Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bluebird Pas de deux for Dance Tales Story Ballets

I have had this short Bluebird Pas de deux on DV tape sitting in a cupboard for over 25 years and a few days ago I felt the urge to archive it for posterity. It was made as a promo for  Dance Tales Story Ballet Series for the BCC to demonstrate my production skills as a TV producer.

It took me ages to get it together and I really do have to thank all involved especially the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden who made the whole series happen for me.

For years I had been filling Auckland's major venues with my original children's show that introduced classical ballet to a mainstream audience. It started with 'The Tales of Beatrix Potter' at the Auckland Town Hall and was the first occasion where I learned the lesson that one has to plan for success as well as failure. 23,000 through in just four days. The 14 wheelchairs nearly finished me off. This and subsequent production every school holidays kept my serious opera venture going.

I had the idea to make them into a TV series and reach a wider audience. the Muppets were popular and I though my narrated ballet would be popular too. Not a good idea as it took for years of my life and although Dance Tales reached a huge audience via BBC it was incredibly hard to produce and made very little money. In fact I just broke even. I should have done a Circe du Soliel. That was my mistake.

But I have kept the copyright series protected as I knew one day I should be able to reach the audience I desire and today with Google Partners I think its time may have come. We'll see.

The management at The Royal Opera House had seen my production of Schoenberg's 'Erwartung' on video. They were impressed and offered me any help they could  with my career short of asking me to direct. I needed the best dancers and I asked and was granted two of the Birmingham Royal Ballet principals who were visiting Auckland Sandra Madgwick and David Yow.

The one stipulation was that I used their costume which was not helpful as I had to show the BBC my costumes were up to it. But I have  'quirky, sharp' style so I came up with the idea of showing three 'balletic styles' in one Bluebird.  An old fashioned droopy tutu, traditional tutu, based on the one from 'Prince of the Pagodas' which I adored as a child and very modern Ballenchine with minimal leotards.

The costumes were made by Elizabeth Jenkins and we actually took bales of blue material to the TV studio to colour check for blueness! I like 'blue' bluebirds. The YouTube compression doesn't do it justice.

The Petipa/Cecchetti choreography is so exceptional that I like the modern uncluttered bluebirds best!

Carl Doy undertook the music using one of the first computer programmes. For this Elizabeth Jenkins my brilliant costume designer  and I travelled to Wellington to see the costumes fitted  and to record the performance so the tempos would be correct for the dancers play back in Auckland. It was the only performance in my life I have watched from the flys.

The director and the cameramen at TVNZ did a superb job. We only had a few hours. It is not so surprising that the camera work is excellent as NZ cameramen love rugby  and filming ballet is very similar lots of movement and virtually one angle the front centre on three heights. Classical ballet really only has one angle dead flat on. Looks appalling from the side.

But the greatest joy was in the editing. This would be a breeze today with digital editing but in 1984 it was tape based. Just reeling through the tapes took hours and at $1000 an hour reeling was expensive. Each cut had to be done individually no going back. To layer and get the feet in sync was tremendously difficult. The opening sequence took hours of planning off line.

Today I could do the whole thing at home using Motion for exactly what two hours of editing cost, nearly NZ $3000  in  1984! Such is life.

This promo helped me convince the powers that be that I should be given a chance. The series went on to become a finalist in the LA Monitor Awards for best edited programme but its time had not yet come.

In 1986 and still in some countries today it is cartoons that is the only fare offered up to children on TV and to some extent still is. You don't have to pay residuals on cartoons. Fortunately I took the precaution of paying all my artists film rates so I own the copyrights. This was unusual at the time and I was laughed at for paying my artists over the odds but I knew even though I could see no chance of marketing them then that one day I would.

Maybe it is now? We'll see. I know what we all achieved at the time was exceptional. I am so grateful to all involved for their hard work. I couldn't even start on it today but I hope that this series will be a promo to other ballet companies to show that there is an alternative to Cinderella and the Nutcracker at Xmas and they will take chance on 'Dance Tales' as I did. The box office may surprise you!

