Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and Adelaide Festival. Festival Theatre. 4 Mar 2022
Art reflecting politics reflecting art. Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov became an activist while a professor at the St Petersburg Conservatory in solidarity with his students protesting the shooting of workers petitioning the Tsar in 1905. This callous act eventually led to the Russian Revolution and the end of the dynasty. Rimsky-Korsakov bases The Golden Cockerel on the same-named Pushkin tale of a decrepit Tsar - who is derelict in his national duties - and his disastrous border wars which eventually leads to his demise. Referencing current events, we can only hope so.
The indefatigable Melbourne-born Barrie Kosky directed the 1996 Adelaide Festival with its memorable Red Square late-night venue (another Russian reference). Current Adelaide Festival directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield have already brought us Kosky’s operas Saul and The Magic Flute since 2017, so there’s a lot of love for this hugely famous, accomplished and productive international director.
It's easy to see why. Kosky’s flamboyant approach to the creative reinvention of the operatic experience is visually far removed from the static divas and divoes of the Italian romantic tragedies. And there is a perfect match between Kosky’s imagination and the mythical elements of The Golden Cockerel. As Rachel Healy opines - drawing heavily from Mark Pullinger’s excellent review of 21 May 2021 in backtrack.com - with its “political satire, sardonic humour and surreal burlesque, The Golden Cockerel is an opera tailor-made for Barrie Kosky.” Kosky’s creations are like living a dream rich in aural and visual textures, a double-barreled sensual assault. He imagines for you.
Far removed from the formality of the palace, the action takes place on the Russian frontier close to the warfare in a hilly field of autumn-dried tussock grasses dominated by a single dead tree. Longing for leisure and weary of the constant enemies on the border, the Tsar surrenders his vigilance to a golden cockerel whose magic is in singing of impending danger. But the Tsar’s promise to the astrologer in return for the bird will be his undoing.
The Tsar is disheveled and unhinged, waving his sword aimlessly at imaginary foes. His sons are spoiled sharpies in suits and their feint love for their father and misdirection of the Tsar’s affairs holds elements of King Lear. We see the boys later, headless, hanging from the limbs of the lifeless tree in a grotesque Goya-esque reflection of the horrors of war. And the Tsar is now beguiled by an enchanting queen.
Pavlo Hunka (Tsar) and the graceful Venera Gimadieva (Queen) dominate the central portion of the opera in a lengthy arioso comprising a beautifully ethereal exchange of intentions. But their emotional commitment is faint. The Tsar is a twat – like an impotent adolescent in an alcohol haze - while the Queen is regal, elegant, seductive and secure. Whilst they maintain their symbolism - the Queen as a shimmering symbol of the mythical East dressed in the gold of the rising sun and the Tsar as a derisive object of political satire – an interpretation on a human level shows us a beautiful woman unedifyingly throwing herself at a sad older man. An understanding of the symbolism in the original tale and in Kosky’s re-awakening richly enhances the experience, as the aforementioned protest in 1905 was associated with Nicholas II’s defeat by the Japanese over Manchuria. Andrew Popov’s astrologer is a Chinese sage in European attire - his soaring tenor-altino is startling. Kosky mischievously broadens the definition of “East” by having Matthew Whittet’s fantastically unfeathered and high-heeled cockerel resemble a Hindi saddhu (discombobulatingly voiced over by Samantha Clarke).
Four fantastic dancers costumed like you’ve never seen before have the main function of livening things up. The Adelaide Festival Chorus is out in force, sometimes dressed like extras from Beetlejuice, sometimes it’s horses for chorus – over-large heads supported by lovely legs. Bravo! Kosky briefly employed a wonderfully detailed wheeled machine that delighted. Conductor Anthony Hunt leads the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in another unreproachable performance. As Neil Armfield says, “If you’re transported by Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade or Flight of the Bumble Bee, you’ll fall in love with this richly melodic, kaleidoscopic work.”
Of course the whole is greater than the parts. Kosky sprinkles the theatre magic dust into your eyes and ears and you slip away from your worries into a sublime meditation. It’s the first staging of The Golden Cockerel in Australia and this might be your only shot at it.
When: 4 to 9 Mar
Where: Festival Theatre
Production Image Credit: Andrew Beveridge
Adelaide Festival. Pina Bausch/Germaine Acogny & Malou Airaudo Pina Bausch Foundation, Ecole des Sables & Sadler’s Wells. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 4 Mar 2022
Rite of Spring was a seminal work of the great Pina Bausch and now almost half a century after its creation, its German cast has become African and its oppositional groupings have taken on a tribal spirit. In this woke era, the gender encounters and the carnal clashes are as disturbing as they are dramatic.
Bausch’s inventive choreography and her bold challenges to the language of human motion have had the most profound and lasting impact on the world of dance and here, in the Rite of Spring, accompanied by Stravinsky’s strident tonal assertions, the brutality within her 1975 work feels all the more startling.
It is a mighty work which has continued to leave audiences spellbound and adoring. This was evidenced by the standing ovation at the dance’s Festival opening night in Her Majesty’s Theatre.
There is some deep satisfaction to be found in Bausch’s characteristic formations: the tight bunches of defensive humanity, the desperate darting and dashing, the back arching and hunching, and controlled abandon.
This work is danced on dark, primeval dirt. It is a soft carpet which delivers a lovely padding sound as the dancer’s pound over it.
One of the great features of the production is, in fact, the spreading of the soil.
It is an interval performance piece.
The evening opened with two mature dancers in black performing a contemplative preliminary piece choreographed and danced by Africa’s Germaine Acogny with Bausch dancer Malou Airaudo. They represent a septuagenarian sisterhood of survival, dancing pensively with poles and washtubs symbolic of the commonality of female domesticity.
As this piece finishes, a huge backstage team emerges to rip up the big white square of stage floor on which the women have been dancing. In Bausch-style symmetry, the crew replaces it, hammering down great rolls of canvas, then wheeling out huge bins, tipping out their contents and then spreading the soil with shovels before sweeping it into an immaculately, smooth carpet. It is gripping theatre in its own right and the audience claps and cheers.
The ensuing dance of the Rite of Spring revolves around a red dress which is a ritual curse.
The woman wearing this dress must try to dance herself to death. Before this denouement, the thirty-eight dancers perform assorted defining rituals, the most spectacular and beautifully Baushcian of them all being a huge perfect circle of synchronous movements. Dancers rise and then crash, rise and crash.
The African men are all shining, muscular bare torsos. Powerful. Commanding. The women are lithe, beautiful, and vulnerable in their flimsy negligees. They are uniformly cream until one, miraculously, is wearing the deadly red. The music throbs and shrieks and the tensions mount until inevitably the woman in red’s frenetic despair is over and so is the rite.
When: 4 to 6 Mar
Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Production Image Credit: Andrew Beveridge
Adelaide Festival. Dunstan Playhouse. 3 Mar 2022
What is an old Adelaidean to feel when confronted with a creation such as this?
A torrent of emotion is evoked, a crushing weight of memories and, oh, such a yearning for the long-gone to know of it, to be there, too. Who could ever have imagined this day?
In find myself channelling John Bray, Don Dunstan, and my dad Max Harris among those long gone. These players in the midst of the political thrust of the time crowded into my mind.
I never met that shy English law professor, Dr George Ian Ogilvie Duncan, but his fate consumed my world for some time - just as it did for so many citizens of this city, so many of them fellow members of this opening night audience.
The societal reaction to the death of Dr Duncan on May 10, 1972, is superbly rendered by librettists Alana Valentine and Christos Tsiolkas in this breathtaking oratorio work.
Most potently is the "Medindie Establishment“ response depicted by one glorious mezzo singing the moral refrain of the day, the outrage of those who did not really approve of or understand homosexuality as such but as mothers and equals, were aghast at the cruelty and injustice of the murder of this gentle academic.
This rallying of Adelaide’s collective grief in the 1970s is potently portrayed, one daresay with a large nod in the direction of the production’s eloquent history consultant, Tim Reeves.
Watershed is a docu-drama of sorts, an oratorio which feels more like an opera. It is in a minor key. It has no tune to speak of but its libretto glides atop a multilayered and emotionally evocative orchestral composition by Joe Twist and conducted by musical director Christie Anderson.
There is recitative and more recitative, sometimes painfully attenuated. Perhaps because the pain cannot go away?
The voices are sublime. Oh, that bass baritone Pelham Andrews portraying the ugly cops and poor old Mick O’Shea. Ah, for Mark Oates as Duncan and also Dunstan, a lusty tenor with acting cred. Add Ainsley Melham as the lost boy alongside the harmonious might of the Adelaide Chamber Singers. Art, artful aural sensurround.
And then there is Mason Kelly, the dancer.
Lithe and brave, he is centrepiece to this historic phenomenon.
In flying harness, he is suspended over the stage, drifting, floating, sinking, drowning before our eyes. We can feel the weight of the water as it takes his life. It is vivid, immediate, agonising.
Duncan's death by drowning in the River Torrens remains unresolved. His murderers are unpunished.
The production fastidiously tracks the timeline of the case, the accused, the acquittals, the media, the torment of Mick O’Shea, the various attempts at legalising homosexuality in this state, firstly from Murray Hill and eventually by the sheer dogged determination of Peter Duncan (no relation). It depicts the evolution of the gay scene and the persistence of poofter bashing, even after legal relaxation.
It feels incongruous to hear an uncompromising vulgarity of language coming from classical voices in a libretto. But Watershed whitewashes nothing.
It is a brutally frank.
It is not an easy night at the theatre.
It is an historic night. It is a bravura night. It is an Adelaide night like no other. A self-laceratating Adelaide night.
Feast, the Festival, State Opera, the determined powers which brought it together must be saluted along with its tech perfection: Jane Rosetto with a trusted and true perfection of sound; Lewis Major shining as the blazing new choreography talent on the scene; Aisla Paterson hitting exactly the right notes on costume and design; and lighting supremo Nigel Levings showing why he is still “the man”.
They are the powers behind the utterance that a show has “high production values”.
And, of course, there is the professional finesse of Watershed’s director Neil Armfield whose rise to eminence, as they say in the classics, “ain’t been for nothing”.
When: 3 to 8 Mar
Where: Dunstan Playhouse
Adelaide Fringe. Derek Tickner. The Sky Room at The Griffins. 3 Mar 2022
Don’t expect anything as fetchingly sophisticated as the multi-armed musician of the poster. This show comprises three goes at a Theatresports game making a shared yarn from audience suggestions. Which means three times 20 minutes of sustained improvisation - a big ask if you ever tried it (and why you haven’t?) Using a couple of movie titles or themes, or places and times, the eager-to-please team turn a few words into a blockbuster musical. At least, that’s the idea.
So what do you get when you cross - for example, in my viewing - The Devil Wears Prada with The Twilight Saga? The Prada Saga? Not the greatest in live entertainment, but a terrific showcase for the fine voice and acting of Dane McFarlane to shine as the powerful fashion magazine editor. He can sustain a whole bunch of spontaneous lines and sound like a rehearsed Broadway musical! Moving on, how about the suggested place of Boston with the time of 1776? The American Revolution was a bit more knowable and consequently flowed a little easier. English-raised Derek Tickner swaggered as an overconfident British officer and is ever-eager to jump in with some game changers. The aforementioned McFarlane created another hit character in George Washington’s mother. The ever-good natured Matt Eberhardt is the team’s spiritual leader and has fun with the challenge. On the other hand, Emma Losin seems happier coagulating in a corner, hiding her talent under a bushel. Whenever prised to centre stage, her eyes plea for assistance. Keylan Davidson goes with the flow well enough but lacks initiative. Thankfully, this is where Courteney Hooper tickling the keyboard keeps things moving. Hooper senses the thrust and parry and occasionally pounds out an introductory flourish inviting a thespian to break into song. In contrast, the fellow players are decidedly blunt, calling out, “Sing it!”
Improvisation is different every night, and every moment. Sometimes it’s gelignite, sometimes it’s gelatinous. The potential for genius is however hamstrung by an unevenly skilled team.
When: 1 to 5 Mar
Where: The Sky Room at The Griffins
Adelaide Fringe. Matt Harvey. Warehouse Theatre. 3 Mar 2022
Periodically, the Fringe Festival suffers through an outbreak of ‘whatt-aboutism’ and ‘lets-get-back-to-our-roots’; a brief irritation of startup companies, small backstreet venues and aspirant stand-up comedians who aren’t particularly funny. Bravo for that, because it puts in place all which is required for a genuinely subversive, diversive and challenging Fringe Festival, helping to water down the seemingly endless pap of established comedians from the ‘nineties on, still extracting maximum ticket price from your credit card.
The Warehouse Theatre is just such a venue, tucked just in behind the main roads at Unley and Greenhill, freshly painted black and with a tiny bar serving shockingly good cocktails. Its performers, so far as I can make out, are just such performers, and Matt Harvey is not particularly funny. More power to them all.
Harvey’s show is an extended monologue in which he goes through his work history, the employers who have ripped him off, and his subsequent battles with Centrelink. He talks of dodgy medical claims and dodgy pay deals, and even dodgier Robodebts, so that explains the direction of the show. Referencing such seminal politically inspired band (Killing In The Name Of) should lead to some righteous rage, some emotional high, some other way of namechecking his (obviously) formative years. But no.
Towards the conclusion of his hour Harvey opines that standup comedians need to script their shows such that they circle back to the starting point; in his case working on the rides at a theme park. I’d have thought this notion might be just the way to finish off what had become a catalogue of complaints, bringing us back to the highs and lows of the roller coaster, and ending on a high. But no. “That’s the end of my show,” he observed, then paused, in the way that performers do.
It is not that Matt Hawkins is not adept; he is, but he must make more of his material. He must also overcome telegraphing the puns he has crafted, and become more natural in his engagement. He is not stilted, or poor in the craft, but undeveloped and not a natural communicator. His scripting is largely good, but needs tightening up, losing much of the rambling detail and asides. Most importantly, his show – his performance art – needs a direction and a purpose. A potted life story is not enough for most people.
When: 3 to 6 Mar
Where: Warehouse Theatre