Announcing their third Adelaide Festival program, after breaking box office records in their first two, co-Artistic Directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy have unveiled an exciting line-up of 70 events, among them the Mahler Chamber Orchestra led by Daniel Harding, Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery Choir, Hofesh Shechter’s latest dance piece Grand Finale, the return of Meryl Tankard’s legendary Two Feet with Russian prima ballerina Natalia Osipova taking over the role, and La Mama’s Uncle Vanya performed in real time over two days at Hans Heysen’s historical home The Cedars.

Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery Choir

Exploring the line-up, which includes 17 Australian premieres and 10 world premieres, the duo says that although they didn’t start out with a theme, one of the ideas shared by a number of artists in the program is the global challenge of displacement, and migration as millions seek refuge and beg for asylum.

Counting and Cracking, Belvoir’s epic new tale of home, exile and family, sheds long overdue light on the glorious complexity of the Sri Lankan diaspora in Australia. On a very different note, the rough heartfelt Manus by all-Iranian Verbatim Theatre Group reveals the confronting stories of detainees on Manus Island and Nauru, including the experiences of journalist Behrouz Boochani,” they said – just two of many works that explore similar themes.

As previously announced, the Festival opens on March 1 with the Komische Oper Berlin’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, directed by Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade of British theatre company 1927, known for its extraordinary hand-crafted animation combined with music and live performance. At a media launch, Healy described the production (which has its Australian premiere at the Perth Festival) as “the rock star of the opera world” and “sheer entertainment”. Such is the demand for tickets that a fifth performance has been added.

Other opening weekend events include the 42-strong Sretensky Monastery Choir from Moscow with their spine-tingling tenor, baritone and basso profundo voices. The choir was founded in 1395, closed down during the Russian revolution and re-opened in 1994 during glasnost.

Meryl Tankard’s Two Feet. Photograph © Regis Lansac

Meryl Tankard will restage her seminal 1998 solo work Two Feet, which explores the turbulent life of Olga Spessivtseva, the Russian ballerina who was particularly renowned for her Giselle. Driven mad by her perfectionism, she was found wondering around the Blue Mountains while touring Australia. Tankard combined this with her own experiences as a dancer. Now she is reworking the production, set against stunning projections by Regis Lansac, with Russian prima ballerina Natalia Osipova in the role. The Royal Ballet has given Osipova time off in order to perform here.

Paul Kelly has teamed up with Adelaide’s Seraphim Trio plus composer James Ledger and singer-songwriter Alice Keath to create a new song cycle called Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds, commissioned by the Festival, which features 13 new songs and soundscapes inspired by birds. The opening weekend also includes a free family concert, National Geographic’s Symphony for Our World, will take place in Elder Park.

Other music events include the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding, which will perform two programs, one featuring Schubert’s Symphony No 3 and Bruckner’s Symphony No 4, and the other featuring Mozart’s last three symphonies. Richard Tognetti and Erin Helyard will offer startling new insights into much-loved sonata by Mozart and Beethoven in Forces of Nature, Greta Bradman will join the Adelaide Chamber Singers to perform Orlando di Lasso’s Renaissance choral masterpiece the Lagrime di San Pietro, written just three weeks before he died (a rarely performed piece which the Los Angeles Master Chorale presented at this year’s Melbourne Festival in a staging directed by Peter Sellars). Genevieve Lacey will stage the Chamber Landscapes series at UKARIA Cultural Centre, and there will also be performances by British cellist Natalie Clein as part of a tour for Musica Viva, and a concert by American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.

Hofesh Sheather’s Grand Finale. Photograph © Rahi Rezvani

The dance program will feature the Australian premiere of the latest full-length work by exciting Israeli-born London-based choreographer/director Hofesh Shechter, Grand Finale, whose work Political Mother, with its thundering percussive score, thrilled audiences when it came to Australia in 2010. Reviewing Grand Finale in London, The Guardian said: “Grand Finale is as apocalyptic a work as Hofesh Shechter has ever made. Squaring up to the precariousness of our world, the political and ecological disasters we’ve created for ourselves, it’s a work fraught with violence, dread and a manic kind of defiance. This is Shechter’s dance around the abyss, his waltz for the end of time.”

The Dresden Semperoper Ballett will perform Carmen choreographed by Johan Inger and seen through the eyes of a boy, while Un Poyo Rojo (loosely translated as A Red Rooster), choreographed by Nicolás Poggi and Luciano Rosso, features two macho blokes in tiny shorts competing in in a game of one-upmanship “that makes Hansel and Zoolander’s ‘Walk Off’ look inept,” as the Adelaide Festival puts it.

The theatre program includes, among other pieces, David Ireland’s brutal satire Ulster American in which two grandstanding men and a woman meet to discuss putting on a West End play. Presented by Scotland’s Traverse Theatre, the timely, riotous piece, written just before the complaints about Harvey Weinstein and the birth of the #MeToo movement but tying absolutely into a post-Weinstein world, was a smash hit at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe where it won five-star reviews but also saw people walking out.

Robert Jack, Darrell D’Silva, Lucianne McEvoy in Ulster American. Photograph © Sid Scott

La Mama will stage Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in real time over two days within the rooms of Hans Heysen’s historical home The Cedars, spilling out into the surrounding landscape. Nat Randall and Anna Breckon’s cult hit The Second Woman, which sees one female actor playing the same 10-minute scene 100 times continuously over a 24-hour period, opposite 100 men recruited from the Adelaide community will return –very possibly for the final time. At the end of each scene, the man must decide whether to say “I always loved you” or “I never loved you”.

Other theatre shows include Manus, a rough, agit-prop theatre work in which interviews with Iranian asylum seekers still in limbo on Manus and Nauru are relayed verbatim by a cast of eight, and Palmyra, a knockabout double-act by Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas which uses slapstick to address the destruction of the beautiful Syrian city. “It’s very funny and then suddenly less funny,” says Armfield. “It invites the audience to take sides and is a metaphor for big global questions.”

A highlight of the visual arts program will be Quilty at the Art Gallery of South Australia, the first major survey in a decade of one of Australia’s contemporary artists, Ben Quilty.


The Adelaide Festival runs March 1 – 17

FULL PROGRAM

Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine