Features, News, Performing arts, Theatre

A winter theatre warmer

What goes into making theatre?

The Blue Room Theatre’s Winter Nights festival invites audiences to find out how work is made. With opportunities to meet artists at the beginning of their creative journey, witness the development of work in real-time, catch freshly minted works and enjoy conversations about culture, Winter Nights is full of reasons to brave the cold. Seesaw asked Blue Room Producer Harriet Roberts to talk you through her top picks of the program…

Keynote Lecture: On Theatre
“To formally open the festival, we’re establishing our own ritual of an opening night lecture from a cultural leader that we hope will become an enduring event on Perth’s arts calendar. This year, for the inaugural, Shelagh Magadza, executive director of the Chamber of Arts and Culture WA and former artistic director of Perth Festival, is exploring theatre as a ritual essential to our humanity. An apt beginning to the ritual of the lecture itself, I think.”

Saga Sisterhood
“A transformative performance project which sees a group of female-identifying South Asian artists take the stage to share their experiences of love, loss, life and strife. The Centre for Stories has partnered with Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, the performance poet featuring in Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Fully Sikh later this year, to lead a series of workshops and developments to amplify the voices of a new bunch of storytellers.”

 

The Lion Never Sleeps
“This participatory walking performance and audio tour through the streets of Northbridge takes audiences to places and spaces of the activism and community during the AIDS crisis in Perth. It’s a beautiful project that provides us with a slice of history and a moment to reflect on queer culture through the meditative activity of walking with a sound bubble of stories from those who were in the thick of it.”

 

The Jellyman
“After a first development with Kiss Club, creative Rhiannon Petersen continues her investigation into the demise of Jerry Hatrick, a crotchety old shit bag of a man, AKA her drag persona. Investigating power and identity in an age of progress, The Jellyman promises to be a strange and spoofy political work filled to the brim with rich visuals and with a genre-melding-mash of drag, puppetry, and performance art.”

Political Badassery with Van Badham
“The badass theme of Winter Nights 2019 is grounded in the presence of nationally renowned playwright, activist, political provocateur and cultural critic, Van Badham. We’ve seen her on Q&A and heard from her weekly column in The Guardian, now we can catch her on-stage in a facilitated discussion on theatre and politics, as she attends the Winter Nights festival to school local artists in theatre as a political event.”

Punch Up Club
“A satirical cabaret that sees Perth’s best improvisers (the gang that brought us Frankie’s) tackle the world’s current events with just 24 hours to prepare. With big characters, astute perspectives and quirky tales, you can’t get more up-to-speed than this.”

 

 

 

 

For Now
“Isaac Diamond, an emerging artist to watch for his sound design and performing prowess, takes on playwriting in his latest venture, For Now. Drawing inspiration from Mad Max to 1984 and local hit Lé Nør, this play crash lands into Mars’ desolation, interrogating opposing ideologies and the inherently human condition in an un-human environment.”

 

 

Winter Nights runs July 23 – August 3.

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Celebrating diversity

Dr Louise Devenish’s career as a percussionist has taken her around the world collaborating with a huge range of musicians and artists. Her wide-reaching approach to music making underpins the Gender Diversity in Music and Arts Conference which Devenish is convening next week at the UWA Conservatorium of Music. Seesaw mag caught up with Devenish to find out what gender diversity looks like.

Seesaw: The Gender Diversity in Music and Arts is the third in a series of national conferences focused on gender in the arts, building on the momentum generated from conferences at ANU (2017) and Monash (2018). What inspired you to host the conference in WA?

Louise Devenish: I am inspired by the strength and advocacy shown by Australian artists and academics on this issue, particularly Cat Hope, Vanessa Tomlinson, Claire Edwardes and Liza Lim.  I have seen the effects of their advocacy appearing in programming, education and in general visibility in certain areas of the arts. By hosting the conference in Perth, I hoped to add more voices to the discussion and create an opportunity for people to get together to talk about gender diversity, and to broaden the discussion to include organisation and individuals across a range of genres and approaches to music and art.

S: As a woman in the performing arts industry you’ve been intentional about commissioning and collaborating with women creatives, both as a solo artist and in your ensembles Decibel and Speak Percussion and Intercurrent. Now you are championing the topic at an academic level – is grassroots activism not enough?

LD: I think there is always more to be done in terms of championing equality, and that efforts across industry, academia, community are all equally important. Particularly in the context of how artists make work today – a large number of us epitomise the portfolio career and are therefore active in a range of spaces. At UWA, one of my roles is Diversity Chair within the Conservatorium, and even in the few years since I started here I have seen change in this space. This conference is a great opportunity to invite students, staff and peers to continue focused discussion around the issue, and to expand our efforts.

Artist in Residence Shoeb Ahmad. Photo supplied.

S: In the past few years there has been a renewed concern about the lack of visibility for women and people of diverse gender in the music industry. What difference does a conference like this one make?

LD: Like the 2018 event, GDIMA 2019 is designed to be a very open platform. Although it’s called a conference, it is not just about the presentation of research in the field of gender studies, but also in providing a platform for gender diverse artists to share work – in short an opportunity to increase visibility. I am thrilled that there are a range of performances and creative work being presented, from emerging through to established artists, well known and relatively unknown.

S: You have invited an impressive range of guest speakers and artists including Jennifer Walshe (Ireland), Robyn Schulkowsky (U.S.), Shoeb Ahmad, Sandy O’Sullivan, Nicole Monk and Vanessa Tomlinson. What do you hope they will bring to the discussion?

LD: All of these artists are total inspirations – both artistically, but also in their ability to talk about their work and about important topics related to it. With support from range of partners including the UWA School of Design, Institute of Advanced Studies and Tura New Music, we’ve been able to draw together a range of keynotes and artists in residence working in different artistic fields, at different stages of their career, and active in different cities to share their experience.

S: The #metoo movement has been a helpful catalyst in many arenas; has it brought more awareness to gender disparity in the arts?

