Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz rains supreme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King Street Corner Pocket festival continues until July 6. 

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

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Five acrobats posing
Calendar, Circus, July 19, Performing arts

Circus: Circus Oz – Precarious

25 – 28 July @ His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Presented by His Majesty’s Theatre ·

Precarious takes us on a journey through an intriguing world, there are remnants of our icy past but this future reality is anything but. Inhabitants navigate this unknown world guided by their surroundings and their own ingenuity.

Precarious unfolds through an ingenuous maze of phenomenal acrobatics, spectacular aerials, live music and physical comedy. The unique skills and talents of the Circus Oz ensemble include extraordinary foot juggling, jaw-dropping aerial straps and trapeze, mesmerising handstands, pole, and hula hoop, all hilariously woven with original music from the Circus Oz live band.

This 70-minute non-stop spectacle of acrobatic mayhem is for audiences of all ages.

Thursday 25 July at 7.30pm
Friday 26 July at 11.00am (Schools show)  & 7.30pm
Saturday 27 July at 1.30pm & 7.30pm
Sunday 28 July at 1:30pm

More info:
www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/his-majestys-theatre/whats-on/circus-oz-precarious/

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His Majesty's Theatre
Calendar, Jazz, July 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival

4-6 July @ Various Venues around King Street ·
Presented by WAYJO ·

WAYJO’s King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival returns to the city this July.
Boasting 55 shows and more than 200 performers, the festival showcases WA’s top emerging and established jazz musicians. City venues include His Majesty’s Theatre, The Sewing Room, the InterContinental Perth City Centre Hotel, Cheeky Sparrow and Prince Lane. Performances start at 5.30pm, 6pm, 7pm, 7.30pm, 8.30pm and 9pm. Tickets from $15 each from www.ptt.wa.gov.au

More info
W: www.ptt.wa.gov.au
E:  marketing@wayjo.com 

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Male Singer
August 19, Calendar, Music, Performing arts

Music: Love Him Madly: The Doors Reimagined

2 August @ His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Presented by Perth Symphony Orchestra ·

“Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin…”
The Doors: one of the highest selling rock bands of all time. Jim Morrison: An American Poet. Controversial counterculture giants, together they changed music forever.

Taking their name from Aldous Huxley’s mescaline-infused book The Doors of Perception, from 1967 they released eight albums in five years to become as important and influential as greats of the era such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin and The Rolling Stones.

Perth Symphony Orchestra invites you to a very special concert set to capture the very essence of Morrison and The Doors at the height of their powers, in full psychedelic glory via the trippiest orchestral show you will ever see. Witness as strings, woodwind, horns, percussion – an entire orchestra – set His Majesty’s Theatre on fire, for one night only on Friday, August 2.

More info
W: www.perthsymphony.com/pso_event/love-him-madly-the-doors-reimagined/
E:  info@perthsymphony.com

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A rare treat

West Australian Ballet, La Bayadère ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 9 May ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

La Bayadère or The Temple Dancer is not widely known; curious perhaps, considering the 1877 ballet was originally choreographed by none other than Marius Petipa – of Swan Lake and Nutcracker fame. The universal themes of love, betrayal and redemption combined with an exotic setting, lilting music by Ludwig Minkus and technically challenging choreography meant the ballet became a revered hit in Russia, and eventually in Europe when it was finally staged in full, late in the 20th Century.

This co-production between West Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet sees the classic story modernised by choreographer Greg Horsman, injecting Petipa’s original choreography with new sequences and setting the story in a more “real” India, in 1855. Die-hard ballet fans will still recognise Kingdom of the Shades (Act II, Scene I) repertoire and many of the solos, which are regularly performed as competition or gala excerpts around the world. This version’s story, however, hinges on a political treaty to bring an end to hostilities with an arranged marriage and, as a result, a tragic love triangle.

