April 01, 2008

Festival of Light Fandangos

Filed under: Archive,Festival

Murray Bramwell

With the 2008 Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts over for another two years we have time to reflect on what was and, perhaps, what might have been. And despite Peter Sellars’ declaration, in 2002, that the era of the “big safari” festival, with its big game trophy events, is over – interest in the headliners has been as keen as ever. That is hardly surprising because, although Australians travel more than ever, the tyranny of distance is still great, and the chance to see arts events – when the world comes to us – is hard to resist.

Adelaide Festivals, featuring anything from forty to 2008’s eighty events, are invariably recalled for their peak experiences. We remember 1986 when the Rustaveli Company performed Richard III, or Peter Brook in 1980 and 1988, or Robert Lepage, Pina Bausch, Cricot 2 Dead Class, the Wooster Group and Nixon in China. Any one of these events, mythologised for all time by those who were there, vindicated the festivals they were in – and much that accompanied them, which was either less memorable or actually undistinguished, has fallen away.

2008 will be remembered for a number of excellent productions – more than usual – but perhaps none of legendary status. That is no bad thing. Brett Sheehy has achieved an evenness, a fluency and connectedness with his festival. The themes have been of light and illumination – and the experience has been airy and light also. Not lightweight, but fandangos, often effortless and artful, with an emphasis on symmetry and resolution which audiences responded to.

In the theatre program there have been outright successes. Pleasingly, one of them was the local premiere work from Brink Productions, When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell. Like State Theatre’s Honk If You Are Jesus from 2006, a new commission launched in the festival deservedly found favour with both audiences and reviewers.

Of the international imports, Township Stories from South Africa, brought a harsh, turbulent drama to audiences sometimes daunted by its confronting subject matter. But if attendance numbers dwindled it was more because it ran a longer season than most productions and with a huge range of events in the Fringe also, the Adelaide audience was diffused more than usual. The Dash Arts production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream proved to be a stage delight, cleverly imagined and warmly performed but A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, from the Schaubuhne Company of Berlin, was a disappointment. Unlike their 2006 work , Nora – for many of us a highlight, – the Cat, even in a heatwave, left audiences cold. Moving Target, a new work from Benedict Andrews and Marius von Mayenburg, was skilful and engaging, if not fully successful, and reports on Kommer (Sorrow) which I regret missing, were very positive.

As in other recent Festivals, the boundaries between art forms are porous and a number of dance works using text were strongly theatrical in style. Force Majeure’s The Age I’m In was a highlight, DV8’s Let Me Tell You Straight was challenging and Sacred Monsters – simply outstanding. The visual arts were also terrific this time – from the Northern Lights on North Terrace to the Speed of Light program to the Biennial and Michael Riley’s Cloud. And the musical highlights : a strong Womadelaide and the rare chance to see Ornette Coleman. The opera, Ainadamar, was an aural pleasure and a visual stew, and The Dharma at Big Sur with violinist Tracy Silverman and the ASO, a shimmering note to end on.

“New Light from the festival” The Adelaide Review, No.338, April 2008, pp.22-23.

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