GREC – “Le Grand C”: Delightful

This is actually poetry, not a threesome

This is actually poetry, not a threesome

Parting from the Grec Festival can be quite sad – especially when, like this year, it has given you a chance to spend several lovely evenings. My friends and I could not have found a better way to do it than to pick “Le Grand C” by Compagnie XY as the last show, on Sunday 29 July. These French acrobats are so good, and their performance so well conceived, that I felt lucky and privileged to be among the audience. They manage to provide a quite different experience from Cirque du Soleil: their set is extremely sober and their poetic universe is based on silence, absolute trust, and human contact. When they softly hug each other as they build breathtaking human towers, or turn into the spinning dolls of a carrillon right before taking flight from a catapult, you cannot help but feel moved and enchanted. Except for the beginning of the show, which takes a bit too long to take off, they excel at building up momentum, then suddenly surprising you with an unexpected twist: the “Whoas” and “Eeeks” abound as you slowly surrender to their mastery, and when it ends you feel that you have learned a lot about the artistic drive, the challenges, and the astounding commitment of an acrobat. As we went down the steps of Teatre Grec, I found myself sharing a quiet prayer with the moon: may I climb up to this magical gardens again next year, and may I enjoy an equal share of inspiring times in good company as I have done in 2012.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 9 out of 10 + Standing Ovation

GREC – “The Master and Margarita”: Impressive

A brief intimate moment before hell breaks loose

A brief intimate moment before hell breaks loose

Simon McBurney’s ambitious production of Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita” gathered enthusiastic reviews in a few European countries before landing on stage in Barcelona’s Teatre Lliure. This complex, supposedly unstageable story that seems to deal with just about anything – from compassion to censorship in Stalinist Moscow, from the illusion of reality to Mr. Devil himself – has been turned into a dazzling display of the power of contemporary theatre, with a little help (so to speak) from technology. I am glad I had the chance to see this production, which I found impressive and certainly interesting, albeit not especially involving. The story is so good that, in my opinion, it would have benefitted from a bit fewer special effects and a clearer focus on the human side: most of the time my focus was on the sophisticated direction, rather than the deep truths that Bulgakov aimed to convey. Having said that, chapeau to McBurney for his vision, boldness, relevance and creativity, and congratulations to the cast and crew.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7/8 out of 10.

GREC – “Poppea//Poppea”: Ingenious

Letting it all out

Letting it all out

Every now and then, you see a show that makes up for a lot of half-baked stuff you had to endure in the previous months. For me, this was the case with Poppea//Poppea by Eric Gauthier’s dance company, which took place at Mercat de les Flors on 25 July as part of the Grec Festival. I understand some people might not like it – in fact, my friends’ impressions were mixed – but those of us who appreciated it were quite enthusiastic. This bold attempt at reinventing ballet, using the language of contemporary dance to tell a classical story with modern twists – including multimedia elements – was ingenious and sophisticated. I found the choreography, the skillful execution by the dancers, the music, the costumes, the directing choices compelling, sometimes even stunning. OK, the set was not too inspiring, the portrait of the emperor Nero did not quite convince me, and there were a few minor glitches in the dancers’ synchronization here and there, but this did not spoil the fun. If all dance shows were like this, I would want to see one every week: there is going to be one last performance tonight (26 July), so do not miss it if you can.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10 + wow!

GREC – Esperanza Spalding: Mixed

Not as pop as she looks (photo: Sandrine Lee)

Not as pop as she looks (photo: Sandrine Lee)

Another week, another pleasant night at Teatre Grec… mostly. Marketing rules in today’s troubled music industry – that is how Esperanza Spalding‘s concert was positioned as “jazz for those who love jazz… and for those who don’t often listen to jazz”. Well, not really. This lively bass player has the right looks, moves, and attitude to appeal to a wider audience, but what she does is actually pure, uncompromised jazz, and it can get a bit tough for untrained ears. The band was great, both in terms of collective sound and solos, but I was sort of disappointed by Esperanza herself: while her technique is sound and the way she mixes spoken word with singing as she introduces each song is charming, her voice is simply not strong enough to stand out among such a powerful group of musicians. I found her squeaky at times, and generally trying too hard to be the singer she is not. Judging from the live videos you find on the Web, it might have just been a bad day – but since that was when I happened to see her play, I was left with mixed feelings and one more reason to stigmatize what I call “desperate marketing”.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7 out of 10.

GREC – “L’ànima del bus”: Appraisable

Watch this woman swim, morph, and fly inside a bus

Watch this woman swim, morph, and fly inside a bus

How often have you hopped onto an old, rattling bus and have been carried to another time and place? This is exactly what you will get buying a ticket for L’ànima del bus, one of the 2012 Grec Festival’s most inventive proposals. The itinerant bus departs from a different neighbourhood each week (I got on in Poble Nou on 19 July) and… I am not going to spoil the magic by revealing what happens next. I must admit I did not get part of the spoken text (which is in Catalan), but the show is bursting with ideas, brilliantly executed by actor Jordi Martínez, musician Pep Pascual and dancer Lola López Luna. The unusual proximity with the performers allows you to sense the care and passion that have gone into this bizarre play, which gently welcomes you on board, then makes you laugh, suddenly punches you in the guts, and takes you back to the starting point as if it had just been a dream. Hope you will enjoy the trip as much as I did.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10.

 

PostTip: Grec Festival Reviews

So here it is! The Grec Festival. In this PostTip I am going to gather brief reviews of the first shows I have seen (last seen first), while later ones will be published separately.

Celebrating the sheer joy of dance

Celebrating the sheer joy of dance

CONCIERTO/CONCEPTO, BRODAS BROS (7 July, Teatre Grec) – I had already seen this local group of urban/hip-hop/electro funk/soul dancers twice, and each time left the venue impressed by their skills, creativity and infectious high spirits – yet on their first appearance at the Grec theatre they set their aspirations even higher by conceiving a rich, dynamic mix of dance, music, acting and anything else that might turn this into a real happening. Mission accomplished: I think any member of the surprisingly varied audience would confirm it was indeed a fun night, a feel-good ceremony to praise and remember. From the compelling opening act to the final jam-session and the exhilarating flashmob, Brodas Bros and their guests (including Marcus, the amazing Spanish beatbox champion) rocked the amphitheatre and left their mark on this festival. They specialize in just a few areas of the wide universe of urban/hip-hop dance, and despite their commitment to stretch their language the performance was a bit repetitive at times; it would be nice to see them include other styles (like krump) in the future, but they are great in what they do and I can only wish them the best for the next Christmas season, when “Concierto/Concepto” is set to shake the Mercat de les Flors (from 20 December to 6 January). If you like this kind of dance at all, or if you simply want to have a good time, do not miss it.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 8 out of 10 + wow!

So much better than Eurovision (photo by Josep Aznar)

So much better than Eurovision (photo by Josep Aznar)

BALLANT EN LA SORRA (5 July, Teatre Grec) - Now this is what I call a nice show! And the funny thing is, this tribute to the life of revered flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya is much less pompous and sashawaltzly pretentious than “Body Remix”. Not that it lacks a certain ambition, mind you: the fusion between flamenco and contemporary dance is well thought-out, but the result is straightforward, disarmingly human and at times poetic, without the slightest hint of art-house stuck-upness. Yes, the dancers look a bit green here and there and some choreographies verge on the simplistic (end-of-year school show, anyone?), but among other virtues the study of organic group movement is commendable: the scene in which the main bailaora is surrounded by the other dancers, whose gestures come alive as a breathing expansion of hers, is simply stunning. Hats off to the musicians too, whose live performance is a pleasure to witness. This show has moved me and made me understand something more about flamenco: I would advise it to anyone.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7/8 out of 10.

