Some events had already been revealed, but looking at the rest of the program for the 30th Melbourne Festival this morning, it was tempting to try and call a theme. Covers, maybe? Reinterpretations? Courtney Barnett, Jen Cloher, Adalita and Gareth Liddiard are performing Patti Smith’s iconic album, Horses. You may have heard about a hit West End production of George Orwell’s 1984. Cult ‘70s TV show Monkey Magic (originally cult 16th-century Chinese novel, Journey to the West) will be adapted for the stage. Even Shakespeare is getting a redux, with Peter Sellars directing Toni Morrison’s Desdemona (Othello retold with a look in for the doomed heroine). And tickets for the MSO’s collaborative reimagining of Flight Facilities’ album Down to Earth sold out in short order after their early release.
But what about all the classics? A lot of the program is designed to run in conversation with the main events. ACMI is screening surveillance flicks with a nod to 1984: Hitchcock’s Rear Window, De Palma’s Blow Out and more. The Australian National Academy of Music and others are helping complete the festival's three-year marathon commitment to perform all 68 Haydn string quartets. Seminal UK post-punk band, The Fall, is a hall of fame in and unto itself.
“Classics”, though, is another theme that quickly falls short. What about the international dance pieces? What about the free workshops? What about the cabaret-acrobatics troupe? The art trams, the Icelandic electronica and LA R’n’b? What about Laura Marling at Hamer Hall? What about The Basics? The Melbourne Festival this year is, as ever, too broad to encompass under one umbrella. Much like Melbourne itself. It presents a strange assortment of familiar and unknown, local and far-flung – a representative mixtape for a surprising city.