...and again ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

...and again

Update: More reader responses from Arts Hub here.

Our self-appointed arbiter of public taste, Age journalist Robin Usher, has a big bee in that bonnet of his. One bee, buzzing very loudly. Yet again he gets in a gratuitous snipe at the Melbourne Festival from his bunker, this time under the cover of a feature about Edinburgh Festival director Jonathan Mills. "Mills, 44, has definite ideas about what a festival should be," says Usher, "and is a critic of what he calls wilfully postmodernist or relativist programs. This could be interpreted as a swipe at recent Melbourne Festival programming."

Most certainly, whether Mills intended it as a swipe or not, Usher is going interpret it that way.

Usher then goes on to comment approvingly that Mills has built his festival around "the Western canon, albeit interpreted" and that his program includes companies like the Wooster Group and Barrie Kosky's Vienna Schauspielhaus. At this point, you want to throw up your hands: reinterpreted works from the Western canon are studded all through the 2007 Melbourne Festival program (Shakespeare and Euripides, anyone? and hey, we've got Kosky too...) and if Merce Cunningham, Robert Wilson, Peter Brook and Laurie Anderson don't fire your little red wagon, well...there's no hope for you.

Meanwhile, over at Arts Hub, readers are having their say on Usher's attacks. "The 'western' canon may not be boring but Robin Usher certainly is," says Sarah Miller. "And his attacks on Kristy Edmunds and her programming are way out of line. MIAF is a festival that people living elsewhere in Australia envy. It actually engages with the 21st century." Well, we don't want anything like that here, do we?

It might help if Usher's arguments actually made some sense. If, perhaps, he studied the program he's so energetically attacking. All due credit to Mills's success in Edinburgh, but I'm not sure that many people would agree with the "advertising millionaire" Harold Mitchell that Mills "has given Edinburgh a festival that Melbourne wishes it had", as if the artists programmed here were a bunch of fringe-dwellers and nobodies.

I guess Usher will be continuing his one-man anti-MIAF campaign in the run-up to the festival. And I guess, just for the record, I'll dutifully continue to report his digs. One would think that the Age might be concerned to provide some balanced coverage, but on past experience, balance is not one of its priorities. And they complain about the bias of bloggers?


hyperjetlag said...

Ironically of course, Usher has quoted Jonathan frequently and with amazing 20/20 hindsight praised the 2000/2001 Festivals for shows and themes which he criticised and moaned about incessantly during the events themselves.

His woeful knowledge regarding the global arts environment is demonstrated over and over again in his reviews and editorial comment, and yet mysteriously he remains the front man to sledge the Festival and its program as Fringe, too experimental and without world leaders.


But Merce, Maxwell, SITI, Teshigawara, Castellucci, Kosky, Kitson, Dood Pard, Bel, Sankai Juku, Laurie Andersen, Marie Brassard, Forced Entertainment, Back to Back, Ikeda, Mnouchkine, Shen-Wei, Petronio, Glass, Wilson, Bill T, Dumb TYpe, Sundiata, Ethel, GUerin, CHunky, STan's Cafe, Nortec, DBR, Yang, etc etc etc are good enough for (being in NYC) BAM, Lincoln Center, UCLA Live Arts, Festival TransAmerique in Montreal, Southbank, and then more festivals and presenters in Europe than I have space here to mention.

They are world leaders, innovators and all considered vitally important artists in the genres and beyond.

I have seen things in both Festivals so far that I was ho hum about. Its supposed to be that way.

The fact that Robin Usher has not heard nor cares to learn about many of the above artists and companies before they arrive is his own problem.

Anonymous said...

Did Mr Usher not moan himself silly about all that elitist conservative Bach that Mills inflicted on Melbourne? (One bloody canon after another!) (Heh!)

And let me quote the voice of reason, Paul Clarkson, late of Arts Victoria, and one of the Melbourne Festival's founding fathers...

"You can't expect a major international arts festival to be something everyone wants to see. There are plenty of other festivals - the Fringe, the Comedy, the various ethnic community festivals - to engage the wider community. The notion that you can broaden the base of the Melbourne Festival so everyone is interested is a fiction."

Can you guess where this pearl of a quotation comes from?

"The Aged" itself. :)

Alison Croggon said...

Yes, that's an excellent quote (you've got some filing system there, Boyd). I don't suppose it was in an Usher article?

Well, last year Usher's golden age was represented by John Truscott. That particularly riled me, because I remember well the criticism he attracted at the time. Maybe in 10 years time Kristy Edmunds will be the fount of all virtue.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, everything's under 'F' for filing.

The quotation comes from an article written by Rebecca Lancashire to mark the opening of the 2002 festival. It's still available on-line.

And, no, I don't have any explanation whatsoever for being able to pluck this one out of the air. I reckon I was saving it up, just for this occasion.