6 July, 2020
Early this year more than 70 Australian and 50 international cultural partners came together in Melbourne to present Asia TOPA 2020, the second Asia Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts. Creative Director Stephen Armstrong reflects on the recent festival and what the future holds for the triennial.
As a triennial festival of contemporary arts, each Asia TOPA is an open invitation to audiences to explore the outcomes of three years of producing partnerships, regional exchanges and new work creation. The work of artists from 22 different countries and regions across the Asia Pacific was presented here in Melbourne, spanning everything from dance, to theatre, music, film, visual art and beyond.
The scale and depth of Asia TOPA – 351 performances, exhibitions, screenings and events across 56 theatres, exhibition spaces and gathering sites – is made possible through a collaborative festival model unique to Victoria. Branching out from Arts Centre Melbourne we partner with universities, theatres, producers and venues across the city and into regional Victoria to program new work alongside international icons and shimmering new discoveries.
It is a huge undertaking that involves all levels of our industry – connecting local artists with their international colleagues. By fostering collaboration between the critical culture-makers of our city and our region, Asia TOPA provides a unique opportunity to understand our current place in the world and to imagine a shared future we might strive for.
Top left and right: The Planet – A Lament by Garin Nugroho. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti.
Bottom left: Music from the Studio Ghibli Films of Hayao Miyazaki with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Photo Mark Gambino.
Bottom right: Kecak Dance: The Vocal Chanting of Bali by The Victorian College of the Arts and I Wayan Dibia. Photo Mark Gambino.
I am writing this at home just twenty minutes walk from the city and a short tram ride from my office at Arts Centre Melbourne. The Asia TOPA team have all been working from home since Melbourne’s COVID-19 shutdown in March, but even following the extraordinary last days of the 2020 festival our pace has done anything but slow down!
Asia TOPA has always been a ‘long game’ project with outcomes extending well beyond the curtain-call. Even more so for this second edition of the triennial as we respond to new challenges in the context of a global pandemic. All artists have been harshly impacted by COVID-19, not least those whose performances have been cancelled and tours indefinitely postponed. But unsurprisingly, and notwithstanding the current travel bans, Australian artists are undeterred and finding ways to grow their connections with artists in our region and develop future projects.
Arts Centre Melbourne have responded by developing Asia TOPA Connected, a new program bringing highlights of the 2020 festival online in an extensive series of talks, commissioned documentaries and full length edited broadcasts. Local and global audiences can discover or reconnect with Asia TOPA’s powerful creative voices – works that wrestle with political action, decolonisation, environmental devastation, and the artistic and cultural traditions that connect us through deep time with one another.
Top left: Metal by Lucy Guerin Inc and Ensemble Tikoro. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti.
Top right: NONOTAK. Photo Michelle Pitiris.
Bottom left and right: Boris with Merzbow. Photo Photo Michelle Grace Hunder.
Asia TOPA invites the diversity of Asia into Australia, but it also allows Australian artists to look forward into the region, to advocate for new networks, share ideas and create a new sense of possibility.
In addition to Asia TOPA Connected, Arts Centre Melbourne - with help from the Playking Foundation and the Sidney Myer Fund - has initiated a Virtual Creative LAB supporting artists in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart to connect online with artists in Jakarta, Hong Kong, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Seoul, Paris, Bergen, Beijing and Singapore.
Over the next three months these artists will be developing concepts for seven future real-time projects, while also creating more immediate online outcomes with support from Online Mentor Daniel Koerner. These fascinating creative precursors will also be shared through Asia TOPA Connected, and reveal how the creative process evolves and adapts in times of physical isolation.
Top left: Samsara by Aakash Odedra and Hu Shenyuan. Photo Nirvair Singh.
Top right and bottom left: Dragon Ladies Don't Weep featuring Margaret Leng Tan in a co-production by Chamber Made and CultureLink Singapore. Photo Pia Johnson.
Bottom right: Virtual Intimacy by Very Theatre and ActNow Theatre. Photo Michelle Grace Hunder.
Black Ties, a sell-out favourite and critical hit for Australia’s ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Aotearoa’s Te Rehia Theatre was one of Asia TOPA’s most successful commissioned projects and miraculously completed its six city tour across Australia and New Zealand before the COVID shutdown.
Since then we have provided commissioning support for two new works in the early stages of development, including a First Nations project developed during Asia TOPA‘s 2020 Blak LAB. Part of a growing movement of international First-Nations-led creative incubators, Blak LAB was an Arts Centre Melbourne initiative developed in collaboration with the Australian Performing Arts Market and supported by the federal government. We are especially grateful to the Blak LAB artists for their generous participation, dynamic work-in-progress showings and shared learnings.
The Asia TOPA team thanks all of the artists, creative and support teams, presenting and program partners, supporters and audiences everywhere for making the imagination matter. A special call out to the Playking Foundation for assisting Arts Centre Melbourne and our colleagues to directly support artists at this time.
BLACK TIES by ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre. Photo Mark Gambino.
Asia TOPA is a joint initiative of Arts Centre Melbourne and the Sidney Myer Fund and is supported by the Australian and Victorian governments.