Magdalena Australia

Helen Varley Jamieson, April 2003

Magdalena Australia has been and gone, as stimulating and inspiring and exhausting as a Magdalena festival should be. Held in Brisbane from 6-16 April, the festival offered a packed programme of workshops, performances, forums and an exhibition. I don't think I've been to so many openings and launches for a single festival before - there was the official opening, the media launch, a gala evening, even a powhiri ...

Once again I overcomitted myself, keen to get as much as possible from the experience. On Tuesday 8th, Avatar Body Collision performed "swim - an exercise in remote intimacy"; the following day I spoke on a panel about multimedia/hybrid/new media theatre (pictured below, with forum chair Fiona Winning and on the left, mutlimedia artist Suzon Fuks; photo by Di Collier); then after squeezing in some more rehearsals, I performed in Aotearoa Day along with the large contingent from Magdalena Aotearoa.


But wait, there's more: once again I worked with Jill Greenhalgh on the Water[war]s project - which has a tendency to demand much more time than is allocated for it. We worked every morning, taking the material everyone had brought with them and devising a series of interventions that took place throughout the festival. In our spare moments we were rushing around the venue accessing data ports, setting up projectors, discovering great spaces (the venue was the Powerhouse, a wonderful old power station building rejuvenated as a theatre and arts space) and carrying out other mysterious tasks that led to another incarnation of Water[war]s.

water[war]sWe hoped to be able to webcast parts of Water[war]s, and we nearly got there - but came up against an unsolvable problem when the encoder software refused to talk nicely to the web cam software (my next task is to understand codecs and learn more about webcasting - not something I've really concerned myself with in the past because they tend to be so unsatisfying). But I did get two data projectors to play with which was fun; check out the pictures, stats and story.

The festival provided an opportunity for me to show the Magdalena family where my cyberformance work has taken me so far. Many had been at Transit III in January, 2001, when I presented a short cyberformance as part of that Water[war]s (starring the fabulous Adriene Jenik and Lisa Brenneis). At that time, the audience had errupted into a heated debate about whether or not this could be called theatre. This time, we presented "swim", with the addition of web cams and live performance to the graphic environment of the Palace, and the feedback was very positive.

swimWe were all put up at a new hostel in town - so new that we were the first guests ever, the signage was still going up and we had the entire place to ourselves, which was great. The kitchen was always full of food and coffee, and every night there was music, conversation and an interesting mixture of alcoholic beverages on the balcony until the wee small hours. I became an honorary Serbain, sharing a room with three of Dah Theater, and I managed to add a few phrases to my Serbian vocab.

Dah's new performance "Cirque Macabre" was one of my favourites, as was Geddy Aniksdal's work-in-progress "No Doctor for the Dead", a rivetting interpretation of the poems of Georg Johannesen. Other performance highlights included "My Journey" by Uhan Shii, exploring gender in traditional Taiwanese opera, and "Casa Matriz", which was hilarious even when I could only understand a little of the fast Spanish dialogue.

Every Magdalena festival takes on a local flavour, and Magdalena Australia did this in a number of ways. There was a lot of work by Australian women in the programme, from a wide range of artists, and there were workshops by indigenous and non-indigenous Australian women. The indigenous women involved in the festival had formed their own working group and set up a space at the venue where they held workshops and yarnin' circles. Australia is a vast country and many expressed difficulty in networking and touring within their own country, and they resolved to keep in contact now that the festival had brought them together.

with DawnOver the whole festival period I networked like mad, reconnecting with many friends and making lots of new and interesting connections. It was particularly good to meet with women working in related areas (digital media, multimedia performance) in Australia, as there is a lot of interesting work happening there which is good to be able to tap into. Post festival, I'm pondering over the conversations, the performances, the interactions ... making lists of things to follow up, small changes for "swim", ideas for new work. It's been another enriching experience - big thanks to Dawn (pictured with me at right), Scotia, Julie and the rest of the team who made it happen.

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