DVDs on a stormy night

07 Mar

Took time out to watch two of the DVDs I recently borrowed from Surry Hills Library.

The first was a documentary about the Kalash of North-West Pakistan made in the mid 1980s.

The culture of Kalash people is unique and differs drastically from the various ethnic groups surrounding them. They are polytheists and nature plays a highly significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to give thanks for the abundant resources of their three valleys. According to one of their legends, Kalash people are the descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers who settled and ruled the area after the expedition. Kalash people have similar mythology and similar rituals, games, feasts and dances as the people of ancient Greece. The following statement made by a Kalash named Kazi Khushnawaz indicates Kalash people main belief for the origin of their culture:

“Long long ago, before the days of Islam, Sikander e Aazem came to India. The Two Horned one whom you British people call Alexander the Great. He conquered the world, and was a very great man, brave and dauntless and generous to his followers. When he left to go back to Greece, some of his men did not wish to go back with him but preferred to stay here. Their leader was a general called Shalakash (i.e: Seleucus). With some of his officers and men, he came to these valleys and they settled here and took local women, and here they stayed. We, the Kalash, the Black Kafir of the Hindu Kush, are the descendants of their children. Still some of our words are the same as theirs, our music and our dances, too; we worship the same gods. This is why we believe the Greeks are our first ancestors.”


Very interesting, and with added resonance with what has happened in the twenty years since in that part of the world. Even more interesting to me as M travelled in that region during his 1999-2000 wandering through China, Pakistan, India and Nepal. Somewhere around Chitral, closest to the Kalash, the picture below was taken; M tends to blend in when he travels… (Keep the fact this pic is here secret, as I normally don’t show certain people on the blog! 😉 ) He visited the Kalash.


The second DVD was the wonderful post-modernish 1991 Opera Australia production of Turandot directed by Graeme Murphy. The remastering is excellent. Apparently the production was revived in 2006 with a very different cast and a few dramas: see Impossible Princess: Opera Australia’s Turandot.

Notwithstanding these dramas, sixteen years and multiple revivals on, this production of Puccini’s Turandot still continues to pack the house, testament to the successful collaboration of Murphy and his designer, the late Kristian Fredrikson, with their production crew. (This opera is also one of four recent releases by Opera Australia on DVD, from the 1991 production, on Opus Arte’s new budget-priced label, Faveo.)

Drawing on his aesthetic discipline as a dancer and choreographer, Murphy elicits a physical theatricality in blocking his performers – one is tempted to say “choreographing” – in a fashion not often seen in opera. Opening on a trademark stylistic set dominated by an oversized porcelain-like mask and bursting with design, the oversized crowd of the opening chorus raced and churned about with Liliputian ferocity howling for the head for the next failed suitor.

This tableaux of frenetic action and stark design aesthetic immediately informs the dramaturgy of Murphy’s reading, setting the socio-political tone for what is to come: this is a totalitarian regime where the people revel in state-sanctioned beheadings-as-entertainment, setting up at once the backdrop from which our protagonists carry out their individual agendas. The direction of the chorus, individual by individual, was as meticulous as clockwork, and compelling in its detail.

There is something compelling about this brand of Chinoserie as originally coded by Puccini and rethought by Fredrikson. Most productions go for broke, visually, in the second act in the scene outside the Imperial palace, dressing the courtiers in costumes, but Fredrikson dresses his cast in funereal white (the traditional Chinese colour of mourning) highlighted by small daubs of colour. This is not, one senses, a happy place at all…

I thoroughly enjoyed myself. That a thunderstorm joined in added to the experience!

You will find a couple of other Turandots — selected for their strangeness or interest — in the VodPod, which is in the side bar; if they are no longer on top, visiting the Pod will soon find them.

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Posted by on March 7, 2008 in film and dvd, personal


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