Perth Festival has announced its 2020 season, the first programmed by incoming Artistic Director Iain Grandage. “The entire festival is a celebration of Perth,” said Grandage, the Festival’s first Perth-raised Artistic Director.

“The festival theme is Karla, which is a Noongar word for fire,” he told Limelight. “If you’re going to celebrate a place then you’d better celebrate the Indigenous relationship with that place very strongly. To that end, the entire first eight days of the Festival are Indigenous work only.”

Hecate. Photo © Eva Fernandez

That first week will not only include the previously announced touring productions Bran Nue Dae and Buŋgul, but also a landmark theatre event: an all-Noongar language adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by writer-director and Perth Festival Associate Artist Kylie Bracknell (Kaarljilba kaardn), titled Hecate. “This is a version of Macbeth, the Scottish play, in collaboration with Bell Shakespeare,” Grandage says. “This is the first full Indigenous language version of a Shakespeare play. So no English at all spoken: there’s names that you’ll recognise, Macbeth, McDuff, Duncan [and] there’s slides, a little like a silent film, just giving you context for the scene you’re about to see.”

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s acclaimed production Bennelong will also be coming to Perth. “I was very keen on the anniversary of Cook’s landing, that we acknowledge that the country when he landed was filled with Indigenous artistic expression, and it still is filled with Indigenous artistic expression across an entire range of artforms and styles,” Grandage says.

Cloudstreet. Photo © Pia Johnson

Also coming to Perth Festival is Matthew Lutton’s production of Cloudstreet, which opened at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre earlier this year. The inclusion of the theatrical  adaptation of Tim Winton’s play is something of a full circle for Grandage, who worked on the music for the late 1990s production. “Matt’s managed to increase the Noongar element inside Cloudstreet,” Grandage says. “So it’s very lovely that there’s that bedding in Noongar country, and the haunting that was only partially successful in our production has become very present inside Matt’s production of Cloudstreet.”

The big ticket classical centrepiece of the festival, Beethoven’s opera Fidelio in a concert performance with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and West Australian Opera, has already been announced, but the festival will also see Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel – famous for its beautiful Abendsegen (evening prayer) duet – will be performed as the free Opera in the Park event, while the second weekend of the festival will be “our Chamber Music Weekend,” Grandage said, “brought back after many requests.”

The weekend begins on the Friday night with British vocal consort the Gesualdo Six, who will join with local choirs the Giovanni Consort and Voyces to perform Thomas Tallis’s Spem in Alium in Winthrop Hall, as well as works by William Barton, Olivia Davies and a new commission from Cara Fesjian.

Australian String Quartet The Australian String Quartet. Photo © Jacqui Way

The weekend will also feature Australian artists including the Seraphim Trio, the Grigoryan Brothers, and the Australian String Quartet, who will join with Barton, Lou Bennett, Stephen Pigram and Roma Winmar in Quartet & Country, a series of four concerts in which six of Beethoven’s Opus 18 String Quartets are performed alongside works by Indigenous composers. “Will Barton is being commissioned to write a work for didgeri-tuba,” Grandage says. “So he utilises the same techniques that he has on didgeridoo but playing through a tuba, and essentially what I’m keen to do, is when he goes and does his sacred works with European orchestras, that he has some way of doing an encore that’s not just him on didge, but he actually comes on with a tuba with four other European brass players.”

Paul Kelly’s collaboration with James Ledger, the Seraphim Trio and Alice Keath, Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds – the recording of which recently took out Best Classical Album in the 2019 ARIA Awards – is also coming to the Perth Festival, which was one of the co-commissioners. That weekend will also see Gina Williams and Guy House present Koorlangka, a suite of childrens’ songs and lullabies in Noongar.

Tao of GlassTao of Glass. Photo © Tristram Kenton

Elsewhere, The Tao of Glass, by Philip Glass and Phelim McDermott, is a co-commission between the Perth Festival and the Manchester International Festival, which sees new works by Glass paired with meditations on life, death and Taoist wisdom performed by McDermott. “It’s a one-man show, basically, with a couple of puppeteers and four musicians, but the amount of things he does…,” “Grandage says. “He’s rendered the most exquisite piece of theatre.”

In dance, Ireland’s Teaċ Daṁsa returns to Perth following this year’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, with MÁM, a new work that has just premiered at the Dublin Festival, featuring music performed by virtuoso Irish traditional concertina player Cormac Begley and contemporary classical ensemble stargaze, while Hofesh in the Yard will see Perth’s STRUT Dance present 12 artists from across the Asia Pacific Region in a version of Hofesh Schechter’s Uprising and tHE bAD in the State Theatre Centre Courtyard.

Colossus. Photo © Mark Gambino

Stephanie Lake’s celebrated new work Colossus is also coming to Perth, and Ballet at the Quarry returns, with the West Australian Ballet presenting Krzystof Pastor’s In Light and Shadow, a neo-classical work set to the music of Bach, alongside excerpts from Graeme Murphy’s Air and Other Invisible Forces and an original work from Dutch choreographer Wubkje Kuindersma.

Perth audiences will also be the first to see a new work by Yaron Lifschitz and Brisbane-based contemporary circus troupe Circa, Leviathon, in collaboration with Co:3 Australia, Circus Maxima and CircusWA.

The festival finale, Highway to Hell, will see bands, including Perth Symphony Orchestra, performing AC/DC songs on ten flatbed trucks cruising down 10km of the Canning Highway (which inspired the band’s classic), passing an audience on picnic rugs on one side of the road. “There will be 150,000 people sitting on this highway,” Grandage says. “There’s bluegrass versions, there’s Japanese prog rock, there’s the Pigram Brothers from Broome.”

“It’s a big family event, it’s not so black T-shirt, bourbon-swilling,” Grandage says. “It’s a big playful event about this piece of history.”


The Perth Festival runs February 7 to March 1, 2020

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