Asian-Australian talent in the spotlight at OzAsia 2021

The festival from October 21 to November 7 will present 11 world premieres, one of which will be the first theatrical work by author Michael Mohammed Ahmad, whose novel The Lebs was a finalist for the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2019.

Other highlights range from the arts-meets-food event Double delicious – with guests including writer Benjamin Law and TV chief Elizabeth Chong – to a work by Indonesian-Australian artist Jumaadi that reinvigorates the ancient art of shadow play, a musical performance at Her Majesty’s Theater paying homage at Mahatma Gandhi, and a contemporary dance work that will be broadcast online via a real-time drone recording.

The festival’s popular Moon Lantern Parade will go from an overnight event to a four-day experience, the Lucky Dumpling Market will return to Elder Park, and there will be a new writing and ideas program – In other words – on the lawns on the banks of Adelaide.

OzAsia Artistic Director Annette Shun Wah. Photo: Prudence Upton

Shun Wah, executive producer of artistic company Contemporary Asian Australian Performance, took over as artistic director of OzAsia last year, but the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 festival, which was replaced instead. through a series of online conferences.

The current restrictions have also seen the launch of this year’s program – originally slated as a live event for tonight – going live.

“It was very difficult,” said Shun Wah Review containment in Sydney.

“It’s supposed to be an international festival and almost immediately after the lockdown was signed it happened last year and all of a sudden international travel seemed impossible.”

Several artists to come from abroad for OzAsia 2021: British pianist Belle Chen presents Australian premiere of her work Destinations, a show using electric keys, synthesizers and visual installations; Japanese choreographer and dancer Yui Kawaguchi comes from Europe for a work created with local performer Alison Currie; and Singapore-based theater director Jeffrey Tan will present a show called Open houses, created in collaboration with six Asian-Australian storytellers.

The vast majority of artists, however, are based in Australia – and Shun Wah is not unhappy with that.

“One of the things I really wanted to do with the festival was to increase the amount of Asian-Australian work, because the festival is supposed to be about the links between Asia and Australia, so it makes sense to me. that it absolutely includes the people who embody these connections, that is, people of Asian descent already here.

“So that was always the intention… but it turned out that with the limits of what we could bring internationally, it became an even more important objective than we thought at the time. ‘origin. “

Established artists on the lineup include veteran OzAsia Festival performer Mindy Meng Wang, a Chinese-Australian musician and songwriter who will present the world premiere of her new work. When at the Light Square Lab. When is described as a poignant and immersive audiovisual meditation on life during the global lockdown, incorporating the ancient Chinese harp (guzheng), electronic cello, synthesizer, and film footage.

The common theme of the festival is that these are voices that are often not heard and should be

Shun Wah says the festival will also feature a number of exciting new Asian-Australian voices, such as theater designer Anchuli Felicia King (author of the satirical play White pearl, previously announced), writer Michael Mohammed Ahmad and dancer-choreographer Raghav Handa.

Ahmad’s first play, The demon, is “an action-packed neo-noir investigation into the history of white Australia” that would have a “Lynchian twist” and will be performed at the Dunstan Playhouse. It’s a contemporary story but revisits the violence against Chinese miners in the New South Wales gold fields in the early 1860s.

Raghav Handa and tabla player Maharshi Raval to perform Of them at Dunstan Playhouse. Photo: Joseph Mayers

Handa, named as one of Sydney Dance Company’s ‘New Breed’ choreographers in 2020, joins tabla player Maharshi Raval for Of them, a performance that challenges the hierarchy between dancer and musician in traditional Indian Kathak dance.

“He’s really someone to watch in terms of dance and choreography and we’re very happy to have him at this point in his career with his own work,” said Shun Wah.

“It’s so interesting because it’s this interaction between dance and music, between the dancer and the tabla player, but done in a very relaxed, pretty funny way – it’s kind of dance theater. , and it will really take you by surprise when you first walk in. “

Handa is also involved in Double delicious, an event presented at the InterContinental Hotel that combines storytelling, food, visual projections and music. The show, first presented by Contemporary Asian Australian Performance at the Sydney Festival, sees five ‘storyteller cooks’ each telling a story important to their lives, after which audiences can taste the dish. Along with Handa, the other storytellers are Benjamin Law, actor and performance designer Valerie Berry, and TV chiefs Elizabeth Chong and Heather Jeong.

“It’s incredibly moving to see the effect this has on people,” says Shun Wah, playwright and producer of Double delicious.

“The stories are really varied, but they cover some really huge themes about family and resilience, loss and legacy.”

Double Delicious: Nicholas Ng with Benjamin Law. Photo: Clare Hawley

For his new work that pushes the boundaries The long walk, choreographer Sue Healey was inspired by the thousands of Chinese miners who landed in Robe and made the 500 km pilgrimage to the Victorian gold fields. The long walk, with a soundtrack by percussionist Ben Walsh, will be played on the same coastline and broadcast live at the Lab and online via a real-time drone recording.

Among the “hidden gems” of her program, the artistic director highlights Action star, a solo theatrical performance by actress and martial arts artist Maria Tran, who forged a successful career in martial arts films in Asia. The show – fueled by stunts and live martial arts – shares Tran’s own story about her childhood as a Vietnamese Australian in Sydney, as well as her struggle to gain recognition at home.

Some of the themes of Action star reflect those found more widely throughout the festival.

“These are such a variety of works,” says Shun Wah, “[but] I think the common theme of the festival is that these are voices that are often not heard and should be. It presents very different points of view, especially from Australia, on the major themes of life.

“I guess the thing for me is to bring out voices that haven’t usually been heard on these big platforms like big festivals and big stages, and change the focus a bit.”

She says the 2021 OzAsia Festival comes at a critical time for Asia’s engagement with Australia.

“Right now, due to the terribly strained relations we have with parts of this region, as well as with the experience of the pandemic with the rise of anti-Asian racism, I think this is really ringing some bells and whistles. alarm that we should not be so complacent about the importance of understanding, recognizing and engaging more as diverse Australians, but also of presenting a more complete picture to the rest of the world and a better understanding of the cultures that live around us. “

Action star: Maria Tran in action. Photo: Anna Kucera

The current challenges associated with presenting live performances in the midst of a pandemic are always on the minds of festival directors, with recent border closures and restrictions affecting South Australia’s schedule of events such as Illuminate. Adelaide and the Guitar Festival.

While OzAsia would inevitably be impacted if the borders remained closed, Shun Wah is optimistic.

“This is the world we live in right now… we have to hope and we have to plan. This industry needs that hope because it has been so affected over the past 14 months by the pandemic, and we as as public, we really need these festivals to move forward. ”

The entire OzAsia Festival can be viewed online. Learn about previously announced shows – including an interview with a theater maker Anchuli Felicia King – in this InReview story.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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