Friday, June 24, 2011

Untrained

Untrained was a comedy/drama/dance at the Playhouse in early June. Featuring 4 men, it was about 2 trained and extraordinary dancers training 2 ordinary blokes. The storyline was simple although some revelations about each character were found as the piece progressed. The dancing/moves were a delight with the 2 trained men really showing their flexibility and technique and the other pair trying their hardest to keep up - this created pathos and hilarity. I laughed so much I thought I would explode - we watched them mimic cats being electrified, hop hop, ballet and all sorts of genuine and nutty moves which became more complex as the piece continued. It is an odd thing to describe, avant garde I suppose, but fun nonetheless.

The Bar at Buena Vista

I saw The Buena Vista Social Club 3 times when it was released - yep, I really loved the movie. I don't know how many times I have seen it since, a lot, but not for a few years. I have all the CDs too, but never seen any of the touring shows - unsure why, but I was privileged to experience the latest incarnation on the first Wednesday in June.

I was not sure what to expect, but it exceeded my wildest imaginings. Kitty, Peter and I had fabulous seats close to the stage (but not too close!). It was an exuberant night with a quality mix of music, dancing, singing and stories. The band were tight, and the backbone to the evening, without which there would be nothing. There was a bar and I suspect most of the drinks real and ready - a lot of rum seemed to be gurgled back. Some participants sat at tables drinking and enjoying the rest of the entertainment on the stage with us in the seats. And then there were the cigars...I loathe smoking, anyone that knows me knows this, however I will admit a fetish for cigars! Whilst I have not enjoyed a cigar for many, many years I still recall that musty smell and being as close to the stage as we were, I soaked that divine smell up and was transported back to a time and place long forgotten...much like The Bar at Buena Vista itself.

Back to the singing - yes, it was marvelous. All of the original singers that starred in the movie has since passed, but the evening was not short on elderly talents. The eldest was 94 and when he shuffled out I felt a little concerned, but I should not have been, he had the richest timbre in his voice I have ever heard, he was in short amazing and even shaked it a little like Elvis! There was the 77 year old dancer - again amazing and many other singers and dancers - most ranged from young through I would imagine all decades - all had their own style and all were remarkable in talent and personality. There was an emcee that kept things rolling and he interpreted for some of the older singers and helped them tell their stories - bawdy, funny and touching stories of how music and the bar itself changed their lives. It was apparent without being told - the life in the more elderly singers and dancers showed us more than words ever would. There was a standout dancer, not as old as the singers, but I think in his 40s, and he was remarkable - he danced with such ferocity and style, it looked like he was gliding on stage - his partner was fantastic too, much younger, she looked exhausted, but he kept going and going!!

In all, this was one of those nights out that lift you out of your current state of mind (no matter how up or happy you might have been to start with) and take it to a whole other level - I floated out and wanted to dance and go to Cuba and be with these wonderful people, much like I felt all those years ago when I first saw the film. I will be back to see them when they next tour, and I suggest you do too! I defy anyone to attend The Bar at Buena Vista and not enjoy it.

Dave Graney at Maitland Art Gallery




The evening Graney was scheduled was wild - nasty winds and flogging rain, I almost did not go! But at the time I was about to leave it subsided enough for me to head out, I am pleased I did. This was another of the Look Who's Talking series from Maitland City Library. Dave Graney - a sublime lyricist and underground musician - was there to talk about his book, 1001 Australian Nights. I had purchased the book about a month earlier, and had only picked it up days earlier when I heard about the evening. I was only 1/3 of a way through it but was enjoying it thoroughly, I could have rush read it for the evening, but it is the kind of book you want to savour, take in the prose and think about what he is writing about - the last book I felt that way about was Patti Smith's Just Kids - he is in good company.

I arrived at the gallery with a few minutes to spare, time to grab a wine and find a spot. As I made my way to the bar, I spotted Dave with his partner, Clare Moore, chatting to someone in the small crowd that had gathered. I was impressed, a regular guy, interested in those around him (as I had garnered from what I had read of his book so far). He saw me and smiled, I was one of two people wearing a beret in the crowd! I was wearing my Emerald vintage Kangol (purchased from Shag, a favourite vintage store in Chapel Street, Prahran), the other person was Dave himself - in a cap-like beret, cream with red detail. Maybe he is just a friendly dude and he happened to catch my eye as I dashed for a wine, or maybe he liked my beret - I'll never know, but it was a cool moment.

I could have sat with some of the Maitland Librarians - but they were at table at the very front of the room ( a cafe within the Gallery). I much prefer the back to the right (I'm a creature of habit if nothing else!), so found a chair and sat down, Clare took the spare chair next to me. I felt a bit excited, but did not want to act uncool - that would be so un-Dave! She seemed excited and nervous for Dave, I found that heartwarming.

Dave read passages from his book - starting with the introduction which details him having a serious medical condition in Paris. It is a shocking start to the book and the program, however Dave reads it (much like I imagined when I had read it a few days earlier) with self-deprecating humour. I won't divulge any more - you should get the book and find out yourself! In between passages he added anecdotes and other asides, his humour was sharp and dry, and he was very Melbourne in his counter culture which I loved. I laughed a lot, as did Clare, sometimes the crowd did not laugh as much as we did, we shared conspiratorial glances. At times he seemed unsure of himself or even a little fragile in the sharing of these tales, this was unexpected but lovely to see. At times I could feel Clare sharing his fragility. These were real people, not superstars, sharing parts of their lives.

Dave told a funny story about another night in he had played in Maitland, as you can imagine he had some challenging people in the audience, including a football team, he tread carefully, which made it funnier. Clare was genuinely worried for him. The story went down well, they should not have been worried. After an hour he finished up and asked if anyone had any questions, at first there was an awkward silence around the room. But someone rattled off a question, realised Dave was kind (his persona can sometimes be seen as sneeringly, but he really did not come across that way at all) and the questions (some good, some not so good) flowed for another 30 minutes.

He then joined a local bookseller and people lined up to purchase books and CDs, and have him sign them, he seemed shy about all of this. Meanwhile I chatted to Clare, a stunningly beautiful woman, but a normal person. They drive from town to town themselves, lug their own equipment, organise where they stay etc etc. All very normal and very non rock'n'roll. We chatted about the Maitland Gaol, they had played a gig there a little while ago, and she seemed a little unstuck by that, I concurred. We also talked generally about this tour, where they were headed next, and the new addition of nights like these, which break up the music part of it, it was taking a toll a bit on Dave's voice. It was nice to chat to someone about the kind of thing I would normally love to chat to someone about after such an evening and have it be someone part of it - if you know what I mean! I took my book for Dave to sign (to Cathy, Best Wishes, Dave Graney), he seemed impressed I brought my own copy. We had minimal chitchat, and he posed shyly for a photo. I said goodbye to Clare and finally let my geeky fan-ness out by telling her I loved her theme tune (I really do!!) to Tony Martin's A Quiet Word With. She could have just said thanks, but she told me Tony liked to work with her, they both shared the same quirky sensibilities and he was very easy going to work with which she also liked. Brilliant!

As I left the gallery, it was still raining, but with thunder threatening much worse, I drove home happily, and the storm continued once I was safe inside. It was like something knew I needed to head out to partake in such a perfect evening - the kind that feeds my soul and puts a smile on my face.

Statespeare

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing this fantastic play one wet Saturday afternoon at the end of May. Statespeare starred four young actors from the Shake and Stir Theatre Company, I had not heard of them, but believe me, I will be keeping my eye out for them.

The play started with 2 actors in full bodysuits doing interpretive dance! Then a clich├ęd, odd drama teacher appears and addresses the audience as her class. She thanks the 'students' in the bodysuits for their interpretation of Justin Bieber (the wild years, or something like similar, I cannot recall!) She continues to address the class as the 2 'students' return dressed in school uniform - you immediately see they are class A geeks! The teacher then explains the subject matter for their next assignment: "Is Shakespeare still relevant?"

The geeks are very excited, but the excitement is short-lived when they realise they will partner up with 2 other students...2 students who are less than impressed with the assignment, school and everything else! They are D grade punks - the hair, tattoos, language and attitude. The interaction between the 4 is remarkable - funny, intense, touching and raw.

The play then takes you on their journey exploring various scenes (great scenes at that) from many, many plays from Shakespeare and in between they argue about what is or is not relevant. Most of the scenes are played out in Shakespeare's original language and done very well at that. Their discussions in between entertaining and engaging.

Statespeare is a wild ride - energetic, dramatic, hilarious and very well executed. The geeky girl channeled Tracey Flick from Election to perfection (possibly because she looked exactly like Witherspoon in that role!) and the un-geeky dude was the stand out performer - which showed how wonderful he really was as they were all brilliant. Add to that the great concept, witty script, Shakespeare's words and language, and stunning lighting and soundtrack - you can see why we left the Playhouse grinning ear to ear. Bravo!