[2015133] Mixed Rep

[2015133] Mixed Rep

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet @ Festival Theatre

8:00pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

So… Cedar Lake again. Twice in one day. I honestly can’t remember whether that was a deliberate ploy, or whether I was just trying to take advantage of any matinée I could get my hands on… but you know what?

It totally worked.

With my appetite well-and-truly whetted by the amazing Orbo Novo, I returned to the Festival Theatre in a positively excited state. There was a moment of consternation upon entry – the running sheet posted in the theatre foyer threw an additional forty minutes of interval into the evening’s schedule, so a daringly-scheduled show later in the evening was dropped – but, once my seat was taken and the lights were dropped, all was forgiven.

The first of Mixed Rep‘s three distinct pieces, Jiří Kylián’s Indigo Rose, was a fascinating half-hour of spotlit duets and solo pieces split into multiple sections, each with their own emotional weight. The lighting (and colourful, flowing costumes) produced a stunning bit of shadow-dancing on the triangular white cloth that was suspended across the stage… and I started thinking that it was my birthday a day early. I love me some shadow-play, and Indigo Rose‘s playful (and occasionally saucy) exuberance totally worked for me.

An interval gave me a chance to reflect before Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets On A Theme Of Rescue, which – despite being half the length of the previous piece – was no less significant. A series of sensual duets, subdued sodium lighting heightened the emotion emanating from the stage. Some of the duets featured such focus from the dancers that it almost felt voyeuristic watching them move together: there was an almost too much intimacy, but it resulted in some of the most moving pieces of the evening: the moments when the score dropped away, allowing us to hear the breaths and steps from the stage were just beautiful.

Finally came Hofesh Shechter’s Violet Kid… and if the Pite’s work was stewed in the intimacy of two people, this piece was loud and bold and terrifying. A caustic industrial score (absolutely my cup of tea) drove waves of movement that began as a tribal war dance before veering – via an onstage execution – into more complex group dances. The combination of the harsh noises and wildly erratic – yet tightly controlled – movements somehow made me feel a bit unsettled. A little scared. A lot excited. Despite the political overtones in the work (and score), Violet Kid felt like a barely restrained wild animal; it was absolutely compelling.

Some friends (and enemies) are well aware that I don’t give standing ovations lightly; Mixed Rep deserved the accolade on the strength of Violet Kid alone, and the other two pieces weren’t far from that astonishing quality. But it broke my heart to see the news that Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was closing down less than a fortnight after this amazing piece, because I remember leaving the Festival Theatre wanting to share Cedar Lake’s balletic brilliance with everyone I’ve ever met.

[2015132] Alice Fraser: Everyone’s A Winner

[2015132] Alice Fraser: Everyone’s A Winner

Alice Fraser @ Gluttony – Pigtails

6:20pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

After a rocky early encounter, I’ve kinda fallen in love with Alice Fraser’s comedy: some of her après-Fringe sets have been glorious work, and she’s always a charmer to chat with around the traps. Everyone’s A Winner was thus inked in nice’n’early.

Fraser sat onstage as the small crowd entered, quietly engaging in gentle chit-chat until a check with her tech announced the start of the show proper. And suddenly, we’re thrust into previous life as a corporate lawyer: we hear about office politics, the need to “win” within corporate culture, career-limiting moves, her almost cartoonish mentor Dave, and the depression & stress & harassment & tears associated with the job.

This all sounds heavy-handed and oppressive, but that’s far from the case: Fraser delivers tales of woe lightly and with cunningly humorous barbs, with body language carrying much of her derision whilst words deliver the laughs. There’s little movement on the stage – maybe a partial strip to demonstrate dress standards, and the occasional reach for a prop – but that totally works within the context of Fraser’s delivery: this is anti-corporate humour being delivered with a corporate face, and the jokes come at a rapid rate. In fact, the only let-up in the show was when Fraser pulled out her banjo to announce that she was the Best Stalker in the Land (as first seen in 2013)… not that the song was a dud, it’s just that it didn’t really seem to fit in the framework of the show’s narrative.

The more I see of her, the more I enjoy Alice Fraser. Her comedy is thoughtful and intelligent, and her style is fantastic: she drops killer jokes with a restraint and softness that belies their eventual impact, and her use of pregnant pauses is absolutely compelling. I – for one – am so glad that she abandoned her former career, and I’ll continue inking her shows in whenever I can.

[2015131] Law and Disorder

[2015131] Law and Disorder

DamnitLeanne! @ Gluttony – La Petite Grande

5:15pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

Over the last decade or so, I’ve become increasingly insistent that the posts I write on this blog are not reviews; they’re supposed to be recollections of my experiences. The reasoning behind this approach is twofold: one, I know that I’m not a critic, and to pretend that I can “review” things is folly; and two, it’s easier to write about an inescapable truth… the truth of one’s personal experience.

I’m doubly-glad that I’ve chosen to write like that when it comes to improv performances, since I can focus only on the show that I witnessed… especially when the performance was as diabolically bad as this one.

On paper, you’d think that this was going to be at least half-decent: a crime thriller in the style of Law & Order, with the narrative inspired by audience suggestions. And the capacity crowd were certainly enthusiastic early. And the instantly-recognisable scene change “doink doink” certainly set the mood.

But that’s where the enjoyment of this performance ended.

Audience suggestions were stupefying; the resultant performances more so. Blocky, wooden acting and poor improv storytelling (that took juvenile ideas and turned them into laborious slogs) killed any goodwill, and most of the laughs during the performance came from the cast… at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

To be fair, it was uncomfortably hot and humid in La Petite Grande that afternoon. But when I gleaned most of my pleasure from watching the show’s tech (who looked bored and disgusted by what was going on in front of her, and only reluctantly applied her lighting changes), I think I have to say that this episode of Law and Disorder was a complete dud for me.

[2015130] DivaLicious: Opera Rocks!

[2015130] DivaLicious: Opera Rocks!

DivaLicious Opera @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Aurora Spiegeltent

4:00pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

Now – I love me some operatic vocals, and I love opera-fied modern songs, too. So, with DivaLicious promising a blend of rock classics and… classics, I was lured into a near-capacity audience on a sticky Sunday afternoon.

The problem is that the précis for Opera Rocks! also promised that the ladies of DivaLicious – sopranos Fiona Cooper Smyth and Penny Shaw – would be duelling for the affection of the (little-used) baritone Robert Hofmann, who performed as a credible Phantom. And the duelling motif was fun… when it was used. And it was used far too infrequently.

The bulk of Opera Rocks! consisted of credible rock covers with classical instrumentation, attempts to apply rock-music credentials to classical composers, and plenty of costume changes. Maybe I’ve been numbed by Ali McGregor’s wonderful operatic interpretations of modern tracks, but few of the covers offered anything surprising… in fact, the one true highlight of the show for me was the clever blending of Mamma Mia into Bohemian Rhapsody. But whilst the DivaLicious girls certainly had wonderful voices, the (lack of) duelling and faux conflict between them (and the criminally underused Hofmann) sucked most of the joy from the performance for me.

Look – I’m sure there were plenty of people who left Opera Rocks! with huge, satisfied grins on their faces. But I wasn’t one of them: despite the fact that the show was built upon so much raw talent, and had so much potential, I found it to be underwhelming and – worse – disappointing.

[2015129] Orbo Novo

[2015129] Orbo Novo

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet @ Festival Theatre

2:00pm, Sun 8 Mar 2015

I must have said this a million times, both on this blog and in person: I love watching dance, but I understand nothing about it. Over the years, I’ve discovered that dance has the ability to move me more than any other medium; maybe because of my absolute lack of understanding of the medium, some dance pieces can just reach right into my brain and conjure emotions that I can’t quite explain. And when I heard the murmurs of delight and approval that accompanied the announcement of Cedar Lake’s Adelaide Festival programme, I immediately inked them into The Schedule… it’s fair to say that the two Cedar Lake shows featured in my Top Five Shows To Giddily Look Forward To.

When neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke, she was offered an opportunity that few (if any) of her colleagues would be offered: the ability to observe the machinations of the stroke from the perspective of the victim. She observed – initially panicked, then with a sense of calm – as her physical functions were compromised, as parts of her brain were shut down… Years of therapy later, her memories of the event spawned a book and a well-publicised and much-lauded lecture; Bolte Taylor’s familiar words formed part of the audio backdrop of Orbo Novo (though, unlike many who recognised the spoken word backing, I didn’t hear it via TED, but rather Love+Radio).

With Bolte Taylor’s words underscoring the performance, and a set of large movable wooden lattices spanning the stage, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s choreography seemed to evoke the actions of the brain during (and after) a stroke. The members of Cedar Lake seemed to act as neurons, swarming as if fluid, combining to create actions, splitting to explore ideas. The lattices were rearranged on the fly to frame the stage and – later – to hold some of the dancers captive; but every inch of their height, every hole in their structure, was used by the troupe to show an organic process.

The smoothness and grace of the Cedar Lake dancers was almost beyond my belief. The manner in which they transitioned from wide sweeps, solo or duo or trio or troupe, and then focussed on smaller, almost finicky, movements was divine; the storytelling in their actions was palpable. At times overt – dancers would often face the audience, mouthing Bolte Taylor’s words in time with the backing – the performance never failed to engage… and the moments of fracture were darkly gorgeous – and emotionally impactful.

As I mentioned before, I know nothing about dance… and I certainly know nothing about the mechanisms of the medium to emote. But Orbo Novo was, without a doubt, the most cohesive, comprehensible, and intelligent dance piece I’ve encountered. And, perhaps as a result, it was also the most emotionally engaging: it conjured thoughts and feelings in me that only the best theatre had managed to lure before. I absolutely adored Orbo Novo, and I left Festival Theatre absolutely yearning for more Cedar Lake…

[2015128] Darkness and Light

[2015128] Darkness and Light

Sarah Bennetto, Alanta Colley, Dave Bloustien, Lori Bell @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

11:00pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Previous explorations into the Darkness and Light ensemble show have yielded good results; the idea of getting artists – who already have the ability to communicate with an audience – to reveal some of their darker times really appeals to me.

The assembled guests for this evening’s set was a real mixed bag. I’d heard Sarah Bennetto’s tale of sneaking into an Arcade Fire gig before, and I’m not sure it really fit the mood (or, rather selfishly, fit the mood that I expected) of the show… not enough darkness for me. But my first encounter with Alanta Colley, on the other hand, managed a pleasing mixture of comedy with a darker edge, as she talked about her faux pas whilst performing engineering relief work in Uganda.

Dave Bloustien totally nailed the Darkness and Light groove with a hilarious tale about a vigorous sexual encounter with a new partner, and the fretting around the resultant blister on his penis. Finally, Lori Bell brought plenty of laughs with her familiar tales of heckles from groups of footballers, and how lesbian comedians can deal with them.

To be honest, after my previous experiences with Darkness and Light I found this show a little disappointing… but it was still totally worth seeing, because Bloustien’s spot was so strong and well-constructed that I immediately scheduled his solo show.

[2015127] The Moon in Me

[2015127] The Moon in Me

Dylan Cole @ Tuxedo Cat – Cusack Theatre

9:45pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Whilst Dylan Cole’s 2014 effort, Safety First, didn’t quite match the quality of his 2013 TED pisstake, I was still keen to see what he had to say on the topic of astrology in The Moon in Me.

As with his previous shows, Cole’s style was an engaging formal presentation heavily supported by PowerPoint. The opening half-hour was a collection of (somewhat predictable, but no less funny for it) prods at the statistical lunacy of astrology, interspersed with autobiographical snippets of Cole’s life: his parent’s divorce, his girlfriend, readings from his teenage journals, and more musings of his chubby childhood.

The crux of the show is Cole’s commitment to monitor his astrological predictions (snipped from a number of newspapers and other sources) and compare them to the events of his days. These comparisons are scornful early, but – thanks to Cole’s comic twists – the tail end of the show becomes a torrent of stretched truths and hilarious justifications… and the reveal behind the name of the show was astonishingly groanworthy.

I found The Moon in Me to be the most consistent of Dylan Cole’s solo shows: even & intricate writing and wonderful pacing were the hallmarks of this performance. The personal nature of his analysis – and his comical twisting of the results – make for a great bedrock, but the tumbling text in the closing minutes of the show was one of the highlights of the Fringe.

[2015126] We Are All

[2015126] We Are All

Not Suitable For Drinking @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

8:00pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Wow. This was, most certainly, a weird experience… some of which was the performance, and some of which was me.

To set the scene: I could remember nothing about why I’d selected We Are All – other than it had something to do with religion. There were but a handful of people in attendance. I was very tired.

