Leviathan, you creature of the seas…

contributed by Cassidy Locke, LANS Y2

When I went to see Leviathan at the MAC last Friday, all I knew was that it was a contemporary dance piece based on the story of Moby Dick.  It sounded intriguing enough, despite the fact that I was having trouble remembering the basic storyline of Herman Melville’s classic novel, having never read it.  I had seen the film, years ago, but all I could remember was a vague impression of a crazed sea-captain of a whaling ship being absolutely determined to catch some particular whale at any cost.  Ahab, this captain was called, and the whale was Moby Dick.  Ahab sought revenge on the whale for biting his leg off at the knee on a previous expedition.  My lack of knowledge was not to be a problem, I was relieved to find. The performance was only loosely based on Moby Dick, picking up key themes rather than attempting a complete retelling.

Throughout, the performance evoked the theme of obsession and desperation that runs through Melville’s novel, poLeviathan-spouting-girl_1000rtrayed through a remarkable flow of capoeira, martial arts and stunningly athletic dance.  The result is hard to put into words.  The stark lighting, making use of black and white, with rare flashes of yellow, the arresting artistry and deft expression of the dancers, accompanied by a moving electro-rock soundtrack by the Polish prog band Lunatic Soul melded to create a remarkable show (check this trailer of the show).  The only prop was long lengths of heavy rope, skilfully used.  The rest of the time we were left to marvel at the dancers.  The female lead, dressed all in white as some embodiment of the whale that Ahab seeks, maintained her distance from the audience all evening.  We were never acknowledged, scarcely saw her face, were treated to long moments where she seemed to flex each individual muscle in her back.  She was completely ethereal, totally elusive, neatly giving us an insight into Ahab’s frustration that he cannot catch her. This is a frustration that we saw mounting all evening with Ahab’s vocal and dynamic performance evoking the chaos of his mind.

leviathan2Every dancer was perfectly poised, panther-like in their bounce and stealth, radiating strength and artistry in a way that I could never have expected when I settled into my seat that evening.   The performance was creative and innovative in every aspect.  There were times when they were all linked together and sailed over and under one another in a way that did not seem possible, even as they proved me wrong.  The James Wilton Dance company gave us something unique, something startling, something powerful.

A brief history of (English) music

contributed by Jennifer (Qian) Zhang, LANS Y1

What else could bring you the music of the Middle Ages England on a Friday evening? The answer surely is a Cultural Event!

On 17th Feb, we went to the Solihull Core Theatre for an educational treat. It was an ‘intimate’ experience according to Jennifer Bainbridge (Yr4) that pulled us close to some English folk music 600 years ago, and presented some interesting aspects of that culture.

Brief History of Music

After a brief introduction, the two presenters/musicians started off playing the oldest surviving English song (so old, that I forgot its name!). The show moved in chronological order. Most songs were cheerful and genuinely pleasant to listen to. Throughout the whole evening, the same two people kept the show going and I really appreciated their stamina, as they were either playing an instrument, or singing, or explaining the background of music and presenting the various instruments – non-stop.

One feature picked out by many was the interesting explanations offered for each song. The performers would give an idea of when the song was composed, the occasion it was played in, and so on. There was one really loud instrument which musicians would get paid and use it to wake people up at certain time. Abi Pilkington Yr1 mentioned: “they combined the comedy and education elements really well and successfully, plus I came away with more of an appreciation of the background of instruments.Jennifer Bainbridge Yr 4 also reviewed: “I liked the balance between music and explanations and felt like learned a lot.

Almost none of us knew what to expect, as it was rather difficult to fathom from the online description; it was difficult to imagine what it might contain before actually experiencing it; but everyone would agree that we were drawn to the uniqueness of it and, on the evening, everybody enjoyed it. It is true, having some random songs were played, using some old blaring instruments might not sound that attractive (pun intended!), but the overall value came from such a straight forward way to presenting and experience the culture of a time long past.

To end this blog, I would like to mention another thing that made me enjoy the event which was the witty and cheeky lyrics. The song repeated:

My thing is my own,

And I will keep it so still

Yet all the young lasses may do as they will.

More comments on “A brief history of music”:

Miriam Wallis Yr2: I absolutely loved it. It was also really funny which was a nice surprise. Definitely one of the better events I’ve been to.

Abi Pilkington Yr1: I really enjoyed the show, however I wish they’d shown the more modern/ current pieces of music too so I could relate.

Jennifer Bainbridge Yr4: I really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it has inspired me but I’d definitely be interested in attending similar events to do with folk music/ history of music 🙂

Katy Potter Yr2: I really enjoyed it! It was great how many instruments they used. It doesn’t link really to anything I do haha but I really enjoy music so I thought it would be a good thing to attend.

And also,  thanks to Alice Heaps who would like to share her blog on this event. Click here to see her blog with amazing and quality details on the event: A Brief History of Music – just one second: https://justonesecondalice.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/a-brief-history-of-music/

Why Cirque Berserk wasn’t all just clowning around.

contributed by Helena (Chloe) Gooding, 1st LANS student

If I am to be honest, I signed up for Cirque Berserk because it was offered, it sounded entertaining and I was up for a free laugh at the Circus. But I left thinking I might actually have learnt something, or at least made a few interesting observations. It wasn’t until I found myself laughing at the ridiculous and perfectly choreographed antics of the clown that I realised how much I had needed that time to destress. At university I find that there isn’t constant pressure placed on me by others, like teachers and family, as was the case with school, but it is self inflicted pressure. Essays and exams loom over us like horrifying storm clouds, distant but always present. Have I read enough? Did I really spend those 7 hours in the library effectively?

And how do most of us cope?

We got out, we drink, we make poor life choices in the confines of a club or bar because that’s the only place we are allowed to fail, make fools out of ourselves, and by the next morning its forgotten. We get to forget the storm cloud for the night. Not that this is a health coping mechanism, but it’s the only one we are taught, by our siblings, our friends, even our parents.

award-winning-physical-comedian-tweedy-in-cirque-berserk

Tweedy from the Cirque Berserk troupe

You know what they don’t suggest you do to relieve stress? Going to the Circus. I felt a strange connection to the clown on stage. Like when he attempted to pick up one object but would drop another, comically lunging after his hat while his broom fell the floor. Repeating the same old silly mistake. Attempting to carry too many things at once. That is university, that is our life. Study for hours and we’ve dropped our responsibility to our friends, spend the evening watching a movie and instantly remember that chapter you had planned to finish two days ago. Life is a juggling contest, and the clown affords us the opportunity to laugh at this, to forget the storm cloud, to reflect on the storm cloud if we’re not too busy laughing. The trick where the gymnasts jumped through hoops was strangely cathartic. We jump through hoops daily, finish this assignment to get here, say this to that person to make that connection. When I imagine jumping through hoops I see myself more nervously lolloping towards my goals. Leaping with all the grace of a flying turnip and quite possibly falling on my face the other side, but at least I got through the hoop right? Does it really matter that I broke my leg in the process? But these gymnasts did it so beautifully, leaping and twirling and rolling, they jumped through their hoops in style. Maybe I should set myself the challenge of jumping through my hoops like them, with a bit of pizzas, that is if the exam officer doesn’t mind.

Reflections on an evening with Angela and her Bach.

contributed by Lizzie Slattery, 2nd Year LANS student

Last Friday a group of LANS students and staff members attended an Angela Hewitt piano recital at the Birmingham Town Hall where she played six suites by Johan Sebastian Bach. Hewitt is arguably one of the most accomplished pianists alive today, having started her piano studies at the age of three in her home of Ottawa, Canada. She has since performed all over the world and is particularly known for her cycle of Bach recordings which took her over ten years to complete.

I am certainly no expert on classical music or piano playing and so cannot comment technically on the performance. However it appeared evident that Hewitt is a pianist of astonishing skill, and is deeply emotionally connected with the music of Bach. It is quite something to sit through six Bach suites, particularly if, like me, you are unaccustomed to doing so, and I sometimes found my attention wandering. It was always brought back, however, when I focused in on the music and listened to the weave of incredibly complex harmonies and rhythms which are constantly interacting in Bach’s music, as well as the dazzling gold dress she wore.

I asked some of those who attended to share their thoughts on the evening:

“Riveting. Ravishing. And Radiant. The whole performance was surreal. Angela Hewitt did not just play piano, she performed with her body and soul. It was extraordinary to watch. A definite must see for anyone who loves piano or classical music!” – Kimberley, year 2

“I’d never seen someone just play solo like that for a whole show which was really cool and it’s not something I’d go to otherwise. I did enjoy it, but I don’t think it was that amazing so I doubt I’ll go to something like it again, but I’m glad I went especially because the venue was so impressive.” – Joe, year 2

“I thought it was a lovely evening and very sophisticated. The playing was amazing, the standard too. And the riff at the end that she played was a funny, I can’t remember what she said now, was it what inspired Bach? Either way the history and playing was lovely.”  Miriam, year 2
“I thought it was an interesting experience. She was extremely talented. I think it may have been a difficult choice of music if you had never seen classical music before. But overall I enjoyed it.” – Sophie , year 2

And if you would like to read a professional journalist review of this show, you can always check the local press’ views

Dear Angela

contributed by Dr. Emil C Toescu, Science Tutor, LANS course

Dear Angela, I love Bach. And I like you, but…

hewitt-concert-in-birmingham-bachThis was a concert of two halves. In the first part, mostly minor keys, it was like you came out of a sauna, and your sound was sweaty, cloggy, like emerging from a treacle, notes were overdone, and were bursting with emotional loading – where Bach is something else, a pure crystal of music.

But in the second part, you seemed to find ‘my’ Bach – a half that was played more in the Swiss Alps (ok, in the mountains of Bach’s Germany!), with clean, clear, fresh air whizzing through the notes and through the phrasing, with notes separated and becoming more like drops of music.AngelaHewit

Angela Hewitt at a piano, engaging in her style with Bach’s music

To understand my point about the ‘quality’ of the notes, and why in Bach the notes should be as sharply defined as possible, with as little legato and “expression”, is probably important to realise that this music has not been written for the tonally rich and hugely expressive modern piano, but for the straight and ‘simple’ harpsichord, just a plucking instrument!  It is probably best to experience this difference in sound, and here youtube comes in handy. I was not able to find too much Hewitt  playing the French suites on youtube but two hugely important pianist of our time are Andras Schiff and  Murray Perahia. Here is the French Suite No. 6 (E Major) (the one that opened the second part of Angela’s concert) with Perahia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cMZ-6vWZWM ) and with Schiff (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkNPezHTWzU ). And, for comparison, this is the harpsichord, ‘original’ sound of this suite – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyHeOOHt3Fs . Most relevant to my points about the treacle, clogging sound of Hewitt is to hear the difference harpsichord – piano in the slow, stately part, the Sarabande (starting at around 4 -4:15 min).

But then, I also enjoyed the exposure to the whole package of the French Suites – I have heard all of them before, here and there, but never listen them one after the other. And when I did that I eventually heard how they are coming together to created the atmosphere of a huge Baroque party. Only by hearing them as a package one can really appreciate their fundamental structure: bringing together different forms of dances, popular at that time. And I also did not appreciate that these suites have a very similar structure, with a starting Allemande, followed by a Courante, jollier and jumpier, and then by a stately Sarabande, all slow and in danger of becoming a raking heavy stone caught in thick mud if treated with too much respect (and, here, Angela, all your Sarabandes were like that, and in each I felt like caught in quicksands…).

The section that I enjoyed most of the whole concert: the last section, the Gigue from the 5th Suite (in G major). I can’t find a Hewitt on this, but I could find a Schiff playing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nz0V8HDGnDI. Incredible – so ahead of its time, so complex while crystalline. And, in Hewitt’s interpretation on the night, almost so jazzy, flowing with a swing! Which brings me to the last element that I’d like to bring in this mix – that Bach’s music has represented a good hunting ground for an educated jazz ear – and no.1 in this list is the French pianist Jacques Loussier, and here is a whole album of this music: Jacques Loussier Trio play Bach – The Bach Book (complete album): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuv9gSu09U  (and some purists really hate this take on Saint J.S.Bach).

jacques-loussier

The Jacques Loussier Trio

Two hundred years ago, Bach would be looking forward to his 32nd birthday in about a month and half’s time. And after all this time, we still see him as a point of huge musical and cultural reference.

The Power of Cultural Events

by Jeevan

The recent study trip to see Cathy has had a more profound effect on me than any other of the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences Cultural Programme’s events. I need not reiterate the version of events, but Forum Theatre’s approach of engaging the audience with the actors provided a new dimension to the performance. It was very easy for an onlooker to sit back and judge about the decisions Cathy made throughout the play and making a commentary about what she should and should not have done.  But the audience was also invited to contribute and participate.

