Friday, December 31, 2010

E M Forster

E M Forster born 1 January 1879 (d. 1970)

Edward Morgan Forster was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist. He is most famous for his novels, most of which have been filmed. Forster is also known for a creed of life which can be summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End, 'only connect'.

Born in London, the son of an architect. As a boy he inherited £8,000 from his paternal aunt, which was enough to live on and enabled him to become a writer. He attended Tonbridge School in Kent as a day boy.

At King's College, Cambridge between 1897 and 1901, he became a member of the Apostles, a discussion society. Many of its members went on to constitute what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group, of which Forster was a peripheral member in the 1910s and 1920s. There is a famous account of Forster's Cambridge and that of his fellow Apostles at the beginning of The Longest Journey.

After leaving university he travelled on the continent with his mother and continued to live with her until her death in 1945. His early novels, set in England and Italy, were praised by reviewers but did not sell in large quantities. Howards End (1910) made him famous.

He travelled in Egypt, Germany and India with the classicist Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson in 1914. Doing war work for the Red Cross in Egypt, in the winter of 1916-17, he met in Alexandria a tram conductor, Mohammed el-Adl, a youth of seventeen with whom he fell in love and who was to become one of the principal inspirations for his literary work. Mohammed died of tuberculosis in Alexandria in spring of 1922. After this loss, Forster was driven to keep the memory of the youth alive, and attempted to do so in the form of a book-length letter, preserved at King's College, Cambridge. The letter begins with the quote from A.E. Housman: 'Good-night, my lad, for nought's eternal; No league of ours, for sure' and concludes with an acknowledgement that the task of resurrecting their love is impossible.

He spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as the private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas. The Hill of Devi is his non-fictional account of this trip. After returning from India he completed A Passage to India (1924) which became his most famous, most widely-translated, and last novel.

Forster wrote little more fiction apart from short stories intended only for himself and a small circle of friends. People have speculated about his decision to stop writing novels at the age of 45.

In the 1930s and 1940s Forster became a successful broadcaster on BBC radio. He also became a public figure associated with the British Humanist Association.

Forster had a happy personal relationship beginning in the early 1930s with Bob Buckingham, a constable in the London Metropolitan Police. He developed a friendship with Buckingham's wife May and included the couple in his circle, which also included the writer and editor of The Listener J R Ackerley, the psychologist W J H Sprott and, for a time, the composer Benjamin Britten. Other writers Forster associated with included the poet Siegfried Sassoon and the Belfast-based novelist Forrest Reid.

After the death of his mother, Forster accepted an honorary fellowship at King's College, Cambridge and lived for the most part in the college doing relatively little. In 1969 he was made a member of the Order of Merit. Forster died in Coventry the following year at the age of 91 at the home of the Buckinghams.

Forster had five novels published in his lifetime and one more, Maurice, appeared shortly after his death although it was written nearly sixty years earlier. A seventh, Arctic Summer, he never finished.

His first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), is the story of Lilia, a young English widow who falls in love with an Italian, and of the efforts of her bourgeois relatives to get her back from Monteriano (based on San Gimignano). Where Angels Fear to Tread was adapted into a film in 1991.

Next, Forster published The Longest Journey (1907). Forster's third novel, A Room with a View (1908) is his lightest and most optimistic. It was started before any of his others, as early as 1901, and exists in earlier forms referred to as 'Lucy'. The book is the story of young Lucy Honeychurch's trip to Italy with her cousin, and the choice she must make between the free-thinking George Emerson, and the repressed aesthete Cecil Vyse. George's father Mr Emerson quotes thinkers who were influential on Forster including Samuel Butler. A Room with a View was memorably filmed by Merchant Ivory in 1987.

Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View can be seen collectively as Forster's Italian novels. Both include references to the famous Baedeker guidebooks and concern narrow-minded middle-class English tourists abroad. Many of their themes are shared with some of the short stories collected in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment.

Howards End (1910) is an ambitious condition of England novel concerned with different groups within the Edwardian middle classes represented by the Schlegels (bohemian intellectuals), the Wilcoxes (thoughtless plutocrats) and the Basts (struggling lower-middle-class aspirants). Howards End was also turned into a multi-award (Oscars, Baftas, Golden Globes) winning film by Merchant Ivory in 1992

Forster achieved his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924). The novel is about the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj. In it, Forster connected personal relationships with the politics of colonialism through the story of the English Adela Quested and the Indian Dr Aziz and the question of what did or did not happen between them in the Marabar Caves. A Passage to India was turned into another multi-award-winning film by David Lean in 1994

Maurice (1971) was published after the novelist's death. It is a homosexual love story which also returns to areas familiar from Forster's first three novels such as the suburbs of London in the English home counties, the experience of being at Cambridge, and the wild landscape of Wiltshire. This novel, coupled with Forster's famous What I Believe essay, also published posthumously, created controversy as Forster's sexuality was not previously known or widely acknowledged. Today's critics continue to argue over whether Forster's sexuality and even alleged personal activities were relevant or influenced his writings.

Forster's views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often features characters attempting to understand each other, in the words of Forster's famous epigraph, across social barriers. His humanist views are expressed in the non-fictional essay What I Believe.

Forster's two most noted works, A Passage to India and Howards End, explore the irreconcilability of class differences. Although considered by some to have less serious literary weight, A Room with a View is also notable as his most widely read and accessible work, remaining popular for the just more than a century since its original publication. His 1914 novel Maurice, published posthumously in 1971, explores the possibility of reconciling class differences as part of a homosexual relationship - as Forster did himself with Bob Buckingham.

Sexuality is another key theme in Forster's works and it has been argued that Forster's writing can be characterised as moving from heterosexual love to homosexual love. The foreword to Maurice expresses his struggle with his own homosexuality, while similar themes were explored in several volumes of homosexual-themed short stories. Forster's explicitly homosexual writings, the novel Maurice and the short-story collection The Life to Come, were published shortly after his death.

Joey Stefano

Joey Stefano born 1 January 1968 (d.1994)

Joey Stefano was an American pornographic actor who appeared in gay adult films. He was popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His real name was Nicholas Anthony Iacona, Jr.

Joey Stefano grew up in the Philadelphia area (Chester, Pennsylvania). His father died when he was 15. After several years of prostitution and drug use in New York City, Stefano moved to Los Angeles and enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom in gay pornography. A notable reason for his popularity, besides his smouldering good looks, was his early mastery of the 'hungry bottom' (sexually submissive but verbally demanding) persona. He was HIV positive.

His image and success caught the attention of Madonna, who used him as a model in her 1992 book Sex.

During his lifetime, he was the subject of rumours (some of them spread by himself) regarding his relationships with prominent entertainment industry figures who were known to be gay. At a May 1990 dinner and interview with Jess Cagle (Entertainment Weekly) and Rick X (Manhattan Cable TV's The Closet Case Show), Stefano discussed an alleged series of 'dates' with David Geffen, who at one point implored Stefano to quit using drugs. After the videotaped interview appeared on Rick X's show, OutWeek Magazine 'outed' Geffen, who went on to proudly announce his homosexuality at an AIDS fundraiser.

According to a subsequent biography, Stefano died of an overdose of cocaine, morphine, heroin and ketamine at age 26 in the shower of a motel on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. His body was taken back to Pennsylvania where he was buried next to his father.

Joe Orton

Joe Orton born 1 January 1933 (d. 1967)

Joe Orton was a satirical modern playwright.

In a short but prolific career from 1964 until his death, he shocked, outraged and amused audiences with his scandalous black comedies. Ortonesque became a recognised term for 'outrageously macabre'.

John Kingley Orton was born in Leicester to a working class family. He failed the eleven-plus exam after extended bouts of asthma, and attended the private Clark's College from 1945 to 1947 before starting menial work as a junior clerk on £3 a week.

Orton became interested in performing in the theatre around 1949 and joined a number of different dramatic societies, including the prestigious Leicester Dramatic Society. While working on amateur productions he was also determined to improve his appearance and physique, buying body-building courses, taking elocution lessons, and also trying to redress his lack of education and culture. He lost his job and, still 'stage-struck', applied for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in November 1950. He was accepted, and left the East Midlands for London with little regret. His entrance into RADA was delayed by appendicitis and he only joined in May 1951.

