Six cultural events to check out in August—from Japanese photography to the new film from Almodóvarby Prospect / July 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Cinema alfresco: Locarno’s Piazza Grande plays host to open-air screenings during the annual film festival. Up to 8,000 people can attend
The Skin I Live In On general release from 26th August
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is a giddying psycho-sexual revenge saga based on a pulp novel (Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet). Here is a film of harsh light and glittering surfaces, its interior honeycombed by flashbacks and false trails. Only near the end, when the glamours drop away and the truth is revealed, do we twig how expertly the director has been bamboozling us; pointing one way while scurrying the other.
Antonio Banderas—making his first film with Almodóvar since 1990’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!—gives a dashing performance as the obligatory mad scientist. Robert Ledgard is a brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by the death of his wife. Further unhinged by an assault on his daughter, he reaches for the scalpel and hatches a plan to punish the guilty and reward the virtuous.
Along the way, the director tips his hat to Frankenstein and Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, as well as stirring memories of the more openly transgressive films from his back catalogue. In this film, identity is an illusion and gender just a costume. Almodóvar’s puckish, bawdy thriller invites us to throw off our clothes, shuck off our skin and dance around in our bones.
Hiroshi Sugimoto: “Lightning Fields” and “Photogenic Drawings” Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 4th August-25th September, Tel: 0131 624 6200
Hiroshi Sugimoto, the Japanese photographer known for his formally beautiful black-and-white prints, is above all a philosopher. He uses the camera to probe phenomena such as time, gravity, geometry and light, or the sly way in which photography can blur the line between the fictive and the real.
A meticulous craftsman, Sugimoto keeps faith in his early 20th-century box camera and the silver gelatin print. In 2003 the Serpentine exhibited his vast meditative seascapes alongside sombre portraits of Japanese imperial pines and the candle-lit installation, In Praise of Shadows.
For this exhibition—the first showing in Europe of these works—he has gone back to photography’s earliest days. The images in Lightning Fields were created directly on photographic dry plates by sparks and static electricity from a 400,000-volt Van de Graaff generator. For Sugimoto, these pieces connect Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with lightning to the electromagnetic discoveries of Michael Faraday, and to the work of William Fox Talbot, who invented the photographic negative.
Imbued with an elemental energy, the images seem to bring us as close to the origins of life as to the beginnings of photography. To honour his predecessors, Sugimoto also presents prints he has made from Fox Talbot’s earliest negatives, summoning ancient ghosts, with great care and technical difficulty, into the present.
Mariinsky Ballet Royal Opera House, 25th July-8th August, Tel: 020 7304 4000
Half a century has passed since the dancers of the Leningrad State Kirov ballet first set pointe on the stage of the Royal Opera House. Much has changed since then—the St Petersburg company was renamed the Mariinsky in 1991—but its reputation has remained consistent.
The Bolshoi may have more flash and fire, but the Mariinsky is the keeper of the flame of the imperial Russian style. It can be seen today in the regal posture of veteran ballerina Uliana Lopatkina as well as the lithe grace of younger dancers Alina Somova and Vladimir Shklyarov.
The Mariinsky has expanded its repertoire for its residency at Covent Garden. Bookended by old favourites Swan Lake and La Bayadère, the season includes tributes to Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Michel Fokine. If their Scheherazade is anything like the version fielded at the Diaghilev Festival in April, the walls will sweat.
The highlight is the British premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Anna Karenina, set to music by Rodion Shchedrin. The former Bolshoi choreographer sometimes spreads his creative butter too thinly but Anna Karenina won him the Benois de la Danse award. Ratmansky has reworked the ballet several times since its 2004 premiere and its elegant eroticism, grandeur and exciting staging allow it to stand alongside Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling as a work of dark and dangerous beauty.
The Syndicate Minerva Theatre, Chichester 21st July-20th August, Tel: 01243 781 312; on tour
Eduardo De Filippo was Italy’s most popular 20th-century dramatist, a Neapolitan Alan Ayckbourn with layers of political corruption. This revival of his late play Il Sindaco del Rione Sanità—which translates literally as The Mayor of Health Alley—stars Ian McKellen.
McKellen, now 72, never keeps off the boards for long; he’s been indefatigable in recent long runs and world tours as a stripped naked Lear and a vaudevillian tramp in Waiting For Godot. In the little Chichester studio, he plays a mayor with a guilty past as bourgeois Naples stands up to the criminal underworld—the syndicate.
Twenty years ago at the National Theatre, McKellen played a returning soldier in Filippo’s wartime Napoli Milionaria. That was the fourth Filippo play at the National; previous productions had exhibited the talents of Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright, Franco Zeffirelli and Richard Eyre.
Mike Poulton’s version reunites McKellen with his Godot director, Sean Mathias, who is never afraid to explore the extremities of character and passion in flights of theatricality. Expect fireworks.
The Emperor of Atlantis Arcola Theatre, Hackney, 17th-18th August, Tel: 020 7503 1646
Germany’s 1938 invasion of Czechoslavakia changed the course of classical music. Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Erwin Schulhoff and Hans Krása were among the most promising composers in central Europe, pupils and inheritors of Janác?ek, Schoenberg, Debussy and Zemlinsky. Interned in Theresienstadt, the showcase concentration camp, Klein, Haas, Ullmann and Krása continued to write and perform until they were sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Doubly damned as a Jew and a communist, Schulhoff was sent to Wülzburg and perished in 1942. Klein was the last to die, in Fürstengrube camp in January 1945.
Oboist Nicholas Daniel, singer Anne Sofie von Otter, violinists Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Daniel Hope, and conductor James Conlon have championed the music of the Theresienstadt generation. Yet performances of the most significant work to have been completed there are rare in Britain—as though the weight of extra-musical tragedy prevents us hearing the greatness in the score. Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis was hidden for decades after the second world war, and only premiered in 1975.
Part-satire, part-requiem, and set in a world where Death has gone on strike, it is being performed by Dioneo, a fledgling opera company, as part of this year’s Grimeborn Festival at Hackney’s Arcola Theatre. For young conductor John Murton, it is the “sheer eclecticism” of Ullmann’s musical language that is most striking, while director Max Hoehn points to the “brash, in-your-face engagement” of cabaret. Infused with the twisted beauty of Schoenberg and Zemlinsky, it closes with the heartbreaking quotation of the Lutheran chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God).
FILM FESTIVAL Locarno Film Festival 3rd-13th August, Tel: + 41 91 756 21 21
The Locarno Film Festival ranks in the top five global celebrations of cinema. Cannes and Venice attract the megastars. Berlin is audience friendly, Toronto perhaps less so. Lying at the head of Lake Maggiore beneath the Ticino Alps, Locarno is a charming, sleepy resort with a winding medieval-baroque centre. Every August, a 364-square-metre screen is put up in its Piazza Grande and movies take over.
Up to 8,000 people can sit under the stars for the nightly 9.30pm screenings (if it rains, spectators adjourn to a sports hall nearby). Locarno’s open-air staging of film is unique; this, and wine-fuelled parties in spectacular palazzi, make it the friendliest and most atmospheric of the top five.
At the heart of the 64th festival is a retrospective of Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s dad) and a focus on Indian cinema. In the competition, French auteur Mia Hansen-Løve is the one to watch. Her film, Un amour de jeunesse (its English title is Goodbye, First Love), is a tender, edgy drama inspired by Proust. It is typical Locarno fare: painterly, sassily acted and sharply written—the best art cinema in the most elegant of surroundings.