BWW Review: WOMADELAIDE 2019 - DAY 3 at Botanic Park

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BWW Review: WOMADELAIDE 2019 - DAY 3 at Botanic ParkReviewed by Ray Smith, Sunday 10th March 2019.

WOMADelaide 2019 offers a wealth of music and dance, but there is a lot more going on than the performances on the many stages scattered across the expansive site. Installations and roving performers, offstage performances, Taste the World events, Speakers' Corner, the Global Village, the Healing Village, Kidzone, bars and restaurants, and exotic food stalls all add to the colour, excitement and the experience that is WOMADelaide.

5AngryMen in long black coats were spotted riding around the parkland on old bicycles. Separate, silent, and sullen, they rode closer and closer to a curious steel structure, like the bones of a church tower, from which hung 5 thick ropes. Eventually, they assembled, one by one, forming a line abreast, their arms around each other's shoulders.

Maintaining an eerie silence, the gaunt, dark, almost Dickensian figures sat and stared at the skeletal steel form as an assistant cleared a path through the crowd to allow the first of the riders to move slowly forward as if through treacle, like a man on his way to the gallows. He was slowly joined by his compatriots, as they silently and carefully laid their bicycles to rest at the feet of the edifice and without a word, gestured the circle of onlookers closer, to sit at their feet in preparation.

Then everything changed.

They ran and leapt at the ropes with guttural yells and grunts, seizing the cords with such force and at such a height that they swung from one side to the other. As they did so, the ropes gave way for a metre or so before recoiling back, lifting the climbing figure higher into the air. Every downward thrust and every upward spring triggered the sound of a bell. The men's frenzied and violent movements as they clambered up and down the ropes seemed to be completely random, each one having no reference to the other, but the bells told a different story. The apparently chaotic and powerfully aggressive actions of the 5AngryMen resulted in clear melodies from the bells as the perfectly timed movements triggered the sounds with split-second accuracy.

I suspect that the bell sounds, which were electronic in nature if not in effect, were tuned to a pentatonic scale in order to avoid troublesome seconds and fourths but, nonetheless, the short melodies were repeated often enough to demonstrate that the sounds were being triggered to a deliberate pattern. It was a very impressive performance. The concept of Ephemeral City is an intriguing one.

Marseille-based artist Olivier Grossetête's temporary structures allow the audience a hands-on experience and involvement as these huge and imposing structures are assembled one module at a time. His earlier pieces have been pretty spectacular and the WOMADelaide 2019 structure is no exception. It looks like a gigantic spiral staircase ripped intact from a Mediæval castle, the brown cardboard and adhesive tape looking like ancient and stained masonry.

The scale is mind-blowing, and the design process must be a complex and exacting process to allow 'amateurs' to assemble the sections as designed, to be later assembled like oversized children's building blocks into the final monolithic form. Built from scratch in just three days the mighty construct is disassembled on the fourth day, leaving not a trace of its former glory. Fantastic work.

Punctum's Public Cooling House offers fabulous solutions for staying cool in a dry climate such as ours in Adelaide, but it also adds a serene and meditative environment in which to do it. Evaporative cooling techniques have been used for centuries to maintain a cool environment for food storage and to cool drinking water and, while Punctum's Public Cooling House draws on that ancient knowledge, it does so in a much more contemporary way. It felt more like a gallery or a yurt in an ashram rather than a low tech but very efficient way to stay cool without using electricity.

'Arrived', was one of the roving works that the WOMADelaide audience could chance upon. Although times and approximate locations of the events were listed in the programme a great deal of luck was required to come across one whilst travelling from one stage to the next in the busy festival environment. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a performance of 'Arrived' while walking from Stage 2 to the Foundation stage, and I have to say I was both intrigued and delighted by the show. "Created by Spanish street theatre artist, Adrian Schvarzstein, and Lithuanian dancer-actor, J?rat? Širvyt?-Rukštel?, this playful, funny and surreal show is a reminder that people, and the world, still remain something unfathomable and special."

The pair appeared, suitcases in hand looking like refugees from the 1940s. They interacted with the people that they chanced upon as they walked hand in hand around the festival site, music emanating from their luggage gave a delightful clue as to their origins and acted as the background music for a quaint documentary. Ever eager to help, the couple tidied up an area where a group of people were sitting on a spread blanket, picking up empty cups and plates and carefully placing them in a large bag that was sitting there. There was a young man stretched out on his back, listening to the music from Stage 2, his head held between his interlocked fingers, when suddenly a rather large handbag was placed beneath it as a pillow.

The bag had been taken from a rather surprised woman sitting some metres away. She was dutifully repaid though when the reclining man's shoes and socks were removed and placed on her feet by our helpful couple. The scene was at once bizarre and enchanting as the smiling couple shuffled off hand in hand in search of someone else to 'help', the suitcases playing accordion music and the people in the area smiling in a baffled sort of way.

Standing in the Global Village admiring the apparently endless stalls of hand made and ethically sourced goods I suddenly noticed two people dancing between the many customers looking for a souvenir of their weekend. This was a performance by Janis Claxton Dance - POP-UP Duets and manifested as the sudden appearance of a dancing couple. The dancers enter their performance space looking for all the World like any other pair of friends enjoying their weekend when suddenly they burst into a brief but superbly choreographed pas de deux, complete with lifts and swoops, to the utter astonishment of the people around them. When the dance concludes they simply continue their walk and conversation as if nothing had happened. It was absolutely magical.

Taste the World presents some of the performing musicians in a kitchen preparing dishes from their homelands, all the while sharing stories and recipes with their host, Rosa Matto. These are fascinating sessions, where the artists, perhaps a little off guard in such a domestic scenario, speak freely of their work, their home, their families and the ordinary things of life. If you are lucky enough to be there early enough to access a seat, which I was not this year, then a small sample of the dish that has been prepared is offered to you. A fascinating insight into the lives of some of the best musicians in the World is offered by this simple but brilliantly conceived programme.

The Artists in Conversation events allow audiences to hear some of their favourite artists talk candidly about their histories, their motivations, their loves and hates, and the journey that led them to a stage in a park in South Australia. This year I learned of the very different journeys of Angélique Kidjo (and the reason for her nickname of "when, why, how?) and that of Fatoumata Diawara (Fatu). Both are strong women and noted vocalists from different parts of Africa with common barriers to overcome, but with quite different strategies for doing so.

WOMADelaide is a LOT more than a music festival. It is a celebration of ideas, cultural identity, innovation, art, social justice and the diversity between peoples, that turn out shows that we are just the same after all.

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