10 September 2018

Review: Dark Emu

Dark Emu
Bangarra Dance Theatre 
6 September 2018
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 15 September

Dark Emu. Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra’s Artistic Director, Stephen Page, reminds us in his program welcome that this is the “only company in Australia with its cultural origins in this land”. Let that sit for a moment. It’s a lot to take in, especially as they formed 29 years ago.

I thought about it at the end of Dark Emu when the Playhouse erupted with rock-star cheers.

Dark Emu opens with a giant blue seed pod. It’s not fluorescent, it’s more the glowing white-blue seen only in a star-filled night away from the city. It might not be a seed pod; maybe a map seen from above or a songline. It fills the stage and it’s from here that humans emerge.

Dark Emu. Black Seeds - Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe was released in 2014. (Great interview with him.) I’d love to say that I've read it, but I only heard about it a few weeks ago when friends assumed that I’d read it; I WILL now. It demolishes the false idea that Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers before colonisation. It details complex farming practices and a reciprocal connection with the land – look after it; it looks after you. By telling the real history, it shows how our history was and is still re-written to fit post-1788 stories.

A revisionist-history non-fiction book is an unusual inspiration for a dance-theatre piece, but from the opening image, the connection between history and dance and story is so obvious that I wonder what we have to do to get every school-aged child in the country along to this show. It’s hard to change the minds of adults, but the next generations will see our stories though different eyes.

Not that we can’t change older minds. One way to start seeing things differently is to start feeling differently about them. The impact of art is often so hard to describe because it hits us in the feels before the thinks. Facts don’t mean much if you don’t feel emotionally connected to the consequences of those facts. Stunning works of art like this create the emotional link.

There’s narrative and story from Pascoe’s book that’s expanded with a focus on stories from the Yuin nation (south coast NSW). But it’s story without heroes or individuals. It’s about land and people, and destruction and resilience, and a hope and belief that these stories will be heard, shared and listened to. You don’t need to understand the detail of the stories about flies or fire to understand the feeling of massacre and destruction.

The choreography (Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown, Stephen Page and the 18 dancers) starts from and, mostly, stays connected to the earth. With no focus on individual dancers, and no straight lines or precise unison, it feels natural in its complexity. As does the colour in the design (set, Jacob Nash: lighting, Sian James-Holland), and the handmade costumes (Jennifer Irwin), which change with ochre and sweat as each season continues. The world is mostly dark and shadowy greys with fire/blood red, sky/water blue and new-life greens growing from the shadows.

One of the many joys of a Bangarra mainstage work – the company also works with communities and on Country – is how it’s not an option to try and separate one creative element from the rest. The choreography is integral to the designs, music (Steve Francis and others) and dramaturgy (Alana Valentine). And many of the collaborators have been working together since the company formed.

Bangarra may be the most vibrant, powerful and relevant cultural company in Australia and Dark Emu is as vital to our history as the book it started with.

Now, let’s all buy the book (from a local book store) and read it.

06 September 2018

Review: In a Heartbeat

In a Heartbeat
Barking Spider Visual Theatre and La Mama
originally commissioned by Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance
5 September
La Mama Courthouse
to 9 September

In a Heartbeat. Barking Spider

Barking Spider Visual Theatre make theatre experiences from memories and stories, and it's impossible to leave a show without finding forgotten memories of your own.

They start with collected personal stories. For In a Heartbeat, the stories were from people living in the dementia unit of a residential aged care facility. Their stories about love and relationships were collected by students from the Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance, who originally developed the piece at university and performed it for the residents of the facility.

Some of the storytellers found the stories familiar, but didn't remember telling them. One story teller was 104-years-old and died before the first performance; his words are some of the last spoken in the show.

It was such a heart-overflowing delight that it had to be seen again.

Knocking on the wooden door at the La Mama Courthouse, you're met by young performers in a 1950's memory of pastels, floral and pearls. Taking us to tables set for tea with bright table cloths and warm tea pots, each host tells stories. It's like a chamber orchestra of voices as each tell the same verbatim stories to each table – which are being played to them through earpieces and are recordings of the original storytellers.

In a Heartbeat is memories of tea cups and homemade biscuits, of silver tea spoons and glass sugar bowls, of gingham and crochet, of being young and being loved, of being old and being loved, of dancing, and of being a particle of love in space.

Now, I wonder if I have the ingredients in my kitchen to make my grandmother's rockcakes.

04 September 2018

Review: Working with Children

Working with Children
Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Lawler
1 September 2018
To 29 September

Nicola Gunn. Working With Children. Photo by Sarah Walker
My review is in Time Out.

08 July 2018

Review: Lone

The Rabble and St Martins
8 June 2018
Arts House
to 17 June

Lone. The Rabble and St Martins. Photo by Pier Carthew

My review is on Arts Hub.

20 April 2018

MICF: Bossy Bottom

Bossy Bottom
Zoe Coombs Marr
4 April 2018
Melbourne Town Hall, Powder Room
to 22 April

Zoe Coombs Marr

I'm sure that Bossy Bottom will be sold out this weekend. I also suspect that most people who read this blog have already seen it.

We know that Zoe Coombs Marr is one of the best. I'll see anything she does because her shows leave my brain hurting as much as my jaw does from laughing.

Bossy Bottom is far from Dave and the BarryAward–winning Trigger Warning but it's everything – and so much more – that Zoe's next show should be.

There are plenty of stars and reviews out there and I know that writing a not-a-review for an artist who made a show about shit reviewers isn't the best idea, but I've run out of time and have to get to Bendigo for a wedding.

You know if you have see Bossy Bottom, you don't need me to tell you.

MICF: Almost Lesbians

Almost Lesbians
Catface Productions
8 April 2018
Imperial Hotel, Stella Room
to 8 April 

Anna Piper Scott, Sophie Joske

I so want Almost Lesbians to win the Golden Gibbo award for "awesome comedy that cares more about what it's doing rather than pleasing the masses". To be fair, I haven't seen all of the nominated shows, so my opinion isn't that credible. But they so want to win it; so much that they made a show that tried to include everything that award winners have in their shows.

I didn't see Anna Piper Scott and Sophie Joskeshow until their last night. They are from Perth but they will be back (they'd better be back!) and I can say that they are both now honorary Melbourners – cos we love them.

Anna is the straight m... Fuck...  I mean ...  Yes, we need to keep changing our dated, dull and restrictive language.

Sophie is the enthusiastic bouncy puppy, Anna is the older cat who's happy to swipe when the bounciness gets to much.

They subvert expectations about comedy duos as much as they subvert and confront mainstream expectations about queer women – and queer expectations about queer women. Being an "almost" is as much about being on the margins of the queer community as it is about being queer on the margins of the world that pushes people to the margins.

They both have girlfriends, so they should be easy to put in a queer box. (Sorry; it's my only box pun this festival.) But as Anna is trans and Sophie is bi, they deal with being misgendered, told their not gay – or straight – enough and being asked the sort of questions that aren't any of the business of a stranger, friend or close family member. We all know Sophie's "heterosexual Hannah" character far too well (if we haven't unintentionally been her).

Almost Lesbians isn't about being almost a lesbian, it's about being your authentic self and challenging every comment, glance or attitude that thinks you're not wonderfully perfect exactly how you are.

And they are perfectly fabulous exactly how they are.

19 April 2018

MICF: Ghost Machine

Ghost Machine
Laura Davis

4 April 2018
Butterfly Club

Ghost Machine

This isn't a review, it's a directive.

If you somehow haven't seen Laura Davis perform, what do I have to do to convince you? I've done the stars,  adjectives and quoteables.

She's moving to the UK in a couple of weeks, so this really might be your last chance because I think the UK is going to love her and keep her and give her so much work that the next time she's back here, it's because she's famous.

I first saw her at the Melbourne Fringe in 2013 (I think). I saw her because the venue tech thought I'd really like her work. They were right.

Since then, every new show she's done has not only seen her develop as a writer and observer of the world, but she's questioned stand-up and confronted so many of the expectations of women performing in this industry.

Ghost Machine blew me away a bit when I saw it in 2015. What must a performer be going through to decided to make themselves unseen on the stage? 

I interviewed Laura for The Music earlier in the year. This quote didn't make it. We were talking about women in comedy.

"Imagine how much female comics love comedy when you're quite often turning up to a dig where it's dangerous for you to physically get to it late at night. You probably don't have many mates on the lineup because it's an all male lineup, and you know that you won't be included in the sort of social collateral that comes with it. You probably won't be given the choice spot on the lineup, you'll be paid a little bit less and then you've got a scary walk home after. You deal with all the punters who tell you that women aren't funny and that you've got great tits and you just need to shut up – and multiply that by a career, with so many women. Not that everybody has that experience every night, but it's always something that I've tried to point out to people. Imagine how much you like doing this and care about this. I'm passionate about this as an art form. But there's no way you would choose it. Spending all my early 20s in a scary bar with scary man doing weird gigs; that's a real choice but feels like it goes hand in hand with passion for the art form."

It is getting better, but we still know stories of women being treated atrociously in the industry and too many women have stories about being asked to show their tits. We're getting better, but we still have a way to go.

18 April 2018

MICF: Queen Bitch

Queen Bitch
Geraldine Quinn
13 April 2018
Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
to 22 April

Geraldine Quinn

Geraldine Quinn is so damn Melbourne that seeing her shows should be compulsory when you first move here. Knowing the difference between McKinnon, Noble Park North and Brunswick really will help anyone understand how we tick. And everyone knows that we learn best though song.

I would so watch a TV show called Quinn's Melbourne.

They should also be compulsory for everyone who never comes to the south, east or south-east side of the city. And for everyone who lives on the south, east or south-east side of the city, because it's nice to see our often-forgotten cultures the stage.

Her shows should mostly be compulsory because she's one of the best music cabaret performers around and captures the heart of our town by showing us hers.

Queen Bitch is more personal than some of her previous shows. It's sometimes easier, and safer, to hide behind a big voice and bigger attitude, but revealing the person underneath the make up and the shiny outfits brings her so much closer to her audience.

She starts with our Livvy, roller skates and Xanadu and jumps to being in her 40s and life unraveling so quickly there's not much left to save even if she can grab the end of the yarn. But it's also about taking chances and finding that love can be an awesome bitch.

And she's joined by wonderful musicians Xani Kolac and Roderick Cairns.

MICF: Completely Improvised Shakespeare

Completely Improvised Shakespeare

8 April 2018
Hare Hole
to 22 April 2018

Completely Improvised Shakespeare

This festival may have  changed my opinion about improv shows. Improv really has changed a lot since the 1980s.

And I don't understand why Melbourne's Soothplayers aren't a crowd-hanging-from-the-rafters cult.

Sure, improvising a new Shakespeare play based only on a title (we had The Mermaid of the Jungle) seems a bit nerdy, but...

OK, it is totally nerdy, but you are reading a nerdy theatre blog.

So, you're probably also going to loveth every Shakespeare joke and marveleth at how a group of six actors (and one musician) create a never-to-be-repeated story in front of your eyes.

They also do Completely Improvised Potter.