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Music theatre delight

Robert Hofmann and Penny Shaw, ‘Au Naturel!’ ⋅
13 September 2019, Kidogo, Fremantle ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅

Perth connoisseurs of sophisticated light entertainment know they are in good hands with baritone Robert Hofmann (“fresh from New York”) and soprano Penny Shaw. The audience was treated to a range of duets and solos from musical theatre as the artists shed their operatic selves (with a couple of exceptions) in favour of a relaxed cabaret show at the popular Fremantle venue Kidogo.

The evening kicked off with the duet from Bernstein’s Candide (which some might argue to be operatic), which illustrates the differences in expectations of the newly betrothed eponymous hero and Cunegonde. The theme of odd/unlikely/unsuitable couples recurred throughout. More irony followed, with Hofmann’s warm and self-deprecating presentation of ‘Wonderful’ from Wicked then Shaw’s appropriately coy ‘I enjoy being a girl’ from Rogers and Hammerstein’s now little remembered (and possibly too non-PC these days?) Flower Drum Song. This opening bracket showed both singers in full voice (were mikes really needed?), Hofmann smoothly resonant and Shaw brightly scintillating. The singers, supported by accompanist Tommaso Pollio, blended well together, both fully engaged in the dramatic moment of each number.

Hofmann and Shaw with Pollio at the piano. Photo Mark Liao

Some less familiar fare varied the emotional trajectory, culminating in Sondheim’s ‘Broadway Baby’ (from Follies) delivered with great razzamatazz by Shaw. Then a treat: Shaw’s celebrated impressions of all the women characters in Downton Abbey, delivered in the context of a prequel to the greatly loved (and timely, given the current release of the movie) TV series. It was bracketed by the Frank Loesser song ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’ and the title theme from New York, New York.

After an interval, Shaw stepped back from the mike to deliver a rafter ringing aria ‘Tacea la notte’ from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, lightening the mood afterwards with an anecdote about the super diva Montserrat Caballé. The charming Mozart duet ‘Bei Männern’ (The Magic Flute) sung in English was an excellent bridge back to music theatre. I was delighted with songs from one of my favourite musicals (and especially the Ken Russell movie version) The Boy Friend by Englishman Sandy Wilson, firstly the duet ‘You’re never too old’ (who could forget Max Adrian in soiled spats?), and Shaw’s adaptation of ‘It’s nicer in Nice’ in celebration of Fremantle.  Hofmann strutted his stuff in ‘Everything old is new again’ (by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager) and the show concluded with the duet from Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The audience could certainly have done with more, but were more than happy with what they had received, a very satisfying good night out.

Pictured top: Penny Shaw sings with Robert Hofmann. Photo Mark Liao.

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Alexa Tuzil as Giselle and Juan Carlos Osma as Albrecht in Giselle (2019) (2). Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Sparkling duo leads the way

Review: West Australian Ballet, Giselle ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 14 September ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When it comes to ballet, Giselle is my guilty pleasure.

First performed in 1841, the ballet’s plot is not one you’ll find in “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls”. In a pre-industrial German village, peasant girl Giselle has fallen for Albrecht. He’s actually a duke, but in order to win Giselle, he has disguised himself as a villager. Oh yeah, and he’s also engaged to someone else. When Giselle discovers that she has been two-timed by her so-called fiancé, she “loses her reason” and dies of a broken heart.

And so to Act II, in which Giselle has become one of the Wilis, the ghosts of women who have been betrayed by their lovers. When the vengeful Wilis encounter Albrecht they try to dance him to death – because powerful women must, of course, be evil. But Giselle’s love protects Albrecht until dawn, when the Wilis must return to wherever it is they go during daylight hours.

Of course, this story is risible when read from a feminist perspective but I confess I agree with West Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella when he describes the ballet as “one of the most beautiful Romantic ballets of all time.” The contrast between the sweet innocence of Act I and the chilling spectre that is Act II, with the famous “mad scene” at its temporal and emotional centre, never fails to entice me.

Following in the footsteps of Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot (to whom the 1841 choreography is attributed), WAB’s 2019 season does not disappoint.

Alexa Tuzil as Giselle and Juan Carlos Osma as Albrecht in Giselle (2019) (3). Photo by Sergey Pevnev
A sparkling chemistry: Alexa Tuzil as Giselle and Juan Carlos Osma as Albrecht. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

On Saturday night, Alexa Tuzil, as Giselle, and Juan Carlos Osma, as Albrecht, won the audience over from the outset. With her large eyes and beguiling expression, Tuzil’s Giselle seems heart-breakingly young and innocent in Act I. Osma’s Albrecht approaches Giselle with the awkward enthusiasm of adolescence. His interpretation humanises Albrecht’s deception – he’s not cruel, just young, impulsive… and making a huge mistake. The pair have a sparkling chemistry and technically they’re lovely to watch, whetting our appetite for what’s to come.

