Photo: Floyd Perrin
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Dark humour for dark times

Humphrey Bower, The Apparatus ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 15 August ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

The Apparatus brings the stories of Franz Kafka to the stage and makes them viscerally real and inescapably present.

An evening in three parts, the stories – “Before the Law”, “The Burrow” and “In the Penal Colony” – are performed by writer/director Humphrey Bower and operator/assistant director Timothy Green. With a healthy dose of dark humour and wit, and a keen critical eye upon the tales Australians like to tell about their national identity, Bower’s reinterpretation of Kafka’s short stories fiercely interrogates and examines the solipsism of a nation, the anxieties of masculinity and the dichotomies of self and other.

Without going into too much detail about the narratives of the stories themselves, each one typifies the bureaucratic, surreal, darkly comic wit of Kafka’s writing, which reflects the historical context in which they were written. In this retelling, however, these fables appear as very contemporary, relevant and deeply disturbing in their truth-telling.

The set and costume design are quite bare and prison-like, as though deliberately trying to make the audience uncomfortable. Light is followed by darkness, broken only by the achingly bright gesticulating of a head torch strapped to Bower’s forehead as his character revels in the power of creating one’s own underground fortress, away from the rest of the world. This is followed by the seemingly harmless image of a garden chair hanging over the performers’ heads, which is then menacingly flipped over as a stand-in for machinery that produces unspeakable pain, the apparatus of the show’s title.

Bower and Green play beautifully off one another. Bower’s  narrating characters vary between villainous larrikin, anxiety-ridden burrower, and refuge-seeking villager, whilst Green’s supporting performance is perfectly shadowy, his face and movements continuously and subtly reacting to the situations unfolding before him.

In the third story, Green’s character is forced to take a central, active role in a horrifying situation (portrayed with devastatingly accurate good old Aussie humour). It’s a unifying moment that brings to light the decisions we make every day to gloss over, partake in, or bear witness to the physical and mental torture that our government commits every day in the name of our safety and security. This is echoed in the jarring, then uncomfortably self-conscious laughter of some audience members during the performance, a symbol of discomfort and levity in the face of benign evil.

The Apparatus runs until August 31.

Pictured top are Humphrey Bower and Timothy Green in “The Apparatus”.

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Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts

An everyday super (s)hero

“Imagine if feminism was a super hero.”

That’s what local dance artist Laura Boynes is asking of audiences this month, when she presents and performs Wonder Woman, a double bill of solo dance works.

It’s the recent groundswell of support for women’s rights – in the form of international and national women’s marches, as well as the #metoo and Time’s Up campaigns – that initially moved Boynes to commission NSW-based choreographers Adelina Larsson and Julie-Anne Long to create the solos.

In this Q&A with Nina Levy, Laura spills the beans about making Wonder Woman.

‘What does an everyday superhero looks like?’ asks Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Nina Levy: Why did you choose to name your show for Wonder Woman?
Laura Boynes: Wonder Woman seemed like a fitting title as one of the first provocations I commissioned the choreographers with was “imagine if feminism was a superhero” and whether people believe Wonder Woman is a feminist icon or failure she remains a feminist symbol 75 years after her creation. Whilst I am not portraying Wonder Woman the character, the work speaks to the idea that potentially there is a “Shero” within all women. What does an everyday superhero look like?

NL: There’s no questioning the timeliness and relevance of this work… but what inspired you to commission the two solos that comprise Wonder Woman?
LB: Firstly, I attended a symposium in 2016 Fremantle titled “we are not dead yet” which spoke about gender and age dynamics within contemporary arts practice and in particular invisibility of the older female artist. It was an incredibly inspiring lecture series and sparked a passion in me to respond to some of these themes by creating a new work. Secondly, a personal need to push my own practice as a performer by working with two artists I hadn’t previously worked with in a new format and the urge to take on the challenge of a full length solo work.

NL: Originally you were motivated by campaigns such as #metoo and Time’s Up. How has Wonder Woman evolved from this starting point?
LB: There is no doubt that #metoo and Time’s Up were the catalyst for Wonder Woman. While the issues are still relevant, a few years have passed since these political movements. The works we have ended up creating don’t deal directly with these events and thankfully I don’t have a personal #metoo story to uncover, however there is an undertone in what has become a semi-autobiographical and empowering work.

Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
‘Movement can say a multitude of things that words cannot.’ – Laura Boynes at Dance Massive’s Open Studio. Photo: Ausdance Vic.

NL: The choreographers you commissioned to create the solos are Adelina Larsson and Julie-Anne Long. What drew you to those two dance artists?
LB: I chose these women for their individuality, and the choreographic aesthetic and thematic similarities in their prior bodies of work.

I had worked with Adelina in the past but never in this capacity. I had always been interested in her choreographic practice based, which is based heavily in improvisation, and also her commitment to larger social/political causes like BighART, where she works as a choreographer.

I met Julie-Anne in 2008 in a dance film lab and have been following her work every since. Julie-Anne has an extensive body of work spanning over many years. Part social/political commentary and part autobiographical, her work is clever, humorous and always has something to say. It was learning about her 2007 work The Invisibility Project that really led me to approach her for this project, along with a desire for cross-generational exchange.

NL: What does dance/dance theatre provide, in terms of being able to explore issues relating to women’s rights and feminism, that other art-forms don’t?
LB: I believe movement can say a multitude of things that words cannot, which is why I love this art form. Contemporary dance allows a viewer time and space to think and project their own thoughts onto what they are watching. Each audience member has a uniquely different experience of a dance work and that is why it is such a subjective form.

NL: What do you hope people will take away from Wonder Woman?
LB: My desire is for the audience to take away a sense of empowerment from Wonder Woman regardless of their gender. I want us to celebrate our strengths and flaws as humans and to feel a sense of community in knowing that others share the same experiences.

 Wonder Woman plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, August 28-31.

Laura Boynes eating a loaf of bread.
Laura Boynes. Photo: Matt Cornell.

Laura Boynes is an independent dance artist based in Perth. For the last 11 years, Laura has worked professionally as a performer, and has been creating her own work for about 7 years. Her work to date explores social, political and environmental concepts for theatre, gallery and site-specific spaces. She uses performance as a tool to inspire critical thought and reflection on the contemporary world.

As a dancer Laura has worked nationally and internationally in dance, theatre, experimental music, site-specific and opera works. What she enjoys most is taking on a performance challenge and collaborating with a choreographer to realise their vision.

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BSSTC's production of Medea - by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, original concept by Anne-Louise Sarks after Euripides; at Studio Underground, State Theatre of WA; Perth, WA. Photographed on 8th August 2019, by Philip Gostelow.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

The power of the ordinary

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Co. with WA Youth Theatre Co., Medea ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 10 August ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

They have been so long dead. Two thousand, four hundred and fifty years in fact.

Like the princes in the tower or the infant victims of Macbeth’s fell swoop, the sons of Jason and Medea died mute and unknown, their individual humanity unexplored and undefended.

Since then, Medea – sorceress, she-devil, spirit of vengeance, woman scorned, arch-nihilist and exterminating angel – has been reimagined and recast a thousand times, from antiquity through to Fay Weldon, her character and motivation examined, and claimed, by feminists and misogynists alike.

She has become an elemental figure in art and life.

So it’s an audacious and fecund idea to invert the focus of Medea; to bring her boys to life in their last innocent hour so that their mother’s crime against abstract nature is against real, identifiable people, however young.

In the original, Medea is in every scene, always with only one other character. The boys are never seen, and only their screams are heard as they are slaughtered. In this adaptation the boys are always on stage, and Medea is the only other character we see.

It’s risky. It’s not like, say, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where we have the framework of the characters available to us, where we have heard them speak, seen the whites of their eyes, before.

We know nothing about these boys, and the writers, Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, have created them from absolutely nothing other than the fact of their death; we know how they died, but we can’t be certain why.

It’s hardly through any fault of their own. Leon (Jesse Vakatini) and his younger brother Jasper (Jalen Hewitt) are just kids, locked in the toy-splattered room they share. Mum and dad are having a grown up talk: “About love”, says Leon. “That could take an hour”, replies Jasper, exasperated.

What their parents are talking about – although we never hear them – is his plan to marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon, while keeping Medea as his mistress.

It’s not going to wash with Medea. She’s in the boys’ room, full of bad tempered mothering: “This room’s a pigsty – clean it up”.

The boys get to work, and so does she. She’s back, with a beautifully wrapped gift she wants to give Glauce. They are fond of their dad’s “friend”, and happily write a sweet card to go with the deadly present.

And then Medea is back again. This time with a blue cordial for her sweet boys.

Medea_prodpix__LR Alexandria Steffensen. Jalen Hewitt and Jesse Vakatini. image credit Philip Gostelow 10
What replaces the awful power of the original is the universal story of children becoming the victims of their parent’s conflicts and passions. Alexandria Steffensen (Medea) Jalen Hewitt (Jasper) and Jesse Vakatini (Leon). Photo: Philip Gostelow.

There’s little concession to the conventions of Greek tragedy in the writing or in Sally Richardson’s direction; there’s no prologue or chorus, and its brutal and effective catharsis – a sudden glimpse through the gates of Medea’s hell – lasts an instant and is gone.

What replaces the awful power of the original is the universal story of children becoming the victims of their parent’s conflicts and passions; we’ve seen it in countless other ordinary places; we will see it again.

The great strength of this Medea is that ordinariness; the boys play with toy guns and swords, they tease and wrestle, they snuggle up under a doona to watch the stars. Medea bustles about in jeans and shifts; she’s a harassed suburban mother with a lot to deal with, and a lot on her mind.

We know them very well. Which makes their fates even more plangent.

Vakatini and Hewitt give winning performances (they alternate with Jack Molloy and Lachlan Ives; the four were cast after an exhaustive process by WA Youth Theatre Compny, who collaborated with Black Swan for this production) and Alexandria Steffensen is convincing as their mother, even if denied the towering power of the classical Medea.

Which is, perhaps, the dilemma for the audience in this production. If you expect the mighty heights of Greek tragedy and the emotional release it engenders, this prosaic Medea may leave you perplexed and disengaged.

There is something in it, though, that reaches out in a more direct, human way. It is no great monument in a temple on the hill; it’s a couple of little wooden crosses with wilted flowers on a verge outside an everyday suburban house.

Not as powerful, perhaps, but more sad.

Medea plays until August 25.

Read a Q&A with director Sally Richardson here.

Pictured top are Jesse Vakatini as Leon and Jalen Hewitt as Jasper. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

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Vivienne Awosoga, David Whitney and Will McDonald in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
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Much Ado woos the room

Review: Bell Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 7 August ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

What a funny night it was. First, there was the sad news that cast member Suzanne Pereira had fallen ill and was in hospital. Then followed the announcement that director James Evans would step into the breach as Antonio.

Two roles, one director’s script, highlighted and annotated to the inch of its life, and, fortuitously, a sharp opening night suit and tie. Designer Pip Runciman could not have ordered better for her clever, compact touring unit.

Did the turn of events have any effect on the safe delivery of Shakespeare’s sharp, dark comedy?

Perhaps the rhythm of the first scene or two felt unsettled and unpredictable with players looking cautiously to their somewhat sweaty boss, ready to counter any signs of faltering. But Bell doesn’t hire hey nonny no ninnies, so the play about love overcoming evil played inexorably on to a room falling madly in love with this performance, and, be still my heart, Shakespeare.

David Whitney, Duncan Ragg and Will McDonald in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
David Whitney (Leonato), Duncan Ragg (Benedick) and Will McDonald (Claudio).  Photo: Clare Hawley.

Evans, in his day job, has presented a thought-provoking production of a play that sends a shaft of horror down this reviewer’s spine. It is a complex discussion on what was true 420 years ago (its first outing was in 1599) and is, horrifically, true today – some men (meaning many men in this patriarchy of ours) view with suspicion and defensiveness women who are cleverer than them, and with ownership – lustful or otherwise – whenever the mood takes them. Somewhere in between there’s patronising dismissiveness.

These discourses are played out by the raking down of Hero, a young, vibrant heiress who is wooed by a Duke on behalf of one of his young officers, then consequently gifted to Claudio by an apparently doting father.

You see the problem immediately. On this occasion, Hero is pretty smitten with the idea of hitching up to Claudio. What else is she to do with her life?

Duncan Ragg and Zindzi Okenyo in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
Think Bogey and Bacall: Duncan Ragg as Benedick and Zindzi Okenyo as Beatrice. Photo: Clare Hawley

Then there’s the sparring, prickling, mouthy love developing between Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Shakespeare’s version of a muted but still untamed shrew) and Benedick, the Duke’s go-to-guy for good times.

Here is the model of true love, for what it’s worth. Witness Bea (a fiery Zindzi Okenyo) and Ben (a jestering Duncan Ragg) and you see how ideal coupledom will be represented in literature and theatre (and subsequently other mediums) down the ages, think Bogey and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracey.

The play gives space for these two couplings to circle and swirl, mirror and pervert, question and confirm the combative nature of relationships we have had to endure for centuries.

Enter Don John, the resident evil. A sulking, skulking bastard brother to the Duke, who hates all this laughing and goo-ing and wooing highlighting his miserable non-state, so he plots to destroy Hero’s reputation for no other reason than he can.

The tragic outrage of this single act of evil is that the other men in this play enable him to succeed. He is believed and Hero is not. He’s a man, she is so very obviously not.

This is where the Evans’ production steps out of a traditional rendering of Hero as the helpless, swooning victim.

Vivienne Awosoga’s Hero is mad, boiling mad. She does not accept her fate as fallen woman without first serving it up to her morally frail lover and her father who has turned so easily from doting to damning.

From this distance, it may be at the expense of Beatrice’s primacy as exemplar of the warrior woman. Her injunction to Benedick to avenge the wrong inflicted on her cousin falls flat. Her fabulous line, that if she were a man, she would eat Claudio’s heart in the marketplace, seems a little empty given her cousin skinned him alive in the previous scene.

Marissa Bennett and Mandy Bishop in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
Mandy Bishop is exquisitely unstable as Dogberry. She is pictured here with Marissa Bennett (Verges). Photo: Clare Hawley.

Where the anger leaves off, there’s the comedy and this production exploits it to the last giggle. Special mention must be made of Mandy Bishop’s exquisitely unstable constable, Dogberry, worth the entrance price alone. Ragg is a stand-up natural, and his Benedick woos the audience at times with more enthusiasm than the girlfriend. He probably needs to watch that. It might not end well for him.

These are merely ruminations. This production is such a lot of fun and the opening night audience was transported to a happy place, reviewer included. That’s until you turn out the light and remember the horror you have just paid witness to – and to which we are all complicit.

Perfect Shakespeare.

Bell Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until August 10.

Pictured top: Vivienne Awosoga as Hero, David Whitney as Leonato and Will McDonald as Claudio. Photo: Clare Hawley.

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Christopher Pease, Kartwarra, 2019, oil and Balga resin on canvas, 36th Telstra NATSIAA. Courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith.  
Features, News, Visual arts

Recovering a stolen past

As a son of a member of the Stolen Generation, Dunsborough-based artist Christopher Pease didn’t know much about his Aboriginal heritage when he was a child.

Now he has created a series of works that explore Aboriginal identity and culture, one of which has been selected as a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Awards. Jaimi Wright spoke to Christopher Pease to find out more.

Christopher Pease

In testament to his name, Christopher Pease exudes an easy kind of warmth. As he describes his striking artwork Kartwarra (2019, pictured top), he admits that entering a work in the 2019 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) had not initially crossed his mind. Now the Dunsborough artist is a finalist in the prestigious competition, with Kartwarra, a poignant work that is a complex study of contemporary Aboriginal identity and heritage.

Kartwarra is not intended to be a comfortable viewing experience. The work is part of the larger, four year long, six work series “Minang Boodjar”, the premise of which is taken from a series of colonial sketches of King George’s Sound by English Lieutenant Robert Dale in the 1830s. Overlaid on Pease’s interpretation of Dale’s work are three ominous geometric shapes; a grim reminder of Dale’s connection to King George’s Sound and local Indigenous heritage. The shapes are based on a print of the head of Nyoongar leader Yagan, taken back to England by Dale to serve as a local curiosity. There is a tension in the macabre juxtaposition of Dale’s print and Pease’s contemporary deconstruction of Yagan’s head. It is these tensions and juxtapositions that speak of Pease’s experience of identity.

A combination of English, French and Minang/Nyoongar descent, Pease had no active relationship with his Aboriginal cultural heritage growing up. “I knew that I was Aboriginal, but I didn’t know my family ties or traditional language,” he remembers. “It wasn’t until maybe year nine or ten that I started [to be curious about it].”

Police forcibly took Pease’s mother away from her family at an early age and she was raised in the infamous Sister Kate’s boarding school, established in Perth. A member of the Stolen Generation, she didn’t reunite with her family until her late thirties, when Pease was in high school. This separation created a cultural disconnect, one that Pease bridged visually in the process of creating “Minang Boodjar” years later.

“What started it all was, I guess, back in 1999; I was trying to find a visual iconography that has very old roots,” he explains. “I wanted to revive the Nyoongar visual iconography.”

What ensued was a search through museums and photographs searching for Nyoongar iconography. This trail led Pease to a series of photographs by controversial nineteenth-century Irish anthropologist Daisy Bates and, eventually, to Robert Dale’s print of King George’s Sound.

“There’s always questions as to the accuracy and how much propaganda is in the old artwork,” he reflects. “I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things. There are a lot of truths in it, but also a lot of propaganda in the old prints.”

Kartwarra questions the accuracy of this mixture, but is not overly didactic in doing so. Though the work addresses heavy subject matter, its abstract elements posit themes rather than direct ideas. At its core, Kartwarra is an exploration of connections; between objects and history, between cultural interpretations, between a man and his heritage.

Although Pease laughs to himself as he admits he only entered NATSIAA after a request from a friend, he says he is grateful to be one of the 68 artists to be finalists in Australia’s longest running and most prestigious Indigenous art award. “The standard is very high, I’m glad to be a part of it. The work up there is always at an amazing level.”

Kartwarra makes for powerful viewing. With tactful curiosity the artwork addresses issues of shifting contemporary and Aboriginal and European identity, both on a personal note and now on a national level.

The winners of the 36th Telstra NATSIAA Awards will be announced at an awards ceremony at Museum And Art Gallery Northern Territory’s Bullocky Point Facility on Friday 9 August 2019.

The exhibition of the finalists’ works will be on display at MAGNT from 10 August – 3 November.

Pictured top is Christopher Pease’s ‘Kartwarra’, 2019, oil and Balga resin on canvas, 36th Telstra NATSIAA. Courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

In brief: Winter Nights

If the Blue Room’s Summer Nights season is a garden in full bloom, in the soft warm soil of sun-drenched January and February, then its Winter Nights season sees its first green shoots poking through the cold, stony ground of bleak July.

It’s a time for reflection and experimentation, of anticipation of change, of new faces, new stories and new ways of presenting them – in many respects what you see and hear at Winter Nights is preparation for what you will be seeing and hearing in seasons to come.

Seesaw’s short spot reviews provide a quick insight into some of Winter Nights’ offerings. We’ll be posting all Winter Nights reviews below.

Noemie Huttner-Koros, The Lion Never Sleeps ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 24 July ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

Noemie Huttner-Koros’s site-specific roaming performance The Lion Never Sleeps gives a people-centred retrospective of Northbridge’s spirited queer nightlife of the 1980s and earlier.

With headphones and an MP3 track featuring interviews with local LGBTIQA+ elders, participants were harmoniously led by Huttner-Koros and co-performers Evelyn Snook and Aisyah Aaqil Sumito to community sites past and surviving, collectively honouring queer joy, loss, transgression, and resilience.

I encourage the artists to prioritise accessibility for disabled and senior citizens in their next development of this tender and insightful work, being critical of who cannot yet access community, history, and a place in queer futurity.

 

Rhiannon Petersen, The Jellyman ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 26 July ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

Rhiannon Petersen’s solo performance-in-development The Jellyman is a frank and witty pummelling of toxic masculinity delivered without compromise, as a work about masculinity should be.

At this stage a series of unflinching and comical vignettes and images, including meta mask play and vexing depictions of sexual harassment, The Jellyman undermines the performativity of harmful masculinity through drag and absurd humour to affirm its very flimsy nature, and repeatedly exemplifies masculinity as an ultimately inane tool of power.

The Jellyman is a fearless project determined not to hold anything back, from the queer, to the malignant, to the human.

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa in collaboration with Centre for Stories, Saga Sisterhood ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 27 July ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

Saga Sisterhood, directed by Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa in collaboration with Centre for Stories, is a big-hearted project which saw four South Asian women share captivating personal stories of love, loss and family as could only have happened in the South Asian diaspora. 

For me, hearing the familiar vernacular and toils of migrant identity and Brown motherhood was like finding home in a black box theatre. As non-performers, the women’s energy and playfulness was contagious; as audience members we were kept on the edge of our seats with wide smiles, and we all left in a buzz of cuddles and multilingual chatter.

Stace Callaghan, Queer as Flux and/or The Medicine of Chaos ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 30 July ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

Stace Callaghan’s Queer as Flux and/or The Medicine of Chaos is a raw, passionate project, making space for Callaghan’s stories of navigating nonbinary identity and gender nonconformity in childhood and adulthood.

Expertly scaling the nooks and crannies of The Blue Room’s main theatre space, the multi-talented writer and performer uses music, poetry, circus and dress-ups to reconfigure archaic definitions of their body, often using their body to tell tales through scars, tattoos, and parts never welcomed.

Whilst many of the stories are culturally appropriative and unsettling to witness, this poignant work is one of great heart and queerly triumphant humanity.

Review: Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Clare Testoni, The Children Grim and Wild ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 27 July ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Before Second Hands came The Red Shoes; before The Beast and the Bride came Beauty and the Beast.

Both Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Clare Testoni are drawn to fables and fairy tales; Fowler because of his leaning towards dystopia, Testoni through her practice in shadow puppetry and storytelling.
Their collaboration in The Children Grim and Wild is something to savour, and this taste of it – only the bare bones of the performance, and only of its first act – does nothing to dampen the anticipation of the final product.

The story has all the hallmarks of a dark fable; a brother and sister run away to the woods, wolves, orgres and lots of scary bits. The siblings, Grim (Mararo Wangai) and Wild (Erin Hutchinson), are craftily cast, with the extravagance of Hutchinson neatly contrasted by the droll Wangai. The songs, composed by Max Juniper, are shot through with Fowler’s trademark savvy and wicked wit.

Keep an eye out for it.

Review: Michelle Hall, The Dirty Mother ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 3 August ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The creators of the work-in-progress that make up the Winter Nights programme bring them at different points in their development, both conceptually and as performance. That’s the point.

Nevertheless, it was as startling as it was exciting to see a work as complete in its form and function as Michelle Hall’s The Dirty Woman at Winter Nights.

That’s partly just because it is, but, more importantly, what it is; Hall dives deep into one of the two universal and inevitable boundaries of our lives, and she’s quite right to note that, unlike the other, death, childbirth has been rarely brought to the stage.

Which is strange, because it’s got everything; agony and ecstasy, anger and comedy, the promise of life and the danger of death.

Hall, who’s a passionate and highly skilled performer across many disciplines, delivers all of them, and the result is gripping, exhilarating and radiates truth.

The Dirty Mother will be back, I’m sure, and is not to be missed.

Three dancers: one in yellow, one in blue, one in green. Each has one arm over their head and other extended with a limp wrist.
Alex Abbot, Kimberley Parkin and Rhiana Katz in ‘Fish Feet’. Photo: Tasha Faye

Review: Jessie Camilleri-Seeber & Jocelyn Eddie, Scott Galbraith, Rhiana Katz, & Tahlia Russell, ‘Winter Shorts’ ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 1 August ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Presented as part of the Winter Nights Ground Up program, in which artists develop their work in response to audience feedback over the course of a short performance season, “Winter Shorts” was a mixed bill of four dance works-in-progress. The program viewed was the culmination of the three-night season.

First up, Rhiana Katz presented a self-devised solo entitled the listener. To a haunting melange of piano and vocals by composer Annika Moses, the work sees Katz transformed into an otherworldly creature, whose talons twist and curlicue as she twitches in agitation under a ghostly veil. At once fascinating and discomforting, this unnerving work keeps us delicately poised on the edge of uncertainty.

Next was Sharing by Scott Galbraith, a structured improvisation for two dancers (Aimee Sadler and Galbraith) and a guitarist (composer Abbey Bradstreet). Though the performance space is tight there’s a sense of spaciousness to this work as the performers sweep and fall in response to tumbling guitar strings. Underpinning Sharing is a sweetness born of the trust evident in the quick exchanges of eye contact between the three artists.

Third on the program was another self-devised solo, by Tahlia Russell. Entitled Home, the work sees Russell manipulate a portable greenhouse, that seems to at once protect and constrain her. The tension is ratcheted up by Joel Baker’s soundscape of sirens and storms, as we watch the shadowy outline of Russell’s writhing form. Freed from her plastic shackles, it’s the final moments of this solo that are the highlight, figuratively and literally.

Last was fish feet, by Jessie Camilleri-Seeber and Jocelyn Eddie, a work for three dancers (Alex Abbot, Kimberley Parkin and Rhiana Katz) in its current iteration. It’s a primary coloured trip into the world of show and tell; with a dash of disco and a splash of square dance. Stories are deconstructed; key words singled out and manipulated into an absurdly comical mess of sound and movement. I’m keen to see where this work goes next.

Having seen versions of three of these works previously, I could see the benefit that the Ground Up process has had on the their creative development. Kudos to the Blue Room Theatre for providing this opportunity to artists.

More spot reviews coming soon!

Winter Nights closes August 3.

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Firing the senses

Review: Bangarra Dance Theatre, “30 years of sixty five thousand” ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 31 July ·
Review by Jo Pickup ·

“We are the books of yesterday”.

These were amongst the words spoken by Balladong Noongar artist Barry McGuire in his welcoming address to the audience at the premiere of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Perth season “30 years of sixty five thousand”.

Indeed, on opening night, the bodies of 17 Bangarra dancers pulsed with stories of both ancient and more recent pasts, as they performed three works specially chosen by the company’s Artistic Director Stephen Page to comprise the company’s thirtieth anniversary season.

The three works are Unaipon (2004) by former Bangarra dancer-turned-choreographer Frances Rings; Stamping Ground (1983) by internationally renowned Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, and to make fire, a 40 minute work comprised of various memorable moments from the company’s repertoire as chosen by Stephen Page.

Tyrel Dulvarie in 'Unaipon'. Photo: Daniel Boud.
Tyrel Dulvarie in ‘Unaipon’. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Firstly, Unaipon. This is a work inspired by Aboriginal inventor and philosopher David Unaipon, a Ngarrindjeri man whose face now appears on the Australian $50 note. At first, Unaipon’s score (composed by the late David Page), resonates with mellifluous orchestral string sounds. Five male dancers clad in bright orange pants soon appear and zigzag across the stage, sliding and stretching between long elastic strings which are pulled taut like a clothesline across the width of the space.

The dancers expertly weave themselves through this maze creating small geometric kaleidoscopes at intermittent intervals. The music also builds into impressive patterns and layers that include rattling, stick tapping and deep electronic beats. The small ensemble of performers move with effortless strength and vitality, though dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith is particularly captivating here. At particular moments his physical presence eclipses his band of brothers; his unique series of flexes and strikes are achieved with remarkable precision.

As more dancers enter the stage, the work progresses to scenes of male-female duets and cyclical stage patterning. By the end, we seem to have been taken into a world of an individual whose life was layered with complex questions of identity. Through Rings’s choreography; Page’s sound score; Peter England’s set design and Nick Schlieper’s lighting, certain aspects of Unaipon’s life as a traditional Ngarrindjeri man, a man raised by a white family, and a man who was a devout Christian are drawn out in poetic and, at times, highly abstract style.

Ryan Pearson,Tyrel Dulvarie, Ella Havelka in 'Stamping Ground'. Photo: Daniel Boud.
Ryan Pearson, Tyrel Dulvarie, Ella Havelka in ‘Stamping Ground’. Photo: Daniel Boud.

This complex intertwining of different cultures and beliefs also imbues Jiří Kylián’s iconic work Stamping Ground. This piece was created in the early eighties after Kylián travelled from Europe to Northern Australia to experience a massive corroboree at Groote Eylandt. The result is a fascinating window into Kylian’s creative mind and curious spirit. To see Kylian’s response to these traditional, ceremonial Aboriginal dances, expressed through his signature balletic, yet boundary-pushing modern dance style was very interesting. Aesthetically stripped back and minimalist, the six dancers in this work (three male, three female), performed Kylian’s both profound and playful visions in dynamic fashion on opening night. Especially impressive was the performance of soloist Baden Hitchcock. His leaps were magnificent, his landings silent and controlled. Throughout the work, though especially in his opening solos, he moved with a mesmerising eloquence that was almost breathtaking and left a deep impression.

And lastly, to make fire. As a selection of best-bits and moving moments Bangarra’s archive over the past thirty years, on the whole, the piece seemed subtle in its choices. However (and almost as an admonishment for such an observation) its closing scene comes up trumps. A circle of dancers in white dust lie on a darkened stage until a moment of awakening. This waking instant is dramatic, enlivening and stirring. Yes, Bangarra continues to fire our senses in its power to connect us to the strength inherent in Aboriginal culture and stories, and “30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand” is a nourishing reminder of that.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s “30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand” plays until August 3.

Pictured top: Courtney Radford, Tyrel Dulvarie and Gusta Mara in ‘to make fire’. Photo: Daniel Boud.

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Circus, News, Performing arts, Reviews

In precarious hands

Review: Circus Oz, Precarious ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 25 July·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

Of all the performing arts, the circus performer has perhaps the toughest gig. I mean, sure, in terms of job pride, I imagine there’s little that’s more satisfying than being able to say you’re “in the circus”. But pause and consider – you have an audience demanding to be constantly wowed from whoa to go; an exceptionally broad audience that demands a blistering pace to keep all comers entertained; and then there’s the sheer physical demands of the job. It’s fabulous, but it’s also bloody tough.

I was reminded of this on the opening night of Circus Oz’s, Precarious, playing at His Majesty’s until July 28. Precarious begins with a whimper rather than the customary bang we’re used to encountering when experiencing contemporary circus. Set in a polar landscape, the players arrange a series of blocks upon which they execute a series of surprisingly slow movements. The poses are largely static, players arranging their bodies into different shapes. A screen separating the audience from the action eventually lifts and the tempo simultaneously increases but then slows again with a complex aerial routine. The techniques are undoubtedly well honed, but I was sorely conscious of the lack of pace… unfairly perhaps, I was waiting to be wowed.

Would I have had the same expectation when seeing a play? No. Dance? No. Live music? No. But while recognising the unfairness of my demands as an audience member, my disappointment keep nagging. It was twenty minutes into a 70-minute show, and despite the artistry on display, despite the obvious mastery of technique, I was yet to gasp. There was an incredibly skilled balancing act upon sheets of perspex… but because those sheets were on the floor, these talented manoeuvres did not elicit the response from the crowd that they should have. Similarly, two aerial routines, while vivid demonstrations of the strength and finesse of the two male performers, lacked the unexpected edge of surprise that audiences expect from circus.

But hurrah! The gasps did come, 30 minutes in, and when they did, they did not cease. A routine that combined aerial movement with floorwork was seriously astounding, as players swished down a central pole, stopping within inches of players curled beneath them. Adam Malone was completely jaw-dropping with his mastery of the hoops – eight lime green rings that had an uncanny ability to stick to his nose, foot, head. My ten-year-old companion had his mouth agape for the entire routine.

But, just as we were on the edge of our seats, another mis-step. This time in the form of a faux-vaudeville routine of a polar bear vomiting. I’m a big fan of humour revolving around bodily functions, but this was strangely unfunny and twice as long as it should have been. Fortunately this same polar bear (if I’m not mistaken) was given a chance to display her true skills shortly after with a remarkable routine in which she twirled, juggled and balanced an umbrella on her feet. The show ended on a high, showcasing the incredible trapeze skills Circus Oz is rightfully famous for.

Circus Oz makes a specialty of combining artforms – Precarious was not just circus, it also featured vaudeville, comedy and live music. The mixing of these mediums sound like it would make for a packed hour, but strangely with Precarious the end result felt scattershot and unfocused, as though the show could not decide quite what it was. One could imagine a more streamlined performance that highlighted the real strengths of the group – the hoops; the trapeze; the foot juggling; the aerials – while happily scrapping the extraneous comedy and musical accompaniment (which at times threatened to overshadow the main event). Pared down and paced up, the audience would feel in less Precarious hands.

Precarious plays until July 28.

Pictured top: Aurora Jillibalu Riley, Karina Schiller, Sam Aldham, Spenser Inwood, Adam Malone, Photo: Rob Blackburn.

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Features, News, Performing arts, Theatre

A modern-day Medea

How do you take an ancient Greek play about betrayal and revenge, that culminates in a mother murdering her two children, and reimagine it into relevance for a contemporary audience?

Nina Levy asked this question and more of Sally Richardson, the director of Black Swan State Theatre and WA Youth Theatre companies’ upcoming production of Medea.

Sally Richardson

Nina Levy: This version of Medea is by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks… how have the writers shaped this story for a contemporary audience?
Sally Richardson: Kate and Anne-Louise’s Medea is very much an “of the now” re-writing of the play. This is Medea as experienced from the perspective of the two sons of Jason and Medea, and set in the boys’ bedroom in a family home somewhere in Australia. It’s a story that is over 2500 years old, with events unfolding as per the Euripides version but it is adapted into a modern vernacular and represented in a very human, poignant and moving way.

NL: When did you first come across this version of Medea? What drew you to the play?
SR: The work was first performed in 2012 and won the Sydney Critics Circle Awards for Best New Australian Work, Best Main Stage Production, Best Direction, Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Newcomers. Friends had seen the show at Belvoir St Downstairs studio space and said it was incredibly moving.

I had directed Kate’s play The Danger Age in 2010 for [the now defunct Perth theatre company] Deckchair Theatre and I was keen to do another work of Kate’s here in Perth. Given the subject matter around the breakdown of a family unit and a once passionate marriage, this work feels both timely and relevant to our audience.

In rehearsal: Young actors Jack Molloy (foreground) and Lachlan Ives. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

NL: Medea is a collaboration between Black Swan and WA Youth Theatre Company (WAYTCo) – tell me about the collaborative process.
SR: WAYTCo helped us undertake the critical first stage of the project in finding the two young casts to play the key roles of the brothers Jasper and Leon. In a process facilitated by WAYTCo, and in their space, over a single day we saw more than a hundred boys. We then ran a once a week workshop for eight weeks for the selected 25 emerging artists. The boys received an introduction to Medea and professional theatre, and it allowed the team a real chance to work with and get to know our potential cast members. There are two alternating casts, so at the end of the process two pairs of boys were selected for the roles: Jalen Hewitt and Jesse Vakatini, and Lachlan Ives and Jack Molloy.

Now in rehearsal we have WAYTCo’s ongoing support and WAYTCo Associate, emerging artist Amelia Burke, has also joined the team as an observer.

NL: The fate of the children is one of the most tragic elements of Medea. How do you look after the emotional well-being of the young performers playing the roles of Leon and Jasper?
SR: Although they are playing characters a couple of years younger, the four boys are actually aged 14-15 so in many ways they are quite mature, and even joke about the play being actually quite funny “except for the homicide at the end”. We have had some deep discussions around how this might happen and why it can happen, but it’s the tragedy of this that is also what makes the play so relevant and timely.

Alexandria Steffensen with young actors Jalen Hewitt and Jesse Vakatini, in rehearsal. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

NL: As a director you’re renowned for bringing together multiple disciplines. Describe the vision for this work in terms of your artistic practice.
SR: My creative practice through Steamworks Arts has seen me actively championing the voice, presence and creativity of women in the performing arts. This production is no exception having been created by two leading female playwrights with a female lighting designer in the incredible Lucy Birkenshaw, singer/songwriter/composer and arranger Melanie Robinson on the team, Laura Boynes as movement director and powerhouse actor Alexandria Steffensen in the lead role. We also have an all-female backstage team in Erin Coubrough and Ana Julien Martial so we balance out the boy numbers pretty well! The script also gives us lots of room to choreograph our own play and fight sequences, so there are plenty of opportunities to create an exciting physical score as well.

SR: What do you think the cast members will bring to the play?
NL: The boys are wonderful and bring buckets loads of enthusiasm, energy, a wicked sense of humour and cheeky playfulness to their roles. Never mind superb good looks and charm… (they’ll love me for saying this!).

Alex [Steffensen], a WAAPA grad recently return from over East, will be new to Perth audiences and I know her Medea is going to blow people away. Her reading is intelligent, gutsy, while also being deeply moving. All together, it’s going to make for an unforgettable night in the theatre.

You can catch Medea at the State Theatre Centre of WA, August 8-25.

Pictured top: Lachlan Ives, Alexandria Steffensen and Jack Molly rehearsing ‘Medea’. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Young creatives show commitment

Review: Co:3’s Act-Belong-Commit Co:Youth Ensemble, “Project Next 2019” ·
All Saints College – Centre for Performing Arts, 20 July ·
Review by Lauren Catellani ·

“Project Next 2019”, by Co:3 Australia’s Youth Ensemble, allows audiences the chance to ponder art in both its visual and performing states. An annual offering by the youth wing of WA’s flagship contemporary dance company, this year’s incarnation of “Project Next” is inspired by time spent at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. With guidance from industry professionals Laura Boynes, Brooke Leeder and Scott Elstermann, the young dancers delve into their own experiences of viewing and understanding art.

Presented in multiple segments, the work sees the dancers employ their bodies to transform into works of art while also embodying the act of perceiving, feeling and experiencing art work. They skim the surface of related concepts such as observing and being observed, finding strategies that can be used to direct focus, investigating the ways our increased use of technology has changed the way we view art, and exploring ways to reimagine an artwork in a live performance setting. Each section of the work generally provides a simple but nonetheless effective examination of the concept.

A section where an art work is set up in the centre of the space to be viewed, for example, sees a group of dancers gather around. As they try to get a good picture with their imaginary phones, they slowly suffocate the work. This image calls into question the role that our phone cameras play in our engagement with art, perhaps suggesting that we should allow the experience of viewing art to remain ephemeral.

Young dancers calling into question the role that cameras play in our relationship to art. Photo: Stefan Gosatti

Cardboard boxes and handheld lights are cleverly and thought-provokingly utilised to explore the tools artists use to position viewers’ focus, and distort or conceal parts of the body. A particularly compelling section is performed by the oldest group of dancers, who use the hand-held lights to reveal certain parts of their bodies in static positions. As they begin to engage in full body movement, this becomes more complex; images become blurred as bodies merge and dissolve into the the dark space.

Compelling: The oldest group of the dancers. Photo: Stefan Gosatti

The ensemble is a well-connected and energetic group of dancers and, while the age groups are visibly separated by different costume designs and choreographic sections, the way the pieces are knitted together ensures that the work, as a whole, feels seamless.

All of the dancers whether they are 7 or 16 have the opportunity and the confidence to share their individual movement qualities and personalities. There was, evidently, space within the choreographic process for the young performers to explore their own creativity; a credit to their choreographic leaders Boynes, Leeder and Elstermann. It was most enjoyable to see the level of commitment to the work’s intention, both physically and emotionally, from all of the dancers no matter what  their age.

“Project Next” is an annual event. This year’s performance played July 19-20. Find out more about the Act-Belong-Commit Co:Youth Ensemble on the Co3 Australia website.

Pictured top: The ensemble’s commitment was evident throughout. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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