Scotland goes surreal this summer: Threatening Weather by René Magritte
Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House; Mikhailovsky Ballet, Carlos Acosta and guest artists, London Coliseum; Sylvie Guillem, Sadler’s Wells
London’s balletomanes are going to need a bus pass or a bicycle—and deep pockets—to stay ahead of the game this month.
The Bolshoi, still awaiting completion of their Moscow home’s £500m refit, are back at the Royal Opera House (19th July-8th August) with bankable favourites, an eagerly awaited revival of Coppélia by Sergei Vikharev and firecracker virtuosity from the young Natalia Osipova.
Undaunted by the competition, the dancers of the Mikhailovsky Ballet and guest star Tamara Rojo begin an ambitious two-week run at the London Coliseum (13th-25th July). Generous support from fruit magnate Vladimir Kekhman, known as “Mr Banana,” has paid for the renovation of the company’s dilapidated St Petersburg theatre and bankrolled a London visit offering five programmes including a rare sighting of Soviet-era Laurencia, a light-hearted balletisation of Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna.
Spoiled for choice? It gets worse. As the Bolshoi begins its second week at the ROH, Carlos Acosta takes over the Coliseum (28th July-7th August) with one of those hit-and-miss “and friends” evenings pioneered by Rudolf Nureyev in the 1970s. Meanwhile, former Royal Ballet diva Sylvie Guillem will treat a sold-out Sadler’s Wells (28th-31st July) to the exquisite tableaux vivants of Robert Lepage’s half-baked Eonnagata, sumptuously costumed by the late Alexander McQueen to prove that there is life (of sorts) after tutus. Louise Levene is the Sunday Telegraph’s ballet critic and a novelist
Went the Day Well? On re-release 9th-31st July, BFI
The year is 1940 and it’s an average day in the English village of Bramley End. Soldiers arrive and the locals greet them. But something’s awry. These soldiers eat Viennese chocolate. When they write “7,” they put a cross through it. Gradually it dawns on the villagers: the soldiers are German, and Britain has been invaded. The villagers react with surprising violence. The story is told in flashback, from a future in which Germany has been defeated.
We are used to thinking of British cinema in the realist mode, but the Ealing film Went the Day Well?, made in 1942, joins the askance, impolite, Romantic tradition that includes the work of Powell and Pressburger, Nicolas Roeg, Terence Davies, Derek Jarman and Ken Russell. It is based on a story by Graham Greene, but its inventiveness and non-conformism smell of its director, Alberto Cavalcanti. He was a precocious, globe-trotting, gay Brazilian architect-designer-producer-director-sound engineer who flitted through Europe’s avant garde movements in the 1920s. His film Rien que les Heures (1926) inspired Russian documentary-maker Dziga Vertov and led John Grierson to talent-spot him for Britain. Cavalcanti was a shot in the arm for British documentary—a filmmaker impatient with the real, in love with the sonic, poetic, rhythmic and discomforting.
Such an outsider was doomed to fall out with Grierson’s world and with Ealing, and Cavalcanti eventually went back to Brazil. But his 15 years in Britain alone show that he was one of the great directors. Now restored and re-released by the BFI, Went the Day Well? is a profound study of Englishness and a masterpiece of unease. Mark Cousins is a film critic and director
Praise & Blame by Tom Jones (Universal/Island)
At 70, Tom Jones is the last of the great British cabaret acts to have risen from working men’s clubs. Cherished for his Welsh roots, it was the raunchy kitsch of his performances that won him fame in Britain and the US. Armies of perspiring women would toss their knickers at this archetypal medallion man as his powerful baritone boomed over a sea of oestrogen.
With a career now spanning almost 50 years, Sir Tom has, like all survivors of fickle pop taste, reinvented himself many times, and with the release of Praise & Blame his long ascent from the ridiculous to the sublime is nearly complete. Guided by rock producer Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Laura Marling, Ryan Adams), Jones has abandoned his trademark swing for a more intimate arrangement of pitted guitars and drums. But his choice of songs, and the belief and passion with which they are sung, really define Jones’s new direction. Covers of John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan and Jessie Mae Hemphill blend with traditional blues-gospel standards whose preaching references to death and the afterlife point to the act of a man in full-frontal contrition. Like Johnny Cash before him, whose later work tackled the tragedy and guilt of a long life, Mr Hips, it seems, is ready to meet his maker. Nick Crowe is a music writer
Another World: Dalí, Magritte, Miró and the Surrealists Dean Gallery, Edinburgh, 10th July-9th January 2011
This summer the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is 50. Gracefully situated since 1980 in a grand, neoclassical building beside the Water of Leith, its lawn now dominated by Charles Jencks’s dramatic Landform (2002), wise stewardship has made this one of the best public collections of modern art in Britain. To celebrate its half centenary, the Dean Gallery annexe—the forbidding late Georgian former orphanage across the road—will be given over entirely to the national gallery’s magnificent holdings of surrealist art.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has been one of the richest repositories of Dada and surrealist art in the world since 1995, when key purchases were made from the collection of the English surrealist painter Roland Penrose, and Gabrielle Keiller, a dedicated art collector (and international golfer) bequeathed a generous legacy. Besides paintings and sculptures by surrealism’s main protagonists, on display will be a vast accumulations of artists’ books, other writings, manuscripts, print portfolios and drawings, supplemented by major foreign loans. We are told that the hang of this exhibition will emulate the dramatic presentation of work at the International Surrealist Exhibition, held in London in 1936, which was Britain’s first introduction to this overwhelming other world of the imagination. Emma Crichton-Miller is an arts writer
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett (Tuskar Rock, £12.99) Credit crunch fiction is a genre that hasn’t quite taken off—unsurprisingly, perhaps, given the arcane nature of modern finance. In this impressive debut novel, Adam Haslett boldly imagines an earlier moment of banking instability. The year is 2002 and Doug Fanning, a navy veteran in his late thirties, is in charge of “Special Plans” at Union Atlantic, one of America’s leading banks. Doug’s success is based on pursuing quasi-legal strategies made possible by the deregulation of the financial sector: creating shadowy holding companies, exploiting dubiously obtained information, turning a blind eye to lax traders. But now these policies are attracting the attention of regulators and, to make matters worse, the eyesore of a mansion Doug built himself in rural Massachusetts has put him on a legal collision course with his neighbour.
Rendering the minutiae of banking comprehensible and gripping is no easy feat for a novelist. Haslett, an acclaimed short-story writer who spent seven years researching and writing Union Atlantic, pulls it off with aplomb, shedding light on under-explored corners of the financial system, such as the operations of the New York federal reserve. But the technical never overwhelms the emotional and Union Atlantic ends up being a moving story about the debilitating consequences of denial and regret. William Skidelsky is books editor of the Observer
La Bête by David Hirson, dir Matthew Warchus. Comedy Theatre, 26th June-4th September, Tel: 0844 871 7622 After his huge success in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, Mark Rylance bids to consolidate his status as our leading stage actor in US playwright David Hirson’s 1991 verse drama, La Bête. This comic tour de force, composed entirely in rhyming couplets, is about a crisis in Molière’s touring company in 1654, several years before achieving Parisian glory at the Palais-Royal.
How oddly unexpected does that sound? Molière—here called “Elomire,” and played by David Hyde Pierce of Frasier fame—is distraught when a clownish intruder, Valère (Rylance), launches into an uninterrupted half-hour babble of controlled and campy histrionics. Their face-off is supervised by a fastidious, preening princess, played by Joanna Lumley as an all-too-recognisable patroness of the arts.
The play flopped originally on Broadway (that is, the New York Times didn’t like it), but was a big hit here in 1992 for the then unknown Alan Cumming as Valère. Matthew Warchus’s production goes straight to New York after the London season and promises to be one of the more fascinating offerings on stage this year, while launching Rylance into a higher league of fame and acclaim. That’s the idea, anyway… Michael Coveney is chief theatre critic of Whatsonstage.com