No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Month: May, 2012

A Next Wave wrap up: Perhaps we’ll see how little we see

So I went to Melbourne for nine days.

I saw much more art than I ever expected too. I wrote much less that I planned. Scribbles in notebooks don’t count. I did go on the radio, though.

I saw thirteen Next Wave visual art and/or sound exhibitions/works over twenty-two different locations; seven with some kind of performance element. I saw eighteen Next Wave performance/dance/theatre works. The lines between types of works are almost all blurred, and I’ve no doubt you would count differently than me.

I saw two visual art exhibitions and two theatre works which weren’t connected to Next Wave – I could have chosen from dozens more. I only found the time to listen to two of the five audio plays from the Living Cities Tours. I don’t think you could say I even scraped the surface of the Emerging Writers Festival.

I went to Breakfast Club nine times for nine days. Some days I was more present than others. I spent four nights dancing to DJs at Wake Up. I went to one official feminist dinner and one official feminist breakfast. I went to Bone Library four times, and then found myself shackled with fear of responsibility and couldn’t take one home. I went to one closing night party, two after parties, and then got straight on a plane back home.

I acted in a TV cop show; I had my first manicure; I paddled a boat across the Yarra, I hugged one stranger, and I had my photograph taken with another; I got married in what is still revealing itself to be one of the most emotionally complex works I have ever been a part of; I went into space twice; I wore headphones a lot.

I saw work which I am still struggling to unpack, to understand, to find the vocabulary for, to explain. I saw how little I see.

I met and re-met some of the most inspiring staff, interns, volunteers, artists, residents, and audience members. I really did feel embedded in the culture. I hope you all stay in touch.

Given the choice between seeing work and writing about work, I chose the former. Back home, it’s time to choose the latter. I’ll be writing about the festival for RealTime, so the balance between writing for the publication and writing for the blog will take some time to reveal itself to me as I begin to type. Expect much more from me, though.

Thanks to everyone involved.

It was truly remarkable.

I am overjoyed.

Next Wave: Thinking about effect

Thoughts on day two of the festival being published on day five. Festivalling from 8am to 11pm doesn’t leave the most time for writing. Perhaps just another note, I’m seeing more work then I’m currently writing about. I hope to be able to touch on it all at some stage.

Breakfast provocation: can art be both beautiful and effective?

To begin: what do any of these words mean? What makes something beautiful, what does it mean to say something is effective, what is art? To me, the answer to the provocation was a clear yes, an of course. When I heard the provocation, I think I was perhaps thinking of affecting: I think beauty of art often lies in its evocation of emotion, and I would say these moments of art affecting you builds up into ways of effecting the ways you live your life.

The fact that this is the festival we have chosen to engage with says a lot about our aesthetics, the work which excites us and interests us. We probably find something beautiful new and young and different and experimentation. This doesn’t mean audiences which are seeing small works in Next Wave aren’t interested in the beauty which comes with flashy musicals, only they search for that beauty which is perhaps as yet unexplained or undefined.

Speakers at breakfast seemed to concentrate on a type of work in which the process is paramount: their work, it seemed, was focused on a process to search for a work with “effect”, rather than to create a work with a final aesthetic “beauty.” It was these thoughts of beauty, effect, and “art” which I carried through the day.

Joseph L GriffithsShelters are three wooden sculptures in Melbourne’s Docklands, an area plagued by the method of development. On the waterfront, it seems like it should be a primary focal point of any city. Instead, it is known as a dead area. My Day Pass guide explained to me the connections between the woes of the Docklands and the commentary on that in Griffiths’ work. While it was interesting to view the work through that lens, without being explained the connection, I doubt I would have made one. Knowing the connection affected how I view the work and the space: effect, maybe, through surrounding knowledge rather than the work itself.

The next visual arts piece of the day, Hull by Laura Delaney and Danae Valenzia is a series of displays and installations at Mission to Seafarers, an institution which provides support and a home-away-from-home for the seafarers who dock in Port Melbourne. Delaney spoke at breakfast on how she wondered into the building one day and felt compelled to respond. This draw of the building, the history, and the unseen, unacknowledged connection of the seafarers on our lives, perhaps means Delaney and Valenzia’s work is somewhat overshadowed. 90% of the world trade happens on our ocean; the effectiveness of Hull lies in drawing attention to this.

I finished the day with Food for Thought, a feminist dinner hosted by Brisbane visual artists and curators LEVEL. Perhaps the first question here is: is the dinner art? If the answer is yes, is this because it is hosted by artists, or because it is in an art gallery, or because it is in an arts festival? On to effect: can there be an effect of a small dinner with a small group of women who share much of the same politics? Is it “preaching to the converted”, or do we need these small moments of discussion for clarification or re-enthusiasm to go out into lives which can have effects?

At the beginning of the day, my answer to the question was yes. After spending that day mulling it over, I only feel confused. Yes, still, art can be both beautiful and effective; art can be beautiful or effective; art can be neither beautiful nor effective. It’s a many varied beast; to confine it to any one goal or definition is not only harmful, it is also fruitless.

Next Wave: Thinking about space

This isn’t a movement, it’s a moment.

The rough writing plan for the week: take in the ideas presented in Next Wave’s Breakfast Club, and view that day’s work through that lens. Day one spoke about international occupy movements. What does it mean when people come together and claim physical spaces?

At post-breakfast brunch, festival resident and fellow Adelaidian Ianto Ware and I discussed the perspective he can, or perhaps is expected to, bring to the festival. To me it seemed obvious: his work is all about spaces. Renew Adelaide, I said, is about looking at the way we treat spaces and asking if there is a way we can do it differently, or do it better. Rather than looking at an empty commercial property and thinking this can only be filled with a commercial entity, it takes the idea that the use of space for small cultural enterprises is better for the community, and for the building, than it sitting empty. Similarity, many of the artists in Next Wave are placing their work in unexpected places or unexpected situations and, whether intentional or not, this brings with it questions on the inherent use of space.

Over the past few months I’ve found myself interested in architecture criticism. Not from any great interest in architecture, but in the concept of a criticism of a (typically) large, functional, and at least somewhat public space. The world I write about is so transient, so intangible, that the idea of writing about the opposite captures me. Put a show in the Adelaide Festival Centre most people won’t know. Build the Adelaide Festival Centre and it’s going to be noticed.

We perceive buildings as having set roles or set capacities. An office building is for offices; a shop is for selling things; a basement is for storage. These prescribed notions give an order to our lives. By another notion, we perceive places as placing on us a specific set or rules or circumstances. We know how to behave on a tram or in a crowd or in a theatre, because it’s always to be the same set of rules.

So what happens when we break these rules? At Breakfast Club, Next Wave artist Liesel Zink, choreographer of fifteen, spoke about how her dance work in Flagstaff Train Station has subtly started to influence the behavior of the commuters traveling through the station every day during peak hour. While she says you can’t notice the work unless you are an audience member listening to the music on headphones, through rehearsal of the work in the public space the artists have been engaging with pedestrians who don’t normally interact with the artistic process. At first, she said, people shut off, but now they are starting to get used to it, and a more congenital atmosphere runs through the space. The rules of interaction have subtlety shifted. But if it is this gentle shift, she wondered, can it be sustained?

Breaking the rules of space in another way is dance work In Pursuit of Repetition (Fame and Squalor) by Alison Currie and Kel Mocilink under Federation Square. This basement space – almost empty, concrete walls, metal railings and fences, and exposed piping – seems to be just a hull in the building; a thoroughfare from one space to another. It’s certainly not a space intended for performing, let alone living, as Currie and Mocilink are doing through the festival.

And yet, as an audience member, I was struck at how we all continued to obey the rules of performance space. We were quiet; we sat where we were told to sit; we stood and walked where we were supposed to stand. And while, in some ways, it’s nice that these behaviours so intrinsically linked to professional performance space exist in a space outside of these traditional boundaries, in other ways I felt off ease with treating a non-performance space in this way. As Currie and Mocilink had a private conversation, I felt that I perhaps would like to have a private conversation. Instead, we stood, silent. Even the concept of a “fame” vs “squalor” ticket at first seems weird; and then we remember the idea of “Premium” and “D Reserve” at the ballet.

It’s an interesting concept, then. When you change the purpose of the space, of course you change the space. But do we just change it to having the same rules of other existing spaces? Can we create new spaces with new rules in old places? How much is art influenced by the space it occupies – how is work in a gallery different to street art different to in your lounge room. Is it different? Can theatre be a response to a space without being in that space? Can theatre be in a space without responding to that space?

When people in the occupy movement claim a public space as their public space, is this changing the space – or is it using it exactly as it should be used? When art is placed in a public space, is this changing the space, is this changing the art – and is it changing it in exactly the way it should be changed?

Review: Antigone

Edwin Kemp Attrill created his own career as a theatre director. By-passing the typical drama school pathway, he established his own company ActNow Theatre for Social Change at the age of 16. Starting with a focus on political street performance, their first work was about detained Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks.

Under Kemp Atrill the company went on to have a particular focus on forum theatre, with their work Expect:Respect, about sexual harassment and date-rape, touring South Australian schools and youth prisons, alongside a series of more traditional but politically informed works, such as 1984 and An Enemy of the People.

After leaving ActNow to pursue new directing opportunities, Kemp Attrill was afforded the opportunity of being the first Artistic Director of the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild in many years. In a previous incarnation, this role was last held by Chris Drummond, who went on to be the Associate Director at the State Theatre Company and is now the Artistic Director of Brink Productions. The Guild has framed this AD role as a professional development opportunity: time for a professional to spend time with directing as their primary profession, while also bringing something new to the amateur company.

While the Guild has a history of radicalism this has waxed and waned over the years, and by the time I studied at the university the Guild had a reputation – amongst students, at least – as one of conservatism. Always a “town and gown” society, the guild had become much more “town”; the Guild didn’t even hold a table at O’Week when I started. Some of these things have changed since my time – the much needed establishment of “student only” productions one factor – but I was very excited to see both the Guild and Kemp Attrill afforded this partnership, not least of all because I consider him a very close friend, but also because of the wonderful opportunity of resources it gives to up-coming directors, and onwards into the greater Adelaide theatrical landscape.

I give you this rather long introduction to this review, as this background is what I have been trying to process since seeing Kemp Attrill’s first mainstage work for the Guild. His production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone (in translation by Lewis Galantiere) is by all accounts a solid production. It’s biggest downfall, and my greatest puzzlement with the work, is the air of conservatism through the piece.

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Review: Land & Sea

Sorry about the published draft, if you happened to catch it anyone. WordPress reaching back into the bowels, enjoy the inner workings of my brain. Here’s an interview I did with Nicki Bloom and Chris Drummond to make up for it.


There is this strange thing when I see a work which emotionally impacts me. I simultaneously feel that I need desperately to write about it, while also feeling writing about it can do nothing but transform it in a way I don’t want.

I want to sing its praises from the roof tops; I want to keep it a secret.

I want to feel I’m a good enough writer to put it into words; I feel like there is no way I possibly have the skill.

I left Land & Sea and I felt like I needed to go into a corner and cry. But I also felt safe in the space of the foyer, like I didn’t want to walk out into the world so I could find that corner I needed.

I felt, somehow, that this was the wrong emotion. The work, while filled with strands of sadness, wasn’t overall a sad story. Or, perhaps it was.

It wasn’t, perhaps, overall a story.

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Review: Namatjira

Watercolour landscape artist Albert Namatjira (1902 – 1959) leant how to paint under the tutelage of white Australian Rex Battarbee, who exhibited paintings at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission where Namatjira was born and raised. Namatjira’s paintings raised in value from being essentially worthless, to commanding hundreds of guineas; his work was famous globally; he became the major support for over 600 family members; he was the first Indigenous Australian to be granted citizenship – so he could be taxed on his income, but he was still refused the vote.

The story of his life is brought to the stage by Big hART, a Tasmanian based company which works in art and social change. Their work is predicated on embedding themselves into communities, to work with people on the issues that face their lives, to create art, share stories, and leave a lasting impact.

Starting performances with Company B (now Belvoir) in 2010 and now on a national tour, the work was developed with the permission and discussions with Namatjira’s decedents, and is part of a broader project which encompasses a watercolour exhibition, community development in the Western Aranda communities, and workshops in Central Australian schools in digital literacy and filmmaking, to just touch on a few aspects of the project. More can be discovered on the show’s website.

After seeing the work, the remarkable thing about the play, and the thing I feel least equipped to write about is how Scott Rankin’s script and Trevor Jamieson’s easy delivery in the lead performance tell Namatjira’s story with an air of easy irreverence.  I say “an air” because the work isn’t actually irreverent at all, it tells a story with some very sombre moments with respect; and yet the work is embedded with a light heart, a joy in its step, and is proud to carry the glint of a tear and sadness in its eye.

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Review: Involuntary

In the ongoing spirit of “embeddedness“, I interviewed Lazaroff while she was in rehearsals for this work. You can read my interview with her here at RealTime.

Dancer Veronica Shum is a picture of intense concentration, a devotion to the exacting choreography. These movements aren’t involuntary: they are highly choreographed, highly controlled, highly trained, highly rehearsed.

And yet, as Shum raises her leg to the height of her extension, there is a soft, involuntary shudder which ripples through her strong leg muscles.

As she stretches her foot, her arch is raised, her toes point to their full extent and there is a shiver we can see move through the ligaments as they curl around her bones.

Here, at the peak of a highly rehearsed movement, there is the smallest hint of Shum’s involuntary reactions.

These small moments are just that: small. But in some ways, they are the strongest in Katrina Lazaroff’s Involuntary. Lazaroff’s work, part commentary, more humourous observations, draws parallels between physical reactions which we have no control over and a society which is increasingly regulated to the point where we have no choice but to scroll five pages down and click “I Agree.”

And it is interesting to speak about those things in a work which, as necessitated by its form, are highly structured and measured. While we may feel the pressure of the clocks ticking on our lives as we notice the weeks are getting shorter and the things to be done in them are getting bigger, these dancers have one hour of dance to do in one hour. The lighting will change when it needs to, the projection will shift on the right beat, the dancers will move across the stage the way they have for weeks in rehearsals. And so in a work about the involuntary, the peeks at something small, yet involuntary (even if occurring as an exacting result of an exact choreography) become something amplified well above their usual worth.

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Review: Milk, White & Dark

Young cabaret performer Lucy Gransbury is originally from Adelaide,  now living with the bright-lights and big city of Melbourne after graduating from the University of Ballarat’s Musical Theatre program in 2010. In a mainly friends and family showing in Adelaide last week, Gransbury presented three short cabaret acts on different themes.

My Best-Laid Plan was written for university, and we are introduced to a version of Gransbury (who I’ll refer to as Lucy for clarity) who has planned her cabaret show down to the minute. Each step (some witty banter, an emotional ballad) is detailed: it’s Lucy’s perfect recipe for cabaret.

In Dragostea Mea, written for Short+Sweet Cabaret, Gransbury presents to us the story of Livia Bistriceanu: a Romanian woman who was convinced she was married to Leonardo DiCaprio and had his baby. In Gransbury’s version, Bistriceanu is sitting in DiCaprio’s driveway, yelling for him to come out.

Sweet Release of Death is the most structurally achieved of the pieces. Written for a group cabaret show, it has Gransbury’s droll Dorothy Parker walking through a versified version of Parker’s review of Winnie The Pooh and skipping lightly over biographical details in between the songs.

The title of show, Milk, White & Dark, relates to the chocolate which Gransbury (or at least, Lucy) turns to as a source of comfort, and it becomes a recurring theme in the three acts. You get the impression that Gransbury is well known for her love of chocolate, but that doesn’t make its interoperation through all three works any less awkward.

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