Monday, October 29, 2007

Trash and treasure... the trash I treasure

Sometimes my hoarding shocks even me!

With vague, half-formed plans to write a post comparing the 2007 Melbourne Festival to those of 1997 (Cliff Hocking's one-and-only) and 1987 (Gian-Carlo Menotti's second, of three) I wandered into the archive and stumbled upon my programme for the show that kicked off the very first festival on Monday September 15, 1986.

I thought, ruefully, how good it would have been if I had kept my ticket to that show... first night of the first festival, when I sat behind the vice-regal party and Ken Russell himself, close enough to tousle his white hair.

But the 1986 "Spoleto Melbourne Festival of Three Worlds" was a pilot. A one-off. It was a curio. (And how bloody ridiculous to hitch our wagon to two towns -- Spoleto and Charleston -- that were culturally insignificant prior to Menotti's festivals!)

Funding for the second and third festivals wasn't approved until well after the end of the first... making the curating of the second festival a mad dash.

But inside, tucked away, were some clippings and my ticket. (How bloody ridiculous times two!)

One of the clippings (from the News Diary of The Age of Wednesday September 17) gleefully reports Ken Russell's antics during and after the show, and his reaction to the first night booing. (Such a beat up! One person booed. The rest of us were merely booing on the inside!)

But the bit that caught my eye was this:
Not so enthusiastic, we are told, was Patrick Veitch, cosmopolitan boss of the Sydney-based Australian Opera. "It has its place..." he is reported to have murmured with a wry smile, "... and the place is Melbourne." [emphasis as per the original]
So, The Age was gunning for the "Sydney-based" national company way back when... Even before the Victoria State Opera went belly up. Even when the national company was doing eight productions in its autumn season in Melbourne.

One final (and delicious) piece of trivia... Playing the part of the Imperial Commissioner in the VSO production of Russell's opera was none other than Adrian Collette, now Chief Executive of Opera Australia.

I'm gonna dig through my records -- my vinyl records this time -- and listen to Midnight Oil's 'Short Memory'. Right now.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Smashing the twenty-fourth wall: Teatre Lliure's European House

European House: Hamlet's prologue without words.

Conceived and directed by Àlex Rigola. Set Design by Sebastià Brosa and Bibiana Puigdefàbregas, wardrobe by M. Rafa Serra, lighting design by Maria Domènech, sound design by Ramon Ciércoles.

Teatre Lliure for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Playhouse, The Arts Centre, season ends October 27.



Production photograph: Ros Ribas















No alarums. No surprises. (Too many words though!)

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Merce Cunningham Dance Company: Suite for Five, eyeSpace & BIPED


Production photographs of BIPED by Tony Dougherty

Suite for Five (1956-58) by Merce Cunningham. Music by John Cage (Music for Piano 4-19, performed by Christian Woolf), costumes by Robert Rauschenberg, lighting by Beverly Emmons.

eyeSpace (2006) by Merce Cunningham. Music by Mikel Rouse, set and costumes by Daniel Arsham, lighting by Josh Johnson. Soundscape realised by Stephan Moore and David Behrman.

BIPED (1999) by Merce Cunningham. Music by Gavin Bryars (performed by Josephine Vains, Takehisa Kosugi and John King), decor by Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser, costumes by Suzanne Gallo, lighting by Aaron Copp.

Let me say, right up front, that I had stupidly high expectations of this my first live encounter with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. This triple bill more than met those expectations. If I had world enough and time, I'd see it again tonight...

It has a work from the mid fifties (described in various references as one of Merce's "intellectual" works), one that premiered last year, and the large-scale ensemble work BIPED from 1999.

It goes from minimal to maximal; from John Cage's music for treated piano (and consumptive audience) to something lush from Gavin Bryars; from single dancer in a blue-lit empty space to squad of thirteen with projections and animations.

The oldest choreography, paradoxically, is the most strikingly modern. It looks like it has been created using wire-frame animation. (Good old fashioned pipe cleaners, one imagines, in the pre-PC fifties!) The first dancer, poised and forward-leaning from his tiptoes -- looking uncannily like a young Merce right down to his sensible and authoritative toes -- moves as if flicked by an unseen hand of god. (I believe this superlative dancer is Daniel Madoff. The cast is listed alphabetically and there are no photographs, so it's hard to tell. Madoff has been with MCDC just two months!)

In the second solo, Holley Farmer makes curly brackets in the air as she tilts. She freezes and moves on. She holds her arms back as if they've been flung there and time has been stopped. I want her to smear the air as she moves through it with her second-hand ticking attitude.

The trio (Jonah Bokaer, Julie Cunningham, Marcie Munnerlyn) and subsequent sections make sly nods to Balanchine with their playful prancing, tiny digital duets, sublime limbs and controlled goose-stepping... So many ideas, so many zygotes (as Ani DiFranco might call them) of full-length works!

The five dancers are at the service of this oddly-disembodied choreography. They use their limbs to write Cunningham's name. They don't embellish the dance with their own 'personality', for want of a better word. Yet for all its cool abstraction this choreography is anything but alienating. It's intellectual in the same way that Stravinsky is... or John Cage is.

Robert Rauschenberg's mouthwatering costumes (especially the blackcurrant and spearmint cossies) help "keep it real" as does Beverly Emmons fleshy lighting. The bodies are never less than individual. And, certainly, never less than human. Even when the movement is superhuman.


eyeSpace, which premiered last October, applies Merce's devotion to spin-the-bottle randomness in a characteristically contemporary way. Individual audience members are wired for sound. (You can either bring your own MP3 player with music downloaded from the MCDC web site or book ahead and use one of the company's own.) We shuffle-play five short pieces from Mikel Rouse's International Cloud Atlas. That gives 120 possible combinations. (5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1) So, in a 2000-seat theatre, there might only be 15 others who have the same experience as you.

This is a classic modern dance experiment. I've seen Rebecca Hilton do something like this... perform a piece with and without music to invite audiences to examine their aesthetic consciences. (I also remember challenging her hard at the time: the music actually changed how she performed the piece! She denied it equally vigorously!) Here, though, the twelve dancers have an industrial soundscape that's quite independent of what we're hearing, removing that crucial variable.

On one viewing, I'm reluctant to make a call... but, it seemed to me, when one of those tense, straining, gestures was repeated, it was just a pose held. But it might have been the music that lost its isometric hold! Later, in an unrelated section, the dancers grew taller. (I swear!) Daniel Arsham's designs -- glistening silver blue costumes and a backward tilted cityscape with a telescoped building coming apart -- are very fine.

It's a lot to take in, at one hit, but it's a fascinating experience. The choreography is pretty unremarkable -- just damn fine barefoot ballet -- but it's thrillingly well executed.


Last up is the massive BIPED, which puts 13 dancers behind a scrim on which lights and animations are projected. In one of the early projections, the bodies of a couple of dancers have been reduced to lines. Not wire frame sticks. Major muscles in the thigh and calf are rendered as curves. It's as if we're watching an ecorche, a peeled body, a muscular system in action.



Later, we see dancers as if from above, reduced to dots of light. On another occasion, a body is reduced to a series of parallel lines, like a spectrometer or VU meter. The movement is broken down to interference bands. Analysed.

Yet even here, there is a sensuousness in the execution of the choreography, perhaps as a counterpoint to the abstraction. Aaron Copp's lighting adores the bodies. And Suzanne Gallo's limby costumes gives us plenty of real live musculature to watch and admire.

The duration of the piece -- it must be close to fifty minutes -- also adds to our kinaesthetic connection to the dancers. They seem inexhaustible. The piece reaches a kind of crescendo perhaps five or ten minutes before the end as the dancers circle, leap exuberantly and flick their feet like bucking colts.

The motion capture projections are, initially at least, quite intrusive. But they give the performance an unexpected extra dimension and, remarkably (given their extreme abstraction), become like additional cast members.

Dance audiences in Melbourne are sparing in their ovations, but when Cunningham himself was wheeled on, we stood for him. It's taken six decades for his company to get to Melbourne, but he did us the courtesy of joining them here.


The second and final performance of this triple bill is tonight.

Tomorrow and Saturday, MCDC performs two recent works: Views on Stage (2004) and Split Sides (2003).

eyeSpace can also be seen at Theatre de la Ville as part of the Festival d'automne a Paris, from December 4-12, 2007.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

DOOD! Where's the play?!

Well, it wouldn't be a Dood Paard show if the best bits actually originated from the 'text' (sic) they're supposed to be performing, would it?

After the jump, those appalling, wonderful, pornographic lyrics from Wu-Tang Clan's 'Method Man' (i.e. Method Man's song 'Method Man') that were the stand-out part of TITUS. (This oughta get your Net Nanny calling the cops!) I only reproduce the lyrics here to spare you some pop-ups and spyware.

Call it your prelim reading for the show.


Dood Paard in TITUS (photograph: Sanne Peper)



WU-TANG CLAN LYRICS

"Method Man"

[Intro Part One: Method Man (album version)]

Yeahhh, torture motherfucker what?
(Torture nigga what?)
What?
I'll fuckin
I'll fuckin tie you to a fuckin bedpost
with your ass cheeks spread out and shit
Right?
Put a hanger on a fuckin stove and let that shit sit there
for like a half hour
Take it off and stick it in your ass slow like
Tssssssss

Yeah, I'll fuckin
Yeah I'll fuckin lay your nuts on a fuckin dresser
Just your nuts layin on a fuckin dresser
And bang them shits with a spiked fuckin bat
Ooooohhhh
Whassup? BLAOWWW!!

I'll fuckin
I'll fuckin pull your fuckin tongue out your fuckin mouth
and stab the shit with a rusty screwdriver, BLAOWW!!
I'll fuckin

I'll fuckin
I'll fuckin hang you by your fuckin dick
off a fuckin twelve sto-story building out this motherfucker

I'll fuckin
I'll fuckin
sew your asshole closed, and keep feedin you
and feedin you, and feedin you, and feedin you

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Abraxas-cadabra/The Music Committee in concert

Like the parable of the elephant and the blind men who take turns describing it, we're all going to have different takes on the 'theme' of this year's Melbourne Festival. I'm a bit less gung-ho than some, but then that's probably cos my working theories are substantially more far-fetched and hunch-based. (Let's put it this way, I'm currently leaning towards Abraxas!) (God, Kristy, if I'm right, you had better stick up for me in the comments!) (LOL)

On a slightly less imaginative note, the performing arts in this festival do seem to be more about the act than the artifact; the singing rather than the song; more about performance than mere form.

And that inevitably reminds me of one of Kristy Edmunds' predecessors, Robyn Archer, who has very clear ideas on what she called the detritus of art. Archer told me, in 2003:
Anything recorded, like any painting on the wall, is what's left over after the creative act. And when you see a live performance, the work may be the detritus of the author or the composer, but the performance is being created before your very eyes and cannot be recorded in any way. If you have a recording of it, it's just a record -- that's it -- it's a record, and that's all it is. And that's the difference.

I think if you really want to get to the heart of any piece of visual art, you'd want to be in the room when it was being done. If I buy a piece of art from an artist, all I'm doing is taking what's left over. Giving them the means to go on creating... If I give somebody $3000... It's a couple of weeks work, to get on with the next thing. Their detritus gives me pleasure.

But I can't get with the idea -- maybe because I'm a performing artist -- I can't get with the idea of somebody putting all their energy and all their effort into the thing. I think what's actually going on is the doing. And that, as you say, is the brilliance of performing art. You are getting it, as it's happening. And nothing will ever be like that, nothing ever.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company's Music Committee is absolutely fascinating to watch, to experience live, but I'm not sure I'd ever want to own a recording of theirs... not even of the captivating 'Long Throw', the 25 minute piece that opened the Committee's first concert, yesterday evening.

It would, somehow, be like wanting to own a recording of John Cage's 4'33".

Having said that... David Behrman's 'Long Throw' is the kind of piece that makes pantonal sound tonal. It's lyrical and elegant yet still thrilling. Christian Wolff's grand piano was treated, but that only made the first open note -- when it hit -- sound positively Wagnerian. Or like one of Patti Smith's solitary E's in '25th Floor'.

John King's guitar was similarly treated. But all it took to achieve his equivalent was a common-or-garden metal slide and some deft picking near the bridge of his three pick-up electric guitar. I could even hear the brittle crinkle of the plectrum hitting the strings, unamplified. (In the closing work, 'For John', King threaded a CD through the guitar strings high up the neck.)

Takehisa Kosugi's violin line was hijacked, reversed and raised in pitch by the laptop... I think! Later, in 'For John', I noticed Kosugi turn over a perfectly rendered and printed piece of sheet music, then a folded page ripped out of a spiral notebook with some musical notation... it seemed like a perfect metaphor for the Committee: a mix of formally- and informally-composed music. With a twist of the aleatoric for good measure.

I confess, I thought we were gonna have a John Cage experience of our own when the musicians failed to appear at the scheduled time! (Then again, the audience was rather Cage-like in its more-or-less complete absence... so you won't have any difficulty picking up a ticket tonight, or finding a seat in the front row.)

When they did appear -- four of the promised five at least -- the members were like doppelgangers! Wolff could stand in for Robert Wilson. Behrman could stand in for Merce himself! King could play body double for Kiefer Sutherland in 24 while Kief does one of his DUI stints. Kosugisan was a hairdo short of Ryuichi Sakamoto. (God, when did this review start being trivial?) But where was the invisible man, Stephan Moore, musician and sound engineer?

The thing that brought a smile to my face though was the low-tech synchronisation between performers. I swear they were using the same kind of five buck digital timer that I use when I'm cooking pasta. And they had to press their buttons at the same time. Cute.

I'm very glad I saw them live.

Concert B by The Music Committee is at the BMW Edge, Federation Square, tonight at 6 pm. This morning, between 10 and 12, you can see (and hear) a piano being prepared. Same venue.

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Laurie Anderson 3: "The lost art of conversation..."

Laurie Anderson is about as perfect an interviewee as you could hope to encounter. She's smart, responsive, well-read, interested and -- best of all -- utterly herself. Actually, she's more than interested. She's fascinated. I can't recall an interview ever ricocheting quite so spectacularly from idea to idea. A quotation from Dorothy Dunnett prompts an anecdote about Ken Nordine and his Word Jazz. The tangents are breathtaking.

In this chunk of the conversation (see also here and here) I do too much talking, but this was the warm up. (That's my excuse!)


[CHRIS BOYD:] I'VE BEEN RACKING MY BRAIN FOR THE LAST FEW HOURS TRYING TO FIND THE RIGHT WORD TO DESCRIBE MY IMPRESSION OF YOUR ART AND, FORGIVE ME IF THIS IS ONE THAT UPSETS YOU OR OFFENDS YOU, BUT 'DISEMBODIED' WAS ABOUT AS CLOSE AS I COULD GET.

[Laurie Anderson:] Disembodied is great.

IS IT?!

Yeah. That's really great. In many ways exactly what I'm going for. And you'll see it in a couple of the longer talks, it's completely about that. It's completely about that. In something called 'The sky is a land'. It is -- not to be too intellectual about it -- it is about that... I haven't tried to put this into words before... But your idea of disembodied really does sum up something that I didn't actually realise was so much there in this one.

LAURIE, WORDS ARE MY LIFE, BUT I HAVE TO SAY I DON'T REALLY TRUST THEM. I FIND I TRUST THE TRUTH OF THE BODY, IN DANCE AND IN MUSIC. I SENSE THIS IS SOMETHING YOU'RE CONTINUALLY EXPLORING, ABOUT THE TRUTH OF LANGUAGE.

I think you're dead right. There are times when you realise somebody said exactly what you thought.

[...]

I WAS LEAFING THROUGH 1001 BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE, YESTERDAY. THERE WAS A MOST BEAUTIFUL PHOTOGRAPH OF CARL SAGAN, HOLDING THE PLAQUE I THINK HE DESIGNED FOR -- VOYAGER I THINK IT WAS WASN'T IT? HE LOOKS SO MUCH LIKE AN ALIEN. A BEAUTIFUL, SMILING, SLOPE-SHOULDERED ALIEN.

With that crazy waving diagram couple!

YEAH! AND ONLY THE MAN GETS TO WAVE! ANOTHER WAY OF DESCRIBING THIS DISEMBODIED THING... MAYBE THAT'S WHY ANGELS FEATURE SO PROMINENTLY IN YOUR WORK?

I think that's true. They're just another -- it's another way to slip into another realm quite quickly. It's always there for everyone and they know it. It's kind of exciting if you do announce that that's where you're gonna go.

I haven't written about angels lately. Come to think of it. I don't know why. There are no angels in Homeland, I don't think. There's one. There's one. Thank god!

IT'S MORE THAN 25 YEARS SINCE I READ [MILTON'S] PARADISE LOST, BUT A TUTOR I HAD AT UNI TOLD ME THAT THE ANGELS IN PARADISE LOST WERE ANDROGYNOUS BUT THEY WERE STILL CAPABLE OF HAVING SEX. THEY KIND DO THIS MERGE THING --

The merge thing sounds good --

SEXLESS BUT CAPABLE OF SEX --

I think the disembodied merge is what I'm going for.

In the sense that I try to write things that are quite everyday, really, they might stray into magic realms, but I'm happiest when people [say] I had that same idea... you just put that into words. But it's exactly what I was thinking.

That makes me really happy. I know that I am finding something -- that I get to articulate in a certain way -- but it's not some unfamiliar, strange idea that comes from who knows where, but there really is something that is...

[She trails off, then we start talking about elephants!]

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The disposable review

UPDATED -- AND UPDATED AGAIN! (REVIEW & 2008 TOUR DATES ADDED.)

I've been tossing up whether I should post my Herald Sun reviews of Festival shows here or not. Unlike my indefatigable colleagues Alison in Melbourne and Nicholas in Sydney, I don't have an explicit arrangement with my employers regarding simultaneous publication. (Though "first publication" and "first print publication" are, of course, demanded in my various contributor agreements.) And I've done this too long -- and made my living from this for too long -- to risk biting the hand that feeds me.

But few of my reviews are posted on-line. You can get many of them... for a price. If (a) you know where to look and (b) know what you're looking for.

There's also the issue of disposability. Sometimes print reviews (even great print reviews) don't deserve (relative) 'immortality'. And, for the time being at least, I can choose which do and which don't get it. (Or, at least, I have the illusion/delusion of control!)

Anyway, this little post was prompted by my review of Laurie Anderson's Homeland for last Friday's Herald Sun.

You know what? I reckon I'd rather you went and read Aquarian Androgyne's response to the first Sydney concert, posted this morning, than my own. Mine's too clinical, too descriptive, too disembodied. (Though Laurie might well appreciate that last characteristic!)

AA's is deliciously personal. The best of this web-log thing. We cover (oh so differently) much the same territory.

So, go read it, and -- in the mean time -- I'll think about whether adding all (or bits) of mine here.


UPDATE:

Since dri asked so very nicely -- how can I refuse a fangirl? -- here's my review, which was published on Friday October 19, 2007.


Homeland. Laurie Anderson. Hamer Hall, The Arts Centre, October 17, 2007.

Most musicians tour new material to sell a newly released album, but Laurie Anderson does the reverse. She tours the new material to prepare for the recording of the album. Instead of the concert reproducing the album, the album is a memento of music perfected through performance. (And, already, this is highly polished material.)

The fact that Laurie Anderson fans approach her concerts expecting new and previously unheard material is proof that her shows are closer to performance art -- to theatre even -- than rock concert.

In fact, the only CD on sale in the foyer of the Concert Hall on Wednesday night was her first, Big Science, which was recently remastered and re-released after a quarter of a century.

Anderson's Homeland contains some of her lushest and most lyrical songs -- up there with her third studio set Strange Angels from 1989 -- but it also contains some of her most political material this side of 'O Superman', the very first hit. But it's not so much propaganda as sad satire.

Anderson has a soaring -- and somewhat bent -- imagination. Whether she's singing parables of life before the earth had formed (when billions of birds ruled the sky) or about the godlike creatures on our billboards or the ghostly presence of her father beside her, she captivates with her voice and her dreamy skill with words.

Musically, the new material is simple and spacious, mostly strings and synths performing uncomplicated falling figures. This culminates -- after a dozen songs over ninety-odd minutes -- with some majestic bass chords and squads of violins circling over our heads in vast formations.

The encore on Wednesday night took the audience by surprise. What more could be added? Anderson played the second great hit from the first set, 'Let X=X'.


P.S. If I had world enough and time -- and a thousand words to fill instead of 300 -- I would have mentioned Laurie's collar-mounted violin and the fact that the six-string bass player had a spare which he never touched...

I would have bitched about the stereo slapping of digital SLR shutters (why don't these fucktographers use Leicas or something quiet? why don't they wait for loud music before taking their shots?) at that first concert.

I would have mused (rather impertinently) about Laurie and animals... her brother's parrot, the quivering mouse in the trap in the "I'm sailing through" song, her own dog hunted by those circling birds...

I would have wondered aloud if it was a coincidence that the word 'whore' in Laurie's mouth is indistinguishable from the word 'horror'.

I would, like Alison, have mentioned Thomas Paine.

And rhapsodised over the lyrics (her father's diamond eyes, his voice life sized...) and her delicious rhymes (strange perfumes with long-lost runes, foreign lands with economic plans, &c. &c. &c.) and, of course, their complex meanings.

Perhaps I would have tied it all up by describing Laurie as humankind's motivational speaker, the angel-spy filing reports (in invisible ink) for... for whom? Or should that be for what? For the deities? Or just for posterity. (Which reminds me, incidentally, of Robert Reid, whose mission as playwright/director/producer/agent provocateur is to record the decline of this civilisation... in the hope that future generations and cultures will understand what, exactly, went wrong.) (I shiver just typing this.)


HOMELAND 2008 (US/LATVIA/RUSSIAN FEDERATION/UK) TOUR DATES:

All performances at 8pm except as indicated.

Zankel Hall (Carnegie Hall), New York, March 26

Opera House, Somerville MA, March 29

EJ Thomas Hall, Akron OH, April 4

Outdoor Amphitheater, Scottsdale AZ, April 6 (7:30)

Campbell Hall, Santa Barbara CA, April 9

Royce Hall, Los Angeles CA, April 10

Boulder Theater, Boulder CO, April 12

Overture Hall, Madison WI, April 14

Harris Theater, Chicago IL, April 16 (7:30)

Arena Riga, April 24

Estrada Theatre, Moscow, April 26

Barbican Theatre, London, April 30 to May 3 (7:45)




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Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Let's pick lilacs for the passing time..."

"Sails of oblivion"... that has to be a reference to 'My Death' by Jacques Brel, no? A song covered so magnificently by David Bowie or, rather, Ziggy Stardust. (Which reminds me, I must track down the Santa Monica bootleg. It's been way too long.) (Lyrics to 'My Death', below.)

Sails of Oblivion is the name of Sam Sejavka's extraordinary blog which I've (just now) read from bottom to top, like a 21st century Alice in Wonderland. Start at the beginning, go to the end and then stop. (Which reminds me, Advice from a Caterpillar was the title of one of Sam's plays circa 1990.)

If I need to tell you who Sam Sejavka is, then the CV probably won't help much. But here's the executive summary. Sejavka is Australia's Sam Shepard and some more... artist, singer (The Ears and Beargarden), actor, writer of plays (The Hive, In Angel Gear &c.) and novels... Add blogger to that list. No. Make that web diarist!

Like the man and his work, Sails of Oblivion is multifaceted. (A pathetically inadequate word that one!) A sci-fi dream one day, a euphemistic and richly poetic account of his battles with various addictions the next.

This post was going to be an appreciative ramble on the presence of music in the 2007 Melbourne Festival, but I got distracted... So, how about I link to Sam's account of taking his daughter Polly to see Dan Zanes?

A propos of the abandoned/postponed topic, DBR's late show at the Spiegeltent, last night, was pretty special... especially his acid rock rendition of 'Waltzing Matilda' on his amped-up six-string violin. (If you've ever seen Kronos Quartet cover Hendrix's 'Purple Haze', you'll have a fair idea of what to expect!)


Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) (Photo: John Walder)

A majority of the set was placid, in comparison, but equally blissed out. Another highlight was a medley in which DBR segued from his own piece, Divergence, to a small piece by Phil Glass, one of the Metamorphosis compositions for solo piano. DBR has two more performances: late tonight and Sunday at 7 pm at the Spiegeltent.



As sung by Bowie:

My death waits like an old roué
So confident I'll go his way
Whistle to him and the passing time

My death waits like a Bible truth
At the funeral of my youth
We drank for that and the passing time

My death waits like a witch at night
As surely as our love is bright
Let's not think of that or the passing time

But whatever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don't care
For in front of that door there is you


My death waits like a beggar blind
Who sees the world through an unlit mind
Throw him a dime for the passing time

My death waits to [too?] allow my friends
A few good times before it ends
Let's not think about the passing time

My death waits there between your thighs
Your cool fingers will close my eyes
Let's not think about the passing time

But whatever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don't care
For in front of that door there is you


My death waits there among the leaves
In magicians' mysterious sleeves
Rabbits and dogs and the passing time

My death waits there among the flowers
Where the blackest shadow cowers
So let's pick lilacs for the passing time

My death waits there in a double bed
The sails of oblivion at my head
Let's not think about the passing time

But whatever is behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don't care
For in front of that door there is you.


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Friday, October 19, 2007

Hot tickets and big swinging sceptres: Leering at King Lear

SO, what do you need to know? Well, first up, my review of Laurie Anderson's Homeland is in today's Herald Sun. (Short version: gorgeous, imaginative, very lush musically and surprisingly light on propaganda given Anderson's sad anger of late. Longer version, posted here.)

Here's a link to my review of the first season of Chunky Move's Glow.

If you're going to see Sankai Juku, don't panic! But do some homework. All you really need to read up on is the Egyptian Lotus flower, better known to us as the white water lily. How it grows, when it blooms, how it has been revered over the centuries... That oughta do it. The notes on-line don't really help.

On the non Melbourne Festival-related side of things, the hottest ticket in LA right now is the Royal Shakespeare Company's King Lear, the version seen here a few months back with Ian McKellan and his big swinging sceptre.

This comes from the LA Times of October 13:

Stubhub, a major online ticket marketplace, is now listing single orchestra seats to "Lear" at $936 to $1,706; balcony tickets start at $442. (McKellen's "Seagull" performances are going for a relatively paltry $325 to $548.) On EBay, where bidding for one pair of "Lear" tickets topped $800, a pair of orchestra seats for the final show Oct. 28 has a starting bid of $3,000, with a "buy it now" price of $3,500.
Makes our $159 top price look, in retrospect, like a steal!

And, finally, some sad news. Bardassa reports that author and playwright Steve J Spears -- author of that infamous international stage hit The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin -- has lost his battle with lung cancer. He was in his mid fifties.

There's more in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

If I were artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival #2

Well, for a start, I'd do a sound check before a packed-out forum with Laurie Anderson. Punters have paid to see and hear the artist. If the sound was checked, then I'd be reassigning the so-called sound engineer/technician back to catering or wherever it was they strayed from.

How's this for disastrous? We couldn't hear Laurie and, when questions were asked, she couldn't hear us! (The speakers were facing forward.) Funnily enough, the only bits the audience could actually hear Loud And Clear were the questions, asked through roving hand-held microphones. Kristy and Laurie certainly couldn't hear the plaintive cries of "we can't hear you"...


2. Man, I'd seriously reconsider the decision not to distribute programmes at the shows. Okay, if it's about paper and waste, I can grudgingly understand the decision. But if it's about saving $30,000 (which I read somewhere) then the decision sucks. Make them available by gold coin donation in a box fer cryin' out loud which they do at the Malthouse. (That way, you don't have to employ programme sellers.)

I am, of course, an unreconstructed hoarder. But I love being able to step away from my computer, wander down to what would -- in a normal house -- be called a second bedroom (my walk-in filing cabinet number 1, of four) and rummage through the "cattle dogs" of virtually every show I've seen in my life. I can lay my hands on programmes from the very first Melbourne Festival (well, "Spoleto Melbourne Festival of Three Worlds") in 1986 in less than a minute.

3. I'd be issuing personal invitations to the loud-mouth festival bashers (you know who you are) to come and see shows like Half Life and The Temptation of St Anthony and Laurie Anderson and even some of the weirder stuff. Several thing are undeniable about the 2007 festival: houses are full, audiences are often wildly enthusiastic (the great temptation had a standing, screaming ovation on closing night, as well) and there are more youngies filling the theatres than ever before. I reckon the mean age of punters at the first performance of MedEia was half mine! Seriously!

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Laurie Anderson 2: Homeland

[CHRIS BOYD:] IS HOMELAND AN ALBUM IN PROGRESS --

[Laurie Anderson:] It is, yeah.

-- RATHER THAN A QUOTE-UNQUOTE TRADITIONAL [LOL] LAURIE ANDERSON SHOW...

I like the quote-unquote.

Translating things into albums has always been frustrating for me. But maybe less so with this because it's much more about improvising, much more about music than things I've done in the past.

In the last few years I've done more films and things where music had a different role. Much more like a support thing. Not exactly soundtrack, but close.

SO, IS THIS A "35 TON SHOW" OR A "TWO SUITCASE" SHOW?

This is a back pocket show. It's probably the most technically complicated, but it looks the simplest. It's really been reduced... everything's a soft-syn, everything's a pedal. There are very few things that are visible. And that's really satisfying for me. I've worked forever to be able to do that.

[...]

YOU MENTIONED IMPROVISING IN HOMELAND... WAS THAT IN THE DEVELOPMENT? OR IS THERE SOME SPACE FOR IMPROVISATION FROM NIGHT TO NIGHT?

It's from night to night. And its, for the first time, I really haven't been able to do that before. It's because the system is designed in such a way that's not linear.

You don't have to wait until it comes up, you access it really quickly with foot pedals. I've never been able to do that before. I've always had to stick to... If I was using a certain sound on tape -- it was on tape -- it was there in the show. I couldn't skip ahead to it.

EVEN WITH YOUR WAND? YOUR STICK?

With the stick you could. But, basically everything was -- the data wasn't that flexible. The visual stuff. Everything was part of a big, carefully programmed thing which became such a burden to me in the end. I just can't stand this... First of all, it's horrible to do that same thing every night in a big tech show, that's what you do.

LIKE CLICK TRACK, IT BECOMES A BIT OF A STRAITJACKET...

Yeah, exactly. Everyone plays to it, but they're really not doing their soaring crazy best solos.

This way I have been able to work with people that I really like and that I respect as musicians and who enjoy working that way. They don't have to say: is it eight bars or twelve bars?

You know, you kind of go: it's x number of bars... and we'll see what happens. To a lot of people that's unbelievably scary. They're like: Well who ends it then?

It's like I'm just beginning to understand how to play music live in a way. Because I've never really played live. Even in live shows there -- are a lot of the things have been programmed. It was great: you get a lot of texture that way but you couldn't get flexibility.

[...]

COMPARE IT FOR ME TO HAPPINESS, WHICH WAS THE LAST THING I SAW YOU DO LIVE...

Happiness was a long story and the music was really only there as as a kind of drone or occasionally as a kind of pulse. So there were just beats that were really just ways to move against the words.

[Homeland is] a combination of things. Some are more like actual songs, but the things I've been adding to it have more to do with stories.

I thought, well, I'm gonna be doing something that's pure music. And then I looked at it and thought: What's missing here? Stories! Bring the stories back. I love stories.

I love stories, shaggy dog stories, you don't where they're going, why they're there.

Music -- you know more why it's there, cos of the song. When you start a story it's "Where is this going? It's really strange." I love that feeling of mystery. That's what I try to build in without using too many extra frills. I think it's just a way to combine those two ways of telling a story. Cos I love false leads.

THERE ARE CONVOLUTIONS, BUT THEY'RE VERY PRECISELY TIMED AND JUDGED...

I guess they get that way as you tell them. But I don't write them for precision. I write them to wander as much as possible. And then, after that, I try to edit so that they wander just the right amount. [laughs]

In the sense that I try to write things that are quite everyday, really, they might stray into magic realms, but I'm happiest when people say: "I had that same idea... you just put that into words. But it's exactly what I was thinking."

That makes me really happy. I know that I am finding something -- that I get to articulate in a certain way -- but it's not some unfamiliar, strange idea that comes from who knows where, but there really is something that is...

And I'm always drawn to the thing in the corner of the room, it's something that bothers people but they can sort of ignore it.

THE ELEPHANT!

It usually kinda stinks. And there's plenty of opportunity to do that now in the United States. Exactly the right time. Because so many people don't talk about what's going on. And yet what's going on is so monumentally disastrous in so many ways. I mean really disastrous.

In the last five years, it's changed so utterly, I can't think of another time in my lifetime that it has looked so different from one year to the next.

It doesn't make sense. In politics, you know, we just voted in another government supposed to be anti-war. The war did not stop. And it's not going to. You realise, wait a second, it's not the government that's running the war. It's a corporate war. That's who's doing it.

Those kinds of thing make you realise what is moving this play. Not that it's any surprise that money is... But when you realise that maybe ten years ago there were 300,000 people in jail. Now, after privatisation, there are three million. You start to think that's what's happening in the army as well.

TELL ME ABOUT THE SOURCES FOR HOMELAND

Outrage. I think rage is a big source. The giant gap between what's going on and the way people describe it. That's another thing quite huge. That, for me as a writer, is very very interesting. That it's just not like what they say it is. You can really really fool people by telling them a story: "you guys have got it soooo good."


Laurie Anderson performs Homeland in Melbourne, as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, on October 17, 18 & 19, 2007. And at the Sydney Opera House on October 21 & 22. It's reviewed here. For more of the interview, see here and here.

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Laurie Anderson: Only An Expert lyrics

'Only An Expert' (live)
From
Homeland
By Laurie Anderson

Now only an expert can deal with a problem.
Cos half of the problem is seeing the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

So if there's no expert dealing with a problem,
then really it's actually twice the problem.
Cos only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

Now in America, we like solutions. We like solutions to problems. And there's so many companies that offer solutions. Companies with names like: The Pet Solution, The Hair Solution, The Debt Solution, The World Solution, The Sushi Solution.

The debt solution... Now, only an expert can see there's a problem.
And these companies are experts ready to solve these problems.
Cos only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

Now, let's say you're invited to be on Oprah, and you don't have a problem, but you wanna go on the show, and so you need a problem. And so you invent a problem. But if you're not an expert in problems, you're probably not going to make up a very plausible problem. And so you're probably gonna get nailed. You're gonna get exposed, you're gonna have to bow down and apologise and beg for the public's forgiveness. Because only an expert can see there's a problem. And only an expert can deal with a problem. Only an expert can deal with a problem.

And on these shows that try to solve your problems, the big question's always: how can I get control. How can I take control. But, don't forget, this is a question for the regular viewer, the person who is barely getting by. The person who is watching shows about people with problems, the person who is one of the 60 percent of the US population 1.3 weeks away, 1.3 paychecks away from homelessness. In other words... a person with problems.

So when experts say let's get to the root of the problem, let's take control of the problem, cos if you take control of the problem, you can solve the problem. Often this doesn't work at all because the situation is completely out of control.

Cos only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.

So, who are these experts? Now, experts are usually self-appointed people or elected officials or people skilled in sales techniques, trained or self-taught to focus on things that might be identified as problems. But the expert is someone who studies the problem and tries to solve the problem. The expert is someone who carries malpractice insurance. Because often the solution becomes... the problem.

And only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

Now sometimes experts look for weapons. And sometimes experts look everywhere for weapons. And sometimes when they don't find any weapons, sometimes other experts say: if you haven't found any weapons, it doesn't mean there are no weapons. And other experts looking for weapons find things like cleaning fluids and refrigerator rods and small magnets. And they say: these may look like common objects to you, but in our opinion, they could be weapons. Or they could be used to make weapons. Or they could be used to ship weapons. Or to store weapons. Cos only an expert can see they might be weapons. And only an expert can deal with weapons. And only an expert can deal with problems.

Cos only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

You know, and sometimes, if it's really really really really really hot, and it's July in January, and there's no more snow, and huge waves are wiping out cities, and hurricanes are everywhere, and everyone knows it's a problem. But if some of the experts say it's no problem, and if other experts claim it's no problem or explain why it's no problem, then it's simply not a problem.

But, when an expert says it's a problem and makes a movie about the problem and wins an Oscar about the problem then all the other experts have to agree that it is, most likely, a problem.

Cos only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

And even though a country can invade another country, and flatten it, and ruin it, and create havoc and civil war and refugees in that country, and if the experts say it's not a problem and if everyone agrees that they're experts and good at solving problems, then invading these countries is simply -- not -- a problem.

And if a country tortures people, and holds citizens without cause or trial, and sets up military tribunals, this is also not a problem. Unless there's an expert who says it is the beginning... of a problem.

Cos only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.

And only an expert can deal with the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

Cos seeing the problem is half the problem.
And only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.


UPDATE: I've made a couple of corrections!

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The wings we have... Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely

Great festivals always have an Easter Egg-hunt element to them. And I hit the Kinder Surprise jackpot on Saturday night. Me and a few hundred others in a capacity crowd. (From the heckling, I'm guessing Festival Director Kristy Edmunds was there too, surveying her Good Deeds.)

Waiting in the snaking queue outside NGV-International, I hooked up with a trio of punters on the theatrical equivalent of a blind date. They wanted a night out at the Spiegeltent and put a pin in the festival program. "Something different" was the wish. Man, how lucky you can get!



We got Toshi Reagon and her terrific backing band, BIGLovely. Barring early-onset dementia, no-one present will forget the performance. This was capital-P privilege material. A stadium-stardom act in the most intimate of venues...

Music, for me, is all about signal-to-noise. I'm not (just) talking sound quality here. Music is a carrier wave between souls. And Toshi Reagon (daughter of Sweet Honey In The Rock founder Bernice Johnson Reagon) opened a channel -- locked and loaded -- as soon as she sang her first bluesy, folksy note. Ever had someone give your shoulders a rub and, instantly, you can focus your eyes? That's what this voice does.

But how to describe it? 'True' seems so inadequate, but it will have to do. True to the note, true to the thought and emotion, true to the self.

Clarion.

Bright as the sun, but so so controlled. Agile and clean. Capable of anything -- apparently -- except strain.

Think: the passion of Janis mixed with the purity of Joni.

Purity's not quite the right word. Above all, Toshi Reagon's is the voice of experience. Love and loss... the awful daring of a moment's surrender. Hell, this self-proclaimed lesbian sang a love song she penned that very day for a bloke named AJ! (She also sang 'Heartbreak Hotel' and let fly with the opening acoustic guitar riff from Led Zeppelin's 'Over the Hills and Far Away'... nothing if not eclectic!)

Think Mia Dyson, but with less smoke and grind. Think Bill Withers and Martha Wainwright rolled into one... but even fuller of voice. Think of the best of soul and R&B and indy rock.

Now, count the days 'til she returns and, in the meantime, pray that her recordings (on Righteous Babe, colour me surprised!) are a patch on the live shows.


Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely at the Famous Spiegeltent on Saturday October 13, 2007. Part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Athol Fugard on Sizwe Banzi is Dead

Thirty five years after South African writer-director Athol Fugard and actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona created Sizwe Banzi is Dead, the original pair performed the play at the National Theatre in London in March.

Around that time, a new French-language production by Peter Brook was staged at the Barbican. This production is about to begin an eight week tour of Australia. (Full tour dates below.) It was all the excuse I needed to get back on the phone to Fugard who, since we last spoke, has had a heart attack and some successful surgery.

We spoke at the end of September.


[ATHOL FUGARD:] The thing about Sizwe Banzi and its companion piece The Island is that -- my god -- the life they've gone on to have! These pieces were devised by myself and the two actors as a way of earning a crust of bread for [them] in a South Africa very radically different from the one that exists today.

And these are two chaps that had very menial jobs but who had a flair -- an undeniable flair -- for the stage. For improvisation. And they were sick and tired of what they were doing with their lives and they said to me -- because they were members of a little drama group I was running -- they said: can't we do something about trying to earn our living doing what we really want to do, which is be there in front of people making them laugh, making them think?

We tried a couple of things. And then I remembered a postcard I'd seen in a photographer's window. You know, the famous photograph of the man with a pipe in one hand and a cigarette in the other, smiling broadly in what was obviously a brand new suit. Stetson on his head. And I said, I think there's a play there.

And we explored it, explored that photograph, and that's how the play was born. And we never dreamed that it would do anything more than a couple of shows in abandoned halls, or garages. Those were our theatres in those days. We couldn't get onto the official stages in South Africa.

[CHRIS BOYD:] BECAUSE YOU WERE MIXED RACE COMPANY?

Absolutely. This thing. Well it actually turned into -- as far as the actors were concerned -- a Frankenstein. They wanted to move on, but the success kept them anchored to it. You know? And they were facing a fate like Eugene O'Neill's father in The Count of Monte Cristo... a great matinee performance. And then by the time he woke up, his acting days were over. And he aborted his career as an actor.

DID YOU SEE THIS YEAR'S REVIVAL IN LONDON? OR WERE YOU UNABLE TO TRAVEL?

Unable to travel. So, no I didn't.

HAVE YOU SEEN PETER BROOK'S PRODUCTION?


By and large, Chris, what I try to avoid -- because, you know, I've really had some unhappy experiences -- is -- and this is a very arrogant statement -- I try to avoid seeing work that I myself did not personally have control over, and a hand in, because sometimes directors -- all well intentioned of course -- have got it very very wrong.

And it's mortifying sitting in an audience and watching that. They know you're there, to start with. So what do you do after when the curtain comes down? Go backstage and lie and feel unhappy about yourself? Or tell them the truth and maybe make it damn difficult for the actors to go out the next night. So, cowardly, I avoid that now!


Brook and Fugard, as it happens, are old friends. And in response to an opening question about -- believe it or not -- why Fugard barracks for the Pakistani cricket team rather than the South Africans, I get some of the back-story.

WHY IS PAKISTAN "YOUR TEAM", YOU TRAITOR?!

It is my team! I did something... I went on-line and bought myself a Pakistani cricket hat. But why is it my team? That world, up there, has always captured my imagination. I was in Afghanistan for a few weeks when I was working with Peter Brook on a film. That whole world up there absolutely fascinated me. And the Pakistani people... so uncompromising, so dangerous, you know?

There's one cricketer in that team who has always captured my imagination: [all-rounder Shahid] Afridi. He was like our Lance Klusener.

A REAL FIREBRAND! [...] TELL ME ABOUT AFGHANISTAN. WHEN WERE YOU IN AFGHANISTAN?

It was one of Peter Brook's very adventurous -- sometimes unsuccessful -- film efforts. This was Meetings With Remarkable Men. Peter and I have known each other for a long time and we have a very good relationship. I've never worked worked with him on the stage, though he's done some of my work on the stage, but... I got a call out of the blue: "I'm looking for a man with a beard. How's your Russian accent?" I played one of Gurdjieff's early followers, a Russian scientist called Skridlov.

I enjoyed being in Afghanistan. It was still my drinking days. But even so, I saw... I could see enough of the country through my alcoholic haze to appreciate it. This is quite a while back. Pete and I have had some wonderful reunions since then. Always in London, of course. And he came to South Africa once.

But it stays with me. There's something about that world. In the same way that, when I worked with [Richard] Attenborough -- on the other side of the camera again -- in Gandhi, India also [had a] powerful effect on my imagination.


Later, after speaking about story telling and his childhood passion for stories, we get onto theatre.

I was vaguely aware of it but the little provincial town I grew up in, Port Elizabeth, didn't have anything like professional theatre. Once or twice a year, a visiting company would come and stage a tired Bernard Shaw or a Shakespeare. No, Shakespeare was too much for Port Elizabeth! It would be Bernard Shaw or a little drawing room comedy. I saw a couple of them and was mildly intrigued. But it's when I went to university and met my wife Sheila -- [we're] still married, we celebrate our fifty years, I think, this month -- and she was a young actress, she was studied drama and wanted to be an actress. And she made me aware of theatre as an alternative, as another option in terms of writing. And I started dabbling.

I think what I discovered is the chemistry of the spoken word -- and it's a magical chemistry because it's what we struggle with to communicate, it's also what we try desperately to use to hide away. You know, [we] use it to try and tell the truth and we use it to try and hide our secrets.

And, you know, I marvel for example at my mother. Who was very very simple woman, powerful woman, beautiful woman. But [had] very little education. And an Afrikaner so her command of the English language was very very very basic. But she aspired to being on the same level as my dad when it came to speaking English, because my dad was very well spoken and was of English descent.

And so my mother would get a hold of this foreign language and what she did with it in her mouth, always used to fill me with so much joy and amazement. You know, the corruptions that would come out, which she was unaware of...

MALAPROPISMS OR --

Everything, everything. Totally original words for example, she'd make phrases up... She was wonderful. And [it] also made me listen to other people with equal concentration and understand the way they spoke and how they were using language.

Because no two people... speak in exactly the same way. We've all got a grammar of our own. A grammar and a dictionary of our own. And I found that this is what I really loved doing.

Give me two people talking to each other. Or one person talking to an audience. And you capture character. Our character is in the way we speak more indelibly than it is in our faces, in our gestures, in anything else we do... in how we dress... Language is how we affirm our existence. And there it is.

MIRIAM MARGOLYES SAYS LANGUAGE IS THE CURRENCY OF THOUGHT.

That's absolutely true. That's absolutely true.


Finally, from a conversation with Ann McFerran, here is Athol's daughter Lisa on Sizwe Banzi is Dead.

I first saw Sizwe Bansi Is Dead at the age of 10... [It] was first produced in our neighbour's sitting room, with the audience consisting of me, my mum, our neighbour and African women domestics. But putting on plays with black actors wasn't considered normal, and there was a lot of hostility towards my dad from the white people in the village. When he and I walked to get the newspaper we'd pass various houses with dogs. Some were ferocious and nasty; some not. But the dogs that really snarled all seemed to be from the houses of people whose politics were in extreme opposition to my dad's, whereas the people who were supportive of my dad seemed to have friendly great dogs.

Since then, I've found whenever I see my father's plays that there is this moment when the theatre darkens and the lights come up on stage and I wonder: "What's he going to tell me?" That's a special moment of great intimacy with my dad as he reveals what really matters to him.



Read more from that conversation, here:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/article1072645.ece




See also today's Financial Review, the October 13-14 2007 edition, for more on Athol Fugard's love of story telling.



Peter Brook's production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead is at the Merlyn Theatre, Melbourne, from October 16 to 27 as part of the 2007 Melbourne International Arts Festival.

The production then tours to Geelong (GPAC October 30-31), Bendigo (The Capital, November 2-3), Adelaide (Festival Centre November 6-17), and Sydney (Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, November 26 to December 16).

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

If I were artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival...

UPDATE: CRIB NOTES/PRELIM. READING SUGGESTIONS APPENDED!


If I were artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival...

I'd be pretty stoked to have shows directed by Barrie Kosky and Robert Wilson opening my festival.

I'd be braggin' about having Merce Cunningham on his way. In the flesh. Ohmigod.

And I would never again allow Epicure to cater my first night bash. Talk about leaving a sour taste in the mouth! (And some of the service was as bitter as the vegetarian puffs!)

Not only was Kosky's staging of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart a sell-out -- the whole season is booked out -- word is that the first performance was overbooked to the tune of 100 tickets. So, the crush outside the unreserved seating venue, tonight, was even more fierce than usual.


Martin Niedermair does Munch as Poe's psycho killer

The show sees Kosky at his most restrained. (Yes, I can't believe I've used the words 'Kosky' and 'restrained' in the one sentence either!)

Barrie, bless him, didn't want the local 'crickets' sittin' up the back, so Cameron Woodhead and myself (and our respective dates) were ushered through the throngs like celebs. Well, like really really hated queue-jumping celebs. (Normally the contempt hails from the other side of the prosc. arch, not our side!)

How does one prepare for a Barrie Kosky show? I thought about re-reading the Poe. It's only two and a bit thousand words. But with Barrie, you might as well listen to some Pergolesi and hope for the best. Only polymaths need apply for tickets.

I always feel like I'm getting about one reference in twenty... and afraid that -- as a result -- I'm latching onto one of the less pertinent ones.

This production, however, is a reminder that Kosky can do texts. And, even better, that he can do minimal. It's a feast for the eye. Yes, 'eye' singular.

The eye of a vulture. Pale blue. With a film over it.

Here's hoping that you too were lucky enough to have scored one of the tickets to this remarkable show. The season ends October 20. My review will be in the Herald Sun early next week.


And, finally...

If I were artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival... I would have scheduled performances of Dennis Vaughan's opera The Tell-Tale Heart -- new, Australian, largely unseen, and well worth a place in the Festival -- and had the two versions play in rep.




TELL-TALE HEART CRIB NOTES:

read it here:

http://www.poemuseum.org/selected_works/tell_tale_heart.html



download it here:

http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/PoeTell.html


For homework, read up on the Furies/Erinyes:

http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Erinyes.html


Read some Dryden:
Music for a while
Shall all your cares beguile;
Wond’ring how your pains were eas’d.
And disdaining to be pleas’d
Til Alecto free the dead
From their eternal band;
Til the snakes drop from her head,
And the whip from out her hand.

And listen to Henry Purcell's setting of 'Music for a while...'

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Film review: Red Road

Red Road. Written and directed by Andrea Arnold. Cinematography by Robbie Ryan. Editing by Nicolas Chaudeurge. Production Design by Helen Scott. Costume Design by Carole K. Millar. Make-up design by Sarah Fidelo.

In (Australian) cinemas: October 11, 2007


The centrepiece of the DOGME 95 manifesto is what its creators Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg called the "Vow of Chastity". Odd, really, as their ten commandments for directors have more to do with poverty and obedience than chastity... and, often enough, it felt like audiences were being, well, rooted! The oath culminates with the line: "My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings."

DOGME has had its day, but that core promise blazes on in the first of the films created under the banner Advance Party.

Advance Party is a one-off project rather than a school of film making. The rules are explicit, but not anywhere near as restrictive as the DOGME 95 rules.

In short, a set of characters with basic "back stories" has been created by two Danish producers. (The original set of seven characters has blown out to nine.) The characters -- and actors -- are shared between films made by three different directors. All three films are to be shot in Scotland and must be shot within six weeks. The three directors are experienced short film makers who haven't previously made feature-length films.



Andrea Arnold -- winner of an Oscar for her short film Wasp -- blazes an extraordinary trail in the first of the three, Red Road. It's a daunting standard that the other directors will find hard to match.

Arnold's film concentrates on two of the Advance Party characters: Jackie (Kate Dickie) and Clyde (Tony Curran). The sad and solitary Jackie is a CCTV operator working in the control room of City Eye, which monitors activities around a housing estate in Glasgow. She lives vicariously through her many screens.

Clyde, according to the manifesto, is Catholic; a 35 year-old locksmith; and has been imprisoned for most of the past decade. Jackie, for reasons of her own, keeps an especially close eye on Clyde.

The less you know about the details of the plot of this film the better. Arnold skillfully allows the story -- the motivations and the past collisions -- to surface over the course of two hours. The director doesn't just ask for our patience, she earns it. She rewards our close attention too.

Arnold is sparing with dialogue. But the silence -- like a John Cage composition -- sensitises us to noise and rustles. Arnold is sparing, too, with emotions. Though tragedy has befallen several people in this film, the tone is restrained, even cool. Muted.

Without being ostentatious, the cinematography is endlessly fascinating. Given the CCTV monitoring, pointing is more important than framing, just as it was in DOGME 95. The woozy zooming and panning -- and jump cuts -- are just part of the business of surveillance.

But Arnold doesn't play on these visual metaphors. Or play with them.

Jackie is a voyeur. She gets to know the man who walks his sick dog, the overweight cleaner who is fond of her workmate, the homeless... We get to know her just as abstractly. And just as intimately. It's as if Arnold is shooting over her shoulder.

There's also a sense that Arnold is learning about the culture she is filming while she is filming it. An outsider to Glasgow, and to the infamous estate where she filmed, Arnold's partly improvised, partly group-devised story invites us all to suspend judgement: the world is not divided into good guys and bad.

Each player in this drama -- no matter how minor the role -- is fleshy, complex and utterly believable. They're characters we can walk around. Their stories are unbound by the edges of the frame. They extend out of the plotline in all directions.

Red Road is a film that delivers far more than it promises. It is an astonishingly assured debut from a major talent.


This review was published in the September 29-30 2007 edition of the Australian Financial Review.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Neighbour of the beast...

It's been what Ronnie Barker would call "a packed programme" this last week or so, dear reader. I ratcheted up seven reviews in seven days. Apart from the usual line-up of ballet and theatre for the Rupert's Angels (Hark the Herald -- er -- Sons??), there's been a film and a book for the Financial Review and a CD for The Big Issue... my last -- at least for the time being -- for the magazine.

Believe it or not, that review of Kanye West's newie is my 665th piece for the Big Ish. Count em! I was forced to walk the plank just before I reached the Devil's Number. Yep, after more than 11 years -- you can count the editions I'm not in since October 1996 on the fingers of one hand -- it's eviction time at Sugar Mountain.

But let's look on the bright side. TBI was the journalistic equivalent of blogging. I did it for show, not for dough.

If you're hangin' out for some light reading -- LOL -- I've just posted a review of Iain McIntyre's Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966-1970 at Sarsaparilla. Yeah, yeah, yeah... the book's been out almost a year, but it's a ripper. And the review hasn't been published anywhere else. So, there.



I'm still feeling sheepishly guilty that I haven't responded to Ming-Zhu's critic bag-and-tag -- the thinking woman's Me-Me-Me-Me-Meme -- about why I do what I do. But then, hell, I'm too busy doin' it to talk about doin' it just now.

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