Sunday, September 18, 2011

Inga Liljestrom - Black Crow Jane- INTERVIEWS

Inga Liljestrom's latest album Black Crow Jane  is "quite different to Elk. "

Tina Arena isn't the only Australian songstress to leave behind the golden shores and blue mountains of her homeland, Inga Liljestrom- The Currawong Girl from the Northern Rivers - has fallen in love with the same beloved , Paris. With a new album and old influences at her fingertips, Paul Andrew speaks to the singer about memory, white witches, amethyst crystals and her latest musical collaboration.

Inga tell me about your earliest memory of singing?

Well, my fondest memory of singing was when I was around seven years of age.
My mum was just starting to discover religion during the tale end of her Hippy period, so we would often go to the only church in Bellingen on Sundays and sit though a very conventional church service.

We moved from our lovely country adobe out in the hills somewhere deep in the hills of the Northern Rivers, into a place in town quite close to the church. I would visit the little church alone after school, be truly overjoyed to find the door open, and no one else inside. I would venture in and improvise to my hearts content, singing high notes so I could hear the sustain and the reverberations. I was absolutely in awe of the sound. 

I was very young, but I totally fell in love with this angelic sound and
the wonderful feeling it gave me. Looking back now, I think I have spent my entire adult life trying to recreate this feeling.

Tell me what you loved most about your musical training and education?

I studied voice at Southern Cross University in Lismore, many, many moons ago (not
telling how many). It was the early days of the course, so it was a
little loose in structure. Socially it was magnificent, and I feel I
milked every moment I could, with great parties, loves, wine and song.
The connections I made there I still have today, so many great people.

As for the actual music training, I fell in love with jazz, singers
including Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson,
Betty Carter to name a few. I felt like I belonged to this era of
women, I adored also the fashion, and would done myself in second
hand vintage dresses paired with black biker boots to add a little edge.

Tell me about one of your favourite and most inspiring singing teachers?

Valerie Tamblyn-Mills, a fabulous teacher. I loved Valerie because she
allowed me to be myself. When I arrived at the audition - for some
reason I remember her wearing a dressing gown and slippers (was I hallucinating?) which I recall telling her about a year or two later when I was well into my course, we had a good laugh at the time.

Valerie said she remembered me singing at the audition, so soft and so whispery, so soft in fact that she could barely hardly hear me, but Valerie said she loved my singing. One of the best things my teacher did for me was during a very strange time in my young adult life, a time when I felt I was being pestered by a spirit who wouldn't let me sleep ( the spirit kept turning my light on and off, shaking the bed, getting into bed with me) and it, the spirit, was literally making me crazy.

I would turn up to a singing lesson wearing old fashioned underwear, and be babbling away. I was so exhausted.  My dear teacher took me to see a white witch, who confirmed I was indeed being pestered, probably by a past lover who had since passed on, and she prescribed some potions, did a little magic on me, and I was back to being my true self once again and that pesky light switch no longer turned itself on and off mysteriously.

One of your fondest musical concert experiences?

Melanie Safka was my first real concert experience, and my first true
love musically. Melanie performed in Sydney, and my mum took me to see her
when I was around seven years old. I loved Melanie's songs so much, I would listen to her
at home, lying on the lounge and be covered in goose bumps. Her voice really moved me. Anyway, I only saw a few minutes of the concert, as I was so young, excited and overwhelmed, I fell asleep soon as she came on, however I must have absorbed the entire experience on some unconscious level, I vividly recall Melanie's long skirt, her long locks of hair, the plush red velvet curtains, a guitar, her gentle smile, the crowd applauding, then sleep, the sweetest sleep.

How did your latest album Black Crow Jane come about?

I wrote the songs while holidaying in the Blue Mountains two years ago while staying with my
sister. I had no home at the time and had been traveling for a few years. I would
take the guitar to the garden and these songs arrived, very easily, a new song nearly every day.

I went to France after this holiday and performed with a band I had formed in Paris a few years earlier, and we did our first show in the Czech Republic, it all went so well, the engineer proposed we make a recording together, which is what we did.

We hired a house in the countryside of Normandy, recording over a few days,  it all flowed really well, magically so. So what you hear are whole takes, no overdubs. just pure and simple. I wanted to make a recording that was different from the previous albums, more of a gutsy rock album, one of those things I needed to do and I imagine that the next album will be entirely different again.

These musical collaborations are very different to your earlier songs that we are more familiar with those Baroque folk pop songs like Phoenix or Stardust. What are your thoughts?

There are three collaborative tracks on the album, and they were very easy to make, the music was sent to me by the band and I would pen some lyrics, and that would be that. Or I would send lyrics and the guitarist would write the music. He too said it happened so easily. I think that ultimately Black Crow Jane is the rock album I always wanted to - and perhaps needed to- make, a little purging.

Rock is another aspect that is very real in me. I was brought up on Rock 'n' Roll and Folk. The first album I owned was Blondie, I knew all the lyrics to every Boomtown Rats and Rolling Stones song. Looking back now I was the only kid at school into them, everyone else was into KISS, not me. My mum listened to Nick Drave, Maddy Prior of Steely Span, and Melanie of course, so I think mum’s musical tastes were also highly influential.

Tell me about your songwriting process- does it begin with a chord, an image, a
memory, a dream?
Well, it can start from any point really, but for this album usually the music and lyrics came together, which is quite unusual for me. On the Elk album, it was the music that was composed firstly, in fact it was all recorded, and I had no lyrics or melodies for the songs. Very stressful!

On this album they arrived with a greater degree of simultaneity, which was a huge relief. While living in the Blue Mountains I would sit on the back garden step with a steaming cup of tea, a guitar in hand, black Currawongs watching over me. Birds with an unusual reverberating sing songy call. I would be listening to the birdsong and looking  out over the broken wooden fence and into the old pine trees, noticing the washing on the line, the collection of pot plants and the assortment of crystals, like amethyst and quartz,  glistening in the morning sun near my feet.

The songs on Black Crow Jane are the songs that arrived. It was such a wonderful period of time in my life, it felt so rare and the music felt effortless to produce.

In the evenings I would soak in a bath with the window wide open and watch the mists rolling, and I am so grateful having had these creative days.

Is there one particular song from this album that you find yourself singing
over and over to yourself?
For me probably Wildest Horse and Wishing Bone Hands perhaps because they are a little more fragile and folk like, nice to sing around the house. My partner sings Bittersweet all the time though, he says he can't get it out of his head.

I feel that the lyrics to these two songs are more pertinent to me on a most fundamental level, they are more a part of me or something, a little more insight into the lost romantic soul, that somehow, by grace, by music, is found again. 

More info:

BLACK CROW JANE in review:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bagryana Popov- Sarajevo Suite- INTERVIEWS

Bagryana Popov

Written by Paul Andrew   
Friday, 01 July 2011 09:00

How would it be to live in a city under siege? To suddenly fear for your life? For four years.

Sarajevo Suite brings the experiences of women survivors of war to Australian audiences. We heard about the war in Bosnia on the news, distantly, briefly. The media attention ends, but the trauma remains for the people who lived through the war. Sarajevo Suite tells part of that story. Paul Andrew speaks to Director Bagryana Popov.

Bagryana PopovWriter Helen Lucas has worked closely with refugees and has traveled extensively; tell me a little about the writer Bagryana, what inspires you about her art?
I love Helen's openness, compassion and the simplicity and clarity of her writing in this piece.

What do you love about her voice, her poetry?
Helen distils the idea and keeps a beautiful rhythm. In Sarajevo Suite she has kept the voices of the women she interviewed, but found a certain specific rhythm in their text. There is a lovely balance between expressiveness, rhythm and sparseness. Nothing feels superfluous.

Briefly, tell me about this story, its geography, its temporal setting?
Sarajevo Suite is a collection of stories about experiences during a terrible moment in history. These stories emerge in a form of conversation. Three women share their experiences and from this a picture of the war emerges. The women have been through it, survived it and are telling us what happened. In that sense the play gives us a picture of the past but also a sense of the present. One of the women is in Australia, where she came as a refugee. So the geographic settings are the Balkans and Australia, but in the end, the setting is the room we are in together, in which they tell us their stories.

And indeed, the narrative angle, a city and its people under siege?
It gives us the minute detail of their lives; one woman says 'I had nothing of what you need for life, actually'. There is a combination of the most terrible suffering and a kind of endless every day, as they struggle to survive and keep some sense of normality within the madness of the situation.

Her text, what do you understand about why Helen decided to write this particular story with this particular angle?
The story comes out of personal contact. Helen was in Sarajevo a few years back, and while there she realized how little she knew of what people had gone through. She began to ask, and that led to these three women being interviewed.

So this play is an act of listening and sharing. It comes out of a very personal contact with three women, in conversation which is at times very intimate, and at times comes to an abrupt limit.

What enchants you the most about this play?
The voices of the women are so alive and honest. There is a beautiful sense of the real human being speaking – speaking of terrible situations, but still, speaking openly. I love the unpredictability of rhythm within the stories, which can only come from lived experience and speech. There is no sentimentality in the way the women speak. At the same time there is so much love – for their children, for friends, for people around who are suffering from this terrible war.

Without any grand statements from any of the women, what becomes clear is that war is senseless and dreadful, but also that people fleeing conflict or war, who become refugees, are normal people. That it can happen to anyone, overnight, whenever conflict erupts.

Two Bosnian women and one Serbian woman, tell me briefly about their similarities and differences. It’s a play not about borders, but people I imagine?
Absolutely. Two of the women lived through the whole siege in Sarajevo; one escaped and became a refugee. The lives of all three women were changed irrevocably by the war.

All three women speak with dismay about the conflict, and they all come out of the experiences looking for ways to stay strong, to continue to be positive and to still find joy in life.

How do you feel a play like this matters, as war crimes accountability trials and repercussions are unfolding and felt by so many, now as wounds are re-opened – for many now a feeling of so little by way of consolation?
This play is a small space in which to tell stories which remind us of the long term effects of war. So many people suffered in the war in Bosnia, and it seems to have been a war with no rules. Perhaps some of that suffering can be eased with the sense that there is some just punishment for those who perpetrated terrible acts of violence in the period of the war.

At the moment it's being called 'The refugee question' a misnomer if ever there was one, a term that seems to ignore the truth that the people inhabiting these lands, this island continent are all constituents of migration – indeed threat – at some point in time. What does this play provide us with now by way in terms of paying attention, being mindful in these lands we call home?
This play, like so many other works of theatre in recent years, turns to the human story and gives a human face to the notion 'refugee'. Australia as a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention for Refugees has obligations to treat refugees humanely and offer protection, yet our recent governments on both sides of politics fall short of these obligations. The politics of fear against refugees seeks to leave them as anonymous masses. This play enters into the human story and the refugee is no longer a frightening anonymous intruder, but a normal person. The three women in this play are all intelligent, grounded women, the one who becomes a refugee, Milinka, does so to save herself and her son. and comes to Australia. Hearing her story makes the 'refugee question' not a question but a something normal, desirable and just.

For me, it begs a related question, men are being held accountable now for war crimes like the Kyhmer Rouge regime in some spheres and not others. Osama Bin Laden, not so, he and his entire family were massacred, conveniently, expeditiously and not brought to a war trial commission of inquiry and accountability. A paradox given the US is a country founded on democratic principles with the humanitarian justice principles of 'please explain' set aside – this area of war crimes accountability is clearly one in flux, your thoughts, and your observations? What are we missing in stories about war crime accountability Bagryana – the blind spot?
I think that it is a deeply fraught and difficult issue, the issue of partial justice. If justice is partial is it injustice? That is, if one war criminal is tried and sentenced and another isn't, does that destroy our trust in the concept of law, trial and the execution of justice? Or is partial justice better than none? Is it better that someone is tried, even if not all are tried?

I don't have an answer to that, but I think that the great powers operate with deep cynicism, as some military leaders are brought to trial and not others. Recently I heard an excellent program on ABC Radio National discussing the International Tribunal for War Crimes during the war in former Yugoslavia, in which the question was raised whether NATO representatives would also be tried for their part in the conflict. It is very unlikely that powerful countries would allow that to happen. This leads to an erosion in the concept of justice, as it enacts a principle of 'might is right'. If you are strong, you are not tried or punished. If you lose, you are.

There is something primitive and disturbing about this. Yet while I write this, I also think that to bring war criminals to trial is right, because at least there is a precedent, and hopefully that sends a message that there is no impunity for such crimes. That there can be consequences, repercussions, punishments for those who are powerful today and use their power to perpetrate terrible violence. Trials of war criminals will hopefully lead them to have a thought in their mind for what happens tomorrow, if they lose.

Tell me about the funniest thing that has happened for you and/or the cast in rehearsals so far?
Well, the three actresses are wonderful; they come from various parts of Europe and have great senses of humour. It has been a source of delight for us to compare accents and stories, copy each other's accents, and to learn to swear in Bosnian!

Sarajevo Suite by Helen Lucas, directed by Bagryana Popov, is now playing at La Mama Theatre until 10 July, 2011.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Daniel Schlusser- INTERVIEWS

 The Dollhouse

Written by Paul Andrew   
Tuesday, 13 September 2011 18:14

Daniel Schlusser is one of the most influential directors and dramaturges in Australia. His Peer
 Gynt was hailed by many Melbourne critics as the outstanding theatre event of 2009 while his
 Life is a Dream and Poet #7 were nominated for a combined seven Victorian Green Room
 Awards, including Best Direction and Best Production, in that same year.

Daniel Schlusser speaks to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew about his latest project, Ibsen's The Dollhouse.

Daniel SchlusserDaniel tell me about the certain something, someone or somewhere that has inspired your work with dramaturgy, updating plays, tying in canonical works to the zeitgeist now?

I can't name it really, it's a compulsion, it's in perpetual motion, experiences of life; people art, landscape.

My sense of lineage at this moment in time might include the morose artist Martin Kippenberger and the man who led me to him, Armin Petras (Artistic Director of the Gorki Theater in Berlin). Jack Hibberd's populist rewrites were an early spark as were the theories of Howard Barker.

Films do it all the time, the way that Fassbinder re-uses Hollywood plots for his own ends.

On reflection, is there a particularly fond theatre memory that feels like the base for your directing/ dramaturgy work? 

Julie Forsyth as a wildcat Lady Macbeth and Rob Menzies as Macbeth in a site-specific Anthill production comes up – there was a sense of danger and muscularity and immediacy in that work that thrilled me at a young age.

A lot of the great experiences I have had don't work directly on the mind in such an obvious way, it might be more accurate account of my dramaturgical development to recall trooping up to the television room to watch Dr Who on a Friday night, all the kids armed with pillows covering our faces during the scary bits.

Tell me about your recent take on Peer Gynt – in hindsight what did you enjoy most about updating this work and what do you feel resonated most with audiences?

Wow, what can I say about the audience? For me, in hindsight, as an audience of one, I still feel very moved by the basics of the story, regardless of contemporisation: a boy who grows up without a father and is trying to impress an absence, a girl who waits her whole life, with unwavering certainty for the boy to return when he is ready.

Things that resonate with me are people I know in very specific ways, the brutality of needing to curtail the imagination in order to survive in the world, and the need for stories.

The most successful aspect of the production might have been the flatness of the frame and the width of the stage, like the Australian accent, like the landscape, very little verticality. The real kombi on stage amongst other perfect design touches. And I think we tapped a kind of suburban hell – in the contemporisation/adaptation of the 'troll kingdom' in that play – a hell that was very recognisable for Melbourne audiences.

And similarly with your take on Life Is A Dream?

A week before rehearsals I was beaten up in a random attack by a bunch of kids on a street-corner in Westgarth. What seemed to be appalling timing ended up infusing the work in a way that was almost alchemical; I don't expect to again make a work based so thoroughly on instinct as that one.

What motif or indeed, character(s) seized you most in selecting these two plays; from so many canonical works?

That's the most mysterious question of all: how texts come to choose you. They are both considered unstage-able, I think that is a red-rag to a bull and their impracticality stems from their ambition and that's attractive. Faust Part II may well be the next point of call, or a novel, The Master and Margarita. I don't find "well-made plays" as interesting.

 I think that there are canonical works that, at any point in time confirm our existing world view and there are canonical works that appear to confirm our world view but actually contain really difficult truths, maybe it's discovering the latter that gets me to particular works.

Ibsen is flawed, he is human, and his plays are a mix of deep insight, poetic genius and melodramatic rubbish. Calderon is almost as transcendent but also has that irritating habit of stretching metaphors to well-beyond breaking point, he's also deeply religious which is a stumbling block. It's another possibility: that it is the flaws that attract me to them. 

Thematically, they are pretty wide-ranging but first there has to be a single detail that gets under the skin; I read badly and come away with a single detail, such as, "I wonder what someone would really be like if they had spent the first 20 years of their life imprisoned in a cave?" and then I keep scratching at that detail until it yields a personal connection or a strong contemporary resonance, or simply, that I get a fix on the "reality" of that condition or idea. And then I read again and find another detail... eventually I have to make a show.

Reclaiming social ritual in art, in these secular times, is perhaps one of theatre's most engaging consolations?

Our lives are full of ritual, some of them are exhausted through mindless repetition some of them are alive and thriving. Ritual is not at all esoteric. It is a very practical, basic activity. I like to go to the footy with 40,000 people on the weekend and I like to go to the theatre with 100 other people during the week and in turn, I go to the pub and the conventions amongst half a dozen friends are just as regulated, it's very simple and it is very real, very ordinary work that has to be done.

I wouldn't be comfortable "reclaiming" social ritual, it is more that the beginning point is examining the contract between the live audience and the performer and trying to re-energise the space for both. Of course my shows are often based around the structures of rituals such as parties, weddings, auctions and when you start investigating you become hyper-aware of the rules that bind us in even the most relaxed activities.

I like your word "consolation" and wonder where that comes in. Is it that I don't like parody? I'm not interested in taking the piss, I am interested in the way these cliché or crass behaviours might conceal or satisfy deep needs.

Is ritual the primary conceit behind your adaptations including plays like The Dollhouse?

The alert viewer will notice that one of my favourite strategies across this sequence is identify the dominant social occasion and amp that up, increase its presence to provide a natural dramaturgical frame.

In this case, it's the understanding that The Dollhouse is a Christmas story and Christmas is a very interesting time for ritual, particularly for Australians who celebrate with so many inherited Northern Hemisphere traditions.

Nora's mental landscape – that paradoxical and universally familiar landscape, worldly success while something is deeply disturbing to the underbelly. Tell me about what is enduring, challenging and disturbing about Nora and a story like The Dollhouse?

The problem with financial success and the quest for financial success is that somewhere along the line it is necessary that someone or something is exploited, it's the basic math of capitalism. When survival becomes the issue, we are at our most resourceful and at our ugliest. Ibsen's characters are not so much people as animals cloaked in civility.

Tell me something about your selection process, what types of things and observations prompted you for the contemporary feel for this production of The Dollhouse, the shiny warehouse conversion setting for instance?

Let's admit it: all Melbournians, regardless of class, want to live in a warehouse conversion, especially if it is re-badged as being on the "Upper West Side".

Do you imagine something along the lines of 'What would Ibsen write today?' in these re-imaginings?

Absolutely – he would be horrified if he saw a contemporary production in frock coats and outdated English if he happened to turn up now. 

Ibsen was searching for a form of realism. The  fact that our understanding of the real has changed substantially ought to be reflected in our idea of "fidelity" to the author. 

I'm also convinced that had Ibsen been alive today he would have included a Dalek in the script, so I'm very proud to be upholding the writer's vision in that respect.

Horror, is there an Australian Gothic feel to this production?

I am obsessed with Australian Gothic, the films of the 70's – Wake in Fright, or the photos of Trent Parke... and often go to them for inspiration but I think this one probably owes more to Polanski's claustrophobia – without the neurotic heroine. Our Nora would be quite comfortable glassing an intruder.

The Dollhouse, directed by Daniel Schlusser opens at fortyfivedownstairs, 15 September, 2011.

Images – Daisy Noyes