Monday, 27 February 2017

Australian Chamber Orchestra : Murder and Redemption

A fascinating concert here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide 


Featured image – Guest violinist Pekka Kuusisto.
This was not your standard Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) concert, but as always it featured absolutely superb playing by the ACO who were in inspired form and dynamically led by the charismatic, bouncing, at times close to dancing guest violinist Pekka Kuusisto, who has taken the place of Richard Tognetti, who is currently in residence at the Barbican in London. (The ACO will play at the Barbican next month).
The concert was divided into two halves,as befits the concert’s title. There was a fascinating blend and contrast of blues grass folk songs sung and played on guitar and banjo by  guest artist Sam Amidon, with a turbulent, passionate Janacek piece (his first string quartet, The Kreutzer Sonata, as well as a dazzling version of a John Adams work entitled, Shaker Loops (1947) .
In the first half, Murder, the turbulent , at times quite spiky Janacek piece was magnificently played by the ACO. The wprk was inspired by the Tolstoy novella of the same name. At one time there was a stormy argument between sections of the orchestra tensely, breathlessly played, and this was contrasted with more melancholic and reflective sections .
Amidon’s folk songs, played in both halves, appeared at first to be simple tunes but then proved to be more complex. In the first half, in the work Way Go Lily, there were rippling flowing rhythms.  How Come That Blood featured a fluid, clip clop almost galloping rhythm – Amidon on banjo , the orchestra accompanying him, and there was an interesting use of pizzicato.
For the first half the songs were arranged by Nico Muhly.  Amidon’s rough hewn, sincere vocal style gave his retelling of these folk songs a powerful punch.  Amidon’s raw playing contrasted with the more refined tomes of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
The Redemption set opening the second half was a selection of songs performed by Amidon and Kuusisto alone, in a delightfully intimate yet casual and relaxed manner. This contrasted with, and allowed some relief, from the darker subject matter of the program’s first half.
Kuusisto treated his violin more like a folk fiddler, and occasionally joined his voice to Amidon’s in a delightful performance that also included a showy violin solo.
This half also featured an acapella like, haunting and powerful version of Brackett’s Simple Gifts, (the most famous hymn of the Shaker sect) as sung by Amidon.
John Adams work Shaker Loops was rich and multi layered and featured an aching ‘centre’. At times, the piece evoked the ‘music of the spheres’, shimmering and delicate, at other the playing was strident, with bubbling violins and  cellos rumbling underneath.
This was a dazzling concert with a running time of two  hours and ten minutes.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s toured the concert  MURDER AND REDEMPTION nationally between the 2nd and 14th February.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra in Murder and Redemption was on national tour February 2 -14

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir in Handel's Messiah

A striking unusual version this was superb .Here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide  


In the lead up to Lent and Easter we are very privileged to have the Brandenburg’s glorious performances of Handel’s THE MESSIAH, enthusiastically led and directed by Paul Dyer with the magnificent Brandenburg Choir, four soloists and a striking, very unusual and effective staging by Constantine Cosi.
Handel’s Oratorio on the life of Christ is divided into four ‘scenes’ : Darkness to Light , The Dream , Shame and Mourning, and Ecstatic Light.
THE MESSIAH follows the story of Christ from birth to crucifixion and resurrection, but it also examines Israelite history, exploring the prophets who preceded the Messiah (especially Isaiah) and looks forward to the birth of the Church. There is no single dominant narrative voice and little use is made of quoted speech.
The Orchestra, seated on a slightly raised platform, was in luminous form, and played with a warm, elegant tone on their period instruments – extra horns and drums were incorporated where necessary.
Dark blue curtains were drawn, and atmospheric, dramatic lighting was used throughout.
Whilst the work was written by Handel back in 1741, the piece is as resonant as ever.
The barefoot Brandenburg Choir – white dresses for the women , black trousers , white shirts with a black stripe for the men- were in exhilarating form too.
The ABO’s chorus was in scintillating form. The famous Hallelujah chorus was exuberantly, joyously performed, with the choir in red and white. At times, the Choir was explosively powerful, sometimes rumbling and roaring, at other times joyously bubbling.- the singing rippled, sparkled and jumped in some sections.
The staging was deceptively simple and very effective with some chairs used in the first half, and then the Choir was mostly standing in the second half, at times, moving with large blocks of precise movement .
At times, in the second half, it was as if the Chorus was an accusing crowd shouting ‘crucify him’, The very tricky and complicated final extended ‘Amen’ was handled delightfully.
All four soloists deserve praise, Soprano Lucia Martin-Carton was excellent . For her opening solos in The Dream, (in the first half), exquisitely singing of the angels, she was up on the middle balcony in a long simple elegantly cut beige dress. After interval, wearing a glamorous long red dress, her rendition of  I know that my Redeemer liveth was assured, soaring and confident .
Handsome tenor Kyle Bielfield, who wore a plain white jacket in the role of Christ, was terrific with a quiet yet charismatic presence, and a thrilling voice. He was powerful and passionate in his solos with spectacular control and phrasing.
Another way this performance of Handel’s much loved oratorio was out of the ordinary was in its  use of a counter tenor rather than an alto /mezzo soprano.
Nicholas Spanos was splendid. For He was despised  Spanos has a dramatic entrance, holding a long red scarf in his hands, that was eventually used to blindfold Bielfield. Spanos’ voice had  a compelling, warm tone.
Australian bass/baritone  David Greco’s Why Do The Nations, sung from standing within the audience on the middle balcony,  was performed  with great intensity and with the orchestra flooded with red light.
There was prolonged enthusiastic screams , cheers and applause , with a partial standing ovation at the end . Magnificent.
Concert running time – 2 hours and 15 minutes including one interval.
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir’s concert HANDEL’S MESSIAH is playing at the City Recital Hall on various dates between the 22nd February and the 4th March.

The Trouble WIth Harry

A strong very thought provoking and moving play .Here's my thoughts for Artshub Lynne Lancaster
‘A transgender warrior at a time when there was no understanding of her condition,' Mark Tedeschi QC.
The Trouble With Harry
 Image of Harry Crawford via Seymour Centre.
As part of the Mardi Gras 2017 Festival program this ground breaking Australian play The Trouble With Harry tells the astonishing real life story of Harry Crawford, who was actually a woman, Eugenia Falleni.
Crawford was the assumed male persona of Falleni, who was born biologically a woman in Italy in 1875. Raised in New Zealand, she ran away from her unhappy home as a teenager. Assuming the name ‘Eugene’ – Falleni worked as a merchant seaman for some months before her real gender was discovered by the ship’s captain (who repeatedly raped her before abandoning her ashore) alone and pregnant in Australia. After giving birth to a daughter Josephine (who was then placed into foster care). Eugenia reinvented herself as immigrant Scotsman Harry Crawford, an identity that would mostly go unchallenged until Crawford was brought in for questioning by police after a partially incinerated body found near a picnic spot in Lane Cove in 1917 was identified as Annie Birkett, Crawford's missing wife. The trial was one of the most scandalous and sensational ever conducted during the 20th century in Sydney.
Lachlan Philpott's script is sparsely, elegantly written. A Man (Thomas Campbell) and A Woman (Niki Owen) act as narrators like a Greek chorus commenting and explaining events – they also play various roles such as neighbours. With its overlapping speech patterns and rhythms I thought this might make a terrific radio play and was perhaps reminded of Under Milkwood.
Under Kate Gaul‘s assured direction there are minimal sets, just a raised platform and some gauzy drapes allowing for fluid staging and scene changes. Lighting is provided by hanging lamps of the era. There are some boxes, tables and chairs that can be carried on and off as required. The small theatre has been transformed into the courtroom and there is an edgy, intense atmosphere helped by the use of haze. The set is designed like a courtroom with some audience members on three sides of the stage, some very close up to the action.
Josephine, Crawford’s (Falleni’s) daughter was terrifically played by Bobbie -Jean Henning as a trouble making, spitfire tomboy who loves prying and finding out secrets. She is angry and bitter. It is she who inadvertently in great distress one day blurts out Harry’s secret – that her ‘father’ is in fact her ‘mother’.
Annie Birkett, Harry Crawford’s ‘wife’ and mother to the young Harry Birkett was given a warm, sympathetic performance by Jane Phegan. As to Annie (a widow when she married Harry) was she really fooled by what happened in the bedroom between them or did she decide to make the best of it?
Young Harry Birkett, Harry Crawford‘s rather naïve, innocent young teenage step son was terrifically played by Jonas Thomson. As Harry Crawford, Jodie Le Vesaconte was superb with a striking resemblance to the real Harry (of photographs). She is totally believable as a rather gruff, secretive and taciturn yet charismatic, warm and charming male.
We will never really know what happened that afternoon of Annie’s death and the picnic at Lane Cove. Was Annie’s death actually a tragic accident? The trial and Falleni’s life afterword are rushed through, skimmed over right at the end of the play.
To paraphrase what Mark Tedeschi QC points out in his brilliant biography of Falleni, what we really need to ask now in the 21st century is: ‘was there sufficient evidence to justify Eugenia’s conviction for murder’?
The Trouble With Harry is also, as Tedeschi said, a celebration of Falleni, who was: ‘a transgender warrior at a time when there was no understanding of her condition and no support for her cause’. The play examines gender and identity and how the social mores of the time severely restricted Falleni/Crawford and is a plea for all those forced to live a lie.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Trouble With Harry
By Lachlan Philpott
Presented by Siren Theatre Co in association with Seymour Centre
Director: Kate Gaul
Featuring: Thomas Campbell, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jodie Le Vesconte, Jonas Thomson, Niki Owen, Jane Phegan
Designer: Alice Morgan
Composer & Sound Designer: Nate Edmondson
Lighting Designer: Matt Cox
Movement Consultant: Natalia Ladyko

The Seymour Centre, Chippendale
16 February – 3 March 2017

Paris Opera Ballet in Nureyev's Swan Lake

A wonderful revival .Here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide :


If you want to see pure, dazzling, practically perfect classical ballet technique danced superbly then this screening is for you.
The Paris Opera Ballet’s revival of  Nureyev’s SWAN LAKE is superb. The production choreographed by Nureyev was first presented at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984 and previously last seen in 2011.  This screening was of the performance that took place at the Opera Bastille in Paris on the 8th December 2016.
Nureyev’s rather Freudian version is presented as if it is the main characters Siegfried’s dying dream,  controlled by Wolfgang, his tutor, who in Siegfried’s mind becomes the mysterious, malevolent Rothbart. The orchestra, under maestro Vello Pahn, plays superbly .
For the scenes in the palace there are clean , elegant lines of doorways and for the lakeside ‘white’ scenes there is  a rather Turner like ominous landscape.
In this version there are, thankfully, no annoying court jesters. The costumes are Medieval in appearance. The court scenes are mostly in soft, autumnal colours, and Siegfried is in blue, grey or silver. The costumes feature very ornate embroidery.
Tall, handsome Mathieu Ganio was superb as Seigfried and his dancing featured dazzling, classical technique.
He is the typical Prince in Act 1 and has a ‘lonely, yearning ‘ solo, and meets and falls in love with Odette – with dramatic , tragic consequences. The production does not offer much opportunity for character development, although he does stand up to the Queen and insist on marrying Odile at the end of Act 3, to her displeasure and with fatal results. It did feel a bit out of character for him to be so rude rejecting the assorted six princesses his mother presents for him to choose from.
In the dual role of Odette/Odile, Amandine Albisson is superb. As Odette , she is regal and delicate yet steely in nature, trapped in Rothbart’s spell that only true love can break. She tremulously allows herself hope, and is  fluttery and exquisite with incredibly expressive port des bras.
As Odile in Act 3 she is radiant – a scintillating, sophisticated temptress, a glittering, smiling villain laughing at Siegfried’s downfall. The famous ‘white act’ pas de deux in Acts 2 and 4 were breathtakingly done.
In the double role of Wolfgang/Rothbart Francois Alu is tremendous. Wolfgang is portrayed as rather young, suave, ultra charming but with a Mephistopheles aura, looming in the shadows, manipulating everything, and in particular, almost hypnotising, Siegfried.
In his bat like appearance as Rothbart, the evil sorcerer who transformed Odette in to a swan, he ominously swoops and swirls. Rothbart is an enigmatic, malevolent trickster with a twisted, chilling hold over Siegfried.
No small wonder that the Queen Mother is rather dubious in Act 3 when he has become/transformed into the civil Rothbart, courtly and elegant. It was interesting to note that the ‘Black Swan’ pas de deux in Act 3 for Siegfried and Odile became almost a trio.
The big waltzes in Acts 1 and 3 were excitingly performed as were the national dances in Act 3.
The corps de ballet of swans were relentlessly, precisely drilled and the filigree, intricate criss-cross patterns were movingly performed,  the corps moving and breathing as an ebbing, flowing,  sculptural mass.
This SWAN LIKE was magnificent to see. Running time 3 hours and 15 minutes with one interval. The screening featured interviews both prior to, and during the interval, of the performance.
The Paris Opera Ballet’s revival of Nureyev’s SWAN LIKE is screenins as part of this year’s Palace Opera and Ballet season between the 17th and 22nd February.

Botticelli's Inferno

A very strong film here's my Sydney Arts Guide thoughts all hope, ye who enter here.” Dante
This is a  fascinating, intense examination of Sandro Botticelli’s (1445- 1510) famous work that jumps from the Vatican to Florence, Berlin, London and the Scottish lowlands.
The film is directed by Ralph Loop, who also has an expert, an Italian historian who knows the city of Florence in the Renaissance period to enthusiastically narrate part of the film. As well there are interviews with the Directors of the various galleries.
The film examines the history of one of Botticelli’s famous works : the illustrations he produced based on Dante’s Divine Comedy and particularly concentrates on The Inferno and his depiction of the nine levels of, and the map of the descent, into Hell, as described by Dante. In contrast, we also see his vision of Paradise.
Some of his other famous works – for example his Primavera and Birth of Venus – are also depicted.
Botticelli’s own dark side is hinted at, and he is placed in context in the artistic and political worlds of his day. As well as Botticelli’s work, we also see famous works by other greats such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo .
The documentary features glorious aerial shots of beautiful Florence – the city of artists and geniuses-  and we follow the work from the temperature controlled vaults of the Vatican library and see how the artsworks have been digitally scanned and minutely scrutinised , and revealing how sometimes even Botticelli altered parts of the composition.
The nine circles of Hell are described and  shown in incredible detail. The famous ‘Map of Hell’ would  have been terrifying when Botticelli painted it and still today makes one feel uncomfortable.
We also see the original contract Botticelli signed, and learn a little ( but not much it – would be marvellous to know more) about his life.
The film is narrated partly in the first person with the voice over of Botticelli as narrator but mostly it is the world art experts from the Vatican who enthusiastically take us through his journey.
The incredibly detailed techniques Botticelli would have used are explained – no wonder it took him over a decade to produce the work.The current hi tech techniques for restoration and preservation are also explained. The film also links to today with ordinary people being interviewed in Florence as to views of the work.
We also follow how Botticelli’s extraordinary ground breaking work was actually broken up and ended up in the Vatican library and also, for a time, Berlin during the nineteenth century .
BOTTICELLI’S INFERNO  was a fascinating, at times disturbing documentary, giving viewers fresh artists into this great artists’ work.
Running time allow 1 hr 45 mins without interval. The film screens at selected arthouse cinemas from February 11.

Brutus and Other Heroines

A fascinating book
Here's my thoughts for Artshub Lancaster
Dame Harriet Walter gives insight into some of the roles she has played.
Brutus and Other Heroines By Harriet Walter
Book cover:  Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare's roles for Women by Harriet Walter. Image via Nick Hern Books.
Apart from the Shakespearean characters listed in this book, Dame Harriet Walter has played many other great classical stage roles including: the Duchess of Malfi, Hedda Gabler, Nina in Thomas Kilroy’s Irish version of Chekhov’s The Seagull, Masha in Three Sisters, Anna Petrovna in Ivanov, Hester in The Deep Blue Sea and Elizabeth I in Schiller’s Mary Stuar. She has also performed in several contemporary classics including Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, Harold Pinter’s Old Times, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, and as Linda in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. She has created roles in new plays including Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Yasmina Reza’s Life x 3 to name just two. She has also made many TV and film appearances.
Written by one of the leading practitioners of performing art in the UK, this is a fascinating and insightful book regarding some of the leading Shakespearean female characters and a couple of male ones too. In particular it focuses on Ophelia, Imogen, Helena, Portia, Beatrice, Viola, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth and also Brutus and Henry IV.
How does a contemporary actress of the 21st Century approach these roles? Given that they were written over 400 years ago how and why are they challenging to play and can we still relate to them? Questions are asked, was Shakespeare a misogynist? Why are there almost no roles for older women in his plays? It also considers the cross dressing of the period and how in Shakespeare’s time young boys played all the women’s parts as women were not allowed to perform.
Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare's roles for Women is divided into ten chapters, some reworked from previous books Dame Harriet Walter has written. At the start of each chapter there are splendid black and white production photos of Dame Harriet Walter in the various roles she is discussing. Research, rehearsals and interactions with her various colleagues and directors are described. Has a particular directorial approach changed her thoughts and attack to the character? How does she approach the heavy famous roles such as Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth? How does Dame Harriet Walter discover the trigger, the key ‘aha’ moment that illuminates understanding of the character? Does intensive analysis of the text help?
Also of great interest are the two final chapters where Dame Harriet Walter describes working with Phyllida Lloyd’s all female company on Julius Caesar (where she played Brutus) and Henry IV (in the eponymous role) part of the company’s Shakespeare trilogy (next stop The Tempest). How does a woman adjust to playing a man, emotionally, mentally and physically? Are there differences? Is anything different in rehearsal/performance?
For Ophelia (in Hamlet) Dame Harriet Walter analyses – how does one play madness? How was Ophelia shaped by her dominating controlling father Polonius? She has no real sense of self or integrity, unlike some of the other Shakespearean characters.
Dame Harriet Walter regards Helena (from All’s Well That Ends Well, one of the ‘problem plays’) as imperfect but worthy, intense, ambitious and extremely complicated. She also asks how one approaches female virtue and chastity in the 21st century as compared to Shakespeare’s time, and the patriarchal views turning women into an object ‘female virtue is a state of being, rather than doing‘ and how women were expected to be passive, pure and obedient. The difficulties of playing Imogen  in Cymbeline) are catalogued.There is a major chapter on playing Lady Macbeth, and we learn her thoughts on feisty Beatrice (from Much Ado About Nothing). Then comes an in- depth analysis of playing Brutus (in Julius Caesar) and Henry IV, both productions being set in prisons.
The conclusion to the book is a long letter to Shakespeare about his writing for contemporary audiences and his female characters. There is an excellent table of contents at the front of the book and a list of productions Dame Harriet Walter has appeared in from 1974 until now . I would, however, have liked an index at the back and it would be fascinating to read her thoughts on the third play of the current trilogy (Prospero in The Tempest). It is interesting to note that Dame Helen Mirren has also played Prospero (for example), and that here in Sydney a season of Richard III performed by the Bell Shakespeare with Kate Mulvany in the eponymous role is just about to open, while in London the RSC has just opened a Twelfth Night with Tamsin Grieg as Malvolia.

Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare's roles for Women By Harriet Walter
ISBN: 9781848422933
Format: 216mm x 138mm
Imprint: Nick Hern Books
Published: 27th October 2016



Here's my thoughts for Dance Informa 
As part of this year’s Sydney Festival, we were brought Institute by UK company Gecko. The show first premiered in 2014 and was later seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015.
Gecko's 'Institute'. Photo by Prudence Upton.
Gecko’s ‘Institute’. Photo by Prudence Upton.
Institute examines mental health and the role of care (or lack thereof) in our society, particularly focusing on men, their differing relationships with themselves and one another in relationships, work and institutions.
The detailed, elaborate set, with its looming filing cabinets that can slide in and out, represent the compartmentalised masculine mindset – office slave, restaurant diner, husband, father. The opened files can hold exquisite miniature sets or hidden secrets we never learn.
Two workers, Martin and Daniel, mutter small talk and professional jargon to each other and to various bosses over the phone, but sudden beeps and harsh spotlights indicate perhaps a constantly observing and monitoring Kafka-like totalitarian state. Daniel manages to open a file revealing a fragile flickering stream of happy memories, but it also contains unfulfilled ambitions. Martin’s cabinet keeps repeating about a lost love, a broken marriage proposal. They start to obsess with these dreams and desires, which takes on a troubling aspect. Exploring the horrors of physical and psychological manipulation, Martin and Daniel battle with very modern anxieties and fears which perhaps overwhelm them. Stuck in a maze of officialdom, they lurch from one task to another. But who is giving the orders?
Eventually, we appear to be in a medical institute, as indicated by screens and forced medication, and the feeling that the men’s compulsions are out of control. Is it all a dream, surreally blending romantic segments with sickness, bullying bosses, comradeship, daily work practices, death, all at a very fast pace with abrupt and unexpected twists and moments of humour? And what is the significance of the “woman” trapped in the clear plastic box?
Visually, at times, Institute is ravishing. Chris Swan and Amit Lahav’s lighting ranges from chilling and snappy to warm, lush and glorious, the ending with a magnificent red-gold haze.
Gecko's 'Institute'. Photo by Prudence Upton.
Gecko’s ‘Institute’. Photo by Prudence Upton.
There are so many layers of meaning, but it is a challenging work that’s very hard to describe and classify. It isn’t really a “dance” work as such, or “physical theatre”; rather, it combines elements of these, with mime and speech, in an unusual blend of extremely demanding, lyrical and athletic action. There are perhaps allusions to the work of Pina Bausch and Hofesh Shechter. Some of the choreography takes everyday, tiny movements and repeats them. A couple of moments, with the use of angular elbows, the choreography implies that the cast are in straight jackets. There is a joyous, Broadway musical-like section at times. In another section, there is a rippling, pulsating, sculptural, undulating circle-like dance for all four of the tremendous cast who perform with a dynamic, sizzling fluidity and flame-like quality of movement. At one point, one of the cast is controlled, puppet-like with long levers/strings and struggles to break free. A running visual gag throughout is a red rose. 
Institute is a most thought-provoking and intriguing work, one that is dazzlingly performed and that will lead to hours of discussion afterward.
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Cry Jailolo and Balabala

Two exciting works from Indonesia here's what I said for Dance Informa
As part of this year’s Sydney Festival, Indonesia’s EkosDance Company brought us two intriguing dance works: first, the world premiere season of Balabala for the women, and then Cry Jailolo for the men. Both pieces, choreographed by EkosDance Company Founder Eko Supriyanto, used recorded music, with some speech included. And both were very simply presented with no set as such but with atmospheric, dramatic lighting.
EkosDance Company's 'Balabala'. Photo by Jamie Williams.
EkosDance Company’s ‘Balabala’. Photo by Jamie Williams.
Balabala, a world premiere, with a cast of five women, was strong, powerful and hypnotic. It is founded on the Pencak Silat (Indonesian martial arts) philosophy of the nine directions and examines the multiple roles of women in Indonesia. Slow, isolated movements are contrasted with strong ensemble work. I was in some ways reminded of Martha Graham’s forceful, dynamic and intense oeuvre.
A sense of great power and strength is created through the slow movements with a feeling of sculpting in space. There is much repetition. The five dancers, with their straight backed regal bearing and tightly scraped hair, are barefoot. All are in black, but each costume is subtly different. The cast always has a slightly remote, neutral expression. Sinuous, snaky arms are combined with sculptural poses, jumping and stamping. Sometimes, there are short, free, joyous “explosions” of solos; at other points, the unison work is extremely controlled and measured. In one section, arms are crossed above the dancers’ heads, or hands are on their hips for some of the jumping, turning and stamping. In another, it is as if they are sowing, scattering seed for a harvest.  
Lighting is delicately luminous with glorious washes of colours. The music is pulsating at times, breathy at others, and the soundscape includes squishy rain sound effects.
A woman’s work is never done — the work ends in darkness, with the sound of slapping feet continuing.
EkosDance Company's 'Cry Jailolo'. Photo by Jamie Williams.
EkosDance Company’s ‘Cry Jailolo’. Photo by Jamie Williams.
Cry Jailolo, for the impressive cast of seven men, was rather trance-like and repetitive. The cast, in red shorts, are topless and barefoot, with whitened palms and a white line on their legs. It is extremely demanding physically and full of complicated counts and rhythms that are clapped, stamped and, in parts, briefly chanted.
The work is based on a deceptively simple hop/jump/stamp and developments/variations thereof, and also includes various rippling, fluid and floating, sculptural arm movements, a trademark of Indonesian dance. Sometimes, the movers reminded me of flying fish.
Cry Jailolo opens in darkness, with an extended solo by a single performer who establishes the rhythm. Mostly, the fleet footwork consists of a step on the spot or backward and forward, or perhaps sideways – interrupted sometimes by an energetic solo by an individual or various jumps. The precise ensemble work brings to mind things like the darting ebb and flow of fish, military formations and the elegantly formal Indonesian court dances. The dancers’ synchronisation is extremely impressive, and their explosive energy is tightly focused and controlled.
EkosDance Company's 'Cry Jailolo'. Photo by Jamie Williams.
EkosDance Company’s ‘Cry Jailolo’. Photo by Jamie Williams.
When the pulsating soundtrack by Setyawan Jayantoro becomes more frantic, electronic and industrial,  the story of Indonesia’s North Maluku islands is further revealed. Supriyanto spent two years researching the local community of Jailolo and the beautiful coral sea which lies beneath it. Environmental degradation is now threatening the previously untouched region, and this work is a passionate response to that. But Cry Jailolo also examines the relationship between individual and communities and the change that permeates through both. The relentlessly driven cast performed with enormous energy, passion and commitment .
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.


Here's what I said for Dance Informa

I had been anxiously awaiting this – Champions, presented by Form Dance Projects as part of the Sydney Festival. The idea behind it was excellent — we were presented with information and thought-provoking statistics about gender inequality in sports. The work had a stellar cast of “independent” dance luminaries and a magnificent production team. But for me, it didn’t quite gel. Too many cooks spoil the broth perhaps?
'Champions'. Photo by Heidrun Lohr.
‘Champions’. Photo by Heidrun Lohr.
Is it that dance and sport – in this case, soccer and/or football —  don’t mix? (But that is a dialogue that has been going on for ages. Look at the fuss about Robert Helpmann’s ballet The Display, for example.)
Champions is “dance” presented as sport. Five large television screen panels at the back were used for projections, at times flashing vital statistics about the cast (including height, weight, how many grant applications, Helpmann Awards and so on), or sometimes they were used to view the action “from above” or in fast replay. In the second half, Benesh notation was taken and morphed into abstract forms, and another section included stars. At times, the lighting was blinding as if at a major stadium.   
The worlds of dance and sport were blended from the start with the use of the swan “mascot” (Julie-Anne Long), who was a cross between the standard sports mascot (in this case, perhaps the Sydney Swans), in thick swan overshoes, using a dry ice machine, but also with major references to the iconic ballet of Swan Lake, with snippets of port de bras from that work — the “arms crossed on tutu” pose and allusions to the cygnet pas de quatre, and also references to the Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan.
The amazing team of extraordinary female performers were all in casual sports clothes, each with their name and a team number on the back. 
Martin Del Amo’s choreography was, at times, tight and precise, and extremely controlled. Soccer drills, pre-game warm-up rituals, tactical examination and on-field victory dances were blended with contemporary dance, Pilates, yoga and gymnastics. There was lots of running and stretching, especially in the work’s first half. There were synchronised sculptural movements. The lineup with golden pompoms during a voiceover about gender in sport was most effective. There were group huddles, jumps, turns and high-fives. Lunges, stretches and rolling floorwork were included, and there was a use of marvellous, creamy épaulement throughout.
'Champions'. Photo by Heidrun Lohr.
‘Champions’. Photo by Heidrun Lohr.
Sometimes, while still as part of the group, each team member had a set repeated phrase of movement.  At times, the group performed very complicated patterns on the field. But all is regimented; there are no breathless chases up the field or wrestling for the ball, not even an imaginary one. Toward the end of the piece, there was an extended sequence in which it appears the team, while apparently victorious, had lost (or is it just the winding down?). There are some very tricky and demanding catch and falls.
As an attempt to develop the contemporary dance audience, yes, Champions seemed to be successful; the rest of the audience apparently really enjoyed it. But sports fans perhaps wouldn’t laugh at the same jokes and probably would expect much more explosive action. Dance lovers, however, have the hidden subtleties and many layers of meaning to analyse and enjoy to a degree.
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Inheritor Album

Here's what I said for Dance Informa

As part of the 2017 Sydney Festival, Canada’s Company 605 brought us its Inheritor Album, an hour-long exploration of  “concepts of inheritance and succession”. It is a collection of short solos and duos (hence the “album”), interspersed with some striking ensemble work.
In some ways, I was perhaps reminded of the work of Australian companies like Chunky Move and Australian Dance Theatre.
Company 605 in 'Inheritor Album'. Photo by Jamie Williams.
Company 605 in ‘Inheritor Album’. Photo by Jamie Williams.
In Inheritor Album, the six dancers are dressed in casual street clothes and either wear socks or are barefoot.
With its use of most exciting visual computer technology – lighting by Jason Dubois, animation by Miwa Matreyek – the opening ominous floor circles, followed at great speed by the cast, segues into straight lines “drawn” on the walls and floor, which then become abstract squiggles and a series of collapsing office towers that, at times, almost invade the whole stage. There are also ominous low, floating cloud projections at some moments and a most effective use of shadows.
The relentless, driven, pulsating, booming electronic soundtrack includes an annoying percussive series of what are possibly gunshots (or were they sledgehammer blows?) toward the end.
Company 605 in 'Inheritor Album'. Photo by Jamie Williams.
Company 605 in ‘Inheritor Album’. Photo by Jamie Williams.
The choreography is mostly tight, precise unison work. Sometimes the athletic dancers all repeat the same movement, sometimes it is similar but with slight changes to make it individual, and other times there are sequences of close ensemble partnering or synchronised sculptural formations (in one section, like rippling underwater creatures, for example). At points in the work, there is a dialogue between the cast (“I think this, what do you think?”, for instance) with occasional interruptions of short, explosive solos. In other parts, there is an “us”  versus “them” feel, with one of the groups as an outsider. Isolation movements and breakdancing, breathless circular runs, slithery footwork, slides on the floor and rolling floorwork are all included.
There seems to be an atmosphere of wary watchfulness throughout; the dancers wear a continual neutral expression. Also, there appear to be a hunched, restricted and constrained use of épaulement at times, as if the cast were caught in a vertical cage, and there is a lot of use of angular arms. 
Inheritor Album is a rare chance to see this intriguing company from Canada.  
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017


Another Festival of Sydney show this was amazing !! Here's what I said for Artshub  A terrific collaboration between Dancenorth and Japan's Batik dance collective.
 Spectra at Sydney Festival. Photograph by Prudence Upton.
If you like extraordinary contemporary dance combined with Butoh this mesmerising production is for you. As part of the Sydney Festival, Spectra is a glorious collaboration between Australia’s Dancenorth (from Townsville) and Japan’s Batik dance collective fuses contemporary dance, live music and digital sculpture. Buddhism is central to Spectra, examining the philosophy which states that the secret of the universe lies in the nature of causality – the way one thing leads to another. Spectra examines how all things that come into being – whether it be a galaxy, a thought or a human being – depend on an endless linking chain of preceding causes and conditions. Spectra concentrates on the beauty hidden in the concept of causality. The dancers seek to highlight the power that resides in intentional action and the way this power is seen in progressive outcomes.
Spectra is luminous and breathtaking. Kyle Page and Amber Haines’ very demanding choreography seamlessly blends contemporary dance, Butoh, hip-hop, break-dancing and also includes possible flashes of allusions to Cloudgate Dance Theatre (and perhaps Matts Ek and Pina Bausch). The sensational cast are amazingly controlled yet fluid and energetic and at times seem boneless.
When we enter, there are five lines fanning out stretched across the stage that look perhaps like extra large strings for a giant violin. These are snaked, twisted, rippled and almost used as a skipping rope at various points in the production. The live music accompaniment is a crucial part of the performance as well. Talented guitarist, Jiro Matsumoto has had a long collaboration with live art and is a composer as well as set designer and director.
Niklas Pajanti has surrounded the dance floor with lights, and brings to life evocative backgrounds which set the scene for the universality of the themes in at times wonderful pin-pointed starry lights or for example golden washes and the uses of haze. Set design for this performance is by Tatsuo Miyajima (who has the Connect with Everything exhibition wowing audiences at the Museum of Contemporary Art) which also closely follows the principles of causality.
At times the dancers were slow and ritualistic, at others their movements were like manipulated puppets. Sometimes they appeared like sandstorms or tigers. There is one section with the cast all in a line and they perform sinuous machine like linked rippling arm movements. At another point they are like birds with soft jumps and arms. Rolling floorwork and pulsating sculptural ensemble work is also included. Josh Mu’s slinky rippling opening solo, though to a percussive duet for two women, Amber Haines’ mesmerising segment exploring momentum, a lyrical yet remote golden lit duo are also inspiring.
This collaboration combines physicality with great sensitivity and movement. Spectra is powerful and hypnotic, leaving you awed and stunned.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5
Spectra as part of the Sydney Festival is at the Seymour Centre 11-15 January 
Direction / Choreography: Kyle Page & Amber Haines
Set Design: Tatsuo Miyajima
Live music: Jiro Matsumoto
Lighting Designer: Niklas Pajanti 

Concept: Kyle Page
Direction: Kyle Page and Amber Haines
Choreography: Amber Haines, Alisdair Macindoe, Josh Mu, Mamiko Oe, Kyle Page and Rie Teranishi
Set Design: Tatsuo Miyajima
Costume design: Fiona Todd
Lighting design: Niklas Pajanti
Sound composition/live musician: Jiro Matsumoto

Siro - A

Amazing !


This is madcap, exuberant fun, making for marvelous school holiday fare. It is a high energy dance, techno and visual spectacular direct from Japan and these shows in Sydney are their only Australian performances.
The award-winning dance troupe have taken the world by storm, attracting millions of views on YouTube following their appearances on America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent.
SIRO_A’s unique combination of energetic dance and ground-breaking video-mapping technology – alongside a pulsating techno beat – creating an audio-visual spectacle that appeals to audiences of all ages.
Their name SIRO-A (SIRO = White, colorless in Japanese) means “belonging to no group, impossible to define as anybody.” SIRO-A fuses mime, groundbreaking visual effects, and a techno soundtrack to create a whole new entertainment, “Technodelic & Visual Show.
SIRO – A was formed in 2002 in Sendai in Japan.( In some ways it has hints of The Blue Man Group). There is no extended narrative as such rather a sequence of short vignettes. The cast of seven are incredibly enthusiastic, athletic and energetic and there is extremely precise timing and control displayed in some of the demanding sections.
The cast wear either shiny white suits with white makeup or in elegant black suits like Kuroko in Kabuki.
Choreography is tight and precise and includes boy band, break dancing, cartwheels, martial arts and jumps. It is joyous bouncy and captivating.
There is audience participation at various points.  Visually the show is stunning with marvelous imagery and use of technical effects throughout.
One sequence which is great fun is a tribute to some of the great movies of past and present including Star Wars, Jaws, The Full Monty, Frozen, Mad Max, The Sound of Music presented in Reduced-Shakespeare computer game mode.
Another segment is a Rubik’s Cube set that crazily takes off. There is an extended sequence beginning with a simple dot that turns into a tennis match, spiders, computers games, horses, a fast car race and the ball becomes bigger and bigger and more dangerous.
Another amazing sequence, presented in a quieter, more thoughtful note was the underwater scene that was followed by an energetic batons with lights battle. The children in the audience ( and all of us young at heart ) were totally enthralled.
Running time 75 minutes without interval,
SIRO – A  is playing at the Concourse Chatswood until January 29.

Packemin's Cats at the Concourse

Meow..... here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide


Production photography by Grant Leslie.
Meow. Aurilophiles rejoice! The Concourse at Chatswood at the moment is alive with cats – oozing rivers of them, exploring, crawling , stretching, entwining around your feet…
Yes, this is the much loved Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on TS Elliot’s poems in a very impressive staging. The cast perform with power, passion and commitment. Cameron Boxall and Kira Nelson’s choreography is based on and generally sticks to the original; snazzy, tight,  and demanding.
The production featured a HUGE cast of cats (and kittens. We saw the red cast opening night).  At a couple of points – especially for the mega production numbers – the stage was overcrowded, with cast even overflowing onto the side of the stage.
Packemin’s version, directed by Craig Stewart, is a vibrant production, subtly nuanced with delicately, joyous scenes contrasted with poignant, heart breaking ones.
The deceptively simple scaffolding set with its use of projections (a fabulous moon, trains for Skimbleshanks, a delightful major Asian harbour for Growltiger and Griddlebone) is not the standard dumpster site but is extremely effective.
The thrilling, atmospheric lighting by James Wallis was splendid.
The orchestra under the baton of maestros Peter Hayward and Alex Ash, hidden from the public eye, was in fine form.  There was no acknowledgement at the curtain call- a little disappointing.
Audrey Currie’s multi layered, variously textured costumes were very exciting.
Munkustrap, who In some ways acts as the show’s narrator, was excellently portrayed by the lean, lithe Noah Gill Mullins, 
Simon Price (yes, the Red Wiggle) is in excellent form as enchanting Old Deuteronomy, leader of the Jellicle cats, and showcases a fabulous voice.
Josh Ridge as the charismatic, ultra sexy Rum Tum Tugger, has glorious fun prowling and hogging the stage and making all his teen cat followers swoon and scream.  (I was pleased that this version returned to the old ‘standard’ version of his song and not the rap version that was performed in the recent version of Cats at the Capitol.
Skimbleshanks, the fussy Railway Cat, was delightfully portrayed by Daniel WIjngaarden.
The Cockney thieving team of Rumpleteazer and Mungojerrie was enchantingly portrayed by Laura Bunting and Jamie Smith in an acrobatic semi musical act.
Our Grizabella, in tattered purple satin, a red gash for a mouth and streaked eyes, was given a striking, poignant performance by Harmony Lovegrove. Her signature song Memory was sung  wistfully and brought the house down.
The Puccini tribute,  Growltiger’s Last Stand, was thrillingly performed,  and Growltiger, with his piratical eye patch, was wonderfully played by Cameron Barjaktarevic- Hayward.
The enchanting minx Griddlebonee was delightfully played by Kirralee Elliott (Is she as innocent and lovely as she seems, or is she in fact in league with Growltiger’s enemies?).
The battle of the Pekes and The Pollicles was much fun, as was Jennyanydots’ Beetle Tattoo as led by Lana Domeney.
Magical Mister Mistoffelees,  with his starry, spangly black jacket, was terrifically played by Noah Godsell.
The sultry trio of Jellylorm, (Katia van Hilten), Demeter(Giorgia Kennedy) and Bomburalina (Chloe Malek) was splendid, especially in the hot jazz/torch song number, the breathless Macavity (purr).
Overall, a splendid, delightful version that captivates and enchants.
Running time two hours thirty minutes including one interval.
CATS is playing at the Concourse at Chatswood till the 28th January 2017.


