Wednesday, August 9, 2017


OzAsia Festival

Presented by the Adelaide Festival Centre. September 21 - October 8  2017

Full Programme and Bookings: Phone BASS 131246

International Bookings: +61 8  82052300

Feature article by Peter Wilkins

By September 21 Spring will be in full swing. The blossoms will be blooming in the parklands surrounding the city and a New Moon will shine down upon the Adelaide Festival Centre for the opening day of the OzAsia Festival. Now in its eleventh year, this unique annual event offers audiences a rare treat of fifty events that highlight the best in contemporary Asian arts and culture during two weeks of theatre, music, dance, film and free community events. It is unparalleled in its scope and 330 professional artists from all over Asia will join 500 community artists to present nineteen Australian premieres and six world premieres.
Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell
It is the third OzAsia Festival for Artistic Director, Joseph Mitchell. Mitchell came to the position with an impressive track record which included Youth and Education Manager with the Queensland Theatre Company, Executive Producer of the Brisbane Festival under Artistsic Director Noel Stauntong and Artistic Director of the Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity in Toronto. When previous OzAsia director, Jacinta Thompson left, Mitchell saw his opportunity to explore the potential of contemporary arts in the 21st century. “It gave me the confidence to be a bit bold,” he says, “ and really think about programming with the perspective of the next generation." His previous positions had taught him an important lesson.“Never undersestimate  the knowledge, interests and experience of younger audiences. The last thing they want is for programmes to be conservative.  I’ve always been attracted to putting myself into positions where I’m open to looking at new things and learning and challenging myself."

Mitchell was attracted to the possibilities that revealed themselves through a festival that connected Australia with the neighbouring region of Asian countries. A lot of arts festivals were programming one or two works from Asia but there was no comprehensive view or vision of Asia. What Mitchell saw in OzAsia was the potential to be a point of difference. Also, Adelaide has a fine long-standing reputation as a festival city and the audiences are willing and it had support from Festival Centre CEO and Artistic Director, Douglas Gautier and the South Australian government. “With that support," Mitchell thought, "OzAsia could really do something different!”

Visitors to Adelaide during the festival will certainly see something very different. Initially, OzAsia would focus one major Asian country in the festival.Mitchell wanted OzAsia to be a solid arts festival that looks at contemporary culture across Asia. This year, audiences will be able to see five strong pieces from Japan and Sfive from Singapore, four or five from Hong Konfg and also four or five from Indoneasia. Festivalgoers will get a solid sense of what is happening across a number of Asian countries through multiple programming.

In his first festival, Mitchell broke down the fourth wall and exposed audiences to immersive theatre, while in his second year, he sought to introduce audiences to work that touched on how artists were interpreting their  country in various way. This year, Mitchell’s programme will reflect two intentions. The first is a real sense of personal stories on quite large canvases. "HOTEL, from Singapore, is a fantastic large scale epic that looks pretty fantastic but when it comes down to it they are quite individual and heartfelt experiences."
I mention that many visitors from interstate or overseas may only be able to visit Adelaide for a week. I urge Mitchell to reveal which week he feels would be best. After a moment’s thought he says, "Come on the 27th September and stay until Thursday 5th October. You’ll get an extreme range of the options."
Keiichiro Shibuya's THE END
 A good example of Mitchell’s vision for a festival that is challenging and highlighting points of difference is Keiichiro Shibuya and Hatsune Miku’s vocaloid opera, THE END. This is the world’s first digital opera with no singers and featuring the phenomenal Asian pop star, Miku. Composer Shibuya has suffered personal tragedy and loss in his life and during his mourning process he began to question his idea of Miku as an eternal being.She’s programmed to be eternally sixteen. In Shibuya’s opera, Miku begins to question her own existence and whether she’s real or not. Will she experience death or return as a vocaloid. She almost starts to long for death. The opera offers a wonderful philosophical insight into how a digital character in the future thinks, her concerns and how she expresses herself.
 “I love how that’s painted on a broad canvas," Mitchell says. “It’s also about life and what an opera can be in the 21st. century. We are talking about areas of arts funding and the over funding of opera. We are also talking about what the art form can be and how it can evolve.Miku starts to question the future from her perspective which is totally different to ours."
Skeleton in Scary Beauty
This sense of personal narrative goes across a lot of other pieces as well.Shibuya has also been commissioned to compose Scary Beauty. Working with the Australian Art Orchestra, Shibuya creates Skeleton, a robot, which will sing live on stage, and is operated by electronic sensors. Shibuya takes the idea of Miku a step further. It raises the highly relevant question of the role of emerging artificial intelligence. Androids are not just domestic beings. Shibuya asks that they should be embedded with arts and culture, because that is what makes us human. Combining tape loops, string quartet, trumpet, saxophone, bass trombone, piano and percussion, Shibuya creates unprecedented music that expresses the absurdity, tragedy and beauty of the human condition.
In Between Two

The strong element of personal narrative continues to thread its way through Mitchell’s programme. In Between Two is a contemporary Asian Australian performance, featuring two Australian rappers whose show  Mitchell picked up from the Sydney Festival. They have been heavily influenced by the anecdotal  slide shows of William Yang. They are not actors and their stories are real and personal, providing an insight into the influeneces of their Filipino and Chinese legacy on their Australian identity.

Recalling Mother

Recalling Mother provides a balanced perspective to In Between Two. This performance from Singapore features two  women facinf the dilemma of caring for their mothers who, in their later years in which one of the mothers has developed dementia and the other is also unwell. One of the women is has  a Malay heritage and the other comes from Chinese parentage. They represent the new wave of modern Singaporean women. The show has been in repertoire for twelve years, but the stories change. Initially, they focused on the comedy, but more recentlythjeir own sense of mortality has come into the work as they take on the carer’s role. Funny, physical and fast, it has a touching side and the women insist on a debriefing Q and A session at the end of each performance. That is the power of the work.
Hot Brown Honey

Diverse and contrasting, illuminating and challenging, OzASia stretches the imagination with very different works. Two contrasting pieces are Hotel and Hot Brown Honey. Hotel is an epic work that runs over two performances, lasting all in all more than five hours. It is the kind of epic that recalls the works of Peter Brook and Robert La Page. Hot Brown Honey was first trialled during an Adelaide Fringe. A cast of women from different backgrounds explore the notion of Australian and Asian identity in a show that is bold, irreverent, funny and empowering, and embracing a range of theatre forms from circus to striptease. Since its rough and ready beginnings, it has become an international sensation, garnering an award at the recent Helpmann Awards.
 It offers a striking contrast to the epic Hotel, which takes place in a hotel and covers one hundred years of Singapore history. Mitchell deliberately chose Hotel because of its epic nature, recalling for him such works as The War of the Roses and The Mahabharata. “Now that we’ve turned eleven, and got over our first ten years and established ourselves,” he says, ”it’s time to do an epic.I’m a sucker for that kind of theatre. You just fall in love with the characters because you invest much more time in them and they have much more time to communicate. The whole play takes place in an unnamed hotel, three stories high. There’s eleven different stories over one hundred years, starting with a British mid ranking officer about to witness the execution of a Coolie." "It’s really horrific in terms of how we look back on the past.” says Mitchell. “You kind of get everything and then at the end…” He pauses, rather than give that away. Suffice to say that Hotel is international high standard quality theatre through and through.
Moon Lantern Festival
Time is running out and I hardly have time to talk about the spectacular Moon Lantern Festival that will take place in Adelaide’s Elder Park on the bank of the Torrens River on the first day of October, or the delicious Lucky Dumpling Market with food, entertainment and music for festivalgoers tasting the delights of this free open-air event. So many other conversations, writing seminars, forums and film programs await the eager visitor. However, I am fascinated by the experimental and alternative programme, to be presented in the Nexus Arts Centre of the Old Lion Factory.

The brochure describes the events taking place there as “an explosive program of the best underground, alternate, queer and visionary arts from across Asia to be presented alongside some of the best local acts from Adelaide.”
“Nexus is where we do push the boundaries quite a lot." Mitchell says. "It’s a black box that can seat about 200 people. There is standing room for live music and it’s quite well-known for attracting younger audiences." Mitchell believes that a lot of the shows would connect with audiences outside the Adelaide Festival Centre because it offers something different. The programme includes contemporary and underground music and quite a lot of queer culture as well.

Macho Dancer, conceived, choreographed and performed by Eisa Jocson is contemporary dance from the Philippines. Jocson has appropriated male underground sex dance. There is also a Papuan and a German contemporary dancer who spent time in each other’s underground cultures looking in on and looking at the masculine identities of Papua New Guinea. It communicated a lot about identity and what it’s like to be in each other’s places.
Cutting edge music is provided by Gaybird Leung, Hong Kong’s leading sound artist and contemporary music composer. He invents his own instruments, which don’t exist yet and there’s all these strange installations and buttons and things. They are all sort of connected to sonic and electronic sounds and he plays the objects that he creates. In Adelaide, he is teaming up with the Zephyr Quartet. They fuse, and eventually Gaybird leaves the stage, leaving the Zephyr Quartet playing their string instruments. 
Then there is Drapetomania. The name is borrowed from a nineteenth century term to escape from slavery. "Two guys from Indonesia and Spain have rewritten the rules of what contemporary music can be. They have high end electronics and DJ sets alongside shopping trolleys and tambourines and they have dancers and a mish mash of stuff just thrown together on stage." Mitchell explains.  Exciting video art reveals narratives about white colonialists who oppress black slaves seeking to escape captivity. This collaboration between Barcelona based Grey Filastine and Indonesian neo-soul vocalist Nova Ruth is yet another example of a collaboration that defies  traditional definition and embodies Mitchell’s passion to stage a festival that will thrust our consciousness into the twenty first century, while also providing entertainment for everyone.
Our conversation draws to a close and I am left with the impression that OzAsia is a festival like no other. It is not for the conservative or the fainthearted, although there are enough opportunities for all to engage with the free events and select shows that are to their taste. However, it is the arts lover with a penchant for the new and the surprising, who will find themselves entranced, enchanted, energized and enriched by the OzAsia experience.