Film, Immersive Experience, News, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

A star is born

Perth Festival review: The Last Great Hunt, Lé Nør   ·
PICA, February 13 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Lé Nør  (The Rain) is the most ambitious work yet by The Last Great Hunt. It’s also the first time that all six members of the West Australian company have combined their talents as devisers, operators and performers in one production.

The result is awe-inspiring.

Here’s the bare bones: Lé Nør is set on the imagined North Atlantic island city-state of Sólset (from now on I’m going to dispense with the accents and umlauts; more on them later) that has endured a terrible seven-year drought that has reduced its inhabitants to water-hoarding, water-blackmailing obsessives. When the rains finally come, they keep coming. Before long the little island faces an even more existential threat.

We follow the lives of the inhabitants of one apartment block, Inez (Gita Bezard), a pregnant recue helicopter pilot, and her husband Leal (Jeffrey Jay Fowler), Petri (Chris Isaacs) and his inseparable mate Tobe (also Fowler), and two single women drawn to each other, Eliza (Arielle Gray) and Soren (Adrianne Daff). Another woman, Suzette (Jo Morris, the only non-Hunter in the cast) pines for her fled boyfriend in her lonely flat, endlessly playing and replaying Phil Collins’s Against All Odds.

All of their shenanigans are overseen with mild menace by the narrator, TLGH’s gamester-in-chief, Tim Watts.

That’s the last you need bother about the plot. It’s the how, not the what, that this thing is about.

As well as the Collins dirge, there’s I’m Not in Love, White Wing Dove, Head over Heels, How Do I Get You Alone, steak knives and more in the exquisitely hideous 1980s soundtrack ­– is there a word for nostalgia for a time you didn’t have to endure yourself?

That’s only part of the referential delight of the work. It’s a deep dive into a world transformed by the lens of a camera, a stage show that becomes, more completely than anything I can remember, the Grand Illusion, the making of cinema.

Effectively the set is a screen that dominates the PICA stage, designed, along with its attendant gadgetry, by the “seventh Hunter”, Anthony Watts. All the show’s action, all its effects, are created for, and live on, that screen. Around it bustle the Hunters and stage manager Clare Testoni, setting scenes, setting up camera shots, striking poses, delivering lines, all to be distilled into images on it.

It’s a phenomenally intense ride – if anything a little too dizzying to actively engage in for 90 minutes – wildly funny and sexy. It’s a technical achievement, with a personality and charisma, like nothing we’ve seen from a West Australian company.

The title, the Hunters say, means “The Rain” in the hilarious gibberish-language they have concocted for the show (there are English surtitles), but we know better.

It really means film noir (although some of the shots, of Gray and Daff in particular, owe as much to flicks like David Hamilton’s soft focus, gauzy 1977 Bilitis as anything grittier) but film theory is probably as unimportant here as narrative. Nothing is important (when nothing is real, there’s nothing to get hung about).

So just sit back and watch Jo Morris in a phone box climbing up the walls and across the ceiling while you see how it’s done; watch two fight superstars (Gray and Daff as goodie and baddie respectively) suddenly come to life on their billboard; watch Bezard’s matchbox helicopter swoop down to rescue our heroes from Solset’s last unsubmerged rooftop (the one with the billboard) like eagles on the slopes of Mt Doom.

With Lé Nør the Last Great Hunt have confirmed their individual and collective stardom and their mastery of their craft. Now it’s time for the real fun to begin.

“Lé Nør” is playing at PICA until February 24, and Mandurah Performing Arts Centre February 28 – March 2.

Pictured top: Visual marvel – Jo Morris and The Last Great Hunt soar. Photo: Daniel Grant.

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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 Poirer), 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 Poirer 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.

Poirer 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.

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Features, Lectures and Talks, Literature, News, Perth Festival

A writers festival for you

Running from 18-24 February, Perth Festival Writers Week is a feast for the mind, combining an immersive weekend of panel sessions at the University Club at UWA as well as a number of satellite events around Perth. This year marks William Yeoman’s second as Writers Week Curator and, with one successful event already under his belt, he’s excited for what he promises will be an even better program this February. Claire Trolio spoke to Yeoman to find out more.

William Yeoman
William Yeoman

William Yeoman works an eight day week.

Yes, you read that right.  Maintaining his full time job as Books Editor and Arts Writer at The West Australian, he also works two days a week in the Perth Festival offices and steals time early in the morning or in the evenings to make up an extra day. Fortunately, there is some overlap between his jobs, most notably the copious amount of reading required!

To get through those mountains of literature, Yeoman has perfected the art of skim reading. When he’s reading for work and it’s not a text he’d otherwise choose, he is able to familiarise himself with a book in about one hour.

But reading for enjoyment? That’s another story he says. I wonder if there is any time left in his schedule for a leisurely read? “I make time,” he stresses. “If you love the language [of a writer] you need to slow down.” At the moment, Yeoman is savouring Fiona Wright’s collection of essays “The World Was Whole”, ahead of her appearance in two sessions at Writers Week.

Curating Perth Festival Writers Week is a mammoth task and Yeoman doesn’t pretend otherwise. “Let’s be clear, this kind of writers festival is a major international festival. But once you get your head around all that, it’s fine,” he chuckles. To approach the task he starts with a rough idea of the themes he wants to explore and the kinds of authors he wants to invite. But, he stresses, “it’s also about being flexible enough to change your mind and being ready to accept those authors who are offered up to you, sometimes quite late in the piece.”

Jane Caro. Photo: David Hahn.

Jane Caro is one example. The writer and social commentator’s new book Accidental Feminists, is coming out this month and Yeoman jumped at the chance to add her name to the bill. Not only does this make for an up-to-date, relevant program, but Caro is also a big name. “Someone like that is going to raise the profile of the festival,” explains Yeoman.

Entertaining the audience is also high on Yeoman’s list of priorities. “I am big on the ideas of performance and theatre,” he reflects. “Of course, solid, conceptual ideas might be at the heart of that, but hopefully they are presented in an engaging way. Part of creating that experience is related to the kind of guests you invite,” he continues, naming Benjamin Law and Mikey Robins as two 2019 Writers Week guests whose brilliant presentation styles were a big drawcard when planning the program.

As Writers Week Curator, Yeoman considers his responsibility to be “first and foremost, to the reader”. It’s the same way he approaches journalism. This means he must compromise his personal interests and, sometimes his political opinions. “It’s important to have dissenting voices [within a festival], not if they are extreme, but where they are reasonable,” he remarks.

There’s also room in the festival to have some fun, and one of the program highlights for Yeoman himself is Freo Groove, a celebration of the musical history of Fremantle. “To have writers and musicians Claire Moodie and Bill Lawrie together with Lucky Oceans and some of the musicians who feature in their book, in a free, outdoor marquee sundowner – what’s not to like?”

A keen musician himself, he admits to always seeking out musical connections, and the program reflects this. As well as Freo Groove, Yeoman has programmed author and travel editor Stephen Scourfield in conversation with Margaret River based guitar maker Scott Wise (There Are Strings Attached); Jazz High Tea, combining a conversation about The Great Gatsby with live music from WA Youth Jazz Orchestra; and a performance of songs of love and desire in German and English preceding a discussion about singing in translation (Lust in Translation).

The intersection between literature and other disciplines is a feature of Yeoman’s programming. Film, architecture, photography and fashion, as well as music, are represented in this year’s program. Where do you draw the line when it comes to crossing disciplines at a writers festival? “You don’t!” Yeoman responds emphatically. “You find a connection somewhere. If someone has written a book on a topic, well, it’s as easy as that.”

The architectural legacy of Kerry Hill will be discussed by Kerry Hill Architects’ Patrick Kosky and architect Geoffrey London alongside a tour of Hill’s City of Perth Library (Remembering Kerry Hill). And one of Australia’s most famous and respected film critics, David Stratton, will pop by. He’ll discuss hidden cinematic gems (101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed) before joining Jane Lydon, Joanna Sassoon and George Kouvaros to consider how moving and still images shape our memories and future (Migration, Memory & Movies).

Benjamin Law

Yeoman is also excited to present madison moore, an American cultural critic, DJ and Assistant Professor of Queer Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Moore’s first book, Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, explores how eccentric style, fashion and creativity is political, particularly in queer culture and non-white cultures. As well as appearing alongside Benjamin Law and Ursula Martinez in panel session A Queer World, moore will present a late-night performance lecture at the State Theatre Centre of WA, exploring the concept of clubs as a safe space for experimentation and self-expression (Dance Mania: A Manifesto for Queer Nightlife).

Evidently, moore’s work ties in closely to what Yeoman has declared to be the theme of Writers Week 2019: Our Imagined Selves. “In fact,” declares Yeoman, “this year’s theme was partly inspired by madison moore.” As beautifully diverse as Yeoman’s 2019 Writers Week program is, this concept ties it together. Stories – both fiction and non-fiction – are the essence of who we are. So as you journey through Perth Festival Writers Week, consider yourself, your own story and how it fits with those around you. Because as much as the festival is about the writers, it’s also about you.

Perth Festival Writers Week runs from 18-24 February 2019. 

Pictured top is madison moore.

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Olympian spectacle

Perth Festival review: Dimitris Papaioannou, The Great Tamer ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, February 8 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer begins with a slow, simple contest. A man’s naked body lies on a white panel on a grey/black stage. A man covers the body with a sheet; another man blows the sheet away. They enter, play their game, leave. Enter, play and leave. Again and again.

As it transpires, all of Papaioannou’s spectacle (it can’t be meaningfully described as a play, or a dance) is a game, the subject of which, the rules it adheres to or breaks, the bats, balls, dice, cards it plays with, is time. Time is the great tamer.

Papaioannou, who is best known as the creator of the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, is by training and inclination a visual artist, and The Great Tamer is most satisfactorily approached as an animated work of art.

The set, a captured ocean swell, consists of a seemingly disordered jumble of those panels, like a jigsaw puzzle all of whose pieces are the same colour and shape. On and through this monochromatic landscape, Papaioannou’s troupe of ten actor/dancer/acrobats form and reform into tableaux, mutant creatures, or body parts, appearing and disappearing through unseen fissures into some unimaginable underworld.

It’s a world of art, sometimes specific (Dr Tulp gives his anatomy class, Kronos/Saturn devours his children) sometimes suggested (there’s much of the spirit of Dali in Papaioannou’s visual imagination; Escher and Bosch also), always playful.

Unsurprisingly, the forms and images of classical Greek art recur throughout. A figure has its marble surfaces cracked away to reveal the boy beneath (the debris is the rubble of time, swept up, bagged and thrown into the void), disembodied arms, legs and heads scurry from holes across the stage

For all the visual thrills of The Great Tamer perhaps the most brilliant effect Papaioannou creates, with his colleague Stephanos Droussiotis, is its music, a remarkable attenuation of Strauss’s An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube). It’s signature passages are excised, gradually dissolving into separate phrases and, finally, single notes, the musical equivalent of the aforementioned disembodied limbs. It’s a game, of course, a playing with the time that tames sound to make it music.

The Blue Danube is also, of course, a recurring motif in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lovers of that similarly disconcerting visual extravaganza (I bet Papaioannou is) will recognise other references to it in the incongruous spacemen who float awkwardly across the stage, the light behind their helmets’ visors, like the reflections of the eye of HAL.

The cast of The Great Tamer are superbly skilled and superbly choreographed. Some of the physical effects they create defy logic, their acrobatic and circus skills are of the highest order, their wordless expressiveness compelling.

Because this is a world without words, and without narrative. It’s Plato/Socrates’s world of forms, of timeless ideas, of sight and appearance, the original Twilight Zone.

It’s Papaioannou’s playground; it’s where Estragon and Vladimir wait and Lear is exiled. It’s Beckett and Eliot and Shakespeare distilled, first into images and then to thought.

It’s no surprise, and no accident, that Papaioannou’s final image is of a skeleton breaking apart into rubble like a ruined Greek statue. Its skull rolls off the stage and comes to rest against . . . a book.

Perhaps waiting, in the marvellous game of The Great Tamer, for a Danish prince to play with.

The Great Tamer is playing at the Heath Ledger Theatre until February 12.

Pictured top: Platonic forms – the cast of The Great Tamer animate classical works of art

Photo: Julian Momert

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Dance, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Cross-cultural collage

Perth Festival review: Beijing Dance Theatre, Dancenorth Australia, Jun Tian Fang ensemble,Genevieve Lacey, Gideon Obarzanek & Max de Wardener, One Infinity ⋅
His Majesty’s Theatre,  February 7 ⋅
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ⋅

Concert dance performance is a tricky beast. Dance productions tend to use recordings. If live musicians are present, they tend to be either peripheral, or fully incorporated into the scenography as physical performers in their own right. One Infinity is a bit of both, and is consequently uneven; enjoyable but flawed.

Director Gideon Obarzanek positions us in two opposite seating banks surrounding a rectangular strip running left to right. Five musicians are located at the edges of the strip. Dancers (from Beijing Dance Theatre and Dancenorth Australia) only enter the central area twice for what are the most successful sections, with the dancers and instrumentalists literally sharing the space. Otherwise the dancers are located in the seating banks, with a key dancer whom audiences are encouraged to physically echo being seated at the very top. The main group of dancers are however two levels down from this. It is therefore not possible to focus on any of the numerous elements within One Infinity. When each audience group joins the elevated performer in weaving our arms within fairly simple movements, the idea seems to be to just “go with the flow” within a dispersed and encompassing vision. The relationships between the live instrumentalists, electronic musical interludes, and the dance however vary from the banal to the opaque.

Genevieve Lacey’s breath-takingly subtle recorder playing. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti

The problem may lie in the musical composition by Max de Wardener and Genevieve Lacey. Lacey is a breath-takingly subtle recorder virtuoso. Here she performs opposite four Chinese classical musicians from the Jun Tian Fang music ensemble. Three play a rarefied form of horizontal unbridged Chinese harp or zither, the guqin (Wang Peng, Zhuo Ran, Zhang Lu), and a fourth is on bamboo flute (Xiao Gang). Peng is the guqin master who trained Ran and Lu. He performs two exquisite solos which showcase classical modes of string bending, sharp and light attacks, and so on. His acolytes perform one additional solo each. Ran plays like a slap bass guitarist, his contribution pushing the instrument into harder, more extreme outcomes. Lu by contrast has a slightly differently tuned instrument, her notes having a beautifully microtonally frayed edge, each tending to hang and resonate into vibrating fractures. While these younger performers do indeed also play with Lacey, their more striking solos rest largely outside of the larger structure.

The electronic elements, verging into noise at times, feel like they come from a different composition. There is some cross-fertilization as Lacey’s extraordinary, heavy and wooden sounding bass recorder echoes (and may have been sampled) within the electronic accompaniment, but the music by and large exists as discrete blocks.

Obarzanek consequently struggles to provide a substantive choreographic dramaturgy. The section on the floor where the dancers begin by shaking, bouncing, then sawing at the space as though swimming, finally breaking out of lines and across the strip, is the most interesting and the only section where one can actually watch the dancers while also observing the extraordinary musicians. The rest of the choreography however reinvents some of the oldest clichés about Oriental and/or mystical movement. Dancers are seated behind each other with arms intertwined like Hindu gods, or fold in and out around a central point like a blossoming rose. It is attractive enough, and Obarzanek wants it simple, but it is frankly unexciting and does not compare to other instances of similar choreography by say Akram Khan let alone experts in Indian classical dance.

It is perhaps significant that Obarzanek uses the mandala as his inspiration, a spiritual visual motif associated principally with Buddhism and especially its Tibetan mystical forms. The guqin however has traditionally been associated with the Confucian/Daoist scholarly class of the Chinese Imperial court and was originally not even intended for performance, rather being a personal form of meditation and contemplation. It is therefore not surprising that this kind of music, which calls for extremely focused attention in the listener, does not blend well with the more visually florid motifs of the mandala.

Members of the Jun Tian Fang music ensemble playing the guqin. Photo Sarah Walker

One Infinity is therefore a curate’s egg. The guqin performances are quite simply jaw-dropping as well as being very modern in expression despite the long classical tradition to which Peng and his students are heir. I would moreover happily go again to hear Lacey’s beautiful, spiralling recorder. Parts of the choreography are strong, and the audience interaction is well handled. But the question of what this show actually is has not been fully addressed. Is it a concert, in which the dance functions as marginalia? Is it a show about audience participation and immersion? Is it a meditative choreographic experience in which the music functions as the accompaniment but not focus (this seems closest to the end result)? Or is it something else again? One Infinity includes superb elements, but it does not gel.

One Infinity continues until February 10.

 

Pictured top: dancers and audience move together in One Infinity. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti

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Home-grown produce

Nina Levy ·

It’s November 1, 2018 and the Perth Concert Hall is packed for Wendy Martin’s final Perth Festival programme launch. Anyone who has paid attention to Martin’s programming over the last four years will know that the Festival’s artistic director is a passionate advocate for contemporary dance. When the banner for STRUT Dance’s Sunset opens her 2019 line-up, however, the ripple of excitement is about more than dance.

It’s a historical moment. A local show is leading the charge.

Martin’s decision to open her final Festival launch with a home-grown show is part of a greater plan to showcase local work in this year’s programme. Alongside a terrific selection of international and interstate works, there are numerous shows and events by local artists and companies that are appearing this year under the newly-created banner, “Made in WA”. That list includes six Festival commissions.

Martin is immensely proud of the 2019 Festival’s local content. “It’s important to have a fantastically curated international programme, but it’s also important that, whichever place you’re in, the artists of that place are seen on the same platform,” she explains.

From the outset Martin’s vision was inextricably linked with WA. “When I [started at Perth Festival, four years ago] I said, ‘There are festivals in cities all over world. The thing that makes a difference is the place in which the festival happens.’ So when I arrived here, I saw myself as a detective, looking for clues and stories and threads to figure out, how I make a festival that really belongs in this place,” she explains.

Martin was immediately struck by what she describes as “the unbelievable list of artists who come from this place, both historically and now“. Her immediate response was to commission “Home” as the opening event of her first Festival, a free, one-night-only celebration of West Australian talent that included the likes of Tim Minchin, the John Butler Trio, Shaun Tan, The Drones, The Triffids and The Waifs.

The much-loved ‘Boorna Waanginy’ will return to Perth Festival in 2019.

The opening event of her second festival, Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, was another home-grown special, and one which returns to this year’s Festival. Bringing together the talents of Noongar elder and director Richard Walley, and designers Zoë Atkinson and Sohan Ariel Hayes, under the direction of Nigel Jamieson, Boorna Waanginy sees one of Perth’s most treasured landmarks, Kings Park, transformed by light and sound.

Thus the seeds for the Made in WA programme were sown… but it was an idea that needed time to germinate. “As a curator, you have to know artists and they have to know you, and there needs to be a certain level of trust to be able to work on projects together,” reflects Martin. “So it’s taken this much time, three years living in Perth, to be able to commission all this new work.”

The Last Great Hunt was one of the local first companies to catch Wendy Martin’s attention. Pictured is a scene from ‘Le Nor’ which will premiere at this year’s Festival.

When it came to choosing which shows to commission under the new Made in WA banner, one company caught Martin’s eye early on. “From the time I began [at Perth Festival] I could not believe that The Last Great Hunt, who had toured the world, had never been in Perth Festival,” she remarks.

Martin wasn’t going to rush into anything though. “I had so many meetings, across the years, with Tim [Watts] from The Last Great Hunt. I kept saying, ‘Come on, give me something, I’d love to have you guys in the Festival…’ and then I saw New Owner [by The Last Great Hunt, commissioned by the Awesome Festival] and I loved it. If I’d have known about that show I would have loved to have had it in Perth Festival… but of course, it’s fantastic that it was in Awesome, which is an amazing Festival.

“[Tim and I] met about three times. He wanted to experiment with form and what I didn’t understand – because at that point I didn’t know him well enough – is that Tim is a wonderful storyteller, but he doesn’t start with the idea, he starts with the form of the production.”

And then The Last Great Hunt pitched the idea for Le Nor, a work that weaves together film and live performance, so that audiences witness both an on-screen story and behind-the-scenes action. “When Tim did his pitch for Le Nor I was almost crying, because I thought it was so magic, such a beautiful idea, funny and poetic,” Martin recalls. “Tim’s work, at its core has big heart … and as a programmer that’s one of the things I care about most.”

Glamorous woman in a black pillbox hat
Natalie Allen in ‘Sunset’, a new work created by WA’s STRUT Dance, in collaboration with UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk. Photo: Simon Pynt.

