Björk: ALL IS FULL OF LOVE
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato, Hamilton
22/10/2019 - 22/10/2019
Shed 6, Queens Wharf, Wellington
17/10/2019 - 17/10/2019
After the debut Auckland season completely sold-out its run and a string of incredible concerts in the South Island earlier in the year, Blackbird Ensemble have added a collection of North Island dates this October. With their stunning homage to the music of Björk, All is Full of Love, will play for one night only in Wellington (October 17), Hamilton (October 22), and Hawke’s Bay (October 24), with more dates to be announced.
Audiences have been spellbound by this stunning tribute to one of music’s most innovative artists, with New Zealand’s celebrated chamber orchestra transforming Björk’s iconic catalogue with their own unique flair. The 2019 line-up features a trio of incredibly talented kiwi vocalists – Anna Coddington, Mara TK and Priya Sami.
Blackbird Ensemble, New Zealand’s most inventive and theatrical chamber orchestra, presents an awe-inspiring homage to the inimitable Icelandic pop artist Björk. In‘All is Full of Love’, Blackbird Ensemble serves up an audio feast of Björk’s finest songs across the decades, reimagining her much-loved classics from Debut through to Medulla and Utopia.
Blackbird Ensemble are some of Aotearoa’s most impressive musicians, coming together to play everything from traditional strings, brass, woodwind, keys and percussion to food packaging, whistles, and umbrellas to add foley and atmosphere to the reinvented arrangements. Claire Cowan has completely transformed the music of Björk with her musical direction, drawing from the genre-spanning nature of the popstar’s three-decade solo career.
Formed in 2010, the Blackbird Ensemble name has come to represent a growing group of musicians from different musical backgrounds, to produce holistic and memorable musical experiences. Enchanting their audiences with radical versions of both beloved and unknown music from across genres, extra musical elements are integrated to enhance and strengthen the ideas behind the music. All is Full of Loveis the perfect example of their second-to-none ability to take captivating and powerful music one step further, with phenomenal lighting and sound design along with elaborate costuming transporting audiences to an emotional world of wonder inside the theatre.
Praise for All is Full of Love
“The bijou spectacle of Blackbird Ensemble is something to hear and behold …, with frisky fiddles and punchy saxes… Don’t miss out on the magic.” – William Dart, NZ Herald
“Blackbird Ensemble’s stated desire to change the traditional performance context of classical music has been achieved in this concert through the brilliant eclectic content and delivery of the finest contemporary artists.” – Penny Dodd, Theatreview
“Moving and cleverly articulated – this unique piece of musical theatre is a must see.” – Sarah Kidd, Ambient Light
“This show is absolutely mesmerising.” – Anika Moa
All is Full of Love plays:
Shed 6, October 17, 7.30pm
As part of the Nelson Arts Festival, Theatre Royal, October 18
Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, October 22
As part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival, Victoria Spiegeltent, October 24
Theatre , Musical ,
A beautiful homage, musically innovative and delightful to experience
Review by Cate Prestidge 24th Oct 2019
This is a bold and delightful show marrying one of New Zealand’s most creative chamber orchestras with the music of Icelandic artist Björk. It was devised by Artistic Director Claire Cowan, who leads the musicians through new arrangements of a selection of songs accompanied by the vocal talents of Anna Coddington, Priya Sami and Mara TK.
In Cowan’s words the show is “gently and lovingly celebrating an incredible woman whilst conveying her highly personal and political messages through her music”. The show title is taken from Bjork’s ‘All is Full of Love’ from the 1997 Homogenic album. It’s a thoughtful choice and it makes an appearance sung by the trio at the end of the set.
The set up for the show is terrific visually, staged with levels for 10 players and washed with cool light and crystals creating an other-worldly ambience. The musicians enter in white overalls dotted with lights, while costume elements of tulle, metal and feathers are both individual and representative of their homage to Björk.
Priya Sami opens, greeting the audience warmly and establishing the mood with her silver and white costume and beautiful, clear voice before Anna Coddington enters in a dramatic, structured dress and Björk inspired makeup to sing ‘Hyperballad’, one of the hits off the 1996 Post album. It’s goosebumps material and as Coddington’s voice soars over the chorus I’m transported back to 90s angst and LP records in a Dunedin flat.
I go through all this
Before you wake up
So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you.
Both Sami and Coddington have great command of the lyrics and difficult song structures and, for me, their vocal clarity carries the intentions of the songs beautifully. Coddington is utterly polished and moves about the stage with ease, using her costume, presence and physicality to enhance the performance and imbue it with an otherworldliness.
After several songs they are joined by Mara TK, whose beautiful mellow voice and interesting collaborations have made him one of the more exciting artists in New Zealand in recent years. In the context of this show however, I feel his vocals are sometimes less distinct and his engagement with the audience seems subdued and less comfortable than that of Coddington and Sami.
The Blackbird Ensemble are terrific and versatile, and with their costumes, headphones, i-pads and mix of traditional instruments and technology they look as exciting as they sound. I make no claim to being a music critic but as a fan of the original work, I admire the way the ensemble interprets Cowan and Sarah Belkner’s new arrangements and wring every last drop of potential from the songs, often teasing out an ending or challenging us with new sounds. To that end, a shout out is due to Chris Townsend, Sean Martin-Buss, Callum Passells, Charmian Keay, Henry Swanson, Peau Halapua, Rachel Grimwood, Rebecca Celebuski and Rachel Wells who along with their director, Claire Cowan, made it look effortless.
For me the highlights are ‘Bachelorette’, ‘Venus for a Boy’, ‘Unravel’, ‘Hyperballad’, ‘Isobel’ and ‘Human Behaviour’ but the whole show is a beautiful homage, musically innovative and delightful to experience.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
A gorgeous assembly of design, music and performance – but ...
Review by Claire O’Loughlin 18th Oct 2019
I vividly remember a Theatre Studies lecturer, in a somewhat infamous Vic uni course called ‘Dramaturgy of the Avant-Garde’, explaining to a room of a hundred-odd bright young things (of which I was one), that the moment avant-garde art is re-created, it is no longer avant-garde.
So I wonder: is it possible to capture the true feeling of an avant-garde artist like Björk in a tribute to their work? After watching Blackbird Ensemble’s Björk: All is Full of Love, my response to my own question is: almost, but not quite. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use their work to create a beautiful live experience.
Björk: All is Full of Love is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. Walking into Wellington’s Shed 6, it looks like a regular orchestra set up, with instruments organised on tiered rostra. But when the 10-strong orchestra enters and the lights come on, it transforms into the Nordic dreamscape that I imagine Björk, Shakespeare’s Ariel and C S Lewis’s White Witch are all frolicking in.
The musicians wear white boiler suits with fairylights underneath them so they emit a hazy glow. Clusters of luminous crystal structures blossom from the rostra like radioactive vegetation. A white harpsichord framed with LED strip lighting takes pride of place downstage. All of the designers – Rachel Marlow and Filament Eleven 11 on lighting, Elizabeth Whiting and Poppy Serano on costume, Claire Cowen on the crystals – have done an outstanding job. The entire effect is a cohesive, towering, snowy, futuristic landscape. It is mesmerising.
And then the music begins. I am not a musician and I cannot imagine the skill and work that has gone into these arrangements. I have no words for describing technically what they are doing, but here is what it feels like: tinkling percussion sending goosebumps up my neck, bass pounding in my chest, wailing vocals soaring over the swelling ocean of sound like birds over the mountains. It is wintery and wild. When the lights change to yellow and dim, it is cozy and ‘hygge’.
The vocalists – Anna Coddington, Mara TK and Priya Sami – are incredible. Coddington’s voice is especially haunting, and she dances around the stage in a stunning, structured white ice-queen dress. She is the White Witch of this world, and I could watch and listen to her forever.
Every part of the show is carefully crafted. But despite all of this, something about it doesn’t quite take off. Artistic Director Claire Cowen’s vision is clear and beautifully executed, and Anna Coddington is genuinely a superstar. But in terms of a live experience, no one seems to be really driving it or holding the audience. The audience interaction is bit awkward, and shifting somewhat between stylised, performative aloof, which suits the design and the world, and casual banter, which would fit a more standard gig but sort of jars here. Only Coddington appears confident in addressing the audience it all, and even then it seems sometimes like she’s not sure if she should be.
Overall, it is a gorgeous assembly of design, music and performance. It’s just that when something is close to being transcendent perfection, you cry inside for it go that bit further and really take flight. I want it to go some place weird – it is Björk after all. I want to feel more connected. I kind of want to be high in a music festival setting where I can let loose and dance and feel it all through my body. The vast, banal space of Shed 6 doesn’t help, and highlights for the millionth time the need for more performance venue options in Wellington.
Afterwards I go home, lie on the couch and listen to Björk on full blast. I’ve been taken to Björk by the Blackbird Ensemble but it is Björk herself who takes me to the weird and wonderful again.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
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