Miss Yugoslavia and the Barefoot Orchestra

Miss Yugoslavia and the Barefoot OrchestraPhotos – Lucia Rossi

Spectacle and orchestra, a mash-up of punk, jazz, Balkan gypsy folk and big brassy carnival scores – it's all here in a show touting itself as 'Cold War served warm.' Tania Bosak shares family stories, mainly that of her father's defection from the former Yugoslavia, in a theatrical performance of original music, her first score and an astonishing night of sound compelling you to witness all the pain, drama, secrecy and longing of displacement.

In the late 1950s, Bosak's father, a musician travelling with a large group (which included a few informers) from behind the Iron Curtain on a trip to Belgium, defected at great risk to himself and eventually made his way to Australia. Tania Bosak's Barefoot Orchestra – musicians Phil Byswater (sax), John Delanyer (guitar), Aviva Endean (clarinets), Anita Hustas (bass), Justin Marshall (drums), Kynan Robinson (trombone), Dan Witton (tuba and bass) – presents the essence of this dramatic saga in a show which doesn't use narrative but rather invites us to make our own meaning out of what we hear: the effect is a musical romp through the history of twentieth century Eastern Europe. The radiant Bosak (who was actually a 'Miss Yugoslavia' runner-up, in a contest held in Melbourne when she was only 15) identified as a 'Yugoslav,'  but when war broke out and fractured Yugoslavia in 1991, she was told she was actually Croatian; a moment which formed the beginnings of this concert. Bosak's an accomplished musician, singer, comedian and stage performer; here she assumes the persona of an intense, slightly mad gothic noir/dominatrix/circus master/conductor to the band, leading the musicians in an 'art music' extravaganza. 

Hugeness and humour, massively loud orchestral sounds, percussive interludes suddenly interrupted, the rattling of a jailor's keys, ominous knocks at the door, and the melancholy sweetness of folk song are included in the many layers and moods of this performance. At times it's the unknown or fear hinted at, or the sadness of being unable to properly say goodbye, at others the exuberance of finding freedom is voiced with great slashing sounds, there are dirge-like interludes and the poignancy and intimacy of folk songs sung by Bosak in her unusual voice. There's an odd occasional 'offness' to her notes, not in terms of tune but  in a sense of something fey, raw and pagan in her tone. The show includes moments of new music, a-tonal music, the joyousness of five piano accordians on stage at once, a trombone in conversation with itself, shocking silences and the whisperings of the ghosts of old Europe. The range of music and unexpected arrangements give texture and poignancy to a show where Bosak explores her own identity along with giving voice to her family's history. The finale is insanely drawn out – a fabulous surging cresdendo.

Miss Jugoslavia and The Barefoot Orchestra
Tania Bosak

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 30 October – 10 November 2013
Tickets: $35 – $30
Bookings: 03 9662 9966

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