Sunday, 22 February 2009

Belarus Free Theatre: an aesthetic opposition first of all

The Minsk-based performance group Belarus Free Theatre made their much-anticipated Australian debut with Being Harold Pinter at the Sydney Festival, and this work took on a great poignancy following Harold Pinter's recent death on Christmas Eve. Much of the excitement around this company’s work derives from its political context. Described by producer Natalia Koliada as “Europe’s last dictatorship”, Belarus under President Alexander Lukashenko is very far from a safe place to create political theatre. In a nation where every aspect of life, including artistic practice, is strictly regulated, Belarus Free Theatre work underground to produce uncensored accounts of life under the totalitarian regime. Co-founded in 2005 by Koliada and her husband Nikolai Khalezin, a playwright and journalist, the Belarus Free Theatre has created 11 productions, and regularly travels internationally, drawing attention to the plight of their homeland. For their efforts in daring to imagine a free and democratic Belarus, their audiences in Minsk have been arrested, performances broken up by armed police, actors denied exit visas, artists threatened and assaulted, writers banned from production and company members and their families fired from State-run institutions.

Read the rest of my article, published in the print and online editions of RealTime #89, here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

2009 performance hots up!

Now I've finally got 2008 out of the way, it's time to plug some fantastic works opening over the next month or so. Despite the grimness of the Arts NSW funding results that effectively decimated the Sydney performance community, there's some exciting work on the way. (Actually, 'decimate', meaning as it does the killing of 1 in every 10, is probably not harsh enough. Given Arts NSW effectively refused funding to what seems to be about 90% of the local performance culture - funding a total of only four theatre projects State-wide, plus a smattering of annual program grants, 'exterminate' is probably a more appropriate term. version 1.0 got lucky, and got two-thirds of our funding request but most of our peers, especially in the independent dance sector, got a big fat nothing. Ironically, these funding results were announced two days before the Sydney Festival's Festival First Night, a major part of which was framed as a celebration of local dance. This one-off event received $1 million from Arts NSW.)

But enough gloom for now. There's some great stuff appearing over February and March.

First up, the amazing UK group Blast Theory is presenting their work Rider Spoke in the Rocks from February 6-15. Last in Sydney back in 2002 with their acclaimed work Desert Rain, Blast Theory's latest work is described as "a unique cycling event which mixes theatre and location game play with state of the art technology." Blast Theory are world leaders in technology-saturated live performance, but unusually for that domain of practice their research and dramaturgy is always excellent as well. Even their conceptually simplest works such as Can you see me now? provide intelligent, surprising, entertaining, and deeply satisfying experiences. Definitely a must see.

For the first time, Performance Space is grouping together six works over the year into a subscription season, a long-overdue idea that's fantastic value. The works are
Night Garden by My Darling Patricia (5 - 14 March), Dancenorth/Splintergroup's Roadkill (18 – 21 March, pictured), Martin del Amo's It's a Jungle Out There (17 – 20 June), version 1.0's Hurt and Damage (4 – 12 September) Sue Healey's The Curiosities (29 October - 7 November) and Marrugeku's Burning Daylight (12 – 15 November). All six shows for $120, which is a saving of $10 per ticket, AND there's no booking fee either! For those suffering from the global financial crisis and/or the extortive ticket prices and booking fees for Sydney Festival, Performance Space is offering the best value, and most interesting performance in town. But you need to get in quick! More info online here.

Also upcoming is the 2nd incarnation of The Imperial Panda Festival, playing from February 10-22 at a range of artist-run spaces across Chippendale, Redfern and Surry Hills, and featuring new work by The Suitcase Royale, Brown Council, Nick Coyle and much more. All tickets $12, only at the door. Be quick, and arrive early as every night will sell out. Full program online.

Following Imperial Panda, PACT's Quarterbred initiative has generated its own festival! The Tiny Stadiums Festival, running from around Erskineville from February 24- March 8, features performance works from spat + loogie, James Brown, Deadpan, Kenzie Larsen, Tiek Kim Pok, and much much more, as well as a DVD library and a symposium on February 28. Full program online here.

The fun's only just begun!

Images: Kenzie Larsen's The Word Game Project, Blast Theory's Rider Spoke, Dancenorth/Splintergroup's Roadkill.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Most interesting performance works of 2008

OK, I'm well aware that it's pretty ridiculous to post a 'best of' list for 2008 on the 3rd of February 2009, but... well, that's what I'm going to do. So there. I've been having some great conversations over the last few weeks at the Sydney Festival with local artist colleagues and visiting types, and while we've swapped endless opinions about the shows we'd just seen over many many drinks, a regular theme was what we thought was the 'best' things we'd seen last year. Most of my blogger friends have had a go at this already, but despite being a long way behind, I thought I'd put my two cents in. Also, I thought that 'best' was perhaps too pejorative, so to make it clear that these are very much based on my personal perspective, I've gone with the moniker 'most interesting'. This of course matches neatly with my 'least interesting' list, some of which canny readers might note appeared on several mainstream media 'best of' lists. We clearly have very different tastes.

So, here goes (virtual drum roll).

Top ten most interesting works of 2008:
Aalst by Duncan McLean (based on Flemish text by Pol Heyvaert and Dimitri Verhulst) National Theatre of Scotland, Sydney Festival
The Three Minute Bacchae and Other Extreme Acts by PACT Youth Theatre
No Success Like Failure by The Fondue Set, The Studio, Sydney Opera House
Tough Time, Nice Time by Ridiculusmus, Company B
Frankenstein by Ralph Myer and Lally Katz, Wharf 2 Loud
The Whale Chorus by Janie Gibson, Alex Grady, Matthew Prest, Phoebe Torzillo, Georgie Read, PACT Theatre
Paradise City by Branch Nebula, Performance Space @ Carriageworks
Desert Island Dances by Wendy Houstoun, Melbourne International Arts Festival
The Modern International Dead by Damien Millar, Griffin Theatre Company
Pool/No Water by Mark Ravenhill, square the circle, Darlinghurst Theatre

Honourable mentions:
Apocalypse Perth by Kate Rice, Always Working Artists, The Blue Room, Artrage Festival
reform by pvi collective, Artrage Festival
The Tent by Matthew Prest, Liveworks Festival, Performance Space @ CarriageWorks
Insert the name of the person you love... by Meow Meow, Sydney Festival
Underground by Aphids
The Ghost of Rickett's Hill by The Suitcase Royale, Imperial Panda Festival

Least interesting works of 2008:
Kitten by Jenny Kemp, Malhouse Theatre, Melbourne International Arts Festival
The Navigator by Liza Lim, Melbourne International Arts Festival
Blackwatch by Gregory Burke, National Theatre of Scotland, Sydney Festival
When the rain stops falling by Andrew Bovell, Brink Productions, Adelaide Festival
Bubble by Rowan Marchingo, Legs on the Wall, Sydney Opera House
Yibiyung by Dallas Winmar, Company B
Antigone by Seamus Heaney, Company B
Salome by The Rabble, CarriageWorks
Back from Front by Dean Walsh, Performance Space @ CarriageWorks
The Vertical Hour by David Hare, Sydney Theatre Company

Image: Kate Dickie and David McKay As Cathy and Michael Delaney in Aalst. Photo from the Sydney Morning Herald website, photographer uncredited.