Grand DiVisions at Melbourne Festival – an exercise of the heart.


GD1Dubbed as an ‘urban cantatta’, Grand DiVisions is a musical performance work comprised of story-telling, spoken word poetry, music and interpretive dance. The work is presented by a 70 piece ensemble of young artists and musicians from Melbourne’s urban areas, all of whom part of the Outer Urban Project – an organisation that uses creative mediums to achieve social outreach in outer urban areas. Directed by Irina Vela and choreographed by Neil Ieremia (Black Grace), the work is intended to bring us tales of “wealth, poverty, privilege, neglect and unexpected journeys of falling in and out of love with Australia.”

Set in the sleek surrounds of the Fairfax Studio at the Arts Centre, this peculiar orchestra of sneaker laden boys and girls, amidst Tablas, harps, violins and double bass, certainly takes a moment to register. This is not a show you would usually see at the Arts Centre, and it is here with a purpose.

The show commences with the director Irina telling us her story, from her daily pleasures of falafels at Half Moon Cafe in Coburg, through to her estrangement from her father and their struggles in migration. This sets the tone for the stories we are going to hear throughout the performance. Cradled by the soothing tide of the graceful string section, we begin.

Stories unfold one-by-one from all corners of the ensemble. Flanked by guitars, opera singers, or a beat boxers, we hear a myriad of tales: the rigors of waiting in the proverbial queue of Australian refugee resettlement; the displacement of growing up in foster care; the frustrating day-to-day challenges of disability; the estrangement from family due to war or civil conflict; and several times we hear of the constant battle against losing self, family or friends to drugs and corruption. Ultimately what each of these individuals are fighting for is sovereignty over their identities in the face of judgment and disadvantage, and perhaps it is this sovereignty that they claim through their performance in Grand DiVisions.

This ensemble of young artists, diverse in age, ability and ethnicity, unmistakably has talent and gusto in its midst. As we witness individuals shine through their solo pieces, there are times the audience is left in awe at the voices, harmonies and lyrics that rise out of these artists. Presented as a series of songs, stories and poems, several collaborations between the artists give way to interesting and utterly enjoyable pieces. This is an aspect that can perhaps be further developed in future renditions of the work to create a fuller and more consolidated presentation – no doubt, there is enough talent and musicality to do so.

It is a most difficult challenge to find a medium to tell the stories of those normally dubbed ‘underprivileged’, or seen as disadvantaged migrant communities, without seeming to appeal to the notion of ‘poverty porn’– that is, to create work that tells stories of the difficulties that people endure in our society, without making those people charity cases – ‘the other’ whom is different from us – upon which to empty our conscience, and our wallets. There seems an awareness of this idea amongst several of the young performers, who look us dead in the eye and relay that they are not here to be pitied; rather, that they are equal to any of those who sit in the audience, and have integrity over their existence.

Grand DiVisions is, at its heart, a celebration of diversity, equality, community and the strength of human perseverance. Using the musical talents and creativity of these youth and young adults, the work creates a platform for unity and solidarity that has a reach beyond the stage, as could be witnessed by the roaring crowd that comprised of people who had travelled far and wide, some with wheelchairs and crutches in tow, to see their friends shine.

A commendable work and hopefully a pathway to a future in professional arts practice for these budding young artists.

3 out of 5 stars.

Nithya Iyer

Author: Nithya Iyer

Nithya Iyer is a Melbourne-based writer and performer of Indian-descent. Her work regards experimental and experiential arts practices in self-inquiry and connection to the Other. She has performed in experimental, roving and choreographed works in festivals and events across Victoria and New South Wales. Nithya has a background in Bharatanatayam from the Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Academy and is currently studying a Masters of Therapeutic Arts Practice at the Melbourne Institute of Experiential and Creative Art Therapy.

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