September 26, 2008

PM backs festive Pacific solution


OzAsia Festival 2008
Adelaide Festival Centre
September 14-28.

The Tale of Haruk
by Bae Yo Sup
The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre
September 17.

Once Upon a Midnight
by Alex Vickery-Howe
Music by Tim Lucas
Kijimuna Festival and Flinders University Drama Centre
The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre
September 24.

Shastriya Syndicate
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
September 24.

Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival is now in its second year and already showing new signs and directions. Among a number of program initiatives presented by the Adelaide Festival Centre, OzAsia has been a particular focus for CEO and Artistic Director, Douglas Gautier whose previous experience as director of the Hong Kong Festival not only provided him with a strong network of Asia Pacific contacts but was seen as central to his Adelaide Festival Centre appointment and the task of revitalizing its activities..

It was quite a coup for Gautier to intercept our peripatetic Prime Minister long enough to provide the keynote address for the OzAsia Symposium last Saturday. Kevin Rudd’s speech –“The challenges and opportunities for closer cultural engagement with Asia in the 21st century “ – was a sharp reminder of how much has changed in the twelve months since the last OzAsia event. With a change of government has come a shift in focus and a unity of purpose at state and federal levels. So, after light-heartedly greeting the PM in torturous Mandarin, Premier Mike Rann emphasised his state’s strong links with China (and trumpeted the impending arrival of two giant pandas to the Adelaide zoo) while the Prime Minister outlined his plan for “comprehensive engagement with Asia.”

Calling for “connectivity” to greater East Asia, Mr Rudd noted the ongoing links created by the 350,000 international students studying in Australia – 100,000 from China alone. “Cultural and societal engagement make the other things easier to transact.” Our ties with Asia are personal, cultural, and business ones, he said –“and we are much the richer for it.” Threading together policy proposals from language education to carbon capture technology, Kevin Rudd pressed his argument that pursuing strategic and cultural co-operation was the challenge for the Asia Pacific region – “to make our region no longer foreign, but familiar.” OzAsia he described as “one solid contribution to Australia’s future with this region.”

Such views were reiterated by Douglas Gautier and, even more tellingly, by the festival’s patron – South Australia’s newly instated Lieutenant Governor, Hieu Van Le, the first person of Asian descent to receive an Australian Vice-Regal appointment.

Starting with the illuminations of the opening Moon Lantern Festival along the Torrens in Elder Park, OzAsia’s program, under the direction of Executive Producer, Jacinta Thompson, this year spans the performing and visual arts, film and cuisine. There are works from Asian artists within Australia, intercultural projects and visiting productions and performers from Korea, India and China.

A highlight from last week was The Tale of Haruk from the Seoul-based company Tuida. Written and directed by Bae Yo Sup, Haruk tells the story of a childless couple who are presented with the magical Haruk, a creature born from an egg and fed only on dew. When they succumb to his demands and feed him rice he begins to devour the whole world. Zany, poignant and full of theatrical invention Haruk uses masks, dance, and puppets tiny, big, and extra large as the five performers, including the marvelous Hyun Jin Myung as narrator, tell a tale of family devotion of gargantuan proportions.

Once Upon the Midnight, a joint venture between performers from Okinawa and the Flinders University Drama Centre also features monsters, music and mayhem. Using manga influences, as well as vampires and werewolves, Alex Vickery-Howe’s sometimes over-elaborate plot takes the timid girl Kelsey through a portal to the Underworld to overcome her fear. Directed by Catherine Fitzgerald, with music by Tim Lucas and Rocky Horror choreography from Yumi Umiumare, this bilingual production which has already played at the Kijimuna Festival in Japan, is a lively example of OzAsia’s commitment to intercultural collaboration.

New this year has been the season of Asian films at the Mercury Cinema. Opera Jawa, directed by Indonesian film-maker Garin Nugroho is, as its title suggests, an operatic version of a section of the Ramayana, perfomed with startlingly anti-naturalistic techniques and incorporating traditional dance and gamelan, shadow puppets and highly stylized staging.This production was commissioned by Peter Sellars for the 2006 Vienna Festival. On a lighter note, from Hong Kong director and writer Stephen Chow, came CJ7, the cheeky and charming story of a boy, his struggling father and an extra-terrestrial dog whose antics not only cause havoc but bring harmony to a family and a schoolyard. Also featuring at the festival was Sringaram- Dance of Love, the story of a Devadasi temple dancer rejecting the predations and corruption of her wealthy patron in India in the 1920s. The director, Sharada Ramanathan, attended the screening.

In the music program the Shastriya Syndicate, led by sitar master Purbayan Chatterjee, presented a delectable program of contemporary compositions drawn from both North and Southern classical traditions but with a freshness and informality which made it especially inclusive. Still to open this weekend is Chika, Mayu Kanamori’s multi-media performance documentary on Chika Honda, the Japanese tourist arrested and jailed for heroin smuggling, and the Zhengzhou Song and Dance Theatre’s extravaganza, Shaolin in Wind. OzAsia is taking steps and while its program is still developing, it is an event whose time has come. Even the PM thinks so.

Murray Bramwell

“PM backs festive Pacific solution” The Australian, September 26, 2008, p.12.

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