Saturday, February 7, 2015



Adelaide Festival 2015

February 27 to March 15

by Peter Wilkins

BLINC. Photography by Tony Maguire
You can feel the excitement leap from the pages of this year Adelaide Festival Guide. Palpable in its scope and variety, Artistic Director David Sefton’s choice of offerings for visitors to the 2015 Adelaide Festival of Arts is bold and innovative. Sefton has learnt from his previous two festivals and built on their success to provide a gourmet cultural feast .  There is something to suit every taste from large scale free events to entirely new offerings of theatre, music and dance as well as visual art exhibitions. The popular Adelaide Writers’ Week and the World Music festival WOMAD also feature under the umbrella of the Adelaide Arts Festival that explodes with culture and attractions from February 27th. to March 15th.
The Mother of Australian Arts Festivals celebrates its thirtieth event since its establishment in 1960. The inspiration of Professor of Music, the late John Bishop, it is perhaps not surprising that even this year’s festival features a large number of musical events, including everything from rock opera to Broadway tributes to chamber singing and electronic music. Music lovers are in for a real treat, but other art forms promise new and exciting experiences. Unlike the open access Fringe Festival, which coincides with the festival and WOMAD, the Adelaide Festival is a curated event, generously funded and selective in its choice of performances and events during its two week explosion upon Adelaide’s cultural landscape. All three cultural highlights are now annual events, rather than biannual festivals. One might expect this to create an additional programming burden for a director of a festival event, but Sefton takes it all in his stride. “I’m entirely comfortable with that. I’ve been working on ’15 and ’15 for some time. There’s lots of relationships that I have built and a long address book and lots of people I can call on. If I’d never been a festival director before 2013, it would have been a real challenge to start from scratch.”  
Sefton was employed to direct the 2013 festival with a brief to inject fresh energy into the festival’s programming. As a former director of London’s alternative music festival “Meltdown” and with a penchant for electronic music and bands like Severed Head, it was natural that Sefton would focus on music to shake up Adelaide’s conventional approach to programming.  “Changing the look of the festival for me is a priority.” Sefton tells me. “My first two were very much about setting the artistic credibility of the festival. Getting that without a shadow of a doubt, and the artistic quality of the festival was unquestionable.. The other thing that this one is attempting to do is open the festival wider to the general public and that comes in the form of something like Blinc. It’s the largest undertaking in this festival – a huge, free outdoor event.
During the festival Elder Park, the Adelaide Festival Centre and the Torrens Riverbank precinct, starting with an Opening Night party on the 27th will be awash with colour and sound as one installation after another illuminates the night with large scale digital illuminations, building-mapping projects and more intimate interactive experiences. Sefton’s voice becomes higher with excitement as he announces his intention to draw hundreds of thousands of locals to enjoy and participate in this major event
Tim Burton and Danny Elfman
Free events are not new of course, but Sefton points out that this year Blinc will run for the entire event. Even with the ticketed events, Sefton has focused on widening the experience for visitors. As curator he has chosen carefully to include a variety of experiences that will not only appeal to the regular festival-goers, but also attract new audiences. For the first time, the festival is moving to the Entertainment Centre to present Danny Elfman’s music from the films of Tim Burton.  The Big Issue has billed the concert as “utterly sublime” and LA Weekly is quoted as saying it’s “a macabre match made in Movie-Lover heaven. – Magic” Conducted by John Macauri and featuring the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the Adelaide Festival Choir, this Australian premiere will also feature Danny Elfman , playing his own music and arrangements. Film clips from Batman, Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice will be edited by Tim Burton to highlight the strange and Gothic world of his films.
Olwen Fou in Riverrun. Photography by Colm Hogan
Sefton is determined to make his penultimate festival something new and special. “One of the festival’s priorities should be to put something up there that wouldn’t happen otherwise. It should be a special event, different to what would happen otherwise.” Some critics might complain that the festival has forsaken past traditional offerings. Sefton is quick to point out that operas were once offered when South Australia had no opera company. Now that it has a vibrant State Opera, there is not the need to specifically include Opera in the repertoire.  The same applies to conventional symphony music. The Adelaide Festival has come a long way since the Sixties, and a director’s brief is to curate a festival for a contemporary audience. This year, the festival includes Beauty and the Beast. A true love story of a beauty queen and a natural born freak. performed by an American Burlesque star and a British disabled performer, Beauty and the Beast is a magical sexual journey, where  the two roles are shared as love is declared. Containing both beautiful and beastly nudity and explicit sexual nature, the play is suitable only for people over 18. This Australian premiere will only be performed at the Adelaide Festival of Arts, unlike other shows that are either brought from interstate, such as the Queensland Theatre Company’s production of Black Diggers, the story of Aboriginal servicemen in World War 1 and “Riverrun”, inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, and which is part of the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2015 Season. Theatre-goers will also be treated to performances of the State Theatre Company’s production of The Beckett Triptych, with Peter Carroll and Pamela Rabe and directed by the State Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Geordie Brookman and guest directors, Nescha Jelk and Corey McMahon.
Cedar Lakes Contemporary Ballet in Indigo Rose with Joseph Kundra, John Bon and Billy Bell.
Photo by Sharen Bradford.
Sefton’s programme is certain to raise eyebrows at times. It is the function of a festival to challenge, confront, inspire and entertain, and Sefton remains true to his brief to revitalize festival programming. As well as including challenging works such as Beauty and the Beast , Sefton has programmed La Merda, in which naked singer, Silviana Gallerano,  howls her way through a provocative text.  Hailed across Europe, La Merda is billed as “truly shocking and truly brilliant”. Sefton digresses momentarily to quote one of his favourite bands “Always Different, Always the Same”. It’s interesting to note,”, he says, “looking back over the last fifty five years that the festival always had a wide definition of culture . It was the only festival in the world to feature John Cage and British drag performers Hinge and Bracket in the same programme.” Nor has it been shy of controversy. I remember the outcry to Edward Bond’s Saved during the 1970 Adelaide Festival of Arts, in which I played a Teddy Boy, hurling stones at a baby in a pram. 
Tommy by the Who. Graphic by Ryan Stephens
“I’m quite proud also,” says Sefton,  “to perpetuate that idea that culture is widely defined so that something like the festival of electronic music which we will host for the third time can be included. No other Australian festival has opened out and hosted on such a large scale and made a commitment to that type of music. It hugely changed the profile of the audience and the look of the audience. We’re getting a completely different group of people through the door. I think that the music part of the festival has been one the most successful I would say in my tenure.”
Fela. Photo by Pavel Anotov
Sefton is also not afraid to programme against his own musical tastes. “I’m on record as someone who doesn’t like musicals and I have two in the festival.” The Who’s Rock Opera, Tommy. About the blind, deaf and dumb boy, who becomes a pinball wizard, is sure to attract a wide audience, including many who might never have been to a festival show. Before anyone might accuse this programming of being too populist, the festival handbook assures audiences that its exclusive production of Tommy  will be different to any production previously seen by audiences. It will also be in marked contrast to the other musical, Fela! The Concert, which will feature members of the Broadway cast. Fela! The Concert features the eclectic rhythms of Fela Kuti, a pioneering forefather of Afrobeat. 
Black Diggers with George Bostock and Luke Carroll. Photo by Branco Gaica
Too many to mention here, one commissioned work deserves mention. Sociatas Raffaello Sanzio’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk presents a new work by Chiara Guidi, in collaboration with Jeff Stern, Erth Visual and Physical and Insite Arts. This dark and mysteriously magical retelling of the famous fairytale is suitable for children aged seven upwards. It is one of the few theatrical performances specifically for young people of that age. However, there is no shortage of opportunity for young people to be involved in the festival. As well as Kids Week with its many activities for all ages, I was impressed to note the schools programme that offered $15 seats to schools for such festival highlights as Black Diggers, Riverrun, The Beckett Triptych, SmallWar. Nufonia Must Fall, Jack and the Beanstalk and the amazing Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet 
Jack and the Beanstalk with Skye Gellman. Photo by Heidrun Lohr
Azimut. Photography by Agnes Mellon
Sefton has certainly programmed a festival for all the people for all the time. Musically, Sefton is at the top of his curatorial game. The commitments to featuring a composer/artist in residence during his three festivals continues with the appointment of Gavin Bryars as composer in residence following on the tradition established under Sefton of Lori Anderson and John Zorn.
. “It seems that there are strands that have evolved naturally through   the virtue of their success and are quite different every year and I am quite proud of how successful they have been – particularly with the electronic music strand. I have been confidently told every year that it would fail, and it has sold out at every festival. Many of the audience are musicians and people coming from all over the country.”
I segue naturally into a final question. What would Sefton suggest to those coming from interstate? I was surprised with his response. I expected him to recount recommended highlights. “Adelaide restaurants, Adelaide wineries and a festival show every night” he replies. “We have some of the finest restaurants in the country and much cheaper than in other states.” Spoken like a true adopted son of the City of Churches and Gardens and an ambassador for the city’s explosion of culture during February and March. It’s a banquet too delicious to refuse.
Adelaide Festival
February 27 – March 15 2015
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