Degas: Passion for Perfection

Rebecca Lawrence reviews the soon to be released film from Exhibition on Screen.

There’s not much that would entice me out of the house on a miserable Monday night, especially when the 2nd-last episode of Game of Thrones had just been released hours earlier. But, being a lover of fine art, horses and ballet, and with an opportunity to meet the director, Phil Grabsky and promise of a glass of bubbles and 85 minutes without being attached to my newborn, I was swayed to attend the media screening of Degas - Pursuit of Perfection. I was not disappointed.

Degas - Pursuit of Perfection had what it promised, the fine art, the ballet dancers and the horses that I loved. It was artfully produced, with panning scenery of Paris, Florence and Cambridge, the latter included as it is home to seven of the artworks analysed in the film. And then there’s the art, gestural lines on linen paper or built up over layers of oil paint and mixed in with solvent to create complex colours and movement.

As I savoured my glass of bubbles, Phil Grabsky introduced himself and the film, which is one of 22 in the art series. This one happens to based on the Degas exhibition from the Fitzwilliam Gallery in Cambridge and comes with all the expert knowledge from the academics including Ambrose Vollard and Anthea Callen as well as letters and stories from Degas’ private collector’s great-granddaughter who dishes some of the juicier details on the artist.

It had me wondering, who would go to the cinema to see an art exhibition? Students, artlovers, Francophiles, the time poor or anyone who doesn’t have access to an art gallery. That is actually a fairly wide audience. It certainly is easy to relax in this cinema chair and let the scenery and wine come to me.

Was it for educational purposes? Well, no, Grabsky claims. However, it would be of great use to students and teachers. For starters, it explains the start of Modern Art in simple terms to establish a context. It analysed seven key artworks, up close and in detail, with insightful commentary from academics as well as some young artists who had clearly been influenced by Degas. And by the way, even if it didn’t set out to educate, it did. 

I would watch a film if it met these three criteria:

If it was enjoyable

If I think about it for a long time afterwards

If it moved me to do something positive

Degas - Passion for Perfection was certainly enjoyable, with rolling scenery of Paris, Florence and Cambridge, artworks of horses and dancers and a meditative sound-track. It has made me consider my own artmaking, as so much of the film discusses his extensive body of work and his perfectionist mark-making. It had me reaching for the pastels and oil sticks to attack two of my half-finished canvases with renewed energy. And bonus points for being educational.

Degas: Passion for Perfection from Exhibition on Screen is opening in cinemas across Australia from 6th June, 2019 and the website has some wonderful images and behind the camera information.  The blog page is a must for art lovers.

 
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Pamela Shaw - Naughty With a Band

An intimate and warm cabaret.

There’s a special delight in relaxing into a polished show presented by a veteran singer in an intimate space with well operated audio.  Pamela Shaw’s Naughty with a Band is having a short season at Cobbstar Studios and it is a night to nod along in places and sit back restful in others.

Shaw is warming up as we arrive for a show she called a “festival of opposites” and when she steps forward to engage the audience, she is warm and quite a livewire. With an explanation of how the character of Matilda from Roald Dahl was the opposite of the little girl she was, Shaw presages a night of sharing.  What follows is a songbook of variety and elegance as we get an insight into the life of this actor, writer and singer. Flair and failures combine to flesh out the artist with whom we will spend some time.

It’s hard to tie this exuberant performer down as she rocks out to songs like a thumping, flashing ‘Gloria’ but Shaw’s stagecraft will take her to sit on the stool near the piano or pull her up, still and centrestage.  Her acting chops take command occasionally when a slow turn away from the watchers can morph the mood of a song and when a story can reach out to touch the heart.  I had a little tear at a ghost song, coming up to the anniversary of a still resonating loss. 

And that’s what this kind of cabaret does. It’s personal and close with the quality of the audio mix for the 4 piece, 3 member, backing band giving the night an extra excellence and immediacy. The bass, double bass, drums and Musical Director Daryl Wallis at the upright piano are held under Shaw’s sensitive rendering.

In a show that’s part psychotherapy and part oral history, the audience is treated to songs they may vaguely recall and many original offerings which tie in beautifully with the narration.    Broadway appears occasionally, ‘Nice’ from Lucky Stiffs, for example, and there’s a strong blues feel to many of the tunes including ‘Naughty’ which has quite a swing tempo to it.

The timeline is disrupted … “I get a little bit all over the place” Shaw tells us early but this a show crafted with skill and presented with honesty and a genuine charm. 

Pamela Shaw - Naughty with a Band is various dates and times at Cobbstar studios until June 2.  And you can read an interview with Pamela here.

Canapes and Cocktails

Jeromaia Detto at the Sydney Comedy Festival

Canapes and Cocktails is a multiverse from Jeromaia Detto where a dozen or so new characters keep arriving and disappearing and sometimes making a return appearance.  The show is bookended by three waiters. Oblivious to each other, they each rate high on the incompetent scale also on the sweetly, arrogantly, solicitous spectrum.  They are also very recognizable as they re-enter through various doors.

Detto has designed a show which doesn’t require the audience to ponder about who we are meeting; his scripting and physicality and voice choices are not forced and maintain a bedrock of Jeromaia-charm which grounds the show.  The many characters are interpreted with a prop or an attitude or a slight costume (the judge being especially humorous in that regard), which means the audience immerses quickly into the little scene’s intent and environment.  

Detto is an accomplished clown with a mobile body and an easily surprised face and his ability to bring his creations with rapidity also allows the audience an emotional licence to follow the valleys and highs of the show.  A tilt of the head and shy smile and the watcher is captivated and ready for a dip into the sadness of Jason at the mic or the sudden outrage of a photographer thwarted by the discerning crowd.

The quality of this performer’s crowd work was on display last night when someone up the back seemed to think it was her show and kept calling out.  Cool absolutely kept and comic timing intact!  He is gracious and amiable as he calls on audience members to help him out in various ways and his quips are never mean or disrespectful of his public.

He has a lot of returning fans and one could hear people murmur as a familiar creation arrived. Several times I heard “There he is!”  But despite some lovely banter with the crowd, Detto also has a tight scripted hold over the 50 minutes. The puns come fast and concentration is required when we meet an aspirational boy, for example.  There’s no false thematic knotting to the show just a series of enjoyable vignettes from an artist with a skilled comic arsenal. As the waiters return at the end, the show is resolved with considerable warmth.

Canapes and Cocktails is a neat offering which gives an audience a constantly changing parade of characters, some of whom work for you and some don’t, but they just keep coming and their brief lifespans add up to a very fun show.

Canapes and Cocktails from Jeromaia Detto has one more outing today at the Sydney Comedy Festival.  

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Mythos - Alice Fraser

This is for Mr Fraser who reads all Alice’s reviews for her.

So the campy, cartoonish Batman of the 1960s was a Greenaway Production. Truly ... look for it in reruns. Just going to leave that with you as I talk about Alice Fraser and her show, Mythos.

This is a woman who knows how important fanfare is and she could give Masterclasses in making an entrance! And then she gets smart and funny. Which we sort of knew as she convivially met audience members as they arrived. Charming and engaged she asks questions of the crowd before the show begins… before the flourish of her re-entry.

Then there’s the explanation of the show and why it’s called that and about the stories and lies we will hear … and believe.  Because some of them are sung to some stellar banjo plucking and banjos don’t lie!  Notwithstanding an apology to the Greek lady who came on the basis of the name alone.  Really though, Sisyphus and Zeus and Penelope do get a mention but so does Buddhism.

This show weaves all sorts of ideas and their comic skewering is a tapestry by the time this sassy performer takes a bow to huge applause for her musings on absurdities. Fraser’s set flows beautifully with insights and observations and her work lacks any non sequitur copout - I’ve got a good joke and I’m going to use it anyway stuff.  Rather, it is finely edited for an effortless sharing of smart questioning and a tenderness of abrasiveness when she gets started on some complex contemporary issues. 

 The silence spreading was my favourite element of her persona for MYTHOS.  Fraser throws out personal stories then reels in the audience with a terrific command of a mic technique which leaves a spare hand.  This way she can gesture us into her notion and stand, pinched fingertips at the side of her mouth and a mobile eyebrow raise, until we catch up.  It’s quick, her set ... she speaks rapidly in places until her perplexity brings her back to slowly and slyly making room for the many laughs.  She’s whip-smart funny and charming.

Now, Mr Fraser, in your meta commentary about my review let Ali know that I, like the many recidivists in the room, will be returning.  Even if I don’t count because I’m a reviewer and even with an entirely suitable last name!

RbJ Rating: 4 nahnahnahnahs ect

Alice Fraser is playing the Sydney Comedy Festival with her show MYTHOS until tomorrow.  

 
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The Director

Another offering from Festival UnWrapped

Photo credit: Daniel Boud

There’s awkward silences and then there’s the deathly silence that happens at the beginning of The Director which playing as part of Festival UnWrapped at the Sydney Opera House. 

Scott Turnbull was a Funeral Director and here he is, still and shirtless lying on the stainless steel concaved table as the audience arrives. He stays that way … the house lights go down and there is considerable dark until they come back up. Nothing happens. Whoa is that uncomfortable!

Lara Thomas will become many during the show - his apprentice, an Everyman to his sagacity and a knowing equal. But for the moment it is just him and it’s morticians’ putty quiet.  For a show about death, I was pretty ok, it was only one little bit with the aforementioned putty that made me turn my head away.

What we are treated (cough) to here is a master class in the Funeral Industry beginning with how to dress a corpse in a shirt. At first, astonishing and intriguing - then you get to see it again as a suitcoat goes on and it’s a slow immersion chance to really appreciate the niceties.  Engrossing then to the grossing! The cost.

The numbers just roll off their tongues and if you have used such services you are not surprised, until the profit side of the ledger is discussed. Decisions to be made by the listener here about whether the job, the industry, is a tough enough gig to warrant such a payday.  The money is fascinating, as is most of the stuff that comes after. There’s sequences around music and flowers and cremation … they even play a guessing game as they style an audience member into a coffin!

There’s a very entertaining sequence with some unusual percussion, bells and cymbals and was that shaken tambourines on the audio track?  This, while Scott runs (literally) through a pineapple Friday. He made his rake-off that day!  Lara will sit in the audience as director on some occasions, making actor adjustments and technical corrections and suggestions for improvement.  With a lovely camaraderie and fluid (ahem) chemistry, they are easy in each other’s company and the relationship is enjoyable to watch.

Lara will also take on the challenge to negotiate questions from the audience, very difficult in this space. “Clearly nothing is off limits!” It is here, however, that the flaw in the production surfaced for me, this sequence was not clearly Q & A nor scripted.  It felt self-referential and nervous when the rest of the production’s elements are so smooth.

Almost every segment of this show works as a separate section but there’s a cohesion of intent missing.  This, despite a unity of place and content and character.  The text and the excellent scenes cry out for an emotional or thematic skin rather than a stitching together.  The show illustrates approbation for the compassion that is displayed, yet there is condemnation too.

Among the more interesting asides to the content of the show is the invocation of bereavement. They stand and walk with light grace, head bowed, hands crossed in front and faces arranged into knowable and appropriate shapes. It is definitely eerie and disconcertingly accurate.  

The Director has a laid back honesty to charm and inform an audience with believability and lingering unasked questions.  I get a word like ‘purge’ but what the hell is coffin club and why do elderly women attend?

RbJ Rating: 3 ½ Weetabix and coffee

The Director, part of Festival UnWrapped, plays until Sunday May 19.

 

Playlist

From Festival UnWrapped comes another marvelous production.

There’s a laugh in their voice, these five young woman.   I have seen this show before and what delighted me then is still ‘Boss as fuck!’  but I have learned some new words since I saw it last and let me say, with hands above head old lady dancing … Playlist is bitchin’  

Photo Credit: Daniel Boud

There’s a laugh in their voice, these five young women.   I have seen this show before and what delighted me then is still ‘Boss as fuck!’  but I have learned some new words since I saw it last and let me say, with hands above head old lady dancing … Playlist is bitchin’  

There were concerns in my thinking that it might not translate to the big stage.  Our House is a big call!  But the thing about the Festival UnWrapped is that the curator, Fiona Winning, and her team is switched on to bringing these voices into the space.  Here we have a production of truth and talent that fits easily into their surrounds and from my quick voxpop of other audience members, coming to a new demographic.

Created by PYT Fairfield, Director Karen Therese and Choreographer Larissa McGowan, the show is a riot and a wander through the musical history and inspirations of Ebube Uba, May Tran, Tasha O’Brien, Mara Knezevic and Neda Taha. 

As singers’ names from Ella through Celine to Beyoncé hit the ear, we are drawn into the realities that these artists experience and it ranges from joyous to concerning.  However, with direct-to–the-audience engagement, movement sequences, dancing and conversation between them, the women will share their empowerment.  Well may we worry about the world we have made for them but they don’t dwell on that – Bolshie to tender they teach us a lesson in resilience along the way.

The production doesn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of a girls’ world. Violence against women is foregrounded in one sequence toward the end of the show and it is chilling.  Kicking and gouging replaced by an impassive speaking of the names ripped from the headlines … women lost; diminishing us all.  But the production doesn’t dwell.  There are constant shifts of mood negotiated with artistry and performance skill.  Suddenly we find ourselves in a narrowing down of celebrity narrative.   

Irrepressible movement goes with music for this cast and the dancing is free and loose and contagious.  Pump up ‘Make it Rain’ and whoops explode from the audience, too.   What impresses here is the sympathy of intention in all the movement work.   Mimetic or stylistic, the faces express individualised conceptual throughlines giving the work its cohesion and power.

The cultural aspects of the Playlist text allows this cast a space for enlightening with fun and sass.  Respect for ancestors, sharing of role models, their diversity of musical solace place and still the best joke about Anglo-Saxon queueing I have heard.  It’s an offhand comment but I swear I think of it every time I line up somewhere.  This show is dense.  It’s quick and subversive in both action and interaction, with the warmth and camaraderie between the women one of its finest attributes.  It really is a work to be cherished.

And to learn from if you are no longer young.  The latest new word these marvellous performers have taught me ‘wankstand’ which is now my favourite insult by far.  See Playlist, you just don’t know what you will learn! 

RbJ Rating: 4 ½ Taylor Swift sceptics

Playlist is part of Festival UnWrapped and playing until Sunday 19th May.  

 
Frank Elgar and Robert Burton’s New Year Eve Party, 1979. Image: William Yang.

PARTY (verb)

Frank Elgar and Robert Burton’s New Year Eve Party, 1979. Image: William Yang.

William Yang is a national living treasure and the opportunity to immerse in his work is an exciting prospect. Yes, you can see it from your armchair on sites like MCA or National Portrait Gallery but the man, the man is the developer who brings the image to full clarity.  He must have millions of shots at by now and his shows are crafted thematically with a loving eye.  This one is about the parties!

PARTY (verb) is part of the Sydney Opera House’s Festival UnWrapped and it is an evening of soft truth and noisy spectacle from a master storyteller.  The work was originally commissioned by Performance Space and premiered at Day for Night, 2018.  He is accompanied by live music from celebrated DJs Stereogamous, and Yang brings his history to this stage and shares it with skill and empathy and a quiet delivery.  This photographer was granted access where others were barred because he was respectful, gifted and trusted and his social history, visual and experiential, of the gay and lesbian community is unique and important.

Yang has selected the images of this particular show for complete engagement whether you know the people involved or not. Faces and costumes and implicit narratives are endlessly fascinating in this context.  Then hit us with dance music and a few flashing lights and image after image of party crowds and there is an anonymity of thumping energy which pulls you into a moment in time.  When he speaks, the names roll off his tongue. Names sometimes greeted with a cheer or an intake breath of sorrow. This audience is disparate and the sighs and laughs, and for me a few sobs, come at separate times throughout the show.

However, there are occasional waves of laughter or swallowed sadness which sweep through the room, uniting us.  Speak about reclamation of language, fag and poof, and back it up with photos and no-one is immune to pride.  Similarly, we are unprotected from the captured images of the lost.  Times are different now and, while some in the crowd remember, an artist like Yang brings a whole world to life with his stories and pictures.  There’s a nude man as the second image so we are quickly oriented as Yang will talk about the sex, love, community through the lens of the parties ... some of the big ones... but many of the small.

Sleaze and Recovery parties are mentioned but when the time arrived that straight people could win Mardi Gras party tickets on the radio, his history takes a turn to community.  RATS, Sweatbox, lesbian parties, culturally diverse events - so many captured by Yang.  Like the 1981 first Warehouse party where he stuck with photographing people he knew until he got braver and ventured onto the dance floor.  The images are mainly black and white and as the House behind pumps up trance and volume, the photographs take on the blur of dance and action.  It’s thrilling.

Some events and places do require an explanation and there is a chiaroscuro of memory as Yang includes some shots of himself as he ages from that wild haired young man that he was early on; when cruising was “easier than the bars”.  He also says he felt “my destiny was to photograph parties”. 

Yang brings the people and period to back to life as he zooms in on a sequence and we see multiple shots of the same event - a drama piece at a party, the costumes at a party, the aftermath of a party.  And the show is filled with music superbly aligned with the emotional impact and which allows time for introspection and absorption.  The music is fun and value adds to an already emotional evening.  There’s a swing version of ‘Secret Love’ and there’s ‘Warm Leatherette’ and ‘Express Yourself’.  The latter as we relax into some serious leather shots.

PARTY (verb) is a wonderful entertainment.  May William Yang be partying with us for a long, long time.

RjB Rating:   5 sexy nights

Tonight is your last chance to catch PARTY (verb) as part of Festival UnWrapped at the Sydney Opera House.

 

 
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80s Nostalgia Sad Hour

Jacinta Gregory writes the songs.

Jacinta Gregory is a talented comic songwriter.  That’s a bit of a lost art.  We hear lots of parody type songs on the comedy stage but putting your own lyrics to someone else’s music does wear a bit thin.  Gregory, on the other hand, her shit is all hers.  And it’s good … consistently good over the years I have been watching her work as performer or writer.

This latest show is called 80s Nostalgia Sad Hour and it played at the Sydney Comedy Festival.   In Gregory’s loose and freewheeling style there is not really much 80s here … it’s more of a conceptual thing.  The 80s is where you go when you are down.  That’s more of Gregory’s tish because she explores ‘down’ in the show.  With skill and style Gregory alludes to, and educates about, her mental health struggles in a funny, warm show with a quirky edginess.

Gregory has more at her disposal than life lessons, a quick wit, musical chops and a capacity for putting the right word in the right place. She can sing. There’s some lovely lower notes in a song like ‘Beautiful Day to Fall in Love’ until she takes the song into the longing tops.   And she can surround herself with likeminded talent.  With a neat little band of three and a sidekick actor friend, 80s Nostalgia Sad Hour is dense with songs and has a chaotic structure which is mysteriously and meticulously repeatable.

‘I thought I’d do a song about it.’ ‘Would it be crazy if I apologised in a song?’ are fun intros and the structure does have inserts like a dance break and skit time and they might need some refining, or the flick, as the show progresses.  The heart of the work is Gregory’s view of life which is positive and presented with a charming openness and considerable variety.

There’s an assassination of penises in an anthem of sorts, there’s a tropey whisper and squat, bad- news- delivered-sexily song and some subversive female costuming.  The props and costumes are part of that deceptive construction that slides right by while the enjoyment of the show compounds.  Gregory also improvises a sad ballad and it’s impressive … not just for the humorous styling and clever creation but for her use of phrasing and contrapuntal on the spot arranging.  All the aspects that make her writing and performance so engaging are hangin out and it’s fascinating to watch the process.  Indeed the whole show is enormous fun.  Gregory does take on the classics toward the end with a ‘Love Shack’ beatup of 80s politics. 

Charismatic and discreetly disciplined Jacinta Gregory is home grown talent to watch out for.  The show has had its run but keep an ear out for her next.

RbJ rating: 3 ½ Matthew Brodericks

 
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Tales of an Afronaut

From poet wāni Le Frère comes a performance as vulnerable as it is resilient.

Photo of wāni Le Frère by Ruth Ruach

Tales of an Afronaut is a revelation. Poet wāni Le Frère gifts his audiences with what he calls “stories that live within my body”.  But his show, which is part of the Batch festival, exists not just as stories but as a way to share black pain.  His words speak in a way that we seldom get to hear on a stage and the opportunities for understanding that one takes from this well-crafted performance reaches into the spirit. 

Le Frère and dancer, Polo, are seated, heads bowed, as we enter.  There’s an impermanent domesticity to the setting they have chosen, the implications of which become clear during the show.  When the poet rises, his voice will echo through a golden microphone as the first of his skilled elucidation of written creations echoes in the space. Most of the show is without amplification but the gravity of this beginning is elemental to the engagement we feel.

The poetry we hear strays from crisp to lyrical ; the presentation honest and fresh.  The vulnerability palpable, especially when the voice is halting and haunted.  Technically, Le Frère strides into the rhythms while keeping the words conversational, intimate.  The rawness of the text aligns with a spare physicality that uplifts his hands and turns them skyward, a universal gesture that reverberates with welcome and genuine openness.  

His rhymes strike the ear with a modern sensibility that carries the weight of a generation.  “livid but timid”, for example, is a stunning use of language.  There are several incredibly good uses of pause and truncation in the performance also.  The ending to the section about his father, before the audio recording, is breathtakingly good theatrical use of tension.

Le Frère is joined by dancer Pollo who performs with the daredevil courage of a dancer invested in the themes.  His dance of dying and doomed has skill and fall to absorb the audience further into the thematic throughline of the show.  There are recorded audio and video sequences also, difficult to listen to in places, warm and human in others.  Our joint humanity is enfolded by Le Frère as he speaks of donuts and binge watching TV and something shameful deep inside but the African/Black experience which is verbatim in the tech is never far from the intent of this work.

The permanence of skin, the violence of words used against people of colour elides with the warmer notes of the show - his mother’s face and where he draws his strength. Le Frère has resisted any temptation to make this a longer show, it runs a neat 35 minutes, and is crafted to take the listener to new places of understanding and inquiry.

Especially as it concludes with a meta sequence which draws together the words which Le Frère has freely shared with us for our consideration and action.

RbJ Rating:  4 stars above each one of us 

 Tales of an Afronaut plays as part of the Batch Festival until May 4.

 
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Pictures: Songs from Movie Musicals

Picture of Kerrie Anne Greenland by James Terry

Kerri Anne Greenland’s cabaret Pictures: Songs from Movie Musicals is all about the voice. An intimate opportunity to hear, close and live, the complexity of her delivery. An hour to immerse in the encompassing timbre of those lower notes and the operatic soar of the higher. This Helpmann winning artist has been inspired in her creation of the show by her album of the same name and the songs are both familiar and newly interpreted.

With Joshua James Webb on piano and Conrad Hamill on cello, her cabaret has a rainbow start as the classic song draws us into the world of a little girl who grew up in a second-home. A picture palace. Fitting then for Greenland to share some Disney princesses, thereafter leading right into a wish upon a star which leaves the audience reeling with the purity of that final note.

There are many such times during the well-structured show, times when Greenland’s voice gives the audience a breath hold moment. Maybe This Time echoes from the red lit stage as the struck string cello nestles warmly in concert with the richness of Greenland’s long, luxurious, held phrases.  The soulful slow intro to Love is Here to Stay contrasts easily with the upbeat zing of heartstrings.  The orchestrations of The Trolley Song bringing the toes to tapping straight after.

These songs sit simply and delicately in amongst the more character driven pieces. As one might expect from a musical theatre performer of her experience, the songs which fit into a musical story have a gently donned persona.  Wistful and sad, Little Shop of Horrors’ Somewhere That’s Green in a suitably green lighting state.  This melancholy song leading the way into the much anticipated On My Own. Eponine’s cry from the heart as freshly delivered as if Greenland hadn’t sung it over so many performances. Commanding heartfelt work.

My personal favourite of the night?  You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel.  The voice and acting coming together in superb musical phrasing and the moving power of love… enough to make me struggle to hold back tears.

Greenland’s chatter and banter with the accompanists are fun in their way but this is a cabaret to appreciate for the special nature of a voice which brings genuine emotion to these well-known songs from the flickers.  A pure enchantment of an evening.  

There are only two more performances of Pictures: Songs from Movie Musicals at the Hayes Theatre and they must be close to sold out.  The album is available on iTunes.

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I Sing Songs

Steven Kreamer steps out from behind the upstage curtain.

Normally when Steven Kreamer steps out from behind the upstage curtain it is to take a bow with his band or when his accompanying is acknowledged by the singer of the night.  His cabaret I Sing Songs is a chance to spend time with this multi-talented artist in an evening of warm original songs and wry introductions, mixed in with a few clever reinterpretations of some well-known works.  Shaped by Director Simon Ward, the show gives an audience intimate insights into the music of this charismatic singer-songwriter.  

Beginning with the boy that was. Exploring the freedom of having a car and with a sweet belief in the consistency of love, this song begins a night where musicianship and stories are shared with audience with candour and style. As the wistful chorus fades on his younger self and the purple of the lighting deepens, a new song about love and about music begins with a single hand on the piano.

Steven’s virtuosity on the instrument is one of the delights of an evening spent in his company.  With a trademark glissando when he just can’t help himself but to finish with a flourish, the music behind the songs and stories has a complexity of arrangement and subtle reach. The song choices stay within a smooth and relaxed atmosphere for the most part but he does cut loose.

With an accent, a silhouette and an accordion, there’s classic gently lampooned with a Kurt Weillian twist.  There’s a soft-shoe themed offering that rhymes ‘occupied’ with ‘genocide’! That particular tune comes with a Steven shame-face.  But he will quickly use the backing track from his orchestration of Dancing in the Dark to stand still and float a soulful and oddly moving reinterpretation into the dark beyond the stage.

Kreamer can travel from warm to red hot in an instant though, after some shared secrets that the man/boys in the audience gave full throated laughter to and a conversation on a bus, the jazz sizzles with skill and charm.  That’s before a bath bomb dance break.  With a willing audience and two conscripts we are treated to a fun song which requires audience involvement.  Kreamer is having way too much fun here as he laughs at his control over the audience’s responses and a 5 minute song flashes by.

As the evening winds down, the personal nature of making music, and who it is made for, reaches into the audience in a pure white light.   Every songwriter’s lament about the inadequacy of words comes with a moving story and an act of defiance.  The Billie Holiday I’ll be Seeing You on the preshow track comes into context for the final song as thematic strings are pulled together and, in tribute to his long-living Nan, a boogie woogie mood concludes an evening of excellence.

I Sing Songs is one of those rare nights when a man we usually see in pitblacks swaps out for a deep black suit and crisp white shirt; steps out from behind the curtain and makes his way to the microphone. A thoroughly entertaining and delightful hour of stylish song and music.

 You have two more chances to catch Steven Kreamer’s I Sing Songs this evening at Hayes Theatre tonight and tomorrow.

   

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Sydney Comedy Festival Gala

A taster to whet the appetite.

Photo of Joe Lycett by Ben Sanford

As a taster for what you can see at the Sydney Comedy Festival, the Gala event is quite the degustation banquet.  Our host for this delectable feast is Joe Lycett. His solo show I'm About To Lose Control and I Think Joe Lycett sold out quickly so this was Sydney’s last chance to see him. And what a delight he turned out to be.

Relaxed and chatty with the crowd and perched on the edge of the Concert Hall stage of the Sydney Opera House stage, he is quick witted and engaging as he tells us this is the best bill he has ever been on. He also has enormous loving fun with the audience close to him as his charm and obvious interest in people whets the appetite for the comedy to come.

There’s a range of international acts here and as the accents and unique perspectives hit the stage the audience gets to see themselves as others see us. And on Anzac Day!

Tahir referenced his Turkish heritage for one of the best, most respectful Anzac jokes ever and Ivan Aristeguieta summed up the Australian experience of language in three words. My companion is of Chinese origins and that conversation took up our interval! Phil Wang’s Canberra contribution to that discussion adding to the fun. Not to mention Georgie Carroll’s Adelaide accent. And her hilarious assassination of other school mums.

Lots of skewering on this night. The Chaser Quarterly & Shovel made  War On The F*#king Election 2019 and Larry Dean’s self-deprecating gay Glaswegian didn’t hold back with the eye acting and sweet persona.  There’s salty here too. Fern Brady somehow manages to discuss the taste of semen in her potted review of getting caught up in a DUP scandal at home.

There was, though, a worm at the table. A worm and his dad, as a downbeat Mark Forward explained his jokes into a superbly deconstructed art. Jamali Maddix had strong opinions on species-ism and random flavours kept the audience’ hands in motion and heads thrown back.  Secrets were shared after interval as Sean McLoughlin made google his BF and Lauren Pattinson shared the recipe for a delicacy of blending posh and working class.  Mix in Tom Allen’s harried, harassed and had-it teacher and this is a bite-into comedy menu which can’t be bettered.

Always amazing how laughter brings 2000 plus people to the same place. Sore tummy or head shaking in disbelief the Gala had something for everyone. Even Millennials got a fillip when Tom Ballard took on us Baby Boomers … for the kids!  With his unintentional mic stand choreography and his friendliness and charisma, Joe was the perfect host.  Even if his description of vegan toilet habits might have put you off dessert.

To round out the evening was my favourite after dinner mint.  I have been a long time News Quiz pod listener and to experience Phil Jupitus live was to be relished.  His sly humour sending us out jostling and laughing with lip-smacking enjoyment ready to launch into our Sydney Comedy Festival treats.

Sydney Comedy Festival details and program here.

 
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JUNK

from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus

The old timers, the flyers, speak of it.  That moment in a circus show where a trapezeist suspends in the air, for the death of a second between mortal and celestial. JUNK from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus takes their cast to that magical place so many times and as these 8 -18 year olds pass through that moment they take their audience with them.  With awe and thrill, we and our young ones understand how beautiful life is.

Artistic Director, Jodie Farrugia has crafted a show which brings skill and daring into the theatre.  Her cast is made up of students from the Circus School attached to the Fruities in Albury/ Wodonga and they are on tour, landing for a few performances at Riverside Theatres.

Finding its origins from discussions with elder citizens about what they did for kid’s play back when, the production is set in a junkyard and the possibilities are endless.   The viewer is treated to enormous fun as the setting affords infinite ways for the cast to entertain.  It begins in darkness and a single piano note as we meet a modern boy.  A boy preparing for guided, safe play.  Safety gear just keeps on coming as he gets ready for the dangers of mucking about.  Through the show this young man will learn from the spirits of the junkyard that bubble wrap isn’t needed if you balance sensible and daring.   

That’s what I love most about Farrugia’s approach to the production, it doesn’t look easy … it’s skilful.   There’s a traditional trope in circus where you fail first time to show how hard it is.  What the Fruities show instead is the preparation.  When the trick is in the air or on the apparatus it looks effortless but we see the planning, the signals, the checking and adjusting… the sweat.  That is what many of us want for our children.  Assess the risk, control it and then attack it with enthusiasm. 

No shortage of the latter either, as these young people laugh across the footlights and interact with the crowd and each other, excited and loving their performing as a range of skills keep the show hurling at speed.  The act names are in the program and it is a lovely way to debrief with the family.  An odd collection of phrases come up then … oohs and ahs and how did they do thats mingle with I would love to learn how to do that.  It’s as joyous as the experience itself.

The rigging is masterful and allows the young people do all on-stage practicalities.  The breathtaking duo straps is entirely tethered by, and musically accompanied by, the children with such an encompassing and moving emotional impact. The production’s audio score utilises the whole team, too, in the sensational creation of sound - body percussion and odd instruments like washboard and slapstick yet it can let loose with drums and brass for the tramp wall.

In a production where boys fly and don’t just catch, where girls use strength and brains equally, where teamwork leads the show and exhilaration rules the space, remember these young circus professionals.  Scour the program, commit the names to memory, follow their careers as they grow to be keepers of the mysteries and wonders.

RbJ:        4 ½ Audience Gasps

Junk from The Flying Fruit Fly Circus plays Riverside Theatres, April 17 -18.

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360 All Stars

This is urban circus with terrific scope for opening up conversations with the younger family members. See the write-up I did for Arts Hub.

Photo credit- Tom Loncar

Babes Ablaze : Photo Kris Ezergailis

Babes Ablaze

A night of strutting their stuff … with flames!

Photo of Sophie deLightful and Cast : Kris Ezergailis

Grey hair, handbag, torn jeans, nike knockoffs and all, I sailed into a group of young people who were having a smoke break outside.  “We welcome your weirdness” says one impeccably suited young man with approving whoops from the cosplay dressed and very goth-glammed diverse group of people around him.  Welcome to Babes Ablaze a raging, fun night of fire obsessed acts in cabaret mode.

What fun we had.  Lots of people, including some of the artist’s mums, a welcoming vibe and an exciting lineup of thrilling, skilled performers who craft their work with care.  That’s what the take-home is actually.  The exhilaration of watching them stays with you but when you have a chance to brood, there comes an understanding of the commitment to excellence you have witnessed.

Under the sultry, sexy hostess Sophie deLightful … she of the superb singing voice, witty, responsive emceeing and wicked taste for trouble … juggle and aerial and burlesque and balance and acro and zephyrs appear - with fire as the leitmotif.  A dedicated Fire Fairy flares the imagination before each set and the audience is quiet and receptive in places and genuinely, enthusiastically loud in others. 

As each item struts their stuff it’s obvious that the performers have been carefully curated by Sophie, who is also the producer.  I’ve encountered her work before and just adore that rich voice and open attitude to musical standards.  All the music is terrific on the night, prepared with care, never too loud and orchestrated to tap into a mesmerism which flames in the watcher.  Slow rock mingles with fast, fluid beats with foot tapping inevitable and head banging optional.

There’s the lost art of pastie wearing; a heart ripped from the willing chest of an audience volunteer; a superb semi-acoustic steel string guitar back-up; a dual spider fan of tiny flickers; a brilliance of crystal balls appearing to float by a dexterity more than human.  The highlight for me was a clear quartz hilted sword ablaze then a flame extinguished with a swoop to obfuscate the user with the smoke of mystery. 

Not just welcoming and fun but thrilling!   

Babes Ablaze only played one night at the Red Rattler but you can look out for it again by following Sophie at her website and Facebook

 

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Up Close and Intimate

Caroline O’Connor reprises her cabaret for one night only …to a sold out house.

Photo of Caroline O’Connor in Up Close and Intimate by Peter Rubie

You have to open up a bit, which I didn’t want to do, but tell the stories of how you got the job, the tricky things and the good things.” Caroline O’Connor told me in interview.  The reality is, that with a star like O’Connor on the stage, you could just delight in the voice singing the hits and still have a great time.  But when she finishes the first song and walks toward the audience with a relaxed and welcoming smile and a flash in the eyes, you know, you just know, that this is a night of presence and connection. ‘Up Close and Intimate’ had a sold out return season last night with a standing ovation and a knock-out performance.

There’s a Velma feel to the simple, fringed, form fitting black dress that O’Connor wears for the first act and she doesn’t disappoint Chicago fans with a couple of select pieces from the show.  Including the Cell Block Tango … all 6 roles!  But there’s other favourites to relax into or to make you sit upright and lean in.  Like when Cool from West Side Story is given a unique femaleness and when the master singer sits still in a shamrock green to interpret an Irish heritage ballad.  

It’s rare for this restless artist to stay still as she engages the audience in stories about her career between the well-chosen songs.  The dancer is never far in the litheness of the walk and the sinuous carriage. In the chat between, she’s funny and accessible and the memories are shared with detail that brings the meaning even closer to the listener.  Her stories about a gypsy life in London and on the Great White Way are cleverly interspersed and we have the added frisson of watching the artistry of mood creation.

O’Connor has a lovely relationship with her Musical Director and virtuosic accompanist, Daniel Edmonds as she checks in with what’s next and enthusiastically pays attention to his work in the more spectacular piano interludes.  However, it is when she responds to his prompts with a ‘I need to prepare for that one’ that the real meaning of live-in-cabaret catches the breath.  We see the transformation of a moment when an honesty and openness to share brings the nuanced emotion forward… that genuiness of feeling which will allows the words to float on the music to the heart of the watcher. 

It’s thrilling to see this artist live.

And the full house loves the show.  So comfortable are we with this shining star that 200 pairs of hands draw together before the final notes of a song fade and the What’s That Tune quiz brings smiles and laughs all over as a winner beams.  Up Close and Intimate is delicately balanced between craft and spontaneity to be a marvellous night in the presence of a great lady of the theatre.

Caroline O’Connor’s Up Close and Intimate for Darlinghurst Theatre Company was one night only, Friday April 12.    

 

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Eishan Ensemble

Deb Waterhouse-Watson reviews this ensemble of Persian masters of Middle Eastern Jazz Fusion - tar and oud gets the crowd on its feet.

Hamed Sadeghi tells us that ‘Eishan’ just means ‘these guys’, but this is typical Sadeghi – understated ‘These guys’ are highly skilled musicians – masters of improvisation – who weave awe-inspiring soundscapes that will have you hanging on every note. You’ll be amazed at how seamlessly Persian and jazz fuse – though the harmony and rhythm are distinctly Persian, there’s a contemporary flavour, and the expansive improvised solos passed from instrument to instrument are familiar from the jazz tradition.

Venue 505 provided the perfect relaxed ambience in which to enjoy a quiet drink or a meal while watching the performance. It’s a little quirky, with kids’ toys given out in place of table numbers, and patrons perched on stools along the walls or steps as often as at tables; once the show began, all eyes and ears were fixed firmly on the stage.

Persian-Australian Sadeghi is warm, funny and humble, introducing the group and various pieces, and the music itself is just as welcoming, whether you’re a dedicated fan of Middle Eastern jazz fusion or this is your first taste.

There are no vocals, and the music is built on melodic and rhythmic riffs and refrains that repeat throughout a piece – like a catchy chorus in a rock song, but with instruments – that become more and more familiar as the piece develops.

Sadeghi starts out playing the tar, a plucked, fretted string instrument with a long neck and small body. The first number has a driving rhythm that gets toes tapping, featuring solos that highlight the virtuoso talent of regular band member Michael Avgenicos and local percussionist Adem Yilmaz. Yilmaz has a full palette of percussive tones at his fingertips, from different drum tones to chimes and brushes.

The sets are a mix of old and new, with some established, some never performed before, and others in the process of reinvention. The second number is one of their new works, Black and White, which certainly lives up to its name: melancholy and a touch dark, in a minor key, with passages of brilliance and a bittersweet undertone.

Sadeghi swaps to the oud, a fretless, many-stringed instrument with a large, pear-shaped body. A lyrical saxophone line introduces the piece, a line which is doubled on the oud and passed around the instruments – a distinctive feature of Eishan’s music. Though the tones of sax, bass and guitar might be familiar to most audiences, the scale and rhythms are distinctly Persian. This allows the audience to hear exciting new possibilities in these instruments, with glissando, tremolo and trills providing ornamentation and rhythmic drive.

My favourite number of the night was the second to last, Future, a track which appeared on their debut album but is now being reinvented and possibly re-recorded, to reflect how the band has developed. Future starts with percussion and an insistent guitar drone – a single note repeated – with the other instruments layering on top, driven on by a relentless drum beat. The bass solo by Sydney local Elsen Price is played with a bow, and features lush vibrato high up the G-string and plunging tremolo runs that have the audience gasping.

Wind, another new piece, rounds out the night. It’s an intense journey, with a lot of tar and bass shredding (Sadeghi half-apologetically explains that it’s necessary) and at times repeated percussive sounds from several instruments while another solos. Rapid-fire runs build up to the fullest sound of the evening, before the tension is finally released.

The crowd is on its feet, celebrating a flawless performance from a very talented group of musicians. Don’t miss the chance to see Eishan Ensemble up close at their next gig!

Eishan Ensemble played Venue 505 on Saturday April 30. Find out more about Eishan Ensemble: Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Bandcamp. Their first album Nim Dong was released in late 2018, to critical acclaim. 

RbJ Rating: Five Breathtaking Bass Solos!  

What our ratings mean: 5- Definitely don’t miss this. 4 - You’ll be sorry if you miss this. 3 - If you are not interested in the topic, give it a miss. 2 - You can miss this unless you’re keen. 1 - Definitely on the miss list.