Monday, 1 December 2008

how not to spend your per dium

Quickly discovered that Hamburg to be the sex capital of Germany. Every second building was a sex shop; with most buildings in between selling batteries…and it was win’s birthday tomorrow.

It’s not impossible to have a family weekend Hamburg, so long as you remember: the toy shops are not for children; the video shops, despite advertising “Sex and the City” and “Animal Farm” will not have the same as in blockbuster ; and if you’re shopping for winter jackets, steer clear of “The Leather Dungeon” ,as it may be hard to explain to airport security why your feet are chained to your nipples, especially with a rubber ball in your mouth.

First day included good food, great beer, and window shopping on Hamburg’s oxford street of smut, two hours at a fun fair, live music in the night, an exotic dance bar, and Burger King. A lesson on how not to spend your per dium.

“Sommerfest”, our venue was incredible. The Germans know how to put the “art” in “farty” and they know how to look after their guests. We had a Ping Pong table in the wings… best warm up I ever did. Might request one from now on.
This was the last show we were to have with Ming, the company savoir who flew in from Switzerland at last minute, learned both pieces in the time Hofesh went to get a coffee, and allowed us to start the tour in Amsterdam. After blessing us with this short period it was time for him to go back to his studies. He gave me a friendship bracelet and a pat on the back. If you know Ming, you know this to be the Elliot and E.T of tender goodbyes, and I was deeply touched. That was until I realised he’d given a friendship bracelet to everyone in the company, Mr bloody nice guy.

Both nights of the show were really well received and even if they hadn’t been, its hard to feel upset when there’s a back garden BBQ with bar; a famous DJ playing until two; an indoor garden, a sound exhibition, a French hip hip group, a famous Cabana band, a fake-snow forest, and a man vacuum packed in a plastic bag. What better way to mark an occasion than a man vacuum packed in a plastic bag?

Good shows, great after shows. Bring on Budapest
High point: My girlfriend came to visit me…she must have known what Hamburg was like.

Exotic dance bar: She danced “Hey Macarena” with as much rhythm as she had clothes.
“Amazing German beard” spotting. Most men over the age of thirty keep a moustache instead of keeping a garden.

Low point: Ming goes back to his super-human planet. We will miss you.

Budapest: A few hours of fun.

Sziget, a week long rock festival on an island off Budapest. Featuring; REM, Jose Gonzalez, Alaniss Moressette, The killerz, and The Hofesh Shecter Dance Company. I don’t know what typo in the programme landed us this gig, but we were bloody happy for it.

We were slotted into the last part of the last day of the festival. All the divas and rock gods had been a gone, leaving us with an audience who hadn’t washed or slept for a week. We were expecting a passive evening…

Threw bags into the hotel and threw dirty costumes at Helen. After being bus-loaded to the festival, we were fed and abandoned. During the five hours until the tech, most of the company slept save a few hardcore adventurers. Since I’d left my phone in Hamburg, had two hours sleep and not a penny in my pocket, I figured a festival was the best place for me.

“The triple bill” is a black word within the company, and refers to one dancer of a possible three having to perform in all three pieces of “deGeneration”. Of the three possible people, one was back in the UK with a broken heel, owing to his hobby of jumping off high things onto hard things (amateur free-runner); one was the choreographer who had the power to nominate the other; and the other was me.
No problem, this wasn’t the first time I’ve triple billed, but because this was a festival and not a theatre, there were no intervals. Why would you sit on a hill staring at a black stage for twenty minutes when you could be watching “The Killers” or swallowing your own tongue somewhere in a bush?

So removing the interval did keep things moving, although after each piece I had just enough time to pull my knickers out of my bum, re-costume, curse the day Hofesh was born and fluster back on-stage to the audience, who at this point probably couldn’t tell my arse from my elbow.

The speakers were as big as the stage; the music so loud that my molecular structure is now permanently altered; “deGeneraton” however slipped into festival mode very nicely.

Apprentice James was yet again thrown into “Uprising” with little more than a pat on the back and some directions written on his hand. If “Uprising” were an actual war, he’d be lucky to have his gun the right way around. Crash course wasn’t the word for it. Well done mate.

People clapped and cheered then got up to see something else, and we joined them. Luckily, Gavin is a walking map and led us to “The chillout Garden”, and tent with ambient music and no shoes allowed. Amongst the smell of feet and incense, we collapsed into a puppy pile somewhere in a sea of festival corpses, and that was the last memory I have of Budapest.

High Point: Being utterly drunk from one can of larger, one of the few merits of putting your body through a triple bill.

Low Point: Missing Jose Gonzalez by five minutes. Too short a visit.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Manchester - Urban Dance Moves festival. “Dance or we’ll stab you”

USA, Amsterdam, Greece and Italy. Our little cherry on the summer tour is Manchester. Swap the red wine with a can of white lightning, from women without bras to men without teeth. It’s good to be home.

We ate at a Thai curry house. The menu was curious; nothing milder than molten lava and included starters such as “Golden Sacks” and “Pastry Purse”. I had a sweet and sour.

Manchester by day: International dance-athon, hundreds of people gathering on the green to watch dancers get heat stroke. The friendliest audience yet.

Manchester by night: National drink-athon, flashing lights, flashing knickers, fish and chips. Stag doo, Hen night, fistfight. Man trying to retrieve his car Hud caps from the drunk who stole them. Shout, Shout, mega, mega!

I spent a night and a day here. I think I’ll come back.

The performances were…raw. The one speaker we had gave us as much bass as a wasp’s fart, and through two pairs of socks our feet were blistered from the sun-baked dance floor. The audience were completely surrounding and right up against the stage. During one crossing to the side, a kid tapped my knee to tell me I’m doing well.

After the final show, we were rushed to get the train. As I ran to the trailer, a wall of a tattooed man put a tattooed hand on my shoulder. “Where you just in that?” titling his head towards the stage. I nodded, best not to lie especially while still holding the flag from the performance. ”That was brilliant mate, well done” and shook my hand. Brilliant! Not to judge too hastily, but I don’t think this guy had a Sadler’s Wells season ticket. He was oblivious to dance and genuinely grateful. Before he shook my hand I thought he was about to eat me, but that was the typical niceness of the Manchester experience. Well-done lads, well done Hof (you clever old stick) and thanks Collette for looking after us.

High Point – Canal Street. Drinkey Drinkey.
Low Point – The smell of my own flesh cooking during the show.

Civitanovia - Rain of Terror

On a map, we drove from the thigh to the mid-calf of Italy, and after seven hours we were still in the storm. Civitanovia, like any Italian coastal city was built for the sun, so my fantasy of beach parties and beach babes was shot down as we arrived in what looked to be Blackpool.

More optimistically, Civitanovia had the best lightening storm I’d ever seen. The best seat in the house was on the beach, more specifically on top of a child’s climbing frame. Memorable, life affirming, pretty stupid. Six of us ended up stranded for twenty minutes under continuous forks of lightening, until a bartender came bounding across the beach with two huge umbrellas. Bit of a risk I thought, but then he must have weighed up his chances of survival against ours. A bit wet and happy to be alive, we celebrated with beer and snack food. Must be how the bartenders make their business.

Show was great. Uprising went down a treat. After the second curtain call, the technicians were ready to go home, but those stubborn Italian’s kept on clapping for another 5 minutes of calls. Doesn’t sound like much, but the bows in our company tend to go a bit headless chicken after the first two calls. We’re just too humble I suppose.

High Point – Near-death-lightning-bolt-dodging (slightly dramatized)
Elias’s Birthday party.
Low Point – Not finding any food after four hours of walking the streets (not at all dramatized)

North Italy: The Bolzano Balls up

Bolzano: Mountains, valleys and cafes. The people were nice, although we only saw about 12 in total. Bolzano was very very quiet. My guess was that everyone in the city caught news of the doomsday rainstorm sweeping across Europe. Everyone except of course the organisers of our out-door performance, who insisted that the ocean of water hovering over the city would have subsided by the morning. Hofesh fiddled with lights well into the early hours; the dancers ate food and drank beer.

The next day it rained. Our outdoor stage was now a lake, and we were moved to a “plan B” venue.

So, 8pm the night of the show while outside the heavens opened, Hofesh was re-fiddling lights, speaking only under his breath. Helen was running around with a pair of scissors and the dancers sat quietly in the auditorium of a random theatre. The technicians were gone (outside collecting two of every animal I shouldn’t wonder), and with 20mins to go the evening very nearly didn’t happen.

The lights eventually came up and we did our thing. A good show, and a great debut from our wonderful Jenny. Sadly, with morale as it was she could have ridden a space hopper on stage without a blink from Hofesh. Cheer up boss. As they say in Italy … “It was a crap day”

High Point – Food, Food, Food.
Low Point – Any low point I suffered was dwarfed by Hofesh’s 3am lighting focus, only to hear at 12pm that it is going to rain, like those silly scientists predicted.

Kalamata, Greece – A marvellous night for a moon dance…

Arrive at 9pm, eat, drink, go swimming in my pants, get in a strangers car, and end up at a beach bar called “The Hobo”. If by 2am you can still spell “Hofesh Shechter”, keep drinking.

The next day we rehearsed. Jenny was making her debut in Cult, and we could all do with a laugh and a point. It was worthwhile, especially for those needing to sweat out last night’s deeds. I’m convinced people in Greece stay cool by making their buildings hotter than the sun outside.

The treat of Kalamata was the outdoor performance venue. The castle and its ancient (I assume being Greece) amphitheatre seemed to be the highest point of the city. Sunset and sky line, the company very slowly warming up, Hofesh squinting at lights and plotting a show he wouldn’t actually see until it gets dark. Around 10pm. When the show is supposed to begin.

The stage was built impressively from scratch for the purpose of the festival, although “built” would suggest it was constructed to some sort of building standard. The odd nail sticking out was fine, but Camden Council may have wagged a finger at the upstage wing leading directly onto the edge of a mountain. A 2ft chicken wire fence acting more as a trip wire than a safety barrier. Every protruding bar, stage weight, corner, cable, even tree trunk was cloaked in black material, so as to not look unsightly. Even with the beautiful full moon, sight had nothing to do with getting on or off stage.

The show’s soundtrack was mainly “Clangs!” “Bangs!” and whimpers, with an occasional prayer from Hofesh that the next fade up wouldn’t reveal a broken or impaled dancer. Visually the show was breathtaking, and although it would have been less hazardous to dance whilst on fire, it was the most enjoyable “In Your Rooms” to date.

High point: Many. A 60 sec mid-show applause as Leon stood in front of political chairmen and religious high hats with a sign reading “Don’t Follow Leaders”. I’m sure we lost them as Shechter fans, but the audience were hanging on our every move from that moment on.

Low point: Starting an hour after the scheduled time does nothing for adrenaline levels. The delay mind you, was due to protesters giving a welcome wagon to the very same political chairmen. Rock on! Down with the system (unless of course your giving us funding)

Thursday, 4 September 2008

U.S., Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival: Disneyland of dance 9-13 July

There are many wonderful and terrifying things in America; the small town of Lee had the Black Bear and “Friendly’s Easy Diner”. I exchanged some dollars in Berkshire Bank, “America’s most exciting bank”. I knew from that moment there was not a lot do in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. Thanks to beer, Skype and a swimming pool (if you didn’t mind cleansing it of dead insects every morning.) we still managed to have an incredible time despite our remote location. The festival was amazing. If Ted Shawn were ever to have had a playboy mansion, it would have looked like Jacobs Pillow. We performed in a barn, which was a luxury compared to the musician’s shed. Every face had a smile, every house had a flag, and every day I replaced water, oxygen and fruit with bacon, eggs and coffee. Bears were seen, mosquitoes were felt, and much much praise was heard.

Low point – dragging myself back into my sweat sodden costume for anight’s performance after a matinee.

High point – Some brilliant American slants on foreign names and places. I never knew Hofesh once danced for Butt-shaver Dance Company. The new troupe, dancers, musicians and techies are the best you’d be lucky enough to meet. They will drag me happily through the remaining 27 venues to December. Next up, Greece.Check out reviews from our USA performances here

Big Dance: “Come and watch, it’s free” 5-6 July

On paper, we had Peterborough, Luton, Ipswich, St Albans, South end-on-sea and Norwich. In reality we had a stage closed due to rain, one theatre without lights, one stage cooked from the sun, a shopping centre with some blood on the stage (it’s rough down south) and one theatre that depleted it’s years supply of stage smoke during our 20 minute run. However, people actually watched the performance, and dare I say they actually enjoyed it. Humbling when you think they could have left at any point. I’m sure I spotted a tear in Hofesh’s eye as we took the last bow, although it could have been the stage smoke. Perhaps somewhere out there, one child saw the performance and pledged the rest of his life to dance. But no time to feel guilty, tomorrow we do America.

Low point – Finding a plan B when realising one of the dancers had mis-transported himself to Leicester

High point – Tim’s (apprentice) face when he realised he was the plan B

Amsterdam: Sex, drugs, and alcohol policy1-2 July

Tour opens with the signing of a contract forbidding the consumption of drugs or alcohol on the day of a performance, understandably. Now I have to warm up like everyone else but with the prohibition law aside, Amsterdam was a treat.

Having said that, Hofesh was faced with some minor technical problems upon arriving to the theatre. A lighting desk with two buttons, powered by fossil fuel apparently wasn’t what Hofesh had asked for. Two hours into the technical rehearsal, we had three of the one hundred-and-fifty lighting cues plotted. Hofesh looked pale. We decided nothing more could be done and resigned to the pub. “Pint of morale boost please”

Amsterdam: Trams have no breaks, cyclist have no fear. As of the 1st July Smoking cannabis in coffee shops is still legal, providing it’s not mixed with tobacco. Radiohead left the day we arrived; Massive Attack arrived the day we left. Walking, shopping, dancing, sleeping, mostly punctuated with (after show) beer. Perfect. Oh, the performances were good too.
Low Point – Exchange rate. €98 for £90

High Point – Suited and booted evening dinner on a canal boat, and using the Drugs and Alcohol policy as a beer mat and Rizzla (just kidding boss)