Saturday, October 20, 2018

BELONG - QL2 DANCE


Belong
QL2 Dance
Artistic Director: Ruth Osborne
Choreographers: Jodie Farrugia, Olivia Fyfe, Luke Fryer
Theatre 3 to 20 October

Reviewed by Len Power 19 October 2018

QL2 Dance’s junior project, ‘Belong’, was a thoroughly beguiling and stimulating program of dance.  Focusing on young and less experienced dancers from age 8, it is an entry point to, and preparation for, the unique dance programs of Quantum Leap’s youth dance ensemble.

‘Belong’ explores issues important to all of us.  We all need to feel that we belong but sometimes we encounter situations in our lives where we feel the opposite.  How people react to our individual beliefs and ideas can make a difference to a feeling of safety and belonging.

Choreographed by artistic director, Ruth Osborne, and Jodie Farrugia, Olivia Fyfe and Luke Fryer, the dancers performed a series of seven highly energetic, imaginative numbers that played seamlessly one after another.  This wasn’t simple choreography.  It made serious demands on these dancers and they all rose to the challenge, making it look effortless and fun.  You could see how much they were enjoying themselves and that feeling was infectious for the large audience.

The incorporation of physical objects provided an additional dimension to some of the dance sections.  One item used mobile phones in a way that was especially apt in this day and age.  The ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ section was particularly clever with the use of stretch tapes to create intricate patterns with the dancers weaving through the designs they made.  You could have easily forgiven these performers any mistakes but the show was so polished, no mistakes were evident.

In a quick, rough count at the curtain call at the end of the show, there seemed to be about 55 young dancers on the stage together.  With the high energy levels, consistently fine dancing and the sheer joy of performing for us, it was hard to believe that the company had already performed the show twice that day.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.

Salon at The Street, hosted by Jane Rutter: Composers in Exile

Jane Rutter as herself
Composers in Exile by

Peter Coleman-Wright – Baritone and Piano
and the Nexas Quartet:
Michael Duke – Soprano Saxophone
Andrew Smith – Alto Saxophone
Nathan Henshaw – Tenor Saxophone
Jay Byrnes – Baritone Saxophone
with Jane Rutter – Flute

The Street Theatre, Canberra, October 19, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

L to R: Jay Byrnes, Michael Duke, Peter Coleman-Wright, Andrew Smith, Nathan Henshaw
in Composers in Exile
Jane Rutter introduced the show with Eight Pieces for Solo Flute composed in 1927 by Paul Hindemith.  Like the other composers in the main part of the performance, he had been conscripted into the German Army in World War I.  As the Nazis gained strength and complete power by 1933, and the official criticism of Hindemith’s work became intolerable,  he “finally emigrated to Switzerland in 1938 (in part because his wife was of partially Jewish ancestry), before moving to settle in the United States in 1940.”  [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hindemith ]

Rutter’s fine playing brought out for us the sense of release through music mixed with the sense of foreboding that was the key to appreciating the work not only of Hindemith but of those other composers who took up their fascination with banned American jazz, became Communists, were Jewish, and sought to educate the people politically through entertaining cabaret. 

Finally escaping as many did to the USA, they became a major influence as musical and film score composers on the perception we now have of American popular music and song before the advent of rock’n’roll; such as the long-term favourite September which ends the show.  It first appeared in the 1938 Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday, and then in the 1950 film September Affair.  How many realise that the music is by Kurt Weill (of Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera fame) to words by the serious American writer, Maxwell Anderson!

Projected behind the players, as they took on the roles of composers Weill, Eisler, Schreker, Korngold and Stolz, were photos not only of them but of many of the scenes they witnessed or were happening in Germany, especially to Jews in the 1930s – in the streets, behind the wire, with signs in shop windows and official notices.  Jaunty or romantic though the music seemed, reality haunted the scene from behind.

The four saxophones (they were banned, too) made a fascinating band, with all the expressive possibilities from joy to despair (sometimes even overwhelming the power of Coleman-Wright’s operatic strength – partly, I think, because of the not-so-good acoustics of The Street auditorium); and a special highlight was Jane Rutter singing the part of Pirate Jenny from The Threepenny Opera, in a very lively translation of her Whore House song in Act 2  – at least compared to that by Hugh McDiarmid that was the much duller official version when I directed it in 1976.

For me the show was enlightening history as well as a musically entertaining trip back to the days of those great talents between the World Wars, when a bit of unusually syncopated jazz played on a saxophone could be taken by a government to be such a threat.  Those composers, forced into exile or execution, made art which has far outlasted the murderers.  Thanks to Nexas Quartet, Peter Coleman-Wright and the irrepressible Jane Rutter for presenting Composers in Exile.

Jane Rutter in character












Friday, October 19, 2018

SCM CHAMBER CHOIR, at Verbrugghen Hall, October 17 2018

Reviewed by Tony Magee

In an inspired and brilliantly executed opening, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Chamber Choir segued two contrasting settings of the 12th Century chant "O quam preciosa", composed almost 1000 years apart.

Hildegard von Bingen's music was thrust into the 20th century spotlight with the 1985 album, A Feather On the Breath of God, one of the top selling classical music releases for that year. She was an Abbess, composer, mystic and poet of the 12th century. Also author of the text, the chant celebrates the arrival into the world of the Christ Child, through the vessel of the female body.

As a further enhancement, an East meets West philosophy was applied with Chinese erhu and guzheng instruments replacing the traditional hurdy-gurdy accompaniment of the day, played with sensitivity and style by Nicholas Ng and Vicki Zheng respectively.

The piece was beautifully performed with the tenors and basses setting up a drone foundation over which sopranos and altos soared with melody sung in antiphon.

The second setting is by contemporary Australian composer Ross Edwards. In this, the virgin is a metaphor for the Earth-mother, who gives birth to a hoped-for bright new era. Listening to this performance, I found my mind contemplating today's fragile and dismal international political climate, and was comforted by this very welcome spark of hope and joy.

Eriks Esenvalds' "Evening" is a piece of beautiful delicacy and warmth, fluttering leaves, gentle evening light and peace. To quote Gabrielle Jackson's program notes, "The piece doesn't really go anywhere - it simply is - full of innocence and wonderment at the close of day."

Balancing her time between Canberra and Sydney, composer Olivia Swift's "The Leaves Drop Down" is a complex choral work, alternately delicate and demanding. Generally, the balance in this and indeed the entire concert was excellent between all vocal parts, with the exception of a moment of doubt in a tenor section entry. A beautiful work.

Carlo Gesualdo (1566 - 1613)
Don Carlo Gesualdo's final madrigal, "Quando ridente e bella" followed, sung by just five members of the 24 member choir. Way ahead of his time, 16th century Gesualdo is remembered both as a composer of intense expression and chromaticism - something not heard again until the late 19th century - and also a tragically tormented soul, wracked with guilt and shame due to his ghastly murder of his wife and her lover.

One commentator of the day noted, "Gesualso was afflicted by a vast hoard of demons which gave him no peace, unless ten or twelve young men, whom he kept specially for the purpose, were to beat him violently three times a day." The sub-group of five handled the complex harmonies very well, with good balance and varied dynamics. Shaping of phrases needs more work from them, something that does develop over time, with familiarity of performance and rehearsal.

Conductor and music director Paul Stanhope showcased one of his own pieces, "The Land Is Healed: Ban.garay!" Full of beautiful and at times complex harmonies and rich in texture, the choir developed intense dynamics. This was choral writing of the first rate and one of the highlights of the program.

The erhu and guzheng instruments returned to the stage to accompany the choir in two Chinese folk songs arranged by Julian Yu. Originally from Beijing, Yu is now based in Australia and coached the choir in Mandarin pronunciation for this performance of delicate dynamic shading.

Benjamin Britten's "The Evening Primrose" and "The Ballad of the Green Barron" followed. These pieces once again demonstrated the choir's excellent pitch and intonation. Also evident were beautifully shaped lines and phrases and mostly excellent diction.

The concert closed with "Christ the King" by New Zealand born Clare Maclean. She is particularly influenced by Renaissance repertoire and early polyphony. The piece is magnificent in its harmonies and structure and the choir made full advantage of the richness of the choral writing and sounded superb. A fitting conclusion to a wonderful program, as stylistically the presentation almost came full circle.




FASTER


Co-Directors: Emily Sheehan and Kyle Walmsley
Canberra Youth Theatre
Gorman Arts Centre to 20 October

Reviewed by Len Power 18 October 2018

Canberra Youth Theatre’s latest production takes place outdoors in the Gorman Arts Centre courtyard.

‘Faster’ refers to the increasing momentum of change that teenagers are subjected to in this day and age in the journey to adulthood.  It’s a troubling journey made all the more problematic when teenagers feel they are under the spotlight and being observed and judged every step of the way.

Devised by the group of enthusiastic performers aged 14 to 17 years with co-directors Emily Sheehan and Kyle Walmsley, it’s a high energy production in which the drama emerges mainly through movement.  There are no individual characters, given the theme of the show, making it difficult to feel much involvement with the issues raised.  It almost seemed like the group were in a soulless prison environment with orders being barked at them from an unseen authority.  The frequent repetition sequences added to a sense of distance from the experience.  The underlying theme of the production was obscured by this form of presentation.


The show has a good atmosphere due to a well thought out lighting design by Emerging Lighting Designer, Ethan Hamill, and another of Kimmo Vernonnen’s clever sound designs.

The wisteria, blooming around the courtyard, was giving out a strong scent and the courtyard’s large tree looked beautiful with the light spilling from the production.  The changing colours of the sky at sunset gave the show a glorious backdrop, too.

The limited seating consisted of some chairs, stools, bean bags and cushions.  That’s fine if you’re as young as the cast but potential torture for older, less flexible people.  There was a bit of a scramble by audience members to get something to sit on.  Luckily, the show had a short running time.

Rehearsal photo supplied by the company.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

EVITA, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. At Sydney Opera House, October 17 2018

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Kurt Kansley as Che. Photo by Jeff Busby
Trying to recreate what has already been created seems to me a pursuit of dubious merit. In presenting Evita, Opera Australia have opted for the original direction by Hal Prince and original choreography by Larry Fuller, with the original design by Timothy O'Brien.

The result is a cast seemingly going through the motions rather than the freshness one might expect from new ideas. The premise of "you show me and I'll show them" is all too evident in some of this production.

Having said that, there are some powerful moments that engage. Notably, the cinema scene at the very beginning, the side-on view staging of the Charity Concert and the powerful closing of the first act with "A New Argentina".

By far the star of this production is Kurt Kansley singing the role of Che. His superb diction, brilliant singing voice and powerful characterization underpin the entire show and was a joy to behold. His character also serves to advance the plot significantly.

Notable also was Paulo Szot, perfectly cast as Eva’s military dictator husband Juan Peron. His stunning, rich baritone voice filled the theatre with ease.

The orchestra under the direction of Guy Simpson were superb, displaying perfection in tuning and intonation, thrilling dynamics and majestic playing. The best pit orchestra I have heard and one that could easily hold its own playing the symphonic repertoire.

Alternate actress and singer Jemma Rix as Eva Peron, presented the show's high spot, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" in a moving and captivating manner. It was also the only time we were really able to hear her excellent singing voice to maximum potential.

Yes, this is a show where everything is pinned on one great number - the rest of the score arguably being one continuous recitative. Puccini achieved a similar result with Turandot, having the great “Nessun Dorma” buried away in Act II.

Jemma Rix as Eva Peron
The plaintive "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" and "High Flying, Adored" are admirable inclusions, but seem placed in a desperate attempt by the composers to add another couple of commercial tunes to keep the audience interested.

The other aspect of this production which deserves praise however, is the ongoing archival film footage, particularly crucial in helping advance the plot during the scenes where Eva Peron travels the world, thrusting Argentina briefly into the international spotlight, as the charismatic and beautiful First Lady engages with other countries, only to be snubbed somewhat by Britain towards the end of her tour.

This brings into perspective in some ways the swift and effective action of Margaret Thatcher years later, when she pounced decisively on Argentina after they invaded the Falklands.

The relentless dependence on rhythmic and melodic motifs and ideas from the earlier and brilliant Jesus Christ Superstar is also something that wore thin with this reviewer. Having just returned from a delightful student performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni at The Con, the contrast between inspired genius and sustained mediocrity was well and truly rammed home.

Evita is a flawed opera in so many ways, however this production is none-the-less slickly produced. Fans will no doubt be delighted. I found it tedious.



JULIUS CAESAR - Bell Shakespeare

 
 


Written by William Shakespeare – Directed by James Evans
Set and Costume design by Anna Tregloan – Lighting designed by Verity Hampson

Composer and sound designer –Nate Edmondson

Presented by Bell Shakespeare - The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre -12-20 October,2018.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The cast of "Julius Caesar" 

In its relentless drive for new resonances and ever more innovative ways of presenting Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare, with this production of “Julius Caesar”, has finally succeeded in rendering at least one of his plays, virtually incomprehensible to anyone other than welded-on Shakespeare devotees.

Anna Tregloan’s  steam-punk set and op-shop costumes, provide no clues as to time, place or status of the characters, and the gender-blind, double (even triple) casting, make it extremely difficult to work out who is playing which part unless a name is mentioned, reducing the play to a series of unfathomable set pieces.  

James Evans, who replaced an indisposed Ivan Donato at short notice for the Canberra season, dominated the stage, physically and vocally, with a fine, well-shaped interpretation as Brutus, demonstrating how interesting the production might have been had any of the rest of the ensemble been able to match his performance.  Only Nick Simpson-Deeks, a passionate and fraught Cassius, came close to challenging Evan’s dominance in their second- act exchange.

Kenneth Ransom as Julius Caesar in Bell Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". 

Despite his striking resemblance to Barack Obama, and  robbed of any semblance of grandeur by his drab costumes and curious high-pitched vocal delivery, Kenneth Ransom was a strangely disinterested Caesar,  displaying little of the qualities attributed to him by Mark Antony. 


Sara Zwangobani a Mark Antony

Photo: Prudence Upton
 
Sara Zwangobani provided the high point with her performance of Mark Antony’s famous funeral oration, which was punctuated with thundering crescendo’s from Nate Edmondson’s cinematic score. Although, as she addressed her friends, Romans and countrymen, standing in front of a microphone, on a tiny balcony, the thought that she might at any moment break into “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” seemed a distinct possibility.   

Elsewhere the tiny cast was kept busy scampering around the setting, putting up and pulling down flags and revolutionary banners, and trying unsuccessfully to convince as crowds, and a variety of characters, declaiming speeches with gestures that might have worked had they been wearing togas, but looked rather ridiculous in tee-shirts.

Those willing to puzzle over the complexities of Shakespeare’s text may find this presentation satisfying, but for others simply looking to become caught up in the grandeur and intrigue of one Shakespeare’s most famous plays, this grunge production probably isn’t the one for them.  

        This review also published in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

HEATHERS - THE MUSICAL



The cast of "Heathers - The Musical"
 
 
Directed by Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg – Musical Direction by Matthew WebsterChoreographed by Natthan Rutups – Costumes designed by Jennie NorberrySet Designed by Chris Zuber – Lighting designed by Carl Makin and Grant PeggPresented by Dramatic Productions.
Gungahlin Theatre 12th to  27th October 2018.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

“It certainly ain’t Mary Poppins” murmured an audience member at interval. It certainly isn’t. More a cheeky hybrid of “Grease” and “The Rocky Horror Show”, which concerns itself issues of teenage sex, youth suicide and homosexuality in a manner that some might find confronting and others, refreshing.

Based on a 1989 cult film, “Heathers - The Musical”,  is set in the fictional Westerberg High, newbie, Veronica Sawyer (Belle Nicol) attracts the attention of the powerful and ruthless school clique, known as The Heathers, because each of the three leaders, played with panache, by Charlotte Gearside, Maddy Betts and Mikayla Brady, is called Heather. She also attracts two obnoxious sex-absorbed jocks, Ram and Kurt, portrayed with delicious enthusiasm by Pippin Carroll and Pierce Jackson.

Veronica, however, is more interested in a slightly creepy, but intriguing loner named J.D. (Will Huang) who, despite his spectacular way of dealing with bullies, comes with considerable baggage and startlingly dark habits.

For their pitch-perfect perfect, exuberant production, Directors Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg have drawn excellent performances from their predominately young cast, who attack the witty dialogue and catchy songs with admirable gusto. Tight direction, colourful costumes, snappy dance routines and some cleverly staged, slow motion fight sequences, provide spectacle and enough sugar-coating to disguise some of the darker, less beguiling aspects of the show.   

Will Huang (J.D. and Belle Nicol (Veronica Sawyer) 
Both Nicol and Huang, in the central roles of Veronica and J.D, sing attractively and offer thoughtfully nuanced performances which hold the attention throughout. Similarly each of the Heathers offer impressively differentiated characterizations while maintaining their strong presence as a team. Several of the cast play multiple roles, but Chelsea Heaney is a stand-out as both the scorned Martha Dunnstock, and the inspirational teacher, Pauline Fleming.  

Armed with a  repertoire of stylish dance moves, choreographer, Nathan Rutups, has devised a succession of high-energy routines, so polished and in-tune with the material, that it’s hard to imagine these songs being done any other way. The cast toss them off with reckless confidence and obvious enjoyment, while still managing to maintain tricky harmonies and, generally, successfully compete with the enthusiasm of Matthew Webster’s sizzling hot on-stage band.

Maddy Betts (Heather Duke) - Charlotte Gearside (Heather Chandler) - Mikayla Brady (Heather McNamara)
Chris Zuber’s clever floating school locker setting works like a dream, with set-pieces effortlessly and efficiently manipulated around the stage by the cast, allowing for a seamless transition of scenes. Only the haphazard lighting, which, too often on opening night left crucial cast members shrouded in darkness, disappointed.

With its witty dialogue, catchy songs and exuberant performances, this production of “Heathers – the Musical” lives up to Dramatic Productions promise of delivering the highest quality community theatre to Gungahlin and the Canberra Region, and is certainly well worth travelling to Gungahlin to experience.

 
The ensemble for "Heathers - The Musical" 

                                                        Photos by Janelle McMenamin


                                This review first published in CITY NEWS on 15.10.18