A deep rumble filled the darkened auditorium and as the drums faded shadowy figures began picking out an ancient aboriginal melody on marimbas. The stage lights revealed four Defying Gravity students playing PeterSculthorpe’s evocative From Jabiru Dreaming. Director Tim White has a flair for the theatrical and his percussion ensemble were entering the spirit of the dreamtime.
After more than twenty-five years in operation Defying Gravity has a reputation; both Carnivale concerts were sold out weeks ago. The program was built around Latin/African numbers featuring soloists Constanza Herrero (vocals) and Freddy Poncin (hand drums).
Herrero’s understated singing brought authenticity and Poncin’s joyful charisma lit up the room. The seductive groove of Tito Puente’s Oye Como Va translated well into an all-percussion arrangement with marimbas and vibraphone beating out the original flute melody over a rhythm section of drums and hand percussion. Victor Daniel’s La Vida es un Carnaval was a riot of rhythm with 22 percussionists filling the stage with flamboyant salsa energy.
The same ensemble lined up across the stage with djembe drums between their knees, mimicking the traditional Guinean rhythms Poncin marked out in a heart-pounding African welcome.
The program was filled out by smaller works by Australian composers and the students themselves. Four relaxed performers grinned and grooved to the hypnotic marimba rhythms in Nigel Westlake’s popular Omphalo Centric Lecture. James Chong featured as snare drum soloist in The Marching Drumkit, a piece by WAAPA graduate Daniel Hall. Chong was accompanied by five marching performers playing bass drum, snares and cymbals and grouping together momentarily to form a drum kit for Chong to thrash out a rock solo.
Euphina Yap provided a contrast with her saccharine arrangement of Vivaldi’s Winter and Rheinberger’s Kyrie for marimba and vibraphone. The intense Concerto for Timpani by Japanese composer Akira Nishimura seemed a little out of place given the “Carnivale” theme, but timpanist Tegan LeBrun gave an enthralling performance. A concert by Defying Gravity guarantees a dramatic and slick production. Best of all the students look like they are enjoying it as much as the audience.