[20060094] Leningrad Symphony

Leningrad Symphony

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Sun 19 Mar 2006

And so to the end of the Festival. I sat in one of the Festival Theatre’s coffee venues in my “fuck the norm” orange board shorts, chatting to various people and watching the suits and evening gowns roll up for the traditional closing event. Proud, happy, and sneering, as is my wont. Still, our seats – at the front edge of the dress circle – were fabulous, allowing a wonderful elevated view of the ASO and the video screens behind them.

Ah yes, the video screens. Much had been written about the multimedia nature of this performance, with visual “performer” Tim Gruchy receiving second billing behind the ASO’s conductor, Arvo Volmer. Gruchy – apparently – created live visuals during the performance, projected onto three huge screens.


The music was absolutely wonderful, especially the first movement – building from tiny violin plucks, gently adding in more string plucking & snare drum, gradually buidling to a huge military-esque crescendo. Fantastic stuff throughout.

As for the vaunted video – it was distracting and far from beautiful. Red and black swirls, superimposed on maps, dissolving to reveal skulls and swastika… topical to the piece in content, maybe, but certainly not feel. Instinctively, the bitter rabble-rouser in me would say “the performance would have been better off without it”; time appears to temper anger, however, and it was easy enough to ignore the screens at the time. Just stop talking this VJ bollocks up, please… unless you can do it right.

Despite the dodgy visuals, there was a great finish – to both the Symphony, the Festival, and FF2006. We walked home happy, anyway, high on musical delight and giggling at some of the ludicrous images used.

Ah, maybe that was the point.

[20060093] Nemesis


Random Dance @ The Playhouse

5:00pm, Sun 19 Mar 2006

“Are there any programs for this production?” I asked the woman at the information booth as I entered the building. “No,” she replied, “The person responsible for them hasn’t showed up yet.”

Oh dear. Not an auspicious start; and after the warm fuzzies that I got from Not As Others, I have to admit I didn’t really expect much… but nor did I want the fuzzies to end. Thankfully, after the lights dropped, the music man fired up a pleasing electronica beat, and two performers strolled into a tiny strip of light. Their dance was all pose and fall, pose and fall – the other catching, a very co-dependent jig. Gradually, in twos and threes, the whole troupe get involved in the style.

It’s stunning – all the performers are wearing very brief shorts (and shirts, you pervs)… but the important thing is that their legs are all exposed. You can see every muscle tense and work as they pose, stretch, fall, catch, leap, prance; the muscles in the body are performing a dance within a dance. And the piece grows to a stunning crescendo with dancers mimicking each other in groups of two or three; suddenly a dancer will drop out of one group to join another… it’s a veritable feast for the eyes. Fantastic.

The problem is that, once that climax had been reached, the performance continued.

If they’d just called it quits at that point, I would’ve looked at my watch, thought “hmmm, $40 for 30 minutes… but they were 30 quality minutes.”

But they didn’t. They came back on-stage. Wearing some sort of extendable arm extension thingy that apparently was designed in conjunction with Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop. And those thingies were neat for all of 30 seconds. Yes, the dancers could look like insects; but the movement – you know, the dance – got seriously dull at this point.

Throughout, the video backdrop was pointless and distracting. And, although one can pontificate and marvel at the merging of the organic and the mechanical to create a new strain of augmented movement, one can also counter that the mechanical actually restricted that which makes dance such a wonderful spectacle – the grace of human movement. Devolution investigated the biomechanical far more comprehensively and still made for dull viewing.

And that’s the biggest failing of Nemesis; the opening 30 minutes were so very good, and the rest of the performance was so very… not. This bleak contrast is actually far more memorable than the excellent beginning of the piece, which is sad. I’d much rather remember the movement than the disappointment.

[20060086] Talvin Singh – Tabtek

Talvin Singh – Tabtek

Talvin Singh @ Thebarton Theatre

9:00pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006

The Festival mob seemed to be ultra-chuffed to be able to present Talvin Singh, bigging up his Australian premiere wherever possible. “Internationally regarded cult DJ,” they claimed; “spectacular audio and visual set.” Given that I know nowt of the international DJ scene (or even the national or local DJ scenes, for that matter), this was always going to be a risky performance for me. So, how did the evening pan out?

The crowd is an interesting mix; Festival Regulars (definitely in the minority) mixed with The Kids who know of Singh’s work. A bunch of The Kids are in front of my Row K position… though Row J looked hopelessly under-filled. Comps, maybe? No matter; overall, the Festival would have to have been happy with the turnout at Thebby Theatre.

My neighbour (a Festival Regular, and self-professed tabla guru) asks “Do you think this will be traditional, or modern?” I look at the stage – two leather lounge chairs (a la Ota), Mac PowerBook amid a rack of electronic goodies, an array of synths, and percussive hitty things. And the tabla, he points out, at the right-hand-side of the stage… a stage dominated by technology.

I feared my neighbour would be leaving early.

Singh’s cohorts come onstage first to lay down some soothing ambient backing tunage. Keys and samples, and presumably visuals, are covered by two chaps on keys & PowerBooks. The samples sound crackly at times – not overdriven, just poor quality… surprise number one. Surprise number two was the fact that the visuals, crap as they were, weren’t even being generated live… which I though was almost a pre-requisite for a show such as this.

Anyhoo, eventually Singh arrives and the beats kick in – and things take a turn for the better. Drumming away on various sample-laden pads, before moving onto the tabla. The tempo lifts, and the bass-heavy nature of the percussion means that the music becomes a blur that you can feel through your feet. Singh’s tabla playing is great – he seems to eke out rhythms that you’d hardly believe were possible with just two hands.

Despite the troubled opening, after half-an-hour I was feeling pretty chuffed with Tabtek; it had evolved into a complex and intelligent collaboration of traditional percussion and modern technology. However, things took another turn – for the worse – when the three guys onstage were joined by a woman. Her presence was required to repetitively whisper three words – as opposed to “sing” – into a microphone, and dance. And I use the term “dance” loosely; starry-eyed stoner-drone wobbling would be a more appropriate description.

Then the production team start tinkering with echo effects on the tabla mikes – ewwwww. The samples get even more fractured and broken. The delay introduced into the live video feed created a distance between myself and the performers. And then the accompaniment leaves the stage, leaving Singh alone at the tabla… hopes rise for something special as he launches into a tabla solo that lasted at least 25 minutes. And, typical of the entire performance, the first third was great. Unfortunately, the second third invoked feelings of “yeah, we get the idea”, and the final third is best described as “shut the fuck up already.”

It’s a twenty-five minute drum solo, for Christ’s sake. What the hell was I thinking?

The last segment was just plain shit – atonal, devoid of rhythm, disappointing.

So, let’s summarise: there was some nice ambient stuff, some great beats, some crap samples, shithouse “special visuals”, and a lot of tabla. It started late and finished early. And, despite the good bits, it just felt like a bunch of chums gathered onstage to engage in a little bit of navel-gazing knob-twiddling whilst searching for the Brown Note.

And that, to me, does not make a good performance.

My neighbour, perhaps annoyed by the prevalence of technology early on, *did* leave just before Singh’s massive solo. Initially, I felt sorry that he missed the bit he had probably most wanted to see; by the end, I envied him.

[20060084] Nora (A Doll’s House)

Nora (A Doll’s House)

Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

2:00pm, Fri 17 Mar 2006

More was written about Nora, methinks, than any other Festival show – maybe because of the controversy surrounding the original work. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was, upon release in 1879, one of the first public works to admonish a woman leaving her husband… commonplace now, maybe, but scandalous back in the day. As such, the work is seen as an important piece of early feminist art.

The set is, frankly, sensational; pride-of-place is given to an enormous fish-tank. Though it initially reminded me of an Ikea kit-home – all oblique and semi-deco – it really comes into its own between scenes. As the entire set rotates, it reveals some surprising sight-lines to the audience – there’s a strange delight in being able to see people remove & replace things from the closet, to see people enter and leave the house. Audio support is, likewise, wonderful – as we await the arrival of the characters on-stage, two thick notes set an apprehensive atmosphere, eventually giving way to lounge music over which the domesticity of the initial scenes appears. There’s soft, subtle background static that creates a creepy atmosphere. It’s all very sonically lush.

The casting is excellent – even the children – and much has been written of Anne Tismer’s role as Nora… and with good cause. She owns the stage whenever she walks it, is utterly believable, and looks damn good dressed up as Lara Croft. But her character is deeply intelligent, and deeply unsatisfied with her role as a trophy wife; contrast this with the (lack of) character integrity with her husband Torvald’s blasé attitude towards the death of his friend, Dr Rank.

It seems German arts scene is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, using absurdist physical theatre to try and bring the crowds back to the theatres. Oddly enough, I spied the above-linked article in The Australian mere days before seeing Nora, so I wasn’t disturbed in the least when the stage burst forth with an audience-bending strobe-driven high-octane BPM-fest between scenes. Unfazed by the orange beverages turning bright blue. Worried not by the vomiting, the spitting, the over-acted physicality. Nonplussed by the dunking of a body in a fish-tank with the poor little goldfish. And only startled, not surprised, by director Thomas Ostermeier’s “radical” new ending.

What did surprise me, however, was just how German it felt. Blunt, overt direction. Nora’s sluttiness feeling like an average Harry S. Morgan porn film. The attempted reconciliation. And how desperately un-sexy German is as a language.

My SO – and many, many others – loved Nora; I felt a little more detached from it, though I can’t quite figure out why. My ramblings above seem to paint an enthusiastic picture; I loved the opening (which instantly made me feel like it was Christmas Eve); and there were some facets that were supremely interesting to me (what in the original German script translates to “lagubrious”, for example?) So I’m at a loss to explain why I came away somewhat unengaged. But at its heart, Nora remains true to the political tendencies of the original work. Yes, there’s a sting in the tail, but one assumes that’s only there to maintain the shock behind Ibsen’s intent.

