The newly launched Arts Centre Summer Program rides into town on the back of War Horse, the much-anticipated Australian premiere of Handspring Puppet's colossal West End triumph, based on Michael Morpurgo’s adventuresome book of the same name.
Around this mighty beast, they've mustered a busy selection of events and exhibitions that give the Arts Centre's sprawling entertainment assets a full work out, from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, which will host the usual range of concerts and festivals, to the newly renovated Hamer Hall, where you can catch international artists such as David Byrne and St. Vincent, to the now spaciously laid-out riverside neighbourhood, home to a new series of free lunchtime and evening concerts and workshops.
Securing War Horse for Melbourne was a major coup for Arts Centre Melbourne, the keystone event in chief executive Judith Isherwood's enthusiastic drive to reinvigorate the Art Centre brand and the city's "arts precinct" generally. War Horse, which tells the story of horse called Joey sold into the army at the outbreak of World War I, touchingly brought to life by full-scale puppets, will open on New Year's Eve.
To coincide with the premiere, the Arts Centre, together with a number of local physical theatre companies, are presenting an exhibition, War Horse and the Breath of Life, to highlight the peculiar emotional power of puppets, using material both from War Horse and the Art Centre Melbourne's performing arts collection. There will also be an installation called Big Horse, a four metre-tall flower-covered horse sculpture by Amanda Kingwith, constructed with the help of kids and families in the Arts Centre forecourt during January. It'll be like the giant gladys which were erected earlier this year for the opening of Hamer Hall, only more horsey.
Also coming from London's West End is Blaze, which puts "streetdancing" centre stage in a high-tech, high-energy dance spectacular, featuring choreography from Anthony van Laast, Lyle Beniga, Kendra Horsburgh, Mike Song, Chris Baldock and Kenny Wormald. It also features an extravagant set by Es Devlin who normally works with stadium acts like Kanye and Gaga.
In the lead up to Blaze, there will be a series of public auditions for local b-boy and b-girl talent to co-star in the Melbourne opening. Then, during the season, hip-hop culture will take over completely as local dancers, DJs and street artists fill the corridors and surrounding public spaces. Check the Art Centre website for full details and to see how you can get involved.
Underneath the spire, in the Fairfax studio, will be an off-the-wall one-man show called Leo, by trailblazing Berlin-based production company Circle of Eleven. It's an intriguing and somewhat surreal tale of loneliness. The more time Leo spends by himself, alone in a room, the more he comes to feel as though things are not as they should be. Like gravity. Didn't it used to be somehow different? What follows is a mind-bending comedy of the senses in a similar, though more acrobatic vein, to Boy Girl Wall, a favouite at the MTC this year.
Do you remember the first time? Still in the world of comedy, but in a slightly more icky register, comes My First Time, an off-Broadway hit about losing your virginity. Ken Davenport's script combines real-life stories played out by four actors across ninety minutes. Before the show, the audience will be invited to contribute their own seminal experiences, which, be warned, may subsequently end up a part of the show.
On the local front, artists from volume two of the Key of Sea album, hit Hamer Hall for a gala concert in December. Performers on the night will include Tim Rogers with Polyxeni, Jinja Safari with Knife, Sophia Brous with Awaz and many more.
It's a big summer for popular music. Ex-Talking Heads front-man and musical loose cannon, David Byrne, has hooked up with fellow New York indie-type Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, and will be stopping by Hamer Hall in January as part of a national tour. Meanwhile, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl hosts the Summadayze festival, described as an "Aztec acid daydream", just so you know exactly what to expect, as well as former indie-darlings turned stadium-rockers Weezer and Australia's latest international conqueror, Gotye.
Getting back out of the sun and into the theatre, European folk-circus act D’Irque and Fien will be here in late January with Oh Suivant! They'll be showing us exactly how wild you can get with a chair, a couple of bouncy balls, piano accompaniment and over twelve years of acrobatic and juggling experience across twenty countries.
You've probably already noticed the remodelled Southbank area between Hamer Hall and the Yarra. It's now more open and hospitable looking, though we wonder whether the saxophonist who used to busk under the old concrete ramp will get the same acoustics. Well, you'll be able to check out the acoustics for yourself with the Arts Centre's Riverside Live, opening in October. The Hamer Hall foyer and outdoor areas will feature regular concerts and workshops.
For those working in the city, or looking for daytime activities to amuse the kids, the program kicks off Thursday and Friday lunchtimes, 12:30 to 1:30pm, and then extends to Friday and Saturday evenings, 5:00 to 6:00pm. During the day, there will be free dance classes with Asanti Dance Theatre, concerts by Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and Lyric Opera of Melbourne. At night, look out for poetry slams curated by the Centre for Poetics and Justice and house band, The Putbacks. Check website for full details.
The full program includes plenty more, like Christmas concerts by Human Nature, the Victorian Opera's gala farewell for Richard Gill, the Australian Pops Orchestra who will play in the New Year with a night of old favourites and the summer programs for the MTC, Opera Australia and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.