Review: Link Dance Company, In the Dark ·
PS Art Space, 4 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·
What are you afraid of? I remember, as a kid, a recurring nightmare involving a Sesame Street skit about a camel that materialises out of cracks in a wall. Fear is acutely personal terrain – what freaks one person out, makes another laugh. These various hobgoblins form the content of the latest production from WAAPA’s Link Dance Company, aptly titled In the Dark.
Director and choreographer Michael Whaites has chosen the perfect venue for this exploration of our personal bugbears. The PS Art Space (the PS is for Pakenham Street) is a gem of Freo’s West End. With its giant double wooden doors fronting the historic facade, polished concrete floors and pillars, it’s a starkly evocative place. Upstairs, there are countless nooks and crannies to explore, accessed via some wonderfully creaky wooden stairs. The place has a distinctly creepy vibe at night and Whaites makes inventive use of the space, aided by the talented Joe Lui as lighting and sound designer.
The first half of the performance is set downstairs. Eight dancers thread, glide and writhe around the concrete pillars. Smoke wafts over the audience, seated in suitably uncomfortable wooden chairs. There’s no obvious narrative here, we’re presented with fear in many forms with allusions to fairytales, phobias and childhood anxieties. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, ominous, intense. This pressured feeling is spoiled slightly by a series of addresses from the dancers, microphone in hand. Asking dancers to become actors is always risky and here, despite their eagerness, the performers falter and the words fall flat.
Better then, to focus on the physical prowess on display. Dancers sprint around the edges of the space in an attempt to escape. There may be wolves, there is certainly the risk of violence, but just as things teeter into wildness – a reprieve. A small band of pipers enters through the double doors, blasting their bagpipes as the dancers quieten. It’s a bit out of place (I don’t know about you, but I associate bagpipes with stirring nostalgia – and I’m not even Scottish!) but the audience seems glad of the change in tone.
The fear re-asserts itself with the exit of the pipers and the audience is split up and led upstairs. While the performance downstairs seemed disjointed and dreamlike, upstairs is another matter. Backlit with shadows, the dancers perform solos in various corners of the dark room, the audience wandering freely between scenes. The wolf is back, in the lupine form of Thomas Mullane and there’s a wonderfully menacing duet which he performs with Bethany Reece, another standout performer.
Then, all goes dark. There’s something fabulous about being in the dark with strangers. All light is extinguished and we are left, wonderfully spooked, waiting for the next piece of action.
Like any canny director, Whaites leaves the best ‘til last. Having mainly showcased the individual talents of his group, he now brings them together in an ensemble sequence that is the clear highlight of the evening. Ensemble work is tremendously difficult to pull off, and risky because of this, but when it works there’s little better in dance. Intricate footwork, deft rhythmic moves… the dancers’ exhilaration is gorgeously infectious. Moving as a whole, the dancers stomp and swoop, conquering their fears together. We file out into the cold night, spent.
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.
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 Norat 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”.
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.
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 Contemporaryhere!
* Miranda is a co-director of Cool Change Contemporary.
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.
“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.
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.
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. Huffby Cliff Cardinal, presented by Yirra Yaakin and Cliff Cardinal. Utterly compelling. You Do Eweby 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.
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.
The passing of the wonderful Richard Gillat 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.
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.
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.
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 Medeafrom 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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
Review: Various artists, “Dark Swan – Contemporary Tales of the Gothic Antipodes” ·
PS Art Space Fremantle, 7 September ·
Review by Belinda Hermawan ·
On a cool Friday night in early spring, Fremantle seemed to thrum quietly in anticipation of the unknown. Only a few windows on High Street were warmly lit as I passed – New Edition Bookshop, Bar Orient, Roma Cucina – and other than the odd shout from a lively bar patron, the figures in these dioramas were muted, almost silhouette-like. Only when I approached the intersection of High and Pakenham did I detect a more pronounced buzz in the air, perhaps contributed to, but not solely the result of, revellers at the Navy Club.
The true buzz turned out to be at PS Art Space, a venue with an appropriate atmosphere for “Dark Swan – Contemporary Tales of the Gothic Antipodes”. Curated by artist and former fashion designer Kelsey Ashe Giambazi, the exhibition brings together 10 contemporary artists in a reimagining of WA’s brutal Gothic past. The tones of the live piano playing were anything but dulcet, evoking an eeriness as guests circulated in the gallery space. A headless mannequin wearing a Victoriana gown, designed by Aurelio Costarella, hung by a rope from the ceiling. The delicate nature of its sandy-coloured corsetry and pleating was as surreal as it was stoic. Costumed artists walked below, hinting at a later performance piece.
The works in this exhibition are sublime, eliciting both awe and terror. Rebecca Dagnall’s pigment print Uncovering the Past is a prime example. The hints of skeletons in the Australian landscape in the dead of night are so haunting and thrilling that you can’t help but stare into the deep dark, wondering what else is out there. Fran Sullivan Rhodes’s acrylic paintings of hybrid creatures, featuring flowers or landscape as eyes or faces, also contain an unsettling curiosity in their borders. This ability to transfix echoes across Kelsey Ashe Giambazi’s mixed media pieces and Ross Potter’s graphite drawing Cold Dark Night; on first glance the former are reminiscent of the beautiful, detailed illustrations on Australian currency notes; the latter, a well-executed drawing of a historic building. Examine both for more than a moment and the melancholy emerges, the layers materialise.
Fremantle is the perfect location for this exhibition, as demonstrated by Genrefonix’s Dark Swan video installation, which features the port town in several of its segments. Overexposed and desaturated, the footage of a lost boy in historical garb wandering around, seemingly invisible in corners and shadows, is particularly disturbing. A more direct torment is the jarring depiction of struggling patients in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum (now the Fremantle Arts Centre), in literal and proverbial cages. In a gallery space of pillars and recesses, the video reverberated with urbanity and insanity.
An absolute highlight of the opening night was the Kristie Rowe’s Mary Shelley’s Heart, a three-song collaboration with opera singer Caitlin Cassidy. The white shell of a gown that had been hung up on the exposed brick wall was now inhabited by Cassidy, as if she were living art. Her sweeping mezzo-soprano voice was enthralling; a semi-circle of guests gravitated towards her. A costumed performance artist stepped forward to paint the canvas and dress, first with darker colours, then with brighter hues, and finally with a touch of gold, before handing Cassidy a plastic replica of a human heart that glowed artificially red. Fascinating, romantic and foreboding, this performance installation was a creative juxtaposition of old and new.
As someone who moved to Western Australia at age ten, there were gaps in my knowledge of local history, and it was interesting to learn that the early years of the colony, circa 1830-1850, were bleak and difficult, with the free settlers resorting to the importation of convict labour in the period that followed, in an attempt to jumpstart the settlement. I ended the night with a walk back toward the Roundhouse. The structure, like many others of the period, was built by convict hand, classic in its beauty but perhaps also embodying a human despair. To think of our history as containing a Frankenstein-esque quality, Gothic and Romantic, is to appreciate the complexities of our city’s beginnings.
“Dark Swan” is essential viewing but, be warned, it may haunt you after the fact.