A woman (Katherine Gurr) tries to hold back two men (Ian Wilkes and Andrew Searle)
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A richly layered work

Review: Co3 Australia, The Line ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre of WA, 16 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

At the heart of Co3 Australia’s latest contemporary dance work, The Line, is a story of racial segregation.

This story may be unfamiliar to many West Australians, but it’s part of our not-so-distant past. Between 1927 and 1954, there was a law in place that banned Aboriginal people from entering the City of Perth’s boundaries after 6pm, unless they could prove that they were in “lawful employment”. The work’s title refers to the boundary lines of what was known as the Prohibited Area.

It’s a tough topic to tackle, particularly through the non-verbal medium of dance. Nonetheless, The Line’s directors – Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and Artistic Associate Mark Howett – have created a work that resists the temptation of a simple plot. Though interspersed with narrative elements, it is up to the audience to draw the threads together.

What we do see is an Aboriginal man (Noongar dancer Ian Wilkes) and a white woman (Katherine Gurr), who appear to be a couple. They are repeatedly pursued, interrogated and attacked by a man – some kind of policing officer – played by Andrew Searle.

The design elements of the work are immediately striking. As the curtain rises we see seven swings hanging from the fly loft, suspended by long chains that slice the space. A narrow tube of light crosses the darkened back of the stage, intersecting the vertical lines of the swings. Perched high above the dancers, it appears stationary… but time will reveal otherwise. In the dim, hazy light, the atmosphere is eerie as two dancers (Wilkes and Gurr) make lazy, sweeping arcs, on symmetrically placed swings. The peace is broken as the official-type man shouts loudly “YOU!” and mayhem ensues.

A man hold his hand like a gun to another man's jaw.
Constant tension: Ian Wilkes and Andrew Searle. Photo: Daniel Carson

From here the choreography oscillates between anguish and slapstick. Though the conflict is primarily between the Aboriginal and the white man, all three characters seem to be constantly wrestling with one another, and with themselves. The tension rarely lets up, and though this is, no doubt, intentional, it’s exhausting to watch. An exception is a gorgeously soft solo that blends Auslan signs with gestures from traditional Aboriginal dance (beautifully danced by Wilkes), followed by the soothing to-and-fro of the three dancers swinging, bathed in pyramids of light.

It can’t last though and soon we’re plunged back into the cartoon-like violence that punctuates the work. Though horrifying to watch, these repeating scenes of slow-motion violence are fascinating for the skill of both choreography and execution.

Throughout the work, Eden Mulholland’s score is, quite simply, fabulous. Played live in the main, the layers of sound range from long and eerie notes interspersed with storms of recorded voiceovers and ominous rumblings, to a rollicking, romping, 1930s jazz vibe. With James Crabb on classical accordion and Mulholland on a startling array of instruments (various guitars, piano, synthesizer, vocals, percussion), the music is a glorious performance in itself.

The design elements of this work are exceptional too, and with such a rich visual and musical backdrop, a cast of three – the number dictated, presumably, by budget limitations – seems too small, especially in relation to the scope of the issues that the work is tackling. It seems odd, too, to have only one Aboriginal performer, given the work’s context.

That said, the three dancers gave compelling performances on opening night, displaying admirable physical and emotional stamina. Though the duo and trio work was impressive, it was in their solo moments that each dancer shone brightest, Searle slicing and dicing, Gurr arching and melting, and Wilkes gently gesturing.

The repetitive structure of this work, in combination with the near-constant tension, feels unrelenting and – ultimately – unresolved. Though these artistic choices are effective, in terms of representing the discrimination that Aboriginal people have suffered and continue to suffer, personally, I found myself longing for relief.

But perhaps that was the point. Around me, audience members rose to their feet to applaud.

The Line plays until May 19.

Read an interview with directors Raewyn Hill and Mark Howett.

Pictured top are Ian Wilkes, Katherine Gurr and Andrew Searle in “The Line”. Photo: Daniel Carson.

Please follow and like us:
A scene from Water, featuring Glenda Linscott. Amy Mathews. Emily Rose Brennan. Richard Maganga
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

The perils of polemic

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company, Water ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

As we all come to grips with the most pressing issue of our age – humanity’s impact on our planet – it’s only fitting that this theme makes its way onto our stages. As is often the case, theatre is miles ahead of cinema or TV in grappling with this topic – it’s hard to make art that reflects our growing concern, while not straying too far into the boredom of strident polemic. So far, at least, it’s been left to theatre to press the case.