Concluding Act I, Giselle’s “mad scene” is renowned as a test of the mettle of any dancer playing the lead role, and Tuzil passes it with aplomb as she oscillates between teary recollection and wild-eyed disbelief.

Keigo Muto and Mayume Noguromi dancing the Peasant Pas de Deux in Giselle (2019). Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Keigo Muto and Mayume Noguromi dancing the Peasant Pas de Deux. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Also noteworthy in this act were Candice Adea and Julio Blanes, whose deftly performed Peasant Pas de Deux drew appreciative murmurs in the dress circle on Saturday, in spite of almost being upstaged by a couple of delightful dogs. As the love-lorn Hilarion, Christian Luck kept us wavering between pity and scorn. And the corps de ballet performed with exuberance, the womens’ crisp entrechat series and the men’s exciting tours en lair two highlights.

Though this production is not new to Perth – it was first performed in 2014 – I was struck anew by the almost subterranean gloom of the forest as the curtain rose on Act II. Lit by Jon Buswell, Peter Cazalet’s forest is framed by ragged leaves, its floor awash with mist; otherworldly and gorgeously dark.

Glenda Garcia Gomez as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis in Giselle (2019) (3). Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Glenda Garcia Gomez dances Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis with steely technique. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.
Alexa Tuzil as Giselle and Juan Carlos Osma as Albrecht in Giselle (2019). Photo by Sergey Pevnev
An assured partner: Juan Carlos Osma lifting Alexa Tuzil. Photo by Sergey Pevnev.

Here we encounter the Wilis. Again, the dancers of the corps are to be commended; wild yet strangely formal, they’re a maelstrom of ghostly white. As Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, Glenda Garcia Gomez didn’t quite reach the ice-queen heights of some renditions I’ve seen, but she was appropriately stern with steely technique to match. Lead wilis Mayume Noguromi and Dayana Hardy Acuña followed suit, topped with port de bras so airy it teetered on insouciance.

But the act belonged to Tuzil and Osma. Her sublime developpes, promenades and penches were deftly supported by him, at times with just one hand. Osma may play Albrecht as a youngster but he is a mature and assured partner. Meanwhile Tuzil, still a member of the corps de ballet, gave a performance that belied her youth, emotionally charged and technically assured. Both individually and as a pair, the two are outstanding in their roles.

The season is expertly accompanied by West Australian Symphony Orchestra who capture the piquancy and poignancy of Adolphe Adam’s score under the baton of Jessica Gethin. Though probably unintentional, the introduction of the charismatic Gethin – a passionate advocate for addressing the gender imbalance amongst classical music leaders – as a WAB collaborator offset my feminist concerns somewhat.

Choreographers Aurelien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle are to be congratulated on this production. Whether you’re a Giselle aficionado or a newbie to this ballet, WAB’s latest offering is well worth the ticket price.

Giselle runs until September 28.

Pictured top: Alexa Tuzil as Giselle and Juan Carlos Osma as Albrecht, in Act II. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

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Luke Carrol, Tony Briggs, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra.BITNW_STC_2018Brisbane_creditPrudenceUpton_049.
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Building bridges with laughter

Review: Black Swan presents Sydney Theatre Company, Black is the New White ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 14 September ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

Before the start of the opening night performance of Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White, directed by Paige Rattray, actors Tony Briggs and Kylie Bracknell (Kaarlijilba Kaardn) paid a moving tribute to Ningali Lawford-Wolf, a Wangkatjunka woman of the far-north Kimberley and all-round great actor and person.

She passed away in Edinburgh while touring with The Secret River for Sydney Theatre Company – a terrific play she helped develop from Kate Grenville’s powerful novel.

Ningali Lawford-Wolf touched many lives, not least the many thousands who saw her perform but with whom she never met, this reviewer being one of them.

How is this relevant to Lui’s fast, furious and funny discourse on race, class, politics, love and the perils of Christmas?

In the simple injunction of Briggs – to feel free to laugh often and loudly, just like Ningali, and the opening night audience took him at his word.

There is a lot of playful fun watching as young successful lawyer Charlotte Gibson (Miranda Tapsell) tries to clear a path through her family’s (mostly her father, Roy’s) expectations that she become a crusading Aboriginal leader – playing a strong second fiddle to him, of course, and his vision of himself as the Australian Martin Luther King.

Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tom Stokes as Francis. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.
Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tom Stokes as Francis. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

The way is especially fraught because the love of her life, Francis (Tom Stokes), is an unemployed experimental musician, who happens to be white, and not just musician white, but the son of Roy’s sworn political enemy, the arch conservative Dennison Smith (Geoff Morrell). Briggs is masterful in the role.

Chuck in the tensions between and within each set of parents – special mention of Melodie Reynolds-Diarra as Charlotte’s mum, Joan, and Vanessa Downing as Fran’s mother, Marie, who together managed to add such a classy and sassy layer of sharp-witted feminism into the already heady brew – and the audience is working double time to keep pace.

Oh, and did I mention Charlotte’s sister, Rose? Bracknell plays this glorious character – the fashionista WAG of the first Aboriginal captain of the Wallabies, the god-fearing, sweet-natured Sonny (Anthony Taufa).

Rose has a head for business and a nose for the good life but she also has deeply held views about keeping the family black and making a lot of black babies to reclaim Australia. The twist there is she doesn’t want to stop taking the Pill.

Like the ancient classics, Lui adds a touch of the Greek Chorus with narrator Luke Carroll watching over proceedings, offering a missing lighter for the cheeky spliff here and there, and some context to help the audience to keep pace… and busting some pretty neat dance moves.

And like all great comedies there is a solid trail of ideologies on display, ripe for challenging ill-begat stereotypes and cultural tropes.

But perhaps more importantly, certainly felt from this angle, Lui also wants her audience to be free to engage with the painful and complex aftermath of the Stolen Generation, the deeps cracks caused by past and present colonialism and social and political disenfranchisement of not only Aboriginal people but any one who plays differently in the playground of current Australia.

It is a powerful and sturdy bridge she builds.

Black is the New White plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until September 22.

Pictured top: Luke Carrol, Tony Briggs and Melodie Reynolds-Diarra. Photo: Prudence Upton.

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A rich tapestry of life and death

Review: Deborah Worthy-Collins, ‘Bone of my Bone, Flesh of my Flesh’ ·
The Lobby ·
Review by Jaimi Wright ·

“Bone of my Bone, Flesh of my Flesh” is, without a doubt, alive.

To look at Deborah Worthy-Collins’ body of work, inspired by her own life, is to have the collection look straight back into you and ask all manner of questions about birth, life, sex, death, decay, healing and the messy matrices and rituals in between. The Perth-based artist’s works incite a personal and yet broadly existential journey, one for which the opening night viewers, myself included, were not entirely prepared.

Bed sheets have been buried, exhumed, infused with live cultures, riddled with sewing, burned, turned into paper and hung on the walls of The Lobby like tapestries.
Bed sheets have been buried, exhumed, infused with live cultures, riddled with sewing, burned, turned into paper and hung on the walls of The Lobby like tapestries.

The journey of “Bone of my Bone, Flesh of my Flesh” is written in the journey of Worthy-Collins’ materials. Each material, carefully selected to reflect the emotional resonance of the human life-cycle, is deconstructed, reconstructed and caught in-between in order to explore a breadth of symbolic meaning. Bed sheets have been buried, exhumed, infused with live cultures, riddled with sewing, burned, turned into paper and hung on the walls of The Lobby like tapestries. Bed sheets, she says, are the site of many of life’s processes: sex, birth, death and often healing. By processing materials such as bed sheets, sand and muslin in a way that reflects life’s processes, Worthy-Collins unlocks the artistic potential of these processes.

Worthy-Collins must also be applauded for her resonant choice of exhibition venue. Not just a professional exhibition space, The Lobby doubles as a domestic abode, home of local curator and gallery manager Leah Robbie. The exhibition weaves about The Lobby, between bedroom and living area. Muslin, a material that has been used both to swaddle babies upon their birth and corpses upon their death, trails from the top to the bottom of the stairs of the house. To stage this exhibition within the traditional setting of a white cube would not do the complex themes Worthy-Collins explores justice; the use of a home gallery like The Lobby enhances the show’s emotional impact.

Using a deep red resin against reconstituted bed sheets, Worthy-Collins creates works that resemble leathery skin between decay and healing, that are crusted over like a scab but also glisten like jewels.
Deep red resin against reconstituted bed sheets, resembles leathery skin between decay and healing..

This exhibition is a timely reminder that the processes of life are not completely sanitary or entirely unpalatable, but like Worthy-Collins’ works, have varied physical and emotional textures. Using a deep red resin against reconstituted bed sheets, Worthy-Collins creates works that resemble leathery skin between decay and healing, that are crusted over like a scab but also glisten like jewels.

“Bone of my Bone, Flesh of my Flesh” is deeply and introspectively human and a handcrafted individual experience for each viewer. Deborah Worthy-Collins is electric in her latest exhibition. If there is one truth to be gleaned from this show, there is no one way to experience this exhibition, as there is no one way to be human.

“Bone of my Bone, Flesh of my Flesh” ran at The Lobby, September 1-13, with viewings by appointment.

Top photo by Danielle Fusco.

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003 Installation view, left to right: Teelah George, Blue Biro, 2018-2019, thread, linen and bronze, 220 x 190cm; Marzena Topka, Geometrisation of bodies (suspended animation), 2014-2019, deconstructed office clothing, dimensions variable; Susan Roux, (un) / fold (detail), 2019, Canson paper, ink, thread and polish, dimensions variable; and Ómra Caoimhe, The Sum of the Parts (detail), 2019, hand-spun tussah silk thread and wool thread, wool cloth, wooden beads, nails, bees wax and oil on curved wooden panel, loom parts and wooden spool, dimensions variable. Photograph by Lyle Branson.
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A material world

Review: Joanna Sulkowski, ‘HERE&NOW19: Material Culture’ ·
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

As the name implies, Lawrence Wilson Gallery’s annual “HERE&NOW” exhibition is all about contemporary art practice in WA, at this moment in time. Now in its seventh year, the exhibition gives an emerging curator the opportunity to offer their take on the subject.

For “HERE&NOW19”, it is emerging curator and artist Joanna Sulkowski’s turn at the helm. Under the title “Material Culture”, Sulkowski brings together a selection of works that both examine our collective cultural obsession with the “material world” of production, trade and business, and reflect upon the ways in which materials themselves play a significant role in the way we comprehend the world around us.

Featuring five WA artists, this year’s ‘HERE&NOW” feels more scaled back than previous iterations; the open gallery space seeming ever-so-slightly cavernous. The exhibition touches upon the broadness of the phrase “material culture”, which most commonly refers to fabrics but also to thread, paper, plastic and yarn; each artist’s work employing a different engagement with the ongoing process of making.

Teelah George, 'Blue Biro', 2018-2019, thread, linen and bronze, 220 x 190cm. Photo: Lyle Branson.
Teelah George, ‘Blue Biro’, 2018-2019, thread, linen and bronze, 220 x 190cm. Photo: Lyle Branson.

This link between the materiality of the object and the process by which this materiality was realised is a notable point of commonality between the works. The repetitive nature of production is emphasised, particularly through stitching but also in repeated shapes and forms – a literal mark-making of the time taken to create the object. We see this in the repetitive stitching in Teelah George’s Blue Biro, the title referring to a different kind of mark-making that also references the passing of time in the endless scribbling or doodling with a pen; and in the spinning of yarn by hand, a line that connects the disparate parts of Ómra Caoimhe’s installation The Sum of the Parts. Deliberately idiosyncratic arrangements of objects –  dedicated to making the fabric – together form a whole.

Central to the exhibition is Marzena Topka’s installation of office clothes, split open and hung to form a maze, reminiscent of office cubicles that function to block people from one another. The clothes, rendered into curtains and removed from any kind of gendered shape or form, remain an oppressive force. Hung above eye height, the garments impress a kind of conformity upon the viewer as they negotiate the maze of beige and cheap rayon fabric.

This response to the oppressive nature of corporate life and the mass-production of impersonal materials finds its counterpoint in Susan Roux’s (un) / fold. Here, the mutable nature of materials becomes clear, as the fabric that spreads and unfurls across the wall is in fact paper, pleated and smocked using traditional production methods to manipulate its shape and form. This labour-intensive way of making stands in sharp opposition to the mass production of most of today’s material objects. It’s a critique of industrialisation that finds a different yet complementary angle in Holly Story’s immersive and mesmerising work The Embrace, a meditation on natural environments that are constantly under threat, an ecological landscape printed on silk and cotton.

Ómra Caoimhe, The Sum of the Parts, 2019, hand-spun tussah silk thread and wool thread, wool cloth, wooden beads, nails, bees wax and oil on curved wooden panel, loom parts and wooden spool, dimensions variable. Photograph by Lyle Brason.
Ómra Caoimhe, ‘The Sum of the Parts’, 2019, hand-spun tussah silk thread and wool thread, wool cloth, wooden beads, nails, bees wax and oil on curved wooden panel, loom parts and wooden spool, dimensions variable. Photo: Lyle Brason.

In our post-industrial globalised world, material culture is associated with questions about labour and production, a deeply political issue that is touched on in this exhibition, but could have been expanded upon. Nonetheless, the works presented in “HERE&NOW19” experiment with their materials in a multitude of different ways, rewarding the viewer’s close attention.

“Here@Now19: Material Culture” runs until December 7.

Pictured top: Installation view, left to right: Teelah George, ‘Blue Biro’, 2018-2019, thread, linen and bronze, 220 x 190cm; Marzena Topka, ‘Geometrisation of bodies’ (suspended animation), 2014-2019, deconstructed office clothing, dimensions variable; Susan Roux, ‘(un) / fold’ (detail), 2019, Canson paper, ink, thread and polish, dimensions variable; and Ómra Caoimhe, ‘The Sum of the Parts’ (detail), 2019, hand-spun tussah silk thread and wool thread, wool cloth, wooden beads, nails, bees wax and oil on curved wooden panel, loom parts and wooden spool, dimensions variable. Photo: Lyle Branson.

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To men with suitcases greeted by a person in traditional African costume
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Spectacular musical but dated stereotypes

Review: Anne Garefino, Scott Rudin, Important Musicals and John Frost, The Book of Mormon ⋅
Crown Theatre, September 5 ⋅
Review by Erin Hutchinson ⋅

The love that Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone have for traditional musical theatre shines through in The Book of Mormon, with its big numbers and even bigger characters, and the audience lapped it up.

As you’d expect they would – after all, Perth fans of Parker and Stone, the creators of the phenomenal South Park and Lopez, the co-writer of Avenue Q, have been sitting on their hands waiting for The Book of Mormon to arrive here since it busted Broadway apart in 2011.

The story follows two young missionaries to Uganda, ready to spread the word of God as revealed by their ‘All-American’ prophet, Joseph Smith. The clean-cut high achiever Elder Price (Blake Bowden), is determined to achieve ‘awesomeness’, while his sidekick Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak), supports him along the way. Hardly surprisingly, their new home doesn’t meet their expectations, and the underdog Cunningham copes better with its pitfalls than his high-falutin’ superior.

The show’s disarming trick – hardly what you might expect from the resumé of its creators – is that it’s essentially a sweet story that romanticises finding your own truth in religion.

Perhaps that’s what makes some of the satire feel a little dated.

That’s not to say this isn’t a spectacular production. It sweeps you up with its glorious opening imagery, the catchy, expertly sung show tunes and the continually impressive choreography by Casey Nicholaw.

A colourful cast of dancers with a man in a tie standing centre stage
Blake Bowden, Nyk Bielak and Tigist Strode lead the company through catchy show tunes in Book of Mormon. Photo by Jeff Busby.

The set, by Scott Pask, is a visual feast, taking us through scene changes simply and with great impact even on the wide, narrow Crown Theatre stage that means the group missionary numbers couldn’t quite fill the space as effectively as they would a more conventional configuration.

Many of the songs are killers – with the comic chops of Parker and Stone, you wouldn’t expect any less. WAAPA graduate Joel Granger is a standout as the district leader Elder McKinley, showing his new missionaries how religion can help dismiss deep and distressing topics by thought suppression in Turn It Off. Bielak came into his own in the Act 1 finale Man Up where he ‘grew a pair’ (just like Jesus), and the pastiche dance moment in Spooky Mormon Hell Dream was cane-work heaven.

The nerdy references and guest appearances were giggleworthy, and the display of Australian and imported talent and tight ensemble work onstage was inspiring.

That said, some of the show’s really clever bits were washed aside by the stereotyped representations of the characters.

While we might take offense at its crass and crude humour (of which there is an abundance), we are a little desensitised to that by now – by South Park and its animated peers as much as anything else.

But where do we stand on broad, white brushstrokes of ‘uncultured’ African people, and is this legitimate satire or a shortcut to hollow laughs and cheap effect?

An African woman looks coyly at a man in a tie
Tigist Strode playing the stereotypical role of Nabulungi with Nyk Bielak. Photo by Jeff Busby

Okay, it’s not all Disney and The Lion King, but does it have to be an extreme depiction that felt lifted straight from Team America? And how must Tigist Strode feel playing Nabulungi, the only female lead, whose solo was beautifully sung but who essentially prostitutes herself to be saved by a white man who can’t even remember her name.

Everything dates. A generation grew up loving Parker and Stone’s South Park. Team America was hilarious and I still love Lopez’s Avenue Q, but our sense of humour and appreciation has changed and grown over the years, especially in the era of Trump, Johnson and others closer to home. It’s got to colour our point of view, even when we’re just out for an evening of fun.

That said, The Book of Mormon is a witty and wonderfully profane musical and worth you going to make up your own mind about.

And then, either way, buy the soundtrack.

The Book of Mormon continues at Crown Theatre until 17 November.

Pictured top L-R: Shauntelle Benjamin, Blake Bowden (Elder Price) and Nyk Bielak (Elder Cunningham. Photo: Jeff Busby.

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Dancing in the dark

Review: Link Dance Company, In the Dark ·
PS Art Space, 4 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

What are you afraid of? I remember, as a kid, a recurring nightmare involving a Sesame Street skit about a camel that materialises out of cracks in a wall. Fear is acutely personal terrain – what freaks one person out, makes another laugh. These various hobgoblins form the content of the latest production from WAAPA’s Link Dance Company, aptly titled In the Dark.

Director and choreographer Michael Whaites has chosen the perfect venue for this exploration of our personal bugbears. The PS Art Space (the PS is for Pakenham Street) is a gem of Freo’s West End. With its giant double wooden doors fronting the historic facade, polished concrete floors and pillars, it’s a starkly evocative place. Upstairs, there are countless nooks and crannies to explore, accessed via some wonderfully creaky wooden stairs. The place has a distinctly creepy vibe at night and Whaites makes inventive use of the space, aided by the talented Joe Lui as lighting and sound designer.

The first half of the performance is set downstairs. Eight dancers thread, glide and writhe around the concrete pillars. Smoke wafts over the audience, seated in suitably uncomfortable wooden chairs. There’s no obvious narrative here, we’re presented with fear in many forms with allusions to fairytales, phobias and childhood anxieties. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, ominous, intense. This pressured feeling is spoiled slightly by a series of addresses from the dancers, microphone in hand. Asking dancers to become actors is always risky and here, despite their eagerness, the performers falter and the words fall flat.

Better then, to focus on the physical prowess on display. Dancers sprint around the edges of the space in an attempt to escape. There may be wolves, there is certainly the risk of violence, but just as things teeter into wildness – a reprieve. A small band of pipers enters through the double doors, blasting their bagpipes as the dancers quieten. It’s a bit out of place (I don’t know about you, but I associate bagpipes with stirring nostalgia – and I’m not even Scottish!) but the audience seems glad of the change in tone.

The fear re-asserts itself with the exit of the pipers and the audience is split up and led upstairs. While the performance downstairs seemed disjointed and dreamlike, upstairs is another matter. Backlit with shadows, the dancers perform solos in various corners of the dark room, the audience wandering freely between scenes. The wolf is back, in the lupine form of Thomas Mullane and there’s a wonderfully menacing duet which he performs with Bethany Reece, another standout performer.

Then, all goes dark. There’s something fabulous about being in the dark with strangers. All light is extinguished and we are left, wonderfully spooked, waiting for the next piece of action.

Like any canny director, Whaites leaves the best ‘til last. Having mainly showcased the individual talents of his group, he now brings them together in an ensemble sequence that is the clear highlight of the evening. Ensemble work is tremendously difficult to pull off, and risky because of this, but when it works there’s little better in dance. Intricate footwork, deft rhythmic moves… the dancers’ exhilaration is gorgeously infectious. Moving as a whole, the dancers stomp and swoop, conquering their fears together. We file out into the cold night, spent.

In the Dark runs until September 7.

Photo: A still from footage by Emma Fishwick.

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Fiona Harman, Kangaroo Paw, 2019, charcoal and ink on paper, 29.5 x 42cm
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Wild, wonderful… and timely

Various artists, ‘Wildflower State’ &
Claire Gillam, ‘Botanic Philharmonica’ ·
Midland Junction Arts Centre ·
Review by Craig McKeough ·

Botanical themes are among the most prevalent in the history of visual expression. Depictions of flowers and plants can be found on ancient Egyptian papyrus and ceramics, through Medieval and Renaissance textiles and paintings, and burst into life in colourful Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces.

There are good reasons for this. On a most basic level, humans have a dependence on plants for our own existence – for food, shelter and regulating the air we breathe. But on another, less tangible level, plants are a source of constant inspiration with their extraordinary variety of form and colour, their often awesome scale, and their unsurpassed beauty.

In Western Australia, we have always celebrated our plant life, even if we have tended to all but destroy it in the process – the exploitation of our hardwood timbers for building materials, including as road paving and railway sleepers across the British Empire in the early years of the Swan River Colony, being a prime example.

Judy Rogers, Art Forms in Nature 8, 2019, watercolour on paper, 30 x 42cm
Judy Rogers, ‘Art Forms in Nature 8’, 2019, watercolour on paper, 30 x 42cm

But WA is also the Wildflower State, a moniker that we once proudly displayed on our car licence plates, and that claim is no empty boast. Despite the constant threat of human encroachment, this State boasts an array of many thousands of species unique to this corner of the world.

That title has been borrowed for the main exhibition now showing at Midland Junction Arts Centre (MJAC). “Wildflower State” is a part of Mundaring Arts Centre’s “What on Earth” initiative, a celebration of the botanical world in conjunction with the Art Gallery of WA, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, King Street Art Centre and Kings Park Festival.

Coordinated by noted WA artists Tony Jones, Jude van der Merwe and Angela McHarrie, “Wildflower State” brings together 34 diverse practitioners whose 70 pieces fill MJAC’s East and West galleries.

Monique Tippett, Sheoak, 2019, recycled paper, balga resin, copper, 30 x 30 x 14cm
Monique Tippett, ‘Sheoak’, 2019, recycled paper, balga resin, copper, 30 x 30 x 14cm

There is a diversity of styles and media – artists have drawn, painted, stitched, printed, wrapped and rubbed. Some have adopted a traditional, realistic style of representing botanical specimens while others have chosen to depict the intersection of plant life with human existence in more abstract ways.

The variety reflects the extraordinary range of plants endemic to this part of the world. Some are showy and vibrant in their colour, such as Jeanette Garlett’s joyful celebration of banksias and grevilleas, Judy Rogers’ stunningly delicate watercolours on a stark black background, and Bethamy Linton’s mesmerising ink and watercolour xanthorrhoea.

Others are understated and subtle, and are more about the line and form, such as Fiona Harman’s striking monochromatic banksia in charcoal (pictured top), Holly Story’s earthy plant prints and Madeleine Clear’s rich tones of charcoal and pindan ochre depicting the aftermath of fire.

The exhibition is united most effectively by the decision to have almost all the artists submit works on paper of similar size, and hanging them unframed. (There are also lovely small sculptural pieces by Monique Tippett and Sarah Elson, which work in harmony with the art on paper).

“Wildflower State” is a worthy homage to WA’s unique flora and, as Tony Jones highlights in his foreword to the program, a timely reminder of the need for humans to reconsider the priority we place on protecting it.

Claire Gillam, Plant Band, 2018, installation
Claire Gillam, ‘Plant Band’, 2018, installation

Showing in conjunction with “Wildflower State” is “Botanic Philharmonia”, featuring Claire Gillam’s intriguing multi-media installation which explores the notion of communication between plants and humans.

Her Plant Band connects living native plants to robotic instruments, which play their own brand of percussion triggered by measurements of the plants’ sap, water content and rate of photosynthesis. Gillam has fun with the concept, naming her trio of band members after plant entities from the sci-fi and fantasy world, including Fangorn from The Lord of the Rings, Jabe from Doctor Who and Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.

There’s more of the gentle Fangorn than Audrey’s sinister overtones in this installation. It’s a quirky if discordant sound sculpture that asks interesting questions about our relationship with plant life and gives new pause to question what our garden plants might be hearing when we talk to them.

“Wildflower State” and “Botanic Philharmonia” run until October 12.

The “What on Earth” project continues at Mundaring Arts Centre from September 13, with “Peregrinations of a Citizen Botanist”, an interactive installation by Susie Vickery, and “Seeds, Pods and Pollen”, a collection of plant and pollinator inspired works curated by Sarah Toohey.

Pictured top: Fiona Harman, “Kangaroo Paw”, 2019, charcoal and ink on paper, 29.5 x 42cm

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PERPETUAL WAKE_pictured_L-R_Jeffrey Jay Fowler_Arielle Gray_Charlotte Otton_Chris Isaacs_Photo Credit Dana Weeks
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A hilarious exposé of human nature

Review: The Last Great Hunt, Perpetual Wake ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 31 August ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Presented by local outfit The Last Great Hunt and directed by Gita Bezard, Perpetual Wake takes the darkest elements of humanity – falseness, lies, abuse of power and the urge to destroy – and turns them into a richly layered farce that comments ironically on the nature of culture, art and the cult of personality.

Written by Bezard and Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the narrative is engaging without being overly complicated; a story of a young women who has written a debut novel (Perpetual Wake), the pretentious male author-turned-critic who becomes obsessed with her work, and his wife, a romance author whose books, although hugely popular, are not critically acclaimed and are constantly denigrated by her husband.

As the story unfolds, bad behaviour abounds, and it becomes clear that everyone is lying about something. Within this nexus of falsities, the narrative of the play becomes messily entangled with that of the novel, further compelling the audience as well as the characters themselves to question the nature of truth-telling and the impossibility of objective storytelling.

Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Arielle Gray. Photo: Dana Weeks.
Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Arielle Gray in The Last Great Hunt’s production of ‘Perpetual Wake’. Photo: Dana Weeks.

