Thursday, December 1, 2016

Nerdlesque



Review by John Lombard

Burlesque, perhaps surprisingly, is the natural home of nerds: it is, after all, a place of obsession and passion.  Many burlesque performers are also closet (or not-so-closet) fans of sci-fi, fantasy, comics, videogames, and everything else kids were picked on for liking back in high school.

Producer (and enthusiastic performer) Bambi Rey's debut show Nerdlesque explores the meeting of these two worlds, with a night of burlesque performances inspired by geek pop culture.

With vivid, larger-than-life characters such as Jessica Rabbit and Harley Quinn to draw on for inspiration, the performances were infused with a vitality that was only matched by the enthusiasm of the performers.

When the Amazonian Violet Grey came on stage for a Darth Vader-inspired piece, I knew both that I was in for an entertaining night, and that I would never look at the dark lord of the Sith quite the same way again.  Fi Bonnaci also took inspiration from a fantasy epic with her Samwise Gamgee - a welcome comic interlude that reminded us that feet aren't the only part of the hobbit that is hairy.  Eve La Reine's Jessica Rabbit also drew on film for inspiration and somehow managed a waistline normally only seen in cartoons.

Other performers took inspiration from videogames, with Bambi Rey's D.Va and Painted Doll's Samus Aran both abandoning power suits for skinsuits before slipping out of those as well.

Comics were however the most strongly represented group, with multiple acts themed around Batman's world - although the caped crusader was conspicuously absent.  Katarina Klaw's Catwoman lathered herself with milk, Scarlett Mustang's Batgirl transformed the burlesque staple fan dance into a clever whirling cape strip, and the night finished with a Joker and Harley (Bambi Rey again) double act that evoked the French Apache dance between pimp and prostitute.

Other comic book-inspired acts included an additional performance by Scarlet Mustang as Black Widow, an act that began with the performer in prudish office attire scattering her paperwork into the audience (actually, as it so happens, Hulk/Iron Man #Labromance erotic fic) before stripping down to her cat suit.  The most accomplished performance of the night was also comic inspired, with bonus points for extra obscurity: Joey's gender-blending take on Daredevil foe/lover Typhoid Mary.  Joey's acrobatic, ultra-flexible performance was a show-stopper, let down only because the lack of Typhoid Mary's iconic make-up made his character unclear.

Overall the acts were extremely well-rehearsed and polished, with the detailed and elaborate costuming a particular delight.  While Joey was handily the best dancer, Scarlett Mustang's creative use of burlesque staples was striking, and the interplay between Bambi Rey's Harley and her Joker was beautifully observed.

The MCs were less strong, the pair sustaining decent patter but visibly lost in all this nerdiness.  They made jokes about Rod Stewart and Amy Winehouse with a crowd that might have been more comfortable with digs at Kamandi or Dragon Age's Morrigan.  They at least admitted to being disoriented by Overwatch's backstory (aren't we all?) but the show would have benefited from hosts that were as unabashedly geeky as the performers.

Reload was also a strong choice for the venue.  Although it was stuffy and a bit packed for space, the atmosphere was perfect, and every time an act mounted the bar top I wondered whether it was actually going to take the load.  The themed cocktails were also fun: I tried the Darth Vader which promised to contain "rebel blood", and it indeed tasted a little like the joy of crushing rebel scum.

Nerdlesque was a strong debut show that understood and loved its target audience - my inner teenage boy was thrilled.  Marvel movies and Apple have made nerd mainstream.  Nerdlesque reminds us that nerds, when they choose to, can bring the same obsessive focus to sexy.

THE GOOD DOCTOR



The Good Doctor
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Clare Moss
Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art (CADA)
CADA Theatre, Fyshwick to December 2

Review by Len Power 30 November 2016

The Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art (CADA) provides professional actor training with nationally recognised Certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas under the Australian Qualifications Framework.  As their final show for the year, three graduating students from the Advanced Diploma of Performance program appeared alongside continuing students from the Program to present Neil Simon’s 1973 play, ‘The Good Doctor’.

The play is a series of short plays based on works by Russia’s Anton Chekhov and linked by a writer, possibly Chekhov himself, as narrator.  Neil Simon’s characteristic humour laces all of the plays and they are all ruefully funny.  The CADA company performed seven of the ten short plays.

Director, Clare Moss, has produced a lively and thoughtful production using minimal set and props.  It moves at a good pace and the depth of work on characterizations with the actors is noteworthy.


 The three graduating students, Izaac Beach, Imogene Irvine and Liam McDaniel, all gave disciplined and technically strong performances.  Izaac Beach was especially funny as a worry wart subordinate who accidentally sneezed on his superior and couldn’t forget about it.  Later in the show he was delightful as a reticent young man being taken by his impatient father to a prostitute to lose his innocence.  His endearing character and sense of timing in this sequence was excellent.

Imogene Irvine gave a nicely controlled, quiet performance of a wife targeted by a seducer and appearing to succumb until she unexpectedly turns the tables on him.  Later, she was particularly impressive as a desperate actress at an audition, first gushing all over the writer but then giving a surprisingly strong reading.

Liam McDaniel played the sneezed upon General with nicely pompous authority and demonstrated great skill in the physical comedy of an apprentice dentist whose excessive zeal terrorizes a patient.

There was good work from the supporting students, too.  In particular, Kathleen Masters gave a warm, controlled performance as a Governess being taught a cruel lesson and Haydn Splitt demonstrated a strong natural flair for comedy as the husband unwittingly helping the man intent on seducing his wife and, later, as the increasingly irritated father taking his son to his ‘life lesson’.  Also impressive was Damon Baudin as the writer, performing the narrations with great feeling and comic sensibility.

Everyone else in the cast had nicely memorable moments and gave good performances.

‘The Good Doctor’ isn’t as well-known as the more famous Neil Simon plays like ‘the Odd Couple’ but it is very funny in a quiet way and takes skilful acting to make it work.  The CADA students and their director did a fine job, making this a very entertaining evening at the theatre.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program from 9.00am on Saturdays and on other selected Artsound programs.

VINEGAR TOM



Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Cathy PetÓ§cz
COUP: Canberra production
Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre to December 4

Reviewed by Len Power 29 November 2016


“Vinegar Tom” is the second production presented as part of Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres’ Ralph Indie program in 2016, a new initiative that supports artists to develop and present new performance works.  New experimental arts collective COUP: Canberra presented Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play which explores gender and power issues in a Brechtian style against the background of the witch trials in 17th century England.

Storywise, the play struggles by comparison with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and Jon Whiting’s “The Devils” that cover similar subjects.  It might have seemed more immediate when it was written in the 1970s when womens’ rights issues were breaking new ground.  It was interesting that a play that argues so strongly that its women were innocent victims has a woman who happily accuses other women of witchcraft.

Acting of the cast was uneven and lacked depth of character.  While it was a good idea in theory to have local musicians composing and performing the songs to Caryl Churchill’s lyrics, it was impossible to understand the lyrics from all but one of the singers.  The songs needed to be integrated into the action of the play.  As presented, they slowed the play down and robbed the production of the tension it should have had.

Set design by Imogen Keen was minimal and uninteresting and the strange denim costumes worn by the women were distractingly awful.  The lighting design by Gillian Schwab worked very well.

There is a seating change for the second act where the audience has to sit on benches.  After a while, some audience members appeared to find it more comfortable to stand up and lean against a wall instead.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition on Wednesday 30 November.  Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 "Artcetera" program from 9.00am on Saturdays and in other selected Artsound programs.



HOT TO TROT - QL2 Dance


Project Director and Mentor: Ruth Osborne
Project Co-ordinator and additional mentoring: Jamie Winbank
Lighting Design and operation: Craig Dear
QL2 Theatre – 26th and 27th November 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Now in its 18th year, “Hot to Trot” offers potential young choreographers, who participate in other of QL2 Dance initiatives, the opportunity to try their hand at choreographing a short work for this annual showcase.

Each choreographer who takes on the challenge has the advantage of professional mentoring, technical back-up and access to dancers. Each is encouraged to explore ideas and create movement, as well write program notes, source costumes and music, consider lighting design, and schedule and rehearse their dancers to performance level.

They are also required to introduce themselves and their work to their audience, and then submit to questioning by the audience after the work has been performed – a task often as daunting and revealing as the work itself.

This year ten choreographers participated. Their inspiration was as varied as their dance works, exploring such topics as loneliness, brain function, growing pains and even building demolition.

The program commenced with an absorbing short film by Natsuka Yonezawa, entitled “Travelling Light”. Filmed mostly in the carpark of the National Gallery of Australia, the film explored notions of loneliness and solitude, featuring dancers, Rifka Ruwette and Tahi Atea in a succession of tightly choreographed situations involving clever use of timing and rhythm changes  to create a heightened the sense of mystery.

“Welcome to your brain” was a bright little work by Milly Vanzwol, exploring brain function.  Performed by Vanzwal, together with Gabriel Sinclair and Patricia Hayes-Cavanagh, all clad in cheerful Hawaiian shirts, this work was notable for the clarity with which the ideas were expressed and for its well-rehearsed unison movement.

Caroline De Wan used six dancers costumed in attractive shot taffeta frocks for her ambitious and amusing work “17 Days” in which she explored the rules and laws dictating our interactions. Well-managed mood changes made for an interesting work, which would have benefited from a little more attention by the dancers to individual execution of the interesting movement ideas. 
     
Interesting movement choices were also evident in Ruby Ballantyne’s intriguing “The Only Constant”. Setting out to examine the “inevitability and consistency of change”, Caroline De Wan, Caspar Lischner and Jason Pearce wriggled across the floor and executed primeval neck rolling movements in strongly committed performances in an interesting work notable for its well-conceived duo work.

Tahi Atea displayed a well-developed sense of theatre with her work “Growing Pains”, which commenced with dancers Natsuko Yonezawa and Walter Wolffs confined inside a square window frame. Excellent music, lighting and mature movement choices combined to ensure the clarification of her theme.

Amusing facial expressions, good group movement and a sense that her dancers, Eve Buckmaster, Milly Vanwol, Rifka Ruwette and Tahi Atea, really understood the message they were conveying, marked the funny and well-executed performance of Patricia Hayes-Cavanagh’s “Pet Peeves” for which the title says it all.

Shantelle Wise-McCourt chose to explore the emotional and mental conflict of love and lust, with her work “Compelled”.  Danced with conviction by Caroline De Wan, Ruby Ballantyne and Zach Johnson, this moody piece featured interesting, often surprising movement choices, some interesting unison work from De Wan and Ballantyne, and a well resolved ending with Johnson alone on stage in a circle of light.

For his evocative work “The Graveyard Shift”, Jason Pearce dressed his dancers, Gabriel Sinclair and Ursula Taylor, in boiler suits to explore the effects of shift work. Imaginative use of a pillow and a torch, together with voice-overs, made for a compelling and interesting creation. 

Gabriel Sinclair wrote his own music, and included cheerful, friendly dialogue in his well-resolved work “We-dentity” in which Caspar Lischner, Patricia Hayes-Cavanagh, Zach Johnson and Audrey Sharwood argue over priorities in a series of snapshots.

The demolition of the Currong Apartments provided the inspiration for a thoughtful work by Ursula Taylor in which five overall clad dancers performed industrialised movement conveying her response to the demolition and reconstruction of city dwellings.

While not all of the works were successful in effectively conveying the chosen themes, all were admirable for the thought, effort and creativity which had gone into them, and together they provided a fascinating and entertaining evening of dance. Particularly impressive was the commitment of the dancers to the works in which they appeared. Whether any of the young choreographers  go on to have sustainable careers in dance is yet to be seen, but doubtless all will have learnt a great deal about the art of choreography through their participation in this year’s  “Hot To Trot”.  


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Nutcracker - Queensland Ballet


Review by John Lombard

The spirit of Christmas isn't love, or charity, or even presents.  No, the real spirit of Christmas is the inevitable family fight.

In a wonderfully Dickensian opening scene, Queensland Ballet's production of The Nutcracker shows us a large Christmas party with people at three phases of life enjoying Christmas in their own way.  The children are mad for presents, the adults are keen for dancing, and the old folks are mainly into the grog. 

But as is the way with families, at these intimate gatherings feelings run high.  And with a slightly alarming number of weapons being dispensed as presents, all of the irritation and frustration that comes with the holiday season vents in cheerfully murderous horseplay. 

With the girls getting mainly dolls and the boys armed for war, the stage is set for a series of daring guerrilla raids where the boys lay waste to the careful home-making of the girls.  One girl has even her dollie plucked from her arms and then thrown on the floor for a series of emphatic bayonet thrusts.

It's tempting to see this as a deliberate commentary on gender roles that culminates in rough-and-tumble Fritz breaking his sister Clara's prized nutcracker soldier.  Fritz is sent off in disgrace - another nod to the authentic Christmas experience - and thereafter it is Clara's story, a reaffirmation of the values of imagination and compassion that, at least in the period the play is set, were part of an education reserved mainly for daughters.

The vivid characterisations of the Christmas party sequence give the performers an opportunity to showcase a love of movement beyond the formality of ballet.  Whether playing a small boy or a doddering and drunken grandfather, the performers carefully display character in movement.  Watching an old woman (of course a much younger dancer) hobble slowly to bed at the end of the party was in its own way as moving as the virtuoso dancing on display in the second half of the show.

After the party Clara slips into bed with her new nutcracker doll, and after a frightening dream where she is attacked by a mouse army her nutcracker springs to life and routs the enemy in a short but decisive engagement.  He then whisks her off to the land of winter (a particularly elegant scene change), and thereafter takes her to a land of sweets where the locals entertain her with a multicultural program of dance.

From here it is composer Tchaikovsky's show, with a program of dances set to highly memorable songs.  Although Tchaikovsky was known to denigrate his work on the Nutcracker, the pieces are some of the most famous in Western music, perhaps because the clarity of the melodic line makes them instantly accessible.  The "Russian dance" is justly famous (and here complemented by some impressive acrobatics from the dancer), but the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" still stands out as distinctive and ethereal.  And of course the "March" early in the ballet is synonymous with this ballet.

At this performance music was played back, rather than performed life, and while it was difficult to detect the difference during the show artistic director Li Cunxin did raise this an issue in a presentation after the show, as part of a passionate argument for arts funding.  Based on the artistic achievement on display this night, he found considerable agreement from the audience.

The Nutcracker is a gift to the performers, with rich and interesting characters for the dancers to embody.  Whether it is the sinister, eye-patch wearing toymaker Drosselmeye (who spins his cape constantly and with great glee), the wind-up dolls that halt about for the amusement of the Christmas party, or the ragged and hungry legions of the Mouse King (a character worth his own ballet, if not an opera), the Nutcracker bursts with character. 

I can think of no better way of getting into the spirit of Christmas - that unique mix of sugar plum faeries and bayonet attacks - than this excellent, joyful production of a classic ballet.

VINEGAR TOM



 

Vinegar Tom by Caryl Churchill. 

Directed by Cathy Petocz. Production and costume design. Imogen Keen. Lighting design and operation. Gillian Schwab. Sound design cilt (Becki Whitton and Hannah de Feyter). Music coordination. Hannah de Feyter. COUP:Canberra and Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. Ralph Indie Project. Ralph Wilson Theatre. Gorman House. Unil December 3


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


COUP;Canberra is a new and emerging theatre company, defined by Cathy Petocz’s Director’s Notes as a new arts collective with ambitious vision, supportive and inclusive process and a focus on effervescent conversation about project and practice between artists and audience. It is therefore a company with a very clearly defined mission and its choice of Caryl Churchill’s play about power and gender, Vinegar Tom is an apt introduction to the company’s committed intent.
barb barnett as Cunning Woman     



Before passing judgement on the production as the final production of the year in Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centre’s Ralph Indie project, it is worth reflecting on the nature of Churchill’s 1976 collaborative work and its function as a didactic response to the Women’s Rights Act of 1970 that deemed that women were treated unequally to men. Today we may consider this as a statement of the obvious, but it does not alleviate the shame that little has progressed in real terms since that time.
It is no coincidence therefore that Churchill should place her drama during the time of witch trials and executions in Britain. It should be noted that this is no attempt to imitate Arthur Miller’s powerful indictment of the Salem witch trials of the seventeenth century and by association the McCarthy era of the House Unamerican Activities, nor emulate the cathartic impact of Miller’s tragic drama. Churchill is intent on constructing a platform for dialogue and COUP under Petocz’s carefully staged direction, and supported by a strong production team and an ensemble of committed actors compel an audience to engage with the issue of gender politics and sexual power. We sit in judgement and it would be a person without compassion or a sense of justice who would view this production dispassionately. In this respect this production of Vinegar Tom succeeds.

Vinegar Tom’s plot is secondary to its theme that women are effectively oppressed by a male dominated society, shackled by society’s rigid expectations of the female’s role as mother and carer and too often sexually exploited and abused. Alice (Emma McManus) and her mother Joan (Kate Blackhurst) are condemned as witches, acting through the medium of their pet cat, Vinegar Tom, by neighbours Margery (Claire Granata) and Jack (Paul Cristofani). Alice’s friend Susan (Linda Chen) suffers the guilt of a wife who has endured miscarriages. Betty (Elektra Spencer) is branded as bewitched because she does not want to marry. Alice and Susan resort to seeking the help of the Cunning Woman (barb barnett) and the power of her potions, an act which brings them all before the Witch Finder, Packer (Nicholas Elmitt) and his sadistic, obsessed Goody (barb barnett). The perils of misguided faith are not merely the province of male domination in Churchill’s deliberately balanced perspective.
Hannah de Feyter and cilt in Vinegar Tom

In the intimate setting of the Ralph Wilson Theatre, it is the various vignettes that make the stronger impact. It takes a while for the drama of the piece to make an impact in the scene between the misogynistic Jack and his anxious wife, Margery. But from this moment each scene unfolds with purposeful intent. Original music heightens the atmosphere, lending an ominous air to the developing inevitability of the characters’ fate. However, Churchill’s lyrics are almost entirely lost in a vacuum of poor diction, sacrificing intelligence for emotion. Only Keresiya in a beautifully delivered rendition of If You Float gave the music and lyrics their inherent power. Churchill’s lyrics are set in the present as a comment on contemporary inequality, and for this alone deserve to be heard and understood.
Emma McManus and Nick Delatovic in Vinegar Tom

Forty years on and Churchill’s forceful voice of condemnation and impassioned plea for justice receives a careful and earnest treatment from Canberra’s newest theatre company. Petocz and her cast and crew approach Churchill’s rarely revived comment on gender inequality and injustice with integrity and clarity. It would be easy to discount Churchill's dialectic as dated and simplistic. That in itself would demonstrate further injustice. COUP’s production revives a timely reminder of the forces that divide, rather than unite and for this it earns an important place in Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centre’s Ralph Indie Programme.

Photos by Amanda Thorson

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

HOT TO TROT


QL2 Dance
Artistic Director Ruth Osborne
QL2 Theatre, Gorman House Arts Centre to November 27

Review by Len Power 26 November 2016


QL2 Dance’s, ‘Hot To Trot’, now in its 18th edition, showcases the work of their dancers who have stepped into the role of choreographer.

Artistic Director, Ruth Osborne, explains that ‘it is not only a chance for them to explore ideas and create movement. These choreographers become responsible for their dancers’ well-being, source costumes and music, think about lighting design, write program notes and work to a timeline that ensures their piece is rehearsed and performance ready.’

There were ten items in this year’s program and all were quite engrossing and entertaining.  Each audience member would respond differently to these works but for this reviewer the following works were the most memorable.

‘Travelling Light’, a dance video by Natsuko Yonezawa, was dramatic and well-choreographed as well as demonstrating a mature use of film medium.  ‘Growing Pains’, choreographed by Tahi Atea, explored relationship changes over a lifetime.  The concept was clear and fully realized and it was charmingly danced by Natsuko Yonezawa and Walter Wolffs.

‘Pet Peeves’, choreographed by Patricia Hayes-Cavanagh, was amusing, well thought out and nicely danced.  The choreographer gave a particularly clever and funny introduction to her work.  ‘The Graveyard Shift’, choreographed by Jason Pearce, was a successful piece with a strong use of light and sound to enhance the concept of what it is like to be a shift worker in the middle of the night.

The outstanding work for me this year was ’17 Days’, choreographed by Caroline De Wan, which was a very theatrical concept that worked beautifully in terms of dance with excellent use of sound and lighting.

Once again the big attraction here was the imagination that went into these works and the ability to realize it in terms of dance.  This year’s program was of a very high standard across all of the works presented.

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 'Artcetera' from 9.00am on Saturdays as well as on other selected Artsound programs.