Archive for the ‘Melbourne Festival’ Tag

Ringing the Changes

One of my favourite performances in this year’s Melbourne Festival was the music/performance piece by Strange Fruit, Ringing the Changes. It was created especially for the bell field of Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr. Each of the bells in the field has a specific pitch and sits at the top of a tall pole, and Strange Fruit perform mesmerising dance/visual/physical theatre pieces atop long bendy poles, so really, this was a match made in heaven. Composer Graeme Leak was commissioned to write the work, taking into account which bells the different performers would be able to reach within the radius afforded by their bendy pole.

The whole piece was masterfully conducted by Timothy Phillips. Here are a couple of photos:

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I like the way Tim appears to be suspended in midair. It was quite a feat to conduct the work (including several sections of audience participation, which required him to swivel around to face the audience instead of the performers) without losing his centre of balance. I also like the iconic view of the MCG and its ring of lights, in the background of this photo.

The City Beats children were involved in the first performance, taking part in the audience participation sections which required them to play on tin cans with chopsticks and teaspoons. They were so thrilled by the whole event.

Does it get better than this?

Last night I went to hear the Schoenberg Ensemble perform, as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Man, it was good! The sound from this band was extraordinary, their virtuosity had us enthralled. Andriesson’s Zilver, John Adams Chamber Symphony, Kagel’s Divertimento? Farce fur Ensemble, and then Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony op.9, taken at a cracking pace. It was a small audience, but incredibly appreciative. Long extended clapping ensued at the end of each half.

I think the thing that bowled me over the most was the sheer joy of their playing. They were just having such a great old time up there, playing this incredibly technically demanding music, but smiling away, exalting in their own and others’ lines.

Why can’t we see joyous performances like this more often? A colleague I bumped into at lunch today said, “We should remember that this is repertoire for them. They’ve played these incredibly demanding works loads of times, so there is a familiarity there that makes it more possible for one to relax into the performance…”

Ah, true. But then, I am not sure I see other orchestras smiling away as they play the gorgeous melodies and harmonies of Beethoven 6, for example. Which is repertoire performed pretty frequently.I don’t know. Perhaps for a lot of orchestras, playing concerts is just what they do, and it ceases to be special after awhile. Or the audience ceases to be of any great significance. Or they just get tired. Or bored. I don’t know. It’s a privilege, really…. to do that kind of work. Maybe if your life is contemporary music, you have to love it so much to begin with…. and then you just feel compelled to communicate that love.

Maybe it comes down to personalities. I don’t think there could have been a soul in the audience who did not fall a little bit in love with the violist in the Schoenberg Ensemble. Right from the moment she walked on stage she invited us to participate wholly in the music she was playing. She beamed at everyone – the conductor, her fellow musicians on the stage, people in the audience. We couldn’t take our eyes away from her for long. She was bringing out the best in everyone.

I think everyone could do with a shot of that kind of engaging, warm, joyfulness in their lives! Certainly we in the audience were all the better for it. So much so, I am planning to go and hear them again tonight.

Melbourne Festival – reviews (3)

This was probably an ambitious thread to start. From now on my comments on the shows I’ve seen will be brief.

Daniel Kitson – C90

This was a show I liked a lot. Kitson is an engaging performer, weaving stories and characters and setting the scene with skill in this one-man show about a man’s last day working in an archive of compilation tapes. The set was gorgeous – a tall set of shelves piled high with tapes, and a ladder on railings that could slide along the width of the shelving – which Kitson did with much grace.

It was a heart-warming story too. At the close of the show Kitson reappeared to invite us to come to the stage in order to inspect the set more closely. The labels on all the tapes were intriguing and beguiling – suggesting love lost, hopes for rekindling, requests for forgiveness, tributes and revenge. Apparently the show tours no more after this Melbourne season, and the set will stay here.

Jerome Bel – The Show Must Go On

My favourite show in the Festival so far! The whole night had a touch of surreality about it, and this framed the show perfectly. The audience and their reactions to this piece (which starts with a darkened stage and a guy sitting at a sound desk down the front playing individual tracks from CDs, one after the other, with gaps in between while he took out one CD and put in the next) were part of the show. Very John Cage in that respect.

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Opening night of ‘Hunger’

We opened last night to a full house. After such a long creative journey together it is very, very satisfying to finally be able to share the work. The audience last night was a mix of colleagues, friends, family – also reviewers! Today we have a matinee and an evening performance, same again on Wednesday.

Kate, (Rawcus director)  has arranged for the whole company to eat together before the show, so yesterday afternoon around 5pm we all sat down together at long trestle tables and tucked into a delicious lunch of hot food and salads. It’s a tradition that Kate brings with her from her work in theatre in France, she said, and feels like it will be a very affirming way for the Company to bond and experience together the performance season.

