DASMUSICALKAT

Kat of the Musicals

I was actually really looking forward to Ballet Revolución but turned out to be quite disappointing. Not sure whether they were all just having a bad night, or the Australian program wasn’t quite right, or the stage was too small, or something, but it just had very little spark. One of the only things I’ve considered just leaving at intermission but I thought it might have gotten better in the second half (spoiler: it didn’t). But anyway, the actual review will be posted here soon and this was a quick Q&A I did with one of the dancers!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Ballet Revolución, the renowned dance sensation, is set to return to Australia this month with a whole new production. The performance showcases some of the world’s most talented classical and contemporary dancers, backed by a live band and performing to the rhythms of Latin-America and hits from artists like Sia and Beyonce. The AU caught up with one of these talented dancers- modern, contempory and folklore dancer Lianett Rodriguez Gonzalez. We discussed the incorporation of dance styles, training regimes and working with choreographer Aaron Cash.

When did you first start dancing, and what originally got you into dance?

I started with rhythmic gymnastics when I was 4 years old as a sport and the reason for that is because I was a very energetic child and my mother needed something to help me canalize my energy.

You are a modern, contemporary and folklore dancer. How do these three styles differ and how do you incorporate them all together?

Folkloric dance comes from the more ancient times of Cuba and more historic tradition. It is also related to all the popular styles in Cuban dance throughout history. The difference between contemporary, modern and folkloric comes in terms of the technical aspects. After studying and being trained for all those styles, I realized at the moment of creating movements that I have it incorporated in my body. It is something natural and I cannot really describe a process my body is the one mixing them together.

What does a normal routine consist of for you in terms of training and maintaining your high level of fitness and skill?

The training really depends on the activity that is required and the needs that each of us have. What we do in this type of show is physical training the same way an athlete would do in order to build strength and resistance in addition to this we have a ballet training for the technical aspect and the style. In my personal case, in addition to what we train for the show, I also do yoga, and capoeira which is also helps with what we do.

Ballet Revolucion is known for its explosiveness and intensity, how do you muster this for each and every show?

In order to muster it all we have to be united as a collective as a dance company. It’s the connection and the focus that allows for us to perform to this high level every day. This way you can enjoy the show as a performer and also pay attention to any situation that may occur.

What was it like working with choreographer Aaron Cash?

It is a very organic process as he works with you on your personal aspects. It is a lot of fun. With Aaron we really work more on the neo-classical aspect of the show and this is very interesting for me.

What are you most looking forward to about bringing the show to Australia?

What I am very excited about is coming back for the third time and connect with the amazing Australian audience. They have so much enthusiasm and they give us a lot of energy. Being the third time that we are coming it’s a treat to get to be reunited with our Australian friends again.

What should audiences expect from Ballet Revolucion?

Our energy and the new choreographic surprises that we have in the show. An all around great music and dance performance.

And finally, do you have a favourite song to dance to?

I honestly love all of the numbers, they all have something different and special to me. What I really love about it is that all the numbers are performed by very special musicians with whom I have been working for over 5 years now.

Pinchgut Opera do some really unique and quality productions. They’re the best if you’re looking for a rarely performed opera!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Bajazet is one of Vivaldi’s most passionate and powerful operas and yet, despite enjoying great success around the time of its premiere in Verona 1735, this Baroque masterpiece is now very rarely performed. Now Pinchgut Opera is bringing Bajazet back to life, much to the credit of efforts of Artistic Director Erin Helyard, who hunted down the score of the 18th century opera and spent many long hours transcribing and editing the score for their latest production. the AU review caught up with Erin to discuss his efforts and what audiences should expect from this rare gem of an opera.

You personally spent a great deal of time hunting down the score and transcribing Bajazet for this performance, what are you hoping audiences will experience as a result?

That’s right! Even photographing the score took hours. Audiences will experience the crème-de-la-crème of the best baroque operatic talent (4 Australians, 1 New Zealander, and an American) in a performance of one of the finest pasticci of the eighteenth century.

Did you have a particular motivation for selecting Bajazet?

The Racine play has always fascinated me and it was an immensely popular libretto in the eighteenth century. I’m always interested in operas and stories that were once incredibly popular – in that respect Pinchgut has produced Vivaldi’s Griselda (one of the most set opera libretti of the time) and Cavalli’s Giasone (the most performed opera of the seventeenth century). Bajazet was set almost twenty four times by different composers over the course of the eighteenth century. I think the Vivaldi setting is very powerful.

The opera is described as having “vocal fireworks and melting moments of pure beauty” which sounds rather intense! What creates these such moments and how do you attempt to depict them on stage?

Vivaldi is one of the greatest opera composers and Thomas and I use all our operatic experience in helping the cast draw out these moments.

Bajazet is rarely performed now despite being an immense success in its day, why do you think that is so?

I think that it is only by circumstance that we don’t stage Vivaldi’s Bajazet very much. Opera companies are often afraid of unknown works – but Pinchgut isn’t!

For Bajazet Vivaldi borrowed/reused several arias for his work. Is that common in the operas that you stage and what do you think of the practice?

No, Pinchgut has never staged a pasticcio and I’m looking forward very much to seeing how our audience will react to Vivaldi’s work. Bajazet consists mainly of Vivaldi’s own material – 9 arias and all the recitatives are by the Venetian master, the remaining 6 were chosen carefully and adapted by Vivaldi from the operas by composers Geminiano Giacomelli, Johann Adolf Hasse, and Riccardo Broschi (Farinelli’s brother).

At the time, it was common for singers to have Arie di bagaglio or ‘suitcase arias’, which they brought with them to each production in order to try and force their favourite repertoire into already existing operas. Bajazet is by no means a casual jumble of arie di bagaglio, but a finely curated and crafted assortment of extraordinary arias.

For the 1735 Verona Carnival season in which Bajazet premiered, Vivaldi did not resort to a haphazard collection of the arie di bagaglio of the cast, rather, he chose to adapt from the works of the latest Neapolitans in order to better characterise the characters of Tamerlano and Irene, specifically.

In 2011 you staged another Vivaldi, Griselda. How do the two operas compare?

Griselda is a slightly later and more mature work, but Bajazet does not pale in comparison. They are completely different works.

Pinchgut Opera sets itself apart by rediscovering baroque and early classical opera masterpieces with which to breathe new life. What is your aim in doing so?

I find that opera companies tend to keep to a small and repetitive core of nineteenth-century works in order to maintain their precarious existence. Pinchgut is about taking risks and giving audiences new musical and visual experiences in showcasing this treasure trove of repertoire.

And finally, do you have a favourite Opera that you would love to produce?

I have too many operas in mind to pick just one!

What an interview this was! Tommy Tallarico is a legend (he’s worked on over 250 games!!)! I’ve always been a big fan of video game music (being a OSTs of all kinds music addict) and have a large variety of game scores in my playlists despite not necessarily having played all the games… *shrugs*

I’ve also been quite a fan of video game music concerts- like Play! or the Eminence Orchestra, and indeed of Video Games Live! So I was SUPER excited for this!

We had an awesome (super long) Skype chat and Tommy is so cool and extremely passionate about what he does. We did have to break in the middle of it for him to duck out quickly to the shops for milk before they closed 😉 but it was such a great chat!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Video Games Live has “all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert, mixed together with all the cutting edge visuals, interactivity, technology and fun that video games provide” says co-creator Tommy Tallarico. It was the first of its kind- an insane concert experience unlike any other, and certainly worlds apart from the other video game concerts that followed in its large footprints. Now in it’s 13th year, having performed over 350 concerts, this July will mark Video Games Live’s very FIRST tour to Australia!

the AU review Arts editor Kat Czornij chatted with the video game composing legend himself, whose credits span over 250 games (!!!) including Earthworm Jim, Prince of Persia and Advent Rising. Tommy explains just how epic the VGL concerts are, how audience members can determine the set list with him, and even shares his own favourite games and soundtracks.

Could you tell us a little bit about how you came into the idea for creating Video Games Live?

I used to put on video game concerts when I was 10 years old, where I would record all my favourite video game music and strum along with my guitar, so I think this whole thing just sort of manifested out of my childhood dreams! Video Games Live really combines my three greatest loves in the world- video games and music and performing.

I’ve been a video game composer for over 25 years and my whole idea behind creating VGL was that I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games had become. I also wanted to help usher in a whole new generation of young people to appreciate the symphony and the arts and the orchestra. I like to describe VGL as having all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert, mixed together with all the cutting edge visuals, interactivity, technology and fun that video games provides. I am also the only guy who is actually a video game composer, in the industry, putting on these shows!

You have such an impressive array of your own compositions, how does your experience as a game composer help shape the concert?

I will usually put only one of my own into the show, maybe Earthworm Jim or Metroid, something classic. Things that people would know. But I really try to not make the show about me, even though I host and produce the show and am on stage playing guitar, its really more about the industry and showcasing all of the game music from around the world. The music of all my colleagues and friends. We’re really a close knit bunch- whether its Marty O’Donnell and Halo or Russell Brower and Warcraft or Nobuo Uematsu with Final Fantasy or Koji Kondo with Mario and Zelda… it’s such an honour for me to be able to perform this music all over the world. The most incredible thing is that no matter where we go in the world people always love and have an attachment to video game music.

How do you determine the set list for each concert?

So there are actually two ways: the first is that at www.videogameslive.com there is a sign up on the right hand side for our mailing list, and we ask people there what they want to hear and what their favourite games are and where they’re from. Then I look at that spreadsheet when I’m making up a set list and I’ll say “Ok, Australia, what are they looking for?” The other way is that on Facebook we create Event pages for every show we do. In those you’ll see the first pinned post is me asking everybody (and it really is me! I don’t have a team of people doing this) what they want to hear. I like to throw in a couple of surprises, so I won’t just take what everyone wants, things like Shadow of the Colossus for example.

This is a truly immersive concert event, created with an orchestra, video footage, synchronized lighting, live action segments… How does one aim to coordinate all these parts of the production without it getting too manic?

The energy and excitement, especially when we play in a new country or city, is just so intense. I bring a team of seven people with me and we have been together for 13 years and so we’ve done 350 shows together. We actually have a Guinness World Record for the most symphony shows done by a single production company! So we’ve seen it all, experienced it all.

Every venue we go into is a completely different experience, so every time it is unique and new and challenging and fun! And then of course for the show itself, we’ve never played the same show twice EVER. We have over 130 segments for VGL that I’ve created over the years but we can only play about 20 of them a night. So if we come back to Australia next year, which is the plan, when we come back it will be a completely different show! So for us, putting on the show is like it’s the first time for us every time. I’m all based around passion and excitement and I love doing this, which is why I’ve been doing this 13 years now and just as excited today as the first day.

There are a few concert series dealing specifically with game music, including PLAY!, the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concerts, or those from the Eminence Orchestra. How does VGL differ from these?

When I started VGL no one was doing anything like what I was doing- synchronized video and things like that, and when we did our very first show at the Hollywood Bowl we had the whole industry there. The creators of Metal Gear Solid, Sonic the Hedgehog, of Pong and Atari, and we had everyone from Nintendo… just tons and tons of people. It was the very first time video game music had ever been performed for the following games- Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, Metal Gear Solid, Mist, Warcraft, Halo… There had been Japanese video game concerts since the mid-80s but they were all very traditional- tuxedos, no lighting, no video screens.

What you’ll find about Distant Worlds, Eminence, the Zelda shows etc is that they’re also very much like that. They do have video screens now, but they’re very classical in nature. But video games are not just classical symphony music! That’s not what a video game is! A video game is about interactivity, technology, amazing visuals, the characters, the storylines, and the music. I wanted to bring ALL of those things together to create a show to celebrate the entire video game industry. And of course the biggest part about video games is fun!

And how does VGL create all that fun?

So our show has millions of dollars worth of synchronized lighting just like a big rock show, we have three massive HD video screens, we have interactive elements with the crowd, I encourage people to bring their cellphones so we can interact with them from the stage, we have a Guitar Hero competitions before the show and the winner gets to come on stage to play live with me and the orchestra to win a big prize. We have other interactive segments where I invite people to come on stage and play games while the orchestra plays along as a live soundtrack. And of course throughout the concert I encourage the audience to cheer and clap and holler whenever they feel like! These are all the things those other shows don’t do.

You were the first video game composer to release a video game soundtrack. When did you discover that gamers could be just as passionate about its music as the game itself?

I always felt that way, and so for me it was always a natural sort of thing that people wanted to hear more of this music. I would get emails and people would come to my forums to ask me to perform certain music. So for me it was always like, why aren’t more people doing this? I formed a non-profit organization called the Game Audio Network Guild, or GANG, and we have over 2,500 members all over the world including game composers, sound designers, voice over people and even students looking to get into the industry. With this I started to go around to the publishers and awards (like MTV and the Grammy) and we got video game music more involved. No one was doing it so I thought- well I’d better do it! There is now a whole generation who have grown up on video games as part of their culture and this is just the beginning!

What are you most looking forward to about bringing the VGL tour to Australia?

I’ve been waiting a long time! I’m a huge fan of Australia on a personal level, and I don’t just say that in every interview! I’ve been all over the world and I have personally vacationed in Australia six different times. But we haven’t yet performed the show there! I’ve been trying to get there for 10 years! It is the one country that I haven’t been to that I cared the most. So phew finally!

So it’s going to be a special show for that reason, but for me the most exciting thing is that I am going to be performing this show in front of people for the first time and that’s where you’re going to see the magic really happen. You can watch as many of our videos on YouTube as you like but when you get in a room with hundreds of other people and you are amongst the way that we present our show and you see the passion and emotion that we bring, there is just this magic that happens that you can’t put in a poster and that cant be captured in a YouTube video. You kind of have an idea of what to expect but when you see it you go “what the hell just happened?”.

And finally, what is your favourite video game and video game soundtrack of all time?

Ok first my favourite game of all time, which I think is a perfect masterpiece, is Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. Just the music and the graphics during the time, and the gameplay- it’s just perfect! But, if I were to go to a desert island and say what’s the one video game that I’d take with me it would be Red Dead Redemption. You can do SO much in that game! But also Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid, those are some of my other favourites.

Now my favourite soundtrack ever of all time would have to be Final Fantasy VIII, with Liberi Fatali, Eyes On Me… I think that was Nobuo Uematsu’s best work ever. Listen to our version of Liberi Fatali- it is in your face, powerful and huge. You can always hear this in our recordings and arrangements, and that really gives you a whole look into the approach of our show.

I’ve been a fan of iOTA ever since I heard his live performance of “Come Back To Me” at Light The Night. So I had high hopes for this musical and honestly it didn’t quite measure up… but iOTA was still great.

Originally posted on The AU Review.

A theatrical concert is just the word to describe the newest experience from gender bending glam-rock God iOTA. B-Girl is not so much a musical as it is a rock concert, but because it is iOTA it works. His unique performance style, which carries through into the production, is what really stands out.

Returning to theatre once more, the award-winning star of Smoke & Mirrors, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Rocky Horror Show, has reunited with team Director Craig Ilott and co-star Blazey Best in bringing this entirely new production to life.

The story follows a troubled woman who feels trapped in the bleak reality of her life as a victim of domestic violence. This is Blazey Best’s character, who dresses in unfashionably ripped jeans and an ill-fitted tank top. She is already on-stage as the audience files in, slumped in an armchair, alone in a room. As the lights dim she walks slowly across the stage to switch on a lamp. The atmosphere is quiet.

Slowly musicians file on stage (who now remain onstage throughout the production) and with a burst of sound and light the magnificent iOTA appears haloed by a beam of blue light. In this role he is the ultimate rock star, conjured from the imagination of our troubled woman. In his giant platform heels Clifford North stalks confidently across the stage, belting out a rock anthem “B-Girl” and seemingly making efforts to hold eye contact with the audience. He is the complete opposite of his imaginer and his mere presence seems to make the stage so much larger than it was originally.

Once more his presence is immediately contrasted with that of our co-protagonist. There is very little dialogue within the production, with it often moving immediately from song to song, which once again reinforces that feeling of more concert than musical. There are interesting moments when iOTA pauses to address the audience and during these moments it’s not quite clear whether he is addressing Clifford’s imaginary audience or us directly as iOTA. Perhaps we are also Clifford’s imaginary audience. During one of these moments, which parallels with a critical moment in the storyline, iOTA/North pauses to discuss the notion and meaning behind the statement “freedom is another word for nothing left to lose” with us. He leaves us to question whether freedom is in fact our beings without any material possessions or perhaps something more.

As the story moves on things get a progressively darker. In one particularly poignant piece Clifford North tells us a story. A story or fable about a girl, a child and a heart, he says. In this story the little girl remembers the moment her beloved father takes her for her first swing in the park, and remembers the feeling of complete bliss. As Best joins in the retelling the story follows the young girl, who is now grown up and married. She grimly recounts the tale of her marriage, leading up to the moment when her husband takes his first swing. As iOTA and Best harmonize together the bleak reality of the situation through the “first swing” is made all to clear.

B-Girl is very much a unique experience, a theatrical concert as it is described. The rock style is constant and loud with very little moments of downtime, and which moments are elsewise filled with the bleak storyline. It is quite full on. The real stand out here though, as could be expected, is iOTA. It is a role that is so perfectly suited to his uniqueness and stage presence that I hardly feel the production could exist without him. And why would you want it to?

Now for one of my all-time most favourite interviews. Guo and I talked (argued) for agesssssss about anime (Bleach > One Piece any day ;))

If you ever have a chance to see any ballet with Chengwu in it though- go. Do whatever you absolutely can and go. He is absolutely mesmerising and brings the performance to a whole new level (literally too though because his jumps are SO high). Just look at this nonsense! He’s simply incredible.

This production of The Dream stands as my favourite ballet that I’ve seen so far.

p.s- I could totally see a“Prince of Ballet!” anime working! It worked so wonderfully for ice skating with Yuri!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Chengwu Guo has been with The Australian Ballet since 2008, and was promoted to principal artist in 2013. He has danced the lead in several productions, including the Company’s recent production of Giselle, and appeared as the young Li Cunxin in the 2009 film Mao’s Last Dancer. Guo is currently dancing as the delightfully mischievous Puck in The Australian Ballet’s beautiful production of The Dream. The AU Review Arts editor Kat Czornij caught up with Guo before the Melbourne premiere to discuss life as a principal artist in The Australian Ballet, his advice for young hopeful ballet dancers, and favourite anime.

When and why did you first start dancing ballet?

I started dancing ballet when I was ten. When I was young I was a hyperactive kid so my mother took me to a local dancing studio. When I arrived there were three or four other boys and they were all rolling around doing backflips and I thought “wow, that’s so cool”. I became hooked right away. That wasn’t ballet though! After a year at that school I went to an open audition in Beijing, for Chinese Dance and Classical Ballet, but I didn’t get through the Chinese Dance. When I got through to Classical Ballet I didn’t really want to go, I didn’t know what ballet was. My family also wasn’t rich, and the school cost a lot of money, but the whole family decided I should go and that is how I started at Beijing Dance Academy.

Why did you choose to join The Australian Ballet?

In 2006 I came second in a competition called Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland and the prize is a scholarship to choose a ballet school in the world. I didn’t really know where to go, so I asked my teacher where I should go and they said “you should go to the Australian Ballet School”. So in January of 2007 I came to the Australian Ballet School and did one year of study. At the end of the year performance David McAllister (the Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet) came to watch and after the performance he offered me a job. So I’ve never really auditioned for any other company!

What is it like being a Principal Dancer with The Australian Ballet?

Maintaining everything is one of our most important jobs- strength, stamina, and flexibility. We do it every day. As a principal dancer especially you can’t afford to have any troubles. Even a tiny problem could cause a lot of issues for the Company. Maintenance is a big part of our career. Also being a Principal Dancer after every show we like to develop, so after every show the ballet master and the director will give you notes on where to improve. There are really high standards in the Company.

You currently dance the role of Puck in The Dream, who is quite a fun character- full of mischief! He is quite different from your role as the more serious Albrecht in Giselle. What is it like switching between different characters? Is it more fun to play someone like Puck?

Well switching between these two roles was the hardest part because they’re so different. I remember after Giselle’s season I was quite a prince character and then during the rehearsals for The Dream I was having a bit of trouble bending my back and getting lower to become another creature. But they are both fun, neither is more fun than the other. I was trying to create two completely different characters and the fun part is putting yourself into this character and going on stage to show what you can be. We do so many shows and it gets tiring, so enjoying being out there and being a different character for each season is what makes it fun.

Do you have a favourite role or production?

I just really love classical ballet, any classical ballet. Even though I have done so many of them I still love them. Recently I have been thinking, oh we did Don Quixote three years I think I want to do it again!

You also starred in the feature film Mao’s Last Dancer. What was the experience like, and would you consider more film roles in future?

I was really young when I did it and I loved doing the movie. If there are any film opportunities I would take them, but I think ballet is keeping me very busy at the moment. But definitely if there were any opportunities I would take them!

You are also quite a fan of anime! Do you have a favourite? Do you think any would make a great ballet?

My favourite is One Piece! I thought about if I made any anime what I would make… and I think I would make a new ballet anime talking about ballet stories. All the dramas, maybe even some superpowers! “Prince of Ballet!”

What are the best and worst parts of being a ballet dancer?

I have never really thought about it… but I think the best part is that you are doing what you like for thousands of audience members. You are getting all the love from the audience and you feel great about it. The worst part is the process of injury. When we are mid-production, and people get injured, and all the difficulties the whole company goes through.

And finally, do you have any advice for any young hopeful ballet dancers?

The chance is for people who work hard and the opportunities are for people who are ready. So if you work hard you can always achieve what you want to be. But if you just think it is going to happen then it is never going to happen. That is what I want to tell them.

Now THIS was one of my all-time favourite musical/theatre surprises, it was amazinggggg. I gave it my favourite musical of 2015 too. H.I.L.A.R.I.O.U.S

Also- fun fact! Jay James-Moody (interviewed here, and he’s the Director though not the guy in the photos below! That guy is Rob Johnson (who is also awesome)) is now the understudy for Elder Cunningham on The Book of Mormon Australia- HUGE! I hope I get to see him in it, he’s such an awesome guy ^.^

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

With the looming premiere of Jurassic World, Squabbalogic Independent Musical Theatre is taking the dinosaur-theme into a whole new direction with the Australian premiere of Triassic Parq, an outrageously funny musical that revisits the classic movie from the perspective of the dinosaurs (with bonus teenage dinosaur angst and spontaneous gender changes!)

The AU chatted with Director Jay James-Moody at the start of rehearsals to discuss dinosaur training, Dilophosauruses and the joyous hilarity of directing humans as dinosaurs.

So… dinosaurs and musicals? Can you talk a little about how that concept works and what the musical is about?

This is my idea of heaven- I am the biggest dinosaur freak and I love musicals as well, so to have them both together is just a treat. Basically the show is the story of Jurassic Park but told from the dinosaur’s perspective through song and dance.

How do the cast approach their roles as dinosaurs? Special dinosaur training?

We’ve just started rehearsals so we’re just working through that at the moment, there is a lot of claw hands going on. Our costume designer has created some amazing pieces including these great shoes that have claws on them, but they’re sequined claws. So it’s not Walking with Dinosaurs but it is something a little different.

Do you think as a Director that it’s sometimes more fun to work on these crazy musicals, that still have an important message, but don’t take themselves too seriously?

These high concept musicals are great fun because you can just let your imagination run wild. As long as you the director and the actors and the audience get on board up front with “these are people playing dinosaurs” then there’s no problem and you can do whatever you want. It’s a great group of very funny very creative and bold actors that I am working with that are really putting themselves out there and are not afraid to look silly. They’re doing a fabulous job.

The musical also deals with some more serious topics around gender identity. How do you balance these more meaningful messages amongst the comedy?

The message is there quite subconsciously. The show is first and foremost a comedy, but we’re using that comedy to access the message without hitting people in the face with it. I think it is something most people will be aware of watching the show, but at the same time they will be busting their gut laughing. Some people maybe wont consciously see what we’re saying but I’m sure it will affect some side of them as well.

Who’s your favourite character from the musical?

It’s a really diverse collection of characters and they’re all really funny and endearing in different ways, even the ones that are slightly more devious or villainous as some dinosaurs are want to be. It’s really hard to pick and it’s a really tight ensemble of six people, all of whom are past collaborators of mine and close friends as well, which made the rehearsal process such a joy. I have favourite dinosaurs from Jurassic Park? The Dilophosaurus! It is not necessarily scripted in the show… but there is one character who is “random dinosaur” and discussing with the actor we decided that it would be a Dilophosaurus.

On that, are you looking forward to Jurassic World or do you think you’ll find it distinctly lacking in musical numbers?

I am! I can’t wait! I am scouring the Internet everyday for tidbits. I have really been following this show, Triassic Parq, for several years and when they approached us asking whether we would consider producing the show I was like “Yep, we can make that work”. Now I am organizing a class excursion for us to all see the movie.

And finally, what should audiences expect from Triassic Parq?

To be sore from laughing. First and foremost it is one of the most outrageous new comedies to be out there. Even if you don’t care for musicals that doesn’t matter, it is hilarious and crude and rude. It’s going to be really unlike most nights at the theatre, it’s going to be such joyous fun to see these guys play dinosaurs and experience that journey together. We’re only two days into rehersal and I’m sore from laughing.

 

Ok well. The actual review of me going to “Like Me” will also be posted soon. Let me just say- it wasn’t for me. Interesting concept though.

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Following two sold out seasons in 2014, Mongrel Mouth now returns with a new immersive theatre production Like Me, which will take place in a 166 year-old mansion in The Rocks. The AU caught up with director Duncan Maurice to discuss immersive theatre, unpredictable audiences and laughter saving our sanity.

What is the concept behind Like Me?

Like Me is a comedy that mirrors society’s narcissistic obsession with social media. We wanted to make a work that reflects the ridiculous nature of popularity and the silliness of pursuing it. In Like Me we at Mongrel Mouth are ready and willing to laugh at ourselves and the world around us in a hope of understanding it more. This new show is about the crazy culture of the contemporary ego driven individual and the hilarious hangers on that inspire it.

What sets immersive theatre apart from a more traditional theatre production?

The stage and characters of immersive theatre are all around you and not something to sit still in front of and just watch, although you also have that option too, if you wish. Mongrel Mouth makes immersive theatre that allows the audience to move freely throughout many rooms on different levels of a huge house where the action is happening simultaneously. They can choose a thread of the narrative that intrigues them and pursue different characters. The audience can also make choices throughout the show that effect the outcomes of scenes and ultimately the story. The characters at times might speak directly to members of the audience or could even whisk them away into a private room . This kind of work is spontaneous and unpredictable because although there is a plan for the show the potential for anything to happen is much greater than in a traditional proscenium arch production.

How important is the setting, in this case the 166 year old mansion in The Rocks, to the production?

This huge house has an enormous influence on setting the mood, flow and story of the show. We bring in a lot of set design to create an evocative world that audiences are surrounded by. The physical layout of the house informs how we write the story, create the characters and develop the show. The house is very important to the show because it evokes the audiences imagination, understanding and informs how they move throughout the space.

How do you need to consider audiences when creating such an unpredictable experience?

The audiences experience, engagement and reaction to the show are always at the forefront of our creative development. Every production and in fact every single show teaches us more about audiences. The one thing we know for sure is that an audience member and sometimes more than one will do something we didn’t expect. Because in Mongrel Mouth shows the audience are free to do whatever they want whenever they want we try and anticipate the different choices they will make. Most of the time we have the different options worked out but not always. This is when the real fun begins because the actors need to adapt and keep going, this is the true magic of Mongrel Mouth theatre. During the writing of the shows and the rehearsal process we plan and predict but we’ve learnt always expect the unexpected.

How have you approached incorporating Jacques Lecoq’s Bouffon theatre style within Like Me?

The clownish mockery of Lecoq’s Bouffoonery underpins the characterisation and performance style in the production. This wonderful genre of comedy is a vehicle through which to expose the foolishness and frivolity of the flawed characters in the show. Mockery is at the heart of this style of clowning and this enables the actors to play endlessly with each other and the audience. Creating silly scenes about real themes is the bouffon’s gift to the stage and the key to hearts of the audience.

Did your (very successful) experiences with last year’s sold out sessions impact your approach this year?

We are overjoyed that people are enjoying our hard work and we have the opportunity to make more shows. Knowing that people are energized by new forms of theatre and entertainment inspires us to take pride in our work and keep on going. We believe that audiences deserve value for their money and we want to ensure we deliver high quality art that pushes the boundaries of tradition whilst respecting the unwritten rules of entertainment.

You have said that “laughter might be the only thing we have left to save our sanity”. What did you mean by that?

That laughter is the best medicine. We are continually bombarded with the struggles of the world and I believe we must face the reality of living in this country, on this planet in this time but to do so we need the joy of laughter. To do more than hopefully survive but to really turn this ship around laughter must be the wind upon our sails.

And finally, what should audiences expect from the pure madness that is Like Me?

A fun night of entertainment where anything could happen.

I saw Bobby recently in Ladies in Black and he was fabulous (as was the whole musical)!! Looking forward to seeing him in something again soon.

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Frankie Valli himself handpicked Bobby Fox to star in the Australian production of Jersey Boys, a show which he has since performed over 850 times! The AU caught up with Bobby to discuss this honour, adoring fans and what to expect in his latest show Four Seasons In One Night.

You have had quite the career- 4 times World Irish Dance Champion, tours with dance productions such as Riverdance, starring roles in several successful musicals and even realising your own debut album. What has been the standout for you?

The standout in my career so far was completing my role in Jersey Boys after three years of playing Frankie Valli. It was such an amazing feeling to get the part of course but I knew there was such a huge task ahead of me. I wanted to do it and do it well. What I’ve learned from playing that part will stay with me for as long as I’m a performer.

You were handpicked to star in Jersey Boys by Frankie Valli himself. Was there a lot of pressure with that kind of responsibility?

I suppose there was. But I just refused to think of it that way. I just thought, ‘do the work and the practice and it’ll all fall into place.’ There was an amazing team of directors and choreographers there to guide me though all the way so I felt I was in great hands.

Were you familiar with the Jersey Boys before being cast in the musical?

I was. I had seen the show a year before the auditions started in Australia, which actually worked against me! Because I loved the show so much I was beside myself with nerves before my first audition. Thankfully though the panel saw through that and gave me a second shot.

What is it like working with such amazing jukebox material as in Jersey Boys?

Sometimes being part of “jukebox” shows can have its difficulties. The material can be hard to make work. But in Jersey Boys it’s so unbelievably well crafted and written and directed that it was nothing but a wonderful challenge every night. Some of the finest pop music ever written by some of the finest writers that ever lived.

How do you keep your performance fresh each night after having performed for over 3 years and with 850 performances?

The role of Frankie in Jersey Boys was so hard and the writing so complex and layered that no matter how good you thought you were getting at it, there was always more to learn and improve on. I loved it. I’d love to play it again someday.

The musical is known for its adoring fans, do you have any experiences/stories from fans that you can share?

I got a call from my agent one day with a strange request – to appear as a ‘special guest’ at a 35th birthday party. It’d never happened to me before so I was intrigued. The deal was made and I was to stay for two hours directly after my show on Saturday night. Honestly, I was quite nervous about what was going to happen. They ended up being the nicest people you could ever meet and we are now very close friends to this day. In fact, five years on, I’m going to her 40th this weekend and performing at the party!

What can audiences expect from Four Seasons in One Night?

The show is basically a backstage pass to what it was like seeing and getting the role of Frankie… to learning and performing the role over 850 times… to anecdotes about what it was like performing at the Footy Grand Final to seeing Frankie himself perform live. All intertwining the greatest hits of Jersey Boys and The Four Seasons.

And finally, do you have a favourite song to perform?

I love ‘My Eyes Adored You’. It’s simply stunning.

I didn’t actually end up seeing “The Unknown Soldier”, but it seemed to be a beautifully put together play.

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

On the battlefields of WWI, a 16-year-old soldier fights for King and Country; in the 21st century, a 13-year-old boy questions how a soldier can simply disappear. In this new play The Unknown Soldier writer Sandra Eldridge explores the themes of this Unknown Soldier – who he is and what does he represent to young Australians today?

The AU caught up with Sandra to discuss the new work (her first as a playwright!) and how it is brought to life on the stage of Darling Harbour’s Monkey Baa Theatre.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into the idea for writing The Unknown Solider?

I’m one of the creative directors at Monkey Baa, an actor, director and writer with the company, which we formed way back in the 90s. Almost 18 years ago! The idea for The Unknown Soldier came from a number of sources, touring around the country and wondering what a young person makes of the War Memorials that are prominent in each town. From a dinner conversation, my brother told me about when he and his friends all realised that they had a Great Grandfather that died on The Somme and [had] characters from that time talking to me once I had spent a few years researching the period and the War. I also wanted to make a piece of theatre around the time of the centenary of WWI.

The play was conceived through your travels around Australia, from war archives, diary extracts, books and poetry. What originally prompted this trip?

I’m very lucky to travel a lot with my work. Touring Monkey Baa Theatre productions as an actor or director, or visiting schools around the country doing workshops. It’s allowed me to journey to so many beautiful and strange, wonderful places.

How does one attempt to bring the battlefields of WWI to life on stage?

We are very fortunate with the play to have a terrific director Matt Edgerton at the helm and a fantastic design team, Anna Gardiner (Set and Costume) Matt Cox (Lights) and David Stalley (Sound) and through research, creativity and sheer brilliant stage craft they are going to make it happen. But the most important ingredient is the audience’s imagination. That’s what makes theatre so unique and special.

The Unknown Soldier is the Monkey Baa’s first entirely new work. How does this compare to approaching adapted productions?

It’s been a different journey for Monkey Baa in the process of creating this script. When we adapt a piece, we have the framework of the story laid out for us. Almost like a map that we choose to stay on or veer from, depending on the dramatic choices that we make with the work. Also, we adapt a piece for the stage collaboratively with Eva Di Cesare, Tim McGarry and myself working very closely together. This was a play that emerged from my research and imaginings, so at times, it was a lonely process for me. But I liaised with the others and Tim was dramaturge on the play, which was great. We had (as with our adaptation process) a creative development on the script, so it got bashed about a fair bit with the actor, director and dramaturge all working closely with the writer (me) to tighten the script.

Since moving to Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre, we have been expanding our repertoire and our process in creating theatre for young people and this journey was a part of our expansion into other forms of theatre making. Ultimately though, as with our adaptations, we have a script at the end of the day that we take into rehearsal and hopefully create a engaging, entertaining theatre experience.

The play is also a first for you as a playwright. How does the experience of being both writer and actor compare to simply being an actor in a production?

Yes, it’s been an enormous learning curve and I had to take the writers hat off at the beginning of rehearsal. We joke in rehearsal that the writer is in bed working through the Harry Potter series, so can’t be disturbed. But if there is a tweak here and there, I’ve put the hat back on. The interesting aspect is seeing links that I didn’t know I had written. An actor comes to a script from such a different angle and that has been fascinating to discover. Lines have been hard to get in though as I have 12 drafts in my head!

To you, what does the Unknown Solider represent to young Australians today?

I hoping it offers questions about war, about fighting about being a soldier, about honor, duty and sacrifice. Seeing the links between WWI and the war Australia is currently in today. And I hope that the War Memorials become more than granite, but speak.

And finally, if there was one thing your audience could take away from this production, what do you hope it would be?

That the past isn’t a foreign place, it is always with us.

My most favourite ballet that I’ve seen so far <3, and the discovery of my now favourite Ballerino Guo Chengwu (even though he arged that One Piece was better than Bleach- ha!)

Originally posted on The AU Review.

The Dream is a beautiful adaption of Shakespeare’s classic tale of whimsical lovers quarrels amid a magical midsummer’s night. In The Australian Ballet’s latest adaption the tale is brought to life within a beautiful forest setting full of characters demonstrating the physicality, charm and lightness through dance that one can easily imagine of the original tale. The night is divided into three distinct ballets, with Monotones II and Symphonic Variations preceding the main act of The Dream.

Monotones II is simple in execution and very precise, with three dancers clad in white body suits- two male, one female. The dance is elegant and concentrates on controlled flexibility. The two males provide a support for the female as she turns around on the spot in full extension.

The second, Symphonic Variations, is a little more lively. The dance is comprised of sharp fast movements, dispersed with moments of held pause, and reminds me ever so slightly of Irish dancing. The partner work is splendid, with plenty of lifts and turns. There is a fabulous moment of such synchronicity with Amber Scott and Ako Kondo, and the short solo from Brett Chynoweth was probably my favourite part of the piece.

Both pre-ballets were both splendid in their own right, but by intermission I was certainly looking forward to being swept away into a storyline! Time for The Dream!

The adapted tale follows the four young Athenians- Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, as they are caught up in their tangled love lives. Nearby the King of the Fairies Oberon and his Queen Titania are having their lovers quarrel. Oberon intends to humiliate Titania with the juice of a flower, which will cause her to fall in love with the first thing she sees- which turns out to be a mule-headed man. Chaos ensues! Eventually everything is set to rights once more, with all couples rightly matched and the royal quarrel resolved.

There is something so right about the tale brought to life through dance- for these are characters of magic and whimsy, and the beautiful dewy forest stage, soft costumes and dazzling ballet (Fredrick Ashton) is perfectly dream-like. Mendelssohn’s score sets the piece to charm its audiences, with the right amount of playfulness and etherealness. It’s all a wonderfully magical experience.

This is a ballet that is very much to be enjoyed. There are no tragedies or unrequited loves here! The Dream takes you on a beautiful journey through a well-known tale, a tale which is given new life through the choreography of the dance. It is sure to make you giggle, sigh wistfully and gasp a little in awe at the performers.

Madeleine Eastoe in the role of Titania is sweet and beautiful- she sweeps across the stage and you can’t help but feel charmed by her. Titania is accompanied by her company of fairies, and when the rows line up together to perform in perfect synchronicity the effect is beautiful.

The real stars of this ballet though, are its men. Kevin Jackson as Oberon is perfect, he is able to capture and balance both gracefulness and authority in his dance. His heavy breathing near curtain close is well justified- with several long displays of talent and technique.

The Dream is of course known for its requirement for a male dancer to go on point, in the character of the transformed mule-headed man Bottom. This is taken on board by Joseph Chapman who does an absolutely incredible job. His character is absolutely hilarious, and Chapman’s ability to achieve this hilarity through the slightest quirks, antics and on-point shuffles, all from the shoulders down, is highly applaudable.

But the true standout for me is Chengwu Guo in the role of Puck. Guo is simply a delight to see perform, with a technique and skill that is absolutely jaw dropping. His abilities seem to be that of both a professional ballet dancer and world-class gymnast, with this almost inhuman height to his jumps and such strength in the preciseness of all of his movements. In the character of Puck, Guo is so animated and charming with a large cheeky grin and mischievous shrugs. A true performer- best at both his art and in his ability to delight and entertain his audience (who cheered very enthusiastically in response). I must say I have become quite a fan of Guo’s (I also saw him in Giselle recently) and would most definitely be making an effort to see any of his future performances.

Seeing a ballet live is an absolutely enchanting experience, listening to the little squeak of the ballet shoes against the floor amongst the sweeping music of the live orchestra, seeing the dazzling costumes against the backdrop of a magnificent set… The Dream is exactly the type of ballet that makes little girls want to grow up to be ballerinas. And with dancers like Jackson and Guo, hopefully little boys too.