Richard Watts  |  Artshub  |  Monday 28 July, 2014

Josephine Ridge’s second Melbourne Festival program reflects the culture and values of the city in which it’s held.

We’re creating a festival for Melbourne. This is not a festival that could be in any other city … I’ve taken a lot of time to care about and value our history [and] connect with the present … we’re also really caring deeply about the future,’ said Josephine Ridge, Festival Director of Melbourne Festival.

There is a real hunger in this city for opportunities to discuss ideas and to respond to provocations, to really tease out important issues. The threading through of political concerns, social concerns, throughout the whole program is something … which I tried to do last year as well and will continue to do next year. This city is one that is very driven by ideas and as I think people have a real hunger for opportunities to explore those ideas.

From a film program curated by Richard Moore called Art, Politics and Protest through to a festival-within-a-festival devoted to the circus arts, Ridge’s program has a distinctly Melbourne identity.

This city’s connection with circus runs very, very deep. Sentimentally, I love the fact that the site where Arts Centre Melbourne now sits is where the Wirth Brothers circus tents used to be erected, and also the fact that we are home to Circus Oz and to NICA. And ACAPTA, the national peak body [for circus] is based here, and 20 other circus companies are based in Melbourne,’ she said.

In collaboration with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA), this year’s Melbourne Festival will host a troupe of master Chinese acrobats, a program with direct ties to the past.

With this program I thought it’s not only important to reflect all that those companies and artists are doing now, but to reflect on the history and why circus is so important in Melbourne. And that of course took us back to those original Nanjing Projects in the early Eighties when Carrillo Gantner and Clifford Hocking bought the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe to Victoria and they worked with the young acrobats at the Flying Fruit Fly Circus in Albury-Wodonga, and members from Circus Oz also went up there. And the works, the shows that came out of that training period, The Great Leap Forward and Circus of Tomorrow, really seriously changed the nature of circus in Australia forever.

Other circus highlights include a performance by Montreal company Cirque Éloize with Cirkopolis, a fusion of contemporary circus and Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis; Australian company Dislocate with a blend of slapstick and storytelling in If These Walls Could Talk; a two day conference on the future of circus held at Arts Centre Melbourne; and a brand new work by Brisbane company Circa, created in collaboration with France’s the Debussy Quartet.

Yaron Lifschitz, the Artistic Director of Circa, had the idea to put the music of Shostakovich together with circus, and he has seamlessly integrated these musicians into the production. They play three Shostakovich quartets and it is utterly surprising, absolutely beautiful theatre, and incredibly sophisticated. I think that people will really understand when they see that, that circus is really one of the fast-developing art forms and it is going into very bold contemporary theatre practice,’ Ridge said.

International collaborations are a key component of this year’s Melbourne Festival, the Festival Director continued.

One of the things I’m immensely proud of is the number of collaborations and partnerships which we have this year, which is manifest not only in our six commissions but also many other aspects of what we’re doing. And notably this year almost all of those collaborations have an international component. And that’s something that a festival like ours, an international arts festival, can do, which is really unique and as I’ve mentioned, really allow for a meaningful contribution as well as to bring a whole range of really exciting works for audiences just to simply enjoy.’

This collaborative approach to making work is reflected in works such as Complexity of Belonging, created jointly by Chunky Move’s Anouk van Dijk and Schaubühne Berlin Director-in-residence Falk Richter.

Their collaboration goes back about 15 years and the Complexity of Belonging marks the fifth time that they have worked together, but obviously the first time that it will have occurred in this country. And Falk is a writer as well as a director, so it is entirely his theatrical creation, but what you see here with these two is they work together in one language. We have four dancers and four actors but the combination of that is an entirely unique language.

Ridge is also excited by the Festival’s music program, which takes in everything from the second instalment of a three year program, Haydn for Everyone, to gravel-voiced alternative hip-hop artist Buck 65, former Pop Will Eat Itself member turned Hollywood composer Clint Mansell, and a tribute to Australian sample-meisters The Avalanches. There’s also the visual arts program, which this year celebrates the work of street photographer Vivian Maier; dance works by Shaun Parker & Company, and a major selection of pieces from the Trisha Brown Dance Company; and theatre works from Germany and Ireland.

The show that might, I think, create some surprises for some people, is the show from Irish company Brokentalkers, Have I No Mouth. This show, when I saw it, I absolutely identified personally with so much of what was going on and so many of the themes. It’s a true story, and although the subject matter might sound dark – because it’s about the unnecessary death of a father and a family – the way that the family deals with that death, the relationships between the mother and the son, and the father and the son, and the real-life psychoanalyst who’s on stage with them, is utterly compelling and really heartwarming and overlaid with this wonderful sort of Irish whimsy; and it’s a style of theatre which I think is fairly unique and utterly Irish.’

The Festival also features an ongoing commitment to telling Indigenous stories, including Big hArt’s imaginative and compassionate response to Aboriginal deaths in custody, Hipbone Sticking Out; Brown Cab Productions’ My Lovers’ Bones, a contemporary re-telling of the bunyip legend; KAGE’s Team of Life, a blend of sport and theatre, dance and music connecting divergent football codes and different cultures; and the festival’s opening weekend event, Tanderrum.

Greater Melbourne is represented by the five clans of the Kulin Nation, and that offers a really unique and rich mix of Indigenous cultures. And the idea of holding a Tanderrum, which we did for the first time last year, and which was – and the point is really worth continually making – was the first Tanderrum, the first joint ceremony that all five clans of the Kulin Nation had held since 1835 and the founding of modern Melbourne,‘ Ridge said.

That is in itself a reflection of the richness and complexity of the local Indigenous culture, but it’s also underpinning another point which I feel really strongly about, and that is that Melbourne Festival should not just be over in 17 days; that we need to ensure that what we’re doing is contributing meaningfully to the future of the cultural landscape here. And inherent in the idea of the Tanderrum project is that there are a series of workshops and classes in the months leading up to the Tanderrum where the elders and others get the opportunity to pass the knowledge of the culture and the understanding of the culture on to their younger generations.’

Image: Cirkopolis by Cirque Éloize

Melbourne Festival 2014
10-26 October