Liam Green as Uncle Drosselmeyer with Carina Roberts as Clara in The Nutcracker. Photo by Sergey Pevnev (3)
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Wintry delights

Review: West Australian Ballet, The Nutcracker ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 17 November ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

West Australian Ballet’s enchanting production of The Nutcracker treats audiences to a little magic before they even enter His Majesty’s Theatre. A snowy blizzard falling onto the street outside transforms a mild Perth evening into a wintry wonderland befitting this Christmassy tale.

Inside the auditorium, projected snowflakes fall softly onto the white-dusted set of a London street. Choreographed by Jayne Smeulders, Sandy Delasalle and Aurélien Scanella in 2016, this version of The Nutcracker, set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic and beloved score, follows the story of the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve party and is filled with child-like wonder and magic.

Act I opens with Uncle Drosselmeyer (Liam Green) in his toymaker’s workshop, adding some final adjustments to his most prized dolls. As the much-loved, eccentric uncle, Green impressed in this performance, with broad sweeping arabesques, light confident allegro and a hint of appealing cheek.

Wonderfully intricate sets and costumes by design duo Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith present continual surprises; peep holes open to reveal the whole magical scene, realised by Jon Buswell’s stunning lighting. As the Stahlbaum party unfolds, gathering guests enter a large ball room; the centrepiece, a table laden heavy with presents under a giant festive Christmas tree.

Clara and Fritz, the Stahlbaum children, are excited by Drosselmeyer’s arrival. Dancing the role of Clara in this cast, Carina Roberts was delightfully earnest, while Matthew Edwardson charmed as her boisterous and jealous brother Fritz. A highlight of this scene was the polished and exuberant performance given by the eight young guest artists. The company dancers were elegant in dark gowns and suits, sweeping across the stage with ease, but it was Roberts and the children who stole the spotlight.

Drosselmeyer enchants the children, weaving magic and giving them wondrous toys, and Clara is entranced by her Nutcracker doll. Much later, unable to sleep, she returns to where she has left the Nutcracker, under the Christmas tree, and the real magic begins. There’s an epic battle between evil pirate rats and her now life-size Nutcracker, accompanied by an army of toy soldiers, assisted by Uncle Drosselmeyer. As the King Rat, Christian Luck was sassy and comical in the clever battle sequence that leaves Clara and her Nutcracker victorious.

Matthew Lehmann (Nutcracker Prince) and Claire Voss (Sugar Plum Fairy) in The Nutcracker. Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Matthew Lehmann (Nutcracker Prince) and Claire Voss (Sugar Plum Fairy) in ‘The Nutcracker’. Photo :Sergey Pevnev.

Drosselmeyer transforms the Nutcracker into a Prince (Matthew Lehmann) who dances with Clara before journeying together to a Winter Wonderland. Twelve dazzling snowflakes and a Snow Queen (Claire Voss) demonstrated sparkling footwork, precise formations and graceful port de bras in this kaleidoscopic waltz, complete with softly falling snow. The corps de ballet were again strong in Act II, in which Clara, the Prince and Drosselmeyer venture to the Land of Sweets. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s invitation for the special guests to view a suite of performances provides a showcase of dancing feats. Dressed in candy-pink tutus for the well-loved Waltz of the Flowers, the corps wove through creative compositions, demonstrating beautiful technique and style, supported by the glorious music of the West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra under the seamless direction of Myron Romanul.

Highlights of Act II included the fiery and stylish Polly Hilton with her three Spanish suitors, Adam Alzaim’s fabulously athletic, crowd-pleasing Russian solo and the trio of sweet, striped Mirlitons (Nikki Blain, Stefano Russiello and Chihiro Nomura). While tradition has its value, I found elements of this scene problematic for a 2018 platform – particularly the cultural misappropriation within the Arabian and Chinese sections, which could be easily avoided with updated choreography. That said, both dances were sensuously and effervescently performed.

The Grand Pas de Deux had some thrilling moments and improved in confidence throughout but was a little shaky in the performance viewed. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Claire Voss) showed grace and poise in the main, but her performance felt tense and laboured at times. Her Prince (Lehmann) demonstrated neat turns and skilful, reliable partnering, though his allegro occasionally lacked attack.

A lively and colourful finale brings the story to conclusion, but was it all just a dream? This is a timeless and engaging story with beautiful dancing, stunning design, enchanting music and magic galore that will appeal to the young and the young at heart.

The Nutcracker plays His Majesty’s Theatre until December 9.

Pictured top: Liam Green and Carina Roberts in The Nutcracker. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

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Bar scene
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

The best small bar in town

Review: Variegated Productions, Frankie’s ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 16 November ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

I’ve known for some time that the Blue Room Theatre has the best small bar in town. But now there’s Frankie’s.

It’s intimate – you can see and hear everything that’s going on both sides of the bar, it’s lushly designed by the well-known Bryan Woltjen, and it’s got a hot house band (tonight featuring the smoky Ofa Fotu, keyboard wiz Alwyn Nixon-Lloyd and the greatest dobro player ever to emerge from the Singapore River Delta, Joe Lui).

It’s also got good, cheap drinks (the house specialty is that fine Whipper Snapper whiskey, best enjoyed neat) and a very good-looking crowd.

The best bars are real-life impromptu stories; harsh words are spoken, promises are broken, old wounds are opened and love walks out that door. The characters in its drama walk in without a script, and they are as varied and various as all humanity. There are the hard-bitten denizens, casing the joint from their familiar bar-stool, the wide-eyed young drinkers dipping their toe in the murky water of adult life, the lovesick and love-lorn, the players, the stayers, the heart of every Saturday night and every enchanted evening.

Three guys having a laugh at a bar.
Impromptu storytelling by Sam Longley, St John Cowcher, Chris Isaacs and Daniel Buckle (a different cast to that reviewed as the show changes nightly). Photo: Daniel Grant.

The ensemble of actors and musicians Libby Klysz’s Variegated Productions has gathered to people Frankie’s is, perhaps uniquely, fit for purpose. There are established stars of improv theatre like Shane Adamczak and Sam Longley who, tonight at least, are the bartenders Nigel and Keith. Another bartender, Donovan (Esther Longhurst), doesn’t want to work shifts with Keith – we never find out why, but it’s fun to guess.

There’s the barfly, Delilah (the magnetic Tegan Mulvany), who’s awful, hard and fragile as glass, and a ghost from her past. Way back then she let Devon Morris (Chris Bedding) touch a sword she brought to school. She left a party with him, just once, but ten years later his flame still burns bright for her.

Bedding is an oversize man with a great talent of presence, and the clumsy ardour of his pursuit of his first, only, love is deeply touching. It’s a wonderful performance.

All this is Sam Shephard stuff, great storytelling full of the essence of life, with all its dead ends and five-and-dime foolishness for love. I think it’s a great achievement that the cast could concoct such material out of thin air.

And, of course, it’s all very funny. This crew have been able to keep working improv in this town for sixteen-odd years by keeping their audience in stitches, and there’s plenty of them to be suffered throughout.

You should pop in to Frankie’s. There’ll be other stories, other performers telling and playing them (I’m confident this show will get heaps of repeat audiences), and you’ll be unlikely to come across a more sure-handed, true-to-life and sheer bloody funny show in any gin joint in all the towns in all the world than this.

And try the Whipper Snapper. You’ll be glad you did.

Frankie’s plays the Blue Room until December 1. Cast changes nightly.

Photos: Daniel Grant. Pictured top is Shane Adamczak in an alternative cast (changes nightly).

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Three dancers, all covering their eyes. One wears grey shiny leggings and is naked aside from that. One wears a bottle green criushed velvet unitard One wears hot pink shiny leggings and a black shirt
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Provocative and challenging

Review: Jo Lloyd, Confusion for Three ·
PICA Performance Space, 15 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Jo Lloyd is a Melbourne-based independent choreographer and one who has interested me for a couple of years now. It was in 2016 that I had my first chance to see Lloyd’s work; she was the choreographer for Nicola Gunn’s quirky and clever Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster, presented at PICA as part of Fringe World. Lloyd’s witty and perceptive choreography capitalised on Gunn’s exuberance and was as integral to the storytelling as the script. The absurdity, the unexpectedness of the movement appealed to me enormously. Reading about Lloyd’s other work, it seemed that this is characteristic of her style. So when I saw that Lloyd’s Confusion for Three was coming to Perth, I was excited.

The name Confusion for Three is apt. There are three dancers (Rebecca Jensen, Shian Law and Lloyd) and there is confusion on many levels. For me, the most striking of the confusing elements was aesthetic. Clad in clashing colours, patterns and textures (think shiny hot pink leggings, a bottle green crushed velvet unitard teamed with a red shirt), the dancers perform movement that is deliberately awkward.

From corners of the startlingly white stage, the dancers either eye one another (and fleetingly the audience) warily, or ignore the other dancers completely. Duane Morrison’s evocative soundscape is ominous, rumbling and hissing. One by one, the dancers traverse the blinding whiteness, with movements that are angular, stuttering, uncomfortable. At times, bodies intersect but these meetings feel like unwanted entanglements rather than unions.

Two dancers how a third upside down. There appears to be a struggle.
Bodies intersect but these meetings feel like unwanted entanglements rather than unions. L-R: Shian Law, Jo Lloyd, Rebecca Jensen. Photo: Christophe Canato.

The discomfort is heightened by the bright lighting that ensures there is no cloak of darkness to protect the audience. Though it’s the dancers who shed their layers to finish naked from the waist up, it almost feels like we’re the ones who are exposed.

Reading the program notes by dramaturg Anny Mokotow, there is no question that this discomfort is intended. “Confusion,” she says, “… is a conversation on the state of the body as a contemporary beast, one that ventures to challenge aesthetics.” Later she says, “Confusion is a physical language, a means of communication that will always remain in process. The process continues, the confusion never quite sorted.”

There are occasional moments of harmony, levity and relief. Towards the end, the dancers clamber up a series of suspended straps to form a twisting and swinging rope of bodies. Peppered throughout are moments of humour. “There’s no story,” Shian Law confides quietly to the front row. Other moments teeter perilously between slapstick and violence. Are we meant to laugh? Again, I think the uncertainty is intended.

I found Confusion for Three perplexing – but clearly that is what it hopes to achieve. As a work that seeks to provoke and challenge our assumptions about the aesthetics and purpose of movement, Confusion for Three is successful. The three dancers, too, are to be commended for their po-faced intensity and commitment to movement that is often harsh and unforgiving.

Nonetheless, I found it hard to engage with the concept. Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy watching dance that is designed to appeal aesthetically in some way, whether it be through movement quality, spectacle or comedy. Confusion for Three was, however, warmly and enthusiastically applauded on opening night, so maybe you should come down to PICA and see for yourself?

Confusion for Three plays PICA Performance Space until November 17.

Pictured top L-R: Jo Lloyd, Shian Law, Rebecca Jensen. Photo: Christophe Canato.

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Members of Perth Symphonic Chorus stand in front of the Perth Concert Hall holding with two arm personnel wearing vintage World War 1 uniform. One is astride a horse.
Classical music, News, Reviews

Moving musical tribute to Armistice

Review: Perth Symphonic Chorus and Perth Philharmonic Orchestra ‘Centenary Remembrance Concert’ ⋅

Perth Concert Hall, November 11 ⋅

Review by Leon Levy ⋅

On Sunday November 11 crowds flocked to war memorials across the nation in order to attend centenary commemorations of the First World War armistice. Was it possible that those who would have made their way home from such ceremonies, many in deep reflection, would venture out again in sufficient numbers to fill the Perth Concert Hall and justify the judgement of the Perth Symphonic Chorus that there was still more to be said and absorbed? A great number of people clearly thought that there was.

Gabriel Fauré appears to have had a casual attitude toward the composition of his Requiem: the man clearly had a gift and required no particular inspiration in order to exercise it to most beautiful effect. On this occasion his popular Requiem received a refined and assured performance, both in the singing from the chorus and the orchestral accompaniment from the Perth Philharmonic Orchestra. A hallmark was the firm, focused choral sound maintained even at pianissimo.

The men and women of the Perth Symphonic Choir on stage.
Perth Symphonic Chorus. Photo supplied

Moments of distinction abounded: the perfect foil of the saccharine-free solo violin in the Sanctus; the Hosanna delivered with strength but without bombast and Pie Jesu beautifully essayed by soloist Sara Macliver. Libera Me was another highlight led by the bass-baritone Christopher Richardson with firm, youthful tone. The choir demonstrated fine unison singing and projected strength without breaking stylistic bounds.

If Elgar was the first British composer to reach an international audience, Vaughan Williams was arguably the second; and yet, despite his prodigious output, Vaughan Williams’ representation in the repertoire is scant, relying on a handful of regularly repeated shorter works.

But deep in the Vaughan Williams archive is a cantata composed in the mid 1930s as the composer, scarred from wartime service on the front line, responded to a growing concern that the worsening political situation in Europe was going to lead to yet another war. In making his plea for peace, the composer drew on a variety of literary sources that are unified by the repetition of the phrase Dona Nobis Pacem (give us peace) by which the work is known. Those disparate texts include Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems, Victorian orator John Bright’s Crimean War lament and biblical yearnings for peace.

The urgency of the opening Agnus Dei (from the Latin Mass) was conveyed in Macliver’s intense and assured singing. The movement closed with soft drum beats, a sinister suggestion of what was to come. In Beat! Beat! Drums! the approaching cataclysm was caught in full by the performers. In the central two movements the composer uses personal stories to take the listener to the heart of the matter and, in the process, pierces the heart. In Reconciliation a soldier reflects “for my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself is dead” while Dirge for Two Veterans describes the tragic fate of a father and son. Here Perth Symphonic Chorus reached an emotional peak, articulating the searing centre of Vaughan Williams’ plea for peace. More than the Requiem, this was surely the defining musical statement for the occasion.

All performers were excellent under the expert and sensitive guidance of conductor Dr Margaret Pride. There were several dramatic and visual aspects to the presentation; the most successful was the prefacing of each movement with an eloquent declamation of the text by actor Igor Sas which proved a masterstroke in the context of what the day was all about.

Pride and her forces are to be congratulated for commemorating the centenary of Armistice in such a moving way and for lavishing on the memories of those who fell and those whose lives were forever changed such a heartfelt and magnificently executed tribute.

 

Pictured top: members of Perth Symphonic Chorus and the Kelmscott-Pinjarra 10th Light Horse Memorial Troop. Photo Margaret Pride

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Jazz, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz pianists battle it out

Review: Perth International Jazz Festival ⋅

Perth Cultural Centre/State Theatre Centre, November 10 ⋅

Review by Steve Baitz ⋅

It was a warm afternoon at the Perth Cultural Centre Wetlands and the area had new vibrancy with the advent of the Perth International Jazz Festival. The Gemma Farrell Quintet took the stage and the interest escalated among the people milling around. The band comprised Farrell on saxophone, Christopher Sealy on guitar, Kate Pass on bass, Ryan Daunt playing drums and the band’s newcomer Tom Salleo handling the trombone.

The music was tight, well-rehearsed and the band obviously comfortable with each other. Much of the music played was from Farrell’s new album Organised Chaos and revealed something of the composer’s character. Each number was dedicated to an important person or an event like the birth of her third child. As the music filtered through the air the audience grew with each captivated passer-by.

Gemma Farrell with her tenor, flanked by the attentive Chris Sealey on guitar and Tom Salleo on trombone
L-R Kate Pass,Gemma Farrell, Chris Sealey and Tom Salleo perform at the Wetlands stage. Photo Nathan Bullivant

The crowd was well rewarded with warm, easy on the ears sounds. Stand out numbers were Reflections and One for Fresh written in honour of what Farrell called ‘probably her best teacher’. Each of the band members handled very strong solo’s and newcomer Tom Salleo did not disappoint. All the music was original but kept that familiar feeling of belonging. A pleasure to hear.

Moving from the family-friendly ease of the Wetlands to the State Theatre Rehearsal Room was quite a transition. The Wetlands invites you to soak in the surrounding movement of people in the area; the Rehearsal Room demands your attention. The venue is intimate, moodily lit and with near perfect acoustics. Drapes hang across the walls and the grand piano in the far-left corner takes pride of place.  About to begin was ‘Solo Piano – Fujii, O’Halloran, Barry’.

Pianist Steve Barry leans towards the piano keyboard, his face is reflected in the piano lid.
Pianist Steve Barry. Photo Mohammad Hosseini

Time was limited with the three performers playing solo in turn and each could play only one or two of their original compositions. Sydney composer Steve Barry took the stage first and displayed masterful expertise, playing music from his recent solo album Hatch. His music was good evidence of his multi award winning talent. He started with a soft melodic number that transported me into a harmonious sense of peace. Then followed the cheeky insertion of a delightful interlude he described as ‘a little something’ followed by a tribute to Thelonious Monk. The tribute was more atonal but still not jarring on the ears, interrupted only by the sound of someone’s errant mobile giving walking instructions to the State Theatre. There’s always one in every crowd!

Pianist Tom OHalloran. Photo Mohammad Hosseini

Perth’s well-loved Tom O’Halloran took the second spot, transfixing the audience with two improvisations, one tonal and the second atonal, both exploring atmosphere and texture. His music was atmospheric and almost tactile, like a patchwork quilt with individual sections coalescing into what will soon become one of your favourite blankets.

The diminutive Satoko Fujii then took the stage, claiming rightly the pressure Steve Barry’s and Tom O’Halloran’s performances put on her solo. The Japanese pianist took immediate possession of the grand piano. The keyboard was not a sufficient interface for her and she almost climbed into the body of the piano converting it to a percussion instrument and a harp. She stretched the piano far beyond its normal playing method and I could imagine the blood draining out of the faces of piano tuners and agents responsible for the insurance of the instrument. The piano under her ministrations took on the guise of a full orchestra. Definitely avant-garde, Fujii produced an exciting harmony of both gentle and thumping sounds that I would never have considered belong together. How well it worked.

Festival artistic director Dr Mace Francis thanked the artists for their ‘expose of the human condition’. My only complaint is that the performance was only given once.

Pictured top: Satoko Fujii. Photo: Mohammad Hosseini

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Kate Ceberano singing with Sam Anning accompanying on bass
Jazz, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz takes over the city

Review: Perth International Jazz Festival ·

State Theatre Centre Courtyard, November 9 ·

Review by Rosalind Appleby ·

The Perth International Jazz Festival kicked off last night with the first of over 60 performances. For one weekend the city has turned into a jazz hotspot, with grooves spilling out of doorways and a good chance of bumping into Perth-born legends like Mat Jodrell and Sam Anning or the hottest young things from the US like singer Charenee Wade and Sara McDonald.

On Friday night the State Theatre Centre Courtyard was at capacity for Kate Ceberano and Carl Mackey’s tribute to the 1961 soul jazz album ‘Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderly’. Their clean, relaxed take on jazz standards like Happy Talk, A Sleepin Bee and Never Will I Marry eased festival goers into the weekend.

Ceberano channelled Nancy Wilson with luscious sliding phrases and dramatic storytelling. What really lit up the hour-long session was her megawatt smile and obvious delight at working with the musicians. And why not with saxophonist Carl Mackey leading an all-star quartet of Grant Windsor on piano, Sam Anning on bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums. For some reason the band was missing a cornet player (Nat Adderley on the original album) but still delivered a punchy, fun version of the instrumental number Teaneck with glimpses of Speedball in the clean groove and the unexpected tangents in Windsor’s piano solos.

Big smiles from the entire band as Kate Ceberano and Carl Mackey perform
Kate Ceberano and Carl Mackey light up the stage at the Perth International Jazz Festival. Photo Nathan Bullivant

A high point was the ballad The Masquerade is Over where Ceberano’s gift for storytelling had the crowd hanging on every note. Her voice was breathy, strong, scratchy and elastic all at once, cushioned by the wash of brushes on snare, sparse piano and restrained bass.

Wilson’s rhythmic inflections and sense of pacing in the fast tunes wasn’t Ceberano’s strong point (as she was the first to admit) but she nailed the soulful character of the album, crooning responses to Windsor’s tasteful piano solos and paying tribute to an album that had inspired her since the age of 16.

Later that night international guests the Melissa Aldana Quartet took to the stage with a set list of material from their yet-to-be-released album. The Chilean tenor saxophonist was the first female and first South American to win the Thelonious Monk competition in 2013. Her original compositions are built around predictable harmonies coloured with unpredictable melody lines and occasional sections of Latin groove. Aldana’s incredibly lyrical fluidity across the entire range of the tenor saxophone meant her sizzling fingerwork had velveteen smoothness. Her sinuous golden lines were the perfect foil to the fast dense activity of the trio: Sam Harris on piano, Rick Rosato on bass and Felix Lecaros on drums.

Melissa Aldana's focused energy as she plays tenor saxophone
Chilean saxophonist and composer Melissa Aldana. Photo Nathan Bullivant

The quartet performed four substantial works composed by Aldana. Two were movements from the suite Visions, inspired by the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Kahlo’s artwork is known for its magical realism, a brightly-coloured blend of fantasy and photographic realism. It was possible to hear the beauty of Kahlo’s work in Aldana’s clean saxophone lines inflected with moments of deep emotion expressed in particular through the mighty piano solos by Harris.

Aldana was self effacing, allowing her music to do the talking. Her playing revealed a thoughtful musician with an ear for beauty and originality. Aldana will perform with her quartet tonight at The Ellington and you can catch Carl Mackey, Grant Windsor and Sam Anning performing as part of Speedball tonight at the State Theatre Courtyard. There are also free concerts at the Perth Cultural Centre Wetlands Stage plus shows Downstairs at the Maj, open rehearsals and artists in conversation. Don’t miss out on the weekend when jazz takes over our city.

The Perth International Jazz Festival continues until Sunday November 11th.

Pictured top L-R: Kate Ceberano and Sam Anning. Photo Nathan Bullivant.

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An elderly man lies on a bed, holding one wist loosely with his other hand. He looks exhausted and debilitated
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Intimate glimpses into humanity

Review: Black Swan Prize for Portraiture ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) ·
Review by Lydia Edwards ·

Even amongst curators, art critics and historians, “portraiture” can be a hotly contested term. There are multiple definitions and interpretations, with the word commonly applied to broader subject matter than the human body and spirit. This exhibition, however, sticks closely to just that, and while the Black Swan Prize for Portraiture (presented by ARTrinsic in parnership with AGWA) has always attracted a wide spectrum of media and interpretation, this year’s finalists give us raw and often confronting humanity.

A man, naked from the waist up, decorated with tattoos
We are ushered in by Joanne Morris’s ‘Lister’.

The works are tucked away in a series of rooms below AGWA’s main galleries. It’s not easy to find them, and once you do there is no clear direction through the rooms: you are encouraged to meander through at your own pace, ushered in by the poster boy for the exhibit: Joanne Morris’s tattooed Lister, whose purposeful yet diffident gaze looks beyond you to the other works. The portraits are not arranged thematically or alphabetically – as a viewer, I felt that my direct line of vision on entering each room was simply hit by the brightest, largest or busiest canvases.

As is often the case, however, the portrait that moved me the most, which made me stop dead in my tracks and inhale sharply, was perhaps the best hidden. In a corner, along from Hyunji Kim’s long, bold, disorienting portrait of WA artist Patrick Doherty sits Peter Wegner’s achingly poignant Medicated Man – portrait of G.D. (detail pictured top). In a style reminiscent of Freud and Saville’s “take me as you find me” fleshy, naked bodies, the subject – Graeme Doyle – is exposed in this small canvas; vulnerable, childlike, staring with glazed eyes into the middle distance, not willing or most likely not able to engage. He lies on his side, one hand awkwardly clutching the opposite wrist in a tense, uncomfortable pose.

The exhibition is laced with themes of anxiety and huge personal challenges, but other entries offer some kind of positive spin or resolution. Not Wegner’s, which shows us a “real” face of severe mental illness in the midst of a crisis. In doing so, he offers no respite, no end in sight. Like so many great portraits we are intruding on an intensely private moment and we are fully culpable; powerless, guilty, afraid, saddened. We are the spectator, he is the subject and there is no level playing field.

A portrait of a blonde woman with green tape-like stuff emerging from her head like a plant.
Pensive yet quietly determined. Chelsea Gustaffson’s self-portrait, ‘A Shiny Mess’.

Many of the other canvases portray resilience and, in many cases, the victory of subjects depicted. Mark Tweedie and Chelsea Gustaffson’s self-portraits are sensitive yet defiant, with Tweedie’s steady gaze meeting that of the viewer. In his own words, he spends a lot of time “tangled in my own thoughts”, and his work is a way of “reconciling the brevity of life.” Gustaffson’s ingenious A Shiny Mess depicts an obvious “tangle”, with a glimmering mass of ribbon-like thread hovering above the artist’s pensive yet quietly determined features. Perhaps this medium of self-portraiture takes back some element of control that the likes of Wegner cannot achieve, with a sitter waiting to be captured by the artist. An exception to this could be Glen Preece’s Portrait of the Artist as an Alcoholic, a self-portrait that smacks of low self-esteem and a lack of surety about both his artistic and personal future. However, it is posthumous in the sense that the artist has now moved on from this part of his life; his period of creative paralysis evidently behind him – the viewer hopes – for good.

Other portraits also depict subjects who live with some kind of disability or uncertainty, the theme of anxiety an almost constant thread throughout. Other sitters are also at the mercy of the artist’s representation, though it should be noted that the result always resonates respect, affection and solidarity.

The Black Swan Prize offers a unique insight into how WA artists conceive “the portrait”, and often permits a very intimate glimpse into the psyche of both sitter and viewer. For me, this year’s theme conveyed tendrils of anxiety across Australian society, an important and much needed contribution to our growing discourse around mental health. The fact that Wegner’s piece is hidden away acts as a sign either that this side of extreme, debilitating mental illness is still feared, or as a reflection of how it is not always desirable – or indeed possible – to “battle” openly in society. This quiet, unassuming corner of the gallery is the perfect spot for reflection, critique and appreciation – and there is ample opportunity for all three in this annual display of WA talent.

The Black Swan Prize for Portraiture exhibition runs until November 26.

Pictured top is a detail from Peter Wegner’s achingly poignant “Medicated Man – portrait of G.D.”.

Lydia Edwards is a fashion historian and author. Her first book How to Read a Dress was published in 2017 and its follow up, How to Read a Suit, will be out in 2019. She lectures at ECU and WAAPA, and her favourite piece of playground equipment is the expression swing!

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necklace of large wooden beads, with red accents
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From tiny sculptures to jewelled treasures

Review: ‘Beyond Bling!’ ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

The Art Gallery of Western Australia’s “Beyond Bling!” exhibition is the third iteration of its Culture Juice series, which aims to explore aspects of contemporary culture including sneakers, Heath Ledger; and now, jewellery and body adornment.

I must admit that I am probably not the correct target market for this series, as I am not particularly enthusiastic about jewellery – I don’t even have my ears pierced. However, I am prepared to have my mind changed. After all, an important aspect of contemporary culture is thinking about how a small part of something (such as jewellery) can be used to comment on wider cultural trends, such as how we present ourselves, respond to our environments, source our materials, and remember our loved ones, and “Beyond Bling!” goes some way to exploring these themes throughout the exhibition.

Mari Funaki, ‘Bracelet’, 2008, heat coloured mild steel, 10.7 x 10.5 x 1.5 cm, State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia
Purchased through the Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation: TomorrowFund, 2014.

The works are sourced from the State Art collections, and most are rarely on display, and never in an exhibition solely concentrated on jewellery as an art form – making these works, as the curators state, “hidden treasures finally getting the attention they deserve”. Thematically organised, the exhibition spans the historical significance of certain pieces of jewellery, such as religion, or mourning, the natural environment, larger trends in art and design, and the particularities of Australian, Western Australian, and European work. The exhibition focuses on the Western history of jewellery and adornment, which is, presumably, due to the Western focus of the collection itself.

The themes help to navigate the exhibition, with specificities of style, form, and function grouped together to create a journey through the ways in which jewellery-making has developed and changed throughout the years. Thinking about the works as tiny, individual sculptures made for an interesting journey through major art and design trends of the 19th and 20th century. The question of wearability also made for some fascinating insights – for example, how the weather has impacted WA jewellery-making trends due to the simple fact that it’s hot, and metal works will burn the skin. More subtle ways that wearability has impacted design include the need for more personal space, with jewellery used as an armour-like object to create a shield between the wearer and the world. Other works are completely unwearable, creating an interesting dynamic between form and function and questioning the nature and purpose of adornment itself.

I must admit I was a little unconvinced by the curators’ emphasis on the universality of jewellery – is it really something that we all wear, love and appreciate? Or is it a mark of status, of wealth, and exclusivity? However, their insights enrich the very beautiful works in the exhibition, allowing for a more expansive definition of jewellery and the art of making wearable design.

‘Beyond Bling!’ is at the Art Gallery of Western Australian until January 14.

Pictured top: Sally Marsland, “Necklace”, 2006, found wooden objects, paint, string, 47.5 x 12 x 6.5 cm, State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased through the Peter Fogarty Design Collection Fund, 2008.

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Trio becomes duo but the show goes on

Review: Musica Viva; Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio

Perth Concert Hall, November 5 ∙
Review Sandra Bowdler ∙

Nicola Benedetti is a most magical performer. Barely into her thirties, the violinist has a most distinctive voice and a graceful, muscular and not flamboyant playing style. In a telling post-concert interview she revealed that it was not the instrument she fell in love with (unlike for instance Jacqueline du Pré), so much as the music itself; this is one of those special musicians who embodies and disappears into the music.

This concert was not however a solo showcase but a collaborative venture, if less so than originally planned. Musica Viva’s last concert for the year was designed to present the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio, but a last minute illness beset cellist Leonard Elschenbroich so Benedetti appeared with pianist Alexei Grynyuk in a hastily prepared concert of works for violin and piano. The original trio program included two works by Prokofiev, an Australian piano trio by Gordon Kerry and Ravel’s Piano trio in A minor. Instead we were favoured with one of the originally scheduled Prokofiev pieces, sandwiched between Brahms’ Violin sonata No 1 in G major (Op 78) and, after interval, Richard Strauss’s Violin sonata in E-flat major (Op 18). The last work was part of an alternative program to be presented in other cities on the tour.

The Brahms, while lacking the fireworks of the subsequent pieces, covers a range of moods. Benedetti showed her warm expressive style from the first notes, with a virtuoso flourish at the end of the first movement followed by focused intensity in the adagio. Grynyuk was the perfect foil with a lyrical interleaving of the two voices in the final allegro.

A complete contrast was provided by Prokofiev’s Violin sonata No 2 in D major, written amidst the modernism of 1944 yet mostly romantic. The first movement with its intricate passages and lyrical phrasing was played sweetly but with a dry finish. The scherzo was as playful as it should be, verging on the arch at times with some frenetic passages. After a soothing andante, the final allegro con brio was Prokofiev in Russian riding-over-the-steppes mood, with more hints of romanticism and a surprisingly dense and exciting finale.

Strauss’s Violin sonata displays his “last vestiges of romanticism”, as put by Rosalind Appleby in her stimulating pre-concert talk, and it is certainly hard to relate it to the Strauss of Elektra and Salome, but not so far removed from the luscious female voice atmosphere of Der Rosenkavalier. The allegro ma non troppo certainly embodied this, with its rousing finish well suited to the talents involved. The middle movement, labelled improvisation: andante cantabile, was suitably lyrical with some of the piano part verging on the florid but counter balanced by some passages sounding almost like ragtime, very well performed by Grynyuk. The pianist also shone in the opening flourish of the last movement, which carried some wisps of Tchaikovsky. Light-hearted interplay between violin and piano moved to a crescendo, but not quite the end, with more playful stuff leading to a predictable but satisfying finale.

After rapturous applause, Benedetti apologised for the lack of an encore in saying “we have played every note of music we have”. Indeed. While this was quite different from the expected performance, it was nonetheless a most exciting and satisfactory night of music.

The Benedetti, Elschenbroich, Grynyuk Trio national tour continues until November 20.

Pictured top L-R Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich, Alexie Grynyuk

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Three men in a darkened room, lit by a frame of blue LED lights. One is being held by the others by his outstretched arms. It looks like they are restraining him.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Freshman offering is razor sharp

Review: Lazy Yarns, Penthouse ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 31 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

This noxious little dive into low acts in high places first appeared as The View From the Penthouse in last year’s “TILT” programme from the graduating class of WAAPA’s Performance Making course, and it quite literally blew me away.

It’s back, with a shorter title but a longer run time, and, while it’s lost some terrific elements in the process there’s still much to like about the show – and loathe about its characters.

A man in a black mesh t-shirt, his arms up stretched, his head tipped back as though in ecstasy
Isaac Diamond as Fin, the pick-up from the street. Photo: Pixel Poetry

The transition from short (20/30 minute) “TILT” piece to full-blown 60 minute alt-theatre production has exposed a number of previous attempts as better skits than plays. Penthouse’s dramatic bones, however, are much better-set and durable, so the story of the criminally amoral billionaire predator Griffin (Haydon Wilson), his vicious, ambitious factotum Cal (Campbell Pollock) and their pick-up from the street, Fin (Isaac Diamond), who is needy enough to be in trouble and pretty enough to cause it, remains essentially intact and effective.

Fin doesn’t need much breaking down, But Griff and Cal go about it methodically. For Griff, Fin is just another chance to indulge his appetites, both physical and psychological. For Cal, though, who one suspects was once like Fin and knows him inside out, it’s about holding his territory and, ultimately, his survival.

Griff really doesn’t care who wins, or survives – it’s how it happens that gets him off. In so unequal a contest, the youngest and weakest doesn’t stand a chance.

Director Mitchell Whelan does a great job keeping things tight and tense on Kaitlin Brindley’s set of imagined floor-to-ceiling windows framed with LED lights. Lighting designer Phoebe Pilcher, with little to work with, skilfully suggests the darkness outside, and how far you could fall through it.

Two men dancing in the dark, lit by a frame of multicoloured LED lights.
The play’s centre piece is a wild ride through Fin’s hallucinations. Pictured are Campbell Pollock as Cal and Isaac Diamond as Fin. Photo: Pixel Poetry

Their work comes together in the play’s central set-piece, a wild ride through Fin’s hallucinations after he’s been slipped a little something by Cal. The actors, Pilcher and Whelan go nuts, and it’s as authentic a representation of a trip as you’re likely to see anywhere, let alone on a bare stage.

In that sequence, and not for the only time in the play, I was reminded of the Mick Jagger/Edward Fox/ Nicolas Roeg film Performance (1970). The same louche dissolution, same sexual ambiguity, same undercurrent – more than an undercurrent – of violence. That’s pretty good company for this freshman undertaking.

There are things I miss from the earlier, shorter version. Sam Hayes gave an amazing performance then as Griff, full of a dark, palpable menace that Wilson, for all his good work, simply can’t match.

Neither was giving Fin a talent – he’s a decent drummer this time – a success. He was better as an unmitigated disaster whose only potential might be in bed.

And I missed the music, from Van Morrison’s gorgeous “Sweet Thing” to “The Girl From Ipanema”, from Nirvana to Kanye West, that was the cherry on the top of the earlier version.

But you can’t always get what you want, and the second iteration of this razor-sharp little monster still has what we need on the stage.

Penthouse plays the Blue Room until November 17. 

Pictured top L-R: Campbell Pollock, Isaac Diamond, Haydon Wilson. Photo: Pixel Poetry.

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