As explained last week, Curtain Call hearts arts festivals.

Opening Night, By John Cassavetes, Directed by Ivo van Hove. Photo: Jan Versweyveld
Opening Night, By John Cassavetes, Directed by Ivo van Hove. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Short of somehow evolving a fully integrated arts culture, a society where the arts are not only valued but are regarded as intrinsic to the moral-civil-imaginative life of a city, festivals are the best way of engaging people with their local arts community, and also of asking them to consider that community in the global context. Around Australia, most of the arts festivals are held in late summer or early autumn. Melbourne sort of stands out on its own in October, meaning that it misses out on those events that jump between Perth, Adelaide and Sydney. On the other side of the coin, the Melbourne programme does thereby gain a certain patina of exclusivity, which, we guess, adds to the excitement and buzz surrounding some of the international events in particular.

Events? Events! Herewith, a summary of events in the theatre/performance portion of the program as related to Curtain Call by festival director and all-round figure of action, Brett Sheehy—

Tthe Michael Clark Company presents Come, Been and Gone. Clark, after rising as the enfant terrible of contemporary dance in the mid eighties, disappeared from the international spotlight in the early nineties, only to re-emerge a decade later as resident artist at the Barbican Centre in London.  He has since produced a series of highly-rated neoclassical dance works, including two works over the past three years using the music of Stravinsky. The work he is bringing to Melbourne, however, is a more rocking piece, performed to a soundtrack feat. David Bowie, Lou Reed and Brian Eno. It’s still neoclassical in conception, but, Sheehy assures us, it’s cool neoclassical. Phew. But watch out! Partial nudity …

Oxana Panchenko Photo: Jake Walters
Oxana Panchenko Photo: Jake Walters

Next, Melbourne is offered a work by Quebec’s premier auteur director Robert LePage. Set in Montreal and Shanghai, The Blue Dragon, a sequel to Lepage’s Dragons’ Trilogy, is an “east meets west” affair, revolving around three central characters: a business woman from Canada in China to adopt a baby; an ex-pat Canadian gallery owner living in Shanghai; and a Chinese visual artist. Intrigue and Lepagian visual opulence ensue. Lapage’s works can sometimes be, er, long—five hours, nine hours, twelves hours—but, Sheehy, assures us, this one wraps up in an hour and forty-five minutes.

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Stifters Dinge. Photo: Mario Del Curto
Stifters Dinge. Photo: Mario Del Curto

Stifters Dinge is a “music theatre” work by Heiner Goebbels, one of the most intensely creative directors/composers in Europe. It looks like one of the festival highlights, even if somewhat undersold by the program materials. It’s billed as “a play without actors, a performance without performers and a concert without musicians … a no-man show”. This gives the impression that the piece is, um, missing something. Reports, however, from its showing at New York’s Armoury last December set it up as an exceptionally warm and human work. The title translates as Stifter’s Things. Stifter is an early 19th century Romantic author. The show is not actually a collection of things that once belonged to Stifter, rather, it is a piece about the way that Stifter, in his own unique literary style, understood the thingness of things. The play is “performed” by a massive mechanical construction, including five pianolas and various automated percussive elements. It is hard to describe, but this is the one that we here at Curtain Call are probably most excited about.

Brett Sheehy is an advocate of contemporary opera, and so it’s no surprise to see the über-contemporary work of the Danish internationalists, Hotel Pro Forma (last seen in Australia with their Operation: Orfeo). The show is Tomorrow, in a Year, composed by Scandinavian electro pop duo The Knife and choreographed by Japanese artist Hiroaki Umeda. It certainly looks, well, new, and after talking with several “kids”, it seems that this is the draw-card event for younger patrons.

Photo: Claudi Thyrrestrup
Photo: Claudi Thyrrestrup

There’s also a boutique opera work called the Richter-Meinhoff-Opera, in which performance artist David Chesworth plucks at the theme of suicide terrorism, trying to provoke resonances between a notorious mass-suicide involving West German terrorists, the Baader/Meinhof Group and contemporary suicide bombers.

En Masse, was at the Adelaide Festival earlier this year and will be at the Sydney Festival later in the summer. It’s an installation/performance piece by Genevive Lacy and Marc Silver. We saw it in Adelaide. It’s amazing. Especially if you like birds and recorder music. Which we do.

Jack Charles is one of the great Australian stories, a story familiar to many from the ABC documentary Barstardy. This show, Jack Charles v The Crown, written by Jack with John Romeril and produced with the Ilibijerri Theatre Company, relates the life and times of one of our great stage and screen actors. Jack has been in and out of jail many times, battled addiction and come out the other side of all of that.

Jack Charles Photo: Bindi Cole
Jack Charles Photo: Bindi Cole

Ivo van Hove!  This show, Opening Night, is based on the John Cassavetes’ film of the same name and is perhaps the biggest of the big internationals in the festival. Sheehy describes it as being about the relationship between cinema and theatre “and the ways in which they actually coalesce”. What the audience sees when they enter the auditorium is the filming of a theatre production of a film that depicts a play. The festival director further enthuses about van Hove: “Just the genius of the man! I mean every single scene is both lit for a film studio and lit for a theatrical experience; every moment is blocked for the camera as well as blocked for a live audience.” Well, we’re pretty excited, too.

Then there is An Anthology of Optimism. Pieter De Buysser and Jacob Wren started with a really really simple question: Is there anything to be optimistic about? Simple, yeah? They then wrote to some two-hundred people—scientists, politicians and writers, you know, people who matter—and asked them what they thought. They then condensed the responses into this show. It looks like a high-tech thriller, utilising the advanced technology of 1970s-style overhead projection. There will also be an Australian chapter of responses that is currently being put together for this show.

And last but by no means least, there is Beckett’s Trilogy. Gare St Lazare is an Irish company specialising in the works of Samuel Beckett. Their name, after the station Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris, pays tribute to the fact that Beckett’s great city loves were Dublin and Paris, and the company performs regularly in both. They mainly perform the plays of Beckett, but in this massive three-hour one-man show they tackle the trilogy of novels, Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable. Conor Lovett is the virtuoso performer who pulls it off. He is considered by many, Brett Sheehy among them, to be the world’s foremost exponent of Beckett.

Tickets and program can be found at the festival website. The shindig itself runs from 8-23 of October 2010.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

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