As we take our seats and open up the program for The Song Company’s Four-Colour-Season concert at Darling Quarter we are immediately hurled into confusion. What’s this? There are song names and word extracts and names of seasons and months swimming in front of us in circles. What will come first? How will we know which song is being performed?
It’s clear from this moment that this concert will need a different mindset, an interpretation that travels beyond traditional Western music programming. We are in the world of layers, of interplay, where song, movement and dance interconnect.
“The traditional four seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter have been depicted in European art and music for centuries, but the Aboriginal experience of the seasons is a much more varied and subtler story that tells of the patterns of animal and plant life and their direct impact on survival,” explains Artistic Director Antony Pitts in the program.
The program reflects the Western and the Indigenous seasons from Kaurna and Bundjalung, in turn reflecting the dancers from Thomas E.S. Kelly’s Karul Projects that trace the course of the Earth’s jorney around the sun. Karul Projects is NAISDA graduates Thomas E.S. Kelly, a Bundjalun, Wiradjuri, Ni-Vanuatu dancer and Taree Sainsbury, a Kaurna, Narungga and Ngarrindjeri artist.
Our concert started at the Spring point in the circle – in a program designed to be performed at different times of the year with a different starting point. Underlying the circle of seasons is a scat or vocal soundscape rendering of Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons, with the ‘greatest hits’ picked out and explored as segues between the pieces.
Without breaks between each song, as the two dancers interpreted and reflected each piece, the program melted from one vocal journey into another. Emerging Australian composers were strongly represented, with Alice Chance’s Precious Colours (Pallah Pallah) broken up into a beautiful canon, delicately balanced against Francis Poulenc’s Un soir de niege, and Patrick Baker’s abstraction Winter Warragin finishing with the singers on the floor. And always Vivaldi, underpinning the program and the reference point to come back to.
We are treated to a cycle that includes Australian composers, Ross Edwards, Peter Sculthorpe and Patrick Baker, interspersed with Antony Pitts’ and E.S Kelly’s own compositions placed into the contemporary landscape. The program also included Martin Wesley-Smith.
Insects feature, with Vivaldi at times presented as an insect orchestra, amidst much face slapping from mosquites and the sound of flies taking you beyond the city urbanscape into the dry land of Australia.
Out from behind their music stands came an ensemble made up of both experienced and emerging singers, with the lush sound of soprano Chloe Lankshear, mezzo Stephanie Dillon and Young Artist finalist Philippa Dracakis sharing the stage with the always gorgeous Andrew O’Connor, always enchanting Mark Donnolly and the clarity of composer singer Owen Elsley.
The entire ensemble of singers, conductor and dancers comes together for body percussion and movement incorporated into the performance. Towards the end of the concert we find the singers on the floor tapping percussion sounds. It’s a brave expression of the new path the Song Company is travelling on, and one beautifully expressed in the repertoire of this storytelling concert.
The concert goes on tour, and Sydney audiences are strongly encouraged to catch Four Colour Season on 29 September at the Independent Theatre North Sydney.