Cultural heavyweights

One of the defining features of reality is weight. Fantasies have all the gravity-defying pleasure of an oxygen deprived high, but trying to recreate them in life evokes the spine-shrinkingly horrible sensation of throwing a piece of paper as hard as you can. Maybe it's why fashion models are parchment light, as epitomised in Arthur Elgort's Caroline Trentini/Billy Elliot shoot for Vogue. They sacrifice their autonomous solidity to remain figments and fragments of play. Although a diet of tampons probably has a hand in it too.

Weight is less about bulk than breath. I breathe shallowly when I daydream, as if buoying up my fragile mind-land like a feather on the breeze; a robust lungfull would bring sensation and perception flooding in. Indeed, actors have a dangerous tendency to restrict or hold their breath, as if to maintain the illusion of otherness, or suspend their emotions so they can eke them out at will. In Michael Grandage's production of Ivanov, Kenneth Branagh is so extraordinary because he is so present; full of breath, weighted with it, relaxed with it, he moves and feels and talks from somewhere deep in his diaphragm, and looks shockingly like a real person who has clambered onto the stage. It reminded me of Simon Russell-Beale in Galileo, padding about the Olivier's stage like a rational man caught in a historical dream. Watching these men feels like switching to theatre in HD.

People hate Branagh because he's Branagh, but that's what makes him so great. He refuses virtuoso techniques or physical ticks in favour of breathing in front of us, looking at us and speaking to us. His Ivanov is sublimely mundane, constantly undermining his own attempts to find nobility or grandiosity in the navel-gazing of a mid-life crisis. In the hands of Stoppard and Branagh, Chekhov has never seemed so unrelenting in exposing our risible weakness, or so skilled in demonstrating how rivetingly powerful that weakness can be.

And so to Rothko. As the realibly and wittily iconoclastic David Barrie points out, there is a lot of wank written about the spiritual transcendence of these coloured squares, now starring in a new exhibition at the Tate Modern. But this sentimentalising masks the fact that their true power lies in their very dullness. Their sense of unremitting, unwieldy physical presence is what makes them seem so alive. Architectural, pigment-heavy, laboriously layered, these paintings trap you in their self-satisfied, inexplicable existence, and are as profoundly shallow, as fascinatingly boring, as any human being.

Basically, Ivanov is a Rothko. I think. I suspect I have ascended into the ethereal realms of rootless imagination, trailing chiffony wisps of bullshit. Sombody throw me a Krispy Kreme.