With Water, Melbourne-based playwright Jane Bodie has created a work for Black Swan State Theatre Company that is as ambitious as it is broad-ranging. Set in three different time periods and places, the play examines two of Australia’s thorniest political challenges – climate politics and refugees.

The first and strongest act is set on Molloy Island off WA’s Southwest in the not too distant future. Water has become scarce, birds have all but died out and food rationing is in place. We meet Peter (Igor Sas), a disgraced politician, recently forced to resign over his handling of refugee policy; his wife, Beth (Glenda Linscott) and the couple’s daughters Gemma (Amy Mathews) and Joey (Emily Rose Brennan). Gemma, a corporate lawyer, and Joey, a hippy traveller, have returned to the family’s holiday home to celebrate Peter’s birthday. Joey has been travelling for years and, as with all prodigal offspring, her return is cause for joy, dampened slightly by the fact that she has invited along a friend (and African immigrant), Yize (Richard Maganga).

A scene from 'Water', set in a holiday home on Molloy Island.
An undercurrent of tension: Igor Sas (Peter), Glenda Linscott (Beth) and Amy Mathews(Gemma) in the first act of ‘Water’. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

Bodie begins slowly, casting out small measures of narrative and context that makes the play an enjoyable tease for half of the first act. Why exactly did Peter leave politics? Why is Beth so on edge? Why does Gemma seem so irritated? What are Joey’s motives in inviting Yize? Director Emily McLean paces the show beautifully, creating an undercurrent of tension that is bound to explode. She is aided in this effort by a gorgeous soundscape and score from Clint Bracknell. Beginning with the clatter of parrots, an echo of a more bountiful time, Water is notable for its aural sparseness. We feel the absence of the birds, just as we feel the absence of water. The silence at the show’s beginning builds via stilted conversation, elongated pauses, until finally – with a remarkable soliloquy from Yize – the dam bursts. Maganga’s performance here was so impassioned, so utterly authentic, that it was followed by spontaneous applause from the packed house.

But, despite the talent of the actors, Water is a deeply flawed work. For a contemporary piece written by a female playwright, the raft of characters is alarmingly cliched. We have the absent poli dad; the long-suffering, needy wife; the wild, irresponsible daughter and the corporate careerist. I understand the seduction of writing about characters we are familiar with – there’s little an audience enjoys more than seeing itself reflected onstage – but for a new work, these roles seemed all too predictable. Of course the roguish daughter is there to cause trouble! Of course the corporate careerist is secretly unhappy! In writing such broad caricatures, Bodie underestimates the capacity of her audience to comprehend something more nuanced.

A scene from 'Water'. A nurse examines a patient's throat.
Bodie takes the audience to Ellis Island in 1921. Pictured are Amy Mathews and Glenda-Linscott. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

By the end of the first act though, we are engaged. We know these people, we care about them. Minor irritations like the distraction of Gemma’s resignation can be overlooked in favour of the over-riding pull of any good story – what happens next? But, in an ill-advised attempt to underscore the injustice of Australia’s refugee policy, the next act deprives us of this satisfaction. Instead, Bodie takes us to Ellis Island in 1921 where an elderly white Australian couple is attempting to emigrate to the United States. By drawing an apt but facile comparison with immigration systems elsewhere, Bodie again underestimates her audience. Her point was already made with stirring eloquence through the vessel of Yize – the clunky comparison doesn’t make the point stronger, it weakens it.

Similarly, when we are then transported to Queensland in 1905 in a brief reference to the slave trade that supplied the labour for Australia’s cane plantations, I had no idea where we were or why. Compounding the confusion is Bodie’s decision to use similar names for the characters in each setting. But what happened to the people on Molloy Island? When, finally, the playwright brings us briefly back to the characters of the first act, we are left without any meaningful resolution.

By divorcing us from the characters of the first act, Bodie sacrifices audience enjoyment to belabour her point – our climate policies are failing; our refugee policies are inhumane; we are not learning from history. As someone who agrees wholeheartedly with Bodie’s politics, it pains me to see this sort of didacticism onstage. Making theatre with a political message is extremely difficult; making theatre with a political message while avoiding the perils of polemic is even harder.

Water plays until May 26.

Pictured top are (L-R): Glenda Linscott (Beth), Amy Mathews (Gemma), Emily Rose Brennan (Joey) and Richard Maganga (Yize). Photo: Daniel J Grant.

Please follow and like us:
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Why a caged bird sings

Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, Cracked ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 11 May ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Cracked is a play about a mother’s struggle for freedom. It opens and closes in song.

In mournful yet hauntingly beautiful song. And by the end of it, we know why a caged bird sings.

Frances (an outstanding portrayal by Bobbi Henry) is an Aboriginal woman, 15 months into a prison term. She misses her children, who’ve been put into foster care, and she sings in the prison choir. Her plight reminded me of the bird in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s classic poem, Sympathy. The poem describes the awful experience of a bird trapped in a cage. The bird flaps its wings and sings, not because it is happy but because it is desperate and sad. Dunbar used the bird to represent the oppression of his fellow African-Americans in the late nineteenth century.

Like that bird, Frances wants to be out with her flock. She wants to nest; she wants to fly. But her life has steered off course. Intergenerational trauma, poverty, insecure housing, lack of education and employment, domestic violence and methamphetamine use; these factors and more have led to Frances into crime and prison, and now threaten her prospects for parole and a new chapter with her kids. Frances speaks for Aboriginal Australians in similar circumstances.

Motifs of birds and flight are woven throughout the production, directed by Eva Grace Mullaley. They feature in the script, by Barbara Hostalek, and in the evocative soundscape by Mei Swan Lim and multimedia projections, by Mia Holton.

Bobbi Henry as Frances with (L-R) Luke Hewitt (John Rogers), Rayma Morrison (Aunty Pat) and Bruce Denny (Dwayne).

Despite help from her Aunty Pat (played to perfection by Rayma Morrison) and well-meaning community corrections officer Edwina (Holly Jones), Frances becomes frustrated and overwhelmed. At least behind bars she is assured of “three square meals a day, a roof over your head and no risk of getting smashed up.” So much for The Lucky Country.

The scenes charting Frances’s tentative freedom are gut-wrenching but skilfully executed. Sara Chirichilli’s clever set features a cell on a circular, revolving platform – as the plot nears the resolution, its symbolic value becomes apparent.

Holly Jones as Edwina and Matthew Cooper as Joel.

Hostalek’s characters are beautifully drawn, defying stereotypes and injecting energy and humour into what could otherwise have been a bleak play. Luke Hewitt is superb as an affable prison officer and Matthew Cooper is beautiful to watch as Edwina’s jaded colleague, Joel.

This is a memorable play with an important message. Perhaps Edwina best sums up that message, in her conversation with Joel about her clients: “They’re broken beyond all repair but I don’t want to give up on them.”

Cracked plays until May 18.

Pictured top is Bobbi Henry, as Frances, with (L-R) Bruce Denny (Dwayne), Luke Hewitt (John Rogers) and Holly Jones (Edwina).

All photo: Dana Weeks.

Please follow and like us:
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A rare treat

West Australian Ballet, La Bayadère ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 9 May ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

La Bayadère or The Temple Dancer is not widely known; curious perhaps, considering the 1877 ballet was originally choreographed by none other than Marius Petipa – of Swan Lake and Nutcracker fame. The universal themes of love, betrayal and redemption combined with an exotic setting, lilting music by Ludwig Minkus and technically challenging choreography meant the ballet became a revered hit in Russia, and eventually in Europe when it was finally staged in full, late in the 20th Century.

This co-production between West Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet sees the classic story modernised by choreographer Greg Horsman, injecting Petipa’s original choreography with new sequences and setting the story in a more “real” India, in 1855. Die-hard ballet fans will still recognise Kingdom of the Shades (Act II, Scene I) repertoire and many of the solos, which are regularly performed as competition or gala excerpts around the world. This version’s story, however, hinges on a political treaty to bring an end to hostilities with an arranged marriage and, as a result, a tragic love triangle.

On opening night, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was in excellent form under the careful guidance of conductor Judith Yan. Nigel Gaynor’s musical arrangement, with its initial strum of a sitar, instantly gives the ballet a sense of place. Visually, too, the production is striking with sumptuous sets and luxuriously detailed costumes – both designed by Gary Harris – complemented by Jon Buswell’s glorious lighting, which features rich dramatic sky-scapes that stain the stage pink and orange. While a spectacle for the senses, aspects of the design and direction waver dangerously into religious ambiguity and clichéd “exoticism” – a detail that, one would hope, would be considered in a modern re-telling.

Kaleidoscopic images. Pictured front is Carina Roberts. Photo: Sergey Pevnev

Despite a lengthy three acts, the story moves swiftly, thanks to considered scene changes and clarity of story-telling, assisted by strong character roles. Seasonal Artist Andries Weidemann, as the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, and Company Ballet Master Craig Lord-Sole, as the Governor-General of India, are noteworthy in reinforcing the themes of familial honour and obligation with appropriate sobriety and concern. To keep the peace, a marriage between their children, Prince Solor (Matthew Lehmann) and Edith (Chihiro Nomura), is arranged. In secret, however, Solor has already declared his undying love and devotion to Nikiya, a temple dancer, played by recently appointed Dayana Hardy Acuña.

Lehmann’s trademark ease in partnering and accomplished acting were evident in this challenging role, that demands prowess and stamina. Acuña also shone as Nikiya, with beautifully articulate port de bras, breath-catching control and graceful expression. The stand-out performance on opening night, however, was Nomura, who not only excelled technically but captured Edith’s full emotional gamut, from comic cheek to furious rage, gushing fiancée to wilful seductress.

Acts I and III blend genres of dance, from kaleidoscopic images of a Hindu deity, to vast ballroom scenes incorporating waltzing tuxedos and turbans in equal measure. But it is Petipa’s famous Kingdom of the Shades scene in Act II that is a particular highlight.  This is ballet at its most exposing. Mesmeric sequences of arabesques performed slowly, carefully one-by-one down a moon-lit ramp and across the stage require exceptional focus and strength from the corps de ballet. Exacting formations and vulnerable balances felt both artistically ethereal and technically rock solid in the performance viewed – the choreography bold in its simplicity and precision. Special mentions to Candice Adea, first to enter, for her poise and control and to soloists Carina Roberts, Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Polly Hilton, for demonstrating immense skill and generous artistry in their difficult solos. Opening night jitters or perhaps a slippery stage created a few tense moments for Lehmann and Acuña, though they remained composed and recovered swiftly.

Despite some issues in this re-telling, La Bayadère has something for ballet fans and the uninitiated alike. It is a rare treat to see this technically challenging production in Perth.

La Bayadere plays until May 25. 

Pictured top is Alexa Tuzil as Nikiya (photo is from a different casting, due to unexpected cast changes). Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Please follow and like us:
News, Reviews, Visual arts

Less is more

Review: Hatched National Graduate Show 2019 ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

The 2019 edition of “Hatched National Graduate Show” is more of a minimalist affair than previous years.

Hosted by Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), “Hatched” is an annual survey of works by selected artists who have recently graduated from tertiary institutions nationwide. This year’s exhibition features 18 artists (including three from WA), scaled back from the 30 graduates chosen for the 2018 show. As a result the PICA galleries feel more spacious, encouraging visitors to pay sustained attention to the works on display, and allowing links to be drawn between art from across the country – with shared concerns including mass consumption in global capitalism, sustainability and the natural environment, and explorations of cultural traditions and gender identity.

Many of the works in the ground floor galleries have been created with a sense of human scale in mind – such as Jonathan Kim’s finely balanced assemblages which sit directly (and vulnerably) on the floor, or Ómra Caoimhe’s intricate knitted structures hung from knotted wool. The deeply personal woven domes of Kim Ah Sam have been suspended at head height, as if waiting for someone to duck under and feel the rim of feathers around their neck.

On the back wall is a brightly lit satin cape by Dennis Golding, who has decorated the fabric with hand-sewn symbols of personal and cultural significance. Stunning footage of other richly coloured capes can be found in Golding’s two-channel video Empowering Identity (2018). Fluttering in the breeze, these lush garments conjure the power, strength and symbolic nationhood of the superhero, presenting a powerful representation of contemporary Aboriginal cultural identity.

Anita Cummin’s ‘feelings’. Photo: Matt Schild, Ok Media.

In the adjacent room is Anita Cummins’ feelings (2019), a radiant carpet of crushed Cheezels which is a sight (and smell) to behold. Close inspection shows hand prints in the neatly-packed surface of the powdered snack food, revealing the intimate labour performed by the artist during its installation. The winner of the prestigious 2019 Schenberg Art Fellowship, Cummins is concerned with mental illness and emotional processing, and this all-too-relatable work evokes feelings of excess, compulsion and short-term gratification.

Upstairs, the installations of Yvette James make the gallery space seem a little unstable, encouraging a heightened sense of bodily awareness and a feeling of potential disaster. An uncovered hole in the floor exposes an oil pool of indeterminate volume, while honey seems to leak from the bottom of a wall, and a heavy chunk of basalt rock hangs tenuously above. Evocative yet stylishly minimalist, these works pair nicely with the subtleties of Louis Grant’s nearby pastel blocks, which are seemingly solid forms that bear the bubbles and imperfections of kiln formed glass.

Across the room, Annette An-Jen Liu’s Reconsidering Time in the Ritual of the Joss Paper (2018) produces interesting tensions between the archival and the ephemeral, documenting the ceremonial tradition of burning joss paper. Liu has arranged display cases containing piles of ash alongside screens blaring an overlapping cacophony of news reports, signalling to the complexities of performing cultural heritage practices during the age of mass media.

As a whole, “Hatched 2019” offers a compelling and vital cross section of current contemporary art produced by emerging practitioners, in which the works of each artist bear witness to their considered academic enquiry and commitment to their developing practice.

“Hatched 2019” runs until 7 July.

Pictured top: ‘Empowering Identity’ (2018) by Dennis Golding. Photo: Matt Schild, Ok Media.

Please follow and like us:
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Standards continue to rise

Review: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year dance, ‘Rise’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 4 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

With a stellar line-up of choreographic names on the bill for the WAAPA dance department’s May season, I took my seat in the Geoff Gibbs Theatre with anticipation. The program that followed more than lived up to expectation.

Sarah Ross and Alexander Diedler in ‘A Fraction of Abstraction’, by Sasha Janes. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

First up was A Fraction of Abstraction, created for its cast of 11 third year dancers by visiting Perth-born, US-based choreographer Sasha Janes. With all performers – male and female – costumed in stylish black leotards teamed with elegant skirts, the mood of this work is racy in more senses than one; playful (even flirtatious) but competitive. Set to a selection of pieces from the maelstrom of strings and percussion that is John Adams’ Book of Alleged Dances, A Fraction of Abstraction is, for the most part, comprised of fast-paced duets, frantic canons and teetering off-centre balances,  all  beautifully executed by the third year dancers on opening night.

I say “for the most part”; a poignant pas de deux, set to Johan Johannsson and Hildur Guonadottir’s yearning “Flight From the City”, punctuates the work’s centre. Packed with complicated lifts, the female dancer seems almost to swim around her partner. Despite a few shaky moments (opening night nerves perhaps?) dancers Alexander Diedler and Sarah Ross managed the challenges of this difficult and lengthy duet with impressive focus.

Second year students performing Claudia Alessi’s ‘Holding on to Fall’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Up next was Holding on to Fall, a contemporary work choreographed by Claudia Alessi, exploring the concept that “falling is inextricably linked to holding on”. The work – by necessity – has a large cast, created for the current second year Bachelor degree students, who number more than 20. That’s a lot of bodies and though the stage feels cluttered at times, at others, the numbers provide power. This is particularly noticeable at work’s start – we see the dancers clustered in a slow-moving pyramid, their arms reaching as one, while Elvis sings of being “lonesome tonight”. This moment has a nostalgic appeal, gesturing, perhaps, to a desire to hold on to the past. In this scene and throughout, all dancers performed with intensity and commitment. Mention must be made, too, of the haunting vocals of singer Lucy Schneider.

Also striking are the solos performed on a single point harness that hangs from the fly loft, allowing the dancer to swing suspended, about a metre from the floor. Of particular note was Niña Brown’s solo, which saw her surge into a handstand that tipped as the rope swung her back so that she lay, prone, her hair trailing like Millais’ Ophelia.

‘Shade’ by Kim McCarthy. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

After interval, the mood turned autumnal, with Shade by WAAPA lecturer Kim McCarthy. Made for 16 second year students, gently falling leaves form a backdrop to this neoclassical work, which is set to a selection of richly textured  music, mostly by contemporary composers Johan Johannsson and/or Hildur Guonadottir.

Clad in shades of russet, amber and mustard, the dancers tumble and spiral, rond and roll. Various pas de deux see female dancers tossed and spun. Trios comprised of one male to two female dancers have the men working double time, switching from partner to partner at lightning speed. Like the first work of the evening, the fast pace of this work is demanding and the second year students rose to the challenge with style and grace.

Third year dancers performing “Liminal” by Lauren Langlois. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Rounding out the evening’s entertainment was Liminal, a new work created for 18 third year students by Perth-born, Melbourne-based dancer and choreographer Lauren Langlois. Though the movement for the work has been created in collaboration with the dancers, it has, nonetheless, the inimitable stamp of its maker. As a performer Langlois is known for the furious energy that she emanates on stage. On opening night that manic magnetism was transferred to her young cast, who gave a mesmerising performance.

Liminal “explores symbiosis and transformation inspired by fractal patterns in nature” and the patterns in this work are compelling, from the clump of twitching, turning heads in the opening, to the line of tightly interlinked arms that spirals and undulates like a giant, robotic caterpillar. In shades of midnight blue through to pale turquoise, Anna Weir’s costumes lend an aquatic feel to proceedings, while the soundscape, created by 2018 WAAPA graduate and recent Fullbright scholarship winner Azariah Felton, fills the air with a kind of crackling magic, an abstracted storm.

This is a particularly pleasing program of work from WAAPA’s dance department. Highly recommended.

“Rise” plays until May 10.

Pictured top: Third year students performing Lauren Langlois’s ‘Liminal’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Please follow and like us:
An octet performs with a painter and canvas on either side
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Musical pictures

Review: Giovanni Consort ⋅
St George’s College, May 4 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅

Expectations were high for the opening recital of the Giovanni Consort’s 2019 concert series. Soprano Brianna Louwen, recently returned from the UK with considerable credentials, took the bold directorial approach of seeking to reflect the themes in tableau form as a means of taking the music and words to an enhanced level.

Christ (actor Paul Rowe) was led to the cross as Gesualdo’s O Vos Omnes commenced and, largely swathed in black, he and his background black panel became the canvas upon which artist Kristie Coakley expressed her interpretation. Later, during a section of Monteverdi’s opera Lamento d’Arianna, Arianna (Brianna Louwen), in billowing white, took up her position and received the same treatment.

Brianna Louwen as Arianna, painted by Kristie Coakley. Photo Susie Penco.

Gesualdo and Monteverdi, 16th century composers hailing from what was eventually to become unified Italy, largely faded from view until comparatively recently, despite the prominence they achieved during their lifetimes. Gesualdo, with his bold use of chromaticism, unexpected progressions and challenging dissonances, perhaps took Renaissance music as far as it could go; Monteverdi on the other hand looked firmly towards the new style of Baroque composition.

The opening work, Gesualdo’s brief O Vos Omnes of 1603, is a striking example of the composer’s ability to incorporate the unanticipated to most stirring effect and it provided an inspired start to the evening. Then followed the two major works on the programme, Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday and Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna, the latter a surviving excerpt from a lost opera set as a madrigal. A bracket of madrigals by both composers brought the short recital to a conclusion.

One would have had to go far to hear singing of such accomplishment. With one voice to a part, no conductor and no instrumental support, there was no hiding imperfection… and there was truly none to hide.  The octet was impeccable both in ensemble and exposed line, and cadences were a joy to behold, miracles of balance and poise.

As regards the non-musical component, the Consort was extraordinarily unaffected by the necessarily continuous movement of the artist, who made herself as inconspicuous as was possible in the circumstances. On the negative side, the evolving scenes before us tended to impose a rather homogenous atmosphere of unrelieved misery on the proceedings, and the contrasts that one might have expected to hear between the two composers did not readily emerge.

While both Gesualdo and Monteverdi have secured their places in musical history, performances of their works are sufficiently rare as to make the Giovanni Consort’s programme greatly welcome, especially in such technically immaculate performances.

Pictured top: the Giovanni Consort at St George’s College. Photo Bourby Webster.

Please follow and like us:
Man holding clarinet
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Musical juxtapositions

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra ‘Mozart Clarinet Concerto’ ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, May 3 ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅

There are combinations of composers from different musical eras which work well, and late 18th century meets early 20th century can be one of them. Mozart chamber music meets Elgar hulking great symphony, however, seemed to be an odd mix. Yet this wrench from one musical sensibility to another resulted in a great concert.

Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Concerto (K622) is heard so often that one rather takes it for granted as a soothing cosy listen. But guest soloist Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet with the Berlin Philharmonic, really blew the cobwebs away. English conductor Mark Wigglesworth showed his versatility in immaculately steering the WA Symphony Orchestra through both this and Elgar’s Symphony No 1.

Ottensamer, tall and youthful looking in a smart blue suit and what appeared to be sneakers, quickly had the somewhat skittish audience settled into attentive silence. He opened the Allegro at quite a brisk pace, with smoothly legato yet crisp playing and very distinctive low notes. Without large obvious flourishes, he achieved a subtle decorative effect with nimble grace notes and well-judged rubato. The Mozart-sized orchestra followed effortlessly. The Adagio was played perhaps slightly slower than usual and more beautifully rendered than I have ever heard it, with exquisite accuracy and shining limpid tone, again with sonorous support from the conductor.  The final Rondo movement displayed a lively and sunny mood, culminating in rapturous applause from the audience. It did seem a pity this was all we heard from him.

Elgar’s Symphony No 1 (Op 55) was acclaimed at its 1908 premiere to be a great modern work. Its perceived modernity lies in vividly contrasted sections within movements which appear to be grappling with each other, with terms such as “wild juxtapositions”, conflict, struggle, tempestuous, fury etc abounding in the program notes.  Some people might be unkind enough to describe it as a bit of a mess, but it is not incoherent and has a clear structure, well understood by Wigglesworth who, conducting mostly from memory, managed to finesse all the details.

Elgar is famous in providing a good march, however the opening ‘nobilemente’ theme is hardly martial and this performance brought out its rather melancholy aspects, with well-controlled crescendo and diminuendo. The quieter moments displayed the delicacy of clarinets, and flutes, over the massed violins – the orchestra had expanded after the interval by about two thirds.  A gentle segue led into an Allegro displaying blaring brass contrasted with more soothing passages.

The Allegro molto features what the program refers to as a ‘malicious march’, which sounds like something that might be heard in a World War II movie, with a map featuring large arrows advancing on the Polish border, or maybe a phalanx of tanks. The ensuing slow movement, Adagio, is in Elgar’s English pastoral mode but not one of his more interesting excursions. In the final movement Wigglesworth continued to clearly navigate Elgar’s juxtaposing themes including an optimistic restatement of the great ‘nobilmente’ theme from the opening movement which concluded an enjoyable evening of contrasts.

Picture top: Andreas Ottensamer blew the cobwebs away.

Please follow and like us:
Performers on stage, gathered around a table. Some sit at the table, some sit on the table, one stands on the table.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

The future is in safe hands

Review: WAAPA 3rd year acting, When the Rain Stops Falling ·
The Roundhouse Theatre, 4 May ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

When the Rain Stops Falling is a strangely beautiful Australian play; original and intriguingly complex. The sheer genius of the playwright, Andrew Bovell, is striking.

Andrew Bovell is a wizard of Oz. He forgoes the politics of David Williamson, the cultural lashings of Ray Lawler and the suburban psychology of Patrick White. Rather, he sets out to shunt upon us a gut-wrenching story that tackles intergenerational trauma, father-son relationships and – curiously, given the play’s focus on the personal and familial – the devastating effect of environmental damage.

The plot is a plate of spaghetti. There is no typical rise and fall. Instead, each scene focuses upon both the ordinary and grotesque. Some scenes are intense, but the theatrical style serves the theme well: that history is not necessarily linear but tangential. And vital.

The action shifts between Alice Springs, Uluru, Adelaide and London, fluctuating backwards and forwards in time. There is little connection between scenes, zero linearity and only the subtlest of links. We are made to feel “curiouser and curiouser” through jagged moments of peculiar dis-quiet. But, this is no Wonderland. Rather, it is a juxtaposition between hinterland and wasteland, where future is devoured by the sins of the past and the only way out is through the sheer power of love, strength and hope.

Performers on stage, crouched under umbrellas
Equally impressive: the student cast of ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’. Photo: Jon Green.

The crucial scenes occur in London 20 years apart. First, we are introduced to Gabriel Law, who confronts his malcontent and dispirited mother. We learn that Gabriel’s father absconded to Australia, when Gabriel was a small child. Later, the action shifts, in the most distressing of scenes, to that pivotal moment when Gabriel’s father leaves. Ignorant of the past, Gabriel decides to retrace his father’s footsteps to the Australian centre. And there we see how the ghosts of our past crash the future.

WAAPA’s production stays true to the intensity of the narrative. Using Edith Cowan University’s Roundhouse Theatre, visiting artist and director Peggy Shannon successfully creates an intimate and visual portrayal of time and its linear shifts.

