News, Reviews, Visual arts

Conversations within but not between

Review: Charlotte Hickson and Ashley Yihsin Chang, ‘Unfolding Acts: New Art from Taipei and Perth’ ·
PICA ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·

“Unfolding Acts: New Art from Taipei and Perth” marks the 20th anniversary of the Charter of Mutual Friendship between the two cities; a friendship that is evident in the string of exhibitions, residencies and other programs involving these communities that have been held at PICA and other galleries and organisations in the sister cities over the last two decades.

Bringing together both Western Australian and Taiwanese artists, “Unfolding Acts” is curated by Charlotte Hickson and Ashley Yihsin Chang. The show presents stories from both metropolitan and regional areas and represents voices of artists, First Nations people, workers and everyday folk.

Created by the York Noongar community members and Community Arts Network, Welcome to Balardong is a collaborative series of animations that share stories of life in York. Whilst the childhood memories are reflected upon fondly, and the clay animations playful, undertones of systematic racism and colonial structures are hard to ignore.

Dondon Hounwn’s story explores a shifting dynamic between traditional and modern practices. Photo: Bo Wong.

Such storytelling is at the heart of many of the works in “Unfolding Acts”, including Yu-Cheng Chou’s A Working History: LU Chien-Te for which the life-story of a Taiwanese contingent worker nearing retirement was published and recorded, and Chia-En Jao’s video Taxi which documents conversations between the artist and Taipei Taxi drivers to piece together a story of Taiwan’s history and current political climate. Dondon Hounwn’s story looks inward instead; three videos displayed concurrently each show the Truku artist in some way being pushed and pulled by other performers, a shifting dynamic between traditional and modern practices.

Whilst all other works in the exhibition present stories from the artist’s home city, rather than a response to the sister city, Taiwanese artist Yi-Chun Lo’s Protective Layers responds to the impact of agriculture and feral animals on Western Australia’s natural landscape and wildlife. Created during a residency in Western Australia, Lo engaged with Noongar elders and utilised native trees and grasses as well as introduced grains to construct hides of a kangaroo and a fox, laid on the floor like ornamental rugs.

Also engaging with natural landscape, Whadjuk Noongar artist Sharyn Egan’s One mob features animals made out of yonga goona (kangaroo droppings) and balga resin, and Pilar Mata Dupont’s series of photographs, Multispecies, depicts invasive species of flora introduced to Jirndawurrunha, the lands of the Yindjibarndi people in northern Western Australia.

Pilar Mata Dupont’s ‘Multispecies’ depicts invasive species of flora introduced to Jirndawurrunha. Photo: Bo Wong.

Whilst pvi collective’s public residency and series of interventions tiny revolutions successfully reflects “Unfolding Acts’” aim to “examine the social, cultural and economic fabric” of Perth, presented separate to the exhibition in an upstairs room, it felt disconnected from the discourse in the main space. This separation is created by its physical distance from the other works and heightened because, unlike the resolved outcomes presented downstairs, it is a participatory project in progress, marketed individually without mention of “Unfolding Acts”.

Artworks in “Unfolding Acts” present a deep and thoughtful glimpse into the individuals and communities who make up the fabric of Perth and Taipei, yet for an exhibition filled with storytelling, the conversation between works and the two cities is lacking.

“Unfolding Acts: New Art from Taipei and Perth” runs until December 22.

Pictured top: ‘Welcome to Balardong’ by York Noongar community members with Community Arts Network. Photo: Bo Wong.

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Storm Helmore, Bernadette Lewis, Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Dance double bill goes off with a bang

Review: Scott Elstermann and Shona Erskine, “Bang! Bang!” ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 28 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

November has been a boon month for dance in Perth, with no less than seven shows presented by various companies, organisations and independent artists. Packing a powerful punch, dance theatre double bill “Bang! Bang!”, by local indie choreographers Scott Elstermann and Shona Erskine, makes a fitting grand finale to this unofficial dance festival.

Scott Elstermann. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Scott Elstermann alternates between elegance and frenzy in ‘Love you, Stranger’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

As the gunshots of the title foreshadow, it’s murder that ties this double header together. The first work on the program, Shona Erskine’s Love you, Stranger, is a chilling exploration of the consequences of public shaming. Though we know this to be a contemporary issue, Erskine takes us back in time, to the fates of three Australian women – Martha Rendell (1871-1909), Audrey Jacobs (1905-?) and Ellen Thompson (1835-1887) – all brought to trial for murder.

Performed by three dancers (Storm Helmore, Scott Elstermann and Bernadette Lewis), each representing one of the accused women, Love you, Stranger interweaves stark solos with detailed ensemble work. It’s lightly seasoned with text (written by Vahri McKenzie, voiced by Jo Morris) that hints at horror of various kinds.

Representing Rendell, accused of murdering her step-children, Helmore is neat, deliberate, intricate. As the “seduced and then publicly snubbed” Jacobs, Elstermann alternates between elegance and frenzy. Arms flinging wildly, Lewis, as Thompson, seems to be fending off an attack from an invisible foe; later it seems as if her own gasps floor her. Joe Paradise Lui’s soundscape provides an ominous backdrop; a melange of repeating notes and deep drawn-out undertones, punctuated by whispers and breaths.

It’s a glimpse into the abyss; dizzying, compelling. Erskine tells me she has plans to develop this work, and I’m keen to see what comes next.

Bernadette Lewis, Scott Elstermann and Storm Helmore. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Detailed ensemble work: Bernadette Lewis, Scott Elstermann and Storm Helmore in ‘Love you, Stranger’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

It’s during the brief interval, complete with snack-bearing usherettes (Laura Boynes and Lilly King), that we are drawn into Scott Elstermann’s Act 2, Scenes 1-4, a mad-cap ride that takes murder less seriously. Elstermann’s work is inspired by Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and, having filled that particular hole in my pop-culture knowledge the night before, I was wondering how the concept would play out.

Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Laura Boynes and Bernadette Lewis in one of many moments of physical comedy. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Well, in summary, it is Wes Anderson’s style, cleverly transformed into contemporary dance. While you don’t need to have seen the film to appreciate this work (my plus one assures me), Anderson buffs will, I think, be thrilled by the result.

Unsurprisingly there’s audio from the film, but it’s the way it’s animated on stage that’s so effective. With his terrific team of dancers – Laura Boynes, Storm Helmore, Lilly King and Bernadette Lewis – Elstermann captures the cartoon-like nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s many fight and chase scenes, rendered all the more hilarious by the liveness and the proximity afforded by the intimate Blue Room Theatre space. From the sunrise-stained opening to a luminous aqua wash, Chris Donnelly’s lighting pays exquisite homage to the film’s famed saturated hues.

Boynes, Helmore, King and Lewis are superb. It’s not just the crisp perfection of their many slapstick scenes of physical comedy, but their wildly mobile faces that move, plasticine-like, into ever more comical configurations.

The only serious thing to say about this work?

You gotta see it. I don’t care whether you’re a contemporary dance aficionado, a newbie or indifferent.

And I reckon it will sell out, so don’t delay.

“Bang! Bang!” runs until December 14.

Pictured top are Storm Helmore, Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes in ‘Act 2, Scenes 1-4’.

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Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Juan Carlos Osma as Lewis Carroll in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Scott Dennis (14).JPG
Ballet, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Whimsical and wonderful: an Alice for all ages

Junior reviews: West Australian Ballet, Alice (in wonderland) ·
His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Reviews by Bethany Stopher (13) and Saskia Haluszkiewicz, aged 9 ·

Opening night, Thursday 21 November
Review by Bethany Stopher
Alice (in wonderland), performed by the West Australian Ballet, is a creative, vibrant ballet, full to the brim with humour and imagination. It is thoroughly enjoyable and perfect for a young audience.
The choreography is not strictly ballet; some of its features are neoclassical or contemporary. This keeps it fresh and different. The sequences are playful and fun, perfectly enhancing the characters from Lewis Carroll’s novel. It also has the hint of silliness and is definitely humorous in places, from the Cheshire cat, to the seductive red roses. The dancers use their voices, which is unusual for a ballet, but very effective in this case. Septime Webre has done an excellent job.
The scenery is outstanding. The plain white room and chair at the start of the show, give little clue of the imaginative props and scenery that are to come. Set designer James Kronzer has certainly gone above and beyond, making every scene as picturesque as possible. Suspension wires are used multiple times, in jaw dropping ways, during the performance. One of the highlights of this, for me, was when Alice “grew” after sampling the bottle labelled “drink me.” It looked so effective, especially as the adult “doors” are replaced by child guests to show how giant Alice is in comparison.
The scenery is also very portable and this is convenient, as there are many different settings, which have to be changed quickly.  There is even a touch of puppetry (artistically created by Eric Van Wyk), including a mini Alice, which is spun round to give the impression of falling, and a humongous Jabberwock puppet, which is controlled by many of the dancers. The scenery and effects are magical.
On opening night all the dancers were immaculate. Chihiro Nomura (Alice) stole the show for me. Apart from her flawless technique, she had a childlike quality and an abundance of expression, perfect for the role. I also admired the bird partnership of the dodo (Oscar Valdes) and the eaglet (Dayana Hardy Acuna). Oscar had such control in his pirouettes and elevation in his jumps. Dayana had a beautiful expression – you could see the joy that she has from dancing. Glenda Garcia Gomez (The Queen of Hearts) played the dominant and vicious queen with attitude and a dramatic snarl on her face. The child stars were given a large presence on stage, performed well and were adorable; the audience went “aww” every time they entered the stage. One thing that I found interesting is that the characters mirror Alice’s family in the real world. This gave me a deeper understanding of the story that was unfolding.
All the costumes are perfect for Wonderland; bright, colourful and quirky. I loved the White Rabbit’s costume, as he wore huge fluffy ears and a waistcoat with clocks on it. The children’s costumes are really fluffy and cute. The costumes have been designed so exquisitely by Liz Vandal  that all the characters look like they have stepped right out of the book. The costumes are also very clever; when the cards are “painting” the white roses red, the white petals peel off to show crimson ones! However, it appeared as though some of the costumes were uncomfortable to dance in. For example, the flamingo costumes looked spectacular, but it must have been hard to dance as gorgeously as they did with a ginormous flamingo beak on your head! I also found that some of the costumes had a plastic texture. Some of the costumes suited this, but others seemed a bit too shiny.  Overall, though, the costumes are creative and add to the thrill.
Alice (in wonderland) is a must-see. It can be enjoyed by all ages, as it is completely suitable for kids, and their attention will be hooked from the moment the curtain rises until the curtseys. It is the kind of ballet that makes you want to see it again and again. The season ends on December 15, so get your tickets before they sell out!
Friday 22 November
Review by Saskia Haluszkiewicz, aged 9
West Australian Ballet’s production of Alice (in wonderland) is a new version of Lewis Carroll’s famous children’s book, and captures the imagination of people’s minds with colour, dance and comedy.
The costumes (designed by Liz Vandal) are full of colour and life, and beautifully capture the detail and tradition of the period the book was written. Many have described the costumes as a “visual feast”. One part of the ballet has a scene where Alice is walking through a magical forest when she sees a caterpillar on a toadstool smoking a pipe. Through dance we can see that the caterpillar is talking to Alice. Then it shows the natural cycle of a caterpillar by turning into a butterfly. The wings are a majestic blue and are so big, they fill up the entire stage! This is one example of the effort put into making these costumes. Another highlight is when Alice grows so tall, she is nearly touching the top of the proscenium with Alice’s feet dancing at the bottom.
The choreography (Septime Webre) is interesting, exciting and clever. It is a mix of traditional ballet and contemporary movement and even includes a Chinese dragon style puppet of the Jabberwock.
The cast includes students of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and 15 child dancers, along with WAB’s principals, soloists and demi soloists.
The main characters are Alice, The White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter and the Queen and King of Hearts. Other characters are the Fishy Footman, The Tweedle twins (who at one point flew through the air on a tandem bike), the flamingos and the Playing Cards.
Overall, I think this is a wonderful ballet performance for people all ages. It is whimsical, fun and imaginative, showing perfectly the potential of storytelling through the art of dance.
Pictured top: Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Juan Carlos Osma as Lewis Carroll in ‘Alice (in wonderland’). Photo: Scott Dennis.
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News, Reviews, Visual arts

A project for the climate crisis

Sete Tele and Lisa Hirmer, ‘Drinking Water’ ·
Moores Building ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

“Drinking Water”, a project by Australian dance artist Sete Tele and Canadian interdisciplinary artist Lisa Hirmer, cultivates a timely awareness of (and appreciation for) water as a precious natural resource.

A field of floor tiles, scattered over the ground level gallery of the Moores Building, frame an assortment of furniture, plinths and tableware containing varying levels of water. Piles of photographs have been spread over these plinths, and arranged on the floor, depicting various methods of improvised, small-scale water gathering.

Photo: Lisa Hirmer

As the Fremantle Biennale’s website explains, Tele and Hirmer began this iteration of their project by enlisting Fremantle locals to participate as volunteer “water collectors”. Together the artists and participants workshopped survival water gathering techniques, before designing and implementing a collection method bespoke to each person’s home.

The resulting photographs in this exhibition presumably document the efforts of this community, showing buckets, ice-cream containers, dewy plants, and hands squeezing wet cloths. Lacking any explanatory text, these loose photographs act as an informal archive; capturing multiple moments of water collection in a human-scale format that can be re-sorted and rearranged.

Resembling the remnants of a domestic ritual, these images seem to collectively speak to personal interactions with the natural landscape, our communal relationship with water, and our place as citizens within a wider ecology. However the lack of personal presence from the participants in the exhibition space is keenly felt – with this absence emphasised by the sounds of the bustling café surrounding the show.

