Thursday, December 30, 2021



Mentors: Ruth Osborne & Sara Black

Streaming online via QL2 Dance Website until 31 January 2022

Reviewed by Len Power 29 December 2021


QL2 Dance’s annual ‘On Course’ project has always been a great opportunity to observe young dance artists in development.  Alumni who are currently in full time study at universities around Australia and New Zealand usually come together in Canberra at this time to choreograph, collaborate and perform new short works.

However, again this year due to Covid, ‘On Course’ has been presented as ‘On Course On Film’, a festival of dance films made in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, NZ and Canberra by tertiary dance students.  They have created 7 short dance films this year.

Choreographers who submitted films were Caroline De Wan, Christopher Wade, Gabriel Sinclair, Patricia Hayes-Cavanagh, Phillipa Keogh, Otto Kosok and Ruby Ballantyne.

The standout performance this year was ‘Polarity (People Are Tricky)’.  It was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wade and danced by Wade, Rachelle Silsby and Liam Berg.  With well-chosen background scenes in Sydney, the concept was clearly realized through the choreography.  It was attractively and skilfully performed by all three dancers.  Dance was quite rightly the dominant feature here but it was also skilfully filmed and edited with a good eye to location and background.  The choice of music was also excellent.

Gabriel Sinclair’s ‘Self Portrait’ had a strong second half where the dance and emotion of the piece came through strongly.

There was little to inspire or enjoy in the other films.  Too much emphasis was given to filmic tricks at the expense of dance.  The stated concepts for the films were not evident in the finished product and, in many cases, there was no actual dance to enjoy.

I understand that making film is not usually the choreographer’s main focus and that current circumstances have made it the only option to showcase their work this year.  Hopefully, ‘On Course’ can get back to normal next year so that we can see and judge the choreographic works live.

‘On Course On Film’ is accessible free via live streaming until 31 January 2022.  Details and tickets are available through QL2’s website.


Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

West Side Story - 2021 Film Review


West Side Story – the 2021 movie.
Release date: 26 December 2021 (Australia)
Directed by    Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by    Tony Kushner
Based on West Side Story by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim,    Arthur Laurents


    Ansel Elgort
    Ariana DeBose
    David Alvarez
    Mike Faist
    Rita Moreno
    Rachel Zegler

Cinematography: Janusz KamiƄski
Edited by Michael Kahn, Sarah Broshar

Music by Leonard Bernstein

Reviewed by Frank McKone (December 27, 2021)


Photo: Nick Tavernise

This West Side Story is the real thing.  

It is not a romance, but an insightful tragedy.

Just as Shakespeare intended in his story of Romeo and Juliet set in the newly-wealthy upper-class merchant family society in which he grew up in the 1500s; and as Stephen Sondheim intended in his Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) story of social inequality in his America of massive economic ‘development’ in the 1950s; so the story presented by Steven Spielberg is the tragedy of unintended consequences, warning us in the 2020s that human greed ultimately ends in disaster.

It is bad enough that we as a total world-wide community cannot get our act together to properly and fairly manage the current pandemic – whose existence is essentially natural.

Far worse is our belief in our need for continuously growing wealth which not only causes the divisions between the haves and the have-nots, the in-groups and the out-groups, and the impossibility of acceptance – let alone love – across social boundaries which Shakespeare, Sondheim and Spielberg have all recognised; but also that human greed has now taken us beyond dancing against each other with menacing clicking fingers – way beyond Jets and Sharks upsetting social norms – to the point where human induced heating of the earth is likely to end ignominiously in the death of humankind, represented by the killings of the men at the end of West Side Story with no sense of a future for the women.

Spielberg has been careful to set his movie realistically in the New York of the 1950s, adapting the arts of music, photography and dance, and acting – as originally written by Sondheim and directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins – to show a picture of how and why the street gangs existed as an necessary element of that society.  Spielberg didn’t need to ‘update’, just as Shakespeare didn’t need to ‘update’ Verona.  For us, today, 1950s New York is as far distant as Verona was for Londoners in 1597.

