Wednesday, September 16, 2020

RECOGNISE - Ngunnawal Youth Dance Company


National Portrait Gallery - 13th September 2020

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Canberra audiences were treated to the first performances by the fledgling Ngunnawal Youth Dance Company over the weekend with performances in Garema Place and The National Portrait Gallery.

       Tammi Gissell - Krista Clarke - Natasha Lee Rogers - Emma Laverty

                                            Photo: Andrew Sikorski. 

Recognising the important role that dance has played in the spirituality of Indigenous Australian tribes, the Ngunnawal Youth Council, under the guidance and support of Roslyn Brown and the Ngunnawal Elders Council, in a masterful stroke, has enlisted 2017 City News Artist-of-the-Year, Liz Lea, to assist with the formation of a Ngunnawal Youth Dance Company as a means of sharing aspects of culture with non-indigenous and indigenous audiences.

An accomplished professional dancer and dance maker, Lea has a strong interest in indigenous dance from various cultures, having trained in Indian dance in India, and created works for companies as diverse as Darpana in India, Maya Dance Theatre in Singapore, The Flatfoot Dance Company in South Africa and the Small Miracles Company in Mackay.

 I caught up with “Recognise” at the second performance at the National Portrait Gallery, which commenced with a group work, co-choreographed and performed by indigenous dancers, Tammi Gissell, Krista Clarke, Natasha Lee Rogers and Emma Laverty, drawing on their collective knowledge of their different cultural dances, particularly Krista Clarke’s recollections of Ngunnawal dance as taught to her by her parents.

Performed to a haunting accompaniment, played live by Michael Liu on amplified violin, the dancers carried gum-leaf twigs which became integral in creating an ambience to transport the audience back in time to a much less formal performing space.

In contrast, Tammi Gissell drew on her striking presence and strong technique to transform traditional indigenous dance movements into sophisticated contemporary dance imagery for her electrifying solo.

Liz Lea costumed in dazzling white, utilised two large white feather fans, to conjure up images of mischievous white cockatoos with her witty solo. Both solos were danced to evocative electronic soundscapes by Adam Ventura.  

Gissell then re-joined Krista Clarke, Natasha Lee Rogers, Emma Laverty and musician, Michael Liu to perform a final group piece returning to more traditional indigenous dance movement, to round off a program which provided a tantalising glimpse of the intriguing  possibilities facing Canberra newest dance company.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Exuberant playing in strings concert

“Schubert’s String Quintet in C”

Canberra Strings, directed by Barbara Jane Gilby

Wesley Music Centre, September 13, 2020 

Reviewed by Tony Magee

CANBERRA STRINGS last performed in September 2019 and one could feel the exuberance and see it in the faces of the musicians, as they prepared to play “live” again, after such a long break.

Schubert’s “String Quintet in C” is notable on many fronts.

Firstly it was written only six weeks before Schubert died - his last chamber work. 

Also, it was published posthumously some 25 years after his death.

Thirdly, it is the only piece in the quintet repertoire which calls for two cellos.

Finally, there is no existing hand-written original score. The work has been drafted and pieced together by many different publishers and music scholars over the years. 

Canberra Strings at Wesley. Photo: Peter Hislop

Gilby and her compatriots have spent months comparing different published versions of the piece and for this concert came up with what they consider to be an authentic musical account of Schubert’s intentions.

Beginning with beautifully synchronised dynamic swells and excellent intonation, the piece sprang to life convincingly, the first movement showcasing melodic and flowing duet passages from the two cellists, Samuel Payne and Julia Janiszewski.

Later in the movement Lucy Carrigy-Ryan on viola played complex triplet work, taken over by beautiful duet passages where she was joined by second cellist Payne.

The second movement opened with pizzicato work from first cellist, later alternating in question-answer format with first violin, also playing pizzicato.

Both the second and third movements revealed sudden musical mood changes, ranging from lively, engaging and joyful playing in a major key, to sudden dark, slow, almost menacing motives and phrases in the minor.

The viola combined with second violin played beautifully by Pip Thompson, contributed significantly to the mysterious sounds emanating from the quintet by playing on the off-beat.

L-R: Violinists Barbara Jane Gilby and Pip Thompson. Photo: Peter Hislop

All these unusual, sometimes perplexing and unpredictable characteristics have been summarised by many over the years to reflect Schubert’s own despair at what he considered his nearing and impending death.

Certainly, Canberra Strings captured the conflict of confusion and sadness interspersed with joy and happiness superbly. One could feel the human emotions of drama, struggle and particularly the uncomfortable, perhaps frightening prospect of the unknown from their playing.

The final movement bounced into life - yes “life” - with an almost Hungarian dance style of writing and playing, featuring the two cellos both in unison and fifths, adding a wonderful, solid bass foundation, supporting the exciting and exuberant playing of the viola and the two violins.

Throughout the performance, Barbara Jane Gilby on first violin led her ensemble with discreet precision, and bold projection, resulting in ensemble playing of great feeling, emotion and unity.

First published in City News Digital Edition, September 14, 2020

Saturday, September 12, 2020



Written by Joe Orton

Directed by Liz Bradley

Canberra REP production at Theatre, Acton to 26 September


Reviewed by Len Power 10 September 2020


Don’t think that because Joe Orton’s ‘What the Butler Saw’ was written in the 1960s it must be hopelessly out-dated.  The manners, morals and authority figures that Orton targets in this ferociously satirical play still need skewering fifty years after the play was written.  Back then people were more open about their beliefs and ‘standards’.  In these supposedly more enlightened days, we just make sure what we say is politically correct instead.

‘What The Butler Saw’ was first performed in London in 1968.  The playwright, Joe Orton, was already dead, having been murdered by his gay partner a couple of months previously.  Although he wrote only a small number of plays during the 1960s, including ‘Entertaining Mr Sloan’ and ‘Loot’, the impact of his work was considerable and highly influential on later writing.

Orton’s play is critical of the society of the time, especially attitudes to sex, double standards, the medical profession, privilege, authority and power.  His writing shocked and offended audiences at the time.  These days we’re not so much shocked as surprised at how many of the same issues are still around.  We don’t seem to have come very far at all.

In the play, a psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice, is seen interviewing a young woman, Geraldine Barclay, for a position as his secretary.  His interview methods are highly inappropriate and, with the unexpected arrival of his wife, he needs to hide the girl, now naked, from view, leading to a succession of farcical situations.  Every character in the play has secrets which add further complexity to the situation.

Director, Liz Bradley, has given us a strong production with fine performances from her cast of six.  While she has it moving at break-neck speed, Bradley ensures that the line delivery is carefully considered and spoken by her actors.  While you can enjoy the show just as a typical farce, the physicality of the production is secondary to Orton’s ideas.

Peter Holland and David Cannell

David Cannell gives a fine performance as Dr. Prentice whose world is suddenly crumbling around him and Zoe Swan is a delightfully innocent Geraldine Barclay, the prospective secretary.  Lainie Hart, as the bustling, formidable Mrs Prentice, who has secrets of her own, is very funny and Peter Holland gives a well-judged frenzied performance of towering insanity as Dr Rance, an official sent by the Government to investigate Dr. Prentice’s methods.  Glenn Brighenti brings a youthful and confident cheekiness to his role as the blackmailing hotel bell-hop and Thomas Hyslop nicely combines the surface cliché of the policeman, Sergeant Match, with a seething decadence underneath.

Left to Right: Thomas Hyslop, Zoe Swan, David Cannell and Glenn Brighenti


Quentin Mitchell has designed a fine set for the show with some fun surprises and Anna Senior’s costume designs are just right for the characters.

This is a fine production that gets every element right as well as being highly entertaining

Photos supplied by the production.

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

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at



Friday, September 11, 2020


Created for Belco Arts by Sammy Moynihan  

Costumes designed by Olga Dumova

Lighting Designed by Linda Buck  

The Theatre, Belconnen Arts Centre, September 9 – 11

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

For its inaugural production to launch the impressive new theatre at the Belconnen Arts Centre, Belco Arts is presenting an ambitious physical theatre production entitled “L’Entreprise du Risque”.

According to his program notes, Creative Producer, Sammy Moynihan, has set out to explore themes of risk, danger and fragility, by creating a circus extravaganza which harnesses the varying circus skills of four trained circus performers, Jake Silvestro, Bernard Bru, Imogen Drury and Clare Pengryffyn.

Ensemble -Clare Pengryffyn - Imogen Drury - Jake Silvestro - Bernard Bru

Image: Andew Sikorski

That experience begins promisingly, with the audience, carefully observing Covid-19 distancing restrictions, being ushered into the darkened theatre, and seated around the performing area, where artfully lit, stages, mats and mysterious hanging sculptural shapes set up an intriguing air of expectation.

The performers entered costumed in white boiler suits and helmets reminiscent of space suits (or perhaps PPE). One (Jake Silvestro) gingerly removed his helmet, and, apparently satisfied that the air was safe, launched into an impressive acrobatic routine. Silvestro is a world class acrobat whose speciality is the Cyr Wheel, which he featured twice during the show.

Besides designing some intriguing aerial apparatus for the show, French-born, veteran aerialist, Bernard Bru, also performed solo and together with Silvestro. His solo on a moon-shaped apparatus was genuinely risky, given his age, as was another on parallel ropes.

Imogen Drury and Clare Pengryffyn have both trained with Warehouse Circus, and “L’Entreprise du Risque” provides them with their first professional engagement as circus performers. Both perform competently on the specially designed apparatus, but have yet to master the presentation skills necessary to provide their performances with the “wow” factor.

Besides performing their routines, the four performers were required to accomplish costume changes, set the riggings and clear away apparatus between acts, depriving the show of pace and excitement.

Even had all been highly experienced, it was very ambitious to expect four performers to sustain an hour of demanding physical performance. Given that two of this cast were novices, it was no surprise that the strain was often evident.

Circus exists on thrills, risk and excitement. Unfortunately, despite the obvious time and effort that has gone into developing this show, and the best efforts of the talented cast, not enough of these elements are present in “L’Entreprise du Risque” to allow it to achieve its ambitions.  

This review first published in the Digital Edition of CITY NEWS on 10.09.20



“L'Entreprise du Risque,” Belco Arts, at Belcone Arts Centre, September 9-11.Reviewed by John Lombard


Photo Andrew Sikorski.

L'ENTREPRISE du Risque opens with the four performers enveloped by white hazmat suits. One removes their hood and discovers the air is clean. The others follow their lead, gulping fresh air. Is it safe to breathe again?

Even in Shakespeare's time, pandemic closed the theatres. 

This circus grapples directly with the challenge of staging live performance in the age of COVID-19, with creative producer Sammy Moynihan inviting us to reconsider our relationship with risk.


Like 2019’s Cirque Stratosphere, there was a strong focus on aerial acts including hoops, trapeze and ropes. Veteran aerialist Bernard Bru demonstrated his strength by hanging from a crescent moon, while performer Jake Silvestro brought panache to spinning inside a giant ring. Warehouse Circus performers Imogen Drury and Clare Pengryffyn completed the quartet with polished hoop acrobatics.

The routines were serious and precise rather than flamboyant, with the emphasis on awe at the strength and skill of the performers rather than the thrill of their danger. 

By pairing the aerial acts with a voiceover defending risk-taking, the production drew a parallel between the prudent manner in which the performers approached the risk of gravity, and the social distancing measures in place at the theatre to manage the risk of infection.


Lighting design by Linda Buck kept the cavernous theatre dark, with spotlights focused on the performers.

This spartan approach created a contemplative and reverent atmosphere.

Running for an hour, this inaugural production by Belco Arts felt like a taster for more ambitious works in the new theatre. 


With the future uncertain, this defiant circus asks us to consider what we will risk to be part of live performance again.