A Festival of Contemporary Asian Performing, Visual and Literary Arts.
Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell. Adelaide Festival Centre. October 26 – November 11 2018. Bookings: ozasiafestival.com.au or BASS 131 246
Feature preview by Peter Wilkins
South Australia continues to live up to its name as the trailblazing Festival State. A yearlong programme of festivals features the Adelaide Festival, including Writers Week and WOMADELAIDE, the Adelaide Fringe, DreamBIG Children’s Festival, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the Adelaide International Guitar Festival and possibly the most innovative, contemporary and unique of these, the OZASIA Festival.
Now in its twelfth year, the festival has developed from primarily a showcase of traditional Asian arts to a kaleidoscopic celebration of contemporary Asian arts from all parts of the Asian continent. The inspiration of Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and Artistic Director, Douglas Gautier, and inaugural OzAsia Artistic Director, Jacinta Thompson, the OzAsia festival has exploded into a vibrant and unique major arts festival, presenting theatre, music, dance, film, visual arts, food and community events, and for the first time in 2018 hosting the internationally acclaimed Jaipur Literature Festival.
|Joseph Mitchell Artistic Director|
“There was no evidence” current Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell tells me, “of wide representation of a contemporary Asian culture that was accessible to an Australian audience, and OzAsia is Australia’s only major arts festival that looks at contemporary Asian culture.
“Countries like China are engaging in modern technological advances. Underground cultures are emerging in Japan. Indonesia is extremely contemporary while drawing on its unique traditions. They don’t conform to the structure or culture of Western arts. That’s the vision of the festival. There is an overarching idea of a contemporary society.”
A central theme identified by Mitchell is displacement. A number of shows and visual arts events demonstrate how geo-physics, digital technology, language and cross cultural collaboration can displace people in both positive and negative ways.
|Hotel Pro Forma's War Sum Up|
The highly acclaimed Danish company Hotel Pro Forma epitomizes Mitchell’s vision for this year’s festival with their contemporary opera War Sum Up. Danish director Kirsten Delholm in collaboration with composers from Europe, the UK and South America, the Latvian Radio Choir and Japanese Manga has staged a libretto that tells the story of three archetypal characters drawn from Noh theatre tales, The Soldier, The Warrior and The Spy. The score is electronic and the choir is miked and the performance is all about effect and differentiation. “It looks at how you can look across different concepts of countries and geography and look at how the world and contemporary artists think in the Twenty-first Century. “I think that’s how we really need to frame our thinking.” Mitchell says. “Forget about East or West or Contemporary or Traditional. Think rather, “how do we make art in the 21st. Century and what is the sphere of influence where great art happens.”
Returning to the theme of displacement, Mitchell describes Nassim, presented by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour in association with London’s Bush Theatre. Nassim is a playwright who has to use English to communicate, thereby sacrificing his Farsi language to succeed. His mother only speaks Farsi, forcing the playwright to confront a compelling dilemma – what is the purpose of his mother tongue and how do we move forward in a world where we have to displace ourselves from our circumstance to have a global presence?
Award winning choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has been touring his Sadler’s Wells performance of Sutra for ten years and Adelaide audiences will have the opportunity to see this extraordinary work at the OzAsia Festival. Larbi spent three months in a Shaolin Temple in China, learning about the culture and influences of the monks. Inspired to work with them, he created this vast piece that has become a defining piece of dance in the 21st. Century. It can be defined as physical theatre, dance or even performance installation realized by sculptor Anthony Gormley’s design.
With Andropolaroid.1 by Berlin based Japanese choreographer Yui Kawaguchi we see another artist who, like Larbi, has displaced themselves from their culture as artists and influences. Her solo dance draws on ballet and hip-hop in a forest of neon and dazzling light installations, displacing our traditional concept of dance in a stunning display of body, voice, light, space and sound.
While I was Waiting from Syria tells the story of a man beaten while crossing a security checkpoint. His family gather at his bedside in an attempt to make sense of what has happened. Their ordinary world is turned upside down as secrets are revealed. Australians generally view Syrian conflict and migration through the lens of the media. However, as Mitchell points out, there are people in Damascus going about their ordinary lives. “It’s a place full of people, not necessarily a horror story on the news. Lots of people choose to stay in Damascus and are doing what you and I are doing right now.” (We are enjoying a relaxing lunch in a prominent Canberra restaurant in New Acton.)
|Secret Love in Peachblossomland|
Secret Love in Peachblossomland is widely regarded as China’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. The thirty year old drama defines contemporary theatre in China. Two companies are vying for performance in the same space. One is presenting a traditional memory play about a couple separated by the Chinese revolution and the geographical borders of China and Taiwan. The other is a contemporary farce, based on an old Chinese story and laden with physical comedy and sexual innuendo. Traditional and contemporary theatre companies struggle to displace each other in a poignant and funny glimpse of the old and the new in contemporary China.
|Here Is The Message You Asked For..|
A more disturbing view of contemporary displacement within one’s own society is revealed in Here Is The Message You Asked For ..Don’t Tell Anyone Else;-) The play is an observation about how young people are choosing to live their lives in their bedroom in digital circumstances rather than reality. They spend their entire lives displaced from reality, dressed up as koz vai characters, taking selfies, chatting with friends on video, and playing with computer games. Their choice is not to engage with the real world and live their lives digitally.
With so much exciting and original theatre, music, dance, film and visual arts and literature on offer over the three weekends of the festival, it may be difficult for audiences to make a choice. To this end, Mitchell has introduced the Festival Director’s Pass, which enables people to buy tickets for three shows at a reduced rate of forty three dollars per performance. “I think what’s important is that people invest in seeing lots of shows. It encourages people to engage in a festival.” Last year thirty nine percent of the audience was aged under forty. “We want to keep pushing a contemporary agenda,” Mitchell says, “but make it accessible.”
A quick glance at the brochure reveals a plethora of free events. The Jaipur Literature Festival features free discussions and debates with key writers from diverse Asian nations. Community events such as the spectacular Moon Lantern Procession and the Lucky Dumpling Market offer free entry, and there are free art exhibitions at major galleries and at the Festival Centre. Five women artists from different Asian countries present five exhibitions that counteract the view that some of the narratives set up in society are driven by a male perspective on tradition and the patriarchal structure of the society. In addition to all these free events are Topeng Dance Workshops and outdoor concerts for young and old alike, all in the spirit of Mitchell’s vision for community accessibility.
Mitchell’s festival shows that the artists are not hamstrung by a sense of tradition or expectations of what a work should be. As he points out Hotel Pro Forma’s work is quite subversive. Hello My Name Is presents a powerful and moving performance from Timor Leste. Jose Da Costa plays a Timor Leste soldier attending an international political conference during which he reflects on the violence of pre Independence days. Using the poetry of Edward Bond, the solo performance is sure to turn attitudes on their head. As Mitchell observes, “We have a narrative as the saviour of Timor Leste. They don’t!”
It would be simplistic to regard OzAsia as an entirely subversive festival, intent on presenting only serious perspectives on contemporary Asian arts. Dancing Grandmothers is a jubilant, joyous work, featuring many of the women who founded modern day Korea, and are now grandmothers. Complete with glitter balls grooves, Eun-me-Ahn’s own dance company and the dancing grandmothers, audiences will be seduced by its sheer ebullience. For the younger audiences Polyglot and Papermoon Puppet Theatre present magical puppetry inspired by the seafaring history of Java. Jacob Rajan will delight young audiences as chameleon-like he plays all seventeen characters in Chai Guru, , the story of a chai-wallah (tea seller) who becomes entranced by the beautiful singing of a girl at a Bangalore railway station.
“This year we have a suite of works that are visually very appealing and give the works excitement and a sense of liveliness.” Mitchell says. “The thing that makes me most proud about this year is that the artists are not trying to pander to anyone else or any other form. They are just doing what they want. “
OzAsia audiences are certain to want it too.