Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Los Ocampo are popular here, and their workshops and classes are always well attended. I found them very generous and helpful as teachers, and I like their emphasis on walking well and to the music. They also teach some straightforward material which is useful in dancing in a milonga.
Their shows are something else, often involving a variety of dance forms from Argentina. I don't have much information on the dance or the music: I seem to remember her introducing the first dance, 'Los Ocampo', as a form of Argentine Samba, although it looks a bit like Chacarera. 'Los Ocampo 1' is a milonga. '3' and '4' are closer to tango: '4' must be Piazzolla. They obviously love to dance, and love dancing together, and their shows are always enjoyed.
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
Rodolfo Biagi was D'Arienzo's pianist for about three years, and became known as 'Manos Brujas' – 'magic hands'. In 1938 he left D'Arienzo, and formed his own orchestra. The story has it that D'Arienzo was irked by the applause his pianist was getting: 'I'm the star around here!' he's reported to have said. So Biagi came out of the tradition of playing very rhythmic music for dancing to.
There's a particular intensity in his compositions and arrangements, but also a serious kind of playfulness with rhythm, and with melodic lines. His rhythms are sharply staccato, perhaps the most staccato rhythm in all tango music, but his melodic lines can be extremely 'legato', very smooth and flowing. When you are dancing, and hear at the same time sharp forceful rhythms from the bandoneons and piano, and smooth flowing lines from the violin, you are faced with a dilemma: the rhythms make you want to move your feet in time, but the melodic line asks you to dance in a very flowing way.
But that's not all. The rhythms themselves aren't at all regular. Occasionally, the first or the third beat, which is normally accentuated, is either unexpectedly missed out, or played very quietly. Sometimes in a phrase of a few bars, the fourth beat in every bar is accentuated. This is syncopation, but for some reason it doesn't have the same effect as syncopation in jazz. Biagi plays around with the beat, so you have to keep your inner metronome sharp and clear. If you start to think the fourth beat is the first beat, sooner or later you're in for a big surprise.
This suggests that he abandoned the tradition of playing music for dancing to. But his music is great fun to dance to, but I really have to listen carefully, I can't take anything for granted. Above all, it's very powerful music, very intense, very energetic. To make a different kind of music, an individual music, is a great achievement.
I checked out YouTube to see if there were many videos of dance to Biagi, but rather few are identified. One of them is familiar because I uploaded it myself, and I've linked it before.
Tete isn't popular with everyone: he's never really elegant, smooth. Watching this video again, it's obvious that he uses his regular, perhaps relatively limited, repertoire of 'steps', even if they are combined in different ways.* But elegant or not, I don't think Tete and Silvia's dance to Biagi can be bettered in spirit and musicality. The intensity of the music is right there in the dance, and they relate perfectly to the legato phrasing, as well as to the crisp rhythms. There's a mixture of long and very short steps, which suits the phrasing and the rhythms well. The introduction is by Natalie Clouet, who invited Tete and Silvia to Paris in May: 'Tango is danced in a variety of ways, but above all one gets support from the floor because from the floor energy is found, and because it's on the floor that one dances the music.' (Tete.)
(*This led me to wonder about dancing differently to different music. Teachers do talk about this. To what extent do you use different steps and combinations of steps when you dance to, say, Di Sarli or D'Arienzo? My guess is that for most dancers it's not the steps themselves that change so much as a more general overall 'interpretation'. The style of dancing to Di Sarli might be longer steps, long smooth turns, while D'Arienzo would be a livelier use of the same steps and turns.)
Friday, 25 September 2009
A swim at sunrise is always the best, if you can get up in time. The sea seems incredibly fresh, completely new, the water as calm as a lake, just a slight swell that brings occasional wavelets on the shingle with a soft kissing sound; the sea is still sleeping, breathing calmly. The water feels warm, a little heavy in its fluidity, but the Mediterranean is packed with salt. & at sunrise and for about five minutes, the low sun brings the surface of the water alight with colour. You swim immersed in colour.
Then it's a 15-minute walk along the beach for a cup of coffee, and all the way back in fresh bright light. The bicycle is folded, the tent and sleeping bag thrown into a holdall, and a seat on the TGV claimed as the northward journey unfolds. Mte Ste. Victoire, then the towers of Avignon fall away into the past. No more sunrise swims this year. Nine hours later, it's a chilly London evening, after a few weeks wearing little more than shorts and a tee-shirt. Tango, but no more ripe peaches.
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Tangocommuter, emerging from a long swim, is called over by two wildly attractive young women standing in the shallows. But the focus of their attention is what one holds in her cupped hands: 'Are those meduses?' she asks. At first sight I see only water and then realise that there are dozens of tiny jellyfish in the water she holds, each hardly more than 1mm long. Her friend points to the sea we are standing in: it is a cloud of minute jellyfish.
Azur, as in 'Cote d'Azur'
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
I've been wondering about the English equivalent. It's a wonderfully derisive remark, and 'Go look for fish in the trees' hardly does it justice. Of course a lot depends on tone, and she gave it plenty, but I guess the translation just doesn't have the rhythmic directness of the French. Derisive, and a bit surreal, too. Remember it for your next visit to France, just in case you need to tell someone to get lost in expressive (but perfectly decent) French.
& a national newspaper reports on a chess tournament in Kolkata at which the French champion, Russian by birth but now French, nodded off at the board. & stayed nodded. His opponent must have grinned, and held his breath for fear of waking him, as the minutes ticked by. Finally, an hour or so later, his clock rang and he awoke, but the time he was allowed for the match had expired. & so he (and la France) lost.
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
This relates to this ongoing discussion about cabaceo, but to me the discussion is about an approach to the milonga in general, even about how seriously we take each other, rather than about whether we should follow an arguably outdated piece of tango history.
Some time ago I went to ask an acquaintance to dance. She was busy chatting with a (girl) friend; I 'hovered' for a moment but she didn't look up, so I walked away. Later she asked me why I hadn't danced with her that evening. Well, it's impolite to interrupt a conversation and, although I was sure my interruption would have been welcome, in the back of my mind there was the feeling that she wasn't 'ready' to dance. Sure, she would have jumped up immediately to dance, but uppermost in her mind would have been another way of relating, another mindset, a lively verbal activity, and it would have felt a little uncomfortable because, for a moment, I wouldn't have trusted her sudden involvement in dancing.
Tango needs a degree of commitment to the partner you are dancing with. The importance of cabaceo doesn't seem to be as the traditional method you use to ask your partner to dance, but as to whether you are maintaining a receptive mood for a dance, and whether you want to dance at that moment with that partner; and cabaceo is still the best way to deal with all that. If you sit watching for a sign – which male or female can ignore or accept – you are ready and committed to your dance, and to your partner, in a way you aren't if you are enjoying some jolly socialising, and sort of fall into a dance casually. & if you start off in a receptive mood, you're going to enjoy your dance a lot more, and get a lot more out of it.
We might be able to think of more appropriate and contemporary ways of organising a milonga than the cabaceo, and if they work as well, fine. I think the principle to keep in mind is how we maintain a focus on a dance we think is important enough to focus on. We might treat tango as more than a recreational activity. We all know it's seriously good for us!
Monday, 21 September 2009
Saturday, 19 September 2009
There's an interesting post on the use of cabaceo in Toronto at Irene and Man Yung's Tango Blog.
I'm still not sure where I stand on this one. I found the serious cabaceo milongas (the 'line-up' ones) in Buenos Aires intimidating – but then I didn't know anyone there. It's also clear that this kind of cabaceo grew up in a social climate quite different from the European or American present, a climate in which it was quite incorrect to have men and women who weren't closely connected sitting near each other. (Apparently they could dance together but not sit together.) At the same time the cabaceo, along with the practice of clearing the floor at the end of a tanda and taking a different partner, imposes a kind of order on a milonga, which tends to make the dance the focus of the evening, to the benefit of the dance.
This might seem excessively formal in our social climate, but a London milonga is a bit blurred between a dance and a social meeting, and what you do on the floor is less visible, less emphasised, perhaps less important, since the lights are kept low. As Irene and Man Yung say, it looks "lively" and "friendly" and "jolly" and "noisy" but this isn't necessarily the atmosphere for tango. Added to this, London dance venues aren't dedicated tango venues, so the layout of tables and chairs may not be helpful. What we do in London has 'just growed'. Of course, so did the cabaceo: people looked at how they organised their dances, saw the needs and the problems, and acted to resolve them. Adopting any solution wholesale isn't likely to be satisfactory, but I think it's a good idea to look at how we do things, and see if they can be improved. At the same time, of course, events have to pay their way, which means giving people what they want, or at least what they expect.
It would certainly be interesting to see how a milonga on fairly traditional lines would work in London, as an experiment. That's why I think the report from Toronto, a sort of 'limited overs' cabaceo*, is so interesting.
(* 'limited overs': a game of cricket played for a very limited period of time.)
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Picasso Cezanne (advertised in that order) at the Musee Granet in Aix. Picasso had a life-long admiration for Cezanne, so it's strange the two haven't met in an exhibition before.
I'm first attracted to the Cezannes, paintings in which drawing, the structure, remains visible on the surface, painting visibly composed of marks, painting moving definitively away from the 'photographic'. Cezanne's doubt and hesitation: the apple is here – no, hang on, it's here; he adds a touch of colour, then comes back a day later and draws it again, a bit lower down, to the side. You can see this in the portraits: they add up to expressive portraits but if you look closely they are composed of a number of slightly different view-points. & flattening: tables are flattened against the picture plane, and even in landscapes there's a flatness. Of course Japanese prints were by now well-known and admired, but Cezanne himself says that the intense light of the south flattens the appearance of landscape.
Which is where Cubism started: what you see depends on where you are, and when you are looking. Perspective, the single viewpoint of the lens at a single instant, is ignored, outdated. & a painting is a collection of marks, of signs. But there was another very significant influence on Picasso: African art, which wasn't another 'style' but an art that didn't try to describe the world, an art with a purpose, an art of exorcism, a creation that had the purpose of intercession. When Picasso thought of this, his connection to Cezanne became more tenuous. As a result, much of the exhibition is taken up with superficial similarities: Cezanne and Picasso both painted landscapes, still lives, portraits, but their ways of painting, even what they were trying to achieve, seem very different, Cezanne always doubting and uncertain, and Picasso, who gives the impression of never doubting anything, affirming life and the creative force.
But both painted skulls. There are a few of Picasso's skulls in the show, but sadly none of Cezanne's (nor of his Mte. Ste. Victoire paintings either). I'd love to see a show of their skull paintings together...
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Total: the name's appeared a couple of times recently. Jane Birkin recently released a song (in English) called Aung San Su Kyi: she's been active in France on behalf of the Nobel Peace Prize winner. I heard the song on the radio some nights ago, recounting, in that sad vulnerable voice, the treatment of Aung San by the Burmese junta. & that was the first mention of Total, a French company that, in conjunction with Chevron, runs the Yadana pipeline that pumps oil out of Burma – and dollars to a junta that controls one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world. The song is a precis of the Earth Rights International report, released on 10/09/2009, which claims that 75% of the Yadana revenues go directly to the junta and that, instead of being spent locally, much of the money finds its way into secret bank accounts offshore of Singapore.
And the other mention? Total is one of the sponsors of the Picasso-Cezanne exhibition.
It's astonishing how toothless world opposition to the Burmese junta appears to be. Politicians say it is bad: the rest of us seem to shrug our shoulders. The report doesn't seem to have been mentioned in the UK press. The recent 'trial' of Aung San, like the suppression of the monks' protests and the deaths not so long ago, seem to have passed with a bit of token outrage. Shamefully, the junta looks secure for the time being: oil supports the junta, since Burma has little other trade with the outside world, and the report suggests that if Total pulled out, Chinese companies would take over...
I like Aix-en-Provence. It's an old town-sized city, with university city facilities; it's warm, the light is marvellous, it has tango, the Mediterranean isn't far, and the countryside around, including the 3,000 ft Mte. Ste. Victoire, is just amazing. Yes, I would like to live there.
& it has more dance than tango. The internationally-known French choreographer Anglin Preljocaj moved his company there a few years ago, establishing a custom-built centre, the Pavillon Noir, perhaps a surprisingly static but obviously pragmatic glass and concrete work place and centre. It has since been recognised as a 'Centre Chorégraphique National'.
The Preljocaj company visits London regularly: I saw their Rite of Spring at Sadler's Wells few years ago. His work is inventive, lyrical, challenging, intensely physical, with a wonderful sense of how amazing human bodies in motion can be. The climax of the Rite of Spring can be seen here: warning, if necessary, scenes of nudity. & of course the company is active in the streets of Aix, giving public performances and workshops.
Monday, 14 September 2009
& in March I noted that Alberto Dassieu was visiting Zurich, and I linked a couple of videos. Actually I wanted to point out that here was a great tango dancer and teacher within reach of London: I hoped, in vain, that someone with a bit of money might think if getting him over from Switzerland. The page is here: the second video, the D'Arienzo, I've watched again and again. Two moments stand out: at the very beginning when he and Elba Biscay first make contact it's like two magnets. And then there's an extraordinary turn at 0:34 that always makes me smile: you can hardly see Elba's face, but a glimpse suggests she's grinning from ear to ear.
& now a couple of videos of his Swiss visit have surfaced, filmed in beautiful HD. Interestingly, this one features that same vals, but it's a more sedate version. Elba Biscay is known as one of the great milongueras, and it's a pity she couldn't visit Switzerland. Or London.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
As for the two £25-a-head milongas, I am told that the Sexteto Canyengue gave note-perfect renditions of tango scores, as classical musicians can, and incidentally gave a perfect demo that, although tango is played from the notes on written scores, the way those notes are played, their precise duration, the precise speed of phrases, the changes of speed within phrases, the exact emphasis, the 'attack', all of which give tango its own distinctive swing, are almost as important as the work of the composer and arranger. Was that worth £25? & the fact that other milongas, which usually charge 1/3 of that price, closed 'in favour of' this extravaganza, leaves me gob-smacked. Surely something expensive and exclusive has to earn the right to be expensive and exclusive, and it doesn't sound as if it did.
Friday, 11 September 2009
Place Richelme is in the centre of Aix. It's not a big square; on the city map it is only a crossroads, but it is easily the most memorable of the city's squares. The daily market under the massive plane trees, is said to be one of the best in Provence, a land of great daily markets. Then at midday what's left of a huge array of farm-fresh fruit and veg, and other high-quality food, is packed away, the smooth marble flagstones are hosed down, and the cafes spread out their chairs and tables under canopies for the rest of the day. By evening it has the atmosphere of a southern European city: in the cafes and on seats spilling out onto the square people sit and watch football, yelling at the goals, pizza delivery boys roar by, kids wander around licking ice creams, drinks are served to people chatting at tables under the trees, under the stars. You sit out in a tee-shirt and shorts until late: it's warm and it feels good.
But that's not the end of the story. Every Sunday night from early July onwards, between 9.30 and 1am, there's a milonga on the smooth marble flagstones. Because the surroundings interrupt constantly until late in the evening, it doesn't have the concentration of a London or Paris milonga, and there's a certain contrast between the dance in one corner of the square and the relaxed party evening elsewhere. About fifteen couples take to the 'floor', which slopes upwards nearly a metre at one corner, but there's plenty of room for everyone. The dance is about the same mix as London, some salon, some nuevo, a lot in between; some smooth and skilful, some... I didn't find the music that good: for instance, it's odd to hear Biaggi in the third or fourth tanda of an evening, because it isn't easy music to dance to. It's a social and drinking evening with dance too, although they're obviously serious about their dance. At the Paris milonga I went to there were more women than men but here numbers were about equal, and everyone was obviously on good terms, so I didn't try very hard to get a dance. Anyway, it would have been hard to convince anyone I was serious, in worn blue canvas sneakers.
But the good news is that it's there. Take a pair of half-decent shoes, introduce yourself to the organisers beforehand and pay them the recommended €2, sit at the tables where the dancers sit, order a drink and join in. A friendly, open event. I found some photos from a year or two ago here.
According to blogger this is my 201st post. Here's to the next 200!
It's a 17th century chateau, though parts of it are much older, and it had fallen into disrepair. It had been asset-stripped by Marseilles businessmen who owned it briefly, it needed re-roofing, and central heating and modern plumbing had to be installed, no mean feat with walls over one meter thick. & it was infested with scorpions. However, it was turned into a beautiful studio home, huge spare rooms, with breath-taking and breath-giving views of the forests on the northern slope of Mte. Ste. Victoire. Picasso boasted that he had bought Cezanne's Mte. Ste. Victoire, but he was exaggerating by 50%: the grounds of the chateau include only the entire northern slopes of the mountain.
But Picasso, then in his 80s, began to suffer angina, and the nearest doctor was miles away, so the stay at Vauvenargues was brief. An extraordinary place to visit, and the nearby village is enchanting.
