Federation Handbells at Arts Festival

07 October, 2009

Ringing in the Changes
Strange Fruit in Ringing the Changes.
Source: Strange Fruit

The bells of Melbourne will ring out to celebrate the 2009 Melbourne International Arts Festival. Among the joyous cacophony is a new composition played on the Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr. The piece, Ringing the Changes, was composed by Graeme Leak and will be performed by Melbourne group Strange Fruit.

Strange Fruit are known for their five-metre, flexible, fibreglass poles that allow the performers to float, bend, sway and twirl in mid-air. In Ringing the Changes, the performers move among and play the sculptural bells. One of them, George Filev, has worked at Melbourne Museum since it opened in 2000. When he’s not touring overseas with Strange Fruit, George works as a customer service officer.

With many years’ experience in aerial performance, George feels as comfortable up in the air as he does on the museum floor. "The pole becomes an extension of your body so you just feel like a giant person. There’s a real sense of freedom and flight and a connection you can make with audiences both close by and really far away.”

The poles are so flexible that the performers can bend right to the ground. During Ringing the Changes, the five performers bow down to pick up Federation Handbells from helpers below. Playing bells is a new skill for George – “I’m not a musician, but now I have to be!”

Strange Fruit has performed at arts festivals in over 40 countries and have encountered some unique logistic challenges transporting the poles. “Once we had to open the nose of a plane to get them in,” explains George.

The Federation Bells were commissioned by the Victorian Government in 2001 to mark the centenary of Australia’s Federation. There are three components; the installation at Birrarung Marr, a set of harmonic bells for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and the Federation Handbells. The 80 sets of Federation Handbells are in the care of Museum Victoria and available for hire by schools and community groups. The handbells are uniquely designed to sound a single, perfectly-tuned tone. Strange Fruit hope to create a touring set of bells to take the show overseas.

Ringing the Changes is a free performance at 7.30pm on 9, 10, 11 and 12 October. Members of the public are encouraged to join in the performance should turn up at 6.00 pm when conductor Timothy Phillips will rehearse their part. They should also bring three things:

  • an empty tin can, label removed, preferably with corrugated sides
  • a metal teaspoon
  • a chopstick.

The Melbourne International Arts Festival runs from 9 – 24 October 2009.

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