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Published September 12, 2015

Do you love music? Do you love bees? Do you love when music and bees combine to make a bee musical? Well then, does Arts House Melbourne has the show for you!

The Dance of the Bee is a two-part musical collaboration assembled by composer Martin Friedel and pianist Michael Kieran Harvey focussing on, as the name suggests, the humble honeybee. The show is designed to call attention to the dire plight of apis mellifera: as the accompanying literature states, this remarkable little creature is now endangered, with lack of genetic flexibility, use of pesticides, exotic parasites and colony collapse disorder culling countless bees across the globe. Considering that between one and two thirds of the food we consume requires bee pollination, our fate is inextricably linked to the bee’s. As Maurice Maeterlinck writes in The Life of the Bee, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

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With this bleak prediction in mind, Dance of the Bee showcases a collection of musical pieces inspired by, relating to, or celebrating the lifecycle of the bee, with several specially-composed pieces making their international debut in this show. The first half of the production features renowned pianist Michael Kieran Harvey, a pianist so revered that he has had several of the program’s pieces composed especially for him, and he performs each of them with dedication, skill, and flair.

The second half of the show, however, centres around the real stars: a transparent hive of honeybees brought on stage and allowed to feed and build honeycomb directly in front of the audience. Watching bees work in real time is a fascinating experience, made even more interesting when the bees are given a microphone and their rhythmic hums begin to form the basis for four moving pieces of music co-performed by three pianos, four pianists and 18 members of Melbourne’s Astra Choir. These compositions are stunningly creative and unique, using the merging of the bees’ humming, the choir’s voices and select piano scores to create cerebral and unsettlingly beautiful pieces of music. This collaboration serves as a moving reminder of our interdependence on our smaller insect friends, and is a perfect illustration of the production’s message of conservation and consideration for nature. The whole production is expertly constructed around this celebration of the bee, and all of the compositions are performed with talent and dedication to produce a fitting homage to our tiny apian friends.

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Fortunately, Australian bee colonies have so far avoided the spread of the colony collapse disorder and the deadly Varroa mites that have ravaged European and American bee populations. However, climate change is having a severe impact on our bee populations, with record heat waves leading to plants reducing the nectar production and starving the bees, while the same heat forces bees to spend large amounts of their time searching for water to cool their hives. Pesticides and the bees’ lack of genetic flexibility also have a negative impact upon all species of bees within Australia.

The production itself chooses to answer the question “what can we do?” with the instruction to be in awe of the bee, and to protect the bees from our own greed and ineptitude.

More direct, hands-on instructions can be found at actforbees.wordpress.com and include growing bee-friendly flowers, avoiding the use of pesticides and supporting locally grown organic and sustainable produce.

Dance of the Bee is showing at the North Melbourne Town Hall until the 13th of September, with a post-show Q & A session on Saturday the 12th at 6.40pm. More info at the Arts House website.

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