Perth festival 2022 features immersive events and puts WA talent front and centre

Artistic director Iain Grandage says ocean-themed program is ‘constantly evolving’ amid Covid and border uncertainty

Western Australia’s largest city will dive into deep waters in February, embracing the theme of the sea for the 2022 Perth festival.

After a Covid-infected security guard threw Perth into a snap five-day lockdown in February this year, scuppering the opening of the Bilya (river)-themed 2021 festival, the 2022 event will plunge head-first into Wardan (Noongar for ocean) for an almost exclusively Western Australian-populated program from 11 February.

Unveiling the program, the festival’s artistic director, Iain Grandage, said while the 2022 festival would almost certainly be subject to Covid restrictions, it would be as celebratory as possible.

“Borders are still closed and nobody knows yet when they will open but there is an assumption here that it will be some stage in the early months of next year,” he said.

“So it could be before the festival, but certainly not before Christmas and certainly not before new year.

“These extreme jurisdictions have meant we’ve had to enact a series of changes to our program because we just couldn’t guarantee we could get artists from Australia’s eastern seaboard ... but it is a program that is constantly evolving; we’re looking to be as responsive as we can be.”

Noongar Wonderland
The Perth festival will close with a celebration of local First Nations culture, with a three-day event titled Noongar Wonderland. Photograph: Jon Green/Perth festival

The opening weekend will feature Escape, a free, large-scale immersive event staged over two nights with live performances, light installations, food and ceremonies around the city’s beachfronts, wharves, warehouses and quays.

The event will celebrate the enduring culture of the Noongar people, subsequent waves of migration to the city, and a tribute to the Catalpa rescue of 1876, in which six Irish Fenian prisoners escaped the British captors holding them in Fremantle prison.

The festival will close with Noongar Wonderland, a three-day celebration of local First Nations culture held at Perry Lake, including storytelling, light installations and a dance party.

An arena production of Bizet’s Carmen will be the festival’s operatic centrepiece, with more than 150 singers and musicians from the state’s flagship orchestra and opera companies claiming the hallowed ground of the Waca for two nights on 25 and 26 of February.

And the Earth Will Swallow Them Whole
And the Earth Will Swallow Them Whole. Photograph: Peter Cheng/Perth festival

Works themed around the sea by Benjamin Britten and the WA composer Olivia Davies, as well as the Australian premiere of John Luther Adams’ major work Become Ocean, will be performed by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra at the Perth Concert Hall on the festival’s closing weekend.

On a more intimate scale, the immersive work Body of Knowledge, devised by the Melbourne-based performance curator Samara Hersch, will invite headphone-wearing audience members to accept individual mobile phone calls from Australian teenagers wanting to talk – and seek advice – about their relationship with their bodies. The work was streamed live at Germany’s Impulse theatre festival in August, with one critic, Amitha Amranand, writing that it tested the personal boundaries of all participants. “The personal and private nature of the format made me feel like I was constantly teetering on the edge of transgression,” Amranand wrote.

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The Heath Ledger Theatre will host two dramas: Mary Stuart, adapted from Friedrich Schiller’s verse play by the WA actor, playwright and screenwriter Kate Mulvany. The production will star Caroline Brazier as Mary and Kate Walsh as her nemesis, Queen Elizabeth I.

From 4-6 March, the semi-autobiographical play City of Gold, written and starring the Wongutha Yamatji actor and activist Meyne Wyatt will claim the theatre, a joint Black Swan State Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company production.

Another autobiographical performance, Jali, written and performed by Oliver Twist, will examine the Rwandan refugee’s turbulent past and moving, sometimes humorous, experiences trying to forge a new life in Australia.

This will be one of two Studio Underground-staged one-man shows, the other being Joel Bray’s Daddy, an examination of the transition from idyllic childhood to queer adulthood.

Her Majesty’s Theatre will host the world premiere of the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s musical Panawathi Girl, written by David Milroy.

Panawathi Girl. Photograph: Perth festival/Daniel Carson

The West Australian Ballet will once more transform the Quarry Amphitheatre into a choreographic fest with four works, including Robert Bondara’s Take Me With You, and a new work for the company by the Brazilian British choreographer Daniela Cardim.

The dance artist Rachel Arianne Ogle will lead a team of performers in And the Earth Will Swallow Them Whole, exploring the themes of the body, death and burial.

A collaboration between Queensland-based dance and theatre artist collective The Farm and resident Perth troupe The Co3 Contemporary Dance company, titled The Ninth Wave, will use the vast expanse of City Beach Park for a new end-of-the-world-so-let’s-party production, with an original score by Regurgitator’s Ben Ely.

The Ninth Wave
The Ninth Wave will take over Perth’s City Beach Park. Photograph: Scott Belzner/Perth festival

The Perth festival will include a comprehensive visual arts program and music concerts will include performances by Ta-ku and Katie Noonan. This program, along with the writers’ weekend in the final week of February – which has authors including Helen Garner and Michael Robotham booked – may be expanded if Covid restrictions are lifted earlier than expected.

The festival’s long-running Lotterywest outdoor film festival, which will open on 22 November and run until 3 April, will be playing exclusively for WA residents for the time being, but will include the Cannes film festival award-winners Memoria, Murina, The Worst Person in the World, and the world premiere of Renée Webster’s WA-made How to Please a Woman.


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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