Saturday, November 6, 2010

PIAF: First Impressions

11 February – 7 March
YouTube here

There's no Cate Blanchett to brand Shelagh Magadza's fourth and final Perth International Arts Festival. 
Maybe it was the lack of a megawatt attraction, or the interminable and excruciating cow-towing to political and corporate patrons that plague these events (I know, I know, without their generous support...), but the big PIAF launch at the Concert Hall this week was a subdued affair. 
Tellingly, the first time the little dulcet exhalation from the audience that signifies the instinctive approval of Stirling Highway for a visiting act was when we were told Annie Proulx was coming for the Writer's Festival. Before that shipping news we'd had the entire theatre, dance and music program revealed, with curiosity rather than excitement the ambient vibe in the hall.
Later, at the party on the terrace, a tyro arts stringer's inexperience in the nuances of festival programming was betrayed when he muttered that this PIAF seemed to be more about ticking the boxes than generating kinetic energy. That was me. My friend and mentor (oh, alright, boss) at the West, Steve Bevis, with the slightly smug look of someone who gets sent the program a couple of weeks in advance, assured me that it was full of gems that I would discover as I grew wiser and more worldly his take here. Fair enough.
So here's a first take on the festival, with the shows I'll definitely be trying to get to.
I'm really looking forward to the trio of plays about Australia in the first half of the 20th Century, a period so dominated by its three cataclysmic events that much about us and how we grew as a people is obscured. In (sort of) chronological order, My Bicycle Loves You, Boundary Street and Waltzing the Wilarra are all given their world premiere seasons; each sounds entertaining and enlightening and none merely nostalgic more. If I was going to make anything my festival project, it would be to see all three of these plays. I'm also on assignment at Donka: A Letter to Chekhov, and intrigued to see how the words of this most subtle of playwrights are translated into Finzi Pasca's physical theatre YouTube here.
No, it's not Celebrity Squares - it's PIAF hot ticket The Manganiyar Seduction
In the main house music program, The Manganiyar Seduction has got hottest-ticket-in-town written all over it YouTube here, and the sublime Academy of Ancient Music is bringing a big Haydyn and the Brandenburgs in a knockout double. 
Of the outdoor spectacles, Les Girafes looks the one we'll be hauling the family to more.
At Beck's the Perth branch of the McGarrigle/Wainwright fan club (president for life D. Zampatti) will be out in force for Martha's two shows. They're partly, we are told, a tribute to her mum, and if she attempts Kate's glorious (Talk to Me of) Mendocino YouTube here, that'll be el Presidenté you see blubbering in the corner. I've got a feeling retro darling Imelda May will figure in the hottest-ticket-in-town stakes YouTube here, as might the Unthank sisters YouTube here and Syrian party animal Omar Souleyman YouTube here. Partying down with Joanna Newsom is bound to be a treat, although maybe an odd one recent setlist here, and any time you get to spend with the great Archie Roach is a privilege, especially with Shane Howard and Neil Murray in the house. I'm also in the house for The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac, one of two shows the New York dragster is bringing to the festival interview here . The full Beck's Music Box program is here. 
Sherry Hopkins's last film festival here looks as attractive as it always is and, as always, it will be swamped by film lovers and groovy picnickers. 
The highlight of the Writers Festival here for me will be the chance to listen to Tariq Ali; men of great sense are an increasingly rare commodity in our complicated and various world. 
Which leads to the issue I have with this festival; the lack of a sense of that complicated and various world. In this "international" program, there's not a single live performance from either Africa or South America (installation artist Tomas Saraceno is Argentinean but lives and works in Germany) and only one each from Asia and the Middle East. For a city located where we are and made by people drawn from everywhere, that's a bewildering and troubling shortcoming.     

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