Jazz, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

From sublime to incendiary

Review: Perth International Jazz Festival, Kristin Berardi/Sam Anning; Tal Cohen Quartet; Veronica Swift ⋅
State Theatre Centre, November 10 ⋅
Review by Garry Lee ⋅

The Perth International Jazz Festival reached its climax on Sunday with a series of contrasting concerts of world class standard. There was also a healthy dose of local musicians involved; of the seven musicians performing in the three concerts I attended, five were graduates from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

On Sunday afternoon over fifty jazz aficionados were treated to the sublime sounds of vocalist Kristin Berardi and bassist Sam Anning in the Heath Ledger Theatre. The unusual duo of voice and bass does have a precedent in jazz with the pairing of United States artists Sheila Jordan and Harvie S in the 1970s. However the Berardi/Anning duo reflected more contemporary influences – think perhaps Joni Mitchell and Wendy Waldman. They also revealed broader influences including Celtic folk music such as on Anning’s composition Fields Are Sown where his arco (bowed) bass masterfully provided a sonic mood that clearly extended beyond the usual jazz idiom. US jazz pianist/composer Brad Mehldau’s Lament for Linus provided a piece that certainly was from the jazz repertoire. Mehldau was inspired by Homer’s Iliad for this composition from his 1997 Art of the Trio album and Berardi has added lyrics including a superb vocalese rendition of the original piano solo.

a bassist and vocalist share the stage
The simpatico of Sam Anning and Kristin Berardi. Photo Adele Varris.

The emphasis was on original repertoire and this duo showed why individually they are at the very top of Australia’s jazz talent. Their simpatico and virtuosity was evident on every piece and their new album Our Songs, Not Songs (Earshift Music) is certainly recommended. The sound in the theatre was excellent but it would be advisable for the front of house staff to allow patrons to enter only between tunes.

At 5pm in the State Theatre Courtyard, the Tal Cohen Quartet commenced. Israeli-born but Perth-educated pianist Cohen possesses a jazz conception that is virtuosic, lyrical, dynamic and frequently humorous. Now based in Miami, he surely has a strong jazz career to look forward to. With Jamie Oehlers on tenor saxophone, whom Cohen referred to as “my mentor and friend”, Karl Florisson (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums) this quartet most certainly delivered.

Tal Cohen plays the State Theatre Courtyard. Photo Mark Francesca.

Cohen set the stage for a most enjoyable set with the rarely played 1938 Sammy Fain composition I’ll Be Seeing You that was obfuscated both in its harmony and the delivery of the melody. His self-deprecating introduction to Cedar Meets the Jews was priceless; an attempt to write in the style of the late and great Cedar Walton had resulted in something more like a Jewish tune. Nevertheless, you might have heard in Cohen’s composition references to Firm Roots and Bolivia, two of Walton’s most famous compositions. The duo piece for piano and sax was exquisite and the interplay throughout between Cohen and the ever inspirational Vanderwal was a highlight.

Now to perhaps the climax of the 2019 Festival. The hard swinging trio rendition of Almost Like Being In Love, from Harry Mitchell (piano), Nick Abbey (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums) set the stage for 25 year old American vocal virtuoso Veronica Swift.

Swift is the daughter of vocalist Stephanie Nakasian and, as Swift described, “the great and late Hod O’Brien” (a jazz pianist of immense talent; check out Hod’s rendition of You and the Night and the Music]. Swift immediately put everyone on notice with an up-tempo rendition of Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You (with a possible implied dedication to Samantha Kerr). The tempo took no prisoners and the rhythm section was totally relaxed with the challenge.

Veronica Swift at the State Theatre Centre. Photo Mark Francesca.

Swift, who has toured with Wynton Marsalis, has jazz in her DNA and her scatting ability – where she vocally improvises over the harmony of a tune – is unbelievable. DownBeat magazine jazz critic Bill Milkowski has noted she has “perfect pitch and phrasing” and this was most evident. However her rendition of Lionel Bart’s As Long As He Needs Me from the musical Oliver showed that she can deliver a ballad emphatically. Incendiary, if not spontaneous combustion, might be a way of describing the quartet’s treatment of Bobby Timmons’ classic Dat Dere – an anthem of the gospel jazz or soul jazz sub-genre. The duo of vocals and bass on King Pleasure’s No Not Much provided a contrast and showed intelligent and mature programming from Swift.

The Ella Fitzgerald-inspired Pennies From Heaven invoked a standing ovation that required an encore. David Frishberg’s I’m Hip – a tune synonymous with the late Blossom Dearie – provided the icing on the cake.

This is Swift’s first visit to Australia where she also performed in Sydney and Melbourne. Her progress in the future will be followed by this scribe and I believe the festival pulled off a coup in presenting such a talented artist at the commencement of her career.

Pictured top: Veronica Swift wows the crowd with Harry Mitchell (piano), Nick Abbey (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums). Photo Mark Francesca.

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Jazz, Music, News, Reviews

Jazz feast begins

Review: Perth International Jazz Festival, ‘Clayton Doley’; ‘Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School’ ⋅
Ellington Jazz Club; State Theatre Centre Courtyard, November 8 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

A balmy spring evening welcomed international and interstate jazz artists on the first night of the Perth International Jazz Festival. As the sun went down jazz fans began milling around Northbridge and at the Ellington Jazz Club fans grooved shoulder to shoulder to the smooth tunes laid down by Australian keyboard legend Clayton Doley.

The Sydney-based Doley, backed by an impressive line-up of local musicians, delivered a polished first set. As the New Orleans-infused compositions flowed from his fingers it became clear why Doley is the keyboard player of choice for Jimmy Barnes, and has played alongside everyone from Guy Sebastian to the band members from Booker T and the MG’s.

Doley led an eight-piece band from the keyboard, his tasteful Hammond organ solos throwing back to the great blues players from the 60’s. His compositions fused funk, shuffle, jump blues and acid jazz, overlayed with a lush dose of soul. It was the perfect combination to melt stress on a Friday evening.

You would be hard pressed to find a more laid back groove than Baby John Burgess, with its nonchalant downwards stepping riff sitting right back on the beat laid down by Ben Vanderwal (drums), Dave Brewer (guitar) and Wayne Freer (bass). The warm tones of the horn section (Dylan Hooper and Alistair McEvoy saxophones, Ricki Malet trumpet and Catherine Noblet trombone) added their well-balanced punctuations. Wandering above them, with every note landing in perfect agreement with the band, were Doley’s beautifully paced organ solos.

Doley’s smooth baritone voice was light enough to croon and with just enough edge to make it soulful. His quirky lyrics revealed a larrikin side that married happily with cruisy R&B rhythms. Waiting for the Coffee, written while in New Orleans, described the wear and tear of life in a tough town: “Last night I got ripped/ Today I woke up torn/ Baby, I don’t want to mourn for you”. Shredding the spaces in between the lyrics was his organ: sweet, psychedelic and rocking hard.

Chelsea McBride and the Socialist Night School. Photo Mark Francesca

It was hard to tear ourselves away but worth it so that we could arrive at the State Theatre Centre Courtyard in time to hear Canadian band leader Chelsea McBride open her set. In fact her opening piece was the perfect transition; Revolution Blues opened with a blues ostinato riff, delivered by McBride on tenor saxophone and soon joined by the full swagger of 19 piece big band Socialist Night School (a composite of musicians from the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra and elsewhere.) McBride is a rising star in the Toronto jazz scene and her compositional chops and relaxed authority make her a charismatic band leader.

Most of the music was drawn from her new album Aftermath, released last week and delivered with impressive finesse by the local band. McBride’s writing is political, harmonically fresh and firmly embedded in the catchy hooks and lushness of big band tradition. Porcelain struck a chord (pardon the pun) with its blues bass line overlayed with edgy harmonies and cutting #mettoo lyrics. Twilight Fall’s dense orchestration had a Pink Floyd psychedelic feel and told an intriguing musical tale of purple skies and rusted carousels.

Kudos to festival director Mace Francis for this fabulous opportunity to hear the newest sounds emerging from Canada, and to witness the cross fertilisation of ideas as international artists shared the stage with the young stars from our own backyard. And there’s plenty more of this to come over the weekend in a festival program that is as egalitarian as it is extravagant. Don’t miss out on this feast for your ears.

The Perth International Jazz Festival continues until Sunday 10th November.

Pictured top: Clayton Doley plays the Ellington Jazz Club. Photo Rosalind Appleby

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Dance, Music, News, Reviews

Navigating an uncertain path

Review: Strut Dance and Tura New Music, “In Situ 2019” ·
Cyril Jackson Senior Campus, 6 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

I’ve always loved the premise of “In Situ”. An annual program of site-specific works by Perth-based independent choreographers and composers, “In Situ” has taken audiences on adventures through various local buildings since its 2014 premiere in Uncle Joe’s Mess Hall (a café-cum-barbershop in the Perth CBD), including Fremantle Arts Centre (2015), the State Theatre Centre of WA (2016), St George’s Cathedral (2017) and East Perth’s Girls School creative precinct (2018).

