Julius Caeser
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

From dystopia to reality

Review: Bell Shakespeare, Julius Caesar ·
State Theatre Centre, August 8 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Shakespeare’s political thriller, Julius Caesar, has been asking questions about power, leadership, morality and the role of citizens since 1599. One of its key message seems to be that change can’t come from assassination because violence simply begets violence.

As a slid into my seat in the Heath Ledger Theatre this week, I realised the last show I’d seen in that venue was Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins (a musical about the dozen men and women who’ve killed or made attempts on the life of American presidents). Clearly, while Shakespeare’s plays sound a warning bell, society is often deaf to their pleas or staggeringly slow to change.

Shakespeare used the Roman setting as a way to provoke reflection on Elizabethan politics (without getting tortured or executed) and many productions of Julius Caesar since then have been staged through the lens of contemporary politics.

Under Orson Welles’s direction in 1937, Caesar and his followers donned the uniforms of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. A production in New York last year dressed Caesar as Donald Trump, which sparked a right-wing backlash, including death threats against the cast. (One wonders whether the protestors bothered to actually see the play.)

Kenneth Ranson as Caesar (top) and Nick Simpson-Deeks as Cassius. Photo: Prudence Upton.

At its heart, Julius Caesar is about the power of rhetoric – the way language can be used to persuade or manipulate or incite violence. Given the ratcheting up of heated rhetoric and violence in our post-truth, digitally connected world, Bell Shakespeare has made a timely choice.

Directed by James Evans, the production is set in contemporary times in an unnamed country. The parallel with the rise and acceptance of populist politics is clear. In the second half of the play, after Caeser’s assassination and Mark Antony’s stunning funeral speech, the set and costumes (designed by Anna Tregloan) take on dark, post-apocalyptic look.

Bare mattresses rest under a blue tarpaulin. There’s an upturned chair and industrial machinery belching smoke. An orange light beamed out onto the audience casts grotesque shadows. The actors are in camouflage and military boots.

As with all dystopian texts, it’s designed to shock – to make us look critically at the trajectory we are on. It also holds up a mirror to the hell of refugee camps or white supremacists on the streets of Charlottesville, encouraging us to see that what we would have considered dystopian decades ago, has already become reality.

Sydney-based African American actor Kenneth Ransom plays Caesar in a smooth, understated manner. He has the aura of someone who believes his own PR. But tyrant or hero? Ransom keeps us guessing.

Nick Simpson-Deeks injects sass and humour into the role of Cassius, the disgruntled thinker who manipulates Brutus into leading the conspiracy to kill Caesar. He sees Caesar as a “vile thing”, a “colossus” that towers over other men despite being of little worth. Is it just tall poppy syndrome, I found myself asking, or is Cassius smart enough to see through Caesar’s spin?

In many ways, the play is Brutus’s story. Caesar’s friend and ally fears the Roman Republic will be destroyed if Caesar is crowned King. We follow his belief that Rome is falling under tyranny, his decision to assassinate Caesar and his resulting inner turmoil. Ivan Donato does well to portray this conflicted soul who loses everything.

The powerful scene in which his wife Portia (played superbly by Maryanne Fonceca) eloquently protests the limitations placed on her sex, and proves her loyalty, was beautiful to watch. Donato displayed a real affection and respect for Portia entirely lacking in the relationship between Caesar and his wife.

Caesar calls Calphurnia (Emily Havea) “barren”, in public view, and treats her as little more than an accessory. This is why it is thrilling when the ambitious Octavius (Caesar’s great nephew and heir) is also played by Havea. The doubling adds a subversive note, amplified by the casting of Sara Zwangobani in the role of Mark Antony, whose performance I found thoroughly captivating.

Likewise, Jemwel Danao plays both Metellus (who, in the first scene, warns Caesar will leave citizens in ‘servile fearfulness’) and Cinna the Poet, who is later killed by the mob.

The doubling emphasises Evans’s angle. “When leaders use language that provokes or normalises violence, a dark collective urge is unleashed,” he writes in the program notes. “And the artist is always the first target.”

