Melbourne Festival Director Jonathan Holloway on their 2017 event

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Melbourne Festival Director Jonathan Holloway on their 2017 event


Boasting a plethora of world-class performances encompassing music, visual art, dance, and theatre, the multi-disciplinary festival makes its return with a tightly curated program. And while the performances are diverse, there’s a unifying thread that binds the lot. Each piece has been chosen to remind us — as art lovers, as Melburnians, as citizens — of what spectacular creations humanity is capable of. 


“At the moment, the festival comes out of looking around the world and seeing a level of dysfunction globally,” says Holloway. “What works when people come together and collaborate with ideas, ambition, belief, passion and humanity — what can be achieved?”


The spirit of collaboration runs rampant throughout the program, best exemplified by Tree of Codes  — the critically acclaimed production bringing together the minds of choreographer Wayne McGregor, visual artist Olafur Eliasson, Jamie xx and the Paris Opera Ballet — alongside Bangsokol: A Requiem For Cambodia and the festival centrepiece A 24-Decade History of Popular Music from Taylor Mac.  


All three of them are the right piece of work at the right moment,” says Holloway. “Tree of Codes is the best advert for Europe; for a united set of countries that can come together and deliver something that can’t be delivered separately.


“Taylor Mac is the best example of what can happen when diverse communities — whether it be queer communities, whether it be linguistically or ethnically diverse — inclusivity and inclusion can have this impact that is utterly transformational.”


A once-in-a-lifetime event, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music will dive headfirst into 240 years of music and culture. Ranging from 1776 to 2016 the performance will feature a full orchestra, hundreds of special guests, acrobats, burlesque performers, puppets, choirs and marching bands while reinterpreting the songs that soundtracked wars and revolutions through a radical queer lens. It is a sheer spectacle to behold.


Bangsokol is about what can happen a group of artists get together to acknowledge something that was terrible and shocking, and then find a way of reuniting people and unifying around the possibilities of who we are,” says Holloway. “It’s all about hope and showing brilliance.”


As well as a focus on large-scale collaborative pieces, this year’s Melbourne Festival also features a number of works that rely on the audience as an active part of the performance — inviting you to step deeper into the worlds and minds of playwrights, directors, artists and musicians.


Theatrical highlight Please Continue, Hamlet asks select audience members to form a jury to decide the character’s fate. All of My Friends Were There will see one person selected at random to become the subject of a playful and personal portrait, all the while drawing larger connections to the traits we share as humans. 


“Audiences are shifting from being passive observers to active engagers,” says Holloway. “The active engagement is what makes it a live event and so exciting to see. It’s the one thing you can’t get from any recorded medium. It’s that sense of both community coming together but also being able to change the outcome; to be able to change the energy in a room.”


As for the dance works chosen for this year’s festival, the mission statement was simple: find the most groundbreaking choreographers working in the world today and bring their art to Melbourne. Mette Ingvartsen’s 7 Pleasures will be a visceral festival highlight when it makes its Australian premiere, while EVER from Phillip Adams BalletLab in its world premiere will see an infinite cycle of loops and rhythms intertwine when the ephemeral meets the eternal.


The music program is robust, focussing on performances that transcend what you’d usually expect at a gig. Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip will set aside the synth for an intimate solo show of piano and vocals; More Up a Tree combines the talents of Dirty Three drummer Jim White with Portuguese dancer Claudia De Serpa Soares, while Stephen Merrit of US indie pop group The Magnetic Fields has created a new 50-song set — one song for each year of his life.


From the intimate to the immersive, the large-scale to the small — this year’s Melbourne Festival is about celebrating the world’s finest art in all its forms, as well as the humans who make it all possible. That’s what makes this year’s program a success, and a memorable one at that.


“I’d like it to be remembered as a moment where the whole of Melbourne came together,” says Holloway. “Whether that be lawyers or burlesque dancers, whether that be 70-year-olds telling a story of their entire sex lives live on stage — I’d like it to be a moment when Melbourne rose up and reclaimed community, society and joy. It’s a festival that doesn’t exist until it’s completed by the city.”