Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Por vos muero casts, Australian Ballet, Melbourne season

The Australian Ballet is very good when it comes to posting casting information on-line and keeping it up-to-date during the season if there are last-minute substitutions or injuries. The Melbourne casts for the current triple bill Concord are here.

Kevin Jackson and Halaina Hills in Por vos muero
(click on the image to enlarge)

Well, all except for the first piece, Por vos muero, which is listed simply as Cast 1 and Cast 2. For the record, the casts are:

Cast 1.

Vivienne Wong, Tzu-Chao Chou
Gina Brescianini, Daniel Gaudiello
Rachel Rawlins, Rudy Hawkes
Lucinda Dunn, Andrew Killian
Stephanie Williams, Damien Welch
Jane Casson, Robert Curran

Cast 2.

Robyn Hendricks, Brett Chynoweth
Halaina Hills, Luke Marchant
Laura Tong, Andrew Wright
Lana Jones, Luke Ingham
Dimity Azoury, Ty King-Wall
Amy Harris, Kevin Jackson

Each cast has its attractions, of course. You'd queue up to see Robert Curran in a walkathon I reckon. And, interestingly, the stars of the show vary from performance to performance. On first night, Vivienne Wong was in killer form. Suddenly, that cool upper-body sophistication of hers -- so rare in a young dancer -- was eclipsed by something else. An acrobatic attack, hot and committed. It's hard to pin down.

Lucinda Dunn, Vivienne Wong, Gina Brescianini, Rachel Rawlins
Por vos muero cast 1 (click on the image to enlarge)

Rachel Rawlins' wrists (believe it or not!) ran a close second to Wong's -- er -- thighs. (You'll understand when you see them!)

But the second performance by the first cast was dominated by Gina Brescianini.

In the second cast, Halaina Hills did the same. (In Brescianini's role, interestingly enough.) Dimity Azouri -- always impressive in the modern repertoire -- also went for it.

Por vos muero and the final piece on the bill, Dyad 1929 by the justifiably overrated Wayne McGregor, are miraculously well performed and very fine pieces. You'd be an absolute idiot to miss them! Seriously.

The Melbourne season ends on September 1. The Sydney season is November 11-30.

Rehearsal photographs by Jim McFarlane, used with permission.

UPDATE: Michelle Potter's excellent review is on-line, here. Other reviews, including my own (rave) review for the Herald Sun, are quoted at length, here.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Slava’s Snowshow, “a sadistic show for a masochistic world.” Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne.

The executive summary: If you don’t have “clown issues” comin’ in, you’ll sure as hell have them comin’ out.

The obligatory gag: What, a show about snow with a character called Yellow, and not a single joke about Frank Zappa or Coldplay?!

First impressions:

Variety reckons Slava’s Snowshow is to clowning what Cirque du Soleil is to the circus. Clearly, Variety is to good judgement what I am to good manners. Cos, in two words, their observation is Bull Shit.

If they’d said “what Archaos is to the circus” they’d be fifty degrees warmer. Like the French circus outfit, Slava’s Snowshow is grungy, Euro-style, raucous and menacing.

The main character ‘Yellow’ is a grotesque Semitic stereotype. He’s just a hook-nose short of a class action from the Anti-Defamation League.
...every trace of the old Slava -- the “thoughtful, gentle, poetic” clown -- has been blackened and killed off like a wart after cryotherapy...
Now, the Snowshow had a wildly successful season in New York and, apparently, didn’t cause any riots there. So perhaps I’m being a touch sensitive. (Then again, New York’s Jewish community is one of the most self-flagellating in the world. Maybe, like Seinfeld, they thought the Snowshow was a documentary. You know... life really is this bitter.)

Yellow is more like the creation of Samuel Beckett than, say, Charlie Chaplin. Not so much sad and funny as morbidly depressed and vengeful. Like something out of Godot, Yellow has a love-hate -- or, rather, need-loathe -- relationship with his companions, the green clowns. (Equally stereotypical and every bit as contemptible... in an oddly adorable way.)

Yellow’s relationship with the audience is a bit like Eva Peron’s reputedly was to hers. He’ll take your adulation... and steal your wallet. Actually, he demands both.

The performers are skilled, and their craft is so well-honed it’s almost undetectable. But it will leave you not so much transported as traumatised. It’s a sadistic show for a masochistic world.

My official review, published in the Herald Sun last week:

In the years since Slava’s Snowshow’s pre-9/11 debut, its heart has iced over. The white powdery snow has been packed down and turned into treacherous black ice.

It’s still extraordinarily spectacular, with its brilliantly realistic indoor blizzard, but every trace of the old Slava -- the “thoughtful, gentle, poetic” clown [I’m quoting an essay on Slava Polunin by Natasha Tabachnikova here] -- has been blackened and killed off like a wart after cryotherapy.

This is no show for young children... or grown-ups with clown issues! Think commedia dell’Arte in combat boots or Krusty the Clown dolls with their switches set to ‘Evil’.

Like Krusty, the Slava character in the Snowshow ‘Yellow’ (played by Canadian Derek Scott on opening night) has wild tufts of unruly hair and a seriously mean streak. He torments the Green Clowns... who eventually shoot him full of arrows.

It’s the stuff of fevered nightmares.

The show looks cramped in the Athenaeum Theatre, the stage is bursting at the seams, but there is good access to the audience and the clowns make repeated and effective use of that. Believe me, nowhere is safe from them... or safe from the elements!

Sound quality is not good -- it made my ear holes itch -- and the music is dinky and brutal. But like an Angelo Badalamenti score, it bores its way into your heart.

The performers are exceptionally skilled. They play the audience like a conductor plays an orchestra. But Slava’s Snowshow leaves its audiences not so much transported as traumatised. It’s a sadistic show for a masochistic world.

Slava’s Snowshow. Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, until August 30.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I beg to differ... David Harrower’s Knives In Hens (Malthouse Theatre/STCSA)

Geordie Brookman’s production of Knives In Hens has copped a bit of a spray, around town, for its pacing, design, concept... you name it. But I kinda liked it. Now, I didn't see the production until it had been running for almost a week, so there’s a good chance it hit its proverbial stride in that time.

That said, one of the recurrent complaints about the production was that it was too fast. And I have to say that a good five minutes has been shaved off the running time since it opened.

Executive summary: I liked it. Don't be put off.

After the jump, the director’s cut of my Herald Sun review.

Good art is a revelation. It alters the way we see the world. Great art, I reckon, changes the way we see ourselves. David Harrower’s early play Knives In Hens succeeds on the first count several times over. It casts language and history -- as well as the natural world -- in a surprising new light.

Harrower takes us to a time in history when the written word -- once the exclusive preserve of priests and law-makers -- was starting to appear in villages, to be used by farmers and tradespeople; when the practicality of chalk was challenged by the permanence of pen and ink.

The power of words -- of naming things -- was like witchcraft to the peasants.

The playwright, remarkably, makes these abstract ideas as exciting as sex and death... which are also on the menu in this Chauceresque pot-boiler about a blunt-but-loving ploughman, his capable young wife and the miller, a widower.

The irony of the play is that the ploughman (Robert Menzies) -- who is deeply suspicious of the written word and creative use of language -- inadvertently plants the seed of metaphor in the mind of his wife (played by Kate Box) where it bursts into bloom.

She’s fascinated by the idea of a tree “standing”; she’s keen to name the shiver a tree gives in certain winds, even if she has to invent a word; and she feels embarrassed looking up at the canopy of leaves, as if she were looking up a skirt.

The miller (Dan Spielman) -- hated by all of the hard-working villagers -- reads books and writes in ink. Initially, this is cause for more contempt and frustration from the young woman, but she is vulnerable to his revolutionary ideas about recording events and translating thoughts into written words.

Music in the production is overused and sometimes tactless, and the lighting design doesn’t take into account the brightness of the theatre’s exit signs, but it’s hard to imagine the play better presented than it is here in Geordie Brookman’s measured and touching production. Acting is quite beautifully weighted, too. It’s a great credit to Kate Box that she more than holds her own alongside old sparring partners Menzies and Spielman.

Knives In Hens by David Harrower. A co-production between Malthouse Theatre and the State Theatre Company of SA. At the Beckett Theatre until August 22.

This review ran in the August 11 edition of the Herald Sun

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Testing, testing... 1. 2. 3.

I've been warned: if I request a Beargarden song, I'll be beaten up. But, fuck, I'll be listening to All that Fall on the way there. [Sings under breath: "I write the news... I write the news..."]

More information at Sam's excellent blog, Sails of Oblivion. Sam's also twittering bout the gig, rehearsals &c. here.

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