Five hours. That’s how much of Rising we got to experience last year before Covid paused – then outright terminated – the 12-day festival of the arts, which aims to enliven wintertime Melbourne in a way we’ve never seen.

This time around, the chance of cancellation is slim and the success of the ambitious night-time festival looks more and more assured. Consisting of 225 separate events staged from June 1 to 12, Rising 2022 features work from 801 local and international artists, who will occupy Melbourne’s theatres, rooftops, streets, car parks and waterways in an “explosion of culture”. We can’t wait.

“It’s not lost on us what a privilege it is to be able to gather at the moment, after all that’s happened in Melbourne over the past couple of years, and what’s happening around the world right now,” co-artistic director Hannah Fox tells Broadsheet. “We don’t take it for granted for a second to be able to get together and get lost in this program. We’re just so happy that it’s going ahead.

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“One thing we came away with last year was a huge feeling of support from the community – both the arts community [and] the wider community as well. We sold 100,000 tickets, almost an MCG’s worth, which is really extraordinary. We feel like we’re onto a pretty good thing.”

The Wilds
Last year Rising turned the grounds of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl into a sprawling bamboo forest, complete with mirror illusions, architectural nooks, sculptures, video art, food and more hiding in its twists and turns. And visitors could ice-skate on the stage, on a temporary rink. Sadly, barely anyone got to experience all this.

“Even though we were only open for five hours, I think we learnt quite a lot about just how massive that site is and, once you fill it full of humans, how it functions,” Fox says. “So we’ve evolved the design to be a lot more … animated, I guess is the best way to describe it.”

Come June, the site will be filled with numerous giant, inflatable, internally lit technicolour sculptures by Melbourne-made, New York-based artist duo Tin & Ed. Some will move via internal motors. The pair also plans to project works onto the back shell of the Bowl and will install a “whole field” of video screens. This aesthetic foundation will be complemented by work from Filipino artist Leeroy New, who’s primarily known for colourful, large-scale sculptures made from recycled materials.

The skating rink is also returning, but without the giant sculpture of the moon that hung over it last time. Instead, a playful 200-person community choir will serenade skaters with ’80s and ’90s hits, with up to 90 singers performing on a given night.

Near Kings Domain there’ll be a lively food market called Gathering Ground, with open braziers, overgrown greenhouses, a covered timber deck and rotating DJs. Vegan pioneer Shannon Martinez is locked in to serve flame-grilled dishes, while 1800 Lasagne and Filipino barbeque outfit Hoy Pinoy will also have stalls. And on the crest of the amphitheatre, former Longsong chef David Moyle is running The Lighthouse, a luminous table-service restaurant serving lots of seafood, both à la carte and via set menu.

Several performance groups have also been enlisted to roam The Wilds, adding more life to the proceedings. The Clams – Melbourne’s self-proclaimed “least professional” water ballet squad – is one, cheekily billing its routine as “landed”. Another, Discordia, is an eclectic collective of contemporary dancers, drag performers and one opera singer, that’ll pop up at multiple locations.

Golden Square
This multi-storey Chinatown car park is once again a major festival hub, with two bars serving cocktails and beer, plus wines selected by Blackhearts & Sparrows. The entire site will be licensed, allowing you to collect a drink on your way in and finish it off as you ascend to the roof, through a maze of sculptures and video installations by young French artist Tabita Rezaire, American Patty Chang, Chinese artist Guan Xiao and more.

“It’s very explorative,” says visual curator Grace Herbert. “You’ll have to find these different annexes with different artworks in them.”

Three times a night drag artist Scotty So will explode upon the site, presenting a trio of different personas. And Jason Phu’s 30-performer Parade for the Moon will also be coursing through twice a night, with drummers and bombastic costumed spirits, dragons and other animals – some on rollerskates – paying tribute to the moon.

Wherever you choose to go and whatever you choose to see, Golden Square’s rooftop is the final stop – the crescendo. Victorian artist Paul Yore is currently working on a centrepiece installation for this level, a room-sized sculpture built from scaffolding, mirrors and neon tube lights that he’s referring to as a “funhouse” or “temple”. And the surrounding buildings will be used to screen flagship video works by iconic American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer and local rising star Atong Atem. The rooftop will be a real destination, made for lingering.

“We’re going to be using it as a festival artists’ bar, so it’s going to have a bit of a cosy, home base kind of feel,” Herbert says.

And only 100 metres away, the Chinatown Precinct Association will be running its usual Chinatown Melbourne Market, serving dumplings, skewers, bao and other drinking-friendly food, to keep your night rolling on.

Rising’s line-up, curated by Woody McDonald (RRR, Meredith, Golden Plains) is the city’s first international musical program in two years. And what a program it is. Taking over the Forum, Max Watt’s and Melbourne Recital Centre, it features 26 overseas acts including Moses Sumney, Kelly Lee Owens, Baxter Dury, Lucy Dacus, Arab Strap, Masego, Shabazz Palaces and Andy Shauf.

Local artists on the bill include Sampa the Great; rapper Tkay Maidza, who toured the US alongside Billie Eilish in February; Brisbane post-punk trio The Goon Sax; and producer Harvey Sutherland, who’s presenting Neurotic Funk – a one-off live show in quadraphonic sound to celebrate his long-awaited debut album, Boy.

Australian drummer and Dirty Three co-founder Jim White has also been given the position of artist-in-residence. Across multiple venues and dates, he’ll bring his decades of experience to bear in collaborations with artists including Ed Kuepper, Giorgos Xylouris, Jo Lloyd and Marisa Anderson.

A showcase named Japan in Focus, meanwhile, features an extraordinary group of four cult Japanese acts: veteran noise rock trio Boris, four-piece pop sensation Chai, influential genre-hoppers Buffalo Daughter and 70-year-old avant garde percussionist Midori Takada. And DJ Nobu and Kenji Takimi will close out the festival at a day party hosted by the Animals Dancing crew.

Epic works
While affordable ticketed events make up much of Rising’s program, one of the key tenets of the festival is that “culture is a human right”. To that end there are free sculptures, projections and installations to discover all around the city, many presented at grand scales.

One notable example is Monochord, by Robin “King of Lasers” Fox. The work will shoot brilliant beams along the Yarra nightly, with a moody score to match.

Inside the Malthouse, renowned choreographer Stephanie Lake will debut a cacophonous show titled Manifesto, described as a “tattoo to optimism” and a “tornado of movement, sound and will”. It features nine dancers with backgrounds as varied as ballet, hip-hop and contemporary dance, moving to the sound of nine separate drum kits, again played by musicians with diverse backgrounds of metal, jazz and more.

Multitud is a large-scale piece from Uruguayan choreographer Tamara Cubas that’s been performed extensively in North and South America. It brings together 70 local volunteers from different age groups, backgrounds, communities and artistic backgrounds, who practice together for just a week ahead of the show. It’s not traditional dance choreography, but more movements, gestures, voice, language and even the “energy”, according to Cubas. A crowd-sourced show, if you will.

8/8/8, by artists Harriet Gillies and Marcus McKenzie, is an experimental performance piece poking fun at the capitalist idea of eight hours’ work, eight hours’ play and eight hours’ rest. While each segment of the show does actually run for eight full hours, only part one, Work, is appearing at Rising. Join the duo for a full-day absurdist corporate seminar, featuring a maze of queues and QR codes, desk cubicles and casual Friday horrors. This is one of the more interactive pieces of the festival.

Indigenous works
First Nations thoughts, ideas and stories are a vital part of Rising, which is keenly aware of the land upon which it operates. This year several powerful works deal with themes such as colonialism, ancestry, identity and more.

wurukur djuanduk balag – Ancestors Are Calling was inspired by Yorta Yorta Dja Dja Wurrung woman Dr Lou Bennett AM visiting two separate collections of Aboriginal artefacts held at the Melbourne Museum. These pieces, she says, aren’t just inanimate objects to her people. They’re literal ancestors, part of the family, holding “great spirit and lessons and life within them”. The 45-minute audio performance features live and pre-recorded singing in three languages, paired with the sounds of Silo String Quartet, a nearly 25-year-old group.

Director Jason Tamiru’s (Yorta Yorta) The Return was also inspired by museums. Specifically, his personal experiences as a repatriation worker, reclaiming First Peoples’ bones stolen and sent to overseas institutions for display, a little-known atrocity that continued until the 1950s. Torres Strait Islander writer John Harvey weaves three intersecting narratives into the play – a repatriation officer, a museum curator and a bone collector – in a story that spans 250 years.

Already rolling around town, Melbourne Art Trams are back for 2022 with six designs by Indigenous artists. Curated by artist Jarra Karalinar Steel (Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba), the collected works each respond to the theme “Unapologetically Blak”. A 30-year-old design by celebrated artist Lin Onus (Yorta Yorta) is also back on the tracks for the first time since 1991, showing balanced opposites: circles and triangles, day and night, black and white cockatoos.

*Rising will run from June 1–12, 2022. Pre-sale tickets are available from Wednesday March 23 for Broadsheet readers

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