Combining a self-aware, melodramatic narrative with moments of contemplative physical theatre, the play’s visual language is persistently striking, with a simple set design and the recurrence of motifs – antlers, fur, plaid hunting jackets – echoing through the performance. This continuing switch between narrative, plot-driven scenes and dream-like moments of absurdity and unreality effectively pushes the story along, despite the occasionally predictable nature of the narrative. This predictability is not a weakness, rather it’s cleverly woven into the story itself; a comment on the impossibility of writing anything truly unique in contemporary culture, and the reliance upon tropes within “low-brow” genres such as romantic fiction.

The characters themselves are incredibly well realised and outstandingly performed; simultaneously unlikeable yet relatable. There’s a strong undercurrent of feminist reclamation within these characters, as the two female characters, Fiona (Charlotte Otton) and Bernice (Arielle Gray) are both clearly much more intelligent than they are given credit for. This is highlighted by the fact that their “fictional” alter egos, referred to in the women’s’ published works, Veronica and Molly are both deliberately portrayed as laughably shallow and one-note.

In contrast, the male critic Paul (Chris Isaacs) is instantly unlikeable, a stunningly accurate representation of every man I ever encountered in an undergraduate English tutorial, aged by a few decades but unfortunately only in body, not mind. For Paul, it is a personal insult for a woman to be able to write well, and when faced with this reality, he does everything he can to deny it. For him, the truth is more complicated than he can grasp.

In its complex unfolding of the characters’ deceptions to others as well as themselves, layered within a story we’ve heard before but that never fails to engage, Perpetual Wake deftly and hilariously exposes the inherent predictability of human nature.

Perpetual Wake plays Subiaco Arts Centre until September 7.

Pictured top: L-R_Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Arielle Gray, Charlotte Otton and Chris Isaacs in The Last Great Hunt’s production of ‘Perpetual Wake’. Photo: Dana Weeks.

PERPETUAL WAKE_pictured_L-R Chris Isaacs_Arielle Gray_Charlotte Otton_Jeffrey Jay Fowler_Photo Credit Annie Harvey
L-R Chris Isaacs, Arielle Gray, Charlotte Otton and Jeffrey Jay Fowler in ‘Perpetual Wake’. Photo: Annie Harvey.
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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A world of grace and enchantment

Review:  Grace Knight: ‘The First 40 Years’ ⋅
Ellington’s Jazz Club August 31 ⋅
Review: Ron Banks ⋅

There is a world of experience behind the sparkling eyes of jazz singer Grace Knight. Firstly there is the early experience in the pop world as the lead singer of Perth-based group Eurogliders, whose career took them to international hits and four successful albums. That career was followed by three decades as a jazz singer for Knight, who perhaps can be said to be in the latter stages of her remarkable career.

But she’s not washed up at all, I hasten to add. As well as playing jazz club gigs, Knight teams up with her old Eurogliders companions for the occasional tour back into the world of pop. And she’s about to team up again with her old mate jazz and soul singer Wendy Matthews for more gigs together.

On the evidence of her performance at Ellington’s, the English-born, Melbourne-based singer has much to offer audiences in terms of impeccable jazz timing and phrasing, and a fun approach to life in the spotlight. She ventured back into pop on occasions, with songs such as the massive hit Heaven from her Eurogliders days.

Her musical journey through jazz, pop and even Irish folk was enhanced by her Ellington trio – the incomparable guitar playing of Sam Lemann, the subtle bass of Karl Florisson and the delicate drumming of Ben Vanderwal. There is a great rapport between this quartet of musicians, each tune delicately led off by Lemann’s relaxed yet imposing guitar work. He makes playing the guitar appear effortless, with each chord change an exercise in subtlety.

The same can be said for Knight’s ease with the vocals on jazz standards such as Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, Soft Winds, Am I Blue and Undecided. Then there is the pleasure of hearing her delve into her Eurogliders’ catalogue with tunes such as Fragile, written by her former partner Bernie Lynch. Or her venture into Irish folk songs, such as Down by the Salley Gardens, set to the words of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. That Yeats should be quoted in a jazz club is unusual, one might say.

An essential part of any performance centred on a singer is their ability to engage with the audience, and Knight is certainly up there with those who are willing to share – or even overshare – with the public. She is self-deprecating most of the time, telling tales against herself, inviting her audience into her world, if only briefly, with well-delivered and entertaining anecdotes about her colourful past as a singer. Not too much candour, mind you – just enough to make us believe in her, even if she confesses at the start that she will be telling lies.

It’s all part of a seasoned performer’s schtick to get the audience onside, and then deliver smashing vocals that confirm her status of a remarkable talent that audiences can admire and enjoy.

Grace Knight’s final show at the Ellington is August 31st.

 

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