DeepBlue describes itself as a “string-ish” orchestra, and this allows the Queensland-based ensemble to introduce a range of instruments depending upon the particular production. For their current show, at the Brisbane Powerhouse, the violins, violas, celli and basses are complemented by tabla, shahi baja and shah keman. The music is influenced by the orchestra’s time in Mumbai, the costumes hint at Indian traditional dress.
The sheer joy and vivacity of the performers is obvious from the opening moments, as they cavort around the stage, waving instruments in the air and dancing with Bollywood style moves. The Indian theme is presented as a tribute to the culture and the people – especially the children of the slums of Dharavi – rather than any attempt to appropriate the culture. Musical numbers are loosely linked by a spoken narrative (scripted by Eugene Gilfedder), as the artists share the microphone and describe some of the experiences they encounted on their 2012 tour of India.
Electronica merges with classical European sounds, Beatles tunes resonate with raga-like progressions. Lennon and McCartney’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” gets a thorough workout, recurring as a motif throughout the show, along with Penguin Café Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile. Most of the work is performed ensemble, but occasionally beautifully evocative violin solos emerge, courtesy of artists Imogen Eve and Evan Setiawan. Guest musician Dheeraj Shrestha provides a solo performance on the tabla which is virtuosic in the extreme. Ensemble member Andy Ward performs his own song, “Drink and Money”, revealing a powerful, achingly beautiful voice. These solos are moments of stillness, highly dynamic but free of the otherwise apparent need to keep the stage alive with movement. While the kaleidoscope of shifting shapes and bodies is full of energy and amusement, occasionally it lacks purpose, tricks for the sake of doing tricks that don’t really add anything to the underlying dynamic of the piece.
The backdrop to the performance onstage is provided by sand artist Siddhi Yadav, and is projected onto the back wall. Carefully lit from above, with her fingertips she shapes the finest sand into images of Indian life, from skyscrapers to gardens, lovers’ profiles to Hindu iconography.
A huge part of DeepBlue’s modus operandi is to involve the community wherever they perform. This provided another layer of engagement with the appearance onstage of YoungBlue, the children who attended their workshop, and the three community choirs, Deep C Divas, Going For a Song and Loud and Clear. The children were guided into creating their own lively version of DeepBlue. The combined choir, rehearsed in advance, performed with great glee and lifted the game among the audience when they returned to their seats with the same energy.
The attempt to engage the audience via the internet, using mobile phones linked into a website so that we could ask questions, leave comments, access information about the company, the performers and the production was a dismal failure as far as I could see. Quite a few of us sent in our text messages, but never gained access to the actual website, which meant time spent fiddling with the phone and not paying attention to the performance. Possibly the size of the Powerhouse auditorium worked against this particular piece, for anyone sitting further than halfway back. The lighting denied us the ability to read any text that was displayed on the back wall, and the two television screens at the sides of the stage area obviously changed their output from time to time, but not such that we could read it. This means a lesser experience for those at the back, paying the same ticket price. Technology is always tricky in these live situations, when it works it can be a genuine enhancement to the work, but when it doesn’t it is just annoying.
The skill and energy presented on stage and the obvious affection for the richness of Indian musical culture make this an entertaining, diverting experience for young and old. Catch it tonight if you possibly can.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
2 – 4 July