Victorian College of the Arts Senior Lecturer in Theatre Dr Zachary Dunbar is the writer, director and producer of a riotously reimagined version of Sophocles’ Antigone, AntigoneX. He discusses his inspiration here.
By Susanna Ling
Hi Zachary, can you tell us about AntigoneX?
AntigoneX is a reimagined, queered-up version of Sophocles’ Antigone. While it preserves some of the background story of Oedipus – the two brothers who warred with each other, and the fate of two sisters living in the state-run world of their uncle – it departs in several zany ways.
Tiresias is a kind of post-feminist Taylor Mac character; Antigone and her sister are radical performance artists who survive this tragedy; Creon (the "Uncle") is a cross between Dr. Strangelove and Tony Abbott, spouting leadership agendas that don’t make sense; a Pool Boy is a purposeless messenger; and Uncle’s son, Haemon, is "undecided" in terms of his sexuality. Perhaps the most interesting reimagining is the Clone Chorus of Bondi Boys who are ageing fast, transforming from cookie-cutter types into individuals with passions and needs.
It’s a comic tragedy. Or better yet a "queer" tragedy, which would have gone down well in ancient Athens, especially with Aristophanes, upon whose comedies this is somewhat modelled. He wrote and programmed comedies alongside tragic productions. These were hilarious commentaries on current affairs, including philosophy, politics, sexuality. They even poked fun at the serious dramatists.
It wasn't about following strict plot structures or creating believable characters. His comedy was a form of lampooning but with really thoughtful and sophisticated reflections on the complexity of issues that concerned Athenian society.
AntigoneX offers a reflection on the current politics of gender and sexuality, poking fun at the "alternativeness" of performance art and artists, and Australian leadership, especially the worldview of the likes of Tony Abbott.
Can you tell us a bit about your own creative background?
I’m a writer, director and composer, and have worked across several theatre genres, including radio drama, Greek tragedy, musical theatre, Beijing opera, post-dramatic theatre, and dance theatre.
Initially, I trained as a concert pianist and pursued a music career in Europe, but eventually crossed over into theatre. I’m a specialist in ancient drama, and received my PhD in the modern reception of performance of Greek tragedy.
Several of my stage productions in London were reimaginings of classical Greek tragedy, including Delphi, Texas, The Ballad of Eddy Tyrone, and The Cows Come Home. My original theatre works have been produced at the Pleasance Theatre, Bloomsbury Theatre, Brighton Underbelly, Embassy Theatre, Camden People’s Theatre, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the prestigious Junge Hunde Festival in Denmark.
What was the impetus to produce AntigoneX?
It was Charles Meere’s painting Australian Beach Pattern (1940). I saw this image eight years ago when I was living in the UK and it spoke to me about an idealised race which would have coincided with murmurings of fascism during that era.
If you look at the Meere picture, you also see a depiction of a body-perfect monochromatic society. There’s a central female figure playing beach ball – that to me was Antigone – and the two baby boys playing on the beach – they’re the two brothers.
I adapted Antigone and set it first in a kind of sci-fi lab about a leader trying to perfect a new race. When I came to Melbourne, I hadn’t realised that much of what I had written reflected the current politics here, especially the bizarre antics of Tony Abbott and the "budgy smugglers" thing. Is this the Creon character I imagined? I further asked myself: what would be a queer version of this? That is, how do you subvert this picture so it reveals the unspoken narratives of sexuality, gender and feminism?
Who’s involved in the show?
Almost the entire cast and creatives are VCA graduates or current students. Katy Maudlin (Master of Directing for Performance) is the show’s co-director, Nathan Burmeister (Master of Design for Performance) is the designer, and lighting and sound are by Nicholas Moloney (Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production)) and Christopher Wenn (VCA Tutor in Production (Technical)) respectively. Alysha Watt (Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production)) is our stage manager and James Jackson (Master of Dramaturgy) is our consultant dramaturg. As for the cast – they’re mostly VCA Theatre graduates, alongside a couple of actors from around Australia and New Zealand.
Why should people go to see it?
Well, it’s the first tragedy in history to be staged with beach balls! It would appeal to anyone interested in reimaginings of a classic play, who loves a good comedy, or who’s looking for meatier queer type of theatre.
AntigoneX runs from Tuesday 30 January (preview) to Sunday 4 February at Theatre Works in St Kilda. Purchase tickets here.
Banner image: Louisa Wall in AntigoneX. Image by Ivan Kemp.
Sugar Mountain returns to the Southbank campus on Saturday 20 January for another day of music, art and more – and we have 10 double passes to give away.
With a tasty lineup of international and local talent, plus the return of Boiler Room and Sensory restaurant, this year’s instalment of Sugar Mountain promises to be another huge day at Southbank.
We have 10 x double passes to give away to this year's festival – enter your email address below for your chance to win. Winners will be notified via email.
Note: To enter the festival you must be 18 years of age or older and have a valid photo ID.
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In this, the fourth in a series of How To videos from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Lecturer in Guitar Tonié Field demonstrate how to create backing tracks for live performance with the Boss RC-30 Loop Station.
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In this, the third in a series of How To videos from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, VCA Workshop Manager Dr Tim Edwards demonstrates how to cast bronze objects in the Faculty's purpose-built foundry, from start to finish.
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Banner image: Screenshot.
How to do an Australian accent (that doesn’t sound bloody awful, mate)
How to make an acid dance track with the Roland TB-303
How to create backing tracks with the Boss RC-30 Loop Station
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The Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music is about to undergo a name change that emphasises its world-class degree structure.
By Professor Barry Conyngham, Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM
As of 1 January 2018, the Faculty of VCA & MCM will be renamed the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music.
Following approval by the University Council yesterday, the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music will be renamed the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music – a change that takes effect on 1 January 2018.
Our two schools within the Faculty – the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (the Conservatorium) – will continue to exist and be promoted widely, but will be joined together by a new discipline-based name.
This represents a shift to the naming model used by other faculties within the University, and showcases our globally-recognised undergraduate degree names: the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and the Bachelor of Music (BMus). The essential structure and philosophy of our programs will not be affected by this development.
But it does signal an exciting time, as we centralise all the degree programs of the VCA and the Conservatorium at our Southbank Campus in the heart of the Melbourne Arts Precinct. Over the next 18 months, as part of a major regeneration and capital works project in the region of $200 million, most of our staff will be based at Southbank. Research and Breadth programs will continue to thrive and expand at the Parkville Campus, centred on the old Conservatorium and Melba Hall.
The name change follows a period of consultation which began in May and has included the University of Melbourne’s Chancellery Executive, Faculty Advisory Board, Faculty Executive, staff, student representatives, partners and national and international alumni.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your past support of the Faculty, and invite you to share in its future as it continues to build on its longstanding contribution to excellence and achievement in practical arts education in the research and intellectual context of a great University.
May I wish you the very best for the festive season, and here’s to a new year with a new name!
With warmest regards,
Professor Barry Conyngham
Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
Banner image: Drew Echberg, 2017.
Richard Davis joined the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in early 2017 as Associate Professor in Music and Head of Orchestral Studies. A professional flautist and conductor of international distinction he shares his thoughts on conducting, his new city and his plans for the future.
By Paul Dalgarno
Hi Richard, you’ve been at the MCM since early 2017. Can you tell us what brought you to Melbourne?
A glass of red wine in Manchester in 2014 with Derek Jones (Head of Woodwind here at the MCM) was the catalyst that resulted in me emigrating to Australia. I was, at that point, Principal Flute with the BBC Philharmonic and Head of Flute at the Royal Northern College of Music, and Derek was a visiting tutor.
I had just returned to playing after having had some time out to take a master’s degree in orchestral conducting. Professional conducting work was beginning to come in and Derek said that he would mention my name to his colleagues in Melbourne with a view to inviting me over as a guest conductor. I didn’t expect him to actually do it ...
But in 2016 it actually happened and I was invited to conduct a concert in Hamer Hall. During my research of the Conservatorium I discovered that a full-time conducting position was just being opened up. I had got my playing job at the age of 20 and felt that, with more than 30 years of playing experience, it was possibly the right time to move on.
I was immediately struck by the high standard of the University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Being offered the opportunity to work regularly with such talented young musicians – to train, inspire and watch them develop and hone their skills – was a real pull for me.
On a purely professional conducting level, it seems to be working out quite well, too. I have been up to conduct the Queensland Symphony Orchestra several times already and have been asked to conduct a subscription concert next year with them as well. I've also been invited over to New Zealand a few times to conduct and, in the next few months, have two concerts directing the BBC Philharmonic and one with Simon Rattle’s old orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
What’s been your impression of Melbourne in your first year? Has anything surprised you?
I try to tell people here that the standard of music-making in Australia is exactly the same as it is in Europe and often, it seems, they don’t believe me until they go over there and see it for themselves. I’m in Melbourne because I know what a good thing we have going for us.
With our new Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) about to begin in partnership with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO), and the amazing new Ian Potter Southbank Centre due for completion by late next year, I'm sure more and more people will see this too.
As a city, Melbourne is exciting, vibrant and beautiful. There's so much culture on offer all of the time. And my dogs (yes, we brought our two dogs over) love living beside the beach.
The only real shock for me has been the weather. In the UK, we're led to believe it's all sunshine and heat in Australia. I live in a house without insulation, and my wife and I didn't even bring any winter clothes with us from the UK. Next year we'll be better prepared.
You will be integral to the forthcoming Master of Music (Orchestral Performance). What are your hopes for the course?
The new Master of Music will hopefully put the MCM firmly on the map for orchestral training. It's the brainchild of the MCM's Dr Joel Brennan – but I do hope to be an integral part of its inaugural year. I had the pleasure of listening to all of the applicants' auditions, and the standard is high.
The students who have been accepted will be mentored by members of the MSO and will receive regular lessons on ensemble practices, audition techniques and much more. And the icing on the cake is that they actually get to play some sessions and performances with the MSO – an amazing opportunity for any young musician with a passion for becoming an orchestral musician.
What’s your first memory of music?
My grandfather wanted one of his five grandchildren to be a classical musician and bought all of us instruments. I was given a violin and my sisters got a piano and a French horn. My two cousins received a clarinet and trumpet. I don’t actually remember whether we had any say in these choices because we were pretty young, but it worked – two out of five of us became professional musicians.
You’re a professional flautist and conductor. Does being a performer feed into being a conductor and vice versa? How so?
I was taken to orchestral concerts all throughout my childhood and expressed an interest in conducting for many years before playing the flute. And then, all through my conservatoire training, conducting was my hidden passion. I got offered a principal flute playing job at a very young age and just had to put the conducting dream on the back burner – which is exactly where marriage, a mortgage and children kept it for many years.
Years of studying a variety of conductors – their different techniques and interpretations (and standards) – gave me an understanding of what orchestral musicians wanted, what worked and what didn’t.
In 2008, I decided to leave my job in the BBC and go back to college to study conducting. I was lucky that the BBC chose to keep my job open for me and also offered me lots of conducting work with them when I returned.
It could have so easily not worked out that way. I hope, having been a player, I understand the demands and pressures far better than most conductors. I'm definitely on the side of the players and hope that comes through in my rehearsal techniques and performances.
What would you say are your career highlights so far?
Looking back on it, conducting my own orchestra at the UK Proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall, on television, was possibly a highlight, but I have also performed many times live on worldwide broadcasts and also regularly on national television. It's important to remember, as a performer, no matter how important the gig, one should always be in "absolute focus-mode" – the music is of paramount importance compared to one’s appreciation of the event.
When did music first feel like a viable career for you?
I knew instantly that I wanted to be on stage – even going to plays as a child, I knew I’d be a performer of some sort. My parents weren’t too sure, of course, but I'd advise all musicians that a career in music isn’t something you should merely think about doing – it has to be unthinkable for you to do anything else. Then, you stand a chance.
What’s the secret to being a good conductor?
Mahler said there's no such thing as a good or bad orchestra – only good or bad conductors. I wish more conductors truly believed that. As a player, I witnessed many who were unwittingly disrupting the flow of the music or that "tripped up" players by their gestures, who never seemed to look at their own techniques as a possible reason for those hiccups.
A great conductor can make you and your colleagues reach musical heights you thought were unattainable. Respect for the players is an essential first step. Hard work and being absolutely sure of your interpretation is also vitally important – any doubt will feed through into your body language and may be misinterpreted by the players.
Beyond the interpretation, and all the technical aspects of rehearsals, the most important thing to remember is that the act of performing should be a fun experience – if the players are really enjoying it then, hopefully, the audience will too.
Can you tell us how you feel when you’re conducting an orchestra? Does it feel like a weight of responsibility?
Preparing music for any performance is a process one never completes – there's no end to the study. As you open a score, you begin to fall in love with the music and the composer – you see new things every day as the interpretation presents itself to you. Performing a work that you love is a joyful experience and I personally can’t wait to get on the platform.
Nerves can act like a virus, spreading quickly through the all performers, so if I can show that I’m happy to be on stage it can help the players to relax.
I recently had a lovely compliment paid to me from a member of a professional orchestra (name and ensemble withheld). This player said that they all enjoyed working for me because, for once, it seemed that a conductor actually wanted them to play at their best. I know, as a player, that if you’re over-stressed then you can never perform at your highest level.
Can you tell us a little about the work you’ve done for TV and what’s gained/lost in that process compared to live performance?
This is an interesting question. For a live performance, the rehearsing is more critical and you all know there are no second chances. As you perform, you only think of what’s coming next – you forbid yourself to do any musical "post-mortems" as you go along.
But in a recording, as the red light is on, you’re always thinking of how each of the previous phrases could have been improved and mentally bookmarking particular sections to repeat.
During every recording session, it's necessary to do some complete takes or run-throughs, otherwise the recording can become a little clinical.
Your book Becoming an Orchestral Musician (2004) has been described as "an unbeatable-value master class" and sells globally. How difficult is it to write about performing, given it’s an inherently hands-on skill?
Becoming an Orchestral Musician was originally intended to be an audition pamphlet as there seemed to be a great divide between what was taught in conservatoires about orchestral playing and what professional musicians actually wanted at auditions.
To see really great young musicians fail to get through the first rounds of auditions because they didn’t understand what was of primary importance was really distressing. So I set out to explain a few things. I wrote for a couple years, interviewed many musicians about their perspectives, and the original Audition pamphlet now sits as the fourth chapter in the book.
Banner image: Richard Davis. By Andrew Price.
Linda Barcan brings years of experience as a professional mezzo-soprano and language-lover to her work as a Lecturer in Voice at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. One of her top pieces of advice for those following a creative path? Keep an open mind.
By Paul Dalgarno
Can you tell us a little about your teaching for Voice at the Conservatorium?
My role as Lecturer in Music (Voice) at the MCM primarily involves one-to-one vocal tuition, teaching singing to our Bachelor of Music, Honours and Masters students. It must be one of the most fulfilling jobs possible. There's nothing quite like the sense of achievement in watching a student leave your studio singing and feeling better than they did when they came in.
I also examine recitals and technical exams, teach vocal class and help with the vocal area productions. That's when I get to experience the joy of witnessing all the student's hard work coming to fruition in performance.
What was your route to becoming a mezzo-soprano? At what stage did it feel like a viable vocation for you?
My performance career was one that evolved rather than being planned. I was always singing from a very young age. I came from a family of teachers, not performers, but we were music-lovers and there was a lot of music at home.
I was inspired by musicals initially, and later by records that I bought with my pocket money. They were mostly recordings of opera excerpts, hardly normal teenager fare, though I did also buy ABBA’s Arrival.
At university I studied languages before I turned to music. I love words and languages, and that love has stood me in good stead. The singer of Western Classical art music has to sing fluently in at least three languages other than English: Italian, German and French, as well as, ideally, Spanish, Russian and Czech. Coaching languages is one of my favourite aspects of teaching voice.
I don’t think classical singing ever felt like a viable vocation – it felt more like an adventurous one. It wasn’t until I was well into my teaching career that I realised I'd earned a living singing full-time for ten years, and part-time and casually for 15 years. I was very lucky to have those opportunities in what is an inherently insecure profession.
And what about teaching voice – when did that enter the picture?
I feel very fortunate to have taught in a variety of environments in the past 15 years, from performing arts secondary schools to an active private studio to elite tertiary institutions. I have taught pupils aged eight to 80, and am always learning myself. It’s most definitely a two-way street.
Have you had any mentors or teachers who have had a particularly strong effect on you?
I've had a number of mentors in my professional life. Every singing teacher and voice coach I chose to consult with for a significant period of time has had an impact on me. Mentors I can name are my current colleagues at the MCM, Stephen Grant and Anna Connolly, and my former boss at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Patricia Price.
Singing teachers who have influenced me are Glenn Winslade (Sydney); Rowena Cowley (Sydney); Hartmut Singer (Cologne, Germany) and Evelyne Brunner (Lyon, France). Coaches who have had an enduring effect include David Harper (London, UK) and Graham Johnson (London, UK). I have also learned a great deal from observing my performing and teaching colleagues.
How did working and training in France and Germany inform your practice?
The greatest advantage of living and working in France and Germany as a young adult was the exposure to a wide variety of musical activities presented by performers from many nations at an elite level. I worked alongside singers such as Katia Ricciarelli, Sylvia McNair, Susan Graham and more, and had the opportunity to observe international artists such as Renee Fleming, Felicity Lott and Jose Van Dam in performance. Getting to use the languages I had studied at university in context was also a real buzz.
You have an affinity for 20th and 21st-century opera. What is it about operas from that time period that appeal to you? From a vocalist’s perspective, how do they differ from the older, classic operas?
What I love about contemporary operas is that they engage in boundary-crossing and in challenging notions of genre. I’m thinking of works such as Deborah Cheetham’s Pecan Summer or Kate Miller-Heidke’s The Rabbits, for example. It is also a bonus that, in the case of 21st century opera, the composers are living, providing the opportunity to speak with them directly about their intentions.
This happened frequently with Deborah during the creation of Pecan Summer. I was a cast-member of this groundbreaking Indigenous opera, playing the role of a local busybody and troublemaker by the name of Mrs Harrison. When I was a lecturer in Voice at WAAPA we produced Little Women and were able to set up a phone conference between composer Mark Adamo and the cast and crew, which made it feel very real.
Is there a tension between teaching and performing for you? Does one inform the other?
I'm always learning both as a performer and a teacher, so for me performance and teaching most definitely inform each other. Both encourage us to ask ourselves questions, which keeps the work alive. The only downside is that both vocal performance and singing teaching place demands on the voice, which may or may not be complementary, depending on the load. It can be difficult to balance the two activities, and vocal fatigue can be an issue.
The singers you work with at the Conservatorium are of a certain age and stage in their development and have no doubt developed lots of styles and habits in their practice long before working with you. What are the pros and cons of this?
The pros are that they are young, fresh and elastic. In particular, one of the benefits of the Melbourne Model is that our students tend to be more broad-minded. They are trained to think for themselves and to approach learning in different ways.
The disadvantage of teaching young people can be that we often deal with sophisticated song and opera texts that require a certain amount of maturity and assume some life-learning. I suspect it's true, as many acting coaches believe, that we have experienced every shade of human emotion by the age of three, but tapping into those can be tricky.
Also, in contemporary culture and society we are no longer surrounded by the sound and heightened emotion of Classical singing, so conveying those to a student can also be problematic. YouTube and Spotify are modern tools that can help, but nothing beats the acoustical energy of live sound.
Do you get stage fright? If so, how do you combat it? And is this something you have to help students with?
Everybody gets nervous when they perform, and when nerves are optimally harnessed they can add to the energy of performance. But it takes experience and technique to know how to channel nervous energy into a more positive one. Ultimately it’s a question of just getting up and doing it. Getting back on the horse is a part of the learning process – and indeed can really contribute to the excitement of performance.
Can we all learn to do better with our voices (assuming we’re not tone-deaf … or maybe even if we are)?
Absolutely we can! Think about the power of primal sounds that emerge spontaneously from heightened events in our lives. I don’t know that there are any tricks as such, but it's hard to deny the power of breath and emotion. We can circumvent a lot of difficulties using these. Combining this approach with a progressive, technical one is a challenge we all face as teachers and performers. How much of the body is involved in spontaneous primal sound? All of it, I would say. We can learn a lot from watching babies and animals, who use their whole bodies to communicate.
Is there a particular piece of advice that has held you in good stead throughout your career?
I have several pieces of advice that I give to my students, and to myself: play to your strengths, never stop learning, and always keep an open mind. A closed mind is certain death to creativity and imagination, and as artists these are our tools-of-trade.
Banner image: Linda Barcan in Opera on the Beach. Sutherland Shire Council. Image supplied.
Dr Miriama Young writes music for film, dance, radio, live electronics and fixed media, voices and instruments, and lectures in Composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Get to know her here.
My great joy in music is encounters with works that convey a sense of the sublime – whether that be in Beethoven or Björk, integrating new forms of technology, or through a simple but exquisite vocal melody. In my own music, that singular search for the sublime is a preoccupation.
Since February 2016, when I joined the Conservatorium, my main teaching roles have been in composition, electro-acoustic music, and harmony and counterpoint for Music Language I. In the electro-acoustic music course, rather than borrowing pre-existing recordings from the web or using musical instruments in traditional ways, we explore sound for its own sake, transforming and manipulating original material to create something unique.
As a teacher, I try not to let my own subjective tastes in music influence my opinions of students’ work. Composers all present with a wonderful range of aesthetic approaches, and I try to nurture that. I want to help students facilitate their own personal language as composers.
I was actively engaged with music from age five, much to my parents’ surprise. That said, my mother is a visual artist and my dad is a writer, so I don't think I was ever destined to be a scientist.
As a child growing up in New Zealand, I was lucky to have inspirational teachers – including Alison Dalmer, an amazing singer with original ideas about sound. An early musical memory was when she opened up the upright piano and let us pluck the strings inside – those experiences of sound are formative. It was she who encouraged me to audition for the Wellington Cathedral Choir, which formed the core of my musical training, under the inspired guidance of music director, the late Peter Godfrey. Peter was trained in the British Anglican choral tradition, so we were steeped in Byrd, Purcell, Handel, and Mozart.
My composing grew out of a curiosity about sound and how notes and textures can be combined to create magical new forms of expression. After clarinet lessons as a child, from my mid-teens I graduated to jazz saxophone among other things – singing, playing piano … But after a background in performing, at some point I realised I preferred the solitary act of dreaming up new sounds and crafting sonic structures.
As a young woman, I was torn between music and prose. I completed a double Honours degree in Music Composition, History and Literature at Victoria University of Wellington, and my love for both music and prose now manifests in my dual existence as a composer and scholar.
As an undergrad I created a couple of pieces that conveyed something quite personal and poignant for me. One – Speak Volumes – combined cassette recordings I’d made of my voice for a make-believe radio show when I was eight, with recordings of my adult voice, and I created an electro-acoustic piece around that. The piece went on to have quite a long and successful life and that was a real turning point for me.
When I finished my degree in 1999, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, and found myself heading to the USA – first to New York and then to Princeton for my PhD in music composition. As well as writing music for professional ensembles and voices in the greater New York area – everything from So Percussion to New Jersey Symphony to Now Ensemble, I wrote an extended thesis which eventually formed the basis of my 2015 book Singing the Body Electric: The Human Voice and Sound Technology. My musical experiences in the States were inspirational and formative, and the lessons learned prevail in my approaches to composition now.
I like the process of composition because it combines my very technical, rational side with an esoteric, dreamy side. I usually have a pretty clear concept of what I want, the kind of instrumentation, the structure, the constraints and the kinds of sonic qualities I'm going for – after which I'll go into a more liminal place and take it from there.
Currently I’m interested in ubiquitous sound machines – by this I mean using mobile devices or smartphones as musical instruments. A piece toured with Chamber Music New Zealand in 2017 was The Grey Ghost for piano and electronics, with the electronic soundtrack being played through an App on the audience’s smartphones during the concert. The soundtrack was based on the sounds of the forest in New Zealand and a bird – presumed extinct – called the South Island Kōkako.
In 2010 I worked with Scottish Opera as part of a series called 5:15, for which they paired a composer with a librettist to write a 15-minute opera, entitled Zen Story. It was amazing to collaborate with such wonderful musicians, producers, costume and set designers, and to see the whole production come to life upon the stage in the major cities of Scotland.
A significant piece for me, in terms of shaping my compositional trajectory, was Titlipur, a collaboration with a dancer in New York, which used hand-built sensors attached to her body to create interactive music, meaning she created the music with her movement in real time. That was in 2003, when that concept was really new, and some of the work I'm doing now is still building off of that research – trying to integrate technology with our experience of sound and music in ways that are seamless. I'm really interested in that idea – how our physical bodies engage with a performance.
After my PhD I took up a lectureship at Aberdeen University. I have a lot of Scottish ancestry, so there was a personal connection I was really curious about. Scotland proved to be quite a contrast to the New York scene. Still, I taught there for five years and it was a good place to be while I was establishing my teaching and research.
I love living and working in Melbourne. There’s plenty of music, arts and cultural events happening all the time. It's also got that really liveable aspect, where I can sustain a creative life and still go back to New Zealand easily to see my extended family.
I find teaching really energising. Students often come to lessons with new artists or composers that they’re excited by. I think that's the true virtue of teaching in the university setting – yes, you're giving, but students bring lots of great ideas to the table, too.
A lot of my scholarly work centres on the layers of mediation that go on before we hear a recorded voice, and I’m also interested in the way that’s changing voice production. I don't think Björk would have had such a successful career if headphones hadn't been invented – the kind of whispering aesthetic she pioneered is now huge.
My musical tastes are very eclectic and maybe that's partly because I have young children. If you look at my Spotify playlist you’ll see Bach, Tristan Perich, György Kurtág, Laura Marling … and then the Trolls soundtrack, which my children demand gets played 50 times in a row, and then, for a calming contrast, some Palestrina.
-- As told to Paul Dalgarno
Look me in the Eye on SBS and programs like it blur the line between reality TV and traditional documentary, prompting ethical questions
By Steve Thomas, University of Melbourne
In this era of ‘fake news’, with the unreliability of social media and some leaders’ habits of justifying their opinions by shooting the messengers that criticise them, there is a renewed need for transparency in the media.
This applies not least to the traditional compact of trust between audiences and documentary makers. However, it is difficult to foster that trust when confusion abounds about the term itself – ‘documentary’ having increasingly become conflated with ‘reality TV’.
Broadcasters used to maintain a clear separation between their non-fiction departments of news (including current affairs) and documentary, but the advent of docu-soaps and reality TV formats led to documentary being subsumed under the umbrella of ‘factual’.
Now, the latter has given way to ‘unscripted’, a strange moniker given most reality shows are at least semi-scripted, with the coaching of participants, invention of storylines, addition of narration and the strange requirement that everyone should speak in the present tense when talking about the past.
An example of this nomenclature confusion is SBS TV’s recent Look Me in the Eye, a ‘social experiment’ graced by credits to both the station’s Head of Unscripted and Head of Documentary. SBS’s publicity categorises it as a documentary series, which it eminently is not.
But does this really matter? Do audiences care what a program is labelled, when their priority is simply deciding whether they like it or not? Ethically, I believe it matters a great deal.
I’m not claiming that documentaries are completely un-engineered, or ever have been, but there is a tradition among documentary makers of agonising over our filmmaking and why we do it. We want to contribute honest arguments about our shared world and consequently give ourselves a hard time about duty of care and what we do to people by putting them on the screen for public judgement.
Historically, social documentaries have long gestation periods, are concerned with complexity, strongly authored, question the status quo, and are culturally specific and accountable. On the other hand, shows such as Look Me in the Eye (and Undressed, another current SBS offering presented as a ‘social experiment’ but which is more openly titillating), are notable primarily for employing the tropes of reality TV.
They are formatted franchises, developed elsewhere and exported.
Based on supposed psychological principles (the evidence for which is never revealed), they employ manufactured sets, run on a production-line basis with TV-sized crews, use ‘voice of god’ narration and continuous, over-produced music to steer viewers’ emotions (in Look Me in the Eye, even the silent eye contact between participants, the raison d’être of the show, is over-layed with music for audience consumption).
Meanwhile no doubt, as is standard TV practice, the participants are coached not to acknowledge the camera, have no control over the use of the footage shot of them, aren’t consulted during editing and don’t see the results until they go to air. They have probably signed a confidentiality agreement in return for some kind of payment and if they don’t like the way they are portrayed, tough luck. Ethically this represents bad faith.
More concerning though, is that what the audience experiences in Look Me in the Eye is restricted to a kind of heart-tugging voyeurism. Indeed, as the SBS publicity pronounces – it’s ‘guaranteed to make you cry’. But suppose I am estranged from a loved one and desperately wondering what to do about it. Would I actually learn anything by watching, apart from that I might apply to be in the next series? Probably not.
Look Me in the Eye may be a meaningful experience for its participants, but there is no discussion of societal issues, no evidence-based dialogue about estrangement, its causes and personal strategies for dealing with it, other than a pop-psychological idea about eye contact over talk.
So, what is the significance of this for ‘documentary’ as a descriptor? A clue lies in that complicit pretence referred to already, that there is no camera or director present. For as the writer Stella Bruzzi states, “what else is a documentary but a dialogue between a film-maker, a crew and a situation that, although in existence prior to their arrival, has irrevocably been changed by that arrival?”
Or, quoting the UK filmmaker Nick Broomfield: “it’s not the presence of the camera that changes people’s behaviour, it’s the relationship they have with the people behind it”.
The filmmaking relationship has always been central to documentary making, and the key ethical question for the filmmaker is how to represent her or his encounter with the other.
How do we avoid transforming our participants from subjects into objects to be experienced? Such responsibility is in danger of slipping away if documentary is subsumed under some all-embracing category. If a show is deemed ‘unscripted’ there is almost an implication that no-one is responsible—it ‘just happened’.
But if we are making a public document then ethics matter a great deal. That is why documentary as a genre, needs to be protected and nurtured, and whether a show is described as such, or something else, requires scrutiny.
Clearly, we will get no help from television here. It appears to be down to documentary makers themselves to defend their art.
Mr Thomas’s latest project is Freedom Stories, a collaborative feature and series of shorts exploring the stories and contributions of former ‘boat people’ who, after indefinite mandatory detention and years on temporary protection visas, are now Australian citizens.
See the work of graduating filmmakers at the 49th Annual Film and Television Graduate Screenings.
Find out more about studying Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Sign up for the Faculty of VCA & MCM’s free monthly enews.
Banner image: Sam McGhee/Unsplash
On Thursday 7 December, the recipients of the 49th Annual Film and Television Graduate Awards were announced at a ceremony at ACMI.
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
David McRobbie Park Behind Barres (recipient)
Farshid Akhlaghipour Pain is Mine
Charbel Ibrahim Taking Someone to Someone
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND
Farshid Akhlaghipour Pain is Mine (recipient)
Neal Engelbrecht Milquetoast
Charbel Ibrahim The Holiday Inn-Side
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN EDITING
Neal Engelbrecht and Clement Soo Milquetoast (recipient)
Sophia Bender Behind Barres
Katia Mancuso Feast on the Young
NEW VOICE AWARD
Farshid Akhlaghipour Pain is Mine (recipient)
Milo Gluth Greedy Limbo
Guy Harris Deluge
SARAH WATT AWARD
Katia Mancuso Feast on the Young (recipient)
Lucy Knox An Act of Love
Ronak Taher Bubble
BEST PRODUCTION – BACHELOR OF FINE ARTS (ANIMATION)
Anastasia Dyakova Ready for a Baby (recipient)
Milo Gluth Greedy Limbo
Rebecca Readhead Greg
BEST PRODUCTION – BACHELOR OF FINE ARTS (FILM AND TELEVISION, INCLUDING HONOURS)
Katia Mancuso Feast on the Young (recipient)
Gabriel Hutchings Perisher
Charles Richardson Guppy
AWARD FOR SOCIAL IMPACT IN A DOCUMENTARY PRODUCTION
Charbel Ibrahim The Holiday Inn-Side
MASTER OF FILM AND TELEVISION (DOCUMENTARY) BEST PRODUCTION
Farshid Akhlaghipour Pain is Mine (recipient)
Shing Hei Ho Taking Someone to Someone
Charbel Ibrahim The Holiday Inn-Side
MASTER OF FILM AND TELEVISION (NARRATIVE) BEST PRODUCTION
Darcy Tuppen The Land Will Eat You (recipient)
Lara Gissing Babygirl
Ronak Taher Bubble
OVERALL BEST PRODUCTION
Farshid Akhlaghipour Pain is Mine
The 49th Annual Film and Television Graduate Screenings will take place at ACMI, Melbourne, between 8–10 and 15–17 December. Visit the ACMI website for program details and tickets.
Banner image: Alumna producer Polly Staniford and winner of Overall Best Production Farshid Akhlaghipour. Photo: Drew Echberg.
Five Victorian College of the Arts alumni were among the winners of the 7th Annual AACTA Awards, which were presented at an awards ceremony in Sydney on Wednesday 6 December.
Oscar-nominated alumnus filmmaker Bentley Dean and his filmmaking partner Martin Butler were announced as this year's recipients of the Byron Kennedy Award for outstanding creative enterprise within the film and television industries. Their 2017 film Tanna received Australia's first and only nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
First given in 1984, the award honours Dr George Miller’s original filmmaking partner and Mad Max co-creator Byron Kennedy and includes a cash prize of $10,000. Previous winners include Baz Luhrmann, Jane Campion and Jill Billcock.
“Martin and Bentley are exemplary recipients of the Byron Kennedy Award,” said Dr Miller. “Their integrity shines through all their endeavours. Because of this, they are held in the highest regard by their collaborators and audiences all over the world.”
Top of the Lake: China Girl, co-directed by Film and Television alumnus Ariel Kleiman (with Jane Campion), swept the television categories, picking up four awards including Best Television Drama Series.
Kitty Green (Bachelor of Film and Television, 2007) took out the Best Feature Documentary category for her Netflix documentary Casting JonBenet about the infamous murder of child beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey.
Glendyn Ivin (Graduate Diploma in Film and Television, 1998) won Best Direction in a Television Drama or Comedy for ABC's Seven Types of Ambiguity, which won five of the seven categories it was nominated in.
Zahra Newman (Bachelor of Dramatic Art, 2008) won the Subscription Television Award for Best New Talent category. She appears as Iman Farah in Foxtel's television series Wentworth, and also stars as Nabulangi in the original Australian production of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's award-winning musical The Book of Mormon.
Head of VCA Film and Television Nicolette Freeman said: "We're both proud and delighted to hear of our graduates being acknowledgement by the Academy for their creativity and contribution to screen culture and wider societal conversations."
The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards are a continuum of the AFI Awards, which have honoured screen excellence in Australia since 1958. Visit the AACTA Awards website for more of this year's winners and nominees.
Join us at ACMI for the 49th Annual Film and Television Graduate Screenings, from 8–17 December.
Learn more about studying Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Sign up for the Faculty's free monthly enews.
Banner image: Still from Ariel Kleiman's graduating VCA film Deeper than Yesterday (2010).
Congratulations to the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music's Dr Jeanette Tamplin, who made it to the finals of the National Disability Awards in Canberra on the weekend for her virtual reality singing program. You can hear Dr Tamplin discussing this innovative technology live on Channel 7 on 5 December at 2.45pm, and watch a segment that aired on ABC News on the weekend, below.
Banner image: Screenshot. ABC News.
A new exhibition provides an opportunity to see artworks by three emerging Indigenous artists from the Victorian College of the Arts.
By Sarah Hall
Digging In, an exhibition of works by three undergraduate students at the Victorian College of the Art, recently opened at the Palya Arts Centre in South Melbourne. The exhibition explores notions of Aboriginality in an urban landscape, and the way that Naarm (Melbourne) moulds the next generation of artists and their visions.
I met up with one of the contributing students, Edwina Green, an 18-year-old Palawa artist, for a guided tour of the exhibition.
“My work is about my home in Tasmania,” said Green, who grew up between Queenstown (Tasmania) and Melbourne, in reference to her paintings and photographic works, which vary considerably in style.
The first set of Green’s paintings to catch my eye portrays a woman – the same woman across the three – in various states of action.
“[The woman] in these paintings is the great-grandma on my Indigenous side, who I’m depicting engaged in some of the activities that I’ve done at home with my father – like planting potatoes and picking berries,” she said.
On the opposite wall is a series of photographs by Marley Holloway-Clarke taken at rallies for Indigenous rights in Melbourne, capturing something of the spirit of resistance and protest seen in Australia’s urban centres.
Next to those is a large-scale triptych by Sam Harrison featuring a huge banksia on a background of pixelated oranges and blues. This is the third exhibition Harrison has been involved in since attending the VCA.
He won a prize last year for curating How many dots make a dot painting, an exhibition featuring 30 staff and students from the VCA in response to Australia’s Shame, an exposé on Northern Territory youth detention by ABC's investigative journalism program Four Corners.
“My entire Indigenous experience has been an urban one,” said Harrison, a Wurudjeri/ Kamilaroi artist who grew up in Brisbane. "That's heavily reflected in my work.”
“I am interested in exploring the validity of the contemporary urban Indigenous voice,” he said, before explaining how this urban voice has been perceived as "less valid" than an Indigenous voice with a more "traditional" life experience.Opening night celebration of Digging In. Image by Eric Dias.
“As an Aboriginal person it’s really impossible not to have this part of your identity [Aboriginality] come through in your work,” said Green. “Without that, I feel like my art would be meaningless.”
“I do see art as a means to being able to explore identity and culture, but it’s also a way to document culture, given that a lot of it has already been lost.”
Digging In, which runs until 10 December, provides an opportunity to see artworks by three emerging Indigenous artists responding to the theme of urban-ness in present-day Australia.
1–10 December 2017
Palya Art Gallery, 399 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.
Banner image: Home (2017) by Edwina Green. Image supplied.
By Paul Dalgarno
The inaugural ART 150 Fellowship was awarded last night to graduating Master of Contemporary Art (MCA) student Aya Hamamoto, as one of several new prizes and scholarships for graduating visual art students at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Hamamoto, from Japan, who is currently exhibiting as part of the VCA Art Masters Exhibition, was awarded $10,000 in a presentation on the VCA’s Southbank Campus.
The ART 150 Fellowship was established in the wake of this year's 9X5 NOW show, which saw more than 350 staff and alumni of VCA Art donate original artworks for a landmark exhibition at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, with proceeds from sales going towards an annual Fellowship for a graduating undergraduate or Masters visual art student.
"I want to express gratitude to the 350 artists who have contributed to this award, which will help me to develop my arts practice next year and in the future," said Hamamoto. "It’s a great honour to have received this award from so many different artists from across the VCA."
Senior Lecturer in Visual Art Stephen Haley earlier this year described Hamamoto's 2014 work Contemporary Documentation of Repetition – a blend of images, video and performance art commemorating the sudden and untimely death of Hamamoto’s sister – as "immersive, stately, beautiful, heart-wrenching and simply stunning," and "the most emotionally-affecting artwork I have seen in years, and possibly ever".
Dr Elizabeth Gower, who curated 9X5 NOW, said the Fellowship would continue to hold a particular resonance for emerging artists.
"The special thing about this Fellowship is that it’s presented by all the alumni who donated works to 9X5 NOW," she said. "It's a unique and generous gift from one generation of artists to those now following in their footsteps."
Director of the VCA Professor Jon Cattapan, who presented the awards, described the ART 150 Fellowship as a “great new addition to our prizes".
"For someone working full-time, $10,000 may not seem like a huge amount of money but for an emerging artist at the start of their career it can mean the difference between being able to continue and having to walk away."
Professor Cattapan thanked donors behind the continuing VCA Art awards and new awards during the presentation. Among the new prizes is the Wingate Student Fellowship, worth $9,000, which was awarded to graduating Master of Fine Art (MFA) student and course valedictorian Will Heathcote.
Bachelor of Fine Arts graduating student Freya Porges won the newly-established Tatana Mihulka Art Encouragement Award, created in memory of Tatana Mihulka. The award, worth $2,000, is offered to a student whose work challenges conventional society or focuses on change through painting or sculpture.
Two of the new awards went to graduating MFA student Katie West, an interdisciplinary artist exploring the renewal of human connections with and within the natural environment, who is also showing as part of the VCA Art Masters Exhibition
The Falls Creek Resort Indigenous Art Award, in addition to a cash prize of $1,000, will see West take up a six-week residency at Falls Creek Resort next year, while the Dominik Mersch Gallery Award will fund and provide mentorship for an all-expenses-paid solo exhibition at the Sydney gallery in 2018.
West, a Yindjibarndi woman originally from Noongar Booja (Perth and surrounding areas) in Western Australia, said she felt "quite shocked" to be recognised with the two awards. "My work’s pretty minimal and sensitive so I didn’t really expect to do so well," she said. "I've never been to Falls Creek but I do a lot of natural dyeing so it does make sense to be on country, collecting materials and working there. And winning the Dominik Mersch Gallery Award is just amazing. To be mentored ahead of mounting a solo exhibition is a huge deal."
Gallery owner Dominik Mersch, who selected West's work and attended last night's awards ceremony, said the award provided a "great opportunity for a young artist".
"I'm a very emotional guy," he said. "When work by an artist touches me I get goosebumps and Katie's work touched me on lots of different levels. It also really sits well with my stable of artists, many of whom, like Katie, deal with nature and the environment."
The new Hamilton Art Gallery Exhibition Award, which will see three graduating VCA Art students exhibit at the gallery in 2018, was presented to Ali McCann, Phebe Parisia and Samuel Szwarcbord, and the winner of the new Peter Redlich Memorial Art Prize, worth $10,000, will be announced on Wednesday.
Update, 7 December: The Peter Redlich Memorial Art Prize was won by MFA graduating student Shane Nicholas on 6 December, 2017.
Banner image: Documentation of Repetition (2014) by Aya Hamamoto. Image courtesy of the artist.
The full list of visual art prize winners for 2017 is below.
MASTER OF FINE ARTS (VISUAL ART) AWARDS 2017
ART 150 Fellowship: Aya Hamamoto
Domink Mersch Gallery Award: Katie West
Falls Creek Resort Indigenous Art Award: Katie West
Fiona Myer Award: Clara Gladstone
Fiona Myer Award: Lucia Rossi
Fiona Myer Award: Octora
Fiona Myer Award: Will Heathcote
Fiona Myer Berlin Studio Residency: Archie Barry
Fiona Myer Internship: Jeremy Eaton
Galloway Lawson Prize: Farnaz Dadfar
gogo Art Series Encouragement Award: Ali McCann
Hamillton Gallery 2018 Exhibition: Ali McCann
Hamillton Gallery 2018 Exhibition: Phebe Parisia
Hamillton Gallery 2018 Exhibition: Samuel Szwarcbord
Lionel Gell Foundation Masters Award: ChaoHui Xie
The Peter Redlich Memorial Art Prize: Shane Nicholas
National Gallery of Victoria Women's Association Award: Katie Sfetkedis
National Gallery of Victoria Women's Association Award: Samuel Szwarcbord
National Gallery of Victoria Women's Association Award: Siying Zhou
National Gallery of Victoria Women's Association Award: Vivian Cooper Smith
The Athenaeum Club Visual Arts Research: Siri Hayes
The Chin Chin Wall of Art Encouragement Award: Samuel Szwarcbord
Ursula Hoff Institute Inc. Drawing Award: Phebe Parisia
Wingate Fellowship: Will Heathcote
BACHELOR OF FINE ARTS (VISUAL ARTS) AWARDS 2017
Bus Project Awards: Matilda Davis
Chin Chin Wall of Art Exhibition: Claudia Gleave
Dr David Rosenthal Award: Caitlin O’Grady
Evans Family Award for Photography: Nick Archer
Fiona Myer Award (Honours): Ashley Perry & Sienna Van Rossum
Fiona Myer Award (Drawing & Printmedia): Ben Stephens & Anatol Pitt
Fiona Myer Award (Painting): Casey Jeffery & Jacqueline Clare Smith
Fiona Myer Award (Photography): Guy Grabowsky & Nick James Archer
Fiona Myer Award (Sculpture & Spatial Practice): Yan Yang & Nicola Lewis
Garry Grossbard Drawing Prize: Evita Siketa
gogo Art Series Award: Jana Moser
Irene Sutton Award: Elias Arce Toner
Lionel Gell Foundation Award: Jana Moser
LON Gallery Award: Georgie North
Lowensteins Arts Management Prize: Olga Bennett
Majlis Encouragement Award (Drawing & Printmedia): David Lowe & Rebecca Riggs
Majlis Encouragement Award (Painting): Georgie North & Miles Davis
Majlis Encouragement Award (Sculpture & Spatial Practice): Kate McGain & Dominic Sargent
Majlis Encouragement Award (Photography): Liam Denny & Dustin Davies
Majlis Encouragement Award (Honours): Marlee McMahon & Matt Bailey
Mt Buller Residency: Guy Grabowsky
National Gallery of Victoria Women’s Association Awards (Honours): Ellen Son
National Gallery of Victoria Women’s Association Awards (Photography): Esther Brierly & David Borg
National Gallery of Victoria Women’s Association Awards (Painting): Lauren Brown & Tia Ansell
National Gallery of Victoria Women’s Association Awards (Drawing and Printmedia): Sunny He, Matilda Davis & Madeline Nibali
National Gallery of Victoria Women’s Association Awards (Sculpture & Spatial Practice): Yuval Rosinger
NAVA Ignition Membership: Katrina Dobbs
Orloff Family Charitable Trust Award (Sculpture & Spatial Practice): Megan Kennedy
Orloff Family Charitable Trust Award (Honours): Mel Dixon
Perrin Sculpture Foundry Award: Samuel Soames
Rob Ramage Sculpture Award: Maggie Clare
Rodger Davies Award: Eric Jong
Rosemary Ricker Award: Jason Willers
Stella Dilger Encouragement Award: Jacquelin Owers-Gayst
Tatana Mihulka Art Encouragement Award: Freya Porges
The Blair Trethowan TCB Art Inc. Award: Freya Porges
The Plumm Wine Glass Award: Claire Mercer
The Stoner Award: Nicola Lewis
The Sydney Canvas Company Prize for Painting: Nicholas Mullaly
Tolarno Hotel VCA Annual Art Award: Harry Hughes
Trocardero – Gallery 2 Award: Yan Yang
Trocardero – Nooky Award: Benjamin Baker
Ursula Hoff Institute Inc Drawing Award (Painting): Anneke Wood
Ursula Hoff Institute Inc Drawing Award (Drawing & Printmedia): Isabella Millner-Cretney
West Space Noticeboard Award: Benjamin Baker
William Ballantyne Memorial Award: Trent Crawford
The annual VCA Film and Television Graduate Screenings showcase the talent of our Film & Television students. We caught up with four of this year's graduating class.
By Scott McLachlan
Charby Ibrahim, Master of Film and Television (Documentary)
Tell us a bit about your graduating film, The Holiday Inn-Side.
Sixteen-year-old "Anonymous" has been in and out of juvenile detention for the last five years ... and he finds himself "locked-up" yet again. As he moves around the confines of the secure facility in this fully-animated documentary, he tries to make sense of his past and the circumstances that have led him down this criminal path once more. He takes full responsibility for the crimes he has committed, and The Holiday Inn-Side asks one key question of its audience: "What would you do?"
What was your favourite thing about studying at the VCA?
It afforded me the space, energy and freedom to take my creative ideas from inception to completion over a relatively short period of time. It also allowed me the opportunity to develop and hone my documentary storytelling craft alongside reputable working filmmakers and a cohort of supremely talented young filmmakers.
What's next for you after you graduate?
Having just completed a month-long internship at a production company in Singapore (Beach House Pictures), I'm quite keen to get more of that kind of hands-on experience in a fast-paced, high-turnover production company to strengthen my filmmaking muscles. I'm also quite committed to writing, directing, and editing my own documentary films, and I’m particularly interested in pushing the boundaries of the traditional documentary form.
Lachie Pezet, Master of Film and Television (Narrative)
Tell us a bit about your graduating film, Water on the Brain.
Water on the Brain is a comedy about heartbreak and mermaids. Recently-dumped Shane travels to a seaside town to experience a non-refundable weekend for two. Hoping that the bargain price will entice his ex to show up, he instead finds a group of drunks pining for a mythical mermaid. The men’s tales of love and the sea intermingle over pints and he finds himself intoxicated by the possibility of an aquatic one-night stand.
What was your favourite thing about studying at the VCA?
The small class-size allowed great friendships and working relationships to grow. You’re encouraged to push yourself creatively and be self-motivated but, when you find yourself stuck, the whole class is there to share ideas and solutions. You feel like you belong to a collective of like-minded creatives and collaboration is encouraged by the teaching staff.
What's next for you after you graduate?
I’ll be submitting the short into festivals with hopes to interact with the film community outside of the VCA. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a comedy director throughout production and the film is an example of my style and desire to find work in the comedy landscape.
To further develop the skills and processes I learned at the VCA, I'm currently writing a series of short films with my comedy partner Kimi Fox, with the plan of building a web platform for her stand-up material.
Chloe Stannard, Master of Producing
Tell us a bit about your graduating films.
I produced two films last year: a lo-fi mumblecore-inspired drama Waiting for Penguins by writer/director Jordan Sorby, and Man in the Moon, a high-concept drama written and directed by Monique Mulcahy.
We’ve been fortunate to gain a lot of festival traction with Man in the Moon, travelling to Montreal for the Fantasia International Film Festival, and it recently took out the OZFLIX Award for Best Australian Student Short at MonsterFest 2017 here in Melbourne.
What was your favourite thing about studying at the VCA?
For me it was being thrown head-first into filmmaking – a kind of sink-or-swim situation as the Masters of Producing course is only 18-months long. I loved that, as it helped strengthen my self-confidence. The insight from our supervisor was also invaluable, much of which I continue to use day-to-day in production. The support of all the teachers and staff was amazing. It felt like a family to me and our class was very supportive of one another.
What’s next for you after you graduate?
This year I co-produced another VCA graduate short, Babygirl by Lara Gissing, and I also interned on a feature film produced by Maggie Miles. Next, I hope to produce more short films under my own production company and break into documentary and podcasting.
Anastasia Dyakova, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Animation)
Tell us a bit about your graduating film, Ready for a Baby.
A young woman in her thirties feels very happy and excited – she has a partner, everything in her life is under control, so now is the perfect time to have a baby. It should be easy and natural, with love and fun and everything else … right?
I want my story to be an opportunity to talk about the difficulties some people have to experience when trying to get pregnant. I want people to feel they are not alone. I want to explain to other people how these people feel. It is not just a problem for women, but my film is from a woman's point of view.
What was your favourite thing about studying at the VCA?
Before coming to Australia, I tried careers in education, tourism, entertainment, architecture and interior design; but have never felt such a great feeling of being a part of a like-minded team with true passion before. My classmates are all in love with animation; they always experiment and all have different styles, and their enormous support allowed me to try new things. My mentors Paul Fletcher and Rob Stephenson have given me the opportunity to believe in myself and trust the process, be creative and venture into a new world of animation.
What's next for you after you graduate?
I’m applying for jobs at a few different studios, and I’m also planning my next animation project. I would love to collaborate with another animators, composers and other filmmakers and artists. I want animation to be an important part of my life and I will do whatever it takes.
The 49th Annual Film and Television Graduate Screenings will take place at ACMI, Melbourne, between 8–10 and 15–17 December. Visit the ACMI website for program details and tickets.
Banner image: Still from The Holiday Inn-Side (2017) by Charbel Ibrahim.
A memorial service was held last month at the Victorian College of the Arts for the filmmaker and much-admired screenwriting lecturer Chris McGill.
By Professor Jon Cattapan, Director of the Victorian College of the Arts
On 12 November 2017, we celebrated the life of filmmaker and long-time Screenwriting lecturer Chris McGill with a memorial service at our Southbank campus.
I am always saddened when one of our former colleagues passes. It is abundantly clear to me that our current and past academics look upon the Victorian College of the Arts as their other home. Our academics honour us with their allegiance and a style of teaching that is deeply immersive and allows students to learn by making.
Chris McGill was a very fine lecturer and mentor for many Film and Television students over the years. Although I only knew him in passing, I always found Chris to be a deeply erudite soul. It was said at his memorial celebration that Chris had an "in-built bullshit detector”. This is certainly how he struck me.
He had a wry sense of humour and appeared gentle, but he was a firm advocate for hard, critical work and solid testing. He teased the very best out of students. His great passion for films made him an inspiring teacher, a companion in filmmaking, a poet, a writer, and a widely-acknowledged dreamer.
Chris started out in the theatre at Sydney University and directed the first outdoor pageant of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In 1967 he joined Channel 10 where he worked on a variety of programs. The following year he worked with Ian Dunlop on the now famous documentary series Desert People.
As a staff director at Film Australia, he made many international award-winning films, including The Line, No Roses for Michael and After Proust.
In 1972 he worked at the BBC, and then with the Canadian National Film Board for a series on the Cree people. In honour of that work he was made a Cree chief – his honorary name was Wapasco, which means “White Cloud”.
In India, he trained under the Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and in Sweden with the master director Ingmar Bergman. He also worked with Haskell Wexler in America and John Dorner in Europe.
In later years, Chris met with the acclaimed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini in Rome, where Fellini would pretend he was the maid when answering the phone. Apparently, Fellini also told Chris he had an auspicious dream about them meeting – Fellini was very superstitious.
Chris directed and produced a wide range of films, and in 1980 directed Maybe this Time, which was nominated for eight awards, including Best Picture at the AFI awards, and was awarded the Jury Prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. Among many of his scripts that won awards, he wrote the screenplay for Fatty Finn (1980) with Bob Ellis.
Chris worked from 1981 at Swinburne Film School, and when Swinburne folded into VCA Film and Television, he worked as an integral part of our Faculty until 2007.
We, his VCA family, will miss Chris and his ways greatly. We thank him sincerely for his deep commitment to teaching and mentoring. We acknowledge and remember his contribution to Australian film and we are very proud to have played some part in the legacy he leaves behind.
I would like to thank and acknowledge Chris’s wife Penny Black and the McGill family, assisted by Rilke Muir and Nicolette Freeman, for allowing us to present such a meaningful memorial celebration.
Vale Chris McGill, great filmmaker, great mentor and great friend of the VCA.
14 March 1945–6 October 2017
Main image: Chris McGill. Image supplied.
Victorian College of the Arts alumna Sarah Barton's documentary Defiant Lives introduces the world to the activists it's never heard of, and charts the rise of the disability rights movement.
By Sarah Hall
“I’m tired of all the well-meaning non-cripples determining what I can and cannot do to form my life, and my future. Get out of our way.”
So says Adolf Ratzka, one of the interviewees in filmmaker Sarah Barton’s latest documentary Defiant Lives, which tells, for the first time in feature-length, the incredible story of the disability rights movement in Australia, the United States and Britain.
The meticulously-researched documentary follows the story of people with physical and intellectual disabilities – from a time when life-long institutional confinement in inhumane conditions was the norm, through to other, more pervasive forms of ontological, constitutional, and access-related oppression.
It documents how, from the 1960s, disability activists have fought for civil rights, including equal opportunities for independent living, employment and education, housing equity and freedom from discrimination, abuse and neglect.
Disability rights activists have seen landmark developments over time, from a United Nations declaration on the rights of the disabled in 1975 to the National Disability Rights Scheme (NDIS) which was rolled out in Australia just five years ago and continues to be a source of debate within Australian politics.
Clearly, there’s still a long way to go.
Barton graduated with a diploma from VCA Film and Television (FTV) in 1992, at which time she didn’t necessarily see herself as a disability rights activist, though she did have a connection to it, given her ex-husband had an acquired brain injury.Director Sarah Barton. Image courtesy of Fertile Films.
Her graduating film was a comedy called Thanks For Coming, starring Kate Langbroek and Oscar-winner Adam Elliot (director of Mary and Max), about a lesbian couple trying to get pregnant with a turkey baster during the AIDS epidemic.
In 1994, she saw an SBS ad in Encore magazine urging filmmakers to pitch ideas for documentaries.
“I pitched an idea about sex and disability that I got after meeting a woman who sold sex toys for people with disabilities."
SBS ran with the idea and the result was a documentary called Untold Desires, which ended up winning the first ever Logie for SBS, and established Sarah Barton (then Sarah Stephens) as a name.
She then made Secret Fear (1997), a documentary about anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders and hoarding, followed by A Wing And A Prayer (2000), about women from the Horn of Africa settling in Melbourne, which was picked up by Oprah Winfrey's channel for American distribution.
Disability rights activist George Taleporos. Image courtesy of Fertile Films.
Her career, she says, has been a balancing act. While studying at the VCA, she was raising her first child.
About three weeks before shooting began for A Wing and a Prayer, Barton gave birth for the third time to her daughter, Stella, and was “literally directing with a baby in a pouch”.
“I had a really, really bad birth with my daughter," she says. "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and so a few months later Stella developed Cerebral Palsy.”
On the day I interviewed Barton, Stella was completing her final VCE exam.
“She's a real activist in the making," says Barton. "She really wants to work as a kind of advocate for disability rights, so I think she's been influenced by me somehow, as much as I’m influenced by her.”
I tell Barton that watching Defiant Lives exposed my own lack of awareness and knowledge about the disability rights movement. Why has it gained less attention than other civil rights movements? Why is it that racism, sexism and homophobia are far more commonly used, and better understood, terms than ableism?
“Look, I think there's always been this really sort-of patriarchal view of disabled people." she says. "The idea that they need to be looked after, and that they don't have agency to speak out on their own behalf."
Some of the very things disability rights activists have been fighting for have themselves – ironically – been obstacles. Inaccessible public transport has made congregating difficult for many people, to name just one issue.Arrest of a protester, screenshot from Defiant Lives. Image courtesy of Fertile Films.
“Of course, we’ve had improvements in communication and technology and now everything's undergoing a revolution with social media. People with disabilities are connected through social media in a way that they've never been able to connect before,” says Barton.
But ableist prejudices still exist. The NDIS is no silver bullet.
“I think the thinking behind the NDIS was really to give everyone the right to support and inclusion, and I think over time it will prove itself to be really valuable in that way,” says Barton. “But we're not there yet.”
Barton researched Defiant Lives for eight years, in parallel with the troubled roll-out of the NDIS. “I've always looked at myself as a filmmaker first, and then I find myself in this disability world, and it's like, ‘What can I do with my filmmaking skills to improve the rights of disabled people?’”
That said, Barton’s main objective was to create something for people who may not have given disability much thought.
“This is a movement, and the people in the documentary are the leaders and pioneers – they're the people we need to know about. Someone like [the late American activist] Ed Roberts should be as well-known as Martin Luther King, but he's not.”
As the first feature-length film of its kind, Defiant Lives lends historical context to the ongoing plight of disability activists and, as such, paves the way for greater public discourse around a key societal issue.
In the words of Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies Colin Barnes, one of the many compelling voices in Defiant Lives, “The idea that you can focus on society as the problem, rather than impairment or condition, is a radical idea.”
The University of Melbourne is hosting a special free screening of Defiant Lives on Tuesday 5 December, 4.30–6.30pm. There will be a panel discussion chaired by Professor of Disability and Inclusion Keith McVilly featuring Sarah Barton (Filmmaker, VCA Graduate), Frank Hall-Bentick (Disability Activist) and Jess Kapuscinski-Evans (Theatre Maker, Malcontent and Singer). Register here.
Banner Image: US street protest, as seen in Defiant Lives. Image supplied by Fertile Films.
In this TEDx talk, recorded in September, Head of Music Therapy Professor Katrina Skewes McFerran explains how our choice of music can make us feel better or fall deeper into negative thoughts and emotions.
“The purpose of the talk was to raise awareness about the ways we can use music during dark times in our lives,” said Professor McFerran. “It would be great to share it with people who might benefit from knowing a little more about using playlists and music listening to cope, rather than getting caught in cycles of rumination, intensification and isolation."
Find out more about Music Therapy at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Find out more about Dr McFerran's Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), How Music Can Change Your Life.
Sign up for the Faculty of VCA & MCM’s free monthly enews.
Main image: Serge Seva/Flickr
VCA PhD student Moonis Shah was recently awarded the highly prestigious Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art Emerging Artist Award from a pool of 300 entries across India. The prize includes a fully-funded three-month studio residency in Switzerland and an exhibition in a prominent gallery in New Delhi. We spoke with Moonis about winning the award, his art and anarchising the archive.
Moonis Shah, GUSBETHIYA (INTRUDER). 27 Portraits, Pen and Photo-transfer on Paper, Intervened Found Objects, Wooden Boxes, L.E.D Lights, Typewriter on Paper, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.
Can you tell us a bit about the award? What did you do to apply?
The Emerging Artist Award is awarded annually by the Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) in collaboration with the Swiss Cultural Council, Pro Helvetia, to a single artist from a pool of entries across India. The recipient is given the opportunity to travel and work in an international residency and showcase their art as part of an annual exhibition of FICA Grantees in July–August every year at the Vadehra Art Gallery, one of the most prestigious galleries in New Delhi. The award also includes a ninety-day residency in Switzerland in 2018, a round-trip air travel from my hometown in India, and living costs during the time of the residency.
I submitted a folio of no less than five bodies of work, an artist statement and a brief intention of work to be undertaken after the award is granted.
Were you surprised to win?
Yes, I was surprised to win! I applied for the award very close to the deadline, at a time when I was very busy with my PhD conversion. I couldn’t concentrate on the application the way I would have liked to but my body of work and statement of interest gave me confidence, and my supervisors' suggestions and continuous feedback also helped.
What does it mean for you to have won this major prize and be recognised in this way?
What is great about this prize is that it gives me a chance to travel. Living in a different place and meeting new people is healthy for me as an artist; it give me a chance to grow and re-territorialise my research.
Can you describe your practice and work as an artist?
My work seeks to decentre the notion of institutional history as ‘truth’: to question its premise, content and form. Through what I call ‘counter archives’, I intend to harness the transgressive potential of reorienting ourselves away from predominant systemic paradigms. Anarchic archivism, which I am proposing, aims to overturn the disciplinary power that archives have traditionally exercised in cultural memory. Anarchic archives imagine alternative semantics of time and truth that problematise, theorise, question and challenge one’s normative understanding of contemporaneity.
My work involves a lot of fun and confusion, and attempts to create a conversation about our contemporary identities through discussions about the elastic nature of past, present and future.
Moonis Shah, YOUR TOOL IS MY RESISTANCE TOO. Found Objects (Stone, Soil, Organisms) from a village where an army and Local Militia were involved in rape charges, Arduino, Processing, High-Speed Microscopic Camera, Pipes, LED’s, DC Motor, Print on Paper, LED Screen, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.
When did you become interested in art?
I'm not sure if I can trace my interest in art, strictly. I was always interested in many things from economics, to political science, to philosophy, engineering and physics. Visual art, especially the way it is nurtured at the University of Melbourne, gave me a chance to crash all of my interests into a research which seems so far very chaotic … but also beautiful.
Tell us a little about your current PhD project at the VCA.
My practice-led research uses archival materials including text, mass media, cinema and historical documents to question the archive’s constitution, boundaries and materiality. The research argues that the archive needs to be accessed as a semantic field to demonstrate its relationship to power and control (temporal and spatial). How does the archive influence the epistemology and ontology of contemporaneity?
I am interested in examining the logic, tools and practices of representation which are used to establish the authority of the archive, while at the same time creating a parallel resistance against its authority. The research argues for a new term, which I mentioned before – ‘anarchic archive’ – which calls for a new way of understanding the archive. At the moment the archive serves to uphold power, but the anarchic archive uses it as a tool for new modes of enquiry.
I am interested in the way we theorise, analyse and historicise the present. Such play with the archive's form, material and content offers a radical reading and new possibilities for the future amid phenomena such as surveillance, mass-migration, borders, Occident and the Orient, and the local/global binary.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey from India to the VCA?
My journey was simple. I was looking for universities which provide funding. The University of Melbourne was one of the best ones and I decided to give it a try. I got great responses when I exchanged my research proposal with supervisors. Dr Stephen Haley, who is my principle supervisor alongside Dr Laura Woodward, proved to be of great help. They made it easy for me to settle down and get to work.
Moonis Shah, THE INCOHERENT LIVES OF THIS AND THAT Mixed Media, Print on Flux, Lab Print Photo Manuplated Found Images, Conveyor Belt Machine, 23 Minute Video on Loop 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.
What projects are you working on currently? What are you most excited about?
Currently, I am working to on creating an archive of landscapes in conflict zones. Its premise is to question how landscapes undergo changes and how, as organisms, they react and adapt to territorial conflicts.
What do you intend to do during the residency?
I intend to explore my research further in a new context, with new collaborations. This may result in a body of work which is totally different to my research. This kind of deviation is something which a healthy research practise demands, and I certainly hope that happens.
- Interview by Sarah Hall
Banner image: Moonis Shah, THE HYMNAL. Arduino, Weather Api, Stepper Motors, Steel, Iron, Marker, Paper, Wood, 2016. IMage courtesy of the artist.
Hordes of art lovers descended on the Southbank campus for the opening night of the 2017 Art Graduate Exhibition, held on Monday 20 December. With bands, food trucks, performances and more, the evening showcased the work of more than 100 graduating visual artists at the Victorian College of the Arts.
As the Victorian College of the Arts' Production Graduate Exhibition nears, lecturer Anna Cordingley and BFA graduating students sum up some winning moments from the year.
By Anna Cordingley, Lecturer in Design (Live Performance) at the Victorian College of the Arts
The Victorian College of the Arts' Production Graduate Exhibition (21–23 November, 2017) celebrates the dedication, development and many achievements of our final year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production), Master of Design for Performance and Master of Production Design for Screen students. In the following short pieces, students from a selection of our specialisations elaborate on the major projects and opportunities experienced at the VCA.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) – Design Realisation
Here, graduating BFA students Natalie Gillis, Pia Guilliatt and Juliette Whitney discuss their final design submissions, a culmination of three years of set, costume and property design and construction subjects. Their projects are a response to Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (1973) and/or Tom Wright’s Optimism (2009).
Natalie Gillis: Following Bernstein’s Candide, I have designed and constructed a gown referencing motifs, designs and features from mid-18th-century Parisian trends. Organic motifs and patterns, common throughout the Rococo period, are openly explored in this costume, as you'll see in the image below.
The over-sexualisation of the character Cunégonde is echoed throughout this gown. Both in the bold robe à la française, the open overskirt, the general palette and finishing trims, this robe is rife with Yonic symbolism. Silk flowers here represent virtue and virginity: Cunégonde wishes to regain such graces by plastering herself with blossoms.
Pia Guilliatt: Candide is spinning decks while Cunégonde twirls fire and Paquette walks a tightrope high above the churning crowd; everyone is feeling pleasantly fuzzy – but is it optimism or the kick in Pangloss’ punch?
My version of Tom Wright’s Optimism is a colourful world of music, dancing, lights, acrobatics and drama – but don’t forget your rose-tinted glasses, because things are not what they seem. Part warehouse rave, part immersive theatre performance, this is an experience whereby the audience journeys alongside Candide and his friends through the deceptive haze of their own perceptions.
The space is in continual transformation as they adjust to new realities, harsh truths and moral dilemmas. Ultimately, the audience members are the agents responsible for determining the fate of the evening; they may make something beautiful out of its wreckage or fall victim to its decay.
In the spirit of sustainability and recycled art, I have looked at Optimism in the contemporary context of festival culture and the hedonistic escapism that it promotes. I draw on my own experiences in these hyper-stimulated worlds and note the jarring contrast between ecstasy and archaic mess.
Far from being condemning, I hope to offer a pragmatic perspective on the vices of waste and excess, demonstrating that with thoughtful cooperation, creativity and a healthy dose of optimism, we can still create a better world for ourselves.
Juliette Whitney: My Optimism resides in the golden age of the 1950s, a decade of marvellous consumer abundance wherein the "American/Australian dream" is a tangible reality. The Depression years are over and a prosperous epoch of optimism is beginning. Television is a step up from radio and enables a private window to the world.
