NZSD: Insight Studio Performances – 25 September 2015

September 25, 2015 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this last night, and as always something for everyone; and though not as well attended as other studio performances I have been to. Which is disappointing, as it is another of Wellington’s hidden dance gems.

As usual, there was a mix of classical and contemporary works. Most were pre-release glimpses into what will be danced at the Graduation Season in November. Some students also got to trial their piece for an up coming competition they are going to in Auckland.

The performance kicked off with the dancers in the Scholars Programme (a preparatory programme for dancers who wish to get into dance schools after secondary school).

Then it was:

  • As it Fades (excerpts) – contemporary
  • Paquita (excerpts) – classical
  • Conditions of Entry (excerpts) – contemporary
  • Agon (excerpts) – classical
  • Solos: Yuri Marques da Silva; Billy Keohavong; Emma-Rose Barrowclough; Jeremie Wen-Jian Gan; and Laura Crawford
  • Without Regard – contemporary
  • Concerto 1st (excerpts) – classical

I liked Paquita and Billy Keohavong’s contemporary solo.

Paquito was very tidy and Felipe Domingos Natel’s lifts were strong, controlled, and very impressive.

Billy Keohavong’s solo, Bait, danced to Tick of the Clock by Chromatics,  got a great round of applause. Unlike some contemporary work which I find very physical (to the point of being percussive),  Bait was by parts lyrical, loose, techno (good synergy with the music), and menacing.  The latter came across through with some martial arts undertones – kept well in check to avoid a  kataWhat is also very promising is that it was Billy’s own choreography.

I also recognised Felipe Domingos Natel, Yuri Marques da Silva and Jeremie Wen-Jian Gan from the Alana Haines’ earlier this year.

Whitireia Polytechnic: Year 1 Commercial Dance Variety Showcase

September 19, 2015 at 7:20 am | Posted in Dance Review, Event Review | Leave a comment
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As I have said in the past Whitireia’s commercial dance faculty put on a great show. There is very little commercial dance performed in Wellington, and while Whitireia produces around 15 dancers each year, most end up dancing overseas. So the only opportunity to see ‘commercial dance’ in Wellington, on a regular basis, is to go to Whitireia’s end-of-year dance showcases.

This year the choreography seemed to have a little extra from some other years.

Numbers that stuck in my mind: Amadeus Mozart Requiem; “Get the Funk Up” Batman (there can’t be a single piece batman outfit left in Wellington!); Tequila (the audience was smiling and probably remembering personal encounters with drink :-)); Rock ‘n’ Medley; and Waiting for the Train.

The dancers all demonstrated an amazing versatility. Millie Moon, the dance captain, stood out. The dance captain seems to be a new innovation in the Whitireia dance programme – at least this is the first year that it has been publicised.

The dancers’ joy and energy made for a great performance. You should have gone.

There was a new feature this year: the Year 1 Circus students did a per-show, and a skit at the beginning of Act Two.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RNZB, 2015)

September 5, 2015 at 12:45 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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I saw Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of this the other night at the Aotea Centre – ASB Theatre in Auckland.

This was a brand new production for the Company – choreographed by Liam Scarlett, stage design by Tracy Grant Lord, lighting by Kendall Smith, and music by Nigel Gaynor (after Mendelssohn).

Titania was danced by Lucy Green; Oberon by Shane Urton; Puck by Shaun James Kelly; Botton by Paul Matthews. Green and Urton were nicely paired, and their final pas de deux, when they are reconciled, very touching, very lyrical, with some innovative lifts. Matthews was comical; and played the part to perfection. In some ways, Matthews and Kelly had the more difficult roles, demanding more acting than in most other ballets. Matthews was assisted by a donkey head. Kelly was by parts athletic and mischievous.

I much preferred Act II over the first Act. I found Act I a bit slow, this was understandable, given that it had to set up quite a complex set of mis-understandings and mis-pairings.Puck tries hard, but it is hard to get good help! I would have like to see more of the fairies. Partly because their customs were so good; and mainly because Titania-and-Oberon are Queen-and-King of the fairies, so we should see more of the fairies.

The venue itself was a grand example of a modern theatre – the minimalist lines of wooden interior is very grand.

Back Beat

June 6, 2015 at 12:15 am | Posted in DVD Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I watched the DVD (2007) of this [1994] film the other night and it really added to my understanding of the origins of the Beatles.

The film revolves around John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Astrid Kirchherr. Sutcliffe is Lennon’s best friend; Sutcliffe was also a member of the band that would go onto become known as the Beatles. In all, there have been six musicians who at one time were in the band – Sutcliffe left and Pete Best also ‘left’. Ringo was the ‘latecomer’.

Much of the film takes place in Hamburg; this is where the film really lets one know how formative Hamburg and Astrid for the Beatles.

Hamburg in the early 60’s, compared to Liverpool, was a cosmopolitan centre of new ideas – fashion, artistic, social, etc. Astrid a photographer was woed by Stuart; and inevitably they became lovers. It was she, who gave the Band their haircuts, and influenced their choice of clothing. After their second stint in Hamburg, the Band was recogisable as the Fab Four, and the jeans/blue-shirts/leather-jackets were gone.

At the time, Stuart was John’s best friend, and Astrid came between them. John is portrayed as ‘an angry young man’ – though preferred to think of himself as ‘desperate’. He did not like Astrid taking Sutcliffie, a very talented painter, away from music, the band and him, into the arts world.

The three leads are played by Ian Hart, Stephen Dorff, and Sheryl Lee. Gary Bakewell chips in as Paul McCartney.

Things I never knew: the Beatles started out as a cover band; their first recording work was as a backing band for Tony Sheridan; the 5th Beatle was actually Sutcliffe; and Ring was the 6th.

Worth watching for the history and the times.

Alana Haines Australasian Awards 2015

April 6, 2015 at 12:57 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the finals of the Alana Haines Australasian Awards 2015 (AHAAs) last night at the Opera House – Wellington.

The AHAAs is the largest ballet competition in Australasia, and can justly claim to be the premier competition in Australasia – more on this later.

All three levels of the Opera House was packed to witness the 22 finalists, in the three sections, ‘battle it out’ for the top placings. The knowledgeable audience – some of the top ballet teachers in Australasia, and their pupils – witnessed some exciting dancing. There were moments of thunderous applause – particularly for Harrison Lee and Wan Jin Jing. Both gave spectacular performances of Siegfried.

The night started with ‘set’ solos: Seniors followed by Juniors with their ‘set’ solos. Then the Seniors came back on with their ‘own choice’ contrasting solos.

The finalists, and their solos,  were:

  • Juniors (11 – 13):
    • Milei Lee, Peasant Pas
    • Stella Nyers, Peasant Pas
    • Mio Bayly, Kirov Peasant Pas
    • Jadyn Bagayas, Cupid
    • Tynesha Hancock, Flower Festival
    • Monet Galea-Hewitt, Peasant Pas
    • Matthew Maxwell, Flower Festival
    • Sophie Smith, Peasant Pas
    • Kieren Bofinger, Peasant Pas Boys
    • Heidi Freeman, Kirov Peasant Pas
    • Alexandra Walton, Kirov Peasant Pas
  • Seniors, 13 – 15:
    • Madison Ayton, Esmeralda, We (too) shall rest
    • Talia Fidra, Odile, Seta
    • Makensie Henson, Aurora, Here and Now
    • Bianca Scudamore, Lilac Fairy, Dream
    • Emily Bray, Aurora, To warn the world
    • Harrison Lee, Siegfried, Poem of Atoms
  • Senors, 16 – 21:
    • Isabella Howard, Aurora, Broken Dancer
    • Vida Polakov, Giselle, Imagine
    • Felipe Domingos Natel, Siegfried, Sorrow Atoms/em>
    • Wan Jia Jing, Siegfried, I Am What I Am
    • Tirion Law Lok Huen, Giselle, La Neige

A number of finalists have previously entered the AHAAs – for example: Harrison Lee, Bianca Scudamore, and Tirion Law Lok Huem were here in 2013.

The adjudicators were:

  • Lisa Pavane, Director of the Australian Ballet School and former principal with the English National Ballet
  • Richard Bowman, Ballet Master at the Jackie Kennedy Onassis School New York (NY), examiner for the ABT National Training Curriculum NY, and former principal with the Leipzig Ballet
  • Christian Tatchev, Director of training at the Queensland Ballet and former dancer with PACT Ballet Company in South Africa
  • Zenia Tatchevia, Tutor at the Queensland Ballet and former dancer with PACT Ballet Company in South Africa

This year there were over 400 entrants, and the adjudicators must have put in a marathon effort.

Congratulations to the winners:

  • Sophie Smith
  • Harrison Lee
  • Vida Polakov

All of the competitors are to be congratulated for their hard work and willingness to put themselves out there.[Apologies for any transcription errors – results available the at AHAA website.]

This biannual competition is held in memory of Alana Haines – a promising young dancer who died in a car accident on Christmas Eve in 1989. This is the 25 year of the competition and it has become the launching pad for some wonderful talent.

The AHAAs can rightly lay claim to being the premier Australasian ballet competition. Harrison lee who won the Junior section in 2013, was a winner at Prix de Lausanne Switzerland earlier this year. Vida Polakov won a gold meal at last year’s Genne, held in Belgium. Last year, Hannah O’Neill, 1st runner up in 2007, won the Varna International Ballet Competition in Bulgaria – past winners include Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sylvie Guillem.

I enjoyed the evening and for me the highlights were Talia Fidra’s Seta, Harrison Lee’s, Siegfried and Poem of Atoms, Wan Jia Jing’s Siegfried and Tirion Law Lok Huen’s Giselle.

I hope fortune will favour many of the contestants in the years to come, and I will be able to say “I saw them at the AHAAs”.

Jingles the Musical

March 16, 2015 at 6:53 am | Posted in Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Dean Hewison’s Jingles the other night – at Bats Theatre.

Warning: Plot elements discussed

Hewison has cleverly worked some well known TV jingles to tell a story of farm girl to weather girl.

Wella, ably played by comedian, Hayley Sproull, leaves her home on her adopted father’s farm, in the back blocks, for the bright lights of Auckland. In true puss-in-boots style, she has a new pair of shoes, a parting gift from dad, and she is off to make her fortune (and to find her biological mother).

Jack Buchanan and Carrie Green, play all of the other characters: Wella’s mum, Wella’s adotive father, Wella’s adoptive sister, a dog, Coke, Wella’s brother, … .

All three of the cast: sing, joke, dance, and act their way through Wella’s adventure in the ‘big city’. From being greeted by the ‘dog’ on entering the theatre, to the free goodies tossed out during the ‘encore’, it was laugh out loud stuff.

The chocolates and cheese at the end was an apt way to finish off a show that was studded with jiggles from ‘golden age’ of New Zealand TV (when we made our own programmes and ads).

Definitely worth a go; and yes, the Wella hair ad gets an airing; as do lots of McDonalds’ ads.

Jupiter Ascending

March 2, 2015 at 6:47 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Jupiter Ascending the other day, and its worth a go. If you want to enjoy the great special effects see it at a suitably equiped theatre.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

This is a deconstruction of the Cinderella story: fairy godmother, step sisters, glass slipper, prince charming – they are all there, just a little mixed up.

Jupiter Jones, played by Mila Kunis, is Cinderalla. Jones does a lot of domestic cleaning. There are two brothers and a sister who are the Step Sisters. Caine Wise, played by Channing Tatum, is the Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming! Caine is a former genetically augmented soldier who gets Jones started on the road ‘to the ball’ and saves her life a number of times along the way (and afterwards). In another twist to the Cinderella story, Jones is also the glass slipper.

It is a space opera, full of boardroom intrigue, spaceships, explosions, and romance.

Alan Turing

February 28, 2015 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Event Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see The Imitation Game the other night and had a mixed reaction.

Benedict Cumberbatch, as Alan Turing, turns in a convincing performance; as does Alex Lawther, as the young Turing at boarding school.

On reflection I see the clever way the writers and directors managed to convey the crucial part the breaking of the German enigma machine generated ciphers played in shortening the war. The film simplifies events and uses a small handful of characters to convey a very broad set of issues; this avoids the need for a commentary track, or subtext, or more characters. The film is very tight, it all focuses on a handful of people in Hut 8.

Turing is vested just about every key decision and break through. So it is Turing who single handedly designed, costed, and built the machine that automated the repeated trials needed to find the key(s). It is Turing who decides to not use the intelligence freely, to avoid letting the German know that their confidential communications had been compromised. It is Turing who decides to recruit mathematicians and people good at crosswords. Turing who writes to Churchill asking for money to build a single electronic machine.

Unfortunately, it is not true. In fact there were close to 10,000 people working at (and around) Bletchley Park. Turing played a vital role; but there were others, but they get little screen time. Most unfortunately, Commander Denniston, who ran Bletchley Park, (played by Charles Dance channeling Tywin Lannister) comes across as a tyrant who actively worked against Turing and did not want Turing at all. This is so far from the truth as to insult the legacy of both men.

Cumberbatch’s puts in a great portrayal Turing; but I suspect it was of a different Turing – a fictional Turing, carefully crafted to tell a story based on the events at Bletchley Park, not the history of Bletchley Park. An terrible choice is to introduce the idea that Turing aided Russian spies (during the War) and was suspected of being a Russian spy (after the war). This is a terrible slight, with no basis in fact.

I went to see the film because I was going to Professor Rod Downey‘s talk on Turing and in the promotional material for the talk, it mentioned Bletchley Park.

Turing wrote one of the single most important papers of the 20th century on computers – providing a workable conceptual basis for them. Turing used what came to be known as ‘Turing machines‘ as part of a proof that it is not possible to proof the truth or falseness of any first-order predicate logic statement. During World War II, the direct application of this conceptual basis was to build specialised electrical machines to find the daily key for the code generated from German engima machines. Today, all programmable computers – general purpose computers – owe their origins to the description of a Turing machine.

Surely Alan Turing is one of the most unrecognised people of the 20th century.

Timon of Athens – Summer Shakespeare 2015

February 15, 2015 at 8:19 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this play the other night – put on by the (Wellington) Summer Shakespeare Trust.

Timon, played by Hayden Frost of The Almighty Johnsons fame, is a wealthy citizen of Athens who is generous to his friends and philanthropic to the needy. His friends turnout to be greedy and corrupt. Despite the efforts of Flavia, his steward, played by Emma-Yvonne Simons, his generousness and good works consumes his wealth and eventually he is penniless.

There is a series of scenes towards the end of Act I, where Timon’s friends show their true colours. To repay them, Timon stages one last feast, and serves up water and bones!

Act I ends with general Alcibiades declaring his disgust at the Athenian Senate for not showing clemency to a decorated Athenian soldier, and former subordinate of Alcibiades. I am sure that the scene is suppose to reinforce the disloyal nature of the senators (who are also Timon’s ‘friends’); but for me this does not work. Historically, the citizen soldiers of Athens fought to defend their city as a physical location and as a philosophical ideal. There can be no clemency; for that would mean no rule-of-law. But nevertheless the scene is set for disaffection to be harvested later.

Act II opens with Timon practically naked living in the open under a blanket. We see him railing against the city and it wealthy inhabitants. He finds buried treasure and is chanced upon by Alcibiades, leading his soldiers, towards Athens. Instead of trying to dissuade his friend from his course of action, he gives gold to the army, to encourage them to greater deeds. Similarly, Timon supports a trio of thieves, whom he sets upon Athens. The only Athenian Timon truly rewards is Flavia; Flavia restores Timon’s faith in Man, by giving Timon the last of his money, without knowing the Gods have played one last joke on Tiomon (through the buried treasure). But, according to Wikipedia, it is not enough, for Timon to stop undermining Athens (whom he previously loved so much). Timon cannot change his mind, because he dies (of presumably a broken heart) and is therefore unavailable to be persuaded by his former friends to save them from Alcibiades.

This is one of the Bard’s lesser known works; and has not been performed in New Zealand for a century and a half. I welcomed the Trust’s choice, but I wish the production gave more ‘handrails’ to an audience unfamiliar with the dialogue.

Still worth a go.

‘My’ performance was held indoors. I, along with a number of other people, got caught out with the venue change. So check the facebook page and the web site (warning it is not mobile friendly). There is no signage at the Dell. If you arrive and find it deserted and the loudspeakers still wrapped in black plastic, then head to Wellington High School :-)

The Naked Time – Star Trek in the Park

February 12, 2015 at 9:27 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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Star Trek must be moving mainstream – after all people are putting it on live and outdoors.

So, I went to the opening night of Summer Star Trek – in Aro Park, in Aro Valley. This year it is “The Naked Time“; next year it will be “Mirror Mirror“. I know because part of the pre-show entertainment is the audience voting for next year’s production :-).

Also part of the pre-show entertainment was the “Space Babes” who sang a number of space themed David Bowie numbers. But the best number was “Star Trekking” – with the audience singing along.

The ‘episode’ kicked off with Bethany Millar (one of the “Space Babes”) singing the introductory sound track – she did the whole ‘wooo’ sequence, without the musicians using an electric keyboard. In fact the live music was a flute, cello (played by the versatile Miller), violin (played by Joel Miller who also sang with the Space Babes), and an accordion.

The plot is as I remember it. Though some of the characters have had their sex swapped – presumably to cater for the cast: McCoy; Zulu; Riley and Joe Tormolen all get switched. Captain Kirk is played by James Bayliss. He and whoever played Spock – there is no cast list – provide the back bone of the story – as they did in the original TV episode.

There is only one set, and there is some very clever prop switches. So that one back drop serves as the bridge, the sickbay, a corridor, a science base, an engine room; brilliantly done. The amazing sliding doors were re-created with pitch perfect sound effects – in a very clever way.

The episode itself is noteworthy because it introduces homeopathy – through the concept of water behaving as alcohol.

Worth going to: bring a thick picnic blanket; a donation; a picnic dinner; and prepare to boldly go where you have not been before.

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