Friday, 22 February 2013

Liberty Equality Fraternity at Ensemble

Another tremendous performance at the Ensemble as I reviewed for artshub

Welcome to the 21st century; a world of constant video and computer surveillance, where hidden secrets are stored and revealed at painfully critical moments. Big Brother is watching you. All the time. Everywhere.

Set in a world of fussy officiousness, of mountains of unnecessary intrusive government paperwork and omnipotent monitoring, Geoffrey Atherden’s (Mother and Son, Grass Roots) Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is a frightening and thought provoking dark comedy about human rights, hidden secrets, and a hapless individual versus a faceless government department. While witty and funny, it also raises some very disturbing issues.

As the audience is seated we join Orlagh (Caroline Brazier) as she undergoes a traumatic ordeal. At first there’s not much to see: the set is a pale, anonymous room, sparsely decorated: skylights, a table, a couple of chairs, a computer and a huge TV screen. The audience is the ‘fourth wall’ of anonymous departmental observers. On the screen we see Orlagh waiting, and waiting, becoming nervous and stressed. Then, suddenly, she appears onstage.

Orlagh is ‘voluntarily’ detained for questioning regarding possible terrorist links. She is an ordinary innocent citizen, a suburban housewife and mother whose primary concern, particularly at first, is that her daughters Samantha and Hannah are picked up from school and that her husband is OK.

But to her irritated bewilderment her ordeal has only just begun. Enter Arky (Andrew Ryan) wheeling a giant trolley of documents; his maddening Yes Minister–ish obsessive focus on tiny, trivial details and the correct filling out of forms further evokes the feel of a Brazil-like nightmare.

Later in the piece, Helmut Bakaitis as Arky’s boss (or is he?) makes an elegant, mysterious appearance, and Orlagh’s family secrets are revealed as the line of questioning becomes more obtrusive. Will she be tortured? Will she be broken by the questioning? Will she ever be released?

Both Brazier and Ryan give tremendous performances under Shannon Murphy’s inspired direction, resulting in a tightly disciplined partnership featuring biting repartee. Playing the script straight ensures plenty of laughs, at the same time evoking a chilling atmosphere. Orlagh becomes an ‘Everywoman’, winning the audience’s respect with her verbal parrying of Arky’s maddening questions.

The monotonous office lighting is mostly consistent, and muzak plays throughout; though allegedly soothing, it quickly becomes annoying, both for Orlagh and the audience. Various computer projections flash up from time to time on the large rear screen.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is a provocative play that may well make you think twice before posting photos on Facebook or sending an email; it will certainly have you glancing nervously at the ubiquitous, unobtrusive CCTV cameras that watch you everywhere you go.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
By Geoffrey Atherden
Director: Shannon Murphy
Assistant Director: James Culbert
Designer: Michael Hankin
Lighting Designer/AV Designer: Verity Hampson
Sound Designer: Stephen Toulmin
Wardrobe Coordinator: Terri Kibbler
Dialect Coach: Natasha McNamara
Cast: Helmut Bakaitis, Caroline Brazier and Andrew Ryan
Running time: 90 mins (approx) no interval

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli
7 February – 9 March

The Wizard of OZ at Parramatta

wonderful fun at Parramatta

here's my artshub review

Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the much loved 1939 MGM movie, The Wizard of Oz is a timeless musical. Though featuring some tiny changes, this version by the Royal Shakespeare Company includes everyone’s favourite songs, including – of course – ‘Over the Rainbow’.

All young Dorothy Gale wants is to feel loved – though after a tornado blows her and her pet dog Toto to the enchanted land of Oz, she is more focused on returning home to Kansas. We follow her quest to the Emerald City with her friends the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, witness her defeat the evil Wicked Witch of the West and unmask the mysterious Wizard of Oz, and learn, as Dorothy does, that ‘There’s no place like home’.

Staged by Packemin Productions, this The Wizard of Oz features some huge production numbers (e.g. ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ and ‘The Merry Old Land of Oz’), including massive numbers of delighted children as the Munchkins, in bright spotted and/or striped costumes and wigs. The ensemble work was very well handled. Mention must also be made of ‘Jitterbug’ sequence in Act Two (with possible shades musically of ‘Bali Ha’i’ from South Pacific?) with a visually exciting use of UV lighting. Camilla Jakimowicz’s interesting choreography moves the show along well.

The orchestra, under the sparkling direction of Peter Hayward, was excellent. There were magnificent sets (especially the Wicked Witch’s castle and Emerald City) and Sean Clarke’s lighting was superb – his lyrical washes for the opening section must particularly be mentioned. The dramatic ‘twister’ scene, with the house and swirling storm was also very well done.

In the iconic blue and white dress and ruby slippers, Dorothy, the famous Judy Garland role, was magnificently played by Laura Murphy. We see her character change, grow and develop, learning further about herself, love and family as in all good ‘quest’ stories. Her ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ was exquisitely sung.

The roles of farmhand Hunk and the big-hearted Scarecrow (‘If I Only Had a Brain’) was marvellously played by the wobbly, seemingly boneless Jimmy Rees (of Giggle and Hoot). Fabulous.

The dual role of Hickory and Tinman, who seeks a heart, was terrifically played, sung and danced by Luke Joslin. His tap numbers were especially splendid.

Adam Scicluna as Zeke and the Cowardly Lion (‘Courage!’) has a magnificent time hamming it up and stealing the show every chance he gets, and was especially impressive with his huge tenor aria, ‘If I Were King of the Forest’ – brilliant. The audience was in fits over his hilarious antics and in-jokes, and the children loved him.

As Dorothy’s horrid neighbour Almira Gultch, and later as the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, Zoe Tidemann – in sombre black dress and swirling cape – was chilling, and could potentially be quite scary for young children. Her team of flying monkeys was tremendously done, as were her slaves, the ominous, faceless Winkies, with their robotic chant and walk. The poppy fields which the Wicked Witch traps Dorothy and her friends in at the close of Act One here were present as a beautiful 1920’s-like ballet, featuring dancers in apricot-pink costumes with huge hats.

Elizabeth Smith as Glinda was a young girl’s benevolent vision in soft pink with a silver tiara.

Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz himself was excellently played by the very handsome Simon Ward, channelling his inner Matt Smith (Doctor Who) with a très chic silver waistcoat as the Wizard.

Ian Johnson in his dual role as Uncle Henry and the imposing Guard (with huge green butterfly-like eyebrows) was also terrific, and Toto (Miss Suzie) was extremely cute.

A splendid, enchanting production for young and old alike. The children in the audience (for whom quite a few it was their first theatre visit, I gather) loved it. But at just under three hours the evening performances might finish a bit late for quite young children, for whom the matinee performances will be perfect.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Packemin Productions present
The Wizard of OZ
By L. Frank Baum
Music and Lyrics: Harold Arlen and E.V. Harburg
Background music: Herbert Stothart
Dance and vocal arrangements: Peter Howard
Orchestration: Larry Wilcox
Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company
Director: Neil Gooding
Musical Director: Peter Hayward
Choreographer: Camilla Jakimowicz
Original set and costume design: Josh McIntosh
Set coordinator: Neil Shotter
Costume Design: Cassandra Pascoli  
Lighting Design: Sean Clarke
Sound Design: Simon Koenig
Cast include Laura Murphy, Jimmy Rees, Adam Scicluna, Luke Joslin, Zoe Tidemann, Simon Ward, Elizabeth Smith, Jan Mahoney, Ian Johnson, Joshua Williams, Stephen Edney, Damien Hempstead, Alannah Pollack, Victoria Shahho, Charlie Oliver, Hudson Musty and Miss Suzie
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes (approx) including one interval

Parramatta Riverside Theatres
8 – 23 February

Dreams in White at Griffin

Here's what I thought for artshub

Steve Rodgers and Mandy McElhinney in Dreams in White. Photo: Brett Boardman.
Duncan Graham’s Dreams in White is somewhat loosely inspired by the disappearance of Sydney businessman Herman Rockefeller in 2010, but enriched by many ‘what ifs?’ and ‘perhaps’. The play is also partly an examination of how ‘clothes maketh the man’: how we see ourselves and how are we seen by others.

The sudden disappearance of wealthy real estate agent Michael Devine (Andrew McFarlane) causes his wife Anne (Lucy Bell) and their teenage daughter Amy (Sara West) to fear the worst, but what they discover when the jigsaw puzzle of his disappearance is pieced together is beyond their wildest imaginings.

On the other side of town, struggling suburban couple Paula and Gary Anderson (Mandy McElhinney and Steve Rodgers) are being harassed by a sleazy and insistent individual they know as Ray Wimple, whom they met through an ad in a swingers’ magazine. Now they’re stuck with his demands and undesired attention.

When these two worlds collide, neither family will ever be the same.

In his program notes, the playwright notes that ‘Dreams in White is based on ‘real-life’ events but never authentically re-presents them. It attempts to collide the included and excluded and release the terror and violence within.’ His dialogue is extremely contemporary, sharp and with precisely controlled rhythms. Very strong language (and partial nudity) also features prominently.

The excellent cast smoothly double their roles, an element of the production which can at first be a little confusing but is soon understood. As Gary, a construction worker who is rorting the system, Rodgers is a bearded hulk of a man, powerful, explosive and dangerous. He also plays another character, David, who is unemployed and rather lost.

In elegant black, Lucy Bell is magnificent as Anne, Michael’s devoted wife. She also plays David’s sister, Julia. Anne seeks to keep up appearances and is always impeccably dressed. She is also tormented by guilt – why did Michael leave her? Was it her fault? – and thrown completely for a loop when his secrets are uncovered.

The very handsome Andrew McFarlane gives a magnificent performance as the charming Michael – the concerned, loving father of Amy – who also lives a secret life as the odd, disturbing Ray who is pestering Gary and Paula. Does Michael have multiple identities and mobiles somehow concealed from his wife? Is Anne really the stalwart and supportive wife she appears?

Sara West as Amy gives a firecracker performance as a troubled young woman. The scenes between her and her father were brilliantly done. Is Amy ‘good’ or ‘bad’? And if she’s ‘good’ why on earth did she send those provocative photographs of herself taken in her dad’s office?

Mandy McElhinny is also terrific. 

There are some strange and shocking scenes towards the end of the play, in which nothing is what is seems and no one is who they appear to be.

Teresa Negroponte’s strong designs bring us a few chairs and tables with some wonderful sliding door screens accessing other areas of the property. The set can be a posh multi-storey house, a TV studio, or a psychiatrist’s rooms – there are numerous fluid and cinematic scene changes. Hartley Kemp’s magnificent lighting design is sometimes lyrical, sometimes harsh and bleak.

Dreams in White takes its audience on a rollercoaster ride of volatile tension and chameleon emotions. A tremendous cast under Tanya Goldberg’s excellent direction bring this dark portrayal of unhappiness, unease and guilt to vivid and disturbing life.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Griffin Theatre Company present
Dreams in White
By Duncan Graham
Director: Tanya Goldberg
Designer: Teresa Negroponte
Lighting Designer: Hartley TA Kemp
Composer: Kelly Ryall
Dramaturg: Teresa Leong
Cast: Lucy Bell, Mandy McElhinney, Andrew McFarlane, Steve Rodgers and Sara West
Running time: 90 mins (approx) no interval

SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross
8 February – 23 March

Great Falls at the Ensemble

a terrific performance - here's what I thought for artshub

Erica Lovell and Christopher Stollery in Great Falls, photo by Steve Lunam.
Featuring two magnificent performance, this firecracker of a play utilises the classic structure of a road trip to examine the seismic shifts in relationships within a fractured family. Wonderfully written and performed, it is at times very funny (with sassy foul language and a flash of partial nudity) and at other moments quite shocking and moving.

Christopher Stollery is brilliant as Monkey Man, who in a desperate attempt to reconnect with his estranged stepdaughter, Bitch, takes her on a road trip across America, revisiting famous landmarks of the American West that he himself first saw as a child. Monkey Man hopes to set the record straight about his apparent failures as a father and husband. Giving him a fabulous monologue on marriage and fidelity, and another on what it is to be a writer, the play seems to ask: what are a step-parent’s responsibilities (if any) after a messy divorce?

Understandably stroppy at first, Bitch just wants out of the trip. She behaves obnoxiously, writes pointed haiku, and at Yellowstone National Park puts a blanket over her head in an effort to ignore Old Faithful. Erica Lovell gives an inspired, impassioned performance in the role.

The play features furious silences, angry eruptions, and some shocking revelations, as well as an awkward, intimate and probing analysis of the failure of ‘Monkey Man’s ‘marriage to Bitch’s mother. It also explores her reaction, and her brother’s reaction, to the divorce. Bitch is talented, smart and sassy, yet also fragile and vulnerable. Defiance is her defence against the traumas she has suffered. A major monologue revealing her traumatic secret and requesting Monkey Man’s help is terrifically done.

When the pair reach Great Falls, Montana, every thing shifts in their relationship.

Michael Hankin’s deceptively simple set is a sparse palette of dry, cracked browns. The movable furniture can be everything from car seats to anonymous hotel beds, allowing for smooth, fluid scene changes. Verity Hampson’s lighting is wonderfully sharp and effective; Stephen Toulmin’s score blends intimacy with melancholy.

The play ends abruptly, and sadly, leaving this reviewer hoping that its two broken characters could somehow reconnect.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Great Falls
By Lee Blessing
Director: Anna Crawford
Set and Costume Design: Michael Hankin
Lighting /AV Design: Verity Hampson
Composer/Sound Design: Stephen Toulmin
Cast: Erica Lovell and Christopher Stollery
Running time: 90 mins (approx) no interval

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli
2 February – 9 March

Warhorse coming to Sydney

I am most excited
the astonishing production of Warhorse is coming to Sydney
can't wait!

Bookings:               or 1300 795 267
Previews:                        From Saturday 16th March 2013
Opening Performance:            Thursday 21st March 2013
Season:                                    Saturday 16th March – Sunday 12th May

Tuesdays 7:30pm, Wednesdays 1pm and 7:30pm, Thursday 7:30pm, Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm and 7:30pm, Sunday 3pm

The National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures are proud to bring the multiple Tony and Olivier Award-winning War Horse, to Australia.
 Applauded by critics and audiences alike, War Horse held its Australian premiere in Melbourne on New Year’s Eve at Arts Centre Melbourne’sState Theatre.  After the Melbourne season War Horse will travel to Sydney for a season at the Sydney Lyric from Saturday 16 March, 2013 and to Brisbane for a season at Lyric Theatre from Saturday 6 July, 2013.
 Since its world premiere in London in 2007, War Horse has won numerous prestigious awards including two Laurence Olivier Awards, five Tony Awards and four Outer Critics’ Circle Awards amongst a host of others. The Handspring Puppet Company has also won many accolades including a 2011 Special Tony Award.
 “The ANZAC spirit is deeply entrenched in the Australian ethos. We expect War Horse to have a great resonance in this country not only because of our connection to World War I but because themes of the land, loss and the ultimate triumph of friendship have a special place in the Australian psyche. We are proud to produce this highly acclaimed show with the National Theatre.” says Carmen Pavlovic, CEO of Global Creatures.
 Nick Stafford’s stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book, War Horse is a magnificent drama which tells the heart wrenching story of Joey, the beloved horse of a boy called Albert, who is sold to the cavalry at the outbreak of World War I and shipped to France.  He’s soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land.  But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.
 At its heart are astonishing puppets strong enough for men to ride, created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, who bring breathing, galloping, charging horses to life on the stage. Life size horses traverse the stage, their flanks, hides and sinews built of steel, leather and aircraft cables. Actors, working with these dynamic puppets, will lead Australian audiences on an emotionally-charged journey through history.
"War Horse is a life affirming story about friendship, courage and family, which appeals to all ages. This is a production that brings the family together, we get people coming back again and again, and they always have the same reaction. It awakens something in you,” says Chris Harper, Producer, National Theatre of Great Britain.
War Horse has played to packed houses at London’s National Theatre, the West End’s New London Theatre and New York’s Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. A further production opened in Toronto, Canada in February 2012 and a US tour commenced in June 2012. 
 Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel, released by DreamWorks Studios in late 2011, was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
 Directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, War Horse is designed by Rae Smith, with puppet design and fabrication by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company, lighting by Paule Constable, and movement and horse choreography by Toby Sedgwick; the puppetry directors are Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, with video design by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer, songmaker John Tams, music by Adrian Sutton and sound by Christopher Shutt.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

NDT - an evening with Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot

Interesting as I was quite disappointed
Big news is this programme ( with an addition ) is what is coming to the Opera House in June !

Here's my review for Sydney Arts Guide

Nederlands Dans Theater perform SAME DIFFERENCE. Pic Joris-Jan Bos

This is an unsettling, powerful and provocative triple bill from the wonderful Nederlands Dans Theater. This time the umbrella title of the program screened was called ‘An evening with Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot ‘, the artistic directors. It is returning in May to be performed again at the Lucent Theatre at the company’s home at the Hague.

Technically, the extraordinary dancing of the company was as always more than marvellous. The dancers are superb, with a liquid style of movement, fluid line, and amazing jumps and turns where required. All this is contrasted with sharp, short, angular movements and the incorporation of speech if desired.

However I was a bit disappointed with this strange, somewhat unsatisfactory program.  I loved the middle work (‘Shoot The Moon’) but the other two works, whilst magnificently performed, did not really ‘grab’ me at all.

Each work was prefaced by wonderful black and white shots of one of the dancers, like  an atmospheric keynote production photo. (And the interval mini-documentaries/discussions were quite illuminating).

The opening work, ‘Sh-Boom’ I found contrived and artificial. It was supposed to be funny but I didn’t find it that at all, although I must admit the Lucent Theatre live audience seemed to enjoy it immensely.

I was reminded in parts of Matthew Bourne’s ‘Town and Country ‘ and with the guys in their white underpants are we meant to think of his ’Spitfire’? or is it that the work is stripped back and very revealing?. There are also chilling possible allusions to the musical ‘Cabaret ‘.

Created in 1994 this is a supposedly playful work set to the music of Vera Lynn and Stan Freberg , golden oldies where men in love attempt to impress women. It has apparently been updated and revised several times.

There is a sharp, angular pas de quatre for the women reminiscent of Macmillan’s ‘Las Hermanas’. It also features a black and white jacketed George/Marcia routine delineating the breakup of a relationship (done by one performer). This work also features a magnificent nude male solo (with discreet gloomy lighting and strategic placement of a saucepan).

To the music of Philip Glass, in the haunting, ghostlike, dreamlike ‘Shoot the Moon’ we catch glimpses of the intimate life of three couples. (possibly three generations ?) With the climbing up the wall for instance there are references to silent movies.

The pas de deux are fabulous with some amazing, very unusual lifts and poses. The lyrical, atmospheric lighting is superb. In some ways it has a despairing Chekhovian atmosphere at certain points. I also had the feeling there was a Pina Bausch influence. There is an incredible, tense pas de deux where the couple do not look at each other.

Revolving walls, with striking William Morris like black and white wallpaper, create three separate rooms, each revealing their own story. There is also much symbolic use of a closed/open door and/ or window - the start or end of the relationship? The enthusiastic cries of Bravo at the end were richly deserved.

‘Same Difference’ (2007) , inspired by the chaotic influence of the Ego on our lives, is a confusing , alienating piece where the dancers also speak . There are various archetypal characters – eg The Poet, The Soldier (mad and Woyzeck like?), the Marias etc. Also to Philip Glass music it attempts to  put the audience into a Surreal world but just doesn’t  quite work .

The performances are tremendous , but it is jarring and bizarre. There are strange repeated phrases of movement, and again some terrific unusual lifts. One of the female roles, seemingly an older woman in black , is deliberately and excellently played by a man. The set includes a low bridge (symbolic as in Japanese theatre ? ) .There are some fabulous, small shining solos and magnificent ,powerful and hypnotic lighting .

But for me it was jumbled and incoherent.

Nederlands Dans Theater- ‘An evening with Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot’- was at selected cinemas January 20 & 21 2013.

Running time – 2 hours .There are two ‘intervals’ that have fascinating insights into rehearsals and behind the scenes info for this production

© Lynne Lancaster

21 January. 2013

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- Nederlands Dance Theater, An Evening With Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, Sydney Arts Guide, Lynne Lancaster.

Paris Opera Ballet in ' Giselle ' January/February 2013

This ecstatic reviewer was in raptures
here's my artshub review

We in Sydney are privileged to see the magnificent Paris Opera Ballet’s Giselle, the distilled essence of 19th century Romantic ballet, one of the defining works of dance history – yet here seeming as fresh as if it were created yesterday. A tale of love, betrayal, remorse and forgiveness, love of dance, love being stronger than death and ghosts, it was created on the company in 1841; the ballet’s eponymous role is regarded as one of the major test pieces for a ballerina.

It was exciting to note that a re-imagining of the sets from Alexandre Benois’ 1924 production were used for this re-imagined Giselle. We see the traditional Rhenish fairytale castle in the background, the large thatched cottage for Giselle and Berthe in Act One and an eerie, foggy wood in Act Two. The splendid costumes in Act One for Duke Albrecht, his fiancée Bathilde and other characters could have come from a bejewelled Book of Hours.

The dancing was superb from the entire ensemble, with great work from the Corps de Ballet, who were particularly well drilled in Act One, in the complicated group dances celebrating the harvest and entertaining the peasants’ unexpected noble visitors. In Act Two, as the Wilis (the ghosts of brides jilted before their wedding day) the women were superb. They were light and airy, yet under the cold direction of their leader, Myrthe, could also be quite menacing and threatening. (It was interesting to note the tiny phrases of music and choreography that briefly hinted and echoed Act Two in Act One). As the Wilis the corps breathed and pulsed as one and you could see the development to Petipa’s later La Bayadere. The ‘peasant pas de deux’ in Act One was also delightful.

As Giselle, Dorothee Gilbert is outstanding. In some ways this role is similar to that of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, as in Act One you have the young girl – blushing, passionate about dance and head over heels in love with Albrecht; joyous, tender and teasing ( the pas de deux are magnificent ). Her mad scene is haunting, gripping and shattering. In Act Two this is contrasted with her steely pointes, thistledown lightness and incredible control in the legato sections. In Act Two, Gilbert varies from blurringly fast bourees to an incredible line full of aching longing. In Act Two the pas de deux are luminous and include some high Bolshoi-like flying lifts.   

Our tall, handsome ‘hero’ Albrecht (Mathieu Ganio) was portrayed as a young man truly in love with Giselle and trapped in a very tricky situation.  Ganio is an incredible dancer, letting loose a small series of jaw-dropping fireworks in a tiny solo in Act One and then brilliantly performing for the rest of the act. His solos in Act Two were tremendous, with magnificent cabrioles in the famous pas de deux, and he has a killing series of entrechats towards the end. No wonder he collapses in exhaustion! In Act Two you could feel his grief and sorrow. He is also a terrific partner.

