You Know We Belong Together
Calendar, March 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: You Know We Belong Together

20 – 31 March @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan Theatre, Perth Festival & DADAA ·

You Know We Belong Together by Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagáin
and Clare Watson

Following the sold-out success of the 2018 world premiere of
You Know We Belong Together, we are thrilled to present an encore
season of this joyful celebration of community spirit.

You Know We Belong Together is a story of love; that force of nature
that strikes like lightning into our hearts. Family, friends and
lovers are all part of Julia Hales’ deeply personal account of her
experiences as a daughter, actor, dreamer and person with Down syndrome.
She brings with her the voices and aspirations of a community rarely
seen on stage in an uplifting performance with video, dance and song.

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/you-know-we-belong-together

 

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Features, News, Opera, Perth Festival

Composer gives speech for the voiceless

Award-winning composer Cat Hope will give a voice to the silenced when she returns to Perth to present the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address on Thursday. Hope is currently based in Melbourne where she is head of the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University. The visit will be the first of several Hope will make to her hometown in the coming months.

Glanville-Hicks had a stellar international career and the address named in her honour provides a platform to challenge the status quo and raise issues of importance in new music. Hope is a fitting choice for the address with industry experience as a performer, curator, academic and advocate for gender equality.

Speaking on the phone from Melbourne she outlined her plans to use the Glanville-Hicks address to discuss gender inequality in the music industry.

“Some in the industry believe that gender equality is not an issue but there is now evidence to confirm women and non-binary individuals do not experience the same access to opportunities as men working as music creators. I’ll present this data and also suggestions on how we can develop change.”

Composer Cat Hope. Photo supplied

Hope’s advocacy for women and non-binary artists was galvanised by observing the treatment of women in public life.

“Women like Julia Gillard, Gillian Triggs – women just doing their job – were attacked for reasons that had nothing to do with their work. I realised that Australians operate within a systemic hierarchical structure and the arts are included in that, even though we may think we are more collaborative or left-leaning. We need to change the way we think, talk about and commission compositions across the full range of society, from individuals at a ground level to government policies at a federal level.”

In a tangible demonstration of putting change into action, Hope’s address will include the performance of a new work commissioned from artists she would not normally work with. Melbourne metal singer Karina Utomo will perform a composition for voice and electronics created collaboratively by Hope and Polish-Australian composer Dobromila Jaskot.

Utomo will also be starring in Hope’s first opera Speechless, to be premiered in February as part of the Perth Festival. In Speechless Hope’s concern for issues of social justice take on a large scale, as befits a work in the genre of opera which historically often drew on the issues of the time. The score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the 2014 Human Rights Commission report, The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.

“Speechless is my personal response to Australia’s refugee crisis. When it first happened I was devastated and felt so helpless. I wanted to use music to activate the issue.”

The opera retains the conventional structure of arias, recitative accompanied by orchestra but Hope expands the horizon of opera according to her experimental practice and philosophy of inclusivity.

Utomo will perform alongside experimental vocalist Sage Pbbbt, Iranian-born singer Tara Tiba, opera singer Judith Dodsworth and a combined community choir of 30 voices. The opera has no libretto, instead the four soloists and choir will sing wordlessly (think Ennio Morricone mixed with experimental singer Cathy Berberian) in a fitting homage to people whose voices are rendered silent through political means. Instead the narrative will unfold through the music which will be performed by the Australian Bass Orchestra, an ensemble of low pitched instruments such as cellos, double basses, bass guitars, bass winds and brass, bass drums and electronics.

Hope composes her music using graphic notation and the score for Speechless is derived from the format of The Forgotten Children report. The singers and musicians follow specific colours and literally ‘read’ the report, following the up or downward trajectory of graphs, children’s drawings and photos.

The process may be unusual and technical, but Hope says the experience for audiences will be exhilarating.

“People will be challenged but it is ultimately rewarding. We’ve heard a lot of words and seen a lot of images and I think Australians are suffering from compassion fatigue. I hope the opera might give people a different way to grapple with the issue.”

Perth audiences can have a preview of Hope’s compositional style performed by Utomo at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks address on Thursday night. Hope will also be performing with her award-winning ensemble Decibel on Monday night at the Subiaco Arts Centre. Since founding in 2009 the six-piece electro-acoustic ensemble has become something of an Australian institution, renowned for their pioneering work with graphic notation and their commitment to commissioning Australian composers. The Decibel concert explores the vinyl record as a sound source, musical instrument and score.

The Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address is November 29. Decibel’s Revolution concert is December 3. Speechless will run February 26 until March 3.

Picture top: singer Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.

 

 

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Perth Writers' Week
Calendar, Literature, Perth Festival

Literature: Writers’ Week

18 – 24 February @ The University Club of WA & Various venues
around Perth & beyond ·
Presented by Perth Festival ·

From searing memoirs and family dramas through to sweeping historical
sagas and fun sessions on music, film, food and fashion, this year’s
Writers Week: Our Imagined Selves makes your story a part of every story.

You’ll be swept up in conversations, performances and workshops, fun
family activities, literary tours and adventures unfolding across The
University of Western Australia’s picturesque campus and Perth’s libraries,
galleries and writers’ centres, like the chapters of a giant book.

We’re announcing a series of special events as a taste of what’s coming
up for Writers Week 2019. Stay tuned for 10 January when we reveal the full
program.

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/experience/writers-week

 

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Three people lie on their backs on the floor. They look like a mother, toddler daughter and feather. They are making shapes with their hands.
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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A woman, a man and a bird surrounded by flowers.
Circus, Music, Musical theatre, News, Opera, Performing arts, Theatre

First peek at 2019 Perth Festival

Perth Festival has given us a tantalising glimpse of its 2019 programme, revealing four of the works on the line-up.

Returning to open the Festival will be Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, a nocturnal wonderland that will, once again, light up Kings Park over four nights. This free, outdoor event is a celebration of Noongar culture and the beauty and biodiversity of the South West of WA, that sees audiences take a kaleidoscopic walk through projections, animation, sound and lighting effect along Fraser Avenue and deep into Kings Park.’

Balls of light in a park at night
‘Boorna Waanginy’. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

That weekend will also see two international shows, both Australian exclusives, open in Perth. The first, Lang Toi, by Nouveau Cirque de Vietnam, is a daring display of acrobatics, physical theatre, live traditional music and playful bamboo constructions, that transports the audience into the heart of a Vietnamese village.

an acrobat standing on one hand
A scene from ‘Lang Toi’. Photo: Nguyen Duc Minh.

The second work, The Great Tamer, sees Greece’s Dimitris Papaioannou explore the mysteries of life, death and the beauty of humanity with enigmatic, dreamlike scenes and visual riddles. Using ten performers and a shape-shifting floor that undulates to Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube”, Papaioannou’s magical stagecraft brings to life a series of inventive live paintings.

Last – for now – but not least, flying elephants, gaudy 1920s flappers, comic-book villains, gigantic spiders, butterflies and wolves run rampant as performers interact with animated characters in Barrie Kosky’s exhilarating production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, presented by Kosky’s Komische Oper Berlin, British theatre group 1927 in association with West Australian Opera and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

The full 2019 Perth Festival program will be announced 1 November 2018.

Pictured top is a scene from Komische Oper Berlin’s “The Magic Flute”.

A man throwing seeds over his head
A scene from ‘The Great Tamer’. Photo: Julian Mommert.
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Iain Grandage
Features, Music, News, Performing arts

In the spotlight: Iain Grandage

The appointment of Iain Grandage as artistic director of Perth Festival for 2020-2023 received a highly enthusiastic communal thumbs-up when it was announced earlier this year. Grandage will be speaking at the Blue Room Theatre, Saturday 4 August, but Nina Levy decided to sneak in a pre-show chat.

When acclaimed composer Iain Grandage was announced as Perth Festival’s artistic director for 2020-2023, back in May, there was a palpable buzz of excitement in the WA arts community. It was immediately clear that people feel a sense of connection with Grandage. While this communal stamp of approval can be attributed, in part, to the fact that he’s a local (raised and trained in Perth), I believe there’s more to it than that. Grandage has composed and played across numerous art-forms – opera, theatre, dance – with the result that he has the affections of an unusually broad range of arts-enthusiasts. He has won numerous awards for his work as a composer and music director, including an impressive seven Helpmanns for his compositions for theatre (Cloudstreet, The Secret River), for dance (When Time Stops), for opera (The Rabbits with Kate Miller-Heidke), for film (Satan Jawa, with Rahayu Suppangah) and as a music director for Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl and The Secret River.

Cloudstreet
Grandage composed the score for Company B and Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of ‘Cloudstreet’, pictured here at the 1998 Perth International Arts Festival (now Perth Festival). Photo: Heidrun Lohr.

Personally, I first came across Grandage’s work back in 2006, at the Perth International Arts Festival (now Perth Festival). He had composed the scores for two dance theatre works presented at the Festival that year, Steamworks Arts’s The Drover’s Wives and Splinter Group’s Lawn. Rich soundscapes packed with drama, both scores seemed, to me, inseparable from the action, inextricably linked to the movement on stage.

Twelve years later, then, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Grandage and find out about the process behind such compositions. When he picked up my interview call with a short song of greeting, my happiness was complete, in the manner of a teenager who has just acquired the autograph of her favourite pop star. Suffice to say Grandage is a delightful mix of creativity and general niceness.

Originally from Brisbane, Grandage moved to Perth with his family in the mid-1970s and began his formal music training shortly after, starting piano lessons at age seven and cello at ten.  Although he gave up piano at 13, he continued to play the instrument for pleasure. “I’d go to the music library and get books and books of pop songs, lots of stuff from the ’20s and ’30s… I don’t know why, I was really drawn to it,” he reminisces. “My dad’s dad was a linguist but also, as many people were back then, a composer. Because there were pianos in so many rooms, there was that great flowering of popular music that happened between the wars. So my grandfather, who my dad never even knew (he died when my dad was three months old), is a published composer. I often heard my dad play that piece and was drawn to music of that period.

While Grandage initially dreamed of playing in a piano bar, on acquiring such a job, at age 18, he discovered that it was “one of the loneliest things you can ever do in your entire life.” By comparison, he found the cello much more sociable. “Once I started the cello, within a year I was in the junior orchestras of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra,” he remembers. “That became [the source of] my closest friendships and so much of my social life revolved around holiday music camps and Saturday morning music-making. At that time Richard Gill was here, running the music part of WAAPA (the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) and he also started a thing called Junior Exhibitioner Course, on a Friday afternoon. That was a collection 30 of us who did aural training, choir, performance practice and stylistic composition. It was revelatory for me. So that was my Friday afternoons and Saturday morning was orchestra. Very quickly, music was a large part of my social and extra-curricular life.”

Iain Grandage
Iain Grandage. Photo Pia Johnson.

Despite this, Grandage wasn’t planning to become a professional musician when he finished school. “I went to UWA because I wanted to be a lawyer, actually,” he tells me. “In those days you had to do a year of another degree before you went into law. I did music for that first year. For many years I had a great sadness that the university, at that stage, didn’t offer a music/law degree. They since have and I think I would have grabbed that with both hands because I love words, I love the power of words.”

What changed his mind?

There were two factors, he replies. “Firstly, I had a brilliant time in the music department at UWA. I fell in love with the fact that that music wasn’t just on the weekends, that you could do it day in and day out.

“Secondly, I read Albert Camus’ L’Étranger (The Stranger), in French literature class, and that was about a lawyer who failed his clients. I now know I was ill-informed but I saw that law wasn’t always utilised for good and that confused me. I thought that was all law. Now I see all the avenues by which law is an incredible tool for helping society. You see it standing up to Trump, to Farage, closer to home, to Dutton and various elements. I’m a huge supporter of the power of the judiciary. That’s a tangent, isn’t it? But, fundamentally, it was an affirmative choice towards music rather than a negative one away from law. It was more ‘I can’t help but continue doing this.’”

Fundamentally it was an affirmative choice towards music rather than a negative one away from law. It was more ‘I can’t help but continue doing this.’”

Grandage admits that during his 20s he had moments of questioning that choice, when struggling creatively or financially. Ultimately, though, he says he has no regrets, perhaps because of the eclectic nature of his career path. “I chose to move out of being purely a cellist and into other performing arts, writing music for theatre, and from there into dance, and from there into graphical music, and from there into opera,” he elaborates. “Each of those informs the other and you don’t need to get too stymied by one of them or too dulled by your experience with one of them, because the next is helping to change things up.”

Grandage made that move away from being a “straight” cellist and into other art forms relatively early in his career. “In 1995 I auditioned to be an actor in a Black Swan show, a piano accordian player in Louis Nowra’s Cosi. That was the first time I met [Black Swan director] Andrew Ross and we really hit it off. He’s a glorious human who has a wicked sense of humour and an immense brain, and intrigue about what is possible in storytelling in the arts. I said to him, ‘I’m a particularly shit actor,’ but despite that he still cast me.”

In fact, he told Ross, his real interest was composing music for shows, a confidence that paid off. “I did most music for most Black Swan shows from 1995-2000 and that was a great training ground,” he says. “In the midst of that, in 1997, Black Swan put me forward to do the music for Cloudstreet, the theatre production, with Australia’s finest director, Neil Armfield. At that stage, as a 26-year-old, I wouldn’t have had a look in, in terms of getting to work with him, except that it was a co-production between [Sydney-based] Company B Belvoir, which was Neil’s company, and Black Swan. So I got the entrée into the East coast theatre scene at the very top of the tree, which was a complete blessing.”

Lawn
‘Perhaps my favourite dance experience was working with Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood [Splinter Group] on a show they made called ‘Lawn’.’ Pictured at the 2006 Perth International Arts Festival.
As aforementioned, Grandage has composed across a range of art-form, and I’m interested to find out what it is about interdisciplinary collaboration that appeals to him. Once again, it comes back to the fact that Grandage is a social being.

“After I did those five years with theatre, I was slowly finding my compositional voice and a series of opportunities came up with West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and in various contexts, for me to be an art music composer, writing for symphony orchestras and choirs. It was essentially sitting in a room and delivering scores, in that old school traditional way of notating everything, then you deliver it, rehearse for two days and perform,” he explains. “The worst thing [about working in that context] was the fact that I like people. Fundamentally, it’s an incredibly isolated and isolating experience, creating music. It’s like being a painter or a sculptor or a novelist. It’s a solitary creative pursuit.”

Being an old school, traditional composer is like being a painter or a sculptor or a novelist. It’s a solitary creative pursuit.

Working across disciplines is different, he explains. “I enjoy the fact that, when writing for a collaborative medium like theatre, you can either improvise in the room and you know it’s right because you’re making it up as you go, and you can read the feeling in the room, but also, if you go home and write something, you can bring it in and go, well that doesn’t work, and you can change it instantly. The feedback is far more immediate. I find many brains are far more powerful than one.”

Being from a dance background myself, I’m particularly interested to learn more about the way Grandage works with choreographers. “Perhaps my favourite dance experience was working with Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood [Splinter Group, now The Farm] on a show they made called Lawn,” he muses. “The theatre environment Webber and Millwood create, the meta staging, the mis en scene is so clear, that whether you’re talking about an external world filled with banalities or an internal world filled with emotional complexities, it makes a very clear distinction about what music to do when. In those internal worlds, we’d essentially both launch from same moment. I knew that the arc of their dance would be, [for example], between four and four and a half minutes. I would write an arc of four minutes that made complete musical sense, and that was consistently evolving and making an argument and coming down to a logical conclusion around four minutes and then going into a kind of a loop, so that if they’re having a ‘tired old man’ day, they’re safe, the music’s not going to finish. [Working] in this way gives you immense freedom as a composer because you can make an argument…that is, in and of itself, musically satisfying. You can then layer other things on top of that broad arc that then speak specifically to any particular movements that they’re doing.”

Natalie Weir, When Time Stops. Cr. Chris Herzfeld
‘For Natalie Weir’s ‘When Time Stops’, The Camerata of St John’s played live on stage and were just so fantastic and courageous in how they stood amongst fast-moving dancers and memorised huge slabs of the score.’ Photo: Chris Herzfeld.

“Then there are other scores, where I’m playing live. Another favourite score was for When Time Stops [by Natalie Weir, for Expressions Dance Company], with a much-loved band of fellow musicians from Queensland called the Camerata of St John’s. They played live on stage and were just so fantastic and courageous in how they stood amongst fast-moving dancers and memorised huge slabs of the score. It was such a thrill. That was an instance where I essentially wrote a score [and brought it to the choreographer] and for Natalie, who is a far more traditional choreographer, that worked very well.”

Essentially, says Grandage, the key factor in successful collaboration is that all artists have freedom of expression, but also clearly defined artistic aims. “When you’ve clearly discussed the [ground you want to explore] before you leap in, then you know that what you deliver is going to be on the same page. Those collaborative projects are a great joy.”

I love the idea of sewing these disparate lines together to make a festival that’s actually euphoric and filled with hope, and filled with a celebration of us in this place.

Grandage directed the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival from 2016-2018 and, listening to him talk about collaboration across art-forms, it’s easy to picture him in his upcoming role of Perth Festival artistic director, directing across disciplines. “I’m very attracted to the act of storytelling,” he agrees. “Something that occurred to me across my time running the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival is the fact that you can make statements about society and hopefully make a small change for people by presenting a whole series of works that talk to each other and are beyond the creative powers of any single artist. In curating that small festival and now with the chance to curate this big festival you can program people with bigger brains than your own, who have ways of the viewing some of the intractable problems that face us as a society, but also those things that celebrate the great shared moments of humanity in ways that you find unexpected and joyful and never would have thought of yourself. So you can make a bigger statement, and make more of a difference.

“It feels like a way of – just like when I am writing a piece of music – synthesising a whole pile of different lines together into a coherent whole. The whole idea of a conversation happening inside a piece of music is the same transaction as two large scale works of art being placed next to each other, having that same conversation. The way you stimulate an audience’s mind is the same, inside a festival program. You’re going, ‘See that… and now see this!’ It’s the same as having two vastly different musical voices sitting cheek by jowl inside a piece of music. I love the idea of sewing these disparate lines together to make a festival that’s actually euphoric and filled with hope, and filled with a celebration of us in this place. It’s a glorious part of world and I want to celebrate it with every fibre of my being.”

“Get to know Iain Grandage” at the Blue Room Theatre as part of “Winter Nights”, Sunday 4 August at 4pm.

Iain Grandage is pictured top. Photo: Rhys Woolf.

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Iain Grandage
News, Performing arts, Visual arts

And the director is…

Perth Festival has announced the appointment of Iain Grandage as artistic director of Perth Festival 2020-2023, succeeding current director Wendy Martin whose final program will be the 2019 Festival.

It’s exciting news on many counts. Not only is Grandage an acclaimed collaborative artist and programmer, but he’s from WA.

A composer, Grandage’s Helpmann Award-winning back catalogue includes the scores for theatre productions Cloudstreet and The Secret River, dance production When Time Stops and opera The Rabbits (with Kate Miller-Heidke). He has also won Helpmann Awards for his work as musical director of Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl and The Secret River.

As a programmer, Grandage has curated the chamber music program for Adelaide Festival and been artistic director of the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival since 2016.

After a decade in Melbourne, Grandage recently returned to WA and is thrilled to lead an international arts festival in his home state. “Perth Festival inspired my journey into the performing arts when I first experienced it in the early 1990s,” he says. “I hope to similarly energise local artists and audiences by extending the Festival’s foundation mission as a Festival for all people.

“It’s a privilege to lead a Festival that has such a rich history, and to play a part in shaping its future on Noongar Boodja by presenting wondrous art made with intelligence and heart that places international artists cheek-by-jowl with locals.”

Seesaw will be catching up with Iain Grandage very soon… so stay tuned!

Pictured top: Iain Grandage. Photo: Pia Johnson.

 

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Tank & the Bangas
Music, News, Pop, Reviews

With a bang

Perth Festival review: Lee Fields & the Expressions + Tank & the Bangas ·
Chevron Gardens, 4 March ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

The organisers of Perth Festival had a huge task planning the final show at Chevron Gardens. Not only was it the closing party of the international arts festival, but it signified the end of Perth’s summer festival season, following the conclusion of Fringe World last week. Could they fill the venue with their choice of artists? How would they give the punters a night to remember?

Contrary to programming norms, Lee Fields & the Expressions were first, despite their position as headline act. Fields, a veteran soul singer from North Carolina, USA, was welcomed on stage by his six-piece band, the Expressions. They kicked things off with the swaggering, brass-infused number, “I Still Got It”. Fields strode out, dressed in a fine black evening suit, grabbed the mic, and – quite simply – owned the stage. At 67 years of age his confidence and level of showmanship were the kind you don’t see in younger performers.

Lee Fields & the Expressions
Expert at engaging the crowd: Lee Field fronting the Expressions. Photo: Cam Campbell.

Fields and his band were experts at engaging the crowd, wholesome and cheesy like musicians and entertainers I’ve seen only in film clips from the sixties and seventies. They made us shout, sing, dance, and wave our arms in the air, rewarding our willingness with lashings of praise. They singled out different clusters of the audience: “these happy people right here – put your hands up!” and “those beautiful people, way back there, y’all got SOUL!”.

Fields, who is often nicknamed “Little JB” for his resemblance to the legendary James Brown, made the audience swoon with the richness and surprising warmth of his voice in slower, Hammond organ-drenched numbers like “Magnolia”, “Honey Dove” and “Paralyzed”. The whole audience was grooving and clapping on the backbeat in the more audacious “How I Like It” and “Don’t Walk”. True to their aptly-titled new album – “Special Night” – Lee Fields and the Expressions promised, delivered, and left us wanting more.

At this point I must admit I had little to no knowledge of any of these musicians before attending the show on Sunday. I once shared a video of Tank & the Bangas – their winning submission for NPR’s Tiny Desk contest in 2017 – but I otherwise had no idea what I’d signed up for.

It seemed no one else was prepared for the tumultuous musical rollercoaster that is Tank & the Bangas either. At least three people turned around to me, mouths agape, exclaiming “whaaaaat?!” during their first few songs. Though to call them “songs” is really underselling the whole experience. Lead vocalist Tarriona Ball (Tank) burst onto stage while the rest of the band (the Bangas) concocted a flurry of synth, drums, sax and bass against a backdrop of manic stage lighting. There was no epilepsy warning but there should have been. Tank led the troops with her impressive vocal ability, moving effortlessly between rambling Nicki Minaj-esque rap; soulful nineties R&B lyricism; sweet, heady, girly folk; impassioned ecclesiastical cries; thoughtful, measured verses of slam poetry – often without warning.

The New Orleans act is a fascinating slice of music coming out of that city today: rooted in jazz, wild and free-spirited, a celebration of community and diversity, a product of all the musical styles that have flourished there. But these relative new-comers to the music scene (they found their fame online) are not afraid to explore darker personal and political themes. The epic twelve-minute “You So Dumb”, which left the audience speechless, is a journey through romantic disappointment, self-rejection and grief. The touching, confessional “Rollercoaster” (about fear and self-doubt) is a mix of poetry and stunning vocalism backed by smooth, new-age slow jams.

By the end of the night, Tank & the Bangas had the audience jumping and fist pumping to the frenetic “Hey Hey Hey!” as they lead the final hurrah – blasting, banging, roaring and slapping with full exuberance. I understood then why they had been programmed as the final act.

Good move, Perth Festival.

Pictured top are Tank and the Bangas. Photo: Cam Campbell.

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Repatriate
Installation, News, Reviews, Visual arts

Dancing or drowning

Perth Festival review: Repatriate by Latai Taumoepeau ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·

At the end of a hall I’m filed into a single line with the crowd as we move into a room to view Latai Taumoepeau’s Repatriate, displayed in a dark tunnel-like structure. It’s the opening night of Fremantle Art Centre’s Perth Festival programming, and Repatriate sits alongside the main event, Amy Sharrocks’ “The Museum of Water”.

When it’s my turn I move into the narrow tunnel, where I’m presented with five iPad screens, each depicting a different stage in a recording of the Australian-Tongan artist/dancer’s 90-minute durational performance. The rhythmic soundtrack accompanying the work is encompassing, yet muffled, and I feel as if I am submersed in water.

The claustrophobic installation mimics Taumoepeau’s situation. Contained into a Perspex tank no larger than a standard shower, she performs a Pacific Island dance as the tank fills with water around her. The dance is an amalgamation of choreography informed by multiple Pacific Island cultures, including her own Tongan heritage. Her wrists, ankles and waist are encircled by yellow floaties, playfully referencing the body adornments for which Islander dancers are known.

As the work progresses, the water level in the tank begins to rise, and Taumoepeau’s movement becomes laboured. Eventually reduced to a series of kicks and awkward gestures, her movement is not only affected by the water, but the floaties. These pull her body towards the surface, a hindrance rather than a help. Perhaps these ineffectual “aids” symbolise the limited resources that small island nations, such as Tonga, have to combat the effects of climate change (in comparison to the larger, more powerful nations that have caused the problems).

Repatriate
Eventually reduced to a series of kicks and awkward gestures, Taumoepeau’s movement is not only affected by the water, but the floaties.

As Taumoepeau is submerged, details of the dance are lost, a poignant metaphor for the loss of culture that will occur as sea levels rise around Pacific Island nations and residents are displaced from their homes and traditions.

According to the wall text, the small screens on which the work is displayed recall “souvenir postcards depicting Indigenous people as primitive stereotypes inhabiting island paradises”.  This format also allows for an intimate experience, an almost one-on-one viewing. Rather than displaying a lengthy screen work as a grand projection, as is common in galleries, this series of postcard-like glimpses into the work provides a sense of the entire 90 minute performance in a manner that is both efficient and engaging.

Repatriate is a powerful performance work, although it deserves a more prominent placement than its hall-end location. Latai Taumoepeau presents a compelling art work that draws attention to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels not only on the Pacific Islands, but the world. The use of the artist’s own body to demonstrate this impact, paired with the intimate setting of the small screens and confined space is both humanising and commanding.

“Repatriate” is on display until 23 March. 

 

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Second Woman
News, Performance art, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Brave, intense, strange

Perth Festival review: The Second Woman by Nat Randall and Anna Breckon ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, 3 March ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

How many ways can you say the words: I love you?

In sarcasm; anger; desperation; with nonchalance; with love.

Nat Randall’s revelatory performance at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art was a study in the nuances of language and in epic theatre.  Randall began the show at 3pm on Saturday and performed the same, fairly short scene with 100 different men over a period of 24 hours.  24 hours!  Is she mad?  Maybe.  But wow, it was good.

The scene is inspired by a very similar one from the John Cassavete classic, Opening Night.  In her version, Randall is a woman alone in what appears to be a hotel room.  She is visited by a man (well, 100 men), her partner.  They exchange about ten minutes of sparse dialogue, parsing some of the details of their relationship.  They dance, they drink, the man leaves.  This short exchange was performed over and over and over, separated by intervals of ten minutes during which the packed audience could leave, chat, or stay.  Most chose to stay, many for an hour.  Some stoic souls stayed for the whole fraught adventure.

Randall is a Sydney-based performance artist and a core member of the collectives Hissy Fit and Team MESS.  She’s no stranger to Perth audiences, having performed most recently in last year’s Proximity Festival.  She performed The Second Woman in Hobart’s famed Dark Mofo last year and in the Next Wave Festival in 2016 for which the piece was created.

Randall is incredible to watch.  Taking her cues from each new sparring partner, she changes the tone of the same piece as easily as you or I might change underwear.  The first iteration I saw was bursting with humour – the audience breaking into laughs at every second line.  The second was heartfelt, intimate.  It felt like we shouldn’t be there, hanging on each word.  Another was a scene of fatigued sadness, of love gone old and stale.  In each scene of course, the dialogue was almost identical.  The dramatic tension of the work arises from the chemistry between the players, and the audience’s concern (or investment) in the welfare of Randall.  (When) will she falter?  When will she get to go the toilet?  Is she wearing special senior’s knickers?  (Answer: she has a 15 minute break every two hours)

The male players were chosen from a general call-out made through the Festival’s publicity channels.  They called for men of diverse ages and backgrounds with non-performers specifically encouraged to apply.  Of course, some of those who were featured were certainly actors, but many (most?) were not.  They were blokes who might otherwise be in the audience…in some cases wonderfully unwitting of the thrills of live performance.  In preparation, each was given a script with the barest of stage directions.  They knew where to move, what to say and do, but the open question was how.  And therein lies the power of the piece.  I love you.  I love youI love you.  It was genuinely surprisingly to see how ten minutes of dialogue could be interpreted in such radically different ways.  How a tone can change an outcome.

The set, designed by Future Method Studio is a thing of great beauty.  A boxed room, red and lushly lit with the fourth wall sheared off for our viewing pleasure.  It feels a little Lynchian, as does Randall in her red fitted frock and tragically blonde wig.  This room dominates only half the stage with the other half of PICA’s black box taken up with a large screen – each scene is filmed in real time by two camera operators who hover just outside the room.  Randall’s collaborator for this project is Anna Breckon, a film writer and director who is the co-creator of The Second Woman.  It’s Breckon directing the footage as it gets projected onto the adjacent screen, resulting in a very unusual cinematic experience that is almost as compelling as the live action happening next door.

Audience members came and went.  And the line to get in grew ever larger (though I’m betting there was no line at 3am).  I wanted to get in for a third viewing – but alas, by that time, word had well and truly spread and the line snaked outside PICA.  A small band of brave ones (mostly artists themselves as I understand it) stayed for the full experience.  I wish I had.

Brave, intense, strange.  These are a few of my favourite things.

Photo: Perth Festival

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