The Melbourne Festival will be gracing our city from 11-27 October, and it will be amongst the most versatile, beautiful, challenging and wondrous performance experiences this year – possibly of your life.

Launched last week by outgoing Artistic Director Brett Sheehy, the Melbourne Festival promises a program of such cultural and artistic diversity that one almost wonders why anyone would need to travel.

Opening night alone presents us with art exhibitions covering music, travel, identity, surrealism and destruction: a farewell to Abbotsford’s Schoolhouse Studios; a one-woman play dealing with the nature of the US education system; a celebration of Western sacred music performed at St Paul’s Cathedral; dance pieces from China, Australia, New Zealand and Germany; a film celebrating the life of Joe Papp; a new performance from Australian circus company La Clique; a play from Sydney Theatre Company examining the themes of Christos Tsolkias’ The Slap; and, perhaps most impressively, a cross-genre performance from a Dutch company examining the most important moments of a person’s life.

This year’s program celebrates life and art in every way shape and form. As Brett Sheehy says, “the predominant threads in this year’s Festival are explorations of ‘identity’ and ‘place’”. Indeed, we will be spoilt rotten in October with performances that explore life, identity, culture and place with pure, unbridled joy. Not only does it allow us to celebrate the work and ideas of artists from all over the world, it allows Australia – and, more specifically, Melbourne – to revel in the richness of our own art and cultural beauty.

The number and range of Australian and world premieres in 2012’s Festival is truly magnificent and the people who made this thing happen are to be applauded for the risks they have taken in bringing us new and exciting works that are sure to challenge, provoke and delight Melbourne audiences.

There are twenty-two world premiers at this year’s Festival. Australian acts include the launch of Chunky Move’s new show An Act of Now, under new artistic director Anouk van Dijk; performances from Melbourne’s Astra Choir; a street art installation celebrating nature and growth; THE RABBLE’s reimagining of Virginia Woolf’s parable Orlando; free midday poetry in Federation Square; a new piece of contemporary opera by Chamber Opera; Speak Percussion’s voyage through the possibilities of keyboard music; and a new dance piece from renowned choreographer Lucy Guerin.

World premieres from overseas artists are also everywhere to be seen in this year’s program. City within a City will see seventeen works by artists and collectives, drawing on architecture, landscape, literature and cinema to create images and video reflecting on the driving narratives of life in the city. There will be a showcase of visual artwork from two prominent Indian artists; an exhibition of visual art from contemporary international artists; and the destructive finale of a project from Spain’s Santiago Sierra, which has spanned two years and ten countries
The piece I am possibly most excited about is Arena Theatre Company’s The House of Dreaming, which will see children aged between 5 and 8 placed in the centre of a dream landscape. Babies will even be able to experience the festival, with a premiere from Polyglot Theatre designed for children under the age of one. It is so inspiring to see inventive new pieces which celebrate life so fervently: children and babies will simply enrich the beauty of the 2012 Festival.

One of the strengths of the Melbourne Festival is its ability to provide diverse audiences with events that are just as unpredictable and varied as their own interests. Collaboration from American and Australian companies, for example, has resulted in “a beat-driven night cruise” called Bermuda Float that promises “no-one will return the same”.

International dance collaboration Fault Lines, from artists in Australia, China and New Zealand, examines the aftermath of earthquakes. This is sure to be a touching piece that opens the still-healing wounds left from earthquakes in Christchurch and Asia in the last few years.

A quirky, fun experience no-one can escape from will come in the form Grobak Padi, an exciting cultural experience between Australia and Indonesia. This will see Javanese gerobak food carts selling Indonesian street food on Melbourne streets, combined with other multimedia exchanges of cultures over the city.
The sheer diversity of the 2012 Melbourne Festival ensures that even those who swear not to love art will find something that strikes a chord. There will be performances to entrance, delight, challenge and impress.

Whatever you love most, I can guarantee there will be something in the program that you will want to see.
There are simply too many amazing pieces to squeeze into one article, so I urge you to spend a night with a glass of wine and the Melbourne Festival website. Take your time exploring, experiencing and delighting in the inspirational and jaw-dropping pieces of art that will come together in October for a celebration not only of the artistic world, but also of the planet, and of life itself.