NZ ballerina Rowena Jackson and Amanda Price in 'The Little Match Girl' Dance Tales Story Ballets

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Crucified Chickens to be displayed in all classrooms by law!

Crucified Chickens to be displayed in all classrooms

Today the European Court of Rights have decreed that it is allowable for cultural religious icons to be displayed in all school classrooms regardless that such sadistic symbols could be disturbing to chicken lovers and atheist pupils.

This landmark decision in the Strasbourg Court , overturning its previous decision, will apply across Europe.

The above statement and image are both sadistic and unacceptable in any civilized society. It is meant to shock. Many of my friends will find this unacceptable and yet this is what happened this week when the European Court of Humans Rights allowed the display of crucifixes in all Italian Schools. The only difference is that it is a horrible scourged and tortured human male dying in agony on a cross  that is to be displayed instead of a chicken. Living in the Western culture we are conditioned from birth to 'accept' the 'unacceptable' and in fact sadly nowadays it is the tortured chicken that has the most impact not the human being. We have been lulled into accepting this image as if it were normal. I find this disgusting. 

Ever since my first day at school I have found this sadistic icon disturbing. I saw the indescribable pictures from Belsen when I was four that changed my life. I grew up that moment and seeing a badly tortured man on the classroom wall as I walked in the door on my first day at school was not welcoming. I had to endure the crucifix for another eight years. I had to live with it. I never got over it!

I find this practice a perfect example of sadism, that is the pleasure of the infliction of pain or humiliation upon another person. An acting dominant partner in this case The Vatican desires to exercise emotional control over an unwilling other the children.

I hated and feared that crucifix. In the more boring moments of my Convent Education where everything except religion was taught exceedingly badly I would empathize with the tortured man and wonder what it would be like to have nails driven through one's hands and feet and the pain involved of hanging nailed to a cross. This was all presented graphically. Not abstract versions here. It filled in many dull lessons.

There must be many children like me who find the whole concept unthinkable and yet these religions have such power that they insist that this form of sadism can be done lawfully. In Italy no child can escape. I consider this practice tantamount to child abuse.

You would not allow your child to be taught every day of its school life with a dead chicken displayed  reverentially in every classroom let alone one one plucked, mutilated, nailed to a cross with the blood flowing out pictured in graphic detail topped of with a crown of thorns. It is unthinkable and yet that is what is now allowed lawfully in Europe.

The judges must have gone mad. They must have lost their senses The power of the Vatican in Europe to insist that this is done is a warning that theocracy is always with us. Crucifixes first, the Inquisition next!

Let us hope that something can be done.

I still feel guilty about pointing this out. The nuns were very good at 'guilt'. I must just overcome my upbringing and say this is wrong!

PS. After years of wondering what it would be like to have a nail driven through one's foot I found out. A  badly parked bicycle fell on my foot and  brake handle went straight through from front to back. With great presence of mind I looked at it and pulled it out. It didn't hurt a bit that day. It did for about the next six months. I still have the scar.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

September Richard Strauss Maestro Wenarto

"September' by Richard Strauss is my favourite Lied from 'The Four Last Songs'. I didn't always love it, the orchestration was so vast  and dense that in the concert hall and even on records I could never really hear it. My husband Dr Miles Heffernan  loved them and insisted I learned them which I did when I was first married over 30 years ago but I did not like my voice then (I do now) and I thought I could never do them justice.

For thirty years Miles and I made music together every day. He played 'badly' and I sang 'badly' as the keys were never 'right' for me and Miles could not transpose. A singer, any singer, is at the mercy of their accompanist. One wrong note and it is the singer that pays. I spent most of my mature life promoting other singers whose voices I did like and I enjoyed every moment.

And then a strange thing happened. Miles died and I lost my accompanist of thirty years. I do not play an instrument. I thought I should never sing again even for fun and for the next six years I didn't. I made DVDs on book binding and then by accident  I discovered Garageband. I found I could write out by hand bar by bar any music I wanted and now I have got rather good at doing this. My darling Miles would have been amazed at what I can do and how I sound.

