Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

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2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP

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Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

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Best of 2018 | Best of 2017 | Best of 2016Best of 2015Best Of 2013

Review: Your Skin My Skin (NAISDA Dance College)

naisdaVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Dec 10 – 13, 2014
Director: Frances Rings
Image from Twitter @theNCIE

Theatre review
Identity is a subject that features in any art education, but for students at NAISDA Dance College, Aboriginality is a central tenet that guides their learning experience in dance and performance. Also known as the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Association (40 years old this year), NAISDA’s end of year showcase for 2014 is entitled Your Skin My Skin. The program represents a gamut of dance styles, but the topic of race is never far behind. A series of sensitively curated items are linked by cultural dance and music under the leadership of tutors Heather Mitijangba and Tony Mudalyun, and musicians Shane Dhawa and Timothy Djirrmurmur. Regardless of how individual dance pieces come about, we are reminded that heritage is part of their creation, and the land that our feet rest upon is crucial to the expressions on stage.

The event commences with Rika’s Story, choreographed by the nine performers of the piece with Shaun Parker at the helm. The piece provides the perfect introduction to the college and the evening, with graduating student Rika Hamaguchi’s confident verbal narration giving insight into the group’s thoughts about study experiences and her feelings at this significant time as she embarks on a new chapter in life. Through Hamaguchi’s words, we gain an understanding of the meaning and origins of the movements being displayed, as well as the psychology behind them. Also graduating are Hans Ahwang, Czack Ses Bero, Casey Natty, Kyle Shilling and Philip Walford, who have all completed NAISDA’s four-year Diploma of Professional Dance Performance.

Shilling presents the only solo piece of the schedule. Justice? is a meditation on Aboriginal deaths in custody, with impressive choreography and music created by the student. His work is intensely emotional and energetic, and he demonstrates surprising maturity and gravity. Also memorable is Natty, who shows excellent focus and a solid presence in his various appearances. The athletic dancer executes choreography with precision and flair, and like all of the graduating class, rich with potential and promise. The young men’s performance in Grinding Stone by Frances Rings (an excerpt from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s artefact) is a highlight, bringing poignancy and depth to their mysterious dance.

Aside from the passionate achievements of NAISDA’s students, Your Skin My Skin is successful also for its excellent aesthetic values and accomplished technical capacities. The show runs smoothly with beautiful transitions, and atmosphere is always gauged just right. Music and sound might be second fiddle, but they are as delightful as the dance imagery occupying centre stage. NAISDA’s night of nights is a celebration of the year’s work by its fabulous staff and students, and an annual performance with heart and soul that dance enthusiasts will certainly enjoy.

www.naisda.com.au

5 Questions with Rika Hamaguchi‏

image002What is your favourite swear word?
Shit. I don’t like to swear much but that one would definitely be the most frequently used.

What are you wearing?
My rehearsal gear which consist of 3/4 pants and a tank top.

What is love?
Love is unclothed, pure and shameless.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
iOU Dance 3 at Carriageworks and I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It will be my last so I hope to make it my best. You can be the judge of that though!

 

Rika Hamaguchi‏ is one of many dancers at Your Skin My Skin, NAISDA Dance College’s end of year performance.
Show dates: 10 – 13 Dec, 2014
Show venue: Carriageworks

5 Questions with Garry Stewart

garrystewartWhat is your favourite swear word?
Gosh!

What are you wearing?
Billions of bacteria and a few grams of body hair.

What is love?
A complex neurochemical and hormonal process.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Hofesh Shechter’s Sun. I don’t believe in a rating system for art.

Is your new show going to be any good?
You be the judge.

 

 

Garry Stewart’s new work Choreography, presented as part of NIDA Student Productions.
Show dates: 21 – 28 Oct, 2014
Show venue: Carriageworks

Review: Rizzy’s 18th Birthday Party (Curiousworks)

curiousworksVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Oct 1 – 4, 2014
Screenplay: S. Shakthidharan, G. Gonzalez
Director: S. Shakthidharan
Cast: Varun Fernando, Firdaws Adelpour, Henry Vo, Jamie Meyer-Williams, Patrick Uly, Sophie Hawkshaw, Anandavalli

Film review
The film is projected with incidental music performed live by two-person band Kurinji whose vocalist Aimée Falzon recalls the singing of Sarah McLachlan and Róisín Murphy. The band provides an ethereal start to the night, but the film is more earthy in tone. Set in the recent past, just before 9-11 had changed the world, it features a cast of multiracial characters, which stands distinct because it is a rare representation of our daily Australian realities. It is not a vision we often see on screens, but the diversity looks entirely natural, making a strong political case against the persistent ethnocentrism of Caucasian faces in our media landscape.

The story is a curious one about the anxiety that young people of Western Sydney experience. It showcases rarely articulated societal concerns through Rizzy, who pretends to be a resident of the affluent suburb of Crows Nest, where he is in fact, a member of the working classes in the stigmatised Fairfield region. He is aspirational but perhaps for the wrong reasons. The film makes an effort to contradict Rizzy’s belief that his background is inferior by depicting great friendships and colourful environs, but it results in a very alienating protagonist. We never reach any meaningful understanding of his feelings, so the film remains distant. Its insistence on focusing only on young men, and having women characters exist at its periphery, further restricts its ability to find relevancy with wider audiences.

It is a strong cast, carefully directed by S. Shakthidharan who retains the rawness of the young actors, while drawing good commitment in their performances. Anandavalli plays Rizzy’s mother Helen, with a beautiful sensitivity that moves us with her minimal but authentic approach. It is unfortunate that her role is a deeply subservient one, but the actor’s work is the film’s standout element. Leading man Varun Fernando is less accomplished, but his comic abilities provide some entertainment value in lighter sections. The young men are a group with excellent chemistry that gives energy to many of the earlier scenes, and the film suffers as attention is shifted away from them as the plot progresses.

The work has issues with pace and structure that prevents tension from building satisfactorily. Also, the stakes in the narrative are never high, so we do not respond with much excitement. Rizzy’s 18th Birthday Party is a quiet and earnest movie that attempts to provide a voice to a segment in our community that is not often heard, but it needs to amplify its assertions in volume and in poignancy if it wishes to leave a greater impression.

www.curiousworks.com.au

Review: National Play Festival 2014 (Playwriting Australia)

mothsVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jun 12 -15, 2014
Artistic Director: Tim Roseman

Festival review
This year’s National Play Festival was held in Sydney’s Carriageworks. It featured talks, panel discussions, masterclasses, as well as full-length readings of new works. Suzy Goes See attended four of the highlights.

Free Speech: In Their Words featured a panel of four actors, chaired by John McCallum, theatre reviewer and academic. Insights and anecdotes were shared from the perspective of actors, about the experience of working with playwrights, and the presence of playwrights in the rehearsal studio. It appears that writers can be fairly involved in the rehearsal process, and many do not consider their writing complete until rehearsals begin, or indeed conclude. The actors talk about writers who prefer to be less involved, but it seems that their input is a valuable part of the actor’s process. We do not hear of troublesome personalities.

(+65) Singapore Calling is a showcase of works by Checkpoint Theatre of Singapore. Faith Ng’s For Better Or For Worse is read by Jean Ng and Julius Foo, who were the original cast in last year’s premiere production at the Drama Centre in Singapore. Memorable for its use of language, the play explores the fairly mundane world of a married couple in their fifties. The performers are thoroughly engaging, with laughter and pathos delivered effectively, but the work seems a little parochial, unable to extend its insights of a private world into something more universal. Ng’s writing is a charming morsel that represents a part of middle-class life, and would connect well with the right audience, but its potential for greater social significance is questionable.

A short excerpt of a second play, The Weight Of Silk On Skin by Huzir Sulaiman is performed by John Shrimpton. The monologue features another fifty-something character of Chinese heritage, but the English language is radically different in Sulaiman’s text. The character’s accent is of an American variety, and he talks of subjects like 90’s minimalism and Giorgio Armani. One wonders if it is cultural cringe that has necessitated the addition of this extract to supplement the other already lengthy presentation. In any case, it is a shame that a second session was not added for Checkpoint Theatre to present Sulaiman’s script in its entirety.

Samson by Julia-Rose Lewis is about teenagers. Through an examination into the way they communicate, we learn about the world they inhabit. Tom Conroy’s performance as the 15 year-old Rabbit leaves the greatest impression. His work is animated and rich, and even though his mature appearance is at odds with the character being portrayed, we are convinced by what he creates. There is also a dimension of commentary in Conroy’s acting that provides a sense of sophistication to the writing. Lewis’ script has a structure that keeps us engaged. Its balance of melancholy and humour is appealing, and even though the characters might prove slightly obscure, they bear enough colour and depth to keep us entertained.

Moths by Michele Lee is a thorough examination of the Asian-Australian experience. It is highly self-aware, constantly investigating clichés and thus avoiding them. It goes into ideas about what it must be like for Asians in Australia, and dispels each of those notions. There is a sense that definitions are to be resisted in order for each individual to reach their greatest potential. Labels, in language or concept, serve only as hindrances.

Lee’s script is particularly strong in its first half, where a group of Asian-Australian actors workshop a new play based on their perspectives about a supposedly unique experience of identity. The material here is often profound and rarely articulated. In its efforts to avoid being too introspective, the work attempts to extend into an imaginary future with the same cast of characters for the subsequent half. What results is slightly unfocused, but the concepts it introduces are strong.

www.pwa.org.au

Review: Stones In Her Mouth (Mau)

stonesinhermouthVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), May 28 – 31, 2014
Choreography: Lemi Ponifasio
Director: Lemi Ponifasio

Theatre review
There are many juxtapositions in Lemi Ponifasio’s Stones In Her Mouth. The company’s ten performers are all women, interpreting a male director’s vision. The setting is ultra-modern, but much of the content feels firmly rooted in tradition. The women sing songs that seem to be from a folk practice, but their recorded accompaniment is evocative of a futuristic space age soundscape. Imagery is expressed almost entirely in black and white. The deep contrasts are in a constant state of negotiation, searching for harmony and moments of lucidity. The show is often about struggle, but the quality of performance is never in strife. The Mau company is flawless, and the proficiency at which their art is practiced, is staggering.

It is not an exaggeration to say that watching these women in action is awe-inspiring. There is a sense of shamanistic ecstasy to this work. Their voices and physicality are thoroughly honed, to a degree that would be astonishing for any audience. The cohesion and consonance in the ensemble, along with the level of focus they achieve as individuals, play almost like a miracle, unfathomable yet irrefutably real. Their connection with us is a spiritual one, because their language is ritualistic, and their states of trance move us and envelope us so that we too feel a part of the divine.

Stones In Her Mouth is also political. The show begins with the cast in darkness. We hear them but we cannot see them. A bright white light shines instead at us, transfixed in our seats, so that we become the object of fetish, and they in turn dictate the terms at which they are to be viewed. The work makes few explicit statements, but it is impossible to doubt the social significance of gender, ethnicity and colonial imperialism, implicative in each gesture and utterance. Our position as viewer shifts between the arraigned, the aggressor, and ally. The women portray complexity, but they are invariably powerful and dignified.

Ponifasio’s creation is breathtaking and transcendental. His art moves us by virtue of its very presence, and it is in the unique shaping of that presence with his masterful manipulation of time and space, that Ponifasio presents his exceptional artistry.

www.carriageworks.com.au | www.mau.co.nz