Curated by Serena Chalker and Geordie Crowley with Daisy Saunders, this year’s program has moved further east again, to Cyril Jackson Senior Campus in Bassendean. And that’s not the only thing that’s different.

Until now, the basic formula for “In Situ” has remained the same: a walking tour of the venue, with different works presented in different (and sometimes surprising) locations.

The twist this year is that punters are not guided from work to work but are free to wander the venue. It’s not often that we get to view dance installation-style and, personally, I enjoy choosing how much time to spend with each work. So I approached the preview of “In Situ” with interest.

On arrival at the season’s preview, audience members were presented with a program, the cover of which is a map of the venue. The school gates were opened and we were released into the school grounds.

As one the audience headed to the first visible performance (Roam, by choreographer Scott Galbraith and composer Alexander Turner) at the end of an outdoor walkway, but as I was at the back of the pack, I couldn’t see. I looked around but there were no other signs of life, only dimly lit school buildings. I consulted my map but wasn’t sure where I was in relation to the five marked performance spaces.

With guidance I found my way to another vantage point but that feeling of confusion – and anxiety about possibly missing key elements of the five works – remained with me. My anxiety heightened when I realised (about halfway through the program!) that, contrary to my assumption that all works would be running continuously, there was a running order and, in some cases, the works only ran for a short period of time. I was filled with sudden horror that I may have missed a work entirely.

Post-show, I wonder if the uncertainty I experienced is intended by the curatorial team, given that the works themselves all have a mysterious, even discomforting quality.

A man holds a water balloon to his head. he is bathed in sunlight.
Ritualistic: Scott Galbraith in ‘Roam’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Though I missed the opening of Roam (performed by Galbraith and Turner), I enjoyed the almost ritualistic way Galbraith navigates and handles the many greyscale water balloons that frame the work. When he flung one to meet its watery end against the brick wall of a classroom, a fellow audience member remarked with a sigh, “Deeply satisfying.”

The second work I came upon was All Hit Radio FM, by choreographer Joshua Pether and composer Dane Yates. This work sees “the spirit of Bassendean” (dancer Nadia Martich) waft and wend her way – not aimlessly but perhaps endlessly – between translucent sheets that, on Wednesday night, billowed like ghosts in the night-time breeze.

A dancer pressed up against a translucent sheet
Nadia Martich as ‘the Spirit of Bassendean’ in ‘All Hit FM Radio’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Moving around a corner I saw clusters of audience members, donning headphones and peering into the windows of the Artshouse. Inside was Preparations for the future and other catastrophic events, by choreographer Michelle Aitken with performers Mitchell Aldridge and Jessie Camilleri-Seeber, and composer Rebecca Riggs-Bennett. Here, two dancers power through a studio space; eddying and falling as though caught in a slipstream. Viewers choose between two sound channels; though I only experienced each briefly it seemed that one was driving, the other more meditative, and it was interesting to witness the way the different soundscapes affected the mood of this dynamic work. But all too soon it was over – it seemed I had arrived well into the piece’s duration.

Hoping for more I waited at the Artshouse, in case the dancers returned. By the time I ventured to the carpark, where a performer (Turner) encased in another translucent sheet careered inside a circle of fairy lights, that work – Turner’s rerail – was almost finished too.

Two men stand facing one another. One clasps the other's face.
Yvan Karlsson and Tao Issaro make a magical team in ‘fired but not yet glazed’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

And so to fired but not yet glazed, created and performed by choreographer Yvan Karlsson and composer Tao Issaro. Unlike the rest of the program, the audience was ushered into the performance space – a ceramic studio – so all saw this compelling work in its entirety. Exploring ideas about facing the world when one feels not yet completely grown-up or “glazed”, this work is a gorgeous melange of clay on skin, of sinuous, sinewy movement; coupled with a delicious score of live-performed vocals and percussion played on a mix of found and traditional instruments, mixed with recorded sounds. As both creators and performers Issaro and Karlsson make a magical team.

It’s pleasing to see the curatorial team experimenting with the format of “In Situ”, and the program is worth catching, but at the preview I felt that more guidance or information would have been beneficial for audience members.

“In Situ” runs until November 9.

Pictured top are Jessie Camilleri-Seeber and Mitchell Aldridge in ‘Preparations for the future and other catastrophic events’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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A local story of love and courage

Review: Squid Vicious, Cephalopod ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 4 November ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

It never rains but it pours; we have two new, engrossing plays about young Asian women growing up in, and coping with, suburban Perth – Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa’s Fully Sikh and now Jess Nyanda Moyle’s Cephalopod (sadly I missed a third, Doreshawar Khan’s Sharbat, also at the Blue Room).

Their methods are vastly different, but their matter is remarkably similar. Both Moyle, the child of a Filipina mother and white Australian father, growing up in Whitfords, in Perth’s northern suburbs, and Khalsa and her rambunctious Sikh family, ensconced forty kilometres south in Leeming, shared the debilitating oppression of the formidable, and often belligerent, Anglo-Australian culture (microaggressions, as Moyle neatly puts it in her programme notes).

Impressively, though, what comes through in both their stories is their courage, their love for their families and their positivity. Australia gave both of them plenty of reasons to reject it; neither of them did.

This does not mean that they bowed to the pressure of the dominant culture; rather that they expressed their own, and themselves, both through, and despite, it.

Pictured L-R: Jess Nyanda Moyle, Andrew Sutherland, Ramiah Alcantara and Molly Earnshaw. Photo: Mitchell Aldridge

Cephalopod is a play in two very distinct parts. The first is a phantasmagoria whose central conceit is the burgeoning spread of Asian peoples through migration and the thriving lives they lead in their new homes, juxtaposed with the natural history of cephalopods – the squid, the octopus and the cuttlefish (factoid: cephalopods seem to be a rare beneficiary of climate change – their range and numbers increasing dramatically since the ’50s).

There’s some heady – you might say bizarre – stuff goes on in the imagination of the teenaged Moyle as she hangs, lonely, at Whitford City; songs and images, strange associations and a lot of sexy, audacious fun.

Know much about cephalerotica? You’ve come to the right place, boyo.

All this is red meat for Renegade Productions supremo, the everlasting Joe Lui, who cracks the whip on this one. He draws wholehearted, fearless performances from Ramia Alcantara, Molly Earnshaw, Moyle and Squid Vicious co-founder Andrew Sutherland, whose fingerprints are all over the murder weapon as well.

It’s also a sumptuous production despite its basic box set – much credit due to Mia Holton’s dense, antiquarian visuals,  Lui’s complex, aware sound design and Jason Ng Junjie’s lighting.

It all climaxes with a woo-oo-wo-wo-wo-wo-o-o Tagalog singalong of Farnham’s “You’re the Voice” that had us hollerin’ and clapping the cast.

But wait. There was more.

There’s a second act that is a completely different beast, a simple, direct, near-monologue from Moyle, telling the story of her family – here and back in the Philippines; the tough times and good times, her journey to understand herself and her sexuality, and her, ultimately successful, search for self-realisation and love.

White Australia has a habit of congratulating itself for its acceptance of the immigrant. The true stories of these great young women suggest a need to think more carefully about who should be congratulated.

Cephalopod runs until November 14.

Pictured top: Jess Nyanda Moyle. Photo: Mitchell Aldridge.

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News, Performing arts, Puppet theatre, Reviews, Theatre

Chilling consequences superbly rendered

Review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and WAAPA 3rd year performance makers, Life on Earth ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 2 November ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

The earth is fragile. So are we. So is a puppet.

The timing is conspicuous. A series of short vignettes that acquire a cold and earnest insistence. The audience, quiet and still, silently gasps at the state of our Earth and the consequences of failing to look after it.

Such discomforting scenes form Life on Earth, a work of puppet theatre that had an all-too-brief season at Fremantle’s Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, October 30 – November 2. Directed by veteran puppeteer and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre associate director Michael Barlow, and performed by the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ graduating Performance Making students, Life on Earth is a master showing of recontextualization, animation and creation.

‘Life on Earth’ is a master showing of recontextualization, animation and creation. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Indeed, the name of the show conjures up images of David Attenborough’s close encounter with a group of gorillas. At the time, Attenborough famously suggested that despite our projection of gorillas as dangerous and foreboding, it is in fact humans who are the most destructive and aggressive of all creatures.

This is what the puppets were saying.

Certainly, most of this 80-minute production — short scenes enacted by a variety of puppets manipulated by a visible team of performers — suggests a critical take on universal themes: of love, and connection.

Youthful dinner party guests paying homage to themselves. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography
.

The participants in a youthful dinner party, replete with chic and bonhomie, pay homage to themselves; two charming women engage in a slow lovers’ embrace; a child is born and then catastrophically handed away (or dies?); two men vie for the love of a beautiful woman, which increasingly agitates warfare and culminates in the piercing of cupid’s arrow; a man – like many men – embarrassingly attempts to engage with an exotic and alluring woman.

