BOLLYWOOD WITH A BANG..

band and video - Exeter - photo Tom Hurley

In the lead up to one of the most hotly anticipated film festivals the country stages, I have had the pleasure of speaking to Rabab Ghazoul, the WOW Women’s Film Club co-ordinator.  Rabab has been an integral driving force in the exciting Best of Bollywood Live, so it was an absolute delight to speak to her about the inspiration for the event, what she thinks is missing from the Bollywood culture in Cardiff and what we can expect for the future of this type of bespoke event.

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What was the inspiration for setting up the Bollywood Brass Band event?

The inspiration was wanting to do things a bit differently. I’d been running the WOW Women’s Film Club for years, and whilst a huge amount of women access our screenings at Chapter Arts Centre, I wanted to somehow combine and cross fertilise some of our audiences who wouldn’t normally come across each other: our Film Club members, the wider audiences who use Chapter Arts Centre, as well as people who might not use either Chapter or the Film Club. So the idea was to organise a pop-up screening in our of our faith/cultural communities, and try and invite ALL of these different potential audiences along to enjoy an exciting evening of film, but to do so within this very mixed environment.

Often we develop ‘tailored’ arts provision for ‘marginalised’ groups, and that’s all very well, but I felt that the future of really meaningful ‘access’ was to create cultural spaces that were increasingly inhabited by wider cross-sections of the community…not just those ‘targeted’ groups. I believe the more we mix, and experience culture together, the wider our sense of connection to community.

So within this ‘pop-up’ framework, the Bolllywood Brass Band seemed like the perfect vehicle for such an evening: something a bit different for the Hindu Gujarati community who were hosting the event, a chance for our usual Film Club (female!) members to take part in something that the whole family could attend (guys welcome too!), and something the wider Chapter Arts Centre audiences could take to! Given that our Gujarati hosts are cooking incredible food for everyone that evening, we thought, this is a great way to experience film within an authentically community setting!

Do you think that Cardiff has a sufficient amount of events / activities focused on the Bollywood culture; also do you think Cardiff has enough focused on women’s only events? 

It’s hard to tell whether we have enough Bollywood events, I’m not sure, but I certainly think there’s room for more. Within Asian communities themselves, there’s often all kinds of activities and events going on, no doubt including Bollywood inspired culture, but we rarely hear about these things. I know that for example Asian communities, in Cardiff and elsewhere, often go to Bollywood films that are put on at the big multi-plexes, or else book somewhere like Chapter Arts Centre for a special Bollywood screening, but it tends to be for that community so understandably, we don’t get to hear about it although I think it would be great! I think in a way that’s why we wanted to open out the Bollywood experience a bit to loads more people…

As far as women’s events are concerned, some people say to me…Really? Do we really need women-only spaces nowadays? And I tend to answer, well just ask the women who come! Our Film Club members absolutely argue for these spaces, for a chance for women to get together, have time out, meet each other, leave their kids in the creche and watch a film, unwind. It’s easy to take these things for granted, but many women simply don’t get a chance to do that or for that matter can afford it. Many of the women who come to the Film Club experience isolation of different kinds, we have women rom reguges, or asylum seeking women, or women who go for long periods without mixing with other people. So yes women’s spaces are important. And I think these spaces do exist in different ways across the city, perhaps we don’t have as many cultural events tailored for women, and that’s why the Film Club addresses a real need. 

Do you hope to go on to hold more of this type of event after WOW?

Yes we’d love to. We think the pop-up programme is a really vibrant part of what we have to offer. And whilst championing women’s spaces, lots of men often say to us, can you include us too please!! The pop-up events are a way to really open out to audiences, men, women, families, and a range of different communities. Pop-up film events have often happened in really interesting sites and locations across the UK (a castle, a park, a barge) but it tends to be the same audiences, just moving from an arts space over into a site-specific space or location. These pop-ups, located in the heart of cultural and faith communities, are about not just interesting spaces or locations, but really opening out, as communities, to each other.

What do you want audiences to take away from them after the event?

Well, to have a fantastic, inspiring, joy-filled time! If people aren’t familiar with the Hindu temple Samaj community centre, to leave feeling they’ve had a warm welcome and a taste of a community’s culture that’s right on their doorstep. And I suppose to really feel it’s been a great opportunity to experience something new, something fun, with a whole load of people we haven’t met before!

How difficult was the process of setting up this event… has it been in the pipeline for a long time?

It’s taken a while, things move in fits and starts as with everything. The challenges are funding a project like this, it costs a lot to bring an entire brass band outfit from London to Cardiff! So setting up isn’t so much difficult, it’s just events like this are different, logistically a little more complicated, and rely on us getting audiences in! We really need people to attend so we can break even basically, otherwise, there are serious questions over whether we can host things like this again. But we’re hoping to get a good crowd. That’s what makes the hard work all worth it!

Can audiences expect any surprises from the event?

I suppose if you haven’t experienced Bollywood before, that will an eye opener – over 15 classic, iconic Bollywood scenes from famous movies of the last 100 years. To be honest, the surprise as far as I’m concerned is the Brass Band aspect!! I’m trying to imagine how this will sound, the Bollywood given the brass band treatment! It’s fusion at its wildest! There might also be some other surprises in store, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if we told you!

Bollywood Brass Band

Thank you so much to Rabab for speaking to us – to book your tickets for the event, visit the WOW website.

 

ANATOMY GETS A SPELLBINDING TWIST WITH CLOD ENSEMBLE..

Clod Ensemble are a company renowned for breaking the barriers of traditional drama.  They challenge, they experiment and they throw themselves into the public’s attention.  Unafraid to take risks, they take their work into new territories, forcing the audience to re-think their expectations and perception of theatre.

An Anatomie in Four Quarters was of course no exception to this.  Despite knowing about the enchanting work of Clod, I really did not know what to expect.  The press and marketing around the performance gave little away; a bold (but wise) decision in my opinion.

Before the performance, the audience were led to the top floor of the Wales Millennium Centre.  Looking at my ticket, I realised that we hadn’t been assigned seats.  Everyone around looked the same as I felt: a bit confused, uncertain of what to expect and excited.  We were led into the upper circle where we were told to fill the middle four rows.  A hush fell across the auditorium.  And with that, the most exciting and thought-provoking piece of theatre I have ever seen begun with an almighty bang.

An Anatomie in Four Quarters was “a celebration of the physical structure of the bodies we inhabit and the ways we attempt to see, define, contain, name and value them.”  It took the way we perceive the body and broke it into a million pieces, threw it around a bit and then pulled it back together.  The way Clod played with choreography, audience viewpoint and music was exceptional.  Each movement was a mesmerizing dissection of the body, taking hold of your senses and pulling you into the performance.

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Presented in “four quarters”, each section of the performance literally took the audience on a journey across the beautiful space that is the Donald Gordan Theatre.  Travelling from the Upper Circle, to the Raised Stalls, down to the Lower Stalls and then eventually up onto the stage, the audience was provided with the tools to view the performance from a variety of compelling positions.  The dancers themselves used the theatre to its full advantage, crossing between the main stage, the seating area and even positioning themselves across the ceiling (with only their feet visible to the audience).  It was an experience I have never had before.  Not only was it captivating to perceive the same piece of dance from different perspectives, but also to be introduced to different areas of the theatre was a beautiful experience.

Clod Ensemble, An Anatomie in Four Quarters.

The music across the four sections also played a huge part in the evening.  Slipping between live strings, percussion, bagpipes and a powerful guitar and drum score, the audience was again forced to reconsider the way they saw the dance.  My personal favourite composition was the partnership between the enthralling contemporary movements and the heavy rock accompaniment.  It took my breath away.  Two seemingly parallel forms of art were presented in a way that was natural, dynamic and explosive.  I literally found myself leaning forward in my seat, jaw-dropped, as I was pulled further and further into the performance.

The final section had to be the highlight.  Invited onto the stage, the audience were encouraged to take their time as they weaved in and out of the performers.  Standing so close to these exceptionally-talented dancers was incredible.  You could see every single bit of muscle definition, the sheer strength of their movements and the fluidity of their bodies.  Unfazed the dancers performed just as beautifully as when you were sat right at the back of the theatre.  Staring at you straight in the eyes you were drawn even more deeply into the performance.

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As the audience took to the seats at the back of the stage, the show continued. Seeing it from this position, and seeing the empty theatre in all its glory was the most exhilarating feeling.  You were a part of the performance.  You were a part of the dissection.

Closing in a spectacular way (a way that I don’t want to give away!) the audience erupted.  Together we had been taken on the most fascinating journey, and the ending drew it to a close in the most spellbinding fashion.

An Anatomie in Four Quarters was the perfect blend of video and spoken art, live music, site specific choreography and audience interaction.  It was adventurous, intelligent and hypnotic; it called into question everything you might have considered classic art.

You cannot put into words the feeling it left you with.  It really is something that has to be seen to be believed.

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SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE GETS A DASH OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL…

What do you get when an Englishman, an Irishman, a Welshman and a Scot walk into a recording studio?

A compelling and intricate tale of our ever-changing political landscape, that’s what!

Perhaps not the typical answer to the question, but Tim Price’s latest production is anything but typical in its approach.  Set in the simple set of a recording studio, I’m with the band was performed entirely by four characters; an Englishman, a Northern Irishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman as they battle with the financial crisis of their band, The Union (very fittingly named!).

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Of course, the characters all adhere to the stereotypical, highly “un-PC”, portrayals of their nation’s personalities.  You’ve got the Englishman, played by James Hillier, as domineering head of the band, reluctant to take advice and convinced he’s always right.  Then you’ve got the ditzy Welshman, played by Matthew Bulgo, as a harmless chap with little to no self esteem.  Then of course the recovering drunk and bulshy Irishman (note point, the recovering drunk, bulshy, VERY handsome Irishman) played by Declan Rodgers.  And finally, you’ve got the smart Scot, played by Andy Clark, determined to gain his independence from the rest of the band.  Ringing any bells with our current political climate?

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Although going down the cliche route may seem like an obvious choice, it does provide a hilarious script.  Adding to that, the cast played each character superbly, and portrayed their character in a clever and interesting way.  My only issue with cliches, is despite them obviously being used for comical purposes, they do tend to frustrate me.  The Englishman and Irishman’s utter refusal to accept the Scotsman’s departure from the band – or let’s say, from the other nations – compared to the Welshman’s indifference was slightly uncomfortable viewing.  Perhaps just a personal point living in Wales, but the constant portrayal of the Welsh nation being “dopey” and not as important a component to political decisions is getting a bit tiresome.  I understand these things are done for dramatic purposes, but it is slightly disheartening that these stereotypes are still prevalent.

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Saying that, Price did not rely solely on these stereotypes to provide a winning story.  Told not only through spoken script but also live music, the show was energetic, fast-paced and incredibly witty.  Each scene was introduced as a title of one of the band’s tracks, projected on a screen behind the stage.  I thought this was a really quirky approach, and something I appreciated a lot!  All four characters had equal “stage time”, and were all equally talented.  Clark played a strong character, battling with his journey to independence – a difficult road for the Scotsman.  Price exposed it as a problematic path, with many bumps along the way; really, it only scratched the surface Scottish independence, but for the purpose of this play, I believe it did the job.

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Image by Jeremy Abrahams.

