Viewing entries in
QPAC

Review: Flamenco Fire—Veinte Años

Comment

Review: Flamenco Fire—Veinte Años

As ‘Australia’s only national flamenco company,’ Flamenco Fire has established a strong following over its first twenty years. The team celebrated this milestone in Viente Años—a show that combined highlights from their first two decades of performance with the work of visiting Spanish flamenco artists and the strings of Camerata (Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra). Viente Años premiered at Brisbane’s QPAC Concert Hall on Thursday 26 September, as part of the 2019 Brisbane Festival. It’s a large venue, and the premiere was suitably packed with adoring fans of their work, and of flamenco.

Andrew Veivers (Director, and guitarist) compiled a program that touched on some of the different aspects or styles of flamenco—from the more traditional passionate and focused use of shawls and dresses with trains through to the light-hearted, and almost coquettish, early duet between Francesca ‘La Chica’ Grima and Simone Pope (think ‘two little maids are we’ meets flamenco).

Andrej Vujicic’s percussion was a vital engine for the whole show—particularly when Vujicic joined La Chica and Pope with his mesmerising performance with flamenco walking canes. But this was not the only highlight. Personal favourites from the two-hour program included La Chica’s fabulous bata de cola dance (bathed in suitably passionate red lighting), Simone Pope’s solos (for me, in particular the first solo, when attired in black), and the moments when Olayo Jiménez took to centre stage. I may not have understood a word that Jiménez sang, but the expressive vocal work by this renowned flamenco singer was compelling, and his opening solo was virtually a show-stopper (prompting one of his occasional flashes of an almost cheeky smile). But all of the performers had their moment to shine—including the crowd-pleasing second-half performance by Fernando Mira, with an extended masterclass of  thunderous and highly-controlled flamenco dancing.

 
IMG_9163.jpg
IMG_9170.jpg
IMG_9166.jpg

My previous, limited, experience of flamenco has been in smaller bars and theatres in Spain, giving the opportunity to be much closer to the passionate and focused interactions between dancers, singer and musicians. The QPAC Concert Hall is a large venue, so including Camerata was a sensible choice, but I am sure the show would work equally well in a smaller space and just with the cantaor, dancers (ideally with an additional male dancer), percussionist, and guitarists—perhaps creating the opportunity to hear more from the two guitarists during the evening if a chamber orchestra is not included in a program (Veivers was joined by the equally-talented Kieren Ray). And although the lighting was suitably colourful, it was often better when not churning through all of the colours of the LED rainbow.

But a large following means a large venue is needed for major celebrations—as demonstrated by the very few empty seats in the QPAC Concert Hall. The evening ended with the audience erupting into a standing ovation.  A suitably passionate response to a triumphant celebration of the art of flamenco that will have pleased long-standing friends and attracted many new followers.

Verdict: Look out for Flamenco Fire—particularly if you can find them in a more intimate venue.

Audience notes: 120 minutes, plus 20 minute interval. All ages. Limited haze effects. There was only one performance during the 2019 Brisbane Festival 26 September 2019, 7:30pm. QPAC Concert Hall tickets were $69-$89 (plus booking fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 26 September 2019 performance (7:30pm).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Comment

Review: Trevor Ashley’s Double Ds: Two Decades of Divadom

Comment

Review: Trevor Ashley’s Double Ds: Two Decades of Divadom

A lot of fun is clearly had by all, during the time spent waiting for the next cue during some major musicals. The first half of Trevor Ashley’s Double Ds: Two Decades of Divadom gave the QPAC audience the chance to feel as if they were waiting in the changing room with Ashley: enjoying anecdotes about 20 years in ‘the business,’ hearing about auditions won and loves lost, and admiring the stamina of an artist who has had leading roles in shows that have run for many, many hundreds of performances.

Peppered with songs from musical theatre roles that Ashley has made uniquely his own (although not, sadly, Jesus Christ Superstar’s Herod on this occasion), the first half was an enjoyable run through a stellar career on the Australian musical stage. Highlights included songs from Priscilla, the Les Mis ‘Master of the House’, and a Hairspray duet with Jaz Flowers which really entertained.  

But it was the second half of the show where Ashley really shone. Liza Minnelli, Cher, Eartha Kitt, Whitney Houston and the magnificent Tina Turner were ‘recreated’ as only an Australian Diva Hall of Fame inductee could.  I just wish I’d had the chance to see Diamonds Are For Trevor, as the Shirley Bassey tribute was just fabulous—entertaining mimicry (that curling Welsh top lip!) combined with the power of the Ashley voice (and that frock!).

Picture: Trevor Ashley’s Shirley Bassey. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Trevor Ashley’s Shirley Bassey. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Great to see that the 2019 Brisbane Festival did not stint on the budget. Suitably fabulous lighting (Peter Rubie) established a Las Vegas headlining vibe, and James Simpson (Musical Director, piano and backing vocals) and his 10-piece band were a great choice for this musical event. Although perhaps, on occasion, the sound balance needed to be adjusted in favour of the vocalist, particularly in the first half (and for Flower’s second-half number).

The final encore number, Gloria Gaynor’s “I am what I am,” was of course a perfect finale for an enjoyable Show. But it was the Shirley Bassey “I know what love is” that was the high-point of my evening (or was it “Master of the House,” the Turner “What’s love got to do with it?”,or the Kitt “Champagne Taste”?). Choices, choices… a fun reflection on 20-years-and-counting of Divadom.

Verdict: A fun evening. Particularly if you enjoy diva power and/or musical theatre entertainment.

Audience notes: 18+ (coarse language, sexual references, and adult themes). 120 minutes (plus interval). A the 2019 Brisbane Festival QPAC Concert Hall show (13 September 2019), tickets were $57-67 (plus booking fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 13 September 2019 performance (8pm). A shorter version of this review is available at the IMHO website.

Picture: Trevor Ashley’s Gloria Gaynor “I am what I am” encore. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: Trevor Ashley’s Gloria Gaynor “I am what I am” encore. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictures from the audience credit: Creative Futures Photography

Comment

Review: SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill

Comment

Review: SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill

If the preview night performance of SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill is anything to go by, the 2019 Brisbane Festival is going to be very special. But you have to get in quick, as many of the shows have short runs. SS Mendi closes on Saturday night; so book your ticket now, and then read on to discover why.

SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill is an unsettling tale of a major accident at sea, which happened less than five years after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. In January 1917, 646 people died in the English Channel, following a collision between two ships. Drawing on Fred Khumalo’s novel, the cast of fourteen tell this ‘hidden’ story of the 823 men who were selected for the voyage as a lament for the loss of the 646 souls. And we can all question whether the relative lack of interest in this story has been because, unlike the Titanic, Mendi’s passengers were black South African volunteers, who were travelling to support the Allied forces in France.

Pictured: Brisbane Festival publicity posters, lighting up the city.

Pictured: Brisbane Festival publicity posters, lighting up the city.

Much of the story focuses on the way in which the disparate group, of many tribal backgrounds, were disciplined. Drills are an important method used to train soldiers. The repetition of set movements, under strict instruction and to set timing, are a means of establishing control—shaping individuals into an army or coherent whole. Fred Khumalo’s Dancing the Death Drill—the novel that inspired the show—draws on an oral tradition that Reverend Isaac Wauchope Dyobha, a chaplain on the ship, called the drowning men to attention saying, “Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death.”

Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble has created a powerful theatrical experience, introduced as “our lament for the souls of the dead, to bring them peace.” It is not only a lament, but a piece that challenges the white-washing of cultural memory, and is a production that inspires and entertains. Led by Music Director Mandisi Dyantysis (who also plays Dyobha), and under the direction of Mark Dornford-May, it is a theatrical tour-de-force that blends a variety of musical styles, from the operatic through to Township music—and includes a sea shanty, Gilbert and Sullivan-style operetta, and a traditional Irish ballad. The cast are narrators (often speaking directly to the audience), foley artists (watch for the sounds created for the burial at sea), actors, singers and musicians. And very fine musicians and vocalists they are too—from drumming on the set, through to performing a riveting vocal range. The QPAC stage rings to some very powerful voices as they perform the rigid, and often-restrained, European music—and almost explodes with the joy of the vibrant Township performances.

The SS Mendi story is much less familiar than that of Titanic, but has many powerful lessons for 2019 Australian audiences. Over one hundred years ago, the Master of the destructive cargo ship received a mere one-year suspension of his licence, despite having caused the disaster and failed to rescue any survivors. After the on-stage representation of this ‘whitewashing’, the play draws to a close with the entreaty “not to hate the man, just hate the system that made him.”  This theatrical event—what the Isango Ensemble describes as a ‘dance for truth’—encourages audiences from all countries to question the whitewashing of their own histories, and to seek out other stories from their own country.

Go if you want a thought-provoking theatrical experience. Look out for the superb portrayal of the Ship itself, relish the moments of humour, revel in some fantastic marimba music, and enjoy the dancing. The spine-chilling harmonies, and superb vocal work by this fantastic cast are unmissable. You’ll be pleased you bought that ticket before it sells out.

 Verdict: Not to be missed: spine-chilling song, great humour, wonderful dance moves, and a story that speaks to Australian audiences.

Audience tip: Book a ticket while you can—only 4 performances during the 2019 Brisbane Festival (5-7 September, 7:30pm each evening plus 1:30pm on 7 September only). 85 minutes. 15+ adult themes (suicide and death references), and limited smoke haze. Tickets are $49-$65 (plus booking fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 5 September 2019 preview (7:30pm).

Picture credits: Creative Futures Photography (note: images include a picture of a Brisbane Festival poster [design and image created by Brisbane Festival])

Comment

Review: En Masse

Comment

Review: En Masse

Preconceptions can be a big challenge—for performers and audience alike. En Masse was arguably the most heavily-promoted of the 2018 Brisbane Festival events. A featured world premiere, an image of a Circa artiste looks out from the front cover of the main ‘BrisFest’ brochure: a female performer suspended from silk/ropes, dressed in red with one foot arched back behind her head. The website gallery also includes an image of performers suspended from ropes, and the program information categorises the performance as ‘circus, music, theatre.’ I suggest it would have been more accurate to categorise this as opera, music, acrobatics-meets-dance—and exclude any images of the non-existent ropes. But perhaps that is the challenge of preparing publicity material while a work is still in development?

The Circa performers are world-class. During the 80-minute show we were treated to an impressive display of strength, tumbling, and movement. The You Tube link from the Festival website  demonstrates some of their exceptional strength, with impressive lifts (watch for the male performer who holds two female colleagues while standing on the shoulders of another male), jumps (I don’t think I’d have stood quite so still while colleagues was thrown, or jumped, over my head!) and balance (a woman standing on one leg on the head of a performer who is held on the shoulders of another colleague).

Robert Murray has a mellifluous tenor voice—perfect for songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (‘Winter Journey’) and Schwanengesang (‘Swan Song’). Murray’s performance was my personal highlight of the evening (unexpected for me as I don’t have opera at the top of my own list of art forms). The Schubert songs were selected by the director (Yaron Lifschitz) as the music for the ‘end of the world’ first half of the program—interspersed with electronic original music (Klara Lewis), which often prompted jerky movements from the Circa team. In addition, it is always nice to have two grand pianos together on any stage, with compelling work by Tamara-Anna Cislowska & Michael Kieran Harvey. But I must admit to preferring hearing the full orchestra when listening to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

However, together the event was not what I expected from reading the festival brochure and buying my ticket. No anticipated veering between ‘anarchic energy and exquisite loss,’ and I did not come away with the impression of two different ‘visions of humanity.’ En Masse can be translated as a lot, together, or collectively. Separately, great performances. We certainly saw a lot. But all together—I’ll leave for you to decide, if you get to see it...

If I were to go again, at least I’d be better prepared.

Verdict: Individually impressive. All together? not for me.   

Audience Notes: En Messe has 4 performances in the 2018 Brisbane Festival (19-21 September, 7;30pm). Tickets $40-$65 (plus booking fee). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Wednesday 19th September 2018 world premiere performance (7:30pm).

 

 

 

Comment