Jonathan Holloway describes his second Melbourne Festival as a telescope to the ‘big picture’. “We live in a world that seems to be defined by single actions that occur somewhere else in the world – on a fairly constant basis. The whole narrative gets swayed by one or two crazy or terrifying people.” In 2017, he offers a Festival that “steps back from that tiny picture to see the big picture” of human civilisation.
It’s a bit of a vague statement in some ways – capable of catching all things. His program contains work that speak to art’s power to bridge social and political divides (We Love Arabs; Two Jews Walk Into a Theatre), to help us understand and find a way through complex societal problems (Please, Continue (Hamlet)), and to push into new realms of understanding human experience (7 Pleasures). There are programs you’d describe as ‘topical’ (Survival Skills for Desperate Times, co-presented by Arts House; The Festival of Questions, co-presented by the Wheeler Centre), and works you might describe as more ‘essential’ to ongoing human experience (the Guerrilla Museum’s All of My Friends Were There; Mammalian Diving Reflex’s All the Sex I’ve Ever Had). There are also works that take a bird’s-eye view of history and human experience (Germinal; Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music). If you really want to you, you can probably fit every work in the line-up into Holloway’s theorem. It’s nevertheless an interesting way to dissect and and think about the program.
For the ‘tentpole’ events of the 2017 Festival, you’re looking at Taylor Mac’s music marathon A 24-Decade History of Popular Music – which should sell out quick smart, despite the hefty price – and the already-announced Wayne McGregor joint Tree of Codes. These are also two of the key ‘spectacles’ of the festival, alongside Yang Liping’s epic of dance and theatre, Under Siege. All feature ravishing design, and hold forth the promise of sensory overload.
The festival is book-ended with two communal, community-led – and free – events: for the fifth year, the opening event of the Festival is the free Federation Square event Tanderrum, representing a gathering of the five clans of the Kulin Nation; and on the closing night, the concert Our Place Our Home features emerging musicians from the new immigrant and refugee communities, alongside industry heavyweights.
International heavy hitters on the music line-up include Alexis Taylor (of Hot Chip), Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields (performing his 50 Song Memoir), and Lambchop.
The visual arts line-up is dominated by grand-daddy of conceptual art Joseph Kosuth, taking over two levels of Anna Schwartz gallery (the artist will be present, giving a public lecture). In addition, South Korean installation artist Ayoung Kim will present her 2016 installation In This Vessel We Shall Be Kept, and a new commission: Porosity Valley, Portable Holes. Meanwhile over at ACCA, you can catch Kader Attia’s exhibition, heading south from Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
Melbourne Festival runs Oct 4-22.
'Select and Save' ticket packages go on sale Wed Jul 26 from noon; single tickets go on sale Friday July 28.
You know Alexis Taylor as the frontman for UK electropop group Hot Chip – but did you know that he is also a solo singer-songwriter? His third solo record Piano, released last year, sets aside pop affectations completely to focus on just piano and voice. It is a sombre, delicate collection of songs written in tribute to his friends who have passed away. In his Melbourne Festival appearance, Taylor has chosen to perform four intimate shows in the Melbourne Recital Centre's Salon rather than one large show. He'll play songs from Piano, as well as a few reinterpretations of his own writing and songs by other artists. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
This sensuous work by young Danish dancer and choreographer Mette Ingvartsen seeks to disrupt and interrogate our preconceptions about nudity, sexuality and pleasure; it features 12 nude dancers interacting with each other and various objects in “a presentation of seven different possibilities of how to understand pleasure.” Ingvartsen has a longstanding interest in exploring sexuality and the public sphere, through works including 69 Positions, to come and 21 Pornographies. Melbourne Festival artistic director Jonathan Holloway says her 2015 work 7 Pleasures “redefines the way bodies move in space. It’s finding a new language [for dance].” The nudity is essential – not just for the effect of the piece, but from its conception. “By taking off our clothes and by experimenting with these sensual materials, certain codes of behavior were taken away,” Ingvartsen says. “There are many things that have to be cleared in order to set up a frame to enable people to work together in this manner.” Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
This epic choreographic spectacle, with set and costume design by Tim Yip (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame), depicts the 2nd century BC war between Chinese warlords Xiang Yu and Liu Bang (best known to Western audiences through its depiction in Chen Kaige’s Oscar-nominated film of 1993, Farewell My Concubine). Dancer and choreographer Yang Liping created the work for stadiums – and only later, when she was invited to tour it outside of China, did she shrink it down for a more conventional theatre staging.Ms Yang is generally considered China’s ‘first lady of dance’; she shot to international fame in 1986 for her folk-inspired dancing, and is currently a judge on China’s So You Think You Can Dance. Under Siege blends contemporary dance with traditional Chinese forms, including Kung Fu and Peking Opera. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
In their participatory theatre show Funeral, the Guerilla Museum simulated a funeral tribute for one audience member each night. In this new show, premiering as part of Melbourne Festival 2017, they use the same model but shift to into birthday celebration mode, taking the audience through the highlights of one life through song, dramatisation and performance. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
This new play by Tasmanian Nathan Maynard draws on his history to create an intergenerational portrait of one family gathered together for the annual mutton bird harvest. Trevor Jamieson (The Secret River) will star, alongside an all-Indigenous cast, directed by Isaac Drandic. The Season premiered at Sydney Festival in January 2017, and has since then shown at Hobart's Ten Days on the Island and Adelaide Festival. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
Dutch provocateurs Roger Bernat and Yan Duyvendak took inspiration from a real life murder case and Shakespeare's tragedy to create this unique fusion of theatre and legal trial. Three actors (cast locally) will play the characters of Hamlet, Ophelia and Gertrude, alongside real-life barristers, a judge, and court psychologist, in a 'mock trial' of Hamlet for the murder of Polonius. Near the end of the performance, 12 audience members will be selected to form a jury. "If only we could start doing this around the world, I think justice would be better," says artistic director Jonathan Holloway, who programmed Please, Continue (Hamlet) for his second Melbourne Festival. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
This show attempts nothing less than the evolution of the universe, from the first glimpse of light to our contemporary world – in just an hour. Germinal is the brain child of French artists Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, of performance collective L'Amicale De Production. It begins with an empty stage, darkness and four actors. In the opening scenes they discover light, microphones and speakers, effectively creating the show as they construct their world. As things get more complicated and the characters face social interaction, societal expectations and their own mortality, Germinal gets to the core of what it is that makes us human and how community can be maintained in our modern world. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
As far as large-scale international festival shows go, it doesn't get much bigger than this. Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music is a decade-by-decade crash course in American culture, from 1776 to today, told (and this is the truly outrageous part) across 24 hours. In a major coup for the Melbourne Festival, Mac will perform this marathon music theatre work in October in its third-ever appearance after New York (where it premiered in 2016 to rave reviews) and San Francisco. So what can audiences expect, exactly? A 24-Decade History of Popular Music is as far from a straight-down-the-line history lesson as you can get. The New York performance artist approaches American history from a queer and radical lens, bringing marginalised voices to the fore and focusing on the communities torn apart by dominant forces, whether they're queer, female, Jewish or people of colour. In Mac's words, the overall impact of the piece is to show how "in America the oppressor is forgiven but the outsider is vilified". This year, 24-Decade was awarded the Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History (the 2016 winner was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton). At once searingly political and hugely entertaining, 24-Decade is performed by Mac, along with 23 US musicians, and an ensemble of dancers, acrobats, puppets, choirs and marching band. After each decade, one of the 23 performers leaves the stage, until only Mac remains for the final decade, ending in the present