Price’s aim for the production was not to say whether Scottish independence is a good or bad idea: it was to highlight the emotional, physical and psychological impacts on the other nations.  And this he does exceptionally.  That is why it was not necessary for him to delve into the history and facts of the movement.  What Price delivered was an inventive and though-provoking piece of work that left you with a different opinion every time you thought of it.  Political undertones aside, it was also fantastically funny, and a play I would happily see again and again.

A BEAUTIFUL WEEKEND FOR THE ARTS THANKS TO TAKEOVER CARDIFF..

As you might have guessed from my recent posts, I’ve been pretty excited for Saturday’s Takeover Cardiff.  And rightly so – it was a fantastic idea.  I believe arts and culture are vital to society, and to be able to inspire and engage with young people in this way is fundamental to ensure that a love of the arts never dies.

The event was a huge success.  Every venue was buzzing with crowds of spectators, and social media was going mad for the whole thing.  It was touching to see such beautiful work by these young curators, showcasing their creativity and passion in Wales’ most iconic venues.

Kicking off at The Senedd…

The event kicked off at the Senedd, with a brass band playing as the seats quickly filled.  People of all different ages congregated in The National Assembly Building – including many young kids that might have never visited it before!  As the fanfair came to a close and the crowd hushed, Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding took to the stage.  His speech played homage to the vibrant culture and confident youth of today, and how fantastic it was to see young people take over the political and cultural venues of Cardiff.  I couldn’t agree more.

Following his speech, young critic Ethan Evans delivered a moving, poetic speech of his own.  His words floated across the Senedd and left the audience in awe.  It was amazing to hear such a young person speak with such poise, elegance and linguistic talent.

After an introduction from Young People’s Laureate for Wales, Martin Daws, it was then time for the children of Literature Wales to take to the floor.  This 16 person bilingual poem was performed to a steady drumbeat, with the children performing solo, in pairs and as a whole group.  It was dynamic and sincere, encapsulating the beauty of Wales and what it meant to these incredible children.  One particularly beautiful metaphor came from a young boy from Napal, who described climbing on the back of the Welsh dragon, giving him courage and flying him back home.  With references to Welsh cakes, daffodils and the nation’s favourite sport, the poem was wonderful to watch, transporting each and every member of the audience back to their dearest memories of their country.

Next up were street dance team Rubicon.  The all-female group performed an exciting Ethiopian Street Dance, with carnival-esque music to get the crowd really going.  The dance was lively, fun and exhilarating, with talent in abundance.  You couldn’t help but clap along – and I definitely had to keep myself firmly rooted to my seat to stop jumping up and joining in with the party!   It was a clear hit with the crowd, who’s cheers showed the girls it was a job well done.

The Senedd section of the day finished off with an intimate performance from up and coming singer – songwriter Dan Bettridge.  His folk / american style music was reminiscent of Johnny Cash and John Mayer, with delicate lyrics that left the crowd wanting more.  There with the Young Promoters Network, Dan left a lasting impact on the Senedd – particularly with the younger girls!

On to the Wales Millennium Centre…

Next stop, the Wales Millennium Centre!  Opening the next part of the show was African Dance company, Ballet Nimba.  And what a way to start!  With exceptional music, dance, song and energy, the group had the whole of the WMC up and dancing.  With Welsh participants involved, the group encapsulated joy, spirit and passion, performing a fantastic form of music that may have been unknown to some members of the audience.  By the end, whether you were aware of the music or not, everyone wanted a piece of it.  I could have listened to that showcase all day and night – it was the perfect portrayal of a life free of inhibitions, where beauty and happiness were the only things that mattered.

Following Ballet Nimba was the exquisite Gabrielle Murphy.  Like Dan Bettridge, Gabrielle came to Takeover as part of the Young Promoters Network.  A 17 year old from Treherbert, her voice took the audience away.  Again, she was lyrically superb, with a soulful and exhilarating voice.  I found myself sat there wondering why this fantastic girl didn’t already have a record deal.  The deep and personal songs were touching to hear – and to make the deal even sweeter, Gabrielle came across as a beautiful individual, inside and out.

Next on stage were the Literature Wales team again, introduced by American poet Michael Cirelli (you might remember him from my recent interview).  Michael had been working with the group throughout the week to create this work of art, which the WMC crowd loved just as much as The Senedd did.  It was great to see the confidence and sense of pride of the children on stage; they knew they had created something fantastic!

Closing the WMC was the crowd favourite Rubicon – with (if possible!) even more fire and energy than the first time round!  Again, it was amazing to see the girls once the performance was finished as they soaked in the raucous response from the crowd.  Well done girls – you were out of this world!

Happenings in the Hayes..

Over the The Hayes for the next installment of Takeover.  There was lots going on around the city center, with buskers entertaining the crowds and the Zoom Cymru documentary films playing on a loop in CFQ.  I took myself down to the National Library, for a poetry recital by the YPL and Lit Wales guys.

I expected a calm recital of tender poetry; what I got was entirely different!  The recital came from Michael Cirelli, Martin Daws and Rapper / MC / Singer Songwriter / Scriptwriter / Stand Up Comedy (yep – cracking CV!) Rufus Mufasa.  With topics ranging from hard hitting political raps to love poems about spaghetti, the content was varied and liberating.  Each poet took turns to perform; there were lyrical pieces, spine-tingling songs, theatrical recitals and empowering spoken word showcases.  Rufus wowwed the crowd with her fantastic voice, dipping in and out of Welsh and English.  Martin became a different person with each piece, performing as if it was the most important performance of his life.  Michael was engaging, fun and extremely talented with his words.  They were a terrific trio.  It was like something I had never seen before, and left me inspired.

Next stop on the map was a performance I was personally very excited for – Mutle Mothibe’s powerful showcase with the children of Grassroots.  Held in the perfect venue of the National Museum, the group had a huge crowd ready for them.  For me, this was the highlight of the day.  Watching the Grassroots kids on the side as they prepared, they looked anxious and pretty terrified.  When they took to the stage… well, it was another story.  They presented MC performances, hip hop acts, acoustic renditions of popular songs, incredible singer-songwriters and jaw-dropping dances.  It was a feast of talent – there’s no other way I can describe it.

It wasn’t even the talent that left me so speechless.  For every performer, it was clear how much it meant to them.  With the countless talent-less celebrities filling our TV screens day after day, to see real, raw talent within people who had so much passion was absolutely beautiful to witness.  Particularly with the kids that had written their own work, it was stunning to watch – at times it left me on the verge of tears it was so sublime.  The positive messages resounding in the showcase was truly inspiring and reminded the audience of the brightness and wonder all around us – particularly in an age where all too often the negative aspects of the world weigh people down.

A surprise performance came from Martin Daws joining Mutle on the stage – the two had spent the week under the same hotel roof, and it was evident they had become great friends.  They took to the stage doing what Mutle does best – turning sincere and tender words into pure art.

The showcase ended with a glorious bang, in a collaborative piece between Cardiff and South Africa where everyone joined on stage.  Every single performer here was given a chance to show their fantastic talents to the upbeat crowd – which by now was huge!  The electric atmosphere inside the museum was magnified as instruments were scattered throughout the crowd, ensuring each and every person inside the museum was a part of the party.  It was the perfect end in the perfect venue to a perfect event.

Celebrations in Chapter..

After an inspiring screening of animation students from Oslo, Norway and Newport’s work, the Takeover crowd were invited to enjoy the food and drink of Chapter.  It was a fantastic chance for performers to mix and for connections to be formed.  The atmosphere was incredible – everyone was so proud and empowered by the work they had seen and performed.

I left the night feeling motivated and moved.  To be around such fantastic, inspiring people – not just the performers, but the incredible people that made Takeover Cardiff possible – was an invigorating experience.  It is rare to be around people that share such passion and dedication, and for that, Takeover is an event I will take with me for the rest of my life.