Monday, 29 December 2014

Page 8

This was glorious Part of this year’s Corroboree season and also linked in with the Bangarra 25th anniversary birthday celebrations this wonderful, huge hearted production explodes onto the Bangarra studio stage. The show was first performed a decade ago and was last seen in a fleeting season at Belvoir in 2009. Directed by his brother Stephen , PAGE 8 is an intimate, very revealing, autobiographical coming of age tale, which is about how David, the eighth child in a family of twelve grew up in a housing commission estate in Queensland. This intimate self portrait , performed by David himself, has a captivating, witty, illuminating script co-written by Louis Nowra and incorporates storytelling,1970′s home movies, singing , dancing and a now legendary drag routine. The show opens with David as a young boy receiving an old movie camera as a Christmas present, which he went on to use and made plenty of home movies. He became ‘Australia’s answer to Michael Jackson’ at only thirteen . As ‘Little Davey Page’ he appeared on many television programs including Countdown and The Paul Hogan Show, and his singles made it into the Australian Top 10. Then his voice broke. David then embarked on a dark journey of self discovery in his teenage years, dealing with, among other things, coping with racism, family crisis, career directions and coming out as gay. As a teenager, he showed his talents as an award winning composer. David has been involved in his brother Stephens’ dance company Bangarra as well as the Sydney 2000 Olympics , the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and various movie and stage projects. He recently completed a very successful national tour of Black Diggers. Page can best be described as an extraordinarily vibrant and versatile performer. Muscular, tattooed and sinuous, he is a striking , magnetic performer contrasting glorious creamy movements with stark dramatic ones. During PAGE 8 he brings to life an incredible array of characters, especially his much loved family:- his parents, siblings , Aunty Tess and Uncle George. Also brought to life are a motley group of characters including bosses, teachers and agents. David is hilarious as as his younger self on television. He is ravishing as Frank N Furter from The Rocky Horror Show and dazzles as legendary soul singer, Aretha Franklin. He tells some very funny anecdotes against himself but can also subtly change the mood and be quite intense, serious and poignant. Robert Cousins’ set design includes a rackety old kitchen full of assorted props.There is a glitzy stage area including a huge double-door wardrobe, the doors of which cleverly act as a projection screen. There are many costume changes- plenty of high heels and platform shoes. The stage lighting is a treat. PAGE 8 is an extraordinary theatrical tour de force, – an extremely revealing , emotional solo performance from the heart of Bangarra and the Page clan. Running time is two hours without interval. PAGE 8 plays the Bangarra Studios until Sunday 14th December.

Recollect: Shoes at the Powerhouse Museum

A fabulous fascinating exhibition‘Shoes are like makeup for the feet’ (Edmund Castillo). Shoe aficionados rejoice and slide, stumble, teeter, bourree, glide, tango, tap, ooze, march, or run your way to this fabulous exhibition at the Powerhouse. The exhibition is down on Level 1, near the Wiggles exhibition, and is the first time that the Museum has used the particular area as an exhibition space. Shoes can be disposable, comfortable or extremely uncomfortable, bespoke or mass produced. They can be works of art, more like a piece of sculpture than wearable footwear. They can also be specially made for protection (for instance, fire fighter boots) or specially made to help with medical conditions. The Powerhouse ‘s collection of shoes numbers over 1,000 pairs, dating from the 16th century to now. This is the third ‘Recollect ‘ exhibition (previous exhibitions were on the themes of cars and architecture). It shows us how the Powerhouse collects, stores and maintains its awesome shoe collection and how the theory of conservation of shoes has changed over the years. It is interesting to note that some materials used to conserve shoes actually end up destroying them. A major highlight of the display are the historic shoes from the internationally significant Joseph Box collection. Joseph Box Ltd (today owned by John Lobb Bootmaker Ltd) was a London based shoe company which had its origins in a business making women’s shoes founded by James Sly in 1808. There are 5 showcases devoted to the Box collection , some of which were not meant to be worn but rather were designed to show off the skill of the particular shoemaker. The detail and exquisite design are breath taking. There are remnants of leather shoes from the Middle Ages, which were excavated from British archaeological sites, intact European shoes from the 16th century to the early 19th century, ethnographic shoes, shoe buckles, tools and spurs, as well as an extensive company archive. The exhibition also includes a range of shoe-making equipment, including an early 20th century clicking press, various shoe lasts, including those for Kerry Packer and Bob Hawke, and assorted patterns to demonstrate the process of making bespoke (made-to-measure) shoes, in addition to a collection of recent acquisitions. There is a section called ‘Wear in the world ‘ with wonderful shoes from around the world including reindeer skin boots, shoes for bound feet from China, toe hold truck tyre sandals from South Africa .. .There are roller skates and ice skates , polo boots, pointed shoes, worn and signed by Ruth Gaelene, and a special section featuring children’s shoes. The Streetshoes section includes bright unmissable sneakers and Adidas. A favourite of mine were the Jeremy Scott silver teddy bear sneakers. We follow the development of the wedges, and the development of the high heel and lethal stiletto.(Dior ones for example). We can see the now fragile, very first pair of elastic-sided boots in the world, worn by Queen Victoria, and can trace how this influenced RM Williams among others. A special section of the exhibition towards the start is the haunting shoe lasts from the famous Perkal Brothers of Surry Hills who passed away in 2013. Catherine Martin ‘s major collection is also featured and is enormously impressive and beautiful- everything from Jimmy Choos to Prada ( oh the leopard skin ones!) to Donna May Bolinger. I loved the yellow Christian Laboutier with black detail. There were shoes designed by Mary Quant, Yves St Laurent and contemporary Australian shoe designers ( eg Stepping Out). Other celebrity shoes you can see include those worn by Colin Lanceley and Johnny O’Keefe , Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Super Elevated Gillies’, Marc Newson’s cosmonaut-inspired sneakers for Nike, a pair of Charles Jourdan heels worn by Nicole Kidman in the film Moulin Rouge and a pair of cricket boots autographed by Sir Donald Bradman. There are also exotic shoes for Mardi Gras … One could easily spend days examining this exhibition. Another quote to end with:- ‘A woman can carry a bag but it is the shoe that carries the woman’. (Christian Louboutin). RECOLLECT: SHOES @ the Powerhouse is on exhibition until May 2015. For more information about RECOLLECT: SHOES visit:-

Monday, 22 December 2014

Dame Maggie Scott

A marvellous dance biography impressive new biography of Dame Maggie Scott has been published by the Text Publishing Company. The author is Michelle Potter, a notable dance author, historian and curator who holds a Doctorate in art history and dance history from the Australian National University. Amongst other things she has received two Australian Dance Awards – for Services to Dance in 2003 and Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film in 2001. Dame Margaret (Maggie) Scott looms large in the history of late twentieth century/early twenty-first century dance in Australia. This biography of a pioneering figure in Australian dance history was launched as part of the fiftieth anniversary of the Australian Ballet School celebrations, most appropriately as Scott was founding Director of the school and a dancer and teacher of immense vision and intellect. Maggie Scott was born in Johannesburg in 1922. She showed an early love and aptitude for dance and was encouraged to move to Britain for further training but just six weeks after her arrival World War 11 erupted. During the War she started performing with the Sadlers Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet) and worked with the legendary Dame Ninette de Valois, Helpmann,and Fonteyn but then she changed companies and began dancing for Rambert, touring Germany in 1946. Scott traveled to Australia with the Rambert company in 1947. Other important names of ballet history to emerge around this time include Edouard Borovansky, Ruth Galene, Vasilli Trunoff and Kyra Bousloff. The Company had a tremendously successful Sydney season but then disaster struck for Scott as the recurrence of a back injury occurred. The dancer was informed she probably would not be able to dance again. Scott did however eventually recover and became a major figure in Australian dance. She was enticed back to the stage for Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker: The Story of Clara in 1992, 1994 and 2000 for the Australian Ballet. Scott became the first Director of The Australian Ballet School. She holds two honorary Doctorates.She was a foundation member of the National Theatre Ballet and led a group of Australian who helped establish the Australian Ballet as Australia’s flagship ballet company Dame Maggie has inspired and taught dancers who are now regarded as exceptional performers, choreographers and teachers. The book has quotes from many of them including Lucinda Dunn, Lisa Pavane , Marilyn Rowe, Lisa Bolte , Christine Walsh , Julia Cotton… to name just a few. Graeme Murphy reminisces about his audition for the Australian Ballet School as does David McCallister, the current artistic director of the Australian Ballet. Fascinating insights are leaked into the early history of the Australian Ballet and also Scott’s work and links with John Cranko and Sir Kenneth Macmillan, among others, whilst she worked in the UK. We learn of her enforced retirement and the behind the scenes political wrangling at the time of the silver jubilee celebrations of the Australian Ballet school. Her personal life is mentioned but rather minimally. Scott is married to Dr Derek (Dick) Denton a medical doctor. They have two sons, Angus and Matthew. Her encouragement of other creative artists including Russell Drysdale is mentioned and much is also made of her pedagogy and the teaching at the Australian Ballet School. The publication features an exuberant forward by Graeme Murphy and includes some wonderful photos. Scott’s visionary tract ‘ Philosophy of Teaching ‘ is also available at the back giving great insight into Scott’s teaching and expansion of the Australian Ballet School. Dance educators will be fascinated by Scott’s luminary vision for the Australian Ballet School, and how she tried to blend the major styles (Vaganova, Checchetti, R.A.D. and Bournonville ) in the curriculum and was constantly ensuring the school was as contemporary as possible. The Dame Margaret Scott fund for Choreography most recently assisted the Australian Ballet’s Melbourne and Sydney seasons of Ratmasnky’s Cinderalla. Now a nonagenarian, Dame Margaret apparently recently brought the house down at the Australian Ballet School’s 50th celebrations, swishing a sparkly gold stick for the golden anniversary. Impeccably researched, the result of many meetings, oral history interviews and international research this is a fascinating biography of a major luminary in the Australian dance world. Title: Dame Maggy Scott Author: Michelle Potter Publisher : Text Publishing Company ISBN : 9781922182388 Dewey classification : 792.8092 Bind : Hardback For more about Dame Maggie Scott, visit

NT LIve Frankenstein

Very strong powerful stuff magnificent, intense, shattering production will leave you reeling, stunned and breathless. This is a repeat screening of the brilliant 2011-2 production at the National Theatre in London, directed by Danny Boyle,and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein. There are actually two versions of this film, with the two leads swapping roles in the other version. The production is based on the novel by Mary Shelley about scientist Victor Frankenstein who creates a man from combined dead bodies and then goes on to abandon him. Shelley’s classic works raises so many big questions,-Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?… We see how the poor Creature, abandoned at birth , is penniless and homeless. In Cumberbatch’s extraordinary performance we see how the scarred Creature, emerges from the apparatus he has been suspended from, works out how to move and walk, and then discerns the rhythm of the weather and seasons. The creature soon cruelly discovers how society will only reject him and drive him away.Eventually he forms a friendship with a blind old man de Lacey, beautifully played by Karl Johnson, who teaches him the ways of civilisation. Things take a turn for the worse when he is driven away by the old man’s son and daughter in law .The Creature’s heart, originally with massive potential for good, begins slowly to turn pernicious and he goes down the path of bitter revenge. The Creature is lonely and separate and wants a companion and in his view Victor broke his word when he destroyed the Creature’s potential ‘wife’ he had almost finished completing . Cumberbatch as the Creature is amazing , a sensational bravura performance. At first he is all slippery and slithery as he tries to learn to stand up and walk , he then becomes twisted and clingy but grows to become powerfully eloquent. Yes, thus Creature has even read John Milton’s Paraidise Lost. Victor Frankenstein as played by Jonny Lee Miller is shown as driven, elegant and handsome .He is a scientist in search of the spark of life and succeeds but it all goes wrong.Shocked, he abandons the scarred Creature and flees. At the end we see how the positions of creature and creator are reversed. – we see how Victor becomes more and more like the Creature was at the very beginning. Elizabeth, as portrayed by Naomie Harris, is depicted as questioning, innocent, beautiful…She thinks she knows her fiancé Victor but does she really?! The camerawork is excellent and it almost feels like we are there on stage. There is a great use of close-ups at times and also dizzying, effective use of the high shots of the huge revolve, and the amazing chandelier/galaxy of lights, that are used to great effect. There are some magical special effects. The huge Olivier Theatre stage is stretched to its limits.There is exciting use of the revolves and I enjoyed the delicate, almost Japanese style of de Lacey’s house. Victor’s house and Elizabeth’s room were elegantly decked in black and white. A huge noisy train catapaults ominously forward belching steam to represent early 19th-century industrialisation. This was a chilling, thrilling, challenging production that well deserved the rapturous, standing ovation that it received. NT LIVE FRANKENSTEIN is screening at selected cinemas now. The film opens with a short documentary about the rehearsal process before ‘live action’ begins. Running time 2 hours 15 minutes without interval.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Absolutely delightful enchanting children's theatre . on to your biscuits! Part of the ‘Kids at the House’ season this is wonderful fun, full of bright, vibrant energy. This is magnificent school holiday fare and is just right for the intended market, young ittlies, who absolutely loved it. Some kids came dressed in a tiger onesie, quite a few wore a Tiger mask (for sale at the merchandise desk) ,some had their photo taken with the cardboard cutout tiger at the entrance to the theatre, The show is based on Judith Kerr’s wonderful book that has been out for about 40 years about a Tiger (a very polite yet extremely hungry,, dancing ,energetic tiger!) who invites himself to afternoon tea with Sophie and her Mum and eats and drinks everything in the house, leaving nothing left for supper. The show includes mime, (Tiger indicating he is hungry and thirsty) slapstick (Daddy, late for work, frantically running around gulping breakfast, putting his shoes in the toaster instead of bread!), and panto. As in the style of Playschool and The Wiggles there is repetition of simple phrases, counting down of the hours on the clock, plenty of sing-along audience participation (the ‘yummy, scrummy sausages chips and ice cream’ song), and great sight gags ( Daddy wearing a tea cosy instead of his hat). The combination of sounds and mime in the car sequence (the car being kitchen furniture) was great fun and there were lovely special effects with the night stars design. Matthew Dudley as Daddy, the milkman and old almost blind postman, is tall, gangly and a lot of fun. As Tiger he is striking in his orange and black attire. His sinister, slinky entrance and fantastic ‘killer moves’ generated squeals of excitement from the young audience members. He is also terrific at leading the Tigerobics (again almost full house audience participation ) when the music is on the radio … Jenanne Redman as Mummy was just right, sweet and caring and always busy. Redman also showed great prowess as a singer and dancer. Abbey Norman as Sophie is terrific, extremely energetic and delightful.There were some lovely moments. My favourites:- when the Tiger was drinking and Sophie was stroking his tail..when Tiger gives Sophie a ride on his back…when Sophie hugs the Tiger goodbye. Dudley as Tiger is very tall and striking in his orange and black garb, and has much fun even playing a horn at the curtain calls. Visually the set is very faithful to the book; bright, mostly blue but with yellow accents and chairs, as are the costumes (down to the checks on Sophies’s tights) . This was glorious children’s theatre and children of all ages were enchanted. When you go to see the show make sure that you pack extra provisions and that you don’t forget the large tin of Tiger food! Running Time- 1 hour. THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA is playing the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House until 28th December 2014.

NT LIve A Streetcar Named Desire

Wow .Hot and explosive . Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review is sweltering in this extraordinary powerful, shattering, very intimate performance of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee Williams. Part of the season at the Young Vic in London , it is screened as part of the ‘NT Live’ series and explodes onto the screen . Benedict Andrews has updated the production to now, set in present day New Orleans with jumpy blasts of rock music including Jimi Hendrix and Chris Isaac. The stage for this production is configured as a combination thrust/in the round space so that the theatregoers can intimately view the action and each other. This is also helped by the constant use of the revolve which whilst extremely effective is a little dizzying at times. The ‘fourth wall’ is broken down and we are in Stella and Stanley’s tiny cramped apartment with the crashing screen door, the staircase, the small bathroom and a curtain drawn at times for ineffectual privacy . There is very effective use of close ups and also shots from above, showing the resolve in action. The show’s unsettling focus-as it should be- is on the domestic violence that frames Williams’ play. Ben Foster as Stanley, burly, handsome, with tattoos , smoulders and menaces. Vanessa Kirby as Stella, torn between her husband and sister, is sensational. Gillian Anderson as ex school teacher Blanche du Bois,is sensational, giving a searing , emotionally harrowing performance. Blanche is a faded Southern belle of a large Mississippi abode who has lost her home before the action begins and loses her mind by play’s end. We see her brittle, fragile hold on normal life dissolve and disintegrate. . Anderson shatteringly shows a woman whose options are running out and who is getting ever closer to the end of her tether. Her lies and fantasies of a better life become almost heroic.Her exit at the end is intense and overwhelming, almost unbearable . Corey Johnson as the concerned, warm hearted gentlemanly Mitch delivers a fine performance. An American classic of thwarted dreams and explosive sexuality not to be missed . Running time– just over 3 hours including interval. Allow extra time after to recover! NT LIVE: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is currently screening at selected cinemas. DRAMATIS PERSONAE:- Blanche du Bois Gillian Anderson Eunice Hubbel Calre Burt Mexican Woman Lachele Carl Steve Branwell Donaghy Young Collector Otto Farrant Stanley Kowalski Ben Foster Doctor Nicholas Gecks Pablo Troy Glasgow Nirse Stephanie Jacob Harold Mitchell ( Mitch ) Corey Johnson Stella Kowalski Vanessa Kirby Woman Claire Prempeh CREATIVES:- Director Benedict Andrws Design Magda Willi Costumes Victoria Behr Lightging John Clark Sound Paul Arditti Music Alex Baranwoski

The Australian Ballet La Bayadere

Here's what I thought for Sydney Arts Guide and incredibly spectacular this version by Australia’s Stanton Welch was created for his Houston Ballet ( where Welch is artistic director) in 2010 .It is a reworking of Petipa’s 1877 version at the height of fascination with all things Oriental. It is about love , revenge , jealousy and politics with a very silly ,extremely complicated plot so redolent of Russian 19th century ballet. It is very kitschy and hammily acted at times but all is redeemed by the superlative dancing .The Australian Ballet are just getting better and better. Welch’s very demanding , athletic choreography includes several very high , difficult ‘Bolshoi’ lifts in the pas de deux .And the famous test piece the ‘Kingdom of Shades’ scene was superb. In Welch’s production scenes flow swiftly and the mime is clear. Welch has edited the complex plot, boosted the male roles and fine tuned the pace creating an almost Bollywood fantasy. The Kingdom of the Shades scene in Act 3 was breathtaking,with the mesmerizing , repetitive diagonal entrance of the ghostly Shades all in white magnificent- a glorious example of links to ‘Giselle ‘ ( past) and ‘Swan Lake’ ( very soon to come) . The well drilled corps moved and breathed as one. Juliet Burnett , Ako Kondo and Miwako Kubota shone as three of the leading Shades. The pas de deux for Solor and Nikia were splendid , retaining some of the original Petipa choreography patterns ,lines and rigid formality were required especially for example in the huge ensemble.Peter Farmer’s front curtain designs were marvellous ,his set designs sensational ( although I get the feeling they are a bit cramped on the Sutherland stage ) . Costume designs are striking too , mostly richly oppulent , lavishly textured and full of colour . Minkus’ lyrical, tuneful score was excellently played under the enthusiastic baton of guest conductor Phillip Ellis. The work requires a huge cast , not just marvellous technicians but also great character actors as well . Cameron Hunter as Calum the fakir with his wild matted hair and slithery simian like movements was tremendous. Some versions have a ‘ Bronze’ or ‘Gold’ idol , in this version we have Agni the fire god ( Chengwu Guo) who has a very spectacular , dramatic , showy solo and Garuda the dream god ( Cristiano Matino) in grey blue. Both were extremely impressive . Our sweet ,tragic heroine Nikia was exquisitely danced by Madeline Eastoe in a ravishing performance of fluid line , full of graceful delicacy and vulnerability –magnificent . As malevolently , maliciously sweetly evil Gamzatti in pink ( perhaps a villianous cousin of Sugar in Matthew Bourne’s ‘Nutcrcacker’ ?) Lana Jones was terrific. Solor, our warrior hero whose saving the village from the tiger change his life was tremendously danced by Daniel Gaudiello .Fiery and impassioned , you can see the Nureyev influence and the links to the later’ Le Corsair’ in his solos especially in Act 3.Estoe , Gaudiello and Jones handle the demanding , difficult choreography with great pizzazz. Andrew Killian was tall and imposing , very regal and channelling his inner Yul Brynner as the High Brahmin in love with Nikia. During the wedding scenes there are various set display pieces for the scantily clad guards in leather, Gamzatti’s sisters and the groomsmen that have intricate interweaving patterns and lines of choreography and showy jumps. Welch’s production showcases thrilling bravura technique and is a great display piece for the Australian Ballet . Running time 2 hours 45 ( approx) includes 2 intervals The Australian Ballet’s ‘ La Bayadere ‘ runs at the Joan Sutherland Auditorium Sydney Opera House Nov 6 -22 CAST I SAW Nikiya Madeliene Eastoe Solor Daniel Gaudiello Gamzatti Lana Jones Rajah Rudy Hawkes High Brahmin Andrew Killian Kalum the fakir Cameron hunter Agni the fire god Chengwu Guo Garuda the dream god Cristiano Martino

IOU3 at Carriageworks

Some fascinating new work This year’s IOU season, now at Carriageworks rather than the IO Myers studio at UNSW, featured six short, very exciting works. The dancers involved in IOU3 have accumulated many years of performing experience. Having worked with major companies, directors and choreographers both internationally and locally, the artists are now developing as choreographers in their own right. Concept and performance are expressed in unexpected ways, blending a diverse display of technically demanding works that experiment with form. The opening work by Tanya Voges, …and the pendulum, was a chilling, gripping piece inspired by an Edgar Allen Poe story. It included the use of a video screen. To the mellifluous narration by Damien Asher Voges, it utilised the actual text on the page (stop. open brackets. close bracket. exclamation mark. etc.) as if dictating basis for the movement, which was sometimes frenzied. There was incredible tension built up in the dance work and the reading. The text could possibly drown the performance, but, as I was happy to find, didn’t. Arms and bodies were swung as if they were a pendulum, and there was a lot of floor work and drawing on the special square of floor covering used. We could hear the scratch of the chalk drawing the lines as if the pendulum was approaching. Katrina Chan’s Adrift contained powerful, hypnotic movement and at times she was eerie and spiderlike. She knelt, rolled and crawled among other movements in storm-tossed turmoil. However, the audience didn’t realise that her solo had finished, so there was no applause. Adam Synnott and Lisa Griffiths’ Existence was a striking pas de deux, incorporating film and creating an intense, intimate atmosphere. It included some most unusual lifts and lots of rolling floor work. Naked Habit by Timothy Ohl and Gavin Clarke used dark humour to examine the serious subject of drug addiction. For me, it was one of the least successful works, attempting to cram too much in. It included tap dancing, the spoken word, blacked up full body paint, recycled masks and a large puppet made of empty beer cans. Some of the designs were quite Cubist in style – think Picasso’s Parade. It was strange but fun. Emily Amisano’s Between Dog and Wolf looked at the idea of transformation and was another strong, powerful and dramatic solo, with exciting swirls and full of flowing yet angular movements. It made for a very intriguing piece. Without Concept by Craig Bary and Joshua Thomson was an audience pleaser and much fun, examining dance as an aesthetic experience. It began with them doing solos that are connected but not linked, which leads to mirroring and synchronised team work, and then there is a definite sudden mood change and a far more intimate final duo. The dancers are in casual clothes. At times, they appear to be almost boneless and the choreography demanded, among other things, very flexible lower backs and fabulous jumps. Overall, this was a thought provoking, challenging and inspiring performance from all involved

Sydney Dance New Breed

Here's what I said for Dance Informa | Australian Dance Reviews, Reviews Sydney Dance Company presents ‘New Breed’ Print This Post Posted on05 November 2014. Tags: Bernard Knauer, Carriageworks, Cass Mortimer Eipper, Charmene Yap, choreographic platform, David Mack, Do We, Dogs and Baristas, Gabrielle Nankivell, Holly Doyle, Infernal Gallop, Janessa Dufty, Juliette Barton, Lee Serle, Luke Smile, Matthew Bourne, Matthew Marshalls, New Breed, Rafael Bonachela, Scrutineer, Stephen Bush, Sydney Dance Company, White Elephant, Wildebeest Carriageworks, Sydney November 4, 2014 By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa. Five short new works under the umbrella title New Breed marked the first of a new partnership between Carriageworks and Sydney Dance Company, supporting and encouraging the development of choreographic talent. Selected by Sydney Dance Company Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela, this short premiere season gave the choreographers an opportunity to create a work with the fabulous members of the company. For these performances, there was no real set, just the bare walls of Carriageworks, heavy lighting rigs and a white tarquet floor. However, Matthew Marshalls’ fabulous atmospheric lighting enhanced the glorious performances. The opening work White Elephant by Lee Serle, inspired by the works of Australian artist Stephen Bush, was most unusual and confronting. The idea was that the dancers inhabit the surreal landscape and are the landscape. The cast at the beginning was playing with sculptural piles of origami. Sometimes there was an emphasis on correct, almost rigid, balletic epaulement. There were repeated phrases of movement, and wonderful unified ensemble work that was contrasted with frenzied individual movement. Bernard Knauer had a stunning short solo and was on a very high relevé, almost en pointe. Abar the Elephant is one of the characters and there is a trio for him prone on the floor with two of the women. Charmene Yap’s Do We was a magnificent pas de deux for Holly Doyle and Bernard Knauer in elegantly casual beige costumes. There was a relentless, driving rhythm as provided by Gypsy Mandolin. The dancing was lean, powerful and athletic with unusual partnering, a wonderful line and terrific jumps. It had a gripping, intense atmosphere and there was a very effective use of echoing/mirroring. Sydney Dance Company’s first ‘New Breed’ choreographers. Photo courtesy of Sydney Dance Company. The third work was Cass Mortimer Eipper’s Dogs and Baristas, inspired by the idea of us all needing portion sized friendship. It opened with a white corridor of light and included speech and guttural sounds, claps and slaps. There were some repeated phrases of movement – at times the dancers appeared to be sculptural machines (coffee machines, given the work’s title?) Glorious softly padded jumps were contrasted with angular movements. Special mention must be made of the sensational solo for David Mack. Juliette Barton’s Scrutineer was an intense, crackling solo that dazzled. It was about the art of looking – and who is observing whom. Barton was in a short, revealing brown shift and beige socks, her sensational dancing is full of creamy movement, a laser sharp line combined with the use of a very flexible back. Undulating arms and a deep Graham-style plie are used as well. The final section of this work was a twitchy, disturbing and nightmarish segment that used a long black bench as support. Rolling floor work is included. By the way, flickering, pulsating strobe lighting was used, which some viewers might find quite disturbing. Based on the idea of exploring space, the final work, Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest, was extremely strong and powerful. The thinking behind the work was that underneath it all we are animals. The dancers were mysterious alien beings, or were they meant to be Frankenstein’s creatures? On a stormy night, Luke Smile’s soundscape throbbed and crashed. Laser-sharp leg lines were contrasted with fluid, rolling floor work. Formal, stylised choreography was contrasted with runs and some most unusual lifts. Were we meant to pick up allusions to Matthew Bourne’s Infernal Gallop? Janessa Dufty’s long solo concluding the work was amazing. Overall, this was a fascinating, most exciting programme!

Pop to Popism at the Art Gallery of NSW

A huge very exciting exhibition over 200 works by some 70 of the genre’s most well known artists, POP TO POPISM at the Art Gallery of NSW is the biggest collection of Pop Art ever to be seen in Australia. It is part of the Sydney International Art Series and is showing in conjunction with the Chuck Close : prints, process and collaboration exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. The exhibition spans 30 years (roughly the 1950’s to the 1980’s) and looks at the rebellious origins of Pop Art, how it spread world wide, and its legacy in Australia. Significant Australian works are included to put Australian Pop art in its international context. Continuing the tradition of scholarly research at the AGNSW, there is a blindingly dazzling display of Pop art legends such as Warhol and Lichtenstein , and Australian artists including Martin Sharp, Colin Lanceley, Brett Whiteley, Ken Reinhard, Richard Larter, Vivienne Binns and Bridgid McLean. At the media preview of the exhibition Curator Wayne Tunnicliffe spoke of howe many Australian artists have been and continue to be influenced by the Pop Art movement. POP TO POPISM is a large, sprawling exhibition of seven rooms that takes up most of Level 2 of the Gallery, where the Kaldor Contemporary display is usually placed. There is a special POPPLAY area for children, a family friendly creative space with interactive activities and also a very exciting children’s educational trail. As well, there is also the special POP CAFE blending the 50’s and 60’s with its silver bubble mirrors and black and white decor. The exhibition is roughly arranged chronologically, starting with THE FUTURE IS NOW and the emergence of Pop art from Abstract Expressionism in the 1950’s and Swinging London of the 60’s.This section includes the iconic work by Richard Hamilton Just What Is it That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?, a collage of a lounge room with a semi –naked body builder holding up a paddle with the word ‘Pop’. Also featured are Robert Rauschenberg’s Dylaby and Australian artist Colin Lanceley’s tastefully erotic, multi layered Stripper. The next section AMERICAN DREAM includes Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis and two of Lichenstsein’s works as well as more Rauschenberg and Marasol’s very strange John Wayne sculpture. It concentrates on the year 1962 when Pop art fully emerged with a bang in the New York art scene. Often the subject of American Pop art is commercial and familiar. Artists represented objects and imagery from the world around them, mimicking the look and feel of mass produced items. Yes Warhol’s famous soup cans are included as well as an early Lichtenstein Look Mickey. There is also the rather disturbing work by Robert Indiana The Demuth American Dream, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series (and his far darker unnerving Electric Chair) as well as Rauschenberg’s rather threatening Noise. One of the few female artists, Roslyn Drexler is also included with her Home Movies and Race for Time. Moving on, the viewer then encounters EURO POP in a fascinating room that features works from Germany, France, Italy and Scandinavia. A range of ideas was expressed, with Old Masters from traditional art history reworked and updated (for example Alain Jacquet) , Oyvind Falhstrom’s blasting of American consumerism, and Gerhard Richter commenting on the effects of mass production of consumer items. The next section is titled MADE IN OZ. As it says in the brochure, ‘Australian Pop is energetic, daring and often erotic’ as can be seen in the vivid, colourful works of Ken Reinhard (his Ticket Box and EK) with his distinctive use of red, black and white and artists such as Richard Larter. In common with British Pop art Australian Pop often used a collage aesthetic and painterly style which included abstract elements, blending local and international subjects and styles. Here we also see exciting works by Alan Oldfield, Martin Sharp ,Vivienne Binns, Gary Shead and Bridgid McLean, Gareth Samson, Dick Watkins and Peter Powditch. In LATE POP we see how society and art had changed even more by the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Disturbances about issues such as race relations, gender rights, sexual liberation and the Vietnam War all impacted heavily on Pop. In this section we see works by Martha Rosler, James Rosenquist and others making works critical of the American Dream and commenting on events happening both at home and internationally. Duane Hanson’s brutally realistic sculpture of an everywoman Woman With A Laundry Basket is also here. The Late Pop section also includes Brett Whiteley’s biggest work American Dream with its flashing red alarm light. Artists like Allen Jones and Tom Wesselmann further developed Pop Art’s concerns with the female body, desire and consumerism. Some artists who had been at the vanguard of Pop in the 1960’s began exploring other styles. Amongst these artists were David Hockney’s exploration of photo realism, and Martin Sharp’s work with psychedelic art. POPISM, the final section, examines how artists like Gilbert and George, Cindy Sherman and others were exploring Pop issues and concerns with the use of photographic techniques. Works by artists Jenny Watson, Juan Davila and Imants Tillers challenge and confront. The works of Jeff Koons intrigued, including an eerie double set of Hoover vacuum cleaners, and an odd work which looked like deflated basketballs in water. The exhibition is over and now it is through to the shop and splurge! Yes, more consumerism! Go on…you know you want it….The glorious catalogue is a good start! POP TO POPISM is on exhibition at the Arts Gallery of New South Wales until March next year.

Australian Chamber Orchestra Tognetti's Beethoven

This was heavenly , absolutely divine of us lucky enough to be in the audience for this concert were treated to an angelic aural feast. Led by Tognetti and with featured soloists Timo –Veikko Valve on cello and Yevgeny Sudbin on piano the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) played sublimely. As others of my colleagues have remarked this concert could be subtitled, ‘In the key of C’. Most of the program was heavenly, ravishing music by Beethoven but it also included the Australian premiere of Jonny Greenwood’s Water. Tognetti conducted dynamically and enthusiastically when not performing solo on the violin. The Orchestra was supplemented where required with extra orchestral members , meaning we heard a full wind section, brass and timpani. Opening the program was Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture based on Collin’s play, based on Shakespeare . Tognetti welcomed us and reminded us that this work was about Coriolanus’ crisis of conscience. This piece has passionate, singing violins and was sharp, spiky, dark and and at times, quite tempestuous. Then came the exquisite Triple Concerto also by Beethoven for violin cello and piano featuring its eerie opening on strings. This piece was dazzling, soaring and energetic. Boisterous ensemble work contrasted with the delicate featured playing of the soloists (Tognetti on violin, Valve on cello and Sudbin on piano). Sudbin on piano rippled and shimmered .Tognetti’s performance on the violin was magnificent, full of aching, soaring beauty. Valve on cello was superb. A major highlight was the opening of the final movement where the playing of the three was miraculous. .Elegance and eloquence were combined with a sense of yearning, looking back and yet moving forward. After interval came the Australian premiere of Jonny Greenwood’s delightful Water. This piece is the result of a collaboration with the ACO when Greenwood was in residence with the Orchestra last year. The piece is scored for piano and keyboard, flutes and strings. There is also a tanpura, a long necked fretless lute, played by a special guest Indian soloist in white with the sound of the second tanpura reproduced electronically. With Sudbin on piano the music rippled like darting sunlight on the surface of water, the ensemble sounding like raindrops, then perhaps the sea (shades of Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes). The piece featured darting , wheeling repetition and surges and then the music developed tempestuously like a major hail storm, swelling and receding away again .A wonderful fluid piece, delicately flavoured, that used repetitive patterns on a Lydian scale. Then came the sumptuous Beethoven 1st Symphony in a brisk, energetic and vibrant performance. This piece was played crisply and with the delicate nuances required. Natural horn and baroque trumpets were used , not modern-day equivalents.This brought a brighter sound which helped the somewhat smaller size of the string ensemble. For the encore we were treated to a delicious version of Janacek’s Goodnight from his On an overgrown path. The concert’s running time was 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval. The superb ACO’s Tognetti’s Beethoven played the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House on the 2nd and 3rd November.

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

YAY ! A marvellous show here's my Sydney Arts Guide review swans have triumphantly returned to Sydney in this touring revival of MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE which has just opened for a short season at the Theatre Royal. Readers might already be familiar with this ground breaking version now regarded as a modern iconic classic. This is the production with the deeply troubled Prince , the ditzy unsuitable girlfriend, the corgis and the ‘Moth ‘ ballet. It is also now famous for its male swans and the role of the Swan/Stranger, as first created and performed by Adam Cooper. Bourne’s production amounts to a radical reworking of this much loved ballet that turns ‘ traditional versions upside down while retaining allusions to some of the ‘traditional ‘ Petipa /Ivanaov choreography. It has a huge emotional impact.Tchaikovsky’s score has been rearranged slightly and as this is a touring version recorded music was used. This iconic revival is fairly similar to the original 1995 version , although Bourne has tweaked and added/deleted bits, to clarify the story. It features the wonderful Lez Brotherston costumes, and smooth swift scene changes, almost cinematic….Some moments/scenes were played for laughs, unexpectedly. There were plenty of incisive observations about the restricted lives of royalty and fun in jokes with the corgis. Ballet history is also gently parodied in the delightful spoof ‘Moth Ballet ‘ , the music for which is usually used for a pas de trois in Act 1. The ensemble of male swans was superb in their now familiar shaggy feathered leggings and black nose and eye makeup. At times they were heavy, vicious and dangerous,– you could hear the slap of their feet and their arms sometimes. They hissed, spat and pecked. At other times they appeared as glorious sculptures,or undulating seaweed. The finale is shattering. The ensemble in Act 1 as maids, footmen, and in Act 3 at the ball ( or should one say orgy?)as various assorted courtiers were superb performing Bourne’s formal, stylized choreography very elegantly. As the torn, repressed Prince Chris Marney was stunning. He looks perhaps a little like a young Paul Mercurio. Are the swans just fantasies in his imagination? He dances magnificently with a glorious elegant ‘line’ and acts well too. Chris Trenfield as the Swan was superb,- fluid, with flurried glorious soft yet powerful jumps, feral yet tender and mysterious with a touch of other-worldliness. He was inviting yet simultaneously pushing away the Prince. However, as the Stranger in Act 3 ( the big ballroom scene), whilst he danced brilliantly I am afraid he just lacked that something magical. The Queen, icy and elegant , at times terrifying was brilliantly performed by Stephanie Billers. The tall, leggy bubbly blonde Girlfriend here looks like Botticelli’s Venus. Anjali Mehra plays her as a delightful giggler who can’t believe her luck but all ends tragically. The tall ,extremely thin manipulating Private Secretary was menacingly played by Edd Mitton (in obviously fake beard and makeup, a Abraham Lincoln look alike). This was a thrilling production that was greeted, at the end, with a wonderful standing ovation. MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE is playing the Theatre Royal Sydney until Sunday 2nd November.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Ottoman Baroque

A dazzling hypnotising performance here's my Sydney Arts Guide reveiw This was a very exciting and captivating concert that in the first half looked at the 17th century European fascination with all things Turkish and in the second half we heard music from Greece and Turkey . Under the energetic and enthusiastic direction of Paul Dyer, leading from the keyboard, the Brandenburg played exquisitely. Our narrator, Alan Maddox, looking severe in theatrical black, explained certain points , established context, explained various items and read letters from that period. He guided us on a spiritual and musical journey across Europe from West to East. The concert began with Lully’s ‘Marche pour le ceremonie des Turcs ‘ from ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’ which, with stirring drums, had a martial feel yet was also full of delicate strings. Marais ‘ Sonnerie de Sainte Genevieve du Mont-de-Paris’ had haunting ,repetitive strings to evoke the tolling of the bells in its many layered, luscious performance. Teleman’s ‘Overture –Suite in B flat major’Les Nations’ was bright and brisk. For me, the standout part of the first half was the soaring, angelic ‘Miserere’ by Allegri, full of flowing and complicated rhythms. This is a ritual chant that became a must see-and-hear tourist attraction in the 18th century. The Brandenburg choir was magnificent in a stunning performance with the audience erupting in cheers and screams at the end. The final work of the first half was Boccherini’s Fandango from his Quintet for Guitar and Strings. This was a dialogue between flamenco passion and rhythms and the orchestra, with Yioda Wilson on castanets, dressed in a striking black and white Flamenco outfit with a long train and a red and white shawl. The piece blended castanets, rippling yet strong, sinuous and snaky flamenco arms and footwork with far more lyrical, liquid ‘Western ‘ music. The second half of the concert began in Greece , featuring the music of the ‘oud’ ( a short necked lute) , the’ lyra’ ( a short necked bowed fiddle) ,and a ‘ saz’ ( a long necked lute ). The music was infectiously played by a delightful quintet. There were three couples of dancers , dramatic in red and black , who performed a vibrant Hasapiko and Hasaposerviko (think ‘Zorba the Greek’ in style) including line and circle dancing and for the men showy jumps, crouches and heel-toe foot slaps and stamps. This was an exuberant piece featuring joyous rhythms, and the audience lapped it up. Next came the mysterious ‘whirling dervishes’ from Turkey, representing the Ottoman Empire with mystical ceremonial Ottoman music accompanying the Dervishes on original instruments. The Dervishes are a Sufi sect. (The musicians were in the small high gallery looking down at the Dervishes in the clear stage space below) .There was a definite atmosphere, a distinct sense of Sacred Space. Every aspect of the ceremony from the colours of the garments to the way and direction the Dervishes whirl has precise symbolic meaning for the performer. The black cloak symbolises the ego or worldly attachment. The tall camel hair hats represent the tomb of the ego. The whole ceremony is directed by a sheik who sat on a red sheepskin mat symbolising both union with God and sunset. The ceremony begins with a recitation from the Koran and a Rumi poem. A traditional song proclaiming Allah’s greatness is then sung. This is followed by a ‘ ney ‘ ( flute) improvisation during which the ‘semazen’ ( worshipers) walk in a circle three times. They then remove their outer black cloaks and begin to whirl, the ‘skirt’ of their white robes undulating like a flower. We saw four Dervishes as well as their Sheik. We heard music of the ‘ney’ ( flute) a’ kanum’ ( type of zither) ,’ ‘kudum’ ( small drums ) and ‘tambour’ (long necked lutes) . We only saw a short portion of the trance like hypnotic Mevlevi ceremony which can go on for hours .The music is structured and framed very differently from that of Western music .At the end there was no applause ( as asked) but we didn’t really leave quietly as requested and there was lots of talk outside in the foyer. This as a concert that makes you reflect about the connections between prayer and ritual as performance. Performance running time 2 hours including interval. OTTOMAN BAROQUE: BRANDENBURG AND THE WHIRLING DERVISHES plays at the City Recital Hall on various dates between the 22nd and 31st October.

Willoughby Jesus Christ Superstar

this was a sensational knockout Here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide This is a dazzling, superb version of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR that takes one’s breath away. Willoughby Theatre Company‘s (WTC) revival, directed by Stig Bell is a contemporary reworking of the now classic 1970’s musical that burns , including contemporary choreography,slang and ironic allusions to modern day life that make it as fresh as if it was written yesterday . In a strong ,powerful piece of theatre , Lloyd Webber and Rice take us through the last week of Jesus’ life and ministry,as based on the Gospels . This includes Palm Sunday ,the Last Supper and end with the events of Good Friday and Mary Magdalene sobbing over Jesus’ inert body. The cast is excellent featuring magnificent leads and a large, terrific ensemble. The orchestra as led by Therese Doyle is terrific . From the first hot wail of the electric guitar we are transported to the world of the Gospels and their events. James Wallis’s lighting design is tremendous , strong and dramatic ( note strobe lighting is used at one point). There is very effective use of silhouettes and swirly patterns, predominately in reds and purples, on the floor and walls. Slade Branch‘s set is very effective. It is multi-split level in structure with assorted steps and layers and staircases either side. This design is fluid and flexible enough to incorporate everything from the upper room for the Last Supper, Pilate’s offices , Herod’s court, city streets and more. The vivid ,exciting costumes were mostly a cross between 18th century Gothick and Rocky Horror. Sarah Friedrich’s exuberant choreography is tremendous, and very showbizzy. Darkly handsome Jesus , as portrayed by Dexter Villahermosa , was brilliant. He was in fabulous voice. Jesus is portrayed as a kind of rock God, especially in the opening scenes with the crowds swarming around him to touch him, and girls almost fainting after having touched his hand. Later we see Jesus drained and exhausted after having healed the demanding sick .He is mostly shown as an ordinary man deeply in love with Mary Magdalene whilst also having an other worldly quality about himself. Villahermosa’s ‘Gesthemane’ in Act 2 is a showstopper, with Jesus fighting against but in the end accepting the will of God and his crucifixion scene on the huge metal cross is shattering . As Judas, Peter Meredith was brilliant,–angry, anguished and menacing. At times he is questioning and mocking. He is torn and driven by something outside of himself in the lead up to events that then spiral out of control. Mary Magdalene is depicted as Jesus’ accepted partner, popular among the Apostles except for Judas who grumbles mightily. It is interesting to observe that she is the only woman at the last Supper. Lucy Hood is terrific giving a splendid performance. Her ‘I don’t know how to love him’, whilst fast paced and upbeat, was very moving. Tall, cold, chilling Pilate is shown as dashing in glittering full military uniform and in Act 2 wore a feathered ruff (pleated collar). Gareth Davis’s performance is striking,– his icy lizard-like control is disturbed by strange dreams and Jesus ‘ demeanour but in effect he equivocates. He tries to help but eventually washing his hands of Jesus. I also liked the three guards in sliver breastplates with smaller ruffs. Jonathan Holmes has a wonderful time channeling his inner Frank ‘n’Furter as Herod, whilst dressed in a purple corset, black cloak and gold crown. Herod teases and torments Jesus in his song which becomes a show stopping huge ensemble all-singing all-dancing number (note strobe lighting is used). The religious leaders, Caphias and others, wear gold chains and are dressed in black and purple robes. Special mention must be made of the performance and the amazing bass voice of James Jonathon in this role. This Willoughby Theatre Company revival was an enthralling, vibrant and captivating night in the theatre. Running time 2 hours 15 mins including one interval. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR plays The Concourse, Chatswood until the 26th October. Performance times Tuesday to Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 1.30pm and 7.30pm (sold out) and Sunday 1.30pm. Bookings-

Merry Christmas

hi I am back sorry for the delay I have been so busy anyway Merry Christmas everyone !And best wishes for a great 2015 Lynne

Thursday, 9 October 2014

NT Live Medea

A most powerful production .Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review is a shattering , explosively powerful performance that should perhaps come with a warning to allow time to recover afterwards. In Ben Powers idiomatic translation from the ancient Greek there is no blank verse but it is still extremely powerful. Intriguingly, this is the first time that the National has presented MEDEA . The production is well directed by Carrie Cracknell. Michaela Coel as the nurse , a member of Medea’s shrinking entourage, opens the show with a chilling monologue that sets up everything that is to follow. In MEDEA we see the story of love transformed to hate, a wronged woman who revenges herself upon her man Jason by slaughtering their children. Medea , as one of my colleagues writes, is arguably the greatest of all the axe-wielding women in drama,– more inconsolable than Clytemnestra, tougher than Lady Macbeth’. Euripides’ play has been updated to the present time with contemporary costumes and a fabulous split-level set by Tom Scutt , with a Corinthian palace above and a dark forest below, symbolising the play’s division between public and private worlds, with the dark world of Medea separate from everyone else’s. Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp’s haunting , atmospheric score also adds much to the production. The Chorus of women act as bridesmaids , in Melbourne based Lucy Guerin’s strange,stiff. jerky choreography. They comment on the action, unable to stop the catastrophe from happening. They speak in almost mechanical, semi monotone voices, perhaps morphing into outward projections of the voices in Medea’s head, helping us see her her unraveling mind. They twitch and convulse with the flashes of rage in Medea’s mind, then dance, miserably and distressed, after the poisoning murder of Jason’s new wife. The show is Helen McCrory ‘s who gives a searing, impassioned performance that is a knockout. She provides a deeply complex and multi layered performance , full of contradictions, rational yet irrational, swinging from deeply loving and humaneto manipulative to fiendishly murderous. Her entrance at the end for her final monologue is Kabuki like, stylised horror and despair, – or is she an agonised Mother Courage? ! Her tear streaked face is a bleak mask with hollow eyes as she descends into madness and wanders into the foggy forest (marvelous atmospheric lighting and set). Danny Sapani’s Jason is shown as a blustering, wily politician who uses euphemisms and Sir Humphrey Appleby speak to justify his abandonment of Medea. The play also clearly reveals that it is as much his tragedy as hers. Conflicting morals within the play are also seen in the elegant Athenian king, Aegeus, who offers Medea sanctuary: as played by Dominic Rowan, he is both gentle and unselfish, yet simultaneously a dithering diplomat anxious not to offend the ruling Corinthians. This is a deeply disturbing, traumatising production of immense complexity and power . Running time 90 mins (approx) no interval. NT Live MEDEA screens at selected cinemas from October 4 For more about NT Live Medea, visit

Sondeim on Sondheim

This is a most fabulous show ! Here's my rave for Sydney Arts Guide of the best shows on in town at the moment is wonderful Squabbalogic’s SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM currently running at the Reginald at the Seymour Centre. A dazzling celebration of some of Sondheim’s work. If you are a Sondheim or musical theatre fan this is for you. The cast has scintillating talent. Theatre legend Stephen Sondheim is now 84 and this is the Australian premiere of this show which was originally devised by James Lapine in 2010. Segments of Sondheim talking about his life are interspersed with songs from some of his shows. What makes this show extra special is the screen interviews with him, where we learn about his quite troubled family life, the influence Oscar Hammerstein had on him and how he approaches his work and his various work processes, (for example, his favourite soft pencils and particular paper) and what is involved in putting on a show. Sondheim also reveals his love of collaboration, and how he regards ASSASSINS as his most polished show whilst SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE is his favourite. The production is roughly arranged chronologically , Sondheim reminiscing about his life, but what is also fascinating is we see how we learn how some of his shows were reworked/songs cut/added ( eg for ‘ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ we follow the changes from what was originally ‘Invocation ‘ to the final boisterous ‘Comedy Tonight‘). A fun , brassy showstopper (that was cut from ‘Gypsy ‘) was ‘Smile Girls’, Madam Rose trying to inspire her exhausted troupe. We see fragments or segments from ( among others) ‘Gypsy’, ‘West Side Story’ ‘Company’ ‘Merrily We Roll Along ‘ ‘Into the Woods’,’Follies’ ‘Assassins’’ A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum ‘ and Sweeney Todd, but nothing from ‘Pacific Overtures’ for example. The exceptional cast of eight under the sensational direction of James Jay Moody are superb and give extraordinary performances. Each of them has solos but there is also quite a bit of ensemble work. Almost all the numbers chosen are about Love and Life. The tremendous band under the baton of Hayden Barltrop is hidden by the exciting set,–hanging mobiles of crumpled tossed paper (almost a light, movable sculpture), and a large projection screen. Otherwise there are a few small sliding stools/tables that are constantly changing shape and configuration ( for example in ‘You Could Drive A Person Crazy’ from ‘ Company’ here done as a duet ). Sondheim’s emotional range and variety is astonishing,– from large ensemble numbers to intense emotional engagement ( for example, the shattering ‘Epiphany’ from ‘Sweeney Todd’). There are so many highlights it is impossible to choose but special mentions must be made of Dean Vince as Bobby in ‘ Being Alive’ (from ‘Company ‘), Philip Lowe’s already mentioned ‘Epiphany ‘ as Sweeney Todd, and Debra Krizak’s heartbreaking , exquisite performance of ‘Send in the Clowns’ ( from A Little Night Music ). I also loved the haunting elegant, impassioned duet combining ‘ Not A Day Goes By ‘ ( from Merrily We Roll Along) with ‘Losing My Mind’ ( ‘Follies ) as performed by Krizak and Christy Sullivan. Sullivan also shines in the charming, whimsical ‘Do I Hear a Waltz ?‘ Rob Johnson gives an outstanding performance of ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc’, Charley’s breakdown on TV from ‘Merrily We Roll Along ‘ that stops the show. Very moving scenes are shown from ‘Passion’ ( Louise Kelly as the obsessed Fosca is magnificent) and a chilling sequence ( ‘Something Just Broke/The Gun Song ‘) from ‘Assassins’. So, Sondheim fans, if you haven’t already, run and book for this glorious show. It helps answer the question first posed in 1994 by New York Magazine ‘Is Stephen Sondheim God? ‘ More than recommended . Running time 2 hours 45 mins (approx) including interval. SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM is playing at the downstairs Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre until October 18.

Monkey .. Journey to the West

A most glorious show up those who remember the iconic incredibly popular TV series Monkey of the 1970’s ? Theatre of Image under the brilliantly inspired direction of Kim Carpenter, in combination with legendary John Bell of Bell Shakespeare and in collaboration with Team 9Lives have fashioned a magnificent, enthralling, visually stunning production based on a story originally from the 1500’s that enchants. For those unfamiliar with Monkey it could perhaps be compared to a Buddhist style ‘ The Wizard of OZ’ with our heroes on a mission to rescue three holy scriptures and return them to the people of China. The fable with its moral and visual symbolism lends itself splendidly to this multi layered production. Visually , as always for Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image, it is stunning and in their trademark style . There are several types of puppets used of various sorts and sizes – giant floating rod puppets , shadow puppets and others. At times scene changes are effected by a ‘wipe’ of opening or closing a curtain for example, or a character taking a deep breath and jumping. Projections are also used at various points (eg Monkey alone on his mountain) as are shadows and silhouettes. Costumes are exceptional and thrilling throughout, – for example the spider demons in Act 2 , bright pink and bubbly in disguise, terrifying black and sparkly when defeated . I also liked the wonderful headdresses of the birds Monkey used to rescue his companions. The underwater fish costumes were very bright, fun and exotically sultry too. One mustn’t forget the opulent, dazzling Indian style elegant costume of the Great King in red and gold and his scantily clad army in boiled lobster orangey-red. And the huge, looming ghost demons in Act 1 were very scary especially for some of the younger children. Kuan yin, goddess of mercy, ( Ivy Mak) is shown as pale, lunar like and with a headdress like trees rippling in the wind ( gusts of compassion? ). Sets and props are flexible and utilitarian yet stunningly designed. Stylistically, music hall (eg the spider demons) is blended with the spectacular, thrilling martial arts (for example, the battle between our heroes and the fish like Great King and his minions). Peter Kennard’s score deftly interweaves jazz, showbiz and ‘traditional’ Asian sounding music and the songs are seamlessly incorporated. Our darting , energetic, mischievous hero Monkey was splendidly played by Aljin Abella in red and black , with his iconic bandana and gold circlet crown. Will he ever really learn to humble himself ? Can he save his master Tripitaka ? You will need to see the show to find out! Greedy, lusty, vulgar Pigsy is delightfully played by Darren Gilshenan , having a whale of a time ,in a rather ugly fat suit and with floppy ears. Sandy (Justin Smith ) is played as a sort of spaced out hippy sarcastic philosopher, a ‘cool’ cat/man , long haired and bearded, with a necklace of skulls . Their master, the gentle, rather unworldly monk Tripitaka , driven on a sacred mission from Buddha himself, yet sometimes cranky with his annoying fellow travellers, was tremendously played by Aileen Huynh . A splendid , visually enthralling production for all ages of an old Chinese story steeped in tradition that totally enchants . Running time just over two hours including interval (approx) Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image’s production of MONKEY … JOURNEY TO THE WEST is playing at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre until Saturday 11th October.

Oedipus Rex

A shattering confronting play at Belvoir . Here's my artshub review Directed by Adena Jacobs, this is a ‘meditation on the myth of Oedipus Rex’, who has done nothing to deserve his appalling fate, and on the notion of suffering itself. Oedipus becomes an Everyman who suffers for no reason simply because the gods wish to punish him. Max Lyandvert’s electronic score is harsh and unforgiving, catapulting us into the world of the play. The ‘set’, if it can be called that, is like a plastic-covered entrance to a construction site, with black carpet and a single chair. Much is made of sudden snappy blackouts, to indicate the passing of time, for example. Especially the long first one is loud in its silence and then followed by a deafening roar of futuristic rumbles to help us enter the suffering and blindness of Oedipus and to reveal Oedipus in sculptural poses. At times, the lighting is very low and Caravaggio-like, or perhaps more like other dark Renaissance paintings or Goya’s nightmares. Oedipus becomes a dying, tormented, ragged being, a plague victim of the city. His life is unendurable, yet death would release him from a heavy guilt that no amount of suffering can cleanse. The play contains full-frontal nudity as Oedipus is bathed by Antigone. Carroll is also nude just before this scene, where he becomes a timeless statue with arms stretched imploringly, beseeching the gods, who don’t listen. Oedipus has a major monologue about how he unwittingly killed his father; another about the sphinx and its riddle; and another about how the city was cursed with plague and how he became the scapegoat. Carroll as Oedipus is extraordinary, giving a bravura performance of a shattered life as the old blind king who has been cursed by the gods. Sometimes he glows with regal force, yet at the same time he reveals the searing fragile vulnerability of a very young child or the frail old. Mostly he wears just underpants and a bathrobe. The childish games he plays with Antigone (building Cuisinaire rod towers, hide-and-seek, I Spy etc) reduce him to nothingness. A teddy bear is symbolically blinded in one eye before being snatched away. His voice is amazing – at times raspy because of the oxygen mask he sometimes has to use, other times it is rich, golden caramel. As Antigone, his half sister/daughter, the darkly beautiful Andrea Demetriades is at first elegantly stylish in a dark blue suit. For the second half, she changes to a stunning long Grecian-like flowing pleated red dress. She is driven to distraction by Oedipus, yet is overwhelmingly tender in her care of him, teasing and cruel. Sophocles’ play and its sequel are used a base for a gripping, challenging, sometimes almost overwhelming meditation on suffering. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Oedipus Rex Director: Adena Jacobs Designer and dramaturg: Paul Jackson Composer and sound designer: Max Lyandvert With Peter Carroll and Andrea Demetriades Belvoir, Surrey Hills 21 August-14 September

HMS Pinafore

A great show much fun. Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review Messmates ahoy! If you like a straight, quite traditional version of G & S then this is for you. This year the production by the renowned Savoy Arts (now performing as Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Sydney) is HMS PINAFORE, first performed in 1878 and regarded. as one of their ‘big three‘ ( along with The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance). Directed by Elizabeth Lowrencev and under the graceful , inspired musical direction of maestro Rod Mounjed this is a production that vocally and musically delights and enchants . Ignore the ridiculous plot twist at the end that theoretically puts all to rights. Just sit back, relax and enjoy. The set design of the ship is terrific , light and elegant and there is more space here for the orchestra than there is at their old venue at the Zenith. Firmly set in rigid Victorian times , with lavish costumes of the period. Lack of wealth and class being the major impediments, can true love prevail ? As dashing Captain Corcoran, Brendan Iddles is superb , terribly handsome in his sensational uniform and is in fine voice.He is a good, polite man loved by his crew. No wonder Buttercup is secretly in love with him! His ‘Fair Moon I Sing to Thee‘ reveals his lonely, sadder and softer side. Sir Joseph Porter QC KCB, ruler of the Queen’s navy , was brilliantly played by Dean Sinclair.Wickedly delightful Sinclair plays him as a mincing popinjay , a sneering supercilious dandy peering at people through his lorgnette , very full of himself , with perfect comic timing. He dazzles and is resplendent in full court regalia , white kneebreeches and stockings and glittering bejewelled jacket . Brilliant . His ‘When I was a lad’ sets the tone and there is a wonderful hilarious unexpected sight gag during ‘ Never Mind The Whys and Wherefores’ . Our hero Ralph Rackstraw was tremendously played by Michael Handy. Tall blonde and very handsome, he has a great tenor voice and is very popular with his fellow crew (except Dick Deadeye) His unobtainable love (or is she ?) Josephine , our leading lady, was delightfully played by Sarah Arnold who sings marvellously. In Act 1 she is a Spring vision in pink and green sprigged muslin. She is torn between being a dutiful daughter and her love for Rackstraw - her ‘ The Hours Creep on Apace‘ in Act 2 was heartfelt. Gyspy bumboat woman Buttercup was wonderfully played by Anne-Louise Finlayson in a yellow apron, black skirt and red corsetry. She is dark and mysterious and has the means to set everything right, but will she?! Her rollicking introductory song was splendidly done as were here duets with Corcoran (‘ Things are seldom what they seem’). Mention must also be made of the terrific performances of the Botswain ( Anthony Mason ) and the unpopular villain ,sneak and informer Dick Deadeye ( Gordon Costello ). Some of the ensemble choreography felt a little squashed and stilted, a bit artificial, but Act 2’s ‘Never Mind The Whys and Wherefores’ makes up for all that, with a hilarious Morecombe and Wise style finale to the number. Oversize cousin Hebe, like a galleon in full sail , out to fuss over and capture Sir Joseph, was delightfully played by Ella Arundel. Auriophiles will admire the cute white and fluffy ship’s cat and notice the play on words when the ‘cat’ refers to the cat of nine tails . A most impressive and delightful production full of British patriotism and rollicking enjoyment that upholds the stirring tradition of the British (and Australian ) navy . Three cheers for Her Majesty! Running Time 2 hours 20 ( approx ) including one interval. There are three more opportunities to catch this ship before it sails out of town. HMS PINAFORE is playing the Smith Auditorium Lyric theatre, Shore School, William Street, North Sydney next Friday 3rd October at 8pm and then Saturday 4th October at 2pm and 8pm. Bookings- Share this:11

Jenifer Ringer Dancing Through It

A marvellous new dance book , intimately and eloquently written this is an engrossing ballet autobiography. Jenifer Ringer is an American ballet dancer. She joined the New York City Ballet in 1990 and was promoted to soloist in 1995. She took time off soon after, and, in 2000, was promoted to principal. Earlier this year she retired from performing. She has a BA in English from Fordham Uni and is a recipient of the Dance Magazine award and the Jerome Robbins award. She is now head of the Colburn Dance Academy . Ringer was born in North Carolina and raised in Summerville, South Carolina. She began studying dance at age ten and joined the School of American Ballet after attending the Washington School of Ballet for two years. In the book a lot is written about her inspiring teachers . Ringer is married to ex principal dancer also with NYCB , James Fayette. They have a daughter, Grace and son Luke. For ballet lovers what is fascinating is how Ringer takes us inside the dancer’s world, in great detail she described the daily grind of a ballet dancer’s typical day, – class and rehearsal and performance preparation, and the extraordinary pressures that these athletic artists have to deal with on a regular basis. Ringer shares exhilarating stories of starring in Balanchine productions, working with the famous Peter Martins, and the almost fairy tale sounding story of meeting her husband and falling in love at the New York City Ballet. Stories about accidents on stage and other last minute crisis are included too. Much is written about two of her favourite works, Balanchine’s ‘ Serenade’ and Jerome Robbin’s ‘ Dances At A Gathering’ , both from a performing and audience perspective. What is also fascinating from a balletomane’s perspective is her insights into working with various choreographers and their different approaches in the rehearsal studio and working towards the finished product. Also , how various choreographers and dancers analyze and hear the music so differently. And dealing with the ways different partners hear the music and approach, for example, lifting in pas de deux for example. Ringer also talks candidly of Alistair Macauley’s stinging critique of her weight in his 2010 New York Times review of ‘The Nutcracker’ that ignited a public dialogue about ballet and weight. Ringer describes the whole incident wittily as ‘Sugarplumgate’. She unhesitatingly describes her personal struggles with eating disorders and body image, which nearly killed her, and shares how her faith helped her to heal and triumph over these challenges. A committed Christian, this book is very unusual for dance books, in that the author describes her spiritual path. She talks about joyously dancing for God, also about dancing as part of church services, dance as part of worship, and the importance of prayer. We also learn how she somehow juggles her career with her life as a mum with two young children. She is teaching her daughter Grace how to love her body and herself. “I feel so grateful for my career,” Ringer says. “But I wouldn’t choose it for my daughter.” The book is beautifully set out with an excellent table of contents at the start and a terrific index and ballet glossary at the back as well as quite a few pages of photos . From the stage fright moments waiting in the wings before a performance , to her appearance on ‘The Today Show ‘ and ‘Oprah’ discussing weight and body image among dancers, DANCING THROUGH IT is intimately revealing , gripping and inspirational . Hardcover, 288 pages Publisher: Viking Books ISBN: 0670026492 EAN: 9780670026494

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Simon Tedeschi Pianist and Prankster

This was at Monkey Baa - wonderful fun.Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review has 88 keys and no lock? (Answer: a piano ). The packed audience was wildly enthusiastic and loved this joke. Perfect school holiday fare the current show at wonderful Monkey Baa is SIMON TEDESCHI: PIANIST AND PRANKSTER, is a solo autobiographical show pitched at Primary school age children, mostly about his childhood. Directed by Eva Di Cesare. Tedeschi’ s exuberant personality and love of music come enchantingly across and are infectious . We see quite a few photos of the young Simon growing up .He has a very mobile and expressive face and makes the show Fun. His inspiring approach really draws the audience in. Tedeschi is one of Australia’s most renowned and sought after pianists who regularly performs with orchestras around Australia and globally. At age fourteen he was declared a genius by tenor Luciano Pavarotti and his portrait has been entered in the Archibald Prize. From the opening showy William Tell overture Tedeschi’s blindingly brilliant piano technique covers an amazing range of styles, from Bach to Brubek, Beethoven to booggie-woogie and everything in between. Corny cringe-worthy jokes are told and audience participation sought at certain points ( for example asking ‘Who here has…. ‘ ). At one point an adult is selected as a page turner for the Minute Waltz ( with many stops starts and practices ) and a child is asked to time the Waltz using their mobile phone,– to much excitement. And the Waltz is played blisteringly fast. Tedeschi’s mischievous side is evident when ,for example, he puts in vampire fangs to play an ornamental Bach fugue. This can also be seen in the anecdote about how he replaced the school bell for recess with an recording of the Chopin Funeral March. Music is Tedeschi’s life and passion so we learn about his getting up at 5am (groan) to practice, practice and practice .And yet more practice. He has great fun with the Hanon set scales and repetitious practice, reading Doctor Who books while doing so! Mention is also made of his being inspired by a particular friend called David! For much of the show Tedeschi is in bright multi coloured Pollock style leggings, a green top and a black evening dress jacket. He refers during his show to an embarrassing moment when he wore his pajamas to school. For the last third of the show he is in full concert evening togs. We learn about his life at school, how he was not good at maths, who some of his favourite teachers were… Various family photos and news clippings of prize winnings are included in the projections . Whilst most of the show is upbeat there are some quite sad sections (a Chopin mazurka as a tribute to his Polish grandmother )and lyrical bits,-for example Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ – as a tribute to Lisa Simpson! Mention is also made of the many Eisteddfods he participated in and won and how he played at the Sydney Opera House at age eight and won with a dramatic version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star .The show finishes with a dynamic boogie-wooggie version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee that had the audience entranced. For an encore -don’t try this at home! – Tedeschi acrobatically played ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ lying with has back on the piano stool and hands just able to reach the keyboard. A captivating, exuberant show that has something for young and old. Running time without interval SIMON TEDESCHI: PIANIST AND PRANKSTER runs at the Monkey Baa Terrace 2 Theatre, 1-25 Harbour Street, Darling Harbour between the 20th and 27th September.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Last Confession

Here's my reveiw for Sydney Arts Guide of the first things that you notice before you even enter the auditorium is the delicate smell of incense wafting through. An olfactory cue that we are in the Vatican, as is the glorious choral music. First performed in 2007 as part of the Chichester Festival and then with a massively popular London season and international tour , ‘The Last Confession’ written by Roger Crane and directed by Jonathan Church, is a gripping behind the scenes political thriller set in the Vatican during the reigns of Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. Most of the action centres around the unexpected demise of John Paul I in 1978 after only 33 days in the papacy. Conspiracy theories are still floating about regarding the real cause of his death – including rumours the Pope was murdered by communists, Freemasons, corrupt bankers or ultra-conservatives. Was he?! THE LAST CONFESSION doesn’t make any direct accusations, nor does it detail any specific plot, although it does establish the possible motives for murder by a number of Vatican power players. ( Cui bono? ) What it does do most effectively is cast doubt over the ‘official’ version of events , raising doubts about the Church’s alleged poor handling of the issue : the medical handling of things for instance is presented almost as a shambolic joke. Was everything in fact quietly hushed up ? From that aspect, the play can seem more of a documentary than an imagined retelling. Crane’s script is fiercely intelligent and its premise inspired, with some witty, incisive dialogue that the audience loved , but also it relies heavily on telling and/or describing rather than actual showing of events /evidence.Very important moral issues are raised. William Dudley’s huge set design is gorgeously heavy and opulent , recreating the luxuriant reds and cage-like rather grim ironwork of the Vatican, as well as fragments of some of the famous paintings. There are numerous swift scene changes with the ironwork and other sections shifting which could at times be rather cumbersome and annoying .Fotini Dimou’s ecclesiastical costumes are sumptuously ornate and also vividly dramatic in their reds , blacks and purples (and not forgetting the Renaissance uniforms of the Swiss guards). International star David Suchet ( famous for his playing of Hercule Poirot) is Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, a businesslike and serious Catholic moderate who battles with doubts about his faith and challenges the intransigent conservatism of the cardinals who dominate the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that advises the Pope. Benelli acts as narrator and provides the framework and structure of the show as he is giving his ‘ last confession ‘ to his confessor. It tracks the trajectory of events from the last year of Pope Paul VI (Donald Douglas), to the election of Albino Luciani (Richard O’Callaghan) as Pope John Paul I, and the associated power struggles, reform agendas and financial corruption of the Vatican Bank. Suchet is superb , charismatic with his huge eyebrows ,glowing eyes and fabulous velvety chocolate voice that hypnotises . It’s a substantial leading role which Suchet seems to have gleefully appropriated. He dominates the stage in moments of anger or frustration, and shines equally in the moments of Benelli’s questioning vulnerability. Richard O’Callaghan, as Cardinal Albino Luciani ,who became John Paul I, was extremely engaging and really looked the part of ‘The Smiling Pope’. He is presented as benign , popular with the people and extremely caring , liberal , free-thinking and trying to introduce changes but blocked by tradition and a clique of cardinals who had power. We see how he is buried under mountains of paperwork and extremely stressed. He actually talked to gardeners! Shock horror! His gravitas however as Pope is crucial in a number of pivotal scenes. A compassionate , sweet natured man of God, he unfortunately alienated the arch-conservatives with his determination to introduce the sweeping Vatican II reforms. In this play completely dominated b y the patriarchy, only one female character appears in ‘The Last Confession ‘, Sister Vincenza Taffarel, a nun and sometime assistant of John Paul I, is warmly , delightfully portrayed by Sheila Ferris (who married David Suchet in 1978). There are twenty extremely gifted and polished Australian , British and Canadian actors in this production , but special mentions need to be made of Nigel Bennett as the inflexible traditionalist, Cardinal Villot, and Australian John O’May, who plays Cardinal Felici with an icy, dangerously menacing reserve. Hulking Stuart Milligan is sinister, intimidating and confrontational as the rather dodgy American financial manager, Marcinkus, and Kevin Colson is somewhat irritatingly highbrow as pompous Cardinal Baggio. A wonderful production for those who like whodunits , David Suchet fans and those fascinated by the history of the Catholic church. Running time 2 hours 30 mins (approx ) including one interval. THE LAST CONFESSION plays at Sydney’s Theatre Royal between the 24th September and the 12th October 2014 For more about The Last Confession, visit

The King and I

Loved it , this was fabulous. Herer's my Sydney Arts Guide review Australia have brought to Sydney a most splendid production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘The King And I ‘ with a gigantic cast and glorious , lavishly opulent ,dazzling sets and costumes .Directed by Christopher Renshaw ,it is an aural , olfactory and visual feast and treat : Brian Thomson’s set designs are outstanding as are Roger Kirk’s costumes. The curtains, screens etc allow for almost cinematic fluid scene changes , torches burn brightly and incense wafts through the auditorium. The production broke all box office records before it even opened – over $8.4 million ! .And it is estimated that over a quarter of a million people will have seen the show by the time it finishes its national tour. THE KING AND I is based upon Margaret Landon’s novel, ‘Anna and the King ‘; which draws upon the real life Anna Leonowens’ memoirs.Premiering in 1951,‘The King and I ‘ presents us with an enchanting , delightful (if already outdated then , let alone now) imagined Siam, a nation that had avoided direct colonial rule and was governed by an absolute monarchy until 1932. Siam officially became Thailand in 1948. With the surrender of Japan also still fresh in people’s minds as well at the time of writing the musical , the submission of an autocratic Asian emperor to the principles of Western democracy adds yet another layer to this story of a deified ruler intrigued by the modern world and the feisty English governess he employs to teach his many children about it . Lisa McCune is absolutely tremendous as Anna , loving yet firmly determined to stand up for herself and what she thinks is right. She gives an excellent if somewhat delicate vocally performance of her set pieces, – ‘Hello Young Lovers ‘ ‘ Getting to Know You ‘ etc. and a spunky , rather funny version of ‘Shall I Tell You What I think of You ?’. Her ravishing gowns are more than exquisite and she deserves great kudos for her deft management of the huge crinolines. At one point she is a vision in pink and white. Charismatic Teddy Tahu Rhodes is in superb form and glorious voice as the King, bald and extremely imposing , glittering in red and gold , encrusted with jewels . He follows in the now legendary steps of Yul Bryner who will be forever associated with the role. His natural dignity is combined with Mongkut’s volcanic explosiveness ,incorporating Bryner’s macho, imposing stance. His singspiel soliloquy ( aria? ) ‘A Puzzlement’ almost becomes a tumultuous inner battle of the soul. Some of the lighter moments are , however ,perhaps a touch awkward. One of the main highlights is the staging of choreographer Jerome Robbins’s show-within-a-show, ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas ‘, which the huge ensemble (under the eagle eye of Susan Kikuchi and glorious in Roger Kirk’s costumes) executes tremendously , showing the blend of Eastern and Western cultures in the angular arms, Buddhist ‘angels and Kabuki like representations of water etc .and the striking almost a-tonal music . The singing was superb. Another is the ‘March of Siamese Children ‘the twelve children of assorted ages (representative of the 67 the actually king had) being enchantingly cute. Some of Hammerstein’s script now sounds ultra awkward at times. The writing for the thwarted lovers ,new Burmese concubine Tuptim (Jenny Liu) , given as an unwilling present to the King and her secret lover Lun Tha (Adrian Li Donni) presents them as sweetly childlike. Their voices though and musically they are lushly operatic. There is marvelous work in the other supporting roles, led by Shu-Cheen Yu as Lady Thiang , the head wife desperately in love with the King , (her‘Something Wonderful’ is magnificent)and Marty Rhone as the rather cold ,severe Kralahome (Prime Minister) .(It’s a shame the role does not give the former 70s pop star much of a chance to sing.)John Adam gives the British diplomat Sir Edward Ramsey immediately charming and sympathetic life with just the tiniest touch of G&S perhaps. Under the enthusiastic baton of Peter Casey the marvelous orchestra does justice to the lush romantic Orientalism of the score, the sweeping joy of the music. Much ink has been spilled over the political incorrectness of the production , whether it should be on at all and the casting .But this is such fabulous production who cares ! Yes , it was opening night but it is most unusual for virtually the entire House to rise for a cheering screaming standing ovation at the end. Fabulous. Running time 2 hours 45 mins (approx) including one interval THE KING AND I runs at the Joan Sutherland Auditorium Sydney Opera House until November 1, 2014.

Hofesh Schecter's 'Sun' at the Sydney Opera House

hmmm ... Here's what I thought wearing my Dance Informa hat is the masterpiece of Hofesh Schechter, a choreographer who is now based in the U.K. but was born and raised in Israel. He has an international profile now after a meteoric rise in the U.K. over roughly the last decade, and he recently co-directed the Brighton Festival. At the start of the work in its recent Sydney season, a voiceover informs us repeatedly that Sun is about light and dark, white and black. There are many layers of meaning throughout this deep work. Death in this work is always lurking. There is the wolf killing the sheep, and other stories are told using large plywood cut-outs that also form the figure of a murderous coloniser shooting helpless indigenous people, and representations of the modern killings we read about globally every day. The baddies eventually become a contemporary banker and a young person in an obscuring hoodie. The skipping sheep with their beautifully pointed feet and silly little scampering jumps are at first cute then eventually become annoying. Philosophy and truth are important. The work is about politics and freedom. There is an emphasis on colonization and slavery and the mistreatment of First Peoples. The use of darkness also emphasises our feeling of being vulnerable. There is a long blackout at the start, then “We thought we’d start by showing you some of the ending” explains the ominous voiceover, “so you know it’s all going to be fine.” Dressed in white, the dancers suddenly appear and exuberantly weave through frieze-like celebratory steps to Wagner. The lights are suddenly switched off and rewind to the beginning. There is possibly a Cunningham/Cage influence with the fragmented use of time, counts and rhythm, etc. Hofesh Shechter’s ‘Sun’. Photo by Jess Bialek. It is also about the ‘Sun’ – as in the planet – which is represented by a gold ball shining on a white cloth at various points. Choreographically, Shechter includes an ever-changing mix of sources from folk dance to militaristic marching to the controlled and graceful softness of ballet to contemporary angular gestures all skillfully blended and dynamically performed. There are courtly twirls, amazing balletic leaps and Tharp-like backward lunges. Certain phrases of movement are repeated. Two halves of the ensemble at times do separate moves that end up neatly dovetailing together. Technically, the dancing was more than superb, fluid and graceful. The company performed with overwhelming, inspiring energy throughout. Lee Curran’s lighting includes blinding, snappy blackouts and also features a massive hanging grid of light bulbs, which comes on in a blaze of white or in swirls of moving light. There is also much use of dry ice. The audience is assaulted by overly loud music, which is an eclectic mix of world music including bagpipes, African, Western classical, Jewish, a much loved hymn, and others. Shechter’s Political Mother, which was seen in Sydney now several years ago, was a knockout experience. Sun is completely different – far less coherent, more “bitty’ and fragmented. It sure gave rise to lots of thought provoking discussion by the audience afterwards.

ACO/Bell Shakespeare Intimate Letters

This was glorious. Here's my review for Sydney Arts Guide this latest performance, called INTIMATE LETTERS, the ACO combined with the Bell Shakespeare Company have somewhat abandoned the usual established concert format. Under the direction of special guest London Symphony Orchestra concert master Gordan Nikolic and theatre directors Peter Evans and Susanna Dowling , INTIMATE LETTERS is a unique blend of theatre and music. Actors Ella Scott Lynch and Marshall Napier from Bell Shakespeare read excerpts from the letters of Janáček, Mozart and Smetana linked to the ACO’s performance of the related musical works of the three composers . Mozart’s ‘Divertimento in F’, the first work on the program, was perhaps slightly out of place in when considered alongside the later anguished works of the two Czech composers that follow. The sunny ‘ Divertimento ‘ one of three composed by the sixteen-year-old Mozart in 1772, is a brief, charming Italianate piece in three sprightly movements. The second, middle movement is the saddest and most lyrical in feel. The first letter of the evening was a 1772 letter written by a young Mozart to his sister, Maria Anna. Ella Scott Lynch , in a beautiful, long blue flowing tie dyed dress, obtained some laughter from the crowd before the ACO started performing with her delicious reading of the composer’s goofy, rather oddball remarks and use of repetition. The exquisite tone of the ACO’s playing was showcased particularly in the second Adante movement and their playing in the first movement was glorious with sustained, precise balance. The other two works performed were in starks contrast . Entitled ‘Z mého života’, or ‘From my Life’, Smetana planned his work to be a snapshot of his life, starting from his youth and his initial interest in the arts to his permanent deafness, with which he was diagnosed at the age of 50. The piece was deemed ‘too orchestral’ for a quartet, and Smetana’s work was given its first performance by a larger body of strings (including, notably, a young viola player named Antonin Dvořák), which, sadly, he was completely unable to hear. The first movement begins explosively, subsiding to an eerie theme in the viola section. Smetana entitled this the “Call of Destiny” theme, a ominous foretelling of his future misfortunes. Having lost his hearing, Smetana was still bothered by constant buzzing, shriekings and high-pitched whistles, which he found so disturbing that they often hindered him from composing. The first movement was powerful and passionate, evoking Smetana’s interest in Romanticism and its ideals. The second movement was brighter, and shows Smetana’s love of dance and the pride he took in his achievements as a composer. The second movement was played with great control by the ACO giving it a sense of proud Slavic nationalism instead of joy, which is appropriate for the work. In the third movement, Nikolic and the first violins were glorious in haunting,sad violin swells of interlocking rhythms and layers of melody. There were soaring tears of solo sections, and the group took full advantage of the rich, luscious harmonies. The fourth (final) movement begins happily ,but is interrupted by the occurrence of a high ‘E ‘over a tumultuous body of strings, which represents Smetana’s deafness, and the A-flat Major 6th chord he reported hearing daily between the hours of 6 and 7. As the movement drew to a close, the phrases end more abruptly, indicating the disintegration of Smetana’s hearing. Napier, dapper in an elegant grey business suit gave exquisitely eloquent readings of Smetana’s letters, and at one point says ‘ Therefore the ‘E’ must be played fortissimo throughout’ and emphatically directs the ACO to do just that . There is also use of atmospheric golden lighting . Principal cellist Timo-Veikko Valve has been responsible for arranging Leon Janáček’s ‘ String Quartet No 2 ‘– known also as the ‘Intimate Letters ‘- the title piece- for string orchestra. Janáček wrote these letters over the last decade of his life to Kamila Stösslová, a young woman he was passionately devoted to. Janáček and Kamila exchanged over 700 letters, in which she was rather primly aloof, and he was clearly smitten. Their correspondence created extra tension between Janáček and his already estranged wife Zdenka, but didn’t appear to concern Kamila’s husband, who was probably consoled by the age gap between the two of nearly 40 years (when they first met Kamila was 25, Janáček was 63). The actors draw out the crackling tension in magnificent performances. The work begins spikily but there are swirling, lilting tender sections too, Some segments are to be played on the bridge in the viola and cello parts. Principal viola Christopher Moore’s superb performing deserves a particular mention. Sometimes the music is achingly sad, at other times tremulous, spiky or searing .There was fine, vibrant playing by the ACO and all involved gave an impassioned performance . An unusual , emotionally gripping and exciting performance . Running time two hours (approx) with one interval. INTIMATE LETTERS was on national tour between the 18th August to the 2nd September.

Circa's 'S' at Parramatta

This was terrific .Only a very short season unfortunately. Here's my review for Sydney Arts Guide‘S’ by Circa from Brisbane is Sinuous and Surprising for starters. It combines elements of circus work, dance and physical theatre that are mesmerizing. The Helpmann –award winning show is based on the shape and sound of all sorts of words using the letter ‘S’ including for example ‘Sleep. Snore. Surge. Stretch. Strength. Stability. Song. Soprano. Sinuous. Shadows. Symphony. Spiral. Space. Share. Suspend. Support. Slip. Seamless. Syncopated. Somersault.Spin.Spring. Struggle. Sway. Sizzle. Sound. Strain. Skip. Stacked. Swoop. Swing. Scary. Squish. Solitary. Swivel. Spin. Shimmer. Stamina. Supple. Storm. Survival. Serene. Silhouette. Spotlight. Sinew. Spine. Sweat. Sound. Smile. Strange. Schoolyard. Splash. Spill. Smooth. Straight. Strong.’ As performed by the cast with spectacular, tightly controlled choreography that creates sculpturally symmetrical shapes, twists and curves .Circa has been taking its distinctive style of circus internationally , touring to 28 countries since 2006 and this is part of a national tour. This production demands incredible control from the extraordinary cast of seven (Nathan Boyle, Jessica Connell, Casey Douglas, Daniel O’Brien, Brittannie Portelli, Kimberley Rossi and Duncan West) who are apparently boneless! There is a contortionist segment, tumbling, balancing and aerialist styles all fluidly combined with the grace and highly pointed feet of all the dancers. An incredible feat of hula-hooping is accomplished with intense precision and energy, the blue hoops blurring in an electric swirl. The display of challenging virtuosity goes even higher when her colleagues walk through the torrent of “hula” swirls undamaged. The thrust stage with its special mat surface is mostly clear save for aerialist silks and at one point water bowls. The cast are all in theatrical black – the men topless, the women in beautifully designed leotards created by Libby McDonnell . For the opening and closing segments, full of power and mystery, a female performer bends over backwards, lit by a single lamp, her head to the audience and upside down. She twists her neck and turns her body into contortionist like moves that are seemingly humanly impossible. There is humour performed in a charming, fresh, teasing way (for example the amazing miked duet where the man is taped and has a mike in his mouth and on his chest. We can hear every thump whistle and groan as he lifts and shifts his partner. Some of the seemingly not-looking runs and catches are incredible, not forgetting to mention the balancing water bowls! I am not sure which is more impressive, the man balancing several in the crook of his elbows or the woman doing a headstand and balancing for a while her colleagues do tumbling twists across her body. Emphasis is put on the muscular bodies, the feats of strength the cast perform and the complicated sculptural shapes they work together to produce. Dramatic fast tumbles, bodies perched five high, lifts, rolls and death-defying throws are also included. Another thing I noticed was the precision in placing of hand or foot for example in the balancing and throws and the degree of trust and teamwork between the cast members is amazing . Created by Yaron Lifschitz and produced by Danielle Kellie, the overall effect is perhaps similar to a contemporary dance performance, with the sinuous energetic choreography performed to a blend of inspiring, pulsating music from the Kronos Quartet, Kimmo Pohjonon and Samuli Kosminen. The score is electronic and ranges from the sea and heartbeats, to almost lyrical, to hisses and beeps and pulsating noise and includes classical orchestral, tribal, and Celtic music. Jason Organ’s minimalistic lighting, was used to great effect to create different moods for each segment. For Circa, a serious ensemble dedicated to circus creation, the letter S as a concept for a show offers infinite possibility. Compared to Circus Oz, Circa is far more restrained and refined. ‘S’ has been developed into a spectacular display of strength and acrobatic skill that had the audience roaring and cheering its approval at the end. Running time 90 minutes without interval. Circa’s ‘S’ played at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre between the 21st and 23rd August. For more about S by Circa, visit