On opening night, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was in excellent form under the careful guidance of conductor Judith Yan. Nigel Gaynor’s musical arrangement, with its initial strum of a sitar, instantly gives the ballet a sense of place. Visually, too, the production is striking with sumptuous sets and luxuriously detailed costumes – both designed by Gary Harris – complemented by Jon Buswell’s glorious lighting, which features rich dramatic sky-scapes that stain the stage pink and orange. While a spectacle for the senses, aspects of the design and direction waver dangerously into religious ambiguity and clichéd “exoticism” – a detail that, one would hope, would be considered in a modern re-telling.

Kaleidoscopic images. Pictured front is Carina Roberts. Photo: Sergey Pevnev

Despite a lengthy three acts, the story moves swiftly, thanks to considered scene changes and clarity of story-telling, assisted by strong character roles. Seasonal Artist Andries Weidemann, as the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, and Company Ballet Master Craig Lord-Sole, as the Governor-General of India, are noteworthy in reinforcing the themes of familial honour and obligation with appropriate sobriety and concern. To keep the peace, a marriage between their children, Prince Solor (Matthew Lehmann) and Edith (Chihiro Nomura), is arranged. In secret, however, Solor has already declared his undying love and devotion to Nikiya, a temple dancer, played by recently appointed Dayana Hardy Acuña.

Lehmann’s trademark ease in partnering and accomplished acting were evident in this challenging role, that demands prowess and stamina. Acuña also shone as Nikiya, with beautifully articulate port de bras, breath-catching control and graceful expression. The stand-out performance on opening night, however, was Nomura, who not only excelled technically but captured Edith’s full emotional gamut, from comic cheek to furious rage, gushing fiancée to wilful seductress.

Acts I and III blend genres of dance, from kaleidoscopic images of a Hindu deity, to vast ballroom scenes incorporating waltzing tuxedos and turbans in equal measure. But it is Petipa’s famous Kingdom of the Shades scene in Act II that is a particular highlight.  This is ballet at its most exposing. Mesmeric sequences of arabesques performed slowly, carefully one-by-one down a moon-lit ramp and across the stage require exceptional focus and strength from the corps de ballet. Exacting formations and vulnerable balances felt both artistically ethereal and technically rock solid in the performance viewed – the choreography bold in its simplicity and precision. Special mentions to Candice Adea, first to enter, for her poise and control and to soloists Carina Roberts, Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Polly Hilton, for demonstrating immense skill and generous artistry in their difficult solos. Opening night jitters or perhaps a slippery stage created a few tense moments for Lehmann and Acuña, though they remained composed and recovered swiftly.

Despite some issues in this re-telling, La Bayadère has something for ballet fans and the uninitiated alike. It is a rare treat to see this technically challenging production in Perth.

La Bayadere plays until May 25. 

Pictured top is Alexa Tuzil as Nikiya (photo is from a different casting, due to unexpected cast changes). Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

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Dada Masilo reaching out to audience
Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

The marvellous Masilo

Perth Festival review: Dada Masilo’s Giselle ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 28 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Like all the great Romantic ballets, Giselle doesn’t read well from a contemporary feminist perspective. Its female protagonist goes mad and dies halfway through the work because she’s been deceived by a man. Then the second act is populated by wilis – ethereal, evil female spirits bent on dancing men to their deaths. And at the end of it all, the man is forgiven and saved, as the female lead disappears.

Hmph.

What is both clever and immensely satisfying about South African choreographer Dada Masilo’s version of Giselle is that she tweaks this plot only slightly to achieve a completely different result. The magic of the transformation is embedded as much in the choreographic, musical and design choices as it is in the storyline.

From early on in Masilo’s Giselle, those familiar with the traditional version will notice that Philip Miller’s eclectic composition includes pops of the original Adolphe Adam score, but manipulated; distorted, distended, overlain with African drumming.

The dancers make occasional references to the original choreography too, but predominantly the movement is a blend of contemporary and traditional African dance. Feet skitter, arms curlicue, heads dip. It’s peppered with claps, calls and – occasionally – conversation, and framed by William Kentridge’s whimsical pencil sketch of a sparse South African rural vista. In contrast to Act I’s delicate, simpering balletic “Friends”, here we see Giselle’s friends get down with some serious booty-shaking. Later, the vibe shifts to swing; the music, big band style.

And then there are the two Act I pas de deux between Giselle and Albrecht, danced with joyful abandon by Masilo and Xola Willie (on opening night). Whereas in traditional Romantic pas de deux the dancers’ bodies barely touch and passion is communicated with longing glances, here we see Giselle’s body slide down Albrecht’s. The dance is punctuated by their audible breaths; arms fling skyward with an exhalation and float sensuously down. When Albrecht whirls Giselle around we feel the dizziness of their attraction. Their final kiss rings through the air.

As Masilo notes in the program, in the traditional Giselle, the famous “mad scene relies on messy hair”. Shaven-headed, Masilo’s Giselle pulls not at her hair but at her clothes. Writhing and screaming she is stripped back in every sense. The baying onlookers are, perhaps, figments of her imagination who fade away with the light, leaving her to die alone, her crumpled outline just discernible.

And so to the Wilis.

Forget other-worldly wraiths in ghostly white. Against a minimalist forest of shards and slivers lit luminous green, these wilis are crimson-clad, their tulle bustles a tongue-in-cheek nod to tutus past. Wafting port de bras and delicate bourees are replaced with flicking hands, stamping feet and war calls. Turning the whole wispy women trope on its head, they’re earthly and androgynous. Male and female, they’re led by a transgender Myrtha – a sangoma (a traditional South African healer) rather than a spirit – danced by the sensational and stately Lllewellyn Mnguni. Towering and muscular she wields long blonde hair and a blonde-haired switch, both of which she whips with ferocity.

Dado Masilo’s Giselle is at once liberating and devastating. It is performed with power and conviction by its compelling cast.  Leading her dancers as Giselle, Masilo is simply captivating, as she moves through innocence, heartbreak and anger to freedom.

If you aren’t familiar with original Giselle, it’s worth taking some time on YouTube to fill in the gaps before you see this version.

But most importantly – whatever you do – make sure you see Masilo’s marvellous Giselle.

Dada Masilo’s Giselle plays His Majesty’s Theatre until March 2.

Pictured top: Dada Masilo (centre) is simply captivating as Giselle. Photo: John Hogg.

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Huge projection of a spider, towering over a tiny person as blood drips down the walls.
Music, News, Opera, Reviews

Opera at its most transformative

Perth Festival review: Komische Oper Berlin, Barry Kosky & 1927, ‘Mozart’s The Magic Flute‘ ·
His Majesty’s Theatre February 20 ·
Reviewed by Ron Banks ·

Although it’s called Mozart’s The Magic Flute, it should really be named Barrie Kosky and 1927’s Flute because this eye-popping, mind-bending interpretation of such a famous work was dreamed up by the Australian–born director and his British co-creators Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt of London-based performance company 1927.

A cast of 55 singers flown in from Germany, with the Komische Oper’s own conductor Hendrik Vestmann marshalling the forces of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, reactivated the old Maj stage in the dazzling style that has now become synonymous with Kosky.

Make that two casts of 55 singers plus technical staff flown in, because the opera is repeated on consecutive nights and the first cast gets a night’s rest while the other cast takes over.

What is totally different from conventional Flutes is the combination of live action on stage and projected animation. Providing much more than a backdrop, the performers interact as much with the images as with each other.

The animation sequences, which occur throughout the opera, were created by 1927’s Paul Barritt who, with Andrade, named the company after the year that sound took over from silent movies.

But here, 1927, Kosky and set/costume designer Esther Bialas look back to the silent era, with its chase sequences, costuming style and sub-titles. The men, in the main, wear 1920s suits; the women, flapper dresses and haircuts. The Queen of the Night, (Christina Poulitsi), is the exception; she’s portrayed as a spider with a large web. Papageno (Joan Martin-Royo) looks like silent movie star Buster Keaton and the chorus men are Abraham Lincoln look-alikes.

Blended into the silent movie imagery is old-style paper animation of cut-out cats, dogs, spiders, assorted monsters, human dentures and machinery with cogs and wheels that date back to the 19th century. Creativity and imagination run riot.

Two real people standing on a projection of a roof.
Joan Martin-Royo as Papageno and Iwona Sobotka as Pamina. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

With so much going on aesthetically, it is no wonder that the visuals consume the attention, and sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this is an opera – a comic one set in a dream-like fantasy world – where the human voice and its orchestral accompaniment are the essential elements.

Opera purists might suggest that directors Kosky and Andrade are so focused on the visuals that the sound element takes a back seat. Not so. WASO performs with its customary brilliance and the lead singers deliver their arias with wit and panache. The three young German lads (from Tölzer Boys Choir) who are the boy-spirit trio are delightful.

Opening night leads Aaron Blake and Iwona Sobotka, as the young lovers Tamino and Pamina, are accomplished and often thrilling in their vocal agility, not the least for having the courage to sing on a ledge high above the stage. At various points each of the principals has to negotiate tricky perches at some altitude, swiftly disappearing into the backdrop at the end of the aria.

Kosky and Andrade dispense with the speech elements in this sung-spiel opera, substituting simple film captions to explain the narrative. And with surtitles on television screens all around the Maj it is easy to follow the action – as convoluted and fantastic as Mozart and his librettist Schikaneder made it for the first performance in Vienna in 1791.

Paring out the dialogue makes for a speedy style, although nothing of the essentials of this story of lonely people looking for love and enlightenment in the face of physical trials is lost.

The Magic Flute is undoubtedly the most ambitious opera – in conceptual terms – to be mounted at the Maj, and can be counted a resounding success. It will long be remembered not only as a Festival highlight, but a major landmark in the State’s cultural history.

And don’t be put off by the high ticket prices – it’s value for money and transformative in the way we think about how opera can be performed.

The Magic Flute plays His Majesty’s Theatre until February 23.

Pictured top: The Queen of the Night (Christina Poulitsi) and Pamina (Iwona Sobotka). Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

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Lady hosting game show
Cabaret, Fringe World, News, Performing arts

Filling in the blanks with Dolly

With celebrity panellists pitted against contestants,  running jokes and a backdrop of double entendre comments,  TV game show Blankety Blanks (and other versions) played to audiences in  Australia, the UK and USA in the 1970s and 80s.

Now Melbourne-based cabaret artist Dolly Diamond is bringing her own version, Dolly Di*mond’s Bl*nkety Bl*nks, to Fringe World. Seesaw caught up with Dolly to fill in some of the blanks.

Dolly Diamond

Seesaw: When did you first know you wanted to be a performer?
Dolly Diamond: I grew up performing and was lucky enough to play the title role of Annie, in the musical Annie (when I would sing “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”, you knew it bloody would. I grew up in London and moved to Australia ten years ago. I feel as if I’ve spent most of my working life on stage, or at the bar.

S: What do you love most about what you do?
DD: It’s a remarkable job really… not many people receive applause when they’re at work. I really love the laughter, it’s my drug of choice (also Valium) I used to try and get a laugh at any cost but as you mature as a performer you learn to work with an audience, not against them. I’m so comfortable on stage these days…  but I do like to make people squirm a little.

S: Career highlight?
DD: I recently celebrated a 15 Year Anniversary Gala at the Atheneum theatre in Melbourne and it was  such a magical evening. I had an array of special guests: Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Choir, Footscray and Yarraville City Band, the Phones and many more. It feels like such an achievement if you can sustain a  career in this business we call show.

