Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines

AUSTRALIA: Sydney Festival Offers a Glimmer of Human Connectedness

Neena Bhandari

SYDNEY, Jan 20 2010 (IPS) - In a world beset with conflict, natural disasters and economic crisis, the 2010 Sydney Festival has been a celebration of human connectedness, bringing together 1,500 artists from 30 countries, who are performing to an audience of a million over a period of three weeks, beginning on Jan. 9.

At the heart of the festival, Australia’s premier art and cultural event, has been a series of free concerts by diverse artists ranging from American legendary soul singer Al Green to Oscar-winning A. R. Rahman of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ fame.

Festival director Lindy Hume says, “This year 40 percent of the programming budget has been spent on free events. If you’re only spending money to make as much as you can, I’m not sure that there’s a huge future there, because that pushes us only into the realm of the commercial”.

The festival, which has been running since 1977, is not only generous but expansive, with 81 events, 326 performances, and 27 venues.

The ongoing vast programme includes traditional and contemporary musicians, dancers, trapeze artists, puppeteers, circus performers and art exhibitions with performers from countries like Britain, the United States, Canada, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Mali, Mexico and Panama.

“In 2010, we’ve begun to develop a deeper connection with artists from the Asia-Pacific region. The festival features major artists from the Pacific and India,” says Hume, an opera and theatre director and the first woman to steer the festival since it began in 1977.

The city, stripped of cars on the festival’s first night, opened with nine hours of non-stop entertainment, with the most unexpected nook and cranny of the central business district filled with music and entertainment as saxophonists, DJs, Brazilian drummers, carnival dancers delighted a growing stream of people.

Heliosphere floats with an acrobat suspended beneath a helium balloon, creating the illusion of flying, enchanted and mystified young and old.

“Floating above the crowds in Sydney, I saw beautiful parks, a buzzing city and thousands of smiling faces from all nationalities. As one of the international companies involved, I felt part of a global community,” said British choreographer and aerialist Robyn Simpson.

An emotive performance by Australia’s master of shadow puppetry, Raymond Crowe, brought a touch of magic with his astounding and intricate shadow puppet rendition of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’.

At Hyde Park, located in the heart of the city, fig trees have been adorned with silks and colourful kites, which set the tone for the festival’s opening night centerpiece, ‘The Manganiyar Seduction’, a spectacular performance by India’s Rajasthani musicians directed by veteran Indian theatre director Roysten Abel.

The audience was treated to the sight of 43 musical performers seated in veiled compartments framed by carnival lights, which opened one by one to reveal a solo or two musicians, leading to a crescendo of sounds that wowed the audience and elicited a standing ovation.

“I hope the music transcends borders. I know the Manganiyar’s music heals. It has been healing for centuries. I feel any good performance should affect the energies of this universe and this music does it,” said Abel.

“It just touches you deep within. The music takes people through an experience and they are awed by the spectacle of it. This unique set design is inspired by the windows of Amsterdam’s red light district.”

Multiple Grammy award winner Al Green kicked off his first Australian concert, holding the crowd in rapture in a performance that was very much a family affair, with his daughters Alva, Ruby and Cora providing backup vocals.

Also well received was the show by ‘Uber Lingua’, which focuses on cutting- edge music, targeting the younger generation and promoting the use of mother tongues or learned languages. The group is a movement of artists and musicians based in various Australian cities.

“So many languages today are getting pushed to the side among the younger people. Once they hear a cool Hip Hop track with a verse in a language their grandmother speaks, they start to understand that what they have is so important it needs to be kept alive,” Brendan Palmer, director of Uber Lingua, told IPS.

“For six years ‘Uber Lingua’ has promoted cultural harmony through global music, dance and visual arts parties in Australia. It’s a methodology that subliminally sends the message that we can all party together and enjoy each other’s music and culture,” added the Irish-Australian musician.

Aside from fun and entertainment, the festival, which concludes on Jan. 30, also offers intellectual stimulation. A series of discussions brings together artists, policy makers, academics, and other intellectuals to talk about their fears and aspirations.

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