Richard Watts | Arts Hub |  Wednesday 25 February 2015

From transcendent video art to exquisite dance, here are our picks of this year’s Adelaide Festival of Arts’ program.

Bill Viola, Fire Woman, 2005 (detail). Video/sound installation. Performer: Robin Bonaccorsi. Photo: Kira Perov.       

Contrary to popular myth, Adelaide Festival is not the oldest international arts festival in the nation – Perth is – but it is arguably the most prestigious. Its transition from a biennial to an annual event has not diminished the festival’s reputation or its impact on Adelaide; in the coming weeks, the City of Church’s denizens – and countless visitors – will be frantically scurrying from Writers’ Week tents in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens to the theatres of Adelaide Festival Centre, and from the Adelaide Town Hall to the Art Gallery of South Australia, as they attempt to gorge themselves on all the festival has to offer.

Here are our picks of ten of the best events to see at the Adelaide Festival of Arts this year – feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

Bill Viola – Selected Works

Not just one of the world’s leading video artists, US-born visionary Bill Viola is ‘one of the most important artists of our time,’ according to The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones. Immersive and exhilarating, mythical and magnificent, and transcendent in theme and technical prowess, Viola’s work has seen him described as ‘the Rembrandt of the video age’; the sobriquet is totally deserved.

Across three different sites – the Art Gallery of South Australia, Queen’s Theatre, and St Peter’s Cathedral – seven vividly realised, dramatic and compelling examples of Viola’s work will be displayed throughout the festival. Entry to the exhibitions is free, though a charge does apply for patrons wishing to attend the ‘in-conversation’ event with Viola and his wife, partner, and executive director of Bill Viola Studio, Kira Perov, at Radford Auditorium, Art Gallery of South Australia on Saturday 28 February at 2.30pm. The conversation will be hosted by Adelaide Festival’s Artistic Director, David Sefton.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Described as ‘an indispensable adornment of the American dance scene’ and featuring works performed by ‘supremely articulate dancers’, US company Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is little over a decade old, but has quickly developed an enviable reputation. Evolving classical ballet into contemporary forms, Cedar Lake’s 16 dancers will perform works created by some of the world’s most highly-sought after choreographers: Hofesh Shechter, Crystal Pite, Jiří Kylián and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. International arts festivals regularly feature exclusive drawcards: this Adelaide-only event will have dance fans gnashing their teeth if they miss out on tickets.

Gavin Bryars in Residence

One of Britain’s most significant contemporary composers, as well as an accomplished bassist and jazz improviser, Gavin Bryars appears exclusively in Adelaide for a special series of concerts and performances drawing from his extensive back-catalogue. Even for those familiar with his work, these rare Australian performances will be a treat; Bryars constantly adapts his early works for new settings and situations, ensuring that his melodic and harmonic structures are always fresh and engaging.

He will conduct the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his well-known early work, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and will join the Aventa Ensemble on stage for his fourth and latest opera, Marilyn Forever, starring Canadian soprano Anne Grimm in the title role. Bryars will also perform with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble in two chamber programs, playing a selection of his earlier works and more recent contemporary compositions, including a premiere commissioned by Adelaide Festival of Arts and The Song Company.


Scottish post-rock masters Mogwai have been hypnotising and assaulting audiences globally since 1995, their richly textured tracks shifting seamlessly from fragile soundscapes to sonic barrages across a series of albums stretching from Young Team (1997) to Rave Tapes (2013). Melancholy and brooding, uplifting and essential, Mogwai’s appearance in Adelaide is their first in 13 years. We’d also recommend another UK post-rock import appearing on the festival bill: Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic, whose cinematic soundscapes encompass brooding industrial sounds, glitchy electronica, frenetic rock and sky-scraping melodies.

Queensland Theatre Company – Black Diggers

Following critically acclaimed seasons in Sydney and Brisbane in 2014, the powerful Black Diggers – a landmark exploration of the contribution of Indigenous soldiers in WWI – comes to Adelaide direct from PIAF as part of a major national tour, before continuing on to Newcastle, Canberra, Melbourne and Bendigo. Directed by QTC’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, and written by Tom Wright, Black Diggers tells a story of heroic Aboriginal men who fought for a country that failed to recognise them as citizens. Balancing droll humour with brutality and sorrow, Black Diggers ‘will emerge as an important landmark of our theatre,’ according to ArtsHub reviewer Martin Portus. Adelaide, prepare yourself.

Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio – Jack and the Beanstalk

Given that Adelaide is already home to some of Australia’s best theatre companies for young people (Slingsby and Windmill, take a bow) bringing an international production for children to town for the Adelaide Festival might seem a little like taking coal to Newcastle. Nonetheless, we’re intrigued to see Jack and the Beanstalk, an Australian-Italian creation directed by Chiara Guidi of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio. Featuring a diverse ensemble of Australian artists, including Scott Wright of Erth Visual & Physical Inc, and contemporary circus practitioner Skye Gellmann, this darkly experimental fairy tale is sure to be the antithesis of the saccharine world of Disney.

State Theatre Company of South Australia – Beckett Triptych

Whether it’s the zeitgeist or simply reflective of the playwright’s enduring appeal, everyone is doing Beckett this year. For their part in proceedings, State Theatre Company SA presents a trio of rarely produced short Beckett plays: FootfallsEh Joe, and Krapp’s Last Tape. Regret and grief, black humour and existential terror and the end of days: the themes of these landmark works of modern theatre will be performed by Paul Blackwell, Peter Carroll and Pamela Rabe under the direction of Geordie Brookman, Nescha Jelk and Corey McMahon, and featuring sound design by the incomparable Jason Sweeney.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra – House of Dreams

Step into the homes of Bach, Purcell, Telemann and Vivaldi with this rare Australian performance by Canada’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; one of the world’s leading period-instrument orchestra, accompanied by narrator Blair Williams, who will share stories and shed light on the lives of the great composers and their patrons. Internationally renowned for its rich, exhilarating and exquisite performances, in this series of concerts the audience’s experience of the Orchestra will be enriched by hi-res projections of images from London, Paris, Delft, Leipzig and Venice, drawing those present into an illuminated and intimate world of fine art and glorious music.

Trent Parke – The Black Rose

The first Australian to become a Full Member of the renowned photographers’ cooperative, Magnum Photo Agency, Adelaide’s Trent Parke’s profile in his home town is surprisingly low – all the more so when one considers his mastery of light and form, and his ability to capture fleeting moments of wonder in that most ephemeral of studios, the street. Parke’s exhibition for Adelaide Festival, The Black Rose, is the culmination of seven year’s work; a sharp-edged meditation on the way in which the past infiltrates the present and in turn can influence the future.

Valentijn Dhaenens  SmallWaR

At last year’s Adelaide Festival, Belgian theatre-maker performed the fascinating BigMouth, a judiciously edited and occasionally chilling selection of some of the great speeches of history. He returns this year with the exclusive Australian premiere of SmallWaR; a meditative companion piece exploring the physical and emotional fallout of war. Whereas BigMouth focused on oratory and high drama – the recruitment speeches of Pericles and Patton, Goebbels and Bin Laden – SmallWaR gives voice to the victims who heeded that call, weaving testimonies and insights into ruined lives from letters and memoirs of those who served in wars across the centuries. Given the skill displayed by Dhaenens in assembling and juxtaposing texts and intentions in his earlier work, this latest production is sure to prove moving, disconcerting and powerful.

Adelaide Festival of Arts 2015 
27 February – 15 March

FEATURED IMAGE: Bill Viola, Fire Woman, 2005 (detail). Video/sound installation. Performer: Robin Bonaccorsi. Photo: Kira Perov.