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WORLD THEATRE FESTIVAL


The power of collaboration

Kathryn Kelly: Brisbane Powerhouse, World Theatre Festival


Wedhus Gembel, Snuff Puppets  & Theatre Garasi Wedhus Gembel, Snuff Puppets & Theatre Garasi
photo Jorge de Araujo
The World Theatre Festival 2014 program was a fold-out brochure rather than the plump booklet of years past. Missing was the Graeme Wood Foundation sponsor logo and the swathe of local creative development showings. While the buzz was still there, fed by the cross-over with the Australian Performing Arts Market, the stalwart WTF audience and some snazzy initiatives like the Yum Chat for local Asian-Australian theatremakers, the festival now appears to sit in a more commercial curatorial space.

She Would Walk the Sky

One of the jewels in the crown of this year’s WTF was the collaboration between gifted Tasmanian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer and veteran circus performer and director Chelsea McGuffin. She Would Walk the Sky is narrated by a ghostly voice-over describing “the people of the river house” who nest in a secret, derelict nightclub, including “the bird woman” pining for a sailor who abandoned her, “the strong man” who loves the bird woman from afar and “the clown” who tells the audience that their putative love affair “is never going to happen.” The velvet-clad band duck and play as slack rope, bike and trapeze tricks unfold.

Alas, Kruckemeyer’s prose was more lullaby than storm. I was reminded of Antonella Casella’s article in RealTime (RT115) in which she wondered if narrative interferes with the inherent power of the ‘body of representation’ in circus form. The disembodied prose never felt a part of the live show and while there was an undeniable beauty in its wash and pulses, the cumulative and melancholic effect worked against the push and dazzle of the live spectacle. The show is already on international tour so perhaps the marriage between text and live circus will bed down.

Underground and Gudirr Gudirr

The third return season of Underground by local heroes Motherboard Productions was a joyous cross-cultural mash of musical, magic realism and nightclub revue. As reviewed (RT107), the show moves seamlessly between Korean and English, using pop culture and musical numbers to tie together the loose strands of the narrative about the search for love and identity. Ditto for outstanding Indigenous dance work from Marrugeku, Gudirr Gudirr (RT114) that explodes with the force of Broome’s utopian elixir: Malay, Yawuru and Japanese cultures, expressed through the passionate intensity of performer and choreographer Dalisa Pigrim and her urgent quest to articulate, in words and movement, the violent intersections of her own cultural and political identity, ably facilitated by Belgian choreographer Koen Augustijnen.

Wedhus Gembel

Another exciting cross-cultural debut for Brisbane audiences was Wedhus Gembel. The show is a long-term collaboration between a group of Javanese independent artists—associated with the dynamic Indonesian theatre company Theatre Garasi—and Footscray’s anarchically cheerful Snuff Puppets, with their large-scale, endearing and slightly askew creations. This is an important contribution to the scarce Indonesian-Australian repertory. “Wedhus Gembel” translates as the gas from an active volcano, the chaotic force of a goat’s appetite and homelessness after a natural disaster. The show melds traditional stories, living culture, traditional Indonesian puppets and the hand-made, friendly grotesquery of the Snuff Puppet aesthetic.

I was fortunate to sit beside a Javanese-Australian whose delight at seeing traditional elements, like the Wayang puppetry, was mirrored by the frenzy of the schoolchildren in the back cackling at the mobile phone gags and blaring Indo pop. Even with my charming guide it was hard to follow transitions or grasp the finer points of the stories. The show has been made for an Indonesian audience first and translated back for an Australian one.

Nonetheless, nothing could dampen the excitement of the audience when the large volcano onstage erupted, producing an egg that birthed our monster: Wedhus Gembel who proceeded to eat the entire cast and some of the audience. Only the wise man Samir could calm him by encouraging him to fart and poo out everyone he had swallowed. They emerged, transformed with new costumes, ready to charge into the audience and bring us onstage to boogie—graceful glowing Indonesian performers, schoolkids and local mob alike. As I snuck out to see the next WTF show, my last glimpse was of the entire audience bouncing up and down and shrieking with joy.

What was compelling about each of these shows was their deeply felt experimentation with collaboration: across culture, art forms and geography. While some works succeeded better than others, or were just further along in their development, the richness of these brave collaborations was the highlight of WTF 2014 for me and I look forward to the next installment in 2016.


See also Stephen Carleton’s report on other WTF productions.

World Theatre Festival 2014, Brisbane Powerhouse, 13-23 Feb

RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg. 37

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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