Limelight’s Shona Benson, Maxim Boon and Clive Paget select their best from the Fest.

The Melbourne Festival is in full swing this week, with some of the world’s best music, dance and theatre descending upon the Victorian capital for the annual celebration of the arts. The Limelight team have selected their top-picks from this year’s eclectic programme.

1984
16 – 25 October


This fantastically observed adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan of British theatre firebrands Headlong, caused a major buzz during its premiere season in London, among audience members and critics alike. More than a quarter of a million people have seen the show since it first opened in 2013, so I urge you Comrades, don’t miss out on seeing what is definitely an international theatre sensation.

Desdamona
16 – 19 October

Two living legends, director Peter Sellars and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, have combined their collective creative genius to explore the secret history of one of Shakespeare’s most tragic heroines. Combining song and story, this elegantly simple staging delivers a spellbinding narrative of heartbreaking poignancy.

The Experiment
21 – 24 October

Composer David Chisholm premiered this challenging piece at this year’s Sydney Festival, and as a work of ground-breaking music theatre it was divisive to say the least. Be under no illusion, this dark and twisting adaptation of British playwright Mark Ravenhill’s disturbing short play of the same title is not for everyone, but theatre lovers who are prepared to brave the murky waters of this piece are rewarded with an experience quite unlike anything else you’re likely to find at this year’s Festival.

Last Work
17 & 18 October

Batsheva Dance Company and their visionary Artistic Director Ohad Naharin aren’t just world-class dancers; they’re choreographic pioneers. Using the beautiful, sensual dance practice, devised by Naharin, called Gaga, their movement is as hypnotic as it is addictive. This most recent piece from the company is perhaps one of Naharin’s most politically charged and emotionally revealing to date. Be prepared for a powerfully arresting display of dance theatre at its most potently visceral.

Right & Left
15 – 17 October

This monochrome study in symmetry comes from a bright young thing of the Chinese contemporary dance scene, Gu Jiani. This piece offers moments of beautiful, elegant poise and control, but meets this calm cohesion with flashes of aggression, desperation and sinisterly brutal movement. The choreography is ingeniously interlaced with a highly sophisticated lighting design that tricks the eye and amplifies both the order and chaos of this multi-layered pure-dance work.

Decadance
15 October

You can never have too much of a good thing, and fortunately for Melbourne dance lovers Batsheva are offering another choreographic wonder while they’re in town. Decadance is a patchwork of scenes, selected from across Naharin’s extensive body of work. From intimate, arresting moments of painful beauty to dances of high-octane energy, this show is a joy to watch and one of the most uplifting and impressive collection of choreographies I’ve had the privilege to see.

Fly Away Peter
21 – 24 October

The performance of any new opera is definitely cause for celebration, but Elliot Gyger’s setting of David Malouf’s classic novel isn’t just freshly penned, it’s also extremely accomplished. Telling the story of a gentle young Queenslander thrust into the horrific panorama of World War I’s Western Front, this Sydney Chamber Opera production, directed Imara Savage, is a deeply insightful show, wrought with an unflinching truth.

Orava Quartet
14 October

These four stellar musicians have earned themselves a well-deserved reputation as one of Australia’s hottest chamber groups, and have wowed me at every performance I’ve been lucky enough to attend over the past year or so. They appear at Melbourne Festival as part of this year’s grand cycle of the complete Haydn Quartets, but the meatier repertoire in this programme – Shostakovich and Ross Edwards – will offer a chance to see these highly charismatic performers open up the throttle and let rip!

A Wave and Waves
15 – 17 October

You could be forgiven for assuming a percussion concert must involve a lot of loud bangs and fierce crashes, but this latest show by musical innovators Speak Percussion flies in the face of that stereotype. Here the audience are delivered into a calm, tranquil, oceanic sound world that explores the fragility and nuance possible within the percussive palette.