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

Review: Do Something Else (The Old 505 Theatre)

old505Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 4 – 22, 2016
Devisor / Director: Michael Pigott
Devisors / Cast: Cloé Fournier, Ryuichi Fujimura, Brigid Vidler
Image by Michael Pigott

Theatre review
Meaning can be derived from anything, because being human requires that we make sense of the things we come in contact with, even if their inherent characteristics are not readily intelligible. In Michael Pigott’s Do Something Else, the deliberate absence of a narrative relocates the audience from a position of passivity to one of mental vigour. The work provides visual and aural cues that seem to be, on a superficial level, incoherent, trusting that our response is a creative one that will formulate personally resonant symbols and messages.

It is an elegant work, but also surprising and challenging, with a confidence that allows its abstract approach to communicate with authority. Pigott’s work on sound and lights creates a hypnotically gripping atmosphere, balanced by the dynamic physical expressions he introduces to the piece. The three performers have distinct and strong presences that connect with us effortlessly. Cloé Fournier and Ryuichi Fujimura are memorable for their idiosyncratic and nuanced movement styles, while Brigid Vidler captivates with her incisive delivery of text. Fascinating words are also provided by Diana Shahinyan and Ari Mattes whose prerecorded voices guide us with scholarly ideas to reach an increasingly precise interpretation of the work.

A key concern of Do Something Else pertains to a neurosis that emerges with the rise of the metropolis. We can choose to see that city life drives us crazy, or we can adopt an alternate view that the innate insanity of life has proven to be untameable by a culture of industrialism. Our chaos simply takes on a different form. It is naive to think that nature is independent of technology, and falling into nostalgic fantasies for an imagined world of primitive perfection is futile, and erroneous. Technophobia however, is an interesting and helpful concept that can help us in discussions about ecology and environmentalism. It also encourages a healthy cynicism of progress that interrogates our priorities, and questions our values. Our societies run on a momentum that thinks that big is better, and more is good. Civilisations must move forward, but the choices we make within that propulsive trajectory must never be left unexamined.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Pedal & Castles (House Of Sand)

houseofsandVenue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 20 – 24, 2016
Creator: Eliza Sanders
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Eliza Sanders

Theatre review
Pedal and Castles are a pairing of individual pieces that demonstrate the genius talent of Eliza Sanders, whose boundless exploration into performance and theatre creation that deliver experiences that are full of joy, surprise and wonder. Amalgamating the clichéd triple threat of singing, dancing and acting, Sanders redefines the stage artist into a singular agent with capacities limited only by imagination. Her multi-disciplinary skills are showcased perfectly in both works, along with the most inventive approach to writing and choreography for a style of show that is striking for its effortless originality and distinctive sense of beauty.

These are not simply stories, but abstract expressions that find a purpose in time without the reliance on logic and narrative. In tandem with brother Charles Sanders’ direction, the siblings’ ability to move us, to cease our attention and connect with our emotions, without the use of anything remotely formulaic or conventional, is evidence that a purity of intention and an instinctive acuity are at play here.

Eliza Sanders’ physical presence is that of a dancer’s, all discipline and agility, but her personality refuses to be subservient, the combination of which results in a powerful state of being that puts on stage, the very vibrancy of life itself. Without the distraction of reason, we are in direct contact with a living, breathing and in this case, enthralling, organism, whose various representations of our complex existence, draw us into a state of sharing, listening and acknowledgement, that seems to make life that much more meaningful. Observing Sanders is to be at one with nature, and the resonance she provides, is akin to the excitement one receives when enraptured in the vision of early spring’s blossoming flowers.

Where there is no need to ask why, we abandon the past and the future, to stay firmly in the now. Eliza and Charles Sanders are important artists who give us an alternate view of the world. Knowledge and experience are limitless, and in art, we can find catalysts to help us grow. The language in Pedal and Castles is not a translatable version of the familiar, but a different course of communication for arriving at somewhere new. The danger of becoming small and narrow is ever-present, but when art does its job well, we are shown the way to emancipation, and we must take every step that leads us there.

www.houseofsand.org

Review: Before The Water Gets Cold (Smoking Gum Theatre)

smokinggumVenue: Sydney Theatre School (Chippendale NSW), Aug 23 – 27, 2016
Playwright: Charles O’Grady
Director: Lucinda Vitek
Cast: Samuel Beazley, Robin Chen, Julia Robertson, Amy Zhang

Theatre review
Part poetry, part dance and part play, Before The Water Gets Cold is a multidisciplinary exploration into the nature of artistic expression. With themes of love and loneliness providing its main threads of inspiration, what we see on stage are four performers inhabiting a range of personalities, not to convey a narrative, but to evoke sensations and emotions that we are all familiar with.

The work is guided by an innovative spirit, and is often a refreshing experience, although significant portions can seem clichéd, due to its inability to transcend the derivative. Writing, direction and choreography exhibit moments of beauty through their various modes of experimentation, but a greater sense of originality, or perhaps boldness, is missing in the production.

Performer Julia Robertson is memorable for her captivating presence, and a surprising authenticity that she brings, even to the more absurdist sequences of the show. Her work with Robin Chen in a montage composed of romantic movie quotations is particularly delightful. Composer Josephine Gibson and sound designer Jeaux Pfeffer contribute proficiently to this collaboration, both sensitive and understated in style, for a delicate air that envelopes the auditorium.

Before The Water Gets Cold wishes to marry logic with something more ephemeral, but a greater trust in the visceral instance would allow us to dive in deeper into its artistry. The mind gets in the way of much of life’s pleasures, and at the theatre, an opportunity for us to be in touch with the magic of the here and now is always present, if only we resist the temptation to analyse everything even before it begins to happen.

www.smokinggumtheatre.com

Review: Our: Land People Stories (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

bangarraVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jun 16 – Jul 9, 2016
Choreographers: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley-Smith, Jasmin Sheppard
Cast: Waangenga Blanco, Deborah Brown, Luke Currie-Richardson, Tyrel Dulvarie, Tara Gower, Rikka Hamaguchi, Elma Kris, Yolanda Lowatta, Rikki Mason, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley-Smith, Tara Robertson, Nicole Sabatino, Jasmin Sheppard, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Glory Tuohy-Daniell
Image by Wendell Teodoro

Theatre review
Three separate works are featured in Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Our: Land People Stories, each with a distinct flavour but unified by discipline, culture and history. Independently striking in style, they tell different stories of the Indigenous experience through the medium of dance at its most progressive and adventurous. Sumptuously designed by the formidable trio of Matt Cox (lights), Jennifer Irwin (costumes) and Jacob Nash (sets), the production is a feast for the eyes, brilliantly polished, with a level of sophistication that any theatre company would be envious of.

Jasmin Sheppard’s Macq is an analysis of the 1816 massacre of D’harawal people at Appin, 75km south of Sydney, and Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s complicity in the incident. It is an expression of British imperialism, specific to the carnage of two hundred years ago, but also serves as representation of the ongoing invasion of Aboriginal land and peoples that our society struggles to rectify. Imagery of death, sorrowfully depicted, provides the piece with an intense poignancy, and Daniel Riley’s performance as the governor amplifies its question of humanity by bringing an unexpected complexity to the tale.

Miyagan is about kinship, inspired by the cultural heritage of the Wiradjuri nation, of which its choreographers Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley-Smith belong. Mythology is given redefinition. Through this new manifestation, age-old stories are offered new life, and we see current generations relating to those ancient themes and ideas from a time and space that is real and personal. The dancers experience those narratives in their flesh and in their minds, and the audience shares in their ephemeral theatrical inhabitation of the Wiradjuri ethos. Also remarkable is music by Paul Mac, sensitively blending traditional with contemporary sounds, for a perfect accompaniment to an exciting movement vocabulary that contains more than a hint of hip hop.

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu is one of Aboriginal art’s biggest stars, and her story is put to dance in Stephen Page’s Nyapanyapa. Inspired by her paintings and set to oral stories thoughtfully incorporated into the soundtrack of the 44 minute epic, we are presented a work about the wondrous relationship between woman and nature, as observed through the life of the respected Yolngu elder from the Gumatj clan of North East Arnhem Land. Dancer Elma Kris is deeply endearing in the lead role, full of vital spirituality and an irresistible stage presence. The ensemble’s cohesiveness and their unity of message are a hallmark of the company, and luminously apparent in the piece.

In Australia, we rely on Indigenous cultures to give our art its soul. There is nothing that can replace history and age when we wish for art to be rich in essence and meaning, and it is people like those in the Bangarra company who are uniquely able to bring to materiality something bigger than economics, politics and even science. Theirs is a philosophy that is beyond the constraints of time, and speaks only with truth and depth. What they put on stage is sacred, but how the audience chooses to interpret is an important part of that equation, and it is that very act of listening that is crucial to the path of our collective civilisation.

www.bangarra.com.au

Review: Perch (The Leaps / Belvoir St Theatre)

perchVenue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 9 – 21, 2016
Playwrights: Brian Carbee, Sarah Carradine
Director: Sarah Carradine
Cast: Brian Carbee
Image by Phyllis Photography

Theatre review
Brian Carbee plays two characters in Perch; an owl and a human. Their relationship is strange to say the least, and even though the poetic script does not engage in a conventional sense, it provides impetus for a show that utilises the considerable talents of its performer, revealing not only the wealth of experience Carbee possesses as a dancer, but also the eccentric and idiosyncratic qualities he bears as an artist accomplished in the realm of movement based art.

It feels as though the roles he inhabits are but conduit for an expression of self. We might not achieve a great understanding of what is being created on stage, there is certainly no doubt as to the kind of person involved in the creative process before our eyes. The work is about the artist’s presence, and it is his skill, flair and fluency that captivates. It is Carbee’s very own humanness that is the object of our appreciation, and the surreality of all the action he manufactures is the looking glass through which we are able to read, and feel, the existence of a living, breathing sentient being exposed to our audienceship.

Perch is a work about the camp sensibility and its manifestations in physical and verbal forms. Carbee portrays an overt flamboyance that simultaneously obfuscates and indicates the truths that are at play on his stage. Identity is explored through the creation of false otherness, almost as though reaching for exaggerated and illusory entities is key to the discovery of authenticity. When we define our alter egos, we give shape and meaning to ourselves, and because facing the self is exasperating, we luxuriate in something else, something seemingly separate that can tell us everything that we need to know about the universe that lies within.

www.theleaps.orgwww.belvoir.com.au