The delightful couple seated next to me watched these pursuits with hands clasped, chuckling, aware of their own love. Like everyone, they were silent, their embrace more conscious when the stage turned to mist and a seahorse meandered, terrified and tangled in a plastic sheet.

More was to come. A horrifying ending where misunderstanding and ego resulted in the performers falling over, one by one, as the last voice trailed off into a murky and deleterious end.

The success of this work lies in the simplicity of its observation. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Life on Earth – while harrowing at any point during the last two centuries, is particularly traumatic as we selfishly engage in epochal conflict and harm to our home. The success of this work lies in the simplicity of its observation: that we stand to lose all that makes life worthwhile – love and the lightness of just “being”.

The tone of Life on Earth is chillingly gruesome, unfolding as a pessimistic registry of slaughter and vivisection, in which classic love stories and worldliness become fixtures of a possible Armageddon.

An outstanding work, superbly rendered by its cast of graduating students.

All photos: Stephen Heath Photography.

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A vivid and vibrant love affair

Review: Lesley Meaney, ‘Becoming Australian’ ·
Holmes à Court Gallery, West Perth ·
Review by Craig McKeough ·

Lesley Meaney’s love affair with Australia is writ large on the walls and the spaces in between, in the Holmes à Court Gallery in West Perth.

It’s been a 50-year relationship for the British-born Meaney, who must surely identify as Australian by now.

But as the title of this show spells out, for this Perth artist, becoming Australian has been a long, gradual process.

Meaney arrived in Australia in 1969 with a design diploma and teaching qualifications under her belt, a background that served her well as she viewed her new surroundings with an inquiring eye.

As she moved around, and lived, taught and worked in different parts of the country, she clearly absorbed its essence and found much of it ingrained in her visual psyche.

This is reproduced in spectacular fashion in her large catalogue of artwork brought together for a 50-year retrospective.

From the vivid bursts of colour in her acrylic and gouache paintings to mixed media works and wearable jackets and tunics, Meaney has captured the palette of her adopted country. This is most evident in the vibrant reds, earthy ochres and ghostly whites of the outback in a stunning series of landscapes.

Meaney captures the palette of her adopted country in the vibrant reds, earthy ochres and ghostly whites of the outback.

Her trademark stitched canvases combine two disciplines to arresting effect. The vertical stitched canvas strips add dynamism to the acrylic paintings — the colours vibrate and the scenes dazzle with light as we are forced to consider seemingly familiar landscapes in a new way.

These are perhaps the strongest pieces in an impressive and eclectic collection.

This combination of disciplines is a regular feature of Meaney’s practice, as is her tendency to tackle one technique, master it and move on.

This has led to her compiling a diverse range of skills, from painting, drawing, sewing, textiles and using found objects. She expresses them as abstract and representational pieces, on bold, expansive canvases, in miniature works and intriguing “shelf collections” of small pieces.

As with any show of this kind — sprawling in space as well as over time — it is difficult to grasp quickly a coherent overview of what sort of artist Lesley Meaney is.

Perhaps the answer lies precisely in the diversity on display. This exhibition underlines her constantly shifting focus and her urge to continually chase fresh concepts and discover new techniques in her ongoing process of becoming Australian.

The ‘Becoming Australian’ exhibition continues until November 17. Meaney will present an artist talk at the gallery at 2pm on November 16.

The exhibition travels to Vasse in February 2020.

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Man singing into mic with eyes closed
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Like a pro

Review: Downstairs at the Maj, ‘Michael Griffiths: By Request’ ⋅
Downstairs at the Maj, October 19 ⋅
Review by Erin Hutchinson ⋅

Helpmann Award winner Michael Griffiths is a regular on the Australian cabaret scene, and there’s no wonder why. From his self-aggrandising introduction (with tongue firmly in cheek) to the catchy closing number, ‘Michael Griffiths: By Request whirls its audience along on a fun-filled journey of stories and singalongs.

Griffiths’ years of onstage experience shows. His storytelling is witty and engaging as he casually shares tales from his time spent living in Perth while attending the WA Academy of Performing Arts, and walks us through his love of music from his youth.

A king of the tribute show, Griffiths’ song list features favourites from ABBA, Elton, Kylie, and Madonna. However, this show has a twist… aside from a few clear personal favourites, the songs were chosen by the audience, giving the evening a joyous sense of spontaneity. This structure clearly works well for his fans – as one member of the audience cried out, “I want to hear everything [you’ve done] since you were ten!”

He also namedrops like a pro, feeding the crowd delicious tidbits from his time in major productions such as We Will Rock You and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, and the various celebrities he encountered along the way.

sitting at a piano, a man sings into a microphone
Michael Griffiths’ voice is a smooth and supple beast. Photo Alison Rodrigues.

The adoration of the audience is understandable. Griffiths’ voice is a smooth and supple beast, from the opening number Copacabana, to his rousing closing version of John Paul Young’s Aussie classic Love is in the Air.

He introduces the audience participation early and leads the singalongs with ease, through harmonies and echoes. The real highlight of the night, however, was an Annie Lennox ballad that allowed his voice to truly shine alone.

His arrangements were supported by Greg Brenton on drums and Karl Florisson on bass, both consummate performers, and the three worked wonderfully together. It would be great to see them in a more intimate venue like the Ellington, where Griffiths’ conversational style would work without the issues of the disrupted sightlines of Downstairs at The Maj.

‘By Request’ has already toured nationally and internationally, and will return to Perth for Fringe World 2020. If you’re a tragic fan of 70’s and 80’s pop music, this is the show for you. Be warned, though, with Griffiths’ local loyal following, this is bound to sell out so I’d be booking early. And if you’re not keen, send your mum. She’ll love it.

Michael Griffiths: By Request returns for Fringe World in January.

Pictured Top: Michael Griffiths takes audiences on a fun-filled journey of stories and singalongs. Photo Alison Rodrigues.

 

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Tending local talent

Review: The John Stringer Prize Exhibition ·
John Curtin Gallery ·
Review by Jaimi Wright ·

A city’s cultural identity, in a lot of ways, is like a garden; it must be nurtured and built from the existing bedrock. Pop-up Globe theatres will come and go, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But the best gardens, the cultural identities that flourish and endure, are ones that also tend to home-grown talent. The John Stringer Prize, currently showing at the John Curtin Gallery, is nurturing this kind of rich cultural identity for Perth, and the affecting works in this exhibition make for rewarding viewing.

The John Stringer Prize was created in 2015 to honour the memory of John Stringer, a past curator of The Stokes Collection and a passionate supporter of greater patronage to local artistic talent. Each year a panel of three arts professionals from the Collectors Club in Perth (one of Stringer’s enterprises) selects six Western Australian-based contemporary artists to exhibit in the Prize. Collectors Club members then choose the winner by secret ballot.

Ngamaru Bidu, ‘Nyurnma’, 2019, acryclic on canvas, 75.5 – 123cm.

The exhibited works for the 2019 Stringer Prize include an impressive and thought-provoking variety of contemporary art practices across multiple mediums, representing lived experiences from many cultural backgrounds. Photographer Rebecca Dagnall’s work explores the eeriness within nature as a psychological space. Martumilli artist Ngamaru Bidu’s artworks are a beautiful insight into Martu land and culture. Elham Eshraghian’s video piece is an emotionally resonant and hypnotic exploration of local Iranian diaspora. The artworks by Perth painter Kendall Gear are fascinating existential analyses of colloquial scenes and objects. Holly O’Meehan’s mixed media works, reminiscent of sea creatures, are both alien and intimately domestic. Finally the winning work of this year’s Prize, a kinetic installation by interdisciplinary artist Bjoern Rainer Adamson, is a brilliant inquiry into the nature of artificial intelligence.

By investing in and promoting the ingenuity, creativity and diversity of local contemporary artists, The John Stringer prize is a major contributor to the integrity of Perth’s cultural identity, a contribution that is made all the more significant in these last two years by its relocation to the public venue of the John Curtin Gallery. If the John Stringer Prize continues to support and develop local talent the way it has this year, Perth’s local cultural identity has a promising future.

Pictured top is the winning art work: Bjoern Rainer-Adamson, ‘Protozoon’, 2019, John Stringer Prize 2019 exhibition, installation view, JCG, 2019.

The Stringer Prize exhibition runs until December 8.

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Sharbat. Photo: Tasha Faye
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The big feels and frictions of brown sisterhood

Review: Third Culture Kids, SHARBAT ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 24 October 2019 ·
Review by Patrick Gunasekera ·

In their first major production since 2015’s Once We Were Kings, local theatre ensemble Third Culture Kids have returned with SHARBAT.  A new work from emerging playwright Doreshawar Khan, SHARBAT is an all-too-true story of three dynamic sisters up against the world and each other during a particularly festive time of the year, as Eid and Christmas happen to fall on the same day. Under the direction of another emerging talent, Michelle Aitken (with set consultant Kelly Fregon), the Blue Room Theatre’s Kaos Room rehearsal space is transformed into a bright and cosy studio apartment; furnished with all the odd little things that characterise first-time home leavers’ lifestyles, from boxes of hoarded trinkets stuffed into one corner, to chicken gristle and stale Fruit Loops from the box for breakfast.

The story takes place in the residence of young Roo Gül (Sabrina Hafid), who has just moved out of her dad’s house and is settling in with the help of her sibling Batty (Mani Mae Gomes), when there is an unexpected arrival from their estranged older sister, Shazia. Vibrantly brought to life with a debut performance from writer  Doreshawar Khan, Shaz is introduced to us as the “success” sister: a married Instagram star on a fluids-only detox cleanse who wears hijab and offers salah every day. With her irrational fear of strangers and well-intentioned tendency to offer help and jump to conclusions too soon, there is an immediate and obvious disparity between Shazia and her sisters, queer punk Batty and onesie-clad Roo, who both take a more cool and casual approach to living out of home, mental health and Islam.

But everything is not as it seems: as the play progress and we learn of painful family secrets and private battles, the Gül sisters are left to make high stakes decisions about their relationships with one another, often in the heat of moments infused with anger or unconditional love.

Sharbat. Photo: Tasha Faye
The Gül sisters are left to make high stakes decisions about their relationships with one another, often in the heat of moments infused with anger or unconditional love. Pictured L-R: Mani Mae Gomes as Batty, Sabrina Hafid as Roo and Doreshawar Khan, as Shazia. Photo: Tasha Faye. Photo: Tasha Faye

This play was very close to home for me – a brown child of a migrant mother, I’m currently navigating the wild ride of young adulthood – but if I could sum up my experience of seeing this show in one word, I would use the word “empowering”. At many points, I found myself witnessing deeply relatable scenes of suffering, the exchange of fury onstage between the sisters summoning the peculiarly visceral qualities of quarrels with brown family members. The characters’ dialogue frequently overlaps, something I’ve seen so often when my Amma argues with her friends, or when I argue with her or my brother – talking over each other until you’re both in tears, raising your voice and never being heard because you’re two completely different people.

I was also deeply touched by the intermittent soliloquies of the sisters’ memories of their late mother, a kind and mighty woman who was sometimes seen crying “…like someone was ripping her limbs off…her frail body wracked with sobs.” But these scenes were ultimately a cathartic experience for me and, as such, a rare and necessary find for brown theatre-goers of the independent scene in Perth.

At its heart, this play is one of great strength: young brown strength. Growing up as children of migrants in Australia, we often find that “…life [takes] us through the backstreets of emotions.” We do what we can to feel seen, we have a lot of pressure to live a certain way that may actually not feel right for us, and we aren’t always bothered to face up to racists on the streets or in our workplaces. We’ve got the world on our shoulders, and we know how to handle it. This is what SHARBAT reminded me.

SHARBAT delivers a compelling and heart-warming work of big feelings and big love, with down-to-earth performances, sharp writing, and the coolest “Eidmas” tree topper you have ever seen.

SHARBAT runs October 24 to November 2 at the Blue Room Theatre.

Read an interview with SHARBAT playwright Doreshawar Khan.

Pictured top (L-R) are Mani Mae Gomes as Batty, Sabrina Hafid as Roo and Doreshawar Khan, as Shazia. Photo: Tasha Faye.

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Exhilarating and absurd

Review: GreyWing Ensemble, ‘Text’ ⋅
The Sewing Room, October 8 ⋅
Review by Eduardo Cossio ⋅

Local ensemble GreyWing are known for performing works that mix environmental sounds with acoustic instrumentation. Their penchant for the extra musical was taken one step further on ‘Text’, a concert presented as part of Tura’s Soup Nights at the Sewing Room. In what might be their most diverse program yet, the pieces explored spoken language as accompaniment for absurdist actions, problematising meanings and emphasizing the allusive qualities of text.

Moving to the other side of you by the French-Australian composer Emmanuelle Zagoria created fluid connections between instrumental performance, choreography, and the voice. The musicians seemed absorbed in their own private conversations as they gathered around a microphone for statements such as ‘Would like to come over?… Maybe I should leave…’. These were delivered in a self-conscious and fidgety manner, evoking a heightened psychological state. Voices overlapped as the ensemble took to their instruments matching their speech to jagged rhythms. A folk-influenced drone by guitarist Jameson Feakes brought momentary calm but it was soon disrupted by a waltz in the style of the French chanson. The sentimental melody was one of the many non sequiturs thrown at the ensemble, each of which was artfully integrated into the dark tenor of the work. The last section was particularly affecting, the musicians gathered again around a microphone to utter laconic statements until they stood together in silence. Moving to the other side of you proved an ambitious work whose changes of mood succeeded in maniacal fashion.

