Posts Tagged ‘richard grantham

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

 

03
Sep
17

DUSK

 

DUSK

Restrung 2017: The Viola Cloning Project & Zen Zen Zo

Restrung Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

Saturday August 19 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

DUSK is the third collaboration between renowned Australian composer and improviser Richard Grantham (aka The Viola Cloning Project) and leading contemporary performance company, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre.

 

DUSK is an exploration of the liminal, the space between, the threshold which facilitates transformation. The dancers move like shamans or spirit walkers between the light and dark, life and death, music and silence, weaving a shadowy web through the bitter-sweet original score of Richard Grantham’s live looped performance.

 

I’m becoming more and more familiar with Zen Zen Zo’s work from the inside. I’m completing my masters this year with founder and Co-Artistic Director, Dr Lynne Bradley, and training weekly with the company. A small group from the masters course recently spent time in Japan with Lynne to train and perform with Akaji Maro’s acclaimed butoh company, Dairakudakan, and we came back to experience DUSK.

 

A close collaboration for Restrung Festival with the extraordinary composer and performer, Richard Grantham, DUSK features original music and movement to lull the senses and at the same time, heighten the live experience. Grantham’s compositions are built from looped layers over melodic drones. From a basic viola line, the increasing complexity is deceptive; it’s such easy, meditative music to listen to, to dream to…

 

Having spent the best part of the last decade performing and touring with a multitude of bands, Grantham has become an adept improviser upon a large number of stringed, keyed and woodwind instruments. The loop recorder and other effects pedals turn his customised five-string carbon-fibre viola into a one-man string and percussion orchestra.

 

Grantham also sings into the viola, or across it, creating a mesmerising, ancient effect, not unlike spiritual singer, Sheila Chandra (now mute), bringing the piece to an intoxicating conclusion, which at both performances held the audience in silent reverie for the longest moment before thunderous applause, with many up standing.

 

Lynne was thrilled to work once again with Grantham. She told me, “This is my third time collaborating with the amazingly talented Richard Grantham. He is such a joy – huge talent, small ego, and willing to try anything! His openness and willingness to explore experimental contemporary performance modalities make him the perfect creative collaborator.”

 

The challenge for Lynne’s performers in this production was to stay in “minor” and allow Grantham the spotlight. Indeed, our focus at first appears to be on Grantham, but our eyes are naturally drawn to movement and it’s the dance of the four we mainly follow, as they meld in and out of the light, the shadows, and the haze; evocative states that have been sensitively and imaginatively realised by Simon Woods, while Grantham remains front and centre, beneath shades of white, on a raised dais for the duration.

 

 

The dancers are primordial, curled and rolling into the stage space from the wings. Unfurling, they gradually come to standing, demonstrating superb control and focus, which their (Suzuki and butoh) training brings. Their body stockings barely visible, we notice intricate vines of delicate blossoms winding around the bodies. When they step into Kaylee Gannaway’s luscious red full circle skirts, there is palpable excitement, because anyone who’s seen Zen Zen Zo’s In the Company of Shadows will know the joy of anticipation preceding Sufi whirling, to which these skirts are so well suited. I was terrified to try it, but to finish my first ever training session with the company we whirled for 25 minutes! The sensation was a long-lost memory of a feeling from childhood, spinning in the tall grass beyond the back yard, with arms outstretched until we fell down dizzy and giggling and crying out, “Again, again, again!” Throughout DUSK the dancers retain this sense of joyful abandonment, and also offer a sense of immense peace and calm, and quiet contemplation.

 

“I invited four of my favourite performers to appear in DUSK,” Lynne explains; “long-term collaborator Jamie Kendall, Travis Weiner, Gina Tay Limpus and Aurora Liddle-Christie. Their stage presence is mesmerising – I never fail to be profoundly moved watching them dance.” She says, “I can only equate it to the sensation of falling into a well which travels deep inside the earth – their connection to profundity is palpable.”

 

 

Their connection to profundity earns our complete commitment to the performance, regardless of whatever it was we might have been expecting. A loyal Zen Zen Zo fan might be surprised to see less of the grotesque, which is a bit of a butoh trademark and one that is embraced by the company. But this is not that show. These gentle shadows offer a chance to pause and reflect on the quietude that escapes us on a daily basis. DUSK is a meditation; a contemplation and a chance to dismiss the noise.

 

DUSK is as simple and wondrous as the sun setting over the sea; it’s so beautifully realised, and exquisitely delivered by Grantham and Zen Zen Zo, and it gives us a sense that there is something more to life, something other-worldly; a precious in-between… If only we can come to a stop and allow ourselves to be immersed in the magic, if only from time to time, if only for a little while.