|Botany Bay |Bocelli | Fringe |Mardi Gras |JOSÉ
The 250th anniversary in 2020 of Captain James Cook's landing at Botany Bay seemed restrained. The limitations imposed by the prevailing COVID 19 crisis dampened it further.
In comparison, the 200th anniversary of the same event in 1970, was the highlight of a joyous year-long jamboree that was nothing short of a ringing national validation. At the outset Robert Askin, then Premier of New South Wales, boasted that Australia would put on "one of the greatest pageants ever held in the Southern Hemisphere." The glorious day, April 29th, featured a costumed re-enactment in front of Her Majesty the Queen, accompanied by a flourish of national dignitaries and 50,000 super-proud Aussies.
The actual event—the first contact between the existing inhabitants of the continent and the British—was one of complete incomprehension; with ominous portents for the future.
At the heart of Milan’s cavernous, deserted cathedral, on the evening of Easter Sunday (April 12th), Andrea Bocelli stood poised with uncertain steadiness next to the cathedral's grand organ.
It was only five weeks before (March 8th), that the great and ancient city had retreated into lockdown. Since then, a modern, functional city had buckled helplessly before the onslaught of a modern plague. Of course, a viral pandemic is not a plague, but it’s all we have to compare its devastating consequences.
It’s only a few short weeks since the world’s second-biggest Fringe festival closed in Adelaide. Since mid-March, the world has changed beyond conception. Who knew, even then, that Fringe would be the last great gathering in the nation for some time to come?
It would be impossible to achieve now, but the Festival season was a huge success. Festival goers bought a record 850,000+ tickets over the month-long season. That’s a huge number, generated mainly by the inhabitants of a modestly-sized city of 1.3 million people, nestling benignly on the edge of the desert, off Australia’s main trunk routes. Significantly, Fringe sells ten times the tickets as the esteemed Adelaide Festival—the concurrent cultural showcase under who’s shadow it originally evolved...
By early April, seen through the prism of Fringe in Australia and the UK, the spreading global pandemic was redirecting the trajectory of history and lives with multiplying implications.
It happened so quickly. Time itself, seems to have collapsed. The best way to comprehend the avalanche of change seems to be in terms of dog years. Looking back just two months, what the inestimably esteemed Economist wrote at the time now reads as a retrieved artefact from Digging for Britain. They may as well have published on stone tablets.
The timing of The Economist’s piece, published on February 1, frames the rapid collapse of certainty that expanded over six weeks; across the world and in front of our unbelieving eyes. When the piece was published, the world’s second-largest Fringe in Adelaide, South Australia, was gearing up to open —if only as a welcome respite to a disastrous fire season. When it closed in mid-March, it was the last major mass-public event in Australia. But this marker was only a staging point on the way the Great Lockdown.
The pre-parade revels in and around the Hyde Park lock-up zone, before the closing night of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival, must offer one of the world’s most fabulous free parties.
Twelve thousand five hundred participants of every shape, colour, nationality, origin, gender, (dis)ability, age and/or even height, pour into the restricted enclosure. Together they coalesce into one joyful, breezily mashed-up love-in—all before anyone’s peaked or got trashed. Their prep must have included naps, as many look sparkling and primed for what will be a long, exhaustive but exhilarating night.
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Which shows at Adelaide Fringe have been earning accolades on the core fringe circuit over the last year? The essential Fringe consists of Edinburgh, its origin point; and the world's second-largest in Adelaide. These two festivals act as trade shows for the performance world. For many Australian and international shows, they complement each other to form one highly effective and efficient creative incubator.
Adelaide’s prominent role within this evolutionary process suggests why Australian performers are so prevalent in Edinburgh. Remarkably, Australians out-represent Americans there, by roughly 800%, on a per capita basis. What emerges from this combined process must count as Australia’s most-significant ongoing contribution to the evolving broader culture, bar none.
We preview five shows that have been winning plaudits on this extraordinary circuit. See them just as they begin to make their broader marks.
Top: Carmel Clavin, The Marvellous Mechanical Musical Maiden.
Middle: Head First Acrobats, Railed.
Below: The Late Bloomers, Scotland.
The Guatemalan-made film JOSÉ was the declaratory winner of the official Queer Lion award at the 75th annual Venice Film Festival. Earlier this year, the film premiered in general release in America. However, it’s widening distribution stalled in the shadow of the ever-expanding viral crisis.
In its “neo neo-realistic” style, JOSÉ gives a raw (meaning honest) depiction of indigenous gay sexuality as experienced by two young men in contemporary Central America. Their world is hemmed-in by poverty, urban disintegration and crime; made bearable for many through deeply-held religious traditions and family obligations. The effect of film’s quiet observational point of view is more arrestingly human, than say, a distanced polemic.
Amidst the worst fires in Australia's 231 years of European settlement, the City of Sydney controversially went ahead with its New Year’s Eve fireworks event.
Realistically, despite a total fire ban across the city, and most of the state, there was never any chance of the event causing additional fires over the harbour or central city. So, the event, which the Sydney Morning Herald classified as “too big to fail”, went ahead. Yet many were left wondering, amid an unfolding crisis, just how appropriate it all was? For many, the decision just didn’t feel right.
By going ahead as planned, Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks did offer opportunities for people to donate to fire relief. Reduced to bystanders, Sydney people felt that little bit less helpless. Maybe at best, the fireworks offered a kind of mass diversionary therapy—a gorgeous sideshow for a million people who couldn’t do anything anyway. Such events do have secondary benefits. One example is its capacity for gilding for an international audience, the already glittering mythology that is “Brand Sydney”. Yet none of these secondary benefits could address the primary concerns coming to the fore through the ongoing fire crisis.