Launching bravely into 2021

27 November 2020

Nobody knows what 2021 will hold but as Western Australia’s major arts organisations launch their programmes for next year David Zampatti discovers a mix of bravery and caution that bodes well for our artists and their audiences.

Was it only a year ago that Perth’s performing arts companies proudly cracked bottles of champagne against the gleaming bows of their 2020 seasons and sent them sailing off over horizons full of hopes and dreams?

Little did they know their ships were all Titanics and waiting for them just over that horizon was an iceberg called COVID-19. After a year huddled in lifeboats and paddling just to keep heads above water, our companies are back launching ships across uncertain horizons.

There are clear trends across the 2021 programmes. These include increased focus on Western Australia in both content and performance, and self-reliance, flexibility and resilience in the face of the uncertainty that seems sure to continue through 2021. There’s also a clear move toward co-operation between organisations and an overarching commitment to repair the damage suffered over the past year.

Supporting Western Australian artists

“We could see a lot of our Aussie artists suffering”, explained Evan Kennea, Executive, Manager of Artistic Planning at the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. “We made the call that whatever else we do in 2021, a big component would be looking after the arts ecosystem in Australia, by heavily featuring Australian artists, and particularly West Australian artists.

“As things progressed, with lockdowns and border closures, that decision was made easier for us, but our decisions weren’t just based on COVID-proofing the season.”

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra will support the local arts ecosystem in 2021. Photo supplied.

The orchestra’s mainstage season will launch in March with the premiere of Perth composer Olivia Davies’ orchestral work Stratus. Other featured local artists include Sara Macliver singing Golijov’s Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra, composer (and Perth Festival Artistic Director) Iain Grandage’s percussion concerto, clarinettist Ashley William Smith performing Weber and no less than nine soloists from within the ranks of the orchestra.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Chris van Tuinen, Music Director of West Australian Opera: “We’ve always cast WA first so this hasn’t changed but some very specific repertoire is off the table until travel resumes.”

Rescheduling works from 2020

WA Opera’s programme is a mix of components of both this year and next. “Where there were initiatives that couldn’t be realised in 2020 we’ve reprogrammed them but we also didn’t want to delay some project’s we’d planned for 2021 before COVID,” he explained.

“We have a fair amount of flexibility, given most opera programs are planned two to three years in advance. We’ve got some options up our sleeves that we could roll out in a matter of weeks.”

The Opera’s 2021 programme will include rescheduling the world premiere of rock legend Tim Finn’s Star Navigator and Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah in collaboration with the University of Western Australia, alongside classics like The Barber of Seville and a new production of The Marriage of Figaro. The company will also mount the first opera in Noongar language, Koorlbardi wer Wardong by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse.

A crow and a magpie fly in front of a woman with brown hair
In 2021 West Australian Opera will mount the first Noongar language opera written by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. Photo supplied

The Noongar opera is an exciting addition to the rich vein of First Peoples work that runs through the 2021 programmes, including WASO’s Eumarella, a Requiem by Deborah Cheetham, Black Swan’s Maali Festival during NAIDOC Week and Perth Festival’s continuing focus on indigenous culture.

Read more about the Perth Festival 2021 program here.

Self sufficiency builds resilience

The Western Australian Ballet Company’s Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella is approaching 2021 with great confidence, based on the internal strength of their resident company.

“We are proud to have a strong and versatile company of 38 dancers from around Australia and the rest of the world and a team of talented artistic staff, all of whom are based in WA.” said Scannella.

“We have been able to reschedule our Australian premiere of The Sleeping Beauty and much of our season of STATE, featuring Graeme Murphy’s incredible Air and Other Invisible Forces. We have been able to bring back much-loved favourites from our repertoire, including Giselle and Coppélia. And we have been able to forge new opportunities from within our own Company, adding to a fresh program with some truly world-class works,” he said.

There’s a similar impetus to Black Swan’s 2021 season, which incorporates a number of shows, including Chris Isaacs and Ian Michael’s much-anticipated York from their truncated 2020 season, along with collaborations with independent artists and companies, to continue their evolution into a distinctly West Australian company.

Luke Hewitt stars in Black Swan State Theatre’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing”. Photo by Richard Jefferson.

Works like Scott McArdle’s Blue Room hit Playthings, the acclaimed Broome dance company Marrugeku’s Le Dernier Appel, and a tour-de-force vehicle for the marvellous Luke Hewitt Every Brilliant Thing (first seen here at the 2016 Perth Festival) broaden the company’s scope while consolidating the self-sufficiency of the West Australian stage.    

Flexibility is key

Like most companies Black Swan are basing their venue capacities and seating configurations on the current stage four restrictions imposed by the WA government, but, like the others, are in contingency planning for alternative arrangements if policies change.

Scannella said flexibility was key to his casting plans for WA Ballet. “We have plans to bring choreographers and creatives to Perth from interstate and from Europe later in 2021. Of course, our plans need to remain nimble and we have contingency plans in place, in case we need to respond to changing circumstances.”

WASO have allowed space in their scheduling and artist arrangements to present either one or two performances of programmes in their Master and MACA Classics Series depending on restrictions and demand. They also intend to ramp up their assistant conductor role, to enable Thaddeus Huang to be based in Perth for the entire year.

The predations of COVID-19 are far from over and the catastrophes the arts have endured in 2020 may visit them again. Nevertheless, the overwhelming thrust of our companies’ programming for 2021 is to face these challenges head on – and even to use them to the advantage of West Australian creative artists.

This determination is underscored by a strong belief that audiences, members, subscribers, artists and arts workers much prefer them to sail into these uncertain seas with brave confidence, and will continue to support them if there are still icebergs out there.      

For more programme details go to the websites of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Ballet, West Australian Opera and Black Swan State Theatre Company.

Pictured top: Dayana Hardy Acuna for West Australian Ballet’s ‘Giselle’. Photo by Frances Andrijich and Wunderman Thompson.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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