The inside word with Anaïs Lellouche

Anais Lellouche, photo Hannah Moore (2)

Anaïs Lellouche is the curator of  ‘Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage’, a world first exhibition showing at the State Library of Victoria from 18 July – 9 November 2014. From the 19th-century Paris of Victor Hugo’s novel – Les Misérables – to today’s blockbuster stage musical, the exhibition will feature rare items from the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Maison de Victor Hugo, Musée Rodin, Cameron Mackintosh Archive and others, giving visitors a world-first insight into the most popular French story of all time.

What can visitors expect from Victor Hugo: Les Miserable – From Page to Stage?

This world-first exhibition celebrates the French literary genius of Victor Hugo (1802-1885), acclaimed author of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, poet, playwright and visionary draftsman. Hugo led an exceptional life and the exhibition is a multi-layered experience, with something for every visitor. For literary enthusiasts this is a unique chance to see the original hand-written manuscript of Les Misérables, an extraordinary volume of some 1,000 pages, penned by Hugo over 17 years. This national treasure is on loan from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Lovers of Paris will be able to see the city as Hugo saw it. Beautiful images by Charles Marville, acclaimed French photographer of the 19th century, and paintings of uprisings and revolutions, show the city during a period of radical change both physically and politically.

There is also a history of Les Misérables on the big-screen, from the birth of cinema and the Lumière Brothers’ first adaptation of the novel in 1897, through to the big American productions of 1998, staring Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman, and the 2012 production with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.

An entire gallery of the State Library will be transformed into a theatrical experience devoted to Les Misérables the musical, with costumes, photographs, posters, props, and a stage where visitors can try on original costumes and sing along to the iconic songs.

Why did Melbourne chose to launch this exhibition?

This world-first exhibition could have been held in Paris, London or New York but Melbourne chose to create it, which shows the city’s amazing drive. People here are not afraid to do big things and push boundaries and this is particularly true of the State Library in this case. It saw the potential to trace the history of this iconic story from contemporary popular culture back to the masterpiece of literature that is Les Misérables. We then convinced our major international partners to come on board and we will soon be able to share this incredible journey with visitors.

What do you think makes Melbourne such an amazing cultural destination?

I love the melting pot of Melbourne that makes a French-American of Jewish Tunisian and Italian cultural heritage like myself feel at home. I see Melbourne as very exciting because it is a city of international excellence in culture that still has growth potential; it is a risk-taking city with big ambitions. If you have a vision, work hard and with luck, anything is possible in Melbourne. I think that locals and visitors alike can sense and cultivate that potential.

What are your 5 must-do cultural experiences in Melbourne?

I like to take a moment to pause and take in the beauty of Melbourne’s luscious gardens. My favorite is Queen Victoria Gardens, where I curated an exhibition for this year’s White Night Melbourne. I live near Fitzroy Gardens and I love going to and from the city via the park, where I draw inspiration. It also offers great sneak-peeks into the Conservatory and Cook’s Cottage.

I love browsing for furniture which probably stems from my upbringing in Paris where I regularly visited the flea markets with my dad. In Melbourne you can often find me on Smith Street, in one of its many eclectic shops, such as Smith Street Bazaar and Mode 707. I also love Richmond for browsing through leading Italian design, and the very different Northcote, a great place for 60’s designs and to take on the energy of this hip suburb.

Living in Melbourne I tend to forget that just a few tram stops away you can be in front of the bay and I love going for a stroll on St Kilda Beach. In the area I go to the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art, which always has thought-provoking exhibitions, and since it’s on Acland Street, I stop in for one of Monarch Bakery’s almost legendary mille-feuilles.

I love the city’s cultural diversity, which reminds me a lot of New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy. I get this dynamism when I walk on Swanston Street at dusk, where the heart of the city centre is at its most vibrant. I work at the State Library of Victoria and when I leave work in the evening, I often glance back to see the proud edifice lit up. I’m ready to have fun in Melbourne in the evening; often the first stop is the hidden rooftop bar Goldilocks Bar, which offers a great piece of sky and view at the heart of the city

I love hearing the diversity of the street musicians and passing by the stand of La Petite Ceperie, which gives me a much loved smell of Paris’s delicious crepes. I often go to the Town Hall for comedy of performing arts festivals.

What does your perfect Melbourne weekend consist of?

Going to Queen Victoria Market to stock up on the best fresh produce for the week. Catching up with friends on Gertrude Street in inner city Fitzroy, popping into Gertrude Contemporary’s fantastic artist and residency space to see a show and have a chat with the artists. Dinner with friends at my house, their house, or trying out a new restaurant.

On Sundays I love going to see an exhibition, most often at the National Gallery of Victoria, whose excellent program is always stimulating. I also go regularly to the ACMI (Australian Centre for Moving Image) and ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art).

My perfect weekend also includes the cinema, especially when the French Film Festival is on. I love hearing French during the movie and afterwards stepping back out into my life in Melbourne!

Where would you go for a weekend escape in Victoria and why?

It’s hard to choose because there is so much to see within a comfortable driving distance from Melbourne. Can I say two? My first choice would be going to the TarraWarra Museum of Art and Winery in the Yarra Valley. The gorgeous green plains along the route make for a very relaxing drive and the museum’s striking architecture opens onto the landscape and is stunning. The exhibitions and programs are always engaging, presenting leading Australian and international art. The Yarra Valley also has many great wineries to explore.

Another memorable escape is to the Mornington Peninsula where I head to the stunning and untouched Gunnamatta Beach. I gain strength in contemplating the ocean and its vast horizon. I’m not yet to the point where I dive into the water. I prefer to admire the gorgeous surfers from the shore.

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