Everyday Expressions

Everyday Requiem (Expressions Dance Company)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

October 12 -20

EDC - Everyday Requiem

I’m not necessarily a dance person and I’m not particularly emotional, so to be moved to tears by Expression Dance Company’s “Everyday Requiem” was a surprisingly profound experience. It is not because of its beauty, although it does include a number of exquisite moments, but rather due to the relationships and emotions evoked by its dancers.

EDC - Everyday Requiem

The World Premiere and very special lyrical contemporary work from the critically acclaimed Queensland company serves as Artistic Director Natalie Weir’s swan song after a decade at the helm. And what a show with which to exit…. unanimously appreciated by an enduring standing ovation form an emotional opening night crowd in acknowledgement of its original choreography, integral all-vocal score and all-round beautiful story performed by stunning dancers and singers.

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Its breathtaking experience begins with a group mournfully gathered around tables in the centre of a fairy-lit Cremorne theatre. The space is obviously more intimate that the expansive Playhouse stage of the company’s most recent 4Seasons and, as it unfolds, this turns out to be entirely appropriate for a show telling such a personal, but also universal, human story.

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The touching tale is of a man’s life revisited by his aged self, guest artist, veteran Brisbane performer Brian Lucas, an early-days EDC dancer and, for seven years, the Company’s Assistant Artistic Director. Against the backdrop of Australian History from the 1950s until today, the man is played by four men, each responsible for a particular generation of his life; the Old Man guides his younger self back to revisit memories and moments, sometimes forcing emotional connections of his younger self in order to heal unresolved disharmony. Thus, the show takes the audience through The Man’s infancy, childhood and adolescence towards maturity.

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The accompanying relationships are told in sequence, beginning with the wondered play of carefree childhood, school days and sibling tussles (Jag Popham as The Man’s Infancy and Childhood). After The Man’s (Jake McClaron as The Adolescent and Young Man) infatuation with Young Love (Isabella Hood), including a love triangle also involving his brother (Scott Ewen), he meets The Wife (Lizzie Vilmanis) and heads to the conflict in Vietnam, where as The Mature Man (Richard Causer), he can only read in a letter of his child’s birth.

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Immersed in the performance, The Australian Voices choir provide textured and expressive acapella accompaniment in delivery of Artistic Director Gordon Hamilton’s sublime original music, as we witness the boy become a man who lives a life. The soundtrack is physicalised by powerful, skilled dancers who clearly convey the narrative and also the emotional sensibilities of its experience, whether it be the slow burn sensuality of a new couple’s lives entwining, the more masculine competing physicality of in-conflict brothers or the tumble of male dancers in representation of their turbulent time at war. And the four male dancers are excellent in each credibly inhabiting what the others have and will create as the same character.

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Guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis is particularly memorable, especially as the wife left-behind. Her accomplished range is evident in way she takes the audience along from the painful yearn of these fluid movements to playful interaction with The Daughter (Alana Sargent) in juxtaposition to the child’s resentment and rejection of her returning father. Another particular highlight is the impressive partner work, especially when, post-war, the couple expressively rejoice in the glory of over a decade of their love for each other, connecting together fluidly in vulnerable but united movement. Then he is alone, conflicted in witness of his daughter’s grief. It’s an incredibly powerful scene full of the contradiction of fragmented frenzy and at the same time, profound emotion, thanks to Weir’s choreography of the entire body. (Even a short mid-show evacuation opening night interruption could not impact upon its resonance).

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So many transformative moments occur during the 75-minute work, just as they do in a life. And its celebrations, conflicts, reconciliations and tragedies of everyday experience certainly offer reflective fodder for audience members who may be wondering how its life summation might be applied to their experience.

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The simplicity of its beauty emerges from its relatable everydayness which also comes courtesy of lyric lists of school supplies, groceries and alike. At one stage the Australian Voices members (Sophie Banister, Samuel Boyd, Isabella Gerometta, Rebecca Hocking, Jamie Moffatt and Daid Upcher) even sing while gargling and bushing their teeth, all-the-time never being of anything but outstanding voice as they accompany and also sometimes cleverly interact with the action on stage, like a Greek chorus. Holistically, it’s a large vision that works well to bring big-scale reward.

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There is a deliberateness to every aspect of the experience’s examination of life’s relationships. David Walters’ lighting design adds to the aesthetic representation of each juncture in the journey from infancy to mature man. Similarly, small details in costumes and lyrics provide contextual clues, symbolise transitions and work with repeated movements to signpost ongoing motifs. All of this combines to make the narrative at-once easy-to-follow and engaging, especially as special guest dancers from WaW Dance join on-stage towards the work’s satisfying conclusion.

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My choreographic illiteracy means that usually watching dance leads to a wandering mind, but this is far from the case this time, such is audience investment and anticipation of how we will get to the story’s end. Indeed, “Everyday Requiem” is a very clever, layered work that will resonate both in the moment and long after in cathartic release of the range of emotions evoked in its experience. Even if you only have a passing interest in dance, this is a show you must see, as testament not only to the talents of two Brisbane-based companies, but the power of an art form to speak to our collective human experience of the ups and downs of family and life and realisation of the things that are truly important.

Photos c/o – David Kelly

Figaro’s fiesta

The Barber of Seville (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, The Playhouse

July 9 – 23

It was once suggested that if even stuck for review ideas I could always default to descriptor of a show’s ‘colour and movement.’ Far from cliché, however, there is no better pairing to summarise the appeal of Opera Queensland’s vibrant musical fiesta “The Barber of Seville”. Tracy Grant Lord’s striking sets provide no shortage of colour, creating an opulent aesthetic enhanced by Matthew Marshall’s nuanced lighting and inventive use of nooks and clever crannies to add interest to the predominantly light-hearted fiesta of a story.

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Dashing Count Almaviva (Virgilio Marino) has fallen for the young maiden Rosina (Katie Stenzel). But Rosina’s guardian Dr Bartolo (Andew Collis) is intent on marrying her himself. This is until the Barber of Seville, Figaro (Brett Carter) determines to unite the young lovers through a series of hilarious schemes that see the Count disguising himself as a solider and a music coach to gain access to Rosina. The result is, as Rosina’s governess Berta (Emily Burke) proclaims, a household in chaos, which suits the opera’s particularly fast pacing. Indeed, it is like a French farce, in Italian, but set in Spain, of entrances, exits and physical comedy, particularly from Brian Lucas as a not-so-token, Riff-Raffesque hunchback servant. It is an opera that thrives on absurdity and disorder in the most delicious of ways.

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Each character showcases excellent vocals in accompaniment of their characterisation, especially given the notorious complexity and fast-pace of Rossini’s arias. Really, however, this is Figaro’s show and from the moment he cheekily ascends to the stage from a bumbling entrance through the stalls, in purple and hot pink suit, Germany-based Australian baritone Carter is perfection, capturing his character’s charisma and charm and delivering accomplished vocals to endear the vivacity of Rossini’s score.

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As always, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, headed by conductor Roland Peelman provides superb accompaniment, evident from the opera’s fabulous, familiar opening overture, taking everyone back to memory of Looney Tunes’ theatrical cartoon short featuring the music and elements of the opera with Bugs Bunny as the Rabbit of Seville. In particular, the strings section provides precise orchestral support for the onstage voices and when sounds are softened by Andrew Veivers on flamenco guitar, the overall aesthetic benefits immeasurably.

In this 200th anniversary year of the first performance of “The Barber of Seville” Opera Queensland have used the witty work to continue the high standard set in their recent productions. While some purists might cringe at its constant comic inclusions, under the direction of Lindy Hume this impressive production dually proves to be a lavish and accessible treat, especially for audience members new to the artform. The show is riotously funny and full of musical sparkle, making it easy to see how it has become one of the most popular works in the repertoire of many opera companies. And the fact that it is Brisbane season is being followed by a regional tour is added delight.

Anton and then some

The Seagull (Queensland Theatre Company)

The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio

August 29 – September 26

“This is a story about how we tell stories,” begins Daniel Evans in his Writer and Director’s notes in the program for QTC’s “The Seagull”. And as stories go, you don’t get more robust than the dramatic works of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

Pre-show, the Bille Brown Studio is filled with the grand sounds of operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, however, this is an adaptation that is clearly far from its Russian traditions. Its staging is somewhat Brechtian in nature with exposed backstage wings revealing props table, costumes for changes and actors mingling around a simple wooden stage. The centrepiece is set to become location of a showing of tortured artist Konstantin’s edgy and enigmatic work, presented with his romantic interest Nina to a small audience of family and friends gathered at his fading actress mother’s lake house. The mother-son pair is not quite estranged, but their relationship is clearly troubled by their differences; his yearn is for art whereas hers is for an audience. In short it is one hell of a family reunion than can only be complicated by the romantic and artistic conflicts between its four primary protagonists.

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On the wall of the Studio is a pre-show Chekhov quote: “Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling” which is an interesting commentary for a show that never falters in the hands of its accomplished cast of Brisbane theatre stalwarts. Like Chekhov’s other full-length plays, “The Seagull” relies upon an ensemble cast of diverse characters – 10 strong in this instance, not counting Stage Manager/worker Yakov (Dan Sinclair) or Anton the seagull. And each one of them convey with equal effect the passion and empathy that are hallmarks of the playwright’s works.

As the celebrated, melodramatic Irina, Christen O’Leary is not particularly likeable in her driven demeanour and self-centredness. By her own admittance, motherhood is not a role to which she has taken, as the audience sees in her pronouncement to her son Konstantie (Nicholas Gell) that he is full of air and devoid of talent. As her lover, esteemed author Boris Trigorin, Jason Klarwein wears his brilliance quietly, literally not speaking until almost an hour into the show. In intimate scene with his newly-found much younger local girl muse Nina (Emily Burton), he is appropriately both intellectually pretentious and astounding in his observations of life. And together O’Leary and Klarwein play off each other with versatile volatility and passion.

As Konstantin’s uncle Sorin, Brian Lucas gives a similarly memorable performance when Act One sees a terminal illness give him back a zest for life, complete with absurd behaviour and insightful reflection on life’s little missed opportunities. And his receipt of advice from the smartarse seagull Anton represent some of the show’s comic highlights. But there is more here than just humour. Although intermission comes 90 minutes into the 150 minute show, it is well-placed to signal the transition from the first three acts of comedy to its melancholic conclusion, where subtle soundscapes add to its sombre mood and lengthy silences. Indeed, misery ensues in Act Four, most evidently through caretaker daughter Masha (Amy Ingram)’s effectively-grating cynicism and self-medication.

Even in its tragedy, this adaptation is a beautiful story of ordinary people and the challenges (or non-challenges) of their everyday lives. As Evans brings the story to contemporary realisation with help of modern language and a modern soundtrack, his writing reveals scenes full of witty dialogue, such as Irina’s sexual-innuendo-laden jealous confrontation of Boris’ intention to bring Nina back to the city with them. It is clear early on that the setting has been transformed from a 19th century Russian estate to modern Australia, mostly through the references of the “Wicked” musical-loving estate manager Ilya (Barbara Lowing) to Australian TV shows and stars, however, by mention of “Home and Away” this moves more into overwritten, tokenistic territory.

Metatheatre mentions abound in exploration of themes surrounding the conflict between nostalgia for the traditional theatre of Irina’s ilk and the innovation that her son embraces counter to her claims of it being cultural terrorism. From Streetcar’s Stanley, Isben’s Nora and Brecht’s Mother Courage to Hamlet and Chekhov himself, the show is rich with an intertextuality that makes its layers all the more luscious.

“The Seagull” is a play that literally begins and ends with a bang, well worth the effort for its remix of theatrical styles and modern maintenance of the darkness, death and despair of the original Russian script. The fact that QTC’s production comes six months after now look here’s Metro Arts take on the text is testament to exactly what makes it a classic to which each production can bring its own emphasis. The place of “The Seagull” as one of the most celebrated plays in the European dramatic cannon serves as reason enough for a visit, for a great story will always be timeless. To see this stripped back show is to see a masterclass in quality performance, which can only be an added bonus, for as Chekhov himself noted, “there is nothing new in art except talent.” And talent is something this show has in abundance.

Soulful sorrow and superb staging

De Profundis (Brisbane Powerhouse and Metro Arts)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

April 22 – May 2

“De Profundis” has a complete lockout. No latecomers will be admitted at any point. This is to respect the artistic integrity of the work. We thank you for your understanding.” What may at first seem like artistic pretension, is upon experience absolutely understandable for this is an engrossing show of the type that has absorbed audience members leaning forward in their seats, entranced by its words, imagery and an excellent performance by Brian Lucas.

Brainchild of David Fenton, “De Profundis” explores Oscar Wilde’s persecution for being gay and suffering in prison for ‘gross indecency’, through presentation of work that is wound around his infamous 1897, 50,000-word letter, written from Reading Goal in the literary form of an epistle to his lover and betrayer, Lord Alfred Douglas. It is a show sure to split audience opinion, as Wilde’s 1895 trial-by-media no doubt did (there was one walk-out of the Visy Theatre the night I was there). It is hard work to digest, dense as it is with dialogue. The language is laborious, but it is lusciously so, filled both with Wide’s wonderful wit and sorrowful observations. Clearly, this is not a delightful social satire of the “The Importance of Being Ernest” sort.

Sorrow may, as it is noted, have no season, but behind it lies a soul. The show is quite graphic and not just due to its nudity. The nudity is almost a necessity in conveying Wilde’s vulnerabity in being stripped back to his emotional and spiritual soul. And Lucas gives an excellent solo performance of impressive stamina, physically, vocally and emotionally, as he takes audiences from reflection to rebellion and back again, presenting Wilde as a man suffering for physical labour and emotional isolation, more than as a martyr.

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The setting is simple: a bleak cell in which Wilde is imprisoned in his suffering. It is intimate but versatile in its facilitation of the superb visual feast of av work folding in thoughts and images arising from the letter, deliciously bringing the writing to life. Lighting too perfectly captures mood variations and changes in pace. However, running past its promoted 70 mins, it could have ended triumphantly a number of times over.

The nudity and graphic sexually explicit material of “De Profundis” will be a stumbling block for some but it is still worth seeing as a powerful, confronting contemporary theatre adaption of a classic literary work and an important comment on human rights and the nature of art. As Wilde himself claimed during his private prosecution against Queensberry for libel, ‘works of art are not capable of being moral or immoral but only well or poorly made’ and in this instance, “De Profundis” is very well-made.