Season Preview: Your guide to the arts in 2024

After five years in the chair (one more than originally envisaged, thanks to COVID), Iain Grandage delivers his final Perth Festival as Artistic Director, one set to warm hearts and minds.

Its iconic image this year? The Sun.

Ngaangk in Noongar language is a term for the Sun and for ‘mother’,” explains Grandage. “That mother sun informs our terrestrial lives, our shared humanity. It’s the female energy that feeds the earth on which we stand – Noongar Boodjar.”

Speaking to Limelight, Grandage describes his farewell festival as one “filled with warmth, hope, lightness and brightness, with ecological themes at is heart and a sense of shared humanity as we face difficult times.”

Commencing 9 February (to 3 March), the Festival program will feature artists including African superstar Angélique Kidjo, UK contemporary dance legend Akram Khan, New York City’s Brooklyn Rider, Italy’s inimitable Ludovico Einaudi and a provocative work from the Belgian theatre adventurers Ontroerend Goed.

Ontroerend Goed’s Are we not drawn onward to new erA. Photo © Mirjam Devriendt

The Festival opens with a locally-made world-premiere opera from Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, who bring Noongar magic to the stage in Wundig wer Wilura, a Dreaming story of star-crossed lovers in a “wrong-skin” relationship whose souls are separated forever.

Perth Festival will also present the WA premiere of composer Jonathan Mills’ operatic adaption of Murray Bail’s novel Eucalyptus. Part Australian fairytale (complete with suitors vying for the hand of a beautiful woman) and part word-painting of the Australian bush, this concert presentation features an exceptional Australian cast with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and West Australian Opera Chorus.

Over at Scarborough Beach, audiences will have a very different operatic experience. For The Invisible Opera, listeners will don headphones and take in a beach scene teeming with activity as a vocalist hidden somewhere in the frame sings everyday interactions into epic significance.

Akram Khan returns to Perth with Jungle Book Reimagined, a reinterpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s story which has Mowgli as a refugee struggling to survive in a world in existential crisis.

Environmental themes are also examined in Are we not drawn onward to new erA. Hailed as “The most consistently challenging theatre-makers of the past decade”, Ontroerend Goed’s palindromic call to action stands at the point where visual art, theatre, poetry and political protest meet.

Perth Concert Hall will be the focus of much of the musical program, beginning with the return to WA of composer-pianist Ludovico Einaudi and ending with the American string quartet Brooklyn Rider, which makes a Festival stop on its debut Australian tour.

Singer and academic Dr Lou Bennett and singer-songwriter Lior will be joined by the Australian String Quartet for the Perth premiere of their acclaimed Ngapa William Cooper and finally, after years of COVID-related postponement, the Australian Chamber Orchestra will present River, its poetic synergy of film and music narrated by the American actor Willem Dafoe.

Angélique Kidjo at Festival du Bout du Monde 2019. Photo Wikimedia Commons

A personal highlight for Grandage is the Under the Same Sun program, a series of outdoor concerts that will draw crowds of up to 15,000 people to Perth’s Supreme Court Gardens.

“The first person I spoke to about this was Clint Bracknell,” says Grandage. “He did a wonderful collaboration with Kronos Quartet in the 2023 Festival. Straight away he said, ‘I want to work with Angélique Kidjo. Then, the very next day, I got a call saying Angélique really wanted to come to Australia and work with someone who knew about songlines. And wouldn’t you know it? Clint did his PhD in Noongar songlines.”

Also in the Under the Same Sun program are singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and the charismatic Zambian performer Sampa the Great. The Mercury Prize-winning British singer-songwriter Sampha will close out the weekend. “That’s going to be massive,” says Grandage.

Brooklyn Rider. Photo supplied

Among the fine music offerings, Grandage is excited to see Brooklyn Rider. “They’ll be playing an elementally-inspired concert with one of my favourite works of all time for string quartet – Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8 representing ‘fire’. And you’ll hear Golijov’s Tenebrae, probably the most beautiful six minutes of music you will ever likely hear.”

Queensland-based dance and theatre collective The Farm returns to Perth, this time with the genre-bending Stunt Double, a humorous, action-packed tribute to the low-budget Aussie action flicks of the 1970s and the people who put their bodies on the line to make them.

Marrugeku’s Mutiara Photo © Michael Jalaru Torres

One of several Festival commissions threaded into the program is Mutiara, a brand-new Broome-Malay dance and theatre collaboration by WA’s Marrugeku that takes a deep dive into the history and haunting legacies of WA’s world-famous pearling industry.

Black Swan State Theatre Company of WA will also unveil its premiere production of playwright Steve RodgersThe Pool at Bold Park Aquatic Centre while West Australian Ballet will present its popular Ballet at the Quarry in the Quarry Amphitheatre.

After the success of Perth Moves in 2023, STRUT Dance is back to celebrate movement, music, connection and community at its free 10-day dance hub. In Wayfinder an inflatable set and kilometres of coloured thread feature in Dancenorth Australia’s explosion of dance, music and visual art created with three-time Grammy-nominees Hiatus Kaiyote and Japanese-Australian visual artist Hiromi Tango.

The Farm: Stunt Double

Across galleries and site-specific projects, visual artists ask audiences to consider sustainability and the tension between the heat of the sun’s creative and destructive power. The entire Visual Arts program is free, including US artist Joan Jonas’ first Australian exhibition Sun Signals, the largest Australian showing of Yhonnie Scarce’s glass and mixed media works in her solo show The Light of Day and Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s public art provocations that will appear around town throughout the Festival.

Exhibitions featuring Helen Johnson, A.K. Burns, Robert Fielding, Susan Flavell, Andrew Nicholls, Curtis Taylor and many others also brighten up gallery spaces across the city.

In 2024 DADAA comes together with three Japanese arts and disability organisations to reframe our understanding of disability arts and culture with A Rising in the East. While at Fremantle Arts Centre First Nations perspectives and knowledge are the focus of the group exhibition Polarity: Fire & Ice.

Writers Weekend (23 – 25 February) has a new home at the State Library of Western Australia, as we reinvent the writers’ festival experience in an exciting new partnership with Writing WA. After a special opening evening with Deborah Conway, there will be two binge-worthy days of sessions across every form and genre with guests including Brenda Matthews, Laura Jean McKay, Christos Tsiolkas, Mok Zining, Natasha Lester, Holden Sheppard and A.J. Betts.

Acclaimed American writer Jane Smiley closes the weekend with a bang as she discusses her new novel A Dangerous Business. More names will be announced with the full program released in December.

For more information on Perth Festival 2024, visit the festival website.

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