Jerome Robbins’ work on stage transported audiences everywhere into the world of the drama, as all good theatre must.  He made the dance the conduit for our imaginations.  The 1961 movie failed because Ernest Lehman’s screenplay and the directing by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins could not make us believe in the reality of the situation.  The dance, the photography and the acting made the story a mere romance.

Spielberg’s film is of the gritty reality.  The dancing in the streets is integrated into the social life of the have-nots in the streets where their homes are being destroyed by big business ‘re-development’ – and that transports us into that reality.

The result, in my view, is that Spielberg’s West Side Story is a substantial work of art, just as Robbins himself achieved on stage.  Though the advertising describes the 2021 movie as Musical/Romance  2h 36m, I can promise you that after those 2 hours and 36 minutes of Tony’s attempt to believe in himself, after a year’s contemplation in jail for having nearly killed a man in a ‘rumble’ as the previous leader of The Jets, and watching Maria’s realisation that she is left with no option but to do her best for herself despite everything, you will leave the theatre seeing the world around you for what it really is.

You’ll not forget Rita Moreno.  She plays the widow of Doc, still running the drugstore he used to run in the original stage show.  She is the one character who understands the reality and the need for compassion and common sense in an uncertain world.

The Jets and The Sharks
Confrontation in the Dance Hall

Rita Moreno
as Mrs Doc

PS You don't need to know anything about the original stage show or the old movie.  This West Side Story stands alone.  Don't miss it.



Canberra Theatre 21st December 2021.

Evening performance reviewed by Bill Stephens

Unarguably one of Australia’s most successful vocal ensembles, The Ten Tenors, have been constantly touring Australia and overseas for over 25 years. However Covid travel restrictions ultimately brought an abrupt end to their touring just as the group arrived in San Paolo to embark on sold-out tour of Brazil in 2020.

Similarly an extensive Australian tour was interrupted with performances having to be re-scheduled when the group were again forced into lockdown in July 2021. After two Covid-enforced cancellations the group finally fulfilled its Canberra commitments with two performances on December 21st, which were given enthusiastic receptions by large, loyal audiences.

Among the many reasons why The Ten Tenors have remained so popular over the years is the quality of the vocal arrangements. These distinctive arrangements, the work of Stephen Baker, cleverly capitalise on the different qualities of the voices within the ensemble, and while individual voices are highlighted within the arrangements, the superb vocal blending of the ensemble is often spectacular.  Despite the inevitability of personnel changes over the years, the obvious care taken in selecting replacement voices has allowed the integrity of the arrangement to be maintained.

As this was a celebratory program, it included a generous selection of the group’s most popular items among them several of Baker’s excellent medleys. In the current line-up Michael Dimovski, Michael Edwards, Boyd Owen and Cameron Barclay all possess fine operatic voices, superbly featured in the medley of operatic arias and choruses which open the show. Daniel Belle, Adrian Li Donni, JD Smith, Riley Sutton and Sam Ward display their impressive musical theatre experience in the crowd-pleasing “Queen” and “Diva” medleys, the latter of which interwove no fewer than 22 songs usually performed by women, but marvellously interpreted in this show by the entire ensemble.

However it was Jared Newall, who spent some of his lock down in Canberra starring in a fine local production of “Jersey Boys” for whom the Canberra audience reserved its most enthusiastic applause, particularly during the “Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons” medley which predictably raised the roof.

Slick choreography, disciplined staging, polished microphone technique, attention to diction, excellent lighting and superb sound, all added gloss to an exceptional program superbly presented by an outstanding ensemble which knows what it takes to keep a loyal audience coming back for more.

      This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021



If This Is The Highway (I’ll Take the Dirt Road).The Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esqu by Joel Swadling.

 Published by Xlibris. Copyright 2021

Book review by Peter Wilkins

I have a confession to make. I have not read every word of Joel Swadling’s extraordinary biography of the late, great theatre auteur, David Branson. After thirteen years of intensive and dedicated research, biographer Swadling has revealed a life, colossal in its influence, prodigious in its creativity and highly innovative in its practice. How can one capture the sheer enormity of Branson’s impact on the theatre, his co-conspirators, his colleagues, his family and the community who were enriched by knowing him, working with him and loving him for all his virtues and a good many of his vices? For Swadling has written a warts and all biography. In thirteen years he has scoured family papers and letters including the writings of Branson himself, delved deeply into the documents held by the ACT Heritage Library, interviewed countless members of the community who were  both a private and public part of Branson’s life, described productions in detail, while tracing  a complete and complex man of the theatre, whom one could truly call larger than life.

Swadling’s three act drama is intriguing, tantalizing and revealing. It is a portrait of a man obsessed, driven by Dionysus, almost Bacchanalian in his extravagance. When I say that I did not read every word, rather I have not yet. I keep being drawn back to the index, to ferret out certain interviews, to learn about productions that I was not fortunate enough to see, to discover the passions of a private life I did not know or a public life that I knew only cursorily during the Nineties, when Branson’s influence was most prolific, startling and courageous. And so, even now I keep returning to the index, my faithful guide to secrets, mysteries and remarkable achievements by a man who inspired all who shared his passion and his journeys and who died far too soon.

If This Is The Highway (I’ll Take the Dirt Road). The formidable encounters of David Branson Esqu. begins with that dreadful day in December 2001 when Branson, hurrying back to a rehearsal, collided with an off duty police officer’s van and was flung onto the road because in his haste he had omitted to do up his seat belt. It is a harrowing , engrossing opening which sets the reader on an inevitable search for meaning, and leaves the reader at the end of the book with Reverend Paul Cameron ‘s eulogy at St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Hackett where mourners spilled out into the yard around the church and Hal Judge’s   poetic tribute to the Godfather of the Fringe.

Biographer  Joel Swadling

Swadling’s labour of love and devoted admiration is more than a mere biography with facts and figures interspersed with anecdotes to entertain and inform. As people come forward to recollect and reminisce I feel as though I am at an extended episode of This Is Your Life. I feel Branson’s presence in the room.  His many admirers and loyal followers speak as if they are in his presence. They speak of a man whose creative output is still alive in their memory. They describe a man whose inspiration still resonates through their lives, their careers, their hopes and dreams. The interviews appear unedited , and I tend to skim some although there is not a one that is not spoken from the heart. Collaborators and lovers, family and friends are faithfully recorded and transcribed. Through it all Branson appears before the reader, alive, energetic, passionate and irrepressible..Swadling’s Acts meticulously trace Branson’s incandescent career from the spectacular community event Splinters with its daring, confronting and anarchic display of fire and steel and  performance, which he co-founded with Patrick Troy and Stuart Vaskess to his virtuosic violin playing with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. He then co-founded with his partner Libby Morris  CIA (culturally Innovative Arts) and a more familiar world of theatre, travelling between Melbourne’s La Mama to Canberra’s Street Theatre to the Adelaide Fringe and to the Sydney Festival. However, his theatre was never safe or predictable. He would stage an all female Waiting For Godot and introduce audiences to new theatre with Heinrich Heine –Fool of Fortune. All this is carefully described by Swadling, eager that not one aspect of Branson’s inventive talent should be overlooked. Thirteen years of exhaustive research have not only drawn a vivid portrait of an artist who challenged  artistic notions and confronted us with new ideas and a different way of looking at theatre and its role in our society. If This is The Highway (I’ll take the dirst road) is a rare insight into the life and career of David Branson, whom some may regard as man and myth. Swadling’s vast and telescopic biography presents no myth. Branson was and remains real. His friends attest to his belief in people and the force behind his vision.

Swadling dedicates his book to the Mothers of Invention -David’s mother, Margaret Hunt and Swadling’s mother Robyn Swadling – Rope and to their families.

Those who knew Branson will relish the nostalgia and the gift of a theatre maker who changed their lives. Those who never knew the part that Branson played in changing the way that people thought about and participated in theatre will learn that one man in his time plays many parts. Swadling describes each part with unerring accuracy, leaving nothing out and ensuring that the reader remains engrossed in Branson’s life, character and achievements. And Branson is always there, in the words of all who knew loved and admired and respected him. Founding Artistic Director of La Mama, Liz Jones, best sums this up when she tells Swadling:

David was a very empowering person in the sense that he always believed he could do what he set out to do. And he did it on the smell of an oily rag and often less…His generosity really impressed people, the time he would spend with people, the time he would spend on work, the way he brought people in. There was nothing trendy about David. He  respected  people.  He had this great generosity of spirit

If This Is The Highway (I’ll Take the Dirt Road) The Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esqu. Is a book for every theatre lover and theatre maker. The myriad of names in the index will attest to his far reaching influence as will the accounts of the multitude of productions, and those who knew David will delight in Swadling’s in-depth account of this amazing man of the theatre. Like me, it is not necessary to read through from cover to cover, although this is also a good way of tracing Swadling’s chronological account of Branson’s life as a flashback from the tragic occasion of his death on that fateful day in 2001. But one may also treat the book as a delicious literary degustation of one man’s fascinating theatrical and personal journey. Will you know David better by the end? Maybe. Or maybe not. He is his own enigma, charismatic to the end. Swadling, in unravelling Branson’s life and art has done the man and Australian theatre an inestimable service. And, as with many who are gone too soon, we are left with what might have been. Whatever it may have been, Swadling has shown us through his biography that it would have been  more of David Branson’s gifts to Australian  theatre and the community.

Research for this book was made possible through a grant from ArtsACT

Friday, December 24, 2021

Luminescence shines at Wesley


Luminescence Chamber Choir conducted by Roland Peelman

in association with the 

Canberra International Music Festival 

Wesley Uniting Church, December 18.


Reviewed by Tony Magee

My first piano teacher, Wilfrid Holland, introduced me to his two cats, Magnificat and Oedipus when I was nine years old.

I had an inkling that Magnificat must have been special, but it was some years later before I discovered the magnificence of musical settings bearing that name. 

Conductor Roland Peelman - held choir in tight command. Photo: Peter Hislop

Singing Renaissance settings of the Magnificat, the Ave Maria and the Motet form, Luminescence swept the audience through the sublime and tender, delivering music so beautiful and uplifting, in glorious pitch-perfect polyphony.

6.30pm, show time, and the heavens opened with torrential rain, hail and thunder. The sound was deafening on the roof of Wesley. We patently waited 15 minutes.

Beginning with a short “Ave Maria” by Jean Mouton (c1459-1522), the singers enveloped the audience with exquisite sound in a mellifluous opening.

Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521) composed “Magnificat ‘O Bone Jesu’” in 1500. The choir performed his intricate polyphonic setting beautifully, the piece showcasing the combination of older style bare fifths cadence points contrasted with the modern, for the time, addition of thirds and sixths in the harmony.

The grand master of Renaissance choral composition, Joaquin Desprez (1450-1521) had a reputation for being difficult to get along with, erratic on delivery and very expensive when commissioned. Patrons of the day however turned to him when perfection was required.

His “Ave Maria, Virgo Serena” followed by the Motet “Illibata Dei Virgo Nutrix” displayed a towering compositional style, the choir capturing the essence of his lavish and sumptuous harmonies with authority and grace.

The final two pieces were delayed once more by another massive storm, this time with high winds driving the rain sideways through the ventilation shafts of the church and onto the audience seated on the right hand pews. A quick evacuation saw them re-seated to the left.

The “Ave Maria” setting by Robert Parsons (1535-1572) was composed around 1570. In this, the singers captured the delicacy of the piece wonderfully, with stylish delivery of harmony and counterpoint.

Luminescence Chamber Choir at Wesley. Photo: Peter Hislop

To close, a “Magnificat” from another master of the period, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621). This large and complex work was composed in 1611 and the choir performed the intricate polyphony in a commanding and elevated manner. 

The piece moves from quarter time to triple time in a number of places, the choir making the tempo and time changes with precision. In the finale, conductor and CIMF artistic director Roland Peelman extracted a magnificent crescendo from the performers which was exhilarating.

Throughout the concert, Peelman held the choir in tight command, his knowledge and commanding familiarity of the music being a key part of the success of this wonderful Christmas event. 

Peelman himself almost didn’t make it. His flight from Belgium arriving only days before was thought to have contained an Omicron-infected passenger and he was ordered to quarantine for two weeks. Only yesterday was he informed this was a mistake and he was cleared to conduct.

At the conclusion of this wonderful concert showcasing music dedicated to the glory of God, there was a general air of “we actually made it” from the performers, the audience and this reviewer. 

One was left feeling the weight of that old adage, God Works in Mysterious Ways.

First published in City News online edition, December 19, 2021

Tuesday, December 21, 2021



"Crawl" by Alyse Canton

Directed by Ruth Osborne for QL2 Dance

Gorman House Arts Centre 18th and 19th December.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Each year QL2 Dance provides young aspiring choreographers with the opportunity to test their talents by providing them with dancers, facilities and mentoring to produce a work for presentation before a paying audience in its annual “Hot to Trot” season.

In addition to coming up with their concept, the choreographers are also responsible for casting and rehearsing their dancers, organising costumes, props and rehearsal schedules.  

Mentored by Ruth Osborne and Steve Gow, ten young choreographers took up the challenge this year, and between them produced an ambitious program of eight staged works and one film. In addition most also danced in works choreographed by colleagues, adding value to their opportunity.

Magnus Meagher produced the short film which opened the program. Entitled “Naturally Urban” it followed three dancers, John Judd, Cassidy Thompson and Danny Riley as the danced their way through a montage of beautifully photographed Canberra locations to the accompaniment of Yomoti’s “Cats Walking”.  Perfectly timed editing and imaginative interaction between the dancers resulted in a thoroughly delightful short film.

"I, You, We" by Penny Amoore

Perspex magnifiers cleverly manipulated by five dancers, Alyse Canton, Akira Byrne, Sofie Nielsen, Mia Canton and Tara Creamer-Banks,  to explore concepts of identity were an arresting aspect of Penny Amoore ambitious work “I, You, We”.  Interesting music choices, clever well-executed floor work, particularly in the second section as the dancers shadowed each other, provided an engrossing and constantly interesting piece.

"Gold Beige People" by Hollie Knowles and Courtney Tha

Hollie Knowles and Courtney Tha combined choreographic and dancing talents for their work “Gold Beige People”. A witty critique of the world of fashion, they incorporated elements of tableau, voice-overs intoning fashion advice with detailed sound and lighting with their own excellent unison skills to produce a delightfully entertaining work.

Drawing on her training in circus arts, Genevieve Rohrlach worked with three dancers, Alyse Canton, Arshiya Abmishree & Gigi Rohrlach,  to produce a demanding, well-conceived exploration of control and manipulation, entitled “Inhuman Habits” which also incorporated impressive floor work.

"Webbed" by Sarah Long 

Sarah Long choreographed and performed a striking, introspective solo entitled “Webbed” for her exploration of human connection, which contrasted interestingly with Akira Byrne’s charmingly inventive “The Saturation” beautifully performed by Penny Amoore and Mia Canton to the music of Ezio Bosso.

"Preconceived Judgement" by Mia Canton

Mia Canton made interesting use of red masks, unsettling music and complex movement patterns for her piece, “Preconceived Judgement” in which four dancers. Arshiya Abmishree, Akira Byrne, Cassidy Thomson and Gigi Rohrlach,  explored ideas of how people judge each other.

Similarly, Alyse Canton also used four dancers, Sofie Nielsen, Penny Amoore, John Judd and Danny Riley, but a completely contrasting movement vocabulary to produce a dramatic work entitled “Crawl” investigating co-existence between underground insects and humans.

"All Era" by Daniel Riley

However the outstanding work of the evening was Danny Riley’s joyous “All  Era” in which Riley, together with Cassidy Thomson and Tara Creamer-Banks danced up a storm,  utilising a clever sound-track, several dance styles, including hip-hop, swing dance and even a nod to Gene Kelly, and well-executed costume changes,  to produce an exuberant, thoughtful, funny and nostalgic homage, which together with his other contributions during the evening,  marks him as a young dancer/choreographer on the cusp of an exciting dance career.

As with all Hot to Trot presentations, each work was supported by impressive lighting and stage management as well as opportunity for audience feedback following each performance.


                                                    All photos by Lorna Sim

       This review first published in the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on 20.12.21

Monday, December 20, 2021

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II

Photography & Mixed Media Review | Brian Rope

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II | Brenda L. Croft

Canberra Museum & Gallery | Until 22 January 2022

‘hand/made/held/ground’ is a major body of work by a leading contemporary artist, Brenda L. Croft, a proud Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra woman whose background also includes Australian, Chinese, English, German and Irish heritage.

This mixed media installation explores Croft’s intimate patrilineal relationship, and her return to her father’s, and her own, Country; sharing something of that lineage connection and her journey. It reimagines and honours customary objects - jimpila (spearhead) and kurrwa (stone axe) - created on their Gurindji homelands in the Northern Territory. Contemporary representations on display reflect ancestral journeys - undertaken on traditional homelands, and returning home.

When, and who by, the stone axe was created is unknown. However, it is known that the axe survived over 130 years of pastoral impact prior to being found by Croft when she visited the remote site where it was.

The spear tip was given to Croft under temporary care by a supporter (Lyn Riddett) of the Wave Hill walk-off led by Vincent Lingiari. Riddett received the spear as a gift from an Elder at Daguragu in 1971. In the following years, the tip of the spear was accidentally broken before it was able to be repatriated to the Gurindji community, via Croft.

Whilst caretaker of the spear, Croft repaired it with wax and had a wax mould made of it, along with a mould of the stone axe. With permission from family and community members, she used those moulds to create multiple copies of these significant cultural objects - black and red lead crystal, clear and uranium glass cast stone axes and spear tips.

It is these copies, displayed on a combination of new and aged steel bases echoing steel bore water tanks, that we see in this exhibition. Each is lit individually from within revealing various colours, their configuration representing constellations in a night sky.

Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019.
Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

Jimpila (spearhead – uranium glass) 2017 - 21. Glass components: kiln cast uranium glass. Display case: stainless steel, Sikaflex, electrical wire, 12 volt globe. Dimensions: variable. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

As well as the kurrwa and jimpila pieces, large satellite images displayed on the gallery walls map journeys embarked on by Croft, sometimes alone and other times accompanied by family and Gurindji community members. These maps, together with the axe and spear tip copies, reveal a connection between land and sky. As the lights in the moulds pulse on and off, their beating synchronises with ancient footsteps on the earth and symbolises the beating hearts of the objects’ owners.

Yijarni (Gurindji History Book Project) (detail) and Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

In an adjacent space to that displaying ‘hand/made/held/ground’, Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) is showing eight works from Croft’s earlier ‘Made in Australia II’ series, held in its own collection. This is an interesting and clever juxtapositioning of two sets of artworks.

Made in Australia II was produced by Croft to honour her mother, who advocated for social equity at a local level, while also ensuring her children were proud of their heritage. A non-Indigenous woman, Dorothy Jean Croft broke from tradition in Sydney - she found love with a Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra man, Joseph Croft. They married and raised a family together, living in numerous regions of Australia, including Canberra.

The artist Croft has celebrated her mother’s story by scaling up her (mother’s) original 1950s-60s vividly coloured 35mm Cibachrome slides to giant size photographic prints that speak to the strength and potency of her parent’s relationship - played out quietly in this heart of the nation.

CROFT 21. Civic Centre Canberra 1959 - Made in Australia II Series

CROFT 24. Joe - Car, Canberra - Made in Australia II Series

CROFT 44. Joe & Snow 3 Mile Lake - first snowfall ANZAC - 1960 - Made in Australia II Series

Together, these two bodies of Croft’s work celebrate both the male and female lines of her kinship stories, whilst also shedding light on some of our nation’s tensions: a story of lives impacted by stolen generations, returning to traditional homelands, the assertion of women’s independence and the breaking of class and racial barriers.

Both series wonderfully pay tribute to her mother’s memory.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 20/12/21 here. It is also on the author's own blog here.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Pandy Shuffle

Photography | Brian Rope

The Pandy Shuffle | Eleven Artists

Huw Davies Gallery, Photo Access | Until 22 December 2021

Curated by Wouter Van de Voorde, The Pandy Shuffle shows works from eleven photo artists. The name? Well, it’s not the Melbourne shuffle - a rave dance from the ‘80s. And the artists didn’t learn how to shuffle and cut shapes in the usual dance sense. But they certainly had to shuffle their arrangements and plans, creating a Pandora’s Box of ideas as they coped with the pandemonium of pandemic times.