And, for the first half of the performance, my dozy mind could not figure out whether I was witnessing cutting satire… or a real sermon.

It was not without precedence: I’d attended a hyper-positive self-help seminar in 2002, and a reading from the Book of Mark in 2009, under the guise of the Fringe, and several other religious deliveries disguised as theatre. The venue probably didn’t help, either: The Arch was once a church.

And when Thom Jordan took to the stage and started presenting something that looked and felt like an evangelical, lord-thanking, bible-thumping sermon, with nary a hint of irony or sarcasm… well, I was a little concerned.

Jordan delivers a sermon as Paul, who – after an unfortunate childhood battle with leukaemia – was given little chance of living past his eighth birthday. But, as the son of a preacher, he was well versed with the power of faith… and he survived to discover his abilities in performance and personae. After chasing his talents to the parts of Sydney that challenged his faith, he discovers his place in a mega-church, “The Way”; there, he is presented as a “miracle”, and Paul’s childhood misfortune is matched with his ability to connect with people, resulting in a character that is decidedly malevolent… yet utterly committed to preaching The Way.

The lines between writer/performer Thom Jordan and his character, Paul, are constantly blurred. Jordan’s own upbringing mirrors Paul’s to an extent – the son of a minister, he also lived through the eye-opening move from a tight-knit faith community to Sydney, chasing his art. And the manner in which Jordan (and director Julia Patey) presented Paul was utterly convincing: despite being listed as a “Comedy” in the Fringe Guide, there were no nods to the audience: we’re forced to dig for the satire ourselves.

And, despite the fact that We Are All had me completely fooled for a large amount of the show, time has given the memory of the performance a more appreciative glow. This is dark – really dark – satire, and I have to give Jordan and Patey credit for the feelings they conjured in me as I left the theatre: I felt like I’d just been conned, that The Way were real, that they’d just snuck me into one of their sermons. It took a while for the bitter taste to leave my mouth… but, like the best dark chocolate, what remained was utterly delicious.

[2015125] Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton

[2015125] Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton

Penny Ashton @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch

6:30pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

I last saw one of Penny Ashton’s Austen-inspired shows way back in 2010; I was somewhat surprised to discover that it was so long ago, so fresh was it in my mind. Even then it was apparent that her fascination with the work on Jane Austen – combined with her own comic delivery, delightful Kiwi witticisms, and penchant for injecting corseted smut into romantic fiction – appealed to a certain audience.

And so it was that The Arch was packed this evening… and my orange hair was like a beacon in a sea of grey hair and expectant smiles.

Ashton plays a plethora of Austen-esque characters in Promise and Promiscuity, each with their own accents and mannerisms. The central heroine, booksmart Elspeth Slowtree, is in constant conflict with most of the other characters: her mother, anxious to marry her off, and the advances of her cousin Horatio are the brunt of much of Elspeth’s ire, but so is much of the nineteenth-century setting: Ashton sets her up as an intelligent (“…for a girl”) protagonist, permitting her battle with societal norms of the day.

But modern references within Elspeth’s world also create a lot of laughs: there’s a lot made of modern sexual freedoms, a few quirky name-drops (etiquette teacher Kimberline Kardashian?), and even a spot of Bon Jovi… within a classical setting. It’s all very silly, and very well assembled…

…but it didn’t really work for me. And only me, judging by the continuous laughter in the room. I suspect that my lack of intimacy with Jane Austen’s work is responsible for that; I certainly appreciated Ashton’s craft, and could sense that there was a lot of fun to be derived from her deconstruction of Austen’s tropes, but without deep knowledge of those tropes I was left a little cold.

Ashton has made a career of these Austen-inspired, innuendo-laden shows… and she’s bloody good at it. And, judging by the audiences that I’ve seen at her shows, there’s tons of Austen fans that agree… The Arch rumbled with applause at the end of her performance this evening. But, given my lack of knowledge of Jane Austen’s work (and a general disinterest in the romantic fiction of her era), I’m just not that sure that I have the background to share that delight.

[2015124] Tales of a Strongman

[2015124] Tales of a Strongman

Strength & Beauty @ Gluttony – The Bally

5:15pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

Going from a great circus show to another circusy show was always going to be fraught with danger; it’s rare to have two classy physical performances in a row, and I’m discovering that I need a bit of variety from show to show. Still, the joys of scheduling being what they are, I found myself in a steamy Bally with a handful of families… and I’ve yet to not feel like Uncle McCreepster in those situations.

Sergei and Svetlana are Strength & Beauty – a couple (in the romantic sense) of strong-persons who use a simple narrative to justify demonstrations of strength and balance. A lot of their showmanship is familiar – I’ve certainly seen their two-person balances and throws before – but they manage to pull off their tricks smoothly and with a lot of charm.

Sergei is most certainly lean and ripped, with well-defined (and well-toned) muscles barely hidden by his skimpy red-and-white striped leotard, and Svetlana – who acts as the straight-person of the pair, throwing wonderfully derisive looks in response to Sergei’s goofiness – also looks the part in her matching costume. They drop plenty of gentle giggles into the show, with some comically bad singing breaking up their tricks. The narrative never reaches any great heights – the reminiscence of Sergei wooing Svetlana, though sweet, was as involved as it really got – but that doesn’t really matter… their good-natured presentation won the audience over, and lured the children in the audience onstage for a photo-op finale (though one of the children did express an aurally-painful amount of fear).

Tales of a Strongman was gentle, clean, family-friendly circus fun: nothing remarkable, but enjoyable nonetheless. The characters of Sergei and Svetlana were pleasant and engaging, with amiable crowd-interactions plenty of charm. They’d be well suited to the busking circuit, I reckon… but I left wondering whether they could actually find an audience in this chockers Fringe programme.

[2015123] Cadence

[2015123] Cadence

Cadence @ Channel 9 Kevin Crease Studios

4:00pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

I remember scanning through the Fringe Guide and flicking through the Circus section with some fear: I’ve seen so much circus over the past few years that it’s hard to get too excited by the genre (with some exceptions). But when I scanned Cadence‘s précis, I immediately noted the duration – thirty minutes – and inked it into The Schedule: I’ve come to believe that a defiantly short duration usually means that the performers have something to say, some kind of definitive statement to make.

Still, I was a little surprised to encounter a pretty decent crowd out at Channel 9 for such a short show; clearly, from the bubbly enthusiasm in the queue, they knew something about Cadence that I did not. And I must admit that, once the show started with a short video intro, my heart sank a little: why spend so much of the show’s precious duration on pre-recorded introductions?

But within moments my heart had been lifted and began to sing.

Cadence proved to be an utterly exhilarating patchwork of micro-performances, with music and acrobatics and displays of strength and control alternating to continually stimulate the senses. Acrobatic pieces, I was delighted to discover, were performed by Rhiannon Cave-Walker and Daniel Liddiard (from the amazing Gravity & Other Myths); their balances and action-packed aggressive tumbles were absolutely arresting. Geordie Little performed some gorgeous guitar pieces, plucking and percussing to create moody musical interludes, and Elliot Zoerner (also of GOM) drummed up a storm with Tom Brown working alongside, generating visuals and beats via his laptop. The tear-down and build-up of each segment was covered by short video interviews of the five members of the Cadence troupe, which veered from hilarious to heartfelt… but never failed to be interesting.

Sure, the performances were brilliant, and the content was sound… but the true highlight of Cadence was the pacing and direction of the entire show. After the opening video, there was scarcely a moment where I wasn’t being engaged by the performance of these five individuals; the thirty minutes flew by in a flash, with barely a moment of entertainment respite to be found. Cadence was, hands-down, an absolutely fantastic show.

[2015122] Nufonia Must Fall

[2015122] Nufonia Must Fall

Kid Koala @ Dunstan Playhouse

2:00pm, Sat 7 Mar 2015

I’d first encountered Kid Koala via a Lovage collaboration (led by Dan the Automator and featuring (amongst others) Mike Patton and Jennifer Charles), but – without wanting to appear super-ignorant or disrespectful – I didn’t realise he was that big a deal… so David Sefton’s enthusiastic announcement of his involvement in Nufonia Must Fall was a bit of a surprise.

Interest piqued, I found myself at a handy weekend matinée; there was also a large contingent of children in the crowd, which looked to be equalled by their accompanying parents. Upon entry, we were handed some well drawn (and random!) pictorial bingo cards: by marking off the objects on the card as they were introduced during the performance, a prize pack (containing all manner of Nufonia Must Fall goodies) could be won.

Based on Kid Koala’s graphic novel of the same name, Nufonia Must Fall was a curious mixed-media performance: film drives a puppet narrative along, while the Afiara Quartet underscore the story from above and Kid Koala scratches and accents the audio from within a pool of electronics near the wings. The story follows a lonely robot: fired from his job after the arrival of a newer model, he finds work in a sandwich shop, and soon falls in love with a regular customer.

Their courtship was – as one might expect from a kid-friendly romance – super-innocent and sweetly realised, and a good match for the otherwise inexpressive puppets, whose blank features allowed me to fill in the blanks. But the puppetry was, somewhat surprisingly, the weakest part of the production: the puppeteers certainly worked hard, meticulously setting up complex scenes with pliable characters in modelled sets (which were then projected for the audience via moveable cameras, allowing an element of cinematography to seep into the production), but this felt more like elaborate stop-motion animation than a comprehensive puppetry performance.

Still, the emotive bittersweet tale papered over the cracks in the visual performance, and the audio production was lovely throughout. As a beautiful and family-friendly show, Nufonia Must Fall proved to be thoroughly enjoyable.

[2015121] Ronny Chieng – You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

[2015121] Ronny Chieng – You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

Ronny Chieng @ Palace Nova – ExiMax

11:00pm, Fri 6 Mar 2015

I once saw Ronny Chieng perform as a Rhino Room headliner après-Fringe, and – possibly as a result of an adult beverage or two prior to the show – I thought it was amongst the funniest sets I’d ever seen: without resorting to smut or creative profanity, his observations and short stories were so well constructed that I laughed continuously throughout the entire set.

Rushing in from my previous show, I was kinda thrilled to see a long queue of punters zigzagging around the Palace lobby… because Chieng, I reasoned, deserved a big audience. But the age of the people in the queue furrowed my brow a little, because (a) I’m an ageist snob, and (2) they were all young.

There’s very little fanfare as Chieng takes to the stage, notebook in hand, and started hammering through his material… and there were plenty of laughs to be had, even with the relentless pace of his delivery. There’s little in the way of a central thread to the show; a five-minute ramble about how “young” people (under the age of 25) should just shut up (which provided the title for the show) was the closest thing to a narrative through-line. Chieng also spent a significant chunk of time talking about his own accomplishments – especially all the awards he’d won – which I found a little self-aggrandising (to an already enthusiastic and captive audience).

And whilst I had many chortles with Chieng’s topical and well-delivered humour, he’d clearly hammered through his intended set in record time, and then engaged with the audience to inspire more material. And these interactions were ragged, resulting in the audience heckling Chieng with requests for earlier material… a disappointing end to the show.

Ronny Chieng is still an awesome comedian – he’s got a wonderful sense of humour, and his ability to frame jokes is exceptional. But the ad hoc climax to the show, and the surprising amount of self-congratulatory material, took the shine off the rest of the performance.

[2015120] Vampillia

[2015120] Vampillia

The Red Paintings, Fourteen Nights at Sea, Vampillia @ Freemasons Hall

8:00pm, Fri 6 Mar 2015

David Sefton had giggled when announcing Vampillia at the Festival Launch; he had me on-board with the words “Japanese” and “chaos orchestra”. And, even with a cunningly-acquired running sheet for the bands on the bill, there was still little else for me to do this evening… no other shows could be squeezed in. Vampillia had dominated the planning for the evening, and I was expecting great things.

First up were (half of) The Red Paintings, with Trash McSweeney (acoustic guitar) and Alix Kol (violin) delivering a handful of decent tunes in a short, twenty minute set (though, as a longtime Tears For Fears fan, their cover inspired by the inferior version of Mad World annoyed me somewhat). More curious, though, was their stage prep: for such a short set, they seemed to spend a lot of time organising their dancing Groot doll, jarred alien foetus, and (toy) hamster wheel onstage.

Then came the five-piece Fourteen Nights At Sea: two guitars, bass, keys, and drums produced an forty-minute set of power-instrumentals, generating a massive wall of noise that could conceivably be oppressive. However, I found it super-exhilarating, especially when I started marvelling at the bass player who only played five different notes in the first half of their set.

I was watching carefully. I counted. I loved it.

Now – before The Red Paintings had kicked off their set, I’d grabbed a standing spot on the fence, just off-centre. After Fourteen Nights At Sea finished, a bit more of a crowd started gathering around the fence – Freemasons Hall was nowhere near capacity, so the fence-line was only a comfortable five-or-so deep. And a slender young woman – a little taller than me (not difficult), long black hair, slinky black dress, black lipstick – had joined me on the fence. Despite her incredibly soft voice, we’d got to talking: she was a big fan of Festival music (Morricone, Zorn), and she’d asked me whether I was as big a fan of Vampillia as she was.

The fact that I’d not heard any of their music before left her bemused, but the conversation continued amiably.

But, with the opening guitar chords of Vampillia, she threw both arms forward in a proper Hook ‘Em Horns salute (that had me almost feeling claustrophobic) and started head-banging more violently than anyone I’ve ever seen, at times almost losing balance over the fence. She was, most certainly, a devotee.

And then, at the end of each song, she’d demurely retract her limbs and gently cheer with a quiet little “Yay!”, accompanied by a soft golf clap. When the next song started, the Jekyll-and-Hyde cycle would begin anew. She was quite amazing to watch.

But even more amazing was the frontman of Vampillia himself.

He’d arrived onstage via the crowd, wearing a ghillie suit and clambering over the fence as best he could. Once he’d arrived (and removed the suit)… wow. Super-impressive guttural vocals, and a presence that just demanded your attention.

He roamed the front of the stage like an animal, pausing only to bellow some unintelligible Japanese into his microphone, and then he’d leap into the crowd while the rest of Vampillia played on: the drummer was relentless with his violent drumming, the guitarists and keyboards provided bizarre textures. And then there’s the bass player: painted white and wearing only a loin cloth, he appeared to be almost ghost-like, and had a bizarre presence onstage.

On one of his frequent trips into the crowd, the vocalist had dragged a table from the back of the Hall almost up to the fence, and started singing and stomping on it while gathering the crowd around to dance. Towards the end of the show, he disappeared outside the Hall completely, returning with a couple of wheelie bins; as the rest of the band petered out of their final song, the bass player jumped into the crowd and leapt head-first into the bin.

So… yeah. Vampillia’s music was exactly what was promised: a noisy, chaotic orchestra, and visually compelling to-boot. Add onto that the brilliant set by Fourteen Nights At Sea, and I was supremely happy with my lot. And, as I was leaving, I noticed David Sefton in the crowd, a big Cheshire-Cat shit-eating grin on his face. I went up to him, told him what an awesome experience I’d just had – “Told you!” he laughed – and I stole a selfie:

[2015119] Excavate

[2015119] Excavate

Gareth Hart @ The Edments Building

7:00pm, Fri 6 Mar 2015

I’ve really enjoyed Gareth Hart’s dance performances in the past; Ellipsis was a remarkably inventive collision of movement and staging, and Symphony of Strange continued those trends with a journey through a found space that titillated all the senses. Excavate appears to pursue those ideas once again, with Hart performing another course of precision movement with unique staging.

After the small (but still sell-out) audience met at the corner of Gawler & Fisher Place, we’re guided through the elevator to the rooftop of the old Edments building. There, we’re instructed to remove our shoes – a bit of a pain in the arse if you’re a toe-shoes guy like myself – and walk upon a narrow path of dirt into the middle of the rooftop, where we were to stand, earth beneath out feet.

Hart lay prostrate on a mound of dirt near the edge of the rooftop; behind him, a row of blue panels, and behind them, a view of the city skyline into the Adelaide Hills. Between Hart’s mound and the path on which the audience stood, a few carefully-positioned mounds supported some small tablets. These synchronised tablets played Edward Willoughby’s (excellent) electronic score, and provide some visual accompaniment that was hard to discern in the evening light.

Hart’s movements were not atypical of his previous performances: there’s a lot of precision involved, both in finicky small movements and larger sweeps (catching and spreading the dirt), and I sensed that there may be some significance to his motions… but, unlike his previous works, I didn’t really feel it. Brief moments where he wallowed in the dirt made me smile, but otherwise… I felt distant from the work.

I didn’t really get on with Excavate – I couldn’t find a central thread on which to organise my perception of the rest of the performance. As a result, the language of the dance felt foreign, incoherent, and inaccessible to me… which I found a little disappointing, given my love of Hart’s earlier works. But that dirt sure felt nice underfoot.