Tag: Melbourne Festival

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents THE LONDON HAYDN QUARTET

Impeccable

By Narelle Wood

It has taken three years for the Melbourne Festival to complete its ambitious undertaking of performing all 68 quartets composed by Franz Joseph Haydn. As part of this plan The London Haydn Quartet In their Melbourne debut contributed an astounding performance of three of Haydn’s string quartets (No 17 Op 17 No 2, No 37 Op 50 No 2 and No 3 Op 54 No3).

The London Haydn Quartet

It would be easy, at first glance, to mistake this sort of performance as simplistic; there is after all only a stage, the four musicians and some lights. But the simplicity of the surrounds only highlights the complexity of the music and the attention to detail in what can only be described as an incredibly nuanced performance of Haydn’s works. The intricate composition of Haydn’s music moves from moments of quiet almost stillness to furious duelling as the four string instruments answer and talk to and over each other in the most animated musical conversations.

Catherine Manson (violin), Michael Gurevich (violin), James Bord (viola) and Jonathan Manson (cello) make up the quartet and are as every bit as animated as the music. It was clear from both their performance and the brief moments Manson spoke that Haydn is their passion; Manson describing their dedication to Haydn’s works as something akin to dwelling in the unique musical universes that Haydn created. What was perhaps even more evident though was the mastery that these four musicians exhibited, especially in the ways they seamlessly moved through the pieces, each instrument and musician perfectly connecting to each of the others.

The music was beautiful and I found it to be an extremely relaxing and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend some time on a Friday evening. The only disappointing thing was that it was over so quickly. But the good news is the Haydn for Everyone Series does continue throughout the Melbourne Festival. If you can, make sure to catch The London Haydn Quartet next time they visit for a remarkable classical music experience.

Haydn for Everyone Series

Venue: Various locations and times. See website for details
Season: Until 25th October
Bookings: www.festival.melbourne

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REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents BRONX GOTHIC

She is mesmerising

By Christine Young

Bronx Gothic is a deeply personal performance that is captivating from the outset. In a quiet corner of the stage, which is shrouded by a curtain, Okwui Okpokwasili shakes her butt for the longest time. All the while, her shadow lurks on the curtain and becomes a character in its own right. It’s spellbinding.

Bronx Gothic

The spell is broken with the clamour of a big city soundscape crashing in and Okpokwasili’s body mirrors the traffic, voices and general hullabaloo of the street. This is the world of her younger self growing up in the Bronx, New York City, during the 1980s. Throughout the performance, the music and other sounds enter Okpokwasili’s body at an invisible point and subtly seep out in her lithe movements.

With the scene of her childhood set, Okpokwasili approaches the microphone and picks up a pile of handwritten notes she passed with her unnamed best friend when they were eleven years old. These notes contain a disturbing dialogue of innocence lost with Okpokwasili’s friend revealing a knowledge of sexual activity beyond her years. They are notes that haunt and follow Okpokwasili into adulthood with the realisation that her friend was probably being sexually abused.
Bronx Gothic is richly symbolic and filled with juxtapositions of light and shade; the public and the private; love and hate; perceived beauty and ugliness; and fear and yearning. Okpokwasili evokes the intensity of childhood on the brink of adolescence with carefully choreographed movement, in-your-face poetry and stirring song.

Director and visual and sound designer Peter Born helps artist Okpokwasili reach and create her vision by deftly synchronising the lighting, sound and choreography. Bronx Gothic is clearly the result of a creative partnership where two minds click in all the right places. This is experimental theatre at its best.

Bronx Gothic is playing at the Arts House as part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival and an exchange between the Arts House and Performance Space 122 in New York.

Venue: Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Dates: Until October 12, 2015
Tickets: $39 Full / $25 /$15 students
Booking: www.festival.melbourne

Image by Sarah Walker

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents THE RABBITS

Powerful and poignant family opera

By Rachel Holker

Based on the acclaimed picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, and the winner of several Helpmann Awards, The Rabbits (adapted and directed by John Sheedy) comes with high expectations and does not disappoint. An unsubtle commentary on the colonisation of Australia and the consequences for the people and the environment, this production for Melbourne Festival 2015 is no pantomime for the kids.

The Rabbits

The story remains very close to the original text, with the addition of Bird (Kate Miller-Heidke) as a narrator of sorts, calling on high various warnings and dire predictions yet pointlessly declaring her inability to assist with the Marsupials plight as the Rabbits invade.

The Rabbits is masterpiece of staging and design. Tan’s illustrations are utilised sparingly, yet effectively to portray the land of the Marsupials and the encroaching impact of the Rabbits. The costumes (Gabriela Tylesova) cross the line into puppetry and are so emotionally effective (the Marsupials in particular are gorgeously haunting) that the performers’ own faces become superfluous.

Miller-Heidke’s score is very good and, the small orchestra on stage was a delight – I would have liked to see even more of their interactions with the other players. All the performances were strong, especially the Marsupials Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock and Lisa Maza who brought genuine grief to some heartrending scenes.

The libretto is a touch uneven and jarring at points, particularly where it tries to play to the adults in the audience. This was not necessary and detracted from the story rather than lightening the mood as was the intent. However where the words and music combine at key emotional points is where The Rabbits excels.

I hope The Rabbits represents the beginning of a trend in children’s productions that speak up rather than down to their audience.

Tickets to The Rabbits, produced by Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company, in Melbourne are sold out.
Sydney performances:14-24 January, Roslyn Packer Theatre, $47-$98

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/detail?prodid=113130

By Abbey age 11.

I really liked The Rabbits, but it was really sad at some parts. The costumes were amazing and the way they used their headdresses’ mouths when the Rabbits were drinking tea, instead of their own, was really cool. The use of props was awesome with some reaching the top of the stage such as the boat.

The story was told extremely well with one of the Marsupials from the book replaced by a narrating bird and I thought that was effective. The interpretation of the book was really good for the book has no dialogue, but the show does. The character’s speeches were made up but what they said still made sense to the story. The operatic side was amazing but loud.

I wouldn’t recommend this for young kids because it is so sad and emotional.

REVIEW: Chunky Move Presents AORTA

In the heat of a heartbeat

By Myron My

I’m always looking forward to award-winning choreographer Stephanie Lake’s next work. Having seen A Conversation Piece at Dance Massive in which she performed, and then her creation A Small Prometheus during Melbourne Festival this year, where both works pushed the limits of what dance can be in unexpected directions, I was expecting something big with the world premiere of Lake’s new piece: Aorta.

Chunky Move AORTA photo Jeff Busby

Instead, Lake has stripped Aorta back to basics. She uses three dancers (James Batchelor, James Pham and Josh Mu) to share her thoughts on how our interiors perform on the surface. Lake explores the notion of how blood moves and circulates throughout our systems and opens out into themes of mortality, growth and decay.

As with any work commissioned by Chunky Move, the performers themselves are of a high caliber. Batchelor, Pham, and in particular Mu remain highly committed and execute some intricate and impressive moves. They work extremely well together when remaining dynamically in sync with each other, but then also excel when performing solo parts. Pham’s segment towards the finale was a firm highlight of Aorta.

Keeping in line with this minimalist approach, the costuming by Shio Otani has the dancers wearing costume pieces constructed of thick rope, providing the imagery of veins running through the body. The sound composition and lighting by Robin Fox is also effective, with the sounds heard being reminiscent of hearts beating, blood pumping and life itself.

Despite all these elements coming together so well, I did leave feeling comparatively unfulfilled with Aorta. Perhaps it was because of my previous encounters of Lake’s work where so many aspects of the production are used to capacity to create strong emotional environments and moods. It’s still an interesting and unique piece but not something that I will remember as strongly as her others.

Venue: Chunky Move Studios, 111 Sturt St, Southbank

Season: Until 30 November | 7:30pm, Sat 2:00pm

Tickets: $30 Full | $20 Conc

Bookings: http://www.chunkymove.com.au

REVIEW: Stephanie Lake’s A SMALL PROMETHEUS

Fanning creative flames

By Myron My

A single match is struck and a candle lit. Then another and another and another. The darkness that was on stage is soon illuminated by five dancers in Stephanie Lake’s A Small Prometheus.

ARTS HOUSE NORTH MELBOURNE

Performed as part of this year’s Melbourne Festival, the show uses the story of Prometheus from Greek mythology, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to as a gift to the newly-created humanity, to spark off this performance about unpredictability, uncertainty and the fragility of life.

Lake has brought together five extremely talented and strong performers in Rennie McDougall, Lauren Langlois, Alana Everett, Lily Paskas and Lee Serle. I continue to be impressed with the skill and finesse that Paskas (Finucane & Smith’s Glory Box and P.O.V) and Serle (P.O.V) display and the limits to which they constantly push themselves. With such a physically and mentally demanding performance, I was surprised to discover that this is Everett’s professional debut as she is very confident and able on stage.

The show moves between solo and ensemble pieces that are rigidly choreographed, to moments that have varying levels of improvisation which not only heighten the feeling of instability that Lake is creating but also the notion of something more dark and primal at play. Indeed, there are moments where the dancers’ only light is provided by matches and candles, casting many shadows and illuminations.

The fusion of dance, sound and light remains strong and constant throughout A Small Prometheus, but I was just as intrigued by Robin Foxs fire-driven kinetic sculpture which created some powerful moments during the production, and in its own right seemed to lead and guide the performance a certain way.

I was very much drawn into the world created by A Small Prometheus and surprised when it reached its conclusion as it had felt like mere minutes had passed since I began watching. Having seen Lake also perform in A Conversation Piece for Dance Massive earlier this year, it is clear she has a profound interest in exploring dance, music and the self through various means. A Small Prometheus is a clear and fine example of such a show – and should not be missed.

Venue: Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry St, North Melbourne

Season: Until 20 October | Friday 7:30pm, Sat 2pm and 7:30pm and Sun 5:00pm.

Tickets: $30 Full | $25 Conc | $20 Student

Bookings: www.artshouse.com.au, 9322 3713, www.melbournefestival.com.au or 1300 723 038

REVIEW: Daniel Schlusser Ensemble in M+M

Daring to unravel a Russian classic

By Christine Moffat

M + M is the theatrical reworking of Bulgakov’s classic Russian novel The Master and Margarita by exploratory masters the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble for this year’s Melbourne Festival.  Approaching such a novel with reverence, and producing a slavish retelling is not in this Ensemble’s vocabulary.  Instead, this innovative group always attempt to crack the code underpinning the work of art, and present its inner workings to the audience.  Unfortunately, in this production they have taken a risk that has not entirely paid off.

M+M

Some elements of this show are truly superb.  The set design by Anna Cordingley and Romaine Harper is outstanding, and used extensively and with great effect by director Daniel Schulusser.  Every performer (Johnny Carr, Josh Price, Nikki Shiels, Karen Sibbing, Emily Tomlins, Mark Winter & Edwina Wren) bravely attacks the show with energy, commitment and obvious talent.

Deconstructing such rich source material is ambitious for when it comes to reconstructing, how do you decide which elements must be reinstated?  The attempt to connect the novel to Pussy Riot and modern Russian social oppression is disjointed.  Instead of combining these themes, the performance gives the sense of empty, barren space between them.  The program invites the audience to view the piece as “…theatrical architecture…”, but the parts are too loosely connected to achieve this.  It could be better compared to blueprints and a collection of building materials.

It is not a narrative that this production lacks, but rather any emotional resonance.  The vignettes performed on stage are diaspora; closer to resembling performance art than theatre, but not managing the shock or provocation common to that art form either.  Whether this production succeeds in affecting others in its audience emotionally, or merely works visually, the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble have achieved an outcome that can inform and feed their future works.

Sometimes parts do not create a cohesive and greater whole.  In approaching a seemingly impossible novel, this Ensemble should impress us in the attempt, and in the many successful moments it produces.  Sadly, this reconstruction still feels as if it has major elements of the original source missing.  It is like a beautiful watch that has been rebuilt without hands – each component is lovingly crafted, but it has no way of performing as intended and so we have no way of receiving its ultimate message.

Oct 12 – 16 (no show Oct 15)

Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street St Kilda

Tickets: $65 / $50 / Under 30s $35, Student $25

Bookings: theatreworks.org.au, 03 9534 3388, or Ticketmaster 136 100

REVIEW: Black Arm Band Present DIRTSONG

Musically superb, but connections were lost…

By Anastasia Russell-Head

A palpable sense of anticipation filled the darkened Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre, the diverse audience ready to be transported and transfixed by the music and artistry of some of Australia’s finest Indigenous musicians. And the musicians did not disappoint.

From the country-tinged vocals of Dan Sultan, to the superb and virtuosic didgeridoo playing of Mark Atkins and the soaring harmonies of an a-capella trio led by the band’s artistic director Lou Bennett, the performances were accomplished, heartfelt and beautiful.

Yet I felt a bit let-down by this performance. Having been blown away by the Black Arm Band’s inaugural production, murundak, at the Melbourne Festival in 2006, I was really looking forward to this newer show. Somehow, though, it just seemed to miss the mark slightly, and didn’t have quite the power or the energy of the earlier work.

The musicianship and talent of the performers could not be questioned – both the featured performers and the backing band were top-quality and produced excellent performances all round. The projected imagery on the backdrop was also visually engaging and often poignant.

However, this performance didn’t reach out and grab me. I was not drawn in by the performers. There was no program or translation to be able to understand the songs that, according to the publicity material, were performed in eleven different Aboriginal languages.

That is something that should be celebrated – but it’s meaningless to us, the audience, if we’re not given some context and explanation. The performers were not introduced, and the audience were not given any hint of what the songs meant to the musicians or why they were being performed that day.

It was a pity that more thought wasn’t given to the audience’s experience of this work, as the Black Arm Band is one of the most important musical ensembles in Australia today, and they have the opportunity and the talent to communicate something powerful and world-changing. Unfortunately, for this reviewer and on this day, this particular show didn’t quite live up to that promise.

Dirtsong was performed by Black Arm Band at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday September 1, 2012