Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Joint Artistic Directors of the Adelaide Festival
Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield

Adelaide Festival 2018.

Joint Artistic Directors Neil Armfield AO and Rachel Healy. Adelaide Festival Centre. March 2 – 18. 2018.

Previewed by Peter Wilkins

Joint Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival
Rachel Healy
I had already written a preview feature on the 2018 Adelaide Festival , searching through the Festival brochure and the detailed media release that outlined the fabulous array of events and exhibitions that Joint Artistic Directors  Neil Armfield AO and Rachel Healy had assembled for their second festival. Their first festival in 2017, with offerings such as Barrie Kosky’s Glyndebourne production of Handel’s SAUL, and Armfiled’s production of SECRET RIVER in a quarry on the outskirts of Adelaide, has been hailed as a phenomenal success. As the city prepares for the opening of this year’s festival with Armfield’s Glyndebourne production of Brett Dean’s opera, Hamlet, expectations are high and confident that this year’s event will again affirm Adelaide’s annual festival as a leading world festival of the arts.
I was curious however to discover the reasoning that went into programming a festival of such stature, and especially what planning and thought went into creating Armfield and Healy’s second festival. How does one equal or even top such stunning success as their first festival? “Our approach has not been to recreate the model in our second year.” Healy tells me when I phone her prior to her trip to Europe to embark on the rigorous planning for their third annual festival. “What I’m hoping actually is that across the five years of our tenure you will see the evidence in the programming of our broader strategy rather than that we’ve been jumping trains every year.”

The broader philosophical strategy behind the planning of this year’s festival is clearly articulated in the festival brochure. ”We hope your world, your hearts and your minds will be illuminated next March at the 2018 Adelaide Festival.” Behind this raison d’etre lies a more strategic and practical understanding of what is required to bring such a major arts festival to life.

“There are festivals everywhere in Australia now. In the last fifteen years or so we’ve seen state governments in NSW, Victoria and Queensland for example create Government Events Departments which demonstrate how state governments have understood that there is a real spike in the central economy when there are high profile events that galvanize the community and get people excited.   There’s lots of examples of how governments see the financial value of  high profile set cultural events.

This poses real challenges for the traditional international arts festival.  It does mean that you have to reflect on what does this festival mean for this city. How is it different to what is happening in this city year round? Every city has to answer that question differently. The Adelaide Festival can look to its history and I think take many lessons from its history. The kind of things that were being done back in the day that made Adelaide one of the top three festivals in the Globe were I think things that are still worth keeping in mind today. For example, if you’ve got a Sydney Opera House that is performing international events year round what does that mean for Sydney Festival? In our case what does it mean when you’ve got a very active Adelaide Festival Centre with the OzAsia Festival, the Guitar Festival, the Cabaret Festival. There are interesting central challenges about what does the Adelaide Festival do that nobody else can do. We are interested in doing things that just can’t happen or won’t happen in any other context without the Adelaide Festival.”
Rundfunkchor's Human Requiem
Rundfunkchor’s HUMAN REQUIEM from Berlin is an example of Healy’s intent. Audiences will experience chamber music in a way that they have never done before.  “The entire performance is conducted with no divide between  performer and the people there to see the performance. The entire experience happens in and around you. You move around the space as an audience as do the singers. They soar through the air on swings.  Audiences who have seen the show talk about it as a completely transforming experience - as a choral event like no other they have had before. That way of thinking, not just about the performance but about that way of thinking is something that you will see across all of our five festivals.”
Akram Khan in Xenos Photo by Jean Louis Fernandez

Another difference in this year’s festival will be the number of new commissions that the festival is involved in. Commissions are a risky business. One can never guarantee success when one initiates the commission. All festivals have a proud tradition of being a part of the creation of original new work. This year, the festival has commissioned three new works. Legendary dancer Akram Khan’s final performance in Australia of his work XENOS is an international commission. Hailed as arguably the world’s greatest dancer, XENOS is an unmissable experience. 

Alice Oswald's Memorial. Photo by Sand in Your Eye
Brink Theatre’s MEMORIAL by Alice Oswald and with leading Australian actress Helen Morse is a co- commission with the Queensland Festival and the Barbican in London Oswald uses Homer’s Iliad  to inspire an investigation of the deaths of the 215 soldiers featured in the epic poem. For the first time, the festival has commissioned local   Patch Theatre with a children’s theatre piece, CAN YOU HEAR THE COLOUR? under the direction of Naomi Edwards. It is a work for very small children. “Getting involved with projects and the risk that they involve is probably something that is more prevalent this year.” Healy says.
Stomp's Lost and Found Orchestra Photo by Steve McNichols.