I found a miniature score of 'September' that I had not thrown out and thought I should have 'a go'. I didn't realise what I had taken on! 66 bars a full orchestra and every bar different but what a revelation.  I never thought that I, who most musicians have despised as being unmusical as I could not read music conventionally can appreciate a full orchestral score. I know this piece now as well as any conductor.

I have even had to take on transposing instruments. The clarinet has its part written in one key and it sounds in a different key.  Lots of instruments have funny quirks. Not easy.

For the first time I heard the cascade of violins that shower down like late summer rain in the opening bars. You never hear this on records or in concert performances as you need extra desks of violins and anyway the conductor can never get them together so they get left out.

I heard the bees buzzing  throughout  the first 27 bars, yes I know each bar, 21 & 46 are the problems as R Strauss has written a couple of clashes that make the orchestration sound as if someone had played a wrong note, yes I can hear any wrong note even in this huge orchestra, a wrong note jars and ruins the whole thing and yet R Strauss has done this deliberately. This is the clash of approaching winter/death.

You can hear the cuckoos and the shivering touch of frost. The first half  orchestration is lush and full but as winter comes so the orchestration is pared down, no more birds or bees, to a single french horn and the soft blast of snow.

I have always longed to sing this work with a full orchestra but never thought I could. Now thanks to Garageband I can. The full orchestration is too much for YouTube sound but my friend Maestro Wenarto did a version a couple of years ago with a less than perfect accompaniment so I let him try again with my modern simple version with real birdies which is above. The orchestration doesn't sound half bad! This is done purely for academic purposes as an experiment to see if one can do it and one can!

This tempo is fast at 65 bpm as it suits the modern mode but Renee Flemming takes it so much slower, Flemming is a whole minute slower than Te Kanawa who sings it at 65 bpm. With the orchestration it sounds better slower.

Maestro Wenarto sings for the love of singing regardless and is an artist of today.  He shows how anyone can share their love of music with the world. No longer does anyone have to wait for someone else to 'do it' for them or criticize them. Your art is  in your hands. The wonderful painting in the background is his too as he is multi talented and unselfish. He shares his talent. Unique as it is.

My own version of 'September' will have to wait for the visuals but I am already quite proud of my audio as you can actually hear the cascading violins. I don't sound that bad either not Gundula Janowitz, whose is the version I like best as the orchestration is kept to a minimum and you can hear her but this work is a partnership between orchestra and singer, yes I know all the versions on YouTube but I'm listenable. It will never make me a fortune, in fact few will see it but I have done it, shall share it  eventually and that is what matters.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japan's Nuclear Power Disaster?

Just as you think things cannot get any worse they do! First the earthquake in Christchurch which was  a major disaster for a small country. This was topped yesterday by the horror of the latest earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the worst since records have been kept which was tragic enough only now to have the threat of a melt down in two of Japan's eleven nuclear reactors. This might be the greatest disaster going.

In retrospect is seems so stupid to have built these highly dangerous 'things' on the Pacific Ring of Fire. It is no good having your buildings earthquake proofed only to have a catastrophe from the melt down of nuclear power stations built where they didn't ought to be built. Why on earth did they do it?  Did those in power think such a force 9 earthquake would never happen? Even I who have no formal science education can see that this was not a 'good idea'.

At least New Zealand does not have this problem but it is no thanks to the rest of the Western World. We know that we live in a dangerous country which is liable to major earthquakes. We know that nuclear power is not for us as it is too risky. Any form of nuclear power be it in the form of submarines or war ships or storing bombs and missiles  is not for us.

NZ  has two of the most dangerous harbours in the world, Wellington has had  a maritime disaster just off shore where 53 people lost their lives in sight of land. Can you imagine what would happen if a nuclear warship was sunk in Wellington Harbour as could happen as the Cook Straight is lethal for shipping. Mother Nature does not differentiate between ships of nations. She sinks them all, a Russian Cruise Ship was the latest example. Mark you the master was drunk!