That shocking and masterfully choreographed scene will stay with me forever. I’ll admit I felt ambivalent about the production before the interval. Its minimal set and casual dress projected a rehearsal room feel at times. But the remainder of the show was engaging and visually stunning.

‘Julius Caeser’ plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until August 11.

Pictured top: Nick Simpson-Deeks as Cassius. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Shattering a myth

Review: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dark Emu ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 2 August ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When it comes to contemporary dance, I prefer minimal program notes. I believe that the best dance works speak for themselves, that the language of the body can speak as effectively as written the word. Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu, however, cracks my rule asunder.

Directed by Stephen Page and choreographed by Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown and the Bangarra dancers, the work takes as its starting point Bruce Pascoe’s ground-breaking 2014 book, Dark Emu. Subtitled Black Seeds: agriculture of accident?, Pascoe’s Dark Emu is a detailed and fascinating account of the sophisticated and sustainable Aboriginal farming, fishing and building practices that were in place prior to European colonisation. In bringing these practices to light, Pascoe shatters what Page refers to as the “convenient myth” that, pre-colonisation, Australia’s Indigenous people lived as hunter-gatherers.

Never mind the extensive program notes (including Q&As with various members of the creative team that absolutely enrich one’s viewing of the show), for me, one of the great joys of watching the performance was making the connections between Dark Emu, the dance work, and Dark Emu, the text. While it may seem a big ask to suggest that anyone seeing Bangarra’s Dark Emu should also commit to reading the book, I would actually go further and say that I believe every Australian should read Pascoe’s Dark Emu.

That said, the dance work’s 14 short sections have a logic that is independent of the book. A melding of abstract dance with moments of narrative, Bangarra’s Dark Emu is richly layered in terms of movement, sound and design; references to the text form a kind of bonus layer, for those who have read it.

That abundance of detail is apparent from the opening section, “Dark Spirit of the Sky”. Jacob Nash’s set design, a vortex of luminous blue rings, creates the sense that we are peering into a kind of cosmic void. The dancers emerge head first; rolling, arching and rippling, as though guided by the haunting soundscape, that features vocals by dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith.

In the spirit of the book, the scenes that follow represent traditional cultural and agricultural practices, pierced by scenes that depict the destruction of those practices by European colonisers. A favourite section of mine, that evocatively uses movement to represent elements of the natural world, is “Ceremony of the Seed”. Against Nash’s backdrop, the texture of which brings to mind veined rocks or leaves, the five dancers representing ‘Black Seed’ split and shake, while seven ‘Kangaroo Grass’ dancers’ feathery movements match their shredded silky skirts. Lastly, ‘Grain Dust’ sees three dancers stretch and contract across the stage. This trio was performed with dynamism by Kaine Sultan-Babij, Beau Dean Riley Smith and tiny powerhouse Yolanda Lowatta.

Jennifer Irwin’s often intricate costumes act as a metaphor for the complexity of the rituals and practices that form the basis of Dark Emu. In “Bowls of Mourning” we see eight women garbed in white webbed dresses, some of whom wear white crocheted caps that bring to mind cocoons. In fact, Pascoe explains, there is a tradition in Central Australia whereby a woman wears a “mourning cap” after the death of her husband. Even without this information, though, this scene is haunting, with the ethereal vocals of Yolande Brown woven into the score. Some of the women huddle on a low platform of wooden logs, others break away in a whirling motion that, ultimately, draws them back to the group. A rich, sweet smell fills the air, almost like incense. Nash’s veined back drop is now lit a deep and calm blue.

It’s a shock, then, when the music abruptly becomes choppy, and the male dancers burst in, leaping and rolling. Quickly they deconstruct the platform, utilising the logs to fence in the women. We don’t need the voiceover to confirm that these are the European explorers, wreaking havoc on traditional life.

Throughout the work, Steve Francis’s evocative score brings together “found” sounds with instrumentals, vocals and spoken word. In amongst the likes of cello, percussion and synth, we hear the flapping of wings, the drum roll of a downpour, the howl of the wind, the humming of flies, the crackle of a storm. Impressively, the vocals are mostly provided by the multi-talented dancers.

And those dancers. They have a sinewy quality, a stealth and lightness to their movement, that makes them incredible to watch. Whether slipping and sliding through white ochre powder, rolling and weaving amongst stone boulders, or springing and twisting in amongst the flames of a fire, they move with an energy that is deft but wild.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu is a rich tapestry of dance, sound and design that both celebrates the complex, practical and beautiful culture of Aboriginal people, and reminds us of the role of European settlers in its destruction.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s sold-out Perth season finishes August 5.

Photo: Daniel Boud.

summer of the 17th doll
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Black Swan’s Doll is a revelation

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll  ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, May 9 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

It’s not often a play’s set makes me analyse my obsession with mid-century furniture. But such is the case with Black Swan State Theatre Company’s stunning production of The Doll (as it is affectionately known). From the standard lamp and floral velour sofa, to the vinyl pouffe and the laminex table, the set closely resembles my home’s interior. It caused me to ponder why I have compulsively acquired items from an era steeped in such conservative values.

Ah, nostalgia; that trap of rosy retrospection.

Ray Lawler’s classic play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, set in 1953 and first performed in ‘55, speaks of the unbearable nostalgia and the confusion of a group of people when their beloved private world disintegrates under the stress of time and shifting circumstances. It examines what happens when people cling to the past out of fear of an uncertain future.

It is also a tragedy of the inarticulate, who feel more than they can express. Emotional honesty or nuanced vocabulary – like job security or savings – is a distant luxury.

Like generations of Australians, I read The Doll at school. But in my Year 11 drama room in 1989, its outdated colloquial language just seemed cringeworthy. (“Pigs I will!”, “Real ear-basher, he is.”) Its themes were utterly lost on us. Amateur productions I’ve seen were tragically shouty.

But finally, (finally!) I get it. I appreciate the brilliance of Lawler’s text, thanks to Adam Mitchell’s sensitive direction, the luminous design by Bruce McKinven and Trent Suidgeest, and the quality of the acting.

summer of the seventeenth doll
Mackenzie Dunn exudes a warm charm as Bubba, pictured with Kelton Pell as Roo (left) and Jacob Allan as Barney (right). Photo: Philip Gostelow.

Amy Mathews is superb as the sunny (but ultimately distraught) thirty-something barmaid Olive, who lives with her ageing, acerbic mother Emma (Vivienne Garrett) in a Victorian terrace in Carlton. Olive swoons adoringly, as she awaits the arrival of Roo and his mate Barney, down from cane cutting in Queensland for the five-month lay-off season. It’s been rinse-repeat for the past sixteen summers: Roo teaming up with Olive and Barney with Nancy. But with Nancy now married and sceptical Pearl invited as a possible replacement, it’s time to enter the spin cycle.

Kelton Pell is convincing as the proud, hot-headed Roo, who has returned to Melbourne stripped of his status, money and dignity. Machismo renders him all but mute (“Whatever. Don’t much care.”) until he vents with his fists.

Jacob Allan is outstanding in the role of Barney, a lively, un-reconstructed “ladies man” whose lack of self-awareness provides much of the play’s humour.

Alison van Reeken does well to portray the highly-strung widow Pearl, whose fresh perspective on the men’s behaviour, and the group’s dynamic, accelerates inevitable change.

Michael Cameron swaggers as Roo’s rival, the young upstart Johnnie Dowd. Mackenzie Dunn exudes a warm charm as Bubba, whose attraction to Johnnie shocks the other characters into confronting some home truths.

summer of the seventeenth doll
Machismo renders Roo all but mute until he vents with his fists. L-R: Jacob Allan as Barney and Kelton Pell as Roo. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

Of course, staging (and viewing) The Doll now is more than an act of nostalgia. The rise of the fly-in, fly-out lifestyle, and the challenge that poses for couples and families, adds contemporary resonance. So too does society’s growing critique of toxic masculinity.

Lawler’s characters are full of ambiguity and contradiction, though, and he resists moralising. Take Roo’s act of continuing to give Olive kewpie dolls: is it sweet, or infantilising – like some sugar (cane) daddy?

Olive’s rejection of marriage reminds me somewhat of Nora in Ibsen’s Doll House. When Nora says she cannot be a good wife and mother without learning to be more than a plaything, her husband is baffled because it contradicts all he has been taught about women. Likewise, Roo is at a loss to understand why Olive would not want to be his wife.

Does happiness elude her because she has been treated as a plaything and come to expect no better, or does she genuinely want to live beyond the trappings of marriage? Surely some women still grapple with the same question.

My only connection to Queensland or the world of cane-cutting has been through my long-standing love of the Go-Betweens’ song “Cattle and Cane”. Grant McLennan’s lyrics drip with affection and longing; nostalgia and melancholy. “From time to time the waste, memory wastes (memory wastes).”

I can’t be sure what McLennan means by those lines, though I’ve sung them with conviction countless times. But given that he wrote the song on Nick Cave’s guitar in London while feeling homesick for rural Queensland…

Perhaps there’s something in that for Olive and Roo and Barney and all of us. Memory lies. Memory wastes. The past was not necessarily a better place.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll plays the Heath Ledger Theatre at the State Theatre Centre until May 20.

Top: Sensitive design and quality acting: Amy Mathews as Olive and Alison van Reeken as Pearl. Photo: Photo: Philip Gostelow.



Frank Enstein
April 18, Calendar

Dance: Frank Enstein

11 – 15 April @ State Theatre Centre of WA , Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Co3 Australia ·

School Matinees: Thu 12 and Fri 13 April
Evening Performances: Wed 11 – Sat 14 April, 7.30pm and Sun 15 April, 5pm

Made by The Farm in collaboration with Co3 Australia

Frank could be a genius. Just one more ‘i’ and he’d be an Einstein!

Frank’s a lonely guy who wants to make his imaginary friends real. Harnessing electricity from a storm he creates his world from nothing but his imagination and the garbage in his lab. Battling a physical impairment, Frank creates monsters to fulfill his desire to be normal and to be accepted by others. Can he control what he creates? And who is the real monster anyway? Frank Enstein is a retelling of the classic tale for children and adults – magical dance-theatre illuminating a path to self-acceptance.

The Farm’s wicked sense of humour together with the extreme physicality of Co3 Australia’s dancers combines magic and dance to create a show for the child in all of us.

Suitable for all ages: recommended Ages 8+ (when accompanied by an adult)

Duration: 60 minutes (no interval)

More info: https://co3.org.au/frank-enstein-2018/
Email: info@co3.org.au

Top: The monsters Frank brings to life. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle
Children, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A winning reinvention

Review: Frank Enstein, The Farm with Co3 Australia ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 12 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When I first heard that Co3 Australia was remounting Frank Enstein, I was sceptical. A retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic by Gold Coast-based duo The Farm, the work made its premiere in WA just a year ago and it felt too soon to watch it again.

My fears, however, were unfounded. Watching Frank Enstein “2.0” (to borrow Co3 executive director Richard Longbottom’s nickname for the show) it was apparent that this is, indeed, a new version of the work rather than a simple reproduction.

The bones of the story are the same as last time. Frank’s a lonely inventor with a physical impairment who creates monsters in an effort to find friends. It’s a tale about acceptance, of both others and ourselves. Frank’s workshop, with its electric generator, crate of mannequin parts, fluorescent signs and AstroTurf surrounds, is also familiar.

So far, so recognisable, but there’s one key difference this year. Two of the five characters, Frank and his romantic interest Liz, are played by teenagers rather than adults. While the recast was made for practical rather than creative reasons (lack of availability of the original Frank, Daniel Monks), the decision to replace them with young performers has worked a charm.

As in the first rendition, both Frank and Liz are a sweet mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm and eccentricity. Casting them as teenagers gives a context for their idiosyncrasies that makes them more relatable.

William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young
William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

Guest artists William Rees (Frank), 16, and Luci Young (Liz), 15,  have put their own spin on their respective characters. Both gave highly engaging performances on opening night, at once comical and sensitive.

As Frank, Rees had the audience giggling as he ricocheted between triumph and terror, interacting with his newly enlivened creatures. Like Monks, Rees has a physical disability, in his case restricting the use of his left arm. As in the first version of Frank Enstein, the difference between Frank’s arms is acknowledged in a moment that is deft and poignant, without being overly sentimental.

Young’s Liz was full of delightful bravura, whether tossing her head wildly to the instructions of an “advanced at-home dance class” issuing from her old-school ghetto blaster or losing herself in a spine rippling solo, performed with an exuberance and abandonment beyond her years.

As well as cast changes, there have been adjustments to both the narrative and choreography, making this version of Frank Enstein that little bit darker and kookier. The “vacuum cleaner scene” was, if anything, even funnier on second viewing, as various body parts fell victim to the power of suction. I don’t seem to recall a disco scene in last year’s version, but it shone golden this time.

Once again, guest artist Andrew Searle and Co3 Australia’s Zachary Lopez and Talitha Maslin were sensational as the three monsters. Wonderfully funny in their interactions with one another and with Rees and Young, it was in their solos that we saw their incredible physicality as movers. Searle moved through his mass of spirals with his trademark grace. Lopez both amused and amazed as a series of crazed vibrations overtook his body. And Maslin appeared inhuman, her limbs contorting at seemingly impossible angles.

Finally, mention must be made of the sound design, with its evocative layers of melody and machinery, created by James Brown with Laurie Sinagra.

Kudos to the creators of this work, The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood, as well its cast – Frank Enstein 2.0 won me over.

Frank Enstein plays until 15 April and is suitable for ages 8 to adults.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Co3 Australia’s artistic director Raewyn Hill to find out more about Frank Enstein.

Pictured top: William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play
Calendar, November 18, October 18, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play

20 October 20 – 4 November @ State Theatre Centre of Western Australia ·
Presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company ·

by Sarah Ruhl
20 OCT to 04 NOV

In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play is a sassy play about power and passion. Sarah Ruhl re-imagines the curious chapter in the early history of psychotherapy, when women were treated with a certain mechanical device. And thus began the peculiar history of the vibrator…

Set in the 1880s, just after the advent of electricity, In the Next Room takes place in the adjoining parlour and consulting room of Dr Givings, who specialises in treating “hysteria” in women. Brisk, clinical and efficient in manner, he obsesses on the marvels of technology and what it can do for his patients. Although highly observant, he fails to notice that his wife, Catherine, is feeling neglected. Seeking the companionship of her husband’s patients, she soon begins to discover the truth about what goes on ‘in the next room’.

A fantastically funny and marvellously entertaining bodice ripper about true love and orgasms. Nominated for three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, this is a play guaranteed to hit the spot!
“Insightful, fresh and funny, the play is as rich in thought as it is in feeling.” New York Times

DIRECTOR Jeffrey Jay Fowler
CAST INCLUDES Rebecca Davis, Jo Morris, Tariro Mavondo
WARNING Adult themes

Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
DATES: 20 OCT – 04 NOV 2018
VENUE: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
WARNING: Adult themes

Prices: $35.00 to $88.00

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More information at www.bsstc.com.au/plays/in-the-next-room-or-the-vibrator-play

More info: www.bsstc.com.au/plays/in-the-next-room-or-the-vibrator-play

A Farewell to Paper
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Of typewriters and telegrams

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.

‘A Farewell to Paper’ closes 18 February.

Pictured top are Evgeny Grishkovets (foreground) and Kyle Wilson (background) in ‘A Farewell to Paper’ at the Heath Ledger Theatre. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

Dance, Features, Music, News, Performing arts

Super attractor

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.

Gideon Obarzanek
“Attractor really blurs the line between professional and amateur, between performer and audience.”  Gideon Obarzanek

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.”

“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.” Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.

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.”

Attractor plays the Heath Ledger Theatre, 8-10 February, as part of Perth Festival.

Pictured top: “The dancers are 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.” Photo: Gus Kemp.

Calendar, Dance, March 18, Performing arts

Perth Festival: Vessel

Dance ∙
Mar 1 – Mar 4 2018 @ Heath Ledger Theatre ∙
Presented by: Damien Jalet & Kohei Nawa ∙

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.

More info: https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/vessel

Calendar, Dance, February 18, Performing arts

Perth Festival: Attractor

Dance ∙
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.

More info: https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/attractor