Posts Tagged ‘iain grandage

11
Apr
18

Alchemy

 

Alchemy

Zen Zen Zo & Festival 2018

Southbank Cultural Forecourt

April 5 – 8 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

ALCHEMY is the fourth collaboration between renowned Australian composer/musician Richard Grantham and leading contemporary performance company, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre. ALCHEMY is an exploration of the ancient process of transforming base metal into gold. A potent metaphor for the Commonwealth Games, ALCHEMY celebrates the journey towards realizing our full potential, and the power of transformation. The dancers move like shamans or spirit walkers along the path, weaving their way through the inspirational soundtrack, until they finally “spin out of nothingness scattering stars like dust” in the dramatic climax. This is a moving performance work that is a meditative homage to the long passage towards greatness.

 

The highlight of Brisbane’s Festival 2018 – a performing arts program staged at Southbank Cultural Forecourt to coincide with the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – was Alchemy, a little show with a lasting impact, bringing butoh back to Brisbane.

 

Zen Zen Zo’s ALCHEMY brings our imagination and our senses to life, melding startlingly original live music – a living, breathing, beating-heart score – and ancient movement to stir our souls, light our hearts and transform our view of ourselves in the world.

 

 

Alchemy is a stunning sensory contemporary performance showcasing Zen Zen Zo’s unique brand of movement and original live music to create a world in which audiences feel free to lose themselves in wonder, and linger in a soulful, joyful experience long after the lights have gone down.

 

Undergoing some transformation themselves, the company has focused on the training arm of the business for a number of years, and also on developing new projects including taking to New Zealand for the first time, their renowned rigorous actor training residency, Stomping Ground, and reconfiguring their popular internship program for inclusion in the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Master of Professional Practice (Performing Arts)

 

This production boasts a current student of the course and two graduates from the inaugural year in 2017 (and this review is written by another!), further testament to Lynne Bradley’s proven track record of training and mentoring multi-skilled performing artists of the highest calibre in this country and overseas. 

 

USC would do well to start shouting about their Masters courses in Performing Arts and Creative Writing

 

 

Alchemy sees a continuation of the collaborative relationship between Zen Zen Zo and composer/musician, Richard Grantham, and brings on board another couple of gifted Australian composers in Iain Grandage (When Time Stops, With Love and Fury, The Rabbits, The Secret River) and the Sunshine Coast’s Joshua Curtis.

 

While DUSK had a festival audience entranced during its meditative moments, Alchemy lures with more potent force an entirely new crowd to its cross-cultural open-air experience, fusing traditional butoh and contemporary classical music by way of an original composition, and a compelling performance by Curtis.

 

With the addition of Grantham’s viola crying and lilting and lifting its exquisite voice, the bold essence of this work takes us beyond ordinary and into ecstasy before we’re released and dropped gently back into a more contemplative place. Incredibly sensual and cinematic in some of its transitions, the music resulting from this meeting of minds is a truly evocative gift. Even re-reading, it sounds as if I’m overstating the fact…until you’ve heard it. And you’ve not heard anything like it since the pairing of Aaron Hopper and Kacey Patrick-Bare AKA Stringmansassy (Aaron’s stunning solo album is available on iTunes).

 

 

But first, without a sound, other than the murmurs of the audience members as they – the children first, always the children first – look up to take in white painted performers in lush costumes of red and silver layered robes (designed by Bill Haycock) and red full-circle skirts beneath (designed by Kaylee Gannaway, who very kindly made me a black one for opening nights…and for twirling), the performers, elegant and other-worldly, slow-walk to take up positions against the city lights and the ever-changing Brisbane River.

 

While this is a perfectly picturesque backdrop for a 20-minute public performance as part of a larger event, the open-air venue is less than ideal. Performance spaces placed too closely together left techies with little control over the sound bleeding from multiple stages, resulting in competing productions rather than a program of complementary and perfectly timed events to be seen and appreciated as separate entities.

 

With so many years of successful Brisbane Festival outdoor staging inside the same perimeter, you’d think there’d be enough experience on the ground to avoid any rookie errors. But the opening night performance was unable to go ahead due to the sound from the nearby Orbit Stage drowning out Alchemy’s soundtrack and thus, the performers’ cues, and adding insult to injury, show times throughout the weekend were continuously updated in a last-ditch effort to solve the problem. It’s actually amazing that anyone at all found themselves in the right place at the right time to experience Alchemy.

 

If you missed it (or if you saw it and loved it), get onto the company’s Facebook page or send an email and demand its return. There’s nothing quite like a return season by popular demand! While you’re at it, demand that it also comes to Ocean Street and NOOSA alive! (The only footage available for the moment is embedded below, a sneak peek at rehearsal, very brightly lit!).

 

It’s interesting to note that during the process, a question arose around the “pop-up” nature of the work, with the assumption perhaps that a public performance would be (should be?) light and funny. Hmmm… The company’s Artistic Director and director of this production, Lynne Bradley, responded, “We do do comedy, but everything we do is attempting to dig deeper, not flit across the surface of life.”

 

Indeed, the performers resist flitting and move fluidly, like liquid gold, with Gina Limpus contributing warm vocal harmonies to complement Curtis’s early melody before joining other accomplished physical performers, Travis Wesley and Jamie Kendall, in an extended sequence of the fluttering (fluttering being vastly different to flitting), floating, falling, rising and twirling that had us entranced during DUSK, as well as sharper, more angular and deeply grounded gesture. Limpus is captivating and not just because she’s front and centre, holds the audience gaze with ease.

 

WE COME SPINNING OUT OF NOTHINGNESS

SCATTERING STARS

LIKE DUST.

RUMI.

 

Zen Zen Zo’s signature performance style begs us to respond emotionally rather than letting us off the hook with an easy narrative. When asked about this type of very visceral contemporary performance, we’re likely to respond with “It was beautiful!” or “It was amazing!” or “It was so moving…” without being able to explain exactly what it was about. The intention is not to offer just one hero’s story with its happy ending but to inspire and slightly – or deeply – unsettle, urging us to look inwards and to consider our own stories, recognising which of those are limiting or damaging, and which will help us not only to survive in this world of overload, but to thrive and find our way to gold. 

 

 

Images by XS Entertainment

#iPhoneonly

 

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23
May
16

When Time Stops: Director’s Cut

 

When Time Stops: Director’s Cut

QPAC & Expressions Dance Company

QPAC Playhouse

May 20–28 2016

Reviewed by Ruth Ridgway

Natalie Weir's When Time Stops. Image by Chris Herzfeld. Image shows EDC full company with Camerata of St John's

The dancers’ commitment and trust bring new energy and vision to the work. They are responsible for bringing it to life. It belongs to them.

Natalie Weir, Artistic Director, Expressions Dance Company

 

When Time Stops is intense, moving, and beautiful. In a series of impressionistic scenes, a dying woman re-experiences significant events in her life, and says goodbye, finally moving into another realm and accepting her inevitable death.

 

In this 2016 restaging of When Time Stops, Expressions’ Artistic Director Natalie Weir has made some changes, and has refreshed the work in collaboration with new and former cast members. The original 2013 version was powerful – this one even more so.

The music, composed specifically for this work by Iain Grandage, won a 2014 Helpmann Award for Best Original Score. It creates a dark, rich string sound, with poignant solos for cello and violin.

The live performance by the string players of the Camerata of St John’s is spellbinding. Dressed in black and with bare feet, the twelve musicians play from memory, moving on and offstage and in among the dancers, sometimes enclosing them in lines. Outnumbering the dancers, they are visually striking, but not overpowering.

The overriding impression of the dancers is of fearless strength and unrestrained emotional expression.

Michelle Barnett as the Woman excels in her first leading role with Expressions. It is a demanding performance, physically and emotionally, requiring a great expressive range. Barnett sweeps us along with her, and her final acquiescence, as the light shining on her face dims, is a wrenching moment.

A constant reminder of death and the crossing into another world is the archetypal Ferryman (guest dancer Thomas Gundry Greenfield), who waits to take the woman on her final journey. For much of the time, he sits in the background in his boat, rowing, and facing away from the audience.

Gundry Greenfield’s muscularity, combined with slow, controlled movement, and his watchful, ominous presence, make the Ferryman a dominant figure, at times pulling the Woman towards death, and at other times repelling her or trying to prolong her life.

In the section ‘Time’, guest dancer Xiao Zhiren (Guangdong Modern Dance Company) recreates the solo originally performed by Daryl Brandwood. Flexible and fluid, he is a worthy successor to Brandwood, twisting his body impossibly and recovering effortlessly.