S: Career lowlight?
DD: I tend not to dwell on the low points of this job. I certainly couldn’t name names. I work really hard to make a quiet or dull audience enjoy themselves, that’s my job. However, I’ve learnt over the years that not everyone is going to love you, not every gig can be a fiesta and you can’t push shit up hill. *Fact.

S: You’re no stranger to Fringe World. What made you decide to return this year?
DD: It’s my third Fringe appearance and I feel like my audience is growing. It’s not easy when you’re not as well known in a different state but I’m not afraid of a challenge (or an altered state). I feel like this show has such a broad appeal as it’s such a well known game show. It’s been a part of our lives for so many years, here in Australia with Graham Kennedy and in the UK with Lily Savage. There’s even a current version on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, with the Snatch Game.

S: Tell us about your 2019 Fringe World show, Dolly D*mond’s Bl*nkety Bl*anks
SS: Our version of Blankety Blanks relies on the various Perthonalities we’ve lined up… and they’re all really special.  We have two audience members as our contestants and, of course, we have no idea what they’re going to say, or what they’re going to add to the mayhem. So it’s really my job to hold it all together and that’s the part I love the most.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe World?
DD: I can’t wait to get over to Perth Fringe. It’s always such a breath of fresh air to be in the West. I feel like it’s such a relaxed way of living and thinking; there’s a lot to be said for being away from all the other capital cities. Perth people enjoy life and don’t have anything to prove and I admire that… it’s how I live my life. I’ve booked tickets for Feminah and La Soiree

You can catch Dolly Di*mond’s Bl*nkety Bl*nks Downstairs at his Maj from 12 – 16 February. 

 

 

 

 

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Chocolate Blues
Cabaret, Calendar, Fringe World, Music, Performing arts

Cabaret: Chocolate Blues

5-9 February @ Downstairs at the Maj ·
Presented by Aces at the Maj ·

Chocolate smooth soulful blues man Jake Dennis serves you a decadent taste of the creamy romantic, cheeky, and sorrowful, rough ballsy blues. Deliciously warm classics by Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and more. Grab a bourbon, enjoy Jake’s smokey roadside saloon. He “has a fine voice and vocal range.” – Australian Stage.

More info
W: www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/his-majestys-theatre/whats-on/chocolate-blues/
E:  hmt@ppt.wa.gov.au

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Dolly Diamond
Cabaret, Calendar, Comedy, Fringe World, Performing arts

Cabaret: Dolly Di*mond’s Bl*nkety Bl*nks

12-16 February @ Downstairs at The Maj ·
Presented by Nicholas Clark Management Pty Ltd ·

Everyone’s favourite game show hostess, Dolly Diamond presents a Premiere season of the top-rating 70’s television cult hit classic Blankety Blanks to Fringeworld 2019 from 12 February.

Joining Dolly on stage each night are six famous faces – much-loved celebrities also affectionately known as Perthonalities – who will help audience contestants win fabulous prizes and answer the on-goingdilemma of ‘Did Dick?’.

It’s variety, comedy and old school entertainment at its best. Or certainly its funniest, with UK born cabaret icon Dolly Diamond completely in her element sharing lashings of her sharp-tongued wit and comedic genius. It’s a bit naughty, a little bit risqué and definitely filled with innuendo.

“I’m so excited to be coming back to Perth Fringe, so I’ve been gathering some of Perth’s most fabulous Perthonalities to join me for Dolly Di*mond’s Bl*nkety Bl*nks. It’s going to be a BLANKING hoot!” Dolly said.

★★★★★ “A Dolly-cious twist on a tried and true formula, this Diamond really sparkles.” Theatrepeople, 2017

“Dolly Diamond, an artiste with serious pipes (no lip-synching here, thank you very much) and a bottomless talent for banter” The Age

More info:
www.fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/dolly-di-mond-s-bl-nkety-bl-nks-fw2019

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