Monthly Archives: July 2014

Day 19 Barcelona and Ubu Roi

 

imageMy final day was spent at Parc Guell and with this visit all my long held desires to explore Gaudi were realized. Again whimsy and practicality are forged with nature and this beautiful location captures the cool harbor breeze that eludes the town below.  Gaudi, greatly informed by the ancient Greeks, has made our world a more beautiful and happier place.

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With a few hours to go before going to the theatre, I decided I really should try to do some shopping and so I started along the Ramblas only to find the last thing on my bucket list, the Gran Teatro Liceu and I was able to join the final tour of the day.image

It really is a superb opera house in the Italian style. Privately owned for generations, it is now in the hands of the government. Its most recent refurbishment following a fire in the 1990s, has improved the acoustics, the staging, rehearsal and dressing rooms and made the previously exclusive grand reception area available for all patrons. It’s a lavish and very appealing theatre.

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And finally after a sangria and a sit down it was time to find the Teatre Lluire on Mont Juic. I never did get to do any shopping. image

As I walked amongst the charming buildings of this arts precinct to get to the theatre, I discovered the Barcelona Institute of Theatre, an establishment that has always fascinated me in that it has a specific charter to teach, research, conserve, promote and innovate Catalan performing arts. It has also hosted many significant, international theatre studies conferences.image

imageNot knowing what sort of theatre is housing Ubu Roi, I’m astonished to find myself in the 1929 Palace of Agriculture, also built for the World Fair, now with a 2000 seater conversion in high Barcelona design. Even more astonishing is that I’m in the front row.image

And the play is also astonishing. With a fine pedigree coming from an invitation from Peter Brook, Cheek by Jowl created this production in co production with The Barbican, London.

Presented in French with Catalan surtitles, this is French high art in what I would expect from  La Comedie-Francaise. Jarry’s, Ubu Roi (1896) is always open to extraordinary interpretations and while this was salon style farce in a proscenium arch theatre, it was not so much the interpretation that was astonishing but the performances  particularly of Mere and Pere Ubu. However can I describe their energy and ability to turn on a sixpence? However can I even imagine what the rehearsal process must have been like to accomplish this level of slickness and how did the director know/ imagine what these people were capable of? How did he take them to those places? What an extraordinary accomplishment.

And please remember that I’m seeing this in a language I only just understand, so for the most part I’m missing the text and seeing French chic dissolve into the madness of vulgarity and scatology and back again. Really, for acting and production, this show takes the prize on this trip. Cheek by Jowl has presented a wonderful range of classics and this is no exception. I think there were at least 20 curtain calls. The audience went wild for it and so did I.image

What a wonderful note on which to end this tour.My sincere thanks for all comments, tweets and follows. It’s been a joy to stay in touch.

The next tour? Same time, same station, 2015.

Please go to http://www.alltheworldsastagetheatretours.com for a full itinerary and to register your interest to See the World & See World Theatre. It’s a great experience.

In theater, there is nothing to understand, but to feel.
Louis Jouvert
French actor and director.

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Barcelona and the Teatro Grec


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 This started out as my dedicated Gaudi day and on arriving La Sagrada Familia, I found that not only do I need to buy a ticket, it was allocated a time when I would be admitted. Ok so what to do for two hours? So using my metro ticket I headed off to find Gaudi’s  Casa Batllo, the Rambles and the Boqueria, all of which I had spotted from the taxi last  night.  The whimsy, charm and architectural uniqueness of Gaudi is astonishing and on the Casa Battlio, I discovered that the balconies are cat faces!  image

The Boqueria on the other hand is all bustling business and practicality, but once more the displays have that intrinsic Barcelona aesthetic. I’ve never seen so much food, especially the fish and to think this is replenished every day. It is a ‘feast’ for the eye and a well deserved tourist attraction.

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It would be interesting to know just how much Gaudi and tourism contribute to this ailing economy – the cost of the continuing construction of the cathedral must be enormous. And while there, you are very aware that the stonemasons are at work.

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Once inside the cathedral, the beauty just overtakes you and Gaudi’s use of colour and form found in nature, in contrast to the richness and heaviness of gothic cathedrals, makes this one feel like a breath of fresh air. It is truly enlivening.

I have just arrived at The Teatro Grec having left Ted and Jo in the most amazing gin joint I’ve ever experienced. My gin was enhanced with grapefruit and ginger and it too was heaven in a glass.

imageAnd then into my third heaven for the day, seeing the beauty of this place after the heat and bus-i-ness of down town Barcelona. It has been a very hot day with traces of rain and just being in this elevated location on Mont Juic has relieved the oppression of the heat, or was it Victor’s Gin Palace?

imageHaving said that it’s 10 pm and the production is about to begin without any further threat of rain. However it had been sufficiently disquieting for me to put a hooded jacket in my bag – does it ever rain on Spain’s outdoor shows? I’m well used to people bringing fans and fanning away, but do they bring umbrellas? And of course people do stand in the rain at The Globe Theatre and the actors also get wet…

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imageThis beautiful ampitheatre, man- made for the 1929 World Fair, was created from a disused quarry and the whole place has a beautifully peaceful Greek aesthetic, including a lovely  garden and restaurant. The architect, Ramon Reventos, was clearly a neo Hellenist. I suspect the auditorium holds some 2000 people and tonight it seems almost full.

I’m in a little trepidation as to this production,  Batolome Encadenado, as it represents a modern version of Prometheus, billed as a tragi comedy with a chorus of actors from the Theatre Institute. Each year a writer is asked to create a text around contemporary themes in relation to  Greek theatre. With social and political overtones, this does address the economic situation as the premise for the story which deals with the theft of lower and middle class workers money by the World Bank.

imageAnd whilst the cast of young activists were enthusiastic and commited to the piece,  for me the production was enhanced by a light and sound show type of projections against the back wall of the theater. This worked really well and gave a texture to the otherwise one thing after another predictable nationalistic ardor. I will explore the genesis of this work so as not to disgrace myself as to its significance.

The audience was appreciative and all of sudden they dispersed down the hill. How will I get home I asked the hotel porter. Follow the crowd! I did just that and ultimately found myself in Avenue Parel-lel within a good stroll of the hotel.

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So a great day. Gaudi, The Teatro Grec, the Bocheria, Victor’s gin palace and catching up with Ted who I haven’t seen since May. He and Jo had fulfilled one of their Barcelona must do’s spending the whole day on the beach.

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Day 17 BARCELONA AND THE GREC FESTIVAL

imageArriving late in the evening from Madrid, in the morning it was great to find how conveniently my hotel is situated among the arts centre of Montjuic and many of the cultural sites of the city. All within easy striking distance once I got my Metro ticket and my bearings. With several objectives to round out my previous Barcelona experience, this visit was planned around the festival, followed by sightseeing of the National Theatre of Catelonia,  Gaudi, the Gran Teatro Liceu, the L’Auditori and then some. image

The festival is so named after the Teatro Grec, an ampitheatre also located on Montjuic and while it specializes in contemporary theatre, its international reputation made it a must see for me.

The exciting thing about Barcelona, is that you can turn a corner and there is some significant monument or building that you’d read about or always wanted to see.

Simageo for me, on day one, it turned out to be the Bullring and the Bullring Museum. Why wouldn’t one important cultural activity be in the same area as the others? And I stumbled across the bullring on my way to find the NTC. image
Both were equally impressive. I found the theatre workshops before I found the theatre and then discovered that the whole thing takes up a block in the area devoted to culture. It is huge! Also en route I found the Auditori for music events   – again huge, with a terrific horse, a restaurant where the arts crowd eat, and where I had my first Barcelona speciality, fideula, and the Barcelona design district, enfant,bn.

The spires of  Sagrada Familia are  very present on the landscape so I jumped on the metro to make a recce and after seeing the queue for admission decided that this would require a dedicated, early morning excursion to actually get into the basilica in under an hour or three.

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So that was day one, rounded off by a production of Pinter’s Old Times at the Sala Beckett in a very elegant part of town. image
How to get there? Two metro changes and a walk…I didn’t think so and so more I added to my ownership of Barcelona taxis.

image The Sala is cute, very cute, but the playing area is very challenging and so was Pinter for the Spanish cast. Working  on a raised stage, running the width of the room, our eyeline was at crotch level with the three actors and their closeness to the ceiling was very disconcerting.image

I love Pinter and I think that playing this one on the floor with the audience raised around the actors, might have been an improvement. In other words we all  would have been in their space retracing our old times.
The Sala Beckett is dedicated to experimental theatre. It provides space and courses for young writers,  and specifically promotes contemporary drama, and it was certainly worth the effort of two taxis.


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Day 16 Toledo

image Still in La Mancha, Toledo is yet another unique world. And that’s what I love about Spain, each town and region has its own unique identity. Toledo celebrates not only the unification of three cultures, Arab, Christian and Jewish, but of course El Greco, and for me, the Teatro Rojas, the Red Theatre.

Set high on a hill with splendid moorish architecture, a city of small winding streets and seemingly a million visitors, especially in this celebration year of El Greco.image His work is scattered in a variety of locations and with the El Greco map in hand, you negotiate the labyrinpth of callas and vias and plazas ever hopeful that you’ll arrive in the right place soon. This must have been the hottest day of the summer heat wave and escaping into the odd church or museum was doubly useful.

imageThis Casa is a reproduction of El Greco’s house and gives an idea of Toledo architecture and El Greco’s world. It has great charm and serenity.
The Theatre Rojas, named after the Toledo playwright, Francisco de Rojas is an example of the continuing tradition of theatre in this city. imageBuilt in 1879 on the original site of a 15th century traditional Corral des Comedias, it has it’s own imposing presence just behind the cathedral.
Sadly for me it was closed, but I was just happy to be able to make the link.

Please enjoy the rest of the photos if this fascinating city.  Next stop, Barcelona.

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Day 15 Almagro

imageSadly this is my last day in Almagro. Still looking into the logistics of the 2015 tour, the day was spent in exploring the museums I’d not been to before, viz the Casa de Pacas, the Lace Museum, and the Museo Etnografico, the Ethnographic Museum. The feature museum of Almagro is the National Theatre Museum and while it is truly splendid and deserving of another visit, it was not to be so for me on this occasion.

The Lace Museum is located in a lovely 3 storey casa off the Mayors Square. Lace making, linen work and embroidery is a traditional artesan art form throughout La Mancha, seemingly with each area having its particular designs and embellishments. Almagro has high art lacemaking and it’s not uncommon to pass a lace shop and see the shop keeper actually working with her bobbins while waiting for customers. Indeed it seems to be a rather meditational activity but with incredibly sophisticated patterns and coloured pins depicting the elements of the design.

On this visit, a group of schoolgirls were being taught the art and while photography of the exhibits was prohibited, I thought I might be able to photograph the next generation of lace makers. But when I asked the tutor, I received a negative response as the children were minors and their fathers were not there to grant permission.

As a wonderful addition to the lace, there was also an exhibition of the graphic art for the 400 year celebration publication of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (2004). Antonio Mingote is a highly esteemed Spanish artist, cartoonist and academic and this display consisted of copies of the chapter illustrations from among the 600 illustrations created for the auspicious edition.   The drawings were charming, utterly charming and often I found myself laughing out loud at the evocations.

My laughter however turned to misty whimsy when the museum attendant gifted me a small picture – they were not on sale – and when I looked at it, it is the scene of Quixote on his death bed with a tearful Sancho kneeling by the bed.  It immediately evoked the memory of that scene when I played Aldonza and Sancho and I were in exactly those positions – and all of a sudden there were tears rolling down my cheeks some 30 years later.

