Marketplace intensity

Kathryn Kelly: Australia Performing Arts Market 2014

I Think I Can, Terrapin Puppet Theatre

I Think I Can, Terrapin Puppet Theatre

It was my first time and I have to say it was a good time. APAM 2014, or the Australian Performing Arts Market (18-22 February) celebrated its 20th anniversary with a series of firsts: Brisbane as first-time host and the first time 25% of the work programmed was Indigenous.

With a stellar turn-out of 600 delegates from 27 countries, many of them producers hungry for Australian content, the three days passed in a blur of dynamic performance, snatched conversations, furtive business card exchanges and vast amounts of liquid to combat the unseasonable tropical heat.

APAM opened with a welcome to country from Aunty Maroochy of the Turrbal people. This was followed by a précis from the Australia Council about the rationale for funding a marketplace for overseas producers to showcase Australian performance. As I sat between the Canadian Artistic Director of the Irish Fringe Festival and a New York off-Broadway producer, APAM’s effectiveness seemed evident. What struck me most about the culture of APAM was its conviviality. Conversations were started freely and many of the self-conscious hierachies of local theatre foyers were abandoned.

Cultural collision

On a more sombre note, the opening ceremony, a panel on collaboration facilitated by SBS Insight host Jenny Brockie demonstrated the complex and often agonised relationship between Indigenous and non-indigenous artists in Australia. Brockie was well intentioned but clearly bemused by the specificity of the artistic experiences framing the discussion. The conversation about culture and collaboration began with the supple and sophisticated inter-culturalism of Singaporean Ong Keng Sen’s trans-Asian inter-disciplinary projects that emphasise open fluidity. This was met by an impassioned critique from young Indigenous dancer Eric Avery, and the call-out from his collaborator, Lorna Monroe from the floor: cultural collaboration is lived for us through kinship and totem, in continuance from ancestry. Why must we explain our culture and carry the burden of representation and not vice versa? Auntie Lilla Watson joined the conversation from the front row. At first the panel nodded, listened politely, tried to engage. Eric and Lorna clearly felt unheard. There was that moment of pure cultural collision performed onstage for us all to see: it got too hard to encounter each other. Brockie shut down the dialogue and moved on.

Entering the maze

Sadly, the smoking ceremony that occurred after the keynote lost many of the international delegates who didn’t know where to proceed. This, alas, was the first of many bewildering geographic dislocations as delegates tried to navigate the five-venue set-up. Shows were missed, or were half-seen, or left early. To be fair, first times are often a bit clumsy and I’m sure that most of the logistical glitches will be sorted for 2016.

But APAM is about the shows. While there were half a dozen full productions on offer, most of the time was spent in a kaleidoscope of smaller activities: watching pitches and excerpts of works, roundtables, visiting stalls of companies and meeting artists. I tried to watch the launch of Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale twice but the weather proved temperamental.

Many of the works have been around for a number of years. The pitch sessions were also by strongly established companies or for works that had progressed through at least two or three stages of initial development, like My Darling Patricia’s/Aphid’s Creole installation riffing off Jean Rhys’ radio play Crawl Me Blood or the Queensland Theatre Company’s homage to country music and its Indigenous legends, Buried Country written by Reg Cribb.

New Zealand input

The novelty was all in the New Zealand content, which seemed strong. I wasn’t able to see any of their contemporary dance works, but one called Rotunda, by the New Zealand Dance Company, was designed to tour by collaborating with a local brass band. It’s so hokey it is almost chic: what town doesn’t have their own brass band? More sophisticated and sumptuous were Kila Kokonut Krew Entertainment’s The Factory (which will appear at Riverside Parramatta, 18-21 June) a musical homage to Pacific migrants and Red Leap Theatre’s Sea.

Round-up

The show that got the most ‘you must go and see this’ was Branch Nebula’s collaboration with Clare Britton and Matt Prest, Whelping Box. The show that made delegates the chirpiest was the delightful show by Contact, Walking the Neighbourhood, where you were guided around Fortitude Valley by a child. The secret event that lots of people wanted an invite to was the late night Australian Dance Theatre showing. The most anticlimactic show was the The Stream, the Boat, the Shore and the Bridge, an intimate tour around four locations in Brisbane that lacked a driving thematic or immersive experience. The most fun was a Terrapin Puppet Theatre work, I Think I Can (featured in the 2014 Sydney and Perth Festivals and FOLA), that set up a pseudo-Brisbane miniature railway in the foyer of the Powerhouse and asked you to pick a character and to create a story to intersect with the other delegates.

Some of the bigger and more anticipated shows were received somewhat skeptically. My sense is that many of the overseas producers were on the hunt for Australian circus like the gorgeous Casus work Knee Deep.

The caveat on all of these quick summaries is of course that the five-venue structure meant very divergent experiences, particularly as many of the shows have been critically well-received and toured extensively.

What I most enjoyed about APAM was the way it offered a snapshot of Australian performance. It made me very optimistic: even when I met work that I felt was tired or safe or perhaps not to my taste, the robustness and mobility of our artists is quite astonishing when viewed collectively. One of the delegates had recently come across from the film sector and she was amazed at the fluidity of performance-makers, their ingenuity and capacity to do deals. All in all I think we put on a good spread.

APAM 2014, Australian Performing Arts Market, Brisbane Powerhouse, 18-22

RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg. 35

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

21 April 2014
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