Review: Pinocchio (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: The Sydney Fringe Warehouse (Alexandria NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2017
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Max Harris, Mathew Lee, Oliver Shermacher, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Set in 1940 Italy, at the height of Mussolini’s rule as Prime Minister and leader of the National Fascist Party, this version of Pinocchio sees our poor woodcarver Geppetto in his work room alone with his marionettes, trying to keep to himself, as he shuts out the ugliness of the world outside. Wordless but vivaciously animated, the show utilises techniques from the disciplines of mime, dance, music and singing, to tell a story of the individual versus the state, of the personal and the political. Our current sensitivity regarding the rise of nationalist ideologies, gives this incarnation of Pinocchio a quiet but unyielding resonance.

Its serious themes notwithstanding, this modern reiteration, directed by Julia Robertson and choreographed by Georgia Britt, is a wonderfully enchanting take on the old tale. Geppetto’s fantasy land, innocent and pure, provides the platform for a performance that appeals to our childlike sensibilities. Set and lighting designer Nick Fry manufactures a nostalgic beauty for the unusual, and enormous, venue, containing the action and our attention, with a clever understanding of space and atmosphere.

The crucial element of tenderness is brought to the stage by Mathew Lee, who shines in the role of Geppetto. His depiction of naivety allows us to see with unequivocal clarity, evil forces that try to engulf. The scene-stealing Annie Stafford displays an irrepressible presence even when playing an insentient doll, especially captivating when given an opportunity to show off her divine soprano. Harmonies in this Pinocchio are ethereal, often exquisite, performed with marvellous acoustic effect by a cast of six, inside the surprising elegance of a repurposed concrete warehouse.

We thought everything had been finalised and decided, when the fascists lost the war. Not a century has passed, and we again hear those despicable murmurs beginning to resurface, trying for a second attempt at its tyranny. There are no elongating noses in Geppetto’s studio, because this time, the lies are on the outside. The artist’s efforts to hide and disengage are futile. He is required to fight back, if his dignity is to remain intact.

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Review: Mut (Motimaru Dance Company)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – 10, 2018
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance: Tiziana Longo
Images by Yvonne Hartmann, Hiroshi Makino

Theatre review
The performance begins with a melange of sound clips from news reports all over the world, in a range of languages, many of which are foreign and incomprehensible, but there is no mistaking the gravity in every voice. Hidemi Nishida’s set design is a grand creation, formed entirely of newspaper and adhesive tape; we are drowned in the stuff, dreadfully familiar yet seductive. A figure starts to move, and a pile of discarded news begins to take human form.

Tiziana Longo’s dance presentation, Mut, can be seen as a discussion about society and culture’s prolonged and incessant attack on womanhood, with particular attention on the female body and its garments. We can also bring an interpretation to the work, that is concerned with information from the media, and the futile struggle in trying to locate truth among a barrage of commercial and political interests from the publishing world. It is a timely work, and as such, Mut touches a nerve.

The music, by Hoshiko Yamane, is sensational, incredibly dramatic in its expressions of a realm that is darkly foreboding in its psyche. Longo’s choreography is liberated, lavishly imagined, with a sense of dystopian glamour that produces breathtaking imagery, rarefied and captivating, although not always sufficiently thought-provoking. As performer, Longo’s presence can seem incongruously ethereal in sections that require something more grotesque, but when the heavy costumes are eventually shed, Longo brings her show to a conclusion that is as affecting as it is unpredictable.

We live in a civilisation where men feel entitled to grab pussies at will, so it should come as no surprise to realise that women are constantly berated for how we look. No matter what kind of body we inhabit, or how we choose to dress, it is always open season on those of the female gender. In a world where we can do no right, it is a wonder that so many of us should remain conditioned in our insatiable need to please.

www.motimarubutohdance.com

Review: Snap*Click*Shot (Karul Projects)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), May 25 – Jun 2, 2018
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Cast: Jessica Holman, Thomas E.S. Kelly, Libby Montilla, Amalie Obitz, Taree Sansbury, Kassidy Waters

Theatre review
Accompanying the dance, is a recorded narration about ecology. It provides an Indigenous perspective on our relationship with the environment, particularly memorable for its musings about our responsibilities as custodians of the planet. The message in Thomas E.S. Kelly’s Snap*Click*Shot is sombre, but unifying.

The bodies in motion are simultaneously human and animal, soil and vegetation; the false points of demarcation that separate us are dissolved, for an expression of our existence that is all-encompassing. This is a summation of events that sounds excessively romantic, but when immersed, the show feels authentic, convincing in its depiction of nature as wholistic and incontrovertibly linked to the human experience.

Kelly’s work, as choreographer and composer, is sensitive yet disciplined, elegant yet dynamic. His ability to place in tandem opposing qualities, the hard with the soft, creates a sense of drama that keeps us engaged. It is a strong team of dancers, extraordinarily cohesive, and impressive in their familiarity with Kelly’s idiosyncratic physical language. Their presentation is confident, and very well-rehearsed, with an inexhaustible vigour that fills the auditorium. Costumes and lights are however, inadequately conceived, resulting in imagery that is needlessly monochromatic and repetitive.

At the production’s conclusion, we congregate in a circle, eyes closed, sharing in a moment of silent meditation. Our insecurities from being exposed thus, reach for reassurance, and we find camaraderie in that unusual instance of connection. We often think of independence as a virtue, but it is a falsehood to conceive of any life detached. It is vanity that separates, and narcissism that fuels oppression. The simple exercise of acknowledging others as equals will solve many problems, but we rarely rise to that challenge.

www.karulprojects.com

Review: Twilight (Motimaru Dance Company)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 3, 2018
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance: Motoya Kondo, Tiziana Longo
Image by Johan Planefeldt

Theatre review
The initial image is of one organism, but our logic soon determines that there are two human bodies on stage. Although nothing is explained by Motoya Kondo and Tiziana Longo, it is probably inevitable that we should interpret their work as a representation of the human experience. We connect with the flesh on display, instinctively thinking that the expressions are about us. Strange as they may be, the movement and shapes evoke a familiarity, perhaps talking about the universal sensation of internal conflict that can arise at any moment within any person, or the eternal difficulties of maintaining relationships.

What we think about Twilight is informed, of course, by what we see. The two bodies convulse and glide, they tear apart, or they cling on for dear life. We may find ourselves forming meanings as a voluntary response to the dance, but it is when we are lured into meditation, observing with no appraisal, that the show is at its most potent. Transcendence on this occasion, is a collaborative art form, with Hoshiko Yamane’s music playing a vital role, alongside Kondo and Longo’s choreography and lighting design. The mesmerising juxtaposition of dynamism and stillness, a hallmark of the Butoh discipline, casts a spell and keeps us engaged throughout the piece.

It is an illusion of separateness that is distinct in Twilight. Quite literally joined at the hip, Kondo and Longo have made themselves appear exactly the same, yet they depict a sense of resistance toward one another, so that harmony is only ever a temporary notion. We wish for unity, but our appetite for discordance seems as natural as breath. It is as though, peace had always existed, but we fail to recognise it, and we make all go to war to find it.

www.motimarubutohdance.com

Review: Shifting > Shapes / Fem Menace (PACT)


Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Nov 22 – 25, 2017

Shifting > Shapes
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Collaborator and performer: Taree Sansbury

Fem Menace
Creator and performer: Cheryn Frost
Co-creators and performers: Cath McNamara, Tahlee Kianda Leeson

Theatre review
Presented as part of PACT’s “Afterglow” season, two works Shifting > Shapes and Fem Menace, feature young women dancing to the beat of their own drums. We watch them finding physical languages that could reveal their identities, that help express feelings and thoughts, to make their mark maybe, to be seen and heard, in a world that is determined to subdue creativity and art.

Shifting > Shapes explores humanity through the idea of shape-shifting, in which a person adopts the consciousness of animals, and begins to think and move like them. When performer Taree Sansbury becomes a goanna (or Dirawong) and a rainbow serpent, she sinks close to the ground. The relationship between body and earth looks never to be more intimate, than when Sansbury takes on the physical specificity of a different species. In the moments that she reverts to human, we observe the discord between being and space, as though we are the only ones alien to our own planet.

Fem Menace is concerned with the anxieties about being contemporary women, in this latest wave of feminism. A key point of its discussion is sexuality, as an essentially social undertaking, private but always in relation with the world outside of the self. In the honest representation of woman as sexual being, the conundrum of objectification seems to be omnipresent. Cheryn Frost, Cath McNamara and Tahlee Kianda Leeson present an uncompromising wildness that dares us to regard their presence as anything other than as intended.

Both pieces are conceived and executed with a sense of purity; faithful and authentic in their transition from inspiration to stage. For Shifting > Shapes, the unapologetically minimalist approach of choreographer and composer Thomas E.S. Kelly, maintains a razor sharp focus on its theme, whilst asserting his Aboriginality as legitimate and authoritative. The women in Fem Menace are experimental, putting their minds and bodies through exhaustive interrogation. The results of which are deeply fascinating, and often very beautiful. There is perhaps no way to look at ourselves with absolute objectivity, but it is in our art, that we can best know each other.

www.pact.net.au

Review: Djuki Mala (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jun 13 – 18, 2017
Director: Joshua Bond
Choreographers: Nikki Ashby, Joshua Bond, Lionel Garawirrtja
Cast: Wakara Gondarra, Baykali Ganambarr, Watjarr Garmu, Didiwarr Yunupingu
Image by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Hailing from north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Djuki Mala comprises a group of Aboriginal men who showcase their proud Yolngu culture through traditional and contemporary dance. Between the live action, video projections featuring interviews with the dancers and their maternal figures, provide background information that help us contextualise the lives being showcased on stage.

As the show progresses, significant influences from American culture, from Michael Jackson to Gene Kelly, become markedly present. Westernisation is a facet that insists on being incorporated into every Australian existence, but the purity of Yolngu heritage remains, even at the dance’s more colonised moments. Joy will persist, regardless of our oppressors’ intentions and efforts.

Whether the segments are choreographed to be quiet or rambunctious, this magnetic cast of five, bring a sense of celebratory spiritedness to all that they present. It is an enthusiasm that is tremendously infectious, and never fading. The greatest beauty of Djuki Mala lies in the luminous optimism of the people being represented, and the resilience that we witness. Successful Indigenous lives are evidence of a resistance that is ongoing and untameable, and these carefree dancers demonstrate that the best revenge is a life well lived.

www.djukimala.com

Review: The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood (Japan Foundation)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 22 – 23, 2017
Playwright: Suguru Yamamoto
Director: Suguru Yamamoto
Cast: Wataru Kitao

Theatre review
The neighbourhood in question is Nagai, a small Japanese town, unremarkable and forgotten. The stories we hear are disparate, about individuals associated only by physical proximity, but each with an unmistakable sense of isolation. Suguru Yamamoto’s The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood is about the loneliness of modern life, our increasing introversion as a result of technological advancements and the ever-present tensions rendered by our human need to connect.

It is a script with lots to say, and a long, meandering plot. Small narratives pique our interest, but in the absence of a more conventional approach to manufacturing drama, the 90-minute production struggles to sustain our attention. There are inventive elements to its staging methodology that make the show an artistic success in many ways, but its emotional dimensions, although intensely performed, are less affecting.

Wataru Kitao embodies a large number of characters, including a gorilla and a train, in this ambitious one-man show. A highly accomplished dancer utilising both European and Japanese disciplines, along with versatile vocal abilities, Kitao’s portrayals of all ages and genders with no reliance on costume or makeup changes, is clearly impressive. Brilliantly self-assured, his presence is a confident one that keeps audiences gratified.

The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood shows us the problems of modernity but offers no solutions and does not place blame on anyone explicitly. It is a true representation of our experiences, so we know what it refers to, without requiring it to have everything spelled out. As each generation of trains move us faster and faster, we can only be carried away as the times see fit. Our humanity will offer resistance, but as history shows, people will transform along with the machines we build. The past can tell us so much of what to expect in the future, but the mystery of what is to come, will always prevail.

www.jpf.org.au