OzAsia Festival Review: 1988

An outstanding and moving musical performance

An outstanding and moving musical performance

Presented by: Dung Nguyen and Peter Knight
Reviewed: 24 October, 2023

Six eclectic musicians. Six screens. Simple lighting. A powerful story. Composers Dung Nguyen and Peter Knight have put together an impeccable musical journey in 1988. 

The title refers to the year that Nguyen came from Vietnam to Australia to join his father who had arrived in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. Memories and hopes intertwine in the form of traditional Vietnamese music, Western instruments, hints of jazz and blues, and exquisite soundscapes. 

Nguyen plays traditional instruments: dan tranh, dan bau, (Vietnamese zithers) and dan nguyet (moon lute) whilst Knight is on trumpet, electronics, and  Revox B77 reel-to-reel. Joining them are Minh Ha Patmore on dan t’rung (Vietnamese percussion), Erik Griswold on prepared upright piano and melodica, Helen Svoboda on bass and vocals, and Vanessa Tomlinson on vibraphone, percussion, and a variety of soundscape objects. Opening with Nguyen on his own, centre-stage, with the lilting sound of old Vietnam, he is gradually joined on stage, and in the music, by the other five, building the sound and the narrative. Old-fashioned slide carousels project grainy images onto the small screens interspersed between the performers, the carousels themselves redolent of the 70s and 80s, and of a certain nostalgie. 

Every moment of this performance is exquisite. But certain highlights stand out. At one point, Tomlinson moves downstage to take over working the slide carousels. The amplified tapping becomes an extraordinary percussion-battle between her and Svoboda on bass. Another time, hand-held drums are moved choreographically around the space, reflecting the slides of faces from the past. Nguyen picks up the moon lute, delivering a dream-like traditional melody, which gradually morphs into sounding like a bluegrass banjo, with the rest of the ensemble picking up the jam. Tomlison splashes her fingers in a bowl of water, beginning an achingly beautiful soundscape. 

This is what OzAsia is all about: the intersection of Australia and Asia; of the traditional and the modern; of Eastern legacies and Western genres. 1988 is all of that, and then so much more than the sum of its parts, delivering not just outstanding music, but an incredible night of theatre, well-deserving of the enthusiastic standing ovation it garnered. 

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten

Photo credit: Sarah Walker

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Ended

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