Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Choreographed by James Batchelor
Performed by James Batchelor and Amber McCartney
Sound design by Morgan Hickinbotham

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, 23rd December 2018

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

At a time when choreographers are constantly challenged to come up with new movement styles and arresting images, James Batchelor stands out for the individuality of his deeply intellectual approach to imagery and movement. His works are always demanding on his audience, sometimes confounding, occasionally frustrating, but rarely boring.

Therefore the opportunity to see how he interpreted his response to a two month voyage in the Antarctic on the marine research vessel, RV Investigator, was particularly compelling.

Amber McCartney and James Batchelor performing "Deepspace". 

“Deepspace” was performed by Batchelor and his long-time collaborator, Amber McCartney, on the stripped-back stage of the Canberra Playhouse. On entering the auditorium the audience was directed on to the stage, where they took up positions surrounding Batchelor and McCartney who were posed motionless, each dressed in black and holding aloft a white ball.

The two performers began to move very slowly, in unison and in silence.  Their faces remained expressionless through-out the whole performance. Some movements were repeated constantly, occasionally, unexpectedly, changing direction, so that audience members had to step out of the way, to avoid being stepped on.

James Batchelor and Amber McCartney performing "Deepspace" 

 An ominous creaking soundscape, reminiscent of the sound of icebergs, was introduced, while the performers continued their slow, unison movements. Occasionally they would rock from side to side, and it was easy to imagine the deck of a rolling ship. When they strung two ropes off some stage rigging, one could imagine the rigging of a ship. But not all their movements were so easy to interpret, and as they became more obscure, the audience was left to make what it could of the blank-faced, self-absorbed duo moving ever-so-slowly, butoh-like, from sequence to sequence.

There was an engaging sequence where the pace quickened and the duo unexpectedly performed a deconstructed waltz, and another, late in the performance, during  which McCartney stood on Batchelor’s back while he crawled slowly towards the back wall, where he slowly stood up, balancing her on his shoulders.

It was at this point, that this reviewer caught himself wishing that McCartney would do a backflip off Batchelor’s shoulders, and realised that he had lost interest in trying to fathom how all this relentlessly slow movement related to a voyage in Antarctica.

McCartney didn’t do a backflip, but was lowered gently to the floor by Batchelor, where they formed an impressive cube with their bodies. Despite his admiration for the tenacity and concentration of the performers, your reviewer decided to succumb to the protestations of his own body to the discomfort of standing for so long, and find a seat in the auditorium from which to watch, through the legs of those still standing, or around those already sitting around the stage, the responses of the audience to the final sequence, which involved ball-bearings being rolled from Batchelor’s bare back.

“Deepspace” may not be Bachelor’s most successful work to date, but as a personal and studious attempt to seek artistic expression of a significant experience, it is certainly worth your attention should you get the opportunity to see it.

This review also published in Australian Arts Review. Artsreview.com.au

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Deepspace - Canberra Theatre Centre

Review by John Lombard

Deepspace smashed the boundary between audience and performer, inviting the audience up onto the stage of the Canberra Theatre to become part of a work where the movement of the audience was as important as the movement of the dancers.

This collaboration between choreographer James Batchelor and visual artist Annalise Rees emerged from a voyage to explore distant islands in the sub-Antarctic, with this work the summation of their experiences.  But I struggled to connect the performance with this voyage into the unknown - except in the general sense that space on stage was explored.

The work was instead interested in the complex relationship between performer and audience.  Deepspace rejected the idea that the audience is a passive observer there only to be entertained, and coaxed the audience into active participation in the creation of the performance.

After entering the theatre the audience was invited up onto the stage, falling into a circle around black-clad dancers James Batchelor and Amber McCartney.  With the audience shuffling for space on the stage, it was not clear whether the audience was now part of the show, or indeed whether the performance had actually begun.

At least one audience plant set a norm for how we were to interact with the performers by moving in close and harshly scrutinising the dancing.  This plant provided gentle shepherding throughout the night by showing the audience it would be OK to move or not move.

Early on Batchelor and McCartney rolled a pair of balls at the audience, and this forced the audience members in the way to make a choice - let the balls roll on, or obstruct them and become an active part of the performance.

Yet the audience involvement was never forced, but rather gently coaxed.  At times the performers moved to different parts of the stage, and the pace at which to follow - or indeed whether to follow at all - was left to the audience.  At times the performers brushed thrillingly close, and it was the individual's choice to either stay there or yield more space.

