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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Coming Back Out

Some LGBTI elders have lived through a  period when being LGBTI could result in imprisonment, enforced medical cures, loss of employment and rejection by family and friends. Even now, in a community which is under increasing scrutiny and attack, division still exists, and these same elders that should be respected, face exclusion and isolation in the day to day. 

Hosted by the much-loved Australian arts icon Robyn Archer, The Coming Back Out Ball will be presented at the Melbourne Town Hall as a premiere event of the 2017 Victorian Seniors Festival in association with the 3rd National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Conference.

TAGG Arts and Entertainment Editor Jessi Lewis spoke with Cameron Menzies over coffee at The Arts Centre, about this importance of this event, history and more recent times.

Let’s introduce ourselves.

My name is Cameron Menzies and I’m the event director of the Coming Back Out Ball.

And what is the Coming Back At Ball exactly?

It’s a celebration, essentially. It’s like an old school ball at the town hall.

It’s part of collaboration with All The Queen’s Men. For the last year, they’ve been doing a monthly dance club for LGBTIs over sixty-five. From that, it’s grown into a more formal celebration as part of the Seniors Festival, and also as part of the third national aging LGBTI conference. It’s now turned itself into this ball of 500 guests at Town Hall on the 7th of October.

Do you think some of the importance of the actual event is the misrepresentation or the overrepresentation of youth in the gay and queer community?

I think obviously there is a focus on youth. But, what we’re finding is that a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different walks of life have bowed out of the so-called ‘gay community’ – or whatever that means – many years ago, even though they were really instrumental in helping us create it. And because there’s nowhere for them to go, there’s nothing to do that’s specifically geared at them. 

So, it sort of is addressing the youth, but not at the expense of them. It’s just creating an event that is particularly for LGBTI, for over-sixty fives. It’s not exclusive to them – anyone can go – but the event is created for that age group.

What are some of the other important factors of the actual event? For you personally, what do you think it gives?

I think visibility is a huge issue for that age group as well, but also visibility in terms of people having fun at that age. There are a whole lot of considerations around getting that kind of an age group into a room.

It’s also about getting people with some sort of life experience together. Even though everyone has their own individual story, it’s going to be a room full of people that have had a life experience, just purely historically, and their journeys coming out.

I think some of those big issues are addressed monthly with the dance club, but I think this will be a great event for these people to come to. It gives them something to look forward to; it gives them something to come to. It also gives them an event that is specifically designed for their interests and their needs.

Who are some of the entertainers that you’ve got?

We’ve got a really great, broad range of entertainment. We tried to stick to LGBTI performers, and predominantly over sixty-five.

Our MC is Robyn Archer. She’s also performing on the night. Carlotta’s agreed to come down from Sydney to performance for us, which will be great.

And then we’ve got people like Deborah Cheetham. She’ll talk about her experiences, but she’ll also sing opera for us.

It’s a really broad variety of what’s happening. We’ve got the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus coming to perform for us. We’ll have our own orchestra on the night.

So that real sort of old school glamour?

Yes. So we can go from really old school balls with orchestras, and then after all of that live proceeding happens, the dance club that have been working with All The Queen’s Men will do a lead dance. Then we turn into a nightclub at the end, which will be fun.

There’s such legacy within the older, elderly community and the queer community with the 1980s. How would you say that they could pass on that knowledge to the younger queer generation? I think a lot of them don’t quite understand that they’ve have gone through so much, you know –  Stonewall, AIDS epidemic, and the rest of it.

Yes. Predating all of that, there’s a fabulous woman that will come and speak at Coming Back Out Ball. She was a champion shearer, and she lived her life out as a lesbian for a long, long time, so even pre-dating eighties sort of history. She will be at the ball and she wanted to shear a sheep for us! We can’t achieve that for her, but she will definitely be at the ball and she’ll be talking about her experiences as well.

But I think what the issue is – or what a consideration of this is – is that people are not taking these oral stories down. You look at things like Holocaust history and there are a lot of oral histories being recorded. As part of the night, there will be vox pops moments, and people will get up and tell parts of their stories. I think that will help in terms of making the people that have the stories feel like there’s an interest, but also we’ll also be able to capture these stories.

Why do you think that is?

Maybe it’s because there are no groups that are coming out and meeting en masse just to talk to people. I’ve done a little bit of work with Living Positive and they have the speaker’s bureau where people living with HIV go and speak about HIV to groups. You know, there aren’t necessarily those groups available because it’s such a disparate sort of group of people that have moved into nursing homes, or who are still in their homes but are finding it hard to get out.

That isolation would be incredibly difficult as well.

Yes. We’ve just spoken to Uber and they’ll come on board to help us get our guests over sixty-five home. So, when they’re leaving around ten o’clock at night, they won’t need to worry about public transport or the cost of a cab.

Are there any other corporate sponsors of the event that have surprised you by coming to the floor?

There’s a couple that are still kind of under wraps a bit because we’re still trying to work them through. But everyone that we’ve spoken to – we originally started with All The Queen’s Men, and we went to the City of Melbourne to talk to them about it – they’ve since taken it on as one of their major events. I feel like everybody that we’ve spoken with has come on with generosity and absolute interest in what we’re trying to achieve, but also in an acknowledgement that this group of people do need support and do need to be visible.

Corporate stuff aside, the over sixty-fives don’t have to pay. It’s a three-course meal; it’s an entertaining night. The state government, the City of Melbourne and all our other sponsors have come on board to essentially take the food and beverage bill off us.

 Is there anything else you want to touch upon today?

There will be some poignant moments, but it’s a celebration of this group of people. It’s about understanding the experiences of people going into nursing homes. Some of them have to go back into the closet and deny what they’ve lived their entire lives just to feel safe within a nursing home context. I understand the Uniting Church has just done a whole lot of work on trying to make nursing homes safer spaces. We have real instances of people having to go back into the closet because they don’t feel safe where they’ve been allocated. That’s a major concern.

It’s horrible to think about that.

Yes, it has a far-reaching social impact. But I think it’s about having fun and really acknowledging these findings. Marriage equality comes into it still.

The elephant in the room.

Yes. That’s not the major focus of the ball, but it’s certainly one of the components.

But I think the biggest thing is that it’s a party; there is a serious reason for the party. There will be some really poignant moments, but it’s also not dumbing it down. It’s not putting on, for want of a better term, an “old folks” show, because sixty-five is not that old. 

That’s what we’re classifying as being an elder because that’s just legally what it is. But a lot of our guests will be in their eighties. They’ll be greeted and looked after the entire night. We have a volunteer base of about forty people that will come on board. We don’t want anyone to be a wallflower. So, if there are people sitting by themselves, there’ll be hosts just to talk to people; or, if someone needs a bit more physical help somewhere, they’ll be available. These forty volunteers are all vetted, and all inducted for the evening to be there on hand just to help people and talk to people, and make everyone feel welcome.

I think the biggest thing is that the underlying issue is really serious, but it’s a fun night to acknowledge and honour the LGBTI elders that have fought and advocated and lived their lives, and need to be seen.

The Coming Back Out Ball takes place at Melbourne Town Hall on the 7th October for more info click here

The House Of Dior

Dior, luxurious, timeless, elegant and more than just fashion. This current exhibition served up by National Gallery Of Victoria spans the history of this iconic fashion house from 1947 to 2017. It is a sumptuous affair, and the spectacle is at first spell binding and decedent. The House Of Dior is an exhibition that one should put aside an hour or two to really take in. The perfect excursion for a lazy Sunday afternoon, or take it all in as part of NGV Friday Night’s Up late, either way, this exhibition is a once in a life time experience and should not be missed.

Images by  Timothy Treasure Photography for more info head to the NGV website  


Night Dance

The nightclub, a place where us adults meet, dance and frolic under the cover of darkness and flashing lights. Jaded memories of the most awesome nights out, easily and often impaired by any number of substances. A study of this phenomenon, the human behaviour indicative of these environments, particularly through dance, an interesting dichotomy with a creative development thats surely not bereft of stimulus.

This work doesn’t immediately hit you with its brilliance, opening with scenes not under pinned by music, solely focused on the body aesthetic, played out in the time taken for our eyes to adjust to darkness. The continued gyration and overtly sexual movements here teeter upon the overly repetitious. It makes sense, and conceptually serves purpose, though falls pray, as dance tends,  to being a little high brow. 

From here however the work grows, the lighting intensifies and the pulsating underscore does slowly emerge. A play, for the most part between Lilian Steiner, Gregory Lorenzutti and Melanie Lane three fine dancers, their skill on show. Though for the most part if not for the choreography then for the subject matter this performance could benefit from most of their training being left at the door.

At 3am on any given dance floor in any nondescript nightclub, shit is starting to get loose, and so too should these dancers.

A succession of cameos that continue to feature, help build narrative and progress the performance. Each disruptive, provoking and at time predatory. Here we see both the light and the darker side of club culture, in final scenes where a cataclysmic mess of odd balls and misfits come together elating, a powerful image.

If not in the sense that we would normally attribute, this work is made by and celebrates community.   

Technically brilliant, the lighting design and its execution, is the stuff of wet dreams for many a performance maker. When this design transgresses to form part of the costuming,   effective and borderline brilliant, though needs a little more refinement. Similarly, the soundtrack could have been just that little louder, we should feel the base rumble through us.  

This work is bold, but needs to be bolder.  It’s almost, almost there and will surely go deeper and really blossom over the nights of it season at Arts House. For lovers of dance, this performance leaves you wanting very little, so go check it out. For more info or to book you tickets click here.


2017 NICHE

Kicking round the local theatre scene and treading the boards both locally and further afield for around a decade, Elbow Room have once again delivered a potent work, dripping with their trademark darwinistic style. Niche bridges such far divides as our evolution from primate to man to now, where in an almost canabilistic fashion we seek out, hunt and consume the popular culture corporations feed us and is sought through social media feeds.

It’s fanciful stuff, sometimes dwelling that moment to long on a single point of contention, to only, secondly laters break into the most extravagant musical interludes that would make even the most seasoned drag queen moist at the crutch.

The music plays a huge part in this performance, the creative love child of Eryn Jean Norvill, Marcel Dorney and Robin Waters. If ever their careers in theatre fail (which is not at all likely), they could easily break out into the world of popular music and production- move over Gaga.

A two hander, with the performances of Emily Tomlins and Erym Jean Norvill impressive particularly in final scenes where the power play between these two woman channels just a little  Baby Jane. The on stage action is constantly disrupted by projections of both actresses, taking on roles that in direct response challenge, mimic and criticise the Australian identity for want of a better definition. These mise en scènes providing a much need comedic antidote;  

Lighting is used effectively, however the production team may have spent more time assessing how the performance, and it set respond to and sits within in space. Site lines, here are an unfortunate issue. 

For all the glitter, the performance does perhaps reach an uneasy and to early crescendo, with final scenes missing several exits off this freeway of cataclysmic exploitation it. But not with standing, the proceeding fifty minutes of theatre is well worth the ticket price.

I first discovered the work of Elbow Room nine years ago, then presenting upstairs at the Lithuanian Club in North Melbourne, as part of Melbourne Fringe. After what has been close enough to a decade,  to now reconnect with this company, has been a privilege, and stands as an example of the strength, resilience and talent present here in Melbourne. They may be continuing to reach maturity and the depth that other contemporaries have reached, but this work is certainly a step in the right direction and they are damn close to delivering us a knock out performance.

You will walk away from this one, barely able to register what has just transpired, in the most beautiful way. With the banging soundtrack playing on loop inside your head for days to come. Niche plays Northcote Town Hall this week till Saturday, get on it folks.

For more info, or to book tickets click here

Livres D’Artiste

 Art On The Page grants a rare opportunity to view significant works of European and Australian lineage, that more often spend their time hidden amongst the Rare Book Collection housed by  University Of Melbourne. You stumble across the exhibition tucked away in a second floor annex, soft jazz plays in the background, at odds with the frenetic energy of campus just outside. These pieces trace from our European forefathers,  through to artists and illustrators of a contemporary Australian genre. The influence and similarity between past and present provide continuity and a tangible through line.  Curator Susan Millard spoke with TAGG.

Susan introduce us to the exhibition and the idea that led to it’s presentation? 

We have had this collection for more than 20 years and we knew we had to do something with book arts, and it morphed a bit and it also changed. So this exhibition is essentially about book making and about artist, who have used the book form as their medium. We are looking at the 20th century, looking at artists such as Matisse and Picasso a whole lot of those people who were working together and collaborating. It’s about that tradition and then how that has influenced the Australian artists, and how their book works are very influenced by those European artists.

So, where to begin? Is there are a work here you could describe as being the genesis for this exhibition? 

The first thing to talk about is Petr Herel, He’s Czechoslovakian; his work is just really delicate and beautiful. He came out to Australia in about 1973, and then took over the Graphic Investigation Workshop in 1979. He  inspired others through his teaching of all of these book making and print making techniques, and got them all inspired and off they went. This is sort of where it all starts. 

The next sort of big step is the Melbourne scene, and it really mirrors I think I found as I researched, we’ve had for ages, and known about them and talked to them about it for ages. The one thing I found is that they were all of European background and they all know each other and they all sort of collaborate together, and they are not just artists but writers as well.

Let’s also talk about Bruno Leti, who does a lot of work. He does painting, print work a bit of digital photography stuff, and it’s quite stunning.

And what would you put forward as an explanation for the link between these two sets of artists and the European influence we are discussing?

I think its actually because they are European or their background is European, although not entirely. David Fraser does these beautiful woodcuts, and has done some work with Paul Kelly. He’s been doing a lot of that collaboration too. But he I don’t think is European. His work is still beautiful, so he gets the guernsey in terms of the scene.

But Theo Strasser who is Dutch Bruno Leti, George Matoulas. I know from talking to people, that when they go overseas and they go into galleries, these are the people they are looking at.

I like the idea of the artists getting together and collaborating, and thats what they do and that’s where this beautiful work comes from. Because they do all get together and collaborate. But the other side of this exhibition is the Classic and people taken that and responding to it. But the main thing about this whole exhibition is that its abstract. Australia has been hopeless with abstract art. We don’t love it; we are really cringey towards it and I really don’t know why.

Are there any perhaps more unusual works in the exhibition that are of particular interest? 

I don’t know about unusual. I want to talk about Sonia Delaunay. For a start, its a bit of a head call to get woman, but a lot is more of the male thing. Its just extraordinary. She did abstract art but she did fashion. She made things,  she had a boutique and did a lot of fashion stuff but when she did drawing it was really abstract and I just loved it. Her work here is quite late – from around 69. But she did a lot of early work, she was from pre-war England, but she’s Russian and had problems during the war.  

Delaunay and artists like Alberto Agnelli and Sophie Taeuber-Ap – they were all hanging out together in a commune in Southern France during the war. They were very lucky to escape some of them, really. They just did these works together and they are just magnificent. 

Finishing off, what do you think is the greatest power art holds in terms of the global community?

Its about that creativity, and if you don’t have that creativity somewhere you are in trouble. I think that is a problem with the world today. It’s been taken over by the bean counters. A lot of management is determined by the bottom line. Creativity is almost frowned upon now, its a bit depressing. You can imagine a dystopian future where art is completely repressed or banned, and that’s never a good thing for the community. 

Art On The Page is on show at The Noel Shaw Gallery, University of Melbourne now until January 14th, for more info click here

Pile Of Bones

From darkness, they emerge as a twisting sensation of bodies curled. As the lights slowly rise, so too does this performance unfurl.

There’s something maleficent,  rhythmic and disruptive to the choreography. Brash and unapologetic, the performance continues. Repeated moments that allude to the more classic are elbowed aside. Dancers shift from character to object  and from lucid vision to solid form Through various scenes a loose but clear narrative established. Stephanie Lake Company’s Pile Of Bones, is a direct and all together personal meditation upon themes of genesis, desire and the human condition. 

Each dancer, commands the respect of audience. The detail and precision of which they apply here, incredible. The choreography forms a detailed and intrinsic language that is beautiful and loaded, bringing you inwardly to a place that is realised and authentic. Here we see a display of the way in which we can mould, train and teach the human body to communicate without words.

But amid the refinement, the creators have also allowed room for each dancer’s own personality to feature. There is a cheeky and playful element that rebuts the darker and more pressing subject matter being examined; an intelligent choice that brings further shade. 

Pile Of Bones works intelligently with lighting and owns a keen sense of spatial awareness. Choices made in terms of the soundtrack do border on the cliche, but the unique and altogether contemporary approach taken here manages to just skirt this outcome, for its production values the performance, made all the more refreshing. 

Some scenes do detract from the performance as a whole, whether due to the introduction of props, or a need for more time in development, a question to be asked. But for all the detraction that these brief moments introduce, they also achieve something else, bringing audience into a new place and introduce new trains of thought, to an already heady and cluttered mix of ideas.

Dance work, such as Pile of Bones, is electric, white hot and of universal appeal. It presents the perfect example of dance and its form, in the here and now. Thought provoking, and highly recommended, it’s playing this week at Arts House, North Melbourne. For tickets or more info click here

The Real And Imagined History Of The Elephant Man

Melbourne audiences have recently been offered up a plethora  of theatrical works made in the same gothic style, brooding, incomplete and fanciful experiences. This work may however remain proof that a tight production, abundance of smoke effects, emotive sound, lights and everything else at your disposal, won’t always prove enough to wow an audience. 

The dramatic exploitation of physically disabled characters. Parallels drawn between London in years proceeding the industrial revolution and our present, here unspoken truth of climate change. These parallels between place and person proof enough of the works artistic merit.  But when a vast majority of art and theatre now collectively seek to push an agenda or incite conversation, each voice has to be  heard louder than the last.

The script limits the depth of these characters, none granted enough premise to foster connection. A radical empathy or sense there of, desperately missing. Having single performers take to multiple characters here has back fired, the resulting effect is confusing, oft missing the mark. The heightened sense of reality which builds in opening scenes, seemingly promises something great; but dissipates quickly. With all the important bits like character, connection, back story and plot lost, the performance canters along and soon falls into its own fail safe rhythm.

There is no great ending or resonate sensation left post performance. Theatre centres around and is at its best a study into the human condition. Not just a moment, but something which is documented, archived and kept. This work aught to be so much more, so much better than it is. Could it be that classic story telling is dead or now lacks some of its resonance? Could a fresh approach to this subject matter, more time or a more intuitive knowledge of the creative fabric that is Melbourne, given us what this performance should have been?

This work has great bone structure though little else. See it for the spectacle, but don’t look to close, nor think to deeply- this is decent theatre, but still leaves much to be desired.

The Real And Imagined History Of The Elephant Man is now playing at Malthouse Theatre, for more info or to book you tickets click here

Louis Baker, Soul Seeker

New Zealand’s music industry just keeps serving up some of the finest contemporary artists we have any where in the world right now. Louis Baker, who hails from Wellington is yet another artist at the centre of this new wave, clearly on the verge of greatness. Having just released his “sensual new video” the accompany to his latest single Addict, Melbourne next month will have the chance to catch him live at The Grace Darling Hotel. TAGG had the chance to speak with Baker about his sound, process and the music industry at large.

What was your inspiration for this latest song?

I’ve always had a thing for soul, and electronic music. Addict is like the love child of both of these fascinations.

How would you describe your musical style, who are your biggest influences

My inspirations are broad, but mainly people such as D’angelo, Jeff Buckley, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Joni Mitchell.

Describe a world bereft of music, could you imagine such a place?

Some have said that music is a moral law, or the food of love. I see it in this way too. All I know is, if music didn’t exist, this world wouldn’t be as vibrant or as bright.

Why the shift from your past work to these more electronic sounds, is this reflective of trends in music that are emerging?

I guess it’s subjective. For me, it’s about expression. I’ve never really wanted to be put in a box when it comes to my music. I like what I like. If something sonic moves me, then I just go with it. That’s where the magic happens, in following your intuition.

How did you find yourself in the music industry, what led you to this point?

Good question. From time to time, I remind myself of the reasons why I started playing music in the first place. It was all about playing for the love. Because you had something to say. Looking back, there were so many late nights during my teens, rehearsing with bands. Working hard into the early hours to get a chorus sounding tight. Trying to get the music in the pocket because you dreamt that one day you would tour the world and share it with multitudes of people. Then all of a sudden it’s 10 years later and you’ve toured around the world, playing the music you love, and you realise what an awesome ride it’s already been, and how there’s still heaps more of the journey to come, and that you still do it for the same reasons you started out with.

Yes, it’s simply the love of music that led me here.

How is the music industry doing across the ditch? Has the rise of artists like Lorde helped or hindered other New Zealand musicians?

I think it’s been good for NZ. It has certainly shined a light on us, and reminded the masses that we have some amazing talent down here. To be three times platinum in the US is no small feat. I admire her writing and artistry and wish her well.

Louis Baker will be playing on the 20th of September at The Grace Darling to book your tickets or for more info click here 

Merciless Gods

It’s so refreshing to see some great theatre being produced, though calling Little Ones stage adaption of the work by Christos Tsiolkas “great” seems almost reductive. It’s impossible not to be simultaneously blown away yet also drawn inwardly into this performance. Each of the spiralling narratives builds to an unsettling end, as all of the sexual tension explodes and enigmatic energy comes simmering to the surface. 

This is the gritty underside of Australia, the kind of places, people and situations that are brought down and into disrepute by our main stream contemporaries and media outlets. It takes no prisoners and it’s bleak bordering on the dystopian. This sense achieved not by painting the big picture but instead tapping into the psychological landscape that lies just below. 

The ensemble give in to their respective characters, the over lapping and playing of multiple roles by a single performer is at times a confusing, but deliberate choice. Many times over, you experience just drifting away and becoming lost in many of the heavy passages of text and about this, there is something meditative. Other times, you are brought back into the moment so viscously that you are reduced to tears. The subject matter is unflinching, a terminally ill man who has given consent for his wife and children to administer a lethal dose or the bombing of a gay sauna and rampant sexual exploitation just some of the many themes. 

The eye to detail that has been applied to this production by each creator is evident and the picture they manage to paint proves a sumptuous backdrop.  The stage forms a sharp and abrupt shape that teeters out from a rich red velvet curtain, the audience flanked on two sides,  everything here has been edited down to a distinct colour pallet of blue orange yellow and red. The lighting design is second to none, it’s subtle and its refinement gives further depth to an already layered work. 

Nothing can prepare you for this level of awesomeness, it is the very best independently produced locally made theatre we have seen this so far year. Not for the faint hearted or easily offended, this work is important and will be spoken of for sometime to come. An easy prediction to clean up at next year Green Room Awards, Merciless Gods is now playing at Northcote Town Hall.

For more info or to book your tickets click here


Tina Del Twist Gold Class

Tina Del Twist, a gin soaked pickle of a woman, well past her prime, a washed up has been in the most endearing of ways. Though she maybe in serious need of a permanent stint at The Betty Ford Clinic she can still belt out a number like few can, and her show is still the most enjoyable kind of late night, boozey cabaret.

From the moment Del Twist steps onto the stage, her audience are involved with little they can do to escape. As the performance continues we are let privy to more of her story, her retelling is nothing short of crass and dirty, sporting the greatest kind of vulgarity, Her command of the space and way in which the whole venue is utilised, simply brilliant. Mid show, she stumbles through the audience and off into the dark, then only to bring the last row of empty seats, crashing to the floor proudly proclaiming, a sell out show. 

Tina del Twist is the creative makings of Wes Snelling, a man who has a long standing relationship with the Melbourne cabaret scene. Tina del Twist: Gold Class really pulls together the most recognised of Tina’s repertoire from the past decade or so. Testament to his comic genius, the material remains fresh and delivers big on belly laughs. Joined on stage by Twist (Stephen Weir) who accompanies on guitar, matching Tina’s voice should be a challenge, but his playing is brilliant and these two are equally as awe inspiring. The connection between each performer is evident and this really does bring joy.

The work doesn’t try to go to deeply into any particular line of conversation. Though it is slightly ocker, it doesn’t really tap into political or social issues, it’s pure entertainment, a great late night foray. Vocally bang on, tightly composed, we need more of this and we need it now.

This performance took place at Map57 in St Kilda, to keep up to breast with  the work of Del Twist click here