Review: AutoCannibal (Oozing Future)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 13 – 17, 2021
Director: Masha Terentieva
Cast/Creator: Mitch Jones
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
The show is named AutoCannibal because in the dystopic future of Mitch Jones’ creation, he is seen gradually eating himself to death, literally. Starting with expendable parts of the anatomy, like hair and nails, we watch his desperation gradually escalate, and wonder if the moment of inevitability will take place right before our eyes. A one-man show in the physical theatre tradition, reminiscent of the work of artists like Buster Keaton and Marcel Marceau, Jones pushes the envelope towards something very dark, although not altogether unfunny.

There are many horror dimensions to AutoCannibal, involving self-mutilation of course, but also isolation, madness and other hard to name fears resulting from the end of the civilisation. A short video at the beginning hints at the usual suspects, namely climate, capitalism and politics, that lead us to this point of abject destruction, but in 2021, there really is very little need for explanations about the sad state of affairs in which our protagonist finds himself. We may be conditioned to interpret dystopic visions as futuristic cautionary tales, but at this present time, it takes little stretch of the imagination, to read the presentation as an allegory for so much that is happening today.

Design aspects of the show are highly accomplished. Sound by Bonnie Knight is dynamic and compelling, a crucial element in lieu of dialogue, that guides us through varying states of distress and humour. Paul Lin’s lights are moody but magical, effective in establishing something very close to a living nightmare before our eyes. Michael Baxter’s set design too is noteworthy, able to provide more than functionality, for a stage that looks genuinely terrifying.

Under Masha Terentieva’s direction, Jones performs a wordless theatre that is just scary enough, often pushing us to psychological limits, without taking the action to a point of alienation. There is ample opportunity for showing off Jones’ athletic and comedic talents, but AutoCannibal is not always sufficiently engaging for the intellect. When the audience witnesses a human pushed to the extremes in art and entertainment, we cannot help but wonder about the point of it all, and there is little that could provide satisfying complexity to how we can contextualise these horrors.

We live in a world of scandalous abundance, yet so many are hungry. It boggles the mind that people everywhere are left to die of starvation, while most of us fill our days with hoarding and accumulating the thing commonly known as wealth. Conditioned to think of people as either worthy or unworthy, we are completely at ease with the idea that some are simply lesser, and that their suffering is justified. We are taught to fear, taught to submit, taught to accept that some babies will grow into rich people, and others will languish in poverty, as though this is all natural and the irreversible course of the world. To watch the character in AutoCannibal eat himself to death, is to have our morals called into serious question.

www.oozingfuture.com

Review: The Last Season (Force Majeure)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 6 – 10, 2021
Director: Danielle Micich
Cast: Paul Capsis, Olwen Fouéré, Pamela Rabe, Isabel Bantog, Owen Beckman-Scott, Luka Brett-Hall, Maddie Brett-Hall, Imala Cush, Niamh Cush, Nicholas Edwards, Ember Henninger, Piper Kemp, Poppy McKinnon, Julia Piazza, Tallulah Pickard, Louis Ting
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Thirteen young creatures are hatched at the beginning of The Last Season, and we follow them through their first year, witnessing transformations alongside as they progress through the months commencing in Summer. The first three sections of the 4-part show feature a central character, a mature personality juxtaposing against these tender entities. Presented in a non-narrative format, it suggests ideas of legacy and progeniture, placing focus on past/future and parent/child, to ask fundamental questions about our very existence.

Directed by Danielle Micich, The Last Season is an ambitious work. Marg Howell’s set and costumes, Damien Cooper’s lights, and Kelly Ryall’s music, all conspire to create something that indicates an unmissable sense of the epic; the themes under investigation certainly are of that grandiose scale. Transcendental in its tone and feel, the production however never really moves us to the sublime. Its abstraction places us in a cerebral state, yet what it wishes to say, seems to remain in the pedestrian.

Although insufficiently inventive, The Last Season‘s experimental nature is to be lauded. The youthful ensemble is full of intensity and concentration, with every member displaying admirable generosity in their commitment to the art form. Senior performers bring colourful variation, each one distinct and memorable. Paul Capsis is especially powerful, with the poignant humour and sincerity that they are able to introduce to the piece. Olwen Fouéré’s extraordinary style and energy provide a remarkable sense of elevation, and Pamela Rabe’s august theatricality establishes a necessary gravity that keeps us attentive.

With each generation, we wonder if it is just history repeating, or if a new frontier is being forged. Life is a mystery, but we know for sure that there will always be individuals who refuse to toe the line, and new innovators who will create something never before seen. Conformity is death, so it is fortunate that living amongst us, are those who will ensure that our extinction is kept at bay, for a little while longer.

www.forcemajeure.com.au

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

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