Perth Festival kicks off next month with one of the 66-year-old event’s most ambitious programs yet. Incoming Perth-born artistic director Iain Grandage has centred his maiden program on the theme Karla, a Noongar word meaning “fire”, with a renewed focus on First Nations productions.
The festival opens on February 7, with eight of its 24 days dedicated to Indigenous-only programming, including a landmark Noongar language adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a mixed-genre celebration of the music of Gurrumul Yunupinu and a nationally-acclaimed performance from the globally-renowned Bangarra Dance Theatre company.
The rest of the program spans a diverse mix of independent theatre, dance and film, local and international music and literature, and takes audiences into some of Perth’s premier entertainment venues. A new festival hub, the City of Lights, will see the Perth Concert Hall and surrounds transform to host a multicultural music and theatre program, including the open-air Chevron Lighthouse music venue.
With more than 250 events over a three-week period to choose from, we’ve narrowed your watch list down to these 14 shows.
Hecate takes place in a world where Noongar language is spoken by all. In this world-premiering Perth Festival commission, leading Aboriginal performing arts company Yirra Yaakin will present Kylie Bracknell’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, performed entirely in Noongar. In Shakespeare’s original work, Hecate is the queen of the witches who deliver Macbeth’s prophecy. But in most adaptations, she is not a leading character. Bracknell’s Hecate brings her show’s namesake to the centre of the plot, as a wise observer of Macbeth’s tragic demise and a reminder that nature – or, in this case, Country – will always trump human greed. With a timely and poignant message brought to life through the poetic qualities of a reclaimed Noongar language, this show is the bedrock of the festival’s 2020 program.
Running Thursday February 6 to Sunday February 16 at Subiaco Arts Centre.
From the globally-acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre company, Bennelong is a dance production exploring the life of one of history’s most iconic Aboriginal figures: Woollarawarre Bennelong, a Senior Eora man who left a legacy of power and defiance. Already picking up seven Helpmann Awards during a celebrated national tour, the show celebrates the continuation of that legacy in contemporary Australian life.
Running Thursday February 6 to Sunday February 9 at Heath Ledger Theatre.
Gurrumul Yunupiŋu’s final album, Djarimirri: Child of the Rainbow, was celebrated around the world as a transcendent musical achievement, amalgamating ancient songs and chants from the late artist’s Yolŋgu culture with contemporary orchestral compositions. Another Perth Festival commission, Buŋgul will see the album interpreted on stage for the first time. In a show directed by Senior Yolŋgu Don Wininba Ganambarr and Nigel Jamieson, Yolŋu dancers and songmen will be joined by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra to share the traditional songs, dances and paintings that inspired Gurrumul’s pivotal work. Created on Country in North East Arnhem Land with the Yunupiŋu family, Buŋgul represents a coming together of two contrasting worlds and illustrates the potential of a contemporary Australian identity grounded in First Nations knowledge and legacy.
Friday February 7 and Saturday February 8 at 7pm, and Sunday February 9 at 6.30pm, at Perth Concert Hall.
Ian Strange: Suburban Interventions
Ian Strange is obsessed with Australian suburbia. His multidisciplinary work involves installing physical “transformations” in suburban homes, in an attempt to explore and unpack the modern anxieties they house. Suburban Interventions is the first large-scale survey of the artist’s ongoing oeuvre, featuring photographs and films that depict these installations developed over the course of a decade.
Running Thursday February 6 to Friday April 24 at John Curtin Gallery. This is a free event.
From two pioneering artists comes an interactive virtual reality world made of words. Laurie Anderson (USA) and Hsin-Chien Huang (Taiwan) have created an entirely hand-drawn realm that audiences can step inside, embarking on a virtual journey through a large structure made of words, stories and drawings in chalk.
Open Saturday February 8 and running until Sunday April 19 at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA). This is a free event.
Dion Beasley: Cheeky Dogs
In artist Dion Beasley’s Northern Territory community of Tennant Creek, dogs are an integral part of life. The artist, who lives with muscular dystrophy and profound deafness, became well-known for his Cheeky Dogs drawings T-shirts and children’s books that depict the people, places and dogs he loves. This comprehensive Cheeky Dogs exhibition promises to be a charming look into Beasley’s world, taking place at the brand new Fremantle branch of DADAA, an arts and studio space for people living with disability.
Opens Friday February 7 and runs until Saturday April 18 at DADAA. This is a free event.
Twenty-one years ago, four playwrights and a composer came together to create Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, an essential stage production that captured life in Australia in the 1990s. Anthem sees the reuniting of the same group – including influential writers Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Christos Tsiolkas and Melissa Reeves – for a long-awaited follow-up that examines the past, present and future of Australia’s national identity ¬– and the everyday conflicts that underscore it.
Wednesday February 12 to Saturday February 15 at 7pm, and Sunday February 16 at 5pm, at Heath Ledger Theatre.
Tremé Brass Band
Few places are as defined by their music as New Orleans, and the city’s Tremé neighbourhood, known for its jazz and soul clubs, forms its African American and Creole heart. The Tremé Brass Band is a community institution, led by drummer Benny Jones Senior and featuring a rotating line-up of local musicians, both established and emerging. Combining old-school New Orleans jazz with brass classics, the group will pay homage to their hometown on the Chevron Lighthouse stage.
Thursday February 13 at Chevron Lighthouse. Doors open 7.30pm.
Sunday Music: Gordon Koang
Before war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, Gordon Koang had released 20 albums as a professional musician and was known by his countrymen as the “King of Music”. After seeking asylum in Australia in 2015, the musician – who was born blind – quickly took the local music scene by storm, last year picking up five Music Victoria Awards nominations. In a special instalment of the Fremantle Arts Centre’s free live music program, Perth Festival presents Sunday Music: Gordon Koang. The event will see Koang joined by his band to share his unique blend of traditional Nuer rhythms and African pop.
Sunday February 16 at 2pm at Fremantle Arts Centre. This is a free event.
Originating in the United States, Lit Crawl is exactly what it sounds like: a literary bar crawl that takes book lovers deep into the nightlife of their cities. This year, Perth Festival brings Perth readers and writers their first ever Lit Crawl Perth, showcasing homegrown talent in venues up and down Beaufort Street. Further details on participating authors will be released in the coming weeks.
Thursday February 20 at 7pm, Beaufort Street (venues TBC).
Bruce Pascoe: A Conversation About Ingenuity
Join acclaimed Aboriginal Australian author Bruce Pascoe (Salt, Dark Emu) for A Conversation About Ingenuity with Noongar academic and musician Dr Clint Bracknell. Pascoe’s many published works span short story collections, novels, historical non-fiction and children’s books, with Dark Emu (2014) in particular receiving critical acclaim. This talk between two leading Aboriginal voices will explore the role of educational institutions in what Pascoe describes as a “national apathy to racial politics” in Australia.
Friday February 21 at 7pm at Octagon Theatre, University of Western Australia.
Few artists have reached popular appeal through the same theatrical on-stage antics as Aldous Harding. Influenced by the likes of Kate Bush, PJ Harvey and Patti Smith, Harding’s live performances have been described as “deeply peculiar”, “tense with vulnerability” and “baffling”. Catch her at Perth Festival’s Chevron Lighthouse and see for yourself.
Friday February 28 at Chevron Lighthouse. Doors open 9pm.
Highway to Hell
In a finale event paying tribute to Bon Scott on the 40th anniversary of his death in February 1980, Highway to Hell will see Perth’s Canning Highway transformed into the world’s longest stage from the Raffles Hotel, to the Old Fremantle Traffic Bridge. The event brings together a diverse musical line-up, featuring acts such as the Pigram Brothers, Amyl and the Sniffers and the Perth Symphony Orchestra, who’ll all be belting out renditions of Acca Dacca classics from the back of flat-bed trucks as they travel the closed highway. Canning Highway – historically dubbed the “Highway to Hell” both for its notorious road toll, and its rock’n’roll roots – inspired the band’s famous 1979 album and opening track of the same name.
Saturday March 1 from 3pm, Canning Highway. This is a free event.
Marking the final night of Perth Festival 2020 is soul, folk and gospel singer Mavis Staples. Once a leading force in the American civil rights movement, Staples is known for her heartfelt power ballads that search for truth and joy. To see her perform live is to witness a rare kind of living legend.
Sunday March 1 at Chevron Lighthouse. Doors open 7.30pm.
Perth Festival runs from February 7 to March 1. Tickets are available online