Friday, 8 March 2002

The Adelaide Festival 2002, March 38 20

Adelaide: Is it The Cringe Festival?

Writer: Kate Herbert
 March 8, 2002

The Adelaide Festival is dear to my heart. Every two years, I wing across to the city of churches and weird crimes for a dose of inspiration from exceptional international and local performance companies. This year was disappointing.

Peter Sellars the flamboyant, huggy Californian that resigned as Artistic Director, created  what appears to be a Community Theatre Festival from the 80s.

His replacement, Sue Nattrass, filled gaps left by this limited programming with some fine solo productions although none was breathtakingly inspirational.
The result is, sadly, a festival with no heart and little buzz. The Festival Centre is a construction site. There is no Festival Club in which to meet, argue and carouse. There are no free forums stimulating arguments about core contemporary arts issues.

There is nowhere to eat, no visible signs of a festival, no artists in cafes. It is a sad ghost of its former self.

There is a rising irritation, if not anger, at Sellars for patronising the Aussie community. Max Gillies' Your Dreaming includes a scathing parody of Sellars.

Australia is noted for its community arts. Since the late 70s we have had excellent community and political theatre developed with, for or by community. Melbourne Workers' Theatre is a major company.

Our theatre for and by young people has a long, successful history. A burgeoning industry produces indigenous work. Recently Playbox-Ilbijerri staged seven plays by Koori artists.

Sellars intentions were good. Putting indigenous work on the main stage of a major festival is commendable. But the works are not appropriate to conventional venues. The Career Highlights of the Mamu  has Trevor Jamieson  and family telling his story.

The informality and looseness of style are ill suited to the Playhouse. The context is wrong. We can't get close to the storytellers and it makes the performers look shabby, the show poorly written and under-rehearsed.

Train Dancing from Alice Springs  is almost incomprehensible and does not do justice to issues of family violence.

There were commendable projects for youth (Urban Theatre projects OK) staged out of town. These were placed in more appropriate but inaccessible locations.

Sellars spent much cash on commissioning indigenous films. Couldn't film funds finance these?

The festival may be about community but costs were not. El Nino, Sellars opera, cost $114 and Mamu $48. Who can afford that?

A Large Attendance in the Antechamber  (Brian Lipson) was masterly. Via Dolorosa was a highlight, presented challenging views of Israel and Palestine. Barbara Cook's concert and William Yang's  Shadows  were appealing. Your Dreaming  is filled with gleeful political jibes while Ros Warby's  Solos  is a trio of marvellous dances.

The real success story is the Fringe Festival. Every night the Spiegeltent and Lunar Tent hosted a huge, accidental party. The Fringe included the exceptional 3 Dark Tales, The Age of Unbeauty,  Acrobat  and the hilariously named It's Partly About Love Partly About Massacre.

The Fringe felt alive. It was accessible, visible, playful, varied and affordable - if not challenging.

Please Adelaide, bring back the inspiring, international, controversial, exceptional artists. We need them to challenge us.

By Kate Herbert

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