October 2011

Arts & Letters

Music theatre masterpiece

By Robyn Archer
Scene from 'The Theft of Sita'. Image courtesy of Melbourne Festival.
An Australian–Indonesian production - ‘The Theft of Sita’, 2000

In The Theft of Sita, the roles undertaken by its two instigating creators – Nigel Jamieson shaped the work as dramaturge and director; Paul Grabowsky shaped the music – attest to its quality. They both acknowledged an intense collaboration when working with the production’s Balinese artists. In keeping with Balinese tradition, the work was initially performed outdoors and combined the skills of a master puppeteer in Wayan Kulit, a traditional form able to carry contemporary political themes. The story’s premise – the destruction of beauty (sita) and the way of life in the Balinese environment – was politically challenging, but the work was delivered with skill, zest and joy. It was accompanied by a fusion of Australian contemporary jazz improvisation and Indonesian gamelan. The Theft of Sita sold out every performance it played in Australia and won the 2000 Green Room Award in Melbourne, among others. By the time I caught up with it again at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel it had been performed 73 times all over the world. Given that most music theatre creators feel lucky to get a few performances in an opening season and maybe a couple more, this was a rare achievement.

Robyn Archer

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

Rehearsal for the ABC TV show ‘Cooking with Wine’, March 13, 1956

Whose ABC?

Amid questions of relevance and culture war hostilities, the ABC’s charter clearly makes the case for a government-funded national broadcaster

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

In This Issue

Performance art masterpiece

Mike Parr - ‘Close the Concentration Camps’, 2002

John Bell rehearsing 'King Lear'. Sydney Opera House, 2010. © Greg Wood/AFP

Bowing to the bard

John Bell’s ‘On Shakespeare’

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Summit season

Julia Gillard, foreign policy and the summit season

Popular music masterpiece

Sarah Blasko - ‘As Day Follows Night’, 2009


More in Arts & Letters

David Malouf, March 2015 in Sydney

An imagined life: David Malouf

Celebrating the literary great’s 90th birthday with a visit to his incongruous home of Surfers Paradise to discuss a life in letters

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

Jeffrey Wright in ‘American Fiction’

The dread of the author: ‘American Fiction’ and ‘Argylle’

Cord Jefferson’s satire about Black artists fighting white perceptions of their work runs out of ideas, while Matthew Vaughn’s spy movie parody has no ideas of its own

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Pictures of you

The award-winning author kicks off our new fiction series with a story of coming to terms with a troubled father’s obsessions


More in Masterpieces

Brian Blanchflower, 'Canopy LI (Scelsi IV), oils, wax medium, pumice powder, acrylic on laminated hessian, January-May 2001, 221 x 172 cm.LEFT: Full painting. Right: Detail.Collection of the artist. © Brian Blanchflower. Photograph by Robert Frith.

Visual art (two-dimensional) masterpiece

Brian Blanchflower - ‘Canopy LI (Scelsi I–IV)’, 2001

The members of Ten Part Invention, founded by John Pochée (third from right).

Jazz masterpiece

Ten Part Invention - ‘Unidentified Spaces’, 2001

Visual art (three-dimensional) masterpiece

Hany Armanious & Mary Teague - ‘Lines of Communication’, 2010

James Ledger. © Bridget Elliot.

Classical music masterpiece

James Ledger - ‘Chronicles’, 2009


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality