Down-Under Troupes Coming Up at You, Mate

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Down-Under Troupes Coming Up at You, Mate

"Swan Lake" is as traditional as ballet gets, which is why Garry Stewart created a sensation last year when he released the Australian Dance Theater's version. Patrons packed the opening of the 2000 season, took one look at the fusion of ballet, breakdance, martial arts, yoga, video art and electronic music, and fell spellbound.

Mr. Stewart, the art director, jokingly titled his slightly irreverent work "Birdbrain." It will be showing at the Seoul Arts Center from Thursday to Sunday.

The 35-year-old dance company is just one of the performance groups coming to Korea for the 100th anniversary of the emergence of Australia as a country. One hundred years ago - on Jan. 26, 1901 - the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania formed the Commonwealth of Australia. Festivities are going on all year long in the country and all over the world.

The Australian Festival opens on Wednesday and runs until Aug. 19.

"We've brought together some of Australia's most famous dance and music companies so that the people in Korea can see a glimpse of the contemporary culture in Australia," said Irene Kim, with the Australian Embassy.

From convicts to gold-seekers to freedom-fighters, the people of Australia possess a colorful history. One voice that has too long been ignored is that of the aborigine.

Historians estimate that between 1910 and 1971, one in 10 aboriginal children were taken from their families and sent to white homes as part of a government policy to "civilize" aborigines. Known as the "stolen generation," their music and dance have been gaining prominence over recent years.

Rem Theater, an Australian troupe that incorporates aboriginal dance forms, traditional clapsticks and the didjeridoo, will perform "The Kookaburro Who Stole the Moon," a bewitching blend of music, mine and storytelling that is perfect for children. A bird falls in love with the moon and steals it from the sky. The snake, frog, wombat and kangaroo try to make the kookaburro laugh so that she will open her beak and set the moon free. The performance runs Aug. 1 to Aug. 19.

The artistic director of the Rem Theater, Roger Rynd, created another performance, "Rupunzel Lonely" for the opening ceremony of the Australian Festival. The show mixes puppetry with music and shows Wednesday through Friday.

The Blue Grassy Knoll, a band that mixes bluegrass with Middle Eastern sounds and dark cabaret laments, rounds out the musical side of the Australian culture. In the past, Blue Grassy Knoll has set Shakespearean soliloquies to tangos. The result is simultaneously saucy, funny and passionate.

The band's members - playing banjo, accordion, double bass, fiddle, mandolin and guitar - have written and performed scores for four Buster Keaton films, including last year's Edinburgh hit, "Sherlock Junior." Silent Buster Keaton films will be featured at Blue Grassy Knoll Band's concerts, which run Wednesday to Saturday.

The fourth troupe, Queensland Theater Company, will put on "Backseat Drivers," a multi-media performance also for a young audience. The show runs Tuesday to Aug. 4.

The Australian embassy is organizing other events throughout the year. Australian ceramics will be on show at the Ceramic Expo in August. Meredith Rowe will be showing her designs at the Textile Design Show in September. The embassy is organizing an Australian Book Fair in September.

For more information about the festival, call Seoul Arts Center at 02-580-1234, ext. 5 (English available).

by Joe Yong-hee

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