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Brendan Joyce

Brisbania Carnivale Sugar Plum Calypso

A response to Rachel Burke’s Backyard Bliss (2021) and Gerwyn Davies’ Miami (2017), Sir Joh Hislop (2019) and Island (2017) composed by Brendan Joyce with references to themes from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite.

Brisbania Carnivale Sugar Plum Calypso by Brendan Joyce from Camerata’s City in the Sun, performed at Museum of Brisbane. Musicians: Alice Buckingham, Anna Colville, Brendan Joyce, Elias Kokkoris, Helena Wang, Jason Tong, Jonny Ng and Katherine Philp. Filmed by Vanessa van Dalsen. Audio by Luke Woollett.

About Brendan’s piece

“Rachel Burke’s Brisbane-inspired dreamworld of a backyard (Backyard Bliss) is for me like an island. Beyond that white fence there is this magical, beautiful place that can’t possibly exist, yet does, and it’s kind of captivating yet not a place I’d want to be trapped in, ultimately. Gerwyn Davies’ work celebrates for me the exotic and ‘camp’, yet in Brisbane we have an unattractive history of hiding or blocking the identities of those that create or embody these elements. For me, his portraits also say ‘carnivale’, a strange kind of carnivale where faces are not revealed because you can have your colour, but you certainly can’t own up to it. I also enjoyed meeting and chatting with members of the public, and one of them suggested to me that Rachel’s Backyard Bliss made her think of “sickly sweet” which she associated with Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies from The Nutcracker.

So, thinking of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and magical islands and overly-joyous carnivals, Calypso the nymph in Greek mythology comes to mind, as does calypso music. Calypso entrapped Odysseus for seven years on her magical, tantalizing island, even though he cried non-stop to go home. For a carnivale, Calypso-style music is a must. It’s a style of Afro-Caribbean music from Trinidad and Tobago that spread to the rest of the Caribbean and to Venezuela. Joyful and vibrant in sound, its subjects and texts are usually witty and satiric, with a tone of allusion, mockery and political challenge. Somehow, for me at least, these different threads – island, carnivale, over-stated colour and gaslit happiness – fit what is going on in both Rachel and Gerwyn’s works, and in the exhibition at large. So, I’ve written this short piece, Brisbania Carnivale Sugar Plum Calypso – an ironic take on Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies for string octet.”

– Brendan Joyce

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