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Features/Multi-arts

Cream of the crop 2022

15 December 2022

Which shows were Seesaw Mag’s favourites this year? We ask our writers to reflect on the year that was… and the year that will be.

It’s that time of the year again! In ‘Cream of the crop’ we ask our writers to pick their three favourites from the year’s performing and visual arts shows, and share their thoughts about the highlights and lowlights of the past 12 months, as well as what they’re looking forward to seeing next year.

Barbara Hostalek

Top shows
I couldn’t narrow it down to three! 
Oil, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Panawathi Girl, Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Barracking for the Umpire, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Alice in Wonderland, West Australian Ballet
 
Arts highlight
Grace Chow winning the Griffin Award – congratulations!

Arts lowlight
Not having enough time to see more art in all forms.

Looking forward to…
The Bleeding Tree by Angus Cerini, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Jurrungu Ngan-ga (Straight Talk) by Marrugeku, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Bikutsi 3000 by Blick Bassy, at Perth Festival

Bourby Webster

Top shows
An 80s Dance Floor Oom-pah-ty, Mo Productions and Funked Up Brass – Ladies of the 80s, Matilda Simcock at Fringe World
La Fanciulla del West, Freeze Frame Opera
La Traviata, West Australian Opera

Cream of the crop: A woman in a Bavarian costume dances on stage with men behind her wearing lederhosen and playing brass instruments
One of Bourby Webster’s ‘Cream of the crop’ picks: Libby Hammer and band in ‘An 80s Dance Floor Oom-pah-tay’. Photo: Josh Wells

Arts lowlight
The news about Spare Parts Theatre losing their performance space. Devastating.

Looking forward to…
Perth Symphony Orchestra’s INXS
Bjork at Perth Festival
Kronos Quartet with Maatakitj (Clint Bracknell) at Perth Festival

Claire Trolio

Cream of the crop: a young woman dressed, perhaps, as a gladiator, holds a sword high in the air. She seems to be shouting a battle cry.
Griffin Award winner Grace Chow as Princess Fantastic in Barking Gecko’s ‘The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker’ . Photo: Stewart Thorpe Photography

Top shows
I had a ball at Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of ONCE, what fun. Another Black Swan show (a Sydney Theatre Company co-production), City of Gold, was bold, brutal and so memorable. Barking Gecko Theatre Company’s show The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker was a breath of fresh air.

Arts highlight
The increased conversation around transitioning away from arts funding from fossil fuel companies. We’ve got a long way to go, but the more we talk about it and look to alternatives, the closer we get.

Arts lowlight
Probably that we didn’t come further in that regard, but I’m feeling positive.

Looking forward to…
I can’t wait to see riot grrl band Bikini Kill live for my first time when they hit our shores next year. There are a stack of gigs in my calendar for 2023, it’s going to be a big year of seeing live music for me!

Theatre wise, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde from Sydney Theatre Company, presented as part of Perth Festival, looks great.

Craig McKeough

Top shows
The undoubted highlight of the year for me was “Tracks We Share” at the Art Gallery of WA. This major showcase of contemporary art from the Pilbara was part of AGWA’s exciting decision to turn over its entire exhibition spaces to First Nations artists for a month. This was a first for a major gallery in Australia and shone a light on the diversity and complexity of art produced by Aboriginal people.

Cream of the crop: an abstract painting of water, in shades of blue etched through with fine wavy lines.
‘Tracks We Share’ was part of AGWA’s exciting decision to turn its entire exhibition spaces to First Nations artists for one month. Pictured: Wendy Warrie, ‘Hightide’, 2021. Acrylic on linen, 2000 x 2000mm. Image courtesy of Wendy Warrie (Cheeditha Art Group)

Arts lowlight
There’s always plenty of movement in the small gallery space in Perth but it was particularly disappointing to see the innovative collective Cool Change Contemporary vacate their quirky space in the CBD. Hopefully they will re-emerge soon in a new guise.*

* Cool Change have just posted an update on their website about their 2023 plans – Ed.

Looking forward to
As usual there is a broad and deep line-up scheduled for Perth Festival but I’m most looking forward to seeing Robert Andrew’s kinetic installation art at PICA. We had the chance to see a small sample of his work at Ellenbrook several years ago and this bigger scale work combining mechanical technology and natural materials promises to be amazing.

David Zampatti

Top shows

“Songs For Freedom”: The long-term artistic and community-building project of Big hART and the town of Roebourne is an inspiration. Their annual summer concert at the Point Walter Reserve (titled “Songs for Freedom” this year) left me with a song in my head (Mimi, Stephen Pigram’s achingly lovely tribute to his grandmother) and hope in my heart.

Cream of the crop:A young woman in a sweatshirt holds a landline telephone receiver in one hand, like it is a trophy or a prize, and the telephone itself in the other. The background is coloured in a rainbow spectrum.
Courtney Henri in TLGH’s ‘Telephone’, one of David Zampatti’s ‘Cream of the crop’ favourites. Photo: Daniel J. Grant

Cicada and Telephone: I’ve paired these two shows, the former a Shaun Tan story adapted by Tim Watts, Arielle Grey (both of The Last Great Hunt) and Luke Kerridge for Barking Gecko Theatre Company, and the latter a show devised and produced by The Last Great Hunt, because they show that the Hunters, who are WA’s premier theatre practitioners, have evolved a performance method of such sheer precision that you can just sit back and let it wash over you.

Last Train to Freo: The Fremantle Theatre Company delivered an impressive and dramatically satisfying revival of Reg Cribb’s 2008 quasi-whodunnit, complete with lashings of Agatha Christie plot method and a spine-tingling, genuinely threatening performance by Michael Abercrombie as a Transperth psychopath with a secret.

Arts highlight
Progress on development of the proposed Aboriginal Cultural Centre on the banks of Derbal Yerrigan. Let’s hope it is alive with performance as well as other forms of art and culture.

Arts lowlight
The continuing trend to fund and produce performing art with an overt message, rather than letting audiences draw it from the work’s narrative and characters. Too often these days I feel I’m at a lecture rather than a show. 

Looking forward to…
Floozy, State of Play program at Fringe World: Jamie Mykaela has boundless energy and derring-do. She’s a cabaret bushranger who bails her audiences up with her sawn-off grin and tommy-gun uke.

Dirty Birds, Black Swan State Theatre Company: The sisters McElhinney, Hayley and Mandy, have been stewing this rabbit about a couple of Irish girls down on their luck for a couple of decades. If they write like they act, it could be a doozy.

Anything by Holland Street Productions, Perth’s smartest musical theatre combo. Tyler Jacob Jones, Robert Woods and Erin Hutchinson have hit a hiatus over the past couple of years. Hey, who can blame them? Hopefully the stars will align and we’ll see some more of their snappy original tunes and drum-tight comedy in ’23.     

Jaimi Wright

Cream of the crop: a painting of an old man wearing a yellow hat and blue shirt.
The 2022 Lester Prize was a top pick for Jaimi Wright. Pictured: Sophia Alone, ‘Respect Grandfather Kutri Makanykarra’, 2022 acrylic on canvas

Top shows
There are a few exhibitions from this year that stick in my mind.
“Ariel’s Song” curated by Gemma Weston and “Sustaining the Art of Practice” curated by Lee Kinsella, both at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery were written in layers of eloquent visual poetry. One focused on memory, the other on activism, but both were about connection. 2022 was a good year for LWAG.

The Lester Prize also broke down boundaries concerning the art of portraiture and made some controversial but important calls in their selections. I am looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Looking forward to…
I am really looking forward to Michaela Gleave’s Between us, which is a part of next year’s program at Perth Festival. A collaborative poem created by the audience will be beamed up into the night sky as an expression of community on the last four nights of the festival. Be sure to send your message for the poem on Perth’s Festival’s website.

Jonathan W. Marshall

Top shows
Outcome Unknown and Tone List: It proved a big year for experimental musics in Perth, with both Outcome Unknown and Tone List having some really kicking acts (Dez Cartez, Noise and Vibration Council, Nathan Thompson, Chris Cobilis and others).

David Milroy’s Panawathi Girl at Perth Festival: Dark but funny political satire showing us how little we have moved forward since the 1969 referendum on having First Nations peoples included in census and managed by federal (not state) law; highlights included a song “land of the great white sock” and a song delivered by one nutty character to her beloved pony which ended up as a hamburger.

And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole, by Rachel Arianne Ogle at Perth Festival: Slow, ritual, weird, mesmerising; really superb. When I die, bury me in scrunched up paper too.

Cream of the crop: Five dancers stand around another dancer who lies on the floor. They are surrounded by scrunched up paper.
Dancers perform burial rites in a moving scene from ‘And The Earth Will Swallow Them Whole’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Arts highlight
Clare Watson helped weather board issues and get Black Swan financially OK, plus did good funny shows; but I cant wait to see what Kate Champion does as artistic director! (And of course kicking out the Lib Nats at federal level can only be good news for the arts!)

Art lowlight
Lib Nats unending war on queers, blacks, artists, critics, poor people, women: you name it; destroyed society and culture; thank god they are out and we can recall that “culture” is not optional, nor is it only expensive massively funded opera and ballet for their mates in Sydney and Canberra.

Looking forward to…
The [John] Cage Project in Perth Festival is must see! Cage sculpture and things you can hit noisily. What more can I ask?

Marrugeku are a national treasure; see their Jurrungu Ngan-ga (hosted by Black Swan State Theatre Company) in 2023.

There’s not much more announced yet, but Perth Festival has many other gems like latest from Stephanie Lake (Manifesto), ADT tackling the troubled figure of the Aboriginal police tracker (Tracker) and a show to blow Black Panther out of the water (Bikutsi 3000); check it out!

Michelle White

Top shows 
Panawathi Girl, Yirra Yaakin at Perth Festival: An absolute hoot. I loved it so much, I went twice!

“Ever Present”, Art Gallery of WA: A stunning and provocative collection of First Nation art curated by NGA’s Tina Baum.

Cream of the crop: A man holds a blue socked fist up to the camera. He wears a white t-shirt and looks serious, although not aggressive
Beautiful storytelling: Kim Crotty in ‘The Smallest Stage’. Photo: Bew Yew

The Smallest Stage, Kim Crotty at Perth Festival: Beautiful storytelling with brilliant production.
 
Arts highlight
My arts highlight for 2022 was seeing David Milroy’s big black musical Panawathi Girl take over (decolonise?!?!) His Majesty’s Theatre during Perth Festival.  I still can’t get the song “Land of the Long White Sock” out of my head. Just an absolute cracker of a show.
 
Arts lowlight
Saying a sad farewell to CAN CEO Wendy Martin, who returned home to Sydney.

Looking forward to…
The world premiere of Djoondal, Perth Festival’s opening event at Lake Joondalup. It’s always exciting to see our ancient stories told using modern technology.

Nina Levy

Top shows

Douglas Wright’s Gloria, presented by Co3 Contemporary Dance with St Georges Cathedral Consort and West Australian Symphony Orchestra: When it comes to picking favourites I usually prefer contemporary works to vintage, but Vivaldi’s Gloria is a personal favourite and Wright’s 1991 choreographic interpretation captures the ecstasy of this seminal choral work. Special mention to conductor Dr Joseph Nolan, who knows exactly how to maximise joy.

My other memorable moment came from the studio this year, courtesy of STRUT Dance. The presentation of movement material resulting from the first of a series of workshops exploring the choreographic methodologies of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui made for a transporting experience – there’s nothing like seeing world-class choreography happening within arm’s reach of your seat.

Arts highlight
The return of dance artists Sofie Burgoyne and James O’Hara to WA, to co-direct STRUT Dance was a highlight of 2022 for me.

A shout out, too, to West Australian Youth Orchestra – it was great to see the results of the first instalment of Merge, a new initiative that sees the orchestra seek out, commission and produce collaborations with independent artists from other artistic disciplines. Though more companies are recognising the importance of providing opportunities for independent artists to present work on a mainstage, it’s particularly impressive to see a smaller company like WAYO making this kind of commitment.

Arts lowlight
The sudden closure of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s auditorium, due to building remediation issues in August. The closure saw the cancellation of two seasons, including the much-anticipated premiere of The Secret Garden.

The good news, however, is that Spare Parts has advised that they will be making an announcement soon about resuming their local performance program in 2023.

Looking forward to…
It’s fantastic to see Perth Festival continue to provide a platform for WA independent artists and I’m keen to catch Equations of a Falling by Body, by Laura Boynes, in this year’s program. I’m also excited for Stephanie Lake’s Manifesto at the Festival – I just love Lake’s work.

Patrick Gunsaekera

Top shows
Michele Gould’s 107, presented by Socks & Sandals at The Blue Room Theatre.

Amir Musavi’s Utopia, presented by Tamsilgaran at The Blue Room Theatre.

And Oliver Twist’s JALI, at Perth Festival.

When you’re told to accept flat narratives of your own story, much courage and persistence is needed to present a rigorous alternative. I congratulate all the young refugee and migrant artists in these works, who’ve admirably challenged both audience expectations and industry standards of strong representation in our local theatres.

Cream of the crop: A snapshot from the musical 107. Pictured is two actors dressed in school uniforms sit on a bench on a stage. They have bags on the floor beside them and one of the actors is playing the ukelele
Ruby Short and Lukas Pérez in ‘107’. Photo:Tasha Faye

Arts highlight
The first State of the Industry Survey from MEAA Equity, conducted in partnership with the Equity Diversity Committee (open to union members and non-members): What excited me about this survey was its focus on capturing experiences of prejudice and discrimination in the arts. In recent years, many studies have reported high rates of inequity within our industry. But this year saw the union that represents us also take interest in these systemic experiences, and commence the groundwork for reforming industry standards of workplace safety for marginalised creatives.

Arts lowlight
The normalisation of COVID transmission risks across the arts, and with it, a disintegration of 2020’s promising solidarity: The emerging “post covid” mentality has further isolated many artists and audiences – including First Nations Elders, seniors, and people with disabilities – who are already pushed to the fringes by our industry’s dominant values. Whilst some presenters are conscientiously responding to this time by producing hybrid events, many people are struggling immensely with normalised transmissions, including performing artists who aren’t adequately protected to handle sick leave and loss of work.

Looking forward to…
The inaugural Yirra Yaakin Playwriting Festival 2023, with directors Eva Grace Mullaley and Bruce Denny, and dramaturgs Zac James, Nazaree Dickerson and Rachael Maza.

Hatched: National Graduate Show 2023 at PICA, with new Hatched Curatorial Fellow Brent Harrison.

And the closing of submissions for Black Inc.’s 2024 anthology Growing Up Indian in Australia, edited by Aarti Betigeri.

I know these are more processes than finished pieces, but I hope each project will be a safe and ambitious site of growth, empowerment and connection as they’re developed over next year.

Pictured top: Panawathi Girl was a favourite with Seesaw Mag critics this year. Photo: Dana Weeks

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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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