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RACHAEL DEASE: HYMNS FOR END TIMES @ His Majesty’s Theatre gets 8/10


Rachael Dease: Hymns for End Times @
His Majesty’s Theatre
Thursday, February 18, 2021

8/10

After months of distance and isolation, Perth art lovers are beginning to reassemble in the city’s major arts spaces. After a snap lockdown and a fortnight of restrictions, Perth Festival reshuffled its programming by a week and the shows went on. Rachael Dease’s one-off staged performance of her debut solo album Hymns for End Times was able to keep its originally planned spot in the festival calendar at His Majesty’s Theatre, and the slightly-distanced audience gathered for what would be a beautiful, mesmerising, golden hour with Dease, Mia Brine, WASO, and Voyces.

Rachael Dease

The red velvet curtains gave way to a stage carpeted by newspapers and stacked with musicians of all kinds including several principal performers of WASO and a dozen or so Voyces chorus members. Sharing the space front and centre stage was Mia Brine on piano and Rachael Dease seated as still as the moon in a kind of armchair draped in black fabric. Brine directed the orchestra and chorus from the keyboard, and Dease’s stillness pervaded as she sang from her seated position, or rose to move to the standing mic next to her, or ascended the set of steps dividing the chorus in two. She was as still as the moon, but also as majestic.

Rachael Dease

Stage designer Bruce McKinven and lighting designer Mick Rippon’s vision brought bare tree branches, Edison light globes, a starlit backdrop and a single, giant Fresnel light into the stage space, moving almost imperceptibly in and out at various points in the performance. One might have their eyes on Dease for minute or two and then shift focus only to realise that the branches were no longer hanging quite where they used to be. The artists (designers, arrangers, performers and Dease included) who created this one-hour performance have somehow harnessed the power to stretch time, echoing Dease’s music and lyrics, which at points explored time’s passage and how we perceive it.

Dease’s song cycle rests primarily along a continuum in terms of its pace and dynamic. She has described in interviews that the album was written with views of the Derbarl Yerrigan and the desert, both calm and still, free of their usual inhabitants, from her windows as she was composing. Her lullabies are infused with tone and texture, with periodic interjections of unexpected sounds or fragments of counterpoints to her melodies, and they proceed almost without pause from one to the next.

Rachael Dease

Very rarely did the energy shift into higher gear through a change in tempo, time signature, or vocal tone. However, given the backstory and environment in which the music was created, this invariance of tone and pace seemed to be a deliberate, or perhaps inevitable, choice, feeling apropos to the moment and the context.

The arrangements for chorus and chamber orchestra by Alice Humphries, Kathy Potter and Mia Brines was complex and full of intriguing ideas and instrumentation. The ensemble supporting Dease on the night was impeccable and sensitive to the unique atmosphere that Dease’s music and vocals created.

Rachael Dease

The audience was suspended in a dark, but sheltered place with flecks and beams of warm glowing light. Dease ascended the chorus risers for a final musical poem of contrasts, of points and counterpoints, yin and yang, reassuring us that the eternal exists outside of time and outside of our control. She turned to her left and slowly disappeared like a ghost down a set of stairs behind the risers, leaving the crowd with the memory of her moonlit vocals, as the ensemble wound down and the stage faded to black.

CICELY BINFORD

Photos by Daniel Grant

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