School Dance, The Blind Date Project, The Peony Pavilion, The Secret River, Sydney Festival

School Dance, Sydney Theatre Company presents the Windmill Theatre production in association with the Sydney Festival. Also Merrigong Theatre Company, Wollongong, February 7-9; Melbourne Arts Centre, April 10-20; Brisbane Powerhouse, July 31-August 3

The Blind Date Project, Ride on Theatre, Sydney Festival

The Peony Pavilion, Northern Kunqu Opera Theatre, Sydney Festival

The Secret River, Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Festival. Also Perth International Arts Festival, February 25-March 2

AT the performance of School Dance that I attended – a weekday matinee early in the run – there were quite a few empty seats. Bad call on the part of theatre-lovers, because now Sydney Theatre Company’s website is noting very limited availability for the remaining performances. School Dance acknowledges and yes, celebrates teenage male awkwardness, longing and resilience in a piece that is acutely observed, sweet and funny, and uplifting without losing its honesty. Take three self-confessed losers, put them in a tacky school hall, throw in obstacles in the form of a hilariously huge bully and an unattainable girl, stir in some fantasy and off we go. (Not to forget some great 1980s music. It is worth the price of admission alone for the bike ride – leg-powered, not some fancy motorbike – to the Bonnie Tyler anthem Holding Out for a Hero.) Windmill Theatre had success with this last year in its home base of Adelaide so the show is beautifully worked in, featuring the multitudinous talents of Matthew Whittet (writer and actor), Jonathon Oxlade (designer and actor), Luke Smiles (composer and actor) and Amber McMahon (brilliant and indefatigable as all the female characters). Gabrielle Nankivell’s choreography is delicious and Windmill’s artistic director Rosemary Myers brings it all home wittily and movingly.

Jonathon Oxlade, Luke Smiles and Matthew Whittet in School Dance. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

Jonathon Oxlade, Luke Smiles and Matthew Whittet in School Dance. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

As I left the theatre I heard a man of mature years exclaim that this was the best show he’d ever seen, and there was in his voice the shiny, excited quality of revelation. It’s good to see School Dance is off to Wollongong, Melbourne and Brisbane; early booking is clearly indicated.

The Blind Date Project could probably have run and run in terms of audience demand, although perhaps not in terms of the demand on its performers. Bojana Novakovic is Ana, a woman waiting at a bar for a blind date to turn up. The person who turns up – and it may not necessarily be a man – is different at each performance, and the identity of the actor who will play the blind date is unknown to Novakovic until they arrive bearing a bunch of flowers. The encounter is improvised, albeit with some direction received via mobile phone. Novakovic also clearly has some anchor points she uses. Still, it’s a greatly enjoyable highwire act and one that can take many different paths. The night I saw The Blind Date Project (a late-night show), Charlie Garber arrived fresh from playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan at Belvoir, and he could not have been more darling. I gather not all dates ended quite as well for Ana.

I was delighted to see The Peony Pavilion having (boast, boast) seen the 18-hour full version of this 16th century opera at the 2000 Perth festival. Here it was the merest sliver at 2 ½ hours, but the central love story remained, and it was an opportunity to absorb and savour a style of singing, performance and orchestral playing entirely different from that of Western opera. Kunqu is highly stylised and formal in gesture, but not above throwing in some dazzling acrobatics and other popular entertainment forms. There was a lot lost in this production due to the extreme truncation of the piece, although the cuts weren’t a sop to Western audiences. Only a few of The Peony Pavilion’s 55 scenes are usually performed these days so it was great good fortune to have seen the full work. The Sydney Festival of 1999 was originally to have hosted The Peony Pavilion in its full pomp but visa difficulties delayed the production, and the following year Perth alone took it in Australia.

I imagine there won’t be another chance to see the entire Peony Pavilion again, but then I used to say that about Einstein on the Beach, a mere stripling of an opera that clocks in at about 4 ½ hours, which Melbourne hosted in 1992. And guess what’s coming back to Melbourne from July 31?

The Secret River confronts the fundamental torment on which modern Australia was founded. People were cut off from everything they knew and transported to the other side of the world to make the best, or worst, of it. They may as well have been in outer space given their chances of successful return, and in trying to make a new kind of home they took what wasn’t theirs. People sent here for what may have been petty thieving became government-sanctioned thieves on a grand scale. It was a brutal business.

Andrew Bovell’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel, directed by Neil Armfield with Bangarra’s Stephen Page as his associate, is simultaneously monumental in scale and incredibly intimate. The stage, shared by the newcomers and the traditional owners, becomes the ground on which the idea of home, place and identity is argued and fought over. Well, we know how it turned out for the indigenous people, but that in no way diminishes the dramatic impetus nor the anguish.

We can never lose sight of what all this will mean for modern Australian history, but The Secret River tells the story through the eyes of just a handful of people, and therefore in an intensely human way. The story ebbs and flows between the two groups, an unstoppable tragedy in the making as Thames boatman William Thornhill sees his patch of land on the Hawkesbury as the path to reinvention.

STC says Secret River tickets are also scarce – a good start to the year for Andrew Upton, now flying solo as artistic director – so perhaps a trip to the Perth International Arts Festival is indicated for the very keen. I’m looking forward to the first few days of the Perth event, including, of course, the Berliner Ensemble’s The Threepenny Opera, directed by Robert Wilson – a very eye-catching Perth exclusive.

 

Rian, Sydney Festival

Rian

Fabulous Beast, Theatre Royal, January 17

IN Rian things start hotting up – a relative term – when the men take off their jackets and the women discard their little white socks and flat shoes, the company’s version of getting into ecstatic, Dionysiac mode. The modesty is thoroughly disarming.

Rian. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Rian. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

The eight dancers and five musicians are first seen sitting amongst their instruments on a curved platform at the back of the stage. The men wear suits, the women are in delightfully demure knee-length cotton print frocks. The setting could be a community hall or an ancient amphitheatre, but given the startling, super-saturated green light it’s a fair bet we’re in Ireland. The sense of being both in the present (or near enough to) and the mythical past permeates Rian, which combines something of a Saturday-night knees-up in an Irish country town with dance as deep-rooted, life-affirming, universal ritual.

Anyone looking for a stereotypical kind of Irishness – boisterous, garrulous – will have to look elsewhere. Rian is close to being prayful; it’s certainly playful at times but mysterious too. The idea of ritual, and not just Gaelic ritual, is absolutely central. While the musicians are all Irish, the dancers have been drawn from around the globe and the work gracefully incorporates intimations of other cultures. The movement itself has the air of folk dance, building its force through repetition, accumulation and the group in unison. This isn’t entirely easy going as one similar dance follows another, although the effect is undeniably hypnotic.

Rian is built around constant circling, in large formations and in the swaying, swirling and spiralling of each body. The footwork is mainly simple, of the skipping, stamping and jumping kind, but the upper body work involves intricate variations for arms, shoulders and torso that are mesmerising. So too is the small band under the music direction of Liam O Maonlai, which could be a show all in itself. The sounds of uilleann pipes, harp, concertina, tin whistle and much more are achingly lovely.

All this loveliness falls on the decorous side of things, which is a little surprising from Michael Keegan-Dolan, the man turned Giselle into a line-dancer. I longed for breakout moments of something wilder and more untamed, something that would reveal more of the performers’ individuality. No matter how fast they twirled and stamped, they seemed to me to be in an essentially private world. Thursday’s opening night audience seemed to have no such reservations, standing and cheering lustily and calling for more.

Ends January 23.

This review first appeared in The Australian on January 21

A Masked Ball, Semele Walk, Sydney Festival

A Masked Ball, Opera Australia in association with the Sydney Festival, January 16

Semele Walk, KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen, Germany, Sydney Festival, January 12

Tamar Iveri and Jose Carbo in Opera Australia's A Masked Ball. Photo Prudence Upton

Tamar Iveri and Jose Carbo in Opera Australia’s A Masked Ball. Photo Prudence Upton

WHEREVER or whenever you want to set it, Verdi’s A Masked BallUn ballo in maschera – takes place in a world of privilege where the haves live it large and those less fortunate look for ways to improve their position by any means possible. Opera Australia’s new production, directed by Alex Olle from the Catalan company La Fura dels Baus, locates the action in a contemporary totalitarian society, the kind in which it’s necessary for the ruler and his hangers-on to live within a concrete bunker, albeit one of grand proportions.

In something of a miracle, set designer Alfons Flores has made the Sydney Opera House’s dinky Joan Sutherland Theatre stage look majestically capacious as columns and platforms rise and fall to encompass seamlessly King Gustav’s public rooms, his private office, the lair of the fortune-teller Ulrica, the home of Secretary of State Renato and the execution field where Renato’s wife, Amelia, seeks a remedy for her lovesickness. The view from Gustav’s office is of the security apparatus going about its business, seen via video link. He needs the protection. While Gustav brushes off the warning that someone close to him wants him dead – everyone at court is devoted to him, are they not? – outside there are those who would rise against him if they got the chance and the nerve.

The appearance is monumental and simultaneously enclosed and cut-off. In such a space almost everything stated becomes suspect. When Gustav claims that the love of his people will shield him, you think instantly of Bashar al-Assad, holed up while his country burns around him. Naturally those around Gustav tell him what he wants to hear; perhaps he really believes it, perhaps not. Here, thoughts of North Korea pop up, particularly as the members of Gustav court are not only identically dressed but thoughtfully provided with a number. They are also kitted out with a rather nasty face covering – not so much a mask as a latex hood such as aliens or sex perverts might own. The double-edged notion that no one is showing his or her true face and that the court has been reduced to oppressive conformity is good, but Lluc Castells, the costume designer, could perhaps reconsider the means for expressing it.

Some mental gymnastics are needed to reconcile the Amelia-Gustav love story with the image of an iron-fist ruler. Perhaps Gustav is little more than a puppet figure whose courage is finally revealed through love, but if that’s the case the audience has to do the work. OA’s Gustav, Diego Torre, isn’t up to conveying that kind of nuance. He is impressive at full bore, with a brightly coloured tenor that hits the big moments out of the park but is less adept at bringing finesse and variety to Gustave’s more complex moments.

As Amelia, the lovely Georgian Tamar Iveri is a winner from her first moments. The possessor of a soprano of warm timbre, strong focus and plentiful power at the top, she illuminates Amelia’s longing, confusion and pain with eloquent variety of colour, phrasing and dramatic shaping. Jose Carbo is similarly gripping, his Renato altering course thrillingly from faithful courtier to implacable foe. As with Iveri, Carbo is keenly alert to the shifting emotions of the character, growing in stature and vocal authority as the evening progresses.

Gustav’s page Oscar, conventionally a trousers role but here emphatically a female part, is in the zesty hands of Taryn Fiebig, whose crystalline soprano soars easily over the orchestra and the fine forces of the AOBO chorus. At the other end of the female vocal spectrum, Bulgarian mezzo Mariana Pentcheva plays Ulrica with easy assurance and brings a cast-iron implacability to her lowest register, but her heavy vibrato and squally top are distracting. On opening night conductor Andrea Molino tactfully kept good orchestral cover going whenever Pentcheva had to go beyond her comfort zone.

Molino – he conducted Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men for OA in 2011, an under-appreciated  highlight – was terrific throughout, minus a couple of occasions when singers seemed stretched by his tempi. The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra went like a well-targeted rocket from the outset on opening night and was particularly responsive to the score’s light, bouncy music for Oscar.

Olle’s concept is powerful and generally persuasive – he manages to pull it all together with a big, surprising and extremely strong ending – although overall the ideas are expressed relatively tamely. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear that the underscore of protest and dispossession have been ramped up when the production moves to OA’s co-producing companies in Buenos Aires, Brussels, Oslo and Bologna. Were Sydney and Melbourne opera-goers considered too conservative for the kind of provocations for which La Fura dels Baus is famous?  Or is this just the beginning of the journey?  Whichever it is, this is a production calling out for further viewings.

A Masked Ball continues in Sydney until February 12. Melbourne, six performances April 12-May 3. In Melbourne the role of Amelia is shared between Csilla Boross and Jacqueline Mabardi; Lorina Gore sings Oscar

SEMELE Walk brought a huge jolt of energy to the Sydney Festival and oodles of glamour. If you are coming late to the discussion, Semele Walk offered an abridged version of Georg Frideric Handel’s baroque opera – all the hits, none of the slow bits – performed as models paraded a lavish number of looks from British designer Vivienne Westwood.

Devised and directed by Ludger Engels, the marriage of Handel and Westwood was as magical as it was mad. If you wanted to look at the show with a peevish eye, yes, there was an awful lot of loud clumping as attenuated young women wearing sumptuous Westwood and vertiginous heels pony-stepped up and down the long runway in the centre of Sydney Town Hall.

And yes, as soloists Aleksandra Zamojska and Armin Gramer strode from one end to the other their voices left only a vaporous trail behind them. I very much enjoyed the trick of placing choristers from Sydney Philharmonia Choirs amongst the audience, although I imagine it may have been challenging to put the sound together coherently if you were seated next to one of the altos.

On the plus side, the musicians of Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop stayed in one place, together, mostly, and were superb. Some of them were also dramatically kitted out in Westwood and looked extremely funky. Standing in front of them, music director Olof Boman kept a firm hand on the disparate proceedings (they included some electronica), a light hand with Handel’s divine music and even made a brief appearance on the catwalk.

There was no profound correlation between Westwood and Handel waiting to be uncovered. The bones of the story were there: the mortal Semele, married to Zeus, oversteps the mark by demanding to see his full godly glory, and implodes. Semele does sing of pride, vanity and excess, which suits, but essentially there is just a lot of beauty and temperament thrown together in the same space.

On the Westwood side the temperament was to be found in the gorgeous, ornate, fanciful gowns – the models, of course, went about their business with the requisite blank faces, although I think I saw one suppress a smile when Gramer started fondling her frock.

On the musical side Zamojska’s Semele was a whirlwind, furiously racing about looking super-glam in Westwood and rather risky heels. Her soprano is high, silvery, flexible and beautifully placed, making great pleasures of O sleep, why dost though leave me and Myself I shall adore. Graner is a smooth, confident counter-tenor with an impish air who captured well the graceful flow of Where’er you walk.

It was fun to see the fashion crowd and the opera crowd thrown together too – an extension of the onstage drama. A memorable festival experience.

Urban, Sydney Festival

 

Circolombia, Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, January 15

URBAN is the antithesis of the super-slick circus and acrobatic shows that seem to be everywhere these days. Its structure is loose, its energy is rough and raucous, its soundtrack from the streets, not everything comes off as planned and if your Spanish isn’t up to the mark you’ll miss some of the audience interaction. What Circolombia brings to the theatre – perhaps not its most natural home, either – is a sense of how liberating and joyous it is to perform.

Urban draws its company from Circo Para Todos (Circus for All) in Cali, Colombia – a city with a tough reputation. Gritty images form a backdrop to the action and there are references to the fractured society the performers come from. There’s no doubting the sincerity of their desire to share something of their lives but a fair bit seems to have been lost in translation. There are a couple of very slow patches in the 70-minute show.

Never mind. Circolombia ultimately wins hearts in the old-fashioned way by dancing, singing, acrobatics, skipping, flying, throwing, tight-rope walking and acts of strength, all done with rude vitality and exuberance rather than the cool perfection of artists you know will never stumble. There is a significant degree of difficulty on display, of course, but the feats look as if they are performed by humans who are enjoying themselves rather than aliens from planet Cirque du Soleil.

The teeterboard – it’s a see-saw device that propels people high into the air, the better to enable many somersaults before landing, one hopes, in good order and discipline – is deployed with aplomb and the coup de theatre at the end involving teeterboard and a seat on a long pole is top-notch. The bouncy slackwire act and accomplished cloudswing are other highlights, along with the pectoral muscles of the strong blokes who do the heavy lifting. They feature prominently, and are a wonder to behold.

Urban ends January 27. Circolombia also appears at the Adelaide Fringe from February 14

This review first appeared in The Australian on January 17

 

 

Symphony, It’s Dark Outside, Sydney Festival

Symphony, Legs on the Wall, CarriageWorks, January 13

It’s Dark Outside, Perth Theatre Company, CarriageWorks, January 13

WHAT do 30 large cardboard boxes have to do with Beethoven’s sublime 7th symphony? Unfortunately, as it turns out, very little. The intriguing starting point for Symphony is Stefan Gregory’s arrangement of Beethoven for one electric guitar. From that, Legs on the Wall director Patrick Nolan posits a theme of the group versus the individual, the many against the one. Not only is the idea sadly well trawled; its articulation brings no new insights.

Symphony, Legs on the Wall

Symphony, Legs on the Wall

Those 30 boxes are put into one formation, then knocked over. They are placed into a different pattern and then fall over. Then the performers move the boxes around once more. Andrew Wholley’s attractive video design finds a home on them, but there’s more tedious box work than during the late-night shift at Woollies.

The performers dash about, recount several dull stories and look at each other meaningfully. They work extremely hard but the movement language lies somewhere between dance and gymnastics and has the clarity of purpose of neither. Gregory creates a huge wall of sound that sometimes focuses tightly on Beethoven’s themes and at others makes them more diffuse, but is always of musical interest.

IT’S Dark Outside takes a difficult, bewildering subject and handles it with delicacy, tact and grace. An old man with dementia takes off into the night and is visited by his dreams, fears and memories as he tries to make sense of a retreating world. His mind is clouded – It’s Dark Outside makes that idea a beautiful and touching motif – but he gallantly tries to go on.

Tim Watts – he of the widely travelled, much acclaimed The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik – and collaborators Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs tread gently in an emotional minefield. Their theatre of puppetry and animation takes the edge off a very brutal business while Rachael Dease’s mellifluous score offers the audience a soft, protective cushion.

I suspect, however, that anyone who has seen dementia up close will see It’s Dark Outside through tear-filled eyes. I know I did.

Both works are part of the Sydney Festival’s invaluable About an Hour series, which has seen several incarnations since its inception by former director Fergus Linehan in 2006. Whichever way it goes, it’s a winner.

This review first appeared in The Australian on January 15

Murder, Cantina, Sydney Festival

Murder

Erth

Seymour Centre, January 8

Graeme Rhodes in Murder. Erth, Sydney Festival

Graeme Rhodes in Murder. Erth, Sydney Festival

IT sounds such a strong idea for a physical theatre piece: the special fascination society has with murder; the music of Nick Cave; puppets and animation from a company with a strong track record in this kind of work: Raimondo Cortese as writer; Kate Champion as choreographer. That’s a lot of talent in the room, and the early development work must have been persuasive. The Australia Council’s Major Festivals program came on board and after the Sydney Festival Murder will be seen at Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island and the Adelaide Festival. Given that the Melbourne Festival is also listed in the acknowledgements it will presumably be staged there too. That’s extensive, high-profile exposure for a muddled and simplistic work. It’s good-looking, no doubt about that, but Murder has a particularly soft underbelly.

Apparently some people like to kill. Who knew?

An early, rather leaden speech sets out to find an unbroken chain of bloodlust through history. The Greeks and Romans were entertained by seeing people put to death gruesomely, public executions have a long history, if you can’t go to a public execution then grand guignol theatre might provide you with your thing, or these days it’s more likely to be online games. Okay. I might not be entirely convinced that these things constitute a continuum, but if so, Murder is setting out to be a piece about our innermost dark impulses and desires – yes, yours and mine, whether acted upon or lived vicariously.

This turns out not to be the case at all. The narrator, played gallantly by Graeme Rhodes, plunges into a nightmare explicitly sparked by blows of a most individual kind. What is real and what imagined in his life is left open to conjecture, but none of it is pretty. And, unfortunately, not all that interesting or revelatory. The piece turns inward, although not before the narrative of Cave’s Stagger Lee is played out by puppets in detailed fashion. It’s a good old-fashioned Wild West story that has nothing to do with the rest of Murder’s narrative, but provides the show with a continuing visual motif in the form of Stag’s vulpine grin.

Cave’s music is used less than one might have anticipated. The execution song The Mercy Seat tops and tails the show, Cannibal’s Hymn accompanies exactly what you think it would and Red Right Hand forms a backdrop to video-game splatters:

He’s a ghost, he’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a guru

You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan

Designed and directed by his red right hand

Cave sure can write, which is another problem for Murder. Nothing else comes near Cave’s poetic, insightful gift.

A song conspicuously missing from the score is Where the Wild Roses Grow, Cave’s duet with Kylie Minogue. Murder’s director Scott Wright, who devised its concept, told The Australian on January 7 that the song was considered “too loaded” for the show. Where the While Roses Grow is about the murder of a woman by a man who she thinks loves her, and its exclusion exposes Murder’s timidness. It is not quite clear why the song was considered “too loaded” for a show eager to put many perversions on stage, but one possibility is that Murder is very concerned to engage the audience’s sympathy for the central character. He tells of nearly committing a murder as a young man, and we find out it’s someone all of us would probably be thrilled was dead. That would have been a win. And towards the end, a gruesome end pretty much befits a gruesome character.

The puppet work is very beautiful and not at all confronting – another problem for a piece that surely wants to unsettle its audience. There are, however, moments that give a flash of Murder’s potential. I was very much taken by the way in which the prostitute Nellie Brown grieves over her killed lover (and pimp) in Stagger Lee. It felt true and pertinent. Another moment was inadvertent but striking. Puppeteers were manipulating a life-size female figure who was wearing a slinky red frock. As she floated through the air her dress was caught up, exposing brief black knickers. Now remember – this is a show in which all sorts of violence and sex is depicted, so fair enough. Except that a puppeteer gently pulled down the dress so the figure was less exposed. I felt most connected to and interested in the show then than at any other moment. That’s what I thought. What the creators of Murder wanted me to think I really can’t say.

Seymour Centre, Sydney, until January 19.

Cantina

The Famous Spiegeltent,, January 8

FORGET the blurb that describes Cantina as a show that “blurs fantasy and reality, the past, present and future to explore the rapture and torment of desire …” (I quote from the Sydney Festival program). No, despite its claims of deeper meaning and its nods to steamy, aggressive, rough-edged cabaret, Cantina is in fact one of the sweetest and most charming shows of its kind. You just want to hug its multi-talented performers, all of whom seem just that bit more approachable than the ultra slick lot – used to be La Clique, now La Soiree, go figure – also appearing in Sydney as we speak. Contortionist Henna Kailula has a smile so radiant it could power the Spielgeltent’s generator all by itself and her warmth is a crucial part of the evening’s success.

Cantina has the episodic, one-act-after-another form of most similar shows but works with a smaller group of performers. This means they keep returning in various guises, giving Cantina a pleasingly tight structure and the chance to marvel at the array of skills set out for our delectation. Apart from music director Nara Demasson, who apparently is only mono-talented, the other five performers sing, dance and play a variety of instruments on top of their circus specialties, which are also multifarious.

Marvel at the tightrope walk in stilettos, the blurringly fast rope twirl, the rag-doll contortion, the daring acrobatics in a very confined space and so on. And fans of Ursula Martinez from La Clique – she of the world-famous Hanky Panky act – may recognise an homage to this in a delightful magic act involving a newspaper and a penis.

The dance background of co-director and performer Chelsea McGuffin adds an individual touch to Cantina. It was fun to spot in a couple of strenuous acrobatic acts moves more that could have come straight from the ballet.

An extremely cheerful night.

Until January 27.

Sacre- the Rite of Spring, Sydney Festival

Sacre – The Rite of Spring

CarriageWorks, Sydney, January 5.

RAIMUND Hoghe’s intensely personal response to Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps is almost too private to watch, demanding a depth of concentration from the viewer that comes close to voyeurism. On one level Sacre is a series of repeated movements of an everyday kind, plain and perhaps banal: walks, shuffles, supported balances while standing, arranged poses while lying, that sort of thing. Yet as performed by Hoghe and Lorenzo De Brabandere they take on a degree of meaning that is poignant, intimate, challenging and complicated.

Lorenzo De Brabandere and Raimund Hoghe. Photo: Rosa Frank

Lorenzo De Brabandere and Raimund Hoghe. Photo: Rosa Frank

The men’s double act of mirroring and copying is seen against the backdrop of Stravinsky’s score, which is played in the composer’s arrangement for two pianos. The instruments, bathed in soft light at the back of the otherwise empty space, are of course facing each other so the two players, Guy Vandromme and Alain Franco, can see one another. Symmetry is important here although it’s somewhat fractured, given the physical dissimilarity between Hoghe and De Brabandere.

Again and again they face one another, fingers entwined or palms pressed together as if one is the distorted mirror image of the other – De Brabandere the taller, younger, more agile, more straight-spined self. Who hasn’t looked in the mirror and wanted to see something different, one thinks? But Hoghe, who is by far the more potent presence on stage, doesn’t buy into that. He puts himself out there without apology, a man of short stature with a crooked back who claims for himself, and therefore for others, the right to be seen.

There is a suggestion of anger, or perhaps frustration, in Hoghe’s repeated windmilling arms that end with a thwack to the thighs and De Brabandere occasionally flaunts his physical superiority. Overwhelmingly, however, there is a powerful and calming sense of connectedness in the shared rituals.

Vandromme and Franco play Stravinsky with a degree of lyricism that makes the score – 100 years old in May – complicit in Sacre’s intent. It sounds fresh and strange – shocking even, which is a very pleasant thought given the work’s initial reception (although to be fair, Stravinsky has taken the rap for Nijinsky, whose choreography was really the casus belli).

The opening-night Sydney audience appeared underwhelmed but I think it’s all about context. Sacre isn’t a wham-bam party piece. It’s an act of reverence and contemplation.

Deborah Jones

Ends February 8.

This review first appeared in The Australian on February 7.