The choice of music on this series of Strictly Come Dancing is a great disappointment. What an opportunity they have to range over the world’s fantastic dance music, and what a shame they don’t take it! I find it particularly annoying when the on-stage band is so good. I’d love to hear them in a far bigger repertoire than they get to play.
Time after time we see dances such as the Viennese Waltz, American Smooth, Foxtrot, Samba and Jive, all welded to recent pop music which is sometimes barely representative of the rhythm required. So unimaginative and similar are the musical choices that it leaves one with no distinct feeling of what makes, say, a quickstep different from a foxtrot, or a samba different from a rumba. Worst of all are the Latin American dances, particularly the Tango. South America has produced such tremendous music for the tango, so striking and evocative, but we never get to hear it. Where is the music of Astor Piazzolla?
You can see the dancers’ feet moving to a rhythmic pattern they’ve memorised in the practise studio, but it doesn’t always fit with the music we hear. Just because a piece of music is in, say, three-time, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right choice for a waltz. Often we hear music which may have the ‘correct’ time-signature but entirely the wrong mood, and is completely lacking in the kind of lilt which would let dancers ‘breathe’.
When there is such a wealth of beautiful Viennese dance music, what is the point of ignoring it? And when there is such charming, sophisticated music from the 1930’s and 40’s, why force dancers to squeeze a quickstep into a suit that’s too tight for it? Using appropriate music from the right era could kindle a whole new interest in the history of dance music.
at the National Gallery
An intriguing hour at ‘The Sacred Made Real’, a National Gallery exhibition of Spanish religious art from 1600-1700. Although it had some wonderful paintings, its main focus was a series of statues – of Christ, of Mary, and of various saints – carved from wood and beautifully painted by artists who specialised in making the facial features and the skin tones look as realistic as possible.
Hair was made of twisted wicker, or of woodshavings varnished and painted black or brown. Wounds were made of cork bark coloured a deep red. Bruises on the skin were rendered in the subtlest of blues floating under the paint surface. The eyes were cups of painted glass, inserted into the hollow wooden faces from behind, and given sparkle by touches of egg-white varnish. Tears were made of glass, and tracks of tears suggested with lines of animal glue on the cheeks. Eyelashes were made of human hair, teeth from ivory or bone. The complexions were finely shaded and shadowed, the eyelids defined in black, the cheekbones highlighted much as a make-up artist would do today. All this skill was deployed to make the wooden figures look as much like the living saints as possible, especially as encountered in the half-light of a monastery or church.
As Bob said, one had to push away the irreverent and wholly unhelpful comparison with waxwork figures in Madame Tussaud’s - which, of course, came later and in a very different spirit.
Curiously, the effect of all this hyper-realism was to make me feel slightly distant. Perhaps our more northern culture has trained me in the ways of understatement, of hints and suggestions. I rather like being left to do some of the imaginative work myself. I felt I would have believed more in the figures if they had insisted less on their anatomical realism, the verismilitude of the blood. Yet there were moments when I could almost feel my way into the emotion they must release in a devout Spanish audience.
in Richmond Park today
Richmond Park this morning offered many examples of a discouraging sight which is fast becoming familiar in the parks round here: of dog-walkers absorbed in conversations on their mobile phones, while their dogs trail meekly behind them.
Are we really still a nation of dog-lovers? One of the cheering sights of the park used to be dog-owners interacting with their dogs, throwing balls for them, kicking up leaves for them to chase and bark at. People with dogs were, we noticed, more likely to say hallo and even enter into conversation with us as we stood beside one another at the lake or wherever, watching the antics of the dogs. Having a dog with them seemed to give people an extra social confidence.
Now they seem wrapped up in conversations with people who aren’t there. Not only do they not speak to passers-by; they don’t speak to their dogs either. ‘Well, what do you think I should do?’ one young woman was saying into her phone as she passed us. ‘I’ve tried dropping hints but it isn’t working. He doesn’t seem to hear anything I say any more….’ Her golden retriever trotted along at her side, his head turned to look hopefully up at her.
I’ve just realised that this is my hundredth blog post on this website. I am a centenarian!
To celebrate, here’s a sweet story I heard from Mark Morris when I attended his question-and-answer session the other night at Sadler’s Wells.
He was complaining about someone sitting in the balcony at one of his shows last week who couldn’t resist texting her friends on her mobile phone throughout the evening. Her phone kept lighting up in the dark, and her large earrings jangled as she tossed her hair. Lots of people were annoyed, including him, and he wasn’t even in the balcony.
We moved on to other topics. About ten minutes later, someone said that Morris’s work struck her, in a good way, as ‘childish’. Quick as a flash he said, ‘Childlike, not child-ish. Childish is jangly earrings and texting.’
He went on to say that it amazes him how theatre audiences put up with inconsiderate behaviour that would never be tolerated at a concert, particularly a chamber music concert or recital. A while ago in New York, he told us, he attended a solo piano recital by the great Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini. The whole audience was listening in rapt silence. At one point, Mark Morris ‘crossed his corduroyed legs’, as he put it, causing the tiniest susurration of soft fabric against soft fabric, and about 20 people whirled round with one accord and glared at him.
Yesterday I was astounded to hear a golfer talking on the radio about the current trend whereby competitors in golf championships are ferried from tee to green in little buggies. When asked whether it was really so hard to walk that short distance, the golfer replied that hitting a golf shot is a demanding physical skill which takes a lot out of you. He and his fellow golfers are, he said, very grateful for the occasional buggy ride which helps them conserve their stamina.
Golfers aren’t the only sportsmen who want to cut out unnecessary traipsing. It’s been the case for a long time that championship tennis players don’t have to pick up their own tennis balls. Ball-girls and ball-boys rush about the court doing that job for them while they conserve their energy for the main task.
On that basis, I’m starting to feel that it’s too much for me to walk the exhausting distance from the green room to the concert platform. Playing the piano is physically demanding too. I mean to learn from those sportsmen’s examples. From now on, I think I shall have myself transported on stage in a sedan chair by a brace of page-turners.