Natalie Weir's When Time Stops. Image by Chris Herzfeld. Image shows Rebecca Hall_low res

The Woman alternates between observing her younger self, played by other dancers, and reliving her own experiences. In ‘First Kiss’, Rebecca Hall and Benjamin Chapman capture the joy and tenderness of a youthful love affair, the movement exultant, with lifts whirling through the air.

Barnett is partnered by guest dancer Jake McLarnon in ‘Knocked Sideways’, the evocation of a violent and dysfunctional relationship, where Barnett is flung and wrenched through acrobatic movement. In this role, McLarnon creates a character with a convincingly cold and threatening presence.

Showing great expressivity and strength, Cloudia Elder features in ‘Scan’, at first pressed against a large panel of light, and then moving away to convey fear, disbelief and despair.

Following ‘Scan’, the Woman relives her reaction to the news about her illness. As if one person can’t contain the enormity of it, McLarnon and Chapman partner Barnett in expressing her rage and grief through uninhibited movement.

The mood changes in the elegiac ‘Last Kiss’, where the Woman farewells a friend (Xiao Zhiren). In this gentler duo, Zhiren and Barnett match each other in expressing a sense of loss, nostalgia, yearning and compassion, taking it in turns to carry each other.

In the ‘Cardiac’ scene, Elise May recreates the Woman’s final struggle for life. The Ferryman, this time in the guise of a rescuer, administers chest compressions to try and resuscitate her. Barnett is watching, as if the Woman’s spirit is already separated from her body.

May is a very powerful performer, completely sublimating movement into emotion. Her sudden coughing and choking in the Woman’s death throes seem incongruous, however, as none of the dancers have previously vocalised in any way. This breaks the intensity of the performance.

Bill Haycock’s design for the show gives an effect of elemental simplicity, with walls of a tilted room, and projected images of clouds, and stars in a night sky. The lighting by David Walters is often muted, and pierced by shafts of light from a tall, narrow doorway. The dancers’ costumes (calf-length dresses for the women, and long pants and loose shirts for the men) are in neutral light shades, apart from Barnett’s, which is black.

After the show and the extended applause, the audience was still so wrapped up in the performance that they stayed in their seats briefly, and moved out of the theatre slowly, talking about the experience. You know it has been a great night in the theatre when this happens.

When Time Stops is on until Saturday 28 May at the Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Book here

21
Mar
16

The Rabbits

 

The Rabbits

An Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company co-production in association with West Australian Opera.

Commissioned by Perth International Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival.

QPAC

QPAC Playhouse

March 16 – 20 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved

‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

The rabbits came many grandparents ago…

What an extraordinary experience, to be offered a taste of The Rabbits during APAM (we saw a delicious 20-minute excerpt), and then be treated to the entire visual and aural feast last week on Opening Night. Commissioned by Perth International Arts Festival and Melbourne Festival, Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company assembled some of Australia’s finest talent to create a stage adaptation of John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s picture book (open-hearted Adaptation and Direction by John Sheedy). This is a multi-award winning genre-defying production featuring a detailed score by Kate Miller-Heidke, additional music and arrangements by Iain Grandage, and libretto by Lally Katz. Rachael Maza has been instrumental as Indigenous Consultant. It doesn’t disappoint. However, unlike The Secret River, which also features magnificent music by Grandage, musical direction by Isaac Hayward and a heavy, heavy tale of the displacement and mistreatment of our Indigenous people, The Rabbits feels less optimistic. Poppy, who is nine and so smart, disagrees. She says,

We hear the bird calls in the beginning, and the bird calls at the end sound like we can sort it out. We can have our little piece of nature and they can have theirs. Even better, we can try harder to share the land. And the water. And the sky. In the end everything belongs to no one and everyone. We all live here together now.

the-rabbits-11-2015-jeff-busby-highres

Hollie Andrew who plays Coda, the marsupial who sings The Kite Song when the children are taken away, told Elissa Blake, “My mother was adopted so we don’t know where we are from,” she says. “I don’t know who my people are. So I’m singing on behalf of my ancestors in a lot of ways. I imagine my ancestors are calling out to me. I absolutely dig into it. It’s been a gift as an actor. It’s pretty raw but it’s healed me in a lot of ways, too.

“I love that this show says what has happened and then poses the question, ‘where do we go from here?'” Andrew says. “We need to own what has happened and together find a way to move forward. That’s the beauty of this story.” The story unsettles us and The Kite Song breaks our hearts; it’s devastating and we ache… 

I ache, I ache, I ache inside

the-rabbits-02-2015-toni-wilkinson-high-res

We ache as Kate Miller-Heidke mourns the loss of the children, wailing and calling to all the people and ancestors and spirits and spirit animals ever, everywhere. Her grief is exquisite, something we can never (should never) un-hear. She’s the all-seeing Bird, witness to events and narrator of our tragic tale. Resplendent in white and delicate feathers, glistening with the sky and the stars and the sea and the bright eyes of the whole world, from her central vantage point high above the land, she looks over its inhabitants without the power to put a stop to the desolation brought by the rabbits. Her voice is pure, ethereal, electrical. It has the power to permeate and affect, deeply, audiences of all ages and political persuasions. The only other performer in this country with the gift to bewitch us with her voice in this way is Katie Noonan, and I’d love to see her sing this role too. (We say hi to Katie on our way out of the Playhouse but we have to cut the conversation short in order to honour our commitment to another opening night around the corner…).

The band is slick, though slightly (and suitably) dishevelled, and quite fun, at times in good spirits and at times more sombre as the story dictates, comprising Isaac Hayward (MD and cello, piano & piano accordion), Rob Mattesi (trumpet), Keir Nuttall (guitar and electronics), Stephanie Zarka (bass and tuba). They’re front and centre when a false fire alarm stops the show at the forty minute mark and we wonder if we’ll see the end of it before having to get up and go. The cast and musicians collect themselves after the curtain fails to drop completely, and they resume the show some minutes later. It’s a live-theatre-thing, a reminder that anything can happen, giving us time to cringe for a bit longer after the bawdy pub song, Hop Hop Hooray! 

'The Rabbits' Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia - 2015 Production - 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 - All Rights Reserved

‘The Rabbits’ Barking Gecko Theatre Company / Opera Australia – 2015 Production – 10th February 2015 / Photography © Jon Green 2015 – All Rights Reserved

The rabbits are bombastic, very British, Gilbert & Sullivan style operatic singers, each with his own quirky personality. (Kaneen Breen as the Scientist is especially memorable). The marsupials on the other hand, are grounded contemporary music theatre/pop vocalists (I’d love to hear more from Marcus Corowa); they remind me stylistically of The Lion King and Disney generally. Friends tell me after the show that this combination isn’t their favourite aspect of the production but I like the stark contrast, and I can appreciate that it’s part of the strategy now, whether or not it was originally intended as such, to draw a more diverse audience.

rabbits4

Visually too, it’s a stark and sumptuous production, beautifully conveying the essence of this great Southern land, its creatures, its colours, its textures, its heat, and all its hope and hopelessness. The production looks enough like the pages of the book to satisfy fans of Tan’s original illustrations, and yet it’s not so immense and grotesque as to frighten..the children. If we’re honest – and we are – I still find the original illustrations quite frightening. (Designer Gabriela Tylesova, Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest, Sound Designer Michael Waters). The final image particularly has me holding my breath, desperate for the marsupial and the rabbit to step across – or around – the reflecting pool to embrace one another, or grasp each other’s hands or something but I know they’ll stay on opposite sides, staring at their own reflections, because it’s the final awful (hopeful?) image from the book.

The Rabbits, in story and style, is truly for all people. If only we can learn from this rich and challenging sixty-minute tale, and from so many more, and move forward together, hand in hand. This feeling, long after the curtain has properly come down, is the power of theatre, of storytelling, and why our stories must be told and treasured, and questioned, and told again and again.

Who will save us from the rabbits?

the_rabbits_16_event

Comments on (the book) The Rabbits 

The parallels with a real history of colonisation in Australia and around the world are obvious, and based on detailed research, in spite of the overt surrealism of the imagery and the absence of direct references. It was named Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council, which in part generated some controversy due to it’s confronting themes, and was attacked on several occasions for being ‘politically correct propaganda’, but only by right wing conservatives of course. In spite of this (or because of it), the book went on to win numerous awards in Australia, the US and UK, and is studied widely in secondary schools. It would seem that some of my concepts and designs were unacknowledged inspiration for a section of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, although I’ve never been able to find out if this is true.

One reason for the initial controversy is that The Rabbits is a picture book, and therefore thought to be children’s literature, and wrongly assumed to be didactic, whereas it had been originally conceived as a book for older readers, and generally difficult to categorise. Some children may get a lot out of it, but generally it defies most picture book conventions and is not necessarily a good choice for pleasant bedtime reading!




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