Wednesday, April 8, 2020

BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED


Streaming on Netflix
Reviewed by Len Power 1 April 2020

The documentary ‘Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened’ takes its title from the lyric of a song in Stephen Sondheim’s musical, ‘Merrily We Roll Along’.  This unusual and compelling documentary details the journey of a much anticipated musical from auditions to opening and beyond.

After Sondheim’s Broadway smash hit of 1979, ‘Sweeney Todd’, his next show was to be a 1981 musical version of the 1934 play ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

Such was the anticipation for this show that CBS Television started filming auditions and early rehearsals for a planned documentary.  However, when the show was a surprising flop and closed after only 16 performances, the project was shelved.

Many years later, the filmed footage was re-discovered and given to original cast member, Lonnie Price, who was now a highly respected director and writer.  He created this documentary called ‘Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened’ from the footage.  It charts the hopes and dreams of the group of young actors excited by their good fortune to be cast in the latest Sondheim musical.  Years later, cast members reminisce about the experience of being part of the show and the shock of its early closure.  Some recovered and moved on to have successful careers in showbiz but many of them were deeply scarred by the experience.

Watching the discussions and decisions being made by the creators are fascinating.  Knowing that the show was ultimately a flop makes it especially poignant as we see the enthusiasm and joy of the very young cast when told they have been cast in the show.

Original leading man, James Weissenbach, who had been replaced prior to opening night by Jim Walton, talks about the crushing blow he experienced personally.  He seems remarkably philosophical about it now.  Jim Walton, who replaced him, is also on hand to talk about being a cast member suddenly promoted to leading man.

Director of the documentary, Lonnie Price, is seen watching footage of himself during rehearsals.  It clearly has an immense impact on him.  He tells us that he has directed every Sondheim musical for the theatre over the years since but has never directed a production of ‘Merrily We Roll Along’.

It’s an electrifying, bitter-sweet documentary and anyone who’s ever been actively involved in a theatre production will find this a particularly moving experience.

‘Merrily We Roll Along’ may have been a flop on Broadway at the time but has continued to have a life ever since.  It was one of the shows scheduled to be performed at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney in April.  Due to Covid-19, it has been postponed to 2021.

‘Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened’ is currently streaming on Netflix and for theatre lovers, it shouldn’t be missed.

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 https://player.whooshkaa.com/shows/theatre-of-power.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Hairy Panic

Photography: The Hairy Panic. Sophie Dumaresq. Nishi Gallery.

Was scheduled to run until 4 April but, sadly, the physical exhibition has now been taken down and the gallery closed because of COVID-19. A virtual version is going to be put on the Art, Not Apart website. In the meantime, you can view some of the images here or at https://artnotapart.com/artist/2020/sophie-dumaresq/.

Sophie Dumaresq’s body of work “The Hairy Panic” comprises a series of photographs of a land art installation on the windswept grasslands surrounding Lake George, plus her pink tumbleweed sculptures that feature in the images. This work is a significant part of the “Today I, Tomorrow You” exhibition which, in turn, was part of the recent “Art, Not Apart” Festival. There are also half a dozen other photographers’ images to see.



Hairy Panic, Untitled #4

Each tumbleweed was made by Dumaresq’s own hands from chemically processed and hand-dyed human hair and painted pink steel. The pink colour references harmful pesticides. They took something of a battering when exposed to the elements for the photography, but still look great. I’m told that Dumaresq has been regularly and lovingly combing the hair.



Hairy Panic, Untitled #6

A Canberran, Dumaresq is an artist working in photo media, in addition to large and small-scale sculptural installation. In 2009 she attended a student internship program at Questacon. She completed her Diploma in Photography (Honours) at SpĂ©os School for Photography (Paris and London) and has participated in group exhibitions in Australia, France, Greece and Germany. She is currently studying at The Australian National University’s Sculpture and Spatial Practices Workshop.

“Pancium effuse” (commonly known as Hairy Panic), is a species of grass native to inland Australia that, in dry and windy conditions combined with soil toxicity levels, can thrive and become a tumbleweed.

Naming the project after the tumbleweeds was done to share a narrative with viewers, causing us to reflect on past and present-day treatment and documentation of the land and its inhabitants.



Hairy Panic, Untitled #10

What consequences will our present-day treatment practices have for the future? What do our patterns of consumption, destruction and creation demonstrate? How do we relate, show empathy for and evolve with and within our surrounding environment?

Production principles also highlight the power to both shape and be shaped by landscapes, past, future and present. The use of photographs reflects on the arguably violent legacy of the medium, through documentation within both the sciences and social sciences, towards women, indigenous communities, other minority groups and all those who have historically fallen outside of the Western definition of what is human.

Viewing the work allows us to seriously consider the intersection of humans and material culture. Human hair was chosen due to its nitrogen bonds, that can be used as fertiliser absorbed by both the soil and the crops we then consume. The hair was collected from women to draw attention to the connection of that of the female body and that of livestock, agricultural and sexual means of production and reproduction.

Using art to reflect is a common and important practice. Here the reflecting is on the history and politics behind the aesthetics of landscape documentation - as both a means of production and a means of aesthetic communication of what it is to be alien.



 Hairy Panic, Untitled #13

In addition to being works to contemplate, the images consider "how our present-day treatment of the land will not only have consequences in the future but are already happening and are here."  They explore symbiotic cycles of consumption, destruction and creation demonstrating how as a species we relate, show empathy and evolve with and within our surrounding environment.



Hairy Panic, Untitled #15

Photographically, the pink (of the tumbleweeds) works particularly well in the sunlit landscapes, particularly when the overhead clouds are similarly coloured by the light. The pink sculptures also contrast with smoky skies in those images reminding us of the recent fires, very possibly caused by our treatment of the land.



   Hairy Panic, Untitled #8

Sadly, the physical exhibition has now been taken down and the gallery closed because of COVID-19. A virtual version is going to be put on the Art, Not Apart website. In the meantime, you can view some of the images at https://artnotapart.com/artist/2020/sophie-dumaresq/.

This review was first published in the Canberra Times and is also on my own blog at https://wordpress.com/post/brianropephotography.wordpress.com/606

Mico among the nebulae


Art / Domenic Mico’s “The Cosmos”, at m16artspace.com.au until April 5. Reviewed by PHILLIP MACKENZIE.
'Eye of God,' 2019, oil on canvas.

BEING a complacent, if not complicit, citizen, I was unable to attend the opening of Domenic Mico’s exhibition “The Cosmos” at M16 Artspace in Griffith.
As it turned out, thanks to COVID-19, the exhibition was never officially “launched”, but in those relatively liberal couple of days, the show was billed as being accessible to the public. In a stir-crazy demonstration of independence, therefore, a few days later I broke my self-imposed parole and went to M16.
There was an ominous sense of emptiness as I entered the lobby, and found the gallery closed against intruders. I was, however, able to peer through the mesh roller doors and get some impression of the impressive display of abstract bursts of cosmic splendour which, I knew, Mico had been building up since his 2018 exhibition at FORM Gallery in Queanbeyan.
While that collection can now be seen as a colourful and expressionist precursor to the works, its theme had been more terrestrial. Now, Mico is joyously swanning off among the nebulae.

'Pillars of Creation,' 2018, oil on canvas
On returning home, I was relieved to find that M16 had up-loaded the entire offering at m16artspace.com.au and I had all the time I could want to browse, visit and revisit these phantasmagorical images at my leisure.
The I-version did nothing to diminish my admiration for Mico, and for his sake I can only hope that the two sales noted therein are an indication only of the fear and caution with which we are all living in the time of COVID-19.
I would happily put red stickers on “Pillars of Creation” and “Emissions” – in both of these I swear there is the vestige of the theatrical comedy mask lurking in the cosmic dust – a sly joke from Mico’s past life in theatre? Elsewhere, I might fantasise about vestigial images of the ubiquitous COVID-19 – but I doubt that even Mico’s imagination could have foreseen our present predicament.

'Blue Planet,' 2018, oil on canvas.
I would also happily put red stickers on “Blue Planet”, which put me in mind of “Whale Nation”, a long poem by Heathcote Williams which Phil Roberts and later Neil Roach and I adapted for solo performance in the 1990s. It begins, “From space, the planet is blue. From space the planet is the territory not of humans but of the whale” and on my shelves I have a deep blue glass sphere by local artist Alan Aston which, for me, conjures up the same meme.
And, I would also put a red sticker on “Eye of God”– because, well, I just liked it.
Now that art galleries are off-limits for “the duration”, I hope they will follow M16’s example and upload their offerings for house-bound art lovers to regain some sense of the real world we have been forced to leave behind.
This review was first published at citynews.com.au

Monday, March 30, 2020

Burnout


Imogen Wall: Burnout
Belconnen Community Gallery

Was scheduled to run until 3 April, but the gallery has been closed because of the imposed COVID-19 restrictions. Not the same, but next best, Wall’s images can be viewed online at http://www.magentadreams.site/




Reviewed by Brian Rope

This vibrantly colourful exhibition is in the modest light-filled gallery space inside Belconnen Community Service. Often using bright colours in my own photography, I was immediately drawn in. Studying the works and starting to consider what they were saying to me only added to my enjoyment of the show.

Imogen Wall is a long-term Belconnen resident who creates in many mediums in addition to photography. Song, dance, poetry, collage, painting and drawing are also part of her explorations. She exhibited at Belconnen Community Gallery in 2018 (‘Journeys’ for Reconciliation Week) and 2009 (‘Dreamscapes’) and has designed many sets for local theatre. She is currently completing a multi-disciplinary Master’s degree at ANU.


Skyline II © Imogen Wall

The concept for this show started with the rather unglamorous story of a stolen car dumped at suburban McKellar oval and then incinerated. Before the car’s remains were towed away, Wall captured a series of photographs of the colours and textures that had emerged during the burning. She felt these represented a sort of beauty rising out of the destructive act, salvaging something of what the car had been. In many ways she was responding to a personal feeling of burnout.


Murano III © Imogen WalI

By happy chance, a neighbour, Jack Crittle, had photographed the car before it was burnt, providing a ‘before/after’ narrative anchor for the exhibition’s themes of burnout and resurrection. Since then, our summer bushfires have given the show – with its focus on the miracle of regeneration that can appear after burning – an additional resonance.


Pintara © Imogen WalI

Words on promotional material for the show provide an excellent starting point for our response to what we see: Beauty can rise from ashes just as hearts can regenerate after burnout. The exhibition handout tells us “The burnt car was an alien presence, sparking conversation among locals walking their dogs, making it a portal between worlds of crime and civility. In the summer sunsets the burnt duco was iridescent. Exotic colours and textures emerged from paint and metal alchemically transformed by burning – rusted, charred and oxidised – the patterns evoking points of transition (sunrises, shorelines) and strange worlds (industrial dystopias, gleaming estuaries). This beauty, rising mysteriously from destruction suggests the potential for life that is latent in burnout.”


Terra © Imogen WalI

Wall considers the heart to be central to our physical and spiritual being, the seat of life, emotion and spirit. That has long been a focus in her work. She likes to play with interactions between conceptual, intuitive, and emotive layers, aiming to evoke a feeling or mood and capture that passage of time which enables us to move beyond the present.


Titan II © Imogen WalI

Burnout brings together a stimulating variety of artistic reflections on that title’s many aspects of meaning: photographs, mixed media paintings and a range of sculptural pieces made from car parts, animal skin and found objects. The photographic works are the central core, but the additional artworks by Fabio Fabbo and Rena Swamy express a dynamism and boldness, add to and help bind the entire show together. The depth of colour and directness of statement throughout is resurrecting. It renews our spirits.


Titan IV © Imogen WalI

Canberra film expert, Andrew Pike, was to have added even more, lending further coherence to this conceptually harmonised show - by speaking at the cancelled opening, on post-traumatic growth.


Whilst not the same as visiting the exhibition in the gallery to see the photos printed on metal (thus enhancing the effect), as a next best option Wall’s images can be viewed online a http://www.magentadreams.site/