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Australia, the magazine : Australia, the magazine
theatre & performance When the Sydney eatre Company's production of A Streetcar Named Desire played on Broadway to the most critical and spoiled-for-choice theatre- going community in the world in late 2009, its star, Cate Blanche , knew she was dealing with some low expectations. Blanche 's own success both on stage and as an Oscar-winning lm actress, and that of compatriots such as Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe might have gone some way to balancing out the jokey larrikin image Australia engendered as a result of the country's 1980s tourism "throw another shrimp on the barbie" campaign starring Crocodile Dundee's Paul Hogan. But Blanche sensed a hangover. " e way you enter a cultural conversation will be the demons you have to ght," she says. "So the whole notion of the way we rst arrived on the international scene with those Crocodile Dundee images, we still have to combat those." It is, perhaps, surprising that an actress of the stature of Blanche feels that a movie like Crocodile Dundee, almost a quarter of a century old, can still a ect Australia's image. But she does. And so does her husband, renowned writer and director Andrew Upton. But there is an upside to that, says Blanche , who recalls that when she and Upton rst moved to the US in the late 1990s, "people still confused Australia with Austria." "Performing Streetcar, which frankly, was very nerve-racking -- taking a great American classic back to the United States through a Nor wegian-Australian interpreter and prism [Upton, of Norwegian heritage, adapted the Tennessee Williams work for the production] -- there was still an element of surprise," Blanche says of the production's outlandish success that had New York critics raving. "One could feel slightly patronised [by that]," she says. "But then, surprise is a great weapon and I think it's a weapon that Australians have in many sectors, but certainly in the creative sector. We are constantly surprising." Blanche and Upton are co-artistic directors of the Sydney eatre Company (STC), one of Australia's foremost live theatre companies. In their tenure so far, they have sought the surprising. Streetcar is just one example of the successes that policy has produced. For Upton, who in addition to adapting Streetcar previously adapted Ibsen's Hedda Gabler to the acclaim of a new audience, that element of surprise is a great thing. So too, he says, is the old "shrimp on the barbie" image, but with a new twist. "I feel like whenever I've gone into the classics, I have been throwing them on the barbecue a bit," he says. "And I don't think that's a bad thing. But I do think it's a bad thing to get tied to terrible two-dimensional stereotypes. "It's worth thinking about the upside of the shrimp on the barbie though, because maybe there's something quite freeing in that. It's quite a free and welcoming image." And freedom, agree both Blanche and Upton, is the central appeal of Australia's approach to the arts. Blanche and Upton point to the success of Australian performing arts companies on the world stage to illustrate this. Bangarra Dance eatre, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander company, has performed to audiences in the UK , Europe and Asia a er a 16- date sellout tour of the US in 2001. Chunky Moves, a Melbourne-based dance company performed its Mortal Engine to standing ovations at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival and wowed critics at the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Next Wave Festival. BAM also provided a forum for the success of Company B Belvoir's Cloudstreet, a stage adaptation of the Tim Winton novel of the same name directed by another luminary, Neil Arm eld. " ere has been a real sense over the last six or seven years of quite a 110 FREEDOM MAKES uS StROng OSCAR WINNING ACTRESS CATE BLANCHETT AND HER HUSBAND, WRITER/DIRECTOR ANDREW UPTON, DISCUSS THE "DEMONS" AUSTRALIAN ARTISTS HAVE TO FIGHT. BY JULIETTA JAMESON POWER PARTNERSHIP Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton at the Sydney Theatre Company. There's quite an adventurous mindset in Australia for the arts. People are constantly surprised by what comes out of Australia. Gaye Gerard/Getty Images