September 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

There were two great shows on in Melbourne last week. Most media covered the AFL’s Grand Final week, from the glitter of the Brownlow on Monday night to the spectacle of the game on Saturday arvo. But between those two events, both temporally and spatially, was an equally glittering and spectacular event from the Aussie Ballet with their latest production of Cinderella.

It’s not often that we get great European choreographers coming to our shores to create a new ballet on our beloved home company, but what Russian Alexei Ratmansky created was out of this world.  And not just because Ratmansky dispensed with rats, mice and pumpkins to include planetary beings as the key to Cinderella’s transformation for the ball. The characterizations of the stepmother and stepsisters were extremely entertaining, as well as the Mary Poppins-esque fairy godmother.  Jerome Kaplan’s costumes and sets were bright and straight out of a fairytale illustrated by Quentin Blake.

This production of Cinderella provided a wonderful showcase for the technical artistry of the Aussie corps de ballet, especially in the ball scene to Prokifiev’s wonderful big waltz. The planets wielding together their magic yielded a gorgeous show piece for a number of soloists and small groups, which left the ballet novice I was sitting with wanting more at half time. The choreography of the pas de deux between Cinders and her Prince were classic and poignant, with lovely moments of  “floating in love” after the slipper fits and the simple yet touching finale. Ratmansky’s 2013 Cinderella for the Aussie Ballet provides joy from beginning to end, for those who love amazing costumes and comedic light-heartedness to those wanting to see great dancers pulling off meaty steps. No wonder it was almost full houses in Melbourne every night of Grand Final week.

7.30 pm, Tuesday 24 September 2013, State Theatre, The Arts Centre.

Best on ground
3 votes – Alexei Ratmansky and Jerome Kaplan for creating such a vivid, entertaining and sumptuous Cinderella on our local talent.
2 votes – Lana Jones in the title role, and Daniel Gaudiello as her Prince. Lovely couple to watch, technically at the top of their game and thoroughly immersed in the storytelling.
1 vote – Amy Harris, Halaina Hills and Robyn Hendricks as the superficial and gormless stepmother and stepsisters. Loved watching Harris, with some of the best extensions in the Aussie Ballet, trying to slowly descend into the splits, as well as Hendricks’ eisteddford-style routine at the ball, and Hills’ rubber facial expressions.
Special mention – The ominous topiary that turned into sinister metronomes with a threatening labyrinth dance at midnight, certainly added to the sense of urgency.

Links: Official Australian Ballet YouTube video and photos of Ratmansky’s Cinderella.

Henry 4

March 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

What is it about Bell Shakespeare that makes me want to take up my quill and tell Melburnians what they are missing? After a 2-year blog-hiatus, I feel it’s time to resume the recording of my connoisseurship.

Although long, the cleaving of Shakespeare’s two Henry IV plays was accomplished successfully in 3 hours. The editing in fact diminished the title role to 3rd place for stage time, and focused more on Falstaff than the fraught father-son relationship of Harry 4 & (soon-to-be) 5. The first half rollicked along with clear distinctions between suits, punks and hi-vis, an entertainingly raucous and incomprehensible entrance by a kilted Scotsman, a poignant and evocative call-to-arms. The second half may have done with some more editing, because although I loved the characterizations of the two reminiscing old-timers (somewhat reminiscent of Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets), there was fidgeting within the audience. These small distractions in the second half may have diminished the power of the “prodigal son” scene near the close. Matthew Moore as Price Hal was perfectly irreverent in the first half, but by the penultimate scene with his dying father it seemed that he was engaging with the words as scripted, instead of the audience.Overall though, this part-history, part-comedy was quite lewd and very entertaining – just as Shakespeare would have liked it!

7.30 pm, Thursday 28 March 2013, The Playhouse, The Arts Centre.

Best on ground
3 votes – David Whitney, as Henry 4, was both powerful and petrified in perfectly equal measure
2 votes – Whoever has to construct the awesome Union Jack out of milk crates every night (and see it destroyed every night)
1 vote – Nathan Lovejoy, for being a suit, Euro tourist, cop and gawky teenager brilliantly.
Special mention – John Bell as Falstaff (though I arrived at the theatre assuming he was going to be playing the title role, for some reason).

Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

July 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

There were so many puffa jackets and high-tech fleeces in the CBD on a school night. Yes, it was that time of year again, when those cool Canadians from the Banff Mountain Film Festival put together a highlights package of the best films entered in their annual outdoors-oriented festival and take it to the world. This is my third BMFF World Tour attendance, but my first in Melbourne, though the crowd looks similar whether you are on Swanston St or in the American States of Disunity or in the big country town that hosts our federal parliament. Most gentleman sport nice work shoes, slacks, one of the aforementioned jacket layers and a #2 haircut, either carried out by themselves or their de facto partner. Unless you were Icebreaker’s promotional
Merino Minotaur, who was only been kept warm by a pair of expensive leggings…

Icebreaker's promotional Merino Minotaur in the foyer of the Capitol Theatre

Don’t get me wrong, I love the lightness and warmth of NZ merino wool, I’m just worried that this mascot may give grown men nightmares.

Anyway, the short films as usual were a bit of a hodge-podge of characters and cultures. And whenever the adrenalin-junkies start philosophizing I wish it were the Banff Silent Film Festival, so the audience could just enjoy the scenery
and the ride without the single sentence mottoes these crazies live by.

The Capitol Theatre, 7pm Wednesday 22nd June

Crowd: Pack full. Mainly outdoorsies types.

Best on ground
3 votes – Clive Neeson for Lost Paradise. A wonderful selection of archival footage and characters causing havoc whilst developing modern adventure sports in NZ.
2 votes – Nick Rosen and Peter Mortimer for spectacular footage of Uli Steck, The Swiss Machine, in his sprint-alpinism.
1 vote – Jemima Robinson for directing the Aussie leg of the festival. And saving the raffle pronouncing people’s scrawled names correctly.
Special mention – Cross Coutry Snowboarding. Very funny. ‘Nuff said.

Much Ado About Nothing

June 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have a confession to make. Knowing two people who have seen the current London production of this classic battle of wits has made this connoisseur just a little jealous. Casting David Tennant, the previous Doctor with his natural Scottish accent, alongside his Dr Who sidekick and star of her own eponymous show, Catherine Tate, in an 80s setting seems like pure theatrical genius to me here in the antipodes.
I suspect my envy led me to chose this play over two other productions on at The Arts Centre on the same evening. I should also confess my soft spot for the Bell Shakespeare company after living in the large country town that plays host to our federal parliament and realising which companies perform outside Melbourne and Sydmey on a regular basis, i.e. more than once a year.
Glad I did chose to go as I was disappointed by the turn out of the Melbourne crowd; the theatre was only about 3/4 full. That didn’t distract from the fabulous performance on display though. The sets were lavish yet simple, evocative and playful. Shakespeare’s analogy of courting love being a sporting contest was highlighted by the darts, billiards and basketball hoop on stage. Although there was no Scottish Doctor or 80s Catherine, or Kenneth Branaugh or Emma Thompson for that matter, in the cast list, the young leads did not disappoint. Blazey Best was wonderful as the initially-cantankerous Beatrice. Pocket rocket is the term that comes to mind as she insulted her way across the stage in her saucy 1940s outfits, which included a slight belt malfunction in the second act as her charater mellowed. Her laconic foil, Toby Schmitz as Benedick, initially seemed a little bit too laid back without a Shakespeare accent for a leading man. But with his Aussie accent and cheeky grin, he made the part his own, wooing the audience at the same time as winning Beatrice’s heart. The only distraction from the wonderful script, set, and acting from the entire troupe was the bright white, ugly shoes that were on the feet of a couple of the female characters.

7.30 pm, Thursday 16 June 2011, The Playhouse, The Arts Centre.

Crowd: Disappointing, only about 3/4 full.

Best on ground
3 votes – Toby Schmitz
2 votes – Blazey Best
1 vote – Max Gillies. After not saying a word in the first act, his comic genius showed through in the second with his portrayal of Dogberry.
Special mention – John Bell, for a lifetime of bringing wonderful Shakespearean productions to the Australian stage.

(Un)seen Sculptures

June 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

When even the tourists know which Melbourne laneways hide the best bars, the locals start watching the streets through their small glowing screens, admiring artwork that no one else can see.

Finding the (Un)seen Sculptures, a mobile augmented reality art show presented by the Australian Centre for Virtual Art, rugged up in wooly coats with a variety of small glowing screens, was a great way to spend a wintery Saturday afternoon. The only other pilgrims on our journey appeared to be a father and daughter in Fed Square, watching jasmine flowers cascading like rain within a birdcage. Between the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Fitzroy Gardens we saw a large chunk of the digital exhibition, that can only be viewed via the Layar Augmented Reality app for small glowing screens. We must have been a sight for passers-by; eyes transfixed on the glowing screen, waiting for the closest artwork to download from a grey dot in the streetscape, following the glowing device like a religious icon whilst moving in curves and swirls to get the best angle, like first-years between Carlton pubs in the first week of March.

Although we weren’t necessarily blown away by some of the artworks, I think we caught a glimpse into the future of installation art and maybe even tourist information.

Notitiaviridae internets

Warren Armstrong's Information Virus, out the front of NGV's water wall

In the streets and public spaces of the City of Melbourne, Saturday 14 May 2011.

Free access available via

Attendance: Extremely low, but it was the opening weekend.

Half-time refreshment: A berry mocktail from Blue Train. As mentioned previously, most prices at my Southgate favourites have increased substantially since I last lived here, but stopping for a refreshing mid-afternoon break out on the sunny and enclosed balcony, experiencing it’s own little greenhouse effect, was well worth it.

Best on ground:

3 votes – Warren Armstrong for the Information Virus in front of NGV’s water wall

2 votes – The origami cranes on the Yarra River, actually called the Sea of Tweets by Mark Skwarek, Tamiko Thiel, John Craig Freeman and Naoko Tosa

1 vote – The Australian Centre for Visual Art for showing Australians the future of art

Special mention – Nathan Shafer’s Australises IX, an aurora australis over the Princes Bridge, which seemed like a strange dark UFO above us in the afternoon sky but could possibly take out BOG honours at night

Overheard during proceedings:

“There’s a big poo above us”

“I’m trying to get inside Captain Cook’s tent”

“I don’t have any POI”

In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play

June 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

The title says it all: this playwright is indecisive. She couldn’t decide which title to run with and she also failed to determine which genre her play belonged to.

The indecisively-named play starts as a farce. Set at the dawn of the electric age, a doctor treats a woman for the age-old malady of hysteria with his new fangled contraption of the eponymous second title. But unfortunately when the playwright turned our attention to the important topic at hand, that of female sexuality and its repression, the audience was too far down the farcical path to deal with emotive monologues and dramatic denouements.

The Sydney Theatre Company production, which the MTC was playing, was sumptuous with cleverly designed sets separating the two parts of the stage and fabulous use of electric light bulbs which provided plenty of novelty for the Victorian era characters. Unfortunately the script was in need of extreme editing as the jumping between light-hearted feats of physical performance, much like the circus, to laboring under the “enlightenment” metaphor which grew flaccid. Jacqueline McKenzie was luminescent as the doctor’s wife, who begins the action stuck in the other room contemplating her husband’s miraculous curing powers. She had wonderful energy, shining all the way back to the nose-bleed section, as she raced about the stage as free-spirit then worrying as new mother. She also kept her American strong and pure throughout the evening, which is better than can be said for some of her fellow players, who seemed to cross the Pacific, Atlantic and the Irish Sea at times.

The Sumner Theatre, 8pm Thursday 19 May 2011

Attendance: Probably 90% full, with a good cross section of 20 to 60-somethings, and similar proportions of male and female.

Before the play: La Camera provided a wonderful oxtail gnocchi. I was a little shocked at the increased prices at some of my old favourite Southgate eateries, but this choice was wonderful, especially if, like me, you enjoy fluffy parcels of potatoes and meat falling off the bone.

Half-time refreshment: A half-melted choc-top. Better than the description implies, though the new foyer at the new MTC Theatre Centre lacks a certain ambiance that the blood red velvet gave to the old half-time area in the Arts Centre. Almost as disappointing as the foyer of the Sydney Opera House Playhouse.

Best on ground:

3 votes – The lighting designer, Harley T. A. Kemp

2 votes – The set and costume designer, Tracey Grant Lord

1 vote – Jacqueline McKenzie, and her dresses

Special mention – The self-playing piano

Overheard after proceedings:

“Well, it seems that women just need a good ****”

“… puerile…”