Thursday, 28 July 2011

Ballet Revolucion!

this was written for artshub

Ballet Revolución

By Lynne Lancaster ArtsHub | Saturday, July 23, 2011
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Photography by Sven Creutzmann  
Featuring 17 dancers from some of the elite dance companies in Cuba, the simultaneously sizzling hot and super-cool performers in Ballet Revolución explode onto the stage in a sensational display of dance. There is an obvious classical ballet base on show, but the dancers perform beyond their comfort zones in a fusion of ballet, modern/contemporary, breakdancing, hip-hop and Latin-American ballroom (tango, salsa etc) styles.
It’s a joyous blend of genres choreographed by two different masters (Australian Aaron Cash (ex-Tap Dogs) and Cuba’s Roclan Gonzalez Chavez) brought to us by producers Mark Brady and Jon Lee. The dancers’ African, Spanish and Indigenous ancestry is blended with a ballet technique that has been developed in Cuba through decades of involvement with the Russians (also think of Alicia Alonso and Carlos Acosta). The dancers are superbly fluid, with huge fabulous soft jumps, (especially from the men) amazing elevation, ballon and batterie and lots of showy turns.
It is a plotless work that showcases amazing dancing in various styles in a series of short snippets. There are occasional flashes of short solos, but this is blended with lots of ensemble work and some Macmillan or Murphy-like sculptural, athletic pas de deux (sometimes up to pas de six) that featured some extremely difficult acrobatic lifts and partnering. At times there was a ballet class feel (with the men in particular flying in their jetes, cabrioles etc) but this was contrasted a split second later with distinctive tiny solos.
There is a crowd-pleasing varying range of moods. A hot and sultry short tango scene is contrasted with a segment danced in the second half to Cee Lo Green’s current popular single where a gang of men in nerdy glasses attempt to impress and seduce a delicious young woman (the elfin, raven-haired and amazing Liannett Rodriguez Gonzalez. Watch out for her eye-catching performance in the first half in a hot pink jacket); elsewhere there is a feel of Twyla Tharp’s 2002 musical, Movin’ Out, and some spectacular breakdancing.
Pointe work is included for the women, yet sometimes it seems heavy handed and unnecessary.
Particular mention must be made of Juan Carlos Hernandez Osma who has an incredible solo to ‘Purple Rain’ in the second half, and who performs brilliantly throughout.
The costumes range from plain black rehearsal outfits in the Balanchine style to red tutus and colourful sexy streetwear ( and a mix in between).
The infectious musical rhythms of, among others, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Santana, Usher, Ricky Martin, Beyoncé and Chris Brown, had us all bopping along in our seats. The amazing band led by Osmar Salazar Hernandez was sensational; the singers (Kristen Hosein and Weston Foster) and the drummer and trumpeter were also outstanding.
‘Ballet with attitude’ indeed, performed with incredible energy and passion that had the audience hysterically screaming at the end demanding encores, and the ushers dancing in the aisles.
Rating: Four stars
Ballet Revolución
Produced by Mark Brady and Jon Lee
Choreographers Aaron Cash and Roclan Gonzalez Chavez Running time: Two hours (approx) including interval
Perth, Regal Theatre: July 1 – 17
Sydney, State Theatre July: 19 – 24
Adelaide, Her Majesty’s Theatre: July 26 – 29
Bendigo, The Capital: July 31
Melbourne, The State Theatre, The Arts Centre: August 2 – 7
Brisbane, QPAC: August 10 – 12
Port Macquarie Glasshouse: August 17
Mackay Entertainment Performing Arts Centre: August 27
Redland Performing Arts Centre: September 1

Closer- Apocolypse Theatre Company

                   DISTRICT 101 DARLINGHURST SYDNEY   JULY 2011

I was lucky enough to catch one of the performances of the very short return season of this excellent production. Apocolypse Theatre under the excellent direction of Dino Dimitriadis brings us the gritty 'Closer' by Patrick Marber. Some readers will be familiar with the 2004 film, or the Sydney Theatre Company production. Raw, passionate and intimate, this is a gripping, very intense performance by four fabulous actors.
It all begins when Alice, a sometime stripper, ( Katrina Rautenberg) is hit by a car .She is rescued by a stranger - author Dan Woolf ( Tim Wardell) and ends up in hospital. She is examined by Dr Larry ( Michael Cullen ). What we then get is a a multi layered criss-crossing of relationships between Dan and Anna , a photographer ( Cat Martin) and Larry and Alice - their lives are interlinked, each of them is hiding secrets and there is a complicated merry-go-round of love and tangled, messy divorces, with an almost cinematic feel to the smooth sequing of scenes. Nothing is what it seems  - or is it ?
It's a biting analysis of contemporary love,lust, sex, revenge and marriage, trying to analyze what makes relationships tick.The play attempts to understand the 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' division. The four characters get caught in a very complicated web of lies and deceit to each other and themselves. Marbers's script is very sarcastic at times, but also plumbs the depths of despair, but it can be extremely funny too.( warning - there is lots of strong language) .
It is very contemporary, with mobiles and laptops , and a very hot cyber-sex scene .
This is a new venue and there is a 'gallery' atmosphere as soon as you walk in ( very appropriate for this show as Anna is a photographer and some of the scenes are set in a gallery) so it really 'works'. However there can be a problem with sight lines because of the huge beams in the middle of the open performance space - but great use of the beams is made by Alice when she is back working in the club as a stripper in Act 2 .
The four performances are fabulous.Curly haired, bespectacled Wardell as Dan the author is brilliant - so many layers revealed and how he is torn between Alice and Anna . As magnetic, powerful yet a touch brutish charismatic Larry Cullen is splendid - trying to do the right thing but he is left with his life in a mess .
Martin's Anna the photographer is magnificent. Elegant,with fabulous long hair on the surface she seems to have everything going for her but again her life descends into a fractured mess, Or does it ?
With regards to the mysterious Alice- or should that be Jane Jones ? - Rautenberg is sensational ,totally captivating and believable with glorious long legs. But who is she really ?
Four extraordinary performances in this rivetting play

Running  time : 2 hour 10 ( approx) including interval .

Apocolypse Theatre Company
District 101
season now finished
Directpr - Dino Dimitriadis
Larry Michael Cull
Dan Tim Wardell
Alice Katrina Rautenberg
Anna Cat Martin


The Last Emperor

I  should have added this a little while ago .It was AWESOME  
July 2011
More than 5 stars
This would have to be one of the major ballet highlights of the year. Mesmerizing, opulent and showcasing superb male dancing in particular this is an unexpected revelation.
Artistic director and choreographer Ivan Cavallari brings us the Liaoning Ballet in the extra ordinary life of the Last Emperor of China, Pu Yi. Readers might be familiar with the movie biography of the Emperor .
This is a traditionally structured narrative ballet telling Pu Yi’s story from revered Emperor at the age of three to his quietly becoming a relatively anonymous Chinese citizen. There are somewhat cinematic flashbacks and a cyclical feel to the whole thing.
As in many plays/operas/films/ballets there is a ‘Young’ Pu Yi ( Lv Meng  )and an adult Pu Yi (amazingly danced by Xiao Yuanyuan or Ren Zhong - I am not sure who we saw sorry no indication was given ). We see Pu Yi’s downfall ,the tumultuous politics involved and his unhappy private life. There is a ‘ballet within a ballet’ , only in this case it is a segment of Peking Opera with the amazing costumes,makeup etc and dazzling ‘firespears’ .
The pre recorded music ( with a heavy emphasis on Tchaikovsky and also including traditional Chinese music) works excellently as an atmpsheric aural background.
You can see the Matthew Bourne choreographic influence especually for example in the ballroom sene in Act2 . Overall, Ivan Cavallari's work is brillilant . At times there are some very difficult lifts in the pas de deux and generally it is quite demanding and acrobatic .
It is interesting how he contrasts Pu Yi's love for his concubine Wen Xiu ( Li Xin or Yu Chunanya )-  there is a glorious extended intense  pas de deux to open Act2 - with his very cold formal behaviour towards his wife , Empress Wan Rong ( Xing Dongtling or Wang Yun or possibly Liu Shang). The choreography between them is very stiff and angular , Pu Yi  hardly ever actually looking at her .There is also a floating , dreamlike pas de deux for Pu Yi and his nursemaid ( Song Shuang) in Act 1.
Violence ,shock and horror exlpode in the war scenes ( some wonderful military like martial arts by the massed male corps )and also there are a couple of magnificent male pas de deux - one in Act 1 for Pu Yi and his English teacher, and one in Act 2 for Pu Yi and his friend the Chief of the Guards.
We are at times dazzled by the breathtaking, oppulent costumes (especially in Act 1 with the early court scenes) but also the elegant evening wear (and delicious lingerie! ) in Act 2. This is contrasted with the dull Mao style suits and army wear worn in other sections of the work.
Mention must also be made of the visually dramatic use of huge bolts of cloth in Act 2 ( and not forgetting strobe lighting and dry ice )
As in similiar works right at the end we see all three Pu Yis as he seeks to understand his life. In some ways this is a lavish propoganda peice, but with such spectacle and ravishing dancing who cares ?
Running time – approx. 2 hours including interval

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Whale watching

JULY 2011
Welcome aboard me hearties!
Hold on to your hats folks (seriously) .We are shaken, stirred and blown to bits but taken on a exhilarating, fabulous two hour ride .The weather was picture perfect (hooray) - absolutely stunning.
We boarded the vessel ( actually named Sensational) at the Man O'War Steps near the Opera House. Our excellent young gallant crew Joel and Adam helped us all aboard , gave us safety instructions ( as on a plane) - what to do if you felt ill, a lifejacket demonstration etc .There were fifteen of us passengers on this trip a real mix of ages, nationalities and sizes. We somewhat slowly and carefully maneuvered out to sea past 'The Heads' ( yet more photo opportunities - cameras galore the whole way !) then REALLY hit the speed button .
I was not affected by seasickness or motion sickness with the high speeds, but a warning- when the boat really gets going it can be quite bumpy and very windy .Make sure you listen to the crew's instructions and advice and hang on! We were informed that the sea - very shiny and reflective and actually relatively calm - was about 4 metre high waves.Because of the design of the boat we were extremely close to the water level .
After an exuberant dash back to the Man O'War Steps we were carefully helped ashore by our crew. A marvellous thrilling time was had by all .
Note: it is a good idea to wear sensible shoes and rug up well.There is no gangplank to get on/off the vessel and no toilets or refreshments.It is a very good idea to make sure that all small portable items ( eg hats,sunglasses,cameras ) are safely stowed and/or held on to or they can get blown away.

You're aboard a very posh and expensive almost unique 1200hp eco explorer rigid inflatable with a cruising speed up to 50 knots built from 100% recyclable materials and fitted with 4 * 300HP V6 4 stroke out-board motors .Soon we sighted a pod of dolphins - so charming and playful ! Shortly afterwards yes we actually had several extremely exciting sightings of whales, their tail waves , spouting , jumping etc. Mad camera attack! Joel and Adam gave us lot of details about what to specifically look for and various weights, sizes , breathing times of whales and so on. We in our boat and two other boats close by all were going 'ooh' 'ahhh' etc.One whale in particular came very close on the port (left) side just as we were leaving.Alas I didn't get any decent photos of the whales (some people did) ) but had a terrific time.

I was not affected by seasickness or motion sickness with the high speeds, but a warning- when the boat really gets going it can be quite bumpy and very windy .Make sure you listen to the crew's instructions and advice and hang on! We were informed that the sea - very shiny and reflective and actually relatively calm - was about 4 metre high waves.Because of the design of the boat we were extremely close to the water level .
After an exuberant dash back to the Man O'War Steps we were carefully helped ashore by our crew. A marvellous thrilling time was had by all .
Note: it is a good idea to wear sensible shoes and rug up well.There is no gangplank to get on/off the vessel and no toilets or refreshments.It is a very good idea to make sure that all small portable items ( eg hats,sunglasses,cameras ) are safely stowed and/or held on to or they can get blown away.
Here's a link to their website

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Bell Shakespeare's Faustus

Straight off the plane from Townsville I headed for the Opera House to see the marvellous Bell Shakespeare's Faustus .Again for artshub
Bell Shakespeare and the Queensland Theatre Company have brought us a thoroughly chilling, thrilling, and extremely modern morality tale with this marvellous reworking of the Faust story (yes, think Goethe, Gounod, Berlioz, Mann etc). This new production is based in part on the now rarely seen Marlowe play, adapted by Michael Gow, but also incorporates quotes from Donne, Milton, Dryden and the King James Bible, among others. It also includes puppetry and mask work as well as more traditional theatrical forms.
According to the programme the original Faust legend goes back to Assyrian times, but we’re more familiar with its development since the mid-16th century, with Faustus, a megalomaniac professor, selling his soul to the Devil (a contract signed in blood) in return for 24 years of worldly power and hedonistic pleasure, with Mephistophilis, Lucifer’s chief demon steward, as his servant.
Before surrendering to damnation, Faustus has Mephistophilis produce an orgy of earthly delights. With daemonic aid the professor becomes famous for resurrecting the beauteous Helen of Troy and the military hero Alexander the Great (both proving to be an illusion), produces grapes so he can flirt with empresses, and generally experiences the heights of lust and power.
The ‘artificiality’ and ‘theatricality’ of this production are enhanced by use of microphones, voiceovers, projections etc, and the fact that this is all done on a specially constructed proscenium arch stage, complete with curtain. At times there is a decadent, smoky Weimar cabaret feel to this Faustus, yet it can also oddly feel like a Medieval mystery play. (Indeed, we see the Seven Deadly Sins, the temptation and fall in the garden of Eden, and other Bible stories, all wickedly twisted and narrated by Belzebub). All this contributes to the tone of the evening and boy, it really works.
The action is at times surreal and childlike; at other times it is presented coolly and objectively, with a sense of Brechtian theatrical alienation. The use of masked, framed, screened, consciously ‘performed’ action intrigues us, and is used to reveal the major issues involved. Mention here must be made of the technical crew’s advanced multimedia work, especially that of lighting designer Jason Glenwright and video designer Chris More.
The cast is terrific.
The magnetic, Byronically handsome Ben Winspear as Faustus is superb, and we suffer with him. His haunting rendition of Dryden’s “Come live with me and be my love” speech to Gretchen is mesmerizing. As the eerie, dominating Mephistophilis, John Bell is sinister yet wickedly twinkling, delightful and forceful in an elegant grey suit. There are shades of Underbelly about him – no wonder Gretchen feels a chill and is uneasy when Mephistophilis is around.
As in Goethe, Faustus’ desire for a wife leads Mephistophilis to produce teenage schoolgirl Gretchen, brilliantly portrayed by Kathryn Marquet. Her story, as linked to Faustus, is a study in the corruption and downfall of innocence and purity, leading even to murder, heartlessly controlled by Mephistophilis.
As others of my colleagues have noted, Gretchen has a rather shocking sort of Black Swan sexual awakening on her bed of stuffed animals (to a Schubert lieder, with subtitles) observed and manipulated by Lucifer and Mephistophilis, which viewers should attempt to connect with intellectually and not stalk from, affronted and muttering as they depart the theatre.
Vanessa Downing as Hecate, Gretchen’s mother (and other roles) not only acts brilliantly but sings Schubert lieder very well. The cast also includes Jason Klarwein as a suave, terribly handsome Mafia-style Lucifer, and Catherine Terracini as a very sexy Belzebub, who gives a gripping reading of certain Bible passages.
We all know what happens eventually – Faustus’s extended death scene, while brilliantly done, is perhaps a little anti-climactic – but both at the beginning and the end of the play there is heavy moralizing, and the audience is left questioning what desires, if any, you would sell your own soul to Lucifer for?
Rating: Five stars
Adapted and directed by Michael Gow
Assistant Director: Catarina Hebbard
Designer Jonathon: Oxlade
Lighting Designer: Jason Glenwright
Composer: Phil Slade
Video Designer: Chris More
Cast: John Bell, Vanessa Downing, Jason Klarwein, Kathryn Marquet, Catherine Terracinii and Ben Winspear
Sydney Opera Playhouse
June 30 – July 24
IPAC Wollongong
July 27 - 30
Running time: 1 hour 45 mins (approx) no interval

Townsville, Dance North and 'Mass'

Ah the joys of being a theatre critic !.I had a tremendous time last weekend being treated like visisting royalty in Townsville . I went to see Dance North in their world premiere of 'Mass' .Townsville ( tropical Queensland ) was about a 3& 1/2 direct flight (or 4 hours with change at Brisbane) .It is a beautiful city with lots of lovely trees and wide roads. .As everyone else says you have to go and see The Strand - stunning . I didn't get to see much of the city as I only stayed overnight and only really saw my motel and the theatre. I would love to go back stay and visit it properly going on daytrips etc .The harbour and Maritime Museum are marvellous .Flying in, you can understand how it was so badly affected by the terrible floods earlier this year as while yes it is surrounded by mountains the city itself is just flat .
The people at Dance North are fabulous and the motel I stayed at ( The Ibis) was great
Thanks Dance North!!
Here is my review , as on artshub

News, analysis and comment - performing arts 


By Lynne Lancaster ArtsHub | Monday, July 04, 2011
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Photo: Bottlebrush Studio  
Strong, powerful, and challenging, Mass is the second production for 2011 choreographed by Dancenorth’s Artistic Director, Raewyn Hill, and is based on the idea of communities forged out of shared traumatic experiences, such as the recent Queensland floods, Cyclone Yasi, and the Christchurch earthquakes.
The production also explores the experiences of prisoners of war, the Stolen Generation, and of communities caught up in mass protest.
It looks at the multiple meanings of ‘mass’: a mass of words, a mass of stories to be told, a mass of devastating water, a mass of people bonding together.
On opening night, Hill’s set included a ‘green carpet’, rather than the traditional red, extending like grass from the entrance, through the foyer, and on into the actual performance space. The set proper, which seems inspired by Surrealism and also, especially, the photographs of Rosemary Laing, depicts an enclosed garden with very high white walls that the dancers hang off, sit on, climb up, descend from, and hover against, supported by a colleague.
Choreographically, Mass showcases some extraordinarily fine, strong dancing.
The work opens with the performers mysteriously descending the walls: the men (Thomas Gundry Greenfield and Jeremy Poi) in tuxedos, the women (Lauren Carr, Jessica Jefferies) in elegant black evening wear, save for Nicola Leahey, who is clad in a lacy white dress.
Sometimes there are simple repetitive phrases of everyday movement; elsewhere the choreography is explosive, with particular use of an expressive, extreme backbend combined with fabulous fluid, soft jumps. In one section, Greenfield and Poi hang batlike, upside down, with their hands behind their backs like wings. Elsewhere the company of dancers resembles a flock of birds in a rice field, the black dotted against the green. A possible Pina Bausch influence is evident.
Mass also features the inclusion of folk dance movement – a traditional signifier of community – as well as more contemporary references, such as an allusion to the now famous kiss during the recent Vancouver riots, questions of body image, of the conflicted views of the burqa, of gender roles and machismo.
Hill’s choreography successfully depicts the anguish and despair of a community under siege, with the whole company moving in a seething, sculptural mass. One anguished solo – ‘Spain 1938’ (which can be viewed on the company’s website, and is performed by Leahey) – is striking in the extreme.
Exciting use is made of the specially commissioned projections by Spain’s Mariona Omedes, featuring the text from Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation, though the words have been flipped so that the audience becomes part of the apology and the words have a life of their own: they coagulate, ripple, and explode over the bodies of the dancers.
The music by Micka Luna (also from Spain) was developed in close collaboration with Hill; a creative partnership resulting in a compelling and eerie soundscape that notably includes the gentle melody of a music box.
The many stories and multiple layers of meaning in this show demand attention. A complex, thought provoking work.
Four stars
Dancenorth present Mass
Concept/Design/Direction/Choreography: Raewyn Hill
Created by Raewyn Hill and the Dancenorth dancers
Performers: Lauren Carr, Thomas Gundry Greenfield, Jessica Jefferies, Nicola Leahey, Jeremy Poi
Composer: Micka Luna (Spain)
Vocals: Jocelyn West (UK)
Cello: Gloria Coll
Art Direction: Nueve Ojos Creative Director: Mariona Omedes
Running time: one hour (approx) no interval
Dancenorth HQ, Townsville
June 30 – July 9
Lynne Lancaster attended the world premiere of Mass in Townsville as a guest of Dancenorth.