Thursday, December 31, 2009
2009 in Review: Performance
Another busy year this year. In 2008 I attended 88 live performances; in 2009, I saw 102 live performances, including comedy, dance, circus and theatre. And better yet, I saw a hell of a lot that I liked.
I was, to be honest, fairly discerning this year, and consequently didn't see a lot at the MTC, as I was fairly certain that there weren't a great many of their productions this year that would appeal to me. Reading reviews by my fellow Melbourne arts bloggers, nine times out of ten it seemed I was right. On a more positive note, there are several productions in the company's 2010 season which already look interesting, so I hope to have some positive reviews to post in the coming months.
I also missed quite a few shows I actually wanted to see due to increased Board commitments this year (as well as continuing as Chair of Melbourne Fringe, I also joined the Boards of The Store Room Theatre and BalletLab this year, but more of that in the next post), including several shows at the Malthouse and Red Stitch. Such is life.
But here are some hastily written summaries of my favourite shows (not necessarily 'the best' per se, but those I most engaged with and responded to) for 2009:
Part One: Comedy
The List Operators: This wonderfully madcap duo (pictured above) re-mounted their 2008 Fringe show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year, and gods it was good! Never have simple lists been so much fun. I very much look forward to following Richard and Matt's comedic careers in years to come.
Tom Ballard Is What He Is: Coming out as a gay teenager was never funnier than in this autobiographical debut solo stand-up show by Warnambool's Tom Ballard, which I saw in a draft version at St Kilda Laughs, and again, re-tuned and streamlined, at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Eric: The One Man Sketch Comedy Show: I'm not a huge fan of sketch comedy, but when it's done as brilliantly as this show, with sketches written by some of Melbourne's most exciting writers including Lally Katz, Adam J. Cass and Robert Reid, directed by Scott Brennan and performed by Scott Gooding, what's not to like?
Monster of the Deep 3D: A solo show written and performed by Sydney's Claudia O'Doherty (of comedy troupe Pig Island), this was my stand-out show at the 2009 Melbourne Fringe Festival. Quite simply brilliant. I believe it's returning to Melbourne in April for the Comedy Festival, so don't miss it!
The Bedroom Philosopher: Songs from the 86 Tram: The tram trip from Bundoora to Docklands in song, performed by the remarkable and wonderful Justin Heazlewood, aka The Bedroom Philosopher. Brilliant at the Comedy Festival, but lost some of its impact when performed in a much larger venue at Fringe. Nonetheless, memorable, wonderful and hilarious.
Dishonourable Mention: The Colours' Interactive Comedy Show; All The Single Ladies.
Part Two: Circus
The 7 Fingers - Traces: I saw some great circus this year thanks to the National Institute of Circus Arts (NIDA), Circus Oz and some of the shows at the Melbourne Fringe, but my stand-out circus show of the year was this simply stunning work by Canadian troupe The 7 Fingers. An exciting blend of contemporary circus arts, street skills and parkour set to a thumping soundtrack ranging from rock to drum'n'bass, and performed by a dazzling young troupe. Not just the best circus show of the year, but one of the best circus shows I've ever seen. Simply remarkable.
Dishonourable Mention: Cirque du Soleil's Dralion - bloated, pompous and affected cross-cultural stodge.
Part Three: Theatre
The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm's GLASOON! This insane, abject and wonderful exploration of masculinity, religion and Oedipal urges was a total headfuck, and the single most breathtaking and brilliant theatre production I saw this year.
Red Stitch's Red Sky Morning: I missed the original production of this lyrical exploration of depression by Tasmanian playwright Tom Holloway in 2008, so leaped at the chance to see it re-staged by the Arts Centre's Full Tilt program this year. My god. What a stunning piece of work it is. The venue didn't quite do the work justice, but nor did it detract from the sheer power of this moving and memorable piece of text-based theatre.
White Whale Theatre's Melburnalia II: Five short plays by five writers, performed by an ensemble cast. Not every play was great (Danny Katz, I'm looking at you) but the standout works, Andrea James' Birrarung (in which an Aboriginal warrior wreaked havoc on a trio of Yarra Tram ticket inspectors) and Aidan Fennessy's beautiful Mentone (inspired by Under Milk Wood, and cleverly incorporating part of the poem into its text) were riveting and unmissable.
Highly Commended: Africa by My Darling Patricia at The Malthouse; Attract/Repel by The Melbourne Town Players at The Store Room; Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd by Stuck Pigs Squealing at The Malthouse.
Dishonourable Mention: Billy Twinkle: Requiem for a Golden Boy at The Arts Centre, a tedious puppet show by and about an egocentric with very limited range; Chicago, a stiff and dated production of the stage musical.
Part Four: Dance
BalletLab's Miracle: I wasn't a BalletLab board member when I saw this show so I don't feel like it's a conflict of interest to list it as one of my stand-out shows for the year. Confronting, vivid, haunting and memorable, this assaulting exploration of religion and fanaticism completely polarised its audiences. Me, I loved it.
Bangarra Dance Theatre's Fire: A Retrospective. This stunning show was a seamless selection of highlights from Bangarra's numerous works over 20 years. Visceral and beautiful, and a striking blend of contemporary and traditional dance styles.
Lucy Guerin Inc's Structure and Sadness: I've never responded so emotionally to a dance work as I did to this piece about the 1970 collapse of the West Gate Bridge, which claimed 35 lives. Originally presented at the 2006 Melbourne International Arts Festival, and re-staged at the Malthouse in November this year, Structure and Sadness is a stirring and captivating piece of dance theatre.
The Hofesh Shechter Company's Uprising/In Your Rooms: My favourite event at this year's Melbourne International Arts Festival was this double bill by the UK-based Hofesh Shechter Company. The first piece, Uprising, was a gloriously masculine work of athletically aggressive choreography; while In Your Rooms was more subtle but no less breathtaking, imaginative and reflective.