Another commissioned work that is close to Martin’s heart is STRUT Dance’s Sunset. Created in collaboration with UK choreographer and director Maxine Doyle (associate director and choreographer, Punchdrunk), in association with Tura New Music, Sunset is an immersive dance theatre work that takes audiences on a walking tour of Dalkeith’s Sunset Heritage Precinct. “Sunset is like a dream in terms of my programming aims,” she explains. “It’s a collaboration between a great international artist and local artists, it speaks to the history of this place, it’s a collaboration with more than one [local] artist and company – as well as STRUT and Tura New Music, Rachael Dease is the composer and doing the sound design, and Bruce McKinven is doing the set. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the artists here to work with an absolute game changer. UK dance theatre company Punchdrunk have created whole new form of immersive theatre … to have someone like [Punchdrunk’s associate director and choreographer] Maxine Doyle in our midst, excited by this place… you couldn’t really ask for more.”

No words: Cat Hope’s ‘Speechless’. Pictured are the hands of the four soloists, Tara Tiba, Sage Pbbbt, Judith Dodsworth and Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.

WA’s Tura New Music is involved in a second 2019 Festival commission, producing Cat Hope’s new opera, Speechless. In the case of Speechless, a response to the issue of children in detention that combines four soloists, a 30-voice choir, the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel new music ensemble, it was the motivation behind the work that appealed to Martin. “I love that Cat is an activist and a great humanitarian,” she reflects. “She was so disturbed by the decisions that the government was making in our name. So she felt the best thing that she could do is make a personal, artistic response. She read the Gillian Triggs report into children in detention and then figured out this beautiful concept which is her graphic score. The music she has written has kind of been written over the photographs and drawings that the children have done. In a way she’s giving these kids a voice by responding so directly to their art work. There are no words because those people have no voice. Cat is a really important Australian artist.”

Man in front of Mill
Lost and Found Artistic Director, Chris van Tuinen, pictured at Jarrahdale Heritage Mill, where ‘Ned Kelly’ will be presented. Photo: Nik Babic.

Like The Last Great Hunt, Lost and Found Opera was on Martin’s radar from early on. Renowned for presenting unusual operas in unexpected but effective spaces, Lost and Found will be presenting its first commissioned opera, Ned Kelly, in a Jarrahdale saw mill. “Lost and Found Opera have been doing super exciting work,” enthuses Martin. “I think they have a brilliant concept and the fact that they now want to create a work from scratch – they have such a track record that you just have to trust that they’ll deliver. They’ve also got a great following… but I think the platform of the Festival will make it more recognisable.”

Three woman. One looks scared, one is ready to fight, one is calm.
A rip-roaring yarn: ‘A Ghost in My Suitcase’. Photo: Daniel Grant.

Much-loved local company Barking Gecko Theatre also has an established following but stands to broaden its reach by being commissioned to appear on the Festival programme. In terms of Martin’s aims, it was the cross-cultural nature of the work that caught her eye.  “When Matt Edgerton proposed adapting A Ghost in My Suitcase for the stage I was immediately attracted to the possibilities that Gabrielle Wang’s award winning YA novel offers up,” she remembers. “I was excited that Matt wanted to create the production out of deep cross cultural collaboration. It’s a rip-roaring yarn – a great adventure story of a young girl who goes to China and discovers her grandmother is a ghost hunter. It seemed to have all the right ingredients to be a perfect family show for the festival.”

Climate change is at the centre of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Tao Issaro

Kwongkan is another Festival commission that is a cross-cultural work, and one that has fascinated Martin as she has watched it evolve. A collaboration between WA’s Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and India’s Daksha Sheth Dance Company, the work brings together Indigenous Australian and Indian performers in a ritual of dance theatre, live music, aerial acrobatics and film. “When the artists pitched the idea to me, they intended to explore the similarities between these two ancient cultures, both of whom dance barefoot, but over the course of three years … the thing that sat at the forefront of their concerns, was climate change,” she explains. “They realised that if we don’t do something now, there will be no trace, not just of ancient cultures, but of anything. So in a funny way, ‘Sand’, which was about touching the earth has now become, ‘Well if we don’t do something, sand is all we’re going to have’. To see the evolution of an idea has been exciting.”

It’s clear that witnessing the germination and blossoming of ideas intrigues and inspires Martin. “As a curator and commissioner of work, that’s the really exhilarating thing,” she remarks, “hearing an idea and being able to play some kind of role in those artists realising their vision by offering the platform of the festival.”

That platform offers greater visibility to the home crowd, but also, potentially, further afield. “I’m hoping that we’ll have international presenters and national presenters coming over to see that work, to consider it for their venues and festivals,” she concludes. “I think that’s a really important role that the Festival can play.

– Nina Levy

Perth Festival opens February 8 and runs until March 3. Head to the Perth Festival website to view the full program, including the six commissioned works from Western Australian artists and companies, and the rest of the Made in WA program.

Pictured top: Ian Wilkes and Isha Sharvani in Tjuntjuntjara, a remote WA Aboriginal community, during the final development of ‘Kwongkan’. Photo: Mark Howett.

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In the middle of a crowd sits a horn player in a wheel chair, behind him stands a clarinet player and two dancers are linking arms
Dance, Features, Lectures and Talks, Music, News, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Disabling the boundaries

English conductor Charles Hazlewood will be in Perth in February with the British Paraorchestra. He talks with Rosalind Appleby about disabilities, the haptic baton and disrupting classical music.

When was the last time you saw a stage with disability access? Or a professional orchestra that included musicians with disabilities? In 25 years of conducting the world’s top orchestras, English conductor Charles Hazlewood had seen neither.

“If music is the great universal language how can it be that an orchestra – which is the beautiful large evidence of that – how can it be it doesn’t have people of disability in it? It’s a no brainer,” says Hazlewood.

We are talking over the phone ahead of Hazlewood’s visit to Perth with the British Paraorchestra as part of the Perth Festival. In 2010, inspired by his daughter who has cerebral palsy, Hazlewood founded the world’s first large-scale professional ensemble for virtuoso musicians with disabilities. The British Paraorchestra made their debut at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

“Most people don’t put disability and musical excellence in the same sentence,” Hazlewood says. “We need to take the same seismic leap in music that has happened in world class sport. Look at what the Paralympics has achieved.”

Conductor Charles Hazlewood. Photo Paul Blakemore

But Hazlewood’s dream is not just to provide musicians with disabilities the opportunity to play in orchestras. He wants to disrupt the barriers around our experiences of traditional orchestral musical.

Hazlewood and the Paraorchestra are bringing to Perth their adventurous dance and music theatre work The Nature of Why. The immersive all-age experience involves four dancers and the Paraorchestra musicians supplemented by the string players of the Perth Symphony Orchestra. The work was created in 2018 in collaboration with Australian choreographer Caroline Bowditch with music composed by keyboardist Will Gregory from the electro-pop duo Goldfrapp. Their inspiration came from the Novel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman and audio excerpts from his lecture Why underpin the work. The Nature of Why erases the boundaries between audience, music and movement with musicians and dancers performing in and around the audience.

“I wanted to create one space where the performers and the audience are immersed in the piece,” Hazlewood explains. “We are putting everyone in a glorious pit together, with sound bombarding you at every side. It is a deeply exciting environment to be in.”

It was exactly this kind of immersive experience that first inspired Hazlewood to pursue a life in music. “When I was seven I was a choir boy watching an orchestra rehearse in Cheltenham town hall. The conductor said ‘You look lonely, come and sit with us’. I sat in the middle of the orchestra and there were sounds fired at me from all directions. At that moment my life shifted in its axis. It was a tremendous and addictive moment to understand and experience this large team working in an astoundingly evolved way, working together but with each individual having freedom and flexibility.”

Performers and audience mingle in The Nature of Why. Photo Paul Blakemore

The blurring of genres and boundaries in The Nature of Why reflects the British Paraorchestra’s goal to re-invent the orchestra for the 21st century.

“The orchestra is the guardian of a great and noble tradition; Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven are our birthright on this planet. But as an artform it has stood still for a long time. It still has the same instrumental make up of a century ago which is incredibly unadventurous especially in the light of the new musical worlds we’ve uncovered through technology.”

The makeup of the Paraorchestra includes a Baroque lute, a Celtic harp, lap steel guitar and conventional instruments. The performers are people with hearing impairment, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and other disabilities, often using technology assisted devices to enable them to play their instruments. Hazlewood says the recent invention of the Haptic Baton means for the first time in history vision impaired musicians will soon be able to perform in an orchestra. Wireless transmissions from the conductor’s baton will transmit to a radio pack worn by the performer and the buzzes on their body will indicate the beat plus the space between the beat, enabling the performer to follow the ebb and flow of the music.

Hazlewood’s dream of a level playing field is one step closer.

“One day it will not be surprising for world class orchestras to include people of disability. These are musicians who play brilliantly, at the top of their game. It is the most thrilling journey.”

Charles Hazlewood will present a keynote address Building an Orchestra for the 21st Century on 18 February. The Nature of Why runs 21-23 February at the Heath Ledger theatre.

Pictured top: performers from UK performance of The Nature of Why. Photo Paul Blakemore

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A man and a woman with a microphone
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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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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Features, News, Opera, Perth Festival

Composer gives speech for the voiceless

Award-winning composer Cat Hope will give a voice to the silenced when she returns to Perth to present the annual Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address on Thursday. Hope is currently based in Melbourne where she is head of the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University. The visit will be the first of several Hope will make to her hometown in the coming months.

Glanville-Hicks had a stellar international career and the address named in her honour provides a platform to challenge the status quo and raise issues of importance in new music. Hope is a fitting choice for the address with industry experience as a performer, curator, academic and advocate for gender equality.

Speaking on the phone from Melbourne she outlined her plans to use the Glanville-Hicks address to discuss gender inequality in the music industry.

“Some in the industry believe that gender equality is not an issue but there is now evidence to confirm women and non-binary individuals do not experience the same access to opportunities as men working as music creators. I’ll present this data and also suggestions on how we can develop change.”

Composer Cat Hope. Photo supplied

Hope’s advocacy for women and non-binary artists was galvanised by observing the treatment of women in public life.

“Women like Julia Gillard, Gillian Triggs – women just doing their job – were attacked for reasons that had nothing to do with their work. I realised that Australians operate within a systemic hierarchical structure and the arts are included in that, even though we may think we are more collaborative or left-leaning. We need to change the way we think, talk about and commission compositions across the full range of society, from individuals at a ground level to government policies at a federal level.”

In a tangible demonstration of putting change into action, Hope’s address will include the performance of a new work commissioned from artists she would not normally work with. Melbourne metal singer Karina Utomo will perform a composition for voice and electronics created collaboratively by Hope and Polish-Australian composer Dobromila Jaskot.

Utomo will also be starring in Hope’s first opera Speechless, to be premiered in February as part of the Perth Festival. In Speechless Hope’s concern for issues of social justice take on a large scale, as befits a work in the genre of opera which historically often drew on the issues of the time. The score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the 2014 Human Rights Commission report, The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.

“Speechless is my personal response to Australia’s refugee crisis. When it first happened I was devastated and felt so helpless. I wanted to use music to activate the issue.”

The opera retains the conventional structure of arias, recitative accompanied by orchestra but Hope expands the horizon of opera according to her experimental practice and philosophy of inclusivity.

Utomo will perform alongside experimental vocalist Sage Pbbbt, Iranian-born singer Tara Tiba, opera singer Judith Dodsworth and a combined community choir of 30 voices. The opera has no libretto, instead the four soloists and choir will sing wordlessly (think Ennio Morricone mixed with experimental singer Cathy Berberian) in a fitting homage to people whose voices are rendered silent through political means. Instead the narrative will unfold through the music which will be performed by the Australian Bass Orchestra, an ensemble of low pitched instruments such as cellos, double basses, bass guitars, bass winds and brass, bass drums and electronics.

Hope composes her music using graphic notation and the score for Speechless is derived from the format of The Forgotten Children report. The singers and musicians follow specific colours and literally ‘read’ the report, following the up or downward trajectory of graphs, children’s drawings and photos.

The process may be unusual and technical, but Hope says the experience for audiences will be exhilarating.

“People will be challenged but it is ultimately rewarding. We’ve heard a lot of words and seen a lot of images and I think Australians are suffering from compassion fatigue. I hope the opera might give people a different way to grapple with the issue.”

Perth audiences can have a preview of Hope’s compositional style performed by Utomo at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks address on Thursday night. Hope will also be performing with her award-winning ensemble Decibel on Monday night at the Subiaco Arts Centre. Since founding in 2009 the six-piece electro-acoustic ensemble has become something of an Australian institution, renowned for their pioneering work with graphic notation and their commitment to commissioning Australian composers. The Decibel concert explores the vinyl record as a sound source, musical instrument and score.

The Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address is November 29. Decibel’s Revolution concert is December 3. Speechless will run February 26 until March 3.

Picture top: singer Karina Utomo. Photo: Paul Tadday.

 

 

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