Tuesday, October 2, 2012

dance out of action....

Although Melbourne is swinging into performance overdrive season, my blog and I are taking some time out. Somewhat sadly for me, I will be bowing out of audience duties for many fascinating dance shows over the next few months. Happily, it's because I'm on maternity leave, saving my energy for the newest member of my family.
So I apologise if I am (more than usually) slow in answering emails or absent from events. For the moment, I am revelling in all things maternal...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Gasworks Circus Showdown

Three High Acrobatics
Circus Showdown – Grand Finale
Gasworks Arts Park
May 5

With onstage feedback from the judges and scores out of 10 awarded on white placards, the inaugural Circus Showdown competition uses a familiar format. What’s different about this talent quest is the focus on original circus acts.

Unsurprisingly, graduates from the National Institute of Circus Arts made up a large portion of the six grand finalists. Hannah Cryle and Caz Walsh’s highly skilled double trapeze act is gorgeously cheerful, but slightly lacking in character development.

Hand balancing, acrobatics and break dancing feature in Thomas Gorham’s zombie themed skit, including the obligatory rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, though further editing would improve the pace.

Jamie Bretman’s mix of clowning, mime, juggling and danced interpretations is a little patchy, yet ultimately sweet.

Unfortunately scenes from the Women’s Circus Leggings are Not Pants  lose their narrative thread and comic power when taken out of the context of the full-length production.

Ruby Rowat and Sharon Gruenert show the benefits of years of professional experience with their short work, The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer. A thoughtful, powerful, duo trapeze which plays with gender and androgyny, their act won the Gasworks Foundation Award for best female director, as well as second prize overall.

But the clear winners were Three High Acrobatics, whose high octane, tongue-in-cheek rip off of reality TV renovation shows combines great skills with clever comedy and a self-aware deconstruction of contemporary circus. The blokey energy and Aussie rock anthem soundtrack screams potential Tap Dogs-style global success.

A version of this review was published in The Age newspaper

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D

Richard Winsor as The Swan. Image by Hugo Glendinning
It’s the most famous and revered story in ballet, so it’s no wonder everyone wants to have a go at Swan Lake. But how many versions do we really need?

I saw Matthew Bourne’s homoerotic Swan Lake on stage in 2007, and my opinion of the ballet wasn’t changed much by seeing it again at the cinema recently. The filmed version is true to Bourne’s original, with most camera angles barely differing from the view in the front rows of the theatre.

Filming in 3D helps to negate the flattening effect of looking at a proscenium arch on screen, but it’s not a patch on the live experience. Really, if we’re going to put dance/opera/theatre on screen, it should be designed specifically for film, otherwise the benefits of such an affordable, accessible arts encounter are undone by the highly passive experience of watching a second-hand performance.

But back to the work at hand. Bourne’s Swan Lake is certainly not a choreographic masterpiece, although some of the theatrical elements, including the libretto, are very well constructed. It’s still pretty unusual to see anything other than fairytale heterosexual relationships in ballet productions, so Bourne’s twist, which has the prince chasing after a male swan, is a refreshing change.

In the filmed version, Richard Winsor is stunning as the lead Swan/Stranger. His eloquent upper body and rock-star charisma translate onto screen perfectly, making him hot property in both feathered pantaloons and later, black leather pants. There’s only one thing bringing Winsor down, and it’s something that often bothers me about male dancers. How do so many of them get away with having such terrible feet? Sure they’re stretched, but pointed toes on a brick just don’t cut it for me.

While the set and costumes are great, Bourne fails to take advantage of his huge group of swans until right near the end, when we finally see the power of unified movement. Up until then, the bare chested, all-male swans are broken into small groups, performing variations on an aggressive, avian theme in a helter-skelter way. The lack of precision becomes quite frustrating, and we get the sense that he’s just filling in the music.

If you’re interested in seeing the show but unable to get to the West End, the 3D film version is not a bad substitute. But if you’re already familiar with the work, there are no surprises to be had here, nor even much joy beyond the pleasure of watching Winsor strut his stuff.

Swan Lake is screening around Australia this weekend (5-6 May). Click here for participating cinemas.

Cinema Nova in Carlton, Melbourne, is screening several filmed ballets this year, check their website for details.

Friday, April 20, 2012

More or Less Concrete

Image by Ponch Hawkes
Choreographed by Tim Darbyshire
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
April 18, 2012  (until Sunday)

Dance is very much a temporal art form, which on occasions such as this, may require some patience from audience members. Unlike Bill Viola’s ultra-slow motion films or the intense emotional landscapes of Butoh, which share a similar dynamic, Tim Darbyshire’s abstract, reductionist choreography avoids human expression.

His work is like living sculpture. The opening scene, dimly lit, develops extremely slowly from an almost inscrutable tangle of bodies. One inverted dancer gradually peels away from his motionless partners, until eventually they resolve into headless torsos, tailbones pointing skywards, like weathered standing stones.
Darbyshire and his co-performers, Matthew Day and Sophia Cowen, crawl through tightly focussed scenes working with different combinations of movement and sound. The noise generated on stage, through rasping breath or squeaking shoes, is looped and combined with recorded sound, then delivered to the audience through headphones. In the final moments, during a long, slow retreat into gloom, the headphones allow for total immersion. At other times, especially when the sound is sparse, they seem underutilised.
Ben Shaw’s deep blue lighting and Rebecca Agnew’s hooded boiler suits combine with the de-humanising choreography to erase almost any recognisable feature from the dancers bodies. Depending on one’s inclination, this either allows for endless interpretation or total disengagement.
When at its best, More or Less Concrete physicalizes bodily rhythms in a playful, carefully developed and designed atmosphere. But there’s a very fine line between challenging an audience and boring them to tears.

Bookings through Arts House

Monday, April 16, 2012

Done to Perfection

Weave Movement Theatre, Image by Paul Dunn
Weave Movement Theatre
Directed by Sally Smith and Janice Florence
Dancehouse, Melbourne
April 12, 2012

*NEW SHOW* 2pm on Sunday April 29, Brunswick Town Hall. Bookings 9416 9673 or weavemovement@gmail.com

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that Sally Smith is one of the co-directors, but the humour in this show was a lovely and unexpected bonus for me. Perhaps with all the Comedy Festival madness in Melbourne at the moment I was ready for some solemnity, or maybe that’s just what we get served so often in dance theatre.

Nevertheless, good comic timing and unbridled joy make a great combination, especially when delivered in a thoughtful production such as Done to Perfection. With brilliant collaborators and a dedicated cast, Weave deliver an inclusive (for audiences as well as performers) dance theatre experience which asks many questions using very few words.

We are lead into the theatre by a quirky song about living in the city, where we discover a quizzical machine and its barefoot inventor, The Professor.  The device is designed to cure all human imperfections, although the results are not quite as expected.

Elegant oriental-style fan dances, raucous song, a fledgling romance which struggles to overcome the corporate language of the city, dancing skyscrapers and a double helix of interconnected bodies are just some of the scenes which erupt once the machine is switched on. Ranging from the sublime to the hilarious, the narrative is loose enough to allow for improvisational play without feeling scattered.

Although one is loathe to make comparisons, there are similarities between Weave and Back to Back Theatre, particularly in the way that artists of all abilities are treated with equal respect and at times, irreverence. Physical, musical, dramatic and comic talents emerge from throughout Weave’s large ensemble of performers both with and without disabilities, constantly surprising and delighting .

Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey’s sound design is full of interesting sounds and great dance tracks, while Adrienne Chisholm’s witty set design and Richard Vabre’s skilful lighting transport the performers into an exciting imaginary world.

It’s a terrific romp, as lively as it is thought provoking.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Clouds Above Berlin

Black Project 1, Photo by Ponch Hawkes
Double bill featuring work by Antony Hamilton and Melanie Lane
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
March 7, until March 11, 2012

To be frank, this is a rather uneven double bill.

It opens with the solo, Tilted Fawn, by Melanie Lane, a strange construction, part evolving sound installation, part dance performance.
Lane is a strong dancer, the inhuman shapes she creates in the intense but brief dance break are fascinating. But it's hard to understand her devotion to the small, noise-emitting cardboard boxes which take up the rest of the 40 minutes of her piece.

The sound which comes out of them is not pleasant, nor even particularly interesting, mostly looped samples of voices and possibly found sounds, however the bass-heavy, sustained music which pulsates from the larger, hidden speakers creates a much more inviting soundscape, rumbling and thudding, enveloping the small space.
Lane's actions are, on the whole, predictable and monotonous. Stacking and shifting, re-arranging, pushing, occasionally aligning her body with the structures she creates. It's simple and clear, but there just doesn't seem to be enough depth beyond the immediately apparent action to engage the imagination or even incite sympathy.

I suspect it was Antony Hamilton's Black Project 1 which most of the capacity crowd came to see on opening night. Many in the audience were local dancers, choreographers and administrators who would be familiar with Hamilton's work, and they weren't disappointed with this effort.
On many levels, it had strong similarities to his 2011 production Drift, though it was also very different. Both have a post-apocalyptic feel, with strong tribal elements, brilliant sound, lighting and projections.
Yet where the small ensemble of Drift seem to traverse a narrative arc, the two performers in this piece (Lane and Hamilton) enact a highly ritualised series of actions within a very limited space, quite abstract, and perhaps not particularly interesting on their own, yet producing some spectacular effects.
Continuing Hamilton's interest in combining graffiti with performance, the darkly costumed and body painted pair create or reveal a series of markings, from concentric circles to zig zags, cloudlike puffs to jagged line designs. Modern day cave painting perhaps?
The movement is also very similar vein to that of Drift. Lane was one of the performers in that piece, which partly explains her familiarity with Hamilton's popping movement. It's a close relative of hip hop, but stripped of it's original flavour and morphed into a contemporary idiom. Fast, detailed, jagged, tiny, almost perfectly synchronised.
By the end of the piece it becomes clear that the movement is really just one element of this event. Amazingly accurate projections by Olaf Meyer light segments of the stage with split second timing, while the music rumbles. It's the same precision and speed which marks the choreography, an almost mechanical, futuristic, shockingly beautiful play of light.
Hamilton has limited himself here, in colour palette, movement vocabulary, even the gradual progression of action across the stage, and in the process created an eye-catching performance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Green Room Awards 2011

Here I go, crashing the Green Room Awards again with my opinions. Only on dance mind you - these are my picks from the 2011 nominations.

My Pick: Jo Lloyd, Future Perfect 

Against Assembly, Future Perfect was a far more interesting and original effort.


My pick:
They were all fabulous! I can't choose a winner or loser amongst them.
The nominees are:
  • Benjamin Cisterne (Lighting) and Byron Perry in collaboration with Ben Cobham (Bluebottle 3) (Set), Double Think (Byron Perry / Arts House / Force Majeure in association with Melbourne Festival) Adam Gardnir (Set), Happy as Larry (Arts House / Shaun Parker & Company)
  • Reuben Margolin (Kinetic Sculpture), Connected (Chunky Move / Malthouse Theatre)
  • Toni Maticevski (Costumes), Richard Nylon (Millinery), Matthew Bird (Nest Design & Backdrop), Gavin Brown (Curtain Design) & Benjamin Cisterne (Lighting), Aviary (Phillip Adams BalletLab in association with Melbourne Festival)
  • Jacob Nash (Set), Belong (Bangarra Dance Theatre)


My pick: Robin Fox & Oren Ambarchi (Composition), Connected (Chunky Move)
I loved the sound for Connected, to my ears it was original andperfectly matched to the onstage action.


My picks: Luke George and Chengwu Guo 

These two men are totally different artists, yet each deserves to win for their outstanding efforts. Luke George is an anchoring presence onstage with Balletlab, courageously going where others fear to tread. Chengwu is an incredible physical talent, and showed some great character skills in Graeme Murphy's Romeo and Juliet.


My picks: Madeleine Eastoe and Kirsty Martin
Two of the best characterisations I've seen in ballet for a long time, totally absorbing and utterly believable, and paired with great dancing to boot. I can't separate them, they're both winners!


My pick: Bangarra Dance Theatre - Belong
I didn't see Becky, Jodi & John (Dance Massive fatigue), and I didn't think Concerto (Australian Ballet) was danced particularly well on the night I saw it. Bangarra were on the final leg of a national tour of Belong by the time I saw it performed in Melbourne, which ensured a flawless ensemble performance, so it has to go to them I reckon.


My pick: I Could Pretend the Sky is Water (Trevor Patrick in association with Arts House)
Quite amazing - bemusing, very Australian, very original. Unlike anything else I've seen recently, kept me guessing right til the last moments. A treasure.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tower Suites

Ros Warby, photo by Calista Lyon

Tower Suites
Conceived and Directed by Ros Warby
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
26 February, 2012

Crumbling, toppling. Hillsides crowned by ancient ruins. A glance, a curled fingertip. The liquid architecture of looping vocals and cello.
Three women, standing tall. Three women mirrored and enlarged by film and recorded sound. Three tones combining to create a unified whole.
Internal, emotional landscapes. Built forms and scurrying crowds. A minute gesture, a grand idea.

Ros Warby traverses a fascinating terrain in her latest creation. Joined on stage by vocalist Ria Soemardjo and cellist Helen Mountfort, and accompanied by archival and specially filmed footage, Warby's style continues to be fascinating, detailed and just beyond recognition.

Wearing a white shirt and trousers, Warby draws our attention to her eloquent hands, the edges of her feet, the lines of her gaze. She carefully includes the musicians in her stage design, walking with them, approaching and interacting with them with practiced ease born from many years of collaboration.

There are structures within structures, not all of them immediately apparent, but with evident symmetry and purpose we become aware that there is a detailed design here, even if we can't immediately grasp it.

Warby's movement is as crisp and inscrutable as ever; arching back to glimpse the tip of a skyscraper, repeatedly falling as though torn down like a condemned structure. But not all of this action can be directly related to the built world, some of it comes from within, from negotiating those complex inner spaces and thoughts that allow us to get through each day, or leave us howling, sprawled over a chair. The interplay is subtle, wonderful.

There's a balletic elegance to her upright posture, which she then goes about dismantling, distorting or elongating her spine and limbs into briefly held poses.

As in previous work, she uses a nonsensical vocal language, which communicates on a similar level to her movement and the sounds created by Mountfort and Soemardjo. They are complementary instruments, the three of them, playing to a three dimensional score.

The filmed footage works on many levels. Looping Warby's choreography back on itself, creating a terrifying sense of loss and destruction as buildings are dismantled, highlighting the architectural nature of the work by examining structures.

It's deeply considered and richly textured work developed through a mature creative partnership, a rare and heady combination.

Conceived/Directed: Ros Warby
Created in collaboration with: Helen Mountfort, Margie Medlin, Ria Soemardjo
Choreographer/Performer: Ros Warby
Light/Projection/Set Designer: Margie Medlin
Composer/Performer (cello): Helen Mountfort
Performer (voice): Ria Soemardjo
Cinematographer: Ben Speth
Editor (film): Martin Fox
Costume Designer: Harriet Oxley
Tabla: Sam Evans
Production: Bluebottle
Management: Moriarty's Project Inc.

The Australian Ballet - Infinity

What a fabulous start to the Australian Ballet's 50th anniversary year - a triple bill of all new Australian work. Opening night was really satisfying, not necessarily perfect, but so exciting to see relevant Australian work performed.

My review is in The Age, but you can also check Jordan Beth Vincent's excellent, unrestrained commentary on her new blog: Talking Pointes, or for pictures, try The Australian Ballet's facebook page or this slideshow on The Age website.

Infinity - featuring new choreography by Graeme Murphy, Gideon Obarzanek and Stephen Page. Melbourne Season runs until March 6 at the State Theatre. Definitely worth a look, for all dance fans.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bach Suites, or the review that wasn't

Helen Herbertson is one of the most interesting dance makers in Melbourne. She is one of the few who has managed to sustain a career past the ripe old age of forty-something. Along with Shelley Lasica, who also regularly makes work independently of the masthead companies, Herbertson and her regular collaborator Ben Cobham have made interesting and challenging new work at infrequent intervals over the last few years, perhaps it’s now even a decade?

The last work of theirs I saw, Sunstruck, was a beautifully conceived experience, originally staged in a cavernous warehouse in the Docklands. The live string music which surrounded and circled the audience in utter darkness was a highlight, as was the incredible lighting, which gave the piece an atmosphere worthy of its name.

In the centre of this beautiful construct was some physical performance by Trevor Patrick and Nick Somerville, which didn’t resonate for me at the time, but the world that they inhabited was something else.

It was this spine-tingling encounter that I was hoping to re-live through Bach Suites. Performed by the charismatic choreographer-dancer Michelle Heaven and John Salisbury (who I’ve not seen perform before) and cellists from the Australian National Academy of Music, it has all the ingredients of a Herbertson-Cobham masterpiece.

Sadly for me, it was not to be.

The thunderstorms and lightning which have become regular visitors to Melbourne this spring wrought some small havoc on my train line, causing a fatal delay. And so, despite my careful planning, allowing plenty of time to reach the venue, I was too late by mere minutes, locked out by the special effects of Herberston and Cobham’s rich imaginations.

So now, it will be only in my imagination, and in the words of others, that this meeting of dance, live music and theatrical wizardry exists. Maybe, if I’m very lucky, it will be presented again, one day. The sold out season would suggest that there is certainly an audience for it, especially unlucky punters such as myself.

For further, more descriptive reading, try these reviews by Jordan Beth Vincent and Eamonn Kelly.