Seymour to be hub of Carnivale

19 September 2003

Chinese opera, Indo-jazz, contemporary flamenco, hip-hop, paella-flavoured comedy, theatre, films, visual art, debate and even a dance party. All this is about to happen at the University's Seymour Centre when, for a month, the Centre becomes the hub of this year's Carnivale, Sydney's annual multicultural arts festival.

Right: Li Shengsu in The Legend of the White Snake

Li Shengsu in The Legend of the White Snake
Li Shengsu in The Legend of the White Snake

A rare treat for Sydney audiences, the internationally acclaimed China National Peking Opera Company heads the festival program for its first Australian appearance with The Legend of the White Snake, a classic of the Peking Opera repertoire.

Led by Golden Plum Award winners Yu Kuizhi and Li Shengsu, the 46-strong company will transform the Everest Theatre in three colourful performances melding music, song, acrobatics and dance.

The contagion of laughter is the core of a new work by South African playwright Craig Freimond, which sees its world premiere in the Downstairs Theatre this month.

Freimond became fascinated with the idea of 'the laugh track' while writing and directing sitcoms, he said, and was further influenced by 'laughter meditation', a group technique originating in India and now spreading through Sydney.

Below: Sri Sacdpraseuth, David Webb and Michelle Doake take a break from King of Laughter rehearsals

Sri Sacdpraseuth, David Webb and Michelle Doake take a break from King of Laughter rehearsals
Sri Sacdpraseuth, David Webb and Michelle Doake take a break from King of Laughter rehearsals

His King of Laughter takes an elderly 'laugh track' technician and the young man he must train to replace him on retirement, through a minefield of comic timing.

It also takes them up against the apparent barriers of age and race and beyond, in what is "a delightful play" with "a bit of black humour" according to director Moira Blumenthal who has directed and produced mainstream theatre internationally since 1988 and has also been working as consultant programmer for the Seymour Centre this past year.

The double life of Portuguese modernist writer Fernando Pessoa is the focus of The Book Keeper, which Sidetrack Theatre remounts under the direction of Carlos Gomes, following its acclaimed 2002 season. A bookkeeper by day, by night Pessoa escaped to his own world of imagination and writing, and left a trunk of over 25,000 poems, fragments, plays and journals on his death in 1935.

Right: musicians Gracias and Ramakrishnan

Musicians Gracias and Ramakrishnan
Musicians Gracias and Ramakrishnan

The Book Keeper reconstructs Pessoa's fragmentary autobiography in a production the Herald claims will be "especially enjoyed by lovers of good writing, striking aphorisms and textual uncertainty".

In Love, Madness and Poetry, writer/director Gorkem Acaroglu traces the narrative similarities of two classic tales of love forlorn - Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and its Islamic precurser of 500 years, 'Leyla and Majnun'.

"I wanted to use ideas of love from the East and West to see how these archetypal stories influence our own views of love in our time," she said.

Her production juxtaposes English translations of Arabic, Persian and Turkish love poetry against extracts from Shakespeare, and incorporates use of video projection.

Carnivale comedy at the Seymour Centre comes with a Spanish flavour from Melbourne comedian Simon Palomares who dishes up autobiographical anecdotes with witty comments on multicultural Australia, while cooking paella as his mother made it, in Palomares Cooks Calomares.

In The Paragon, Adam Hatzimanolis offers his own twisted take on "My Big Fat Greek Life", including his tale of "How I burnt down my family's fish and chip shop".

Contemporary rock and flamenco dance join forces in Flamenco Rocks, an innovative perfomance from Arte Kanela who retain all the passion of flamenco.

"I think a lot of people ... get caught up in the numbers and the counting," said Arte Kanela's musical director Richard Tedesco. "It's more about ... adding your grain of sand to the artform and dealing with your duende."

More thrilling dance is promised from Niels "Storm" Robitzky of Germany, winner of the world's most prestigious hip-hop and breakdance competitions. In Solo for 2 he takes a humorous trip through the ups and downs of life while performing with his own projected image, then is joined by Karl "Kane-Wung" Libanus of France for further hip-hop acrobatics.

It's hip-hop at the Centre all day on 11 October, with several scheduled performances, a hip-hop competition, video footage and hip-hop memorabilia on show. For a program of Indian flavoured jazz and blues, virtuoso guitarist and composer Arthur Gracias, who has performed with the likes of Herbie Hancock, joins brilliant tabla player Vicky Ramakrishnan. Carnivale film at the Centre includes the inaugural Francophone Film Festival of works from around the world dealing with social issues; a 1919 German silent horror movie; an evening of 20 ten-minute films selected from submissions Australia-wide; and Dances of Ecstasy, a mesmerising documentary by Michelle Mahrer and Nicole Ma on the connection between dance and trance, to be topped off with a world music dance party.

Simon Palomares
Simon Palomares

Left: Simon Palomares

The Seymour Centre also plays host to Carnivale's Festival Club, the Carpet Lounge, with music, comedy, cabaret, debate and film designed to complement the festival's core programming.

Kids are catered for on the Thursdays and Fridays of the school holidays with story-telling, kite and origami making, samba lessons and African drumming.

An exhibition of paintings and prayer flags by Sydney artist Elena Radros runs throughout the festival in the upstairs foyer.

"With the support of the University of Sydney and the Seymour Centre, Carnivale will present a consolidated program focused at a single venue," said the festival's artistic director, Jorge Menidis.

"The Seymour Centre offers Carnivale the opportunity to call an ideally located complex home for the duration of the Festival."

Festival programs are available from the Seymour Centre or on-line at:

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