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Music, fire, death, and birth: WinterWild is Victoria's answer to Dark Mofo

Nestled in the crevice of the Great Ocean Road lies a community who know the tumultuous spirit of Mother Nature and appreciate the value in celebrating their co-existence with her.

Apollo Bay’s community band together for WinterWild Festival, a celebration of respecting the environment and landscape through the mediums of food, art, and music. “People wanted to drill down a bit deeper about what this part of the world is about,” says WinterWild director Roderick Poole. “There’s a lot imagery and reputation around Apollo Bay being sun-drenched, beautiful beaches and sea, and everything is very light and gorgeous and lovely on the skin – but there’s a whole history of this area that isn’t nearly as well-known. We’re trying to uncover a bit of that.”

WinterWild looks to uncover the deeper beauty of the area. “The reverse side doesn’t have to be any less beautiful, just a different kind of beautiful,” says Poole.  “It’s more challenging, a bit riskier, it’s not as fluffy, but it can be more rewarding.”

“The centre of the festival has always been fire,” he says. “In a way it came about because of the damage and aftermath of a bushfire, but to face that down with a fire of our own, it’s not trying to hide it or cover it up. You can cringe inside and wonder when the next bushfire’s going to come or you can get out there in the middle of winter and go ‘Yahoo.’”

Yahoo indeed. Separating each segment into Death and Birth, WinterWild celebrates nature’s life cycle through music and theatricalities.

Death

“It’s a more interesting narrative to start with death,” says Poole, “It’s too obvious to go birth then death but really, you’re not going to get the birth without the death before that. Things die to create life – trees are felled to create timber to build things but in the beginning there was a tree that was flourishing and now isn’t, so it’s a sacrifice every time.”

One of the events in the first week of WinterWild is aptly named Sacrifice. Across all cultures and celebrations of solstice, the idea of sacrifice is something not really talked about much these days. “There’s a whole build up to a confrontation with death – there’s an implication that something like [human sacrifice] will be going on, but we play with ideas like people play with fire,” Poole explains. “There’s very elemental parts to it, starting by the sea at the harbour, the gateway to the ocean that works its way up to the land, but the figure of death is there.”

Celebrations will be made across many mediums, including music. The event Quietus – a predominantly classical concert – will revolve around themes of death and the sea. “It’ll be a great contrast to the rock‘n’roll going on,” Poole says. “More of a contemplative concert, but in that space and location it will be pretty magical – the church hall has a reputation for having some of the most beautiful acoustics in the area.”

The artists and musicians contributing to Death were struck by words like ‘death’, ‘dark’, and ‘heavy’, adapting their performances to merge with the festival’s natural concept. “Having these really strong themes means that people aren’t going to do the stuff they always do as artists – we really like to engage with them and talk to them about the theme. You’re not just seeing these artists doing a gig, you’re seeing them in this context of the environment outside,” Poole says.

“In the middle of winter down in Apollo Bay, you can’t ignore the climate – the wind roars, the rain can really thump down, and to have these events on the foreshore out in the open, that’s the biggest artist on the program, the environment here. That colours anything any of these people will be doing.”

Birth

You can’t have birth without death and death without birth, and in the second week of WinterWild, the Birth side to this cycle of entertainment and celebration will come alive. Here, Candescence provides a bookend to Sacrifice. “Sacrifice is where we strip back when the fire is first lit and that threat of life being lost for the good of all – Candescence is the birth equivalent,” Poole explains.

“At the centre of the sacrifice is a small girl and when we get to Candescence, a transformation will happen. The elements are all there, the fire, the weather, the street performance, but something will happen in this transformation.”

Birth provides a true celebration across a palette of performances, the focal point in the second week being the great feast, Feastiality – a true connection between attendees and the local community who provide a real connection with their culture. “[It’s] part of the narrative,” says Poole, “If you want food you have to kill things. We’ve got local beasts who are going to be cooked over the fires on the foreshore – one of my pigs will be there. I’ve seen them through nine months of their life and now they’ll be sacrificed. What they produce is something that nourishes and helps growth and cohesion of a community.”

While the first weekend of WinterWild places an emphasis on music as part of the celebrations, the second has a far more theatrical tone. “Theatre from food, from cabaret and burlesque,” says Poole. “There’s the energy and multidimensional experience you have in theatre and it really pushes the boundaries.”

WinterWild will take place in Apollo Bay across two weekends – Death from Friday August 10 to Sunday August 12, and Birth from Friday August 24 to Sunday August 26. Tickets and more information here.