Wednesday, July 15, 2009


It takes a lot to rouse me from my sedentary lifestyle, which is largely spent pottering around the rooftop conservatory tending to my elusive black orchids; strumming my banjo absent-mindedly in the once-grand ballroom long overtaken by moths and regret; or browsing the library filled entirely with novels about crime-solving cats.

But it seems that down in the streets there’s some kind of enormous love-fest going on with MIAF as the object of adoration. Yesterday I pointed out what I saw as a shortcoming in the 2009 program, but it so far seems to be the sole voice of dissent, excepting a few comments over at Theatre Notes. I’m certain this will change in the next few days but I may as well continue riffing in the same vein, if only to offer some kind of contrast.

My first criticism was the lack of cultural diversity in this year’s program. Here are another two issues I have, and they’re at the core of incoming director Brett Sheehy’s stated vision for the fest:

Sheehy’s twinned goals are to showcase *every* art form, and to make the festival as exclusive as possible – that is, to ensure that events at MIAF won’t be repeated in Sydney or Brisbane or Adelaide or wherever. I’ll get back to that second point, but firstly…

If the 2009 program isn’t very regionally diverse, it’s not too artistically broad either. It’s silly to promise “every” art form in the festival, since you’re never going to get stand-up comedy or musical theatre or other commercially successful but low-brow forms. But I wouldn’t have minded a bit of circus (beyond Strange Fruit’s opening thing) and I can’t see any puppetry in the program.

Theatrically, funding two MTC shows isn’t casting your net very far, either. I know one’s a Lally Katz piece and no disrespect to her – she’s a friend of mine – but wouldn’t the MTC have put this show (and the Bovell one) on anyway? Is that where MIAF should be throwing its dollars?

Anyway, I take bigger exception to Sheehy’s idea of exclusivity. He had to collaborate with other states in order to get the London Philharmonic out, but he otherwise wants it to be as Melbourne-only as he can. I just love it when that happens – when all of the amazing international bands playing the Big Day Out are barred from doing sideshows, or when artists play in Sydney only and I can’t get there because I don’t have the time or money to take a few days off and fly interstate. It makes me feel valued.

What benefit does Sheehy’s exclusivity offer? For anyone besides MIAF’s coffers, low-cost airlines and Melbourne tourism industry, that is? Does restricting access help artists or audiences in any way at all? I suppose it makes you feel special to have caught something that others will miss out on, the way I feel special whenever I have something someone else doesn’t (money, food, shelter). It’s a worry when art is deliberately restricted for no other reason than to increase its cultural capital – and that’s exactly what’s at stake here. This is culture as commodity.

I’m not disputing the worth of the programmed works: but you know what? I’d like it if people in Adelaide get to see Sasha Waltz or Hofesh Schechter or whatever. That’d be good. Maybe they’d be enriched by it and we would meet up sometime and be able to share the experience.

And maybe if MIAF was more about collaboration rather than competition, the program would be even better – different states could join forces in order to help get those big names out here. At the opening of Balletlab’s Miracle last night (INCREDIBLE GO SEE IT NOW), Australian Ballet boss David McAllister announced a new development between the AB and Balletlab. Balletlab’s Phillip Adams explicitly stated that without this kind of collaboration, he couldn’t do what he does. And what he does is, I think, create the most important and exciting dance in the country.

Australia’s artistic community is founded on collaboration and cross-pollination, mentoring, workshops, development, discussion, accessibility, exchange.

To my knowledge, Mr Sheehy barely even allows interviews.

I scratch my noggin.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps everyone drank from the Kool-Aid on this one while you were out of the room?

Or perhaps people had such low expectations that it all seems a pleasant surprise and the shortcomings are forgiven?

Or perhaps music at the Forum seems like a cop out rather than a statement because you're getting too old to dance?

Or perhaps lots of people agree with you on the cultural non-diversity problem but still like what's in the program?

Anonymous said...

Strange Fruit as a choice to open the festival is underwhelming at best. And just to go with the theme of exclusivity 'When The Rain Stops Falling' has already played in Sydney and Adelaide. Boring.

Anonymous said...

strange fruit are hardly the opener its transe express the international street theatre sensation! i can't wait to see when the rain stops falling personally bravo to mtc - this year they've been a welcome alternative to Michael kantors output. can someone please relieve that man of his position asap?

Alison Croggon said...

Adoration? C'mon...

Anon has it about right:

Or perhaps lots of people agree with you on the cultural non-diversity problem but still like what's in the program?

And it's definitely not Strange Fruit doing the opener.

I think it's a misnomer that the festival doesn't collaborate. Of course it does. All those companies in there, from Chunky Move to the MTC to the Store Room, are collaborating as producers with MIAF. That's a different issue from exclusivity... and maybe that issue is tied to sponsorship, which Sheehy has certainly been very successful in raising. Good for him: that counts as fairly miraculous in the present financial climate. (And praise god that it's not now called the Bendigo Bank Melbourne Festival...)

Anonymous said...

Apologies, Strange Fruit are PART of the opening, as opposed to opening it exclusively.

Gilligan said...

Hello all,

I also find it odd, as it was pointed out, that the Festival would be spending money on two MTC productions which surely would have been produced anyway.

I saw When The Rain Stops Falling last year in Adelaide, and it as amazing. And i'm sure the Katz work will be great. But surely the MIAF should be a little more adventurous?

Why not fund a Black Lung or a Daniel Schlusser or a Hayloft Project, to do a production they wouldn't normally have the resources to produce? At the moment Schlusser can only do his large scale works at the VCA, because it's the only was he can facilitate the process. Surely funding this sort of project would be more valuable than propping up the MTC?