audience and dancers move together
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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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Features, News, Performing arts

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 music.

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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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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Perth Writers' Week
Calendar, Literature, Perth Festival

Literature: Writers’ Week

18 – 24 February @ The University Club of WA & Various venues
around Perth & beyond ·
Presented by Perth Festival ·

From searing memoirs and family dramas through to sweeping historical sagas and fun sessions on music, film, food and fashion, this year’s Writers Week: Our Imagined Selves makes your story a part of every story.

You’ll be swept up in conversations, performances and workshops, fun family activities, literary tours and adventures unfolding across The University of Western Australia’s picturesque campus and Perth’s libraries, galleries and writers’ centres, like the chapters of a giant book.

We’re announcing a series of special events as a taste of what’s coming up for Writers Week 2019. Stay tuned for 10 January when we reveal the full program.

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/experience/writers-week

 

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Three people lie on their backs on the floor. They look like a mother, toddler daughter and feather. They are making shapes with their hands.
Features, Film, News

Bite-sized Festival film samples

While it’s still a few months until the bulk of the Perth Festival kicks off, the Lotterywest Film season is about to commence. Wondering what to see? For your convenience, Mark Naglazas has put together a tasting plate of some of the morsels on offer in the first half of the Festival’s film program.

The Perth Festival outdoor film season has always been a balancing act. On the one hand there is the commitment to bringing local audiences a sampling of the best of international cinema (often hot off the European or North American festival circuit); on the other there’s the demand to fill the coffers, the necessity of supporting the summertime arts bonanza’s less lucrative offerings by padding the program with crowd-pleasers.

The first half of the 2018/19 line-up is no exception. There are new works from celebrated auteurs – such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, the follow-up to his critically acclaimed post-Holocaust drama Ida, and Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s first Spanish foray with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem – leavened with enough feel-good flicks to make you forget you’re sitting in chairs that every summer keep chiropractors across the Western suburbs busy.

A woman and man look at each other against a soft focus cityscape.
Qualities from both sides of the ledger: ‘An Unexpected Love’ is the first cab off the rank for the Perth Festival film line-up.

Astutely, Perth Festival film programmer Tom Vincent is kicking off this year’s event with a comedy-romance from Argentina, An Unexpected Love, that boasts qualities drawn from both sides of the ledger.

It is about a pair of empty nesters (played by Mercedes Moran and Ricardo Darin) who, out of fear of impending boredom (as opposed to present-tense misery), mutually agree to dissolve their union.

Ana, the more restless of the two, immediately hooks up with an old flame before moving on to a creepy perfume salesman (getting comfortable, for this oddball Salvador Dali lookalike, means slipping out of his clothes while Ana is in the bathroom) and ultimately a work colleague; while her somewhat shy ex, Marcos, has an ill-fated first date with a sexually voracious alpha female dentist… that ends in an ambulance ride to the hospital.

The middle portion of An Unexpected Love is as breezy as you might expect from such a set-up – and, of course, it’s in keeping with the long Lotterywest Films tradition of beginning the season with something easy to digest, along with the wine and cheese.

However, it is bookended by several extended dialogue scenes that dig deep into the lows and highs of long-term relationships that push it out of familiar rom-com territory into a more challenging space, with Moran and Darin (well-known to local audiences for the classy 2009 romantic thriller The Secret in Their Eyes) giving lovely performances, infusing their characters with world-weariness and romantic and sexual yearning.

A line-up of middle aged men in bathers and swimming caps, at the edge of a swimming pool.
Refloating their soggy lives: men in various states of disarray take up synchronised swimming in ‘Sink or Swim’.

Also on the lighter side of the ledger is Gilles Lellouche’s star-laden French hit Sink or Swim, a Full Monty-ish comedy about a group of men in various states of disarray and despair, who set about refloating their soggy lives through the unlikeliest of means – synchronised swimming. The cast is headed by the wonderful Matthew Almaric and the pool is filled with some of France’s finest actors, so a few ripples of laughter, if not waves, are guaranteed.

Curiously, Sink or Swim is screening just months after an English-language version of the same story played during the recently ended British Film Festival (both, it seems, were inspired by the 2010 Swedish documentary Men Who Swim). Where next for the burgeoning sub-genre in which men in crisis pick themselves up through off-beat activities. Form a sewing circle? Catwalk modelling? The wackier the better.

A woman carries a painting under one arm, against a soft focus garden setting. She looks soulful.
‘One Last Deal’. Photo: Cata Portin.

Indeed, men in crisis is one of the major themes of the first half of this year’s program (Vincent will announce the rest of the line-up in coming months). In Arctic, by Brazilian video auteur Joe Penna, Mads Mikkelsen plays a researcher-explorer who fights for survival in a frozen wilderness; in One Last Deal (from Finland) an elderly art dealer on the verge or retirement makes one last attempt at making real money, and reconnecting with his estranged family, by selling what he believes to be a masterpiece; and in At Eternity’s Gate the American artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) brings us his portrait of tortured Dutch genius Vincent van Gogh (Venice Film Festival winner Willem Dafoe heads a splendid cast that also includes Mikkelsen, as well as Oscar Isaac).

While these Euro-American dramas are centred on the struggles of men, Shoplifters, from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-Eda, is about an impoverished family who supplement their modest income by stealing stuff, diddling social security and, in the case of father Osamu’s sister-in-law, dressing up as a schoolgirl for sex shop voyeurs.

After a decade or more of celebrated films (several of which have played at Perth Festival) Kore-Eda won the Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Make no mistake: Shoplifters will be slow and understated, as was his last film, After the Storm (2016), which rarely rose above the level of a whisper. But few filmmakers in any culture manage to so deftly tease out the delicate tissue that holds families together.

Black and white photo of two men in suits. One has his arms folded. Both gaze into the distance, not at the camera.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s ‘Cold War’ is the follow-up to his critically acclaimed post-Holocaust drama ‘Ida’.

Family is also the subject of the films of Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi. In films such as A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016), both of which played at previous Perth Festivals, Farhadi digs beneath the secrets and lies of the Iranian middle-classes, revealing that when it comes to marriage, family obligations and career, those living under an Islamic regime are not as far removed from us as you might imagine.

Set in a village on the outskirts of Madrid, Everybody Knows is about a woman named Laura (Penelope Cruz) who returns to native Spain with her two children and reconnects with her old flame, a winemaker played by Cruz’s real-life partner Javier Bardem. When Laura’s teenaged daughter goes missing it cracks open up a fissure in the extended family, exposing the long-suppressed history between the former lovers.

While Cruz gives the flashiest performance as the distraught mother, reviews suggest that it’s Bardem and, once again, Ricardo Darin (star of the opening film) who bare their souls in astonishing ways, sealing the male-centric first half of this year’s Lotterywest Films. Guys are in the spotlight this year but, in a world where male power is being challenged everywhere, nobody is making it easy for them.

Mark Naglazas

Lotterywest Films begins at UWA Somerville on November 26 and ECU Joondalup Pines on December 5. 

Pictured top is a still from Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s ‘Shoplifters’.

Mark Naglazas is the former film editor, chief film critic and an arts writer for The West Australian. He interviewed many of the world’s major stars and most significant filmmakers, covered international film festivals and hosted numerous movie and and arts events. He was also a long-time contributor to ABC radio. Mark now reviews films for 6PR, writes features for STM and is attempting his own screenplays. Mark loves nothing more than an old-school screwball comedy so his playground favourite activity is hanging upside down on the monkey bars.

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A woman, a man and a bird surrounded by flowers.
Circus, Music, Musical theatre, News, Opera, Performing arts, Theatre

First peek at 2019 Perth Festival

Perth Festival has given us a tantalising glimpse of its 2019 programme, revealing four of the works on the line-up.

Returning to open the Festival will be Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, a nocturnal wonderland that will, once again, light up Kings Park over four nights. This free, outdoor event is a celebration of Noongar culture and the beauty and biodiversity of the South West of WA, that sees audiences take a kaleidoscopic walk through projections, animation, sound and lighting effect along Fraser Avenue and deep into Kings Park.’

Balls of light in a park at night
‘Boorna Waanginy’. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

That weekend will also see two international shows, both Australian exclusives, open in Perth. The first, Lang Toi, by Nouveau Cirque de Vietnam, is a daring display of acrobatics, physical theatre, live traditional music and playful bamboo constructions, that transports the audience into the heart of a Vietnamese village.

an acrobat standing on one hand
A scene from ‘Lang Toi’. Photo: Nguyen Duc Minh.

The second work, The Great Tamer, sees Greece’s Dimitris Papaioannou explore the mysteries of life, death and the beauty of humanity with enigmatic, dreamlike scenes and visual riddles. Using ten performers and a shape-shifting floor that undulates to Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube”, Papaioannou’s magical stagecraft brings to life a series of inventive live paintings.

Last – for now – but not least, flying elephants, gaudy 1920s flappers, comic-book villains, gigantic spiders, butterflies and wolves run rampant as performers interact with animated characters in Barrie Kosky’s exhilarating production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, presented by Kosky’s Komische Oper Berlin, British theatre group 1927 in association with West Australian Opera and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

The full 2019 Perth Festival program will be announced 1 November 2018.

Pictured top is a scene from Komische Oper Berlin’s “The Magic Flute”.

A man throwing seeds over his head
A scene from ‘The Great Tamer’. Photo: Julian Mommert.
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Iain Grandage
Features, Music, News, Performing arts

In the spotlight: Iain Grandage

The appointment of Iain Grandage as artistic director of Perth Festival for 2020-2023 received a highly enthusiastic communal thumbs-up when it was announced earlier this year. Grandage will be speaking at the Blue Room Theatre, Saturday 4 August, but Nina Levy decided to sneak in a pre-show chat.

When acclaimed composer Iain Grandage was announced as Perth Festival’s artistic director for 2020-2023, back in May, there was a palpable buzz of excitement in the WA arts community. It was immediately clear that people feel a sense of connection with Grandage. While this communal stamp of approval can be attributed, in part, to the fact that he’s a local (raised and trained in Perth), I believe there’s more to it than that. Grandage has composed and played across numerous art-forms – opera, theatre, dance – with the result that he has the affections of an unusually broad range of arts-enthusiasts. He has won numerous awards for his work as a composer and music director, including an impressive seven Helpmanns for his compositions for theatre (Cloudstreet, The Secret River), for dance (When Time Stops), for opera (The Rabbits with Kate Miller-Heidke), for film (Satan Jawa, with Rahayu Suppangah) and as a music director for Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl and The Secret River.

Cloudstreet
Grandage composed the score for Company B and Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of ‘Cloudstreet’, pictured here at the 1998 Perth International Arts Festival (now Perth Festival). Photo: Heidrun Lohr.

Personally, I first came across Grandage’s work back in 2006, at the Perth International Arts Festival (now Perth Festival). He had composed the scores for two dance theatre works presented at the Festival that year, Steamworks Arts’s The Drover’s Wives and Splinter Group’s Lawn. Rich soundscapes packed with drama, both scores seemed, to me, inseparable from the action, inextricably linked to the movement on stage.

Twelve years later, then, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Grandage and find out about the process behind such compositions. When he picked up my interview call with a short song of greeting, my happiness was complete, in the manner of a teenager who has just acquired the autograph of her favourite pop star. Suffice to say Grandage is a delightful mix of creativity and general niceness.

Originally from Brisbane, Grandage moved to Perth with his family in the mid-1970s and began his formal music training shortly after, starting piano lessons at age seven and cello at ten.  Although he gave up piano at 13, he continued to play the instrument for pleasure. “I’d go to the music library and get books and books of pop songs, lots of stuff from the ’20s and ’30s… I don’t know why, I was really drawn to it,” he reminisces. “My dad’s dad was a linguist but also, as many people were back then, a composer. Because there were pianos in so many rooms, there was that great flowering of popular music that happened between the wars. So my grandfather, who my dad never even knew (he died when my dad was three months old), is a published composer. I often heard my dad play that piece and was drawn to music of that period.

While Grandage initially dreamed of playing in a piano bar, on acquiring such a job, at age 18, he discovered that it was “one of the loneliest things you can ever do in your entire life.” By comparison, he found the cello much more sociable. “Once I started the cello, within a year I was in the junior orchestras of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra,” he remembers. “That became [the source of] my closest friendships and so much of my social life revolved around holiday music camps and Saturday morning music-making. At that time Richard Gill was here, running the music part of WAAPA (the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) and he also started a thing called Junior Exhibitioner Course, on a Friday afternoon. That was a collection 30 of us who did aural training, choir, performance practice and stylistic composition. It was revelatory for me. So that was my Friday afternoons and Saturday morning was orchestra. Very quickly, music was a large part of my social and extra-curricular life.”

Iain Grandage
Iain Grandage. Photo Pia Johnson.

Despite this, Grandage wasn’t planning to become a professional musician when he finished school. “I went to UWA because I wanted to be a lawyer, actually,” he tells me. “In those days you had to do a year of another degree before you went into law. I did music for that first year. For many years I had a great sadness that the university, at that stage, didn’t offer a music/law degree. They since have and I think I would have grabbed that with both hands because I love words, I love the power of words.”

What changed his mind?

There were two factors, he replies. “Firstly, I had a brilliant time in the music department at UWA. I fell in love with the fact that that music wasn’t just on the weekends, that you could do it day in and day out.

“Secondly, I read Albert Camus’ L’Étranger (The Stranger), in French literature class, and that was about a lawyer who failed his clients. I now know I was ill-informed but I saw that law wasn’t always utilised for good and that confused me. I thought that was all law. Now I see all the avenues by which law is an incredible tool for helping society. You see it standing up to Trump, to Farage, closer to home, to Dutton and various elements. I’m a huge supporter of the power of the judiciary. That’s a tangent, isn’t it? But, fundamentally, it was an affirmative choice towards music rather than a negative one away from law. It was more ‘I can’t help but continue doing this.’”

Fundamentally it was an affirmative choice towards music rather than a negative one away from law. It was more ‘I can’t help but continue doing this.’”

Grandage admits that during his 20s he had moments of questioning that choice, when struggling creatively or financially. Ultimately, though, he says he has no regrets, perhaps because of the eclectic nature of his career path. “I chose to move out of being purely a cellist and into other performing arts, writing music for theatre, and from there into dance, and from there into graphical music, and from there into opera,” he elaborates. “Each of those informs the other and you don’t need to get too stymied by one of them or too dulled by your experience with one of them, because the next is helping to change things up.”

Grandage made that move away from being a “straight” cellist and into other art forms relatively early in his career. “In 1995 I auditioned to be an actor in a Black Swan show, a piano accordian player in Louis Nowra’s Cosi. That was the first time I met [Black Swan director] Andrew Ross and we really hit it off. He’s a glorious human who has a wicked sense of humour and an immense brain, and intrigue about what is possible in storytelling in the arts. I said to him, ‘I’m a particularly shit actor,’ but despite that he still cast me.”

In fact, he told Ross, his real interest was composing music for shows, a confidence that paid off. “I did most music for most Black Swan shows from 1995-2000 and that was a great training ground,” he says. “In the midst of that, in 1997, Black Swan put me forward to do the music for Cloudstreet, the theatre production, with Australia’s finest director, Neil Armfield. At that stage, as a 26-year-old, I wouldn’t have had a look in, in terms of getting to work with him, except that it was a co-production between [Sydney-based] Company B Belvoir, which was Neil’s company, and Black Swan. So I got the entrée into the East coast theatre scene at the very top of the tree, which was a complete blessing.”

Lawn
‘Perhaps my favourite dance experience was working with Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood [Splinter Group] on a show they made called ‘Lawn’.’ Pictured at the 2006 Perth International Arts Festival.
As aforementioned, Grandage has composed across a range of art-form, and I’m interested to find out what it is about interdisciplinary collaboration that appeals to him. Once again, it comes back to the fact that Grandage is a social being.

“After I did those five years with theatre, I was slowly finding my compositional voice and a series of opportunities came up with West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and in various contexts, for me to be an art music composer, writing for symphony orchestras and choirs. It was essentially sitting in a room and delivering scores, in that old school traditional way of notating everything, then you deliver it, rehearse for two days and perform,” he explains. “The worst thing [about working in that context] was the fact that I like people. Fundamentally, it’s an incredibly isolated and isolating experience, creating music. It’s like being a painter or a sculptor or a novelist. It’s a solitary creative pursuit.”

Being an old school, traditional composer is like being a painter or a sculptor or a novelist. It’s a solitary creative pursuit.

Working across disciplines is different, he explains. “I enjoy the fact that, when writing for a collaborative medium like theatre, you can either improvise in the room and you know it’s right because you’re making it up as you go, and you can read the feeling in the room, but also, if you go home and write something, you can bring it in and go, well that doesn’t work, and you can change it instantly. The feedback is far more immediate. I find many brains are far more powerful than one.”

Being from a dance background myself, I’m particularly interested to learn more about the way Grandage works with choreographers. “Perhaps my favourite dance experience was working with Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood [Splinter Group, now The Farm] on a show they made called Lawn,” he muses. “The theatre environment Webber and Millwood create, the meta staging, the mis en scene is so clear, that whether you’re talking about an external world filled with banalities or an internal world filled with emotional complexities, it makes a very clear distinction about what music to do when. In those internal worlds, we’d essentially both launch from same moment. I knew that the arc of their dance would be, [for example], between four and four and a half minutes. I would write an arc of four minutes that made complete musical sense, and that was consistently evolving and making an argument and coming down to a logical conclusion around four minutes and then going into a kind of a loop, so that if they’re having a ‘tired old man’ day, they’re safe, the music’s not going to finish. [Working] in this way gives you immense freedom as a composer because you can make an argument…that is, in and of itself, musically satisfying. You can then layer other things on top of that broad arc that then speak specifically to any particular movements that they’re doing.”

Natalie Weir, When Time Stops. Cr. Chris Herzfeld
‘For Natalie Weir’s ‘When Time Stops’, The Camerata of St John’s played live on stage and were just so fantastic and courageous in how they stood amongst fast-moving dancers and memorised huge slabs of the score.’ Photo: Chris Herzfeld.

“Then there are other scores, where I’m playing live. Another favourite score was for When Time Stops [by Natalie Weir, for Expressions Dance Company], with a much-loved band of fellow musicians from Queensland called the Camerata of St John’s. They played live on stage and were just so fantastic and courageous in how they stood amongst fast-moving dancers and memorised huge slabs of the score. It was such a thrill. That was an instance where I essentially wrote a score [and brought it to the choreographer] and for Natalie, who is a far more traditional choreographer, that worked very well.”

Essentially, says Grandage, the key factor in successful collaboration is that all artists have freedom of expression, but also clearly defined artistic aims. “When you’ve clearly discussed the [ground you want to explore] before you leap in, then you know that what you deliver is going to be on the same page. Those collaborative projects are a great joy.”

I love the idea of sewing these disparate lines together to make a festival that’s actually euphoric and filled with hope, and filled with a celebration of us in this place.

Grandage directed the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival from 2016-2018 and, listening to him talk about collaboration across art-forms, it’s easy to picture him in his upcoming role of Perth Festival artistic director, directing across disciplines. “I’m very attracted to the act of storytelling,” he agrees. “Something that occurred to me across my time running the Port Fairy Spring Music Festival is the fact that you can make statements about society and hopefully make a small change for people by presenting a whole series of works that talk to each other and are beyond the creative powers of any single artist. In curating that small festival and now with the chance to curate this big festival you can program people with bigger brains than your own, who have ways of the viewing some of the intractable problems that face us as a society, but also those things that celebrate the great shared moments of humanity in ways that you find unexpected and joyful and never would have thought of yourself. So you can make a bigger statement, and make more of a difference.

“It feels like a way of – just like when I am writing a piece of music – synthesising a whole pile of different lines together into a coherent whole. The whole idea of a conversation happening inside a piece of music is the same transaction as two large scale works of art being placed next to each other, having that same conversation. The way you stimulate an audience’s mind is the same, inside a festival program. You’re going, ‘See that… and now see this!’ It’s the same as having two vastly different musical voices sitting cheek by jowl inside a piece of music. I love the idea of sewing these disparate lines together to make a festival that’s actually euphoric and filled with hope, and filled with a celebration of us in this place. It’s a glorious part of world and I want to celebrate it with every fibre of my being.”

“Get to know Iain Grandage” at the Blue Room Theatre as part of “Winter Nights”, Sunday 4 August at 4pm.

Iain Grandage is pictured top. Photo: Rhys Woolf.

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