In Heart to Heart, composer David Kotlowy attempts to score poetry in three languages, and show that love, art and music transcend culture. However, despite some beautiful components, the piece doesn’t resonate.
Heart to Heart is split into two halves, the first of which follows the story of a correspondence between a Japanese woman and her French lover. Combining poetry by Kotlowy himself, E.E Cummings, and Japanese poets including Izumi Shikibu and Marichiko, the verses are emotive and sensual. But unfortunately, when converted to songs and performed by guitarist Aleksandr Tsiboulski and tenor Robert Macfarlane, the poetry doesn’t quite translate. With so little of the Space Theatre stage being used by the two performers and the minimal set dressing, Tsiboulski and Macfarlane struggle to pull focus. The performance lacks a sense of dynamics, with most songs in this half sounding similar. Classically trained Macfarlane struggles with the French accent, often mispronouncing words or using an operatic Italian accent. While his tones are rich and melodic, his issues with the foreign lyrics, in addition to his insular and static stage presence, fail to convey the emotion of the story.
The second half of the show comprises a series of poems written by Indonesian poet Sitok Srengenge, and is much more dynamic and engaging than the first half. Soprano Kate Macfarlane is an engaging and peaceful performer, and, with her by his side, Robert Macfarlane also manages to perform with more emotion and energy. Backed up by an Indonesian orchestra including traditional instruments such as slenthems, sarons, gendèrs, kenongs and gongs, the singers are better supported, and the lyrics develop a dreamlike, serene quality. Paintings are also projected on the stage to accompany each poem, and, while the origin or intentions of these paintings are never explained, they serve as a guide to the audience, giving them a clue about the subject matter of each poem.
Although the show is billed as ‘Suitable for 10+ Years’, this show is not child appropriate – at least not if the child is allowed to read the English translations in the programme, which feature graphic sexual references.
Shows performed in foreign languages can be incredibly powerful, but, particularly for song-cycles and stories, the narrative needs to reach the audience in another way – through movement, images, music or even facial expressions. To understand what was being performed, audience members had to squint at the translations in their programmes, making audience members feel left behind when mispronunciation and repetition made the lyrics difficult to follow. The songs themselves were well-composed, if a little samey, but did not hold their own until they were accompanied by visual artwork in the second half.
Heart to Heart had some strong moments and strong elements, but does not stand out as a strong show. The bare bones might become a masterpiece with some further development, but the show does not measure up to the high calibre of performances in the OzAsia Festival this year.