Best whisky 2018: The smoothest Scotch, bourbon (and more) whiskies

 

Malts, grains, blends and bourbons – there’s nothing quite like a dram to warm away the winter blues

Whisky (or, as our friends across the Irish Sea would have it, whiskey) has long been a popular tipple in the British Isles, with a history dating back to at least the 15th century. Empire and emigration took the spirit worldwide, and whisky is now globally popular in three distinct types: peaty, double-distilled Scotch whisky; lighter, triple-distilled Irish whiskey; and the sweeter bourbon-style whiskies produced in the US. After a lull in the late 20th century, whisky drinking is on the rise, and it’s not uncommon to find a good selection of malts and blends in your local pub.

But how do you find the best dram? We’ve sipped our way through a selection to help you find the whisky (or whiskey) that will best suit you.

Continue reading at Expert Reviews

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Shobana Jeyasingh Dance — Bayadère – The Ninth Life


Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 16-17 October 2017
Reviewed by Lise Smith

9thlife

It’s almost 30 years since Chennai-born Shobana Jeyasingh launched her company with the arresting abstract work Configurations. In the intervening three decades, Jeyasingh’s work has run the gamut of styles and themes: from the life of plants to the Indian sport of kabbadi; from food culture to musings on mortality and the existence of god. First presented at the ROH Linbury Studio in 2015, Bayadère – The Ninth Life is now enjoying a second outing in a new co-production with Sadler’s Wells.

Since 2015, Jeyasingh has reworked sections of the performance to bring clarity and definition to the three-act structure. The first section uses projected text messages to detail the amused fascination with which an on-stage actor (Adi Chugh) reacts to his friend’s description of Marius Petipa’s 1877 ballet La Bayadère. This great classic of the Russian repertory is loved by ballet fans for its melodramatic narrative, challenging choreography and the two strong female roles of princess Gamzatti and temple dancer Nikiya.

While the ballet is much-loved, there’s no escaping the orientalising and othering impulses of the 19th century on this pantomime vision of India: all exotic temples, harem pants, and a scuttling holy man – possibly a Shaiva shaman, possibly a creature of pure fantasy, but almost always nonsensically referred to in cast lists as a “fakir”. Petipa’s Bayadère is beautiful to watch, but also discomfiting, and Chugh’s disbelieving responses to blackface in 21st century performance and a “pure Bollywood” storyline reflect Jeyasingh’s own mixed feelings towards the ballet.

Chugh’s unseen correspondent describes La Bayadère’s plot in meticulous detail, with company members popping into a little box on stage to perform short vignettes extracted from the ballet. These live vignettes are simultaneously projected in deliberately jerky, looping videos that look like animated gifs; both live and video snippets set up movement motifs that echo into the later sections of the performance, but in truth the repeated video projection of action seen live on stage moments earlier adds little to the experience and causes the pacing of the first section to drag.

The second act focuses on the arrival in 19th-century Paris of a group of ‘real bayadères’ from Tamil Nadu, and the forensic reports made by contemporary poet and dramatist Théophile Gaultier (narrated in a recorded voiceover) of the features and comportment of one temple dancer in particular. Gaultier’s observations are shocking today in their casual othering of the “alien” bayadère Amany, with her dusky skin, rolling eyes and unfortunate habit of trying to eat cherry-shaped glass hat decorations. As Gaultier’s thoughts are narrated, the reliably elegant Sooraj Subramaniam brings Amany’s sculptural poses and fluid gestures to life on stage, framed by a gilded box that looks like a cross between a cage and a museum cabinet. The devadasi is ogled and imitated, prodded and pulled about, regarded as a creature of savage fascination; then, with the swiftness of changing fashion, forgotten.

The work is at its strongest here in the second act, with Jeyasingh throwing a light on the casual abuses of the colonial gaze. In some respects, the middle section of Ninth Life is a companion piece to the recently revised Material Men Redux, which gave names and voices to the 19th century Indian slaves and subalterns who lacked either in their lifetimes. By (deliberate) contrast, Gaultier’s Amany never truly receives a voice of her own, viewed always through the prism of orientalising attitudes and expectations, finally abandoned by admirers that in the end preferred the exotic fantasy ballet version to the real thing.

The third act remains almost completely abstract. There are new suggestions of a link to the second act: a rumbling mass of voices on the soundtrack and a quick rearrangement of the set suggests some kind of museum setting; Subramaniam’s past/present-day dancer character wanders briefly through the scene in person; and a video projection suggests a Bayadère (possibly Amany, possibly the fictional Nikiya) penchéeing off to the netherworld in a dissoving dust of pixels. The links are slight and suggestive, however, and having become absorbed in the history and characters of the second act, the shift to abstract composition seems abrupt and unsettling. Capably composed as it is, the third act still feels like it belongs to a different production altogether, and as others around me in the auditorium noted on the night, the lack of Subramaniam in this section means Ninth Life is missing a big part of its appeal in the final third.

