A woman (Katherine Gurr) tries to hold back two men (Ian Wilkes and Andrew Searle)
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A richly layered work

Review: Co3 Australia, The Line ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre of WA, 16 May ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

At the heart of Co3 Australia’s latest contemporary dance work, The Line, is a story of racial segregation.

This story may be unfamiliar to many West Australians, but it’s part of our not-so-distant past. Between 1927 and 1954, there was a law in place that banned Aboriginal people from entering the City of Perth’s boundaries after 6pm, unless they could prove that they were in “lawful employment”. The work’s title refers to the boundary lines of what was known as the Prohibited Area.

It’s a tough topic to tackle, particularly through the non-verbal medium of dance. Nonetheless, The Line’s directors – Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and Artistic Associate Mark Howett – have created a work that resists the temptation of a simple plot. Though interspersed with narrative elements, it is up to the audience to draw the threads together.

What we do see is an Aboriginal man (Noongar dancer Ian Wilkes) and a white woman (Katherine Gurr), who appear to be a couple. They are repeatedly pursued, interrogated and attacked by a man – some kind of policing officer – played by Andrew Searle.

The design elements of the work are immediately striking. As the curtain rises we see seven swings hanging from the fly loft, suspended by long chains that slice the space. A narrow tube of light crosses the darkened back of the stage, intersecting the vertical lines of the swings. Perched high above the dancers, it appears stationary… but time will reveal otherwise. In the dim, hazy light, the atmosphere is eerie as two dancers (Wilkes and Gurr) make lazy, sweeping arcs, on symmetrically placed swings. The peace is broken as the official-type man shouts loudly “YOU!” and mayhem ensues.

A man hold his hand like a gun to another man's jaw.
Constant tension: Ian Wilkes and Andrew Searle. Photo: Daniel Carson

From here the choreography oscillates between anguish and slapstick. Though the conflict is primarily between the Aboriginal and the white man, all three characters seem to be constantly wrestling with one another, and with themselves. The tension rarely lets up, and though this is, no doubt, intentional, it’s exhausting to watch. An exception is a gorgeously soft solo that blends Auslan signs with gestures from traditional Aboriginal dance (beautifully danced by Wilkes), followed by the soothing to-and-fro of the three dancers swinging, bathed in pyramids of light.

It can’t last though and soon we’re plunged back into the cartoon-like violence that punctuates the work. Though horrifying to watch, these repeating scenes of slow-motion violence are fascinating for the skill of both choreography and execution.

Throughout the work, Eden Mulholland’s score is, quite simply, fabulous. Played live in the main, the layers of sound range from long and eerie notes interspersed with storms of recorded voiceovers and ominous rumblings, to a rollicking, romping, 1930s jazz vibe. With James Crabb on classical accordion and Mulholland on a startling array of instruments (various guitars, piano, synthesizer, vocals, percussion), the music is a glorious performance in itself.

The design elements of this work are exceptional too, and with such a rich visual and musical backdrop, a cast of three – the number dictated, presumably, by budget limitations – seems too small, especially in relation to the scope of the issues that the work is tackling. It seems odd, too, to have only one Aboriginal performer, given the work’s context.

That said, the three dancers gave compelling performances on opening night, displaying admirable physical and emotional stamina. Though the duo and trio work was impressive, it was in their solo moments that each dancer shone brightest, Searle slicing and dicing, Gurr arching and melting, and Wilkes gently gesturing.

The repetitive structure of this work, in combination with the near-constant tension, feels unrelenting and – ultimately – unresolved. Though these artistic choices are effective, in terms of representing the discrimination that Aboriginal people have suffered and continue to suffer, personally, I found myself longing for relief.

But perhaps that was the point. Around me, audience members rose to their feet to applaud.

The Line plays until May 19.

Read an interview with directors Raewyn Hill and Mark Howett.

Pictured top are Ian Wilkes, Katherine Gurr and Andrew Searle in “The Line”. Photo: Daniel Carson.

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A woman is striking a pose. A man is dancing.
News, Reviews, Theatre

A call for belonging

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company, You Know We Belong Together ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, 21 March ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

From the moment she welcomes us to the theatre, performer and writer Julia Hales has us in the palm of her hand. This is the encore season of her work You Know We Belong Together, created with director Clare Watson and writer and associate director Finn O’Branagáin. A co-production by Black Swan State Theatre Company, Perth Festival and Dadaa, You Know We Belong Together had its first outing at last year’s Perth Festival. In recognition, no doubt, of the success of the 2018 iteration, the show has moved upstairs into the Heath Ledger Theatre in 2019, with a run three times the length of the original.

Described in the programme as a “live documentary”, You Know We Belong Together is based around a series of vignettes comprised of monologues, filmed interviews, sketches and chats. With Hales at it centre, the work is driven by her dreams: to find love, and to be on the long-running television show Home and Away.

A woman sits at a coffee table another woman dances. In the background is a projection of a train station.
“When I dance I feel like myself”: Lauren Marchbank dances as Julia Hales looks on. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

But there’s more to this show than personal aspirations. You Know We Belong Together is a passionate call for inclusivity for people with disability, in particular on stage and screen. A woman with Down syndrome, Hales gives us an insight into her life and the lives of some of her friends with Down syndrome. We meet dancer Lauren Marchbank, who moves with loose-limbed release; Joshua Bott, whose dance-style is all about funk; Tina Fielding, a performer and palm-reader who’s always up for a laugh; the gentle Patrick Carter, whose talents lie in both performing and visual arts; and Mark and Melissa Junor, who met at a dance class and have been happily married for almost 19 years.

A woman standing in front of a portrait of herself. Both have their arms extended up and out.
Julia Hales. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

And then there’s Hales, who manages the show with warmth, humour and sensitivity, whether interviewing her friends about love or taking us on a guided tour of her life. Though she keeps us giggling with her references to Summer Bay and its residents (cleverly supported by Tyler Hill’s set design), she doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. We learn of her struggles, as a young adult, to come to terms with the fact that she is a person with Down syndrome, and her ongoing grief for her late mother. It’s honest, poignant and, most importantly, relatable.

And so when she asks why we don’t see people with Down syndrome on shows like Home and Away, the injustice of this absence is striking. Why, indeed?

Together with the creative team and cast, Hales, O’Branagáin and Watson have brought to the stage an engaging work that quietly but firmly lets us know, it’s time for change.

It’s a message everyone should hear.

You Know We Belong Together runs until March 31. 

Pictured top are Julia Hales and Joshua Bott. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

A woman stands with her hands clasped over her heart.
Julia Hales manages the show with warmth, humour and sensitivity. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.
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Man posing at end of white page
Calendar, Dance, May 19, Performing arts

Dance: The Line

15 – 19 May @ Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre ·
Presented by Raewyn Hill & Mark Howett ·

Co3 Australia presents The Line, a world premiering creation by Raewyn Hill in collaboration with Mark Howett. This powerful dance-theatre work draws on the boundary line that demarcated a prohibited area in central Perth for Aboriginal people between 1927 and 1954. Co3’s cast are joined on stage with live accompaniment by Co3 Associate Artist and award-winning musician Eden Mulholland and internationally renowned classical accordionist, James Crabb.

More info
W: www.co3.org.au
E:  info@co3.org.au

Pictured: Stefan Gosatti Dancer: Ian Wilkes

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A man hold a woman across his lap
Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Stark, dark and utterly compelling

Perth Festival review: Michael Keegan-Dolan and Teac Damsa, Swan Lake/Loch na hEala ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 14 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Anyone who saw Michael Keegan-Dolan’s dance theatre work Giselle at Perth Festival, back in 2009, will know that the Irish choreographer has the capacity to show us that the dark and often gruesome side of 19th century Gothic fairy-tale narratives lies just below the surface of contemporary life.

So it’s no surprise that his Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, created for his Ireland-based dance theatre company Teac Damsa, is laced with loneliness and grief, punctuated by violence. Instead of a castle we see an Irish housing estate. In place of a prince we have Jimmy O’Reilly (Alex Leonhartsberger), a 36-year old man emotionally paralysed by unemployment and the loss of his father.

The evil sorcerer is The Holy Man (Mikel Murfi); the story is his confession. In a flash-back scene we learn that he has sexually abused Finola (Rachel Poirier), a teenaged girl in his parish. When he realises that the crime has been witnessed by her three sisters he silences them with a curse that transforms all four girls into swans.

Years later, when Jimmy seeks solace at the local lake,  he is transfixed by the swan-woman Finola. And so the story unfolds but this is no escapist Romantic tragedy. Instead it’s a tale of the insidious nature of depression, of prejudice, and of corrupt power.

It would feel unrelentingly dark, but Keegan-Dolan tells this modern-day fable with a light touch. For starters, there’s a liberal sprinkling of humour. Then there’s the sparkling live music, composed by Dublin-based band Slow Moving Clouds and performed with zest by Aki (nyckelharpa, vocals), Mary Barnecutt (cello, vocals) and Danny Diamond (fiddle). The folk resonances of the tumbling score, with its yearning wordless calls and minor key melodies, are soothing as the story takes increasingly disturbing turns.

And, of course, there’s the dance, which interweaves the spoken narrative with curlicuing limbs and spiralling paths. It’s beautifully executed by the cast. As The First, Second and Third Watchers, Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin are lithe and nimble, while the swan sisters Kim Ceysens, Anna Kaszuba and Carys Staton, and Poirier are at once weighted and expansive, their arms extending with an airiness that belies their firmly grounded steps. With their broad-spanned swan wings (designed by Hyemi Shin) they are almost angelic.

Poirier and Leonhartsberger’s two duets are highlights, the first flinching and stuttering; the second softer and more supple, a moment of comfort before parting. Both dancers portray their vulnerable, damaged characters with poignancy and sensitivity.

As The Holy Man (and various other minor roles) Mikel Murfi is outstanding. This is no fantasy villain; chilling yet comical, his Holy Man is both repellent and believable. And Murfi is versatile; so swiftly and deftly does he switch between two conversing characters that we almost see two men on stage.

It’s a pleasure to see Australia’s own Elizabeth Cameron Dalman playing Jimmy’s widowed mother Nancy. At 84, this doyenne of contemporary dance inhabits the role with stoic grace. Her wonderfully expressive face speaks volumes and it’s a privilege to see her dance in the final scene, albeit briefly.

Though the feather-filled finale feels disconnected from the story’s tragic conclusion, it also allows viewers time to gather their thoughts and spirits. By curtain call on opening night, the audience was, justly, ecstatic.

Stark, dark and disturbing, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake is utterly compelling.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until February 17.

Pictured are Alex Leonhartsberger (Jimmy) and Rachel Poirier (Finola). Photo: Matt Grace.

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Senior Citizen seated at piano, with 2 men and a lady standing alongside
April 19, Calendar, Comedy, Performing arts, Revues

Revue: Senior Moments

10 – 17 April @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Return Fire Productions ·

After sell-out shows around the country, the hilarious comedy revue Senior Moments is back by popular  demand for a new national tour from February 2019, with the legendary John Wood, Max Gillies, Benita Collings and Geoff Harvey returning with a cast of young and old in this senior theatrical smash-hit.

Senior Moments  is a comedy revue about old people and the young people they have to deal with, with sketches and songs  and performers who are old enough to know better, all making wicked fun of the trials and tribulations of  growing old disgracefully. It’s a seriously silly show for otherwise sensible seniors.

Gold Logie winner and veteran actor John Wood (Blue Heelers, Rafferty’s Rules) joins master satirist Max Gillies (The Gillies Report), Play School icon Benita Collings, Kim Lewis (Sons and Daughters,  The Restless Years) and Russell Newman (A Country Practice, Underbelly), with Midday Show Maestro Geoff Harvey on piano.

Senior Moments is a deliciously funny and fresh collection of comic senior moments, scenes and songs,  with hilarious sketches and wonderfully witty songs performed by some legendary show business seniors, coming to a theatre near you in 2019.

Senior Moments: a seriously funny revue for slightly old people. (That’s you. Be honest.)

More info:
www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/state-theatre-centre-of-wa/whats-on/senior-moments-a-comedy-revue/

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You Know We Belong Together
Calendar, March 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: You Know We Belong Together

20 – 31 March @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan Theatre, Perth Festival & DADAA ·

You Know We Belong Together by Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagáin and Clare Watson

Following the sold-out success of the 2018 world premiere of You Know We Belong Together, we are thrilled to present an encore season of this joyful celebration of community spirit.

You Know We Belong Together is a story of love; that force of nature that strikes like lightning into our hearts. Family, friends and lovers are all part of Julia Hales’ deeply personal account of her experiences as a daughter, actor, dreamer and person with Down syndrome. She brings with her the voices and aspirations of a community rarely seen on stage in an uplifting performance with video, dance and song.

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/you-know-we-belong-together

 

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Three actors dressed in costume for The Gruffalo's Child
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Joyful storytelling in Gruffalo sequel

Review: CDP Theatre Producers, The Gruffalo’s Child ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, Heath Ledger Theatre, November 21 ·
Review: Robert Housley ·

Toddler tears in less than five minutes and pierced chambers of the inner ear from a crying baby could not douse the enjoyment of The Gruffalo’s Child, a slick production from accomplished touring company CDP Theatre Producers.

Nor could it dampen the enthusiasm of its wonderfully cohesive cast, comprising Jade Paskins, Madison Hegarty and Skyler Ellis.

It was just another day at the office for children’s theatre targeted at the 3+ age group, as it was for accompanying parents and grandparents.

Oh, for the afternoon sleep.

For the most part the whipper-snappers were just as fixated on this stage adaptation of the immensely popular eponymous children’s book as they have been on the book itself (and as they were on The Gruffalo, of which this book and production are sequels). My neighbouring grandmother and her four-year-old grandson even brought the hard copy sequel along for a quick read before the show.

The real joy of this production is in its story telling, with whip-smart direction from Olivia Jacobs (with associate director Liesel Badorrek) moving the action along at a pace to keep the youngsters engaged.

The cast also fill their roles perfectly. Paskin’s Child beautifully captures the essence of the Gruffalo’s inquisitive daughter on her plight to find the Big Bad Mouse in the Deep Dark Wood.

Hegarty deftly plays narrative guide, wafting through the play with sound effects and movement, and joining in the occasional ensemble songs (music and lyrics by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw; additional lyrics by Olivia Jacobs and Robin Price; choreographer Morag Cross; associate choreographer Luanna Priestman).

Ellis steals the show somewhat, in an actor’s dream role, playing multiple characters from the snoring Gruffalo to the salesman Fox. His radical change of voice for each character and the stunning companion costumes show both his considerable talent and that of designer Isla Shaw (puppet design by Yvonne Stone).

Like all of the best children’s theatre, the kids are encouraged to be part of the action in this production, and Wednesday’s audience spontaneously complied: clapping, singing and generally responding to invitations to get involved.

The simple set of truncated, leafless trees is seamlessly modified to accommodate the various scenes and disguise the numerous on-stage costume changes.

Lighting changes (design by James Whiteside) are kept to a minimum throughout so the kids can see all of the action all of the time while not making the Deep Dark Wood so deep or so dark.

Sleep, little one, sleep.

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

Junior review ·
Review by Isabel Greentree, age 9 ·

Many children may have read the story of The Gruffalo’s Child or seen the movie, but none are like this amazing stage performance. CDP Theatre Producers’ musical version of The Gruffalo’s Child, directed by Olivia Jacobs and performed by Madison Hegarty, Skyler Ellis and Jade Paskins, is a fun-filled hour of entertainment.

At the start, three children are playing in the snow and they begin to tell a scary story about the Gruffalo, but are interrupted by some loud snores. We meet the Gruffalo and his child when he is telling her a story about the Big Bad Mouse. He gives her the Stick Man to give her courage. When he is asleep, the Gruffalo’s Child tries to play hide and seek with the Stick Man but eventually gets bored and sets out on an adventure to find the Big Bad Mouse.

She meets several animals including the Snake (throwing a party), the Owl (giving flying lessons) and the Fox (trying to sell everything). Each meeting with an animal involves a song. In the end, the Gruffalo’s Child meets a mouse who tells her he is a friend of the Big Bad Mouse and manages to scare her away.

The set included spooky trees with branches shaped like long fingers. There was a wide yellow moon behind the trees, glowing gently. The costumes were clever and effective.

My favourite part was when the mouse nearly wakes up the Gruffalo with her squeaking. I also enjoyed the way the Gruffalo’s Child could never quite keep up with the dancing. There were lots of jokes and funny parts for adults and children alike. The very young children in the audience really enjoyed it too. I really liked the play and think it is suitable for all ages. Go and see it while you can!

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

 

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

 

 

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Swan Lake
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Dance: Swan Lake – Loch na hEala

14 – 17 February @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Michael Keegan-Dolan | Teac Damsa ·

From the imagination of one of the world’s foremost dance and theatre-makers Michael Keegan-Dolan (Fabulous Beast) comes a beautiful, brilliant and utterly gripping deconstruction of one of the world’s most famous ballets.

Strange and unsettling, full of bleak humour and wry characterisations, this Swan Lake is definitely not the traditional classical ballet version. Set in the Midlands of Ireland, where ancient mythology and the modern world collide, stunning dancing and powerful imagery are interwoven with inventive storytelling, song and live music. The story is relayed like an Irish folk tale, set to a haunting and melodic Nordic and Irish traditional music score played live by the Slow Moving Clouds trio, but the themes and their inventive portrayal are completely contemporary. Moments of darkness give way to scenes of intense rapture in a must-see work of pure theatrical magic.

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/swan-lake

Pictured: Swan Lake, credit: Matt Grace

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The Great Tamer
Calendar, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Theatre

Theatre: The Great Tamer

8 – 12 February @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Dimitris Papaioannou ·

The meaning of life and the mystery of death are vividly explored in a set of breathtakingly inventive live paintings from Dimitris Papaioannou, a Greek artist internationally recognised for directing the 2004 Olympic ceremonies.

Inspired by the words of Homer and the work of the Old Masters, Papaioannou builds macabre still lifes, dreamlike images and nightmarish creations with ten performers, his magical stagecraft and the shifting floor.

The Great Tamer is a witty, stunning and surreal feast of visual delights that takes shape around the idea that life is a journey of discovery — an exploration for hidden treasure, an inner archaeological excavation for meaning.

Papaioannou sees himself as a visual artist, a painter on the stage who creates worlds of astounding beauty from the human body. In this poetic, wordless allegory on the passage of time, the body is used to create vignettes that are at once macabre and beautiful, brimming with humour, horror, circus-like stunts and optical illusions.

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/the-great-tamer

Pictured: The Great Tamer, credit: Julian Mommert

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A Ghost in my Suitcase
Calendar, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Theatre

Theatre: A Ghost in My Suitcase

26 Feb – 3 Mar @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Barking Gecko Theatre ·

Travel from contemporary Australia to cosmopolitan Shanghai and to the misty byways of rural China in the enchanting family mystery A Ghost in My Suitcase.

Twelve-year-old Celeste arrives in China to scatter her mother’s ashes, but in no time flat she’s thrust into a world of magic and myth. Her grandmother has carried on the family tradition of ghost catching and Celeste finds she too has a knack for the hair-raising pursuit.

Barking Gecko Theatre’s visually spectacular stage version of A Ghost in My Suitcase, adapted by Vanessa Bates from Gabrielle Wang’s award-winning book of the same name, is equal parts thrilling and heartwarming.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/ghost-in-my-suitcase

Pictured: A Ghost in My Suitcase, credit: Daniel Grant

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