Monday, June 30, 2008

WTF Paris? Or, You Need Help, Mann.

Sometimes when life gets a bit much or my work is piling up or the cat is wailing like she wants food or something I’m compelled to close my eyes, corkscrew my fists into my temples and take myself to a happy place. Sure, my happy place consists of a dull-looking carpark, but that’s where most dreams are made. I start my low-rent reverie by pumping up my Reeboks and before I know it I’m carrying oversized letters towards a beige-brick backdrop before finally finding myself free to bust out with the equally oversized dance moves I’ve been keeping pent up in my soul for so long. Pretty soon I’m pleased to discover that I mustn’t be too troubled, since my bust-out moves are pretty tame. It looks a lot like this (especially the two champs who start frogwalking at about 0.55).

Oh no! That’s not my special place at all. That’s the most important dance craze sweeping Paris (since 2000). Why have I never heard of Tecktonik until now? Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too busy with more important matters. Perhaps not. Either way, I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve recently stopped me on the street to say “Born D, Tecktonik is just a lame mashup of vogueing, krumping and wacking set to Euroclash music with a weird hand-spinning-around-the-head movement, dude.”

My enthusiasm for this new (I’m tempted to write neu just to sound more European) dance style matched with my lack of credibility adds up to nothing less than a total endorsement of Tecktonik, and I have the lack of friends to prove it.

At its “best” (and I use the term under legal counsel), Tecktonik is supposed to look like it does in the video above. But more often than not, it comes out like this.

Did Reebok actually pay someone to make that last ad? Seriously. That's not good dancing. And it's not even a good video clip - drive to a desert and get people to half-heartedly dance aroun
d, occasionally on top of a mirror or piece of aluminium foil or something. How was that pitched? I don't know that it makes the difficult leap to "concept", fitting more into the class of "random neuron activity".

Overall though the phrase I’d use here is HYPNOTIC LAMENESS. I know that describes 90% of the internet, but I really am transfixed by these kids and their low-energy arm windmilling, their pretty basic footwork and their unselfconsciousness. Best of all, Tecktonik is all over the streets of Paris. Someone I know took a trip there not long ago and reported that very average Tecktonik dancers were to be found hawking their wares on the rues and boulevards at every turn. It’s not that they’re any good – quite the opposite, according to my insider – it’s that they are there. That’s what I find really rad. People dancing in pu
blic with no discernible motive is always worth voting for. This article suggests how Tecktonik can be a good thing for Troubled Teens:

"Dancing has changed me," says Sofian, a 15-year-old from a tough Paris suburb who discovered Tecktonik recently.

"Before I was on the street. I was at the police station everyday. It's been two or three months now since I did anything stupid."

It's refreshing to see the thing figured as a positive social phenomenon, not a Kids on the Street are Dangerous and Probably On Drugs beat-up.

I spent the month of May in Japan for some damn reason, and when I was there I saw an incredible amount of street dancing. It was mainly centred in Nagoya. I’d walk past a park and see dozens of groups of people dancing. Everything from hip-hop and R&B style to old fashioned fan and drums dances. I couldn’t work out why. Someone told me it was because studio space is expensive so it’s cheaper just to do it on the street.

These people seemed to be on a break from work, just having an old knees-up during lunch.

These girls were practicing some R&B moves in a park.

This huge outfit wase doing some kind of old-fashioned traditional thing.

I’ve seen a good bit of dance since getting back – Michelle Heaven’s Disagreeable Object and Jo Lloyd’s Apparently That’s What Happened were the best of the bunch – but I’ll review them elsewhere. For now, I wish there were more street-dancing here. Even if it was vaguely irritating French dudes in Reeboks doing it.

In other news, I've just gotten back from the Helpmann Awards nomination announcements. A pretty wham-bam affair, competently compered by Rob Guest, a no-nonsense Helen Dallimore, Lisa McCune phoning it in and Ian Stenlake delivering more laughs than anything in Guys and Dolls. Here are a few that may be of interest to someone reading.

Best choreography in a dance thing that's not a musical

Tanya Liedtke, Construct

Lloyd Newson, To Be Straight with You

Gideon Obarzaneck, Glow

Christopher Wheeldon, After the Rain

Best contemporary concert or something

Bjork on the Sydney Opera House steps

Bon Jovi

Justin Timberlake

Rufus Wainwright

Best comedy performer

The Umbilical Brothers, Julia Morris, Ross Noble, Frank Woodley

Best dancer (dude)

Steven Heathcote, After the Rain

Akram Khan, Sacred Monsters

Gavin Webber, Roadkill

Paul White, Construct

Best dancer (dudette)

Sara Black, Glow

Lucinda Dunn, Nutcracker (I think)

Sarah-Jayne Howard, Roadkill

Larissa McGowan (can't recall what for)

Best male actor in a play

Marton Csokas, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Martin Nieidermayer, The Tell-Tale Heart

Richard Roxborough, Toy Symphony

Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King

Best female actor in a play

Kate Dickey, Alst

Catherine McClements, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Genevieve Picot, Rock and Roll

Leah Purcell (can't remember what for)

Best dance thing

Glow, Roadkill, The Nutcracker, Sacred Monsters

Best play thing

Black Watch (huh?), Toy Symphony, When the Rain Stops Falling, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Redressing the Imbalance

Given the bad karma I'm probably accumulating with negative reviews, here's some more ways to pass the afternoon in a more spiritually fulfilling and uplifing way.

You could ponder the wonder of guide horses.

You can ruminate on the questions raised by Man Baby.

You can educate yourself as to the social evils of software piracy while soaking up some awesome old school hip-hop.

You can check out some more deserted farms in Iceland.

You can look for a reason behind things that probably, let's face it, you and I will never really understand.

Or you can listen to the full new album by the lovely Sigur Ros while looking out at the park and just accepting that some people will walk their dogs in the rain, and that this is kind of a nice thing. Well, I can do that. I hope you can do something similar, if the urge should take you.

Boeing and Nothingness

Every good film involving a plane includes, at some point, one of the following lines.

“The landing gear is jammed! I don’t know if I can bring this bird down!”


“I’ve never flown a real plane! I’ve only flown the flight simulator on my computer!”


“I’m going to have to go out on the wing and fix it myself. Tell my wife I love her.”

But the best bit – the best – in any plane-centric movie is when someone taps a dial on the dashboard, mutters “that can’t be right”, looks over their shoulder out the cockpit window and then turns to their fellow passengers and says, in a steely and urgent voice:

“We’re losing fuel. Fast. We got a mountain ridge up ahead and a nuclear warhead in the trunk. If we’re gonna make it, we’re gonna have to lighten our load. I want you to throw out everything not nailed down – you got me? Everything! And may God help us all.”

As I reached the one-hour mark of the new show Boeing, Boeing, I found myself in similar circumstances. I started mentally tossing out my concentration, my good taste, my understanding of comic convention and any sensation in the rear compartments. I resisted the temptation to grab my chute and bail, but that may have been due to the incapacitating fear I experienced when I realised that there might well be nobody in the cockpit steering the thing I had found myself aboard.

Bertrand is a ne’er-do-well Parisian with three fiancées. “Qu’est que ce?” vous parlez? Tout juste, Auguste! His thing is to woo airline hostesses, whose international schedules allow him to keep a harem of women who live in his bachelor pad on different days of the week, unaware of each others’ existences. Then his nerdy old buddy Robert turns up, the girls’ outbound flights get cancelled, and we end up with one of those “comedies” where people are running in and out of doors almost but not quite meeting each other and having the confrontation that we’re all waiting for so we can get home for an early bed.

Boeing, Boeing was a movie back in the sixties in the genre known as sex comedies (the film’s tagline really was “The Big Comedy of Nineteen-Sexty-Sex!”). We don’t really get them anymore, since you can actually have sex movies these days rather than fumbling around the issue by padding it up as a goofy laff-fest that manages to not mention sex in inventive ways. The better sex comedies featured Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and usually had Tony Randall hamming it up in there somewhere. Sometimes Tony Curtis checked in for the ride. Writing this, I notice that the 50s and 60s sex comedies sure did feature a lot of gay icons of the time. If I remember the great doco The Celluloid Closet at all, some commentators suggest that this is because sex comedies were all about what wasn’t made explicit, the open secrets that anyone in the know could get, but which others would miss entirely. You know, subtexts. The wink at the audience that says “We know how frivolous this looks, but we know you get what we’re really saying, right?”

The new Boeing, Boeing actually doesn’t get that. There’s no irony to it, no camping it up. Because sex is out there on billboards and prime time TV, there’s no need to deliver it in veiled forms. The play is just a straight (in every sense) rendering of the original play, but given the naughties context it actually ends up seeming like some kind of nostalgic elegy for a period when Carry On and Benny Hill were considered risqué. When sex wasn’t talked about, since it certainly isn’t talked about here. Instead we have a fairly pungent image of a sleazy dude leading along three women for whom “nationality” substitutes for “character”. There’s the American, the Italian and the German. They have names, too, but that’s kind of beside the point.

The cast really give it all they’ve got here, and in some cases that’s a lot. When Sybilla Budd turns up about two years into the show as the fiery German Gertrude, she brings the house down with the kind of performance you wish had been available earlier in the piece. Sadly, with a script so dated and a production so muted, that just wasn’t possible. Shaun Micallef makes an effort to get into his character but seems a bit removed from it all, and Mitchell Butel as Robert mugs his way through Rowan Atkinson’s back-catalogue but can’t transcend the limitations of a character that seems nothing more than a collection of comic asides. I couldn't help but feel that some of the cast were here as the result of losing a bad bet.

I really thought that Boeing, Boeing could have had legs. That it could have taken its source material and had fun with it, playing on the now-painful sexual mores of the 60s while acknowledging the distance between its origins and ourselves. And there should have been some gorgeous design from the era, rather than a cold beige set and unchanging lighting we’re left with.

I’m not sure why you would stage a play with a title that’s so dangerously close to “Boring, Boring”.

At least we didn’t see “Booing, Booing”.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What a Pointless Post

Sometimes after a bad artistic experience you gotta scrub your innards all clean-like any way you know how. After last night's brouhaha with Mr Williamson I used the following things to decongest my aesthetic sinuses.

I was looking for an old version of the 1910 ragtime number Chinatown, My Chinatown, and came across this decent cover. During my search I realised that the song has some pretty racist lyrics, so I guess it's lucky that this one's just an instrumental.

More importantly: I also came across THIS VERSION and have been listening to it all day. It's by Tabby Andriello, and nobody really knows much about him or why he recorded the song on an album titled "The World's Greatest Mediocrity." I did manage to track down the following data:

"Tabby Andriello is Frank Andriello, my uncle... he is deceased, was never married nor did he have any children. He died October 3, 1988, the fifth of seven children born to a Calabrian tailor on April 9, 1920 , immigrated to the US at a very early age and grew up on the East Side... Among other things he made his living as a sound effects man. He won an impressive number of Clios and Andys for his work on many prominent TV and Radio commercials, as well as record albums for the likes of Peter Paul and Mary, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and the soundtrack for Jim Henson's award-winning surreal short
Time Piece. The scholarship named after him at the Greenwich House Music School was his way of saying thanks; it was there that the GI Bill enabled him to complete a four-year course of study in music theory and composition. Beside his music, his incredible talent and great personality he may be best remembered for his unmanning resemblance to Fiorello LaGuardia when he was cast as the Major of Kovettes in full-page ads for the department store."

You can listen to the whole album here.

Or you can check out Cindy and Bert's "Der Hund Von Baskerville". It seems to be a late 60s narcoleptic rendering of the Sherlock Holmes classic set to a Black Sabbath tune while lost-looking hipsters dance as if someone is holding a gun to their family off-camera.

I don't know that I can really get through all of 20 Minutes to Go, but I just like that it exists. That somewhere out there someone felt the need to raise an (admittedly tiny) budget so that finally a short film/music clip could be made explaining The Rapture to the rest of us. We're all going to blow ourselves up while wearing awesome 80s clothes, it suggests, but then we'll all be taken bodily to Heaven where flowers talk, people wear togas and everyone can fly.

The Leave Me Alone Box is a nice philosophical curio that I dig. A box with a switch. When you flick the switch and turn on the box, a hand emerges and turns it back off. A machine whose only function is to deactivate itself. I love it.

And finally, Dell linked to some amazing photo art today that just rocks out like a person who hasn't learnt or doesn't totally get social inhibition. It's great. By a Korean artist named Yeondoo Jung, the Wonderland series is the best. Children's drawings used as the basis for stunning photographs.

I would like to live in this world.

Scarlett O'Hara at the Crimson Parrot

David Williamson and I have had our share of run-ins over the years and I can safely say that he usually comes out dusting his knuckles while I slink away nursing mental and emotional wounds which may lead to scarring. I can’t stand the guy’s plays for various reasons but he's a super-rich dude who could take a crap, stuff it in a PostPak and watch it interpreted by the country's leading theatre companies a year later, so I think I know where I stand. When my spidey senses picked up Williamson’s impending presence in Melbourne theatres late last year, I darted straight to my cupboard and removed the false backing which conceals my secret identity. It looks just like my normal identity, but is a bit meaner in reviews.

We all thought we’d seen the last of Williamson a few years ago but like any good supervillian he just keeps on coming back. I was doubly worried since his new play, Scarlett O’Hara at the Crimson Parrot, was clearly one of those team-up cross-over dealies where he enlists the help of another superpower to wreak menace on unsuspecting aesthetic sensibilities – in this case Simon Phillips. Phillips isn’t a supervillain, of course, but more one of those wild cards who sometimes uses his powers for good, sometimes for evil, and sometimes for Priscilla which was good but also kind of evil.

It’s with great pleasure and a certain amount of relief, then, that I stand here before you today to proclaim Scarlett O’Hara an unqualified success, rich with meaning and utterly contemporary in every way. It’s a credit to its makers, and a challenge to my preconceptions as to what dynamic, timely Australian theatre can really be.

No it’s not! It’s fucking awful! I was just playing a trick on you! When theatre is ghettoised as dull, pointless drivel for people whose cultural shoulder-chip prevents them from enjoying Big Brother, I point the finger at Williamson.

The MTC has had a rollercoaster few years of great and terrible plays, with only a couple occupying the middle-ground. Love Song, Season at Sarsaparilla, Holding the Man – all good shows I thoroughly enjoyed. On the other hand, some see last year’s season finale The Madwoman of Chaillot as a nadir in the MTC’s recent history. I’ll confess that after suffering a couple of hours of Williamson’s unfunny satire, tin ear, one-dimensional characterisation and narrative narcolepsy I was getting all nostalgic and misty-eyed for the big sets and bright colours of Madwoman. Gone is the frou-frou flouncing of an over-acting Magda assuming a steely rictus in the face of overacting bit-players ousted from a Yoplait commercial. There, I thought, was a show that was so dumb as to be enjoyable.

Scarlett concerns a 36-year-old waitress who is one of life’s losers. Unlucky in love and burdened with an annoying mother who attempts to dominate her life, she turns to classic Hollywood love stories as a refuge, and pretty soon we realise that she sees everything in her life reflected through these films. We know this because the play tells us so every forty seconds. When the 800th bit of golden oldie footage is projected behind the players to comment subtly on the goings-on going on, we’ve seen enough. Especially when the goings on are something like “a person is going somewhere” and we’re forced to watch a bit of Hollywood celluloid depicting someone going somewhere, except on a horse or something. There’s a pretty fine line between “multimedia suggesting the fantasy-inflected interior life of our protagonist” and “padding required to stretch a fifteen minute scenario into a full-length play”.

The scenario? Tuck in, children. Scarlett is unlucky in love (I know I’ve said that already, but this play treads water for so long that everything gets presented to us at least twice). She decides that the owner of the restaurant in which she works, The Crimson Parrot, might be a bit alright and so promptly falls in love with him in that dizzy, head-over-heels way that that always seems so crazy and romantic and bewildering to friends (and, in this case, the audience). He’s what romantic comedies dub the Wrong Partner, though, since her real true love is the shy guy who keeps turning up to the restaurant alone and soiling his grundies whenever she speaks to him. Wrong Partners are necessary as they keep the audience guessing as to who the heroine will end up with. They’re usually of a higher status than both the lead and the Right Partner, but less sympathetic and rounded. This is the formula behind even the best rom-coms, from It Happened One Night to Bridget Jones' Diary. It’s how you play with the familiar concoction that counts.

In this case, Williamson doesn’t really play with it at all. Occasionally we shift into first gear but most of the time it coasts along in neutral with nothing done to alter the initial setting. Scarlett pines after the head chef while her dorky beau keeps returning and making gaga faces at her. You can only imagine the romantic complications that ensue. I mean that literally, since Williamson decides not to clue us in on them. There’s some vague drama surrounding the potential closing of the restaurant which might make the odd sous-chef clench his fists at the injustices of the fickle dining industry, but I just grimaced like I’d just been served a dodgy curry.

Thing is, I’ve seen Scarlett before. From Emma Bovary to Nurse Betty, she’s just another stinky incarnation of that offensive image of the woman who over-invests in romantic fantasies and loses the ability to see things as they are. She’s daffy and wacky and cute but she’s so caught up in the love myth that she can’t see it staring her straight in the face! For upwards of two hours with nothing resembling a subplot or complication! Excuse me for wondering out loud why there are so few representations of men who can’t tell the difference between images and reality. Oh wait, there’s that whole tradition since Don Quixote. Difference being that the female version is always mixed up about love, but I guess that’s because girls are into love stories and boys are into fightin’ and stuff. Good to see Mr Williamson establishing his place in a long literary lineage, I suppose.

But even Jane Austen satirised the whole notion of the woman who is really, really into stories and fudges up the distinction between fantasy and reality (Northanger Abbey). And I know, I know, Scarlett O’Hara is just a light comedy satirising, like all of Williamson’s work, the “Anglo-Celtic middle class” (that’s a quote from the program). But this is, according to the same program, an “urban, ambitious, literate tribe”. I think that this tribe is only allowed to think of itself in such a way because writers like Williamson present to itself that distorted image. I’d be surprised if the clumsy language, outdated pop-culture references and cringe-worthy slapstick of Scarlett O’Hara didn’t give your average urban, ambitious and/or literate tribesperson the kind of scowly face you get when an inept waitress spills your drink all over you (this situation marks the height of the play’s comedy, too).

I won’t even start on the constant gagging on the “edgy” talk that goes on in professional kitchens, too – Williamson’s Greek guy and his penchant for underage girls; the air-headed waitress nearly assaulted by a pack of footy players; the older gay man whose job I never even understood but whose main reason for existing seemed to involve pouting, camping about and being told to “shut up, you old poof”. Oh Williamson, you irascible devil. Don’t be so un-PC!

If I seem unfairly disposed towards SOATCP, it’s simply because vast sums of money are thrown towards the writing and production of plays that would barely receive a passing grade in a remedial scriptwriting class. Slap DW’s name on it and it’ll have people punching the air and slapping their thighs till they bleed. There are plenty of great writers in Australia today, whatever anyone tells you, and I’d never really gotten the whole Gangland argument in a visceral way until tonight. When I spent two hours clenching my fists like a sous-chef. Check!