Random Acts of God & Other Stories: A Contemporary Cabaret

TelstraClear Club, Christchurch

27/08/2011 - 28/08/2011

The New Media Club, 195 Armagh Street, Christchurch

14/12/2010 - 28/08/2011

The Festival Tent, Nelson

20/10/2011 - 21/10/2011

Christchurch Arts Festival 2011

Nelson Arts Festival

Production Details

Corrupt Productions

Inspired by the Christchurch earthquakes, it asks the question — how do you respond when life throws you a curve ball? Do you get drunk, high, go wild? Or do you find another way to rise above it?

Contemporary dance weaves with live music performed by a six-piece band playing everything from cabaret tunes and country soul music to modern indie-pop.

This cheeky and offbeat cabaret, will take you on a journey of intrigue and nostalgia, with its beautifully melodic and dark tension that will break your heart and put it back together again.

‘A blend of live music and quirky contemporary dance that is ‘edgy’, earthy, and down-right cheeky.’  Theatreview

It’s the latest work by multi-media initiative Corrupt Productions, founded by Christchurch-based dance innovator, Julia Milsom (Tup Lang Scholarship 2007, NZ Best Female Dancer 2007, Most Outstanding Performer, Wellington Fringe 2009, Best Dance, Dunedin Fringe 2009). Milsom says of her new work, “My choreography is influenced by all nature of things, from artists, Paula Rego and Liza Minnelli, to bestiary, chaos and carnival” and all feature in her “roaring yet delicate choreographic machinations” with celebrated Christchurch dancers Paul Young (Best Male Contemporary Dancer 2006 & 2007, The New Zealand Listener), Erica Viedma, and Aleasha Seaward.

Producer, Karin Reid, says “the project came about as a result of the cancellation of the Body Festival and lost jobs after the earthquake but also as a proactive response to it.” For this premiere season, Corrupt Productions has also attracted an exciting and eclectic mix of musicians including the vocal textures of enigmatic western folk noir hero, Delaney Davidson, the irrepressibly sassy honeyed voice of Naomi Ferguson, the melancholic luminosity of newcomer Nadia Reid and the rugged vitality of Rick Harvie, hung together by the musical virtuosity of Ben Eldridge and Mike Kime who render a mix of original songs and deliver a variety of surprising covers.

Choreographer: Julia Milsom

Musicians:  Chris Reddington - piano, vocals; Emma Johnston - piano accordion, vocals; Mike Kyme - double bass, Ben Eldridge - guitar, bass, keys; Nadia Reid - guitar, vocals

Dancers: Julia Milsom, Paul Young, Erica Viedma, Aleasha Seaward

Cabaret , Dance , Music ,

110 mins

The best performance in Nelson Arts Festival 2011

Review by Janet Whittington 21st Oct 2011

Nelson nearly fills the Festival tent for an opportunity  to taste contemporary cabaret – and the mostly provincial audience got a little more than they bargained for if their half time comments are anything to go by. ‘Disturbing, menacing, perplexed, I dunno’ covers most of the remarks. They didn’t envy me the job of reviewing the show. But judging by their comments at the end of the cabaret dance, I imagine that the bar for their appreciation for contemporary dance has been raised on both sides of last night’s slumber. My companion for the evening pronounces it a success once we are half way home. I expect a few more will wake up the next morning feeling the same.

Julia Milsom is to be commended on taking a traditional genre of cabaret, showy, slick, slightly raunchy, and delivering a fresh new feel that suits small provincial New Zealand stages well.  Like the Christchurch landscape, it is familiar but has changed, and in a way that makes us stop to absorb what is going on, not at all sure whether we like it. Nelson in particular has no contemporary dance company, so Corrupt Productions brings a different flavour to which the audience has to adapt.

Each song and dance sequence starts in a traditional manner; cruises along in the expected format for a few bars, thus preparing you for boredom to come. Then  it all changes. Very thrilling. My eyes widen, I smile, I gasp, laugh. Most amazing of all – it works. I don’t know how. I am so impressed that it works so well. I could happily sit through another performance.

Musically, the skill level is top notch and upbeat, primal and infectious. The singers are great, full of volume and unique sound, operatic even in the case of the drummer. 

The first two Acts hit out at the audience with a horizontal hail of contradictions. There is a rock band instead of an orchestra; an old-fashioned upright acoustic piano instead of an electric keyboard. The piano player, Chris Reddington, is a gangly 2m tall at least and wears a bright red women’s coat with a red feather boa. And it suits him. He is also Tom Waits the singer [perfect voice for Tom] and a dancer becomes the piano player while he sings. But he doesn’t like that, and forces her away from the piano and off stage. He invites us to sing along. Nelson is a bit reticent. He gets pissed off with that, and gives us  a C minus, and stomps off.

The dancers and singers constantly move on and off stage throughout the show, regardless of what’s happening. They change onstage. The dancers get up half way through a song and start dancing, or sit down halfway through a song and leave you with just the singer.  They crowd onto the stage together, or they all suddenly vanish, leaving the audience with just the band. Then the band ignores the audience. [This is a good thing. I need to catch my breath, flick through the images in my head and check I did see what actually happened].

We are transfixed, open mouthed. But we can’t be left in our seats for too long. There’s  a good old fashioned Tennessee waltz, and one by one the audience is led up on stage to waltz, and handed over to another member of the waltzing audience while the dancers go back out into the audience to gather more.

The dancing plays out themes of anger, destruction, disappointment, rejection, resentment, spoiled tantrums, devastation, depression, resignation, resurrection. It is clever, brutal, most of all, supple. I feel like I have been to a yoga class by the end of the performance. My body feels wonderful watching them.  

The audience have their traditions challenged in other ways by the company’s dancing. “Gender bending” Julia calls it. Women dance with women, they sulk when a man dances in and breaks them up. They fall and lift traditionally for a while, one man with three women. Then the women lift each other and finally him. They hold poses more familiar to a circus act than dance.

The ragged effect is fabulous. The rock band plays great music which holds the heat and friction together. Lots of familiar tunes take on sharp new edges. The singer picks up a percussion piece, plays it, then dismissively throws it to the floor, belligerently glaring, defying the audience to challenge her.  [No challenge from me darling]. I can sense how the civilised rituals of society are only mostly adhered to now down there in ChCh.

 Act Three is beautiful. They lighten up and give the audience a cuddle. Dancer Julia Milsom’s  talent impresses me most of all. She has exquisite dance moves, fresh, elegant, romantic, new. Nadia Maria Reid is the writer of her solo song Young/Girl/Mothers lying heart. A very sophisticated polished piece. I hope she puts out a CD soon. Michael Kyme and Ben Eldridge mix a lot of original riffs within the commercial music. All of it works very well.

Individually, either as a band or as a dance company they are worthy of separate performances in their own right. Together, I would rate this cabaret the best performance of the Nelson Arts Festival 2011. 



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Accomplished performers raise questions about power

Review by Elizabeth O’Connor 28th Aug 2011

What does corruption mean? Is it bending genres and styles in music theatre, or is it presenting a few too many clever and dexterous images of the weak being pushed around and abused by the strong, in such as way as to earn audience applause? This show entertained and entranced me, but also left me uneasy in ways which might well please its creators.
A cabaret with strong elements of burlesque and plenty of irony, the show presents 20 songs performed live by a most talented band and singers, interpreted by those musicians but also by a brilliant team of dancers.
Act I was in the style of the Berlin prewar nightclub. Skimpy, stylish, stockinged outfits, skanky moves, amazingly manipulated chairs and bodies. Layers of meaning, thanks mainly to the Brecht and Weill items. Emma Johnston delivered lyrics with crystal clarity and was particularly moving in her solo delivery of “The Ballad of Marie Sanders”. If the audience didn’t feel compromised by their viewing of exposed and victimized female forms, perhaps Act II would sort them out ….
Act II looked more to country America than to Germany but still found toxic and simplistic formulae. (One audience couple walked out when faith in God began to be overtly mocked.) All dance expressions of the songs in this act were lively and often great fun, but “Angel of Montgomery” deserves a mention. Nadia Maria Reid sang with almost an Appalachian catch in the voice, and Aleasha Seaward embodied the song poignantly in her frantic and despairing dance in a confined space.
Act III was filled with dangerous and largely destructive behaviour exploring the theme of the act – Free Will. The first few dance works featured the extraordinary confidence, flexibility and verve which Julia Milsom can display when playing such qualities as “wasted”. Paul Young, Erica Viedma and Aleasha Seaward joined in progressively to reach a juicy dance finale in “Dirty Dozen” and vocal finale in “I Shall be Released”
Chris Reddington led several numbers as an actor/vocalist with fabulous panache, but irritatingly held the microphones a centimeter too close to his mouth, so that the Tom Waits impression was painfully distorted. Rick Harvie was an assured lead singer when it was his turn, and a good actor. St Michael Kime (double bass) and Ben Eldridge (guitar) were on target the whole night.
The audience was gripped by the skill on show, and also by the songs. They applauded very strongly at the end of the night. The accomplishment of the performers is beyond question. What the show says about power and who holds it is something I am still not clear about.


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Daring and intelligent tangle of music and dance theatre

Review by Kerri Fitzgerald 15th Dec 2010

Corrupt Productions (a dance theatre initiative) delivers what it promises and more. Described as a ‘contemporary cabaret’, Random Acts of God is a blend of live music and quirky contemporary dance that is ‘edgy’, earthy, and downright cheeky. The ‘dark tension’ promised filters through the production holding audience attention so completely that few tended to the sumptuous table platters they had pre ordered until half-time!

An ambient, dirty /chic atmosphere is established on entry to the venue where the peeling walls and dilapidated ornate plaster surrounds of the foyer have only just survived the grumblings of the ground. This ‘grungy’ feel is continued in the performance area where the customary close tables are set out, the stage has a few red chairs and, sitting watching us, half lit, is the band.

The opening ‘Meine Damen und Herren’ evokes elements of old traditions and alludes to the musical Cabaret but what follows is a riveting evening of music and dance theatre that successfully mixes genres and has passing references to country, folk and popular music and dance. All are skillfully blended under the umbrella of contemporary dance theatre.

The use of inventive and intelligent choreography (Julia Milsom) is established early using these red chairs and the grounded spills and thrills of movement continue to surprise and entertain throughout the show. Who ever would have thought of playing around with line dancing and making it contemporary!

Much of the criticism of contemporary dance is swept aside by this kind of creative, accessible and entertaining choreography. The audience is primed ready for more of the ‘good stuff’ so that by the climatic finale: ‘Girl with One Eye’ there is rapturous applause and appreciation.

The athleticism of the dancers is readily apparent because of their close proximity to the audience. Julia Milsom, Paul Young, Erica Viedma and Aleasha Seaward dance with passion, freedom and skill, their bodies tuned to deliver complexity with assured fluidity. To view such a talented and sure-footed group at such close range is a treat. They grasp the choreography and dance it with verve.

One of the many highlights for this reviewer was ‘Dirty Dozen’, danced by a playful trio of dancers who clearly relish the fast rhythms and perform with real childlike abandon.

Of course all of these dance theatre pieces are accompanied by a superb group of musicians: Delaney Davidson, Naomi Ferguson, Nadia Reid, Rick Harvie, Alex van den Broek and Nick Bosman who alternate between observing and playing for the dancers, to playing and singing just for themselves. Naomi Ferguson alone could solo all night and so this combination serves up a real musical treat.

The nuanced and riveting programme offers pieces from Bob Dylan and Tom Waites to local compositions by Delaney Davidson (and by others in the group). At times the focus is split between the dancers and the musicians and I didn’t know whom to watch. That is why I will return for a second viewing.

Production elements are consistent from the gorgeously simple and coherent costuming through to lighting although to be picky, in ‘Everything is Broken’, the lighting on the soloist is inadequate.

Framed by the religious overtones of the title, this seemingly random collection of pieces are cleverly linked by the undercurrent of sleaze and possible violence of nightclubs, cabarets, saloons and bordellos. To take these ideas in music and dance theatre and intelligently tangle with them is daring and shows initiative.

This off beat cabaret deserves a sell out and an arts festival booking to follow.

I will be going back!


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