CIRCUS REVIEW: Scotch and Soda

Company 2’s Scotch and Soda began its life at Woodford — and that grassroots festival vibe stays with it, even confined to a theatre. The Judith Wright Centre again proves itself to be a chameleon space: Dan Black’s clever lighting design makes use of colourful string-lights to evoke the big top. Company 2 (known for Cantina) conjures an immersive speakeasy atmosphere in the round through simple design, costuming and music. In this case, the Crusty Suitcase Band binds the production together and takes it from great to unforgettable.

Scotch and Soda features circus staples — acrobalance, aerials and slapstick — but what sets Company 2 apart is that, while each performer is at the top of their game, there’s a larrikin sense of chaos and play. It reassured me (just in case I was wondering if I was having a great time or not) to see two of Limbo’s cast members (Danik Abishev and Heather Holliday)* in the audience, having a damn good time. If international circus talent of that magnitude loves your show, it’s definitely good stuff.

Scotch and Soda by Sean Young (SYC Studios)

Scotch and Soda photographed by Sean Young (SYC Studios)

Chelsea McGuffin (co-director), whose signature move is to tiptoe across wine bottles, could balance her way out of any dilemma; David Carberry, Daniel Catlow and Ben Walsh bring chemistry to adagio and vaulting; and Mozes is hilarious on roller-skates but gobsmacking on trapeze. But Scotch and Soda is more than spectacle: the Crusty Suitcase Band is a vital part of the performance, with weird sax breaks and percussion-offs definite highlights. They even play the plastic bag, to great effect.

The only time Scotch and Soda takes a dip in energy is during a sequence featuring budgerigars, whose unwillingness to play along is comic, but ultimately overlong — and it’s unclear how keen the budgies are to keep us company. (There was also a puppy at the start that didn’t reappear — alas!)

Company 2’s last production, She Would Walk the Sky (World Theatre Festival, in collaboration with Finegan Kruckemeyer), struggled with incorporating sluggish prose. In Scotch and Soda, the company returns to its strengths, and the result is sheer delight.

SCOTCH AND SODA played at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts from 24 to 27 September, as part of Brisbane Festival. Company 2 returns to JWCoCA in November with Sediment.

*BTW, Strut and Fret’s LIMBO is completely astounding and I spent all my BrisFest dollars on seeing it twice.

 

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.

REVIEW: Aurelian

Words: Tahnee Robinson

The stage at Metro Arts feels like a house in storage: draped with muslin and shadows, the shapes suggest but don’t confirm. It’s a fitting scene for what is to come — Aurelian explores the nature of memory and grief, and the way we construct our lives around loss.

Aurelian is the work of Genevieve Trace and a small creative team. Trace describes herself as a multidisciplinary performer, and Aurelian certainly samples from a variety of creative forms. The performance uses film, audio samples, physical theatre, live recording and a collection of narratives to form a pastiche of recollection and identity. Opening with a monologue that verges on prose-poetry, we are awakened to the anxiety of grief; performer Erica Fields repeats, with increasing desperation, a mantra of sorts: “But I have to work these things in order.” This is the panic of the bereaved, sorting through memories distorted with obsessive recollection.

The performance takes us through a series of stories, interview-style. Fields, shadowed by co-performer Trace, nods and smiles and pauses, responding to a series of prompts and questions that are unspoken. She has captured the glossy, overwrought joy of the bereaved perfectly. We are sometimes not sure who she is — widow, grandchild, neighbour — but all of these characters speak with the earnest ardor of people trying to do their lost loved ones justice in the retelling. And these stories are real, sourced from people in Trace’s hometown of Ayr in northern Queensland. Amongst them seems to be Trace herself, or her character, trying to understand her own grief.

Aurelian

Around the halfway mark, the narratives speed up and begin to fragment. Mike Willmett’s sound design follows the theme: the soundscape squeaks and glitches with the failing of the characters’ recollections. The climax, an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, is a wall of noise and flashing lights. Whitney Eglington’s lighting design makes clever use of the abstract set. Images are projected onto unlikely surfaces and lights appear behind screens to cast unexpected shadows and figures. The set is mostly made up of a series of trapezoidal constructions in various sizes. These function as seats, benches, projector screens and, at one point, a washing basket. They’re unobtrusive, and Trace and Field can move them about the stage with minimal interference.

All of this combined is Aurelian’s weak point. In evoking the overwhelming incomprehensibility of grief the show has overreached a little. There’s just too much here, for 60 minutes worth of performance. I can help but wonder if the whole thing would have felt more effective if a couple of the elements had been removed. The concept of the supernatural, hinted at during the opening, is explored more directly here. This is perhaps a natural inclusion in a discussion of death and loss, but it feels out of place amongst so much musing on identity and memory. The concept, executed with lights and a semi-transparent backdrop, and clever use of the two performers, is visually effective. But feels like a bridge too far — one thing too many to think about in a performance that is already quite intense.

Aurelian doesn’t really conclude — there isn’t even a curtain call. And that’s thematically consistent. There’s no answer to grief, no cure or method for dealing with it and no way to manage the wrinkling and slippage of our memories.

AURELIAN played at Metro Arts from 7 to 15 September as part of Brisbane Festival.

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

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.

That Golden September

“I thought I had found my golden September in the middle of that purple June.”
— Glen Richards, Augie March

A little Stranger Music foreshadowing can’t hurt, right? It’s not quite a golden September yet, but it’s shaping up to be a good ‘un. Here’s some news:

At Queensland Poetry Festival, just last weekend, I learned I’d been shortlisted for the Thomas Shapcott Prize. This is super, super exciting! Congratulations to the worthy winner, David Stavanger; the runner-up, Jonathan Hadwen; and the other shortlisted entrants: Chloe Callistemon, Stuart Cooke and Nicola Scholes. It will be fantastic to have David feature (as Ghostboy) at the Ruby Fizz Salon in October. I also caught fantastic sets from Matt Hetherington and Betsy Turcot at QPF, before I had to dart back to work.

Brisbane Writers Festival, Sunday, 8 September, 12–1pm: Voiceworks Magazine punches the the Red Room’s lights out with wordsmithery and coolness, led by our editor, Kat Muscat. Features Gianina Carter, Daniel Dixon, Zenobia Frost, Tasha Llewellyn, and Sam George-Allen. Check out the event page here.

Voiceworks: Fighting Trousers

Lyre is a new e-journal from Brisbane, and I’m very glad to have had three poems included in the inaugural issue.

Cordite: Masque, edited by Ann Vickery, is out, and includes poems/words by Jordie Albiston, Paul Summers, Santo Cazzati, Kristin Hannaford, and me.

Rabbit #9, the open issue, launches on 11 September, 6.30pm, at Embiggen Books, 197–203 Little Lonsdale St in Melbourne. I wish I could be there! This is my first poem in Rabbit, and I’m very excited to be included alongside Ali Alizadeh and Jordie Albiston.

There’s a plethora of great stuff to catch at BWF this weekend — here’s a list of highlights to help you out. (She Stole My Every Rock and Roll is my pick, for Saturday.) Then there’s Brisbane Festival and the Spiegeltent and wayyy too much coolness. My favourite month! Goldenness ahoy!

x

auf wiedersehen spiegeltent

auf wiedersehen spiegeltent

1.

the circus is gone
big top
stripped to bone

wide-load giraffe
skeleton canters

in smoke and hammers
collapses collapses
ghosts of their shimmering
crushed into clay

at first light we steal glances
carnies disguised as men
unravel canvas

for one last act
The Great Vanishment

2.

we return
to one-hearted one-steps

preacher calls to his lambs
bowler tumbling downarm
and we come

their suicides unwind
from sky-held ribbons

our strongest men
are not strong enough
our women cannot fly

that man is a tin soldier
he is all moving parts
that woman hovers
en pointe en tightrope
their drunken limbs forget
the ways they should not bend

we swallow whole words

and the lion obeys
with a wink in the glint of its fang

we cannot contort
our mouths
back into grins

they fold back into boxes
like costumes like paper
with string and bells secured to their toes

Zenobia Frost
“auf wiedersehen spiegeltent” — a paean to Brisbane Festival‘s Spiegeltent and Strut & Fret’s Cantina — received 3rd prize in the 2011 John Marsden Awards.

Winding Down

It’s 3am again; there’s been a lot of sleeplessness during and post-festival. Queensland Poetry Festival filled my head with so much stuff it’s like there are ants crawling around under my skull: Sawako Nakayasu, Chloe Wilson, Kevin Gillam, Helen Avery, Jacob Polley, and (of course) Jeremy Thompson were highlights. So was the bookstore, though my wallet will disagree. I previewed some gravepoems on the Sunday, including what we’ve decided is a love letter to Govenor Sam Blackall; thank you to everyone who came along.

This year, QPF published a limited-edition anthology containing a poem by every poet on the program. There were 100 copies available on Friday…and five left on Sunday evening, so rather a successful little venture! Here’s my poem from the collection, in case you weren’t one of the lucky 95. (It’s 5/7 of a sonnet, and was published in Overland last year as part of a collaborative poetry mash-up.)

Before the Funeral

You find her in the kitchen and your lungs empty.
This is the room where they cornered the fox,
the fox that panicked through the hall in the storm,
that your brothers crushed into unsealed wood:
that stain there. The window is open.
Evergreens are all puffed up. Nothing grows
from the bones of the fox. Dishcloths are stiff
on the rail where she split her head; the blood
has frozen before it could stain. Your legs try
to turn you. The volta catches in your throat.

My first collaboration with Jeremy Thompson, Petrichor, also disappeared quickly from the bookstore. Thank you kind souls! There’s only one left of the print run — perhaps we will get crafty and put together a second edition in time for our trip to Victoria later this year. I’ll be appearing at Passionate Tongues, at Melbourne’s Brunswick Hotel, on September 26.

This post-festival winding down is only an illusion. Brisbane Festival launches this week, so if you are looking for me, I’ll be in the Spiegeltent all month, madly scrambling across tightropes, balancing deadlines. For now, the John Marsden Prize closes at 5pm, so my last task for tonight/this morning is to choose a poem. Me?! Make my mind up about something?! Bah!

September: Festival Month…

…after last festival month!

Brisbane has been fairly wild for the last couple of months. We’ve had festivals crawling out of our ears, blowing out our noses, oozing out of our eye sockets, and generally affecting us bodily. But in pleasant ways.

Queensland Poetry Festival

QPF was particularly splendid this year. My picks:

  • Andy Jackson and Rachael Guy performing a poetry-puppetry collaboration that moved us all to tears (and caused Andy’s books to sell out in about two seconds);
  • Superduo Emily XYZ (poet-in-residence) and Myers Bartlett performing sound poems for two voices (if they don’t get it, if they don’t get it, it’s all right, it’s all right…);
  • Ross Donlon, who runs the monthly Castlemaine Poetry Cup and writes warm, often subtly hilarious poems;
  • Luke Beesley, maker of edible images, from Melbourne;
  • Pam Schlinder’s launch of her long-awaited debut collection, A Sky You Could Fall Into; and
  • Madrigal Maladies first full-length performance (okay, that ones’ a blatant self-plug…). Poet Nerissa Rowan and I teamed up to experiment with two-voice spoken word madness–reintrepting the lyrics of well-known songs (about illness!). We sang in public and it was terrifying and rad!

Brisbane Festival

And then we’ve had Brisbane Writers Festival, and Brisbane Festival (with its glorious fireworks–and all of us gathering on the hills in the old suburbs to watch the city burn), and Valley Fiesta is coming up this weekend. But for Brissie Fest picks:

  • Cantina are turning the gorgeous Spiegeltent into a den of sin and vice–can’t wait to see it tonight.
  • Deep Blue Orchestra will cram their roving & dancing orchestral adventures into the Spiegeltent on the 13th and 14th.
  • Wunderkammer, Circa’s newest production, will tumble into QUT Festival Theatre next week.

Non-Festival Stuff

Unless we call it the Festival of Zen. I was fortunate to be included in Overland Magazine as part of the 200th issue’s 200-line collaborative poem. And I gained infamy in QWeekend Magazine a couple of weeks ago, along with Graham Nunn and John Tranter and co.–thank you to everyone who has sent photocopies, actual copies, or mentioned it. I felt like Harry Potter for about a day. It was bizarre.

So yes, not quite the Festival of Zen this month, but it’s busy enough to look like it from inside my mindtank. As a final note, I’ve been procrastinating by playing point-and-click hidden object games, and I’m presently in love with Mishap: An Accidental Haunting. If anyone has any favourites, please recommend them.

You know, it’d be cool to get involved in writing for games, because I’ve played a lot of mediocre games in the last few weeks that could have been wild with a dedicated creative writer or an editor on team. What we need is a poetry text adventure. How awesome would that be? Maybe I could pitch that to The Edge or something; they’re groovy folks.

*wishes for more time and funding*

Anyhoo,

A generally cheerful and typically hopeful Zen signing out.

~ Zenobia