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Melbourne Festival 2013

October 2013

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This year’s Melbourne Festival, the first for Creative Director Josephine Ridge, is as much a celebration of the city of Melbourne as it is a platform for Australian and international acts.

Ridge, who was General Manager of the Sydney Festival for 10 years, has managed to bring some of Melbourne’s most iconic buildings into the Festival fold (including Her Majesty’s Theatre, the Athenaeum, the Forum, the Capitol Theatre and the Palais) offering locals and visitors the opportunity to connect with the city’s rich cultural heritage.

There’s also a nod to the very new, with the impressive RMIT Design Hub designated host of the Festival’s design element, while the Festival Hub returns to its spot near the Yarra after its successful debut in 2012.

All in all, it’s an impressive Festival program of contemporary and classical music, dance, theatre, visual arts, film and discussion. There are 19 world premieres, a Kid’s Weekend, and a free Opening Night Concert. Big ticket items are numerous. Highlights include: a special tribute to John Landis, a guest of the Festival, Brahms vs Wagner presented by the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Tacita Dean FILM, piano duo Katia and Marielle Labèque, and Archie Roach at the Playhouse.



‘Life and Times: Episodes 1-4 is entrancing, maddening, heartbreaking, sidesplitting… [and] in its humble way, awe-inspiring,’ wrote Charles Isherwood of The New York Times. Such is the effect this ambitious production has on audiences and critics alike. This is theatre writ large where drama, song and dance create an ingenious response to a familiar question: “Can you tell me your life story?” The answer, which is taken from 16 hours of recorded conversation, seems to be, as Isherwood rightly points out, a ‘singing Facebook page that scrolls on forever’. Well almost, for this is the ordinary made epic, a stunning exploration of our most connected generation: their language, their experiences, their coming-of-age moments played out on stage and in song; the lyricism of their language, the moments of the ridiculous and the absurd somehow, ultimately, poetic. Showing as both individual episodes (October 22-24, totalling almost eight hours) and in its entirety as a marathon 10-hour performance (with BBQ dinner and intervals on October 26), Life & Times: Episodes 1-4 – a production of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and Burgtheater Wien – will exert its own seduction, that’s guaranteed.





Described as the cinematic bard of the Chinese working-class and peasantry, Wang Bing has forged a unique place in the world of documentary filmmaking thanks to his singular, epic works. His subject is the social history of China’s everyday people – the miners, the laborers, the farmers: the many hundreds of millions of citizens who live on less than $5 a day. It is their experiences, their emotional lives, that Bing – with his effective hand-held, part observational, part cinéma vérité style – shows us in its real-time (and often haunting) minutiae. This year, the Melbourne Festival offers a range of free screenings of some of Bing’s most renowned works. See the intimate films Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (227mins) and Man with No Name (97mins), screening on a loop, 10am-5pm at Melbourne’s Chinese Museum (October 12-27), or take a rare opportunity to spend time with Bing’s ‘Industrial Epics’ – West of the Tracks (9hrs, 11mins), Coal Money (53mins), and Crude Oil (14hrs), all screening at the Capitol Theatre, October 19 and 20. There’s also The Future in Ruins: Wang Bing’s ‘New Documentary’, a free panel discussion on October 21.





The appearance of Sylvie Guillem, the pre-eminent dancer of her generation, promises to set this year’s Festival alight with the Melbourne premieres of PUSH (featuring the celebrated pas de deux performed with choreographer, Russell Maliphant), and 6000 miles away, Guillem’s latest collaboration with distinguished choreographers, Jirí Kylián, William Forsythe and Mats Ek. Guillem, born in Paris in 1965, is a former top-ranking female dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet. Known throughout the world for her exceptional talent and her impossibly exquisite physique, she is one of the few ballet dancers to have successfully moved from classical to what one critic describes as the most extreme of contemporary dance. Now 48, Guillem shows no sign of stopping, her flawless movements, her dramatic tempos and intricately executed – and intriguingly cerebral – performances, some of the most technically complex you’re likely to see. The three short solo works and one duet that make up PUSH (October 23 & 24), sees Maliphant and Guillem at their “riveting best” and in 6000 miles away (October 26 & 27), a triptych of powerful dance works create an unforgettable evening that ends with Guillem’s masterful solo, Bye. ‘A magic kind of pleasure’.




Sans Hotel (Australia)

Melbourne-based performance artist Nicola Gunn returns with her new work, In Spite Of Myself. Developed during a residency at the Arts Centre Melbourne, this is an intriguing foray into ideas about identity, performance, and the act of creation itself. Transformation, a favourite Gunn theme, is turned on its head in this subversive mash-up of art, performance, and audience debate where a fictional Nicola Gunn deconstructs her own identity to expose her own processes of self-creation. Gunn, who is known for her many surreal, original works, is one of our most exciting theatre-makers, her experimental approach and her collaborative efforts with her performance and design collective, Sans Hotel, offering a fresh vitality and significance to contemporary performance and theatre-making. In Spite Of Myself is presented by Arts Centre Melbourne in association with the Melbourne Festival, and shows October 9-11 (Previews) and October 11-13 (Season). As part of Gunn’s Festival program, In Spite Of Everything, ‘a free, one-off participatory public forum’ (October 12), offers a tantalising live art experience where audience members may or may not discuss and debate art practice, and in doing so, contribute to the content of Gunn’s new work.




In an ambitious performance which brings his family, ancestors and homeland onto a screen backed by an orchestra, Gurrumul returns to Melbourne. Moving forward from Yothu Yindi, Gurrumul’s solo work is extremely personal. On stage he sings and tells stories in his language, rich and different from languages of the south. To take the audience beyond just the spoken word of his people the screen shows dancing, day-to-day life and family in Arnhem Land. This footage of uncles and aunties presenting their surroundings contextualises Gurrumul’s heartfelt music and gives audience members an insightful perspective.

“He has this ability to challenge that nostalgic feeling. What he is singing about is culture and it is connected to a tapestry of icons and ancestors. He is essentially putting words to that connection,” says Michael Hohnen, a collaborator and close friend. A similar performance was staged in Sydney while still experimenting with the concept. Band members were left overwhelmed with emotion and viewers with a very real experience of our first peoples in the middle of the Sydney CBD. Gurrumul will be joined on stage by Sarah Blasko. This will be part of a three-year ongoing set of performances.




Ska music in Melbourne has been largely independent and grass-roots over the past few decades. The malleability of the genre, however, means that even within the local scene there is a great level of diversity.

Stevie Montgomery, of The SKA Vendors, says he dares people not to dance at A Celebration of Melbourne SKA, at Foxtel Melbourne Festival Hub on October 19 and 20. The event is devoted to the rollicking rhythmic riffs of ska, and is sure to draw music lovers keen to embrace their Rudeboy and get “skanking” – a form of ska-dance that looks a bit like an enthused “running man”.

One performing group, The Caribs, are part of a story very seldom told. Just a humble group from Melbourne, The Caribs laid down some of the earliest ska records in Jamaica. Melbourne is producing world-class musicians and the festival is a chance to celebrate the rich musical heritage of the city and the Jamaican sound of ska. The cross-generational festival of music will celebrate the rhythmically infectious beats, and aims not only to educate on Melbourne’s place in ska history but to engage and have fun through dancing, dress-ups, competition and food which gets your fingers messy.



Every week, 25 artists come together in the dictatorship of Belarus to perform in secret. The Belarus Free Theatre company, through their art and exploration of sexuality, push against a country which still justifies kidnapping and torturing its civilians in the 21st century.

The stage is simple, the atmosphere frenetic and the actors stripped bare. Sticks beaten on the stage floor represent the physical frustration and lucidity of these individuals, as well as the all-too-familiar rhythm of an army marching.

Co-founder of the company, Natalia Kaliada, reconceptualises pain, freedom and sexuality in Belarus to a global audience. Kaliada reflects on how men’s scars are generically considered attractive. In an unexpected response, she says the level of police brutality within Minsk makes it the sexiest city in the world.

It was the revolutionary ideas coming out of Belarus in 2010 that reminded Kaliada of Acker’s reflection on New York in 1979. While her piece and its following show an obvious desire for change, the company has been banned, Kaliada exiled, friends put in jail and her family threatened. MINSK 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker, makes the important distinction that every city is not so lucky and free to express itself.




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