Exploring the wondrous RISING festival program at Arts Centre Melbourne

Exploring the wondrous RISING festival program at Arts Centre Melbourne

The Wilds
Words By Meg Crawford

From two seminal theatre shows to a supernatural forest and a giant digital manifestation of the Spirit Eel, RISING festival’s program at Arts Centre Melbourne is something special to behold.

If you’re going to start anything auspiciously, you may as well kick off on a full lunar eclipse, which is exactly when Melbourne’s brand-spanking new cultural extravaganza, RISING, presses go. For 12 days starting Wednesday May 26, RISING will sprawl the city and bring live music, art, theatre, installations and everything in between to different districts, including The Birrarung, Midtown and Chinatown.

Then there’s the Arts Precinct – the realm that envelops Arts Centre Melbourne and its various venues. From Sidney Myer Music Bowl to the Playhouse and Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne will play host to four events during the fest. Here’s our guide to the full bill.

The Wilds

An outdoor installation, The Wilds transmogrifies the Sidney Myer Music Bowl into a site where nature takes back the night. Patrons enter via a bamboo thicket, first up encountering mirror illusions, then light tunnels, big-arse sculptures and video art along the way.

For those old enough to remember, The Wilds also returns the beloved tradition of ice-skating to the Bowl (it was a thing in the late ’80s/early ’90s). This time around, a DJ provides the tunes while skaters glide across the chill surface under the glowing vista of UK artist Luke Jerram’s lunar installation, Museum of the Moon.

Spanning seven metres in diameter, sporting genuine NASA imagery of the moon’s surface and internally lit to create an ethereal glow, the Museum of the Moon has been making its way around the globe. Replicating the experience of moon bathing but up close, the work inspires wonder, while giving observers pause to contemplate the role of Lady Lunar across time and space.

Aiming for a full sensory overload, The Wilds serves up gastronomic delight about halfway through the journey. Patrons can either snack outside courtesy of the two kitchens especially installed or go the full trip with a booking at pop-up, fine-dining establishment The Lighthouse.

It’ll be hard to take your pick because all options are crazy good. Kitchen one is helmed by plant-based gustatory heroine Shannon Martinez (Queen of Smith & Daughters and the spicy new Latin-flavoured Lona Misa), while kitchen two serves up collaborations between everyone from Thi Le (the gun behind Richmond’s Anchovy) and Casey Wall (exec chef of Capitano and Bar Liberty) to Victor Liong (Lee Ho Fook) and Japanese chef pal Chase Kojima (Sokyo). Diners need only take a pew at the long communal tables situated under the trees lining the Bowl and order using a QR Code.

As for The Lighthouse, David Moyle (the chef helming Longrain’s sister restaurant Longsong and The Saturday Paper’s food editor in his spare time) is plating up three courses, including dishes smoked to order onsite. The wine list promises to be equally as impressive, shaped by Blackhearts & Sparrows co-founder Jess Ghaie. You’ll have to book ahead for The Lighthouse and move quick as remaining places are limited.

Rug up and allow at least an hour and a half to make your way through The Wilds.

The Wilds is open from Wednesday May 26 until Sunday June 6. More info here.

Food Court

For more than 30 years Geelong theatre company Back to Back Theatre has broken new ground on high repeat. So, it’s fitting that a core component of RISING’s deliberately bold and provocative program is a retrospective of the company’s seminal works, starting with Food Court.

First performed in 2008, Food Court sits in the space between theatre and concert with a cast accompanied by Aussie-cult-jazz aficionados The Necks delivering a live, improvised score.

As with all its repertoire, Food Court was written and is performed by cast members with lived experience of disability and/or are neurodivergent. This piece kicks off with two cast members bullying a stranger in a suburban battlefield staged between a takeaway joint and a juice bar.

The backdrop is a black curtain with the insults written large in surtitles. Soon after, the curtain pulls back to reveal a forest blockaded by plastic. It’s a minimalist nightmare played out with light and sound to sheet home inequity. It’s all the more unsettling to know that the actors have been on the receiving end of similar mistreatment in real life.

The victimisation escalates and it’s harrowing viewing by all accounts (even seasoned reviewers have mentioned that it was hard to sleep afterwards). But it’s necessary. Given the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability kickstarted its public hearings recently, Food Court is a timely reminder of how power paradigms can abuse marginalised people.

Going down at the Playhouse from Wednesday May 26 until Saturday May 29. Tix here.


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Ganesh Versus the Third Reich

Another strut of the Back to Back Theatre retrospective, Ganesh Versus the Third Reich starts with the Hindu, elephant-headed god Ganesh making his way to Germany circa 1943 to wrest back the Swastika from the Nazis. Ganesh has been put up to the task by his old man Shiva, who is so enraged by the appropriation of the once-sacred symbol that he’s hell bent on destroying the world.

Premiering in 2011 and initially co-produced with Melbourne Festival and the Malthouse Theatre, Ganesh Versus the Third Reich is a multilayered narrative. On one level, Ganesh is out to kick Nazi arse (what a glorious thought). Meanwhile, the subtext explores cultural appropriation and the ethical responsibility of storytellers.

Peel away another layer of the onion and you have the story of a young fella writing a play about Ganesh who’s battling his own difficulties and a shitty colleague, while defending criticism of his work. Pierce that veil and there’s a story about whether the actors in the ensemble are being exploited.

It’s poignant, uncomfortable and confronting stuff – amongst other things, the actors are playing Nazis, i.e. monsters who sought to exterminate people like them. Just pondering that is a punch to the heart.

There’re a lot of weighty questions raised in Ganesh Versus the Third Reich. Who has the right to tell a story? Who gets to be heard?

Naturally, Back to Back Theatre shakes it up. A New York Times reviewer pegged this one as serving up “a vital sense-sharpening tonic for theatregoers who feel they’ve seen it all”.

Taking place at the Playhouse from Friday June 4 until Sunday June 6. Tix here.

Ancestral Memory

Celebrating the work of multidisciplinary First Nations artists Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Yorta Yorta/Boon Wurring) and nephew Mitch Mahoney (Boon Wurrung/Barkinji) in a position of prominence, Ancestral Memory sees a gigantic digital manifestation of the Spirit Eel winding its way around Hamer Hall’s façade.

Revered by the peoples of the Kulin Nation, the eel is a protector of the waterways, an important source of food and a seasonal marker. In this piece, the eel is also a powerful metaphor for the resilience of things pushed beneath the surface.

Both Clarke and Mahoney are celebrated artists whose work reclaims south-east Australian Aboriginal art and cultural practices. Artistically, they revive practices lost or lying dormant (PS. eels hibernate too) in the wake of colonisation. Ancestral Memory is a continuation of that critical work.

Lit up from sundown to midnight during RISING, this important spectacle is also free.

Ancestral Memory will appear at Hamer Hall from Wednesday May 26 until Sunday June 6. More info here.

RISING hits Melbourne from Wednesday May 26 until Sunday June 6. Check out all the Arts Centre Melbourne x RISING events here