Orton met Kenneth Halliwell [left] at RADA in 1951, moving into a West Hampstead flat with him, and two other students, in June of that year. Halliwell was seven years older than Orton and of independent means, having a substantial inheritance. They quickly formed a strong relationship and became lovers, despite Orton's claims of sexual incompatibility. Neither did well in their two years at the academy although Orton gained a better qualification than Halliwell.

After graduating, both went into a regional repertory work; Orton spent four months in Ipswich as an assistant stage manager, Halliwell in Llandudno, Wales. Both returned to London and 'their dreams shifted from the stage to the page'. They collaborated on a number of unpublished novels (often imitating Ronald Firbank), and had little success, but some encouragement. The rejection of their great hope, The Last Days of Sodom, in 1957 led them to solo works.

They refused to work for long periods, confident of their 'specialness'; they subsisted on Halliwell's money, (as well as the dole), and were forced to follow a quite ascetic life in order to restrict their outgoings to £5 a week. From 1957-59, they worked in six-month stretches at Cadbury's to raise money for a new flat; they moved into the small and austere flat on Noel Road in Islington in 1959.

A lack of serious work led them to amuse themselves with pranks and hoaxes. Orton created Edna Welthorpe, an elderly 'outraged of-' whom he would later revive to stir controversy over his plays.

In another episode, Orton and Halliwell stole books from the local library, and would subtly modify the cover art or the blurbs before returning them to the library. A volume of poems by John Betjeman, for example, was returned to the library with a new dustjacket featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, heavily tattooed middle-aged man. The couple took many of the prints to decorate their flat. They were eventually discovered, and prosecuted for this in May, 1962.

The incident was reported in the national newspaper the Daily Mirror as 'Gorilla in the Roses'. They were charged with five counts of theft and malicious damage, admitted damaging more than seventy books, and were jailed for six months (released September 1962) and fined £262. The books that Orton and Halliwell vandalised have since become the most valued of the Islington Library service collection.

In the early 1960s Orton began to write plays. He wrote his last novel in 1961 (Head to Toe), and soon afterward had his writing accepted. In 1963 the BBC paid £65 for the radio play The Boy Hairdresser, broadcast on 31 August 1964, as The Ruffian on the Stair. It was substantially rewritten for the stage in 1966.

Orton revelled in his achievement and poured out new works. He had completed Entertaining Mr Sloane by the time The Ruffian on the Stair was broadcast. He sent a copy to the theatre agent Peggy Ramsay in December 1963. She was quick to appreciate its qualities and sent it to Michael Codron of the New Arts Theatre, who took up the play for an April/May run in January 1964. It premiered on 6 May 1964, reviews ranging from praise to outrage. Certain influential theatre figures such as Terence Rattigan ensured that Orton's work was performed, however, and there was a clear expectation of good things to come.

Entertaining Mr Sloane lost money in its three week run, but Rattigan invested £3,000 and the play transferred to Wyndham's Theatre in the West End at the end of June and to the Queen's Theatre in October. Sloane tied for first in the Variety Critics' Poll for Best New Play and Orton came second for Most Promising Playwright. Within a year, Sloane was being performed in New York (it did very poorly)and elsewhere, as well as being made into a film, and a television play.

The chronology of Orton's works thereafter becomes confusing, as his next major success, Loot, was written later, but performed earlier, than the two television plays, The Good and Faithful Servant and The Erpingham Camp. Hence material that seems less Ortonesque, a backwards step in development and skill, is misleadingly positioned.

Orton's next performed work was Loot. The first draft was written between June and October 1964 and entitled Funeral Games, a title Orton would drop for Halliwell's suggestion but would later reuse. The play is a wild parody of detective fiction, adding the blackest farce and jabs at established ideas on death, the police, religion and justice. Orton offered the play to Codron in October 1964 and it underwent sweeping rewrites before it was judged fit for the West End.

Codron had manoeuvred Orton into meeting his colleague Kenneth Williams in August 1964. They were 'immediately sympatico' and Orton reworked Loot with Williams in mind for Inspector Truscott.

With the success of Sloane evident, Loot was hurried into pre-production, despite its obvious flaws. Rehearsals began in January 1965 with a six-week tour culminating in a West End debut planned. The play opened in Cambridge on 1 February to disastrous and scathing reviews, not for the content but for the plot, the acting, the bright white set, the entire quality of the piece.

Orton, at odds with director Peter Wood over the plot (or lack of same), still tore at the play, producing 133 pages of new material to replace, or add, to the original ninety. The cast were demoralised in rehearsal and uneven and tentative on stage. They were, however, impressed by Orton's energy and efforts. The play staggered on to more poor reviews in Brighton, Oxford, Bournemouth, Manchester, and finally Wimbledon in mid-March. 'Loot was a dead horse, but it continued to be flogged.' Orton retired from the fray for a promiscuous, hashish-filled, eighty-day holiday in Tangier, Morocco.

In January 1966 Loot was revived in Manchester. Orton's growing experience led him to cut over six hundred lines, raising the tempo and improving the characters' interactions.

Directed by Braham Murray, with a more sympathetic and less abstract set, the tuned play garnered more favourable reviews. Lewenstein was still a little cool, however, and put the London production in a 'sort of Off-West End theatre'.

Orton continued his habit of clashing with his director, but the additional cuts agreed to further improved the play. The London premiere was 27 September 1966, the reviews producing 'stunned delight' in Orton. Loot moved to the Criterion Theatre, Holborn in November, raising Orton's confidence to new heights, 'a weird, thrilling, slightly unnerving state of grace', while he was in the middle of writing What the Butler Saw.

Loot went on to win several awards — which had a pleasing effect on the box office — and firmly established Orton's fame. He sold the film rights for £25,000, although he was certain it would flop; it did, and Loot on Broadway repeated the failure of Sloane. Orton was still on an absolute high, however, and over the next ten months revised The Ruffian on the Stair and The Erpingham Camp for the stage as a double called Crimes of Passion, wrote Funeral Games, the screenplay Up Against It for the Beatles, and worked on What the Butler Saw.

The Good and Faithful Servant was a work of transition for Orton. A one-act television play, it was completed by June 1964 but first broadcast in 1967. With its low-key bitterness and regret, and its genuine poignance, it is tame and naturalistic compared to the joyful, macabre heights of his later modern farces, including those which premiered earlier.

Funeral Games is the real linking work between Loot and What the Butler Saw. It was written and re-written (four times) in July - November, 1966. Created for a Yorkshire Television series, The Seven Deadly Virtues, Orton's play dealt with charity — especially Christian charity — in a mad confusion of adultery and murder.

In March 1967 Orton and Halliwell had intended another extended holiday in North Africa – Libya on this occasion, but the relationship between them had deteriorated so far that they returned home after barely a day. Orton was working hard, energised and happy; Halliwell was increasingly depressed, argumentative, and plagued with mystery ailments.

Orton's controversial farce What The Butler Saw debuted in the West End after his death in 1969. It opened at the Queen's Theatre with Sir Ralph Richardson, Coral Browne, Stanley Baxter, and Hayward Morse. It was booed so loudly by gallery first nighters that the critics could not hear the lines.

During the night of August 9, 1967, Halliwell bludgeoned the 34-year-old Orton to death with nine hammer blows to the head, and then committed suicide with an overdose of Nembutal tablets.

The Sunday Times magazine issue November 22, 1970 reported that on Saturday, August 5, four days before the murder, Joe went to the Chelsea Potter pub in the King's Road. He met friend Peter Nolan who later gave evidence at the inquest that Orton told him that he had another boyfriend, that he wanted finally to get rid of Halliwell but didn't know how to go about it.

The last person to speak to Halliwell was his doctor. He had arranged for a psychiatrist to see him the following morning. He spoke to Halliwell three times on the telephone. The last call was at 10 o'clock. Halliwell took the pyschiatrist's address and said, 'Don't worry, I'm feeling better now. I'll go and see the doctor tomorrow morning.'

Halliwell had felt increasingly threatened and isolated by Orton's success, and had come to rely on anti-depressants and barbiturates. The bodies were discovered the following morning when a chauffeur arrived to take Orton to a meeting to discuss a screenplay he had written for The Beatles.

Halliwell left a suicide note, informing police that all would be explained if they read Orton's diaries, 'especially the latter part'. The diaries have since been published, but do not offer the promised insight, unless Halliwell was referring to Orton's tireless promiscuity.

A biography, entitled Prick Up Your Ears, a title Orton himself had considered using was published in the 1970s by John Lahr (son of cowardly lion Bert Lahr).

The 1987 film Prick Up Your Ears is based on Orton's diaries and Lahr's research. Directed by Stephen Frears, it starred Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, and Vanessa Redgrave. Alan Bennett wrote the screenplay.

Joe Orton Official Website

Maurice Béjart

Maurice Béjart born 1 January 1927 (d. 2007)

Maurice Béjart was one of the most influential choreographers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries who attracted huge audiences to ballet.

Maurice Béjart was born in Marseilles, the eldest of three children of the distinguished philosopher Gaston Berger and his wife, Germaine.

Because of his slight physique as a child a doctor recommended that the 11-year-old boy should take some form of exercise or sport. With two great interests in life, reading and the theatre, young Maurice thought dancing might be a good idea. And so it proved.

As soon as he could, he moved to Paris to study with such celebrated teachers as Leo Staats, Lubov Egorova, Nora Kiss and Madame Rousanne. Later, on the recommendation of Margot Fonteyn, he moved to London to study with Vera Volkova.

Having adopted the stage name Maurice Béjart – a homage to Molière's wife the actress Armande Béjart – he toured with several small companies. In 1949 he joined Mona Inglesby's International Ballet and danced a number of important roles, including the virtuoso Bluebird pas de deux in that company's Sleeping Beauty. The following year he joined the company of the Swedish choreographer Birgit Cullberg, where he had his first experience of modern dance. He also worked with the Royal Swedish Ballet for a time, which led to his first film choreography and his first Stravinsky ballet, The Firebird (1952).

Although he had been choreographing since an early age it was not until 1953, after a break caused by ill-health and obligatory military service, that Béjart formed his own small company in association with the actor and writer Jean Laurent, based at the Théâtre de l'Etoile in Paris. The most important work of this period was Symphonie pour un homme seul, danced to the musique concrète of Pierre Henry. Béjart's musical tastes were eclectic, and he could just as happily make dances to scores by Albinoni or Gerry Mulligan, or mix electronic sound with Tchaikovsky, as he did later in Nijinsky, Clown of God (1971).

His breakthrough came in 1959 when he created his version of Rite of Spring for a season of dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels. The cast was made up of dancers from his own small company, Western Theatre Ballet and Les Ballets Janine Charrat, plus the troupe from the Monnaie. The mix of theatricality and eroticism proved an instant hit and Béjart was invited to become resident choreographer at the Monnaie with a greatly enlarged company which he renamed Ballet of the Twentieth Century.

It was here that forged his reputation, making small works like Webern Opus Five and his homage to Marius Petipa, Ni fleurs ni couronnes (a deconstructed version of the Rose Adagio) as well as monumental works for the vast Forest National arena in Brussels. The company toured widely in Europe.

Béjart attracted some exceptional dancers, notable among them Paolo Bortoluzzi, Shonach Mirk, Maina Gielgud and the Argentinian Jorge Donn who for more than two decades was a central focus of Béjart's life, both professionally and personally. Dancers loved working with him. Many remained with him throughout their careers, despite the modest salaries paid even to principal dancers.

Other famous dancers were happy to work with Béjart for short periods or in specially created works. For Rudolf Nureyev he made a duet, Songs of a Wayfarer, to the Mahler song cycle, which Nureyev danced for many years. Balanchine's muse, Suzanne Farrell, was a member of the company for a period and when she left to rejoin New York City Ballet, Balanchine is said to have remarked that 'she left him as a girl and came back a woman'. Certainly her remarkable technique had not declined during her years in Brussels, since Béjart insisted on a very high standard of teaching for his dancers.

Despite the adulation surrounding him, Béjart remained entirely level-headed, living quite simply. He had a keen and often earthy sense of humour. He made no secret of his homosexuality, and he generally lived alone, even when in long-term relationships. Nor was he backward in expressing his admiration for other choreographers.

In 1987, following a dispute with Gérard Mortier, the new director of the Monnaie, Béjart moved his base from Brussels to Lausanne in Switzerland. In Lausanne he had good working conditions, complete artistic freedom and the possibility of re-establishing the dance and theatre school he had set up in Brussels. (A similar school, Mudra Afrique, operated in Dakar between 1977 and 1985).

He continued working, creating and touring widely. In all, Béjart made more than 200 ballets, besides directing operas, plays and films. Most of his work was for his own company, but he made several ballets for the Paris Opéra (he was offered the directorship there on more than one occasion but always declined). For the Deutsche Oper Berlin, he made an ambitious full-evening work, Ring around "The Ring", which encapsulated all four of the Wagner operas.

Béjart wrote prolifically, including several volumes of autobiography and a novel, Mathilde (1963), plus copious programme notes for his ballets.

Béjart received numerous awards and prizes during his life.

At his best, Béjart produced some of the most exciting dance theatre of our time. Among his astonishingly large output of about 220 creations, the three most likely to survive in the repertoire are his devastatingly simple but gripping Bolero and his highly original treatments of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and The Firebird. In both of these latter, characteristically, he gave more importance than usual to male dancing. His Firebird was the leader of a partisan troop, shot and killed in battle but returning in spirit to inspire continued resistance. For Rite, he abandoned the original idea of a single female sacrificial victim in favour of showing a man and a woman chosen to save their tribe through ritual copulation and death.

Advancing years, and sorrow at the death of some close friends, did not interrupt his activity and originality. He continued making new ballets right up to his death in late-November 2007, in spite of illness (exhaustion plus heart and kidney problems) that required his frequent admission to hospital. His final ballet, Around the World in 80 Minutes, was premiered in Lausanne in December 2007.

Obituary in The Times
Obituary in The Independent

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ron Athey

Ron Athey born 16 December 1961

Ron Athey is an American artist associated with body art and with extreme performance art. He has performed in the US and internationally (especially in the UK and Europe).

As an artist, Athey uses his body to explore controversial subject matters such as the relationship between desire, sexuality, and self-mutilation. Much of his work uses the dynamics of S&M in order to confront pre-conceived ideas about the body in relation to masculinity and religious iconography. Athey's emphasis on sexuality and the queer body made him a target for the Far Right in the 1990s.

Even though Athey had received only $150 of financial support for his work from the National Endowment for the Arts via his 1994 performance at the Walker Art Center, during the 1990s his name was raised in public debates about state sponsorship of art about sexuality and AIDS. In many ways, these events continue to shape public perception of his work, even though he has not since been the recipient of public funding in the United States.

Athey's work is informed by his pentecostal upbringing and frequently explores religious subjects.

Athey engages with the ideas of queer philosophers and artists like Georges Bataille, Pierre Molinier and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Athey's performance Solar Anus refers directly to one of Bataille's essays, and in 2002 Athey curated an endurance/performance festival inspired by Pasolini's films. The Solar Anus performance is included as part of Athey's starring role in the Danish feature film HotMen CoolBoyz (2000), directed by Knud Vesterskov and produced by Lars von Trier's company Zentropa. The film was nominated for five GayVN Awards, including a Best Solo Performance nomination for Ron Athey.

He has also, with Vaginal Davis, curated performance art festivals in the US and in Europe.

Athey has been a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers including Honcho and the L.A. Weekly, and occasionally teaches performance studies.

After spending 47 years in California, Athey is now based and living in London, teaching, mentoring and creating new performance works.

In 2010 Athey created a performance piece with a larger cast called Gifts of the Spirit: Automatic Writing Study and A Score) focused upon notions of channelling through automatic writing, at the Queen Mary, University of London. In June 2011, he created a new version of this piece performed at the University of Manchester, featuring 16 automatic writers with a team of editors and typists, a musician and an ecstatic choir. I was one of those automatic writers.