Monday, January 16, 2012

First Kew Gardens trip of 2012

This weekend brought the first proper frost I can recall seeing this winter. Amazing, considering that it's January already. Strange weather indeed!

It was the perfect day to explore Kew Gardens - crisp and cold, with beautiful blue skies. What a contrast to the last time we visited (picnicking amongst the tumbling leaves of the October mini-heatwave)! There were definite signs of Spring, however, with lots of sprouting crocuses and daffodils. I was over the moon to see some beautiful snowdrops, although I felt there wasn't as many as I remember from previous years. Maybe more will have come through when I go back for the Tropical Extravaganza in few weeks!

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Back on the blogwagon (for now)...

This blog has died a death in recent times. I suppose I could never decide which direction to take it in. It could have become focused on bellydance or tea & cakes or science - all great loves of mine. However, I don't think I have the dedication (or time) to keep thinking of things to post on a single subject. Maybe, the blog just has to be a little of everything, depending on what takes my fancy in the moment. I have a tendency to make posting on the blog a chore as well. I need to get away from feeling that I need to write an essay, instead being content to just post a photo or a few sentences.

I had a lovely, relaxed Christmas and Hogmanay despite it being a bit of a damp squib in some respects. G was ill and is probably one of a few individuals who lost weight over the festive period. Thankfully, he got better in time to enjoy some of the holidays. Hogmanay was probably quieter than we've ever had, but I feel it was what we both needed.

So, 2012. The wedding now seems iminent (and it is). I could pretend it was ages away when it was 2011! Lots to do and think about, but we seem to be fairly organised on the whole.

I can't write a post without mentioning our new obsession - Skyrim. G bought me the game for Christmas and we both love it. It's just a gorgeous looking game, right down to the last detail. *sad confession time* We takes turns at playing - I do magic and he hacks at things with a big sword!

P.S. The photo is of Panpepato ("peppered bread"), an Italian delight I made to share at Christmas. It's so rich and lovely that you only need a tiny piece!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dance musings - dance geometry and fluidity in dance

At the beginning of the month, I was lucky enough to attend another fabulous pair of workshops taught by Hilde Cannoodt. Hilde is fast becoming one of my favourite teachers of tribal fusion and I'm grateful that she's willing to make the trek from Brighton to London to teach workshops regularly.

The first workshop "Dance Geometry" was a complete geekfest! It's a unique dance workshop where the teacher is talking about concepts like the golden section in the first 1o minutes, but then it's a unique teacher who has a degree in maths. Hilde's idea is to take the mathematical patterns found in nature and use them in our dance - so curves, parallel lines, interesting angles etc. We spent the rest of the workshop working on a fun choreography using these concepts. One strong message I got from the workshop was that every element of the body should be considered when trying to make a performance that is pleasing to the eye. Even something as subtle as where your gaze is can make a big difference.

The second workshop "Fluidity in Dance" began with an epic electro-swing warm-up. Once the sweat was dripping off us, it was time to get work on some concepts to get our movements more fluid. We started by practising walking in a fluid manner - an absolute fundamental of dance! It was quite amazing how slight changes in technique made layering much easier too. Next was slowing moves down - all the way to an epic 32 counts. I wasn't convinced I was still moving anything by that stage! I actually found this part of the workshop pretty difficult and I think I need to play with this a little at home. Next up was a choreography using all sorts of little tricks like using moves that overlap, layering fluid movements over sharp ones and the use of negative space. I definitely feel that even if I wasn't a more fluid dancer at the end of the workshop, then I now know what to work on to improve that aspect of my dance. Job done, really!

So, two excellent workshops on the whole. Lots of food for thought and inspiration to integrate into my practice. I really would urge anyone with an interest in tribal fusion to take a workshop with Hilde if they get the chance. For a start, she does the best warm-ups you will ever get at a dance class!

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dance musings: No longer a Gothla virgin...

This weekend was my first trip to Gothla, the UK’s largest gothic bellydance festival. The deciding factor for me was the opportunity to take some workshops with Sera Solstice, a truly excellent dancer and the founder of East Coast Tribal in New York. The workshops certainly didn’t disappoint.

Sera has divided her dance into two distinctive styles – Solar and Lunar - and she taught a workshop on each. Solar is energetic, powerful and reaches outward, whereas Lunar is more fluid and isolated, focusing on internal energies. The first workshop “Solar” was challenging to say the least – lots of strong combos involving lunges, travelling moves and strong arm movements. I think everyone must have had a fantastic workout, aided by the heat in the studio! Sera also guided us through a meditation, which I had never really connected with on her DVDs, but it made much more sense in a group. It was a nice way to share space with fellow dancers and build energy for the class ahead. One of my favourite parts of the workshop focused on travelling moves and how changes in speed can really alter the feel of really quite simple movements.

Yesterday’s “Lunar” workshop focused much more on isolations, undulations and fluid arm movements. For the most part, I found this much more manageable than the solar moves, although it was still a challenge. There was a whole section where I felt a bit lost as I couldn’t see much of what was going on at the front of the class, but I did manage to pick up some bits up from watching people in front of me. I also realised that I need to work on my sidewinder/torso figures of eights as they aren’t strong at all. They’re movements I don’t really use in ATS and I never seem to practise them. However, I love the way they look, especially with nice arm undulations.

As well as the two workshops, I also attended the Friday night showcase, which included performances by the invited teachers as well as some guest performers. The wonderful Jesse (my ATS teacher) and equally lovely Marisa (from our student troupe, Apsara) were dancing the only pure ATS piece, which I was really pleased to see. Personal highlights from the rest of the show were finally seeing the UK’s Bex Priest dance (she’s a truly excellent Gothic fusion dancer), discovering the bellydance version of Bjork (Elin Kaavin – the arctic fairy), as well as getting to see performances by Sera Solstice and Sashi (another excellent US teacher). It didn’t end there though, the last piece was a fantastic performance by Morgana and the Excalibur Dance Company, which was inspired by The Matrix. This had to be seen to be believed as words can’t do it justice! I’m praying for the video to appear on YouTube soon!

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

January review

A month into 2011 already. How time flies! It's been a busy month too, with loads of interesting things going on. I think we surpassed ourselves in terms of exhibitions and museum visits!

  • Canaletto at the National Gallery. A thoroughly enjoyable exhibition focusing on Canaletto and his rivals. Canaletto truly was the rich man's picture postcard painter - his paintings of Venice are exquisite and the composition is always excellent (even if it meant bending the truth slightly). It was interesting to note that he wasn't the first to fill that role, as painters such as Luca Carlevarijs had been painting vedute of Venice for years before him. The rival who really stood out to me was Francesco Guardi, one of the last painters of the classical Venetian School. His work really captured the fading grandeur of Venice and seemed to portray Venice as she is now (he was painting around the 1760s). I especially adored how he turned the emphasis from Venice out towards the lagoon itself (becoming almost Turner-esque).

  • Gauguin at Tate Modern. This was a mammoth exhibition - 11 rooms in total - looking at the themes and mythology in Gauguin's work. It was very hard work - far too many people allowed in at any one time and rather poorly curated. Much of the information seemed to be stuffed into corners, or (in the case of sculptures & carvings) hidden in a random location on the wall. As I found out from a friend later, the audio guide had excellent information but I don't really expect to pay out more cash after paying £13 for entry in the first place. Westminster Abbey and the Queen's Gallery include your audio guide as part of the ticket price, which makes much more sense! Anyway, depite that rant, the exhibition was well-worth attending. I had seen some of Gauguin's work before ("Vision of the Sermon" in particular) and the bold, vivid colours had stuck in my mind. However, I did find some of the paintings a bit menacing with their strange characters lurking in the background! One of my favourite things was the two rooms with photographs, books and other paraphernalia, which served to put Gauguin's work into context with the time in which he was painting. I left the exhibition wanting to know more about him, regardless of how arrogant and morally dubious as he seemed!

  • High Society at the Wellcome Collection. This must be the most popular exhibition I've been to at the Wellcome Collection - it was heaving! Something to do with the subject matter no doubt - mind-altering drugs in history and culture. Starting with the discovery of these drugs and their effects (loads of written accounts of self-experimentation), the exhibition progressed right through the 19th century drug trade to the changing attitudes of today. I was fascinated to discover how much the British were involved in the opium trade - the East India Company had opium plantations and sold to Chinese smugglers, despite opium being illegal in China at the time!

  • Our first members evening at The British Museum and an opportunity to view galleries after-hours. Bliss! This evening was focused around the current Book of the Dead exhibition, which we went to see before Christmas (excellent but really needs two visits). We spent some time in the Egyptian sculpture court and listened to a curator talking about how they can date stelae by identifying features unique to the artisan who carved the hieroglyphs - so clever! To round off the evening, there was a lecture by the curator of the Book of the Dead exhibition, which I wish I had seen before we went, as it was such a good introduction to the subject matter. I felt the member evenings really do make the cost of membership worthwhile, and I can't wait until the next one!

  • A members only visit to the Herbarium at Kew Gardens. This was a really fascinating insight into some of the behind-the-scenes work at Kew. The Herbarium was founded in 1853 to store dried plant specimens that were collected to be used to assist in identification and research. It still receives thousands of specimens every year and has staff dedicated to preserving and cataloguing them. One of the highlights was seeing specimens collected by Charles Darwin (in the photo above) and David Livingstone - it's amazing to think how different the world was when they were collected!

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Real Van Gogh at the RA

On Saturday we finally got around to visiting “The Real Van Gogh: the artist and his letters” exhibition at the Royal Academy. As the title suggests, the exhibition focused on Van Gogh’s many letters displayed alongside artworks tracing his progression as an artist.

One of the first things I noticed was his early works were so different to what we envisage when we think of Van Gogh. They were pen and ink works, which he used to practise perspective and, in some cases, I felt that the sketches in his letters were better realised than the actual artworks. He progressed to working on figures, especially country people, with limited success. It was when the artist began, at the suggestion of his brother, to work with colour and a more impressionist style that his work began to come into its own. The vibrant colours and textures of his still-lifes made me want to reach out and run my hand over the canvas, especially his “Still life with basket and six oranges”. (above) It was at this stage that he began to pair blue and orange so effectively as he did in his paintings of sunflowers.

The final few rooms centred on the artist’s landscapes painted in the last years of his life, when his mental state was deteriorating. It was so obvious that Van Gogh had a great love of the countryside and I couldn’t help but feel that he really did find peace in the pastoral. The cool blues and greens of his “Olive Trees” and the swirling leaves of “Cypresses” were two of my favourites in the whole exhibition. The last room, which included his last, unsent letter to his brother (carried on him the day he shot himself), showed an artist at the peak of his creative genius. At this time, he was painting more than a canvas a day including the beautiful “Ears of Wheat” and “Hospital at Saint-Remy”.

The pairing of Van Gogh’s letters with the associated artworks really did give an opportunity to understand the artist as a person. Even with my rusty knowledge of french, I could get an idea of the concerns in his life – even down to him finding a restaurant where he could eat for 1 franc. I genuinely felt that he was concerned about being a burden to his brother (who was his patron) and it was this that lead to his suicide. I felt he was an incredibly intelligent person fighting with inner demons at a time in which there was nobody qualified to help him.

I think this exhibition has to be one of my favourites of all the art exhibitions I have visited while living in London. I left with a new found respect for an artist who I previously associated with sunflowers and madness. Seeing the actual paintings allowed me to appreciate the vibrant colours and textures more than I ever could looking at pictures in a book. It is almost unbelieveable that Van Gogh produced so much art (over 900 paintings) in less than 10 years. In many ways, it was only to be expected that he burned out and was reaped when he was ripe (a symbolism inherent in many of his paintings).


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dance musings: the year ahead

This post is a little belated given that it's two months into 2010, but nevermind! 2009 was a good year for me dance-wise. I was lucky enough to dance with some amazing teachers (Sharon Kihara, Yasmina of Cairo, Lorna Gow and Paulette Rees-Denis spring to mind), try some new stuff (veil fans and fire props - not at the same time, I hasten to add) and just generally start to build some confidence in my dancing ability.

This year, I really want to work towards performing more. Not solo stuff but small group choreographies and ATS style improv. This means making much more effort to practise. It also means getting some serious costuming together. I've decided to allow myself one bellydance treat a month (possibly more in March when I'm at Majma!) and so far, I have bought myself some lovely new zils and a red 25 yard skirt. I'm concentrating on ATS costuming at the moment, as I think a trip to Cairo is needed to get a proper egyptian costume!

On that note, I've started Egyptian classes again after a year break, which I am thoroughly enjoying. We're working on a latin-bellydance fusion choreography that's great fun. My teacher, Krystina, is such an excellent choreographer! She really knows how to add extra dimension to large group dances.

So, my dance goals for 2010 are:
  • to sharpen technique and develop more muscle strength through stretching etc
  • to get some lovely costuming together
  • to attend as many events as I can
  • to invest in a lovely balanced sword (this is the one I am most excited about!)
  • to have loads of fun!

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