2012 in Review: Entertainment
A trailblazing Brit celebrating a decade in the business, a phenomenal debut album, a thrilling modern take on a Seneca horror story, a hypnotic solo dance piece, and the ultimate blonde on stage: 2012 was a vivid and inspiring year for arts and entertainment. Garrett Bithell selects the best offerings.
BEST MALE POP ARTIST: PATRICK WOLF
UK singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf celebrated ten years of music-making with a stripped-down retrospective album – Sundark and Riverlight – which was preceded by an Australian tour. Wolf landed on the scene in 2003 with his debut LP Lycanthropy, a glorious synthesis of folk-pop musings and aggressive electronic textures, buttressed by lashings of violin, viola, harp and harpsichord. Since then he has become something of a new renaissance man; a multi-instrumentalist who has wooed the avant-garde set with his fiercely original repertoire that traverses genres from dark industrial folk to techno pop, often fusing electronic sampling with classical arrangements.
BEST FEMALE POP ARTIST: LADY GAGA
While I’m lucky I’ve never had to look to a pop star for strength, Lady Gaga is clearly speaking to millions and millions of bullied kids around the world, and that is relevant. It’s especially relevant because it does seem as though she is the lynchpin of a burgeoning movement towards an appreciation of individuality and eccentricity. It’s suddenly cool to be ‘gaga’, and that’s big news. Previously, there was so few pop stars – if any – worthy of being called a role model. You only have to listen to interviews with Nicki Minaj or Rihanna to realise this. Further, while Gaga is overtly sexual like all pop stars, her brand of sexuality is empowered and strong. Whereas Katy Perry looks like a 50s pin-up and Britney a blow-up doll, Gaga never dresses or dances for men. Men dance for Gaga. She is also terrifyingly good live performer, exemplified by her Born This Way Ball.
BEST INDIE ARTIST: PERFUME GENIUS
Perfume Genius is the music-making moniker of Seattle-based singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas. Emerging on MySpace in 2008, his largely overlooked 2010 debut album Learning was a brilliant suite of damage and dysfunction, where he called the shots on a brutal checklist of subjects from drug abuse and suicide, to molestation and his fight for acceptance from those closest to him. The minimalist piano-based ballads were buttressed by an innately compelling ability to convey context, setting and detail. His equally impressive sophomore album Put Your Back N 2 still forages in the darker recesses of humanity, but this time hope seems to temper the carnage. Hadreas will in Australian next month as part of Sydney Festival.
BEST ALBUM: CHANNEL ORANGE, FRANK OCEAN
‘Best Album’ has to go to American singer-songwriter Frank Ocean’s absolutely brilliant debut LP, Channel Orange. Fundamentally an R&B and neo-soul album, it fuses elements of jazz-funk, psychedelic rock, electro-funk and more with sublime impact and ease. Ocean’s lush baritone smoothly accesses the falsetto and tenor registers, buttressed by highly idiosyncratic sonic palettes characterised by unusual melodic structures, mid-tempo beats and heady spatial composition. This is one of the most genuinely original releases I’ve heard in a long time – in fact, it already sounds like a classic. Bravo!
BEST PIECE OF THEATRE: THYESTES
Ancient Greek legends are not for the faint-hearted. But perhaps the most ferocious of them all is Seneca’s Thyestes, which tells of the deposed Greek king whose sons were slaughtered by his brother Atreus and fed to him at a feast. Part of Belvoir’s mainstage season (in conjunction with Sydney Festival), Melbourne theatre collective The Hayloft Project’s masterful version took the mythology down from the shelf and placed it squarely in the here and now – complete with iPhones, dildos and international travel – to examine what violence really means today.
BEST NEW AUSTRALIAN PLAY: BETWEEN TWO WAVES
Centred on Daniel, a climate scientist and advisor to the government riddled with anxiety, Between Two Waves by actor and playwright Ian Meadows was a powerful and affecting piece of theatre that masterfully interwove the global and the domestic. The play asked the question – how do the dire predictions of future catastrophe impact on the human psyche of the present? The final show of Griffin’s 2012 mainstage season, it was directed by outgoing artistic director Sam Strong. Meadows was a revelation as Daniel, supported by a stellar cast including Ash Ricardo.
BEST DANCE WORK: ANATOMY OF AN AFTERNOON
Performed by highly-revered dancer Paul White – who has to be one of the best dancers Australia has ever produced – Anatomy of an Afternoon captured the enigmatic allure of Nijinsky’s legendary ballet, The Afternoon of a Faun, and was reborn for a new century by choreographer Martin del Amo. White navigated a dream-like landscape of hidden dangers and secret pleasures – a kinetic combustion of animalistic grace and menace. Visceral, poetic and hypnotic, it was performed to Mark Bradshaw’s haunting live score.
BEST FILM: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Succinctly describing the transcendent Beasts of the Southern Wild is almost impossible. Set in a southern Louisiana bayou community called ‘The Bathtub’, which is cut off from the rest of the world by a levee, director Benh Zeitlin has conjured up an enchanted fusion of surrealism, poetry, lost cultures, ancient creatures, the ice age, and childhood. Although The Bathtub is a no-go zone according to the government, it is inhabited by a bunch of misfit rebels, living in ramshackle shelters and riding around on post-apocalyptic vehicles. Told through the curious and hopeful eyes of six-year-old ‘Hushpuppy’ – played by the powerfully compelling Quvenzhané Wallis – this film is a passionate and wild blast of Americana.
BEST MUSICAL: LEGALLY BLONDE
A blonde-bombshell heroine with a fetish for pink, a love story, a murder, a bastard and the ‘bend and snap’ – it was only a matter of time before Legally Blonde made its way to the stage. After huge seasons around the world, the Australian premiere opened in Sydney in October. Lucy Durack stars as Elle Woods, and shows off her dazzling vocal range. She is supported strongly by Rob Mills, Cameron Daddo and David Harris.
BEST CABARET: FAT SWAN
Fresh from his celebrated performance as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray: The Musical, Trevor Ashley morphed into a prima donna ballerina with the moniker Natalie Portly for his outrageous adults-only pantomime Fat Swan. While the show was a parody of the melodramatic dancer-made-good film genre, Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 blockbuster Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman as tortured ballerina Nina Sayers, was the catalyst. Fat Swan sold out seasons around the country this year – as our theatre critic Veronica Hannon wrote, “you’ll laugh so hard, you’ll wet yourself”.
BEST SPECIAL EVENT: SYDNEY FESTIVAL
An explosion of theatre, dance, music, exhibitions, film and talks that literally took over the city, in 2012 Sydney Festival again celebrated inspiring Australian work while at the same time welcoming cutting-edge companies from all over the world. Highlights included PJ Harvey, ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore, and iOTA: Young, Hard and Solo. As would be revealed later in the year, 2012’s Festival First Night would be the last.
BEST INDIE PLAY: LOCO MARICON AMOR
Brisbane’s The Danger Ensemble unleashed Loco Maricon Amor – ‘Crazy Faggot Love’ – at Metro Arts in August. Exploring the heady relationship between Salvador Dalí and Frederico García Lorca, the show was a glorious, moving collision of tragedy and surrealism, as embodied by these two great artists. Director Stephen Mitchell Wright once again showed why he is one of the most exciting theatremakers in the country at the moment.
[Images] Patrick Wolf, Beast of the Southern Wild, Legally Blonde.