Show-stoppers: 2014's big curtain calls

2014's best arts and entertainment features around Australia

Sixty of the original Jim Henson puppets will be brought to life in the wickedly funny Puppet Up! at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The wacky, off-the-cuff show delivers a riotous mix of “animals, humans, aliens, hotdogs and crabs” in what is billed as a “psychotic puppet party”, courtesy of The Jim Henson Company.
Other international headliners are Max and Ivan, Paul Foot and Sara Pascoe, accompanied by local acts, Wil Anderson, Hannah Gadsby, Cal Wilson and Denise Scott.
It’s the 26th festival since it was launched by Barry Humphries and Peter Cook in 1987 and, with attendances of over 630,000 last year, it’s now Australia’s largest cultural event. This year, the Melbourne Town Hall precinct will once again be converted into a giant comedy hub from March 26 to April 20.
March 21 marks the third anniversary of one of Australia’s boldest arts initiatives – the staging of open-air opera on Sydney Harbour. This year’s production, Madama Butterfly, one of the repertoire’s most popular operas, is expected to eclipse the spectacular successes of 2012’s La Traviata and 2013’s Carmen.
The visionary behind these performances, Opera Australia Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, has not only matched superb production values with world-class singers, but on a lighter note, eye-catching props. La Traviata sported a truck-sized chandelier, Carmen a giant bull. This year, Madama Butterfly (March 21-April 12) will create a giant full moon, which rises from the harbour and silhouettes “Butterfly” and Pinkerton in this poignant tale of love and betrayal.
The first two Handa productions drew opera buffs from all over the world and also grew a new domestic audience at Bennelong Point. “Sixty per cent of the people who came [to La Traviata] had never been to an opera before,” Lyndon Terracini said last year. And 40 per cent of the audiences came from interstate and overseas, proving that the arts can be a dynamic factor in getting people to travel.
“Our productions on the Harbour are great introductions to opera, especially for those who may not have entertained the idea before,” said Terracini.
Few punters were probably aware of the tense lead up to La Traviata in 2013, when rain threatened to sabotage the success of a project estimated to have $11 million in the balance. “I had four weather apps on my phone and each one told me the sun was going to shine,” said a sublimely optimistic Terracini at the time. And even though it had rained for a month, the sun did shine on the opening night and 3000 people leapt to their feet and roared with applause.
This year, Cio-Cio-San (“Butterfly”) will be sung by Hiromi Omura and Hyeseoung Kwon; Suzuki by Anna Yun; and Pinkerton by Georgy Vasiliev and Andeka Gorrotxategi. Brian Castles-Onion will conduct. For information, visit Opera Australia.
If you’re heading south, be sure to catch one of South Australia’s premier events, the 2014 Adelaide Fringe. With a record 966 events, including risqué cabaret, thought-provoking theatre and zany circus acts, alongside dance, comedy and lots for the kids, too, it has something for everyone and runs from February 14 to March 16.
Catch the Fringe Parade on the opening night, an explosion of colour, light and music along King William Street at 8.30pm, with pre-parade entertainment from 7pm. It’s the perfect event for the whole family - take along a picnic blanket and stake out your spot along the parade route.
The newly developed Victoria Square, right in the heart of the city, will be transformed into the festival hub – featuring not only the Fringe Street Theatre Festival, where super funny and super skilled street performers will entertain passers-by, but the Spirit Festival, a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture.
Other festival highlights include Fringe ambassador and ARIA award-winning singer-songwriter Katie Noonan on stage at The Garden of Unearthly Delights in Rundle Park, comedians including Wil Anderson, Stephen K. Amos and Denise Scott tickling funny bones in various shows, and high-energy dance performances and workshops, including Spandexx Ballet: Aerobics '80s Style, where you can dust off your leotard and leg warmers and get involved.
For a truly delicious night out for the senses outside of the city, why not catch the a Capella group, The Idea of North, at the Jacobs Creek Visitors Centre, where their smooth harmonies will accompany a three-course meal prepared by executive chef, Genevieve Harris, and matched with the label’s award-winning reserve wines. Or if you’re after something a little more unusual, head to Victoria Square for Twisted Lollipop, a tale of two brats, just as sweet and sour as each other.
You’ll find ticket box offices and outlets around the city and getting around easy – there’s a free Fringe bus that will take you to the various venues. Just watch out for any number of unexpected characters you might encounter when you step onboard! The bus runs from 8pm till midnight, Thursday to Saturday nights for the duration of the festival from East End to Victoria Square.
Other events during “Mad March”, as the Adelaidians call the month, are the Adelaide Festival (February 20- March 16), the arts and music extravaganza WOMADelaide (March 7-10) in the city’s Botanic Park and the motor racing event, Clipsal 500 (February 27-March 2).
More than 250 invited chefs, producers, winemakers and entertainers will descend on Noosa to join foodies from all over the world to celebrate the good things in life. The aim this year is to“strip away some of the formality and create one big party”, say the organisers.
Set against the sparkling backdrop of Noosa (recently awarded Australia’s Best Summer Holiday Destination), the 2014 festival will host some of the world’s best chefs, including Franck-Elie Laloum (Shanghai), Alvin Leung (Hong Kong), Bruno Loubet (London), Neil Perry AM (Sydney), Julien Royer (Singapore), David Thompson (Bangkok) as well as Shane Delia, Guy Gross and Peter Kuruvita under direction of the festival’s new Executive Chef Timothy Montgomery.
More than 80 of Australia’s best winemakers will come together for a series of world-class wine celebrations and masterclasses hosted by Aaron Brasher, Peter Forrestal, Ken Gargett, Tony Harper, Tony Love, Bernadette O’Shea, Peter Scudamore-Smith and Tyson Steltzer.
More than 100 Italian masterpieces will grace the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria this winter. The exhibition, Italian Masterpieces: from Spain’s Royal Court Museo del Prado (May 16 to August 31), is seen as a world-class coup.
A Melbourne exclusive, it draws on one of the world’s most celebrated collections and will showcase over 100 works – comprising 70 paintings, many measuring over three metres, alongside more than 30 superb drawings – the largest number of Italian works the Museo del Prado has ever loaned to one exhibition.
“This is the first time the Prado has toured an exhibition of their renowned collection of Italian masterpieces in the world,” says Tony Ellwood, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. “We are thrilled that Melbourne has secured this world first – providing visitors with an unprecedented opportunity to see works that, until now, could only be seen at the Prado.”
More than 70 artists are represented, including Raphael, Correggio, Titian, Tintoretto, the Carracci, Poussin and Tiepolo.
Soak up some of ballet’s most beautiful pas de deux with the Queensland’s Whitsunday Passage as the backdrop. Now in its seventh year, The Australian Ballet’s Pas de Deux in Paradise returns to the luxury Qualia resort on Hamilton Island with dancing from La Sylphide, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Nutcracker on the weekend of October 31-November 2.
Principal artists Leanne Stojmenov, Kevin Jackson, Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello will perform beachside in this open-air event, where spectators get to mingle with the dancers.
The multi-dimensional weekend sees guests get an unprecedented insight into the workings of a ballet company and how the magic is weaved behind the scenes and on stage. There’ll be open rehearsals, the beachside cocktail party before the show, a question-and-answer session and grand dinner at the resort’s Long Pavilion. For ballet lovers or anyone in search of romantic getaway, this is the event … perfect for an anniversary.
Photography credit for [Italian Masterpieces: from Spain’s Royal Court Museo del Prado](/(http:/www.ngv.vic.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/exhibitions/italian-masterpieces-from-spains-royal-court-museo-del-prado-madrid)): Holy Family with Saint John or Madonna of the Rose by Raphael, circa 1516. Courtesy Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

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