Rachel Pupazzoni

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Review: Tragédie

I saw Olivier Dubois’ Tragédie the other day.  I was an invited guest at the 100th performance. It was lovely to be invited.

It’s billed as ‘A meticulously constructed minimalist work that brings together women and men in a chorus of hypnotically repetitive movements backed by a pounding bass.’

What that little précis doesn’t mention is the  n u d i t y.

My friend who came with me said at the end of the 90 minute performance, “that was an assault on all my senses”.  I have to agree

I really want to keep this website positive, so I’m reluctantly writing this review – because I didn’t like it.

So, some positives:

The dancers performed non stop for 90 minutes. That’s very impressive.

Mostly the lighting concept was really nice. (But not the strobe lighting)

Some people liked it because they gave a standing ovation.

My favourite bit was when the dancers came out for the curtain call – dressed. They actually looked more attractive with a little bit of clothing on.

If you like nudity, marching, incessant beats and strobe lighting, this show is for you.

If you don’t, it’s not.


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The Archibald Prize: my review

I recently made my way to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to look at the annual Archibald Prize exhibition.

The Archibald is given to the best portrait each year.  The subjects of the works are normally ‘distinguished’ (read ‘somewhat famous’) people.

The trustees of the gallery choose the winner.  They’ve been doing it since 1921 when the competition began.  It’s named after JF Archibald (a journalist who created the Bulletin magazine and later was a trustee of the gallery) who wanted to encourage portraiture, support artists and ensure great Australians’ faces were immortalised in art.

There’s also the Packing Room prize, chosen by the staff who unpack and hang all the works.  That tradition started in 1991.  Before that though, in 1988, the People’s Choice award was created.

So, this year’s Archibald went to Louise Hearman who painted Barry Humphries.  It’s oil on masonite and is 69.5cm tall and a metre wide.  This is her first entry every into the competition.



A woman and her daughter gaze at the winning entry by Louise Hearman 

I like how this piece is all about Barry.  His image appears almost luminescent against the glossy black background.  His face looks warm, understanding, inviting.  Exactly how many people I’m sure imagine Barry Humphries.


‘Barry’ by Louise Hearman

I like the simplicity of this work.  It’s such a contrast to the characters Barry Humphries plays.  The glasses, purple hair and bright clothes of Dame Edna are nowhere in sight here.


Simple and beautiful.


The Packing Room prize went to Betine Fauvel-Ogden for her work featuring celebrity chef George Calombaris.  The work is oil on linen and is 124.5cm tall and 1.1m wide.  This is her first time entering the competition.

George Colombaris

‘George Calombaris, masterchef’ by Betine Fauvel-Ogden


I used to love the TV show Masterchef.  This year is the first time I haven’t watched the series.  No real reason why.  Just life and my changing TV viewing habits.  On the show George Calombaris appears to be the junior of the judges.  Mostly because of his age and size really.  This painting depicts him as a tough kind of guy.  He means business.  I’m sure this is an accurate representation of him, but I feel like that’s not the George we see on TV.  I like that we’re seeing this side of him.  Because no doubt it’s those ‘tough’ qualities that has enabled him to have his success.

I love the golden yellow behind him in this painting.  It’s warm and inviting.  A nice contrast to the expression on his face. I also like the bright beads on his wrist.  It brings in another side of his personality.  He’s more than a chef.

The People’s Choice winner is announced in early September.  I, like many others, cast my vote after looking at all the finalists.

People's Choice

Visitors voting for their favourite entry in this year’s Archibald Prize

My pick this year is ‘Deng’ by Nick Stathopoulos.


Perfection in my eyes

The painting looks like a photograph.  (It reminds me of the painting of Asher Keddie a couple of years ago that also looked like a photograph). It’s breathtaking.  I know I was not alone in loving this work.  Many people around me commented on how great it is.

You may not know Deng Adut’s story.  He was a refugee from Sudan.  A former child soldier, he put himself through law school at Western Sydney University (he was featured on an ad for the uni which you may have seen on social media) and is now a refugee advocate and community leader.  It took Stathopoulos four months to paint this image using acrylic and oil on linen.  It’s 1.37m by 1.37m.

The artist says, “You really need to have the subject there in front of you to capture that life-spark and commanding presence.  Those eyes, those scars, tell a story no ad could ever convey.”

It’s a stunning piece of work.

I liked a lot of the works.  Here are a few more of my favourites.

The usuerpers

‘The usurpers (self portrait)’ by Michael McWilliams

This portrait is pretty incredible.  It depicts introduced plants and animals, the artist says have damaged our environment, fashioned into a self portrait.  It’s a cool idea.

Michael says, “I chose to paint a self-portrait as I thought it unfair to ask any individual to be included in a painting called “the usurpers”.”

It’s acrylic on linen and is 2m by 1.6m.


‘The cost’ by Abdul Abdullah

The story of this painting is what really drew me in.  I like the subject’s face, the sadness it shows.  I also like the use of colour in this work.  Craig Campbell was a police officer working on the day of the Cronulla riots.  He saved the lives of two people that day.  Later, he was denied a bravery award, he lost his home, his marriage fell apart and he now suffers PTSD.

Abdul says, “I didn’t want to paint him as a knight in shining armour, but rather as he is: a rough, battle-hardened old warrior who lives with the ghosts of a lifetime of trauma.”

It’s oil and resin on board and is 180cm wide.

There's no humour in darkness

‘There’s no humour in darkness’ by Kirsty Neilson

The sadness in this painting is so confronting.  A man we see on our TV screens, Garry McDonald, so happy and making us laugh, is not always like that. This painting shows that so clearly, but compassionately.

Kirsty says, “Garry graciously invited me down to his home in Berry where we walked around his beautiful property and talked. This portrait represents the state of never thinking you’re good enough. Anxiety and depression take you to such a dark place, which is illustrated by the use of black spray paint for the background.”

It’s oil and spray paint on canvas and is 193cm by 159cm.

Wendy Whitely

‘Wendy Whitely’ by Natasha Bieniek


Don’t be fooled by the lack of scale here.  This painting is actually tiny.  The artist has so meticulously painted such fine detail in this work.  Look at those leaves, the flowers, the hair.  I love the subject’s face here.  There’s a smoothness to it.

Natasha says. “I recognised her instantly. After our first conversation, I knew that I had to paint her. I’d spent the last 18 months painting inner-city landscapes and I couldn’t believe that she had spent more than 20 years transforming unused railway land into a living sanctuary.”

It’s oil on wood and is 13.5cm by 18.5cm.  (See, tiny!)

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of some of my highlights of the Archibald Prize finalists for 2016.  You can see all the finalist entries on the gallery’s website.

Please let me know your favourite work.

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Bangarra: A review

As if imitating, through performance, a recent tragedy for the Banagrra clan, its latest season was an evening of melancholy, considered thought, confronting imagery and a standing ovation to end.

OUR land people stories is the company’s latest triple bill of contemporary works.  It’s dedicated to David Page, the company’s music director who died suddenly in April.

The evening opened with a piece created in 2013 by choreographer Jasmin Sheppard.  Macq chronicles the impact of Governor Lachlan Macqaurie on Indigenous Australia.  The first scene; a woman wailing over a dead body.  I suddenly realised, this was not going to be the fun night I’d promised my fellow ticket-holder.

Macq was first performed in 2013 as part of Dance Clan 3.  David Page composed the music.  So no doubt for the company, this was an emotional piece to perform.  And emotional and confronting it certainly was to watch.

From the wailing woman, to the mad scene of Macquarie – this was tough viewing.  I inhaled a short, sharp breath when the lights faded up on what appeared to be three bodies hanging. As the light grew brighter, but was still dim with an eery glow, I realised the three men were being held by three other men.  But this imagery was clear, and in your face.  These men depicted the many hangings ordered by Macquarie.  As the six men moved, creating even more confronting images, I began to relax into the piece and eventually found it beautiful, as the light fell on their bodies while they created the fluid shapes.  It was the best part of the piece.

The second piece in the evening’s repertoire was new work Miyagan, created by company dancers Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith.  They describe it as a ‘poignant dance story mapping their cultural heritage in a discovery of their family background on Wiradjuri country in New South Wales’.

The standout for me in this piece was the set.  Designed by Head of Design Jacob Nash, this set grew and improved.  It starts as a couple of huge branches hanging in the middle of the stage, with giant feathers on them.  Bathed in golden light, it was striking.  As the piece went on, more and more feathered branches  joined the original.  It was very impressive.

feathered set

The feathered set of Miyagan. Image from Bangarra Facebook page.

I liked seeing what I would describe as ‘traditional’ steps in the choreography.  As a non-Indigenous person, I won’t claim to know anything about traditional Indigenous dance steps, but I felt like I saw a lot more of it in this piece than in the first.  And I liked that.

Helpmann and ARIA award winner Paul Mac created the music for this work.  It was varied, with changes in pace throughout.  Which was good.  The dancing reflected that.  But the music/sound was way too loud.  It made watching this piece uncomfortable and it distracted me.  (Am I getting too old?)

The final piece was Artistic Director, Stephen Page’s, Nyapanyapa.  It’s based on the work and life story of the artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu from North East Arnhem Land.  Composer Steve Francis, who’s created scores for eight Bangarra productions, created the sound for this piece.

This work had what I came to see.   A story about Aboriginal life told simply and beautifully, the sounds of Indigenous voices and music, stunning costumes and lots of bodies on stage performing rich, energetic, emotional and interesting dance.  He’s been Artistic Director for 25 years, but Stephen Page has still got it.  This piece showcased what Bangarra is all about.  Sharing rich and diverse Aboriginal culture with people like me.


Bangarra dancers perform Stephen Page’s Nyapanyapa. Image from Bangarra Facebook page.

Again, Jacob Nash’s set was fantastic.  What better way to pay homage to an artist, than to have massive artworks on display.  Simple in their design, each piece was striking in its impact.  The traditional artworks were modernised too, with a few of them doubling up as canvases for other images to be projected on to.

The piece was emotional, but uplifting.  It was the perfect end to a night dedicated to one of the key people in the creation and significance of Bangarra.  David Page.

The audience applauded and stood with appreciation as the team involved in creating this cultural event took to the stage, including artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu.

OUR land people stories tours nationally.

It opens in Perth on July 20, Canberra on July 28, Brisbane on August 12 and Melbourne on September 1.

Macq (2013)
Choreography: Jasmin Sheppard
Music: David Page
Set Design: Jacob Nash
Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design: Matt Cox
Cultural Consultant: Frances Bodkin

Miyagan (2016)
Choreography: Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley
Music: Paul Mac
Set Design: Jacob Nash
Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design: Matt Cox
Cultural Consultant: Diane McNaboe, Lynette Riley

Nyapanyapa (2016)
Choreography: Stephen Page
Music: Steve Francis
Set Design: Jacob Nash
Costume Design: Jennifer Irwin
Lighting Design: Matt Cox

More information about this performance and the company at Bangarra’s website.

*Images from Banagrra Dance Theatre Facebook page