The dependably warm, dry climate of Darwin's dry season in particular during August is an enviable advantage that Malcolm Blaylock harnesses as artistic director of the Darwin Festival, the city's annual 18-day celebration of arts and culture, which began last Thursday.....
....Blaylock has made the city's lush botanic gardens his festival hub. Featuring outdoor food venues and bars lit up with tall flaming torches and giant Chinese lanterns dripping from the trees, an outdoor 580-seat venue called the Star Shell where most headline shows are held and an adjacent outdoor gallery, with indigenous screenprints hung each night on palm trees, it's a stunning setting.
The opening weekend's events at the Star Shell included a bill of indigenous dance, sell-out concerts by new pop darling Sarah Blasko, a playful and powerful music amalgam by David Bridie and a host of West Papuan artists calledВ Sing Sing, and comedy from Melbourne's Scared Weird Little Guys. Over at Browns Mart Theatre, a drama student-heavy audience chortled through a beautifully whimsical piece of physical theatre from Singapore calledВ Play Play.
A festival club kicks on at the Star Shell after ticketed events have finished for the night, but due to noise restrictions, can go only until 11.30. So this year, Blaylock has introduced a new late-night venue: SoCo Cargo, a 2am venue built from shipping containers. Blaylock, in fact, discussed the possibility of bringing the Famous Spiegeltent to Darwin, but decided it was too European (and too costly to freight). SoCo has been a hit, with more than 1000 patrons on each of its two first nights.
So who, so far, is the festival's most popular artist? Believe it or not, Bizet. On Thursday night, OzOpera'sВ Carmen, which will play to 1000 people this Saturday night, became the festival's first sell-out event. Does that make Blaylock rethink his approach? "No no, not in the least. Without those two elements (indigenous and Asian) being really strong, the rest won't feature," he says.
"You can't build a festival around one performance of the opera, but you can build a really strong festival around those two concepts. That's what the place is about and unless you reflect that, it ain't gonna work."
Blaylock is the former artistic director of the St Kilda Festival and St Kilda Film Festival. So his Darwin Festival also features, not surprisingly, an outdoor cinema. On Saturday night, the Deckchair Cinema offered the world premiere of the new feature thriller shot in the Top End,В Rogue, about a giant crocodile (and featuring a promo shot of big teeth yawning up from the deep towards unsuspecting legs that was more than a little reminiscent of that ofВ Jaws).
A large tourist contingent about a quarter of the 59,000-plus attendees comprise festival audiences, keeping the city air thick with an exotic mix of accents, many European; cashed-up retirees, families and thriftier young backpackers.