Making men

This Ain’t No Pussy Show (Kate Harman & Toby Angus)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

September 16 – 18

From its title alone one could easily suspect that “This Ain’t No Pussy Show” is going to be a down-with-the-patriarchy type of feminist manifest. But the world premiere Brisbane Festival show from Kate Harman and Toby Angus reveals that it’s actually a lot more nuanced than just this. (The ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ Cure music poster should have given it away that this is instead a show about the making of men.)

We begin pre-show with Metro Arts’ New Benner Theatre transformed into a teenage boy’s bedroom. Within its beanbag untidiness is Toby (Toby Angus), a 16-year-old about to be interrupted from his Xbox by his mother Kate (Australian dancer and choreographer Kate Harman), who isn’t really his mother we learn later as more of the shows premise about how to navigate growing up as a boy is unpacked. The complicated navigation though the show’s provocative theme of gender equality requires some guidance, so first we are given a road map of how the how long show shall proceed via a dance break, big reveal and a phallic segue.

Dance features heavily in the highly physical show, providing many of its highlights as Harman and Angus dance together and against each other in realisation of its themes. Anna Whitaker’s dynamic composition and sound design also helps with the creation of some memorable moments such as Harman’s ‘Killing in the Name’ rage against the machine. At the core of her frustration as a mother is knowing how to parent a boy in the current social and political climate. And in this regard, there are few answers provided. Indeed, rather than giving answers the show inspires questions about how to make Kate a better parent, such as if she should teach her son to fight and it there are dangers to validating his vulnerability.

Under the direction of performer Kate Harman and writer/co-director Gavin Webber, “The Ain’t No Pussy Show” reveals a nuanced approach that elevates it above many similarly-themed social issue works. The years spent on its development may have seen performer and collaborator Toby Angus grow out of his initial character type, as he asserts in one of its many metatheatre moments, but they have clearly helped in the creation of a cleverly crafted commentary on coming terms with manhood in a rapidly changing world. It’s an appropriate metaphor too given the shifting landscape that Kate and Toby must navigate together.

It is quite the ride through its 50-minute duration as through the relationship of a mother and son, ‘This Ain’t No Pussy Show’ explores everything from feminism and masculinity to privilege, patriarchy and pizza shapes. To set such powerful themes against the art from of dance, not only emphasises the urgency of its ideas, but also enhances audience engagement. An early highlight comes when Katie appropriately begins a high-energy boxing routine to the pumping sounds of Peaches’ ’Flip This’, which morphs into the two performers switching between the gendered roles being signposted. And Kate’s memorable ‘Killing in the Name’ trip off the map anger in relation to the actuality of space abundance is grittily angsty and angular in its movements.

While the show is interesting in its examination of language, it’s not always subtle in its messaging, not that it presumes to be. There is no pussyfooting around the commentary, when, for example, Toby is made to envelope himself into taking up less physical space with direction to tense up and hold everything in. But such blatancy is tempered by its many moments of humour, such as wen Toby acts out the possibilities of what Kate’s six-year-old son might be, as an accompaniment to her pondering. And Toby’s words of wisdom at the show’s end come as an endearing surprise, cementing the show’s worth as a complex, original and rewarding theatre experience.

Pink Matter empowerment

The Type (Pink Matter)

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

September 10 – 13

Pro-girl gang, Pink Matter’s “The Type” brings together five female dancers from different cultural backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes. In the languish of the show’s opening number, they are entwined and bonded to each other in slow angles and with some sizzling synchronised Fosse-esque isolations. Though there is no clear narrative from here, there are distinct themes to the repertoire on display as the performers break apart and return together to share some empowering street dance, inspired by their lived experiences around representation and body image, blended with the power and strength of fusion movement. Accordingly, each dancer is given individual moments to shine in the world premiere performance as part of the Brisbane Festival. And shine Floss Moloney, Wanida Serce, Monika Stojevski, Kimberley Smit and Amy Zhang, all do, as they each show impressive movement, expression, emotions and stage presence that captures the audience.

As the chain of dancers breaks, lighting warms the stage along with the seasawing sounds of Yaeji’s electronic ‘Raingurl’ and performer, creator and Creative Director Wanida Serce’s impressive fusion and conceptual free form choreography/freestyle starts to take shape. The work’s hybrid hip-hop, R&B and House music soundtrack works well to elevate its experience, reflecting a sense of journey through life’s lived experiences of lapses and learning. By the time we get to Missy Elliott’s ‘She a Bitch’, the collective’s all-original sensibility is clear as the stage pumps with athleticism, intricacy, flexibility and palpable pop and lock energy and attitude, especially in a later acrobatic number from Serce.

The show is full of light and shade moments too, enhanced by Serce’s considered choices which aid in the creation of memorable imagery, such as when Smit leads the others in formation of fluid ensemble movements like a flock of beautiful birds soaring into flight. Creative elements such as Christine Felmingham’s lighting design, similarly, aid in the creation of memorable moments such as when bespeckled lighting washes over a dramatic overhead lift.

A well-chosen soundscape enhances, without overwhelming the effect of routines, which speak volumes alone as they set about challenging the standards of beauty and success that shape entertainment today. This is evident, most notably, in a powerful number from Floss Moloney, which sees the powerhouse performer encircled by mirrors in what emerges as an ultimate celebration of self-efficacy.

Diverse as the talented dancers may be, their synchronicity is always excellent, and transitions concise. It is nice, also, to see choreography that allows for facial expression beyond blank stare, yet never detracting from the collective’s upbeat spirit, and formidable and fearless big girl power energy. This is clearly a hardworking company of proud performers trying to push the envelope of dance’s legacy of tired, carbon-copy stereotypes and “The Type” not only contributes to this, but energises their audience along for an electric and entertaining physical conversation.

Photos c/o – Logan Preste

Sugar, spice and Nutcracker nice

The Nutcracker (Queensland Ballet)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

December 13 – 21


“One of the things I love most about The Nutcracker is the way it brings families and generations together…” so reads Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director Li Cunxin’s program greeting, a sentiment that is immediately realised upon entry into the Lyric Theatre for experience of the classic ballet in two acts. Seeing “The Nutcracker” is a dearly-held Christmas ritual for countless families around the world and now I understand why.

The timeless story, based on ETA Hoffmann’s 1816 tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” about a nutcracker come to life is dazzling one, whether audience members be return viewers or new to the enchanting experience. It is a whimsical, beautiful holiday classic brought to life by Queensland Ballet in a fabulous spectacle of a show.

The story is simple enough and easy-to-follow; guests are being greeted at a Christmas Eve party where the mysterious, magical Drosselmeier (a charismatic Jack Lister) delights with magic tricks and gives Clara (Lou Spichtig) a wooden Nutcracker. He later returns to take us into the next chapter as, at midnight, little Clara begins a magical journey into a wondrous world where her surroundings grow around her as toys come to life. Her nutcracker comes to life to soldier the toys against King Rat and his giant mice army before himself turning into a handsome prince, her house is transformed into the Land of Snow complete with delicate dancing snowflakes, and a beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy appears in reign over the Kingdom of Sweets in which entertainment comes from a range of international dances.

It really is a story of two halves. While Act One’s theatrical amusements entice children in their pantomime-ish sensibilities, Act Two’s repeated ballet sequences serve as a celebration of the art form in and of itself. Impressive choreographic detail (Ben Steveson choreographer) features throughout, adding depth to the flurried Christmas party opening scene in its presentation of the subtleties of generational and gender dynamics at such a gathering, and an ensemble approach allows for many moments of humour, such as in the animated antics of elderly characters at the party, most notably Grandmother (Serena Green) and Grandfather (D’Arcy Brazier). Even the more traditional second act affords opportunity for impressive attention to detail, even if only in background character interactions. And the motifs representative of each country are complemented by costumes within the Arab, Chinese and Russian dances, without compromising the integrity of traditional classic ballet.

Act Two also features the most familiar sections of Tchaikovsky’s iconic, melodic score, one of his most famous compositions. Its nimble sounds are flawlessly delivered by The Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Music Director and Principal Conductor Nigel Gaynor, from the light and lively first theme through to the triumphant ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and the wintry and delicate ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. Also lush is the layered Lyric Theatre staging of Christmas red and green, before transformation into the dreamy Land of Snow, with a beauty that extends even into the stalls. And the special effects that see the house’s Christmas tree grow before our eyes, offer one of many magnificent moments.


The serene snow scene allows for the creation of beautiful symmetrical patterns and formations on stage amidst falling snow, and accompanied by the flickering flutes and flurrying orchestral sounds of the Waltz, it makes for a magical move into interval. Costumes (Design by Desmond Heeley) and movements replicate the idea of unique snowflake swirls and groupings. The mastery of the dancer’s synchronisation is striking, not only when they are dressed as sparkling snowflakes in the first act, but also as flowers in Act Two’s whimsical ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.

Much of the captivating spectacle of the show comes from its performances. As Dr Drosselmeyer, Jack Lister delivers magic tricks and precise illusions with well-executed grand and deliberate moments, while the dolls, particularly Patricio Reve as Soldier Doll, are impressive in their stiffly mechanical physicality and never-wandering eyes-straight-ahead stares, demanding audience attention. And crowd favourite David Power gives a hyper-energetic performance as Act Two’s whirling Russian dancer, leaping about the stage with impressive athleticism.

Spichtig again makes for a youthfully exuberant and innocent Clara, taking the audience along on her wonderful dream within a dream journey, while the Snow Queen and Snow Prince (Liam Kim and Liam Geck) display a captivating synergy, with clean movements. Lucy Green gives a technically-assured performance in the demanding Sugar Plum Fairy role, with impressive point work both in solo and pas de deux with the Prince (Victor Estevez). Indeed, her partnership with the Prince (Victor Estevez) is so breathtaking as to elicit spontaneous applause from the audience during their grand pas de deux, possibly the most beautiful dance of the production. Estevez makes for an elegant prince who showcases apparently effortless entrechats and strings of fouette turns with ease, and stately extensions beyond the ballerina frame, counterbalance and the pair’s triumphant lifts.


Experience of Queensland Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a wonderful ‘tis the season treat. In the company’s hands it is easy to appreciate its place as one of the most beloved ballets of all time. Its music is glorious and gorgeously evocative, with a score that is full of unforgettable melodies, turned into a range of beautiful shapes and movements. It has become a tradition for the company to perform it every year during the festive season (this is their seventh successive Nutcracker year) and with its combination of gorgeous sets and costumes, stunning dance and Tchaikovsky’s music, it continues to serve as the perfect festive ballet to get you and yours in the holiday mood, accessible to all ages in its just-over-two-hours running time and warm-hearted combination of comedy, magic and beauty. Whether the show serves as an annual family outing or you are coming into it with knowledge only through pop culture references like in a holiday episode of “Will & Grace” (#guilty), “The Nutcracker” will fill you with the sugar, spice and all things nice of this time of year.

Spring bring

Yang Liping’s Rite of Spring (Peacock Contemporary Dance Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

September 25 – 28


Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” ballet and orchestral concert work is an intense depiction of the fertility rights and rituals of his native Russia’s indigenous tribes in celebration of Spring. Now China’s superstar choreographer and dancer Yang Liping presents her own take on the defining work in her secondary contemporary dance piece.


There is a clear Asian aesthetic to the extravagant visual dance work beginning from the meditative first of its three sections, with the show taking its inspiration from traditional Tibetan culture; as audience members enter the Playhouse Theatre, the stage is set with female dancers statued deep in prayer as deities in meditation while a lone Monk labours hundreds of golden Chinese characters around the stage. In the background, an immense metallic bowl looms, rising after a gong to create a stunning silhouette of the dancers thanks to Fabiana Piccioli’s exquisite lighting design. Its patient pacing enlivens as movement begins with the dancers emerging from position through precise arm and finger based movement with impressive synchronicity of the smallest of finger clicks.  In contrast to quiet tranquillity, a dynamic soundscape signals the entrance of a giant, brave hairy Chinese Lion, navigated by Da Zhu (Fenwei Zhu) who meets a beautiful girl with flowing hair Maya Don (Jian Dong). Together they contort around each other provocatively in expression of the fertility rites associated with spring.


This slow-burn physicality is followed by frenzied movement as the female cast assume a long line with their feet in fixed stirrups, allowing them to shift their weight forward and back at astonishing angles in undulating waves. This visually striking choreography is a genuine highlight, not only due to its rhythmic energy but its pulse to the music, which comes, in Parts I and III, courtesy of a new musical score from Chinese composer He Xuntian, influenced by traditional Tibetan music. When things move again to a solo it is that of the sacrificial victim, having Chinese characters attached to her by the ceremonial master as she is offered before a final floating purified reincarnation.


Through the work’s distinct sections, the skill the Yang Liping’s dancers bring to the work is astounding. The principals are compelling in their lithe execution of the demanding choreography of detailed and intricate movements. Indeed, Yang Liping’s redefinition “The Rite of Spring” from the perspectives of Eastern aesthetics and philosophy is a stunning spectacle of innovative artistry in its meld of dance, music, lighting and design into a visually exciting piece of dance theatre of the calibre expected at an international event such as the Brisbane Festival. Even if you don’t know exactly what is happening on stage all the time, you know that what you are experiencing is good, very good. Just try and secure a seat in the centre of the stalls so as to enjoy the best view of the lion’s share of the action (#punintended).


Dance dynamism

100 years of the History of Dance

Brisbane Powerhouse

July 31 – August 3

“100 Years of The History of Dance”…. it does what it says on the tin, but also so much more. 100 Years of the History of Dance as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with An Energetic Group Finale is its more accurate, albeit verbose, title. The new work by Australian director, choreographer and performer Joseph Simons is absolutely entertaining, interesting in its discoveries and above all else, heaps of fun.


The show is framed around goal-driven schoolboy Jacob’s (Joseph Simons) oral presentation on the topic of his own choice. What unfolds is an exploration of influential choreographers, in which Jacob not only discusses them, but demonstrates their signature styles. Rather than presenting the journey sequentially, however, content is shared as a family tree of influence, ‘because everyone overlaps’, which serves as an early signpost to one of the show’s themes about the fine lines between inspiration, influence and imitation.


Non-chronological sequencing not only adds interest through anticipation of what is to come next, but contributes to its roller coaster experience through the work of choreographers like Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Gene Kelly and even Paula Abdul (and also the titbit trivia of their personal lives). The show is more about chorographers than dancers, but all audience expectations as to anticipated inclusions are met, although unfortunately without an Australian mention. Even those with only a passing knowledge of dance will find enough in its content to be entertained by recreation and explanation of the Broadway hi-jinx of Bob Fosse and others.


Simons’ is a wonderful storyteller. He is infectious in his energy and his comic timing is spot-on, however, “speaking of…” transitions between segments are not entirely smooth and his push through audience laugher creates some disconnection. Beneath the schoolboy demeanour and uniform, is Simons’ dancer’s body, which we first see when ‘Jacob’ recreates Soviet ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev’s classical technique, hovering high in the air in an undeniable show of strength and skill. Indeed, in each illustrative segue he captures the characteristics of the performers, switching easily between a range of forms. Also of particularly note, his illustration of DV8 Physical Theatre and the work of Lloyd Newson, while narrating with accompanying explanation is absolutely brilliant in its deliberately-nuanced, gestured movement.


“100 Years of The History of Dance”is tightly directed by Emma Canalese and clever in its simplicity, which is enhanced by the intimacy of the Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre. A lone school desk and chair are the only props, transforming even into a podium in recreation of Michael Bennett’s Tony Award receipt for “A Chorus Line”. Meanwhile Jacob’s school uniform costume transforms into all sorts of dance dress, most notably in a vivid Jellicoe Cats number with reappropriated lyrics in tribute to the chorographer of ‘England’s first dance musical’, Gillian Lynne.


Simons is a charming performer and in his hands “100 Years of The History of Dance” is a unique and rewarding theatre experience. Its blend of dance and theatre may be unusual but it is thoroughly entertaining, especially when, in conclusion, the audience joins together in realisation of their own choreographed routine, for dance is, after all, about music, movement and connection.

“Do it big do it right and do it with style”, Jacob tells us, quoting Fred Astaire. True to these words, “100 Years of The History of Dance” is a dynamic exploration of dance as a discipline but also the ideas of influence, fame and legacy and, as such, it is a show not to be missed.

Feasting for influence

The Dinner Party (Expressions Dance Company)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

May 10 – 18


Premiering to rave reviews in 2015, “The Dinner Party” (former title “The Host”) is a gripping contemporary dance work from Queensland’s award-winning Expressions Dance Company. And in its 2019 reincarnation, the work, which is choreographed by internationally renowned choreographer and former Artistic Director Natalie Weir, has audience members once again absorbed, from the very first frame of its visual aesthetic.

There is an art deco-ish feel to its immediate appeal, with a group of elegantly-dressed guests seated around a table against a sparkling backdrop… like a scene from “The Great Gatsby”, besides the bare feet. It’s just the kind of formality expected for the start of a sophisticated dinner party. Things soon relax as the night progresses, however, even though the power play between the guests is just starting.

Photo by David Kelly featuring L-R Josephine Weirse, Jag Popham, Jake McLarnon, Isabella Hood  & Bernhard Knauer.jpg

Influential young host (Jake McLarnon) is the proceeding’s initial puppet-master, evident from his initial pose upon the table to control seated guests with little but an authoritative click of his fingers. They, however, are having none of it, each set upon enacting their own agendas. And there are agendas aplenty thanks to a younger woman, The Lover (Isabella Hood), having an affair with the host, a socially ambitious but insecure Party Girl (Josephine Weise), The Wannabe (Jag Popham) trying it on with the ladies, the ambitious but charming Rival (Bernhard Knauer) for The Host’s position and the seductive but solitudinous Hostess (Lizzie Vilmanis).

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring L-R Bernhard Knauer and Josephine Weise.jpg

From amidst this complicated relationship web, the reoccurring motifs of jealousy, ambition and attempted control continue through manipulation of movement, including within the Host’s relationship with the Hostess, with the pair joining together as a couple in breaks but at other times conveying the fractured nature of their relationship. And there is some satisfaction to seeing how things transform between then over the show’s hour long experience.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring Jake McLarnon and Lizzie Vilmanis.jpg

As The Host, Jake McLarnon performs in duet with each of the party’s guests, and is excellent in every instance, despite their different nuances and tones. Guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis is captivating as The Hostess, her ballet-based, old-world deportment deflating as her brave-face fades, while, in contrast The Party Girl becomes empowered by her manipulation. It is Jag Popham, however, as The Wannabe, who provides audiences with the show’s most memorable moments when, like a ventriloquist’s dummy, he is folded and flung sharply about the stage in the ultimate act of manipulated manoeuvring, resulting in spontaneous end-of-scene applause.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring Jag Popham.jpg

“The Dinner Party” is contemporary dance at its most dramatic, often hypnotic in the excellence of its execution of its lifts and leaps, whether in solo, duet or otherwise examination of individual character personalities and interlaced relationships. Embedded with some recognisable canonical classic call-backs, its score of recorded music by Southern Cross Soloists also contributes significantly to the spectacle, taking the mood from exuberance to playfulness and through romanticism, defeat and hollow victory.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring Josephine Weise.jpg

Musical motifs assist in characterisation too, staccatoed detachment for the confident and calculating host and regal pomp for the well-to-do Hostess, working with Ben Hughes’ evocative lighting design to underscore tonal changes. And acclaimed Australian fashion designer Gail Sorranda’s costumes are pretty much perfect in their conveyance of character and their changing inter-personal intertwinings. Staging is also simple yet effective; the table that begins centre-stage is moved about the place and into various positions, even facilitating a duet with dancers hanging off its up-ended side.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring dancers Josephiner Weise and Bernhard Knauer.jpg

While Natalie Weir may have moved on from her role as the dance company’s Artistic Director, it is fitting that her legacy be paid tribute in this first mainstage season of 2019 and the artistic feast that is “The Dinner Party”. While it may not have the narrative clarity of last year’s profoundly moving “Everyday Requiem”, this ambiguity and its catalyst for post-show conversations about the illusion of control is all just part of its appeal.

Photos c/o – David Kelly