Monday, November 30, 2009

Play: NOT AXEL HARRISON Malcolm Miller

Sam Floyd's latest play at The Street Studio, is a most entertaining gangster comedy, almost a farce without doors, in which clever lighting and set design, combined with telephone converstaions, create the kind of confusion and chaos we expect in that form.
There are good reasons why it isn't always advisable for writers to direct their own work, but in this cast Sam Floyd makes it work.  One wonders what another director, without the writer's preconceived ideas, might have made of it. 

The cast of seven gave polished performances from talented young actors. Becky Bergmann was a feisty daughter of the Italianate gangster chief, Poncioni, played by Davis McNamara with polished menace.  Adam Salter was the dumb gunman, Val, who kept trying to get an exclusive on the dirty work to be carried out.  Tom Watson as the innocent Axel, forced to strangle the hit man, played by Chris Brain,  sent by loan shark Poncini, and then to take his place, was naively likeable as he bluffed his way into gangland.  Daniel McCusker was the crooked, conniving cop, Spiegel, managing to be visibly corrupt, while Jack Dyball was the fringe-dwelling drug dealer.

 The audience on opening night was having at least  a laugh a minute as mistaken identity and confusion tangled the plot into zany humour ending up with baddies' bodies heaped on the floor. 

I predict that a lot more will be heard from Sam Floyd, as his originality and willingness to develop and polish his plays grows. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

Not Axel Harrison by Sam Floyd. Freshly Ground Theatre at The Street Two, November 26 – December 5

Theatre by Frank McKone

Not Axel Harrison by Sam Floyd.  Freshly Ground Theatre at The Street Two, November 26 – December 5 2009 (excluding Sundays and Mondays) at 8pm.
Freshly Ground Theatre has carved a small but attractive niche in Canberra’s theatrical architecture.  The company is the vehicle for the writer Sam Floyd, whose work continues to show flair in this, their third, production. 

Not Axel Harrison is a parody of the gangster movie genre in which the hit man Axel Harrison (Tom Watson) is killed by his intended victim,Chris, a non-violent florist (Chris Brain) who disguises himself as Harrison not only to avoid detection as a murderer but to escape the attention of the gangster loan-shark Poncioni (David MacNamara)to whom he owes a large sum, which is why Poncioni had sent Harrison.

At this point the plot, involving the non-appearing Bruce (apparently already killed by Harrison), the dim-witted bodyguard Val (Adam Salter), Poncioni’s sexy aggressive daughter Donna (Becky Bergman), Micky the Mule (Jack Dyball), and the corrupt cop in Poncioni’s pocket, Spiegel (Daniel McCusker), follows a constantly twisted line of logic which should not be revealed here: better to see the play and be surprised.  Suffice to say, farce is the order of the day.

The performances varied in strength, with the commendations going to McNamara and Salter.  But the generation X, Y or Z audience was not looking for highly polished acting from a cast of their peers.  It was the dialogue and plot which carried the laughs, making for a successful light entertainment.

Floyd’s work has antecedents in Joe Orton’s Loot and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound.  Both those writers had the advantage of being able to participate in the British repertory and university traditions in their day.  Freshly Ground’s niche is in this mould, but Canberra cannot boast the equivalent of the Cambridge University Footlights, the progenitor of much zany British comedy since the 1960s.

Maybe this is the time for Floyd and those around him to take up where Elbow Theatre left off and build our own Capital new wave of original young writers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Symphony For Kids" - Canberra Symphony Orchestra - Canberra Theatre - 22.11.09

The brainchild of Ian McLean, and now in its Seventh year, "Symphony For Kids" is an initiative by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra to introduce young audiences into the wonders of music played by a full symphony orchestra.

Perhaps a little older than the target audience, I attended my first "Symphony for Kids" in the packed Canberra Theatre on Sunday afternoon. What a joyous occasion it turned out to be.

With the orchestra pit up, the full orchestra was arranged as far downstage as possible without falling in to the audience. This effectively allowed every member of the audience to feel that they were almost part of the orchestra, which looked very spiffy in black suits and bowties. Not the ladies of course, they wore glamorous black evening wear.

Before the concert began, conductor Ian McClean introduced each group of instruments. He explained how the instrument worked, and its purpose as part of the orchestra. He then invited a musician from the orchestra to demonstrate the instrument.  

Once the instruments had been introduced, Ian then introduced each item. After explaining to his young audience that music had the capacity to allow them to feel various emotions and moods, he gave his young audience a challenge....which was to try and feel the emotion the music was expressing.

He then told them what the music was, and most importantly, why it had been selected. "Morning" from Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite" allowed us - helped by some appropriate lighting on the cyc - to imagine a sunrise. We happily imagined our own circus during Kabalevsky' "Comedian's Galop", and felt suitably anxious during John Williams emotive music from "Jaws".

The audience happily galloped their horses around a racecourse during Rossini's "William Tell Overture" and helped the orchestra, who, according to Ian, were too busy playing their instruments to be able to sing, by lustily singing all the words to all the songs from "High School Musical".

By the end of the concert, the majorly pre-school audience, at the session I attended, were almost bursting out of their skins with excitement, and up for the next challenge.  So was I.

Particularly impressive about this concert, was the quality of the music played by the orchestra, and the wonderful rapport between Ian McLean, the audience and the orchestra. The classical selections were just as they had been written by the composers, and the contemporary selections, carefully arranged to display all the thrilling dynamic range and colour of the full symphony orchestra.

Though it lasted only an hour, this concert was a thoroughly memorable and delightful experience, and next year, I, for one, will be rounding up my own grandchildren and as many others as I can find, to share this exciting new discovery. You should too !

Bill Stephens

"The Magic of Operetta" - Louise Page, Phillipa Candy - Street Theatre - 15.11.09

Former "Artist of the Year", Louise Page, launched a new CD of songs from operetta, with a well-attended concert in the Street Theatre.
More an elegant, superbly constructed, cabaret than a recital, "The Magic of Operetta" allowed Louise to demonstrate her unrivalled mastery of the genre, and the show ranged through a delightful selection of carefully chosen operetta classics, including beautifully sung selections from "The Dancing Years" (Ivor Novello), "Land of Smiles" (Franz Lehar), "Rose Marie" (Rudolph Friml), "Rio Rita" (Robert Stolz) and "Countess Maritza (Emmerich Stolz). Each selection was preceded by a short, spoken quote, which set the tone for what was to follow.

Louises' gift, apart from her beautifully trained voice and flawless diction, is her ability to inhabit each song, illuminate the subtext, and reveal the composer's intention.  Whether the song is a sighing waltz, ("Love Unspoken" from Lehar's "The Merry Widow"), a wistful paen to unrequitted love (I'll Follow My Secret Heart" from Noel Cowards "Conversation Piece") or even a saucy attempt at seduction ("My Burning Kisses" from Franz Lehar's "Giuditta" ), Louise was able to slip gracefully and effortlessly into the mood of each song allowing it to become a small opera of its own.

Particular highlights for me was the heavily romantic "In a Private Room" from Richard Heubergers' "Der Opernball" and the wonderfully funny  "The Tipsy Waltz" from Jacques Offenbach's "La Perichole", in which Louise demonstrated her hitherto unexposed ..flair for comedy. But then every song for me was a highlight, and of course each was impeccably accompanied by Phillipa Candy.

Tasteful lighting and just the occasional prop added visual variety to a concert which will be long savoured by those present. Thankfully it is all preserved on a CD of the same name. Look out for it.

Bill Stephens 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Full list and Citations for 2009 CCC Awards

Visual Arts
Presented to
Johannes Kuhnen
for his magnificent and important retrospective exhibition held at the ANU School of Art Gallery in May, which will travel around Australia, and the book that accompanied it.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Julie Ryder
for her exhibition Generate at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in March. She successfully demonstrated her ability to bring together her interest and knowledge of science with her professional art practice in an exhibition that looked at the legacy of Charles Darwin in a new and stimulating way.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Gilbert Riedelbauch
for his exhibition Highlights at Craft ACT. The artist successfully integrated his knowledge of modern technology and traditional craft skills in this exhibition of free standing lamps that were practical as well as beautiful craft objects.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Geoffrey Farquhar-Still
for his show at M16, Reflex - A Show of Mechanical Poetry, a standout exhibition of mechanical oddities which he both curated, and also exhibited in. It was a tight, compact show in which the kinetic sculptures communicated with one another, and the audience, in an absurd, delightful and slightly sinister manner. For his personal contribution, and his direction of the other artists.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Frank Thirion
for his exhibition Constellation was an atmospheric installation of paintings and sound that imagined the southern skies on a cloudless night. Drawing upon the traditional materials and cultural knowledge of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians he produced a body of work that responds to the universe as our familiar home as well as a wondrous spectacle of infinity and cosmic mystery.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Min Mae
for insinuating her tableaux vivants into the collective psyche of creative Canberra. Unique in Australia, her challenging works cross genre and art form using the diverse environments of galleries, shops and the streets to generate stimulating unions between visual artists, dancers, actors, writers, musicians and their audiences.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Jas Hugonnet
for curatorial excellence, in particular the original and provocative concept exhibitions Soft Animators and Custom Made for CraftACT.

Visual Arts
A Special Critics’ Award to
Helen Maxwell
for being a leading supporter of women artists, including indigenous artists and more recently all artists; she has supported emerging artists and provided a showcase for established artists who might not have another opportunity for exhibition in Canberra; she has supported less well known indigenous artists. Helen Maxwell has worked in the visual arts for over 20 years and the cessation of her gallery is a tragic loss for the Canberra visual arts scene.

A Posthumous Award for Poetry to
Tatjana Lukic
for her book, La La, La, her first poetry collection in English, which has a strong sense of the poet's personality and her resilience under the threat of political violence and personal stresses.

Presented to
Julian Fleetwood and the Traverse Poetry organisers
for providing themed monthly events, workshops, support and inspiration for emerging ACT poets.

Presented to
Omar Musa 
for an excellent 12 months in which he won the Australian Poetry Slam at the Sydney Opera House, published a book, The Clocks, released his first album, The Massive EP, and recorded his second album.

Presented to
Kel Robertson
for his excellent and award-winning crime novel, Smoke and Mirrors, set in Canberra.

Presented to
Jackie French
for faving in 17 years, published 132 books for adults and children, many of which have won or been shortlisted for awards and some adapted into award-winning plays.

Presented to
John Dargavel
for his book, The Zealous Conservator: A Life of Charles Lane Poole, which takes a figure unknown to the general public, and with passion for one arcane field, successfully unfolds a story which illuminates much of the wider human condition.

Presented to
Andrew Pike
for his film The Chifleys of Busby Street, a brilliant cinematic exercise in “People’s History” that portrays post-war Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley, often called Australia’s best-loved Prime Minister.

Presented to
Sandra Griffin
for over 25 years of dedicated commitment to dance education in Canberra, particularly through her work with the Canberra Youth Ballet School and the Canberra Dance Festival.

Presented to
Michelle Heine
for her choreography for The Canberra Philharmonic Society production of West Side Story, which allowed her dancers to successfully interpret the mood and spirit of the original concept.

Presented to
Kate Shearer
for her educationally sophisticated conception of Jigsaw Theatre Company's collaborative production of Walk the Fence with Buzz Dance Company from Western Australia, and for her adaptation of the Peter Pan story, Wendy.

Presented to
Playwright David Finnigan and designer Gillian Schwab
for their adventurous work on Oceans All Boiled Into Sky, a sci-fi black radio comedy transformed into stage theatre, staged at the Street Theatre.

Presented to
the Papermoon ensemble
for The History Boys. To the boys, their Masters (and Mistress).

Presented to
Graham Robertson
for a minimalist interpretation of Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, directed by Geoffrey Borny.

Presented to
Geoffrey Borny
for his sophisticated, elegant verse production of Moliere’s The Learned Ladies at Tuggeranong Arts Centre.

Presented to
Cathie Clelland and her three-faced Medea: Jordan Best, Helen Brajkovic and Lexi Sekuless.
for a fresh but faithful approach to Euripides’ original Medea staged by Papermoon.

Presented to
Tim Sekuless
for his incandescent performance in the lead role of Robbie Hart in Supa Productions’ The Wedding Singer.

Presented to
Lexi Sekuless
for her exceptional performance in the role of Florence in the Queanbeyan City Council production of Chess.

Presented to
Moya Simpson
for her autobiographical cabaret Big Voice, in which she utilised an extraordinary array of musical and performance skills to create a genuinely moving and entertaining performance work.

Presented to
Karen Fitzgibbon
for a body of work that included solo roles in The Voss Journey and The Oriana Chorale’s Dido and Aeneas, but especially for her ravishing performance in The Best Choral Music Ever Written of Hayden’s With Verdure Clad, demonstrating brilliant articulation, relaxed phrasing and purity of tone.

Presented to
Tobias Cole
for the concert The Best Choral Music Ever Written; for inspirational conducting that united the musical forces of disparate groups of musicians of varying standards to create a performance lifting all participants to memorable heights.

Presented to
Tim Hansen
for composing, including a new work for the Griffyn Ensemble and especially for music composed and arranged for the Opening Ceremony of the Pacific School Games in the Bruce Stadium, which was performed by hundreds of school children from almost every school in Canberra.

Presented to
Robyn Holmes and Vincent Plush
for conceiving and directing The Voss Journey, held during the Canberra International Music Festival in homage to Richard Meale's operatic interpretation of Patrick White’s Voss. It attracted contemporary opera composers, directors and singers to Canberra for a musical summit at the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive.


Well, the Canberra Critics’ Circle’s biggest event for the year is over.

THE 2009 ACT ARTS AWARDS took place at the new Belconnen Arts Centre on Tuesday November 24, with what centre staff estimated to be a crowd of 140-160 in attendance. Many of those present, leaders in all the different art forms honoured on the occasion, had not visited the centre and were happy to be taken on guided tours of the arts facilities. Among those in attendance were former Artists of the Year Judith Clingan, Klaus Moje, Helen Geier, Peter J. Casey, Timoshenko Aslanides, Roberts Boynes and Vivienne Winther.

At the function the 19th Canberra Critics Circle Awards were presented by Robyn Archer; the MEAA Green Room Prize by Michael White; and Artist of the Year, sponsored by Citynews, by ACT Chief and Arts Minister Jon Stanhope

A daring Canberra artist who has made the naked human body her art medium was named 2009 Citynews Artist of the Year.

Min Mae, 33, of Ainslie is a busy single mother who also choreographs and dances for the Radiance women's dance company, and was described by one judge as “a philosopher who takes the big questions in life and explores the possible answers to them by using the body."

Min Mae received a cheque to the value of $1,000 from the ACT Chief and Arts Minister Jon Stanhope, along with a painting by former public servant-turned artist Roger Beale, presented and donated by Solander Gallery owner Joy Warren.

The artist believes that her artworks are empowering, not exploitative. "Nudity is essentially human…my medium is living flesh,” she says. Her tableau forms are stunning, and most appealing to the human eye. She uses the body to explore her ideas including death, poetry, the subconscious and even art movements.

At the ceremony, hosted by a former Artist of the Year Peter J. Casey, Michael White from the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance announced the 2009 Green Room Award, which went to actor Oliver Baudert and a Peer Recognition Award to Street Theatre director Caroline Stacey.

Mr Stanhope announced a Special Critics’ Award to retiring gallery owner Helen Maxwell, praised for her support of women, local and indigenous artists.

Robyn Archer, before presenting the 2009 Canberra Critics’ Circle awards, spoke of the crisis confronting arts criticism in the face of the democratising influence of the blog and other media outlets allowing everyone to have a say. In her view it was important to have a body of commentators on the arts who could claim some authority, not just opinion.

The 2009 Canberra Critics’ Circle awards went to artists Johannes Kuhnen and Gilbert Riedelbauch, Julie Ryder, curator Geoffrey Farquhar-Still, writers Tatjana Lukic (posthumous), Omar Musa, Julian Fleetwood, Kel Robertson, Jackie French, John Dargavel., film-maker Andrew Pike, choreographers Sandra Griffin and Michelle Heine, theatre directors Geoffrey Borny, Cathie Clelland and Kate Shearer, playwright David Finnigan, designer Gillian Schwab, Papermoon productions, actors Graham Robertson, Tim Sekuless, Jordan Best, Helen Brajkovic and Lexi Sekuless, singers Moya Simpson and Karen Fitzgibbon, conductor-singer Tobias Cole, composer Tim Hansen and musical directors Robyn Holmes and Vincent Plush. (The full citation list will be posted separately)
Helen Musa for the CCC

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bangarra Dance Theatre

Although I am not a dance critic,I have seen a lot of ballet, both old and new, and in this forum I can express my views. The Bangarra Dance Theatre brought their new work, "Fire", a retrospective celebrating the company's twentieth year, to the Canberra Theatre Centre on Friday November 20 and Saturday 21.

The two halves of the program showed off around thirty dances, each with its own story from mainland and islander cultures, and set in a range of periods from ancient traditional to modern social.

The performances were far too many and varied for me to comment usefully on, but I was powerfully impressed by the precision, professionalism, and presentation of every one of the dancers. I mention only one stand-out, Kathy Balngayngu Marika, whose style and dignity epitomised the importance of the elders in the aboriginal world.

When traditional dance meets modern dance, wonderful things can happen as the synergy of choreographers and dancers meet and blend. David Page's music gave a rich background to Stephen Page's concept and direction. The lighting was, as it should be, unobtrusive and excellent.

Malcolm Miller

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pointing the finger

Canberra's best-known art critic, Sasha Grishin, chose a most curious way of bidding farewell to the Helen Maxwell Gallery as he did in Times 2, The Canberra Times, on Thursday, November 19 under the title "Big Blow for ACT Art Scene."

While there is surely no serious art-minded Canberran who does not lament the fact that Helen Maxwell closed her doors on Friday after 20 years of running a commercial gallery business, to do so by pointing the finger at other commercial gallery owners seemed, at the very least, eccentric.

When Grishin writes "she has been the most principle of gallery directors," presumably he does not exclude other people from that category. But when he goes on to say "unlike many other commercial galleries, she refused to stage exhibitions which he knew would sell, but in the quality of which she did not believe," he implies a big negative for other reputable Canberra gallery owners, alive and dead.

What was even more curious to me, however, was his suggestion that the government-funded arts centres and arts organisations in Canberra are supplementing their incomes by functioning as commercial art outlets. Does Grishin really believed that the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, whose gallery is only a tiny part of its operations and which focuses on emerging artists, plays a significant role in putting the commercial galleries out of business. Obviously Solander Gallery director Joy warren doesn't think so -- she gives a $1000 prize each year to them for a young artist.

And the Belconnen Arts Centre, working hard to achieve a profile after just a couple of months of operation, is certainly not raking in the dollars. I have been to dozens of small art shows at such centres where artists are allowed to sell their works and, believe me, the profits at best run into the low hundreds, not the thousands.

Other funded organisations like the Canberra Contemporary Art Space permit their exhibiting artists to sell, but take no commission. If their artists are represented by a gallery, however, that gallery may take a cut.

Let's get real. Commercial art galleries have a lamentably tough job surviving everywhere. Helen Maxwell's brilliant 20 years of showing art by women, indigenous Australians and new artists is justly praised, but surely she wouldn't want to point the finger at individuals or organisations for putting her out of business.
Helen Musa

"Porcelain" by Chay Yew

Director: Beng Oh. Lighting Designer: Nick Merrylees. Cast: Keith Brockett (John Lee); Colin MacPherson (Voice One/Dr Worthing); Nicholas Barker-Pendree (Voice Two/Mr Lee); Paul David-Goddard (Voice Three/Alan White); Leon Durr (Voice Four/William Hope).

At The Street Theatre Studio, Canberra, 3-7 November 2009 (original production at La Mama, Melbourne, 2008)

This production of Porcelain, about a gay relationship which turns sour and results in a tragic death, was presented at The Street in its most spare form. Just five plain chairs, John Lee in the centre surrounded by red paper cranes, more of which he continues to make throughout the play.

This was Chay Yew's first play, from 1993. His imagery is strongly reminiscent of Kathryn Schultz Miller's A Thousand Cranes, a play for children which tells the true and poignant story of Sadako Saki's battle against radiation sickness after the Hiroshima bomb and the tradition of folding origami miniatures according to which if a sick person folds a thousand cranes, the gods will grant her a wish and make her healthy. Is John Lee sick? Can, or should, the prison psychiatrist find him unfit to plead on a murder charge?

But it is the dialogue which still brings the horror to life. All five actors are seated with little movement except on one occasion when John Lee is caressed by his lover. Now I am reminded of that other play for voices, Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. Though famous as a BBC radio play, its first performance was recorded by five actors standing on stage at the 92nd Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association, Manhattan, in 1953. As the Reverend Eli Jenkins, Thomas made the only movement, stepping forward to declaim his morning prayer.

Porcelain and Under Milk Wood are entirely different plays, yet the quality of the interplay between the voices is the strength in both cases, and it is to Beng Ho's credit that he maintains that focus, avoiding the temptation to represent too much action physically. As is often the case in good theatre, less is more.

Especially well done in the performance I saw was the exposure of the conflicts and compromises made in the dialogue betweenthe television interviewer and the prison psychiatrist, all happening on the sidelines of the real story of what John Lee did and why. Not only is the play worth seeing for its only too human story, but this production successfully worked our feelings and our intellects in coming to terms with the complexities of destructive relationships.

Frank McKone

"Fire" - Bangarra Dance Company - Canberra Theatre -20th, 21st November 2009

Further to Malcolms' post...sitting in the Canberra Theatre watching this retrospective of 20 years creative output by the Bangarra Dance Theatre, it was impossible not to be thrilled and moved by the achievements of Stephen Page and his collaborators.

Not simply a "Best of" program, "Fire" is a seamless flow of visual and aural experiences performed by a highly trained group of dancers who enthusiastically embrace modern theatrical technology and dance techniques to share the powerful myths and mythology of their forefathers, while at the same time, not afraid to include less savoury aspects of contemporary aboriginality in searing excerpts from "Corroboree", "Skin" and "Walkabout".

What separates Bangarra from other dance companies is the way their work is infused with a deep spirituality and sense of family, no doubt influenced by the remarkable Page family at its core. Bangarra retains the ability to pass on these qualities to new new dancers as they are absorbed into the company.

Having been lucky enough to have seen most of Bangarra's programs over the years, I found it fascinating to watch familiar sequences from earlier programs, being superbly performed by the current generation of dancers, particularly while archival footage of the originators of those dances was played behind them.

One particularly moving moment occurred in the second act when footage of the late Russell Page was played. I was particularly aware that his brother, choreographer and Artistic Director of Bangarra, Stephen Page was sitting behind me, and I couldn't help wondering what was running through his mind at that moment. I got my answer at the reception following, when Stephen Page confided to the guests that he was still moved by watching performances of "Fire".

There were so many extraordinary moments to savour in this performance; like the remarkable opening moment when the lights rose slowly to reveal a suspended canoe-like nest, from which a dancer slowly emerged and dropped to the stage; the apparition of a battered car from which emerged several menacing figures to threaten a lone figure; later, when film was projected onto the base of the now overturned car; the powerful quartet of prisoners, each trapped in his own spotlight, screaming profanely "The Lord's Prayer"; or the drugged-out woman writhing on a filthy mattress in the car headlights; or perhaps the remarkable blanket dance; or even the graceful Torres Strait Island sequence with the whole company clad in grass skirts .

A remarkable production in its own right, "Fire" was also an extraordinarily powerful reminder that over the years Bangarra Dance Theatre have developed a totally unique style of choreography, absolutely distinct from any other dance company in the world. It also gives us the opportunity to marvel at the strength and technique of the current crop of dancers, who will be charged with the responsibility of preserving and presenting the extraordinary legacy they inherit to new audiences in Australia and around the world during the next twenty years.

Bill Stephens 22.11.09

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Dancextravaganza - Tea and Symphony" - Canberra Symphony Orchestra - Canberra theatre - 14th November

For the second year in a row the Canberra Symphony Orchestra has combined with the Australian Ballet to stage a delightfully innovative afternoon of music and dance.
Almost crackling with enthusiasm, Nicholas Milton lead the Canberra Symphony through an excellent selection of well known ballet music. Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's three ballets, "The Nutcracker", "Swan Lake" and "The Sleeping Beauty" together with Johann Strauss' "On the Beautiful Blue Danube", "Voices of Spring" and "Csardas" were given sparkling performances. Josef Strauss' "Ohne Sorgen" and Nicolai's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" rounded out a very satisfying program.

But it was the dancers from the Australian Ballet, which had attracted the packed house. Valerie Tereshchenko, Brooke Lockett, Kismet Bourne, Eloise Fryer and Sharni Spencer, decked out in Hugh Colemans' lovely costumes from the Australian Ballets' 1985 production of "The Sleeping Beauty", made their first appearances towards the end of the first half of the program.

Each presented one of the fairies solos from Act 1 of "The Sleeping Beauty", and each solo was preceded by a lengthy, if informative, introduction by ballet master, Mark Kay.

Though beautifully danced, some of these solos were remarkably brief, certainly much shorter than the introductions, leaving the audience somewhat bemused. In response to applause,each of the solos was then repeated(?).

At the end of the second half of the program, four of the dancers together with Jia Yin Du presented the 2nd Act Florestan from "The Sleeping Beauty" - again beautifully danced but teasingly brief, which also had to be repeated by the dancers.

Finally the dancers were joined by as many little girls from the audience as Nicholas Milton could coax on stage. Their efforts to mimic the movements of the obliging Australian Ballet dancers were briefly amusing, and may have been adorable to their parents, but the idea quickly descended into tedium,leaving one regretting the time wasted, and longing to see more from the real dancers who had travelled to Canberra for the occasion.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra has hit upon a real winner with this innovative concept, and I for one can hardly wait for next year. But more children on stage unless they are trained performers, ask the dancers to bring enough repertoire with them to make their journey worthwhile, ask Nicholas to restrain his desire to perform rather than conduct, and definitely continue with the yummy scones and coffee.

Bill Stephens

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" - Free Rain Theatre - Courtyard Studio - 30.10.09 - 14.11.09

Its been a long while since I've seen a production of Tennessee Williams' steamy play about a deeply dysfunctional Southern American family, or indeed the film, which famously starred Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. But this production is very good indeed, and I found myself transfixed from beginning to end, both by the play, and its presentation.
Played out on a languorous, airy setting, designed by Cate Clelland, Jordan Bests' direction is close to impeccable, perfectly paced and carefully detailed, with, most importantly, careful attention to her actor's accents.
The cast is first rate, particularly Jenna Roberts as Maggie, the cat. Not only beautiful to look act, and with a lovely sense of line, Jenna is also a very fine actor, and her Maggie is a wonderfully nuanced creation.
As her alcoholic husband, Rick, newcomer Alexander Marks is also very impressive. Their opening scene together is absolutely gripping. His performance will become even stronger once he curbs his tendency to shout.
Tony Turner gives a powerful performance, playing against type, as Big Daddy. His Act Two scene with Brick is alone worth the price of admission. Liz Bradley gives one of her best performances to date, and if you know Liz's work, that is high praise indeed.
Cameron Thomas, as the younger son, Gooper, and Michelle Cooper as his wife-from-hell, Mae, both offer well-rounded, thoughtful performances. Wayne Shepherd and Darren Cullerne, who round out the cast, both prove the old adage "there is no such thing as a small part ........."

Bill Stephens. "Dress Circle" Artsound Fm 92.7, Sunday 08.11.09

"Take Their Life - Romeo and Juliet Reimagined" - Canberra Dramatics - TAC 5-14 Nov.2009

I went along to see "Take their Life" on Thursday night and found myself thoroughly intrigued and entertained.
Exploring the premise of what may have been the outcome if Romeo and Juliet had not died, the first part of the play was a scaled down, modified version of what Shakespeare wrote, presented in modern dress on an attractive set, designed by Simon and Imogen Wall, and inspired by their recent visit to the Globe Theatre.
After interval the play then takes over from Shakespeare, but is written in Shakespearean language so that the transition is fairly seamless.
Among the large cast there were some good performances, most notably from Peter Stiles as Romeo, Rebecca Nicholson as Lady Capulet and Diane Heather as the nurse, all of whom managed the Shakespearean dialogue with aplomb.
Melissa Savage as Juliet, Hanna Dawson as Rosaline and Michael Jordon as Capulet were all impressive and will be even better if they can get over a tendency to rush their lines.
I'm not sure if the new ending is any more believable than the original..and I won't spoil your enjoyment by telling you what it is ..but I do urge you to try and get along to see this production. The ideas presented will make for some stimulating dinner party conversation.

Bill Stephens..Dress Circle" ..Artsound FM 92.7..Sunday 08.11.09

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Members of the Critics’ Circle who participated in sponsoring a concert at the 2009 Canberra International Music Festival in memory of the late Bernadette Cruise will be pleased to hear that the excess funds raised for this sponsorship have been used to purchase her musical book collection for presentation to a library in Canberra in her name.

Cruise, a long-time music writer and former member of the Canberra Critics’ Circle, died early this year after a lifetime of dedication to music, seen in her 10 volumes of musical vignettes about Canberra musicians and published by Ginninderra Press.

On Sunday November 15 I visited the Collector Gallery and Bookshop with Jill Downer from Early Music Enterprises and Professor and Mrs Doug Kelly to make the selection of works acquired by the bookshop at auction. We were able to purchase most of her considerable reference collection and are now seeking a library that will accept this collection under her name.

Helen Musa

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blog Mania

Hi all,

Great to be on board the good ship CCC.
I have been running my own visual arts blog 'Useless Lines' since early this year, and highly recommend the self publishing avenue to all of you!
I am unsure yet whether I will make separate posts on both my blog and the CCC, or if I only have time for one, but in the meantime feel free to have a look at what I've been writing about by clicking HERE.

Yolande Norris

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CCC Plenary Session

Tonight the plenary session of the Canberra Critics' Circle met at Gorman House to deliberate on nominations for the 2009 Awards Night. This will be held at the new Belconnen Arts' Centre from 4:30 to 6:30pm on Tuesday November 24. Our Circle awards will be presented by Robyn Archer, Creative Director for the Canberra Centenary and the presenter will be Peter J. Casey.

-Helen Musa

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yerma - Malcolm Miller

Yerma, by Federico Garcia Lorca, is the final show of 2009 of a season of Lorca's plays by Moonlight, the graduate student company of the ANU Collge of Arts and Social Sciences. It's set in Spain in the earliy twentieth century, and deals with a woman's struggles with an intolerant society and a husband who lacks all affection. Tortured by loneliness and the natural desire to have a child in a country where a woman is valued by her ability to produce heirs, she is moved to extreme measures.

The intolerance of the isolated society is powerfully illustrated in a scene where the village women are doing their washing in a stream; the scene itself is a triumph of design and innovatioive symbolism. The women begin to sing of the shame and unfitness for society of women who are barren, while it's clear to us that it's the fault of the husband. However, in this world the man is never to blame for a woman's childlessness, and there is no way out for the woman.

Lorca's plays belong in the genre of modern classics, and thanks are due to Moonlight for making three of them available to us, as they are not often performed.

In the large cast, Catherine Hagerty as Yerma and Camilla Blunden as the 'Pagan Crone' both shone. Carol Whitman's direction made the text very accessible and had original touches.


I have got my friend's link working, and now mine. I, too, hope to write reviews of live performances in theatre on this site in post here.

Just joined -Stella

I have just joined this site and intend to post Reviews and Crits of live performances on stage in Canberra. I have deep interest in most forms of theatre and particularly want to suppport our new writers, as well as those doing really good childrens's theatre, e.g. Nina Stevenson's work. We are fortunate in Canberra in having access to proper training from primary school, high school and colleges (Hawk Theatre, especially). The many successful Canberra performers in Australian main stream is proof of that. It seems to me that this circle may become a guardian and protector of this unique arts community.
Stella Wilkie

Friday, November 6, 2009


The 19 year-old Canberra Critics’ Circle is the only such group of critics in Australia that runs across all the major art forms, not just performing arts. The circle changes each year depending on who is writing or broadcasting on the arts in Canberra.

Our aim is to provide a focal point for Canberra reviewers in print and electronic media through discussions and forums. As well, we make awards to ACT region artists (defined as within 100km radius of Canberra) in the latter part of each year and this year will do so in the ACT Arts Awards ceremony at the new Belconnen Arts Centre from 4.30pm to 6.30pm on Tuesday November 24.

The CCC has always resisted making awards in “best-of” categories. Arts practice is not a competitive race and Canberra is a small pool where it would be ridiculous to pre-impose categories, apart from major art form genres. The idea is that we, the critics, single out qualities we have noticed -- things which have struck us as important. These could be expressed as abstracts, like impact, originality, creativity, craftsmanship and excellence. Our year is from September 30 2008 to September 30 2009.

The current art form conveners are Theatre: Alanna Maclean; Visual Arts and Craft: Meredith Hinchliffe; Music and Dance: Bill Stephens; Literature: Anne-Maree Britton. Convener of the Circle is Helen Musa.