Into the mapless lands
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Open until September 2001
Enter the world of cold.
I'm not talking about "My-it's-a-bit-nippy-today" type cold. I'm thinking more "Pour-a-kettle-of-boiling-water-and-it-turns-to-ice-
before-it-hits-the-ground" type cold. Ultimate cold.
Not to mention howling winds, razor-sharp blue icebergs, and snow all around you so bright and vast that it blinds you. Plus the odd hidden precipice, a hungry polar bear or two, and navigating large, bulky ships through uncharted seas, which happen to be frozen solid.
What drives us to go forth into places unknown, where no maps exist, and there are no footsteps to follow? What is it about the glory of discovery that makes all the discomfort and danger worthwhile?
This exhibition looks at the expeditions of Shackelton, Scott and Amundsen. Three leaders -- and their teams -- who were focused on reaching the South Pole between 1900 and the end of WWI.
With exhibits from Scott's first voyage on Discovery, and the subsequent tragic Terra Nova expedition, you'll get a moving insight into the extraordinary lives of these men who risked everything for this forsaken, frostbiting wilderness.
Most haunting is Scott's diary, which was rescued when his body was finally found preserved - along with those friends he watched die around him. The book itself looks in eerily good condition, opened at the page where Scott finally wrote "THE POLE!" on 17 January 1912, after years of effort and work. Imagine his disappointment as he realised he had been beaten to his goal by Amundsen, and his final desperation as he realised the only possible end for himself and his men.
Chocolat - The Film
As it's nearing Easter it seemed a good time to review the ultimate current Easter film - Chocolat. Nominated for a bunch of Oscars (ultimately it didn't win anything) this is another Hollywood version of a best selling book. And having read and very much enjoyed the book, I was really looking forward to the film. What can I say about it? Charming? Yes. Nicely shot? Yes. Brilliant acting? Not really. True to the spirit of the book? Absolutely no way.
That was what disappointed me most about the film. I wonder how Joanne Harris (the author of the book) feels about the film. She's probably laughing all the way to the bank, as the sales of her book will no doubt go through the roof. But will people who've seen the film and then read the book to get a bit more of the story be disappointed? Probably.
Basically the film is all happy endings, whereas the book isn't. Without giving too much away -- the evil character in the film was a mayor. In the book he didn't exist and the evil character was a priest. The priest in the film is young and sympathetic and sings Elvis songs. In the book he's bitter and twisted and incites arsonists. In the film Johnny Depp looks his usual rugged, square-chinned self and he's an Irish gypsy. However his Irish accent wasn't really up to scratch ....but who cares, the character was a ginger haired French peasant in the book. In the film there's romance amongst unlikely people. In the book a cute dog dies, people run off and generally magic triumphs over religion.
Another problem I personally had with the film was how much Juliette Binoche (the female lead) looked like Jennifer Saunders. I can't wait to see the French & Saunders parody of the film as Jennifer is hardly going to have to spend any time in makeup for this one. I just wonder who Dawn French is going to play. The Judi Dench "strong old bag with a heart of gold" character.....or the evil mayor.....or will she do a Vicar of Dibley and play the nice gentle priest singing Jailhouse Rock whilst doing the gardening?
Anyway don't let me put you off. If I hadn't read the book first, I probably would have enjoyed the film far more than I actually did. It is about chocolate and it does have Judi Dench in it, so it can't be all bad.
What is happening to contemporary dance?
Back in the 1970's it was enough to have dancers in bare feet, women lifting men and a ballet without narrative. Or, in the case of Candoco, dancers in wheelchairs. Now, of course, that is almost old hat. So where does contemporary dance go now? It goes obscure.
When asked the meaning of one of their dances, I Hastened Through My Death Scene to Catch Your Last Act, Artistic Director of Candoco, Celeste Dandeker MBE, reflected the question back with, "What did you think it was about?" Very post-modern.
So refer to the programme and an interview with the choreographer, Javier de Frutos, and there is some elucidation. He's working from his research into Tennessee Williams.
And certainly the Tennessee Williams violence is there in the dancers' staccato and writhing movement, also, possibly, the feeling of frustration and being shut in as represented by the dancer with the bottom half of his torso trapped in a box. But where is the sultry heat of Williams? The understated, rather than in your face, anger and destructiveness? Yes, Williams is supposed to be disturbing, but it's more a creeping sadness, which sighs through you like the melancholic tones of a saxophone.
Three cheers, then for the second piece Candoco is taking on its tour this season, Sunbyrne, choreographed by Doug Elkins. A symphony of movement, music, light and colour. At last the dancers were moving and showing the full breadth of their skill.
Candoco, now in its second decade, is an integrated company, pioneering in its approach to dancers with disability. As Dandeker explained in her after show discussion, the wheelchairs have become less important over the years, and all the dancers are now making more use of the floor. When Suzanne Cowan left her wheelchair behind her in Sunbyrne, her grace and elegance was breath-taking.
Dandeker insisted that Candoco has always been mainstream and there is no doubt that it is pushing forward the frontiers of dance, that it is at the cutting edge of contemporary dance. And as such they deserve a bigger audience than turned out last month at the Wycombe Swan, bums on seats in similar measure to what greets the ubiquitous Swan Lakes and Nutcrackers which are continuously doing the rounds.