A crowning jewel in the Melbourne Festival 2017 program, this 2015 production (produced by and premiered at Manchester International Festival) brings together the talents of three giants within their respective fields: Icelandic-Danish installation artist Olafur Eliasson, DJ and producer Jamie xx, and British choreographer Wayne McGregor. And, as Melbourne Festival director Jonathan Holloway says, "none of them steps back to let the others have their moment, they all just plough in. And that might not have worked, but it has worked so brilliantly." The inspiration was Jonathan Safran Foer's controversial 'novel' (commonly referred to as a 'sculptural object') Tree of Codes, in which he physically excised words from Bruno Schulz's The Street Of Crocodiles in order to create a new work – in the physical sense, and the narrative sense. In her review of the New York season, Time Out New York's Helen Shaw writes that "In the music, the inspiration led to layering and complexity; in the visual environment it spurred Eliasson to create illusory tunnels and games with depth onstage – when the giant mirrors descend, they turn the space into a mise en abyme, so we seem to be seeing endless rows of dancers stretching into the black beyond." Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
Canadian company Mammalian Diving Reflex describe their remit as "entertainment for the end of the world." Their last show in Melbourne was Haircuts by Children (featuring ten-year-olds giving adults hair cuts) and their forthcoming show involves local over-65s talking about their sex lives. And yes, we will sit for two hours and listen to our (no doubt) more experienced elders talk about sex. Named after a survival reflex in mammals, Mammalian Diving Reflex are on a mission to create shows that trigger the best in human behaviour. In their company statement, they write: "We trust we’ll get through this century in one piece, we just have to get out of the way and let our natural tendencies of generosity unlock and redistribute the world’s abundance." We like the cut of their jib. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list. Time Out Sydney's 4-star review of the Sydney Festival 2015 season: It looked a lot like this would be Sydney Festival’s most titillating show, and that suspicion was not allayed when the audience was plied with wine (a free glass for every ticket holder) and asked to stand and repeat a collective oath not to repeat what they heard in the room that night. So we weren’t prepared for how emotional this two-hour journey across six sex lives would be.(Though given the mission statement of Canadian company Mammalian Diving Reflex, we probably should have twigged to it). Selected from respondents to a public call-out, the six people on sta
Melbourne artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney created this befuddling labyrinth for Dark Mofo 2016 – and since then, it's popped up in Sydney, Adelaide and event Bendigo. Finally, Melburnians will have the chance to encounter House of Mirrors as it sets up shop outside the Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Melbourne Festival. The installation is designed in such a way that visitors can often see others in the maze, but not themselves (and vice versa). Several steps in, it becomes impossible to maintain a sense of direction – and that's when the confusion begins to set in. Here's what Time Out Sydney had to say when they visited House of Mirrors at Sydney Festival 2017: "Navigating this maze of mirrors and optical illusions is especially fun after dark... and the experience is ever more disorienting if you've had a few cocktails beforehand. We were told it's possible to complete the maze in 60 seconds – but where's the fun in that? Our tips are to spend a bit of time playing with the illusions, then to stumble around until you creep yourself or your companions out, before finding your way back out again. In our experience, you haven't truly survived the House of Mirrors until you've jumped out of your skin – spooked by your own reflection." Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.
While the Melbourne Festival is an opportunity to see large-scale theatre, dance, art and music from all over the world, it's also a chance to celebrate the local artists who are telling stories that reflect who we are, and contributing to Melbourne's thriving culture. Two such artists are Susie Dee and Nicci Wilks, who will play a mother and daughter in Caravan. It's written by four lauded local playwrights and long-time collaborators Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Angus Cerini and Wayne Macauley, and will be performed in a caravan in the Malthouse Theatre forecourt. Susie Dee has built a strong reputation over the last decade for creating bold and uncompromising works that often delve into the lives of those who are seldom seen on stage. The multiple Green Room Award-winning SHIT in 2015 (written by Patricia Cornelius and starring Nicci Wilks) was a powerful insight into the lives of underprivileged women; and Animal (2016) was a hard-hitting look at violence against women. In Caravan, Dee and Wilks will navigate a difficult mother-daughter relationship, in a show that will take place over the course of one evening. Check out our Melbourne Festival 2017 highlights hit list, and our Melbourne Festival Feasts guide.