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Wednesday, 01 September 2010 14:11

A Night (Or Two) at The Edge Interview

Writers' Festival in Preview

Since its creation earlier this year, the State Library of Queensland's The Edge has played host to some fantastic events, and as we gear up for the Brisbane Writers' Festival, it'll be bringing us some of the best, brightest, loudest and quirkiest of the fest, courtesy of the BURN Writer's Collective.

Having quickly established themselves as a true fringe element of the last BWF, BURN have been let loose this year, with ‘A Night (Or Two) at The Edge’, a celebration of all things literary. Far from a bunch of stuffy readings in a hushed room, the events over the two days include Bics and Becks - The Writers' Kind of Quiz Night, with special guests William McInnes, Steve Cannane and Monthly editor, Ben Naparstek; So You Think You Can Write; a tribute to children's horror fave, Goosebumps;  open-mic events; and a performance by The Stress Of Leisure. Creative Director Matthew Lowe has relished the chance to bring a little of the BURN philosophy to the festival.

“Our real focus was on providing events that we would like to see ourselves, so moving away from a traditional format where the audience asks the author questions, or listens to an interview between esteemed panellists. We want the sort of event where the people and the audience are both involved in the performance. So that drives all of our events and I think that The Edge is the perfect space to do that.”

The BURN Writers' Collective is known for its role working with young writers to help integrate them into the writing community. One event that will be running both nights is a showcase of the writing of university students, which Matt explains is a helpful platform for emerging writers.

“It's really great because we're starting to develop a bit more of a presence in the Brisbane writing scene, which, over the past couple of years has really blossomed. Our mindset has always been to provide opportunities for young and emerging writers and I think that these types of events really do that, and encourage writers to work collaboratively, rather than alone in silence.”

Catch ‘A Night (Or Two) at The Edge’ on September 3-4 at the State Library of Queensland.

Wednesday, 07 April 2010 15:24

Not Aloud In The Library Interview

National Youth Week In Preview

I still remember it clearly. I was eight, a pretty happy kid and completely amazed at the world around me. It seemed natural then to loudly express my delight at finding a previously undiscovered volume of ‘The Adventures Of Tintin’ at my primary school library.

“Hey! They’ve got the one where he goes to the moon!” I would gleefully cry to my friend, another Tintin fanatic. In reality I got as far as “Hey!” before I was abruptly and embarrassingly shushed by both librarian and assistant librarian simultaneously. Red-faced and shamefully aware of the spectacle I had just made of myself, I vowed never to utter a sound in any library again. Since then, I feel the reverential silence I employ upon entering any library would make my childhood librarians proud.

But if cloaking yourself in a muted shroud isn’t your cup of tea, then you’ll probably enjoy ‘Not Aloud In The Library’, a free celebration of all things noisy and therefore previously banned from most libraries, as part of National Youth Week. For one raucous evening, visitors will be treated to a host of visual and literary delights including the Vulcana Women’s Circus, burlesque dancers and live poetry performances by Darkwing Dubs (winner of the 2009 Poetry Slam competition) and Zenobia Frost - published and esteemed Brisbane poet who’ll be getting a little racy on the evening.

“I'll be doing a 15-minute reading of classic and contemporary erotic poems,” Zenobia says. “My own poetry is probably a bit tame to fit the 'naughty in the library' theme, so I'm going to choose poems from throughout history and the world that might send a frisson of excitement through the room. The aim is to subvert your idea of what you might expect at a library literary event. They're usually fairly dry readings but Deb (who organised it) wanted to push the boundaries of what is allowed in the library.”

Whilst a poetry reading in a library may sound fitting, the difference between poetry found in the pages of a collection and poetry performed for an audience is like trying to compare a book on burlesque to the experience of seeing a dancer perform in the flesh. For artists like Zenobia, performance poetry as an artform is allowing audiences to connect and interact with written poems like never before.

“Sylvia Plath called poems ‘a whole world contained within a snow globe’ or ‘a clenched fist’. For me, poems are powerful because the language has to be so condensed and so fresh to be effective as a poem. You can convey a novel's worth of information in a poem just by really focusing in. I also like the lyrical quality of poetry; rhythm, regardless of rhyme, is important. The sound of poetry can be hypnotising. All the best orators have been poets, when it comes down to it. If Plath called poetry 'a clenched fist', then you can imagine it’s ability to grab you by the shirt collar or punch you in the face. As I said, poems - well, good poems - sound good.”

And if the idea of poetry punching you in the face appeals, the event also offers attendees the opportunity to work on their own words and skills behind a mic with hip hop MC, beatmaker and slam poetry champion Darkwing Dubs. It’s an excellent opportunity for young writers and performers to get a little help evolving their style and confidence.

It’s a fresh take on the idea of poetry as a modern form of expression, far removed for many from the drudgery of high school poetry, bush ballads and Shakespeare, much to the approval of Zenobia.

“Poetry in schools - that is, as part of the present curriculum - doesn't go down very well for too many reasons to go into. I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of fantastic teachers and workshop coordinators, it’s the curriculum and the environment. Fortunately, there are lots of Australian students who do read, love, criticise and/ or write and perform poetry and events that encourage that are awesome.”

‘Not Aloud In The Library’ happens as part of National Youth Week on April 16 from 5pm at the Brisbane Square Library, George St. Free admission for all.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010 14:34

Big Burlesque Show Preview

Festival In Preview

The West End Carnivale is almost upon us again and amid the bands, food and other such entertainment, there are a handful of lovely ladies dedicated to bringing some added va-va-voom to the weekend. 

Come feast on the spectacle of the ‘Big Burlesque Show’ (curated by La Viola Vixen), featuring - as its highlight - none other than the dazzling Lola the Vamp.

Widely acknowledged as one of the best and brightest in the business today, Lola's list of achievements are as sparkling as the Swarsovski crystals that adorn her costumes. At the heart of her profession is a true love for an artform that is seeing a revival in more mainstream culture. She explains: “Sex is always in fashion and this is a very candy-coated and romantic view of sexuality. It's also very elaborate and decadent, something which we are missing in contemporary culture. And the historical aspect is interesting. It makes historical aesthetics cool and sexy, which I always thought they were anyway! It's hard to say exactly, I think there are a lot of reasons why it's popular again, mostly because of some amazing performers.”

One such superb performer Lola has had the good fortune to learn from is the iconic Dita von Teese, who has been credited with singlehandedly bringing about the resurgence of burlesque. “Dita has been a great mentor, always ready with advice, as has Catherine D'Lish. Aesthetically, old New Orleans jazz inspires me, as does the Art Nouveau period from the late 1800s to the 1920s. I love ballet, my favourite dancers are from the Ballets Russe of the early 20th Century, and from contemporary times, the etoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet.”

It's no suprise that from this background Lola puts on a hell of a show, and for the punters out on the weekend, she's got something pretty special in store.

“I'm bringing one of my absolute favourite shows to the West End Carnivale's ‘Big Burlesque Show’ - The Unicorn! It's a life-size pony, white with a golden mane and tail and a big horn. I performed this act when I supported Nick Cave solo and Grinderman, so the unicorn gets around. The only two people to have ridden it are myself and Warren Ellis. My costume is literally all Swarovski crystal - which give the most sparkle onstage. I have a huge bustle of fabulous light yellow feathers which match the prop, and my music is old carnivale piano accordion mixed with some 1930s jazz.”

Lola the Vamp will be tantalising audiences as part of the ‘Big Burlesque Show’ at the West End Carnivale Saturday May 15.

Wednesday, 08 September 2010 12:13

Tarian Baru Dari Indonesia Preview

Dance In Preview

I'm not sure if my Mum will ever forgive me for saying this, but every now and again when I look at my family, I wish we had a more vibrant heritage, more culture. 

I get the odd twinge of jealousy when learning about someone's relatives that have their own styles and traditions going back hundreds of years.

There is nowhere that you'll find such a presence of cultural heritage and contemporary style more than coming up at the Powerhouse, as it presents ‘Tarian Baru Dari Indonesia’ - or ‘New Dance From Indonesia’ - as part of the Brisbane Festival.

