Monday, July 30, 2018

THE JUDAS KISS - Mockingbird Theatre

Liam Jackson (Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas - Chris Baldock (Oscar Wilde) 
By David Hare

Directed by Karina Hudson – Set Designed by Karina Hudson

Lighting designed by Chris Ellyard – Costumes designed by Anna Senior

Music composed by Thomas Azury – Presented by Mockingbird Theatre

The Courtyard Studios, Canberra Theatre Centre – 27th July to 5th August, 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Mockingbird Theatre, under the Artistic Directorship of Chris Baldock, is the latest theatre company to emerge on Canberra’s burgeoning theatrical landscape. The choice of the David Hare play, “The Judas Kiss”, for its inaugural production is a canny one.

Some years ago, The Canberra Repertory Society presented “Gross Indecency”, a play by Moises Kaufman dealing with the three trials of Oscar Wilde resulting from his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas. So the opportunity to experience Hare’s take on the events which followed these trials, with his play “The Judas Kiss”, which has not previously had a Canberra production, is welcome, as is the opportunity for Baldock to reprise his much-praised performance as Oscar Wilde, honed in previous Melbourne productions of both “The Judas Kiss” and “Gross Indecency”.

Hare’s play focuses on the efforts of Bosie Douglas to persuade Wilde to stay in London and fight the charges in an effort to salvage both their reputations, whereas a former lover, now the executor of the rights to his plays, Robert (Robbie) Ross, wants him to flee London immediately.

Baldock’s performance as Oscar Wilde is indeed impressively nuanced and thoughtful, though somewhat less flamboyant than Wilde’s reputation might suggest. He delivers Wilde’s witty ripostes with flair and authority, and in the static second act, when he’s largely confined to a chair; his depiction of Wilde’s destructive intransigence is riveting, especially in the scenes with Robbie Ross, powerfully portrayed by Patrick Galen-Mules.

Chris Baldock (Oscar Wilde) - Patrick Galen-Mules (Robert Ross) 
There are Impressive performances also from Arran McKenna as the hotel manager, and Meaghan Stewart and Cole Hilder as the maid and waiter, all of whom manage to be interesting, even when spending long periods in the first act simply standing and observing. Stewart and Hilder also manage their well-staged nude scene at the beginning of the play with admirable aplomb.

Charged with a similar task at the beginning of Act 2, when he is required, as Bosie’s sailor pick-up, to play almost his entire scene naked, Benjamin Balte Russell manages to achieve considerable impact by investing his character with captivating Mediterranean insolence.

Liam Jackson is much less convincing as Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, the object of Wilde’s affections and the reason for his downfall. Though he looks well, scowls, poses and delivers his lines efficiently, Jackson has not yet the presence or demeanor to convince that he is the product of an aristocratic upbringing or indeed, the poet he keeps insisting he is. His interactions with Wilde come across as mere petulance, and lack the chemistry necessary to convince that Wilde is sufficiently captivated by him to abandon his career.

“The Judas Kiss” is the first main-stage production by Karina Hudson, a recent graduate of the Mockingbird Acting Studio’s directing course. It’s a challenging, wordy play, with potentially static scenes which present significant challenges for any director. Hudson copes with these challenges well, drawing good performances from her actors, but overlooking small details which potentially draw the viewer out of the play.

Even though the venue is intimate, the actors still have to project their voices, and surely wealthy aristocrats would wear polished shoes. What hotel manager worth his salt would allow his maid to bring un-ironed serviettes into the room and fold them in front of the guests?

In addition to directing, Hudson also designed the settings for this production, which,  even taking budget limitations into account, contain ambiguous elements which often work against the effectiveness of her production.

Hare has set the first act of his play in an upper-class London hotel in 1895 with Wilde, at the peak of his notoriety, being attended by the hotel manager and two of his staff. They provide silver service for Wilde and his guests.  For this scene Hudson has the walls draped with untidily hung, drab white calico. A large gilt frame hangs in the middle of the back wall with a suspended light on either side. Antique furniture, including a chaise lounge, floor rugs and other props decorate the stage, but any sense of opulence is dispelled by the dreary white calico.   

For the second act, set in a rat-infested hotel in Naples, most of the first-act furniture and props are removed and the floor rugs are replaced by raffia mats. But inexplicably and most distractingly, the calico drapes, chaise lounge, gilt frame and lights, remain, even though the action is meant to be taking place in a different country and different hotel.

According to the program notes, Mockingbird Theatre’s admiral ambition is to present the best text-based contemporary and classic plays from around the world. Hopefully it will also aim to present these texts in settings which enhance rather than distract from them.    

                                                  Photos by Brenton Cleaves

 This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.


Saturday, July 28, 2018

DARK EMU - Bangarra Dance Theatre

Choreographed by Stephen Page, Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown
Costumes designed by Jennifer Irwin - Set Designed by Jacob Nash

Music composed by Steve Francis - Lighting designed by Stan James-Holland

Dramaturgy by Alana Valentine -  Canberra Theatre 26th to 28th July, 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Bangarra Dance Theatre - ensemble - "Dark Emu"
Fresh from its triumph at the 2018 Helpmann Awards, practically scooping the pool, winning six Helpmanns for “Bennelong” and a Helpmann for “Our Land People Stories”, Bangarra Dance Theatre again mesmerizes Canberra audiences with a brand new work, “Dark Emu”.

Taking Bruce Pascoe’s award-winning book “Dark Emu, Black Seeds” as their inspiration, choreographers Stephen Page, Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown have fashioned a seamless, endlessly inventive dance work in which the sophisticated farming, fishing and land management practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are depicted in a series of abstract, visually beautiful and passionately danced sequences.

Jacob Nash’s moody setting incorporates huge sculptural interpretations of native seeds and shells, which belch smoke or shower sand on the dancers. Large rocks are carried on and off, structures are built and dismantled in a continuing flow of arresting images, for which Stan James-Holland’s superb lighting, and Steve Francis’s dramatic soundscape, are integral. Jennifer Irwin’s extraordinary muted costumes are remarkable for their incredible use of texture, and the beautiful way they move.

Rikki Mason - Elma Kris - "Dark Emu"
Bangarra Dance Theatre has always been an ensemble company with a fiercely distinctive style. The standard of dancing among the 18 members of the current company has never been higher. The confidence and refinement with which the dancers perform the increasingly sophisticated choreographic demands is particularly noticeable in the high polish achieved by the women in the unison sections of the lovely “Bowls of Mourning” sequence.

Tyrel Dulvarie - Beau Dean Riley Smith
"Dark Emu"
Now approaching its 30th year, Bangarra Dance Theatre is recognized internationally for its particular uniqueness among dance companies. Artistic Director, Stephen Page, has patiently nurtured dancers, Elma Kris, Yolanda Lowatta, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley Smith and Waangenga Blanco into star dancers each possessing a unique presence which imbues any sequence in which they appear with authenticity. Similarly his mentorship of young choreographers, including Daniel Riley and Yolande Brown, and such distinctive creatives as Jacob Nash, Steve Francis and Stan James-Holland, not only insures that Bangarra Dance Theatre will maintain its place at the forefront of Indigenous dance companies, but could also find itself scooping the Helpmann pool again with this latest creation, “Dark Emu”. 

                                                        Photos by Daniel Boud

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 27.07.2018


Written by David Hare
Directed by Karina Hudson
Mockingbird Theatre
The Courtyard, Canberra Theatre Centre to 5 August

Reviewed by Len Power 27 July 2018

Over 100 years since his death, Oscar Wilde remains well-known with his four plays still frequently performed and the scandalous event that ruined his life dramatized in several movies and plays.

‘The Judas Kiss’, written in 1998 by David Hare, focusses on the two year period after Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency in 1895.  Even though he has been given the opportunity to leave England before the authorities catch up with him, his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, convinces him not to leave, resulting in his jailing for two years.  In Naples, Italy in 1897, after being released from prison, the broken and unwell Wilde and Douglas have resumed their liaison but the relationship is strained.

Mockingbird Theatre first performed this play in Melbourne in 2014 with Chris Baldock in the role of Oscar Wilde.  The play has been remounted in Canberra as Mockingbird’s first production in this city.  Under the direction of Karina Hudson, Baldock repeats his role and the other roles are played by local Canberra actors.

David Hare’s play captures the spirit of the times and the man and his friendships very well.  Chris Baldock gives a towering performance as Oscar Wilde.  He displays every aspect of this man whose wit and intelligence is fatally clouded by his obsession with a young man.  His performance is thoroughly believable and ultimately very moving.

