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Plays

Oct 7, 2013

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Eryn Jean Norvill and Anna Lise Phillips in Romeo and Juliet (Pic: Lisa Tomasetti)

Did William Shakespeare invent teenagehood and, by inference, all that goes with it? The jury, methinks, is still out. But it’s unquestionably one of the aspects Kip Williams, the director of Sydney Theatre Company’s current production of Romeo And Juliet, has sought to bring to the fore, in this most excellent and lamentable tragedy.

Following a lengthy, but impressive cinematic sequences in which the entire set revolves to dramatic music (lending a propulsive quality that reflects the momentum of the work as written), revealing overindulged youths engaged in drinking (Italian beer, of course) and carousing, the play proper opens with the visceral spectacle of a Montague and Capulet squaring off. Nigel Poulton’s fight direction is especially invigorated. Thank fuck the brouhaha breaks up and cool heads and heels prevail, or there’d be talk of restricting opening hours.

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Dance

Sep 25, 2013

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The cast of Cinderella | State Theatre (Pic: Jeff Busby)

It’s been told thousands of times in thousands of ways since the tale was first born in 1634. We are all familiar with the story, mostly by association with the 1950 animated classic, but this season, for a very limited time, the Arts Centre Melbourne is hosting a truly special reproduction of Cinderella by the Australian Ballet.

Imprisoned by her wicked stepmother and selfish, lazy stepsisters, Cinderella has been turned from the cultured lady she was born, to little more than a common slave. Forced to work day and night, she serves her household with grace and respect, all the while enduring ridicule and contempt from her imposter family. Her real mother passed away years ago, leaving behind only memories and an alcoholic father. One evening, a ball is held so that the Prince may select a bride. Cinderella’s fairy godmother transforms Cinderella’s rags into a splendid gown and as the belle of the ball, she captures the Prince’s heart. When she flees at midnight before the spell is broken, she loses her precious glass slipper and the Prince uses it as a means to find his true love.

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Dance

Sep 11, 2013

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The cast of Les Illuminations | The Studio

One thing you could never accuse Sydney Dance Company’s artistic director of being reticent about is collaboration. Rafael Bonachela’s latest production features the decadent poetry of Rimbaud, the music of Benjamin Britten (played by members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Roland Peelman), the angelic vocals of Katie Noonan and costumes by Toni Maticevski. It’s a diverse distillation that’s sewn together as finely as one of Maticevski’s bespoke garments. Even if the voice over the PA announcing commencement made the title sound like Les is the brother of Trevor Illuminations.

You could’ve been forgiven, on walking into The Studio, for thinking you’d just walked into a fashion show, rather than a dance performance, given Benjamin Cisterne’s pristine, white catwalk extending out from a small stage which Noonan and orchestra cosily inhabited. This brought the dancers, for many of us, close enough, almost, to shower us with their sweat; in itself, a bold move, as it risked an obviousness should any of the dancers falter in the slightest. Happily (and as you’d expect from a company of this calibre), none did, though we did get an even clearer sense than is usually possible of the strenuousness of certain moves, postures and poses. Visually, it was an interesting set-up because, as much as the focal point was the dance, they eye could hardly help but wander, now and then, to the musicians and Roland Peelman’s balletic baton.

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Dance

Sep 11, 2013

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A scene from iTMOi (in the mind of igor) | Sydney Opera House

You don’t have to be a dancer, or be into dance at all, to take away something potent and memorable from Akram Kahn Company’s iTMOi (in the mind of igor), which seeks to penetrate the mysteries and complexities of Stravinsky’s considerable brain.

It sounds like the kind of experiment one might encounter in a Vincent Price (or even Steve Martin) movie. And where Stravinksy’s genius ends and Khan’s begins is somewhat difficult to discern. But the latter would seem to have succeeded handsomely in making the musical physical. Which isn’t to say the work is entirely consistent or that one can clearly discern the head from the tale. It’s more about the visceral. Hell, it’s all about the visceral. And hell is a good word to apply. This is a hellish landscape, from beginning to end; one which may well mark out the terrain of the Stravinsky (or any) brain all too accurately. What we see isn’t what we get from our conscious minds so much, as deep below the level of our day-to-day cognitive operating system. iTMOi is a dream takes place in a dream state; or, more precisely, a nightmare.

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Dance

Sep 2, 2013

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The cast of La Sylphide | State Theatre (Pic: Jeff Busby)

Beguiling pixies and fairies, a very wicked witch, betrayal, heartbreak and sudden death. No, I am not talking about more mind-numbing convulsions within the federal Labor Party, for in the grand scheme of things, this is something much more important: The Australian Ballet’s exquisite double-bill of Paquita and La Sylphide, two of the most influential works from ballet’s romantic period in the first half of the 19th century.

It was a full house at the State Theatre, and the night began with Paquita and choreography after French ballet master Marius Petipa. The curtain opened to reveal a simple empty stage, a restrained but elegant tableau of purple night with shimmering stars and two high hanging chandeliers. Hugh Colman’s lovely costumes, their gold and yellow hues for the corps de ballet and soloists, and silver cream for the leads (the wonderfully elegant Olivia Bell and graceful Adam Bull) worked beautifully.

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Opera

Aug 29, 2013

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The cast of Albert Herring | Joan Sutherland Theatre (Pic: Branco Gaica)

It wasn’t very long ago at all that the resourceful Sydney Chamber Opera staged a Benjamin Britten opera, so the scheduling of Opera Australia’s Albert Herring, also by said composer, should help consolidate some well-deserved re-examination of the Britisher. Like SCO’s Owen Wingrave, AH is a chamber opera, which provides an interesting point of difference in presentation, with the much smaller than usual Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra moved forward and up, out of its usual subterranean bower.

AH was the follow-up to The Rape of Lucretia. Perhaps Britten needed a little light relief, as the former is decidedly comical, with a libretto by Eric Crozier, based on Guy de Maupassant’s late nineteenth-century novella, Le Rosier de Madame Husson, albeit with the action reset in the sleepy Suffolk countryside. I’ve not read the novella, but assume Crozier has emulated de Maupassant’s character blueprints, but refashioned them as needed to better conform with the best of British self-righteousness.

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Opera

Aug 8, 2013

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Arnold Rutkowski and Emma Matthews in La traviata (Pic: Branco Gaica)

It’s back. One assumes, by popular demand. Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Verdi’s La traviata will soon (next year) turn 20, so it’s been around the block a few times. But it’s no old clunker. It’s a vintage classic. And provided you get the cast right, as on this occasion, you can’t really go wrong.

It’s just possible Emma Matthews has never sung better. She brings a vocal subtlety and dramatic sensitivity to her role as Violetta that is, in my experience, unprecedented and truly moving. So much so, she’s fast making the role hers and hers alone. This may be partly inspired by Patrick Lange, who seems to really engage with the singers, as well as orchestra, during a performance. I might have had a severely restricted view during act one (due to being relegated to a box seat, with thanks to Sydney buses), but it serendipitously afforded me an opportunity to intimately observe such. And the Joan Sutherland Theatre certainly provides an opportunity to finesse the role Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour didn’t and, really, couldn’t.

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Opera

Jul 25, 2013

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The cast of Don Pasquale | Joan Sutherland Theatre

Those who live in fear of opera probably have it summarily miscast as a big, black bear of a thing, lumbering around, laden with heavy emotions to match its hefty bearing. They haven’t seen Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

This is, of course, a so-called opera buffa. No, that’s not an opera you see while nudging your way into a long, groaning table, to load your plate with king prawns and cold chicken. It’s another term for comic opera. And just as punk rock has traditions, like moshing, stage diving and gobbing, opera buffa has its trademarks; foremost among them, inspiration from the commedia dell’arte (masked, improvised theatre, dating back to Italy in the 1500s) in the form of off-the-rack characters.

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Opera

Jul 15, 2013

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Tenor Yonghoon Lee and Alexia Voulgaridou in Tosca | Joan Sutherland Theatre

I’ll come right out and say it: as far as I’m concerned, Opera Australia would be well-advised to have John Bell direct many more operas, for never have I seen an opera with more dramatic impetus, or believability. Sure, you could argue awareness of the erstwhile classical theatre director’s tenure in this production of Puccini’s Tosca may’ve prejudiced my judgment; yet I remain certain that I would’ve been similarly impressed had I been blissfully unaware of his hand on the tiller.

When John Bell told me, in an interview with Curtain Call, that he’d determined to move the action forward from Napoleonic times to Mussolini’s heyday, despite the fact I was well-aware of the cut of the gib of the man I was speaking with, I was vaguely sceptical. After all, it’s not the first time such a thing has been done: Gale Edwards did a similar thing, in fact, with another Puccini opera earlier this year (La boheme), forfeiting the Latin Quarter of 1840s Paris for the unbridled decadence of 1930s Berlin. But, in both case, it’s proved a case of “it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it”, to paraphrase Sy & Trummy’s song from the same era. While Edwards certainly didn’t avoid addressing the scourge of fascism, it was more, perhaps, by intimation, rather than direct confrontation.

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Opera

Jul 8, 2013

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The Force Of Destiny | Joan Sutherland Theatre

It has to be one of the best titles in theatrical history. And it sounds even better in Italian: La Forza del Destino. Verdi’s four-act opera may’ve been around since late 1862, but this production wasn’t even commissioned until this very year.

It’s the darkest of tales, even by operatic standards, and director Tama Matheson certainly hasn’t resoled from that fact. Indeed, he’s afforded designer Mark Thompson every macabre indulgence; not least the central presence of a supersized skull, extruded from the stage as if by way of geological time and pressure, like a kind of indoor Uluru. For all this, at times it looks little more impressive than an overblown, hollowed-out Halloween pumpkin. Nonetheless, it’s a motif that lets us know what we’re in for. And as relative as it and other aspects of the staging are to the bleak intensity of the story, I found it rather suffocating and claustrophobic. Nor was this feeling exactly leavened by the all black-clad OA chorus, holding skull masks to their faces. Efficacious, therefore, you might argue.

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