Review by Alison Stoddart
On the ground floor of the Sydney Town Hall, a couple of tonnes of sand has been dumped on its beautiful Tasmanian blackwood and tallowwood floor. I am here for Sun and Sea, part of the Sydney Festival, a show that takes over the grand Main Hall. A cleverly designed opera in the round which addresses themes of the climate emergency in an ethereal and haunting way. Clever Lithuanian artists Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė won the Gold Lion for their show at the 2019 Venice Biennale.
The mechanics of the show is as follows. Each ticket holder, equipped with a colour coded wristband, is entitled to a half hour session within the grand Main Hall. Armed with the lyrics of the songs, viewers are then encouraged to wander the galleries at will, peering down at the performers (a vast array of people of differing ages and stages of undress) on their sandy beach below. The holidaymakers sunbake and sing, their voices rising high and pure into the three-storey space.
I wait with the incoming audience, patiently amongst the twelve giant marbled pillars, for the doors to open and the next session be admitted. Such is the scene awaiting us that it stops people in the doorways. At first it appears to be a vision of the mundane, there’s not much to see. A scene which every Australian has grown up with. The beach. This is the ultimate form of people watching. It is people watching people watching people. What is it about sand that changes the atmosphere, the feeling of place.
These people are behaving as if they are really at the beach, maybe it is me that is not here. Is this the ultimate existential experience, am I really here? I don’t seem to bother them, in fact they pay no attention, is that the metaphor? What year is it? Have I gone back in time? Is this the Australia in the 1940’s? the 70’s? No, I see a man scrolling through his iphone, that centres me.
The more I stare, the more I see. There is a dog, there are twins – two beautiful girls. There is a baby toddling and falling on the sand. And then I see more. Two groups leaning into each other, sharing a joke, starting a friendship. The twins are laughing with three teenagers their own age. Everyone is relaxed, their movements slowed down. No frantic rushing here. There is nothing to see, there is so much to see. My heartbeat is slowing and I feel calm. I can smell the salt. But wait, someone is singing. Then more voices join in. I can see the microphones on ears. They are Odysseus’ sirens singing a tale of lament of modern holidays. I listen and read the words of the ‘Wealthy Mommy’s Song’ and ‘Song of Exhaustion – Workoholic’s Song’. Both, a wry commentary on certain parts of society.
My time is up, I don’t want to leave, there is too much to see.
In these songs of foreboding, the apocalyptic message is clear. And thanks to the magic of the three Lithuanian artists, music is the best way to spread the message. It hits people right in their soul.
Sun and Sea is a moment, a lifetime, earth’s past and present.
Sun and Sea is a triumph.