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)

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred