Features/Opinion/Dance/Literature/Music/Theatre/Visual Art

Cream of the crop 2019

13 December 2019

Which shows were Seesaw writers’ favourites this year? What were the highlights and lowlights for the arts in WA? And which artists will our contributors be looking out for in 2020? As 2019 draws to a close, Seesaw writers reflect on the year that was and the year that will be.

Rosalind Appleby

Top three shows in 2019
Foxpresented by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre: One of the best children’s theatre productions I’ve seen with its strong visual and aural metaphors that carried its story deep into the heart. The undercurrent of sadness and fear was finely balanced by the exquisite beauty and playfulness of the dancers.

Verdi’s Requiem, presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra: For six years Asher Fisch has honed a creamy, rounded orchestral sound from WASO and for Verdi’s Requiem he found a choir to match his orchestra. A performance that brought Verdi’s dramatic architecture to life in all its majesty.

Sweeney Todd, presented by West Australian Opera: It has taken 40 years for Sweeney Todd to arrive in Perth, but it was worth the wait. WAO had assembled a killer (if you’ll excuse the pun) cast and from the opening gothic organ chords to its tragic final moments, Stephen Sondheim’s urban myth about a homicidal barber and his pie-making accomplice had the audience in its thrall.

Arts lowlight
Watching Black Swan State Theatre Company stagger under the weight of the governance controversy that has clouded their year.

Looking forward to
I haven’t looked past festival season yet and the Perth Festival music program is particularly rich this year. I love the way Ancient Voices fuses local and international choral groups, ancient and new repertoire, Australia’s Indigenous culture and a commission from a female composer. Ticks all my boxes!

Xan Ashbury

Top three shows in 2019
The Talk, created and performed by Mish Grigor, staged at PICA as part of Fringe World in January.

Cracked, by Barbara Hostalek, presented by Yirra Yaakin Theatre at the Subiaco Arts Centre in May.

Fully Sikh (pictured top), written and performed by Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, staged at Studio Underground, by Black Swan State Theatre Company and Barking Gecko Theatre, in October.

Looking forward to…
Further To Fall, at Rhubarb Records Vinyl Café, as part of Fringe World. Open Lid Ensemble presents a physical theatre performance exploring the turmoil of falling in love with a narcissist. Accompanied by a live soundscape.

Kate Tempest, at the Chevron Lighthouse. The spoken word phenomenon hits the Perth Festival on February 16.

Anthem, at Perth Festival. Written by Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela, and directed by Susie Dee. The five writers have collaborated to craft a “funny and ferocious portrait” of contemporary Australia.

Sandra Bowdler

Top two shows in 2019
Gun-Brit Barkmin and WASO, 23 August 2019, Perth Concert Hall:  Rarely has Perth seen a concert with such virtuosic singing and dramatic intensity.

Verdi’s Macbeth, WA Opera (co-production with State Opera of SA), 19 October 2019, His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth:  This current production of Verdi’s Macbeth must be one of the best Australian opera offerings in recent years, a complete success in almost every aspect. Verdi is not exactly an obscure composer for the lyric stage, but Macbeth is certainly more of a rarity than the well-trod path of Trov and Trav, and it is great to see such excellent production values bestowed on something rather off the beaten (Australian) path.

Antoinette Halloran as Lady Macbeth and James Clayton as Macbeth in West Australian Opera’s Macbeth. Photo: James Rogers.

Arts highlight
Funding for Seesaw!

Arts lowlight
The recent axing of an Arts portfolio by the Federal Government

Looking forward to…
WASO – Bach, Easter Oratorio, (Apr 8)
WASO – Eumarella (July 10, hope I’m here)
WASO – Rite of Spring, Asher Fish (Nov 20-21, again hope I’m here for it)
Musica Viva – Christophe Rousset et les talens lyriques (Nov 23, ditto)

Patrick Gunasekera

Top three shows in 2019:
Bitch on Heat by Leah Shelton, presented by The Blue Room Theatre as part of Summer Nights

Jupiter Orbiting by Joshua Pether, presented by PICA

Ice Land, devised by Downsyde, Kyle J Morrison, Layla, Moana Mayatrix, Trooth, and Zac James, and presented by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company.

Layla Hanbury and Scott Griffiths in Yirra Yaakin’s Ice Land. Photo: Dana Weeks.

Arts highlight
The unionising of the arts and culture sector to address the climate emergency this year has set an important standard of climate consciousness and action which all arts workers have a responsibility to work by. Well done to Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action (WA) for taking on this initiative in an accessible and community-minded way, I’m so excited to see where we will all go from here.

Arts lowlight
This year, yet again, Perth has produced a handful of well-funded works about communities of colour which, under the direction and presentation of white and privileged organisations, have left many struggling artists of colour disappointed and upset by the ways our identities and stories have been redefined on white peoples’ terms for white audiences. I hope one day the Australian arts sector will learn that we don’t need white authority or white audiences for our work to make a difference in the community, and that true justice for people of colour through the arts involves the autonomy to define and present ourselves outside of whiteness as a central point of reference.

Looking forward to…
I’m really excited for the Perth Festival shows Hecate and Anthem. Two fantastic ideas from two stellar teams. I’m looking forward to expanding my Noongar speaking skills with the exceptional cast and to seeing Kylie Bracknell’s exploration of the Macbeth story and witches. And as for Anthem, need I say more about the team who brought us Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?

Miranda Johnson

Top three shows in 2019
Trying to find comfort in an uncomfortable chair, Agatha Gothe-Snape and the Cruthers Collection of Womens’ Art

Five Short Blasts at Perth Festival

Amy Perejuan-Capone’s Don’t Stare at the Sun/For too Long at PS Art Space (runs until 19 December, 2019)

Agatha Gothe-Snape with The Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, Trying to Find Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair, Installation view, 2019. Photo by Bo Wong. Courtesy Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA).

Arts highlight
The development of the Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action group and the welcoming, supportive response from the sector. I’m looking forward to more meetings and conversations about this issue in 2020!

Arts lowlight
The removal of Arts from the Federal Government’s agenda quite literally in the short-sighted portfolio shuffle, which moved the Department of Communications and the Arts into the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

Looking forward to…
Cheeky Dogs at DADAA – and many more exhibitions at DADAA’s new Fremantle space!
Hecate at Perth Festival
Here&Now2020 at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery

Leon Levy
Despite limited time spent in Perth, there was no difficulty nominating three top shows in 2019, with at least another three that could equally have been chosen.

Top three shows in 2019
Last year’s Perth Isolde, Gun-Brit Barkmin, joined Asher Fisch and WASO to provide a predictable season highlight in An Evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin.
Mozart’s Magic Flute, in Barrie Kosky’s Komische Oper Berlin production, was another triumph of the 2019 Perth Festival.
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the ACO in Pärt and JS Bach was an evening of the finest music-making imaginable.

Arts highlight
Fringe World Festival 2019 was a notable star on the Perth calendar. Providing plenty of “edge”, the eclectic mix also included some strikingly fine productions such as Eleanor’s Story: American Girl in Hitler’s Germany and the Giovanni Consort’s imaginative Sleep with Giovanni.

Arts lowlight
The apparent downgrading by the Federal Government of the arts by merging the departmental functions into a new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications: unusual bedfellows, to say the least.

Looking forward to…
Who has yet had an opportunity to study the 2020 season brochures put out by the various companies, let alone the 700 or more events promised by the Fringe Festival? But Beethoven’s Fidelio and Missa Solemnis, both under the baton of Asher Fisch, are self-recommending; and That Seventies Feeling…the late Modern at the Art Gallery of WA has certainly aroused curiosity.

smiling Nina!
Nina Levy, co-editor Seesaw magazine

Nina Levy

Top three shows in 2019
Dada Masilo’s Giselle at Perth Festival. Loved this gritty rewriting of my classical fave, especially the earthly and androgynous wilis.

Rachel Arianne Ogle’s exhilarating PrecipiceSo rare for independent dance to get a second outing, kudos to Alice Jorgensen and the State Theatre Centre of WA for providing another opportunity for Perth audiences to witness this wild ride. 

The cornucopia of dance that was November, in particular Scott Elstermann’s Act 2, Scenes 1-4 in double bill “Bang! Bang!” and Brooke Leeder’s Radar (I know, I am cheating).

Bernadette Lewis in Scott Elstermann’s Act 2, Scenes 1-4. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Arts highlight(s)
Marching at the Global Climate Rally with my fellow arts workers, under the Arts and Cultural Workers for Climate Action (WA) banner.

The launch of Iain Grandage’s 2020 Festival program with its focus on works by First Nations artists and companies.

Arts lowlight
The Coalition Government’s continuing disdain for the arts, demonstrated most recently by its decision to restructure its ministry so that the Department of Communications and the Arts no longer exists.

Looking forward to…
Jen Jamieson’s This is not (personal) at Fringe World.

Stephanie Lake’s Colossus at Perth Festival (A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to have sneak peek at a rehearsal of this marvellous work, performed by 50 local dancers who are doing WA proud.)

Annette Carmichael’s Chorus in Denmark.

Jonathan W. Marshall

Top three shows in 2019
I Have Loved the Stars Too Fondly to Be Fearful of the Night, by Rachel Arianne Ogle, was a literally blinding, fabulous combination of deep, overpowering digital sound, music and light (provided by composer Luke Smiles and lighting designer Benjamin Cisterne) which was combined with what became a startlingly decomposed body (Ogle). This was the kind of show that got me into performance and digital art in the first place.

The Line, by Co:3 Australia, was a wonderfully abstract and yet eloquent study of WA race history, reminding us that oppression and resistance go hand in hand. It also represented a new level of dramaturgical skill in execution from rising dance star Ian Wilkes.

Lionel Marchetti at Partition Concrète by Decibel and Tura New Music, was a gloriously complex and shifting sonic surprise. I have listened to a lot of so called electroacoustic music, but this composition by a French artist with no formal training, floored me.

Photo: Mick Bello

Arts lowlight
There is so much wrong with the current Australian government, from attacks on immigrant communities, to resistance to full LGBTI diversity. But abolishing the Department of the Arts hurts ALL of us. There is no excuse and I must be explicit. This is short-sighted bastardry. They should be ashamed.

Looking forward to…
Given the success of the third year of Tone List’s relaxed but exciting festival Audible Edge in 2019, we can expect it to return in 2020 with more strangely intriguing and wonderful sounds.

Rumour has it that Tura New Music will not be mounting their biannual Totally Huge New Music Festival in 2020, so stay turned for exciting alternatives!

While Iain Grandage’s 2020 Perth Festival is scarcely radical, as ever, the Perth Festival delivers an impressive array of exciting work, especially in dance (Colossus by Stephanie Lake), digital art and audiovisual immersion (Single Origin by Robin Fox), as well favourites like Cloudstreet and a new Shakespearean adaptation from Yirra Yaakin (Hecate).

Claire Trolio

Top shows two shows in 2019
I absolutely loved the experience of Worktable in February this year – I’m still talking about it! And another Perth Festival offering, Barrie Kosky’s The Magic Flute, was an unforgettable spectacle.

Arts highlight
I would walk past The Rechabite as it sat under development every day on my way to work. How great that the iconic building has finally reopened with fantastic food and beverage offerings as well as the all-important performance space.

Arts lowlight
I was shocked at UWA’s plan to close UWA Publishing in its current form. So many fantastic opportunities for Western Australian writers have come out of UWAP’s last 85 years, and it would be a great loss to us as readers.

Looking forward to…
I can’t wait for the new museum to open next year! It’s looking great.

David Zampatti

Top three shows in 2019
Bitch on Heat by Leah Shelton. They come along once in a blue moon. Shows that stop you dead in your tracks. Leah Shelton’s Bitch On Heat journeyed down roads well travelled in contemporary theatre, but she did it in a high octane, warp-speed battlewagon. The result was fresh and massively empowering for its audience.

Picasso and his Dog by Sarah Kriegler. After seeing Lemony S Puppet Theatre’s truly wonderful Picasso and His Dog, I knew that its name was Lump (“Rascal” in German). I also knew a lot more about artists and art. And how the best children’s theatre has the quality of directness and clarity that’s essential to delight young audiences and engage their grown-up handlers.

Playthings by Scott McArdle. If you wanted to see what the Blue Room’s thirty years of fostering young talented writers, performers and creative can deliver, you could have done no better than Scott McArdle’s superb Playthings. It was a rare joy to see such a complete, captivating play by an emerging writer.

A young woman holding a razor to a young man's neck.
Courtney Henri as Lucy and Daniel Buckle as Arnold in Playthings. Photo: David Cox Media.

Arts highlight
¡Hola España! The transcendental concert by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI at last year’s Perth Festival opened the world of Spanish music for me, and I got to feast on it in 2019, first with another dose of the magnificent Savall at the Melbourne Recital Centre, then with the fiery flamenco singer Juan Pinilla at the Centro Frederico García Lorca in Granada and, back home, with the august guitarist Paco Pena and the show stopping dancer, Angel Lopez Munoz, at the Regal Theatre.

Ever more byzantine, ever more onerous, ever more stressful, the Australia Council Four Year funding process for arts organisations hung over our West Australian companies like a dark cloud all year (and it hasn’t finished yet). Add the tyranny of distance (i.e. their inability to rub shoulders with arts mavens in the glittering foyers of The East) to the mix and I saw more anxiety about this than the work they were producing.

Looking forward to…
Hecate: Yirra Yaakin take their boldest step yet, staging an uncompromising, all-Noongah language adaptation (complete without surtitles) of a famous Scottish play for the Perth Festival.
York: Chris Isaacs and Ian Michael are two of our brightest stars, and their collaboration on a play for Black Swan about the (it is claimed) haunted hospital in York is brimful of possibility.
Randy Newman: Slap bang in the middle of the festival season ( January 30, at the Riverside Theatre), the world’s greatest living songwriter makes his first-ever visit to Perth. Mama Told You Not to Go, but I’m begging you to.

Pictured top are Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and Pavan Kumar Hari in ‘Fully Sikh’, written by Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company and Barking Gecko Theatre. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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