From NY to Seoul – seeking artistic gems for 2017

13 October 2015 Artistic Director's Blog

Travellers’ tales are generally tedious to anyone but the person telling them. Nevertheless part of the job of festival directors involves travelling to see lots of work. To include work in a program without first seeing it can be quite risky. The recommendations of colleagues, critical reviews and Youtube clips only tell you so much. Live theatre is meant to be experienced live. The smaller the festival, the more important becomes each element of the program. In Ten Days on the Island, where the international program of dance and theatre consists of only three or four pieces, each piece becomes invested with much more significance than in a larger program where a greater number of works can give a better context to each piece.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

So, in the last couple of weeks I have been immersed in performances in New York, Toronto, London (Ontario), Ann Arbor, Seoul and Taipei looking for gems that might become program in our next festival.

Everyone remembers Elevator Repair Service’s The Select in 2013. I was luckily able to see their new production, Fondly, Collette Richland, in New York. It’s a wild ride that couldn’t be more different from The Select. The New York City Players production, Isolde, was also of great interest. Hmm? Will either of these be the central theatre piece for 2017? And then there was the Canadian work, three very interesting pieces, and an astonishing piece of international dance – and that was before I had gotten to Seoul or Taipei! Already it seemed like too much and yet I have a very strong conviction that cultural engagement and understanding within our region, the Asia-Pacific is our future, so there has to be space in the program for work that comes from the Homelands of Australia’s non-European communities!

Seoul from the freeway

I have been to the Performing Arts Market Seoul a number of times. There isn’t anywhere better to see a huge range of contemporary Korean work showcased for festival directors and presenters from all over the world. As at all arts markets the work varies widely from the sublime to the almost unwatchable. That’s another festival director job, to sit through almost unwatchable performances so that audiences don’t have to. If it wasn’t my job I would be demanding that hour of my life back, but, to be honest, there are few performances, however misguided, that I haven’t learned something from and the honest and passionate attempts of artists to create work is to be encouraged, no matter the outcome. Artists have to be allowed to fail. Failure is the other side to the coin of ambition. Creative ideas are risky. They don’t always work. So I sit through yet another hour of pretentious indulgence imagining that sticking a blunt pencil in eye would be more enjoyable. My scrawled notes against one presentation I saw in Seoul say:

Nothing happens
pencil in eye.

Installation at water pumping stationBut then there are the amazing things. A Korean re-imagining of a Marquez tale in traditional Korean pansori style, or a performance installation in an old water pumping station at night time where a small audience, armed with torches, was led down through the vast concrete halls of an abandoned complex that has been turned over as a venue for street artists.

Wouldn’t that be something to wish for in Tasmania – a venue in which young artists could experiment and expand their craft and imaginations – really turning Tasmania into a creative state? Macquarie Point? Inveresk? An old hydro facility somewhere on the island? The old Burnie paper mill?

David Malacari
Artistic Director

Design Centre Seoul