07.08.2019

The highlights of this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival program

Kamasi Washington
Words by Anna Rose

The schedule of events for Melbourne International Arts Festival is almost overwhelming.

It’s a giant adventure of pop culture, immersive installations, dance, theatre, visual arts and music, boasting the talents of many local and international guests.

The renowned Yang Liping Contemporary Dance Company returns from China, and indie pop star Cora Bissett performs in the Australian premiere of her coming of age gig-theatre memoir What Girls Are Made Of, to name just a mere few of the acts comprising this extravaganza.

MIAF Artistic Director Jonathan Holloway emphasises the importance of diversity and choice within the program. “It’s vital really,” he says. “I always think it’s as important to have things that are irresistible in each interested area as it is to have things that are broadly appealing.

“I’m more excited by someone saying there are only three things I want to see that I’m rabid about seeing than I am about someone saying it all looks generally nice. Regardless of what you love, there will be something that will make people really excited.”

Holloway has cultivated the festival since its inception, and with each of the past four years, he’s taken away something that has allowed the festival to grow and improve. “Every year I’ve been impressed by the taste and the constant curiosity of the audience, of Melbourne and Australia. It’s usually that people have an unending appetite for the new and unexpected.”

Holloway’s focus in compiling this year’s lineup and to appease attendees’ curiosity started with diversity, but, as his final festival at the helm, there were a few special pieces Holloway wanted to include for that extra pizazz.

“There were places I wanted to go that I hadn’t gone so far,” he says. “There’s a trilogy of work by Melbourne women-based choreographers which felt like something that would have a lasting impact – not just on the audience that see it, but as a message to the world that this is world-class work.

“Musically, there are some great coincidences happening. It being the 20th anniversary of the release of The Soft Bulletin and The Flaming Lips have been touring that, and likewise, 20 years since Beyond Skin, a Nitin Sawhney album that changed my life in terms of understanding a new range of contemporary dance and music.”

Some circus, some incredible dance and Holloway says you’ve got a good balance for a quirky night out that you won’t forget. “Most people will go to between three and eight things, so we’ve made sure that whatever they pick, they love and didn’t expect.”

Though there are some fantastically huge names appearing at MIAF, there are of course some standout acts from the underground that Holloway calls special. “I’m really thrilled to have the world premiere of Antony Hamilton, director of [dance company] Chunky Move – his work is constantly fascinating and brilliant.

“In music, [Japanese trio] Kukangendai, they make a great wall of sound stripped back to bass guitars and drums, and Susheela Raman in Ghost Gamelan embraces diversity, from post-punk art pop and ecstatic South Indian music.”

This year’s theatre program includes the work of Palestinian playwright, Amir Zuabi, and his critically acclaimed and intimate play Grey Rock. “Grey Rock absolutely blew me away,” says Holloway. “One of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a couple of years, and that one feels like a real prize, a really [golden] nugget amongst everything else – a beautiful piece about community we rarely get to see in this context.”

There’s a lot of passion and admiration from Holloway, not just for the artists represented but for the enthusiasm his audiences come away with. “I love Melbourne, and as a programmer, you’re only as good as the things you’ve seen, and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen at this festival.”

Melbourne International Arts Festival is happening across Melbourne from Wednesday October 2 until Sunday October 20. Find the full program and tickets at festival.melbourne.