Mitchell has transformed the form and structure of the 2016 festival, which will be hosted by the Adelaide Festival Centre in September and remains the country’s major arts event celebrating Asian culture.
“It’s our 10-year anniversary, so instead of having a ‘country of focus’ this year, we’re celebrating the breadth and diversity of Asia with shows, artists and events from across the whole of the continent in the biggest and most comprehensive festival to date,” he explains.
“Even though OzAsia has built a profile and exposure that resulted in last year’s record-breaking attendances – more than 230,000 people – it’s still a relatively young festival and it’s important that we try to keep that youth as part of the OzAsia identity.
“It’s dangerous to keep repeating the things that have worked in the past. We should always try to reinvent ourselves and keep exploring new ideas to challenge our audience.”
To this end the State Government has just announced a $750,000 increase in annual funding enabling OzAsia to further expand its artistic program and to develop its outdoor entertainment and conference series offering to coincide with the festival.
Just as Miss Revolutionary Idol Beserker stole the show with its Japanese pop chaos at OzAsia 2015 – Mitchell’s first year as festival director – he believes one act in particular will shift the paradigm this year.
“I would suggest that SK!N is the performance to take everyone by surprise.
“SK!N will redefine the theatre experience and challenge perceptions of performance, as it takes the audience through the process of illegal migration, separating individuals and groups through a series of assessment processes.
“Some will be served champagne and others will be moved down alleyways and placed in holding pens – if you’re going to buy into this show, you have to expect that it could be confronting.”
Those looking for something a little less challenging will be pleased to hear that tiny piano virtuoso Margaret Leng Tan, a guest at last year’s WOMADelaide, is returning for one night only during OzAsia. Inspired by composer John Cage, Tan is a major force in the American avant-garde music scene, using an array of small instruments and found objects – including her toy piano, music boxes, two-note paper accordions and even a bicycle bell – to create her unique blend of music theatre.
Another highlight of this year’s program, Mitchell says, is the premiere of The Record, an innovative community performance project involving members of the public.
“The Record is a really important show that includes 45 different people from the Adelaide community – a nurse, a construction worker, a school student, and a university student, for example – who were selected to create and present a reflection of our society right now.
“It’s an interesting and reflective performance event that shows how a group of individuals can come together to witness and participate in a singular experience.”
Another new work for Adelaide is the Australian premiere of King of Ghosts, a live film score created by sarod (Indian lute) player Soumik Datta which combines Indian sarod melodies with the orchestral sounds of of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, set to the classic 1969 Indian film Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen, directed by Satyajit Ray.
“King of Ghosts is a wonderful fusion between the sarod and western instruments and an old art-house film,” says Mitchell. “It is a free event that will be performed outdoors and we hope everyone will come to see it.”
Rianto, an Indonesian dancer who did a special presentation for the public launch of last year’s festival, has been invited back to perform the Australian premiere of Soft Machine, a solo performance of the traditional erotic dance ‘Lengger’ alongside new contemporary styles that cross gender.
“Rianto is a mesmerising dancer of incredible skill and is one of 35 new and exciting Australian premiere performances included in the 2016 program,” adds Mitchell.
One event that is repeated annually as part of the OzAsia is the popular Moon Lantern Festival, Australia’s largest lantern parade. And Mitchell says there are plans in place to cope with the expected increase in crowds after last year’s turnout.
“To manage capacity this year we will have a special fenced area for viewers and we have also identified extra vantage points around the Elder Park site that will allow more people to enjoy the spectacle.”
In fact, the whole site concept has been re-created, with a new public entertainment space called the Good Fortune Market.
“OzAsia has been looking for an opportunity to collaborate with The Social Creative, the team behind the Royal Croquet Club and the Alpine Winter Village,” says Mitchell.
“The Good Fortune Market will transform Elder Park with Asian-style street markets offering authentic Asian food, pop-up bars, roving performances and free entertainment on the main stage, including grunge bands from Hong Kong and alternate jazz.”
The 2016 OzAsia Festival will run from September 17 to October 2. The full program is now online.