Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Nutcracker, Firebird, Hobbit, laptop...


Excellent idea.  Now all I need is for someone to do the same thing for SF writers!!

Work is getting busier, which is no bad thing.  On the good side, Great-British-winter-wise, once or twice lately we have had some watery wintry sunshine.  On the bad side, we’ve also had snow – and not nice crisp snow that settles and makes kids happy, but the sloppy wet kind that doesn’t settle but gets everywhere, and still makes going out miserable.  

 January is probably my least-favourite month – there simply isn’t enough daylight.  At least here, with all of Kew Gardens to mooch in during my lunch break, I can smell the sweet scents of winter-flowering plants, and watch for snowdrops and the rose-pink buds of limes and maples, to remind me of spring.

What have I been up to?  Writing, quelle blague; what a surprise.  I’m relieving the work of typing up and revising “Gold Hawk” by also indulging myself with a little fanfiction on the side.  It does feel a bit like having something on the side, too; a really sinful indulgence, like a box of good posh chocs (think Booja Booja quality) or a bottle of 20-year-old Laphroaig.  Or a fling, obviously (only I get all screwed up over those, whereas with chocolate or liquor, or fanfic, I can relax and enjoy myself).  Not sure what I’ll do with it, beyond using it for relaxation purposes (ooh, now that does sound dirty!), but it’s giving me some much-needed light relief in this dark month.   

I gather that some people consider writing fanfic to be a dreadful and unforgiveable sin.  Obviously I’d be a stinking hypocrite if I pretended to agree with them!  I guess in their book I’m hell-bound and that’s all there is to it. 

From what I’ve read (not very much, I should add) some of it is drivel and some of it is porn, or at least porny.  But plenty of mainstream legitimate fiction is drivel and/or porny.  Surely anything that gets us consumers to wake up and doing something creative, instead of just sitting on our backsides all day consuming, can’t be all bad?  Whether it’s taking a camera out to photograph the texture of leaves, or taking a sketchbook when you go on holiday, or keeping a journal, or singing in a choir, or going outdoors to reconnect with nature and discover some natural history, or writing a short story about your favourite fictional characters, just for fun; it’s creative, it’s self-expression, and it’s engaging with the world and responding to it instead of simply being spoon-fed the mental equivalent of junk food.  It’s co-creating, in a small way; and that, if you’ll forgive my going all religious on you for a sec, is blessed; it’s lending a hand in the Goddess’ work.

However, to come back from these heights to my present reality; the big problem at the moment with my writing, of all kinds (serious, frivolous and even perhaps drivel) is that my laptop is sick, and getting steadily sicker.  It now gets conniptions every time I try to save what I’m writing onto disk.  Since it’s far too old for me to be able to save onto a USB stick (they may not even have existed when it was manufactured – at any rate it lacks the necessary scart/port/whatever), floppies are my only option if I want something saved in a portable format.  And I can only get my work onto ICW, or into a friend’s mailbox, if I can get it off the machine in the first place.  Lately, I can have been peacefully typing all evening, and then the laptop will suddenly turn up its toes and refuse to do anything more.  Instead, I get a frozen screen, and it refuses to switch off, either, and sits buzzing for hours until it runs its battery right down.  By this point it has generally kept me awake for several hours, which is not good.  I feel about ninety this morning, after having this happen again last night.

Around the edges of a lot of typing, I’m having a busy old time of it culturally-speaking; a good dose of high culture, and a healthy fillip of somewhat-lower-culture.   A Nutcracker, a triple bill and a Hobbit, to be precise.

I love the Royal ballet’s “Nutcracker”; it is very, very traditional, with snowflakes and glittery costumes and wicked mice and a gorgeous transformation scene.  I’ve seen it about six times, so this trip was a complete indulgence.  Mainly I went to see Akane Takada in action as the Sugar Plum Fairy.  She’s one of their up-and-comings, just starting to get some bigger roles.  It’s one of the joys of going to see a particular ballet company regularly; getting to spot young talent and see them progress rapidly (or, frustratingly, not so rapidly) up the ranks and into the larger parts.   She wasn’t a flawless Sugar Plum, but rather a lovely one nonetheless; she doesn’t over-extend, which loks right to me in this kind of pure classical stuff; she has a delicious finish, right down to her fingertips, and that trick of coming down off pointe very smoothly (which probably has a technical name) so that every balance seems to flow into the next move without the tiniest transition.  She also looks like a Japanese Googie Withers, which can’t hurt. 

The triple bill was “The Firebird”, “In the Night”, and “Raymonda Act 3”.  Two utter marvels, and a dollop of glittery idiocy and Mittel-european flouncing in character shoes.   

Mara Galeazzi’s Firebird was extraordinary.  She is a dancer who is immensely good at conveying powerful human emotions, but here she genuinely seemed to be touching the non-human – instinctive, reactive, self-preserving, utterly wild – so that the creature’s reappearance to honour her pledge with Ivan Tsarevich became not just the working-out of the plot, but a moment of real awe and power.  This is what fairy tales do, when you’re a child and the stories are new; hit you in the eyes with their archetypal potency.  It’s good to see it can still happen, and raise the hairs on the back of my neck.  It’s also a joy to see Ms Galeazzi back in action again, let alone in such blazing (almost literally!) good form.  
The Jerome Robbins was utterly wonderful, too.   Why don’t they do a Robbins triple bill?  “In the Night”, “Afternoon of a Faun” and “Dances at a Gathering” are all in the RB rep now; and wouldn’t that be a simply dreamy evening?  I suppose they fear that it wouldn’t put bums on seats.  It would get my bum there; but that’s only one bum on one seat (or technically two if I went twice, which is always a temptation with mixed bills as there’s usually more than one cast).   “In the Night”, anyway, has grace and charm and delicacy and romance and humour, and an indefinable overarching quality of mystery; it is far more than the sum of its parts, as all the best short works are.  I saw Emma Maguire and Alexander Campbell as Couple One, luxurious Zenaida Yanowsky and big Mr Kish as Couple Two, and Roberta Marquez and the great Carlos Acosta as Couple Three.   Gorgeous casting in a gorgeous, haunting ballet.

“Raymonda” does nothing profound for me, but it was great fun, and looked gorgeous, and everyone was dancing their socks off.  ‘Nuff said.

“The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey” is a muddle.  I wish it weren’t.  I loved Peter Jackson’s three “Lord of the Rings” movies, although they aren’t perfect (the bits that grate with me, the unnecessary tweaking of the plot in particular, grate more each time I see them).  This looks just as good and for a change some of the tweaks actually work better.  If one is going to present the story of “The Hobbit” as part of the same canon, and not as a lighter, more child-orientated work (which the book certainly is), then one has got to stress the seriousness of what is going on, and set it firmly in the same continuum.  I can accept that; much of it has been lifted and shoe-horned in from the appendices of the “Lord of the Rings”, and I think from the “Silmarillion” too; and I think in the main it’s fairly well done.

 But there are also some completely extraneous additions; notably a prolonged battle in the Orc halls that looks as if it was lifted wholesale from a computer game.  And all the way through, one is aware that here, things could be taken with leisure, spreading the story over three films when it fills one pretty short book.  Compared to the taut, compact story-telling in the three LOTR films, this looks relaxed to a startling degree.  The dwarves get to do both their musical numbers, for goodness’ sakes.  I didn’t really need either.

But what works, really works.  The “Riddles in the Dark” section is like something from a different movie altogether, tight and powerful and genuinely scary.  The designs are glorious (though I’ve always felt the Peter Jackson Shire looked too untamed – it has the appearance of a landscape that was first settled and farmed perhaps two or three generations ago at most, not countless centuries.  It should look like rural Kent or Devon).   Little things like the moon-runes and the sword Sting glowing are spot-on.  Above all, the cast is excellent, and I honestly don’t think that if they had instigated a world-wide hunt for Bilbo Baggins, à la “the search for Scarlett O’Hara”, they could have found a more perfect lead than Martin Freeman.  He is simply wonderful.

Well, anyway; I’ve been writing this in my lunch breaks since the end of last week, so now I am finally going to post it, and then try to keep a bit more up-to-date.  But here’s to more cultural fun, both high and low, for the rest of this year.  And here’s to the blinking laptop behaving itself tonight.  Please?

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