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Double Beat

Form Dance Projects. Director: Sara Black. Riverside Theatres.    May 5-7, 2022

Reviewed : 5 May, 2022*

Photo : Heidrun Löhr

Hearing the heartbeat of her son for the first time led choreographer Sara Black to what became Double Beat, a movement piece based around the different rhythms of beating hearts as they react to the pressures affecting the people whose bodies they charge.

Composer Alyx Dennison recorded the varying heart beats from nine people, combined them with the sounds of birds and wild life, and compiled them into a sound track that reflects the multitude of emotions and reactions that affect the human psyche and are mirrored physically in the changing rhythms of the heart.

To this incredible composition, Black worked with performers Isabel Estrella, Samantha Hines and Sophia Ndaba to create a performance that explores the “the aural and physical responses … to the tempo of our changing natural world”. Working together through the  Covid-19 lockdowns, they created a descriptive physical narration of the different ways the body reacts to both external and internal stimuli.

Photo : Heidrun Löhr

Using a multitude of movements, from erratic convulsive paroxysms to almost deathly stillness, they explore the range of human emotions and reactions. The calm of contentment, the fitfulness of fear, the immobility of acceptance – all are reflected in a complexity of choreography that excites and confuses, stimulates and, sometimes, perplexes.

Together the performers tell this physical story on a space side-lit by Veronica Bennet to create merging shadows that bring the dancers together, then set them apart as they react to sound – and to each other. At times they are alone, writhing in fear, at others they are together, wrapping around each other, then, suddenly, pushing away, retreating to a safer space, yet looking back … and reaching out – to each other, and their audience.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

*Opening Night

Things I Know To Be True

By Andrew Bovell. Theatre on Chester, Epping, NSW. Directed by Carla Moore. 22 April – 14 May, 2022.

Reviewed : 23 April, 2022

Photo : supplied

Things I Know to be True is a play about a family. An ordinary Australian family. It’s set in a suburb of Adelaide – but it could be in any suburb in any Australian city. Playwright Andrew Bovell understands ‘family’ – as did the actors with whom he worked as the idea for this play grew and flourished. They understood  about parents. How they work hard to support their kids, how they want them to succeed. They also knew about kids. How they try to be what their parents want; how they need to be true to themselves as well. They knew about secrets. The hurt that they can cause … but the need, sometimes to brave that hurt.

Bovell has captured all this in this beautiful play. Director Carla Moore describes it as “compassionate, tender … funny at times but also deeply moving”. She has chosen, in her production, to let it speak for itself. The play is realist. But Moore decided against a realist set. Rather she uses an empty stage framed by a lofty surrealist tree, its bare branches reaching into a clear sky, its myriad roots burrowing down, then encompassing the stage like the threads that connect a family and tie them tightly. Surreal too are the roses that symbolise the seasons in the year in which the play is set.

The Price family, however, is very real. Bob and Fran Price have worked hard all their lives, Bob in the automotive industry, Fran as a nurse. Bob took retrenchment when the manufacturing industry began to fold. Fran is still working at the local hospital. Their three eldest children have left home but they keep them close. Pippa is married with two kids. Bob picks them up after school. Mark lives alone after a long relationship ended unexpectedly. Ben works in a bank. Their youngest child, Rosie is on a ‘gap year’ in Europe.

It is her unexpected return that upsets the equilibrium in what appears to be happy, ordinary family.

Photo : supplied

Bob Price is played by Ian Boland, who finds the steadfastness of a man who has worked hard, paid his way, is loyal and supportive – but who is finding early retirement a little depressing. “Sometimes I find myself in the shed wondering what to do next,” he says. Boland’s Bob is down to earth, straight, trusting – and is ‘floored’ when that trust is betrayed.

Fran Price is more complex, and Julie Moore realises the multifaceted dimensions of the wife/mother/carer that Bovell created in Fran. Moore is a perceptive performer who portrays the drive that keeps pushing Fran through years of hard work … and disappointments. She is the backbone of the family and will support Bob and her kids in any way – but that burden that has worn her down and left her a little prickly. It would be easy to make this character too hard, but Moore shows the fraility under the surface.

Freya Moore takes on a major role as Rosie. It is Rosie who introduces the family in a long monologue – and Moore carries this task ably, finding the delicate humour in the lines as well as the emotional turmoil she describes to the audience. Because she is the catalyst to much of the action, Rosie spends a great deal of the play on stage, watching and listening, and Moore does both well. Her love for her family is clear in her reactions, her expressions – and the growth that she makes over the play’s year.

Photo : supplied

Georgia Britt is Pippa, the eldest child, a teacher, a working mum, who’s a little jaded with life – just like Fran, with whom she has a love-hate relationship. Britt finds both the strength and bitterness written into Pippa’s character, and how they have affected her relationships with the other members of the family, and the decisions she feels compelled to make.

Jordan Andrews plays Ben. Brash, ambitious, Fran’s favourite, Ben is an enigma in the family – and Andrews shows his pushy self-confidence, his brassy arrogance – and the brittleness that runs beneath.

Giani Leon is Mark, who sees himself as the black sheep of the family – something no one else realises. This is a difficult role and Leon finds the intensity – and  anguish – of the character in a performance that is touching and moving.

Things I know to be True is about the things family members don’t necessarily know to be true … about each other, about how they will react when they find out, and about what will bring them together. It is, as I said,  beautiful play. Carla Moore and her cast have uncovered all of its nuances and the delicate complexities of its characters.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

Leap

Neil Gooding Productions. (Packemin). Choreographer: Amy Campbell. Riverside Parramatta – 22-24, April 2022 – then touring NSW and Queenslan.

Reviewed : 22 April, 2022*

Photo : Grant Leslie Photography

It is Amy Campbell’s aim to make “art that entertains, enthrals and is accessible”. Leap is all of that and more. With Neil Gooding’s support, Campbell has ‘leapt’ into her imagination to create an exciting new production that surely achieves her aspiration.

Photo : Grant Leslie Photography

If “art” is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination in a visual form” (Oxford dictionary), then Campbell has expressed it strikingly. She has fused traditional and contemporary choreography with skilfully ‘re-imagined’ classical music, played live on a stage hung with multiple tendrils of silvery foliage under luminescent lighting that is colourfully atmospheric.

And if that sounds over effusive, I make no apologies, because Leap “enthrals” via the complexity of the choreography and the textural tempos of the music. Just as the Toccato that opens and closes the production shows the skill and dexterity of the composer, so Campbell has devised a suite that explores and exposes her own skill, and the talents and expertise of the performers.

Photo : Grant Leslie Photography

All ten dancers – Ashley Goh, Callum Mooney, Cassandra Merwood, Felicia Stavropoulos, Maikolo Fekitoa, Natalie Foti, Neven Connolly, Shontaya Smedley, Jervis Livelo and Ryan Ophel – are soloists in their own right, and they are given many opportunities to show that. But they also work together brilliantly in pairs or small groups, or as an ensemble, to tell the stories that Campbell and musical associate Victoria Falconer have synthesised into the intricate, composite piece of theatre that is Leap.

Photo : Grant Leslie Photography

Classical and contemporary dance can work together in so many ways, despite what ‘purists’ might say – see Hamilton, see the Australian Ballet’s next production Kunstkamer.  Both are dependent on symmetry and precision. Both reach specifically to the audience in their own way. Put them together to much loved music – Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, Debussy, Rimsky-Korsakov – that has been tweaked, re-envisaged then played by four modern virtuosos, and you have an exciting theatrical fusion of movement and sound that transcends traditional expectations, and is totally “accessible”.

Photo : Grant Leslie Photography

Add a dramatic set and a spectacular light show designed by Richard Neville of Mandylights, and the production becomes even more exhilarating. Imagine successive curtains of hanging cord threaded with pieces of silvery foil, shimmering and reflecting. Imagine them refracting the beams from multiple strips of coloured light angled above and behind. It’s hard to describe the real effect but it is breath-taking – and adds contour and counter-point to the movement.

This awe-inspiring production moves out of Parramatta after 4 days into a three month tour, taking the cast and musicians north along the NSW coast from Wyong to Grafton, then on to Queensland, culminating in a performance in Mackay on 2nd July.

What a great opportunity for audiences starved of live entertainment for two Covid-long years to see a production that literally sparkles in so many ways.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine.

*Opening Night

Tour details

      • Parramatta (NSW) – 22-24 April
      • Wyong (NSW) – 27-29 April
      • Newcastle (NSW) – 7-8 June
      • Port McQuarie (NSW) – 10 June
      • Grafton (NSW) – 14 June
      • Gold Coast (Qld)- 17-18 June
      • Sunshine Coast (Qld)- 22 June
      • Toowoomba (Qld) – 24 June
      • Maryborough (Qld) – 26 June
      • Bundaberg (Qld) – 28 June
      • Rockhampton (Qld)  – 30 June
      • Mackay (Qld) – 2 July

 

 

Circa

Circa. Theatre Royal, Sydney. 20-24 April, 2022

Reviewed : 20 April, 2022*

Photo : Andy Phillipson

Circa continues to extend circus beyond the ‘big top’. The thrills are still there – the amazing feats, the incredible strength and control – but Circa extends them and turns them into theatre. With this production it goes a little step further because Peepshow, as its name suggests, is just a little bit naughty and even quite cheeky! It’s cabaret on the move … and up in the air!

As well as the advertised “teetering towers of balanced bodies, extreme bending, beguiling burlesque, and devilishly precarious aerials”, Peepshow entertains on multiple planes! Under the direction of Yaron Lifschitz, it combines dance and circus in beguiling theatricality that thrills – and titillates.

Photo : Andy Phillipson

Lifschitz, billed as a “circus visionary”, has created a program that ventures into the bizarre extremes of burlesque. He has combined group acrobatics, hand flying, rope, balancing and tumbling, with clowning and contemporary dance, and creatively choreographed them to an eclectic range of music that varies the mood and determines the split edge continuity that is intrinsic to the production.

Discipline and concentration are vital to all performance work, especially circus. When that is combined with developing an intimately suggestive relationship with the audience, the demands on the performers are even more challenging. Each of the eight performers in this very complex piece of theatre meets that challenge with … flying colours! Every sequence, every routine is perfectly timed, each smoothly executed. Every contact with the audience is subtly defined, cunningly intimated – or cheekily flaunted!

Photo : website

For those who just expect the spectacle of the ‘high wire’, Peepshow goes far beyond expectations. Whilst it amazes as only the tightly controlled mastery of circus acrobatics can, it adds the cleverness of suggestive play that becomes risqué – even, perhaps to some, a little shocking! It mixes circus, dance and acting in a production that is breath-taking, diverting and even a little erotic.

Peepshow shines in every way. It sparkles in colourful sequins and shimmers before a silvery backdrop lit by multiple shadowy light effects. But most of all it radiates in the stunning feats of the incredibly fit, highly trained, and theatrically talented performers … and their imaginative director.

First published in Stagewhispers magazine.

*Opening Night

Cinderella

Victorian State Ballet. The Concourse, Chatswood. 9 -10 April, 2022

Reviewed : 10 April, 2022

Elise May Watson-Lord, Principal Artist, with Tynan Wood, Senior Artist, Victorian State Ballet.
Photographer: Danielle Brown.

Each year the Victorian State Ballet brings a production to Sydney for three performances. This year it was Cinderella, performed by a corps of 25 dancers – supported by 40 young dancers, chosen from over 70 aspiring local ballet students.

As part of their Youth Ballet program, the Victorian Ballet invites young NSW dancers to audition to participate in the production. Dancers from studios all over Sydney and beyond take part in auditions. This year 28 were chosen to play Cinderella’s fairy friends, and 12 were singled out to play the young Cinderella, the young stepsisters and the young prince at one or other of the three performances. What a great experience for young dancers! Apart from the thrill of performance, they learn new choreography, wear spectacular costumes, watch professional dancers in rehearsals and learn the special discipline of being part of a major ballet production.

Congratulations to Vic Ballet for the idea – and the extra organisation such an initiative takes. It is much appreciated by the ballet students – and by their parents whose pride is evident in every performance.

Choreographed by Michelle Cassar de Sierra to the original music composed  Sergei Prokofiev, and directed by Martin Sierra, the ballet follows the fairy tale Cinderella’s nasty treatment at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. After their refusal to let her attend the ball, her fairy godmother intervenes, providing her with a ball dress, silver slippers and access to the ball where she meets the prince. Unfortunately, she has to leave at twelve and loses one of her slippers which the prince finds and uses in his search for the young woman with whom he has fallen in love.

It’s a well-known old story and the music allows for some beautiful dance sequences – as well as some funny behaviour by the petulant step sisters. In the Sunday afternoon performance, Cinderella was performed by the very elegant Elise May Watson-Lord, with her Prince played by Tynan Wood. Both danced with great poise and dignity, perfectly executing leaps, lifts and pirouettes .

Her stepmother was Sera Schuller who danced – and acted – with similar assurance and character. Elise Jacques and Lucinda Worthington-Shore were cheekily bewitching as the stepsisters. Both are accomplished dancers who can also act, difficult when the acting involves having to pretend to dance ‘badly’ as well.

As always, the costumes were stunning, especially the elegant ball gowns, where the drape of circular skirts contrasted with the tulle of the fairies. Another contrast was the choreography of the “clock” sequence where, under red lights, the movements became mechanical and brisk.

These productions are wonderful opportunities for ballet lovers, young and old, to see productions a little closer to home at a reasonable cost.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

Nearer The Gods

By David Williamson. Ensemble Theatre. March 4 – April 23, 2022

Seen 9 April, 2022

 

Photo : Prudence Upton

Not reviewed by Carol. Earlier review by Martin Portus available in Stage Whispers magazine.