THE LOST AND FOUND ORCHESTRA. Is an existing work that was commissioned when Healy was at the Sydney Opera House. “I’ve seen how extraordinary they are and I have seen the audience response that it generates first hand.” Healy says. “Their stuff’s electric. When you see them perform – the musicianship, the music, the incredible energy that’s coming off the stage…  It’s both a visual spectacle and an aural joy. By the end of the concert, you just want to punch the air.”  Unlike previous productions, staged in venues with about thirty performers, this performance will be staged on the banks of the River Torrens in Elder Park and will involve as many as 500 community artists and participants.  “This is the first time that it has been staged as an open air event in Australia. – challenging experiences and perceptions of art forms.”
Cecile McLorin Salvant. Photo by Mark Fitton
When I ask Healy why the legendary sixty nine year old Grace Jones has been invited to give a single performance at the Adelaide Festival, Healy responds with her customary visionary reasoning. “I am cautious about including musicians for their own sake.” This year, Healy and Armfield have included four remarkable divas in the festival programme. Jones opens the festival after a thirty-six year absence from Adelaide. Cecile McLoren Salvant will close the festival. The New York Times has called her “the finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade.”. Healey adds “She is the person you’ll be telling your grandchildren about.” Critics have raved about Kate Miller-Heidke fresh from her success as the co composer of the Sydney Theatre Company stage production of Muriel’s Wedding and Anne Sofie von Otter from Sweden whose repertoire ranges from Sibelius to Brahms to Bernstein to the heart-breaking compositions of composers at Theresienstadt.

 Finally, I apologize to Healy for asking an impossible question. Many visitors to Adelaide may not be able to immerse themselves in the entire programme over almost three weeks of the 2018 Adelaide Festival. I ask Healy if she could venture to suggest her five top picks. Always generous and articulate, Healy hesitates and then agrees to suggest experiences that will offer diversity and excellence.
Nick Steur's Freeze Photo by Alastair Bett.
Without hesitation Healy lists Nick Steur’s rock-balancing show from the Netherlands, FREEZE. “It is utterly incredible – astonishing”

Canadian theatre auteur extraordinaire Robert LePage’s THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON  tells the story of two very different brothers who become involved in the Soviet-US space race. “I think it is his masterpiece.” Healy says. “It is utterly unmissable!”
Simon Stone's Thyestes.  Photo by Jeff Busby

Simon Stone’s reimagining of Seneca’s Greek drama THYESTES  is a bold and brave collaboration between Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre. 
“I’ve got to get some dance in there. I’d have to say Akram Khan’s XENOS”
Healey hesitates as she tries to select a final top pick. It really is an impossible request!
“It’s a  toss-up between Cecile McLorin Salvant and Toneelgroep’s KINGS OF WAR."
 I thank Healey for taking part in what is an unrealistic exercise. People will make their own choices from the vast Festival programme. Interest and risk will determine their selection from the diversity and quality of the programme of events, exhibitions, forums and free events.
“It’s incredibly difficult.” Healy concludes. “It comes down to taste really. The final weekend you’ve got incredible dance, incredible music. -  That final weekend you could do CECILE. You could do HUMAN REQUIEM. You could see Akram and there’s other things I’m forgetting – really good things.”
Brett Dean's Hamlet. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

The opening weekend you could do HAMLET, FAR SIDE OF THE MOON. Lucy Guerin’s dance work SPLIT and THYESTES - all in three days.  And then there’s WRITER’S WEEK. What a weekend!
‘In the middle weekend there’s WOMAD. Plus you could see the Chamber Music programme, COMPASSION: CHAMBER LANDSCAPES. And then throw in KINGS OF WAR - what an incredible weekend. So (laughs) you’ve really got these three most amazing , very exciting offers. It’s not something we can  say this is the most obvious weekend to be there. Each weekend is so full of riches you can’t really go wrong.”
Whatever your taste, there is certainly something for everyone. With the Adelaide Festival, WOMAD world music festival and the Adelaide Writers Week, the month of March is an incredible lure to Australia’s first and foremost festival city. This is not a random program. Though chosen on its merits, Healy and Armfield can see patterns emerging that reinforce the reasoning behind their selection. Many of our artists are responding to a world of fear, rising tension, the flight of people to safety; a world where the truth can be a slippery concept, controlled by those with power and wealth” they state in the introduction to the festival brochure. However, as they say, “the desire for meaning and reconciliation, for justice and for love, beauty and joy is burning stronger than ever. That is the light that great art creates” And that is reason enough to bring that art to the world at the 2018 Adelaide Festival.
Adelaide Festival 2018
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