Recently in Ballet, Film & Theatre Category

08.05.13 Synaesthetic 'Jewels' 124x120 031a.jpg The Balanchine ballet Jewels, premiered in 1967, was this genre's first three-act abstract work. Connecting the parts only through the artifice of contrasting gem colours - emeralds and the music of Faure, rubies with Stravinsky and finally diamonds, set in gold and white and silver to the rich tones of Tchaikovsky. This great performance art is synaesthesia in action, a gorgeous blending of colour, sound and movement which sometimes overwhelmed my own senses and occasionally did not.

Seeing Jewels performed this week by the Kirov Ballet at The Lowry, I was struck by how particular are the individual perceptions of synaesthetes.

Comparing performances
Having had the extraordinary good fortune also to have seen the Kirov Ballet, again with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, in the New York City Center just a month ago, I could compare my response to their performance then of shorter pieces and narrative ballet - Fokine's Le Spectre de la Rose, the exquisitely danced Dying Swan and Chopiniana - with that of the Lowry 'abstract' Jewels ballet programme.

These previous pieces had a logic and formulation quite independent of my own. Only when I was presented in The Lowry with the overt conjunction of colour, sound and movement for its own sake did I become aware yet again of my life-long synaesthetic tendency.

One-off perceptions
Put simply, I can immerse myself in a ballet story according to someone else's prescription. The creator of the dance has the floor.

But when confronted with another's interpretation of what sounds 'look like' and how music 'moves', I'm at a bit of a loss to understand how the colours and jemstones were selected. Faure is not emerald, he's citrine and alexandrite; Stravinsky is indeed quite ruby, but with deep-toned garnet, and his undertone is a fierce andesine-labradorite, not creamy gold; and whilst I can cope with Tschaikovsky as diamond, gold and silver, I'd rather he were the bluest sapphire and Brazilian tourmaline.

All of which tells us nothing, except this: synaethesia is an individual thing, and it's quite involuntary.

For me, this aesthetic confusion is just quite an interesting aspect of my perception, when I have occasion to notice it (most of the time, it's just too much part of my daily experience to be aware of). But for some few very gifted people it's obviously a central and compelling force in their lives.

... and creativity
I dare say Balanchine was a synaesthete; how else could he have dreamt up Jewels?

The multi-sensory neural wiring of synaesthesia, though probably less unusual than was first thought, can be challenging on occasion. Nonetheless it's surely a blessing for us all, not least when it results in the creation of performances which exist solely to celebrate art forms for their own sake.

Sometimes it's good - in our various and individual ways - to see art just as art.

HOTFOOT(small) orange 2005 027.jpgThe National Museum of the Performing Arts closed 'for good' yesterday. This is a disaster for London (where it has had its home, in Covent Garden) and for the whole of the U.K. If the Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum - in whose 'care' the Theatre Museum resides - cannot maintain the collection as an entity, perhaps the Theatre Museum should pass to those who can do better? The Chair of the V & A has close Merseyside connections; why not re-open the Theatre Museum in Liverpool?

No-one believed it could happen, but the announcement has been made - the National Museum of the Performing Arts in Covent Garden, London, closed yesterday (Sunday 7 January 2007) because the Trustees decided they couldn't commit further resources to the venue. This is despite the description of the Museum by its own Trustees, the Victoria and Albert Museum Board, as a 'world-class collection'.

The protests of people as diverse as Alan Ackbourne, Judi Dench (Guardians of the Theatre Museum) and Ken Livingstone have, it seems, had no effect. Somehow, the performing arts are not compelling to the Museum Trustees. Apparently there is to be a website and some collections are to be shown at the V & A in Kensington in 2009, but basically that's it. Just at the time when London is preparing to host the 2012 Olympics, and when Covent Garden can never have been a more popular visitor attraction, the doors have closed. Firmly.

Nonetheless, after the experience we as CAMPAM had in the late 1980s / 1990s of 'resurrecting' the Liverpool Everyman - which actually went dark - and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (which just about clung on) I don't think anyone should give up all hope yet.

So come to Liverpool
I have already suggested that, if Londoners really don't want their Theatre Museum, it should come to Liverpool. Here, up North, we're preparing for an event even more imminent than the Olympics. 2007 is Liverpool's 800th Anniversary, and 2008, as everyone knows, will be our year as European Capital of Culture. The arguments for Liverpool taking this venture on have already been rehearsed; and I have been assured (though I await the evidence) that the City Council is considering things, as, one gathers from recent Minutes of the V & A Board, are the NWDA and Blackpool Council.

In the meantime, though, there is one other interesting aspect of this strange situation: The Chair of the V & A is Paula Ridley, a person with strong connections on Merseyside. It would be fascinating to know her view of the proposition that the Theatre Museum come to Liverpool.

Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

Mount Street river vista (small) 06.10.1 078.jpg Sefton Council says Antony Gormley's Iron Men may soon leave Crosby Beach. The national Theatre Museum, which it has been mooted should come to Liverpool, has yet even to be considered by the City Council. Where's the cultural leadership and vision which could mark Merseyside as a fascinating place to visit?

Here we go again. The cultural drag, if I may call it that, which afflicts so many places is once more theatening to relegate our sub-region to the 'might have beens', a place which could have been braver and better.

In just one evening last week (on Wednesday 18th October '06) Liverpool City Council took the extraordinary decision not even to discuss a motion about how the city might acquire the national Theatre Museum, whilst on the same evening Sefton Council voted not to keep Antony Gormley's one hundred Iron Men on Crosby Beach.

There is a real danger that we on Merseyside will end up looking as though the last thing we want is to support culture, just at the time when the mantle of European Capital of Culture is about to be ours.

Time is short
The Daily Post and others have already started a campaign to reverse the Gormley statues decision, with some success already. It is now necessary for others to ensure that Liverpool Council does the same, and makes a real effort to bring the national Theatre Museum to Merseyside .... of, if they can't, for someone esle to do so The benefits of doing this are clear and have already been discussed on this website.

The reputation of Liverpool and Merseyside in 2007/8 rests on imaginative and forward-looking leadership and real vision in culture and the arts. It's time everyone in Merseyside pulled together on this.

Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

Theatre Museum (small) CIMG0748.JPG Sometimes things move quickly. The proposal to bring the national Theatre Museum to Liverpool when it closes in London seems to be one of these times. Just ten days after being mooted on this website, a proposal to take action will be debated tonight by City Councillors in Liverpool Town Hall.

The idea of the national Theatre Museum (the National Museum of the Performing Arts) coming to Liverpool took a step forward this morning, when the proposal first posted here ten days ago appeared as an article in today's Daily Post.

TownHallCIMG0770.JPG Liverpool City Councillors Joe Anderson, Paul Brant and Steve Munby (Labour) will this evening put a motion entitled NATIONAL THEATRE MUSEUM to full Council, proposing that:

Council notes that the national collection of performing arts memorabilia, at the Theatre Museum in London, part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, is to be dispersed when the Theatre is closed in January 2007.

Council calls on the Leader to explore the possibility of bringing it to Liverpool to develop as a special national element of our celebrations in 2007 and 2008? Liverpool has a great tradition of theatre, opera and the performing arts in this city, and the V&A could open the revived exhibition as a 'V&A in the North', as the Tate has done with Tate Liverpool.

To the national exhibition we could explore adding the archives of our own theatres, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society's archive and the history of Hope Street, Liverpool's performing arts quarter.

Progress indeed
I am very hopeful that the motion will be carried with cross-party agreement, since Cllr Mike Storey (Liberal Democrat), Liverpool's executive member for special initiatives, has told the Daily Post that he would support examining such a move for the Theatre Museum collection, and Cllr Steve Radford (Liberal Party) has also indicated his general support to me.

This is how we in Liverpool should all be working when it comes to the arts and culture. HOPES has produced, and the politicians have made progress with, a potentially good idea which would enhance parts of our civic 'cultural offer' in a very positive way. Just as with the development of the Hope Street Public Realm works, I hope we can deliver here something which involves both public and community voices in a virtuous circle, and so secures added value locally, regionally and even nationally.

We await the outcome of this evening's Council Meeting with interest....

Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

Theatre Museum London banners (small).jpg The national collection of performing arts memorabilia, at the Theatre Museum in London, is to be dispersed when the Museum is closed in January 2007. So why not send it instead to Liverpool, as a 'V&A Liverpool', and let us up here have it as a very special part of our 2008 European Capital of Culture celebrations?

The sad news this week is that London's Theatre Museum is to close. Its home in Covent Garden near the Royal Opera House is to be no more, and its exhibits will be dispersed by its parent body, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum.

A loss for the arts world, and everyone else
Theatre Museum London Unleashing Britain (Beatles) poster.jpg I'm sure there will be knowledgable people who will conclude that the merits or otherwise of the Theatre's exhibits justify this decision, but to me it seems shocking. I visited it quite recently for the 'Unleashing Britain - Ten years that shaped the nation: 1955-1964' exhibition and, as I reported on this weblog, I found the whole place fascinating.

Perhaps the Theatre could be said to have been its own worst enemy, insofar as it always look closed even when it's actually open - the doors seem blank and much of the exhibiiton is 'below stairs', in a wonderful but not-visible-from-the street warren of tunnels and small rooms; but the external visibility problems could easily have been resolved.

A bright idea?
Theatre Museum London 06.10.12.jpg However, if people in London don't want the Theatre Museum collection as an identity, I have an idea.... Why not bring it to Liverpool for us to enjoy, and to develop as a very special national element of our celebrations in 2007 and 2008? We have a great tradition of theatre (and opera) in this city, and the V&A could open the revived exhibition as a 'V&A in the North', as the Tate has done with Tate Liverpool.

And to the national exhibition we could of course add the archives of our own theatres, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's archive and the history of Hope Street, Liverpool's performing arts quarter.

There's just about time to get the ball rolling, if we all started to work on this now. It would be a superb asset for Liverpool, and would keep the national exhibition in the public eye, when all our vitiors arrive for Liverpool's 2008 European Capital of Culture Year. We have plenty of large buildings which could be put to good use in this way, and surely the maintenance costs could be found from somewhere, just as they will have to be if the artifacts stay in London anyway?

Benefits all round
If London really doesn't want to keep the Theatre Museum as an identity, here's an opportunity for them to do something really good as partners to help us 'up North' to gain even more value from our special years in 2007 and 2008, and beyond.

Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

CoC badge (Community) 06.7.39 004.jpg Robyn Archer's resignation, announced today, as artistic director of Liverpool's Culture Company leaves many questions about what the 2007 and 2008 celebrations are actually intended to achieve. Acknowledging this simple reality would help a great deal in making progress.

So the first question everyone's asking is, Why? Why has Robyn Archer, after in reality such a brief sojourn in Liverpool, decided that Liverpool's 2007 & 2008 events are not for her?

Only Ms Archer can answer that, of course, and she is unlikely to add much to her media statement that it's for 'personal reasons'. (Well, yes, but that could mean many things to many people.)

In the meantime, the question I would still really like to see a proper response to - and which I asked Robyn Archer directly on one of the very few occasions when I actually encountered her - is this:

By what criteria will we know that Liverpool's 2007 and 2008 celebrations have been a success?

The fundamental question for Capital of Culture
Hope Street Refurb end - notice 06.7.15 001.jpg There may well be more than one sensible response, but perhaps - who knows? - it was partly a lack of clarity in various quarters about this fundamental question which provoked the latest departure. (Some of us recall that the very first 2008 lead director also departed Liverpool, almost before he'd unpacked his bags.) Perhaps there are multiple possible answers - to renew and regenerate our city, to promote and celebrate communities, even, just maybe, to bolster 'cultural' activities as such - but no-one seems able to offer a definitive and widely agreed response.

Whether or not it bothered Robyn Archer, this question continues very much to worry me. There still seems to be a confusion in the minds of some local people about the difference between Excellence and Elitism, between the absolutely correct requirement that Liverpool's cultural celebrations include as many local citizens from as many different communities as possible, and the frankly silly idea that anything which is, as they say, 'artistically challenging' is also somehow inappropriate in this city.

The real cultural challenge
How are we as citizens together to grow in our understanding of art, music, dance, drama, or anything else, if we are afraid to take it to people who haven't encountered it much as yet?

Of course people should be offered and involved in artistic activities which engage them directly - 'community education' projects and so forth - but somehow we also have to encourage them to see that there is much more than that too.

The courage to offer leadership
At present, it feels as though those - and there certainly are several, on the Culture Company Board amongst other places - who are willing and able to promote the idea that we gain more from cultural experience when we permit it to challenge us - are being outnumbered by those who, to use the old metaphor, play to the gallery of small town politics.

The real issue is cultural and civic leadership. Liverpool will be a city fit for the 21st century when the local powers-that-be are ready to acknowledge not only how far we have already travelled, but also how much further there is to go before we can really call ourselves a Capital of Culture in the sense that most other European cities understand that term.

Then, perhaps, we won't have to rely on the wonderful goodwill of just those seasoned artistic directors who show a commitment to Liverpool well beyond the call of professional duty. Only then will the lure of Liverpool to the international cultural community be irresistible.

Motives for dialogue between people of hugely different perspectives may be complex, but the need maintain communication is reiterated across at least modern history. Politicians as disparate as Winston Churchill, Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton have all maintained this view at various times.

'To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war', in U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill's famous line at an American White House luncheon in 1954, is consistently good advice.

Churchill, as is well acknowledged, was not averse to drama alongside dialogue - he actually won the 1953 Nobel Prize for literature for his 'mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values'. But he knew the talking was always at least as important as the posturing.

Consensus across the divides
It's interesting to see this position reflected half a century or more later in the position of two modern American politicians who stand both apart from Churchill and from each other.

First, we had right-wing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visitng the U.K.'s then-Foreign Secretary, the centre left-wing Jack Straw in North West England, and proclaiming herself comfortable with the protests which greeted her at some events. "Oh, it’s OK, people have a right to protest and a right to make their views known," she is reported to have said.

And then we learn that Senator Hillary Clinton has kind things to say about the 'charm and charisma' of President George Bush, the Republican who followed her Democrat husband into the White House. Senator Clinton said of the President that she had been "very grateful to him for his support for New York" after the attacks on September 11 2001. Though the two had had "many disagreements" he had been "very willing to talk".

Mixed motives, but still sensible?
We can all of course guess that things are not really as proclaimed, when politicians of different hues profess a keeness for dialogue between themselves. Condoleeza Rice very probably wanted to make things a little easier for her host, Jack Straw. Hillary Clinton was, it is thought, attending to the need to 'woo the right' in her bid to secure the next Presidential election.

But mixed motives don't necessarily make for bad action. Given a bottom line, almost every one of us would prefer that people keep talking, to the alternative. Better to keep the lines open, than to close them, wherever and whenever we can.

Tony Burrage (concert dress) May 2002.JPG Musicians and their instruments often have a very particular relationship, almost 'human' in some respects. Here is an example of a three-way arrangement which offers even those on the side-line, in this case the notoriously long-suffering 'orchestra wife', something uniquely special and positive.

Violinist Tony (Martin) Burrage & his Silvestre violin 170x158.jpgThe Strad dropped through our post box this morning, arriving on cue for our monthly up-date of All Things Violinistic (or, as they say of themselves, as the 'voice of the string music world since 1890').

The magazine (journal?) carried the usual range of articles about performing styles, who's the newest arrival on the block, current techniques for making instruments, the latest string recordings, and, in amongst the other inserts, a special poster of the exact dimensions of the Antonio Stradivari violin of 1721, the 'Kruse'. Hardly the stuff of general reading, this, but that kind of specialist detail has been the backdrop to my life for the past four decades or so. In other words, I'm married to a professional violinist.

Three's not always a crowd
There are no Stradivaris in our house, but there is a violin which has served very well for many years. It took some eighteen months to find - it had to 'speak' orchestrally and as a chamber instrument, whilst remaining within the stratosphere price-wise - and it caused us penury, but it's been a very constant companion.

Here is an almost ageless piece of 'equipment', already over a century old, which carries without doubt a fascinating history. (Anyone who saw the film The Red Violin, with such an impressively reflective performance by Joshua Bell of
John Corigliano's score, will want to know more... but we've been acquainted with this instrument - oddly, also red - only since the era of that very different cultural phenomenon, the age of Flower Power.)

A voice with a mind of its own
I've lost count of the number of violins which come and go in this household - tiny ('quarter' and 'half') ones for little beginner student violinists, tough relatively modern Mittenwald instruments for open air use, intriguing painted ones for amusement, most recently a genuine rock electric model - but 'the' violin remains aloof from these passing visitors, a trusted and constant companion to its owner, to his partner musicians and indeed to me.

This violin met its match in a beautiful bow, and it stays here, Elegant Music @ Heart & Soul (25.7.05) serenely assured of its incumbency. It has seen joy and sadness, comings together and partings, sickness and health. It has travelled the world and explored the local neighbourhoods.

A welcome guest
Often, I suspect, this instrument tells its owner more about inner thoughts and feelings than could any words.

In a very different way, the film Un Coeur en Hiver, with its haunting music from Ravel's Piano Trio, also explored the enigmas of this violinistic inner voice. For me too, though much more happily, our musical domestic 'trio' has offered a partnership which crosses from what can be articulated in normal ways to what cannot.

Inevitably, there are times when the violin takes first call - though I doubt any real examples of the stereotypically self-denying 'orchestra wife' now exist, not least because so many current players are women (and in any case, what orchestral salary supports a whole family?). When the music plays I go about my business contentedly alone, taking the distant musical role simply of involuntary audience whilst I work.
Ensemble Liverpool Nov 04 in the Lady Chapel, Liverpool Cathedral
But to know so well the relationship between an instrument, a player and that person's music - to have heard almost as though performing them wonderful works such as the Brahms' Quintet for Piano and Strings - is a gift well beyond any singular demands of this particular menage a trois.

Theatre Museum London (small).jpg Covent Garden's Theatre Museum is the National Museum of the Performing Arts, a unique and special place. But it is currently under threat of closure. An urgent rescue bid is being considered by the Museum's nearby neighbour, the Royal Opera House. Success in this venture is not only essential for the greater good of both parties, but also offers encouragement to those who see that to survive the arts must work together.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden.jpg The national Theatre Museum in Covent Garden has been under serious threat for a while now. If anything, my conviction - shared, of course, by many others - that this would be a disaster, grows by the day.

But it seems that a way may now be found to put things right. The Museum Theatre's nearest neighbour, the Royal Opera House, is looking to see if it can take over the running of the Museum, before it is closed and its contents get mothballed in the V & A in South Kensington.

Performing arts working together
Covent Garden.jpg We must hope this 'rescue bid' between close neighbours, and in a fantastic setting, is successful. Not only does it make huge sense in terms of synergy in a given locality - with perhaps the greater push towards full use of this unique set of resources which could follow - but it is also a story which needs to be shared, with a big message... Together the arts, and especially the performing arts, can flourish. Set apart, this isn't so easy.

It's a lesson we almost learnt the hard way in Liverpool's Hope Street a decade ago, when we had to lauch the CAMPAM slogan - Once lost, we will not get it back! CAMPAM was the Campaign to Promote the Arts on Merseyside. In the early 1990s we fought and won a long and weary battle to make sure that Liverpool didn't lose its Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, or indeed the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

ROH shield.jpg History doesn't need to repeat itself. The Theatre Museum and the Royal Opera House, side by side in Covent Garden, were surely made for each other. I really hope the matchmaking drama we now see before us has a happy ending, soon.

The Theatre Museum, London

Covent Garden: The Untold Story - Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945-2000

Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

Calculator & toy (small) 80x90.jpg Choosing if and when to have a baby has never been an easy decision, especially if both partners want to continue in employment. But the debate has shifted quite a lot in the past few years, and perhaps now a deeper understanding is emerging of what 'work-life balance' is really about.

Actually, of course, some folk would say it's all-win for some, and never-win for others; but we do know, really, it's not like that.

The question does however have to be asked, how can you get it right, if you're a woman and a mum and a person who wants to make her way in the world?

History or Herstory?
Fact is, for the past fifty years it's been even more complicated than for the years before then. Whatever is thought by those with shorter memories, the time from the end of World War II (1945) until the end of the sixties, and well into the seventies, was dreadful for women wanting to maintain their families and their careers.

The landmark equality legislation of the 1970's certainly changed things for the better... but even I found myself in a situation, when 'the family' arrived, of having to resign my full-time post and then apply again for my job, as a part-timer. Maternity leave had never been taken by anyone at the college where I then taught, and anyway it was a mere four weeks or bust (which even after resigning was not much less than what I had, before I went back as a part-timer).

Strange then how, during WWII (I report here from the history books, not personal recollection), there was all sorts of support for 'working women', so it could be done when the will was there. But at that time of course, sadly, the men actually weren't 'there' as well....

Improved, but still problematic
So I don't go at all with the idea of some young women today that 'it's harder now than it was for our mums' - who, it is I gather supposed, just had to work for 'pin-money', or else stayed at home supported by a bread-winning spouse who could earn for the family; for most of us I suspect that only happened on The Archers.

Nor of course do I believe that 1939-1945, with all its horrors, was a time when women always thrived. But classic films such as Rosie the Riveter (about a group of female engineering production workers in New York in the '40s) demonstrate well the capability and willingness of women to take on 'men's jobs' when they have to.

And nearer to home, I discovered in my own research in the 1970s that women who had entered academic science during the 1940s had a better chance of professional progression than younger ones, who had to compete with the men.

Complex judgements and issues
No, the issues now more complex than they were either when the need for skilled workers required women to take the job on, or indeed when the campaigns for basic rights (oh heady days!) were still to be won.

It's rare for anyone today to announce their outright hostility to women - though there are many serious and shocking stories still to be told. The formal legal battles, if not the wage-related ones, have been quite largely secured. It's beginning at last to cost those who don't grasp equality a lot of money.

But that doesn't resolve everything. We read daily of 'reasons' why women 'should' only have their children in a very narrow age-slot; and why they 'must' keep close physical contact with their babies for a considerable time. On a personal level these are harder things to deal with, than is straightforward sexist write-off. Psychological pressures can cause real personal pain; for fair-minded people sexism just causes anger.

Where's the truth?
I don't think there is a single truth in all this - except that no way is it 'just' a 'women's dilemma'. Whoever heard of a baby that didn't have a dad somewhere along the line?

My recollection is that these psychological influences on decisions about having a family were always there, lurking in the scenes; but in previous decades we've had to concentrate on rights as such. Now young women (and their partners) have to make personal judgements, because genuine choice does at least to some extent exist.

It was never, ever, easy. But perhaps if real choices start to be made by women and men together, the climate might begin to change so that at least most folk understand and respect the dilemmas and decisions we all have to make, when we bring (or decide not to bring) babies into the world.

The expression 'work-life balance' could be about to become genuinely meaningful at last.

A version of this article was first published in Diverse Liverpool: the gender issue, in March 2006, pp. 113-115.

Read more articles about Gender & Women, and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures & Talks

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