For her fourth and final Perth Festival in 2019, Artistic Director Wendy Martin was determined to put a Western Australian stamp on many of the events – which is why the symbol “Made in WA” features so often throughout the brochure.

“There are festivals in every city in the world so how do you make a festival in Perth, Western Australia that feels like it really belongs? You can’t do that the minute you arrive,” says Martin. “It’s been four years and now in this program we have made this stamp ‘Made in WA’ so there are companies and artists who we have been talking to and watching them develop work, and we have got seven new commissions by companies in WA.”

The 2019 Perth Festival begins with Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, a nocturnal wonderland in Kings Park, which was a massive hit when it was first seen in 2017. Combining Noongar culture, science and cutting-edge technology to celebrate the unique, fragile beauty of South Western Australia’s landscape, huge projections transform the park into an ever-moving canvas.

Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak. Photograph © Rachael Barrett

“In Western Australia, we say there are six seasons which comes historically from how Noongar people related to the land in South Western Australia. Kim Scott the amazing Noongar writer wrote six poems, one for each season, and he has got a beautiful voice. They are not long, they are like haiku almost, and so you walk down the avenue of trees in Kings Park and you experience the six seasons as everything is projected up on the trees,” says Martin. “We did it for three nights in 2017 and it was the highest rainfall in the recorded history of WA, and we got 10,000 people the first night, 40,000 the next night and 45,000 the next. I think next year we are going to get 200,000 people.”

The project also involves 5000 school children, who have signed up to be part of it, and who are doing special workshops in the classroom. “They have pledged to learn about and take care of a plant or animal species that is under threat of extinction. We have worked with scientists putting those lists together so I feel it’s a perfect project now; we need scientists to explain this terrifying thing we don’t understand called climate change, so it’s a thing of wonder with art wrapped up in all this science,” says Martin.

Other events in the Festival that have come out of WA include two new Australian operas. Perth Festival co-commissioned a new opera from Lost & Found Opera, which presents performances in unique found spaces. Their new piece Ned Kelly will be staged in an old timber mill 50 minutes out of Perth. It features music by composer Luke Styles and a libretto by Peter Goldsworthy, with baritone Samuel Dundas in the title role and Janice Muller directing.

“[The venue] is an old corrugated iron space and they are building another old corrugated iron space within it, which is going to become part of a musical instrument. There are four musicians from WASO and a folk band so it is a mixture of folk idiom and opera,” says Martin.

Ned Kelly. Jacqui Stockdale, Historia (from the Boho series). Image courtesy of the artist and ThisIsNoFantasy + Dianne Tanzer

The Festival is also presenting the world premiere of Speechless by composer Cat Hope, which is a personal response to the 2014 Human Rights Commission report The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children Immigration Detention. It uses a wordless vocal language and a unique score derived from drawings and graphics extracted from the Report. Four contemporary soloists and a choir of 30 will perform with the Australian Bass Orchestra and Decibel New Music Ensemble, with Tura New Music producing.

Among several other ‘Made in WA’ projects is the world premiere of Sunset by STRUT Dance, presented in association with Tura New Music. It is a visceral dance-theatre performance staged in a heritage site on the Swan River called Sunset, from the renowned UK director-choreographer Maxine Doyle (co-director of Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man and Sleep No More).

“When the men who came out to Western Australia to make their fortune on the goldfields returned to Perth, this place was built as a home for them and in the Second World War it became a hospital, and so they are working in this space, not only responding to the architecture but to this really important Australian story. It’s a promenade piece which happens in and around these buildings and what’s amazing is the old dining hall in this space actually was a theatre,” says Martin.

Indigenous Australian and Indian performers combine traditional and contemporary dance theatre with live music, aerial work and wonderful visuals in Kwongkan (Sand), which was created over three years by Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and Daksha Sheth Dance through time spent on sacred land in both Australia and India.

Ochre’s Artistic Director, Noongar man Mark Howett, says on the company’s website: “The genesis of Kwongkan started when an environmental scientist told me that we risk having no more Peppermint and Banksia trees in WA after 2050 due to climate change.” It will be performed outdoors on the south lawn at Freemantle Arts Centre.

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Photograph © Kaupo Kikkas

International projects include – as previously announced – the Komische Oper Berlin production of The Magic Flute, created by Barrie Kosky and British company 1927, which has its Australian premiere in Perth before going to the Adelaide Festival.

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, which has been performing Arvo Pärt’s sacred music for more than 20 years, will perform with the ACO and also perform two Perth only concerts. The founder of the Choir, Tõnu Kaljuste, is coming with them and repertoire will include Pärt’s Kanon Pokajanen and his Magnificat.

The British Paraorchestra presents The Nature of Why, an epic performance in which the audience join the musicians on stage so that the boundaries between audience, music and movement are joyously erased. Directed by Charles Hazlewood, who founded The British Paraorchestra – the world’s only large-scale ensemble for professional musicians with a disability – and Caroline Bowditch, the British orchestras will be joined by string players from Perth Symphony Orchestra. The music program also includes a recital by British pianist Freddy Kempf, and a concert by the Silkroad Ensemble, the legendary collective formed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The Nature of Why. Photograph © Paul Blakemore

The dance program will include two iconic ballets, thrillingly re-imagined. Michael Keeagan-Dolan’s Swan Lake, Loch na hEala, which was staged in Sydney in 2017, sets the ballet in the Midlands of Ireland and uses live Nordic and Irish music, while South African choreographer-director Dada Masilo brings her production of Giselle set in a South African village. Performed by a black cast in bare feet, the choreography embraces classical ballet, contemporary dance and African ritual.

The West Australian ballet has commissioned a new work from Garry Stewart called In-Synch, which it will perform with Co3 contemporary dance, while One Infinitydirected and choreographed by Gideon Obarzanek, and featuring Australian recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey and guqin master Wang Peng of Beijing’s Jun Tian Fang Music Ensemble will have a season at His Majesty’s Theatre. One Infinity, which premiered at the 2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival, features dancers from Beijing Dance Theater and Dancenorth Australia, while the entire audience also participates.

Dada Masco’s Giselle. Photograph © John Hogg

Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam returns with a show called Lang Toi (My Village) having been a massive hit at the Perth Festival when the circus company performed another production in 2017. “It has a beautiful aesthetic. Everything is made of bamboo. I only put on circus if it’s got amazing live music [which this does] with five incredible Vietnamese musicians who play the score live,” says Martin.

The theatre program includes Gatz from New York’s Elevator Repair Service, an eight-hour, theatrical tour-de-force retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was a huge hit when it was staged at the Sydney Opera House in 2009.

Dimitris Papaioannou, who directed the Athens 2004 Olympic ceremonies, brings his production The Great Tamer, which is inspired by the words of Homer and the painting of the old masters, with the performers creating poetic vignettes that are both macabre and beautiful. “There is a lot of nudity, to do with the ancient Greek worship of the body,” says Martin. “It is wordless but absolutely magical.”

Among the other theatre shows, Black Swan State Theatre Company is staging a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the State Theatre Centre Courtyard. Directed by Clare Watson, Black Swan’s Artistic Director, the production features a cast of professional actors and local people – so the teacher is played by a real teacher, a policeman by a member of the WA Police Force and so on. Says Martin: “It’s a wonderful expression of community that Clare has conceived.”


The Perth Festival runs February 8 – March 3

FULL PROGRAM

Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine