Agni

AGNI Anna Kennedy and Jack Sheppard - photo by Jacinta Oaten Climbing December temperatures signal the imminent arrival of music festivals, characterised by a diversity of content and experiences. Adopting the festival audience’s willingness to experiment will likely enhance your enjoyment of the multi-disciplinary offering Agni.

Agni (pronounced AG-nee) is Sanskrit for fire. It is considered an element with its own character in the Indian Vedic tradition. Agni intends to be an outlet for various creatives to explore aspects of this character.

In practice, the work, buffeted by gales of ideas from many directions, had some trouble building its dramatic flame. The ticketed component had two acts, beginning with the theatrical work Lit By Fire. Fire was mostly incidental, mentioned in passing with reference to a war in progress on the other side of the mountain, or as a means of comforting those afflicted by a widespread illness.

This illness, The Dying is the main plot device of the work. However, it tries to cram a lot of other elements into its 45 or so minutes. There were explorations of tensions between tradition and modernism and church and civic leaders, efforts to manage the message given to the people in a time of crisis, and an almost love story. Some story elements recalled the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

As we glided lightly across these themes and ideas, it became clear that there were costs to attempting such broad coverage. I was somewhat distracted by trying to work out which era we were in so as to work out how to fairly judge the characters actions. Add to this various other uncertainties – was this a village or a city? – and the melange of costumes and musical styles, I felt that the work struggled to cast a sustained light on a strong story thread or challenging viewpoint.

Act 2, Agni Raga Kirwani was a suite of traditional North Indian compositions. Notionally these related to the show’s theme as the programme advised that the music is “associated with devotion, burning desire…”. To appreciate this, I suspect one requires a far better grounding in the conventions of the discipline than many of us had in the audience.

There were variations in the tempo of the sitar, and the addition of tabla and harmonica and vocals added interest. However, the folded arms and phone checking seen around me suggest that it was unrealistic to expect a novice audience to sustain interest in such an alien artform for a solid 45 minutes. Yet, it was clear that all instrumentalists played to a high standard.

Although the theatrical work Agni has a very short season, the general public has more opportunity to attend an associated free visual art exhibition by Malcolm Berry and Krystal Brock that shares the show’s name. Some of the eye-catching works on display exuded mystery and mysticism, or explored the interplay of passions and mythology from a variety of cultural traditions. This part of the evening complemented the earlier offerings, capturing the capriciousness of fire and its capability to change from servant to master.

As for any festival, location plays a significant role in the outcome. This was my first visit to The Mission For Seafarers, and it is a building of great historical and visual interest that will hold particular appeal to those with a nautical bent.

Agni is the second of five events planned to explore the Indian Vedic elements. From the carved wooden walking stick of a traveller, to the dubious pencil moustache of the morally ambiguous rat catcher, there was an array of bright little details to savour in Lit By Fire. Should the ensemble concentrate their fuel more, I expect their novelty to burn brighter in future offerings.

Agni (performance)
Mission to Seafarers, 717 Flinders Street, Docklands
Performance: Wednesday 6 December 2017 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 9 December 2017
Bookings: www.apollonstudios.com.au

Agni (exhibition)
Mission to Seafarers, 717 Flinders Street, Docklands
Exhibition continues to 17 December 2017
Free entry

For more information, visit: www.apollonstudios.com.au for details.

Image: Anna Kennedy and Jack Sheppard – photo by Jacinta Oaten

Review: Jason Whyte

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