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Australia Council director discusses new arts -

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(sound of Indigenous music)

ASHLEY HALL: The music is by David Page, and it comes from Bangarra Dance Theatre's latest
production, Mathinna.

(sound of Indigenous music)

ASHLEY HALL: Bangarra is one of 29 groups to come in for close examination in an Australia Council
review looking at the future of major performing arts companies in Australia.

The review found the sector is in good shape but it faces significant challenges as it struggles to
balance financial viability with artistic vibrancy.

The Council's executive director for the Major Performing Arts, Tony Grybowski, joined me in the
studio a little earlier and told me the report identifies big opportunities as well.

TONY GRYBOWSKI: Some of the key things that the report recommends is that we are not operating in
isolation, that the cultural and arts sector is an ecology and that the major performing arts are
very reliant on the health of the small to medium companies and the individual artists and how they
all sort of interact.

So if there are ways that we can sort of strengthen those sort of partnerships and relationships
then the whole sort of ecology is going to be self-supporting and support else other.

The second thing is that we are facing, that there needs to be flexibility in their business
models, which is a real challenge for these companies. If you take the Symphony Orchestra for
example, that is, you know, planning three to four years to engage major international artists and
commissioning repertoire and has a subscriber base that is making commitments, it is pretty hard to
tell them to be flexible and nimble, and you know, respond to a downturn in the economic
environment in such a short period of time, so that is the real tension which we have got to
grapple with, but I suppose that the role that the Australia Council can play is actually
monitoring these sort of external trends so that early warning signs, so that we can feed that data
and information to the companies to help their boards and their managements in their future
planning.

ASHLEY HALL: There is a quotation in the report, it is unattributed, but it says that the Major
Performing Arts Board has the responsibility to keep organisations alive that should be allowed to
die. Is that your job?

TONY GRYBOWSKI: It is about, well, if you look at the work of the Major Performing Arts, it is
about preserving a canon and many of them are presenting what we call a sort of heritage art forms,
but the other side of that is also ensuring that those companies are artistically vibrant and
dynamic. Ensuring that those companies are actually working in a contemporary space, engaging
contemporary artists, playwrights, choreographers, to actually use those forms to actually present
new dynamic and exciting work that will respond to the demands of a changing society.

ASHLEY HALL: Indeed, the report does look at demographics and points out the large influx of
immigrants from China and India and the impact that that will have on our cultural make-up and the
need to identify works that acknowledges that.

How is that going to change the landscape of performing arts over the next five or ten years?

TONY GRYBOWSKI: Well, that is right. What will they want to, are they going to want to explore
different languages of different heritages? Are they going to want to explore a unique Australian
language and at times, they are also going to want to go back in time and look at the historic sort
of, the great pieces that have been built and written over the last couple of hundred years, but it
also presents a great opportunity for the companies to actually sort of program new works to
explore those new languages.

If you just look at a recent example, the Melbourne Symphony sort of commissioned a work by
Australian composer Gerard Brophy. It is called The Book of Clouds and it was just performed a
couple of weeks ago. It is a 50 minute work.

(excerpt from The Book of Clouds)

TONY GRYBOWSKI: But it brings together Thai guys, Reilly Lee performing the shakuhachi and again,
very non-traditional orchestral instruments or orchestral language. A 50 minute major work that was
so well received by a very traditional audience and I think those sorts of commissions are the
future of the performing arts.

ASHLEY HALL: There is a lot of talk about the role of digital technology in being able to bring
performances to people in regional and rural Australia. Does that mean that people in those areas
are not going to see real live people in front of them anymore?

TONY GRYBOWSKI: No, not at all. If you, in fact what it does do is actually take and inform
communities and introduce the form to them that may not have ever thought of going or certainly not
sort of travelling from their city to a capital city to experience some of these works, but if you
look at the... we have trialled a couple of things with two of our major companies, Opera Australia
and the Australian Ballet in recent months, and one was taking a live performance of Carmen from
the Sydney Opera House, broadcast live to eight cinemas across the country.

(excerpt from Carmen)

TONY GRYBOWSKI: Those were very popular, sold a lot of tickets. People went on and actually treated
them not really as a cinema experience but really as a live experience, and because it is sort of
broadcast live and the producers and they're introduced as a live experience and the audiences
respond as such.

And again, if we use the American example, the Metropolitan Opera has been broadcasting live
performances across America and to cinemas in Australia, actually, they have actually experienced
an explosion in interest in a heritage art form, in opera, and they have seen their box office
sales have absolutely swung around and turned around and they attribute this to a greater awareness
and access provided by digital platforms.

ASHLEY HALL: And those digital platforms may well include social networking science?

TONY GRYBOWSKI: Correct.

ASHLEY HALL: Trying to tap into younger generation of audiences as well?

TONY GRYBOWSKI: And again, look, a number of our companies are exploring exactly those social
networking sites. The Australian Chamber Orchestra promotes all their tours, has interviews on
YouTube. You know, at the moment, it is just one example of the sorts of work they are now all
recognising that they are having to explore through their daily business.

ASHLEY HALL: The Australia Council's executive director for the Major Performing Arts, Tony
Grybowski.