Intercurrent "Sensory Horizons"
Contemporary music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Pleasing minimalism

Review: Intercurrent, “Sensory Horizons”, programmed by Tura New Music ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 19 June ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

Intercurrent is an exciting new music ensemble based in Perth. The initiative came from some of the best local conservatory-trained musicians: composer Lachlan Skipworth, percussionist Louise Devenish, pianist Emily Green-Armytage and clarinettist Ashley Smith. They’re supported by Tura New Music – a small but distinguished organisation that emerged, thirty years ago, from the somewhat shrouded world of contemporary-classical and experimental art music. As with any other niche, there is a small community of diehard followers who will attend anything – rain, hail or shine. In my days as an eager composition student, I probably would have considered myself among the enlightened few. But in recent years I stopped going to these sorts of concerts. I stopped connecting with what I was hearing; I couldn’t tell if I actually enjoyed myself – was I just pretending? I became disheartened by the small, selective audiences. And becoming a composer seemed to me a hopeless, pointless, spurious endeavour. That is to say, I came to “Sensory Horizons” with my own baggage.

The evening began with a casual pre-concert talk on stage, facilitated by musicologist Sarah Collins. She spoke with Smith and Devenish about the origins and intentions of Intercurrent. The two musicians admitted, with a slight hint of sheepishness, that they were all “closet minimalists” – that they admired composers such as Philip Glass, whose distinctive style (emerging from New York in the latter part of the twentieth century) continues to influence today’s film composers, electronic music producers, math rock bands and a whole host of artists across various disciplines. Minimalism (in music) is something most people have heard without having heard of. It’s characterised by simple motifs, repetition, layering, and a harmonic clarity that makes it far more accessible than other forms of art music. Both the listener and the performer become acutely aware of the medium of music itself: time.

Intercurrent decided to name this particular concert “Sensory Horizons” because the pieces they programmed showcased the horizontal aspect of music more than the traditional vertical aspect. This kind of music comes to life like a Bob Ross painting, where plain backgrounds – flat, meaningless, washes of colour – transform into majestic landscapes with each stroke. Figures within the composition are always suggestive and never imposing. Such is the exquisitely paced multi-media work by John Supko, This Window Makes Me Feel (2005). The piece begins with a tape recording of incomprehensible whispers and shuffling. Above the stage, there’s a video projection: we seem to be looking through the eyes of somebody walking through Manhattan. Their gaze darts around and their perspective is always obscured – by rain drops, by diffused glass – so that nothing is seen clearly. On top of the whispering, which sounds like the internal monologue of an anxious introvert (takes one to know one), we hear stirrings of piano, vibraphone, muffled bell chimes and bass clarinet. The sounds build and fade over a length of time that at first feels tiresome, then revelatory. The juxtaposition between the emotionally unsettling audio-visual elements and the calmly persistent instrumental lines was profound.

It was a treat to see the core members of Intercurrent joined by some special musical guests: violinist Akiko Miyazawa, cellist Jon Tooby and Michael Howell on flute. They featured on the last three pieces of the program: Subito, an energetic violin piece by Witold Lutosławski; and two exciting pieces by Perth composer Lachlan Skipworth, The Crossing II and The Crossing I. It’s not often you get to see classically-trained musicians performing works with which they have such a strong personal connection. Skipworth conducted his own pieces with precision and intense, brow-furrowing concentration – most likely to navigate the frequent and hectic changes in time signature. His works feature waves of restless arpeggios – oscillating, weaving, reversing, blurring the boundary between acoustic and electronic sound. As my partner put it, Skipworth’s pieces sound “like Jaga Jazzist but more refined”. It’s a good example of the kind of music that gets labelled these days as “Classical-Crossover” – it’ll impress your arty friends; it won’t alienate your normie friends.

As for my own baggage, I left “Sensory Horizons” with unexpected feelings of optimism and self- acceptance. I realised there was no shame in admitting that, for several years, the programming of new music in Perth just didn’t strike a chord with me. I felt great respect for Intercurrent – not just for being exceptionally talented musicians, but for initiating this passion project of theirs, for seeing a gap and filling it. And I’m grateful that they inadvertently validated my own musical tastes; I have always been a (not-so-closeted) minimalist myself.

For more information about Intercurrent head to www.facebook.com/intercurrent

For more information about Tura New Music head to www.tura.com.au 

Top: Intercurrent performing “Sensory Horizons”.

 

Black Swan State Theatre's production of Assassins (Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), Directed by Roger Hodgman; Heath Ledger Theatre, 15th June 2018, photographed by Philip Gostelow.
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A kind of magic

Review: Black Swan Theatre Company, Assassins ·
State Theatre Centre of WA , June 20 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Created by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman in 1991, Assassins tells the stories of nine people who committed or attempted to commit political murder in the US over the past two centuries.

It is a giddy, mind-warping ride on a time-machine. Alternative history meets magic realism, perfect in this disturbing age of “alternative facts”.

I gave birth to my youngest son, Carter, in California a decade ago. And while I am desperate to return on holiday, my little American (he was 10 weeks old when we left the country) is reluctant, on the basis of “Trump and guns”. When fear and loathing of America’s president and gun culture plagues even a West Australian pre-teen, you can safely say Assassins has contemporary resonance.

0N8A0459 Nick Eynaud, Caitilin Beresford-Ord, Brendan Hanson, Natasha Vickery, Will O'Mahony. Assassins. Image credit Philip Gostelow.
Masterfully directed by Roger Hodgman: Nick Eynaud, Caitilin Beresford-Ord, Brendan Hanson, Natasha Vickery & Will O’Mahony. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

John Wilkes Booth (Brendan Hanson) tries to rationalise his assassination of Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theatre, blaming him for the Civil War and destruction of the South. Leon Czolgosz (Cameron Steens) rants about the plight of the downtrodden working class. Charles Guiteau (played to comedic perfection by Will O’Mahony) really, really wants to sell copies of his book.

The musical, masterfully directed by Roger Hodgman, with musical direction by Jangoo Chapkhana, moves through various times and places with imagined meetings between the assassins. They rub shoulders at a fairground and a bar. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Mackenzie Dunn) extols the “virtues” of her lover Charles Manson to Sara Jane Moore (Caitlin Beresford-Ord) before the pair gleefully shoot at a bucket of KFC. All of the assassins appear before Lee Harvey Oswald (Finn Alexander) in the Texas School Book Depository, egging him on to shoot JFK.

The result is stunning, thanks to Weidman’s innovative narrative structure and thought-provoking characterisation, and Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s impressive set, onto which are projected photographs and archival footage.

The production invites reflection about the quiet (and not so quiet) desperation of the marginalised, disenfranchised and, perhaps, the mentally ill. It cleverly humanises these names from history without moralising or condoning their crimes.

And as I sat savouring the quirky genius of Sondheim’s music and lyrics and the flawless performances by the Black Swan cast, I had one of those Connectedness-Of-All-Things moments.

You see, I did not name my son after former US president Jimmy Carter, as friends often assume (Trump’s opposite in so many respects); I named him after a San Franciscan showman. While pregnant, I read Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold, a fictionalised biography of the magician known as Carter the Great. Much of the novel centres on the mysterious assassination of President Harding, who dies shortly after taking part in Carter’s stage show in 1923.

Mackenzie Dunn, Nick Eynaud. Assassins. Image credit Philip Gostelow.
Photographs and archival footage are projected onto Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s impressive set. Pictured: Mackenzie Dunn & Nick Eynaud. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

Harding is not among presidents featured in Assassins, though. There’s Lincoln, McKinley, Roosevelt, Nixon, Kennedy, Ford and Reagan. But no Harding. I had to Google it later: Turns out Harding died of pneumonia after a bout of food poisoning. Gold had simply invented the assassination as a plot device.

So here’s my theory/alternative history: The seed was planted when Gold attended a production of Assassins in New York 1991. He was inspired by the story of Lincoln’s assassination at the theatre in 1865. He loved the musical’s unabashed blending of fact and fiction. After years of labour, his homage to Assassins, his novel/baby, was born in 2001.

Gold’s gift to the world is a novel all about a great escape and a little bit of magic. Watching a musical about political assassinations mightn’t sound very upbeat but somehow Assassins was a great escape from our collective anxiety about what Carter sums up as “Trump and guns”. Even while staring down the barrel of a gun.

And that is a kind of magic.

Assassins plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until July 1.

Top: The cast gave flawless performances. Pictured: Will O’Mahony, Natasha Vickery, Nick Eynaud, Caitlin Beresford-Ord, Brendan Hanson in “Assassins”. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

 

three dancers
News, Performing arts, Reviews

A mixed bag of Short Cuts

Review: STRUT dance “Short Cuts, Program A” ·
King Street Arts Centre, June 14 ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

If you’re not familiar with contemporary dance, I’d recommend the hot bath strategy – one toe at a time until you’re fully in.  STRUT dance’s “Short Cuts” is an annual program of curated short works that presents an easy way to get better acquainted with this often misunderstood discipline.  It’s important to note that these works are essentially in draft form and created in a very short amount of time – you’re getting raw ideas, some of which warrant further exploration, some of which do not.

Last Thursday an enthusiastic throng packed into one of the studios at King Street Arts Centre to check out the fare on offer.  It was an unusually lengthy program, compared to the traditional Short Cuts hour-long show and comprised nine pieces.  The first, Dance, Quiet Riot was choreographed by Emma Fishwick, an associate artist with CO3 Australia.  Fishwick is a multidisciplinary artist with a strong visual sense on effective display here.  Two dancers performed elegant, synchronized phrases in the centre of the square stage, while four others formed a sombre perimeter.  All were wreathed in sheer fabric – a bold choice for an all-female work.  Can the work transcend the spectacle of the naked form or is it more of a distraction?  The dance was executed with a gorgeous, rolling grace, but if I’m perfectly honest, I felt a bit ashamed of my inability not to be distracted by so many naked breasts.  But even my shortcomings as a viewer could not detract from the ability showcased – Fishwick has a clear vision, refreshing in its confidence.

Another highlight of the program was a trio of brief works curated by a key choreographer of the Perth independent scene, Bernadette Lewis.  The first, Miss Where are My Pills, was choreographed and performed by Natalie Allen with Lewis also performing.  Allen, the recipient of a bagful of awards, is an insane dancer to watch.  Her combination of precision, energy and frenzied bustle is just extraordinary.  This work was no exception and the complementary style of Lewis provided an additional measure of inspired looseness – Lewis has a gift for looking like she’s having so much fun while she dances.

Following this was my choice of the evening – Miss Fury choreographed by Laura Boynes and performed by the choreographer and Lewis.  I’m not sure whether it’s the subversion of the “seriousness” of contemporary dance, or if it’s just because I love a good laugh, but I am a total sucker for dance with a sense of humour.  Boynes and Lewis stroll onstage, mouthing pre-recorded words of a conversation that tackles tropes of modern feminism with a rare hilarity.  Boynes is creating a strong reputation for herself as a maker of politically charged art, yet she has a lightness of touch that is truly inspired.  The duo slip into dance – inventive hand movement here warrants special note – and as strains from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly swell, together they seal a perfect package of art and humour cut through with politics.

Not every idea was a winner.  Joshua Pether’s Water Stories was a tentative work, big on ideas but scant on the dance.  And while there was a lot of heart in Ellen-Hope Thomson’s Moth, the execution missed the mark.  Conversely, The Sessions provided another blistering display of Natalie Allen’s talents and when coupled with Samuel Harnett-Welk’s technical prowess, one could only marvel at the skill evident, if not anything resembling meaning.

At the conclusion of the program, STRUT’s Paul Selwyn Norton asked the audience to vote for which work deserved the extra time and funding to be further developed.  With half the slate of works worthy of further exploration, Selwyn Norton and his team are spoiled for choice – and that was only Thursday night.  We’ll see the results of the voting as part of the upcoming MoveMe Festival later in the year.

For more info head to: www.strutdance.org.au

Photo: Simon Pynt.

Bus Boy
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Nuanced and intense: a wonderful back-to-back billing

Review: Rorschach Beast, Bus Boy and Static Drive Co, Tissue ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 20 June ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

The frailty of human connection haunts both Rorschach Beast’s Bus Boy and Static Drive Co’s Tissue. Written and produced by two sets of talented local writers and production companies and staged for the Subiaco Theatre Festival, this back-to-back billing works to contrast the nuances of friendship with the intensity of sex.

With characters positioned on stage as the audience entered the auditorium, and disembowelled bicycle parts hanging from above, it seemed likely from the outset that Bus Boy would be an immersive experience. And so it was.

Produced by local theatre company Rorschach Beast, and written by and starring Izzy McDonald with a marvellous performance by Sean Guastavino, Bus Boy explores themes such as coming of age, sexual abuse and human connection through the lens of Bus Boy (Guastavino), a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, and a slightly manipulative “older” woman, Gerry (McDonald).

The play is set on Rottnest and local theatre goers will be aware of the juxtaposition of the island’s long and dark history with its reputation as a summer playground. This sits neatly with Gerry’s wild abandon and the super-laced restraint of Bus Boy.

An intense and personal affair, the play carefully treads the line between banal platitude and common cliché. With subtlety and nuance aplenty, the work allows the audience to walk away with all kinds of lessons, from the fragility and danger of youth to the importance of growing up and embracing what it means to be an adult.

Isn’t that what the theatre is for?

Tissue
Although there are only three characters on stage, ‘Tissue’ is bursting with humanity. L-R: Ann-Marie Biagioni, Jess Moyle and Samjey Hayes.

The second play, aptly named Tissue, and written by two WAAPA graduates, Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida, differentiated itself from the austere seductiveness of Bus Boy with its overt drama, making for an effective evening’s programming.

Originally staged in 2016 at Perth’s Blue Room Theatre, Tissue borrows from seventeenth century theatre to brazenly confront the themes of contemporary love and sex.

In this gratuitous but sometimes tender and funny exposition of the lives of a young couple, we are greeted by two protagonists (Samjey Hayes and Jess Moyle), and also a fifth business*, played by the talented Ann-Marie Biagioni.

Using sex and relationships, Biagoni’s character probes both protagonists by engaging them in a chorus dialogue. This technique blends old with new, to construct an intense and fertile philosophical disquisition on our enjoyment of pornography, its relationship to our own sexual selves and the inherent instincts to keep these thoughts secret.

Sex and love are on full display. Tissue examines so many affairs of the heart that the play gains a giddy momentum, climaxing in a frenzied amalgam of broken hearts and sweaty bodies. By the end you may feel dizzy and over-sensitized to the whirlpool that is young romance. Although there are only three characters on stage, the play is bursting with humanity, making it appear much larger than it is, and illustrating our own delicate sexuality.

The play charts Alex (Hayes) and Zoe’s (Moyle) romantic relationship. Taking a course that neither intended, the play morphs into a hotbed (no pun intended) of frayed lives. Spanning about twelve months, at a time when youth permits such infinite change, the characters explore the possibility of being someone other than themselves.

From the rapture of love, to the dissonance of porn, Tissue takes us on a wild ride. You can’t help but feel compassion for the characters as they bumble about fearlessly searching for loving attachments, but coming up empty handed.

Two wonderfully synchronistic performances, well worth seeing.

 

* A “fifth business” is an old theatrical term, used to describe a character who is neither hero nor villain, but nonetheless crucial for revealing the plot.

Bus Boy plays Subiaco Arts Centre until June 23.

Tissue plays Subiaco Arts Centre until June 23.

Pictured top: Izzy McDonald and Sean Guastavino in ‘Bus Boy’.

Semiconductor_Black Rain_Photo by Rebecca Mansell (1)
Film, News, Reviews, Visual arts

A striking solar exploration

Review: Semiconductor, Brilliant Noise/Black Rain ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Phoebe Mulcahy ·

Despite it being one hundred-and-fifty million kilometres from the Earth and so bright we can’t even look directly at it for more than a few seconds, there’s no doubt our relationship to the Sun is both profound and fundamental. Like the God it was seen to be by so many ancient cultures, this “luminous disc in the sky” looms large in human life, seeming at once close and distant, and as life-threatening as it is life-giving. Such paradoxes as these are drawn out in an exhibition of solar-themed video works by UK artist duo Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt), on show at the Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC) until next month.

Semiconductor_Black Rain_Photo by Rebecca Mansell (1)
Gently cascading images: ‘Black Rain’. Photo: Rebecca Mansell.

Brought to FAC as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, the exhibition encompasses two video works, Brilliant Noise and Black Rain, both of which feature imagery sourced from solar observatories and satellites. Making use of scientific data, both to explore the interface between nature and technology and push the boundaries of the moving image, has become a feature of Semiconductor’s work.

Jarman and Gerhardt have been collaborating for nearly twenty years. It’s curious to note, however, that the two works selected for this show only seem to date from around halfway through their career (2006 and 2009 respectively), which, given the advances in technology witnessed since that time, lends an almost retro air to the works, as though they’ve been pulled out from archives that have only just begun to gather dust.

In fact, there is an oddly covert or classified feeling to the imagery in general. Brilliant Noise, in particular, with its unremittingly grainy and crackling scenes of energetic particles and solar wind, gives an impression not only of the extraordinary power at the surface of the Sun, but also, almost humorously, of CCTV footage on the largest scale imaginable.

Combined with a highly discordant and tense soundtrack, you keep waiting for something to jump out, or a crescendo that doesn’t quite arrive. After all, intensity like this is nothing out of the ordinary where one hundred billion nuclear explosions are taking place every second. Black Rain, though inescapably coloured by its counterpart’s soundtrack hissing through the dividing curtains, is much more meditative in nature, with gently cascading images that evoke the distance between Earth and the Sun. Together, the works offer an incredibly striking perspective on this most central of natural phenomena, and bring us as close to its explosive surface as one would ever want to get.

Brilliant Noise/Black Rain runs until Sunday 15 July.

Pictured top: ‘Brilliant Noise’. Photo: Rebecca Mansell.

When he gets that way
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A restrained battle of wit

Review: Susie Conte, When He Gets That Way ·
Subiaco Arts Cenre, 15 June ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

Directed by Susie Conte, When He Gets That Way is one of seven performances by Western Australian theatre makers being presented this month as part of the Subiaco Theatre Festival. An unspecified period drama, the play pits a Downton Abbey-style upper-class mistress against her new handmaiden; the pair cleverly competing in a restrained battle of wit.

Lady Annabelle desperately seeks a life beyond her vacuous existence, craving a tryst and striving for the romantic connection that is alive in her mind. Socially upward scullery-turned-handmaid Christiane (whose peasant upbringing “wasn’t all peaches and creme”, she’ll have you know) seeks to move above mediocrity and has the charm to do so.

The dialogue between the two characters is packed with simile that gets increasingly preposterous (and hilarious) as the show unfolds. Using their diaries as weapons, the two women set creative entries against one another in an absurdist comedy where each yearns to be relevant in a society that doesn’t offer much agency to women of either class.

A private diary has long been a place where women are allowed to be themselves, to exercise freedom and voice desires, and the characters in When He Gets That Way use this tool to break free of patriarchal constraints, if only for a little while.

Both actors give fantastic performances. Lady Annabelle (director Lisa Louttit) embodies the excess that her upper class character oozes. Appearing with a comically oversized skirt, complete with tulle tendrils, Louttit’s shrill character teeters on the edge of overplay, but her experience on the stage shines through; she doles out as much ridiculousness as can be handled in a 75 minute show and no more.

WAAPA Music Theatre graduate Tarryn Ryan, playing Christiane, is a revelation. She allows her character to feign innocence and servitude whilst cleverly manipulating dialogue to convince the audience that there is more to this peasant girl than meets the eye.

While the sharp script delivered by two expressive actors kept me engaged, I spent the latter half of the performance waiting for another piece of the puzzle. When it didn’t come, I couldn’t help but feel that I had been left out of a private joke. I exited the theatre wishing I’d been in on it, just like Lady Annabelle listening to some salacious gossip.

Although When He Gets That Way has finished its short season, you can catch other works on the Subiaco Theatre Festival program before it finishes at the end of June. Check out Seesaw’s interviews with Andrew Baker, producer/performer of/in Gutenberg! The Musical, and with Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida, directors of Tissue.

Pictured top: Tarryn Ryan and Lisa Loutitt in ‘When He Gets That Way’.

Carousel
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

The roundabout course of love

Review: Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Carousel ·
Regal Theatre, 16 June ·
Review by Leon Levy ·

In 1909 Hungarian writer Ferenc Molnár’s play Liliom was withdrawn after a short run in Budapest. In 1943 Rogers and Hammerstein, in their first collaboration, wrote the musical Oklahoma! to unprecedented acclaim. Such is some of the unlikely background to the composition of Carousel: on the one hand a seemingly-failed Hungarian play with its uncongenial social and political background and gloomy storyline, and the refusal of the playwright to allow even Puccini to set it for the operatic stage; and, on the other hand, the unlikelihood that the American partnership of composer and lyricist could possibly find in this joyless play a successor to the widely acclaimed Oklahoma!. Indeed, Samuel Goldwyn advised that Rogers simply shoot himself in order to avoid the inevitable humiliating failure.

But fate took an altogether unexpected course: after World War I, Liliom was successfully remounted in Budapest and later New York. Then in 1943, searching for material for a follow-up to Oklahoma!, Liliom was suggested to a sceptical Rogers and Hammerstein. Meantime Molnár had moved to the US and was so taken with their sympathetic adaptation of the play Green Grow the Lilacs into Oklahoma! that he capitulated, attended Carousel rehearsals enthusiastically and permitted certain modifications to avoid a totally bleak ending.

In this production of Carousel – performed by WAAPA’s second and third year musical theatre students accompanied by the WAAPA orchestra under David King – Sydney-based director John Langley has most effectively repositioned the action in the Vietnam War era and thus side-stepped any unhelpful cutesiness. Even the prologue, with its carnival scene and “The Carousel Waltz”, suggests the joylessness that is to follow and that makes for a satisfyingly consistent prevailing atmosphere.

Carousel
Jason Langley and his large team bring this challenging work to vivid life. Photo: Jon Green.

The main protagonists appear without delay: the loving and trusting Julie Jordan (Amy Fortnum), flattered by the attentions of handsome barker Billy Bigelow (Andrew Coshan), friend Carrie Pipperidge (Jessica Clancy) and jealous carousel owner, the widow Mrs Mullin (Stacey Tomsett) immediately establish themselves, as does the electricity between Julie and Billy. Confident anticipation (Carrie’s “When I Marry Mr Snow”) and uncertainty (Julie’s “If I Loved You”) are beautifully projected by Clancy and Fortnum respectively, and confirm the integration of the vocal and dramatic qualities that reflect and advance the drama throughout the evening. Coshan’s rendition of Billy’s “Soliloquy” on learning that he is to become a father, is another one of many fine moments. As Enoch Snow, Kurt Russo is all moral certainty combined with 1950’s country-boy naivety, making a satisfying contrast to the more conflicted folk around him: later this re-emerges most deliciously when he chances upon his wife describing what was effectively a drag-show that they had, in innocence, attended in New York.

Carousel
Amy Fortnum as Julie Jordan and Andrew Coshan as Billy Bigelow. Photo: Jon Green.

The rare carefree scenes that end Act I and begin Act II (the ensemble in cracking form in “This Was a Real Nice Clambake”) lead to Billy’s descent into disaster, led by the cynical low life, Jigger (Todd Peydo). Act II is marked by tragedy and by Molnár’s potentially unconvincing device of having Billy observe his now teenaged daughter Louise (Alexandra Cornish) from his detention in a heavenly police court and during a brief earthly return. This must have been an unsympathetic development for both composer and lyricist and, indeed,  poses a challenge for cast and audience in 2018. But the WAAPA team bring dramatic strength to these moments, with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – sung by Elise Muley as Nettie, Julie’s protector – consolidating the prospects for a more hopeful future for Louise.

Working from the narrow confines of the Regal stage, Jason Langley and his large team – cast, choreographer, lighting, set, costume and sound designers, musical director and orchestra – bring this challenging work to vivid life. This is a compelling production in which the spectre of domestic violence is ever-present and where there are all-too-few moments of unalloyed happiness. But it will, without doubt, come to be seen as one of the theatrical highlights of 2018.

Carousel plays the Regal Theatre until June 23.

Pictured top: Alexandra Cornish as Louise Bigelow. Photo: Jon Green.

Carousel
A compelling production. Photo: Jon Green 2018
Georgina Cramond
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Through the lens of anxiety

Review: Ribs, Interrupting a Crisis ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 13 June ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

Written and performed by Georgina Cramond, who sings under the stage name Ribs, Interrupting a Crisis is an engaging and earnest one-woman show, pairing heartfelt folk-pop songs with unflinching personal stories about managing mental health. Directed by Finn O’Branagáin, Interrupting a Crisis was first presented as part of the Blue Room Theatre’s development season last year, and saw Cramond win the 2017 Performing Arts WA “Best Newcomer” award.

In a deeply honest performance, Cramond explores her musical career as an emerging singer-songwriter through the lens of her struggles with anxiety. She starts at the very beginning – her first panic attack and, later, the first song she ever wrote.

Cramond is brave in her autobiographical openness, sharing the thoughts that appear in her moments of spiralling panic and the phrases (both damaging and reaffirming) that repeat in her head. She re-enacts moments of vulnerability with humour and sincerity, performing as herself hunched over a bathroom sink, giving fake thumbs up to her co-workers, and trying to explain her newfound anxiety to her mother.

Georgina Cramond
Since it’s estimated that three million Australians are living with anxiety or depression, Cramond’s experiences will feel all too familiar for many. Photo: David Cox.

There is an admirable frankness to her storytelling, and since it’s estimated that three million Australians are living with anxiety or depression, her experiences will feel all too familiar for many.

Alongside her stories of mental health hardship, Cramond takes us on a simultaneous journey through her progress as a musical performer. Prompted by her first therapy session, she returns to her childhood love of singing, experimenting with an old keyboard before taking a songwriting class and eventually performing in public. She punctuates her monologues with catchy original songs, which are sung live on stage with conviction (and are also available on Bandcamp).

This confessional show is a testament to the cathartic potential of songwriting, which Cramond has used to gain a sense of purpose and power over her fears. Importantly, she also reminds us that recovery is not linear, and that mental health issues don’t necessarily originate from a traumatic past. Presenting her story with unwavering honesty, Cramond’s Interrupting a Crisis plays a role in de-stigmatising mental health struggles, and will hopefully inspire others to talk (if not sing).

Interrupting a Crisis runs until 16 June 2018.

Pictured top is Georgina Cramond in ‘Interrupting a Crisis’. Photo: David Cox.

Georgina Cramond
Interrupting a Crisis is an engaging and earnest show, pairing heartfelt folk-pop songs with unflinching personal stories about managing mental health. Photo: David Cox.
Music, News, Opera, Performing arts, Reviews

Extreme makeover for opera

Review: Freeze Frame Opera, Pagliacci ·
Camelot Theatre, Mosman Park, 9 June ·
Reviewed by Tiffany Ha ·

There’s been a steadily growing buzz around Freeze Frame Opera since its launch in 2016. According to its website bio, the small, cutting-edge company is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to showcase the traditional genre in new and exciting ways, to make opera “accessible, affordable and appealing”.

I am in full support of this endeavour. Throughout my many years of music study – and well into my twenties – I never connected with opera. It felt alienating. I was bewildered by the female characters, whose on-stage activities were limited to pining, seducing, being captured, or being punished*. This, combined with the substantial investments required just to attend the darn thing (time, money, clothes that aren’t jeans), gave me the belief that opera is not for me.

On Saturday night, however, Freeze Frame Opera (FFO) made me reconsider my stance on traditional opera, with its gritty and boldly-stylised interpretation of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The tragicomic opera premiered in Milan in 1892; today it is one of the most-performed operas in the repertory. The story centres on a troupe of travelling clowns who, in FFO’s production, are characterised as general actors and performers – there is not a clown-suit in sight.

Pagliacci
Far removed from traditional opera: Paul O’Neill as Canio, Jun Zhang as Beppe and members of the chorus in Freeze Frame Opera’s Pagliacci. Photo: Robbie Harrold.

In fact, all the visual elements of the production – the set, costuming, props, the overall colour-scheme – are far removed from what you’d expect from traditional opera. Instead of a nineteenth-century Italian village, we find ourselves in Boganville, Australia, 1974, in a groovy caravan park complete with astroturf and garish portable outdoor furniture. In the opening scene we see two families (Canio’s and Beppe’s) enjoying a summer holiday together: one of the boys saunters in with his billy and camping swag; some teenagers trickle in, wearing bathers and boardies, hair still damp from the beach; the dads are manning the Weber, handing out sausages wrapped in white bread; the kids are running and playing; the women are dressed in bright paisley frocks, reading magazines and smoking cigarettes.

The realism of FFO’s Pagliacci was delectable. And it never felt forced or ad-hoc, because Leoncavallo wrote the opera in the verismo style – a post-Romantic operatic tradition that focuses on the experiences of ordinary human beings, as opposed to those of gods, kings and the aristocracy. At times, the performance felt less like opera, and more like soap opera.

That’s by no means a criticism of the cast’s acting and singing, though. The performers could just as easily have been on larger stages in fancier opera houses. Michael Lewis added thoughtfulness and depth to the character of Tonio – a creepy old janitor who meddles in everyone else’s affairs, grumbling in baritone asides. Tenor Paul O’Neill was powerfully convincing as Canio (the hero, and “prince of clowns”); I nearly cried during his aria about the pain of being betrayed by his wife, and the further pain of having to hide it in order to perform and make others happy.

Pagliacci
Tenor Paul O’Neill was powerfully convincing as Canio. Photo: Robbie Harrold.

Soprano Harriet O’Shannessy (who played Nedda, Canio’s wife) was the true star of the show, however. I imagine the take-away from Leoncavallo’s original Pagliacci was that Nedda got what was coming to her. But in FFO’s production, the character is charming, likeable, multi-dimensional and real. O’Shannessy’s Nedda ranged from charming, sassy and gutsy to irreverent, fearful and sullen – impressive ground to cover in such a short performance. We could see why Nedda had many admirers, including her secret lover, Silvia**, who was so well-played by mezzo-soprano Caitlin Cassidy that there was never any hint that her role had originally been written for a man.

Staging operas in smaller venues and with tighter budgets means there’s often no room for an orchestra. Fortunately, FFO’s musical director, Tommaso Pollio, is an accomplished pianist. He played the orchestral reduction of the original score on a grand piano, in front of the stage and off to the side. At times, the piano accompaniment set an intimate, heady mood, as if we were in a late-night cabaret show at Fringe World. Other times, the piano was massive and exclamatory, filling up the space and underscoring the drama as well as an entire orchestra could. It was also nice to be able to see Pollio; traditionally the orchestra is unseen, relegated to the pit underneath the stage.

FFO’s Pagliacci is showing at the Camelot Theatre until this Sunday, but – unfortunately for those who don’t have tickets – it’s completely sold out. Instead, you can keep up to date with future Freeze Frame Opera events by visiting their website. And yes, you can wear jeans; you can even drink beer.

*This applies only to the important female characters. The unimportant ones are relegated to prancing, gossipping, admonishing, and general chorus-commentary. I still hold hope that there’s something in the opera canon that might pass the Bechdel test; if you know of one, please comment below!

**Is it just me, or is 2018 the year of #lesbiansinopera?

Pictured top: Jun Zhang as Beppe and Harriet O’Shannessy as Nedda. Photo: Robbie Harrold.

'Burrbgaja Yalirra - Three Short Works' - Marrugeku Production 2018 - PICA - 6th June 2018 / Photography © Jon Green 2018 - All Rights Reserved
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Not damnation but hope

Review: Marrugeku, “Burrbgaja Yalirra” (Dancing Forwards) ·
PICA Performance Space, 9 June ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

How can we look to the past to change the future?

That’s a question that Marrugeku’s triple bill, “Burrbgaja Yalirra” (Dancing Forwards) seems to be asking. All three of the short, solo dance theatre works programmed refer to stories of the past; stories of contact between humans and spirits, between Aboriginal people and invaders. As the title suggests, however, the gaze of the program is firmly forwards, learning from what has been and looking at what is to come.

Broome/Sydney based dance theatre company Marrugeku has a tradition of collaboration on numerous levels, bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, contemporary and traditional dance, urban and remote dance communities, and various artistic disciplines. “Burrbgaja Yalirra” is no exception and the program includes an intricate web of creative co-credits, headed up by the company’s co-directors Dalisa Pigram (seen in the critically-acclaimed Gudirr Gudirr at the Studio Underground back in 2015) and Rachael Swain.

All three works share one set, a series of three concrete flats, designed by Stephen Curtis. Simple but effective, the industrial-looking slabs are softened by cracks that bring to mind meandering creek beds. Those flats leap into life, seething with colour, in the first work on the program, Ngarlimbah. Conceived, written and performed by Kimberley-based Aboriginal dancer, poet and painter Edwin Lee Mulligan and co-directed by Pigram and Swain, the work is a rich tapestry of dance, paintings, text and music. Mulligan’s paintings, animated by Sohan Ariel Hayes, depict traditional stories and Mulligan’s own dreams. In combination with his poetic narration and deft movement, and layers of music by Sam Serruys and Dazastah, the images plunge us into a Dreamtime and dream-like world.

miranda wheen
Intense, charismatic and precise: Miranda Wheen in ‘Miranda’. Photo: © Jon Green.

Like Ngarlimbah, Miranda, conceived and performed by Miranda Wheen and co-choreographed by Wheen and Belgian-based dancer/choreographer Serge Aimé Coulibaly, draws on both personal and shared stories, including that of Wheen’s namesake character in Picnic at Hanging Rock. It then takes a somewhat tangential turn (although the logic is explained in the notes) to explore the challenge that white Australia faces in moving forward from its past.

While Miranda feels somewhat disjointed because of the tenuous links between its key concepts, Wheen’s performance is highly engaging; intense, charismatic and precise. Now she struggles, arms and legs akimbo, like a rock climber. Now she moves robotically, popping and locking her way across the stage. Now she bourees, a balletic ghost. Now she shouts at us with increasing hysteria, to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. Now she gestures obscenely, her face comically grotesque. Throughout, Matthew Cox’s lighting casts appropriately spooky beams and shadows, while Sam Serruys’s composition builds and diminishes tension.

Eric Avery jumping
A joy to watch: Eric Avery in ‘Dancing with Strangers’. Photo: Jon Green.

The final work on the bill, Dancing with Strangers, was also the longest, and my favourite. Conceived, written and performed by Aboriginal dancer and musician Eric Avery, directed and co-choreographed by Avery with Belgian choreographer Koen Augustijnen and co-composed by Avery with Serruys, Dancing with Strangers has at its centre the story of Avery’s great, great, great, great grandfather seeing the first fleet as it sailed past Yuin country on the south coast of NSW. Avery’s description of the “whales ridden by white ghosts”, initially mistaken as “returned ancestors” is gut-wrenching.

Like the previous works, Dancing with Strangers deftly weaves together dance, theatre and music, with the added layer of Avery’s live violin. There is something dancerly in the movement of any musician playing an instrument, but Avery transforms the violin and bow into instruments of dance in their own right; the bow whipping, the violin twisting. A swift and powerful mover, Avery is a joy to watch.

While Dancing with Strangers explores the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal people, its final message is not one of damnation but of hope; its spoken word finish talks about what could have been but also what might still be.

“Burrbgaja Yalirra” is a moving and uplifting triple bill. Catch it at the PICA Performance Space until June 16.

Pictured top: Edwin Lee Mulligan in ‘Ngarlimbah’ Photo: Jon Green.