When I summoned the courage to say “STOP!” and suggest a point in the story where one of the characters was asked to swap for a member of the audience to alter the course events, and provide a possible alternative development, I was in for a shock! I was of the opinion that Cathy should accept the council’s offer to move to Newcastle (which would take Cathy and Danielle away from London) and it was up to me to break the news to 16-year old Danielle and convince her that moving to Newcastle was the right thing. I pay a great testament to the actor playing Danielle for remaining steadfast in her opinion that she wanted to remain in London. My decision to play “I’m the adult card” backfired completely and resulted in Danielle storming off of the stage presumably leaving hers and her mum’s housing situation ‘in limbo’.

Perhaps for the first time in a cultural event I did feel the relevance and necessity of the “Next Generation of Leaders” motto attached to our course. The issues faced by Cathy and Danielle are not an isolated case and that is an incredibly scary and stark reality facing people around the U.K, and not just Londoners, and there homeless people in Birmingham.  The play certainly made me take a step back and think that in any transaction that takes place (in this case between a landlord and tenant) there is almost always a human dimension and perspective. If we forget this human aspect and obsess about the bottom line and profit, the strength of community will decline and factions will flourish, and with them tensions. In light of recent global changes, as a society, we need to reassess our positions and think about the world we want to shape. 

contributed by Jeevan – 2nd Year LANS student,  majoring in Chemistry

Cardboard Citizen’s Cathy

by Nelsen Durkee

Facts and figures related to Cardboard Citizens and their work were collated from their official website and related articles. If you are interested in reading more on them, click on the following link. https://cardboardcitizens.org.uk/

As one of the leading practitioners of the Theatre of the Oppressed methodology in the UK, Cardboard Citizens theatre company has worked to tackle the issues of homelessness for the last 25 years. Ali Taylor, writer of Cathy, said that “we need to recognize that homelessness can strip people of their self-respect and mental health.” This is precisely what Cardboard Citizen addresses.

The theatre company, exclusively consisting of members who have experienced homeless in one shape or form, empowers those affected by the issue to understand and change their situation. Those not directly affected by the UK housing crisis, gain a personal insight into the convoluted nature it.

“Cardboard Citizens tells stories that need to be told, through theatre performed on stage, in the streets, in hostels, centres and prisons”. The theatre company provides a format and space for individuals to develop their skills and confidence through projects, workshops but also forum theatre; the format that Cathy took.

The special thing about Cathy and the other forum theatres tours from Cardboard Citizens is that the audience doesn’t just need to sit back and let the story unfold. They get to act. The performance we saw at mac Birmingham (https://macbirmingham.co.uk/ )  was one of the stops on the UK wide tour of Cathy ending February 2017. Based off and inspired by Ken Loach’s Film Cathy Come Home, aired 50 years ago, Cathy reflects on the “social and personal impact of spirally housing costs”, “gentrification” and the “challenges of the forced relocation away from London”.

In the first half of the evening, we got to see the play itself. Fueled by real-life testimonies on the housing crisis, the play was an emotional downward spiral for Cathy and her 16-year-old daughter Dannielle. Following them from the conviction of their original home, all the way to couch and bus surfing, insecure, run-down, and temporary tenements, emotionally raw and desperate fights, it led to the eventual conciliation between the downtrodden, but hopeful mother and burdened yet coping daughter. Characterized by negative turn after negative turn, this was a truly hear-breaking play to watch.

After this emotional rollercoaster for the audience, there was an intermission, which was more than necessary after the events that we saw unfold, followed by the second half of evening: the forum. As I said earlier, this is where the audience got to act. After short round of feedback from individual audience members and resulting discussions, we were prompted to put our suggestions for the betterment of Cathy into action. The actors on stage let the story unfold again, but this time we could intervene with a determined “STOP!”, giving us a chance to get up on stage to enact our suggestions for an improved course of the story. This I think was the critical stage for these performances.

Engaged, Engaging = Forum Theatre (Photo: Emil Toescu)

To bring a personal note into this piece: even though the play’s progression fascinated me, with a desire to learn more about the situation and excited for the chance to intervene in a negative spiral, I still felt powerless and out of place. Here was a situation, from my perspective as an undergraduate Liberal Arts and Science student studying abroad with a privileged family background, where I felt I shouldn’t even pretend to know anything about the issue. I didn’t even know where to start to try and intervene. The thing was though, that wasn’t the point at all.

The point of Cathy was that we were given the chance to rehearse important life decisions that Cathy had to make. We got a chance to be somewhat of a think-tank for alternative courses of actions. We could set high standards for people and how they could improve their lives. We didn’t need to have the answers, but we did need to show initiative. Some ideas were received better than others, some people came from a more experienced background and could give more information than others, but in the end, viable alternatives to life choices were given. The audience made progress.

To bring in more of a Liberal Arts and Science perspective: here was a group of people from vastly different walks of life coming together to try and enact change for an issue that required more than one solution. It’s hard, but it’s possible. Here was a theatrical performance that affected and improved our perspective on a social, political, and economic issue. The forum theatre of Cathy was interdisciplinarity and cross-boundary problem solving at work and it was conducted in an emotionally vulnerable yet polished format. I’m glad that we got to see this performance and widen our horizons on issues for which we can realistically enact change. It was a truly gripping evening.

Contributed by Nelsen Durkee, 1st year LANS student majoring in Geography.

Here are some testimonials from other LANS students on the evening:

Richard William, 1st year LANS student majoring in Political Science.

Cardboard Citizens: Cathy’s tale I have never witnessed a format of theatre quite as engaging and enriching as this. A stimulating topic followed by active intervention in order to stimulate change, followed by discussion and law-making with the aim of proposing change is one of the most interesting forms of political movement that I’ve ever been exposed to. As someone who wishes to reform the political system and in doing so give people more of a voice, I felt that this experience unlocked a closed door behind which lay ideas on creative opportunity for listening to what the people want.[…]

Behind each person is a story, a story which is different, a story which carries with it human suffering at the hands of neglect.[…]

The set was simplistic and yet functional; each piece had its purpose […]

The evening left many feeling united behind the desire to see change, which, in a world of seemingly increased division and pain, is much needed. I would go back time and time again to this style of performance, for even if the script was the same, the response wouldn’t be, and I found the response almost more enriching and engaging than the performance, as it changed the theatre experience from one of passivity where one watches scenes unfold, to one of activeness, allowing for change to occur.

Lizzie Rowland, 2nd Year LANS student majoring in History

I first witnessed the uncontrollable spiral into desperation when I watched Cathy come home. However, I would never imagined the impact seeing the same thing in a modern day context (and on stage rather than screen) would have. I thought the message was more than powerful -scary and moving. The play made me seriously reassess my political understanding (something I thought up until that night I New quite well).

Alice Heaps , 1st LANS student majoring in Philosophy

for her blog, check at: https://justonesecondalice.wordpress.com/2017/01/22/cardboard-citizens-cathy/

“As a performance, this play was beautifully arranged and seamlessly executed with a multi-role cast who switched incredibly between situations and characters to make the story feel incredibly real.”

“As a usually helpless audience, the chance to get up on stage and take the places of the characters and fix things for Cathy had a great element of catharsis to it. It seems that Cathy had more options available to her than she realised at the time and, although heartbreaking to see so clearly where she made the mistakes that landed her into homelessness, the solutions provided by the audience highlighted a running theme of education and thorough-thinking as being necessary to preventing such difficult events occurring”

“Experiencing this play both as an individual situation and a representation of the struggles faced by so many people across the country and the world, it hit me just how ordinary the people in the story really were. I like to think of myself as somebody understanding to the situations of others and I make a point not to judge homeless people and help them if I think I can, but even I will admit that it becomes difficult to not assign stereotypes in some situations. Maybe the most important thing that this experience showed me was that something needs to be done from both within the system, to prevent people becoming homeless so easily, but also from outside the system – there needs to be a change in response towards homeless people.

Some of the responses from the audience were worded in a way that made it clear that views remain divided by ‘us’ and ‘them’ with the latter being people without a stable home, I think that there is something fundamentally wrong with this response and that, while changing legislation can be difficult failure-ridden, a change in attitude is something that everyone can do within themselves to help the situation: there is no us and them, we are all people and we all deserve shelter, food, water, warmth and most importantly compassion”