Viva La Gong, Wollongong’s annual arts and culture extravaganza, is teeming with colour and movement as the Mercury visits just before 2pm Saturday.
On the community stage, performers from the Silver Lotus Tribal Bellydance group are just getting started.
The women stand in formation; eyes down, with bejeweled faces and midriffs exposed. There is a gentle cascading sound of tin on tin as coin belts at their hips react to the slightest movement. With bellies undulating, they draw the crowd in slowly before the music picks up pace, the beat kicks in and the first of the Xena, Warrior Princess-style cries ring out.
“Here they go!” says someone in the crowd.
Wollongong City Council booked more than 40 performances across three stages for this year’s festival.
There was also a rolling program of acts out of the stand-alone La Petite Grande circus tent, where the ringmaster advised the young crowd, “leave your grumpy pants at the door,” as seats filled for the 2.15pm performance, Circus and Other Time Wasters.
Some of the event’s biggest drawcards were not on stage but roving the crowd. A man with a homespun device that spewed steaming bubbles from its barrel – Robert Bubbleman, his vest said – was permanently encircled by children desperate for a handful of the stuff. Lifelike, life-sized dinosaur puppets from the Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo show were also swamped whenever they went roving.
Dapto mum Anne Johnstone said the event was a feather in the city’s cap. “We’ve eaten lots of food. Listened to lots of different music, hung out with beautiful friends. The kids are happy – they’re off playing, doing activities, playing with dinosaurs and watching the circus,” she said. “I think it shows the diversity of the culture and how accepting Wollongong is of different cultures and how welcoming we are here as a community.”
Some of the region’s up-and-coming talent was on show on a stage reserved for the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music.
The Con’s Concert Band was “really a bit of a jazz band”, that was in the process of experimenting with improvisation, its conductor explained to the crowd, before the players launched into Tyrannosaurus Charlie.
There were uncertain eyes from some of the improvising soloists, then relieved smiles, and applause, as each one’s moment in the spotlight came to an end.