December crashed in with gloomy skies, chilly teen temperatures and terribly prolonged showers, some of which got the weather forecasters very excited!

On Tuesday I went on a solo trip down to lovely Rickett’s Point (see photos throughout the blog). Although it was too warm for the carpet sea-stars, plenty of other wildlife was in evidence, including a couple of inquisitive spotted doves and a delightful pair of rainbow lorikeets, fossicking for ants in a hole in a tree. There were flocks of terns perched on the outer edges of the rocky tidal shelves, and a flotilla of black swans admiring their sea-azure reflections. The rock-pools were alive with thousands of tiny creeping sea-snails, the sudden scuttles of crabs and minute crayfish darting for cover.

In the clear clean light every colour zinged – the bobbles and fronds of green/gold/pink seaweed swirling in the shallows, fragments of pearlescent abalone shell, red/gold sandy cliffs and cerise flowering succulents. The low coastal shrub cover was darting with (rarely visible) tiny trilling birds, and everything was covered with tiny flowers (mainly white and mauve) and glowing red berries. Looking down from the cliff-top path, the sea shimmered in every shade of blue. I was having such a lovely time I only just made it back in time for Maisie’s school pick-up!

On Wednesday I joined Michele and a couple of her friends for the last 11km of her Movember marathon (bringing her total distance to 400km – mostly walked/some cycled over the course of a month!). It was another gloriously hot sunny day and we power-walked down to the Brighton beach huts for a picturesque finale, stopping off afterwards for celebratory freshly-pressed juices at the Brighton sea-baths cafe. We had plenty of time for leisurely conversations as we strolled – it made me miss the good old (child-free) days of the Time Out country walks!

On Thursday night I met up with Neil’s Swedish colleague Anna-Lena who is over here working and travelling for a few weeks, and keen to see some live shows. We went to see this year’s NICA (National Institute of Circus Arts) graduate performance, a presentation entitled ‘Please Hold’, which had been choreographed by the esteemed Australian dance director Kate Champion. It was a visually striking show, with some interesting soundscapes blending interviews with students and members of the public about aspirations/perceptions of circus, that also functioned as backing tracks to some of the acts.

The performers were very strong and skilled. An opening section where they all demonstrated different extended handstands, whilst being (live) interviewed was fascinating, and this was followed by some beautiful hula-hooping – both imaginatively structured, and immaculately lit (the hula hoops were in subtle metallic shades, spotlit so they sparkled like ghostly Christmas baubles when they spun). The next sequence, comprising 4 cyr wheel performers and a couple of unicyclists, was also unusual and impressive (all 4 of the large heavy metal hoops were loping around the stage at once!). One of the female cyr wheel performers’ did the splits for the whole of her routine (something I’ve not seen done before).

Later on the show lost its way a bit. The stage was crowded and hectic with running, and attempts at more contemporary dance-style moves didn’t suit the performers so well. The most successful scene symbolised the students’ leap into the real world. A low trapeze swing circled wildly around and across the stage, acrobats ducking away or leaping for it and flying above everyones heads before being dragged down to earth again. Their teamwork here was impressive, amongst all the chaotic movement, a variety of stunts were performed.

Friday saw the start of this year’s ‘Mapping Melbourne’ Festival, an annual 2-week event curated by Multicultural Arts Victoria which celebrates Asian/Australian collaborative/community arts (generally, the more experimental the better!). A number of my gamelan friends were involved in different performances, and the festival was one of the sponsors for our Gamelan DanAnda ‘I Said Neon’ new music gig that took place on Sunday night (keep reading for more on this!).

On Friday night I went down to the Testing Grounds – a square of gravel situated between the back of the Arts Centre and the entrance to a busy road tunnel bypass, which is fitted out with four temporary studio sheds, a few sun/rain shades and a bar. It is used by creators and performers to try out new stuff at their regular evening ‘art parties’. A couple of the sheds had been taken over by new ‘Mapping Melbourne’ collaborations, one of which was a performance by visual artist En En See (who did live clay paintings) and my friend Bianca, who created some beautiful live improvised soundscapes using a selection of bowed and struck gamelan instruments and prepared piano.

One of the other sheds housed a much odder collaboration! The Japanese artist Yumi Umiumare had set up a ‘pop-up tea-room’, and invited visitors to join her for a meditative cup of tea, whilst sitting in a circle of (what appeared to be) bones (they were in fact branches of cotton-wool-felted ‘coral’). I’d never taken part in a tea ceremony before so it was a treat to observe all the highly-choreographed actions close at hand (although the bright green frothy tea tasted like boiled cabbage!).

Slightly unnervingly though, just beyond the bone circle, lurked an anonymous man in a white full-body-stocking who sat very still and seemed to be observing us. It turned out that he was part of the show. Once we had finished drinking tea, we were invited to step out of the coral circle and grab a tea-cup full of runny paint which we had to chuck at him or on to a large white canvas at his feet! As we left the pavilion we were presented with a random word card. The installation was entitled ‘Con-TemporariTEA’, and all the words on the cards followed the same pattern (‘MoraliTEA, FamiliariTEA). Mine was ‘AnimosiTEA’!!

The other two pavilions were busy with unrelated projects, outside one a couple of artists were busy expressing themselves in wildly-sparking welding and exuberant clay construction, another was set up as a tiny music venue with a bar and a few chairs and a pocket-sized stage. I caught a very loud 10 minutes of a solo side-drum set – the drum had been rigged up with all sorts of trigger/touch pads which set off various synth pads and effects that quickly conjured up a banging synth-techno odyssey. The drummer was excellent and it was fantastic to begin with, but it got a bit samey after a while.

The meteorological office issued warnings of biblical rainfalls this weekend, which never really eventuated, but the incessant heavy drizzle was still impressive and led to the cancellation/rescheduling/moving of all sorts of local outdoor events and shook everything up a bit! The annual Christmas party organised by The Avenue (Tommy’s childcare) was relocated from a park to the nursery building, which made it a very noisy and cramped affair. Tommy was too overwhelmed by the crowds to leave my side for a minute so I didn’t manage to catch up with anyone (I had hoped to meet the parents of all his new buddies, but that wasn’t to be!).

Neil nobly took on the task of keeping the kids occupied indoors for the afternoon, and I headed into town, to the Big Design Market at the Royal Exhibition Building. It’s always nice to go to an event in the loftily late C19th Ally-Pally-style halls, and it turned out that the monied hipster middle classes had not been put off by the weather at all, and were out in full force to invest in cutesy Japanese ceramics, delicately-worked silver/garish sparkly perspex jewellery, boldly printed/oddly cut haberdashery/garments, organic/handmade cosmetics, beeswax foodwrap and worthy wooden/impossibly expensive children’s toys. It was all too expensive for me, but very lovely!

In the late afternoon I caught a Japanese film at ACMI. Entitled ‘Flower and Sword’, it was a lively and unusual C16th-set drama about a shy and eccentric young monk with an astonishing talent for ikebana (flower arranging). Loved by his fellow monks and the local community for his childlike joy and compassion and virtuosity with flowers, the time comes when he has to utilise these skills on behalf of the terrified townspeople to placate a local feudal lord whose grief and hunger for power have turned him into a brutal despot.

As the rain continued to fall, I headed to a basement screening room at RMIT, where the evening’s planned ‘Mapping Melbourne’ open-air showing of a new Indonesian film had been relocated to. Amazingly, the weather/venue change hadn’t deterred anyone and a big crowd had gathered. There was plenty of food and socialising and speeches before the film began, so it felt like an authentically Indonesian experience! I was particularly happy, that, on the way in (to the free showing) I was handed a free slice of chocolate martabak (pancake) – it was definitely my type of film screening!!

The film turned out to be a work in progress, a half-hour documentary on ‘Jaranan’, a type of folk trance-dance practised in East Java. Participants dance with woven wicker horses before falling into trance and behaving wildly, channelling differently-natured spirits with shamanic powers. The (young Australian) film-maker had found an interesting character in the director of the trance troupe, a middle-aged former gangster who had been called to the tradition late in life, and was convinced that the practice of this ritual in no way clashed with his Muslim beliefs (although in Indonesia it is not always perceived that way). The footage was lively and atmospheric, and the film lightly raised interesting questions about tradition/belief, religion/politics, social class, the effect of the ‘touristic’ presentation etc. which the film-makers expanded on in the Q&A following the screening. We had watched an edit they had completed that morning, and they were hoping to make it into a longer film, which I hope they get the chance to do!

Sunday was the day of our gamelan gig at the Meat Market. Neil, Maisie, Tommy and I went along in the afternoon to join in the pre-gig workshops. The venue was stunning – the old market halls are well-preserved in their vaulted glory, the black felt curtains and white-painted tracery of the iron columns a wonderful backdrop for the intricate gold carvings of the gamelan instruments.

Pak Yande (who had managed to catch the first flight out of Bali, following the volcano-caused hiatus) led a kecak (vocal monkey chant) workshop, and Maisie and Tommy did their best to join in (although Tommy was more keen to loudly shout his own instructions to me!). Maisie concentrated very hard and even mastered the swaying arm and hand movements.

After a brief bash on the gangsa Neil took the kids home and I stayed on for a session led by local multi-instrumentalist/composer Adam Simmons, who guided the participants (on kebyar instruments, gender wayang and piano) through the basic tenets of ‘Conduction’, a group improvisation technique devised in the 1970s by jazz musician Butch Morris. He showed us a dozen hand gestures, for triggering sustained/short/loud/high/low notes, repeated motifs and expansions and recapitulations, and ‘mexican wave’-type patterns circling round the ensemble. Even with a group of novices, the technique was remarkably effective, leading to the creation of some lovely, and often surprising textures. Later, in the concert, the same group of us got together and performed another live improvisation for an audience, and they were very appreciative!

Our evening concert showcased a number of brand new compositions by members of the group – some referencing traditional kebyar/other gamelan repertoire, some focussing on the sonic dissonances between western/Balinese scales, some reproducing Balinese rhythms and sounds on Western percussion. It was a fascinating programme and full of variety.

I could write enthusiastically about every piece, but that might get boring! Highlights were Jeremy’s ‘Saturation’, for 8 kebyar gangsa and 8 gender wayang, which gently explored all the sparkling harmonics of the paired ombak and clashing scales, Adam King’s ‘Phase Rotation’ a beautiful kit drum solo (with added Balinese gongs and cymbals) which explored Balinese and Indian rhythmic cycles, Jonathan Griffiths tightly focussed Reong quartet which produced some electrifying moments of shimmering brilliance, and Bianca’s powerful Piano/Voice-Gong/Trumpet trio ‘I said no’, which set an increasingly distressed expressive vocal (“I said no!”) over anxious/brash trumpet calls, rumbling gongs and dissonant grinding piano chords. Kitty Xiao affectionately referenced Debussy in her piece ‘Where we meet’ composed for alto flute, bass clarinet, piano, gong and two gangsa. After the gig, Pak Yande was asked what he thought – he said ‘It looks like gamelan. It doesn’t sound like gamelan. It isn’t gamelan’!

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Week 266 – music and movement

It was another startlingly hot Spring week (we later learnt that we’d had the longest November heatwave since local records began back in 1862). I enjoyed the 30 degree days but the (only slightly cooler) nights were less fun! I took Tommy to get his hair cut on Monday – he’d been keen to get it done for a while! And he sat perfectly still while the hairdresser set to with the clippers and scissors, utterly engrossed in the same episodes of ‘Roary the racing car’ that she always has lined up on her iPad.

Maisie started her 8-day intensive school swimming classes this week. All the Preps/Year 1s are bussed together to the nearby Melbourne Sports and Aquatics Centre – it’s a big operation! By the end of the first 4 days she was confidently diving down to the bottom of the (shallow) pool to pick things up, and had grasped the basic rudiments of front crawl – and, although she was exhausted, she was looking forward to the next round of lessons the following week.

The kids continued their blast of creativity this week with some imaginative dressing up sessions – they tried to disguise themselves and/or dress up as each other, and Maisie discovered the joys of loom bands. She worked out how to make a basic bracelet on Sunday morning, and by the evening had made 28 of them for her classmates (including her teacher and his baby daughter!).

On Tuesday I popped into town to do some Christmas shopping, which I managed to combine with some culture! There are a number of new exhibitions at the NGV Ian Potter Gallery, including one well-suited for a hot day – ‘The Pool’ is a celebration of Australian municipal swimming pools – archive photos and oral testimonies are presented in a gallery which has been turned into an inviting and stylish miniature swimming pool, all (assiduously mopped) wooden decking, mirrored/aquamarine-painted walls and clean cool (ankle-deep) water.

A large suite of galleries on the ground floor had been devoted to a career survey of the Australian artist Gareth Sansom. Active from the 1960s, his works, mainly paintings on canvas, were large and messy and colourful and angry, full of fairly unfathomable social commentary and neuroses. It was hard to get engaged with them, but a couple stood out.

One was a recent bold half yellow/half red canvas entitled ‘Miss Piggy’s brush with mortality’, the other was a great hand-woven tapestry (executed by the Australian Tapestry Workshop). The colours and elements sung together in a way that they didn’t when presented simply as paint on canvas!

On the top floor, a room full of recent works by Helen Maudsley, an Australian artist of a similar vintage, was very different. In a consistently cool palate of pinks and mauves, peaches and greys, her paintings explored ‘non-verbal forms of communication’. The paintings were semi-abstract, reflective and restful, with rambling poetic titles such as [note this is all one title!] ‘When shoe leaves foot. When Dreams become Myths, become Facts. When Foot stays Grounded with Difference. And the Pillar, the Secular Presence of God’.

The works I enjoyed most on this visit were the brilliantly-coloured plastic assemblages by the artist Louise Paramor. Constructed from found objects and industrial detritus sourced directly from factories, her sculptures were fun, rhythmic and dynamic, and had quite a presence, even in isolation, and a whole room of them together was like a huge dance.

Paramor was also exhibiting a room full of giant concertina-paper structures, which were also striking, but felt more like the kind of designer Christmas decorations you’d find in a furniture showroom!

I was hoping to catch one of the free lunchtime gigs at the Melbourne Music Week hub, which this year was handily (but not very excitingly) based in the car park next to the St Paul’s Cathedral. There was an impressive stage with a large battery of speakers, a bar, and a food stall selling one type of sandwich(!), but it was very dead, and after a while of quiet waiting, a member of staff came to talk to all the little clustered groups of audience individually, explaining that the band had cancelled at the last minute and that they were ringing round trying to get someone to step in at zero notice! I didn’t have time to wait around to see if that strategy would work!

In the evening I caught up with my mum’s group friends. Although we keep up individually, since our kids have started at their 3 different schools, we haven’t managed to meet up regularly as a group. Our experiences of the ‘prep’ year have been surprisingly different and we cover the spectrum of parent/school involvement/non-involvement (I’m at the latter end of the scale, having only ever spoken to Maisie’s teacher twice, others were in the habit of consulting their class teacher daily!).

On a beautiful hot, clear and sunny Wednesday morning I joined Michele for her daily ‘Movember’ walk. She used to work for the men’s health charity, known for encouraging men to raise money by growing a sponsored ‘mo’’ (moustache) for November, and this year, took on their ‘move’ challenge – she set herself the goal of walking/cycling 400 kilometres in a month! The logistics (of finding time to fit in all that exercise) alone have been eye-wateringly challenging! We walked 10 kilometres down to Brighton and back, and then she had to get on the bike to top the mileage up.

Friday dawned murky and grey, but still very hot and unusually humid. Tommy and I met up with Moko and Liam for coffee at the MPavilion, and went on to the NGV Pool, which the boys had to themselves. As it’s an art installation we had to keep the running and splashing to minimum, which wasn’t always easy as they were very excited! We struggled to persuade Liam to leave, until Tommy said ‘I’ll help’ and waded back in, grabbed Liam by the hand and led him out of the water!

We had better luck with the free Melbourne Music Week lunchtime gig on Friday, a double bill of two very different bands. The first was the noise band ‘The Ocean Party’. A drummer and a saxophonist let rip over dense meshes of synth/guitar feedback. It was pretty full-on, but all of us stuck it out and there were no complaints from the boys (Tommy politely clapped at the end of each track). The following band, ‘Party Dozen’ were one of those rangy Melbourne pop bands, full of guitars and winds and random instruments. They were pleasant but not distinctive.

In the evening I went to see Greek film director Yorgios Lanthimos’ latest macabre slice of surrealism ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’. It was like a modern re-telling of a Greek legend, in that none of the characters had any agency – once their fate was decreed, they had to live it out in its full extended horror. The main protagonist is a respected surgeon, who is stalked/blackmailed by a dead patient’s son, who, it turns out, is some sort of angel of death. When he tells the surgeon that his children will become paralysed and slowly die (unless he makes a barbaric Faustian choice), that is what they do. It was atmospheric (the cinematography was particularly effective) and very bleak, with little in the way of Lanthimos’ signature absurdist humour.

On Saturday morning I took Maisie to a trial class with the Australian Girl’s Choir. They run singing classes for girls aged from 6 to 18, and the better (and older) ones get to perform in all sorts of glamorous, high profile gigs! The class Maisie went to was based around singing games, and she really enjoyed it. We have to decide whether we can be bothered to commit to taking her to a 9am class every Saturday!

At dusk, the light an ominous fiery pink (much later it poured with rain) I went up to the MPavilion to hear another free Melbourne Music Week gig. The premise was intriguing – the ‘Melbourne Drone Orchestra’ (a line-up of 14 electric guitars of various descriptions) had joined together with four Aboriginal didgeridoo players to create a drone soundscape tracing the history of Australia – from aboriginal origins via colonialism and reparation, and positing a hopeful future. The musicians were lined up around the sides of the round MPavilion amphitheatre, and I (along with a few brave others) sat in the middle of it all. The didgeridoos started and the sound was wonderful – the deep vibrations of the bass tone with all the percussive growls and clicks and rhythms of wind/water/bird song etc. within them. I’m not sure I’ve heard proper didgeridoo playing since I’ve lived in Australia, it was a real treat!

The guitars gradually joined the texture with their own low drones, building up textures and harmonics and controlled feedback, until the whole building was vibrating. It was an exciting, visceral feeling, like being in the middle of a huge machine (but I was glad of the free ear-plugs that they supplied, that kept things in the realm of pleasantly overwhelming, rather than painful!). At their noisiest, most screeching climax, the guitars cut out, and the didgeridoos came to the fore again. A couple of the players danced their traditional dances, of emu and kangaroo, they were graceful and cheeky. It was a lovely ending.

After the gig I walked up through Fed Square (where I enjoyed the newly erected ridiculously bling Christmas tree!), and caught the tram up to Brunswick where Bianca was celebrating her 30th birthday in a pub. It was a surprisingly civilised affair – we all sat round in a quiet pub dining room playing board games and discussing weird and wonderful musical projects and one girl’s sudden decision to sell up and move to Alice Springs!

I spent Sunday afternoon rehearsing for our forthcoming gamelan gig. I’m playing in Jeremy’s piece for 16 gender/gangsa, which is based on a repetitive cycle, with each round getting more dense harmonically, setting off all the crazy harmonics of the instruments, also Bianca’s pretty minimalist piece ‘Gamelan and tea-lights at dusk’ for piano, gender, flute and bass clarinet. Jeremy talked us through his concept for Margapati with brass fanfare – the brass play the part of a group of young bucks who come to a party, get rowdy and drunk, then pass out!

