Friday, October 20, 2017

NIGHT SONGS



Art Song Canberra
Jill Sullivan, mezzo-soprano
Robert Harris, viola
Alan Hicks, piano
Wesley Music Centre 15 October

Reviewed by Len Power


Jill Sullivan has performed throughout Australia and has an extensive concert, chamber and recital repertoire.  This concert was her first appearance for Art Song Canberra.

She sang songs with a Night theme that showed the full range of her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice and she was accompanied on piano by frequent Art Song performer, Alan Hicks.  They were joined for certain pieces by violist, Robert Harris.

Sullivan sang songs by a wide range of composers including Handel, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Debussy and Respighi.  She gave particularly interesting introductions to each of the groups of songs.

The concert commenced with Handel’s ‘O sleep’ from ‘Semelee’ which she sang with great sensitivity.  She followed this with two songs by Franz Schubert, ‘Night and Dreams’ and ‘The Wanderer’s Night Song’, giving both a hauntingly beautiful quality.

Next on the program were two songs for contralto and viola with piano by Johannes Brahms.  Sullivan gave a deeply reflective and moving performance of these songs and the viola accompaniment by Robert Harris was superb.  The combination of piano, voice and viola made the second song, ‘Sacred Lullaby’, one of the highlights of the concert.

Left to Right: Robert Harris, Alan Hicks, Jill Sullivan (photo by Peter Hislop)
Other highlights included ‘At Midnight’ by Hugo Wolf, a highly atmospheric piece that was sung by Sullivan with great feeling, Debussy’s ‘Beautiful Evening’, ‘Dearest Night’ by Bachalet and the delightful final song of the program, ‘Where Flamingoes Fly’ by Spoliansky.

Robert Harris and Alan Hicks played two sets of songs for viola and piano only, starting with two songs from Shubert’s ‘Die Winterreise’, transcribed for viola by Roger Benedict.  In the second half of the concert they played two songs from ‘Five Popular Argentinian songs’ by Alberto Ginastera which had a restrained passionate edge that was quite thrilling.  Both sets of songs were played extremely well.

Although all of the songs presented had a Night theme, it was a concert of great variety that was stimulating and musically satisfying and enjoyable.

This review was first published in Canberra City News digital edition of 16 October.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

VETERANS FILM FESTIVAL - DARKEST HOUR



VETERANS FILM FESTIVAL – DARKEST HOUR.

Directed by Joe Wright. Written by Anthony McCarten. Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel. Starring Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James and Kristin Scott-Thomas. Universal Pictures. BAE System Theatre. Australian War Memorial.  October 16th to October 22nd.. 2017. Bookings: www.filmfest.net.au/festival/veterans-film-festival/

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


At the opening of this year’s Veteran’s Film Festival, National Special Projects Manager for the RSL, Stephen Henderson told the assembled guests, “The aim of the festival is to shine a light through the cracks. Through film we develop an empathy for the human race.” Films from various countries assist veterans to share the universal experiences of those who serve their countries in time of war. Vice Admiral Richard Briggs, commented on the unique stories of forty three Australian veterans, who proudly participated in the recent Invictus Games. Through the film festival audiences are able to appreciate the complexity of the servicepersons’ experiences and the different perspectives that can be driven into society.

Over five days, the Veterans Film Festival under director, Tom Papas, will illuminate the lives and experiences of those serving their country as far afield as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Europe and depict events from the bloody conflict of Passchendaele to present day conflicts. Themes will explore the effect of war on the individual and the family, the invidious use of IEDs, gender issues, PTSD and the cruel consequence of the use of chemical warfare.

The films are selected from film makers throughout the world. This year’s festival includes films from Australia, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Iran with real or imagined stories designed to promote a greater understanding about veterans’ families, first responders and the impact of war on a society.

 The VFF invites feature films and short films covering fiction, non-fiction, animation, documentaries, archival, TV Series and virtual reality.

The festival will conclude on Sunday, October 22nd with the presentation of the Red Poppy Awards. Successful film makers will receive hand blown glass trophies in the categories of Best Feature Film, Best Australian Short Film and Best International Short Film.

This significant annual event encourages talent and the contribution made by serving and ex-serving veterans. As I listen to Stephen Henderson’s account of his conversation with Holocaust survivor, Olga Horek, I am made aware that the 30 year old to whom he related this story had no knowledge of the holocaust. At university, my history lecturer, who was a prisoner in Belsen, would address the entire university to stress that we must never forget. Henderson’s example underlines this important message, and the Veterans Film Festival occupies a vital role in informing the community, not only of the experiences of today’s veterans, but also those who have served their country in past conflicts.

Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill in Universal Pictures Darkest Hour

This year’s festival has been launched with a screening of Universal Pictures’ Darkest Hour. The film, directed by Joe Wright with cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, tells of the circumstances that launched Winston Churchill into the Prime Ministership in May 1940. It then traces his wartime leadership until the D Day Invasion that saw the rescue of 300, 000 Allied troops, besieged by Hitler’s advancing forces. Darkest Hour is the third film to be released that examines the Second World War and the role of British prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in resisting the advances of Hitler’s army.
 
However, Darkest War provides a different perspective. Whereas Dunkirk and Churchill primarily focus on this major offensive, Darkest Hour provides an intriguing and revealing insight into the political forces that influenced the decisions made by the nation’s lawmakers, and in particular the conflicts that Churchill faced within his own War Cabinet. We are presented with the motives of the peace negotiators, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) and the ailing former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup).  McCarten’s screenplay depicts the difficult position of King George Vl (Ben Mendelsohn) and the rational support of the loyal and long suffering Lady Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) The attitudes of the ordinary Briton are carefully presented in the character of Churchill’s secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and the passengers of a District Line Underground train to Westminster. Fact and fiction merge in an air of authenticity. Towering above it all is Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill, Britain’s wartime bulldog, snapping at the heels of all opposition, resolute in purpose, resistant to any talk of negotiation and yet privately consumed by self-doubt and human frailty. In an outstanding cast, Oldman’s performance is Herculean.

Dario Marianelli’s score is spellbinding, riveting in its intensity, a constant musical companion to moments of high tension and explosive urgency. It surges and subsides, sweeping us along with Bruno Delbbonnel’s atmospheric cinematography.

Instead of scenes depicting soldiers confronting the horrors of war, Darkest Hour reveals the struggles that are waged and the decisions that are made behind closed doors in Parliament, in the War Cabinet rooms, in Buckingham Palace, in Churchill’s house or in the toilet. The men and women who go to war are messengers of the will of their leaders.   As I sat in the dark, gripped by the sheer power of Universal Pictures’ Darkest Hour I thought of Shakespeare’s immortal line from Richard II, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Or in the darkest days of World War II, a homberg and a long cigar.

This was my first visit to the annual Veteran’s Film Festival. It is apparent that it is one of the most important film events of the year, not only for the fine films it presents or the Red Poppy Awards that it bestows, but for the awareness it raises and the humanity it reveals. It is society’s salute to its veterans.

 

 

  

 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

NOT LIKE THE OTHERS


Choreographed by Alison Plevey, Steve Gow and Jack Riley
Lighting by Kelly McGannon
Costumes by Alison Plevey, Amelie Langevin, Olivia Fyffe

Presented by QL2 Dance – Theatre 3, 13th and 14th October 2017

Matinee performance on 14th October reviewed by Bill Stephens


"Square Peg" choreographed by Alison Plevey. 

The first of three annual showcase programs presented by QL2 Dance, the “Chaos” project focusses on the work of entry point dancers.  “Hot to Trot” ( 25/26 Nov.) shows the work of young choreographers who have participated in the Quantum Leap program, while  “On Course” (16/17 Dec.) provides the opportunity for former Quantum Leap participants who have since become university dance students to demonstrate their progress.

Each program has its particular point of interest and this year, 47 dancers of varying abilities have participated in the “Chaos” project under the banner of “Not Like The Others”. Created by three professional choreographers, all of whom have been through the QL2 process, “Not Like The Others” consisted of seven sections, presented in a continuous performance lasting just on an hour.
This testing program which concentrates on ensemble work allows the young dancers, whose ages range from 8 to 18 years, to  demonstrate the skills they’ve learned to allow them to cope with choreography, costume changes, and the myriad other performance skills necessary to  participate in a large-scale dance work.

For the choreographers, there’s a challenge to devise an interesting and cohesive program of dance which will embrace the varying abilities of the dancers, and inspire them to contribute and develop as both choreographers and performers.

This year the choreographer’s, Alison Plevey, Steve Gow and Jack Riley sought active collaboration with their dancers to explore themes of diversity, minority and difference. These themes were firmly imprinted in Plevey’s dramatic opening in which, one by one, performers took the stage to stand in their own individual spotlight.

Costumed in multi-coloured tops and black pants the dancers performed a series of unison manoeuvres, before settling in groups around board games to explore and verbalise special differences like “I can whistle through my teeth” or “I have one sister”.

"Virtual Identity" choreographed by Steve Gow 

White masks, ultra-violent light and black costumes created an eerie effect for Steve Gow’s imaginative exploration of identity, while Jack Riley incorporated carefully manipulated wooden rods to great effect in a section entitled “Allone”.

Costumes throughout were appropriate and well chosen, as was the imaginative lighting and inspiring music tracks. All the works were determinedly ensemble pieces, with sometimes spectacular effects resulting from impressively resolved and performed group movement. Although there were no featured solos, there was space in each work for the dancers to incorporate their own favourite moves. Some works featured partnering and lifting and all demanded complete concentration from the youthful participants. The quality and accuracy of the unison movement spoke volumes about the amount of time and effort that had been expended on perfecting each section, and reflected credit on both dancers and choreographers.

"Allone" choreographed by Jack Riley 


The smiles on the faces of the young dancers as they took their cleverly devised bows, said it all. They had proved that in helping devise and perform this demanding and entertaining program they were certainly “Not Like The Others”. 


                                                 Photos by Lorna Sim

Monday, October 16, 2017

STRICTLY BALLROOM - The Musical


Directed by Chris Baldock – Musical Direction by Rhys Madigan
Choreographed by Emma Nikolic and Karen Brock – Costumes designed by Anna Senior
Set designed by Ian Coker
Presented by The Canberra Philharmonic Society

Erindale Theatre 12th to 28th October, 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Ylaria Rogers (Fran) and Joel Hutchings (Scott Hastings)
in
"STRICTLY BALLROOM - The Musical

Love was certainly in the air last night when the Canberra Philharmonic Society presented the first non-professional production of Baz Luhmann’s Strictly Ballroom – The Musical. When Luhmann’s dazzling, multi-million dollar production toured Australia in 2014/15 it received mixed reviews, mainly because the story tended to get lost in a surfeit of extravagant production numbers.

Since that tour the show has been extensively reworked for International production, and Philo were quick off the mark to secure the non-professional rights for this version. It was also very canny in securing the services of experienced director, Chris Baldock to helm this  production, which remarkably, holds up very well in comparison to the original.

By eliminating some extraneous songs and replacing them with new specially-written songs by Eddie Perfect, the storyline has been clarified, placing the focus firmly on the blossoming romance between the self-absorbed champion ballroom dancer, Scott Hastings and his shy but talented admirer, Fran. 
Ylaria Rogers  gives a captivating performance as Fran, the young dancer who understands what Scott is trying to achieve, and anxious to help him achieve it. Her transition from hesitant beginner to potential champion is carefully charted and a joy to watch.

Joel Hutchings as Scott Hastings in "STRICTLY BALLROOM - The Musical 

While his ballroom dance technique is clearly not his strength, Joel Hutchings gives a plucky performance as Scott Hastings, along the way executing some truly impressive moves, especially in the cleverly choreographed solo in Act 1. The scenes between Scott and Fran are particularly affecting, especially when Scott begins to teach Fran some of his moves, and later, in perhaps the highlight of the show, when Fran’s father (Tomas Dietz), teaches him the Spanish pasodoble.

With its huge cast, “Strictly Ballroom” contains a plethora of great character roles. Astute casting has resulted in many memorable performances, far too many to mention individually.  However, it would be remiss not to acknowledge  Pat Gallaher and Paul Sweeney, outstanding as the conniving Barry Fife and his bumbling offsider Les Kendle;  Tracy Noble and Ian Croker, funny and touching as Todd’s former dance-champion parents, Shirley and Doug Hastings; and Berin Denham ( JJ Silvers) , Emma Nichols ( Tina Sparkle), Peer Karmel ( Ken Railings) Liam Downing ( Wayne Burns), Kirrily Cornwell (Abuela) and Tomas Dietz (Rico), and two remarkable junior performers, Jake Keen (Luke) and particularly Isabella Fraser (Kylie Hastings) for turning a wardrobe malfunction into a magic moment.
 
Joel Hutchings (Scott Hastings) and Emma Nicholls (Tina Sparkle)
in
"STRICTLY BALLROOM - The Musical"

Despite the usual first-night technical glitches with sound and lighting cues, which will no doubt be rectified for future performances, there is so much about this production to admire - Baldock’s masterly direction and his expertise in marshalling Philo’s considerable resources to successfully conjure up the rarefied world of competition ballroom dancing - Ian Croker’s clever mirrored set design which allowed the many scenery changes to be accomplished seamlessly - Anna Senior’s eye-popping costumes which combined with the imaginative and resourceful choreography of Emma Nikolic and Karen Brock, provided a professional gloss to the succession of spectacular production numbers.

Berin Denham (JJ Silver) and ensemble
in
"STRICTLY BALLROOM - The Mu
sical


Over the years the Canberra Philharmonic Society has provided many outstanding productions of great musicals. This production of “Strictly Ballroom” is certainly up there among their best. Don’t miss it.   


                                      All photos courtesy of Ross Gould


This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 13th October 2017

THE FLOWERS OF WAR: THE HEALERS


Simone Riksman and Andrew Goodwin (photo by Peter Hislop)

Devised and directed by Christopher Latham
The High Court October 10

Reviewed by Len Power

The second of 2017’s ‘The Flowers Of War’ concerts is an opera called ‘The Healers’, devised and directed by Christopher Latham.  It has been created substantially from music by female composers such as the sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger and Cecile Chaminade and also includes music from male serving composers who were wounded or killed, such as E.J. Moeran, Georges Antoine, Andre Devaere, Fernand Halphen, Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney and Australia’s Frederick Septimus Kelly.

It tells the story through music of the love between a Flemish nurse and a dying Australian soldier, and includes two historical French figures, Maurice Jaspart, a young clarinettist who lost his arm serving at Verdun, and the composer, Joseph Boulnois, who served as an orderly, dying from the Spanish Flu, three weeks shy of the Armistice.

Performed in the foyer of the High Court of Australia in low lighting to create an atmosphere of a field hospital lit mostly by hurricane lamps, the acoustic of the High Court added a haunting, dream-like quality to the show.  Singers, Andrew Goodwin, tenor, and Simone Riksman, soprano, gave fine performances as the wounded soldier and the Belgian Nurse.

The music was beautifully performed by Christopher Latham, violin, David Pereira, cello, and Caroline Almonte, piano, with additional performances in some pieces by Tom Azoury as the amputee Maurice Jaspart and Catherine McCorkill, both on clarinet.

There was some awkwardness in the occasional moments of spoken dialogue by the musicians.  The simple hospital setting with red poppies strewn on the floor, the nurses in white uniforms dotted amongst the audience and the low lighting created a fine sense of time and place.  The linking dialogue was unnecessary.

A sense of opera was achieved most effectively during the set of songs by Lili Boulanger, Ivor Gurney and Frederick Septimus Kelly when the soldier and the nurse declared their feelings for each other through the songs.

This was a very moving evening of music and a fitting tribute to the composers, soldiers and nurses of the World War One period to whom we owe so much.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 11th October 2017.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in his ‘On Stage’ performing arts program on ArtsoundFM 92.7 from 3.30pm on Mondays and in ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

versions of us



Written by Emily Sheehan
Directed by Jess Baker and Jamie Winbank
Canberra Youth Theatre
Gorman Arts Centre 12-14 October

Review by Len Power 14 October 2017

As the lights came up on the young cast of twelve lined up before us, something made me think of the Broadway musical, ‘A Chorus Line’.  It was soon clear that ‘versions of us’ isn’t about theatre people and their experiences.  Its focus is on real life as seen through the eyes of today’s youth, just presented in theatrical terms.

One of the reasons it works so well is the quality of the writing.  Developed through a series of workshops with the cast in which individual experiences were related, discussed and expanded upon, the resulting script is a collection of revue-like scenes which have a strong ring of truth about them.  Some of it is raw and some of it is funny.  There are quite shocking moments of pain and disappointment in relationships and friendships as well as naivity and street-wise cynicism.  Writer, Emily Sheehan, has fashioned the content into theatre dialogue that is highly playable and has the ring of truth about it.

The ensemble cast play the multiple scenes with commitment and great energy but more work needs to be done on the clarity of the diction of some of the actors.  The performers’ sense of comic timing produced some good laugh-out-loud moments, especially Jett Aplin in his scene about his interest in salamanders and the girls discussing a step-by-step method to shoplift successfully.  It’s amazing what you can learn at the theatre!

Co-directors Jess Baker and Jaime Winbank have fashioned a fine theatrical production with very little in the way of props and minimal lighting.  Scenes are thoughtfully staged in visually different ways around the stage and the show has a nice flow to it that helps to maintain interest throughout.  The depth of character work in even very small scenes is very effective.

The lighting design by Jayden Beattie and Ethan Hammil is imaginative and effective and their choice of music in the sound design, assisted by Kimmo Vennonen, creates a strong atmosphere.

The really curious thing about this show is how much an older person can relate to the stories these young people tell.  In many ways, it might be a different world out there now, but it seems some aspects of life haven’t changed at all.

Photos from Canberra Youth Theatre website
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.