What’s HOT at the 2016 Melbourne Festival

melbourne-festival-les_tambours_de_feuWith a spectacular lineup of dance, theatre, circus, contemporary and classical music, visual arts and free events, Jonathan Holloway’s first Melbourne Festival program presents an irresistible assortment of familiar and unknown, local and far-flung, large-scale and intimate productions. Arts Review takes a look at 10 shows worth checking out.

Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne: 19 – 22 October
Universally acclaimed for the scale of his theatrical imagination, and on stage in Melbourne for the first time, Robert Lepage proves once again a master of the grand image, while channeling his most intensely personal story yet. This dazzling investigation of memory – how it makes and unmakes us – transports us into the echoing chambers of his own recollected past. Beginning in his childhood home at 887 Avenue Murray in Quebec City and ricocheting across decades, Lepage’s own tale proves inseparable from the dramatic events of the half century in which it plays out.

Ancient Rain
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne: 12 – 15 October
Directed by Chris Drummond, the words of great Irish poets are given new breath in this premiere collaboration between two inimitable artists. The poetry of W. B. Yeats and his countrymen has an inherent musicality and this quality shines through in Paul Kelly, Camille O’Sullivan and Feargal Murray’s song-cycle Ancient Rain. Original compositions by these contemporary masters have been shaped around the words of more than a century of Irish poetry, and as Kelly and O’Sullivan incarnate a succession of diverse characters, a conduit across oceans and time is opened. Kelly’s ingeniously understated yet evocative lyricism and O’Sullivan’s majestic vocal command unite here in the service of stories of love, loss and redemption.

Buried Country
Melbourne Recital Centre: 12 & 13 October
Long before Aboriginal painters, filmmakers and dance companies were becoming household names, generations of Indigenous musicians were finding a voice in white Australia through country music. When Clinton Walker began delving into this forgotten history, he never expected that the songs and stories he would uncover would go on to inform a book that went from instant cult classic to widely recognised masterpiece, and that a film and album would follow. Now these same musical stories are brought to the stage in a concert featuring singers and songwriters from across the continent and across the generations, from iconic elders: Roger Knox, Auriel Andrew and L.J. Hill, Central Desert legend Warren H Williams, to younger artists such as Leah Flanagan, Luke Peacock and James Henry. A potent and moving song cycle and a tribute to an enduring musical tradition: this is music that couldn’t stay buried.

Chiharu Shiota
Anna Schwartz Gallery: 6 October – 5 November
Shiota is best known for her large scale installations and sculptures that explore the complex relationships between body and mind. Her work evokes memories: a house, a piano, suitcases, keys… objects suspended in time and space by a web of three-dimensional lines. or her inaugural solo exhibition at Anna Schwartz Gallery, internationally acclaimed artist Chiharu Shiota will create a new body of work unfolding across the entire space of the gallery. Her installations use striking red thread, which serve to connect the self to the outside world, our memory with experience, reality with imagination, engaging directly with the body, inviting the viewer to enter and become one with the artwork.

Lady Eats Apple
Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne: 8 – 13 October
An anxious god whips up the universe to garner some praise. A mesmerist makes concrete the internal workings of a woman’s mind. A new Adam and Eve emerge in the unlikeliest of spaces. Australia’s Back to Back Theatre is unarguably one of the world’s most exciting and urgent companies working today, tirelessly charting trails deeper into the landscape of the unconscious. Collapsing the space between the epic and the everyday and divining the mythic in the mundane, Lady Eats Apple is the company’s largest-scale work to date: a cosmic dance from the Garden of Eden to a medieval snowstorm to the urban jungle we live in.

Les Tambours de Feu
Federation Square: 6 – 8 October
The tradition of the Correfoc (fire-run) is one of the world’s most ecstatic sensory bombardments, and for twenty years Basque company Deabru Beltzak has been setting the world ablaze with ritualistic percussion and extravagant costumes loaded head to toe with pyrotechnics. Hard and fast drumming seems to conjure exploding fountains of fire and bestial energies induce a pagan frenzy that cannot be contained. Far more than a concert, Les Tambours de Feu will propel you headlong on a dizzy parade throughout Melbourne.

Public Art Melbourne Biennial Lab: What Happens Now?
Queen Victoria Market: 17 – 23 October
In June this year, a group of artists came together for an intense two-week period, developing concepts in a laboratory environment under the mentorship of international public art experts. The results will be revealed at this year’s Festival with commissions that respond to the many layers of meaning embedded in the Market. From elaborate and evocative installations to ethereal moments of human connection and release, this suite of temporary new works will reinterpret the Market; probing its Indigenous, mercantile, migratory and colonial past, while sharing its secrets and celebrating its stories.

Two Dogs
Merlyn Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse: 6 – 9 October
Two country canines hit the road for the big smoke, but when they fall into a metropolitan miasma of reality TV, Viagra, SARS and Louis Vuitton knockoffs, they begin to realise a dog’s life isn’t what it used to be. Director Meng Jinghui is one of the most influential theatre artists in Asia today, and his laugh-out-loud serving of comic mayhem Two Dogs can lay claim to being one of the most popular works in China. With an ever-flexible script and onstage chaos forever threatening to tip over into anarchy, no two shows are the same. Pinballing from punk rock to commedia dell’arte, broad slapstick to delicate social satire, these two pooches practice a kind of comic acupuncture on the nerve points of global culture.

Vertical Influences
O’Brien Group Arena: 15 – 22 October
The subversive wit of street dance and the technical virtuosity of contemporary movement make a fine cocktail, but you’ve just got to try it on ice. Five performers turn their backs on sequins and scorecards in favour of adrenaline-pumping athletics and theatrical sophistication. The breathtaking momentum of the skating body combined with the freedom of the choreographic imagination results in forms untethered by gravity, like lightning over a frozen lake. Canada’s Le Patin Libre is the only company in the world to realise the possibilities opened up to contemporary dance when a pair of ice-skates enters the frame – the results will exhilarate.

You and Me and the Space in Between
Beckett Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse: 6 – 9 October
The island is sinking. Its adults are useless. Time for the kids to save the day. Same old story, right? When the island of Proud Circle springs a leak, it’s up to one girl to look beyond its edges and discover the maybes and what-ifs that are its only hope. From the mind of Finegan Kruckemeyer, Australia’s most accomplished children’s playwright, comes a tale of wonder and invention that is brought to life in unexpected ways. Step inside a picture book as cartoonist Oslo Davis draws the story live while narrator Katherine Tonkin reads it to you. All of this takes place amidst a paper set that is cut, ripped, patched and manipulated live to create a world of play.

The 2016 Melbourne Festival runs 6 – 23 October. For more information, visit: www.festival.melbourne for details.

Image: Deabru Beltzak’s Les Tambours de Feu