News, Reviews, Visual arts

Intuition links three WA greats

Review: Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Theo Koning, Cathy Blanchflower ·
Turner Galleries ·
Review by Claudia Minutillo ·

Floating somewhere amid the built and natural world or lived experience and inner subconscious, Turner Galleries presents three exhibitions which encourage the viewer to inhabit a space between these oppositions.

Curator Allison Archer thoughtfully brings together three celebrated Western Australian artists, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Theo Koning and Cathy Blanchflower. To some extent, each artist’s practice materialises from a point of raw intuition and communicates with a well-developed, idiosyncratic artistic language.

Installed in the main gallery is Kyle Hughes-Odgers’s ‘Between the Earth and the Moon’, which is the Perth artist’s fifth exhibition at Turner Galleries. Widely known and loved for his large-scale street art locally and abroad, Hughes-Odgers’ work translates beautifully from the outside world to the inner sanctuary of the white-walled gallery. The Hughes-Odgers world is surreal, built on clear geometric patterning and cool colour combinations. Having recently returned from a residency in Iceland, this body of work seems to project a cool Scandinavian flare.

Hughes-Odgers’ large acrylic-on-canvas paintings collectively explore the way humans relate to each other and their environments, striking a balance between figuration and abstraction. The artist’s small Paper Studies series, 20 to 60, are a nice inclusion; a subconscious layering of colour and pattern, these works show freeing process which allows him to test colour and composition before they might be translated to larger works.

The exhibition also offers some 3D forms. Hughes-Odgers’ quirky sculpture Girl hints towards the artist’s interest in animation, lifting his characters out of the canvas and into life. The installation Feverdream brings a touch of light-hearted fun with shadow play and reflection.

Kyle Hughes-Odgers’ Girl, acrylic on board sculpture.

In engine room 1, Theo Koning’s ‘The Lastest Issue’ heightens this sense of play with his experimental practice led by pure intuition. This is suggested in the way the artist assembles, stacks, and (re)arranges his work on the floor and wall. Koning’s artist’s statement comes in the form of a home-made style zine. In it he asks, “How do you talk about your work when mostly it arrives intuitively?” For Koning, words come after the visual and how the sculptures are organised is like stringing together a sentence.

The artist’s sculptural forms are often dictated by the material itself; using found objects he then injects them with new life and energy by re-purposing or altering them with range of mediums such as acrylic, gesso, paper maché, and silicone. The sculptures are suggestive, spirited and mischievous and play with spatial balance and informed movement, for example Olive or Tilted are tethered in a way that suggests they might fall––the space requires the viewer to be conscious of their physical relationship to the work.

Theo Koning’s works at Turner Galleries.

Cathy Blanchflower’s ‘Recent Paintings’ in engine room 2 also forges a physical connection between viewer and work. It is perhaps the most visually stimulating show out of the three. Blanchflower’s medium to large-scale oil paintings are composed of opaque layers of paint in patterns that float over each other. Blues, greens, purples, and orange being the predominant colour palate, each vibrates with energy. Each painting shifts between a macro and micro world (they are almost cellular) but remain untethered to either orientation.

Significantly, Blanchflower’s painting Archz III marks a turn towards fluid organic patterning, reflecting her move from city living to the Blue Mountains. Previously, her paintings had reflected the density and energy of the city with grid-like structures, mathematical measurement and design. However, having been surrounded by nature, as Archz III shows, it becomes a way of life and a way of thinking through things. Blanchflower’s work is a direct response to her environment.

This set of exhibitions call attention to the ways we interact with our natural and urban world – a very timely subject in an age of environmental crisis. There is always room for art which encourages a shared ecological consciousness, makes us slow down and takes us away from the business of life.

The exhibition runs at Turner Galleries until August 10.

Please follow and like us:
Music, Performing arts, Reviews

Trio play out of their skins

Review: Armadillo by Robyn Schulkowsky ·

Presented by the University West Australia & Tura New Music ·

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A deep dive into the heart of darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S-27 continues until July 21.

