Arts & Entertainment

Tales from the Far East go Way Out West

Artist Chaco Kato reads the Tanabata story to a group of children at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre

South-west Sydney is turning Japanese for the school holidays. To celebrate the Japanese Star Festival, the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) has been transformed into an ethereal interactive Tanabata galaxy, where children can make bamboo sculptures and learn the art of origami.

As part of the Way Out West (WOW) Festival For Children, Japanese artist Chaco Kato fills the CPAC Turbine Hall with a large-scale art installation, where visitors can escape into the realms of Japanese folklore.

The project, entitled Tanabata: Wish Upon a Star, explores the Japanese legend of Tanabata; the story of two star crossed lovers – Orihime, the cloud-weaving deity and Hikoboshi, the mortal cow-herder – who become separated by the Milky Way and can only meet once a year, on July 7. Tanabata is a wistful tale of friendship, longing and responsibility.

Project Producer Kathryn Hunyor explains the broad appeal of the folk tale: “Although Tanabata is a Japanese tradition, all children, regardless of cultural background, can relate to the story of Orihime and Hikoboshi. It carries several universal messages – building friendships, missing absent loved ones, the feeling of anticipation, accepting responsibilities, caring for the environment, fascination with the stars, and the mystery of nature. We can all appreciate and learn from these messages.”

Whereas Tanabata traditionally depicts Orihime as a long-suffering, put-upon and somewhat credulous heroine, Hunyor’s adaptation of Tanabata celebrates the cloud-weaver’s adept artistry and deep respect for nature. Hunyor says, “As mother of three girls, I wanted to give the story of Tanabata a stronger, more contemporary female role model.”

The Turbine Hall is a massive, three-storey industrial space. Site-specific artist Kato transforms the cavernous space into an enchanting wonderland where woollen yarn is threaded between bamboo stalks, like wispy clouds or threads on a weaver’s loom. Beneath the lofty tapestry-like canopy, visitors are immersed in a multi-layered galaxy of star and diamond-shaped 3D bamboo sculptures, crafted by the artist in collaboration with local students and volunteers.

Casula may seem like an odd location for Tanabata celebrations; but the observation of Eastern traditions in Sydney’s south-west is not arbitrary. Nearby Liverpool is, in fact, the Sister City of Toda (a city near Tokyo). The inclusion of Tanabata in the WOW Festival pays tribute to that relationship, giving the local community an opportunity to better understand Japanese culture and history.

The theme for this year’s WOW Festival is cultural storytelling. After live Tanabata storytelling sessions, visitors can learn the Japanese paper arts of origami and kirigami, write aspirational wishing cards (or Tanzaku), make bamboo sculptures and, together with Kato, populate the sprawling Tanabata galaxy with their work.

Families can also enjoy free screenings of Japanese Anime films Ponyo and My Neighbour Totoro. (CC)

Jul 9-12, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, 1 Powerhouse Rd, Casula, free (bookings essential),


If you’re looking for something different to do these school holidays, we have the best alternative picks to keep the kids entertained:


Halfworld is a whimsical holiday diversion that will amuse and inspire children and kidult alike. Presented by Matriark Art Theatre, this magical show is a portal to the enchanted world that normally only children can access. Halfworld is an immersive experience, featuring puppetry, masks and a huge blanket fort. Families can cosy up in the provided snuggle blankets and learn universal lessons in love, happiness and loss.

Until Jul 12, 107 Projects, 107 Redfern St, Redfern, $15-60 (family pass),


Didgeridoo Dance and Stencil Art Activities

To celebrate NAIDOC Week, there will be a touch of dreamtime in the air at The Art Gallery of NSW. Kids can learn how to design stencil art in art-making workshops, drawing inspiration from the bold, colourful and contemporary work of Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie. In the Gallery Entrance Court, Aboriginal performers Matthew Doyle and Adam Hill will share songs, stories, dance and music in daily didgeridoo dance performances.

Jul 7-11, The Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery Rd, The Domain, free,


Game Masters: The Exhibition

If gamer paradise exists, this is it. Featuring over 100 playable games, this interactive exhibition showcases some of the most influential arcade, console, PC and mobile games ever created. The exhibition charts the evolution of games, from seminal arcade favourites Space Invader and Donkey Kong, to the contemporary game changers, like Super Mario Bros and World of Warcraft.

Until Jul 13, The Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, $15-59 (family pass),



Wow the kids with this fantastic adventure in gravity-defying, wall-scaling, levitating, physical theatre. This award-winning production will stretch the imagination and twist perception with mind-bending video projections and staging. Leo promises to leave audiences wondering which way is up and which way is down.

Until Jul 13, Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney, $24-49,

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