Tag: Melbourne Festival

Melbourne Festival 2017: TREE OF CODES

Frenzy and reflection

By Myron My

When choreographer Wayne McGregor, composer Jamie XX, and visual artist Olafur Eliasson come together for a new contemporary dance production, expectations are high. Taking inspiration from Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2010 book Tree of Codes, this production of the same name is a stunning collaboration of movement, lighting, sound, and stage design.

Tree of Codes.jpg

Interestingly, Foer’s book was inspired by another book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories of a merchant family in a small town. Schulz story is full of metaphors, mythology and a blurring of fantasy and reality, and for his book, Foer cut out a large number of words and sentences from Schulz’s stories and re-arranged them to form new stories and ideas. Even the title itself is made up of the letters from Schulz’s book title.

McGregor’s Tree of Codes also uses the idea of imagination and truth, and it begins with a gorgeous opening sequence performed in total darkness with lights attached to the costumes of the dancer as they move their bodies like they were floating balls of light. Along with Jamie XX’s electronic pulsing beats, there’s a sense of a new beginning and mysticism, of some kind of awakening that is about to occur, and that is exactly what we get.

In true McGregor-style, the fourteen dancers are pushed to extremes in a complex and frenetic choreography with bodies constantly moving. The music and visual designs including rotating set pieces and mirrored walls are a feast for the senses, and together create the perfect duality of dreaming and reality, of being and of the metaphysical.

Seated on an aisle and not having the best sightlines for this specific production, the impact of the kaleidoscopic images on stage was not able to be appreciated to its fullest, but it was enough to give an understanding of what was trying to be achieved. The numerous reflections of the dancers on stage highlight time passing by and moving on. At times, the audience itself is reflected onto the stage via the mirrored set pieces, blurring the line between passive viewer of “life” and active participant and asking you to consider your own life and the choices you’ve made.

While there is much to be fascinated and awed by with Tree of Codes, at 75 minutes long I feel the work is stretched too thin as it moves towards its conclusion. Keeping the show around the 60-minute mark could have allowed the intensity of the performances and the effects of the design to remain fresh, with the images constructed on stage and those created in our minds being appreciated to their fullest.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 21 October | Fri – Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm
Tickets: Full $69 – $219 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents LAURA MARLING

Warm and winning performance from young international artist

By Jessica Cornish

Draped in plain black linen and hugging an acoustic guitar, award-winning UK artist Laura Marling performed in the beautiful Hamer Hall as a part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival. Her stunning warm vocals filled the venue, complemented by her unobtrusive band mates upstage in the speckled light.

Laura Marling

The night began with a barrage of some of her more intense songs all in minor keys, and these were augmented by the stunning movement and colour splashed across the stage from the clever lighting design. All evening the lighting was vibrant and energetic, constantly changing and employing interesting lighting angles and looks or incorporating use of silhouettes and shadows.

Reminiscent of an intuitive storyteller rather than a mere folk performer, Marling’s songs have a genuine nature and often seem open-ended, never allowing us to predict when they will end, before we experience the sudden abruptness of silence. In between songs she was quietly spoken, and preferred to let her songs speak for themselves rather than explaining how they came to be or what inspired what particular composition.

She performed a catalogue of her more well-known pieces including my personal favourite “Ghost” (though she somehow managed to stumble on the words!) Laura charmingly explained afterwards she was distracted as she was trying desperately not to accidentally sing ‘shat’, which can sometimes amalgamates from the words ‘hat’ and ‘sat’ in the lyrics. She also professed Dolly Parton was a hero of hers (good taste, I have to say) and performed a wonderful cover of ‘Do I ever cross your mind?’ while impressing the audience with her new finger-picking technique, which specifically required the growth of her mutant right thumb nail.

Sometimes the lyrics were a little bit lost in the mix, but her vocal quality was continuously stunning. She has a rich, warm tone that sat nicely above the twangy acoustic guitars, and was a constant pleasure to watch and hear. If she ever comes back to Australia, I will be excited to see what this young British modern folk singer will then have in store.


Image by Deirdre O’Callaghan

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents KATIE NOONAN’S VANGUARD

Evocative, experimental and enthralling

By Jessica Cornish

Kicking off her 2015 national tour promoting her latest crowd-funded record, Katie Noonan performed last weekend at Melbourne Festival’s Foxtel Hub. Back to her roots and travelling with trio of talented band mates Stu Hunter (keys), Declan Kelly (drummer), and Peter Koopman (guitarist), now known as Vanguard,  Noonan and her musicians performed a beautiful late-night set in the heart of Melbourne.

Katie Noonan

Armed with her percussive wooden cylinder, drum sticks, keyboard and an array of gaudy silver-animal bling, she belted out a mix of originals from her latest album Transmutant and some older songs such as ‘Sweet One’ written with world-famous artist Sia when they were both living in L.A. a decade ago, struggling with the image-obsessed and at times brutal music industry, and realising that they were part of each other’s strongest support networks.

It was definitely not your typical pop set – or even jazz for that matter, and I couldn’t even hum you back any melody featured in her songs. I think her works are best described as a mix of electronic pop-like ballads, incorporating many different textures of sounds and rhythm using synthesisers and pedal effects. At times the songs seemed to drift aimlessly with no real sense of purpose or direction and on reflection many of the songs seemed similar and merged into each other. However all her songs appeared to be of a highly personal nature and were reflections on those close to her life. She expressed her love for her two sons and their ability to find joy in daily life, and her distress dealing with the grief of the steady deterioration of her father’s health. Noonan’s voice is definitely a highlight of the performance, truly a stunning instrument and as perfect as any polished recording you could hear playing. She has a breathy, yet gutsy voice gliding in to her higher vocal range, so ultimately her songs trap you in the moment, and left me listening intently to every word and note she produced. To be honest it was hard to concentrate on anything else that was going on, including the funky LED-panelled backdrop and flashing lights.

Through out the evening Katie was incredibly engaging and honest with us as her audience. The night seemed more like a cabaret, providing insight in to the singer’s life and the people who surround her in everyday situations. She took the time to explain the backstory to all her songs (and I even learnt that the German super market ALDI never play music in their stores because they don’t want to pay licencing fees). That tale of continuous silence was even the springboard for another one of Katie’s latest musical creations featured in the hub that evening. Her interaction with her band mates was also really genuine and their close rapport was really nice to watch, as so often musicians go unnoticed by their well-known vocalists. She even performed a song she had written as a wedding gift for Hunter.

The Foxtel Hub was a great venue, it was intimate, had a punchy lighting rig and really clear, high quality sound. It was a real treat to see such an iconic Australian performer as part of the Melbourne Festival, and to top it off, while waiting for the doors to open, my Dad and I were inundated with complimentary alcohol and food tastings from local Melbourne restaurants. A lovely night out in all.


REVIEW: Batsheva Dance Company Presents DECADANCE

Startlingly unexpected

By Narelle Wood

It was clear from even before the show began that Batsheva was no ordinary dance company and this was going to be no ordinary performance. Company member Shamel Pitts was tasked with entertaining the audience before the curtain was raised, before being joined by fellow performers in a remarkable opening number of unique movement and style.


Decadance for the 2015 Melbourne Festival was like no other style of dance I’ve seen. The music selection was eclectic with pieces ranging from Dean Martin, Vivaldi, The Beach Boys and a traditional folk song “Echad mi Yodea”. The dancers often performing intricate canons that slowly built until, just when you thought you knew what was coming next, would take the dance, and often the emotion, in a completely different direction.

It was, as described by the women sitting next to me, an emotional rollercoaster, the mood changing from broodiness to something more light-hearted within a couple of movements. I found their pieces to be both challenging, witty, inspirational, intriguing and most of all joyous. I’m generally not a fan of audience participation, but on this occasion the whole theatre seemed to come alive with enthusiasm, in a celebration of dance. The performance was complimented by such clever and simple use of lighting (Gadi Glik) and wardrobe (Ofer Amram and Maya Avi). At one point, , through the use of the dark backdrop, black suits and some low level lighting, it seemed as though the dancers emerged from nowhere.

Ohad Naharin’s choreography is powerful and intriguing; both the movement and use of music is generally not what you expect. Sometimes it is simplistic and repetitive and at other times there are so many different movements and shapes it is hard to know where to look. But that might be the genius of Naharin’s work, no matter how complex it is, the elements don’t seem to compete, instead perfectly complement each other to tell the most interesting stories.

Decadance was the complex expression of genius at work. I can’t pinpoint why I found it completely enthralling, only that I did, and that when I left I knew I needed to see more. It is contemporary dance in a style and league all of its own.

Venue: State Theatre
Season: 17th and 18th of October (Batsheva presents Last Work)
Details: http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/dance/last-work

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents 32 RUE VANDENBRANDEN

Suspended in isolation

By Myron My

Performed as part of this year’s Melbourne Festival, Peeping Tom return to Australia with 32 Rue Vandenbranden which explores the isolation and loneliness that a group of people feel through the company’s trademark fusion of dance, physical theatre and music.

32 Rue Vandenbranden

The stage design, which is how the Belgian company begins developing a new creation, perfectly encapsulates the emotional state of its inhabitants. High on a mountain-top, underneath an endless sky, sit three rickety caravans. The ground is covered in snow and there is an immediate sense of remoteness and desolation. The emotive sound composition by Juan Carlos Tolosa and Glenn Vervliet strongly adds to the feelings that the characters are experiencing, while mezzo-soprano Eurudike De Beul‘s musical moments in the show are an aural delight for the audience.

There are some beautifully choreographed moments in 32 Rue Vandenbranden including the opening performance between Jos Baker and Maria Carolina Vieira. Their subsequent duets are mesmerising to watch, as their bodies intertwine with apparent ease in equal displays of frustration and desire to connect with another human.

However, there is still a strong emotional disconnect between what is occurring on stage and what the audience is feeling. The stories that are being told and the character motivation for the movements in the piece unfortunately do not translate well, and along with the constant change in the tone and mood and beyond the stage snow, the show left me feeling quite emotionally cold.

Overall, the individual elements in 32 Rue Vandenbranden, such as the set design, the music and the performances, show the loneliness and hope that people experience in their attempts to connect with and build relationships with people. Ironically, it is this success with the aforementioned aspects that is also its undoing, resulting in a distinct lack of story and heart to the show and an unemotional response from its audience. Perhaps this disconnect is deliberately the work’s ultimate message.

32 Rue Vandenbranden was performed between 8 – 11 October at Southbank Theatre.

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents BABYLON CIRCUS

Dance music explosion

By Narelle Wood

Babylon Circus was a little late in kicking off thanks to Melbourne’s stormy weather, but when it did the elements were just as wild inside the venue as they were out.

Babylon Circus

It’s hard to classify the genre of Babylon Circus; they are French Ska (think big band meets punk) with rock, French, gypsy, Israeli, Reggae, Dixie Jazz and slightly heavier punk, influences. The band itself is a 10-piece ensemble that includes all your regular instruments with a piano accordionist, and some brass and woodwind thrown in. For the most part the music is upbeat and extremely boppy, the constant vigorous bounce by the fans in the audience was a testament to that.

The first three or four songs were fantastic and all of the solos showcased the immense musical talent within the band. Unfortunately the beginning was also marred by some sound issues, which did make it hard to hear all the different instruments at times. Most of the songs were sung in a combination of French and English, and as my French is non-existent and the sound was very large, I found it difficult to work out what they were singing about.

As result of not being able to work out the songs, and also due to so much going on on stage, I found that by about half way through the set, things for me started to sound very much the same – though it was clear from the still bounding audience I was probably in the minority. The only other thing that I struggled with was the lighting; it was really cool and matched the high energy on stage, the problem was there was a lot for such a small space and I was still seeing lights in front of my eyes after I left the venue.

While some of Babylon Circus’s music probably won’t make my play list, there were some pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was also really refreshing to hear a group that so cleverly mixed together a whole range of musical influences to produce a unique perspective on the Ska genre: I would have liked more of that.

Despite my reservations towards some of their music, I couldn’t help but tap my foot and get caught up in the enthusiasm and energy of both the band and the crowd. Babylon Circus knows how to have a good time on stage and that is completely infectious. Their run at the 2015 Melbourne Festival was one night only, but if you like the sound of a melting pot of musical genres that makes you want to dance, be sure to catch them next time they’re in town.

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents LIMBO

Circus with flare

By Myron My

Presented as part of the 2015 Melbourne FestivalLimbo is an exhilarating blend of circus, acrobatics and cabaret that will have audiences speechless and leave them wanting much much more. With a strong nod to the 1920s and performed in a Spiegeltent, Limbo transports its audience into a seedy underworld of no barriers or rules, a place where everyone can come and play, no matter what your tastes and likes may be.


Its international cast ensures that they have the best of the best in its skilled performers including fire-breather sword-swallower Heather Holliday who at one point literally has the stage in flames and the near-impossible contortionist act by Tigris. Other highlights include Danic Abishev‘s hand-balancing act and Mikael Bres‘ Chinese pole act, which left audiences gasping throughout.

There is a great sense of play and cheekiness coming from the performers, which adds to the excitement of Limbo. While they are clearly focused and very careful in what they do, they never let this emotion show and except for one of two moments, you can never actually tell if anything doesn’t quite go according to plan.

The interludes between acts are well thought-out that not only assist with the set up of the next act but allow the audience to catch their breath and compose themselves from the excitement they’ve just witnessed. Scott Maidment has directed a very tight show that has no unnecessary lulls among the incredibly highs of watching these talented people creating intense and jaw-dropping acts with their bodies.

Sxip Shirey‘s live score – including some brilliant beat-boxing by Bres – is a great accompaniment to the acts. The music and the performances come together in unison, to the point where the movements of the acts are in perfect sync with the beats and rhythms of the music.

The charisma and genuine playful nature of the performers ensures that Limbo is an intense yet highly enjoyable experience. There are a number of “need to be seen to be believed” acts that will have you exiting the Spiegeltent in awe and wonderment of what has just been witnessed.

Venue: Spiegeltent, South bank of Yarra River, east of Princes Bridge.

Season: Until 1 November | Tues-Sat 8pm, Sat 3pm, Sun 7pm.

Tickets: $35 – $69

Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Image by Tony Virgo

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents THE LONDON HAYDN QUARTET


By Narelle Wood

It has taken three years for the Melbourne Festival to complete its ambitious undertaking of performing all 68 quartets composed by Franz Joseph Haydn. As part of this plan The London Haydn Quartet In their Melbourne debut contributed an astounding performance of three of Haydn’s string quartets (No 17 Op 17 No 2, No 37 Op 50 No 2 and No 3 Op 54 No3).

The London Haydn Quartet

It would be easy, at first glance, to mistake this sort of performance as simplistic; there is after all only a stage, the four musicians and some lights. But the simplicity of the surrounds only highlights the complexity of the music and the attention to detail in what can only be described as an incredibly nuanced performance of Haydn’s works. The intricate composition of Haydn’s music moves from moments of quiet almost stillness to furious duelling as the four string instruments answer and talk to and over each other in the most animated musical conversations.

Catherine Manson (violin), Michael Gurevich (violin), James Bord (viola) and Jonathan Manson (cello) make up the quartet and are as every bit as animated as the music. It was clear from both their performance and the brief moments Manson spoke that Haydn is their passion; Manson describing their dedication to Haydn’s works as something akin to dwelling in the unique musical universes that Haydn created. What was perhaps even more evident though was the mastery that these four musicians exhibited, especially in the ways they seamlessly moved through the pieces, each instrument and musician perfectly connecting to each of the others.

The music was beautiful and I found it to be an extremely relaxing and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend some time on a Friday evening. The only disappointing thing was that it was over so quickly. But the good news is the Haydn for Everyone Series does continue throughout the Melbourne Festival. If you can, make sure to catch The London Haydn Quartet next time they visit for a remarkable classical music experience.

Haydn for Everyone Series

Venue: Various locations and times. See website for details
Season: Until 25th October
Bookings: www.festival.melbourne

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents BRONX GOTHIC

She is mesmerising

By Christine Young

Bronx Gothic is a deeply personal performance that is captivating from the outset. In a quiet corner of the stage, which is shrouded by a curtain, Okwui Okpokwasili shakes her butt for the longest time. All the while, her shadow lurks on the curtain and becomes a character in its own right. It’s spellbinding.

Bronx Gothic

The spell is broken with the clamour of a big city soundscape crashing in and Okpokwasili’s body mirrors the traffic, voices and general hullabaloo of the street. This is the world of her younger self growing up in the Bronx, New York City, during the 1980s. Throughout the performance, the music and other sounds enter Okpokwasili’s body at an invisible point and subtly seep out in her lithe movements.

With the scene of her childhood set, Okpokwasili approaches the microphone and picks up a pile of handwritten notes she passed with her unnamed best friend when they were eleven years old. These notes contain a disturbing dialogue of innocence lost with Okpokwasili’s friend revealing a knowledge of sexual activity beyond her years. They are notes that haunt and follow Okpokwasili into adulthood with the realisation that her friend was probably being sexually abused.
Bronx Gothic is richly symbolic and filled with juxtapositions of light and shade; the public and the private; love and hate; perceived beauty and ugliness; and fear and yearning. Okpokwasili evokes the intensity of childhood on the brink of adolescence with carefully choreographed movement, in-your-face poetry and stirring song.

Director and visual and sound designer Peter Born helps artist Okpokwasili reach and create her vision by deftly synchronising the lighting, sound and choreography. Bronx Gothic is clearly the result of a creative partnership where two minds click in all the right places. This is experimental theatre at its best.

Bronx Gothic is playing at the Arts House as part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival and an exchange between the Arts House and Performance Space 122 in New York.

Venue: Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Dates: Until October 12, 2015
Tickets: $39 Full / $25 /$15 students
Booking: www.festival.melbourne

Image by Sarah Walker

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents THE RABBITS

Powerful and poignant family opera

By Rachel Holker

Based on the acclaimed picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, and the winner of several Helpmann Awards, The Rabbits (adapted and directed by John Sheedy) comes with high expectations and does not disappoint. An unsubtle commentary on the colonisation of Australia and the consequences for the people and the environment, this production for Melbourne Festival 2015 is no pantomime for the kids.

The Rabbits

The story remains very close to the original text, with the addition of Bird (Kate Miller-Heidke) as a narrator of sorts, calling on high various warnings and dire predictions yet pointlessly declaring her inability to assist with the Marsupials plight as the Rabbits invade.

The Rabbits is masterpiece of staging and design. Tan’s illustrations are utilised sparingly, yet effectively to portray the land of the Marsupials and the encroaching impact of the Rabbits. The costumes (Gabriela Tylesova) cross the line into puppetry and are so emotionally effective (the Marsupials in particular are gorgeously haunting) that the performers’ own faces become superfluous.

Miller-Heidke’s score is very good and, the small orchestra on stage was a delight – I would have liked to see even more of their interactions with the other players. All the performances were strong, especially the Marsupials Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock and Lisa Maza who brought genuine grief to some heartrending scenes.

The libretto is a touch uneven and jarring at points, particularly where it tries to play to the adults in the audience. This was not necessary and detracted from the story rather than lightening the mood as was the intent. However where the words and music combine at key emotional points is where The Rabbits excels.

I hope The Rabbits represents the beginning of a trend in children’s productions that speak up rather than down to their audience.

Tickets to The Rabbits, produced by Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company, in Melbourne are sold out.
Sydney performances:14-24 January, Roslyn Packer Theatre, $47-$98

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/detail?prodid=113130

By Abbey age 11.

I really liked The Rabbits, but it was really sad at some parts. The costumes were amazing and the way they used their headdresses’ mouths when the Rabbits were drinking tea, instead of their own, was really cool. The use of props was awesome with some reaching the top of the stage such as the boat.

The story was told extremely well with one of the Marsupials from the book replaced by a narrating bird and I thought that was effective. The interpretation of the book was really good for the book has no dialogue, but the show does. The character’s speeches were made up but what they said still made sense to the story. The operatic side was amazing but loud.

I wouldn’t recommend this for young kids because it is so sad and emotional.