Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sydney Theatre Company The White Guard

JUNE 2011
The Russians are coming .. the Russians are coming ... or rather they have now ARRIVED exploding onto the Sydney Theatre with this giant sprawling epic of a play.
In a new version retranslated, adapted and directed by Andrew Upton , Bulgakov's novel comes to life.It was originally presented as a play in 1926 by the Moscow Arts Theatre (so yes you can se the links to Chekhov and similarities to 'Dr Zhivago' for starters) . It is set during the 1917 Russian Revolution and Civil War .
In 1930 Bulgakov daringly wrote to Stalin direct, requesting either theatrical employment or permission to leave the country. Bulgakov received a personal phone call from Stalin himself suggesting he apply to one of the State Theatres.Stalin was a fan of Bulgakov and 'The White Guard ' having seen it over fifteen times and his enthusiasm was matched by that of the Russian people . The play , like' Doctor Zhivago' fuses the personal and political at a turbulent time in Russia's history. Three of the main characters are based on Bulgakov's own family - here called the Turbins - who are secretly Tsarist sympathizers opposing both the Nationalist and the Red Army .
Kiev is in chaos and the residents have to decide whether to flee or fight. The play is set in Colonel Vladimir's huge apartment He is a Deputy War Minister under the Hetman regime. He's married to Lena ( Miranda Otto) and they head a large chaotic turbulent household - we see the Turbin family and its numerous guests and friends sing, eat, squabble, fall disastrously in love and guzzle copious amounts of vodka while preparing for the Bolshevik Red Army's arrival. There is fine ensemble playing by all . As Lena's brother's Nikolai ( Richard Pryos) and Alexei ( Darren Gilshenan) - who represent the hardened military pragmatist and his follower whose fine military machine is fast disintegrating - prepare to fight for the White Guard and as the almost farcical mayhem of chaotic destructive war ensues, their lives change forever. Poor Nikolai suffers a terrible head injury .Horrific war scenes encapsulate the terrors of Russia's bloody turbulent history but there is also a an extended dinner scene in Act 1 that portrays family life .
Alexei and Nikolai decide to remain but repairing a Russia smashed to pieces is no easy task . Pragamatic Lena strives to maintain calm and order .Friends dash in, potential suitors sidle by and a sweet bumbling cousin arrives most unexpectedly . Tahki Saul who plays Alexander looks a lot like Nicholas 11 by the way.
Miranda Otto as Lena absolutely glows at times as is superb as the feisty Lena. ( sometimes she looks like a brunette Pre-Raphaelite vision) .
Alexei has some long difficult patriotic speeches about Russia that are handled brilliantly by Gilshenan. According to him ' Our real enemy is the modern world .It hates us for our past' - and will tear his family apart .
the Hetman - local leader of the German controlled puppet government- magnificently played by tall, imposing Jonathan Biggins - seeks to escape to Berlin and there is an air of 'Yes, Minister' farce with the play's comic Germans and its searing study of craven cowardice . John Leary who plays Fyodor ,a ‘Bernard’-like figure ,is tremendous .
The singing in this show is also very important, even accompanying the scene changes . The chorus of men's voices is glorious and much use is made of a piano and a balalaika. Alice Babidge's huge fabulous sliding set designs make excellent use of the cavernous Sydney Theatre stage.This huge production is full of delights and deserves to be savoured .
Running time : 2 hours 45 (aprox) including interval

Monday, 6 June 2011

Dean Walsh Fathom

Here's my review as originally on artshub
Dean Walsh is the current Australia Council Dance Fellow. Predominantly Sydney based, since 1991 he has been an integral part of the Australian independent dance community. (You might remember my rave review of his Mirror Mirror at Parramatta Riverside in conjunction with David Clarkson and Stalker Theatre Company last year).
In this new work, a series of short vignettes are drawn together by Walsh’s concern about the environment. His distinct movement style is partly based on the physiology and behaviour of marine species, drawing on scientific research into marine habitats and climate change. The influence of Walsh’s scuba diving training and experience is evident, as well as his explorations into human genetic memory, conservation movements, and major environmental change.
The show opens with a masked fisherman in bright yellow wet weather gear emerging from a bucket and ‘fishing’ for stuff caught in a plastic bag. The entire stage is taped off; the mysterious fisherman cuts a few of the tapes, slightly enlarging and reconfiguring the performance area. As in Gideon Obarzanek’s Connected, tensions in the space are developed and released, as wires (fishing line) connected both to the set and to the fisherman, by a harness, are cut and removed.
The entire small space of Track 8 is used in this production, even the back door. Various statements are projected into the space to help guide our thoughts and understanding of the work and the environmental issues it evokes.
For most of the show, Walsh is masked in various forms, textures and colours; his various sea costumes. Only sometimes do we see his face, see him breathe. Interesting use is made elsewhere of a deep sea diver’s helmet (quite stylized, like a Nolan Ned Kelly) that Walsh dons.
Mysterious deep sea creatures emerge for various sections of the performance and float, growl or roar past us as if observed from a submarine. At times Walsh is like a Frankenstein monster erupting into the audience and challenging them, like a shark viewed up close.
Trim, taught and terrific, he gives an extraordinary performance. His choreography at times involves a lot of floor work; at other times it concentrates particularly on his hands and feet in repeated sculptural phrases of movement. Some of his work is very demanding and angular; in another section he rolls like a floppy puppet or exhausted, acrobatic jellyfish.
There is an extraordinary section where Walsh is wearing a beautiful green dress and performs strong feminine choreography. Challenging, entrancing and mesmerizing, it breaks down imposed gender barriers.
A Butoh influence is evident at times, and therefore also possible links to the De Quincy company and Bodyweather, especially given the work’s concern for the environment.
Kingsley Reeve’s hypnotic, powerful, pulsating score includes sonar submarine beeps and whale calls. Almost all the costumes by Rebecca Bethan Jones and others include full face masks – to increase the sense of alienation and otherness? Interesting use is made of a hoodie top tie as dangling antennae.
There is wonderful atmospheric lighting by Clytie Smith; sometimes an eerie half light, at others like ominous flickering torches as if deep underwater.
Towards the end a creature is trapped in a net and cries. There is paint slowly dripping in a circle from a pierced plastic bag, and Walsh becomes a bird or sea creature caught in an oil spill and unable to move – very sad and brilliantly done.
This work however still has a ‘work in progress’ feel. While there are some amazing, visually fantastic sections, and brilliant dancing, it is strange, unsettling and somehow a trifle unsatisfying.
Choreographed and performed by Dean Walsh
Performance Space
May 19 – 22
Season concluded
Running time: one hour

Mary Poppins

Here's my review of Mary Poppins as originally on arts hub

Most people are familiar with the 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, and probably have their favourite songs from the film – many of which have been transplanted into this ‘practically perfect’ musical. Featuring magical flying, pantomime special effects, and huge, show stopping numbers – what more could enchanted audiences ask for?
Set in Edwardian times, Mary Poppins is based on the books by Australian author P.L.Travers, and tells the story of the rather dysfunctional Banks family, whose lives are changed completely with the arrival of a new nanny, Mary Poppins. The Banks children, Michael and Jane, have gone through a series of nannies recently. Will Mary Poppins be able to cope? Does she fulfill the selection criteria of both parents and children? You’ll have to see the show to find out.
Leading lady Sarah Bakker (I didn’t get to see Verity Hunt-Ballard) as Mary Poppins is crisp, elegant and super efficient, yet also a bit cold and aloof – a being from another world, a wish fulfillment dream nanny? There are some wonderful pantomime-like effects when she battles the Holy Terror, that dragon of a nanny, Miss Andrew, played deliciously villainously by Judi Connelli, who has a whale of a time with the song ‘Brimstone and Treacle’ (and who also plays Queen Victoria!).
Narrator, artist, dancer, chimney sweep and general theatrical magic maker Bert is splendiferously played by Matt Lee, who brings the house down in ‘Step in Time’. Marvelous!
As troubled, stressed George Banks, Philip Quast is delightful, and in glorious voice. With the recent Global Financial Crisis and its ongoing effects, his situation – facing a financial crash and unemployment – is still extremely relevant today. Under George’s seemingly cold exterior (‘Precision and Order’) is actually a very warm heart and a yearning for his lost childhood.
As Mrs Banks, an ash-blonde and stunning Marina Prior is superb, and we see how her character grows stronger as she tries to save the rather rocky Banks marriage.
The children, Jane and Michael (there are five different casts, and sadly I am not sure who I saw) are terrifically played, as are the cook, Mrs Brill (Sally-Anne Upton) and general hand, Robertson (Christopher Rickerby). Debra Byrne as the mysterious bird woman is heartbreaking.
In the first half, the huge show stopper number is the almost impossible to say or spell ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ at Mrs Coreys (Leah Howard). The major, extended production number that pulls all the stops out is ‘Step in Time’ in the second half, and totally dazzles.
If you know Matthew Bourne’s splendid choreography you can see allusions to his Swan Lake, Edward Scissorhands and Nutcracker especially – and also in some of the costume designs and special effects. There are also allusions to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on show, both musically and choreographically.
The voices are excellent and the orchestra flourishes under maestro Michael Tyack. The set design by Bob Crowley is magical, especially the flying parts of the Banks residence at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. I also especially liked how everything suddenly blossomed into colour for ‘Jolly Holiday’ and the Impressionist vertical screens as trees in the park.
It is interesting to note there are some slight changes, if I am correct, from the London production – ‘Playing the Game’ isn’t quite as dark as I remember, and less is made here of Neleus the Statue’s search for his father.
The audience at the end roared and screamed its approval, cheering and applauding wildly and clapping along to ‘Step In Time’ and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. Mary and Bert weave their mysterious theatrical magic to create a joyous smash hit that’s well worth the very expensive ticket prices.
Mary Poppins
Produced by Disney Theatrical Group & Cameron Mackintosh
Original songs & music: Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
New songs & vocal arrangements: George Stiles
New songs and additional lyrics: Anthony Drewe
Book: Julian Fellowes
Director: Richard Eyre
Co-director & choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Scenic & costume design: Bob Crowley
Lighting designer: Howard Harrison

Running time: Two hours 45 minutes including interval

Australian Ballet Bodytorque

Here's my review as originally on artshub

The Australian Ballet’s annual Bodytorque series showcases the skills of the company’s young dancers in new works by young choreographers. This year’s theme was ‘The Muse’ – as in the ancient Greek legends, as well as artistic mentors and sources of inspiration and encouragement (think Fonteyn and Ashton, Farrell and Balanchine, Vernon and Murphy).
Five short works with something for everyone were shown in this very mixed programme. Choreographically it ranged from the extremely traditional classical ballet form to the ultra-modern and contemporary, and everything in between.
We got off to a somewhat shaky start with the extremely old fashioned Tristan and Isolde, choreographed by Daniel Gaudiello (and oozing Marius Petipa’s influence) and featuring heavenly music by Bach, Hoffmeister and Mascagni, played by the Bodytorque Chamber Ensemble under the inspired baton of Sarah-Grace Williams.
Choreographically, there were lots of supported lifts and pirouettes with unusual backbends in this work, most of which was an extended, showy, courtly pas de deux for King Mark (Cameron Hunter) and Isolde (Miwako Kubota) as Tristan watched anxiously on. Isolde’s lady-in-waiting (Reiko Hombo) had a fast, spirited solo; King Mark’s bravura solo was excellently performed by Hunter; and Tristan’s yearning, disconsolate solo towards the end was very well performed by Jarryd Madden. As Isolde, Kubota was regally beautiful in her white tutu and she has a lovely ‘line’.
Touch Transfer, the second work, was choreographed by Vivienne Wong and could be said to be based on ‘action painting’ – though it was not so much Jackson Pollock-ish as striving to capture the fleeting beauty of movements made while dancing and ‘absent mindedly doodling’. The three colourful painted panels that formed the backdrop to this work could perhaps be read as dance notation or expressions of movement.
It opens with three pools of light that the dancers (Dimity Azoury, Jake Mangakahia and Calvin Hanaford) boldly emerge from. The choreography is mostly based on the circle and swirls of sculptural movement in a terrific pas de trois, sliding, falling, rolling with rippling arms movements (at times reminiscent of both Graham and Murphy’s work). Touch Transfer is a great showcase for Azoury in her lovely, short cream dress and the men are terrific too. Tiago Brissos gives a thrilling guitar accompaniment.
Next came the strong and powerful Contour, choreographed by guest artist Lisa Wilson, current Hephzibah Tintner Foundation Choreographic Fellow. Dana Stephensen has an amazing opening solo in her red dress. Much is made at first of a diagonal wire that slices the stage area – but eventually the wire is anchored to the floor to allow the whole stage space to be used.
Critical in this work is the video design by Chris Golsby – for some of it, are we meant to imagine the creation of the universe? There’s a city at night, stars, water, and other wonderful images. Paul Charlier’s music was a pulsating electronic score.
This work was a great showcase for the three dancers (Stephensen, Benjamin Stuart-Carberry and John-Paul Idaszak) who obviously loved performing it.
After interval came Scope by Alice Topp, who wowed us last year. The highlight of the evening, it was haunting and mesmerizing.
At the back, three panels acted as projection screens, showing the dancers floating/jumping/flying ethereally and then mysteriously fading. Inspired by a photographic exhibition, Topp says in this work she strives to portray “the muses’ capacity to suggest life’s fragility, and the constant nature of change – our mental and emotional attachment to objects, people, time, materials and our own physical being”.
The dancers (Chengwu Guo, Natasha Kusen and Karen Nanasca) were tremendous in this dreamlike work, with Crystal Dunn’s diaphanous outfits for the women and shorts and top for Guo.
The final work of the evening, Kevin Jackson’s Encomium, featured three dancers in skin-coloured leotards. It was an examination of a mother-son relationship when the son asserts his independence (Amy Harris as the mother has a fabulous, anguished solo) and the sense of pride they share when he returns to her a grown man and much more her equal.
It begins with snaky arms and repeated joyous childlike movements. Much is made throughout the work of Jackson demanding expressive articulation of the entire body, fluid, flexible and angular. All three dancers (Harris, Timothy Harford and Luke Marchant) are excellent. Duncan Salton on piano is glorious and the stark dramatic lighting and set by Kevin Jackson and John Berrett was extremely effective.
Bodytorque: Muses was an intriguing display of developing choreographic talent and a great showcase for some of the Company’s younger dancers.
The Australian Ballet presents
Bodytorque: Muses
Choreographers: Daniel Gaudiello, Kevin Jackson, Alice Topp, Lisa Wilson, and Vivienne Wong

Sydney Theatre
May 26 – 29
Running time: One hour 40 mins (approx) including interval