‘Blue Love.’ Shaun Parker & Lucia Mastrantone

17 August 2017. Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

I have to admit to being curious as to what Blue Love would be like. The last time I saw Shaun Parker he was a dancer with Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre and, for a whole variety of reasons, I had not seen the works he had performed in or made after leaving the company and taking on his own, independent career. Well, I have to say I loved what he presented in Blue Love. It was outrageous at times, very clever at others, sometimes hilarious, and always entertaining.

Much of the pre-show media mentioned that it was a multi-media experience, which it was, especially as a result of the three short films that were screened during the evening. Parker had made these films close to 20 years ago and they showed him and his original co-performer, Jo Stone, engaged in various social activities, occasionally of a somewhat dubious nature. But, as interesting as these films were as a look-back at a certain lifestyle from the 1970s, I was more taken with other aspects of the show.

The way in which Parker involved the audience was a bit like a children’s pantomime for grown-ups, beginning as we entered the auditorium and were welcomed as guests at an intimate party in the home of Glenn Flune (Parker) and his wife Rhonda (Lucia Mastrantone). And you wouldn’t believe the people who were there! As people walked in and settled into their seats, Parker kept spotting (imaginary) celebrities—from Cate Blanchett to Pauline Hanson! Warming up to the laughter all this caused, Parker continued throughout the piece to ask questions of and make comments to the audience. Perhaps the most startlingly hilarious was ‘Would you like a grape?’ during a near nude scene between the Flunes. Glenn Flune’s only covering (apart from shoes and socks) was a strategically placed bunch of grapes. He faced the audience displaying his grapes and asked the question.

Shaun Parker and Lucia Mastrantone in 'Blue Love'. Photo: © David James McCarthy

Shaun Parker and Lucia Mastrantone in Blue Love, Canberra 2017. Photo: © David James McCarthy

I also loved the dance moves that peppered the piece. In fact the dancing in Blue Love was often quite physically demanding. There were many times when Parker lifted Mastrantone and flung her this way and that—not easy by any means. And both performers just took those moves in their stride. Then there were the costumes, so redolent of the 1970s. Mastrantone wore a blue mini-length dress and boots, Parker a brown suit. Then there were the flowers in the hair, the fox fur wrap, the hairstyles, and so on.

Shaun Parker and Lucia Mastrantone in Blue Love, Canberra 2017. Photo: © David James McCarthy

But in the end Blue Love set out to examine human relationships, or those between a man and a woman, in a search for perfect love. There were the cosy bits and the not so cosy, and the unfolding of the ups and downs of the couple led to the finale when the dialogue was composed pretty much entirely of lines from popular songs, mainly from the 1970s with some a little earlier and some a little later. Much laughter here too—laughter that we recognised the sentences, laughter at how smart it all was? And with the final exhortation to love the one you love the Flunes retired to their bedroom.

Blue Love was just a wonderfully entertaining show, behind which there was a clever mind at work focusing the show in a certain direction. I occasionally could hear Meryl Tankard’s voice behind it all, which is not surprising given Parker’s long association with Tankard. This is not to say that Parker does not a have a voice of his own. But there was a wonderful association with what Tankard was able to do—present a larrikin show, wonderfully Australian on the surface but with a more serious subtext. More please.

Michelle Potter, 20 August 2017

Shaun Parker and Lucia Mastrantone in Blue Love, Canberra 2017. Photo © David James McCarthy

‘La Fille mal gardée.’ Queensland Ballet

9 August 2017. Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

It is always refreshing to see a different version of a well-known work. And so it was with Queensland Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée. The version that is well-known to many Australian dance-goers is by Frederick Ashton, which Ashton made for the Royal Ballet in 1960, and which has been in the repertoire of the Australian Ballet since 1967 (although it hasn’t been shown for several years). On the other hand, Queensland Ballet, in a co-production with West Australian Ballet, staged a relatively new version by French-born, freelance choreographer Marc Ribaud, which he made in 2000 for the Nice Opera Ballet.

Ribaud has retained the basic narrative. It follows the story of Lise and Colas who wish to marry, but whose wishes are thwarted by Lise’s mother, the Widow Simone—she would prefer that Lise marry the eccentric and wealthy Alain whose greatest love is for his umbrella. But the overall tone of Ribaud’s Fille, which is set in the south of France in the 1950s, is quite different from that in the Ashton work. The choreography for Ribaud’s work is classically based but is boisterous and full of fast-paced dancing. It seems to fill the stage in an entirely different way from Ashton’s work, which seems very English in its rather gentle and considered choreographic approach. Ribaud’s Fille, at least with the cast I saw, also has strong overtones of slapstick. While Ashton gives us references to pantomime, his are much more restrained. Perhaps more subtle?

Ribaud has also retained some audience favourites from the Ashton version, albeit with changes. The famous clog dance is there although the Widow is accompanied by four village lads who tap away beside her as she goes through her clog routine. The chicken dance is also there but in a variant form. There are no dancers dressed in chicken outfits, just four male friends of Colas and Lise, dressed in jeans and giving us chicken-like gestures—chins poking forward as they move, hands with fingers spread to represent a chicken’s comb and so on. It was hilarious and very clever.

As Lise, Lina Kim with her smooth and lyrical technique was absolutely charming—it was her first performance in the role too. She showed such a variety of emotion, depending on who else was involved at any one time, and her mime scene in the last act, when she imagines what might be should she marry Colas, was just gorgeous, as was her later embarrassment when she thought Colas had seen her. Shane Wuerthner was an ardent Colas and in the opening pas de deux set the scene beautifully for what was to follow. I was impressed, in fact, with all Ribaud’s pas de deux, which often reminded me of the style of Bournonville as so often Lise and Colas danced side by side in a complementary manner rather than the man having a more supportive role. That is not to say, of course, that there were no lifts and, in fact, when they occurred they varied from soaring lifts to shapes, often with upturned feet, in which Lise’s body wrapped round or curled up to that of Colas.

Despite a little trouble with his umbrella (it broke) and his hat, Ze Wu gave a strong performance as Alain and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future—his technical range looks prodigious. The umbrella and hat problems were beautifully and professionally handled by the cast, to the extent that the Widow Simone adopted the broken umbrella and stroked it lovingly! Joel Woellner as the Widow was totally outrageous. He was the slapstick hero(ine) and milked the audience at every opportunity. And of course the audience loved it and responded with laughter and cheers. And I enjoyed that Lina Kim gave back the way she did every time she was scolded.

Costumes by Lexi De Silva, sets by Richard Roberts and lighting by Jon Buswell provided a great background for the dancers of Queensland Ballet. Music was performed by Camerata—Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra and conducted with his usual skill by Nigel Gaynor. This Fille is a little gem and Queensland Ballet continues to show what a terrific company it has become. Bouquets to all.

(I have no images of the cast I saw, unfortunately. But below are some from another cast.)

Jack Lister as the Widow Simone and Camilo Ramos as Alain in 'La Fille mal gardee. Photo: David Kelly
Victor Estevez as Colas in La Fille mal gardee. Queensland ballet 2017. Photo: David Kelly

 

Artists of Queensland Ballet in 'La Fille mal gardee', 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

Artists of Queensland Ballet in La Fille mal gardée, 2017. Photos: © David Kelly

Michelle Potter, 12 August 2017

Featured image: Artists of Queensland Ballet in La Fille mal gardée, 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

'This Poiosned Sea.' Quantume Leap, 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

‘This Poisoned Sea.’ Quantum Leap

27 July 2017, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

This Poisoned Sea, Quantum Leap’s major show for 2017, took as ‘a launchpad’ (as the media says) Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Three choreographers, Claudia Alessi, Eliza Sanders and Jack Ziesing, presented separate sections, which were woven together into an evening length production, without interval, by artistic director Ruth Osborne, and with input from dramaturg Pip Buining. It was an ambitious undertaking.

The focus of the evening was largely on contemporary environmental issues, a focus that comes easily to mind given the subtext of the poem (despite that it was written at the end of the eighteenth century). But in the end we saw several different approaches, especially in terms of how references back to the poem were made.

Claudia Alessi’s work ‘My own private albatross’ made the most obvious statement about environmental issues, and perhaps, too, the most obvious reference to the poem when a voice-over clearly recited lines from the Coleridge work. Alessi’s section, which occupied the middle of the program, concerned the amount of plastic waste and other non-recyclable materials in the sea, and the effects that material is having on, for example, sea creatures. It grew out of the shock and concern Alessi felt at the amount of rubbish in the seas off Christmas Island, where she had recently spent time. The dancers used props frequently, including a long string of plastic bags and other detritus, which they dragged across the stage at various intervals.

Choreographically, however, Alessi’s section was the least interesting of the three for me. I found the movement a little too simplistic and it seemed like an addition, rather than an intrinsic part of the section.

Jack Ziesing’s ‘A hellish thing’ was the last section before Osborne’s finale. With its ongoing references to melting icebergs and black oil spills, it took quite a black view of today’s environmental issues.  His work seemed the least concerned with the poem itself and more completely with a twenty-first century perspective.

Jack Ziesing's A hellish thing from This Poisoned Sea, Quantum Leap 2017. Photo © Bec Thompson

Scene from Jack Ziesing’s ‘A hellish thing’ from This Poisoned Sea, Quantum Leap 2017. Photo: © Bec Thompson

The oil spills, represented by lengths of black cloth, dominated right up to the end of Ziesing’s section. The dancers draped them around their bodies, sometimes covering themselves entirely, until at the end one dancer found herself alone shrouded in black, apparently sheltering under the very material that is degrading the environment. Ziesing’s choreography was quite powerful and the dancers had some strong group sections, which they performed with gusto.

Jack Ziesing's A hellish thing from This Poisoned Sea, Quantum Leap 2017. Photo © Bec Thompson

Scene from Jack Ziesing’s ‘A hellish thing’ from This Poisoned Sea, Quantum Leap 2017. Photo © Bec Thompson

For me the standout section, however, was that choreographed by Eliza Sanders, which she had entitled ‘The poem is within us’. It followed immediately after Ruth Osborne’s introductory passage as the first section made by the commissioned choreographers. ‘The poem within us’ was subtle. It didn’t try to force us into anything, it didn’t try to be didactic, and it didn’t try to cover too many ideas within one short piece. The enduring image was that of an open mouth—’And every tongue through utter drought,/Was withered at the root’ says the poem. Was it a silent scream? Was it making the comment that the destruction of the environment is not being heard? So many thoughts surfaced.

Choreographically, too, ‘The poem is within us’ wasn’t full of forceful movement, but focused on changing patterns and on building groupings of dancers. The one jarring element was the use of live speech. A few lines of the poem were quoted by one of the dancers, but this is a trap for the unwary I think. It is never easy to hear clearly from certain parts of the auditorium and the voice-over recording that Alessi used was by far the better way to go. But that element aside,  Sanders takes an unusual approach to her work and I think she is a choreograph to watch.

There was much to admire about This Poisoned Sea in terms of the collaborative elements. Mark Dyson’s lighting was often spectacular, and I especially liked the black and white floor pattern he conjured up at one stage. Cate Clelland’s costumes were also an excellent addition to the overall work. The pants worn by all the dancers were cut in a subtle way so that they made passing reference to costumes from centuries ago, while the addition of extra elements (the black belts in Ziesing’s work for example) distinguished each section from the others.

This Poisoned Sea was an ambitious undertaking. But it remains in my mind as one of the best shows Quantum Leap has presented. The use of a dramaturg gave the work coherence, and the evening was well structured so that the work moved smoothly from the subtlety and beauty of Sanders, to the obvious from Alessi, to a strong contemporary comment from Ziesing.

Michelle Potter, 30 July 2017

Featured image: Scene from Eliza Sander’s ‘The poem is within us’ from This Poisoned Sea. Quantum Leap, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

'This Poiosned Sea.' Quantume Leap, 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

‘The Winter’s Tale.’ The Royal Ballet in Australia

6 July 2017 (matinee and evening), Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

There is much to admire about The Winter’s Tale, Christopher Wheeldon’s balletic translation of William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. For a start, the mood is often absolutely gripping—often in an ‘edge of the seat’ manner. It is also just brilliantly performed by artists of the Royal Ballet in both a technical sense, and in terms of the emotional involvement of everyone on stage. In addition, the visual effects, especially the use of designer Basil Twist’s painted silks that dropped down to indicate the sea or to allow for a change of place, were captivating, as was the use of film footage throughout.

It is a complex story about the relations between the Kings of Sicilia and Bohemia, the breakdown of their friendship and the final reconciliation, along with all the intrigue and jealousy, the sea journeys, and the chance occurrences that attend the breakdown. But the clarity with which the story unfolded was outstanding. That the story was so easily understood was partly as a result of the choreography and partly as a result of how Wheeldon had selected events from the play and added links between them. It was exhilarating to see, for example, how Wheeldon handled the passage of time before the events he had chosen to focus on had taken place. In the opening prologue we watched as two young princes, initially playing together, were replaced by two grown men. It was a simple ploy but so effective in showing, in addition to the passage of time, that the friendship between the two kings had developed since childhood, which is why we encounter them together in Act I in the palace of Leontes, King of Sicilia, initially enjoying each other’s company.

Act I was the strongest of the three acts and a clear highlight was the choreography for Leontes (Bennet Gartside, matinee and evening). When he began to suspect that the baby being carried by his pregnant wife, Hermione (Marianela Nuñez, matinee and evening), was not his but that of Polixenes, his friend and King of Bohemia, his rage and jealousy were expressed through angular movements, clenched hands, slinking movements, and depraved twists of the body.

Laura Morera (evening) gave a strong performance as Paulina, head of Hermione’s household, especially in her attack on Leontes as he banished Hermione, and when he could not bear to look at the newly born child, Perdita. Nuñez as Hermione danced with refinement and accepted her banishment with the grace and strength of a queen. I admired, too, the motherly affection she showed to her son Mamillius in the early stages of Act I.

But for me the standout performance in Act I came from Ryoichi Hirano (evening) as Polixenes. He held my attention from the moment he came on stage and I loved the way he executed the choreography, highlighting as he did the rather more eccentric choreography he was given as the King of Bohemia. In fact, his emphasis on those choreographic elements that seemed more folkloric than those given to the residents of Sicilia foreshadowed what was to take place in Act II, which was set in Bohemia. In addition, his duet with Hermione, as Leontes lurked in the background or peered from behind statues, was passionately danced and had sexual overtones to the extent that it made Leontes’ jealousy seem to have some basis in truth. Such movement by Hirano highlighted Gartside’s unsavoury loiterings and suggested what was going through Leontes’ mind.

In Act II the dancing didn’t falter. Beatriz Stix-Brunell (evening) as Perdita and Vadim Muntagirov (evening) as Florizel danced sumptuously, with Muntagirov soaring across the stage and sweeping Stix-Brunell off her feet (literally as well as figuratively). But again my attention was drawn to Hirano who made me smile as he attempted to disguise himself in shepherd’s clothing to spy on his son Florizel who was courting Perdita. That hat didn’t seem to fit his kingly head and he seemed a little bamboozled by it all.

Wheeldon’s choreography for the groups of shepherds and shepherdesses in this act was pleasant enough and certainly was in folkloric mode. But after such a powerful Act I, it seemed all too much like a traditional three-act ballet where at some stage everyone has to have a jolly good time.

Back in Sicilia in Act III, conflicts and concerns are resolved and there is eventually a marriage (I think—everyone was dressed in white) between Perdita and Florizel. But the most interesting part of this act concerned the return of Hermione, disguised at first as a statue. It made for an engaging re-connection between Hermione and Leontes, gently manouevered by Paulina. In fact there was a curious connection between Paulina and Leontes who seemed to lean on her (in fact choreographically he did lean on her) for support at the beginning of the act. But his contrition was made clear and he danced with Hermione in a final pas de deux.

Marianela Nuñez as Hermione and Bennet Gartside as Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, Act III. The Royal Ballet. Photo: © ROH/Tristram Kenton

As in Act II, the dancing in Act III was pretty much faultless and a pleasure to watch. But again it was Hirado as Polixenes who attracted my attention. I admired the way he stormed in looking for Florizel in order to drag him back to Bohemia and declined at first Leontes’ attempts at reconciliation, but then mellowed when he realised that Perdita had royal blood. It was a powerful performance from him from start to finish.

The Royal Ballet’s touring program presented audiences with an interesting juxtaposition of ballets. Both Woolf Works and The Winter’s Tale are contemporary (that is of today) productions but The Winter’s Tale remains within a certain traditional mode—a three-act narrative, moving along logically, and having some balletic predictability about its structure. On the other hand Woolf Works pushes boundaries and makes demands of us. We have to suspend many preconceived ideas about how to see and think about ballet. Both modes of presentation have a place but, while I sat transfixed by The Winter’s Tale, twice, what Wayne McGregor presented in Woolf Works is how I want dance to move ahead.

Michelle Potter, 9 July 2017

Featured image: Set for Act II, The Winter’s Tale. The Royal Ballet. Photo: © ROH/Johan Persson

Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Alessandra Ferri and Francesca Hayward in 'Woolf Works' Act I. The Royal Ballet, Brisbane 2017. Photo: © Darren Thomas

‘Woolf Works.’ The Royal Ballet in Australia

30 June 2017, Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

What a pleasure it was to see Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works again, and to have one’s first impression strengthened. Woolf Works remains for me one of those exceptional works that reveals new insights with every new viewing. In Brisbane, as part of the program by the Royal Ballet on its visit to Australia, it was performed with all the panache and brilliance I have come to expect from this absolutely world class company.

Casting for the Brisbane opening was, with the major exception of Sarah Lamb who did not appear due to injury, largely the same as that which British audiences would know as ‘first cast’ with Alessandra Ferri in the lead as Clarissa Dalloway. Looking back at my review from earlier this year, at this link, I stand by what I wrote then. But below are some aspects of the work that I loved this time, which I didn’t notice to the same extent earlier.

Act I: ‘I now/I then’ (based on Mrs Dalloway)

  • Sitting much closer to the action on this occasion, I admired the complexity of Wayne McGregor’s choreography. There were fascinating small movements of the hands and fingers, for example, and the dancers showed every tiny movement with great clarity and with a real sense of pleasure in performing them.
  • Truly satisfying was the way in which the ending of this first act returned to, but reversed the sequence of and brought new understanding to the opening moments. As ‘I now/I then’ begins Clarissa Dalloway stands on stage, a solitary, reflective figure. She is then joined by the main characters we will see interacting with her throughout the act, in particular the young Clarissa (Beatriz Stix-Brunell) and a close friend (Francesca Hayward), and her two male love interests (Federico Bonelli and Gary Avis). They all dance with a carefree demeanour, and engage in a youthful manner with each other. But as we approach the end of this act, those characters return and dance together in a kind of pas de cinq, weaving in and out amongst each other, joining hands at times, seemingly more closely connected to each other than in the opening moments. Then, one by one they leave the stage and Clarissa is left alone, still reflective, still solitary. But we now understand her thoughts.

Act II: Becomings (based on Orlando)

  • While I was previously full of admiration for the dancing of Steven McRae, this time I was overwhelmed by his astounding abilities. Again there were some small choreographic complexities that I didn’t notice before, the suggestion of shaking legs was one, and McRae made those movements very clear. But this time I especially admired his spectacularly fluid upper body, his exceptionally flexible limbs, and the way he powered down the stage at one point to begin the next section. And his first pas de deux with Natalia Osipova was a sensational performance (from both of them).

Steven McRae in Woolf Works Act II. The Royal Ballet, Brisbane 2017. Photo Darren Thomas

Steven McRae in Woolf Works Act II (Becomings). The Royal Ballet, Brisbane 2017. Photo: © Darren Thomas

  • I was struck this time too by the way in which the passing of time—the novel Orlando moves across some five centuries—was handled in the ballet. Time moved along as a result of Lucy Carter’s spectacular lighting design, but also in part with costuming. When the curtain went up all characters were wearing Elizabethan costume, but as the act developed elements of the Elizabethan attire were progressively lost. Slowly a more contemporary look became obvious. But it was a beautifully slow and changing progression so that even at the end there were still small traces of earlier times—the hint of a ruff at the neckline for example. Some things never change.
  • In a similar vein, I was surprised by the way the gender changes that Orlando undergoes in the novel were addressed in the ballet. They were suggested again by costuming when small black tutu-like additions to plain contemporary costumes were worn by both male and female dancers, for example. But most startling for me was the fact that there were moments when Steven McRae seemed to take on a female role in a pas de deux. His partner was male but McRae was lifted as he had previously lifted Osipova. It was simply spectacular dancing from McRae, but my mind kept turning back to Osipova’s movements. It was a brilliant moment in the choreography.

ACT III: ‘Tuesday’ (based on The Waves)

  • Again with ‘Tuesday’ I saw much more in the choreography than I had previously. This time I especially loved the opening pas de deux between Ferri and Bonelli. I watched with pleasure as he held her in his outstretched arms, carried her on his back and supported her as she lay along  the side of his body. Then, in the same pas de deux, there were those captivating variations on what we have come to regard as the end pose of a regular fish dive. McGregor seems to have a mind that never sees a pose as final: there are always variations to be had.

Woolf Works is a breathtaking work of art, fabulously danced by a great company. I hope I get to see it again because I know I will continue to find  more and more to ponder over, wonder at, and be moved by.

Alessandra Ferri and artists of the Royal Ballet in 'Woolf Works' Act III. Brisbane 2017. Photo: © Darren Thomas

 

Alessandra Ferri and artists of the Royal Ballet in Woolf Works Act III (Tuesday). Brisbane 2017. Photo: © Darren Thomas

Michelle Potter, 2 July 2017

Featured image: Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Alessandra Ferri and Francesca Hayward in Woolf Works Act I (I now/I then). The Royal Ballet, Brisbane 2017. Photo: © Darren Thomas

Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Alessandra Ferri and Francesca Hayward in 'Woolf Works' Act I. The Royal Ballet, Brisbane 2017. Photo: © Darren Thomas

Beau Dean Riley Smith in Bennelong.' Bnagarra Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: Daniel Boud

‘Bennelong.’ Bangarra Dance Theatre

29 June 2017. Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s most recent work, may well be the company’s most ambitious production to date. Yet in saying that, I can’t help feeling that it may also be its most powerful, its most emotive, and its most compelling show ever.

Stephen Page, as choreographer and creative storyteller, has taken the life of Wongal man, Woollarawarre Bennelong, as a starting point: Bennelong the man feted in many ways in early colonial society, and yet denigrated in so many other ways by that same society. Page presents a series of episodes in Bennelong’s life from birth to death. In those episodes we experience a range of emotions from horror in ‘Onslaught’ as large sections of the indigenous population are wiped out by an epidemic of smallpox, to a weird kind of fascination in ‘Crown’ when we watch Bennelong interacting with British high society after he arrives in London.

There is a strength too in how Page has ordered (or selected) the events. ‘Onslaught’ for example, follows ‘Responding’ in which the indigenous population is ‘assimilated’ by wearing Western clothing. We can’t help but make the connection between the arrival of the colonials and the outbreak of a Western disease. And following ‘Crown’ comes ‘Repatriation’ when we watch another emotionally difficult scene referring to ongoing efforts to repatriate bones and spirits of those who died in London (or perhaps even those whose bones and spirits were taken to London as ‘specimens’). It is tough but compelling watching.

The score for Bennelong was largely composed and performed by Steve Francis, but it also makes many references to the Bennelong story with snippets of music and song from elsewhere—the strains of Rule Britannia at one stage, a rousing sailor song as Bennelong is transported to London by ship, and some Haydn as Bennelong attends a ball with British society. The dancers and others, including dramaturg Alana Valentine and composer Matthew Doyle, have also been recorded speaking and singing and these recordings have been integrated into the score. It is absolutely spellbinding sound.

As is usual in a Bangarra production the visual elements were outstanding. I especially enjoyed Jennifer Irwins’s costumes, which were suggestive of various eras in indigenous and colonial society, from pre-colonial times to the present, without always being exact replicas.

The entire company was in exceptional form, with Elma Kris in a variety of roles as a keeper of indigenous knowledge, and Daniel Riley as Governor Phillip, giving particularly strong performances. But it was Beau Dean Riley Smith as Bennelong who was the powerful presence throughout. In addition to his solo work, it was impossible not to notice and be impressed by him in group sections and in his various encounters with others throughout the piece.

 Elma Kris and Beau Dean Riley Smith in 'Bennelong.' Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2017 © Vishal Pandey

Elma Kris and Beau Dean Riley Smith in Bennelong.Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2017 © Vishal Pandey

But it was in the final section, ‘1813/People of the Land’, that he totally captured the essence of what was at the heart Page’s conception of the character of Bennelong, a man trapped between two worlds and seeming to belong fully to neither. As he struggled physically and verbally to understand his position, and as he found himself slowly being encased in a prison (or mausoleum—Bennelong  died in 1813), Smith was a forlorn and tortured figure. It was thrilling theatre. And that concrete-looking structure that was slowly built around him, and that eventually blocked him out from audience view entirely, was another powerful visual element. As the curtain fell, the prison structure carried a projection of a well-known colonial portrait of Bennelong and it seemed to represent the disappearance of indigenous culture at the hands of the colonial faction.

Bennelong was a truly dramatic and compelling piece of dance theatre. It deserved every moment of the huge ovation it received as it concluded. We all stood.

Michelle Potter, 1 July 2017

Featured image: Beau Dean Riley Smith in Bennelong. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Beau Dean Riley Smith in Bennelong.' Bnagarra Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: Daniel Boud

Kelly Nash. Photo: © Jinki Cambronero

‘Mā.’ Choreography by Kelly Nash. Atamira Dance Company        

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

16 June 2017, Hannah Playhouse, Wellington, New Zealand

In Polynesian tradition, many stories are told of Maui, demi-god, culture-hero, voyager, adventurer and trickster. Numerous accounts of his personality and exploits can be found in different parts of the Pacific, but in his Maori manifestation he is renowned for the mighty work of fishing up Te Ika a Maui, The Fish of Maui,  aka the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand … and for the quest by which he tries to gain immortality for mankind.

To achieve this, Maui must enter the sleeping goddess of the night, Hine-nui-te-po, and ascend through her body to emerge through her mouth. If she stays asleep all the while Maui will have conquered Death. He commences the journey but as it happens, two noisy twittering fantails are so amused by the sight of Maui entering her vagina dentata that they fall about laughing and twittering, and wake her up. Thus we all may live, but all must die.

How could a choreographer resist?

(l–r) Hannah Tasker-Poland as  Hine-nui-te-po, transitioning into contemporary Everywoman; Sean Macdonald as Maui, transitioning into  contemporary Everyman, with Hannah Tasker-Poland  suspended figure. Photos: © Charles Howells

Kelly Nash has assembled a cast of three performers to make , an extraordinary work of 30 minutes duration.

Sean Macdonald, a stalwart of the contemporary dance scene here, freelancer but earlier a protégé of  Douglas Wright and a sometime member of Black Grace, plays Maui. He is both seasoned and innocent, a man with strength yet seemingly unaware of how to harness that. He is Everyman, and not only referencing Maori tradition. His movement has no clichés, but carries a sense of discovery as to what might happen next from moment to moment, position to position. He creates a mime-like honesty, a subtlety that draws us as voyeurs to watch whatever might develop. His performance stays etched in the memory.

Hannah Tasker-Poland, a freelance dancer/actor of considerable theatre and film experience, including with New Zealand Dance Company, brings a quality of mystery to the role of Hine-nui-te-po. Her flaming red hair and startling green eyes are just discernible in the low light and we can tell that she will explain nothing to us as we follow her into the shadows.  What is there to explain?  Her oblique presence suits this character to perfection, and her sinuous art as ecdysiast is beyond compare. Her performance stays etched in the memory.

Milly Kimberly Grant-Koria has extended bloodlines to Chinese, European, Samoan and Maori heritage. On stage throughout, she accompanies the entire performance in vocals and percussion with a mana (presence) and stamina rarely seen and heard on any stage. Sometimes with text, sometimes abstract vocals, she never flinches for a second, and delivers a staggering performance of strength and passion. Her experience as an actor, dancer and spirit-healer gives her much insider knowledge as to how to do this. Her performance stays etched in the memory.

If we cannot speak up about this work, support a project to make a film of it, and  encourage performance in galleries and museums, then we don’t deserve the cameras, the email address list, the technology, or the right to review performance.

The choreographer’s statement is at this link.

Jennifer Shennan, 23 June 2017

Featured image: Kelly Nash, choreographer. Photo: © Jinki Cambronero

Kelly Nash. Photo: © Jinki Cambronero

 

KAGE, 'Out of Earshot', 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

‘Out of Earshot.’ KAGE

9 June 2017, Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne. In conjunction with the Melbourne International Jazz Festival

This work for four dancers and a drummer shook me up no end. It was often loud and often brightly lit. And you might think that the title referred to the fact that one of the dancers, Anna Seymour, was born profoundly deaf, and that the work was made for audiences with differing hearing abilities. Out of Earshot was indeed about the varied ways in which we can communicate, but it was also so much more than that. It was a thrilling journey into the heart of what makes us human.

The work began quite gently with just the soft sound of hands tapping on bodies—dancer Elle Evangelista and drummer Myele Manzanza began this exploration of making and feeling sound on and through the body. But once Manzanza, moved from this gentle opening and began to use his mobile drum kit (it was set up on a low platform on wheels), gentle gave way to loud. Manzanza was spectacular to watch because he made music not just with a set of drums but with his whole body, bending and twisting, leaning this way and that as he played. He experimented with making sound in various ways, too, including using his fingers and drumsticks as scraping implements and using the floor as an instrument.

Digitised sound waves, reflecting the varying rhythms of Manzanza’s music, were projected in a range of colours onto three rectangular screens (design Paul Jackson, Stephen Hawker and James Paul), and light and colour were significant players over the course of the work.

Design elements for 'Out of Earshot', KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Design elements for Out of Earshot, KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

But in terms of the dancing (choreography Kate Denborough in collaboration with the performers), Out of Earshot showed us such a huge range of emotions. There were moments when the choreography had sexual overtones, others when aggression was the dominant feeling—at one stage Gerard Van Dyck stormed across the stage and punched Timothy Ohl in the face, which resulted in an explosive duet between them. There were times when the feeling emanating from the dancing was simply pure love, there were other times when humour surfaced—a joke was shared between Evangelista and Seymour via Auslan (not knowing Auslan myself I have assumed that this was the language being used, but I knew it was a joke as a result of the laughter and giggles that followed). And throughout the work, the athletic capabilities of the body were explored. I especially enjoyed a fluid duet between Evangelista and Van Dyck, filled as it was with rolling and pulling movements, and another between Evangelista and Seymour in which they hugged and snuggled up to each other. So many emotions were there to imagine and the dancers pushed themselves hard to convey those feelings.

KAGE 'Out of Earshot', 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

(l–r) Timothy Ohl, Elle Evangelista, Anna Seymour and Gerard Van Dyck in Out of Earshot, KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Denborough and her team also played with silence and stillness. These concepts were sometimes juxtaposed with their opposites, including in a section towards the end of the work when loud singing, shouting, clapping and drumming were followed by a similar sequence without the sound and with just the dancers’ lips moving and the drummer’s drumsticks playing in mid-air. The ending was quiet, soft, slow as the dancers lay on the floor with the lights fading gently around them. It was something of a return to the opening with light touches to the body replacing the powerful movement that characterised much of the middle section of the work.

Out of Earshot did show that thoughts and ideas can be communicated in silence, with a lot of noise, with movement and expressive bodies, through visual elements and so on. Fascinating. But it also showed that when communication happens many different emotions are transmitted. That’s what I liked most about the work.

Michelle Potter, 13 June 2017

Featured image: Performers in ‘Out of Earshot’, KAGE 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

KAGE, 'Out of Earshot', 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

 

Artists of the Australian Ballet in 'Nutcracker', 2017. Photo Jeff Busby

‘Nutcracker. The Story of Clara.’ The Australian Ballet

10 June 2017 (matinee), State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

A lot has been written over the years about Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker—how it is an Australianised version of a well-loved classic, how it looks back to momentous events in Australian dance history, and so on. I am one of those lucky people who has seen every one of the seasons of Murphy’s Nutcracker since its premiere in 1992 and now I prefer to write personal thoughts rather than explanatory notes.

Murphy’s Nutcracker never loses its magic, its beauty, its theatricality, and in fact each season shows something more, something I haven’t noticed before, something surprising and unexpected. But most of all, it continues to tell me that this is a triumph for Murphy and his collaborators.

What came across really strongly for me this time was the theatricality with which the links across generations were made. I have always loved that moment, very close to the beginning, when Clara the Child picks up the package Clara the Elder has dropped as she makes her way to her home. They look at each other intently and in a brief instant we realise that they have recognised each other in some way. The child is looking at herself as an older woman, the older woman sees herself as a child. The moment was beautifully handled by Chrissa Keramidas as Clara the Elder and Hannah Sergi as Clara the Child.

Keramidas was, in fact, a surprise as Clara the Elder. She is still very much the dancer, with her long, slim limbs, beautifully poised head, and pure line through her whole body. She danced with scarcely a hint, in a movement sense that is, that her character was that of an ageing former ballerina. What was surprising was that her exceptional grace of movement distinguished her from her elderly friends in a way that I haven’t seen before. She was truly the ballerina rather than the soloist or corps de ballet dancer, and her collapse as she watched and remembered her career with her friends was all the more poignant.

Chrissa Keramidas as Clara the Elder in Graeme Murphy's 'Nutcracker'. The Australian Ballet 2017. Photo: ©Jeff Busby

Chrissa Keramidas as Clara the Elder in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker. The story of Clara. The Australian Ballet 2017. Photo: ©Jeff Busby

I have always been fascinated, too, by the very moving moment in Act II when Clara the Ballerina (danced on this occasion by Dimity Azoury) watches as her lover is killed during a revolutionary battle in Russia. As she takes in the enormity of the situation, a series of scrims lift and we see Clara the Elder in her white nightgown clutching a photograph of her lover, the lover we have just seen shot. The two Claras are one and dance together sharing their pain and loss. With Keramidas and Sergi having established such a strong bond in that fleeting early moment, the emotive power of the cross generational links, which are at the heart of this ballet, came once more to the fore (this time between Keramidas and Azoury). The impact of this scene was heightened, too, by John Drummond Montgomery’s lighting for this moment—hazy down lights against a dark background of emptiness—and perhaps also because I was sitting further back than usual and could focus on an overall picture.

This time I also noticed more clearly the choreographic beauty of the snowflake scene. As snowflakes fall gently to the ground, disintegrating on the way down, so too did Murphy have his snowflakes drop to the floor moving first through a clearly articulated bend to the supporting leg so the landing from there was like a crumbling of the movement rather than a deliberate fall. Against this were sharp, icy stabs of movement as the dancers lifted a leg into the air and, at one point, a myriad of hands and arms moving up and down recalling a flurry of snow. At least that’s how I saw it: an enchanting display of snowy qualities!

Artists of the Australian Ballet in Graeme Murphy's 'Nutcracker', 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Artists of the Australian Ballet in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker. The story of Clara, 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

I also admired (more so than usual) Philippe Charluet’s film collage, especially those sections relating to the Russian Revolution. It has always been a treat to see how the film collage plays across the stage to add such a masterful context to this ballet, but this time the collage seemed even more pertinent to me, reading as I am at the moment a book that delves into the early life in Russia of George Balanchine.* And indeed Murphy’s inclusion of the two peasants in the picnic excursion that Clara and her friends enjoy before the Revolution begins in earnest had the same effect. The juxtaposition of wealth and privilege and lack of means to live comfortably was made clear with this small touch.

Azoury and Jarryd Madden danced strongly in the leading roles of Clara the Ballerina and the Beloved Officer, as did Andrew Wright as the Nutcracker Prince. Azoury has all the technique ready and waiting but just needs a little more feeling of freedom to make those curving, swirling lifts of the various pas de deux look as spectacular as they are. A little more time? Oh, and thank you to the new (to me) ‘older dancers’, friends of Clara the Elder. Graeme Hudson brought a certain gravitas and was it Terese Power who kept eating those chocolates and creating such a distinctive character?

Michelle Potter, 11 June 2017

Featured image: Artists of the Australian Ballet in the Imperial Ball scene from Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker. The story of Clara, 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Artists of the Australian Ballet in 'Nutcracker', 2017. Photo Jeff Busby

* Elizabeth Kendall, Balanchine and the lost Muse. Revolution and the making of a choreographer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Scene from 'Ocho'. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

‘ORB.’ Sydney Dance Company

An expanded version of my Canberra Times review of ORB is below. The shorter review is as yet unpublished. [Update: The review appeared in print on 2 June 2017. Here is a link to the online version]

Canberra Theatre, 25 May 2017

Full Moon, choreography Cheng Tsung-Lung, music Lim Giong, costume design Fan Huai-Chih, lighting design Damien Cooper. Ocho, choreography Rafael Bonachela, music Nick Wales featuring vocals by Rrawun Maymuru, costume and set design David Fleischer, lighting design Damien Cooper.

The dancers of Sydney Dance Company have once again stunned audiences with their extraordinary physical skills in a double bill program with the over-arching title of ORB. Explosive, athletic, swirling, superbly controlled, fast-paced, and many other expressions come to mind. Can their techniques get any better? I ask this question of myself every season and every season I ponder how they can continue to perform with such passion and power. ORB can give huge pleasure from thinking purely of the physical execution of the choreography.

But the program becomes totally fascinating if one delves a little further. Take Full Moon, which opens the program, for example. Each of the eight dancers in this work is dressed differently, and spectacularly so by Taiwanese fashion designer Fan Huai-Chih. And it turns out that each represents a different character associated in some way with the moon.

Latisha Sparks in 'Full Moon'. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Latisha Sparks in Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Latisha Sparks, dressed in a bright red, tiered and flounced dress (red being the colour of luck and happiness), represented a female warrior, with a nod to the Hindu deity Shiva who often is portrayed with a crescent moon on  his forehead. Shiva is also said to have ‘matted hair’ and Sparks’ hair certainly looked rather tousled on the night I saw the show. Was she wearing a wig, I asked myself? Then, choreographically, Sparks’ continuous whirling arm and hand movements recalled the multiple arms of some representations of Shiva, and her writhing and rolling movements across the stage suggested engagement as a warrior in battle.

Jesse Scales was also fabulously dressed in a silvery-white dress of clean-cut but off-centre lines. She was the rabbit in the moon from Chinese mythology. Her movements were often tiny, darting and filled with small jumps.

Jesse Scales in Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

There was very little contact between each of the characters and, as they performed their individual dances, there was often stillness or just a hint of slow, controlled movement from the other characters. Bernhard Knauer in fact spent much of the time frozen in a meditative position.

Latisha Sparks and Bernhard Knauer in 'Full Moon', Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Latisha Sparks and Bernhard Knauer in Full Moon, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

The whole work was ablaze with references to deities and mythological creatures, and was filled with juxtapositions of movement and stillness.

Ocho, on the other hand, did not focus on stillness, even though there were times when several of the dancers were enclosed inside David Fleischer’s industrial-looking concrete and glass box that comprised the set: they mostly watched other dancers performing outside the box. Bonachela made Ocho (eight in Spanish) in his eighth year as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and has used eight dancers in the work. But, like most of Bonachela’s works, there is nothing particularly significant in a narrative sense about the title. Ocho, the work, is contemporary dance in which we are left to have an opinion of our own, which may or may not be the same as anyone else’s.

I found the work, with its grinding score by Nick Wales, and its often-gloomy lighting by Damien Cooper, unsettling and harsh. This feeling was perhaps accentuated because, while watching it, it was impossible not to be thinking of the capriciousness of Full Moon. As well, Ocho‘s down-to-earth costuming (by David Fleischer) couldn’t have been more different from that of Full Moon. But then Ocho was meant to have an industrial feel to it and it succeeded in doing just that.

Scene from 'Ocho', Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from Ocho, Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

What was interesting was the fact that Bonachela used his dancers in this work more as soloists than as members of an ensemble—Charmene Yap had the standout solo for me. Nevertheless, there were some sections in which unison movement shone and these sections seemed to fit the music better, or at least made it seem less harsh. Another notable feature, this time of the score, was Wales’ incorporation of vocals from indigenous singer Rrawun Maymuru. I was expecting the score to change pace somewhat at this stage, but the change was to my mind only minimal. The volume and pounding quality continued.

Sydney Dance Company continues to push the boundaries of contemporary dance and for that Bonachela deserves admiration. We, as audience members, need to be pushed into new dance experiences, and Sydney Dance Company certainly does that.

Michelle Potter 31 May, 2017

Featured image: Scene from Ocho. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from 'Ocho'. Sydney Dance Company, 2017. Photo: © Pedro Greig