How RISING will dance up a winter storm

Over 12 nights, the winter arts festival RISING will transform familiar parts of Melbourne into wild new worlds.

The people of Melbourne, and especially its artists, are ‘well and truly ready for a pay-off’ after the challenges of the last few years, according to Hannah Fox, the Co-Artistic Director of winter festival RISING.

Luckily, the program that she, Co-Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek and RISING’s Artistic Associates have created is well suited for celebration.

As Obarzanek explained: ‘It is very much a festival of place, and there are things in the program that couldn’t happen anywhere else but Melbourne. It really is a celebration of Melbourne’s unique culture in winter. We’re one of the only major cities on the mainland that actually has a genuine winter, and so we’re leaning right into that.’

Given the breadth of the RISING program, which includes site-specific works transforming familiar locations alongside contemporary dance, theatre, live music and more, Fox urged Melburnians to try and see as much of the festival as they can each night.

‘The best way, I think, to approach this program is to try and fit in multiple things in a night because there are 225 events and 800 artists involved,’ she said.

Events such as Golden Square in Chinatown (which transforms a car park into a three-storey creative playground), The Wilds at Sydney Myer Music Bowl (a night garden of inflatable sculpture, projections and immersive soundscapes) and Robin Fox’s laser spectacular Monochord (a river of light almost a kilometre long projected above the rippling waters of the Birrarung/Yarra River) are ‘all works that you can fit in around shows, and with Golden Square and The Wilds you can also eat and drink there,’ Fox said.

‘So I would just encourage people to try and look at RISING as multiple nights out or a whole night out rather than just getting to see a show and going home,’ she added.  

Robin Fox’s Monochord features laser lights shining for almost a kilometre above the Birrarung/Yarra. Image: Zillah Morrow.

Gideon Obarzanek is especially excited that international borders have re-opened, allowing the festival to present several significant new dance and dance theatre works in this year’s program.

‘It’s really critical that we have voices from outside not only Melbourne, but from outside Australia as well coming into RISING. We’re very much part of a global network when it comes to culture, and so we’re very interested about the stories of now, of what is shaping us and the commentary around that, which is why it’s important for RISING to have an international perspective on those issues,’ he said.

Such issues include the very contemporary trends and concerns around gender identity, which in Indonesian dancer and choreographer Rianto’s Hijra’h are in fact revealed to be centuries old.

‘Gender fluidity and gender diversity has been a part of being human since the beginning of humankind. Rianto is a contemporary performer, but like many Indonesian contemporary performers he looks to the traditional past to inform the present. In Hijra’h he is looking at ancient ceremonial dances from Indonesian animism times pre-Islam,’ explained Obarzanek, adding that the production has an important role to play in terms of preserving ancient traditions.

‘The performance itself is quite incredible but the old people who hold those choreographies and performances are inevitably dying out, and it is younger performances like Rianto who are making sure that these traditions are not lost in Indonesia,’ he said.

Hijra’h by Rianto draws on ancient traditions to explore gender identity. Image supplied.

Another dance work featured in the festival program, Uruguayan choreographer Tamara Cubas’s Multitud, feels very much like an antidote for post-pandemic isolation. The work features 70 people from different age groups, backgrounds and communities, each drawn from the city in which the work is staged. No two iterations of Multitud are the same, though each celebrates the power of collective action.

‘This is a performance on a grand scale,’ Obarzanek explained. ‘We haven’t really come into visceral contact as large groups of people for over two years and so it’s unusual to see and it feels a little weird, I think, to allow ourselves to do this. And yet there’s something so gratifying when you’re watching this performance unfold and seeing the incredible physicality of the work and this critical mass of collective action. Watching that unfold is so powerful.’

The sense of ritual evoked by both works is also fascinating, Obarzanek continued. ‘At RISING, we absolutely understand that we’re in pretty much a secular world, but there is – certainly in the festival context – still a sense of looking for the experience of ceremony and even ritual. So these works sit very well within our festival context.’

Straddling the worlds of dance and theatre, 21 Pornographies by Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen is another RISING work exploring contemporary trends and concerns: in this instance the pervasive creep of pornography into everyday life.

‘Mette speaks to the way porn has kind of leaked out into everyday life, and what I find very interesting about this work is that she absolutely includes the media, in terms of military conflict and how torture and collateral damage has a kind of sense of the pornographic about it – a detachment, a clinical precision of violence, a level of cruelty. But Mette is such a charming performer that she really brings you into her world. By the time you realise this shocking subject matter that she’s talking about and demonstrating, you’ve become a complicit voyeur and you’re not able to un-see or forget her work,’ said Obarzanek.

Mette Ingvartsen’s 21 Pornographies explores the pervasive creep of pornography into everyday life. Photo: Jens Sethzman

Given the range of works presented in the program, Fox hopes that RISING will not only provide visitors with thrilling and unforgettable experiences, but also allow them to see Melbourne through fresh eyes. She sites Golden Square in Chinatown as one such event.

‘Chinatown has got a natural atmosphere and we’ve looked for spaces in Melbourne with existing culture and ways we can augment and amplify that culture. So we’re putting an event called Golden Square in the Golden Square Carpark,’ she said.

As well as video installations and performance works across the carpark’s three floors, Golden Square will also feature a rooftop bar and lounge which Obarzanek said would be ‘the place to be’ throughout the festival.

He added: ‘All our artists have passes to the rooftop of Golden Square and it will be a great gathering place later in the night. The bar will continue, there are DJs and it’s such a unique space. It’s in a very familiar part of the city that people really know, but very few have actually stood up on that rooftop and had a look around. We’ve got these very large video artworks that are projected onto walls and buildings all around it that can be seen from that rooftop, so it’s going to be a great place to end up.’

RISING runs from 1-12 June 2022. Tickets for RISING are on sale now.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts