The Age from Melbourne, Victoria on February 14, 1997 · Page 21
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria · Page 21

Melbourne, Victoria
Issue Date:
Friday, February 14, 1997
Page 21
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METROARTS EDITED BY RAYMOND GILL FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY 1997 THE AGE B 5 Diary National Gallery: Redesign blueprints unveiled Bystander Jim Schembri Grand plans, but no waterwall? t , ' r i the whole space . . . and we need to ensure the safety of the works of art," Potts said. "The trustees are resigned to the likelihood of some element of closure; we can't do renovations on this scale and ensure there's no dust or vibration." The NGV is looking for other Victorian venues where it could show parts of the permanent collection and for the existing schedule of visiting exhibitions, Potts said. He would not confirm whether the entire gallery would have to close. If this is the case, it would be the first time since the gallery opened on St Kilda Road in 1968. Director Timothy Potts discussed the problems of the existing entrance but did not mention the fate of the waterwall. The design shows: The building entirely devoted to exhibition space with the administration, restaurants and other departments moved out into a building behind the gallery. Contemporary, Asian and Aboriginal art will get double the hanging space, while European art will only be increased by about 16 per cent. The entrance opened up with a long atrium from the foyer through to the sculpture court. The Great Hall will be realigned at 45 degrees to become part of this. (The Len By REBECCA LANCASHIRE THE National Gallery of Victoria has been engaging in show and tell with Melbourne's arts community this week. About 130 local artists including John Brack, Bill Henson and Mostyn Bramley-Moore commercial gallery owners and others were privy to the architects' initial blueprints for the redesign of the Sir Roy Grounds building. These are based on $160 million being available for the revamp, while the reality is that the Victorian Government has provided $80m and the gallery is still attempting to raise the balance. Music: Michael Finnissy Composed in the face of hypocrisy By ANNA KING MURDOCH TRAVELLING the world as president of the International Society of Contemporary Music for the past six years, English composer Michael Finnissy has found the most fervent followers of new music in Taiwan and Bulgaria. "I had a concert in Taipei in a major hall which was jam-packed and people stayed afterwards to take notes," says Finnissy, gratefully remembering the Chinese hunger for new sounds. There is a direct link, he found, between interest in contemporary music and how cut off a society feels from current world culture. "In Bulgaria, where they don't have a happy past, new music represents the future. They think new art can symbolise the way forward, which I think is such a marvellous way of thinking." This is hardly the case in Britain, where there is minimal risk-taking in contemporary music and where an established contemporary composer such as Finnissy, now in his 50s, must make two-thirds of his income through teaching. "Most of the most interesting music-making that's happening in England is early or Baroque music, because it's commercially viable and the composers aren't around to tell you what to do." But although a group such as the London Sinfonietta "wouldn't touch it with a barge pole", and his contemporaries are dismissive, Fin-nissy's work attracts passionately committed younger musicians around the world, including Melbourne's Libra Ensemble, a group that formed in 1991 to expose little-performed contemporary works to the public. These four young musicians are not only receptive to the merciless technical difficulties, but are also highly respectful of the "music" in Finnissy's apparently harsh, bleak, Reviews: Someone Else's Porgy and Bess wait In wings NEW YORK producer Peter Klein was in town yesterday to plan his touring production of Porgy and Bess, which will play in the State Theatre from 13 to 24 May with the State Orchestra of Victoria performing the score, which includes the songs Summertime, It Ain't Necessarily So and Got Plenty of Nuttin. Since 1972, Klein's company, Living Arts, has specialised in international tours taking Shanghai acrobats to the US, Japanese Butoh to Sicily, A Chorus Line and West Side Story to Europe, and Zeffirelli's 1984 La Scala production of Swan Lake on a North American tour. Klein is most proud of that last tour, and with a cast and crew of 325, it was a triumph of planning. It's no surprise to discover that Klein specialised in logistics when he served in the Israeli army in the mid 1960s. His world tour of Porgy and Bess is now in its fifth year, and with a mainly American cast and crew of 42 (including three conductors) he can surely stage the famous Gershwin "folk opera" in his sleep? "Of the 42 there are 30 opera singers, 15 are female and we have about 20 divas, so it's not always easy getting the divas on a bus is not fun." Klein says drily. The softly spoken producer says he has to "cajole" some artistes, but on rare occasions he is forced to fire people. "I hate doing that and making that sort of impact on peoples' lives," he says. Still, when a diva is habitually late for rehearsals or the tour bus, "it has a negative impact on the morale of the rest of the cast". The Australian tour was planned a year ago, but Klein says the fact that musicals have been opening back-to-back in Melbourne for the past six months augurs well for Porgy and Bess. "When there's a lot of shows coming year after year, then it shows there's strong theatre audience." There will be three Porgies and three Besses on this tour, performing on alternating nights. The role of Porgy will be sung by Stephen Finch, Alvy Powell and Brian Gibson, and Bess by Vanessa Shaw, La-Saxon Rose and Elizabeth Graham. Festival finance ALTHOUGH Die Fran ohne Schatten was a critical hit at last year's Melbourne Festival, much was made of festival director Leo Schofleld's decision to bring the Richard Strauss opera to Australia when escalating costs saw it take about $1.2 million out of the entire $7 million budget. The festival co-produced Die Frau with the Victoria State Opera with the "gentlemen's agreement" that in the unlikely event of the production meeting its ambitious budget, the VSO would be paid a management fee. Last week, the former VSO general manager, Stephen Dee (now Melbourne manager of the merged VSO and Australian Opera) received a $10,000 cheque from the Melbourne Festival. The full financial outcome of last year's Melbourne Festival is expected to be finalised in the next month. Go east, thespian THEATRE in Melbourne does extend east of Spring Street (we're referring to The Princess, not Parliament House). Monash University has long held productions at its Alexander Theatre of Playbox and Melbourne Theatre Company shows after their city runs, but in a season called Hearthealth 97 Monash Theatre Season, Clayton is hoping to be more than a theatrical fag end. Plays at the Alexander this year that will have their first Melbourne runs are Trainspotting, based on the Irvine Welsh novel (from 1 luly), Sydney's Company B Belvoir production of Steve Martin's Picasso at the lupine Agile (from 26 August), the Sydney Theatre Company production Vita and Virginia by Eileen Atkins, which was a huge hit in 1995 in London and New York (from 16 September), and The Hobbit, based on the J.R.R Tolkien novel (from 14 October). The rest of the season is made up of Playbox and MTC shows after their city seasons. These Include John Harding's Up the Road (from 1 April) and Verity Laughton's The Mourning After (from 15 luly) from Playbox, and Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott (from 20 May), Noel Coward's Private Lives (from 10 June) and David Williamson's new play After the Ball (from 30 September) from the MTC. Where's the humor? PERTURBED, is what Virginia Maxwell is. The coordinator of the third Cafe Provincial Comedy Film Festival is seeing the same pattern emerge as last year: plenty of inquiries and entries from all over Australia, even some from overseas, but not too many from Comedy Capital Melbourne. "We know they're out there, but they're not in here," she said. Entries must be under 10 minutes, shot on 16mm and made in the year before the closing date of 28 February. Compiled by. Raymond Gill iAtiflQmUX. a ll.AxJl .',! ft That You Nancy? Carlton Courthouse Wednesday night AT LEAST here in the alley leading to the side entrance of the Courthouse Theatre in Carlton, local playwright Sandra Shotlander is a celebrity. People queueing to get their tickets to the modest Melbourne premiere of her play Is That You Nancy? are breaking ranks to offer hugs of congratulation. About half the full house tonight have actually paid for their tickets, director Wayne Pearn estimates. The rest are friends, colleagues and Hoy Polloy theatre company supporters. For 25 years, Shotlander has been producing, directing, acting and writing. Tonight's work was commissioned by the 1991 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi (Iras, where it played at Belvoir Si before having a successful season in a Salt bike City gay bar in Utah "the heart of Mormon America", she says proudly. Lloyd Jones, a management committee member of the La Mama theatre, where he has worked as an artist since 1972, sees this type of event as the lifeblood of Melbourne theatre. Life on this small scale might be tough but, he says, "I think this is the only scale, to be honest". Nancy is about eight contemporary women and one non -contemporary woman (Ciertrude Slein) who talk about life, love, sexuality and the tyranny of answering machines. Kath Gordon and Paula McDonald play all the roles. Unfortunately, because of the venue's modest (that is, nonexistent) air-conditioning, the ticket-sellers have to issue folded sheets of paper so patrons can fan themselves during the show. Luckily, these sheets of paper also happen to have the show's program printed on them. During the 7()-minute performance in the baking conditions, everyone fans themselves as they watch. The only exception is Shotlander. Sitting in the second-last row, she pulses with laughter and delight as the cast work through her words. With house lights up there is heartfelt applause and two people stand: some guy at the front and Shotlander. More congratulations and kisses come her way as people file out into the slightly less humid night. Backstage in the dressing room as the actors light up, Shotlander is elated. "It was beautiful," she says with a smile that nearly divides her head in two. " They did a tour deforce in there." And you stood up, Sandra. "It was spontaneous. My heart just went out to them. I had to." Hoy Polloy runs on dedication, love and a small cut of the door take. Paula McDonald, who works full-time in hospital administration, explains her motives. "This is my passion. Yes. I would love to do it full-time, hut it's a hard business." What does she get out of it? "Ask me 10 minutes before the show and I wouldn't he able to tell you, hut as soon as you get out there, it's an indefinable tiling. It's just the people, it's the live reaction of getting people to either feel happy or feel sad or whatever. And, of course, it's the applause at the end that is really nice." Gordon teaches drama and is very happy right now. "I'm acting full-time at the moment in fringe theatre, hopping from one play to the next. It is just a priceless place to be in." McDonald says: "I think if you ask a lot of actors, they'll say that it's not something you choose to do or not to do. It's something you have to do because it's in your blood. That's true. We don't have a choice. We're born with that." Outside in the warm night, sitting on a row of old purple theatre seats, sipping on a cold can of beer and facing Stewart's Hotel (a Hoy Polloy supporter), director Wayne Pearn is glad the show was glitch-free. They finished a technical rehearsal only 10 minutes before the premiere. Resources on shows like this are tight. Even the beer is courtesy of Stewart's. "With no funding it's very hard," he says. "It's just door sales and in-kind sponsorship. The pub's been very good to us. We rehearse upstairs for nix." He is hoping good word-of-mouth will kick in next week, and that the following Hoy Polloy has built up since he formed it in 1993, while working behind the Swatch watch counter at Myer, will turn up. Good reviews would help, too. "It's a bit of a worry," he says. "It's hard, but if you keep going and you do it well enough, surely things have got to fall your way, I reckon. And what is that? "I'd like us to be a fully independent company that would get funding, perhaps, for new Australian works." Life may be hard running a small theatre outfit, but If you really want to give Pearn a hard time, just ask him about his day job. He rolls his head back and -winces. "Oh, I work part-time in a bank and I hate it. It's just not me, mate. I loathe it." x ' French ceiling is demountable). A new second entrance at the rear of the gallery and a walkway that will link the gallery with the Victorian Arts Centre. The gallery will probably have to close during its renovations, Potts confirmed yesterday. Wednesday's monthly meeting of the board of trustees discussed at least part of the gallery being closed for a minimum of several months, probably from late 1998, he said. "We are grappling with the implications of a redevelopment on the scale that is proposed ... the architects' and surveyors' advice is that they can work faster if they can have "In Bulgaria, they think new art can another gay composer by 'Gaydar' like radar by sound quality, energy; a certain kind of extravagance, if you like. It is an interesting thought." It is certainly detectable in the subject matter and libretto of Shameful Vice, produced by Harpo Productions, which examines the last days in the life of Tchaikovsky. "I did an amazing amount of research months and months reading through diaries, letters, biographies, and then you have to put all that on one side and go with one vision of it. "We don't really know what he You Nancy? - A' moving study of family relation' v ships, personal courage and cultur- a upheaval. Conti and Manojlovic 'l 'are excellent as the two Ill-matched ' friends who provide occasions for j laughter and tears. This is a modest $ , film with soulful, charming, j rough-around-the-edges feel. :i .When the mood of meianchoty threatens to overwhelm, Paskalje- i lc deftly steers his cast Into lea-- 4 ' troubled waters. The film's strength ,a comes from Its erisembk actlrai ana quirky set of characters, A QAttftttiflo ijwoj frail " symbolise the way forward, which I think died from. There are two theories the old one that he died from cholera, self-inflicted, which seems quite likely . . . There's a second, more interesting theory that he was tried by a kangaroo court of his old school fellows because he had been implicated in a gay relationship with an under-age male who was a son of a prominent member of the Czar's court. He had the option of doing the honorable thing and killing himself or taking exile from Russia. We will never know which is the true story." Like most contemporary opera Timothy Potts la uch a marvellous way of thinking" composers, Finnissy's operas are not often performed. In his case, it is not only because opera is the most expensive art form and contemporary music unpopular, but also he laughs because his operas are "fairly off-Broadway productions". Various Nations, a concert of the music of Michael Finnissy, is being performed by the Libra F.nsemble (Carl liosman, Mark Knonp, Geoffrey Morris and Suzanne Simpson) at the South Melbourne Town Hall at 6pm on Sunday. It was overlong and somewhat heavy on opening night, but it will undoubtedly have picked up some pace and confidence since then. This is an intriguing, if somewhat demanding, night at the theatre. o EVERYONE who falls in love considers that they are the only ones in the world to have ever felt that way before, and anyone who has been dumped considers that they have the copyright on pain. In theatrical terms this means it isn't enough to simply present relationship turmoil without context because, without depth, people sleeping around is just soap opera. Is That You Nancy?, written by Sandra Shotlander in 1991, is a collection of phone conversations about sex, love and power performed by Paula McDonald and Kath Gordon. Most of the characters are invented lesbians who are negotiating some sort of relationship but there are also scenes where Gertrude Stein arranges a dinner party with Nancy Reagan and other women of power. As a play Is That You Nancy? lacks structure and cohesion, and the characters are predictable, pedestrian and two-dimensional. The fact that there are no conversations, just monologues about who's sleeping with whom, renders the play static and makes any variation in pace or energy almost impossible. McDonald and Gordon actually perform reasonably well most of the time, but the play itself is limp and dated. It must be noted, however, that the opening night audience loved the production. Tango, at Napier Street Theatre, until 23 February; Is That You Nancy?, at Carlton Courthouse, until 1 March Review by FIom leott Norman and often extremely loud sounds. Finnissy, who has taught here before, says he is overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for his, and other, contemporary music in Australia. In this visit, supported by the British Council as part of the 1997 New Images cultural exchange program, he is overseeing a Sydney production of his opera Shameful Vice for the Mardi Gras Festival, and speaking at a Melbourne concert of his work. For years an admirer of Australian contemporary music, Finnissy says it has become uniquely fresh and diverse. "I think it's a lot freer of the conventions and habits of music making, because Australia has always had the potential to be a crossroads between European and Pacific cultures. It's a breath of fresh air coming from somewhere which is stale. I work very hard to make it not that, but it can get like that very easily." Finnissy is seen as a "thorn in the side" of Britain's musical establishment, not least because of his outspokenness about his homosexuality and public criticism of a society he finds hypocritical and repressive. The struggles of homosexuals have been inspirational throughout his career. As a student in 1967, he saw the overturning of the law that had made homosexual relations a criminal offence. And then, several years ago, Margaret Thatcher's government introduced what he feels was a despairingly regressive bill that restricted the "promoting" of homosexuality. This, he says, has made anything but "a morbid and suicidal" homosexuality unacceptable. "In Sussex, where I live, schools that were supposed to be attending a production of Britten's Death in Venice three or four years ago didn't go because the local education authority got in a panic." Does homosexuality have a sound of its own? "A Canadian friend said to me the other day that gay composers over there feel they can pick America; Tango, Is That i 11 y. 0 0o Soul of someone else's story Political Tango moves well in '90s dress g Beat (M) An uucnu peasant womanr wno : has just arrived in America, stares ahead at nothing, "t don't know & v rn nnrtrir . i how to live here ....Its someone' - elsels country," she cries, her face V lined with grief. Unable to offer any j comfort, and incredulous mat she !, ; is not happy to be in Newftrk, her ; grandson Luka asks what she ' misses most. "I have no stone table, no hearth with a Are, no well, I nronat" .. - . K $ I The next day, the family give her w a goat Overcome with happiness,, : . the old woman momentarily for- gets her pain as she rushes to i' embrace the startled creature..' -' It's moments like these -- vmim steal, unexpected that make j watching this film such a pletsur-s ; nhle nmerience. Directed bv Goran ; Paskaljevic, Someont ElstiAmrric f documents tne wnaiy oinerent . responses of one family and its three generations to anew Ufc in r America. ' r j- The opening sequence takes place In Brooklyn; in the distance Lthe Manhattan skyscrapers stretch' v; towards the sky, offering the; V glimpse of a different life, one, j beyond the reach of die Impover-" - Ished laborer. Bayo (Mild Manojlo-' 'A vie), an1 illegal immigrant from j Montenegro, works part-time for E his Spanish Mend Alonso (Tom t Conti), and part-time cleaning up k toxic waste. He sends this wages : home to fns mother A who k6kst after his three cMldrii i ; . , In his'srer dm, Mjn barney pointiest tosm of proper En h . frrm a tar mad by someone Ji J no We i -t the needs ef 1 ; grantituwiorn and niL4 t, tl 4 $1 Theatre Tango; Is That You Nancy? THE INTERESTING thing about Tango, written in 1964 by Polish writer Slawomir Mrozek, is that it not only shows its age but is also extremely contemporary. Translated by Nicholas Bethell and Tom Stoppard, Tango is a product of the absurdist school of writing, and its vintage is evident from the first minute where one character, Eugene (Steven Smith), is forced to wear a birdcage on his head. As is often the case with absurdist writing, the seemingly light, random and bizarre beginnings of the play soon reveal a more sinister level. The contemporary nature of Tango lies in the story. Arthur (Humphrey Bower) is angry at his bohemian family for their lack of discipline. His father Stomil (Jim Daly) wears his pyjamas around the house and performs self-indulgent theatrical experiments, his mother Eleonara (Elizabeth Thomson) is blatantly promiscuous with the hired help, Eddie (Charlie Powles), and his grandmother is addicted to card playing. Arthur, sick to death of spontaneity and freedom, longs for a return to order, conformity and tradition, and seeks to impose his will in increasingly desperate ways. This is also a very modern situation. Tango was probably originally intended as an allegory tor the political situation in Poland, but it serves well as a commentary on contemporary Australian politics. Director and designer Wendy Joseph has produced an authentic, humorously threatening production of Tango, with Ame mixed but mostly strong performances from the cast. 1 ' iKips'INiltl ialiaaffsl eWMlllbas' ftestsl)! alllMaiiiMsl ftiasats) Bayo ("V no surrender!") dream of better future. His friend Aktma look after his blind mother, Victoria (Marta Caiares) who, like Bsyos mother, yearns to MM to het native village and t loved water wett. Alonso entertain t cope of a different kind he Is U lay with young girl Jealously r "Meted by her aggressive broow, ,, When Bayo small dau " :r, who frets for her father, alls 1 1 r d refuses to sleep, the family 4 t set om for America via the w ev bordst. The tn-Sc tr .'s t jit jovy drama dcay varyone e ea. '

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