Perth Festival review: A Farewell to Paper ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 17 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·
In 1982 I was seven years old and learning to write with a fountain pen at my primary school in the UK. It’s not something I’ve thought about for decades but when Evgeny Grishkovets pulled out a sheet of blotting paper at A Farewell to Paper last night, I was suddenly remembering my own blotting paper; its mottled texture, its pink hue, my attendant anxiety about handling the strange pen nib. Sitting in the theatre, struck by this long-forgotten memory, it occurred to me that I must have been part of the dying throes of an era, one of the last school children to learn to use a fountain pen.
It’s this passing of an era that Grishkovets is marking in A Farewell to Paper. Both written and performed by Grishkovets, it’s a monologue (of sorts) that plays tribute to paper and its traditions. Behind him, five doors act as portals to the paper past; in the foreground, a writing desk is almost drowned in vintage accoutrements of communication (plus laptop). Typewriters, telegrams, aerogrammes, newspapers, books… some are gone, some are going and Grishkovets wants us to consider what we’re losing as we move into an age where draft copies don’t exist, where we no longer recognise a loved one’s handwriting, where our memories are no longer stored in shoe boxes but on external hard drives.
It’s poignant but light-hearted; telegrams and texts are held up for comparison (“A man didn’t get drunk and send a whole heap of telegrams to his exes”), the postal system of the past is admired (“Here in Perth you have a magnificent old post office and now it is… a supermarket? No! Worse, it is an H&M!”).
A Russian author, director and actor, Grishkovets delivers the show in his native tongue, with a live translator and interpreter, a role taken for this season by former Australian diplomat and Australian National University fellow at the Centre for European Studies, Kyle Wilson. Although it doesn’t appear that performing arts has been part of Wilson’s extensive professional experience, he is completely at ease in this role, managing not just the nuances of translation, but numerous hilarious interactions with Grishkovets, with aplomb.
At just over two hours with no interval, the only criticism to be made of A Farewell to Paper is that it felt very long. Grishkovets must realise this; he warns the audience of the work’s length at its outset and, amusingly, provides reassurances, at various intervals, that the show IS going to finish after two hours, as promised. The nature of the work, which doesn’t have a clear story arc but instead follows a meandering path through Grishkovets’ memories and musings, is charming. Nonetheless, it would, perhaps, be more effective with some culling to keep it under the 90-minute mark.
Even if he doesn’t have every audience member in the palm of his hand for the work’s entire length, Grishkovets is an endearing and engaging performer. As a solo show, A Farewell to Paper is a remarkable achievement, a whimsical and timely reflection on an age that has almost disappeared.
Propelling its dancers into a state of ecstatic physical abandonment, Attractor has been a hit at festivals in the Eastern states. Ahead of the work’s Perth Festival season, Nina Levy spoke to co-director and co-choreographer Gideon Obarzanek to find out more.
The creative team behind the dance work Attractor is something of a super group. Directed and choreographed by two of Australia’s best-loved dance makers, Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin, and presented by two renowned Australian dance companies, Dancenorth and Lucy Guerin Inc, the work is also a collaboration with Indonesian music duo Senyawa, who fuse traditional folk music with sounds borrowed from heavy metal bands.
With such a stellar creative line-up, perhaps it’s no surprise that Attractor, a contemporary interpretation of the Javanese tradition of entering trance through dance and music, has garnered praise from audiences and critics alike, taking out the 2017 Helpmann Awards for Best Choreography and Best Dance Production.
“Attractor really blurs the line between professional and amateur, between performer and audience,” muses Gideon Obarzenek, as he reflects on the work’s success. “Senyawa play live and they’re really charismatic, powerful performers. So really it’s also a music concert. And then the virtuosity of the Dancenorth dancers, the power that they have in their bodies, combined with the accuracy, is very attractive, people are drawn to it… and the relationship between the music and the movement works so well.”
Attractor’s popularity with both audiences and critics is due to its clarity of purpose, Obarzanek believes. “From a popular perspective, the dance is very connected to the music, and the music to the dance. That relationship is very straightforward… it’s not some kind of cryptic work,” he reflects. “And yet it is quite sophisticated… it pushes itself hard, physically and musically, and becomes quite impressive in that way.”
The dance is very connected to the music, and the music to the dance. That relationship is very straightforward… it’s not some kind of cryptic work. And yet it is quite sophisticated… it pushes itself hard, physically and musically.
The concept behind Attractor is about experiential art rather than aesthetics. “The performers are not creating beautiful shapes in space or aesthetic compositions,” explains Obarzanek. “They’re getting into a kind of movement pattern, which repeats and goes in circles. It draws the audience in rather than performing out to the audience. And then people begin to join that, from the audience.”
For Obarzanek, who spent his early childhood on a kibbutz in Israel, the motivation to make this kind of work came from a desire to return to his artistic roots in Israeli folk dance. “After many years of working with professional dancers and making highly virtuosic dance, I chose to go back to my early influences in dance. I wanted to make this work which was more like folk dancing and participating, and being in something rather than being outside and looking in,” he elaborates. “When [Lucy Guerin and I] listened to the music of Senyawa, which was very much influenced by trance rituals in Indonesia, this idea of submitting to some state of otherness by doing something over and over influenced us a great deal.”
And how did the group of artistic dynamos come together?
“The background is really quite simple,” replies Obarzanek. “Kyle Page had only been director of Dancenorth for a short while when he asked Lucy [Guerin] and I if we would each make a piece for Dancenorth. We suggested making a single work together. I had been working indirectly with Senyawa in Indonesia. They had taken me on a journey to see some traditional dance and music ritual in far-East Java. We had been discussing the idea of doing a contemporary, secular ritual based on these traditional forms that interested us.”
Obarzanek took this idea back to Guerin who was keen. “Then we proposed a larger work than the resources that Dancenorth had at the time, which was a limited number of dancers,” he continues. “So Lucy suggested a co-production with her company [Lucy Guerin Inc] and we supplemented Dancenorth’s cast with a few other dancers. So it’s a larger cast than Dancenorth would normally have.”
I usually hate audience participation and so does Lucy. We designed it from the perspective of people who don’t like audience participation.
While the ingredients were all there in terms of creative talent, there was something else at play when it came to making to work, says Obarzanek. “I find, with collaborations, that a lot of it is the people but a big part of it is luck as well. We happened to work well together. We had the right balance of respect and interrogation, and knowing when to work together, and when people needed to go off on their own trajectory and make things that were not collaborative to bring back as a proposal to add to the work.”
One of the more unusual aspects of Attractor is that, just over half way through the work, the dancers are joined on stage by 20 audience members. While the volunteers are not rehearsed in advance, arriving just an hour before the show to receive their instructions, this section took a lot of studio time to perfect, says Obarzanek. “We spent between and third and half of the creative development time working on that aspect of the show. During the show there are 10 professionals on stage and then, just after half way through, 20 audience members join the performance. They’ve never seen the show and they get directed by Amber Haines, via these inner ear monitors. It works really well now but it took a lot of test groups for us to get the right instructions to get the outcomes that worked for the participants and worked for the audience. So that was a big part of the development of the work.”
The feedback from participants has been extremely positive, says Obarzanek, perhaps because both Obarzanek and Guerin are not normally fans of audience participation. “I usually hate audience participation and so does Lucy,” says Obarzanek with a laugh. “We designed it from the perspective of people who don’t like audience participation. So I think we’ve made something… you never have to express yourself or ‘perform’. The instructions are very literal. They’re straightforward. They’re not hugely creative. The participants appreciate it. They don’t have to think of anything to do. Once you’re being guided along, you give over to that very quickly and easily. And it’s fun… and it’s busy. You’re so busy doing the show that I don’t know how much time you really have to reflect that you’re on stage with these dancers.”
Out of the darkness, a white organic structure looms above a pool of water. Seven near-naked bodies move on this floating stage, becoming one with the gases, liquids and solids that form all around them.
Celebrated Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet and Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa have created an experience that is truly out of this world. On a set unlike anything seen before, bodies become sculpture as they pulsate to a haunting score by Marikho Hara with Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Part dance, part dream and complete poetry in motion, this visual and aural spectacle will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.
8-10 February @ The Heath Ledger Theatre ∙
Presented by: Lucy Guerin Inc/Gideon Obarzanek/Dancenorth/Senyawa ∙
Surrender yourself to a trance-noise odyssey as Indonesia’s tour-de-force music duo Senyawa and Melbourne choreographic luminaries Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek join forces with two of Australia’s leading dance companies.
Senyawa reinterprets the Javanese tradition of entering trance through dance and music as a powerful, contemporary ritual. As the performance unfolds, their unusual fusion of hand-made electrified stringed instruments with operatic melodies and heavy metal vocals slowly builds to a euphoric pitch while the dancers are propelled into ecstatic physical abandonment. The result is a visceral, empathic experience for the audience – and you can take it even further.
Each performance, 20 unrehearsed participants join the performers on stage dissolving the distinction between dancer and non-dancer, audience and performer in a cross-cultural, shared ritual.
Remember a life without smartphones or tablets? When mail meant a handwritten letter and you planned a trip with a map not an app? We’re saying goodbye to paper in our lives and it’s happening so fast we’re not stopping to think about its significance.
Enter Russian poet, playwright and theatre director Evgeny Grishkovets with his charming one-man show that gives paper, and everything it represents, a proper send off. Sitting at a desk surrounded by an old, ramshackle typewriter, books and stacks of paper Grishkovets delivers a passionate and hilarious monologue about the unavoidable disappearance of words such as ‘telegram’ or ‘manuscript’. He recalls childhood memories that would not have happened without ink stains or blotting paper and savours feelings that only come with handling a globe or glimpsing the recognisable handwriting of a loved one.
A tender tribute to once everyday things that are quickly becoming history, Farewell to Paper is a funny and poignant look at change in the digital age.
29 April, 5pm @ HEATH LEDGER THEATRE – STATE THEATRE CENTRE •
Presented by Live Ideas and Perth Comedy Festival
Live Ideas and Perth Comedy Festival present
Afternoons Tonight! with James Valentine
“Talk back radio. You won’t believe who calls ..…”
HEATH LEDGER THEATRE – STATE THEATRE CENTRE
SUNDAY, 29 APRIL AT 5.00 PM
Direct from sell out seasons on the East Coast, James Valentine tours his wildly funny stage show to Perth Comedy Festival.
James Valentine exists in the grey fringes of your memory. He did ABC TV kids telly in the 80s, he was in the hit Australian band Models, and he’s been on some shockers of TV shows that even he can’t remember.
But what he’s actually been up to for the last twenty years is talk radio on ABC Radio Sydney. He’s been on air for two decades and his Afternoons show is like no other. It’s funny, but not just because he’s funny – it’s his callers. They are hilarious. They’re bizarre, and they tell him all the weird stuff that happens in their life.
James will share his best, worst and most intriguing callers from his Afternoons radio show, and then he’ll turn it over to you for a live session of talkback theatre that will bring out the strange, the wonderful and the hilarious sitting right there in the room.
You’ll laugh, you’ll crack up and you’ll have something to talk about all weekend!
Afternoons Tonight! is a fantastically funny and interactive night at the theatre and a great insight into how talk radio really works!
James Valentine is one of Australia’s most loved radio presenters and in a long and eclectic career has worked as a journalist, author, television host and musician. A saxophonist, he has performed with many acclaimed acts including: Jo Jo Zep, Models and Absent Friends. James also hosts the ABC Podcast Head Room which expands on musings and questions posed during James’ Afternoons radio show from 1-3pm weekdays on ABC Radio Sydney and NSW.
Ticket Price- $49.50/ $45.00 Concession http://www.perthcomedyfestival.com or phone (08) 6212 9291
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LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
A stage adaptation by Jack Thorne
Based on the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist
“Invite me in.” Eli
A deeply moving and enigmatic tale of friendship – of promises made and bonds sealed in blood.
This stage adaptation of the acclaimed Swedish novel and ﬁlm, Let the Right One In, tells of a friendship between a boy and a centuries-old vampire. Oskar is a bullied lonely teenager living with his mother on a housing estate on the outskirts of town. Eli is the young girl who has just moved in next door. She doesn’t go to school and never leaves the ﬂat by day.
Sensing in each other a kindred spirit, the two become devoted friends. What Oskar doesn’t know is that Eli has been a teenager for a very, very long time. When a spate of sinister killings rock the neighbourhood, their lives become further entwined. How will they survive in a world that seems destined to tear them apart?
New Artistic Directoror Clare Watson marks her Black Swan directorial debut with this beguiling myth and coming-of-age love story.
DATES 11 Nov to 03 Dec
VENUE Heath Ledger Theatre
WARNING Some adult themes, horror
SUITABILITY Ages 15+
DIRECTOR Clare Watson
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER Bruce McKinven
SETLIGHTING DESIGNER Richard Vabre
SOUND DESIGNER/COMPOSER Rachael Dease
Ian Michael, Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Rory O’Keeffe, Clarence Ryan, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner, Alison van Reeken