National Tour, Auckland, Whangarei and Christchurch
September 3 – 16
Two major new dance works, The Fibonacci and Uku – Behind the Canvas will be presented the New Zealand Dance Company’s (NZDC) touring production of Night Light performed in Auckland, Whangarei and Christchurch, this September after the production was cancelled last year due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
The Fibonacci, choreographed by Tor Colombus explores energy pathways through dance, sound and place in relationship to the mathematical Fibonacci sequence revealing a tapestry of pattern and form, which provokes a feeling of connection to something deeper than the detail of each individual action.
Fibonacci was a 13th-century Italian mathematician who brought the Indian-Arabic number system to Europe. The Fibonacci sequence begins: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and continues from there. Each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers. As the numbers increase the ratios of two successive Fibonacci numbers keeps increasing getting close to the golden ratio of 1.618.
That ratio has been used in other art forms for centuries in the architecture of the Parthenon and works by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe artists such as Da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer and Mondrian as well as composers and Bartók and Debussy.
The world premiere of emerging Māori choreographer Eddie Elliott’s Uku – Behind the Canvas explores the power of vulnerability and the strength within struggle. With inspiration from visual artist Andy Denzler, Eddie draws from the pūrākau (storytelling) held within Te Ao Māori and weaves it with New Zealand Sign Language to reveal the complexity of his own human experience. Anticipation and intensity are at the heart of movement paired with cleansing uku (clay) which symbolises the relationship between Hineahuone and Tāne – where we’ve come from and to where we will return.
In an earlier review I described NZDC’s work as “operatic in scope … full of inventive and evocative sequences with marvellous sculptural tableaux with a small group of dancers using their bodies to create shapes and patterns which expressed personal and collective turmoil.”
NZDC Co-artistic Director and choreographer of The Fibonacci Tor Colombus says, “Night Light is a reflective offering in response to this moment in time that we are collectively living through”.
“We are thrilled to share these two dynamically contrasting yet complimentary works in this double bill originally commissioned by NZDC Founding Artistic Director, Shona McCullagh,” says O’Hara.
From floating through time and space, observing nature’s mysterious golden spirals in Colombus’ The Fibonacci to grounding down with feeling in Elliott’s Uku – Behind the Canvas where confronting storytelling is at its most raw.
In his dealings with issues around land and cultural identity John Walsh has often populated his paintings with figures. In his latest exhibition “The Dark and the Light” at the Gow Langsford Gallery as well as human figures there are animals and wraith-like apparitions – spirits or symbols evolving out of the land, bush and water.
His landscapes are generally precolonial views offering not just an example of what the landscapes might have looked like more than two hundred years ago but how a Maori artist from that time might have combined the natural flora, fauna and human figures along with the presence of mythic and ancestral presences.
One of the larger works in the show “Dali and Company pass through the Pacific” ($45,000) depicts a figure nestled in a submarine-like traditional Maori fishing net with a distant Auckland under a purple haze. The work seems pertinent as several of the works of Salvador Dali and his fellow surrealist are on exhibition at Te Papa at the moment.
There is a kinship between the Surrealists and Maori artists in that both acknowledged the importance of the dream for inspiration and as subject matter. The worlds Walsh creates often have a surrealist or dreamlike quality providing the key to an understanding of the way in which past present and future can merge.
His worlds are populated by symbolic figures who are ever watchful as they protect, guard and portend. They exist as real, mythological and metaphorical is a clever entwining of the cultures and personal iconography.
In the panoramic “Ruru” ($18,000) the bird acts as a watchful guardian of the land while in “Marakihua ($12,000) the man-fish is presented as some form of protector of the seas.
With “Untitled (Horse)” ($7750) a white horse stands in the landscape which features an iridescent cluster of light that hovers over the land. While horses have never been part of traditional Maori mythology, they have taken on something of a spiritual or mystical role tied to the Christian notions of the white horse of the Book of Revelations.
That work and “Worship” ($7750) which has a sole figure clutching a large frond while contemplating a brilliant star constellation appear to be recognitions of Matariki and thec oming of the new year – the Earth emerging out of darkness.
With all these works the artist uses a misty dark palette providing a sense of otherworldliness.Hhis intense blues, pounamu greens and volcanic reds help create paintings which are political, metaphorical and meditative, linking history and contemporary events.
There has been a crisis looming around New Zealand Opera for some time coming to a head earlier this year when three board members resigned from NZ Opera. Witi Ihimaera, Murray Shaw and Rachael Walkinton stepped down because they believed that the artistic direction the company was headed in the wrong direction and not meeting the expectations of the audience.
There were several flash points in the leadup to their decision including the announcement of an opera based on the unruly tourists of a couple of years ago commissioned by the general director of the New Zealand Opera, Thomas de Mallet Burgess. It was intended as something of a comic opera with one of the writers Amanda Kennedy saying “It may come across as a musical that is full of comedy, but the show actually brings a lot of integrity, and it is likely to be a bit of a moral compass for those watching. It’s a comedy opera, but it’s about real issues.”
Ihimaera noted that it wasn’t primarily that new performance. “We resigned because one of our jobs as governors was to mitigate risk to the reputation of the company and what I saw, was a huge upswelling of discontent and confusion about the artistic direction of the company”.
Ihimaera said the strategy of reimagining opera was a fine but the trio felt traditional supporters of opera had not been taken along.
“It’s to do with actually making sure that the opera company and its artistic direction provides what people want. And also, at the same time, it has had a very hard fought for, long-standing, loyal audience£.
“That was why we felt that we had to do what we had to do, was to ask questions, was to ask, is that audience – the audience that would provide the money for something like the unruly tourists – was that being cared for as well? Was it being taken along on this journey?”
Opera companies around the world are facing various problems is sustaining audiences, obtaining funding, and presenting relevant and financially viable programmes.
The five most performed works internationally are La Traviata, The Magic Flute, La Bohème, Carmen, and The Barber of Seville.
Some of these and other struggle to find relevance with a modern-day audience especially with some of the racist and misogynistic elements in Puccini’s madame Butterfly and Bizet’s Carmen, the stereotyping on Puccini’s Turandot and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado. Then there is the touches of anti-Semitism in Wagner’s Ring Cycle and the Muslim caricatures in Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio.
Another area of concern is the presentation of contemporary works and themes which “The Unruly Tourists” was seen as addressing. Over the past few years the opera company has made some attempts with Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Eight Songs for a Mad King” and the short, hotel room-based work The Human Voice (La Voix Humaine) by Francis Poulenc .These were fine productions but had very limited audiences. The only main stage contemporary work the company has staged recently was John Adams’ “Nixon in China” in 2016.
The other major problem facing opera companies is retaining old audiences and acquiring new audiences. They are caught between trying to attract those thousands of newly retired 65-year-olds who are relatively easy to find or search for a new youth audience who can be fickle and not as keen to spend big sums on entertainment.
Ihimaera and several dozen concerned individuals have now written a joint letter to the Minister of Arts and Culture, the Honourable Carmel Sepuloni outlining their concerns and the needs for action.
Among other things they have requested that the Minister commission an independent comprehensive review into the opera sector in New Zealand which would look at the structure, funding, and governance of the national opera company to ensure the long-term sustainability of opera.
They also asked for a review of the funding model and stewardship of funds to ensure opera’s long-term viability of opera in New Zealand.
While the signatories have not explicitly asked for a different method of funding many people in the arts community winder why the other national arts organizations such as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, The Royal New Zealand Ballet and Te Matatini are funding directly from the Ministry of Arts and Culture while the opera company must apply to Creative New Zealand.
Many other in the arts community believe there are other issues which need to be addressed such as funding and governance of the regional opera companies and the balance between core repertoire, exposure to new idea as well as New Zealand content.
Concepts of space, vision and light have fascinated artists for centuries and one of the crucial turning points in the artists use of light came with Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb and later the fluorescent tube. The New Zealand artist Bill Culbert who spent most of his career in Europe focused on light and light producing bulbs is being recognised in the major exhibition “Slow Wonder” at the Auckland Art Gallery.
While a presence in New Zealand art for fifty years Culbert was a central figure internationally and while he had regular show in this country he was in demand throughout the world for inclusion in major shows.
One of the high points of his career came in 2013 when he was selected as the New Zealand representative at the Venice Biennale.
Opening that exhibition Sir Nicholas Serota (Director of the Tate Modern) noted that if New Zealand hadn’t shown Culbert the artist would have been put forward for the British pavilion.
Bill Culbert’s work has been central to a number of areas of contemporary art particularly around the use of light, new approaches to vision and the treatment of space, investigating the almost filmic quality of light operating over time.
His work always seems to be referencing the history of art and artists such as the Renaissance exploration of perspective and the use of the camera obscura as a means of creating the illusion of three-dimensional space. His work also connects with the ideas around abstraction and the elements of line, form and space without the need for narrative or representation.
His work has parallels with innovative artists such as Joseph Beuys and light artist Anthony McCall and demonstrates an ability to combine philosophical purism along with the creation of visual jokes. There are also links to writers such as the Argentinian writer Borges around the creation of parallel spaces and realities.
“Slow Wonder” brings together a selection of work from across the artists career to show how he has developed his approach to light and the creation of three-dimensional works with works connected to his use of the incandescent bulb and white fluorescent tubes.
The very first work in the exhibition “Outline” (1978) is a metaphor for the way in which he used light. The blacked out square box is both an attempt to contain and control light as well as a way of using it to create a three-dimensional space from light. It also shows the way that he uses projections of light as well as shadows and outlines.
A couple of other works in the first room of the exhibition are homages to the light bulb with “Reflections” (1971) and “Bulb Box Shadow” (1971) both of which features single bulbs presented as small theatrical events.
One of the works “Spacific Plastics” (2001) is similar to a work he produced for his Venice Biennale show entitled “Flotsam”. It consists of dozens of coloured plastic containers and fluorescent tubes. The title and the material was a reference to all the flotsam which bobs the canals of Venice. “Spacific Plastics” is a similar ecological statement about the increased presence of plastics in the Pacific Ocean.
Some of the early works show an interest in combining the fluorescent tube and corrugated iron as in “Black Point” (1978) which hints at his future collaborations with Ralph Hotere with the large tube and iron in “Black Light” (not in the show) while “Moonlight Creek” (1978) where he has used light to separate two halves of a large stone prefigures the collabortive “Fault” (1994) which slices through the facade of City Gallery, Wellington.
Culbert is also a photographer and his black-and-white images are something of a diary record, documenting his experiments and showing the genesis of many of his ideas. So “Small Glass Pouring Light” (1997) recording his “discovery” of the light bulb shape cast by a wine glass had other iterations including the large installation “Small Glass Pouring Light” (1983) featuring two dozen of the glasses.
There are several large installations such as “An Explanation” of Light” (1984) where neon tubes pierce some French doors, the reflections both in the doors as well as the large window onto Albert Park giving the work depth and mystery as though entering a new dimension.
Another feature of the artist’s work is his transformation of the everyday object into something both magical and meaningful. It is not just the wine glass which gets changed and transformed he also uses a variety of other objects including plastic containers. “Cascade” features a set of plastic containers pierced by a tube glowing with a purity, the caps of the containers providing the only vestiges of colour. His “Easter Island” (1994) is on of the more explicit political pieces, with the glowing seven little yellow bottles of “venero” (poison) providing a contrast between purity and toxicity.
Among his other larger sculptural works is “Stand Still” (1987) where he adds various items to dress up florescent tubes – lampshades, a bucket, a bottle and two jugs while with “Central Station” (1996) which becomes a location of transition he adds fluorescent tubes to lampstands having discarded the old incandescent bulbs for the newer lighting form He also draws attention to the snaking black extension cords and transformers which are often the disguised or hidden parts of light installations.
This theme of transition can also be seen in works such as “Hokitika Return Journey” (1978) which is both a reference to the artist peripatetic journeys as well as the changing social and political nature of the West Coast. That area is also referenced in “Reefton Cloud” (1978) where a florescent tube hovers over a lump of charred wood. This is a reference to Reefton, which in 1888 became the first place in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere to have a public supply of electricity.
Throughout the exhibition we witness an artist using the simple material of lightbulb and fluorescent light tubes along with found materials to create mysterious and poetic works that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Vienna was at the heart of classical music particularly in the nineteenth century with many of the great musicians associated with the city – Mozart, Haydn, Mahler, Strauss and Bruckner were Austrian while others, such as Beethoven, Gluck and Brahms lived there for part of their lives. The history of classical music is an integral part of the city’s history.
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s “On The Danube” concert featured works by four Viennese composers written over an 80-year period although Erich Korngold had left the city ten years before he composed his Violin Concerto.
Opening the programme was Johann Strauss II’ “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” which had many heads swaying along to the breezy waltz music. The orchestra could well have filled up the entire programme with a set of the composers waltzes and the audience been entirely satisfied. The music seems to sum up the halcyon days of the Austro- Hungarian Empire and its glamour and artistic renown.
It was a great pity that conductor Giordano Bellincampi did not have a partner on the podium as he seemed ready to launch into a waltz at any moment, carried along by the music.
Also on the programme was the Brahms “Symphony No 3”, a magnificent work which has links back to the grandeur of Beethoven but which also displays a new energy and vitality.
Much has been made of the symphonies hidden code but it is the images lyrical landscapes and encounters with Nature which are conveyed by the music and can be seen as expressions of the composer’s personal struggles and emotional conflicts.
The short Gustav Mahler work on the programme “Blumine”, was composed only a few years after the Brahms work and illustrates how far music had moved in that time in terms of temperament and scale. The was work originally part of his first symphony and is filled with passages of the composers’ characteristic sounds and leitmotifs, particularly his use of the solo horn.
The most exciting work on the programme was Erich Korngold’s “Violin Concerto”. Composed in 1945 when he lived in America and which he dedicated to Alma Mahler. The work builds on the late Romanticism of Mahler along with Korngold’s own film music and is filled with a sense of remembrance and reflection. It is rich and colourful with a number of lively themes and the opening movement has the qualities of a 1930’s film.
Vienna based soloist Benjamin Morrison who is member of the Vienna Philharmonic played with assurance, dealing effortlessly with the clever technical passages and the elaborate fingering. He was totally in control and at one with the orchestra, at times allowing it to almost overwhelm his playing and then at other times he made dramatic forays as if to dominate the orchestra. There were times when he gave the work an enigmatic reading while he also brought out some of the playful aspects of the music. In the second movement where he played an achingly powerful sequence, his sounds hovered in the auditorium as though remembering a dream.
Just as the audience had been delighted with the opening Strauss number they were equally rewarded with Morrison’s encore, a wonderful version of “Pokarekare Ana”.
With his latest dance creation, “The Outsiders Ball” Neil Ieremia has gone back to his roots and his first experiences of dance. As he notes in the programme,
“Growing up as a kid in the 70’s various groups would run a siva(dance) as a fundraiser, these were always filled with lots of laughter, friendly rivalries, paper plates of food, undercover romances and sometimes bad behaviour” and “the overwhelming explosion of colour floating on a haze of sweet perfume mixed with cigarette smoke.”
This is going back to the primal roots of dance, an activity which societies have been engaging in for centuries. They are the communal meeting places, often at the core of men and women, boys and girls learning about social interaction under the beady eyes of aunts and uncles.
What he describes is not far from Peter Cape’s 1958 song, “Down at the hall on Saturday night”.
‘Yeah, it’s great being out with the jokers
When the jokers are sparking and bright,
And it’s great giving cheek to the shielas
Down the hall on Saturday night”
Ieremia attempts to recreate one of those Saturday night dances filling the hall with a range of people from young to old and they bring every style of dancing from rock and roll to ballroom with a bit of Samoan slap dance and a trace of chorus line. There are loads of human interaction as individuals try out their best moves while others manage to make fools of themselves. This ball for outsiders delights in the joy, freedom and exhilaration of dance.
As with much of his previous dance work Ieremia manages to transform everyday simple movements into elegant dance so that what we see is superbly controlled chaos. There are elements of his choreographic practice throughout the various dances with his signature waves of dancers streaming across the stage coupled with abrupt changes of direction.
Some of the music is real dance material such as James Brown’s “Superbad” and Donna Summers’ “Last Dance” but there was also music from Blondie, Shannon and Troy Kingi. The dancers respond with enthusiasm and energy to each of the numbers and generally create the spirit of the local dance. The one work which didn’t seem to really carry the right mood was the dancing to Grace Jones’ version of “La Vie En Rose” which lacked the anguish and sorrow it needed.
This glorious celebration of dance ended with an animated cabaret / drag number complete with disco ball, the hall filled with the lights of Matariki.
While Ieremia is on stage dancing he also takes times to address the audience with a few discursive monologues talking about own life as well as social issues which affect Maori and Pacifica, probably not the normal conversation at the dance hall but relevant conversations which need to be had.
Lyrics by Mere Boynton Taonga Pūoro composition by Ariana Tikao
Auckland Town Hall, July 2
Wellington Michael Fowler Centre July 9
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
The celebration of Matariki has increased over the past couple of decades and is now recognised as part of the New Zealand calendar signalling the time to plan and prepare for the spring garden.
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has commissioned a new work by Gareth Farr to celebrate the event for this year along with various collaborators including singer Mere Boynton and taonga puora exponent Ariana Tikao. The resulting work Ngā Hihi o Matariki is a stunning creation full of spectacular sounds and innovative musical textures.
Matariki (The Pleiades or Seven Sisters) is the star cluster which signifies the Maori New Year but in many parts of New Zealand the Matariki group is precede by Puanga (Rigel in the Orion Constellation) and is recognised by some iwi as the harbinger of the New Year instead of Matariki.
The work is in seven movements with a nod to the “Seven Sisters” and each of the sections can be seen as a reflection on the history and mythology of the land, expressing images of the changing heavens, the elements of air, water, light, genealogy, acknowledging birth and death.
In the work Gareth Farr skilfully combines the sounds of the traditional symphony orchestra with the sounds of various taonga puora played by Ariana Tikao
Farr is a master of the dramatic sounds and his use of the percussion, woodwinds and brass is never just as background, they are always to the fore in providing dramatic sounds. The orchestra for this work was bolstered with harp and piano adding to the percussive nature of the work. The addition of taonga puoru augmented the range of sound as well as providing an ethereal sound. Farr’s use of the instruments demonstrates his ability to conceptualise and illustrate the ideas around the event through music.
So, the work describes the night sky and the appearance of the stars not just as astronomical phenomenon but their impact on the viewer and their connections with the past and the present. In the opening movement the woodwinds convey the clarity of the night sky night sky and then the appearance of the brilliant stars while a rowdy glockenspiel proclaims the burst light which comes with the dawning of a new day and year.
With many of the sequences the orchestra began with a tentative theme which slowly developed or abruptly erupted with onslaughts of sound, the layers of resonance creating images of new life and new dimensions.
Mere Boynton and Ariana Tikao appear several times on stage entering and leaving like ethereal soothsayers or Greek oracles, their appearances giving the work a ritualistic feel. Boynton’s powerful voice which ranged from the simple karanga to almost operatic in scope was full of drama and emotion, enhanced by Tikao’s playing various taonga puora.
Unfortunately, the words were not presented as surtitles so the overall impact was diminished, the audience experienced the excitement of the delivery but missed on the subtlety and nuance of the spirit of the words.
Conductor Gemma New was a guiding presence directing the orchestra with an assured poise and at times her raised arms gave her the appearance of a sprouting fern frond.
Despite the music being occasionally formulaic and repetitive this was a remarkable work by Gareth Farr and an outstanding display by the orchestra with a joyous display of sound including the full range of sounds from the percussion, strings, woodwind and brass. It is a work which should enter the canon of major New Zealand works, celebrating not just Matariki but the confluence of musical and cultural ideas.
The “Doors of Perception” exhibition at Visions is related to the ideas of psychogeography which the Marxist theorist Guy Debord used to describe playful and inventive ways of navigating the urban environment in order to examine its architecture and spaces. Such an approach also asks why we respond to particular environments and situations and how our perceptions are determined by personal, political and social influences .
The works are also linked to Aldous Huxley’s account of his use of mescaline in his book “The Doors Of Perception” of 1954 and his later book “Island” which imagine utopian environments where drugs perform an entirely beneficial function, providing serenity and understanding as well as a way to transcend the traditional sociocultural context of contemporary life.
This has been emphasised by the Covid crisis and its impact on the world in creating a sense of disconnect and unease.
The works in exhibition highlight this anxiety, with images of various environments connecting to history, science, mythology and the spiritual. Some provide concrete depictions as with Shana Moulton’s “The Undiscovered Drawer” (USD 17,250) others are more metaphysical such as the photography of Ben Cauchi. Some have a more political dimension as with Emily Karaka’s ”Rahui” (NZD 20,000) while others such as Star Gossage’s “Beside the Sea, our Pakiri” (NZD 17,500) are more spiritual.
With Shana Moulton’s “The Undiscovered Drawer” the artist enters a dream world through a cabinet that contains drawers and drawers which conceal other drawers, opening up worlds within worlds. The drawers contain objects of her fears and desires such as roller facial massage tools or keys to further doors.
The artist also engages in applying makeup to create new images of herself in this new surreal world.
The images and actions are reminiscent of the early surrealist films of Bunuel, Leger and Duchamp (some of which are showing at the Surrealist exhibition on in Wellington).
The artist search for meaning and discovery seem to be frivolous and quirky but in this creation of a mindfulness world the surreal dream takes on a serious investigation of the individual trapped in a self-referential and oppressive world with a feminist reading of cultural issues.
Ben Cauchi’s photographs also create surreal spaces. “Dead Time” (NZD 11,000) depicts a halo of light projected onto patterned wallpaper., This hovering nimbus or astral fog hints at another dimension while “The Waiting Room” (NZD 11,000) is a slightly creepy space of indeterminate use.
One of the most impressive works in the show is the video work “Enso- Cold Light” (USD 97,750) by teamLab who are an interdisciplinary group of artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians and architects who refer to themselves as “Ultra-technologists
The work derives from the simple, single flourish of a calligraphic brush stroke as in the work of the traditional Japanese master Sengai Gibon or the more recent brushwork of Max Gimblett.
The digital work imagines the brush stroke emerging as though from the Big Ban, expanding and morphing with energy.
At one level it is a meditative work evolving out of its Zen historical narrative as well as describing a scientific phenomenon, seeming to reach forward into the cosmos.
By contrast Joyce Campbells set of photographs ($3800 each) depict the very beginnings of the life process. They are images from The Mariana Trench, the lowest point on the surface of the Earth. The organisms in her photographs are emerging simple life forms, looking like alien creatures.
Other works in the show are by Tamara Dean, Angela Lane, Dale Frank and Adam Lee.
The exhibition has been curated by Pippa Mott Curator at Mona – Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart.
The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht (translated by David Hare)
Auckland Theatre Company
Auckland Waterfront Theatre
Until July 10
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo” links Galileo’s Italy of the 1600s with analysis of the looming menace of the Atomic Bomb in the playwright’s post war world. But the recent debates about the efficacy of the science around Covid 19 vaccines and the Climate Crisis debate make the work particularly relevant to contemporary thinking.
In Galileo’s time, new scientific ideas were emerging that challenged centuries of religious understanding of the world while in Brecht’s time, and more recently new political systems are also seen as repressing or denying new scientific ideas.
Many of the issues around the play relate to the Aristotelian view of the universe where the Sun and all other heavenly bodies revolved around the Eartha a world view the Church accepted and promoted. Others, such as Copernicus, had promoted the heliocentric model (of the Earth revolving around the Sun) that challenged Aristotle. In the eyes of the church this was heresy.
Science is the real subject of the play and Brecht’s principal aim was to show the behaviour of a man who comes to realise that he is ethically unequipped to deal with the consequences of his own genius. Galileo is a man who meets a test and fails.
Central to the play are Galileo’s scientific and polemical speeches delivered by Michael Hurst. He creates an irascible and determined thinker, a hedonist who is passionate in his search for the truth as much as his pursuit of earthly pleasures. His Galileo is steadfast in his belief in reason over faith but in the latter part of the play is wise or pragmatic in seeing the benefits of recanting his previously strongly held beliefs. This mirrors the Marxist Brecht’s own practical approach in managing to sidestep accusations of being a communist at the time of the McCarthy witch hunts in post war America.
Hurst is on stage for virtually the whole of the play and performs like a supernova exploding with intensity and power, filling the stage with his authority and presence. The long speeches which in lesser hands would be tedious are given a vividness and power which makes one aware of a Brecht’s confrontational form of theatre.
Hursts power of delivery unfortunately means that many of the minor character seem like dwarf stars, dimmed by his presence. Often these gender-blind characters are little more than stereotypes and are played as such without providing a sense of realism to the characters.
However, Ravikanth Gurunathan as Andrea Sarti developed the character from youthful enquirer to a mature scientist growing in stature and understanding with a fine sense engagement.
Roy Ward in his several roles brings a dignity and understanding to the characters while Rima Te Wiata has a few outstanding moments.
Cameron Rhodes handled his three roles well and was particularly forceful as the Venetian industrialist Vanni.
Hera Dunleavey as the Grand Inquisitor gave a compelling performance but her primary role as Mrs Sarti was less convincing.
The play has a rich text, filled with quotable lines about science, religion, truth and reason. Some of these are fleeting but have a density which is powerful. At one point the chancellor of Venice University says in reference to Galileo’s many useful commercial inventions that “The market brings you freedom” – an allusion to the “Arbeit macht frei” slogan on the entrance to Nazi concentration camps.
The stage is filled with three large metal shipping containers whose presence is never fully realised. They may well be the three Baskets/Vessels of Knowledge. The cast and crew spend a lot of the time moving these constructions around the stage and these erratic trajectories may be meant as outlining the strange movements of the planets which the Copernican system requires.
The one large container did serve a brilliant and dramatic purpose in becoming the Popes vestments room where Te Wiata is dressed, layer by layer, in rich robes as the new, supposedly more enlightened Pope.
Director Colin McColl is to be congratulated on bringing this important work to the stage. The verve and energy of the production and Michael Hurst stellar performance underscores the importance of Brecht’s work and his ideas which coalesce in the final slogan displayed at the end play – “Use Science Wisely or Everybody Dies”.
The works in Margaret Emsley new show “The Light Gets In” initially appear to be large scale photographs of slightly wilted plants. Closer inspection might suggest they are actually photographs of creations made of fabric or paper designed to look like withered blooms.
They are in fact drawing made with charcoal and pencil, rendering the flowers in realistic detail. Some are in the traditional botanical format of pencil line on white paper while others are more intriguingly on black paper. The works on the black paper make obvious the artist’s interest, suggested in the title of the show “The Light gets In” in the way in which light creates the volumes, shapes and subtlety of objects. It is light which is at the core of the way the artist depicts her objects.
She displays an exactitude of description replicating the photographic image, not only in the surface of the petals but also the areas where the photograph is out of fucus and these are rendered in an almost abstract manner.
She says of the process she uses that “the medium provides the ideal tool to explore the tension that is created between the opposing forces of light and darkness as well as the interior and external self.”
In many ways the works reference the Dutch still life artists of the seventeenth century where a single flower could represent reproduction or decay, purity or promiscuity, love or hardship.
Many of the works titles indicate a similar metaphorical approach with works such as “Optimism” ($400) or “Serenity” ($400). Others relate to particular events or activities as with “Flamenco” ($4000) or Shooting Star” ($2200).
The artist has attempted to capture something of the essence of change from full bloom through to withered final state and she notes that she is observing not just the beauty of the flower but also but also the transformation which “ through its brief lifespan reveals the inevitable, inescapable process of change”.
The petals of “Flamenco” spread out, reminiscent of the flaring skirts of a flamenco dancer, expressing the exoticism and energy of the dancer, the deep folds also hinting at mystery and allure.
While “Flamenco” references the skirt of the dancer “Bailaora” ($2200) (which is a Spanish term for a flamenco dancer) with its upright “posed” flower suggest a proud, erect dancer.
“Shooting Star” which looks more like an exotic marine creature depicts a bloom which has been affected by the elements as well as looking like an erupting sun, the tendrils of the flower like solar flares.
Several of the works which the artist has depicted past their prime also look as though they are diseased, they become momenta mori, symbolic reminder impermanence of human life and the inevitability of death.