The Friday arts diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Dance

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, Sadler's Wells, 4 December - 26 January 2013

Matthew Bourne is now renowned for his endlessly (re)inventive approach to classical ballet. By melding classical scores with supernatural storylines and nineteenth-century characters with twenty-first century problems, his sell-out shows are unlike anything else on the current dance scene.

Sleeping Beauty is his attempt at tackling the third and final of Tchaikovsky’s trio of ballets. In previous years he has staged delightfully atypical versions of Swan Lake, transforming it into a gay romance with an all-male cast, and re-written Cinderella into a wartime love story.

Sleeping Beauty is having a similarly semi-iconoclastic revival at the hands of Bourne. The story has been altered to suit his over-active imagination into a  gothic, time-travelling tale. Now Sleeping Beauty falls asleep in the Edwardian era and wakes up in our digital one.

The production has everything you’d come to expect from a Matthew Bourne dance show: costumes so fantastical they could have come from a Tim Burton film, a sexed-up narrative and – why not? - a few added vampires for good measure.

Luckily, the one thing Bourne hasn’t tampered with is Tchaikovsky’s original music. He remains resolutely faithful to the classic score, proving that he knows just when to stop messing with a winning formula.

Film

London Underground Film Festival, The Horse Hospital, 6 - 9 December

If Hollywood blockbuster’s aren’t quite your cup of tea, make sure you head along to the London Underground Film Festival this weekend. Billed as a celebrations of "obscure, no budget, low budget, genre and genreless, new and recycled films", this is a hugely valuable showcasing opportunity for young, up-and-coming filmmakers as well as a great chance to diversify your cinema trips.

Hosted at the Horse Hospital – a three-tiered art venue striving to serve London’s need for underground and avant-garde media, the film festival will show a wealth of new shorts, international films and even has a full-day screening on Saturday. As well as a truly global representative of filmmaking talent, there is even a secret ballot where audience members can vote for their favourite short of 2012.

Highlights include the new British feature Savage Witches as well as a rare screening of Bruce La Bruce’s LA Zombie

Art

Despite- Sixteen Palestinian artists under one roof, Rich Mix, London, until 28 December

Amongst the cultural mix in east London lies Despite, an exhibition, featuring the work of contemporary artists from Palestine. Work comes from artists from the West Bank and Gaza including Mohammed Joha, Hani Zurob, Majed Shala, Mohammed Abusal, Nidal Abu Oun and Raed Issa. The exhibition is curated by Arts Canteen, a group which brings the work of visual artists and musicians from the Middle East/Arab world to create dialogue between the region and the UK.

The artwork featured explores the different “real” environments we live in with the artistic imagination, and it is hoped it will challenge preconceptions and fire curiosity.

 

Music

Gary Numan, The Forum, London, 7 December

The godfather of techno and one of the best electro-pop artists of the 1980s will be performing at the Forum tonight as part of his latest Machine Music tour.Numan will also be performing on Saturday at Rock City in Nottingham

 

Theatre

The Changeling, Young Vic, London, until 22 Dec 

This production of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s 1622 tragedy is set in the modern day. Joel Hill-Gibbins’s revival has received rave reviews from the critics. In this slightly longer production, Sinead Matthews plays Beatrice-Joanna, who hopes to fix her love life to be the way she wants it through murderous actions. The subplot involves mad doctors in a madhouse controlling those who just might be saner than they are.

Dancers performing Matthew Bourne's reinvention of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Paul McConnell/Getty Images)
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Politics doesn't just connect us to the past and the future – it's what makes us human

To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

I have long been haunted by a scene in George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith, the hero, is forced to watch propaganda films depicting acts of war and destruction. He is moved by something he sees: a woman trying to protect a child by wrapping her arm around him as they are attacked. It’s a futile gesture. She cannot shield the boy or stop the bullets but she embraces him all the same – before, as Orwell writes, “The helicopter blew them both to pieces.”

For Winston, what Orwell calls the “enveloping, protecting gesture” of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something profoundly human – an expression of selflessness and of unconditional love in an unforgiving world. Scenes such as this we now witness daily in footage from the besieged eastern Aleppo and other Syrian towns, people in extreme situations showing extraordinary dignity and kindness.

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time in late adolescence. I’d dropped out of sixth-form college without completing my A-levels and was commuting on a coach from my parents’ house in Hertfordshire to London, where I worked as a junior clerk for the Electricity Council. During this long daily journey – sometimes two hours each way – I started to read seriously for the first time in my life.

I was just getting interested in politics – this was the high tide of the Thatcher years – and Orwell’s portrayal of a dystopian future in which Britain (renamed “Airstrip One”) had become a Soviet-style totalitarian state was bleakly fascinating. Fundamentally the book seemed to me to be about the deep ­human yearning for political change – about the never-ending dream of conserving or creating a better society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949 (Orwell died in January 1950, aged 46), at a time of rationing and austerity in Britain – but also of renewal. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, the Labour government was laying the foundations of what became the postwar settlement.

The National Health Service and the welfare state were created. Essential industries such as the railways were nationalised. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed, opening the way for the redevelopment of tracts of land. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was commissioned. New towns were established – such as Harlow in Essex, where I was born and brought up.

To grow up in Harlow, I now understand, was to be part of a grand experiment. Many of the families I knew there had escaped the bomb-ruined streets of the East End of London. Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state – housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities. (One friend described it to me as being like East Ger­many without the Stasi.)

This hadn’t happened by accident. As my father used to say, we owed the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us. The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke described society as a partnership between “those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – and I find this idea of an intergenerational social contract persuasive.

Progress, however, isn’t inevitable. There is no guarantee that things will keep getting better. History isn’t linear, but contingent and discontinuous. And these are dark and turbulent new times in which we are living.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than five years, transforming much of the Middle East into a theatre of great-power rivalry. Europe has been destabilised by economic and refugee crises and by the emergence of insurgent parties, from the radical left and the radical right. The liberal world order is crumbling. Many millions feel locked out or left behind by globalisation and rapid change.

But we shouldn’t despair. To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

And part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change that politics can bring, for better and worse.

What, after all, led so many Americans to vote for an anti-establishment populist such as Donald Trump? He has promised to “make America great again” – and enough people believed him or, at least, wanted to believe him to carry him all the way to the White House. They want to believe in something different, something better, in anything better – which, of course, Trump may never deliver.

So politics matters.

The decisions we take collectively as ­humans have consequences. We are social creatures and rational agents, yet we can be dangerously irrational. This is why long-established institutions, as well as the accumulated wisdom of past generations, are so valuable, as Burke understood.

Politics makes us human. It changes our world and ultimately affects who we are and how we live, not just in the here and now, but long into the future.

An edited version of this essay was broadcast as part of the “What Makes Us Human?” series on BBC Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage