Sunday, 3 June 2018

Australian Ballet Merry Widow

The Australian Ballet The Merry Widow
Sydney Opera House April/May 2018
This is a lush,lavish and opulent revival of the much loved ballet magnificently danced .A treat for those of us like me who have seen it many times before and also inspiring for newcomers ( like the lady sitting next to me). It is for romantics at heart.

The orchestra under the baton of Paul Murphy bubbled and frothed with the lyrical, lilting Lehar melodies as delightfully arranged by John Lanchbery .

Sir Robert Helpmann, who created the scenario for this work which was premiered in 1975, was most astute in choosing the rest of his creative team – the choreographer, Ronald Hynd, the designer, Desmond Heeley, and musical director John Lanchbery . Hynd’s choreography is a demanding blend of Viennese waltzes, with many difficult lifts, tricky supported turns , very challenging pas de deux, and in Act 2 , blends central European folk dances and exuberant Russian , including a polonaise , czardas and mazurka as the Pontevedrians celebrate in their embroidered black and red vests and skirts, contrasted with red boots and , for the men, flowing baggy trousers .The precise criss-cross-ing swirling patterns for the huge ensembles for the big waltzes are tightly worked out , the Act2 ‘national’ dances combine frieze like circle dances and exuberant showy jumps for the men .
Set and costume designs are ravishing with the sets featuring an plush Embassy office, a wonderful garden for Act2 (with a ‘little summerhouse’) and art nouveau style d├ęcor with opulent mirrors for Maxim’s in Act Three. The costumes are exquisite throughout and I mustn’t forget the can can girls at Maxim’s in Act 3 or Hannah’s special Swan Cloak .

Lana Jones as Hanna Glawari was ravishing – beautiful, alluring, witty, radiant and eventually triumphant.She gave a luminous performance .
Ty King-Wall was handsome and compelling as Danilo.They worked very well together theatrically to create the tensions of the no I don’t love you any more/yes I do poignant, tender moments that are essential to the work.The dreamlike pas de deux in Act 1 ( to Vilja) where both of them remember their younger selves is superb as is the final reconciliation and joyous pas de deux to the Merry Widow waltz.
As Valencienne , Benedicte Bemet was delightful, frothy, flirtatious and teasing, caught between her duty as a married woman and her love for Camille,the dashing ,stylish French attache who was wonderfully danced by Christopher Rodgers-Wilson.

It was also a delight for long time Australian Ballet followers to see David McAllister in the role of fussy somewhat pompous secretary Niegus and Stephen Heathcote as the ambassador Baron Zeta , Valencienne’s husband . Mostly they are played somewhat lightly but Heathcote’s performance when he realises Valencienne loves Camille and magnanimously decides to further their happiness is quite heartbreaking. Both received rounds of applause upon their first entrance and were cheered
mightily at the curtain calls. Other audiences depending on when you attend are privileged to see another long time ballet legend Colin Peasley reprise his role as the Baron.

An enchanting revival that showcases the entire company delightfully.

I attended Monday April 30 2018

Running time – just under 2 hrs 30 minutes (approx.) including 2 intervals
The Australian Ballet in the Merry Widow runs at the Sydney Opera House 28 April -19 May 2018
Conductor Paul Murphy
Hanna Lana Jones Count Danilo Ty King-Wall Valencienne Benedicte Bemet Camille Christopher Rodgers-Wilson Baron Zeta Steven Heathcote Njegus David McAlliste

Australian Ballet Murphy

The amazing 50-year association of the Australian Ballet with national treasure and Australian living legend Graeme Murphy is celebrated in the new mixed programme, Murphy.we see only a fraction of Murphy’s huge creativity, but it showcases his incredible genius in some marvellous pieces. The programme featured music by Australian composers Carl Vine, Michael Askill and Matthew Hindson, mostly specially commissioned, and designs by Kristian Fredrikson, Roger Kirk, Akira Isogawa and Leon Krasenstein .Murphy’s astonishing, breathtaking and at times seemingly almost impossible choreography as always dazzles. Ensembles become pulsating spirals or dynamic ripples and there are some extraordinary lifts and balances .
We mostly see selections from his 30 years with Sydney Dance Company (Grand, Air and Other Invisible Forces , Ellipse etc ) with two works ( Sheherazade and Firebird) performed in full.The first half runs for 90 minutes and could perhaps be a bit draining as there is so much packed into it.There are no segments from for instance Gallery, Beyond Twelve, Swan Lake or Nutcracker which Murphy created for the Australian Ballet and no segments from say Poppy , Some Rooms, Nearly Beloved, Boxes , After Venice or Daphnis and Chloe for example created for Sydney Dance and lovingly remembered by long time Sydney Dance fans .
The programme opens with a short film by Phillipe Charluet in which Murphy declares that he is dedicated to finding, in every member of the company, “a moment of truth” that allows them to be the artist they aspire to be, and to let them fly.
We then see various photos of Murphy himself over the years, starting in the company’s corps de ballet, putting together his first choreographic work, leading the Sydney Dance Company and then returning again full circle to his first home at the Ballet. And of course mention is made throughout of his muse, associate and wife Janet Vernon whose presence hovers in the choreography .
We are first treated to a glittering sequence from The Silver Rose commissioned by the Bayerisches Staatsballet in 2005 – which I saw in Munich - and later performed by the Australian Ballet - with Amber Scott as the Marschallin, forced to confront aging and nightmare figures. The tilting bed is trademark Murphy ( think Poppy for example) and there is a lush languid pas de deux with Callum Linnane as Octavian , with fluid lifts.
Then a swooping , flowing trio from Air and Other Invisible Forces ( 1999) , full of pantherine leaps and a sculptural line , followed by a striking ,pulsating hypnotic pas de deux ( Sharni Spencer and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson) and exploiting the softly billowing set .
Sheherazade (1979) is one of two works presented in full.Lush exotic and slinky in its Klimt like costumes against a silver background and featuring mezzo soprano Victoria Lambourn. Signature Murphy snippets of choreography include the whirling hands/arms.
A playful quartet from Ellipse (2002) follows, full of vibrant energy.The music was full of insistent rhythms – listen carefully for the dijeridoo. The quartet has a hoe-down atmosphere similar perhaps to works like de Mille’s Rodeo , with thigh slapping and yee-haas .
The finals section before interval was from Grand ( 2005) with Scott Davie live on piano ( which was shifted around ) and stunning black ruffled dresses for the women. It began with a short filmed segment of Wakako Asano unfolding the set . Some of the work was haunting and intense ,some joyous .You could see allusions to Murphy’s Swan Lake in some of the choreography for the women and also perhaps Nijinska’s Les Noces , not forgetting Murphy’s After Venice and Nearly Beloved and the ‘Murphy walk’.There is very tight ensemble formation work.

There is a sinuous yearning stretching mesmerizing pas de deux for two dancers in white, a slinky quartet, a teasing duo and the final section is sort of an affectionate spoof of traditional classical ballet with the dancers in beige leggings and white tops with musical notations and at one point teasingly playing ‘ Chopsticks’ .
After interval came Firebird( 2009) in its entirety , another work Murphy created especially for the Australian Ballet . The choreography is dazzling, individually the production elements are tremendous but I am afraid that as on previous viewings I was a bit disappointed.
In this version there are many references to the original Ballets Russes version by Fokine and Murphy generally tells a similar tale. Jade Wood as the Firebird was sensational and her red costume terrific. There is lots of fiddly spiky fast footwork in her opening solo and throughout the choreography is very demanding. The Firebird is glittering , fluttering darting and other worldly and simultaneously strong and powerful yet startled when she encounters Ivan Tsarevich ( splendidly danced by Jarryd Madden ) .
Kostchei (Shaun Andrews) was wily, evil and menacing in his lizard like costume.
There was some very strong ensemble work for the enslaved and the egg design was interesting. The idea of having the tall, beautiful, elegant Tsarevna ( Valerie Tereshchenko) trapped in a gnarled , twisted wooden cage that the Tsarevich has
to free her from is great but perhaps confusing . And why the sudden change at the end to have the Tsarevna and Tsarevich ‘ nude’ in skin coloured leotards and Kostchei as a tempting evil serpent in Eden for the finale ? A dramatic idea that doesn’t quite work, sorry.
Overall a splendid evening marvellously danced and a treat for long time Murphy fans as well as a great introduction to those unfamiliar with his work.
Running time – roughly two and a half hours including one interval
The Australian Ballet in Murphy was at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Ope

Kristina Chan A Faint Existence

Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
11 May 2018.
Kristina Chan’s A Faint Existence originally premiered in 2016, and is now performed as part of UnWrapped, a new series presented by the Sydney Opera House to showcase contemporary works.
Kristina Chan's 'A Faint Existence' at the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Kristina Chan’s ‘A Faint Existence’ at the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.
A Faint Existenceexamines Chan’s sense of frustrated futility and responsibility when faced with global warming and climate change, as well as meditating on fragility and mortality.
In some ways, perhaps it could be viewed as a female counterpart to Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle as performed by Paul White, and is linked to Chan’s other solo Mountain.
A Faint Existence opens with Chan, casually dressed in a grey sleeveless top, shorts and socks and sneakers, repeatedly rising and falling on demi-pointe en place, like a shaman summoning the creative spirit.
Kristina Chan's 'A Faint Existence' at the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Kristina Chan’s ‘A Faint Existence’ at the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Her choreography demands enormous control and a very flexible back, as well as apparently boneless shape shifting arms. You can also see a possible Butoh influence and that of Bangarra perhaps at various points. With her elegant elemental twisted shapes in space, Chan becomes a mysterious primordial creature, sometimes tree-ish, sometimes bird-like with broken wings for arms, at other points a stealthy forest creature with hands as paws, or an underwater inhabitant. Chan is powerful, magnetic and compelling. At times, her performance is almost trancelike. Sometimes, it is as if she is caught in a vertical box, but there is also slithery floorwork. There are sections of stillness and others of repeated phrases of movement. Is she battling unseen destructive forces?
Kristina Chan's 'A Faint Existence' at the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Kristina Chan’s ‘A Faint Existence’ at the Sydney Opera House. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Benjamin Cisterne’s evocative dramatic lighting ranges from the hints of a sunrise to an eclipse to a starry sky and other atmospheric effects. Clare Britton’s set consists mostly of a large disk in the middle of the stage – the Earth viewed from space –  and a billowing banner stretched between two poles visible at certain points during the performance. The relentlessly driven rhythms of the soundscape by James Brown are full of pops, crackles, beeps, humms, a ticking alarm clock, a heartbeat, as well as a rather overwhelming throbbing low bass at one point, all contrasted with sections of  intense silence where the audience hardly dared to breathe.
A Faint Existence is a most striking, compelling piece.

By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Shirley Valentine at the Ensemble

A glorious production
Willy Russell’s play, Shirley Valentine, was written just over 30 years ago. Now, in this marvelous production the play feels as fresh as if it was hot off the press.
Review: Shirley Valentine at Ensemble Theatre
Sharon Millerchip as Shirley Valentine at Ensemble Theatre. Photo by Anna Kucera.
The challenges Shirley faces in this play remain today. Shirley is suffering from an eroded self-esteem after decades of being trapped in a now loveless marriage to her coldly distant, rather arrogant and controlling husband.  
At 40-something the Liverpudlian housewife feels her life has no real meaning any more. She is lonely and talks to the wall. She feels bored and trapped, in a rut – her husband demanding everything just so and exactly on time. He wonders where the young, more vibrant Shirley has vanished to. (But she is there – still trying to stir things up.)
Shirley suddenly gets a taste of a different life when a gal pal takes her on a holiday to the Greek Islands. Can Shirley break free of the imposed shackles on her life? What if she doesn’t return to the UK?
The play opens with Shirley in the kitchen cooking ‘chips and egg’ for her husband Joe – who’s expecting steak instead.
Sharon Millerchip as Shirley Valentine at Ensemble Theatre. Photo by Anna Kucera.
Shirley eventually flies to Greece without telling her husband first and begins the big adventure of rediscovering her real self, even after her best pal deserts her for the first few days of the holiday.  (Shirley has unexpected adventures of her own, chasing her dreams.)
Sharon Millerchip as Shirley is luminous and enchanting, giving a stellar performance of this monologue. Shirley fights to rediscover her real self and becomes liberated from the shackles of society’s expectations, which is not easily done. Millerchip captivates the audience and has us all cheering Shirley on.
During the show we meet ten characters, all seen through Shirley’s eyes. These characters include Joe her husband; their daughter; Shirley’s friends Jane and Marjorie; a horrid headmistress from Shirley’s childhood; a bitchy acquaintance Gillian, and so on (not forgetting Kostas her Greek lover).
Such characters are lovingly and wickedly brought to life by Millerchip courtesy of Russell’s witty but thoughtful script. Millerchip glides easily from one character to the next and reveals Shirley’s increasingly claustrophobic vulnerability until Greece changes everything.   
Throughout the night the play had the audience rocking with laughter, and at other times listening in intense, moving silence. 
Mark Kilmurry’s direction is smooth, assured and sensitively balanced.
Simone Romaniuk’s set design in Act one creates the kitchen in an estate with oven fridge and the like, and a view of other repeated estate houses.  With Act two we are transported to Greece. The taverna has plants, an outdoor table, rocks – there’s one rock in particular that Shirley talks to – and a huge postcard poster of a sunbaked Greek Island (quite Mama Mia-ish).
A wonderful revival of this inspiring feminist play that celebrates being true to yourself.
Rating: ★★★★
Shirley Valentine
Ensemble Theatre
Playwright Willy Russell
Director Mark Kilmurry
Set And Costume Designer Simone Romaniuk
Lighting Designer Nick Higgins
Stage Manager Stephanie Lindwall
Ostume Supervisor Renata Beslik
Dialect Coach Amy Hume
With Sharon Millerchip

Twilight Motimaru at the Old 505


Motimaru in Twilight
Motimaru is a dance company founded in Tokyo by Motoya Kondoand Tiziana Longo, based in Berlin since 2010 , who have taught and performed internationally. Their background is in performing arts, modern dance, martial arts, and Butoh. Motimaru define dance as a way to experience deeper reality of our existence and are experimenting to create a new authentic dance method beyond any genre.
TWILIGHT the first of two productions they are performing here in Sydney is dark and mysterious , powerful and hypnotic , taking us to a trancelike meditative state. Is the work perhaps evoking the creation of the world aeons ago? It is full of the elemental forces of nature, combining and contrasting quietude and forceful movement.
The soundscape by Hoshiko Yamane includes dripping water, a pebble repeatedly dropped, the sound of various insects at night, tinkling yet stormy crashes and fast, surging bamboo pipe music.
At first all is almost total darkness. Eventually what emerges appears to be one organism but is actually two ,tightly entwined : the blending of Yin and Yang? Kondo and Longo are sculpturally enfolded for almost the entire show. They mostly are melded together but split explosively, or come together very intensely and passionately clinging together. As this is a Butoh based performance , an arm moves, a leg moves – gliding very slowly. Hand are like spiders inching across the universe of skin. There is convulsive rocking contrasted with backbends, or arms held high at some points with hands angled like barbed wire. For one section it is like the dancers are floating under water. Both performers have silky long black hair that cascades like inky moonlight.
Exploring dance based on the Butoh style TWILIGHT examines the purpose of human existence, and evoking nature tries to discover the very meaning of Life.
Motimaru’s [Facebook]  TWILIGHT runs at the Old 505 Theatre,Newtown  [Facebook]  29 May – 3 June.
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance by
Music Composition by

The Seraphim Trio in Number Ones part of Prelude in Tea series


Seraphim Trio
NUMBER ONES : Featuring some exquisite, heavenly playing this was a magnificent concert by the Seraphim Trio of three piano trios, a delightful rather striking combination of ‘firsts’.
The renowned Seraphim Trio – Helen Ayres, Anna Goldsworthy and Tim Nankervis – have remained committed to chamber music over the past two decades of performing – from building the contemporary repertoire (as in Jankowksi’s work we hear this afternoon) to developing new audiences and teaching the next generation of performers. Seraphim frequently collaborates with Australia’s leading musicians and is frequently broadcast on ABC Classic FM and on the MBS network.
In this particular concert it is ‘firsts’ as we hear Mozart’Trio in G Major ,(1786) his first serious work to realize its full potential as chamber music in which both violin and cello have roles independent from the keyboard. Mozart’s classical style is recalled in Schumann’s rather late foray into the genre with his Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor. (1847) Complementing these two firsts, in between we hear the world premiere of Jakob Jankowski’s Piano Trio No.1, ( 2018 ) generously commissioned by Graham Abbott, in the presence of the composer. There was an intense rapport between the trio.
The Mozart was first in a ravishing performance .The opening movement began briskly with crystalline playing by Goldsworthy on the shiny black Steinway piano , It was a vibrant playful discussion between the three but the piano dominated. The second movement , an extended adante , was given a heartfelt performance and was lyrical yet emphatic with some shimmering playing by the ensemble .The third movement ( allegretto) onsisting of theme and variations on a gavotte ,had a joyous, bouncy opening .Goldsworthy on piano led again on piano like a dragonfly darting and skimming .This led to a slower ,rather more reflective section , followed by a return to the boisterous opening theme and a swirling flourish at the conclusion.
Next we heard the world premiere of Jankowski’s Piano Trio No. 1 as introduced charmingly by the composer. It consists of seven short movements beginning from the centre and expanding out wards. The first movement was glistening, the second reminded me of a fast furious whirling snow storm .In the third movement the piano sparkles ,rumbles and roars while the strings soar romantically. Particularly in these first two movement the piano was almost a ‘prepared piano’ with some pieces of the piano being moved.
In the fourth movement the piano is quite emphatic and there is an explosive discussion between the trio with a jazzlike and possibly Stravinsky influence .There is a lyrical section but this movement ends with a furious piano in a crashing tumult.In the fifth movement the piano cascades in whirling revolving melodies.In the sixth movement some percussive elements are used and the trio knock on their various instruments The strings favour high pitched bowing which sounds birdlike yet is also sharp and fractured and at one point the piano ‘bongs’ like a clock.The final movement eddies and swirls , with the piano darting and leaping over the strings.
The four movement Piano Trio No. 1 by Schumann was a present for his wife Clara’s twenty-eighth birthday. The first movement began passionately with swirling Romantic turbulence, the piano trying to keep the peace between the trio.For the second scherzo -like movement Goldsworthy on piano shimmered and cascaded .The third movement had a boisterous darting opening .Here there was far more a feeling of unison although the piano led throughout .The fourth, final movement had a poignant haunting slow beginning by the violin and piano with the cello eventually joining in and singing the aria so to speak. After a tempestuous discussion it all led to a dynamic ,darting ,blisteringly fast conclusion.
MOZART Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, KV 496 1786
JANKOWSKI Piano Trio No. 1 2018
SCHUMANN Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63 1847
The Seraphim Trio [FacebookNUMBER ONES as part of the Prelude in Tea series was at the Independent Theatre [Facebook] May 27, 2018.

Third Culture : LIve at Lunch at the Concourse


This image:  John Huie                                                                                      Featured image: Jane Rutter – Photo by Brendan-Read

The latest concert as part of the Live at Lunch series was entitled THIRD CULTURE reuniting artistic director of the series internationally renowned flautist Jane Rutter and Australian musician and composer John Huie with their friends from former chamber group POSH – Hugh Fraser (double bass), Sally Schinckel (cello) Andrew Wilkie assorted vibes and percussion and Maharshi Raval on tabla and Indian percussion.
Indian, Arabic & Chinese-inspired classical music were blended with Australian world music for flute, guitar, cello, double bass, Chinese banjo and Indian an exotic, heady mix. There was inspired ensemble playing throughout . Rutter – or sometimes Huie – introduced the various works and told us how the group reunited and the CD of ‘Third Culture’ was brought to fruition.
The term THIRD CULTURE refers to multi-cultural children who have spent a significant part of their formative years outside their parents’ culture, blending their birth culture with their adopted culture and creating their own. And the group Third Culture’s music represents a similar union of diverse styles.
First up was Back From India by Huie, bright and exotic bubbling and rippling featuring tabla and xylophone.
La Reunion, also by Huie, was light and airy with tumbling infectious bubbles on the flute and xylophone and a shimmering conclusion.
We then heard Lift Up Your Veil (Chin Chin) a traditional Chinese melody also arranged by Huie who for this piece played a San Xian (a Chinese form of banjo in this case giving a bluegrass feel) .Rutterplayed both flute and piccolo .You could see the running, gliding dancers in your imagination.
Nanni Wa, another traditional melody also arranged by Huie, was delightfully infectious with Rutter on an alto flute.
Then came the sprightly Kava Time written by Rutter, inspired by her visit to Fiji, which proved to be an audience favourite. The flute dominated and led the piece animatedly played by the ensemble.
Huie’s lyrical, enchanting Largo from 1421 Suite followed, with its rocking melody (as on a ship?) and delicate string finish.
Jasmine Flower again by Huie was a jazz inspired arrangement of a traditional Chinese melody. Rutter on flute opened the work with a short solo and darted and swooped around the rest of the piece.
Rutter’s Papadum was next featuring table flute and cello in fleet staccato Indian Bollywood dance rhythms .
Far Distant Place, as arranged by Rutter, featured Rutter on a special Chinese bamboo flute as well as her usual gold flute. It was a soaring, melancholy, rather wistful work.
Huie’The Snake Dance was next with its sinuous infectious belly-dancing rhythms and concluded with Rutter jumping and a theatrical flourish.
McCartney’s Blackbird – with Huie singing – had a somewhat jazzy feel in this particular arrangement.
Oh Yeah as arranged by Huie was buoyant and bouncy combining jazz and Indian rhythms, with a cascading xylophone finish.
The last piece was Gotta Go by Huie, rather haunting and melancholy with pulsating, glistening strings before we had to leave for lunch with CDs also available.
The latest Live at Lunch concert, entitled THIRD CULTURE , was at the Concourse Chatswood [Facebook] for one performance only 23 May 2018.