Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Bolshoi Ballet in Marco Spada

hmmm. Awesome jaw dropping dancing but ridiculous plot. Here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide the ridiculous Victorian /Gilbert and Sullivan plot with its moral twist at the end, just sit back, relax and admire the spectacle and superb, dazzling dancing. Yet again the Bolshoi field a gigantic cast with umpteen lines of soldiers, peasants , bandits etc. Lacotte’s choreography where appropriate is full of wonderful intricate patterns and lines displaying the corps de ballet to great advantage. Interestingly , for me, the choreography for a lot of the work seems to have a bouncy Bournonville feel rather than coming from the ‘Russian’ school, with so many beautiful bouncy soft jumps and impeccable ballon , legs rapidily beaten in lots of jumps, feet fluttering in inumerable ronds de jambe en l’air , many sequences of complicated showy jumps and turns. The ballet is set in Italy in 1830, and its scenario, score, choreography and design are French , originally performed in 1857 at the Paris Opera.It features superlative costumes and set designs ( both , in this new version, by Lacotte ) and includes a live donkey and a dog in walk on parts . Set designs include a huge ballroom , a piazza with a Romanesque church and supposedly a massive hillside cave . Musically under the baton of Alexei Bogorad the orchestra is glorious weaving its magic with Auber’s lyrical ,very danceable score . The ballet was revived in 1981 by Lacotte for Nureyev, and here for the Bolshoi as of November 2013.It is set in Italy in 1830, and its scenario, score, choreography and design are French. The narrative is basically a comedy, despite ending morally in its protagonist’s death. It concerns a bandit (Marco Spada); his daughter, Angela; and three aristocrats — the Marchesa Sampietri; her fiancé, Prince Federici; and Count Pepinelli — of marriageable age. The marchesa and the count are mutually attracted, but cannot marry until Spada, in the final scene, threatens Friar Borromeo into marrying them (cue joyous pas de deux).Minutes later, however, Spada is shot. With his dying breaths, he tells (or rather mimes) a lie, proclaiming that Angela is actually not his daughter, knowing that this means the prince can now marry her without embarrassment.Or at least that is what we are told he does , but in reality Spada has a Mercutio- like death scene involving a firework series of double pirouettes, several temps levés (jumps taking off from and landing on the same foot) and repeated beaten développés into arabesque, all moves demanding great technical prowess — but not one gesture that helps explain Angela’s parentage. It’s that somewhat annoying ,silly kind of show. It is very hard for a dancer to be able to cope with Spada’s very athletic demanding variations while appearing to be old enough to be Angela’s father – brother, perhaps would make more sense. The friar had been robbed by Spada previously but it is all so fake and obvious and rushed ( and disrespectful).We do not really see the duality of Spada’s character – noble and aristocratic one minute , bandit the next . But American guest artist David Hallberg as Spada is more than superb,dazzling and delighting in the dashing technical fireworks he gets to dance.The Ballroom scene in Act 2 is Beardsley- esque with its black and white sumptuous costumes and also features a pas de six of Harlequins and Columbines . There are several very showy pas de deux spaced throughout the work for Angela and her father as well as the Marchesa and Count . It can be terribly confusing as to who is who actually.In Act2 I think it is at the ball, the Marchesa is glittering in white like a bride on the top of a wedding cake , with delicate and filigree fiddly choreography, and the Count has a knockout dazzling solo of fast turns and another ‘Bluebird’ like .(Not to be confused with their Act 3 sc 1 pas de deux ) . Evgenia Obraztsova as Angela is glorious , a blossoming rose , who is sweetly defiant in Act3 as a bandit maid of all-work loyal to her father yet gallantly trying to hide her heartbreak .As the Marchesa Olga Smirnova elegantly dazzles and the other two male principal roles Semyon Chudin (Prince Frederici), and Igor Tsvirko (Count Pepinelli were also magnificently danced. The great Fokine would have been most annoyed however, this is a classic case of exactly what he was ranting against over a century ago with the pas de deux and solos being interrupted and acknowledged by bows in the middle of them! But with dancing this amazing who cares! Running time – allow three hours , which includes two intervals which have interviews with David Hallberg and Pierre Lacotte among others . The Bolshoi’s Marco Spada screens at selected cinemas May 10-17 For more about The Bolshoi Ballet in ‘Marco Spada’, visit

Constructing the Human Heart

A marvellous production Here's what I said for the Sydney Arts Guide Martin as She/Her and Michael Cullen as He/Him star in this strong Australian drama Onstage as we enter, in everyday clothes, they break down the ‘fourth wall ‘ and portray a creative couple struggling to come to terms with the loss of their small son, Tom, by frenziedly burying themselves in work. Staged in an intimate, basic ‘black box’ studio environment , with just a couple of chairs and a few lights it is as if the actors are in the middle of rehearsal,with water bottles and pages of script scattered everywhere, the performers scrambling for the right pages . Her and Him are caught in tragedy, and we see their struggle to try to remain static, to re- connect , to move forward and simply to just Be. Fragile, hopeful possibilities lead to sorrow. Martin is marvelous as the grieving, guilt ridden daughter who has also lost her mother Marjorie. She is painfully poignant in the beautifully acted scenes about their young son Tom and how much she loves him. Tears are mingled with laughter. Martin has a wonderful opening scene, reflecting a daughter’s guilt and mother’s love while driving through the cemetery. Handsome Michael Cullen as He/Him is terrific as he also sadly grieves for their son. At first there are hilarious word games and imagination games played (if you were the child of these two particular celebrities…). We gradually learn that She is a popular children’s playwright and novelist; He is far less successful, a former medic now also at home, earning far less than she does, trying to write for TV. At times his hidden envy and bitterness is revealed. Mueller’s script is at times joyous and funny with lots of snappy one liners and at other times is poignant , lyrical and moving .Readers might be familiar with his ‘Zebra’ and/or ‘Concussion’. Cullen as He has an almost Surrealist monologue , soaring and impressive , as a male nurse describing Marjorie’s death and visions of Heaven just before she died to Her . Mueller’s intelligent and sophisticated play is about love, loss, grief, death and the breakup of a relationship. At times there are overlapping speech patterns and rhythms and there is an attempt at ‘distancing’ and ‘alienation’ with the use of voice-overs, as well as stage directions being read aloud and the fluid, many layers of the play seamlessly flow and interlock , weave together their various strands of meaning and thought . A dynamic, gripping production that is powerful and seductive. The play ends with a poetic but shattering denouement . Running time an hour (approx) no interval Apocalypse Theatre Company’s version of Ross Mueller’s CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART, directed by Dino Dimitriades and starring Michael Cullen and Cat Martin with voiceover work by Angela Bauer is playing the Tap Gallery until the 3rd May.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with Avi Avital

This was amazing , a joyous glorious concert does not usually think of the mandolin as a classical music concert solo instrument, but this magical concert will change your mind. Israeli virtuoso Avi Avital takes the mandolin to new heights, playing both established Baroque repertoire and finding new material, some of which he has arranged himself for mandolin, all skilfully chosen to showcase the unique voice of this particular instrument. Here on his first visit to Australia, Avital has been universally acclaimed for his performances and recordings, both for his technical prowess and his passion and sensitivity with the instrument. The concert, part of the Brandenburg’s 25th anniversary subscription program, in the first half established Baroque origins with a range of work from one of Vivaldi’s delightful lute concertos to a couple of pieces by Bach: a violin concerto, and one of his flute sonatas. In the second half, Avital led us past Baroque with an exploration of the 20th century with music by Bartók and De Falla, where ‘classical’ blurs with ‘folk’ music. Avital has an aura of profound musicality and was easily able to enthrall his audience in the Baroque repertoire of the first half, through his palpable enjoyment in the speedy sections and an inspiring emotional intensity in the beautifully phrased slower movements. Avital’s playing was delicate yet fiery, crisply precise yet simultaneously heavily charged with emotion. Paul Dyer, conducting from the keyboard and a somewhat pared down Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO), accompanied with delicate sensitivity and an evident pleasure in watching Avital as soloist work his magic. Violinists Matt Bruce, Ben Dollman, Catherine Shugg and Erin Chen were sensational in Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins, featuring some lush, delicate playing with the cello having some ominous undertones at times contrasted with the scurrying violins. Avital looking handsome in a black velvet suit and shiny black shoes joined Dyer, cellist Jamie Hey and Tommie Anderssen on theorbo for a bouncy, flowing yet brisk arrangement of Bach’s flute sonata in E minor. The middle second movement was slower, lyrical and exquisite. Avital on mandolin placed a perfectly timed almost singing parallel to Dyer on his harpsichord, whilst Jamie Hay and Tommie Andersson accompanied on baroque cello and therobo. The Pachelbel canon was given a robust, flowing rendition. In Avital’s arrangements of Manuel de Falla’s ‘Danse Espagnole ‘ and Bela Bartok’s ‘Romanian Folk Dances’ as heard in the second half , we gain some idea of the breadth of his musical passion and vision , full of passion and ‘gypsy fire ‘. Powerful and hypnotic, Avital’s extraordinary control over his unassuming instrument ,displaying blistering , faultless fingering and smooth tremolo with the plectrum leaves no one in doubt that he is a major talent. There were two encores, one a Bulgarian dance with a very fast quirky rhythm, Avital playing blisteringly fast, and a repeat of one of the Bartok pieces. The audience was hollering for more and would not let the performers leave. There was huge queue and Avital was mobbed with people buying his CDs after the performance . The running time of the concert was 2 hours (approx) including one interval. The pieces performed in the program were:- Vivaldi Concerto for 4 violins in B Minor op 3/10 RV 580, Vivaldi Concerto i D Major RV 93, Pachelbel Canon, JS Bach Concerto in A Minor BWV 1041, JS Bach Sonata in E minor BWV 1034, Albinoni Sonata no2 a cinque Op 2no3 in C Major, Falla Danse espagnole, Bartok Romanian Folk Dances Avi Avital with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is in concert at the City Recital Hall Angel Place on various dates between the 7th and the 16 May.

Australian Ballet Imperial Suite

A fascinating double bill here's what I said for Artshub A dazzling evening in which the Australian Ballet introduces two classical works in quite different, yet similar, styles. Australian Ballet’s Imperial Suite introduces two classical works in quite different, yet similar, styles: Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial, revealing his Petipa background and influences and the elegant Suite En Blanc by Serge Lifar, redolent of the French school are combined in the program. Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial (1941) is steeped in his Imperial Russian /Tsarist roots and is a homage to Petipa. For this work, the front curtain is the imposing golden Imperial Russian crest. You can see the Petipa/Ivanov influence in the use of repetition, particular lines for the ensemble and how some of the choreography is similar to that of Swan Lake and the Bluebird pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty for example (Adam Bull’s dazzling solo). There were also possible allusions to La Bayadere. There have been several versions of this work, in this one it is presented (freshly designed by Hugh Coleman) in gorgeously opulent tutus for the women and a uniform-like outfit for the men (harking back to the pre-WW1 outfits worn by Marinsky students). The overwhelmingly dominant colour is blue. Miwako Kubota featured in a glittering solo and pas de deux. Adam Bull and Lana Turner are tremendous in their thrilling pas de deux, very sensitively performed to the luscious lyrical Tchaikovsky music. However, while most impressively performed, I felt this work seemed somewhat dated. The dancers generally performed with a neutral expression and there was no real emotional engagement with the audience (I guess they were concentrating on the difficult counts and rhythms).Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto was delicately, fabulously played by soloist Hoang Pham and glowingly supported by the orchestra under the enthusiastic baton of Nicolette Fraillon. When the curtain rose on Lifar’s Suite En Blanc (1943), there was an audible murmur of appreciation. The dancers are frozen in tableaux, all in white, the women in either the long Romantic tutu or the more revealing classical one, the men in black and white like the poet in ‘Les Sylphides’. There is a very simple yet effective set of steps and a raised platform. The lyrical, hypnotic score of nineteenth-century composer Edouard Lalo, which is heavily accented with horns and percussion, has almost annoyingly catchy and delightfully danceable melodies.Technically, this is a very demanding bravura showcase for the dancers in assorted ensembles, trios, pas de deux etc. It is extremely revealing- any wrong step is glaringly obvious. Lifar himself was involved in the staging of this for the Australian Ballet when he visited in 1981. Lifar’s choreography, like Balanchine’s later, pushes and pulls strictly classical movements off-balance and adds variations on a theme and character development to a degree. We can also see, as another of my colleagues has observed and is most appropriate to the period, nineteenth-century modernism’s fascination with all things oriental, especially in Lifar’s favourite frieze-like movement motif reminiscent of ancient Greek art, which appears often, particularly in the elegant struts on and off stage and the way the arms are held at times. Special mention must be made of Chengwu Guo in the fiery Mazurka with its showy jumps and turns. Three Sylph-like figures (Natasha Kusen, Robyn Hendricks and Valerie Tereshchenko ) are enchanting in La Sieste. Amber Scott is dazzling and assured in the ‘Flute’ variation while Laura Tong is magnificent in the ‘Cigarette’ solo (which former Australian Ballet head Marina Gielgud danced in Paris at the age of 15, coached by Lifar).The grand pas de deux is performed by Amber Scott and Rudy Hawkes with elegance and grace . A dazzling, delightful evening. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Ballet Imperial Conductor: Nicolette Fraillon Lana Jones Adam Bull Miwako Kubota Suite en Blanc Conductor: Nicolette Fraillon La Sieste: Natasha Kusen, Robyn Hendricks and Valerie Tereshchenko Pas de Trois: Madeleine Eastoe, Andrew Killian and Kevin Jackson Serenade: Reiko Hombo Pas de Cinque: Ako Kondo Cigarette: Laura Tong Mazurka: Chengwu Guo Pas de Deux: Amber Scott and Rudy Hawkes Flute: Amber Scott Joan Sutherland Auditorium, Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point 10 - 17 May State Theatre, Arts Centre, St Kilda Rd 20 - 28 June

ACO Timeline

whoa what an incredible concert ! .Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review HUGE epic performance will leave you reeling with exhaustion and euphoria. Boldly ambitious and sweeping, for this extraordinary concert the Australian Chamber Orchestra attempts to follow the entire history of music in an evening (42,000 years of music in roughly two and a half hours by a blending of an expanded chamber orchestra, six vocalists and two electronic musicians). Linked in with the VIVID Festival as well, this was an astonishing , ravishing concert. Directed by Ignatius Jones it also featured electronic duo The Presets who are returned to their classical music roots. The concert also included engrossing visuals , devised by Digital Pulse, on a huge screen all appropriate to the music of the period – ranging from fire, ancient Greek amphorae, illuminated manuscripts, Hildegard von Bingen ‘s visions, glorious stained glass windows and through to Botticelli , Breughel , Holbein, Leonardo and Michaelangelo , Dada , Constructivism , Socialist Realism , Pop and Abstract art and everything in between. The ACO were in fine, fiery fettle under Tognetti’s emphatic , enthusiastic leadership. The first half followed the development of music from basic rhythm to awed veneration to expression – or if you like, from the physical to spiritual to personal – and return. It took us from the ‘big bang’ of creation through to 1900 with electronic static noise , ancient Aboriginal music, ancient Greek and Persian themes , through to Medieval and Renaissance songs (for example Hildegarde and Henry VIII ), through to the Baroque ( Vivaldi, Handel et al ) and then the greats of Western Classical music –Mozart , Beethoven , Bach , Wagner, Montiverdi. Brahms and some of the Romantics were also included and a fair chunk of it is religious music ranging from Gregorian chants, thrilling chilling Byzantine rhythms etc. There were also negro spirituals and a field call .The Montiverdi vespers was explosively powerful , the Vivaldi Gloria exultant and vibrant. The first half ended with the haunting , passionate ‘ Transfigured Night ‘ by Schoenberg with rather lyrical visuals of a tree and moon. Act 2 took us from 1900 to now, included jazz, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, the difficult atonality of Webern, spiky Bartok, lyrical , delicate Barber, Janacek , harsh Weill… As another of my colleagues has said the second half was circular- form into chaos into form into chaos again repeated. The second half perhaps was more laden with quick, spotty samples, and it also reflected the impact and influence of recorded sound on composition. An old fashioned looking ‘portable gramophone’ was installed front and centre and amplified the recorded music. There was a quick jump between the war years and the Great Depression with incredibly moving images of bombed buildings, the endless queues to a jazzy background (a very’ hot ‘ saxophone and clarinet by the way) . After 1945 we hit the infamous Cage 4’33” and then it’s a quick whiz through Dylan, the Beatles, Bowie leading us to Flower Power, protest songs and the Vietnam War. Does a drill really count as music? Ask Eisnturzende Neubaten. We are then catapulted forward through the Beastie Boys, Bjork,Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Eminem etc, interlaced with Peter Sculthorpe, Phillip Glass, Amy Whitehouse among others, ending with music right now. This all segued into a short encapsulating and summing up piece , ‘Continuum ‘ which had fireworks /exploring Japanese like space/universe visuals that left both the audience and performers gasping. ‘Life flashes before your ears’ indeed .Or, as Ignatius Jones puts it in the program : ‘A history of Western Music in Two Acts and a Megamix’ . A dazzling, epic performance by the ACO, – an extraordinary knockout concert that will leave you breathless and wanting more. This major landmark concert is a visual and aural feast. The ACO in ‘Timeline’ is playing at either City Recital Hall Angel Place or the Sydney Opera House 20 -28 May , then tours nationally . Running time 2 hours 45 (approx) includes one interval For more about The Australian Chamber Orchestra : Timeline, visit

Parramatta Girls

A very strong and powerful production at Parramatta .Here's what I thought for Sydney Arts Guide extraordinary, disturbing and challenging play storms defiantly onto the small stage of the Lennox at Parramatta. This play received its premiere production back at the inner city Belvoir theatre in 2007. Playwright Alana Valentine has skillfully woven together true stories of women who were former inmates of the notorious Parramatta Girls Detention Centre. Under the exceptional direction of Tanya Goldberg, and starring a galaxy of fabulous Australian actresses, this vibrant, confronting and sometimes quite witty and funny play enthralls and challenges whilst play exploring the defiance, endurance and psychological legacy of being labelled a ‘Home girl’.In Valentine’s play, eight former inmates return to the notorious Parramatta Girls Detention Centre for a reunion forty years after it was shut down. For the lucky few it’s a way to find healing, for others it’s a way to dispel the ghosts, for all of them it is a way to share the pain. Tobhiyah Stone Feller‘s set is extremely effective, minimalist ‘Institution’- grey concrete rubble with smashed windows , heavy doors with rusty locks , cold, dangerous wire and the atmosphere of Jane Eyre’s Lowood. The staging is also rather minimalistic, with a few tables /chairs/buckets as required which allows for the fluid ,cinematic scene and time shifts.Verity Hampson’s lighting is very atmospheric and effective with a wonderful use of shadows. We discover both the physical and emotional/psychological scars that are at first glance hidden. Valentine’s play features some very powerful monologues and also includes story telling and songs. It is a tribute to the mischief and humour in the face of hardship suffered by countless girls, forgotten Australians who were victims of this harsh juvenile detention centre. We hear some of the stories of abuse and neglect of the girls by the State and at the hands of the people officially appointed to look after them. There are nightmarish ‘play’ scenes where the inmates act out sentencing, pretend to be the Matron and the notorious ‘Doctor Fingers’. We learn of the exhausting scrubbing punishment,the isolation cells and the semi-mythical ‘dungeons’. There is a coverall dingy grey uniform they wear when ‘inside’. It is an analysis of their struggle to survive and beat the system – if they can. Harsh, streetwise girls are mixed with naive far more innocent ones who do not understand ‘the system’ and haven’t a hope of survival. On this return visit , some crack and dissolve in tears , can’t face going back,some snap and scream ‘let me out’ ,– yet the door this time can be opened any time they wish. The girl’s babies – if they had them – were removed at birth and placed for adoption. We learn about desperate attempts at abortion and other attempts to get into sick bay, to escape even temporarily… We have Judi’s (delightfully played by Annie Byron) opening monologue about billycarting and her being self conscious about her bleeding elbows and the harsh treatment she received. (At one point the rest of the women wear elbow bandages in solidarity). Christine Anu is excellent as feisty Coral,who has a delightful monologue about a group bus trip to Kings Cross among other things. Later it is revealed that she is illiterate and the case workers have badly written up her reports.We see Coral become one of the leaders of the riots for better conditions , an act that most unusually unites all the women in protest. There’s Lynette’s (wonderful Vanessa Downing )’s mantra of self worth – she is NOT a ‘waste of space’. A haunting, delicate performance was terrifically given by Holly Austin as ghostly, tragic Maree. In one very sad scene she is forced to rip the arm off her beloved teddy bear, becoming one who falls through the cracks in the system until it is too late. Hard, streetwise and brash ‘bad girl’ Melanie is given a tremendous performance by Anni Finsterer. We learn that outside she becomes a mother with fierce love for her children. Sharni McDermott and Tessa Rose as Kerry and Marlene enable us to follow the plight of the many indigenous girls who were inmates ,the racism in the system and how badly they were treated too. Sandy Gore as Gayle gives a great performance , ending the play on an ironically rather hopeful note with her monologue about all the charity money she raised and winning a motherhood competition. A shattering, disturbing play with a glorious cast that is highly recommended. There is a fascinating display as the audience enters about the history of the Institution and a wonderful eerily atmospheric exhibition by Heidrun Lohr. Running time 2 hours 20 mins (approx) including one interval. PARRAMATTA GIRLS is playing at the Lennox at the Riverside Theatres until the 17th May.

Phantom of the Opera

Hi .This was a tremendous version as by the Willoughby Theatre Co - thoroughly recommended .Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review Lush, lavish, opulent and romantic this is a splendid version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s now classic musical .Willoughby Theatre Company have done it again with this enthralling ,extremely impressive ,dazzling , spectacular show . THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Lloyd-Webber’s musical based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux , opened in 1986 in London . By 2011 it had been seen by over 130 million people in 145 cities in 27 countries, and it is one of the world’s most popular musicals. The main plot is set in the building of the Paris Opera – from its dizzying heights to its mysterious subterranean lake- and concern a beautiful soprano, Christine Daaé, who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius , Erik, aka the Opera Ghost (the Phantom of the Opera) who is feared by all . There are some slight changes to the gigantic stage version we know and love (eg no fake half elephant for ‘Hannibal’ and the huge staircase needed for ‘Masquerade’ is not really a huge staircase) but it is the’ Phantom’ we know and love from the standard ‘Really Useful ‘production with the boat, dry ice, pyrotechnics, the mysterious mirror, the plant like designs for the organ all magnificently done. Supporting roles are more than handled capably and the ensemble under the excellent direction of Declan Moore is disciplined and wonderfully controlled. The superb costumes are stunning (especially for instance all the assorted ones for the ensemble in ‘Masquerade’ , and not forgetting the ancient Roman ones for’ Hannibal’) ! . Generally the scene changes are cinematic and quite fluid with the use of snapping hanging drapes and flats for instance in ‘ Music of the Night’ . The orchestra under the excellent baton of Greg Jones played Lloyd Webber’s lush, lilting ‘Romantic’ score terrifically .The score possibly seems to have been ‘jazzed up’ a little at a couple of points and perhaps in a couple of places was messy , the complicated rhythms and leitmotivs jumbled. But overall, glorious. The corps de ballet girls were lovely often in white rehearsal tutus as in paintings by Degas. Moore has been very lucky in his excellent leads and other casting What a splendid performance was given by Simon Greer as our tormented anti-hero the Phantom , brilliantly acted . He has a strong but possibly rather light tenor voice. He was dynamic and compelling , weaving his somniferous magic and controlling us and Christine in ‘Music of the Night ‘ and making us melancholy and pity him deeply when he reveals his secret , unrequited love for Christine. In this version he wears a full dark hairpiece as well as the white half mask , making him sort of look like a Latino lover, very suave and sophisticated. It is only toward the end of Act 2 that we see his disfigured, ravaged face. When he appears as the Red Death in ‘Masquerade ‘ it is terrifying . Our heroine, petite dark haired Sarah Brightman look alike Chloe McKenzie was tremendous as Christine Daae with her fresh coloratura soprano voice. She was delightful in Act 1 (‘Think of Me’ ) , tremulous when falling unexpectedly in love with Raoul ( ‘That’s All I Ask of You ‘ ) and stops the show with her heartbreaking rendition of ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ , mourning her father and torn between Raoul and the Phantom . And her ‘The Point of No Return’ was hypnotic and powerful .Like almost all of us she succumbs to the Phantom’s mesmerizing ‘Music of the Night’ . Our earnest lovestruck young hero , Raoul , Comte de Chagny was terrifically played by Gavin Brightwell who has a charming ,rich baritone .He was strong , supportive and comforting of Christine , gallant and defiant when facing the Phantom. His duets with Christine were marvellous. Theirs is a most uneasy eternal triangle. Christine’s rival at the Opera, the reigning temperamental ,scheming diva Carlotta Giudicelli was deliciously, wickedly played to the hilt in her fabulous costumes and makeup with much enjoyment by Georgia Kokkoris .David McKenzie has a great time supporting her as the rotund , egotistical Pavarotti like archetypical leading tenor Ubaldo Piangi. Tall, stern Madame Giry, intimidating in black, was excellently performed by Virginia Natoli, and her very talented up dancer daughter Meg was charmingly played by Kate Ash. Mention must also be made of the two new managers of the Theatre Andrew Benson as Giles Andre and Andrew Castle as Richard Firman , driven to distraction by the Opera Ghost . A sweeping, epic love story, a most splendid performance with spectacular visuals. And yes ,given the theatre, costs ,and circumstances the chandelier is most impressive. And now for ‘Love Never Dies’ … Willoughby Theatre Company’s magnificent production of Phantom of the Opera runs at the Concourse Chatswood until June 1. Running time 2 hours 45 (approx) including one interval

Ballet Boyz: The Talent

This was amazing ,very strong and powerful Here's my rave for Sydney Arts Guide A vibrant ,sensuous ,virile , enthralling program that champions male dancing , ‘The Talent’ is a double bill of two short works Liam Scarlett’s ‘Serpent’ and Russell Maliphant’s ‘Fallen’. The company is called ‘Ballet Boyz ‘ and was established roughly fifteen years ago by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt who were then dancers with the Royal Ballet. The name has stuck , although Nunn and Trevitt don’t really like it , and the rest is dance history . The current program ‘The Talent ‘features a blend of superb dancers all of whom are aged between 18 and 25, come from either British or European background, and all are in incredibly fit , marvellous form . The company , for this programme nine men , performs 21st-century contemporary choreography accentuating the muscular and dangerous side and making it ever so more accessible and exciting . Both commisioned choreographers have to deal with the challenge of male only choreography and making it work and adapting for different body types and technical training . Both commisioned choreographers have to deal with the challenge of male only choreography and making it work and adapting for different body types and technical training . Scarlett’s ‘Serpent ‘ the opening work of the program , had slithery choreography in parts but also featured serpent like waving arms at times that were like undulating underwater seaweed. Or is it a reference to Matthew Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’ ? The piece is performed on an open stage with a white backdrop and in typical Ballet Boyz style had a short video introduction before the live performance explosively began .The cast were in revealing knee length leggings with black striped accents . The energy palpably sizzles. One section has a pas de deux that is like wrestling.There is a Lloyd –Newson like crawl at one point and a possible Kylian influence .There is a rich lyrical quartet lit by golden light and some wonderful athletic sculptural pas de deux that shines. Flavien Esmeiu has a distinctive , mesmerising solo . Constant motion , forming fluid pas de deux and fine ensemble work is featured – there is no walking into place or semi false transitions. Mirroring dancers arch backward across the supportive knee of another, or roll across the back of someone else and then the roles are switched. Richetr’s lush score is eclectic and challenging ranging from sounding like Philip Glass to Bach and inbetween with harpsichord ,piano and violins combined with crashing industrial noise . Maliphants’s ‘Fallen’ has a sombre , ominous feel. Again in typical ‘Ballet Boyz’ style it opens with jaunty quirky film footage (in this case of rehearsal and interview with Maliphant)that segues to the live performance . In some ways it is as if the cast are fallen angels or are we meant to think of Dante ? Or are they trapped soldiers ? There is a menacing, ,militaristic feel at times and an uneasy sense of either belonging to the group or not .The cast are all in grey , sleeveless camouflage-like gear and there is most effective lighting by Mulls ( a constant collaborator with Maliphant ) of the pitiless back wall – at times the lighting is stark , other times dappled or shadowy. Amar’s music is snappy and relentlessly pulsating and driven. Maliphant’s brilliant choreography is full of powerful, hypnotic energy and includes martial arts influences. There are some wonderful sculptural tableaux and unusual lifts and balances . The work opens with the cast rotating in two circles going in different directions. There is also a lift /balance segment where there is a lift of a couple of the cast in the circles sort of as if segments of a tyre were lifted . Sometimes the cast appear to be unstoppable parts of a giant machine .Carruccio has an extraordinary solo with an amazing back bend as does Adam Kirkham in another featured mini-display . A terrific ,gripping atmospheric piece in a sensational performance. The short season sold out before it opened. The running time was 90 minutes including one interval. THE BALLET BOYZ: THE TALENT is playing at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House until the 13th May. For more information about Ballet Boyz: The Talent, visit

The Royal Ballet in The Winter's Tale Like wow,like amazing .This is an incredible productiuon . Here's my rave Three years in the making, this new, specially commissioned work by Christopher Wheeldon is a major landmark production. It is only the second new full length narrative ballet commissioned by the Royal Ballet in the past twenty years. Technically it dazzles and at times it is emotionally shattering. One of Shakespeare’s difficult ‘problem plays’ with a very complicated plot, it has never been adapted for the ballet stage before. Wheeldon returns to the Royal Ballet’s history of full length narrative works , following in the footsteps of Macmillan and Ashton for example , in this splendid work ( not forgetting his own ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. )There are six main roles and lots for the corps de ballet ensemble to do – especially in Act2 in Bohemia as bucolic shepherd/esses in an enchanting pastoral setting. The main theme of the work throughout the entire production is jealousy , and compassion and forgiveness, but the usual stumbling block is how to portray this clearly and successfully on stage in dance – but in this case it really works. Wheeldon’s choreography is at times extremely athletic and demanding sometimes it appears that the dancers need to seem boneless! They also need to be able to be great dramatic actors. The distinctions between Sicilia and Bohemia are clear choreographically, musically and visually. In Act2 special mention should be made of the on stage musicians under the wonderful tree. Joby Talbot’s rich, multilayered ,complex score is excellent in its rendering of many emotional tones for the various characters . Bob Crowley’s designs are exceptional and special mention must be made of Natasha Katz’s superb atmospheric lighting and also the projections and silk effects designs that are magnificent . There are glorious sea and ship depictions , the huge, sprawling tree in Act2 is fantastic ( a fairy tree from ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ or the party tree from ‘The Hobbit’ perhaps ?) and the famous ‘ exit , pursued by a bear’ is quite terrifying and most effectively done with the billowing silk effects. As poor wronged wife Queen Hermoine ,Lauren Cuthbertson was glorious , tall with a long ‘line’ that seemed to go on forever. At the opening of Act1 she was radiant , but then pleading and despairing .in Act3 she is magnanimous and forgiving .The ‘statue comes to life’ scene is extremely moving and there are some very demanding and athletic sections in the recognition/reconciliation scene between Hermoine and Leontes. Loyal ,feisty Paulina was tremendously danced by leggy Zenaida Yanowksy . Her anxious ,angry mime protesting Hermoine’s innocence in Act1 was quite clear and she delightfully weaves her magic to put things to rights as much as possible at the end. King Polixenes was regally, commandingly danced by Federico Bonelli .As the wrongly accused friend and aggrieved father Bonelli gives a tremendous performance. Act 2 brings us our young hero , prince in disguise ( sound familiar? ) Florizel, wondrously danced by Steven MCrae .Mcrae is in astonishing top form and has some dazzling dangerous turns in his solos and partners Lamb as Perdita delightfully. Princess Perdita, denied and abandoned at birth , is beautifully danced by Sarah Lamb. ( The baby Perdita I think was influenced by the New Adventure’s baby Aurora in Matthew Bourne’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’. )Lamb is exquisite – all dewy youth ,innocence and young love. She is radiant in Act2 being crowned May Queen and in her engagement celebrations , feisty and determined to survive shipwreck and separation towards the end of Act2/start of Act3. She is indeed a ‘lost jewel’ that shines brightly. But this is Edward Watson as Leonte’s ballet – he towers above all in an incredible, shattering performance. He dances brilliantly but also gives an intensely detailed acting performance – we can almost hear him speak . There is very effective use of close up photography , it is almost as if we are standing next to him on stage! In Act1 we see his unexpected descent into madness , in Act 3 his grief, guilt and shattered remorse and hopeful final redemption .Others have described hisperformance as reptilian but I would say more arachnid – inky , eerie , spiderlike… A splendid full length new ballet of which the Royal Ballet should be most proud. It successfully melds traditional and modern, contemporary and classical ,abstract and narrative in a huge ,sweeping production that rivets and enthralls. Running time – allow 3 hours 15 mins (approx) .There are two intervals and pre and interval interviews conducted by Darcey Bussell . The Royal Ballet in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season and screens nationally at selected cinemas .

Live at Lunch Home ! Sweet Home!

This was a terrific concert Here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide This ravishing, superb concert had Amelia Farrugia channeling her inner Melba,Sutherland and Bronhill – three Australian great divas , combined with a touch of Callas perhaps? Maestro Chris Carter, dapper in orchestral black, was tremendous as the accompanist and did a splendid job jumping between all the different styles of music. International star Rutter , organiser of the Live at lunch series, was tres chic in a black and white ensemble with a Beardsley like print and floaty scarf around her neck. She welcomed us and introduced Farrugia and Carter and featured in several of the pieces. The concert began (and ended) with Melba. Farrugia was stunning in a long black gown with a Greek design on it and a black stole around her shoulders .She sang her heart out in the opening ‘Ave Maria ‘ (Gounod version) , rather dark and powerful. Then by contrast came the bright, sparkling ‘ Jewel Song ‘ from Gounod ‘s ‘Faust’ ( drawing much attention to her glittering necklace) and the amazing show stopping ‘Si,mi chiamano Mimi’ from Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’, shyly perfomed with great modesty and delicacy that brought the house down. Funny stories were told by Rutter and Farrugia about Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge. We were then treated to a lyrical , yet elegant and showy delightful version of the Largo Allegro from the Donizetti Sonata For Flute and Piano C major . in that piece we were asked to imagine it for the voice, Sutherland’s in particular , with all its flourishes, embellishments, trills etc. This was contrasted by the following number by Farrugia – a piece from the vibrant sexy teasing and delightful ‘ Les filles de Cadix ‘ by Delibes ,almost zarzuela in style, ( or perhaps ‘Carmen’ ) again invoking Sutherland. The haunting , melancholy beautiful Barcarolle from the’ Tales of Hoffmann ‘with Rutter on flute was then played . Rutter followed that with a delightful, enchanting short piece about a rose : ‘Zeller Roses ‘from Tyrrol Rosenlied . Then came the beautiful , lush, soaring ‘Bell Song’ duet from Delibe’s ‘Lakme’ with Rutter on flute. Very different was Farrugia in Puccini ‘s ‘Ch’il bel sogno di Doretta ‘ from Puccini’s ‘La Rondine’. This was in great contrast to Farrugia’s ‘Laughing Song ‘ from ‘ Die Fleidermaus ‘, part of the Bronhill tribute – biting , witty , slightly panicky and hysterical . Further mention was made of Bronhill and ‘June’s tune’ ‘Veljia from Lehar’s ‘The Merry Widow’ , romantic ,lyrical and inspiring and which Farrugia sang with great warmth and depth of feeling. This was theoretically supposed to be the conclusion to the concert, but the audience was in raptures and insisted on an encore, so we went full circle back to Melba who was famously associated with ‘Home Sweet Home’. Farrugia sang it exquisitely and was extremely moving – you could have heard a pin drop and many in the audience was in tears. There was more wildly enthusiastic applause and with the concert having finished, we filed out for lunch. The running time an hour 20 mins (approx) no interval. HOME! SWEET HOME!, part of the Live at Lunch series , was a one off performance Wednesday 21 st May . An extended version of this programme will be performed at the Avoca Beach Picture Theatre, Fri 23rd May at 7:30pm. The Next Live at Lunch concert will take place on the 2nd July and will feature a celebratio of Vivaldi’s masterpiece, FOUR SEASONS. For more about Live at lunch : Home! Sweet home !Aussie Opera Divas, visit