LD: I think it has – and in fact one of the papers presented at the conference – ‘Teaching Women in Music in the #MeToo Era’ – will focus on exactly that. Come along!

S: Larger arts organisations seem to struggle to move beyond a male-dominated canon of art. However the small-to-medium organisations have been addressing gender diversity in their programming and commissioning for awhile now. Are there examples of what is working to redress the balance?

LD: The opening plenary session is aimed at this – we have invited representatives from small-to-medium and MPAs including WASO, Wa Opera, Pica, Tura and WA Music to speak about what each organisation is doing in this space. 10am, 17 July!

American percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky will be performing the Australian premiere of Armadillo. Photo by wowe.

S: The conference also includes three unique concerts with free access for the public. What can audiences expect?

All three are going to be fantastic. Armadillo will feature Robyn Shulkowksy’s work of the same name, performed by three generations of percussive women.  Shoeb Ahmad has drawn together an ensemble to perform their work in what promises to be a really fascinating lecture-recital. Decibel 10 and 10 is part of the ensembles 10 year anniversary celebrations, and features works by women composers from WA including a world premiere by Kate Milligan.

S: Can you see a future where we will no longer need conferences promoting gender diversity in the arts?

Not yet….but I am optimistic! The response to this conference has been overwhelming already – there is a clear interest in discussing and working on gender diversity at present. I hope that another Australian city will host this event in 2020 to continue the discussions…Brisbane, Adelaide or Sydney perhaps!

The Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference runs July 16-19 at the UWA Conservatorium of Music. 
Concert 1 Armadillo is July 16.
Concert 2 Decibel 10 at 10 is July 18.

 

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Ben Burgess takes WAYO to infinity and beyond

From budding violin player to executive director, Ben Burgess has had a long association with the West Australian Youth Orchestra. Burgess chatted to Rosalind Appleby about a new commission and other innovations that are providing WAYO’s 400 young musicians with opportunities to reach for the stars.

Ben Burgess, executive director WAYO. Photo supplied

Seesaw: You’ve dedicated 14 years of your working life to this organisation. What is the appeal of working with the Western Australian Youth Orchestra?

Ben Burgess: The main appeal is giving young people fantastic performance opportunities and seeing young people grow and improve through all our groups, over many years.  We also have many individuals and organisations that support what we do which is always encouraging. Because it is a small team at WAYO you can really see the results of your hard work be it in concerts, sponsorship or funding.

S: WAYO has been around since 1974. Has the role of the organisation changed much over the years to attract new generations of audiences and musicians?

BB: WAYO’s core values have never changed but we have been able to introduce new programs such as the International Conductor Season and collaborations that add a new element to being in a youth orchestra program. We also invest time and resources in creating and promoting programs and concert that interest the concert-going public as well as our members.

S: Recently I’ve noticed a new focus on Australian composers, particularly women, with the commissioning of Melody Eotvos and the performance of a piece by Dulcie Holland this year. What has prompted this?

BB: WAYO’s last four commissions have been from Australian female composers which we have premiered on main stage concerts plus a work we toured internationally, and all our groups regularly perform Australian music. Recently and justifiably there has been some focus on bringing gender equality into programming but it’s something WAYO and the small-to-medium sector have been doing for many years, but possibly not everyone has realised.

Melody Eotvos’ Solar Wolvz will be premiered by WAYO on July 13. Photo supplied.

S: On July 13 WAYO’s flagship ensemble will perform Eotvos’ Solar Wolvz. Can you give us any clues as to what the piece is about?

Solar Wolvz is based on a very peculiar chain of ideas, all related to meteors, comets and any unpredictable objects in space. Inspired by the ghostly Spider Crater in the Kimberley region, the icy Oort Cloud that surrounds our solar system, and Ouamama (the only known interstellar object that has passed through our solar system), Solar Wolvz is a musical journey through time and space filled with brilliant orchestral colour.

S: The concert will be conducted by Benjamin Northey, Chief Conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and Associate Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Why is it important to secure high profile conductors like Benjamin Northey to work with the orchestra?

BB: Many years ago, the idea of getting an international conductor straight off the professional circuit to spend a week with WAYO was a pipe dream. Now we have had 13 years of having conductors from all over the world come to Perth for a week. This program has meant the orchestra spend an intense week like a professional orchestra does instead of rehearsing once a week over a few months. It provides WAYO members with a glimpse of the professional world but in a supportive and exciting environment. One of the really nice things of the program is the enthusiasm the conductors themselves show in embracing the orchestra and working together for a week.

S: I still remember the thrilling feeling the first time I played in an orchestra. Did you participate in WAYO when you were studying oboe? What was it like? Was it a good stepping stone to a career in music?

BB: I was lucky enough to do WAYO both as a young violinist and later as an oboe player and spent upwards of 10 years as a member. It was a terrific experience musically and socially and it was a big and vital help when I later performed professionally in orchestras around Australia, and even later when I transitioned to arts management.

S: What is your favourite orchestral work?

BB: Anything by Richard Strauss, so likely Don Juan.

S: Under your directorship WAYO has experienced significant growth in audience and sponsorship partnerships, as well as international tours. What is your secret to success?

BB: WAYO has a lot of great people and organisations that believe in what we do and contribute in all sorts of ways. We honour the long tradition and history of what WAYO has done, but also look to continually improve it and be ambitious with new things that a youth orchestra typically isn’t known for. For example our collaborations with Orchestra of the Makers (Singapore), the Perth Festival and delivering special events for our major sponsors.

S: Where is the organisation heading next?

BB: In addition to our standard big concert seasons and our world famous Babies Proms, we are looking at more unique events and  collaborations within the Western Australian community and an international tour in a few years.

Benjamin Northey will conduct WAYO for the premiere of Solar Wolvz on July 13.

Pictured top: the West Australian Youth Orchestra performing with conductor Peter Moore. Photo: Andrew J Clarke Photography.

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Kids Winter Gig Guide

“Bring your rain poncho and wear noisy shoes,” the instructions read. Now that sounds like an intriguing art installation.

Contemporary artist Marnie Orr is running school holiday workshops at the Art Gallery of WA and they are all about rain. From July 10-19 children will use their bodies and found materials to brew up a storm in an immersive exploration of rain. The AGWA workshop is one of many art activities for children launching as Perth’s creative community gears up for school holidays.

The State Theatre Centre  is brimming with events. On July 13 the building will come alive with Aboriginal art, poetry, films and culture to celebrate Naidoc Day.  And between July 6-14 the theatre will be overrun with robots as Barking Gecko take over the building. A season of Finegan Kruckmeyer’s show My Robot  (read Seesaw’s review here) will be complemented by some very cool free classes. Kids can flex their engineering and design skills by building a Lego robot, then fight it out in the Battle Arena with other young programmers. In the Super Heroes Workshops kids and adults work together using drama and creative thinking to solve problems.

Robots battle it out at Barking Gecko’s Robot Workshop

From August 13  – 16  the State Theatre will present a production of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts.  Roald Dahl’s classic reworking of The Three Little PigsCinderellaLittle Red Riding HoodSnow WhiteGoldilocks and Jack and the Beanstalk  is being brought to the stage by Shake and Stir Theatre.

There is an enormous range of art classes at Fremantle Arts Centre for children and teenagers: photography, cartoons, pottery, anime and mosaic to list just a few. And you can check out the work of 2018’s Year 12 students in Pulse Perspectives, (reviewed by Seesaw here) in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of WA.

Don’t forget to include some musical magic in your school holiday fun. The WA Youth Jazz Orchestra will present Jazz for Juniors at His Majesty’s Theatre July 9 & 10. These fun-filled concerts introduce young children to the concepts of jazz music and the instruments the musicians play. Best of all, everyone gets the chance to try out some instruments built for small hands.

Be inspired by some of WA’s best young musicians as the WA Youth Orchestra and conductor Benjamin Northey perform a concert of Australian and Russian music, including the world premiere of a piece by Australian composer Melody Eötvös. Tickets don’t come much cheaper than this for a full symphonic concert and you can be guaranteed a passionate performance.

At UWA’s Conservatorium of Music kids can leap into the world of percussion at the Discover! Percussion workshop at UWA on July 10, or a saxophone bootcamp with Emma McPhilemy on the 12-13th.

A fusion of dance and puppetry in Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s Fox. Photo supplied.

And of course Spare Parts Puppet Theatre will perform puppet shows in Fremantle throughout the holidays. Their show this time is the story of the unexpected friendship between a magpie and a dog. Fox is a fusion of puppetry and dance that will take you on a journey through scorched scrub and ochre desert where the true meaning of friendship and loyalty will be discovered.

WA’s performing and visual arts companies are reaching out this winter to engage young people with the arts. There’s no better time to dive in!

Pictured top: A real robot is part of the cast in Barking Gecko’s My Robot. Photo supplied.

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The sound of the symphony

Whether you’re curious, fearful or an expert on classical music, Asher Fisch has the perfect concert for you. The principal conductor of the WA Symphony Orchestra chats to editor Rosalind Appleby about bringing the drama back to the symphony.

There is something contagious about Asher Fisch’s enthusiasm, the way his eyes crinkle with a smile and his arms wave in the air as he talks.

The Israeli maestro is discussing the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s new Discovery Concert series which kicks off this weekend with “The Classical Symphony”. Fisch’s vast knowledge and love for the symphony will be on display as he takes the audience on a journey through the classical era discovering how it has paved the way for the symphonic music of today.

“I’m not trying to educate, I’m trying to illuminate,” Fisch explains when we meet backstage at the Perth Concert Hall. “Trying to give the audience a special, good kind of experience. It is a concert still.”

Since the Israeli maestro joined WASO as principal conductor in 2014, his musical authority and charisma have cemented a significant relationship not just with the orchestra but with audiences too. Fisch, one of the top conductors on the international circuit, has made a particular effort to connect with the audience from the podium, an uncommon habit in Europe but one that is building him a loyal following in WA.

“I notice when I speak to the audience – Australian audiences are much happier to be spoken to than European audiences – they like the fact that the conductor turns around and speaks to them in normal day-to-day language. They like it and they react to jokes very well.”

Asher Fisch working with the WA Symphony Orchestra. Photo supplied.

Fisch honed his speaking skills during four years of conscription in the Israeli Army where he worked as a radio journalist. He brought those skills to the concert hall in 2017 with WASO’s  “Wagner and Beyond” series where his teaching from the podium was a huge success with both the live audience and those who heard it via the ABC radio broadcast. This time Fisch will tackle the music of the great symphonic composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Illuminating the drama

“What I want people to understand is that they are hearing a tale, and a drama. The drama is not between characters but it is between scenes, and harmonic changes. If you are really into it you can go and hear a Mozart symphony and enjoy it as much as you enjoy a Mozart opera, minus the characters. Just try to find drama and a story. So you’re not just sitting there to be entertained, try to follow the symphony as if it were a tale and a drama.”

Fisch will use a string quartet and early symphony from Haydn to demonstrate the origins of the symphony, followed by some Mozart – but with a twist.

“I will experiment by playing the ‘Paris’ Symphony No 31 with Mozart’s ‘dream orchestra’. There is a letter he writes about his dream orchestra and he imagines 40 violins. The Australian Chamber Orchestra play with six violins and say that is the authentic way (which it was), but that was not Mozart’s dream; he wanted 40 violins. So we will play a movement of the ‘Paris’ with a fuller section to hear how it sounds.”

The second half of the concert will be dedicated to a full performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, which Fisch says is the perfect prototype of the classical symphony.