And yet the USA cut NZ off from all treaties because we would not let in their nuclear ships. For years poor little New Zealand has been treated as an enemy for being nuclear free. David Longy  our Labour Prime Minister was ostracized for his stance on our behalf and our Prime Ministers were never invited to the White House officially. This has only just stopped but even today we are not a favoured trade partner. We have to go it alone with all sorts of trade barriers.

To rub salt into the wound USA will not alow its nuclear ships into its major ports say New York  or San Francisco as it it too dangerous but expects their nasty dangerous ships to enter our ports known to be the most dangerous in the world.

Today in the light of the earthquakes in Japan and Christchurch New Zealand's nuclear free stance does not look so silly. .First  USA nuclear bombs and now this bought on by the foolishness of their government. Lets hope it will never happen again.  We all sympathize with the citizens of Japan who really do not deserve this.

Nuclear Free is the only safe way to go!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Joys of English Country Houses


Oh I do love a picture of an English Country House.The one above in the village of Widdicombe in Dartmoor Devon  is a perfect example of what living should be like makes me feel so nostalgic and makes me want to sell up here and dash back to my Devon roots. I was brought up in the picturesque fishing village of Brixham.

All my life I have loved the true English Country House set in vast grounds with ha ha's and manicured lawns and cottages with thatched roofs and apple trees. They are so romantic and desirable that in my youth I should have given anything to live in one.

This is strange coming from a woman who was brought up for the first five years of her life with an Indian Room and a glorious designer garden. But most of my youth was spent in a semi detached in Stanmore and 18 years living in the boredom, drabness and conformity of the suburbs of Metro land. Anyone who has experienced this will tell you escape to anything else is the only answer as anything is preferable. Today I could not afford to buy a semi thank goodness so I can never go back.

I used to dream of perfect Jane Austin Georgian Houses with 'pretty little wildernesses', thatched cottages with bluebells and moated castles with climbing roses but luckily for me my dreams never came true because in reality  living in one of these properties must be a nightmare.

Living  on Dartmoor would be one of the most unpleasant experiences known to man. If you are lucky you will get a sunny day as pictured every second year, the rest of the time is mist and rain and in winter dank and cold. I have driven across Dartmooor many times and it has always been raining. That is why the Victorians put their nastiest prison there which I have driven past on several occasions but never seen and 'The Hound of the Baskervills' by Sherlock Holmes is so terrifying. The weather is awful!

Then there is the problem of upkeep. Two acres takes a lot of looking after let alone 45. Lawns need to be cut on a regular basis. Houses need to be dusted by someone. Family homes are soon outgrown as the young birds fly the nest and can be empty for most of the year. Plodding around an empty mansion is no fun.

Selling is a problem. One rich man's dream home is seldom another's. Most rich men are self made and want to build their own 'dream home'. Dream homes soon rot. The Sunningdale home of Prince Andrew is a prime example. Unwanted and unloved and soon to be demolished or turned into a Faith School. This is usually not successful as family mansions are not designed for schools. I experienced three of this variety all have gone.

No English Country Houses are best kept for chocolate box lids and papers to be looked at and admired but take my advise and never, never own one.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

International Women's Day Sexual Harrasment

I suppose it would not be wise to let International Women's Day go by without a comment of some description. I already had a 'rant' about the unfairness of being a girl in a man's world in January and one 'rant' is enough but that's what women do, we are just so self effacing in the face of male expectations that we stand aside and wait for the 'kick in the teeth'. For a male world seeing a submissive female  the temptation is irresistible.

In the 1960's & 70's Sexual Harassment was part of my working life. It was a day to day occurrence and one just lived with it. I was in the theatre so I was considered 'fair game'. I put up with it, we all did, but I did not enjoy the experience. I have been chased around more wings, spot lights and photocopiers than I care to mention mainly by happily married men who ought to have known better.

One of which told me only the other day when I spoke to him that he really did not wish to speak to me again as it was 'inappropriate'.  For whom? I ask myself. Considering I never told his late wife I think his behavior then and now was  and is 'unacceptable'. But he is a man and can do such things as of right and I am a 'silly' woman who should be flattered by his advances. Today I should have complained! I had a lucky escape from this man's attentions and at the time I was scared.

For most of civilization as we know it half the population of the world has been treated as second class citizens little better than slaves. In my day women were not given an education. My father who went to the best schools money could buy let his daughter be educated by Irish Catholic nuns. If I had been a son I should have gone to Eton and Oxford.

Girls of my age were taught to be wives. We had to be virgins to be marriageable and we had to marry 'well'. Lady Di is the best but not only example. No way could a girl of my age get a pension or a decent income even if we deserved it. My famous example was the 'Desert Song' with John Hanson, who a famous family man nevertheless chased every woman in sight. The leading lady and I, the comedy lead got less than the chorus boys  and we all got less than the donkey and yet the show could not have gone on without us.

No wonder I became an Equity Deputy, the youngest in UK at the time as no one else would take on the job for fear of not being employed again. Exploitation of women was the norm. It is getting a bit better but not much.

I won't even start on religion! The devoted and saintly nuns were so impure that they could not 'serve' at Mass. They had to say the responses form the alter rails and give way to a seven year old spotty rude boy who picked his nose who could serve as he had a penis! Today they can serve at the altar if no male is around but only if the local Bishop allows it.

Oh yes women have a long way to go as yet. Headscarves for all is still what most men secretly want.  Wives are essential to success in life as they allow men to get on with the job. I really could do with a wife!

So that's enough of a 'rant' until next year but oh so good to get off one's chest. Next year I shall tell you of my escape from a hotel room in Durban where I was harassed by a white South African policeman! Now there's a story.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Tragedy of John Galliano

Sometimes one goes one step too far! Sometimes one just says three words too many! Three little words that one will regret having uttered for the rest of one's life.

Much as one wants too one can never take them back. One's relationship of trust and one's reputation can be lost in a instant. As a theatrical opera and TV director producer this has happened to me on many occasions and I knew immediately that my carefully nourished partnership with an already under confident singer had gone 'down the plug hole'!

All singers have this problem, it is part of the territory The words never to say are 'You're a bit Flat'. Devastating!

Last week in Paris the talented and outrageous  designer for The Fashion House of Dior did just this. Three words caught on film in an off guarded moment and it was curtains.

It is a tragedy for John Galliano, he had risen from obscurity to fame and fortune. I love his designs myself. I have blogged about him. I love what he does with material, it is clever and innovative and brilliant. People who achieve his position of fame grow to think they are above criticism, like Calligula the depraved Roman Emperor,  have the confidence to believe that they can get away with anything.
President Gadollfi of Libya is in the same boat.

It is the intoxication of power which as we all know corrupts absolutely and eventually all dictators unless they are kept in hand get their comeuppance. It is a matter of time!

All of us are guilty in some respects of the tragedy of this man. Throughout his career Galliano has been encouraged and paid a fortune to be outrageous. He was outrageous as a student and then at Givenchy and now at Dior. That was why the company hired him for his ability to shock so it must come as 'no surprise' when Mr. Galliano has now gone one step too far. Dior sacked him!

It is very difficult to keep on 'shocking' as directors of horror movies have found out. The public has an insatiable desire to be shocked and so producers have to go further and further in their quest for the next big shock. To some extent Galliano succeeded beyond his dreams. Front page 'shock' but unfortunately for him this time it has had a rebound that may end his career as a 'l'enfant terrible'.

Fashion Houses are fond of this type of young designer who has the ability to come up with something new and desirable but these designers are by nature 'fragile' and need careful handling.  Sadly Galliano had no such minders around on this occasion and his self confidence seems to have got the better of him

Like me Galliano will now know the meaning of 'three little words too many' and there are times when it is advisable to keep one's mouth shut.