a packed week off – part one

which began, on the evening of Thursday 7th March, with a trip to the Barbican to experience The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns. Quite a mouthful. The exhibition focuses on Duchamp’s interaction with and influence on four key American creators after he moved to New York in 1942. The main revelation for me was Rauschenberg’s assemblages and sculptural paintings. Work that’s still fresh, intriguing, not easy to pin down. In the lower level gallery, a selection of music by Cage and others interrupts/augments/permeates the physical objects on display: Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), stage sets for Merce Cunningham pieces that reference Duchamp, a Rauschenberg ‘book’ printed on thick pieces of plexiglass with a fixed title page and five pages that can be reordered by the viewer/reader. Transparency, light, chance, absence and presence: themes, knots, that recur throughout the exhibition, throughout the work of these invigorating, questioning artists. As an added bonus, on Thursday evenings and weekends, young dancers perform excerpts of Cunningham’s Events on the white stage in the lower gallery. We watched from the upper level, rooted to the spot, while the dancers below painted geometric patterns, danced in/around/against the looped soundtrack.

Sunday 10th March to the upstairs bar at Ronnie Scott’s for Jazz Verse Jukebox. My first time there, and drawn more by the Verse element than the Jazz, I have to admit. But what a wonderful, warm evening it was, while outside it was doing its best to snow. Hostess Jumoke Fashola has a smoooothly gorgeous voice, and got the night started with a few numbers, accompanied by the resident jazz trio. Next, Mark Gwynne Jones performed his verbal gymnastics, including a very funny piece playing with the film cliches of that other land ‘oop north’. Anthony Anaxagorou followed, third time I’ve seen him and I’m still wowed by his deeply engaged poems and perfectly measured delivery. After the break, Aja Monet read powerful and impassioned poems, rooted in New York but with a global reach. And then Dean Atta took centre stage to perform poems from his provocatively titled, but very necessary, first collection I Am Nobody’s Nigger. The title poem is a fierce argument against the idea of reclaiming the ‘N’ word. And for all the serious subject matter of his poems – racism, identity, absent fathers – Atta infuses them with an engaging humour.
On the jazz side, Zara McFarlane charmed with her silky voice, and I did enjoy her version of Police and Thieves, especially the solo double bass intro. Once upon a time, I learnt to play double bass… maybe one day I’ll write about it… And Jumoke rounded off the night with Nina Simone’s majestic Four Women.

Tuesday 12th March found us in the basement of the Phoenix for Liars’ League. The theme for this month’s six short stories was Song & Dance. The highlight of the first half for me was A Musical Note by Alan Graham, read superbly by Clareine Cronin. The tale of a young woman plagued by MGM style musical outbursts at moments of surprise or high emotion, it was extremely funny, with some spot-on details: a peach of a story. The stories in the second half all appealed in different ways. The Glorious Dolores by Amanda Oosthuizen, performed by Carrie Cohen, set in Paraguay and featuring an 84 year old Marlene Dietrich impersonator, was full of vivid colour and atmosphere. Katy Darby read Esther Cleverly’s The Mondegreen with great brio, and again the details of character and setting were just right. But Charlie Parker, not Parker Knoll by Alan McCormick stole the show, in my book anyway. A fabulous riff, placing Jack Kerouac in a B&B in Worthing, read with relish by Cliff Chapman. A top night. And I learnt something in the interval literary quiz! Two things, in fact, the literary origins of the band names Steely Dan and Heaven 17. Google them, if you don’t know.

And there’s more, writing, reading, eating yummy lunches at home… But now, London’s calling again, the sun’s come out, and I’m off out in a minute too.

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