Anna Senior has again excelled with the period costumes and director, Karina Hudson, who also designed the simple set, keeps the dialogue heavy play flowing at a good pace.  The tension between the characters is maintained very well.  Some passages in the dialogue could have easily become melodramatic but Hudson ensures that the delivery stays realistic throughout.

The director has obtained fine performances from her entire cast.  Liam Jackson gives a strong performance of great depth as the petulant, arrogant and spoiled Lord Alfred Douglas and Patrick Galen-Mules is very convincing as Robert Ross, the voice of reason ignored by Wilde.  Meaghan Stewart, Cole Hilder, Arran McKenna and Benjamin Balte Russell all give nicely detailed characterisations in their supporting roles.

‘The Judas Kiss’ was a good choice as a first production in Canberra by Mockingbird Theatre.  We are very lucky to have work of this quality presented by talented local theatre practitioners.

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

Dark Emu - Bangarra

Review by John Lombard

The ‘Dark Emu’ is a constellation that cannot be seen in the stars, but only by looking at the colour of the night sky.  In the same way, Bangara’s interpretive dance inspired by the Bruce Pascoe book invites us to peer into apparent darkness and see what has always been there.

Pascoe’s book dispels the myth that Aboriginal people in Australia were only hunter-gatherers by recounting the sophisticated land management practices used for tens of thousands of years, passed from “mouth to ear”.

Translating scientific knowledge into dance is challenging, and artistic director Stephen Page opts for a taxonomy of traditional practice: the feast on Bogong moths is one sequence, while a controlled burn ceremony is another.

Oversized props such as a giant banksia seed cast humans in a humble role, and the performance avoids individualising the dancers in favour of ensemble work.  Soft, sinuous dancing creates a dreamlike quality.

Costumes by Jennifer Irwin and set by Jacob Nash are prominent and memorable, and an emphasis on side lighting giving a sense that we are watching history by the flicker of candlelight.

Where the book Dark Emu is most creatively adapted, is in the decision to bookend the performance with dancing in silhouette.  At first this felt like rediscovering a past obscured but now coming back into light.

By returning to dancing in silhouette at the end of the piece, the performers created a morbid feeling that this knowledge is in danger of being lost again, perhaps forever.

Dark Emu is not as attention-grabbing as last year’s sensational Bennelong, but tackles a challenging topic with vivid artistry.

Dark Emu - Bangarra Dance Theatre

Dark Emu.  Bangarra Dance Theatre at Canberra Theatre Centre, July 26 – July 28, 2018.

Artistic Director – Stephen Page; Costume Designer – Jennifer Irwin; Lighting Designer – Sian James-Holland; Cultural Consultant – Yuin/Biripi Nation Woman, Lynne Thomas; Set Designer – Jacob Nash; Dramaturg – Alana Valentine; Composer – Steve Francis; Language Consultant – Yuin knowledge holder, Warren Foster.

Choreographers: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown, and the dancers of Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 26

To say Bangarra’s Dark Emu is just wonderful is not enough.  I felt a great sense of wonder growing from the first appearance of the people – our First People – heads and then lifted arms, hands exploring space, whole bodies stretching, twisting, turning in a new land.

By the end it was a great wonder, expressed in glorious, powerfully appreciative applause from the full house, for the ingenuity, determination and resilience in the people’s survival – throughout the ages long before as well as since 1770.

In this beautifully abstracted dance-drama, the enclosure of the people by invaders’ fences and cultural tie-downs is just the latest brief time of struggle compared with the aeons of learning to manage growth in this land of fire and flood.

The people win through as they always have.  In the final image, a reprise, we return to the land of the beginning.  The dancers leave the scene, heads high.  The wonder of their living is complete.  This is their land still, and ever will be.

After how I felt and what I thought, there’s much more to be said about this production.  I am not formally qualified to judge dance technique in any detail, but I saw here a unified style clearly deeply engaged in traditional dance forms yet developed into highly emotive modern dance.  That in itself dramatically represents the theme of the work.

The energy of the drama is driven by extraordinary surround sound, tremendous visuals (the fire scene was frightening while unavoidably beautiful) – the whole combined with the most original costuming of the dancers becoming a great example of the effective integration of technology in the work, moving us along through 16 scenes in 70 minutes.

The modern qualities (and top-class quality) of the staging enhances the point of the story – First Peoples belong to the ancient past yet live essentially in our world today – still exploring new ways to express their continuing culture.

There is the wonder indeed, working from the study done by Bunurong/Tasmanian Bruce Pascoe in his book – essential reading – Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (Magabala Books, 2014).  This work – both the book and the dance-drama – changes all our understanding of rhe past towards a better future.  More than wonderful – just outstanding.

 Photos by Daniel Boud


Virginia Rigney meets the critics
By Meredith Hinchliffe
NEWLY-appointed Senior Curator Visual Arts at Canberra Museum and Gallery, Virginia Rigney, spoke to a good crowd of Critics Circle members at CMAG board room on July 23.
Virginia and her twin brother grew up in an architect-designed house in Campbell.  Her parents lived in this house for 52 years and it suited the family well.  Virginia’s interest in art was undoubtedly sparked by her mother’s – there were many art books around the house.
Virginia mentioned that while nostalgia can throw a sentimental veil over our relationship to the past, she believes in the potential of history to be reframed through contemporary practice.  In this vein she described Canberra as both a porous and global city, and is interested in the potential of programming exhibitions to complement Canberra’s international significance and to place Canberra artists in that dialogue.
Several exhibitions and projects she has been involved in have an historical element.  In 2013 Virginia was commissioned to curate the exhibition Growing up Planned at Canberra Contemporary Art Space. 
Virginia strongly believes in mentoring – she herself was mentored by senior and highly respected curators at the Powerhouse Museum – now Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences when she was employed in the lead up to Australia’s Bicentenary.  She worked at the Art Gallery of New South Wales with prominent curator of fashion, Jane de Teliga, and then in the UK at the Victoria & Albert and Scottish Museums before joining Glasgow Museums as a Curator in a permanent role just prior to that City’s significant year as European City of Culture. 
A jump from Scotland to rural Thailand was followed by some years in Perth and then Darwin where she was witness to the flowering of indigenous arts practice.
When her family relocated to the Gold Coast she became a curator at Gold Coast City Gallery from 2003 to 2016.  There she developed exhibitions that sought to address the perceptions of the city as a place of no culture and little history, including Fibro Coast and Sexualising the City.
She also had a focus on indigenous arts and co-curated Kuru Alala Eyes Open with Tjanpi Desert Weavers, which was awarded the inaugural Museums and Galleries National Award for an exhibition project.  Rigney went on to co-curate, with Michael Aird, the celebrated exhibition Saltwater Country: New works from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists expressing their relationships to Queensland's coastal environment.  . 
Virginia is also interested in engaging people in curatorial projects outside the museum walls and in collaborations with other artforms including film, dance and theatre.  She collaborated with a Theatre producer and playwright to create a play that responded to the themes of the Fibro Coast exhibition, and in this regard is looking forward to the potential of co-location with the Canberra Theatre Centre.
From her experiences in different cities, Virginia believes that the local museum or art gallery can be a part of one’s everyday civic life and loves that CMAG is located in the heart of the city.  Virginia is keen to contribute to the life of Canberra, as her parents had done and is enjoying rediscovering this continually evolving city. 


Dark Emu. 

Based on the  book by Bruce Pascoe. Dramaturged by Alana Valentine. Choreographed by Stephen Page, Yolande Brown and Dan Riley. Music by Steve Francis. Set Design by Jacob Nash. Costumes by Janet Irwin. Lighting by Sian James-Holland. Bangarra Dance Theatre. Canberra Theatre.  July 26 – 28 2018. Bookings: or 62752700

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Bangarra Dance Theatre Ensemble in Dark Emu. Photo: Daniel Boud
“How can I find words for that?” asked a friend as we left the Bangarra dance Theatre’s performance of “Dark Emu”.  “The performance left me speechless.” The Chair of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Michael McDaniel, told the assembled guests at the after show function. To say that Bangarra Dance Theatre is unique is an understatement.  It is  the only major professional arts company reflecting entirely indigenous stories, culture and history through its evocative fusion of traditional and contemporary dance. The company’s artistic creativity under artistic director, Stephen Page, and his team is nothing short of extraordinary. Dark Emu, adapted from the book “Dark Emu” by Bruce Pascoe and dramaturged by Alana Valentine resonates with the very living heart and spirit of country. Every aspect of production immerses the audience in what is so much more than an exhibition of Bangarra’s extraordinary talent as the only major company that has its cultural origins in the land.
To really understand the process of collaboration and inspiration that is the creation of Dark Emu, buy a programme and immerse yourself in the Q and As that explain  Bruce Pascoe’s book, Alana Valentine’s dramaturgy, Stephen Page’s philosophy, Steve Francis’s composition, Janet Irwin’s costumes, Sian James-Holland’s lighting and the visceral chorography of Yolande Brown and Daniel Riley. For what is most amazing about Bangarra’s work, apart from its commitment to the stories of its peoples and countries, is its collaborative artistry. It finds expression in every segment of the performance- from the opening visual impact of the Milky Way’s Dark Emu in the galaxy to the giant seed pod suspended above the stage to the banksia smoking fire and bringing life and purification to the land to the violent ignorance of the invading Europeans, the destructive threat of the blowflies or the moving rituals of a people whose love and respect for the land and traditions epitomize a history of great promise encircled by the chains of shame. Bangarra’s chronicle of the past offers a prophesy of promise for the future, if the blind shackles of ignorance and fearful prejudice can be lifted. It does this not with the barbed sting of words or the angry rebuke of protest. It does it with the magical enlightenment of their dance, emerging from the land, rising to the spirit of their creation and discovering meaning and purpose in their rituals, beliefs, clans, customs  and allegiance to their mother, Nature.
Bangarra Dance Theatre Ensemble in Dark Emu.Photo: Daniel Boud
 To watch the moving patterns of their dance is to be mesmerized and transformed, to find meaning and to be transported to a new level of consciousness. I watch their amazing physical dexterity, grace and emotional power with the eyes of a white man and feel the power of their message with the mind and heart of all humanity. The collaborative nature of Bangarra’s work in dance, music, visual splendour and storytelling fires the soul, ignites the passion and in every entrancing moment of choreography breathes enlightenment and gentle lessons in our shared humanity.

Dark Emu, as with all of Bangarra’s creative works transcends criticism. It invites us to view their world with a critical eye that can lead to deeper understanding, respect and the power to make a difference. Next year, Bangarra will celebrate thirty years on Australia’s cultural landscape. Without them, we might still be wandering blindly through a desert of ignorance. Theirs is a priceless gift and an artistry beyond compare.


Dance stories inspired by Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu, Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’
Artistic Director: Stephen Page
Choreographers: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown and the dancers of Bangarra Dance Theatre
Composer: Steve Francis
Canberra Theatre to 28 July

Reviewed by Len Power 26 July 2018

Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 book ‘Dark Emu, Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ was an excellent basis for Bangarra Dance Theatre’s new production, ‘Dark Emu’.  The book’s intention was to disprove the long-held and convenient myth that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were only nomadic hunter-gatherers before European colonisation.

The depiction of sophisticated farming and fishing practices and the stories of harmonious exchange and respect and of working in sympathy with the seasons, ultimately interrupted by the coming of the Europeans, provides a dramatic basis for a highly memorable dance work.

The seamless choreography by Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown and the company’s dancers is an exploration of the relationships between the sky and earth, the land and the seasons, the animals, plants and people as well as the rituals and ceremonies that are in step with the pulse of the land.  The dramatic structure of the work and the flow from one segment to another is clear in detail and intention and is hauntingly beautiful and involving.

The company of dancers perform the work with great precision and skill but there’s also an individuality of character clearly evident as you watch them perform.  Focus on any dancer through a sequence and you can see that they are displaying a strong commitment to the message of the work in their dancing.

Production values are very high.  From the opening scene with its cave-like illusion of depth and continuing through the various segments, the set design by Jacob Nash is successful in conveying a vast visual world for this saga of time and culture.  The excellent and intricate lighting design by Sian James-Holland complements the setting with the colour and light of the landscape depicted.

Beau Dean Riley-Smith and dancers

The music composed and performed by Steve Francis is a fabulous soundscape that weaves in songs and poetry, much of it spoken or sung by members of the company.  It gives the production a highly individual atmosphere.  Jennifer Irwin’s costumes reflect the land, the flora and fauna and are strikingly beautiful.

This is a very thoughtful and engaging work that is also visually and aurally exciting.  Bangarra’s unique style and attention to detail in every element of the production makes this a memorable evening of dance.

Photos by Daniel Boud

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