There is an undeniably sinister aspect: advertisements and broadcasts have become tools for the manipulation of unsuspecting consumers. Political anxieties, curtailed freedoms and "the Red Scare" wreck havoc, while the population lives in the grim shadow of the Cold War. Nevertheless, "the best of all possible worlds" is yet driven by the persistent hope that the future is brighter.
My final design submission is an immersive work responding to Tom Wright’s Optimism; a work that occupies the cellblock of the Old Melbourne Gaol. The audience is escorted throughout the floors and each tiny cell corresponds to the journey of our protagonist.
The design is a dialogue between the jail’s own gruelling history and the suffocating iconography of the 1950s, allowing a forceful investigation of Wright’s fraught characters.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) – Stage Management and Performance Technology
Elizabeth Gallagher, Alysha Watt (Stage Management) and Thomas Lloyd (Performance Technology) discuss their final-year internships, a program providing opportunities to engage directly with the performing arts industry, learn from industry leaders, be involved in the day-to-day of major companies, festivals and events and begin to establish vital career networks.
Elizabeth Gallagher: I interned with Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza for two months, and my second month is when I started really stepping up.
Peter Anastassi (General Stage Manager) tasked me with creating a list of every single movement that happened onstage, and then deciding who was in charge of it, so at the end of the show when the show caller was giving notes they knew exactly who to talk to.
The team was very impressed with my work, which was really rewarding. My favourite acts were the Wheel of Death and the Teeterboard. On my very last day at Cirque the artists brought me on stage for bows and gave me a bouquet and some gifts.
I left Kooza feeling like I was a part of a family, which was amazing.
Alysha Watt: I interned with The Production Company’s Dusty for six weeks. When envisioning my career at a younger age, even before discovering Stage Management as a potential career path, I had wanted to do something that would change daily.
Growing up and moving around in foreign countries, and constantly having to adapt to new environments, taught me the importance of that. I also wanted to experience working on a show in a well-established venue with large audiences.
Throughout the rehearsal process of Dusty, a major asset was being able to take advantage of the Stage Manager Meg Deyell’s brain. She has a wealth of knowledge and encouraged me to ask questions. What she taught me ranged, through anecdotes and elaborate analogies, from how to maintain focus in the rehearsal room to the difference in roles of a first and second assistant director on films.
Some information was directly pertinent to what we were doing; some wasn’t but was valuable nonetheless. Another of Meg’s skills I admired was her ability to remain completely calm in any situation. That kind of flexibility and calmness is something I have attempted to apply to my own work since.
I was able to grow a lot personally and professionally while working on Dusty. I was presented with the opportunity to observe and learn and complete tasks as a real professional Assistant Stage Manager with those around me able to support my learning.
Within Opera Australia I became the personal secondment to the company's Production Manager James Wheeler for the duration of the Melbourne winter and Sydney spring seasons.
My first day involved a scheduled technical hold for King Roger whereby, after the preview, priority was given for lighting fix-ups. It was there, watching the team doing notes, that I learnt my first obvious titbit: that when going through the show with notes, run the scenes in reverse chronological order.
I was lucky enough to join the floor crew of both Carmen and King Roger for three days of the season.
I also sat in on some meetings for future productions, which was illuminating – I hadn't anticipated the degree of planning that went into a production: they were already starting conversations for a show that was slated for the 2021 season.
The educational value my internships had on my professional development was abundant, most critically boosting my confidence with regards to being ready to join the industry.
Banner image: The VCA production of Caucasian Chalk Circle (2017) featuring Acting Company 2017 and Production students. By Jeff Busby.
The Victorian College of the Arts Production Graduate Exhibition takes place at Space 28, Southbank Melbourne, 21–23 November, 2017.
Find out more about the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production) at the Victorian College of the Arts
Sign up for the Faculty of VCA & MCM’s free monthly enews.
Macau Days is a tri-lingual book (English, Portuguese, Chinese) that includes a series of poetic texts by Brian Castro and artworks by John Young, an introductory letter by Edward Colless of the Victorian College of the Arts and a response from the University of Adelaide's Paul Carter. In the lead-up to the launch of the book, on 14 November at Melbourne's MPavillion, Young and Castro spoke briefly with VCA Honorary Fellow curator Natalie King about the work and their shared histories in Macau.
Natalie King: Can you tell me about the genesis of the book Macau Days?
Brian Castro: John initiated things in 2012 with his series of blackboard and photo works called The Macau Days. I immediately responded by saying Macau has a special place in my childhood memories, and asked if he would like to do a collaboration on a larger exhibition and book on the topic. It took another four to five years before things fell into place.
John Young: The old Macau exists only in our imagining and memory. It is the oldest colonial port that served as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Those who lived in Macau were transcultural since the 1550s, with poets, novelists and artists occupying the space with a rich tapestry of worldviews, lifestyles and philosophies. Over the past two decades this precious yet fragile cultural territory has transformed into a gambling hothouse for the Chinese rich, with at least 38 casinos that articulated the coming of a Trumpian kitsch-like phantasmagoria. My initial exhibition in Hong Kong was never an exercise in social history, but rather an investigation into what visual forms and imaginings of the old Macau could take.
When Brian and I talked about the possibility of a book and another exhibition, I was tremendously excited, I respected his work greatly, ever since his first novel Birds of Passage, in which he implicitly referred to his childhood origins in Macau. Since then, in the many novels he has written, such as Shanghai Dancing, there have always been references to Macau. Both of us have referenced Macau in our work over the last 30 years. We both, after all, came from the same Southern Chinese diaspora.
The most exciting aspect of making this book for me was the introduction of another medium – text – to this Macanese imagining and memory making. But Brian brought even more: a gastronomic dimension.
King: The texts and images in Macau Days are based on the lives of six historical and mythological figures who lived for a time in Macau, a mixture of saints and sinners. Can you tell us a bit about these central figures?
Castro and Young: These figures lived in Macau in different eras. Today, some of their deeds are very well documented through text and visual images, whilst others, the more transient characters, could only be derived through documentations in Portuguese or Chinese, or from the time they spent outside of Macau itself. The goddess Mazu we know mainly through oral transmission, and existed only in myth. These varying aspects are probably the most exciting upshots in the memory making – the multi-dimensionality and the thickness of time this book reaches.
Mazu is the goddess of the sea after whom Macau is named. She is a mythical figure invoked by fishermen and sailors from the 10th century ACE.
Luis Vaz de Camões is a soldier and Portugal’s most celebrated poet from the 16th century who most famously wrote the epic poem The Lusiads.
Wu Li is a poet, painter and priest who was born in China in the 17th century – a generally obscure and holy man. He converted to Catholicism and became one of the three first Chinese Jesuit priests.
Giuseppe Castiglione is a Jesuit missionary, painter, well-known nobleman and friend of the Emperor, who was also born in the 17th Century, albeit some fifty years later than Wu Li.
Camilo Pessanha is a poet and lawyer who was disillusioned by the law in Macau and developed an opium addiction. He was around in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Wenceslau de Moraes is a Portugese writer, lover and traveller who features on the cover of our book. He is a tremendously interesting character, whose life in a sense is so much a part of our present sense of flight and homeless travel. He wrote extensively about the Far East. As a poet and man of letters, de Moraes arrived in Macau from Portugal, he married a Chinese woman and had a child, yet his roaming spirit took him to Tokushima, where he had yet another family. Having found his spiritual home in Japan, and his ultimate love, he left behind copious writings of his journeys in the Far East, yet never returned to Portugal. His was a diverse, multi-lingual life, a life of miscegenation, eccentricity, and becoming foreign.
King: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Chinese sea goddess Mazu?
Young: Traditionally and mythologically, Mazu was a young silent girl who saved the lives of seafarers, and could manifest herself at a distance without travel. She was clairvoyant. Historically, there stands a large statue of A-Ma or Mazu at the mouth of the harbour of Macau, welcoming all who arrive. Indeed, Macau was named as the translation of Mazu in Chinese. There is also a temple devoted to this shamaness, which holds too many stories to tell. As the feminine or the anima, she stands in stark contrast to another group of women, the women pirates – who ruthlessly ruled the Southern Chinese seas for centuries. Both these feminine aspects are referred to in the book.
King: What is the role of food – 'the flavours of Macau' – recipes and dishes as the work of memory?
Young: Memory is the work of flavour and smells, like Proust’s Madeleine biscuit soaked in tea. Food and its connotations become an immediate and visceral yardstick of a culture or place. You can always feel the differing proximity of a new culture’s food from your own ‘comfort’ food. It opens worlds up in an immediate way. Brian references food a lot in his writing to explore cultural differences in olfactory and taste – it’s a sort of intransitivity that has been more explored in the written text than in the visual arts.
King: How did you arrive at the unique format of melding recipes, trilingual poems, reflections and artworks into the publication?
Castro and Young: This was the best way we could think of combining memory and history and cultural re-call, bringing the eye, taste, sound and smell into a confluence of experience. It is the least likely but most indicative conjunction. Macau Days is less a social history or poem than is an eclectic work - a kind of objet or curiosité de Macau.
To listen to an in-depth interview between Natalie King, Brian Castro and John Young, come along to the launch on 14 November, drink a glass of champagne and have a squiz at what is bound to be a significant new cultural artefact. More details.
Banner image: Supplied by Art + Australia.
The Melbourne-based State Music Camp last week donated $75,000 to the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) to fund a new, annual $3,500 student conductor award.
The award will be presented annually to a student enrolled in the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music who has demonstrated a high standard of musicality and potential to develop further their conducting skills. The student will be invited to conduct a student orchestra during the annual State Music Camp in July.
“The purpose of the award is to elevate conducting as a very worthy musical skill,” said Gavan Woinarski, independent philanthropy consultant and committee member of State Music Camp.
“There have been various bequests over the years to support cellists, flautists, violinists and so forth, but there’s been very little to support conductors. Conducting has been overlooked for one reason or another – and it’s a very difficult skill,” Mr Woinarski said.
State Music Camp, which was established 57 years ago, provides an opportunity for school-aged musicians to study orchestral music, an opportunity many wouldn’t otherwise have. The MCM student who wins the conducting award each year will, in addition to the award, be invited to conduct at the State Music Camp.
Professor Barry Conyngham, Dean of the Faculty of VCA and MCM, said he was delighted to see an award introduced for conducting.
“Conducting is an area of music that requires extensive musical knowledge combined with leadership and practice. We are very grateful for State Music Camp’s generous donation to help us further the development of our talented emerging conductors,” said Professor Conyngham.
Mr Woinarski described the award as a pioneering initiative from an amateur community group. The inaugural recipient of the award will be announced during the first semester of 2018.
– By Sarah Hall
Banner image: From Left: Gavan Woinarski, Leah Phillips, Christopher Robson, Barry Conyngham, Gary McPhearson and Alex Furman, standing around the bust statue of John Hopkins, inaugural Dean of the School of Music at the VCA and Patron of State Music Camp.
As the cut-off date approaches for next year's Master of Writing for Performance, Dr Raimondo Cortese, course coordinator, shares his insights.
Hi Raimondo, can you tell us a little about the Master in Writing for Performance?
The course is designed as a professional performance writing course. Students are immersed in multiple forms of writing, including for conventional/ main stage or experimental theatre, live art, digital story telling, and improvisation.
Students get to focus on a major end-of-year project, which can comprise any form of performance writing, though in most cases people write for theatre presentation.
We invite numerous established theatre writers to teach into the course, such as Jane Harrison (who is now on staff), Ross Mueller, Jenny Kemp, Melissa Reeves, Richard Murphet, and film maker Jonathan auf der Heide, as well as prominent international guests, such as Mac Wellman and Sibyl Kempson.
Who would this course appeal to?
The course appeals to both industry professionals and those who would call themselves emerging writers, or actors or directors who also want to develop writing skills, as well as those fresh out of university theatre studies or creative writing degrees. We get a mix of advanced and early-stage writers. Our alumni include Ross Mueller, Van Badham, Maude Davey, Morgan Rose, Emilie Collyer, Marie Lourey, and many others.
I’ve read that you need to show a portfolio as part of the application process? What makes a good portfolio?
A portfolio should offer a cross-section of your writing experience. It can be either a sample of different works, or a long sample of the one work. The course is open to all forms of performance writing, so I encourage prospective students to send in writing that best reflects what their interests are. I am personally open to all kinds of writing and am aware that people can often be eclectic in the way they express themselves.
Can you tell us a bit about your own career? How did you end up where you are now?
I began my career working in the independent scene with Ranters Theatre, and have since worked in the main stage while continuing to work in the independent sector, including productions in more than a dozen countries. I also write fiction and for film, and have written two adaptations of Brecht and one of Lorca. I continue to work professionally but designed this course six years ago as I believed there was a strong need to develop a performance wiring course in Melbourne, and that VCA Theatre was the best place to do that.
What’s your teaching style, and that of the course?
I believe it's very important to have the craft of writing taught in a practical studio setting, which is what the Writing for Performance course offers. The teachers have a very relaxed but focused approach, which is designed around the personal vision of each writer who comes into the course.
We teach the multiples ways of structuring theatre/ performance writing, looking at dramatic action, linear and multiple narrative trajectories, post dramatic forms, improvisation techniques, while also being aware that each student will offer a unique writing style that needs to be nurtured.
Most writers tend to overwrite, and so need to develop tools to edit their own material in relation to what an actor will reveal when speaking their lines of dialogue. The other major issue is learning to structure the writing in a way that best reflects what a writer is trying to say.
The professional writers who teach into the course are very open to different forms of writing. We encourage students to explore their own individual styles and forms of writing while developing and refining their dramaturgical and editing skills.
– Interview by Paul Dalgarno
Banner image: from Looking Glass by Louris van der Geer, VCA Master of Writing for Performance graduate. Performed at fortyfive downstairs, August 2017. Photography: Pier Carthew. Directed by Susie Dee, set/costume by Kate Davis, lighting by Amelia Lever-Davidson.
Over four evenings this month, Interactive Composition students will bring Melbourne's Grant Street Theatre to life in sound and vision – each presenting unique works that collectively incorporate sound with film, animation, dance, theatre, installation, visual art, production, songwriting and performance. Here, Anna Durham, third-year Interactive Composition student and creative force behind electronic/trip-hop act, Sault, shares her Folio Live work Efflorescence and explains its genesis.
Efflorescence (2017) by Anna Durham, third-year Melbourne Conservatorium Interactive Composition student.
Hi Anna, can you tell us a bit about this work, what it involves, its genesis, how long you worked on it?
Over the past twelve months I’ve become increasingly intrigued with the organic rhythms that surround us in natural environments: the pattern to which flora can be found within a broader landscape, the seemingly random melodies created from a passing flock of birds or the way a Protea flower can be broken down into individual intricate segments.
It was a fascination with the interaction of these textures on a micro and macro level, paired with an interest of humankind’s influence, distortion and relationship with the natural environment, from which Efflorescence was created.
Combining elements of electronic music genres with contemporary string arrangements, Efflorescence aims to blur stylistic and sonic binaries. Fusing together micro beats, free-flowing synthesised sounds, organic samples and contemporary string arrangements, it's a diverse continuous-form work. The piece takes its form as an immersive audio-visual experience, featuring hypnotic visuals crafted by VCA Film and Television student, Dylan Harris.
How does Efflorescence sit with the other works you’ve created?
It sits relatively separate from other works I’ve developed in the past little while. Previously my work has been an exploration of sampling and beat-making, drawing greatly from hip-hop and song-writing genres. Efflorescence was developed as a way of pushing myself creatively and exploring new styles, instrumentations and practices.
What drew you to studying Interactive Composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium?
There were many things – the way the course focused on developing both music production and compositional skills. I was also drawn to the way in which collaboration was at the heart of the degree, and how the small community at the Faculty further fostered cross-disciplinary collaboration. I’ve learned an immense amount over the past three years, but what I’m most proud of is the growth I’ve had as a producer, and how those skills have worked to inform my practice as a composer.
What are your future plans?
Next year, I hope to undertake my honours year at the Conservatorium. My project will be a performance-based work exploring the compositional capabilities of the turntable. I also aim to release the first EP of my solo trip-hop project, SAULT, in mid-2018.
– Interview by Paul Dalgarno
Folio Live takes place over four evenings on 7, 8, 9, 10 November at Grant Street Theatre, Southbank, Melbourne. Free event. Bookings essential.
Banner image: Screenshot of Efflorescence by Anna Durham.
A special, free October screening of animated works by the Victorian College of the Arts BFA Animation students? Yes please!
By Robert Stephenson, Lecturer in Film and Television (Animation)
This month, the Victorian College of the Arts will celebrate International Animation Day with a showcase of animated works from first and second year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Animation) students, together with a collection of animated short films from around the world.
The program features an entertaining array of subject matter and diversity of themes from the personal and observational to the wild and bizarre. There’s documentary, experimental, horror, sci-fi, comedy, and others not so easily categorised that open up the possibilities of contemporary animation.
ASIFA (Association International du Film d’Animation) created the first International Animation Day in 2002, honouring the first public performance of Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique in Paris in October in 1892. Through the Australian chapter of ASIFA, International Animation Day at the VCA brings together a tasting plate of animated shorts that have been exchanged across the world, as over 40 countries simultaneously celebrate a cultural connection through the art of animation.
Please join us for this special event screening on 26 October. You can get a flavour of what's to come in the short video below.
The VCA's International Animation Day Celebration Day Film Screening is at Federation Hall, Southbank, Melbourne, on 26 October, 6.30pm–9pm. More details.
Banner image: Screenshot/BFA Screening Trailer 2017.
Find out more about the Victorian College of the Arts Master of Writing for Performance 2017 Graduating Season Presentations.
The 2017 season of new plays and performance texts by graduating students from the Master of Writing for Performance, led by playwright and dramaturg Raimondo Cortese, is upon us. The season also presents the work of Directing for Performance and Dramaturgy students, with performances by students from Acting Company 2017. The presentations are as follows:
A Light and a Whistle, by Fiona Stewart.
"Is death the only release from the impact of chronic psychological violence, or is the cathartic effect of shared and witnessed experience enough to release us?"
The Great Emu War, by Declan Furber Gillick.
"This is life. This is death. These are emus. This is war."
Aleppo, by Elias Jamieson Brown.
"It doesn't matter how many times you fly back there or come here or wherever you go. Stop going back."
A Little Bit of Pain Never Hurt Anyone, by Brendan McDougall.
"Two eight-year-olds meet in a sandpit and try to work out how to be mummies and daddies. A love story?"
Scotch and Handsoap, by Kat Moritz.
“Well, I go every night… to the supermarket… the crisper part of my fridge is broken so if I was to go once a week like you, I’d be eating wilted veggies… but mainly I like the connection.”
A Brief Window of Hopefulness at Approximately 10pm, by Holly Brindley.
"It’s good to not have feelings all the time. That’s important."
The Great, by Justine Campbell.
"Delving into the myth of meritocracy."
This Storm Will Kill Your Children, by Fiona Spitzkowsky.
"I'm not quite sure what I'm meant to do with that information, though, as I'm not actually pregnant with any sort of mutant polar bear spawn."
Beautiful Mother, by Louis Klee.
"What if you don’t want happiness? What then?" A play about the contradictions of family and country, unfulfilled and unfulfillable dreams, frustrated hopes and unrequited hate."
The Split, by Sarah Hamilton.
"You know when you get the stars on the water, what’s that called? Loom, um…"
Baron, by Eric Gardiner.
"Two young men in suits of armour go to work for a real-estate company."
Darkwater, by Diane Stubbings.
"Darkwater explores consciousness and behaviour. It asks: are we merely products of our biology or is there something more transcendent at work?"
Make Me a Houri, by Emina Ashman.
"In the afterlife, Asmara and Safia attempt to transform into the Houris, Islamic virgins of paradise by physically and mentally purifying themselves."
The VCA Master of Writing for Performance 2017 Graduating Season Presentations run from 17–21 October, and take place in Studio 1, 28 Dodds St, Southbank. Visit the VCA & MCM events calendar for more information.
Banner image from TEDDYBÄR, a series from the Jean-Marie Donat Collection, published by INNOCENCES.
Find out more about the Victorian College of the Arts Master of Directing for Performance 2017 Graduating Season.
The Victorian College of the Arts Master of Directing for Performance graduating class of 2017 are bringing a collection of brand new productions to the Melbourne stage this October. The season of shows spans everything from new Australian musical theatre and explorations into devising new works, to fresh visions of classic texts from Europe, China and sub-Saharan Africa. The shows are as follows:
Weekend Quartet: The Australian premiere of a play by French-Chinese Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian.
The Graceful Giraffe Cannot Become a Monkey: A raw production of one of the most famous texts from sub-Saharan Africa.
The Most Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus: A high-octane 90-minute production of Shakespeare bloody spectacle.
Vagabonds: A creative development showing of a new Australian Gothic work.
Crossroads: a new Australian work exploring the politics of hope.
Sweeney Todd: A Federation University production of a Sondheim favourite.
This season represents the culmination of two years of intensive training in which the students have been encouraged to delve deeply into their practice as theatre-makers and critical thinkers. As Kellie Tori, one of the VCA cohort, explains;
“Throughout my two years of Master of Directing for Performance, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with peers who I will continue to work with and alongside throughout the rest of my creative life. It has shifted my understanding of theatre, art and myself.”
The VCA Master of Directing for Performance 2017 Graduating Season runs from 12–29 October, with performances at La Mama Theatre, Open Stage, University of Melbourne, Parkville, and Federation University, Ballarat. Visit the VCA & MCM events calendar for more information.
Banner image: Anton Surkov
Free improvisation that's as hot as a chilli and soft as a cream puff? Join the MCM's Dr Rob Vincs and his CLV bandmates as they launch their latest CD, Satellite.
By Dr Rob Vincs, Head of Jazz and Improvisation at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
The music of Satellite is like an aural landscape. Rather than following a particular structure, it arises out of improvisation and ends up sounding textural rather than melodic. The style is roughly free jazz but to avoid all the baggage that comes with that term we’ve decided to call it “self-organising music”. You might hear tiny little ants’ feet dancing beside great, big mountain ranges.
We’re often blending together sounds that have intense qualities. When you eat a chilli and get a sort of hit, that's a kind of intensity that’s different, say, to eating a cream puff, which has a different type of soft, sweet and fleshy intensity. Well, in this music there are moments of cream puff and moments of chilli – sort of transiting from one to another.
Myself and [MCM lecturer in Jazz and Improvisation] Ashley Cross, have been working on this style of playing for about 30 years now. We’re working with a younger ex-student of ours, Hannes Lackmann, who’s currently involved in the MCM Masters Program. Hannes has a love of poetry and incorporates spoken word into the performance, which is something Ashley and I haven’t done before.
On Sunday, we’ll be performing a collection of improvisations from Satellite – sonic textures and spoken word. The venue (Melbourne's Neapoli Wine Bar) is pretty tiny – we’ll all be standing shoulder to shoulder. In the 1930s it was a notorious strip club, and there’s still a cage in the middle of the venue that was used by the performers. So despite being pretty gentrified now, the venue has an interesting atmosphere, and is rich with history.
You can get a sneak preview of what's to come, below. Enjoy!
– As told to Sarah Hall
CLV will launch its new CD, Satellite, at the Neapoli Wine Bar, 30 Russell Place, Melbourne, on 15 October, 2017, 7:30pm. Free entry.
Banner image: Damian Gadal/Flickr.
With a foundation in acting and physical theatre, and a long-standing love of telling a good story, Nadine Dimitrievitch enrolled in the Master of Dance in order to develop her creative skills further. Having graduated earlier in the year, she reflects on the highlights and challenges of the course.
Five years ago, I never would have imagined I'd complete a master’s degree in dance. I trained in ballet throughout my schooling years but soon became more interested in storytelling, and decided to pursue a career in acting. After spending two years training in physical theatre at L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, I started a physical theatre company (Bone Marrow Theatre) in 2013 and began making works and facilitating workshops.
Several years into running the company I realised I wanted to learn more about process and develop stronger research and writing skills. I was already developing much of my creative works through movement, so even though all my formal training was in theatre, the Master of Dance was the only course of its kind that would allow me to delve further into movement-based processes.
After talking with some of the staff at the VCA I discovered it would be the perfect place for me to develop new skills and further investigate my own creative processes and values.
I love storytelling. I've taken the view that it doesn’t matter what I do or how I do it; all that matters is that the form, movement, text, design or imagery is in service to the story and my intention. I love creating other worlds and exploring characters and ideas. I’m interested in theatre that has a social conscience. I'm inspired by performance makers who are able to instigate change and provoke thought on topics I'm passionate about. I aspire to move people to action with my own works.
A big personal challenge for me was learning how to work on solo projects after years spent in collaborative environments. I very much feed on the creative energy of others. Being the only person in the room and having to create content in isolation was a daunting experience that invited me to work outside of what I would consider to be a comfortable space.
I’ve relished the opportunity to engage with other creative practitioners and explore different ways of creating and developing work. I’ve also loved the opportunities to learn and collaborate with graduate students from other schools within the VCA. Finally, I’ve loved meeting and working with dancers and choreographers at all different stages of their careers.
The VCA has given a whole new set of tools with which I can create performances and explore ideas. It has also given me a wonderful new network of friends and collaborators along with a number of great industry contacts.
If I were going to give advice to other artists looking to pursue a career in this field, I’d say: find people who love creating theatre/dance/art as much as you do. Find people who want to work with you and who speak the same artistic language. They are your most valuable resource in a collaborative artform.
– As told to Sophie Duran
Applications for the 2018 intake of the Master of Dance close on 31 October. Visit the VCA website to find out more.
Banner image: Sav Schulman
Some 19 Music Theatre students from the Victorian College of the Arts will form a chorus for the Melbourne Theatre Company's upcoming production of Vivid White.
The Victorian College of the Arts is thrilled to announce a new partnership with the Melbourne Theatre Company for MTC’s upcoming production of Vivid White by Eddie Perfect.
Hitting the stages this November, the world premiere MTC commission will feature an ensemble comprised of VCA’s second year Music Theatre students, with their involvement in the production forming part of their coursework and end of year assessment.
The 19 students – split into three groups – will form a chorus and perform on rotation throughout the season of this new Australian work. The ensemble has been specially written in to the show to make this opportunity possible.
Margot Fenley, Head of Music Theatre and Senior Lecturer in Acting at VCA, said, "There really couldn’t be a better opportunity for our students to test and extend their training in a professional environment, surrounded by such a highly respected creative team. The VCA has been highly engaged for the past few years in questions of how we can better support new Australian works and this collaboration with MTC will be, I hope, the first of many such innovative industry partnerships for VCA Music Theatre students."
MTC Artistic Director Brett Sheehy said, "This exciting partnership is a unique opportunity for music theatre students to gain practical experience in a professional setting during their studies. As part of the University of Melbourne, MTC has had a long association with the Victorian College of the Arts, and a long history of supporting students in their pursuit of careers in the creative industries. This particular partnership sees our relationship with VCA blossom in new ways and we very much look forward to seeing it come to fruition over the next couple of months."
MTC Associate Director and Vivid White director Dean Bryant said, ‘I’m thrilled to be able to give the students the opportunity to not only be part of creating a production with professional actors and creatives, but a new Australian piece by one of our leading writers. They’ll see how a script evolves throughout the process, and what it takes, day by day, to put it onstage. Eddie and I are graduates of drama school and would have salivated at the opportunity to learn these skills and return to our final year of study that much farther ahead.'
Vivid White is the latest work by Eddie Perfect, taking a brilliantly satirical look at the Australian dream of home ownership and the ruthless real estate market.
Starring Gillian Cosgriff, Virginia Gay, Brent Hill, Verity Hunt-Ballard, Keegan Joyce, Ben Mingay and Christina O’Neill, Vivid White opens Thursday 23 November at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner.
Tickets for Vivid White are on sale now from the MTC. The ensemble has been made possible with support from The Victorian College of the Arts Music Theatre Department and the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance.
Image caption: VCA Music Theatre students with Vivid White cast at the Melbourne Theatre Company. Image supplied.
Following the success of Dr Jeanette Tamplin’s first dementia choir, Musical Memories, seven more choirs for people and carers living with dementia will be introduced in Victoria and Tasmania. We spoke with Dr Tamplin about her ongoing project.
By Sarah Hall
Hi Jeanette, you’ve been working with therapeutic choirs in dementia since May 2016. How did you come to start working in this area?
It all started with an NHMRC [National Health and Medical Research Council] and ARC [Australia Research Council] co-funded fellowship, which I’m half-way through now. My proposal was to explore the effects of therapeutic choirs specifically targeting people with early to mid-stage dementia who are still living at home with their family carers. We wanted to support carers in coping and adjusting in their role as well as people living with dementia. The first group we started in May 2016 was called Musical Memories, which I conducted alongside my Melbourne Conservatorium of Music colleague Dr Imogen Clark.
Previous research into choirs for people with dementia has mostly focused on qualitative outcomes – for example, the pleasure and social benefits of singing. We’re looking at quantitative outcomes as well, which is quite difficult in dementia, looking, for example, at measuring the effects of choir participation on relationship quality, anxiety, depression quality of life and cognitive function.
Are those individuals who participated in Musical Memories still singing?
Well, yes, when we got to the end of the research trial period they all said, “We can’t stop, you can’t take this away!” They got a lot out of it and they really wanted it to keep going. We managed to secure some funding through an Austin health donation for another 12 months and are now looking for funding options post June 2018. We’ve also found a partner for the next stage of the research – a community aged-care provider, Uniting AgeWell. They believe this is a really affordable program that’s filling a gap in current service options for people with dementia living in the community and their family carers.
Why have the choirs been so successful?
I think because they’re not just about coming and having a cup of tea and talking about dementia; a lot of people don’t want to do that. People are often still trying to adjust to the “dementia” label, and that’s really hard. The choir is about doing something enjoyable and accessible that has individual benefits while still providing an environment for people to support each other.
It was interesting to see in the short video that was made about the group – the carers seemed to be getting as much out of it as the dementia patients.
Definitely! Carers need to be supported, both from the perspective of their quality of life, and for the cost they are saving society. Having people in aged-care facilities, as opposed to staying in their own homes, is expensive and often not very nice. If we help carers manage at home, by doing whatever we can to support them early on and nurturing the relationship between carer and person with dementia, that’s the ideal situation for everyone.
In your career as a music therapist, has singing been your primary tool?
Singing’s not my primary instrument, but I have been interested in therapeutic applications of singing for my whole career. My research has looked at a variety of things that singing can benefit. For example, singing to help people with communication after a stroke, singing to help people with respiratory function after a spinal cord injury, singing to improve speech and voice outcomes for people living with Parkinson’s disease.
And have you found singing to have successful therapeutic outcomes in all of those research areas?
Well, I am biased, but definitely, yes, and it’s something everyone can do. You don’t have to be a trained musician to use your voice. Sometimes people find it confronting; it’s very personal your own voice, it can be embarrassing. Sometimes people have been told that they can’t sing or that they’re tone deaf … But that’s why group singing’s kind of nice – you’re all in it together and you can kind of hide in the group a bit if you’re embarrassed.
And it’s not about the quality of singing, it’s about the therapeutic process of joining together as a group.
So why, in simple terms, does singing makes us feel so good?
We know that when we sing there are a whole lot of neurochemicals released in the brain – endorphins, serotonin, dopamine. It also decreases cortisol, which is linked to stress, and increases feelings of empathy and social bonding.
What’s next for your dementia choirs research?
Well, we’re moving into the second stage of research, where we will be comparing people who sing in these therapeutic dementia-specific choirs with people who don’t on a range of quantitative outcomes. We’re going to set up seven new groups next year: five in Melbourne, one in Bendigo and one in Tassie, which is really exciting. It’s a randomised controlled trial so people who enrol will be randomly allocated to either attend a choir straight away or wait for 6 months before joining.
We’ve also got a gig coming up for the Musical Memories choir on 15th October, where they will be performing at the cocktail reception for the annual conference of the NHMRC National Institute for Dementia Research National Forum. It’s a great opportunity to promote our pilot results to the media and help us to get the word out there about these new dementia choirs, and recruit participants for this next phase of our research
A loaded question ... Does music therapy have enough recognition and enough funding?
No. Unfortunately in many cases it’s still pretty fringe in terms of healthcare funding. When I started working in the industry 20 years ago most people hadn’t heard of music therapy, and that’s not the case so much now. It’s had more coverage in the media and people are really fascinated with the effects of music on the brain. But still, when it comes down to spending the money, it’s often considered an optional extra. That’s why we really need to do these types of research projects – to demonstrate that music therapy is a cost-effective way to treat neurological conditions such as dementia.
I’m working on another project at the moment led by my MCM colleague Dr Felicity Baker. Our team received a NHMRC grant for over a million dollars for a National dementia research project in residential care. We will be looking at the effects of various forms of music engagement on depressive symptoms, cognitive functioning, neuropsychiatric symptoms, quality of life and caregiver burden as well as conducting a health-economic analysis. We are looking at whether people engaging regularly with music therapy are reducing anti-psychotic drugs and anti-depressants and are visiting the GP less frequently. If we can demonstrate that people who are regularly accessing music therapy are decreasing other costs then there’s a huge cost-benefit.
Contact Dr Jeanette Tamplin for more information on participating in the MCM's ongoing dementia research. The NNIDR Australian Dementia Forum runs 15-17 October, 2017, at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. It is followed by the 17th Alzheimer's Australia Biennial National Dementia Conference 17-20 October, 2017.
Banner image: Video still. University of Melbourne.
Like many artists, Callum Dale took a circuitous route to finding his true passion. Now a recent Master of Dramaturgy graduate, he reflects on his experience at the Victorian College of the Arts and how he is preparing for the career ahead.
Not all who wander are lost – and I've definitely my fair share of wandering. Like most high-school theatre enthusiasts, I graduated with the ambition of becoming an actor. Having established a small independent production company with friends to explore our own artistic and creative interests, I enjoyed a couple of years of producing and creating theatre in an ensemble-based practice.
I then started a Bachelor of Arts in Acting at the University of Ballarat’s Academy of Performing Arts and, while I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I knew that this was no longer the career path for me.
I left at the end of first year, and then spent some time aimlessly wandering through part-time jobs and tertiary courses looking for a new career. In 2011, in attempt to jumpstart my creativity, I moved to Sydney to complete a Masterclass Certificate in Makeup and Special Effects, but breaking into the makeup and special effects industry proved almost impossible, so I began studying a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and history at Monash University.
That's where my journey to a career in dramaturgy really began. At the end of my course, having finally completed an undergraduate degree and having worked with numerous artists and companies, I applied for the Master of Dramaturgy at the VCA. I think it takes a quirky and "different" individual to have a passion in dramaturgy, and after many years of searching, I finally found the shoe that fit.
I remember when the course was first announced I received an email from one of my undergraduate mentors telling me they’d found “a course made for people like me”. A Master of Dramaturgy had interested me for a few years and I now had the opportunity to study at a highly-regarded and prestigious Australian institution. The course is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere and could have a real impact on the Australian performing arts industry in the next few years.
No two days at the VCA were ever the same. A one-year master’s degree moves fast and demands a strong work ethic and high level of discipline. Mondays were generally our day off, and a good time to catch up on reading and earn some money. The rest of the working week comprised two three- or four-hour classes a day. These classes could be lectures and tutorials, discussion-based seminars, practical workshops, or rehearsals.
I find the more I work, the more I am inspired. To be actively engaged in an exciting rehearsal space or riveting production company is as inspiring as it gets for me. Whether it be on new writing or a time-tested play, a raucous comedy or moving tragedy, dance, music, theatre or avant-garde performance, the discussions surrounding rigorous, relevant and thoughtful work drive me to work harder and more passionately.
As a dramaturg you are often the middleman: as the mediator between directors, writers, designers and other creatives, you’re ultimately the advocate for the work itself. The VCA’s cross-disciplinary classes and practise models definitely prepare you for this role as you become an expert in communication. But I think the biggest challenge for a dramaturg in any situation is learning your role in any given circumstance. You have to be constantly adaptable.
When you’re studying, you’re constantly working with fellow practitioners and creating, or at least theorising, arguably the most daring and experimental work of your career. You are uninhibited by the constraints and pressures of professional work. I think the rare opportunity to be creative with like-minded people is often taken for granted – it’s the continual artistic expression and discussion that you miss most once you leave.
While I was a Master of Dramaturgy student, I was fortunate enough to complete two internships with the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC). Those were made possible by VCA’s strong connections with MTC – many of the VCA’s sessional lecturers work at or with the company. My first internship was with MTC’s Literary Manager Chris Mead on the selection and curation of Cybec Electric 2017. This internship opened the MTC’s doors to me. I gained a deeper understanding of professional practices and the process of programming while refining my skills in play-reading and assessment.
Alongside that internship, I completed a directorial secondment under Peter Houghton on the mainstage production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. An invaluable experience, the secondment involved observing readings, rehearsals, production meetings, costume fittings, bump-in, technical and dress rehearsals, preview performances and opening night.
Ultimately, the achievement of writing a 10,000-word thesis to accompany the project was extremely satisfying and has inspired me to continue studying in the future and hopefully one day commence and complete a PhD.
Dramaturgy is a growing field in the performing arts industry but jobs are scarce and the industry is extremely competitive, so you need to be resilient and, in a sense, have a thick skin. You need to be prepared to work jobs that at times may seem unrelated to the field. But you should always be assessing the dramaturgical processes in motion, and identifying how the various elements of production affect one another. You have to remember too that your skills and knowledge are ever-expanding and can be refined as you continue to work with various practitioners and companies.
The VCA gave me the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary to enter the industry as a respected emerging practitioner. It also widened my network to include people from mainstage companies and other industry organisations, and in the extremely competitive performing arts industry, your network is always your strongest ally and source of work. The continued support and mentorship from my tutors and lecturers has been comforting on the road to a challenging career.
– As told to Sophie Duran.
Banner image: Callum Dale. By Sav Schulman.
Applications for the 2018 intake of the Master of Dramaturgy close on 31 October, 2017. Visit the VCA website to find out more.
David Griffiths is a globally-renowned clarinetist and educator, who will soon join the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music as a Senior Lecturer in Music (Performance – Clarinet). Get to know him here.
By Paul Dalgarno.
Hi David, you’re a clarinetist with, and artistic director of, Ensemble Liaison. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Ensemble Liaison is the result of my dream to start my own chamber music ensemble, something that has been in the back of my brain for as long as I can remember. I formed the ensemble in 2005 with cellist Svetlana Bogosavljevic and pianist Timothy Young.
Our aim from the outset was to make the ensemble all about collaborations with guests, thus the name “liaison”. If we were only going to play music for clarinet, cello and piano we would have run out of repertoire pretty quickly.
We are now planning the twelfth season of the Ensemble Liaison & Friends series. Each concert features one or more guest artists from a variety of different backgrounds. Over the years we’ve had a lot of fun working with so many wonderful artists, including violinists, violists, percussionists, a drummer, jazz pianists, composers, puppeteers, ballet dancers, singers, actors, an accordionist and now, coming up, a fantastic lighting designer ... We are always on the lookout for new repertoire, composers and collaborators who might share our ideals in art creation.
I have no idea how long we’ll be able to keep the series going, but we get so much pleasure from creating these concerts, I can’t see us ever wanting to stop. We often joke that we might be presenting our 50th season from the retirement home.
Aleksandar Sedlar – Kolo (Round Dance) Nemanja Radulovic with Ensemble Liaison.
When did you take up the clarinet? Was it your first choice of instrument?
I took up the clarinet when I was eight. I grew up in Armidale, New South Wales, where my mother was the only clarinet teacher at the time, so I guess I didn’t have much of a choice. She tried clarinet with both of my sisters too but it only stuck with me – they became string players.
I think by about the age of 15 I knew, or at least hoped, it would become a career for me. But it wasn’t until I started studying at university that I realised what that meant, and the sorts of things that would need to happen to make it possible.
In high school my other passion was basketball and basketball coaching. I was a little vertically-challenged so I got right into coaching, and if I hadn’t got into music I definitely would have found something to do in this area. Reflecting on it now, it’s interesting to compare basketball coaching, which I loved, to clarinet teaching and chamber-music coaching.
You’re an avid supporter of new Australian compositions and have commissioned and premiered new works by composers such as Ross Edwards, Stuart Greenbaum, and many others. Does this come from a love of new music, a desire to support composers, a sense of obligation, or something else?
A little bit of all of those, I’d say. I love playing new music, regardless of where it comes from, and feel a real sense of excitement when I receive a new work from a composer. Having the opportunity to be the first person to play a new work, and make the first musical decisions on how to shape it, is such a privilege. Working with Australian composers in particular is a no-brainer as we all need to support each other to create new music.
My motivation also comes from a desire to create as much new Australian chamber music with clarinet as possible. The clarinet is blessed with a lot of wonderful repertoire, but there can always be more.
There are plenty of “pure” string quartets and piano trios, but adding the clarinet is much more interesting from my perspective.
Can you tell us about the course(s) you’ll be teaching at the MCM? What kind of students are you looking for? What can they expect from studying with you at the MCM?
I’m looking for highly-motivated students who are incredibly passionate about playing the clarinet – they’re the kind of students that will make my job an absolute pleasure. I also need students who will be supportive of each other. I want to create an MCM clarinet studio that has an atmosphere of enthusiasm, hard work and fun.
Studying music can involve many solitary hours of practice every day, so I believe it’s really important that the students are able to come together.
Students who are accepted into my studio can expect to be pushed to work hard. So much can be achieved in a really short time at university, but it can’t be done in the café. Students need to do the time in the practice room to produce results.
You have collaborated and performed with many quartets and chamber music groups, as well as individual artists. Which ones really stand out for you and why?
I’ve been lucky to work with a many wonderful artists, so it’s difficult to choose just a few. The Ensemble Liaison has to be the real standout. Sometimes it’s possible to take for granted the special bond and understanding we've developed in this 13 year long chamber music ensemble, but when I go away and play with other musicians I soon remember it.
In terms of string quartets, I think most clarinetists’ favourite thing to do is to work with a string quartet, especially on the quintets by Mozart and Brahms. Last year I had the opportunity to play Mozarts’ Quintet with the Goldner String Quartet. It’s a work I’d played many times, as had they, but this particular collaboration was very special to me. The Quartet’s intensity and commitment to perfection helped to push me to new levels. It was a performance I will never forget.
Three years ago I started working with The Australia Ensemble@UNSW, and that collaboration has been such a wonderful experience for me. I was a student of Alan Vivian who, in the late nineties, was their clarinetist. He would often go off on tour with them and I remember aspiring to one day get the opportunity to play with them. The ensemble has been together for 38 years and the collective chamber-music experience is enormous so there’s so much to learn at every rehearsal.
One of my favourite violinists to work with is the Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulovic – he’s an incredible musician and unique artist. He gives so much energy on stage and it’s completely contagious. Audiences go crazy at his concerts, so sharing a stage with him is about as close as I think I’ll get to feeling like a rock star.
Chamber music, from the musicians' perspective –The Creatory.
Which upcoming performances are you looking forward to, and why?
I’m really looking forward to my next performance with Ensemble Liaison on October 24 at the Melbourne Recital Centre. We will be performing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time –a really incredible work that Messiaen wrote while he was imprisoned in a second-world-war prison camp. The piece takes the musicians and the audience on an epic journey of emotions that lasts nearly an hour. It’s a work I have performed nearly 30 times, and have recorded it with Ensemble Liaison for Melba Recordings.
That’s one I never get tired of performing. The effect it has on the musicians and the audience is always profound, but I’m particularly looking forward to this performance. We are collaborating with violinist Dene Olding for the first time. Dene is the former concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and violinist with the Australia Ensemble and the Golder String Quartet. He has also performed this work many times so it will be really interesting to develop a shared interpretation to a work that we both know so well.
We’re also collaborating with the award-winning lighting designer Paul Jackson, who is going to create a special lighting design to enhance the experience. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with.
We’re also looking forward to performing it in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre – a simply stunning venue that allows us to create special sounds that are not always possible in other venues. It allows us to play softer than anywhere else so the extreme pianissimos in the work are incredible.
Performing clarinet is one thing, teaching it is another – you seem passionate about both. Is that the case, and is that a hard balance to strike?
I’m absolutely passionate about both but, yes, it can be a hard balance to strike sometimes. If I’m teaching too much I find it difficult to practise, and if I don’t practise enough if affects my quality of life! I really don’t like to go into a rehearsal period feeling under-cooked. I probably sometimes practise more than I need to, but I always enjoy the rehearsal process so much more when I’m properly prepared. I’ve learnt over the years to schedule in my practice time around my teaching to make sure I do a little every day if possible.
In my practice, I am constantly trying to improve my playing and reflect on the best way to achieve that. This very much informs my teaching as my brain is already in the mode of trying to work out how to do things better and how to communicate those ideas with my students.
Teaching also helps my own performance tremendously. Thinking of ways to address my students’ problems, often helps me to fix my own. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the final recitals of hard-working students after helping them develop over a period of many years. As long as I’m able to strike a good balance, the two roles work together incredible well.
Can you tell us about a particular teacher or professional mentor who has inspired you?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been inspired by many different teachers and mentors, so it’s difficult to choose one. Fresh in my mind is David Krakauer, one of my chamber-music coaches during my time in New York. I had the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time with him on four major chamber works in the clarinet repertoire over a period of two years, including Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.
He’s had the ability to think about the music being more than just notes. I still remember so much of the advice he gave me over 20 years ago. He recently completed a week in residence with my clarinet studio at Monash University. Watching him work with my students and sharing many meals and bottles of wine over the week was a real treat.
What are the peculiarities of being a clarinetist? How does it differ (if at all) from other instrument specialisations?
Well, clarinet is all I know, so it doesn’t seem peculiar to me. We have our issues – dealing with reeds is a big one – but that’s not unique to us, and we have it a lot easier than oboists and bassoonists, who need to make their own reeds. I do often look with envy at flute players who can whip out their instrument without having to worry about a reed.
What’s to gain from a life in music?
There are plenty of ups and downs, but the ups definitely make it all worthwhile. There’s an incredible amount of joy to be had by being able to share beautiful music with people.
Is there a quote or philosophy that has held you in good stead throughout your career?
Play every concert like it’s your last!
Banner Image: David Griffiths. By Greg Barrett.
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The Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music are pleased to congratulate alumni who have been recognised in the 2017 Australia Council Fellowships.
By Sarah Hall
Among the eight recipients of the $80,000 Australia Council Fellowships for 2017, the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music is pleased to congratulate alumna Stephanie Lake (Dance), former lecturer Paul Jackson (Theatre) and Film & Television alum and celebrated novelist Dr Arnold Zable.
The Australia Council fellowships recognise Australia’s leading artists working across theatre, dance, music, visual arts and literature.
Since graduating in 1999 from the VCA's Bachelor of Dance, Stephanie Lake has worked with countless major contemporary dance companies across the country as well as running her own successful Stephanie Lake Company since 2014. She has maintained a strong relationship with the Victorian College of the Arts, returning last year to choreograph CRUSH. VCA Head of Dance Jenny Kinder said she was thrilled for Lake, who has a long association with VCA Dance, as a student, alumna, guest choreographer and teacher.
“Stephanie is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most exciting choreographers and is an inspiring artistic leader,” said Ms Kinder.
“We are incredibly fortunate that she continues to be involved with dance and production students, generously sharing her creative and collaborative practice. CRUSH (2016), her most recent work displays her exceptional talent, creativity and passion for dancing – an extremely popular work with the performers and audiences alike. It is wonderful for Stephanie to be recognised in this way by the Australia Council.”
Director of the Victorian College of the Arts Professor Jon Cattapan said he was delighted to see Lake’s work, as well as Paul Jackson’s prolific work in lighting design for theatre and Arnold Zable’s work in as a writer, storyteller, human rights activist be duly rewarded.
“The Australia Council Fellowships are only awarded to extremely hard-working arts practitioners who are already outstanding in their fields,” said Professor Cattapan, “It’s significant that they have received this kind of recognition, and we couldn’t be happier for them.”
Banner: Promotional image for Stephanie Lake’s VCA Dance production Crush (2016). Image by Jeff Busby.
Dr Nicholas Tochka recently became Head of Ethnomusicology at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Here, he shares some insight from his career to date, and explains the thinking behind his new Musics of the World course.
Ethnomusicology is like anthropology, but we're looking at the ways people construct their lives specifically through music-making.
My area of specialisation is popular music and I’m really interested in questions around the economics of music-making and music in the context of the political orders it’s made under – not just how musicians protest or resist political-economic structures, but how they are shaped by them and even contribute to them.
My first project looked at popular music in state-socialist Albania. My new project looks at rock music in post-war America – at the relationship between American rock and roll and its global export.
I look at how musicians draw on liberal ideas and discourses to talk about individual self-expression and freedom, and I look at how popular musicians have been drawn into American politics. Why did Hillary Clinton have Bruce Springsteen sing at her rallies? Why did Donald Trump try play Rockin’ in the Free World – only to then get slapped down by Neil Young?
In the MCM's Musics of the World course we examine musical case studies from places including Bali, North India, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Indigenous Australia. One goal of the course is to get students thinking about music as a social and political process, not just a thing in itself.
Another part of the course involves training your ears to listen to different pitch and rhythm systems and understand the terminology that musicians from around the world use to describe how their music is organised. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of those musicians to understand why that music is meaningful to them.
A lot of music cultures from around the world are very participatory and it’s a huge faux pas if you don’t get involved. At an American wedding, on the other hand, it’d be very strange to see everyone on the dancefloor.
Built into the premise of a course such as Musics of the World are some ethical questions: How should we engage in trying to understand other people? Is music an appropriate way to do so? What kind of power dynamics are inherent in the relationship between the listener and the performer?
Looking at how people try to lead meaningful lives in circumstances that are different from your own is a good way to gain a little bit of critical distance from your own life. It can help you think more deeply about the kinds of relationships you have, and the kind of values you hold.
As told to Sarah Hall
Banner image: Mass participation in Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel's The Wedding Dance (1566), cropped. Wikimedia Commons.
World-renowned visual artist and University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor’s Fellow Sally Smart will open a major solo exhibition at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery in Southbank this week.
Professor Smart is known for her large-scale cut-out assemblage installations which engage identity, politics and the relationships between the body, thought and culture.
In Staging the Studio (The Choreography of Cutting) Professor Smart explores the themes and ideas associated with the studio as a place of work, contemplation and thought in action.
“I tend to make art in series although it is quite fluid,” she says.
“One piece bleeds into the next then leads on to something else. It’s a bit like creating a whole world, I guess. This new assemblage work is still playing itself out."
Professor Smart has exhibited widely in Australia and internationally and is represented in most major galleries and collections throughout Australia and in various and public and private collections.
Margaret Lawrence Gallery Director David Sequeira says Staging the Studio – which runs from 6 October to 4 November – draws on Professor Smart’s recent work examining the avant-garde dance company Ballets Russes and its experimental choreography, costume and theatre design.
“Whilst Sally's investigations of the body, cultural heritage and pedagogy have been shown in a number of important Australian and international museum contexts, they have a special resonance here, within an art school - a place known for the thinking and experimentation taking place within its studios,” Dr Sequeira says.
“In this light, Staging the Studio is an ambitious and imaginative drawing together of themes that are at once personal and shared, localised and global.”
As a University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Professor Smart will collaborate with Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso on their project Conversation: Endless Acts in Human History to build networks in artistic practice and cross-cultural dialogue between Australia and Indonesia. She will also collaborate on projects with academic colleagues across the University and provide mentorship to Victorian College of the Arts students.
On Friday 6 October, at 12.30pm, choreographer Brooke Stamp will present an improvised performance with and within Professor Smart’s assemblage elements, created and appropriated from Ballets Russes costumes and sets.
Come to the opening night of Sally Smart – Staging the Studio (The Choreography of Cutting) at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, on 5 October, from 5.30pm. Registrations essential.
Professor Smart will discuss her work in a talk as part of the ART150 Forum Series on Thursday 12 October, 12.30-1.30pm at Federation Hall, VCA. Bookings are essential.
Further reading: Sally Smart interview: Staging the Studio.
More Information: Nicola Webber, +61 3 8344 9624/ 0411 758 984, email@example.com
With a strong background in fashion design, Alexandra McCloud-Gibson is now turning her artistic skills to designing costumes, props, and sets for film and television.
Before I came to the Victorian College of the Arts, I completed a Bachelor of Fashion Design at RMIT. I found that I was increasingly drawn to designing not only garments but also the environments in which they sat, and ended up working on both costume and production design for friends’ projects. My interest in world-building overtook costume design when I discovered that I could convey more through production design.
Inspiration comes in many different forms and sometimes arises from the most bizarre places, although it will always originate from the text and through copious amounts of research. My eye is always drawn to things of texture or things with a particularly stylised aesthetic – be it photography, art, history, or costume.
I find the challenge with production design is knowing when to stop researching. I could research forever but there does come a time when you have to turn all that theory into something three-dimensional.
After working on a few VCA short films I realised the role of the art department within the film and television industry. The VCA community seemed to me to have a strong sense of collaboration, with everyone crewing on everyone else’s films. This was quite different to what I had experienced while working in fashion, which I found to be quite solitary. I chose the VCA as I saw it an opportunity to learn not only from industry experts but from peers and colleagues.
This course has allowed me to experience a great deal of both the theoretical and practical sides of working in an art department, with a particular emphasis on gaining work experience outside of the VCA. What’s taught in classes is put into practice both on student films and through industry placements and I’ve enjoyed my time interning the most.
Something that stands out from this past year is the opportunity I was given to intern on an adaptation of Picnic At Hanging Rock. I’ve never learnt so much so quickly from one project. The experience was really rewarding, and it really confirmed for me that I had found the right industry. At the end of my internship I was offered paid work, which was great.
The internships I’ve undertaken have given me a taste for what it’s like to work full-time in production. Once I graduate I’m looking to get into the workplace as soon as I can and to can get as much experience across as many varied projects as possible.
To aspiring production designers, I’d say: if you can figure out initially what your strongest skillsets are and find a way to use them to create work within your aesthetic it will help to kickstart your initial projects. It’s also important to understand how significant the research stage of your practice is: any questions you have will always be answered through more research.
– As told to Sophie Duran
Banner image: Alexandra McCloud-Gibson. By Sav Schulman.
Win one of 5 double passes to the Friday 29 September Melbourne Cello Festival concert – email firstname.lastname@example.org for your chance to win. Winners will be contacted via email.
Distinguished cellists from around the world have come together for the second biennial Melbourne Cello Festival, which commenced on Monday 25 September at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM).
The week of concerts, masterclasses and panel discussions celebrate the wide-reaching influence of the cello in classical and contemporary music, and features internationally-renowned musicians including Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi (Japan/USA), Inbal Megiddo (Israel/New Zealand), Edith Salzmann (NZ/Germany), Brandon Vamos (USA), and the Melbourne Conservatorium’s own Howard Penny and Alvin Wong.
Young cellists aged 8–15 kicked off the action on Monday at the Melbourne Cello Festival Kids Day: a day-long program featuring a variety of workshops, activities and performance opportunities for budding cellists.
Last year’s festival hit the CelloXtravaganza! will make a welcome return to the Festival on Sunday 1 October, when a festival orchestra of cellists and double bassists will present selections from film music arranged especially for the occasion.
Dr Alvin Wong, Artistic Director of the Festival and Lecturer in Cello at the MCM, described the Festival as an opportunity for cellists from around the globe to come together in celebration of their wonderful instrument.
“The atmosphere at the moment in the Melbourne Conservatorium is very exciting; there are groups of people rehearsing in every corner making beautiful sounds,” said Dr Wong.
“We are excited to have even more artists and a longer festival than last year,” Dr Wong said. “Because of that, we’ve been able to provide a program with much more variety: popular works by composers such as Beethoven, Debussy and Hans Zimmer, as well as some much more rarely heard music.”
The first evening concert on Tuesday features guest artist duos in concert, while Wednesday evening’s concert will showcase two works by Chinese composers Gao Ping and Bright Sheng, with a monumental finale by Kodály, performed by Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi.
On Thursday, Australian Cello Award-winner Yelian He will give a special recital with pianist Yasmine Rowe in their homecoming performance, after spending over ten years in the UK. Friday evening’s concert will treat audience members to chamber music works by master Viennese composers Schubert and Brahms.
Dr Wong is looking forward to the entire program of concerts, which will see invited overseas artists perform with the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s own distinguished musicians.
Dates: 25 September–1 October
Location: All events will be held at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in Parkville
Banner image: Chancellor's Concert. Photo: Prudence Upton.
In this, the second in a series of How To videos from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Interactive Composition lecturer David Haberfeld demonstrates how to create an acid dance track with the Roland TB-303, which he describes as "the electric guitar of electronic dance music".
Haberfeld has more than two decades of experience as an electronic dance music artist, producer, composer, performer, and DJ. He is best-known for his productions and live performances under the artist moniker Honeysmack.
If you like this video, please share!
How to do an Australian accent (that doesn’t sound bloody awful, mate)
How to cast bronze, at the VCA Foundry
How to create backing tracks with the Boss RC-30 Loop Station
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Banner image: Acid Pix/Flickr
Erin Helyard is internationally recognised as a leading baroque music specialist, virtuosic soloist and inspired conductor. Here, he discusses his debut solo album featuring the keyboard works of George Frideric Handel, and the instrument on which he performed them.
By Dr Erin Helyard, Senior Lecturer in Music at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
I recently released my debut solo album, surveying the keyboard works of the baroque composer George Frideric Handel. Drawing on my knowledge of Handel's operas and playing on a unique, recently-restored, instrument from 1773 capable of dynamic shading, I was able to reassess the works of Handel as well as some of his contemporaries.
Performers and composers had very close and fruitful relationships with instrument builders back in the 18th and 19th centuries. CPE Bach and Silbermann, Mozart and Anton Walter, Beethoven and Nannette Streicher, and Liszt and Sebastian Érard are just some of the few that come to mind.
My own close relationship with a builder has been with Carey Beebe, who has been my colleague and friend since I was a teenager first trying out harpsichords. Carey approached me last year to say that he had completed a restoration of a 1773 Kirckman single with a machine stop, and to ask if I would be interested in recording on it. My answer? Well, yes, of course – and that's the instrument on which I recorded this album.
Kirckman was an extremely famous and renowned English builder of harpsichords and, as my PhD research had been based around Muzio Clementi’s exposure to these kinds of instruments in the 1770s in London, my interest was piqued.
Since the historical harpsichord revival in the 1970s, players and builders have unnecessarily ignored the English tradition – partly because it was unfairly assumed that no great composer had written for these instruments. The reality is that these magnificently constructed instruments were highly-prized on the continent as well as in England.
The 1773 Kirckman, for instance, has some of the most beautifully machined jacks I’ve ever seen, as well as some of the most superb joinery. Owners of English harpsichords had a large variety of imported and local repertoire. Of the imports, the most notable favourite was the music of Scarlatti.
The 1773 Kirckman harpsichord is equipped with a particularly English piece of technology, the so-called “machine stop”. This pedal enabled me to make very quick and often nuanced registration changes in order to affect different dynamics and textures.
I have used the device as idiomatically as the music suggests, mostly to enhance implied ritornelli/tutti divisions in fugal movements as well creating more subtle and exciting effects that are rarely heard on recording or on performance. The earliest machine stop dates from the late 1740s, so it is entirely possible that Handel would have heard or experimented with one, even if his playing days were behind him by then.
The work of Handel over the last few decades has engaged me mostly as an opera conductor. Like Handel himself, I have conducted many of his operas from the keyboard, as was often the way in his era. Handel, born in Halle, Germany, in 1685, considered himself an Englishman after emigrating to the UK in 1710. In his new country he encountered and played upon English harpsichords in addition to (mainly Flemish) imports. The work of the founder of the firm, Jacob Kirckman, would have been known to Handel.
Handel was renowned as a virtuoso keyboardist in his day so it is somewhat sad that only a small corpus of music composed by him exists, mainly dating from his early years in London. His operatic career soon intervened and he seems to have left composing for the keyboard aside.
Handel’s music has always been somewhat marginalised by keyboardists as it is often (unfairly) compared with that of Bach and Scarlatti.
After discussions with Toby Chadd, manager of ABC Classics, we decided that, given my unique experience with Handel opera, it would be interesting to focus an album on the many transcriptions of arias from his operas as well as some of the so-called “Great Suites” of Handel himself.
Handel uses a rather skeletal notation in some of these suites, and often ornamentation is left to the performer. This incomplete notation may partly explain the haphazard reception the works have received in the 20th and 21st century. In this recording, I have been inspired by my own research into this improvisatory culture, and have attempted to ornament in the very florid style that I believe Handel and his contemporaries would have recognised.
What is so remarkable about the “Great Suites” are their extraordinarily eclectic and wide-ranging deployment of styles and genres. Besides the traditional dance elements of the Franco-German keyboard suite (allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, and gigues) there are dense fugues, overtures in the French style, Italian sonatas and arias, preludes in both incomplete and highly precise notation, and variation forms.
The suites give us the impression of a performer and composer who was highly sophisticated, well-travelled, open-minded, and cosmopolitan. It reveals a keyboardist who had quite a large hand span and a predilection for the German vollstimmig (or fully-voiced) style and was equally at home with both Italianate virtuosity, German profundity, and French élan.
I also tried to bring out the vocal qualities that I know so well from my engagement with Handel operas, an effect often heightened by the expressive capabilities of the machine stop.
The resulting recording, I hope, pays testament both to Handel and the harpsichord.
Banner image. Erin Helyard, by Robert Catto.
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The University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and Gertrude Contemporary have announced a new international residency partnership based at the VCA’s Norma Redpath Studio in Carlton.
The program will support invited international artists to pursue studio production and curatorial research.
Director of the VCA Professor Jon Cattapan said he was delighted with the partnership and that he envisaged many positive outcomes. “This partnership is a brilliant way for the VCA to forge new international relationships of sustenance and meaning, which will benefit our students,” said Professor Cattapan.
“The artists in the residency will all commit to some activities with VCA Art, for instance, delivering lectures, masterclasses and tutorials with appropriate cohorts and students,” he said. “It will create learning opportunities with leading local and international artists and provide models of how to establish a professional studio art practice.”
Both Professor Cattapan and Gertrude Contemporary’s Artistic Director Mark Feary said the partnership reflected an increasingly strong relationship between the two significant cultural institutions, which have been entwined since Gertrude was founded in 1985.
Mr Feary said: “The Gertrude International Studio Residency has been one of the most coveted and dynamic aspects of Gertrude Contemporary’s engagement since its establishment, enabling visiting artists and curators to be enmeshed within Gertrude and our community.”
“This new partnership with the VCA enables this important component of our studio program to continue and flourish, and further solidifies our engagement with staff and students at Melbourne’s most important art school.”
Australian sculptor Norma Redpath’s house and adjoining studio were generously bequeathed to the University of Melbourne by the artist’s family, with the intention that they be made available to artists and academics. The studio has been managed by the VCA since 2015.
The first participants in the partnership program began their residency last week. Mexican artist Joaquin Segura and San Francisco-based Mexican-Australian curator Ivan Muniz Reed, will hold an exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary in collaboration with Melbourne-based artist Tony Garifalakis.
Banner image: Norma Redpath Studio, by Sanjeeva Vancuylenburg.
Louris van de Geer started her performance writing career as a teenager. Now a Master of Writing for Performance graduate, she talks to Sophie Duran about how the VCA helped her develop as a writer, the challenges of working in the theatre industry, and her greatest achievement to date.
I began writing plays in my first year out of high school. I hadn’t applied for university and wasn’t really interested in formal study. I continued writing and was making theatre at St Martins, the Melbourne Fringe Festival, MKA, and Next Wave, and knew I wanted to apply for the Master of Writing for Performance at the VCA so I could learn more about the craft and meet other writers, as well as have a taste of the academic experience.
I think I came to the VCA at exactly the right time. I had been on my own for several years, trying to make a career and step up to the next level, and the VCA came just in time so I could gain a more theoretical understanding of what I was doing.
I enjoyed the structure and the conversation that came with studying at the VCA. Structure and routine is so helpful to the creative process and very hard to implement for yourself – at least it is for me! So it was a really great thing, being forced to read certain things and think about them in certain ways, having to turn up with ten pages of writing by a certain time. I also enjoyed the freedom. There was never an idea that we had to write a certain type of play, or follow certain theories about narrative structure. We were encouraged to take risks.
The VCA gave me space and time and support to test ideas and understand why I make the work I do in the way I do. The people I met at the VCA are some of the best people, and the conversations in and outside of class have been instrumental to my thinking. Being able to meet actors, directors, designers and other writers is the most helpful thing. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, so tapping into and building networks with fellow students is a great way to become more embedded in the community.
My greatest achievement while doing my masters was working on my one-act play, Looking Glass. I really enjoyed the process: writing at home, having one-on-one dramaturgical meetings with a different dramaturg each week, and workshopping sections of script in class. There were so many thoughts and ideas being thrown around and it’s such a luxury to be receiving feedback so consistently. The play turned out to be a great success. It was shortlisted for the Griffin Award and the Rodney Seaborn Award the following year, and finally had its premiere production at fortyfive downstairs in August, directed by Susie Dee.
In the next few years, my goal is to keep writing, keep thinking about what theatre can be and how it can continue to be a space that offers something unique from film or television. I would love to have a show that tours, or at least is remounted again after an initial two-week season.
Theatre is a difficult thing to make. It is incredibly difficult to have a sustainable career. The arts are undervalued by the government and the wider population and this leads to conservative programming and conservative audiences.
To other aspiring writers of live performance, I’d say: don’t give up. Ask questions. Ask to be allowed into rehearsals rooms. Watch and read widely. Know why you’ve decided to do this thing instead of something else.
As told to Sophie Duran
Banner image: Sav Schulman, 2017.
It is with great sadness and shock that we heard the news this week that VCA Film and Television graduate, Cris Jones, had passed away aged 37.
By Nicolette Freeman, Head of Film and Television, Victorian College of the Arts
Cris Jones graduated from the VCA in 2002. I was fortunate enough to teach Cris in his second year (Bachelor of Film and Television), in the skills of 16mm filmmaking. Cris was an inventive, talented, clever, witty and dedicated student, and a nice guy as well. He extended these qualities as much to his colleagues’ film projects as he did to his own – and consequently was a much loved and admired member of his class.
The short films Cris made as a film student were genuinely out of the box (one of them even featured a box in a key role) and they made staff, classmates and assessors sit up and smile at the freshness of his storytelling and cinematic approach. The films Excursion (2002) and The Heisenberg Principal (2000) were enthusiastically invited to screen at many film festivals, locally and abroad. At one point the school struggled to fund enough film prints to send Excursion to all the festivals eager to screen it at the same time.
In 2003, Cris was awarded the Emerging Talent Award by the Australian Film Critics Circle and the Emerging Australian Filmmaker award by the Melbourne International Film Festival – possibly a daunting spotlight for a newly-graduated filmmaker. However, Cris’ humility and genuine curiosity for a world wider than film alone led him on his own authentic path towards his subsequent projects.
It came as no surprise to hear that the Melbourne International Film Festival chose to support Cris’ first feature film, The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, through its competitive MIFF Premier Fund, and in 2016 the film screened at MIFF’s opening night. Although the film was not everyone’s cup of tea, it and Cris’ unique storytelling qualities were quite at home in the film festival context, where brave festival directors, who are absolutely on top of cinema’s current trends and new directions, identify and program films that will shake up local audiences and renew our sense of exhilaration and faith in the potential of new filmmakers.
I bumped into Cris a few times over the last few years whenever he dropped by the school. I will miss his stories, his smile and his warmth. We will all miss the films that he no doubt was dreaming up and planning to produce.
Banner image: Cris Jones with actor Matilda Brown on the set of The Death and Life of Otto Bloom. Photo: Suzy Wood.
Sean Michael Mcdowell is one of four VCA Art students who have curated Proud 2017, an annual exhibition showcasing work by current students. Find out why Sean chose VCA, what he's learned at art school so far, and what to expect in this year's instalment of the annual exhibition at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery.