The Free Program
If I could have my perfect arts festival...Robert Wilson and Peter Brook would direct a show each. Laurie Anderson and Merce Cunningham would drop by. We’d hear lots of John Cage, there’d be a reworking of Shakespeare, contemporary Butoh, some outrageous cabaret, a fabulous festival club and lots of local artists. So, I’m excited about the 2007 Melbourne International Arts Festival program.
The Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) runs 11–27 October. It's Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds third outstanding program. The 2005 and 2006 programs drew a degree of media (and other) criticism for being too far from the mainstream.
Melbourne’s arts audiences certainly don’t seem to mind. Surely those full houses and cheering audiences must count for something?
Edmunds says, “This year’s program presents artists who have, by definition, changed the possibilities of their art form for all time, and whose individual legacies continue to expand, astound and inspire.” The likes of Cunningham, Brooks, Wilson and Anderson don’t need me to promote them.
Edmunds artistic choice and aesthetic certainly isn’t mainstream. But just because you’re a Phantom of The Opera fan doesn’t mean you won’t love a show like Robert Wilson’s The Temptation of St Anthony. The Los Angeles Times said "Wilson drenches the stage in brilliant colour and beguiling movement. It is breathtaking to watch these singers possess the stage. Each is amazing.” If you like sing along music, spectacular costumes, incredible sets and a world class cast; why not give it a go. And you won’t get the B cast or have to pay for a program.
If you’re still not convinced that this festival is for you and you’d rather save for Priscilla, there are 20 free events in the program. You don’t have to spend a cent.
MIAF has a tradition of free events. The twist this year is that many are presented by the main program artists.
Opening Night kicks off with a family sing-a-long in Federation Square with Dan Zanes and Friends. Zanes was a hit at the 2006 festival and recently won himself a Grammy for Best Musical Album for Children. The night promises no minimalist or post modern compositions, just good old sing-your-guts-out fun.
On the other had, if you are partial to a touch of minimalism, get ready of an all nighter on Friday October 26. Starting at 6.48pm is John Cage’s Musicircus. It finishes at 5.20am. Based on a John Cage event first performed in 1967, it’s a large scale simultaneous performance event involving musicians, dancers, visual artists, poets and a pony. Audiences are invited to move around the BMW Edge anytime from dusk to dawn to explore the multiple performances. You never know who’ll be performing when, so have a nap during the day and be prepared for a coffee or two at 3am.
If you’re unfamiliar with Cage, there’s plenty of opportunity to get to know his work before committing to Musicircus. Often described as avant guard, Cage remains one of the most innovative musicians and artists of the last 60 years. One of his best known compositions is 4’33’ (Four Minutes, 33 Seconds). It’s a three movement work where all the notes are silent. To hear it played live is one of the most genuinely incredible musical experiences.
Cage’s way of looking at music, art and life will be on neon display in Federation Square throughout the festival. Cage Quotes is running daily on the ticker panels that usually promote upcoming events. The quote at the bottom of my emails is from Cage. "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.” I refer to it a lot when reviewing.
Cage was also the Music Director to Merce Cunningham Dance Company until his death in 1992. This festival will be remembered for bringing Merce Cunningham to Melbourne. Regarded as a pillar of modernism and simply known as the greatest living choreographer, Cunningham has led his own company since 1953. Always prizing invention over convention, Cunningham has consistently created new languages for dance.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company is performing two programs at the State Theatre, but the highlight promises to be The Melbourne Event in Federation Square on Sunday 21 October. The piece will be created by Cunningham specifically for Melbourne and the Square. It will never be repeated and it’s free.
If by now you’re beginning to like this style of art, head to National Gallery of Victoria for the exhibitions from Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Johns is known as one of the founding fathers of pop, minimalism and conceptual art, while Rauschenberg is one of the leading figures in modern art. Both designed for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Then go to the Gertrude Contemporary Art space for Playground, an exhibition by Daniel Arsham, who has worked with Cunningham more recently.
Other Free Events in Federation Square events include:
- Jon Rose’s Sphere of Influence on 23 October. Combining digital technology, live performance and a giant white ball rolling around the square at sunset.
- Orbotics [network] which fuses the ancient art of origami with robot technology. You’re invited to bring your bluetooth and wifi connected laptop, PDA or mobile phone to network and interact with the oribots.
- Hidden Inside Mountains at ACMI. With an original score by Laurie Anderson, this film was commissioned in EXPO 2005 in Aichi Japan.
Or, if you’re still a bit unsure about the work you see and have some questions, head to The Speigeltent every lunchtime to join Edmunds in discussion with festival artists.
"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."
John CageThere is so much to see in the festival that is free. So why not try it for a couple of minutes or more. You may find it’s not what you expected. You may find an expression of beauty and wonder that you have not seen before. You may also discover why so many of us love these festival programs that don’t cater for the mainstream.
Here's director Kristy Edmunds talking about the program.
This originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.