Tag: Melbourne Festival 2017

Melbourne Festival 2017: THE WRAP WITH TAYLOR MAC

A glorious festival finale

By Bradley Storer

After finishing the rapturously received 24 Decades of Popular Music in America for this year’s Melbourne Festival, Taylor Mac returned to preside over the closing of the festival. From the very start, as Mac entered from the rear of the Forum Theatre and crowd-surfed over the people gathered at the front of the stage, an uninhibited party atmosphere prevailed. Mac (who uses the gender pronoun ‘judy’) was casually charismatic and commanding, describing the event as a collection of the queerest moments from the full 24 Decade show and with the aid of musical director Matt Ray and a small collection of musicians from the show judy certainly delivered!

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The hyper masculinity of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ was used as the back drop to a clandestine gay romance, the Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ (aided by the magnificent vocals of guest singers Steffanie Christi’an Mosley and Thornetta Davis) soundtracked the bus ride towards the Bayard Rustin march. Mac enlisted the audience to help re-enact the funeral procession of Judy Garland to the tune of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ before the explosion of the Stonewall Riots in the Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’. The climax of the evening came in a spontaneous rendition of Prince’s make-out classic ‘Purple Rain’ where the division between audience and performers was broken down by what felt like sheer Dionysian joy, with tears and singing along in equal measure – as well as an incredible guitar solo from guitarist extraordinaire Viva DeConcini. The audience was then asked to dance with someone of the same gender (or for non-binary people, anyone of their choice) as Mac and Ray transformed a homophobic Ted Nugent song into a gorgeous slow dance at a gay junior prom, a beautiful and poignant ending to the high-octane evening.

The best was saved for last, with a song not from Mac’s 24 Decade show, as judy encored with a camptastic cover of Olivia Newton John’s ‘Xanadu’ as a tribute to the Australian audience, complete with mirror ball and costume designer Machine Dazzle back up dancing dressed as a disco butterfly. The crowd roared and begged for more, and the feeling of sad acceptance as Mac exited the stage was palpable: the sensation of waking from a wonderful dream and having to return to the real world.

A delicious and satisfying ending to a triumphant season at the Melbourne Festival, and we can only wait in anticipation for what the festival will bring next year!

Date: 22nd October, 2017

Time: 7pm

Venue: Forum Theatre, Flinders St & Russel St, Melbourne VIC 3000

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Melbourne Festival 2017: WE LOVE ARABS

Political tensions, conflicts in art, relentless satire – and dance

By Myron My

In exploring identity politics and prejudice, We Love Arabs has a Jew and an Arab creating a new piece of contemporary dance piece to serve as a bridge between Middle-Eastern feuds. This satirical social commentary cleverly explores stereotypes and the powers that are at play when discussing race and cultures and to what extent art can create change in the world. 

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Hillel Kogan plays the role of a Jewish choreographer (as he is in real life) who initially explains to us the importance of this work, and how it will cross boundaries, and the deep thought he has put into its construction, and what he wants to do with it, and what he wants to accomplish with it. Before we even see any of this performance on stage therefore, we can already deduce that this work is not going to do or be anything that Kogan’s character envisions it will, and it’s not because he is a bad person, but because the Kogan on stage has essentially revealed how unaware and uninformed he is to be creating this type of work.

Kogan’s first obstacle is finding an Arab dancer, and from out of nowhere Adi Boutrous appears. As when he was alone on stage however, Kogan continues to verbally dominate the work, leaving Boutrous to passively stand and listen. The newcomer is barely given an opportunity to speak or contribute towards the creation of the performance, despite it being about him just as much as it is about Kogan. He is there to do as he is told, and Kogan’s lack of collaboration exposes his ignorant condescension towards Boutrous and his people.

The clever, self-conscious script exposes constant satirical tensions between artistic intent and cultural understanding: for example, while this piece was professedly intended to connect the two men, Kogan’s character spends much of the time focusing on their differences. He draws a Star of David on himself and an Islamic crescent moon on Boutrous’ forehead so the audience will be able to distinguish who’s who. However Boutrous reveals the multitude of problems in such labeling when seconds later he meekly announces that he is Christian. At another point, Kogan spends a considerable amount of time trying to pronounce his dancer’s surname and wishing that he’d had a more ‘traditional’ Arabic name like Mohammed.

The work is thus more performance art than traditional dance with the choreography balanced upon graceful and controlled movements that are filled with tension and frustration, especially when Kogan barks orders to the silent Boutrous about how and when to move his body. In this way, Kogan the actual creator uses the choreography to highlight the differences that his ignorant on-stage persona fails to understand or acknowledge. When Boutrous seems to have any form of control or power through his movement, you see how this autonomy does not accord with what Kogan’s character wants to create and how he perceives things, highlighting the issues that arise when creating work about other cultures, races, ethnicities, or minority groups, but refusing to actively collaborate with them.

We Love Arabs explores the sweeping generalisations and lack of insight that people who have the best intentions at heart can act upon, resulting in more harm than good being accomplished. At the same time, the show is also a satirical and self-deprecating look at political art and whether it can make a change in the world. Whichever way you choose to approach it however, We Love Arabs is an engaging and entertaining piece of inspired performance art that actually says something worth listening to.

We Love Arabs played at Malthouse Theatre between 18 – 22 October 2017.

Melbourne Festival 2017: 7 PLEASURES

Familiarity and confrontation in the flesh

By Myron My

It’s interesting how much uncomfortable conversation sex and nudity can create, and how many people can easily feel confronted by seeing a breast or a penis. So when you’re seeing a performance art piece in which the dancers are nude for the entire show, it can usually lead to some awkward moments. However, Mette Ingvarsten is well aware of this fact, and in 7 Pleasures she immediately knocks down the obvious issue before the performance has even begun, or before anyone in the audience is given a chance to realise it has begun.

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Ingarsten’s work explores the pleasure – and the pain – the body can provide and the difficulty in being able to enjoy one’s own body when faced with constriction and conflict. The set design for 7 Pleasures is simple and familiar, a living room with a few chairs, a table, coffee table and a pot plant. Its familiarity is what sets you at ease… except for the giant sculpture of naked bodies forming in a back corner.

Slowly, the performers begin to move as one, like lava seeping down a volcano as they envelop any furniture that lies in its way. While there are breasts, vaginas and penises on display, the bodies lose their gender through the course of the movements with arms and legs intertwining with each other until it’s almost impossible to tell where one person’s body ends and another begins. There is no music or noise during this sequence except for the contact the bodies make with each other and the set pieces. This play with sound and music adds to the themes explored and when these bodies reach peak liberation (and orgasm), Peter Leanaert and Will Guthrie‘s music and soundtrack creates a tribal-like feel with the near-destruction of Ingvarsten and Minna Tikkainn‘s set.

The final part of the show looks at body politics and the policing of bodies, with half the performers dressed head to toe in black and the other half still naked. There is a struggle between the two as they each fight for what they believe is right. The choreography still has the entrancing rhythm Ingvarsten has maintained throughout the piece but she also manages to imbue it with a violence that is both beautiful and horrifying to watch.

7 Pleasures is a highly intimate work that acknowledges the sexual joy the body is capable of providing. However, the pleasure that it refers to is more from the self-discovery and the surprises that our own bodies can give us if we are brave enough to go exploring.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 22 October | Fri – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: Full $59 – $69 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Image by Marc Coudrais

Melbourne Festival 2017: ALL THE SEX I’VE EVER HAD

Momentous and moving theatre

By Myron My

Not many people think about sixty-five-year-olds having an active sex life. Even Hollywood films rarely have characters of that age talking about sex, and when it does happen, it’s usually emphasised for comedic value. However, in All The Sex I’ve Ever Had, Mammalian Diving Reflex and director Darren O’Donnell bring six people over the age of 65 together and have them share their memories from their birth right up until the present day – to a roomful of strangers.

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All The Sex I’ve Ever Had has toured around the world and what makes this a unique experience is that it is always performed by locals to that area, so each season is going to be completely different as the stories shared are based on the performers’ own life. The structure is simple enough with the six cast – Beatrix, Brenda, Lionel, Noel, Philip and Suzie – sitting behind a table, and as our 20 year-old MC and sound designer Moses Carr announces each year through a microphone, they share with us important moments of their lives. The fact that we are able to get a real picture of who these people are through a few sentences for each year is a testament to the collaborative efforts between the creative team and the performers in threading six narratives together that are engaging and meaningful to the audience.

To speak of the adventures and tribulations shared would be to break the pledge of not gossiping about what’s discussed that we take before the show begins. However, this is more than just titillating stories of sexual escapades, and while sex – and all its manifestations – plays a big part in each of these people’s lives, All The Sex I’ve Ever Heard is an opportunity for those over 65 to be heard – really heard – and for their sex lives and sexuality to be as respected as younger generations’ are.

As the cast relayed all their stories, it reminded me of many of my own stories and my encounters with sex, love and everything in between. While I was born decades later, some of what is shared is actually very similar to the experiences that many still face today, including dark and profound issues such as rape, assault, sexuality, drug addiction and death. At various time throughout the evening, as one of the cast would share an anecdote such as their first open relationship, they would then throw the question out to the audience with the creative team behind the show questioning these people on their own experiences. In doing so, the idea of audience member and performer became blurred with some very honest responses, creating an intimate community of respect within the theatre.

After traversing over 80 years of highs and lows of these people’s lives, we exit to the foyer where each cast member has personal items on display that provide us with an even deeper understanding of who they are, and create a stronger bond with us. It’s a fitting way to end a beautiful evening of human connection that crosses genders, sexualities and age.

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had ran until October 15 as part of the 2017 Melbourne Festival at Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

Upcoming Mammaliam Diving Reflex projects: http://mammalian.ca/

Melbourne Festival 2017: THE INAUGURATION with Taylor Mac

Making history

By Bradley Storer

Skewering convention from the very outset, American cabaret maverick and performance artist extraordinaire Taylor Mac (who uses the pronoun ‘judy’) entered the stage to give a pre-emptive monologue about curtain speeches before introducing the assistant festival director Jonathon Holloway (in a magnificent rainbow peacock headdress) who delivered an opening address for the festival the show began.

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Described as a taster and preparation for Mac’s full 24 Decade History of Popular Music, playing at the festival from next week, judy kicked off proceedings with the classic folk tune ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ rebooted into a barn-burning big-band number, the first of the stunning arrangements by musical director Matt Ray. The over-arching theme of Mac’s ‘radical faerie ritual sacrifice’ is of communities torn apart and at the same time bonded together by pain, and even in this truncated version the audience was required to be active participants. For a thrilling version of Tori Amos’ raging ‘Precious Things’, judy bought up a random audience member onstage to provide backing effects before reaching out to the entire audience to follow suit. The oldest and the youngest members of the audience danced onstage with Mac in a roof-shaking blues song, while two blond members were offered up as sacrifices to Nazi idealism in a campy carriage ride courtesy of Rogers and Hammerstein – it wasn’t entirely clear how this number was intended to ridicule Nazi ideology, but perhaps this would be clearly in the context of the full show. By the end of the evening the audience was so enthralled they were eagerly jumping to their feet to obey Mac’s instructions.

Mac is a masterful and intensely charismatic performer, able to make campy pratfalls sit easily alongside penetrating intellectual ruminations on sexual repression and political conservatism, and judy’s powerful and piercing voice is capable of encompassing rock, blues and jazz in equal measure. While there might be some who’d question the relevance to an Australian audience of an exploration of American political and social history through music, Mac made incredibly pertinent links from the lives of Jewish-American immigrants in the early 20th century to Australia’s current treatment of refugees. The re-fashioning of a homophobic Ted Nugent song explicitly about ‘fag-bashing’ into a soft, romantic slow dance under a disco ball (as well as the entire audience asked to dance with someone of the same gender) was a heavenly conclusion to the evening and made all the poignant by the current climate of homophobia being unleashed in this country.

With such an energetic, anarchic and transcendent opening we can expect a wonderful season for the Melbourne Festival this year, and can only wait in delighted anticipation for Mac’s show in its entirety next week!

Venue: Hamer Hall, St Kilda Rd.

Date: 6th October 2017

Time: 7:30pm

https://www.festival.melbourne/2017/

Melbourne Festival 2017: ALL MY FRIENDS WERE THERE

Fun, whimsical, evocative, and full of birthday surprises

By Myron My

Many of us would agree that spending your birthday with a room full of strangers would generally not be the most ideal way to celebrate the occasion – however, with The Guerrilla Museum‘s new interactive and immersive live artwork All Of My Friends Were There, that’s exactly what we get to do. The show is a lucky-dip of adventure, where you are allocated to a group and led through a number of rooms with performances and experiences revolving around birthdays.

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We are split into our groups before we even enter the venue and my plus-one is not to be seen again until the end, so it’s time to make new friends and party like it’s all our birthdays. It’s difficult to review this type of show when you only get to participate in about one quarter of it, but the conversations post-show made it clear that there was a lot more happening than that which a single person is able to experience.

One of the first rooms my group is taken into, for example, involves a pair of highly entertaining hosts supervising us through some traditional childhood games such as musical chairs and pass the parcel, allowing a fun, free-spirited atmosphere to take over the room. While each room visited had amusing and cheery performances, there were some where I was left wondering how the birthday theme linked in. At one point, we are left in an authentically decorated 90s-style bedroom – which could easily have been mine back in my teen years – but with no context about this room, we spent our time looking at the posters on the walls and the video works playing on the television. However, as each evening has an entirely new story based on the questionnaire completed by an attendee prior to the show, each performance is tailored to reflect that person’s real-life birthday experiences.

The entire design of All Of My Friends Were There is exceptional and what the team at The Guerrilla Museum have been able to set up inside Theatre Works is highly impressive and transforms the venue into a labyrinth of surprise and fun. While acknowledging that this was a preview performance, there were times of substantial waiting between rooms, which began to draw me out of the experience, but hopefully as the season develops these timing kinks will be ironed out. The show culminates with everyone coming together to celebrate the surprise ‘birthday’ of one of our own with champagne, fairy bread and dancing.

My plus-one’s experience was vastly different to mine in terms of what they participated in and how it made them feel, and perhaps this is the point of All Of My Friends Were There. Taking something as personal as a birthday is always going to mean different things to different people – some people love them and some people don’t – but where this show succeeds is in highlighting the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who care for us and love us, and in never underestimating the role that we play in each other’s lives. Knowing that is worth more than all the lolly bags in the world.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 11 October | Mon – Sat 7:30pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm

Tickets: $49 

Bookings: Melbourne Festival