Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The nature of optimism

What does the Malthouse Theatre have in store for the first half of 2009? Michael Kantor spills the beans.

“It feels like it’s a season that is attempting, in some way, to respond to a very unstable world,” Michael Kantor says of the first of his two Malthouse Theatre seasons for 2009. “There’s a big focus on making sure we’ve found space to wryly sit back and laugh at ourselves.”

Kantor, the Artistic Director of the Malthouse, has programmed nine productions for the first half of 2009, including three world premieres of new Australian works, and three Malthouse Theatre commissions. Central to the season is playwright Tom Wright’s Optimism, a reworking of the classic satire Candide by the French writer Voltaire.

“This great story … was a satire about the nature of optimism, and yet 350 years later we’re sitting thinking ‘How can we continue to feel optimistic?’ It’s still the same question, because there’s a natural desire for optimism,” Kantor says.

“It’s something that’s always intrigued me, because I’m naturally an optimist, and yet every indication around us should be proving to us again and again that there’s no reason to be optimistic, really, and that things end badly.

“It’s a wonderful story to look back on because its last line is the very famous Voltairean line, which is open to a lot of analysis: Candide, after seeing all the worries of the world and thinking about what is the best possible of all worlds, simply says ‘We must cultivate our garden’, which is exactly right in my mind.”

But not every work Kantor has programmed for 2009 is so cheerful.

To be staged in the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre (an intimate space created for more experimental works) Adam J.A. Cass’ I Love You, Bro is a one man play about obsession, desire and the internet. Based on a true story, the play explores the double life of ‘Johnny Boy’, a teenage chatroom junkie who conspires to murder himself.

“It’s a devastating little piece,” Kantor observes. “It’s a really bizarre and macabre story, but it also talks about how we’re increasingly interacting with each other through mediums that allow for huge subterfuge, and which can be very dangerous, with all the pretence that’s possible through electronic relationships.”

Unsurprisingly, the first half of 2009 also continues Kantor’s exploration of non-text based theatre, including a new focus on dance.

Dance Massive is something that we’re doing with Arts House and Dancehouse; and I think it’s great for us to focus for two weeks on just celebrating that extraordinary thing, which is the absolute vibrancy of Melbourne’s contemporary dance scene,” he explains.

As part of the collaborative Dance Massive programme, which is also supported by Ausdance Victoria, the Malthouse will be presenting Rogue, a triple bill featuring recent graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts.

“We’re hoping to make this a biennial or even annual focus, and built it into a kind of important festival in the process of how Melbourne interrelates with its art,” Kantor says.

Recent Malthouse productions, such as last year’s Sleeping Beauty starring Renee Geyer, and more recently, Vamp, have included a strong musical element, and in 2009 this continues with a new production of Georg Büchner’s modernist classic, Woyzeck, starring You Am I’s Tim Rogers, with music composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

“I think there’s a little Nick Cave revival going on at the start of next year. He’s doing a tour, he’s doing that big concert that he’s curating up at Mount Buller (All Tomorrow’s Parties), and then in February we’re doing this work with seven new songs by Nick Cave which no-one’s heard.

“Well, I’ve heard them,” Kantor adds, laughing, “and they’re great.”

The Malthouse Theatre’s season one, 2009, January 31 – June 27.

This article originally appeared in CANVAS magazine issue #03, published Thursday October 30.

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