The city's major arts festival has outdone itself with music, film, circus, dance and art events from around the world
The Melbourne Festival is the most significant arts festival in the city’s calendar, and this year, the organisers are squeezing over 60 music, theatre, film, dance and art events into just 17 days. The program – released today – can feel a little overwhelming, so we’ve put together the top five things about this year’s cultural fiesta that impress us most.
1. The opening of the festival will bring together elders from the five clans of the Kulin nation
Last year, elders from the five clans of the Kulin nation (Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, Wathaurong, Taungerong and Dja Dja Wurrung) invited the people of Melbourne to a Tanderrum: the first ceremony of its kind since modern Melbourne was founded in 1835. This powerful affirmation of Koorie culture is back again this year, comprising song, storytelling and dance.
2. There’s a huge focus on circus
And it's far from lion-tamers and tightropes. Festival director Josephine Ridge and her team decided to celebrate Melbourne’s rich circus tradition (the Arts Centre used to be the site of the Wirth Brothers’ Circus in the early 1900s) by inviting the world’s most innovative circus artists – including Montreal’s Cirque Éloize, Belgium’s Dique & Fien and France’s Circa – to perform alongside local indie ensembles like Dislocate.
We’re particularly excited about the Nanjing Project; a cultural exchange in which some of the Chinese company’s finest artists will train with Australian students to create something new. It’s just one example of how truly international the Melbourne Festival is, which brings us to:
3. The program champions cross-cultural collaborations
Converging cultures is a major theme in this year’s program. Can you guess what an Irish-American supergroup might sound like? The Gloaming comprises Celtic music stars as well as US indie rock producer Thomas Bartlett, bringing a contemporary feel to Irish folk.
The Melbourne Dancehouse’s Dance Territories is made up of two shows, The Sacred and the Profane and Rituals of Now. Both pieces invite choreographers from countries including France, Belgium and Japan to create different responses to the subject matter, paired against each other simultaneously.
4. …and cross-platform projects
“This year, there is a sort of an element of disruption,” explained Ridge at the Melbourne Festival’s media launch. No, she doesn't mean protests or flashmobs; she’s talking about artists in different fields coming together to create extraordinary pieces of work. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will provide powerful backup for Greek pop superstar Mihalis Hatzigiannis, and will also step up to the challenge of playing alongside Detroit techno innovator Jeff Mills in the collaboration, Light from the Outside World.
As for the performing arts, Anouk van Dijk – Artistic Director of the Melbourne dance troupe Chunky Move – will meet again with long-time collaborator and Berlin playwright Falk Richter for Complexity of Belonging: a blend of text, music and dance. Dublin company Brokentalkers’ play Have I No Mouth will see art and life collide as actor/writer Feidlim Cannon brings his own mother and their real-life psychotherapist on stage to tell the story of his father’s death.
Over at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Framed Movements exhibition will explore choreography and its place in art installations.
5. Social and political issues take centre stage
The Wheeler Centre’s Art and Change series features interactive talks with artists, with sessions including Art and Feminism and One in Two, which addresses the alarming reality that every second young Australian in detention is Indigenous.
Big hART – an organisation that aims to give Australia’s most vulnerable communities a voice through artistic expression – will present Scott Rankin’s play Hipbone Sticking Out, which explores the death of 16-year-old Yindjibarndi man John Pat in prison 30 years ago.
The film series Art, Politics and Protest will screen subversive documentaries from around the world, including American director Thomas Allen Harris’ 2014 award-winning film Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People.
Aurora Orchestra residency (UK), Buck 65 (Canada), Clint Mansell (UK), Haydn for Everyone (Australia), Josh T Pearson (USA), Nils Frahm (Germany), Ed Kuepper (Australia), Mikelangelo (Australia), Pop Crimes: The Songs of Rowland S. Howard (Australia), Since I Left You: A Celebration of the Avalanches (Australia), the Bamboos (Australia), Urthboy (Australia)
Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday (Australia), Marzo (Italy), My Lovers’ Bones (Australia), Team of Life (Australia), From All Angles: Trisha Brown Dance Company (USA)
Finding Vivian Maier (USA), Golden Mirror Carousel (Belgium)