Exhibited as a part of “UNDERCURRENT 19”, the second edition of the Fremantle Biennale, the considerations raised by this project could not be timelier in our current era of climate crisis.

“Drinking Water” runs until 24 November 2019.

All photos: Lisa Hirmer

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Behind the scenes of the suburbs

Review: WA Youth Theatre Company, The Cockatoos ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, 21 November ·
Review by Robert Housley ·

Behind the façade of suburban life are the complex stories of its human inhabitants. The relationships within individual households are a daily dance. The interactions between people living in the same neighbourhood can go beyond superficial pleasantries, if they can be bothered to even acknowledge each other. For many of us, this is a significant portion of our lives. Little wonder this milieu is such fertile ground for creative industry practitioners.

When one of Australia’s foremost authors, 1973 Nobel Literature Prize-winner Patrick White, dissects this world, its underlying complexities are exposed on the page. His short novel The Cockatoos has been reimagined for the stage by guest director Andrew Hale and presented by an accomplished twelve-member cast of WA Youth Theatre Company performers.

This moderately challenging work has the hallmarks of White’s dense writing – stream-of-consciousness storytelling from a multitude of perspectives. Just seven of the twelve performers have defined roles: Lauren Thomas (Olive), Liam Hickey (Mick), Alexander Gerrans (Clyde), Rebecca Collin (Gwen) Georgia Ivers (Miss LeCornu) Brent Shields (Figgis) and Sylvia Cornes (Mrs Dulhunty and Mumma). The remaining five – Amelia Burke, Christopher Moro, Grace Chow, Zachary Sheridan and Samai King – are all designated members of the chorus. When the principal characters are not in their roles, they too become members of the chorus.

Lauren Thomas as Olive and Liam Hickey as Mick. Photo: David Cox.

Deciphering who is who and where the narrative is heading is occasionally confusing, but there is a strong storyline that keeps the audience thoroughly engaged. Set in the 1970s, it revolves around an aging, childless couple, Olive and Mick. They have not spoken to each other for seven years, only communicating via an exchange of written notes. The apparent reason for their disturbingly unhealthy relationship is the death of her beloved budgie while he was caring for it in her absence. Mick has found loveless intimacy elsewhere in the company of Miss LeCornu, whose one-line descriptor typifies White’s searing wit: “Always stoned, but never to death”.

Archetypal suburban Australia rings true with the arrival of cockatoos that roost in the sugar gum in Olive and Mick’s yard. Can these new birds be the salve to repair their deeply dysfunctional relationship? But what about the noise?

Alongside this is the more peripheral story of eight-year-old Tim, who has sneaked out of his family home to spend the night alone in the local park. The things you can see after dark with a child’s imagination and when no-one knows you are there. Grumpy neighbours, judgemental parents and charity collections also find their way in to the story of this typical Australian neighbourhood.

Bringing this all together in 65 minutes was a directorial feat by Hale and his two assistants (Jono Battista and Elise Wilson) that the ensemble cast approached with gusto. Indeed, it is the collective strength of their performance and its dynamism that was the highlight of the show. There was never a dull moment, doubtless enhanced by WAYTC artistic director James Berlyn’s attention to detail in the unusual role of Movement and Intimacy Coordinator.

Costume designer Laura Heffernan has clearly had fun dressing the cast in classic 70s garb. The sound design by Neil Webster and assistant David Stewart is all about suburban atmospherics, starting beautifully with birdsong and piano. Ash Gibson Greig has also created an original song for the piece. Tony Gordon’s lighting does just what is necessary to subtly augment each scene on the ostensibly bare stage, which has a multifunctional giant swing as its only set item.

If this show is a reflection of performance quality from the WA Youth Theatre Company as it approaches its 30th anniversary in 2020, then funding the development of emerging theatre artists for its next 30 years is money well spent.

Recommended for ages 16 years and above.

The Cockatoos runs until 29 November. 

Pictured top is Lauren Thomas as Olive, with company members in background. Photo: David Cox.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A sea of beautifully executed moves

Review: Brooke Leeder and Dancers, Radar ·
The B Shed, Fremantle, 21 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

The creaking, wooden glories that are the sheds of Fremantle port are one of the city’s secret beauties. What mysterious maritime activities go on inside C-Shed? What about D-Shed? Most of the sheds are off-limits to the public, a fact that seems suddenly heartbreaking when you attend a performance in B-Shed. These cavernous spaces create rustically sparse settings, ideal for dance or theatre. This year’s Fremantle Biennale makes fabulous use of these unique venues, but really, the public should be able to share in these spaces on a more regular basis. At the very start of Brooke Leeder’s Biennale contribution, Radar, giant wooden doors are pushed back, revealing a dimming sky on sea, terns restive on pillars. There was even the grand replica of the Leeuwin, an unwitting backdrop to the performance.

Leeder is well known in the Perth community, both as an independent choreographer and as a gifted teacher of dance. This work, created in collaboration with percussionist Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirier, harnesses the talents of 23 of Leeder’s dance students from John Curtin College of the Arts, ranging in age from 12 to 17, as well as five professional dancers. With so many bodies, particularly when most are dancers-in-training, synchronised phrasing is very difficult. Throw in live percussion and you have a mammoth task ahead of you. Consequently, I was holding my breath for much of the show.

O ye of little faith!

The thrum of a densely electronic soundscape kicks off proceedings as two dancers thread through a brisk portside breeze. With an echoing thud, the trio of percussionists (Frere-Harvey, Rosie Taylor and Joel Bass), join the fray, building a menacing, aural cloud that fills the space. Black-clad dancers file in from the port, pairing with a partner in a fluid formation of geometric shapes. Arms scissoring through the air, legs all angles. Just as suddenly as the percussion began, it all stops. The dancers dart away, fish-like.

A new throng emerges from the wings – a younger set, mostly from year seven and eight. Is it just me who finds young performers so poignantly transparent in their motives? Look at me! We all want to be seen, I guess… young performers just wear it on their sleeves. The breeze buffets the wooden walls creating a ghostly effect as the dancers wind their way through the space. Undersea blips, the hum of a motor. The youngsters are joined by the older crew and then, in a wave of movement, comes the synchronicity. Lines of bodies, diagonally spread across the floor, alternating in their motions. Recognising the difficulty of synchronicity perhaps, Leeder opts for wave-like motions, movements spilling through the corps like water. I was worried for the nervy 12-year-olds, (Goddamn girl, leave the mothering at home!) but they nailed it. Driving drums, low lights, a sea of beautifully executed moves.

At its best moments, Radar reminded me of a rough-hewn iteration of Didier Theron’s work Harakiri. With just five professional dancers amidst a pool of students (however accomplished), this is a formidable achievement. It was hard to take my eyes off two of the pros in particular, Scott Elstermann and Lilly King. Not just their seamless execution, it was their unflinching commitment and confidence in seeing this ambitious enterprise through. Nerves? What nerves?

The single mis-step was an extraneous narrative piece towards the end. A police siren sounds, a girl falls, a boy saves her. There was nothing wrong with the dancing but the narrative felt awkward and unnecessary in a work that dealt primarily in abstractions. It’s a minor quibble and one quickly forgotten as the dancers re-emerged onto the stage for one last thrilling dance en masse.

It was over. The dancers filed out through the vast doors, into the darkened harbour, golden-lit with portlight. I breathed again as the audience rose as one, in cheering acclaim of Leeder and her collaborators.

Radar runs until November 24.

Read an interview with Brooke Leeder.

Pictured top is Lilly King and cast members of ‘Radar’. Photo: D. Wright.

 

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Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Sergey Pevnev (3)
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Ending the year on a high note

Review: West Australian Ballet, Alice (in wonderland) ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 21 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

West Australian Ballet (WAB) is ending the year on a high with its season of Alice (in wonderland).

A charismatic concoction of mad-cap music, surreal design, aerobatic puppetry and ballet that blends neoclassical and contemporary styles with a giant dollop of crazy, the success of this work lies in the collaboration between choreographer Septime Webre (artistic director of Hong Kong Ballet) and his creative team, composer Matthew Pierce, costume designer Liz Vandal, puppet designer Eric Van Wyk, set designer James Kronzer and lighting designer Clifton Taylor.

Though not a new production – Webre’s Alice was first performed by Washington Ballet in 2012 – WAB’s rendition feels fresh, under the guidance of répétiteur Johanna Wilt, WAB artistic director Aurélien Scanella and conductor Jessica Gethin (a small cheer was heard on opening night as this local conductor took to the podium to lead West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra).

Though closely based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Webre’s Alice holds the plot lightly, instead letting its dreamlike quality drive the ballet. From the outset, too, it’s clear that this work is as much about music as it is about dance. The prologue, in which we see Alice (Chihiro Nomura) daydreaming “as her family swirls about around her chaotically”, is underpinned by a score that’s a bit jazzy, a bit 70s. More than a backdrop, the music animates the scene; sliding into slo-mo as a family photo goes off-kilter, giving voice to a yelp as Alice’s highly-charged mother (Glenda Garcia Gomez) grabs her sweetly dopey husband (Matthew Lehmann) by his head. As the score unfolds it’s jam-packed with styles and references, perfect fodder for Gethin who is renowned for the breadth of her repertoire.

Julio Blanes as the White Rabbit and Glenda Garcia Gomez as the Queen of Hearts in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Julio Blanes as the White Rabbit and Glenda Garcia Gomez as the Queen of Hearts. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Puppetry, too, is central to this ballet, aided by wires that allow the dancers to fly (with direction from Dylan Trujillo of Flying by Foy). As well as traditional puppetry – most notably the Jabberwock, an imposing red-eyed creature operated by seven dancers – the dancers become puppets themselves. When Alice cries her “pool of tears”, she and the Dormouse (Mayume Noguromi) bob and tumble, courtesy of a team whose outlines can be seen through the blue banners of fabric that comprise the water. Later, the acrobatic caterpillar (Alexa Tuzil) is held aloft by many hands as she undulates and contorts through a circus-like routine. There’s no attempt made to hide the magic but that brings another level of humour; the scene in which Alice “grows” is comic gold on cables… but you’ll have to see the show to be in on the joke.

One of Alice’s many charms is the linking of the “real-world” characters to those in Wonderland. First as Alice’s mother and then as the Queen of Hearts, Garcia Gomez was hilariously terrifying on opening night, while Lehmann played her dim and down-trodden partner (Father then King) with foppish charm. All four characters are beautifully costumed by Vandal (as is the whole work); a stylised rose-inspired headpiece adds a touch of 1920s glamour to the Queen, while both Father and King sport heart-shaped glasses that perfectly suit their silliness.

With Swan Lake references in choreography and score, the lanky, neon pink flamingos were a huge hit with the opening night audience, but the puffy baby flamingos – danced with precision and character by a team of child guest artists – almost stole the show with their nodding heads and youthful enthusiasm. That said, Oscar Valdes and Dayana Hardy Acuna gave them a run for their money. Neat as a button, Hardy Acuna was charming as the Eaglet, but it’s the Dodo who gets the show-stopping moves in this scene, performed by Valdes with his customary panache.

Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo by Scott Dennis (4)
Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat. Photo: Scott Dennis.

From here it’s difficult to select favourite scenes; all delight. There’s Alice’s meeting with the Cheshire Cat, (the versatile Lehmann) who oozes sexual innuendo, the strings simpering as he rubs his body against Alice. It’s a touch creepy but too silly to take seriously. Alice’s pas de deux with the Cat is full of complicated throws, catches and balances, handled by Nomura and Lehmann with aplomb.

There’s the Mad Hatter Tea Party, with its backdrop of artificially bright gerberas, it’s electronica reference (from the 90s?), the creepily colourful Mad Hatter (an irrepressible Juan Carlos Osma), the hyper March Hare (Adam Alzaim)  and the gorgeously grooving Dormouse (Mayume Nogorumi, delightfully recognisable as Grandmother).

And then there’s the Garden Party… and Vandal’s crisp and clever deck-of-cards tutus and art-deco-styled roses (sharply danced by Polly Hilton, Claire Voss, Alexa Tuzil) who risk their lives by fraternizing with the King… but you know what? You’ll just have to see if you can snaffle a ticket to find out more.

As the White Rabbit, Julio Blanes flitted in and out of the story with a leap and a grin. Special mention must be made of the aforementioned child guests, who impressed in various scenes. Last but certainly not least, in the title role Nomura charmed the opening night audience with her unfailing warmth, wit and grace.

Alice (in wonderland) is a must-see show… but you’d better book ASAP, it’s bound to sell out.

Alice (in wonderland) runs until December 15.

Find out what our junior critics had to say about Alice (in wonderland).

Pictured top: Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

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A captivating season and a fitting farewell

Review: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year dance students, ‘Verge’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 16th November ·
Review by Lauren Catellani ·

This year’s “Verge” season, from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ dance department, is an expansive celebration of dance, with four diverse works passionately performed by the students. “Verge” is an annual mixed bill program of classical and contemporary dance that showcases both the graduating and second year students, and this year’s program is well constructed and provides an opportunity for audiences to appreciate dance in both its past and present forms.

The evening kicks off with Coppelia Suite, a montage of scenes from the famed Romantic ballet, remounted by WAAPA’s Kim McCarthy and Danielle Hunt. The audience is greeted with an energetic live performance of the Leo Delibes score – arranged by Gennaro Di Donna and performed by Di Donna, Caitlin Malcolm, Peter Evans and Robyn Blann – which sparks engagement and adds intensity throughout. The curtain rises on an enchanting village scene. Warmly lit, the stage is adorned with strings of flowers that complement the autumn-hued villager costumes beautifully.

‘Coppelia Suite’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

McCarthy and Hunt’s arrangement of excerpts from this comical ballet exudes playfulness and joy as the dancers perform the lively Harvest Festival and pageant day scenes. With storytelling a crucial part of this particular ballet I yearned for more vibrancy and facial expression from the supporting dancers positioned around the stage, in order to match and boost the impressive soloists. Among many exceptional dancers, standout performers were Brent Robert Carson, Beatrice Manser, Chloe Hinton, Ruby Gibbons and Sarah Ross.

Following Coppelia Suite, second year Bachelor of Arts students performed Cass Mortimer Eipper’s Black Gold. A new contemporary work exploring the growing culture of excessive consumerism and the human capacity for gluttony and oppression, the work cleverly interlaces  abstracted images and sounds relating to the global oil industry to explore its theme.

Cass Mortimer Eipper’s ‘Black Gold’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Mortimer Eipper’s choreographic style is thrilling and the dancers, dressed in bold red jumpsuits, perform a unique collection of eccentric and robust movements. A rhythmic marching in unison that transforms stylistically throughout the work is a repeating motif that  drew me into a deep trance. Performing with unwavering commitment, the students’ embodiment of the movement style was impressive, with notable performances from Campbell Gateley, Samantha Smith and Jack Tuckerman. During the interval that followed, the energy and excitement in the foyer – sparked by this bold work – was palpable.

A small group of third year dancers, selected by audition, re-commenced the show with Leigh Warren’s award winning 1997 work Shimmer, remounted here by Delia Silvan (original cast member and founding member of Leigh Warren & Dancers) and Kynan Hughes (also a former company member). This contemporary work was inspired by Graeme Koehne’s musical score Shaker Dances and the Shaker movement itself, a Protestant sect that emerged in America in the late 18th century. Named for the style of the dancing that was part of their faith, the Shakers were also known for their belief in celibacy and in gender equality.

Leigh Warren’s ‘Shimmer’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

In Shimmer, six dancers perform under spotlights and in gendered couples. On opening night Natassija Morrow, Estelle Brown, Millie Hunt, Nathan Turtur, Nathan Crewe-Kuge and Brent Rollins executed the movement in a detailed manner, a credit to Silvan’s direction. Warren’s choreography displays both confidence and modesty, and the costumes are used to show both concealment and spontaneous sexual freedom, a harmonious duality around which the work – intriguingly – revolves.

The third year students closed the show with Ludum Vitae,  a contemporary work choreographed by Belgium-based choreographer Helder Seabra. The work’s chaos and disconnection is hinted at in an ironic voice-over at the beginning, and only makes any sense at its conclusion. The dancers begin and end in an exhausted physicality. Stumbling, slumped and crawling around in a circle, they move though varying states – vigorous convulsing, careful and consoling gestures and high impact fight scenes. Seabra’s choreography is an impressive demonstration of physicality and displayed the power of these dancers as a group.

“Verge” is a captivating season and an impressive farewell to the graduating dancers as well as to Nanette Hassall, who is retiring after 24 years of dedicated service as head of the WAAPA dance department.

“Verge” runs until November 23.

Pictured top is “Ludum Vitae” by Helder Seabra, performed by graduating students from WAAPA’s dance department. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Bold new works make for dark double bill

STRUT Dance and the State Theatre of WA, “And Then Some” ·
Studio Underground, 13 November ·
Review by Tanya Rodin, mentored by Nina Levy ·

A double bill of independent dance boldly slapped its opening night audience at the State Theatre Centre of WA. Entitled “And Then Some”, the program is part of a new initiative from STRUT Dance, The Blue Room Theatre, the State Theatre Centre of WA and Co:3 Australia, and offers two emerging choreographers the opportunity to present work on the Studio Underground stage. The two works presented in inaugural iteration of “And Then Some” are by emerging Australian choreographers Scott Ewen and Lewis Major.

To have independent choreographic works developed and performed in Perth is always exciting, even more so when supported by some of the major players in the performing arts sector.

So why the use of the word “slapped”?

I understand the desire to create art that holds a mirror to the world, and that such works are often smeared with a dark tone, but I am finding myself starting to crave a little laugh, a little joy, a little hope, that could also potentially bring change.

Introduced by a witty, pink-wigged host (Olivia Hendry) the program begins with Scott Ewen’s Wasps at War, a work exploring the notion of competition, fighting and the decisions in between. It buzzes into being with two dancers (Dean-Ryan Lincoln and Rhiana Katz), each mesmerised by the wrapping of cloth bandages tightly around their wrists, preparing for the battle of limbs to come. With whipping wasp hands and warped wasping ballet, two more dancers (Scott Ewen and Lilly King) seem to be pressing pause and play, entangling and rearranging as they “strive for ascendency”.

I enjoyed watching, and wanted to see more of, the play with the bandage. It entwines and morphs the space between the dancers, as if adding extra limbs, extra contact, extra support or extra leverage. The four dancers move together with strength, clarity and precision, and then shift into slapping, shoving and suppressing.

As an audience member, I am usually not so interested in movement “tricks”… but Ewen has a way of fluidly blurring the lines so that “tricks” explode – impressively – out of nothing, as if he flies into fight and then dissipates. At times, however, I am not sure I believed the fight between the dancers.

Composer Dane Yates, a regular collaborator with dance and movement-based works, has a way of enticing the audiences into the complexities of rhythm, form and tension in movement, and his scores for these two works are no exception. Lighting designer Fausto Brusamolino illuminates the stage beautifully across the double bill, demonstrating the breadth of his visual palette, from eye-squinting haze to flashes of piercing light.

Second on the bill, Lewis Majors’ Platypus appears comical at first, with a dancer in an animal suit (the platypus of the title?) that stands in the spotlight staring back at us. A voiceover announces that this is an “important work of art”, before we are plunged into darkness and a bone-shaking cacophony of sound.

The lights come up, and we see six women in simple pink dresses, (a stellar cast of Jasmin Lancaster, Nikki Tarling, Sophia van Gent, Tra Mi Dinh, Zoe Wozniak and Sarah Wilson), who stand and stare, powerfully holding the space. The light fades in and out, revealing some things but not everything, until just one dancer (Zoe Wozniak) remains, back curled, swaying, silently calling the others to join the tribe-like movement.

These six women seem to command the space to move for them as they curve in and out of the floor. The cohesion and complexity of choreographic patterning in the group is impressive, especially given the relatively short rehearsal period.

But Major subtly scatters small warning signs that something is not right. The women transform into fierce-eyed creatures, circling the space. There’s a dramatic shift in tone with scenes that had me squirming in my seat; the women fighting then being hit by the faceless animal/man, followed by almost ritualistic torture, complete with replica guns. By the end I was left in shock, staring at the dishevelled man, still in the animal suit, gasping for air.

Leaving the theatre after the show, I found myself pondering the violent images in my mind, and questioning why. The clue “Epstein didn’t kill himself”, in Major’s program notes, sparked me researching when I got home and I encourage you to do the same. In a world full of brokenness and danger, I recognise that portraying this destruction might be a way to make us think, question, and then, perhaps, take action. But as a dance artist myself, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to be in that rehearsal process. Seeing my contemporaries being beaten or holding a gun (albeit replica) to someone’ s head was shocking. It seems it was Major’s intention to shock, but I wasn’t clear what conversation he hopes to spark, and at what cost.

Though I loved seeing two athletic works performed by two casts of powerhouse dancers, for me this double bill is a heavy combination. “And Then Some” is an exciting new initiative, but for me it truly was dark in the Studio Underground on Wednesday night.

“And Then Some” runs until November 16.

Pictured top: Lilly King (front) and Scott Ewen in Ewen’s “Wasps at War”. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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Image from Western Currents
News, Painting, Reviews, Visual arts

A gothic approach to our coast

Ron Nyisztor (curator), ‘Western Current’ ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

A compact show exploring Western Australia’s coast as the borderline before the immense expanse of the Indian Ocean, “Western Current” features works by eight Australian artists – Robert Cleworth, Di Cubitt, Michael Doherty, Ben Joel, Moira de la Hunty, Gina Moore, Wade Taylor, Paul Uhlmann – most of whom are based in WA.  Curated by Ron Nyisztor, the exhibition is part of “UNDERCURRENT 19”, the second edition of the Fremantle Biennale.

The works in this show avoid any typical depiction of our sunny shores – instead they collectively evoke a sense of foreboding, presenting what the exhibition catalogue calls a “coastal gothic narrative”.

The ocean’s shores are framed as a place of rumination in Moira de la Hunty’s works, where bleak muted hues of waves and sand suggest a loneliness or longing. Each of de la Hunty’s paintings pairs the beach with a reflective surface, suggesting the act of looking back at oneself while contemplating the surrounding vastness.

In other works, such as Di Cubitt’s South Point, the long flat horizon of an endless ocean seems to gesture to the indifference of nature, complete with foreboding dark clouds promising stormy times to come.

There’s a distinct uneasiness running through many of these paintings, from the disjointed bodies in Robert Cleworth’s finely rendered oil paintings, to the bizarre collages of imagery in Michael Doherty’s surreal landscapes. Furthering this sense of unease are hints of the occult and strong links to dark history, including iconic shipwrecks off WA’s coastline.

“Western Current” is an engaging and unsettling exhibition, with the featured works evoking depths far more expansive than the room they’re held in.

“Western Current” runs until 24 November.

Photo by Duncan Wright.

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