Melbourne Festival premieres spectacular shows with more to come
Desh, Akram Khan Company
Until October 27
The Melbourne Festival always manages to have a great combination of international art events, plus the best from Australia and New Zealand.
One of the major international dance works was Desh, performed by English-born Bangladeshi dancer and choreographer Akram Khan.
New Zealand audiences have seen him when he performed with Sylvie Guillem a couple of years ago in Sacred Monsters during the Wellington International Festival of the Arts.
In Desh, he explores his personal, family and cultural heritage in an imagined Bangladesh overlaid with visions of contemporary Bangladesh, which he presents with a mixture of exquisite dance, theatre, mime and magic.
Compared to his previous works, Desh places a much greater emphasis on story telling and conversations about contemporary social and environmental issues.
Dance is merely one component of the work, which is more social activism than aesthetic exploration in which dance is employed as a means of conveying emotions.
As with many contemporary performances, there is an attempt to confront the changes occurring in the social, political and environmental landscapes, as well as cultural shifts and fragmentation.
The work opens with Khan taking a sledgehammer to a metal plate fixed to the floor, a symbolic attempt to unchain the shackles binding contemporary society.
He begins dancing to this same metallic crashing, which morphs into the enhanced sounds of the everyday – street noise, trams, car horns and bike bells.
The dancer seems to be assaulted by these waves of sound, and his crazed serpentine movements interspersed with moments of reflection are a mixture of East Asian and Western dance.
Later in storytelling mode he recounts a fairytale of a hero in search of honey. He enters a world which is graphically populated by birds, trees, stars, elephants and alligators.
The tale becomes a metaphor for the issues around youth and age, progress and tradition, cultural preservation and cultural change.
Khan’s energetic dancing was enhanced by a remarkable set designed by Tim Yip, the designer of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, as well as a dense soundscape by Jocelyn Pook, who has previously created tracks for films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
Together, they create a landscape which is part symbolic, part mythical and part realist, exploring the Bangladesh of his imagination and the contemporary confusions and conflicts.
The last week of the Melbourne festival features acts such as Wellington’s Taki Rua Theatre in a production of Michael James Manaia, which has just had a successful tour of New Zealand.
Another New Zealand performance is David Cross’s Hold, which is a highly immersive, multi-sensory architectural experience with each audience member in a personal encounter with the unseen artist.
The audience is warned beforehand that participation requires a high level of physical mobility and personal responsibility as they need to navigate a complex and disorienting pathway being suspended above the ground by cushions of air.
This week there is also an adaptation of Ibsen’s The Enemy of the People by Florian Borchmeyer and the Schanbuhne, Berlin, which follows on from their production of Hedda Gabler last year.
The play, which is Ibsen’s most political work, is a dark and satirical tale of greed and corruption and has a contemporary relevance about a community that turns on a man who speaks out about uncomfortable truths.
At the National Gallery of Victoria there is the 20-minute video presentation of the culmination of a two-year project by the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra called The Destroyed Word.
Filmed in a number of locations around the world including New Zealand, Sierra created large letters spelling out KAPITALISM. In each of these locations the letters were destroyed – by burning, deconstruction, eaten by pigs or jack hammered.
Last week, the final of the letters, a large K made of wooden branches, was burned in the forecourt of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
The Young Jean Lee Theatre Company from the US is performing We’re Gonna Die, in which experimental playwright Young Jean Lee engages with issues around the inevitability of death. It is presented in a combination of pop concert, cabaret and stand-up comedy.
International theatre group the Gob Squad will be producing Before Your Very Eyes. The work is a set of seven separate stories told by seven children who play themselves performing inside a room made of one-way mirrors, watched from the outside by the audience.
In a form of pseudo scientific experiment, they lay out their personal dreams and ambitions in their own words and are observed ageing, working, falling in love and navigating the comprises and contradictions of adulthood.Jo
John Daly-Peoples travelled to Melbourne courtesy of Tourism Victoria, Sofitel and Opera Australia