Prospect recommends

Five things to do this month
June 19, 2013

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Carnival in Huejotzingo, 1939, by José Chávez Morado © Phoenix Art Museum

Art Mexico: A revolution in art 1910-1940The Royal Academy, from 6th July

Mexico’s greatest 20th-century poet, Octavio Paz, called his country’s revolution of 1910 “a return to the source… a rebeginning.” He was speaking as much about the art that the revolution inspired as the recovery of a spirit and sense of identity that reached back to before the Spanish conquest. An unusual summer show at the Royal Academy focuses on an explosive 30 years of Latin-American history through the works of key Mexican modernist painters: many of whom did their best work not on canvasses but on the sides of buildings.

This has not prevented the exhibition from bringing together free-standing pictures by the famous muralists, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros (los tres grandes, “the three greats,” as they’re known). There’s also a portrait by Frida Kahlo, who, though maturing at the end of the exhibition’s era, has come to define a certain mythic strain in mid-20th-century Mexican painting. Works on show by Philip Guston, Tina Modotti and others vibrantly demonstrate how excited many foreigners were by this radical art from so unexpected a source.

James Woodall

Film WadjdaOn release from 19th July

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) a resourceful 10-year-old in jeans and trainers, sits after school playing games with her father while her mother is out at work. Beyond the front gate women must be robed and veiled. Haaifa al-Mansour’s film—the first to be shot entirely inside Saudi Arabia—focuses on Wadjda’s reckless quest to own and ride a bicycle on the streets, an activity that was banned until April this year and only permitted now in chaperoned areas. It is also the first Saudi film directed by a woman. Constrained in public—al-Mansour had to shoot street scenes giving walkie-talkie directions to a male crew from a parked van—she reveals, often with a sharp wit, a society on the point of change. At school, for instance, the headmistress is a controlling glamourpuss whose affairs are the subject of widespread gossip, yet the girls cannot sit in the courtyard between lessons lest builders on an adjacent building glimpse them.

The film pedals along slowly at first but gathers speed for a surprisingly emotional payoff. With its sharp and surprising portrait of life in the Middle East, it’s no surprise to learn the producers behind the film also made the superb Academy Award-nominated movies Paradise Now and Waltz with Bashir.

Francine Stock

Theatre Battlefield performances of Shakespeare’s Henry VI playsVarious locations. July to August

Full of alarums and battles, Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays are perfectly suited to open-air performance. The Globe Theatre’s decision to stage these plays at the battlefield sites of the Wars of the Roses is inspired. There will be performances at Towton, Tewkesbury, St Albans, and Barnet. These are Shakespeare’s earliest attempts at history, played out with huge casts and encompassing the stories of Joan of Arc, peasant revolt and political machinations.

Director Nick Bagnall and actor Garry Cooper both have form for bracing, site-specific Shakespeare. Their promenade production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2011 was staged in Malton town centre, and had Bottom and Titania reclining on a stack of pallets in the market square. Their Henry VI, performed on simple 16th-century-style stages, is less experimental, but no less ambitious. All three plays are performed in one sitting, with the first installment starting around midday, and the last at dusk.

Laura Marsh

Classical music Michelangelo Sonnets by ShostakovichManchester International Festival, 4th, 5th and 7th July

Glance at the listings for Manchester International Festival (MIF) and you might assume that the Michelangelo Sonnets staged by Peter Sellars in the Albert Memorial Hall are those set to music by Benjamin Britten. Wrong. While the rest of Britain celebrates the centenary of its most successful composer, MIF is exploring Shostakovich’s enigmatic 1974 setting of Michelangelo’s poems in a performance piece for the distinguished African-American bass-baritone Eric Owens and organist Cameron Carpenter that includes Bach’s solo cantata “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen.”

Both works are meditations on mortality: the Bach a portrait of physical torment and spiritual release; the Shostakovich an essay on the moral responsibility of an artist and a tribute to the austere beauty of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov and the translucent cadences of Mahler’s symphony Das Lied von der Erde. Famous for his operatic collaborations with composer John Adams, Sellars’s most intimate work is his most powerful. After the success of his 2004 staging of Bach’s “Ich habe genug” with the late, great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, music-lovers will not want to miss this.

Anna Picard

Dance Political MotherSadler’s Wells, 3rd-7th July

The first full-length work from choreographer Hofesh Schecter premiered at the Brighton Festival in 2010. Such was its impact, Schecter, an inveterate tinkerer, produced a longer version for a now legendary performance at Sadler’s Wells. To claim that Political Mother: The Choreographer’s Cut changed the face of modern dance is no overstatement.

Above the stage, a ranting dictator delivers hoarse, indecipherable speeches, in between shards of percussion and electric guitar, to a succession of shuffling, loping figures below. The rhythmic patterns of movement suggest prison systems from the chain gangs of Angola to the horrors of Treblinka and Auschwitz, with the inmates staggering and trembling their way through existence. They dig, they crawl, they lope around in circles, they shake their fists at the sky.

By colliding the relentless aural assault of a rock gig with the twisted human architecture of dance, Schecter created an entirely new form. Where bold dancemakers such as Michael Clark and DV8 had skirmished with similar ideas, Schecter ramraided cultural barriers wielding a formidable arsenal of anger, humanity and an unyielding contempt for despotic political systems of every hue. Be brave and go.

Neil Norman