Perth Festival picks

9 November 2017

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Seesaw co-editor Nina Levy shares her tips for the 2018 Perth Festival.

One of my favourite things about living in Western Australia is the quality of the light here, particularly around sunset. The many moods of the sky at that time – perhaps a wash of juicy-orange, or peppered with tiny iridescent pink slivers, or crowded with moodily glowing cumulus clouds – fill me with incredible joy.

So when Perth Festival director Wendy Martin tells me that the 2018 program is themed around our beautiful WA light, I feel the first little dart of festival anticipation. The 2018 Festival invites audiences to “see art in a different light,” explains Martin. “The idea behind that is taking inspiration from the light and the landscape of WA, and our position overlooking the Indian Ocean rim.”

That dart of excitement balloons as Martin talks me through the 2018 Perth Festival. Her presentation is almost a performance in itself and I leave feeling slightly breathless. I want to See. It. All. Be still my beating heart.

So where will you find me between 9 February and 4 March?

Siren Song
Given my aforementioned great love of Perth sunsets, I’ll be checking out Siren Song, the Festival’s 10 day long free opening event. “As the sun begins to fade you will hear the most extraordinary voices that will be coming from speakers all along St George’s Terrace and then you will see a helicopter appear and a voice will be coming from that helicopter,” says Martin.” The voices are all voices of women. I love the idea that at sunrise and sunset, for the first 10 days of the festival, the city will be transformed by the female voice, thus the title Siren Song. We’ll see the helicopter in a sort of choreographed dance around the buildings of the terrace and around the river.”

To a Simple, Rock ’n’ Roll Song
My other great love is no secret. It’s dance, and there’s plenty of it here. Contemporary dance is, traditionally, a harder sell than other performing art-forms, but I’ve got a suspicion that Michael Clark Company’s To a Simple Rock ’n’ Roll Song is going to be one of this Festival’s mega hits. Created after David Bowie’s death, the work is set to music by Erik Satie, Patti Smith and Bowie, and pays homage to the composers Clark loves, says Martin, who saw it in December ’16. “The Bowie section… It’s impossible not to feel deeply moved by the music,” she reflects. “The audience just screamed to see Bowie’s music so beautifully articulated by the body.”

ACO Underground
We’ve all heard about bands playing unplugged. “This is the ACO (Australian Chamber Orchestra) ‘plugged in’, if you like,” says Martin. “They’re collaborating with Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes and Jim Moginie from Midnight Oil. As the program says, they can make a pop song sound like heavy metal or like it was written in the 17th century.”

‘To get lost in this hypnotic state just looks so thrilling.’ Wendy Martin on ‘Attractor’. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.

I’m excited to have a chance to see this work, created by renowned Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet in collaboration with Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa. “Vessel is presented on a stage flooded with water, and there are seven dancers. In the middle of the water is Nawa’s sculpture which is like the top of a volcano or something – it’s for your imagination to figure out what it could be. But these seven bodies, I do not know how they do what they do. They are like other-worldly creatures,” muses Martin.

Barber Shop Chronicles
Six barber shops spread across the globe and a love of football is the premise for this work and it sounds like a whole lot of fun. “We travel from country to country, from Harare, to Johannesburg, to Accra, to Lagos, to London, in different barber shops,” elaborates Martin. “In each one they’re all watching a game of soccer between Barcelona and Chelsea. Like all Inua Ellams’ work, he’s really dealing with big issues but as we shift from scene to scene it’s also held together by song and dance, so it’s utterly joyous at the same time as packing a punch.”

Cerita Anak
Martin is halfway through describing Cerita Anak (Child’s Story), a work aimed at 2-7 year olds, when I give a little gasp and exclaim, “Oh I want to go!” It’s the immersive element that appeals to me. “Children are led into the space, in which they hop aboard a ship and they go on a journey together,” Martin tells me.” They go through a storm at sea and the beautiful sea creatures are projected all over the sails. Then when the water becomes calm the kids take fishing rods and what they’re actually pulling in is the creatures that they’ve made themselves. It’s a multi-sensory adventure about the life of the ocean. It’s completely beguiling for adults as well.”

Remembering what life was like before the digital revolution: ‘A Farewell to Paper’.

Farewell to Paper
I’m more than just nostalgic for the pre-smartphone world. This year I have finally managed to revert from an electronic to a paper diary and I love it. So Farewell to Paper by Russian poet, playwright and theatre director Evgeny Grishkovets holds immediate appeal. “It’s exactly what the title says,” remarks Martin. “It’s a trip around remembering what life was like before we had these tiny things in our hands that connect us, but also disconnect us. The work is a reminder of the poetics in life that are disappearing.”

Museum of Water
A free installation, the “Museum of Water” is a two-year program of events based around our relationship with water. Taking place this time at the Fremantle Arts Centre, it’s Martin’s description of “sound umbrellas” that sparks my interest. “Rachel Dease, the sound artist for the project, will create special sound experiences,” says Martin. “You’ll be able to pick up an umbrella and open it and walk around outside and be protected from the sun and hear the stories of water.”

Also at Fremantle Arts Centre, as part of the visual arts program, is Repatriate, by artist Latai Taumoepeau. “It’s a video installation – Latai is in a tank of water, in Pacific dress, performing Pacific dances,” explains Martin. “As she’s performing, the water in the tank is rising. It’s a metaphor for rising seas, and the fact that in years to come people in the Pacific will be unable to practise their culture because their islands will be disappearing.”

Two of my favourite Australian choreographers, Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek have joined forces with Indonesian music duo Senyawa in Attractor, which is described as a “trance-noise odyssey”. Attractor has caused a stir in the Eastern states, taking out two Helpmann Awards this year, and I can’t wait to find out why. There’s an option to participate too. “One by one the participants who have agreed to be part of the show peel out of the audience and become immersed in the dance. It is the most elegantly executed audience participation I’ve ever watched,” remarks Martin. “And if you didn’t opt in, you regret it. To get lost in this hypnotic state just looks so thrilling.”

But wait there’s more!
These shows and programs also sound super… head to the Perth Festival website to check them out:

White Spirit: Features the Whirling Dervishes. “It’s vividly illuminated,” says Martin “It’s a sublime musical and movement experience.”

You Know We Belong Together: Centred around a young woman’s dream of being on Home and Away, this work sounds moving and delightful.

Emissaries: “This work was one of the big hits of this year’s Venice Biennale,” says Martin. “Lisa Reihana is a Maori woman. This cinematic piece was inspired by 18th-century wallpaper that tells the story of Captain Cook in the Pacific. It’s a re-positioning of history from her perspective.”

Beyond Time: Martin describes this work by Taiwan’s U-Theatre as “an explosive mixture of martial arts, contemporary dance and ritual from Taiwan’s U-Theatre… a beautiful piece about our relationship to time and the universe.” I’m keen to join the walking meditation that company members will be leading along the Swan River the weekend that they are in town.

‘Beyond Time’: an explosive mixture of martial arts, contemporary dance and ritual.

The Second Woman: I caught Nat Randall, the artist behind this 24-hour live spectacle, at this year’s Proximity Festival and my curiosity is piqued.

Jordi Savall: I love medieval music. Both shows sound glorious (NB – although Jordi Savall was announced early, there’s an additional second show in the program with harpist Andrew Lawrence-King)

Ballet at the Quarry: Milky Way: A Perth institution. The headline work, Milngia, Milky Way – River of Stars, is an exciting-sounding new collaboration between Gary Lang of NT Dance Company, opera artist Deborah Cheetham AO and WAB.

Writers Week: Helen Garner. My absolute favourite of favourites.

The Chevron Gardens: Where to start! The line-up includes some massive names (Dizzee Rascal, Block Party, Ben Folds to name a just few) as well as plenty of opportunities to expand your listening game. I’m keen to check out The Staves + Lucius, Mama Kin, Abbe May, and Kitty, Daisy & Lewis.

Excited? Head to

Top photo: Robert Frith


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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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