“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.
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 Pigs, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Goldilocks 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 Centrefor 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 Juniorsat 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 Orchestraand 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.
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. Foxis 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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Nina Levy: precipice was your first full length work… how did theconcept 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.”
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.”
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 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:
Best Production presented by Bendigo Bank North Perth: Dust on the Shortbread– Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre
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
Best Performer (Male): Oscar Valdés – La Sylphide, West Australian Ballet
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.
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.”
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.
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.
What does it mean to be lonely in a world where we are never alone?
That’s a question local performance company Whiskey & Boots is asking audiences to contemplate in its latest work The Loneliest Number. Nina Levy chatted to the show’s creative team to learn more.
There’s no such thing as a person with one job in Whiskey & Boots. One half, Georgia King, is a performer and producer; the other half, Mark Storen, is a performer, director, writer and musician.
In keeping with this theme, Whiskey & Boots’ productions tend to cover multiple disciplines, evading easy definition. Their award-winning production, THE ONE, a play written and directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and produced and performed by King and Storen, is accompanied by song… but it’s not a musical. The most recent iteration of their Bystander project which sees King and Storen collecting real-life stories from people living in country towns and transforming these into a one-off verbatim theatre performance, brought together theatre, music and photography, and included an interactive installation.
So it’s no surprise that Whiskey & Boots’ latest work, The Loneliest Number, also weaves together three artistic disciplines into a single program… but this time the experience is immersive. Audiences are invited to bring a picnic into ART ON THE MOVE’s Fremantle gallery space, and listen to original and classic music played by Storen, and Holly and Tom Garvey, while taking in a photography exhibition (also by Holly Garvey), before the story-telling part of the evening begins (written by King and performed by King and Storen).
Though the various components of the work can be enjoyed separately, they are inextricably linked. “By using music, photography and storytelling/performance, you’ve kind of got three parts of the puzzle, and it’s up to you, as the audience, how you put them together,” explains Storen.
“Holly has taken the photos directly in response to the performance, so there’s a photo for each character in the performance, with a didactic [panel],” continues King. “So audiences can read the didactic [panel] and pick up the ‘clues’ about what’s going to be in the performance. And the original songs are also a reflection on, or a response to, the performance.
“The image tells a part of the story that the narrative doesn’t; the songs give you an insight that you haven’t already got from the text.”
“And it’s interesting to look at the conversations that happen between the three elements,” reflects Holly Garvey. “With the photography I’ve been trying to look at what hasn’t been told, at what we are saying if we layer that with Georgia’s text, and with the music performance.”
As the name of the work suggests, those three layers – music, photography and performance – are also linked by the concept of loneliness, an idea that came from King. “Loneliness is a state that is interesting to me,” she remarks. “I grew up as an only child, and I lived on a very large farm, so I was alone a lot growing up. I feel like I’m sensitive to lonely people and the sense of being lonely. It sounds like a cliché but we’re so connected now that I think people struggle being alone, more, perhaps, than they used to.
“I like the idea of pushing people to just ‘sit’ alone. I think we avoid that… I do, I’m totally guilty of it. We avoid just being with ourselves. I want to challenge people, to shake that up a bit, to feel that feeling of solitude.”
It’s a concept that it is very relatable – we all know how hard it is to resist the temptation to fill any spare time by picking up our smart-phones. As Storen remarks, “Loneliness is confronting. When the noise goes away, and you’re left with the quiet, that’s when it’s really confronting. So we fill it with white noise, strange noise.”
Confronting it may be, but the Whiskey & Boots team believe that there is something precious to be found in those quiet, ordinary moments. “It can be really beautiful to just sit by yourself,” points out Garvey. “And we’re celebrating that.”
When the company presented a showing of the work-in-progress last year, the feedback from the audience was telling. “People wanted more of the stillness,” remembers King. “Audiences are interested in details.” And people are curious, notes Garvey. “This show is like people-watching.”
“The show has got a voyeuristic feel,” agrees King. “The audience is getting a peek into this secret moment.”
With a focus on the creative and community-building possibilities of collaboration, and a strong commitment towards leaping into the unknown, project curator Andrew Nicholls gave Miranda Johnson some insights into the background of the project and what to expect when the installation is opened to the public at Revealed: WA Aboriginal Art Market, Saturday 13 April.
Miranda Johnson: How did the relationship between Polyglot, Tjanpi Desert Weavers and FORM originally come about? Andrew Nicholls: FORM has worked with Tjanpi on numerous exhibition projects over the past two decades we are huge admirers of their work in general, and well-aware of their artistic significance at a national level. Although we had not previously worked with Polyglot, they came to our attention a few years ago when we were looking to incorporate some more children-and-family-focused programming into what we do. It was actually my colleagues Amy Plant and Mollie Hewitt who first came up with the idea of bringing the two organisations together, as they recognised strong aesthetic similarities between the work made by both organisations. The three of us just had a gut feeling that there was the potential there for a really exciting collaboration.
I then approached each of the organisations (back in 2016) with an exceedingly vague invitation to collaborate, which was a bit daunting because at that stage we really didn’t have any clear idea what we were pitching! Luckily it turned out that Tjanpi had been thinking about exploring performance for some time and had just been waiting for the right project, and that Polyglot were huge fans of Tjanpi and also had been looking for a project that would allow them to collaborate with Aboriginal artists, so everything just fell into place. There’s been an extraordinary amount of serendipity and good luck as the work has come together over the past three years.
MJ: How were the project’s artists selected? AN: Tjanpi Desert Weavers engage artists from numerous communities spread across hundreds of thousands of kilometres of central Australia, so to make things manageable they suggested we work with four highly respected tjanpi artists from Warakurna, in remote Western Australia: Cynthia Burke, Dianne Ungukalpi Golding, Nancy Nanana Jackson, and Dallas Smythe.
Polyglot similarly recommended some of their most innovative performers, Justin Marshall, Justine Warner, and Tamara Rewse, with their phenomenally talented artistic director and co-CEO Sue Giles leading the development workshop sessions.
MJ: How has the collaborative process rolled out? AN: We held our first workshop at Polyglot’s premises in Melbourne in November 2016, to get to know each other and throw ideas around. Again, it was quite daunting for everyone because none of us had a clue what we were actually going to do together, or if a collaboration would even be possible. Thankfully everyone very quickly realised that we wanted to work together to make something really special. It has been an absolute joy to develop the work together, and to draw inspiration from such a talented and professional group of creatives.
The initial workshop was followed by a trip to Warakurna, where all of the non-Tjanpi artists were introduced to the Tjanpi artists’ Country. This was a transformative experience for everyone involved and allowed the artwork to really start to take shape. Further workshops followed in Perth and then in Warakurna again, and now in Fremantle during the lead-up to Revealed.
MJ: What are the similarities and differences that you noticed between each arts organisation’s artistic practices? AN: The project came about because everyone involved recognised similarities between what Tjanpi and Polyglot do. Both organisations make very sophisticated work from simple materials and techniques, and both of them have a joyously playful aesthetic and a highly mischievous sense of humour. In terms of the working methodology, the content of the project was primarily driven by the Tjanpi artists and how they wanted to share a sense of their Country, which was then shaped by the Polyglot team into something that would work as an experience for audiences. Throughout this process, FORM played the role of facilitator.
But the joy of tjanpi weaving is that the techniques are so easy to share, so within a couple of hours of meeting everyone at the first workshop in Melbourne we were all making tjanpi creatures that will be travelling across the country to be part of the work in Fremantle.
In terms of differences, Polyglot allows everything they do to be driven by input from children – kids are involved wherever possible throughout the development of their projects. This isn’t necessarily how the Tjanpi artists work, but children are always a strong presence in remote community life, so this felt like a very natural thing to incorporate into the process, and we worked with children in each of the workshop locations. The Tjanpi artists meanwhile are primarily inspired by culture and their connection to Country, and everyone got a taste of this in Warakurna. While non-Indigenous visitors to Warakurna are never going to have a comprehensive understanding of what this means, the creative team were given an extremely warm and generous introduction that really crystallised the project for everyone involved.
MJ: Can you tell me more about the interactive nature of the installation? AN: The installation is a space for children to explore at their own pace. The artists will all be present to guide this, but as with most of Polyglot’s work it is the participating children who will take control. They will get to climb over and explore the installation, discover tjanpi creatures hidden throughout the space, listen to the sounds of Warakurna, and sit inside the wiltja (a traditional shade structure) and learn how to create a tjanpi object of their own. We have tried to make it a work that children of almost any age, and all levels of physical ability, will be able to enjoy.
MJ: You’ve spoken about the wiltja as a literal safe space created from collaborative labour, which became central to the project. Tell me about this idea of a safe space, and what it can provide in terms of creativity… AN: Something that I think resonates with everyone who learns tjanpi weaving technique is how incredibly meditative and soothing it is to do – spending an hour or two in the company of those artists, hand-making something and sharing conversation simply makes you feel fantastic. I think the technique itself is a “safe space” and the wiltja was an organic extension of this. As an object in its own right it’s very clearly hand-made and it’s something you can sit inside, so it has a very cosy feel.
Everyone involved in “Manguri Wiltja” has had nothing but respect toward everyone else for the duration of the project, and this trust was able to build up over a solid length of time, which has given us all the confidence to work at our best and take a few creative risks with each other. That’s an incredibly rewarding space to be in as a creative. Ten days out from the world premiere we still don’t entirely know exactly what the experience of the final work will be, but we trust each other enough to know it’s going to be marvellous.
MJ: Do you see collaboration as central to cross-cultural learning and communication? Do you think this is something that would be beneficial to adults as well as children? AN: Absolutely. At FORM we always strive to try to achieve a level of collaboration in most projects we undertake with artists – we are passionate about placing artists in conversation with Western Australian communities and seeing what can happen as a result. However, co-creation is not something you can force. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The great joy of “Manguri Wiltja” is how the various collaborators “clicked” almost immediately on our first day together in Melbourne. Given how vague the parameters of the project were to everyone initially, and how disparate the various creative practices and cultural influences were, it could easily have gone the other way.
We have always intended for “Manguri Wiltja” to be a work that children can experience with their parents (or other relatives) so we absolutely want people of all ages to share in the joyous spirit of the project and learn some more about life in remote Australia.
Perth’s choral music renaissance is about to get a boost. Seesaw editor Rosalind Appleby talks to Luke Donohoe as Fremantle gets ready to host a four day festival of choral music.
For several years Perth has been experiencing a renaissance in choral music, with new, agile ensembles like Voyces, Baden Street Singers and ensembles from St George’s College building on the work of established groups like St George’s Cathedral Consort, Perth Undergraduate Choral Society and the Giovanni Consort. Appreciative audiences have been enjoying vibrant and creative performances of an increasingly broad range of choral repertoire. The interest in choral music has also found its way into the education program with expanding choral programs in schools like John Septimus Roe Anglican Community College and Aquinas College.
Next week Western Australia’s growing appetite for singing will be indulged with four days and over 80 performances by local, national and international ensembles at Choralfest, the Australian National Choral Association’s biennial celebration of choral music.
The festival will be held in Fremantle and kicks off on April 13 in true Aussie style with a pub choir at Clancy’s Fish Pub. It includes workshops, concerts, keynote presentations and free events including a Palm Sunday Procession through the streets of Fremantle.
It is the first time the festival has been held in WA in 25 years. Choralfest manager Luke Donohoe says organisers wanted the festival to be as broad as possible.
“We wanted to present the breadth of the choral music tradition and also to reach as wide an audience as possible. If you like to go to free concerts, join a pub choir, or listen to the best choirs in the country – it is all available.”
This year the festival will include a unique feature on Noongar song with presentations by ethnomusicologist Clint Bracknell and Roma Winmar, sessions on teaching traditional songs and a choral presentation involving indigenous dance.
“The traditional owners of the land we live play an intrinsic role in life in WA and to overlook that would be an oversight,” says Donohoe. “Indigenous Australians have an incredible history of singing – it is a unique culture because we can trace their songs back to before they spoke.”
The English tradition of choral singing will be also be showcased with keynote speaker Robert Hollingworth bringing his experience as director of the Britain’s I Fagiolini ensemble. Sessions on youth choral music will be presented by keynote speakers Mark O’Leary (Gondwana Voices) and Jennifer Tham (Singapore Youth Choir).
Forty-five choirs will participate, from as far afield as Botswana, New Zealand and Singapore, presenting a breathtaking range of repertoire from sacred choral music to barbershop.
“We believe choral music can and should be for everyone. It may have a reputation for ruffled collars and cassocks but it is also about pub choirs that are going to sing Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping,” says Donohoe, who is also president of Voyces choir who will be performing at the festival.
Organisers are expecting more than 300 local and interstate delegates and over a thousand participants by the end of the festival. The flexible registration means music lovers can register for just a concert or a day, and choose to participate in choirs that match their age or taste.
Choralfest also offers local choirs and audiences a vital link to choral developments nationally and internationally.
“We think it’s important that the great choral work being done in Perth is connected to what is happening across the rest of Australia and the world,” says Donohoe. “In Perth there are new, unique and agile choirs leading the charge, telling relevant and contemporary stories and having great success generating audiences and international recognition – but this doesn’t exist in isolation; we are expanding and developing a unique strain of what already exists worldwide.”