Ballet for breakfast, lunch… and more

Ballet for breakfast, lunch… and more

Today is World Ballet Day, a remarkable online collaboration of ballet companies around the world. Since 3am this morning the Royal Ballet’s free Youtube channel has been relaying rehearsal footage, interviews and more from The Australian Ballet and now we’re in Moscow with the Bolshoi (above). The virtual baton is handed to Covent Garden at 11 this morning. I would love to spend all day watching but real life means that I can only drop in and out occasionally, as you’ll see below….

7.20am: We’re in one of the rehearsal rooms of the Bolshoi, and artistic director Sergey Flin is offering a whispered commentary – but in Russian. Although now this is being interpreted and contextualised in voice-over. The images and sound are excellent, and my domestic broadband is only “hanging” very occasionally. There’s immediately an impressive sense of being invited in on a process which is all the more immediate and interesting because it’s not being structured and mediated by the expectations of television.

7.35am: Alongside the video stream there is a lively chat channel with a mix of informed commentary from watchers along with queries and gossip.

7.45am: Some of the dancers are offering brief interview comments between their exercises. The Royal Opera house Youtube page says that around 770 people are watching, although I’m not clear if this is the number viewing through this page (and others are accessing it in other ways) or if this is the total number internationally. At least it will provide a benchmark to see how the figures rise and fall through the day.

8.30am: A rehearsal with just two star dancers now, and some very elegant camerawork which allows us both to see the ballet master and, reflected in a huge mirror behind him, the dancers. Now an interview with principal dancer Svetlana Zhakarova (in Russian again), who we have just watched rehearsing – and she is engagingly out of breath. On then to principal dancer Denis Rodkin.

8.35am: On to a ‘bauprobe’, which I learn is a kind of showing of the full-scale set on the stage. So we get to see what the main house looks like from the stage – and we have (basic) sub-titles here – although at times they obscure vital parts of the image. Bit of an artistic disagreement about whether or not they can have water on the stage. Around 840 watching now.

8.50am: An onstage rehearsal, and the dancers aren’t ready – the choreographer Grigarovich is not happy, and is shouting at the stage. Maybe they prepped this to add a bit of drama, but I don’t think so. It feels very spontaneous – and not quite controlled. The stage rehearsal begins, with orchestra, of A Legend of Love. At times the camera cuts away to the poker-faced choreographer.

8.55am: This is really impressive – remarkable access, a big orchestra, exceptional shots of stage, house, pit. But I *have* to do some other things. Back later, and certainly to catch some of ROH after 11am.

12.35pm Back now with ROH and a rehearsal class. Immaculate sound and pictures – and more than 2,300 watching now. The dancers break and are being interviewed – thoughtful, engaging – I just wish I could spend all day watching.

12.47pm: Oh! Rehearsal run-through of a pas-de-deux from MacMillan’s Manon. Main camera on a small crane so we are above the two (astounding) dancers. Very beautiful.

12.50pm: Somehow it’s made all the more thrilling by being just a reharsal room piano and hearing the comments of the répétiteur watching. Comments too from Director, Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare. The 2,545 viewers – not to mention me – really are getting a treat. I don’t think anything else I’ve seen – in documentaries or wherever – has got me this close to the rehearsal process of a ballet.

13.08pm Lots of fan love in the chat channel, which is adding its own level of fun. The two dancers, Nela and Federico, are being interviewed now. Federico signs off with a plug for the cinema broadcast of Manon on 16 October. I’m off to book my tickets now.

13.13pm Wayne McGregor now talking about his new collaboration on a piece about Virginia Woolf. “Who was Virginia Woolf?” asks our host. Not sure if the interested audience online really needs that. Followed by terrific montage of extracts from Wayne’s work: Chroma and Infra.

13.21 Composer Jody Talbot in a video package talking us through the composition of the score for Alice. Choreographer Chris Wheeldon in interview too, as well as designer Bob Crowley. Plus dancers Edward Watson and Sarah Lamb. Very nice, elegant film.

13.27 Bit of a sound snafu there as we go into Cassandra rehearsal. Still don’t think we’ve quite got the choreographer on a good mic. But I have to drag myself away and do some other writing. Overall, I am most impressed. Bravo, Royal Ballet!

One we made earlier…

One we made earlier…

Click on the title to go to 30 Years of The Turner Prize, a 3-minute film that we put together last week for Tate and the Guardian. It’s also showing alongside the Turner Prize 2014 exhibition which opens at Tate Britain today. From 1993 to 2005 we produced Channel 4′s coverage of the prize and this new short features quite a bit of our archive from those years, with appearances from Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Grayson Perry and others. Enjoy!

Glad-to-be-back links

Glad-to-be-back links

Apologies for our problems with malware over the past ten days or so. Believe me, we are very happy to be back – and we feel confident that we’re free of problems now. So to celebrate here is a list of interesting recent links. As before, I apologise in advance for not crediting the sources of the ones I picked up from others – but do feel free to appropriate any of these.

Here’s why The New York Times‘ television criticism is so bad: Anne Helen Petersen for Buzzfeed - so good.

Scandals of Classic Hollywood – the long suicide of Montgomery Clift: meanwhile, here’s a terrific extract courtesy of Vanity Fair from Anne Helen Petersen’s new book.

• Eyes of Hitchcock: a hypnotic short video essay from ::konogawa and Criterion Collection

Eyes of Hitchcock from Criterion Collection on Vimeo.
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Back to the future

Back to the future

Picturegoing is a splendid online resource compiled and curated by the estimable Luke McKernan, who also runs another richly interesting blog under his own name and in his spare time is the British Library’s Lead Curator, News and Moving Image. ‘An ongoing survey,’ is how Picturehouse describes itself, ‘reproducing eyewitness testimony of viewing pictures, from the seventeenth century to the present day.’ So here you will find Alfred Hitchcock recalling a virtual railway journey around 1910, the novelist Dorothy Richardson at an early talkie, and The Drifters ‘Kissin’ in the Back Row’ in a song written by  Tony Macaulay and Roger Greenaway. Luke reproduces the diary entry, recollection, song or whatever and adds a minimal but always revealing annotation. The earliest entry is from The Diary of Samuel Pepys with its account of a magic lantern show, and now one of the most recent is my own note first published on this blog of seeing The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD for the first time.

I am delighted that Luke requested permission to include this brief account from 26 February 2007, but as is always the case I was slightly nervous at re-reading something I wrote some years back. In fact, I was pleased to see that the prose is serviceable and that the historical context I sketched seems correct. Moreover, my sense of the significance of the occasion -’On Saturday night I saw (and heard) the future of arts programmes’ - has been borne out by the success of The Met’s project, by NT Live and by the RSC’s Live from Stratford-upon-Avon, which I now produce. (Next up is The Two Gentlemen of Verona on Wednesday 3 September – we ran the first camera rehearsal yesterday, and it is a wonderfully engaging and enjoyable show.)

From the start the brief for Picturegoing has taken in accounts of pre-cinema entertainments along with the movies after 1895, and now Luke hopes to extend the range to feature other media related to the cinema. In particular, he want to include further responses to this hybrid form that combines theatre and cinema and that, as he correctly notes, currently goes by a host of names including ‘streamed theatre, live-streamed theatre, live-to-cinema, simulcasts, live theatre and live cinema’. I look forward to Picturegoing offering me further virtual trips to the cinema in its myriad of manifestations.

Ghosts of Richards past

Ghosts of Richards past

To Middleham Castle on Saturday evening for a unique ‘performed screening’ of a 1911 silent film version of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Sited in the glorious Yorkshire dales, the impressive castle, now in the care of English Heritage, is strongly associated with time spent there by the late medieval monarch. The film was Frank Benson’s production from his own staging, in which he stars as the wicked king, and which was shot on the stage of Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The occasion was a presentation by Silents Now, a group led by Professor Judith Buchanan and based at the University of York, which is dedicated to exploring new ways of bringing audiences to films made before the coming of sound. And the ‘performed’ element was the contribution of the incomparable John Sweeney at the piano and a group of actors who contributed the verse, together with vivid sound effects, in perfect synchronicity with the flickering images. Nestled inside the ruined, spotlit keep and huddled with my family against the cold, I found it rather magical and rather marvellous.
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Sunday links

Sunday links

After a (rather wonderful) week in Yorkshire I feel connected again – our house had no wi-fi and the 3G felt more like 0.0003G for much of the time. So it’s back to the Links, which are now presented in a stripped-down form (you’ll note I have taken that explanation out of the title) and lacking credits where they have been recommended to me by someone else. Apologies for the latter omission, but – as I have discovered previously – if I try to do that properly I never complete these posts – nor anything else in my life. So these are simply things I have found useful, engaging, compelling and enriching over the past fortnight or so.

Zip, zero, zeitgeist: David Bordwell as good as ever, reflects on the absurdities of reflectionism.

The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan, review – ‘a fine, packed volume’: Kazan (that’s him above) is an endlessly interesting figure, and for the Telegraph Philip Horne welcomes an edited volume of his letters.

What hurt feelings – the untold story of the 31-year battle over Flashdance: Soraya Roberts at BuzzFeed on a cautionary and compelling tale from the 1980s.


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Standing up for the selfie

Standing up for the selfie

Only rarely does writing about the arts really rile me. But today I read two pieces on the same topic that I regard as nostalgic, ignorant and elitist twaddle. The topic is the relaxation of the ban on photography for personal use at the National Gallery. The twaddle comes from Sarah Crompton, arts editor of the Telegraph, and from Michael Savage who blogs as Grumpy Art Historian (and who also has other issues with the gallery). In their respective articles Why you shouldn’t take photos in galleries and Trivialising the National Gallery, both express the view that permitting people to take photographs of great paintings that they own (if, that is, they are UK citizens) is a Bad Thing. I want instead to suggest that what is Bad about all of this is the exclusive and patronising attitudes both writers display towards the rest of us.
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Sunday links stripped-down

Sunday links stripped-down

It’s our boy Ben’s 21st birthday today, and we have had an excellent party in Whitstable. This morning’s links have now been added to, with – as before – apologies for not properly crediting those who highlighted for me many of the below.

True Detective‘s Nic Pizzolato on season 2, ‘stupid criticism’ and rumors of on-set drama: Lacey Rose’s cover story for The Hollywood Reporter is a great read.

Hollywood theatrical issues – past, present, and future: Eric Hoyt discusses his new book Hollywood Vault: Film Libraries before Home Video - with added moving images.

Hitch’s ‘favourite stooge’: Philip French in the TLS on a life of scriptwriter Charles Bennett.

The Big Chill – these are your parents: writer and filmmaker Lena Dunham at Criterion on the people in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 movie.

Heinz Emigholz – building in time: from Sight & Sound, Aaron Cutler on film, photography, modernism and architecture, as seen by the German filmmaker.

The Tate affair – then and now: thoughts on the 1950s and now from Rosalind Mckever at Apollo.

Museum under fire for selling its art: the problems of the Delaware Art Museum, reported by Deborah Solomon for The New York Times.

The swimming pool, symbol of Southern California, takes a dip: an engaging short article by Christopher Hawthorne for the Los Angeles Times.

A raised voice: Claudia Roth Pierpoint on Nina Simone, from The New Yorker.

A message from the Amazon books team: really interesting, and an important issue.

Penguin’s new cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – securing the image, securing the female child: Jessica Sage posts on the blog for the Feminist & Women’s Studies Association.

The costly business of photo book publishing: the economics analysed by Kris Wilton at Photo District News.

Photographer Garry Winogrand captured America as it split wide open: Jerry Saltz for New York Magazine on a Met show that I would dearly love to see.

The Nether: Holger Syme contributes to the debate.

Clickhole or die – the fight over ‘sponsored content’ is 150 years old: Matt Novak at Paleofuture.

Shining a light into the BBC radio archives: ‘How to process very large archives cheaply, quickly and at scale.

The hi-tech mess of higher education: a piece for The New York Review of Books by David Bromwich prompted by the documentary Ivory Tower.

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War centenary?: a very useful round-up of activities from Luke McKernan.

Stratford, the Shakespeare revival and World War 1: a lovely post by Sylvia Morris at The Shakespeare blog, which is where the detail above of an image of Morris dancing on the Avon comes from.

Academics fear for Warburg Institute’s London library, saved from the Nazis: this is important, as Maev Kennedy reports for the Guardian.

A pound here, a pound there: David Runciman on gambling, from the London Review of Books.

• The return of coach Lasso: NBC’s new promotional spot with Jason Sudeikis for their Premiership coverage – silly, but very funny:

Lord K, once more

Lord K, once more

The Tate Britain exhibition Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation closes tomorrow, Sunday 10 August. I remain thrilled to have contributed to this by curating the television extracts and writing a catalogue essay about the television programmes that Clark made for ATV between 1958 and 1966. To mark the end of this fascinating – and beautiful – display (curated by Chris Stephens and John-Paul Stonard) about a profoundly influential figure in twentieth century culture I am republishing an expanded version of a blog post that rounds up reactions to the show.
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Mirror magic with Mobilux

Mirror magic with Mobilux

Following up my post about BBC Television’s 1952 experiment in abstract art, I came across a fascinating piece about the special effects system that, in its earliest form, was the inspiration of the programme. When the BBC producer Christian Simpson first met John Hoppé in 1952, the latter’s technique for projecting abstract moving images lacked a name. But less than a decade later, as a September 1960 article in Popular Mechanics shows, the process was called Mobilux and it was being used for special effects in American television. The image above is a detail from one of the photographs accompanying the piece (reproduced below); the caption reads:

Here the Hoppes co-operate, John on the head and arms, Dotte on the feet, and the result is a very realistically animated image, without the time and expense of animation, but with infinite flexibility of action.


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