Shostakovich in the theatre and concert hall, an eight-hour theatrical marathon and a Vietnamese circus are highlights.

From a piece of visually intoxicating Russian theatre exploring the censorship of Shostakovich under Stalin to the Brodsky Quartet performing Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets. From a Vietnamese circus exploring the impact of the modern world on village life, to a trippily immersive solo show that takes us deep into the Amazon rain forest where the mystical Mayoruna tribe also fear the encroachment of the contemporary world. From a music class of rebellious youngsters in India, to a show where children in Perth get to have their say on life’s big questions. The 2017 Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) is full of shows and themes that speak to each other.

A O Lang Pho by Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam. Photo: Perth International Arts Festival

Looking back over the programme, Artistic Director Wendy Martin sees themes of migration, reconciliation, accessibility and empathy emerging, as well as numerous personal perspectives on the world. “The programme is made of up things I absolutely love. It just happens that the work is dealing with what’s going on in the world,” she says. “Spotting the themes is a sort of retrospective thing, I think. I look at the whole programme and see themes appearing,” she says.

The Year I Was Born [a documentary theatre work by Argentinian director Lola Arias] looks at life under Pinochet’s dictatorship,” says Martin. “Opus No. 7 [by Russia’s Dmitry Krymov Laboratory] looks at what happened to the Soviet Jews, and also how artists like Shostakovich were treated under Stalin – and I think it’s incredibly relevant for now. These things keep getting repeated over and over again so although it’s dealing with the past, it still feels incredibly current and relevant.”

Opus No. 7 by Dmitry Krymov Laboratory. Photo by Natalia Cheban

Martin saw Opus No. 7 in 2014 before she had been appointed by PIAF. “For me, it’s one of the greatest pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen,” she says. Described by The Guardian as “less like theatre and more like alchemy”, the stunningly visual work is full of extraordinary images. Buckets of black paint hurled against a white wall mysteriously morph into people, a fleet of rusty metal pianos career around the stage like bumper cars, a hurricane blows tiny bits of paper everywhere, recalling the countless people killed in the Holocaust, Mother Russia is represented by a monstrously large puppet, which is both nurturing and menacing.

A hugely influential voice in Russian theatre, Krymov was a stage designer and then visual artist before forming his company in 2003. Now his work is making waves around the world. Opus No. 7 is exclusive to Perth, as is The Gabriels – Election Year in the Life of One Family, a trilogy of plays which Martin describes as an “unforgettable, eight-hour marathon event.” Written by Tony Award-winning American playwright Richard Nelson, The Gabriels consists of three plays: Hungry, What Did You Expect? and Women of a Certain Age. The first two have already opened in the US. The third premieres on the night of the US election on November 8.

The Gabriels. Photo courtesy of Perth International Arts Festival

“We spend five hours [plus afternoon and dinner breaks] in one kitchen in Upstate New York, and through this one family we get this incredible personal exploration as a backdrop to the American election and the politics of that country. I can’t wait for people to see it,” says Martin, who was at the US premiere of the second play.

“People are comparing it to Chekhov and I think it’s a fair comparison – the detail of everyday life of a family. Richard Nelson’s two passions are observing humans in their everyday lives and observing politics, and in this work he puts his two passions together. The other wonderful thing is that each play is focussed around the preparation of a meal and he figured out the recipes before he wrote the plays so that they could be cooked in the right time.”

Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak. Photo by Toni Wilkinson

Running from February 10 to March 5, PIAF opens with Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak, a celebration of landscape, culture and community. Over three nights, Kings Park is transformed into “a cathedral of light, sound and imagery” exploring the biodiversity and beauty of the six seasons of Noongar culture in South Western Australia. After launching the 2016 Festival with the popular Home – a part-concert, part-visual arts installation – Nigel Jamieson has collaborated again with Noongar elders, as well as storytellers, artists, botanists and scientists to create Boorna Waanginy. Thousands of school children will also be involved in creating the spectacular walk-through experience, which combines the natural world and state-of-the-art technology.

Complicite’s The Encounter. Photo by Tristram Kenton and Gianmarco Bresadola

After taking people into the park, The Encounter by ground-breaking British theatre company Complicite takes audiences deep into the Amazon jungle. The mind-bending one-man show (which also plays at the Sydney and Adelaide Festivals and at Melbourne’s Malthouse) was described by The New York Times as “a journey to the centre of your mind” and “one of the most fully immersive theatre pieces ever created.”

Based on Petru Popescu’s book Amazon Beaming about National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who became lost in the Amazon rain forest, where he spent time with the mystical Mayoruna people, audiences will watch The Encounter wearing binaural headphones which create all kinds of aural illusions that defy what your eyes are telling you.

Betroffenheit. Photo by Michael Slobodian

Dance theatre work Betroffenheit is another work that Martin considers thrillingly immersive – “where the audience goes deeply into Jonathon Young’s grief and inside his head,” she says. Created by two Canadian artists and friends – internationally acclaimed choreographer Crystal Pite and playwright/performer Jonathon Young – Betroffenheit explores loss, trauma, addiction and recovery. In 2009, Young’s teenage daughter died with two of her cousins in a fire in a holiday cabin. Betroffenheit is not about that, but about human suffering and endurance in the aftermath of such a terrible, tragic event. Described by The Guardian as “a raw and riveting drama”, Betroffenheit has its Australian premiere in Perth before going to the Adelaide Festival.

West Australian Ballet is back with Ballet at the Quarry, performing a triple bill called Takuto featuring works by Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Canadian born Eric Gauthier, and WAB’s own Christopher Hill. Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam make their Australian debut with A O Lang Pho, in which a cast of 15 acrobats and five musicians use bamboo baskets as props to create a show that explores how progress is destroying the serenity of rural life in Vietnam. Martin saw the production five years ago and was spellbound.

Ian Bostridge in The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

The performing arts programme also includes two song cycles: Flit by UK composer and experimental accordionist from folk band Lau, Martin Green, a darkly atmospheric piece inspired by first-hand stories of migration; and The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise in which English tenor Ian Bostridge and opera director Netia Jones join forces with members of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra to perform a Weimar cabaret re-imagining of Schubert’s Die Wintereisse using Hans Zender’s orchestration.

The Dark Mirror, which was commissioned by London’s Barbican and which is exclusive to Perth, uses surreal video and imagery. “Ian Bostridge has been singing it since he was a young man and Netia Jones videoed landscape that he has performed in,” says Martin. “It also includes footage from a documentary Bostridge made when he was about 24 about him singing the piece, so 30 years later it deepens the experience when you realise the understanding he brings to it after a lifetime studying this piece of music.”

The Brodsky Quartet. Photo by Eric Richmond

The classical music programme features a four-day Chamber Music Series headlined by Britain’s Brodsky Quartet and the Los Angeles-based Calder Quartet. It begins on February 16 with the two string quartets joining forces for the first time ever for a concert in Government House Ballroom featuring Mendelssohn’s Octet for strings in E flat major. Over the coming days, inside Winthrop Hall and in the lush, surrounding gardens, they will perform individually. As a companion piece to Opus No, 7 the Brodskys will perform the complete cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets over five concerts. The Calder Quartet will perform Beethoven alongside contemporary works over three concerts.

In other musical events, the Australian String Quartet will team up with young ensemble Arcadia Winds for two concerts, and Grammy-winning sextet Eighth Blackbird will play contemporary American compositions by the likes of Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner. Soft Soft Loud: Future Shock sees US musician and electro-acoustic composer William Brittelle bridging the gap between pop music and New York’s downtown classical scene. Meanwhile, the uplifting vocals of the Vuyani Ensemble evoke the sounds and spirit of South Africa.

The contemporary music programme showcases an eclectic selection from Colombian funk to avant-pop, Americana and South Korean experimental rock. The visual arts programme includes two film installations by British artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah, along with Australian artist Lynette Wallworth’s Collisions, a virtual reality film experience using 360-degree camera imaging in which Mortu elder Nyarri Nyarri Morgan tells the story of how he first came into contact with Western culture when he witnessed an atomic explosion in the South Australian desert in the 1950s.

Nyarri Nyarri Morgan in Lynette Wallworth’s Collisions. Photo by Piers Mussared

In a video installation called Forgiving Night for Day, Perth artist Jacobus Capone contemplates the Portugese word ‘saudade’ – an expression of yearning for people, places and times long lost, while interdisciplinary artists Loren Kronemyer and Mike Bianco collaborate to explore the issue of salinity in Brackish Rising.

The film programme includes a retrospective of two Australian filmmakers, Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds, while the Perth Writers Festival presents a line-up of Australian and international writers including Australia’s Nakkiah Lui (ABC TV’s Black Comedy and the play Kill the Messenger), Australian spoken word artist Omar Musa, and Syrian architect and memoirist Marwa al-Sabouni, among others.

PIAF 2017 Artist in Residence, award-winning poet, designer, playwright and performer Inua Ellams brings two shows to Perth:  his autobiographical solo show An Evening with an Immigrant, and The Midnight Run in which he collaborates with West Australian theatre innovators The Great Hunt to lead audiences on a night-time walking tour of the streets of Perth. Born in Nigeria to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, Ellams fled to England with his family at age 12, and identity, displacement and destiny are recurring themes in his work.

Meanwhile, fellow PIAF Artist in Residence Amy Shorrocks invites people to Leighton Beach and other iconic locations to contribute their own water – tears, melted ice, river water, dirty suds – as she builds the WA edition of her award-winning Museum of Water: a radically different kind of museum for the driest State on the driest continent on Earth.

Martin says that she is excited to be finally unveiling her Festival. “You dream and scheme and then, in a funny way, when the website is being built and the brochure is coming together, you suddenly realise that it’s real. Until that happens it feels very ephemeral, and then once you start to talk about it, it is real.”


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