Monday, April 14, 2014


Charmene Yap - Andrew Crawford

Canberra Theatre Centre  10 - 12 April 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

To celebrate their 45th Anniversary the Sydney Dance Company, under the artistic direction of Rafael Bonachella, has created “Interplay”, a program of three works by three different choreographers. The result is a stunning demonstration of the range and diversity of the prodigious skills of the 17 superb dancers who make up the present company.

The first work 2 in D Minor is Rafael Bonachella’s contribution. A lyrical abstract work which utilises the entire company to further explore choreographic ideas encountered while choreographing his acclaimed work Project Rameau. This time Bonachella draws his inspirations from Bach’s Partita 2 in D Minor, played live on stage by violinist Veronique Serret, who interacts with the dancers as they perform a series of complex, fluid duos and trios based on a motif established by Charmene Yap in a gorgeous solo which commences the work. Although Bonachella utilises the entire company, they are never all on stage at the same time. One particularly lovely section involves several trios of dancers moving in unison as each trio replaces the other.

The various sections of the Partita are punctuated by striking solos danced to a series of stringent electronic samplings, entitled 2inD Miniatures and composed by Nick Wales.

Benjamin Cisterne’s setting for 2 in d Minor is spare but dramatic, consisting of a slanting white rectangle hanging over the stage on which a square of white light marks out the dance area. The lighting moods change subtly to reflect those of the dancers, clad in soft black trousers with flowing jackets and vests designed by Bonachella. Skilfully they perform endless mesmerising variations perfectly attuned and inspired by the music. 2 in D Minor is a masterful creation and a superb demonstration of Bonachella’s choreographic gifts.

First premiered by the Sydney Dance Company in 2011, and revived for this season, Jocopo Gordani’s work Raw Moves is aggressive, visceral and exciting. It’s danced to an overwhelmingly powerful score by 48nord which reverberates around the theatre as the seven dancers, clad in sleek black costumes designed by Gordani; perform his sweeping spiderlike choreography which according to his program note represents “the prototype of a micro-social structure functioning on communication, empathy and complicity”.

Like this reviewer, you don’t need to understand what that means to be thrilled by the sheer originality of the choreography and the brilliance and  bravery of the dancers as they recklessly drop to the floor, or seductively prowl the stage in a series of fascinating vignettes each separated by a sharp blackout.  Godani has just been appointed Artistic Director of William Forsythe Ballet in Frankfurt, so it is particularly interesting to see this example of his work included in this program.

For the final work in the program, L’Chaim! (To Life), Gideon Obarzanek has drawn his inspiration from his own life in a Kibbutz to produce a charming work which utilises the full company. The curtain rises to reveal the dancers, clad in non-descript rehearsal clothes, studiously rehearsing a routine. Reminiscent of A Chorus Line, a disembodied voice (in Canberra, Gideon Obarzanek himself) interrupts the dancing, by calling out from behind the audience, questions about how they feel about their lives as dancers. “Are you Grumpy? “Is that why you tend to dance with your face?  How old are you? How long do you have left?”

The rest of the dancers attempt to ignore the questioning and maintain the routine, but as those being questioned become rattled by the questioner’s persistence, the dance slowly grinds to a halt. The questioner eventually joins the dancers on stage and they resume their rehearsing.

Dis-arming in its apparent simplicity, and surprisingly revealing, L”Chaim! Is a succinct reminder that dancers are people too, as well as providing a satisfying and thoughtful conclusion to a superb program of exceptional dance.
                                                     Image: Wendell Teodoro



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Warts & All

Warts & All written and directed by Bruce Hoogendoorn at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, April 2 – 12, Wed-Sat, 2014-04-12

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 11

The title, I guess, imposes on me a duty to reveal all about this new play by perhaps the most indie of independent operators in the Canberra theatre scene.  Hoogendoorn calls it a comedy, but though there were some laughs from the small and sympathetic audience, there were not enough for me to think ‘comedy’.

Why not?  After all, the central device is the ghost of an athletics coach, Ken, played with exactly the right Australian manner by Rob de Fries, who is mistaken for the ghost of his father, Ted.  Though ghosts can’t be real – can they? – this one’s piercing whistle and sudden appearance from Simon’s wardrobe was certainly quite frightening.  I had a bit of a nervous laugh until my willingness to suspend my disbelief got the better of me, and he turned into a nice bloke.

Then there was Oliver Baudert playing the elderly Alice.  He did it very well, but I have to say that I could not find a reason for this casting, except perhaps that if Alice had been played by a woman, the role of bitter division between her and her contemporary Margaret would not have been funny at all.  Helen Vaughan-Roberts played Margaret straight as a realistic character who engendered much empathy.

Playing realistically, as the two just-finished Year 12 grandchildren were played by Will Huang (Margaret’s Simon) and Adellene Fitzsimmons (Alice’s Kirsty), also meant occasions when comedy was not appropriate.  On the other hand the role of Dotty, counsellor and family historian, gave the best chance for the laughs you get from the people who put their foot in it – and Elaine Noon did this well.

So what’s my problem?  Bit by bit the mystery of Ted, on one side of the family, who had patriotically volunteered in World War 2 and died in Syria, and Alan, on the other side, who had stayed in the small black soil town somewhere not far from Toowoomba to keep the family shop running, began to be revealed.

When it came to connecting the dots about Alan feeling so guilty after Ted’s death that he smoked himself to a cancerous death at 50, and Alan and Margaret’s daughter drowning – in fact committing suicide – shortly after Ted’s death, and then the discovery that she had borne Ted’s son – that is, Ken – who had been adopted out and knew nothing of his real parents (and had recently died in a car smash), I realised that this story was not the proper material for a ghostly romantic comedy.  In fact I was glad that the lack of one-liner jokes meant there was not much laughter.

To have succeeded in making a comedy out of this story would have been bizarre, when the issues of patriotism and cowardice, out-of-wedlock birth and forced adoption, and decades-long internecine family bitterness are hardly laughing matters.

Oddly enough, in his ‘Playwright’s Notes’, writing about conflict in families, Hoogendoorn says: “no wonder playwrights have mined it in such beloved plays as The Glass Menagerie, Death of a Salesman, and more recently August: Osage County and Other Desert Cities.  And funnily enough, no one gets on very well in them.  If they did, they wouldn’t be such fascinating plays.”

Just so!  There may be humour in these works, but they are not comedies.  There are ironies (like in the title Other Desert Cities reviewed in the Guardian as “a tense family portrait ...Jon Robin Baitz's Christmas-set drama uses fractured nuclear families to examine the broken American psyche”) which Hoogendoorn hardly glimpses in this script.

Maybe it’s time for his next play (he’s up to 15 according to his website to put genre and content appropriately together: on the topic of families, a truly absurdist take would be good (see my recent review of Perplex), or may be a realistic tragedy of misunderstanding and bitter division on the black soil plains as the younger generation feel the need, encouraged by a conservative government, to go to the Dawn Ceremony at Gallipoli in 2015.

Art is about finding the right form for what the artist needs to express.

Friday, April 11, 2014

DRESS CIRCLE - THIS SUNDAY 13TH MAY - ARTSOUND FM 92.7 - 5.00pm to 6.30pm

In DRESS CIRCLE this week we meet to two enterprising local performing arts entrepreneurs who explain how they brought their projects to fruition.

Karen Strahan
Karen Strahan has co-written, co-produced and is appearing in, a new musical “Winging My Way to the Top” which will have its world premiere season at the Q in Queanbeyan in May - and Nichole Overall  who was inspired by some of the things she discovered while writing her book on Queanbeyan - ,”Queanbeyan City of Champions” -  to create and conduct the “Mysterious Queanbeyan by Moonlight” tours.
Nichole Overall 

In our  “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment, jazz legend, Graeme Bell, concludes his  delightful recollections about some of the highlights of his fabulous career.

Our guest reviewer, Timothy Stephens reviews the Sydney Dance Company’s program “Interplay”,  Isobel Griffin presents “Arts Diary” and Blue the Shearer has something to say about Knights and dames.

90 minutes of interviews, reviews, music and news focussed on the performing arts in Canberra and beyond DRESS CIRCLE is produced and presented by Bill Stephens and broadcast by Artsound FM92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm until 6.30pm, repeated on Tuesday nights at 11.30pm and streamed live on the internet at

Graeme Bell 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Will Huang and Rob De Fries.
Written, Produced and Directed by Bruce Hoogendoorn
Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, until 19th April 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Bruce Hoogendoorn is probably Canberra’s most prolific playwright, having written and produced six of his own plays in as many years. His latest play, Warts & All, which Hoogendoorn directs himself, is his most accomplished and entertaining work to date.
Warts & All follows the story of a young man, Simon, whose promising athletic career is jeopardised by the onset of osteoarthritis. Simon is sent to live with his grandmother, Margaret, who, in an effort to shake him out of his depression, encourages him to join her in preparing a family history. Though reluctant at first, Simon’s interest is piqued when the ghost of a long-dead relative appears to him. In his enthusiasm to unravel an intriguing family secret, he unwittingly ignites a feud between his grandmother and some long-estranged relatives.

Heading a strong cast, as the boy, Simon, Will Huang gives a satisfyingly well-rounded and committed performance. Convincingly portraying his affection for his grandmother, evident in constant barrage of good-natured and often hilarious banter, Huang’s re-actions to the events unfolding around him are a constant joy to watch.  Equally as engaging is Helen Vaughn-Roberts as Simon’s acerbic but loving grandmother, Margaret, and their scenes together are delightful.
Hoogendoorn’s decision to cast veteran actor, Oliver Baudert, as Margaret’s adversary, Alice, is surprisingly effective. But despite Baudert’s beautifully detailed and interesting performance, with not a hint of campiness, the idea ultimately works against the play, because as the play contains so many unexpected twists and turns, the expectation is that  this cross-gender casting will be revealed as yet another plot device. 

Will Huang (Simon) Oliver Baudert (Alice) Adellene Fitzsimmons (Kirsty)

Rob De Fries adds great strength to the production with a charming performance as the somewhat confused ghost, Barry, whose surprising revelation provides the key to solving the family mystery. Adellene Fitzsimmons and Elaine Noon as Alice’s grand-daughter Kirsty, and the town-historian, Dotty, both provide interesting characterisations, but both would be more effective if they followed the examples of their more experienced colleagues and slowed down their delivery to let Hoogendoorn’s excellent lines do the work for them.
The play works so well that one longs to see it presented with a little more production than the minimalist setting of tables, chairs, bed and a double-sided cupboard. But a good lighting design by Kelly McGannon and some well-chosen costumes by Miriam Miley-Read do much to overcome this deficiency, and it says much for Hoogendoon’s initiative, tenacity and growing confidence in his directorial and producing talents, that Warts and All emerges as both an excellent showcase for his maturing writing skills and an intriguing and entertaining night of theatre.

                                                         Images by Kelly McGannon





Perplex by Marius von Mayenburg

Perplex by Marius von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zade.  Sydney Theatre Company, directed by Sarah Giles at Wharf 1,  April 4 – May 3, 2014.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 9

The theatrical form of Perplex is metacognitive farce.  The philosophical form is farcical metacognition.  If it had been written by Shakespeare, Hamlet would have been named Piglet, and his question would have been “To be, or not to be.  What is the question?”

If you feel perplexed so far, that’s great.  It’s also very funny – not what I’ve written, but what Marius von Mayenburg wrote, as translated wonderfully by Maja Zade.  If you thought philosophy was beyond your comprehension (that’s the meta-cognitive bit), you need never worry again.  Just Give Yourself to the Elk physically (you’ll be laughing with all your might) and intellectually, as you begin to understand that the universe really is absolutely unpredictable.  Not only does God, or any god, not exist, but – since everything we know consists of no more than a bunch of electrical pulses in our brains – even we don’t really exist.  Nor does the ‘fourth wall’ of stage performance.  Nor even the play itself, whose director has never shown up to rehearsal “since the beginning”.

It’s at this point, of course, that I go into analysis mode.  That’s what a critic has to do, otherwise I wouldn’t be a critic.

Should you see this play?  Absolutely, categorically and metacognitively.  To see the whole audience making their exit from the auditorium bubbling with excitement, laughing and babbling away (even at afternoon teatime on Wednesday) is proof Sarah Giles is still on top of the form she showed when directing Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession last year.

As for the cast, well, they come up to the mark brilliantly: Andrea Demetriades as Andrea, Glenn Hazeldine as Glenn, Rebecca Massey as Rebecca, and the occasionally nude Tim Walter as Tim.  As do the essential ‘creatives’: designer Renée  Mulder, lighting designer Benjamin Cisterne, and composer & sound designer Max Lyandvert.  If you ever dare to invite people to a ‘Come as...’ party, you could not do better than ask Mulder to design the costumes – the funniest I’ve seen on stage for many a long year.

It is true (I think, therefore I...) that some education in European theatrical tradition will make you more cognisant of some of ‘meta’ aspects of this work from Berlin. In his 30s, von Mayenburg, already with a lucky 13 plays behind him, wrote Perplex in 2010.  In only his second year of writing, according to Wikipedia, his Feuergesicht (1997) won him the Kleistförderpreis für junge Dramatiker and Preis der Frankfurter Autorenstiftung. (

By his 14th year, in play number 14, Perplex shows his confidence as he plays with the elements of absurdism, with semi-oblique references at least to Pirandello (1921), whose Six Characters are in Search of an Author, to Ionesco’s couple of strangers (Mr and Mrs Martin in The Bald Soprano 1948) who discover they not only know each other, but are actually married, to Stoppard’s Rozencrantz and Guildernstern (1966) trying to fathom out what’s going on in Hamlet and, according to Sydney Theatre Company’s blurb, to Nietzsche and Beckett.  The extra level beyond the ordinary is that von Mayenburg satirises his own place in the absurdist tradition, of which his characters are aware.  Even Pirandello’s characters knew they were in a play by Pirandello, but for von Mayenburg’s characters acting in his play is disastrous emotionally, as they realise that modern avant-garde German playwrights traditionally have to have the whole set collapse and cleared from the stage – I suppose for a neat and precisely tidy ending.

In fact, this isn’t what happens.  The stage is a mess at the end – another final twist in the logic of absurdism.  Funny though it is to watch, there really is a sense of sadness at humanity’s incapacity not only to understand our place in the universe, but even just to organise ourselves enough to maintain a little bit of equanimity in our lives.  I saw a touch of Brecht’s The Chalk Circle and The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, after the laughter had faded away.

L to R: Andrea Demetriades, Tim Walter, Rebecca Massey, Tim Walter, Glenn Hazeldine, Andrea Demetriades, Rebecca Massey, Glenn Hazeldine
Photos: Lisa Tomasetti

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Mirror Image Company
Wong Jyh Shyong (standing centre)
Elizabeth Cameron Dalman (standing right) 
A collaboration between Mirramu Dance Company/Dancecology/DPAC Dance Company.
Choreography: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Peng Hsiao-yin and Wong Jyh Shyong.
Lighting Design: Karen Norris
ANU Arts Centre 4th, 5th, 6th April 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

There is something very inspiring in the sight of doyen of Australian contemporary dance, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman still performing and choreographing in her 80th year. Martha Graham did it, so did Ruth St.Denis. There may be others, but it’s still a very rare event.  Since founding Australian Dance Theatre in 1965, then later Mirramu Dance Company, Cameron Dalman has continued to teach, choreograph and inspire generations of dancers both in Australia and internationally.

Mirror Image is the culmination of collaboration between Cameron Dalman’s Mirramu Dance Company, and two other dance companies, Dancecology from Taiwan and DPAC Dance Company from Malaysia. Each of these companies shares a compelling interest in the ecology and with Mirror Image they have combined resources to express this interest through dance. Later this year, following its premiere season in Canberra Mirror Image will be shown in Taipei and Malaysia, despite the fact that it has received no Government funding of any kind.

It was disappointing therefore that the first performance drew only a small audience to the ANU Arts Centre. Particularly as the small ensemble cast of Mirror Image included, in addition to Cameron Dalman herself, Peng Hsiao-yin Artistic Director of Dancecology with  her principal dancers  Chen Yi-ching and Chen Fu-rong, and Wong Jyh Shyong, the Artistic Director of DPAC Dance Company, together with Mirramu dancers  Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Janine Proost and Linton Aberle.

Chen Fu-rong/Janine Proost
The work itself consists of nine sections with titles such as Old Tree, Earth Moving, Root and Earth, New Life, Human Footprint, Animal Spirit, Confrontation, Mirroring and Life Force, all seamlessly interwoven and presented without interval. Not all the references were obvious but memorable sequences included the haunting opening and closing sections, both featuring the powerful presence of Cameron Dalman, and others in which the dancers movements suggested  rolling spindle bushes, various animals, including goannas and crabs, performed to a haunting soundscape featuring bird songs, rain and storm effects and music from an eclectic assortment of composers including Riley Lee, Brian Eno, Gabrielle Roth, Andrew Ford and Canberran, Kimmo Vennonen.

Chen yi-ching (standing)/Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal
The cavernous ANU Arts Centre stage was draped in black overhung with white silk on which Karen Norris’s imaginative lighting design made effective use of projected video images of waterfalls, bushfires and forest greenery.

To accommodate the participation of three separate dance companies, attention had obviously be given to creating an homogenous dance style for the whole ensemble, however, given the quality of the dancers involved, one longed to see more individual moments like that provided by Wong Jyh Shyong in his remarkable solo performed naked except for a black G string.

Cameron Dalman mentions in her program note these Canberra performances represent “the first development” of Mirror Image, which suggests further finessing of work will continue. However even in its present form, Mirror Image  is a powerful, thoughtful and accomplished work which provides a unique opportunity to experience a remarkable collaboration between dancers from different cultures drawn together by their passion to influence what is happening in the world around them.     

Chen Yi-ching
                                                            (Photos: Barbie Robinson)
              This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 5th April 2014


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Johnny Castellano is Mine by Emma Gibson

Johnny Castellano is Mine by Emma Gibson.  Presented by Canberra Youth Theatre and The Street Theatre, directed by Karla Conway; set and lighting designed by Samantha Pickering; sound design by Stephen Fitzgerald.  At Street Two, April 3 – 12, 2014.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 5

Watching this mystical piece somehow reminded me of reading an intense emotionally shaped short story – perhaps something like one of James Joyce’s Dubliners.  When I read a story in which at first I understand only fragments based upon the words and feelings which play on my imagination, I find myself slowly drawn into the experience almost of being someone else – their flashes of memories, their reactions to bits and pieces of actions, by themselves and others, their changing moods, their story through their own eyes.

In this theatre piece, Alice, played with considerable skill by dance-trained Alison Plevey, tells of her real or perhaps unreal relationship with Johnny Castellano, the spunk boy in her small-town high school, through a lifetime and death – all possibly pure imagination.  We not only hear her words, as if we were hearing that short story, but we see her representation in movement – not quite pure dance, yet never simple mime – of her actions, her moods and state of mind.  The performance takes place in an abstract setting of horizontal and vertical straight lines, in a central hollow open-sided cube and in hanging strip lights.  When these all hang in the vertical, death and final departure is imminent.  The sound track is essentially musique concrète.

The theatrical form, then, settles into what I would call abstract symbolism, but rather than alienating us from Alice’s story, we are slowly overwhelmed by an empathetic sense of doom.  I think it was this dark mood which reminded me of James Joyce’s work where snatches of ordinary reality come to symbolise powerful forces beyond our control.

So, in my view, Emma Gibson’s new work is unusual, original and absorbing, and she has been served very well indeed by Karla Conway  and her creative team in putting together the theatrical elements to make the story work on stage, including (I am guessing) choreography by Alison Plevey which is not explicitly acknowledged in the program.

Johnny Castellano is Mine is worth more than the hour it lasts on stage.  It lives on in one’s imagination as good theatre should.