The Festival’s new co-artistic directors, Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy, say that for their first program they have sought large-scale work that connects audiences to “the great ideas and challenges of our time”, as well as “intimate, personal stories equally magnificent and resonant”.
There is certainly less of the experimental electronic music that was a trademark of former artistic director David Sefton’s festivals (the Unsound series hasn’t returned), but the 2017 Festival includes plenty of cutting-edge shows, especially in theatre and dance.
The newly designed Riverbank Palais – which will be the Festival hub, lighting up the Torrens riverbank in Elder Park from March 2-19 – is described by Healy as “the biggest venture of its kind in Adelaide Festival’s history”.
To be part of the Festival for the next three years, the two-storey structure is being designed by set designer Robert Cousins and built locally. It will house around 800 people and be open both day and night, with a program of events ranging from long lunches to live music.
It is inspired by the Floating Palais de Danse, which was described as the pinnacle of the city’s nightlife in the 1920s – until it was sunk by a series of explosions.
“It comes from Neil and my interest in telling Adelaide stories, and often hidden Adelaide stories,” Healy says of the Riverbank Palais.
“The Floating Palais was constructed by a very flamboyant Adelaide entrepreneur who was always at war with the City Council and he created this stunning two-storey structure.
“It was a dance hall, it had a soda fountain and dance competitions … the winner of the dance competition danced with a cobra for six hours. There are really incredible stories from this era.
“We wanted to imagine what a contemporary version would look like.”
Leading the Festival’s 2017 theatre program, along with the previously announced staging of The Secret River at The Quarry at Anstey Hill, will be Schaubühne Berlin theatre company’s production of Richard III, which Healy says is served “piping hot”.
Richard III was a hit of the Edinburgh International Festival this year, with The Scotsman newspaper describing actor Lars Eidinger’s performance as the evil king as one of the most “strange, compelling and utterly charismatic” of the festival’s 70-year history.
Audiences will be offered a rare taste of Rufus Wainwright’s Rufus Does Judy – his re-creation of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert – when the Canadian singer-songwriter performs a set of songs from the show with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. The Adelaide-exclusive, one-night-only event will also include a concert version of Prima Donna, Wainwright’s first venture into the world of opera.
The Festival’s strong dance program includes edgy works by young Israeli dance company L-E-V (formed by former Batsheva Dance Company choreographer Sharon Eyal and rave party producer Gai Behar), and an amusing and touching work called Gala by French choreographer Jerome Bel which sees a range of dance moves performed by both professional dancers and ordinary people cast in the city where it is staged.
Hybrid dance-theatre production Betroffenheit, a collaboration between Canada’s Electric Company Theatre and Kidd Pivot dance company, was inspired by the experiences of writer and performer Jonathon Young, whose young daughter was killed, alongside two of her cousins, in a cabin fire on a family holiday.
“It’s not about grief, it’s not about sadness, it’s not about loss … it’s a physical theatre experience of what it is to be in a state of trauma,” Healy says.
Another emotive work is the interactive sound installation Gardens Speak, created by Lebanese-British artist Tania El Khoury, which invites audience members to literally dig in soil to hear the stories of 10 people killed by the Assad regime in Syria and buried in unmarked garden graves.
Interviews with family members and friends of the victims were used to create the work, with the commentaries of each person’s life and death recounted in the first person and listened to through headphones in a darkened room filled with wooden headstones.
“This work, perhaps more than any other, really shows how artists can respond to world events and create insights into world conflicts, in this case Syria, in a way that can’t be replicated or achieved by any other medium,” Healy says.
New works from South Australian companies Restless Dance Theatre and acrobatic troupe Gravity and Other Myths feature on the 2017 Adelaide Festival program, alongside the previously announced Adelaide Symphony Orchestra family show Peter and the Wolf, featuring Miriam Margolyes.
Music highlights include Chamber Landscapes, a series of concerts curated by Anna Goldsworthy and based around the music of Schubert, to be performed at UKARIA (formerly Ngeringa) Cultural Centre; and 1967 – Music in the Key of Yes, a show featuring Indigenous singers such as Thelma Plum, Dan Sultan and William Barton which will celebrate the anniversary of the referendum to change the Australian Constitution to remove references that discriminated against Aboriginal people
Other 2017 Festival highlights include:
Saul: The acclaimed operatic work by former Adelaide Festival artistic director Barrie Kosky (announced ahead of the main program launch).
The Encounter: Presented by UK company Complicite, The Encounter is based on the true story of a National Geographic photographer describing his encounter with an Amazonian tribe and uses binaural technology (3D audio) to transport audiences to a different world.
Portraits in Motion: “Intrepid traveller” Volker Gerling presents his photographic flipbook portraits of people he has met, and their stories, while walking more than 3500km throughout Germany since 2003.
Red: Created by artist Del Kathryn Barton and featuring actress Cate Blanchett, this work being presented at the Art Gallery of SA is described as “a surrealist cinematic offering and a savage tale of female power inspired by the mating rituals of the Australian redback spider”.
Coral: Rekindling Venus: To be screened at the Mawson Lakes Planetarium, this film by Australian artist Lynette Wallworth features beautiful coral reef imagery and high-resolution microscopic footage, accompanied by music by artists such as Max Richter, Gurrumul and Anohni.
The full 2017 Adelaide Festival program can be viewed here.
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