(Australian Ballet/Sydney Dance Company)


In this year of looking back at Federation and the century since, Tivoli is a wonderful evocation of the spirit of classy popular entertainment which dominated much of the pre-television era. The various Tivoli theatres around Australia played host to the travelling circus of professional vaudeville entertainers who captivated audiences with their mixture of song, dance and humour. Sydney Dance Company artistic director Graeme Murphy has superbly captured the magic of that era not through replication so much as representation by medium of dance of the elements of the Tivoli formula. Murphy has fused the talents of the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company to produce a show which is original and never dull, full of laughs as well as feats which command admiration.

The various types of Tivoli entertainment are presented against a backstage storyline involving romance and tragedy. The dancers amuse us with their off-hand off-stage persona, projecting the spirit of “the show must go on”, while we experience time shifts and dreams through ingenious use of lighting, mist and gauze. We scan the nation’s history from “Empire Glory” through depression and wars (reminding us of the original Tivoli role in cheering up Australians at times of gloom), ending with the Victory Rag via George Wallace’s magnificent and moving “Brown Slouch Hat”, belted out by Linda Nagle. (The oddest inclusion, notwithstanding its effective staging, is the Japanese reaction to the atom bomb which brought World War II to its conclusion.)

The never-ending variety and constant surprises make it difficult to single out special moments. But I loved the amazing gymnastics of the diminutive Tracey Carrodus when thrown about by the three chevaliers Josef Brown, Xue Jun Wang and Simon Turner; veteran Harry Haythorne’s roller skating tap dancing act; and the Tango del Fuego leading into the amazing cross-dressing feat of the “Transformation Tango”. The floral-centred fashion parade representing each of the states is a colourful send-up of this type of pageant, while a sequence full of contrasts and energy is the glittery tap dancing which succeeds the gloomy scene of Sallies collecting coins to help the down-and-outs (literal sadsacks). And there is great fun in the contortion representation by Rachael Read and Andrea Briody, as well as rival muscle men Josef Brown and Bradley Chatfield as “The Colossal Spartacus Brothers”, balancing each other seemingly effortlessly (until the audience wakes up to the hidden wire). Memorable too is Tim Tyler’s amazing performance with a mouthful of pingpong balls which he has popping up and down in an endless stream with only a few miscreants.

There’s even some classical ballet well, sort-of with some revamped scenes from Swan Lake featuring the little-clad ballerinas who dominate publicity shots for the show. It works well, with admirable dancing and comedy, culminating in the swans’ can-can.

In all it’s a nice piece of dance musical theatre, giving a none-too-serious yet still thought-provoking, sometimes moving and very entertaining representation of an Australia which thrived for a good half-century, and the entertainers who helped it on its way.

www.STAGEDIARY.com: Queensland’s Online Stage Magazine

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Mon 2nd July 2001)