Prospect recommends: February

Six things to do this month, from French dance music to installation art
January 25, 2012
John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen in Martha May Marcy Marlene


City of London Sinfonia: CLoSerVillage Underground, East London, 29th February, Tel: 020 7422 7505

Classical music is going underground—the Village Underground, that is. Shoreditch’s newest and most bohemian arts hub is quietly establishing itself as a byword for cultural experimentation. The venue is quirky, without the affectation that term so often implies, and at the end of February it hosts the second concert in the City of London Sinfonia’s classical CLoSer series.

A celebration of the human voice, the evening pairs the Sinfonia with the Holst Singers for music by Bach, Poulenc and Stravinsky. The latter’s Mass boldly combines sacred and secular, an ascetic foil to the meditative beauty of contemporary composer Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, and Bach’s own French Suite.

Attempts to drag classical music out from the regimented seats of the Wigmore Hall have gained pace recently; few do it better than the Village Underground. Beanbags and cabaret-style seating encourage listeners to linger in comfort, but for those who prefer to mingle, the bar stays open throughout. Unusually, there’s neither a formal stage space nor any amplification here (the converted warehouse acoustic is a resonant dream), so there’s an intimacy between performers and audience that continues into the regular post-show Q&As and jam sessions. So much crossover is about compromise, but with a drink in hand, listening to these superb musicians, you really do get the best of both worlds.

Alexandra Coghlan


Antonio Gades Company: FuenteovejunaSadler’s Wells, 14th-16th February, Tel: 0844 412 4300

The hottest ticket in this year’s Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells is the Antonia Gades Company with their dance production of Lope de Vega’s play Fuenteovejuna.

Gades, who died in 2004 was a political and cultural revolutionary. A member of the Spanish Communist party until 1981, his work was fuelled by his political ideals. His fusion of flamenco, Spanish folkloric dance and contemporary movement allowed him to create narrative flamenco ballets to rival the scale and scope of grand classical ballet. He was particularly adept at taking folk tales, which had been trivialised in popular films under Franco, and creating “stories with movement.” Carmen, El Amor Brujo and Blood Wedding are among his most famous adaptations—all of which were turned into films by his compatriot Carlos Saura.

Set in an Andalusian village in the 15th century, Fuenteovejuna tells the story of a group of peasants who band together to resist a cruel military commander. This adaptation—with its clear, expressive dancing, music and lighting— reaffirms Antonio Gades as one of the all-time greats in international choreography. Fuenteovejuna was his final work, and it’s a fitting tribute to a revolutionary choreographer who danced it like he talked it.

Neil Norman


Martha Marcy May MarleneOn release from 3rd February

This grippingly creepy tale of cult trauma begins like a regular kind of US indie film. On a Catskill mountain farm, healthy, attractive young people in simple work clothes are doing chores in the “magic hour” of sunlight so familiar from Terrence Malick’s films. But to the beautiful Martha (played with subtle grace by newcomer Elizabeth Olsen), this seeming idyll is revealed to be anything but heavenly.

Renamed Marcy May or Marlene, she has been recruited into a cult run by psychopath Patrick (John Hawkes) who drugs the women and forces himself on them. Martha escapes, getting her sister Lucy to bring her to the Connecticut lakeshore house she shares with her husband Ted. In her sleep Martha returns to the horrors she’s experienced; and when awake she reacts bitterly against her sister’s rich lifestyle—yet at the same time she fears that the cult may come for her.

Director Sean Durkin skilfully builds audience discomfort and apprehension through surprise. He infuses the film’s intimations of violence with a subtle dread that reminds one not of Malick but of that sly Austrian master Michael Haneke (Caché, The White Ribbon). Go and shiver.

Nick James


JusticeOn tour nationwide from 9th February

The French have a talent for surreal, vaguely comedic dance music, from the rubbery riffs of masked disco robots Daft Punk to the electronica outfit Air, who’ve just made an album about the 1902 silent film Le Voyage dans la Lune. Parisian duo Justice have been peddling their rock-influenced house music since 2003 and their latest album Audio, Video, Disco is their most eccentric yet, a witty juxtaposition of giant club beats and 1980s guitar anthems which they’ve described as “a progressive rock record being played by guys that don’t know how to play.” Bass lines are constructed from heavy metal riffs sampled, chopped up and reconstructed with a dance producer’s regularity while the guitar breaks are so bold and bright they sound like Queen played by wind-up toys or Lego men.

In live performance you’ll hear more than you see, with the pair bent over mixing desks, twiddling MacBook Pros and dwarfed by 18 Marshall amplifiers. The atmosphere at a Justice show has been compared to a Brixton club night crossed with an Evangelical church gathering: they always perform alongside their personal emblem, a giant neon crucifix.

Kate Mossman


Song Dong: Waste Not The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, 15th February-12th June

A bed piled high with shirts, neatly aligned rows of shoes and thick gloves looking a little worn but still arranged in pairs—it sounds like something F Scott Fitzgerald would describe. But this installation, which features more than 10,000 objects, by Chinese artist Song Dong is not a lavish display of opulence; it is an artistic response to the hardship of life in postwar China.

Collected over five decades by the artist’s mother, these objects are the story of an individual and a whole society. Faced with the political and social uncertainty of life in communist China, Song’s mother hoarded every available possession for future use—a movingly diligent response to the communist adage wu jin qu yong—“waste not.” In the exhibition, bottle tops and toothpaste tubes squeezed for every last smidgeon are as prized and lovingly displayed as plastic bowls and metal pots.

This is the first major solo exhibition in Britain for the internationally renowned conceptual artist. Epic and intimate, this show is not to be missed.

Rosanna Boscawen


Bingo: Scenes of Money and Death Young Vic, 16th February-31st March, Tel: 020 7922 2922

Early in his career, Patrick Stewart auditioned for Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre. Stewart was a callow youth who had recently lost his hair; he wore a toupee to the audition, which he removed between his first speech and his second. At the end of the second speech, Olivier told him to do it again: not the speech, but the removal of the toupee. “It was the only thing about my audition,” Stewart told Michael Parkinson in 2007, “that he remembered.”

The story captures Stewart’s most appealing qualities as an actor: a quiet confidence, combined with the ability not to take himself too seriously. This month, he brings those qualities to his portrayal of the ageing Shakespeare, in a rare production of Edward Bond’s 1973 play Bingo.

Bond’s play depicts Shakespeare in the last years of his life, as a venal landowner troubled by guilt and the feeling that his writing has not given enough to the world. It’s a radically revisionist view of Shakespeare, informed by Bond’s own hard-left political perspective—and a much stronger one than that peddled by the increasingly strident authorship debate, recently given much publicity (though little credibility) by Roland Emmerich’s dismal film, Anonymous.

Laura Barnett