Goodbye Melbourne Festival; hello Rising
The Melbourne Festival is no longer. In 2019 it was announced that it would be replaced by Rising, a new "festival of the night", which combines the newish White Nights Festival and the venerable Melbourne Festival into one. The inaugural Rising festival was postponed last year because of the pandemic but this year it has finally “risen”. It opens on May 26 on the lunar eclipse and continues until June 6.
I’m only really just waking up to the significance of the MF’s cancellation and I suspect I’m not the only one. Amid the lockdown, the news somehow did not penetrate my brain. I repeat, the 35-year-old Melbourne Festival – which began as the Spoleto Festival of the Three Worlds in 1986 and grew into a major international event, a sister to the Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney festivals – has been cancelled. Once life gets back to normal and people look up from the preoccupation of Covid-19, I think they will be shocked to discover its absence. Come October/November, when the festival would normally take over the city, the calendar is going to look very bare.
This is not to cast aspersions on Rising. To be fair, it is too soon to tell whether the new incarnation will be a worthy or better replacement for the Melbourne Festival, as the pandemic has obviously limited its scope. It could be a refreshing change. Rising is styling itself a lot like Tasmania’s midwinter festival, Dark MOFO, which revels in the cold and dark of winter. The organisers promise it will be vast and the program appeals to a wide audience, with events ranging from iceskating and mudwrestling to magical light installations. It may well come to surpass the Melbourne Festival in scale and popularity.
But the Melbourne Festival was a big deal and yet it has disappeared with barely any debate. It presented important international artists and acts and large events that otherwise would not be seen in this part of the world because of the cost in bringing them here. It was an annual rite of art and theatre, and something to look forward to every year. I'm already missing it.
– KAREN VAN ULZEN
A promotional image for 'Wandering Stars', a Rising festival event.