A group of circus performers manipulating a large sheet of plastic
Circus, Fringe World, News, Reviews

Tackling plastic through acrobatics

Kinetica, 450 Years ·
Big Top at The Woodside Pleasure Garden, 13 February ·
Review by Robert Housley ·

Some scary numbers are linked to the incredible amount of time it takes for plastic to break down in the environment.

Perth circus school Kinetica has chosen 450 Years for the title of its 2019 Fringe World show to emphasise the point. It is an estimation of the time it takes for a plastic cup, or bottle (depending on your source), to decompose.

It’s a sobering figure, as is the disturbing claim in the show blurb that “two million plastic bags are used worldwide every minute”.

In 450 Years, Kinetica “imagines a future world where plastic pollution has taken over and rules our everyday existence”.

Consequently, myriad forms of plastic appear throughout the work,  as props, costumes, hair ties, belts and environmental debris. The 10-member troupe – two males and eight females – navigate the challenges of working with the material, which is either integral to, or in the midst of, its 10-plus routines.

Playfulness and humour are also integrated into several of the acts, starting with an acrobatic routine in which plastic bags are juggled while an animated male performer dances to the first of many upbeat tunes.

The hula hoop features in another routine, with the apparatus utilised in perpetual motion whilst a female performer creatively manoeuvres it in and out of all four limbs. Her single foot work while upside-down is gravity-defying. The entire troupe emerges from backstage at the conclusion of her solo, to form a conga line with hula hoops that culminates in a visually stunning human pyramid.

A “bottle-crushing” contortionist shows us how to reduce the size of plastic bottles using numerous body parts while balancing atop a 1.5m wooden table… not a level of versatility required when recycling them at home.

The larger part of the show is dedicated to aerial acts, though a few too many for the overall balance of the 50-minute work. Different airborne apparatus – a corner-hung large cube, silks, a lyra (suspended hoop), straps and a net – ensure, however, that there is sufficient aerial variety to maintain audience attention.

Striking sculptured poses in mid-air is no mean feat, and the standard of these routines is uniformly high.

While environmental awareness is an admirable theme – and there are moments when it is manifest in this work – realising it with circus skills is a challenge that isn’t quite met.

Nonetheless, 450 Years is an accomplished effort.

450 years shows at the Big Top until February 17.

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Improv artist singing at a keyboard
Children, Comedy, News, Reviews

The gift of comedy

Fringe World review: Flash in The Can, Did You Hear What I Saw and Aaaand Now for MORE… Kiddo Kaos!
Subiaco Arts Centre, January 31 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅

Armed with a bundle of improv games and kitted out in waistcoats and sneakers, Flash in The Can’s five-piece cast transformed the Subiaco Arts Centre into a theatre playground. Within minutes the young  audience were in amongst the fray, cheering, jumping on stage, calling out improv suggestions and laughing. So much laughing.

The basic premise of Aaaand Now for MORE… Kiddo Kaos! is the story of a Prince (Tom GK) who is miserable on his birthday. The remaining four cast members (Vicki Hawley, Caitlin Campbell, Tom Skelton and Daniel Nils Roberts) deliver a series of gifts to cheer him up in the form of impromptu stories, songs and skits. Thrown into the mix are crazy twists such as accents, hopping on one leg and other random audience suggestions. Thanks to the talent of the cast the result is immersive, varied and very funny comedy. A highlight was the heartwarming Gift of Love, delivered with the help of a couple from the audience who kindly shared the story of how they met. Within minutes their relationship was immortalised in a sweetly-rhyming song, the audience joining in the refrain. The rap battle was also clever and a favourite with my kids.

Needless to say the performers (derived mostly from Racing Minds, one of the biggest British names on the Fringe improv circuit) operate with seamless team work and impressive singing skills. Importantly they are also respectful; no idea is rejected, there is no pressure to participate and there is immense gentleness with the audience. If I could I would go again multiple times and watch the joyful gift of world class improvised comedy work its magic on an audience.

The cast members are also involved in seven other Fringe shows. We also took in Did You Hear What I Saw where we learned to our surprise that two of the performers have disabilities. Tom GK, quietly spoken and with a penchant for noodling at the keyboard, is in fact hearing impaired. Tom Skelton, loud and larger than life, is visually impaired. Together they shared the story of their friendship in a semi-structured improvisation. Their moving story revealed the ups and downs of living with a disability, interspersed with jokes and songs. We learned the five things NOT to say to a person who is deaf or blind, the five things that are good about having a disability, and the importance of friendship. The references to Brexit or Milton Keynes may have gone over the heads of the 8-12 year olds the show was aimed at. And as is the trap with autobiography the Toms did get bogged down in minutiae. But the content will refine as the season continues and the material is golden.

Aaaand Now for MORE… Kiddo Kaos! continues until February 10. Did You Hear What I Saw continues until February 2. Adventures of the Improvised Sherlock Holmes continues until February 9. Tom Skelton’s Macbeth continues until February 4. Tom GK: Hearing Loss, the Musical! runs February 7-10.  Improv Allstars Up Late runs until February 8.

Pictured Top: Tom GK from Did You Hear What I Saw. Photo Rosalind Appleby


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Music, News, Reviews

Blues and bonhomie

Fringe World review: Lucky Oceans and Jessie Gordon Present: The Piano Has Been Drinking ⋅
De Parel Spiegeltent, 31 January ⋅
Review by Robert Housley ⋅

The spiegeltent and a billowing smoke machine established the blues club vibe and bonhomie oozed from the stage as four accomplished musicians comfortable in their own skins met for a night of the blues. They included pedal steel guitarist and Grammy award-winning legend Lucky Oceans, vocalist/MC Jessie Gordon, vocalist/ guitarist Bill Lawrie, and keyboardist extraordinaire Paul Gioia.

The appropriation of a Tom Waits staple for both the show title and its opening number – replaced with irreverent lyrics from the band – set the scene for a night of dusky blues and a smidgen of gospel. Most of the song list came from the early part of the 20th Century such as Bessie Smith’s suggestive 1930s hit I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl, gospel track Shine on Me and the ageless classic St. James Infirmary.

Lawrie’s gravelly vocals epitomised blues authenticity; his bare feet augmenting his connection to the earth. Gordon’s delicate vocal delivery had plenty of grunt and range when required and her literal show stopper is worth the price of the ticket alone. Oceans and Gioia had their moments of exceptional musicianship each with solos bursting from behind the two vocal leads.

If sitting around with a group of friends sharing good music and banter is the kind of experience you enjoy then this Fringe show will suit you to a tee.

The Piano Has Been Drinking continues until February 3.

Pictured Top: Lucky Oceans on pedal steel guitar

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A woman dancing in a red unitard decorated in pompons. She is on her back, with her legs bent and her pelvis arching up.
Dance, Fringe World, News, Reviews

Strangely compelling

Fringe World review: Sophia Natale, Flesh and Bone ·
Paper Mountain, 24 January ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Arriving at Paper Mountain to see local independent dance artist Sophia Natale’s Flesh and Bone, we are  handed a piece of paper. It’s not a program, but a letter from Natale to her audience. In it, she confesses that the description of her work contained in the Fringe program was written “on a whim, the night before the Fringe event applications closed … it does not reflect what my show is truly about.”

It’s an endearing confession. It’s also a common issue for independent artists – that one often has to describe a work, before it’s been made – but I’ve not come across any who decided to ‘fess up at showtime until now.

That honesty sets the tone for the work that follows, a structured improvisation in which, says Natale, she aims “to embody a being that represents communication in its purest form; emotion.”

The performance itself takes place in Paper Mountain’s gallery, a long but narrow room. The audience sits on cushions around its edges, so that the performance space is enclosed by viewers. Natale slips into this enclosure through a gap between bodies, her own body folded in half at the hips. Panther-like, she makes her way around the space on all fours, lithe and long, taking little sniffs of air, as though searching for a scent.

Sometimes she sniffs at audience members, leaning in close, as if to rest her head on their shoulders. Other times she looks at us nervously, as though preparing for flight.

Sporadically she breaks into phrases of movement. Now she arches, flips and curls snail-style. Now she creates a loop between hand and foot through which she threads her other limbs, with an elasticity that comes from years of dance training, but in this context brings to mind something inhuman, a snake perhaps?

I could watch her move like this for the full 60-minute duration, but projected footage, first of rocket launches, then of a horse giving birth, break the spell. Almost against my will, I find myself mesmerised by the explosive and sometimes catastrophic launches, and then the struggle of mare and foal. Natale’s creature is visibly distressed by these events but it’s hard to watch both dancer and video at the same time.

The sections involving projection feel disjointed – the rough segues, intentional or otherwise, add to this sense of discord. It appears that Natale is investigating the relationship between humans, technology and nature… but the parameters seem too broad.

Nonetheless, there is something strangely compelling about the “being” that Natale creates. As she says in her letter, she sees herself as being in the “infantile stages of… exploration”, and this performance has the quality of a work-in-progress rather than a complete work.

But it’s not often we’re afforded the opportunity to see work in its early stages of development… and when that work is performed by a dancer as physically articulate as Natale?

It’s a joy to be allowed to watch.

Pictured top: Sophia Natale in ‘Flesh and Bone’.

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Five musicians in formal wear sit on a couch, with tasselled lamps and rustic brick backdrop
Jazz, News, Reviews

Sassafras satisfies

Fringe World review: Sassafras: Under Paris Skies⋅
Ellington Jazz Club, January 24⋅
Review by Steve Baitz⋅

Acoustic gypsy-jazz band Sassafras presented a world-class musical performance to the capacity audience that filled Ellington’s Jazz Club on Thursday night. The five-piece band entered as the lights dimmed and, before our eyes could adjust to the darkness, launched into a haunting rendition of Jacques Brel’s Le diable (Ça va), evoking the Paris of Picasso, Dali and Matisse.

Jessie Gordon fronted the band, her scintillating vocals coaxing the audience into involuntary rhythmic finger snapping and tapping our emotions. The musicians fed off each other’s energy as well as that of the room with tight synchronicity. A rendition of Je t’aime highlighted the skills of Pete Jeavons on double bass. Sidney Bechet’s Si tu vois ma mere allowed Adrian Galante to shine with a clarinet solo that absolutely wowed the appreciative audience.  Aaron Deacon and Lachlan Gear kicked in with excellent guitar work, ably anchored by Jeavons on bass. The title song, Under Paris skies was released gently to the crowd followed by Le deux guitares, Spencer Williams’ I’ve found a new baby, and of course, Edith Piaf’s La vie en rose. The audience applause was eventually interrupted by the final number, Toute ma joie. Gordon aptly described the night’s musical journey as 75% emotional agony and 25% joy.

Club manager, Tony Wallace, kept operations smooth with an unobtrusive food and beverage service to a responsive and respectful crowd – a perfect venue for Sassafras’s performance. This proved to be a most enjoyable hour. I went in quite grumpy from a tough day and left feeling light and satisfied.

Picture Top: The musicians from Sassafras. Photo: Corey James

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On a stage a Singaporean man massages a white man
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

So much to love

Fringe World Review: Squid Vicious, Poorly Drawn Shark
Blue Room Theatre, January 23⋅
Review by Xan Ashbury⋅

Imagine I’ve drawn a Venn diagram. One circle is labelled “qualities I hope for in a Fringe show” and the second “qualities exhibited by Poorly Drawn Shark”. What would appear slap bang in the middle? Quite a long list, and the top: refreshing honesty, energy, intelligence, and subversive humour.

This show isn’t perfect (towards the end, during a confusing video call from the future, I thought it had jumped the shark) but there is oh so much to love. Yes, love … amid all the dancing with shark heads and simulated sex, is a stunningly told story about the search for love and acceptance and belonging.

At its centre is Andrew Sutherland’s story about his five years in Singapore. Sutherland co-created the play with Vidya Rajan and it is skilfully directed by Jo Lui. Like all travel memoirs, Sutherland sees the place through the lens of an outsider. His satirical take on Singapore’s national icon, the mythical Merlion (featuring immensely talented Ming Yang Lim in a half-fish, half-lion costume) is hilarious.

Of course, he has bigger fish to fry, so to speak: debunking myths about Asian culture and critiquing lingering colonial perspectives which fetishize and infantilise its gay men.

Sutherland’s extremely fair skin attracted its own mythology. In one sense, he seems to enjoy being treated as “special”. But it’s complex and Sutherland convincingly displays a staggering array of emotions. His raw post-script to a funny but shocking rejection makes for beautiful theatre.

Yang Lim shares his own powerful story of moving from Singapore to Australia. He didn’t want to be conscripted and feared being detained. There is a touching moment when he describes a certain dish cooked by his mother and explains how you can identify with a country but not its culture.

One of the show’s funniest moments comes when Sutherland and Yang Lim act out their own version of a scene from the film Eat Pray Love, while Julia Roberts herself fills the back screen.

Fun, innovative and highly recommended.

Poorly Drawn Shark continues until January 26.

Read Seesaw’s Q&A with Andrew Sutherland.

Pictured top and below: Andrew Sutherland and Ming Yang Lim. Photos: Marshall Stay

A man with a shark head and a man with a loud hailer

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Fringe World, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Quirky metaphors mix mental and eco health

Fringe World review: Public Service Announcement, Grace⋅
Blue Room Theatre, January 23⋅
Review by Xan Ashbury⋅

Grace is a quirky play tackling the serious issue of mental health and environmental pollution. It is written by Zachary Sheridan (who describes it as semi-autobiographical), directed by Phoebe Sullivan and presented by Public Service Announcement, a new collective of Perth theatre makers.

