Saturday, 27 January 2018

KIllJoy: Destroy The Fantasy - Cabaret Review

What: KillJoy - Destroy The Fantasy
When: 24 January - 3 February 2018
Where: Melba Spiegeltent
Created by: Mahla Bird, Amy Broomstick, and Cat Scobie
Directed by: Maude Davey
Performed by: Mahla Bird, Amy Broomstick, Rin McCardle, Zak Pidd, Cat Scobie, and Jade Stevens

Cat Scobie, Mahla Bird and Amy Broomstick - photo by Kira Puru
Ladies, this is our time. We are no longer sitting in the kitchen ironing whilst the big strong men are out earning our keep. We are taking up our space in the community - the whole community. So why the heck are shows like KillJoy - Destroy the Fantasy still considered Fringe?

In the iconic tradition of artists such as Finucane & Smith, KillJoy is a trio of smart, sexy, talented people who deny a binary existence and are loud and proud about it.  They have a vision for tomorrow and it is a vision of freedom for all humanity. The catch? You have to tear up the old notions, systems and establishments to bring in the new.

I find it intriguing how feminism is leading the charge into a non-binary world and yet on some meta level it makes so much sense. The feminine as accepting, nurturing, and fertile has been the understanding of all ancient polytheistic religions.

Enough philosophy. Let's get down to the fun stuff. KillJoy - Destroy the Fantasy is a roller coaster ride of magnificence, beauty, pain, despair and triumph all in jam packed hour and half.

Cat Scobie starts the show with a killer entrance as the little boy in Where The Wild Things Are. Singing to the musical accompaniment of the grittiest femme punk grunge band around (Zak Pidd, Rin McCardle and Jade Stevens), she takes us straight into the belly of the beast. Cobie's background includes a formal education in design so you know everything in this show is presented to delight all your senses, but most especially your eyes and ears.

The rest of the cast join her for that iconic deconstruction of party girls after a night on the town. Drunk and lying in the gutter with their knickers everywhere but where they ought to be, they take us on little vignettes into the night before where they were having a good time, disturbing nobody, only to be brought down by misogynist dickheads who yell shit like 'Take the compliment you stuck up bitch' and other endearing phrases.

The show is full of amazing circus arts and fun and furious burlesque and exposition. Mahla Bird is an aerialist and her trapeze and silks routines are elegant and eloquent as she gets tangled and tumbles only to recover and start again and again. A metaphor we all understand. To put a full-stop behind the non-binary aspect of life not only is Bird a athlete and artist, she is also sexy and smart. A researcher in the field of neuro-science, Bird brings her finding to stage examining the gender biases from the moment of birth in her act 'Is This All There Is?'

Scobie and Bird also deny and defy the idea of strength as masculine in their insanely difficult acrobatic duet. There is no strongman in this routine. They are both equals and the struggle is that of supporting each other, not one or the other.

Amy Broomstick is a talented burlesque artist who brings a witty and disturbing image of femininity to the stage as she learns how to be a woman. As well, she and Scobie bring their formidable vocal talents to the evening's entertainment. The band is phenomenal so when I say the singers are up to the challenge this is not a light compliment. There used to be a belief that only men could bring that driving, hardcore sound to music but move aside patriarchs - femme is here and  it is going to be heard!

For those who like a light snack with their evening's entertainment, there is candy for all with the help of the audience and a piƱata. But is the candy for everyone? Find out. Come to KillJoy - Destroy The Fantasy at Melba Spiegeltent. You will leave feeling energised, loved, and a part of the future rather than an outdated past.

4.5 Stars

Friday, 26 January 2018

Bent Bollywood - Dance Review

What: Bent Bollywood
When: 25 January - 3 February 2018
Where: Brunswick Mechanics Institute
Choreographed and performed by: Raina Peterson and Govind Pillai
Sound by: Adrian van Raay

Govind Pillai and Raina Peterson
In 2015 I was honoured to witness a glorious demonstration of classical Indian dance at the Footscray Arts Centre called In Plain Sanskrit. At the time I was mesmerised as Raina Peterson, Govind Pillai and a Carnatic orchestra introduced me to the ideas, techniques, and beauty of the traditional dance forms of Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam. Little did I know less than three years later I would be once again enchanted and inspired by these two magical performers as they combine their honour of tradition whilst breaking down the tropes to be reinterpreted in a new world in Bent Bollywood.

Performed as part of Midsumma Festival and in the wake of the plebiscite and all that has followed, these two amazing artists bring us the apt and essential reintroduction of Sri Ardhanaareeshvara to our emerging non-binary culture. Even more significant than the idea of the work, we are privileged to be told the tale through the mind, body and spirit of Peterson - the living embodiment of Shiva and Pravati. The god / ess walks among us as the stories are woven by these two magnificent dancers.

Sri Ardhanaareeshvara is portrayed visually in a few different forms, and the evening starts with probably the most famous - as the 8 armed figure. A common representation in dance, the lighting denies us the face so what we see are two bodies with arms weaving and intertwining as one, denying and defying individuality and separation.

We are then witness to the living god /ess as Peterson comes forward for their solo piece layered steeply in the tradition of the Mohiniyattam form. Delicate, narrative hand and arm gestures combine with fluid body movements depicting another popular form for the deity - being bent in three parts. The sinuous, graceful movements, never wavering from the tempo of the drone, hypnotise as they talk to us about wholeness and unity. Most people unfamiliar to the culture may not recognise the symbolism of the choreography but the divine beauty is undeniable and we can all recognise the third eye, as Peterson / Sri Ardhanaareeshvara allows us perception beyond ordinary sight.

As with their previous show, Peterson and Pillau structure the evening to begin deep in traditional form and element, gently ripping away - piece by piece - the tropes to reinterpret the concepts of male / female, yin / yang, revealing the myth of the binary in nature and spirit. The reverence of the deity in tradition gives way to the embodiment of today.

Pillau delights us with not only his incredibly athleticism and artistry as a dancer, but also with wit and humour as he begins a love story which will carry us through the rest of the evening. Using the techniques of Bharatanatyam (a traditional female dance form) he uses of hand and face gestures to tell his tale of adoration clearly and whimsically - and just a tad naughtily too!

Pillau and Peterson have structured the array of dances within the context of the the form as well, including the Nritta, Nritya, and Natyam. To experience Bent Bollywood is to experience the divine and the carnal, the spiritual and the emotional. It has everything and more including all the sparkles and spangles, lust and love, and fun and fabulousness of what you might look for in a Midsumma show.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to make you way to Brunswick Mechanics Institute to see these two mind blowing artists open up the world for you with the sweetness of nectar and the spiciness of cinnamon. It is bent. It is Bollywood. It is so much more!

4.5 Stars

Friday, 19 January 2018

Twelfth Night - Theatre Review

What: Twelfth Night
When 18 - 28 January 2018
Where: Fairfield Amphitheatre
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jack Wilkinson
Performed by: Jack Hawkins, Vincent Kos, Grace Maddern, Laura Majzoub, Jake Matricardi, Jacob Mills, Tim Ian McMullin, Joel Norman-Hade, Madeline Pratt, Sean Sully, and Chloe Towan.
Masks by: Tessa Wallis

Madeline Pratt, Laura Majzoub, and Joel Norman-Hade - photo by Matthew Howat
The first time I ever saw Twelfth Night it was in an amphitheatre in Perth on a glorious summer evening. To this day I still remember it as one of the best shows I have ever seen. You can imagine how delighted and excited I was to be invited to the same show in another amphitheatre on a rare hot and glorious evening in Melbourne.

I wasn't disappointed. I love Twelfth Night. It is my favourite Shakespeare comedy and people don't perform it nearly often enough. Add to this, Commedia dell'Arte and I was in an ecstasy of theatre perfection. Finally, in GJ Productions we find a theatre troupe willing to explore the history of theatre making and bring it into the 21st century, overcoming the tedium of realism and breathing life back onto the stage.

Whilst it is true the ensemble need some training in mask work, the thing most of them understood was the need for zalli or gestus - the overacting of the body to portray the expression lost behind the mask. On that score there were some hilarious and unexpected character interpretations.

Pratt's Maria was pure Commedia from head to toe, and Mills' Aguecheek took me completely by surprise and the ponsy, ocker, nebbish. His sword fight with Cesario (Towan) is one of the gales of laughter highlights of the night. McMullin's Malvolio is also uproariously gross and sleazy and almost steals the show at some points.

Whilst perhaps not having the physicality down as pat, Sully's (Clown) delivery of some of the sharpest Shakespearean puns is beyond compare. Add to that his skills with music and a guitar and he brings this whole crazy world into focus. Norman-Hade's (Belch) lush is also as lovable as he is funny and Matricardi (Antonio) is as adorable as he is doleful.

Wallis' masks are quite astounding in their detailed design and nuanced interpretation within the characters of both the Shakespearean and the Commedia realms. It is quite astounding how well the Illyrians fit the societal structure of Commedia - or maybe it is the true universality of Commedia which has been allowed to shine through in this production.

It is clear Wilkinson is still quite inexperienced as a director but he does keep the staging clean. He needs to develop understanding and skill in the development of pace and intensity across the narrative arc. All of the fantastic work done throughout the evening was almost destroyed as the play's climax fell into a stuttering abyss. Luckily the show ends in a song and Sully drags the show back up on it's haunches with a rousing finale.

I am not saying this production is perfect and the direction becomes quite predictable, but there is something about the energy and enjoyment this cast bring to their shenanigans which makes an evening by the river, swatting insects and sitting on a blue stone seating bank really enjoyable. You can't get this experience in a stuffy, black, prison theatre such as those where the bulk of our arts funding seems to be invested.

Take someone you like, a picnic basket, some cushions, and lots of bug spray and settle in for a night of fun for everyone. Yes, this is kid friendly. If you can't get them to sleep because of the heat let them relax and cool down by the river. The only disappointment is the Fairfield Amphitheatre is not an accessible venue because everyone should be able to enjoy this experience.

3.5 Stars