Category: Events

Tetsuya Umeda’s SPECTACLE OF EXTRAORDINARY OBJECTS

Experiencing the the experiment

By Lois Maskiell

Attending Tetsuya Umeda’s performance at The Substation, Newport was akin to being held captive in a particularly entertaining science experiment. This one-hour piece featured the artist manipulating a range of objects, sound and light. These objects included portable gas stoves, loudspeakers, beakers, lamps and even bags of rice that he began to cook. Umeda’s artistry lies in turning these ordinary items into an extraordinary spectacle for the senses.

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The first feat of intrigue included Umeda swivelling a metal rod into a lump of dry ice. This rod, which had been heated in the flame of a gas stove made a bizarre screeching noise. Soon, on the opposite side of the room, a loudspeaker was lowered from the staggeringly high ceiling over the balcony. With this loudspeaker dangling from a long string mid-air, the site-specific nature of Umeda’s work was revealed. The relationship between object and space lurched before your eyes.

Umeda meandered carefully around his constructed environment, tweaking items and causing reactions, of many kinds. As objects flew into the air, audience members gasped instantaneously. These knee-jerk reactions brought the audience together in a shared, visceral experience.

The most memorable assemblage was an enormous glass bowl with a flickering light bulb placed inside it. Umeda filled the bowl with water and left his audience to marvel at both the danger and beauty of electricity in water. Umeda continued by crumbling dry ice into the water, creating a hypnotising layer of white smoke that emerged like a snake from the bowl.

For audiences unaccustomed to performance art, this piece could either be an exciting and novel experience or an introduction to a genre of art that often demands significant commitment on the audience’s behalf to stay engaged. Chasing the next cluster of objects to implode/explode was part of the game. Umeda’s performance emitted an overarching sentiment of intrigue and alertness, though the final question remains: did he eat the rice?

Presented by The Substation and Liquid Architecture in association with Performance Space and Room40, Tetsuya Umeda’s work was at The Substation, Newport October 30 – November 04, 2017.

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Taylor Mac’s 24 DECADE HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC IN AMERICA

A transcendent performance experience

By Bradley Storer

‘Everything you’re feeling is appropriate….

…This is going to go on a lot longer than you’re gonna want it to.’

These were some of the guiding words from American cabaret titan and performance artist Taylor Mac (who uses the gender pronoun ‘judy’) as we embarked on a colossal undertaking for both the performer and us, the audience. 24 hours in total of performance, divided into four six-hour chapters, with each hour dedicated to a decade of American history and the music that was popular during the time, leading all the way from the late 1800’s to the present day. Mac was aided by the mammoth musical talent of musical director Matt Ray (who arranged all 246 songs in the show), 24 separate costumes by mind-bogglingly creative designer Machine Dazzle, a crew of ‘Dandy Minions’ composed of local performers from all genres, as well as a 24-piece ensemble of musicians and backing vocalists who were reduced by one every hour until finally Mac was left alone onstage. This ‘radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice’, as Mac described it, had already been performed piecemeal over the past five years and finally as a complete 24 hour cycle last year in New York, and now came Melbourne’s chance to sample this incredible piece for the 2017 Melbourne Festival.

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The ‘sacrifice’ aspect of the ritual was the audience itself: sacrificing our time, our sense of self and inhibitions as our boundaries slowly broke down. Describing the disparate parts of the show seems maddeningly insufficient – not only the content but the simple act of being there and experiencing it in the moment, the collective build-up over the course of the four performances, was an essential part of the overall effect of the work. The continuing theme in each decade was of a community or group breaking apart and coming together during a state of crisis, and Mac informed us that a formative experience for both judy and the show was judy’s first encounter with the LGBTIQA+ community – a San Francisco AIDS walk at the height of the epidemic, where the affected members of the community were united and celebrating despite the disease tearing them all apart. In the combined 24 hours the audience spent with Mac, we began to form our own makeshift community amongst ourselves and with the performers.

The epic journey upon reflection feels like a collection of kaleidoscopic images blurring together at the edges. We witnessed the birth of America in a re-enacted dandy’s (as in ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’) revenge, the beginning of the women’s movement with a surprise guest appearance from Australian cabaret goddess Meow Meow, the influx of alcohol and the subsequent battle between the temperance movement and American drinking culture (here represented by Mac as the chaotic jester/drunken best friend ‘Crazy Jane’). The travel and settlement of Irish immigrants and the displacement of the Native Americans told through a ‘hetero-normative jukebox musical’, the audience blindfolded for the best part of an hour to evoke a parallel to the suffering of the people on the Trail of Tears, before the form and the chapter itself was ripped apart by a Native American child breaking free of white colonialist narratives and (in a meta-twist) from Mac as well.

The American civil war became a free-for-all ping pong ball barrage between the audience members, leading to an awkward dinner party with Mac as the presiding matriarch trying to keep peace in the rebuilding of the nation – to distract us, Mac and the entire company enacted an off-the-wall version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado stripped of its Orientalism and colonialist undercurrents by setting the action on Mars. Sections of the audience were brought up onstage to imitate the overcrowding of the boroughs of New York during the rise of immigration from Europe, before World War I tore the men (and male-identifying people) from the rest of the audience as they were conscripted and sent off to battle. The Golden Age of post-World War I jazz, represented here in a star turn that nearly stole the show by Melbourne cabaret icon and community activist Mama Alto, was shattered by the Depression but spirits were kept afloat by an audience-wide visit to a (metaphorical) soup kitchen, with actual (and delicious!) soup. After World War II, the white audience members were displaced from their seats and asked to stand at the sides of the theatre to simulate white flight to the suburbs, while people of colour were encouraged to move to the front and make themselves comfortable as a symbolic reparation for centuries of oppression world wide. We all clambered onto the freedom train as we rode the bus to the Bayard Rustin March, with strains of Bob Dylan and the Supremes accompanying the trip. The Cold War morphed into a battle between two giant inflatable phalluses decorated with the American and Soviet flags, followed by a rapturous orgy of joy in a 70’s backroom sex party heralded by Mac’s glorious version of ‘Purple Rain’, before we were birthed onto the bleak shore of the modern age in the harsh searching eye of a spotlight during a hushed and soul-piercing ‘O Super Man’. Nearly the entire cast swept away in the horrific torrent of the AIDS crisis, three skulls over Mac’s head weeping glittery tears for the lives lost to the disease. Mac inviting all the lesbians in the audience onstage for a radical lesbian party to celebrate an under-appreciated section of the queer community and as recognition for their tireless work to hold the community together and care for the sick. Mac finally left alone onstage, draped in a gigantic glittery vulva dress, accompanying themselves on the ukulele and piano in judy’s own compositions.

The sheer scope of 24 Decade is gargantuan, and watching the show was like entering an alternative universe – guided by Mac’s penetrating and rigorous intellect, the six-hour segments of the show passed by with surprising quickness. Mac continually told us that judy’s role was not a teacher or mentor but a ‘reminder’ of things that had been forgotten or buried by ourselves or others before us. In this vein, judy reminded us that this was not a ‘safe space’ because no such place exists in reality; we were never allowed to grow comfortable in our seats, called upon constantly to engage either physically or mentally with what was occurring before us. The audience, at first reluctant, began to engage with more and more enthusiasm as the hours passed, and it seems at one time or another that every section of the audience, from youngest to oldest, was represented onstage in some way.

Mac was unflappable across the entire span of the 24-hour show, never forgetting a single lyric and judy’s powerful voice never failing for even an instant. Dazzle’s intricate and endlessly creative outfits were a true spectacle that fascinated with their level of detail. The rotating cast of musicians and singers who supported Mac were uniformly excellent, with special mention to singer Steffanie Christi’an Mosley whose incredible soulful voice made even singing the alphabet a spiritual experience, and guitarist Viva DeConcini who blistered the audience with solos throughout, but absolutely claimed the stage during the famous solo in ‘Purple Rain’.

Every description of the event feels absolutely inadequate. As Mac explained at the very beginning of the show, the subject of worship in this ritual was not the noun, but the verb – the act of creation itself as both the subject of our worship and our form of worshipping, hence even trying to describe what a 24 Decade History managed to achieve feels impossible. In the current bleak political climate world-wide, this felt like a hopeful, joy-filled vision of a potential world in which the outsider was celebrated, the disenfranchised empowered, and queer reigned supreme.

The audience was left alone in darkness, many weeping, clinging together and pleading for this world not to end, singing the words of Mac’s final refrain:

‘You can lie down, or get up and play’.

A challenge to take the world we had just envisioned, and bring it to life.

Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music in America was performed Wednesday 11th / Friday 13th / Wednesday 18th / Friday 20th October 2017 at The Forum Theatre, 154 Flinders St, Melbourne.

Melbourne Festival 2017: THE INAUGURATION with Taylor Mac

Making history

By Bradley Storer

Skewering convention from the very outset, American cabaret maverick and performance artist extraordinaire Taylor Mac (who uses the pronoun ‘judy’) entered the stage to give a pre-emptive monologue about curtain speeches before introducing the assistant festival director Jonathon Holloway (in a magnificent rainbow peacock headdress) who delivered an opening address for the festival the show began.

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Described as a taster and preparation for Mac’s full 24 Decade History of Popular Music, playing at the festival from next week, judy kicked off proceedings with the classic folk tune ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ rebooted into a barn-burning big-band number, the first of the stunning arrangements by musical director Matt Ray. The over-arching theme of Mac’s ‘radical faerie ritual sacrifice’ is of communities torn apart and at the same time bonded together by pain, and even in this truncated version the audience was required to be active participants. For a thrilling version of Tori Amos’ raging ‘Precious Things’, judy bought up a random audience member onstage to provide backing effects before reaching out to the entire audience to follow suit. The oldest and the youngest members of the audience danced onstage with Mac in a roof-shaking blues song, while two blond members were offered up as sacrifices to Nazi idealism in a campy carriage ride courtesy of Rogers and Hammerstein – it wasn’t entirely clear how this number was intended to ridicule Nazi ideology, but perhaps this would be clearly in the context of the full show. By the end of the evening the audience was so enthralled they were eagerly jumping to their feet to obey Mac’s instructions.

Mac is a masterful and intensely charismatic performer, able to make campy pratfalls sit easily alongside penetrating intellectual ruminations on sexual repression and political conservatism, and judy’s powerful and piercing voice is capable of encompassing rock, blues and jazz in equal measure. While there might be some who’d question the relevance to an Australian audience of an exploration of American political and social history through music, Mac made incredibly pertinent links from the lives of Jewish-American immigrants in the early 20th century to Australia’s current treatment of refugees. The re-fashioning of a homophobic Ted Nugent song explicitly about ‘fag-bashing’ into a soft, romantic slow dance under a disco ball (as well as the entire audience asked to dance with someone of the same gender) was a heavenly conclusion to the evening and made all the poignant by the current climate of homophobia being unleashed in this country.

With such an energetic, anarchic and transcendent opening we can expect a wonderful season for the Melbourne Festival this year, and can only wait in delighted anticipation for Mac’s show in its entirety next week!

Venue: Hamer Hall, St Kilda Rd.

Date: 6th October 2017

Time: 7:30pm

https://www.festival.melbourne/2017/

Dance Massive Presents DEEP SEA DANCES

Eclectic exploration

By Joana Simmons

For ten days in March, Dance Massive brings us a program of all things dance, from the athletic to the obscure. Presented by Arts House, Dancehouse and Malthouse Theatre in association with Ausdance Victoria, the curated and commissioned program features local and international artists who have created works to engage and connect with. Through the international medium that is movement to music, across this program we are given a chance to rediscover our belief in the joyous and the extraordinary privilege of feeling alive. Rebecca Jensen’s Deep Sea Dances takes us to the depths of the sea, exploring the ecosystems that unfold as a dead whale sinks to the depths. Set to a live soundtrack and silence, the large cast come together to prioritize transition and transformation.

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Beginning with a work that recreated the rolling waves set to the breath of the ensemble, we the audience found ourselves sitting at the edges of the warehouse dive deep. The use of cannon and release of the head gave the real water lapping at your ankles’ feeling. From there, however, I was lost. I’m unsure whether, excuse the pun, I was out of my depth, but for the next 45 minutes the same movements were repeated over and over again to minimal music.  It felt like a self-indulgent and exhaustive way to prove a point. I appreciated how the performers mixed up their placement onstage, and the timing; but the movement itself was so loosely executed and frequently repeated I was unsure whether I was at a professional or student production. The costume was unflattering and sneakers were worn by all which cut off leg lines and led to some quite clunky movement. When the pace picked up, there were some good moments, however as a whole the use of repetition, lack of any extension or definitive lines or any facial expression made me, and the woman opposite me who had nodded off, feel completely excluded.

Still, credit must be given to the production in some regards as some bold choices have been made. Rebecca Jensen and Marco Cher-Gibard’s sound design is a big feature with some of the music being played live on a synth machine and keyboard by Jensen herself. It is also very exciting the way the roller door of the warehouse is bought up and the light from the street spills into the space as the dancers emerge, this time wet and clad in some slick-like fabric. They walked with pace and direction from one side to the other; which was engaging at first, but again went on for an exaggerated amount of time. Matthew Adey’s production design was simple and effective. The yellow tarquet made plenty of squeaks and music to the dancers’ sneakers, and the use of the industrial fan at the end was memorable….maybe because it was the end.

We live in a world where there is an oversaturation of media, art, film, video and theatre. Apparently we are time-poor and “connected” but also disconnected. I found this performance difficult to connect with at all based on how there was no eye contact with the audience or facial expression, and while I could understand the movement, I couldn’t understand the way it was going on for so long. If this was an experimental first performance for students, then those things are excusable. If this is trying to prove a point by challenging us to understand something deeper than what is being delivered, then great; I’m sure there are people who are out there who love having the splash of cold water on the face that is confronting theatre. However, considering the tickets are above $30, I would at least like to be able to trust that my time and money would be well-spent with attending a performance that left me feeling something other than confused and frustrated. Nevertheless, movers and shakers have to move and shake around all sorts of mediums to spark change. This is a show that has plenty of moving and shaking and, judging from the fact the performance I saw was sold out, there is a market of people who are going to appreciate it.

Deep Sea Dances was performed as part of Dance Massive in March 2017.

Image by Eliza Dyball

Dance Massive Presents TINY SLOPES

Brave and brilliant

By Joana Simmons

Sometimes as we get older, we challenge ourselves less. We don’t always push ourselves to fail and fall. In Tiny Slopes for Dance Massive, director/choreographer Nat Cursio has pushed the cast of dancers to learn to skateboard, and learn about risk, failure, humility and little wins along the way. Set along to an eclectic soundtrack, this impressive and artistic work is a joy from beginning to end. One of Melbourne’s wonderfully-kept historical venues, The Meat Market, tucked just north of the CBD  is a perfect host to this production that has a range of well-thought-out theatrical elements that really spin my wheels.

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We enter the Meat Market and sit looking at an almost-tennis-court-sized tarquet set with four skateboards. One of the dancers balances, jumps and manouvers cautiously around the board as the other three speak about things that they use to do when they were little, like jump off the roof of the shed and ride a tricycle down the windshield of Dad’s car. The snippets of memories are honest, dry and witty about the things they are scared of, what they don’t know about and what they can do. I loved how cleverly these anecdotes were woven through: though there’s no real storyline, they keep the work interesting, truthful and accessible.

Meanwhile, the depth of the stage is as impressive as how the dancers cover it. They use the skateboards as mechanisms for movement, with smooth natural floorwork and rolls; effortlessly skilled and meticulously choreographed.  The skateboards have microphones to capture their clunks and the sound of the wheels spinning, and this is enhanced and reverberated to make a fully stirring experience.  Young teenage girls who can skateboard with much dexterity skim the floor and play the roles of mentors, or past selves, to the four main dancers. The full house applauded as they tackled the ramps and mini half-pipe.

There’s many highlights and wonderful things to learn and take away from this show. Cursio made it from her ongoing interest in vulnerability and resilience, two virtues that are widely explored in this work. It is exciting and empowering to see a group of strong girls form a gang and put a beautiful story onstage. It’s got the athleticism and production of Cirque Du Solei with the artistic quality of a documentary seasoned with a little comedy. I want to commend the cast (Alice Dixon, Melissa Jones, Caroline Meaden, Francesca Meale, Rae Franco, Amelie Mansfield, Pyper Prosen, Pixel Willison-Allen) for their completely honest and genuine performance. It was really refreshing to see movement and performance that wasn’t flashy or self-indulgent: quite simply, it was artistic and accessible.

Travis Hogan’s comprehensive lighting combined with sound by Byron Scullin and ‘everyday awesome’ costumes by Sarah Hall gives this show a sweet aestheic and aural edge. Tamara Salwick as the text/ voice consultant has tastefully put together elements of the show that bring Cursio’s direction and choreography to life.

With no “ta da” ending, it is the choreographic unison and connection between the performers made this a satisfying show. It makes me feel like I too can take up something I’m afraid of, like skateboarding. It’s a privilege to enjoy performances of this nature. If you have never seen contemporary dance and are worried it’s wishy washy writhing in nude leotards, this is a spectacle that defies all of that and exceeds expectations. It’s an absolute delight.

Tiny Slopes played as part of Dance Massive in March 2017.

Image by Gregory Lorenzutti

Christina Bianco’s DIVA MOMENTS

Phenomenal.

By Adam Tonking

Diva Moments by award-winning performer and world-class impressionist Christina Bianco is an  exploration of dozens of the world’s greatest divas performing for you live through the magic of Bianco’s singular talent. If you think the idea of a series of impersonations sounds like a shallow gimmick, you are so very mistaken, because anchoring all of this is the incomparable Bianco.

Christina Bianco

Her talent as an impressionist is mind-blowing. She employs no props to assist her, using only the physical and more importantly vocal idiosyncrasies (of everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Shirley Bassey to Celine Dion to Adele) to bring them alive on stage, frequently exaggerating their quirks for comic effect, and that alone would have made for a fun and impressive evening. But she employs the art of impression is so many different ways that the act never gets old.

Accompanied at the piano by the amazing Michael Lavine, she performed “Wind Beneath My Wings,” first as Bette, but then switching through different singers to see how they may have treated it. She performed what she called her “Mega Mix,” where she sings snatches of famous songs as the amazing women who made them famous – a particular favourite was Dolly then Whitney, singing (of course) “I Will Always Love You.” She read from a book from one of her favourite divas in a variety of voices from Kathy Griffin to Keira Knightley in one of her most hilarious moments. And as a nod to her Australian fans, she performed songs made famous by Australian artists in a segment called “Unlikely Interpretations.” You haven’t heard “Land Down Under” until you’ve heard it performed by Ms Streisand, and Christina Aguilera’s take on Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” worked surprisingly well. She even attempted a few impressions of Australian divas, proving what a generous performer she is, and while she called her Olivia Newton-John a “work in progress,” I thought she nailed it.

But besides the many incredible women she channelled onstage, the greatest was Bianco herself. She chatted constantly between songs, telling hilarious stories about herself and the lives of the divas with impeccable comic timing, but still in a way that seemed like she was having the time of her life and we were all part of it. And most of all, she performed a few amazing, left-of-centre songs, as herself.

What can I say? More than her spine-tingling Piaf or her ridiculously spot-on Celine Dion, when she took to the stage as herself, it was better than all of her impressive impressions. She is a compelling storyteller, and her ability to colour her voice – and with such rapid ease – adds a multitude of rich layers to the songs she performed. “Wherever He Ain’t” and “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have” have never been performed with greater emotional expression. And her operatic “duet” between herself and “Kristin Chenoweth” was breathtaking in its breadth.

The skill to manage so many different vocal qualities, the athleticism required to perform with such engaging non-stop energy, and importantly, the vocal stamina to sing big song after big song, from the lowest alto to the highest soprano, is truly a phenomenon to behold. And poses the question; how many of Bianco’s homages could have done the same? She is truly a diva unto her self.

Christina Bianco played at Alex Theatre, 135 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda; unfortunately only 8-9 March 2017 and then Sydney at the Hayes Theatre, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point
Sunday 12th March 20173.00pm & 7.00pm (sold out) www.hayestheatre.com.au.

But I insist you immediately check out her videos on YouTube and pray for her return.

Image by Darren Bell

Sly Rat Theatre Presents THE TEMPEST

An enchanting event

By Margaret Wieringa

A small boat is wrecked in a magical tempest leaving the survivors to wander an island, guided by spirits and controlled by an ousted Italian noble. Sit back in your camping chair or spread out on your picnic rug; it’s time to be enchanted with some Shakespeare in the park.

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This is the second Shakespearean performance that Sly Rat Theatre Company have put on in Pipemakers Park in Maribrynong and it was again a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We are introduced to the island by Prospero (Brendan Ewing) as he shows the power of his magic, controlling everyone and everything including his daughter and the very spirits of the island. Ewing starts the performance loud and dominant, unfortunately leaving himself very little room to expand the performance. Consequently, we get a strong sense of the outrage and anger of Prospero, but it far more difficult to glean his softer and more complex side.

For this production, artistic directors Alan Chambers and Andy Harmsen have gender-swapped many of the characters (the original play has only one or, depending on the reading of Ariel, two females) and this leads to a completely different reading of some parts of the performance. The idea of women dominating the society that they have left through dishonesty and deceit, and of a man rising up to take his true place – it adds a new level. It also meant that the royals, all female, were young, angry warriors dressed in wild Mad-Max/steampunk costumes and dominating the stage. These costumes contrasted vastly from the island spirits in wispy veils with lots of softness. Unfortunately, many seemed to be wearing poorly-fitting dresses, and while it was clear that the actresses were wearing skin-coloured undergarments, the sense of wardrobe malfunction was somewhat distracting.

Possibly the most impressive costume would have had to have been Caliban, played by Seton Pollock in a beige lyrca suit with all kinds of mutations built in – a hunchback with a distorted spine, one very large thigh and, most obviously, elongated arms with heavy, stumped ends which gave him an animalistic gait perfect for his portrayal of this tragic character.

One thing the production needed to consider further was the sound design. There were some scenes that worked really beautifully, creating the sense of the island (especially at the start, matched with sporadic giggles from the island spirits), but some of the other soundscapes really dominated, detracting from the acting.

However, this is a performance that is being crafted for everyone to enjoy – right down to the kids. There are many standout comedy moments, most notably the slapstick antics of the sailors and the other stand-out clowns of the evening, the wonderful drunks played hilariously by Katherine Moss and Tara Houghton.

Really, though, the performance is the icing on the cake of a delightful night out. You can relax, open some wine, eat a picnic or grab some food from the food truck. Enjoy the warmth in the air, the sun through the trees, and as the day draws to a close, let Shakespeare’s Tempest take you away.

Venue: Pipemakers Park, Van Ness Avenue, Maribrynong

Season: Feb 17-19 +24-26, March 3-5, 6:30pm

Tickets: It’s all free – just come on down!