The Discovery series will continue with a second concert in November, the “Art of Orchestration”, where Fisch will demonstrate how composers transformed works for piano into orchestral masterpieces. The program will include a Bach Toccata performed on organ followed by Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement for orchestra, made famous in the Disney film Fantasia. Siobhan Stagg will sing some Strauss songs with Fisch at piano, followed by an arrangement for orchestra. Rounding out the program will be Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which Fisch describes as ‘the best orchestration of all time’.

“The beauty of these concerts are they are for anybody from your young musician son or daughter, through to audiences who are interested but didn’t dare yet, or weren’t sure because they didn’t know what was going on, to very established audience members who want something different. These are the two concerts in the season that are open to everybody.”

A concert facelift

Fisch’s vision isn’t just about audience education. With classical music audience numbers dwindling worldwide he says it’s time to do something different.

“I’m concerned about the structure of the regular concert program; the overture, concerto, symphony. You have to vary, do something a little different. This is my attempt to break from the mould. We cannot have an overture, concerto, symphony in every concert.”

“In Germany there is a big chunk of the population who really like to go to concerts. But even there audiences are dwindling. Not in opera but in symphonic concerts. We are constantly fighting. In theatre you get a new production, you don’t get the same thing. In Europe audiences go to see the same opera again and again to see different singers, and a new production. But we have nothing parallel in the symphonic world to offer them. What they hear at home on their CD’s and what they hear in the concert is exactly the same. So you have to try and enrich this with something different.”

The sound of the symphony. Asher Fisch and WASO. Photo supplied.

Expanding the mould been a consistent message during Fisch’s tenure with the orchestra, which last year was extended until 2023. Fisch’s programs have included a Beethoven Festival (the complete symphonies across two weekends in 2014), a Brahms Festival (across two weekends in 2015) and opera in concert (the much-lauded Tristan und Isolde in 2018). Next year he will conduct a family concert. This democratic, broad-sweep approach to sharing classical music is what has endeared him to audiences. And he can trace it back to his first exposure to the classical repertoire, as a child in Israel.

“My parents took me to the Israel Philharmonic every time they came. We sat very close in the 3rd row. I was always fascinated by the conductor because I was sitting right behind him and watching what he was doing. But for me it was the sound. I was playing the recorder and then piano and a bit of mandolin, but the symphonic sound…just the sound…”

For a moment he is lost for words. How does one articulate the glory of a full orchestral sound?

“That’s why I am a sound conductor, rather than rhythmic or shaping or phrasing” he concludes. “For me it’s all about the sound.”

Asher Fisch presents Discovery Concert: The Classical Symphony on June 28 & 29.

Pictured Top: Asher Fisch conducts the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

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Back to back

Thanks to funding constraints, it’s rare to see a body of work by one independent choreographer, and even rarer to see independent works remounted. In the next two weeks, however, Perth audiences will  be have the chance to experience both. A remount of Rachel Arianne Ogle’s 2014 work precipice, will be closely followed by a season of its 2019 sequel, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. Nina Levy sat down with Ogle to learn more.

Rachel Arianne Ogle. Photo: Pedro Greig.

Nina Levy: precipice was your first full length work… how did the concept for this work come into being?
Rachel Arianne Ogle: precipice began as an exploration of various physical states in opposition. In my own movement practice I have always explored a physicality of being off balance – generating and riding momentum, falling and surrendering weight to gravity – to take risk and play more in the extremes of the unknown. This physicality informed my creative interests for this work. As I explored a series of physical provocations through movement, the larger concepts of the work began to reveal themselves to me. I have always been fascinated with space and the universe, and as the movement ideas developed it became apparent these concepts were all very much alive in the work. From there the work began to guide me, and tell me what it was about.

NL: And talk me through the creative process of making that work…
RAO: When I began to create precipice, I had no ambition to be a choreographer. But I had arrived at a point in my artistic life where I had some ideas that I was curious to play with and, for the first time, I felt like I was ready to do that with some bodies in space that weren’t my own. It was really the first time that I had stepped out from being on the inside, in an attempt to explore something, which shifted my focus considerably.

I would often start with a simple image, and then allow that image to invite my imagination and intuition to guide me, while offering the perspective of being the outside eye to what was unfolding. It was only at the end of the first stage development, that I realised I was making a show. From there, it continued to grow for two and half years before we arrived at the premiere season in 2014.

Tyrone Robinson and Storm Helmore in Rachel Arianne Ogle’s ‘Precipice’ (2014). Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis.

NL: It’s not often that independent works get a second outing. What’s it been like remounting the work?
RAO: It is an incredible privilege, so rarely afforded to an independent artist, to be able to revisit work in repertoire. It is invaluable to have the opportunity to reflect on where I have come from, and to consider the work in the context of, and relevance to, my creative present. I see my history, my lineage, and my influences in this work – but I also see a moment in time when I was beginning to unearth and trust my own creative voice, and my crafting of ideas.

The opportunity to be back working with the dancers, and to see how far they have come in the five years since we premiered… their own maturing as artists and performers brings a whole new depth to the work. At the same time, new cast members hold me accountable to justifying the work and the decisions I have made within it, as we transmit the information to new bodies. It has been a very short and intense remount period, but an incredibly joyful and rewarding one.

NL: Your design team for the two works (Luke Smiles – sound composition and Benjamin Cisterne – visual design) is a dream team. How did you come to work with these two creatives?
RAO:Ben, Luke and I all worked together with Melbourne dance company, Phillip Adams’ BalletLab, so we had been friends for many years. Luke is also a dancer, and he and I performed together in one of Phillip’s shows for which Ben was lighting designer, which we all toured to the US in 2007. Alongside his career as a dancer, Luke always had his parallel career as a composer/sound designer, through which he has a long history of collaborating with Ben. I had always thought that if I ever created work, I would love to have them both as the design team. To be honest, I think I just got lucky that when that time came, they both said yes.

Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado, Storm Helmore and Niharika Senapati in the 2014 debut of ‘precipice’.

NL: Did you always envisage a sequel to precipice? How did the idea for i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night  have come about?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night began from a design concept that has a momentary presence in precipice. During the production week in the theatre for precipice in 2014, my design collaborators – Ben and Luke – and myself, began to discuss the potential for that design element to have a show of its own. So it started from there, and the work became a response to the design. Because the design element was born from precipice, it always felt very connected to that work. And conceptually the work continues the themes of where precipice arrives at its end, but also takes it in a different direction… like going down a different worm hole. It very much feels like an offer of what comes next, or like “the other side” of precipice – therein being its sequel.

NL: What made you decide to make a solo work this time?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night was always going to be a work for a solo performer, I think, largely due to the design concept we were working with and what felt appropriate for that. It never felt like a question that the performer would be me. This work is incredibly personal to me so I felt like somehow I didn’t have a choice in it… the work had already demanded that it come directly through me to the audience.

NL: And talk me through that creative process…
RAO: We watched a lot of science fiction films! And had many nerd discussions about space stuff… like black holes, the warping and manipulation of time and space, death, and what lies beyond. These filmic references unconsciously and inevitably fed into the work. During the first development we kept finding ourselves sitting for long periods of time just watching the lights and sound interact with the installation. We eventually realised that this hypnotic state that we were being drawn into was the experience we wanted for the audience. Once we made that decision it was about shaping and refining the elements to create that experience, and exploring the relationship of the body to that environment. Placing the body inside of the installation added the human element and completely shifted the perspective. The interaction of the body with the moving lights in front of the installation, created a visual illusion, distorting the perception of the reality the viewer is seeing. It was quite a magical discovery, and for me that sense of warping reality is really the essence of the work.

Choreographically, I originally started developing some improvisation scores, exploring different qualities and textures, and states of transition. However the more we explored the dialogue of the body with the installation, the more we realised that I needed to do less. So it became a process of stripping back. The choreography became quite distilled, but very rigorous in terms of the tension and focus in the body.

We further developed the work during a residency at EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre) in New York in 2017. We continued to develop these ideas by integrating a live feed of radio communications from different airports around the world, which directly manipulates the lights and the sound. Ben and Luke then respond to this stimulus in real-time, shaping the already moving lights and sound into an improvised score and structure. So they are live onstage with me creating the design in real-time, and the work is slightly different every performance as a result.

NL: What’s next after these back-to-back seasons?
RAO: I am currently developing a new work, which is my most ambitious to date in terms of scale and vision. I am planning a design development for this work later this year, and will undertake a larger development with the dancers early in 2020. I will also be creating a smaller site-specific work in Tasmania in August, and undertaking some international travel to participate in a 3 month intensive improvisation project in Brussels later in the year. I’m dreaming up lots of new projects at the moment… so stay tuned!

precipice plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, May 29 – June 1.

i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night plays PICA, June 5-8.

Pictured top is Rachel Arianne Ogle in ‘I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night’. Photo: Mick Bello.

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WA Day celebration

Alessandro Pittorino has been exploring the organ since he was a child, literally inside and out. The West Australian organist has recently returned from New York’s Juilliard School and will be performing at Government House Ballroom’s WA Day Gala Concert. Pittorino’s charismatic performing style will be on display alongside tenor Paul O’Neill, soprano Naomi Johns and drag queen Cougar Morrison in a celebration of Western Australia’s diversity, humour and culture.

Editor Rosalind Appleby caught up with the 25 year old organ sensation to find out more about his fascination with the instrument.

Rosalind Appleby: What first inspired you to play the organ?

Alessandro Pittorino: When I was around 5 years old, I saw someone playing quite a large pipe organ in Fremantle and I was completely fixated on it. My mum use to like to go into the church on a Sunday afternoon for quiet and peaceful reflection, away from the crowds. Around the same time the movie Harry Potter had just been released. With the organist seated on ground level, but the sound coming from all around the building, and so many different sounds – I honestly thought it was magic. I had found my Hogwarts letter! I was then granted access to this instrument and continued to explore it by myself – the ultimate musical instrument for any child who loves to explore!

RA: The pipe organ has evolved since the 3rd century BC into one of the most complex man-made devices. Why do you think humanity has been so interested in music made from blowing wind through pipes?

AP: There’s a certain human element to this otherwise machine of an instrument. This idea of a living and breathing instrument, just like we as humans breathe, gives the organ this humanizing element. But it immediately transcends that as the organ works with the infinite – as long as you hold the note, only then will it continue to sound. It is interesting to add that the organ I be will playing is called the ‘Infinity’. The sheer amount of musical possibilities that can be achieved with facility has fascinated and continues to fascinate musicians, builders, and audiences alike. Although the organ looks like a beast of an instrument, it is actually incredibly intimate and is capable of producing many different types of sounds, depending on what the score may require. Whether it is J. S. Bach’s monumental Passacaglia in C minor or John Williams’ iconic Star Wars suite, the organ, at its best, gives its player the ability to express themselves with the amount of power and flexibility usually only afforded to an orchestra. There is something special about doing that and witnessing it.

RA: Pipe organ repertoire spans over 500 years. What is your favourite period of organ music?

AP: That would be like trying to choose your favourite child. I love listening and performing all sorts of different music for all sorts of different reasons. There is no one size that fits all. The beauty about the arts is that it has power to be a true reflection of who we are and rarely will that ever be a black and white image. Our world is filled with so much colour and there are as many emotions as there are colours in the world. There exists all sorts of music to convey and express that, and that’s why I can’t choose just one.


RA: Where do you hail from originally (you have a rather exotic name!)?

AP: I was born and raised right here in Perth! I attended East Fremantle Primary School, then both Christian Brothers College Fremantle and Trinity College East Perth! I have both Italian and Greek heritage, but I am a proud Australian.

RA: You’ve studied at the University of WA and have recently returned from three years at The Juilliard School. Where do you hope to take your career now?

AP: I am so incredibly blessed to be living and working as a performing artist. My work takes me all over the world, and affords me the opportunity to work with so many different people, both in the performing arts and outside.

RA: What do you love most about what you do?

AP: I love being able to share what I do with people – and I love meeting and being around people as a result. Like with any career, being a musician is a full time job requiring precise training, development and performance on an almost daily basis.

RA: You bring a lot of flair to your performances. What do you hope people will experience at the WA Day concert?

AP: I hope my audience is able to relax and have some fun! This is meant to be a celebration of who we are as West Australians! I think we deserve to be a little more proud of our not-so-little state and celebrate the amazing people we have here. If we support one another, and celebrate the best of who we are, there is no reason why Perth and WA cannot be the best in the world. In so many ways, it already is.

RA: Anything else we should know about the WA Day Gala?

This is the first major performance featuring an organ in the Government House Ballroom, and I’m so grateful to be sponsored by Principal Organs of Roland Australia who is providing a brand new Rodgers Digital organ direct from America. Perth audiences haven’t had the chance to experience an instrument like this before as this type of instrument just doesn’t exist here. Although it is not a pipe organ, it is a digital replication of what it would be like to have the real thing in the Ballroom. It comes pretty close! I’m also proud to say it is the first time a drag queen has featured at the Government House Ballroom. Cougar Morrison is a stunning performer; we both studied and worked in NYC, albeit at different times. She brings an international performance extravaganza with a local feel and flavor to the show. I’m so excited to be working with her! This will be one of the most diverse concerts on the calendar so far – and of all the many performances that I do, this is the one that I’m most excited about!

The WA Day Gala Concert is at the Government House Ballroom on June 2.

Picture top: Alessandro Pittorino

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Katherine Gurr and Ian Wilkes rehearsing The Line
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts

Telling a tough West Australian tale

Co3 Australia’s new work The Line investigates a darker side of Western Australia’s past and its impact on the present, discovers Nina Levy.

Say the word “apartheid” and most people will think of the regime of racial segregation implemented by the South African government from 1948 until the early 1990s.

Mark Howett and Raewyn Hill in rehearsal. Photo: Daniel Carson | dcimges.org

But legislated racial discrimination is a part of Australian history too and it’s this story that WA’s state contemporary dance company Co3 Australia is telling in its new work The Line, co created by Co3 Artistic Director and choreographer Raewyn Hill and Co3 Associate Artist Mark Howett, a Noongar man and a director and designer for theatre, dance, opera and film.

The title The Line refers to a law, passed in 1927, that prohibited Aboriginal people from coming within the boundary lines of the City of Perth – an area of about five square kilometres – after 6.00pm, unless they could prove that they were in “lawful employment”. The land inside the boundaries was referred to as the Prohibited Area, and only those Aboriginal people with a special “native pass” were allowed to pass through it after the 6pm curfew.

In spite of the fact that the legislation remained in place for over 20 years, this piece of West Australian history isn’t well-known today and that’s one of the reasons that Hill and Howett have chosen it as the starting point for Co3 Australia’s latest work. It’s also relevant to the company’s mission, says Hill. “Part of Co3’s artistic vision is to situate the artistic program within our people, our culture, our community, our land, our Country, our experiences, our history,” she elaborates. “Every work developed in Co3’s repertoire will have some reference to WA.”

Andrew Searle and Ian Wilkes rehearsing ‘The Line’. Photo: Daniel Carson | dcimges.org

This isn’t the first time that Hill and Howett have worked together. As artistic director of WA’s Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, Howett convinced Hill to come out of performance retirement to dance in his physical theatre work Good Little Soldier in 2017. The pair knew they wanted to collaborate again, so when Hill started looking for WA stories, Howett was an obvious person to approach.

“We started talking about Roe St and the possibility of making a piece that related to something near the State Theatre Centre of WA (where The Line will be performed),” recalls Howett. “I said, ‘You know that we’re really in the heart of the Prohibited Area, in the theatre.’” Hill then gave Howett Stephen Kinnane’s Shadow Lines to read, a book that tells the story of Kinnane’s grandparents, an Aboriginal woman and an Englishman, and the challenges they faced, as a result of their different racial backgrounds, in early to mid-twentieth century WA. Shadow Lines details many of the hardships and cruelties faced by Aboriginal people at the hands of the Government, including the Prohibited Area.

“The conversation really took off from there,” says Howett. “We thought that there was something in [that book] that was pretty remarkable, in a way… and in the lack of [awareness amongst] most West Australians about the Prohibited Area, and its impact on the Noongar community, and Aboriginal community in general.”

Talking to Noongar elders Lynette Narkle, Richard Walley, Darryl Kickett and Anna Haebich has played a big role in shaping The Line, says Hill. “I remember saying to Mark – not so long ago – that I was worried, because I couldn’t find the core [of the story]. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, the elders will bring the story.’ And they did. We always knew [the story] was around the concept of the Prohibited Area: separation, segregation, confinement … but … speaking with the Elders I felt they brought the story of recognition, reconciliation, empathy, compassion, healing.”

And though the story is (loosely) set in Perth of the 1930s, the focus is very much on the present, says Hill. “Talking to people, [we’ve found that many] didn’t even realise that [the Prohibited Area] existed. We’ve sort of uncovered something about our past and then we’ve made a narrative about that, but we talk about the impact on how we are currently, rather than saying here’s a story about [our past].

“So instead of saying, ‘Here’s a story about the Prohibited Area,’ we’re saying, ‘What did that [legislation] do to us as a community, as people? How did that shape our current situation?’”

It’s important to Hill and Howett, too, that audiences understand that while the Prohibited Area may be a thing of the past, discrimination continues today, in other guises.

“I find the parallels [between Australian society of the past and the present] remarkable,” says Howett. “The 2003 Curfew Act – which was another welfare policy by the State Government to take unaccompanied minors off the street and had a big impact on the Aboriginal community – was really, in a way, no different to the policy of the Prohibited Area and having to have a native pass. The parallels keep coming. Like, for example, most of the Aboriginal people who were taken to Wadjemup (Rottnest), [when it was a prison for Aboriginal people during the 1800s and early 1900s] were arrested for larceny and petty crimes, and you only have to think of the young Noongar actor just sent to jail for unpaid fines… the echoes of that are really remarkable.”

Hill agrees. “It’s a story that’s alive and well, it’s more than current.”

It’s also, Hill acknowledges, “very difficult subject matter, it’s filled with trauma and it’s dark, and there’s a lot of pain.”

So how to present that on stage?

“The way we’ve been dealing with it on a narrative level is we’ve been using slapstick when it gets really heavy, drawing from silent movies,” explains Howett.

“We’ve been looking at Charlie Chaplin, silent movies, looking at the irony of his storytelling and how he could address darkness with no voice and just through mime,” continues Hill. “That’s been a real inspiration.

“It’s not about dumbing it down or cheapening it, but we’ve been able to talk about some really dark things through humour. So in fact we’ve probably gone even a bit darker… but it doesn’t necessarily feel like that. You are left laughing and laughter is something that brings us together, as a community. It’s a common language.

“Mark is extraordinary at telling a story. That’s what brings us together as makers. What I’m intrigued about, as a maker, is finding different ways of telling that story where you mute the voice, or the voice sits outside of the physical body. So we’ve been playing with that, and that’s enabled a whole new movement language.”

Ian Wilkes and Andrew Searle rehearsing ‘The Line’. Photo: Daniel Carson | dcimges.org

Talking to Hill and Howett, it’s apparent that they approach the process of making the work from opposite perspectives, but rather than clashing, they complement one another.

“Mark has a phenomenal ability to direct, to find narrative, to tell stories and I don’t think I do!” Hill laughs before continuing, “The combination of Mark’s direction, with my movement imagery and language… we feel like these sit quite beautifully together.”

For Howett, Hill’s dance knowledge is a gift. “It’s great for me, as a maker, to have someone who understands the mechanics of the body much more [than I do],” he muses. “I can often see something that’s not working [for the dancers], but don’t really know how to fix it mechanically. Raewyn will really easily resolve it. She does a little dance horse-whispering.”

The Line plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, May 15-19.

Pictured top are dancers Katherine Gurr and Ian Wilkes rehearsing ‘The Line’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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2018 PAWA Award winners holding their certificates
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, Theatre

And the winners are…

The 2018 Performing Arts WA (PAWA) Awards were held Monday 28 April, at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia. Presented annually, these WA-based industry awards have traditionally celebrated outstanding achievement in theatre. In 2018, however, the PAWA Awards were expanded to include a selection of prizes for dance, making for a record number of awards presented on the night. The excitement, too, was heightened, as representatives from both art-forms came together to recognise the achievements of artists and companies across the two disciplines.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Performing Arts WA Awards:

DANCE AWARDS

Best Production presented by Bendigo Bank North Perth: Dust on the Shortbread – Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre

Best Performer (Female) Ella-Rose Trew.

Best New Work presented by Bendigo Bank North Perth: Krzysztof Pastor – Dracula, West Australian Ballet

Best Newcomer presented by MEAA: Luci Young – Frank Enstein, Co3 Australia

Oscar Valdes and partner
Best Performer (Male): Oscar Valdés with Sophia Raine.

Best Performer (Male): Oscar Valdés – La Sylphide, West Australian Ballet

Best Performer (Female): Ella-Rose Trew – WA Dance Makers Project, Co3 Australia

Best Director or Choreographer: Grayson Millwood and Gavin Webber – Frank Enstein, made by The Farm in collaboration with Co3 Australia

 

THEATRE AWARDS

Julia Hales holding two awards
Winner of the award for Best New Work, ‘You Know We Belong Together’ writer and performer Julia Hales.

Best Mainstage Production presented by Hawaiian: You Know We Belong Together – A Black Swan, Perth Festival and DADAA Co-Production

Director of ‘Frankie’s’ (Best Independent Production) Libby Klysz.

Best Independent Production presented by Bendigo Bank North Perth: Frankie’s – The Blue Room Theatre and Variegated Productions

Best New Work presented by Bendigo Bank North Perth: Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagain and Clare Watson – You Know We Belong Together, A Black Swan, Perth Festival and DADAA Co-Production

Best Newcomer presented by MEAA: Mackenzie Dunn – Assassins & Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor (Male): Will O’Mahony – Assassins, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor (Female): Morgan Owen – Court My Crotch, The Blue Room Theatre & FUGUE

Best Actor in a Mainstage Production (Female), Amy Mathews.

Best Actor in a Mainstage Production (Male) presented by Artist Management Australia: Kelton Pell – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Actor in a Mainstage Production (Female) presented by Moore Creative Artists: Amy Mathews – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

St John Cowcher
Best Actor in an Independent Production (Male): St John Cowcher.

Best Actor in an Independent Production (Male) presented by Media Super: St John Cowcher – Frankie’s, The Blue Room Theatre and Variegated Productions

Best Actor in an Independent Production (Female) presented by Media Super: Frieda Lee – The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish, The Blue Room Theatre and Frieda, Sam and Friends

Best Director of a Mainstage Production: Adam Mitchell – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Scott McArdle holding his award
Scott McArdle, winner of the award for Best Director of an Independent Production.

Best Director of an Independent Production presented by Gage Roads: Scott McArdle – Josephine!, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and Second Chance Theatre

 

THEATRE & DANCE: PRODUCTION AWARDS

Best Sound Design: Eden Mulholland – In-Lore Act II as part of WA Dance Makers Project, Co3 Australia

Best Lighting Design: Joe Lui – Love/Less, Kynan Hughes & MoveMe Festival

Tyler Hill, winner of the award for Best Stage Design.

Best Stage Design: Tyler Hill – Hir, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Costume Design: Charles Cusick Smith – Dracula, West Australian Ballet

Michael Brett, winner of the award for Best Composition or Arranging.

Best Composition or Arranging: Michael Brett – Dracula, West Australian Ballet

To see the list of nominees, head to www.seesawmag.com.au/news/2018-performing-arts-wa-awards-nominations

Pictured top are the happy winners with the State Member for Perth, John Carey.

All photos: Rebecca Mansell.

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Features, Music, News, Performing arts

Hacking the piano

At Seesaw we enjoy publishing a range of voices. In this feature WA Academy of Performing Arts student Mae Anthony offers her insights as a Gen Z and a pianist in an interview with experimental pianist Zubin Kanga.

Have you ever wanted to control what a performer does on stage? International experimental pianist Zubin Kanga is taking the idea of improvising on a theme to a whole new level, inviting audiences to hack his piano recital by uploading ideas to a website. The piece is called WIKI-PIANO.NET and will be performed as part of his recital at Subiaco Arts Centre, the penultimate leg of his national tour.

PIANO EX MACHINA is the third in a series of unique programs (DARK TWIN (2015) and CYBORG PIANIST (2017)) containing pieces that merge elements of theatre, cinema, gaming, internet culture, and advanced technology. Nearly all of these pieces have risen from discussions and collaborations between the Australian/UK pianist and artists from around the world, resulting in funny, ironic and entertaining incarnations that offer insights into everyday life.

WIKI-PIANO.NET by German composer Alexander Schubert is arguably the most exciting piece on the programme in the way that it attempts to provoke a genuine human engagement between performer and audience members. Its praxis is the embodiment of the kind of work that Kanga is pioneering through performance: the interaction between art, specifically the piano, and technology.

Hacking the music

Over the phone Kanga described the process Schubert used to create WIKI-PIANO.NET.

“It is like a Wikipedia page that anyone in the public can go visit. The website is comprised of texts, sounds and audio, videos and images that are embedded by the public into the page, and that serves as the notation for the score. It is a piece that is always changing and dependent on the content that is posted.”

The multimedia content is shown to the audience and then the performer must act out, and respond to, what is being shown.

“It is always quite funny to perform because it’s got memes and things that people have done on the internet and can provoke me to react in surprising ways,” Kanga remarked, “There have been instances where I had to yell out lines from that really bad movie The Room or sing along to a pop song. A few weeks ago there was something in there about Will Smith in blue paint in that Aladdin trailer looking really ridiculous.”

Growing up in Sydney, Kanga pursued studies not just in music but also in philosophy and computer science. His music studies from this well-rounded education included the opportunities to explore musical projects with a vast amount of freedom. From as young as 22 he worked with Damien Ricketson and Ensemble Offspring. This opened up possibilities for him to work with experienced senior musicians in other projects.

Zubin Kanga is at the intersection of technology and piano. Photo Raphael Neal.

Collaboration is key

Kanga says that building these relationships between himself as the performer and the composer is so essential to the outcome. One of his significant collaborators is Sydney saxophonist Ben Carey who will be performing in PIANO EX MACHINA. Carey’s piece taking the auspices is inspired by the flocking of starlings and uses artificial intelligence and 3D scans of objects to merge audio and visual elements live on stage. Carey is a technologist but also a saxophone player which gives him insight into Kanga’s performance practice.

“Carey knows how to read my body language and respond in a very organic way, which I think is really important to the sound of the piece,” says Kanga. “Often when you’re working with all this technology there’s so much risk in terms of what could go wrong so it’s essential to have someone you trust.”

Australian Works

The program contains four other Australian works including a piece by monumental Australian composer and improviser Jon Rose, titled Ballast, a work comprising a whirlwind of sound using a 3D hand sensor. The use of new technologies in piano performance is where Kanga feels most at home, and it is also the essence of his research as a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the Royal Holloway, University of London.

“Working as a soloist with new technologies has become the big focus in my work. It’s what I love doing and the kind of work I like commissioning.”

Continuing the theme of new technologies, A Novel Instrument by Australian composer Kate Neal, in collaboration with stop-motion animator Sal Cooper, explores the kinship between cars and pianos. One movement from this large music-theatre work will be premiered in PIANO EX MACHINA. It combines music, images, film, electronics, and piano to create a mixture of musical counterpoint, visuals and movement.

Tristan Coelho’s work Rhythm City amalgamates looped urban film scenes with music. These visuals can be manipulated by the pianist using a midi keyboard and then is responded to at the piano.

International networks

The union of video and piano can also be seen in Adam de la Cour’s Transplant the Movie 2!, a piece that presents as a short film and is a comical take on low-fi action and spy movies from the 1980’s. This piece is the sequel to Transplant the Movie! by the same composer based on early 20th century horror movies.

Kanga resides in London for part of the year where he is able to immerse himself in the vibrant contemporary music culture in the U.K. He works closely with a number of British composers including de la Cour. Kanga says collaborative relationships of this kind create a space where he can merge other styles and interests, such as film, theatre, comedy, and movement on stage with music and work at the piano in particular.

“Hopefully a few of these pieces will be quite funny, as well, rather than being just intense and serious which I think a lot of contemporary music can be,” Kanga said.

Kanga has also contributed a composition to the program, a piece titled Transformations that manipulates sounds from the inside of a piano with those of an analogue synthesiser. It draws inspiration from the lives of his friends, family and colleagues who are experiencing changes to their internal, and in some cases external, bodies. It’s another aspect to Kanga’s adoptive process where his creative outcomes are grown from the seeds of input from others.

His unique methodology enables Kanga’s performances to both provoke and amuse audiences and PIANO EX-MACHINA promises to continue that proud tradition.

Zubin Kanga performs PIANO EX MACHINA at Subiaco Arts Centre on April 24. Be sure to visit http://wiki-piano.net leading up to the performance to add your own unique voice to the show.

Pictured top: Zubin Kanga. Photo by Raphael Neal.

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