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

Requisite Requiem

Mozart Requiem (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)

QPAC, Concert Hall

March 24

 Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ is something of an event and, accordingly, the iconic masterpiece is a requisite program for any classical music audience. It therefore represents an appropriate crescendo to the latest of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Choral Series, which also features an Act One selection of the composer’s most brilliant concert arias.

In the final year of his short life, Mozart was commissioned to write a Requiem, or Mass for the Dead to honour the memory of an anonymous patron’s wife. He devoted all his energy to completing the Requiem, although interrupted by other commissions. By the time he returned to it, he was seriously ill, dying in Vienna in 1791 at just 35 years old, meaning that its completion was left to his friend and pupil Franz Sussmayr.

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The fact that Mozart was, in effect, writing his own requiem, adds obvious poignancy to what is already a brilliant piece, and it is an added emotion depth realised in a performance that is equally tragic and uplifting. Although not as dynamic as some other QSO outings, there’s a real energy to the night with tremendous climaxes. Soloists are well cast and couplings carefully considered. Tenor Kang Wang’s voice is a particular standout, technically impressive with glorious warmth, in both Act One’s Concert Aria ‘Per pieta, non ricercate, K. 420’ and in the early movements of ‘Requiem’. And Soprano Kiandra Howarth’s rich realisation of ‘Vado, ma dove, o dei, K. 583’ affords a melancholy merge into Act Two.

There is something incredibly moving to the experience of moments of reverberated silence within the Concert Hall, and ‘Requiem’ allows for this in its quietness.  Still, Conductor, Ainars Rubikis keeps a taut pace amid the fluidity with passionate approach and masterful movement of the orchestra and chorus courtesy of Ensemble-in-Residence The Australian Voices, whose voices blend beautifully. And the orchestra is in top from, particularly the string section, in their simultaneously vigorous and refined Act One introduction ‘Overture to Die Zauberflote’ (The Magic Flute).

Other than grief, ‘Requiem’ carries no real narrative on its own and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra captures all the pathos and quiet beauty of the work, written by a young man knowingly nearing his death. In their ever-capable hands it is a dark and powerful work, but also an energetic and ultimately uplifting one, making the dynamic and passionate concert certainly worthy of being filmed for broadcast by Foxtel Arts, QSO Season 2016 broadcast partner.

Cutting-edge compositions and crescendos

Boombox (The Australian Voices)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

November 1

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The latest work from the genre-bending choral group The Australian Voices, “Boombox” is promoted as the ultimate skirmish between human voice and machine. Although the titular device appears on stage from the show’s outset, however, it doesn’t particularly feature until later in the work, because who needs technology when you have the acappella voices of over 20 vocalists?

Like their other works, “Boombox” is about letting voices soar and although it perhaps has more personality than its predecessors, its character is a lot more capricious too. Indeed, the rich musical tapestry of the show, is quite patchwork in its eclecticism. From milling around the stage, members merge into early segments that are random in disassociation with each other: about dialup modem sounds, a wild applause thing and ‘words that turn into other words’, which sees the audience taken from ‘closely’ to ‘oblivion’, via Bolivia and a balding audience member, through a series of random, but similar sounding and rhyming, words. While there is a great deal of appeal to segments such as ‘baby shark’, and early, engaging comedy thanks largely to the antics of co-director/creator and performer Samuel Boyd, the curious choices can be confusing to audience members in search of signposts as to the journey of the complete experience.

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As the show progresses from the experimental ‘thousand things that have nothing to do with each other’ (as conductor and the group’s Artistic Director Gordon Hamilton is credited as initially pitching it), there is an increased focus on melody and the techniques of singing, which is where things really shine. When during ‘Ave Maria’ (just a little bit), comment is made of its sequence of chords and purity of intent, it is a truth absolutely realised as even in dissection of the classical work, the orchestra of voices cannot but excel, crescendoing with ‘Songs of Praise’-like uplift to a place of pure beauty, perhaps better appreciated in a more acoustically-empathetic venue.

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With its blend of soaring vocals and pop culture, this is music as you have never heard it before with rap battles and political speeches taking centre stage alongside works such as Frederick Septimus Kelly’s 1915 orchestral elegy, written during his time at Gallipoli. The speeches, of course, are standouts, as they were in the earlier 2015 showcase “Unrepresentative Swill.”  Although ‘Not Now, Not Ever’ the group’s You Tube hit, melodic interrogation of Julia Gillard’s parliamentary speech addressing misogyny is, as always, a crowd favourite, it is the new work  ‘Total Political Correctness’, possibly the world’s only choral arrangement to feature Donald Trump, that is the absolute highlight.

Certainly, The Australian Voices is known for its creative fusion as much as its members’ divine choral skills. Although “Boombox” may not represent its usual seamless combination of pop culture and classical sounds, the enthusiasm and innovation of the group cannot be denied. And Brisbane should be immensely proud to have given birth to a collective of such calibre who stand on the cutting edge of choral music.

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Unrepresentative Swill (QPAC and Queensland Music Festival in association with Brisbane City Council, Topology and The Australian Voices)

QPAC, Concert Hall

July 29

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Brisbane’s own indie classical quintet, Topology are acclaimed for a reason; their collaborations are as innovative as they are exceptional. Following on from their work with the Kransky Sisters and then Dead Puppet Society, they are back with another interesting collaboration, this time with The Australian Voices choir as part of the Queensland Music Festival. And the result is simply magic.

“Unrepresentative Swill” takes audience members along on a musical narrative ride inspired by famous speeches from Australian history. Composed by Topology’s Robert Davidson and John Babbage, alongside The Australian Voices Artistic Director Gordon Hamilton, the performance navigates pivotal moments that have shaped our nation, taking the words right out of our PM’s mouths in the process. And from Whitlam’s ‘Well May We Say’ to Abbott’s ‘A Stain on Our Souls’ there is something for everyone and from all sides of politics.

This is a balanced work of restraint with the words of the oratory being easily overlayed by the musical and choral work so that no one element ever threatens to outshine the other. In true Topology fashion, the music is simply magic with all musicians being given ample opportunity to shine, especially in their synchronicity with the rhythm of wartime speeches and lingering violin melancholy.

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Under the guidance of their enthusiastic conductor Gordon Hamilton, the The Australian Voices choir’s synchronised vocals cannot be faulted as members sing every line melodically and with conviction, especially evident in the final ‘Not now! Not ever’ exclamatory speech of Julia’s Gillard’s misogynist accusations. Tenors add much timbre to pieces and through the singing style and animated faces of choir members, there are many moments of humour to the show, culminating in a John Howard rap, taken from a 1996 Four Corners interview about the parallels between politics and cricket. Indeed, not all speech extracts are from politicians or the political arena, with the program also including numbers such as Noel Pearson’s 2014 eulogy for Gough Whitlam about public progress being the reward for public life and Malcom Fraser’s comment that life is not meant to be easy, made as part of his 1971 delivery of the Alfred Deakin Lecture.

“Unrepresentative Swill” takes its name from former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s blunt view of the Australian Senate, so is an excellent descriptor for the nature of the evening, which ends with encore mashup of famous lines about no children living in poverty, children overboard and Joe Hockey’s recent advice to first homeowners, amongst others. However, while there is some light made, there is also much substance to the program, illustrated through its sensitive approach to such emotional texts as Keating’s 1992 ‘Redfern speech’ including the choral repetition of the line ‘we took the children from their mothers’ as a lingering emphasis of its power.

The show seems to capture the truth at the essence of each message and to complement this, author, comedian and TV personality Adam Spencer’s eloquent and engaging narration is filled with interesting titbits of information and historical context, such as the stories of John Curtain’s death in office and the circumstances behind our nation’s shortest serving politician. His anecdotal style of delivery is both eloquent and engaging and complements the wise choice not to present the speeches chronologically.

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“Unrepresentative Swill” is a distinctive work of much distinction. The intimacy of its reverse mode Concert Hall staging with the audience seated in close proximity to the performers on stage creates an intimate and relaxed atmosphere that suits the unplugged style of interpretation and delivery, and only makes it feel like more of a privilege to experience the superb show.

Mighty Medea

Medea (La Boite Theatre Company)

La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre

May 30 – June 20

For the over two thousand years since her story was first shared in Greek legend, the character of Medea has reigned supreme as a monster mother. Wronged by her husband Jason who abandons their shared history (and her sacrifices) when he marries Princess Glauce, Medea is exiled with her children, despite her impressive lineage. From here she plots a bloody vengeance against her husband and sets to poisoning his new bride and killing her own children in pursuit of revenge against her husband.

It is an epic drama that hinges of the portrayal of its titular character. And Christen O’Leary more than delivers in the role. Her portrayal is of a passionate woman, outraged, intense, driven and strong. So much more than just rejected wife, she is a powerful presence of her own accord as partner and co-conspirator with Jason (Damien Cassidy) in their joint empire building endeavours.

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O’Leary’s realisation of the psyche of a woman whose identity has been shattered, is incredibility controlled and impressive. From the minute she embarks on her first monologue, delivered almost as manifesto to the audience, through moments of humble vulnerability, self-contended humour and harrowing despair, she takes the audience along on her roller coaster ride of emotions. Helen Christinson too, as the nurse and Princess Glauce is similarly impressive and she transitions easily between the distinct roles of loyal servant and entitled and empowered princess.

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From first entry into the Roundhouse Theatre, the audience is saturated by the spectacle of its staging and a gothic sensibility that encapsulates the darkness of the text’s themes. There is an almost occult-like feel to the tableaux, as if Medea is an apothecary setting to menace her enemy with potions.

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The setting is art; it’s an incredible visual experience, hauntingly beautiful and rich is aesthetic detail, and although the design is minimalistic, every inch is used to effect. Surrounded by a circle of lit candles and melted wax, a gnarled tree sits atop a large wooden table, providing opportunity for characters to climb to its heights, while two diagonally opposite stair sets serve not only as entry and exit points, but, at times, as stages within themselves. Even the walkway around the top of the stalls is used, which serves only to increase audience attention in an already engaging show. And it is wonderful to see a truly in-the-round production again filling the space. This is complemented by a re-imaged Greek chorus in the form of a capella choir (The Australian Voices) who introduce the narrative, comment on the action and interact with the actors. This does much to enhance the requisite mood and their subtle incorporation of modern classics such as INXS’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, is inspired.

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Certainly, this is a difficult text for any theatre-maker to tackle. Medea is one of the great dramatic female roles and, as such, the work has much to potentially say from a feminist perspective. Because of this, there can be wide differences in its on-stage interpretations. At its core, however, “Medea” is a story about power and the struggle for power, themes which still resonate today and it is of enormous credit to both playwright Suzie Miller and director Todd MacDonald that this production is so easily able to convey this universality. While it remains a morally challenging tale to tell, this incantation has been crafted so as to afford not just judgement but an attempt to inspire understanding of motivation. The result is an intense night of theatre that is not trying to tell audiences how to think as much as it is just urging them to think.

Attention is a finite resource, but it is one easily surrendered to a production of this calibre. La Boite’s “Medea” need to be commended not just for bringing Euripedes’s tragedy to life, but for doing so in such a mighty manner. The result is a gutsy but beautiful show and one of the highlights of La Boite’s program, not just for the year, but of the past decade.