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Features, News, Performing arts, Visual arts

Cream of the crop, 2018

What were Seesaw writers’ favourite shows this year? What were the highlights and lowlights for the arts in WA? And which artists will our contributors be looking out for in 2019?

As 2018 draws to a close, Seesaw writers reflect on the year that was and the year that will be.

Xan Ashbury
Top shows
Cloud Nine, by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler for West Australian Youth Theatre Company in July.
Gutenberg the Musical, starring Jacob Jones and Andrew Baker. The musical was directed by Erin Hutchinson for Western Sky Theatre in June.
Huff by Cree playwright and solo performer Cliff Cardinal and directed by Karin Randoja, staged at the Subiaco Arts Centre in March by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company.

cloud nine
Lexie Sleet,‘Ana Ika & Phil Lynch in ‘Cloud Nine’. Photo: Daniel Grant.

Looking forward to…
Our Town at Perth Festival. Black Swan State Theatre Company present Thornton Wilder’s classic play. Clare Watson directs a cast of professional actors and everyday citizens.
Le Nor at Perth Festival. Perth theatre-makers The Last Great Hunt tell interwoven stories of love in a world that’s falling apart, as they perform a faux foreign film live.
Re-member Me at Perth Festival. Lip synching maestro Dickie Beau channels audio recordings of great historical performances of Hamlet. Billed as “humorous and haunting”.


Sandra Bowdler
Top shows
Tristan und Isolde (Wagner), WASO, Perth Concert Hall – a world class performance
Nicola Benedetti (violin), Musica Viva, Perth Concert Hall  – riveting performer
Van Diemen’s Band, Callaway Auditorium, UWA – great Baroque music

WASO’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ impressed a number of Seesaw’s writers. Pictured is Gun-Brit Barkmin, as Isolde. Photo: Andy Tyndall.

Looking forward to…
WASO evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin Perth Concert Hall – the star of WASO’s Tristan (August)
St Matthew Passion, St George’s Cathedral Consort, Perth Concert Hall (April)


Jan Hallam
Top Shows
Tristan und Isolde, WASO
Joan, Lucy J Skilbeck at Fringe World
Remembrance Day ConcertPerth Symphonic Chorus

Arts highlight
Iain Grandage’s appointment as Perth Festival Director

Looking forward to…
Komische Oper Berlin Mozart’s The Magic Flute


Belinda Hermawan
Top shows
Various artists, “Dark Swan – Contemporary Tales of the Gothic Antipodes”, at PS Arts Space
Amy Perejuan-Capone, “This Is How We Walk on the Moon”, at Customs House

Fran Rhodes, ‘Fraught Territory’, 2018, Oil on board, exhibited in ‘Dark Swan – Contemporary Tales of the Gothic Antipodes’.

Arts highlight
State government-funded writing and mentorship projects for WA emerging writers

Arts lowlight
Another year without the WA Premier’s Literary Awards

Looking forward to…
Fringe World Festival
PICA’s 2019 program


Miranda Johnson
Top Shows
“No Second Thoughts: Artemis Women’s Project” @ LWAG – a stunning inquiry into the continuing history of feminist art in WA.
The Second Woman @ PICA – If I could turn back time I would have made the effort to try to attend the whole 24 hours of this endurance piece! However, the four hours I spent watching Nat Randall and assorted men replay the same scene over and over was life-changing.
Can I say the entire Unhallowed Arts program? It was so amazing to have a festival (a monstrosity!) that encompassed institutions, ARIs (artist run initiatives), performance, experimental and visual art, and cutting-edge science and humanities research.

Second Woman
Life-changing: ‘The Second Woman’

Arts highlight
Nationally, the (slowly…) increasing number of ARIs that are now able to offer artist fees to exhibiting artists. I hope that a Perth ARI is soon able to access funding that will allow them to pay artists on a regular basis too!

Locally, it would be hugely biased of me* to say the opening of a new ARI in Perth’s CBD… but seeing a few more spaces opening up as exhibition venues has been heartening. I’m thinking of venues such as Old Customs House and the Lobby as well as Cool Change Contemporary here!

* Miranda is a co-director of Cool Change Contemporary.

Arts lowlight
The renaming of the Fringe World Pleasure Gardens to include a certain company’s name has been a recent reminder for me of the huge amounts of money that oil and gas companies give to the arts, and how they use the arts to appear “progressive” whilst contributing hugely towards climate change, making no effort to reduce emissions and paying very little tax. Of course it’s not news that this happens and that all our arts institutions rely on this source of funding in lieu of adequate governmental funding, but it’s been increasingly on my mind, and something that I think will require a reckoning amongst us artists and arts professionals – we are all implicated.

