Sunday, July 30, 2017


Choreographed by Claudia Alessi, Eliza Sanders, Jack Ziesing and Ruth Osborne
Composed by Adam Ventura - Audio Video by WildBear Entertainment
Lighting by Mark Dyson - Costumes by Cate Clelland
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, July 27 – 29, 2017 

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Taking inspiration from the epic poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”,  QL2 Dance have created a compelling new ensemble dance work rich in exquisite imagery and inspiring for the obvious passion and commitment of the young dancers to the central theme of the pollution of our oceans. 

If this sounds ponderous, don’t be put off, because “This Poisoned Sea”, which is   performed without interval over an absorbing 80 minutes, by an ensemble cast of 30 meticulously trained dancers, aged between 13 and 19, is a brilliant demonstration of how effective dance can be as a tool for addressing serious contemporary issues.

Opportunities to work with large ensembles came rarely to choreographers. Choreographers , Claudia Alessi, Eliza Sanders Jack Ziesing and Ruth Osborne have seized this opportunity to create a strong, cohesive work about sea pollution, by a blending their particular skills so successfully that it is difficult to separate their individual contributions.

Inventive floor-work at the beginning, where bodies roll around the stage, with arms flipping up here and there, create powerful images of thrashing surf. A memorable legato  passage involving dancers costumed in Cate Clelland’s  attractive rust-coloured uni-sex costumes, moving in trios, or rolling across the stage trailing rubbish, or, later, forming  dramatic groupings to conjure up images of ice-bergs, are just a few of the multitude of memorable moments which stay in the mind.

Impeccable production values represented by the stunning filmed sequences of coastlines, abstract growing plants, and water-soaked dancers,  Adam Ventura’s thrilling, evocative soundscape, which complement and clarify the message, and the obvious passion and commitment of the superbly rehearsed dancers, all mark  “This Poisoned Sea” as being among the best and most thought-provoking productions that QL2 have yet presented, and one which should not be missed by anyone with an interest in either contemporary dance or the problems facing our  environment. 

                                                   Photos by Lorna Sim

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 28th July 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017


Presented by QL2 Dance
Ruth Osborne, Artistic Director
Canberra Theatre Centre to July 29

Reviewed by Len Power 27 July 2017

With ‘This Poisoned Sea’, QL2 Dance has brought together four choreographers to create a full-length work that is thoughtful in its intent and electrifying and entertaining in its execution.

The thirty young dancers in the ensemble are aged 13 to 19.  Most are from Canberra and surrounding regions and there are four visiting dancers from Perth, Western Australia.  Of the choreographers, Claudia Alessi is from Western Australia and Jack Ziesing and Eliza Sanders are QL2 alumni.  Ruth Osborne, the Artistic Director of QL2, has also choreographed some of this work.

Taking the poem ‘The Rime Of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as the basis for the work, the ensemble explores humanity’s instinctual destructive nature and shows the impact of our selfishness on one of our most important natural resources, the sea.  Beginning on film with magnificent vistas of the sea and dramatic coastline, the dance reflects the beauty of the ocean and its magnificent creatures.  As the dance progresses, the beauty becomes increasingly spoiled by pollution, impacting heavily on the aquatic life that struggles to survive.  Finally, with education, there is a realization that we can work on reversing the problem and the show ends with optimism and a warning not to be complacent.

This is QL2 Dance’s most cohesive full length show yet.  Its strong underlying storyline gives it a dramatic arc that is very satisfying.  The choreography throughout is clear in its intent, dramatic and often dreamlike, and always beautiful to watch.  The dancers attack the work with enthusiasm and perform with a discipline and preciseness over a continuous seventy minute running time that is awe-inspiring.

The other elements of the show add considerably to its success.  Music composer, Adam Ventoura, has provided an eerie and atmospheric score with driving rhythms that give the show an epic grandeur.  The lighting design by Mark Dyson is especially fine for this show, enhancing the choreographer’s work with subtle variations.  The video by Wild Bear Entertainment is constantly fascinating and melds nicely with the work on stage.  The marine-themed costumes by Cate Clelland are attractive and practical.

It’s exciting to watch the young performers in this company producing work of such high quality and entertainment value.  I really enjoyed it.

Photographs by Lorna Sim Photography

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program (9.00am Saturdays) and on other selected Artsound programs.

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Written by Magenius (Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser)
Music by Sally Greenaway
Directed by Shelly Higgs
The Street Theatre to 29 July

Reviewed by Len Power 26 July 2017

Described as a ‘thought-provoking journey through seven innovations that continue to shape us, the way we behave and the way we think’, this hour-long show is very entertaining with appealing original music by Sally Greenaway, an amusing and quirky script by Magenius (Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser), and engaging performances by the narrator, Dene Kermond, and the Syzergy Ensemble of musicians.

Canberra-based composer-pianist Sally Greenaway works in a multiplicity of styles and genres, from orchestral film and concert works to jazz ensemble, big band, chamber and vocal music.  She has had more than 60 works published and has won numerous awards.  Her 2015 album ‘Aubade & Nocturne’ was released to critical acclaim.

Sally Greenaway

This production, which covers the inventiveness of the 20th Century, gives Sally Greenaway the opportunity to display her skill in a wide array of music styles.  Starting with a delightful ragtime piece she moves on to a work reminiscent of the jazz-influenced music of George Gershwin.  Her music for the computer age was especially memorable as was her music in a completely different style for the chaos and horror of war and its inventions.

Dene Kermond (photo by Novel Photographics)
Dene Kermond plays the narrator as a kind of nutty professor, setting the scene for each era of inventiveness.  His playful performance, interacting with the audience, works very well.  Members of the Syzergy Ensemble join in the fun, coming on at the beginning like clockwork figures and interacting with the narrator as if he’s a pain in the neck.  They’re all quite capable comedians as well as excellent musicians.

Syzergy Ensemble (photo by Novel Photographics)
The script by Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser is on the right track with its quirkiness and interesting detail about each era of invention but some of the transitions into the music need to be smoother.

Christine Nowack has designed a delightfully jumbled set with carefully chosen props and it’s nicely enhanced by Linda Buck’s atmospheric lighting design.

Shelly Higgs direction is smooth and plays at the right pace giving us an entertaining production which showcases Sally Greenaway’s music very well.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program (9.00am Saturdays) and on other selected Artsound programs.


Written by Samara Purnell

 Left to right: Daniel Amodio, Kirsten Axelholm, Kenneth Lampl

One hour was never going to be enough for the Critics Circle to ask all the questions and hear all the stories, lessons and anecdotes from Kenneth Lampl who was recently instated as the Head of the School of Music at the ANU.

American born and Bronx bred, Lampl began his love affair with jazz and improv at a tender young age, watching a saxophonist improvise one day. Lampl was taken by the fact the jazz player was using no sheet music and he wondered “Where does music come from?!”

Inspired by the likes of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Tchaikovsky and Wagner, Lampl spent time in jazz clubs and doing improv performances, while he picked up his initial musical skills before ending up at the Juilliard School.

Musical compositions for theatre productions and dance followed but Lampl always held on to his ambition to compose for film. He has now scored many films and TV shows and studied under composer John Williams, another of his idols.

The critics were keen to hear about the technical and creative process of scoring a film and Lampl briefly touched on the production timeline of when and how music is added to film and the differences between composing or scoring for film as opposed to dance: In film sound is last, with dance is it more of a collaborative effort, where dance is music-led, he said. However in both mediums, it is all about “Finding the timing”.

Lampl said music for film is about what the movie “looks like” on screen, not about the narrative or characters. He mentioned Stanley Kubrick was his favourite director and we discussed juxtaposing the mise en scene with compositions.

But Lampl’s list does not end there! His involvement with music for gaming and scoring “Pokemon: The first movie” led to conversations about the huge scale and revenue of the gaming industry, likely much more than most of us had considered. Lampl spoke about how gaming as much as anything could have a cultural influence on young people and revive interest in orchestral scores.

Billboard magazine ranked Lampl’s Music Business and Technology Program at Hofstra University in New York as one of the top music industry programs in the United States.

Here in Canberra, Lampl hopes philanthropy and a sound (no pun intended) business model will revitalise and sustain the School of Music, with an external advertising agency, marketing plan and incentives for staff as part of that model.

Lampl’s pedagogy dictates that it is essential for all musicians to combine an extensive skill-set in technology, and gain competency in all aspects of production, including how to mix and how to use sound libraries effectively.

Career musicians “Must be able to write good music – fast!” says Lampl and believes it is a skill to be taught. He managed to compose a 90 minute score in five days with the help of his pianist wife. He accepted the challenge from the production company figuring he’d be employed for life if he could pull it off, only to leave the client thinking that on that note, so to speak, five days was a completely reasonable timeframe to turn around a lengthy musical work!

The fundamentals of music theory and technical competence always have and will be essential despite tendencies toward student creativity and experimentation and abstract teaching methods, but recorded music and video clips (an engagement with the visual medium) were what was sustainable and would sell and resonate with audiences long term. “Performance for recording is at the fore and also has financial spin-offs. We need to train musical entrepreneurs”, Lampl said.

Lampl sees the media as one of the biggest challenges in creating a successful music school at the ANU. His hope and plea was that all forms of media and outlets do due diligence and write without a political agenda. And he is looking forward to working with the V.C with a clean slate going forward.

Lampl was joined in the forum by his wife Kirsten, and his agent, Daniel Amodio, also an American, with a baseball background, who manages the Canberra Cavalry Baseball team. Amodio said being an agent for sportspeople and musicians are similar in that they are both talent driven and believes that “If you find good people, stick with them!”

7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial Age

7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial Age.  Music suite composed by Sally Greenaway linked by theatre written by Magenius: Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser.  At The Street, Canberra, July 26 – 29, 2017.

Director – Shelley Higgs; Design – Christiane Nowak; Lighting Design – Linda Buck

Clockwise from top left: 
Sally Greenaway, composer; part of the set design by Christiane Nowak; Dene Kermond, actor; Musician.
This commission was initiated by the Merlyn Myer Fund and co-developed by the Fund and Melbourne Recital Centre.

Actor – Dene Kermond as Harry Hawkins, a 19th Century time-traveller reporting on seven innovations of the 20th Century:

Aviation and Space Frontier
Advent of Convenience
The Mechanical Brain
Massed World Warfare
Biomechanics and Medical Marvels
The Advent of Film

Music performed by Syzygy Ensemble (Melbourne)

Reviewed by Frank McKone

In 60 minutes, Harry Hawkins, having been left on the ground in 1903 by his floating Zeppelin dirigible airship, travels 80 years around the world of the 20th Century.  Dene Kermond communicates with his pilot, named Sigmund (I think, unless that’s a Freudian slip on my part) by a kind of Morse code from Ziggy through to satellite phone when Harry gets that far.

Ziggy seems to be able to watch Harry’s quirky progress, making comments via the unnamed but brilliant percussionist.  In fact Syzygy seems to keep its members difficult to name, but I think I have found the others: Jenny Khafagi – violin; Laila Engle – flute; Robin Henry – clarinet; Leigh Harrold – piano; and (I hope I’m right) guest artist, Campbell Banks  – cello.  They need a special commendation for being forced to act as well as play Greenaway’s illustrative film-score-like music.

Syzygy Ensemble (percussionist missing)
Photo by Sarah Walker

Harry talks directly to us as we travel with him on his journey of discovery, while he also often expresses himself in mime, rather reminiscent of Marcel Marceau (though he wasn’t credited as he might have been as a mid-20th Century discovery).

Dene Kermond as Harry Hawkins winding up robot pianist Leigh Harrold
in 7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial AgePhoto: The Street Theatre

The character of Harry, as played by Dene, was often amusing in a mild kind of way, except for a reflective quiet time in recognition of the horrors of the world wars.  In the end, I found the piece – as theatre – whimsical rather than more deeply exploring the nature of, and effects of, these 7 Great Inventions.  Much of the music, I thought, reflected conventional expectations, illustrating features of the ‘inventions’ rather than interpreting history in a new way; while Harry was often surprised and quite fascinated by what he found, in the mode of 19th Century unthinking exploration (and colonisation) when perhaps he could have delved more into the changes in 20th  Century behaviour from his moral point of view.

So, though 7 Great Inventions was quite fun to watch, with some enjoyable audience participation, I feel there’s an opportunity to develop the piece into a more substantial story of the goods and bads of last century, especially considering the high quality of Greenaway’s compositional ability and of the musicians’ performance.

Arts Value Forum

Arts Value Forum.  Presented by The Childers Group and The Cultural Facilities Corporation, Canberra Theatre Centre, Wednesday July 26, 12.30 – 6.00 pm.

Keynote Speaker: Kate Fielding, Board Member Australia Council for the Arts, Chair Regional Arts Australia.

1.10 pm
What Arts and Culture can do for us; Insights and Reactions; Open Discussion.

Speakers: Kate Fielding; Jenni Kemarre Martiniello; Rachael Coghlan; Dr Natasha Cica; Michael Chappell; Padma Menon; Prof Desmond Manderson

2.40 pm
Focus Groups:
Health – Chair: Raoul Craemer
Speakers: Dr Jenny Macfarlane; Kristen Sutcliffe; John Pratt; Philip Piggin

Economic – Chair: Kate Fielding
Speakers: Kareena Arthy; Liz Lea; Harriet Elvin and Greg Randall; Gretel Harrison

Identity and Social – Chair: Dr Natasha Cica
Speakers: Gordon Ramsay MLA; Don Bemrose; Michael Chappell; Yasmin Masri

Commentary by Frank McKone

The Childers Group, according to Forum chair Stephen Cassidy, is not only independent but is ‘proudly’ unfunded.  This description raised in my mind some issues – for example, about the Group’s relationship with the Cultural Facilities Corporation owned by the ACT Government; or about the perception it may encourage that the arts might be proud to be unfunded; or about the middle-class nature of an arts advocate in this city being able, and proudly, to find its funds independently.

How independent is the Childers Group when this is the fourth event of this kind presented by them ‘in partnership with’ the Corporation?  Or is it better to say that this arrangement allows the Government to remain at arms length and therefore be better able to hear independent advocacy?

Putting my initial thoughts aside, as the Forum got underway the purpose of the partnership became clearer as 100 participants from across arts disciplines, representing practitioners, administrators and government policymakers, heard a keynote and six other speakers lay out their ideas and experiences about what Arts Value in Australia means.  This session was an opening for more focussed breakout groups headed Health, Economic and Identity and Social to hear each others’ stories, questions and responses.

I can confidently report that the variety and level of expertise of the speakers in the opening session succeeded in stimulating discussion in the three groups and clearly created a positive relationship between arts advocates and public service administrators, even up to the ACT Arts Minister, Gordon Ramsay flagging what he implied would be an important positive ‘announcement’ in the not too distant future as he concluded his time in the Identity and Social group speaking and answering questions on Art in an Inclusive Society.

“Watch this space,” he said, proving he well knew the business of creating theatrical anticipation as he left the scene for his next appointment. 

“No,” he told me, smiling, “I can’t say just how long you’ll have to wait.”

As Keynote Speaker, as I had expected from the part she played earlier in the year at the February 23, 2017 launch of Platform Paper No 50 by Lindy Hume: Restless Giant: Changing Cultural Values in Regional Australia (recorded on this blog and at, Kate Fielding gave an artistically well-structured speech – practical while philosophical – on how to talk to strangers (people who say they have little to do with the arts despite reading books, seeing films etc etc etc) who are actually friends (just needing to be made aware that they are already on our side).

She quoted Article 27 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, pointing out that the arts don’t need to have an extrinsic purpose – they are simply a right without conditions, for anyone to create, enjoy and appreciate.  But she criticised the tendency in policy language to characterise the arts as ‘flattening out’ diversity by referring to their being in a general way for ‘our humanity’.  Art, she said, “is the opposite of flattening out” because it delves into the details of each artist’s culture.

(Amusingly, at least to me at this point, prior to her speech I had wished for more flat surfaces in the typically crowded conference style finger-food lunch with plate and serviette in one hand, coffee cup balanced on its saucer in the other, and nowhere left to put even one of them down.  Whether this symbolised the state of assessing the value of the arts, I leave to my reader’s imagination.)

Perhaps Kate Fielding’s most significant thought was that we report on the television almost nightly a graphical measure of ‘business confidence’ in the economy, with comment on the causes of its state that day and what the effects might be for the future of life as we know it.  Fielding suggests we should be building and measuring ‘community confidence’ which today’s research shows can largely be measured by the amount and quality of arts activity.  The evidence is that 98% of Australians participate in the arts as readers,viewers, audience or as practitioners, and the creative industry employs three times as many people as mining, as one example.

Building community confidence relates to evidence that 2 hours per week of creative activity creates a similar improvement in a person’s well-being as the more well-known evidence about having 30 minutes a week of physical activity.  This thinking was firmly backed later in the Health group, in the report presented by that group’s chair, Raoul Craemer, of the peer reviewed research in Western Australia published by Christine Davies et al about “the dose-response relationship between recreational arts engagement (for enjoyment, entertainment or as a hobby, rather than therapy) and mental well-being in the general population”, following similar research in the UK into Arts on Prescription: Creative Health.  There the prescription of arts activity created a drop off in GP consultations by 37%.

[Davies et al.  BMC Public Health (2016) 16:15 published online Open Access, Creative Commons Attribution.  Correspondence: christina.davies [at] School of Population Health, University of Western Australia.  Full title: The art of being mentally healthy: a study to quantify the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental well-being in the general population]

In WA, "respondents with high levels of arts engagement (100 or more hours/year)...after adjustment for demographics...had significantly better mental well-being than those with none...and medium levels of engagement".

With six other highly original speakers in just the opening session and dozens more in the breakout session, I can report only snapshot images to show something of the diversity of ideas which made the Forum worthwhile as a gathering for cross-fertilisation of knowledge and generation of possibilities. 

Southern Arrernte woman, and award-winning visual artist, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, made a strong point in showing that our knowledge of history is to be found in the art bequeathed by people in the past as an inheritance for us, and “we are all the custodians of the arts – creating, bequeathing and inheriting” – with a duty to “pass our sense of responsibility onwards”. 

Rachael Coghlan, speaking of Craft ACT’s annual Design Canberra Festival showed how the arts can engage a large number of people in their own and others’ homes in the featured and highly successful Living Room Design component.  This is arts in the community, with the prospect of Canberra being named a City of Design by UNESCO.

Dr Natasha Cica, recently named Director and CEO of Melbourne’s Heide Museum of Modern Art, focussed on her concern at the present-day ‘degradation’ of politics, art and culture, seeing her task as a ‘curator’, literally from the Latin meaning, to ‘take care’ of ‘beauty’ – which does not mean being pretty, but is the artistic expression of truth.  I thought of Keats, as she explained that she is a writer who likes to write in a book.  “I like books,” she said.  “I don’t tweet.”

Michael Chappell was concerned that Australia does not have an ‘evaluation culture’, while the UK and Canada are now spending money on evaluation, putting the metrics all together to create a ‘wholistic picture’ of the value of the arts.  He found the contrast disturbing in a West Australian policy paper including a note that funding in the arts is “expenditure in which no return is expected.”  He looks for a Public Value Measurement Framework.

Padma Menon was “not convinced we’ve gone very far in 20 years” in discussion of the value of the arts.  She sees the ‘economic argument’ as the ‘elephant in the room’ – hidden but dangerous.  Well-being is now established as an industry, so her aim is now to concentrate on Well-Being Plus, which adds the arts into the equation, because it is the arts which gives everything meaning.

Prof Desmond Manderson explained how the training in law is at fault.  Students, outstandingly gifted, have their expression of feelings repressed, but the law in all cultures is entirely based on feelings – about authority, respect, the body, other people; about fear and anxiety.  So, he said, “Art and Law are essentially the same thing.”  Art is experiment, creating the possibility of change.  It is not “instrumental logic which leads to submission to external pre-given standards”.  It is “not only the mirror but also the way of changing society.”

And finally I have chosen Liz Lea, performer, choreographer and producer, talking about Dance Business in the Economic breakout group.  She spoke of the contrast in working in Australia compared to Europe – the lack of decent levels of payment here, the lack of professionalism in communicating, and the lack of an investment approach to the arts – including the need to invest, as a performer, in your own body, mentally and physically, since she must “present myself as my product”.

So, without the space here – or indeed the need – to detail all those others who spoke, listened and questioned, I found my initial questions resolved.  The purpose of bringing those who practise the arts together with those who appreciate the arts and those who work in administration and policy development for the arts was to further everyone’s thinking; consistent, I thought, with the approach of Selina Walker’s Welcome to Country and Jenni Kemarre Martiniello’s Arrernte philosophy of respectful communication and recognition of everyone’s place as custodians, inheriting, creating, and bequeathing culture for future generations to grow.