Food is integral to other cultures in a way that is not so deeply felt in Australia. Without a 'national' cuisine, modern Australian fare is a pastiche of other cultures and flavours, representative of our multicultural society and immigrant history. But to other cultures, food represents family, history and country in a very tangible way – flavours, smells and textures evoke memories and thoughts of home. It is this visceral association that is explored in Motiroti's Journeys of Love and More Love, a performance installation presented as part of the 2011 Melbourne Festival at North Melbourne's Meat Market.
From the very entrance of the Meat Market the installation is an assault on the senses. Clouds of sweetly perfumed incense fill the air and the space is dressed as an elegant dining room with tables set beautifully for dinner. Rounds of introductions preclude the show as the ritual is repeated around the room, as if we are all at an awkward en masse dinner party.
Performer, Writer, Director and Videographer Ali Zaidi enters the space and begins to relate his life story. Born in India, emigrant to Pakistan and immigrant in Britain, Zaidi weaves a tale of old world romanticism. It's just a shame on the opening performance that the vocals of his radio mic were muffled in the echoey caverns of the Meat Market, leaving the audience straining to hear the details of the dialogue.
As the wine flowed so did the conversation around the many dinner tables – but these were stilted as more videos took over eating interludes, pausing any repartee mid sentence. Also at a practical level it's quite difficult to eat and follow subtitles at the same time!
It has the feel of a family slide night, the video presentation swirls and shifts, jumping across decades, countries and continents. That said, there was a tendency to skim across the surface of the storytelling. A father who made Bollywood films that starred the whole family, a soul mate discovered online and picked out of a crowd of thousands were all fascinating tidbits briefly and tantalisingly related and then quickly moved past.
It was the food that was the real star of the evening, with dishes such as star fruit with sweet chilli, avocado, sumac and lavender, all painstakingly prepared and presented to guests. But it seemed this attention to detail and preparation in the cuisine was not equalled in the writing or performance of Zaidi himself. It was all too brief and superficial, with only a final story about an encounter with a taxi driver delivering any real pathos or dramatic punch.
There are many elements to Journeys of Love and More Love. It contains themes of family, the emigrant experience and search for love and acceptance. It is an installation, a documentary style autobiographical theatre show and a video art piece. If the focus was on the power that food has in bringing people together and sharing experience then it was certainly an interesting investigation.
But a more theatrically rigorous approach to the material would lift this installation beyond the novel and make it into something truly exceptional.
Journeys of Love & More Love
by Ali Zaidi
Director Ali Zaidi
Venue: Arts House, Meat Market - Oven | The Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Dates: 11 – 16 Oct, 2011
Tickets: $85.00 – $63.75
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 723 038
Part of the 2011 Melbourne Festival