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

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

Body language speaks on many levels

I See You, I hear You, Various Artists ·
Gallery Central, North Metro TAFE ·
Review: Stephen Bevis ·

A Noongar man, his body painted for ceremony, adopts a formal stance as if posing for a Neo-classical artist besotted by the exotic “noble savage”.

His otherness is confirmed by the accompanying flora and fauna in the painting, species examined, classified and indexed by the artist-naturalists who accompanied the 18th and 19th century voyages of “discovery” and colonisation.

Except here also are rabbits, foxes and sheep, true exotic fauna introduced to Australia by the Europeans. And the artist is not a Neo-classical English or French painter but Minang/Noongar contemporary artist Christopher Pease.

Pease embeds his body of work in the western figurative tradition, turning its techniques against itself to question, undermine and recalibrate its assumptions from the indigenous perspective. Here, his subjects reflect the widespread treatment of indigenous people as akin to native fauna, not counted in the population census until as recently as 1967.

Two works from Pease’s 2014 Flora & Fauna series feature in ‘I See You, I hear You’, a group exhibition of emerging and established artists which opened at Central Gallery as part of NAIDOC Week. The NAIDOC theme this year is “Voice Treaty Truth” and this show, running until the end of July, takes the idea of storytelling and communication without using or even having a voice at all.

The body and its non-verbal expressiveness through dance, adornment and gesture is foregrounded in just about all the works, which range across video, photography, painting and fashion and design. Visual arts, of course, is another non-verbal articulation of our humanity, giving a simple, clear curatorial thread for Gallery Central curator Thelma Johns to plot the flow of the exhibition.

Entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted with three photographic prints by Brenda L Croft. A black and white 1960s childhood image of Croft with her father outside the Perth GPO is reproduced twice as negatives. All three pictures are then overlaid by racist text taken from regulations restricting Aboriginal life in Perth at the time. Relatively fair-skinned and holding the hand of her darker Guringji father, Croft inverts their skin tones through the effect of the negative images  and upends assumed stereotypes being reinforced by the negative racial descriptions.

Dennis Golding, a TAFE and PICA artist-in-residence for 2019 Hatched, also uses photography to examine identity, power and confidence in Beings I and Beings II. The Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay artist gives us an enigmatic self-portrait, wearing a superhero cape emblazoned with a target and standing back-to-camera looking out to sea on a cliff at Sydney’s Little Bay.

Dennis Golding’s Beings I uses pop culture and place to examine identity.

Among other works by Kylie Graham, Debra Miller, Pantjiti Mary Mclean, Darren Stockwell and Katie West are two stunning archival images from the State Library. These two photographs from around 1900-10, taken by an unknown photographer, show Wadjuk elder Joobaitch and several other Noongar men in ceremonial dress and body paint in Kalamunda bushland.

Contemporary artists, including Christopher Pease, have used these historical images as important reference material for their own work and they are compelling and powerful inclusions in this show. The photographs of Joobaitch, born in the early days of the Swan River Colony, also inspired the body-painting designs used in a collaborative video work of animation and filmed dance involving, among others, Darryl Bellotti, Nigel Wilkes, Kirk Garlett and dancers from the Northam Clontarf Academy for the Bilya Koort Boodja Centre for Nyoongar Culture and Environmental Knowledge in Northam.

Another video, by director-performer Karla Hart and the Yokayi girls from Girrawheen Senior High School, also celebrates the ongoing strength of traditional Noongar culture. Because of Her, We Can was made for NAIDOC 2018 and is a joyous expression of identity, community and culture told primarily through dance.

Though compromised by the lack of a darkened space to highlight their qualities, these two videos of the students of Clontarf and Girrawheen, affirm the exhibition’s commitment to telling a story of standing strong and proud, sharing and celebrating indigenous heritage and culture.

I See You, I Hear You is at Central Gallery, Aberdeen Street, Northbridge, until July 27.

Pictured above: Christopher Pease’s Flora & Fauna I and III, oil on linen paintings, 2014. Photo courtesy courtesy of Gallerysmith, Melbourne.

Please follow and like us:
Children, News, Reviews, Theatre

Frantic fun

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

Gabriel  (aged 10)

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

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

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

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

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

Sascha (aged 8)

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

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

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

My Robot continues until July 14.

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

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

Quirky robot action!

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

Witnessing self-definition

Review: Joshua Pether, Jupiter Orbiting ·
PICA, 24 May ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

Two years since its initial development at PICA for premiere at Next Wave Festival 2018, emerging choreographer/performer Joshua Pether’s experimental solo work Jupiter Orbiting returned to the PICA Performance Space. Seeing the work for the first time, I was captivated by the organic scope of its images and tones. Pether nonchalantly passes between aesthetics of kitsch, surrealism and expressionism, bending and at times erupting the language of the performance. The offbeat array of costuming, props, and other visuals, – including shadows, garish children’s cartoons and the projected words of a probing psychiatrist – build a world simultaneously tender and blunt.

For me, however, the most memorable aspect of Jupiter Orbiting was the painstaking honesty with which Pether examines the light and dark of trauma. As someone with a lived experience of psychosis and dissociation, I began to witness myself in Pether’s performance. This sense of familiarity, of coming home is not something I’ve experience previously in the context of an arts institution.

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen debasing and twisted depictions of myself and other neurodivergent and disabled people on the walls of modern art galleries and on the stages of acclaimed theatres. Every sensationalised misrepresentation of our personhood is another powerful brick laid in the dense systemic social structure of ableism: an insidious kyriarchy excluding myself and too many others from education, work, meaningful relationships, and other kinds of basic agency, especially when combined with inaccessible capitalism (poverty) and traumas of colonial violence.

While non-disabled artists profit from the perceived melodrama of our lived experiences, art institutions construct precarious societies where self-definition and simple cultural safety have been rare finds for me and for other disabled artists, particularly those of us with the added vulnerabilities of being emerging practitioners in the field.

Jupiter Orbiting gives audiences a critical opportunity to witness some of our experiences of neurodivergence, through the vision of a disabled artist telling his own stories. For me, it was astoundingly empowering to see parts of myself acknowledged and given space without censorship or stigma, or indeed any of the prejudice which led to a number of significant others in my life (friends that others could not see or hear) hospitalised and medicated away non-consensually as a minor, because they were deemed no more than hallucinations. These are intense losses I’ve never been permitted to grieve. To observe Pether embodying obsessive compulsiveness as he meticulously arranges plastic toys on a white tabletop, or to see his numbness, alternative realities, and loss of control during the performance was to witness neurodivergence through its own mind, with a brazenly real voice.

Joshua Pether in ‘Jupiter Orbiting’, 2018. Presented at Next Wave Festival. Photo: Adele Wilkes.

Viewing such performance can be difficult. Whilst I watched the sombre, shadowy epilogue of the work with a wide and teary smile, uplifted in my welcoming of past selves, there are many who would prefer to look the other way when faced with such rawness of trauma and profoundly othered experience. Many believe that psychosis and dissociation are best hidden away from view of a public consciousness inundated with fear and tyrannical notions of bodily, racial, and class superiority.

Certainly, many authoritative powers within the arts industry continue to assert that our stories and our art are best handled by non-disabled practitioners, as directors or even as lead artists. The advantage or harmfulness of telling other people’s stories depends on context, but, nonetheless, speaking for or over disabled people from a position of power is an over-represented trope of modern and contemporary art. It perpetuates oppressive cycles of privileging non-disabled voices and marking out images of disabled people through a lens of an intergenerational fear we are very far from unlearning.

My hope is that through witnessing more works like Jupiter Orbiting and other declarations of neurodivergent self-definition in all its plastic and spectral glory, the arts will learn to greet us with love and freedom, granting us the same recognition and value as it does nondisabled artists using our stories. Indeed, Jupiter Orbiting already facilitates space for neurodivergents like myself to honour and witness ourselves without shame, denial or despondency, a space for us to be who we really are and radically dream of healing and understanding together.

Jupiter Orbiting is an ardent and honest investigation of Pether’s realities and impressions of the past, performed with copious life force and brilliant candour. It is an unmatched strength to both the contemporary performance art locale and the ongoing liberation work of the neurodivergent community.

Jupiter Orbiting played PICA 22-25 May 2019.

Pictured top is Joshua Pether in ‘Jupiter Orbiting’, 2018. Presented at Next Wave Festival. Photo: Adele Wilkes.

Please follow and like us:
Music, News, Reviews

A tactile sound world

Review: Louise Devenish, ‘Sheets of Sound’ ⋅
Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, June 28 ⋅
Review by Eduardo Cossio ⋅

“Sheets of sound” is how jazz critic Ira Glitter described the brisk, muscular playing of John Coltrane in the late fifties. Taking a literal, but also contrasting approach, Sheets of Sounds by Louise Devenish explored the sonic properties of paper, metal and plastic in ways that were tactile and visually sculptural. Three new commissions brought together the different strands of her practice in recent years; namely, electro-acoustic music, new instrument designs, and the intersection of performance art with theatre.

Percipience: After Kaul by Devenish and Decibel New Music Ensemble colleague, Stuart James, made use of the ‘overtone triangle’; a set-up developed by the German percussionist Matthias Kaul. Three triangles hung from a metal frame with wires connected to Styrofoam balls that amplified their sounds. A sort of etude on metallic timbres, the techniques used made the triangles vibrate, modulate, and decay in singing-like undulations throughout the structure. There were echoes of gamelan in the insistent beating patterns and dissonant overtones, while the meter-less sections brought attention to the delicate drones in the electronic backing. Percipience created a whimsical world for an often-overlooked instrument, and the piece’s title seemed apt for a work where the artist’s personality is key to its realisation.

During his tenure with Speak Percussion, Melbourne composer Matthias Schack-Arnott became known for developing percussive instruments of striking visual design. In the tradition of Harry Partch, the 20th century maverick whose creations demanded novel playing techniques, Shack-Arnott’s motorized instruments pit the performer against a mechanical flow of energy. Catacomb Body Double is for two amplified bass drums as well as a myriad of objects including glass, knives, and cymbals. The work is inspired by Catholic iconography around the exhumation of early Christian martyrs. Devenish brushed two knives against the drum skins, creating a wash of effects reminiscent of magnetic tape played backwards. Different objects were placed on the drum’s surface and their quick succession built up the kinetic energy of the piece: glasses, bells and wooden frames were made to rattle and rub against the skins, evoking the excavation-like imagery of the work. Arresting for its visuals and for Devenish’s gestural playing, the piece did lose some its impact towards the end when the material became a tad predictable due to its repetition.

Permeating through the pores of shifting planes by the Pittsburgh-based composer, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, is a performance-installation whereby physical gesture is as important as the resulting sounds. Large sheets of metal and paper hung from the ceiling reflecting the dim lights in the room.  Sitting on the floor, Louise started by pouring rice on hard surfaces, creating swells of hushed and minute sounds. The tactile gestures were then transferred to the creasing of paper and the beating of metal sheets with various mallets. Devenish’s knack for duration, pace, and mood made these simple actions fascinating to follow.

The piece was a rare opportunity to see the ever-consummate Devenish explore a more intimate approach to performance; the focus was not on traditional notions of musical virtuosity  but on the humanity of the performer, their body, and the space they inhabit. The technically accomplished piece also featured a set of speakers that made the paper sheets vibrate, while electronic tones modulated in coarse timbres or slowed down to soft pulses. Devenish’s performance felt generous; it seemed to draw audiences into the quiet dramaturgy of the work’s unfolding.

Sheets of Sound represented an assertion of Devenish’s artistic interests and work ethic. The relationships she has developed with these composers, all of them present for the premieres, spoke of an approach to music making that is collaborative and relational. It followed then that the performances conveyed some of that fluidity and openness to the audience.

Picture top: Louise Devenish Performs Permeating Through the Pores of Shifting Planes by Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh.  Photo by Nik Babic.

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

From the iconic to the electric

Review: The Tap Pack ·
Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre 3 July ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

While it’s fair to say I am not the The Tap Pack’s target audience, I understand the pull of nostalgia. Why else would I have lovingly crafted a Chet to Chet Mixtape, which alternates tracks by Chet Baker and Chet Faker?

The show bills itself as “picking up where the Rat Pack left off”. The problem is that I grew up with the Brat Pack, rather than the Rat Pack. I’m more likely to read Molly Ringwald’s column in The Guardian and sigh “what a legend”, than swoon over 50s crooners.

Iconic songs by Frank Sinatra et al are punctuated by modern classics. Again, I realised I was out of my depth. While the enthusiastic audience clearly knew the words and enjoyed the witty interplay between old and new, I had to Google key lyrics at interval to identify songs such as “Thinking Out Loud” by someone called Ed Sheeran and “Feeling Good” by Michael Buble…

Fortunately, the performers’ magnetic movements and electric footwork compensated for my lack of pop culture knowledge. The cast (Jordan Pollard, Thomas J Egan, Sean Mulligan and Tom Struik) each have a string of musical theatre, film and TV credits to their name and it’s impossible not to be in awe of their dedication to the art of tap.

The show really had me enthralled when the performers combined the syncopated rhythms of their feet with other forms of percussion, such as drumming onto a large bar at the back of the stage. A truly aural and visual spectacle.

Mulligan’s improvised dances were also a crowd pleaser, as well as his tribute to Ginger Rogers, who, as he reminded the audience, had to do everything backwards and in high heels.

But the star for me was the show’s co-creator, Pollard. From his impersonations of Fred Astaire to a dancing penguin, he somehow manages to appear spontaneous yet superhuman. It is staggering.

My theatre-loving 11-year-old-son accompanied to the show. His verdict? “While I can appreciate their incredible skill, there’s not much of a story.” I think he’s right. The repartee linking the numbers felt a bit forced.

Since seeing the show, though, he’s been dancing around the kitchen with some fancy footwork and enthusiastic finger clicking; I’ve been checking out Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers clips on Youtube.

As Sinatra sang, they can’t take that away from me.

Photo: Daniel Boud

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

Puppetry and dance perfect partners

Review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fox ⋅
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle, July 6 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

“There are no words”, my 6 year old whispers, without taking her eyes from the stage.

A storm and then a bushfire raged across the stage, leaving a magpie wounded and crying. We watched as a dog befriended the magpie and then a fox seduced her.

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre were using dancers, puppets and a stunning creative design to convey Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks’ book Fox. There were very few words, and we didn’t need them.

Michael Barlow’s production (from 2015), is one of the most profound and beautiful I’ve seen from Spare Parts; a reminder that masterful storytelling doesn’t need words to communicate the deep truths of life.

My daughter loved Magpie, danced by Gala Shevtsov with an alert fragility, her heart torn between her loyalty to Dog and her aching desire to feel the wind in her wings. My son loved Dog, danced by Scott Galbraith with big-hearted exuberance. And Rachel Arianne Ogle’s Fox was utterly entrancing with a rippling silk tail that flickered dangerously like fire. Ogle conveyed the “smell of rage and envy and loneliness” that hung about Fox with her taut leaps and sharp contortions.

Key to their successful character portrayal is the blend of puppetry and choreography (Jacob Lehrer) and the exquisite design (Leon Hendroff) and costumes (Nicole Marrington and Sheridan Savage). Graham Walne’s lighting and projections convey the heat of fire and jealousy, the calmness of water and trust and the tumult of storms and grief. The metaphors are reinforced by Lee Buddle’s sound track which includes the sounds of smashed glass and distorted electric guitar (Fox), the friendly fun of a folk band (Magpie and Fox) and the serenity of a flute and rain soundscape.

