Music, Performing arts, Reviews

Trio play out of their skins

Review: Armadillo by Robyn Schulkowsky ·

Presented by the University West Australia & Tura New Music ·

University of West Australia, 16 July ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

A percussion trio led by American Robyn Schulkowsky has performed one of the concerts of the year as part of the international Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference at the University of West Australia.

The Australian premiere of Schulkowsky’s 30-year-old work Armadillo is the first of three evening performances over the four-day conference  this week, in addition to a wide range of academic discussions about historic female artists, contemporary queer music, and feminist sound art.

Two more concerts round out the conference performance program at the the UWA Conservatorium of Music, presented by UWA and Tura New Music. Decibel new music ensemble, led by Cat Hope, offers a survey of compositions by contemporary Australian female composers as part of its 10th anniversary (Decibel 10 at 10) on July 18. Queensland percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson closes the conference with a performance in the UWA Tropical Garden on July 19.

Schulkowsky is a veteran of the US and German experimental scene, having worked with Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, and many others, principally in the role of performer/interpreter. In devising Armadillo, she was inspired partly by Mayan calendrical cycles and numerological groupings.

As performed by Schulkowsky with Tomlinson and UWA head of percussion Louise Devenish, Armadillo is a mercurial, endlessly surprising work. Small, semi-detached rhythmical items rest within other inconsistent, larger groupings, which intermittently break out, or cause the piece to morph in time signature and/or sonic texture.

Although peppered with extended, cumulative agitations of the cymbals and tam-tam (or gong), it is first and foremost a piece for drums. It is amazing the amount of sonic variation that Schulkowsky, especially, coaxes from these instruments as the piece develops in time.

There is a brief passage of Brazilian batucada-style drumming, with sharply-attacked bongos leading, but this is soon dispersed into a more effervescent set of motifs. Steve Reich’s highly repetitive, minimalist drumming is evoked when the three performers settle into a groove which feels like it could last all night. But on the whole, the shimmering effects and phasing so loved of Reich is absent here.

Armadillo is therefore more properly called a work which at times settles into a minimalistic lockstep, as rhythmic patterns are lovingly repeated. The highly asymmetric time signatures required Schulkowsky in particular to, very comfortably it seemed, pump out one rhythm with her foot on the cymbal hi-hat pedal, and an entirely different one with her sticks in her hands on the toms. This puts Armadillo ultimately within another musical and stylistic space to Reich or Latin percussion, although Schulkowsky is clearly influenced by both.

Another striking element of the performance is the rise and fall of intensity which is modulated through how the drums are approached. Schulkowsky and her collaborators however often combine a strike to the drum with a kind of dampening or pressing effect. When performing as a trilogy, the usual mode is to come together for several minutes, then one performer drops away, the others continue, and then the first returns before another drops out. In this turn taking, volume and textural density rise and fall. One needs a careful ear to attend to the very subtle layering of material.

Schulkowsky definitely loves her instruments. I have never seen a performer with such a deft touch on the skins of the drums. While Tomlinson and Devenish are also superb, Schulkowsky all but strokes her instruments. She bashes, coaxes, rubs, caresses and finger-thunks these items. As she rocks gently back and forth, or looks off in absorption upwards and to one side, we in the audience also move to another place with her; a place of objects, surfaces, drum-skins, and musical sublimity.

This was one of the most extravagantly wonderful and awe-inspiring Perth concerts of the last few years: please bring Schulkowsky back!

The Gender Diversity in Music and Art Conference ends on July 19.

Pictured at top: Vanessa Tomlinson, Robyn Schulkowsky and Louise Devenish. Photo by Tristen Parr.

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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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9 choir members
August 19, Calendar, Music, Performing arts

Music: Giovanni Consort @ Government House Ballroom

11 August @ Government House Ballroom ·
Presented by The Giovanni Consort ·

For 24 years, The Giovanni Consort has been delighting Perth audiences with beautiful harmonies and imaginative concerts. The Consort has become renowned for its exquisite, high-quality performances of unaccompanied choral music ranging from the medieval period to the present day.

Some of Perth’s best voices join forces to present diverse and engaging musical programs and the Government House Foundation is delighted to present this fine group in a popular and wide ranging program.

More info
W: perthconcerthall.com.au/events/event/giovanni-consort
E:  giovanniconsort@gmail.com

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Blue and white patterned background with words Christmas in July
Calendar, July 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: Christmas in July

25 July @ Church of the Resurrection, Swanbourne ·
Presented by The Giovanni Consort ·

In the second concert of their 2019 series, The Giovanni Consort will examine the  world of Winter, and how many composers reflect this season in their works. Composers such as Ola Gjeilo, Francis Poulenc and Benjamin Britten successfully portray coldness in their music, especially those that have a Christmas theme.

Joining this list of household names are lesser known composers including Sven David Sandstrom and Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson, who deserve an equal level of recognition for their captivating uses of harmony and melody.

Artistic Director Hugh Lydon will conduct The Giovanni Consort as they perform music that will warm the soul. Joining Hugh to conduct will be Ry Charleson, who will be directing the Consort for the first time. Ry has curated the program, and has carefully selected music that will bring a wintery perspective of Christmas to WA.

The Giovanni Consort will perform these hypnotic works in the iconic surroundings of the Church of the Resurrection in Swanbourne and the adjoining hall, which will be converted into a German style Christmas market for the first half of the concert.

Mulled wine and other delicacies will be served throughout the performance.

More info:
www.giovanniconsort.com

Pictured: Christmas in July, credit David Penco

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Man and woman seated, woman leaning against man
August 19, Calendar, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: A View from the Park

2 – 11 August @ Carlisle Hotel, Carlisle ·
Presented by Maverick Theatre Productions ·

A simple premise delivers a quintet of short original plays at the Carlisle Hotel this August.

Written and directed by prolific Perth playwright Noel O’Neill, A View from the Park is presented by Maverick Theatre Productions and features five different plays with two or  three actors on a park bench.

Connie and Clyde opens the show with the title characters agreeing to meet after only sharing emails, then discovering they’re not quite who they pretended to be.

It’s followed by The Flat where two people meet in a park before having a liaison in a friend’s flat, leading to consequences neither of them bargained for.

In Serenade in Blue, a music teacher is found in a park by a girl and, as the story unfolds, it’s revealed he has dementia and she is trying to bring him home.

Love And Marriage is the tale of a couple agreeing to meet a woman to straighten out her marriage – but they have troubles of their own.

Rounding out the set is A Ticket To Paradise, where two retired Jewish men meet in a cemetery after working together for 30 years and discover more about each other than during their whole working career.

7.30pm August 2, 3, 9 and 10 with 2.30pm matinees August 3, 4, 10 and 11 The Carlisle Hotel is at 174 Rutland Avenue, Carlisle

More info:
www.trybooking.com/BDQOP

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Immersive Experience, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A deep dive into the heart of darkness

Review: Feet First Collective, S-27 ⋅
Fremantle Arts Centre ⋅
Review by Steven Cohen ⋅

There’s something about dystopian reality that bites, that shakes and shudders at our sensibilities. And when that “something” manifests itself in the theatre it leaves a discerning mark on the audience.

From Orwell’s’ 1984 to The Handmaids Tale, we’re used to dystopian thrillers. Audiences seem drawn to alien settings and alienated characters. The stories are riveting, the dialogue terse and the scenes dramatic.

But dystopian drama is much rarer because the style is founded in science fiction. And a theatre, by its very nature,  is a forum for collective reflection, drawing out participation and expression of popular concerns.

Good dystopian theatre will illuminate the urban and reflect the irreparable. Perhaps more than that, dystopian theatre gives us a chance to recall the true horrors of horrors so that we might learn something and begin again.

Sarah Grochala’s play S-27, first produced in London a decade ago, is better than good.  It is both tense and disturbing in recounting the tales from Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Aptly staged in the historical asylum of the Fremantle Arts Centre, local producers Teresa Izzard and Lauren Beeton successfully manage to immerse the audience into a universal atrocity, balancing the cultural intricacies of Pol Pot’s ruthless ideology with the indignation of his horror.

To begin, we are stripped of our belongings, given numbers, separated from our partners and hoarded into a small slither of a room.  Violence is within earshot and sometimes seen.  Posters illuminate the blankness of the walls – English renditions from Pol Pot’s Little Red Book – illuminate the extremism of the revolution.  Some of the audience are pulled away. Most stay in situ and in line. Quiet and following.

Eventually we arrive in a cold dank old hall, replete with a single line of facing parallel seating with a single forward fronting chair perched alone in between. An old-style camera, the type my dad used to carry, sits on a tripod aimed at the empty chair. The theatre space is more a thriller scene. The audience become intimate witnesses.

Then we meet May, cold and tearless, whose job is to photograph the living dead. As May’s story slowly unwinds, so does she and we become witness to the frailty of human emotion and what it takes to survive a holocaust. Compassionately played by Gabriella Munro, May is the protagonist whose interactions with those she photographs underpins the production.

The seven supporting cast members are nameless. Sheathed either in black police garb or for a few, they serve as photographic fodder. Their acting is tight and well-controlled, blending erratically into the catastrophic nightmare.

Balancing the well-constructed performances is original music by Rachael Dease, haunting sound by John Congrear and claustrophobic lighting by Andrew Portwine, who successfully encase the audience’s senses in a confronting maelstrom.

This is a story that must be told.  It is uncomfortable, horrific and bloody, but important for our own humanity.  S-27 is a gem of a play.  We are lucky to have such wonderful talent in our city.

S-27 continues until July 21.

Pictured top: May (Gabriella Munro) and Cousin (Sally Clune) as photographer and subject. Photo: Susie Blatchford.

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Music, News, Performing arts, Theatre

Sweeney sets the blood racing

Review: WA Opera, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street ·
By Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 13 July ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

It is the 40th anniversary of the premiere of Sweeney Todd,  prompting revivals of the musical thriller around the world. Composer Stephen Sondheim also collaborated with Hugh Wheeler on the musical’s lyrics and scenario to produce a truly unified piece.

Based on Christopher Bond’s ghoulish 1973 play and a 19th century British melodrama, Sondheim’s version follows Todd’s quest for vengeance upon his return to London from an Australian penal colony. Todd is seeking the corrupt Judge Turpin, who had Todd transported, raped his wife and stole his daughter Johanna as a “ward” to be groomed to fulfill Turpin’s desires in marriage.

Todd teams up with failed pie-maker Mrs Lovett to kill unsuspecting patrons to his barbershop, whilst awaiting Turpin. The bodies provide the irresistible ingredient for Lovett’s now booming trade.

Director Hal Prince’s 1979 Broadway production was both epic and gothic, featuring a highly flexible stage with dynamic set elements. Few comparable venues exist in Australia, and director Theresa Borg’s current Sydney production is hampered by the poorly designed if spacious Darling Harbour Theatre.

The West Australian Opera has the opposite challenge with His Majesty’s Theatre, which dates back to the halcyon days of melodrama. Sound designer Jim Atkins works the acoustics well, and director Stuart Maunder and designer Roger Kirk retain almost all of the elements from Prince’s 1979 production but have responded to the narrow stage by compacting them. They have divided the original expanse of gantries into distinct banks left and right so that the effect is more of a columnar, crisscrossed set of points, than of Prince’s wide swirling maelstrom.

The performers, led by Ben Mingay as Todd and Antoinette Halloran as Mrs Lovett, are fantastic, and so is the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the music direction of Brett Weymark. But while the spatial compromises largely work, there are points where the performances seem cramped.

Todd’s trunk, in which he hides the bodies, all but destroys the sightlines in his barbershop, where it should act as a significant but peripheral object. The chute connected to Todd’s mechanical chair for disposing of bodies is rather clunky, lacking the smooth efficiency which produces so much irony as he sings of his love for Johanna. The final scene where the waif Tobias (Joshua Reckless) goes mad at the sight of the bloodshed, and then surprises both the audience and Todd with use of the cut-throat razor, is anticlimactic given that Tobias must first sidle along a narrow band at the back of the set.

Mingay triumphs as Todd. While not a dynamically nuanced or varied delivery, his almost continuous basso profundo, launched feet apart and shoulders squared, makes for a wonderfully demonic barber. As an avenging angel come to punish the rich, the powerful and the whole of venal humanity, he recalls Rod Steiger’s Judd in the film Oklahoma! and it comes as no surprise that this is a role Mingay has played on stage.

James Clayton is a rather perverse Turpin, whipping himself like a penitent as he rationalises his wicked lust for Johanna. Fiona Campbell portrays the mad beggar who takes a strong interest in Todd’s shop, nailing the ranting song “City on Fire”. Emma Pettemerides as Johanna and Nathan Stark as her beau Anthony are rather more randy than in the original, making the repeated, interrupted refrain of “Kiss Me” more comedic than touching.

For all of Mingay’s brooding presence, the production is all but stolen by Halloran as Lovett. The role was famously written for Angela Lansbury, who produced a wonderfully blousy, pragmatic character whose true wish was a domestic, well-to-do life. Halloran by contrast is explicitly sexual and is clearly after Todd for his erotic allure rather than just his ability to secure her prosperity. She is constantly amused, flirtatious and suggestive: I lost count of how many times she rubbed her behind against Todd. Halloran  provides a live wire of electricity and sass running throughout this otherwise dark and unredeemed narrative.

Although WA Opera’s production does not establish any significant new precedents, it is a triumph of effective and affecting staging.

Sweeney Todd continues on July 16, 18 and 20. 

Picture above: Ben Mingay as Sweeney Todd and Antoinette Halloran as Mrs Lovett. Photo by James Rogers.

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Features, Music, News, Visual arts

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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Children, News, Reviews, Theatre

Frantic fun

Review: Barking Gecko Theatre, My Robot ⋅
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre ⋅
Reviews by Gabriel and Sascha Bott ⋅

Gabriel  (aged 10)

One thing you want in a show is a good story. Nailed it. Another thing you want is a good cast. Nailed it. Finegan Kruckemeyer has done a fabulous job with writing Barking Gecko Theatre’s My Robot.

It tells the story of a girl named Ophelia (Marlanie Haerewa) who moves into a new house by the beach, next to an old junk shop. Ophelia makes a robot out of some parts sent from the junk shop.

The show is ever-changing and very sudden in terms of emotion and setting. The lighting wasn’t the best though; it was very dark at some key points in the show. On the bright side, the robot is a robot, which I think is awesome.

I feel like the cast was picked very well, including St John Cowcher as Ophelia’s father and Sarah Nelson, who plays Olivetti the robot. The only problem with the cast is that there are only three cast members in the whole show, which means that cast members are rushing around trying to change their clothes all the time.

Overall, I think it’s great. 9 out of 10 stars for me. Barking Gecko have continued to make amazing shows, and this would be their best one yet.

Sascha (aged 8)

I watched My Robot tonight at the State Theatre Centre. It was written by Finegan Kruckemeyer and performed by Barking Gecko Theatre. My Robot is about a robot made by a little girl who just moved house and was very sad about that.

I like that the robot was a real robot, not just a person dressed up as a robot. I think that they could have made the bully meaner because he was a bit too nice. It was clever how they made it look like the robot was shooting the toys onto the shelf.

I liked the show, I think that schools and families should come and watch it.

My Robot continues until July 14.

Pictured top: Ophelia (Marlanie Haerewa) and her father (St John Cowcher) rushing around. Photo: Daniel Grant

Read another Seesaw review of My Robot from the 2017 season.

Quirky robot action!

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