Thursday, September 28, 2023

CELEBRATING RECALIBRATING - Teresa Wojcik

Enola Jefferis (cello) - Teresa Wajcik (composer) at Smith's Alternative.

 Smith’s Alternative, September 26th.  Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Much has been written and spoken about the response of people to the joint catastrophes of the 2019/20 bushfires and the Covid pandemic.  Canberra composer, Teresa Wojcik reacted by challenging herself to capture her deeply personal responses in music by composing a piano trio. 

Entitled “Celebrating Recalibrating”, the work was given its first public performance at Smith’s Alternative, performed by John Yoon (Piano), Anika Chan (Violin) and Enola Jefferis (Cello).


Anika Chan (Violin) - John Yoon (Piano) - Enola Jefferis (Cello)
performing "Celebrating Recalibrating"


Written as a collection of cathartic aural snapshots with titles such as “Hazy Days”, “The Doldrums”, “Virus “and “Isolation”, the sections were connected by developing interludes. The instrumental arrangements for the various sections often incorporated unusual and unexpected techniques to accurately capture the exact impression required by the composer. The challenges offered were enthusiastically embraced and interpreted by the three musicians.

For the section entitled “Cabin Fever” the musicians were required to clap off beat. Elsewhere there were delayed pauses. The final section, “A New Way Forward”, was composed in the pentatonic scale of F Sharp Major using only the black keys of the piano, which introduced an unexpected meditative oriental flavour which concluded the work on a delightfully optimistic note.

If these descriptions suggest that “Celebrating Recalibrating” is some dense, avant-garde work then they do it an injustice, because Wojcik has a gift for melody, which together with her intriguing choices of instrumentation constantly delight in the way they capture and reflect a particular mood or response.

A memorable feature of this concert was the opportunity it offered for Wojcik to introduce the various sections of her work in person. Her recollections of her moods and feelings at the time of writing “Celebrating Recalibrating” added immeasurably to the pleasure of the performance.


Anika Chan - John Chan - Enola Jefferies - Teresa Wojcik - acknowledging applause at  the conclusion of "Celebrating Recalibrating" at Smith's Alternative.


Images by Helen Musa


This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 27.09.23


 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Is There Something Wrong With That Lady

 

Is There Something Wrong With That Lady by Debra Oswald.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, September 18 – October 14 2023.

First produced by Griffin Theatre Company, 13 – 24 April 2021 at the SBW Stables Theatre.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 23

Cast:
Debra Oswald

Creatives:
Director – Lee Lewis; Associate Director – Nell Ranney
Set & Costume Designer – Jeremy Allen
Lighting Designer – Matt Cox
Original lighting designer for the Griffin production – Benjamin Brockman
Sound Designer – Jessica Dunn; Video Realiser – Daniel Herten
Stage Manager – Bronte Schuftan; Costume Supervisor – Renata Beslik




My experience teaching and directing high school drama students, now many decades ago, taught me an invaluable lesson.  This was expressed by dancer, mime and theatre arts teacher, Anton Witsel OAM, Ordre des Arts et Lettres, Tchaikovski Medal, in this way: “In the theatre you can always fall flat on your face.” He meant it literally as well as metaphorically.  Any kind of performing drama is a risk.

Hayes Gordon, founder of Ensemble Theatre, spoke of “acting acting” as a risk, and for some actors as a danger.

So I found watching writer Debra Oswald performing herself a bit disturbing.  She is not “in character”, yet she works to a script and has presented this story since its beginning at Griffin Theatre in 2021.  She ‘stands up”, but is not a comedian.  Some of what she says makes people laugh, but they are not jokes.

She ends with a loving tribute to her ever-faithful husband, and dog.  But what if he (the husband) has begun to feel that she is using him, even monetising their love?  Perhaps he might, considering her quite explicit stories of her sexual behaviour in younger times.

In my role as critic, I am left with ethical questions.  Should I judge the show as nothing but entertainment, succeeding in making people laugh?  Should I praise her open honesty about what it is to be a writer in a gig economy (the only kind of economy in the arts)?  How do I know, though, if all she has said is true?  

After all, I am aware of how often my memories and what I thought were truths have been coloured by later events and changing needs.  When I almost formally interviewed my mother, aged 85, soon after my father had died at the same age, we each had forgotten events that the other remembered as certain.  And there were secrets kept on both sides.

For a reasonable critical evaluation of a public paying-for show, I need to consider the purpose which the author may have had in mind and whether the production successfully achieved that intention.  But what is Debra Oswald’s intention, as both the writer and performer?

Is it meant to be a revelation with wider implications than her merely personal story?  Is it meant to give her status as a performer; so should I judge her acting skills?  Is it meant to be a homily of resilience, her ‘doggedness’, which we should take to heart?


So Oswald herself explains in a Writer's Note, “I’ve been around a while – making a living as a writer for over 40 years – and I wondered if the perspective of a bruised old dame might be of interest to people.  So, I wrote this show as my late-onset stage debut.  My aim is to be embarrassingly candid about myself, sometimes amusing, honest about the highs and lows of being an Australian writer, and hopefully to extract wisdom from the Ensemble audience about what I should do next.”

So – I was interested in bits and pieces of the story; I was embarrassed by some of her candidness about very intimate experiences; there were some amusing asides and one or two genuinely funny stories; I did feel some sympathy for the lows in her writing life and appreciated the highs.  

But as for wisdom I can’t offer much beyond Thank your Lucky Stars if you haven’t yet fallen flat on your face.  Writing and performing this show was certainly taking a theatrical risk.




 

 

 

Monty Python’s Spamalot. Directed by Jarrad West. FreeRain Theatre. The Q theatre, Queanbeyan. To Sept 24.


 

Monty Python fans will love this one. King Arthur (Michael Jordan) and the Knights of the Round Table gallop, with the aid of coconut shells and Arthur’s much put upon sidekick Patsy (Darcy Kinsella), through a quest to find The Holy Grail. If you are a fan of the film you’ll know the scenes and dialogue backwards.

 This is an energetic production that clearly knows the territory but doesn’t always grab it with the necessary gravitas. There’s a certain amount of trying too hard at times and at others it’s about assuming the audience will get it because they know it.

 And mostly the audience does, because they know all the routines, and a great time is had, as the cast and crew battle to convey castles and shrubberies and an appearance by the Almighty and dementedly violent rabbits. Arthur is an exasperated conservative and his knights are various types of eccentrics.

 The historical aspects are taken care of by an enthusiastic Historian (Meaghan Stewart) who pops up decreasingly to attempt historical placement. The on stage audience is dragged into the action. Meanwhile the Lady of the Lake (a very busy and wonderfully bored Hannah Lance) rightly feels neglected but sings a lot about how the plot is sidelining her. Which it is, being a very blokey set up.

 Arthur cobbles together a Round Table of not very bright knights. Brave Sir Robin (Grayson Woodham) isn’t brave, Galahad (Dave Collins) and Bedevere (Rylan Howard) fail to live up to Sir Thomas Malory’s reports of them and Lancelot (Kristofer Patson-Gill) commits a slew of murders in his misguided attempt to rescue the somewhat fey Herbert (James Morgan) from an unwanted marriage.

 All the set pieces surface …the old plague victim bloke who doesn’t want to go on the cart (Meaghan Stewart), the Historian who tries to give a serious perspective (Stewart)…the taunting of the French (Stewart), the Minstrel’s ballad about brave Sir Robin sung by Stewart, the violence of the rabbit (abetted by Stewart as Tim the Wizard)… if you know the film you know the territory… Stewart clearly loves being this busy.

 The splendid dancing (choreography by Michelle Heine) is almost the most spectacular thing about the show which is mostly done on a bare stage. Fiona Leach’s costumes are spectacular too.

 Upstage Ian McLean doggedly drives the orchestra through its expert paces and survives a few involvements in the action as he makes sure the music is super and the play out at the end of the show is a real pleasure to remain in your seat for.

 But it would all go up a few notches if it was a little less self indulgent. And turn the sound down. We know the words.


                                              Reviewed by ALANNA  MACLEAN


                                                    Image by Janelle McMenamin


                       

Is God Is

 

Is God Is by Aleshea Harris. Co-produced by Melbourne Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company at Wharf 1, Sydney, September 15 – October 21 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 22

Performed by

Henrietta Enyonam Amevor as Anaia; Masego Pitso as Racine – twin daughters of
She – Cessalee Stovall and Man – Kevin Copeland.
Grant Young as Riley; Darius Williams as Scotch – twin sons of
Angie – Clare Chihambakwe and Man
Patrick Williams as Chuck Hall – Man’s lawyer

Co-Directors – Zindzi Okenyo and Shari Sebbens
Designer – Renée Mulder
Lighting Designer – Jenny Hector; Composer & Sound Designer – Joe Paradise Lui
Assistant Director – Kuda Mapeza; Fight Director – Lyndall Grant
Intimacy Coordinator – Amy Cater; Voice Coach – Lisa Dallinger
Accent Coaches – Amani Dorn and Rachel Finlay
Community Engagement Consultant – Effie Nkrumah
Community Engagement Associate – Gillean Opoku
Photographer – Pia Johnson




Is God Is – a mysterious title with no punctuation to suggest its meaning.  Is God? Is! is perhaps what Anaia believes until the last scene, alone on stage after taking final revenge on her father.  Then it reads Is God? Is?.

But this play is anything but a word game.  It is a playing out in violent action the ethics and tragedy of family coercive control, violence and revenge.  As these were given epic proportions in Ancient Greek theatre, so Aleshea Harris has done such a service for our theatre in modern times.  

Eugene O’Neill, in Mourning Becomes Electra nearly 100 years ago (1933), achieved a great family tragedy with a political emphasis critical of the American Civil War.  In 2018 another American, Aleshea Harris has conjoined two social tragedies – the continuing inequity of life for African Americans which the Civil War never resolved, and the overwhelmingly male family violence across our whole society.  The Australian numbers of women killed each week are damning.  

Is God Is is a universal tragedy.  Harris’ Anaia stands alone in despair with O’Neill’s Lavinia.  When will it ever end?

The style of presentation of Is God Is, infused with Black American cultural expression and mannerisms in language and physical movement, all integrated in today’s upbeat genres in sound, is quite extraordinary, more than complemented in the set design and lighting.  Originality is hardly a strong enough word to use for this production.  Forget the idea of staid conventional mainstage theatre.  This production is made for post Gen-Z.

Co-directing Is God Is, Zindzi Okenyo and Shari Sebbens represent in their own African and Australian First Nations family histories, and being women, both the issue of racial inequality, as well sexual inequality.  As Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director, Kip Williams, points out, “We couldn’t be more fortunate to have the extraordinary directing gifts of Zindzi Okenyo and STC Resident Director Shari Sebbens helming this remarkable production….Shari and Zindzi are in many ways just like the twins at the centre of this piece, whip smart, funny, courageous, and on a mission to change the world.”

Seeing the play, you know this is not sycophantic guff for publicity.  The evidence is in the impact on stage with the audience at curtain call in a state combining awe, pride and respect for such an achievement, by the whole team of actors, creatives and directors.  This is arguably the most exciting work I have seen from the Sydney / Melbourne Theatre Companies, in a cooperative venture of great promise.

Is God Is – theatre you cannot afford to miss.

Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Cessalee Stovall, Masego Pitso
as twins Anaia and Racine visiting She, their mother who they had been told was dead,

Racine and Anaia, showing burns from the fire lit by Man
which supposedly killed their mother, She.

Grant Young, Clare Chihambakwe, Darius Williams
as twins Riley and Scotch with their mother Angie, Man's next wife,


 

 

 

 

Friday, September 22, 2023

“There seems to be a distinct lack of swans” - Oops! Wrong ballet!


by Tony Magee


This was the exclamation a man sitting next to me made, when I asked him, at interval, if he was enjoying the show.


Well, at least he got the composer right.


Nikolay Nazarkevich as Prince Desire and Natalia Kusheh as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.
Photo courtesy Royal Czech Ballet


The Royal Czech Ballet’s final Canberra performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” on September 18 at The Canberra Theatre was enjoyable, although not peppered with any really outstanding moments or sequences of thrilling ballet dancing, save for male principle soloist Nikolay Nazarkevich as Prince Desire performing a stimulating and impressive short solo sequence around the stage towards the end of Act II - something he received very enthusiastic and appreciative applause for.


Having said that, there were still some very nice choreographic moments, and some strong dancing.


Approached in 1888 by director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, Tchaikovsky conceived the score that same year, the final orchestrations being completed in 1889. Choreographer Marius Petipa wrote a very detailed list of instructions as to the musical requirements for Sleeping Beauty. Originally a prologue followed by three acts, this version by The Royal Czech Ballet was condensed into two acts with one interval.


Throughout the evening, many moments had been choreographed into the performance, where soloists would grace the front of the stage in carefully prepared bow sequences, with the expectation of receiving sustained applause for accomplishing what were really routine dance sequences.


It happened time and again.


The Canberra audience would start to fade in applause and then the dancer would return and complete yet another choreographed sequence of bows to invite yet more appreciation.


It started to become embarrassing.


The greatest impact from this performance was the costuming, designed by Maria Poliudova.


The female company - bright costumes. Photo, courtesy Royal Czech Ballet


It was all superb, with the mix of colours and variety of costumes and their exquisite design and manufacture contributing enormously to keeping the interest and flow alive.


But if costumes are the star of the show, where does that leave the dancing?


It reminds me very much of audiences who spill out of theatres after a performance of Miss Saigon, and remark en-mass, “wasn’t the helicopter scene fantastic!”


One stand-out performance was that of the wicked fairy, Carabosse, sometimes also known as Maleficent.


Not dancing at all, but gliding across the stage in her impressive costume, the performer was actually male - Sergej Iliin - the most senior member of the company. Wonderful to have a role where a dancer’s career which might otherwise be long finished, can be reignited in a different way.


Sergej Iliin as Carabosse. Photo courtesy Royal Czech Ballet

Iliin graduated from the Chisinau Choreographic School in 1986. He has danced a massive amount of repertoire internationally since that time, working for companies including the National Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Moldova, the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Romania, the International Ballet Theatre of Philadelphia, the Moravian Theatre and now the Royal Czech Ballet.


The idea of having a male performer play this role was set from the beginning, where in 1890, at the St Petersburg world premiere of Sleeping Beauty, Carabosse was played by Enrico Cecchetti.


Another highlight during the performance was the entrance and dancing of White Cat (Elizaveta Savina) and Puss-in-Boots (Andrei Saharnean). Their coupling provided dancing of interest and agility, complimented by Puss-in-Boots’ colourful attire in pink and gold with white trimming.


White Cat (Elizaveta Savina) and Puss-in-Boots (Andrei Saharnean).

Photo courtesy Royal Czech Ballet


Four different sets, all beautifully crafted and well lit, created engaging backdrops for the company to dance in front of. In addition, a see-through scrim was lowered at certain times with those behind set in a frozen scene, contrasted by dancers in front. Many dancers, including Carabosse and her accomplices, made excellent use of this piece of stage direction.


Tchaikovsky’s stunning score was beautifully recorded. The audio system at the Canberra Theatre reproduced the powerful orchestral motives and passages, as well as every musical nuance, with extreme clarity and wonderful fidelity.


Returning to my man mentioned at the beginning: I wish I’d had the presence of mind at the time, to tell him that his mistake in thinking he was at Swan Lake clearly showed that he understood and could hear the musical stylistic hallmarks of Tchaikovsky, something that many people would not necessarily hear at all.


On the way home in the car, I began to wonder: in our international mix of dancers, do we have the modern equivalents of Rudolf Nureyev, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Dame Darcey Bussell or Li Cunxin? Names that take your breath away when mentioned or whose performances you see. Household names.


I should like to conclude by quoting Royal Czech Ballet artistic director Andrey Scharaev: “Sleeping Beauty is an enjoyable fairy tale where good triumphs over evil, which is very relevant today. At this difficult time, it is very important to focus on positive moments and to remember that only kindness can make our world more beautiful.”



Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Mr Bennet’s Bride by Emma Wood. Directed by Aarne Neeme. Canberra Repertory Society, Canberra REP Theatre. Sept 7-23. Reviewed by Alanna Maclean


Sean Sadimoen (James Bennet) and Stephanie Waldron (Emily Gardiner).Photo: Karina Hudson

 

EMMA Wood’s Mr Bennet’s Bride makes a splendid prequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

It explains how the parents of the Bennet girls, so seemingly uncomfortably matched in the novel, came to be married. And it’s a cautionary tale, given a lively and perceptive production by director Aarne Neeme, well supported by Anna Senior’s costumes,Mike Moloney’s lighting and an economical revolving set from Andrew Kay.

Here are all the threads that lead to the  novel. Young James Bennet (Sean Sadimoen) is too absorbed in reading to consider marriage. Father Robert (Robert de Fries) is much more conscious of the fact that the Longbourn estate is entailed to male descendants.

The Collins family has just produced  such a descendant and gloriously obnoxious father Benedict Collins (Terry Johnson) is wasting no time in boasting of the infant’s health. Robert’s wife having died giving birth to James and Robert not remarrying means much depends on James’ choice of a bride. Robert and his widowed sister Mary Ellingworth (Liz St Clair Long) despair of James’ capacity to see this.

James turns down the not very interested Clara (Cameron Rose) who is being towed round by her hopeful mother (Rina Onorato) (two short insightful performances here) but is finally gobsmacked by the vivacity of Emily Gardiner (Stephanie Waldron).

Who is much more interested in the dresses and the carry on that a wedding will entail. James’ realisation of her character and his future is a moment done without words but played revealingly by Sadimoen.

Of course there will be 5 daughters and no sons. But, given the advantageous marriages of the two eldest, there will be compensations for the eventual loss of Longbourn. The audience comes in with that foreknowledge if they have read Pride and Prejudice.

And the play will more than satisfy those readers. It’s funny and moving, it understands the Austen idiom and it does justice to those characters who will continue on into the novel.

There are particularly lovely performances from De Fries as Robert, troubled for his son’s future and still mourning for that son’s mother, St Clair Long  as the warm and supportive Maria Ellingworth,  Sally Rynveld as the sensible housekeeper Mrs Graves, and Waldron as the woman who will become the exasperating mother of the five Bennet girls. Iain Murray as her manipulative father George and Kate Harris as her giggling mother Sarah shows clearly the power of inheritance.

Austen is a hard act to follow (or to precede) but Emma Wood’s version of the Bennets’ wooing has an emotional and verbal accuracy about it that is highly convincing and very enjoyable.


Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize

Exhibition Review: Photography | Brian Rope

Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize | Multiple Artists

Huw Davies Gallery, Photo Access | 24 August – 14 October 2023

The inaugural Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize is an open-entry exhibition and competition celebrating emerging and established talents in the field of photo media. It shares with us the distinct voices of 72 artists. (Those artists include me, but this review is about the works of the other artists.)

Photo Access has said this exhibition offers a kaleidoscopic view of contemporary photographic art. I would have to say that, whilst there is a considerable amount of work that is such art, there also are some works that I would not put in the contemporary basket at all. The submission of entries that, in my view, are a traditional landscapes or portrait or still life suggests that their authors do not understand what Contemporary photography is.

I spent some years as the Chair of the Australian Photographic Society’s Contemporary Group and am still actively involved in it. I distinguish between Contemporary (with a capital C) and contemporary (lower case c) photography. The latter is any photograph taken now, but because an image was taken today that doesn’t mean it is Contemporary. Real Contemporary photography could have been taken or created at any point in time, but very definitely excludes traditional work. The Royal Photographic Society has defined it as “photography that communicates a visual realisation of a stated argument, idea or concept.”

The winners of this Prize were announced at the opening event on 24  August. The judges - visual artist Anna Madeleine Raupach, photographer Chris Round and PhotoAccess Director Alex Robinson - chose A.C.T artist Sammy Hawker’s Caterpillars in Metamorphosis diptych as the $2,000 First Prize winner for her work Caterpillars in Metamorphosis. N.S.W artist Claire Paul secured the $1,000 Second Prize for her piece Bouddi Breeze. The judges said they were particularly struck by the winners' exceptional blend of concept, process, and execution.

Sammy Hawker, Caterpillars in Metamorphosis (diptych), 2023, inkjet prints, 1/20, 43 x 25 cm.

In her artist statement about the winning work, Hawker revealed that she had found some drowned caterpillars, then ground their bodies and turned them into a chromatogram. Accepting that the hues and patterns that form on silver nitrate-soaked paper cannot be controlled, she has been testing the ability of that process to facilitate the expression of a wide range of vibrant matter. She argues that “the process speaks to the resonance and memory inscribed within materials - no matter what stage of metamorphosis they are in." The resultant artwork is most definitely Contemporary.

Claire Paul, Bouddi Breeze, 2023, Charcoal and ash screen-printed onto handmade paper (plant matter & recycled artworks), 27 x 35 cm.

In Paul’s artist statement she speaks of a photographic project that positions the practice of walking as humankind’s most basic dialogue with the Earth. She tells us that “by utilising long-exposure pinhole photography, foraging practices and screen-printing technologies, Bouddi Breeze pursues a collaboration with nature whilst negating concern for the aesthetics of technically rendered photographs and shedding light on rawer, unconstructed images.” This image is screen-printed with charcoal onto paper handmade from both foraged plant matter and recycled artworks. Again, an artwork that is most definitely Contemporary.

Amongst the other works that I particularly enjoyed are those by Brenda Runnegar which have her own clay sculptures made from fish bones found on the beach, textiles and clay places digitally into the photographs.

Brenda Runnegar - Three Fish

Also delightful are Tessa Ivison’s Other World series captured with a variety of Camera Obscura made from cardboard boxes, the resultant images projected onto black plastic and packing paper then photographed with a mobile phone.

Tessa Ivison - Otherworlds_ Moon Rise

Andrea Francolini’s I am who I am, a 4x5 film + photoshop painting is well worth studying.

Andrea Francolini - I am who I am

Mike Reed’s two exquisite “less is more” works allow us to “glimpse” soft skin.

Mike Reed- La Peau Douce 2

And Danielle Wright’s intimate self-portraits from her Bird+Bone+Blood+Stone conceptual photographic art series are exquisite.

Danielle-Wright-Wanderlust

I could identify all the artworks that I most enjoyed but, I’d rather encourage you to determine your own favourites. This well-supported new Canberra Contemporary Photographic Prize serves as a unique opportunity to discover and engage with the forefront of photographic creativity. Please, don't miss your chance to explore and celebrate the richness of Contemporary photography. View this exhibition in the gallery if you possibly can. Otherwise, visit the PhotoAccess website to view the entries at here. You might also cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award at here.

This review is also available on the author’s blog here.