27 October 2014

FESTIVAL: When the mountain changed its clothing

When the mountain changed its clothing
Vocal Theatre Carmina Slovenica & Heiner Goebbals
23 October 2014
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 26 October

Photo by Wonge Bergmann

"If you liked that show, I'm going to push you under a tram." It could only be said in Melbourne, at an arts festival. It was said to me at the end of When the mountain changed its clothing.

I liked it.

Others didn't.

My favourite bit was the cutting open of teddy bears to make clouds. And the throat singing choir of teenagers in coloured and patterned gum boots.

German composer and director Heiner Goebbals makes a form of music theatre that's made to be an experience. Much closer to performance art than narrative theatre, he creates a strange and beautiful base for the audience to layer their own interpretation and emotions onto. 

He was last at a Melbourne Festival with Stiflers Dinge in 2010. Without performers, stripped upright pianos were played by mechanical arms in a leafless and pond-filled forest. They moved, sound came from everywhere and there was lots of dry ice. It was mesmerising and weird and left people smiling without knowing why.

When the mountain changed its clothing has performers. Forty teenage girls and young women from Vocal Theatre Carmina Slovenica: a girls ensemble, directed by Karmina Silec, that searches for and explores new forms of music and vocal techniques. Their singing is exquisite. And their movement is as disciplined as their music. There isn't a step or note out of place. While each is dressed individually, they work as one and none would dare to stand out. It's also a bit creepy.

Without a safe or easy narrative, scenes have themes and as they build on each other, the intent of the previous scenes becomes clearer. The music and text is a mish-mash – music includes Schonberg, traditional Slovenian music and new work by Goebbals;  text includes Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ian McEwan, Gertrude Stein and an excerpt from a tv show – that somehow sounds like it belongs together.

There's logic and complete understanding of the work on the stage – it's easy to see it's about transitions – but seeing the understanding isn't as easy. And this is how Goebbals's work soars or plummets.

I saw it as a middle-aged look at teenage girls and how they have been, and continue to be, represented in literature and the arts. The choir of teens show attempts at capturing the experience of being between child and adult; a time when a girl thinks they are one thing while the world sees them as the other. A time when innocence means more than child or adult understands.

There's an early scene when the girls sit in a line at the front of the stage and silently = look at the audience. A middle-aged man two-people along from me whispered, "Show us your tits". I wish I'd reached over and slapped him. I saw children in t-shirts and jeans. He saw tits. I hated him. I hope he reads this and for one fraction of a second feels what it must be like as a girl to have a man old enough to be your grandfather say that to you.

The girls and young women on stage are controlled, but there's rebellion in the creepy consistency. I saw a show that celebrated the strength and power of young women and laughs at anyone who dares to only see tits.

It's today's $25 SwiftTix offer. For $25 it's worth the risk to see what your feel at the end. Meanwhile, I'm staying a few metres away from tram lines.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 October 2014

FESTIVAL: My Lovers' Bones

My Lovers' Bones
Brown Cab Productions
15 October 2014
Footscray Community Arts Centre
to 18 October

Kirk Page. Photo by Deryk McAlpin

My Lovers' Bones is another premiere Australian work developed for and supported by the Melbourne Festival. Created by independent company Brown Cab Productions, it's a fascinating story of a man running through city streets being chased by a malevolent force that's not giving up.

This force could be his past, his self, a woman he once loved or a bunyip that's lived in the city since the time before cities were imagined.

Directed by Margaret Harvey (founder of Brown Cab with her brother John Harvey), it explores how Indigenous myth and Dreaming are a part of the land we share and creep into our beliefs and lives even if we don't understand how or why. And it reminds that ancient stories from indigenous people and elders all over the world come from a place of truth.

As the running man, Kirk Page's performance is mesmerising. He captures a world where he wants to think the fear is in his head but knows in his soul that it's real. His confusion and terror is made more palpable a stunning sound (Anna Liebzeit) and lighting (Lisa Mibus) design that creates a world that's floating between the seen and unseen; between safety and horror.

At less than an hour, its concise telling doesn't dwell on anything superfluous, but, while it's beautiful to watch, some of the show's heart is caught on the stage and hasn't found its way out of the creators's heads and into the audience's hearts. As a story about a bunyip, it needs to be felt in the gut more than understood in the head.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Complexity of Belonging

Complexity of Belonging
Melbourne Festival, Chunky Move, Melbourne Theatre Company & Brisbane Festival
9 October 2014
Sumner Theatre
to 25 October

Photo by Jeff Busby

Melbourne Festival, the Brisbane Festival and Melbourne Theatre Company have coordinated to support the creation of Complexity of Belonging. It's the type of work that international arts festivals are terrific at developing.

Falk Richter, writer and director from Schaubühne Berlin (a favourite at recent Melbourne Festivals) and Anouk van Dijk, now the Artistic Director of Melbourne's Chunky Move, have previously worked together in the Europe and have developed this piece with an Australian cast that's premiered in Melbourne and will tour Europe next year.

Working with nine actors and dancers, it's a collaboration where the performers contributed stories that result in semi-fictional hyper-real versions of themselves on stage. The stories are about finding a way to belong when you're not feeling a part of your tribe. Looking at Australian culture from an outside – mostly European – eye they include the aesthetics of being a performer, looking or not looking white, not understanding Aussie culture, finding a perfect man, keeping love alive, coming out, religion, Indigenous identification and the despair of having a partner who doesn't go down on you.

A magnificent seamless curved cyc of an Australian desert makes the stage feels vast. With live projections onto a screen happening concurrently with dance and monologues, this vastness makes the stories feel somehow connected to a greater whole and isolated.

This contradiction continues throughout the production and varies in its success.

At times everything works together and results in the kind of emotional and technical mind-meld that we hope for every time we sit in a theatre. As performers speak, van Dijk's mesmerising choreography is like the uncontrolled always-falling-or-climbing inner-chatter that we try to keep hidden from the world, and the screen captures and magnifies the emotions and reactions that are rarely spoken.

Then there are times when the content and the text verges on the banal and #middleclasswhine, especially when the hyper-realised personas are clearly in fictional worlds, and the authenticity is strained. The joy of this piece depends on how the stories are so believable and connectable. They are allowed to fly with the support of the dance, design and great performances, but when the momentum gives out, there's too much room to crash.

And still, I wonder if this in itself isn't part of what makes the rest of it work. There is a lot of banality in finding ways to feel like you belong. I want to see what Complexity of Belonging becomes with feedback of stage time. It may already be a very different show from opening night.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Mikelangelo, City of Dreams

City of Dreams launch
14 October 2014
Foxtel Festival Hub
to 16 October

Photo by Tom Chuma
Mikelangelo isn't from Melbourne and spends a lot of time travelling the world, but – like many of us – he fell in hopeless love with this city and made it his home. Last night, surrounded by friends who collaborated and friends who swooned and cheered, he launched his new album City of Dreams, a love song to "Where I feel safe and where I feel loved".

And where better to launch a love song to Melbourne than in the  Festival Hub on the banks of the Yarra.

With his voice deeper and hotter than hell, the album's more gentle and less character-driven than his Tin Star or Black Sea Gentlemen music. While Black Sea Mikelangelo explodes with yearning testosterone and pomade, Melbourne Mikelangelo strolls through the city streets, often hand-in-hand with Clare St Clare, and sees that everything around him is bloody beautiful.

There's still a rockabilly influence, but Miles Brown has convinced him that a theramin and synthesizer are as sexy as a well-worn guitar, and his guest vocalists, including St Clare, bring a balancing lightness to his irresistible darkness.

The album's wonderful but it was its Pledge Music crowd funding campaign that created the extra love to make it something that won't be forgotten – and it wasn't just the money.

His pledge rewards are personal and offer unrepeatable experiences like Mikelangelo meeting you in Edinburgh Gardens to shine your shoes, taking you to his barber, serenading your grandmother, taking you to Piedimonte's to discover if you can get a cappuccino upstairs, or MCing your event. And some of his favourite suits are up for grabs.

Campiagn updates included photos of thrilled mums, hand-inked cd covers, the newly quiffed and men full of dumplings. Plus personalised messages to every pledger and a bonus EP for us who live so south that we can listen while we feel the white sand of Sandringham beach on bare feet.

At last look, his powder-blue suit is gone but the "Name your baby" reward is still available. And there are two more performances of the City of Dreams album at the Festival Hub tonight (Wednesday) and tomorrow. Be prepared to float home in he afterglow.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.


Circa & Debussy String Quartet
17 October 2014
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 19 October

The experience of watching Circa continues to leave me a babbling mess of words that don't come near to describing how they make me feel.

Opus, which was co-comissioned by the Melbourne Festival and premiered in France in 2013, was developed by Circa's choreographer and director Yaron Lifschitz, the Circa ensemble – it's the first show to feature all of the ensemble – and the world-renowned Debussy String Quartet, who are based in Lyon, France.

Lifschitz doesn't so much as meld dance and circus, but flings them together in ways that force both to a height where failure means certain death and success means flight into the unknown. His performers fly at velocities that usually need seat belts.

The music is live, with the quartet playing Adagio for Strings and String Quartets 11, 8 and 5 by twentieth century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The composer's world was filled with war and death, so his music is a bleak and angry look at humanity that's beautiful because it reaches the parts of us that hope for a better world.

The quartet are positioned to be danced and moved around. For all the intent to make the live music as vital as the dance, they remain separate. Maybe watching bodies at the limit of human strength and flexibility is so amazing that men playing at the limit of human skill and concentration can't compare. This is also felt in the clash between music etiquette (clap in the silence when the music is over) and circus etiquette (clap at the end of a trick). Circus wins and the insult of cheering and treating a live quartet – who are playing music about horror and fear – as background music adds a somewhat frustrating dynamic to the experience.

But the urge to cheer is difficult to overcome as what seems physically impossible is repeatedly proven to be possible.

The choreography is the embodied emotion of Shostakovich's music. It's the sense of control in what can look like chaos. People cling together and explode apart; they climb and balance or fall and are caught; and they repeatedly collapse and keep get up in ways that defy belief.

It's dangerous movement and for all the logic that reminds that everyone is safe, there's a thrill in knowing that the line between being caught and being broken is wafter thin.

Opus finishes on Sunday. It's jaw-dropping, heart-stopping wonderful.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

20 October 2014


Dewey Dell
12 October 2014
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
to 14 October

Photo by Wolfgang Silveri

So, there's a Japanese samurai going all Noh, a Pink Power Ranger, the offspring triplets of a Telly Tubby and the Michelin Man, a bird (that I called Dick Face), and an inflatable starfish. Dewey Dell's art-dance-theatre Marzo is weird. Really weird. Awesomely, fabulously, I-don't-know-what-I-just-experienced weird!

Dewey Dell were formed in Italy in 2007 by Agata Castellucci, Demitrio Castellucci, Teodora Castellucci and Eugenio Resta. They now spend a lot of time at festivals all over the world. They created Marzo with Japanese director Kuro Tanio and costume designer Yuichi Yokoyama.

The process started as a story, but it isn't on stage. The story is distilled to emotion; emotion that's made into something bigger with brain-pounding design, music, choreography and performance that work as one to ensure that what's cohesive on the stage can be anything the audience want it to be.

There are surtitles, but they distract and really don't help. However if you want to find the embryo of this marvel, it's set on a crater of a distant planet where the life could be microscopic or giant; the thousands and thousands of years it takes their light to reach Earth, means that they could have already evolved into something unrecognisable or have been obliterated from the universe. Maybe. It's also about war and fertility. I think.

It really doesn't matter what it's about. Marzo is pure experience and an interpretation of a reflection on human reaction to conflict is as cool as wondering why the dick-face bird is attacking the power ranger.

It's intense, confusing and a like drinking a pint of undiluted red cordial and trying to stay still.

I know that some have hated it, and it's close to that line that makes me wonder how or why it was made – but I couldn't stop watching and I know that I'm going to be disappointed if I don't see the inflatable telly-tubby-shagged-michelin-man triplets again.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Have I No Mouth

Have I No Mouth
11 October 2014
Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
to 13 October

Photo by Jeremy Abrahams

Have I No Mouth is extraordinary theatre. I was on the verge of tears for most of it, but it took me somewhere beautiful.

Co-writers and directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keenan are co-artistic directors of the Dublin-based company Brokentalkers, which they were among the founders of in 2001. Wanting to explore new forms that challenge everything about text-based theatre, the company creates what they call Live Performance, a collaborative process drawing from skills and experiences beyond theatre.

In Have I No Mouth, Cannon is joined by his mother (Ann Cannon) and their psychotherapist (Erich Keller). Ann and Erich aren't theatre makers.

Feidlim and Ann saw the psychotherapist together and individually to work through their ongoing grief and pain over the death of brother and son baby Sean when he was 15 hours old and Feidlim was 6, and the death of father and husband Sean when Feidlim was in his early 20s. Ann and Sean met when they were 15 and 16.

On his practice's website, Erich Keller describes how he forms a bond with clients to develop "hopeful and creative ways" to reconcile difficulties. The on-stage therapy, including counselling, dream work, object work, re-inactment and surrogacy, is taken out of consulting room and made theatrical. Young Feidlim and his brother are life-size cut out photos. Ann talks to her young son. Feidlim dances. Erich becomes the father who visits in dreams.

They share how they found a way through the insanity, anger and farce – let's not forget the funny moments – of grief. Ann is a believing Christian and is now a colour therapist and practices Reiki (which is part of the stage ritual and telling), Feidlim made a piece of theatre that's taken him and his mum around the world. Neither advocate any way to heal and, for all its unflinching honesty, it's presented with a distance that allows for empathy without judgement.

It's a work about grief, but it's ultimately a story about Feidlim and Ann and the mother–son relationship and dynamic. It's written into the work but is so palpable on the stage that there's no question that either would ruin the "play" without hesitation if the other weren't feeling safe.

It also leaves us with so many questions. We might want to know what happened when Feidlim asked his mum to make a piece of theatre on their holiday to Spain, how they convinced the Erich to be involved, what happened with the legal case over Sean's misdiagnosis, how the other brother is going, or why we never see a photo of Sean – but none of this is part of this story, and none of our business. The unanswered and unspoken questions remind us that it is a piece of theatre, and that stories in theatre are rarely verbatim truth.

Have I No Mouth is harrowing and astonishing in its deeply human sharing of grief, but its catharsis is so real that it becomes a sharing of joy and hope.

PS. I think this is an unmissable piece, but last night I told two friends not to see it as their current experiences are too close.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

16 October 2014

FESTIVAL: Carrousel Des Moutons

Carrousel Des Moutons
D'irque & Fen
10 October 2014
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 October

Photo by Fabien Debrabander

Belgium duo Dirk Can Boxelaere and Fien Van Herwegen – who met in 2005 when circus performer Dirk broke his leg and used his down time to have piano lessons from Fien – won hearts and fans on their first trip to Melbourne in 2013 with Oh Suivant!.  Carrousel Des Moutons is even more gorgeous.

Dirk's in his stripy pjs and is ready to sleep, but Fien's playing her piano, her flying piano! With extraordinary balance, tumbling, juggling and love-filled clowing, Dirk's struggle for bed-time overcomes gravity, Fien's original music, and a gasping and squealing audience (and that's just the grown ups) to finally settle and be able to count des moutons (sheep) – and the carousel of sheep is so lovely and surprising that I'm it'll make me smile and relax the next time insomnia strikes.

Here's circus-theatre made for children that never condescends to it's younger audience, while never forgetting the oldies.  It's a pure enchantment and, while the Festival is only two days old, it's my highlight so far.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Cirkopolis

Cirque Éloize
10 October 2014
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 October

Cirque Éloize are from Montreal – a city with an international circus school and that's home companies including Cirque du Soliel and 7 Doigts De La Main – and have performed in 440 cities in over 40 countries. They're met with joy, cheers and awards where ever they go and Cirkopolis lives up to the spectacle and how-can-they-do-that expected of this company.

Visually based on Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metrolpolis, it's set in a grey world where grey-coated people are as human as the machines around them. Its striking animated back wall (Robert Massicotte and Alexis Laurence) of factories and cog-driven machines is enhanced by a lighting design (Nicholas Descoteux) that lets performers and the animation become one.

And with choreographed perfection, physically astonishing performers, and a heart-warming premise that people will always find ways to be themselves and find colour in the grey, there's little to say that it's not wonderful. But this may be it's downfall.

I have a soft spot for this company because their Rain was the first review I wrote for AussieTheatre in 2006 (sorry Creative Director's program notes, it's not the first time they've been to Melbourne). Rain questioned the role of contemporary circus in theatres and answered its own questions by being emotionally compelling and technically wow.

Cirkopolis is outstanding circus that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it feels like a show that's made to tour and never ruffle a feather. It's traditional trick-based circus where the men are strong, the clown's a wuss and the women giggle in pretty dresses and are thrown about by the men in suits. It's not questioning or pushing circus art beyond the expected.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.