Friday, August 27, 2021



NEO-Learning – Interactive Online Digital Education Platform.

Launched August 26, 2021. Yindjibarndi Community, Ieramugadu, (Roebourne) WA and Big hART

Commentary by Frank McKone


NEO-Learning is a First Nations education program for primary schools, devised by the Ieramugadu children and guided by their elders as a continuing gift to all Australians.

Big hART was first invited to work in Ieramugadu (Roebourne) 10 years ago by senior women Elders, who wanted Big hART to deliver projects which highlight heritage as living, continually evolving in the here and now. It was thereby vital that NEO-Learning celebrated living continuous culture, and was co-created by young people from Roebourne and guided by Elders and senior members of the community.

As Elder Michelle explained at the launch, “How do you bring stories about your life?  We’re in control of our story in NEO-Learning,” going on to show how the children in the schools using the platform are “not just consumers” – because they are actively engaged – and that learning online in this way is a “new literacy” for her children, as well as for everyone else.  

Most important, from the Yindjibarndi perspective, is how NEO-Learning works “to maintain our culture” from the old into the new.  “We are the teachers now,” said one of the Roebourne students, while their Elders talked of the importance of their young people taking on their role as creatives and innovators in their culture, and so being engaged and committed to their community.

The Yindjibarndi people are one of the five clans who had to take over the responsibility to care for the land known as Murujuga or Burrup Peninsula, after the ancient traditional custodians – the Yaburara – were massacred in 1869.  The area, with literally tens of thousands of rock art drawings, has been extensively damaged mainly by the LNG gas and chemicals industry which should never have been allowed to operate there.  

The Ngarluma community has taken on the task of managing as best they can what is now the Murujuga National Park, in the face of Woodside attempting to expand their operatons.  When I spoke to a Ngarluma Elder, in 2018, his central concern was that the rock art, which scientific studies show dates back to at least 35,000 years ago and was still being actively worked until the massacre, is essential in the education of young people today, so that they understand and respect their culture, and are committed to their community.  

Despite the WA Government doing its part in requesting Murujuga be nominated for World Heritage (which requires the Federal Department of Environment to prepare for the Minister to put the nomination, representing Australia, to UNESCO), Woodside may yet be given what I would call a red light to go ahead with their proposed expansion.

Watching the launch of NEO-Learning, two points important for education became clear.  First is how the engagement of the teachers and their students works.  Second is the arts education principle, which underpins the process.

This is where an appreciation of Big hART comes in.  I have previously written of Scott Rankin’s work, on this blog: Cultural Justice and the Right to Thrive by Scott Rankin.  Platform Paper No 57, November 2018 (Currency House, Sydney).  

Speaking at the launch he made his philosophy clear, in simple terms: “It’s harder to hurt someone if you know their story.”  Big hART people are “servants of society”, operating not as a generalised charity, but as facilitators of specific projects through the arts.  “We are the privileged ones,” he says, because of what the Yindjibarndi people are doing for us.

The Canberra Hospital School teachers – team leader Jo Daly, Penny Fry and Debbie Sam – spoke enthusiastically of the flexibility of the NEO-Learning program, with Big hART’s highly practical facilitator Mark Leahy, in their constantly changing situation.  

The students come and go according to their hospital treatment requirements, and what they are capable of doing from day to day is unpredictable.  The NEO-Learning program consists, for a start, of videos made in Roebourne with such enthusiasm and sense of fun, that even hospital inmates who can’t get up and dance are thoroughly enthused about their own futures.  And for teachers in more stable circumstances, it is through the arts activities, perhaps especially in dance, painting and music which the videos generate, that real understanding of First Nations culture becomes built into their students’ learning.  

Governor-General David Hurley spoke powerfully of the essentially inclusive nature of the project – bringing us together as Australians in a multi-cultural society – as he introduced the first Indigenous woman Member of Parliament, Linda Burney, to officially launch NEO-Learning.  She spoke of her own work teaching, and then in advocacy and curriculum development for Aboriginal Education, remembering her own experiences when young, of being made to feel inferior, in the time when “Aboriginal” meant at best “primitive”, and at worst meant to be massacred, as the Yaburara had been in 1869.

Though she spoke more briefly than she had intended – because the enthusiasm of previous speakers had let time get away – I thought of the great contrast between the treatment still of Indigenous people in the “justice” system, and of the explicit racism I have seen in many places on my travels around Australia, compared to the dictum provided to us by Scott Rankin

It’s harder to hurt someone if you know their story.  And even harder if you join with them in the art of story-telling through NEO-Learning.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

A Migrant's Son


Opal Mining at Coober Pedy
A dream image representing
A Migrant's Son
by Michaela Burger
(Image: Stage Whispers)

A Migrant’s Son by Michaela Burger.  Produced by Critical Stages Touring.

Filmed at the Hopgood Theatre, South Australia 2020, streamed online by Riverside Theatre, Parramatta (Sydney) as A Migrant’s Son Online Watch Party and Interactive Live Chat, Friday August 20, 2021.

The performance (without Live Chat) is also available to stream On Demand on Youtube from Saturday August 21 to Sunday September 5 – viewers can watch as many times as they wish.  Bookings via  or phone (02) 8839 3399.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 20

Performed by Writer and Composer        Michaela Burger
With La La Land Choir and George Grifsas (Bouzouki/Guitar)

Director                                                            Jane Packham
Musical Director and Choral Arrangements    Carol Young
Music Producer/Arranger                                 Dave Higgins
Dramaturgs                                      Sally Hardy & Elena Carapetis
Song Development                                           Jethro Woodward
Costumes                                                          Artemis Sidiropoulou
Lighting Design                                               Tom Bayford

After-show Live Chat with Michaela Burger hosted by Critical Stages CEO Chris Bendall.


Michaela Burger is a force to be reckoned with – as a story teller; a voice for her family and migrant community; simply as a powerful speaking and singing voice; as an instant creator of character; as a musician and composer; and as an actor with presence who communicates honestly with her audience.  

Filming a stage show can often mean losing the human warmth of a live show.  This performance was filmed between Covid restrictions, and, as Burger and Bendall laughingly recalled, was a hurried job as the unlikely opportunity arose.  

Though I have not seen the show onstage – it’s life  seems to have begun  at The Butterfly Club, Melbourne in May 2018 (Stage Whispers) and has toured in Australia and UK – this Hopgood Theatre performance seems to have a sense of immediacy, almost as if improvising as the musicians, choir, and solo performer Burger switch from song to story, from costume to costume, from one family character to another, including herself as the daughter of the son of the Greek migrant whose parents had arrived in Australia in 1924.

Michaela Burger

Michaela Burger (George Grifsas behind)

Although this work has been classed as fringe cabaret, this to me puts it down a peg below its significance.  Cabaret, of course, can be more than attractive entertainment and certainly can be political, as it was in its beginnings in post World War I Germany.  And it can be something like standup comedy, much of which nowadays consists of a humorous, often ironic, take on the performer’s personal life.  In the Canberra-Queanbeyan tradition, we are used to a variation on this theme in the shows by Shortis & Simpson, which began in the Queanbeyan School of Arts Café back in the mid-1990s.

But Michaela Burger has revealed in this show a highly personal experience which is clearly fundamental to her sense of herself, of her understanding of her identity, and even of her need to be a creator and performer.  She shows us why she is what she is because of the bonds in her family, on her father’s side through from her grandfather and even great-grandfather, and the culture of Greek women in their lives.

This, in my view, places A Migrant’s Son in the line of work of quite recent times, which I have called Personal Theatre.  Though my situation means I never see as wide a range of theatre as I would like, so far all work of this kind seems to be by women.  I will now add Michaela Burger to my list: Liz Lea in Red (2018), Ghenoa Gela in My Urrwai (2018), I’m a Phoenix, Bitch by Bryony Kimmings (2020), and Stop Girl by Sally Sara (2021).

The content and theatrical form in each case is quite different, but the essence of this type of theatre is that we are taken directly into appreciating, understanding and respecting an element of each creator’s personal life which is central to their understanding of themselves.  In each story there is some particular moment of new awareness entirely personal to her, which I have experienced during the performance as an awakening of my own feelings – for the performer, and for myself on reflecting on my own life.

That moment in A Migrant’s Son is the accidental death of Michaela’s uncle: her father’s brother; her grandmother’s son.  Even though Michaela had never met her uncle, it was in her learning of that story in its awful detail that she understood the truth of her grandfather’s dictum: “family is everything”.  When, in the Live Chat, someone asked “Is family still everything?”, I knew the answer before Michaela spoke, saying “family is the meaning of identity”.

This is what theatre is for: what it is all about.

Michaela Burger
The daughter of A Migrant's Son

Friday, August 13, 2021

Canberra Symphony goes to the movies and dreams come true!

Canberra Symphony Orchestra at the Cinema! 

Llewellyn Hall, August 7 2021

Reviewed by Tony Magee

JOHN Williams is alive and well and composing in America. 

Astonishingly, his latest work, the Violin Concerto No. 2, which was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on July 26, with violin soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, arguably the greatest living violinist, was ignored by the Boston Globe and the New York Times - no reviews. It was however very favourably reviewed by Steve Moffatt for Australia’s Limelight Magazine, via a live stream.

It’s disappointing that the scent of a career writing Hollywood film scores degrades the composer in the eyes of some of the world’s classical music press.

Conductor Jessica Gethin

Opening with the “Star Wars Suite” by John Williams, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra played stylishly and with excellent dynamics to produce a most convincing performance of this great score for, what was at the time in 1977, a ground breaking and highly acclaimed film. Eight sequels followed, all with scores by John Williams.

At the completion of the first movement, the capacity audience erupted into deafening applause with shouts and screams of delight. In traditional “suite” format, another five movements followed, some displaying the orchestra’s ability to create delicate pianissimos and engaging love themes, before returning to a finale of grandiose proportions, leaving the audience spellbound and delighted.

Williams was also represented with his Suite from “Harry Potter”, which began with a beautifully played main theme by Stephanie Neeman on celeste, followed by a Suite from “Schindler’s List”. In the latter, violin soloist and also leader of the orchestra, Kirsten Williams, played with extreme beauty of tone production and phrasing, accompanied superbly by Rowan Phemister on harp.

Arguably the most highly anticipated piece on the program was Ennio Morricone’s magnificent “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the 1986 film, “The Mission”.

Oboist Megan Pampling delivered this most expressively, her sound filling the concert hall with beautiful tonal shadings. It was a sensitive and heartfelt reading, received with great delight by the audience.

Morricone himself conducted this piece with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at Elder Park in 2012, only to have it unceremoniously drowned out by the V8 car race nearby.

Two Australian film score composers were represented. Selections from “To Rest in Peace” by Leah Curtis, revealed mournful, ravishing playing from the strings, along with beautiful solos from Alan Vivian on clarinet and once again, Megan Pampling on oboe.

CSO strings. Photo: Martin Ollman.

Nigel Westlake’s score for 2014’s “Paper Planes”, is an absolutely beautiful orchestral piece, requiring the entire orchestra. With lush, sweeping melodic phrases, a huge sound and beautifully modulated harp playing from Phemister, the players slowly dwindled into a triple pianissimo at the conclusion, breathtakingly held by conductor Jessica Gethin.

Bernard Herrmann composed the music for “Psycho” in 1960. The much anticipated “shower scene” was delivered with incredible conviction by the string section, leaving everyone suitably terrified, but also amazed at the unusual playing style and skill of the players.

George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” closed the concert. Originally composed as a stand-alone orchestral piece, reflecting his own impressions of Paris in a stunning musical snapshot, it was later used in an 18 minute ballet sequence for the movie of the same name.

It is magnificent in structure, was superbly played by the orchestra, including excellent trumpet solo work from section leader Justin Lingard and delivered with a realism and conviction that had the audience once again in raptures of delight with deafening applause and many callbacks for conductor Jessica Gethin.

Throughout the concert, Gethin held the orchestra in tight command. Entries and cadence points were all very finely executed, with a dynamic range of immense proportions.

For many years, I’ve dreamed of Canberra Symphony Orchestra paying tribute to the world of movie music. Finally, my dream has come true!

First published at City News Digital Edition, August 8, 2021

Monday, August 9, 2021

Under the Influence


John Shortis, Moya Simpson, Keith Potger
Under the Influence

Under the InfluenceShortis & Simpson, with special guest Keith Potger, in a tribute to the musical inflences of the founding member of The Seekers.  Technical operator: Elizabeth Hawkes.

At Contentious Character Winery, Wamboin NSW, Sat-Sun August 7-8 2021.  Shortis & Simpson’s next guest, Covid willing, will be Karen Middleton, March 25 2022 at the National Press Club.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 8

In my day, which means 1964 when The Seekers landed in London and 'Morning Town Ride' went to No 1 for weeks on end, I thought they were perfectly politically correct.  Very nice people.  But Keith Potger, songwriter and arranger, Under the Influence of Shortis & Simpson, proves quite otherwise.  Rewriting spirituals and Australian folksongs showed a penchant for humour and picking up on the social zeitgeist; but the implications of his limericks are something apocryphal – even beyond John Shortis’ efforts.

What a relief for those of us so lucky to travel on the day out of the Federal Territory into the not currently 'Covid 19 Affected' Queanbeyan Palerang Regional area of New South Wales.  Humming along quietly, so as not to disturb the others 1.5 metres away with my rather shaky harmonies, 'All My Trials' began to fade away, 'California Dreaming' took me for that 'Morning Town Ride', while the story of Dusty Springfield and her brother Tom Springfield made me look forward to the day when 'The Carnival is Over'.

Is it OK to be nostalgic?  Everyone else seems to be hankering for ‘going back to normal’.  But I just enjoyed going back to the past when every Country & Western singer/guitarist was named Hank – at least according to Keith.  Except him, of course.

You could say Contentious Character was the right venue for Under the Influence.  Plenty of good food and wine, and a fascinating history of a colonial kind.  Moya, like me, just came from England but with a different accent.  Potger’s people went from Germany/Holland to Ceylon (that’s Sri Lanka where the tea comes from) centuries ago, and escaped Britain granting them independence by migrating to Australia when Keith was 6 or so.  To Melbourne, that is: the centre of Australian folk music – once again, according to him.

Religion plays a role in this show: John, Catholic; Moya halfway between agnostic and atheist; and Keith, Calathumpian.  The cultural mix of the Penguin Book of Australian Folk Songs, American songs like ‘The Saints Go Marching In’ as spiritual and jazz, Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’ (even I played that on my harmonica) with special focus on Pete Seeger of The Weavers, as well as C&W titles like ‘I Kissed Her on the Lips And Left Her Behind For You’ all turned into the story of The Seekers' songs, listed over 8 printed pages on Wikipedia, from 1963 to ‘You’re My Spirit” by Potger and Athol Guy for the 1993 25 Year Reunion.

From Keith’s first group at school (The Trinamics); through the influence of The Four Lads (remember ‘Moments to Remember'); The Jordanaires’ harmonising when backing Elvis Presley; his father playing banjo/ukulele (think of George Formby); his group, The Escorts, getting on TV!; and finally The Seekers with Athol Guy, Bruce Woodley and Ken Ray – who was replaced by jazz singer Judith Durham (with Moya reprising Durham’s first song with The Seekers: the spiritual ‘My Lord What a Morning’) – this is a fascinating show full of history, musical appreciation, memory, witty humour, including the iconic Australian limerick:

There once was an eminent Seeker
Who fancied himself as a streaker,
‘Cross the MCG grass, all willy and arse,
He ran, while the crowd called….
(all in unison) ‘Eureka’!

and nostalgia for days when even in spite of the likelihood of nuclear war we could still go for a ‘Morning Town Ride’, the song written by the author of ‘What Have They Done To The Rain?’ and ‘Little Boxes’; brought to The Seekers by Keith Potger and taken to No 1.

The Seekers 1965

Tuesday, August 3, 2021



Artistic Director Annette Shun Wah. Adelaide Festival Centre October 21 – November 7 2021. or or phone BASS 131246

Previewed by Peter Wilkins


At first glance the picture on the cover of the 2021 OzAsia Festival Program may appear to be a large orange covered in scales or perhaps a beehive. “It’s meant to be intriguing” festival director, Annette Shun Wah tells me. It is in fact a hugely magnified eye of a dragonfly. The scale-like hexagons are a multiplicity of lenses that make up the dragonfly’s eye. “A dragonfly in a lot of different cultures symbolizes transformation, Shun Wah explains, “and that is perfect for this festival and the lenses of the eye symbolize multiple perspectives for looking deeper at everything and every angle.” From October 21 to November 7, Shun Wah hopes to open new eyes and the dragon fly represents the festival’s totem.

OzAsoia Festival Artistic Director Annette Shun Wah 

As the first Asian Australian to direct the thirteen year old festival, Shun Wah looks deeper into the role that OzAsia can play in our nation’s artistic landscape.” We’re trying to take it back to the original idea of OzAsia, focusing on Australia and Asia. OzAsia became a showcase for spectacle but for me to take this on I wanted it to have more meaning and more impact in Australia.” A glimpse at her diverse and forward looking program reveals a desire to make the festival more accessible and inclusive. The crowds that have flocked to the traditional Moon Lantern Parade and the Lucky Dumpling Market each festival are not necessarily venturing inside the theatres to witness the unique and  outstanding performances. “I’d like to change things”, Shun Wah says “and the result is a more pertinent and contemporary festival. I’m really quite proud that the festival has a lot of work that one might think of as experimental. And yet it is all very accessible. You don’t have to read reams of information to get something meaningful from the pieces

Pinoy Street Party
One such community event is the Pinoy Street Party connecting with Filipino communities across the city, Adelaide born music producer DJ Kuya James mixes old and new school songs from the Philippines to bring the generations together in a feel good party. Another feel good initiative is the Special Comedy Comedy Special which will be held for one night only in Her Majesty’s Theatre and is certain to attract a different audience. Laughter opens the way to understanding others and discovering things about them. Food is another popular pathway to greater appreciation of other cultures. The festival offers a variety of food related projects including Double Delicious . Five stellar story-teller cooks reveal the secrets of dishes relevant to their lives. Directed by Valerie Berry Double Delicious features writer Benjamin Law, dancer Raghav Handa, Kimchi master Heather Jeong, and cherished national treasure Elizabeth Chong.. This immersive work with stunning visuals and music explores family, learning, loss resilience and legacy. Audiences will get to eat the dishes that inspire the stories. “Sometimes it’s done reverentially. It’s extraordinary.” Shun Wah says

Indigenous culture is not directly part of the connection between Australia and Asia but indigenous artists will participate in the Australian Art Orchestra’s Hand To Earth. Yolngu songman Daniel Wilfred from Arnhem Land will collaborate with Sunny Kim, one of Korea’s foremost jazz vocalists. Trumpeter/composer Peter Knight, Yidaki player David Yipininy Wilfred and Aviva Endean on clarinet will provide the backing. It is a reflection of the past and a shared culture. “It makes the hair stand on end. It’s beautiful.”

Shun Wah is eager to tell me about another World Premiere that crosses culture and faith. Michael Mohammed Ahmad is an Arab Australian Muslim writer whose work The Demon Is part crime thriller, part surreal magic realism in which a Chinese -Australian street fighter invites an Aboriginal Muslim and an Arab-Australian Jihad to travel to the site of the nineteenth century Lambing Flat riots against the Chinese goldminers. Does a curse inhabit the landscape and what are the demons that they are forced to confront?

 Sue Healey's The Long Walk

Another work that focuses on Chinese history will be renowned Australian choreographer Sue Healey’s The Long Walk. This will be live streamed from Robe in South Australia’s South East for three performances only. 

 It is impossible to ignore the enormous and devastating impact that Covid19 has had on the arts. At the same time, after being forced at her first festival as artistic director last year to resort purely to a live streamed program Shun Wah has gone all out to create a festival that is stamped with her vibrant vision. “I took this job on because I’ve always thought that the Asian Australian content was the missing link. It’s really easy to say ’Look there’s all this great work here, more than enough for our programme and of very high quality.” It has never been in one place like this before. A lot of the works are world premieres such as Alison Currie and Yui Kawaguchi’s dance work Somewhere, Everywhere, Nowhere, Maria Tran’s ACTION STAR, Indonesian Shadow play Perahu-Perahu, Sue Healey’s The Long Walk, and Chinese Australian musician and filmmaker Mindy Meng Wang’s When.  Mindy Meng Wang ‘s emotional showcase presents family stories from her hometown of  Lanzhou as well as Wuhan, Shanghai and Melbourne, all of which have been affected by the impact of the Covid outbreaks.. In addition to the world premieres, there will be several Adelaide premieres including Ahimsa’s Meditations on Gandhi, performance artist Justin Placido Shoulder’s Aeon+:Titan Arum, Kathak dancer Raghav Handa’s TWO with tabla musician Maharshi Raval. Anchuli Felicia King’s “blisteringly funny satire” White Pearl could not be performed as programmed last year and the Sydney Theatre Company and Riverside’s National Theatre of Paramatta’s production will have its Adelaide premiere at this year’s OzASia. .Another fresh initiative will be In Other Words, a writer’s festival curated by Laura Kroetsch and featuring writers from a wide range of cultures, who will discuss themes that have emerged through the programme from suburbia as well as remote regions of the country.

The Moon Lantern Trail

Covid has also impacted on the two major community events. The Moon Lantern Parade will return as The Moon Lantern Trail in a re-imagined form. This year the audiences will go to the lanterns, placed along a trail and accompanied by performances at various stages of the trail. This will be a Covid-safe experience but Shun Wah also assures me that it will be a more satisfying and immersive event. The hugely popular Lucky Dumpling Market will now be located in Elder Park along the bank of the River Torrens. Last year the vendors learnt how to cope with Covid safe measures and restrictions and the park will allow greater, safer access to the dumpling stalls.

Shun Wah has programmed a festival that tells all our stories. It looks through the lens of Asian Australians at the lives of all Australians.  “It’s a look at how contemporary people express themselves through their art. I want the festival to have something meaningful to say about who we are right now. And what we’re feeling right now. I felt we also had to be sensitive to what we are going through with the pandemic. I didn’t want to programme anything that was going to be incredibly harrowing. I wanted this to be a festival that was going to feel right in our emotional state. There’s stuff in there that’s provocative and it’s not all easy but there is nothing gratuitous about it.”

Shun Wah’s OzAsia is a multicultural banquet of succulent, tantalizing and illuminating tastes. It is also a celebration of Asian-Australian talent and community. I ask Shun Wah which week she would recommend for visitors from interstate. “You’ll just have to come for three weeks!” she replies. “What I would love this festival to be is for people to trust it enough to know that whatever they book, they’ll discover something they knew nothing about and that was different. I want that to be the kind of festival for my audience.”




I LIKED IT but I didn't know what the f#!k it was about.

Devised and performed by JOEL BRAY

Presented by Joel Bray Dance and Canberra Theatre Centre

Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre.  July 30th to August 1st. 2021.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Joel Bray is a successful dancer, writer and performance-maker who trained at NAISDA and WAAPA. He pursued a career in Europe dancing in a succession of overseas dance companies before returning to Australia to work with Chunky Move.

For this awkwardly named show, promoted as being modelled on the successful Politics in the Pub and Science in the Pub presentations, his stated aim was to attempt to demystify contemporary dance through conversation, silly stories, music and dance.

The opening night performance attracted a large contingent of Canberra’s dance cognoscenti, attracted by Bray’s reputation as an inventive dance-maker, as well as others perhaps more interested in the promise of a free drink on arrival and a house band.

While politics and science are both verbal pursuits, dance is very much a visual medium, and consequently people who visit pubs and bars rarely do so to discuss contemporary dance. As it turned out, the performance contained no discussion and very little that would attract the unconverted to contemporary dance.

It does contain some impressive contemporary dance elements however, but these were seriously compromised by the decision to present them in an unsuitable environment.

In keeping with the concept, the Courtyard studio was transformed into a cosy pub. The walls were decorated with sporting memorabilia, with the audience seated at cabaret tables facing the performance area, with a well-stocked bar set up behind them.

Joel Bray and Jess Green

A narrow raised platform stretched across the back wall facing the audience with a cleared area in front where most of the dancing took place. At one end of the platform, positioned in relative gloom, was “the house band”, which turned out to be accomplished local singer/composer/musician, Jess Green, who contributed a charming solo, and accompanied the performance with atmospheric synth music, sometimes appearing to surprise Bray with her choices.

Exhibited at the other end of the platform were a vegetarian meat tray and a bottle of wine, which it turned out were the prizes for a series of audience participation party games which formed the main substance of the performance.

Prior to the performance Bray, costumed in a sequined black jacket, set up an informal atmosphere by circulating between the tables and trading quips with audience members.

As the performance began, he then introduced himself and his associate artist, Jess Green, and after a few welcoming remarks, removed his black jacket to perform the first of two outstanding highlights of the show.

The first, a clever three-minute dance/ lecture in which he outlined the history of contemporary dance while demonstrating the signature moves of the famous choreographers who contributed to that history.

The second highlight was a fascinating demonstration of his approach to choreography, following which, in full view of the audience, he changed into a matelot costume, donned white make-up and performed  a beautifully executed solo utilising the choreography he had just demonstrated.

However the problem was that as with most contemporary dance both these solos contained a great deal of complex floor work, most of which regrettably was lost to all but those fortunate few occupying the front tables.

These two highlights were positioned between a series of time-wasting audience participation segments which seemed to be hugely enjoyed by those willing to embarrass themselves for the edification of boisterous friends and the glory of winning the meat-tray and a bottle of wine.

Joel Bray and Jess Green

Much of the program looked surprisingly under-rehearsed. In fact it often appeared that Bray and his associate artist had had little time to communicate, given that he interrupted his performance several times to compliment her on her choice of accompanying music, suggesting that he had not heard it before.    

It was an excellent idea to create a cabaret questioning the tropes of contemporary dance, and it is obvious from some segments of this program that Bray has the wit and skills necessary to create something very special in this regard.  “I Liked It but I didn’t know what the f#!k it was about” is not that show. .

Hopefully Bray will hold on to the successful elements, create other segments to match them, discard the rubbish, and create for himself and his audience, a showcase worthy of his talents.

                          Images provided by the Canberra Theatre Centre

This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.



Monday, August 2, 2021

Don't be fooled by the faces I wear, Split, Exploded View


Photography | Brian Rope

Split | Chris Bowes

Don't Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear | Ben Rak

Exploded View | Catherine Evans

Photo Access | Until 14 August 2021

Each of these exhibitions expands on what would, by many, be deemed photography. Distortion, caricature, masking, disruption – these are the key elements across the three shows.

Artist Chris Bowes is showing Split. It brought to mind those fun and interesting images in distorting convex and concave mirrors giving repetitive reflections, optical illusions in sideshow funhouses. This installation is a sort of high-tech version of them. Screens and webcams watch and distort viewers, taunting them into questioning data capture and use. These mirrored surfaces create caricatures that can be equal parts captivating and disturbing. This installation originally was scheduled to exhibit in the Huw Davies Gallery in mid-2020. Sadly, it was locked down in Melbourne. Furthermore, the same issue prevented the artist from traveling to Canberra to instal it himself this year. His other intended exhibit is, unfortunately missing from the show.

Chris Bowes, Monitor (detail), 2020, webcams, screens, computers, code and cables

Bowes says, "It is unsettling to think that while we watch screens, they quietly watch back at us. Our interactions feed data to hungry tech giants, whose targeted advertising and helpful suggestions seem harmless enough.….We are often passive to these exchanges, ignoring the consequences that come with sacrificing privacy…."

In Don't Be Fooled By The Faces I Wear, artist Ben Rak examines the phenomenon of “passing” as a condition in both social life and art practice. It also employs methods of screens, this time for masking hidden identities. He attempts to shed light on how we conceal or reveal ourselves in order to gain visibility, avoid marginalisation, and enjoy the privileges afforded to dominant groups.

Rak uses the print process as a metaphor for otherness, drawing parallels between art practice and social interaction. His prints seek to examine changeable identities, investigating how the technical and material language of the print can be combined to mask or reveal its artistic identity.

The exhibited works are diverse; they include large acrylics and silkscreen works on un-stretched canvas, laser-cut dye-sublimation prints on aluminium and papier-mâché masks, inkjet prints on fibre-based paper, and a single channel video. If only we could purchase masks like these each time our current fetish for wearing them is made mandatory. They and the prints are wonderful. Looking at my own reflection in two of the prints, I saw my identity masked.

Ben Rak, The Masks I Wear to Pass, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas


Ben Rak, Unhinged, 2020, acrylic and silkscreen on un-stretched canvas

Exploded View is new work that takes artist Catherine Evan’s recollections of the 1997 Royal Canberra Hospital implosion as a starting point to examine how digital media distorts our perception of time, relation to place, and memory. It takes memory and screen culture head on in a distorted representation of the artist's personal memories.

When her son was born, Evans looked online for images of the hospital she had been born in, the hospital she watched blasted into the ground some nineteen years earlier. She discovered a home video someone had uploaded to YouTube - two minutes and thirty-one seconds of VHS footage. She took screenshots of the video then, using a flatbed scanner to distort them, introduced a disruption of memory. The result is fascinating images of a scene etched in so many Canberrans minds – shown here as silver gelatin prints made from her digital negatives by putting them directly into contact photosensitive paper.

Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121ii, 2021


Catherine Evans, Exploded View, 121i, 2021

Also displayed and available for purchase, in the gallery shop, is an intimate companion to Evans’ prints. Her fictiōnella Copper (2020), commissioned for the slow-publishing artwork, Lost Rocks (2017–21) investigates the linked events emanating from the Acton Peninsula, currently the site of the National Museum of Australia and previously the Royal Canberra Hospital and over 20,000 years of Aboriginal history.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times here. It is also on the authors own blog here.