Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Sydney Festival’s Giselle is a new interpretation of the romantic ballet brought to us by internation dance ensemble Fabulous Beast, heralded by director/choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan. Giselle traditionally tells the story of a young girl dying because of the selfish men in her life, and this production sells itself as giving the ballet a line-dancing face lift. As it turns out, I guess I really like line dancing. There just was a whole lot of the show I didn’t like.

Designer Sophie Charalambous and Lighting Designer Adam Silverman have done a wonderful job of creating a series of stunning images. From preshow, where Giselle and a lone telegraph pole give sharp silhouettes against the back wall, I was consistently impressed by the clarity and effectiveness of the design. Similarly I thought the sound was great, if a tad repetitive by the end of the show. It belied an urgency and gravity that dwelled beneath the narrative.

The narrative itself, however, was abysmal. When Giselle’s father, the narrator, climbed atop the telegraph pole and began to introduce us to the characters and their relationships, I was irked, but permissive. Surely this part is just putting the story into the space so that the imagery does not need to rely on storytelling? And surely the childish and slapstick exchanges being carried out between the performers to match the narrator are just a bit of fun as we warm into the piece? Alas, no. The entire first half was a messy, indulgent, and most importantly unfunny acting out of a reworked Giselle story. It felt like the ensemble was working under a “show AND tell” mantra, as the narrator’s unnecessary intrusions were then played out for far too long, with all the dramatic integrity and comic maturity of a year nine camp skit. I was quite prepared for this show to be light-hearted and funny, but as Pat Dunn’s butcher ad went nearly as long as the painfully juvenile sex scene, I just felt embarrassed to be there.

It wasn’t all terrible. The scenes between Giselle and her mentally-ill brother w
ere very solid, mature pieces of drama. Similarly the tragedy of the mute and outcasted Giselle came across with a very earnest clarity at times, but unfortunately the rest of the story in all its irrelevance ruined these would-be effecting moments. The line dancing too was amazing, but there just wasn’t enough of it (particularly considering the show was marketed on that).

But then Giselle dies from an asthma attack brought on by shock. And something amazing happens. The performance becomes breathtakingly amazing. We move from an awful rendition of the story to phenomenally beautiful dance, music and images. The spirits in the graveyard thrown dust into the side-lit air, and weave themselves across the space and through each other with sublime movements and huge noose-like ropes, accompanied by the angelic voice of a male soprano. The lights and music frame the action with remarkable efficiency, setting the tone for this second half of the Giselle story. Giselle’s brother enters and is gracefully dispatched by the spirits. The same nearly happens to Giselle’s lover, but she steps in, and the two share a beautifully choreographed ballet sequence. I was entranced the entire time. The performance ends with Giselle’s lover stepping back as she returns to her grave at sunrise.

This show was possibly the most frustrating performance I have ever seen. I felt insulted and embarrassed for the first forty minutes, and then the end featured an absolutely beautiful sequence of images. I worry that this is typical Festival fare where the strengths are outweighed by pandering to an audience that just isn’t there. But even though the first half did nothing to serve the piece, the finale brought a depth of beauty that I am very glad I witnessed.

- Nathan

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Six Characters In Search Of An Author
Thursday, 21st January

Hello again,

I will once more venture to "guest appear" on Simon and Mark's blog as I am in need of a discussion about the "Six Characters in Search of an Author" adaptation that is playing as part of the Sydney Festival. To break tradition, it is still on. So you can actually go and see this one and I look forward to hearing what people thought.

I was disappointed. Not to say that there weren't many excellent things about the production but just that in terms of what it was marketed as eg. THE PLAY and what we saw, it was different. There is much to be said about the positive impact a re-imagining of a classic work can have and I think this can work marvellously (as reviews of Hamlet this year have shown). But when the adaptation dampens what is at the heart of the work and its main thesis, there is a point at which I become a purist and get a bit disgruntled (excellent word).

The company "Headlong" has made the setting an office building and reset it as a film company who are editing their latest documentary when six characters enter demanding their story be filmed. The set is fantastic. It is detailed and layered with a corridor and whole other room visible from a large window in the set of the office created on the stage- used to great effect. Angled monitors ensure that whenever the action of the characters is being recreated for their film we are able to see this from a variety of angles even if our view on stage is obscured. In this way the text is updated to feature a commentary on multi-media authorship and not just that of the print writer. This premise was what disappointed me. The realisation using the various techniques introduced by employing cameras was often inspired but lost what I see as the central theme of Pirandello's work: the theatre.

There is an immediacy that is created when the six characters revolt against theatrical construction in a theatre itself that is lost when the bulk of the text is wound up in the screen medium. Had this been a film version I think it would have been entirely appropriate. Instead, until its conclusion, the audience is not made aware at all of the theatrical environment they inhabit. I will hint that this is addressed in part at the conclusion with a series of alternate endings, that become painfully self-reflexive, but the power is diminished substantially. I also felt like the role of the Son and Mother had been cut to make way for the Father and Stepdaughter which meant their purpose in being unrealised characters went unpronounced and they simply became so. Some of the actors were also very soft so words were lost and audience members reshuffled to get closer which is unexpected amongst an accomplished cast. While the acting was strong I found the interpretation of the characters to be two dimensional and while yes, this is the point of them to an extent, we still need/want to relate and sympathise with them. In making this too shallow we have no vested interest in them or their cause and I felt as if we should have.

The ending was inconclusive, but in the sense that I was unsure what the director/adapter intended the piece to be inconclusive about. I feel this is no longer a critique based on my own assumptions of what the play should have been, but a critique on the construction of the piece in general. As realities begin to collide it becomes more and more self-referential with actors discussing the Sydney Festival itself and a literal death of the author occurring. Seemingly this is to highlight the 'what is reality?' theme but it does so in such a blatant way that I felt like it actually mocked and cheapened the conventions that essentially it was using- and not in a sophisticated way.

To avoid being overly negative though, there are a lot of reasons why you should see this play. You should see it for the sets and to see the more clever uses of the film genre to adapt it and make it something entirely new. You should see it for the acting (The Emperor' from "Star Wars" playing the Father). You should see it for the sound design, musical interludes and for the movement work. These being used to destabilise the naturalistic devices and blur the realities of the Characters and the editing team and are very powerful.

While I could view it as a separate text, I could not help but think that the adaptation cut out a lot of reasons why the Pirandello text is meaningful in the theatre, taking away much of the depth and meaning. I think that making texts new and relevant is always important but not when you aim to produce a specific work and lose what it is that makes that work great. You should also see it so that you can disagree with me.


Friday, January 15, 2010

The Manganiyar Seduction
Friday, January 15th, 2010

Hi guys, This is Jenni here and as Simon just mentioned, I will be doing the "guest appearances" for the Sydney Festival which means that if you begin to be irritated by my posts, in much the same way as a TV guest spot would work, I will suddenly disappear in mysterious circumstances only to return years later with a new face and a completely different writing style which you will much prefer, possibly even becoming a permanent character. I enjoy writing overly long sentences with too many commas and have been known to create the largest paragraphs known to man- so I apologise in advance. In spite of this and to continue Simon's tradition, my first review is of a show that has closed. I am hopeful though that the company will return at some p
oint in which case I would encourage everyone to go see them.

The Manganiyar Seduction is a musical experience. A fully sold out show erupts to a standing ovation after 70 minutes of traditional Indian music that has steadily built from a sole musician to almost 40 musicians. Roysten Abel, the creator of the piece, has smartly placed each musician in a box, as you can see from the picture, which illuminates when the artist is playing. Until their debut a velvet red curtain covers the musicians. This creates suspense and the impetus to watch as we know that all will reveal themselves but not when or what kind of instrument they will be playing.

While aurally stunning, the light show that accompanies the well placed musicians makes it visually stunning as well. This piece could easily have been like so many things we see all the time. It could have been a traditional orchestral setup with chairs or build in a predictable way and as we expect this to happen our expectations are exceeded. The craft involved is clear when all the boxes have eventually been revealed and still we watch with anticipation as it continues to build and be interesting although seemingly they have shown all at their disposal.
It is a song of devotion and love, evident in the passionate delivery from all involved which is infectious with many in the audience clapping and moving to the rhythms.

The unique nature of the piece makes it powerful. Even if you were familiar with the music, the presentation is so innovative that this would be a new experience while its theatrical construction makes it accessible for even those unfamiliar. Abel, who speaks after the pieve, believes in the transcendental nature of the music, specifically referencing conflicts such as that currently occurring in Austrlaia with Indian students. I think that more immediately the impact lies in bringing to Australian audiences something that so openly celebrates and shares in a very culturally specific way a universal message. A dialogue is constructed between the performers in the shared space of the performance. Whether or not this transfers across to real spaces, it makes an impact for the duration and is a visceral experience that is completely moving and enlivening.

- Jenni

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We're still here!

Hey all,

Sorry there hasn’t been a lot of action here of late. We apparently decided to take a Christmas holiday without alerting anyone. Mark and I have been pretty busy with various things, such as family celebrations and TINY STADIUMS FESTIVAL. Well that last one was Mark. I have been busy getting ready to fly to America where I will be studying for 6 months. In fact, I’m already there (here). This is a photo of me on a chairlift at a ski resort in Utah.
Isn’t the internet amazing?

As some of you may know, or have guessed by now, this means there’ll be some changes here in Perf land. Mark and I are pretty keen to keep the blog happening, but with me on the other side of the world, and his career blossoming (read: doing honours) it’s going to be a little bit harder for us to keep up as the past few months have shown. Thus, to keep the blog sustainable, we’re adding another permanent contributor. His name is Nathan, and I’m sure you’ll here lots more about him soon. Perhaps we’ll even have an embarrassing photo to share.

Not only that! We’re also getting a guest in to help us ramp up coverage of the Sydney Festival, which is currently sweeping the city (of Sydney). That guest’s name is Jenni, and she is pretty awesome.

So in conclusion, hopefully there’ll be some excellent Sydney Festival reviews happening shortly, and perhaps even a “Hi, I’m Nathan” from Nathan. If no embarrassing photo is posted I suggest a mass comment petition for one. There’s only so much I can do from over here… for the record, I’m still going to blog about any theatre I see, it will just be more “this was cool” blogging rather than “you should go see this” blogging. Which to be fair, I never did that much of anyway because I generally wrote about shows that were closed.

So in conclusion, enjoy our new bloggers and show them you love them by commenting lots about how you disagree with everything they have to say. Also, thanks a lot to everyone who has supported us over this year. When Mark and I first threw this idea around in the car, we certainly never thought it would have anywhere near the impact on our lives that it has had. A long time ago Mark and I had plans to do a post of "hilarious photos of Simon and Mark". As a little memento of our first year in the blogging world, here's a photo that definitely fits that description.

- Simon

P.S. Did you know that Mark, Nathan and I are all members of the now renowned performance collective Applespiel, and that the now renowned performance collective Applespiel has a facebook page? Well now you do… it is located at: Right here. Alternatively, just search for Applespiel on facebook. However you find us, you should definitely become a fan.