Jeyasingh’s revisions have brought a degree of welcome clarity to this interesting and provocative work, which remains well-crafted and visually striking. The performers are uniformly excellent and the classical-contemporary movement material as thrillingly dynamic as ever. For me, the problem is in the balance: the production is at its strongest when it critiques and reflects on the complex political layers of Amany’s world, and I would certainly like to spend much more time there.

Originally published in Pulse Magazine

The Rose and the Bulbul

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Geffrye Museum, 20 July and touring

There are many worse ways to spend a summer’s evening than wandering the lovely gardens of Hoxton’s Geffrye Museum following a band of itinerant performers made up of dancers, actors and glorious musicians; and this restaging of The Rose and the Bulbul (originally created in 2016) allows us to do just that. The processional production, created by a collaborative team of including musician Arieb Azhar, choreographer Kali Chandrasegaram and director Sita Thomas. The piece brings together the titular Tudor Rose, who inspires poets as a symbol of love, and the Persian Bulbul who helps her to mend her own heart again.

The show is billed as family-friendly but is not specifically created for young children; indeed, a post-bedtime performance time in Hoxton meant the entire audience was well past the first flush of youth (performance times are better suited to younger audiences elsewhere on the tour). To my ears, the script (with its deliberate archaisms) is also rather wordy for very young children. Actor Tony Hasnath gives an appealingly physical performance as the Bulbul, hopping around the garden setting and swinging daintily from trees and gateways. As Rose, a winsome Aryana Ramkhalawon suffers from a script stitched largely together from complaints, leaving her with little to do other than emote earnestly for forty minutes until the final celebration provides an opportunity to lighten up.

Among the trio of dancers that animate the series of gardens we walk through on our processional journey, Kathak dancer Manuela Benini is a particular pleasure to watch with her assured and expressive grace. Fluid and flexible contemporary dancer Lola Maury commits herself to the moment so fully that she briefly falls into a lavender bush at one point, which is one of the special joys of outdoor performance (and one swiftly recovered from at that).

Generally the dance material responds well to its lovely outdoor setting, with portions of the performance designed to be viewed in close-up, the audience led by the cast to nooks and crannies of the very interesting historic gardens at the Geffrye. That said, the other rule of outdoor performance is to make sure that all elements of the performance can be seen by audience members standing in unpredictable parts of the performance space; parts of the performance were sometimes attractively glimpsed through parts of the natural scenery and sometimes simply not visible.

A small group of student dancers pops up at various points throughout the show, but are disappointingly not well integrated into the performance as a whole, functioning more as a series of tableaux vivant than part of the story or main choreography. As someone who works regularly with young and community performers myself I feel this is a bit of a missed opportunity; community performances require a lot of rehearsal and ideally include creative contributions from the participants, however young, and there’s not a lot of evidence for either in this production. If there were one thing to really improve about future presentations of this show it would be to either fully commit to working with a community group and bring them meaningfully into the performance, or to let that element go.

With that slight misgiving aside there’s a lot to enjoy about The Rose and the Bulbul, in particular the enchanting music that successfully brings together Tudor themes played by baroque violinist May Robertson and South Asian melodies from composer and contemporary Pakistani folk singer Arieb Azhar. The mesmerizing soundtrack would be a delightful thing to enjoy in a garden on a summer’s evening quite by itself. Touring next to the Horniman Museum and Lauderdale House in Highgate, the Rose and the Bulbul is a pleasant way to spend an hour in some very attractive settings this summer.

Originally published in Pulse Magazine

Dance Review: ATMA Dance – The Magic Fish

ATMA Dance – The Magic Fish
Saturday 16 July 2016, The Place Robin Howard Theatre

magicfish

Since launching her company ATMA Dance in 2010, contemporary Bharata Natyam choreographer Mayuri Boonham has made a series of well-crafted, intellectually curious works that deal with subject matter as diverse as T.S Eliot’s poetry and the universe before the Big Bang. The Magic Fish is Boonham’s first work for children, and the centerpiece of this year’s Something Happening For Kids children’s festival at The Place.

Not to be confused with the European folk story of the same name, The Magic Fish uses dance, music and spoken word to tell the story of Vishnu in his incarnation as Matsya. The performance is billed as suitable for children aged 5-9 years old, but many of the much younger children in the audience (including my own 9-month-old baby daughter) were quite enraptured by Boonham’s enchanting portrayal of Vishnu, who we first encounter sleeping on the stage, bathed in aquatic green light with a hypnotic twinkling soundtrack lapping over us.

The piece begins with Boonham introducing herself as the somnolent god, with a monologue delivered over the top of a fluid, gestural solo. Vishnu then calls to the stage regular ATMA collaborator Pauline Reibell as the titular fish; this use of two performers in essentially one role (Vishnu and Vishnu-as-Matsya) did confuse my non-dance-frequenting husband but didn’t appear to bother the younger viewers one jot. Reibell, in a non-speaking role, is a wonderfully labile fish with her expressive spine and supple hands.

The hypnotic, otherworldly mood changes into something more earthy with the arrival of King Manu (Pirashanna Thevarajah) making his way in through the audience. Thevarajah, who has a ready rapport with the young audience members, brings a jocular, blokey appeal to his regal role and encourages plenty of interaction. He greets his loyal subjects in the auditorium with waves and high-fives; takes a refreshing mimed bath in the river with lots of characterful scrubbing and gargling; and (later in the show) holds the young viewers rapt with his rhythmic mridangam playing.

Lovers of Indian myth will already know how the story continues: Manu finds a magical speaking fish in his bathing water one morning, and promises to save the fish from predators in the river by taking him home to his palace. Overnight, thanks to the magic of theatre and large swathes of fabric, the fish grows immense (accompanied, in this version, by high-pitched shouts of “fish behind you!”) and reveals itself to be Vishnu, transformed into fish form to fight the demon No-Knowledge.

Manu of course has to build a ship to keep the subjects of his kingdom safe, and here the ship is interactively formed from young audience members invited to the stage to create the bow, stern and mast with their own bodies. The number of eager volunteers arriving on stage to help with this part of the story illustrates the engaging nature of the show and it was great to see even the younger children in the audience were not too shy to participate. Fortunately, Manu’s plan works, the ship reaches the Himalayas, and everyone’s suggested treasures are distributed among the people to start a new society. Cue a feelgood ending and happy smiles all around.

If there’s a small criticism to be made about The Magic Fish, it’s that the advertised running time of 40 minutes feels far more suited to the target age range than the nearly hour-long performance that actually took place. If Boonham can find a way to move the show along at a more child-friendly lick without losing the playfulness and interactivity – and if someone in the crew can find a slightly nicer piece of set to represent the Kritamala river than the length of plastic sheeting that looked like it might have come in a hurry from Homebase – she’ll have a winner on her hands.

Originally published in Pulse Magazine

Dance Review: Fringe at The Place, Sweetshop Revolution/Sue MacLaine

Dance is a small but sturdy part of the Edinburgh Fringe programme, with a growing number of dance makers opting to take work up to the world’s largest arts festival to nestle against stand-up comedy, cabaret and new drama. This year The Place previews six new dance works on their way up to Edinburgh; the third evening of Fringe at The Place paired a delicate biographical piece from dancer-choreographer Sally Marie with arresting autobiographical philosophy from Sue MacLaine.

I Loved You and I Loved You is a reflection on the life and work of Welsh composer Morfydd Owen, portrayed by dancer Faith Prendergast. Owen’s sex and humble social background challenged the conventions of the late-Edwardian music world; she was a celebrated pianist, singer and prolific composer, producing over 180 known compositions in the ten years leading up to her early death. Owen’s social life was no less turbulent: pursued by former politician Eliot Crawshay-Williams (Karl Fargarlund-Brekke), she chose instead to marry psychoanalyst Ernest Jones (Daniel Whiley), who may have been put a dampener on her unusual career.

Prendergast, Whiley and Fargarlund-Brekke all give strong performances. Whiley writhes himself into twisted contortions of self-torture, seemingly unable to reconcile the sexual theories of his mentor Sigmund Freud with his own repressed desires in an agonising monologue in which Jones appears to be trying to crawl out of his own skin; Fargarlund-Brekke’s character is more smoothly self-assured, but cracks in the confident surface reveal thwarted ambition and self-doubt beneath. Tiny, doll-like Prendergast first appears on stage as an embodiment of her own music, drawing notes from the piano (played by Brian Ellsbury) with a twist of the head and a stir of the arm. She whirls about her lovers with joyous abandon, soothing oil to the troubled waters of each man’s passions.

What I slightly miss from this engaging and beautifully-performed work at present is a sense of Owen’s own voice, her agency, her motivations for the choices she makes. Prendergast is the only member of the cast not to speak on stage; at present, she literally lacks a voice. The opening sequence sees her passed bodily between her two co-performers, as if she has no personal power at all. This initial impression runs quite contrary to the spirited Owen we see in later duets, but lingers in the mind even as we listen to the compositions and view the life and loves of a highly unconventional woman. I Loved You and I Loved You is presented here as a work in progress, and with further work in the studio could be a delicate, affecting gem of a piece at this year’s Fringe.

It’s not every dance theatre piece that contains the word “equivalence”. Theatre maker Sue MacLaine’s Can I Start Again Please, a philosophical investigation of the limitations of language in describing experience touching on Wittgenstein, theories of translation and child abuse, is an unusual and absorbing work. MacLaine and co-creator Nadia Nadarajah sit side by side facing the audience, a long scroll of text (a script? A set of instructions?) concertinaed between them. MacLaine introduces her putative subject – Wittgenstein – the Austrian-born linguistic philosopher whose most famous pronouncements include “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Nadarajah serenely translates MacLaine’s words into beautifully gestured British Sign Language (BSL), fluid as a kathak performance and mesmerising to watch. But it’s a rebellious translation: at times, Nadarajah sits still while MacLaine pauses for some description to be interpreted; at other times, Nadarajah translates MacLaine’s direct questions to her instead of answering. MacLaine worries about how her story will be received – can she assume the audience will know who Wittgenstein is, or must this be detailed to ensure understanding? Can we ever ensure understanding? MacLaine is uncertain, and allows this theoretical uncertainty to flit lightly between the earnest and the comical.

Over the course of fifty bold, gripping minutes, a harrowing tale of family abuse emerges – a lamp, a bedroom, a house, a family, an entire world made absurd and unreal by a process of childhood dissociation. We learn the BSL signs for “repression” and “suppression”, and the difference between the two is fascinating and provoking. Where MacLaine’s concerns about the capacity of language to convey her experience are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, the audience falls into a hush of appalled comprehension at the narrative of MacLaine’s trauma. MacLaine finds a way to articulate what has happened – a way to speak “whereof” – that demands only silence in return.

Can I Start Again Please is a brave work, not only because it deals with an emotionally difficult topic but because it deals with its subject in an unapologetically rational, even academic manner. Dance theatre pieces that muse on formal and functional equivalence in language may be few and far between, but MacLaine’s warm, engaging manner, the frequent humour and the beauty of the staging mean Can I Start Again Please is inviting rather than alienating, even for those in the audience that lack large quantities of translation theory in their research backgrounds. An accomplished piece of theatre that deserves to do well in Edinburgh.

Originally published at www.londondance.com

Dance review: Compagnie DCA Philippe Decoufle, Contact, Sadler’s Wells

Contact image Bettina Strenske

Philippe Decouflé is the French theatrical magician who has previously brought to life an encyclopedia of imaginary animals (in Codex/Tricodex), delved into the secret life of shadows (Sombrero), and created the delightfully bonkers opening ceremony for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. His works are hard to classify, straddling the boundaries between dance, cabaret, comedy and contemporary theatre with a healthy dash of stage artifice and visual trickery.Contact, a show about sixteen performers putting on a very loose adaptation of Faust, is no different in this regard – a melange of skits, spectacle and silliness sprinkled with moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty.

Contact opens with a fluid solo for dancer Eric Martin. Dressed in a spangled tailsuit and coiffed to look just like Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Martin glides bonelessly across the forestage with a sliding variation that’s equal parts Broadway jazz and the new streetdance style of floating. As other company members filter in behind him, the pulsing sounds played live by musicians Nosfell and Pierre Le Bosfell ramp up from sparse synth percussion to a richer full-bodied soundtrack.

Contact makes mesmerising use of its cast’s many talents. Julien Ferrantishows himself to be as adapt with a countertenor vibrato as he is dancing the lindy hop; Violette Wanty joins circus-trainedSuzanne Soler for an aerial duet on bungee chords; and the exotically limber Sean Patrick Mombrunowinds himself athletically into a small box as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Lines between disciplines are blurred; musicians join in sections of dance, dancers erupt into song, and everyone is swept into the comic dialogue between the refreshingly older performers Stéphane Chivot andChristophe Salengro.

Decouflé has a similarly boundary-blurring approach to movement, with nods toMGM musicals, lively partner dance and Bauschian parade all in the choreographic blender. A lengthy dance-battle sequence recalls West Side Story; a thrilling corde lisse solo for Soler finds the acrobat whipped around at terrifying speeds (for me; clearly Soler herself has no fear). Dance scenes are frequently accompanied by live-captured video effects designed by Olivier Simola; the live action onstage is blown up onto the back wall, looped, inverted and fractured into kaleidoscopic effects that recall Busby Berkeley’s bathers in glorious technicolor.

If there’s a criticism to be made about Contact, it’s that the loose narrative of a troupe performing a strangely modified version of Faust isn’t coherent enough to frame the work effectively, and towards the comic vignettes occasionally distract from the otherwise hypnotic dance sequences. There’s a definite drop in energy towards the end as well, with the last twenty minutes feeling decidedly saggy; a sequence articulating a mathematical proof of God suffers either from sound problems or lack of rehearsal, as the unison is less taut here than elsewhere in the show for both speakers and dancers.

Overall, however, Contact is as full of strange delights as the company’s previous outings. Bizarre, otherworldly and beautiful – in other words, business as usual for the Gallic maverick.

http://www.sadlerswells.com

Originally published at londondance.com