Yesterday The Age printed an interview with Kate, Paul (one  of the Rawcus performers) and me. You can read it here.

I’ll post reviews when we get them. If you are reading this and have seen the show – please leave comments!

Final countdown

And today we had our dress rehearsal. We started the day by going through a couple of scenes where there were some new lighting cues to be noted, then we started our run.

Like yesterday, but even more so, the who has a strong shape and momentum now. It feels like lots of the hesitancy and slowness of yesterday’s scene transitions has gone, replaced by swiftness and no slackening of tempo. The cast is growing in confidence. “I feel like we are in a good place now,” the director told me happily, as we walked to the production meeting at the end of rehearsal.

Today we also made up, which also helps people to get in character and respond authentically to others’ characters in the space. Cupid had wings added to his costume today, and he is delighted!

We are still having difficulty with one of our pieces. Ensemble-wise, it can easily feel shaky – a bit of a house of cards. It is driven very much by the cello, but our cellist is  playing from a balcony behind us at that point in the show. We have great foldback, but somehow it is still tricky to keep together. Also, most of our cues for section changes in the piece come from the stage action, so when we practise out of context we have to contrive the timings of these changes ourselves. We finished our rehearsal today working on it again, finding musical solutions to the main issues, and happily resolving our concerns somewhat. Our next chance to run it will be in Monday’s dress rehearsal, which is open to a small audience.

Hunger has been such a rich experience for me. There are so many aspects of the show and the production that have been new for me, and indeed, I am usually only one step (or half-step) ahead of the musicians at any one time – and it has been that way through the whole year! I often encourage the MSO musicians to feel brave about stepping out of comfort zones, reminding them of the great and exciting things that can happen when take risks, and have to trust our instincts and responses. In most of my MSO projects I am working in a context that is familiar for me, and while I deliberately set about challenging myself in all of the projects, I am still somewhat in a comfort zone. In Hunger I am constantly having to put myself out there, be courageous, trust my instincts, watch and learn and absorb all the information that I can. It is a very, very good thing for me.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is a day of rest. Much anticipated, and much needed by the whole ensemble, I think. Come Monday, we will be refreshed and geared up, ,reading to share our beautiful heart-felt, heart-filled work with a wide audience.

Final rehearsals

Hunger is in the homestretch now. Today we had our Tech Run. There have been a few unforeseen delays leading up to today (when I arrived I got the impression something a bit unexpected/alarming had been narrowly averted the night before… it may have been narrowly done so, but averted nonetheless!) But what is amazing is the number of things that need to be in place – the many technical requirements, people, final designs for lights and sound, the gear in place for these, staging assistants, and their assistants… for a show of this size, with this many performers, and complex staging. One delay, in one area, can place all sorts of pressure on other aspects of the show. Similarly, the content of Hunger is also filled with intricate connections. The run-through today was somewhat clunky – as you would expect, given it was our first Tech Run and there was a lot to adjust to. But also exciting, because with sound, lights and costumes all in, we are getting a strong sense of the show, and of the beautiful material that we have created.

Gillian's stage position at the start of the show - it begins with the musicians asleep, slowly woken up by a dancer.

Gillian’s stage position at the start of the show – it begins with the musicians asleep, slowly woken up by a dancer.

I have a gorgeous dress to wear. I can’t help but swish my way through the space, in my long circular skirt, with its black flower motif and rustling taffeta. The fabric is frail and threatens to give way, as this dress is an original from the 1930s (they tell me), with a pin-tucked bodice, black velvet buttons, and leg-o-mutton sleeves to my elbows. I drape the skirt about me as I sit on the side of the musicians’ stage, and ensure it falls elegantly to the floor when I sit on the piano stool. I feel like a girl in her first ballet frock. I’m a dag, I know.

It’s an exciting process to be part of – kind of thrilling and terrifying at the same time. At this stage I realise I am starting to feel nerves set in. Will my hands shake? That is the one thing I feel I can’t control so easily. And if they shake, will I make mistakes in my piano part, or my vibraphone part? These are the instruments I feel less secure in.

The musicians from MSO seem happy with the work, and proud of the show. Costumes, make-up and lights are all pretty special for orchestral musicians, who usually keep themselves more in the background in order to bring the music they play to the fore. I think that like me, they are particularly enjoying seeing the show come to life, from its typewritten structure, set out under headings, with short descriptions of the action that takes place. As it comes to life, it starts to flow, and build a momentum of its own.

Tomorrow we have our first dress rehearsal. A small group of supportive people will come to our final dress rehearsal on Monday. After that, we open our season!

what a day…

Today’s rehearsal for Hunger was hard work. There were tears… though they were mine, which is better than them being someone else’s. At least I know I can take care of me!

Rehearsal time is tight. The music is set but still needing further rehearsal. Some of the cues are still being worked out. We have a lot of gear that we move from room to room. We need to be supportive of each other and work as a team, because everyone in this group is juggling a lot of projects and everyone is more fragile than they would like to be.

I know I am worn out. I finished the Language School projects just yesterday. I am neglecting my Masters studies, which worries me. I have a 2-day project next week that I still need to fully plan. And then the week-long puppet extravaganza the following week. A total of just 4 days off (including weekends) for the whole school holidays. (I am an idiot, it must be said, for letting myself get so over-committed).

I don’t mind the work time, – I am more stressed by the large number of projects and plans I need to have in my head. It means I need to find time to make a lot of plans, and because I have so many projects to realise, I need to make the plans really detailed, because there is not enough space in my brain to be beautifully, creatively responsive in the moment, or at least, to rely on that.

I struggle therefore with planning time, and with support time, in which to speak with collaborators, meet with my Orchestra colleagues to sort out various logistic details before the next rehearsal, and just a bit of time for me, to relax and refresh before the next project.

Don’t get me wrong about Hunger though. It is looking and feeling very strong. Every time the two companies come together in rehearsal to put the next scene on the floor, it feels very magical. And tickets are selling well – we are one of the Festival’s best sellers! That’s pretty exciting.

Collaborations are never easy. I feel like we are still discovering (and learning) the best ways for these two companies to work together, how much to set, how much to score, what can be improvised and intuited, where there is space, how best to integrate the unique skills of all the performers… It is an incredibly ambitious and courageous project in this regard, and not without risk. I love being part of the creative team as we try to nut out the solutions to these questions, through the creation of beautiful, memorable, cheeky, anarchic content. But we need everyone in the company now to trust and commit to the show, and what it is, and what it can be.

trust me…

In a collaborative project, there are trust relationships on all levels, in all directions. I spend my Saturdays working with the fabulous, creative, generous artistic souls of rawcus and a small team of musicians from the Orchestra. We are working on a show called Hunger for this year’s Melbourne Festival, and this rehearsal period (Aug-Sept) has us in the home stretch of creating and locking in material.

Thinking about the creative journey of taking a show from the seed of an idea to a fully-realised production, and some of the issues we have faced in the Ensemble in recent weeks, got me on the idea of trust, and the web of trust relationships that are an essential part of the creative process:

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John Cage for primary school musicians

I spent my afternoon in the LaTrobe University library looking through John Cage scores. The Orchestra has a project coming up that will be part of the Melbourne Festival’s Musicircus , a big sunset-to-sunrise performance event. I will have a group of about 30 child and adult musicians creating a performance event to be part of this, so I went with the co-curator of Musicircus Tim Humphries to do some research among the Library’s collection of Cage scores, and get some ideas.

Here are some early thoughts:

  • Inspired by Cage’s A Dip in the Lake – ten quicksteps, 61 waltzes, and 56 marches for Chicago and vicinity, a vocal section using addresses of places in Melbourne. (I need to find out what Cage actually did with all the addresses in A Dip…, too).
  • Mesostics, that might then be sung or somehow played – but created by the group in the first place. I think we might create them from the day’s newspaper. (What’s a mesostic?)
  • Include instruments such as tin cans (paint tins?), a battery-operated buzzer (this is how John Cage describes it – the mind boggles – it could be any number of things!), transistor radios, mobile phones…
  • Transparencies with various lines, dots and markings on them that can be randomly superimposed upon each other to create unique graphic scores to be read by the group.
  • Creating compositions using elements of chance (eg. dice) and an idea I had today using coloured squares and rectangles… I’ll make a template of this idea and post it soon. I’m quite excited by it as I think it will be simple to do but will sound very effective…
  • Unison sounds of inhaling and exhaling (following either a graphic score, or a conductor who indicates the pitch contour of the sounds and when the group should inhale or exhale.
  • Metronomes (the old-fashioned, visually-interesting kinds) all set to different tempi, ticking away constantly in what will be a very resonant performing space.

We’ll only have about three hours to rehearse all of this on the performance day, which will mean setting tasks for small groups to develop on their own, and then ordering each of these responses to make one big piece. We’ll work at ArtPlay.

Then again, we may perform in separate groups – either concurrently and independently of each other, or consecutively. It’s all in the spirit of the Musicircus!