He is there again on my return journey still working his
way up and down the carriage on the Hammersmith an City Line.
‘Excuse me ladies and gents sorry to bother you … sorry to interrupt your journey. I’m currently homeless, I’m eighteen and have no family. I’m trying to get some cash together for something to eat and a room in a hostel tonight. Anything would be much appreciated. Anything? Have a good evening.’
The travellers in my section of the carriage studiously concentrate
on what ever they are staring at. The advertisements for ‘Welthify’, their
reflection in the window or just thin air in front of them. One woman is
looking in her bag.
have any cash, but I might have some food here.’
I shrug as he passes. I seldom carry cash these days –
sometimes a pound coin for the locker at the swimming pool but the token on my
key ring works just as well. He is young, a few blond bristles show on his
upper lip. His face is evenly dirty – blond hair stiff with grime looks as if
it was once stylish but it’s grown out. He wears a sleeveless padded vest far
too large for him over a hoodie. Grubby blue trackie bottoms sit on top of a
still respectable looking pair of black designer trainers.
Two black travellers just past me contribute. The young woman has a handful of coins which she continues to play with. I want to help – offer him a shower and wash his clothes, but I know that’s not wise. An older gay man – could be easily misconstrued. He needs professional help.
As the tube draws near my stop, the young man appears again
waiting to get off. He digs into his trackie pockets and withdraws handfuls of
coins which he seems to be counting.
‘Ca, ca, ca
boom ca, ca, cabomm. Brrroom, cha, cha, cha. Na, nana na, nana na.’ He chants
Like me he knows which door of the train will stop by the
station exit. I follow him as he bounds up the stairs. I wonder what he will to
exit the station. Probably jump over the barrier or follow someone closely through
the gates. By the time I get up the stairs he’s on the other side and buying
something from the kiosk. A drink or sweets I imagine. I look back as I exit on
to the street. He’s rubbing a scratch – card with a coin. I wonder if that
works for him?
‘Go over and
see if there’s anything we can do,’ she said.
Pete hesitated. He was still deep in shock from the news
and couldn’t for the moment think how he could help.
seemed to understand his dilemma. ‘The offer will be enough – to show support.’
He remembered the day they had moved in. The little girl
was only a baby, the same age as their daughter. He’d said his name was
you Mo; we shorten everything here. I’m Pete – no one calls me Peter and the
wife is Sue.
Mo was an
engineer, he came to help re-build the city after the second earthquake. They’d
got on well, after a couple of cultural gaffs. Pete quickly found out that a
beer with Mo was out of the question and they wouldn’t be eating Sue’s famous
egg and bacon pie – a national dish.
Luckily, she was ace at roast lamb and the other national dish, Pavlova
was much appreciated. The gesture was returned with a middle eastern version
and recipes swapped.
knocked on the back door, he couldn’t quite believe that his friend Mo wouldn’t
be answering. It opened a few centimetres and he could see Jamal’s tear-stained
face suddenly full of fear. In that moment, Pete understood that he was a
pakeha, a white male, like the arsehole who’d shot his mate Mo and all the
others. He’d grown up here around guys like that and mostly gave them a wide berth.
He once defended his friend Hemi at primary school from one such bully making
anti Maori comments in the playground – the only time he’d ever hit anyone.
‘It’s only me … Pete … can we
Jamal relaxed and shook her
tears welling. He didn’t recall having done this as an adult. He must have
cried as a baby but grown men don’t cry. ‘This isn’t supposed to happen in New
Zealand,’ he said.
here because it was safe. Where can we go now?’ she said.
‘It is … it
was …’ Tears were streaming down his face. ‘This is not who we are.’ He was
shaking with grief and anger. ‘We’ve lost so much today.’
They are at the supermarket every time I go. Dressed almost the same, the mother wears a faded black jacket and straight skirt to the knee, stockings and comfortable shoes. She has alopecia and her remaining lank hair looks unwashed and plasters down her head. A light grey, long diaphanous scarf drapes her head but doesn’t attempt to hide her baldness. The younger woman wears navy and grey in the same style. She has already grown into her mother, without the hair loss. I always smile at them and they like that. They choose a few meagre items, discuss each one, look at the price and read the contents. Often, I see them in the entrance lobby with their full shopping bags, not sitting in the supermarket café, which they can’t afford but hunched on a ledge by the Argos catalogues – keeping warm – waiting.
Tuesday – I’ve got my sights set on Museum Hundertwasser. It’s a bit out of the way – not near a Ubann station, so there’s a bit of walking ahead. I take a seat on the train next to an abandoned newspaper. The youngish woman opposite is taking photographs of articles. She says it’s easier to read them on her phone by enlarging. We get talking – it’s easier just to say I live in London. She says she loves London and that her mother took her there. ‘London people are so friendly,’ she says, not like here. I’m surprised by this and guess that this might have been around 2012, when London suddenly became uncharacteristically friendly. I learn that her mother is dead and get a sort of life story. When she finds out that I’m heading for the Hundertwasser, she insists that I go with her as her dental appointment is near there. We catch a tram and both get out at the same stop. ‘It’s not far, you just turn left then right.’ She’s a bit late for the dentist and disappears. There are signs, but I want to go to the museum first and have to resort to my sat nav. The building is magical, but no photography is allowed. The terracotta tiled flooring undulates unevenly with a claim that the earth is like this. I’m not so sure as, being older, I’m finding keeping my balance a slight challenge. One of the first things I notice is that Hundertwasser mentions being buried in Ao Tea Roa. I’ve never seen my native land spelt in this way before and immediately want to know more. I scan his time line – he was Jewish and changed his name at some point, but there’s no explanation of how he survived the war as a child in Vienna. He went to art school, but didn’t stay. There’s a man dressed entirely in black wearing sunglasses. He has walking poles and walks around the exhibit repeatedly like an automaton. Strange – I wonder if he is part of the show. The walking poles obviously help his balance on the uneven floor.
The art is amazing and colourful. Often representational, including spirals of different colours. He seems to have travelled all over the world but after his first visit to New Zealand/Aotearoa he returned there repeatedly. He became ill and was cared for in a rural hospital and bought a property there. In the end he was buried in Aotearoa, on his property, with a tree planted over him to make use of his molecules in this new life. There’s a picture of the young tree doing well – I’m slightly disappointed that it’s not a native of Aotearoa, but a Tulip Tree or Liriodendron. Mum had one on our lawn when we were young it took twenty years to produce any flowers. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, I’m amazed to learn, designed flags. His Green Koru for New Zealand is simple and effective. Ex-prime minister John Keys could have saved a lot of time and money by just adopting it.
I’m interested to find that his flag for Israel included a blue star of David with a green crescent moon. He was also great at print making and graphics – an inspirational visit and I’m keen to get on down the road to see the Hundertwasser House – a block of apartments done in his inimitable style, not unlike Gaudi and to be found in various other world cities. It’s gloriously sunny but not over crowded with tourists.
I’m slightly disorientated by now and take a while consulting my google maps to decide which way to walk. I take a risk and find a tram gong in the right direction. It passes an underground station, so I get off and take the Ubann to re-visit Karls Kirche, which we’d passed on our walking architectural tour. The church was completed in 1737 and combines a variety of styles and epochs in world history.
There are stairs up to see the ‘treasure’ – not really worth the climb and my legs certainly didn’t need the exercise. Inside the church are several large inflated silver and transparent globes which reflect the walls and murals. It seems vast and very high. This is due to various tricks of perspective which make it appear so. Marble columns and panels are tapered towards the ceiling. There’s a huge clump of scaffolding in one corner which houses a lift and I take this up to a viewing platform to see the ceiling art-work. Looking down is scary – vertiginous. Luckily there are Perspex panels – blacked out lower down to give a better sense of safety. It’s worth the journey to see the murals and the view down to the street below.
From here, it’s only a short walk to re-visit Secession, also seen in the near-dark on our walking tour. It has been stunningly restored and it’s now possible to go in. I’m down to my last few euros and so ask to pay by card. Many places in Austria still have minimum amounts, like 15 Euros. The nice man on the desk lets me in for the group tour price leaving me 30 cents. The main exhibition space is displaying video art/installation. Very engaging and suitably in the spirit of secession.
Down a level there’s similar work – a young man walking and falling over, getting up and walking – narrowly avoiding being run over by cars, falling down again and so on. There’s someone carrying a white screen which takes up most of the video screen. You just get a hint of the landscape. Down yet another level is the Kimpt frieze. Worth the wait for that. There’s a picture of the original building, the back of which was severely bombed at the end of the war. You can see the frieze of women holding up rings and now a small part of the frieze has been re-created. There’s also a photo of the ribbon of approval the building had from the nazis during their annexation of Austria.
Time to go back to my apartment for a rest and re-group.
There’s another local pub style restaurant listed in the Gay guide. Sixta
offers traditional Austrian fare and I have soup followed by the most delicious
goulash. The clientele is not at all gay – mostly locals but I think the waiter
I’ve booked an evening of Mozart and Johann Strauss music at the Kursalon, a concert venue where Strauss himself performed. I’m early and briefly look in the park to admire a golden statue of Johann. The venue is grand and looks like a wedding cake, all lit up with fairy lights. Crowds of coaches are pulling up and loads of tourists are flooding in. I notice that its €1 for the coat check. I’m all out of cash and so decide to take my coat in with me. That’s not allowed, I have to check it in.
‘But I don’t have a euro.’ I
tell the man. ‘Can you do VISA?’ He suggests I go to a nearby ATM. ‘I’m not
going to go to an ATM and withdraw one euro. I only do cards.
‘What, you wander around with
‘Yes.’ I tell him. ‘Here, I
have forty cents.’ He tells the coat check man not to charge me for checking in
my coat. Result.
We are in a level concert hall with a dais at one end. Chandeliers drip liberally from the ceiling. I’ve gone for the cheaper seats at the back as I know that the sound should be ok. An usherette parades around the auditorium holding up a card representing no photography. She has a stern look on her face and makes sure that everyone in the hall has seen her. Finally, the musicians arrive; the leader of this nonet is an elderly violinist who seems to have a sense of humour. They start off with a polka – rousing stuff. Then we seem to be working our way through the well-known Johann Strauss waltzes and polkas. The trouble with waltzes is that they are for dancing. The first few staves are fine, then it becomes repetitive. It seems that there is only so much you can do to develop a Waltz. The solution is to bring in a couple of dancers. She’s very balletic with legs and arms going up and down, while he is no Nureyev, but good at leading a Viennese waltz. They can only dance in one plane – across the front of the dais and back – so the choreography is limited and can’t even compare with ‘Strictly’. A soprano comes on and sings an aria from a Strauss Opera – it’s a waltz. Things might look up as a baritone comes on to sing some Mozart. It’s Non Piu Andrai – an aria I used to sometimes sing at auditions. His acting isn’t very good and he doesn’t quite have the right power. We are back to the Strauss waltzes and the dancers. Suddenly there’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart – this also has memories – strange – of performing this piece as part of a clarinet quartet at a secondary school chamber music competition. At last there’s the duet from Don Giovani – La ci darem la mano. The two singers return and they are very good. The baritone has found his place as the seducer. It’s an ok experience, but not stunning, although the Blue Danube is well done. The encore is another strange memory from way-back. Brahms’ Hungarian Dance Number 5. We used to play this in the town orchestra and I could never manage the clarinet part. I remember the gusto with which our elderly rural violinists attacked this piece. Sadly, the opera was all sold out so this is second choice.
The final day is travelling home. I’m ready to do all the
airport security in reverse and you can even buy a bottle of drink to take
through wrapped up in a sealed transparent plastic bag. Something in my bag has
alerted the machine and I’m asked to open up.
‘Have you got any crystals?’
‘Yes,’ I reply. I wondered if
my swimming medals would cause a problem. Of course, they’re in my swimming bag
right at the bottom of my carry-on. I’m in plenty of time, so there is no need
to panic and I refuse to be rushed by the woman.
Later, back in London at swim training I ask my team mates if the same thing happened to them. Yes, it did. It’s hard going, the first swim in four days. I did six races, five museums and two palaces. My legs are wrecked.
Anything exploring the interaction of two or more cultures gets onto my list. AWA, a collaboration between the Atamira Dance Company and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is a movement and music biography of Moss Patternon’s family. His dad worked on the Tongariro Power Scheme, damming central North Island rivers for hydro power. Years later he worked on the Yellow River, in China, where he died. His body returned in a closed coffin denying his family of Te Uru Rangi (a portal to heaven).
AWA – When Two Rivers Collide, uses Maori and Asian Dancers to create a beautiful tension between two cultures using Kapa Haka and Tai Chi to join the Waikato and Yellow rivers together to powerful effect. The string section of the APO is augmented with Taonga Puro (traditional Maori instruments) and Pipa a Chinese mandolin. Waiata Maori, performed by a children’s choir begins the performance and the focus is shared with a large Chinese choir. It’s an exciting mix, sliding between classical cultures which included Bach and Handel. The dance evokes the myth of Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) being separated by Tane Mahuta. The dancers work in close contact like flocks of starlings, each dancer taking his turn to lead the conflict, constrained by a dramatic semicircle of cables around the dance area. At times I wanted the dancers to take flight up into the cables, escaping the primordial slime in order to free the spirits. This is not possible with contemporary dance, however, and beautiful as it is, the dancers are limited to delving deep into the floor – grounded with Kapa Haka and Tai Chi elements from which it borrows.
AWA remains a mystery – moving and beautiful. Increasingly New Zealand artists are collaborating to explore cultural relationships as a time when China and Aotearoa are talking trade. This work was well attended and received by a multicultural audience. My hope is that this and similar work will help to break down still prevalent hostility and suspicion amongst Pakeha New Zealanders.
The Bone Feeder began as a play by Renee Liang which was produced in 2010. It’s based on the story of the SS Ventor which left New Zealand in 1902 carrying 499 coffins of exhumed Chinese bodies returning to their homelands in Southern China. The ship was wrecked off Hokianga, finally sinking near the harbour. Coffins and bodies swept ashore were kept by local IWI until a time when they could be claimed by their families. Renee has successfully written an opera libretto for composer Gareth Farr. This is a first for both artists and augers well for future New Zealand opera.
Farr has drawn on his early experience with the Indonesian Gamelan and expanded his composition skills to incorporate Chinese classical instruments – flute, fiddle and zither. A violin, a cello, marimba and Taonga Púoro make up the orchestra.
Young Ben, beautifully portrayed and sung by Australian tenor, Henry Choo meets The Ferryman (Tioti Rakero) and asks to be taken to Mitimiti cemetery where the bones of his ancestor, Kwan and three of his countrymen are excited at the prospect of finally going home. When Kwan sees his descendant, he is reminded of his New Zealand wife. Chinese workers were forbidden to bring their women to Aotearoa and some took local wives, occasionally travelling back to China with money and to produce more sons. Ben, however is part of his New Zealand family so there is a question in Kwan’s mind. Is it appropriate for his bones to return to China? The plight of his Chinese wife, Wei wei is delicately portrayed by Xing Xing, while Chelsea Dolman does credit to Louisa. Together with four other female singers, they create a fantastic and atmospheric chorus. There is a scene where Ben can, in a dream, see Kwan and he is persuaded not to dig up the bones but feed them instead.
Chinese came to Aotearoa with the gold rush and have been here ever since and almost as long as the Europeans. They worked quietly tending their market gardens and selling the freshest fruit and vegetables in small towns all over the country. When the UK joined the Common Market (as it was then) New Zealand looked to Asia for markets, beginning a new wave of immigrants. It is helpful for Pakeha and Maori New Zealanders to be reminded of this long history and to learn, at last, about another culture.
