Mark Morris, Anthony Minghella’s Butterfly, Les Arts Florissants and The Sixteen top epic and intimate bill.
William Christie, Harry Christophers, Mark Morris, Sinead O’Connor, Rufus Wainwright – it’s a reamarkable list of the great and the good of classical and contemporary music, theatre, and dance. As we sit in a café in Darlinghurst to chew over the 2015 Perth Festival program, Jonathan Holloway has every reason to feel pleased. It’s not just Bill Grainger’s muesli that’s classy, for his Fourth and final line-up the savvy festival director has collected possibly his most impressive array of artists to date.
“I’m calling it the dream finale,” he tells me. “I started trying to get some of these people when I started out four years ago. It’s the culmination really of everything we’ve been trying to achieve.” I have the draft program in front of me and I have to admit it’s a page-turner – one of those reveals that a good showman such as Holloway can make a great deal out of. As I ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ he talks about his considerable ambitions for his artistic denouement. “It’s about the epic and the intimate,” he says. “It’s about the classical and the digital – and the best of international and regional talent”.
Royal de Luxe (The Giants)
The epic is pretty damn obvious – it jumps out of you on every page. Top of the bill is the latest outing from Royal de Luxe, the French street theatre company whose larger than life vision has taken some of the world’s greatest cities by storm over the last two decades. The Giants will see them occupy the streets of Perth as their huge puppets act out a Western Australian fable in which a little girl (in this case a 50 foot high little girl) buoys the spirits of Gallipoli-bound Aussie troops – and it’s all for free!. “It’s taken two years to persuade them to come,” says Holloway, “but we expect a million people will see them starting on day one of the Festival.”
It’s the classical music program that impresses me the most though. Two early music groups for which the term legendary can actually be used without exaggeration are Les Arts Florissants and The Sixteen. Led by their founders and artistic directors the French-based American William Christie and British choral magician Harry Christophers, the former will perform an eclectic concert of Italian Baroque while the latter will mix Renaissance music of Palestrina and Allegri with the pungent harmonies of contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan. Both concerts, in my book, will be ‘must sees’.
William Christie and Les Arts Florissants
Opera is also looking good this time round with the Australian debut of Anthony Minghella’s award-winning Madama Butterfly – a dazzling production that has conquered operatic stages from London to the Met. With its original star Mary Plazas in the lead and with WASO conducted by David Parry this is another ‘not to be missed’.
The most original looking offering will be the world premiere of composer ad songstress Kate Miller-Heidke’s version of John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s family picture book favourite The Rabbits. Perth-based company Barking Gecko is creating the production with help from canny librettist Lally Katz, Australia’s quirkiest designer Gabriela Tylesova and with additional music from Iain Grandage. If the attractive song unveiled at the Opera Australia launch earlier in the year is anything to go by this should appeal to a wide range of listeners.
Also on offer is the latest show from Tafelmusik, whose inspiring Galileo Project carried off a Helpmann a few years back. House of Dreams combines imagery of the buildings and artworks that inspired the music of Bach and Vivaldi. With the ASQ and an intriguing contemporary music gig from Finnish composer Tuomo Prättälä and Felix Zenger it looks like there’s something to suit most tastes.
Mark Morris Dance Company Mostly Mozart
On to dance, and if the classical music program had some big hitters, looso too does this. Mark Morris is probably the most iconic name. His Mozart Dances will see 18 dancers joined by WASO and two pianists in one of the American choreographer’s most playful creations. “It’s one of his two legendary works, I suppose,” says Holloway. “And it’s nearly 15 years since they’ve last been to Australia which is really exciting.”
Equally interesting for contemporary dance fans will be award-winning British dancer Aakash Odedra who brings his one-man show Rising to Perth. Creating a show with choreography by not only Akram Khan but also Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant is quite a coup for any young dancer. With WA Ballet returning to the Quarry Amphitheatre with an offering that includes Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s lively Zip Zap Zoom and William Forsythe’s Steptext, there’s some pretty good dance to be had.
Ubu and the Truth Commission
Theatre next, and a couple of exclusives. The artist William Kentridge and the creators of the puppetry for War Horse (the Handspring Puppet Company), collide in Ubu and the Truth Commission – a chilling yet farcical satire on the politics of modern-day South Africa. Almost the exact opposite in mood, London’s Royal Court presents Lisa Dwan in a one-woman Beckett trilogy – Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby – which has gathered acclaim wherever it has played.
There are plenty of quirky shows as well – The Paper Architect tells a bittersweet love story using paper lovers on a paper set and plays in an as yet undisclosed secret (and intimate) location. The Future Postal Service will see young posties running wild in the streets of Perth while Hack the Festival invites you as part of a team to build a create a digital artwork in only 24 hours. And if you’ve missed Tom Wright and Wesley Enoch’s poignant tale of Indigenous soldiers in WWI, Black Diggers is on at the State Theatre.
All that, plus circus from the likes of Circa, contemporary music from Sinead O’Connor, Rufus Wainwright, London Grammar and Neneh Cherry to name but four, plenty of visual arts, a film festival and an impressive looking writers festival (Geoffrey Robertson and Hilary Mantel among the headliners). Time to book a flight? I think so.
The Perth International Festival runs from February 13-March 7.