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

Review: Tropical Hypeisms‏ (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pactVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), Jan 13 – 16, 2016
Choreographer: Caroline Garcia
Cast: Caroline Garcia

Theatre review
Discussing the effects of colonisation on many of our racial identities is a highly complicated one. It requires an understanding of histories/herstories that we might be able to research and study, but will ultimately involve nostalgic longings of an imagined past that can no longer be wholly authentic. Caroline Garcia is a post-colonial artist interested in the evolution of identities based on ideas of gender and ethnicity as they relate to the Westernisation of cultures. Tropical Hypeisms is a work that appreciates the complexities of those concepts and makes representations that are similarly intricate and elaborate.

There is certainly no watering down of what the artist wishes to say, which means that deciphering her consolidation of symbols can be challenging. Garcia rejects conventional approaches of berating and castigating the forces of domination, and attempts to present a personal conception and experience of what it is like to be outside of the mainstream, and the results are truly unique. Her show is charming yet bold, with a sensational cocktail of sounds and music by Mei Saraswati, and costumes by Matthew Stegh providing an aesthetic that is quite close to being original. Lighting could perhaps assist better with some of the more languid portions of the production, but Garcia ultimately wins us over with charisma, and the confident physicality of every sensual dance.

Invoking Carmen Miranda and Josephine Baker, Tropical Hypeisms is an exercise in locating the self through the deities and divas of one’s choosing. We look into mirrors that do not lie, but how we receive its reflective messages depends on what we want to see. We can accept the impositions of social norms and their requirements, or we can turn against them, to investigate something that corresponds with what we believe to be true. It is a question of soul, and of getting to the heart of the matter.

www.pact.net.au

Review: Ochres (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

bangarraVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Nov 27 – Dec 5, 2015
Choreographers: Russell Page, Stephen Page, Bernadette Walong-Sene (with traditional choreography by Djakapurra Munyarryun)
Cast: Elma Kris, Yolande Brown, Deborah Brown, Waangenga Blanco, Tara Gower, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley, Jasmin Sheppard, Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Luke Currie-Richardson, Nicola Sabatino, Beau Dean Riley Smit, Rikki Mason, Yolanda Lowatta, Rika Hamaguchi
Image by Zan Wimberley

Theatre review
Traditional Aboriginal practices often involve ochre, a material of great cultural significance most notably used as a colouring substance in art and ceremony. In Bangarra Dance Theatre’s four-act production Ochres, the substance is applied on bodies to represent a connection with ancestry and culture; the same bodies communicate with impressive presence and energy, powerful meanings about the land on which we live. As a non-narrative theatrical form, dance is often inseparable from spirituality. It is concerned with establishing meaning through a language that often circumvents the cerebral, to reach a universal faculty of purity, regardless of experience and creed.

Ochres was first performed 21 years ago. Its choreography (by Djakapurra Munyarryun, Russell Page, Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong-Sene) is informed by traditional Aboriginal dance and by contemporary, balletic Western styles, reflecting the dual nature of modern Aboriginal Australia. At the centre of the work is a meditation on time, with its evocation of the past blended into a portrayal of the present, and positioned alongside an inquiry into the future.

It is a confident and proud work that imposes on the stage, an identity characterised by qualities of fortitude, strength and intelligence, performed sensitively by a captivating ensemble, cohesive in technique and sensibility. A harmony in the group provides the work with its quiet but resolute poignancy, beautifully supported by a highly-accomplished design team. Jennifer Irwin’s costumes, Jacob Nash’s set and Joseph Mercurio’s lights, all contribute to the visual excellence of Ochres. Music by David Page brims with soulful creativity, magnificently showcased by superior technical facilities of the Carriageworks auditorium.

In the years between Ochres‘ première and its revival today, Bangarra Dance Theatre has gradually moved into the mainstream, bringing its unique voice to audiences far and wide, entertaining and enlightening us no matter who we are, or where we have come from. Its message of peace is inherent in its artistic ideology, and the part it plays in continuing efforts of reconciliation is not to be underestimated. Our response to a seminal work like Ochres must be correspondingly celebratory, and with all the support and respect that it rightfully deserves.

www.bangarra.com.au

Review: We, The Lost Company‏ (Clockfire Theatre Company)

clockfireVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Oct 13 – 31, 2015
Devisors: Emily Ayoub, Madeline Baghurst, Alicia González, Kate Worsley, Arisa Yura
Director: Emily Ayoub
Cast: Madeline Baghurst, Alicia González, Arisa Yura
Image by Geoff Magee Photography

Theatre review
Since time immemorial, we have danced in honour of the gods that watch over us. It is an acknowledgement of our vulnerabilities and reflects our hopes for better days during this time on earth. We, The Lost Company is an intertextual exploration into our relationship with water, finding inspiration from the paintings of Brett Whiteley to create a work of physical theatre informed by the disciplines of mime and dance. It is gently humorous but wildly imaginative. It touches on subjects of migration, ecology, community and ageing, revelling in the beauty of abstraction but powerfully connecting with its audience, if not in terms of meaning, then certainly with the level of engagement it manages to instil into what is usually a challenging form of performance art.

Music and sound by Ben Pierpoint is complex, evocative and spirited. His work controls our imagination, and leads us to grand and eccentric spaces within our minds that provide a context for the three dancers on stage. Charming anecdotes about water obtained from interviews with mature members of Sydney communities are woven into the soundtrack to anchor the production with a warm authenticity that keeps our shared humanity firmly inside what is being developed.

The dancers’ weird and wonderful physical language is a thoroughly amusing one that sustains a sense of intrigue and holds our attention for its entire fifty-minute duration. Their poetry is whimsical but ruggedly sincere, allowing us to understand its intentions from a drastically unconventional kind of theatrical expression. Arisa Yura’s very memorable but very short monologue in Japanese about childhood, the forces of nature, ice cream and beach balls, extends the theme of memory from the audio recordings, and touches us unexpectedly with its dramatically emotive and nostalgic pseudo drama. The production is full of adventure and sensitive innovation, but its lighting feels inadequate within the extravagance of its multi-disciplinary articulations. The space requires greater depth and colour to achieve a stronger sense of visceral lift off that is always just within reach.

To know something, does not necessitate the ability to put it into words. Call it a feeling, intuition, or a soul thing, art is fundamentally about communication and the modes through which communication happens. We, The Lost Company has vocabularies of its own that are refreshing, unique and dare we say, original, but what it speaks can be understood by all, and like the themes that it is concerned with, we are all embroiled in this mysterious undertaking as one.

www.venue505.com/theatre | www.clockfiretheatre.com

Review: Reflections (Primal Dance Company)

primaldanceVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 13, 2015
Choreographer: Alyssa Casey
Cast: Natasha Clancy, Cassandra Clarke, Tasmin Cummins, Caitlin Drysdale, Brianna Hatter, Danni Hegarty, Lucas Hughes, Emma Macpherson, Bryony Munro, Ryan Ophel, Zac Smith, Michael Stone, Georgie Walsh

Theatre review
Reflections features a series of dance sequences set to the recorded music of Hayden Tee’s “Generation WhY? Live” album, comprised mainly of 80’s hits interpreted with acoustic and orchestral arrangements by Nigel Ubrihien. The vocals are emotional and powerful, in the style of musical theatre that many are familiar with, and that same attitude is adopted by choreographer Alyssa Casey, who chooses to present pieces in a sincere and quite literal manner, in accordance with the themes of each song. Physical language is largely lyrical with influences from classical, ballroom and gymnastics adding to the movement schema. Casey is also responsible for costuming of the show, which works well to provide visual variation between numbers, but is most effective when minimal in approach.

It is a cast of exuberant and athletic dancers, extremely well-rehearsed and full of conviction in what they produce. Some have a tendency to express too much sentimentality, but there is no doubt that all are steely focussed and keen to put forward their best. The group of 13 is well utilised, with most members receiving a moment in the sun to showcase their individual talents, although the bigger numbers can feel overwhelming in its intimate venue. Memorable performers include Emma Macpherson and Michael Stone who bring confidence, professional polish and solid presences to the stage.

For all its technical proficiencies and impressive discipline, the work requires greater innovation and sophistication in order to deliver a sense of transcendence promised by the medium of dance. Much of its endeavours are derivative, and in this space of creativity, our senses seek originality over emulation. Each of us has an unrivalled familiarity with our bodies, but we need artists to shed new light on the capacities and meanings of all that is flesh. Dance is uniquely able to speak with us, body to body, and its continuing mission to defy convention is what makes it beautiful.

www.facebook.com/Primaldanceco

Review: Moondance – Isotopic Reflections‏ (De Quincey Co)

Venue: Erskineville Village Anglican Church (Erskineville NSW), September 4 – 19, 2015
Choreography: Tess de Quincey
Video Animation: Samuel James
Photography: Vsevolod Vlaskine
Sound: Vic McEwan
Cast: Tess de Quincey
Images by Vsevolod Vlaskine

Theatre review
We face the far end of the church. There are two narrow stained glass windows, and the central double doors are painted white, as is the wall on which it sits. A video is projected onto the entirety of that surface, composed of photography created from the moon’s light, the beautiful images we see are completely abstract, monochromatic blobs and scribbles that could mean nothing or everything, with sound that is more cinematic than musical, atmospheric and visceral in its transmission. A person emerges in a long, white hooded raincoat, devoid of gender, ethnicity and age, Tess de Quincey performs the majority of the piece with her back to us. She responds and reacts, attempting to understand her relationship with the imagery before her, and we ponder the connection between dancer and photography, human and moon.

Our appreciation of the work does not occur immediately. It is all too strange and silent, and we feel lost in the bareness of its audacious start. Every visual and aural element conspires to move our awareness away from everyday mundanity, and in time, we are unknowingly hypnotised. A meditative quality sets in, captivating our senses, but perhaps more importantly, our minds. We go through periods of thought, trying to create meaning in the sight of dancer against photographic patterns, and we go through periods of release, allowing our senses to experience things as they are, without the interference of logic. It is an unusual pleasure, emerging from the idiosyncrasy of de Quincey’s presence, drawing us in to share in her perspective of the world. In the show’s best moments, time stands still, and we fear for it to end. We want the indulgence to go on, and we want to luxuriate in the sense of elevation it provides, lulled away from our usual petty concerns, into a space of hallucinatory ethereality and eternal bliss.

Lunar tributes have existed since time immemorial. Life on earth is meaningful only when we reach beyond, for the stars and moon. We cannot understand ourselves only from within; humanity requires that we look outside to make sense of what we go through on this planet. Whether sending rockets to Mars or dancing our bodies, art must think of infinity, in order to locate significance, value, or magic. To be human, is to move beyond corporeality, sometimes towards the far reaches of the ether, even if only in our heads.

www.dequinceyco.net

Review: Dancendents (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pactVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), June 17 – 20, 2015
Choreographers: Flatline, Leah Landau, Rhiannon Newton
Cast: Flatline, Leah Landau, Rhiannon Newton
Image by Matt Cornell

Theatre review
In the search for a definition of art, Flatline’s work Drawn To Move relies on the exposure of process in dance choreography to give meaning to a completed work. Two pencil scribblings are displayed on a wall, emulating archetypal notions of the art establishment. From a fine art perspective, the pieces are primitive and ugly, but in the live drawing of the third, the creators reveal the rationale behind the pieces, rendering irrelevant the commodified hanging objects, and shifting attention to the dance, and time, behind the inanimate finished products.

In a charming parallel, Rhiannon Newton’s Assemblies For One Body is concerned with using the rehearsal process quite literally, to present a performance piece. Newton goes through repetitive movements, with facial expressions and an eyeline that demonstrates an inward focus, as she seeks to unlock motion and gesture for reaching an intangible target of perfection. Without the presentational vocabulary of a conventional show, Newton relies on an enduring vitality to keep her audience engaged. We are drawn in by the energy of her tenacious commitment in exploring body and space, and she fascinates us with an intelligent juxtaposition of sounds (rhythmic and otherwise) with her physicality. We can never fully grasp Newton’s mental processes in each moment, but she certainly encourages us to form personal narratives and interpretations in the presence of her visual elucidations.

Leah Landau’s approach in Summer Bone is decidedly different. Inspired by ideas about nature, wildlife, farming and food, the work is underlined by a serious and earnest environmental concern, but with manifestations on stage that are humorous and thoroughly whimsical. Landau creates language with her body, and communicates persuasively, basic concepts of conservation, that would otherwise struggle to find sophistication in more conventional paradigms. It is hard to find new perspectives on long-standing issues, but art can establish new depictions so that we understand them with refreshed interest. Beyond its political message, Landau’s is a delightful piece of physical theatre that captures imagination, and amuses sight. It is dance that breaks a few rules, so that we come to a renewed appreciation of the artist’s passions.

When theatre abandons narrative, we see more clearly, why we do the things we do, and what it means to make art. Modern life is all but usurped by capitalism, and we forget our humanity outside its gluttonous and all-consuming monetary imperatives. Reading abstract dance, is to explore reasons behind human behaviour. Allowing incoherence to transpire, within the restrain of truth, will deliver a kind of beauty and transcendental pleasure that is unique to the art form, and it is in its embrace that we are reminded of the deeper and more rewarding facets of life.

www.pact.net.au