Looking forward to…
“Cassils” @ PICA, as part of Perth Festival
“Love, Displaced” @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, as part of Perth Festival
The Violent Years @ The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, as part of Fringe World


Leon Levy
Another year of frequent absences from Perth has meant missing some significant productions and performances. Some of these – had I seen and heard them – would most certainly have jostled for inclusion in a “top 3” which was, in any case, challenging enough to achieve.

Glitter and Be Gay
Emma Matthews in ‘Glitter and be Gay’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography
.

 

Top shows
Tristan und Isolde – WASO c. Asher Fisch
Glitter and be Gay – Emma Matthews with WAAPA’s Faith Court Orchestra, c. Peter Moore
“Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage”, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Arts highlight
“Don’t Stop the Music” (ABC TV), for the moving depiction of the transformative impact of the introduction of music teaching at primary school level, and for the possibility that it will prove to be a catalyst for widespread adoption of music in the school curriculum. Such a development would also be an apt tribute and memorial to Richard Gill whose untimely demise was a grievous blow to music-education and to the nation… the “arts lowlight” of the year, if this loss can be thus characterised.

Looking forward to…
Mozart’s Magic Flute, Komische Oper Berlin (Perth Festival)
An evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin, WASO, c.  Asher Fisch
Bach’s St Matthew Passion, WASO, St George’s Cathedral Consort, c. Joseph Nolan

Since I’m only allowed to nominate three events, I’ll have to keep as a secret the fact that I’m also looking forward to Wot? No Fish!!, with Danny Braverman (Perth Festival), and can barely contain my excited anticipation of the glorious Elgar Violin Concerto, to be played by Nikolaj Znaider with WASO under Asher Fisch.


smiling Nina!

Nina Levy
Top shows
Really difficult to choose this year! So many great shows.

Attractor by Gideon Obarzanek, Lucy Guerin, Dancenorth and Senyawa’s , presented as part of Perth Festival. Oh the Dancenorth dancers. Sigh.
Huff by Cliff Cardinal, presented by Yirra Yaakin and Cliff Cardinal. Utterly compelling.
You Do Ewe by Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia as part of “The WA Dance Makers Project”. Ok, I didn’t actually see this work in the theatre because I was interstate for the season, but the studio show won me over with its highly relatable humour.

‘Attractor’. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.

Arts highlight
As I said at the time, the realisation, earlier this year, that we only have one more festival under Wendy Martin sent me into a period of premature mourning. At the risk of sounding unoriginal (because I’ve edited this piece and know how many other people have said the same), the appointment of Iain Graindage as the next Perth Festival director made my heart lift.

And seeing Strut Dance’s Sunset headline the 2019 Perth Festival launch was pretty special – a huge achievement for local independent dance.

Arts lowlight
The passing of the wonderful Richard Gill at age 76, conductor and music educator extraordinaire – such a loss to our community.

At a more personal level, I am also deeply saddened by the recent passing of my friend and mentor Lesley Goodman, a visual arts educator, who worked at the Art Gallery of WA for many years. For a short time I had the privilege of working with Lesley at AGWA, as her education assistant, and learned so much from her about how to talk to young people about visual arts.

Looking forward to…
Dada Masilo’s Giselle at Perth Festival
STRUT Dance’s Sunset at Perth Festival
Thirty Five Square’s A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars, part of The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights at Fringeworld


Photo: Justin Spiers for Pet Photo Booth

Jonathan W. Marshall
Top shows
2018 was an especially good year for dance, beginning with Vessel in the Perth Festival: a piece in which the dancers hunched forward so as to become faceless, moving sculptures.
Marrugeku’s trilogy of solos Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards) was also superb, featuring Eric Avery’s tremendous “burlesque” (or disrespectful re-enacting) of colonial tropes, performed while dressed in an animal hide tail coat, and using a violin and a microphone stand in ways which would feature well in a punk band.
Although there were strong musical showings from both Greywing Ensemble and Decibel (notably the latter’s wonderful Revolution), for sheer digital joy, Robin Fox’s lesson in live avant-techno was hard to go past.

Black Swan State Theatre Company’s ‘Hir’ was a standout. Pictured is Jack Palit. Photo: Daniel James Grant.

Arts highlight
2018 saw the first program at Black Swan Theatre actually devised by still relatively new artistic director Clare Watson (who had until now overseen much of the work programmed by her predecessor). While Xenides and Skylab were disappointing, it was still a bold selection of works, and the bleak queer/trans drama Hir was a stand-out.

Arts lowlights
Robert Lepage’s approach of taking significant cultural events, conflicts and exchanges and turning them into feel-good theatre about families continues to be massively over-rated (Far Side of the Moon, Perth Festival), while Fringe seem to be digging in their heels in their misguided belief that the more massive and completely uncurated the Fringe festival is, the better — even though this means that artists end up competing with each other for audiences and the program booklet is completely impossible to navigate. At least the Blue Room are curating their Fringe program; always worth looking out for!

Looking forward to…
WA’s gift to new music, the organisation Tura, turns 32 next year, kicking things off with Cat Hope’s bass and extended-vocal-technique opera Speechless (Perth Festival 2019), while our fabulously inventive MoveMe dance festival is almost certain to be back next year.

Meanwhile PICA continues to bring us some of the most exciting interdisciplinary performance, with new works from Aphids (who’s fabulously rag tag Howl featured at PICA in 2018) and Last Great Hunt already programmed.

Also worth looking out for is a new adaptation of Medea from Black Swan Theatre, who are also hosting Nakkiah Lui’s Black Is the New White, which made waves in Sydney in 2017.


Claire Trolio
Top shows
Not only was Dizzee Rascal (for Perth Festival) my gig of the year – his show was one of the best live music experiences of my life so far.
Let Me Finish was a powerful, hilarious and emotive feminist work that showed at The Blue Room. If you missed it, it’s coming back for Fringe next year so get tickets!

Five women laughing and hugging
Powerful, hilarious and emotive: ‘Let Me Finish’. Photo: Susie Blatchford

Arts highlight
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival artistic director for 2020-2023. Whilst I’m still sad that Wendy Martin’s time at the helm is coming to an end, I’m excited to see what direction Grandage will take!

Looking forward to…
Hearing the Silk Road Ensemble in the Perth Concert Hall. If you’re not familiar with them, I recommend you watch the documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (2015, Dir. Morgan Neville).


David Zampatti
Top shows
Folias Antiguas & Criolas: “From the Ancient World to the New World”, Jordi Savall with Hesperion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo: It is impossible to imagine a more exciting or exquisitely performed concert than this.  It was thrilling to listen to, and wonderful to watch.
The Tale of Tales, Clare Testoni: A small, brilliant gem of storytelling, and a breakout achievement for its deviser and performer, Clare Testoni. Her images have a magical three-dimensionality, and move with an almost cinematic quality. It’s an honest show, and a heartfelt one.
What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger by Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods: Tyler Jacob Jones, as a writer of script and lyrics, and as a comic actor and singer, is the most prodigious talent in this town. His long-standing partnership with the composer Robert Woods and the versatile performer and director Erin Hutchinson has honed their skills to starry heights.

Arts highlight
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival Director for the next four years. We’ve got much to thank our recent directors for, but Iain brings his virtuosity as composer and musician, and makes history as the first born and raised West Australian to fill the position. Exciting times ahead!

Arts lowlight
Obviously I can be accused of self-pity here, but the retreat of The West Australian from coverage of the arts is both a symptom of a much wider malaise and a cause for particular concern. Still, change is good. Platforms like Seesaw have the capacity to fill the void and energise and grow the audience.

Looking forward to…
It’s hard to look past the festivals right now:
Gatz: After the overwhelming experience of The Gabriels, who wouldn’t be looking forwad to another 8+ hour (with breaks for libations) American marathon.
Icarus: Christopher Samuel Carroll’s Paradise Lost was one of the marvels of the ’17 Fringe. This time he’s taking to ancient skies.
Our Town: I’m not sure that “looking forward” is exactly what I’m doing to Clare Watson’s take on Thornton Wilder’s classic American novel performed by a cast of professionals and “everyday Perth Citizens”. Including me…

Pictured top are Andrew Searle and Zoe Wozniak in “You do Ewe” by Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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Attractor
Contemporary music, Dance, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Incredible art-making

Perth Festival review: Attractor by Gideon Obarzanek, Lucy Guerin, Dancenorth and  Senyawa ·
State Theatre Centre, 8 February ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

A group of people sit around in a semi-circle, in the centre of a Spartan stage.  Just as the audience is becoming restless, a couple of the figures start to move, robot-like, up from their chairs.  Others join in but two people in the middle of the semi-circle stay put.  As the bodies around them expand their movements, one of the two remaining figures picks up a large instrument and out of the silence comes a crashing metallic chord.  Here we go…

Attractor is a unique beast – a joint creation from two of Australia’s luminaries of contemporary dance, Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin.  Obarzanek is best known for his founding of Chunky Move, the Melbourne-based contemporary dance outfit in part responsible for the popularization of the genre in Australia.  Guerin is one of the country’s leading choreographers whose company Lucy Guerin Inc is renowned for its innovative, challenging works.  Both are credited as choreographers for Attractor while Obarzanek alone designed the work.  It shows – while the frenetic blur of movement may be familiar to anyone who has seen works by either Obarzanek or Guerin, the sinister underlying tone is distinctly Chunky Move-ish.

The collaboration does not stop there.  All the dancers, save the excellent Harrison Hall from Lucy Guerin Inc, are from Queensland’s esteemed Dancenorth.  But the centrepiece of this extraordinary collaboration is provided by Senyawa, a two-piece duo from Indonesia.  Incorporating elements of doom metal, folk and acapella, Senyawa’s music is a sonic trip.  The soundtrack of Attractor becomes the focal point of the performance – when someone is screeching into a microphone, accompanied by reverberating chords of pure noise, it’s hard to focus on anything else.

To be honest, I had no idea what instrument guitarist Wukir Suryadi was playing.  Was it a Chapman stick?  Was it some kind of guitar indigenous to Indonesia?  I had to look it up.  Turns out, Suryadi created the instrument himself – it’s a bambuwukir (namecheck!), an amplified zither made out of bamboo.  It’s loud, really loud.  And whether Suryadi is coaxing doom-like horrors out of it, or something more melodic, it’s incredible to behold.  That is, you think it’s incredible to behold until you shift your gaze to Suryadi’s partner in crime…Rully Shabara.  Shabara vocalizes (one cannot call it singing) as though he is possessed by the same spirits that created Suryadi’s instrument.  He wails, he ululates, he growls and groans and shrieks.

Surrounded by this sonic furore, the dancers flail and pop, sometimes in unison, sometimes in a mess of discrete movement.  There is no particular narrative here – we’re being taken on a trip, a trance and there is nothing to interpret, we are here to observe.  The choreography is as intense as the music – contorted exertions that ripple with energy.  Some of the most effective phrases are those performed in unison, the dancers slicing through space, jerking and bustling with near-perfect cohesion.  A solo from Samantha Hines is absolutely gob-smacking.  Her arms and hands shuddering, her back arched, head thrown back – all while Shabara howls gutturally into the microphone.  Intense doesn’t begin to describe it.

This is incredible art-making.  Go see it.

‘Attractor’ runs until February 10th.

Photo: Gus Kemp

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Attractor
Dance, Features, Music, News, Performing arts

Super attractor

Propelling its dancers into a state of ecstatic physical abandonment, Attractor has been a hit at festivals in the Eastern states. Ahead of the work’s Perth Festival season, Nina Levy spoke to co-director and co-choreographer Gideon Obarzanek to find out more.

Gideon Obarzanek
“Attractor really blurs the line between professional and amateur, between performer and audience.”  Gideon Obarzanek

The creative team behind the dance work Attractor is something of a super group. Directed and choreographed by two of Australia’s best-loved dance makers, Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin, and presented by two renowned Australian dance companies, Dancenorth and Lucy Guerin Inc, the work is also a collaboration with Indonesian music duo Senyawa, who fuse traditional folk music with sounds borrowed from heavy metal bands.

With such a stellar creative line-up, perhaps it’s no surprise that Attractor, a contemporary interpretation of the Javanese tradition of entering trance through dance and music, has garnered praise from audiences and critics alike, taking out the 2017 Helpmann Awards for Best Choreography and Best Dance Production.

Attractor really blurs the line between professional and amateur, between performer and audience,” muses Gideon Obarzenek, as he reflects on the work’s success. 
“Senyawa play live and they’re really charismatic, powerful performers. So really it’s also a music concert. And then the virtuosity of the Dancenorth dancers, the power that they have in their bodies, combined with the accuracy, is very attractive, people are drawn to it… and the relationship between the music and the movement works so well.”

Attractor’s popularity with both audiences and critics is due to its clarity of purpose, Obarzanek believes. “From a popular perspective, the dance is very connected to the music, and the music to the dance. That relationship is very straightforward… it’s not some kind of cryptic work,” he reflects. “And yet it is quite sophisticated… it pushes itself hard, physically and musically, and becomes quite impressive in that way.”

The dance is very connected to the music, and the music to the dance. That relationship is very straightforward… it’s not some kind of cryptic work. And yet it is quite sophisticated… it pushes itself hard, physically and musically.

The concept behind Attractor is about experiential art rather than aesthetics. “The performers are not creating beautiful shapes in space or aesthetic compositions,” explains Obarzanek. “They’re getting into a kind of movement pattern, which repeats and goes in circles. It draws the audience in rather than performing out to the audience. And then people begin to join that, from the audience.”

For Obarzanek, who spent his early childhood on a kibbutz in Israel, the motivation to make this kind of work came from a desire to return to his artistic roots in Israeli folk dance. “After many years of working with professional dancers and making highly virtuosic dance, I chose to go back to my early influences in dance. I wanted to make this work which was more like folk dancing and participating, and being in something rather than being outside and looking in,” he elaborates. “When [Lucy Guerin and I] listened to the music of Senyawa, which was very much influenced by trance rituals in Indonesia, this idea of submitting to some state of otherness by doing something over and over influenced us a great deal.”

Attractor
“Senyawa play live and they’re really charismatic, powerful performers. So really it’s also a music concert. And then the virtuosity of the Dancenorth dancers, the power that they have in their bodies, combined with the accuracy, is very attractive.” Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.

And how did the group of artistic dynamos come together?

“The background is really quite simple,” replies Obarzanek. “Kyle Page had only been director of Dancenorth for a short while when he asked Lucy [Guerin] and I if we would each make a piece for Dancenorth. We suggested making a single work together. I had been working indirectly with Senyawa in Indonesia. They had taken me on a journey to see some traditional dance and music ritual in far-East Java. We had been discussing the idea of doing a contemporary, secular ritual based on these traditional forms that interested us.”

Obarzanek took this idea back to Guerin who was keen. “Then we proposed a larger work than the resources that Dancenorth had at the time, which was a limited number of dancers,” he continues. “So Lucy suggested a co-production with her company [Lucy Guerin Inc] and we supplemented Dancenorth’s cast with a few other dancers. So it’s a larger cast than Dancenorth would normally have.”

I usually hate audience participation and so does Lucy. We designed it from the perspective of people who don’t like audience participation.

While the ingredients were all there in terms of creative talent, there was something else at play when it came to making to work, says Obarzanek. “I find, with collaborations, that a lot of it is the people but a big part of it is luck as well. We happened to work well together. We had the right balance of respect and interrogation, and knowing when to work together, and when people needed to go off on their own trajectory and make things that were not collaborative to bring back as a proposal to add to the work.”

One of the more unusual aspects of Attractor is that, just over half way through the work, the dancers are joined on stage by 20 audience members. While the volunteers are not rehearsed in advance, arriving just an hour before the show to receive their instructions, this section took a lot of studio time to perfect, says Obarzanek. “We spent between and third and half of the creative development time working on that aspect of the show. During the show there are 10 professionals on stage and then, just after half way through, 20 audience members join the performance. They’ve never seen the show and they get directed by Amber Haines, via these inner ear monitors. It works really well now but it took a lot of test groups for us to get the right instructions to get the outcomes that worked for the participants and worked for the audience. So that was a big part of the development of the work.”

The feedback from participants has been extremely positive, says Obarzanek, perhaps because both Obarzanek and Guerin are not normally fans of audience participation. “I usually hate audience participation and so does Lucy,” says Obarzanek with a laugh. “We designed it from the perspective of people who don’t like audience participation. So I think we’ve made something… you never have to express yourself or ‘perform’. The instructions are very literal. They’re straightforward. They’re not hugely creative. The participants appreciate it. They don’t have to think of anything to do. Once you’re being guided along, you give over to that very quickly and easily. And it’s fun… and it’s busy. You’re so busy doing the show that I don’t know how much time you really have to reflect that you’re on stage with these dancers.”

Attractor plays the Heath Ledger Theatre, 8-10 February, as part of Perth Festival.

Pictured top: “The dancers are getting into a kind of movement pattern, which repeats and goes in circles. It draws the audience in rather than performing out to the audience.” Photo: Gus Kemp.

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