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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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Dance, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

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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Children, Exhibitions, News, Reviews, Visual arts

Amazing kids exhibition pitches it right first time

Review: ‘Animaze; Amazing Animals for Kids’ ⋅
Fremantle Arts Centre, November 24 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

Visiting the Fremantle Arts Centre’s latest exhibition was like touring Aladdin’s cave; room after room filled with artistic riches that the four children I had in tow wanted to admire, touch, and try. Fortunately that’s exactly what is intended with Animaze: Amazing Art for Kids. Fremantle Arts Centre’s first exhibition designed specifically for children features the work of 50 artists and much of the work is interactive. You can time your visit to coincide with a sculpture or crotchet classes, story time, stroller tour or artist in residence session. Entry is free and even better you can pause part way for lunch at the cafe or a run under the trees.

Ross Potter demonstrates his shading pencil. Photo Rosalind Appleby

We started in the gallery where Ross Potter was working on a life-sized drawing of Tricia the elephant from Perth Zoo. Potter patiently answered questions and demonstrated how he used his toolbox of pencils and electric erasers to shade the enormous elephant with photographic accuracy. Then we were distracted for a good twenty minutes by the immersive joy of a room full of crochet. The Golden Wattle Hookers (Jill and Holly O’Meehan) have constructed a reef structure from brightly coloured wool art that climbs up walls, hangs from the roof and creates snuggly nooks.  It was the ultimate in tactile, sensory art and for several in my entourage this was the highlight, a place where they could hide, rest, and marvel.

Further treasures were uncovered down a hallway (via a 2-channel soundscape of frog and bird calls) where a dark room offered monster animal portraits (Austen Mengler) , shadow puppet opportunities and – by chance – the opportunity to become a work of art. It was perhaps not part of the original intention but my children – encouraged by the spirit of participation the exhibition had generated – discovered they were also illuminated by the UV light in Anna Nazzari’s aquarium: “My shirt has become seaweed!” my five year old exulted.

There was so much to see and do: Joe Ong’s intricate 10 metre pen drawing of 460 animals caused us to pause in wonder; the animated numbat images scurrying across a wall invited whole-body participation and there was wallpaper to colour and pom-poms to stick on a giraffe.

And then there were the bean bags scattered everywhere to collapse in. It was during one such chill-stop that we noticed the Cicada series on a wall.  “I like Shaun Tan’s work,” the nine year old in our party recognised it with delight. “It’s unorthodox. He draws weird things that aren’t normal. They are grey and sad but there is always something bright in there that the story is about.”

Shadow puppets invite a spirit of participation. Photo Rosalind Appleby

It’s not hard to ignite the imagination of a child but they are also honest critics, not easily duped by adults dragging them through an ‘educational’ art experience. It is sheer delight when arts companies (as Fremantle Arts Centre have done) pitch it just right so that the children interact spontaneously. All four of my entourage voted Animaze a success. “I really like art,” said one. “I suck at it but I really like it and it was good to learn more”.

“The whole thing was important,” they concluded, “doing an exhibition for the first time ever just for kids.”

Animaze: Amazing Art for Kids continues until January 23. Visit the website for details of classes and artist in residence sessions.

Pictured top: Jill and Holly O’Meehan’s Neon Lagoon. Photo Rebecca Mansell.

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Classical music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Colourful Russian composite

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, “Karina Canellakis and Ning Feng: Russian Masterworks” ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, November 24 ⋅
Review by Laura Biemmi ⋅

It may have been billed as an ode to the 20th Century Russian masters, but the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Russian Masterworks’ was a cosmopolitan event, with one of Australia’s leading orchestras welcoming American conductor Karina Canellakis and Berlin-based Chinese violinist Ning Feng in their WASO debuts. Normally geared towards German Romanticism, WASO’s exciting Russian program explored the music of both Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Though not unknown, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 are united in that they are often overshadowed by their predecessors; Prokofiev’s first Violin Concerto, and Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony. Showcasing these two works, as well as the work of Canellakis, Feng and WASO, made for a colourful and thought-provoking evening of Soviet-era Russian music.

Karina Canellakis. Photo supplied.

Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto was composed whilst the composer was on a concert tour with the French violinist Robert Soetens and premiered in Madrid in 1935. The playing by both Feng and WASO under Canellakis’ baton was first-rate, with intuition and sensitivity pervading every turn of Prokofiev’s score. Feng’s opening statement, a sombre solo melody, was imbued with a beauty of sound and evocative phrasing that continued throughout the concerto. The beginning of the second movement, for instance, was simultaneously delicate and emotional, with Feng’s musicianship on full display. Though the technical passages in this concerto are given less importance than the melodic lyricism of the work, Feng’s technical skill was a thrilling spectacle, particularly the gritty, spiky solo passages of the third movement.

