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Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby at Leeds Grand Theatre

NorthernBalletGatsby

Gatsby has never been a character I especially get on with: I find him weak, dull and obscure. I know F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is a classic and a favourite book for many, but the great unrequited love and the life spent trying to get closer to a lost woman doesn’t really do much for an unromantic pragmatist like me.

What the book does well though, is paint a teasing picture of the twenties, hinting at silks and pearls and champagne and swimming pools and mansions, leaving me lost in reveries of fabulous parties and all night dancing. I hoped that this Northern Ballet production of Gatsby would help to recreate that feeling and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The costumes in particular are gorgeous. Gatsby sports an impeccably tailored cream suit that looks closely fitted but allows for an astonishing range of movement, while Daisy graces the stage in a series of fantastic beaded, floaty or feathered drop-waisted dresses. The party scenes are all I could ever dream of: raucous, riotous, crowded, sexy and fun.

Gatsby isn’t the most simple of stories to tell and I was unsurprised to hear a few people around us googling the storyline in the interval. Despite being fairly familiar with the book I struggled a little, and thought it could have done with pruning down a little to keep the key themes cleaner and clearer. Still, the reunion of Gatsby and Daisy is beautifully done and leads to two incredible duets. Tobias Batley as Gatsby is good (although perhaps lacking a little vulnerability), but Martha Leebolt as Daisy is mesmerising. She plays the rebellious socialite perfectly, and the control she has over her body is astonishing to a ballet newbie like myself. I didn’t appreciate it at first, but when I saw her skid across the stage then stop abruptly en pointe, calf muscles taut and body erect, my jaw almost hit the floor. I can’t even imagine the physical condition she has to maintain to pull off moves like that! Other highlights were the burly Kenneth Tindall as jocular Tom, and Benjamin Mitchell as the spurned George Wilson, who pulls off some impressive moves with a car tyre (it’s ballet folks, but not as we know it).

You’ve only got a few more days to go see this, but I’d highly recommend it. Make sure you have at least a passing familiarity with the story before you go, to make sure you enjoy it as much as possible.

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Opera North’s Otello at Leeds Grand Theatre

Ronald Samm as Otello and David Kempster as Iago. Photo by Clive Barda

Ronald Samm as Otello and David Kempster as Iago. Photo by Clive Barda

Well, lately I’ve been a pretty shoddy blogger. Since I changed jobs, I find that working evenings and weekends is incredibly prohibitive when it comes to covering the kind of things I love to write about. There’s also a temptation to relish my few evenings in, especially over winter, by shutting myself in the flat with the heating on full and a stack of books. But, when Emma, aka the Culture Vulture tweeted about the event she was running in conjunction with Opera North for bloggers to see their production of Otello, which was on my night off, I forced myself to sign up.

I’ve dabbled in opera before, having  attended a night of opera duets, which I loved, and a new opera that I wasn’t so keen on. This was my first full length, ‘classic’ opera, and if I’m honest I completely loved it. Everyone I spoke from the PR at Opera North to the lady I was sat next to for the performance said it was the perfect opera for a beginner and I agree. Because I knew the story, I didn’t have to focus too much on the subtitles (which can be distracting, and sometimes read a little strangely after translation) and I could enjoy the music, which was gorgeous.

The opening act is huge, with about thirty performers on stage, blending their voices to create a wall of sound that’s beautifully controlled. The second and third acts see Iago capitalising on every possible opportunity to act upon his scheme to drive Othello crazy and usurp his power. They’re full of intense solos that perfectly capture the character’s mood, as well as a few confrontations that were acted as well as they were sang. The fourth and final act was a complete contrast to the first, featuring Desdemona, alone in her marital bed, singing a heartbreaking song that her mother’s servant used to sing after she was abandoned by her lover, praying, and then being confronted and killed by Otello. These final scenes were an absolute highlight and so moving that I did find myself blinking really hard.

At the time I felt I’d enjoyed the performance, but not exactly been wowed by it. As time has progressed, though, I’ve found myself dwelling on it a lot, and realised I really loved the experience. I loved the way the story was compressed but still full of emotion and narrative, and the gorgeous staging really helped. I actually thought this was more accessible than watching a Shakespeare play, thanks to the plain English subtitles and streamlined plot. I’d liken it to a good film adaptation of a book – tailored perfectly to the medium, taking the key scenes that will work best in opera and making the most of them.

I’d absolutely recommend Otello to anyone who thinks they might be interested, as I had a fantastic time and can’t wait for my next Opera North production. I’m thinking it might be their upcoming double bill of Dido and Aeneas/La Voix Humaine which looks fab!

Here are opinions from a few other of the attendees from the blogger event, if you fancy reading a few different views:

@junrussell: ‘It started with a bang and ended in tears.’

@emglobetrotter: ‘I felt myself literally on the edge of my seat’

@craftyblueberry: ‘would I go to the opera again? I’m quite surprised to find that yes, I would’

@jon_cronshaw: ‘something really needs to be done about the shushers and the tutters’

@leedsjourno: ‘I never fail to be amazed by the three-dimensional nature of live opera’

@jamesagrayson: ‘opera and theatre organisations need to look at attracting younger faces’

@salliex: ‘I found it inaccessible and outdated’

@littletinykate: ‘To enjoy opera, you’ve got to like the music and I just don’t, really’

@theotleyguide: ‘too much bitter scheming, death and anguish and not enough sweetness’

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12 things I’m looking forward to in Leeds in 2012

As an antidote to my gloomy commute and the horrific weather over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about some of the fun things that are happening this year in our lovely city of Leeds…

Exciting theatre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

The Playhouse have tons of exciting stuff happening this year. I’m particularly looking forward to absurdist tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, which just started rehearsing this week. Also in the pipeline are second instalments of both Furnace and Transform, which promise to be even more adventurous and exciting in 2012.

The Olympic Torch

Is that lame? Is that too mainstream and uncool and a waste of taxpayer’s money? Well, sorry, but I can’t wait! Perhaps that’s just because I’m one of what seems to be a very few people who have actually managed to get Olympics tickets. There’ll be an ‘evening celebration’, apparently, when the torch reaches the city centre on Sunday 24th June, and I’m thinking there’ll be fireworks…

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

As much as I ask, no-one seems to be able to tell me if we’ll still get that bank holiday if the Queen doesn’t quite make it to next June? Apparently it’s a morbid thought. Anyhow, I’m really hoping everything goes to plan because a diamond jubilee calls for bunting and tea parties and cake and I LOVE all of those things. Let’s make Leeds the centre of the celebrations!

Joining Leeds Book Club

This month is the month I join the Arcadia branch of the Leeds Book Club, which I totes can’t wait for. Book the first is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, (which I’m hoping arrives from Amazon, like, NOW so I actually have time to read it) and it looks really good. I’m looking forward to meeting other Leeds-based bookworms for fun times.

Baking at Iron Cupcake: Leeds

Although I’ve attended, I’ve never entered Leeds’ premier cupcake competition. However, bring on February’s freestyle month because I have my ticket and I am there. Being very much an amateur, I’m counting this as a practice round. However, before I enter for a second time, I’ll employ my secret weapon: I have a voucher for a cupcake lesson at the Sunshine Bakery.

Watching Leeds Arena take shape

Whilst the Trinity Leeds project makes me want to throw things, I’m completely on board with the Arena. It’s about time the citizens of Leeds were able to attend an arena concert without trekking across the Pennines and paying for a hotel, or getting hives from worrying about whether you’ll make the last train home. It’s not due to open until early 2013 (so probably November time), but over the next few months I think we’ll really be able to see things coming together. Rather unnecessarily, you can watch the construction live here.

Big musical numbers at Leeds Grand Theatre

There’s something a bit magical about Leeds Grand Theatre. I like to get dressed up when I go, and have a nice meal beforehand, and stroll through the lamplit streets afterwards with friends or a significant other. This year my highlights will be Dirty Dancing and the amazing, incredible Phantom of the Opera, which I’ve been dying to see again after my first viewing in theWest End in 2007.

Summer in the City

Shall we just pretend that it’s going to be this incredibly hot summer, and the sun will just beat down on us for three solid months, and no-one will bother to go on holiday because it’s too warm, but instead we’ll all go to Kirkstall Abbey or Hyde Park or Millennium Square and eat ice creams and play rounders, and we’ll all wear shorts or sundresses with flip flops, and there’ll be zero crime because everyone’s so happy, and anyway, it’s just too hot? Yes, let’s!

Heritage Open Days

I had a really busy work schedule for 2011’s Heritage Open Days, which was really disappointing, so this year I plan to be out in force. In particular I want to have a good nosey around Leeds Grand Theatre, and take a guided walk in an area I’m unfamiliar with.

Light Night Leeds

Last year’s Light Night was my first, and I got home from it completely exhausted! I felt like I’d never worked so hard for my entertainment before. The ideal for me would have been three Light Nights on consecutive nights, each in different parts of the city (say, the university, the cultural quarter and the city centre). However I’m sure this brings heaps of administrative problems that I know nothing about. This time, I want to make the most of things by setting out with a more structured plan, and maybe focussing on one geographical area.

Meeting more Twitter faces

This year I’ve met some lovely people including the tireless Emma Bearman of @culturevultures, the insanely talented Abi Manifold (@SewYou) and the hilarious Wendy Denman, aka @Wandapops. This year, I’ll be aggressively seeking out all of you, so watch out.

Developing my blog

It’s been an exciting 4 ½ months since I posted my first blog post in August, and I’ve been on a real journey. It took me a couple of months to get the confidence to put my name to it, and soon I think I’ll even put my face to it! This year I’ll be putting together a new blog header, introducing guest posters and possibly changing the blog name…watch this space.

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Coming Soon in Leeds: December Roundup

If the crowds at Millennium Square’s Christkindelmarkt are anything to go by, it’s certainly going strong after ten years here. Although it’s horrendously busy and drastically overpriced, it’s also the only place in Leeds you can buy honey, a metal wine bottle holder and a snow globe at 9pm, so you’ll just have to suck it up! Seriously though, the chalets and fairy lights and busy-ness all combine for a kitsch and cheesy but super Christmassy atmosphere. It’s worth a stroll through in the early evening for a pretzel and a mulled wine in a vile seventies ‘Christmas’ mug.

For a slightly more local experience, don’t forget our very own Kirkgate Market, which will be staying open until 8pm every Thursday in the run up for Christmas.

Of course it’s pantomime season, and this year Denise Nolan is starring as the villain in Beauty and the Beast over at the Carriageworks (Oh no she isn’t, etc etc). It’s on from 2nd December until 7th January and is fun for all the family. Personally, though, I’ll be holding out for Northern Ballet’s version of Beauty and the Beast, on at Leeds Grand Theatre from the 17th to the 31st December. It’s the world premiere, don’tcha know?

Voluntary Action Leeds is a charity that matches volunteers with third sector organisations in Leeds. They also offer training and advice for both organisations and volunteers. You can support them this month by going to the Lord Mayor’s Carol Concert on the 15th December at the Town Hall.

If you’ve had your fill of festive fun, though, then why not take a stroll down to the Henry Moore Institute? From the 1st December right through until March they have United Enemies – an exhibition dedicated to the sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s, described as a defining period in sculpture’s history. It’s there 7 days a week but on Wednesdays they’re open until 9pm. It looks to be the perfect antidote to frenzied Christmas shoppers.

Alternatively, Adam Ant at the O2 Academy with his new act The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse on the 10th December should be pretty season neutral. Likewise if you need some laughs, the Courtyard Comedy Club at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 18th December is a steal at just £11.

And if all that isn’t enough, perhaps you need a stiff drink inside you. Headingley Ale Festival is running on the 9th, 10th and 11th of December, with your £4.50 ticket (available on the door only) getting you a free pint. There’s a vegan ale among the 45+ on offer, and award winning Yorkshire business I’s Pies will be serving their gourmet handmade pies.

Also – it’s Christmas, so do enjoy that, chaps, if it’s up your street.

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Coming Soon in Leeds: November Roundup

Art

Golau Glau (pronounced Goll-eye Gl-eye) is an anonymous collective who met in Wales but are now based around Leeds. They bill themselves as musicians, photographers and artists, and their first art exhibition is at Test Space Leeds from the 10th to the 13th November. The opening night on Thursday the 10th, kicking off at 7.30pm, involves a free gig with a live performance from Hookworms and some DJ sets. There’s another event on Saturday 12th at 2.30pm, with another DJ set and a talk from Lauren Smith of Voices for the Library about library closures (Golau Glau are particularly interested in environments under threat). All events, and the exhibition, are free.

