Oz Asia Festival.
The Dhol Foundation
Festival Theatre, October 2nd
In their first Adelaide performance since headlining Womadelaide in 2004, The Dhol Foundation returned to our fair shores as part of this year’s OzAsia Festival. Despite the long break, local support for the drumming outfit and their addictive blend of electronic Punjabi funk clearly hasn’t cooled, with palpable audience excitement from the get-go.
The high-energy, hands-in-the-air show was dominated by thumping drum beats and synchronised Bhangra grooves that were impossible to ignore. Those lucky enough to score standing seat tickets were on their feet by the end of the first number, while those unable to stand bounced along in their chairs.
Led by master of the dhol, Johnny Kalsi, the drumming quintet was supported onstage by tabla, drum kit, bass and guitar. Almost synonymous with the double-sided barrel drum that lends the band its name, Kalsi is renowned for both his prowess on the skins and his work in popularising the art form. In addition to talent, Kalsi brings cheeky humour and irrepressible charm to the party, easily connecting with the Adelaide audience and keeping them pumped up and laughing throughout.
The show featured a mixed set of tracks from their first three albums and a few “special treats” from their as yet unreleased fourth album, Drum-tastic, which reveals the band experimenting with reggae influences. Guest vocalist K.S. Bhamrah, a veteran of the UK Bhangra scene, wowed with amazing vocal performances.
The crowd happily welcomed him back a second time for a number featuring the tumbi, a single-string Punjabi folk instrument heavily featured in Bhangra music today.
Some sound issues aside, the only blemish on the show was the noticeable use of pre-recorded vocals and backing instrument tracks, which impacted on the “live” feel somewhat. Likely down to limited funds and transport capacity on a relatively short tour, this will surely be rectified when Kalsi returns to Adelaide for Womadelaide in 2011.
Yegam Theatre Company – Festival Theatre.
Korean Yegam Theatre Company brings to Adelaide as one of the headline performances of the 2010 Oz Asia Festival, their production of Jump.
The high energy, highly entertaining show has the audience is fits of laughter as nine incredibly talented performers strut their stuff in this new-genre work. The piece is described as non-verbal comic martial arts performance, which expertly blends Asian martial arts including Taekwondo with spectacular aerobatics and slapstick comedy.
Borrowing ideas from Comedia-del-arte, mime, panto and combining Jackie Chan with the Three Stooges, this slapstick creation is one of the most entertaining jaw dropping nights of theatre on offer at this year’s Oz Asia Festival.
The premise is set around a Korean family. The grandfather - Ui-Hyuk Jung, Father – Joon-Seok Song, Mother – Kyung-Ae Hong, Drunken Uncle – Jung-Hoon Shin, Daughter – Jae-Rim Lee and (future) Son-in-Law – Dong-Kyun Kim. Each trains daily in their martial art, wielding strength and weapons with great skill. Their afternoon is travelling relatively well, until that evening when two bungling burglars, Chang-Kyu Lee and Yeop Heo, stumble unsuspectingly into the home of this martial arts family. Hilarity ensues as the farce picks up pace and true to form there is much in and out of doors, and outrageous chase scenes. Combined with spectacular acrobatics, flipping, spinning and tight choreography the performance has the entire audience spellbound for its duration, the end coming too soon for many theatre goers, as was evidence from the huge round of applause that had the performers back for a full second curtain call.
Neatly holding the scene changes together, was Old Man, played by Myoung-Sub Kim. Completely unrelated to the story line he would find little breaks in the action to hobble across the stage in chase of the spotlight. Interacting with the audience and his cane, Kim had fantastic physicality and was highly entertaining.
This production is a winner and should not be missed.
In Repose is a collaboration of story-telling, music, dance and photography from the travels of a group of artists on a spiritual journey in search of the burial sites and history of Japanese Australians. The performance tells of the culmination of months of hard work and travel to some of the most remote parts of Australia. At each site they perform a kuyo, which is a Japanese term describing the act of ceremonial offering to respect, honor and calm the spirits of the deceased.
Mayu Kanamori, a Japanese born artist wants to capture the history of these burial sites through her photography before they succumb to housing developments and the ravages of time. The performance in the space theatre takes the audience through the performers experience, narrated by Vic McEwan and Mayu Kanamori, and accompanied by projections of her photography as well as video by Shigeaki Iwai and Darren Baker.
Wakako Asano, a Tokyo born dancer brings her own interpretation to the sites and her choreography is presented to respect and honor the deceased. Asano intersperses dance amongst the story telling, revisiting the choreography she performed at each remote location for the audience.
Satsuki Odamura is a Japanese koto virtuoso. Playing the instrument for Asano's choreography and as her own tribute to the burial sites, Odamura demonstrates great skill and emotional depth in her recital.
The story telling in this production is very strong and moving, and the passion of the artists is evident. The dancing was more contemporary than interpretive and only occasionally appeared to support the narrative, however it was still mesmerizing to watch and very meditative.
Overall the production is a reflective one, entertaining on an informative level. For the spiritually minded and open minded alike this is an enjoyable, relaxing night of performance.
SangHawa (Eve) & Rantau Berbisik (Whisperings of Exile)
Nan Jombang Dance Company – Space Theatre. 23 – 24 Sep 2010
Based in Padang in western Sumatra, Nan Jombang Dance Company was formed in 1983 by choreographer Ery Mefri. The company, which is comprised entirely of family members, bases its choreography on traditional Indonesian dance styles including Tari Piring (or Plate Dance) where the dancers rapidly swirl plates balanced in their hands whilst tapping and shaking them to create rhythm, and the Randai, which is a more theatrical style of traditional folk dance which comprises both acting, songs and martial arts.
The opening piece, SangHawa, featured Angga Mefri and Rio Mefri exploring, through their dance, the story of the first woman to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. According to the program notes the characters were mother and son. The son was seeking permission from his mother to leave the homeland and begin his emigration across the archipelago. To a backing track of silence, the choreography was stepped out in slow motion, each movement was considered, each breath deliberate. The audience was completely silent and respectful in anticipation of the dancers next shape, line or direction. The performers demonstrated great skill and flexibility, moving both together and individually they created almost yogic postures which required great concentration and strength. The piece overall was overtly sexual, and unlike any mother/son relationship I am familiar with.
The second piece called Rantau Berbisik, featured three more dancers alongside Angga and Rio. Gany Mefri, Ririn Mefri and Intan Mefri joined Rio in what was perceived to be a kitchen. The set was a small trolley layered with crockery, plates and cutlery, and a single table with four chairs sat plainly on the stage. The program notes tell us that we are in one of thousands of Nasi Padang restaurants spread across the archipelago. The choreography again incorporates much of the slow movements of the first, but now is set to the beat of tapping plates and banging tables created by the performers. Much of the dance was quite cryptic and only moments of it perpetuated the story.
Unfortunately the production reached its climax around 10 minutes into the piece. Once the excitement from witnessing the skill and technique of the dancers had worn off, the show became excruciatingly difficult to watch and was incredibly boring. The very talented performers clearly have a lot to offer, but sadly gave us more in duration than inspiration with this offering from Nan Jombang Dance Company.
Dialogue in Skin
Hands Percussion, Malaysia. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 26 September, 2010
Billed as an award winning Malaysian drumming troupe, one might have expected a night of vibrant, uplifting drumming and choreography. Unfortunately however, it took nearly 35 minutes to build up enough intensity and exhilaration in the audience to get any significant applause, and it was then we all realised the company was actually finishing up for the interval.
The anti-climax of the first act meant for an uncertain wait for the start of the second, which began even slower than the first with a single performer doing uncomplicated yogic poses on top of a drum, to the recorded sound of dripping water. Water torture it was too, evident in the audiences shuffling, whispering and coughing, and the relief which came from the vibrant upbeat ring from a spectator’s mobile phone.
The written program is very descriptive, but far more has been imagined into the writing than the actual choreography, which is lackluster at best. Silence is cleverly used to build intensity throughout the performance, but too often in the wrong places, killing any build up before it has reached its crescendo.
The drummers appeared to be missing their personalities and often look bored by the exercise. Anyone in the audience who had seen the drumming performance by Japanese troupe Drum Tao, would have considered this production amateur at best.
The skill level from some of the drummers was very high, but routines went on too long, were poorly structured and uninspiring.
The non-descript set is fine in theory, as it puts the focus on the vibrant instruments and costumes, but far too much of the performance was staged at the back of the space. Diversifying their routines so much and including electric guitars, sitars, and contemporary drum kits gave an interesting touch to the sound, but made the performance feel too eclectic, and failed to support the Malaysian drumming theme.
This production has a long way to go if it hopes to rival other drum troupe companies. With no preconceptions or drumming background it might have been possible to enjoy moments of this show, but unfortunately this time it did not hit the mark.
Afternoon absurdiTEA with Camilla Cha
Space Theatre, September 26
In the family-friendly timeslot of 2pm, Afternoon absurdiTEA provides an education in the long and sordid history of the humble tea leaf. Based on exerts from key artist Anne Norman’s book Curiosi-tea, the performance mixed readings and poetry with a soundtrack of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and Japanese music, representing the cultural origins of this enduring beverage.
The one-off OzAsia Festival piece sees Norman, musician/poet/author and self-professed tea enthusiast, take on the persona of Camilla Cha with hit and miss results. Firmly hitting the mark however were her supporting musicians in Tenzin Choegyal (voice and Tibetan instruments), Wang Zheng Ting & the Australian Chinese Ensemble, and Jay Dabgar (Tabla) & Josh Bennett (sitar, didgeridoo and guitar). This stellar musical cast provided beautiful individual and ensemble performances in between Norman’s narratives.
While conceptually promising, Norman failed in her execution and it was painfully clear that she is weak point in the show. Though providing a wealth of interesting information on the topic, her delivery was dry and amateurish. The musical interludes proved to be the saving grace of the production and were almost reason enough to sit through the rest.
In particular, Choegyal’s haunting vocals and the entertaining duo of Bennet and Dabgar stole the show. Norman’s own performances on shakuhachi (Japanese flute) were commendable and this, along with the quality of her supporting guests, gave some credibility to what otherwise seemed to be an elaborate plug for her debut literary work.