Set designer Danielle Chilton has cleverly incorporated cascading water into the stage, framing weather as a key motif. Period clothing from each of the last several decades is used to fiendishly wrap each character in a generation of servitude to their ancestors.

On opening night all nine actors were equally impressive. Characterisation was on point, as was accent, position and interpretation. Indeed, it was a shame that not all actors shared equal stage time.

Everyone should see this production. Not just for the melancholy yet uplifting story, but to rest their minds that the future of theatre is in exceptional hands.

5 stars.

When the Rain Stops Falling plays until May 9. 

Photo: Jon Green

Please follow and like us:
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Light will conquer all?

Review: Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies & Joe Lui, Death Throes ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 1 May ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

You can recognise German postdramatic theatre from the moment where the cast breaks the performance to engage in a political panel discussion with the audience. Employing this device early, Death Throes is both somewhat more timid, but also more tongue in cheek, than much postdramatic performance.

The piece begins with Harriet Gillies delivering a brief monologue on the knowingness of the 1990s generation. She holds an insanely hot light close to her face, apparently unfazed. This light is a parcan: basically a car headlight in a can; stand in front of an old car and see how long you last! Joe Lui then enters to set up tables and microphones. The pair are joined by Julia Croft and immediately Croft and Lui engage in a rambling discussion on the evils of monetary capitalism. So far, so postdramatic.

The most notable tension in Death Throes is how seriously (or not) the artists take their announced politics. Their analysis of monetary exchange holds few surprises for anyone who familiar with John Maynard Keynes or Das Kapital. The trio conclude that the problem with contemporary economics is that money — which is purely symbolic, standing in for goods or commodities — has been mistaken for an almost self-sufficient thing in itself. Monetary exchange therefore does not serve us. We serve it. Karl Marx described this in his account of capitalist fetishism, a primer for which might be offered by this advertisement, where the “value” of the product ends up having nothing to do with how much it costs to produce, or its practical use.

Lui concludes this section with an aside on the links in the productive chain underpinning even a $5 chicken bucket. This retrospectively explains why Gillies chows down on fried chicken, her calm assurance contrasting with Croft’s near manic speechifying.

In the sequences that follow, there is no further reference to economics, which is not to say links cannot be inferred, but it seems unfortunate that the production leaps into the bafflingly abstract. The main dramaturgical through-line (again, in classic postdramatic mode) is a scenographic motif, rather than a rhetorical one. Light, as actively manipulated by the cast, holds a beatific possibility throughout. There is a Barbarella-like sequence where the cast pose with spotlights held like blasters projecting steely beams to either side. The panel discussion itself is closed off by the lowering of a parcan onto Gillies’ now prone form, her head framed under its glow.

Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies and Joe Lui running around a red carpet.
Our performers adopt shiny gold costumes and jog in circles around a central light until exhausted.

In the longest sequence, our performers adopt shiny gold costumes and jog in circles around a central light until exhausted. It is not an especially original motif. Trisha Brown and others founded postmodernist or pedestrian dance (dance made using everyday movements) by running and walking on stage, and complex variations continue today (consider Thierry Thieû Niang’s 2012 …du Printemps!). If this section has a political meaning, it presumably shares it with Situationism and early performance art, where it was claimed that by doing something which has no purpose or productive outcome, such self-motivated acts lie outside of the money economy. It is a nice ideal, but given that the hugely successful performance artist Marina Abramovic made her fortune selling limited edition photographs of her otherwise “unsaleable” art, it is not so convincing.

Death Throes ends with our trio gazing distractedly past the audience, images of blue, cloud-filled skies surrounding them, as fans blow their hair. It is an oddly voyeuristic scenario for a performance which began by advertising its left-wing politics. Farrah Fawcett was the 1970s pin-up for this gently erotic “wind-blown look”, and given that Charlie’s Angels has been reworked as a supposedly feminist classic, perhaps a similar reclamation is intended here.

Death Throes is, therefore, not entirely effective. While not derivative, its elements are not especially novel. Whatever logic governs the selection of material is neither evident, nor is the production a deliberately random assemblage. That said, any show featuring Lui running in gold short-shorts, or Gillies’ supremely unflappable expression, provides a fun puzzler.

Death Throes plays The Blue Room Theatre until May 18.

Pictured top: Julia Croft, Joe Lui and Harriet Gillies in ‘Death Throes’.

Please follow and like us: