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Rehearsals 2016 – The View from San Francisco (Day 2)

by | May 4, 2016 | 2016 Rehearsals, Uncategorized

Rehearsals 2016 – The View from San Francisco (Day 2)

by | May 4, 2016 | 2016 Rehearsals, Uncategorized

Yesterday I began reviewing this year’s rehearsals, and much like the real-life first rehearsals, I found the first round to be very educational. For example, I learned that Europe has many Republics, that I really can’t come up with proper adjectives to describe San Marino, and that you really shouldn’t try climbing LED screens at home.

Today, luckily for all of you, I can skip my “remember, this is only the first rehearsal” speech and move straight into our second batch of rehearsals.

You should probably go to the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich first. A very big one.

10. Czech Republic:

Yesterday’s final rehearsal, Russia, told us it was getting exciting, and they were not lying. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a Eurovision in possession of uptempo songs, midtempo songs and general craziness must be in want of an elegant, straightforward and well-performed female ballad. Gabriela – for full disclosure I should say that even though I am a straight woman, she’s totally my girl crush this year – delivers exactly that.

If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Much like Russia, the Czech Republic transferred significant visual elements from their official video – triangles and flowers, mainly – to their stage, which is a smart choice as the video was beautifully done, with well thought-out visual themes and a unique color scheme. Gabriela wears a relatively simple white dress and has colors projected on it from the waist down, using the shape of the dress as a way to coordinate not only with the backdrop’s colors but also its patterns. It seems like the backdrop and floor change as the song moves forward, adding a more dynamic dimension to the song. The camerawork, apparently, could use some adjustments – mostly to make better use of Gabriela’s lovely face – but otherwise the Czechs seem to be sailing safely towards their first final appearance.

It's just a little crush | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

It’s just a little crush | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

The other exciting news to come out from this rehearsal was that if before I was arguing with people who claimed the Czech Republic will not qualify because it’s the Czech Republic, I have now moved on to arguing with people who claim the Czech Republic will not make it into the top 10 in the final because it’s the Czech Republic. Life is all about progress!

11. Cyprus:

It's really not the same without Michael and Lincoln | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

It’s really not the same without Michael and Lincoln | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Cages have such a remarkable Eurovision track record (just ask Yüksek Sadakat) that Cyprus decided the best approach would be setting up a cage in the size of a small castle. The dark background incorporates patterns that match the cage bars, but it is a bit hard to notice when so many blaring lights attack your senses at the same time. Once you get used to the lights refusing to rest for more than 0.0003 of a second at a time, you will notice the band, doing its usual “look at us, we’re a cool band singing a totally credible rock song that is not at all a glorified schlager that G:son wrote in five minutes” thing, and it works well enough. There are apparently CGI wolves running around somewhere although I am yet to witness that, and the blogs suggest the camera work is still soul-searching.

Live it up | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Live it up | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

On a happier – and louder – note: It appears they have gotten themselves a backing singer, which the lead vocals desperately needed for some more depth.

12. Austria:

Life is full of surprises. Look at me. I don’t like sugar: not in food, not in my tea and definitely not in my music. And pastel colors? Lock me up in a room painted with a violent swirl of pastel colors for three minutes and I will confess anything.

Zoë in Wonderland | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Zoë in Wonderland | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Which probably explains my next confession: I love Austria. There, I said it.

Zoë is sweet and lovely, and her tune makes me happy. While it’s true that even after being shortened from four to the mandatory Eurovision three minutes it still feels like four, at least we’re having four very happy minutes!

Zoë in Oz | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Zoë in Oz | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

The rich, busy mix of pastels and bright colors stands out in comparison to pretty much everything in semi 1. With her treadmill gone, Zoë relies on a very dynamic backdrop to tell the story of this imaginary land, and she does so with grace and sincerity. It’s true that this one is very much in danger of being overly sweet, but if there was ever a proof that even the biggest antisugarists can fall for this, it is currently writing this post.

13. Estonia:

March 8th 2016 – staging concept brainstorming session, ERR Studios, Tallinn, Estonia

“Alright, people, get it together,” the staging director called as he was pacing nervously around the room. “We only have a few more days until the deadline, and we still need to figure this staging thing out.”

Not Casino Royale | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Not Casino Royale | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

“Excuse me,” a young brave girl raised a hand, “what’s wrong with the current staging?”

The director rolled his eyes. Kids, he thought, they know nothing. “We’ve already used it! We had one for the semi, one for the Eesti Laul semi final and now we need a new one! Anyone got something useful to say?”

Everyone maintained their silence. The director continued. “On the table you will find pencils and blank pieces of paper. I want you to write the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘play’ and place the note in this bowl.” He gestured at the table. A few minutes later, he picked up the bowl, shut his eyes, and pulled out a note. “Deck of playing cards!” he exclaimed. “Excellent! Let’s do this!”

Still not Casino Royale | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Still not Casino Royale | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

No, really. What else could explain this? I know that sometimes it’s nice to take a phrase or an idea and treat it literally, but first of all: the idea of using cards and magic tricks is tacky. Who do you think you are, Daria Kinzer? Secondly, if you decided to use cards, could you at least make the stage look less ugly? It’s so ugly, that neither Martin Stenmarck nor Alex Sings Oscar Swings (or is it the other way around?) would consider using it. If Play dies a painful death and the Estonians ask themselves what happened, it’s then, in that staging meeting I didn’t actually attend, when everything went horribly wrong.

14. Azerbaijan:

Today, children, we witnessed the season’s first case of Eurovisionitis. It is a seasonal medical condition which tends to emerge during the month of May, and is very common among singers whose full rehearsals were leaked online and in which they sound like they could sing for four more hours without hitting a single note correctly.

In your face, Armenia! | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

In your face, Armenia! | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

It is only fitting that an entry that boasts lyrics such as “we crash and we burn, you live and you learn”, will show up on stage, crashing, and burning, not doing too well on the living side of things, and definitely not learning from their own 2015 experience: sometimes, songs need five backing vocalists.

I’ve gone temporarily deaf listening to her, so as I recover allow me to recycle a “she will need a miracle to hit those notes” joke. Personally, though, I’d suggest sending their prayers for a miracle to the Gods of Sound Mixing. I’ll even recommend sending a tribute or two along – perhaps the two backing dancers that don’t really do vocals. I don’t entirely understand how they ended up with only two backing vocalists. Have they not heard Samra sing? Granted, she was better in the promo tours, but even then I had her as a qualifier under the condition of having five wonderfully talented Swedish backing vocalists.

May the odds be ever in your favor | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

May the odds be ever in your favor | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Visually, however, matters improve drastically. Like most backdrops so far, I can’t recognize what the pattern is supposed to be, but it’s nice and gold and warm and it creates a comfortable setting. Singing aside, the act also includes carefully thought-out and appealing choreography – and there’s a lot of fireworks too, because: Azerbaijan.

15. Montenegro:

The good news: They have a backdrop that makes sense! And nice! Dark, obviously, but hey, it works for the song.

Gates of Babylon | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Gates of Babylon | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Not so good news: There seems to have been a coup in the Montenegrin camp in which an unidentified woman Sakised over the Montenegrin act, strategically placing herself on a small stage of her own, in front of the main stage, and the guys have been relegated to just stand behind her, make noises and pretend they are playing instruments.

Zig-a-zig-ah! | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Zig-a-zig-ah! | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Not that it matters, really, because the only thing this song is going to do is to compete with San Marino for the honor of not finishing last. But in case you are wondering, from what I can hear, they sound fine. From what I can read, it looks frantic, and from what I can gather, I still have no idea what that woman is doing there.

16. Iceland:

We walk hand in hand to a peaceful land | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

We walk hand in hand to a peaceful land | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

By this point, you might have managed to pick up on my subtle hints and subliminal messages regarding my opinion of this year’s stage. Therefore, I cannot blame the Icelandic delegation for choosing to just ignore it altogether, and bring their own LED screen, as low-tech as it is, instead.

Where's Ivan when you need him?? | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Where’s Ivan when you need him?? | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Basically: It’s what it has always been. The only thing that changed is that now you can argue about who in this semi makes a better use of a LED screen (I’m undecided: Iceland is more artsy, but Russia has an invisible staircase! I totally want one!) in addition to arguing about how much of her staging Greta picked up from past Swedish winners.

17. Bosnia & Herzegovina:

I don’t know about you, but the first thing that comes into my mind when I hear about a song that is called “Love Is” is darkness, barbed wire, and thermal blankets.

Baby, it's cold outside | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Baby, it’s cold outside | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Oh, it’s an ethnic number, you say? It involves singing in Bosnian and rapping in Bosnian, you say? That totally changes the picture!

No, wait, I’m still not getting it.

There must be another way | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

There must be another way | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Apparently there’s some sort of a message here, as eventually our merry group of performers unites beyond the barbed wire, but do we really need this? I think it could have benefited from a cleaner, more concise and visually appealing performance to what is already a mishmash of elements. Luckily for them, people might be too busy during the entry to notice, as they will still be reading all those artist names.

18. Malta:

Projecting Ira’s Face and all kind of other random things on any available surface on stage: check
Horrible fashion sense: check
Modern ballet: check
Hidden backing singers: check
Blue backdrop: Do you even need to ask?

Seriously, it's so creepy I can't even come up with a proper caption | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Seriously, it’s so creepy I can’t even come up with a proper caption | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

I’m no stranger to brilliant Maltese staging ideas, and yet seeing Ira’s faces projected on the backside of her dancer’s cape caught me off guard, because it’s totally creepy. Elsewhere, the backdrop – apart from being blue at times – is quite lovely and does pretty things with reds and yellows in the snippet before turning to blue on the word “water”.

There’s only one problem: I’m totally distracted by Ira’s cape (well, she calls it a coat. I call it “I don’t care what you call it, it’s ugly”). She is marginally saved by Croatia’s Nina from winning the ugliest pre-costume-change costume award though, so there’s always a silver lining.

Speak, friend, and enter | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Speak, friend, and enter | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Anyhow, yes. She wears a cape. Things are projected on it. I can’t tell what. Seems like the blogs can’t, either. But the vocals are great, the last place in the running order even more so, and Ira, her cape and her projected face will return to haunt us next Saturday.

This concludes the first rehearsals of the first semi final – which can only lead to one important question: How did San Marino end up having one of the saner stagings in this semi?

Also, before I leave, let me show you what I think of Sweden, which was the first direct qualifier to rehearse and finished off the day for us.

Sorry | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Sorry | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Sweden has always been consistent about its staging, as they barely change anything between Melodifestivalen and Eurovision, and this year is no different. It’s still Frans with his electronic board, and it’s all working perfectly with nothing to cause anyone to run amok through the halls of Globen, screaming “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! THE GLASS IS NOT BREAKING!”

Not sorry | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Not sorry | © eurovision.tv / Andres Putting

Like a few other songs in this semi, it is what it is. If you loved it before, you still do. If you didn’t get it before, you still have no idea what Frans wants and how it is possible to be offkey in spoken word. But he seems comfortable in it, and looking at this semi, the final could use a few stripped back moments.


That is all for today, then. Coming up tomorrow: Pacemakers, Crayons, Survivors, Star Charts, Wolves, Bunkers, Sunglasses, Donuts, Vilnius Nightlife, Dead Phone Lines and hopefully some nicer backdrops.

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