Monday, July 23, 2007

Innisfail Rocks Out

The original inhabitants of the wildly beautiful Johnstone Shire told their particular musical stories with the aid of clap sticks. Eons later the sound of castinets and Spanish hand clapping would ring through the rainforests and cane fields to tell another fascinating story.

In 2007, the journey between the two tales will be captured in this original outdoor music theatre piece by internationally-renowned musician and composer John Rodgers with song and dance from indigenous and Spanish performers and a visual journey through times of dynamic cultural and ecological change.

The promo blurb for this concert put in my mind the expectation of a much more swirling, abstract sound-scape piece of performance art incorporating "eons" and "visual journeys" and "clap sticks". Knowing the work of composer John Rodgers a little, I expected this to be achieved in a complex and interesting way, but I was wondering how on earth he was going to communicate it in a manner which the good folk of Innisfail could connect with.

Well. When we arrived at the venue, I immediately grasped how he'd managed that: the place was swarming with little girls all dressed up in spanish-doll dancing costumes. The audience was made up principally of these girls' mothers, and as we sat down we could hear them discussing the technicalities of sewing up the costumes.

The concert itself was much less abstract than I expected, and much less about indigenous culture than the program had advertised. It was the story, told with music including some really beautiful flamenco guitar, old Spanish songs and a bit of Spanish-style dancing from the girls, of two men from Spain who lived in Innisfail in the first half of the twentieth century.

One of the men was the architect and builder of this place: Paronella Park. It was to be his Spanish Castle and pleasure garden, but abandoned since his death in 1940-something, it has become North Queensland's answer to Angkor Wat in terms of beautiful ruins rotting in the midst of jungle. The other Spanish man was a master of flemenco guitar, a passionate gambler, and a fisherman who spent much time in his later years just sitting on the pier at Palm Cove trying to catch Spanish mackerel. This man had taught John Rodgers to play flamenco guitar back in the 1970s.

It was a great concert, on the whole. Even though the audience was restless all around us during the long sections when their daughters weren't on stage, it was still really wonderful to hear good musicians performing complex and beautiful music, and doing it really well. And the didgeridoo player, the sole "indigenous performer", added an amazing bass sound to some of the keening lovelorn Spanish ballads. The rest of the time though, he didn't have much to do. I did see him close his eyes through one of the big flamenco set-pieces: I'm not sure if he was listening really really closely or if he was just having a snooze.

I'm not sure why they tried to sell the concert the way that they did. It clearly didn't help the audience relate to what was going on on stage. Perhaps that's what the concert organisers had to do in order to get the Government funding stamp of approval? It's not that I mind, I'm really glad that they were able to bring the concert up to North Queensland - it's the sort of thing that we never ever get to see here.

PS: I have to say thank you so much to Hayden, who yet again showed how good he is to me by driving me all the way there and back (about seven hours driving in total). I'm glad I was able to make it easier for him by reading Harry Potter out loud the whole way.

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