Hailing from the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra, esteemed choreographers Ery Mefri and Hartati are presenting their stunning and original dance works as a celebration of women, movement and Indonesian culture. Performing with Nan Jombang Dance Company, Ery Mefri will be presenting two new works; ‘SangHawa’ (‘Eve’) and ‘Rantau Berbisik’ (‘Whisperings of Exile’). With a strong focus on the matriarchal relationship that is at the heart of Minangkabau culture, these two pieces are also a balancing act of old and contemporary culture as Ery explains.

“As a person who was born into a family with strong tradition, I have to deal with any difficulties by always communicating with the family on how to ‘tame’ the typical traditionalists. It feels wonderful to be able to add artistic expressions in developing the traditional culture in modern life, if it's utilised to strengthen the existence of the culture itself.”

Hartati's latest work ‘Di Dalam/ Di Luar’ (‘In/ Out’) is a physical exploration on the theme of regression. Three dancers are housed in glass boxes, and as they twist and move, they free themselves of their box, only to become trapped within another box in an infinitely looping cycle. This is the first time the work has been performed outside of Indonesia and for Hartati, her cultural background is at the very essence of her work.

“There's no doubt that Indonesian contemporary dance is different from other countries', almost all of Indonesian contemporary dances are derived from tradition. There are actually a lot of things that are very contemporary in tradition, which are sometimes overlooked. For me, I never intentionally create my works to be contemporary. I just want to create works honestly, and of course take into account the aspect of a show performance.”

Catch ‘Tarian Baru Dari Indonesia’ at the Brisbane Powerhouse September 7-12.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 16:30

Warriors Of Brazil Interview

Dance In Preview

Electric, powerful and stunning, ‘Warriors Of Brazil’ will be gracing our shores later this month with a display of Brazilian culture, music and dance.

These performers are skilled in the art of capoeira - a fusion of martial arts, dance and music first created by slaves. Four hundred years later, it remains just as potent at helping young Brazilians escape from lives in the favellas, or slums, that they live in that hold little or no opportunity to escape from.

Toby Gough, director and creator of ‘Warriors Of Brazil’, first began the project as an alternative for young Brazilians to the gang violence and crime they’re constantly surrounded with.

“It was always a conscious decision to create a project that would change people’s lives. I hadn’t originally intended to take it on a tour of this scale. It was just intended to be a carnival workshop project, but it has changed a lot of people’s lives, this whole project. And I think coming to Australia has been a huge event for them and for the community.”

Surrounded by the talent of these inexperienced performers, Toby, an Edinburgh native, made the decision to put together a performance to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

“Edinburgh does thrive on seeing the different ways theatre can be used around the world. The fact that it became very successful in Edinburgh and was picked up by an international commercial producer is a testament to the energy, talent and skill of these guys.

“They’re not professional performers, it’s the first time they’ve toured apart from Edinburgh. It’s definitely their first time in proper, huge theatres. So, it’s definitely been a huge achievement for them and it’s something that they can give back to their community. And the proceeds from the show will go back into continuing the project back in Brazil.”

These self-funded projects are the only kind of outreach Brazilians in the favellas have access to, and have created a generation of artists with a huge community focus.

“The musicians in ‘Warriors’ are all amazing. All these people are coming out of projects or teaching and running them back in Brazil. The artists have a huge consciousness about putting back into society. If you ask them what their dreams are; I was asking them the other day, they all want to be there to help teach young people in the favellas. That seems to be what a lot of artists in Brazil do.

“These guys are all very heavily involved in transforming the communities in which they’ve grown up in, which I think is admirable and hugely beneficial. Brazil has pretty much given up on government involvement in the arts in their communities. It’s kind of cool that we can make a commercial theatre project that’s touring the world telling stories of what’s going on because a lot of that work doesn’t get heard about.”

As Toby explains, the performers’ stories completely highlight the amazing transformation ‘Warriors’ has had in their lives.

“The show has given people a real alternative lifestyle to that style of life that is there for everyone in the favellas. Our lead singer, Paloma, she’s come from a very poor family. She lives in a tiny house with her and four of her sisters sharing the same bed. She’d bought a ticket to Rio de Janero to work in a shoe factory and two days before she left I was able to offer her a part in the project. Two days later she would have been on a bus to Rio and had a completely different life.

“One of our other guys in the show went on a talent show because he can do 38 somersaults on the spot in 30 seconds. He won $15, 000, but as soon as the gangsters in his favellas found out they wanted the cash. He hasn’t been back since and now he performs with us.”

Far from distancing himself from dangerous situations, Toby knows all too well the violent environment these performers live in. During the Bosnian war, he snuck into Sarajevo through a sewerage pipe to help direct an opera with the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra.

“At that stage there were a lot of organisations in Edinburgh who were trying to keep the concept of Bosnia as a country and as a democracy alive. I was asked to come in and help direct the opera there. I’ve never been shot at in Brazil, but I was shot at in Sarajevo plenty of times!”

‘Warriors Of Brazil’ performs at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, January 28-30.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010 14:58

My Stories: Your Emails

Theatre in Preview

The disappearing/ reappearing handkerchief trick is one that most magicians master fairly early on.

The magician reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket and produces a colourful handkerchief with a flourish. He waves it in front of the audience, holds it out for them to see - just a plain old handkerchief, nothing unusual here, folks. Then, he tucks the handkerchief into his closed fist, hiding it from our sights. And this is where the magic starts to kick in. With a second flourish, he flings his fist wide open to show that his hand is completely empty; the handkerchief has disappeared.

But this is only the first part of the trick; for it to be a true magic act the handkerchief must re-appear. And so the magician will make a fist again, reach inside and… taaa da! Out comes the handkerchief from an empty hand, as though by magic. Like I said, it's a simple enough trick. You might have already figured out its mechanics.

Give this trick to a performer like Ursula Martinez however, and you will get an entirely different version - and not one suitable for the underage. Ursula's reputation as an exciting, conceptual and controversial live performer had already been well established before she started performing ‘Hanky Panky' (the cheeky moniker for her rendition of the disappearing handkerchief trick). Part strip tease, part magic act, it wasn't long before 'Hanky Panky' went viral on the internet, although Ursula explains that it was never her intention for the show.

“Had I wanted the act to be an internet phenomenon I would have chosen to put it on my website years ago. It was always meant to be experienced live, with the aim to thrill and delight and charm a live audience. I've performed the act in late night gay bars, corporate events, celebrity parties, art houses and charity events attended by (Prince) William and (Prince) Harry.”

Understandably, Ursula was shocked when she discovered that her act had been posted on the internet without her permission. “At the time I was pretty devastated. As I say, I felt I had lost control of my work and given the nature of the act, I felt very vulnerable. Time heals everything, and I feel fine about it now, especially as I have harnessed it to positive effect.”

The positive effect that Ursula is referring to is her new show 'My Stories: Your Emails', which has been suitably cathartic in allowing her to “regain control of my identity” after 'Hanky Panky' went global. A combination of stand-up, live art and spoken word, 'My Stories: Your Emails' is full of tales of sexual identity, miscommunication, obsession and hilarity, as she shares stories from her own life, as well as emails she has received from fans. Emails which, if the stories are to be believed, are nothing short of extraordinary.

“I spent years performing my work in a live context and never had the remotest bit of weird attention. The 'unusual' fans have come only as a result of my striptease act ending up on the internet. The problem lies with the different media. On the internet I can't control the context in which my work is shown. The footage has ended up on porn sites, or on sites with inappropriate advertising all over the pages so naturally viewers are responding to the act in a different way. Some are utterly charming, some are utterly delusional (offers of marriage) and some are utterly pornographic!”

The international response to 'My Stories: Your Emails' has already been incredibly positive, with sellout shows in London and Melbourne. British-born Martinez is a regular on the cabaret, live performance circuit and her collaborations with award winning troupes such as La Clique and Duckie have been incredibly well received. Martinez brings a conceptual level to her shows that hits above the average performer, and is delightfully balanced with a sense of fun, her cheeky attitude adding to the nature of her performances. An attitude that she admits hasn't gotten her into too much trouble… yet. “As far as I am aware, I haven't managed to offend anybody! I'll keep trying.”

Try not to blush as Ursula Martinez performs 'My Stories: Your Emails' at the Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse from November 16-20.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 15:26

Meow To The World: Crisis is Born Interview

Theatre in Preview

As the sultry, cultured voice of cabaret performer Meow Meow purrs down the phone at me, I'm reminded that not all the best pleasures in life are the simple ones.

“I'm at my management's place in New York, which is the most beautiful office with furniture by Versace. Just picture me sprawled on a leopard-print Versace couch with a glass of champagne and you can imagine just what a tough life this is.”

 The time difference between Brisbane and New York leaves me in the slightly less glamorous position of bed hair, my pj's and a coffee. Still, I guess cabaret isn't really known for its prudence. Anyone who's ever seen Meow Meow perform already knows that she oozes the kind of sex appeal that would rival Eartha Kitt. And for anyone who hasn't, now's your chance. For three very festive evenings, she'll be bringing her new show to the Brisbane Powerhouse, 'Meow To The World: Crisis is Born'. Having just come from an incredibly successful run in New York, two seasons at the Sydney Opera house, an Edinburgh International Festival Fringe prize and a Sydney Theatre Critics Award for 2010, its already delighted audiences around the world. A Christmas show with a twist, it's a little treat for us as we start gearing up towards the silly season, and according to Meow Meow, it came about due to completely unforeseeable events.

“I had a Broadway run in New York and it fell through, the global financial crisis happened. And we did ten concerts that were a much smaller thing than the Broadway run that had been in negotiation. It sounds silly, but the financial crisis forced me to make it a completely ridiculous and fantastic holiday show. Everybody thinks that the circumstances of it are made up, but they were completely true. So that was the basis of the show - having everything taken away so you were forced to use shredded mental health records that you find on the street for snow, and small children and animals instead of the gospel choir that was promised.”

It certainly won't be the sort of carols by candlelight affair that we've come to expect from a holiday show, as Meow Meow's musical influences run the length of nearly a century from 1930's Shanghai show tunes to 60's French pop to the aforementioned Eartha Kitt, and Radiohead. Throw in a little Brecht for good measure and you've got a show that Meow Meow laughingly describes as “politics, madness and mayhem”, and it's one that Meow Meow thinks will be particularly special for Brisbane audiences.

“Its got maestro Ian Granditch on the piano and cello and he wrote quite a lot of the songs with me. Which is lovely because I've performed this piece all around the world and he's not always travelling with me but I do always love when the composer is actually with you. I wrote the words, he did the music, but it's very exciting that he's going to be playing with me in Brisbane because that is obviously a particular energy, when you're the co-creators of something.”

Meow Meow's last two shows in Brisbane - 2007's 'Beyond Glamour' and 2009's 'Feline Intimate' were hugely successful with both selling out completely. Her wild mix of punk-rock cabaret has seen her collaborate with artists from music, theatre and beyond such as David Bowie, Amanda Palmer, Penny Arcade and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And while her delightful sense of humour allows her to poke fun at herself onstage, her enthusiasm for performing comes from a very serious love of music and theatre.

“It starts and finishes with the heart I guess, and as much as I can be a very extreme personality on stage and off, I'm really very passionate about music and about live theatre. I'm very interested in the heart, I feel that the heart has gone from a lot of things and that's partly to do with television and just globalisation, I guess. I think through things like Big Brother and reality shows which in a way make people feel permanently public, and yet not really necessarily intimate. I think that music still really cuts through all of that. But I think sometimes we are in danger. Through a medium like television we should be broadening worlds and I feel that in some ways we're often shutting down and becoming more conventional. I love the fleshiness of live theatre, that's why I hurl myself on the crowd. And I don't know if I set out to necessarily achieve anything but I do go out with good intentions to make people feel alive.”

Meow Meow performs 'Meow To The World: Crisis Is Born' at the Brisbane Powerhouse, October 28 - 30.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010 16:54

When the Rain Stops Falling Preview

Theatre in Preview

Given the weather we've been having over the past week, Brink Production and Queensland Theatre Company's newest offering certainly has a fitting title.

‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ is Andrew Bovell's multi-award winning epic. It spans the lives of a family over four generations; beginning in 1959, split between Australia and London and ending in 2039. Set to the backdrop of a world evolving in the face of a changing climate, ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ is a tale of redemption and betrayal of the past and future on a personal, historical and environmental level. We follow the quest of Gabriel Law to uncover the truth behind his family's history as he struggles to make sense of his father's disappearance.

His journey takes us from London to Uluru, via the Coorong at the Murray River, as we encounter family past and present. ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ boasts an ensemble cast of enormous talent, most of whom have been performing the piece since it's first show at the Adelaide Bank Festival of the Arts in 2008. Anna Lise Phillips is one such cast member, returning to the play whenever it's been staged.

“It's probably my ego, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to see someone else play it in Australia that wasn't me,” she laughingly admits. “I think it's very rare that you read a piece of writing, an Australian play, that is so well-written. Andrew took about three years to write it and he workshopped it with actors over that period. And we've been performing it for about three years and he's seen it done here and overseas (London, New York and New Zealand). He's learnt a lot from all of those productions and he continues to tweak, and the piece continues to evolve. With every production there's just a little more detail, it's a little better. It's really rare to be a part of that.”

Anna Lise plays 24 year-old Gabrielle York, a waitress working at a roadhouse in the Coorong, at the mouth of the Murray River in 1988. It's a beautiful and rich environment, natural lagoons divided by sand hills (if you're having trouble imagining it, think ‘Storm Boy’), but for Gabrielle it holds the memories of the tragic deaths of her brothers and parents. The Coorong holds a special significance to the Australian landscape, and so makes for the perfect backdrop to Gabrielle's story, as Anna Lise explains. “Andrew picked that particular part of the world for her to come from because it is so isolated and so unique, and also because it's representative of a place where we can judge the health of the ecosystem for the whole of Australia. It's kind of like a litmus test for the rest of the country. In a way, the character I play has some horrific and tragic things happen to her. And she survives it, she's like the litmus test for how we're surviving life.”

The story is heightened with the addition of designs by visual artist Hossein Valamanesh, and a score played live, onstage, by musician Quentin Grant. These elements help to create a multi layered world that we fall headlong into, with the assistance of a talented cast including Kevin Harrington, Carmel Johnson, Mandy McElhinney, Kris McQuade, Yalin Ozucelik, Anna Lise Phillips and Neil Pigot. Many of these actors are returning to ‘When the Rain Stops Falling’, and Anna Lise believes the ease with which they can step into their roles is testament to Andrew Bovell's writing.

“There's a thing that happens when you've been working on a show intermittently for a long period of time - you get a body memory for it. It's amazing. I looked at the script a few days ago, and it felt like a foreign language. But yesterday I got up on the floor for the first time in a year and it was all there, in my body. My body knew exactly what to do. And it's also a sign that the writing itself is remarkable, because it sticks to you. Bad writing doesn't stick to you, it's like a fish and chip wrapper; here today, gone tomorrow. Whereas good writing permeates your very being and stays with you for a long time.”

‘When the Rain Stops Falling’ plays at the Playhouse, QPAC from October 20 to November 6.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010 12:39

Mobile States Interview

Theatre in Preview

Perhaps one of the most difficult things about living in a vast, sprawling country such Australia is living with the knowledge of all the amazing, innovative performances that are happening in other parts of the country that we're missing out on.

Wednesday, 04 August 2010 15:29

Souls Entwined and Soul Music Preview

Theatre In Preview

It might sound slightly cynical but in the age of sterile commodities such as e-book readers and iPads, it's worth wondering if we are heading towards a soulless future. Are we really moved by anything anymore?

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