December 01, 1995

And There’s More

Filed under: Archive,Interviews


Murray Bramwell talks to Barrie Kosky about the 1996 Adelaide Festival

Barrie Kosky is looking almost weary. With a twenty-four hour stubble and his number two razor-cut in undefined grow-back phase, he is not saying no to a late morning coffee. He tells me he has just completed his seventh Hills hoisting, a six o’clock spruik in the Festival Theatre organised for anyone-who-might-be-interested. But even as he describes his glittering reprise the energy returns. Kosky is, without doubt, one of the Adelaide Festival’s little engines that can.

It is now five weeks since the program launch at the Piccadilly Cinema, the clothesline summit where, seated on top of the familiar domestic rotary, festooned with red lights, Barrie Kosky, Artistic Director, announced details of the 1996 Telstra Adelaide Festival. With artful assistance from multi-media whizz Adrian Adams, Kosky spread his dreams at our feet. And far be it for me to tread on such dreams.

Kosky’s appointment as AD was controversial, even the selection committee was divided. His initial dealings with some sections of the cultural establishment were strained. For some that remains so. But it is true to say that since he took the director’s job he has been the most visible and attentive festival planner anyone can remember. The ubiquity is certainly highly self-conscious- to the point that his owlish specs and serious-young-insect press photos should have TM stamped next to them. But he has also mixed and mingled, listened to those around him and generally put himself into caffe latte society.

‘Two years ago when I arrived,” he recalls, “I thought I wouldn’t have to justify or worry about explaining the importance of the festival- all I had to do to was go out and present the next one. But with some of the problems that happened last year I spent about fifty percent of my time persuading people that the festival was worth having. Which is bizarre when consider the Adelaide Festival’s reputation and its thirty year history.”

At the launch, the chair of the Festival Board, ad-man Andrew Killey described himself as the luckiest person since Ringo Starr. “I came into the Festival at a time of complete review , restructuring and refocusing,” he explains, “at a time when government demonstrated interest in making the festival even better. I get a terrific guy like Ian Scobie as general manager, a good marketing team, and, then the cream on the cake, you get a bloke like Barrie Kosky as Artistic Director. Apart from the program and its variety -he is such a great enthusiast for it all. He loves to talk to everybody, to cocktail parties, to the media, to everybody.”

The talking has worked. This festival has unprecedented levels of corporate sponsorship and the deals are nearly all for a cluster of three festivals- so the 1998 event will immediately benefit from the present momentum. The push is on for promotion interstate. Kosky has already taken taking the Hills-alive campaign to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Killey and others are working on local burghers for support and, at the same time, selectively securing closer ties with cities in Asia.

So, beyond the hoopla and video opportunities of the launch, there is a sense of a solidly planned program and smooth, good-natured organisation. Kosky’s presentation slide show at the Piccadilly with quick-byte film clips was a sign of confident marketing- succinct, modish and not afraid of a few laughs. Using an iconic clothespeg (A is for Adelaide and also for TelstrA) the director outlined his themes.

The objectives of the festival emerged gradually for Kosky. “I had particular ideas of what a festival should be. I also had to do a lot work to get people to re-engage. But I don’t believe- as some of my colleagues interstate do- that you divide festivals into highbrow and low. This notion that there is an arts audience and then there is -the people… I think there are more interesting ways to branch out and regain the audience.”

“You have got a core audience who is going to come. But it’s like circles. You want to make sure that another group is going to see theatre or a dance company. Then there is another audience who is only going to see Tito Puente or Nancy Sinatra or a rock concert. But to me its important that you always present work which is of the highest quality and that it is diverse. It is important not to patronise audiences or categorise them. I believe that if people only go to one thing- a concert in the park or whatever, the thing is that they participate. It’s like the Grand Prix. A lot of people go not so much for the motor racing but to be part of the celebration.”

As for the themes. They began around discussions of architecture -or as Kosky identifies it, of questions of public and private space. But the spark came from Adelaide’s own history and mythology.
Kosky identifies his eureka moment-

“I think it was when I was talking about Colonel Light when something went ‘ting’. Then talking to Paul Carter about his Light installation and his book about Colonel Light. There are interesting connections to my ideas of utopia, ecstacy and map. Colonel Light was born outside the English milieu. His mother was a Portuguese Malay and he wrote about ecstatic music and the bells of Penang. Talking to Paul triggered things in my mind.”

When, at the launch, Kosky explained these threads, arranged around three thematic nodes – Ecstacy, Map and Utopia- I have to say, in the heat of exposition, the concepts started to jump about like frogs in a bucket. But the invitation to subscribers to choose songlines and walking paths is a provocative one and Kosky and his team have included an enticing range of offerings in the name of rapture, topos and hope.

The program he has assembled is a large one. Not as big as 1988 or 1992, he is quick to observe, but it is probably next in line. It is impressive- and dense. And, for those reasons, difficult to describe. It gave rise to Kosky’s widely reported Demtel quip. As he drew breath from the sheer task of describing the program, even in thumbnail form, Kosky wryly compared himself to the infamous tele-spruikers from Demtel. And there’s more. With the peeler, the parer and the vegetable slicer, there is still more.

So let’s see what we get. In dance theatre there is the Batsheva Company from Israel, and DV8 Physical Theatre -Australian Lloyd Newson’s troupe from the UK. From Brussels, out of New Orleans, comes Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods and Betontanc come from Ljublijana, in Slovenia. Japanese company, Molecular Theatre, present Facade Firm and Meryl Tankard’s ADT will enter the Bull-Ring at Wayville Showgrounds. Jonathan Mills, Nanette Hassall and the Leigh Warren Dancers’s production, The Ethereal Eye explores the vision of the Burley Griffins. And, from Barcelona, La Fura Del Baus will create a Spanish form of Archaos theory.

And, there is more. The Maly Theatre of St Petersburg, a major attraction announced in the first round of offers, will stage Gaudeamus in the Playhouse and Claustrophobia in the Festival Theatre. Another company, The Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa, also inspires Koskyian hyperbole . Watch for their adaptions of European classics -Woyzeck on the Highveld and Faustus in Africa. Red Shed returns with Station 2: Eye of Another and students from Flinders Drama Centre collaborate with Okinawan colleagues for Red Sun-Red Earth written by John Romeril and directed by Hisao Takase.

The music program is similarly hybrid, mutant and attractively contemporary. Kronos Quartet makes a welcome return, Art Zoyd create large sounds to rekindle the melodrama of Murnau’s Nosferatu and, to celebrate the second century of film, Pierre Henry will marshall audio landscapes for Russian film-maker Dziga Vertov’s The Man with the Camera. Also, Bang on the Can Allstars from Manhattan’s Lower East Side will play a range of new works from Glass to white noise.

The Festival encompasses music ancient and modern. Jordi Savall and members from Hesperion XX will perform from the 17th century French and Spanish repertoire, Ozopera will do a portable version of The Magic Flute and in the parade ground area- renamed Red Square -an array of vocalists will create the Singing Map. Yunghen Lhamo from Tibet, the Bauls of Bengal and the Throat Singers from Tuva will all perform along with the Whirling Dervishes, accompanied by the Turkish Mystical Music State Ensemble. Scriabin is the guest composer (posthumous) and State Opera will present chamber works by Gershwin and Lennie Bernstein.

And on it goes. There are famous poseurs – Annie Sprinkle, post porn modernist, Sandra Bernhard, bitch friend of the famous, and Malcolm McLaren, the Alfred Jarry of the Kings Road. The free concerts will give plenty for nothing and the visual arts program is something else again.

It is interesting to note how many of the European works reflect a volatility unimaginable ten or fifteen years ago. The notion that Europe is as much Sarajevo as Vienna is evident. “People say some of the work is dark and disturbing,” Kosky observes,”I say -interesting and disturbing. That’s what’s happening. Maly is genuinely out of its culture. So is Betontanc from Slovenia. So is Meg Stuart. Most of the art I saw in Europe was not about apocalypse or the millenium but it was about society in a state of disruption. Not a sense of cataclysm but of bits falling off. I don’t think that’s negative.”

Ever prepared for a discouraging word from those who don’t like the look of what has been planned, Kosky, does not, as they say in politics, resile. “The program has certain things reflective of my tastes and personality but in terms of it being shocking or provocative -that challenge is part of the tradition of the Adelaide Festival. There are links with Anthony Steel’s programs. I went back over previous programs to make links, to ask: is this interesting after they’ve seen that ? We go, for instance, from Mark Morris and the Frankfurt Ballet to DV8 and Meg Stuart. There is continuity and dialogue with previous festivals.”

Barrie Kosky has put together fifty companies from thirty three countries and promises sixteen world premieres. It is a sharp, attractive program, pitched at a younger audience and with a creditable number of Adelaide exclusives. If this festival brochure doesn’t bring the cultural tourists back into Adelaide nothing will.

As for those of us who only have to step on to the footpath to be in a Festival city, the first three weeks in March should be full of ecstatic, geographical and utopian opportunity. I wouldn’t be surprised if, after a second look, even Graham Cornes finds something to like.

“People have the right to strongly dislike things in the festival,” Kosky observes,” But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be on. In a festival you can’t expect everybody to think that everything is fantastic. But this program has been planned so that every single day something new is happening. The first week focuses on the music. Then, in week two, we have DV8, the Slovenians, La Fura Dels Baus. Hopefully, the festival will keep unfolding itself over seventeen days.”

The Adelaide Review, No.146, December, 1995, p.20.

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