The tone of the dancing was appropriately gentle and intimate, like watching a sleeping child breathe in and out.  Batchelor and McCartney worked as single unit, and some of the forms were genuinely witty - I really liked one moment where their bodies combined to become a cube of black.  In general though there was comparatively little direct interaction, but rather a mutual understanding and silent communication much like the one between the performers and the audience.

However just when it seemed as though the work had reached a climax, the performers instead retreated from engaging the audience with a series of intensely inward-looking acts focusing on balance.

If we take the performance as a commentary on relationships, the first phase showed us relationships when they work, with easy non-verbal communication and harmonious movement.  In the second phase the emphasis was on struggle and isolation, with the struggle to balance representing the difficulty of maintaining a failing relationship.

After inviting the audience to be involved, and with the audience honouring that contract by moving with the performers, the intense focus of the dancers on their own bodies was excluding.

The audience moved in to create a vigil in the final moments, but I found myself watching the audience as much as the performers, who had up until this point been part of the show - with the performers shutting us out, I was more interested in how the audience was responding to this increasingly recondite performance.

Deepspace used unusual staging to great effect, and explored interesting ideas about performance, but after bringing the audience onto the stage of the Canberra Theatre and involving them in creating the show ultimately told them they were not needed after all.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Deepspace created by James Batchelor and Collaborators.  Canberra Theatre Centre, Playhouse, December 23, 2017 

Choreographer: James Batchelor
Performers: James Batchelor, Chloe Chignell/Amber McCartney
Visual Artist: Annalise Rees
Sound Design: Morgan Hickinbotham

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Deep was the space of the empty black stage of the Canberra Playhouse.  Deep the performances must have been for the creator and performers.  But little was meaningful to me, even though I could walk around respectfully with the other several dozen observers for very close-up or more distant angles of view.

I describe the work as a literal exercise of the imagination: intense and mostly oh-so-slow exercise on the performers’ parts, while my imagination was working flat-out trying to make anything out of what they were doing. 

Having read that this was the result of Batchelor’s and Rees’ trip on an Antarctic marine research vessel, I thought I saw some movements reminiscent of the sea sway I had experienced on the good ship Otranto for 36 days (London to Sydney in 1954).  I also saw some some oddly shaped white pieces of board they used to roll a little ball around on, which might have represented icebergs. 

Unfortunately that made me see the rest of my crowd as a “colony, a rookery or a Waddle” of penguins [see http://www.penguins-world.com/what-do-you-call-a-group-of-penguins/ ], which rather defeated the apparently serious purpose of the performers, who became for me tourists disrespectfully disturbing the penguins who were forced to move away and regroup as their space was invaded.

The rolling of balls became some sort of theme, from the two they tossed off the stage near the beginning, which were retrieved towards the end; the large plastic blown up beach ball which the woman rolled up and over the man; the little ball rolled around and then off one “iceberg” to the other (and which mysteriously disappeared); and the row of little balls the woman carefully placed along the spine of the man (lying on his front) which with extraordinary flexibility he made roll from his lower back to between his shoulders and back again, and forward again and off over one shoulder.  One of these was then picked up between the woman’s two index fingers (on separate hands) and slowly rolled around each finger (amazingly without being dropped) while the man used a small mirror to reflect a beam of light from an above stage spotlight onto her ball, which she eventually raised and moved until she stuck it in her ear.

Somewhere in this activity must have been the intention which James Batchelor explains as follows: “The expedition was an environment where art and science as research were occurring simultaneously. What then is the relationship between art and science? How do these practices contribute to or interrogate one another? What are the potential platforms for art and science to engage with people today and in the future? These are ongoing questions that Deepspace is concerned with.”
[ http://james-batchelor.com.au/projects/deepspace/ ]

Having seen Deepspace, those questions remain ongoing.

However one aspect of the performance interested me, following my interest in my teaching days in Rudolf Laban [ see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_von_Laban if you need to get a good picture].  In my interpretation, Laban’s work showed how movement, especially between two people, can form its own kind of ‘movement grammar’, so that each position seems to have been a natural result from the previous position, and can be followed naturally to the next position.  It’s rather like two people having a conversation in the same language: you respond to what I say, and I respond to what you said.  A sentence might form this way (a series of movements initiated by one person) but significantly a kind of mysterious wholistic conversation can happen; which in movement can incorporate many more performers than just two.

At the beginning of this kind of work, it will be improvisation, but the result can be a dance which may look quite fascinating to watch.  The meaning, though, can be apparent only to the dancers who have brought this unique language into being.

Whether consciously or not, this is what James Batchelor and his Collaborators have done.  Some among the observers remained apparently transfixed until the nearly 70 minute end; others remained polite but bemused; because I had read that in Melbourne it had run for 40 minutes, I became more distant – if not entirely bored – after that time, until the ball bearing episode took my attention near the end; no-one walked out as far as I could see (which wasn’t always very far between the penguins).

So I leave you with ongoing questions, not only about how art and science relate, but even about this particular example of performance art.

Since no program or media material was provided at the show, I acknowledge the two following images:

Contemporary dancers James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in 'Deepspace'.
Photo: Jamila Toderas

by Bree Winchester:  http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-life/subantarctic-trip-inspires-new-work-from-canberra-choreographer-james-batchelor-20171220-h08bxt.html

James Batchelor with 'iceberg'

Friday, December 22, 2017

Paper Cuts

Paper Cuts, written and directed by Kirsty Budding.  Launch of Paper Cuts: Comedic and Satirical Monologues for Audition or Performance, published by Blemish Books, Canberra.  Canberra Theatre Centre, Courtyard Studio, December 21, 2017.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

I began to take notes as ‘Emcee’ Jasper Lindell got us underway with some mildly amusing banter, but soon realised that I was sounding (to myself) just like the rather unfunny Rob Defries performing the first of the 30 monologues as an extremely old-fashioned, I presume amateur, Director giving his Notes to his cast before opening night of a Birth of Jesus Christmas play.

So I forgot about trying to review, by my count, 28 performers of 30 of the 36 monologues in Kirsty Budding’s book, and decided to focus on the overall success of the event – in effect, a new use of theatre to launch a theatrical book.  The ploy, the commercial or unpaid status of which I am not sure about, certainly filled the Courtyard Studio with an enthusiastic crowd – including two who bid up a framed poster of the book and a signed-by-the-cast copy of the book to $150 each, to be donated to the RSPCA.

The original thought on Budding’s part was to write a new up-to-date book of monologues “as an accessible resource for performers of all ages and dramatic interests, with lengths ranging from 1 to 7 minutes covering a spectrum that includes physical comedy, light-hearted humour rooted in realism, black comedy, and satire.”  That’s a tall order in itself.

The next original idea was to act out what has turned out to be a large proportion of the items in book, with book sales by Blemish Books at interval, the charity auction to kick off the second fifteen, and a post-launch party to round out the night.  I can’t comment on the party, and I haven’t checked how many books were sold, but the sessions in the theatre went off pretty well.

Since the monologues were designed for people to use as audition pieces, the evidence on stage was a bit tainted for serious judgement from a critic.  Among the actors were those very well-known, well-known, not so well-known, or even almost entirely unknown around Canberra’s theatre traps.  There were some pieces which seemed to me to be cleverly put together for comedic effect, such as Helen Way’s Disturbed Dance Instructor or Cameron Thomas’ Things I Hate, which concluded the first and second halves respectively; some which may have been better written than they seemed, such as The Actor severely overplayed by Patrick Galen-Mules; and some, like the opening Director’s Notes, which were without much to offer either way.

Perhaps the one showing most maturity was Gertrude’s Sweetheart, played to great effect by Phillip Mackenzie.  The ageing resident’s success in defeating his equally ageing superficial unethical rival for the hand of Gertrude, herself aged to the point of second teenage-hood, genuinely won the hearts of the audience, fulfilling the author’s hope of writing “light-hearted humour rooted in realism”.

Of course, my age may cause me to be biassed, and it’s true that much of the modern twitter about selfies on Facebook which got laughs, more or less bypassed me, but the question I came away with is about the purpose of the theatre presentation.

My own book on auditioning (for theatre training rather than for parts in plays) also may by now be old hat, but the key to choosing really useful audition pieces must be that each demands a great depth of the actor in personal understanding to create a fully-developed character (or show that the actor could with good direction); while the actor also needs a vehicle to demonstrate performance skills and understanding of theatrical style.

It’s often better, then, to choose a speech from the middle of a great play, which provides all that context.  Pieces written specifically for auditioning, but without all those before and after connections, have to be remarkably well written.  Watching many of the Paper Cuts items seemed to me to be a bit like watching a night at the Comedy Club, full of short-lived stand-up comedians – only some of whom were clever enough to absolutely engage the audience beyond the immediate laughter.

I guess the two examples in recent times who demonstrate my point are Tom Gleeson and Maggie McKenna.  To write an audition piece to match Gleeson’s scripting and improvisation for another actor would be a rare work of art; and to watch the ABC’s Making Muriel is to show what an auditionee needs.

So Paper Cuts provided an interesting evening and some new thoughts about using theatre for advertising and promotion.  In the end, though, each actor-in-waiting must select carefully from a very wide range, perhaps including but also certainly from far beyond this book.

Helen Way as Disturbed Dance Instructor
in Paper Cuts by Kirsty Budding

Cameron Thomas performing Things I Hate
in Paper Cuts by Kirsty Budding

Phillip Mackenzie performing Gertrude's Sweetheart
in Paper Cuts by Kirsty Budding

Frank McKone’s First Audition: how to get into drama school was published by Currency Press, Sydney, 2002.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Original novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Translation, script, songs and music by Judith Clingan. Directed by Rohan Vicars and Judith Clingan. Music direction Judith Clingan. Wayfarers Australia. Tuggeranong Arts Centre. Wed Dec 20 at 7pm. Thurs-Fri Dec 21-22 at 2pm. Tickets https://www.trybooking.com/STMQ
Photo - Peter Hislop

This version of The Little Prince is a perceptive treatment of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s strange and surreal tale, supported by the intuitive music of Judith Clingan. A large cast of children, adults, puppets (by Raphaela Mazzone) and young people brings a particular kind of magic to the story of the Prince (Siggy Nock) who lives on a tiny planet. His views of the universe at first seem challenging and somewhat strange.

The Prince’s only company appears to be the Rose (Ellen Brown), a gorgeous flower that he tends with as much care as he removes invasive growths.

The crash of the Aviator (Rohan Vicars) on that planet and a rift with the Rose sends the Prince off on an exploration of other planets (including Earth) and they and their inhabitants are in their own ways as strange as his. There’s one where a King (Chris Nock) seems to rule no subjects. There’s another where a Vain Man (Ian Parker) seems locked into an eternal selfie, and yet another where a Drunkard (Gill Christie) is imprisoned in a cycle of alcohol. The Businessman (William Luby) counts and logs and puts a price on the stars rather than truly see them. The Lamplighter (Jem Nock) struggles to do his job on a planet with frequent sunsets. The Geographer (Henry Polotnianka) records natural features but does not join the Explorer (Minnie [Yen-Ling] Lin)) who enthusiastically reports on them. The Small Flower (Thea Nock) gives the Prince valuable insights into the world of flowers and of the Rose. The Shopgirls (Ruby Wildermuth and Hayley Robins) offer to sell him an artificial alternative to water. And the Railway Switchman (Meka Cian Rakhmat) is oblivious to the wonder of the children who marvel at what they see from the train windows.
Photo - Peter Hislop

The Aviator also draws pictures and the Young Aviator (Tom Howieson) and his teachers ( Margot Baker and Hayley Robins) show how hard it can be to retain the vision of a child.  And the little fable of the Turkish (Meka Cian Rakhmat) and European (Marcel Cole and Noah Aziz-Parker) Astronomers raises the question of just who is allowed to make discoveries.

Standing out in great company are Ellen Brown’s clear voiced Rose, Ginny Hicks’ sinister and minimalist Snake and Marcel Cole as the Fox who longs so winningly to be tamed. And as the Little Prince himself Siggy Nock has presence and charm and a costume and hairdo that are just right.

The compact raked Tuggeranong Theatre suits this spare show very well. The shadowy orchestra under Clingan’s sensitive direction rim the front of the audience banks. Musicians slip out of role on stage to unobtrusively join the orchestra, and then slip back on stage again. Singers materialise in the darkness behind audience in the theatre’s two tiny balconies.

This is a splendid version of a classic that talks about the value of things, relationships, resources, water. The puppetry from the Fox and the Rose and the Snake to the plane flight that opens the tale is ingenious. The staging is impeccable, the acting leavened with a touch of humour and the voices true. One has the feeling that Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s story is in the best of hands.
Photo - Peter Hislop

Alanna Maclean

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


"Fly by the seat of my pants" - choreographed by WAAPA student, Alex Abbott

Artistic Director, Producer: Ruth Osborne
Lighting Design and operation: Guy Harding
QL2 Dance
QL2Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre,
16th & 17TH December 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The final event in QL2’s 2017 program, “On Course 2017” provided, as it has done for the last 10 years, young dance-makers involved in full time university dance studies, the opportunity to flex their choreographic muscles and create an eight-minute dance work of their choice.

Originally conceived as an opportunity for QL2 alumni, “On Course” now attracts young choreographers and dancers from all over the country. This year, works by artists from Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and University of NSW (UNSW) were presented. Five of these were QL2 alumni, others had participated in previous “On Course”, and some were having their first experience with “On Course”. Unusually five of the nine choreographers were male.

Each participant was provided with dancers, mentoring and rehearsal space for six, three-hour rehearsals over a three-week period in which to create works bristling with ideas and originality. Some took the opportunity to question the validity of dance and choreography, while others were inspired by nature and animals.

"Just dance already" choreographed by VCA student, Gabriel Sinclair 

Gabriel Sinclair created an amusing, light-hearted work on six dancers. “Just Dance Already” commenced with his dancers arguing over choreographic ideas. Just as they reached exhaustion, they were revived by sounds of disco music. Their sheer joy in dance provided the work with a beautifully resolved climax.

Nasim Patel bought a completely different approach to his questioning with his solo work “A lecture?”: questioning importance”.  Working to Claudio Arrau’s sublime rendition of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, and armed with a white-board and pen, Patel delivered a  discourse linking the death of Harambe the gorilla with the arrival of the first man on the moon. His clever use of contrasting vocal rhythms, provided a riveting prelude to his short dance solo.

"Literally abstract" choreographed by UNSW student, Maddy Towler Lovell 

Maddy Towler Lovell also used humour to explore questions of the accessibility of modern dance in her work, “Literally abstract”, in which Ruby Ballantyne, clad in dungarees and hat, delivered a very funny David Attenborough-ish description of two dancers executing graceful birdlike movements.

"Eusociality" choreographed by VCA student Alexandra Dobson

Alexandra Dobson created an impressive work called “Eusociality” for which her eight dancers entered the stage on all four, monkey-like, in a beam of light. Working to a heavy metal soundtrack, they then performed Dobson’s strong swooping choreography with impressive commitment and polish. 

"Liesure Slug" choreographed by VCA student, Thalia Livingstone

Thalia Livingstone’s playful work was entitled “Leisure Slug” for which she encased her four dancers in transparent plastic sheeting to create a series of striking images. Jason Pearce also chose the theme of change for his impressive work “B” in which, mid-way through, his three dancers emerged from plastic boiler suits to reveal colourful costumes as they responded to voice-over commands ranging from frenetic to cool.

"Fly by the seat of my pants" choreographed by WAAPA Student, Alex Abbot 

 Alex Abbot drew on his rhythmic and hip-hop background to create an absorbing work on eight dancers entitled “Fly by the seat of my Pants”. His slow, graceful unison movements were beautifully performed by the dancers, to create a lovely work of impressive visual appeal.

"This Parting Glass" choreographed by QUT student, Mara Glass 

In a similarly ambitious work, “The Parting Glass”, Mara Glass demonstrated her impressive skills as dance-maker, to create a spectacular work on eleven dancers to explore ideas of communication and departure. Clever use of robotic movements, graceful floor work, striking duo work and well resolved group movement resulted in a work which was both appealing and satisfying. 

"Patrick talks at you, then lip-syncs, then you go on with your lives"
choreographed by VCA student, Patrick Keogh Walker

Though his title succinctly describes his passionate solo work, “Patrick talks at you, then lip-syncs, then you go on with your lives”, Patrick Keogh Walker seemed trapped by his striking long white wedding dress costume with its slowly unfurling train, and his soundtrack of John Farnham’s “You’re The Voice”. Confined to some bare-footed Irish jig steps and repetitive arm gestures, the work felt unresolved as to its purpose and intent.

Excellent stage management and lighting insured the 90 minute program flowed, with each of the works thoughtfully costumed, and exceptionally well danced. As one audience member observed at the Q & A afterwards, “This is the best “On Course” I can remember”. I wouldn’t argue with that. 

                                                  All photos courtesy of : Lorna Sim

This review originally published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 17.12.2017


Greta Claringbould soprano
Maartje Sevenster mezzo-soprano
Peter Young organ and direction
St. Paul’s Church, Manuka, 17 December

Reviewed by Len Power

The hot day provided an appropriate Venice lagoon-in-summer atmosphere in St. Paul’s Church, Manuka for AdHoc Baroque group’s afternoon concert.  Beginning in 2016, the group has specialised in performing vocal music from the baroque age.  This concert focussed on works by the well-known Antonio Vivaldi and the not so well-known Baldassare Galuppi.

In the 18th century, Galuppi was one of Europe’s most famous opera buffa composers as well as a composer of liturgical works.  His music is now being rediscovered.  The two Galuppi works presented in this concert had not been published before.

Commencing with his ‘Confitebor Tibi Domine’ (I acknowledge you, O lord), soprano Greta Claringbould and mezzo-soprano Maartje Sevenster sang with confidence and precision.  The blending of their voices in the duets was especially fine.
Greta Claringbold (left) and Maartje Sevenster (right)
Next on the program was Galuppi’s ‘Ave Regina Coelorum’ (Hail Queen of heavens), an uplifting and beautiful work sung beautifully by Maartje Sevenster.

The first of the Vivaldi works on the program, ‘Nulla in mundo pax sincera’ (In this world there is no honest peace) seemed to have a richer sound compared to the works of Galuppi.  Maybe we are just more familiar with the sound of popular composer Vivaldi?  Greta Claringbould gave a fine performance of the work, especially the final section after the recitative.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’, composed in the early 1700’s for the Pietà, one of the four orphanages in Venice that were famous for their musical training and performances by female voices.

The soloists were joined by a 10 member female choir and oboe and trumpet were added to the orchestra.  The complexity of the music made it sound like it was a much larger choir than it was.  The orchestra under the direction of Peter Young gave a fine accompaniment to the singers.

Greta Claringbould (left) accompanied on oboe by Chayla Ueckert-Smith (right)
The solo by Greta Claringbould, nicely accompanied on the oboe by Chayla Ueckert-Smith, and the solo sung by Maarte Sevenster with the chorus were the highlights of this sumptuous work, completing a memorable concert.

Photos by Peter Hislop
This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 18 December 2017.

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.


Llewellyn Choir
Conducted by Rowan Harvey-Martin
Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, Saturday 16 December

Reviewed by Len Power

L'Enfance du Christ (The Childhood of Christ) is an oratorio by Hector Berlioz, based on the Holy Family's flight into Egypt.  It was first performed in Paris in 1854.  The work is in three distinct sections.  The first part details King Herod ordering the death of new-born children in Judaea and the second shows the Holy Family - Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus - leaving for Egypt to escape the death threat.  In the third part, the family find refuge in the Egyptian town of Saïs with a family of Ishmailites.

Berlioz’s music for this work has some very tender moments such as the well-known Shepherd’s Farewell and the Mary and Joseph duet.  The music for Herod’s decision to kill the new born children is chilling and dramatic and the whole work maintains interest throughout with its many challenges for soloists and choir members.

Conductor, Rowan Harvey-Martin, has done an excellent job bringing this large work together.  Tenor, Michael Martin, sang the role of the Narrator with great feeling, especially at the start of the third section.  As Herod, Andrew Fysh’s fine bass voice was heard to great effect in the frenzied sequence where he orders the death of the babies.

Rebecca Collins gave an impassioned performance as Mary, singing and acting the role with clarity and warmth.  The duet in the stable in Bethlehem with Rohan Thatcher, in excellent voice as Joseph, was especially notable.  Michael Wilson sang the roles of Polydorus and the Father with strength and dignity.  The shepherd’s farewell to the Holy Family was memorably sung by the large Llewellyn Choir and the finale of the work was sung with great sensitivity.

Terese Rabe and Rebecca Timony gave a fine performance of the flute duet and the Llewellyn Sinfonia played the musical accompaniment very well.

The concert finished with three Christmas carols.  The audience was invited to join the choir in singing the last carol, ‘Silent Night’, and the sound of all our voices filling the Wesley Uniting Church was quite moving.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 17 December 2017.

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.