Friday, July 19, 2019

30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand

30 Years of Sixty-Five Thousand:
Unaipon – Choreographer: Frances Rings
Stamping Ground – Choreographer: Jiří Kylián
To Make Fire – Choreographers: Stephen Page and Elma Kris

Bangarra Dance Theatre – Artistic Director Stephen Page – at Canberra Theatre Centre, July 18-20, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 18

Bangarra has made a celebration of their first thirty years into an inspiring work in three parts.  Stephen Page makes two crucial points, quoted by Andrew Brown (Canberra Times 19 July 2019):  “…we’re not art for art’s sake”; “we wanted to have strong pieces that show the spirit of character of the company.”

And what a positive spirit that is in these young First Australians, going forward, in the context of the political culture of our ‘elders’ among Second Australians going backwards.  Bangarra’s work is art for all our sakes,  demonstrating and engaging us in an ancient ideal – unity in diversity.

We explore the philosophical thoughts of David Unaipon of the Ngarrindjeri people.  Featured on our $50 note, son of James and Nymbulda Ngunaitponi (Anglicised as Unaipon), born at Macleay Point near Tailem Bend on the Murray River as it turns towards the Coorong, in 1872, Unaipon was the antithesis of the common belief among colonial Australians that the Aboriginal race would soon die out.  He treated his traditional religious beliefs as equivalent to the Christianity of his mission education, saying " Christ Jesus colour and racial distinctions disappear..."; he was a ‘deputationer’ for the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association, set up in South Australia in 1858 and still active until 2001, seeking self-determination for his people; and continued to work on his inventions, especially of devices based on centrifugal rotary motion, until his death in 1967. 

In dance, Unaipon’s words and the sounds of both his mechanical and bush environments provide the spirit of movement integrating the old and the new, the traditional style with modern, representing the reconciliation of cultures that his life was all about.

This work is Part One of a great work in three parts.  It introduces us to unity in practice, though if we know the detail we can find at , we should remember that he was never able to afford to get any of his provisional patents fully patented, so never received financial return even for his main invention which became “the basis of modern mechanical sheep shears” from 1910.

Part Two, Stamping Ground, takes us to Groote Eylandt, the big island ironically named by the Dutchman Abel Tasman 375 years ago in 1644.  The irony is that Jiří Kylián, though not Dutch himself, visited the Warnindhilyagwa people in 1980, observed their dancing, made a video – part of which we viewed to introduce Stamping Ground – and then made his own dance with the Nederlands Danstheater.  He made it clear his work was not imitative because that would be to appropriate dance that belonged to the Warnindhilyagwa.  He was so affected – ‘overwhelmed’ he said – by their dance that he created his own from his inspiration in response.  This work was first performed in Europe in 1983. 

Now it is the first work by a non-Indigenous choreographer presented by Bangarra’s all-Indigenous company. This has taken Bangarra to a new stage of its spiritual life, linking together through Kylián the oldest continuing culture in the world with, we could say, the youngest – 65,000 years old (might be still contentious but certainly 50,000) with, we might say, 400 back to Tasman, or 2500 back to the time of Ancient Greek theatre.

The performance of Stamping Ground was fascinating for the quality of the dancing, but as well to see the differences between and the points of blending with the traditional dance movements we had seen in the video as the Bangarra dancers took hold of modern European culture.

Then Part Three, To Make Fire, put together as an ongoing story of ‘memorable moments’ from Bangarra’s performing history covering many cultures from different parts of the country. Beginning with scenes from Mathinna of the adoption in Tasmania of the young girl Lowreene by the Governor John Franklin and his wife Jane in 1837 (Muttonbird, People, Adoption), the story moved to the Torres Strait Islands people and their spirits for the four winds Zey, Kuki, Naygay and SagerClan provided a conclusion with aspects of cultural life now in Dots, Wiradjuri, Young Man, Promise, and the full company performing Hope.

One might imagine such an apparently disparate array of episodes might seem disjointed, but absolutely not so.  Stephen Page has made a new work out of old, a work which is art in its own right, yet is not art just for art’s sake; a work with tremendous spirit, positive promise and hope. 

Bangarra looks forward, never backward – and I can only hope that now that we have significant Indigenous people in the Australian Parliament – Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, Shadow Minister Linda Burney and Senator Patrick Dodson – that the cultural strength of Bangarra becomes the underpinning it deserves to be for reconciliation and full recognition of the First Peoples of Australia by the Second and the many more recent Peoples, including me, who make up my country today.



 UNAIPON Choreographed by Frances Rings. THE STAMPING GROUND. Choreographed  by Jiri Kylian. TO MAKE FIRE comprising  MATHINNA Reprise, ABOUT Reprise. and CLAN  Choreographed by Stephen Page. BANGARRA DANCE THEATRE. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. July 18-20 2019. BOOKINGS: 62752600.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

If anyone were to doubt that Bangarra Dance Theatre is Australia’s national cultural treasure, the company’s latest offering 30 YEARS OF SIXTY FIVE THOUSAND is enough to dispel all doubt. Superlatives are not enough to heap praise on every aspect of Bangarra’s current production and its three thrilling works.  From the opening impact of Unaipon, a remarkable tribute to aboriginal inventor, philosopher, writer and storyteller Ngarrindjeri man, David Unaipon, audiences are drawn into the magical mystique of an extraordinary man’s curious mind. From philosophizong on the origin and arrival of the aboriginal people to the planet sixty five thousand years ago to the intricate sequence of sister basket weaving and the storytelling wonders of the string games, Bangarra’s versatile and athletic dancers weave mystique and science into Frances Rings’s evocative choreography.  Nothing escapes either David Unaipon’s enquiring mind or the expressive muscularity and suppleness of the ensemble to the diverse compositions of the late David Page. Everything from Peter England’s celestial and scientific design to Nick Schlieper’s atmospheric lighting and Jennifer Irwin’s traditional and contemporary costuming lend this work a mesmerizing power as the dancers embrace the past and the mysteries of origin and science. Every fibre of their bodies conjures the shifting moods and expressions of perpetual motion from the beginning of time to mechanized humans eventually coalescing in an acceptance of all peoples. In David Unaipon we confront a true renaissance figure and Rings’s choreography embraces the vast scope of his intellect. Traditional gesture and contemporary interpretation fuse in a profound understanding of humanity and an appreciation of the gift that the indigenous inhabitants of the continent have to give to the nation.

In 1980 Czech choreographer, and future director of the Nederlands Dance Theatre, Jiri Kylian  visited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and witnessed their rituals and ceremonies. He was so inspired by the spirit and the energy of their dance that he choreographed The Stamping Ground, inspired by his life changing experience. Bangarra has revived the work as a centrepiece of the celebratory programme. It is a remarkable work, not because it so beautifully captures the imagination and the individuality of the dancers depicted on the 1980 film at the commencement of the work, but because it is so relevant to the understanding of the gift that the First Nation people have given to the contemporary culture. The dancers are superb, capturing cameo moments of identification with the animals and the humour and irony of their lives through the dance. Every aspect of the individual pieces and the ensemble work reflects Kylian’s passion and admiration and Bangarra’s indisputable attachment to country and the earth that nourishes the life of its people. It is the physicalization of the connection to land, and nature that endows The Stamping Ground with a deep affection for country and its people. Powerfully accompanied by Carlos Chavez’s percussive composition and Kylian’s own referential and earthy set design. Of the three works, this is the one that speaks to the non-indigenous members of the audience with impactful relevance and reverence.
The final piece of this extraordinary retrospective and acknowledgement of people and country, To make Fire depicts a selection of works that recognize the rich tapestry of Bangarra’s work over the past thirty years. In some respects, it is akin to a retold story, lovingly preserved and revealing new truths with each reading. We have seen the choreography before, but not with such immediacy and contemporary impact. The dance, the themes, the visual imagery denote the importance of a tradition that contains the heart of a people, their spirit and their stories, Like all of Bangarra’s work it is both graceful and athletic, fiery and gentle, agile and ethereal, supple and sinewy. It is the metaphor and the symbol. It is the imagination and the instinct. It is the beauty and the evocation of dance. To Make Fire, with its familiar choreographic patterns and echoes of a people who have inhabited the country for sixty five thousand years reminds us of a shared humanity, a shared experience and the debt we owe to tradition and the symbolism of story.

I have seen much of Bangarra’s work, but the reference to the genius of David Unaipon, the inspired reimagining by Jiri Kylian and the echoes of a past tradition have left me with an indelible respect for the art of our indigenous inhabitants and the gift that they have given to all Australians, if only we could have the humanity and the love to recognize and embrace it.

30 Years Of Sixty Five Thousand is a work for all Australians to experience and understand, indigenous and non indigenous. I would hope that all people could have access to this brilliant work. It has the power to change lives and change a nation.




Bangarra Dance Theatre
Canberra Theatre to 20 July

Reviewed by Len Power 18 July

In this anniversary season of dance, the Bangarra Dance Company looks back over their 30 years of existence.

The first work, ‘Unaipon’, focusses on David Unaipon, inventor, philosopher, writer and storyteller, who is credited with being the first published Aboriginal author.  His image is reproduced on the Australian $50 note.  In the opening section, ‘Ngarrindjeri’, David Unaipon philosophises about our existence in the universe.  The second part focusses on Unaipon’s fascination with the science of motion, winds and power.  In the third part, he sees religion and God as a unifier of all races.

Tyrel Dulvarie as David Unaipon (Photo by Daniel Boud)

Choreographed by Frances Rings, the work has an epic, haunting quality throughout.  The sixteen dancers create a magical world with depth and emotion with their fine dancing.  The ‘String Games’ section was particularly inventive and well-performed.

‘Stamping Ground’, a work choreographed in 1983 by Jiří Kylián for the Nederlands Dans Theater, was based on Kylián’s deep interest in and personal experience of Aboriginal dance and the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Simply staged, the work celebrates indigenous culture through a European sensibility and has occasional flashes of unexpected and welcome humour.  The six dancers performed the intricate and physically demanding choreography very well, making this a highly enjoyable experience.

'To Make Fire' (Photo by Lisa Tomasetti)

The final work, ‘To Make Fire’ consists of three worlds.  An excerpt from 2008’s work, ‘Mathinna’, describes the experience of a young Lowreenne Tasmanian girl removed from her home and adopted into western colonial society.  ‘About’ from 2002’s ‘Belong’, describes the cultural connection between the people of the Torres Strait islands and the spirits of the four winds.  The third part, ‘Clan’ – taken from ‘ID’ from 2011 and ‘Rush’ from 2002 – investigates what it means to be an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person in the 21st century.

Choreography was by Stephen Page and Elma Kris.  Woven together seamlessly, this work has a flow and energy that is exciting and thought provoking.  It was danced with accuracy, feeling and moments of great sensitivity by the sixteen dancers.

The striking set designs for the Australian works by Peter England and Jacob Nash, Nick Schlieper’s moody lighting designs, the music composed by David Page and Steve Francis and Jennifer Irwin’s evocative costumes gave the whole evening a highly charged atmosphere.

This celebration of 30 years of fine work by Bangarra was entertaining and highly memorable.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

Monday, July 15, 2019


Artistic Director: AJ America
Drill Hall Gallery, Acton 12 July

Reviewed by Len Power

With the Luminescence Children’s Choir, founder and Artistic Director, AJ America, has given Canberra children a unique opportunity to learn, perform and appreciate fine and often challenging music.

Established in 2016, the choir is an auditioned treble choir for Canberra-based musicians aged 10 to 17.  The choir regularly performs at local national institutions and toured in 2018 to Hobart and Melbourne to participate in the Festival of Voices.

Later this month, they will tour to Sydney to participate in the Gondwana World Choral Festival at the Sydney Opera House.  This concert gave us the opportunity to hear some of the repertoire they will be presenting at the Festival.

Dressed in black with the choir logo on their T-shirts, their visual presentation is simple but impressive.  Careful thought has clearly been given to their initial arrival on stage as well as their changes of position during the concert.  This was also visually pleasing for the audience.

The program included works by Britten, Mozart and Mendelssohn as well as a number of contemporary works.  Most it was sung a cappella and some works were accompanied on piano, played with great skill by Veronica Milroy.

The standard of the singing throughout the program was very high.  Choir members were impressive in their stillness, concentration and self-discipline.  Everyone sang with confidence and accuracy.

They gave particularly fine performances of a set of five songs entitled “Friday Afternoons” by Benjamin Britten, especially “Fishing Song” and “Jazz-Man”.  They followed this with a haunting performance of Mozart’s “Caro Bell’ Idol” in which their sustained high notes were especially impressive.

It was nice to see the choir obviously enjoying their singing of contemporary Bulgarian Petar Liondev’s “Kaval Sviri” and they sang the challenging “Fiat Lux” by Australia’s Alice Chance very well.  The highlight of the show was their excellent performance of Australian Joseph Twist’s haunting “Rain Dream”.

The choir’s musical abilities were spectacularly reinforced during the finale, “Our Song” by Kate Miller-Heidke.  Conductor, AJ America, suddenly walked away from the podium and left the children to sing unconducted and with no musical accompaniment.  They never missed a beat, bringing this memorable concert to a close.

Photos by Peter Hislop

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 13 July 2019

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.


Directed by Derek Walker
Free Rain Theatre Company
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 28 July

Reviewed by Len Power 11 July 2019

The combination of composer and lyricist, Cyndi Lauper, and book writer, Harvey Fierstein, proved to be a magical one for the Broadway musical, ‘Kinky Boots’.  Opening in 2013 in New York, the show won six Tony Awards including Best Musical and ran for over 2,500 performances.  It only closed on Broadway a few months ago.

Based on the 2005 British film of the same name, it tells the story of Charlie Price who inherits a shoe factory from his father and saves it from the brink of bankruptcy by designing a successful range of high-heeled boots in partnership with cabaret performer and drag queen, Lola.  Their unlikely friendship gives the show a warmth and heart that is quite beguiling.

Director, Derek Walker, has given us a high energy, good-looking production that plays fast and furious from start to finish.  Three professionals play the major leads, heading up a talented and enthusiastic large cast of local performers.

Martin Everett (Charlie Price) and the Company

As Charlie Price, the inheritor of the factory, Martin Everett plays his role with considerable depth and sings very well.  His solo song, ‘Step One’, was especially well sung and he was very moving in the duet, ‘Not My Father’s Son’.

As drag queen, Lola, Rania Potaka-Osborne gives a sassy but very human and appealing performance in this pivotal role.  Unfortunately, there were some vocal problems in the singing of his big song, ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ and in the duet with Charlie earlier in the show.

Rania Potaka-Osborne (Lola) and the Angels

As the emerging love interest for Charlie, Brittanie Shipway was a delight in a very physical, comedic performance as factory worker, Lauren.  A good singer, too, she commanded the stage with her song, ‘The History Of Wrong Guys’.

Amongst the large cast there were standout performances by Peter Dark, Tim Stiles, Hannah Lance, Chelsea Heaney, Kara Sellars and Michael Heming.  The singing and dancing by the guys playing the Angels – the drag queens supporting Lola – were outstanding.

The large ensemble performed impressively, singing and dancing with energy and precision.

Sound balance between orchestra and singers was fine and Nicholas Griffin’s band performed the colourful music with gusto and accuracy.  The large number of eye-catching costumes by Fiona Leach was a triumph of design and Cate Clelland’s substantial set was atmospheric and well-designed.

Michelle Heine’s fine choreography was danced with assurance by the company and Phillip Goodwin’s clever lighting design was especially impressive with the scenes showing the inner thoughts of the characters.

‘Kinky Boots’ is a feel-good musical and great entertainment.  This production really delivers the goods.

Photos by Craig Burgess, Family Fotographics

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 12 July 2019

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Kinky Boots - Free Rain

Review by John Lombard 

A shoe may be the most beautiful thing in the world. But when love, identity and destiny are all balanced on a stiletto heel, it’s also the most important thing in the world.

Kinky Boots is the story of Charlie Price (Martin Everett), reluctant heir to English shoe factory Price and Sons. Competition from cheap and shoddy imports threatens to shutter the family factory and turf the workers onto the street. But a chance encounter between Charlie and drag queen Lola (Rania Potaka-Osborne) inspires a new product that could save the business: fetish footwear.

With book by Harvey Fierstein and music by 80s icon Cyndi Lauper, this fresh musical transforms a struggling shoe factory into a glam carnival. Director Derek Walker tells the story with a gentle but certain touch, with the emphasis on kindness rather than clash.

Martin Everett as Charlie is likeable and sings with an enticing smoothness. Charlie has been raised for success and only has to sit on the throne others have built for him, but Everett finds the note of compassion necessary for us to accept this fortunate son as the hero.

Inevitably, Rania Potaka-Osborne steals the show as Lola. Potaka-Osborne is a sublime dancer, and their Lola is bold but with a lurking vulnerability. Like Cleopatra, Potaka-Osborne knows how to make an entrance, and deserved the whooping cheers from the audience whenever they defiantly claimed the stage.

The comic highlights belong to Brittanie Shipway as the lovestruck Lauren, flaring like gunpowder and with a talent for physical comedy that would melt the heart of Inspector Clouseau. Her costume was slightly too childish, and it would have been better to trust this aspect of the character to the performer.

In the supporting cast, Peter Dark was perfectly cast as the kind but ominous Mr Price. Tim Stiles gave a nuanced and well-considered performance as the play’s only real antagonist, the he-man Don, softening his villain turn in To Kill A Mockingbird earlier this year. Michael Heming delighted with his deadpan delivery as genteel shoe scientist George, carrying himself like an angel with divine responsibility for footwear. Hannah Lance gave Charlie's fiance Nicola refreshing energy and charm.

The drag queen ensemble came through, with fierce performances by David Santolin, Jordan Kelly, Lachy Agett, Alexander Thorpe, Ashley Jefrreys, and Garret Kelly. Costume designer Fiona Leach was obviously delighted to paint this canvas in sparkle and tinsel.

Cate Clelland supplied an evocative and clever set design, with wheeled components enabling swift scene changes.

At core, this is a love story between Charlie and Lola, but there is little friction between the two leads: there is no danger of any spark starting a fire. Instead, the primal energy that should drive their partnership is stuffed into conflict between the Lola and Don, protecting Charlie from having any inconvenient feelings that might derail the plot.

Parts of the story are lazy: Charlie becoming draconian as he pushes his team feels like a scene from The Mighty Ducks, and temptation by property developers is realistic but a trope that belongs to Muppet movies.

For a musical that styles itself kinky, this is actually wholesome entertainment, going as far as setting out specific rules for liking yourself and being nice to people. Cyndi Lauper’s music swaddles like velvet, and hostility to Lola and the drag queens comes not from the community but from a few malcontents. The production lives the play’s message of kindness and acceptance, without the fire of passion but with the warmth of love.

If you’re going to change the world, it's one sole at a time.

Miss Burlesque ACT Competition

Produced by Jazida and Michael Wheatley

29 June 2019

The Abbey, Gold Creek

By Samara Purnell

Winner Rainbow and Runner up Rebelle Velveteen
Photos by Captavitae

The glitter has settled and the crown has been placed on a new wig – that of
Rainbow – the winner of Miss Burlesque ACT 2019. With second place taken out by Rebelle Velveteen and the second runner up Seker Pare, the competition was held in front of a full house, at The Abbey Function Centre. The competition was stiff this year, with eight performers chosen from a large number of applicants.
Miss Burlesque Winner Rainbow

The judges - a flamboyantly attired panel, declared they were looking for imagination, style, engagement and crowd enjoyment, how the performer occupied the space and the “X” factor. Artemis Seven, last year’s competition winner, was looking for “Something sick” and pregnant judge Bunny Lambada said that as she was completely sober, she wanted to be transported to a place of drunkenness. Former CityNews Artist of the Year Liz Lea was one of six judges.

Personable MC Charlie Chapstick opened with an entertaining Shakespearean monologue, given a local burlesque twist, as she floated across the stage brandishing Yorick’s skull doused in glitter. The audience was asked to remember how nervous we were when we had to play the bush in the school play and imagine the nerves of the competitors. But they didn’t appear nervous at all, all performing confidently and professionally.

The performance began (well after the scheduled start time) with a red carpet section - a short introduction and parade, then the traditional section – routines inspired by the burlesque practice prior to the 1960s and finally a unique, freestyle section.

Possum Galore’s blue sparkly outfit paid homage to the most loved features in Canberra – LBG waterjet (that’s Lake Burley Griffin, just to clarify) and the Belco owl. She performed a funny, fruity Carmen Miranda inspired routine, expunging coconuts from her person and constructing a fruit salad in her headdress, around a stuffed possum. You should see where she hangs her pineapple rings!

Veridian Mint came up against a giant inflatable champagne bottle in delicious candy pink and green costumes, whilst Sara Martini took bibliophile to the next level with a saucy librarian routine.

Minky Minx, with a “limit of one facial expression a day to avoid wrinkles” performed with graceful ease in attractively choreographed routines.

Chocolate E Claire assumed the “posture of a queen and the hips of a whore” as she transformed from an English horse rider, to the ridden. Clever and kinky, this was a very funny characterization with great props.

Seker Pare
Seker Pare’s Marilyn Monroesque routine saw her perform in a white satin, fishtail lace-up dress, to a samba beat. Hers were the most blatantly sensual and sexy routines of the evening, with her “Moth to a Flame” act intriguingly seductive.

Seker Pare, unique section

Rebelle Velveteen was most adept at the removal of clothing, performing in a red velvet dress, with black boa. Later, she gave a very confident routine of a roadside break-down, where she utilized a versatile prop that transformed from car seat to spikes, which she then lay on.

Runner up Rebelle Velveteen

Competition winner, Rainbow, put Priscilla to shame with her brightly coloured, voluminous costume. Her Can Can-inspired routine was high energy and brash, with not so much a girly “woo”, as a blood-curdling scream before throwing herself into a split. Her second routine, as the Mad Hatter was genuinely hilarious, with a lampshade for a hat and a new take on tea-bagging! Brash, quirky and hysterical, she was a fitting winner, given the judges’ requirements. Rainbow takes home $1000 in cash and will represent the ACT in search of the title of Miss Burlesque Australia, to be held in Perth.

Rainbow, traditional section

Competition organizer Jazida was dressed in a stunning black and purple corset, with a Mohican-style feather headdress and a waist to hip ratio to make Dita Von Teese jealous. Rockstars and Royalty had teamed up with Jazida and co-producer Michael Wheatley to make the bedazzling wardrobe of corsets, gowns and costumes for the evening and it appeared a perfect fit.

The set-up appeared more organized that the previous burlesque production by the same team, but with lengthy intermissions, speeches and delays, it was almost midnight when we spilled out into the wintry rain. But the rain didn’t dampen what was a most entertaining, quality evening of colour, costumes and creativity.