The 'grounds' of the chateau include everything you can see in the second picture (except the sky).
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Then we come to Maharaha Man Singh. While still a child he was deprived of his kingdom by an evil uncle. He was kept in hiding by loyal supporters, but the difficulties of this weighed on him, and he decided to give himself up. That night in a vision, the story goes, the founder of the Naths appeared and advised him to wait a few days. In those few days the uncle died and Man Singh inherited his kingdom. The Naths were - still are - an order of yogis, reknown for fierce determination and unswerving discipline in meditation. Many stories are told about their mental powers. In person they can be intimidating. Not a good idea to fool with the Naths.
These events obviously changed Man Singh's life, and this is reflected in his court paintings, which tend to feature identical Naths rather than identical ladies. But at a certain stage Man Singh instructed his artists to turn their attention to metaphysical issues. There are a lot of painted images relating to Indian 'myths' and Ajit Mukherjee has published impressive books of paintings of tantric diagrams, but for the most part they are diagrams.
The imagination of Man Singh's artists was wildly challenged when it came to depicting the arising of existence out of nothingness, and they found extraordinary solutions. There are several triptychs reading left to right: the left showing just burnished gold, the centre showing partly formed images, with the final painting on the right. There are a number of wonderful depictions of the body-as-universe, as it is in tantric thought. And finally there is a room of long paintings of figures floating in a sea of pattern. Utterly strange and mysterious. & most of the paintings are big. Nothing miniature in size or concept in the paintings on show.
Friday, 4 September 2009
Much as I like the idea of December 21 being midsummer's day, of having two midsummer's days in the year, of winter not really getting under way until January, it's an expensive trip, and I've been getting some good dancing in London. Do I really need it? & I have to admit the city itself doesn't appeal to me that much. I'd rather spend what little I have on a place closer to the Mediterranean...
Some months back I suggested a London tango festival to which six or eight of the very best experienced milongueros and milongueras would be invited to teach and dance for a couple of weeks. It was, of course, impossibly expensive to organise, but I see nothing wrong in suggesting something that is a really good idea, even if it isn't possible. Who knows, someone with the money might like the idea too.
Then a month or so ago I got an email from an older milonguero in Buenos Aires. I'd linked a video of him that I really liked, and he wrote to thank me for this, and said that if ever I got that festival under way... So I felt I had to write back apologetically and say that it was 'un sueno, y nada mas'. Then a couple of days ago I got a reply from him which says, as best I can translate, 'Please may I say that there is nothing more beautiful in the life of a human being than dreams. Some can be realised, others not. But they are always dreams and are nourished daily (son alimentan a diario).'
I was quite moved by that; it seemed so courteous, thoughtful and even poignant. In Latin America dreams may well be more sustaining than we'd imagine in Europe. So... I think I'm going to have to start looking for flights again. After all, it's the people you visit, rather than the city.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
I wonder how Elmyr de Hory's drawings will stand up to time. He was a gifted artist with an intimate understanding of the sensibility and style of most 20th century artists, and found he could make an easier living out of it than developing anything of his own. He made such beautiful Picasso and Matisse drawings that the 'experts' were usually fooled. Of course that isn't illegal; signing them or claiming they are by another artist is illegal, and Elmyr claimed he never wrongly signed a drawing... When it all began to unravel in the late 1960s he committed suicide rather than face prison in Ibiza. Orson Welles' film about forgery, F is for Fake, shows him at home in Ibiza, casually making an exquisite Matisse, explaining how Matisse's line was hesitant -- and then burning it, laughing. After that, provenance, rather than the expert eye, was regarded as trustworthy, until provenances began to be forged...
& music? If original recordings of D'Arienzo suddenly became valuable, I guess the discs and recording techniques could be copied, but the music would be something else. D'Arienzo was an orquesta, not an individual, and they played together nightly. In any case, musicians, like art forgers, carry with them the sensibility of their times. Classical music isn't played now as it was 50 years ago. There's a new kind of rhythmic urgency, and it's hard not to think that this comes from a generation of musicians whose background includes Coltrane and Hendrix. When I first heard that wild bandoneon solo in the Cumparasita of Orquesta Escuelo, I assumed it was a new arrangement, then a few weeks ago I heard it again, note for note - in an old D'Arienzo recording. But it sounds new, and so it should. Even in playing old scores, musicians bring in what they have heard, and renew the music.