Tabac Rouge: Week 202

Tabac Rouge at the Sydney Theatre Company

She laughs and babbles like a madwoman. Then she leans her head so far backwards that when she puts on a jacket all you see is a decapitated body in repose. This is the physical embodiment of Thierrée’s opium addiction.

Not that James Thierrée really has an opium addiction, but his character in Tabac Rouge does and when it hits him, he jolts back in his armchair and drifts across the stage. A cloud of smoke and a spry contortionist trail along in his wake.

Tabac Rouge did not have an intermission, so at the end of the show it took me and Barret a couple of minutes to digest just what exactly we had seen.

What had we seen?

Tabac Rouge at the Sydney Theatre Company

The centerpiece of the show was a grimy, massive mirrored wall. On the reverse side was a labyrinth of pipes. At the end of the performance the mirror fell into separate pieces that spun like a shattered disco dream.

There was a small troupe of dancers whose movements alternated between mechanical precision, epileptic seizures, and rolling waves.

Then it all ended with the floor swallowing up everyone on the stage.

Barret and I had our own ideas about what it all meant, but all the reviews I read seemed to lead in another direction. The only thing we could agree on was that Tabac Rouge was truly out-of-this-world.

Tabac Rouge at the Sydney Theatre Company

About: Tabac Rouge

How to get to the Sydney Theatre Company: 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

Atomic Bomb: Week 201

Atomic Bomb

William Onyeabor is a Nigerian synth pioneer that was, “responsible for some of the most searing Afro-funk and space-age jams you’re ever likely to hear.” The majority of his music was released in the early eighties and shortly thereafter he turned born-again Christian and refused to speak about himself or his music.

Almost thirty years later, a group of musicians from the US are keeping the groove alive with a Sydney showing of Atomic Bomb at the Enmore Theatre. The core group is composed of Sinkane, Money Mark, Luke Jenner, Pat Mahoney, and Pharoah Sanders whose shirt glowed under the stage lights like a purple velvet oil slick. Sanders, a Grammy winning jazz saxophonist, is pushing seventy-five but not afraid to drop low when caught in the grips of a good beat.


Then there were the special guests, the Mahotella Queens. The South African vocal group entered the stage wearing bright red shirts, white skirts and a large red hat with their country’s flag. Two of the singers were members of the original lineup from the 1960s while Amanda Nkosi was the newest member. She was the only one young enough to do a high kick, but that just meant she’s spent less time on this planet perfecting her swagger- and the Mahotella Queens had some serious swagger and some serious voices.

As this was an Australian show, Gotye was on board as a guest singer and he killed it! His vocals were rich and there was something about his lanky, mellow demeanor that just fit the vibe of the music.


Since I came to know you baybyyyyyy,

I’ve been telling you how sweet you are.

I’ve been telling you how good you are.

Now I want you try to tell me how I look.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me. 

Please tell me how I look.

<Mahotella Queens>

You loooooooooook so good.

Fantastic man!

Towards the end of the show Sinkane, wearing a slim-cut two piece suit and wide brim hat, came out from behind his keyboards and got the entire audience to get low. It was not an easy position to maintain and just before my thighs burst, we all rose back up together and jumped up and down to the music and to relief. Hanging above the stage was a projection screen with a recording of a woman dancing on roller skates.

William Onyeabor might not appreciate his music anymore, but it was pretty obvious to the crowd that the only downside to Atomic Bomb was the length of the show. We wanted a million more encores.

About: William Onyeabor

About: Atomic Bomb

How to get to the Enmore Theatre: 130 Enmore Road, Enmore

Government House: Week 195

Garden outside the Government House: Sydney, Australia

If the architect Edward Blore completely had it his way, the servants would have had this view.

That’s what happens when you dispatch architectural plans from London without knowing much about the location’s geography. Unfortunately for the succeeding servants, this oversight was changed at the last minute. When Governor Sir George Gipps first took up residence inside the Elizabethan Gothic estate in 1845, his view was undoubtedly gorgeous.

Not every miscalculation was fixed though. Blore’s original design called for a vaulted double-story open porch as the main entrance. While great on paper, the direction of the layout wasn’t very compatible with Sydney’s wind patterns. It became a wind tunnel that must have bustled a lot of skirts and ruined quite a few fancy hairstyles until it was enclosed and the covered carriageway was added in 1873.

That would have been the end of the story except that the newly enclosed space (with the flags flying off the turrets) had the worst echo. It was a feature I noticed when my guide spent a lengthy period of time covering the history of the building. The echo was so bad the she had to ask one of the guests to stop translating her speech because the sound of multiple voices bouncing off the walls was too distracting.

Government House on a rainy day inside the Botanic Gardens: Sydney, Australia

Despite being the live-in residence of the Governor, the downstairs is open for free tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The interesting part of the tour, at least the part that keeps the guides on their toes, is that furniture periodically changes according to the whims and tastes of the current occupant.

As the tour was more about details like ballroom’s stenciled imitation damask, the role of the governor was only briefly touched upon. From what I grasped the Governor is the Queen’s representative in NSW and their role is largely ceremonial, as required by the state’s constitution.

Government House arcade: Sydney, Australia

The whole idea of the Queen of England still needing an official representative felt a bit antiquated. However I often forget Australia is part of the Commonwealth and while the Government House is no Buckingham Palace, the outdoor arcade probably has a better view. I definitely wouldn’t mind being invited to one of the many private functions held at the Government House. A cocktail and a view of the harbor would go down very well indeed.

How to get to Government House: Royal Botanic Gardens, Lower Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000

White Rabbit Gallery: Week 193

2010 - Xia Xing - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“2010” – Xia Xing

“I wish I could say WELCOME,” my tour guide enthusiastically cried, “but instead I can only say welcome.” Her arms dropped and shoulders slumped. “You’ve got on the wrong bus.”

The guide was right to offer only a restrained greeting since she wasn’t introducing the most flattering or palatable aspects of a modern China. However, I wasn’t on ‘the wrong bus.’ I was exactly where I wanted to be.

The White Rabbit Gallery is the world’s largest collection of contemporary Chinese art. What started as a personal collection for Judith Neilson eventually transformed into renowned gallery and teahouse.

The Family Album - See You Later - Huang Hua-Chen - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“The Family Album – See You Later” – Huang Hua-Chen

Judith Neilson has over 1,100 works in her collection and while many of them celebrate the beauty and culture of China, the current exhibition dug beneath the veneer of the most populous country in the world. “In Commune, some of China’s best-known artists and brightest newcomers explore the tensions between individual and group, community and nation, collectivist past and chaotic present.”

On the ground floor was a series of images borrowed from the pages of the Beijing News- circulation 450,000. Xia Xing painstakingly painted each photo by mimicking the way the ink is layered on newsprint- cyan, magenta, and yellow.

The man who was amputated by the criminal he testified against, the fallen angel and her $2 billion dollar lawsuit, Xia transformed the disposable story into something more substantial.

As Husband and Wife - Li Xuan - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“As Husband and Wife” – Li Xuan

“Indifferent herself to money and fame, she worried that money was corroding Chinese society, “tearing up conscience, morality and kindness”. As Husband and Wife (2010) was an experiment in a style that later became her hallmark: “painting” with torn-up banknotes and PhotoShop. The notes—from China and other nations—not only afforded her an extensive colour palette but literally represented a factor whose role in relationships is much larger than most people are willing to admit.

In this collage, the softly torn, petal-like shapes are a reminder that money is also one of the chief causes of marital conflict. The faceless bride and groom could be any couple, their disagreements stitched up for the happy day. (The artist obtained suture thread from her father, a surgeon.)”

In 2013, Li Xuan lost the battle against depression. She took her own life and that of her child as she could not bear to leave them in this world. In acquiring the piece from her distraught husband, the gallery donated to charity instead of directly purchasing the piece.

The Static Eternity - Gao Rong - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“The Static Eternity” – Gao Rong

The struggle within a rapidly changing society is not without its fond memories though. Artist Gao Rong spent years recreating her grandparent’s house with foam, fabric and embroidery. The small one-room interior is lush in detail – especially when you realize that worn edges on the kitchen table, the rust spots on the pipes and the cracks on the wall had actually been embroidered.

The installation is a massive feat, which is an accurate assessment of the Commune show in general. It is not the glamorous or flattering side of China, but it is beautiful in its execution and heart-breaking in its honesty.

Teahouse at White Rabbit Gallery: Sydney, Australia

White Rabbit Gallery teahouse

How to get to the White Rabbit Gallery: 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale NSW 2008

Inner House: Week 190

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

Sydney Open is an architectural ‘open house’ that happens once a year and allows unparalleled access to some of Sydney’s most innovative buildings. This year was the tenth anniversary of the Sydney Open and everything from exclusive apartments to the ‘most glamourous watering hole in Australia’ was on offer. In total there were over 50 buildings available for viewing.

Barret and I chose to tour the ‘Inner House’ – a private residence concealed within a neo-Classical church in Darlinghurst. Built in 1926, the building was originally the headquarters of the First Church of Christ, Scientist. When the church eventually relocated to Glebe in 2010, they left a massive heritage-listed building in a residential zone. Given the development restrictions, I think it’s safe to say it was an intimidating property.

The architecture firm Bates Smart was interested in using the property as a studio, but due to the building’s zoning they instead showed the property to a potential client and suggested something rather unique. They wanted to create, “a residential ‘pod’ within the space- a reversible, demountable structure which would not compromise the building’s heritage status. At first this was to be a temporary solution. Instead there is now a six-bedroom, five-bathroom house built inside the former church.”

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

The current house completely resides within the 12 meter tall church auditorium. Most of the original pews were moved to the basement (which once housed the Sunday School), however a few pews remain clustered around the console of the massive church organ.

A short description from the architectural brochure: “within the main space, the architects have built a lightweight structure which sits on top of the original, slightly raked, timber floor. This is the dining and living area and it is bookended by two translucent, two-story cubes which contain the bedrooms, bathrooms and the seriously serious kitchen (tempura plate, deep fryer, cooktop and seating for a dozen people) to accommodate the client’s passion for cooking and entertaining.”

“The lightweight structure was manufactured off-site and then assembled on-site (it took just 14 weeks to build) and can be completely unscrewed and taken away. It uses fairly raw, contemporary materials (for example, ply linings that brace the structure), which is a deliberate strategy to contrast with the original building. In this way the integrity of the building is maintained, with old and new complimenting one another.”

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

“There’s no penetration through the roof. The kitchen exhaust, for example, has an ultra-violet hood which enables you to duct it down through the floor – it treats things with ultra-violet light so it doesn’t condense. The fireplace runs on ethanol, so it doesn’t need a flue.”

While the house was intriguing and the Harbour Bridge view was stunning, the short recital on the church organ was one of the most memorable highlights. Barret and I were very lucky because as part of the tour, a volunteer from the Organ Music Society of Sydney played a few songs for us.

Inner House: Darlinghurst, Sydney (photo by design firm Bates Smart)

Before the music began, the organist warmed up the 2500 pipes hidden behind a pierced screen. As the air began coursing through both the lead tin alloy pipes and wood pipes, it sounded like a muffled jet before softening into the sighing sounds of an industrial air conditioner. The pipes were in need of maintenance, but the escaping air was only noticeable during the quieter parts of the score.

While the powerful orchestral organ filled the room with Voix Celeste, Harmonic Piccolos, and Tuba Tremulants, the bright afternoon sunlight steamed into the living room. On the wall to the right of the organ was a quote from the church founder Mary Baker Eddy: Divine love always has met and always will meet every human need.

A space designed for the public, the intimacy of a home, and a church organ to fuse them together- what a cool house.

About: Sydney Open

About: Bates Smart (all photos above courtesy of Bates Smart)

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: