It was a beautiful, balmy, Melbourne autumn evening and what a setting – the stunning grounds of the heritage listed Cranlana, the Myer family home in the heart of Melbourne’s Toorak. A red carpet covered the pebbled driveway, black suited waiters wound their way through the gathering offering delicious canapes and sparkling champagne (or water for those of us who had to drive home), whilst the Snuff Puppets mixed and mingled looking down on us mere mortals.
The occasion – the announcement of the 2013 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards.
The awards were established in 1984 by the Trustees of the Sidney Myer Fund to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Sidney Myer, a passionate advocate and great friend of the arts. The first winners were Indigenous poet and playwright Jack Davis (Individual) and Circus Oz and the Sydney Dance Company who shared the Group award. In 1988 a Facilitator’s Prize, honouring those who whilst not performers work to support and promote artists, was added. Unlike other important performing arts awards, the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards, whilst recognising contributions to the arts and giving the winner a statuette, also provide a significant financial prize, this year totalling $150,000.
Determined by a Judging Committee chaired by Carrillo Gantner AO (Chairman of the Sidney Myer Fund) which this year included Paul Dyer AO (Artistic Director of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra), Brett Sheehy AO (Artistic Director of Melbourne Theatre Company), Hannah Skrzynski (Director of Creative Asia) and Sarah Neal (Executive Producer, Malthouse Theatre), the Awards are annual and national with the stated aim of paying tribute to outstanding excellence in drama, comedy, dance, music, opera, circus and puppetry.
Since 1984 a host of wonderful performers, groups and facilitators have been honoured. A number of these past winners were present, among them the inimitable Rod Quantock; playwright, actor, director and stand-up comedian Sue Ingleton; choreographer Lucy Guerin; musician Paul Grabowsky; and Rachael Maza, Artistic Director of Ilbijerri who were group winners in 2012.
The MC on Thursday night was the 2011 individual winner, Eddie Perfect, who told us that his cash award had been both embarrassing and invaluable. It might have made him “feel quite guilty”, after all it’s not every day that we have someone ring you to tell you they are giving you money, but it freed him from the “soul destroying” demands of writing songs for corporate gigs and company promotions. He was given that wonderful and rare commodity, a space to write, free from the often limiting conditions of a grant and from the stress of worrying about where the money would come from. The outcome was his first full length play, The Beast, which premiered at the Melbourne Theatre Company in October 2013.
The pleasantries over, it was time for the awards to be announced; they had been a closely guarded secret until this moment.
Queensland based CIRCA, a circus and physical theatre troupe who have evolved from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus to re-define what contemporary circus looks like, feels like and sounds like, were awarded the Group Award of $80,000.
Composer Elena Kats-Chernin shared the Individual Award with playwright Daniel Keene.
Elena Kats-Chernin draws on a vast array of musical genres, mixing elements of Russian and Jewish music, ragtime, tango and 1920s popular idioms with a sense of the filmic and the dramatic. Her music swept the world when millions of listeners enjoyed her magnificent scores for the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
Daniel Keene has won prizes for his work in almost every state in Australia as well as overseas. His work has been presented at the Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide International Arts Festivals and at the Melbourne Theatre Company and the Sydney Theatre Company. His latest work The Long Way Home was created with the Australian Defence Force. The story of military personnel recovering from physical and psychological injuries has military personnell performing alongside professional actors and is based on first-hand accounts from the ADF’s operations in Iraq, Arghanistan, and East Timor, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief.
The Facilitator’s Prize was also shared and shared a multicultural theme.
Joint winner Mohindar Dhillon is committed to the presentation and curation of Indian-Australian culture established the non-profit Nataraj Cultural Centre for the purpose of touring top flight Indian music. For 33 years the Centre has presented some of India’s greatest Hindustani and Camatic musicians and dancers to Australian and New Zealand audiences and works as a producer and presenter at WOMADelaide
Jill Morgan AO – the other joint winner – has worked for over 25 years with multicultural and Indigenous artists. She is currently Chief ExecutiveOfficer of Multicultural Arts Victoria and was previously the Executive Director of Kulcha, Multicultural Arts of Western Australia. She works closely in partnership with major arts organisations to ensure that diversity is embraced and embedded in the arts industry at all levels.
Given that there were two shared awards it is clear that the judges faced a particularly difficult task this year. Carillo Gantner AO, Chairman, Sidney Myer Fund Trustees admitted that the judges were equally divided and that he had chosen to withhold his deciding vote.
“I am delighted by the depth and the diversity of talent that has been recognised at this year’s Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards”, says Carrillo Gantner AO, Chairman, Sidney Myer Fund Trustees.
“Once again we are reminded how important the arts are to us and how they can broaden our understanding and appreciation of the world around us. Each of the winners have been generous and passionate contributors to the arts and audiences alike and I warmly congratulate them.”
Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards 2013
The Individual Award ($50,000)
Elena Kats-Chernin ($25,000) and Daniel Keene ($25,000)
The Group Award ($80,000)
The Facilitator’s Prize ($20,000)
Mohindar Dhillon ($10,000) and Jill Morgan ($10,000)
Nominations for the 2014 Awards will open in late 2014. Check the website for details.