Back of the bus

BodyFestivalLast night I went and saw the Back of the bus show presented by Java Dance Company as part of the Body Festival currently under way in Christchurch. This dance work is highly innovative in the way that it dissolves the boundary between performers and the audience found in the conventional theatre setting. It does this by taking the audience along for the ride, on the bus and beyond, always intimately close to the lives of the characters being portrayed.

The show consists of a number of scene specific pieces danced solo or as a group by several very different characters. The dancing is performed with astonishing physicality and intensity by the Java dancers Rosanne Christie, Sacha Copland and Natalie Hona. There is also a humorous cameo by local dancer Jessica Kennedy.

The choreography is principally by Sacha Copland but with pieces contributed from the rest of Java also and is wonderfully varied but always intense and physical. It makes clever use of the bus and other props.

This show contains some wonderful moments but I don’t want to give away the special surprises involved. Let’s just say its a unique experience and a rare opportunity for Christchurch audiences to see such innovative and high quality contemporary dance. The show is emotive and moving but also a lot of fun and is well worth the ticket. Don’t miss it! There are two performances per night for the rest of this week with the final show at 8pm on Friday 9th. You can make bookings at the Body Festival site.

More dance related links:

The Musical North rises again

Music lovers will go all King Monkey for The North will rise again: Manchester music city 1976-1996 by John Robb. Acid House recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, but this book takes the music timeline back to punk,  the Buzzcocks (who will be appearing at our very own Christchurch music fest Southern Amp!!) Joy DivisionThe Smiths, and onwards to the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses:

… Manchester’s gobbiest musicians tell the story of the city’s thriving music scene in their own words. When the Buzzcocks put on the Sex Pistols at Lester Free Hall in 1976, they kickstarted a musical revolution and a fervent punk scene exploded. In 1979 the legendary Tony Wilson founded Factory Records, the home of Joy Division/New Order and later the Happy Mondays. The Hacienda, the Factory nightclub, became notorious in the late 1980s as a centre of the influential Madchester scene, led by the Mondays and the Stone Roses, with a unique style and sound of its own. Then, from the ashes of Madchester rose uber-lads Oasis, the kings of Britpop and the biggest UK band of the 1990s. Full of great characters, fierce conflicts, untold stories and seething controversies, Manchester In Its Own Words is indispensable reading for any music fan.

The oral history style works brilliantly well for this book, there is such a wide range of contributors and they rove around the people (Howard Devoto, Ian Brown, Tony Wilson, Noel Gallagher and such) and places (The Hacienda, Legends, dodgy studentville hangouts) like a pack of wild Mancunian geese. The topics discussed range from the ridiculous (the width of flares) to the sublime – music history moments like Ian Curtis on stage, Johnny Marr knocking on Morrissey’s door and selecting a tune from his vinyl collection, and Mani barrelling up to Stone Roses and offering his bass-playing wizardry to the upcoming band (he looked like a little monkey face & actor Hywel Bennett apparently).

And now I’ve just come over all double Northern music-funny because afore-blogged Sheffield troubadour Richard Hawley‘s new record Truelove’s Gutter is winging its way to Christchurch City Libraries.

So orient your ears to the North of England, chuck. It couldn’t hurt.

The storytelling magic of Kate DiCamillo

In one of my previous posts I was looking forward to reading Kate DiCamillo’s new children’s novel, The Magician’s Elephant, and I can now say that Kate DiCamillo has cast her spell on me once again with this magical story.  One of the first things I notice about any Kate DiCamilo book is the names of the characters.  In the past we’ve met Despereaux the little mouse with the big heart, Edward Tullane the china rabbit who learns what love is, and this time we have Peter Augustus Duchene.  They’re all such pleasant names and whenever I read them I just savour the sound of them.  In The Magician’s Elephant it’s not just the main character of Peter Augustus Duchene that stands out, but also the myriad of other characters whose stories are woven together to create this enchanting fable.  

The story starts with Peter consulting a fortune teller to find out what has happened to his sister who he was parted from many years ago.  The fortune teller says to him that “You must follow the elephant. She will lead you there.”  Peter is confused but realises that his sister must still be alive.  It is on that same night in a theatre in the town that the magician, who “intended only lilies” but in fact conjures an elephant, which crashes through the ceiling, crushing the legs of a noblewoman in the audience.  As the story progresses, each of the characters in the book intersect and you learn that those characters who seemed minor are in fact important pieces of the puzzle.  The Magician’s Elephant is one of my favourite books this year and I thoroughly recommend it, along with all of her other amazing stories.

Richard Russo

Isn’t it gratifying when an author you’ve followed from their very first book starts to gather momentum and eventually reaches bestseller status? This is what happened to Richard Russo whose likeable novels I’ve been following since his first, Mohawk, appeared back in 1986. He started with small town tales, often in upstate New York and usually places that had seen better days. His leading character was usually a not very reliable but basically good natured man at the bottom of the insurance risk pool (The risk pool was actually one of his earlier titles and it was announced as a movie vehicle for Tom Hanks but it has never materialised.

Two of his books have been filmed: Nobody’s fool, which became an excellent movie with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith, and Empire Falls, his Pulitzer Prize winner, which became an HBO miniseries (never seen here but I was lucky enough to pick it up when foraging through bins at my favourite DVD emporium). He’s also worked as a scriptwriter: he did that odd black comedy where Rowan Atkinson was a vicar and Maggie Smith went around being helpful murdering people.

Maybe it’s something to do with a writer becoming more successful over the years but Russo seems to be leaving behind the small town dreamers and losers who filled his early novels. They’re now more likely to be academics and in the latest, That old Cape magic, the main character is a middle aged man who works as a lecturer at a New England college and as well as a fix-it scriptwriter in Hollywood. The novel moves around in time but the focus is on the wedding of his daughter and the collapse of his marriage.

The marriage collapse is realistically done but I could have done without some of the introspection which just seemed too American (in the let’s dwell on exactly how we’re feeling mode which can get a bit annoying for those of us with let’s just get on with it Anglo-Saxon natures). It’s, however, the other characters who make the novel shine and especially our hero’s awful parents, a couple of arrogant academics, the sort who look at the world around them and feel it all just so inferior. Some of this is very funny and some of it, especially as it relates the main character’s childhood, quite sad.

This is a slow novel that ambles along and takes time to observe other characters and events as it passes and yet it is an effortless read. The main character is convincingly likeable in his efforts to make the best of things despite things around him gunning up against him (there’s a wedding rehearsal which goes wrong and ends up with most of the participants at the nearest A & E department) and the satire is quite gentle. This is probably in a middle aged man ruminates genre and there’s a lot it about these days (says he, having recently read similar titles by Justin Cartwright, William Nicholson, Philip Roth, etc) but it’s very well done and it deserves its success.