Tuesday, January 15, 2013

URBAN Circolombia Sydney Festival 2013 - INTERVIEWS

Felicity Simpson

Written by Paul Andrew   
Monday, 14 January 2013 20:37
Felicity Simpson is founder, Artistic Director and Creative Producer of Circolombia, currently performing URBAN, as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival.

In 1995, Felicity co-founded the Foundation Circo Para Todos in Cali, Colombia, and two years later opened the first professional circus school in the world specifically dedicated to underprivileged children. Circolombia was established to produce shows and create jobs for the graduates of Circo Para Todos, and continues to promote the talent and uniqueness of Colombian performers.

On the eve of their Australian debut, Felicity spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

CircolombiaFor the benefit of readers who are not aware of Circolombia or Circo Para Todos tell me something of your origins?
'Producing Shows, Providing Emotion', Circolombia is a live entertainment production company based in London to promote and provide the world's stage with the dynamic difference of Colombian performers. Circolombia was first born in January 2006 – from the distinct need of professional insertion for graduates from Circo Para Todos in Colombia. Circolombia is renowned for working with highly skilled young artists internationally, producing an explosive and distinctive circus style.

Circolombia now has around 85 permanent performers, between ages 17 and 28.

Circo Para Todos was established in 1997 by Colombian Héctor Fabio Cobo Plata and new circus pioneer Felicity Simpson, Circo Para Todos is the first professional circus school in the world specially dedicated to disadvantaged children and youth at risk, training them as circus artists and instructors to a professional level. To date, all graduate artists are working in their chosen field around the globe, and Circo Para Todos has become Colombia’s National Circus School. Graduates have won prizes in China and Paris Festivals.

Its rigorous professional training and development model has inspired similar projects in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa.

And what inspired the ethos both organisations share?
Uniting youth and celebrating their achievements in excellent and innovative productions is intrinsic to Circolombia, as is helping young people start their own journeys of self discovery and development.

A true narrative of the streets of Cali, URBAN is based on the lives of the young cast; telling the world what it’s like in their reality, through their eyes, their ears and their voices.

Raw is a word often used to describe your works, tell me something of your personal thoughts about this common choice of descriptive?
Director Felicity Simpson: “It was time to unleash the force of youth, an energy field touching the whole theater, to the last seats and back. Here is the difference – they don't act, they come alive onstage to make their "circo concierto". All the energy from the street explodes: a mix of what they have learned in the school and lived in their lives. They express themselves through their own specific language, putting together acrobatic circus skills and live singing reggaeton. It’s a risky, "raw", edgy show, just as their life experience is in Cali.”

Urban provides a positive, authentic and inspiring message, which genuinely relates to the young people involved and the audience as a whole: with passion and determination, you can reach the stars

Tell me what Circolombia, indeed the show URBAN, is not?
"Urban is the antidote to all those circus acts of clean-cut, juggling and tumbling young men who are clearly yearning to be taken home to meet your mum. This is not polite and it is all the better for it" – Lyn Gardner, The Guardian sums it up best.

Can you give me a snapshot of URBAN? 
Urban would like to be a snapshot of a genuine experience showing how determined youngsters can reach the stars and succeed against the odds.

There are so many myths that circulate in the media about Colombian culture – can you tell me about what your company does about this mythologising?
Art transforms and we hope that URBAN helps the public to see 20 sides of the same coin.

Cali is a city of joy and violence yes, but the artist’s explore and expose much more than these clichés. We definitely also show the bright side of the street, the richness of their resourcefulness, their determination and JOY, they are fearless. We refuse any form of "porno-miseria".

Highs and lows are apart of any urban street experience, can you share an insight about the highs and the lows depicted in another of the URBAN stories?
During fuego, one of the darkest and very personal scenes – which questions how difficult it is to break away from a circle of violence – artists decided to bring on a candle each for everyone ever lost to violence.

Transformation. So many in Cali find themselves disadvantaged and living in poverty tell me about one of your performers who best demonstrates this transformation?
Jose Henry Caycedo, at 28, is the oldest of the group, and working as their artistic tutor. He started working internationally in 2005, and has bought a house for his aunt in Cali. Out of 84 Circo Para Todos graduates,15 have bought their own homes in better areas. "I came in at 15 years old," he said. "It's five years of training, of suffering, it wasn't easy, and part of it is knowing your companions, their qualities, their good energy, and how to create a show. Thanks to this I could also realise my own dream to make a path to where I am today, and we can keep feeding back, and helping youth in Colombia through art."

Tell me briefly about the composite range of skills in your crew?
Banquina (flying jumper), teeterboard, blondin (dynamic rope), skipping rope, cloud swing, aerials, Cyr wheel, high wire, mana a mano, dancing, above all rapping, singing at the same time – this is a circus concert.

And the soundscape is vivid?
Set against the backdrop of the Colombian city Cali, Urban weaves through the poetry and violence of street life with a pounding live reggaeton soundtrack, raw contemporary aesthetic and volcanic force.

High octane performance forming a tapestry of interwoven stories; tales of life and death, rhythm and groove, and plots full of lush strings and heavy basslines. A true narrative of the street, this multi lingual live feast will catch you up from the very beginning, spellbound, and carry you along with it, through streets of brash percussion and far off tribal beats, down alleys of haunting melodies and into avenues full of the sounds and atmospheres of the Carnival.

It is a journey through emotion, a pulsating story-telling voyage of rhythm and expression, words and movement, thoughts and ideas, with traditional and modern meeting in a furnace of frequency and fire. This is the voice of these young people; telling the world what its like in their reality, through their eyes, ears, voices, and experiences on the streets of Cali, through their hearts minds and spirits, and most of all, through their bodies, microphones and speakers. A hip-hopera for the modern era.

Breathtaking. Tell me about one particular performance that has audience members at the edge of comfort?
OK. Watching these sweating athletic bodies in action can be a little wierd for some. Cherry on the cake, but a total white knuckle moment for all is when one of the poets aims to be catapulted into the air to land on a tiny seat high up on a rikety pole.

Funniest moment during the rehearsals for URBAN?
In Germany the whole group had a terrible case of diarrhoea, but the show must go on. Our wonderful company manager Ketsia managed to find a chemist on a Sunday and got the strongest pills to sort them out, however, she over did it, and the entire company was constipated for a week.

How do you define beauty?
Being natural and pure, unpretentious it is or it isn't. Beauty has to be.

Circolombia's URBAN opens tonight at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival. Until Jan 27, 2013.

Monday, January 14, 2013

STC's The Secret River - Composer Iain Grandage - INTERVIEWS

Iain Grandage
Written by Paul Andrew   
Monday, 14 January 2013 20:02

Iain Grandage has been a significant presence on the Australian stage for over a decade, having composed and/or performed with nearly every major theatre company in the country.

Iain has arranged for Tim Minchin, Sinead O’Connor, Black Arm Band, Gurrumul, The Whitlams, Tim Rogers, Ben Folds, and is the recipient of a number of Helpmann awards – first in 2002 for his work on the landmark Australian production Cloudstreet, and again in 2012 for his Musical Direction of Little Match Girl.

He is currently performing in Sydney Theatre Company's production of The Secret River, as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival. He spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Iain GrandageIain, for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the narrative of The Secret River, can you give me a snappy seven word pitch for the play?

First contact story with a powerful what-if.

Can you tell me something brief about the back story of the thief William Thornhill?
I don’t think of him as a thief. First and foremost, he was a hardworking riverman who delivered goods and people by boat along the River Thames. He married above himself (to Sal Thornhill), and in his efforts to provide for her and their children, resorted to desperate measures. His death sentence for stealing was, on appeal, commuted to life imprisonment in New South Wales, and Sal chose to accompany him here to Australia.

And in a little more detail something about his particular journey, when where why how, an overview of the characters he meets along his path?
He travelled on the Alexander transport to New South Wales in the first decade of the 19th Century and worked in the colony at Sydney Cove for four years before earning his pardon and moving to the Hawkesbury, to a place now known as Wiseman’s Ferry. He knew the country along the River from his work as a trader on the ‘Hawkesbury Run’ from the settlement’s pastures around Windsor to Sydney Cove. This was at a time when land was being claimed by entrepreneurial free settlers, many of them members of the European underclass of the early 19th century. Whilst most are antagonistic to the local Dharug people, some have learned to live harmoniously with them, most notably Thornhill’s old friend Tom Blackwood.

Can you give me an overview of the Dharug peoples that inhabit the Hawkesbury River region?
They lived a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle, travelling to various places on the river for ceremonial and practical reasons. Whilst they didn’t farm in a European sense, they cared for the land through judicious tending as well as controlled burning. To the best of my knowledge, they were content and needed for little.

What seized you the most while reading Kate Grenville’s book, was it the conflict, the transformation?
I was instantly taken by the completeness of the world described by Kate. This world was one in which I found myself hoping against hope that the story I knew to be true in historical terms wouldn’t consume our central character. Namely that this good man would find a way to respect the prior occupation of ‘his’ piece of land by the indigenous inhabitants, and resist the domineering attitudes of many of his fellow immigrants.

What sounds did the story evoke for you while reading, tell me about this is some detail? (I’m curious about some detail of your journey on this play as composer from inception through development to realisation).
The novel fantastically evokes sights, smells and sounds and these were obviously high in my consciousness as I read. But folk songs kept coming to me as well. These were working class people, for whom the European art music of the time (the High Classical/early Romantic world of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven) would have been as foreign as the traditional songs of the Dharug. I was eager to include folk tunes that felt honest and lived-in rather than earnest and learnt, so these became the building blocks for much of the score.

Tell me about your role as the composer and being on stage for the duration, how did this concept come about?
Half a lifetime ago, I played a show with many of the same creative team as this adaption of Secret River. It was a version of Tim Winton’s ‘Cloudstreet’ and Neil the director had me play live for that show. It is his preference to have live music as part of his theatre shows, and with good reason. From my point of view, it allows the score to live and breathe the same air as the actors, and with them make a more complete theatrical telling of the story.

At the heart of the story is the conflict between European Settlement and Dharug culture, can you tell me briefly about the way this tension is evoked sonically, the arrangements, the instrumentation, the voices, the ‘chorus’?
We have had the great pleasure of having Richard Green work with us as cultural consultant speaking for the Dharug peoples, and he has gifted us a number of Dharug songs to utilize in the show. Starting with these on one hand, and European folk songs on the other, I have tried to create a world where voices are given equal weight. Whilst I play the piano in the show, there is a second, stripped back piano frame that gets bowed and plucked by cast members during the show. For me the piano is a great metaphor for our transplanted European culture here in Australia, and I use it as such in the show. But I was also keen to have sounds that were less recognizably ‘from a culture’. The sounds from piano frame have come to represent (along with Richard’s songs) the Dharug world – both the people and their land.

Do you think there is a prevailing mood or tenor to your composition, tell me about this mood and how this mood is evoked?
I try at all times to stay true to the intention of each moment of the play, and to the broader ebb and flow of its pace. So there are lighter moments, introspective moments, moments of high tension and moments of deep sadness. Overall, I have tried to maintain forward momentum in the score, as Kate so beautifully does in her book, and Andrew Bovell does in his adaption.

How do the actors relate and/or attend to the soundscape, is it a background or foreground focus or an ebb and flow between both – can you give me an example or two perhaps?
Neil has a wonderful way of creating transparent theatre, where all the aspects of the story telling are knowingly revealed and celebrated. This means that all the actors create not only foley (ocean waves, digging sounds) but also contribute musically on guitars, a clarinet, an acoustic bass, as well as the piano frame already mentioned. I have tried to ‘cast’ the musicians to appropriate moments in the play, so for example if there is a narration about Thornhilll and intimacy, I’ll ask for the actress playing Thornhill’s wife (the marvelous Anita Hegh) to help underscore that moment. Hopefully this helps reinforce the sense of a world within a world – of a story being created especially for each and every audience member by a troupe of players in a theatrical play pen.

What do you love about your role and in particular the director’s vision for this The Secret River on stage adaptation?
I love playing a music score live because it means I can be responsive to the rhythms of any particular performance, and respond accordingly. If a scene is particularly aggressive or tender, then I can alter the music to suit, hopefully maintaining the rhythm of the show. Neil‘s theatrical craft is so finely honed, my job is easier than it might otherwise be.

What has been the most challenging aspect for you during the rehearsal process?
I have a new daughter, so in fact the most challenging aspect was flying up and back every week to Melbourne, trying to spend enough time with both my families – my home one, and my Secret River one.

What has been the most satisfying aspect during rehearsals for you personally so far, I imagine it might include something along the lines of the joy of alchemy, the magic that happens when all the disparate components and voices and characters mix?
Absolutely. Getting to sew many of the threads of my creative life together in one show has been deeply satisfying. Some of the indigenous actors on this show are old friends, and getting to work with them musically in a theatrical context, so that indigenous and non-indigenous musics can be heard side by side has been an absolute pleasure. It feels like I’m as Australian as I can be in this cast, and that’s primarily because our indigenous cast members are so endlessly welcoming.

Sydney Theatre Company's The Secret River by Andrew Bovell and directed by Neil Armfield, is now playing as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival. Until 9 Feb, 2013.

Image credit:–
Top right – Colin Moody and Iain Grandage. Photo – Heidrun Lohr

First Published Australian Stage 14.01.2013

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Briefs - Fez Faanana - Sydney Festival 2013 - INTERVIEWS

Fez Faanana


Written by Paul Andrew   
Tuesday, 08 January 2013 16:34

Fez Faanana performs in BRIEFS, a "circus-infused variety show for the not-so-faint-hearted" as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival. He spoke to Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

Fez FaananaDescribe your Sydney Festival BRIEFS show in seven words?
Shiny, Skillful, Sweaty, Suave, Seductive, Stupid and Smart

BRIEFS is such an evocative word, so many connotations ?
As always the BRIEFS crew connotes a sense of irreverence and ridiculousness. It's all about undoing the seat belts of the audience. We want to shit stir, evoke, entertain and enchant audiences with the skill, humour and honesty of each performer.

Tell me the/a potted/potty history of BRIEFS, the beginning the middle and the end bits?
'Briefs began as a bit of mistake. Like many of us born in September' says Shivannah mc character of BRIEFS as part of his/her opening repartee.

BRIEFS was spawned in the back warehouse space of a bookshop in Brisbane's West End in 2008.

The idea came about after a training session at the Brisbane Powerhouse circus space. While stretching on the stinky training mats, conversation came up about putting on a performance club night. Nothing ground breaking or ingenius, just a simple affordable performance club night that would give performers the chance to try out some new late night cabaret/variety acts that included circus, dance, video, clown, drag and music. It was completely off the radar and stuck together with a bit of gaff and glitter. There were no rules or restrictions. We weren't answering to a brief or a venue or a funding body. It was purely artist driven with no agenda. We had already held a heap of birthday parties for friends that involved performances. We could never afford gifts for the birthday boy or girl so we would put together acts and gift the birthday person with a little cabaret.

We started out in the back of a bookshop in West End Brisbane and we soon realised that people were gagging for this kinda stuff. We moved to a bigger venue and continued to evolve and expand the night. A year later we did a string of club nights as part of Brisbane Festival which lead to a run at Adelaide fringe and few local gigs.

We were offered a chance to develop BRIEFS and present it at the Judith Wright centre. This is where the show made a transition into a new context. The hope was that the show would keep it's rough and tumble spirit while improving the production values.

The rest has been a whirl wind of touring locally, nationally and internationally.

We still giggle at the fact that this show has made it's way from the bowels of Brisbanes underground to touring internationally.

Brisbane/Queensland has a pretty sordid history – and a fair degree of repression – are there any cultural history moments faux pas and collective bloopers that have gone into the making of BRIEFS?
This whole country has a sordid history although Queeensland is quite often labelled the cultural black hole of Australia! I think the kind of work and the kind of artists that are and have been emerging from Brisbane are testament to proving that this notion is not completely true. The Briefs show does not shy away from the fact that Queensland has been a little backward in coming forward, in fact we embrace the notion and use it in the show to dissect the characters and the ideas around identity, cultural relevance, race, gender, vanity, masculinity, political correctness and bloodlines. We have felt chuffed about the way things have been going in Queensland politically until recent times.....thanks mr newman!

Who are some of your influences and how so?
We are definitely inspired by the era of variety shows and the club circuit that was prominent in 60's and 70's here in Australia – Australia was producing world class acts that were mind blowing. Many of those acts to this day can't be touched or compared to. We are also of course inspired by circus both the old and the new world. We are inspired by pop icons like the decadence of Grace Jones, the trashiness of Courtney Love and the boundless talent of Fred Astaire.

Is there an early and vivid personal memory that is formative in the making of the company?
It was all quite unexpected. I think the moment we realised that what we were doing could possibly take off was a pretty amazing memory.

Tell me about the all-male – with a twist – conceit?
The All Male concept seemed to fall into place and was a definite point of difference. We originally had the idea to work around masculinity as a broad theme. Quite often I think the show is thought of as a hens night out to Aussie Thunder....people are pleasantly surprised at the difference!

Give me a snapshot of each the talent, name, skills, strengths weaknesses, star signs and marital status ...?
Mark Winmill aka Captain Kidd – Crowned the 2011 King of Burlesque in Las Vegas. Fierce aerial strip tease extraordinaire and hula hooping tranny maniac.

Davy Sampford aka Davy Gravy – the King of deadpan and the master of manipulation. Davy is the man with the meat tray and the dope moves.

Natano Faanana aka the Token Native – The aerial savage and video artist with some serious traditional Samoan body adornment

The Astonishing Johnny Domino – the resident old world strong man who can rip apart phone books and bend bars with his butt cheeks

Ben Lewis – new comer to BRIEFS but no stranger to the stage. A young iconic Aussie circus performer with the Flying Fruit Flies, NICA, Circus Oz, Tom Tom Crew among many other things under his belt. Check him out in BRIEFS to se what else is under his belt!

BriefsFunniest experience on stage so far?
Having Bob Hawke draw the winning meat tray raffle ticket out of the bucket! BLUE TICKET C69!

Strangest experience so far?
Having Bob Hawke draw the winning meat tray raffle ticket out of the bucket! BLUE TICKET C69!

There is so much banter about the revival of burlesque, vaudeville, clowning and so on in recent times, have these styles ever really gone away? Tell me about these roots, what continues to seize and astound you about these genres?
Burlesque, Vaudeville, Clowning etc have never gone away. I think the recent revival has it's perks and pitfalls. Loads of excuses for mediocrity and loads of kick ass powerful stuff being made. The original pioneers of these forms brought a sense of uniqueness, identity and magic to the stage. Something that we aspire to toy and tamper with. What excites me about these forms is watching how people reinvent or stand out from the rest.

None of these genres is complete without a bunch of fabulous props – tell me about two or three key props you guys use – and how you use them – that lend the show a little touch of magic?
The Briefs show always opens with a group fan dance. We have some new fancy fans and a new routine to kick off the show! Other props include and large stock of fry pans for Johnny Domino to roll up like a news paper and of course the weapons that are used to present the meat tray....a set of tongs and a spatula.

Genderbending, what are your personal fave synonyms for genderbending?
tranny train wreck, man-gina mafia, faafafine fierceness and drag terrorism!

Tongue in cheek, tell me about the image you have in mind now?
Something the BRIEFS audience and the BRIEFS cast can do simultaneously throughout the show

How do you define beauty?
For a performer i think BEAUTY is found when you are not afraid to be ugly on stage.

BRIEFS plays January 13, 15, 17–22 at the Idolize Spiegeltent as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival. Further details»

Image Credits
Top Right – Fez Faanana. Photo – Sean Young
Bottom Right – Cast of Briefs. Photo – Sean Young