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Review: The Last Season at Sydney Festival

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

Review By Rosie Niven

Before COVID hit and took over our every thought and discussion, climate change and the future of our planet seemed to be one of the most prevalent issues to dissect, with many works pushing us to re-examine our impact on the planet we call home. As we stopped our everyday lives to tackle a worldwide pandemic, these conversations fell to the wayside - but the need for these conversations never wavered. So, when I walked into Bay 17 at Carriageworks this week for a work that claims to bring the conversation back to the stage in such an urgent and commanding way, I was excited.

Igniting this is The Last Season, the latest work from powerhouse dance company Force Majeure, and commissioned by Carriageworks for Sydney Festival. Part fractured fairytale, part dance work, The Last Season is inspired by the music and themes of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and takes us through the cycle of the seasons, bringing us to where we are now and looking forward to what feels like a hopeless future.

To explore this cycle of life, we’re introduced to an ensemble of 13 performers who we follow through the seasons as they develop, along the way meeting the personifications of Summer, Autumn and Winter. Pamela Rabe commands the stage as a regal Summer, leading the ensemble around the space and teaching them order and obedience. Her gliding movements contrast starkly with the rigid movements she tries to enforce on the ensemble.

As we’re led out of Summer, we’re smacked in the face with the attitude of Autumn (played by the vibrant Paul Capsis), a heavily-sequined cabaret artist looking to retire. Autumn is no longer interested in commanding the young ensemble, instead focusing on himself and his story. His ego takes over and he abandons the ensemble in favour of speaking with the audience about himself, as the ensemble begin to turn on each other and become violent.

Olwen Fouéré is stunning as Winter, in a crisp-white ensemble with bright white hair to match. Her bellowing voice splits through the chaos and commands the attention of the ensemble again. As the ensemble creates jagged designs on the black stage with chalk, it feels as though Fouéré begins to command us, calling to us and warning us about the mass extinction of every element of life.

At the end of the seasons, we’re left with a jarring visual of the three seasons sitting at a poker table off to the side drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes, while the young ensemble are left to fend for themselves in a desolate world. As the ensemble picks up the costumes of the seasons and tries them on in what feels like a playful dress-up, we can see the cycle starting again. This feels like a commentary on the intergenerational disconnect that arises when talking about climate change and the ways in which we can fix our planet, and how each generation leaves their problems behind for the next generation to deal with.

The Last Season is aesthetically striking (set and costumes by Marg Horwell), a mismatch of textures and eras that seem to repel each other yet simultaneously work together. Most eye-catching are the huge luminous cocoons that swing suspended from the ceiling, slowly releasing dancers to the ground in a beautiful expression of the cycle of life. Damien Cooper’s vivacious lighting brings a sense of magic to the space with a gentle glow and constantly shifting lights that highlight the main performers in an ethereal manner.

Adding further to the sense of magic is Kelly Ryall’s haunting melodies, paired with a brilliant live band (Niki Johnson, Kelly Ryall and Freya Schack-Arnott) and the operatic talents of singer Susie Bishop, whose voice fills the space with urgent song and compels us to take notice. Unfortunately for those on stage, it is though surrounding the space (and those behind it) that have the greatest impact in the work.

The Last Season tackles so many complicated concepts, but it feels through most of this as though it has bitten off more than it can chew. In 90 minutes we skim through ageing, environmental destruction, speculative paths to human survival and so much more, leaving us with a lack of understanding of any of the ideas touched upon. This was made clear during the post-show chatter as the audience left the space, with many people asking each other just what the show meant.

After what feels like a never ending break from the arts (especially with a second lockdown on the cards for a while), Sydney Festival promised to bring us bold and memorable experiences to ignite, unite, and excite the city of Sydney. With a diverse program with something for every arts lover, the Festival has pushed hard to reinvigorate the Sydney arts scene - and with The Last Season, it feels refreshing to again experience a work that makes you think. It was clear that the audience was filled with questions, and had just a few of them been answered in the work, this would have been a successful instalment for Sydney Festival. Unfortunately, such an unclear narrative leaves little room for the inspiration and excitement that the Festival had hoped for.

Image Credit: Brett Boardman


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