Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Little Explorers' Days

 

Questacon Little Explorers’ Days.  National Science and Technology Centre, Canberra. February 8, 9, 10 2023. www.questacon.edu.au

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 8

Like Dr Who’s Telephone Box, Questacon is huge on the inside.  It’s a relatively small building between the Australian National Library, the Australian National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia and the High Court of Australia.  

Maybe Einstein could see a case of relativity in this universe.  It’s certainly a prestigious position for STEM education to be in.  That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, of course – and Questacon is absolutely chockfull of hands-on experiential learning, though I was a little concerned for the 4 year old as the Tesla coil Faraday caged lightning exploded on its 15-minute deadline.  She hid behind her loving mother’s skirts and was not too frightened, I hope.

But the Questacon Tardis really runs on STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS and Mathematics.  Its 170 seat theatre plays 3 shows every day of the year except Christmas Day – 364 x 3 x 170 = 300,000 according to what BJ Anyos, the Early Learning Coordinator in the Learning Experience Team told me.  Even if it should be 185,640, that’s still probably the largest audience reach per annum of any theatre in the country, as she claimed.

Today, with parents and carers and their 0 to 6 years children (yes, there were some 0’s), I watched Mutti, a plant-eating Muttaburrasaurus, (puppeteered by Dan Power) learn to be brave  - with the help of a hundred or so little dinosaurs – rather than be scared of a meat-eating Australovenator (Brent Brosnan).  We all had to run away very fast together from the billabong, leaving our footprints to record a fossil stampede.  We were gobblers, bug-suckers, or slow-moving yawners with appropriate hand actions, even while we were stamping our feet hard and fast.

As palaeontologists, of course, we had to practise pronouncing Muttaburrasaurus.


Out of the theatre, perhaps in recognition of our DNA, strings of littlies explored the spiral of galleries beginning in Gallery 1 Robots and Artificial Intelligence.  Hold a lever down outside the glass to lift the other end up inside, and a robotic jointed arm with an eye sees what you have done, and (gently but firmly) reaches out and pushes the inner end down again.  Though very littlies basically absorb the experience, as they grow older – and become grown-ups – even such a simple device asks questions, like does the robot have feelings and (I thought) how do I feel about the robot and AI?

There are hours’ worth of activities in the main 5 galleries.  Some are about engineering and spatial learning around fitting what appear to be impossible shapes together; some involve a staff teacher, such as one I saw doing practical mixing of liquids of different colours.  As the children chose and helped with the mixing, they were being asked to predict what colours would result and to work out how to create the colours they wanted.  Here was the Arts again in a lab setting.

My three hours’ exploring with the littlies left me thoroughly impressed with the originality of the Questacon team in their approach to experiential learning, and with the obvious engagement of children and their accompanying adults throughout.

And I remembered how the use of theatre and games in museums had really got under way in Australia some twenty years ago, when Questacon started the Excited Particles performance team, and in March 2002 the first Australian national conference Raising the Curtain: Performance in Cultural Institutions took place at the National Museum of Australia, on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin, inspired especially by Catherine Hughes, of Boston's Museum of Science and IMTAL (International Museum Theatre Alliance), who began her keynote speech as Mary Anning (who discovered the first complete fossil remains of an icthyosaur at the age of 11 in the year 1812) and ended the conference with a lecture and workshop on how to evaluate the successes - or failures - of performance programs in museums.

For more detail, go to my review of that conference at

https://frankmckone2.blogspot.com/search?q=Excited+Particles

Twenty years later, Questacon has fulfilled the promise of Catherine Hughes’ inspiration to the Nth Degree.


 

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES - Showtune Productions.

 

Paul Capsis as Albin as  ZsaZsa in "La Cage aux Folles"

Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman – Book by Harvey Fierstein

Directed by Riley Spadaro – Musical Direction by Craig Renshaw

Choreographed by Veronica Beattie George – Costume Design by James Browne

 Set Design by Grace Deacon - Wigs and Makeup designed by Drew-Elizabeth Johnstone

Sound Design by Anthony Lorenz – Lighting Design by Phoebe Pilcher

The Concourse Theatre, Chatswood.  1st - 5th February 2023.

Matinee performance on 4th February reviewed by Bill Stephens

Les Cagelles in "La Cage aux Folles"


When it was first seen on Broadway in 1983 La Cage aux Folles broke barriers for gay representation by becoming the first hit Broadway musical focussed around a homosexual relationship.  Now, 40 years later, it’s no longer provocative, but more a celebration of inclusiveness and family wrapped in one of Jerry Herman’s most tuneful scores.

Harvey Fierstein’s wicked quips still delight, and his storyline remains surprisingly touching and   as presented in this deliciously effervescent production, insures a delightful theatrical experience for the whole family.

La Cage aux Folles tells the story of a gay couple, Georges, the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub which presents drag entertainment; and Albin, his romantic partner and star attraction at the nightclub.

Their relationship hits a snag however when George’s son, Jean-Michel, the result of a one-night stand some years before, announces that he wants to bring his fiancé and her ultra-conservative parents’ home to meet Georges and would prefer that the flamboyant Albin was not around. How this situation is resolved provides the show with its hilarious finale.

The original 1985 Australian production of La Cage played for six months in Sydney before moving on to Melbourne. It famously starred Keith Michell as Georges and Jon Ewing, unforgettable as Albin. Todd McKenney was one of the Cagelles in that production.  

McKenney later went on to play Albin opposite Simon Burke’s Georges in a Production Company revival in 2014 which was only seen in Melbourne. 

Remarkably, Sydney has had to wait 37 years for its opportunity to see this show again. But it’s been worth the wait, because, finally, after several Covid related postponements, David M. Hawkins with his Showtune Productions has finally got his production on stage, albeit for a pitifully short season, and in doing so, created a small sensation with his superbly cast and performed production.

Lani Tapu  - Michael Cormick (Georges) - Zoe Ventura - Paul Capsis ( Albin)
in
"La Cage aux Folles

 

His trump card is the remarkable Paul Capsis as Albin. Capsis is one of the country’s most unique and accomplished performers and this is a role he was born to play. His Albin is bitchy, difficult, prone to hissy fits, hysterically funny, but completely authentic and magnetic whenever on stage.  It’s a performance to relish, although perhaps still a work in progress given the short season.

Capsis is perfectly matched by Michael Cormick who also offers a superb performance as the suave, handsome, unflappable Georges, able to calm Albin’s ruffled feathers with his honey-toned baritone with memorable renditions of “With You on My Arm” and “Song of the Sand”.    

Directed with considerable flair by Riley Spadaro, most of the action for this production takes place onstage and backstage at the nightclub. Designer, Grace Deacon, incorporated handsome festoon curtaining into her otherwise simple design to achieve a luxurious ambiance. Changes of locale were achieved simply by having cast members whisk furniture and props into place as required.

Les Cagelles - "La Cage Aux Folles"


Raised rostrums upstage accommodated Craig Renshaw’s excellent onstage band, leaving plenty of room for the many spectacular dance routines performed with commendable panache and precision by up to nine gorgeously bespangled and bewigged Cagelles which added much of the glitz and glamour.

Noah Mullins captured exactly the right tone of youthful entitlement as well as revealing an attractive singing voice, as Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, who’s hopelessly besotted with his pretty, wide-eyed fiancée, Anne, charmingly portrayed by Chloe Malek.

Noah Mullins (Jean-Michel) - Michael Cormick (Georges)


Zoe Ventoura brought glamour and a well-tuned sense of humour to her performance as Marie Dindon, the wife of Jane’s pompous father, Edouard Dindon, portrayed with obvious enjoyment and appropriate pomposity by Lani Tupu.

Anthony Brandon Wong brought plenty of energy to his interpretation of the household’s stage- struck manservant, Jacob, although the decision to costume him in dresses occasionally caused confusion, particularly when he was onstage with Albin also in a dress.

It was also a miss-step to costume Albin in a dress and heels for “Masculinity” because it’s impossible to “walk like a man” in high-heels. Therefore the song lost its point and whatever comic possibilities were inherent in Albin attempting to do as he’s asked. It also provided the one moment in the show where Paul Capsis appeared to struggle to maintain character.

These quibbles aside, such has been the interest in this production that there is talk that it might tour. It should. Not only because of the performances of Capsis and Cormick, but because there is so much to be enjoyed about this production and the way it has captured the heart of what the show is really about, that it should be seen by the widest possible audience. If it comes your way, don’t miss it.  

Les Cagelles in "La Cage aux Folles"


Images by John McRae




This review also published in AUSTRALIA ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au 




Monday, February 6, 2023

Dogfight. Reviewed by Alanna Maclean

Alexander Clubb and Taylor Paliaga  in "Dogfight"

 

Dogfight. Directed by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts. Musical director Caleb Campbell. Choreography by Nathan Rutups. Dramatic P.roductions. Gungahlin Theatre. Closed Feb 4.

THIS is a refreshingly sensitive musical full of melancholy and a sense of the darker undercurrents of the 1960s.

Based on the 1991 film, it follows the story of a group of US Marines on the eve of heading in 1963 to Vietnam. 

Like many of us in Australia at the time they probably couldn’t find the country on a map. 

As part of entering into manhood the soldiers think it is appropriate to have a competition to see who can bring the ugliest woman to a pre departure nightclub event. Pte Eddie Birdlace (Alexander Chubb) persuades Rose, (Taylor Paliaga) working in a diner, to be his ‘date’, without, of course, revealing the terms. Rose is just as deprived of a decent education and options in life as he is but is well on the way to thinking for herself, lonely and honest, working in her mother’s diner but guitar to hand, following the folk singers of the times and their ideas.

Eddie has to pass through Vietnam and loss to reach any understanding. 

Dramatic Productions’ take on all of this, under the direction of Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts is a splendid one. 

Chris Zuber’s set is abstract with a suggestion of San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, towering above the ordinary lives of the characters. with bench seats on movable platforms swooping in and out to suggest the diner, a bus, a bridge. Carefully selective lighting by Craig Muller and Grant Pegg aids the mood. 

The small orchestra up the back under musical director Caleb Campbell is both unobtrusive and powerful. Jennie Norberry’s costume designs catch something of the transition from the teased up hairdos of the 60s to the flower power caftans as the 70s approach. (The mini skirt never quite penetrates this neck of the woods) And Nathan Rutups’ sensitive and thoughtful choreography underpins the feelings of the piece. 

Will Collett and Grayson Woodham as Eddie’s two army mates provide solid support, Kit Berry as Marcy, only in the ‘dogfight’ for the cash, is a wildly comic contrast to Rose, Pippin Carroll relishes his spotlight time as the Lounge Singer and Kirrily Cornwell is touching as Rose’s Mama. Read the biographies in the programme - the rest of the cast has a range of experience that supports the depth of the piece. 

But it’s Chubb and Paliaga who carry the heart of the show and its challenges with intelligence and feeling and great singing. A good opening to the year.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

REFLECTIONS ON NATURE

Photography | Brian Rope

REFLECTIONS ON NATURE | VARIOUS ARTISTS

OLD BARN GALLERY | 2 – 12 FEBRUARY 2023

The Reflections on Nature artist-in-residence project was launched on social media at the end of April 2020. At that time it was described as “designed to encourage artists to connect with nature over the coming months…… observing and creating in response to observations of colour, regrowth, seasonal change and interesting revelations….. for everyone from beginner artists ….. a guided journey of topics and inspirational thoughts….. a safe space …. to share …. sketches, photos, ideas, prose and observations.…… We may even grow this into an exhibition of observations or a publication eventually!”

Well it certainly grew. And now there is an exhibition of works selected from the huge number of observations by the substantial membership of the project - more than 600 people made thousands of contributions. The creative reflections gathered represent a unique and contemplative perspective on the environment during a time when our world changed. 

Before this project was born, the environment had been dreadfully damaged by fire and drought. Then COVID-19 began. As a result, project participants felt a great need to explore the outdoors. They slowed down and looked for ways to create a sense of possibility, and for the promise of healing. 

Photographers, writers, artists, journalers, ecologists and naturalists joined forces exploring the natural environment. Places they often knew well became sources of fresh wonder and delight, as they rediscovered and saw them afresh. Indeed this was a personal experience as I walked around the open areas of my own suburb.

Over a period of twelve months of guided, focussed observations in the Canberra region and beyond, the artists shared purpose around a common interest in nature resulted in a rich record of their experiences.

The exhibition was officially opened on World Wetlands Day (wetlands are being lost three times faster than forests) by Senator David Pocock who described the artworks as incredible and the exhibition as making a massive contribution.

The Senator noted that First Nations people had looked after our environment for thousands of years and that we all need to do so now. He suggested the participants’ engagement with the environment had gathered information that politicians could not ignore, and urged all present to fight for what they love – the bush capital and its landscape – by having hard cultural conversations with other Canberra residents and seeking to engage the next generation.

The many fine artworks on display are diverse – photography, video, drawings, painting, sketched and written journal entries, and more. It is difficult to single out some artworks for individual mention.

However, amongst those to which I was drawn was Bohie Palecek’s delightful and colourful portrait of herself with a bird on her shoulder.


Transformations Theme - Self-portrait by 
Bohie Palecek

Rainer Rehwinkle’s spectacular Grasslands was one of many standout photographic images.


Sense of Place theme - Rainer Rehwinkel - Grassland image-2

I also very much enjoyed David Flannery’s various quality bird images.


Transformations Theme - Choughs - Photography by David Flannery

Amongst the many collages is an excellent one of eucalypt bark abstracts.


Panel of eucalypt patterns - colours and textures by Terry Rushton (Installation shot)

Chris Lockley is showing a colourful image amongst another of the collages.


Waning Theme - Fungi photography by Chris Lockley

Sue Bond shares a delightful photo of a crane fly at a sundew .


Textures and Revelations Theme - A sundew with a crane fly Photography by Sue Bond

There also are many marvellous journal pages to flick through or explore carefully, depending how much time you are able to spend at the exhibition.


Emergence Theme - Nature journaling of grassland forbes by Julia Landford


Julia Landford 1

Waning Theme - nature journaling response by Fiona Boxall (watercolour sketch)

An engaging Nature Video by David Rees is also well worth viewing in its entirety. Images included in the video can be seen on his Flickr site here.

I could go on sharing details of individual artworks here for ever, but it would be much better to visit the exhibition for yourself if possible. If you can’t make it, take a look at the project’s Facebook page here. 

I understand the organisers have been invited to show the work at Canberra Museum and Gallery in 2024, which is further recognition of the importance of our environment and the value of nature. It will provide another opportunity to see the artworks on display.

This review is also available on the author's blog here.

 

 

 

 

Death is not here

Photography Book Review | Brian Rope

Title: Death is not here

Author: Wouter Van de Voorde

Publisher: Void | Australian Distributor: Perimeter Books

Price: AUD$105

Format: Softcover with dustjacket

ISBN: 978-618-5479-25-1

Students of theology, medical practitioners, poets. All have reflected for centuries on the nature of death. Is it “good” or “bad”? A famous death poem often spoken at funerals, Death is nothing at all (Henry Scott-Holland), includes these words “It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened”.

Death is not here, a new photobook by Canberra’s Wouter Van de Voorde, is a photographic reflection on the topic. Published by Void, an Athens-based independent photobooks publisher, last November, it has been reviewed and commented on by others on websites and in publications from various countries. Australian distribution commenced in January 2023.

It is, as other commentators have suggested, a mysterious book. It contains no words (in the traditional sense) other than a page of credits and minimal background – itself slightly intriguingly referring to the book as “This is not death”.

The book’s 160 pages are primarily filled with photographs, but also some delightful sketches of fossils. All images and drawings are by the author. Readers – yes, we are reading when we look at photos – are challenged to understand the author’s story for themselves. Or, perhaps, create their own stories about life and death from those images. Van de Voorde himself has written “A peculiar convergence of death/life and permanence/impermanence occurred during the period I made these images. 'Death is not here' is a personal time capsule capturing and preserving this time in my life.”

The subjects include ravens, dug holes, lumps of clay, rings of fire, curtains, a mother and newborn, sculpted pieces, an egg, plus dead or dying animals and plants.


© Wouter Van de Voorde -32 (raven on pole with fixer stain, 2021)

© Wouter Van de Voorde -30 (Round fire hole, 2021)

© Wouter Van de Voorde -33 (cracked egg on fossils sculpture)

But the subjects, per se, are not the story. Readers need to take up the challenge to explore and interpret what the images reveal.

In some ways, many photographs are so unlike it is difficult to see how they belong together. Every so often there is a blank page. For me, these said stop awhile, think about what you have read, review the material already seen before moving on. Some images may generate feelings of anxiety or be difficult to appreciate in the context of the whole story. Or you may simply not like them.

At the time of taking the photos, the author was about to become a father for the second time. He had been making still lifes with fossils.

 


© Wouter Van de Voorde -31 (mother and newborn)

When his son wanted to play a real-life version of video game Minecraft, they began digging in their backyard. The hole grew deeper and wider.


© Wouter Van de Voorde -29 (Felix and Leo playing with mud in the garden, 2021)

Van de Voorde began experimenting - drawing the outlines of holes with flames. Unearthing the grave of a chicken, bones visible, they harvested clay and used it to fire small objects, including a skull. Images of empty backyard spaces are interspersed with others of the artist's son in an eroded gorge. Were the father and son together exploring what lies beneath. Remember the supernatural horror thriller film of that name?


© Wouter Van de Voorde -34

The philosopher Epicurus famously asserted that death should not be feared. His argument has been summarised. When we die, we no longer exist and can feel neither pain nor pleasure. Therefore, there is nothing to fear in death, as death literally is nothing. Or, if you prefer - Don’t worry, as long as we’re alive, Death is not here!

But isn’t death everywhere? In Ukraine and other battlefields, in various Californian shootings recently, on our roads regularly when vehicles crash, sometimes in hospital operating theatres, in the funeral notices pages. The nature of death is highly variable. Despite Epicurus, many do fear it.

How do you perceive life and death?

This review was first published by the Canberra Times - online here and on page 5 of Panorama in the print edition of 4/2/23. It is also available on the author's blog here.

Friday, February 3, 2023

DOGFIGHT


 

Dogfight. Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Book by Peter Buchand. Based on the 1991 film by Warner Bros. with screen play by Bob Comfort.

Directed by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts. Musical director/conductor  Caleb Campbell. Orchestrra  Caleb Campbell Keys,Elisha Adams Violin, Jessica Coote, Enola Jefferis Cello, Hayley Manning Bass, Dylan Slater Guitar, Brandon Reed Drums .  Choreographer Nathan Rutups Costume design Jenny Norberry. Lighting design Craig Mullar and Grant Pegg. Sound design James McPherson. Set Design Chris Zuber. Dramatic Productions Gungahlin College Theatre. January 27 – February 4 2023. Bookings: www.stagecenta.com

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Dramatic Productions has done it again. Having recently wowed audiences with their outstanding production of School of Rock, the company has taken musical theatre in Canberra to even higher heights with their current production of  Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Dogfight. Directors Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts have collaborated once again to create a show that is superbly staged, crisply choreographed and with musical direction that is evocative and powerfully expressive. With a cast that would be as much at home on an off Broadway stage as it is on the Gungahlin Theatre stage, Dogfight is superbly acted and brilliantly sung by a company of performers who affirm once again the phenomenal musical theatre talent in Canberra in a production that is not to be missed.

The Marines in Dogfight

Dogfight is a bitter-sweet adaptation of Nancy Savoca’s 1991 film Dogfight. The first act follows the lives of three testosterone fuelled larrikin buddies, the more sensitive Eddie Birdlace ( a beautifully nuanced performance by Alexander Clubb), Boland, played with aggressive machoism by Will Collett and the inexperienced sex hungry Bernstein (played with just the right degree of lapdog naivety by Grayson Woodham)  living it up before being despatched to the war in Vietnam.  Boland sets a challenge for each to find the ugliest woman to take to the dogfight competition of the ugliest woman on the dancefloor.  Boland hires prostitute Marcy (Kit Berry). Bernstein picks up plain Ruth and Birdlace discovers diner waitress and would be musician Rose (unforgettably played and sung with utterly engaging conviction by Taylor Paliaga). Act 1 sets up the complicated love story between Eddie and Rose, in which innocence and indiscretion feed the polarising forces of Eddie’s thoughtless participation in the dogfight and Rose’s hurtful betrayal.

Act 1 introduces us to a world of naïve innocence, of youthful impetuousness and the first flush of awkward love. Directors Pegg and Roberts have staged it with impeccable authenticity and meticulous attention to sentiment and style. The Ensemble provides a backdrop to the action, atmospherically choreographed by Nathan Rutups, who once again enables emotion and character to drive the intelligent and appropriate choreography of the piece with the excellent support and collaboration of musical director Caleb Campbell and his small orchestra.

Alexander Clubb, Charlotte Gearside and Taylor Paliaga in Dogfight 

Act 2 packs a crueller punch. The confident belief that a 13 week training and a gun will ensure safety in the combat zone is shattered by the grim and deadly reality of war. In a combat scene, choreographed with heart stopping reality by Rutups and lit with the full impact of jungle warfare by Craig Mullar and Grant Pegg the horrible impact of the Vietnam conflict is captured by the magnificent collaborative talent of the direction, the choreography, the lighting and set design and the orchestration. Redgum’s iconic lament I was only 19 echoes hauntingly in my mind. This is a moment that encapsulates the perfection of the ensemble and  theatricality. It is a scene that epitomizes the professionalism of the production company, cast and creatives.

It is natural to focus on the performances of the Three Bees as the mates are known and Rose as the central love interest, but this is a production in which every participant deserves a plaudit. There are some terrific cameo performances, namely Pippin Carroll’s dual roles as the smooth and somewhat sleazy lounge singer and the cigarette sucking tattooist and Charlotte Gearside’s officious glorified maître d'. Rachel Seo’s graceful ballet movements contrast with the marines’ foot stomping rendition of Some Kinda Time.

Kit Berry,Will Collett.Alexander Clubb, Taylor Paliaga in Dogfight

In a production as seamless and thought-provoking as this, it is not possible not to be moved or confronted by the impact of youthful naivety, of unconsidered consequence, of love’s turbulent trials or the horrors of a politician’s war. The ghosts of a futile war may still be heard in the haunting and powerfully moving Hometown Hero’s Ticker Tape Parade. The disgrace, the shame and the damage still resonate in Birdlace’s return to the arms of Rose and the pathos in Pasek’s and Paul’s music and lyrics and Buchan’s book.

Dramatic Productions’ Dogfight will linger long after the rapturously applauded curtain call. Heart warming, heart stopping and heart stirring, this is a musical that deserves a far longer season than an amateur company with undeniable professional production values can afford. Newly formed Heartstrings Theatre Company, after a critically acclaimed season in Canberra has been receiving rave reviews at Hayes Theatre in Sydney. Dogfight would be an ideal choice to follow in Heartstrings’ footsteps. It is a crying shame that productions of such quality must suffer too short a season. Canberra audiences deserve better!.

CAST: Alexander Clubb, Taylor Paliaga, Will Collett, Grayson Woodham, Kit Berry,Kirrily Cornwell, Pippin Carroll, Liam Downing, Luke Ferdinands, Charlotte Gearside, Kara Murphy, Rachel Seo, Frank Shanahan, Rachel Thornton

Photos by Janelle McMenamin

 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

CULTURE CRUISE - Australian Dance Party.

 

Yolanda Lowatta at Reconciliation Place

 Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.


AN invitation from Australian Dance Party to spend half a day “a spectacular art tour and cruise to make your senses dance” on Lake Burley Griffin was too good to refuse.

The  ADP is an  innovative activist dance company which specialises in creating site-specific performances around Canberra and its environs.

I’ve enjoyed performances by ADP at Mt. Majura Solar Farm (freezing), Mt. Stromlo Observatory (charming), a secret warehouse in Fyshwick (sublime) and the Australian National Botanic Gardens (memorable).

The company’s newest venture, “Culture Cruise” is the brainchild of its leader and director, Alison Plevey, who together with her co-director, Sara Black, developed the concept in which, although dance is integral to the concept, the cruise is not strictly a dance work but rather  an innovative attempt to create a unique experience weaving together elements of the city’s visual art, architecture, live performance, food and wine.


Stefani Lekkas welcomes guest on to the Gull


After being checked off and issued with bright orange identity badges, our group was greeted by host and storyteller, Stefanie Lekkas, who ushered us on to The Gull and introduced us to the skipper, Captain Jim, who  explained that the Gull had been originally built by its first owner as a fishing vessel, circa 1921 then been converted to a comfortable 28 seat passenger vessel, powered by electric motors.

Lekkas, in mystical story-teller mode, focussed attention on the beauty of the  surroundings while Captain Jim proffered additional prosaic and entertaining details about the national institutions we encounter along the journey, including  the Braille tiles on the walls of the National Museum, the renovations to the Captain Cook water fountain, and those additional bells installed in the National Carillon.

Once on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin we disembarked to begin a short stroll to Reconciliation Place, where the first performance artist, former Bangarra dancer Yolanda Lowatta, costumed in dazzling orange, focussed attention on the significance and purpose of Reconciliation Place then  beckoned us to follow her through the series of artworks depicting significant events in First Nations history which surround the central mound.

On arrival at the National Portrait Gallery, we were treated to an abstract performance by sound artist, Liam Budge, and dancers Ryan Douglas Stone and Lowatta, this time clad in subtle costume designs by Aislinn King. This simple but effective design device neatly connected all the participants. Remember your badge?


Ryan Stone and Stefanie Lekkas outside the High Court.


After a 40-minute viewing of the portrait exhibition “Who Are You”, Stone again captivated with his athletic dance interpretations, firstly of the High Court and later of the  National Gallery’s Calder sculpture, before leading us into with one more dance performance to the Water’s Edge Restaurant for a leisurely lunch.

Back at the Gull, Captain Jim welcomed us on board before ferrying us back to the National Museum where Budge was waiting to serenade us. Following some final farewell remarks from   Lekkas, we headed into the museum for an  exploration of the “Great Southern Land” exhibition.


Liam Budge entertains guest at the National Museum


So does the Cultural Cruise live up to its promise?   Judging on my own experience, it does. Memorable features included the meticulous attention to detail,  providing chairs at the performance points, and allowing sufficient time to savour the exhibitions.

The performances themselves were skilful and varied as were the narrations by Lekkas which were informative, uncluttered, often poetical, and promoting a sense of inquiry rather than providing answers.

Australian Dance Party has cleverly subverted a familiar activity into a unique and satisfying artistic experience perfect for savouring as a personal indulgence, or as something to share with a friend or fastidious visitor.    

             More tours scheduled : 25th Feb - 4th Mar.- 11th Mar.-18th Mar. Visit website.


                                                         Images Bill Stephens


      This review first published in CITY NEWS digital edition of 30th January 2023.