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30 years of Melbourne Festival

It was 1977 when Sir Rupert Hamer posited the idea that Melbourne should have an international arts festival.

At the time, the Arts Centre was only half way through construction.

While the foundations of the city were much in evidence—the famous grid layout, majestic architecture, generously wide streets—the Melbourne that we know and love today—with its buzzing laneways, designer retail, thriving restaurant and bar scene, galleries, river walks and public spaces—still lay ahead.

As Melbourne morphed into Australia’s most liveable city, model of multiculturalism, a leader in arts and design, technological innovator, lover of sport and hungry for ideas, Melbourne Festival continued to emulate the city’s trajectory by responding to the times and the growing cultural wealth of our thriving metropolis.

Over 30 years, 11 Artistic Directors strived to create the festival of Melbourne in all its dimensions.

Whether you have attended many editions or only a few you will no doubt have your favourite memories; those experiences that will never leave you. Here are some of ours:

On the first night of the first festival Gian Carlo Menotti presented the Victoria State Opera performing Ken Russell’s production of Madam Butterfly; John Truscott positioned arches over Princes Bridge and imagined the grandeur of Botanica; Richard Wherrett mesmerized us with Robert Wilson’s masterpiece Einstein on the Beach; In the 10th anniversary program, Leo Schofield brought to life the glory of the Myer Mural Hall with Barbara Cook and Michael Feinstein; Clifford Hocking presented The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Rites to the Stravinsky score; Sue Nattrass closed the streets at Flinders Street station with lights, music and story–telling; Jonathan Mills gave us the gift of the Kirov Opera and Orchestra; Robyn Archer had us dancing in Federation Square and drawn into Back to Back Theatre’s soft.

The memory of the 20th year was made indelible when Kristy Edmunds presented Théâtre du Soleil’s Le Dernier Caravansérail in the Royal Exhibition Building. Angels–Demon Parade by AES+F was another of those unforgettable festival experiences in the form of colossal jet–black sculptures positioned on St Kilda Road in Brett Sheehy’s first program. Josephine Ridge concludes her years as Artistic Director in this, the 30th Anniversary year. In the previous two we have been graced by the unique blend of power, skill and beauty of Sylvie Guillem as well as the perennially influential Trisha Brown.

From October 2015 new challenges will be met, new experiences will be created and new memories formed.

So whether you are adding to your Festival memory bank or starting afresh with your first Melbourne Festival, it all begins on the pages that follow… Enjoy.

Take a step back in history and browse 30 years of Melbourne Festival programs.