Review: Dance Nation

An ironic spin on the world of dance

By Leeor Adar 

Clare Barron’s Dance Nation is the kind of charming macabre well suited to the world of dance. Directed by the excellent Maude Davey and assistant director Angelica Clunes, I am not surprised to see Davey has injected her wacky charm into directing this work for Red Stitch. What you ultimately have is a glorious unicorn of a play performed by adults acting as children. The irony of the dance world through this lens is great, particularly as audiences will be well acquainted with the fierce and devastating early maturity for youngsters caught up in the competitive world of dance.

It all starts as expected, our herd of dancers preparing for a big competition for exposure and FAME! Peter Farnan’s sound design is perfect here, sound bites of sighing and breathing intersperse scene changes with Clare Springett’s sharp lighting design. We’re off to a good start with a formation of dancers’ legs waving about to an amused audience. The scene quickly descends into that macabre goo when one has severed her leg – the price of fame!

Before auditions for the leading role of Gandhi, a brilliant cliché of the creepster dance teacher Pat (Brett Cousins), it is evident friendship will be tested. Zuzu (Zoe Boesen) and Amina (Tariro Mavondo) are the two glory girls of the troupe, who somehow manage to sustain a level of sweetness up until the big first night of the competition.

Adrienne Chisholm’s set and costume design are perfectly sparkly and quirky, and you will enjoy seeing what she serves up for the competition. Choreographer Holly Durant sets us into a barrel of laughs with zombie dance moves and extra dagginess to boot.

The cast is fantastic, and the characters are completely engaging throughout. Natalie Gamsu’s odd young Maeve is downright the funniest of the bunch, and in the most unexpected ways. Somehow her subtle smile as the moon passing over Connie’s bedroom (played by Georgina Naidu) is a bit of a low-key show stealer. Caroline Lee’s monologue as the quietly ambitious and hyper-sexualised Ashlee is perhaps the greatest personal pep-talk I’ve ever heard, and Hannah Fredericksen’s tomboy/cool girl Sofia is utterly brazen and suitably goofy. Token dance boy, Luke, played by Casey Filips is delightfully at home amongst the feminine, waiting for a chance at Zuzu’s affection, and Zuzu’s dance mum (Shayne Francis) is the kind of child-soul-killer you’d see forcing Vaseline onto her child’s teeth in USA’s Dance Moms.

Despite all the laughs, Dance Nation has a litany of poignant moments for its characters. Sofia’s need to be tough is brought back down to earth when the most feminine of life occurrences strikes at a critical moment. Connie’s need to be seen is so vital to her, that her little heart breaks throughout the play are all the more tragic and are handled beautifully by Naidu. As events try and tear the dancers apart, they still manage to lift each other up by imagining themselves as they will be some day. I find that childlike wonder uplifting despite the gravity of adulthood weighing in upon their hopes and dreams.

Dance Nation runs until 14 April at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9544 8083.

Photograph: Teresa Noble

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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

An interpretation not to be missed

By Ross Larkin

Oscar Wilde is arguably one of the most celebrated playwrights of the nineteenth century and The Importance of Being Earnest is rightfully among his best known offerings for its playful sass and dry wit.

Set in 1880’s Britain, two upper class friends, Algernon and Jack, become caught up in their own game when the women they wish to marry, Gwendolen and Cecily, grow wise to the men’s spirited untruths and a web of hilarious confrontation ensues.

Melbourne’s All Sorts Productions have shrewdly crafted the play as an immersive piece on location at the stunning Labassa Mansion in Caulfield to great effect, utilising an outdoor garden area and several indoor ones.

As the lively host, Basil, and the cast move around the Victorian era surrounds, so do the audience along with the occasional interactive moment.

First time director, Maurice Mammoliti, succeeds particularly well in creating an entire world for the show (as opposed to isolated scenes), whereby characters and activities subtly link the action from one location to the next.

The ensemble cast are strong, with standout performances from Patrick Hill and Katherine Innes as Algernon and Gwendolen, who bring a sharp, energetic and sophisticated charm that would make Wilde himself proud, while Ruby Gabriella is also delightful as the whimsical Cecily.

There is much attention to detail where costumes and accessories are concerned, which only adds to the immersive experience, transporting viewers in every sense for the duration.

Although the full season of The Importance of Being Earnest has already sold out, it is well worth adding your details to the waiting list, as All Sorts’ immersive interpretation of Wilde’s classic is definitely one not to be missed.

 

The Importance of Being Earnest runs 7 – 31 March at Labassa Mansion Caulfield North. See here for ticketing information.

Photograph: Tameika Brumby

 

Review: World Problems

Heartfelt examination of life and memory

By Irene Bell

World Problems, written and performed by Emma Mary Hall, is a tender look at the way we experience life. Hall recounts memories for the audience, giving equal weight to insignificant memories such as seeing her dad pick his nose and life changing ones such as divorce and the death of family members. In this way, she takes us from childhood through the aging process beginning in the ’80s and ending in a dystopian future.

With her kind tone and casual breaking of the fourth wall, Hall makes you feel welcome and able to reflect on your own life. This is definitely a show to share with a loved one. It’s difficult know whether to laugh or cry, as every memory she tells feels poignant (even the future death of George Clooney).

All the while Hall builds. Taking metal rods strewn across the stage, she puts them together like a puzzle even asking help from the audience when something is not fitting right.

There is no pacing of the stage, as usually permeates solo performances: watching Hall build her set and wondering which piece will come next is engaging in a childlike way.

Hall’s performance is spectacular. The accompanying music and lighting create an atmosphere of intimacy. The set is beautiful in its simplicity, there is a celestial vortex constantly spinning on the wall that reminds us of the otherworldly route this story takes, and the audience sits surrounded by pot plants. At one point, I realised that as I listened to Hall reach the dystopian part of the story, I was lightly stroking my neighboring pot plant – a subconscious need to reconnect with nature had awoken in me.

World Problems is simple in its presentation though grand in its ideas. It will make you feel calm and grateful, it will inspire you to appreciate every part of you, every good and embarrassing memory, and all the people in your life.

World Problems runs 14 – 24 March at Fortyfivedownstairs. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at (03) 9662 9966.

Review: Yo Carmen

Look out for Yo Carmen

By Lois Maskiell

Carmen has thrived on world stages since Georges Bizet’s opera was first performed in Paris 1875, in María Pagés’ Yo Carmen the legendary character is treated to a contemporary flamenco makeover which drew a lasting standing ovation.

Seville-born dancer and choreographer María Pagés reinvents Bizet’s tale of passion and revenge with her interpretation that ends on a very different note. There’s no blood spilt by a jealous man or woman punished for her strength, what there is is a celebration of womanhood.

Seven elite dancers perform alongside Pagés and incorporate Bizet’s compositions and new, original music into their numbers. Co-directed by Pagés and playwright El Arbi El Harti the superbly structured production fuses movement, music and dialogue in a virtuosic narrative.

María Pagés is completely at ease with the audience, at 55 years she’s honed her craft and is a commanding presence on stage, exemplifying how flamenco embraces the female figure at all ages unlike other dance forms.

Raw and rhythmical, the cante flameno of singers Ana María Ramon Munoz and Sara Garcia Romero is backed by musicians Rubén Diaz Levaniegos and Isaac Munoz Casado (guitar), David Moniz Ordonez (violin), Sergio Fernando Menem (cello) and José María Uriarte Serrano (percussion).

A pioneer of contemporary flamenco, María Pagés has toured with Antonio Gades Company, worked on Carlos Saura’s dance films and since 1990 produced a steady output of award-winning productions with her own company.

Yo Carmen is a rare opportunity for Australian audiences to experience María Pagés’ incomparable contemporary flamenco style that’s steeped in folk traditions. Vive Carmen, vive el flamenco.

Yo Carmen ran at Arts Centre Melbourne 12 & 13 March after additional performances 8 & 9 March at WOMADelaide, Adelaide.  

Dancers:  Marta Galvez Lastre, Julia Gimeno Asins, Nuria Martinez Dominguez, Eva Varela Rubio, Chatal Soler Payano, Tatiana Cuevas Calzado, Natalia Gonzalez Alcala

Photograph: David Ruano

Review: 33 Variations

Ellen Burstyn shines as Beethoven musicologist  

By Lois Maskiell

When Dr Katherine Brandt, a terminally ill Beethoven scholar travels to Bonn Germany to solve the mystery of his celebrated Diabelli Variations, it’s clear how much her deteriorating health is affecting her daughter.

Yes, these women have starkly different natures, yet Moisés Kaufman’s superbly written play allows their conflict and love to unfold amidst an examination of a musical genius.

Moving between 1819 – 1823 and the present day, not only do we encounter Katherine (Ellen Burstyn) in New York and in Beethoven’s archives in Bonn, we also encounter Ludwig himself, his “friend” Anton Schindler and Anton Diabelli.

Scene-stealing Ellen Burstyn plays Katherine in an incredible performance, she’s direct, elegant, commanding and graceful. Her dissatisfaction with her daughter’s waywardness shoots straight to the heart of complicated family ties. Lisa McCune as Clara Brandt adds welcomed warmth, particularly in her unlikely relationship with nurse Mike Clark played by the comical Toby Truslove.

William McInnes’ towering Ludwig van Beethoven is powerfully executed, his grumbling voice meets the quick-witted Anton Schindler (Andre de Vanny) and impatient Anton Diabelli (Francis Greenslade) in many farcical moments – making excellent use of the spiral staircase and mezzanine in Dann Barber’s set.

Helen Morse plays Dr Gertrude Ladenburger to the hilt, she’s utterly convincing as the shrewd librarian entrusted to Beethoven’s sketches.

What begins as a study of work, family and illness leaves familiar ground behind as Katherine edges closer to death and to her connection with Beethoven’s music. In these absorbing, almost sacred moments – which glow under Rachel Burke’s exquisite lighting – the past and present merge.

Pianist Andrea Katz (Opera Australia, Victorian Opera, Sydney Symphony) incredibly performs a selection of the variations and Diabelli’s Waltz on stage. Katz makes a unique and alluring addition to the evening as her music and interaction with the actors weaves throughout the scenes.

How do we accept our fate? How do we resolve discontentment towards loved ones before death? These are the moving questions director Gary Abrahams teases out in a supremely touching and spirited production performed by a stellar cast.

33 Variations plays at the Comedy Theatre until 24 March. Tickets are available online and by calling the box office on 131 61 00.

Photograph: Lachlan Woods

Review: Girl

Masterful, heartwarming coming-of-age tale 

By Ross Larkin

One can generally always be assured that the Alliance Française French Film Festival will deliver an array of thought-provoking, innovative and entertaining flicks from a nation who arguably does art house better than any other.

If Lukas Dhont’s Girl is an indication of the calibre of this year’s selection, then 2019 will certainly live up to expectation.

Girl is a coming-of-age tale about a female teenager, Lara, trapped inside the body of a male and the struggles she faces while awaiting gender reassignment surgery.

Lara, played with incredible poignancy and sensitivity by newcomer Victor Polster, is training relentlessly as a ballerina at a top dance academy in an environment where her peers and teachers are all aware of her transitioning.

As is her single father, in a wonderfully touching portrayal by Arieh Worthalter, whose support is determined, passionate and full of love.

Save for the occasional upsetting moments of external bigotry, most of the demons Lara face are within herself, as she battles with a body she despises and feels all but foreign to.

Director Dhont manages to hit just the right chord with the tone and pace of the film, without labouring too indulgently on the darker aspects, and the performances he coaxes from his actors are exquisitely subtle, natural and endearing.

The subject matter is explored delicately, yet realistically, and while aspects of the story are at times harrowing, there is an equal measure of tenderness and joy as well as some beautiful symbols and metaphors the French are so renowned for.

One of very few films to include a transgendered protagonist, it is heartwarming to see such a masterful exploration by way of Girl, and I urge all film lovers to partake in the experience.

Girl screens 5 March – 10 April at selected Palace Cinemas across Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.

 

Review: Keep Going

Redemption and new beginnings in contemporary Western

By Lois Maskiell

 

In the dry and mountainous Kyrgyzstan countryside, a desperate mother takes her troubled son on a horseback journey. Her reasons for the trip are initially unknown, but slowly and purposefully director Joachim Lafosse invites us into their histories and into a web of trauma, redemption and new beginnings.

Keep Going (Continuer)
premieres in Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival after its nomination for best film at Venice International Film Festival in 2018. Making a strong addition to Lafosse’s steadily growing filmography (Our Love, The White Knights, Our Children), this tightly knit two-hander allows the Belgian director-screenwriter to flex his skills in adaptation as it is based on Laurent Mauvignier’s French-language book of the same title.

Prompted by the death of Samuel’s (Kacey Mottet Klein) grandfather, Sybille (Virginie Efira) takes her son on a cross-country trek with high hopes. Absent throughout Samuel’s childhood, she has returned to find her teenage son drifting: from violent run-ins with school staff and the risk of being sentenced to a correctional facility.

Desperate to pierce through Samuel’s anger and build a connection, Sybille forges – with perseverance – through both the stark countryside and her son’s wild temperament. Kacey Mottet Klein (Sister, Being 17) plays the conflicted Samuel impressively, balancing fury and desire for love in a captivating and convincing performance.

The stunning location captured by the skilled hand of cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens is featured in an abundance of extreme long shots. The union of expansive landscapes and bouts of silence in the dialogue creates a lean sensory experience allowing the psychological events between Sybille and Samuel to strike harder.

The soundtrack choices sometimes worked, particularly the scene where Samuel is found dancing atop a mountain to a thumping EDM song, but the more emotional tracks seemed to force sentimentality rather than allow the plot and acting to do the heavy lifting.

Joachim Lafosse successfully depicts the complex bond between a mother and son who seek hope in their lives. Sophisticated in its simplicity, moving its psychology, Keep Going (Continuer) captivates and surprises.

Keep Going (Continuer) screens 5 March – 10 April at selected Palace Cinemas across Australia as part of the 30th Alliance Française French Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.