Van de Voorde mentored them through a Concept to Exhibition project at Photo Access in 2021. He wanted to connect people, have discussions about how images work and how they communicate when juxtaposed with each other. It became a shared endeavour, no-one expecting to be working together online through lockdowns.

As curator, Van de Voorde wanted there to be an overarching narrative binding the works together. He and his participants have executed a varying quality, but successful, coherent and collaborative show - celebrating their doggedness and creativity.

Each artist brought their distinctive style; an admirable consonance between them. All created work revealing their individual thought processes and confirming their endurance through this year.

Claire Manning’s excellent artworks feature diverse and interesting subjects, and include a magnificent large self-adhesive vinyl print A Place to Hide, 2021.


Claire Manning, A Place to Hide, 2021

Sara Edson’s wonderful contemporary work explores notions of home and connections between family, friends and strangers, recording “experiences and feelings in a strange year, that sometimes seemed a blur.” An image of a panda mask wearer along the Queanbeyan River path reveals a delightful encounter.


Sara Edson, Untitled, 2021

Tom Varendorff planned to document the ever-increasing number of dog toys that lie around his house and yard. In the end his – also contemporary - photos weren't as focused on the toys as he'd first thought.


Tom Varendorff, Untitled, 2021

Andrea Bryant’s works are all seductively lit and worthy of close examination. Still Life 2 is not a traditional still life. It has much to consider in a different composition.


Andrea Bryant, Still Life 2, 2021

Grant Winkler’s four exhibits of abandoned spaces adorned with the nowadays inevitable “street art” additions are replete with detail. His use of sunlight in two Walking on Sunshine works is wonderful.


Grant Winkler, Walking on Sunshine Obverse, 2021

Thomas Edmondson’s artist statement reveals that he is colour blind (mild deuteranopia) and that his work attempts to visualise “happenings left in places”. One impressive piece, Kambah Drains, reveals an amazing collection of graffiti on various surfaces – the words cave, temple, grim and aspire invite interpretation. 


Thomas, Edmondson, Kambah Drains, 2021

Erin Burrows says, “works were created from a period of chaos to calm in an ever-changing world, how busy and messy life can be, then clarity and balance can be found.” Each work is full of stuff for our eyes to tour.


Erin Burrows, Chaos 1, 2021

Phil Carter found quiet suburban roads to show us, seemingly devoid of people, built probably at great cost and barely used.


Phil Carter, 2021, Somewhwere Near Here 5

Briony Donald’s images of pigeons - and their titles - made me smile. One of two others featuring rhino birds stands out because of the bird’s juxtaposition with a young person.


Briony Donald, Untitled, 2021

Caroline Lemerle is interested in capturing the ‘layers’ of inner city living, suggesting her images “illustrate the silent fraught conversation between middle-class affluence and the inner-city poverty of marginalised people”. They do, although two prints titled Newtown Disconnect 1 and 2 have a clear connection - dominant colours in each tying them together.


Caroline Lemerle, Newtown Disconnect 1, 2021

Kathy Leo took her photos while exploring the beauty around Canberra on a personal recovery journey. She has compiled images and poetry into an artist book, some copies for sale along with prints of Birds in the Pond. The works share her discoveries and their healing wonder with us, her audience.


Kathy Leo, Birds in the Pond, 2021

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 18/12/21 here. It is also on the author’s blog here.

Thursday, December 16, 2021



Liam Head  - Emily Nkomo  - Natalie Bassingthwaighte - Tim Draxl

Music by Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard – Lyrics by Alanis Morissette

Scenery design by Riccardo Hernandez – Costume design by Emily Rebholz

Lighting Design by Justin Townsend – Sound Design by Jonathan Deans

Directed by Dianne Paulus – Resident Director – Leah Howard

Musical Direction in Australia by Peter Rutherford.

Theatre Royal Sydney, 9th – 19th December 2021.

Opening night performance reviewed by Bill Stephens

Although Alanis Morissette wrote these songs for her break-out album more than 25 years ago, they have now been brilliantly repurposed by Diablo Cody for a musical which feels very much like it could have been written this week, so intelligently does it address issues with which the current generation is wrestling; mental health, sexual assault, consent, drug addiction, sexual identity and much more.  No it’s not “The Sound of Music”, but it is about family, and the issues it addresses resonate strongly with contemporary audiences.

“Jagged Little Pill” opens with Mary Jane Healy, (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) the wife and mother of the outwardly perfect Healy family, writing her annual Christmas letter. What she doesn’t put in her letter is that she’s struggling with a drug habit which is rapidly getting out of control. Her successful husband, Steve (Tim Draxl) who’s just received a raise at work, is hooked on pornography.  Her 16 year-old coloured adopted daughter, Frankie, is enthusiastically exploring her sexuality with her best friend, Jo, (Maggie McKenna), and the apple-of-her-eye son, Nick, (Liam Head) is about to become embroiled in a scandal caused not by anything he did, but by what he didn’t do.

"Ironic" sung by Aydan (Phoenix) and Emily Nkomo (Frankie) 

This production of “Jagged Little Pill” is the first international production since it opened on Broadway where it garnered no fewer than 15 Tony Award nominations earlier this year. It’s also the second musical directed by Diane Paulus to be seen in Sydney in recent times. The other was “Pippin” which opened in Sydney in December 2020.

Prevented by Covid restrictions from travelling to Australia herself, Paulus entrusted the reproduction of her brilliant direction to Australian director, Leah Howard, and that trust has been richly rewarded with an impeccably cast, tightly rehearsed production which drew standing ovations from the first night audience.

Emily Nkomo (Frankie) and Company

Morissette’s songs with their repetitious lyrics and idiosyncratic vocalisations are more pop orientated than musical theatre. But in the hands of masterful vocalists of the calibre of Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Tim Draxl, both fine actors, they are deeply affecting, raw and uncompromising.

In arguably her finest performance to date, Bassingthwaighte is completely believable as the perfect parent, admired by her friends for her ability to cope with any situation. Her gradual disintegration as she begins to lose control of her drug dependency is disturbing to watch.

Tim Draxl as the husband, who chooses to take refuge in pornography rather than face up to the failure of his marriage, matches the complexity of her fine performance with a finely nuanced performance of his own, particularly during a hilarious scene in the marriage councillor’s office as their secrets are exposed.

Talented newcomers, Emily Nkomo, as the Healey’s adopted daughter Frankie, and Liam Head as their college jock son, Nick, give assured, affecting performances, as do  Grace Miell as the rape victim, Bella, and Aydan as Jo’s competitor for Frankie’s affections. However, it’s   Maggie McKenna as Jo, who practically steals the show, winning a rare mid-performance standing ovation for her unnervingly ferocious rendition of the anthem “You Oughta Know”.

Complex, constantly moving scenery, dazzling lighting design, and an energetic ensemble who act as Greek chorus, alter egos to the principals, give their all to the aggressive video-clip choreography, and sing up a storm, ensure that the show moves along at a cracking pace. But as good as the singing is from the principal players and the ensemble, Tom Kitt’s clever musical arrangements, enthusiastically performed by Peter Rutherford’s superb band, tended to make it difficult to fully appreciate the complexity of Morissette’s lyrics.

However if you’re among those in the audience who obviously appeared to know every lyric of every one of Morissette's songs by heart, this will not deter you from seeing this brilliant production, which despite it’s challenging, often confronting content, manages to end, if not happily, certainly on an optimistic note.

Grace Miell and Company ( You Oughta Know) 

A stunning choice to launch the superbly renovated Theatre Royal, “Jagged Little Pill” will enjoy only a very limited season in Sydney, before moving on to seasons in Melbourne and Perth, but don’t despair; it’s already been announced for a return season in Sydney from 9th July, 2022. 

                                                           Photos by Daniel Boud 

                                 This review first published in CITY NEWS on 12.12.21.