Cream of the crop 2021

15 December 2021

Which shows were Seesaw Mag’s favourites this year? We ask our writers to reflect on the year that was… and the year that will be.

Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, we saw a slew of fantastic shows, concerts and exhibitions in WA this year. When one considers the circumstances in which these works and events have been made, it really gives a sense of the vibrancy of WA’s arts sector.

As per Seesaw Mag tradition, we’ve asked our writers to share their top three shows for 2021, their arts highlights and lowlights for the year, and what they’re looking forward to seeing in 2022.

Barbara Hostalek

Top three shows
Top three is a hard decision, may I have four? 

Fist of Fury – Noongar Daa presented at Perth Festival
A fusion of worlds and language for the times.

Animal Farm presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company
A classic text alive in the present.

Rayma Morrison as Auntie Maisie in Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s ‘Dating Black’, Photo: Dana Weeks

Dating Black presented by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
A good ole laugh via a romcom in uncertain times.

Kangaroo Stew presented by Desert Wirla
A family’s culture, money and power, warning of the struggles for the future.

Arts highlight
As a community gathering in the dark spaces of a theatre, watching live performances with actors giving it their all.

Looking forward to…
Panawathi Girl presented by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company at Perth Festival.

Oil presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company.

City of Gold presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company at Perth Festival.

David Zampatti

Top three shows
Jamie Mykaela: Daddy presented at Fringe World:
I’m cheating a bit, because it first appeared in the 2020 Fringe, but I missed it first time around. Mykaela snarls her way across the misogyny and paedophilia of pop classics with saw-toothed glee and a sinister ukulele.

A young woman sits on a wooden park bench. She wears a khaki blazer over a red skivvy and black pants. The floor is scattered with dead leaves and silhouettes of slim gum trees are projected against the deep blue of an early night sky.
Katie McAllister’s ‘Watch and Act’ Photo: Sophie Minissale

Watch and Act by Katie McAllister, presented at The Blue Room Theatre:
McAllister’s trip down Albany Highway – and inside her own mind – is both hilarious and insightful. Comparisons with Hannah Gadsby are unfair to both of them, but I know where they’re coming from.

Little Women by Sally Davies, presented at The Blue Room Theatre:
Writer Sally Davies and her co-director Melanie Julien-Martial took Louisa May Alcott’s American Civil War classic and gave it a queer retelling with an all-female, all non-white cast, without losing any of the original’s power and purpose. Joe Lui’s compositions for the play was the best I’ve heard in years.

Arts Highlight
Noongar. The survival of the beautiful and expressive language of the continuing custodians of the land we live in has been the mission of many Noongar people and their friends in the arts, and we are beginning to see the fruits of their commitment and perseverance.

Whether it’s the leadership of our outstanding Aboriginal theatre company, Yirra Yaakin, often working with Kylie Bracknell (Kaarljilba Kaardn) and her husband Dr Clint Bracknell; the magical lullabies and sung stories of Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, or the increasingly complex and wide-ranging Welcomes to Country that have become an art form of their own, Noongar grows in confidence, eloquence and status.

Far from being endangered, Noongar is positioned to become the second language of West Australians, and the arts can be justly proud of its part in its resurgence.

Looking forward to…
Pond presented by Perth Festival at Fremantle Arts Centre:
I have a proprietary interest in Nick Allbrook, Shiny Joe Ryan and the rest of the Pondlife (their Beard, Wives, Denim was recorded on our family farmlet back in 2010), but my anticipation is about seeing a band that’s steadily grown a life and sound all of its own.

Bach performed by Australian Chamber Orchestra at Perth Concert Hall:
The greatest of all composers and his talented family, played by our signature classical outfit. God we’ve missed them for the last two bloody years.

Anything from Theatre 180 and the Fremantle Theatre Company:
Our two new mainstage independent companies are well-led, well-curated and well-resourced. So far they’ve made all their posts winners, and I hope the streak continues next year.   

Jaimi Wright

Top three shows
Both the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial and the Fremantle Biennale were absolute triumphs. IOTA 21 was so expansive in its vision, and the Biennale’s Moombaki, by Ilona McGuire, was a geuinely breathtaking experience.

A portrait photograph of a First Nations man. His face is lit by a projection of a traditional painting, perhaps of a boomerang, depicted in yellow, white and red ochre dots.
From ‘The Alternative Archive’: Mary-Lou Divilli,’Bilbijy’, 2019, photographic print. Image courtesy of the artist and Waringarri Aboriginal Arts

John Curtin Gallery’s “The Alternative Archive” also provided a fresh and stimulating look at the cultural archive against the backdrop of local history.

Looking forward to…
Art Collective WA has a promising early lineup. Helen Smith and Theo Koning have a joint exhibition exploring macro designs, minute detail and ephemerality, and Trevor Vickers follows shortly afterwards. 

Leon Levy

Top three shows
Part of the “One and Many” chamber series within the 2021 Perth Festival, Sara Macliver with Wind Quintet Plus was a triumph of imagination, location and execution, and a thrilling example of what can be achieved using only the resources of a State in isolation.

A conductor and choir fill the centre of a white walled cathedral, with a brightly coloured stained glass window behind them
Andrew Foote conducts the WASO Chorus and UWA Symphonic Chorus. Photo supplied

Rarely performed works Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music from UWA Choral Society and Dvořák’s Mass in D from WASO Chorus & UWA Symphonic Chorus also gave much pleasure.

Arts lowlight
One of the silver linings provided by the COVID pandemic has surely been the opportunity to engage online with the arts across a broad spectrum. The eclectic selection of movies provided by SBS On Demand has, however, proved to be a mixed blessing: the screaming commercials for products and services are all-too-often inserted with complete insensitivity to the unfolding of the work being screened, and generally represent a profound and depressing disrespect to cinema as an art form. This surely represents a poor advertisement for our civilisation from an unexpected source.
Looking looking forward to…
Without yet having had an adequate opportunity to study the festival and company programs, my eye has been caught by Perth Festival’s performance offering, led by Mary Stuart, and by a number of imaginatively constructed WASO concerts under Asher Fisch, especially where they include works that I’ve somehow not heard “in the flesh”, most notably Britten’s Requiem, but also Elgar’s Second Symphony and Korngold’s Violin Concerto.

The WA Opera season details arrived only just on the “Cream of the Crop” deadline so, looking past the unavoidable potboilers, there are unexpected – and tempting – contributions from Tchaikovsky and, intriguingly, Mozart and Salieri in competition; but, sadly virtually no cast details, no doubt a reflection of pandemic uncertainties.

Also just received is notice of screenings at Luna Palace Cinemas in February of Tom Stoppard’s latest play, Leopoldstadt, based on his own family’s history, and surely not to be missed.

Nina Levy

Top three shows
It was hard to whittle this down to three; I’ve taken a few liberties to squeeze in extra mentions as you’ll see.

Natalie Allen performing in ‘JULIA’. Photo: JLG Photographics

It was another bumper year for independent dance in Perth, with highlights including Brooke Leeder & Dancers’ Structural Dependency and Emma Fishwick’s Slow Burn, Together, both at Perth Festival, and Steamwork Arts’ JULIA.

Fremantle Biennale won my heart and the highlight in every sense of the word was, as Jaimi Wright observed, the brief but breathtaking Moombaki by Ilona McGuire, which told Noongar stories using a team of 160 choreographed drones.

John Curtin Gallery’s 2021 program included some absolute show-stoppers, in particular “Everything is True” by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah as part of Perth Festival, and “Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday” as part of the inaugural Indian Ocean Craft Triennial (another 2021 highlight).

Arts highlight
Like David Zampatti, I’m loving the increased visibility of Noongar language and culture in the arts. Sitting in the stalls at His Majesty’s Theatre to see Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse’s Koolbardi wer wardong (presented by West Australian Opera and Awesome Festival) the hunger for the language and stories of this place was palpable. As a Wadjela, I feel grateful to the Noongar people who are so warmly and generously sharing their rich and beautiful culture.

Arts lowlight
The quiet demise of Co3 Contemporary Dance’s Co Youth Dance Company due to the impact of COVID-19.

The tradition of professional youth dance in WA dates back to the glory days of STEPS Youth Dance Company (1988 – 2014). The benefits of giving young dancers the opportunity to work with professional artists are significant to all involved, as outlined in my 2020 article Arts must stay young at heart, which argued for the investment of public money in youth arts companies and programs. While Co3 is continuing to invest in youth dance via other initiatives I believe that a youth company plays a specific role for young dancers, the artists who mentor them and the broader community. If Co3 doesn’t have the resources to provide this then perhaps it is time for a new youth dance company to be established, with public funding.

Looking forward to…
And The Earth Will Swallow Us Whole by Rachel Arianne Ogle at Perth Festival.

The return of The Blue Room Theatre’s Summer Nights program after a sabbatical in 2021.

I Liked it, But… by Joel Bray at Perth Festival (my little dance nerd heart is so excited).

Photo: Alan McDonald

Patrick Gunasekera

Top three shows
Dureshawar Khan’s MoR, presented by Third Culture Kids at The Blue Room Theatre.

Jay Emmanuel’s Children of the Sea presented by Encounter/Performing Lines at Perth Festival (pictured top).

Mararo Wangai’s Black Brass at Perth Festival,

Dureshawar Khan sits on a chair. She wears a long cream dress that is embroidered with red. She is knitting with red yarn.
Dureshawar Khan performing in ‘MoR’ at the Blue Room Theatre. Photo: Tasha Faye

The development of these thoughtful and ambitious community-engaged plays gave me indispensable hope as a young artist of colour, and I am beyond delighted their debuts have arrived at what looks to be a promising generation for theatre makers of migrant background.

Arts highlight
The digital launch of Alter State, a new disability arts festival coming September 2022 and developed with Carly Findlay, Rodney Bell, and WA artist Joshua Pether.

This festival presents a vital but as yet rare step for many disabled artists and arts workers to excel in our practices locally, by offering development and presentation spaces independently from dominant art canons.

Arts lowlight
On a personal note — supporting industry friends through sexual harassment in the arts, and seeing our industry continue to fail young artists in times of workplace trauma.

Positively, young people continue to valiantly assert our rights to safe working conditions, but there is still much road to travel in addressing and preventing exploitation of power in the arts.

Looking forward to…
Michele Gould’s punk rock musical 107 and Tinashe Jakwa’s debut play stillbirth, both presented by The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, and Bruno Booth’s participatory performance installation Dead-ends & Detours, presented by PICA.

Rosalind Appleby

Top three shows
Koolbardi wer wardong, by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse, presented by West Australian Opera and Awesome Festival:
A Noongar story, told through song, connecting people to each other and our country. This was a truly groundbreaking performance and a demonstration of opera at its best.

Gina Williams as Ngaank Boodja in ‘Koolbardi wer Wardong’. Photo: James Rogers

“Let Us Dance”, HIP Company:
HIP Company is one of Perth’s newest ensembles and in this concert they created a sublime sensory experience by combining dancers with music in a program Baroque dance repertoire.

“Romance and Mystery”, West Australian Symphony Orchestra at Perth Concert Hall:
After 12 months apart, WASO’s principal conductor Asher Fisch was reunited with his orchestra and delivered a concert confirming the life-giving force of music is indeed an essential part of human existence.

Arts highlight
Mark Naglazas winning the Culture and the Arts Award at the WA Media awards last month was a massive coup for Seesaw Magazine and a wonderful affirmation that the mag is producing outstanding media coverage that informs and entertains West Australians.

Arts lowlight
The constant cancellation and rescheduling of concerts due to COVID-related lockdowns and border closures. The instability is very wearing for everyone in the industry.

Looking forward to…
Panawathi Girl by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company. Could this be the next Bran Nue Dae?

Sandra Bowdler

Top three shows
First, Sara Macliver et al., Handel in the House for Freeze Frame Opera: 
Simply incomparable.

Honourable mention also to Macliver singing Golijov (West Australian Symphony Orchestra).

Second, WA Opera’s Il barbiere di Siviglia:
Just sheer bloody enjoyment.

A man in a nightgown sits on a bed, surrounded by a 4 other cast members
Pictured top: Brett Peart, Brigitte Heuser, Ava Charleson, Robert Hofmann, Ruth Burke in Freeze Frame Opera’s ‘Angels & Devils’. Photo supplied

Third, Angels and Devils: Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi:
Freeze Frame Opera again shows its fearless attack on just about anything in the repertoire, triumphing over limited resources.

Arts highlight
The way Freeze Frame Opera keeps pulling energetic rabbits out of wildly varied hats, providing work for artists through these most difficult of years and building a solid devoted following.
Arts lowlight
The cancellation of WAYO’s Rite of Spring in July, due to a COVID lockdown (This has been rescheduled for 22 January 2022 – stay tuned for a feature about this show, coming early ’22 – Ed).

Looking forward to…
Rite of Spring YES! WASO, March 11-12;  also WASO: Dvorak 9, Shostakovich 11, Messiah.
Bonus:  Emma Matthew’s “Sea Pictures” at Perth Festival.

Pictured top: Jay Emmanuel’s ‘Children of the Sea, presented at Perth Festival. Pictured are Maniya Amin Dehghan, Harry Hamzat, Satchen Lucido and Happyness Yasini. Photo: Dan Grant

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

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.

Past Articles

  • How to choose your Fringe World shows

    Overwhelmed by the 2024 Fringe program? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

  • A walk with Tina Stefanou

    Tina Stefanou is one of 10 artists whose work will be exhibited in ‘Rural Utopias’, at the Art Gallery of WA. Ahead of the opening, we’re re-sharing her 2020 reflection on the role of an artist, in a time that is characterised by economic, social, political and environmental injustice.

Read Next

  • Reading time • 10 minutesFringe World Festival
  • Carina Roberts and Gakuro Matsui in The Nutcracker How to watch ballet

    How to watch ballet

    16 November 2023

    If you’ve booked tickets to Christmas favourite The Nutcracker and you’re not sure what to expect, look no further! Rita Clarke has you covered.

    Reading time • 10 minutesDance
  • Reading time • 7 minutesMulti-arts

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio


Cleaver Street Studio