The visual and aural metaphors carried the story deep into our hearts. My junior critics identified strongly with the characters and engaged in lengthy discussion afterwards. They felt the show had an undercurrent of sadness and fear. But the exquisite beauty and playfulness of the dancers kept a finely honed emotional balance. This was one of the best children’s theatre productions we’ve seen.

Fox continues until July 20.

Pictured top: Rachel Arianne Ogle is utterly entrancing as Fox. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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

Jazz rains supreme

Review: West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra, King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival ⋅
His Majesty’s Theatre and surrounding venues, July 4-6 ⋅
Review by Ron Banks ⋅

Intimate jazz festivals such as the King Street Corner Pocket are a chance to encounter new talent, renew acquaintanceship with old talent, and marvel again at the breadth and depth of jazz music available to audiences in Perth.

The idea of the festival is to run events over three days, muster the musicians in small bars, lounges, even hotel reception rooms and give them about an hour in each venue to showcase their versatility and variety of styles. No big-name imports, just local talent many of them at the beginning of their career or not too far in.

The Corner Pocket Festival began last year, and is now in its second incarnation under the auspices of the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra. There is no headline commercial sponsorship, but WAYJO’s reputation for encouraging jazz among the younger breed of musicians is endorsement enough.

Thursday’s opening performances began promisingly, despite the gloomy weather perhaps deterring a few fans from venturing out into the rainy night. Proceedings began at 5.30pm with percussionist Daniel Susnjar, one of the city’s most inventive time-keepers leading TRISK (his trio with pianist Chris Foster and bassist Nick Abbey) through original compositions in His Majesty’s Theatre Barre Café.

The old theatre is one side of the central axis of King Street, and each performance is within easy walking distance up laneways or across the street. Most capable of drawing a modest crowd on opening night were the small bar venues such as The Cheeky Sparrow and the Sewing Room, with the three venues in His Majesty’s the most convenient for dashing from one to another within the hour-long time frame of performance. Those with the energy and enthusiasm for a spot of venue-hopping jazz can experience as much of the festival as physically possible with the discounted 10-show pass. Even without the package tickets are $15, or just $5 for late entry.

Nueva Salsa Orchestra playing at The Sewing Room. Photo Eliza Cowling

Opening night saw the debut of guitar and drum duo Bill and Ben upstairs in the Maj dress circle bar. These two young men possessed the chops to deliver fresh arrangements of jazz standards such as Body and Soul and The Way You Look Tonight.

Down the laneway at the Cheeky Sparrow, The Island Trio (electric piano, bass and drums) started with a funky version of Summertime before ransacking the Great American Songbook in the search for re-invention.

Upstairs in the carpeted and curtained room of the Intercontinental Hotel, a five-piece outfit Mejadra explored the further shores of jazz with energy and drive.

Heading back to the Barre Café, fans could hear Danish guitarist Kristian Borring and his trio serving up his lyrical original compositions in amplified acoustic jazz style.

As heavy-weather dusk shaded to deepest night, the atmosphere was almost tropical Downstairs at the Maj with vocalist Libby Hammer and her quartet demonstrating the perfect union of voice and skilled accompaniment on some of the brightest and wittiest number’s in the female jazz vocal repertoire.

Hammer is a city treasure with her big stage personality, perfect pitch, rich store of standards and her capacity to deliver the complete entertainment package. This was cabaret jazz at its finest, enlivened by the explanations and banter with her band boys about how she chooses her set of songs. Hammer has a kid’s program coming up in the city for the school holidays which sounds worth checking out if you want your youngsters to get hooked on music and jazz.

This small jazz festival named after a Count Basie tune features about 55 gigs with more than 200 musicians contributing and has the potential to grow into something bigger than its current ambitions. But perhaps its appeal is simply because it is intimate and relatively simple – guys and gals getting together to show what they can do and hoping those who love a sense of adventure will come along for the ride.

The King Street Corner Pocket festival continues until July 6. 

Pictured top: Cabaret jazz at its finest with the Libby Hammer Quartet, Downstairs at the Maj. Photo Rosalind Appleby

Please follow and like us: