2007 Top Acts Review

Top Acts by the VCAA Hamer Hall, Arts Centre, Melbourne 8th June 2007

Each year the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority effectively produces a concert of the very best performance examinations from the previous year in Drama, Theatre Studies, Dance, Dance (VET) and Music (solo and group). The list of performers is chosen from those previously selected for the various Top Class showcases in the relevant studies during the few months prior. Last year’s Top Acts concert was an absolute blinder and this year’s concert did not disappoint either!

Not that I should get too analytical about the make up of the 2007 Top Acts concert, but here’s the breakdown of the various representations, anyway:

Study
Total Acts: 23
Drama Solo: 4
Theatre Studies Monologue: 4
Dance Solo: 4
Dance (VET) Solo: 1
Music Solo: 7
Music Group: 3

School
Government: 11
Independent: 2
Catholic: 10

Location
Metropolitan:18
Regional: 5

Gender
Total Performers: 34
Male: 25
Female: 9

From the above breakdowns, we can safely assume Catholic schools (especially due to their small numbers) did particularly well and that boys in general, dominated the program. May I say it is fantastic to see so many young men excelling at the very highest level in performing arts education in Victoria!

Act one saw all four Drama Solo performances on the program. First up was Cassie Stafford from Mount Lilydale Mercy College with her interpretation of Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant landing in New York and accused of spreading typhoid fever in the city. Prescribed in the style of cabaret, this aspect was clearly Cassie’s strength. It was a thoroughly entertaining performance, but somewhere along the way, the microphone didn’t work in her favour. This is a technical, not artistic issue and perhaps it was not placed in the very best position on the performer? The sound was too soft and a bit muffled, making it a little hard to hear and not as crisp as we would have liked. Great use of song in this performance, particularly changing the words of well-known numbers, and an effective use of space.

Next up was George Lingard from Kew High School performing The Pirate, based on the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I really loved this performance at Top Class Drama a couple of months ago and George was a real crowd pleaser again at Top Acts. This was a very carefully constructed script and should serve as warning to students that a weak script will nearly always result in a similarly weak performance. But Geroge’s script was beautifully written with nice gags and references in the right places and a deep understanding of other characters and events clearly evident. Good use of the pirate hat as object, transforming in context several times. Nice character transitions in this performance, also. Very good comic timing. A strong performance accessible to everyone in the audience.

The third Drama solo performance was indeed a dark one. James Cross from Haileybury College performed the dual personality of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Hard to make this one funny considering the subject matter, so it was dramatic, instead. My students and I saw this one at Top Class too, and lots of them were intrigued at how James used the mirror; very effectively in their opinion. There is little doubt it was cleverly used on different sides for reflection and then the underside for writing with chalk. James had excellent focus, facial expressions and use of gesture, not to mention movement. A dancer, perhaps? A strong performance.

The final Drama solo performance was Anton De Ionno from Whitefriars College. Well, this one tore the house down at Top Class a couple of months ago and at Top Acts, nearly blew the roof off the concert hall! Cleverly integrated with the audience by adding a little bit at the start and finish (and beginning IN the audience itself!), presumably by Artistic Director Naomi Edwards, Anton’s performance of a fictional ‘gossip’ at the court of Catherine The Great of Russia was absolutely sensational! I’ve mentioned before, this performance was similar to last year’s Security Guard by Liam O’Kane, which also had the entire audience in stiches and fits of laughter! Anton’s sense of comic timing was nothing short of impeccable and he clearly had a strong sense of being a real performer, milking the audience during his gags, waiting for their applause etc. He simply had us all in the palm of his hands. A very entertaining performance that proved a prescribed exam structure on paper can be something entirely different on stage, if the perfomer is clever enough in its interpretation!

Act two witnessed all four of the Theatre Studies monologues on the program. First up was Michael Palti from Bialik College with a wonderful performance of Cyrano from Cyrano de Bergerac. I empathised with Michael when he lost his microphone pack to the ground, soon after the start of his performance. A similar thing happened to one of my ex-students a couple of years ago at Top Class Drama. What do you do? It’s not a two hour play and a monologue is so tightly compacted, structured and choreographed, there is simply little if any opportunity to (even in character) go down and reconnect your microphone pack and continue on. So, performing mostly without his micrphone and having everyone in the audience on his side, Michael should be commended for keeping his focus (a lesson for all aspiring young actors) and moving through the rest of a very strong performance. Wonderful costume, awesome gestures and effective use of movement made this a very entertaining performance. Just loved the long nose, too!

Kathleen Lee from Mount Lilydale Mercy College was the next Theatre Studies performer with her interpretation of Mabel Chiltern from Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. What was fascinating about this performance was Kathleen’s use of voice and pause. There were several instances of her slowing the pace of her voice down almost to a crawl, deepening its tone and emphasising certain words for greater meaning. These resulted in a clear performance, communicated strongly to its audience. Even the most unfamiliar observer (not having read the play, that is) could have followed this monologue with little difficulty – and that’s some skill by the performer!

Wow, I thought Tom Ballard (Brauer College) did a wonderful job performing Salieri from Amadeus! Another awesome costume, great use of space, timing, and really effective use of voice enabled Tom to produce a thoroughly convincing interpreation of this monologue. I also liked moments of silence and particularly his slow movements towards the latter stages of the piece. This was a tight performance that the audience really appreciated.

The final Theatre Studies monologue was from Glenn Ferguson of Notre Dame College, Shepparton, performing his interpretation of Michael from Dancing at Lughnasa. Glenn had fantastic focus and great diction, resulting in a very strong performance. It was so clearly communicated to the audience and so believable, you were there next to him on the stage of Hamer Hall. This was indeed a powerful performance and Glenn’s intensity was a highlight, as one followed his character’s every move, gesture and thought. Nice use of old time music added to an already atmospheric monologue.

Not being a specialist in dance or music education, I’ll ju
st comment briefly on what were the highlights for me from these sections of this year’s Top Acts program. As is often the case, the Music group performances were a highlight. I just loved the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School’s jazz ensemble performance of Skylark. I’d pay money to see these guys again, no problems! I thought Essendon Keilor College’s hip hop performance of Santana’s Maria was thoroughly entertaining and the boys from Xavier College with their rock Dave’s Gone Skiing was awesome.

From Music solo, how could you possibly go past Nicholas Murphy from St. Kevin’s College and his rendition of Hallelujah? Absolutely out of this world! So powerful and so controlled. Amazing! Other highlights here were Peter Boyd from the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School and his classical guitar solo. Fantastic! Also Conrad Olsen from the same school with his pianoforte was great, too.

From the Dance component of this year’s Top Acts, Genna Kulesza from Glen Waverley Secondary College and Hayley Leake from St. Joseph’s College, Mildura, were my highlights. Hayley’s dance to the same song Hallelujah, mentioned above and performed directly after it, made everything so much more powerful. Genna’s solo dance was fantastic to watch, and while I’m no expert on dance technique, it looked amazing. Finally, Eamonn George from Ballarat and Clarendon College was mesmerising in his dance composition of the Japanese Noh actor, preaparing to take on the role of the demon.

Once again the VCAA’s Top Acts concert was a real winner, showcasing excellence in the performing arts. It still represents a wonderful opportunity for teachers to take along their students, have a great night out and partake in a little bit of academic chatter about upcoming performance exams etc. I took along a party of 70, with more than 60 students from Years 10, 11 and 12 Drama and Years 11 and 12 Music who all thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this year’s Top Acts concert.

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