La Cucina dell’Arte, Perth Festival

Circus Ronaldo, Russell Square, Northbridge, Perth, February 10

SO there we all were, crammed tightly together in a small tent, perched on narrow, bum-numbing benches, laughing as if there were no tomorrow. It was instantaneous, delirious transport, the kind that sweeps away every thought except one: I’m here and I’m happy;  there is no other moment but now.

The smalll top ... La Cucina dell'Arte's tent

The smalll top … La Cucina dell’Arte’s tent

La Cucina dell’Arte is theatre of delicious, involuntary reaction. There are no mental gymnastics to go through, no sense that you’re missing something everyone else gets, nothing to bone up on or feel superior about. There’s no humiliation and nothing that offends. Just the pure, sweet, inclusive balm of laughter.

Such theatre is simultaneously simplicity itself and highly considered and sophisticated. In this show, two blokes with a few props and a deep understanding of classical comedy manoeuvre their way towards the preparation of pizza for a couple enlisted from the audience. Naturally, what can go wrong will go wrong.

Despite their names and the name of their production, Danny and David Ronaldo are not of Italian stock – their father, part of a long-standing Flemish circus dynasty, came up with the Ronaldo name – but they are steeped in the popular performance style known as commedia dell’arte. It was born in 16th century Italy and has been influential ever since. Anyone who has seen the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors can attest to its imperishable joys, and indeed there’s some connection between La Cucina dell’Arte and the British hit that will soon tour Australia, as both have been influenced by the great 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni.

La Cucina dell’Arte is on a much more intimate scale than One Man and at just 70 minutes is wonderfully suitable for children. The show starts gently as Danny Ronaldo attempts to illuminate the tent and ends in near anarchy as he tries to keep things from spinning out of control – in this case literally, as plates are whirled around on an ever-increasing number of flexible poles. David Ronaldo is the genial but firm master, ostensibly running a restaurant but there to exert control over his wayward servant and on us.

There are tricks involving sleight of hand, juggling, balance and co-ordination, although very likely never seen quite this way. Danny Ronaldo’s pizza dough handling is a thing of exceptional skill, grace and beauty; as it gets ever more elaborate it is also howlingly funny. You can’t say fairer than that.

Ends February 24.

This review first appeared in The Australian on February 13

The Truth 25 Times a Second, Perth Festival

Ballet National de Marseille, Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth, February 9

WITH inspiration from Italo Calvino – his 1957 novel The Baron in the Trees – and set design by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, The Truth 25 Times a Second comes bearing impeccable intellectual credentials. To what purpose is harder to discern.

The not wildly original idea is, I think, that the individual is constrained and alienated by our impersonal world and wishes to be released. The set is dominated by a tangle of floating ladders which are clambered over, hung from, spun about and added to and subtracted from – a kind of adventure playground or adult jungle gym in which not much fun takes place. When a high-flying ladder represents the tree-tops to which Calvino’s hero retreated there is an idea to grasp, as there is when a woman is festooned with ladders, arranged so they look like a gown with an elaborate train. This happens less often than one would wish.

The Truth 25 Times a Second, Ballet National de Marseilles

The Truth 25 Times a Second, Ballet National de Marseilles

From time to time there are projected images of some of the dancers, an idea that relates to the ballet’s title, which is itself a nod to Jean-Luc Godard’s definition of cinema as “truth 24 frames a second”. As with much else in the ballet, the use of multimedia feels arbitrary. Why this, now? And to what end? It is difficult to say as one episode of movement follows another without feeling essential or destined.

The quality of the 16 superlative dancers is simultaneously a great blessing and huge frustration. They can clearly do anything and at any moment look just grand. It’s just that what they’re doing is swathes of disjointed and not particularly distinguished choreography.

The lack of clarity is presumably the result of the dance-making having been a group effort. It is credited to Ballet National de Marseille’s artistic director Frederic Flamand and the dancers and too often gives the impression of being a collection of things individuals happen to be good at. One man is superb in the air and does wonderful, hang-in-the-air leaps. Others are terrific turners so there are batches of speedy pirouettes. There’s a tiny bit of pointe work and some purely classical shapes, but mostly a more contemporary aesthetic.

The music is a grab-bag, including a bit of Baroque from the most over-used composer in contemporary dance today, Heinrich Biber, electronica from Biosphere, some Stravinsky and so on. All very eclectic and smart; just not very interesting.

This review first appeared in The Australian on February 11