The opening scene, featuring Elise Wilson, was a highlight for me. She used puppetry and mime to hilarious effect, engaging and intriguing the audience. Her character’s identity – as an octopus – is revealed when the home’s resident, Grace, returns. The teen, played by Ana Ika, is socially isolated and neglected as a result of family breakdown, illness and poverty.

Stylistic features such as looped dialogue build empathy for Grace, who seems to suffer with anxiety and depression. The discomforting set consists of strewn rubbish constantly being shuffled and sorted by the characters and offers an insight into Grace’s emotional state. Simone Detourbet and Anna Dooley slip easily between the roles of octopi, Grace’s parents and unkind peers. The octopuses have their own tale of woe, thanks to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

Some of the dialogue between Grace and the uninvited guests sparkles with wit. Other moments are poignant and the audience is left to ponder the layers of metaphor and symbolism long after leaving the theatre.

Grace continues until January 26.

Pictured top: Ana Ika as Grace. Photo: Zachary Sheridan.

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Magician onstage with audience member
Fringe World, Magic, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Tarrant’s tantalising tricks

Fringe World review: MindBlown Productions, Matt Tarrant: more UNSOLVED
Megamouth at Yagan Square, 23 January⋅
Review by Robert Housley⋅

Being fooled in everyday life is not an experience actively pursued except perhaps by the masochists amongst us. But when you are aware the wool is being pulled over your eyes the allure of not knowing how is tantalising to most. Multi-award-winning magician/mentalist and Fringe World regular Matt Tarrant has made a career out of this pervasive human predilection for knowingly being tricked.

“I want people leaving my show questioning everything they just witnessed – that’s a feeling I love,” Tarrant said, acknowledging the audience from the outset of the performance: “Tonight is about you”.

This Perth season of Matt Tarrant: more Unsolved is its world premiere and includes “all new magic and some fan favourites completely revamped”. At least one audience member is involved in almost all his continuum of engaging tricks. The suspicion of ‘audience plants’ is cleverly addressed with a small soft toy thrown randomly among the near-capacity crowd to select each of the many volunteers. Innovative card tricks feature strongly – his trick to a multitude of music excerpts is something to behold.

Visibility in magic shows is crucial. Tarrant’s “best mate” offsider plays an important role as both videographer – with live, close-up footage beamed on to a large screen – and support player. A ‘mentalist goose’ also plays an amusing cameo role.

Tarrant – a 2016 Australian Survivor participant – has a canny stage presence, keeping the show ticking over while punctuating his delivery with occasional jewels of humour. He more than delivers on his intention to bamboozle the audience who respond with gasps of astonishment and head-shaking disbelief.

He also went beyond my expectation of making it “about you”. After the show he stood outside Megamouth, in the unseasonal rain, seeing us off into the night.

Matt Tarrant:more Unsolved continues until February 10.

Pictured top: Matt Tarrant with audience member. Photo: Trentino Pirio

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

The pathos of the natural sublime

Fringe World review: PICA with Tura and Speak Percussion, Polar Force
PICA, January 21⋅
Review by Jonathan W Marshall⋅

Both Australia and New Zealand have been offering fellowships for artists to travel to Antarctica since the 1980s. Results have ranged from the pedestrian (DJ Spooky’s 2008 version of  Sinfonia Antarctica) to the more bracingly exciting and complex (Phil Dadson’s 2005 Polar Projects). Polar Force is the latest such work from Melbourne’s Speak Percussion (Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Shack-Arnott) in collaboration with sound artist Philip Samartzis and RMIT instrument builders Nick Roux and Malte Wagenfield.

The sonic palette developed here is designed to evoke the striking sound of Antarctic winds, rain, storms, flying particulate matter, watery ice and the astonishingly varied and intense vibrations and clatters which these forces produce within the rattling metal sheets, tubes and strung wires of human Antarctic structures. Samartzis has produced some tremendous, all-engulfing field recordings which are played back at three main points within Polar Force, and these are the strongest moments.

The majority of the concert however is not directly derived from these sources, but is rather designed to evoke isolated elements or motifs from these recordings through the use of a novel instrument. The custom built device mounted on a series of elegant glass and metal tables running between two banks of seating is essentially an aerophone, a pump-operated device fitted with valves and apertures through which windy exhalations may be manipulated. The sound is then picked up and transformed by specially fitted microphones. Consequently while some sounds are airy and clattering, others are more audibly electronic, recalling Theremins. Other amplified materials include the rich, harsh cracking of ice as it melts in water, and the sound of balls fed up air tubes and onto a hard surface, like banging doors or particularly hard icy storms.

The attention of Ughetti and Shack-Arnott to this quasi-scientific looking, snaking tubular installation is unfussy but intense. The playing is gestural, yet physically restrained. Adding to this visual aesthetic is the glowing venue itself. The audience is seated in an incandescently white, inflatable, circular-arched quonset hut, metal versions of which abound at Antarctic stations.

Musically, the performance is broken into four main movements separated by three periods in which Samartzis’ recordings are played back. Ughetti and Shack-Arnott tend to focus on particular capabilities of the instrument, and hence on particular elements from the recordings which they can evoke, picking out tones or elements and then gently playing with them (here windiness; then metallic and electronic like; and so on). As a musical composition which evolves over time, I did find the work rather static. Each movement is fairly consistent, and musical or sonic motifs do not seem to develop or shift significantly in focus. Rather there is a tendency towards the initial isolation and reduction of sounds which gradually leads to a crescendo—the most commonplace model in noise art.

Given that the live performance deliberately invites comparison to the recordings, I found it hard not to conclude that “Nature” here is a superior musical author to the humans. Antarctic conditions have crafted indeterminate mixtures and layers of sonic amalgamations which quite literally blow everything else away. The production therefore has something of a pathos-filled quality to it, dramatising the melancholy failure of humans trying to reproduce sounds found in the environment whose full richness eludes them. The natural musical sublime wins.

This is not necessarily a bad thing since the production overall features both types of material—totalising field recordings and more subtle live emulations—while the performances of Ughetti and Shack-Arnott masterfully prepare the audience to listen closely to Samartzis’ overwhelming recordings, as well as raising provocative conceptual conundrums such as where does nature end and the human begin. Field recordings are, after all, themselves a product of enormously complex technology. Overall then, this is a tremendous and thought provoking listening experience.

Polar Force continues until February 24th.

Pictured top: Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Shack-Arnott performing on the custom built instrument.  Photo by Christophe Canato.

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Yalyalwuy Gondarra standing in front of an Aboriginal painting.
Dance, Fringe World, News, Performing arts

A steep learning curve

As returning Fringe World favourites, the Djuki Mala dancers need no introduction. The ensemble’s charismatic blend of choreography from both traditional and contemporary Yolngu culture has been a hit with audiences around the world.

Despite their global success, the group remains down-to-earth and unassuming, as this Q&A with Djuki Mala dancer Yalyalwuy Gondarra reveals.

Yalyalwuy Gondarra
Yalyalwuy Gondarra

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be a dancer?
Yalyalwuy Gondarra : I didn’t always want to be a dancer; when I was younger I wanted to a professional chef. But Djuki Mala (when they were known as the Chooky Dancers) kept popping in and out of my life, with family dancing with them. Then they stuck in my mind. So the dancing found me and I am sticking with it.

S: Tell us about your early days with Djuki Mala…
YG: When I first became a Chooky dancer I had two weeks to learn the whole show. I learnt it in Sydney with the older dancers and choreographers, and I just followed the older boys… keeping up with them was hard but two weeks later I felt good. I loved it straight away.

First time I performed to a big audience was at Blues Festival with my cousin Baykali. I wasn’t even that nervous because growing up I was always dancing back at home in groups and performing to our family on the basketball court at disco. I loved looking out and seeing the big crowd – everyone clapping or dancing with us, just having fun.

S: Career highlight so far?
YG: My career highlight with Djuki Mala is hard to choose… I think for me it’s actually just always being with [the Djuki Mala team] and travelling the world with my best friends, family and now girlfriend.

Egypt is my favourite place we have toured, the pyramids and history of the place was so amazing. I took so many photos with those pyramids!

S: Career lowlight?
YG: The worst part about being an artist is getting homesick. Especially when sad things happen back at home, you just want to be with family not faking a smile on stage. But it’s my job and it’s what we do. It’s important to tell the story of my culture.

S: What made Djuki Mala decide to return to Fringe World?
YG: We have performed at Fringe World Perth three times now; some of our best and biggest fans are here! Sometimes we even get stopped in the street for a photo… I get shy though. It’s important to be humble.

S: And what do you, personally, enjoy about the Festival?
YG: My favourite thing about performing in Fringe World is meeting other people and making new friends… some of my best friends I met on tour. I also love seeing other shows and what other stories there are being told.

S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
YG: Growing up, I just loved playing with sand. I am an Island boy, so I love anything to do with the beach. At playgrounds I would always look for the sandpit because it made me feel like I was at the beach.

You can catch Djuki Mala 18-25 Jan, 9-17 Feb at The West Australian Spiegeltent, The Woodside Pleasure Garden.

Read Jenny Scott’s review of Djuki Mala’s 2018 Fringe World Show.

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