A woman dressed in white, at a kitchen counter, pressing her fingers into the surface.
Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Spirits united by love and loss

Perth Festival review: STRUT Dance and Maxine Doyle with Tura New Music: Sunset ·  
Sunset Heritage Precinct, 7 February ·
Special guest review by WAAPA 2018 graduate Giorgia Schijf* ·

The totality of the Sunset experience begins from your commute to the unique site, winding through Perth’s ostentatious Western suburbs, overlooking the glimmering Swan River. The luxurious mansions decorating the neighbourhood are juxtaposed by the abandoned Sunset Old Men’s Home, where this magically unsettling dance theatre piece lives.

Artistic director of Sunset Maxine Doyle was inspired by the empty, silent space of the Sunset Heritage Precinct. She saw a place waiting to be filled with the voices of its past, saying, “Art brings those buildings to life and diffuses it with…a new beginning.”

Upon arrival, a man in a tuxedo greets you with the sombre sound of a violin. You file into the main location of the century-old building, red dirt spilling out of the walls; dust diffusing into the air, leaving a mysterious haze. You proceed into an old dining hall lined by muted blue and yellow walls; a stage, a canteen and a pile of chairs outline the space. This is where majority of the performance unfolds.

A pleasant nurse dressed in whites (Bernadette Lewis) offers the audience tea and biscuits upon arrival, I accept the offer. The slightly cold tea is unsettling, a perfect match to the ominous climate of the room.

Lines are blurred between performer and audience from the start and viewers indulge in a 360-degree experience. The audience is entertained by an array of characters from different times and places. The STRUT dancers masterfully inhabit the distinctive personas, all united by the universal feeling of loss.

A dance begins upon the old-school stage, of a young girl prancing and twirling as if stuck in a dream. Nimble dancer Viola Iida embodies the spirit of a lost daughter, who is summoned by a veiled, mysterious woman, her malevolent presence central to the disturbing nature of the piece.

Now, an imagined resident of the Sunset sanctuary, named Alfred Ganz and played by Humphrey Bower, recites a poem. His memories are the soundscape for a weeping mother in black (Natalie Allen). As she stumbles at the loss of her child, her sense of grief is vivid and poignant.

A woman sits in a window frame, in the dark.
Window frames become a portal between the living and the dead. Pictured is Viola Iida. Photo: Toni X

Her affliction follows her into a solo where she flails and flies across a wall lined in windows. Luminescent vignettes of the remaining characters glide behind the glass, like moving Renaissance paintings. The windows are now a portal between the living and the dead, as figures fly in and out of the frames to try and save Allen from her harrowing flounder. It’s beautifully evocative image.

The ghostly figures infiltrate the space as the energy of the piece crescendos; a miniature live orchestra is revealed and provides a stirring soundscape. Dancers circulate the room, relentlessly falling, throwing their bodies towards each other.

A procession of dancers emerges calmly amongst the virtuosic movement. One by one, each dancer stares deep into the eyes of each audience member, sharing their grief through the intimate gaze.

Guided by the haunting voice of lead vocalist (and composer/sound designer) Rachael Dease, the piece ends outside, amongst a garden of lights. The audience finishes gazing up at the performers, who stand on a hill, staring longingly at the river. I was so transfixed by my surroundings that I couldn’t believe the show was over.

The perfect marriage of dance, design and music transported me to another time and place, a place that smelt of tears, sounded of breaking hearts and was filled with spirits united by love and loss.

Truly unforgettable, a must-see.

Sunset plays Sunset Heritage precinct until February 17.

* Giorgia Schijf is a 2018 WAAPA Dance graduate and the winner of  the WAAPA Dance Prize for the most outstanding written review of a dance performance, 2018. This is a special award for the WAAPA dance student who made the most outstanding contribution to the field of dance criticism throughout their studies at WAAPA. The award, made possible by Seesaw Magazine and Perth Festival, allows the award winner to review a 2019 Perth Festival dance work, and have that review published in Seesaw Magazine.

Seesaw is delighted to publish Giorgia’s work.

You can also read Seesaw editor Nina Levy’s review of ‘Sunset’ here.

Pictured top: Sarah Maelor. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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Dancers moving in a circle, folk-style.
Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Doyle’s ghostly dreams delight

Perth Festival review: STRUT Dance and Maxine Doyle with Tura New Music, Sunset ·
Sunset Heritage Precinct, 7 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

The world of Maxine Doyle’s dance theatre work Sunset at first seems benign. On arrival, we are instructed to “follow the fairy lights” to a charmingly makeshift reception area, complete with bar and outdoor tables. A violinist (Brian Kruger) plays and as he wends his way towards one of the dilapidated old buildings that make up the Sunset Heritage Precinct, we follow him, Pied Piper style. So far, so whimsical… but once we are ushered inside, it’s a different story.

UK-based Doyle, who has collaborated with WA’s STRUT Dance to create Sunset, is renowned for her immersive theatre works. True to form, there’s a sense of falling down the rabbit hole as we cross the threshold of the now-decommissioned Sunset hospital. We are shepherded through to the performance space, passing rooms that are awash with red dirt – “I almost expect a body to be buried inside,” whispers my plus one – before arriving in a large hall, scattered haphazardly with vintage metal chairs on which we may sit.

Ghost-like, a dozen or so characters waft and wander amongst us, a white uniformed nurse, a glitter-gilded man, a stumbling drunk, a black clad glamour-girl. Accompanied by a string quartet playing original compositions by Rachael Dease, vignettes happen in various locations, so that we’re constantly swivelling to see the next instalment. At first the atmosphere is Tim Burton-esque, funny with a strong dash of spooky to keep you on your toes. On the stage, a dancer (Viola Iida) performs a balletic solo with a mini-corps (corpse?) of three skeletons. Behind the kitchen counter, a manic cook (Timothy Green) prepares a cake, as dancers’ limbs slip and slide in and out of view.

Amidst the audience, the one named character, Alfred Ganz (Humphrey Bower), recites heavily accented poetry and reminisces about days past. The mood shifts and saddens as ghosts from the past seem to rise and envelop us. The string score is at once poignant and discomforting. At the moonlit windows, figures creep, collapse and recover in a sculptural and spectral parade. Drums sound from unseen speakers – it’s as though the rafters of the building are rumbling. Even when the characters unite for a joyous folk-style romp, it’s undercut by the minor key mournfulness of the string quartet.

Rachael Dease’s rich and haunting vocals are key in creating the sense of otherworldliness that pervades this work. Brendan Hanson’s voice, in contrast, brings warmth and nostalgia to the proceedings. The pair’s final, plaintive duet is achingly beautiful and a highlight of the evening. Dease is to be congratulated on her evocative score  (which I would purchase, should a recording be made, hint hint) and sound design.

This work is beautifully and sensitively performed by the cast of twelve dancers and actors, and five musicians, and there are numerous moments that could be named as stand outs. In particular, though, Natalie Allen’s brief whirling solo had a bird-like intensity that was compelling, while Sarah Mealor was spectral in hers, a dark wraith weaving a spell on the audience.

Doyle and her creative team lead us into a place of ghostly dreams and haunting memories. It’s well worth a visit… but if you haven’t booked you’d better get in quick.

Sunset plays Sunset Heritage precinct until February 17.

Pictured top: A joyous folk-style romp. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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Speechless
Calendar, Music, Opera, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Music: Speechless

26 Feb – 3 Mar @ Sunset Heritage Precinct ·
Presented by Cat Hope & Tura New Music ·

Imagine a world where you have no voice. That is the world for many in contemporary Australia who are silenced legally, politically or culturally.

Speechless – a powerful new opera by award-winning composer Cat Hope – is a personal response to the 2014 Human Rights Commission report ‘The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention’. Through a vocal language beyond words, Speechless is a channel for Hope to come to terms with the terrible things she sees perpetrated in her name by those in positions of power.

Speechless features one of Australia’s finest interpreters of contemporary vocal repertoire Judith Dodsworth, lead singer of the Australian heavy metal powerhouse High Tension Karina Utomo, one of Australia’s most distinctive voices in Iranian-born Tara Tiba, West Australian experimental vocalist Sage Pbbbt and award-winning visual artist and post-punk drummer Tina Havelock Stevens with a combined community choir of 30 voices, the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel new music ensemble.

While following the structure of conventional opera, Speechless’ unique score is derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the Report and performed using networked iPads. This World Premiere season is designed specifically for the new Sunset Heritage Arts Precinct.

Immerse yourself in a compelling, courageous and visceral sonic world.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission
Produced by Tura New Music

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/speechless

Pictured: Karina Utomom, credit: Paul Tadday

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Sunset
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Dance: Sunset

7 – 17 February @ Sunset Heritage Precinct ·
Presented by STRUT Dance  ·

Leave your comfort zone and enter a mysterious world where you wander with the spirits of Perth’s colourful past. Discover forgotten secrets in the dusty shadows of one of our city’s most intriguing and significant heritage sites – Sunset down by the iconic Swan River.

From the renowned UK director-choreographer Maxine Doyle(co-director of  Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man, Sleep No More) comes a visceral dance-theatre performance that is epic in reach but intimate in experience. Inspired by the riverside precinct’s rich and unique history and the bushland that surrounds it, a stunning cast of Australian performers transforms the former Sunset Old Men’s Home into a waiting room between worlds, where classical myth collides with West Australian stories and local heroes can waltz with gods.

A Perth Festival Co-commission

Presented in association with Tura New Music

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/sunset

Pictured: Sunset, credit: Simon Pynt

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