OzAsia artistic director Annette Shun Wah says she is excited to be able to present a full contingent of international artists in 2023 after the pandemic put constraints on her previous two festivals.

The program launched today for the October 19 to November 5 event features around 300 artists from Australia and overseas. Shun Wah says it reflects the current times, with “profound and provocative works” exploring themes such as freedom, survival of endangered cultures, and resilience.

“I’m wanting to give a snapshot of what’s hot and topical in Asia right now,” she tells InReview. “It might be an artist that’s really hot or it might be something that everyone’s talking about, or a change or trend that’s happening in artforms… we’re able to do a bit more of that this year, so that’s really exciting.”

The program will open with the popular Moon Lantern Trail, which will take place over four days at Tarntanya Wama/Pinky Flat and feature three new lanterns, as well as roving performances, live music and workshops.

Leading the performing arts line-up are several cutting-edge contemporary dance shows, including Singapore-based T.H.E. (The Human Expression) Dance Company’s Infinitely Closer, which includes holographic projections and immersive sound.

“The theme of this work is freedom… freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom in a world in which there is ongoing surveillance,” says Shun Wah, describing it as a stunning and intimate work during which audience members will get to step inside the performance space on the Festival Theatre stage.

“The audience is allowed to express their own thoughts about freedom, so you go where you want to go, you move around the dancers, you can pull out your phone, you can take a selfie, you can do a video.”

Visual projections and music are also integral to tiaen tiamen Episode 1, in which Taiwanese choreographer  Bulareyaung Pagarlava celebrates his Paiwan Indigenous identity and culture. He collaborated with fellow Paiwan artists, including singer ABAO and visual artist Reretan Pavavaljung, to create tiaen tiamen (“me and us”), which is said to hum with “the optimism of youth, radiant colour, psychedelic electronic beats and the fearless energy of the young dancers”.

Bulareyaung Dance Company’s tiaen tiamen Episode 1. Photo: Kim Lee

OzAsia audiences may recall New Zealand-based Indian Ink Theatre Company from its 2018 festival hit The Guru of Chai. This year the company will return with the equally enticing Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream, which stars the same performer, Jacob Rajan, in a solo performance incorporating puppetry and “a dash of Bollywood disco”.

“In this work the character has died and he’s in limbo,” explains Shun Wah. “So it’s a little bit about death, about looking back at your life, and also about death rituals, which in some parts of India and China involve vultures, and the vultures are disappearing.

“Typical of his work, he plays about seven characters. It’s a solo performance, apart from the vulture… it’s funny, it’s warm, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

OzAsia Festival unveils 2023 program

Jacob Rajan in Paradise or the Impermanence of Ice Cream.

A documentary theatre work being presented at Nexus Arts by Malaysia’s Five Arts Centre is A Notional History, based on research by artist-activist Fahmi Reza, musician Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri and journalist Rahmah Pauzi during which they investigated the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960 and its fallout.

OzAsia Festival unveils 2023 program

Artist Fahmi Reza with Najib Behind Bars.

A Notional History, which calls for wider perspectives on history, is being presented alongside Punk Protest Propaganda, an exhibition of street art, protest materials and other works by Fahmi Reza, who has been likened to the street artist Banksy. Reza has been arrested several times for his protest art – including a clown caricature of the country’s former prime minister, Najib Razak.

The Special Comedy Comedy Special returns with a line-up of nine Australian-Asian comedians and a new host, Sami Shah, while the Lucky Beats stage at the Lucky Dumpling Market in Elder Park will feature an expanded line-up of free performances by artists including Brisbane-based musician Jaguar Jonze, ARIA-nominated Australian singer Emily Wurramara (with a full band), Australian-Korean rap band 1300 and Hong Kong-based physical theatre troupe TS Crew.

Among the ticketed music events, Shun Wah says Saudara Sound System promises to be something special, melding traditional Balinese gamelan music and dance with hip-hop, electronic beats and vocals, while electronic pop musician and visual artist Rainbow Chan’s solo performance The Bridal Lament reimagines a ritual performed by her Weitou ancestors (the Weitou people were the first settlers of Hong Kong).

The Bridal Laments were the songs that the women used to sing ahead of their marriage, because traditionally, when you marry, your family disowns you and you become a member of your husband’s family,” Shun Wah says.

The poetry of one of China’s wave of worker poets, Xu Lizhi – who laboured in a factory making electronic goods until he took his own life in his mid-20s – provided the basis for Canadian-Chinese musician and theatre-maker Njo Kong Kie’s I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron, to be presented in the Dunstan Playhouse. Njo has transformed the poetry into a song cycle for a poignant solo performance featuring piano and video imagery that is described as “a timely lament for our digital age”.

In 1988, another cross-disciplinary work, musician Dung Nguyen takes inspiration from the year he came to Australia from Vietnam. The performance – co-directed by Dung and Peter Knight, former artistic director of Australian Art Orchestra – interweaves personal narratives and cultural legacies through a live performance by an ensemble of six musicians playing diverse instruments including the đàn t’rưng (a traditional bamboo xylophone), piano, percussion and bass. Old-fashioned slide projectors are connected to small screens on stage showing images curated by Melbourne-based artist Phuong Ngo.

“It’s a music piece but it’s really quite interesting and experimental because every artist comes from a different musical practice, all under the direction of Peter and Nguyen,” Shun Wah says of 1988. “They say it’s history corrupted by nostalgia,” .

After proving a hit last year, the Japanese pop culture event AnimeGO! will return to the Festival Centre on October 29, while writing and ideas program In Other Words will be presented from November 3-5, with the full program by curator Jennifer Wong and guest curators Sami Shah and Durkhanai Ayubi to be announced in September.

In addition to Punk Protest Propaganda, OzAsia also encompasses several other exhibitions, with the galleries in the Festival Theatre Foyer showcasing HOME-LAND, featuring illustrative and textile-based works by Chris Yee, who designed the cover for the 2023 festival program, as well as Yella Fella, featuring works by four artists with Chinese and Aboriginal heritage.

The 2023 OzAsia Festival will take place from October 19 to November 5.

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