[20060075] The Forsythe Company – Three Atmospheric Studies

The Forsythe Company – Three Atmospheric Studies

The Forsythe Company @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Tue 14 Mar 2006

After being so disappointed with Devolution – and so envigorated by Stau – I was unsure what the Festival’s dance program was going to serve up for this piece. William Forsythe (in all the references I could find) is lauded as being at the forefront of contemporary ballet; oh look, the C-word! “C” implies a lucky dip, at the best of times. Thankfully, Three Atmospheric Studies provided a very pleasant surprise.

It’s a three-act piece derived from the impact of two images upon Forsythe – one a photo of an Iraqi policeman carrying the dead body of a young man, his mother grieving in the background; the other a Crucifixion-inspired painting, with – as Leigh Warren so perfectly described – another grief-stricken mother whose son has been sacrificed. One a raw depiction, the other a synthetic concoction – but both depicting the same emotion. Different textures, same message.

The “story” associated with the performance starts with the arrest of a young man in Act I. This piece is reminiscent of Rosas’ Drumming – it’s a dynamic cacophony of movement, with the ensemble of 12+ dancers running, panting, sweating, grabbing, clutching, falling into each other. It feels desperate, urgent, violent; at times it’s a rabble, at times it’s a vogue-fest, but there’s something there that reminds you that it’s choreographed. Maybe it’s the pregnant pauses, the looks across the stage (which is completely open in this Act, stretching waaaaaaay back into the theatre), before one slaps the floor heavily, launching into the next movement. The only noise accompanying the movement is that emitted by the dancers – Forsythe’s “breath score”.

Suddenly, we’re into Act II; the dancers (each simply clad, identifiable by their uniquely-coloured shirts) make way for the stage crew who, armed with set walls, power drills, and a single long piece of string, create the set right before our eyes (a dance in itself). Here we see the arrested man’s mother plead her son’s case through an interpreter; it’s a theatrical, dialog-heavy piece that’s almost free of movement – certainly not your typical blank-expression ballet. It’s a troubling performance, as the woman struggles just to communicate with her liaise. As her frustration and rage increases, so does the tempo of delivery – and suddenly a threshold is reached, and her speech morphs into some kind of discordant Lynchian broken dialog… utterly, utterly disturbing.

And even more suddenly, there’s an interval. Bewildered looks, nervous smiles; an uncomfortable audience.


Act III is off to an odd start; another set has been assembled, and the colourful ensemble is back, alternately reprising their style from Act I, then languishing at the edge of the stage. There’s a wireless microphone or two amongst the group, occasionally passed from person to person; it’s heavily treated so that the gutteral noises that are barked into it by the dancers reach us as weird, phasey punches. The walls of the set, too, are miked up; as performers enter the set, throwing the door shut behind them, the booming slam shudders through the audience. Again, it’s just plain disturbing. The woman from Act II is informed that her son is dead; as she grieves, a character monotones a coolly analytical view of human carnage. The dancers slow somewhat; a few act as puppeteers for others.

At the end of the day, it’s kind of difficult to describe this as dance… well, as dance as the vast populace would identify with. Then again, I’ll happily profess complete ignorance of the medium; but the Festival always seems to present pieces that straddle the line of that which I can happily identify as “dance” (1998: Who’s Afraid Of Anything, 2000: Drumming, 2002: Delirium, 2004: Held – the reason why Devolution was such a disappointment). Three Atmospheric Studies is more akin to the type of performance that we’d expect from a Fringe live visual arts performance, but polished to the n-th degree.

But that’s in no way a negative comment; this was bold, vibrant, active, and engaging across all levels; a thoroughly rewarding and cerebral performance. And – truth be told – I was amazed at the lack of people who left at the interval. Bravo, patrons; you were certainly a more tolerant bunch than those at other events.

Overheard during the interval: “Devolution was wonderful… at the end, the people looked like machines, and the machines looked like people.” Ummm… no. At the end, the people looked like people with chunks of broken metal strapped to them, and the machines looked like machines. Intent alone does not guarantee outcome.

[20060062] Here Lies Love – A Song Cycle

Here Lies Love – A Song Cycle

@ Ridley Centre (Royal Adelaide Showgrounds)

5:00pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006

Of all my picks for the 2006 Festival, this was the one I was most dubious about; a musical inspired by the “phenomenon” of Imelda Marcos, with the names “David Byrne” and “Fatboy Slim” attached. But, walking into the Ridley Centre, I thought the opulent promises of the Festival Guide may be valid – it was like walking into a huge club. Yes, there was seating down the back (bugger, I only had a GA ticket), but otherwise this really looked the part: bars down either side, huge raised stage, disco glitterballs a-plenty, a huge dance-floor that wound up being populated by people lying down.

Oh, and a two-hour-fifteen-minute running time. Which differed a bit from the 90 minutes advertised.

Umm… warning bells.

The performance starts with the band walking onstage. This is so obviously Byrne’s baby, although slightly to the right, he’s very much center stage. He issues a short statement about Imelda’s early life, then we’re into the first song. It’s pleasant. At the end of the song, Byrne had another little talk, reveals another snippet. Then another song.

Song, talk, song, talk, song, talk.

There’s no stage performance to speak of, save for Dana Diaz-Tutaan and Ganda Suthivarakom (singing for Imelda and Estrella, respectively) dancing a little. Just song, talk, song, talk. Occasionally, the screen behind the stage would change from its lush colour backing and display some stock footage of the Marcos’, overlaid (or interspersed) with bold text messages. These were nicely synchronised with the songs, but other than that… this was a concert.

Not a theatrical performance, not a musical – a concert.

A David Byrne concert.

Being utterly fair, some of the songs (and all of the band & singers) were great: in amongst the overall latin influence, there’s plenty of lush synth fills and highlights and flourishes (“11 Days”, in particular, stands out); there’s a great ominosity to “Order 1081”; and title track (especially in it’s closing reprise) was pure disco.

But there’s these huge talking gaps between songs. And were the sordid details of Ferdinand’s affair necessary? Was the “Americans” song (which was of more current political intent than appropriate to the piece) necessary? In fact, when the most popular knowledge of Imelda was her shoe collection, one has to wonder – what is this “phenomenon” that Byrne speaks of?

By the end of Here Lies Love, only two things interested me – that Ganda Suthivarakom was singing the roles of Estrella (she’d previously done work with one of my favourite bands, Cibo Matto), and the desire to get to my next show on time (thanks for adding 45 minutes to the performance, guys. Did Mr Byrne write another couple of songs in the meantime?)

The program for Here Lies Love indicates that this “is the first sketch of this project.” That’s certainly what it felt like; though polished in the extreme, this performance felt hollow and lacking.

[20060051] Macbeth


Stephen Dillane @ Scott Theatre

8:00pm, Wed 8 Mar 2006

As I handed my ticket to the usher at the Scott Theatre, he leant close to me and spoke: “I’ll have to have a word with you in a minute.” Gadzooks, I thought, the jig is up; no longer will the orange Okanuis be deemed appropriate attire for an evening sitting in darkness. Thankfully, the dress code was not being enforced; my seat (E-25, if you must know) was deemed to have bad sight-lines due to the positioning of the musicians onstage. And, since there was all one of me in my party, I was presented with a choice: something central in about Row L, or front row, right.

Not much of a choice at all, in my little opinion. Watching beads of sweat drop from an actor’s forehead will always win over centrality.

So from my seat in Row A, I was able to sit directly in front of the band (guitar, woodwind, percussion) in question. Stephen Dillane sat with them as the audience streamed in, looking bored and somewhat depressed. The set for this one-man Macbeth was a simple white wall; the stage was covered in blackened sand.

The stage lights come up; Dillane strolls to the centre of the stage, cricks his neck; there’s a long pause as he prepares himself for the struggle ahead. And then he launches into it – all thirty odd characters, every line of the play – not stopping until he’s done.

Whilst some of his characterisations are relatively anonymous, others are utterly superb – witness Malcolm in all his stuttering glory, or Lady Macbeth, spouting all her evil soliloquies in French. Dillane switches through character though accent, a twist of the head, or posture – sometimes not even bothering with that, as he blasted through scenes featuring the three witches in a torrential monologue.

There’s some wonderful moments of humour – Dillane’s pelvic thrusting to Macduff’s “knock, knock, knock”-ing of the Porter’s gate, the light-hearted scene accompanied by some free jazz accompaniment. The glint in his eye upon the line “the Devil’s other name”. The way he milked laughs after he dropped his only line (that I noticed) of the night. There’s breath-taking moments of drama – creeping along the wall at the back of the stage. The shadows projected on the back and side walls. The tension created by the musicians when Birnam wood marched on Dunsinane… in fact, the music throughout – though sparse and rarely used – was exceptional, creating ominous or frivolous moods as required.

This was certainly a marvelous effort, aided by the frugal – yet stark – staging of the piece. And yet, I came away somewhat hollow, not as satisfied as I thought I would be. I’ve got the overall feeling that this interpretation of Macbeth is a greater technical achievement than it is entertainment… but, if so, then not by much. In any case, it’s certainly encouraged me to revisit The Bard’s work.

[20060047] Flight


Glyndebourne Festival Opera @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Tues 7 Mar 2006

Score: 9

Another Festival, another contemporary opera production. And this year, we’re blessed with a sterling piece of work in Flight. Based on the plight and interactions of a plethora of characters trapped overnight in a present-day airport terminal, Flight is a lavish spectacle that convinced me of the power of opera as a medium.

The first thing that strikes you are the gorgeous sets. And they are staggering – there’s a sense of real depth to them, and different facades raise and lower to create a different viewpoint to the same structure. The attention to detail is rich throughout – the windsock in the window of the terminal, the weatherman on the TV screen in the terminal, the transition of lighting in the terminal as time passes: from midday, to afternoon, to dusk, through night, to the dawn.

The characters themselves are works of art, too – the Refugee, stuck in the terminal waiting for his brother. The couple trying to re-ignite their relationship. The steward and stewardess, with their passion restricted to those few moments they share between flights. The older woman, waiting for her lover to arrive. The diplomat heading to Minsk; his pregnant wife reluctant to leave, and shocked at what her life has become – from silk and cashmere to nappies. And the glorious Controller, who cynically overlooks all that occurs in the terminal. All are wonderfully realised, but special mention must be made of the Controller; (a) she’s an absolute babe, and (2) her singing was incredible – soaring vocals from pleasantly low to impossibly high. Bless her.

Dodgy bits, preventing a perfect production? Well, yes, there are a few; despite the fantastic sets, there are still some bad sight-lines (I didn’t get to see the Stewardess’ position during coitus). The surtitles were displayed in a most inconsistent manner – spoken word dialogue was (sometimes) displayed, but high-pitched dialogue buried beneath soaring orchestrations were mostly not… they never seemed to have the information you wanted. And the third act dragged a bit; the overt sentimentality of the Refugee’s plight meanders too long.

These qualms aside, I have no problem admitting that I cried my eyes out – in joy – during this. I was utterly overwhelmed by the richness of the production – the wonderful performances, the fantastic melodies, the sets, and the emotions they all combined to create. It staggers me no end that people – even in the hellishly expensive Premium Reserve seating – would leave early (I lost both my neighbours during the course of the performance). No matter – I loved it; and that second act was incredible.

Overheard between two elderly ladies at the end of Act II, which closed with the suggestion of a little homosexual dalliance: “I don’t mind the music, but the plot’s a little seedy.” Hahahahaaaaa.

[20060043] I Love PowerPoint

I Love PowerPoint

David Byrne @ Elder Hall

7:00pm, Sun 5 Mar 2006

Score: 4

This one-off performance was sold-out; Elder Hall is packed to the gills with an expectant throng. Quite what everyone was expecting is beyond me; I was there to see if David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, had any deep or witty insights into the use of PowerPoint.

Short answer: no.

Byrne took to the stage and was immediately off-putting; his stumbling, bumbling presence at the podium, constantly fidgeting with his glasses, made him difficult to watch or listen to. He was aided by his prepared PowerPoint presentation – likewise, a cacophony of presentation wrongness.

Byrne loosely covers the history of PowerPoint, pokes fun at the included Clip Art (like that’s never been done before), and drops in some interesting factiods: 30 million PowerPoint presentations daily. Information revealing problems with the space shuttle’s O-Rings was buried – and ignored – deep in a PowerPoint presentation. Demonstrations of various laughable presentations. And that “crazy people make charts too”.

In truth, interest was only raised when he mentions the criticisms of PowerPoint by Edward R Tufte – how such presentations are, by necessity, low-resolution; charts presented using PowerPoint tend to lose much of the detail that could be embedded within them. And this is where I think Byrne starts losing his remaining credibility: Tufte’s comments were borne of an age of business presentation that is only now catching up with mainstream technology; crappy projection technology has made way for much better displays, capable of imaging information with much higher density. The dynamics of personal reaction to different aspects of presentations have themselves become a subject of scientific study, rather than inferred through a collection of premises. Tufte’s remarks, placed in an appropriate context, merely infer that PowerPoint is a presentation tool, not a content generator; the deliverable content is only as good as that which the presenter is prepared to create.

There’s comparison between a common business presentation and asian theatre – both performed front-on to the audience. This leads to the concept of “communication by PowerPoint”, using “presentational theatre”. Which is odd – I had always thought that PowerPoint was a business presentation tool which, by necessity, infers that it must aid in the communication of information to an audience. Byrne ups the “Duh!”-Factor by then advocating that PowerPoint be used for… gasp… presentations. No shit, Dave, you’re a fucking genius.

Another gem of information was that “facts are becoming the cornerstone of the presentation”… isn’t that the point? It seems that Byrne approached PowerPoint as an artistic tool, and is now coming to realise that it lacks the ability to make immediate emotional connections with the audience; that it maybe isn’t the ideal communications device. Byrne then goes on to label PowerPoint a meta-program, because you’re able to store media – video, music – within your PowerPoint presentations… and he’s lost an ally in me; he’s exposed himself as a technophobe. Or n00b, at least. Meta-program, my arse.

In short, whilst there were a few (and only a few) giggles to be had, no new information was imparted here. I don’t really know who the audience was supposed to be here – PowerPoint neophytes? Budding PowerPoint artists? It certainly couldn’t be anyone who’s ever used the tool – there was little, if anything, here that those people wouldn’t know. And the premise that PowerPoint could be used for populist art is absurd; sure, there will be the odd avant garde experiment with the form, but it will never become a mainstream “canvas” because it isn’t meant to be – it’s a business tool used to impart information. This presentation reeked of a technophobe encountering a new toy for the first time, of an artist looking forlornly for an abstract connection with a business tool.

Below-average content, poorly presented… but maybe that was the point.

At JavaOne in 2001, I was lucky enough to see a presentation by “amusement engineer” Don McMillan on the (unintentional) comedic use of PowerPoint. That was of far greater interest – and, by virtue of the finger-pointing nature of comedy, a far greater source of information – than this presentation. Check out Don’s website for more info; I’ll be ordering one of his DVDs soon.

[20060042] Three Furies

Three Furies: Scenes from the Life of Francis Bacon

@ Dunstan Playhouse

5:00pm, Sun 5 Mar 2006

Score: 8

Although the cast list nominates the characters as “The Painter” and “The Model”, Three Furies is quite clearly a portrayal of Francis Bacon and his oft-painted model/lover, George. Bacon is portrayed as a headstrong and abrasive character, though internally conflicted by his feelings for George – oscillating between the desperate search for solace in another, and need to distance himself from one of lower standing. Despite this, Bacon comes through as essentially likable – certainly more so than the needy and greedy George, anyway.

Simon Burke is superb as Bacon, delivering the perfect blend of uppity and tenderness. Socratis Otto’s George, on a desperate search for validation, to become someone new and interesting, is suitable whiny in a cockney way. They are both upstaged, however, by Paul Capsis – appearing onstage to provide commentary by way of cabaret-style torch songs. He was, quite simply, superb, imbuing the production with the feelings that the characters couldn’t publicly display.

Despite the persistent rattling that permeated the theatre (from the air-conditioning unit?), the overall feel to Three Furies was that of an extremely lavish, though somewhat muted, production. The simple set – three doors in the back wall, a ladder, a bed, and the odd animal carcass – was accompanied by an extravagant chandelier. Actors wore headset mikes for the performance, but often stepped forward to acquire a handheld mike, delivering soliloquies in the manner of a spoken word performance. After Bacon’s most heartfelt pleas to George – “you’re a doorway, a portal for my vision” – the final scene, with George lying naked and dead in one of the doorways, blood creeping out over the stage, was beautifully restrained, haunting.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I knew nothing of Bacon’s life (or work) before walking into this performance, so there was no opportunity for any kind of more personal connection to the characters for me. But this was still fantastic theatre – a real credit to the Festival.

[20060039] Stau


anoukvandijk dc @ The Space

6:00pm, Sat 4 Mar 2006

Score: 10

As soon as I read the description of Stau, I was sold. “Dissolves traditional theatrical boundaries to examine the relationship between audience and performer.” I loved the very idea, the image that was conjured in my mind… like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, but arty.

Prior to entering The Space, the audience was required to remove their shoes, to check all their belongings into the cloak room. There’s hushed giggles from the audience; the sense of expectation is building. But I was disappointed to see that, upon entering The Space, there were three rows of seats arranged on each side of a square in the center of the Space. Bugger, I thought – this doesn’t look very interactive.

How wrong I was.

I sat in the front row, about 3 seats from the corner. After the crowd had assembled, Anouk van Dijk popped in to thank us for attending, and informed us that “Stau” translated as “traffic jam”… lovely. The house lights dropped to an inky blackness. A sound like record player static started repeating at a very slow tempo; some spotlights revealed two dancers in the centre of the square. Slowly – almost imperceptibly, at first – they begin swaying towards, then around each other. It’s the most beautiful, smooth movement; they never touch, and it’s distinctly sensual without being sexual. Suddenly they break out of their synchronised swaying and start dashing around the confines of their square; at intervals, they turn and leer towards the audience, coming face-to-face with the crowd, pausing, then swanning away. It’s mesmerising being so close to them as they perform, seeing the sweat roll down, seeing the strain on their faces.

Then they disappear, crawling underneath the crowd; the static noise loop stops. It’s dark again; faintly, we hear the noise of a mobile phone. One ring; two rings; the exasperation of the crowd grows, and then suddenly the lights are on – the mobile phone is part of the soundtrack. Then they’re back, one having removed her civilian clothing. Nude, she starts lifting her leg in a very balletic motion; there’s a breathless moment as the crowd contemplates the revelation if she extends the movement, but she stops, holding the pose… then disappears.

Suddenly, there’s a commotion behind us – theatre staff have invaded The Space and are removing the seating. Some patrons indignantly relinquish their seat; others leap up and help with the collection. Mere moments later, all trace of the seating and elevation are gone; we are standing in a big, empty room.

With four dancers.

Who are all wearing civvies.

A down-light is switched on from above; people scurry to see what it has illuminated. It’s one of the original dancers; a patron happened to be caught by the spotlight, and she dances around him. Another light comes on, then another, then another; wherever there is light, there is a dancer, and maybe an audience member; if the latter, they are held motionless and incorporated into the performance.

The dancers perform their dance, the light goes off and – they’re gone.

And then you realise why they’re wearing civvies, rather than a costume… they finish their dance, then run (either individually, or as a group) through the crowd to their next mark, their next spotlight. And the audience, themselves moving from place to place to follow the dancers, don’t notice another civvie-clad person moving through the crowd. But when all the lights are off… the audience is lost, unsure where to look, wandering aimlessly across The Space. A light comes on, a dancer illuminated: the crowd move in that direction. Another light goes on, maybe two dancers entwined: the crowd split. Indecision about with light to moth about. And then it hits me – we, the audience, are dancing. We are being nudged in the directions the troupe want us to go in. It’s not a four member troupe – it’s a hundred and twenty four members.

I start drifting outside the obvious lines that people seem to follow… it’s beautiful. Streams of people trotting from one point, to another, to another, few of them realising the patterns they’re helping make. A few others, like me, are breaking out of the pack… but we, too, seem to be congregating in the same points, gravitating to the same locations dictated by optimal sight-lines. We’re another little dance. Within a dance, within a dance.

At one stage, a single light comes on – and we discover the four dancers all wrapped around our esteemed Premier, Mike Rann. The audience cracks up; I later discover that the troupe had no idea why… Rann was just the person who happened to be near the next “mark”.

There’s another odd nude moment, then all dancers are up against the wall, pushing. They drag a quarter of the audience to help them out (whilst the previously nude dancer struggles to dress herself) – and suddenly the performance is over. The applause is rapturous; the hubbub as the audience recollect their shoes is crackling with energy. Smiles are everywhere.

To be honest, I grin like a loon just thinking about this performance. I love the performances which are participatory; it brings to mind First Night from FF2004, where the stage was in your head. But beside the personal involvement, this was so beautiful, so lush, so wonderful… but now I’m dribbling like a jubilant fanboy idiot. I’ll cut it short – this is easily one of the most exhilarating performances I’ve ever seen. Ever.

And I hate to dance.

[20060038] Lontano Blu

Lontano Blu

Parallelo @ Scott Theatre

4:00pm, Sat 4 Mar 2006

Score: 2

At first, I was startled by the number of people who had gathered for this premiere of Lontano Blu; reading the program, I noticed that this Argentinian/Australian co-production had a big Italian connection. Ah. That’d explain the large numbers of Italians waiting for the performance to begin, then.

It begins with a wonderful bass piece of music, while the background screen cycles through many shades of blue. The bass piece ends, there’s an electronica construction (but was it necessary to perform this live?), and then the performance proper begins.

At first, I thought I’d read the Festival Guide incorrectly – it appeared to be a dance piece. A pretty shabby dance piece, at that. But then the story of a woman and her grandfather appears from nowhere, and the play lurches along as they delve into his lifetime of migration.

All the while, two dancers – the grandfather & his wife at a much earlier age – roam the stage; the bass and electronica performers interject at appropriate times; and various images pertaining to the grandfather’s lifetime are projected onto the screen… it’s very much a mixed media production.

But therein lies its faults – most of the time, there’s too much happening, and none of it (with the exception of the music) is much good. The audio levels were universally poor – music drowning out actors, samples overruling music. The acting performances were stilted; on-stage italian-to-english translations, being laggy, caused much of the audience to lose interest, lose connection with the piece. The dancing was restricted in movement, thoroughly uninteresting, and the movement distracted from the piffly story taking place.

And so you don’t feel like you’ve missed out, here’s the performances’ best line: “Smitten like salami”. Says it all, really.

Maybe Lontano Blu has something to offer; some patrons around me waxed lyrical about it “speaking truly of the migrant”. However, I’m a first-generation migrants son, and this performance completely failed to engage me on any level. A real disappointment.

[20060033] Il Cielo che Danza

So I’m walking home from The Bubonic Play and Llysa called; the Simpletons were trekking down to the banks of the Torrens to watch the dress rehearsal of Il Cielo che Danza. I rang Lesley, she packed a bottle of wine or two, and down to the Torrens we went.

Sitting just downhill from the rotunda, we bumped into Monique, and settled in to watch the rest of the spectacle (we rolled up 15 minutes into the first rehearsal). Lots of colourful planets were floating through the air, many of them suspending dancers who span and tumbled as their ground crew towed the planets on their paths. A bevy of bouffanted ballerinas pranced along the southern bank; a clutch of cyclists coursed across the northern bank. A ship sailed skywards from one bank to the center of the lake; boats towed another floating orb over the river; people ran inside further orbs down the surface of the river; and all the while, a stilted voice rang out across the Parklands informing us of the progression of the plot.

The grand finale – a dancer suspended under another floating orb, dragged by four men running full-boar down the southern bank – was pretty spectacular; even more so because there were only two hundred people max there that evening.

Yep, you read that right – two hundred.

The next night, estimates put the crowd between thirty and fifty thousand.

Same with the night after that. And the night after that.

I wandered by, sometimes through, the general vicinity of Elder Park on all three nights to catch a glimpse of those big floaty balls again on all three “performance” nights – it was sheer fucking bedlam. The crowds were stupidly huge, crammed in on top of each other, and there was a fine mist of irritability hanging over everyone.

So I feel pretty blessed to have been able to kick back with acres of personal space, my beverage, my beauty, and great friends, able to watch this spectacle in picniccy comfort.

And then they started the second dress rehearsal for the evening.

Blessed, I tell you.

(A few days later I was waiting to get into Stau; I did my usual evesdropping thing for my own entertainment. Two well-dressed men talking:

Man1: “Yeah, I went to the opening night. Huge crowd.”
Man2: “Right, right… what’d you think?”
Man1: “Well, it was about an hour too long, I reckon. There’s only so much shit you can do when you’re hanging from a balloon.”

Apart from the fact that the performance was only 45 minutes long… what a complete cock Man1 was. Next he’ll be claiming that Shakespeare wasted his time, because we already had a book called “The Dictionary”.

[20060028] Devolution


Australian Dance Theatre @ Her Majesty’s Theatre

8:00pm, Wed 1 Mar 2006

Score: 6

It sounds like an unbeatable combination – the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), teaming up with multidisciplinary machinist guru Louis-Philippe Demers, to produce an exploration into the man-machine interface. Alas, the mental images conjured up by this description – for me, at least – far eclipsed the execution; a shame, really, given the ADT’s fantastic collaboration with photographer Lois Greenfield in their 2004 production, Held.

The piece opens in spectacular manner, with a projection of an amorphous blob – no, wait, it’s a collection of limb… no, wait, it’s a melding of people… and now there’s more blobs/people as the “camera” pulls back to yield an ordered grid of these blobs. And then the performers are there – they create a wonderfully staccato field of movement, all twitch and nerve. The music throughout is a cacophony of industrial noise – white noise, screeches, pounding. Rest assured it is not everyone’s cup of tea – think Nine Inch Nails’ “Screaming Slave”, but without the rhythm.

The first appearance of the “robots” is impressive, as three huge suspended light riggings trundle in from the wings, raising and lowering and tipping to illuminate as their programming deems fit. They are soon joined by half-a-dozen ominous looking tower robots at the rear of the stage, which bend and straighten and tilt their spotlight “heads”. Sadly, that is all they do.

And therein lies my problem with Devolution. The robotic elements of the piece, whilst looking impressive, were nowhere near as active, nor fluid in movement, as I expected. The human elements were impressive – the ADT are, as usual, in fine form – and the choreography (of the humans) is wonderful. However, the robots are given far too much freedom in the piece for far too little return – the eight spiders, for example. And the two big robots. In both cases, they’re given the entire stage – but give the audience only stilted limited performance, with crippled hobbling movements.

If you forget most of the mechanical input, it’s still a satisfying piece – but the idea remains much better in my mind than on stage.

[20060026] Honk If You Are Jesus

Honk If You Are Jesus

State Theatre Company @ Odeon Theatre

11:00am, Wed 1 Mar 2006

Score: 5

And so we come to my first Festival (as in Adelaide Festival of the Arts) event of 2006 – the State Theatre Company production of Peter Goldsworthy’s novel. It’s pitched as a black comedy, mixing up the much-loved themes of power, corruption, and lies. And religion. Descriptions look inviting, but Honk misses the mark.

The set is great – a Barbarella-esque 60’s sci-fi extravaganza, all brushed metal and curves and glass tubes. Cheesy, in a friendly way. Similar, then, to the acting – friendly, slightly wooden, inoffensive and unconvincing; the characters are bold, larger than life, leaving little room for subtlety. Greg Stones’ Reverend Schultz and Jonathan Mills’ flamboyant Tad are the standouts, though Caroline Mignone should also get props for performing on a recently twisted ankle.

Honk starts off in a relatively pedestrian manner, corny dialogue and clichéd bickering over a coffin. The relationship between science and religion is everywhere – the DNA helix strands in the Schultz University cross logo, Mara handling her medical equipment with the sanctity of holy artifacts, Mary-Beth’s happiness at being used/abused demonstrating faith-over-fact. There’s some fun to be had with the overhead video screens – audience groans are rife during Schultz’s colonoscopic procedure, especially when the camera is extracted from his anus – notably, the same detailed visual courtesy was not shown during Mary-Beth’s subsequent impregnation.

Some cheap laughs are gleaned from the Schultz wank scene; however, the best of the production lies near the end, when the drama and humour coalesce into a near-slapstick finale: a humorous review of the Virgin Birth from the point-of-view of a modern doctor, the triumph of the gay head-butt, the predictable – but still amusing – climactic birth.

Overall, this is a blunt, but only somewhat enjoyable, production that lacks finesse. Cynically, one wonders why it’s included within the Festival program.