Thursday, December 04, 2008

Culture corner

It's been a busy week, with a few memorable events in the social diary. To whit:

The opening of the MTC Theatre

The Melbourne Theatre Company has long been without a home of its own. Now, after many years, they've officially opened a new home on Southbank, beside the new Recital Centre. So, last Saturday night I trooped along (albeit glowing with sunburn after an afternoon playing in a charity soccer tournament - and oh, my aching thighs and calves the nest day!) to check out their new digs.

The venue itself is very impressive, and an excellent match to the new recital centre next door; I'm particularly impressed by the lack of a balcony in the theatre proper, as I find being seated in the balcony has a distancing effect that removes me physically and emotionally from the performance. The aesthetic of the theatre, with its walls illuminated by lines of text from Australian classics, is also impressive. I also appreciated the nod to the MTC's former home in Russell Street, it's size and tattered state recreated on stage at the start of the show.

That said, the performances proper at this opening night were a bit naff - I mean, Rhonda Burchmore? Twice? Puh-leaze. It struck me as a wasted opportunity to look to the future and celebrate what is to come in the years ahead; instead we got a performance that wallowed in the past. Still, kudos to Geoffrey Rush for programming the revue-style opening night show in six weeks flat (and for playing an excellent Lady Bracknell - could we please have him starring in a revival of Earnest in 2010 please, Simon?), and congratulations to the MTC Chairman, Ian Renard, for allowing himself to be so completely the butt of the joke on stage after his speech.

New MIAF AD comes out

Brett Sheehy, the new Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF), had his public 'coming out' in the old-fashioned sense of the word at Comme (formerly Miettas) on Tuesday night; one of several corporate schmooze-fests happening simultaneously that evening. (I attended another, thrown by the City of Melbourne, earlier that same evening at Transit, overlooking the temporary Homeless World Cup stadium that's been erected at Federation Square.)

Full points to Sheehy for being so forthright about his desire to make MIAF Australia's pre-emminent arts festival, and for the audacity to speak so bluntly of money in front of a corporate and political crowd - I had a direct sightline of the Arts Minister's face and her smile faded rapidly at that point, I can tell you!

Unfortanately, too much of Sheehy's speech seemed to consist of arts buzzwords, with too few real details of his 'artistic vision for Melbourne and the festival' (as promised by the invitation) actually revealed on the night. He also lost me by waxing lyrical about opening his festival with opera and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: it was as if his speech was contrived to please The Age's conservative chief arts scribe Robin Usher (whose antipathy for the programming of former festival AD Kristy Edmunds is well documented).

Still, until specific details of Sheehy's program are announced, I'll try not to form an opinion of the man and his programming either way. One things for certain, he's a great public speaker, and has energy to burn.

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek preview

I was never a huge fan of Star Trek, although I do remember watching episodes of the original series on Saturday afternoons back in the late 70s and early 80s; and I have seen at least a couple of the big screen adaptations actually at the cinema, such was my interest in the franchise. But I long lost any real interest in Star Trek, which meant that Next Generation and all its subsequent sequels and prequels failed to kindle my imagination. But having read enough interwebs geek-goss on Ain't It Cool and related sites about the rebooting of the franchise by Lost wunderkind J.J. Abrams, I have to admit to being intrigued by his forthcoming Star Trek. Which is why I jumped at the chance to see a few sneak preview snippets of the movie on Tuesday morning.

And - wow. OMG, like WOW! The four seperate scenes that we watched at the Crown Village cinemas were startling and exciting; both a homage to Gene Rodberry's original Star Trek stories and an entirely new story. We meet James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) for the first time; an angry young man who tries to pick up an equally young Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in a bar before getting involved in a brawl. We see him smuggled onto the Enterprise by Bones McCoy (perfectly played by Kiwi actor Karl Urban: no only does he gets the character's voice right, but even the body language, noted fellow RRR broadcaster Rob Jan, who was seated next to me at the screening) where he has a run-in with the Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto from Heroes). In the third scene, Kirk meets up with an elderly Spock from the future (Leonard Nimoy) and has his first encounter with engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg). The fourth and final scene was a big action set piece featuring Kirk, Sulu (John Cho) and a hapless red-shirt.

Like I said, I was never a big Star Trek fan; but there's an energy, a vigour about the four scenes we were shown on Tuesday, that got me really excited to see more. Bring on May 7, 2009!

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