On leaving the museum, I quickly did a spot of local craft shopping, including lace, and then off to the ethnographic museum before it closed for the siesta.

imageThis was a collectors dream. Jose Louis had spent his lifetime collecting the full range of ethnographic activity in the area ranging from agriculture, wine and oil production, leather work, black smithing, and so it goes on and on with every aspect of life covered, from the laundry, through the kitchen, to the bedroom, to children. It was well worth the visit and Jose Louis was justifiably proud of his curatorial expertise. Again, he did not speak English but we were certainly able to communicate. And that was my museum morning, sadly without photos. The next thing was lunch in the square where one always finds people one knows and it’s another beer and some more tapas. By then it was time to meet Genaro for the visit to the windmills.

In Don Quixote, there is a quote about seeing 40 windmills on the far horizon. So driving for about half an hour out of Almagro, we turned and indeed there they were – not 40 – but eleven.  image

There are two main areas that have windmills and we were at Consuegra. The village itself is rather charmless with nothing to further a tourists curiosity but then when up on the mountains with these beauties what else could there be? Of course, a terrific bar. But that is not to be at this stage. Pedro, the windmill shopkeeper had some Manchego cheese, small cans of beer, and the usual desirables of imageCoca Cola and chocolate. He was a wag and made the purchases and visit to explore the interior of the windmill great fun.

Each of the mills is named after a Don Quixote character and as you look out across the vast plains and see the wheat fields, you can reflect on the days when horses both hauled and ground the wheat at the top of these steep and rocky slopes.

The photo above is with Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Almagro,  Genaro Galan Garcia, who very graciously organised the trip.

imageCuriously, La Mancha remains one if the largest agriculture producers, especially wheat, olives and grapes and of course there is always the cheeses from either sheep, goats or cows or a blend thereof.

Below are some shots of the bulls being raised for bull fighting. I’m fascinated by the ritual of bull fighting and have always wanted to see a bull farm.

Following our excursion, we dined in the converted convent where Genaro had spent his childhood. A little off the tourist track, I was treated to a meal consisting of local Manchego fare and loved it. And that sadly is goodbye to Almagro for 2014.

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Day 14 Almagro

 

imageToday was spent organising logistics. How was I to get to Toledo and Barcelona and even more pressing was to get to the ‘Cervantes Windmills’ and the bulls?! image

Through an unexplainable series of synchronistic events and meetings, my dream was about to become a reality. And in addition to that I was invited to go to the nature reserve, Tablas de Daimiel National Park, another dream come true. Such kindness and generosity exists amongst theatre people – I was even offered two cars to use! And although I’ve driven in Spain before, the stress of getting there and getting lost, let alone the stress of a borrowed car was more than I wanted to contemplate.

My Caballero came in the form of the Almagro Deputy Mayor and Councillor for Culture, Gerano Geran Garcia, who graciously offered to take me to the windmills tomorrow, while the outing to the nature reservation was from Salome Bielsa, another theatre
festival employee. The hilarious thing is that Salome doesn’t speak English and my Spanish is totally embarrassing! Anyway we set off at 6.30 pm still in the heat of the day, for this remarkable wetland that has been chronicled since 1300. The curious thing is finding this wetland in the midst of these vast yellow plains  and where there was continuous habitation by one family for over 300 years.

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Salome is a keen photographer and wanted to photograph the ducks and bird life. The hides located throughout the park are perfect for photography and Salome got some great shots using the telephoto lens on her smart camera.

imageMy dear iPad, was not able to cope with such photographic challenges – or is it the operator? Please enjoy what my 21 century box brownie was able to capture.

However, for truly stunning shots, here is Salome Bielsa’s flickr link: https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/bambolia/sets/72157634673113526/

Then of course back to the main square for dinner in the comparative cool – 11pm – I’m really very fond of the tapas and beer and el fresco lifestyle. Thank goodness I don’t have a job to go to after these late nights!image

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ALMAGRO and the International Festival of Classical Theatre


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imageDespite the early morning train and a long but comfortable journey, arriving at the deserted Almagro station felt like a homecoming.  With ease I was able to walk to the centre of town and find The Almagro Parador. The cool comfort it offers feels like an oasis in the desert.  Almagro is in Castille-La Mancha which is pretty much in the centre of Spain. I just love it. It is the wide yellow plains of Don Quixote, with evocative architecture, specialized manchegro cuisine, bull raising, and unique hospitality and friendliness.

imagePredictably another wonderful gin and tonic, then quickly into ‘town’ to get a ticket for tonight’s show.

I am greeted by Laura who I met last year and even though the show was fully booked, I did manage to get a ticket for the Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico production of Donde Hay Agravios No Hay Celos by Rojas Zorrilla. The approximate translation of the title is, Where There is No Jealousy, There is No Grievance.
imageAs the name of the theatre company suggests, this is the National Classic Theatre Company and is based in Madrid. Its’ charter is to preserve and present theatre of The Golden Age  and each year it takes up residency at Almagro for the festival and performs in the beautiful outdoor auditorium at the Teatro Hospice de San Juan.image The director, Helena Pimenta is very well regarded and the very stylish and slick production I saw last year made me a big fan.

A return to the Parador, a beer, a snack, a bath and a nap to get ready for the 22.45 start. Very civilized indeed and then people still go out for drinks and tapas afterwards, the main square is full of activity and the craft market operates over the weekend. So both tourists and local artesans are well catered for.

image This rarely performed play was quite a contrast to the high camp sophistication that  I saw last year and instead presented the rakish adventures of a country caballero and his buffoon, Sancho. When considering the location of this festival, there is an irrepressible charm associated with the choice of this work.   Basically, it’s a let’s swap identities story that reminded me a bit of Don Giovanni, in a rural setting. The set and costumes were appropriately rustic: again, a stark contrast from the high glamour of 2013. The execution of the piece was very imaginative with a piano accordion as a musical accompaniment that served to link scene and lighting changes orchestrated by one of the female actors with some captivating moments that made me look forward to her every entrance just to change a scene!

What I derived from this production was the superb use of language. The language of The Golden Age is exceedingly difficult High Baroque and I was very aware of the vocal coaching provided by Vincente Fuente, whose vocal workshop, The Way of Verse, I had attended last year. Overall the tightness of the company in executing the piece was the stand out which is all due to the masterful direction by Ms Pimenta.
As it transpires, and for a range of circumstances that will become apparent, this is the only show I saw in Almagro and it was an exceedingly fine example of The Spanish Golden Age. It also embodied the lovely lifestyle experience of being in Almagro during the festival, and yes of course, I was able to help the local economy by getting a couple of things at the craft market.

For Salome Bielsa’s truly evocative photos of Almagro go to
https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/bambolia/sets/72157606164312650/

 

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Merida and Flamenco

imageimageI have still to determine whether it is more expedient to get to Merida from Lisbon or Madrid but the Lisbon experience certainly is a good one, so maybe I’ve answered my own question.

By road the trip took some 4 hours, arriving in Merida in the close down period in the heat of the day. It is a terrific city stemming from its Roman origins in 2AD when Augustus gifted it to his army and proceeded to build a wonderful monument to himself. The colosseum and other ruins, including of course, the Roman Amiptheatre are extraordinary and well worth a once in a life time pilgrimage to see a show here. image

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The Merida Parador, with its own collection of Roman artefacts recovered from the site and now decorating the garden, is a part of the unique accommodation chain throughout Spain that has converted historic buildings into the most wonderful guest experiences. History, art, architecture and high local cuisine all come together with impeccable hospitality.

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With only one night in Merida and making sure I was on the only train to Almagro early next day, my main focus was the performance.

Part of the Classical Theatre Festival of Merida, this show had only two performances, and when playing to a 5000 people full house, you probably don’t need more than that.

image This Flamenco artist, Sara Baras is internationally renown for her choreography and originality. When visiting the theatre in the afternoon, I was there for some of the band sound check and quite an impressive band it was, 6 pieces including three flamenco acoustic guitars, cello, two percussionists and synth.

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Medusa is a gory tale of the beautiful gorgon with snakes for hair and the ability to turn people to stone if they gaze upon her.
Perseus pursues her and to avoid her gaze, he is given a mirror shield by Athena, winged sandals by Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus and Hades helmet of invisability. He uses the mirrored shield to reflect Medusa’s image and then cut off her head. Ultimately the head and the shield depicting her head are gifted to Athena. It is believed to be an evil- deflecting device.
Apparently at that time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon and when Perseus beheaded her, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a golden sword-wielding giant, sprang from her body.
That there is so much written about Medusa from mythology, psychology, the feminist movement, etc just illustrates the mystique and intrigue about this character and of course her image shows up again and again, particularly in connection with Ancient Rome.

And so to the performance. At 10 pm I joined the eagerness of the 5000 queuing to get into the ampitheatre for the 11.45 show on this deliciously balmy full moon night. Having an allocated seat helped enormously and suddenly there she was in a swathe of swirling white, with her husband, Jose Serrano playing Perseus.

I’m not quite convinced about the story telling technique, with a non dancer narrator wandering through the set at pertinent times, but the flamenco element was all consuming with the highly vocal, highly appreciative audience breaking the moments with their applause and bravos.
The encore was as stylish as the rest of the performance with each of the main dancers doing a routine.
I love flamenco. I love the expertise developed over years and years of training and I love the arrogance of the dancers which seems to say, ‘take that!’ And the audience howls their appreciation and along with them was hugely appreciative Aussie.
At 1am I made my way back through the equally excited sporting fans of Merida because Germany was playing Argentina. That excitement continued in the streets until sunrise at 6am. What a lively night, Ole!

 

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Lisbon’s Almada Festival

imageThe Almada Festival, although in its 31st year, is little known, even in Portugal.

Unable to book online and hopeful of something I wanted to see because of the lateness of their program publication, I was told by my hotel porter to just turn up. There was however something I really did want to see and that is La Reunification des Deux Corees, a French production by Joel Pommerat, a writer/director who had been invited to spend some time with Peter Brook.
Arriving at this festival location there is a hubbub of activity, outdoor dining and music and a very gracious and committed crowd of festival and theatre goers. This festival is quite unique, as is the island of Almada, which had an independent identity from Neolithic times  to comparatively recently.

My instinct tells me that this theatre developed as a result of the 1970’s political activity, but I have yet to confirm the activities of Joaquim Benite after whom the main theatre is named. It certainly seems to have its roots in socialist democratic activities.

On turning up at the Box Office, it’s a subscription festival and I was in a queue for a no-show ticket. But I’ve come from Australia for this! It was full last night, so don’t worry you’ll probably get in! Two performances only!!!

So off to have a beer, a snack and to calm my nerves. I’m constantly surprised by the variation of prices – this beer and little meat pie for €2.50 compared to a taxi ride of €20 illustrates tourist high need and high prices. This taxi driver wanted to drive me to my next destination, Merida, for €1000! My express bus ticket is €13.00.

Outside on the terrace to indulge this new found economy, but, alas, no table space. While I was quite willing to stand and people watch, the English speaking, German customer in the queue before me invited me to take his table. Thank you, but please stay here with me. Have you come especially for this festival? So have I. And so starts a lengthy conversation about festivals we have been to and our desire to see this show. When I tell him I couldn’t get a ticket, he disappears to the box office and returns with a ticket for €15.

Stefan Schmidtke, as a co-artistic director of the Vienna Festival, is responsible for the drama programme, and is here to view this show for Vienna 2015. He travels the world looking for product.  It transpires that he is very knowledgeable about the state of Australian theatre and how comparatively impoverished it is from the lack of the type of government support that exists in Europe. However, he was most complementary about the  success of Simon Stone’s The Wild Duck in Vienna in 2013.

Stefan was of course the ideal theatre companion and we sat together in the show. And what a great show it was. We had both agreed that theatre in foreign languages that we don’t understand can often determines the quality and effectiveness of theatre and this was no exception. Presented in French with Portuguese surtitles and without an interval, this was a tour de force on scenes from heterosexual relationships. Sometimes it was high French film comedy and at others kitchen sink tragedy, plus the use of many other theatrical devices including a high camp chanteuse, the arrival of carnival dodge ’em cars, all delivered with the slickest/seamless technical transitions I have ever seen.

To explain the title, The Reunification of the Two Koreas, is a metaphor for the geographical/political tension that exists in relationships. To further the metaphor, the space is divided in a bi frontal set up in which the audience is looking at each other over a transverse corral. It is most effective and facilitates the elements of surprise so imaginatively orchestrated with lights and sound.

This show is an outstanding piece of theatre. The actors, mostly mature, are relentless in their energy and versatility in taking on a range of characters that just keep adding layers to the theatrical premise. I’m sure Stefan will pick it up for Vienna, (he was off to talk to the production manager, while I went to find a cab) and we can only hope that it makes it to Australia perhaps for a Melbourne International  Festival. However, I can’t see the Arts Centre using its stage for the presentation at the expense of it’s 2 thousand seater auditorium. At Almada, the show was presented on the stage of the very beautiful Barbican-style theatre. And this show would never work in a conventional set up. Sadly for me I won’t get to see a show in the theatre proper on this occasion but I will definitely return to the Almada Festival  to see more of this style of work. And sadly, too, I was so caught up in the immediacy of the unfolding events, I did not take one photo! So this post has a collection of random Lisbon and Cascais shots.

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And this is what this travel is all about, seeing the world and seeing world theatre. And although I have deliberately chosen to see fewer shows this year, so far the things I have seen have been stand outs.

Tomorrow I travel to Merida to see a Flamenco version of Medusa in the Roman Ampitheatre. It too is sold out and I’m expecting it to be outstanding.

 

 

Lisbon


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Lisbon is an extraordinarily beautiful city. The wide boulevards  and the beautiful pavement decoration is very enticing. And so too is the Portuguese charm. Not having a word of Portuguese, I bought a dictionary at the airport and pressed on from there.

My hotel is situated among the designer stores, all of which have sales and whether it was my lowly status as a tourist or whether it is store protocol, I was not pounced upon by eager sales personnel. I’m a hopeless shopper, and never seem to have enough time to do it properly, so my loss, I probably miss out on some great bargains.

The flight into Lisbon was late so I could only just settle into the hotel with the best g & t ever before going on my pre arranged tour of Lisbon followed by dinner at a Fado restaurant, and what an experience that was.imageimage

The tour was useful in quickly contextualising the city, but the Fado was truly wonderful. With 5 different singers and 2 musicians, it seemed like an extended family of bohemians who have managed to serve the local as well as the tourist market without losing authenticity. And with the women singers in particular, the fado form was everything I could hope for.

Dinner was traditional food, potato soup which was very good indeed, followed by 2 fishy dishes or a steak dish. My fishy meal was huge and when questioned as to why I hadn’t finished it, I had to pantomime my limited capacity rather than offend the proprietor by any inadequacy on his part. The wine flowed and so did the music, song after song, occasionally joined in by a chorus from the kitchen. For me this was one of my most memorable experiences.

Sadly the lighting prohibited good photography, but here is the chanteuse to die for and her partner/owner of the establishment. image

Day 7 Epidavros to Athens


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This is the last morning of freshly squeezed orange juice from the orchard, the sound of cicadas and the greeting of the great orb of the sun across the sea undisturbed by buildings or other trappings of 21 century modernity. The comparative simplicity of this place is seductive while my sophistication screams is this all there is? It is curious that on a quest to discover theatre, I have found that theatre has become a part of that sophistication. Emanating from the heights and simplicity of the Peloponnese, theatre today has mostly become a big city phenomenon. But that’s another discussion.

Leaving Ancient Epidavros en route to Nafplio, I again passed through Lygourioimage and was able to spend some time in the natural history museum. It certainly contextulised the mineral wealth of Ancient Greece, which in turn financed wars as well as architectural and other development. Lygourio, situated in the ancient kingdom of Lessa, is purported to be of such antiquity, that it was from its mountain top,’ that the last fryktoria lit to deliver the message of the fall of Troia…’

Descending from the Peloponnese into the gracious harbour city of Napflio is a gradual re introduction into the sophistication of Greece despite the constant reminders of the past with not only a Venetian fortification in the harbour, but also another immense fort- like edifice on the mountain behind the town.
Significant as being the first capital city of Greece established by the First National Assembly in 1821 which voted for a democratic constitution, it is very beautiful indeed. image

From there a bus ride to Athens and instant immersion into the hustle and bustle of this vibrant and enthralling city.

The Fresh Hotel, a comparatively new and ultra modern architectural and design establishment, has a Barcelona feel of clean lines and colour in comparison to some of the 4 stars which are very indulgent and charge for wi-fi! And besides, the Fresh is just off Athinas, which is a great street and links Omonia with the Plaka, and Psiri is just parallel to it. So it’s a great area as I hope the photos will show.  It really is foodie heaven!

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imageSpeaking of shows, the festival offering that got my attention (and my Euros) was a German symphony orchestra with a Mozart and R. Strauss programme happening in the Odeon of Herodus Atticus. A fabulously balmy evening in the open air Roman theatre, it was an appropriate rendition for those patrons rushing off to see Germany play in the World Cup.

imageBeing in this auditorium was a first for me and was worth the rush to secure a ticket. And once more I just love post-show Athens. The ability to wander the streets, to grab a taxi, or just keep walking in this beautiful heat until a bar/ restaurant grabs your eye, seems quite unique.

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Just now I’m sitting in the rooftop bar with an almost full moon overlooking the Acropolis.

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I’ve spent the day indulging myself with shopping and taking photos. Oh, I did go to the Fish Spa for a foot massage and to feed the fish! A very welcome respite from the walking.

It’s been a great day and now this evening I pack up again in preparation for Lisbon tomorrow.

 

Day 6 The Sites and Sights of Epidavros


DAY 6 THE SITES AND SIGHTS OF EPIDAVROS

Last year when I was here, I only got to the big Ancient Ampitheatre, so this year I’ve set out to specifically explore the Little Ancient Theatre and The Sanctuary of Asklepius. Hence the reason for staying in this little piece of paradise. This whole area is steeped in the myths and legends of antiquity which come to life in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and the comedies of Aristophanes. The very gulf I am viewing as I write, has its own mythical origins and gods as do the surrounding mountains and plateaux. It is a very magical place. I keep looking out to sea for the dolphin that transported Arion, the creator of the first dithyrambs. image

 

Of course the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is the most famous theatre in the world and it originated in the mid 4 century BC as an adjunct to the Asklipieio to house the performances dedicated to Asklepius worship. The Asklipieio is a healing sanctuary and theatre dedicated to Asklepius (the god of the healing arts) was in itself regarded as a healing art form.

imageThe site is huge, the theatre alone which seats up to 14,000 people overlooks the valleys below and the sanctuary is an entire healing city perched on an acropolis high in the Peloponnese. Another of the healing arts is evidenced in the huge athletics stadium as well as the fountains, the bathhouse, the dormitory, the communal eating house, an infectious diseases sanitarium, temples to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, healing and death, and Themis, goddess of divine justice, order and customs, as well as to Asklepius and Apollo (god of music, healing, poetry and more.)

What a highly sophisticated expression of 4th and 3rd century human well being.

Sadly the natural history museum in the little village of Lygourio was closed by the time I arrived. It is reputed to have one of the finest collections of 3-5 million year old fossils from Greece and other parts of Europe. Once more I was interested in exploring how the minerals and other artefacts are represented in dramatic literature. There is so much to see and digest.

Finally (and I actually did this first, because it is just along the road from Hotel Hellini) there is the Small Theatre of Epidavros. Discovered as recently as 1971, with seating for up to 2000 people it was built in the 4th century BC in honour of Dionysis. It is considered yet another example of  th e Ancient Greek belief of the perfection in life and art: harmony, balance. During the Roman period the names of donors and officials were inscribed into the benches,giving rise to the term ‘talking  theatre’. A Roman statue unearthed near the small theatre in 2011, enlivens the notion of the continuation of Greek culture into the Roman period which is also present in the Asklipieio.

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This was another big day fortified by ice cream by day and ouzo at night in the village where a local art and craft market occurs every weekend in July. Very beautiful artefacts as well as jams and olive oil and plants.

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Another good day in this rural idyll.

 

Day 5 Ithaca to Epidavros

 

You’ll notice that Day 4 disappeared as one spent in total relaxation around the pool, a walk to the beach, some exploring in town and then an evening meeting with the woman I had shared a taxi with, Tula. We sat by the harbour drinking ouzo while she told me of her life on Ithaca and elsewhere. Of interest to me was her experience of the 1953 earthquake which decimated Kephalonia and greatly damaged Ithaca. She said it was night time and she was sleeping outside because of the heat and all of a sudden the ground shook terribly and she woke up somewhere else – the whole ground had shifted. She was 15 at the time. As a result of this, the houses in Vathi are all new although on my walk yesterday I did see some stone dwelling ruins. I’m certainly interested to follow up on this when I next get wifi.

No wi fi this morning as I’m on the ferry back to the mainland.Ferry? It’s more like an ocean liner cum international aircraft.

Another early start with a taxi at 6.30 for a 7 am ferry. All is well and as we descend the hill down to the harbour, I ask the driver how much? 15. What, 15 for a 5 minute drive I think to myself. Perhaps there was an early morning premium and then as he started to drive out of
Vathi I started to get really nervous. Where are we going? ferry? Waving my ticket in his face. Yes, yes. And up and out of the town with spectacular harbour views in the early morning light, more winding roads and now at 6.45. I express my dismay at the time, and he noticeably steps on the gas.

The arrival at the harbour clearly displays why the ferry is in a different harbour – the thing is huge! And now as I’m at Kephalonia watching petrol tankers, buses and even a concrete mixer come on board, I think for those people challenged by flying, this sort of cargo could be quite anxious making.

At Kellini,I get off this ferry and take the onboard bus to Patras where I collect a hire car to drive to Epidavros and see Euripides Helen at 9.15 this evening.

And by the way, this round about route to get to Patras is a result of the austerities and the failure of the ferry company to upgrade their internet information. Just as well I went to book my ticket some days in advance and with the assistance of Yanna.

The ongoing journey was quite hilarious with the taxi driver from the bus station to Avis trying to convince me that the road was terrible, winding, over mountains, and much too hard for me and that he would do me a very special price of €250. I showed him my Avis agreement for 4 days unlimited mileage for much the same price. Can’t blame him for trying. While the drive was long and I kept heading for Ancient Corinth rather than Epidavros, the roads were no more difficult than any country driving we have in Oz.

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Ancient Epidavros is on the Saronic Gulf and another of those dream locations. The Heleni Hotel is set among orange groves, opposite the beach and the host really went out of his way to tee me up with the theatre people staying here. There was a classical theatre summer school led by a Professor from the University of Athens and a cultural tour leader from Germany. Both very good contacts for me.

As I didn’t want to drive out to the ampitheatre on my own, I joined Jens group for the play, which I enjoyed enormously.image

imageI knew it was to be a modern interpretation and held my breath as the actors in contemporary garb, each with an amp box on wheels, were performing curious acts of physical theatre. But as the play unfolded, I liked it more and more, as each of the actors, about 8 of them, were a tight chorus and stepped out to take the variety of roles. And to my delight they did perform the humour of the piece. They kept very close to the original text and while the English surtitles were useful, it did distract t my attention from the subtleties of the physical theatre performance. The sounds emitting from the amp boxes added a terrific layer to the piece and the chorus unison work was astounding. So all in all a very worthwhile experience for me. Although on returning to the hotel last night there were quite a few detractors of the interpretation and of course, they all have their points of view and so I grabbed a glass of wines and called it a night.

It had been an incredibly long day and a most rewarding one. Thank you Euripides, thank you actors and director, thank you Epidavros and thank you Athens/Epidavros Festival. image

Day 3. Homers Walk

imageimageHonour Odysseus

My day started with Yanna poking her beautiful smiling face in my bedroom window.

Brenda? Brenda?

Give me 5 minutes. Please make the plastic coffee.

Plastic coffee is take away and it was delicious.

Up and out of Vathi over the mountain to the next village with absolutely stunning views of the next harbour and the next and the next. The azure blue of the sea is hypnotic and a good distraction from the small winding road.

Suddenly we were in Stavros. A really lovely village and waiting by the monument to Odysseus was our walk guide, Ester and a group of 5 Italian women who were sailing around the Greek islands from Bolonga. It transpired that one of them was an archeologist which was very useful for this walk. And she had very good English.

The walk was a 4 hour return hike to the archeological site of Homers School where he supposedly taught the art of story telling and writing. Putting Homer in context, he wrote some 400 years after the Trojan Wars, the stories of which had been kept alive by oral storytellers until the arrival of the alphabet. So Homer in effect brings Greece out of the Dark Ages.

For me the context is also one of place. Having been to the supposed Palace of Agamemnon in Mycenae last year, the prospect of finding Odysseus’ palace on Ithaca is equally enchanting. Of course I’m aware that there are many that say the whole thing is a myth and that none of it existed. And while that may be true, for me the fascination is of Agamemnon walking up the palace entrance to reach his demise by the hand of his wife, Clytmenestra, a grisly tale told in Sophocles’ Agamemnon and Aeschylus’ The Orestia and Odysseus returning home to find his dog, his nurse and Penelope, each with a distinctive response to his arrival. Euripides Cyclops has a humorous bent to the saga.

While the palace at Mycenae is huge with its Lion Gate and cyclops stones, the supposed Palace of Odysseus, very rudimentally excavated and far from universal archeological acceptance, is very small and perched high on a hill overlooking two harbours. However as we discovered, after taking the 300 year old donkey track up to the summit, there are some distinctive Mycenaean characteristics. There are cyclops stones, there are beehive tombs and the ruins indicate small storage areas in the lower part of the complex. And significantly there is a Linear B tablet honoring Odysseus not only as a King but as a god which indicates the existence of an Odysseus cult.

Sadly all excavation has now ceased and even the most recent archeological dig is quickly becoming a ruin. Some significant artifacts havebeen unearthed and there is a very small  museum dedicated to displaying some of the findings. So despite the contentions from whoever and wherever, this journey to Homers School and The Palace of Odysseus was a great day for me. Beautiful scenery, intellectual stimulation, great exercise and terrific company. Many of you would absolutely love this trek. Perhaps next time.

imageimageimageimage     As a P.S. Our guide has chosen to live in Stavros because it is a fully functioning Greek village. It certainly is charming.

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Day 2, Sami to Vathi

Too nervous that I would miss the only ferry from Sami to Ithaca, and putting my fate in the hands of an early morning taxi driver, I awoke early, packed and paced in reception. The little English speaking concierge made me a coffee and I paced some more. Still no taxi. Can we call the taxi and see if he is on his way? A few minutes more. The ferry is leaving later this morning.

Little comforted, I finished the very good coffee and enquired where I buy the ferry ticket.
There, at Sami.
Oh great. A late ferry, rushing for a ticket and still no taxi.
Finally a shining silver Mercedes arrives and off we go. The driver also tells me the ferry will leave later today. They were, of course, all correct.
The ticket man had not even opened his shop and I had a ninety minute wait till ferry time. So a leisurely breakfast in a free wifi restaurant on the waterfront, connected me with the world and allayed my anxiety.
When the ferry did arrive it spewed an array of vehicles ranging from garbage trucks, buses and bicycles and eagerly consumed an equally colorful cargo including my favorite, an old ute full of onions and garlic. From this I learnt that virtually all food on Ithaca comes from elsewhere.
And then the journey across the Ionian Sea from the biggest island to the smallest which took about 40 minutes only. Again the disgorging of the cargo at a very dismal port,Pisoaotos, and another taxi ride up and over the mountains to the capital, Vathi.
My companions this time, a Nona and her 12 year old daughter from New York, returning to Ithaca for the summer. The sublime beauty of Vathi can only be described in comparison to the plainness of elsewhere, and here at last was my imagined Odysseus’ Ithaca. Or is it Homers? Much speculation remains as to the authenticity of the location and Ithaca is totally disputed by the larger island of Kephalonia.
For me, upon arrival at the Odyssey Apartments high on a hill and overlooking the harbour, my Ithaca adventure had begun.
A long stroll along the waterfront revealed a bust of Homer, a statue of Odysseus, the same sort of tourist traders as on all the islands, and the three bars that constitute Ithaca’s nightlife. This is far from a tourist mecca: too hard to get to, too expensive, and a life of simple origin that flourishes only in summer.
My hosts deserve a mention for they have indeed welcomed me with a level of companionship that makes the life of a solo traveller rich and rewarding. The apartments are superb and the view from my window and terrace has shown Vathi in all her moods. The intensity or subtlety of the colours and the changing temperament of the wind and sea is totally captivating.
Today I made contact with a Dutch woman, Ester, now a resident on Ithaca, who conducts walks on the island. Incidentally this contact came from Anna in Australia through her cousin Erika in the north of Ithaca to Ester one village away from Vathi. The upshot is that tomorrow I can join her on the Homer Walk. Sadly for me the walk starts at 8.30am in a village a 25 euro taxi ride away, which, with the cost of the walk and a return taxi fare (there is only one bus per day) it is quite an expensive exercise. But worth it I think. In an ideal world I should have hired a car to give me more access to the remainder of island but my plan was to rest up here and not have the anxiety of driving on the right side of the road and the stress of getting lost!
But the gods smiled on me and my host, Ari, suggested that his beautiful wife, Yanna, take me in their car and that Yanna join me on the walk – something that she has always wanted to do and good pr for their business and for Ester’s. Joy oh joy!
And so another quick meal by the harbour and to bed to get ready for my next Homeric adventure.

Sami WaterfrontCaptain Corelli's, SamiIthaca BoundVathi HarbourHomerOdysseusThe WaterfrontFrom my Balcony

Day 1 Melbourne to Sami, Greece

Day 1 Melbourne to Sami

It’s 5.30 am and somewhere in the distance cocks are crowing. And while it is still dark outside, the gentle breeze wafting through the open shutters stirs my thoughts to Homer, Odysseus and of course to being here on Ithaca. To get to Ithaca, one really wants to be here. It has been quite a 21 century Homeric quest, that for me, started in Melbourne over a year ago when I met an Ithacan at a New Year’s Eve party.

With a deep interest in place and its significance in literature and in particular, Greek tragedy, I was compelled to make the metaphoric homecoming to this island in the Ionian Sea. In comparison to the ease with which much travel is accomplished, in many ways it has not been easy. Ithaca is not one of the big tourist islands. It is small and it’s inaccessibility,compounded by the Greek government austerities, make the journey somewhat epic.
Leaving the wintery squalls of Melbourne behind, the comfort of Etihad airlines provided me with many hours sleep on the Abu Dhabi leg, while the greater comfort of a sky bus into Athens, also afforded the opportunity of more relaxed companionship.
It is not surprising that many of the passengers were of the Greek diaspora, returning home. My seating companion was a first generation Australian of parents from Lesbos. He is undertaking a double degree in Engineering and Law at Monash. A vitally interesting young man with sound world views, a vast range of knowledge and a profound sense of purpose, he provided me with a sense of security for the future. Already on the Deans List, his humble background as the son of an immigrant Chicken Bar proprietor, evoked the manner in which the Greeks have traditionally dispersed their culture and values for the good of humankind. For deeply entrenched in Greek culture is the notion of living the best life and all that that entails. As an Anglo Saxon, it presents a very different perspective to me. Mine is a world of restriction, the Greek world seems to be one of expansion premised on aesthetics, hospitality, logic and trade. For without trade, Ancient Greece, like modern day Greece, could not survive. As a seafaring mercantile nation by virtue of its geographical location, Ancient Greece not only serviced its empire and beyond with goods, it also provided the culture of civilization and the ideal of the best life.

Enter Homer, with his fantastic tales of war, godly interventions and upsets, divine justice and right conduct. Written some 400 years before the great Greek tragedians immortalized the sagas and characters on the ancient stage, Homer is credited with shaping the Ancient Greek spirit of humanism, including the notion of honor and noble death.

Curiously, my reading material on the plane was Euripides’ Helen, the play I will be seeing at the Epidavros ampitheatre at the end of the week. Totally immersed in the reason for the Trojan Wars, the narrative depicts a fantastical ending to the saga with Menelaus finding Helen in Egypt – and I still have to find out who kills who at the end – a really great read!

But of course within that context is the Odyssey and Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. Bearing in mind Odysseus’ initial objection to go to war over a woman, Homer places him in many ‘womanly’ situations which have led to much speculation over truth, faithfulness, duty and human urges. (Remembering that it was Odysseus who delivered the Trojan Horse.)

Continuing on from Athens in a light aircraft, the flight not only provided more examples of the Greek equivalent of Bon Accord, through the delights of the flight attendant, but the physicality of the flight took me across the Peloponnese with the starkness of the Spartan mountains (Helen of Troy was a Spartan) and deposited me on the island of Kephalonia. From there a 60 Euro taxi ride, up over the mountains and down into the seaport of Sami (of Captain Corelli fame). And then you come out of the mountains and see the sea and Ithaca is directly opposite. She looks like a shrouded jewel beckoning you.

That was Day 1, concluded by an evening meal at a taverna on the waters edge, a walk back to the hotel in the pitch black of night in a village without street lighting, and preparations for the early morning departure on the ferry for Ithaca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All The Worlds A Stage Theatre Tours 2014

A room with a view.
A room with a view.
Dear Friends & Followers, this first post is coming from Ithaca Greece, with some retrospective posts to follow due to the unavailability of internet. The story goes that the ‘power’ people are restricting internet in protest to the austerity measures of wage cuts…I guess they do have a lot of power..!
This year I’m fine tuning the tour that is offered for 2015 with visits to proposed sites and accommodation that I didn’t do in 2013. I’ve also built in some considerable r&r. Like now I’m just sitting outside my apartment with nothing to do but look at the view and take advantage of the internet while it’s happening. This is nothing short of idyllic and I certainly wish you were here!
More following and please enjoy.
B.