Thursday, 3 December 2015


RICERCAR by Present Tense Ensemble & Twoks
TheatreWorks, until Dec 12, 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

RICERCAR- Laura Buzacott and John Howard

RICERCAR begins with a violinist leading the audience along Acland St. and into the neighbouring church where J. S. Bach’s music swells and the leadlight saints glow as the evening light fades.

This performance investigates and is inspired by the musical form of Bach’s Fugues and Preludes and is divided in two parts: Book One - Alpha in the church and Book Two - Omega performed in the theatre.

A church is the ideal space to hear Bach’s choral and instrumental music because the acoustics and religious atmosphere are evocative of Bach’s own work in the Thomaskirche (Thomas Church) in Leipzig.

The church organ, a piano, violins and guitar blend with the chorus, soprano (Shauntai Batzke) and tenor (Simon Gilkes) to create surging waves of sound that shift into almost imperceptible ripples of distant harmonies.

In Book One, the company creates a surround-sound by singing and playing in the balcony choir, the pews, on the altar and in darkening or candlelit corners.

The repertoire includes exhilarating pieces from some of Bach’s best-known works such as St. Matthew Passion, The Well-Tempered Clavier and Ricercar a3 from Musical Offering.

Book One is more cohesive both musically and theatrically, but Book Two has some stirring, even thrilling sections, particularly those soaring pieces that layer all the voices and instruments to create a swelling soundscape.

The performance is abstract in form with no linear narrative but, in some sections, characters and relationships emerge to explore romantic moments or feelings of loss, death or inspiration.

In a gently comical scene, the white-clad chorus members sing as they dance a quirky aerobics routine, while another witty musical moment has the soprano singing the hymn, Ave Maria, against a rich, pounding, rhythmic and very contemporary score.

There are some inspired musical pieces in RICERCAR, but some of the more performative or theatrical elements let it down by trying to add character, relationship or gesture where it is not needed.

The production, directed by Nathan Gilkes and Bryce Ives, is atmospheric and rich with echoes of Bach, but the second half is patchy and too long which reduces the impact of the whole.

Present Tense Ensemble and The Twoks deserve applause for this inventive and unusual work that challenges our notion of operatic performance.

By Kate Herbert
 RICERCAR-(L-R)  Aubrey Flood, Shauntai Batzke, John Howard, Daniel Han (standing)

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