Monday, October 20, 2014


Presented by:
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 clich├ęd 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.




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

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Sam Hannan-Morrow 
In DRESS CIRCLE this week, President of The Canberra Repertory Society, Sam Hannan-Morrow, reveals its program for 2015.
Maria Veshkina
Glamorous Russian tour organiser, Maria Veshkina, takes us behind the scenes of the Russian Dance spectacular “Kostroma”, which is coming to the Canberra Theatre next week.
Actors, Andrea Close, David Bennet and Jim Adamik talk about their roles in the searing drama “August: Osage County” currently being staged in the Courtyard studio by Free Rain Theatre.

In the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment, Nadia Piave and Sally Whitwell will perform an enchanting program of French cabaret and art songs by Satie, Poulenc and Schoenberg.

Nadia Piave (bottom) Sally Whitwell (top)
As well, Len Power will review “August: Osage County”, Isobel Griffin will present “Arts Diary” and our in-house poet, Blue the Shearer, has his say.

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 FM 92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm until 6.30pm and repeated on Tuesday night from 11.30pm. It is also streamed live on the internet at

Friday, October 17, 2014

LA FILLE MAL GARDEE (The Wayward Daughter) - West Australian Ballet

Artistic Director:
Aurelien Scannella

Marc Ribaud

Ferdinand Herold and John Lanchbery,

Set Designer:
 Richard Roberts

Costume Designer:
 Lexi De Silva

Lighting Designer:
 Jon Buswell

Presented by: West Australian Ballet

Canberra Theatre Centre – October 15 – 18, 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

 The West Australian Ballet have revived one of the oldest ballets in the classical repertoire with an inspired production brimming with joie de vivre, spirited dancing, laugh-out-loud comedy and French chic.   

Originally inspired by a painting of a young woman being berated by her mother, “La Fille Mal Gardee” received its first performances way back in 1789. Since then it has been performed by many ballet companies with different choreographies. However the version created by Frederick Ashton for the Royal Ballet in London in 1960, and still performed by the Australian Ballet, has become regarded by many as more or less the official version.

This new version, French choreographer, Marc Ribaud, remains faithful to the original story, but has eschewed the maypole dance and the dancing farm animals. He’s kept the action in rural France, but it is now set in the 1950’s and Colas rides a motor-bike and wears James Dean leathers. Ribaud has also retained the tradition of having the role of Lise’s mother, Simone, played by a man, although he has softened some of the usual pantomime-dame elements of the role in favour of more warmth and charm in the character.

This version commences in a sun-drenched courtyard, where Lise (Jayne Smeulders) and Colas (Matthew Lehman) dance a languorous pas de deux for which Colas is nude from the waist up.

The erotic mood is broken when four young men join them to perform a series of energetic dances in which the quirky choreography slyly evokes chickens and farm animals. The men in turn are joined by four young women, all obviously friends of Lise and Colas, who has by now added a singlet to his costume, and all, join in the vigorous dancing. 

Their merriment attracts Lise’s mother, Simone, (Robert Mills), who admonishes the friends, sends them packing and sets Lise to work churning butter. But no sooner does Simone turn her back, than Colas returns to flirt with Lise.

Eventually the rich and pompous merchant Thomas (Graig Lord-Sole) arrives with his uninspiring son, Alain (Andre Santos), in tow, intending to arrange a marriage between Lise and Alain. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the ballet is concerned with the efforts of Lise and Colas to thwart the efforts of Simone and merchant Thomas.

As the wilful Lise, Jayne Smeulders is sheer delight. Her dancing is confident and beautifully phrased. She is also a consummate actress, who knows how to play comedy without artifice or archness.  

Matthew Lehman, as Colas, also impresses.  Though not as strong as Smeulders in the acting department, he looks great as a James Dean look-alike, is a strong and considerate partner in the pas de deux, and an especially thrilling dancer particularly in his Act 11 solos.

Robert Mills is outstanding as Lise’s mother Simone capturing all his laughs with strong comedic timing. His clog dance, flanked by four male dancers in tap shoes, is a real highlight.

But the big surprise is Andre Santos as the unfortunate Alain, more at ease with his beloved umbrella than he is with Lise.  Santos tosses off Alain’s intricate, eccentric solos with dazzling virtuosity, while providing a characterisation that is both witty and touching. Graig Lord-Sole also scores as Alain’s wobbly-legged father.

The entire company look terrific in this ballet.  Dancing with a palpable sense of joyfulness, they execute the idiosyncratic choreography, with its bent-wrists, up-turned feet and odd body twists, with admirable attention to detail, while at the same time engaging enthusiastically with the story and the characters. 

The six young dancers recruited in Canberra, to play the village children, also acquitted themselves well with their dancing, and echoed the ensemble’s engagement with the story.

Aurelian Scannella’s new production of “La Fille Mal Gardee” for the West Australian Ballet is a co-production with the Queensland Ballet, so is destined to be seen widely. With Richard Roberts’s impressively substantial and attractive settings, Lexi De Silva’s very pretty and flattering costumes and Marc Ribaud’s cheeky and entertaining choreography, this new imagining of one of the oldest ballets in the repertoire could well become the new norm for “La Fille Mal Gardee”.
Photo: Greer Versteeg 

                               This review appears on the Australian Arts Review website.




Sunday, October 12, 2014


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder Film
Director: Stephen Pike
Musical Director: Sharon Tree
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan 8 -25 October 2014

Review by Len Power 8 October 2014

Based on the classic 1950 film starring Gloria Swanson, ‘Sunset Blvd.’ opened in London in 1993, played on Broadway in 1994 and in Melbourne in 1996.  It tells of a chance encounter of a down at heel young screen writer, Joe Gillis, and a faded movie star from the silent era, Norma Desmond, who lives in a gloomy mansion surrounded by past memories.  Agreeing to help with a film script she has written for a comeback, the opportunistic Joe allows himself to be drawn into a dangerous relationship with the delusional star.

It’s a formidable musical for non-professional companies to tackle because it cries out for lavish staging and must have an actress with star quality for the leading role of faded movie star, Norma Desmond.  Happily, the Q Theatre production got well-known local actress and singer, Bronwyn Sullivan, to play the role and solved the lavishness question with a clever composite set filled with interesting detail by Brian Sudding and scenic artist, Ian Croker.

Bronwyn Sullivan sings the difficult role of Norma Desmond with assurance.  Her Norma has flashes of niceness that may bother purists wanting a copy of Gloria Swanson’s performance in the film, but it didn’t detract from her performance for me.  Daniel Wells is in fine voice and gives a strong performance as the opportunist writer, Joe Gillis.  In the wrong hands, the difficult role of the mysterious butler, Max Von Mayerling, could be laughable, but Peter Dark is very believable in the role, giving it an impressive sadness and he sings with great precision.  Vanessa De Jager is charming and very real as the young Betty Schaefer and the duet, ‘Too Much In Love To Care’, which she shares with Daniel Wells, is one of the highlights of the show.

Ensemble members, many playing multiple small roles, all have detailed individual characters which give the show depth, especially in the scenes at Paramount Studios and at a New Year’s Eve party.  Calen Robinson was especially notable in the role of the oily tailor, Manfred, who is summoned with his team to provide Joe Gillis with new clothes.

Costumes by Miriam Miley-Read evoked the period extremely well.  Her costumes for Norma Desmond were especially well-designed for a faded movie star who dresses lavishly in a jarringly out of date style.  The expert lighting by Hamish McConchie gave the right atmosphere to the show and sound by Eclipse was well-balanced.  Choreography isn’t a major feature of this show, but Annette Sharp provided polished and appropriate movement where required for the cast.

The show has a huge score.  Musical director, Sharon Tree, has done a remarkable job with both orchestra and singers.  It was, however, somewhat distracting having the musical director visible behind the set and lights visible from the music stands of the orchestra were annoyingly bright.

For me, it’s not the songs that stand out in this musical.  I came away from ‘Sunset Blvd’ with the moody underscoring repeating in my mind, much the way a memorable film score stays with you.  It’s as if the composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, intended to write a cinematic-style musical. If so, he has succeeded and produced one of his best scores for the theatre.

Director, Stephen Pike, has done a fine job bringing all aspects of this show together.  It hasn’t been presented in Canberra before and has been rarely done in Australia, so don’t miss this opportunity to see it.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 12 August 2014 from 5pm.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Norma Desmond (Bronwyn Sullivan) and Max von Mayerling (Peter Dark)
Photo: Lauren Sadow

Director: Stephen Pike
Musical Director: Sharon Tree
Presented by: Queanbeyan City Council
The Q – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre until 25th October.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This production by the Queanbeyan City Council provides a welcome opportunity to experience one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more rarely staged musicals.  Exploring the relationship between an ageing silent-movie star teetering on the edge of insanity, and an ambitious young writer, this intriguing, gothic musical presents significant staging challenges, not all of which have been overcome with this production, however, there is still much to enjoy.

Focussing on the characters rather than the spectacle, director Stephen Pike has assembled a strong cast headed by Bronwyn Sullivan as the troubled movie star, Norma Desmond. Sullivan gives a vocally and physically striking performance, particularly in the closing scenes as she descends into madness.

As her young lover, Joe Gillis, Daniel Wells impresses with his excellent singing but could afford to bring more intensity to his characterisation. Peter Dark successfully captures the brooding austereness of Norma’s mysterious butler, Max von Mayerling and Vanessa De Jager is outstanding as Joe’s well-meaning girlfriend Betty Schaefer.

Brian Sudding’s fastidiously detailed, montage setting represents the various locations, including Norma Desmond’s decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard, a sound stage during the filming of a Cecil B. DeMille epic and various offices and bars around 1949 Hollywood.

However, though visually attractive, this setting is not without its own problems. Among them cramped acting spaces, and the necessity to reduce Norma Desmond’s staircase to just a few steps, robbing her of her all-important entrances and exits.  A curious decision to position the conductor of the excellent on-stage orchestra, immediately behind the actors, also provided an unwelcome distraction, which destroyed the dramatic impact of several scenes.

 This review published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on Fri. Oct.9. An edited version will appear in the print editon on Wednesday Oct. 15.

Monday, October 6, 2014

THE GOLDS - A film by Sue Healey

Canberra Dance Theatre's -THE GOLDS

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Sue Healey is already recognised as one of Australia’s most creative and successful dance film-makers. Her feature length documentary film “Virtuosi” has been screened around the world, and won two National Awards – Most Outstanding Achievement for Dance on Film at the 2013 Australian Dance Awards, and the Silver ACS Award for Cinematography.

Her latest film “The Golds” was premiered in Canberra on Friday, as part of the final screening in the Silver Screening series in the National Film and Sound Archives Arc Cinema. Regretfully, this initiative has now languished -  a victim of funding cuts at the archive.

“The Golds” is a visually arresting, occasionally poignant, insight into the activities of a Canberra dance troupe of over 55’s founded by Canberra choreographer, Liz Lea at Canberra Dance Theatre. Their name stands for “Growing Old Disgracefully”, and some members claim that they were drawn to the troupe by this possibility. However, there is little evidence of disgraceful conduct in this film, and indeed, surprisingly little that could be described as dance, in the accepted form. But there is a plethora of beautifully photographed slow-motion sequences of members of the troupe moving artfully and unselfconsciously through cascading gold flutter tape, among floating gold veils and among flickering candles, to evocative background music composed by Ben Walsh, and featuring viola player Cleis Pearce. 

The movement sequences are punctuated by comments from various members, spoken directly to the camera. Their individual personalities shine through as they annunciate their reasons for being involved in The Golds. Most comments have to do with ageing...”I can’t do the splits”, confides one, “but is it necessary? I don’t think so”. However one forthright lady declares unexpectedly “There’s nothing positive about ageing. I don’t see any positives at all” which serves  to  underline another particularly poignant moment when another participant, considerably older than 55, struggles to retain the exact word that is eluding her attempt to express her thoughts.

There are many other memorable sequences including one in which a retired Brigidine nun dances with her pet dog and another involving a playful quartet interacting with gold picture frames.  
Members of THE GOLDS at Reconciliaton Place

In fact, Sue Healey’s finely tuned choreographer’s eye is perfectly reflected in every image of Judd Overton’s exquisite cinematography to produce a film which is in effect its own form of dance.  The effect is mesmerising and even though it is relatively short, just 23 minutes, the film moves at a gentle pace between a series of visually stunning sequences filmed at various locations around Canberra, including The National Portrait Gallery, Reconciliation Place and the National Arboretum.

This exquisite little film may well be Sue Healey’s Valentine to positive ageing, capturing the particular beauty of the group of people who make up The Golds, but it is also a Valentine to Canberra, which looks stunning throughout. Canberra Tourism could do much worse than embrace this film to promote this very special view of our city nationally and internationally.

Members of THE GOLDS at the National Arboretum