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perth international arts festival preview

worlds of possibility

keith gallasch: jonathan holloway, artistic director, perth international arts festival

Abdou Ouologuem, A Magic Flute Abdou Ouologuem, A Magic Flute
photo Pascal Victor

Previously Holloway had been Creative Director of Elemental, a large-scale theatre, music and spectacle event at the Chalon-sur-Saône festival in France in 2003 and from 1997-2004 he set up and ran the National Theatre’s events department on London’s South Bank, prior to which he had been a theatre director. His first festival for Perth has some strong programming—Lucinda Childs and Peter Brook among others—indicative of Holloway’s art world connections, alongside innovative smaller-scale works that will involve a particpatory audience. I spoke with Holloway about the motivation behind choosing particular artists and works in his program.

Lucinda Childs 2011 Lucinda Childs 2011
photo Cameron Wittig 
What attracted you to invite Lucinda Childs to the festival?

I was having a conversation with Lucinda Childs’ management about programming her work DANCE for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. I’ve worked with Phillip Glass and have admired Lucinda’s and Sol LeWitt’s work for years. As soon as I realised that she was re-forming her company a year or so ago to remake this seminal work, I immediately started a conversation and when I realised I was coming to Perth, I determined to bring it here. I was delighted that it could be an Australian exclusive as well because it is one of the great pieces.

She’s never brought her own work to Australia. This is one of those defining works of dance—and minimalist dance in particular.

What drew you to Peter Brook’s A Magic Flute?

I saw it in Paris a few weeks after I realised I was coming to Perth. Along with most people, I’ve always been a great fan of Peter Brook’s work and of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I saw it at the Bouffe du Nord and the fact that it was the final production at the Bouffe du Nord and of the company and the fact that it’s his third and, Brook says, his final opera gave it a real charge and energy.

Then it was the most beautifully simple piece of theatre I’d seen in a long, long time. It strips away all of the layers of interpretation that people put onto the opera. It starts with a flute, a magic flute. And it sounds like an obvious thing to say but there’s something about charging that object and then the simplicity and complexity in the piano accompaniment with the voices in a space that’s almost like a rehearsal room. It’s so intimate and the fact that you’re a few metres away from the singers gives it a level of charge that I’ve never seen in that work before. I’ve seen a lot of work that Peter Brook has produced but this is one of those pieces that really reminds you what he’s about and how he’s at his absolute best when he practises what he preaches about simplicity and energy and theatricality and storytelling.

How pared back is the music?

It’s a piano reduction. In theory it’s less complex than an orchestra but it actually gives it a degree of richness and complexity. Because you’re not overwhelmed by scale, by size, by the physical and aural impact of numbers, what you get is absolute simplicity. This is obviously how it was originally played—by one man sitting at a piano notating a work of absolute genius. It strips the production right back to how it must have sounded the first time it was played. As such, for me it makes it completely timeless. It’s almost opposite to a director’s piece of theatre. Obviously Brook is a great director but his hand is so light throughout the production whereas I’ve seen so many versions of The Magic Flute that were entirely about a theory or an idea or the recreation or re-staging or reinterpretation. This feels more like a conversation between Mozart and Brook.

What about Propeller and their productions of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Henry V?

That’s pretty much the opposite of stripped back theatre. It’s rambunctious and energetic. I admire Edward Hall for the idea—he was basically looking at a new way of making Shakespeare fresh, returning to an all-male cast and then cross-casting the productions. There’s a nod towards tradition in that this is the way the works might originally have been performed. But it also feels entirely contemporary. It’s large scale, it’s physical, actors play music, there’s a large set. It’s lush and energetic. As a companion piece to the Peter Brook I think it works really well.

Oraculos, Teatro de los Sentidos Oraculos, Teatro de los Sentidos
image courtesy Perth International Arts Festival
There are three shows I noted with some interest: Oraculos, Home Sweet Home and Red Ball Project, all works which are very contemporaneous with notions of live art and site specific art which are spreading rapidly on the festival circuit.

Oraculos is created by Teatro de los Sentidos who are from Colombia originally but have been based in Barcelona for some time. It’s designed for one person at a time. You enter a labyrinth. You remove your shoes and walk through a series of little corridors made of cloth and what you experience is 20 something moments or interventions or little scenes or performances or visual installations. Through that journey you receive the answer to the question you may be seeking, whatever that may be. It’s all about you as an audience member. What in life is the big question to which you would like an answer?

So you pose the question as you enter?

When you go in, they ask you to. You’re given a seed to hold and you walk through the labyrinth looking for the answer to your question: it’s about memory; it’s about childhood; it’s about taste and sense and sound and smell. As a result, it enables you to go back and forwards in your life. It’s about life and death. The first work I ever saw by this company was one of the most affecting theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. I came out of it thinking, that’s what site-specific theatre is all about. It’s immersive. It was performed in 1997 at the London International Festival of Theatre [LIFT] and it was one of those works that changed the theatrical landscape. Everyone who’s seen it remembers it and talks about it.

