Invisible Cities Pushes Boundaries: Brisbane Festival Gets Ambitious

'Invisible Cities' 'Invisible Cities' Image © Tristram Kenton

In perhaps the most ambitious project in Brisbane Festival history, 'Invisible Cities' (inspired by the novel of the same name) combines digital with dance in a giant shed.


This Australian exclusive centres on the relationship between Kublai Khan (the head of a vast empire) and explorer Marco Polo.

It's a mix of theatre, choreography, music, architectural design, and projection mapping.

Here, Adaptor Lolita Chakrabarti answers questions about the show.

This is a fairly short season and quite exclusive experience. Could you tell us a bit about the show?
This is a unique collaboration of theatre, dance and digital projection telling a central story of a conversation between Imperial Emperor Kublai Khan and Venetian trader Marco Polo in 1279. Based on Italo Calvino’s 'Invisible Cities' this conversation takes place over a decade during which the Emperor keeps Polo prisoner forcing him to describe his travels across his vast and sprawling empire. Polo’s words transport Khan to an understanding of his legacy that he longs for but the more he hears the more he wants.

Where did the idea for this production come from?
Leo Warner, director of the show and of digital projection company 59 Productions, was inspired by this book over 20 years ago and wanted to find a way to explore it. He asked me if I would adapt it into a dramatic structure for the stage.

It is, of course, inspired by a novel. What about the novel stood out?
This is a novel that many people call their favourite piece of literature from the 20th century, and other people have never heard of. It is an enigmatic book that evokes many philosophical and existential questions, and answers none of them. It conjures up images of cities, some of which are recognisable, some feel historically rooted and others are fantastical or frightening.

InvisCitiesTristramKenton2
Image © Tristram Kenton

How are you hoping audiences are feeling and thinking as they leave 'Invisible Cities’?
Overwhelmed by the sheer epic nature of the production and provoked by the themes discussed.

It's a mixture of a few different art forms. How are they combined throughout the performance?
I wrote the script as an entire play. I was informed of the design ideas and dance inspirations as the process developed. I wrote elements of these into the script. I have given space and time to language, images and movement throughout the script and then as the piece was rehearsed different moments emerged.

What are some of the challenges that arise when putting a production like this together?
The ambition of this piece is huge. None of us did half a job. This is a full play. A full dance performance. A full experience of digital projection. Putting these together and allowing space for the story to emerge was a challenge.

On the other side of the coin, what's the most rewarding thing about staging 'Invisible Cities’?
It is amazing to work at this level, on this size of canvas in a live performance space. To be in a room with Sidi Larbi and the dancers from Rambert watching their ability and commitment to the work is wonderful. To see Leo’s vision come together and take form in a site-specific venue that requires total transformation is breathtaking. To hear my words spoken with the scale and power that I imagined only in my head is very rewarding indeed.

'Invisible Cities' plays 880 Fairfield Road, Yeerongpilly 24-28 September.

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