A journey following the music and movement of Roma people.
It’s not possible to really explain what happens in this performance, it makes more sense as a list.
One body becomes two
Two bodies become one
Brick walls are built
Water falls on tarpaulin
A man jumps through a hoop into a wall (repeatedly)
A fully clothed woman lies in a perspex bath full of water
A lady climbs a ladder and gives painting instructions
A blind woman fires a gun
There’s a remote control helicopter (might be a reference to Vietnam?)
Someone is buried under hay
A women relentlessly polishes some sort of white chopping board
Bits of food are placed around the stage
A man dressed as a sort of hobo-native american chief sits at a microphone but doesn’t use it
And so on and so forth…
I liked this. There is no narrative that I can grasp, but the show is full of little pleasing bits and pieces. The music throughout is great; varied, interesting and well used. The first half is pretty frantic, lots of arm movements and running across stage, there’s a lot of running when a wind machine blows paper across the stage. The second half is quieter, slower and has more spoken elements and ‘conventional’ dancing. For me, its just a bit too long. It starts to become tiring and uncomfortable (maybe that’s the point! etc) and personally I wouldn’t mind a wee bit of narrative.
Generally it appears to celebrate everyday movements, moments and props. Lots of things happen at the same time, so you can choose what to devote attention to. It is farcical and slapstick and absurd, though at times I thought it wasn’t funny enough (it’s no House of Fools) but as I was thinking this, the funniest bit happened. A man and woman take turns to mime acts of cartoon violence on each other, and its funny. I’m guessing they are a couple of long-standing and long-endured irritation. There did seem to be a lot of what I will call ‘over-laughter’ from the audience “ oh ha ha ha, that is sooo funny, a woman flashed her pants”. There was another good bit where a man translates a famous operatic tune (? I think…) from German to English.
I liked the intro when a guy in leather jacket, ray bans and a kilt brought on some of the ‘characters’ to the stage with a satisfying strut. For me, some of the best bits were just the highlighting of movements that can occur everyday. The way the kilt swayed as the man swaggered. There was a point when a mid-50’s (?) woman in tight skirt and high heels ran round in a circle on the stage and I noticed the way her body was constricted, the way she had to totter on the heels to turn a corner, all of these little details are only ever possible if a mid-50’s woman in high heels, with large hips and a tight skirt runs in a circle. As pure movement it is satisfying and precarious.
There are three moments of intimacy that I liked, one where a seated man has one hand stuck out in the air (“like an Egyptian”) and a woman approaches slowly, bends slightly, then quickly sucks his hand. A woman dusted a chair with a fur jacket thing. A man breathes into his slow-dance partner’s ear.
Generally, there was a feeling of childishness, repetition, aimlessness and movement for its own sake. There was also quite a lot of female anger and male impotence/uselessness.
As the piece seemed to be nearing an end, the fire curtain came down on stage and made everything feel slightly claustrophobic. The kilt man came on and hung from a metal bar acting like a monkey, eating apples and spitting them out. Then another guy came on with a big rubber walrus. He tried to make it climb a cactus (the stage is strewn in huge cacti), then proceeded to climb into the walrus suit thing. Once inside he told two terrible jokes and clapped his flippers together. He got out, and looked at the fire curtain. He looked a bit bewildered. Two men joined the stage and started sweeping. The walrus guy didn’t know what to do. We thought this was part of the show. He left the stage, then came back on and said “the curtain is meant to go up, I don’t know what’s wrong”. We still thought it was part of the show. He came back and said “no, really, the curtain should go up, I’m sorry we will have to break for 20 minutes”. It should really have been the end, regardless. So, we left at that point, it seemed appropriate. Left on stage were two cacti and a rubber walrus. We didn’t get the chance to give them a round of applause, but it was a satisfyingly ridiculous ending nonetheless. Here is my round of applause.
There are few things better than this in the world.
These were painted using Casein paint – which is made from milk and/or cheese
Have you ever heard of such a thing? I certainly hadn’t, until I bought “Polyphonic Voices of Georgia” by the Anchiskhati Choir, which was released by the World Audio Foundation (a division of Soul Jazz Records) in 2009. I like music like this – during a visit to Greece in 2006 I was struck by the church singing of the Orthodox Church, which I first heard on a broadcast on TV in a hotel in Athens. I cannot claim to know a lot about it, but it seemed like a service was being led by one minister/priest who was singing from what I guess was the bible, while around 4 men sung different melodies and words at the same time. Later during that trip I heard the same thing coming from a tiny church on the island of Spetses.
Anyway, the blurb with this CD explained how Georgian polyphonic singing had been proclaimed by UNESCO as one of the Oral and Intangible Masterpieces of Humanity. Wow! I should know about these masterpieces of humanity! So I looked it all up and ended up on the UNESCO website for Intangible Heritage. From what I can gather, since 2001 various conventions have been signed to recognise these cultural contributions by countries across the world to the general heritage of humanity. Some are called masterpieces, some aren’t. There is a list here of all the additions to the list/s (List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding/Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity) since 2008. There are some wonderful things on these lists, each with a bit of info and a wee video. Incidentally, there is very little from western Europe, though I wonder if that is because our cultural heritage is in what is deemed to be a healthier state than other parts of the world (France try to protect their diet, the Belgians try to protect street games – “Ludodiversity” – nothing in the UK). Here are some of things I have seen and enjoyed since learning of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity:
1. SAMAN DANCE OF INDONESIA
This is a form of dancing and singing practiced by men and women generally from the Aceh province of Sumatra, Indonesia. People sit on their knees in a row and sing, dance, play their bodies as percussion in unison – its brilliant, and is done by young children as you can see in the UNESCO video.
2. TSIATTITSA POETIC DUELLING OF CYPRUS
I am sure you have seen ‘Slams’ of poetry/rappers in the past, probably that one of the English teacher and his ‘pupil’. Well it seems Cypriot’s have been doing something similar for years, musically accompanied poetic slagging matches. Check out the big lad with the stick and the tash…
3. BECARAC SINGING FROM EASTERN CROATIA
A lead singing “batchelor” followed by 2 or 3 part backing, who sings baudy songs of singledom with a cheeky look in his eye. Women do the same. Great stuff.
4. THE Kırkpınar OIL WRESTLING FESTIVAL OF EDIRNE, TURKEY
Introduced by a pageant of drums and flags, following the carrying of a golden belt into the city of Edirne, men get oiled up and wrestle in fields.
5. SUTARTINES MULTI-PART SINGING OF LITHUANIA
Multi-part singing, a bit like weaving songs – mostly only oldster’s singing it now – some nice wooden horns. The young women dancing in the woods sounds great.
6. THE RADIF OF IRANIAN MUSIC
Don’t believe everything you are told about Iran – here is some incredible music, more than 250 melodic units, called gushe, are arranged into cycles, with an underlying modal layer providing the backdrop against which a variety of melodic motifs are set – all of which is related to the days, weeks and months of the year.
7. KATTA ASHULA – “BIG SONG” OF UZBEKISTAN
Men sing while waving plates in front of their mouths, which seems to create a kind of vibrato effect.
8. SETO LEELO – POLYPHONIC SINGING FROM ESTONIA
Women singing in the woods again, sounds a bit like its backwards. Most choirs are composed wholly of women, and the most notable lead singer is crowned on Seto Kingdom Day as the King’s ‘Mother of Song’.
9. THE DUDUK & ITS MUSIC – ARMENIA
The duduk is a kind of clarinet thing, with a wooden sound, which is very pleasing and is made from an apricot tree. I heard quite a lot of music like this in the films of Sergei Parajanov. It’s quite a mournful sound and causes the player’s cheeks to inflate to ridiculous lengths.
10. GEORGIAN POLYPHONIC SINGING
And here is the music that led me to all these things…
I just returned from watching some Scottish Screen Archive films at the Filmhouse as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival – it was great. The first film was called “The Singing Street” and was made by a group of Edinburgh school teachers calling themselves the “Norton Park Group”. It shows school children singing songs and playing games, some incredible skipping, all round Edinburgh. Its fantastic, and you can watch it all here. The timing and rhythm of the skipping in particular is well worth a watch, as is the single “boys” song, and their subsequent sweeping off the step by a girl. In the audience were some women who featured in the original film, as well as relatives of the film makers. And an angry woman who said she couldn’t hear anything. And lots of people saying “ooh, look, its Easter Road” etc…. A longing for the past can be a dangerous film, but what this film shows is that kids have always had a sense of humour, and the creativity to develop their own art forms. I wonder what the current equivalent is, if there are any school teachers who can tell me, I’d like to know.
The group made other films as well, which are listed in the Archive, I guess they can be accessed through them somehow. I’ve also seen the book called “The Singing Street” compiled by one of the film making team, and the above image is the front cover.