Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Simply Brill - Adelaide Cabaret Festival Review

Photo credit: Claudio Raschella 

 Amelia Ryan, Michaela Burger and Michael Griffiths


[CABARET ~ WORLD PREMIERE & ADELAIDE EXCLUSIVE ~ AUS]

Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre, Sat 11 Jun.

Cabaret can be many things, but what cabaret does really well is tell stories. And if the stories are important and largely unknown, then all the better. Such is the story of New York’s Brill Building. Between 1958 and 1964 it churned out an astonishing number of smash hits that revolutionised popular music at the time. There were several reasons for this, but Simply Brill stresses one reason in particular: the fact that an extraordinary number of these hits were written by women. This show could be suitably sub-titled ‘Three Broads From Brooklyn’. Those broads being Carole King (the very same Carole King who became a megastar as a singer songwriter in the ‘70s), Cynthia Weil (The LocomotionBlame It On The Bossa Nova etc.) and Ellie Greenwich (Be My BabyLeader Of The Pack etc).

In a wonderfully slick show Michael Griffiths, Amelia Ryan, and Michaela Burger don’t miss a beat in this storytelling and nostalgic musical bonanza. Backed up with slides and a great local band, the narration is fast paced, funny, and with just enough information to set up an appreciation of the next song. Ryan and Burger take turns as the Brooklyn broads but share much of the vocal work. Griffith spends most of the show on piano adding to the storyline and occasional doo wops, and bom boms as required, but shows his front man skills in solo renditions of songs like We Gotta Get Out of This Place. Ryan and Burger groove and jive throughout in seductive harmony with the music to stunning visual effect.

All three shared the storytelling and singing duties in an intricate, seamless show of organic joy. They were clearly enjoying what they were doing, loving the songs they were singing, and revelling in each other’s company. It was indeed brill.

Kudos to the bass player who wore a smile throughout and contributed to the good vibes! And there were good vibes a plenty. You got a very real sense of the excitement of the times and thrill that those young songwriters must have felt when they landed another hit.

And just in case you had any lingering doubts about the value of the song writing teams that worked in the Brill Building, a stirring final medley of You’ve Lost That Loving FeelingRiver Deep Mountain High, and Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman sealed the deal.

Just wonderful!

(This review also posted on The Clothesline.)

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Professional Development for the Modern Era

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN A BOOK AND WIKI THAT ARE NO LONGER AVAILABLE.


“The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater and the sum of expertise of the people on the stage.” (Dave Winer)

In September 2006 a group of people were invited to New Zealand to take part in the Future of Learning in a Networked World (FLNW). Sponsored by the Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, FLNW was variously referred to as an unconference, an open space conference, a bar camp, or even a travelling elearning circus or roadshow. Invited participants mostly referred to it as an unconference - the prefix ‘un’ denoted a definitive contrast from the typical style of ‘stand and deliver’ professional development event that we were all familiar with

Was it a plane? Was it a bird? No it was...

What transpired in this 10 day event was actually a combination of unconference, open space, and bar camp. The notion of bar camp or unconference seems to have stemmed from a technological imperative. From Wikipedia: “bar camp is an international network of unconferences - open participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants - focusing on early stage web applications and related open source technologies and social protocols. “

The unconference: “an unconference is a conference where the content of the sessions is driven and created by the participants, generally day by day during the course of the event, rather than by a single organiser, or small group of organisers, in advance.” FLNW was an open participatory workshop event where the content of the sessions was driven and created by participants and it employed open space technology (OST), a term that describes a process rather than the use of any particular technology:

“OST is a meeting methodology... its essential core is the invitation to take responsibility for what you have passion for. The remarkable outcome of this simple idea is that when participants do so, the needs of both the individual and the collective are met.”

So was FLNW a bar camp, unconference, or an open space conference? It had elements of all three. This paper will refer to it as an unconference that employed open space processes. It was therefore:

·         open - it was free and all interested parties were invited

·         fluid and negotiated - there was no set agenda

In the lead up to the event sponsors and location hosts did express a desire for more structure up front so they could more effectively promote the event. This created some tension in the group as some were very definite about the fact that there would be no preplanning or prepared agenda. From the sponsor's point of view one can appreciate their dilemma. They were unsure about promoting the event as merely ‘a group of visiting elearning experts will be here to talk about the future of learning’, with no timetable or session titles. This highlights a subtle difference between a conference and an unconference. One promotes a conference; one should invite people to an unconference. It needs to be explicit that all comers have equal rights of participation, and that everyone will help create the topics and organise sessions. They will be part of the show. It will in fact be their show - it's owned by those who attend.

For the most part those who favoured minimal planning had their way. However, the group may have erred in its reluctance to impose any structure on the process used to generate discussion topics. I think an agreed process would have been more effective in generating the foci of sessions, and may have resulted in more options for participants. Having to negotiate process and the range of topics at the start of group sessions was a little confounding, but this path was taken in a kind of pioneering spirit. Like ‘let's see what happens if we leave it completely open?’ The group sessions were successful. It is only in retrospect that it became clear that there is 20 years of open space theory that may have enabled FLNW to be more efficient in the use of planning time. Or unplanning time so to speak. One can devote a lot of time to debating why one should not plan!

 

Locations

Over the course of 10 days FLNW travelled to six separate locations in NZ and took place on campuses, in museums, community centres, private homes, schools, trains, boats, planes, bars and restaurants. Most scheduled events were located in advertised venues like campuses and community spaces that could cater for up to 100 participants per session.

 

What happened in these sessions?

Initially a location facilitator would welcome everyone and introduce the international speakers, who in turn spoke briefly (mostly) about their areas of interest and expertise. The invited speakers were seated around the room, each with a laptop and data projector, and after these initial introductions participants were free to join any of the invited guests for an open discussion within their broad area of knowledge and expertise.

These sessions went very smoothly. Participants self-selected their chosen focus group and floated between groups as desired. There was no compulsion to stay with anyone group for any length of time - in accordance with the core component of open space process: the Law of Two Feet. The Law of Two Feet - a foot of passion and a foot of responsibility - expresses the core idea of taking responsibility for what you love. In practical terms, the law says that if you're neither contributing nor getting value where you are, use your two feet (or available form of mobility) and go somewhere where you can.

“The phenomenon of self-organization lies at the heart of Open Space.” (Harrison Owen)

Owen compares this self-organisation phenomenon with what Kaufmann suggests happens in the natural world.  Kaufmann suggests that self-organisation will only occur if there are few prior connections between the elements; indeed he says no more than two.  In retrospect, it seems to make sense. If everything is hardwired in advance how could it self-organise?” How many of us at professional development events will automatically home in on people we know and sit with them in any group activity, rather than let the topic of the activity determine which group we should join?

Other types of events included a train ride of several hours duration where interested parties joined the touring guests for small group discussions on board, link ups with international participants via virtual classroom tools, visits to schools and colleges, and a working breakfast

 


The Process - An Evaluation

An event of this nature cannot help but have a profound effect on those involved. It's daring format with no set agendas or programme other than a series of chosen locations geographically disparate on set days meant that the touring party were effectively together for several days at a time without a break. Many of the party had only met virtually before this event and as happens when any group of people is thrust together for days on end there were a range of interpersonal issues that arose that needed addressing. On the plus side, this forced continual companionship meant that the unconference became a 24/7 affair where issues raised in the sessions of the day could be discussed after hours over dinner or during transport to the next port of call.

The nature of the content under review and the wired  ‘always on’ nature of the touring guests meant that there was an extraordinary amount of data recorded and posted on the web. Discrete sets of this data could be accessed via RSS feed, and in the recently released ebook and DVD. (no longer available)

Though these interpersonal dynamics and the nature and volume of content produced are worth articles in their own right, it is the intention of this paper to focus more on the process of teaching and learning that occurred, evaluate its effectiveness, and assist the potential relevance of this type of professional development for the education sector. It should be said here that the sheer impracticality of the logistics of this kind of event make it unlikely that this model would be adopted by many organisations, but there is much that can be adopted for one or two day conferences. There was general consensus among the invited group that 10 days was too long and that five days seemed an optimal amount of time. The length of the event clearly depends on the goals of the exercise. If one of the goals is to build individual capacity and confidence by drawing on group dynamics then an event of around five days may be necessary.

One of the intriguing aspects of FLNW was that it did require individual resolve to function effectively in the larger group, but this was not a stated goal of the event. It did however highlight the fact that working effectively in groups is not a given. It is a skill that needs to be learned. And not all members of the group saw working in groups as implicitly of value. Whether one sees value in working in groups, or is able to do it effectively, has enormous implications for a group of educators ordaining collective, collaborative learning as a core requirement of learning in a connected world. There was vociferous debate on the nature and worth of groups and networks during FLNW, and for several weeks online after the physical event was over.

 

Group Sessions

The group sessions were surprisingly efficient and free of awkward pauses or leave taking. Participants understood that they were free to change groups whenever they wished, and could join other discussions mid-stream in a free flowing movement around the room as group sizes fluctuated between small gatherings of just a few people do groups of 20 or so. Occasionally people in the shared space became aware of a particularly important or engaging discussion in one corner of the room and people would drift over to that part of the room to listen to the debate. A short movie from Derek Chirnside, our host in Christchurch from the then Christchurch College of Education (now part of the University of Canterbury) gives a glimpse of what typically happened during these concurrent smaller group sessions. Another short movie from Stephen Parker asked the questions” does the unconference model work? And interestingly, how can the unconference format be used with students in a classroom environment? (these videos no longer available)

“I think it's really important to keep in mind that you can't get students to do group work and sharing and talking together, but giving them the option to move out and get on with their own work, that's really empowering and motivating, they might take snippets from the discussion and then say, yes this is what I need and get on with their own work. It's more about enabling them to learn the material in their own way.” Yvonne Wood

On other occasions small groups would splinter off to work on a specific task. Sometimes individuals would take photographs or movies or interview onlookers or other guests about proceedings using cameras, PC media recording devices, or phones. Samples of this ad hoc on the fly content can be seen on the unconference blog

OST suggests that these sessions should be preceded by a listing of all interested topics up on a wall or similar so participants can see at a glance what topics were being covered in that session, but there is no prescriptive way of going about this. A group of staff in NSW approached the pre discussion stage by encouraging staff to state whether they wanted to share, learn, or do something, and formed groups around that process.

There was recurrent comment on the empowering aspect of the unconference format for the classroom from many teachers and discussion on the types of physical open and closed spaces that could contribute to the success. This movie illustrates a potential classroom open space that can facilitate group discussion or where individuals can just go off into a corner and get on with their own thing, separate to the group activity. (no longer available)

 

The Role of ‘Experts’

FLNW had at its core a group of invited experts - some with an international profile - and their presence guaranteed a basic quorum of participants as these guests had pulling power. It also served as a bargaining chip when canvassing for funding for the event. Funding bodies, largely educational institutions, were more likely to fund an event that had significant profile due to the presence of international guests.

It was to be expected at the start of the group sessions that the work of these visiting guest experts would serve as initial focal points for discussion. Although participants had turned up for the day's proceedings were invited to contribute to the initial spruikings on topics that interested them, few did. The presence of the invited experts no doubt made this a daunting task, but OST is emphatic that this opportunity be given to all participants. This enables all participants, not just those with the recognised profile, to pitch for discussions on things that interested them.

Having visiting experts meant that discussion topics tended to be formulated around their interests. Though the group discussions were sufficiently fluid to allow for addressing topics brought to bear by participants, it would have been preferable that sessions/discussions were formed around the expressed interests of participants rather than the invited experts. Given that the collective expertise of the invited speakers was very broad, it was likely that they could have led, or contributed significantly to, sessions on any topic suggested by participants anyway.

 


The role of media: personal and group publishing

The nature of the people invited to FLNW, and its focus on education in the networked world, meant that there was a proliferation of personal and group media created and published - that is after all how network teachers and learners network - they publish. Every minute and every day which is likely to be recorded, blogged, podcast, photographed or filmed and published to the web. It is not a criterion of OST, but for the unconference, with its origins in learning about technology via new approaches, it is a fair expectation that there be an electronic and public record.

“All conversations, whether to the entire room or one to one, unless otherwise stated, clearly and upfront, are on the record and for attribution. You do not need to ask permission to quote something you hear. Of course you may ask for permission to quote, and you may choose not to quote things you hear.”

Many conferences publish proceedings after the event, but these are subject to a peer review process. In an unconference, publishing is occurring virtually as it happens without any editorial process. As Stephen Downes remarked during the Christchurch session, this is one of the factors that distinguishes the old from the new world of learning. In the new world, any peer review or assessment of content happens after publishing, and the network or networks decide its value.

However, the constant documentation of FLNW meant that inevitably there would be a whole raft of material that was not of much value - out of focus photographs, blurred video, poor audio quality, half-baked ideas – all there in the public domain. Some FLNW participants consequently suggested that not all the media documenting the event be made public, and that some editorial discretion be used before it was published.

All professional development activities should be documented. In the spirit of an unconference this should be done as it happens. One could choose the path of BloggerCon and state up front that all activity may be ‘on the record and for attribution. ‘ An alternative option may be to let participants know that if they don't want their image, voice, or ideas on the public record it is incumbent upon them to make that request at any given time, but it would seem impractical to have participants evaluate their input into an activity as it's happening and decide that they don't want it on the record. It would be unfortunate too if any hesitation about the value of one's contribution stymied one’s input. Another core component of OST is that ‘whoever comes are the right people’, and by inference then, whatever is said is the right thing to say at the time. Part of working in a networked world is accepting that your input is part of the eventual and continually evolving body of knowledge, and that it will be adopted, modified, or discarded. It is not what you say (or how you look or sound in that blurred video) that is of primary importance - it is what the network does with the information you provided that matters more.

It is asking a lot of some people though to expect them to happily accept that their thoughts and actions go on record. Some people are private personalities; Some require time to assimilate ideas before they can respond eloquently. As one participant on the video at an unconference PD event trial inspired by FLNW says,  “it's all about getting used to being visible”.

 

Relevance for you and your organisation

imagine that you arrive at a one or two day conference and there is no set agenda or programme. I posed this question to a group of staff at a professional development session soon after I returned from FLNW and the response from the approximately 20 people present was overwhelmingly positive. One person did comment that they would feel cheated but others thought ‘it would be fantastic’.

If you take this approach the first hour or so of the day is taken up with a collaborative discussion designed to formulate the day's programme. The FLNW model showed that a more open approach to professional development can work. Professional development events, even those of one to three days duration, do not need invited experts or guest facilitators.

Participants knowing in advance that they are coming to address an advertised topic, or perhaps to solve a recognised problem, and knowing too that it is the reason that people will come - not to listen to experts or speakers on a prearranged agenda - is a strength based approach to professional development that promotes greater buy-in and commitment. Knowing that the success of the FLNW event would rest on the input of all of us, a group of FLNW participants spent the day before it got underway in engaged and prolonged discussion: “the learning and discussion on the future of learning had begun in earnest without a single presentation!” Such is the power of inviting people to attend an event and letting them know they will have significant input into the structure and outcome of the event, as it will build on what they know and bring to the table, and not what others deem they should know.

 

Workers for the knowledge era

If our educational institutions are to train their teachers to function effectively in the knowledge era, they need to offer training that reflects the new learning. Work in the knowledge era is characterised by:

·         processes and structures that are more emergent than predictable

·         tacit knowledge, which can only be shared through relationship, conversation, and interaction

·         networks: who and how you know is as important as what you know.

 

A knowledge worker needs to know how to collaborate

The unconference with its open space approach to professional development is a model more likely to foster the kinds of skills and attitudes suitable for the knowledge era than the deficit model. The deficit model may have outlived its usefulness as the primary means of staff development. The unconference allows for group commitment to a process that is negotiated in non-hierarchical network entities. It allows the opportunity to become familiar with the unpredictable and emergent through negotiating content as it evolves. It validates, and capitalises on, the knowledge that everyone brings to the event and assumes that the collective expertise of the rank and file is as valuable as the knowledge and opinions of export experts or those in authority.

 

References

1.       Dave Winer; What is an unconference? 

2.       Harrison Owen; Opening Space For Emerging Order       

dI    Diana and James Oblinger: Is it age or IT: firststeps towards understanding the net generation 

4.       Dave Weiner; Blogger con for newbies 

5.       Maret Staron, Robbie Weatherly,  Marie Jasinski; Life-based learning- a newframework for capability  development in vocational education and training 

6.      Shen Zhang, Yvonne Wood, Steven Parker ‘FLNW#10 The Unconference Format (video no longer available)  

7.       FLNW 06 - Professional Development Space of the Future (video no longer available)

Monday, May 09, 2022

REVIEW: A Streetcar Named Desire and the End of The Bakehouse Theatre



Bakehouse Theatre, Fri 29 Apr, 2022.

A Streetcar Named Desire had a huge impact when first performed in the late 1940s due to its no-holds barred revelation of sexual mores of the time and American society’s treatment of women. The sexual undercurrents running through the play are pretty lame and inoffensive by contemporary standards, but sadly the issue of domestic violence against women is just as prevalent as it was back then. It was shocking then and it is shocking now – some men continue to parade around as the king of their households and use the threat of potential or actual violence to get their way.

According to Stanley, he and Stella were quite happy until her sister Blanche arrived and started rocking the boat with her judgemental ways and fake upper class pretensions. Blanche considers Stanley to be sub-human and implores her sister to leave him. Stanley does a little digging into Blanche’s sordid past and decides he can indeed be sub-human with her and take her whenever he wants. Her looser moral code in relations with men means she forfeits all rights to personal safety if men like Stanley decide to have his way with her.

This was a wonderful choice as the Bakehouse Theatre’s swansong. It has reliably maintained a high level of quality theatre for decades and sadly concludes on this very high note. The cast was uniformly exceptional, but one must give special credit for Melanie Munt’s performance as Blanche. It’s a demanding role that requires dignity and madness, superiority and frailty, feigned upper class elegance and down-in the gutter trash talking and she does them all with total conviction. Paul Westbrooks’ Al Pacino-type looks aids his swagger and boorish male bravado as he struts around the house showing off his physique, while occasionally allowing a softer side to embrace his Stella. But he’s a ticking time bomb whose masculinity should never be challenged. Marc Clement as Mitch represents a softer more sentient side of men and is charmingly played but he, too, quickly reverts back to the male stereotype when confronted with the truth about Blanche.

An ironic and fitting cameo has our Bakehouse hosts join the final scene to take Blanche away to some dreadful place where she and her kind will be hidden from society.

This was a great final act from The Bakehouse – all class to the end. Thank you, Bakehouse Theatre, for providing hundreds of hours of wonderful entertainment and offering thousands of Adelaide people the joy of live theatre from both sides of the curtain. You’ll be sadly missed. Vale old friend.

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Song #79 Grandfather

 

CC image from James Stringer

GRANDFATHER

Grey rocks on green grass – a long long time ago

You walked the misty coastline – on a lonely distant shore

‘Twixt home and school and church yard – you felt the sea’s soft spray

On lonely Eriskay

 

Your children growing older – you think of far away

Did you ever think Australia - as you gazed out on the sea?

Could we leave this lonely isle – this land so far away?

Our windswept Eriskay

 

Grandfather – you never knew my name

Grandfather – you died before I came

 

In the church upon the hillside – you sit silently in prayer

The wind was blowing stronger – you knew you had to go

Tears of salt roll down your face – you must leave your island home

Farewell dear Eriskay

 

Grandfather – we never shared a dawn

Grandfather – you died before I came

Is there a part of you I might find in Eriskay?

Is there a part of you - is there a part of you in me

To take back to Eriskay?


Commentary

I have long been fascinated by the story of my paternal grandparents who lived on Eriskay in the early part of the 20th century and then migrated to an equally remote place in rural South Australia. My paternal grandfather died before I was born. There is no recording of this song yet but it will come .....

Monday, April 11, 2022

Gunther Stopa

 


"Gunther was like a bottomless pit of empathy." (Damien Coghlan)

I guess I knew I'd never see Gunther again. I had often suggested getting together in these last few years and he’d always say ‘yes we must catch up soon’ but it never happened. In the end I stopped asking – I had the feeling that he was still quite self-conscious of how he looked and sounded after his last round of surgery. But happily I did bump into him on Semaphore Rd once a couple of years ago and had a lovely chat with him and Gail.  It was the last time we saw each other. But he always wished me well for upcoming gigs, and never failed to pass on birthday greetings. He also posted wonderful links to live music on social media. Whatever the genre – classical, jazz, folk, rock, country – you could be assured it was first class and worth listening to. His last music post to Facebook was about a performance by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Alison Krauss just two days before he left us.

So though I was no longer seeing my old friend I always felt he was there in my life somewhere. And now that he’s not there I’m quite taken aback by this feeling of immense sadness as I realise he’s gone. I knew I loved the man, but only now do I appreciate just how much I appreciated having him in my world.

I met Gunther at Marymount College and over the following five years learned to love his calm warmth. There was a stillness about him that was very comforting. We played bridge together at recess and lunch time most days over those 5 years – both of us preferred to retreat into the ritual of a card game rather than talk. Gunther in fact rarely talked. We marvelled at how this oh so peaceful man who rarely spoke could manage to teach a classroom full of rowdy 11 to 14 year-olds. But he did. And students loved him. He spoke gently and quietly and they shut up, listened and proceeded to create works of wonderful art. Students loved his art classes. He managed to get through to those kids in a way that no one else on staff could – with a gentle dignity and grace that kids respected.

One evening on a school camp the students had sort of gone to bed and it was time for some teachers’ adult time. Gunther and I both had our guitars. We had never played together but I decided to sing a song about a painter called Patrick. Some way though the song Gunther had learned the chorus well enough to join in and I heard this deep resonant vocal come in under my melody and it quite disarmed me. It was just beautiful.

Rich, warm and resonant, it just gave the song a solid base that allowed it to fly. And it occurs to me now that maybe that’s what it was about Gunther; why we all loved him. He provided a place of comfort and warmth without judgement in which we could just be ourselves. He was always supportive and encouraging. And yet often silent, and always quiet. As another teacher from those days at Marymount recently wrote, Gunther saw us all as better than we really were. He allowed us to believe that we were OK; that life was good and there was opportunity ahead.

Deep, warm, resonant – these words keep coming to mind as I contemplate the man he was – at least as I saw him. It’s also tempting to see his quiet calm as something akin to wisdom but he’d hate that. But I do know that I’ve never known anyone quite like Gunther Stopa – his deep warmth and calm was highly unusual and it was beautiful to be around.

Goodbye my dear Gunther. You were my colleague, an erstwhile singing partner, a painter, a place of refuge and above all a very dear friend. It’s a cliché to say life won’t be the same without you, but there really isn’t anyone else in my world that is anything like you.  I was fortunate to share a lot of life with you, and I will dwell for a long time on what it was about you that made me feel so good to be in your company. But it starts with warmth ….

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Review

 


Her Majesty’s Theatre, Mon 14 Mar.

The Picture Of Dorian Gray was my introduction to the world of literature and social commentary of Oscar Wilde. Originally published in 1890, it made an indelible impression on my young soul and I was excited to see how this adaptation by Kip Williams would work for the stage. The essential idea of Dorian Gray is that he is forever young and that he only ages in a portrait of him created by his artist friend Basil. This sense of eternal youth gives Dorian the freedom to follow his every hedonistic, immoral fancy. But in a message for both old and young there are grave consequences.

This production by the Sydney Theatre Company is simply superb. The ease with which Eryn Jean Norvill handles the multiple roles of Dorian, Basil, Lord Henry, various household staff, and several other characters is incredibly impressive. She steps in and out of these roles throughout with frequent costume and scene changes in a rapid and constantly moving parade.

On the staging side this production is a technical tour de force. I doubt whether many in the audience would have seen anything quite like this. I certainly haven’t. The use of multimedia and live video has been creeping into theatre for some years but when bigger budgets allow bigger crews on big stages to work in tandem with people with big ideas this is what can be achieved.

The opening scenes of Basil talking to Lord Henry take place at the very back of the stage and are filmed live. For most of the audience the scene is best viewed on a large screen hanging from the front of the stage, though those towards the front could view the live scene if they chose. This is often the case throughout – many scenes are both recorded live and beamed on to large screens.

On other occasions Norvill (as Dorian) is talking live to Lord Henry but Lord Henry’s contribution to the conversation has been pre-recorded and Norvill is conversing with a recording of his part of the dialogue. This device is often employed and should, you would think, seem strange and stilted. But it is seamless, barely noticeable. On multiple occasions Norvill is relating to other characters speaking pre-recorded versions of conversations that she has also recorded so she is effectively talking to herself. Not to mention the fact that so much of her performance here is talking to camera, not to another person or character, and yet must appear as if she is in deep connection with another character. Like combining the skills of live theatre with acting for screen I guess and it is simply brilliant.

In a chilling conclusion that sadly has acute relevance for the narcissistic trend permeating contemporary Western culture, Dorian Gray ultimately pays a heavy price. This play is full of the wit, wisdom and eloquence characteristic of all Oscar Wilde’s work. You will wait a long time to see an individual performance as good as Norvill offers here, and the technical wizardry achieved by a team of black-clad ghostly wraiths floating in and out of view is initially a little distracting but becomes strangely and appropriately symbolic of a hidden world that only Dorian knew.

This is a show that you could definitely see a second or even a third time. Sometimes five stars are just not enough!

5+ stars 

(This review also published on The Clothesline.)

Monday, March 14, 2022

WOMADelaide 2022 - Day 2 Review

(banner created by Ian Bell)

Botanic Park, Sat 12 Mar.

I decided to skip the yoga sessions and went straight to the Foundation Stage for Sorong Samurai. Musicians from PNG and West Papua (still under the control of Indonesia) launched with soft flutes and fast drumming. The West Papuan flag waved gracefully in the wind as calls for their independence echoed from the stage. Tribal headdresses and make-up were on display as the band pumped out rhythms built around drums and bass peppered occasionally with reggae.

At the other end of the park Sydney’s Crooked Fiddle Band tuned up to the sound of bats chirping on Stage 7. (It really should be renamed to ‘The Bat Stage’; The University of Adelaide now hosts an adjacent Bat Tent to educate festival goers about these WOMAD regulars.) A slow moody fiddle tune to begin with was soft enough to still have bats as part of the chorus. Despite what the band name might suggest there is just one fiddle player in The Crooked Fiddle Band and she interestingly carries a number of bows in a bag slung across her shoulder in medieval archer style. One of these bows was so supple that it actually bent as it was moved across the strings. They certainly offered a mixed menu. Part folk, forays into reggae, traditional Macedonian, and extended grooves that were more Funk than fiddle. Ever seen a melody picked on a double bass? It sounded great. As with many of the performers it was obvious they were enjoying playing in a post COVID world – today was their first festival in over two years. They commented that they didn’t believe they would be playing until they were actually on stage with their instruments!!

The Balkan Ethno Orchestra had the dubious pleasure of fronting the very warm afternoon sun on Stage 2, but they did a fantastic job. Five women vocalists resplendent in black stood across the stage and delivered a beautiful set of songs based around complex harmonies from Eastern European musical traditions. Supported by drums, percussion, guitars and balalaika their material ranged from faster dance pieces to slow emphatic rhythms, from contemporary to distant past. The more ancient songs had a polyphonic quality that one can often hear in vocal arrangements from early European music. One piece was reminiscent of Steeleye Span’s Gaudete and probably dates from around that same time. A lovely set that was in turn lively, plaintive and energetic.

The inability to include many international performers this year meant the inclusion of many Australian based acts we wouldn’t otherwise hear. That was a mixed blessing but I really enjoyed Australian artists coming out of lockdown and sharing what they’d been practising. Bush Gothic – now that’s a strange concept – has a mission of bringing women’s stories in old Australian folk songs into modern contexts. And they largely succeed with this admirable aim. Double bass and drums are the bedrock of their sound, supplemented with piano or fiddle. Arrangements were often a bit weird, but I still found them strangely alluring. Their songs uniformly have a lovely feel even if occasionally a little dark and sombre. Some pieces sounded like they were originally sung unaccompanied (and we all know how dirge-like they can sound!) Many of these songs would make great comparison studies – hear the song in its original form, and then in this new modern arrangement and think about what the changes do to the song; it strikes me as a great way for music students to examine what they’re doing and why. It was a bit onerous at times but I really like what they’re trying to do – old concepts with new rules.

ZOJ had a small crowd for their show on the Moreton Bay Stage. Consisting of Persian poems sung to electronic loops and live percussion, ZOJ produce dreamy sounds that are spacey and contemplative. Interestingly other Iranian performers from the Eishan Ensemble all listened to this performance lying down. Quite beautiful.

IS THE PANDEMIC OVER?

That’s how it seemed once the Melbourne Ska Orchestra arrived. Drifting on to the stage in chaotic higgledy-piggledy fashion while playing their catchy opening tune bumping into each other, falling over, and other general messiness until they all find their right place and then BOOM – they’re off! With the irrepressible Nicky Bomba assuming command the mood of the day just changed in a heartbeat. So many people just started smiling, people of all shapes and sizes started dancing and moving towards the Foundation Stage. It was a moment of pure joy. And it really did feel like someone had just announced that the pandemic was officially over. Such a wonderful band – great sounds of ska, reggae and Latin beats, a brass section that really swings (literally!) and a group of people who so obviously love what they do. This goes into the WOMADelaide history books as a magic performance.

Another lockdown project was unveiled back on the Moreton Bay Stage. Well known Australian slide guitar player Jeff Lang and partner shared their recent musical project. Some songs were quite a departure in style for Lang and as fine as they were I was happiest hearing those great blues and boogie riffs that he’s best known for.

If you wanted further evidence that at least people here at WOMADelaide figured the pandemic was over you only had to go over to Stage Two and watch a crowd crammed together at the front of the stage to sway and groove to the electronic wizardry of Motez. It’s an interesting time we live in where one person can occupy a huge stage pressing buttons and flicking switches that unleash a cosmic world of light and sound that not so long ago would have required an entire band. I resisted the hypnotic urge to go closer – I wasn’t quite convinced that the pandemic was over. People were too close for comfort after two years of social distancing and there wasn’t a mask in sight.

But it was so good to see people dancing again. The unfettered joy of people moving their bodies to the music they love after a two year hiatus was a joy to behold. The D in WOMAD after all stands for DANCE!

(This article also published in The Clothesline.)

Sunday, March 13, 2022

WOMADELAIDE TURNS 30!

(image created by Ian Bell)

Botanic Park, Fri 11 Mar.

WOMADelaide is back to normal: multiple stages, the village, market stalls, the Woshop, the Kidzone, tables and chairs placed out beneath the trees all over the park, the Angus Watt flags. It’s WOMADelaide’s 30th birthday!! There are some changes too – more stages, more tables and chairs – it feels incredibly spacious and very COVID friendly. But sadly, it seems the Holy Cow coffee tent has been retired.

The gates are open earlier this year to allow people to saunter in at their leisure and not have to suffer long socially distant queues. As I sit and watch the crowd slowly filter in I reflect on my personal highlights of this extraordinary event.

I will never forget one of my earlier memories of WOMADelaide: a tall African man with a full-length blue robe playing the kora (an instrument I’d never heard of) on the Moreton Bay stage. I was mesmerised and instantly felt the privilege it was to be there

At my first WOMADelaide a friend recommended I see this Russian quartet, Terem, playing Russian folk music – not something I would normally bother to see. Their musical virtuosity was astounding, their humour infectious, and I had another moment of feeling I had arrived at something very special.

I didn’t get to the original WOMADelaide in 1992. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was at that original event but I caught him some years later on his second visit and was taken to musical heaven by the extraordinary combination of chanting, singing, and percussion. I fell in love with Qawwali music then and there – and the passion has not waned.

I don’t know if I could have even told you where Madagascar was before I saw the Justin Vali Trio. Their joyous rhythmic melodies bounced off the kora and out into the park. It was some of the happiest sounding music I’d ever heard.

From closer to home New Zealand’s Dave Dobbyn came one year and his humble style and exquisite melodies showed his skills as a songwriter went way beyond Slice Of Heaven.

I had never heard Midnight Oil live. The year they were here I was wandering over towards Stage 1 as it was then called and you could almost feel the power in your body as it boomed out across the crowd. This is magnetic, pulse-driven primal rock.

In complete contrast my first awareness of Gurrumul was hearing bewitching birdlike vocal sounds wafting through the trees calling me to wherever it was coming from. He was a backup singer in The Saltwater Band back them. Years later he returned as a headline act and thousands of people sat in silence in front of the main stage and listened to the voice of ancient Australia. One of the most moving experiences you can imagine.

Late one night the legendary Jimmy Cliff and band bopped their reggae tunes out into the night in the rain and no one cared.

One of the selfish joys of WOMADelaide is seeing how foreign performers are seduced by the beauty of the place they’re playing in. A member of a Scottish band one year stopped between songs shook his head and said, “You’ve no idea how amazing this is – we don’t do outside in Scotland!”

The sweet melodies of Algeria’s Saoud Massi, the urgent desert-driven rhythms of Tinariwen, the ancient vocal sounds of The Sardinian Tenors, the foot-tapping bonanza that was America’s Pokey La Farge, the beauty and grace of the Gambia’s Sona Jobarteh, the surprising Celtic harmonies Ireland’s Alan Kelly extracts from his accordion …. I could go on. Some huge names are missing from this list. We will all have our own highlights. Each year offers the anticipation and joy of discovering something new as you hope to find an act or two you can add to your own personal highlights reel of WOMADelaide magic. And it rarely disappoints.

It’s time to start the 30th birthday party. The Kaurna welcome to county is about to begin

(This article also published on The Clothesline.)

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