Category Archives: Arts

Shaadi Dance

Hail Britannia in Contemporary Ballet

George Balanchine, who was one of the early promoters of contemporary ballet, described his work as a melange of different influences weaved into a form which itself is a mesh of classical ballet and modern dance.

“God creates.  I do not create.  I assemble and I steal from everywhere to do it – from what I see, from what the dancers can do, from what others do…”

George Balanchine

Hail Britannia is four new pieces of contemporary ballet reflecting many such diverse influences.  Performed by Murley Dance, each piece shows different aspects of British culture and is set among three acts.  It is performed by 14 professional dancers who have a wide range of experience (such as the English National Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Bucharest National Opera Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet).

Hail Britannia programmes

Image Credit: Murley Dance

Choreographed by Anaish Parmar, the first act is devoted to a piece called Shaadi which is the Hindi word for marriage.  Attired in colourful garb, the dancers were exuberant in their joy.  The dances depicted a traditional Indian marriage and its related customs such as the Mehndi (henna) party for the bride.

Shaadi Dance

Image Credit: Murley Dance

The music was also a mix of Hindi and English songs.  Of course, A Brimful of Asha was featured.


Image credit: Murley Dance

The second act has two set pieces, one set in British history and the other in modern times. Wayward Kinship (choreographed by Richard Chappell) tells the story of the troubled relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, which eventually ends in the murder of Becket by Henry II’s knights.

Wayward Kinship Dance

Image Credit: Murley Dance

Choreographed by David Murley, Frisky Claptrap is set to a background of a train station and scenes of the countryside rolling in the background.  The dancers are 3 backpackers who travel around England looking for oddly-named towns (e.g., Happy Bottom, Bushy Gap, Fannyfield etc.).  The humour is along the traditional lines of Benny Hill comedy.

Frisky Claptrap

Image Credit: Murley Dance

The third act, called Highgrove Suite, was also choreographed by David Murley.  Highgrove Suite was commissioned by HRH The Prince of Wales to celebrate the gardens at his country home, Highgrove House, from renowned composer Patrick Hawes in 2009.  Due to its association with the Prince Charles who is famously fond of tradition, you knew it was going to be more classical in feel and look – no Kings and Archbishops in short shorts for him.  My daughter would have loved the ballerinas in big, poufy tutus.

ballerinas in tutus

The music was absolutely beautiful (Prince Charles got his money’s worth).  The dance tells the story of a woman’s growth through innocence, maturity and love.  In the end, our heroine runs off with a gladiator (??) having escaped her widowed mother’s stifling grief.  I have no idea what the symbolism of the gladiator was supposed to have been.  If you tie it into the Benny Hill aspects of the previous act, perhaps he artfully wielded his sword.

Highgrove Suite

Image Credit: Murley Dance

Contemporary ballet is released from the strictures of classical ballet in that it may not tell a story.  The works in Hail Britannia are loosely related in depicting British history and culture.  My favourite was Shaadi which I thought was a very clever merging of Indian culture and music with a Western dance form.  You can catch Hail Britannia at its last performance this season on October 25th in Cheltenham.

Tom Woof by Coffey Architects

A Tom Vac By Any Other Name

The Tom Vac Chair  was designed by Ron Arad in 1999 for Vitra.  Made from steel and polypropylene, this chair not only looks good but makes an even more comfortable seat.  Incredibly versatile, this chair can be used both indoors and outdoors and also can be stacked five high.

I particularly like this bright yellow rocking chair version.

As part of Clerkenwell Design Week 2014 and to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the chair, Vitra asked about 20 design practices to customise the chair any way they wanted.  Here is an interview with Ron Arad where he talks about the chair and the different variations created in its honour.

I saw the customised entries at the Vitra showroom in Clerkenwell.  The creativity unleashed on the Tom Vac was astounding!  These are my favourite customisations:

Reflect-on by Make Architects

The Reflect-on by Make Architects was inspired by the original Tom Vac’s inspiration which was a sculpture in Milan.  The figurines were created by the people at the architecture practice.  As a result, this piece is supposed to blur the lines between sculpture, furniture and architecture.  I think it looks like a giant vortex where the people are sucked into the hole. Maybe I have been watching too many sci-fi movies!

Reflect on by Make Architects

Reflect-on by Make Architects

Udder Tom

This is the Udder Tom which has the chair representing a cow feeding lots of cows.  Interesting idea to have the white plastic dripping down as milk.

The Udder Tom by M Moser Architects

The Udder Tom by M Moser Architects

Tom Woof

This piece is Tom Woof which has the chair part created to look like one of those hats dogs wear after surgery so they don’t lick or bite their wounds.

Tom Woof by Coffey Architects

Tom Woof by Coffey Architects

Tom Void

This piece called Tom Void is very conceptual.  The designers took a mold of the Tom Vac chair  and then removed the chair itself.  Only the concrete cast is left and hence, the subtitle – Where Tom Gone?  Sorry, the subtitle reminds me of a children’s story book.

Tom Void (Where Tom Gone?) by GMW Architects

Tom Void (Where Tom Gone?) by GMW Architects

Those Were The Days

This piece entitled Those Were The Days is actually the Tom Vac created as a swing seat.  I actually think the candy-coloured buttons are very pretty and the whole thing has a sweet nostalgia very different from the original.  Of all the designs I liked, this one is the only one that can even pretend to be for seating.

Those Were The Days by HLW Internatioanl

Those Were the Days by HLW International


I did not take a good photo of this Tom Vac customisation.  Seen from the side, this piece called mVac is actually the Tom Vac turned into a gramophone.  Very clever use of the shape!

mvac+ Don't Sit Just Listen by HLW International

mvac+ Don’t Sit Just Listen by HLW International

Get Into The Groove ’97

The last one I really thought was clever was this piece which created a collage on the Tom Vac and made it a very Pop Art piece.  I have no idea what it means but anything referencing Mother Teresa, the Verve, Roy Lichtenstein, Madonna, Roald Dahl and Hanson lyrics in the same piece is a winner with me.

Get Into The Groove '97 by ID:SR

Get Into The Groove ’97 by ID:SR

If I had to choose among them, I think I would go with Tom Woof.  I love dogs and one of the funniest memories I have of our dog is how pitiful he looked when he was wearing one of those dog hats.  Really, he was so hamming it up – you would have thought his life was over.  What do you think? Which one is your favourite?

Prophet Joel

The Little Church Which Is A Modern Art Masterpiece

You know you live in a swish area when the stained glass windows of your local church were made by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.  The windows were a gift from the Rockefeller family who live nearby in their Kykuit estate in New York.   Some of the church goers, however, didn’t want them because they were too “modern”.  Who turns down a free Chagall??  The Rockefellers eventually won the point and got to install their windows.

Union Church

Union Church
Photo: Richard Chen

In case you didn’t know, the Rockefellers are a very rich and powerful American family who built their fortunes in the oil business in the late 19th century.  The family patriarch John D. Rockefeller Sr was the first American to become a billionaire.  If you account for inflation, he is considered the richest man in history.  You probably recognise the family name from the New York City landmark they built, Rockefeller Plaza.

Anyway, I was visiting friends who live in Westchester (a Northern suburb of New York City) and stopped by the Union Church of Pocantico Hills to see its windows.  The non-denominational Protestant church is a small stone structure built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1921.  The interior is a pared down Neo-gothic style.

union chapel

Union Church Interior
photo: Jaime Martorano

The only adornment in the tiny church are the stained glass windows which are simply stunning.  The light filtering through the windows even on a cloudy day like the day I went was spectacular.  It reminded me of Saint Chapelle in Paris in that respect – a small jewel box of colour.

The Matisse is behind the altar and the 9 Chagalls are on the sides and the rear.  The Matisse window was commissioned as a memorial to Junior’s wife, Abby, who was one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  The Matisse window is the last work of the artist.  Poor Matisse was wheelchair bound and very ill and tried to refuse the commission.  No one says no to a Rockefeller though.  Get the general drift here??

Matisse Window

Matisse Window
Photo: geoffreyzheng

When Junior died, his children installed a large stained glass window depicting the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan in his memory.  Interestingly, Junior was not a fan of modern art!


The Good Samaritan Window
photo: Jassy-50

Chagall and his wife had fled the Nazis to arrive in New York due to a Rockefeller-funded program which rescued over 2000 prominent artists whose lives were at risk.  The other Chagall stained glass windows depict scenes from the Old Testament, such as prophets and the angels guarding the Garden of Eden,  in deference to his Jewish faith.

Prophet Joel

The Prophet Joel
Photo: geoffreyzheng

In the 1950’s Picasso was quoted as saying:

When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.

This church shows off these two masters’ understanding of colour to great effect.  The stained glass windows are an inspiring harmony of colours.  I personally find it is easier to believe in the divine when you are surrounded by such beauty.

Union Church has its own free smartphone app which allows you tour the artwork from the comfort your own home.  If you do have a chance though, I would encourage to stop by the church and see the stained glass windows in person.

french fields

Itching for an Etching

My family and I went out to the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea a couple of weeks ago. Our children like these fairs because the art is quite approachable.  No one tells them to shush and maintain their dignity.  They like looking for quirky artwork and usually there is some sort of art activity for children such as printmaking or pastels.  This year we used pastels to create butterflies which I have now put in colourful Ikea frames for their rooms.


At the fair, we met Meg Dutton who had a stand with these amazingly detailed prints of Moorish architecture.  She is a British artist who works in London and finds inspiration from London and her trips abroad.  She focuses on the pattern and detail in her subjects.

Meg Dutton

Meg started talking to us because Mr. N and I were standing around discussing what the R.E. after her name meant.  We assumed it wasn’t Religious Education.  She told us R.E. is the abbreviation for the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers (formerly the Royal Society of Painter Etchers and Engravers).  Started in 1880, this society was a counterpart to the Royal Academy who were too snooty to recognise printmaking as a creative art.

Her prints are in black and white as well as colour.  She adds a gentle wash of watercolour  for a soft look which does not overpower the intricate details of the prints.

watercolour etching

Meg also now is starting to work with the landscape of the south of France as in this painting.  I love the pattern and colour of these fields which really evoke the feeling of France in the summer.

french fields

We couldn’t decide which prints we liked best – whether black and white or with watercolours.  The black and white really highlight the intricacy of the patterns but I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to colour.  What do you think? Which one would you pick?

dead vldi

The Wanderlust Travel Photo Contest

I’ve been stricken with wanderlust for as long as I can remember.  To help with the wanderlust (the condition), I am a big fan of Wanderlust (the magazine), an independent publication with a mix of interesting articles and insights for curious travellers.

Billed as the biggest and best travel competition in the UK, Wanderlust Magazine’s photography contest has 8000 entries from travel photographers.  The entries were separated into different categories: people, wildlife, landscape and icon for amateurs and a portfolio category open to both amateurs and professionals.  There were 40 finalists and then an individual winners, runner-ups and highly commended in each category.  The winners and other places are available to view on the Wanderlust website.

My favourite photo was taken by John Whitby, a semi-retired advisory teacher, in Ssoussvlei in Namibia.  It shows the Dead Vlei caught up in a sand storm which was swirling around them.  The Dead Vlei are trees which are believed to be about 900 years old.  They got caught in climate change when their habitat got overrun by the sand dunes.  The skeletons of the trees are black from being scorched by the intense sun.  They haven’t petrified because there isn’t enough moisture to decompose!  I would love to visit Namibia and see this phenomenon for myself.

dead vldi

Dead vlei in the Namibian desert

I’m so impressed with the skill and talent of these photographers.  It’s hard to believe that most of them are amateurs.  They give me hope that if I keep practicing, maybe someday….

So which one is your favourite?

lady anne costume

Discovering RSC Costumes: In Stitches

The RSC costume exhibit In Stitches is on display during the 2013/2014 season at Stratford-Upon-Avon.  In addition, during the showing of Richard II at the Barbican, some of the costumes in the exhibits were brought to London.  I can honestly say I had not given much thought to how much effort goes into theatre costumes until I saw this exhibit.

Here are some fascinating facts about RSC costumes:

  • The costumes use industrial-strength magnets or press stud fastenings instead of zippers so that actors can change outfits quickly.
  • The Running Wardrobe Team has to know a costume thoroughly so that quick changes can be made minutes.
  • The Dye Team goes through 80 kilos of dye in an average year.
  • The Dye Team is responsible for making costumes look worn and authentic before they appear on stage.
  • The Collection and Costume store stores more than 3000 outfits.
  • An RSC costume will be on stage for more than 100 performances and so are made to last the rigours of heavy wear.  They are also rented out for film and to other theatres.

The costume below was made for the character Kate in The Taming of the Shrew in 2003.  To look like she had fallen into a dirty puddle, paint was sponged onto the silk fabric, the cuffs were frayed and seams torn.  It clearly takes a lot of work to look like an elegant bedraggled mess!

This dress was made for the character Titiana in the 2008 revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This costume was made for the character Charles in the 2009 production of As You Like It.  The decorative braid was handmade.  Pinking shears were used to cut the leather and then stitched onto the doublet.  Finally, the holes were punched by hand — all 15,000+ of them!!

This outfit was made for the character Lady Anne in the 2011 production of Richard III.  The gold motif was made using fabric paint and stencils.  The stencils were specially made to follow the contours of the fabric.lady anne costume

This outfit was used for the prologue in Hamlet in its 2008 production.  The workmanship included applique, boning and corsetry.

The craftsmanship involved is incredible.  Design, tailoring, dying, printing, stencilling, leatherwork, beading, corsetry, millinery are only some of the skills required.  I’ll never look at a stage costume the same way again!

Creating Balance with Anglepoise

As part of the London Design Festival, I went to see the Creating Balance exhibit at the Speakeasy Expresso and Brew Bar in the Carnaby Street area of Central London.  You knew you were in the right place because a giant yellow Anglepoise greeted you on the street.

Giant Anglepoise

Creating Balance is a collaborative project among the iconic lamp, Anglepoise, Strong Island (the cultural center for the arts in Portsmouth) and the University of Portsmouth.

black and white

This year Anglepoise are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the original 1227 which has become a design icon for its spring technology, flexibility and balance.

paint splattered anglepoise

In the Creating Balance exhibit, 10 photographers were paired with 10 artists/designers and 1 Anglepoise light each to create as inspiration struck.  The Creating Balance website documents the year-long creative process which has resulted in posters, videos, and exhibitions.


Here’s one of the videos that was made.

Creating Balance Project – Farkfk & Russell Squires from The Creating Balance Project on Vimeo.

I thought this lamp which had a cup of sugar built onto a wooden base was really amusing.

wood art

Did I mention the Speakeasy makes a great cup of coffee?  I’m picky about my coffee – not too strong and not too weak – this one was perfect.  And, no, it wasn’t just because I was soaked to the skin from a torrential downpour before I came into the cafe.

speakeasy cup

Oh yes,  as you can see from the photos of the delicious treats on offer, spending time with the exhibition was not only inspiring but delicious.


This exhibit at the Speakeasy is open until tomorrow, September 22nd.  Alternatively, you can still catch the exhibit in January and February 2014 at Aspex in Portsmouth.

Creating Balance is part of the Icon Design Trail during London Design Festival.  I only had time for a couple of items on the Icon Trail.  Did you have a chance to go?  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Road Trip USA: Lego Art in New York City

On our road trip, we drove right through New Jersey to New York City.  Some might even say that’s the way it should be.   There are nice places in Jersey but we had too much we wanted to see in NYC.

On our must-see list was the Art of the Brick, an exhibition of artwork made out of Lego bricks by Nathan Sawaya, AKA the Brick Artist.  My son is a Lego fanatic and he was hung-ho about seeing how creative someone could get with Lego.

art of the brick logo

The artist, Nathan Sawaya, is the first person to use Lego as an art medium.  Having been a corporate lawyer, he decide to pursue a more creative career.  The exhibition is being shown at the Discovery Times Square Museum which is the former New York Times headquarters.  He uses the same Lego bricks available to everybody else in hopes of inspiring others to follow their creativity with their own Lego pieces.

Nathan’s works span a series of rooms with each room arranged thematically.  His most famous work is the man opening his chest to reveal bricks tumbling out.  Of course, all of his artwork is glued together to avoid museum mishaps.


I did not know that he had done many reproductions of famous paintings in Lego bricks.  For example, he did a replica of The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, the original of which is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Other famous works Nathan has reproduced in Lego include American Gothic by Grant Wood, The Scream by Edvard Munch and the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci.  I like that he did not limit himself to one genre, era, museum or nationality in choosing the ki works to copy.

I first learned adjectives through School House Rock.
I learned how to count to ten through Sesame Street.
I learned about gravity through my Slinky.
Imagine if a child learns about art history through LEGO!

Nathan Sawaya

Funny, I learned lots of things from Schoolhouse Rock and Sesame Street too.  I’m not perturbed if my children’s first experience with “Great Art” is in the form of Lego.  It’s no different from seeing copies in a book or doing a puzzle picture, both of which we have done.  I’m happy if they imbibe any form of culture.

Not limiting himself to paintings, Nathan also has done reproductions of famous sculptures.  For example, he has recreated The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer by Edgar Degas which is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

degas ballerina

Presumably, in an effort to be politically correct, Michaelangelo’s David has been emasculated.  I was a little perturbed.  I feel that if you are going to replicate something, do the whole thing, especially since the original David is supposed to represent perfect beauty.

Michaelangelo's David

The Lego artwork also encompasses themes pertaining to Nathan as an artist.

At the end of the exhibit, we were encouraged to write our names on Lego bricks.  Once the whole exhibition itself is over, Nathan plans on creating a piece of artwork incorporating all of the visitors’ names.


We thought it was a fabulous exhibit and my son was really inspired to think of Lego more in 3D terms.  I hope the exhibit goes on tour to Europe.  Currently, the plans are only for touring in North America, Asia and Australia.  It’s definitely worth seeing.

For more photos of the exhibit, please see my Flickr album.

Fun at the Fair

On Sunday, I lured my boys to the Art Car Boot Fair held in Brick Lane with the promise of vintage cars to drool over.   The Fair is a chance for top artists to let their hair down and engage with the public in a fun, informal way.   Lots of the art is sold from the back of a car just like in a regular car boot sale.

art car boot sale signThe sale was packed with artists, people, art bargains and a fun atmosphere.  We had a blast!

photo: Art Car Boot Fair

photo: Art Car Boot Fair

This year was the 10th anniversary of the annual Fair which was sponsored by Vauxhall. Of course, the cars were all Vauxhall and there were some beauties.

vauxhall vintage car

The Fair had party games to raise money for the charity Just for Kids Law which provides advice and representation who find themselves in a spot of bother with school or the law.  The games were out-takes on traditional child games, Pass the Art Parcel, Handbag Disco and Celebrity Bingo.  I wanted to participate in Handbag Disco where you dance around brown bags each filled with a handbag and when the music stops you grab a bag.  Everyone gets a bag and some lucky people got designer bags from Anya Hindmarch, Jimmy Choo etc.  Sadly, I couldn’t convince Mr. N (who thinks I have too many bags anyway) to stick around for the game.

Lots of people brought their dogs (including us).  There was a dog fashion show as well but our dog refused to wear a costume.

Over 60 artists were represented, including big names like Sir Peter Blake, Tracey Emin, the Binney Sisters, Pam Hogg, Gavin Turk and Wilma Johnson.  Most of the art was limited editions created specifically for the show.  For example, Turk sold balloons filled with Vauxhall car exhaust (see below).

Some of the artists created limited edition tax discs which are still available for sale through Pretty Taxing.

photo:  Pretty Taxing

photo: Pretty Taxing

If you would like to see more photos, check out my Flickr stream.

What do you think?  I loved the atmosphere but Mr. N felt he couldn’t appreciate the art because of the crowded fair setting.  Do you like to view art in a gallery or anywhere you can find it?

For the Weekend: Near and Far

It’s a long weekend here in the United Kingdom in honour of the May Day holiday.  If you are staying in London, here are 2 options to amuse the family, one closer to home than the other.

The Sony World Photography Awards are a prestigious world photography award.  Photographers of winners and finalists are on show  at Somerset House until the May 12th.  If you have younger children, however, cultural excursions might be expecting too much from them.  My friend Beata took her two children (2 and 3 years old, respectively) last week to see Peppa Pig World.

My two options are in quite the broad range, no?  From the sublime to the ridiculous.  That’s family life for you in a nutshell.

Sony World Photography Awards 2013

My friend and I took our children to see these awards last weekend.  Our children were entranced by the various photographs .  Admittedly, the show was crowded and a little seating area where the photographs were on rotation on a Sony TV helped with the shortest viewers’ enjoyment.  Our cultural jaunt was capped off with a play in the Somerset House fountains and a walk across Waterloo Bridge.

The winner of the prestigious L’Iris d’Or was Norwegian photographer Andrea Gsetvang whose series titled “One Day in History” captured portraits of survivors of the July 2011 massacre on the island of Utoeya.  These particular photographs and their significance went complete over the heads of our young children.  They were more interested in the photographs of landscapes, architecture and animals.

Peppa Pig World

Mercifully, my children have outgrown Peppa Pig.  If you have under-fives however, Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park in the New Forest in Hampshire is bound to be a hit.  My friend, Beata, who owns, Fitness VIP, a personal training studio in Primrose Hill, took her two young children and one of their friends to Peppa Pig World this past week.  I expect being a personal trainer helped her with the patience and endurance required for this trip.  Needless to say the children enjoyed themselves immensely.  One of the children said it was even better than Disneyland.  That’s probably going to far, I expect.

Beata reports that she enjoyed the day as well, even though the park is geared for those under 5 years old.  The park is clean and safe with a playground area and picnicking spots.   There is also a little zoo and non-Peppa rides for older children.  It took her about 2 hours to drive from Primrose Hill to the park which is probably enough time for them to practice their pig snorts.  Just like her fitness studio, you could spot the occasional celebrity (except that in Pig World, they were pink, round and snorted a lot).

Whatever you get up to, enjoy your long weekend!  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.