Sunday, October 26, 2014

FOR THE WIN



QL2 Dance
Choreographed by Ruth Osborne, Jamie Winbank, Jake Kuzma, Alison Plevey
Theatre 3, 17-18 October 2014

Review by Len Power 18 October 2014
 

47 dancers aged 8 – 18 from Canberra and surrounding areas came together last week to perform ‘For The Win’, the 2014 QL2 project for young dancers.  This year’s work, according to Artistic Director, Ruth Osborne:

‘explored the ideas of winning and competition; looking at what qualities are evident in being a winner and whether winning is the aim anyway.  The project gives young dancers an introduction to working with a choreographer and moving beyond “just learning the steps”.  It includes thinking about concepts and emotions, creating new movement through improvisation and tasks, selecting and refining the most effective movement ideas and rehearsing until it all flows’.

There were seven items on the program that segued cleverly from one to the next.  Four of the items were choreographed individually while another had two choreographers and the large opening and closing items were realized by all four choreographers, Ruth Osborne, Jamie Winbank, Jake Kuzma and Alison Plevey.

The clarity of the purpose of each item was impressive.  The opening item was exciting with all 47 dancers onstage together.  The shift of focus from one grouping to another was well handled and the dancing was precise and joyful.  Smaller groups performed the next five items which were a good showcase for the individual choreographers.  Jamie Winbank’s choreography for, ‘A winner is someone who wins’ was very clear in its intent with an atmospheric use of voice overs to accompany the dance.  ‘All aboard the loser express’, choreographed by Jake Kuzma produced a strong sense of melancholy and the choice of music to accompany the dance was excellent.  ‘Mind Games’ by Alison Plevey was probably the most difficult concept to put across but her creativity and clear purpose made this a particularly memorable item.  The next item, ‘A win for the girls’, choreographed by Alison Plevey and Jamie Winbank, was outstanding – a clever concept around empowerment for women and it was imaginatively staged.  ‘Wintendo’, choreographed by Jake Kuzma, was inventive and humorous with a clever and creative use of hand-held lights to enhance the action.  The finale, ‘The Finish Line’, was a rousing climax for the whole performance.

The confident young dancers displayed an enormously infectious enthusiasm.  In the big items, it was exciting see all 47 performers onstage together moving with precision and looking like they’re enjoying every minute of it.  I can imagine some parents going along dutifully to see their child perform and coming away delighted that they have seen something very special!

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 26 October 2014 from 5pm.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

DRESS CIRCLE - SUNDAY OCTOBER 26 - 5.00pm TO 6.30pm




Alex Stuart

This week in “DRESS CIRCLE”, former Canberra guitarist, now resident in Paris, Alex Stuart, discusses his forthcoming concert at The Street Theatre.







Janetta McRae
Queanbeyan Players’ Director, Janetta McRae talks about her production of “The Sound of Music” which opens in the Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre on Saturday,and Musical Director and composer, Max Lambert, gives insights into his musical, “Miracle City”, currently running at The Hayes Theatre.

In the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment, Sydney Cabaret Convention winner, Lena Cruz performs excerpts from her cabaret “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” which contains possibly the longest the longest finale medley ever written.

Len Power reviews QL2 Dance’s “For the Win”, Blue the Shearer ruminates on “Role Models” and Isobel Griffin presents “Arts Diary”.

90 minutes of interviews, reviews, music and news about the performing arts in Canberra and beyond, “Dress Circle” is produced and presented by Bill Stephens and broadcast by Artsound FM 92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm until 6.30pm, repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30pm and streamed live on the internet at Artsound.fm.

Friday, October 24, 2014

ONCE WERE LEADERS - AN EVENING WITH MAX GILLIES


Presented by Wonder Productions 

Canberra Theatre

23-24th October 2014.

 Reviewed by Bill Stephens

 


Max Gillies finally comes out. After years of hiding behind wigs, make-up and prosthetics to dazzle us with his impersonations of contemporary political leaders, we finally see the man behind the mask.

 In his new show “Once Were Leaders”, Gillies eschews the theatrical accoutrements of his trade, to pay tribute to his script writers by revisiting some of his own personal favourite scripts to illustrate their brilliance. Writers like Don Watson, who wrote his Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser scripts, Guy Rundle, who wrote the Graham (Richo) Richardson scripts, Patrick Cook and Heathcote Williams, are all represented.

 The presentation style is simplicity itself. The stage is set with just a lectern, with a projector screen behind, on which film of Gillies in some of his most famous impersonations is projected at various intervals. Entering stage-right, he commenced the show by dedicating this performance to the memory of Gough Whitlam, who died during the week, and which tactfully was the only mention of Gough during the show.

 Gough’s colleagues were not so fortunate as Gillies shared his own views on contemporary politicians and leaders “who talk to us in short slogans..repeated ad infinitum..who don’t deserve satire”. He also shared insights into how he approached the creation of his various subjects illustrating each by performing a favourite script for each character.

 Billy McMahon (Tiberius with a telephone), Bob Menzies, Malcolm Fraser, Andrew Peacock, Bob Hawke (of course ), Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth, Kevin Rudd and Graham (Richo) Richardson and finally John Howard all make the cut.

 The scripts of course are wonderful, and still stand up for their erudite and funny content, and the large audience chortled and guffawed their appreciation through-out. But the scripts are just words. It is what Gillies does with those words, and his uncanny knack of capturing the idiosyncratic gestures and unique vocal inflections of each, that is the real magic.

 “Once were Leaders” provides the opportunity to observe a great character actor at work. Decades of refining and practising his art allows Gillies to instantly disappear into the core of his subject, who then inhabits the room before your very eyes. That his subjects prove so entertaining has much to do with the brilliance of the script-writers, but it is Gillies artistry and superb acting skills which brings them to life.


                       This review appears on the Australian Arts Review website.


  

AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY






 Director: Cate Clelland           Costume design: Fiona Leach
Set Design: Cate Clellan        Lighting Design: Hamish McConchie
Sound Design: Tracey Rice   Presented by Free-Rain Theatre Company



Courtyard Studio at Canberra Theatre Centre until 2nd November, 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This searing tragi-comedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracey Letts dissects the disintegration of a family following the death of the family patriach, Beverley Weston.

Beverley Weston (David Bennett) is the first character we meet in the opening scene. Once a famous poet and academic, he is now an alcoholic and, we learn later, a philanderer. He lives in a sprawling house outside Pawhuska, Oklahoma, with his wife, Violet (Karen Vickery), who is stricken with mouth-cancer, and addicted to prescription drugs.

 In the opening scene we find Beverley Weston in the process of employing a young Cheyenne woman, Johnna, (Linda Chen) to work as a live-in housekeeper and to care for him and Violet.

 That’s the last we see of Beverley Weston, because in the very next scene – which takes place a week later - we learn that Beverley has disappeared, and some of his family are meeting at the house to support Violet while the search goes on. Among them, Matty Fay (Elizabeth Bradley), Violet’s extraordinarily insensitive, motor-mouthed sister, and Matty Fay’s ever-amiable husband, Charlie (Michael Sparks).  Violet’s eldest daughter,  the spiky, potty-mouthed, Barbara (Andrea Close) arrives with her husband, Bill, (Jim Adamik) and their fourteen year-old daughter, Jean ( Amy Campbell), and the emotional temperature begins to climb.

When the news arrives via the local Sheriff (Brian Kavanagh), that Beverley is dead, the rest of the family turn up for the funeral, and the funeral dinner. Then the blood-letting begins in earnest. For this family, which now includes Violet’s other two daughters, Ivy, (Lainie Hart) and Karen (Rose Braybook) as well as Karen’s new fiancĂ©, Steve (Paul Jackson), and Matty Fay and Charlie’s son, Little Charles (Ethan Thomas) are not backward in expressing themselves, and Tracey Letts’ incisive, compelling dialogue, gives them exactly the right ammunition with which to verbally flagellate each other.


 Both Karen Vickery as Violet, and Andrea Close as her eldest daughter, Barbara, give performances of astonishing intensity. Perfectly matched as adversaries, their scenes together are hypnotic as they relentlessly chew at each other, knowing exactly how to inflict the maximum emotional pain.

 Even though we see him only in the prologue, David Bennett’s presence as Beverley Weston, permeates the entire play.  All of the other characters are perfectly cast, so that the ensemble scenes crackle with undercurrents and back stories, all of which are revealed with surgeon- like precision as the play progresses.

 Director, Cathy Clelland has found her forte with this type of play, which in many ways recalls her memorable production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe”. Her ant-farm inspired set, which allows the audience to see the characters simultaneously going about their business in other areas of the rambling house, works particularly well in providing interesting acting spaces.

 As yet she hasn’t mastered the art of devising interesting entrances and exits. Simply having the characters walk into position in half-light, and then begin acting, is hardly magical. But she certainly knows what to do with her actors once they are on stage.

 Free Rain Theatre has much to be proud of with this outstanding production which provides a splendid showcase for an ensemble of Canberra’s finest actors.

 
            This review appears on the Australian Arts Review website.

 

Monday, October 20, 2014

FOR THE WIN - QL2 Dance


Presented by:
QL2 DANCE
Theatre 3 - Acton 
Performance 18th October 2014
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

There can be few better antidotes to any complaints about today’s youth than a visit to one of QL2’s presentations.


“For the Win” is the most recent and the result of an intensive 6 week rehearsal period for 47 young entry level dancers seeking to join the Quantum Leap youth dance ensemble.  The ages of the dancers range from 8 to 18 and their abilities vary widely.  Some had travelled from Cowra, Yass, Braidwood and Queanbeyan to prepare for this presentation.  The results are astonishing. As Ruth Osborne points out in her program notes, the purpose behind “For the Win” is not so much about the individual abilities of the dancers, but rather to give them “an introduction to working with a choreographer and moving beyond just “learning the steps”. This includes thinking about concepts and emotions, creating new movement through improvisation and tasks, selecting and refining the most effective movement ideas, and rehearsing until it all flows”.  

That the end result of these six weeks of intensive rehearsals is also so entertaining is a tribute to Osborne, and the three other Canberra-based choreographers who have created works to fulfil this brief.

Presented over an hour, without interval or interruption, “For the Win” consists of 7 different sections, some created by individual choreographers, and others, particularly the opening and closing sections, the combined work of all four.  The works were all ensemble pieces, and all the dancers participated in each section, regardless of age. So when not actually on stage, they were kept very busy managing the many attractive costume changes.

The program notes mention that the dancers contributed ideas and movement material to the creative process. The choreographers’ task was to combine these ideas with their own, to create a cohesive and entertaining work, utilising the varying skills of the participants. No small challenge, especially given the varying ages and skills of all concerned.

As the title suggests, the theme of the program was about winning and competition. Jamie Winbank’s section entitled “A winner is someone that wins”, utilized various competitive activities, often occurring simultaneously, to set up a series of eye dazzling sequences. Having himself come through the Quantum Leap process, Winbank seemed particularly adroit at creating effective visual imagery from limited resources.

Later in the program Winbank teamed with Alison Plevey to create a  delightfully girlie work called “A win for the Girls” ,which commenced with the girls gleefully  miming clichĂ©d feminine tasks, before bursting out into representations of the contemporary  woman’s real world.

Plevey’s own section, “Mind Games” also used the full ensemble to excellent effect, demonstrating her mastery of imaginative group movement.

Jake Kuzma contributed two sections, “All Aboard the loser express” and “Wintendo”. In both he made good use of interesting music choices, and “Wintendo” included some imaginative breakdance references, including a rather wonderful robotic duo.

All the choreographers featured the special talents of individual dancers to create often surprising moments, but the emphasis was definitely on spectacular ensemble movement, particularly evident in the opening and closing sections. Especially impressive, given the relatively short rehearsal period, was the polish achieved throughout, evident in accurate spacings, straight lines, and the engagement, confidence and enthusiasm of each individual participant.

As with all QL2 presentations the choreographers and dancers were provided with superb technical support, especially Kelly McGannon’s excellent lighting design and crisp sound which insured that the interesting music choices, including original compositions by Adam Ventura, were heard to advantage.

  


 


AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY



Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by Cate Clelland
Free Rain Theatre
Courtyard Studio Canberra Theatre Centre
17 October – 2 November, 2014

Review by Len Power 17 October 2014

Most of us can remember times when our own families went through rough patches emotionally.  If we thought we had problems, they were nowhere near as monumental as those of the Weston family portrayed in Tracy Letts’ award-winning 2008 play, ‘August: Osage County’.

A black comedy on an epic scale, the play shows us the interaction of an Oklahoma family both before and after the death of a family member.  The director, Cate Clelland, and her large cast of performers take us on a rollercoaster ride through every human emotion that is fascinating, harrowing, moving, very funny and ultimately hugely enjoyable.

Every member of the cast of thirteen more than meets the considerable challenges of this play.  Karen Vickery and Andrea Close as mother and daughter have the lions’ share of the dialogue and both give performances that will leave you breathless.  Jim Adamik, Liz Bradley, Lainie Hart and Karen Weston are especially memorable but everyone has their moment to shine.

The action of the play takes place in various rooms of a rambling old house.  Set designer, Cate Clelland, has cleverly used the wide space in the Courtyard Studio to create an ‘ant farm’ like environment so that we can see simultaneous action in various rooms as required.  The show is nicely lit by Hamish McConchie with well-chosen costumes by Fiona Leach and enhanced by the subtle sound design by Tracey Rice.

Cate Clelland has directed one of her best shows ever.  This is an excellent production of an extraordinary play.

Originally published in Canberra City News digital edition 18 October 2014