From the 25th November, the Northern Art Prize exhibition opens at Leeds Art Gallery. The four shortlisted artists will have their work displayed there until 19th February, and the winner will be announced on 19th January. There are also talks with each artist and their nominator throughout November and December, priced at £5/£3 concessions. Contact the gallery to book.

Theatre

Practically the whole of November at the Leeds Grand is devoted to We Will Rock You, which is here for four weeks and selling incredibly well. Are you ready to be transported to the future, to a world where the Bohemians are searching for a hero to lead them back to that golden age – known as the Rhapsody – when kids had instruments, formed their own bands and wrote their own songs? Then book tickets here. They’re pricey, but by all accounts it’s an incredible show.

This Christmas the West Yorkshire Playhouse is taking on the orphan of all orphans, Annie. It runs from 25th November to 15th January and promises to be a lovely family treat for Christmas.

If you’re looking for belly laughs, try One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, or if you want something to get you thinking, it’s got to be Can We Talk About This. For work with a Yorkshire flavour, the Lawrence Batley Theatre has We Are Three Sisters, about the Brontes.

Digital

The Leeds Digital Festival official launch is on the 1st November. There are tons of events happening: I’m at the Girl Geek Dinner so say hi! Write-Publish-Read, Culture Hack North and Snapshot Leeds all look fab.

The Chol Generation Event is a day of talks and workshops for emerging artistic producers who need help in getting their work up and running. Culture Vultures’ Emma Bearman will teach you Twitter tricks, Sara Robinson does 1 on 1 coaching sessions and Jenny Wilson helps you define and refine your ideas.

Bonfire Night

For some reason, the council seems to be embracing Friday 4th November as Bonfire Night, and that’s when all the bigger bonfires are being held. There’s a list of what’s going on here: as always,RoundhayPark is looking like the main event (and the most difficult to get to).

For a twist on Bonfire Night, try Mike Hoyland’s Pre-Bonfire Night Spectacular, which is an annual event in the style of a chemistry lecture, featuring explosions galore. This year it’s moved to Leeds City Museum from its usual venue at the University. It’s on Thursday 3rd November at 7pm.

Film Festival

This is what everyone’s talking about! The Leeds International Film Festival turns 25 this year and they’re pulling out all the stops. The big buzz is around festival opener Wuthering Heights, controversially grotesque horror The Human Centipede 2 and Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns. For hints and tips, see the festival’s Communications Manager Kay Brown’s picks, Kirsty Ware’s organisational tactics and this preview post from My Life in Leeds.

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Coming Soon in Leeds: October Round Up

This unseasonable good weather has certainly been a boon to our ailing spirits this past week, but alas – it is not to last. Soon, the nights will grow colder and darker, and come 5pm we’ll all be hurrying home to eat comforting stews and warming pies. At the weekend we’ll venture out for only necessities, clad in cardigans and cagoules.

Lovely as that sounds, the spanner in the works, of course, is that October in Leeds is going to be an extremely exciting month! Everywhere you turn there’s an event or an exhibition, a festival or a fair. Here are the highlights.

Of course the one that everyone’s talking about this month is Light Night Leeds, which is on Friday 7th October at various venues around Leeds city centre. This is a multi-artform festival with 75 different events across 40+ venues. Almost all the events are free, but you do need to book in advance for some of them, which could be in smaller venues or be exceptionally popular. Check the downloadable programme for the full list of events and get planning your evening. My picks include number 23: The Leeds Festival Chorus performing short, haunting pieces at 3 different venues across the evening; 64: a burger-style van serving up free, personalised poems made to order and 54: a tour of the clocktower at Leeds Town Hall. If you find you haven’t left any time in your schedule for dinner, don’t worry: you can swing by Millenium Square where vendors including @nofishybusiness and @manjitskitchen will be selling quality hot food to eat on the go.

October is also Black History Month, and Leeds City Museum have put together a special trail around the museum. Pick up a leaflet from reception and follow the trail to learn more about this special month.

Temple Newsam have got two interesting weekends coming up this month. On both the 15th and 16th October, they are holding an event called Fungus Foray and Mushroom Medley. There’ll be a short talk to teach some of the basics: what’s edible and what’s not, what will kill you instantly, etc. Then a walk around the grounds, to forage for mushrooms. It’s £5/£3 concessions and starts at the Stable Courtyard, Temple Newsam at 2pm on both the Saturday and the Sunday. Call 0113 264 5535 to book your place. Meanwhile on the 22nd and 23rd October, discover Temple Newsam at night on a ghost walk for ages 8+ only. The Woman in Black and her loyal servant will take you through the House and grounds, all the while telling chilling tales of murder and mystery. £7.50/£4 concession.

Bookworms are spoilt for choice this month as the region hosts not one but two literature festivals. The one in Ilkley is running from 30th September to the 16th October while Morley is a bit shorter, running from 8th to 16th October. A couple of authors are attending both events, so if you can’t make their date at one, check the other. Headliners include Ranulph Fiennes, Alan Hollinghurst, Jon Ronson, Ian Rankin, Emma Henderson and Janet Street-Porter, whilst there will be expert talks on the Brontes, Dickens and the Bible. There’s also writing workshops, poetry recitals, academic lectures and a healthy dose of Doctor Who. Something for everyone!

If you’re a foodie, as well as the usual farmer’s markets we have a special new event at the Corn Exchange this month. Cornucopia Leeds is a two day extravaganza with stalls from local, independent food retailers and producers. Some great names have signed up already including @doughleeds, @theyummyyank and @indieices. It’s free entry and happening from 10am to 5pm on the 22nd and 23rd October.

There are tons more events that I don’t have the time or space to give them the attention they deserve. They include Ways of Looking, a photography festival in Bradford for the whole month, this fantastic Abolition exhibition, secret Bettakultcha and all. The. Amazing. Theatre. Happening in the region. Ignore the gloomy weather, get out there and make the most of Leeds this month!

You can stay at home in November, that’ll probably be crap. Nothing happens in November.

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This Weekend in Leeds: 23rd to 25th September

Stuck for something to do this weekend? Fear not: as per usual the calendar is jam packed with fabulous events.

If you’re a fashionista on a budget, or you like your threads to be one of a kind, check out The UK’s Big Vintage and Fashion Fair on Saturday and Sunday in The Light Leeds. In attendance will be Leeds staple Blue Rinse along with Laura Baker Vintage, Curious Cat and many more. 

There’s a foodie double whammy this weekend. The Headrow is hosting the World Curry Festival  from Friday to Sunday, so pop down for free samples, demonstrations and charity events. You can book free tickets online but it doesn’t seem to be necessary – a lot of people are just turning up. Meanwhile Saturday and Sunday sees the Holmfirth Food and Drink Festival which features brewery tours, arts and crafts, local produce and children’s entertainment.

If all this sounds a bit too much like hard work, why not spend a quiet hour or three in Leeds Art Gallery?  The most popular exhibition at the minute is Artist Rooms: Damien Hirst which features a good range of his work. It’s easy to miss the ‘Pharmacy’ section of the exhibition, which is on your right before you even go in the main entrance, so make sure you see it – it’s a recreation of the restaurant of the same name which was in Notting Hill from 1997 to 2003, and was decorated with various artworks by Hirst. While you’re in the gallery, have a sandwich and a cup of tea in the lovely café. 

 

The lovely Tiled Hall Cafe at Leeds Art Gallery. Picture by Karen V Bryan

 

King Lear opens at West Yorkshire Playhouse  tonight. Starring Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role, it’s bound to be a corker. Alternatively, Saturday is your next chance to see Madama Butterfly by Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre. There’s a pre show talk too, which is free, but you do need to book your place.

Finally, there’s a citywide Zombie game taking over Leeds tonight, Kirkstall Deli Market  in Kirkstall Abbey grounds tomorrow and a poetry festival at the Carriageworks tomorrow night.

That should put you guys on for now…. If there’s anything I’ve missed, do let me know! Are you organising or attending something new and amazing? Let me know! Comment below or email me:cultureleeds@gmail.com.

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