Ok, we've gotten that. You can dance now. (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Ok, we’ve gotten that. You can dance now. (photo by Marie Chouinard)

BODY REMIX/GOLDBERG VARIATIONS (3 July, Mercat de les Flors) – Mmh, no thanks. I must admit the show is professional and does have a certain edge, but I seldom appreciate this kind of conceptual art. I am under the impression its only goal is to show how smart the choreographer is, which ironically makes me feel like there is really nothing left to invent (which by the way I find totally untrue). This particular show boasts, er, uhm, dancers on crutches (CHOIR: OOOOH!). How illuminating. As for the rest, I tend to bear deliberately disturbing pieces only if they strike the proper balance between shadows and lights. If you want to punch me in the guts, why don’t you try to make my heart melt first? Otherwise it’s all in the brain, and I frankly get enough of that in the daytime. In this performance, the few moments of grace disappeared among a stormy sea of wandering aural and visual impulses which added up to a big handful of nothing. And as cool and artsy as it may be, nothing is, after all, exactly what it is – that is, nothing. Besides I often got the feeling these dancers – almost none of which impressed me at all – were the first non-believers in the general vision and the specific gestures they were asked to recreate. And if you cannot get your own dancers to buy into your vision, imagine the audience. Some people actually liked the show, so take it with a pinch of salt… But I honestly would not advise my best friends to see this, and that includes you.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 5 out of 10.

My advice: arrange for a picnic.

My advice: arrange for a picnic.

Finally, a note on Teatre Grec itself: is it just me, or they have gone a wee bit too far with the spending cuts this year? Since the pleasure of a night at the Grec depends in no small part on the legendary pre-show cocktails in its gorgeous gardens, I find it quite counterproductive that any sign of a decent dinner has been scraped out in favour of execrable hot-dogs and hilarious 3€ sandwiches that have clearly been inspired by the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. At this rate, physicists will need to make a huge effort to catch up by discovering an even smaller particle by next year. Such poor food makes early arrival hardly worthwhile, unless (1) you have already eaten, (2) you bring your own dinner, or (3) you go for the restaurant, which thanks to clear price cuts is more affordable this year.

Terrace Parties: Coveted

You deserve this, and nothing less.

You deserve this, and nothing less.

Give it a try if… You would like this summer to make sense at all.

Steer clear if…  You are only able to socialize when at least 90% of your body is covered.

The upcoming Night of San Juan, Saturday 23 June, is not just the most amazing night of the year in Barcelona (certain fake snobs do not agree, but isn’t it great to celebrate New Year’s Eve again – in shorts?); it is a great opportunity to start practising each summer’s favourite sport, terrace hunting.

Status Bimboes

You have to live in this city to grasp just how essential it is considered to have a – or have access to somebody else’s – private terrace. Bad luck? Either pack your bags, or start looking for your Mr. or Ms. Terrace. Right now. Those people are easy to recognize for that confidence they shed: the confidence of someone who knows – and has – what it takes. Have you spotted one? Approach, then focus: you are to make a shameless, relentless use of both your manifest and hidden charms until they invite you to their terrace. Do not forget: they absolutely must invite you to their terrace. So do not even remotely consider giving up until you get an invitation to their terrace. If they own the whole rooftop, smile harder.

Let us teach you how to sip and smile

Let us teach you how to sip and smile

A Dream Come True

One last breath, and up you go: this was your final step, you have managed to reach that private terrace. How fulfilling, isn’t it? How great it is to know that results do exist. That it is not actually about the process. Give yourself a moment to take in the view – if you can only see rotten factories and dog corpses, there is another terrace out there you might want to hunt for – then take off your high heels, let your hair down and start mingling along. Is it just a cocktail, perhaps a late night rendez-vous? Remember: French-kissing on a private terrace is certainly enthralling, but nothing can compare with the barbecue experience. So until you are able to take part in a full-fledged terrace barbecue, you are not in effect even living here.

Closer to Heaven

How is it going? Have you forgotten your latest excuse for dismissing the here and now? Are you pouring those killer smiles, emphasizing those curves, showing off those foxy moves you rehearsed all winter? And for heaven’s sake, give us the best of you. The hundred per cent of your wit, grace, and flair. That is why you have been carried up here on the wings of this warm summer breeze – so that you could light this summer on, not just strike a feeble match and fade into oblivion. There is no turning back, nor climbing down: this is your time to shine, so make the most of it.

UPS Score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 9 out of 10 + wow!