SMU-in-London: Arts 2012

During the SMU-in-London: Arts summer program, students are taking courses that explore solo performance and the city “as” performance. The students will create and perform original works, all against the backdrop of the Queen’s Jubilee and the Summer Olympics.

Food, glorious food!

An update from Dance Professor Shelley Berg:

The SMU London Arts students, as part of their investigation of all things “performative” in the city of London, spent an indulgent morning exploring Borough Market in the Southwark area of South London.  There has been a market in this area since 1014 and, by the 13th century, grain, vegetable, fish and livestock traders relocated to what is now the Borough Market site.  There are currently over 100 traders, who ply their wares there, both local and international.  The high standards of the Market are ensured by an impartial panel of food experts that “ensure that the taste, provenance and quality of foods sold are all regularly measured and maintained and support small traders to meet these standards.”

The students trolled the stalls, sampled the extensive foodstuffs and gathered fresh ingredients – both familiar and unfamiliar – for family dinners at their flats.  They found sumptuous displays of mushrooms and truffles, steaming pans of paella, silky goat cheese ice cream (raspberry and chili was only one of the flavors), and fresh bread baked in flower pots.  Take a look at their terrific photos of their experience.

We branched out and tried organic goat's milk ice cream.

Gorgeous watermelons

Rare mushrooms of all shapes and sizes.

A nut stand, where the seller was handing out samples: I tried the chocolate covered hazelnuts and they were delicious.

One of the numerous fresh produce stands. Everything on this stand looked as though it could be devoured right there.


Oliver's Bakery where we tried bread with organic olive oil. They also had some desserts; the brownies were phenomenal!

This station gave an entirely new meaning to "grilled cheese" - the sizzling blocks of freshly melted cheese could be eaten in a fresh panini as a tasty afternoon snack.

Cooked on a gigantic hot plate, the massive mixture of seafood paella simmered enticingly, producing an irresistible aroma.

For the merchants of Borough Market, the presentation of food is just as important as the taste. The delicious breads are baked into the shape of blooming flowers and presented in actual pots.

A man shucks fresh oysters right in front of the passers-by, allowing everyone to admire his performance and the fresh quality of his product.

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Blast from the past

An update from Lee:

When you stepped into the Vintage Village at the Battersea Park Queen’s Jubilee Celebration, you stepped back in time. Tents were filled with corsets from the ’20s, hats from the ’30s, dresses from the ’40s and ’50s and jewelry that spanned the decades. Each booth invited you in, welcoming you to view the fashions of the day like small museums with their wares on exhibit. You could touch anything. You could try on anything. Of course, you could buy anything, and the booth keepers hoped you would buy it all. They stood encouragingly nearby and pointed out objects you may have missed, as well as sizes and colors you might prefer.

Aside from the wet grass and the rain, the atmosphere was perfect. The Village was strategically placed near the main band stage so that the loud music set the mood. I found myself dancing and singing as I moved from booth to booth, and I wasn’t the only one!

Because there were so many booths, and because they were so spread out, access to a booth was rarely a problem. It was rare that a booth was so crowded you couldn’t get to the object you wanted to see. This made shopping easy. The only barrier to actually buying was that most booths only accepted cash payment.  This may have been in keeping with the past, but few who shopped had brought with them the kind of cash to afford items that cost 45 or 75 pounds, if not more.

Many village visitors had come dressed in their finest vintage costumes. The better their costumes, the more you wanted to look like them. This was certainly incentive to buy from the vendors. The best dressed were selected to walk the runway set up near the village.  A trio that sounded and looked just like the Andrews Sisters kicked off the runway show with classic hits.  Surrounded by sights and sounds of the past, you were reminded of just how long the Queen has served England. Sixty years covers so many changes in music and fashion.

I am hard-pressed to think of any event in America that remotely captures the import and the spirit of what I experienced at Battersea Park. A sea of British flags waved as far as the eye could see. Thousands of British subjects cheered their Queen. As I watched, I was filled with emotion and a sense of awe. Who in America has borne the responsibility of 60 years of service to their country in such a public and prominent position? I cannot help but wish that our country had someone who would inspire that much pride in our country and unite us.

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Fashion and beauty at the Diamond Jubilee

An update from Ali, a senior dance major and elementary education minor: 

Sunday morning is usually a sit on the couch in pajamas and drink three cups of coffee before throwing on some comfy clothes kind of morning.  This past Sunday, however, began with standing at the front of a line for three hours in 49 degree, rainy weather outside the park hosting the Jubilee Festival during the River Pageant in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s 60th year of reign.

While we may not have been pleased with waking up at 6 am on a weekend and sitting in line, it was a necessary task in order to experience the pomp and elegance that the British do best.  Maybe it was the little amount of sleep, the possibility of seeing Wills and Kate, or maybe it was the pure excitement knowing we would be a part of British history, but the 16 of us took to heart the saying “when in Rome.”  We seem to have picked up a collective attempt at an English accent and are now experts at waiting in line, which the Brits affectionately refer to as “queuing up” (they also take these queues very seriously).

Once in the park, we were taken through the decades of the Queen’s reign through fashion, music, dance, food, and entertainment.  Although the organized events were intriguing and fun, the best part of the day was watching and experiencing the excitement of the English.  It almost made me jealous because I would never feel as strongly as they did about the significance of this celebration.  The memories made in Battersea Park demonstrated how pride and love for one’s country can bring a nation together, just as the experience brought the 16 of us together. I will always remember the cold and rain, but more so the laughter and the culture we were a part of.

The festival organized in Battersea Park in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee was a once-in-a-lifetime celebration not to be missed.  One of the highlights was celebrating the fashion and beauty through the eras of the Queen’s reign.  There were fashion shows going on, awards given for best outfits, and historical makeovers being done — all in the rain! The people running the booths were dolled up in styles of the 1950s.  People all over the park were styling red lipstick, curled hair, and A-line skirts to pay tribute to the fashion and beauty during the Queen’s coronation.

These workers not only were dressed up, but also were the ones making over the festivalgoers. Their parts as performers in the festival were both as characters and as technicians; they embodied the 1950s woman and used their skills to transform the rain-drenched participants into performers themselves! The audience in Battersea Park was the thousands of people who were lucky enough to get a ticket to the event before they were sold out.

There were many activities in the park that blurred the lines between audience and original performers.  An example is the part of the festival when people were given ribbons for creative or best outfits.  The Londoners, as audience, went all out with their patriotic clothing.  Everything was red, white, and blue or the pattern of the Union Jack flag.  The audience became performers who were given awards or just caught the attention of those of us who were less spirited.

Looking back on the experience, if the weather would have been more conducive to coiffed hair and a full face of makeup, it would have been amusing to be Betty Draper for an afternoon! But instead, I admired from afar and attempted to put the Queen’s length of reign into perspective and definitely made most of the celebration that was not drenched by the cold London rain.

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Jumping into London’s melting pot

An update from Kelsey, a sophomore majoring in dance:

Between the Jubilee’s grand stage and vintage carousel rides in Battersea Park, I found a food haven and cultural melting pot boiling with Mediterranean, Indian, and even Mexican cuisine. With over 15 concession stands selling food ranging from steamy Thai soup to chocolate Mexican churros, the decision was difficult. However, my rumbling stomach led me to the shortest line in the park: an Italian booth serving their famed ‘Risotto Balls.’ Although the flavorful risotto satisfied my hunger, it did not satisfy my curiosity, leaving me to question the other genres served at the Jubilee.

London’s residents have many ethnic backgrounds, primarily stemming from England’s imperial past. London’s cultural diversity is embodied in its food, from Indian curry houses to French-inspired cafes and traditional pubs. The Jubilee mirrored the city’s diversity — a city where local traditions interact and fuse with global societies. This ‘glocal’ awareness creates a stew of culture and urban identity that was highlighted in the Jubilee’s food options.

This stew of cultural cuisine also reflected the heritage of England’s commoners, with their quaint tea and treat shops associated with British royalty. While the image of the Queen’s face or delicate British foliage adorned the tea, biscuit, and cake stands, the ethnic food corner of the park lacked such detail. Here the prices more accurately reflected the product, and people gathered to eat a sustainable meal. For example, after a considerable amount of encouraging from a fellow queue member, I ate a precious risotto treat that fell on the floor (five second rule), thereby demonstrating the common man’s hunger. Although coffee and teashops were sprinkled throughout the park, the ethnic booths served as the central hub for finding food, making this spot not only a commonplace but also a culturally diverse city within itself.

Despite practically dying from below-freezing temperatures and torrential downpours, my overall experience at the festival exceeded my expectations. With my mission in this study abroad program being to eventually think and perform as an indigenous Londoner, I climbed up and down to find authentic London experiences. Literally climbing on top of a portable toilet to see the flotilla, I stood with hundreds of people who admire their queen; and although I might have hung off the edge of a toilet –  holding on for dear life – the struggle was well worth the view.

Overall, the Jubilee helped to accomplish my mission of short-term London citizenship. The celebration stirred me into the true melting pot of London life. Surrounded by amazing company, I listened to an English choir, shopped through the vintage village, and even plummeted to what seemed like certain death in a terrifying carnival ride. I am so privileged to have gotten the opportunity to celebrate the queen’s reign with her biggest fans — the residents of London.

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Theater at Battersea Park

An update from Carson, a junior theatre studies major:

Standing in line outside of Battersea Park, we had run out of things to occupy our time. It was 10:25, almost half an hour after the park was supposed to open. We had been waiting since 7:30 that morning as it rained down upon us. To keep from concentrating too much on my wet socks, I turned to people-watching.

Behind me was the largest display of theatrics that I saw the entire day in Battersea Park. There stood a woman dressed in a full-length white dress. She had slept in pin curls and sprayed her hair within an inch of its life, secured in a standard ’50s up-do. Atop her head sat a rhinestone tiara from what looked like a child’s store. She wore oversized pearl earrings and a faux white fur coat. And to top it all off, she carried a miniature stuffed Corgi under her arm. The theatricality of this woman could not be denied; she was attempting to be the Queen.

As we walked through the park later that day, I saw women and men decked out in Union Flag apparel, shouting and singing, holding flags with a printed “HELLO!” – all to display to the audience of those around them that, yes! I am patriotic! I care about this country and about this Queen! Look at me!

These theatrics inevitably were to draw attention to the wearer. Those inside the park were looking to impress their fellow Englishmen. On the bank of the River Thames, we saw hundreds of people in costumes, waving “HELLO” to earn the attention of the Queen, or perhaps even more prestigious, of Kate Middleton. What we saw of Battersea Park paled in comparison to its inhabitants. I couldn’t find a more well-produced show within its boundaries.

As for the Jubilee celebration itself, I found that it was well intentioned. There were lines of tents with foods of every kind, and at least four venues for music from across the 60 years of the Queen’s reign. However, the crowds could not have been handled more poorly. From the time we entered to the time we left an hour and a half later, there were still long lines of people attempting to get into the park. The spot we had reserved along the bank had been crowded out, and we were all soaked to the bone from waiting for that spot in the first place.

An hour after entering, the crowd was still growing and there was no way anymore to see any part of the Flotilla, let alone the Queen. So instead, we drank tea and watched the royal family from the comfort of our own flat. With all due respect to the Queen, I found the watching of the actual Flotilla much more enjoyable while in my pajamas. And with the weather the way it was, I’m certain Her Majesty wouldn’t have minded joining us.

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At the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

An update from Shelley Berg, professor of dance in Meadows School of the Arts:

We were all at the Diamond Jubilee Pageant party this morning at Battersea Park, which was packed with people waving souvenir flags, cheering and watching the spectacle of 1,000 boats moving down the historic Thames River from the Albert Bridge through the famous Tower Bridge.

The Queen’s boat, the Spirit of Chartwell, was resplendent in red and gold, bedecked with hundreds of flowers and flanked by dozens of rowboats, gondolas, cruisers, steamboats and historic vessels, including some of the Dunkirk Little Ships.  The Royal family, including the Duchess of Cambridge in a stunning red dress and matching “fascinator,” boarded their vessel quite near me, and I was able to see the magnificence of the pageantry the British do so well, and hear the joyous peals of bells and the resounding enthusiasm of the crowds.  The weather is in keeping with the British sensibility of the occasion – chilly, windy and intermittently drizzling, but it hasn’t dampened the spirit of the people lining the river banks.

The SMU in London: Arts group at Salisbury Cathedral

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