MIAF: The wrap-up ~ theatre notes

Monday, October 29, 2007

MIAF: The wrap-up

In today's papers, the 2007 Melbourne Festival is annointed as a brilliant success. Kristy Edmunds' faith that Melbourne audiences could enthusiastically embrace contemporary art has been amply repaid. Over the past three years, she has patiently built an audience which is prepared to take a punt, to experience work which may be puzzling or challenging, but which might also rewardingly explode their expectations.

They've discovered that this work isn't about making the non-arty feel foolish, but about stimulating curiosity, humour, hunger for beauty, about opening the marvellous within the ordinary. It's about the conversations, the long arguments over a drink by the Yarra, about the skin-tingling buzz before a show, the exhilaration or disappointment afterwards. It's about being alive.

The chorus of praise is pretty much unanimous. According to the Age, "even former critics are lauding this festival". The box office, according to Corrie Perkin's excellent round-up in the Australian, is more than satisfactory:

Final figures won't be released until later this week but, by the third day of this year's festival, it had sold more tickets than the 2006 total of 57,000. This suggests last year's box-office takings of $1.245 million will be eclipsed, and the total attendance of 454,000 people to ticketed and free events will be exceeded.

Yay for Melbourne, you feisty little city you. There will always be naysayers, but I hope the conservative lobby takes proper note of Melbourne's appetite for this work. It's not as if, as some commentators claim, Edmunds has changed her tactics from earlier festivals. Rather, the critics have caught up.

Earlier this year, Age writer Robin Usher - a leading naysayer - said of this year's program that although Edmunds "concentrated on more cutting-edge works in her first two programs, she has included more mainstream artists this year." Au contraire, this year's program had much the same kind of mix as previous years.

Some of us hailed MIAF 2005 as the most exciting program for years. Like this year's program, 2005 and 2006 featured high-profile headline acts such as the Théâtre de Soleil or Robert Wilson, a diverse sampling of international contemporary practice, a large proportion of work from local innovative artists, and so on. However, in its richness, variety and depth, MIAF 2007 was clearly a result of long-term planning. And people - especially young people - have caught on. Something interesting is happening here.

This year's audiences were certainly notable for their diversity, but also for their generosity. Despite a tendency to emphysemic coughing in silent bits and a sprinkling of bad audience behaviour (most notoriously during the first night of Merce Cunningham's Program A, which fortunately I missed), the queues have been long, attention has been warm and applause often ecstatic. Even when, as I thought occasionally, the show didn't warrant it.

And, as a quick scan of my reviews will demonstrate (scroll down), I've had a ball. I didn't like everything I saw, but for me there were only two duds and, conversely, a generous serving of unforgettable work. The menu was various, and the general standard of theatre and dance was very high indeed. It's been a brilliant 17 days. Although, unlike some greedy types I was talking to this weekend, I'm not sorry it's all over, I can't wait for next year. But there's no question that MIAF 2007 will be a hard act to follow.

No comments: