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Sometimes Melbourne – What Melbourne Loved 2019

Carla here. I did Sometimes Melbourne’s annual “What Melbourne Loved” list. You can see the rest by clicking the link.

Favourite moments in 2019.

2019 has been a year of incredible art for me. Music, film and my beloved theatre. There have been so many amazing performances that my memories become nested into moments that had my jaw unhinge with tears of disbelief that life could be so beautiful. A lot of the works that stayed with me explored post-humanism, native peoples self-determination or the post apocalypse; further cementing that theatre is dangerous, vital, conversational and provocative. No wonder funding is drying up, like the creek beds of our planet.

Sarah Ward’s alien/rock/monkey space rock opera The Legend of Queen Kong: opera singing MOTHER FUCKER to a baroque harpsichord psychedelic freak out.

Ursula Yovich’s defiant, heartbreaking and vulnerable rock musical Barbara and the Camp Dogs: too many moments to list that had me in tears.

Mr Burns, a post-electric play (Lightning Jar Theatre Inc.) was an absolute miracle of production, the amount of moving pieces to get right would have been back breaking. Its message of the way humans make meaning and connect, how memory works, and our utter compulsion to tell ourselves and each other through story completely blew me away. The pop medley was the prestige in an already inconceivably incredible independent theatre production.

Emma Hall’s World Problems. A simple conceit – a woman builds a trampoline on stage, with a monologue projected at/to the audience. Emma tells us the story of how ‘you’ let the world die. The mental gymnastics I went through to avoid complicity took me to at least half way through the show before my heart sank and I started to cry realising that it *was* us. We did let the world die.

The Honouring (during Yirramboi Festival) was a work of such tenderness and pain; I am crying now thinking about it. Jack Sheppard’s physical rendering of Indigenous suicide through text, movement and puppetry was staggering. A work that didn’t get enough attention. Nor the festival really; Yirramboi is extraordinary.

Joel Bray’s Daddy (also at Yirramboi) a was another incredible work featuring dance, text and tableaus presented to the audience by following Bray around the room. Joel Bray is filled with rage and hope and love and desire and this was beautifully rendered. It was electrifying.

The Susie Dee and Patricia Cornelius (Dee and Cornelius) power combo continued to slay with Love: stories, faces and bodies I never see on Melbourne stages. Working class people. Drug dependent people. The traumatised. The vulgar. The aberrant. All lovingly and respectfully brought into focus. I walk away from their shows thinking why do I never see these kinds of stories? Who has the keys?

Them (La Mama – Samah Sabawi) was one of the most profound plays of the year. Mystical in its realisation the perfection of casting, time, place and script. It is truly gifted to make a drama about war deeply funny in places. It had me laughing and sobbing and believing the best in humanity that plays like this can find a stage.

I flew to Sydney to see Adena Jacobs’s Titus Andronicus and it did not disappoint Jane Montgomery Griffiths was clearly having the time of her life in this role. My moment of the year was Catherine Văn-Davies ‘comic relief’ clown smearing shit all up the back of her legs whilst doing a sexy dance. Just when you think things can’t get worse, that happens to you and you wonder how life can get any better?

My last three are the most creative and original of the year. Yay for Canetoads! at Melbourne Fringe was one of those word-of-mouths gems that I would never have known about. So skillfully wrought with colonialism succinctly expressed through the “white death” of the sugar cane industry. Ordinarily this pun could have been one note or on the nose, but Kendra Keller’s tremendous skill and commitment makes our complicity and embeddedness in this horror felt.

Subliminal Massage (Marcus mckenzie: Acter for Hire) at Melbourne Fringe was truly one of the most left field and surreal works I’ve ever experienced. A post (post?) human exploration/celebration/exhibition of the trash bag of western “culture”. Puns, portmanteaus, wellness, white cubes, black screens… This AI hasn’t been updated in a century and his database has festered. Glitched out, hilarious, touching, terrifying… just absolutely fucking mind blowing.

And finally Unwoman by @therabbletheatre. From the fecund idealisation of the function of femininity to Yumi Umiumare’s butoh – 50 minutes of screaming and giving birth to rocks in a concrete prison reality. This work truly communicated the female experience. Funny, paternalistic, objectifying, non-agentic, tedious, primal – you name it it was in there. The design was also exceptional.

A deep gratitude to all these artists (and the 60+ other performances I saw this year). The diversity of skill and talent in this country is staggering, and your work, minds, hearts and bodies make my life worth living.

2019 Emerging Critic Aridhi Anderson – Menteeship

From March to May, Team Aisle welcomed our first mentee – Aridhi Anderson. At the beginning of the year we advertised a menteeship program open to non-European background emerging critics. We believe strongly in diversifying (and multiplying) the critical voices in Melbourne. Team Aisle intended to only do one menteeship, however we had two extremely strong candidates, so strong we couldn’t decide. Aridhi was the first, followed by Reagan Maiquez later in the year.

Over 3 months Carla and Aridhi saw approx. 14 shows together (and apart) and discussed many more.

What has the experience meant to you?

Aridhi Anderson

The three month menteeship with Across the Aisle was an interesting and constructive experience. Carla and I attended a number of shows together, and also discussed other shows that we both watched on different nights. Our conversations gave me a lot of insight into my own reviewing practice, and helped me refine my understanding of my own goals and values as a reviewer. I found it useful to connect with Carla consistently over a period of time, and get a sense of how she engages with shows and forms her opinions on different works. I was intrigued by how we had a very similar experience of some shows, and a very different experience of others. When we were in agreement, I found we were able to discuss some aspects of the shows in greater detail. When we held different opinions, I found myself challenged to think more broadly and try to see things from a wider perspective than I’d naturally be inclined to consider. I also found it enriching to have conversations about the theatre/arts scene in Melbourne in general, and I felt myself feeling more connected to it as a result of the menteeship. Even though this menteeship has ended, the thoughts and ideas we discussed over the course of it are still developing within my mind, so in that sense the work of learning from this menteeship continues for me. I’m grateful to have had this experience and look forward to seeing the continued impact of it in my future work.

Carla Donnelly

Aridhi is a gifted reviewer and emerging critic. Her hunger and desire for the performing arts is something that I really connected with. As a new-ish migrant to Melbourne (2016) and theatre maker, Aridhi wanted to learn as much as she could about the local scene – what is popular, what gets staged, what are the current themes etc. Connecting with Aridhi and her boundless curiosity really invigorated the way I see theatre. I confess I had come into a bit of a humdrum place, seeing too many shows in a short period of time can really burn you out. But having Aridhi’s insightful questions to ponder shook me out of my myopia. I don’t often get to connect with other critics so this experience was invaluable to me. Having someone to really chew over the shows, deep dive, explore and laugh with has been a joyful experience. Aridhi’s perspective as a theatre maker helped me see works in much different ways. I wasn’t quite sure how this menteeship would go, it is the first time I have done something like this, but it could not have gone better. I feel I have made a friend in Aridhi, and it solidified my feeling that theatre people are some of the smartest, most kind, and wonderful around.

2019 Emerging Critic Aridhi Anderson

Introducing our first emerging critic mentee for 2019, Aridhi Anderson. Welcome Aridhi – Team Aisle are so excited to have you on board. Aridhi will be with us for three months, attending many shows and discussing them with the team.

Aridhi is a theatremaker who has been writing, directing and performing in New Delhi since 2007 and in Melbourne since 2016. Her original works include The Bet, Ophelia’s Inner Monologue, Jezebel, Parenthesis, and The Next Logical Step, among others. She runs an independent theatre group called The Day Dream in New Delhi and Melbourne, and is passionate about promoting authenticity, diversity, inclusiveness, and a sense of community through her work.

What do you hope to get out of the menteeship? 

Aridhi Anderson

I’ve been in love with theatre and theatremaking for years. Last year I began my practice of writing about other artists’ work (through reviewing for WeekendNotes), which has been extremely rewarding. I love engaging with theatre as an audience member, and I see reviewing as an important way to help bridge the gap between theatremakers and audiences. I’m a little bit intrigued by the lack of diversity (in who’s making shows, who’s in the audience, and who’s writing about it) in Melbourne – and I was drawn to Across the Aisle’s commitment to addressing this. Over the next three months I’m looking forward to observing and listening a lot, learning more about arts criticism, refining my own work, discovering and working on my blind spots, and exploring/furthering conversations about diversity and inclusiveness in the arts in Melbourne. 

Team Aisle

For Across the Aisle we are thrilled to learn as much as we can about Aridhi’s practice in New Dehli, and the New Delhi performing arts scene in general. At the end of the 3 month menteeship both Team Aisle and Aridhi will publish their thoughts about this mutual learning experience.