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From Tasmania to the world with Ten Days on the Island

What started out as a love letter to island life has blown out to an international, multi-disciplinary arts festival, with draw cards as diverse as gypsy-jazz swing quintet the Paris Combo to White Snake, a subtitled work of Chinese theatre about a bloke who falls in love with a woman who turns out to be a magic snake.

As the name suggests, the festival runs over ten days taking in all of Tassie, featuring a packed program of 80 events across 38 locations. While most of the action centres around city-based hubs including Speigeltent Hobart, the program ventures out to regional areas too where arts events aren’t necessarily part of the ordinary social calendar.
 
Artistic Director David Malacari has been at the helm of the festival for just over three years. After heading up arts festivals all over the world (including the Auckland Arts Festival and Adelaide Festival of the Arts), Malacari was drawn to the concept, not only because it covers a whole island, but also because it’s in Tasmania. “It’s quite a small place with a small audience,” he says. “Therefore, the challenges in bringing wonderful arts here are a little bit different to those in a big city.” Malacari’s response has been to carefully curate a program that steers away from the behemoth shows that mainland festivals command, allowing space for more intimate performances, newer shows and material that’s in the vanguard of contemporary arts practice.
 
Originally, when Ten Days on the Island was established by the Tassie government in 2001, its through-thread was islander life and island cultures, but it’s gently strayed from that theme in recent years. “We’ve really formalised that departure over the last two festivals,” Malacari confirms. “It’s now more about how Tasmania is connected to the whole world, rather than just to other islands. Tasmanians are fiercely proud islanders and the program still, and always will, reflect the island-ess of Tasmania, but audiences deserve to see amazing things from other parts of the world too.”
 
Malacari regards the program as an invitation for audiences to step outside the bounds of what they’d ordinarily see. “I always like to say that the program is a continuum, with quality stuff that’s pure entertainment and comedy at one end to really specific and cutting-edge stuff at the other that maybe only two people and a dog will be able to wrap their heads around,” he says. “We want a whole lot of works spread along that continuum. My job and hope is that I can get people to take one more step along that line from the place that they’re generally comfortable with to have an adventure. If I can get even one person to do that, it’s a win.”  
 
Indeed, with the breadth of this year’s program that’s not going to be an issue. While Malacari wouldn’t be pinned down on his festival favourites, there’s a bunch of stand outs, including Nick Steur’s show Freeze. Steur, a Netherland’s visual and performance artist, engages in a Sisyphean feat during the show, painstakingly balancing rocks.
 
By Meg Crawford

Ten Days on the Island runs from Thursday March 9 to Saturday April 1 in areas and venues throughout Tasmania.