Circa from Brisbane as always dazzled

The young, fit, highly trained human body is capable of astonishing things.
Circa is a very exciting Brisbane based company.  HUMANS asks what it means to be human. How much weight do we carry? Who can we trust to support our load? It leads us to reflect on our lives, our loved ones, the burdens we carry and the physical and emotional strength it takes to overcome them.
Directed and created by Yaron Lifschitz, HUMANS, performed in the round at the Spaghetti Circus Big Top is a breathtaking combination of acrobatics, contortionism , tumbling, balancing, aerial trapeze, handstands and back flips.
Contact improvistaion, pyramid building, banquine and risley, and hand-to -hand partnering are also featured and strikingly blended with elements of contemporary dance.
At times the audience audibly gasps. There is no real narrative, rather a fluid sequence of various dazzling and surprising interactions combining various finely honed circus skills.
There is much use of haze and the lighting is delicately, warmly vibrant and atmospheric.
The scintillating cast of ten wear a uniform of autumn/russet coloured shorts/leotards and a semi -transparent black top. They wear ankle and/or wrist supports .Some have tattoos,
At the beginning the cast wear casual street clothes and have fun rolling acrobatically twisting in and out of them.
There is a fiercely tender and intimate sense of trust between the cast – some of the lifts, drops, throws ,twists and catches,  let alone the pyramid balancing, are extraordinary.
HUMANS is full of hot and sweaty bodies in explosive, movement , leaping, twisting ,twirling jumping, somersaulting ,precariously balancing , intimately entwined , swooping and swinging from a trapeze , dragged by the hair, sliding across the stage and  forming sculptural poses,
One hilarious sequence that had the audience in rapture was where the cast twisted and bent in almost impossible shapes attempting to lick their elbow. Floating balancing lifts in other sections are contrasted with this A breath, a clap, a bend of the knee,  a beautifully flexed and pointed foot or extended arm are all important .
With astonishing strength, grace, agility and integrity, each moment is seamlessly connected.
The relentless, pulsating soundscape varied from an assortment of popular songs to music theatre standards to techno thump to the sound of a single clap..
The almost hysterical standing ovation at the end was richly deserved.
Running time – 80 minutes without interval.
HUMANS, presented  by Circa, is playing atat the Spaghetti Circus Big Top,  Prince Alfred Square Parramatta up until 19th January.

NT Live No Man's Land 
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (they last appeared together in Waiting for Godot back in 2009) returned to the West End stage in Harold Pinter’s NO MAN’S LAND, captured live to cinemas from Wyndham’s Theatre, London as part of the wonderful NT Live series. The production ended its season at the Wyndham on December 17, 2016.
Pinter’s play transfers wonderfully from stage to screen , is clearly and thoughtfully shot with terrific use of close up at certain points ( for example when Patrick Stewart as Spooner crumbles in despair at one point in the first act, or the tension at his crawling exit. Or McKellan’s face when Hirst admits to seducing Spooner’s wife).
Superbly directed by Sean Mathias and with a stellar cast this is a magnificent, tense production.
Pinter’s play is extremely wordy, with some strong language at one point, and you have to pay very close attention to the text. Both Mathias with his sure direction, and the great cast do this and they catch the pace and rhythm of the text, especially with some of the long, tricky monologues spoken by Spooner and Hirst.
The play is apparently deceptively simple and nothing much really happens – or does it?  Is it all Hirst’s drunken imagining? ( The cast of four, particularly HIrst and Spooner, drink like fishes , downing umpteen glasses of assorted alcoholic beverages.
Nothing is what it seems – or is it?!
The rotunda like set design by Stephen Brimson Lewis is glorious – one door allowing entry to Spooner’s posh, elegant circular office featuring a couple of chairs, a huge bar, and the barely visible skylight and the trees outside.
In the first act it is night, and is Hirst  ‘just ‘ drunk and confused or descending into dementia? Or is he maybe terminally ill?
In the second half it is a lovely day and at first Hirst is ebullient, and greets Spooner as a long lost friend. But the oddness , uneasiness and the questions continue …
The plot of this gripping rather convoluted play is essentially that one summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby.
As the pair become increasingly drunk and their interwoven stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a twisted power game, further complicated by the return home of the rather sinister Briggs (Owen Teale) and Foster (Damien Maloney ) who ooze menace .Camera closeups reveal the tattoos and large signet ring that Brigs wears.
NO MAN’S LANDis set in the 1970’s – Lewis’ costume designs for Briggs and Foster and their hairdos make this clear. This, however, is a scenario that could just as well play out today.
The play. is a sort of psychological thriller – who will apparently crumble and collapse?Who will beg for a job? Is anyone really what they appear? Can we believe anything anyone says, when they seem so two faced?!
Patrick Stewart as Hirst provides a finely nuanced haunting portrait of an ageing, reclusive man of letters who invites into Spooner, played by Ian McKellan, into his home,  a literary-minded fellow and would be minor poet of far less success and means. Both men turn the tables on each other and there is a terrific duel of wit and words at times.
Briggs and Foster also have monologues where we learn more about them and it is perhaps possibly delicately hinted that that there might be a homoerotic attraction between Briggs and Foster.
Hirst comes across as being  caught in a,  “no man’s land… which remains forever, icy and silent”, a land that serves perhaps as a place in limbo before his death.
Peter Hall’s iconic 1975 premiere production, starring Ralph Richardson as Hirst and John Gielgud as Spooner, is still talked about today. This production  is also, in its own way. outstanding.
Running time – allow two and a half hours. The film includes one interval and a ‘behind the scenes’ short documentary before the play starts and a Q & A session afterwards.
The NT Live screenings of NO MAN’S LAND will screen at selected cinemas from 4th February.

A Street Cat Named Bob

This is an amazing film don't miss  


Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (who also directed Turner & Hooch), this film is based on the autobiographical books by James Bowen about a man and his cat which tells the story of how Bowen, portrayed by Luke Treadaway, a homeless, recovering drug addict, ekes out a rather edgy and skint existence busking on the streets of London.
His patient, sympathetic support worker Val (Joanne Froggatt) manages to find him accommodation. One evening Bowen discovers Bob the cat guzzling his cereal. At first Bowen shoos him, but then he notices that the cat is badly injured, after which he then makes contact with his  neighbour, animal lover and activist Bettie (Ruta Gedmintas). Between Val, Bob and Bettie, Bowen’s life will never be the same.
Some of this film is very harrowing and sad (Bowen’s going cold turkey,  his friend Baz’s death by overdose), some of it warm and funny. Kids will enjoy the scenes where Bob is chased by dogs.
The scintillating score includes folky songs by Charlie Fink of the band Noah and the Whale, and various other ballads, touchingly sung by Treadaway.
The film begins slowly establishing Bowen’s situation but grows and develops under Spottiswoode’s sure touch. There are some marvellously atmospheric rainy shots of different parts of London at various times of day, including  Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and boats on the river Thames.
Does Bettie discover Bowen’s lies about being a user? Will Bowen reconcile with his estranged father? Will Bob return after he vanishes, frightened and chased by the threatening dogs?!
Most of it is shot from Bowen’s point of view but some of it is photographed through Bob’s eyes (cat cam) with luminous shots of our gorgeous feline star. ( Bob himself is in it but there are also several body doubles / ‘stunt cats’).
Bob the cat is a cool dude, a ‘lucky’ ginger tabby with green eyes who turns out to be an amazingly faithful and unflappable cat.
As Bowen says ,Bob becomes his ‘best friend ‘and ‘co-pilot’ , going everywhere with him, busking , catching the bus,  attending his office appointments and more. He is well behaved and often on a leash but very comfortable alternatively draped on Bowen’s shoulders. While Bowen struggles through going cold turkey,  Bob is concerned and there for him.
Bowen is given a strong performance by Luke Treadaway (Tonight You’re Mine (aka You Instead), and the original London production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) depicting his skittish, jittery, fragile and damaged personality
Val, the sympathetic and encouraging yet firm social worker is delightfully played by Joanne Froggatt.
Bowen’s delightful pixie like vegan neighbour Betty, with a troubled past of her own ,is terrifically played by Ruta Gedmintas. 
Running time 105 minutes
Go see. A STREET CAT NAMD BOB screens at selected cinemas from February 9 2017.

The Royal Ballet Nutcracker

A return of this marvellous version of the classic Christmas ballet  
Ballet lovers should take this opportunity to see this screening of the Royal Ballet’s production of Sir Peter Wright’s version of Tchaikovksy’s /Petipa’s THE NUTCRACKER. This Royal Ballet production was particularly special as it was part of Sir Peter Wright’s 90th birthday celebrations.
This is terrific family fare, a quite traditional and enchanting production with some technically AMAZING dancing, particularly in the second act.
Visually this production is stunning with opulent, lavish sets and costumes and features some wonderful special effects, including a Christmas tree that grows on stage.
In this version, most of Act 2 is  Clara’s dream in which Herr Drosselmeyer is seen trying to control everything.
The waltzes of the Flowers and Snowflakes were delightfully performed, and the corps de ballet were rigorous in their intricate patterns.
Much fun is had in Act 1 with the Christmas party at the Stahlbaum’s and the battle between the Nutcracker and the golden maned Mouse King (Nicol Edmonds) was excitingly staged.
The doll dances,  presented as entertainment by Herr Drosselmeyer, were first performed as a Harlequin and Columbine and then a couple dressed military style in blue and yellow.
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, led by maestro Boris Gruzin, played magnificently.
Gary Avis as Herr Drosselmeyer was charming, mysterious, magical and avuncular. His portrayal only lightly hinted at his character’s darker side.
There were touches of humour such as in his obvious dislike of Clara’s rather noisy and obnoxious brother Fritz, as danced by Caspar Lench.
Mention should also be made of his Harlequin like Jack-In-The -Box assistant, as danced by Luca Acri.
Francesca Hayward, recently promoted to the rank of Principal with the Royal Ballet, was splendid as the fresh, innocent Clara, all dreamy and wide eyed.  Whilst seemingly demure, underneath she is adventurous. Hayward danced her role superbly.
Hans-Peter, Herr Drosselmeyer’s nephew caught in the spell as the Nutcracker, was danced with debonair panache by expat Australian Alexander Campbell.
It was interesting to note that both Clara and Hans-Peter join in the ‘national dances ‘ featured in Act 2. In most productions this is not the case.
The dances were memorable. The Spanish Dance was vibrant in red and black, the Arabian mesmerising , sultry and exotic, sinuously sculptural in parts , featuring some most unusual lifts – and with hints of Fokine?! The Chinese dance has been revised and is performed in turquoise and white, and features plenty of jumps.
As The Sugarplum Fairy and her Prince, Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli showed us a glorious example of what a 19th Century Russian grand classical ballet pas de deux can be like. It was extremely elegant and refined and featured dazzling technique,  a couple of tricky lifts and a jaw-dropping run and jump by Cuthbertson into a ‘ fish-dive ‘.
Cuthbertson revels in the slow, luscious back-bends and held arabesques and her famous solo was crisply elegant while Bonelli shows off his glittering technique too – combining his regal bearing, splendid elevation, soft landings and supportive partnering . There were allusions, in Act 2, to the big pas deux from Swan Lake .
The Rose Fairy, as sweetly danced by Yuhui Choe, was lovely, and featured crisp , fleet footwork and lovely epaulement. At one point it felt like we were meant to pick up references to the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty.
There was plenty of misty dry ice for the clouds for the Christmas tree angels that seem to glide and the huge sleigh that Clara and Hans -Peter travel in is opulent.
This was wonderful Christmas fare. The Royal Ballet’s production of THE NUTCRACKER took place at The Royal Opera House between 23th November 2016 and 12th January 2017.The screening is of the performance that took place on 8th December 2016.
Screening time is 2 hours and 50 minutes. The film includes behind the scenes interviews, in particular an interview with Sir Peter Wright. There is one interval.
The final screenings of THE NUTCRACKER are tomorrow (Sunday) at Palace Verona at 11.30 am and Palace Norton Street at 1 pm and Palace Verona at 11.30 am on Wednesday 8th February at 11.30 am.

Ladies in Black

A marvellous Aussie musical .  Perfect festival fare – it is now Sydney’s turn to be dazzled and delighted by this stylish, inspirational Australian musical.
Ladies in Black
The Cast of Ladies in Black. Photograph by Lisa Tomasetti. 
Perfect festival fare – it is now Sydney’s turn to be dazzled and delighted by this stylish, inspirational Helpmann award-winning show after seasons in Brisbane and Melbourne. Ladies in Black is now on the list of splendid Australian musicals such as The Venetian Twins, Summer Rain, Strictly Ballroom and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Terrifically directed by Simon Phillips, and based on the novel by Madeleine St John, Ladies in Black is set in Sydney in the 1950s and tells the story of a bookish school leaver, Lisa Miles, who joins the sales staff as a Christmas casual in the ultra- fashionable department store, F.G. Goodes. Over a summer that changes her life, Lisa befriends the colourful denizens of the women’s clothing department. Each of the characters are having to deal with change, facing independence, working for a living and what it means to be a woman in Australia at that time. This is an era where ladies were still required to wear gloves, hats and stockings.
It is redolent of Australia of the 50s and 60s examining a crucial era in Australia’s story when attitudes and moral values were changing and the fabric of our society was beginning its paradigm shift towards our modern multi-cultural community. Lisa has to deal with her father’s old fashioned patriarchal views (about women not attending university for starters) thereby not utilising her talent and potential.
Carolyn Burns’ book is terrifically observed and at times warm, witty and had the audience roaring with laughter in places. In a quintessentially Australian voice, Burns vividly depicts this culturally and historically specific society with great precision, and while every character is possibly a symbolic representation of the social stereotypes of mid-20th-century Australia, they are all lovingly drawn with panache and charm.
Lisa discovers the confidence to grow and blossom before heading off to uni. She secretly dreams of a life of passion and poetry. At Goodes she finds a challenging microcosm of the world outside her modest home-life with her parents; a rather unexpected world of cosmopolitan glamour, continental elegance and haute couture expensive fashion. Sarah Morrison as Lisa is splendid – feisty, headstrong and determined she also sings and dances up a storm.
Patty (Madeleine Jones) struggles to keep her husband Frank (Tamlyn Henderson) who won’t face-up to the truth behind their fertility issues and stunning Fay (sultry scene-stealing Ellen Simpson) who is struggling to find a husband at all. Fay ends up being captivated by Rudi – the exuberant (‘I Just kissed a Continental‘ – a joyous, enormously fun number).  Lisa is drawn to the mysterious Magda (Natalie Gamsu ), a glamorous exotic imposingly chic European woman who is in charge of the cocktail fashion department and makes Lisa her protegee.
There is also the kind, somewhat older Miss Jacobs (Trisha Noble) who we don’t really see much of but she has a very poignant Christmas at home alone scene remembering her lost soldier lover and also a most inspirational speech at the end.
The male cast also shine if briefly. As the dashing, somewhat exotic and charmingly charismatic Rudi, Bobby Fox scintillates as he romantically sweeps Fay off her feet with excellent vocals and fine fancy footwork. Tamlyn Henderson as Frank reveals his torn hesitant side hidden from the world and his wife in for example 'A Proper Family Man'. Magda’s husband Stefan was charmingly elegantly played by Greg Stone.
The designs by Gabriela Tylesova are sleek and ravishing. For the set design of the department store there were sleek columns and the haute couture dresses of Magda’s department are stunning. The lighting by David Walters is moody and elegant.
Tim Finn’s lyrics, blend warm ironic wit and skilful rhyming couplets, musically it effortlessly ranges from soft ballads to sizzling electric guitar, jumps from rock to country, includes disco and flamenco. While consistently impressive and tremendously performed there is no one absolute show stopping number. The excellent band under the direction of David Young was hidden at the back behind a scrim. Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography is tight and slick with occasional flashes of Flamenco and Hungarian character dance.
An elegant, enchanting, inspirational musical about fighting for your dreams.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Ladies in Black
Book by Carolyn Burns
Music & lyrics by Tim Finn
Based on Madeleine St John’s novel, The Women in Black
Directed by Simon Phillips
Cast: Kate Cole, Carita Farrer Spencer, Bobby Fox, Natalie Gamsu, Tamlyn Henderson, Madeleine Jones, Kathryn Mcintyre, Sarah Morrison, Trisha Noble, Ellen Simpson and Greg Stone.
Design: Gabriela Tylesova
Lighting Design: David Walters
Orchestration: Guy Simpson
Choreography: Andrew Hallsworth
Musical Director: David Young

Lyric Theatre, Sydney
3–22 January 2017

Measure for Measure

This  was a fantastic show as part of the Sydney Festival. Amazing ! 
Measure for Measure is a gripping, stylised production that will have you on the edge of your seat. Measure by Measure is performed in Russian with English surtitles and is a most exciting collaboration between Cheek by Jowl and Pushkin Theatre Moscow.  A somewhat abridged version  –  staged in contemporary dress  –  creating the themes  around  power, politics and corruption (and the suggested sacrifice of Isabella’s purity) as fresh as if it was written yesterday. Questions are asked about the relationship between ordinary citizens and those in power (the allusions to and parallels with the current Putin era are subtly indicated).
The staging was clean and simple with the most effective and at times startling use of five red revolving cubes, a desk and a few chairs. Vienna becomes a modern day Everycity. Overhead lights were utalised nicely and the fluid scene changes allowed the text to be played out in abstract vivid settings in a bare, pulsating and dynamic staging.
The Duke, in a whirlwind of crisis, hands over power to his seemingly incorruptible deputy Angelo and takes on the guise of a friar, the better to observe the crackdown on vice his departure will permit. He discovers that things are worse than what he had thought. Director Donnellan cuts directly to the play’s sense of a governmental experiment gone awfully wrong. What will happen when Angelo can indulge his instincts for authoritarian repression? Power corrupts and he succumbs to the licentiousness he’s attempting to purge: if the innocent would be nun Isabella wants to save the life of her brother Claudio, she must agree to Angelo’s sexual demands, risking her soul. She refuses. A trick spares her (and Claudio) and all is sorted eventually but the damage has been done.
Isabella as portrayed by Anna Khaliluina is excessively virtuous yet she can be extremely passionate and headstrong (especially the moment when she pleads for her brother Claudio’s life) . She radiates piety and innocence yet is feisty and determined.
The troubled Duke, while concerned for his people undergoes a spiritual crisis of his own at the start of the play, was terrifically played by young, darkly handsome Alexander Arsentyev. At the end of the play we find he has successfully manipulated and controlled events towards a happy conclusion – or has he?
It might be a love match for the Duke but not for Isabella who at first almost completely ignores his passionate proposals. It is only right at the very end that Isabella grudgingly allows the Duke to touch her and they and the other two main couples (Angelo and Marian and Claudio and Juliet) romantically waltz to the accordion music as the curtain descends.
The ultra cool, suave, slithery and hypocritical villain Angelo (Andrei Kuzichev) appears to be beyond reproach but he is serpent like, with hidden desires. He is instantly attracted to Isabella, sniffing his hand where she kissed it, sniffing her feet and smelling and stroking the chair where she sat. There is enormous tension in the scene where Isabella comes to plead for Claudio’s life and Angelo almost rapes her.
Alexander Feklistov has much fun in the role of Lucio. Claudio was excellently portrayed by handsome Kiryl Dytseevich (much is made at one point towards the end of his use of a cello).
This startling, gripping and disturbing production is set in an Everycity that might well be Putin’s Russia, but also allegorically stands for any other country where authority is misused. Go see.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

The Cheek by Jowl/Pushkin Theatre  

Directed by Declan Donnellan
Designed by Nick Ormerod
The Roslyn Packer Theatre
7-11 January 2017
Sydney Festival 2017


Harbouring the Beach at Traffic Jam Galleries

The current delightful exhibition at the Traffic Jam Galleries  
Another way to escape the current seemingly endless scorching Sydney heatwave is to catch the delightful HARBOURING THE BEACH exhibition now showing at the Traffic Jam Galleries.
The exhibition features the works of Anakita Eskalante, Danielle McManus, Bruno Mota, Bronwyn Newbury,  Rebecca Pierce and Sally West in a themed exhibition that embraces Summer, The Harbour,  beaches and positivity for this coming year. Don’t forget to check the gallery’s windows facing the street as they feature some of the works included.
Anakita Eskalante’s four works can perhaps be viewed as a group, perhaps companion pieces on the same theme. The texture of the huge rocks are vividly depicted and you can feel the dangerous sea crashing against them. In Walking Along the Edge (Bondi to Coogee) the sea appears to be in a happier mood but is it actually?!

Bruno Mota’s several works are bright bold and colourful, a little Ken Done like in style almost abstract and at times using Matisse like paper cut out shapes. Mota seems to like broad swirling lines drawing the eye of the viewer. There is an s-shape slithering across the page in Harbour Bridge
At Night Bondi Beach has wonderful abstract lines forming the building shapes and leading the eye there is a sense of stretched flatness of the building in the centre of the design and the Rubik’s’- cube like tall building as well – not forgetting the party hat of the Opera House here defined in yellow and red.
Danielle MacManus has some rather wistful works. Her trademark is a sweet figure with huge eyes. Backyard Beauty has a cute young girl in a flamingo shaped and coloured small bathing pool with the curved design emphasised.
Lost At Sea is a child crying about losing their toy boat – and perhaps being separated from their parents? – whilst wading birds studiously ignore the child. After her Swim is a terrific red and white spotted and striped portrait of an older, world weary woman.
Bronwyn Newbury’s exciting hazy semi abstract work captures people at the beach from an almost aerial perspective. In Lazy Hazy days of Summer the setting is a white sandy beach with various people radiating out from the central couple. There is the fun inclusion of blue and white striped umbrellas.
Yoga Before the Storm imparts the feeling of people on the beach before a storm.The use of the huge blue section of sky and water brings tension, and we see two people forming triangular shapes at the bottom of the work.
Every Man and His Dog is an aerial view of a crowded beach with almost abstract dots of umbrellas.
Rebecca Pierce’s very thickly textured, lush, enticing works shimmer and engage you. Floating with its explosive green and yellow lines among the blue and white flowers for example is captivating. Again there is almost an abstract,  even perhaps pointillist sense of work in, for example, Flag,  and The Park At the Beach is like being in an ice-cream cone coloured rippling garden. Between The Flags with its spots of umbrellas just begs to be touched.
Sally West is represented by several works; land/seascapes all painted with a breathless feel of urgency and a scurrying bold use of brushstroke. The Rose Bay Ferry captures the ferry speeding past and the buildings and trees are briskly indicated in thick brushstrokes.
The light is indeed soft and rather cloudy and grey in Soft Light On Double Bay, catching clouds coming and featuringn several boats temporarily at rest.
This was a delightful summer exhibition.
HARBOURING THE BEACH runs at the Traffic Jam Gallery, 41 Military Road, Neutral Bay until the 23rd February, 2017.