“This year’s festival has a really wonderful balance of what I see as the first two waves of important artists in the 21st century,” OzAsia artistic director Joseph Mitchell tells InDaily.
“There’s the iconic names [including the likes of Akram Khan, Taiwan-based director Stan Lai and British-Indian musician Nitin Sawhney] … and then there’s now this whole new generation of artists who, to an extent, are influenced by that first generation.”
Mitchell, who will present his fifth festival program from October 17 to November 3, says many members of the first wave of influential 21st-century artists pioneered the fusion of cultures and the blending of traditional and contemporary art, and continue to break fresh ground today.
Among 22 Australian premieres at the 2019 OzAsia will be a new dance-theatre production by the acclaimed Akram Khan Company. Outwitting the Devil is inspired by the recently discovered fragment of the Babylonian story The Epic of Gilgamesh and is performed by an ensemble of dancers from around the world.
Also returning with a new work is Japanese writer-director Kuro Tanino, who presented esoteric play The Dark Inn at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2017. The Dark Master sees a young hiker stumble into a ramshackle Osaka restaurant, where the misanthropic chef hands him an earpiece, then disappears upstairs and proceeds to issue instructions on how to cook for the restaurant’s colourful customers.
Mitchell says that like The Dark Inn, The Dark Master is quirky and “slightly left of field”, with audience members also given headphones so they can hear both the instructions the young man is receiving and what is happening on stage.
“This series of strange adventures happen as he has to serve all the customers … it’s all about the senses. It’s live cooking on stage – and it’s not just the smells, you can hear the food sizzling – and the set design is incredible.”
The new generation of artists appearing at OzAsia in 2019 include Indian-born, Amsterdam-based theatre-maker and performer Abhishek Thapar, whose work Surpassing the Beeline explores immigration stories through an interactive culinary experience.
With just 45 audience members or participants at a time in the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Banquet Room, Surpassing the Beeline will see six expats who have migrated to either Amsterdam or Adelaide cooking and sharing dishes from their home countries.
“It’s that idea that in the age of Netflix, live performance is about a personal connection, and sharing a meal with someone and hearing their story is one of the most interesting ways to get to know them,” Mitchell says.
Looking at migration and history from a very different perspective is Light, a world premiere that promises to “explore our darkness through a revisionist history of the theft of Penang, the birth of Adelaide, and the rise of the British Empire”.
A collaboration between Malaysian theatre-makers TerryandTheCuz (who presented the confronting 2016 OzAsia show Skin, about human trafficking) and Australian artist Thomas Henning (of Black Lung Theatre Company), Light recontextualises the history of Francis Light, who in 1786 claimed a Malaysian island as British property, and his son William Light, who decades later designed the layout of Adelaide. (William’s mother, Martinha Rozells, was of Portuguese-Chinese/Malay descent.)
Presented with just three actors, it is an edgy piece of theatre that is “epic in terms of story”, Mitchell says.
“You see this contrast between father and son – the extrovert and the introvert. It’s done in a very modern way … the theatre-makers have taken what they can research and then thought about the psychology of the men from a fictional view.”
Other highlights of the 2019 OzAsia program include:
Vessel: A Belgian-Japanese co-production by choreographer Damien Jalet and visual artist Kohei Nawa, Vessel is nominated by Mitchell as one of his top three picks of this year’s festival, partly because of its “absolutely stunning” visual design. “The whole floor is a pool of water with this kind of strange floating object in the middle that is an evolving piece of work itself … it’s this extremely intriguing blend of physical movement and performance that is literally other-worldly.”
Shik Shak Shok and Beirut Electro Parade: Although separate shows, Shik Shak Shok and Beirut Electro Parade both have their roots in Lebanon and will be presented over two consecutive nights at Nexus Arts. Shik Shak Shok, which takes its name from a popular ’80s Arabic pop song, will immerse audiences in Beirut’s retro music scene through visual projections, a selection of Arabic and neo-Arabic grooves (played on vinyl), and retro cocktails. “The second night is Beirut Electro Parade, which goes much more into the electronic scene of now,” Mitchell says.
Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker: This is the colourful show some will remember from the 2015 OzAsia Festival, when audience members were given raincoats to protect them from the showers of water, confetti, glitter and other things that accompany the “whirlwind tribute to the subculture of Japanese superfandom and celebrity mania”. Mitchell, for one, is thrilled to see it return: “Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker really defined my vision for the festival in my first year, and it was about saying, ‘this is a festival that’s going to break the rules, a festival that will be relevant for the next generation of audiences’.” And, yes, raincoats will be provided.
The 2019 OzAsia Festival opens on October 17. See the full program here.