Monday, 31 December 2012

Best of 2012

As usual, here's my 'best of the year' list. Again, some of the items below are quite dated, but I read/saw it this year). Compared to the 2011 list, I seem to be a lot less discerning:
  • Films: Social Network, Hunger Games, Woody Allen (documentary), Skyfall
  • Books: Sisters Brothers, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, first half of The Night Circus, Life of Pi, Anna Karenina
  • Poetry: None this year
  • TV: Mad Men S5, Veep S1, Brothers and Sisters (All 5 seasons. Don't ask), Great British Bake Off S3, Girls S1, Never Mind the Buzzcocks
  • Exhibitions/Events: Da Vinci paintings exhibition at National Gallery, Hajj exhibition at British Museum, Circus Show at Roundhouse, Edvard Munch/Chagall/Magritte etc at Sotheby's, Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures, Henley Regatta, Invisible exhibition at Hayward Gallery, Matilda the Musical, Yoko Ono at Serpentine Gallery, Trampoline in Missisauga, London Olympics, Cirque du Soleil - Amaluna, letterpress workshop, Festival of the Nerd tour, Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery, Photography and Art exhibition at National Gallery, World Press Photo 2012 at Southbank, Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour, Wildlife Photography 2012, 
  • Concerts: Chris Ogden (guitarist) live, Joshua Bell at Barbican, Norah Jones at Southbank, Metric concert
  • Comedy: Sarah Millican live, Austentatious improv, Ross Noble Mindblender Tour 
  • Places: Village Voice bookshop in Paris, Musee Orangerie in Paris, TS Eliot`s grave, West Bay, Southall Gurdwara, Piano Bar in Kensington, Blenheim Palace gardens, City Lights in San Francisco, streetcars in SF, Sausalito, Muir Woods, Getty Center in Los Angeles, Salisbury cathedral, All Soul's College, Mount Olympus in N. Greece, Alexander the Great's family tombs, Halkidiki Beaches (nr Thessaloniki)
  • Food/Beverage: Sakura in London, Polidor in Paris, Le Loir dans la Théière in Paris, Comptoir Libanais in London, Kazbar in Oxford, Huffkins in Cheltenham, Princi in London, Cote Brasserie in London, Island Bar & Restaurant in London, Wahaca, burgers at Byron, tacos in Mission area in San Francisco, Ice cream (Harry Slocombe etc) in San Francisco, #2 tripadvisor spot at Lymington, The Trout in Oxford, Guu in Toronto, Cote Brasserie
  • Food Special mentions (these are not the 'best' but they are very good, I visit them over and over again): Kowloon Bakery London, Jens Cafe, Bangkok House in Oxford, Ed Diner's milkshakes, Tim Horton's iced capp in Canada, Branca in Oxford
Low points:
  • Books: Second half of The Night Circus, 
  • TV: New Girl after the first few episodes, 
  • Films: Cafe de Flore, Dark Knight Rises 
  • Food: Zizzi's
Have a happy and safe new year! 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

What: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty
Location: Sadler's Wells

I love Matthew Bourne ballets (see my old review of Cinderella). They never have a dull moment, and they are always highly entertaining. Earlier this year, I went to his Early Adventures show, and he went on stage afterwards to talk to the audience. It turns out that he attends *every* single show of his own work (if he can help it), so that he can study how audiences react to his choreography. Amazing! I can see why his ballets are such successes.

So anyway, I went to the sold out show of Sleeping Beauty at Sadler's Wells, and the ballet lives up to expectations. 

This is Sleeping Beauty with the original Tchaikovsky score, but with a big Bourne-style twist. There's the usual gender changes (male/female reversals) and the added contemporary humour, but there's a bigger transformation still. It might have been a big mistake for me to not read the full description of the show carefully: billed as Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance, it says
We meet our heroine, Aurora, at her Christening, when fairies and vampires fed the gothic imagination, before the story moves forward a century to the modern day.  
Since I didn't read this beforehand, you can imagine my confusion when the fairy godmother (or godfather rather) started biting the neck of one of the protagonists.

[Spoiler alert, although you can guess this easily ...]

I also didn't understand how the hero who you meet 100 years ago can still be alive 100 years later to save the sleeping princess (in the original ballet, the hero only appears 100 years later to save the day), but now it all makes sense if you realize that the hero turned into a vampire! I thought I caught a lot of different allusions, like Phantom of the Opera, or Grimms ... but maybe the allusions were really just to Bram Stoker and Anne Rice or Twilight films.

I am not entirely sure the idea of fairy vampires really work (vampires shouldn't really have wings!), but the dancers won me over: they were very captivating and evocative. Beautiful sets and costumes. I love Bourne's sense of humour ... there's a very funny use of puppetry to make young Aurora (well, baby) come alive.

The one thing I didn't really like is the set for the final scene, when the story fast forwards 100 years later to 'Last Night'. 'Last Night' is set in a nightclub that reminds you of really cheesy 80s music and awful flourescent lighting. Yuck. I can't stand it. However, it was in this scene that my absolute favourite bit of the Tchaikovsky score came on: if you have watched Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty, you would have heard the creepy tune as evil Maleficent's theme tune. If you've seen the original ballet (not the Bourne version), you would have known it as the Puss in Boots theme:

The music's absolutely creepy and it's fantastic! Bourne used it well by totally removing the 3rd act of the original ballet and using the music as part of the tense dungeon/nightclub scene (when the hero in disguise tries to rescue his heroine).

Also, can I just reiterate that it is a great move to remove the 3rd act? I've been to the Royal Ballet to see this (note above youtube clip), and the 1st act is when Aurora's young, 2nd act is when she's asleep and the prince comes and rescues her (without much obstacles, which is quite disappointing) and the 3rd act is ALL about their wedding and different fairytale characters dancing tributes for them. How utterly boring and strange to have the 'happily ever after' last a third of the performance.

Anyway, none of that in Bourne's ballet. He got a huge ovation at the end, and it really is well deserved. Go see it!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hot Chocolate Review: Montezuma No. 5 Mint

Brand: Montezuma's No. 5 Mint Drinking Chocolate
Score: 7.5 / 10

Where to get it: Montezuma website or stores

This is long overdue, but I've been meaning to write up some reviews of hot chocolate brands. I live in a household that values hot chocolate above all (by 'all', I mean coffee and tea), and we have quite a collection. 

I am going to try and review every hot chocolate brand that we have previously enjoyed (or will enjoy if we come across a new brand), and perhaps also share with you some of hot chocolate cafe recommendations. 

There is no real reason why I'm starting off with Montezuma.

So first off: Montezuma No. 5 Mint Chocolate

Dark chocolate - yum! And with peppermint too. This mix blends in well and is very smooth, with a good aftertaste. It comes in chocolate flakes, and you basically have to heat your milk hot enough to get the flakes to melt. We recommend microwaving a cup of milk for 2 minutes, then stir the flakes in. 

Usually, hot chocolate that comes as flakes means that they can be charged at a more expensive rate, but at £6.29 for 300g, it's quite reasonable. Packaging is quite slick too: you get a bag of the mix with a resealable top. Convenient! Verdict: 7.5/10