Tag Archives: Dadaism

Waiting for Guido with aerial artist Avi

Becky Fury, Geoff Steel and Johnathan Richardson are Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre

On Monday night, Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury is presenting a show called Waiting For Guido at the Cockpit Theatre in London. It is billed as:

“Fusing comic improvisation from world class performers, a little sprinkling of circus performance and an improvised musical score. This is Jesus and the Easter bunny waiting for the return of the enigmatic and insurrectionary battery chicken, Guido. In a basic story structure inspired by Waiting for Godot, Dada and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, we present an evening of entertainment, theatrical innovation and carefully curated chaos.”

Johnathan Richardson, Becky Fury, Geoff Steel in rehearsal

As well as comics Trevor Lock, Johnathan Richardson, Geoff Steel and Becky, there is music by a house band featuring Bang Crosby and aerial acts from “contortionist and rope and hoop expert” Avital Hannah.

Aerial acts? I thought. Aerial acts? So I went to the National Centre for Circus Arts in London to see Becky and Avital talk through and swing through what might be happening on Monday.


JOHN: So what is Waiting For Guido?

BECKY: It’s basically a cabaret show with some theatrical comedy vignettes. A contemporary freakshow inspired by Principa Discordia and the Dogme manifesto. This one’s more Catme but I always have to be so extra. Everything’s not so much falling into place but descending in beautiful yet bizarre shapes and landing elegantly in place.

JOHN: What’s the narrative?

BECKY: Waiting.

JOHN: What is Avi doing? Just hanging around?

AVI: Hanging from the rafters.

BECKY: She will be mirroring some of the characters in the show. Everyone has a character. It’s a hybrid cabaret comedy circus show.

Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

JOHN: Why did you decide being an aerial artist was a good career choice?

AVI: I kind of decided on a whim… I had gone to college to study law, psychology, philosophy and critical thinking. I thought: There’s a future for me as an aerial artist because I’m highly-strung and not very good at letting go. And I thought: If I go to circus school then I can do what I want but I still get a qualification.

JOHN: Did the glamour of circus attract you?

AVI: No.

JOHN: So what was the attraction?

AVI: The ownership of my own body.

JOHN: Define that.

AVI: It was really positive for reclaiming my body as a woman. I had often felt it was ‘owned’ by other people. I’m definitely in control of it now. It will always be more useful to me than anyone else. Before circus, that had not necessarily always been apparent.

JOHN: ‘Being in control of your own body’ sounds like it might overlap into hatred of men.

AVI: Well, to some extent I think it’s a feminist answer but I think it’s just as a human I have my right to own my own body and this has enabled me to do so.

JOHN: Where is the career in being an aerial artist outside a circus? You can’t play the upstairs room of a suburban pub.

Waiting For Guido in rehearsal

AVI: No, but there’s corporate gigs, the corporate circuit at Christmas time, charity gigs, Council things and it’s more integrated into theatre and dance than it used to be. There are circus shows in the West End. There’s TV and film stuff. It’s quite broad; you’ve just gotta know where to look.

JOHN: Corporate gigs?

AVI: Making posh people’s parties look cooler. If you can get someone to hang off the ceiling, it looks good.

JOHN: Is there a career path?

AVI: I’m interested in the production side. I’m really interested in production management and directing, producing.

JOHN: How do you two know each other?

BECKY: From festivals. The DIY culture. The Unfairground stage at the Glastonbury Festival.

JOHN: There is a lot of twirling involved in what you do.

AVI: I find it easier to learn things on the left. It’s generally easier to rotate one way. I generally spin to the right but there are certain tricks that require me to spin to the left and that’s fine; it’s just a different type of training.

JOHN: Is that something to do with the left side of your brain controlling the right side of the body and vice versa?

AVI: I don’t know, but there are certain things you can do to make them talk to each other a bit better.

JOHN: Such as?”

Becky shoots Avi at the National Centre for Circus Arts

AVI: Stand up and stand on one leg with your eyes closed and then try standing on the other leg. You will be better doing it on one side than the other. Then open your eyes and bring your thumb towards them until it’s uncomfortable to see it and do that three times. Keep your thumb really steady while doing it. Then try standing on one leg again. It should be way more even between left and right. It tricks your brain somehow.

BECKY: It must realign everything into a balance because you have to focus on the thumb straight-on rather than left and right sides and one of your eyes being lazy.

AVI: I don’t know. It seems to work.

JOHN: Have you got public liability insurance if you fall on someone?

AVI: Only if I’m performing. Not in normal life.

BECKY: Everyone should have it. A friend of mine was performing at a Secret Policeman’s Ball show. He threw rice during the show and someone slipped on a grain of rice in their stiletto shoe and broke their ankle. Luckily he had public liability insurance, because they sued him.

JOHN: Why are your powdering your ear?

AVI: I always put make-up on my ear lobes before a show. You don’t want red ears when you go upside down. Blood goes to them when you are upside down.

JOHN: Ah… Why are you in Becky’s show? It’s basically a comedy show.

AVI: It’s different. I wanna see what happens.

JOHN: Yes indeed.

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Arthur Smith: the singing comedian is obsessed with an amateur boxer-poet

Arthur Smith is singing as the dead Leonard Cohen – again

Comic Arthur Smith, an Edinburgh Fringe regular spanning two centuries, is only going up for three days this year, to perform his legendary Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen show – re-titled Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen – The Final Tribute.

“Why did you originally decide to sing Leonard Cohen anyway?” I asked him.

“Because,” he explained, “my play An Evening With Gary Lineker was running in the West End so it didn’t really matter what the fuck I did. So I did a show called Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams. You know what it’s like. You have to pick a title in March for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I had no intention of singing Andy Williams songs. It was a title I picked because it just seemed stupid.

“I am old school, I don’t actually write my shows until… Well, it got to about a month before Edinburgh and I thought: What the fuck am I actually going to do in this show?… Well, I’ve got Tony Hawks on the piano, so I might as well actually try to do a couple of Andy Williams songs. But then I got very interested in this bloke… I think of him as a bit like Malcolm Hardee in a way. He was a footnote in history. A character called Arthur Cravan. He was the nephew of Oscar Wilde, though he never met him.”

Arthur Cravan. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about… not being talked about,” said his uncle.

“Was he Irish?” I asked.

“It’s hard to tell,” Arthur shrugged. “He was brought up in Switzerland. Then he lived in Berlin, then he moved to Paris, where he started selling his art magazine Maintenant! and became notorious for slagging everyone off. Then he was a boxer and won the French Amateur Boxing Championship and used to parade around the ring – long before Muhammed Ali – saying: This guy’s a wanker!

“He was also a thief. There were so many stories about him. Then the First World War started and he fled to America. He met Trotsky on the boat over to America. Once over there, he was invited to give a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art or somewhere about this new weird thing Dadaism. But he came on and he was drunk and he took his trousers down and had a piss on the table and got arrested. This was deemed by the Dadaists to have been a great success. He really was like an early Malcolm Hardee. He then supposedly went hitch-hiking round Canada dressed as a woman.”

“I presume,” I said, “he did this for no reason at all?”

“Never stood a fucking chance”

“Well, I think he was escaping. He was usually escaping from something. He then married a woman, a poet called Mina Loy and went to Mexico. Mina Loy, who was pregnant by then, was going to join him, but then he disappeared. It was thought that he got on a boat and it sank, but it was never really known – which, of course, is a great way to go – people not really knowing if you have gone. He was spotted here-and-there ever after. Oh! – And in 1916 in Barcelona he fought the then just finished World Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, the first black champion who had been pretty-much exiled from America for going out with white women. There’s little bit of film of him boxing on the internet.”

“How did he fare?” I asked.

“He never stood a fucking chance against Jack Johnson. But they were both just trying to make some money. He famously had huge bollocks.”

“Like Malcolm,” I said.

“There were just loads of stories about him,” Arthur continued. “Like Malcolm. He really is this sort of mythical footnote in history.”

“And they both died by drowning,” I said.

“Yeah. Possibly. He was only in his 30s when he died. If he died. He was a ludicrous figure. I did a thing about him on BBC Radio 3 a while back.”

“What has this to do with Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams?” I asked.

“Ludicrous… We only charged something like 20p to get in”

“Ah yes!” laughed Arthur. “I got obsessed with Arthur Cravan and I went to an exhibition about him in Paris, at which point I decided to make the Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams show about Arthur Cravan, punctuated by Andy Williams songs. I had this whole thing about Was Andy Williams really Arthur Cravan? It was the most ludicrous show. We only charged something like 20p to get in. You were offered your money back on the way out. We had a gala performance that cost something like £50 – for TV executives on expenses. I started the show talking about Arthur Cravan. People wondered what was going on. Then I suddenly started singing Moon River. I had Andy Smart as a plant in the audience and we had a fight during the show.”

“Did you impersonate Andy Williams’ voice?” I asked.

“As far as I can,” said Arthur. “And I had a bear that came on. Do you remember Andy Williams used to have a bear come on in his TV shows?”

“It seems to have slipped my mind,” I said.

“I conceived…” said Arthur, “I was going to do three Arthur Smith Sings… shows. I picked Leonard Cohen as a follow-up to Andy Williams because it just sounded so boring: Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen.

“So what has happened to the third Arthur Smith Sings… show?”

“I have a few in mind. Maybe Arthur Smith Sings The Supremes or Arthur Smith Sings Serge Gainsbourg or Arthur Smith Sings Little Mix. You pick the title for being funny before you worry about what’s in it.”

Arthur Smith Sings Harry Styles?” I suggested.

“Or Arthur Smith Sings Alan Bennett,” mused Arthur. “I dunno. I don’t thing he’s done a lot of singing.”

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A Dada celebration staged by a foolish man + Brian Blessed’s voice & a urinal

Mike Freedman is a New York writer and film maker. Or is he?

“I was born in New York,” he tells me, “but I have lived here in London for 31 years. My parents brought me over as a child.”

He has an American accent but was brought up here and, as an adult, has lived in London. So what is the reality? What is reality?

Mike Freedman in Soho - London not New York

Mike Freedman in Soho, London not New York

Mike Freedman is very serious.

“I love film,” he tells me, “because it is the only art form that is all the other art forms. It IS drama, theatre; it can also be dance, painting, music, rhythm. All artistic expression can be found in films – if they are good – to an extent that is simply not possible in the other media.”

He made an award-winning feature-length documentary titled Critical Mass, the blurb for which says:

With the planet bursting at the seams, the intelligence and physiological traits that make us human are now crucial to mankind’s survival. This intelligent film interweaves a fascinating 1960s rat experiment with a slick snapshot of today’s urban jungle.

He wrote a book titled: The Revolution Will Be Improvised: Critical Conversations On Our Changing World.

So Mike Freedman is very serious, yes?

Well, he has played in various bands and was a founding member of the “invisible acoustic comedy minstrels” known as Chicken Tikka Masala: The Band.

“I recently finished making a comedy web series,” he tells me, “called The Incidentals, which we will be putting out near the end of the year. It’s about a group of musicians who are hired to write music for a sitcom and it’s done as a behind-the-scenes documentary.”

A week today – next Thursday – Mike is organising LonDADA at the Cinema Museum in Elephant & Castle.

“No-one nowadays,” I suggested to him, “knows what Dadaism is, do they?”

“I think that’s the point, isn’t it?” he replied.

“What?” I said. “That it isn’t?”

Mike replied: “I think it was Tristran Tzara who said that there’s nothing more Dada than being anti-Dada. It is the formlessness that appeals to me.”

“So LonDADA is celebrating 100 years of Dada?” I asked.

Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, in 1916

An early Dada event at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, in 1916

“Well, June 23rd 1916 was the date that Hugo Ball performed his Karawane at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich for the first time and that was the birth of Dada poetry. The Cabaret Voltaire had existed since February and had had a couple of salons but they hadn’t really had their own work.”

“1916,” I said, “is right in the middle of the First World War.”

“Well,” said Mike, “Dada was, in part, a response to the First World War. The mainstream understanding of it is that the horror of the First World War and that wholesale slaughter and the bourgeois industrial capitalist mindset that had created the conditions that made this sort of madness possible was what they were rebelling against. Class structure, monarchy, commercialism, consumerism, industrialism. Dadaism was really a rejection of what came to be regarded as 20th century civilisation. Except they rebelled early.”

“Urinals,” I said. “That’s all people know about Dadaism.”

Marcel Duchamp’s original ‘fountain’ by R.Mutt in 1917

Marcel Duchamp’s original ‘fountain’ by R.Mutt in 1917

“You are referring,” said Mike, “to Marcel Duchamp who was offered the opportunity to submit an artwork, so he went to a plumbing supply store and purchased a urinal and signed it R.Mutt, dated 1917.”

“Why R. Mutt?” I asked.

“That was the name of the plumbing supplier.”

“That would make sense,” I said.

“He submitted it as a fountain,” explained Mike. “It is what is now called ‘found art’, but was called ‘readymade art’ at the time.”

“So,” I said, “reality in 1916/1917 was so shit that people went to the opposite extreme – the surreal?”

“Well,” said Mike, “Surrealism came later. It was effectively what killed-off Dadaism.”

“So what’s the difference between Surrealism and Dadaism?” I asked.

“To my understanding,” said Mike, “the distinction is that Surrealism sought to speak to or to touch the human by dealing with the language of the sub-conscious and the language of dreams. Surrealism deals with a different language that is only bizarre if one is looking at it in terms of waking life. If you look at Dali paintings as expressions of a dream landscape, they’re not strange at all. Surrealism is very much the idea that, in order for art to touch the heart, you have to bypass the conscious mind. Dadaism was several things that Surrealism never was.

“Dada was political from the outset, certainly in Berlin. Dada was born in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire. It spread to Berlin and to New York. There were brief flutters of it in other places. It became less political in Zurich and New York. The Berlin gang were very political. New York Dada was more interested in the bizarreness of this deconstructionism philosophy. The French obviously got in on the act when René Clair made Entr’acte with Erik Satie – a very famous Dada film. Also Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera was considered a Dadaist film because it was intentionally nonsensical to what the structure of what film was at that time.

Mike Freedman with Duchamp’s urinal, not taking the piss

Mike Freedman – he is not taking the piss

“What interested Dada was shocking the observer in order to create a response that was not anchored in the mind. In that sense, it shares an intention with Surrealism, but it absolutely does not share a visual or artistic language.”

“I see,” I said. “A urinal is not surreal.”

“Absolutely not,” agreed Mike. “The famous example of how to Dada was to just take a newspaper and cut it up and re-order the letters and see what you come to.”

“Like William Burroughs later,” I said.

“Well, about 40 years later,” said Mike. “If you have any inclination towards Punk Rock or the so-called Underground in music and film – the idea of just making things happen for yourself and re-purposing what is around you, of re-interpreting reality by tearing it apart and re-building it – that aesthetic idea has its roots in Dada.

“If you have something that’s a little more Arthouse in that it’s about confounding the intellectual mind by presenting it with imagery or sounds that simply does not speak the language of the everyday life, that is more Surrealism.

Mike Freedman’s definition of himself...

Mike Freedman’s definition of himself in three words…

“Dada was very strongly anti-Establishment, deconstructionist and anti-itself. Its view was that it couldn’t be anything or it would be no longer the thing that it was meant to be. So you got announcements that DADA IS NOT DADA.”

“Why is it called Dada?” I asked.

“No-one knows for certain. One belief is that they chose the word because ‘Dada’ is the first word of almost any child in any language. I find that a bit spurious.”

“Isn’t ‘Papa’ more common than ‘Dada’?” I asked.

“You are assuming they mean ‘Dad’.” said Mike. “They just meant the sound. The idea was to move art away from established forms and disciplines  back to its most protean state where it literally could be anything and rejecting the encroachment of commercial society by intentionally making things that under no circumstances were saleable. Which, of course, is ironic, because now a replica of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘fountain’ is on display in the Tate Modern.

Hugo Ball performing at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916

Hugo Ball performs at Cabaret Voltaire, 1916

“At that time, getting up on stage, wrapped in cardboard and expounding in a fully-made-up language that was, on purpose, totally nonsensical – and taking it seriously… was… Well, they were very much invested in this idea that what they were doing was important. It was not just Let’s fuck around and see what happens because no-one’s done this before, which is what a lot of people tend to do today.

“What produced Dada in 1916 was a perfect storm of social tension and dissolution and disillusion. There was a beautiful synergy between artistic and political radicalism. Today, we no longer seem to have that visible thread of artistic radicalism.

“So, on June 23rd – European Referendum day – the exact 100th anniversary of Hugo Ball’s first performance of Karawane at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich – we are putting on LonDADA at the Cinema Museum – the closest thing that I can muster to a recreation of a Dadaist salon. We are having live performance, theatre, poetry, music, film, art, clowning, short films, a 1968 documentary about Dada which has never been shown before in the UK and we are screening Hans Richter’s Dada film Ghosts Before Breakfast from 1928 on 35mm.

“When the Nazis came to power, they destroyed a lot of film as ‘degenerate art’ – including all known copies of Ghosts Before Breakfast which had the soundtrack. No-one knows what the soundtrack was. So I got Austrian composer Vinzenz Stergin to compose a brand new score which he will perform live.

“From 1.00pm on the day, a screening room will be open showing a looped programme of short films (about 90 minutes in all) by Helmut Herbst, Australian Dadaist Bob Georgeson, American Francis Thompson and John Smith, the award-winning British video artist and a few others. That loop will run all the way through.

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“At 6.30pm, the main event starts and goes on until 11.00pm. In the first half of it, we will mainly have live performance and a screening of Ghosts Before Breakfast with live musical accompaniment. Then there will be a theatrical performance and a screening of Germany-DADA: An Alphabet of German DADAism, which runs for about an hour. Before that, there will be a short video introduction from the director, Helmut Herbst. We will also show a very special animated film by Chris Lincé of Karawane voiced by Brian Blessed – he recorded it specifically for the festival.”

“Good grief!” I said. “I’ll go along just for Brian Blessed’s voice.”

“There are also a few ‘Easter eggs’,” said Mike, “a few surprises we are going to throw in. Tony Green as Sir Gideon Vein and a lot more. And live music.”

“Who is going to go to this?” I asked. “Students of Dada?”

“Basically, we have a 120-capacity and I need to sell it out to break even.”

“So you are a foolish man?”

“Yes. A very foolish man. I am banking on the desire of Londoners to experience an evening of out-of-the-box entertainment.”

“Banking might not be the right word,” I suggested.

“Perhaps ‘praying with white knuckles’ would be better,” agreed Mike. “Praying that the population of London comprises at least 120 people interested in the bizarre and the avant-garde.”

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