Throughout the work, WASO appeared to delight in the colour of Prokofiev’s score, and the wind solos, particularly those of guest principal clarinet Andrew Seymour, complemented the soloist immensely. Aside from the few, fleeting balance issues, Canellakis preserved the textural clarity of the work, allowing Feng to shine through when appropriate, yet making space for him to be absorbed into the orchestra when the score demanded it. This concerto is one of my personal favourites, and Feng (as well as Canellakis and the orchestra) masterfully reinforced my love for the work.

Composed in 1943, Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony is noted for its sombre mood, its rejection of conventional symphonic form, and its subversion of the traditional C minor ‘hero’s journey’ symphony (such as those of Beethoven and Mahler.) Rather than the individual triumphing and turning C minor into C Major, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 laments the lack of triumph and glory during the war. Canellakis guided the orchestra through each stage of the allegorical wartime struggle; her conducting so full of huge gestures that it was easy to imagine the markings on her score.

Where Prokofiev’s concerto denoted different colours, Shostakovich’s score was infused with different moods, from the unsettling warmth of the opening string figures to sarcastic militarism and the misery of the solo wind passages. That Canellakis and WASO were able to preserve and explore each mood is a testament to not only their skill, but their artistic collaboration. Though there were many solos worth mentioning, Leanne Glover’s cor anglais solo captured all the suffering of an individual caught in a horrific historical period, contemplative and mournful.

Shostakovich’s moody, dark and contemplative Eighth Symphony proved the perfect foil to the colour and energy of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. Delving into two very different works in the Soviet music tradition made for an engaging night of music, not just for the impeccable performances, but for the historical and social significance of the era captured by the music performed.

Pictured top: Ning Feng. Photo Lawrence Tsang

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Jazz, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A different kind of Nutcracker

Review: West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra, ‘Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker‘ ⋅
Quarry Amphitheatre, November 22 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

The sugar plum fairy and dancing mice are synonymous with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, a classic Christmas ballet (you can read Seesaw’s review of the current West Australian Ballet production here). But at the Quarry Amphitheatre a very different kind of Nutcracker is being performed by the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra.

In 1960 the sparkling tunes from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (essentially the highlights reel from the ballet) were arranged for big band by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. When it comes to big band music you can’t go wrong with the Ellington/Strayhorn combination; their inventive use of the big band in the mid twentieth century elevated jazz to an artform. Their Nutcracker was an inspired choice to close the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra successful 2018 season, a year where they have sold over  8000 tickets, a huge growth from 1500 tickets in 2016. On Thursday night the audience at the beautiful Quarry Amphitheatre settled in for a good night, dodging the occasional rain drop as the moon rose behind the stage.

Tchaikovsky’s tunes are whistle-able and instantly recognisable and Ellington and Strayhorn’s arrangements are both fun and moody, fragmenting Tchaikovsky’s melodies between different instruments and colouring with muted brass and Dixeland cacophony. And then there are the harmonies: 19th century romanticism infused with a good dose of blue notes and perfect cadences left suspended midair.

The WA Youth Orchestra performing at the Quarry Amphitheatre. Photo Justine Thornley.

When the plush horn section of  the Wednesday Night Orchestra started playing the overture theme over a walking bass line it was as though Tchaikovsky had exchanged a crisp dinner suit for a velvet coat and cigar. Led by director Mace Francis the band brought their lush sound and tight groove to the slow shuffle of Toot Toot Tootie Toot (based on Dance of the Reed Pipes), the New Orleans wail of the Sugar Rum Cherry (The Sugar Plum Fairy) and Arabian, Russian and Chinese dances. A highlight was the contributions from WAYJO alumni Ben Clapin on clarinet. But it was a mixed performance. Cracks appeared in the sparser sections revealing tuning and timing issues, and the Arabian dance needed more meticulous rehearsal to enable it to hold together.

The first half of the evening featured the energetic band director Marty Pervan leading the Tuesday night orchestra  through a set list of Ellington favourites. The band swung hard through Cottontails, Ko-Ko, Take the A Train and Braggin in Brass. Singer Jordan Boase joined the band and his smokey vocals in Rocks in My Bed were a highlight.

A footnote: I’m still waiting for the day WAYJO’s Women in Jazz program begins to feed players into the orchestras and balance the gender disparity in the line up. Three women in a 17 piece piece ensemble is a glaring issue; the jazz world is still well behind when it comes to gender parity.

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker concludes November 23 at the Quarry Ampitheatre. WAYJO’s 2019 season is now available.

Picture top: musicians from the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra. Photo Tom Greble.

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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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