Review: Listen! I’m Telling You Stories‏ (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pact4Venue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), July 20 – 25, 2015
Director: Katrina Douglas
Cast: Courtney Ammenhauser, Alicia Dulnuan Demou, Amber Jacobs, Carissa Licciardello, Jessica McKerlie, Tasha O’Brien, Mitchell Whitehead, Steve Wilson Alexander, Dubs Yunupingu
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Presented by a group of young artists studying the theatrical arts through the exploration of spacial awareness, physical training and team rapport, Listen! I’m Telling You Stories‏ is an earnest demonstration of their journey as apprentices of performance. Each creates a short vignette offering varying degrees of insight into their life and mind, but it is not the content of what they have to say that is actually fascinating. The show is a cohesive and sensitive amalgamation of nine lives brought together temporally, and we witness their creative energies in motion, all focused on generating something purposeful, at least from their own perspective. What results is a succinct work, under an hour, that is more about practice than communication. Their approach is a sincere one, and although engaging for its duration, no great resonance is sustained beyond the curtain call.

There is a beautiful uniformity in the ensemble’s voice and attitude for the piece. Our attention goes to a singular entity of the whole, even though disparate elements are always present in the work’s intelligent plurality. Direction by Katrina Douglas brings out the strengths of her performers and successfully balances the individual with the group, so that the piece always feels even. The work of designers, Amber Silk (lighting) and Peter Kennard (sound) are prominent features that give the production polish and depth, in the absence of a compelling script. Our eyes and ears are ingeniously and constantly surprised in the show, and the sense of wonder provided by the team is a notable achievement, but there is nothing that seems to be able to connect on a more meaningful, or perhaps emotional, level.

On many levels, Listen! I’m Telling You Stories‏ appears to be experimental, with inventive modes of expression a distinguishing feature. At the same time, there is a safeness to the production’s artistic choices that keeps it from being more exuberant or idiosyncratically memorable. Artists in training need to understand rules and gain skills that will help them attain their visions for the stage, but often it is in the calculated abandonment of those standards that something spectacular can materialise.

www.pact.net.au

Review: An Hour With Kay‏ (Kworks / The Old 505 Theatre)

kayarmstrongVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), June 30 – July 5, 2015
Playwright: Kay Armstrong
Director: Kay Armstrong
Cast: Kay Armstrong

Theatre review
Meanings can be found anywhere, and in anything, but it requires that the observer draws their own conclusions on what, if anything, is being said. An Hour With Kay is abstract and absurd. The fact that time itself is highlighted by its very inclusion within the title of the work, makes us consider how we value those 60 minutes, and whether the artist Kay Armstrong justifies her procurement of the audience’s presence. Indeed, our presence is an important factor in the piece, which is characterised by an unusual freedom in Armstrong’s eagerness in incorporating our bodies and minds into the creation of a kind of theatre that is on some level, about the subversion of passive viewership. A quality of democracy figures heavily in her art. Maybe we are not in control of the action at all times, but we are certainly the ones who have to decide what it is that we experience.

Armstrong is a strong performer with excellent conviction, but she is uninterested in manipulating the resolutions we may or may not attain from participating in her work. It is about the here and now, and those 60 minutes of activity and energy that we are involved with. What happens after, is entirely reliant on our own creativity. The work is fascinating and engaging, with tempo that changes regularly, so that it evades predictability. Armstrong’s ability to surprise at every juncture keeps us intrigued, and a gentle sense of instability demands that we are attentive to what she might unleash upon us next.

An Hour With Kay satisfies with its concoction of all that is weird and wonderful, yet it challenges us, both in terms of our notions of components and definitions theatre and art, and also of our expectations as public consumers of culture. Art has the privilege of being able to take any form, and to break any rule. It is however, required to reconstitute something new in place of what it seeks to dismantle. The new is never easily understandable, but we can hope for it to connect in some way, and Kay Armstrong’s show reacquaints us with joy and wonder, which seem to become increasingly scarce with each passing year.

www.venue505.com/theatre | www.kworks.co

Review: Dining [Uns]-Table‏ (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pact1Venue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), June 17 – 20, 2015
Choreographer: Cloé Fournier
Director: Cloé Fournier
Cast: Cloé Fournier
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Events from childhood have the potential to shape a person’s entire life, no matter how innocuous they might seem at the time. Little souls have a kind of sensitivity that adults forget, and things that we do and say can have a lasting effect beyond any of our intentions. Cloé Fournier’s Dining [Uns]-Table is an exorcistic ‏work that draws inspiration from memories of a Christmas party with family members many years ago. Fournier works from a base of dance and physical theatre, but she establishes a definite sense of narrative, to provide her audience with reference points that allow us to connect with the surprising range of emotions that are being expressed. The style of art on stage is experimental and its language is thrillingly original, but all its moments are communicative and we read the unconventional presentation from an instinctive and familiar space of interior intimacy. Fournier’s exploration of her personal memory, is in conversation with our own remembrances, and the commonalities we are able to locate, are divine.

If essential ingredients for theatre are inventiveness and a spirit for adventure, Dining [Uns]-Table scores top marks. Furthermore, it is performed with exceptional gusto and flair, by a dancer whose talents are diverse and irrepressible. Fournier’s physicality is flawlessly employed by her own choreography, which is in turn, always thoughtful and refreshing. Her presence is that of a seasoned actor, with the ability to convey story and sentiments clearly and succinctly, always keeping us enthralled. The artist has a precise approach that leaves no stone unturned, and the show feels exhaustive both in terms of what it wishes to depict, and how it does so. The experience is fascinating and all-consuming, and by the end, we are completely satisfied and leave the space thoroughly impressed.

When we approach a work of art, we hope to see a reflection; not an exact facsimile of selves, but a representation of the human condition that we can relate to. This requires both creator and viewer to take a step forward, and to find a point of contact that will spark imagination and hopefully discover something meaningful. In Cloé Fournier’s work, we get in touch with elements that are fundamental to the construction of our identities, shared or personal. The depth that she leads us to, comes not as a result of the divulgement of details from her own experiences, but from the way she seeks to move us in the space that we temporarily encounter. There is so much power in the meeting of strangers at the theatre, and Dining [Uns]-Table agitates an eruption that brings new definition to how things are made and received on Australian stages.

www.pact.net.au

Review: The Dream (The Australian Ballet)

ausballetVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Apr 29 – May 16, 2015
Choreographer: Frederick Ashton (reproduced by Francis Croese)
Image by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Frederick Ashton’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream distils all the magic and fantasy of Titania and Oberon’s Fairyland, and uses the ethereal qualities of ballet to provide lyrical expression. Familiar characters are vividly brought to life in dance form, with performers from The Australian Ballet investing in their roles surprising colour and fitting charm. Particularly engaging is Chengwu Guo as Puck, whose powerful and nuanced work is an effervescent highlight of the production.

Retaining original visual design elements for the programme is perhaps unexpectedly effective, especially for Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, which is presented as a prelude to The Dream. Sophie Fedorovitch’s delightful set and costumes for the 1946 piece looks as modern today as it must have seven decades ago, with a stunning backdrop reflective of the early emergence of post modern design at the end of the second World War and in the wake of the Art Deco movement. Ashton’s work features six dancers, all of whom remain on stage for its entire duration, and although adventurous and dynamic by nature, its presentation on this occasion seems too aloof, and energy levels too consistent, to portray the multi-dimensional qualities of its choreography.

The first (of three) Ashton works in the schedule is Monotones II, created in the mid 1960’s to the music of Erik Satie. With just three dancers and a disarming starkness to its visual language, the piece is absolutely unforgiving, and requires of its performers, the utmost in precision, focus and cohesion. When moments coalesce, we obtain the kind of sublime beauty that we seek of the art form, and as inevitable imperfections reveal themselves, one is reminded of the “wabi-sabi” philosophy from Japanese aesthetic principles. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also gives greater meaning to the rest that are present. Perhaps more than any other discipline, ballet’s incessant pursuit of perfection is fundamental to its very meaning and existence. For those of us who deny the possibility of perfection (and hence probably not possess the traits required of professional dancers), it is that very act of pursuance that appeals. The spirit is always willing and pure in our best performers, so even if the body can never live up to our abstract fabrications, what we witness in good theatre is always that passionate belief in something greater, something borne of the brave hearts of our most courageous idealists.

www.australianballet.com.au

Review: Swan Lake (The Australian Ballet)


Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 20 – 28, 2015
Choreographer: Graeme Murphy
Images by Branco Gaica and Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review

Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake is deeply romantic, with a narrative involving a love triangle, savage betrayals, and a descent into madness. It depicts emotions that many are familiar with, only with an intensity that few can bear to experience. Having established a framework with Tchaikovsky’s music from 1876, Murphy’s creation is a fantastical universe based on the old tale of a young maiden’s heartbreak, drawing on its supernatural elements and the woeful tragedy that befalls her. First performed in 2002, this recent incarnation of Swan Lake is faithful to classical styles, but also modern in its sensibilities. Murphy’s characteristic use of fabrics is incorporated into his choreography on several occasions, the physical expression of insanity is refreshingly unconventional, and the removal of sorcerers and curses from its story to provide a contemporised context of mental illness, all contribute to a production that is of and for our times.

The work is operatic and epic in tone, and its duration is certainly not brief. The three-act saga can feel self-indulgent in the later portions of the piece, but execution on all fronts is consistently of a high standard. Kristian Fredrikson’s sets and costumes, and Damien Cooper’s lights in the century old Capitol Theatre is a dream materialised before our eyes. As a thing of beauty, Swan Lake is intricately constructed to deliver a luxuriant feast for the senses, appealing especially to our need for traditional aesthetics that offer comfort, as well as offering a sublime sensuality that is best represented by those who know their bodies best.

Dancers of The Australian Ballet are vibrant and enthusiastic, almost rhapsodic in their connection with their assignment. Their enthusiasm is a source of infectious joy, and there are few pleasures in life sweeter than witnessing accomplished dancers caught in a moment of euphoria. Madeleine Eastoe as the forlorn Odette, proves herself to be a formidable talent with physical abilities that enthral, an impressive capacity to convey emotion, and most of all, an innate understanding of grace that brings a sense of the sublime to her performance. Eastoe has a quietly magnetic presence, but she delivers all the dynamic range required of the choreography, often surprising us by the power that radiates from her slight being.

Odette’s retreat into a secure space of her imagination is symbolic of the increasingly insular ways we live our lives. With the evolution of technology, and the increase in wealth in many cities, we are more than ever before, disconnected from one another. The ballet is a social institution, an enjoyment of which cannot be replaced by any screen of any size. Life can seem too daunting and reality can sometimes be too painful, but artists do what they do, so that we can enter into their world momentarily to find an instance of contact. It is magic to see world class talent in action on a grand old stage, and it is also magic to sit in the dark with many hundreds of others who are for a few minutes, looking at and hoping for the same things.

www.australianballet.com.au

Review: PUNCTURE (Legs On The Wall / Form Dance Projects / Vox – Sydney Philharmonia Choirs)

Venue: Riverside Theatre (Parramatta NSW), Jan 21 – 25, 2015
Director: Patrick Nolan
Choreographer: Kathryn Puie
Composer: Stefan Gregory
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Dancers are at the forefront in the exploration of theatrical space. Without the burden of words and narratives, they open up senses to what the physical presence of things and bodies can do on a stage, and how we communicate between persons, to create meaning where little or none had existed before. Puncture features a great number of people, some are dancers, and the others singers, introduced as though emerging from the audience, and we are encouraged to identify with them, and to read their performance as though what they present have come from us, even if we feel secure in our seats with temporary passivity. The mix of characters features a beautifully diverse range of ages and ethnicities that reflect the breadth of human experience, and of Australian life. The vocalists in particular, are almost a visual copy of the viewing crowd, and efforts at incorporating them into the dance, provide some of the more emotional moments of the piece.

Patrick Nolan and Kathryn Puie have created in Puncture, something that is a little less self-conscious, and a little more accessible than what we have come to expect of modern dance. They investigate the notion of inclusiveness to address the art of performance, as well as the consumption side of show business. It is a noble ambition to blur the lines of where the show starts and where it ends, but redefining audienceship is a difficult exercise. While not always successful, the ideology of breaking barriers provides strong impetus that shapes the show into something that feels adventurous and earnest. We are at our most engaged when the cast tackles the unconventional. The incorporation of rigging (executed behind the scenes by Jon Blake and Felix Kerdijk) to lift bodies 4 metres away from the ground, the soprano on an aerial hoop, and the tender interchanges between choristers and dancers; we are kept fascinated and entertained.

The 22-strong choir is led by Music Director Elizabeth Scott and Composer Stefan Gregory, with accompaniment on piano by Luke Byrne and on percussion by Bree Van Reyk. The marriage between what we hear and see is wonderfully cohesive, with the music at its most successful when it ventures into the avant garde. Even at its most daring, all the sounds are elegantly resolved, except when words like “hello” and “love” are used, disrupting the abstract beauty that wishes to be experienced in personal ways. It is noteworthy that there are many intriguing personalities in the choir, who could have been featured more heavily in the work’s choreography. Trained dancers tend to lose their individualities in the very discipline they invest in, and the juxtaposition provided on this occasion with non-dancers on the same stage is a main feature. Getting the singers to do more with their bodies is probably challenging, but it is precisely the idea of redefinition that would be elevated further, and the meanings that one draws from Puncture can therefore be more powerful.

Many in the show are dedicated and accomplished dancers, but this is not a piece about athleticism or superhuman faculties. It is an expression of how we live, feel and breathe as individuals and as collectives. Its themes are not always clear, but it articulates its concerns with sensitivity and focus. These artists intend to show us something important in their inimitable ways, and if we think that everything important can be put into words, then they have proven us wrong.

www.legsonthewall.com.au / www.form.org.au / www.sydneyphilharmonia.com

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

sgs-best2014

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

End

sgs-best2014a

Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

End

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

Review: Wouldman (The Old 505 Theatre)

wouldman1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 17 – 28, 2014
Playwright: Justin Buchta
Director: Justin Buchta
Cast: Justin Buchta

Theatre review
Wouldman is like a super hero. His costume is made of wood and in it, he would do many things. Justin Buchta’s very unique one-man show is an amalgamation of many disciplines and forms. There are influences from mime, dance and mask work. He even does yoga and attempts auto-fellatio (simulated). There are songs and poetry, and stories are sometimes narrated but the show is not at all narrative driven. It is abstract, almost dadaist, with segments that flow into each other, some chapters more decipherable than others. This is a fascinating show that is frequently funny and amusing, with an expansively creative approach to communication.

Buchta is an extremely energetic performer, who uses his solid presence to give the production an air of impulsiveness. He seems to leave many elements to chance, creating an atmosphere that is consistently surprising and alive. Buchta keeps us thoroughly engaged even while he bewilders us with his avant garde antics, and we respond with a complex mix of thoughts and emotions. The show’s style of ambiguity is an inviting one that can be challenging at times, but always with sufficient frames of reference to construe meanings.

The artist’s creativity is characterised by a sense of boundless freedom, one that does not require adherence to conventions and expectations. Buchta is concerned with the act of expression itself, and meanings are left to fashion their own lives. This is an art that encourages open hearts and minds in order that interaction can occur. Justin Buchta proves himself in Wouldman to be risky and fearless, but it remains to be seen if his audience is equally gallant.

www.venue505.com/theatre

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