Monday, 11 January 2010

The Best Show of the Year

On Friday night after a warming meal of Cullen Skink and New Season Lamb at The Piping Centre I braved the icy streets of Glasgow and teetered across the road to the Theatre Royal to a performance of Off Kilter.

Off Kilter is advertised as a "Dance and Music spectacular with a Scottish spin", but it is more than that. It is collaboration of Scottish music and choreography but also of art, poetry, song, costume, lighting and sound.

At last The Scottish Government and The Scottish Art Council are putting money into something with international appeal. Does this mean we are starting to take our Artists seriously and rid ourselves of the Tartan Tat image? I hope so.

The show covers all aspects of Scottish culture whether we are proud of it or not and the production is not afraid to take chances. I tried to spot how many cultures were exposed and lost count.

The opening number Seann Triubhas is typically Scottish with piper and highland dancer but if the audience thought this was going to be just another White Heather Club they were in for a shock. The next number Halflight! featured three dancers including Jennifer Patterson, Artistic Director of All or Nothing Dance and Aerial Theatre. The opening finds her suspended in a hammock thirty feet above the stage and her aerobatic performance is heart stopping.

Scotland's multiculturalism is celebrated in the dance work of Ihayami, an Indian Dance school based in Scotland. They had me mesmerized with their fusion of Indian and Scottish dance, a mix I had never considered but find they complement each other in rhythm and vitality.

Paisley Patter uses the music of Ivor Cutler to show life among the tenements in the fifties and sixties. The projected images by Oscar Marzaroli add the finishing touch.

The nostalgia of Paisley Patter is brought up to date when we are confronted by gritty graffiti art by Nico Major as a backdrop to the a burst of breakdancing energy, that is the stirring and often disturbing Innit...Innat - no?. This fast moving urban piece, reflecting Scotland's drug abuse and gang culture, stomps to the unique sounds of Scotland greatest modern musician, the sadly missed Martyn Bennett.

The second half opens with Cease Your Funning. The dance, a mix of modern ballet and jazz, is performed by guests, The Mark Morris Dance Group. They dance to Scottish songs sung by Mhairi Lawson and accompanied by chamber musicians including the Korean cellist, Su-a-Lee, who seems to appear at every concert I attend . This ensemble celebrate opera, ballet, song, love, drinking and our highland heritage - and probably our self deprecations because at times the piece is far from complimentary.

No festival of Scottish culture would be complete with out football and Gemmill’s Goal fitted the bill. Of all the pieces in the show the Scottish press picked up most on this one but I liked it the least. I never thought I would live to see the day when We're on the march with Ally’s Army would be danced to by real professionals.

The highlight of the show for me was Small Street, a solo performance danced by Amy Park to the second piece by Martyn Bennett - Nae Regrets. The dance depicts the Scottish tendency to stick two fingers to the world but has the poignant message of child abuse and homelessness. The performance is powerful and moving enough to bring me to tears.

We tend to forget the changing face of Scotland’s music and dance, but the house band remind us by supplying the sounds for the penultimate showcase Scots Wi Hay.

The audience is brought right up to date with the Finale where the music of Calvin Harris, Franz Ferdinand, The Rezillos and Hugh McDairmid are mixed by the talented DJ Dolphin Boy. The projected images for this piece are by celebrated Scottish artist John Byrne.

So the music stops the bows are taken and the audience clap, but that’s not the end. The house band return to the stage, the dancers drop into the aisles and drag the audience onto their feet. What follows is a mini ceilidh with a full set of The Dashing White Sergeant and a couple of sets of the Gay Gordons. What a fantastic way to finish a show.

I later discovered that Off Kilter pulled resources from a wealth of outstanding Scottish dance companies, many of whom have involvement in youth initiatives and community programmes, among them YDance and the National Centre for Dance, Dance Base.

I was also surprised to learn that most of the music was performed live and many of the diverese tunes were composed and arranged by House Band drummer Tom Bancroft.

Off Kilter's tour dates are;

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen Thu 14 - Sat 16 January

Perth Concert Hall, Perth Thu 21 & Fri 22 January

Eden Court Theatre, Inverness Tue 26th & Wed 27th January

This is a show that is going to be hard to beat.

The Multi Talented Martyn Bennett plays with Scotland's Jazzman Tommy Smith

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

101 breakable resolutions

Jenn Butterworth and Nuala Kennedy

Cheer Up

Why does everyone have to be so gloomy at this time of year? Many of the New year posts I have read this festive have lamented the passing of a decade with regrets and blame ladled out in the bucketful (or snow shovelful). The banks have failed us, the government don't know what they're doing, our planet is doomed, child poverty is rife in Scotland, our livers are to be saved with a minimum alcohol pricing policy, we can't go anywhere because the terrorist will kill us, Scottish football is in disarray and we have run out of grit.

I refuse to be pessimistic. The BBC Scotland Hogmanay programme was one of the best they have aired for years, not least because one of the house band was a former guitar teacher of mine, Jenn Butterworth. The quality of music pulled together by Phil Cunningham and his crew bodes well for the vibrant Scottish traditional music scene and the year ahead. And Celtic Connections is just round the corner.

Each year I give myself objectives. Last year I aimed to reduce my carbon footprint and I believe I achieved that. All waste that can be recycled is recycled, at most I put out a full carrier bag amount of rubbish to landfill each week. Most of my food was and still is bought locally, and like last year I gave home made food hampers as Christmas presents. Not only is this a cheaper way of doing things it cuts down on unwanted Stuff that no one wants or needs.

My big failing was to have three short haul flights. This year is going to be different.

Procrastination be gone!

Procrastination is a writer's biggest enemy. Email and the internet are the willing accomplices of the procrastinator. Today I spent all day unsubscribing to the hundreds of newsletters that flutter to me through the course of each session. I have been hard and cut out all those diversion I have built around me to make me feel wanted, things that give me no benefit and often prove toxic.

My big fat Wii

Over indulgence is a given at this time of year but my Wii Fit is bullying me along and I have high hopes for a slimmer figure and more energy by Easter. For some strange reason I seem to excel at the more violent pursuits like boxing, swordplay and kungfu. It's a great way to get writer's frustration out of my system.

There is nothing mightier than the pen in my arsenal

My writing went well last year but my submission rate was abysmal. This year I plan to write more short stories and to submit many more pieces to publishers, agents and magazines. I also intend to try my hand at more competitions. Last year I entered three national competitions and had one success.

Let's face the music

One Christmas present Santa brought was a Chieftain whistle, a big silver brute that gives my hand cramp. At the moment I can just about manage a scale. Big challenges there I fear.
And although my guitar practice has slipped over the holiday period, last year I learned many new chords, performed in public three times and I am looking forward to continuing to pick up new tunes like the Ashokan Farewell on the clip.

Family Values

This may sound mushy but as I grow older I realise that families are the most important people in our lives. I need to remind myself of that more often.

A word about the weather

This post would not be complete without a word out the recent weather to have hit the UK. The rest of the northern hemisphere must be laughing up their sleeves at the fuss we make. But I would like to give a big acknowledgement to Council workers, not just the men who have battled to keep our main highways open but also to the Carers.

My mother lives in Fife and has a carer visit her morning and night. While others, me included, could have a holiday and hide indoors, these low paid workers battled up and down snow stormed and icy pavements to bring care to those who need it. My mum appreciates it and I am sure many other do too.

2010 is going to be a great year (once we dig out of the snow), not just for me but for the world.