So programming Oraculos was one of the simplest early decisions I made. When I knew I was coming here and I knew the company had never been to Perth, that was the first piece of work I went into bat for. It’s a complex piece of work and because of the scale and the audience, it’s a work where (as festival director) you really have to know why you’re doing it—a performance that runs for 23 days for a total of 1,000 people. But it’s about the depth charge, taking an audience member on a journey and the ripple effect of that. We’re working with a group of 16 local artists, theatre makers and arts professionals for a 10-day workshop with the company on the ideas behind the work, how to make site-specific work on this scale. And then four of the people from the workshop will be cast in the show. There are 16 in the company and four will be from Perth. So when the company leaves here, they leave behind something tangible and hopefully transformational.

Home Sweet Home installation UK Home Sweet Home installation UK
photo courtesy Perth International Arts Festival the artists
Speaking of Perth, what kind of city are Subject to Change planning to build with Home Sweet Home?

We don’t know yet. They’ll do a floorcloth, which has a map of the whole of Perth including the outlying areas and suburbs. People come in one at a time, they go to an estate agent and buy a house in whatever area they want. They walk in. It’s a flat pack cardboard house. They build the cardboard house. It’s about 20cms high and then they decorate it and they make whatever Perth they want. It’s an entirely democratic piece of work in which the people of Perth themselves will create the city that they dream of.

Subject to Change is not a company I know.

They’re based in London. They first did this show in Edinburgh. I went along thinking I’d be there for about 10 or 15 minutes. And I sat for about an hour and a half with Michael Kenyon of the Barbican Centre and missed a Michael Clarke performance—we had to go the next night—because we were completely obsessed with making our houses and gardens and creating a better place than the one we had. It captures people’s imagination. This is what festivals do so well, telling the story of a world changed, a world of possibility rather than simply putting up with what we’ve got.

The Red Ball project on the streets of Perth looks intriguing.

Red Ball is from Kurt Perschke in New York. It’s basically what it says. It’s a four and a half metre inflatable red ball jammed into architectural spaces, into alleyways, doorways, bus shelters and buildings. In one instance it’s jammed into a fountain under an overhang. Each day it pops up in a new place. People travel around and catch it, allowing them to see their city in a new light and rediscover bits of the city they might not see on a regular basis. We walk around with our heads down most of the time and anything that can make us look up and see the world around us anew and allow us to fall in love with our city seems like a great thing to do. Red Ball will be in 16 different locations around Perth and Fremantle and Albany.

I was pleased to see you’ve got CIRCA’s How Like Angel premiering before it eventually heads off to the UK. Did you inherit or commission this work for the festival?

It was my idea. I directed a piece of work about 10 years ago in France and had an idea which was going to involve circus and cathedrals. Then I stopped directing. Then a year ago I met with Ruth Mackenzie from the UK Olympics and she asked what I’d like to do for the Olympics. I wasn’t that keen and she said, “what if I gave you this much money, what would you do?” and I said it would be a piece of choral and circus work in sacred spaces. My first call was to [artistic director] Yaron Lifschitz at CIRCA to ask him if he would be interested in doing something like this. Before I’d finished the sentence, he had emailed me with a proposition based on an idea he’d been working on for years for a work performed in cathedrals. So it was one of those great moments when the idea comes from one place but somebody else responds instantly with something you’ve been obsessed about. Between the three approaches, we decided we’d create it and premiere it in Perth and then it will go back to my old festival in Norwich which is going to manage it around the UK.

CIRCA is an extraordinary company. One of the things I like most about their work is their use of music, so the idea of placing them with an eight-piece Renaissance choral ensemble (UK’s I Fagiolini), a turntable and recorded music artist in order to make a soundtrack seemed it would have the same sort of punch as if you’re pulling songs from Jacques Brel or David Bowie or whoever. And to have that live in sacred space! It’s selling gangbusters. It’s really been the surprise hit of the first part of our sales.

Are there other works in the festival program that offer this kind of excitement?

Obviously, the other big project that’s happening is the work by Frantic Assembly and National Theatre of Scotland called Beautiful Burnout that mixes theatre, dance and music by Underworld. I’m also really excited about Driving into Walls, a new work by local company Barking Gecko. They’ve talked to 500 teenagers in WA about what genuinely is their experience of living and growing up here—totally off the record, totally confidentially, and now they’re weaving that all together in a new work written by Suzie Miller. It sounds both exhilarating and totally terrifying. I’m sure it’ll be shocking in terms of its honesty.

Perth International Arts Festival, Feb 10-March 3,

This article first appeared in RT's online e-dition jan 31, 2012

RealTime issue #107 Feb-March 2012 pg. 8

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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