Reviews from Australian shows May 2012

This dazzling show was sheer enjoyment. A potted ‘factional’ (i.e. a melding of fact and fiction) history of dance in Australia in the 1920’s and 30’s and featuring a terrific cast… Black and white footage of the period is cleverly montaged – some of it is a hoot… the show is a celebration of Australian dance history steeped in humour, fashion and feathers…. Inspired by Florence Broadhurst and based on the Ballets Russes, Erte etc are the numerous stylish costumes to die for. Oh! The beading! The jewels! The headdresses! Miss Phryne Fisher would love them…. The excellent set designs include folding screens and chairs, cushions and are objects which are also Ballets Russes/Broadhurst inspired… The four main cast members are sensational. Lea as fiery Madame Elle is inspiring and dynamic, a glorious performance. Demanding, witty and acerbic, she was sometimes caustic in her comments and at other times wistful, especially when pondering her inevitable future once she could no longer perform.

Wickedly wonderful, this is the glorious ‘factional’ story of Company Elle and its major place in Australian dance, where history blends with imagined autobiography. Required viewing.

Arts Hub May 2012

Liz Lea wrote, produced and performs in this part dance, part theatre, part stand up and part history piece based loosely on the world of Anna Pavlova….. The script is witty and the choreography energetic and tight. There are some beautiful archival footage of turn of the century Australia, old news reels and hilarious fashion shows from ‘back in the day’ that are interdispursed throughout the piece…. Liz Lea is an absolute treat on stage. She responds and reacts to the audience whilst keeping the character together, she is witty and controlled with both the dialogue and movement and is roundly supported by Miranda Wheen, Melanie Fayd’herbe de Maudave and Ash Bee who all perform with humor, wit and energy.

Aussie Theatre May 2012

Liz Lea & Co’s epic production (more costumes per second than you are ever likely to see) might well be an original Australian work of considerable significance.  Frequently hilarious! It touches upon cultural cringe with the Pavlova reference (although there wasn’t much local to aspire to at the time save Dad and Dave) but also celebrates what is characteristically Aussie with a perfect quota of appropriate irreverence. There is much poetic license taken with time, however, this makes the production all the more engaging

Canberra Contemporary Arts Space May 2012

Liz Lea has fashioned a disarmingly funny and delightfully elegant dance work…. She also assumes the persona of the exotic Madame Lou .. possesses a neat turn of phrase that, might have ensured her a second career as a stand-up comedian… This brilliant production with its elegant settings and costumes and affectionate insights into Australia’s dance history and entertainment taste at the time of Federation should be seen for a longer season,

City News Canberra 2012
TWO decades of dance and research have gone into the making of 120 Birds. It is a light-hearted mixture of dance history and career influences for its chief maker and performer, Liz Lea, who tells her stories with humour, style, words, movement and engrossing archival film.

She was inspired by many things – just about all of them are packed into a tight 75 minutes of narrative, thoughts and references, with never-ending costume changes.

But her key inspirations appear to be the amazing tours taken in the early part of the 20th century by the ballerina Anna Pavlova and the American modern dancer Ruth St Denis. When Pavlova came to Australia in the 1920s, she collected 120 birds, which proved quite a challenge to transport.

Lea has devised a storyline for her small company of four, including herself, in which they set off from Australia to travel the world. The fictional Company Elle discovers different cultures and new fashions in the ’20s and ’30s. They have adventures in love as well as the mechanics of travel itself.

At times, archival film dominates the storytelling with hilarious clips from early Australian productions and documentaries. In one of these, a staged exhibition of life-saving, along with some budgie-smuggling jokes, had the audience in fits of laughter.

The movement, choreographed by Lea, the performers and others, is lively and communicative in character and mood as well as information. It is crisply performed by Lea along with Melanie Fayd’herbe de Maudave, Miranda Wheen and Ash Bee.

The set and costume designs are a big part of the show. Designed by Lea and Gabriella Csanyi Wills, they range from elegantly stylish to heart-warmingly homemade, but always distinguished by beautiful, often exotic, fabrics.

This production is a labour of love, and that is probably the best way to view it. While it is packed with historic dance references, they are mostly left unexplained for the knowledgeable to pick out and the general observer to enjoy – especially the archival material which is chronologically all over the place but far too good to complain about.

There is an unlikely twist at the end, which I won’t spoil.

Sydney Morning Herald May 2012


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