I thought it was time to re-acquaint with Ibsen’s episodic ‘masterpiece’ and ATC’s offering for the Auckland Festival provided an opportunity to experience Eli Kent’s updated version. Somehow Peer Gynt had eluded me – I know I’ve read it and imagine I’ve seen it somewhere and of course there’s the Music by Grieg and perhaps I’ve seen the Ballet. Ibsen’s other work, I know and love: Hedda Gabler, The Dolls House, The Master Builder and Enemy of the People all have strong narratives and powerful sub-plots which collide dramatically. Ibsen emerges as the leading and enduring architect of the ‘Well Made Play’ and modern drama.
Peer Gynt doesn’t behave like any of these works and yet it has a protagonist who, Odysseus – like, sets out on a journey. Gynt leaves home to wander the world, abandoning his mother and Sol, the woman he loves to seek (mostly) sexual adventure. Much of the original narrative is lost in the recycling, replaced by Eli Kent as a character, sub-plot or even Troll, discussing with the audience and himself the process of writing and self-analysis with the aid of his projected mother and short-time girlfriend. Kent brings the landscape up-to-date beginning with Gynt’s seduction of his ex prior to her wedding to ‘The Batchelor’. Wherever you go with Ibsen, Trolls are not far away and topically, Gynt has a narrow escape from his next sexual conquest, the daughter of the Troll King. He can’t return to Sol and so travels to America to seduce the leader of a strange yogic sect and again, narrowly escapes death. Years later and with a change of actor, he’s in Dubai with his ghost writers in a book deal. Milo Yiannopolous is also there for the party. An indentured Starbucks worker breaks in and shoots everyone except Gynt. It’s become clear now that he’s a survivor but Kent has meanwhile ‘given birth’ to Ibsen who protests about cuts and tries to take over the play. A lot of philosophy ensues and difficulty for Kent when the Actress playing Sol, refuses to wait for her love – thus scuppering the ending. Meanwhile, Gynt is judged by the Button-maker, not good enough for heaven or bad enough for Hell and is designated for recycling. In the wake of a shipwreck Kent changes clothing and identity with Gynt in an effort to avoid his fate and the writer is left alone on stage waiting for a miracle to close the play.
At times it’s edge of the seat stuff, though the author’s navel gazing and sexual problems verge on the embarrassing – a significant number of the audience left at the interval – the wait was worth it. A mostly older crowd – the audience seemed bemused and possibly offended by the crudities and sexual references. The men in particular were uncomfortable. But that is what theatre should do isn’t it? There was an underlying feeling of gladness that they had taken this risk and were slightly liberated. Or did it remind them of their own younger selves in the 60’s and 70’s? Personally, I could have done without the angst ridden Eli Kent’s non character and wanted more of the Gynt story which was beautifully performed by the ensemble.
Rufus Wainwright recycles Judy with opera as a starter
I’d heard of Rufus Wainwright and knew that he’s a singer songwriter. I didn’t know that he writes opera and that’s what attracted me to this event. Only an email reminder from the Auckland Festival pointed out that he would be ‘Doing Judy Garland’ in the second half.
Prima Donna (the visual concert version) has come from the Adelaide festival. Actually only Rufus and his conductor plus the video have traveled. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and New Zealand singers have put this together. The Story is about an opera singer who lost her voice years ago in the opening night of ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’. Madeleine Pierard was in fine voice for this role. She’s announced in the press that a revival is planned and she’s found her voice, but the real test will be in the theatre. Supporting roles are the maid, Marie, a girl from Paiccardy finding Paris so … different. Madison Nonoa has a high pure soprano, whilst tenor Filipe Manu gives the romantic interest singing about love in the garden, his best shot. Both of these young singers will be ones to watch in the future. The music is beautiful and soars against a video backdrop where film artist Cindy Sherman, dressed in a costume worn by Maria Callas, silently plays the diva.
An opera audience is quite different from Judy Garland fans, except that there were a significant number of gay couples of a certain age who might get off on both. Judy has never really done it for me, though I’m semi-familiar with many of the numbers. I don’t think I’ve got the ‘Judy gene’ which gay men are supposed to have. Rufus has a powerful belt to his voice and at times sounds a bit like Judy in her later years, particularly when he sings Do It Again in her original key. He works hard – too hard – I don’t like to see performers work that hard and then to let us know how hard it is going to be before or after a number. He’s got a good voice, but sadly it’s unremarkable. Fortunately he slipped in one of his own compositions, Forever and a Year from the excellent Australian gay film Hold the Man. I would have liked to hear more of his original stuff.
I wrote about Cellfish last year when part of it was presented as a work in progress.
Miss Lucy takes Shakespeare classes to a prison and has some remarkable and unexpected results. Rob Mokoaraka, Miriama McDowell and Jason Te Kare have collaborated to forge a funny and moving script. The characters are introduced to Miss Lucy at a Powhiri (greeting) in the prison. Some of the play is in Te Reo Maori and it is unexpected to hear the Prison Guard, leading the proceedings speaking Te Reo with an Indian accent. Mark Ruka and Miriama McDowell play all the characters between them often swapping over, though Miss Lucy is always played by Miriama. I still think that my question from last year stands, about expanding the cast to clarify characters. Audiences are willing to work hard but not this hard and some gems were lost, becoming a bit of a how – clever -are – the – actors exercise. The writing, sourcing heavily from Macbeth, draws parallels for the prisoners between their lives and the characters in Shakespeare. Miss Lucy has to overcome illiteracy, appalling family circumstances and damaged childhoods. She also comes from a similar background but has found her salvation in Shakespeare. Miss Lucy creates desires for the prisoners but she is drawn to one of the prisoners in particular. He turns out to be the most damaged and seemingly un-redeemable, but hes also her estranged younger brother. It seems she also had ghosts to confront. Cellfish confronts the undeniable prison statistics that Maori are three times more likely to be arrested, imprisoned and receive a longer sentence for the same crime. You can more or less transfer these to black populations in the US and the UK and while Shakespeare may or may not be the solution, its pretty clear that some things have got to change with the system. Theres enough world-wide anecdotal evidence that The Arts can help, so its ironic that this production coincides with news that the National Endowment to the Arts in the US has been deleted.
Everything After by Shane Bosher is part of the RAW project. Like Cellfish last year, its a work in progress. The War is over, Gay men no longer die from AIDS, or so it seems. Protagonist Nick has been through it all friends and partner dying, making best friends with Nurse Mary on the AIDS ward and himself living with HIV. Things have changed rapidly in the last few years. People with HIV and on combination therapy live seemingly normal lives and most can be classified as undetectable. This means that the virus can not be detected in tests and the chance of infection is remote. Additionally, something called PrEP is on the market so negative guys can take this combo of drugs and dispense with the condoms. The psychology of HIV and AIDS is very complicated ranging from surviving partners deliberately going out to catch the virus (guilt?) to retiring from sex altogether (fear?). Nick meets a younger HIV free guy and they really like each other, but Nick is unable to have sex and of course the relationship is short lived. He then descends into a Meth addiction phase and in the excerpt we saw engaged up in a blinding argument with best friend Mary. The ending is not revealed yet, but clearly anything from redemption to death is possible. This feels like its going to be New Zealands post AIDS answer to Angels in America. One to watch out for next year perhaps?
The Biggest by Jaimie McCaskill is a story about Kiwi blokes doing what blokes do. Its not on the surface my sort of thing, but its new writing and it has Apirana Taylor (brother of my buddy Rangimoana) two good reasons for seeing it. The first scene in the local bar confirms the blokey aspect and sets up the premise of three friends set out to win the Hauraki Fishing competition. They want to replace the boat of their friend Stu who lost his in a road accident cue for loads of jokes and abuse, especially as Stu has been confined to a wheelchair since the accident. Gradually I was drawn in by this story of male loyalty, love and identity. Theres an unexpected feel-good ending where paternity issues are sorted and although the mates dont win the boat, Stu gets two surprises. The real ending however is the resolution of Poppas prostate cancer diagnosis and Micks return from Australia to embrace his Maori culture. I was disappointed that the Rangitira Theatre audience was sparse, but cheered by an older bloke who gave me the thumbs up on the way out.
A friend has just reminded me about the film Labyrinth and just maybe, it’s time share my David Bowie story … again.
It was around ’86 and I was a struggling actor in London. An advertisement appeared in the trade paper the Stage & Television today looking for ‘Actors/Actresses who can waltz’. I’d learnt to waltz as a child, by standing on my father’s shoes on our kitchen floor. On the rare occasion when we were listening and dance music came on the radio, Mum and Dad would push the table and chairs to the side of the room and dance. Next it was the kid’s turn and I’d managed to polish up those skills at Drama school in period dance classes.
Every dancer in London came to the open audition and we all waited patiently until called into a small dance studio, paired up and, to the music of an accordion player, waltzed around the room. As eliminations proceeded I found I was being kept on and some of the female dancers, spotting this, tried to manoeuvre themselves into my arms. When it comes to ballroom dancing however, I can be a bit choosy and soon found myself coming back to recalls over the next few days. I got the job as a dancer in the masked ballroom scene of Labyrinth staring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, directed by Kermit the Frog alias Jim Henson.
It turned out that I was the only actor in the group which was otherwise made up of dancers from the Royal Ballet and West End shows. We had two weeks to rehearse the dancing and it also turned out that Bowie (who wrote the music) was a stranger to ¾ time so we had to make it all look like a waltz.
If you look at the clip, fairly early on (0.07sec), there are two shots of me, with horned mask and a partner in an apricot ball gown. Bowie remarked to me during shooting, that he was in danger of getting his eyes poked out by my horns.
The other challenge I remember was the set. Ballrooms are usually flat – this one was all up and down stairs and on different levels. Now, dancing with a show girl partner in this situation is difficult, because they don’t understand that they have to follow. In the end I had to clutch her tightly, whisper urgently in her ear. ‘We are going up and down stairs and I’m the only one who can see where we are going. Follow me.’ In the final cut, for some reason, we got more shots that the star couple form the Royal Ballet.
My memory of David Bowie (that’s the point of this piece) is that he was an ordinary bloke, who came out of his dressing room in a break to ask if any of us knew what the cricket score was – no one did. My other memory is of the teenage Jennifer Connelly (now an award winning actor) looking fantastic in her cellophane ball-gown. She would emerge from her school lessons to do a scene, briefly pausing to allow us to take photos with her before returning to study.
At the time, it was the best paid work I’d ever had, especially as it over ran by a week and I could afford the air fair to come home to New Zealand for the first time in seven years. Thanks David, Jennifer … and Kermit.
After the emotionality of the ANZAC service at Ostend, Waiheke Island, then retiring home to listen to the live radio broadcast of the dawn service at Gallipoli, it seems madness to attend War is and Avalanche in the evening at the Waiheke High School Hall. Ive booked a ticket and feel obliged to now turn up and support local composer and lyricist, John Mckay. He has been awarded a grant fro the Waiheke Local Board to compose and perform a contemporary song cycle based on letters from ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli.
First impressions of the Hall are one of austerity, with very hard seats and no ambience. The Narrator of the piece, Pat Urlich, a well known local vocalist, is sorting out his spotlight with the lighting box when I arrive. Theres a band comprised of: John Mackay on keyboards, supported by guitar, base and drums. As the lights go out, the poor ambience of the hall fades as suddenly we are engaged by the rich tenor voice of young Maori professional singer/actor Rutene Spooner. Pat Urlich isnt singing tonight (except in some pre-recorded vocals), hes showing of his deep chocolaty speaking voice to great effect in the telling of the Gallipoli Story. Theres no sentimentality here, he tells it as it is. Rutene is joined by Mezzo, Eve-Marie Hess, who has a most unusual quality to her voice. In some numbers its like a choir boy, opening up to a full chest belt (musical theatre style) when required. The cycle is nine songs accompanied with fantastic graphic images, by Bruce Woods, projected onto an up-stage screen. The songs cover a range of themes, beginning with the horror of it all in A Hole in Hell. Sexual tension and frustration between soldiers and nurses is explored in Ive Got an Itch and party mentality on leave (because tomorrow we may die) gets the treatment in Paint the Moon. The last song tells of a field of ghosts in Here is Tehono-i-wairua. Its the first time Ive heard that over eighty thousand Ottoman Turks were killed here, some of them as young as fourteen. In the second half, soprano Rose Myer joins to make up a trio, adding a very high pure layer to the vocal mix. Theres been no schmaltz or emotional manipulation here and the musical styles have ranged from contemporary lieder through the modern musical, jazz and an anachronistic slice of rock and roll. Weve been transported with delight by professional talent and the audience stands in ovation at the end. The Waiheke Local Board has spent wisely here.
Gentler Than a Rifle Butt by Dean Parker
I know nothing about the play or the playwright, Dean Parker, except that this local production is an adaptation of his radio play. To my embarrassment, I find that Deans been around writing since 1974. Playmarket provides me with a list of his titles, some of which I have heard of. Nevertheless, its smacked wrists for me.
Im attending the penultimate performance at the Omiha Hall in Rocky Bay, because I support the Hall and I can be environmental and walk. Walking down the hill on a damp, dark Friday evening in May at 6.30 is a challenge. Its been raining all day and although there is a gap, drops are still dripping from the trees, so that my umbrella is up. Darkness between the sparsely spread street lighting necessitates the use of my wind up torch, requiring two hands. This is particularly important going down Agony Hill a steep walkway with irregular steps.
The adaptation imagines the Narrator from the radio play as an academic lecturer with a slide show of images from Gallipoli and of the Protagonist poet, Rufus Dewar. We are told that while he is not the best New Zealand Poet, he is (arguably) the most important in that he changed the course of poetry in this country. Rufus is an ex Auckland Grammar School boy (part of the establishment) and initially a war enthusiast. Dylan Hinchey is almost perfect for the passionate poet who quickly gets a reality check. Although hes slightly too old for the part, hes very sexy and disbelief is willingly suspended. Predictably, he is wounded and ends up in hospital in Alexandra, a very angry man, ranting against the war and its waste of life. His nurse, Cissie Kerrisk, intelligently played by Renee Cassely is initially horrified by his unpatriotic behaviour, but is gradually won over and they begin an affair. Rufus posts all his poetry to his Mum and the lovers escape on a ship to America on the same day the ANZACS withdraw from Gallipoli, defeated. Mrs Dewar tries to get the poems published, but they are deemed too unpatriotic and contrary to the war effort. A small left wing printer takes up the task, but the book is immediately banned by the Government. The printer, seeing an opportunity, prints more copies to distribute clandestinely. Rufus and Cissie return to New Zealand to become the darlings of the growing anti war movement. They are pursued around the country by a police officer, Arthur Craven, humorously played by Rocky Bays Grant Lilley. Theres a revelation that in retrospect, makes sense. Rufus is having an affair and Cissy finds out. Rufus is bisexual (most gay men in New Zealand before 1986 were) and his lover might be the bachelor leader of the Labour Party, Joseph Savage. Proof is offered in the form of the inscription inside Savages copy of Rufus war poems. There is a peace rally due at the Auckland Town Hall, but the way is blocked by the police. Rufus appears like a saviour and to the awe of the protesters and police flings open the doors of the hall. The only character not in awe, Arthur Craven, pounces and kills the messianic poet with his kosh. The Narrator tells us that on the 24th April 1916 Savages Labour Party swept to power and on the 25th the troops were recalled from the Great War. It is here that knowledge of New Zealand history is needed because Dean Parker is a great story-teller, going to some length to suggest verisimilitude. He relies on the atrocious inattention by the New Zealand curriculum, which left generations ignorant of our heritage, preferring to dwell on British monarchs, European wars, the now discredited hero Edward Gibbon Wakefield of the New Zealand Company and a cute view of pre European Maori.
This is a what if story. By basing Rufus on the British War poets Parker has cleverly made them part of us. Having caught us in his hook and reeled us in, he suggests that the reason for celebrating ANZAC day should be the recall of the troops home, not some landing on an isolated coast in a disastrous campaign ending in withdrawal. The ending however, is too prolonged with the Narrator and the now dead Rufus in a duet of If you want to know where the Private is, which clearly is there to make the play the required length for the radio.
Makes you think, this sort of stuff, doesnt it? This may have been the last year I will attend and ANZAC parade.