SEEN : : OTHER [CHINESE]

The product of a series of workshops over the last few months, Alice Canton’s Other [Chinese] opened last week at Auckland’s Q Theatre.

Evolving from her solo work White (Other), Canton’s latest show is promoted as a live documentary. Featuring a large cast all of Chinese background; Other [Chinese] is an important look at what it is to be Asian in New Zealand.

Other [Chinese]’s presentation is simple yet striking. Before entering the loft of Q Theatre, audience members are advised to remove their shoes. A simple red stage takes up half the theatre, with one-level seating taking up the rest. The stage is slightly elevated, though maybe not quite enough to stop me from craning my neck throughout the show. Despite facilitating quite a big audience, Other [Chinese] manages to be rather intimate through the personal stories, answers and confessions that are presented over the course of the show.

Throughout the show videos are displayed on screens behind the stage, which are surprisingly emotive. The show opens with a montage, showcasing and twisting Chinese figures and words in the media. As footage from YouTube is displayed (I recognise an embarrassing amount), fun makeup videos turn slightly sinister when apologies for slanted and hooded eyes are made. These screens are later used to show interviews that range from empowering – a girl who is an 8th Chinese talks about her connection to her ancestors, to confronting – a couple of elderly Chinese individuals insist on the need for assimilation.

Other [Chinese] is made up of both performance pieces and quick fire questions. While the moments of performance are powerful and enjoyable – performance artist and poet Vanessa Crofskey is a standout – it’s the opposing questions Canton asks the cast that seem to reveal the most. In these moments Canton is literally conducting her workshop on stage. She asks the cast a range of questions – from “sweet or savoury” to “should the minimum wage be raised”? The cast members move to either the left or right of the stage, or even in the middle, depending on their stance. It’s easy to judge the people who stand on the side of the stage you disagree with, and I caught myself doing so on multiple occasions. However, Canton then asks them why they feel that way, and their answers, sometimes routed in their Chinese experiences, have me reassessing my own thinking.

Despite its serious topic, Other [Chinese] is rather humorous. Particularly entertaining performers worth noting are Paul Teo, an older member of the cast who offered multiple anecdotes, and Aiwa Pooamorn, a Thai mother whose articulation is bold and explicit.

My favourite part of Other [Chinese] was actually discovered after the show, while chatting to Canton. As I waited to say hello, I listened to a Chinese mother and daughter say how much the show meant to them and ask if they could get involved. It turns out this is a response Canton has received a few times, and one she welcomes. While Other [Chinese] consists of a core ensemble, other Chinese participants are welcome to join in for a night or two and take part in the opening dance and onstage questions. I feel like this solidifies the community vibe of Other [Chinese] and really highlights its importance.

As a (very) white person this show meant an unanticipated amount to me. I would urge New Zealanders of any ethnicity to see it.

Other [Chinese] shows at Q Theatre until this Saturday. Tickets are available here.

SEEN : : VELVET

 

More of a party than a performance, globally acclaimed Velvet is currently showing at Auckland’s Q Theatre. Promoted as a “divine discotheque circus”, Velvet is part of the Auckland Live International Cabaret Season.

Directed by Craig Ilott, Velvet has received pretty stellar reviews since its conception in 2015. An international show with an award-winning cast, Velvet’s promotion sets some rather high expectations. The show starts strong, and audience members would be forgiven for thinking they were in a nightclub rather than a theatre. All flashing lights and smoke machines, Velvet instantly sets the scene.

Preshow entertainment comes in the form of Joe Accaria, who grooves and DJs above the main performers throughout the entire show. The performance proper starts with Mirko Köckenberger, handstand acrobat. An absolute joy to watch, Köckenberger delivers his unique performance with both amazing skill and genuine enthusiasm.

Velvet at first seems to follow a set formula – one acrobatic performance, then one singing performance. A wacky hula hoop sequence by Craig Reed is followed by a soulful ballad from diva Marcia Hines. Hines is backed by two supporting vocalists/dancers – Kaylah Attard and Rechelle Mansour – who prove to be a major highlight as they manage to constantly hold my attention with perfectly timed moves and vigour.

About halfway through the show, Velvet steers away from acrobatics and seems to focus exclusively on singing. This seems odd, especially since there are at least two acrobatic entertainers who barely feature on the stage. I found this rather confusing, especially because the circus element of the show had been heavily promoted. Based on trailers from international performances of the show, I’m relatively confident this Auckland edition is missing some of the aerial acts that I imagine lift Velvet to the next level.

Velvet is without a doubt an incredibly fun show. Audience members are encouraged to dance and sing throughout, and I definitely saw some people who literally didn’t sit down. So despite its missing moments, Velvet is a good time. At $65 to $85 a ticket it definitely serves as a great night out for the more bourgie among us.

Velvet shows at Q Theatre until this Sunday. Tickets are available here.

PREVIOUS STORY
SEEN : : OTHER [CHINESE]

NEXT STORY
SEEN : : SOFT TISSUE

 

SEEN : : AMAZING GRACE NZIFF 2019

As you look soul square in the eyes; let it fulfil you and embrace you all at once; a chance to witness one of the most glorious voices to grace this earth

In 1972, Aretha Franklin; recently crowned the queen of soul and off the back of a number of top hit albums; returned to her roots and decided to record a gospel album with Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Whilst never emotionally leaving the church, artistically this took her back to her childhood roots, travelling with her father Reverend Clarence Franklin, singing gospel. It was no surprise when the album immediately became the greatest selling gospel album of all time.

This film follows the two day recording of the album, through the eyes of Sydney Pollack. Unfortunately, due to technological restrictions the film was never released. Now brought back into the world, you owe it to yourself to get along at see for yourself the true unadulterated power of Aretha Franklin. As Justin Chang of the LA Times wrote; “Aretha Franklin didn’t transcend the gospel or gospel music; as first her album and now this marvelous documentary remind us, she did more than most to fulfill its potential for truth and beauty, devotion and art.

Become privy to one of the most incredible performances of gospel we might ever be audience to. Aretha fills the room with an elegance that requires no speech nor introduction, no tome nor timbre. This is a unique movie going experience that can only be met with admiration. As you look soul square in the eyes; let it fulfil you and embrace you all at once; a chance to witness one of the most glorious voices to grace this earth. A tragic loss in 2018, Franklin will forever live on as the queen of soul – and this honest and open performance is a chance to; with soft tones and a full heart; appreciate one of the greatest to ever utter a chord.