Who could have envisioned 50 years ago when the Opera House opened amid cries that Australians will never go see performing art, that one of the anchor performances of the golden anniversary would be an unashamed celebration of queer music.
Yes, parts of our culture have moved on impressively, although not all – as recent referendums might reflect. Nevertheless, here we are welcoming a 4-hour epic marathon of queer sensibility to the Concert Hall to celebrate a core icon of our Australian identity.
Yes, you heard right. 4 hours without an interval – come and go as you please, but you have to navigate through the razor thin Concert Hall leg room!
Co-creator Taylor Mac is a modern legend and describes it as an “opera-concert-song-cycle-musical-performance-art-piece-play… its subtitle is "A Parade Trance Extravaganza for the Living Library of the Deviant Theme". And that description – while somewhat indefinable – certainly sets up an accurate expectation of the lush, rather trippy musical collage that manifests before us. It is frequently moving, often amusing, and quite hypnotic at times. Starting with a glorious chant to salute what may have been the first non-binary Egyptian god Atum (or Ra) it progressed through 54 songs – one for every year since Stonewall. There are some stunning moments of yearning, some haunting harmony, some bold and brassy vaudeville, and all anchored in the language of protest and defiance. But it is not didactic – rather a celebration and encouragement to find your truest queer self.
The company of performers who present this journey generously share their immense vocal, physical and imaginative talents with us and each other as we travel through the evening. It is impossible to focus on any individual over another – this is an integrated ensemble embracing a diverse range of skills and style, that somehow still manage to form a loving and inclusive chosen family under the ‘Den-mother’ guardianship of creators Taylor Mac and Matt Ray. It’s unique and wonderful and an experience to be cherished.
And it is visually gorgeous. Despite being essentially a New York company, for the Sydney locals it certainly hearkens back to the fierce excesses of late 80’s / early 90’s Mardi Gras events. The extraordinary wearable art doubling as costumes are stripped back as the evening continues as performers shed their baggage and become their truest selves.
A fairly major reservation does still exist with the sound quality of amplified voices in the Concert Hall. Especially earlier in the evening the sound was muddy and it was difficult to distinguish a lyric. It took some time before it improved enough to become even adequate. This venue may be a mistake for this style of performance until that is resolved. It really compromised the communication of the stories, and some of these gifted voices were denied the chance to reach their full potential by the poor sound.
Nevertheless, this evening was a chance to experience creativity at its finest, showcasing unique talents wrapped up in a quirky bon-bon of kaleidoscopic design. There was a huge team of creative talent in the genesis of this work. Yes, it did become somewhat of a marathon, but that may indeed have been the point. It was certainly a privilege to watch performers of this calibre pull moments of truth from their core and share them with us for this special evening.
Let’s hope the next 50 years continues to inspire similarly innovative new work.
Sydney Opera House
Bark of Millions
by Taylor Mac and Matt Ray
Director Taylor Mac
Venue: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House NSW
Dates: 20 October 2023
Tickets: From $79.00