Programming a top-line Australian festival with a judicious selection of highly-sought international and local acts isn’t for the faint of heart, even when the going is good.
Add the myriad uncertainties and complexities so bountifully gifted by COVID-19, and things really start to get tricky.
For Adelaide Festival’s co-artistic directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield, compiling their penultimate program for next March has been uniquely challenging.
“Last year was incredibly tough, but a huge number of local artists – not all – could access JobKeeper,” Healy says.
“That meant a company like Adelaide-based Gravity and Other Myths, which is a contemporary circus and physical theatre troupe, could get together and create a major new work because they chose to spend their JobKeeper on future development.”
That major new work, The Pulse, sold out and became a talking point of the 2021festival.
“And because no overseas artists or companies were working back in March, many were willing to engage in our digital live-streaming series,” Healy says.
“We all came into 2021 thinking nothing could be as hard as last year.
“We were wrong.”
Not only has there been no JobKeeper this time round, she points out, but the “crisis energy” of last year has been replaced by an “emotional flatlining” among many arts and culture workers.
“People are just dead behind the eyes,” she says.
Looking overseas, the situation has also changed.
“Europe and America have got back to work, which means companies and performers are busy. They’ve got real invitations, so they’re unwilling to experiment with digital live-streaming.”
In terms of enticing international companies to actually come to Adelaide, Healy and Armfield very much hope hotel quarantine will have been scrapped in South Australia by early 2022.
“We’ve had to say, ‘worst-case scenario, you’ll have 14 days of quarantine in a medi-hotel’. And the sad reality is that three-quarters of them have said ‘no’.”
It is very much to Healy and Armfield’s credit, then, that in curating their sixth festival, they have managed to include nine world premieres, six Australian premieres and 17 Adelaide exclusives in a 71-event program that belies the straitened circumstances in which it’s been put together.
And what better way to kick it off than with a one-night-only acrobatic spectacular from Gravity and Other Myths.
A co-production with Edinburgh International Festival, Macro will take over Adelaide Oval’s Village Green on the evening of Saturday, March 5 for a free, 75-minute performance.
A collaboration with Indigenous dance group Djuki Mala, or the Chooky Dancers, the world premiere will encompass 30 performers, a choir, a soundscape of “ancient Celtic rhythms” by Scottish musician and composer Aidan O’Rourke, monumental projections and fireworks to boot.
“It will be a completely difference experience from The Pulse – different music, tempo, scenes – but that heartland quality of Gravity and Other Myths, which is a kind of larrikin, stripped-back, honest connection between each other and out to the audience, will remain the same,” Healy promises.
Healy was born and raised in Adelaide but worked for many years in Sydney, including 10 years as general manager of Belvoir theatre company while Armfield was artistic director.
She returned to her hometown in early 2016 after she and Armfield were appointed to lead the festival…
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