Richard Watts | Artshub | Monday 5th January, 2015
Image: Yana Alana via www.sydneyfestival.org.au
First held in 1977, the Sydney Festival has grown into a lively celebration of the city’s cultural life; the embodiment of Sydney’s creative spirit. Though it no longer features a ‘Festival of Sydney open golf tournament’ (one of the highlights of the second Festival in 1978 according to the Australian Women’s Weekly), this year’s Festival nonetheless features a daunting 179 events across 25 venues, both indoors and outdoors, making all the more difficult to decide what to see.
To help you, here are our picks of the ten must-see performances for 2015, across a variety of art forms, from dance and circus to contemporary music and theatre.
A Simple Space
Hailing from Adelaide, Gravity and Other Myths are not only one of Australia’s most exciting circus companies – they’re among the best circus companies in the world. Stripping away the glitz and glamour that is so strongly associated with contemporary circus, this energetic acrobatic troupe have won plaudits internationally and consistently for their athleticism, skill, intimacy and humour. From strip-skipping to breathtaking tumbling, the routines which comprise A Simple Space are polished but never over-slick; the result is a show which puts the art in ‘circus arts’ front and centre, and the audience in the thick of things, to unforgettable effect.
Between the Cracks
Presented with the 2014 Helpmann Award for Best Cabaret Performer, this caustic yet revealing show by Yana Alana (Sarah Ward in a decidedly blue performance – in every sense of the word) is in a word: magnificent. Ward’s powerful voice and her ability to bare her soul while abusing both audience and her long-suffering accompanist Louise Goh is nothing short of remarkable. Spiteful, drug-addled, and self-obsessed, Yana is the epitome of the diva – which makes spending time in her company such a pleasure.
Dancing for the Gods
When was the last time you attended a production of classical Sri Lankan dance? Established in 1943, the Chitrasena Dance Company is a proponent of traditional Kandyan dance and performs works that are part art, part ritual; acrobatic, athletic and highly stylised. Last seen in Australia in 1972, the company’s performances blend carefully stylised choreography with explosive drumming, drawing upon 2,500 year old Sri Lankan rituals to create exquisite contemporary dance works of an exacting standard.
Have I No Mouth
The dislocating impact of grief is a challenging emotion to evoke on stage; it requires a production that can conjure not just sadness and sorrow but the sensation of being simultaneously raw and numb – of being outside the everyday world while still part of it. In Have I No Mouth, Irish company Brokentalkers do just that. In a deeply personal work of theatre, the company’s co-Artistic Director Feidlim Cannon explores the impact of and events around his father’s death 13 years ago, performing on stage alongside his mother Ann and their real-life psychotherapist, Erich Keller (neither of whom are professional actors). The result is a work of theatre that’s as authentic as it is extraordinary; compelling, intimate and deeply moving.
The Long Pigs
In The Long Pigs, Melbourne-based company We3 (comprising Die Roten Punkte’s Clare Bartholomew, The Candy Butchers’ Derek Ives-Plunkett and Circus Oz alumnus Nicci Wilks) take their audiences into a world of gallows humour and finely-tuned physical comedy that leaves all expectations of clowning as a comedic art form for children, dead. Cannibalism, murder and slapstick comedy may seem odd bedfellows, but under the direction of the award-winning Susie Dee, they blend together perfectly. The Age called this show ‘a dark-hearted jewel’. We absolutely agree.
Adapted by Kate Mulvany from Kit Williams’ 1979 children’s book of the same name, Masquerade is a story of riddles, fantasy, family and love. A mother reads to her sick son Joe: the story of bumbling Jack Hare as he races against time to deliver a message of love from the Moon to the Sun. But when Jack’s mission looks like failing, Joe and his mother come to his aid, as the boundaries between story and reality blur. This co-production by Griffin Theatre Company and the State Theatre Company of South Australia is co-directed by Sam Strong and Lee Lewis; features original songs and music performed live by Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen; and is ideal for audiences aged nine to 90.
Nothing to Lose
Kate Champion’s final work as Artistic Director of Force Majeure challenges aesthetic norms and celebrates the lives, bodies and experiences of fat dancers. Instead of the limited physical range we normally see represented in dance theatre, Nothing to Lose – a collaboration between Champion and artist, filmmaker and fat activist Kelli Jean Drinkwater – expands on the art form’s aesthetic possibilities by embracing the strength and flexibility of plus-sized bodies, while simultaneously unpicking the connotations of the culturally and emotionally loaded word ‘fat’.
Brazilian singer-songwriter Seu Jorge doesn’t have a huge profile in Australia at present, though that will probably change following his upcoming performances at the Sydney Festival and other venues around the country. Blending samba, soul, pop and electro to compelling effect, this kid from the slums turned internationally recognised musician and actor (Jorge has appeared in such critically acclaimed films as City of God and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) has a rich baritone and an inventive approach to melding diverse musical traditions. The result is invariably mesmerising in the recording studio – it will be fascinating to witness Jorge live.
UKCHUK-GA: Pansori Mother Courage
One of the great delights of our major arts festivals is the opportunity to see works and companies that would otherwise be unlikely to tour. Case in point: a Korean retelling of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Pansori, a traditional Korean art form usually performed by a singer and a drummer which originated in the 17th century, is here updated by pansori prodigy Jaram Lee, supported by two percussionists and a bassist. Lee, who plays 15 characters in this reinterpretation of Brecht’s searing parable of war and suffering, began her pansori training at 12 years of age; and having previously adapted Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan, she is intimately familiar with his work.
Making their Australian premiere at the 2015 Festival is Baltimore-based duo Wye Oak. Mixing folk-rock guitars with synths and nimble bass, and with Jenn Wasner’s dreamy vocals swirling atop the mix, they’re a band of enormous variety. From the jangling drone of ‘Holy Holy’ on 2011’s masterful Civilian to the dramatic reinvention of 2014’s percussion-driven, synthpop-heavy Shriek, best typified by the lush electronica of ‘I Know the Law’, Wye Oak are a band unafraid of experimentation and reinvention. A perfect fit for the 2015 Sydney Festival.
Sydney Festival 2015