Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nederlands Dance Theatre- Jim Vincent- INTERVIEWS

Jim Vincent

Written by Paul Andrew   
Wednesday, 29 June 2011 21:36

The Arts Centre has scored an exclusive Australian season of contemporary dance featuring the legendary Nederlands Dans Theater I. After a 14 year absence, the doyennes of contemporary dance will showcase their distinctive style at the Arts Centre’s State Theatre with five performances this July. Paul Andrew chats with NDT Artistic Director, Jim Vincent.

Nederlands Dans TheaterFor the benefit of new audiences to your company’s work – and indeed to contemporary dance – here in Australia Jim can you tell me something about the origins of NDT in 1959, a time of anarchy, revolution, change?
NDT was founded by a few Netherlands Ballet dancers who needed to break away from the traditions and conventions of classical dance. A rebellious reputation was assigned to them almost immediately and they in turn embraced the image and reputation. As I have understood the history, in many cases based on first-hand accounts, their drive for change came from a need for another form of expression; it evolved into an objective which was methodically cultivated.

Today NDT maintains that tradition and continues to push the art form of contemporary dance out of very similar needs. The program we will present in Melbourne is a revelatory cross-section of the company and its dynamic today. Our work is a combination of dance and theatre, there is as much interpretation and context as there is physicality.

How is contemporary dance different to other art forms?
Dance is very similar to many other art forms. Naturally it has a certain advantage over some other performance arts in that it is a universal language. In our daily lives, we all move, define and design ourselves in space and often convey our feelings through posture, gesture and movement. Dance delves more deeply into these areas, researches and designs those actions more completely and sometimes more eloquently. At its best, it engages and touches us and yet escapes precise description.

How do you like to describe contemporary dance – your company's oeuvre in particular – to newcomers to the art form?
Contemporary dance is exactly that, a perspective and medium which should be relevant to our lives today – reflect what is going on all around us. The work we present is most often inspired by a specific musical composition. The music is often the catalyst which inspires the work or which drives the work. NDT’s repertory is extremely physical, requires strong and extremely articulate technique, but at the same time requires detailed and subtle interpretation.

In dance history terms, the exponents who you feel are major influences for the company?
John Cranko certainly inspired Jiri Kylian in his early years – helped him find his feet as a choreographer. However Jiri pushed himself and his company to reconsider and redefine his work or “style” and the profile of the company, over and over again. Back in the late 1970s and 1980s William Forsythe, Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin all had a major influence on the company as well. The collaborative processes we went through, with those emerging choreographers, broadened the scope and vision of the company. It also opened the door to young emerging choreographers, coming up from within, to find their own voices.

And the more recent influences, your resident choreographers?
Our resident and associate choreographers come from extremely diverse backgrounds. This allows both our dancers and audience to experience quite diverse collaboration and programming. However I feel the single most obvious influence we (all) feel today is the globalization of dance. Of course that has just as much negative influence on us and our work as it does positive. The dancers of both NDT I and II also influence the development of the repertory, often just as much as the choreographers.

Double You by choreographer Jiri Kylián?
This work was originally created for Gary Chryst while he was a dancer with NDT III. I see the work as one that deals with self-doubt, an extension of the question we ask ourselves when we are confronted by a mirror. Another tone of the work is the passing of time.

Sol León and Paul Lightfoot are two of a new generation of choreographer in residence at NDT?
Paul and Sol are often inspired by cinema, specifically older movies. Although their work is often abstract, it is always inspired by a theme or is built within an atmosphere. They always work together and somehow do bring a sort of balance (yin and yang) to their process. Their work is extremely physically demanding and I feel is recognizable as work that has come from within NDT.

And NDT choreographer Crystal Pite?
Crystal brings balance and a completely different perspective to NDT. Her influences, some of which come from significant time spent with William Forsythe, are highly contrasted to those of our other resident and associate choreographers. Crystal relates us, the audience or viewer, to her work through direct connection. There is humanity in her work and she often reaches out by confronting us with ourselves or exhibiting this connection... breaking down or deconstructing any barriers between us.

What are you the most grateful for now?
At this very moment I am – we are – extremely grateful to our Minister of Culture, Mr. Halbe Zijlstra, for not following the Cultural Council’s recommendation to cut our budget by almost half. I would also like to thank everyone who signed the petition in support of our cause and helped us lobby against the proposed reduction of our national subsidies. And finally, we are all grateful to find ourselves back in Australia again and to be given the opportunity to share our program with the audiences of Melbourne.

Nederlands Dans Theater I

Venue: the Arts Centre, State Theatre
Dates: 13 – 17 July 2011
Tickets: $37 - $146
Bookings: | 1300 182 183

Image credits:
Cover and Top Right –
Nederland Dans Theater. Photos – Joris Jan Bos

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nancye Hayes - INTERVIEWS


Paul Andrew speaks to young actor Christy Sullivan and stage Veteran Nancye Hayes about the changing roles for women in musical theatre.

Characterised by a hard-hitting narrative about a next-door modern family living with mental illness set to a slew of infectious song and dance routines, Next to Normal is another issue-based musical in a long line of social comment musicals. Gritty inconvenient truth style musicals are a popular genre today, a genre which continues to floor the critics, particularly critics quick to pronounce musical theatre dead.

Last year this show won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of only eight musicals to have earned the commendation. The last being Rent in 1996, a production about a community of artists living in the spectre of HIV AIDS at the height of the pandemic. Next to Normal won the judges over for it's rock'n'roll take on the ways in which mental illness can make an impact on an average family, how it can affect intimate relationships and how a person's well-being can be compromised in the name of so-called ethical psychiatry and psychopharmacology.

Actor Christy Sullivan plays Natalie Goodman the daughter of one very troubled mother - Diana “Di” Goodman (Kate Kendall). Throughout the story, Di's medical condition worsens, it affects the matriach's perception of reality and threatens the well-being of those closest to her. “On the outside they're a typical American family," explains Sullivan, "but the mother is suffering from Bi- Polar, a mood disorder of extreme ups and downs, a mother who is also completely obsessed with her son, while the father puts all his energy into getting his wife better- and then”, Sullivan pausing now to transform her natural smile into the anxious pout of her stage character," and then, there's the daughter, Nat; forgotten child, craving attention and love.“

Of her character Natalie, Sullivan observes: “She's a typical teenager living in the shadow of her older brother, yet not afraid to push the boundaries of her relationship with her parents while capably dealing with the pressures of keeping up with school, piano, first love, sibling rivalry, parents who don't understand her or even notice her at times and the ways to escape all of that. Her route of escape leaves her life in even more of a mess.”

Sullivan expresses utter admiration for the play’s writer New York -based Brian Yorkey, who penned a ten-minute version of the play at a writing performance workshop in 2008 titled Feeling Electric. The actor relays the well known anecdote about how Yorkey was at that time mindful of just how jaded some musical theatre audiences have become and how other audiences provide an antidote of sort, people who manage to see the best in everything, no matter how grim a situation or narrative. Sullivan adds, “He [Yorkey] was inspired by the shock therapy or electro-convulsive therapy. He portrays a family living with difficulties, a family who are 'next to normal'.”

“Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt are incredible writers – Yorkey of lyrics and book and Kitt of music. The music weaves so perfectly through each scene, setting the tone and then driving directly into the action. The show is almost entirely sung through from beginning to end and the amazing band never really gets a break. What challenges me the most with this show is bringing together the different formal elements -song, music, emotion, movement-and making them truthful.”

This role marks Sullivan's debut at MTC, a complex role for a young actor, and one she is "very excited" about. “Musicals today have become more than just a few show tunes strung together with a loose plot line to make the audience feel good. The subject matter of musicals has become much darker and so have the roles - male and female included, especially the female roles. “

One of the play's key plot lines is "schoolgirls on drugs", the young actor admits that this is pretty heavy material in itself, and notes," that women characters in musicals like this are so much richer and more complex than ever before and their issues are not trivial, they are very, very valid. In the last century attitudes towards women have changed so the theatre has reflected that."

Sullivan hums a few bars, “This is a solo I sing, it sums up my character best, it's called Superboy and The Invisible Girl- there's a great lyric, " He's a hero, a lover, a prince, she's not there...."

Sullivan cites Australian actors and directors, Pamela Rabe, Robyn Nevin and the iconic veteran of stage and screen Nancye Hayes as guiding lights, women who have become mentors for young actors like herself wanting to portray complex female characters, women who are adaptive, empowered and funny in equal measure.

Sullivan appears well-informed about Nancye Haye's long-standing stage career, and a not too dissimilar early stage role as a troubled young woman named Charity in the 1966 Australian production of the stage musical Sweet Charity.

The young actor is “stoked “to hear about Haye's role in Turns set to open in Melbourne in June: "Nancye Hayes is awesome, an all-round performer.”

Nancye Hayes, is currently touring Turns around the country in the much anticipated new work penned by long time friend, peer and collaborator, Reg "Betty Blockbuster" Livermore. Turns is described as a musical theatre “reflection on family, pantomime, friendship and identity". While the work is more satiric and fantastical in feel, like Next to Normal, Turns is also something of a conflicted mother-child story, with occasional mood swing - turn- themes; or as Hayes herself so vividly describes it:“ yes, there is definitely a theme about loosing one’s marbles.”

Hayes is no stranger to complex and nuanced female roles. At age 16 Hayes was a chorus girl in My Fair Lady with JC Williamsons Theatre and later, her leading lady role as Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity - “a tattooed dancer at the Fandango Ballroom in New York City who mixes with the wrong type of fella “ garnered her widespread acclaim.It was this role which unfolded into a lifetime of memorable performances including Cabaret. Since this time Hayes has earned a series of industry and community service accolades including an OBE in 1981 and in 2004 a Green Room Lifetime Achievement Award.

“The thing I adored most about that wonderful woman Charity was doing the number I’m a Brass Band, Hayes singing softly now remembering, '...All kinds of music pouring out of me, Somebody loves me at last, Now I'm a brass band, I'm a harpsichord, I'm a clarinet, I'm the Philadelphia orchestra, I'm the modern jazz quartet...', the quality I most adored about her character was her astounding resilience.”

Hayes agrees with her young protégé Sullivan; “True, times have changed, musical’s have changed, women’s roles have changed too, and more and more people are going along to musical theatre again. There was a time where audiences backed away, but the younger generations are now embracing musical theatre, that’s great. “

See also:

Next to Normal

Starring: Reg Livermore & Nancye Hayes
Written by Reg Livermore; Directed by Tom Healey

Two Icons of the Australian theatre, take to the boards in the Melbourne premiere of TURNS, a reflection on identity, family, show business...and losing your mind!
TURNS is a theatrical journey filled with song, dance, laughs, and so much more.
Wednesday 29 June - Saturday 9 July
Playhouse Theatre - The Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne


Pictured above : Christy Sullivan, Next To Normal, MTC

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Robert Reid edit
Written by Paul Andrew   
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 20:56

Robert Reid is an award winning playwright as well as Artistic Director of independent theatre company Theatre in Decay. His play The Joy of Text received a public reading as part of the MTC 2009 Cybec Readings and has just opened as part of the MTC mainstage season.

Reid was awarded the St Martin’s Playwright of the Year Award in 2000 and his play Portraits of Modern Evil was shortlisted for the 2007 Wal Cherry Award and Griffin Award. His production The New Black was shortlisted for the Kit Denton Award in 2009. Other works include Sweet Staccato Rising, The New Black, All Dressed Up, Noone to Blow, Screaming in America: The Bill Hicks Project, All of Which are American Dreams, A Mile in her Shadow and Empire.

Robert Reid talks to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Robert ReidDescribe your play The Joy of Text in seven words?

Smart is sexy, fast, dangerous and fun.

Your play title reminds me of Roland Barthes short book written in 1973, The Pleasure of the Text, any co-relation or reference at all?

An early draft actually had a joke about Writing Degree Zero and The Death of the Author. But other than that there’s no direct relation.

Speaking of books published in the 1970's, there was another, a series in fact, The Joy of Sex, can there possibly be any relation to these books too, if so how so, memory, puberty perhaps? 

Yes, that’s where the joke is. 

It’s a fairly cheap joke in a way but there’s also a kind of poetry to it as well, the play is so much about text and how all the ways we can understand it, the many different interpretations which is joyful in its way.

The subject of subjectivity, tell me something about this within the ambit of the play?

So many of the issues that I cover in the play turn on issues of subjective assessment but we want them to be grounded in something black and white. Truth, morals, literary excellence.

Student teacher relations, what a minefield Robert, how did this setting and concept come about for your work? 

It grew out of my fascination with the two Helen’s books. Putting the issues of truth and authenticity that surround The Hand That Signed The Paper by Helen Darville and the sexual politics of The First Stone by Helen Garner lead me pretty naturally to forbidden high school relationship.

‘God is dead’, ‘the author is dead’, who decides these things? 

Wow, so, big questions. I really don’t know that there is an ultimate decision to be made about these things. I think issues of power and authority, the logos and the locus, are always in ongoing flux. I think it’s naïve to think that existence is a set of puzzles to be solved once and for all.

Education and it's discontents – what makes this a subject compelling and entertaining for audiences? 

Almost everyone has had some kind of educational experience, we all remember having our favourite teachers, or feeling outside the school system. I think also that the discontents with the pedagogical system are pretty closely related to any industrialised office system.

Self-reflexivity now, tell me about your personal favourite quote in the play, why you love it so? 

Oh well there are so many. “Revenge is not redemptive”. Probably the bit I like best. Or this one; “Chaser sucks by the way, totally blows”. There’s the tragic misunderstanding at the centre of the first and the rhythmic inversion in the second that I feel makes a fairly cheap shot a lot more interesting structurally.

Tell me about the concept to stage development process, what you learned the most as a playwright at the reading at the MTC Cybec readings in 2009?

What was most evident to me at the Cybec readings was the superfluous character (there were originally five), this situation was over loading the second half of the play and lead to an unsatisfying conclusion. 

Removing that character meant the whole play tightened up around the themes and the action of the play grew out of the new stresses fewer characters placed on each other. 

It’s been through maybe four or five major redrafts and, I’m not sure, maybe fifteen significant changes and countless minor tweeks; still making them now actually.

Is there something from this development experience you feel compelled to share with other writers? 

GET A PUBLIC READING FOR YOUR WORK. I cannot stress this enough. Any opportunity to show your work to the public, the real public not your friends and industry contacts, there is no better teacher than the audience.

And indeed something new, unusual or different you learned about “the audience” too? 

It’s not something new I learned but it’s something I believed that has been confirmed for me now. You can ask a lot of an audience. They want to be challenged and stretched. Give some thought as to why they would want to keep watching and they’ll go a long way with you.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents The Joy of Text by Robert Reid. Now playing at the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio until 23 July, 2011.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Burlesque - INTERVIEWS



Grab My Junk may well be a ‘nonsense’, however it has a certain ring to it. Exactly what type of ring depends on your imagination. If you have a penchant for inappropriate questions, inappropriate behaviour in general, then you and the GMJ crew will get along just fine, you might even get to touch or fondle the ‘junk’.

Burlesque performer Cassandra Atkins mimics an MC sideshow tenor and explains the protocols behind the most unlikely moniker and how this most inappropriate mix of burlesque and game show will be teased out on the day.

“Host Jonny Porkpie introduces the Burlesque guest performers to an audience full of potential contestants in the best possible way: by bringing them to the stage to present titillating burlesque numbers. Watch carefully as these sex kittens and hunky tomcats take off their clothes -- watch even more carefully than usual, something in the striptease will help you guess the answers to the most intimate questions about the private lives of these performers. Answer these inappropriate questions appropriately - and you win.”

After some rather blue off the record-discussion about private lives , private parts and something resembling a unicorn, we get down to brass corsets. So, what is the junk?

“Yes, Junk”, replies Atkins. There are two sets of prizes, the early prizes you can grab consist of the useless crap that's been lying around the host or performer's house, like that book he bought for a class in university that he never read, old beaten up toy from his childhood and VHS tapes - of course. Atkins is tight-lipped when it comes to the real booty, hinting that if the idea of finding booty when it’s not a booty call appeals, then you will love the junk.

“It's arguable whether sex on stage, burlesque, ‘the art of concealment’, is always in fashion, it is right now”, insists Atkins, “When you hide something, cover it up, it creates mystery, people love mystery. “

“Speaking historically, Burlesque is a very old term that means ‘to jest’. It was used in musical forms. Around the mid-late 1800s European cabarets began to flourish and we saw the establishment of venues such as Moulin Rouge, featuring energetic and sexualised routines performed by women that were at odds with the dominant cultural representation of women of the time being meek and mild."

At the same time, Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes (a UK troupe) toured large theatres in the USA to massive success. This spawned many copycat shows, and burlesque was about women creating theatre shows, playing men but wearing corsets, parodying popular culture in overtly sexual ways, padding their boobs and hips, appearing to be nude, or thereabouts and singing risque songs. It was gender-confusing and gender-controversial. “

Conversation turns from nonsense to blue to political mindfulness, to feminism in particular.

“Even a traditional show today is a little different to the Golden Age, given the social changes such as feminism- the way female bodies are perceived, critiqued and problematised in contemporary culture - the social frame today is different to what it used to be, affecting how performers perform, and their expectations too. We are expected to know our feminist stance, something Golden Age performers didn't have to do.”

Photo: Becky Lou, Burlesque performer, Grab My Junk


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MOTH- Declan Greene - INTERVIEWS

MOTH Returns

The hugely successful play MOTH has returned to The Malthouse. Paul Andrew talks to writer Declan Greene.

Declan Greene’s multi-award winning play Moth touches on one of the most vexing social issues faced by young people today: What happens when social media networks turn foul, when friendship is not the premise and abuse is? Working closely alongside students from Buckley Park College in Essendon for the script development process Greene and his young protégés have developed a deft theatrical collaboration.

“The play's director, Chris Kohn, approached me with a couple of pieces of stimulus for Moth: the image of a flood-lit cricket pitch at night, and the idea of a teenager having an ecstatic religious vision,” explains Greene of the writing journey instigated between Arena and Malthouse theatres. “This kicked up a lot of ideas which were teased out into narrative strands. “

“The whole thing evolved in a very organic way, with lots of input from our many collaborators: the actors, designers and work experience students. This very democratic way of working meant that what we've ended up with, I think, is a really fascinating network of ideas, incorporating Anime and Wiccan subculture, apocalyptic religious imagery, martyrdom, and the often brutal enforcement of social hierarchy in high schools." 

“What's really interesting about the way this play was developed was that it wasn't a terribly long development process, at least, not by theatre standards. In Australian theatre there's such an emphasis on letting work gestate over months and months and years, endlessly redrafting, which can be beneficial to an extent. But I think there's also something really exciting in following the initial spark of inspiration through to fruition in a condensed way, it results in a much more dangerous, more exciting development process, keeps everyone on their toes.”

“ The moth concept? I guess that was something that emerged quite directly from Chris' initial provocations, that idea of floodlights at night on a cricket-pitch, moths slamming against the light. There's that maybe-true, maybe-urban-legend bit of knowledge about moths being guided by the moon, but their flight patterns are disturbed by artificial light, which causes them to destroy themselves involuntarily. That self-destructive impulse seems to be pretty relevant when writing about young people."

Self-destructive behaviour is often tied into school bullying, why so? Greene sees it this way.

“ I hate the term 'Bullying'. I think it's become jingoistic, totally meaningless through overuse. It evokes bad after-school specials, educational videos about kids getting pushed, kicked or called drongo. Bullying is the gradual erasure of someone's identity, through constant humiliation and degradation over an extended amount of time. It's horrifying, and destroys lives, and it's something a lot of people never properly get over."

Greene is quick to qualify his bullying statement, revealing that while bullying can destroy one’s social image and self-image too, bullying can also be a two-way practice.

“True, I've been bullied a bit in my life. I was a pretty flaming homo from a young age, and I grew up in the country, so you can imagine. But that said - I've also been a 'bully'. I was very, very horrible to a couple of kids at high school, really treated them terribly, just because I could, because I was bored and angry at being hurt so many times myself. That's one of my biggest regrets. Ugh. “

Photo: MOTH. Malthouse Theatre. Pictured Actor Thomas Conroy as Sebastian. Photographer Jeff Busby.

For more info:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jessica Marsh - INTERVIEWS

Jessica Marsh
Written by Paul Andrew   
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 21:14

After the success of their first show The Play About Nothing in the 2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival, Jessica Marsh and Pippa Russell are back with a new show A Fire, The Fire. This show separates and isolates audio and visual with pre-recorded dialogue and visual scenes without sound in an attempt to simulate memory during trauma. 

Paul Andrew speaks with Jessica Marsh from the playwriting duo in their busy rehearsal studio.

Jessica MarshMemory during trauma, tell me about how this work came about Jessica?
The concept? Okay there's a song by Snow Patrol called If There's a Rocket Tie Me To It.
The chorus goes like this;

A fire, a fire
You can only take what you can carry
A pulse your pulse,
It's the only thing I can remember
I break you don't
I was always set to self destruct though
The fire the fire,
It cracks and bucks like primal music.

The ideas contained by that chorus were perfect for us. The characters so clearly defined. There is a certain type of trauma you can only experience from a fire, losing everything, losing it suddenly.

I think that Snow Patrol's lyricist, Gary Lightbody sums up best when he says that this song is "set in the context of a world that's as terrifying as it is beautiful." Have you experienced this type of terror and beauty?
I have experienced such a trauma, yes, I suddenly lost everything. After the dress run of a show I directed in 2008 I received a phone call to tell me my grandfather had passed away. At the interval of a show I went to the funeral. It was such a surreal experience.

The trauma that we're trying to explore is not only the trauma of sudden loss but of long term unresolved feelings like grief, or guilt. How that in turn, affects the way people act, treat each other and view the world.

The three characters in the play all have hidden pasts. Secrets they don't want to share, secrets that rule their every action, their every thought. We use the experience of the fire to make them relive their guilt, to force them to come to terms with it. I like the idea of them being trapped in their own heads, no one else but their self can get into that world.

Tell me your thoughts about memory?
Memory is a powerful tool. The most insignificant thing can, over time, become a huge part of your life. Memory is funny like that. You can forget the major moments, or twist them to mean less, or mean more. One tiny thing could become your focus point, that be all, end all thing, but the big, defining moment of your life could mean nothing whatsoever.

I think that people use memory to make excuses for themselves, blaming their behaviour on things that happened years ago. Letting that one event be their crutch, their way to explain. As that event grows in their mind it can becomes more powerful than the event itself, I like this idea from a writer’s perspective.

Tell me about your characters?
Dean is a volatile young man. Erratic and unreliable. But he has a good heart. He loves his sister, Olivia, dearly. They are the only family that each other has.

Olivia, a strong independent. She moved to Melbourne, got a job, left her mother and her shit-head little brother behind. Dean got himself into strife and encroached on her new life. And she found herself being a mother to him once again.

Richard, on the other hand, had everything, a brother, a fiancee, a good job. Then he lost it all, he went from being a gentle caring stable individual, to an awkward misplaced shell.

The three of them live in their own versions of normality.

Life, is it always a series of ordeals?
Life is definitely a series of ordeals. Not necessarily because we are battered by fate or bad luck, but because of the emotions we invest in each event in our lives.

We make things into ordeals because it's easier to cope. People like complaining about things, having something about themselves to talk about. So they make each event bigger and add more suffering so they can tell everyone how horrific that experience was.

What theatre has inspired you of late?
A few weeks ago I saw Attic Erratic's show Christina: A story with music. It was performed in the Collingwood Underground Carpark. It was a 1 hour monologue, written like every internal monologue I've ever heard. It jumped and stuttered and re explained and refined itself as it went. It used the space magnificently, it felt like it was written for the space. I don't think enough shows think about the voice of the space. It was refreshing to see a show that thought about it.

You are an emerging playwright, tell me about your first production with Pippa?
The Play About Nothing last year for the Melbourne Comedy Festival was my first show. It was the first time I tried something different, a time that I realised that that was what I wanted to do, make contemporary theatre. We used the concept of audience participation. But not in the way that keeps the audience the audience. We blurred the boundaries of audience and actors. It was a great concept. People loved it and they were keen to participate. It was a long process, hard to think about how we could pull it off.

I'm still learning.

And the humour contained in your writing?
I think humour is an important way to connect with others. A great way to break the ice, a way to easily let others know what kind of person you are, how you think and act, an easy way to bond. It helps you to let go, to be in the moment. Without humour in the rehearsal space, on the stage, the connection is less.

A Fire, The Fire
Pippa Russell and Jessica Marsh

Venue: Gasworks Theatre, Gasworks Arts Park | Corner Graham and Pickles streets, Albert Park
Dates: 15 – 19 June, 2011
Times: Wednesday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 3pm
Tickets: $21 Full /$27 Conc
Bookings: | 03 9699 3253 (+bf phone only)

WARNING: Contains nudity

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gordon Bennett - Notes - Curator Kelly Gellatly - INTERVIEWS

Gordon Bennett
6 September 2007 - 16 January 2008

Archive Copy- 14 August 2007

Paul Andrew interviews Kelly Gellatly, NGV Curator of Contemporary Art.

Since his first major solo exhibition in 1989, Bennett has achieved international acclaim for the ways in which he engages with questions of cultural and personal identity. His work consistently challenges conventional representations of Australian cultural identity for both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians through a focus on connections to place and nationhood.

Kelly, 'aboriginality' is a word that is often critiqued in art/academic circles – what is Bennett’s approach to the meaning, politics and history of this particular term?

I don’t think I can answer for the artist, but I will attempt to convey what I think about this in relation to his work.

From the beginning of his practice Bennett has been concerned with an investigation of the kind of binary oppositions (good/bad, black/white etc.) that structure our understanding of self and society more broadly and the way in which these are integrally connected to language, knowledge and understanding.

While Bennett’s investigation of identity has been informed by his own position as a person of indigenous and non-indigenous descent and there is a thread of self-portraiture that runs through his oeuvre, the artist’s work extends beyond the personal and a simple investigation of self. 

His creation of John Citizen in the mid-1990s – a kind of artistic alter ego that has allowed him to make a completely different body of work – is an attempt to work outside of these kind of labels and concerns and an acknowledgement that his investigation of these issues was serving to pigeonhole him as an artist and determine the interpretation and reception of his work.

Tell me a little about Bennett’s most recent work included in the survey – it’s themes, style, media, it’s ethos?

The exhibition closes with Bennett’s most recent and relatively new body of abstract painting. This body of work, which began around 2003, signals a very conscious end to Bennett’s postcolonial project of the last twenty years. 

It is also an attempt to step away from the overwhelming power of figurative imagery and the politics and issues of his work to date.

These paintings (which are executed on both paper and canvas) deliberately deny the viewer any kind of narrative association. This is also carried through to their titles – the works are numbered consecutively in the order in which they are painted over the course of each year (ie. Number one, 2004, Number two, 2004 etc.)

I have never had, heard or read any discussion with Gordon about his use of different media, but it is fair to say that he is truly a cross-disciplinary artist whose work ranges across painting, photography, printmaking, video, performance and installation, and that there are works in a number of different media within the exhibition.

It seems to me that the artist’s work is driven by ideas and content first and that this in turn determines the media in which they are executed. Sometimes the same images are made as both paintings and prints, and many motifs re-appear in different works across different time periods. The kind of ‘sampling’ of different images that we see in paintings from the Home décor series for example, shows the increasing importance of the computer to the artist; a tool which has enabled him to experiment and successfully ‘build’ his compositions before physically undertaking their complex and time-consuming execution.

How does Bennett prefer to describe himself in relation to indigenous art history and whom does he count as influences in this sphere?

Bennett’s position on this has changed over the years. When he first began exhibiting in the late 1980s, both he and his practice were discussed in terms of his own position as an (urban) Aboriginal artist and his work was included in exhibitions of both contemporary art and contemporary indigenous art.

But by the mid-1990s, he came to feel he was in an untenable position. While his work was increasingly exhibited within a national and international context, the combination of his position- or as Bennett would argue, ‘label’- as an (urban) Aboriginal artist, and the subject matter of his work, seemed to ensure inclusion within certain curatorial and critical frameworks, and largely determine interpretation and reception.

It is undeniable that many of the issues raised by Bennett’s practice are deeply connected to the artist’s personal experience, circumstance and sense of self, and that the content of much of his work has drawn upon his struggle to come to terms with his indigeneity.

Yet Bennett began to feel that the cultural and social structures surrounding perception, representation and identity that he aims to deconstruct in his work were ironically serving to pigeonhole him.

Bennett has since gone on to categorically refuse the inclusion of his work in ‘Aboriginal’ art exhibitions, preferring, as artists such as Tracey Moffatt have done before him, to be conceived as a ‘contemporary’ artist who just happens to be indigenous and whose work encompasses an investigation of Aboriginality and the construction of identity within a broad range of complex and interconnected issues.

Bennett suggests that if one word was used to describe his work it is “Question” – is Bennett a philosopher of sorts concerned with truth and truthfulness – and if so in what way?

Bennett is first and foremost an artist but it’s true to say that his work deals with philosophical issues.

When it comes to issues like ‘truth’ and ‘truthfulness’ it seems to me that his work is not about these kinds of absolutes but about opening our eyes to the way in which we can believe that what we are taught – and his re-use of images from school history texts is a perfect case in point here – is true.

In drawing attention to the role of language and the nature of perception and understanding, Bennett opens our eyes to possibilities and realities different to the things we have been taught or feel we ‘know’. This is particularly the case with Australian history and the related issues of nationhood and citizenship.

Bennett mentions that ‘freedom’ is a fundamental drive – in what sense does he mean freedom as drive – symbolically, politically? Can you name some examples of this in specific works in the survey?

If you think of the context in which Bennett discusses this – the quote that it comes from – I think that Bennett means ‘freedom’ in terms of a freedom to question and to think differently – freedom to interrogate accepted structures and ways of thinking. From this comes change (hopefully) and the possibility of different realities and futures.

Bennett came to art later in life – where and why was this – how does he describe this experience and motivation?

Bennett chose to go to art school as a mature age student – this was a conscious decision to change the direction of his life.

When thinking of what he might do he was advised to think of things he was good at, and this lead him to art. He began study at Queensland College of Art, Brisbane in 1986. This gave him exposure to postmodernism and postcolonial theory, which were to provide the perfect way of expressing the issues he wanted to deal with in his work.

Appropriation became similarly important at this time and across his career he has incorporated references to and motifs from artists such as Colin McCahon, Van Gogh, Imants Tillers, Jackson Pollock, Margaret Preston, Mondrian and Jean-Michel Basquiat in his work.

Who does Bennett appropriate – why so?

Bennett’s appropriation of the work of other artists allows him to incorporate some of the issues raised by their art within his own practice. In some instances it also allows him to enter into a kind of ‘dialogue’ with them.

In the Notes to Basquiat series,( see work depicted above) Bennett’s appropriation goes a step further. In these works, Bennett works entirely in Basquiat’s ‘hand’, replicating the raw street style of his African American counterpart. These paintings incorporate ‘signature’ Basquiat motifs while also including recognisably Australian subjects, but as if they were painted by Basquiat, not Gordon Bennett.

This survey represents work spanning what period of time – is there a centrepiece to this survey?

This survey spans twenty years of the artist’s practice. It is largely displayed chronologically.

Postmodern art is often critiqued for its overriding concern for aesthetics or melancholy at the expense of political agency – where is Bennett situated in an art historical sense?

I think it’s fair to say that Gordon Bennett is one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed contemporary artists. His work has been exhibited widely both within this country and internationally.

What are two key works that have attracted extraordinary critical acclaim in the exhibition – and why so?

There are too many to mention, however of particular note are The nine ricochets (Fall down black fella, jump up white fella), 1990, for which Bennett won the Möet et Chandon Fellowship and Home décor (Preston + de Stijl = Citizen) Panorama, 1997, for which he was awarded the John McCaughey Memorial Prize.

Many works within the exhibition have been exhibited within Australia and internationally and have been widely published and discussed.

What particular work/works do you love Kelly and why?

There are so many, I hate to single a few out! 

I do particularly admire the Home décor and Notes to Basquiat series – both for the sophistication of their imagery, their sampling, and the influence of music (particularly hip hop and rap) upon them.

What makes this survey show urgent and rigorous?

For some artists this kind of survey comes at the ‘right’ time, and I think that this is certainly the case with Gordon Bennett.

He has produced an extraordinary amount of work over the past twenty years and it seems timely to assess it in this context. Of course, like any exhibition, this one is unable to represent absolutely every aspect of Bennett’s practice and this is the challenge of curatorial work.

I hope that the exhibition conveys the nature of his practice over this extended period and the interconnectedness of his concerns – that it provides a journey. I also hope that it introduces Bennett’s work to new audiences while providing some ‘old favourites’ for those more familiar with his practice.

What preconceptions should gallery goers leave at the door as they enter the gallery?

I don’t know about preconceptions, but gallery goers should expect to be challenged. Bennett’s work issues a challenge to political conservatism and social complacency. It prompts us to re-think our personal beliefs and positions, and the broader implications of these on society.

Gordon Bennett
Born Australia 1955

Image above:

Notes to Basquiat (The coming of the light) 2001
synthetic polymer paint on canvas 152.0 x 152.0 cm
Collection of the artist, Brisbane
Photography: John O’Brien
Copyright Courtesy of the artist

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


The Gift | Melbourne Theatre Company
Written by Paul Andrew   
Tuesday, 07 June 2011 14:16

The Gift | Melbourne Theatre CompanyLeft – Richard Piper and Heather Bolton. Cover – Richard Piper and Elizabeth Debicki. Photos – Jeff Busby

It’s paradise, an aspirant middle class idea of paradise at least. An exotic locale in a verdant setting, a place with no name that could be absolutely anywhere or nowhere, a hotel in a mythic land with a panoramic view of the ocean, a hotel replete with all the modern accoutrements afforded by five-star travel, expensive restaurants, expensive cocktail bars, expensive yachting expeditions.

Sadie (Heather Bolton) and Ed (Richard Piper) look at home in the hotel and appear rather chuffed with their salubrious surrounds. As we listen to them chit chattering away mindlessly about nouvelle cuisine, middle class manners and middle-age pleasantries, we understand these are people, who, despite surface appearances, despite the veneer of material prosperity, are inconsolably lost in this paradise, utterly bereft of spirit.

Their paradise is all perfect Vogue Living, perfect white polished surfaces, perfect panoramas and perfect Ragout of Otter. It’s peopled by silvering couples who, just like Sadie and Ed are blindsided by perfect wealth, greed and self-pity to the luminosity and imperfect tapestry of life, instead they are stone-like, inert and heavy in heart as they revel in their status and worldly success.

Theirs are conversations steeped in ennui, subtly hinting at unlived lives, beautiful paradoxes, potentialities and poetry simmering below the surface never to see the light of day. Outside, it’s fecund, nature is bountiful. A golden sunset fades to an inky starry night illuminated by a full moon, the ocean glinting. It’s mystical, dark, eternal.

Sadie and Ed are quite nervous, embarrassed and envious as they observe a young couple seated nearby, Martin (Matt Dyktynski) and Chloe (Elizabeth Debicki), at a table just out of earshot and look somewhat conspicuous in this hotel. Their conversation appears inflected by Eros, their bodies rapturous, dancing together at the table enjoying an evening infinitely more epicurean than theirs.

The couples meet and we learn that while Sadie and Ed can easily afford such an opulent sojourn, Martin and Chloe cannot, and that they are in this paradise by the good grace of a winning two dollar raffle ticket purchased from a charity dedicated to Cerebral Palsy.

We discover that Martin and Chloe enjoy life’s simple pleasures, they observe life’s small offerings. Despite significant differences in age, background, world view and economic status the two couples strike an instant accord as the raptures of Martin and Chloe intoxicate Sadie and Ed. Together, this party of four fully inhabit the present and unconditionally embrace the now.

Later, after dinner in the hotel cocktail bar with libations of lively elixir pouring forth we learn intimate details about each of the four characters; their hopes, dreams, trials and the anxieties. There is a terrific scene of shared enthusiasm when the party bonds on a deeper level, music always the great leveler, uniting them, four strangers no more, in turn they are transformed, a Quaternity in Jazz.

The first act of the play is largely narrated by Sadie, the dutiful albeit frustrated wife to Ed the wealthy businessman – the beacon in the field of wood machinery. Sadie is also the character whose cascading cadences of language and engaging lightness, illuminating truths secreted here, there and everywhere, infects the party of four. As the truth seeker, the philosopher, Sadie demonstrates a natural charm that brings people closer together providing a sense of intimate relatedness.

In this way Sadie shares a deeper, albeit tenuous connection, to Martin the installation conceptual artist whose truth seeking abilities, as yet a little less formed, manifest these very same qualities and cadences in his art installations. It is Martin’s partner Chloe, a talented art writer who so deftly reports on the philosophical nuances of Martin’s works. According to Chloe, perhaps keen to win the approval of the wealthy couple announces that Martin is a genius, an artist on the brink of worldy success.

Ultimately, it is the monstrous stories each of these characters shares that captivates us most of all, tapping into and satisfying that great human need we have for story on a mythic scale. Murray-Smith is mindful of the ancient myths, the monstrous is always tempered by lightness, according to Ed, Sadie is his better half, according to Sadie, she is Ed’s best three quarters. Murray-Smith’s selected and thoughtful words tumble like a joyride with Persephone.

As the elixir flows the conversations turns from worldly successes; Ed’s biography in particular, to matters of art and friendship. The recalcitrant Martin is finally put to task, placed in the spotlight by the bacchanalian brood and questioned about his latest project, an installation comprising a glass box filled with a mystical vapour produced by a trick of light technology.

Vapour – it’s a powerful word. It is Martin’s “idea of art” – his imaginary/imagined ”vapour in a glass box” – that becomes the leitmotif of the play, an extraordinary image.

For this reviewer, the characters discussing vapour was so evocative and satisfying. The meaning of vapour, etymologically speaking at least, refers to the exhalation of breath, where the body’s breathe turns to steam. In Zen meditation terms it is in also in the exhalation of breath where meaning resides. In exhalation, we cease to attach to things so strongly, we cut off the mind road, we detach not because these are things which are not worthy, but when we are full of attachments, there is too little of us, our truth, so are unable to discern between things or love them fully.

Vapour is an ancient term, in Greek myth at Charon’s Cave poisonous vapours emanated at its entrance, a cave believed to be the portal to Hades the Greek underworld. Or to miasma theory by way of another example, poisonous vapours – since disproved by science – once believed to cause all sorts of diseases and conditions from Cholera to Chlamydia to the Black Death. Whatever meaning it carries, vapour is always a portent for death.

At the risk of sounding mystical, it is in the character’s discussions and disagreements about the vapours contained in the glass box where art and friendship meet, ultimately it is also in this realm where the impossible becomes possible. Joanna Murray-Smith's dialogue about art feels seamless, her vivid use of language and detail in The Gift permeates us as a vapour might or even as the idea of a vapour might; intoxicating us, disturbing us, entrancing us and eventually, long after the curtain falls, awakening us.

Historically, theatre and visual art have been long entwined, the veil between images and words, delightfully transparent. More recently, somehow, somewhere, a great gulf has formed between them, the veil (the curtain) has coarsened. So much so that to see a major stage play today like this, one dedicated so palpably to the consolations of art and artfulness, at times seems alien at best, unimaginable at worst. If we have forgotten this beautiful entwinement playwright Joanna Murray-Smith alerts us to it once again with an entertaining narrative on a mythic scale. A sublime and unnerving meditation on art and friendship is The Gift.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
The Gift
by Joanna Murray-Smith

Director Maria Aitken

Venue: The MTC Theatre, Sumner | 140 Southbank Boulevard, Melbourne
Dates: 28 May to 9 July, 2011
Tickets: from $61.10 ($30 Under 30s)
Bookings: | 8688 0888