Well, a belated Happy New Year to you all – can you believe it is 2012? It still feels like we were celebrating the turn of the century only yesterday, and here we are more than a decade in. Astonishing… and not a little sobering as I think back to my chief goal of that time: to write a novel worth publishing. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m nowhere near there yet. In fact, my MS is now officially in pieces, hacked apart in a salvage effort demanded by core and therefore persistent failings. And yet I have started 2012 feeling good about this mess – it’s an excavation that’s as necessary as it is overdue.
But that’s not what I want to post about today, because last night I was fortunate enough to get to the opening night of Babel at Sydney Theatre. Babel is part of the exciting Sydney Festival (SF) program put together by outgoing director Lindy Hume, and is directed and choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, with sculptural forms by British artist Antony Gormley.
A little while ago, I interviewed Jalet for one of several SF articles I was writing for Deluxe Sydney magazine, which is now available online. He was in Belgium at the time, so thanks to the time difference I was able to enjoy a long, wide-ranging conversation with him after Master J went down for the night. Jalet proved a fascinating, forthcoming and thoughtful interviewee. When the call ended I had a moment of happy satisfaction; it was one of those occasions when you allow yourself to believe you’re in the right job. Ever since I’ve wished I’d been commissioned to write a far longer piece on Babel – I had reams of material and a mere 450 words at my disposal (which was reduced even further by the editorial desk – Deluxe Sydney made its glossy entrance as a highly pictorial publication – the stories have been shortened, but as a result the mag looks lush and gorgeous). It’s always tough trying to do justice to the subject in such limited space – an impossible effort, really.
Anyway, it was absolutely brilliant being in the audience when Babel made its Sydney debut. It was electrifying; the international cast of dancers (an absurdly multi-talented lot, with a number of them also singing, for god’s sake, as if spectacular dance skills weren’t enough…) delivered a truly memorable experience. Previously I’ve never much cared for modern dance – though perhaps I’ve been unlucky in the pieces I’ve seen – so I was intrigued to see Jalet and Cherkaoui’s vision come to life. Ahead of time I wondered what would be – ironically – lost in translation. The interview with Jalet revealed the depth of intellect and vigour driving the collaboration between the pair, and I wasn’t sure the production itself, with all its players, could possibly match the intensity and euphoria of exchange when it came to performing for Sydney audiences.
Well. I needn’t have worried. It’s a stunning mix of dance, music and drama – shot through with understated provocation and wit. It’s one of the Sydney Festival headliners for a reason: Babel speaks volumes.