Friday, January 19, 2007

Sydney Festival: Lou Reed’s Berlin featuring Lou Reed, Antony Hegarty and Sharon Jones.

Lou Reed’s Berlin, presented by Arts at St Ann’s, Brooklyn, and Sydney Festival. Music and lyrics by Lou Reed. Bob Ezrin and Hal Willner, music producers. Directed and designed by Julian Schnabel. Film by Lola Schnabel. Lighting design by Jennifer Tipton. Sound design by Frank Golchert. With members of the Australian Youth Choir. State Theatre, Sydney, January 18, 2007. Also January 19 and 20.

Also Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Dusseldorf, Berlin, London, Lyon, Arles, Rome, Arezzo, Turin and Arezzo. (European tour dates below.)

UPDATE: new dates in UK and Italy...

Lou Reed began at the end -- “Staring at my picture book” -- with ‘Sad Song’, and flicked through the pages of Berlin, his 1973 follow-up to Transformer.

33 1/3-odd years after it release, it’s hard to comprehend why this record so confounded Reed’s fans and the music press. (Famously, Rolling Stone wrote it off as a career killer and bid him a snide “Goodbye Lou.”)

Yes, Berlin is a weirdly overblown album, musically and instrumentally, for such a dark tale of domestic violence and despair. And, sure, we’ve become inured to tales of depression, overdose and suicide, of lives spiraling out of control...

Perhaps it’s more illuminating to contrast Reed’s ‘The Bed’ with David Bowie’s ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide’, from Ziggy Stardust (1972).

Here’s Lou Reed:

This is the place where she lay her head
When she went to bed at night
And this is the place our children were conceived
Candles lit the room
at night,

And this is the place where she cut her wrists
That odd
and fateful night…

And David Bowie:

Time takes a cigarette,
puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger,
then another finger,
then your cigarette…

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ’n’ roll suicide

Bowie’s refrain -- which echoes Brel -- is: “No, love, you’re not alone.” Reed’s is a bitterly ironic: “Oh, oh, oh, what a feeling.”

In performance, the B-side of Berlin is extraordinarily affecting, from the reprise of ‘Caroline Says’ through to the bitter end. And Reed, visibly, was affected by it.

While the performances of the A-side songs (‘Berlin’, ‘Lady Day’, ‘Men of Good Fortune’ &c.) were impressive, occasionally commanding, their interest was more anthropological than dramatic.

Who would pass up the chance of watching Reed in the flesh? From just ten metres away? Even in his mid 60s, tottering like an old codger, with that mask-like rubbery face -- looking like an extra from Planet of the Apes -- Reed is an overwhelmingly masculine presence. Authoritative. Indomitable. He’s still lean and fit. When he stands, he looks anchored, like Bowie in baggy trousers, as if the top third of his body could pivot independently of the planted hips and trunk. His upper-cut strumming was precise and, mostly, clean.

The fist pumping (in ‘Men of Good Fortune’) was believable. Reed even made archaic lines like “This is a bum trip” (from ‘Caroline Says II’) sound natural.

But, I’ve gotta say, the brass and strings and the 12-strong youth choir added nothing but superfluous pomp. Repeatedly, through the course of the concert, potentially powerful climaxes were dissipated in icky waves or brassy riffs reminiscent of Jethro Tull circa Passion Play.

These three concerts are billed as world premiere performances of Reed’s narrative album. Strictly, they’re part of a world premiere season, as Reed and his band performed Berlin at St. Ann’s Warehouse mid December. Given that the choir and some of the musicians are local additions, the performance was creditably tight.

Producer Hal Willner -- and, indeed, the Sydney Festival -- has a keen eye for musical coups like this one. Willner’s just as proud of Bugs Bunny on Broadway concerts as he is of Came So Far For Beauty, the Leonard Cohen tribute concerts that lined up a breathtaking array of superstars: Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, The Handsome Family, Laurie Anderson, Antony Hegarty and many many others.

Berlin is another such ‘event’. If not strictly once-in-a-lifetime, one feels certain that they’re once in a continent.

Look at the line-up. On backing vocals: Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) and funk princess Sharon Jones. Directed and designed by filmmaker Julian (Basquiat) Schnabel. Steve Hunter, who played on the original recording, on guitar. Rob Wasserman on electric double bass. God, I’ve even heard of the lighting designer. (I’m sure Jennifer Tipton has Twyla Tharp credits somewhere in her CV.)

But, finally, what made this concert something more than a flick through Lou Reed’s hyper-coloured picture book was the trio of songs offered as an encore to the main content.

Jones let rip in ‘Sweet Jane’, a song from Velvet Underground days. Oh so simple in its conception. Immortal, too.

Next, Reed backed Antony, as he did in 2003, in a drum-less version of ‘Candy Says’. Antony did something he hasn’t done in the last two years in Australia, since he sang Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Guests’ and ‘If it be your will’ at the Opera House. He channeled the song. He was possessed by its spirit. Forgive this lapse into New Age hokiness. There’s just no other way of describing what he does. It’s knife-edge stuff. But it’s something he only seems to do with other people’s material.

The set closed with a terrific version of Reed’s ‘Rock Minuet’, from Ecstasy.

Reed has something of a reputation as a monster. (Simon Hattenstone puts a very strong case indeed!) But one can’t help but respect and admire an artist who is so obviously in awe of his musicians and backing vocalists. So, at the very least, Reed is a modest monster.

Berlin, as it happens, was a dead-end road in rock and roll history. But it’s a cul-de-sac worthy of a heritage listing. Now, for Lou Reed and a small, stripped-back band...

UPDATE: 2007 European Tour Dates:

June 18: Brussels Forest National, Avenue Victor Rousseau
June 20 and 21: Amsterdam, Heineken Music Hall
June 23: Paris, Palais de Congress
June 25: Dusseldorf Philipshalle
June 26: Berlin Tempodrom
June 29: Manchester International Festival, Manchester Apollo
June 30 and July 1: London, Hammersmith Apollo
July 03: Lyon, Grand Théâtre Romain de Fourvière
July 04: Arles, Theatre Antique
July 06: Rome, Santa Cecilia Hall, Il Parco della Musica
July 08: Arezzo Art Festival, Piazza Grande
July 10: Milan, Teatro degli Arcimboldi
July 11: Turin, Villa Venaria
July 12: Cremona, Piazza Stradivari
July 14: Cagliari Rocce Rosse Festival, Anfiteatro Romano

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Sydney Festival: Mamootot by Ohad Naharin, Sharon Eyal and Batsheva Dance Company dancers.

Mamootot by Ohad Naharin, Sharon Eyal and Batsheva’s dancers. Costume design by Rakefet Levy. Lighting design by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi). Soundtrack design by Ohad Naharin. Sound design by Frankie Lievaart. Performed by nine dancers from the Batsheva Dance Company. At CarriageWorks, Bay 17, until January 15, 2007.

Death is a dance, a ballroom, a glove...

Ohad Naharin contributes one more answer to the “Why do we dance?” question I posed, rhetorically, last year: because we’re not dead. Depending on who is watching Mamootot, that answer might be “because we’re not dead yet” or “because we are survivors” or, simply, “because we defy death.”

Given that Batsheva comes from Israel -- and is a company of young dancers more than half of whom were born in Israel -- these questions have special resonances. It’s hard not to see the nine dancers sprawled on the mat, limbs twisted, motionless, as the aftermath of a bombing. One dancer in particular has her head turned so far back, we think it must be broken. Yet this is anything but a tendentious or overtly political piece.

Production photographs by Gadi Dagon

It’s absolutely possible -- and reasonable -- to apprehend Mamootot as a work about first intimations of mortality in the young. A first close encounter with death. From any cause. It’s as intimate and rich and centred and Telophaza is remote and shallow and toppy.

There is a certain contrivance of conception in both Mamootot and Telophaza, but the small squad of dancers pull it off in Mamootot in a way that the massed forces of Batsheva Dance Company and the junior Batsheva Ensemble, in Telophaza, do not.

Mamootot, which dates from 2003, is the older of the two works. It’s performed in the round. Or, rather, the square. Three or four rows of seats surround the performance area, similar to the set-up in Anouk van Dijk’s piece Stau, though that show used barely a quarter the floor space. Both choreographers set out to explore the relationship between dancer and audience member.

Naharin has the theatre -- stage and audience -- brightly lit. Anonymity is not an option. That said, we are so far from our counterparts, opposite, we don’t feel especially self-conscious. We are lit to be visible to the dancers, not to one another. We are lit to be seen. For eye contact.

The first section is a silent solo -- the silence is the most intimidating part of the night -- by a dancer with unusally pale skin. Almost deathly pale. She has blue eye shadow on the outside of her eyes, narrowing her face. She strides out in a faded fabric neck-to-knee costume, coolly. She stretches and releases, strikes a pose or two, launches into a deep, bouncing routine, moving laterally with a pendulum shift of her hips. It’s unusual -- not so difficult we imagine -- but executed with stunning precision and accuracy.

Several minutes later, she is joined by the remaining eight dancers, all of whom have cyan coloured make-up over their entire bodies. They look like cadavers. And the music kicks in: “We’re gonna have a real good time together.” (Yet another threat/frisson of audience involvement!)

From time to time, one or more of the dancers, sometimes as many as eight, sit it out with the audience in one of the reserved seats. It’s a curious experience. For the dancer too. (The pressure’s on not to breathe too heavily!) Like all dance, we feel entitled to gaze. To stare. To notice. The slim hips and waist on one of the men. The fineness of fingers on one of the women. The calamine-like smell of the body paint.

The dance after the scene in which all nine bodies are sprawled is especially vital. Once again, like Telophaza, the dance is unexceptional. Good clubby dance. But the execution is wilful, desperate, urgent. Proud, too, somehow. Backed by time’s winged chariot. It’s also a zombie dance. (More totentanz than Michael Jackson 'Thriller', I hasten to add!)

It’s hardly a secret -- it’s revealed in advance press and reviews -- that Mamootot concludes with some interaction between dancers and audience members. They stroll around eyeballing us, from close up, occasionally choosing to reach out a hand. One shook hands with punters. Another reached out her fingertips. One shone a big (and, it must be said, unconvincing) grin.

I am unable to pin down exactly why this routine felt more contrived that the first section of Stau. If anything, the contrivance in Stau was merely more 'professional': requesting that audience members remove shoes and socks before entering the theatre, having the dancers wriggle under seats, dance up close, sweat on us. (Hell, I even had hair dragged across my feet. Not an everyday occurrence I must say!)

Despite the freshness and thrilling vigour of the dance that preceded it, the conclusion of Mamootot felt terribly formulaic. The thing that finally rescued it from mawkishness, for me, was the ability of the dancers themselves to be surprised. To be as vulnerable -- perhaps even more vulnerable -- than the men and women they approached. It was as hard for them to maintain the eye-contact. But they had their orders.

And there they were, like modern-day Valkyries, like the wraith-like gods of a choreographer like Jiri Kylian, escorting us to... to what? Peace? Rest?

Dance, even more than theatre, is over when it’s over. Gone. Utterly. We need to watch it -- participate in it -- as if it were life. Here, now. Gone all too soon. There’s no going back.

Dance like you’ve never been hurt...


Telophaza at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney (January 2007)

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sydney Festival: Zero Degrees by Les Ballets C. de la B. and Akram Khan Company

Zero Degrees. Directed, choreographed and performed by Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Composer Nitin Sawhney. Sculptor Antony Gormley. Lighting design by Mikki Kunttu. Costume design by Kei Ito. Dramaturgy by Guy Cools. Produced by Farooq Chaudhry and Lieven Thyrion for the Akram Khan Company and Les Ballets C. de la B. At CarriageWorks Bay 17. January 8, 2007.

Also Saitama Arts Theatre, Tokyo, January 12-14. Tanzquartier Wien, Vienna, February 23-24. Barcelona, September 24-29. Berlin, October 8-13. And a return season at Sadler’s Wells, London, October 15-20, 2007.

Of all the performing arts, dance is the one I come to with the highest expectations. I expect -- even demand -- a sophistication of dramaturgy and form, and an organic shape. Words might be my life, my living, but I trust the truth of the body far more than I trust the Word.

Dishonesty and mauvais foi (Sartre’s expression is typically translated as “bad faith”) are excruciatingly obvious in dance; there’s little room to suspend belief when you’re ‘listening’ to bodytalk. Words are for spinning -- in at least two senses of the verb “to spin” -- dance is for expressing. Not necessarily to anyone, but certainly of something. Typically, of someone.

‘Spin’ in dance -- unless you’re a dervish -- is an outrage. Perhaps that’s why I’m less forgiving of bad acting in dance than I am in theatre.

I’ve said it many times before, but indulge me one more time. Dance is the performing art that reminds me why we have performing arts.

Zero Degrees, then, is a dance work by which to judge other works. Not just dance works, but theatre in all its manifestation, opera and concerts, performance art and physical theatre.

This is the paradox of great theatre. Rather than spoiling us for ‘ordinary’ theatre, it sharpens our vision and refines the senses. Great theatre is munificent. Rather than totally eclipsing Telophaza, which I saw the night before, Zero Degrees let me see more in Ohad Naharin’s work. Sure, the comparison is unfair, like setting The Hobbit next to Lord of the Rings, but Zero Degrees left me feeling indulgent. (You should have seen the review of Telophaza I might otherwise have written!)

The two shows serve a greater purpose. Just as George Orwell’s 1984 (the Actors’ Gang’s production) served as a clumsy thematic overture to the 2006 Melbourne Festival, Telophaza is like a primer for the intercultural themes that Zero Degrees runs with. And just as Pichet Klunchun and Myself (by Jérôme Bel and Pichet Klunchun) was a belated recapitulation of the overarching artistic theme and vision of the 2006 Melbourne Festival, Zero Degrees is, in its way, a glossary for this year’s Sydney Festival.

But, man, it’s a hard act to follow!

Akram Khan & Sylvie Guillem in Sacred Monsters
choreographed by Khan and Lin Hwai-Min in 2006.
(photo: Mikki Kunttu, click on the image to enlarge)

Zero Degrees is a unique collaboration between four remarkable artists: performers Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, composer Nitin Sawhney and Antony Gormley, who created Zero Degrees’ two ‘inanimate’ bodies. Khan is equally at home choreographing for Sylvie Guillem (Sacred Monsters) as he is for Kylie Minogue (the recent Showgirl concerts). Larbi Cherkaoui is another of Europe’s hottest dancer-choreographers, now a member of the “artistic core” of Les Ballets C. de la B. Sawhney is an activist, musician, producer and DJ who needs no introduction. Gormley is a distinguished sculptor and Turner Prize winner, well known here in Australia.

Together, they have created a lean and deeply affecting work. But more remarkable than the (near) perfection of the piece is the absence of fakery in performance. Despite the jaw-dropping precision Khan and Larbi Cherkaoui demonstrate, there’s not a trace of arrogance or disdain or anything remotely like “showing off.”

Collaboration -- partnership and co-operation -- is a key theme of Zero Degrees. It begins with the two men sitting at the front of the stage, as one, delivering the story of a Briton’s encounter with a border official while crossing between Bangladesh and India. Their speech and gestures are absolutely -- even preternaturally -- synchronised. They play brothers: one hot-headed and green, the other cooler and wiser.

Their first conventionally danced scene together (in which forearms, wrists and hands are entwined in a liquid, spectacular tango of brown and white skin) is breathtakingly lovely. Though they have been performing Zero Degrees together for some months, and I saw the final of their four performances in Sydney, there wasn’t a hint of laziness in its execution. It was as live -- and as alive -- as if it had been improvised, there and then.

In a later scene, one man lip-syncs and gestures to words spoken by the other.

Photo: Tristram Kenton, click to enlarge

Repeatedly, the pair allows us to see the parallels between apparently disparate cultures. Some barefoot Kathak stamping from Khan looks suspiciously influenced by Suzuki. Indian hand flourishes blur with those of flamenco. The ancient and the modern (there was a sly little jiving quotation from Lucinda Childs) co-exist too.

I was reminded of a show in the 1996 Sydney Festival called African Heritage in which a company from Guinea effortlessly demonstrated the connection between ancient African dance and hip hop.

Nitin Sawhney’s music, likewise, was eclectic and border-crossing... and every bit as thrilling. At one point, an Indian musical line was overlaid with an Islamic call-to-prayer.

Photograph: Chris Van der Burght

It’s impossible to describe this work without being reductive. Without reducing three dimensions to two. It’s difficult enough to describe the effect of it. At three (perhaps four) moments in this 75 minute work, I found myself inexplicably and alarmingly close to tears. I suspect it was a subliminal and insinuating effect of the music. (I recall the first time I heard Rusalka played live, I had a similar reaction... sure enough, when I consulted the libretto, the offending line translated as “Tears unbidden from my eyes.”)

One dancer literally bounces the other as if he were a toy frog or a basketball. Later, one kicks a life-like, life-sized dummy and the other dancer jerks as if he himself were kicked. Described like this, sections sound trivial or naff. But there’s hardly a second of the work that one would choose to be leave out. (Maybe a single cartwheel from Larbi and a drug-injecting routine by Akram Khan that simply doesn’t suit the texture of the work.)

The two men have much in common. Both are Muslim men born and raised in Europe: London and Antwerp. One has his ethnic roots in India, the other Morocco.

The dramaturg of this work, Guy Cools, pins down the fundamental differences in the two, as artists. He writes, of their meeting in the northern spring of 2003:

They exchanged and experimented and through their original fascination for each other and their obvious similarities, they also spotted the differences in both their professional histories and conceptual approaches: Akram was forced from early on in a highly grounded and rigid tradition, which he tries to break often and expand without losing respect for its origin; Larbi uses his strong, intuitive sense of identity and self as the binding agent for an eclectic mix of influences and styles.
Another sustaining theme of the work is individual differences. Try as they might, they never entirely disguise their differences. Even Mikki Kunttu’s lighting has a crack at persuading us of their interchangeability. (Double shadows fall into line against the back scrim, early in the piece. But the fit is imperfect.) We can tell, we imagine, who created individual sections. They always seem to look better, we reason, on the one that creates them. (This, however, is something of a trap. When Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin collaborated recently, most mistook Guerin’s sections for Obarzanek’s, and vice versa.)

Zero Degrees thunders without yelling. It persuades without pontificating. It touches in a way that only dance can. It is a most remarkable work, complex, compelling and ravishing.


Lou Reed’s Berlin (Lou Reed, Antony Hegarty and Sharon Jones)
Mamootot, Batsheva Dance Company;
Telophaza, Batsheva Dance Company and the Batsheva Ensemble.


Devolution, Australian Dance Theatre (Adelaide, March 2006)

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sydney Festival: Telophaza. Performed by Batsheva Dance Company and the Batsheva Ensemble.

Telophaza by Ohad Naharin. Lighting design by Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi). Costume design by Rakefet Levi. Dramaturgy, sound design and editing by Ohad Fishof. Additional music influences by Stefan Ferry. Performed by Batsheva Dance Company and the Batsheva Ensemble. Capitol Theatre, Sydney, until January 10. Also Herzelia Performing Arts Center in February 2007.

Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company was founded in 1964 by Martha Graham, no less, with her friend, supporter and sometime student the Baroness Bethsabée (later Batsheva) de Rothschild.

Before you get too envious of the long history of modern dance in Israel, let me remind you that Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) was founded in 1965 by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. (Sorry about the egg-sucking lecture, but Australia’s cultural amnesia is even more acute than our regular historical amnesia.)

Like ADT, Batsheva has had as many incarnations as it’s had artistic directors. The company is as far removed from its Graham roots as Garry Stewart is from Jonathan Taylor. That said, Ohad Naharin did spend the 1978 season dancing with the Graham Company. He has been Artistic Director of Batsheva since 1990.

(Photographs by Gadi Dagon)

This is, by all accounts, Batsheva’s first visit to Sydney, though the company brought Naharin’s earlier work Anaphaza to Adelaide in 1996 -- to Barrie Kosky’s peerless festival -- and to Melbourne in 2000.

Sydney is making up for lost time. No fewer than three of Naharin’s recent works will be performed here in coming weeks: Telophaza (which uses 20 of the main company’s dancers and another 15 from the junior Batsheva Ensemble) at the 2000-seat Capitol Theatre; the more intimate Mamootot at the newly opened CarriageWorks, at Eveleigh; and a work for youngies, Kamuyot, performed by the junior troupe at various venues. (Kamuyot is made for -- and typically performed in -- school halls and community centres.)

Compared to Anaphaza, and despite the forces and technology mustered, Telophaza is a puzzlingly slight work, especially given Naharin’s fairly bolshie reputation. It monkeys around, resolutely avoiding stating anything but the obvious.

The choreography is less virtuosic, less dynamic, less vital than in the earlier work. It’s gestural, formal, stylised. If Telophaza is about anything, it’s about dance. I don’t mean that in a wanky post-modern way, I mean it literally. Telophaza quotes and adapts ceremonial dances -- Greek wedding dances and bridal waltzes -- as well as social and competitive dance forms. There’s even a bit of a dance-off towards the end. Other bits reminded me of a music video clip, of people walking like Egyptians, doing New Order vertical jumps, and so on.

I’m not sayin’ I could do it, okay?

Given, then, that Telophaza is about the dance that we all do, it’s understandable that the company might choose to dial down the virtuosity of its execution. But it’s a brave act to debut in a city where you’re headlining a festival with star drive barely ticking over. Especially when the company is younger than ever.

I know... I’ve been giving the expression “work experience” a bit of a beating of late, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Batsheva had morphed into a company where development of dancers had superseded development of dance since I last saw it.

It’s hard to believe this is the same company that wowed us all a decade ago. The only recognisable choreographic trait was Naharin’s cascading canon of dancers, the spill of a line of dancers one after another. Too often, here, the squad looked like it was caught up in a rootin’ tootin’ boot scoot. It was hokey and ever-so-slightly cloying. Creepily good-natured.

Telophaza is an exercise in seduction. It’s as if the dancers have been drilled: tap your toes and grin at the audience, they’ll feel better.

Actually, the show made me think of that line about people who walk around with a smile on their dial... they’re just not paying attention. (In other words, they just weren’t good enough at convincing me that they weren’t just faking it. The audience, en masse, smiled insipidly back at the dancers to humour them.)

Upstage, four flat screens face the audience. For much of the first half hour, those screens are filled with the unsmiling faces of the dancers, typically one at a time, projected live. The dancers have to face away from us to peer into the lens of one of the four video cameras. Perhaps we were meant to note the gap between the smiling and untroubled public faces and the pensive and troubled private faces. Or to ponder the extremes of what it us to be human... both social and solitary. The divided self is, of course, suggested by the names of the both this and the earlier work: anaphase and telophase are two of the later stages of mitosis. Of cell division. The replication of genetic material.

Much has been made of the skill with which Naharin presents intimate details -- close-ups -- while giving us massed forces. I could hardly agree less. Apart from a section in which the feet and toes of a dancer were shot from floor level, up close, a feast for foot fetishists, the screens were next to useless.

I was reminded of the many extraordinary collaborations between choreographer Sandra Parker and cinematographer Margie Medlin in which gestures (such as the slide of a hand up the back of a neck to clasp the base of the skull) were writ large, making a dance performance in a vast building seem unimaginably intimate. Lightning fast phrases were slowed down so that we could see -- even feel -- the jolt caused by the impact of a body against the floor or a wall.

Naharin’s use of the technology was amateurish and wasteful in comparison.

I liked the weightiness and muscularity of the dancers -- this was not a denial of gravity by any means -- and especially the wide variation in height, weight, shape. But, like an advertisement for a sports bra, Rakefet Levi’s democratic ultralight costumes and Naharin’s direction exploited the curves of the women more than they showed off the bulges of the men. (“Let’s just watch you walk from one end of the stage to the other, shall we?”)

Too much of Telophaza (it must be said) was resistible. It didn’t connect -- body to body -- as dance should. As dance does. That said, there was a moment a little over half way through the performance, around the forty minute mark, when a dancer tilted her head and half the audience followed. Myself included. A classic example of what is known as kinaesthetic empathy. It was a brilliant section. Simple and stompy and circular. It was the luscious organic strawberry in the middle of a sticky-sweet meringue.


Mamootot at CarriageWorks (January 2007)

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Now We Are One... with apologies to A.A. Milne and Steeleye Span

I warn you now. This is gonna be a year of birthdays, anniversaries and the odd reminiscence. My father hits 80, my eldest brother hits 50 and, incredibly, my pro reviewing career hits 20. (The horror!) But let me start with the littlest birthday of them all. In a bit under three hours, this blog will be one year old. Anybody got a cigar? I won't exhale, promise!

Odd that I should mention the blogoversary immediately after the pro career bit... Until this time last year, I was very smug about the fact that the only review I had ever written for nothing was the very first, the one I pitched to my local rag, The Emerald Hill, Sandridge and St Kilda Times. (Now there’s an unprepossessing name for a newspaper, no?)

Now I’m givin’ the stuff away. How altruistic of me. (Yeah, Chris... your largesse has got nothing whatsoever to do with world domination!)

Like last year, the first post of the new blog year will be a review of a Sydney Festival show. (I typed Sydney Festival sow... but it was more of a puppy than a pig.) But, for now, let me bore you with the news that it is thirty years since my very first visit to Sydney as a young blade. And that’s precisely how old the Sydney Festival is. (Forgive me, when it comes to this kinda crap, I'm a savant.)

Here’s a pic of your humble (choke!) blogger, from the first-night-of-the-2007-festival bash. Sinister, no?

Ready to slam and/or dunk a few more shows...
(Photo: Renée Kayser, click on the image to enlarge)

I spied lots of talent from choreographer Meryl Tankard and composer Elena Kats-Chernin through to photographer and story-teller William Yang and the dashing Adam Gardnir, who designed no fewer than six of the shows that the “work experience boy” at The Age, Cameron Woodhead, singled out for praise and abuse in his wrap of the year in theatre... Gardnir designed both best (Virgins: a musical threesome) and worst (the unnamed example of “solipsistic inanity from Stuck Pigs Squealing” which we are prepared to name as Lally Katz and the Terrible Mysteries of the Volcano). Busy boy!

But enough of the gossip-column reportage! To work...

Clarification: while I don’t disagree with Woodhead that Virgins was a terrific show, Terrible Mysteries of the Volcano was bloody awesome. Well, it was by the time closing night came ’round, when I paid the show a return visit. Yeah, it was a bit of a fugly duck when the shell cracked open, but by the end of the three-week run, the show was utterly magical and utterly memorable. By all accounts, the transformation occurred after two weeks. As Joan Armatrading would say: never is too late.