Archive for the 'Circus' Category

11
Sep
17

PER TE

 

PER TE

Brisbane Festival & Aurecon

QPAC Playhouse

September 9 – 16 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

She could tell a story through her eyes…

 

PER TE (Dedicated to you, dear Julie) is an astonishingly beautiful and tender production featuring charismatic acrobats with all the skills, and a circular set up of wind machines on stage to lift inanimate things into the air, creating breathtaking moments for little more reason than that it can be done. It’s perfect festival fare, a feast for the senses without making perfect sense. An Australian premiere, exclusive to Brisbane Festival thanks to David Berthold’s relationship with Compagnia Finzi Pasca (Switzerland), PER TE is almost a show and so much more than one. Can I even explain it? Do I even need to? I just want you to experience it.

 

Dramaturgically challenging for those looking to find a narrative thread through it, PER TE is unashamedly a work of sheer beauty, complex memories and raw emotion, dedicated to writer and director Daniele Finzi Pasca’s late wife, the visionary Julie Hamelin Finzi, who died last year after a long illness at the age of 43.

 

NEXT YEAR I WILL BE 43.

 

 

The profundity of this production is not in its circus tricks but in its arresting images within the aesthetic of a dream, or a dream of a dream, or of several dreams woven together over decades, with sheaths of white plastic floating and dancing above the stage, red and gold silks billowing and becoming fire-breathing dragons, frolicking, fighting…newspaper pages whirling, snowflakes swirling, an aerial hoop descending chillingly like a noose, and in the same instant containing all the beauty of the world, a thousand red rose petals twirling around it, tiny dancers in the air.

 

An entire sequence will stay with me forever, an extended anime fight, private, child-like – SCHOOM! – until the performer’s exhaustion sets in and she continues to fight – what? The world? Herself? – despite physical, mental and emotional fatigue, causing real tears to spill down my cheeks as I ache for her.

 

The second act opens with a plate spinning spectacular-spectacular, the stage filled like a field or a forest of light, or a jungle if we go by the sounds the acrobats make, with poles upon which the plates are placed and spun until they’re suddenly gone, and I don’t notice when they’re struck, or how, or by whom…the angel’s story has me captivated.

 

 

PER TE’s meta-premise lets us in on the secrets of creating a show and paying tribute to a life. With only a box of memories and a garden bench we are three months out from opening night, so things can change and there are members of the stage crew still moving props and set pieces about in plain sight, but basically the show exists, right? Why? And for whom? As the performers explain to the audience the way a show comes together, they reflect on their practice and the creative process. They play games, childlike in their glee, and they remember the things that Julie had said or done. The live music and vocal work is integral to the melting, sweeping, changing moods of the show. This “show” is in fact a love letter, a memoir; an homage to beauty, passion, love, belonging and longing.

 

 

When we begin we are in a garden, with a red garden bench and a darkened doorway, its edges lit. (Finzi Pasca’s Icaro also features a darkened doorway, which opens to the light). It reveals the performers, wearing suits of armour that weigh 30kg each, inhibiting movement, but not much, and adding clanks and creaks to the soundscape. At times it seems like something more will be made of the armour – at one point the tiniest female performer offers a guy his breastplate to put on, but there is no deeper meaning other than what we ourselves read into it, no extra moment there unless we ourselves choose to languish in it. At the end the armour is removed, piece by piece, and each performer lays it on the stage in front of them. This meaning is clear. But with a number of moments that seem less specific we can decide that either there are missed opportunities or that we have missed something that probably wasn’t meant for us in the first place. When such a deeply personal work is shared, we can either embrace it and find morsels we wish to keep forever for ourselves, or simply let it wash over us and look forward to the next festival piece.

 

PER TE is a private place of grief and glee and reverie and community, or a strange and visually stunning circus piece.

 

PER TE for me, more than a secret garden, is the distant memory of a series of decadent grown-ups’ dinner parties, which we would catch a glimpse of for years before being sent down the hall to bed; it’s magical, elusive and it might make more sense next time, or never.

 

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14
Apr
17

Model Citizens

 

Model Citizens

QPAC & Circus Oz

QPAC Playhouse

April 12 – 15 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

Melbourne’s Circus Oz, under new Artistic Director, Rob Tannion, returns to QPAC after an absence of some years (you might remember Steampowered  in 2011) with a wink, tongue in cheek and two thumbs up, in Model Citizens, a boldly conceptualised, powerfully political look at what it means to be a resident in our lucky country.

 

In a beautifully designed (Michael Baxter), dramatically lit (Sian James-Holland) model-kit playground of oversized ordinary objects, this newly assembled troupe surpasses expectations, bringing their entertaining physical feats and cheeky Aussie humour to the Playhouse stage for a strictly limited season. It’s a shame it hasn’t enjoyed a longer run right through our school holidays.

This is not so much a new direction for Circus Oz – they’ve always been politically and socially cheeky and funny, and had the band on stage and performed all the tricks – but more a refinement of the mischievous, clever form, which takes the most entertaining and exciting elements from circus, cabaret, dance and theatre, and combines them to create a refreshingly different circus style. The real difference here is Tannion’s uncanny ability to fuse concept, design elements and content, making Model Citizens a more polished show than we’ve seen previously, and without having an actual narrative, is just about as seamless as circus gets.

In an Arts Review interview last year, Tannion noted, “Having a broader pool of artists to draw from will open the possibility for numerous and concurrent collaborations for shows and acts that may evolve into intimate smaller shows, site specific performances or develop into our Big Top productions … This will continue to challenge our preconceptions of the creative process and expectations of what our audiences will see and experience on stage.”

Tannion’s dance and choreographic background comes through in both the fast-paced super busy sequences, with the performers running and leaping and balancing and tumbling all over the place, and in moments of relative stillness, such as the opening sequence when we find ourselves grinning at ironically stereotypical frozen statues that come alive and eerily, like mannequins or Stepford Wives, peer at the emcee Mitch Jones AKA Captain Ruin, and run away from him, playing a sort of hide-and-seek-milling-and-seething ensemble game. Just to note, in case you’ve also gone back to school and ended up studying composition this year, Tannion’s direction is the best application of the Viewpoints I’ve seen in a while (only Natalie Weir’s work with EDC regularly does anything remotely similar). It’s an interesting, discerning use of triangular floor space, and giant everyday objects, including a peg, a cotton reel and a safety pin.

The giant safety pin serves as our Chinese Poles (actually opening and shutting with the weight and agility of the performers, a brilliant realisation of design and purpose) and an enormous pair of Bridget Jones’ knickers provides a unique take on a classic aerial act, with silks dropping from overhead on a peg. A balancing act on a house of oversized credit cards has us considering our economic situation when, proudly and precariously teetering at the top, Luke Ha is offered yet another card i.e. more credit, which, to the delight of the audience, he adamantly refuses.

Jones as Captain Ruin, heavily inked and sporting a pink punk mohawk, a gold tooth and a tutu, sings and roller-skates and gets himself out of a straitjacket in record time, which we’ve seen a good friend do too, sure, but not whilst hanging upside down by his ankles! Jones is irreverent and enigmatic, irresistible, driving the show and stitching many of its pieces together.

The most surprisingly erotically charged knife throwing act ever sees the bewitching Freya Edney ducking and weaving, then blindfolding Jones to finish the act. Her hoop act astounds and then, upping the anti, a giant roue cyr (cyr wheel) is manipulated by another performer while the ensemble members roll bowling balls around him.

A series of silly puns throughout the show have us groaning in a good way, and the original songs elicit raised eyebrows, some dropped jaws, wide eyes, and lots of raucous laughter. A small herd of sheep causes hysterics in the audience at the beginning of Act 2 as a sheep dog rounds them up and puts them into their pen, which also holds a Webber barbecue and Captain Ruin. In an undeniably Amanda Palmeresque performance style, Edney plays ukulele and sings straight-faced about how tolerant and accepting we are of others, “but not in my backyard.” The undercurrent of pseudo-political correctness and self righteousness is, unfortunately, easily recognisable and appeals to the collective sense of humour on opening night. Jeremy Hopkins and MD Ania Reynolds add heightened energy and sass on stage as well as strong musicianship skills.

Historically, Circus Oz has found it difficult to resist having a go at the world’s most famous circus since Barnum & Bailey, Cirque du Soleil, and refreshingly this time, rises above the seemingly typical Australian need to take a swing in their direction. This time no reference or comparison is made. Circus Oz has grown up and gotten confident, claiming their space in the contemporary Australian circus arena.

Model Citizens boasts a beautiful sense of childlike playfulness and innocence without forsaking any of the sheer thrill we expect from circus, and on the other hand, offers a wizened, wry look at the way we see ourselves. It’s perfect whole family fun at an affordable price, right here in our own backyard.

 

Model Citizens features the many and varied talents of Freya Edney, Jake Silvestro, Jarred Dewey, Jeremy Hopkins, Lachlan Sukroo, Luke Ha, Mitch Jones, Olivia Porter, Rose Chalker-McGann & Steph Mouat.

 

24
Nov
16

KOOZA opens tonight!

 

Cirque du Soleil’s incredible KOOZA opens tonight!

with our own Lisa Skinner

 

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Using very conservative mathematics, Queenslander Lisa Skinner has spent more than 75,000 hours in a unitard; in reality, it’s probably more like over 250,000 hours. That’s a lot of time in lycra.

 

Brisbane audiences are about to see the result of Lisa’s dedication because this Albany Creek born, world class gymnast and Olympian is about to take over one of the key solo acts – the Aerial Hoop – in the critically acclaimed KOOZA, by Cirque du Soleil, opening in Brisbane on November 24.

“I have spent considerably more time in lycra than I had ever planned when I was young, but I have been lucky enough to have made a career out of what I love doing; out of what I started as a kid in Albany Creek when I was six years old and wanted to learn to do the splits and a handstand!” said Lisa.

Born in Brisbane Lisa began gymnastics at age 6 at Lawnton Academy; she went to Albany Creek Primary School and later she traversed the city each day, from the northside to the south to attend senior school – at Holland Park, because it was close to Chandler sports complex where she trained. For almost ten years Lisa reigned supreme in Australian gymnastics. From her international debut at the 1995 World Championships in Sabae, Japan where she placed 12th with the Australian team, through to 2004 she competed at four World Championships and three Olympic Games (1996 Atlanta; 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens). She held the Australian National Champion title in 1996 and 1997; earned two gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and was the highest-ranked Australian WAG athlete at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. She was the country’s most celebrated elite gymnast.

And while she may have shone at three Olympic Games, numerous world championships and won standing ovations for her role in another Cirque du Soleil production in Quidam, this upcoming season of Kooza in Brisbane will be the very first time Lisa Skinner has performed in front of her hometown crowd.

 

She’s excited, and yes, just a touch nervous.

 

However, in a twist not unlike some of the breathtaking moves she performs under the Big Top in Kooza, her time in the Cirque du Soleil spotlight almost didn’t happen.

In 1997 when Cirque du Soleil scouts first approached Lisa she turned them down because, she had never seen a Cirque du Soleil show and, “thought joining a circus meant caravans and elephants, and I didn’t want that, I wanted to continue my career as an elite gymnast, to see how far I could go.” It was at the 2004 Athens Olympics that Lisa’s destiny turned.

“By this time I had seen a few Cirque du Soleil shows and had been astounded at every one of them, at the level of excellence, at the generosity of artistic direction, and at the world class standard of acrobatics, costuming and performance involved in each. There were no elephants, just incredible human beings doing extraordinary things!”

She saw the Cirque du Soleil scouts at Athens and this time, she approached them.

She was invited to Cirque du Solei’s General Formation of 2005 – the company’s talent pool sourced from all over the world. But before she could join, she needed not one but two shoulder reconstructions to mend damage caused by years of pushing her body to extremes. “My shoulders were basically held together with tape; and I knew I couldn’t start the new career I really wanted with Cirque du Soleil, without having the operations and focusing on rehabilitation.” She returned home to Brisbane for the operations and recuperated at the family home, still her most loved destination to visit in the world! All up, this took almost a year.

After initial training in Montreal, she was offered a position on Alegrìa in the Power Track Team and later became the dance captain for the cast. Always looking to improve her skills, Lisa challenged her Artistic Director to find her a position on Quidam in one of the shows’ powerful aerial numbers.

 

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In 2010, Lisa joined the Aerial Hoops act on Quidam and toured all over the world with the show. She was in the USA and on a break from Quidam when the call came through a few months ago from Cirque du Soleil – they needed her for Kooza, the Aerial Hoops performer had to leave the show for family reasons for a few months.

“Which city?” she asked.

“Brisbane,” came the reply.

And “yes” was hers.

 

In Kooza Lisa performs the Aerial Hoops act solo. “This is my first time in a solo act with Cirque du Soleil, and yes, it’s daunting – there is no-one to share the load, no-one to shift focus, the full weight of the audience lies with me – and I guess that’s why they called me, this is what I do, I’ve done it since I was six,” she said.

 

And so, tonight when Kooza opens in Brisbane, many in the audience will be the people Lisa grew up with, her friends and even those she used to train with, old coaches and car pool drivers. Some will know her as one of the country’s greatest gymnasts. Others may recognise her from medal ceremonies. And there will be fans who applaud her after simply reading her story.

Her family will sit proudly knowing her as the girl who spent far too much time in a unitard.

And thank goodness she did.

 

KOOZA opens tonight at 8pm. See you there.

 

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24
Nov
16

Wonderland – 10 Top Picks

Wonderland!

 

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Wonderland opens tonight! Get ready for three weeks of high energy entertainment in the intoxicating heat of Brisbane’s Summer nights.

Wonderland is Brisbane’s end-of-year carnival of surprise and delight.

With 31 shows over 14 days, you’re invited to flirt with the unexpected and step into a euphoric world of body bending antics and late night temptations…

 

1. Phelan Groovy

Don’t miss the star of Dirty Dancing in Phelan Groovy, part auto biographical, part celebrity dish and ALL entertainment. For if there’s one thing Kurt Phelan has learned through life, it’s to only say 10% of what he thinks. Now you get the other 90% but only from tonight until Saturday at 8:45pm.

 

 

 

2. Wild Heart

Grand Finalist of The Voice and one of Australia’s most gifted singer/songwriters, Ellen Reed, won the hearts of a nation with her soaring voice and unshakable spirit as the Team Jessie J favourite. In Wild Heart, a one night only concert on Wednesday November 30 with her band, we can experience her national television defining performances live in the Powerhouse Theatre, with soulful renditions of Sia’s Chandelier, Demi Lovato’s Stone Cold, and Pink’s Perfect. Ellen Reed will also debut her new single Wild Heart and perform her upcoming album of original tracks including Ask Me to Stay, Blur and Not Tonight. A special Wonderland treat, not to be missed!

 

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3. Smooth Criminal

Not only is Christopher Wayne one half of the global success story, The Naked Magicians, but he’s also producing some of the hottest shows we’ll see over the next couple of summers. Smooth Criminals brings together the odd couple of Australia’s entertainment industry, Luke Kennedy and Joel Turner. For one show only, on Sunday at 4pm, audiences will get the chance to experience Michael Jackson’s back catalogue as they’ve never heard before, when Kennedy (The Voice, Season 2 runner up, The Ten Tenors) and Turner (world champion beat boxer and platinum selling hip hop artist) join forces to share in their love for the greatest entertainer to ever live, in a musical experience like no other. This is the must-see Smooth Criminals.

 

Remember The Time from Chris Wayne on Vimeo

 

4. More Than A Boy

Starring Tom Oliver, More Than A Boy is a playful rite-of-passage about family and adventure, do-or-die situations and seemingly random events that build character and shape destiny. Featuring an eclectic mix of original songs written by Tom, Andrew McNaughton and Wes Carr (Australian Idol winner), theatre tunes and reworked contemporary hits, More Than A Boy magically weaves together the stories of a Croatian refugee forging a new life and a grandson who follows his dreams. Backed by a live band, get the adrenalin pumping and experience Tom Oliver shoot for the stars in this lively quest journey.

 

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5. The Lady of the House of Love

If you’ve never seen this show – or this artist – you’re in for a real treat. Performed by award-winning artist Sandro Colarelli, The Lady of the House of Love is a darkly eerie and exotic one-man show exploring the themes of desire and destiny. With original music composed by award winning singer-songwriter Jake Diefenbach, this combination of evocative narrative and stunning songs harks back to the darkest roots of cabaret.

 

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6. Other Women

This is the season’s sexiest circus-cabaret! Starring Lizzie Moore, Eliza Dolly, Rosie Peaches, Freyja Edney with a Chloe-Rose Taylor. Other Women: Temptress or tempting? Fast woman or free-spirited? If a man is a stud, what is a woman? Enter the world of Other Women: a provocative and witty circus-cabaret celebrating female sexuality and exploring sexual double standards. A thrilling live band, circus soloists and burlesque cheek electrify the stage in this World Premiere performance. Featuring an eclectic mix of songs by artists such as Nina Simone, Goldfrapp and Prince; Other Women explores promiscuity, and our contradictory views towards women and their sexual behaviour.

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7. Emma Dean in Concert

Heralded for her captivating vocals by the New York Post, Brisbane’s own Emma Dean is a consummate performer and has released over ten independent original albums/EPs.She has toured the world, performing alongside Jesca Hoop and Kate Miller-Heidke, and in support of Macy Gray, Jinkx Monsoon, Katie Noonan, Amanda Palmer and The Dresden Dolls. Emma will be joined by her brother, Tony Dean to perform an eclectic catalogue of songs exploring love, loss and light. One show only on Saturday December 3 at 4pm.

 

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8. The Chaser’s Australia

Discover The Chaser’s Australia with Charles Firth and James Schloeffel. A very special multi-media presentation of The Chaser’s Australia. Covering politics, culture, religion, sport and jokes about Karl Stefanovic, it includes a special segment on Australian cooking, and why chicken salt is the only ingredient you’ll ever need. It also includes an extra special presentation on the environment entitled “There’s Absolutely Nothing to Worry About”, sponsored by the Minerals Council of Australia. If you only attend one event this year, you should probably go out a bit more often. The Chaser’s Australia; it’s everything you wanted to know about Australia, but were too apathetic to ask. One show only tonight at 7:15pm.

 

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9. Mills and Boom!

Join the Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary, a fictitious amateur writers’ group of oddball characters with fake hair, fake lashes, and real passion, for its personally acclaimed stage show. Mills and Boom! is a simply stupendous salon of bosom-heaving, lip-quivering ecstasy during which we regale you with our smouldering romance stories. Featuring Pascalle Burton, Carody Culver, Adam Hadley, Michelle Law, Ian Powne, Tessa Rose, Jackie Ryan, Leah Shelton, Lucas Stibbard, and Neridah Waters. One show only on Sunday December 5 at 5pm.

 

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10. House of Mirrors

The House of Mirrors is a grotesquely fascinating walk-through installation composed of a labyrinth of seemingly endless mirrors. Since the 19th Century, mirror mazes have been trapping and reflecting participants, challenging those that venture into them, both physically and psychologically, resulting in delight, amazement and sometimes, fear. The House of Mirrors includes Kaleidoscopic like chambers, voids, doorways and darkened breaks, the purist and most traditional form of a mirrored maze. No added gimmicks, no special effects, no special lighting, no sound track or soundscape.  The primary ingredients of carefully arranged mirrors, geometry and pure optical illusion.

Please be aware that during busy period, long wait times are possible. We recommend if you pre-book a ticket and plan on experiencing House of Mirrors before another show, to give yourself ample time in case of lines. Your House of Mirrors experience could take anywhere between 5 minutes and 20 minutes, depending on how fast you solve the maze.

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22
Apr
16

VELVET

 

Velvet

QPAC & Organised Pandemonium

QPAC Cremorne

April 21 – May 8 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

VELVET is a night club and a state of mind – a fantasy.

– Craig Ilott

Live_22_Brandan Maclean_ADE_Tony Virgo

VELVET is this year’s best night out so far, especially if you missed it last time, at the Powerhouse during Brisbane Festival last year. It’s a dazzling disco cabaret; a feast for the senses and a wake up call for the soul.

We’re seated at the top of a catwalk stage, with additional seating on either side of it. The Cremorne has become a dance floor, with five giant glitter balls suspended above, flashing, moving, colourful lights on all sides, lots of haze, revolving mirrors and entire walls of light below a balcony boasting yet another wall of flashing lights, and the omnipresent DJ, MD & Percussionist, Joe Accaria.

Inspired by Studio 54, a club famous for its wild parties and hedonism but also ultimately for its culture of acceptance – blind to colour, creed, class, gender, size and sexuality. VELVET is a celebration of that freedom.

– Craig Ilot

An outstanding soundtrack of back to back 70s smash hits (get the original cast recording here) takes us on a journey that is focused on a young man’s hopes and dreams (Brendan Maclean). There’s a whole lot of Pippin about it; Maclean’s character’s gotta’ find his corner of the sky (only his Corner of the Sky is If You Could Read My Mind). He finds it in a flashy, racy late night venue, VELVET.

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A stronger storyline may have seen Maclean more explicitly seek a soulmate or a Drag Mother; nevertheless, he appears to find both, sans awkward scenes or dialogue, in the divine Marcia Hines. The story is not much clearer than boy-goes-to-big-city, boy-becomes-confident-with-the-help-of-fairy-godmother-and-a-few-good-men, boy-lives-out-his-wildest-dreams, and nor does it need to be. Those who seek a deeper meaning will find it.

Moments – impressions – have come back to me today, outlasting the high energy of the performers (Choreography Lucas Newland), the glamorous discotheque aesthetic (Design James Browne & Lighting Matthew Marshall), in particular, a moment of real connection between Hines and Maclean, and a later moment of truth, when the boy faces a mirror image of himself in another performer. Does he even recognise his previous conservative self, and how far he’s come? There are enough moments like these to make VELVET the more narrative of the increasingly popular cabaret variety shows.

Indie singer-songwriter, Maclean, is fabulous in this role; brilliant, bold and barely able to contain his excitement, driving the semblance of plot with a full range of facial expressions and a full spectrum of emotion behind them. His energy on stage is infectious and we watch as he stumbles into this strange and exotic new world with grins big enough to match Maclean’s. He’s a phenomenal, full-hearted performer, with the glorious gift of true versatility and not a weak aspect. Like his friend and hero iOTA (with whom Director Craig Ilot has also worked), Maclean wears sequins and feathers well, and can take us from the most flamboyant and colourful camp heights to the most sombre, moving, modern ballad lows. His heartbreaking acoustic rendition of Stayin’ Alive transports us, transforming us. Can you even imagine? No, you can’t. You simply must be in the room for this performance. I feel bereft, and in the same way a heavy metal band has recently repackaged Simon and Garfunkel, this classic disco smash hit will never be heard in the same way again. Ilot has clearly left room for the artists themselves to come to this party, making it a beautifully intimate experience.

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Hines sparkles and shines, a true diva, her full, rich, real voice a joy to hear live. She commands the stage as only an enduring star can, and in It’s Raining Men and, with Maclean – it’s fabulous – No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) we hear her full vocal super power, quite extraordinary.

Her backing vocalists are two of the best in the biz and not so much “backing” as “flanking”. Rechelle Mansour and Chaska Halliday are stunning, with the dance and vocal ability to give Beyonce’s girls a run for their money. They could be next year’s Super Bowl half time entertainment, but we’d be foolish to lose them. Turn the Beat Around is a showstopper, showcasing their combined and individual formidable talents.

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Mirko Köckenberger is not only the handstand acrobat of the company (he impresses early, undressing upside down on a stack of suitcases) but also, the mirror image and symbolic self to Maclean’s soul-searching, world-seeking character. Another striptease is noticeably absent from this version of the show, according to friends who’d seen the first, but the production is not lacking. If anything, it’s a relief to enjoy a circus cabaret that doesn’t feel the need to go there (anymore). The show is inherently sexy and the slightly risqué (I guess? Perhaps for some of QPAC audiences?) comes in the form of a dangerous, gorgeous bondage aerial sequence featuring Stephen Williams and Emma Goh. They demonstrate strength, grace and a range of S&M options for the, er, high-flyers amongst us.

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Craig Reid (AKA The Incredible Hula Boy), offers comic relief – perfect comic timing – and cheeky fun in a perfectly polished hula hoop act to impress even the most discerning circus crowd. Hilarious, he’s a firm favourite with the opening night audience.

There’s nothing to dislike here. VELVET is sensational; the most unashamedly entertaining Spiegeltent show outside of the Spiegeltent. This season will sell out. See it or see it again. You won’t be disappointed. 

11
Apr
16

When One Door Closes

 

When One Door Closes

La Boite Theatre Company & Circa

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

April 6 – 23 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

breathing. running. pink hair swishing. resting. gasping. pink hair running. falling, clumsily. bewildered. resting, but not. unsettled, but not. unwilling. undone. unfinished.

and then the men…

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It’s Nora Helmer (Britannie Portelli), in sweet pink, hot pink and sparkling, sequinned pink. Pretty, and unpredictable, in pink. One day she decides not to settle for less and she’s gone. In unapologetic orange, Hedda Gabler (Bridie Hooper). In bold red that belies every moment of “hysteria”, every insecurity, Miss Julie (Nicole Faubert). Unless you’re well acquainted with the women, or even if you’re well acquainted with the women, these three are any women. Every woman. Everywoman.

Late in the 19th Century they burst on stage and quite literally changed the world. Their presence called into question assumptions about women and their role in male dominated society.

They were of course written by men. They live within the conventions of the well-made play. In a sense they are trying to escape their forms as well as their men.

The circus we make is definitely not a well-made play. Rather it is abstract, shifting, elusive. Meaning occurs for sure but exactly where or how are mysterious.

– Directors, Yaron Lifschitz & Libby McDonnell

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The problem with abstract, shifting, elusive forms is that we are often left dissatisfied by the lack (or mysterious placement) of dramatic meaning, but the real problem here – if we are to discuss openly and honestly (and we do that here) – is that the product doesn’t match up to the sales pitch. It’s not what I expected. And that’s okay but I’m left feeling slightly confused because the production doesn’t do what I thought it said it would. I think I thought wrong… To be fair, the only claim was that the women would meet in a “visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.” And they do.

A door slams. A shot is fired. On the other side, unseen by the audience or by the befuddled, inconsequential husband and lovers are the three great heroines who created twentieth century drama: Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler and Nora.

What if they all ended up in the same room?

What if they couldn’t speak?

What if the room was full of scratched recordings of A Dolls House, Hedda Gabbler and Miss Julie, plus a dash of Freud?

How would they navigate each other, their own pasts and the future?

La Boite and Circa join forces on this new creation. Three masterpieces of turn-of-the-century drama meet the visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.

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 Circa is one of our country’s most highly regarded contemporary circus companies and at first glance, in this first stage of development (it’s officially a finished product but what is ever really finished?), this work is not nearly as exceptional as we have come to expect from Circa (they raised the bar with Il Retorno), however; presented by La Boite, When One Door Closes is also an experiment, relating the stories of the women – or, their frustrations at least – via varying levels of tension and court jester comedy, through acrobatics and high-risk tricks, some of which are symbolic of what the characters are going through.

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Not always the case, at times the tricks are arbitrary, included in the show because they can be, and executed in such a literal way as to bring out the comical, as when one of the men tips Nora upside down so that she becomes a broom, her hair used to sweep the stage. It’s a strange way to reiterate what we already know; these women exist in service roles only. No wonder they feel as if they’re choking, hanging, dead…

Oonagh Sherrard’s original compositions lead us in and out of the women’s heads, while at times, it’s odd; the men get comical musical numbers to lip-synch for seemingly no reason other than to provide the girls with a drinks break and the audience with an easy laugh. The collective physical strength and sheer force of the men’s presence underlines the power that men have held within each of these women’s lives. Perhaps the David Armand inspired parodies are an attempt to truly balance the stakes. (I love that the women claim their power, hand-balancing in the end, but I hate the male playwrights using “sickness” and suicide and the abhorrent act of leaving the children to do so).

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Hedda has the strongest presence, her chalk outline creating a devastating, enduring image, as she contorts herself to reach all the way around her body. She marks her own end on the glossy black floor. This routine, and the most arresting, disturbing straps routine I’ve ever seen (that’s a good thing; it’s brilliantly conceived and executed), keep Hedda at the centre of the story-not-story, and for me, provide the strongest thread, that is, if we are determined to see one running through the piece.

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If I’d decided not to write it up, I would have viewed When One Door Closes through a completely different lens, enjoying much more than I did on Opening Night, its circus and its comedy, and not needing any further structure or story. But because, perhaps foolishly, we went in with the expectation that this would be circus that was somehow more “theatrical” in its form and nature, my expectations weren’t met. To put it simply, I would have left feeling more satisfied if I hadn’t had to think too deeply about it! This is often a critic’s struggle, and not something general audiences will experience. It’s important to note because my opinion is no more valid than anybody else’s, but because I choose to share it widely I (mostly) feel the need to justify my conclusions. There are times when I simply respond to the work, without looking at it very critically at all, and this style of “review” could be said to be far more valuable to both audiences and artists. In fact, by not discussing the way the different elements work together, we indicate perhaps even more clearly the success of a piece. (Don’t tell that to the Drama students who must master the art of academically arranging their thoughts and assessing the way in which a director has created meaning by manipulating the Elements of Drama).

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Regardless of the reviewer’s style (and we follow those whose style we like, and whose opinions confirm our bias), a considered written response is always a valuable addition to the conversation. A star rating not so much, but easier, certainly, for publicists to use…

It could be reasonably assumed that because this is a circus show it can be sold under a family friendly banner, but I’d advise parents to consider the meaning that (mysteriously) comes across and ask yourself whether or not your child will question, as my child has done, “Which is the husband and which is the lover?” “Does the chalk outline mean she’s already dead or that she’s dead inside?” and “Are the straps the rope she hangs herself with?” And in response to my whisper, “Well, why does she have a straps routine if she shoots herself?”

If you bring children to the theatre, be prepared to discuss the themes and historical contexts of the original texts as well as those within the final work. Always.

(Or, everyone can simply enjoy the sequins and lifts and balances for what they are and avoid talking about anything else).

Circa is more successful than most in its exploration of blurring lines between forms. And with greater theatrical input (Todd MacDonald as Co-Director – or Director – rather than, or in addition to Dramaturg, for example), When One Door Closes might make more creative and contextual sense. Let’s look forward to the company continuing to experiment with form and style.

Without thinking too deeply about it, or expecting too much from it, the first production of La Boite’s 2016 season is perfectly engaging and entertaining. But let’s hope it’s not indicative of all they have to offer this year.

Performers: Nathan Boyle, Todd Kirby, Martin Evans, Duncan West, Nicole Faubert, Bridie Hooper, Brittany Portelli.

Production pics by Dylan Evans

09
Apr
16

Kaleidoscope

 

Kaleidoscope

Judith Wright Centre & Company 2 supported by Flipside Circus

Judith Wright Centre Performance Space

April 6 – 9 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

Sometimes the heart breaks and cracks open because so much love is bursting through.

– Ethan Wharton-Langridge

Kaleidoscope is a remarkable circus show that hopes to bring to life the colour, chaos and incredible beauty of Ethan’s everyday life.

– Chelsea McGuffin

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“Everyday life is full of wonder. Even the lighting changing from white and plain to beautiful colour reflects the beauty of the little things that make Ethan’s life possibly better than our own… When the lighting reflects on the ceiling it’s like a dream…”

 Poppy Eponine

This show is pure love. It’s play and love and laughter, and kids supporting kids just by being with each other, near each other, adoring each other before judging each other. It’s a valuable reminder of so many things.

The kids are sleeping – or trying to sleep – tossing and turning, climbing over each other and resettling, and while we see them moving across the floor the live feed filmed from above creates an optical illusion, projected onto the scrim, turning the kids into scrambling superheroes with the power to leap and fly through the air. Their floor tower crumbles, and the boy at the highest point flaps his chicken wing arms to stay afloat above it all, before a new tower reforms and he takes his place at the top again.

The kids disperse and a phone rings. Ethan moves to pick up the handset of a Bakelite phone, although it takes a little while to get to it with the other performers in the way, and we enjoy lovely interactions as he finds a different way around each one before reading a monologue that answers many of our questions as the show begins: he sees the world differently, people see him differently; he leads a different life.

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When Ethan was four years old he was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (ASD). His mum, Johanna Wharton, wrote a book about his day-to-day life and this show brings to life Chelsea McGuffin’s imagining of those daily experiences.

…Ethan has been poked, prodded, analysed, attended three different schools. He is underweight, hearing impaired and has adult teeth arriving in all directions. Our household has been through screaming, squealing, squeezing, bouncing, obsessions, disappearances, sleepless years, diets, hospitals, surgeries and all things unexplainable and unidentifiable. But I do not want to tell those stories. Because between the lines is a little boy who is articulate, eccentric, expressive, engaging and brave.

Through his uniqueness he brings clarity to our complicated lives. He brings joy outside the limits of our routine and revelation that cannot be measured. Through his uniqueness he dispels our walls of safety. One day, I saw him mesmerized by the droplets of water dripping from the tap, and I decided to watch a droplet too… I was taken into his world…silent and magnified. Pure. It is the nature of something beautiful, wild, untamable, inspiring.

The show is a typically eclectic mix: balance acts, a pole act of strength and control to rival some adult performances, and an elegant aerial hoop routine set mysteriously in a corner of long white hanging pieces, which are pulled aside by the performers. Performers’ bodies become the floor for Ethan to walk across. The acts all involve Ethan to some extent. The kids clearly adore him.

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This is an amazing ensemble of young circus performers, a tight-knit team who obviously care for one another, and take Ethan under their collective wing. That safe space feels expansive – it’s very hard to stay in our seats and resist running down to jump and play in a mass of feathers, the glorious result of a pillow fight! Pre-recorded footage plays across the scrim, gorgeous, joyous images of the performers pillow fighting and laughing and living in the moment.

As Ethan rides a stationary bicycle centrestage we watch more stunning images, this time a beautifully created paper collage streetscape. The edges of this part of the world are torn and nothing looks quite as perfect as we might imagine – or remember – it to be. The action in front is fast-paced and hilarious, but the imagery has a nostalgic feel. We don’t make the connection between the bicycle and the images until after the show, when McGuffin assures me she will find a way to feature the pedal-powered projector in a future production. The ensemble run and race and leapfrog and tumble to keep up with Ethan on his bike, and take turns to catch up and jump up and strike precarious poses before the segment abruptly comes to an end, as if the director has suddenly shouted, “CUT!”. The kids shrug and smile and move into their next positions.

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I love the costumes, which are reversible: simple cotton frocks tied twice (at the back and front), which are flipped, turning the stark white into bright colours and bold patterns. After so much time spent in Ethan’s sphere, how could one not become this colourful?

But one girl wears a dress that is white on both sides – she’s confounded by the lack of colour when it comes time to reverse it – but it’s white for a purpose. We watch as she sits gingerly on the stool and plays the toy piano. It’s pink, and its cute plinks are the chords of the piece we’ve just heard in a musical routine involving a xylophone and eerie wine glasses. The kids paint her so that when she performs her aerial (tissue) act she leaves a rainbow on the fabric. The impact Ethan has on all their lives. The impact any child has on all our lives, but particularly of those who see the world as Ethan does, in tiny fragments of colour, magnified, magnificent.

Under the guidance of Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry, Flipside and Company 2 have discovered a perfect match of energies, minds and hearts. Kaleidoscope is a heartfelt exploration of seemingly random tiny moments, which exist for all of us, but are noticed by few.

 

Final performances today at 2pm and 7:30pm.