Week 265 – little fluffy clouds

Summer arrived in full force this week – we had long days of scorching heat and glaring blue skies scattered with little fluffs of white cloud which occasionally bubbled up into ominous anvils and led to the most spectacular lightning storms we’ve seen here in years (one of which dominated Saturday afternoon – flickering and crashing directly above us for almost 2 hours). The kids were both excited and scared (see Maisie’s picture!).

Some of the enforced indoor time led to creative endeavours – such as the car park and airport, pictured, that Tommy and Maisie made together!

I continued to curb my daily ambitions in an attempt to fully heal my back, but I did make it out to a couple of films. The first was ‘Brad’s Status’, by writer/director Mike White, whose recent sharp ensemble drama ‘Beatriz at Dinner’ I had enjoyed, but this was a misfire. A middle-aged man’s riff on social media, reputation and personal insecurity, it lacked the bite of (the similarly-themed) ‘Ingrid Goes West’, and veered wildly from acute observation to total inanity. Ben Stiller did his best as the utterly unlikeable titular character, and his relationship with his shy 17-year-old son was affectingly played, but a relentless (and largely redundant) voiceover stomped over every good moment in the film.

Thankfully, ‘The Teacher’, by the Czech directer Jan Hrebejk, was a different proposition entirely. Set in Bratislava in 1983 (and inspired by a true story), it was about a well-connected member of the communist hierarchy who passes herself off as a high school teacher. She glorifies the soviets in lessons, and swiftly (but subtly) introduces a regime of bullying and corruption which reaches far beyond the classroom and leads to one pupil trying to take her own life. The girl’s desperate parents want redress, as does the head-teacher, who covertly arranges a meeting of all the parents. But here the old hierarchy still dominates – the vocal collaborators/bullies cow the fearful majority, and it looks like nothing can ever change – but the film leaves us with some hope!

We spent most of the weekend down by the sea. St Kilda is suddenly in holiday mode, the sea busy with batches of trainee stand-up-paddle-boarders, sea-rescue drills, and the noisy engines of jet-skis and motorboats whizzing out of the marina…

…while the beach is crowded with clusters of bare-fleshed 20-somethings at various stages of inebriation/sunburn. A few of them had purchased this season’s must-have item – a giant animal-themed inflatable – there were flamingos and unicorns (and also giant slices of fruit toast and pizza!).

We popped down to the end of the pier to see how the penguins were doing in the heat, and were surprised to see a few of them out sunning themselves!

Maisie was thrilled to get in her first boogie board session of the season (there were zero waves though, it functioned more as a glorified float!).

We also spent some time hanging out with our lovely neighbours and their kids. In our stairwell of 6 flats (3 families, 3 mainly child-hating singles/couples) we have all the ages between 3 and 7 covered! Camille, the oldest, played teacher, getting all the kids to do their sums and teaching them dance routines. Tommy managed to side-step most of the work by maintaining his role as the dog.

In the late afternoon, at the peak of the heat, Rachel got out the water balloons and there ensued 20 minutes of incredibly loud and splashy chaos in our car park!

Week 264 – mirror maze and inflatable world

Continuing back pain rather narrowed my horizons this week (although a session with a local osteopath on Friday set me on the path to recovery). On Tuesday it was Melbourne Cup Day, a state (but not federal) holiday, so the kids were off school/childcare but Neil had to go to work!

It was a gloomy grey day, but we brightened it up with a trip to the Mirror Maze, an attraction set up for the Melbourne Festival, but retained for a few extra weeks due to its ongoing popularity. It was a hefty steel structure, made up of identical triangular-sized cells, each with one or more mirrored walls.

It was effective, and often hard to work out whether the people you could see were real or reflected, and sometimes it appeared that you were surrounded by a crowd when there were actually only 2 or 3 people around. Disappointingly (as it was pricey to get in!), Maisie found her way out in less than 5 minutes, so I had to persuade her to try retracing her steps and investigating the various dead ends. Tommy was a bit spooked, and keen to leave as soon as possible!

Afterwards we walked up the road to the ACMI cafe for cake and juice, and the kids were charmed by the archive footage they have loaded onto iPads at each table – there were kids on go-carts, old Moomba parades, amazing miniature trains (even I was impressed – these working steam engines were hardly bigger than Tommy’s toys, yet pulled carriages loaded with several people!) and vintage Grand Prix racing cars.

By the art gallery, the large concrete ‘anti terrorist’ blocks (they litter every central Melbourne street these days) had been inventively customised. I particularly liked an appliqued fabric representation of Ned Kelly, as portrayed by the artist Sidney Nolan (pictured)!

On Wednesday I took Tommy to the Children’s Hospital for a follow-up appointment regarding his knocked out teeth. They reassured me that all is fine for now, although there could have been some damage to his adult teeth, which will only become clear once they appear (in 3 years time). He certainly isn’t bothered at all by his big gummy gap! Before we left the hospital we went to visit their resident meerkats (they have more there than they do at the zoo). Tommy observed their behaviours closely, then pretended to be one for the rest of the afternoon.

We went for a play in the lovely playground next to the hospital, which was designed in collaboration with representatives of local aboriginal groups, and is full of trees, rocks and wood, balancing ropes, sand and water (as well as some fantastic slides).

Tommy had such fun pumping water and channelling it down pipes and through sluices. He also practised his meerkat moves (he is pictured as the sentry, perched on a high rock, darting his head round – he also dug in the sand with his front paws for insects, and lay on his back sunbathing).

On Saturday Maisie and Tommy were invited to Adrian’s birthday party. Rowena isn’t too excited about organising children’s parties, so (at Adrian’s insistence!)) had booked the kids into a fully catered session at ‘Inflatable World’, her least favourite indoor play-centre. In a dingy sports-hall in a small suburban industrial estate there was a giant bouncy castle. We arrived as they were inflating it, and Maisie and Tommy were awestruck! They had a fabulous time, and hoovered up the food provided – the whole party menu comprised chips, crisps, fairy bread, party pies, sausage rolls and mini-frankfurters! The cake was delicious though – a beautiful (and not too sweet) fresh strawberry and cream sponge, which Row had bought on the way to the party venue!

We hitched a lift back with Rowena and stopped off at the (Lebanese) Oasis Bakery, which lived up to its name on this particular day! It is also situated in a small industrial estate off a suburban trunk road, but there the similarity to Inflatable World ends! In the cafe I ordered tabouleh salad and juices and skewers of fragrantly spiced meats, and later stocked up on Mediterranean delicacies (tubs of babaganoush, olives, turkish breads, cheeses and freshly made falafels) in the deli. I think it has the most enticing stock of any non-Asian food shop in Melbourne!

On Sunday we were beginning to relax into a reasonably extended bout of warm settled weather. We walked along the coast to Elwood Beach for a lunchtime picnic, and the sea was incredibly still and clear, spanning myriad shades of brown, gold, turquoise, blue and green.

In the afternoon Neil took the kids down to St Kilda Beach, and I headed up to Thornbury for a gamelan rehearsal. In early December Gamelan DanAnda is presenting a concert of new works written for gamelan and western instruments, including traditional favourite Margapati with brass fanfare, and Jeremy’s piece for 8 gender wayang and 8 gender kebyar. We have Jeremy’s Balinese teacher Pak Yande coming over to lead it, open kecak and improvisation workshops, and a cool North Melbourne venue, so it should be exciting!  I caught up with several friends I haven’t seen in a while, including Bianca, who is always involved in weird and wonderful projects. She has just come back from Java, where she was learning to play an extraordinary folk instrument from a remote mountainous region which is part stringed instrument/part traditional duck-herders shelter!

Week 263 – fun before a fall

It wasn’t a typical Monday morning. I awoke in Sydney, with a view of the Opera House out of my window. And when I went out for a pre-breakfast stroll along the Harbour Bridge, under a bright white sun, the temperature was already 25 degrees!

I hadn’t walked under the black arches of the great rumbling stone and steel structure before and it wasn’t the most relaxing of experiences, despite the fabulous views across the bay. Pedestrians are caged in by high metal mesh fences laced with barbed wire, and every 100 yards or so a high-vis-vested security guard was on patrol.

It was lovely to look down on the blindingly sparkling morning waters from on high though, observing the busy city ferries and their tangle of white wakes, the variously-sized pleasure craft, the onboard activities on the latest cruise-liner, and it’s associated visiting vessels (tugs and refuelling tankers).

The glowing purple jacarandas on both shores put on a fine display too, and I enjoyed a close-up view of a striking brutalist concrete tower-block (which I’m sure will shortly be displaced by something blandly ‘modern’!).

I checked out of the hostel and walked across the Botanical Gardens, damp and sparkling after their morning’s irrigation. A large ‘living’ bee sculpture was effectively planted with purple and green succulents. In the rainforest section, a kookaburra had found an unlikely perch – on the top of a gardener’s step-ladder. An ibis was drinking from a pretty stone zigzag pond.

I went to the Gallery of New South Wales to see a retrospective of the work of the New York photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (who died of AIDS in the late 1980s). Known for his stark black-and-white images of suggestive flowers, gay fetishists, and 1970s/1980s New York scenesters, his work remains as challenging and beautiful as it did when it was first published.

I have seen exhibitions of his work before, but what struck me this time was his technical mastery and his coldly clinical eye. His studio portraits, immaculately-lit, often closely-cropped, are strong and striking, but impersonal, saying little about the subject (this becomes troubling when looking at his male nudes, who are presented as beautiful objects rather than people in their own right).

My favourite portraits were those of the musician/poet Patti Smith – who was Mapplethorpe’s muse for many years. The photos seem to be alive with her, presenting her ideal self to the world – and it was as an image-maker that Mapplethorpe excelled. I also loved a fun snap of a very young David Hockney (also a friend) and a haunting late portrait of a grieving Yoko Ono.

The fetish stuff was confronting, but here his technical expertise came to the fore – in all the immaculately rendered textures of leather, chains, different flesh tones etc. I wasn’t drawn to the menacingly sexy glassy flowers – I got a bit bored after looking at one or two of them!

I popped into another couple of interesting exhibitions. The first showcased work by ten contemporary Filipino artists. There were some beautiful, thoughtful, pieces included. The artist Renato Habulan had sculpted a series of processional crosses and staffs blending Catholic imagery with traditional totems. Noberto Roldan had constructed several atmospherically lit ‘domestic altars’, combining family trinkets and photographs and religious artefacts.

Nona Garcia, who had grown up in a small hospital run by her parents in Manila, was fascinated by x-ray imagery. In the work on show she had x-rayed a number of traditional Filipino ceremonial objects – they looked particularly strange and other-worldly presented in this way.

In one of the underground galleries was a four-room installation by the Australian artist Mikala Dwyer. She makes large and colourful, architecturally-inspired structures from glass and perspex, clay, chains and fabric, (I’d seen her big parachute-like tent, suspended by women’s stockings – pictured – in a previous exhibition). Suspended in the entrance foyer was a great cloud of silver helium balloons, which made for a very festive atmosphere!

I enjoyed an oversized charm bracelet suspended from a gallery wall (pictured) and an imposing ‘Stone Henge’-inspired circle of towers, made by various artists, in a variety of styles and materials. Also attractive were a series of bold abstract wall-hanging textiles inspired by religious gowns/altar cloths (featuring Masonic imagery and dollar signs).

I made the most of a last blast of heat in Hyde Park (the gauge was up to 35 degrees by this point) as I headed back to the train and the airport. It was just as well, as when I stepped out on to the puddly airport tarmac in Melbourne it was a chilly 14 degrees! Maisie had been busy making masks over the weekend.

I was struck with some kind of (divine?!) retribution on my return – perhaps as a punishment for having too much fun at the weekend! On Tuesday Tommy head-butted my face hard and gave me a spectacular black-eye (I was still having to hide it behind sunglasses the following Sunday to avoid strangers’ unwanted comments). And on Wednesday I tripped in the road, bloodied my knees and wrenched my back, which is still rather sore a week later.

So, the rest of the week was generally focussed on getting through each day without hurting myself further! After dosing myself up on painkillers, I escaped for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. I caught the tram up to the MPavilion where the Australian Art Orchestra were performing a series of solo electro-acoustic sets. First off was a trumpeter who did an impressive didgeridoo impression for 20 minutes – all circular breathing and clicks and drones, it was quite mesmeric. Less engaging was the following drum solo, pattering and arhythmic, with a few electronic filters used in a rather generalised way, it was pretty dull. But the sun was out, and I found a patch of grass on which to lie on my back and listen and relax, so it was all good!

Afterwards I headed up to the Cinema Nova to see ‘Ingrid goes West’, a deliciously funny black comedy about an Instagram stalker. Lonely Ingrid, whose beloved sick mother (for whom she had been the sole carer) has just died, lives a vivid online fantasy life with her Instagram ‘friends’. On receiving her sizeable inheritance she decides to gatecrash one of favourite ‘social media influencers’ lives for real, moving to LA and insinuating herself with Taylor Sloane, a sparky young Los Angeles trustafarian, who has no idea what she’s let herself in for. But Ingrid has reckoned without Taylor’s brother, a nasty chancer himself, who clocks her straight away and plots his own revenge.

Week 262 – 5 years in Aus

In the last week of October 5 years ago, Maisie, Neil and I moved to Melbourne. A lot has happened since then – most of it recorded in the thousands of words of this blog (I’ve never managed to keep a journal for so long in my life before)!

It was another chilly Spring week. On a dark grey Wednesday I met up for lunch with Cam, who was over from Sydney for a games developer conference. He and Anne-Marie have recently had a baby (who I was to meet later in the week) so, over bowls of spicy noodle salad at trendy south bank restaurant Bang Pop, we talked life-changing events and sleep deprivation.

On Thursday it was Tommy’s best mate Jack’s third birthday. Myomi had invited a few friends over to their house for morning tea – homemade party pies and the most spectacular train cake. She’d filled the hallway with helium balloons, and this was enough entertainment for the three-year-old boys who spent most of the time running around dragging them along on their long ribbons. Tommy loved his balloon so much that later on he took it to bed with him!

On Friday morning I flew to Sydney for a weekend of fun! The flight was through clear skies and I had a wonderful view of Lake Eildon in northern Victoria (see picture). As we descended over the Sydney suburbs, the streets were punctuated with splashes of vivid purple (all the jacarandas were in full bloom).

I caught the bus over to Bondi to see the annual ‘Sculptures by the Sea’ exhibition. For a couple of weeks each October, the coastal path between the Bondi and Tamarama beaches is dotted with a random assortment of large and small sculptures submitted by artists from countries around the world. It is an immensely popular event, so even on a blustery, often rainy, weekday afternoon, I was part of a long trail of eager art-tourists of all ages and nationalities!

The sun was shining as I arrived, but the wind was up (I always tend to get sandblasted when I go to Bondi!), and showers loomed on the horizon. The conditions were perfect for surfing – so if the sculptures got a bit boring, there was always an impressive surfing sideshow on offer!

A great metal robotic dragonfly/helicopter perched ominously on a cliff overlooking the Bondi surf, and an ornately patterned bronze rowing boat nestled amongst the rocks, whilst round the corner a couple of bedraggled pixellated concrete figures dragged themselves onto dry land. A large ship’s buoy was made in the form of a Claes Oldenburg-style hamburger. For a while I was followed by a darting (real!) willy wagtail.

A little cliff-top park was littered with assorted sculptures – cheek-by-jowl were big statements in weathered bronze, scorched hunks of wood, attractively shiny boldly-coloured resin circles, patterns of coloured pebbles, elongated ceramic faces emerging from the scrubby grass, and plenty of nondescript mirrored steel, glass and marble forms.

A few pieces stood out, including a flock of rearing skeletal horses, and a cloud of metal mesh dancing figures which vibrated in the wind. A small shed-based installation was effective too – the artist had made a large collection of manmade flotsam/jetsam and repackaged them, presenting them as artefacts for sale in a beach kiosk.

Back down on the coastal path I came across a green and gold Melbourne-liveried tram emerging from a cliff overhang, and various large chunks of swirling aquamarine glass – like pieces of the sea – but not the sea at that precise moment, which was grey and churning, and soon the rain swept in, draining all the colour out of the landscape!

It was at this point that I encountered a charming sculpture of two blue-sky painted men hugging. I think they were at their most effective in those particular conditions!

Fortunately (as there was absolutely no shelter) the shower passed relatively quickly. I stopped to listen to some old sailors’ oral histories emanating from another small wooden boat sculpture, and joined the appreciative crowd around a couple of Anthony-Gormley-style metal-framed surfers.

The final few pieces on the path around Tamarama bay were effective and a bit different. On a rocky promontory was a grove of wobbly jellyfish-like growths, made of blue and green plastic bottles, and a crowd of wire-framed terracotta figurines that were (on purpose) gradually collapsing in the wind and the rain.

On the sands of Tamarama beach there was an igloo-structure festooned with a shoal of colourful glass fish, and a mirror maze which captured beautiful reflections of the beach and breakers. Local elderly people had crocheted hundreds of yellow and red life-saving flags which were attached to an extra-tall lifeguard chair.

Best of all were the waves which kept building high and breaking into classic ‘tubes’. I’ve never really seen skilled surfers in action close to and it was exhilarating to see them leap on to their boards and ride the crests of the waves before disappearing into the foam.

In the early evening I made my way across town to the pretty ‘inner west’ suburb of Leichardt, where Louisa and Jeff now live, in a very neat and spacious modern townhouse. Little Emilia was already in bed, so we had time to catch up on the last six months of news and marvel how time has flown over our five years in the Antipodes (Louisa and Jeff moved over here a few months before we did). Louisa and I popped out to a local ‘hotel’ (i.e. bar!) to join Louisa’s great Aussie friend Justine, who is just about to do the opposite trip – migrating from Australia to London!

On a hazily bright and already hot Saturday morning I was up early to go for a run round Sydney harbour bay, heading down from my Rocks hostel to the new commercial towers and exclusive boutiques of Barangaroo, then along past the gentrified wharves, under the Harbour Bridge, past the day’s cruise ship (the Carnival Spirit – notable for it’s huge spiral deck-top water-slide) and round the peaceful edge of the Botanical Gardens.

Afterwards I caught Sydney’s one tram over to Louisa’s place. With a happily burbling Emilia in the pram (she never cries!) we wandered down to the waterfront, which is less dramatic amongst these inner west suburbs, a flat narrow meandering stretch of water full of moored pleasure-craft. Little parks skirt the bays and every one of them was full of picnicking families and childrens parties.

We walked up through the grounds of the old Sydney asylum, which until recently housed the Sydney School of Art. However, now developers have their greedy hands on it so the cluster of grandly dilapidated (and beautifully built) red/gold sandstone buildings surrounded by rolling meadows and clusters of purple jacarandas, which frame glimpses of the glowing blue bay, are living on borrowed time.

In the main complex, one of the lofty stone buildings is still (temporarily) an art gallery, which was showcasing several large and earnest installations. One was exploring the harmonic series by means of a monochord, another room was filled with a phallic tower and a bubbling pool of water with wafting bridal veils. There were colourful perspex screens, a dark room lined with twinkling complexly folded silver fabric, and a disconcerting video piece where a shifty, menacing man stared right at you, opening his mouth as if he were about to say something but staying silent! In a room off a nearby mews, an effective sensory piece wafted out the scents of Chinese spices.

We stopped for lunch at a friendly whole-food cafe (the staff went wild for Emilia, who was obligingly cute!). I had a salad with with ‘activated cashew-nut’ crackers which were very crunchy and tasty!

Our route round the coast towards Balmain took us past Sydney’s oldest sea-baths, which looked quite inviting, but were closed. Many of the neighbourhood houses were done up for halloween, front hedges swathed in fake cobwebs, skulls in windows, spiders and skeletons dangling from verandas. One bungalow was elaborately made up in a tangled maze of bloody ‘do not cross’ tape. Very few people had attempted anything home-made – there was a disappointing lack of pumpkin lanterns!

From Balmain we caught the ferry over to Barangaroo and walked round Darling Harbour, where the shabby-looking bars and attractions still draw huge crowds. I popped into a little exhibition at the Maritime Museum about container shipping and learnt lots of interesting facts, such as who owns the most ships (Greece) and where most of the sailors come from (China), and the tonnage of the latest super-ships (214k gross tonnage – over 20,000 containers).

In the evening I went over to Redfern to see a show at the Carriageworks arts centre. They were holding a festival of ‘experimental art’, which encompassed many different types of performance. In the gallery space there were videos of dancers mimicking the shapes of growing shoots (it brought to mind school creative movement classes!) and a shocking film of young American guys with big-busted bikini models in the desert shooting down flocks of drones with automatic rifles. While it was playing, the artist recited a litany of people’s online reactions to the (real) piece of footage.

In another large hangar-like space, a 12-hour party/queer performance showcase was in full swing. Someone leaving it slipped me a wristband and I went in briefly and enjoyed a couple of very different acts. One was a very polished traditional Gloria-Gaynor-style lip-sync act, another was a trio of dancers dressed as muppet monsters who took part in a hilarious disco seduction scene.

Nicole joined me at this point, and we had a drink in the bar full of spectacularly-haired/clad/tattooed queer performers, and caught up on all the fascinating things happening in her life (including her new drag king act, and her recent brushes with cult members!). We then went in to the show I had booked for, entitled ‘Ringo’, which was an hour-long live art/sound installation by the Japanese artist Tetsuya Umeda. It was a magical experience. The blurb stated that his work ‘captures the moments when ordinary and extraordinary collide’, and that was a very good description.

The audience sat on the floor around his darkened performance space, which was littered with various glass objects, small camp-stoves, buckets of water, tins and light-bulbs and plastic bottles, and lots of snaking electric wires. He proceeded to quietly embark on a series of live experiments with electricity, water and dry ice. He heated and froze a metal bottle which imploded with a loud pop, and filled a champagne bottle with dry ice – he then anchored it under a metal bucket and left it there, the audience bracing themselves for the huge bang it emitted when the cork finally exploded out (some time later!).

He boiled water in billy-cans and the steam was funnelled through old wine-bottles which droned like organ pipes, and he put an electric light-bulb in a huge glass bowl which he gradually filled with water. Everything was lit with tiny spotlights sending dancing shadows around the room and also miked up, so there was always the sound of electrical pops and dripping bottles, and the fizz of the dry ice, and sometimes there was some singing and growling, emitting from a large loud-hailer in the corner which seemed to be wired up to an iPhone (at the end he said ‘meet my son’ – it had been his infant son who had been adding his sounds to the installation live from his home in Japan!).

We met up with Louisa after the performance and went to eat at ‘Misfits’, one of Redfern’s newest restaurants. The food was wonderful – crispy/melt-in-the-mouth blue cheese polenta chips with hazelnut chutney, followed by tender octopus tentacles with a fragrant salad, and an unusual coconut/lychee/sago/popcorn dessert. Louisa said her dish of snapper was the best fish dish she’d ever eaten!

On Sunday, after breakfast on the hostel’s rooftop terrace (see picture!) I walked round the corner to Observatory Hill to see an installation in the garden’s rotunda. Entitled ‘The Last Resort’, it was created by the Albanian artist Anri Sala.

He had suspended 38 side-drums from the ceiling of the rotunda. Within each was a speaker playing a doctored version of a Mozart clarinet concerto (the original tempos had been altered – mapped to a record of sailing ship wind speeds made by a C19th Australian settler). The loosely attached drum-sticks bounced on the vibrating heads, also reacting to passing breezes, setting up a complex (but quiet) battery alongside the recorded classical sounds. It was very pleasant!

I caught the train over to Marrickville to visit Cam and Anne-Marie and to meet three-month-old Sebastian who was very cute but often effected a most disgruntled-looking frown (apart from when daddy made faces at him, at which point he giggled away!).

We went out for a pub lunch (halloumi burgers!) and wandered round the delightfully hippyish Marrickville Sunday market, catching a snatch of fabulous mariachi music before the band sat down to eat their lunch.

Cam and I went on a car mission into town to purchase a ridiculous wedding gift (a very large inflatable peacock beach float!), and we enjoyed the delicious warmth of the late afternoon sitting out on their veranda shaded by gloriously flowering trees, palms and tree-ferns. As the sun set and the mozzies came out in force, we ate yet more delicious food – this from one of their local Vietnamese takeaways (the suburb is known for them!) – crispy salad pancakes and deep-fried aubergine were highlights.

I went up to the hostel roof before bed – the cruise ships had departed so there was a clear wide view of the twinkling lights of the bay. But there were also rather a lot of large red cockroaches (loving the late night heat) scuttling around so I didn’t hang out for long!

Week 261 – a glimpse of summer

The week started hot. Monday morning bootcamp was on the beach – lots of sprinting on the sand, sometimes having to push each other along while we ran. It was all a bit too full-on for me! Tommy made friends with a fellow scooting fiend at the skate park, and some older pro skateboarders offered me a spare board to try out but I didn’t feel up to totally embarrassing/injuring myself!

After school on Tuesday, with temperatures almost hitting 30 degrees, Tommy, Maisie and I met up with Myomi, Jack and Christopher for a picnic tea by the sea. Everyone in the city had the same idea, and our little strip of St Kilda beach had suddenly turned into the Costa del Sol, heaving with parties of sun-baking, beer-drinking youngsters. Slightly less busy was the ‘dog’ section of the beach, and the children were thrilled to splash in the waves with the local canines. They spent over an hour wading around the (extensive) shallows, building wet sand-baths, finding starfish, throwing water at each other and trailing their favourite dogs to the far end of the shore. Ben brought fish and chips which we all devoured as the sun started sinking in the sky. It was a lovely way to end the day, hopefully one we can repeat many times as summer settles in!

It was similarly sweltering on Wednesday too, and the children were invited round to Jasper’s tiny backyard where they had just as much fun rampaging around in a tiny paddling pool as they had done in the sea (the chaos and potential for mishap was much higher though!). Neil arrived home in the early hours of Thursday morning after his successful brief trip to Sweden. The teacher-conference he had spoken at was full of left-field presentations including a rousing musical performance by a band of home-made instruments and a live display of ‘sh*t robots’!

On Friday, a much cooler day, Tommy and I went to the zoo. This time he was keen to visit the frogs first. He has a set of tiny plastic frogs (thank you, Anna B!) that he loves to play with every day (some of them represent members of our family, others are taxi and train drivers), and he decided to bring one of them along to meet the real thing. The frog pictured (in small and large versions) is the rare Southern Corroboree Frog.

We also spent some time with the reptiles. The snakes were particularly active, lithely slithering round their territories, it was rather unnerving. Even the lizards kept changing their position if you took your eye off them for a minute!

We saw the prowling wild dogs (Tommy identifies as a dog currently, so spent some time barking at them – they mainly ignored him!), and the three new lions who were wrestling with what appeared to be a giant candy-striped ice-lolly wrapped round a great meat-bone (we later learnt that it was their ‘birthday cake’ as they were celebrating their third birthday that day!).

Tommy braved the butterfly enclosure, and seemed to have conquered his fear of them, even wanting them to land on him. His closest attention though was reserved for the monkeys – the gibbons, spider-monkeys and orang-utans. The baby orang-utan, romping around inside and out of a large cloth bag, making a cubby (which was then appropriated by his mother), doing forward rolls and generally swinging about playfully had Tommy screaming with laughter! The giraffe was busy demolishing a pleasant green section of his enclosure’s landscaping, rather than going for the official feeding station!

On Saturday Neil’s UK friend John P, over in Melbourne (from the UK) for a week’s academic work, came to meet us for breakfast in St Kilda. The kids were pretty feral in the cafe, but I managed to enjoy an imaginative dish of french toast served with poached figs, blackcurrant coulis, crumbs of caramel and a dollop of cinnamon ice-cream.

Later on we caught the tram up to Fitzroy to check out the new Freitag bag shop (Australia’s first – we were pretty excited as our loyalty to this brand is excessive!), and also to see the latest exhibition at CCP. Entitled ‘Anunorthodoxflowofimages’ it was a brief and partial survey of the history of photography, with the unlabelled images themed by subject rather than date.

The earliest photos were at the beginning – these were fuzzy sepia snaps of members of the Kelly Gang, which were juxtaposed with an image of the 2014 siege of Sydney’s Lindt cafe. A sequence of interior shots included a masterly composition of shape and shadow by Kertesz. Maisie was intrigued by the Eames film ‘Powers of Ten’ (where they explore the ‘relative scale of the universe’) and a holographic image of the Earth. Salt (mines) followed and water – athletic Australian divers and First Peoples in their fishing boats.

A section on the human body juxtaposed figures naked and clothed, veiled, obscured, fractured and absent. Absence was also captured strikingly in Michael Cook’s photo commemorating the Stolen Generations. In ‘Mother – Pram’, a well-dressed Aboriginal woman pushes a broken pram down a desert highway. A section on surveillance/protest/colonialism followed which moved on to museums, then fragments of statues.

Next to an image of a severed Roman stone hand was an evocative faded yellow-green image of an aeroplane interior – a detail of a hand stirring a cocktail on a foldable table next to a window. It was one of my favourite images – so I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was a photo by the wonderful US photographer William Eggleston! Other classics included a print of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s montages of gravel plants (Maisie was fascinated by these quirkily shaped structures, which we decided to try and replicate in Lego on our return home), and the final piece, Francis Alys’ charming video of him walking round (London’s) Fitzroy Square ‘playing’ the railings with a stick. Tommy watched this over and over again!

In the evening Neil and I went to the Arts Centre to see the Melbourne International Festival’s centrepiece event (the one featured on all the publicity banners and flags – see picture!). It was a performance of ‘Tree of Codes’, a piece devised for the 2015 Manchester International Festival by the choreographer Wayne McGregor, the artist Olafur Eliasson and the musician Jamie XX.

It was visually stunning from the outset – the first sequence was performed on a pitch-black stage, the dancers clad in ‘motion-capture’-style suits, their limbs picked out in tiny lights that flickered and described arcs of light like darting fireflies, as they moved. This was followed by a beautiful effect where, still on the darkened stage, the dancers held brightly internally-lit mirrored funnels (the shape and size of old gramophone horns) through which they threaded their hands, creating a dance of a thousand digits.

The complete figures of the dancers, in flesh-coloured briefs, were revealed in the next sequence where configurations of two or three or lone dancers made shapes against an entirely mirrored backdrop. A Michael-Nyman-esque string orchestral gradually morphed into a big techno-beat rave, and the small isolated movements conjoined into a powerful unison. I particularly enjoyed these unison sections as they demonstrated how exquisitely the ensemble worked together (something you rarely see here!).

A series of duets/trios followed, showcasing the dancers own particular physical styles. I enjoyed a duet between a sinuously powerful female dancer and her supporting male partner, and later the juxtaposition of two partner dances, demonstrating very different power dynamics – which took place on two sides of a glittering perspex screen (the backdrop at this point creating infinite reflections). When a lone male dancer leapt across the front of the stage he was illuminated in purple and green – an extraordinary effect as there was no light bleed around him.

McGregor works with both contemporary and ballet dancers, and here he employed both (from his own UK-based company, and the Paris Opera-Ballet). Some of the sections used female ballet dancers on pointe alongside their barefoot counterparts, exploring the differences between balletic/contemporary dance movements (inevitably showcasing the glorious super-human spin of the dancer on pointe). Sometimes (perhaps intentionally, although it happened more often than not) the visuals threatened to overwhelm the performers, as in the finale when two great crimson perspex discs emerged from the front screen and spun slowly around, dwarfing the caged dancers who were frenetically rushing around below. The effect was stunning, but it the spectacle lessened the emotional impact that the dancers’ exquisitely executed moves should perhaps have inspired!

On our way back home we popped across the road to the MPavilion which is very prettily lit at night!