As Melbourne International Arts Festival head Artistic Director Brett Sheehy claims has the best job in the world, find out why.
The overture to the Melbourne International Arts Festival has begun, with the 2010 Festival Program officially launched last night. Beat spoke exclusively to Artistic Director Brett Sheehy in the lead-up to the launch about his second year in the job, and managed to prise a few hot-ticket nudges in the process.
"I’ve got the best job in the world!" exclaims the enthusiastic Sheehy, calmly buzzing with what seems an equal measure of genuine zeal and pre-launch nerves. "The nation’s most experienced festival director," as the Sydney Morning Herald described him in 2007, is relishing a newfound sense of place in his second year at MIAF. "Each time I come to a new city, I’m incredibly nervous and trying to feel my way in terms of [not only] that city’s cultural landscape but also that city’s audience," he says. "Last year went well for us, it worked in the ways I wanted it to work; now it’s just taking what I now know about Melbourne and the relationships I’ve made with Melbourne artists and Melbourne art institutions, and building from there."
Sheehy is, of course, not a complete stranger to Melbourne or Melbourne audiences – he has been to every Melbourne Festival bar two since 1986. In a city such as ours, which already has multiple platforms for work to be seen, Sheehy says his task becomes more about deciding what should be seen on an international festival stage. "As someone who is overseas a lot and is inside festival environments all around the world a lot, I know the kind of work that we create here which will work there. And that’s what I try to put in here; work which is made for an international festival stage."
As Artistic Director, one of Sheehy’s greatest thrills is being able to fulfil a long-held mission to debut for Australian audiences "great theatre-makers of our time." In 2010, Sheehy says that mantle goes to Ivo van Hove from Toneelgroep Amsterdam, whose piece Opening Night is "the big kind of theatre work" in the program.
"There are several international theatre projects, but in terms of in 20, 30, 40, 50 years’ time, whose name will be up there with Robert Wilson, with Ariane Mnouchkine, with Sasha Waltz? Ivo van Hove’s name, unquestionably, will be." Performed in Dutch with English subtitles, Opening Night is loosely described as a marriage of cinema and theatre, and while Sheehy acknowledges the idea of putting cameras and video feeds on stage is not new, he says van Hove’s execution of the technique is incomparable. "He’s created something the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and I think it will influence all theatre making for the next hundred years."
Sheehy also flags MIAF’s closing concert, Seven Songs to Leave Behind as another significant festival moment. Revered vocalists and musicians Sinead O’Connor, John Cale, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rickie Lee Jones, Gurrumul Yunupingu and The Black Arm Band, will perform seven very personal and dearly-held songs, in turn tapping the common festival threads of mortality and spirituality. Sheehy hopes Seven Songs will condense the festival journey; "people have to walk out of there with their hearts lifted in their chests; it can’t be dark," he says.
Other notable program items include: "the great, iconic" Cale’s When Past and Future Collide, in which Cale, his band and Orchestra Victoria perform "his most accessible album", Paris 1919; Robert Lepage’s The Blue Dragon, a "1 hour and 45 minute gem" exploring what it means to be an artist in contemporary "post-communist" China. Mixed, conflicting messages around censorship and government control collide with the dilemma of being as Western as possible for the booming worldwide market for Chinese art; Hotel Pro Forma’s Tomorrow, in a year, a "kind of electro dance opera" deeply based in the work of Charles Darwin and composed by The Knife, and; Michael Clark Company’s come, been and gone, again suggestive of the mortality idea, an "absolute knockout" performed to the music of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground and Brian Eno. "In terms of neoclassical or modern dance," says, Sheehy, "it’s as good as it gets."
Perennial Melbourne favourite and aptly described "volcanic artist" Moira Finucane will also return, quite literally taking over fortyfivedownstairs for the large-scale concept outing Carnival of Mysteries. "Moira is one of our absolute gems of the stage," grins Sheehy, "she’s incredible."Carnival of Mysteries will be like entering another world, Sheehy explains, to the point where entry tickets are exchanged for Carnival currency at the door. "There’s a guest hall, there’s a sideshow alley, there’s a shrine of mysteries, there’s a library, there’s a tent of miracles, there’s a midnight pleasure garden, and there’s the bar," he chuckles. Each space will feature a different kind of happening art, incorporating the work of over 30 Australian artists including Finucane, Azaria Universe, Yumi Umiumare, Toni Lamond, Maude Davey and a host of others. "People will have the time of their lives," predicts Sheehy.
Ticket prices are again extremely reasonable, with $25 tickets available for every show in an effort to increase accessibility. Sheehy concedes this does have impact on revenue, but is not concerned. "I don’t think that’s a festival’s role, ever; not a government-subsidised, taxpayer-funded festival when your taxes are going to help stage [it]," he says. "Of course I’d love more revenue to be able to present more art, but you’ve just got to find the right balance. I’d probably rather lose one production and be able to reach 10,000 more young people, than put in that production and rule them out."
This year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival runs from Friday October 8 to Sunday October 23.