Tall Hilarion, the gamekeeper desperately in love with Giselle, was excellently danced by Audric Bezard. At times he seemed quite towering and threatening.

As Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis, Marie-Agnes Gillot was electric – commanding, cold and eerie like a soft yet evil moonbeam. Giselle’s mother Berthe was excellently played by Amelie Lamoreux. Her big mime scene telling the story of the Wilis in Act One was chilling. (But why didn’t Giselle watch and listen? Had she heard it umpteen times before?)

The Sydney Lyric Orchestra under the dynamic conducting of Koen Kessels was tremendous.

An absolutely superb production that reminds us that old ‘warhorses’ of classic ballets are still relevant and can be magic today. Love conquers all.  

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5

Paris Opera Ballet presents
Music: Adolphe Adam
Choreography: Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot (1841) transmitted by Marius Petipa and adapted by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov
Sets and costumes realised from the 1924 Alexandre Benois production
Costumes by Claude Gastine
Set design: Silvano Mattei
Sydney Lyric Orchestra conducted by Koen Kessels

Capitol Theatre, Sydney
29 January – 9 February

Sydney Festival 2013 - The Jade Hairpin

The other Peking Opera as part of the 2013 Festival of Sydney
Here's my artshub review

Far more easily accessible for Westerners than the Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre’s The Peony Pavilion was the delightful The Jade Hairpin, which in some ways, with its beautiful girls (the novice nuns are glittering, elegant and exquisite), mischievous, plucky, caring servants, scheming and plotting elders and young lovers, was similar to Commedia dell’Arte.

As in The Peony Pavilion there were no huge sets, just the two curtains with minimal props and the orchestra hidden in the wings; however unlike the previous Peking Opera, this production did not boast showy acrobatics. Instead, it concentrated far more on the characterisation of a pair of young thwarted lovers, having much fun with their flirting and. Again, there were some incredibly stunning costumes (with numerous changes for our leading lady), exquisite makeup and the ritualised, stylised gestures common to the art form.

Wei Chunrong has much fun as the (at least at first) outwardly prim and proper, demure and correct novice nun, Chen Miaochang. She seems to be happy with her lot, but her true feelings are revealed in a poem, which is stolen by Pan Bizheng (Shao Zheng), our hero, a failed scholar. She is indeed exquisite, as Pan says, a dewy goddess with huge, sparkling, expressive eyes. She can also be determined, kittenish and coy – with hidden claws.

Pan Bizheng is excellently played by Shao Zheng, a role that is bigger and possibly more challenging than that of Liu Mengmei in The Peony Pavilion. In both operas Zheng presents as a terribly handsome, elegant scholar. Here he has a couple of extended monologues/arias which are handled superbly, and he is terrific in his partnering in the duet scenes with Wei Chunrong. The zither flirtation scene is particularly charming.

Pan’s forceful aunt, the scheming Abbess, worried about the nunnery’s’ reputation once word leaks out about Pan Bizheng and Chen Miaochang’s liaison, was excellently portrayed by Bai Ziaojun. Yes, she is concerned for both her nephew and the novice in her charge but also feels that proprieties must be observed.

Pan Bizheng’s servant /valet, a sort of Leporello or Figaro figure, was terrifically played by Ma Baowang in blue. Quick witted, teasing and mischievous, he is also concerned for his master.

Much use is made of tiny subtle gestures – the touch of a finger, the crossing and enfolding of sleeves – and some wonderful use of mime features in the climactic boat scenes towards the end of the opera, where the parted lovers struggle to meet, exchange tokens (one of which is the hairpin of the title) and part sadly.

Will Pan Bizheng and Chen Miaochang be reunited? Will Pan Bizheng pass the Imperial exams and return triumphant? You will have to see the full opera to find out.

If music be the food of love, play on...

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Jade Hairpin
Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre
Sydney Opera House
25 – 26 January

Sydney Festival 2013
5 – 27 January  

Sydney Festival 2013 - Peony Pavillion

Here's what I thought for artshub

For Westerners, Peking Opera is definitely an acquired taste. Its music can seem harsh, discordant and atonal, possibly quite off-putting, and the ritualized, stylized subtle language of the gestures used (the shake of a sleeve, the tiny movement of a finger, can reveal volumes of hidden emotion) can be totally obscure. The art form as we know it today has been developed over centuries and combines elements of dance, dialogue, monologues, mime and martial arts.

In this production of The Peony Pavilion (one of the classics of the genre) as brought to us by the Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre, we have a somewhat radical reworking. The musicians are hidden in the wings stage left. There are virtually no sets, only a gold backdrop and a turquoise front curtain for scene changes, combined with a few tables/chairs and light props: a vase, a hoe, a paintbrush. The emphasis is far more on plot and characterisation, though there are some stunning, very detailed and elaborate costumes and makeup.

There are some similarities to Western opera, for example in Act One the heroine, Du Liniang, has an extended aria and deathbed scene and collapses and dies (as in La Traviata or La Boheme). Also in Act One, with the appearance of the King and the Goddess of Flowers, there was an exquisite, tightly choreographed dance that in some ways echoed the Garland Dance from Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty.      

Running for three hours, the production has nonetheless been cut drastically for Western audiences. The surtitles were a great help although sometimes the English was slightly awkward. Watching The Peony Pavilion took some acclimatisation, and particularly in Act One there are periods of languor where nothing much really happened to move the plot along. Indeed, time seemed to be portrayed differently – a lot of the work is seemingly slow and limpid but this is suddenly contrasted with fast, explosive moments full of action, and the final denouement as presented had the feeling of being rushed.

Our heroine, Du Liniang, was magnificently performed by Wei Chunrong, who presented an exquisite picture; she has huge expressive eyes and looks like a blushing flower. She was a ‘good girl', a dutiful daughter – as in all Chinese fairytales – yet still determined, feisty and true to her love. She dies a quite Victorian, operatic death of ennui and hidden love, and is amazing as the ghost towards the end (note the extra long white strips on her costume representing her ‘otherworldliness’ here).

Our hero, handsome scholar Liu Mengmei, was terrifically played by Shao Zheng. He was excellent as the troubled romantic bothered by a strange dream and haunted by the girl in the picture. To Western ears he at times sounded like a counter tenor.

Du’s pert maid, Chun Xiang, was strongly played by Wang Jin. She was sassy and pert, but devoted to her mistress. (Note she did not have the long flowing sleeves of her superiors).

Du’s concerned, stern but loving parents were marvellously played by Hai Jun and Bai Xiaojun. They were shown as somewhat stock characters (like Polonius can be in Hamlet), exemplifying traditional Chinese virtues, but excellently done and wearing (particularly for her father) magnificent costumes. The costumes however really come into focus with the red and gold garb of the Flower King (of particular note is the red mask/beard and the almost bustle-like, heavily detailed embroidery on his back, making him look like a bee), the goddess and their entourage. Act Two is enlivened by two young men as butterflies who, looking like bluebirds, performed splendid tumbling.     

There is also for instance the stock ‘comic' character of the old gardener, and the unusual (to Western eyes) Taoist nun and healer, Sister Stone.

A rare, exotic and somewhat challenging treat.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5
The Peony Pavilion
By The Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre China 
Original work: Tang Xianzu
Artistic Consultant: Ma Shaobo
Libretto adaptation: Shi Tao & Fu Xueyi
Director: Ma Zianglin
Composer: Fu Xueyi

Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
24 - 26 January

Sydney Festival 2013
5 – 27 January

Sydney Festival 2013 : Rian review

Another major must see of the 2013 Festival was Fabulous Beast's magnificent 'Rian'
Here's what I said wearing my Dance Informa reviewer hat

Theatre Royal Sydney
January 17-23 2013
As part of Sydney Festival
By Lynne Lancaster.
It would be hard to find a more powerfully explosive show celebrating the sheer exuberance and joy of dancing. Hotly anticipated Fabulous Beast, under the excellent direction of Michael Keegan-Dolan, returned to Sydney for Sydney Festival and brought us their tremendous Rian, which means ‘trace’ or ‘mark’ in Irish Gaelic.  
Musically, under the energetic direction of Liam O Maonlai (a founding member of the band Hothouse Flowers), there is everything from amplified harp, piano, piccolo, drums, violin, and assorted pipes to percussion, all tremendously played and full of infectious toe-tapping rhythm. Traditional tunes are melded with original composition and the inventive use of sometimes unusual instrumentation. The show becomes a cross between concert and ceilidh.
Sabine Dargent’s set is a curved green amphitheatre, similar to that found in Irish pubs, with a raised platform on which seats and most of the musical instruments are arranged. The cast sit on the chairs when not performing and watch their colleagues.
Rian at Sydney Festival
Fabulous Beast present ‘Rian’. Photos by Jamie Williams.
The lighting is relatively minimal, but at a couple of points there is very effective use of shadows cast moodily on the backdrop.
The work is plot-less, yet full of the boundless joy of dance and energy of movement. The incredible dancers seem boneless and inexhaustible. From the opening, with the traditional Irish harp, we are reminded of the company’s roots. There is not only emphasis on Celtic/Gaelic themes but a melding of Flamenco, African and Indian influences, plus hints of a ballet base. There is much unison work, and a lot of repeated phrases of movement. Keegan-Dolan seems to favour a feeling of vertical, circular movement. There is also rolling floor work. Apparently there are 108 different sorts of movement used in the show!   
In one dance the men perform reaping-like movements while the women do little shakes of the shoulders combined with isolation movements of the torso. There is one section (possibly Pina Bausch inspired) where to an infectious, yet seemingly soporific uilleann pipes rhythm, the whole cast in a row of chairs, front centre, go into a dreamlike trance in their own worlds and start drifting. The audience love it. The dance is organically incorporated with the music with springy rocking, stamping steps that swing low, yet are simultaneously high-stepping. There are soft jumps with hands like stars. 
O Maonlai has a couple of featured solos as does magnificent Eithne Ni Chathain, who in her show stopping solo is eventually joined by the four female dancers who become twisting, swaying trees with uplifted arms.
There is also a teasing duet for a male and female dancer that becomes a fun zigzagging chase. And the fragile, tender atmosphere when a man and a woman hesitantly touch, at first hand to hand then back to back with outstretched arms.  Melancholy short solos are contrasted with high energy jigs.
There is a marked change from the rather formal, stiff opening with hot suits and enclosed socks and shoes, to the hot, sweaty, barefoot, breathless ending with jackets discarded and shirts undone.
Enthralling stuff and a major highlight of this year’s Festival.

Sydney Festival 2013 : Symphony

this was amazing , a highlight of this year's Festival of Sydney
here's what I said for artshub

This amazing, mesmerizing dance work will leave you stunned, breathless and gasping for more. Part of the ‘About an Hour’ series for the Sydney Festival, and first performed in 2012 at Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA) in Lismore NSW, it is an intoxicating collaboration between four magnificent, death-defying performers from Legs on The Wall and Stefan Gregory on amplified electric guitar.

Gregory was specially commissioned to write the music; a reworking of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (hence the title) for solo guitar. Beethoven’s original composition is used as a base by Gregory, with the movements indicated by the appropriate number somewhere on the scenery. The melodies and rhythms are incorporated, but Gregory’s soundtrack varies from crashing ‘musique concrete’ to jaunty dance melodies, creating something very different to the late 18th century original. Throughout the performance Gregory stands front stage left, before a spot-lit music stand, with generally no interaction with the dancers.

In the beginning the stage is clear, though there are cardboard boxes stacked in the wings. Much use is made of these throughout as a flexible set. Rhiannon Spratling has a breathtaking opening solo where the other three dancers shift the boxes all over the stage, extremely restricting the stage space. A wonderful game of hide and seek is then played. In another section the cast build a wall of the boxes (with gaps). To reach the ramparts there are shoulder–high lifts, the cast helping each other. There is a fabulous coup-de-theatre where the boxes collapse and become a magical starry tableaux. Are we meant to think of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's wonderful Sutra?  

Choreographically, the show opens with Spratling’s incredibly controlled, razor-sharp arabesque penchee. She then has an extraordinary angular solo. In a latter section she dips and rolls as if caught in the ‘rocks’ of the various boxes. Tiny details (the hands on top of a box for instance) are also important. There are also intimate emotional reactions and tension between the various performers throughout. At times the choreography is fluid and darting. In other sections there is unison, repetition of certain angular phrases of movement. Yet other parts seem Christopher Wheeldon inspired. There are some incredibly dangerous, challenging lifts and catches, fast rolls and quite a bit of floorwork. 

About three quarters of the way through Amy Macpherson has an incredible, mesmerising extended solo that is quite gymnastic/contortionist in appearance. It is very demanding – seemingly almost physically impossible – yet very reflective, like a melancholy monologue, and she looks boneless. It is interrupted by an explosive pas de deux but she continues.

Both of the men also have featured solos showcasing their extraordinary talents. 

Speech is included: each of the four dancers has a short monologue on the phone (e.g. Cornell’s being left six metres high up on a forklift!)   

The final section of the work is where all the dancers become exciting aerialists, using straps. They all throw themselves in to this sequence, swirling, hovering, turning, bouncing upside down, in a spellbinding finale complemented by the stunning red and black landscape projections at the rear of the stage.

While relatively short (just on an hour) this is a brilliant, stunning start to the theatrical year.      
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5 

By Legs on the Wall
Director: Patrick Nolan
Composer/Performer: Stefan Gregory
Video: Andrew Wholley
Designer: Alice Babidge
Lighting: Matt Cox
Head Rigger: Jon Blake
Assistant Director: Dean Cross
Performers: Matt Cornell, Amy Macpherson, Rhiannon Spratling and Joshua Thomson

Carriageworks, Eveleigh   
11 – 16 January

Sydney Festival 2013
5 – 27 January

Mum's next exhibition

Here's a link with info about my mum's next exhibition