Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Review by © Jane Freebury
3.5 Stars
Palace Electric, and Dendy Canberra Centre

From the flamboyant outfits and fishnet gloves she wears for public events, to the lace collars worn to deliver opinion as a justice of the US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a sense of occasion. This distinguished gender equality crusader may have a reputation for being reserved but she sure seems to appreciate the importance of a bit of theatre, which comes as a surprise, and a pleasant one at that.

Justice Ginsburg, RBG for short, holds the seat on the bench that she was once nominated for by Bill Clinton. She is still going strong. Now in her mid-80s, she works out to maintain fitness for the career she is clearly committed to continuing. Scenes of her at the gym with her personal trainer open this engaging documentary film.

In a career that spans more than 60 years, Ginsburg won a group of landmark cases that helped build legal infrastructure for gender equality in the US. As the film documents her legal work, the wins in court and the odd loss, it provides a fascinating perspective on how crucial Ginsburg has been to the advance of equal rights and opportunities, and how progressive activism and social change occurs in the law.

  RBG gives new meaning to the idea of dissent

As directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, the life and times of Ginsburg is zippy and entertaining and reveals how in recent years the judge has emerged as an American folk hero, the ‘notorious RBG’ widely celebrated in popular culture. There are t-shirts and plenty of other RBG paraphernalia in the US now that trumpet the achievements of this inspiring role model for young women.

There seems to be a sense of anticipation hovering too. Is there more to come from this supreme court justice who has openly declared her dismay with Trump and the new era in American politics?

Thus far she has become famous for the significant advances her work saw, particularly for women of course, ensuring that they receive treatment equal to men under the law. In some famous cases, she chose male plaintiffs where gender inequality was demonstrably harmful to both men and women.

While her sisters were brandishing banners in the street, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made her case in the courts with persuasive and compelling clarity.

Personal style aside, there are other telling revelations about this diminutive legislator that give us pause for thought. Not least her close friendship with her colleague at the Supreme Court judge, the late Antonin Scalia, who was a notorious figure to many on the left.

Collaboration and respect for others whom she disagreed with were signature elements of Ginsburg’s style. She says she always lived by her mother’s advice and never got angry but worked hard to persuade and convince colleagues to support her case through legal argument. Her work ethic has been prodigious.

When Ginsburg entered the legal profession back in the 1950s, an American (or Australian or British) woman could lose their job when they became pregnant, and could not take out a loan without their husband’s approval. Gender equality had ever such a long way to go.

Her long and harmonious marriage to Marty, a fellow student who became a tax lawyer in New York, is another surprise. He stood back early on to allow his wife’s career to flourish, while he cooked (he was a great cook, apparently), cared for their two children—and cracked the jokes while leaving it to his wife to change the course of history.

RBG is an appealing doco though not a really probing one. The filmmakers have assembled much rich material, but they leave us wondering about the background to this brilliant, strong and private woman. What has motivated her? What inspired her to pursue her legal career in the way she did?

Even before we get to the t-shirts, the cartoons and comedy sketch, it feels more like RBG than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, more a zippy scamper across her life and work that a road map into deeper territory. Yet it is a stirring introduction to a superdiva who gives new meaning to the idea of dissent.

Also published at Jane's blog

Monday, August 13, 2018



A Festival of Contemporary Asian Performing, Visual and Literary Arts. 

Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell. Adelaide Festival Centre. October 26 – November 11 2018. Bookings: ozasiafestival.com.au or BASS 131 246

 Feature preview by Peter Wilkins

South Australia continues to live up to its name as the trailblazing Festival State. A yearlong programme of festivals features the Adelaide Festival, including Writers Week and WOMADELAIDE, the Adelaide Fringe, DreamBIG Children’s Festival, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the Adelaide  International  Guitar Festival and possibly the most innovative, contemporary and unique of these, the OZASIA Festival.

Now in its twelfth year, the festival has developed from primarily a showcase of traditional Asian arts to a kaleidoscopic celebration of contemporary Asian arts from all parts of the Asian continent. The inspiration of Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and Artistic Director, Douglas Gautier, and inaugural OzAsia Artistic Director, Jacinta Thompson, the OzAsia festival has exploded into a vibrant and unique major arts festival, presenting theatre, music, dance, film, visual arts, food and community events, and for the first time in 2018 hosting the internationally acclaimed Jaipur Literature Festival.
Joseph Mitchell Artistic Director

“There was no evidence” current Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell tells me, “of wide representation of a contemporary Asian culture that was accessible to an Australian audience, and OzAsia is Australia’s only major arts festival that looks at contemporary Asian culture.
“Countries like China are engaging in modern technological advances. Underground cultures are emerging in Japan. Indonesia is extremely contemporary while drawing on its unique traditions. They don’t conform to the structure or culture of Western arts. That’s the vision of the festival. There is an overarching idea of a contemporary society.”

A central theme identified by Mitchell is displacement. A number of shows and visual arts events demonstrate how geo-physics, digital technology, language and cross cultural collaboration can displace people in both positive and negative ways.
Hotel Pro Forma's War Sum Up

The highly acclaimed Danish company Hotel Pro Forma epitomizes Mitchell’s vision for this year’s festival with their contemporary opera War Sum Up. Danish director Kirsten Delholm in collaboration with composers from Europe, the UK and South America, the Latvian Radio Choir and Japanese Manga has staged a libretto that tells the story of three archetypal characters drawn from Noh theatre tales, The Soldier, The Warrior and The Spy. The score is electronic and the choir is miked and the performance is all about effect and differentiation. “It looks at how you can look across different concepts of countries and geography and look at how the world and contemporary artists think in the Twenty-first Century. “I think that’s how we really need to frame our thinking.” Mitchell says. “Forget about East or West or Contemporary or Traditional. Think rather, “how do we make art in the 21st. Century and what is the sphere of influence where great art happens.”

Returning to the theme of displacement, Mitchell describes Nassim, presented by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour in association with London’s Bush Theatre. Nassim is a playwright who has to use English to communicate, thereby sacrificing his Farsi language to succeed. His mother only speaks Farsi, forcing the playwright to confront a compelling dilemma – what is the purpose of his mother tongue and how do we move forward in a world where we have to displace ourselves from our circumstance to have a global presence?

Award winning choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has been touring his Sadler’s Wells performance of Sutra for ten years and Adelaide audiences will have the opportunity to see this extraordinary work at the OzAsia Festival. Larbi spent three months in a Shaolin Temple in China, learning about the culture and influences of the monks. Inspired to work with them, he created this vast piece that has become a defining piece of dance in the 21st. Century. It can be defined as physical theatre, dance or even performance installation realized by sculptor Anthony Gormley’s design.

With Andropolaroid.1 by Berlin based Japanese choreographer Yui Kawaguchi we see another artist who, like Larbi, has displaced themselves from their culture as artists and influences. Her solo dance draws on ballet and hip-hop in a forest of neon and dazzling light installations, displacing our traditional concept of dance in a stunning display of body, voice, light, space and sound.
While I was Waiting from Syria tells the story of a man beaten while crossing a security checkpoint. His family gather at his bedside in an attempt to make sense of what has happened. Their ordinary world is turned upside down as secrets are revealed. Australians generally view Syrian conflict and migration through the lens of the media. However, as Mitchell points out, there are people in Damascus going about their ordinary lives. “It’s a place full of people, not necessarily a horror story on the news. Lots of people choose to stay in Damascus and are doing what you and I are doing right now.” (We are enjoying a relaxing lunch in a prominent Canberra restaurant in New Acton.)
Secret Love in Peachblossomland

Secret Love in Peachblossomland  is widely regarded as China’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. The thirty year old drama defines contemporary theatre in China. Two companies are vying for performance in the same space. One is presenting a traditional memory play about a couple separated by the Chinese revolution and the geographical borders of China and Taiwan. The other is a contemporary farce, based on an old Chinese story and laden with physical comedy and sexual innuendo. Traditional and contemporary theatre companies struggle to displace each other in a poignant and funny glimpse of the old and the new in contemporary China.
Here Is The Message You Asked For..

A more disturbing view of contemporary displacement within one’s own society is revealed in Here Is The Message You Asked For ..Don’t Tell Anyone Else;-) The play is an observation about how young people are choosing to live their lives in their bedroom in digital circumstances rather than reality. They spend their entire lives displaced from reality, dressed up as koz vai characters, taking selfies, chatting with friends on video, and playing with computer games. Their choice is not to engage with the real world and live their lives digitally.

With so much exciting and original theatre, music, dance, film and visual arts and literature on offer over the three weekends of the festival, it may be difficult for audiences to make a choice. To this end, Mitchell has introduced the Festival Director’s Pass, which enables people to buy tickets for three shows at a reduced rate of forty three dollars per performance. “I think what’s important is that people invest in seeing lots of shows. It encourages people to engage in a festival.” Last year thirty nine percent of the audience was aged under forty. “We want to keep pushing a contemporary agenda,” Mitchell says, “but make it accessible.”

A quick glance at the brochure reveals a plethora of free events. The Jaipur Literature Festival features free discussions and debates with key writers from diverse Asian nations. Community events such as the spectacular Moon Lantern Procession and the Lucky Dumpling Market offer free entry, and there are free art exhibitions at major galleries and at the Festival Centre. Five women artists from different Asian countries present five exhibitions that counteract the view that some of the narratives set up in society are driven by a male perspective on tradition and the patriarchal structure of the society. In addition to all these free events are Topeng Dance Workshops and outdoor concerts for young and old alike, all in the spirit of Mitchell’s vision for community accessibility.

Mitchell’s festival shows that the artists are not hamstrung by a sense of tradition or expectations of what a work should be. As he points out Hotel Pro Forma’s work is quite subversive. Hello My Name Is presents a powerful and moving performance from Timor Leste. Jose Da Costa plays a Timor Leste soldier attending an international political conference during which he reflects on the violence of pre Independence days. Using the poetry of Edward Bond, the solo performance is sure to turn  attitudes on their head. As Mitchell observes, “We have a narrative as the saviour of Timor Leste. They don’t!”

Dancing Grandmothers
It would be simplistic to regard OzAsia as an entirely subversive festival, intent on presenting only serious perspectives on contemporary Asian arts. Dancing Grandmothers is a jubilant, joyous work, featuring many of the women who founded modern day Korea, and are now grandmothers. Complete with glitter balls grooves, Eun-me-Ahn’s own dance company and the dancing grandmothers, audiences will be seduced by its sheer ebullience. For the younger audiences Polyglot and Papermoon Puppet Theatre present magical puppetry inspired by the seafaring history of Java. Jacob Rajan will delight young audiences as chameleon-like he plays all seventeen characters in Chai Guru, , the story of a chai-wallah (tea seller) who becomes entranced by the beautiful singing of a girl at a Bangalore railway station.

“This year we have a suite of works that are visually very appealing and give the works excitement and a sense of liveliness.” Mitchell says. “The thing that makes me most proud about this year is that the artists are not trying to pander to anyone else or any other form. They are just doing what they want. “

OzAsia audiences are certain to want it too.


Directed by Joe Stephenson. Stronger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival. Palace Electric Cinema, Canberra. Aug 5.

This documentary on actor Ian McKellen is a quiet little gem that will hopefully have a further showing.

Most of the time it’s just McKellen and the camera, with a bit of gentle off-stage questioning. He has the story of his life down pat but it’s none the less absorbing for that. And it’s backed up by a fine selection of images of his life and work, as a stage actor, an activist for gay rights and a film star.

The documentary goes for a bit of re-enactment with the best work probably being from young Milo Parker as the lively stagestruck boy McKellen. But of course we are waiting for the images of his stage performances, the Shakespeares, Waiting for Godot. 

There’s also much use of photos – family portraits, pictures from school and university. He didn’t come out of London; he came out of Lancashire, and spent time as a boy watching music hall performers from the wings of the Bolton Grand (re-enacted by Parker). He’s a descendant of lay preachers and teachers. His older sister Jean was deeply involved in teaching and amateur theatre, a parallel story that one would like to know more about.

There’s footage and photos of his Richard 11 and Edward 11 and the claustrophobic Macbeth he did with Judy Dench for the RSC at The Other Place in Stratford. His fascist 1930s Richard 111 film is counterpointed by his disturbingly engaging tramp in Waiting for Godot with Patrick Stewart. There’s Mr Holmes with an ageing Sherlock and James Whale in Gods and Monsters. And of course his Magneto and his Gandalf.

The powerful and the playful sit side by side in his performances and his reminiscences.

Alanna Maclean

BLOCK SOUNDS GOES FOR BAROQUE!, Block Sounds Recorder Ensemble. At Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, August 12. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE

Baroque recorder music is somewhat neglected today, partly because there are so few really skilled players. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, David Munrow led the charge for revival with his Early Music Consort of London and a few ensembles today continue with early music recordings and performances, notably Jordi Savall’s Hespèrion XX and (since 2000) XXI, in Europe and Latitude 37 in Australia.
Bass in F.  Photo courtesy
S. Kunath, Blockfloetenshop,
Fulda, Germany.
Canberra’s Block Sounds directed by Robyn Mellor contains just four members, all recorder players and they are very skilled indeed. Combined with special guest artists Rachel Walker on viola da gamba and Peter Young on harpsichord, this concert presented an excellent variety of Baroque recorder music with basso continuo.

Scarlatti’s Sonata for 3 Recorders opened the program. The “three” were all trebles, played by Olivia Gossip, Elana Leske and Shae Leske, plus a fourth bass recorder played by Mellor, which combined with the harpsichord formed the basso continuo. The ensemble displayed excellent tuning and intonation, delicately shaded dynamics and superb phrasing.

Mellor’s bass recorder is worth mentioning here. It is a modern instrument manufactured by Kunath, after a design by Paetzold and is a unique and stunning looking instrument - very 21st century.

The Deuxième Suite by Telemann saw the addition of Walker on viola da gamba, actually a cello sized instrument with seven strings, and bowed. One of the treble recorders switched for tenor and the ensemble sound was certainly rich and full, although I found it obvious that the piece was not originally written for recorders. It is an arrangement by someone else and something about the harmonic balance didn’t quite gel with me.

Molter’s Concerto No.11 is written in the style of call-and-response like an antiphon choir setting, with two treble recorders on one side and another two on the other, plus basso continuo. This was an excellent showcase for the dynamic capabilities of the ensemble.

The Suite No. 3 by Matthew Locke was one of the most charming and delightful pieces in the concert, delivering sounds of extraordinary beauty and filled with frequent Tierce de Picardie cadences, the tenor recorder delivering the robust major thirds.

Telemann’s Trio in F major brought forth Walker’s viola da gamba as a solo instrument, contrasting well with Mellor’s solo treble recorder, supported by harpsichord continuo from Young. The piece was very well played and beautifully balanced, the recorder and viol parts weaving in, out and around each other in varied textures.

viola da gamba, 7 string. Photo courtesy
Christian Laborie, Varacieux, France.
Walker’s instrument is a fascination too. Made in 1998 by Melbourne luthier Ben Hall, it is a re-creation of the Renaissance and Baroque viola da gamba, a member of the ancient viol family and quite rare these days. During Easter 2019, Canberra will host a national symposium of viol playing and manufacturing, including concerts, venue to be announced.

J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in B flat was the most difficult of the pieces presented, featuring multiple melodic parts contained within a complex polyphony, and was less successful. The piece is not originally written for recorders and had to be transposed to suit their range. Pitch varied somewhat and in addition, phrasing and rhythmic precision were occasionally ragged, although the basso continuo held things together admirably. 

Little know composer Johann Schickhardt’s Concero V in E minor closed the program. Purpose written for recorders, it gave the group a final opportunity to showcase their excellent ensemble playing, phrasing and dynamics, with very tight harmonies. It was a highly successful finale. 

Throughout the concert, the group was tuned to Werckmeister temperament I / III, governed by the harpsichord, which is an authentic baroque temperament giving a pleasing sound in all keys, but also revealing unique and distinct tonal qualities and textures, giving each key a musical “flavour”.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Warwick Fyfe (Geronio) - Stacey Alleaume (Fiorilla) - Paolo Bordogna (Selim) - Virgilio Marino (Narciso)
"The Turk in Italy
By Gioachino Rossini
Conducted by Andrea Molino – Directed by Simon Phillips

Revival directed by Andy Morton – Set and Costumes designed by Gabriela Tylesova

Lighting designed by Nick Schlieper - Presented by Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House August 10 – September 1.

Performance August 10 reviewed by Bill Stephens

As you watch this production of “The Turk in Italy”, you have to wonder why this opera, written when the composer was only 23, is so rarely performed.

Though the music may not be as memorable as some of Rossini’s other operas, it’s certainly attractive, especially when given the sparkling performance it received on this occasion by the Opera Australia Orchestra under Andrea Molino.  

And the opera itself, as presented in Simon Phillips delightfully irreverent production, carefully reproduced by revival director, Andy Morton, with a dream cast who not only sing it superbly, but enthusiastically embrace the innate silliness of the plot with stylish performances, proves side-splittingly funny and immensely entertaining. 

Phillips has taken the unlikely scenario involving two pairs of lovers, a cuckolded husband a struggling poet in search of inspiration for a farce he’s writing; moved the action to a sunny 1950’s  seaside  town near Naples; has his poet, Prosdocimo,(Samuel Dundas)  moonlighting as a waiter in a seaside café , owned by his bumbling employer Geronio,(Warwick Fyfe)  whose beautiful flirtatious wife, Fiorilla, (Stacey Alleaume), is intent on having a fling with a handsome randy Turk, Selim, (Paolo Bordogna).  

Graeme Macfarlane (Albazar) - Anna Dowsley- (Zaida) - Samuel Dundas (Prosdocimo)
"The Turk in Italy
His designer, Gabriela Tylesova, has taken advantage of the possibilities this setting offers to   devise an ingenious revolving sunny seaside café, complete with neon sign. She’s costumed the cast in  witty period costumes which slyly  reference the Italy of  Fellini’s “La Strada” for Anna Dowsley’s gypsy girl, Zaida, and 50’s film star, Gina Lollobrigida for Stacey Alleaume’s flirtatious, Fiorilla.

The chuckles begin with the overture, as the jaunty townsfolk arrive to disport themselves on the beach in riotously clashing-coloured beachwear. Deck-chairs, blow-up beds and barking dogs provide the perfect ambiance for the frisky frolics which follow.

The Opera Australia chorus in "The Turk in Italy" 
Phillips’ saucy postcard surtitles elicit guffaws, with Fiorilla describing herself as “fickle and a flirt fest”, while Selim, on first seeing her, exclaims “What a honey. What a chick-a-babe”.   Among several funny set pieces, an interlude in which Selim and Zaida eject an endless stream of gypsies from a tiny caravan for their tryst, and a fancy-dress ball at which everyone turns up dressed as either Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe, while “Love Me Tender” plays in the background, are highlights.

Paolo Bordogna (Selim) and the Opera Australia Chorus
"The Turk in Italy"
Samuel Dundas is terrific as the waiter Prosdocimo, artfully dodging knives, cocktail glasses or any other items thrown by quarrelling lovers, while impressing with his cocktail bar waiter skills. Also at his cheeky best playing the tumescent Turk, Selim, Paolo Bordogna flirts outrageously with the audience, while wooing the willing Fiorilla, delightfully portrayed by Stacey Alleaume. Not only does she look gorgeous and sing impressively, Alleaume also holds her own in the comedy department, before stopping the show with her glittering coloratura in Fiorilla’s final aria, “A Wretched Damsel Brought Down By Fate”.

Anna Dowsley (Zaida) - Samuel Dundas (Prosdocimo) - Staceu Alleaume (Fiorilla)
and The Opera Australia Chorus
"The Turk in Italy
Fine comedic performances from Warwick Fyfe as Fiorilla’s bumbling husband, Geronio, Anna Dowsley as Selim’s former lover, Zaida, and Virgilio Marino and Graeme Macfarlane as Narciso and Albazar respectively, together with inventive individual contributions from the excellent ensemble, insure that those fortunate enough to experience this delicious soufflé leave the theatre with a spring in their step and a smile on their face.

                                                         Photos by Keith Saunders
          This review also appears in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au