For an insight into what makes a
serious but please-all arts festival, The Age‘s arts editor Ray Gill has travelled from Melbourne to Brisbane to look at how the northern capital
does an omnibus cultural event.

A big debate is raging in Melbourne at the moment (well it’s raging in a
pretty one-sided fashion on the op-ed page of The Age) about what’s in store for
the denizens of the nation’s supposed cultural capitol this October when ring-in
American artistic director Kristy Edmunds stages her second arts festival in
Bleak City.

Freelance cultural commentator Peter Craven and The Age‘s senior arts writer Robin Usher have both
taken shots at Edmunds for being too “fringe” and for shunning “major artistic
work” by the great names in the creative canon such as Shakespeare and Beckett.

Gill points out that Brisbane’s artistic director, the seasoned arts
impresario and one-time opera singer, Linden Terracini, has managed to program a
festival that manages to incorporate community events and the kind of big
main-stage productions that would keep Usher and Craven happy:

This year’s Brisbane Festival, which began last weekend and runs until
July 30, emphasises community with its theme of “place”. There are 530
performances in 17 days, with 10 big free events held across the suburbs; shows
were commissioned about those particular locales, such as Janos Balodi’s
Coorparoo SK8, about that suburb’s skaters.

But in the city centre the festival includes what’s expected of a
performing arts festival with a $12 million budget. There’s New York’s Lee
Breuer and the Mabou Mines Theatre’s production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with
the male characters performed by dwarves to accentuate the gender power divide;
a concert staging of Salome performed by Lisa Gasteen and conducted by Simone
Young, the festival’s own $1.5 million adaptation of David Malouf’s Brisbane
novel Johnno, and a free forum beginning today on global energy, Earth
Dialogues, chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev.

Kristy Edmunds says she wants her festivals (this is the second of three)
to showcase work that Melburnians would not see at other times of the year.
As Gill reported earlier this month,
Edmunds says she doesn’t do “redundancy” or “mainstream”.

Peter Fray

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