Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: only one performance
This production was led by the narrative of poet, author, self-confessed tea fanatic and shakuhachi player, Anne Norman. The performance was inspired by, and based upon the book, Curiosi-tea, written by Anne Norman’s alter ego, Camellia Cha.
The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble, Tenzin Choegyal and the two Tibetan monks in exile, the Venerable Karma Gyasey and Jamyang Sherab, who are all featured in full reviews of their own performances elsewhere in the Performing Arts Reviews section of the Glam Adelaide web site, were joined by Josh Bennett, on sitar, dilruba and didgeridoo, and Jay Dabgar, on tabla. Together with Norman on shakuhachi they represented, in music, the major countries in the history of tea.
Tea was first cultivated in China, became a drink of both domestic and religious significance in Tibet, was cultivated under terrible conditions in India and Ceylon for British consumption, and became an important Zen ritual in Japan. Interestingly, the Mahayana school of Buddhism went the other way, from India, to Tibet, as Vajrayana, to China, as Ch’an, and thence to Japan, as Zen. Thus, the musicians are linked both by the importance of tea and by Buddhism.
Tea comes from several varieties of the Chinese camellia sinensis plant and is found in many grades, or qualities. There are also many ways of processing the leaves, and of preparing and drinking tea, and much of this was discussed in Anne Norman’s spoken sections, in humorous poetry and prose as well as in a lecture format. She also covered the cultivation and history of tea from its Chinese origin, around 10 centuries BC, through to the dishonourable background to Billy Tea. There were many belly laughs to be had, but there was a serious side to her tale as well and, of course, an informative treatise on tea itself. Norman had the audience in the palm of her hand for the entire performance through her superb delivery of her material and a wry cheekiness in her presentation that would have softened the hardest of visages, had there actually been any, that is.
Then, too, there was the glorious music. This covered a wide range, and of deepest significance were the two monks chanting a prayer and offering tea to the deities and Anne Norman playing a meditation on the shakuhachi. There were also plenty of lighter pieces by each of the two instrumental groups and the two soloists. There was also some fascinating interaction between the musicians in a number of cross-cultural collaborations, including a fun version of Waltzing Mathilda. The great mastery of all of the musicians enthralled the audience, especially their ability to join in with each others’ music with such apparent ease.
This proved to be a highly enjoyable afternoon, with a group of terrific performers, that left the audience smiling and chattering excitedly about the event as they left.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.