REVIEW: The Lepidopters: A Space Opera at ARTS HOUSE

Wonderfully weird!

By Margaret Wieringa

Aliens, in the form of moths, have invaded and are breeding with humans to create human-moth hybrids to take over the Earth starting in Jakarta. Wow.

This bizarre collaborative work has been created by Slave Pianos, Punkasila and The Astra Choir, based on a comic book commissioned from science-fiction writer Max von Schlegell.


When the audience enters the main hall at Arts House, they are immediately confronted by what appear to be two giant, deconstructed grand pianos dominating the central space. On a closer look, these are intertwined wooden structures containing a variety of gongs, and other percussion instruments, and they appear to be playing themselves.

These it turns out, are the Sedulur Gamelan or Gamelan Sisters, made up of a variety of redesigned traditional Javanese instruments. A little internet research reveals that this amazing contraption does indeed play itself. Even before the performance begins, Slave Pianos are creating ambient music. During the performance, they play a wide range of pieces both on their own and with the other performers, and this alone would have been enough to make attending this event worthwhile, but there was so much more!

Far from a traditional narrative structure, the performance is strung together over two hours with short spoken-word sections from Richard Piper who is playing a mysterious character reporting back on the events in Indonesia. The events of the story also play out in a disjointed series of videos, mostly strange animations, that run on large screens at either end of the hall. The audience is strung along the length of the room in an unusual pattern and, during the two brief intervals, is encouraged to change chairs and experience the event from a different angle.

The stunning work from the Astra Choir begins with some extreme discordant 32-part singing, and then journeys through far more traditional choral works. In the second act, we are introduced to Punkaslia from Yogyakarta, working with singer-dancer Rachel Saraswati to create their interpretation of the Lepidopters beginning the breeding process. We also get some jazz (not trad jazz, but a sort of post-modern insane style so appropriate to this performance) from pianist Michael Kieran Harvey.

The Lepidopters: A Space Opera is definitely not for everyone as this mysterious and remarkably busy show is extremely experimental and strange. In fact, a number of patrons clearly weren’t coping and left early… but it inspired a standing ovation from those who willingly remained to embrace the weird.

Venue: Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Dates: Sat 12 3pm and 7:30pm and Sun 13 April 5pm
Tickets: $25 full/$20 conc/$15 student
Bookings: or 9322 3713