Tag: Arts Centre Melbourne

Review: I’m a Phoenix Bitch

An intense and vital story of motherhood, madness and hope.

By Irene Bell

Don’t go see this show with your mum … or do, I don’t know.

Bryony Kimmings’s latest, I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, is not a gentle and loving portrayal of motherhood. The descent into madness in this autobiographical performance piece is not in any way sexy or mysterious. While the sets are cartoonish, the asides comical, this play is unashamedly real and brave. What an absolute privilege to see this show.

Kimmings is a fantastic writer; her monologue never gets stale and the rapport she builds between her and the audience is almost instant. I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is her story of becoming a mother, a series of traumatic events and how she ultimately finds herself again – or meets and comes to understand her new self, at least. Early on in the show Kimmings says the we are safe with her – this is true, but it doesn’t mean only an hour later you won’t be crying ugly, therapeutic tears.

The staging is wonderfully simple and clever. Four set pieces covered in white sheets wait for the show to begin. Each represents a part or a place in Kimmings’s story. As she uncovers each one, inviting us into her past and revisiting it herself, we are drawn deeper and deeper into the trauma. The separate scenes are delivered with humour and wit, mostly shown through a camera whose filming of Kimmings’s performance is projected onto a screen. The scenes are played as pastiches of various classic cinema depicting women, mothers and female mental illness. It’s tongue in cheek until it becomes too real, until the scene spits Kimmings back out into the monologue, no hiding behind a camera.

I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is the beauty of theatre: at its heart it is a room full of strangers flexing their empathy muscles as we listen to a woman’s story and truly, from the bottom of our hearts, wish her all the best. You wish for a happy ending that doesn’t come, not because the ending is sad, but rather because life goes on. Go see I’m a Phoenix Bitch ready to open your heart to a stranger on stage and her son.

I’m a Phoenix, Bitch is playing at the Arts Centre until 15 September. Tickets can be bought here online (www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/theatre/im-a-phoenix-bitch) or by calling the box office on 03 9281 8000.

 

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Review: Since Ali Died

Theatre making and storytelling at its simple best

By Owen James

Using nothing but words, an empty stage and some very simple lighting, wordsmith Omar Musa has concocted a beautiful and chaotic cacophony of language that inspires, amuses, and shocks with Since Ali Died. Musa is a master conductor of words, and this symphony reflects his passion for these art-forms – poetry and rap.

Using “the death of his hero Muhammad Ali as a lyrical springboard”, Musa launches into story after story, tackling love, loss, and divinity – and we are enthralled for the entire duration. There were many moments throughout the hour-long performance you could hear a pin drop. Musa is scathingly honest as he presents reflections on his life as a “brown man growing up on black land”, enduring episodes at primary school where he was told his “skin is the colour of shit”, and recounting encounters with racist politicians (inspiring the rap piece ‘Un-Australia’), tumultuous past loves, and perhaps his worst enemy, personal demons. There are insightful personal descriptions as he defines (and defies) wrestling with identity, and the expectations that stem from heritage and masculinity.

As this compelling performer rhymes and riffs, any notions of poetry being a boring and antiquated requirement confined to the high school classroom are demolished – every word is riveting and current, the atmosphere in the audience alive with anticipation. But it’s more than his gritty eloquence as a poet that makes the work so engaging; Musa is a storyteller who is charming and relaxed no matter the topic, always comfortable presenting his work mostly alone onstage, with the exception of guest performer Sarah Corry alongside for two pieces.

Fully deserving of the standing ovation he received at the end of the performance, Since Ali Died is a cutting and contemporary lyrical refraction of Musa’s powerful perspective on Australia and humanity. It’s a reminder of how powerful language can be, and a wake-up call to habitual Australian ignorance.

Don’t miss this intimate and intelligent work, playing a very short season at Arts Centre Melbourne until August 17th, as part of the third year of their ‘Big World, Up Close’ series. Tickets: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/festivals-and-series/big-world-up-close/since-ali-died

Photography by Robert Catto

 

Melbourne Festival 2017: 7 PLEASURES

Familiarity and confrontation in the flesh

By Myron My

It’s interesting how much uncomfortable conversation sex and nudity can create, and how many people can easily feel confronted by seeing a breast or a penis. So when you’re seeing a performance art piece in which the dancers are nude for the entire show, it can usually lead to some awkward moments. However, Mette Ingvarsten is well aware of this fact, and in 7 Pleasures she immediately knocks down the obvious issue before the performance has even begun, or before anyone in the audience is given a chance to realise it has begun.

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Ingarsten’s work explores the pleasure – and the pain – the body can provide and the difficulty in being able to enjoy one’s own body when faced with constriction and conflict. The set design for 7 Pleasures is simple and familiar, a living room with a few chairs, a table, coffee table and a pot plant. Its familiarity is what sets you at ease… except for the giant sculpture of naked bodies forming in a back corner.

Slowly, the performers begin to move as one, like lava seeping down a volcano as they envelop any furniture that lies in its way. While there are breasts, vaginas and penises on display, the bodies lose their gender through the course of the movements with arms and legs intertwining with each other until it’s almost impossible to tell where one person’s body ends and another begins. There is no music or noise during this sequence except for the contact the bodies make with each other and the set pieces. This play with sound and music adds to the themes explored and when these bodies reach peak liberation (and orgasm), Peter Leanaert and Will Guthrie‘s music and soundtrack creates a tribal-like feel with the near-destruction of Ingvarsten and Minna Tikkainn‘s set.

The final part of the show looks at body politics and the policing of bodies, with half the performers dressed head to toe in black and the other half still naked. There is a struggle between the two as they each fight for what they believe is right. The choreography still has the entrancing rhythm Ingvarsten has maintained throughout the piece but she also manages to imbue it with a violence that is both beautiful and horrifying to watch.

7 Pleasures is a highly intimate work that acknowledges the sexual joy the body is capable of providing. However, the pleasure that it refers to is more from the self-discovery and the surprises that our own bodies can give us if we are brave enough to go exploring.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 22 October | Fri – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: Full $59 – $69 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Image by Marc Coudrais

Melbourne Festival 2017: TREE OF CODES

Frenzy and reflection

By Myron My

When choreographer Wayne McGregor, composer Jamie XX, and visual artist Olafur Eliasson come together for a new contemporary dance production, expectations are high. Taking inspiration from Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2010 book Tree of Codes, this production of the same name is a stunning collaboration of movement, lighting, sound, and stage design.

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Interestingly, Foer’s book was inspired by another book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories of a merchant family in a small town. Schulz story is full of metaphors, mythology and a blurring of fantasy and reality, and for his book, Foer cut out a large number of words and sentences from Schulz’s stories and re-arranged them to form new stories and ideas. Even the title itself is made up of the letters from Schulz’s book title.

McGregor’s Tree of Codes also uses the idea of imagination and truth, and it begins with a gorgeous opening sequence performed in total darkness with lights attached to the costumes of the dancer as they move their bodies like they were floating balls of light. Along with Jamie XX’s electronic pulsing beats, there’s a sense of a new beginning and mysticism, of some kind of awakening that is about to occur, and that is exactly what we get.

In true McGregor-style, the fourteen dancers are pushed to extremes in a complex and frenetic choreography with bodies constantly moving. The music and visual designs including rotating set pieces and mirrored walls are a feast for the senses, and together create the perfect duality of dreaming and reality, of being and of the metaphysical.

Seated on an aisle and not having the best sightlines for this specific production, the impact of the kaleidoscopic images on stage was not able to be appreciated to its fullest, but it was enough to give an understanding of what was trying to be achieved. The numerous reflections of the dancers on stage highlight time passing by and moving on. At times, the audience itself is reflected onto the stage via the mirrored set pieces, blurring the line between passive viewer of “life” and active participant and asking you to consider your own life and the choices you’ve made.

While there is much to be fascinated and awed by with Tree of Codes, at 75 minutes long I feel the work is stretched too thin as it moves towards its conclusion. Keeping the show around the 60-minute mark could have allowed the intensity of the performances and the effects of the design to remain fresh, with the images constructed on stage and those created in our minds being appreciated to their fullest.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 21 October | Fri – Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm
Tickets: Full $69 – $219 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Melbourne Festival 2017: ALL THE SEX I’VE EVER HAD

Momentous and moving theatre

By Myron My

Not many people think about sixty-five-year-olds having an active sex life. Even Hollywood films rarely have characters of that age talking about sex, and when it does happen, it’s usually emphasised for comedic value. However, in All The Sex I’ve Ever Had, Mammalian Diving Reflex and director Darren O’Donnell bring six people over the age of 65 together and have them share their memories from their birth right up until the present day – to a roomful of strangers.

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All The Sex I’ve Ever Had has toured around the world and what makes this a unique experience is that it is always performed by locals to that area, so each season is going to be completely different as the stories shared are based on the performers’ own life. The structure is simple enough with the six cast – Beatrix, Brenda, Lionel, Noel, Philip and Suzie – sitting behind a table, and as our 20 year-old MC and sound designer Moses Carr announces each year through a microphone, they share with us important moments of their lives. The fact that we are able to get a real picture of who these people are through a few sentences for each year is a testament to the collaborative efforts between the creative team and the performers in threading six narratives together that are engaging and meaningful to the audience.

To speak of the adventures and tribulations shared would be to break the pledge of not gossiping about what’s discussed that we take before the show begins. However, this is more than just titillating stories of sexual escapades, and while sex – and all its manifestations – plays a big part in each of these people’s lives, All The Sex I’ve Ever Heard is an opportunity for those over 65 to be heard – really heard – and for their sex lives and sexuality to be as respected as younger generations’ are.

As the cast relayed all their stories, it reminded me of many of my own stories and my encounters with sex, love and everything in between. While I was born decades later, some of what is shared is actually very similar to the experiences that many still face today, including dark and profound issues such as rape, assault, sexuality, drug addiction and death. At various time throughout the evening, as one of the cast would share an anecdote such as their first open relationship, they would then throw the question out to the audience with the creative team behind the show questioning these people on their own experiences. In doing so, the idea of audience member and performer became blurred with some very honest responses, creating an intimate community of respect within the theatre.

After traversing over 80 years of highs and lows of these people’s lives, we exit to the foyer where each cast member has personal items on display that provide us with an even deeper understanding of who they are, and create a stronger bond with us. It’s a fitting way to end a beautiful evening of human connection that crosses genders, sexualities and age.

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had ran until October 15 as part of the 2017 Melbourne Festival at Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

Upcoming Mammaliam Diving Reflex projects: http://mammalian.ca/

Melbourne Festival 2017: BACKBONE

Stand strong

By Myron My

Just when you think you’ve seen all that is possible in circus, along comes Backbone (by Adelaide company Gravity and Other Myths) that makes you think again. Presented as part of the Melbourne Festival, this show examines the need of strength and support from those around us, and a need to be able to come together as a unified front if we are to ever succeed in life, wonderfully represented through some mind-boggling acrobatics.

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There’s a strong ritualistic aesthetic in Backbone as the performers pour buckets of sand early in the show onto the stage in varying patterns. They begin to move left to right across the floor in a repetitive rite-of-passage while executing captivating body rotations, twists, flips, balances, jumps and turns that I’ve never witnessed before. These bodies are doing things that should be physically impossible and it’s baffling as to how they keep their energy and momentum going for the entire 75 minutes.

The strength, teamwork, flexibility and trust that lies within this troupe (Martin Schreiber, Lachlan Binns, Jascha Boyce, Jacob Randell, Lewie West, Lewis Rankin, Joanne Curry, Mieke Lizotte, Lachlan Harper, Jackson Manson) is clearly evident, as bodies are thrown from one side of the stage and caught on the other and three-person human towers are constructed. Boyce’s hypnotic suit and rock act has her fixing her sight out towards the audience, remaining expressionless throughout her act so even as she stands precariously on the shoulders of one performer and is being passed to another, her eyes stay locked and she remains calm, knowing everything will go according to plan.

Director Darcy Grant ensures an energised pace for the show, while providing the opportunity for the audience to savour every second of what is transpiring on stage – not only through the performers but also with the production’s technical and artistic design too. Elliot Zoerner and Shenton Gregory‘s original score heightens the tension and drama allowing the audience to become fully enveloped by what they are seeing. Each act is perfectly matched with music that has these musicians seamlessly swapping from one instrument to another.

The laser and lighting design by Geoff Cobham is impeccable, as his rig beams across the stage and shines down from above. The lighting refracts off mirrors hanging from the ceiling, creating mesmerising patterns and stunning images on stage, with some performers veiled in shadows while other are brightly lit under the hues of the various colours.

Gravity and Other Myths return to Melbourne in January 2018 with another show, A Simple Space, which – after having seen Backbone – I will not be missing. Not only has this circus company delivered my favourite circus show of the year with Backbone, but quite possibly one of my favourite circus shows ever.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

Season: Until 8 October | Sat 7:30pm, Sun 2pm

Tickets: $30 – $59 

Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Arena Theatre Presents TRAPPER

Captivating for all ages

By Leeor Adar

Arena Theatre has given consistently challenging and engaging works of theatre aimed at their 5 to 25 year-old market since their inception in 1966. The theatre company has constantly kept the issues of interest to youth in the present day in their focus, but what is particularly fantastic about Arena is that the appeal of their work goes beyond the specific age groups for whom they create, appeasing teenagers and their parents alike – or just charming your average theatre-goer.

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Their latest creation, Trapper, is a futuristic and visually stunning set created from giant sculptural machines that light up and engage with the performers and their bodies. Designed by co-creator Jolyon James, with sound design and composition by Ania Reynolds and lighting design by Paul Lim (Additive), the stage ebbs and flows with the performers in an extraordinary and exhilarating manner.

From a selection of writings, the performers deliver a series of stories and segments that concern everything from our engagement with technology to the vastness of our capabilities and failings. Under the direction of co-creator of Christian Leavesley, the integration of the ‘trapping’ surrounds integrates so well with the profound topics discussed, and it is the human capacity to continue to exist (despite what we create that can destroy and expand our existence) that forms the underlying theme to Trapper.

Cleverly, the production appeals to its younger audiences as it takes us into the digital everyday life of a teenager – but the wit and whimsy of youth isn’t so far from adult engagement, as we are all reminded of our digital addictions. Once the younger members in the audience are enthralled, the piece continues to ascend to loftier places, with segment by segment asking larger and larger questions, ultimately reaffirming every individual’s place in the chaos of the world around. Thus Trapper artfully touches on an expansive set of topics with humour and poignancy.

Trapper is a thoroughly ambitious project, but Arena and their capable performers (Rachel Perks, Hamish Irvine, Daniel Schlusser and Naomi Rukavina) deliver with total vitality. The season was short, but hopefully this will not be its only one, so when it returns, take along anyone and everyone – Trapper is a journey of delight.

Trapper was performed at the Melbourne Arts Centre from 3-5 August, 2017. For further information about this production and company, visit: http://www.arenatheatre.com.au/