Wheels of a spoke by the local composer Annika Moses paid homage to the sounds and sights of Hyde Park. GreyWing started with sustained tones played at low volume. Guest musician Ben Green rubbed styrofoam on a snare, making creaking noises akin to the sound of tree branches sagging. The austere textures are characteristic of the Wandelweiser aesthetic, a compositional outlook Moses has engaged with in recent years. Yet, her knack for quirky interpolations was evident in the chiming figures Catherine Ashley played on harp. These were followed by playful trade-offs among the ensemble that brought a fairy-tale quality to the music. In the final section Moses joined them on stage to read a series of impressions of Hyde Park. The easy-going work had a variety of attractive textures and demonstrated Moses’ astute handling of the ensemble’s resources.

The concert by GreyWing ensemble focused on spoken word. Photo Tristan Parr

The pieces by Brisbane composers Erik Griswold and Vanessa Tomlinson were in the form of text scores, a format favoured by Fluxus artists during the sixties. Just like in a Fluxus piece, Griswold and Tomlinson favoured intuition and whimsy, as well as a more personal engagement with sound. In Erik Griswold’s Starts of Ours, a series of performance instructions were read by Catherine Ashley and readily enacted by percussionist Ben Greene. A variety of metallic objects were made to chime and rattle against the surface of a bass drum. It was interesting to hear the instructions before seeing them realized. Ashley and Greene seemed like the characters of a Samuel Beckett play, caught up in trivial actions and strange power dynamics. Yet, Greene’s performance emphasized the materiality of the objects, and highlighted the translation of meaning between composer, the score, performer, and audiences.

Taking a more conceptual route, Vanessa Tomlinson’s Nostalgia (Perth) is ‘a preparation for improvisation’ where performers received cards with text written on them: ‘Listen to the sound of urgency’ or ‘Listen to the sound of your father’s voice’ served to prompt the player’s imagination. Although GreyWing are adept improvisers, they had a hesitant start and only half-way through the performance they achieved a cohesive flow of subdued timbres.

Kirsten Smith performing with GreyWing ensemble.

The performance-installations of Dutch composer Cathy Van Eck treat speakers and microphones as musical instruments. In Song #3, a work for solo performer and electronics, Kirsten Smith wore a large cardboard mask with a small speaker attached in front of her mouth. By varying the distance between microphone and the speaker, a feedback signal was further processed by Lindsay Vickery on laptop. Harsh plosives created a gibberish language whereby semantic meaning was abandoned in favour of vocal effects. Song #3 brought a sort of cognitive dissonance in the listener; while Smith moved her hands and arms in a declamatory, opera style, the resulting sounds had a degraded quality. The human voice was also disembodied, being hidden behind a mask and obscured by effects. This fascinating work subverted performance expectations and created an ambiguous context that was eerie and quaint.

Although hardly known in Perth, the work of Irish composer Jennifer Walshe is widely performed across Europe. Walshe belongs to a generation of composers mixing mass-media tropes with a high modernist outlook. He Was She Was started with recordings of distant traffic. An unnerving atmosphere settled in as Vickery whispered gossipy statements into a mic, Jameson Feakes snapped sticks and threw them on the floor, and Ashley blew matches repeatedly. All of these while Green and Smith played quiet textures on their instruments. Yet, the ensemble’s sounds and actions did not interact; rather, the piece unfolded as a series of events co-existing in tense relationship with each other. GreyWing were engrossing in this work of instrumental theatre and convincingly channelled its rarefied atmosphere.

Closing the concert was a new work by Vickery. His predilection for found objects as sources of constraint and possibility informed t o r b u a m m p a. Words from the inauguration speeches of Obama and Trump were put in alphabetical order to create a backing track. GreyWing played over it in twists and spurts; elongating Trump’s drawl or adding hip-hop phrasing to Obama’s assertions. It was a tightly orchestrated work whose contrasting passages evoked a mixture of mischief and despair over the state of US politics. A flurry of growling lines played in unison by guitarist Jameson Feakes and Vickery on bass clarinet was particularly memorable. Although Vickery has used ‘speech-melody’ before (the technique of matching words to instrumental sounds), t o r b u a m m p a might be his most accomplished work in that style.

‘Text’ showcased GreyWing’s ambition and versatility; but most importantly, did so by bringing some of their loosest, most invigorating playing yet.

Picture top: Members of GreyWing ensemble explore spoken language as accompaniment for absurdist actions. Image supplied.

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