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A one-woman weaving

Review: Suzanne Ingelbrecht, PRESENTES! ·
Minnawarra Chapel, Armadale, November 28 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Like millions around the world in 1987, I listened to U2’s Joshua Tree on repeat. And its final track, the hauntingly beautiful and desperately sad “Mothers of the Disappeared” grabbed me by the throat (and led me to my school’s Amnesty group). A hymn to human rights, the song refers to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose children had “forcibly disappeared” at the hands of the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships.

The mothers’ heart-breaking plight is a central thread in Suzanne Ingelbrecht’s one-woman play. Written and performed by Ingelbrecht, and directed by Igor Sas,  PRESENTES! weaves song, dance, film and storytelling to relay her physical and psychological journey through South America.

“Presentes” is Spanish for “here” or “present”. The mothers (now grandmothers) march every Thursday, 40 years after their children were taken off the streets. Their presence, their visibility, has spurred the ongoing search for truth and justice.

Footage from the weekly march and portraits of the disappeared, etched into glass at a memorial, are projected on a screen at the back of the stage (the work of filmmakers Belinda Thomas and Tina Aliedani).

A woman smiling, standing in front of a projection of film footage of women at a protest.
‘PRESENTES!’ weaves song, dance, film and storytelling to relay Suzanne Ingelbrecht’s physical and psychological journey through South America. Photo: Organic Productions.

Ingelbrecht also uses the word “presentes” to represent her own refusal “to go quietly into invisibility, shuffling off this mortal coil with an apologetic look back over my shoulder”. In 2016, she travelled from Buenos Aires, across the Andes to Chile, back to Argentina and down to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.

One of the most dramatic episodes re-enacted during the show is a trek through ice and 80km/hour winds in Patagonia. I enjoyed the suspenseful story of a hairy bus ride a on dodgy road and the tale of a poignant encounter with a masked Airbnb host.

Ingelbrecht says she undertook the epic trip to connect with her childhood fantasies, stirred by her father’s fascination for the Incas and Andes. Vignettes about her relationship with her dad form a key part of the play. One relating to dashed expectations at a swimming carnival is particularly moving.

Less successful, for me, are the stories about the fraught relationship with her travelling companion, Sarah. Some jokes landed (such as Sarah’s criticism, over breakfast in Chile, of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize). But I found Ingelbrecht’s unflattering imitations of her frenemy mean spirited; an airing of dirty laundry. Why do some friends “disappear from your life”, she asks. Linking the women’s “breakup” to the disappearance theme also seemed distasteful, given the seemingly petty nature of the women’s dispute and the unspeakable tragedy faced by the mothers of the disappeared.

The tango, which embraces both passion and cruelty, becomes an effective motif in the show and fabulous footage of a social tango dance evokes a sense of place.

Ingelbrecht is a multi-skilled performer. My favourite scenes in PRESENTES! comprise Ingelbrecht dancing by herself, with just a chair on stage, to piano accordion music composed and played by Cathie Travers (choreography by Li-anne Carroll).

“PRESENTES!” will be performed again outside the Artists’ Retail Collective (ARC) Building in Jull Street Mall, Armadale on Thursday, December 13 at 8pm.

Pictured top is Suzanne Ingelbrecht in “PRESENTES!” Photo: Organic Productions.

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At surface level

Review: Rebecca McCauley & Aaron Claringbold, ‘Speaking to the Surface of Lake’; Matt Aitkin and Mei Swan Lim, ‘Land Sale’; Tessa Rex, ‘Sequestered’; James Doohan & Bianca Sharkey, ‘Astro Morphs Ascension’ ·
Cool Change Contemporary ·
Review by Belinda Hermawan ·

One of Perth’s newest artist-run initiatives, Cool Change Contemporary, has curated a joint exhibition that explores landscape, perspective and the ever-challenging impact of mankind on our natural environment. Located in separate gallery spaces, the artists’ works transcend the walls that divide them, drawing invisible lines of connection.

Matt Aitken and Mei Swan Lim’s “Land Sale”, showing in Gallery 2, is a mixed media delight that is the most successful of the four exhibitions. Their play on “yellow sand” and “white sand” highlights the incompatibility of urban sprawl and conservation efforts. The Home Reno Craft tables look like furniture you’d find in a kindergarten – chunky and childlike, a white and yellow puzzle suggestive of play. But this infantility hints at a collective ignorance, something that is highlighted and critiqued by the title AV installation, in which we watch land being cleared for housing developments and witness the pervading social emptiness of streets built on these fringes.

Aitken and Lim’s Mountain Dune features fluorescent yellow sand in a PVC bottle, suggesting an unnatural toxicity that is also alluded to in several of the photographs on the opposite wall, in contrast to the natural yellow of desert landscape. The lines linking evidentiary materials in the Big Map are also fluorescent yellow, rather than the red often used in depictions of investigation or conspiracy maps, and the tongue-in-cheek evidence causes its own alarm when you realise these “crimes” are not so funny after all.

A person dressed in hi-res gear, in a desert, at sunset
Matt Aitken & Mei Swan Lim, Land Sale, 2018, single channel video, 12:40.

There are some stunning shots of unceded land in Rebecca McCauley and Aaron Claringbold’s “Speaking to the Surface of a Lake” in Gallery 1. The artists have purposely dispensed with the trope of the horizontal line on which landscape photography has long relied, successfully frustrating the viewer, who can no longer judge scale. The photographs of Lake King are a highlight in this regard, also capturing hues and textures absent from the type of photography one might see in, say, tourism campaigns.

The various salt compositions on display are also unique, though their placement on the window sill and centre plinth seems to underplay how much of a natural wonder they are. Perhaps this is the point, to place the extraordinary in the ordinary, unsettling the viewer. There is also a lot of unused floorspace around the crowded centre plinth and, while this may be a deliberate play on our sense of scale, the obvious vastness acts to reduce the images; on first glance, one might dismiss the photographs as stock images.

Rebecca McCauley & Aaron Claringbold, Speaking to the surface of a lake (exhibition view)
Rebecca McCauley & Aaron Claringbold, ‘Speaking to the surface of a lake’ (exhibition view).

The viewing of Tessa Rex’s “Sequestered” in Gallery 3 seems to suffer as a result of the way it has been installed. Rex’s title work is a nine-minute video loop, but it’s difficult to engage with the projected Arctic image and the classical audio track. There is nowhere to sit, and standing is a disorienting experience when you’re not sure if you’re meant to be looking for changing nuances in the image or whether it is permanently static (or, in fact, jammed). Similarly, it’s easy to dismiss the music as a dramatic device. On reading about Rex’s residency in sub-arctic Canada it becomes clear this former activist and now non-classical documentary maker has put a lot of thought into this piece, and it translates better when viewed online. The three “experiments”, backlit with pink light in the centre of the room, are diminished by the confusion over the video experience.

Tessa Rex, SEQUESTERED, 2018, single channel video, 9:00
Tessa Rex, ‘Sequestered’, 2018, single channel video, 9:00.

In the Project Space room, James Doohan and Bianca Sharkey’s Astro Morphs is a highly original, colourful performance piece that embraces human movement and playfully incorporates molecular patterns. It is deliberately cryptic, with the artists delivering a “nuanced confusion”, as they term it, in the journey of characters Yow and Sox. Again, the way the work has been installed in the space affected this viewing experience. While there is a bench to sit on, there isn’t a blackout curtain at the door (as there is in Gallery 3) and complete cinema blackout is, arguably, required to hold the viewer’s attention to the psychedelic visuals. The inclusion of three masks and a full-body suit – props from the performance – at the side of the room distracts the eye, and the open-door entrance is an exit reminder. This creative piece is likely best enjoyed while fully immersed.

This was my first visit to Cool Change, and its location on the first floor of the Bon Marche building is surprisingly secluded. I look forward to seeing what this ARI has in store for us next.

The exhibitions continue until 15 December.

Pictured top: James Doohan & Bianca Sharkey, ‘Ascension’ (from ‘Astro Morphs’), 2018, single channel video, 11:50.

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At the intersection of art and friendship

Review: Various artists, ‘Collective States’; Bevan Honey & Paul Moncrieff, ‘BHPM’·
Art Collective WA ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

The exhibitions “Collective States” and “BHPM”, currently at Art Collective WA, both explore ideas of collaboration and collectivity, and the possibilities that arise from community and friendship.

“Collective States”, curated by Paola Anselmi, brings together a range of artists whose work is not immediately similar. In so doing, Anselmi emphasises points of connection across a range of art practices, showcasing the diversity of work created by mid-career WA artists as well as the ways in which these practices can unexpectedly overlap, collide or intersect. Featuring the work of Christophe Canato, Jennifer Cochrane, Mel Dare, Louise Dickmann, Jane Finlay, Indra Geidans, Paul Kaptein, Susan Roux, Vanessa Russ and Lynnette Voevodin, the exhibition variously displays work that examines bodies, patterns, textures and the WA landscape.

Many of the works are exploratory, portraying their subject matters in unexpected ways. Christophe Canato’s Galerie de Portrait #1-8 is a series of portraits with impossibly placed features – ears are twisted upside down, or placed in the middle of the forehead, emerging from the centre. The images are slightly unsettling, with the “wrongness” of the features challenging the unity of a single face and creating multiple anonymous identities within each image.

This theme of images revealing multitudes or challenging initial appearances is carried through to other works in the exhibition, such as Jennifer Cochrane’s Impossible Shadow sculptures, which emerge from corners, working with the architecture of the space to create shadows and patterns where none previously existed.

Other artists examine the tropes and common narratives of the WA landscape, with Indra Geidan’s The State I’m In placing emphasis on roadkill, four-wheel drives, and native flora and fauna, juxtaposed against the kitchiness of the State Museum’s souvenir teaspoons (hanging neatly on an Australia-shaped rack) and crockery sets.

An artwork made of canvas with frames of blue, yellow, green, red and black
Negotiating the vicissitudes of a long friendship: Bevan Honey and Paul Moncrieff, ‘BHPM8’, spraypaint on canvas, acrylic paint on plywood, 70 x 50cm.

In “BHPM”, Bevan Honey and Paul Moncrieff use their art practices to negotiate the vicissitudes of a long friendship; the challenges of communication and distance as well as its benefits and rewards. Over the past three years, the artists have been exchanging works and intervening with paint or construction additions, overlapping or alongside the original piece. The results are structured objects or assemblages of (variously) acrylic, plywood, spray paint and metal, all which seem remarkably unified and considered – a mark of the ultimate benefits of ongoing negotiation and collaboration. These collaborations are the physical results of a friendship and creative relationship that prioritises change, the unexpected and responsivity.

In both exhibitions, points of connections emerge between and across individual works, creating an interestingly layered showcase of WA artists.

Both exhibitions continue until December 22.

Pictured top is Jennifer Cochrane’s “Old Shadows, New Shadows”, 2018, tape on steps in Cathedral Square, Perth, variable dimensions. Courtesy Art Collective WA.

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A girls school adventure

Review: Fishwick & Hughes, ‘In SITU’, presented in association with STRUT Dance, Tura New Music and Artrage ·
Girls School Creative Precinct, East Perth, 29 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

It’s just after 7.15pm as we enter the corridors of the old Girls School in East Perth and the fading light that filters in through art-deco gridded windows lends an eeriness to proceedings. This is “In SITU”, Perth’s annual season of site-specific works from local independent choreographers and composers.

In keeping with former incarnations of this program, producers Emma Fishwick and Kynan Hughes present 2018’s “In SITU” promenade style, but this time it feels particularly adventurous. While the 1930s Girls School building is currently in use as a cultural space, it has an air of abandonment that creates a sense that we are on an expedition into the unknown.

Framing the program is Serena Chalker’s evocative installation, in-passing. As we travel from one performance space to another, we pass fragments of memory, moments of homage to the building’s former uses, first as a school and then as a police station. Text books are wedged in the wooden locker, a school uniform hangs in an alcove, incident reports cover a desk, a light-bulb hangs from gallows.

The first stop on the walking tour is a small office-carpeted room for Apply Within, choreographed and performed with punch and zest by Sarah Chaffey, Mitchell Aldridge and Melissa Tan. With its clever use of projection to imply a second performance space, Apply Within is a witty exploration of the interview process. Clad office attire teamed with boxer shorts and socks, the three dancers reveal what lies beneath their game faces. They’re accompanied by Ryan Burge’s score, that ranges from discomforting white noise to dance-style electronica. Now they move together; perched on three chairs they twitch and soften in synchrony. Now they’re solo; Aldridge pouring across the tiny space, Tan climbing the windows, crabwise, Chaffey shimmying through a presentation.

A girl upside down in a window frame.
Melissa Tan, climbing the windows. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Stop two takes us into a large room lined with wooden shelving, on which sit rows of apples; their fresh scent lightly perfuming the air. This is May Greenberg’s How to Digest an Apple, a duet performed with grace and energy by Greenberg with Mitchell Harvey. Their movement is sometimes robotic, as apples are sorted; sometimes weighted, as though the apples are heavy in their hands; sometimes wild, causing an apple cascade. In Dane Yates’s electronic score we can hear vocals; repetitive, distorted.

Our third stop, in the building’s basement, is also scented; sweet and cloying. In There’s a redness in the west, blood on the moon, fire in the sky and it’s coming this way, dancers Dean-Ryan Lincoln and Tahlia Russell lead us through a series of rooms and soundscapes (by Steve Paraskos), the echoes of which create ghostly underlayers. Whether performing in the gaping space of an underground bar, a discomfortingly cramped cellar-like space or a room flooded with dead leaves, the dancers negotiate one another with a wariness that seems to battle with a desire for closeness. While this work isn’t as succinct in its motivation as the first two, both concept and performance are dramatic and engaging.

Two people dancing in a room of apples
Grace and energy: May Greenberg and Mitchell Harvey. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Finally we move outside, looking towards a flight of steps that leads to the building’s main entrance. At the top of the steps, two dancers hang, their torsos obscured by crimson skirts, only two hanks of hair visible to give a sense of their identity. This is Sisters Vice, created by Natalie Allen in collaboration with endearing performers Ella Watson-Heath and Sarah Sim. The two young women ricochet between adulthood and childhood, chasing one another with screeches of delight one minute, seductively sliding down the bannisters the next. Rebecca Riggs-Bennett’s score also straddles the divide; playground giggling contrasts wordless vocals.

And so, the end. As we leave the precinct, we glimpse a figure in school uniform (Serena Chalker) drifting ghost-like down the corridor. It’s time to return to the present.

Whether your interest is in dance, music, architecture, or simply a desire to lose yourself in another world, “In SITU” is an intriguing and appealing walk into the unknown. Highly recommended.

“In SITU” plays until December 1.

Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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A theatrical road trip

Review: The Last Great Hunt, Stay with Us ·
Riverview Hotel, 28 November ·
Review by Robert Housley ·

Just as its marketing grab suggests, Stay with Us – the latest offering from local theatre collective The Last Great Hunt – is “an immersive theatrical journey through a hotel”. More specifically, the theatrical road trip ventures through three rooms on the third floor of Riverview Hotel, a hop, skip and jump from Kings Park near the base of precipitous Mount Street.

“A hotel is a place of journey,” posits director/co-creator Arielle Gray. “We are exploring that idea on a grand scale through small theatrical moments in the intimacy of hotel rooms.” This unusual setting, then, is not a rejection of main stage production, but rather a more inclusive way for an audience to engage with live performance. Hats off to the Riverview Hotel for its willingness to accommodate the experience – its third such relationship with a local performing arts company.

Audience proximity to the experience is both spatial and actual. Only 10 people are permitted to attend each of the six nightly shows. And they all have a part to play in each room as the distinct but interwoven narratives unfold.

Two people in a hotel room can feel crowded, but up to 12 (including the concierge/guide – co-creator/performer Tim Watts for our group – plus a performer) could feel claustrophobic. But it doesn’t. And the “actual” involvement of the audience is limited to donning a costume, handling some props and switching on/off electrical items. Nothing to scare away a reluctant participant.

The show features co-creators/performers Chris Isaacs, Gita Bezard and Watts along with guest theatre makers Jo Morris, Zachary Sheridan and Clare Testoni.

One of the most alluring aspects of the work is the anticipation, the not knowing what to expect from one room to the next.

four people lying on hotel beds, in dressing gowns, holding teddies and watching projections of a galaxy on the ceiling
Its themes are expansive: life, death, the infinity of the universe… Photo: Daniel James Grant.

Its themes are expansive: life, death, the infinity of the universe, the human experience on earth, adventure, twins and “a world that lies between the physical and spiritual”. Each leg of the journey is foreshadowed on the landing outside, when the concierge/guide shares abstract musings about time, space and our microscopic significance in the scheme of things.

In room one is a woman (Morris) in mourning, seemingly fresh from the funeral of a female astronaut, evidently her twin.

In room two are the desiccated, life-size remains of an elderly woman (a stylised dummy made by Tarryn Gill) whose insides harbour not just her vital organs but a plethora of mementoes from her life.

In room three Testoni directs the group to lie down on a long line of adjoining beds, each with a teddy bear, a night gown and a pillow. Shoulder to shoulder we watch a wondrous display of mostly live whiteboard marker animation (Testoni’s handiwork) unfold on the ceiling above.

Reflecting on the connections between each of the stories, post-performance, there is a sense of having seen three shows in one, such are their differences.

One of the benefits of this site-specific show was sharing it with the same few people. It heightened the intimacy of its “small theatrical moments” without lessening its universal ambitions.

Stay with Us is performed until 8 December.

Top photo by Daniel James Grant.

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A super charged one-hander

Review: Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company & Te Rehia Theatre Company, SolOthello ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, November 21 ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

There are stories and there are storytellers. When a good story meets a good storyteller, magic happens.

Regan Taylor, from New Zealand’s Te Rehia Theatre Company, in collaboration with co-writer Craig Geenty, has adapted the culturally problematic Othello into a one-hour maelstrom of high drama, pathos and flat-out comedy.

Directed by Tainui Tukiwaho, SolOthello is hugely entertaining and inventive, with highly successful insertions of Te Ao Maori language, effective use of exquisitely crafted masks and one super-charged personality in Taylor, who carries this one-hander to its inevitable conclusion.

Taylor begins the performance with a “dissertation” on the “thief Shakespeare” who, Taylor asserts, stole the story of Othello (and probably a whole heap more) from Maori lore. Given the uncanny similarity of his interpretive Te Mata Kokako o Rehia mask-work to commedia dell’arte, we might have to reconsider the Italian Renaissance as well!

Co-produced by WA’s Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company – SolOthello is much more than a Shakespeare mash-up. Cultural appropriation and alienation are all at play here, refreshingly disruptive and thereby enhancing the notions of race, gender and power that Othello traditionally evokes.

It is, at times, a raw confrontation.

SolOthello strips the Shakespeare play back to four characters – Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Rodrigo – revving up the devastating impact of patriarchy, jealousy and envy of the original text (yes, I’m revealing my cards).

Taylor’s haka-inspired heart pumping, foot stamping Othello is impressive and his whining Rodrigo exquisite. But his Iago is something else. He manages to grow Iago’s small-minded malevolency into a golem capable of enormous evil. It is really something to see.

The gender discourse of this play is a well-tilled field. In this respect, Othello, and its natural companion from Shakespeare’s “comedies”, Much Ado About Nothing, never fails to imbue a thinking audience with unbearable sadness.

Not for its history but for its Ground Hog Day future – no culture on earth has yet come to grips with men’s violence against women for what it is – men’s absolute responsibility to own and to change.

Taylor exquisitely renders Desdemona as a speechless, keening wraith, drifting through the hands of powerful and manipulative men until Othello loves her “none too wisely, but too well” for the last time and murders her.

Lovers of Shakespeare and theatre have seen this scene many times, on the stage and in their minds, but they are encouraged to revisit it with Taylor’s master hand. His simple yet heartbreaking portrayal is up there with the best.

SolOthello is an intense, provocative hour of theatre, which Perth is fortunate to witness.

SolOthello plays Subiaco Arts Centre until November 24.

Pictured top: Regan Taylor in “SolOthello”. Photo: Dana Weeks.

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Three actors dressed in costume for The Gruffalo's Child
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Joyful storytelling in Gruffalo sequel

Review: CDP Theatre Producers, The Gruffalo’s Child ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, Heath Ledger Theatre, November 21 ·
Review: Robert Housley ·

Toddler tears in less than five minutes and pierced chambers of the inner ear from a crying baby could not douse the enjoyment of The Gruffalo’s Child, a slick production from accomplished touring company CDP Theatre Producers.

Nor could it dampen the enthusiasm of its wonderfully cohesive cast, comprising Jade Paskins, Madison Hegarty and Skyler Ellis.

It was just another day at the office for children’s theatre targeted at the 3+ age group, as it was for accompanying parents and grandparents.

Oh, for the afternoon sleep.

For the most part the whipper-snappers were just as fixated on this stage adaptation of the immensely popular eponymous children’s book as they have been on the book itself (and as they were on The Gruffalo, of which this book and production are sequels). My neighbouring grandmother and her four-year-old grandson even brought the hard copy sequel along for a quick read before the show.

The real joy of this production is in its story telling, with whip-smart direction from Olivia Jacobs (with associate director Liesel Badorrek) moving the action along at a pace to keep the youngsters engaged.

The cast also fill their roles perfectly. Paskin’s Child beautifully captures the essence of the Gruffalo’s inquisitive daughter on her plight to find the Big Bad Mouse in the Deep Dark Wood.

Hegarty deftly plays narrative guide, wafting through the play with sound effects and movement, and joining in the occasional ensemble songs (music and lyrics by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw; additional lyrics by Olivia Jacobs and Robin Price; choreographer Morag Cross; associate choreographer Luanna Priestman).

Ellis steals the show somewhat, in an actor’s dream role, playing multiple characters from the snoring Gruffalo to the salesman Fox. His radical change of voice for each character and the stunning companion costumes show both his considerable talent and that of designer Isla Shaw (puppet design by Yvonne Stone).

Like all of the best children’s theatre, the kids are encouraged to be part of the action in this production, and Wednesday’s audience spontaneously complied: clapping, singing and generally responding to invitations to get involved.

The simple set of truncated, leafless trees is seamlessly modified to accommodate the various scenes and disguise the numerous on-stage costume changes.

Lighting changes (design by James Whiteside) are kept to a minimum throughout so the kids can see all of the action all of the time while not making the Deep Dark Wood so deep or so dark.

Sleep, little one, sleep.

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

Junior review ·
Review by Isabel Greentree, age 9 ·

Many children may have read the story of The Gruffalo’s Child or seen the movie, but none are like this amazing stage performance. CDP Theatre Producers’ musical version of The Gruffalo’s Child, directed by Olivia Jacobs and performed by Madison Hegarty, Skyler Ellis and Jade Paskins, is a fun-filled hour of entertainment.

At the start, three children are playing in the snow and they begin to tell a scary story about the Gruffalo, but are interrupted by some loud snores. We meet the Gruffalo and his child when he is telling her a story about the Big Bad Mouse. He gives her the Stick Man to give her courage. When he is asleep, the Gruffalo’s Child tries to play hide and seek with the Stick Man but eventually gets bored and sets out on an adventure to find the Big Bad Mouse.

She meets several animals including the Snake (throwing a party), the Owl (giving flying lessons) and the Fox (trying to sell everything). Each meeting with an animal involves a song. In the end, the Gruffalo’s Child meets a mouse who tells her he is a friend of the Big Bad Mouse and manages to scare her away.

The set included spooky trees with branches shaped like long fingers. There was a wide yellow moon behind the trees, glowing gently. The costumes were clever and effective.

My favourite part was when the mouse nearly wakes up the Gruffalo with her squeaking. I also enjoyed the way the Gruffalo’s Child could never quite keep up with the dancing. There were lots of jokes and funny parts for adults and children alike. The very young children in the audience really enjoyed it too. I really liked the play and think it is suitable for all ages. Go and see it while you can!

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

 

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

 

 

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Polished and professional

Review: WAAPA Dance, ‘Verge’ ·
Regal Theatre, 20 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Eighteen years ago I performed in my final season as a WAAPA dance student, and returning to the Geoff Gibbs Theatre to watch the graduating students always provokes nostalgia in me. This year, however, the feeling was diminished, owing to a last-minute change of venue due to technical issues. Despite the stress and disappointment this must have induced (the change involved the cancellation of several performances) the opening night performance of “Verge” at the Regal Theatre was polished and professional.

Opening the program was Suite Romantique, a montage of grabs from 19th century Romantic ballets La Sylphide (August Bournonville) and Giselle (Marius Petipa), Romantic-inspired ballet Les Sylphide (1909, Michel Fokine) and new work choreographed for this season by WAAPA classical dance lecturer Kim McCarthy, to original composition by Italian composer and pianist Ciro Barbato.

Neatly stitched together by McCarthy and WAAPA colleague Danielle Hunt, Suite Romantique delicately wafted the opening night audience through time,  and provided many opportunities for the students to shine. As Giselle, Katarina Gajic managed protracted promenades and arabesques with aplomb. She was partnered with assurance by Marcell Stiedl, who also impressed as La Sylphide’s James, with his lofty grande jetes . Also noteworthy were the ethereal Kirsty Clarke, and the charming Sara Ouwendyk. Glorious live music accompaniment was provided by Barbato and Gennaro Di Donna on piano, and Robyn Blann on violin.

‘Suite Romantique’: a Romantic montage. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Next stop was The Bus to Paradise, by acting Head of Dance Sue Peacock, in collaboration with 18 second year students. Having seen a number of Peacock’s works for WAAPA (and performed in one myself in 1999), I was struck anew by how cleverly she brings out the best in her students.

The dancers’ limbs often mimic the shapes above in ‘Bus to Paradise’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Exploring the question, “What is paradise?”, this contemporary work is witty and relatable. Beneath the bare branches of an inverted tree, the dancers’ limbs often mimic the shapes above. In pairs, trios, quartets or large-scale clumps they respond to sound that ranges from soothing ambient beats to sensual acoustic guitar… and it wouldn’t be a Peacock work without a microphone to amplify the voices of individual dancers as they relate anecdotes and pose questions about the concept of paradise. The movement is similarly eclectic – now hip-driven and sexy; now languid and lunging; now suspended, ready for explosion.

Beautifully lit by Jasmine Lifford (my favourite state was luminous green to represent “Tropical!”), the student cast performed The Bus to Paradise with panache and sensitivity.

After interval came Stirring Sketches of a Million Love Stories, created for 21 third year students by Portuguese guest artist Filipa Peraitnha. Unlike Peacock’s offering, individuality is subsumed by the whole in this contemporary work; any solo moments are brief and often obscured by the group.

Individuality is subsumed by the group in ‘Stirring Sketches of a Million Love Stories’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Against an ominously crackling soundscape, into which Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” intermittently breaks, dancers writhe, ripple, shake. Again, the lighting design, this time by Timothy Bonser, impresses. Now cones of light illuminate the dancers from above, and movement becomes crisp and robotic. My favourite section sees the group grooving to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G. Allegro. This is a smart, sassy work that was performed with depth and precision by the third year students and, though it was hard to discern individuals for long, Alexandra Kay’s seamless solo was a standout.

“Verge” is a relatively long program and by the final work of the evening, Rafael Bonachela’s 2 in D Minor, I was weary. Kudos to the third year cast, then, for catching my attention as it began to wander bedwards.

Created in 2014 for Sydney Dance Company, and remounted here by WAAPA teacher and former SDC dancer David Mack, 2 in D Minor is a series of contemporary solos, duets and small ensemble sections that respond to music by Bach and contemporary composer Nick Wales. The choreography has been personalised for this season, and to excellent effect; all dancers gave commendable performances. Particularly noteworthy was an athletic duet by Alexander Diedler and Marcell Stiedl. In contrast Sara Ouwendyk and Makira Horner’s light-hearted partnership had a child-like sense of play. And, again, Alexandra Kay impressed with her versatile combination of fluidity and precision.

Though the programme is long, it’s worth sparing the time to see the 2018 graduates before they take off into the big wide world.

“Verge” plays The Regal until November 23. A tip: seating is unreserved. Sit in the back half of the theatre if you want to be able to see the dancers’ feet.

Pictured top is Sara Ouwendyk in ‘2 in D Minor’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Two men dancing, one is wrapped around the other, who is lunging. A girl looks on.
An athletic duet by Alexander Diedler and Marcell Stiedl, with Kirsty Clarke looking on, in ‘2 In D Minor’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
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Features, Film, News

Bite-sized Festival film samples

While it’s still a few months until the bulk of the Perth Festival kicks off, the Lotterywest Film season is about to commence. Wondering what to see? For your convenience, Mark Naglazas has put together a tasting plate of some of the morsels on offer in the first half of the Festival’s film program.

The Perth Festival outdoor film season has always been a balancing act. On the one hand there is the commitment to bringing local audiences a sampling of the best of international cinema (often hot off the European or North American festival circuit); on the other there’s the demand to fill the coffers, the necessity of supporting the summertime arts bonanza’s less lucrative offerings by padding the program with crowd-pleasers.

The first half of the 2018/19 line-up is no exception. There are new works from celebrated auteurs – such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, the follow-up to his critically acclaimed post-Holocaust drama Ida, and Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s first Spanish foray with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem – leavened with enough feel-good flicks to make you forget you’re sitting in chairs that every summer keep chiropractors across the Western suburbs busy.

A woman and man look at each other against a soft focus cityscape.
Qualities from both sides of the ledger: ‘An Unexpected Love’ is the first cab off the rank for the Perth Festival film line-up.

Astutely, Perth Festival film programmer Tom Vincent is kicking off this year’s event with a comedy-romance from Argentina, An Unexpected Love, that boasts qualities drawn from both sides of the ledger.

It is about a pair of empty nesters (played by Mercedes Moran and Ricardo Darin) who, out of fear of impending boredom (as opposed to present-tense misery), mutually agree to dissolve their union.

Ana, the more restless of the two, immediately hooks up with an old flame before moving on to a creepy perfume salesman (getting comfortable, for this oddball Salvador Dali lookalike, means slipping out of his clothes while Ana is in the bathroom) and ultimately a work colleague; while her somewhat shy ex, Marcos, has an ill-fated first date with a sexually voracious alpha female dentist… that ends in an ambulance ride to the hospital.

The middle portion of An Unexpected Love is as breezy as you might expect from such a set-up – and, of course, it’s in keeping with the long Lotterywest Films tradition of beginning the season with something easy to digest, along with the wine and cheese.

However, it is bookended by several extended dialogue scenes that dig deep into the lows and highs of long-term relationships that push it out of familiar rom-com territory into a more challenging space, with Moran and Darin (well-known to local audiences for the classy 2009 romantic thriller The Secret in Their Eyes) giving lovely performances, infusing their characters with world-weariness and romantic and sexual yearning.

A line-up of middle aged men in bathers and swimming caps, at the edge of a swimming pool.
Refloating their soggy lives: men in various states of disarray take up synchronised swimming in ‘Sink or Swim’.

Also on the lighter side of the ledger is Gilles Lellouche’s star-laden French hit Sink or Swim, a Full Monty-ish comedy about a group of men in various states of disarray and despair, who set about refloating their soggy lives through the unlikeliest of means – synchronised swimming. The cast is headed by the wonderful Matthew Almaric and the pool is filled with some of France’s finest actors, so a few ripples of laughter, if not waves, are guaranteed.

Curiously, Sink or Swim is screening just months after an English-language version of the same story played during the recently ended British Film Festival (both, it seems, were inspired by the 2010 Swedish documentary Men Who Swim). Where next for the burgeoning sub-genre in which men in crisis pick themselves up through off-beat activities. Form a sewing circle? Catwalk modelling? The wackier the better.

A woman carries a painting under one arm, against a soft focus garden setting. She looks soulful.
‘One Last Deal’. Photo: Cata Portin.

Indeed, men in crisis is one of the major themes of the first half of this year’s program (Vincent will announce the rest of the line-up in coming months). In Arctic, by Brazilian video auteur Joe Penna, Mads Mikkelsen plays a researcher-explorer who fights for survival in a frozen wilderness; in One Last Deal (from Finland) an elderly art dealer on the verge or retirement makes one last attempt at making real money, and reconnecting with his estranged family, by selling what he believes to be a masterpiece; and in At Eternity’s Gate the American artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) brings us his portrait of tortured Dutch genius Vincent van Gogh (Venice Film Festival winner Willem Dafoe heads a splendid cast that also includes Mikkelsen, as well as Oscar Isaac).

While these Euro-American dramas are centred on the struggles of men, Shoplifters, from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-Eda, is about an impoverished family who supplement their modest income by stealing stuff, diddling social security and, in the case of father Osamu’s sister-in-law, dressing up as a schoolgirl for sex shop voyeurs.

After a decade or more of celebrated films (several of which have played at Perth Festival) Kore-Eda won the Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Make no mistake: Shoplifters will be slow and understated, as was his last film, After the Storm (2016), which rarely rose above the level of a whisper. But few filmmakers in any culture manage to so deftly tease out the delicate tissue that holds families together.

Black and white photo of two men in suits. One has his arms folded. Both gaze into the distance, not at the camera.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s ‘Cold War’ is the follow-up to his critically acclaimed post-Holocaust drama ‘Ida’.

Family is also the subject of the films of Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi. In films such as A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016), both of which played at previous Perth Festivals, Farhadi digs beneath the secrets and lies of the Iranian middle-classes, revealing that when it comes to marriage, family obligations and career, those living under an Islamic regime are not as far removed from us as you might imagine.

Set in a village on the outskirts of Madrid, Everybody Knows is about a woman named Laura (Penelope Cruz) who returns to native Spain with her two children and reconnects with her old flame, a winemaker played by Cruz’s real-life partner Javier Bardem. When Laura’s teenaged daughter goes missing it cracks open up a fissure in the extended family, exposing the long-suppressed history between the former lovers.

While Cruz gives the flashiest performance as the distraught mother, reviews suggest that it’s Bardem and, once again, Ricardo Darin (star of the opening film) who bare their souls in astonishing ways, sealing the male-centric first half of this year’s Lotterywest Films. Guys are in the spotlight this year but, in a world where male power is being challenged everywhere, nobody is making it easy for them.

Mark Naglazas

Lotterywest Films begins at UWA Somerville on November 26 and ECU Joondalup Pines on December 5. 

Pictured top is a still from Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s ‘Shoplifters’.

Mark Naglazas is the former film editor, chief film critic and an arts writer for The West Australian. He interviewed many of the world’s major stars and most significant filmmakers, covered international film festivals and hosted numerous movie and and arts events. He was also a long-time contributor to ABC radio. Mark now reviews films for 6PR, writes features for STM and is attempting his own screenplays. Mark loves nothing more than an old-school screwball comedy so his playground favourite activity is hanging upside down on the monkey bars.

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News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A fever of skill and passion

Review: WAAPA Aboriginal Performance Students: Fever ·
Enright Theatre, WAAPA, 16 November ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Fever is a wonderful piece of work, and a credit to everyone who created and staged it.

It’s not a new work; the collaboration, under the auspices of the Melbourne Workers Theatre, of Andrew Bovell (Secret River, Lantana, Strictly Ballroom), Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap), the prolific Patricia Cornelius and Melissa Reeves dates from 2002.

Neither is this the first time this quartet of playwrights’ work has been performed by WAAPA’s Aboriginal Performance students; their Who’s Afraid of the Working Class was a given a barnstorming staging in 2011.

What is new is this production’s complete lack of specific Aboriginality; the students, and their director Rachael Maza, ask us to come to their work on its own merits, with no concessions or schema.

A man and a woman. He has her hand on her shoulder as though comforting her.
Photo: Jon Green

What is exciting is how terrifically they succeed, and how, in so doing, they bring a major and intensely relevant Australian work to a new audience.

Fever comprises four short plays by each of the writers, woven together to form an exploration of the world’s woes; dislocation, degradation and deep fearfulness.

Making such a dramatic arrangement cogent, let alone satisfying, is a tough call – even more so when the styles of the pieces range from gritty realism to the wildly surrealistic, from black comedy to intense drama.

In Bovell’s The Chair, a woman (Cezara Critti-Schnaars) has a soldier (Samai King) bound and helpless. In Melissa Reeves Savant, people from an outback town find the freezer in the truckful of fish they had brought in has malfunctioned. In Cornelius’s Blunt, a group of barren women in a blasted future landscape hear a baby crying in the dark. In the most developed and horrifying of the pieces, Tsiolkas’s Psalms, a brother and sister find themselves on opposite sides of a vicious civil war.

Rivers flow through these stories, but they are foetid or perilous; infants are drowned – or stab their mothers; mercy is not strained, it has ceased to exist.

Only the old enmities survive, perfectly adapted with their guns and their old bibles to a dry strange, cannibalistic world; the old blood spilled again and again.

We are reminded of this in a horrifying reading of Psalm 137, the Rivers of Babylon, by the commander of a death squad (Owen Hasluck): “O daughter of Babylon, happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

It’s a credit to the writers that they pull it off all on the page; even more so to the director Rachael Maza (at WAAPA courtesy of the Mindaroo Foundation’s Visiting Artists programme) and her student cast, who work between the story lines and styles with great skill and, more importantly, undiminished passion.

A woman on an old-fashioned steel framed bed. A man seems to be creeping towards her in the dark,
Photo: Jon Green

Highlights abound. The chorus of women on the riverbank – Cezara Critti-Schnaars, Ruby Williams, Kirra Ostler (outstanding here and as the mother in Savant), Angelica Lockyer, Shania Richards and the “wo-man” Tainga Savage – are hideous, though sometimes hilarious, in their robes of rags. Savage’s monstrous, matricidal baby toddles toward the next-door neighbours to deliver a (very 2002) diatribe – part Thomas Pikkety, part Pauline Hanson. Throughout, the woman and the bound soldier dance slowly on the edge of mercy and vengeance; she takes up a knife, but will she cut the ropes, or his neck? It’s the story of Abraham and Isaac.

When it’s over, whichever way it ends, the woman sits in Aphra Higham’s striking, aposite set of blood-red netting and the skins of foxes; harbinger, victim, humanity, a demon or a God.

When it all comes down to dust, I will kill you if I must, I will help you if I can.
When it all comes down to dust, I will help you if I must, I will kill you if I can.

– Leonard Cohen’s “The Story of Isaac”.

Fever plays the Enright Theatre at WAAPA until November 22.

Photos: Jon Green.

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