Adelaide Fringe: Fallot (FÄ-‘LŌ)

Fallot is a circus-infused physical theatre work about the eponymous heart defect, Tetralogy of Fallot, as experienced by circus artist Marianna Joslin. Company 2 directors Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry produce Fallot, performed by Joslin, Phoebe ArmstrongOlivia PorterCasey Douglas and Jake Silvestro.

The show had a developmental run at Brisbane Powerhouse during Wonderland Festival 2017; I missed Fallot then, so I was glad to catch up on my Bris-circus during Adelaide Fringe. In the intimate Empire Theatre tent, I love that you can see more of the physical work of circus by sheer proximity. There’s a lot of muscle and control in Fallot, perhaps fitting for a show that explores the heart muscle’s control over the function of body and mind.

In this particular run of Fallot, Joslin’s role in the show is limited by a recent injury, so she becomes the narrator and shadow of her own story. Joslin has experienced the physical and emotional trauma of several open-heart surgeries, and Fallot is at its strongest when its performers use their physical strength to show the vulnerability that comes with being at the mercy of doctors, anaesthetists and nurses.

The show has a fantastic, uncanny look: screens turn theatre into operating theatre, with freaky robed surgeons contrasting with beige lace and medical corsetry. White hospital sheets are a recurring motif, used as tissu to climb, rope, or costuming. The female performers each embody aspects of Joslin’s experiences, centred around a black operating table on wheels. A standout scene has Douglas and Silvestro, as doctors, shifting their co-performers on, off and around that table, using subtle versions of Company 2’s signature toss-the-girl manoeuvres to rob them of their agency. Another sees nurses weave hospital sheets around Armstong’s legs before hoisting her to the ceiling to float in the limbo of anaesthesia.

Fallot does struggle to settle on a tone. It plays up moments of classic cabaret between pathos-driven scenes, but there isn’t a clear sense of physical narrative between these – it doesn’t quite flow yet. This is most evident in the final scene, a lip-syncing number complete with heart puppets – its weirdness, though not unwelcome, comes from left field. It’s madcap, but inconsistent. Part of the challenge here is that Fallot’s narrative is held together by actual narration by Joslin – some live, some recorded – often overlong and leaning hard on clichés that wind up more tiresome than heart-warming.

Company 2 works with first-rate physical performers, but Fallot doesn’t trust those artists to show (rather than tell) the story. Fortunately, David Carberry’s musical score is a compelling pulse that resonates with the performers and with the beat of our own hearts.

Fallot runs at the Royal Croquet Club at Adelaide Fringe until 25 February.

DANCE REVIEW: Deluge

Motherboard Productions break away from the rambunctious structure of their previous work (you may have heard me gush about JiHa Underground…) in this meditative contemporary dance piece.

As we file in to the Powerhouse’s main theatre, performers move back and forth between the audience and a kitchen hutch that stands centre-stage. Person by person, we are offered tea. It’s a ritual that grounds the tone of Deluge and sets the scene at a low-key gathering at an Auchenflower share-house.

The kitchen vanishes, the party is washed away and we’re left holding our cups. The performers re-emerge in costumes that evoke rushing water (designed by Kiara Bulley, Bianca Bulley, Noni Harrison). Dane Alexander’s electronic soundscape takes us out into the storm, lit in blue and lightning by David Walters (who — briefly — makes the best use of strobe lighting I’ve ever seen). Each sequence of Deluge builds layers of movement patterns, repeated with swelling energy.

Jeremy Neideck (Deluge)

The performers explore grief through tidal tableaux, but the show’s most haunting moments arise out of frenzy: surges of operatic song, convulsions that suggest drowning. And, in a resonant climax, a river-spirit drags itself across the stage, weighed down by a cloak of human trash (including the paper cups and serviettes in our hands).

Water is a theme that gushes through both JiHa Underground (World Theatre Festival 2014, Brisbane Festival 2012) and Deluge, yet here Motherboard takes a brave step away from previous work — in this case, from interactive musical theatre to meditative dance. The pieces haven’t quite come together yet: there’s disconnect between the distinct Brisbane note of the kitchen scene and the body of the work, which in itself often relies on repetition over depth.

Director/lead performer Jeremy Neideck and devising troupe (Hoyoung Tak, Younghee Park, Youngho Kwon, Katrina Cornwell, Sammie Williams, Amy Wollstein) have proven their talents time and again — and Brisbane is lucky to host continued collaboration between Korean and Australian traditions. No doubt, with further development, Deluge will come to further illuminate its themes: water, ritual, loss, growth.

DELUGE played at Brisbane Powerhouse from 18 to 20 September as part of Brisbane Festival.

YOOF ARTS NEWS

I nearly called this YOOF ARTZ NYOOZ and I’m sorry. Maybe it should have been “They Have It Coming”. Anyway. It’s been a fortnight of arts-work by the young and the restless. This is definitely more of a discussion than a series of reviews. I especially welcome input from others who’ve seen or are involved in these shows.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Brisbane (a doing word)

Vena Cava has outgrown QUT’s Woodward Theatre; the student theatre company launches its new season in the Judith Wright Centre’s intimate Shopfront space. Here, we meet Matty (Patrick Hayes) and his share-housing frenemies, negotiating their place and purpose as 20-somethings in Brisbane. This coming-of-age story unfolds in pieces, benefiting from writer David Burton’s structural experimentation.

Burton’s characters are painfully relatable but never sterotypes. Claire Christian directs a strong cast; we’ve all lived or studied with these eager, energetic, argumentative people. We’ve probably been them. Overall, a little more polish and restraint will allow Brisbane (a doing word) to deftly handle the sensitive topics it tackles without losing its sense of absurd humour.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March 2014.

PERSPECTIVE/WOOLF PACK

Khalid Warsame at Brisbane's VOICEWORKS Launch

Express Media (or its Queensland representative … me) launched Voiceworks #96, the Perspective issue, at Avid Reader. Voiceworks Mag publishes and offers professional development of the work of Australian writers under 25. This was such a great night with superb readers (pictured: Khalid Warsame). Avid put on the ritz for us — what a wonderful venue. Wine all round! We also launched Woolf Pack, a new feminist zine edited by super-cool Brisbane ladies. Good times.

VOICEWORKS and WOOLF PACK launched at Avid Reader on 28 March 2014.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS

Homos in Kimonos

James Halloran and Will Hannagan’s double-bill cabaret (Melbourne Festival Comedy) has come under fire this week regarding its title, which some feel appropriates Japanese culture in a way that is racist. I’m hesitant to weigh in personally — as a white person I realise my privilege means I have blind spots — but I felt the creative team gave a measured, respectful public response in which they apologised and clarified their intentions. It was disappointing to see uncritical responses on both sides of the fence (personal attacks on the young performers and, on the flipside, tiresome attacks on “the PC brigade”).

I rarely feel qualified to comment, but I think there’s space right now in Australia for lots of context-based, critical discussion on cultural intersection in art. I hope that the show’s run stimulates more thoughtful, respectful discussion and fewer facebook shitstorms.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS runs at Melbourne Comedy Festival until 13 April 2014.

BOY&GIRL

Boy&Girl by Oscar Theatre Company

Oscar Theatre Company presents “a steamy cabaret of musical theatre, contemporary and pop where gender is bent and rules are broken” at Brisbane Powerhouse, after a season at Lightspace. Boy&Girl features 25 talented and diverse cast members with a Broadway/contemporary jazz vibe. Jason Glenwright’s moody lighting sets the right tone for a trip down the Weimar rabbit hole.

Now, I can’t call these thoughts a review, as I did not stay for the full show. For me, the highlight of the first half was a 40s wartime swing rendition of “Call Me Maybe” by three charismatic male performers, followed by an emotive solo covering Rizzo’s “That’s the Worst Thing I Could Do” from Grease. Overall, though, Boy&Girl only flirted with the idea of gender-bending: pronouns were swapped, sure, and the boys (but, curiously, not really the girls) dabbled in drag. The jokes were about as cheap as the lingerie. All up, a pretty conservative affair, with the cast unable to nail the sense of sexy-grotesque integral, in my opinion, to queered cabaret.

But none of this would be a fair reason to walk out. Generally, I think it’s pretty poor form to leave a show’s opening night midway. However, just before the interval, 10 men (plus the male host and four men in the onstage band) performed Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango”. This is a song that deliberately subverts language used against female victims of intimate and sexual violence; its power, humour and sense of the uncanny succeeds because, in the context of the song, women have what is normally masculine power. In Boy&Girl, “Cell Block Tango” becomes a deeply unsettling song about domestic violence. In Australia, where one woman a week is murdered by an intimate partner, loosely “gender-bending” the song puts the power back in the hands of those who already have it. I left because I couldn’t sit with an audience that found that funny.

BOY&GIRL runs at the Visy Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse until 19 April 2014.

DANCE REVIEW: When Time Stops

Words: Tahnee Robinson

We awake in the underworld, on the banks of the river Acheron. The Ferryman (Thomas Gundry Greenfield) is rowing away from us. He will row for most of the performance, quiet and inexorable, as we linger by the river. He is a towering figure, but he is not unkind: he will wait patiently for his charge until she is ready. When Time Stops takes us through the last moments of a life, picked up in a rush of memories before making the final crossing.

Bill Haycock and Iceworks Design’s underworld is a beautiful creation, haunting but without malice, and deceptively simple. Comprised of mirrored surfaces and windows, backlit panes and a hidden door, the set is beautifully atmospheric and very flexible — a must for this performance, which places its entire musical ensemble on stage for parts of the piece. The lighting, designed by David Walters, is ingenious and integral, maintaining the subdued sorrow of the underworld but showing us glimpses of life — elation, love, terror — with a scattering of stars or a beam of sunlight falling across a face.

There are more musicians than dancers; Iain Grandage’s composition is performed by Camerata of St John’s, a chamber orchestra of string players sans conductor. There are 12 of them, and they move around and amongst the dancers as they play. This is no mean feat: creeping a bass, two cellos, two violas and seven violins around a stage occupied by a company of contemporary dancers in mid-flight is an extraordinary work of choreography and focus. The musicians are part of the performance — as they should be; the compositions are integral to the mood of the piece and to understanding what is being depicted.  The strings are perfect for this, their richness and many tones provide a degree of emotional nuance that is essential to our understanding of each section.

When TIme Stops (EDC)There are parts of When Time Stops that are particularly affecting. Broken into a series of moments of profound importance to the dying woman, it is largely up to the audience to imbue these impressions with meaning.  Amongst these segments is ‘First Kiss’, which stirs a sense of sweet nostalgia and innocence, reminding the audience of first-love elation without overstepping into melodrama. Later, there is ‘Scan’, which makes clever use of the set and lighting to imply a medical emergency of some kind — intimations of mortality revisited at the time of death. ‘Time’ is represented by a little silver orb, around which Daryl Brandwood dances with extraordinary feline skill and control; the orb is captured and released with joy and desperation.

The dancing is extraordinary, and each of the seven company members brings an intense commitment and control to the performance. They are uniformly graceful and astonishing, contorting themselves into impossible positions with complete fluidity and a superb awareness of each other. Natalie Weir’s choreography is inventive and intimate; The Woman (Riannon McLean) reviews her life with fear and longing, often reaching out to the visions she sees, embracing her memory of herself or her lover. It’s romantic, and often sexual, without being tawdry or overt; these intimacies are the highlight of the performance, as the dancers lift and hold each other, entwining and separating.

WHEN TIME STOPS by Expressions Dance Company is on at the Playhouse, QPAC, until September 14, as part of Brisbane Festival. Tickets $48–58.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.

REVIEW: Blak

Bangarra Dance Theatre: BLAK

Words by Tahnee Robinson

It’s not often that each element of a performance — choreography, lighting, set design, smell — is beautifully executed in its own right. But Bangarra’s latest offering, BLAK, goes beyond that to create a performance both stunning in its attention to detail and deeply confronting as a whole.

Blak is slick and sharp, tightly controlled dance theatre that, despite telling its story through movement and metaphor, completely eschews artifice. There is nothing self-conscious here — and absolutely no apologies as the dancers use their bodies to tell stories of crime, violence, assault and grief.  The stage is often dark, but when the dancers look out they’re bold: they’ll look you in the eyes.

The performance is divided into three sections. Choreographed by Daniel Riley McKinley and the male dancers themselves, “Scar introduces us to gang of young men dressed in street gear.  Clad in dark, hooded clothing, their movements evoke a sense of sublimated violence, stalking the stage with fear and aggression as they navigate the difficulties of being young, male and indigenous in urban Australia. The men fall in and pull back from fighting and self-harm in a series of movements that fall somewhere between breakdancing and ballet. These sequences incorporate traditional elements that eloquently convey the opposing forces of modernity and tradition, and the difficult spaces available for young Aboriginal men to occupy and grow into.  Different pools of spotlight flicker between dark scenes of conflict. At one point the grinding, synthy soundtrack whoops into the unmistakable cry of police sirens and the group cease fighting, unified instead to flee.

Bangarra: Blak

Part two, “Yearning”, is choreographed in collaboration with the female dancers. It’s a change of pace — the movements are less violent, more sinuous — but the atmosphere is no less fraught, largely due to the music. David Page and Paul Mac have outdone themselves; they create a dark, electronic soundscape that incorporates traditional singing, vocal samples and instruments, with elements of trip hop and trap music.  A woman answers a call, illuminated by the sodium-lamp glow of a telephone box in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night. The music throbs and jitters; tension escalates in an eerie way that is reminiscent of some of Cliff Martinez’s recent film scores.

Jacob Nash’s set design is poignant in its minimalism. Single props are perfectly chosen to evoke a sense of place: a row of blue plastic chairs, a swinging spot lamp and a corrugated iron roof, glowing green in the dark. Beneath the eerie glow women sit atop milk crates and learn of a granddaughter’s suicide; a smoking tin can on stage wreathes their grief with incense. Their loss smells sweet and spicy and mournful; it lingers.

This beautiful simplicity continues as a small television — the old kind, a CRT with rabbit-ears — appears on stage.  Three women writhe on the ground. From the dark, a figure appears carrying a green spotlight; he’s filming them. As they dance in distress, they appear on the TV. We’re watching the film and reality in real-time, but we cannot focus on the domineering figure behind his lamp. The result is simultaneously deeply affecting and extraordinarily hard to articulate — a powerful, confusing motif.

The performance culminates in part three, “Keepers”, which features the full ensemble. The set is breathtaking: blackness lightens to reveal the gloss of wet rocks and light refracts off a stream of fog to create a waterfall. The dancers come together, with nature, to embrace both tradition and the future. This beautiful piece of work gives the performers room to show us the full range of movement, emotion and eroticism in their repertoire. It’s a tribute to love and community that ends a confronting performance on a note of optimism and possibility.

BLAK runs at the QPAC Playhouse until 27 July, 2013.

TAHNEE ROBINSON is a Brisbane-based writer. She was OffStreet Press’s visual arts, film and fashion editor.

REVIEW: Salõn

Salõn tips its fascinator to soirees of a bygone era, wherein powerful hosts welcomed underground artists into their own parlours. The show is choreographer Timothy Brown’s brainchild, developed in collaboration with its cast with the support of the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground artistic residency. (Read my recent interview with Brown to find out more.)

In terms of aesthetic, Salõn approaches the sublime. The Judy performance space has undergone several striking transformations of late, and this is one of them. Cabaret seating hugs a series of stages stretched over the space. Andrew Meadow’s lighting design evokes a boudoir decked out in indigo and red silks and velvets. Surreal costumes form the basis for haunting tableaux. In short, Salõn looks pretty damn good.

The Oracle and the Serpent: Michelle Xen and Travis Scott (photo by FenLan Chuang)

The Oracle and the Serpent: Michelle Xen and Travis Scott (photo by FenLan Chuang)

Michelle Xen and the Neon Wild, as “The Oracle”, provide the soundtrack, but there’s no orchestra pit here; the band is very much a star in its own right. Xen’s neon-electric costume changes alone could almost constitute an entire show.

As for the rest of the cast, Iona Marques ( “Alice”), a dancer trained in Rio de Janeiro, seems to be made of something more malleable than mere human muscle. She’s a charmer as she wanders between our tables; once on stage, she’s something else entirely. Das Unheimlich persists: mesmerising Anthony Trojman (“the Peacock”), perched above The Neon Wild, looks rather like the son of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Nerida Matthaei, an accomplished dancer and choreographer who has just won a place on the 2013 Australian Korean International Exchange Program, seems uncomfortable in her role as ringmistress “Jean”. Even enthroned atop her “Things” (David Trappes and Alex Weckes-Hucks), Matthaei lacks the confidence to pull off her one-liners with the panache required to elevate them above the level of cheese. Elizabeth Whelan demonstrates the redundancy of dialogue as the silent “Marchesa”, omniscient host and patron, though her talents as a dancer are sadly under-utilised.

The Peacock: Anthony Trojman (photo by FenLan Chuang)

The Peacock: Anthony Trojman (photo by FenLan Chuang)

Bridging the divide between circus and dance, Travis Scott (“the Serpent”) ensures we’re awake with a suitably sinuous swinging pole routine. Trappes and Weckes-Huck’s acrobalance and juggling provide just the right relief to lighten the moody epicurean atmosphere.

While the links between acts are tenuous and the pacing occasionally lags, Salõn has a thematic cohesion that helps it to transcend an average variety night. Brown draws on elements of Weimar-era cabaret to create a sense of decaying decadence. His choreography is as slick as his Serpent’s scales. The audience is left with a dreamy impression of colour and movement, light and neon sound.

SALÕN runs at the Judith Wright Centre for only two more nights, till 29 June, 2013.

Judith Wright Centre: Salõn

Timothy Brown (Queensland Ballet, Expressions Dance Company) promises Judy audiences the exotic, the erotic and the sublime in The Salõn. He curates  seven physical performers — with backgrounds in circus and dance — in collaboration with musos Michelle Xen and the Neon Wild. It’s a showcase of local talent with international appeal; don’t miss out.

ZF: Salõn is an ambitious interdisciplinary work. How did you go about getting the balance just right, both in terms of aesthetic and the diverse cast?
TB: It was like creating a lavish yet unpredictable patchwork of acts, styles and artists genres.

ZF: With your dance background in mind, what were you looking for in your seven performers?
TB: The Salon performers are local independent artists who have proven to be outstanding in their fields while also creating their own unique niches within music, circus and dance.

Anthony Trojman — photo by Dylan Evans Photography, design by Blender

Anthony Trojman for Salōn (photo by Dylan Evans Photography, design by Blender)

ZF: Tell me one or two stunning, surprising or strange things about the character or talents of the performers.
TB: Travis Scott is a dancer come pole dancer come swinging pole dancer. This is very unique as there is only a small hand full of swinging pole artists around the world.
Former Expressions contemporary dance artist Anthony Trojman (pictured) is currently completing his honors in physiotherapy, with his last exam a day before we open!

ZF: How was “living work of art” Marchesa Luisa Casati an inspiration for the show?
TB: Marchesa Luisa Casati has always been an icon for me. Although this work is not a biography of the great Marchesa, the concept of icons, divas, and muses being immortalised through art are themes among others the show has drawn inspiration from.

ZF: How important was the Fresh Ground program to the show’s development? (Salõn was part of our JWC’s Space program introduced this year.)
TB: Fresh Ground is a unique program that I think gives the Judy a very important role in the independent arts sector. Artists need to have access to government facilities and support without too much paper work and admin. Just a studio with a speaker can give an artist a chance to create magic for Brisbane audiences and potentially show the world how good we are and what we have to offer.

ZF: If you were to paint a tableau that represented Salōn, what would it look like?
We have quite a few in the show! Very colourful, very diverse with a mix of glamour, grace, rebellion and cheek!

SALŌN plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 22 to 29 June, 2013.

Dancing with Bach

Judith Wright Centre, March 6

Bach’s Cello Suites were amongst the first suites of classical music to work their way into my bones. Lucid Dance Theatre’s Dancing with Bach project, choreographed by Louise Deleur in collaboration with cellist Louise King, aims to evoke the feeling of the suites as well as to paint a portrait of the composer’s life and work through dance.

But first, before Bach, we are shocked into a short piece called Surge — a lightning storm of a dance piece, performed by two sinewy figures upon a beach. The visuals are engrossing, with the dancers silhouetted against shoreline. We can almost smell the salt in the air.

There’s a 10-minute break that is determinedly not an interval: house lights go up, pop music hums, the stage is set for the main event — but we can’t leave our seats. At last, lights go down and bow meets cello. King’s performance is fluid and captivating. It’s easy to focus on her body language, but the dancers too are worthy of attention. They do more than dance to the music; the aim is to perform the suites with the body.

Dancing with Bach

Dancing with Bach is a work developed through the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground program. It’s an interesting production in this theatre space. With cello the only accompaniment, the thud of dancers’ feet on stage reverberates. In some ways, this focuses us on the dancers’ visceral movements; in other ways, it’s distracting. (You could hear a pin drop — or the sound-techs whisper.)

I always try to state my biases: dance is something I’m only learning about. For me, Dancing with Bach is an unsubtle piece — a little heavy-handed, heavy-footed. Rikki Mason dances the role of Bach himself, with Melissa Tattam and Elizabeth Barnard. Their danced relationships are intimate and tense, yet perhaps it is the sonic-emptiness of the space that makes communicating this intimacy to the audience difficult. Projections on a tall, thin screen illuminate stories from Bach’s life and, in this manner, we are unnecessarily told that we “find a world of emotions” in the suites — something the performance itself inherently seeks to show. The show don’t seem confident that the music will guide the dancers’ movements and our reactions and, as such, Dancing with Bach never seems to get the timing just right.

 

Dancing with Bach played at the Judith Wright Centre from March 6 to 8, 2013. 

For a different point of view, I liked this review at SameSame.com.au.