In the company of Women

Writer, curator, singer and more besides, Xenia Hanusiak is the creative force behind many cultural projects. Here, she writes for IAM about her upcoming Songlines for a New World festival.

Songlines for a New World began in my mind’s eye at the end of 2015.

In 2014 I concluded my contract as director of cultural relations at the Australian Consulate in New York, and I was ready to return to one of my familiar roles ­– a serial festival director. I decided that my next project should reflect the following creative rationale: to represent Australian female artists who are not only virtuosi musicians, but also women who forge distinctive leadership roles as directors, advocates and leaders.

Xenia Hanusiak
Xenia Hanusiak

I decided that the individual programmes in the festival would reflect each artist’s current artistic opus and that my role would be to curate the arch of the festival. Fortunately, the ambitions in my creative rationale were easily answered. At this time Australia is blessed with many distinctive artists who are leaders: names like Robyn Archer, cabaret singer and director of the Adelaide and Melbourne Festival; and Kate Miller-Heidke, a singer who has topped pop charts, sung at The Metropolitan Opera and composed operas. These women are on my radar.

For this New York debut I am partnering with the visionary team at National Sawdust – partnering with festivals that reflect my artistic values of curiosity, excellence and diversity is key to the success of my previous projects. For this 2018 debut iteration I am proud to present the virtuoso recorder player Genevieve Lacey, who is an embodiment of my mission statement. Genevieve has performed for major international festivals such as The Proms, Paris Festival d’Automne, Klangboden Wien and is also the artistic director of FutureMakers, Musica Viva Australia’s artist leadership programme. Genevieve’s immersive video programmes En Masse and Pleasure Garden represents her New York debut.

I am also very proud to present the New York debut of the inspiring indigenous singer Emily Wurramara. Originally from Groote Eylandt in northern Australia, Emily grew up listening to her uncle’s songs. She soon realised that women from her community rarely sang in public. Wanting to inspire and empower members of her community, especially young Indigenous women to find their voice, Emily sings original music both in English and Anindilyakwa, her original language. Her performance is powerful and moving. Further in the year I am presenting Claire Edwards, a virtuoso percussionist.

From 2018 Songlines for a New World is open to the world’s stages and festivals. The roster of women in the programmes will expand. As a writer of libretti, cultural journalism and fiction (with a PhD in literature in my back pocket) I am interested in where words meet the text. Indigenous writers such as Alexis Wright will appear in the next festival, as will visual artists.

The path to this point has involved the always challenging process of multiple grant submissions (with its own lifespan of successes and rejections), the larger-than-life US Visa application process and sustaining the vision. Producing, directing and initiating projects across borders has been part of my DNA since I my conservatorium days; for me, it is fulfilling to be in the company of the women at National Sawdust and in the company of women in Songlines for a New World.

Xenia Hanusiak enjoys one of the most diverse lives experienced by artists today. As an opera singer, writer, cultural commentator, curator and festival director Xenia contributes to the stage, the page and the intervals in between. Her next global festival Songlines for a New World will debut for the 2018 Spring Revolution Festival at the visionary National Sawdust in New York. Previous projects include: A thousand doors, a thousand windows (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Venice, Boston, Florence, Singapore, Beijing), MADE IN CHINA (Beijing Music Festival), Earth Songs (Korea, Sydney, Melbourne) and The Garden of Joy and Sorrow, (Melbourne International Arts Festival).