2018 Adelaide Festival program announced

An outdoor concert by music icon Grace Jones and an explosive new theatre epic from the director of Roman Tragedies are among highlights of the 2018 Adelaide Festival program.

Oct 24, 2017, updated Dec 21, 2017
Grace Jones performing live in Spain this year. Photo: EPA

Grace Jones performing live in Spain this year. Photo: EPA

The second program of joint artistic directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield features 48 theatre, music, opera, dance, film and visual arts events, including four world premieres and 14 Australian premieres.

Healy and Armfield – whose contract has just been extended for a further two festivals until 2021 – say they have programmed works of “mighty scale and whispering intimacy, all of them fired by an ambition to enthral, challenge, awe and inspire”.

Jones, who hasn’t performed in Adelaide for 36 years, will kick off the Festival on February 28 in Elder Park, on the same stage where the Lost and Found Orchestra will play several days later on the opening weekend (March 3-4).

Healy says Jones is still an incredible live performer.

“With the passing of Prince and David Bowie, there’s kind of one art-rock aristocrat remaining of that era and it would be hard to think of anybody who more perfectly straddles the world of visual performance and visual arts with the world of rock and roll than Grace Jones,” Healy says.

“Her voice is really without parallel.”

Dutch director Ivo van Hove and his company Toneelgroep Amsterdam, who brought their acclaimed six-hour political drama Roman Tragedies to the 2014 Adelaide Festival, will return next year with Kings of War.

Kings of War. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Slightly shorter, at four-and-a-half hours, Kings of War is a synthesis of five Shakespearean plays: Henry V, Henry VI parts I, II and III, and Richard III. It is performed by 17 actors in a “war room”, with multi-media effects amplifying the action.

“It’s a very contemporary amalgam of those plays and its focus is political power at a time of war,” Healy says.

The New York Times, in giving it a rave review, compared it to binge-watching of House of Cards or Sopranos, and it really is a similar feeling in that it’s so compelling.”

Another theatre highlight, also from a Dutch company, will be Hotel Modern’s The Great War, which was adapted from interviews with veterans and correspondence from soldiers, especially letters form a French soldier discovered decades after the war ended.

The story is set in the north of France during World War I, with the live animation company creating and animating miniature worlds on stage from things such as sawdust, parsley sprigs and nails. These are projected onto a giant screen, accompanied by live sound effects.

“You would swear you are looking at a documentary of some kind but the magic of it is that you are watching it all being created around you from these tiny toys and props,” Armfield says.

The theatre program also includes Australian Simon Stone and Belvoir Theatre’s 21st-century adaptation of Seneca’s bloody tragedy Thyestes (“It’s full-on but you will never forget it”, says Healy), and Belgian youth theatre company BRONKS’s Us/Them, which recounts through the eyes of two children the deadly siege by Chechen terrorists of a public school in Beslan in 2004.

The Great War. Photo: Joost van den Broek

The Festival’s second major exclusive music event, after the previously announced operatic adaptation of Hamlet, will be German music ensemble Rundfunkchor Berlin’s performance of Brahms’ Human Requiem.

“This is not a concert,” begins the program description of Human Requiem, which sees the singers dressed in ordinary clothes and moving around the venue (the Ridley Centre at Adelaide Showground) to dissolve the barriers between audience and performers. They even swing – literally – from the rafters.

“We think it’s an extraordinary work and will provide an experience unlike any you have had before,” Healy says.

In addition to Grace Jones, the program features three other “great divas”: American jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, who will perform for one night at the Festival Theatre; Australian indie-pop musician Kate Miller-Heidke, who will present a concert with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at the Town Hall, and Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, who will perform at the Town Hall and as part of the Chamber Landscapes series at Ukaria Cultural Centre.

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The Riverbank Palais – based on the controversial pontoon on the River Torrens – will return for the full 18 days of the 2018 Adelaide Festival, with a program of talks, artist forums, long lunches, late-night DJs and live music from artists including Lior, Archie Roach, and Harry James Angus of The Cat Empire.

Armfield insists the Palais will be “even better this year”, but says that although it will have some bars, it won’t be surrounded by a large enclosure.

“We want it to be what it was meant to be: this sort of jewel on the water.”

The first line-up of guest authors for Adelaide Writers’ Week (March 3-8) has also been announced, and includes Alexander McCall Smith, Louise Penney, Barbara Kingsolver, AC Grayling, Michelle de Kretser, Sophie Laguna, Alan Hollinghurst and Tim Rogers.

Other 2018 Adelaide Festival highlights include:

Lost and Found Orchestra: The brainchild of the creators of Stomp, Lost and Found Orchestra will be joined by hundreds of SA participants playing “found-object” percussion instruments for two outdoor ticketed performances in Elder Park on March 3 and 4.

Lost and Found Orchestra. Photo: Steve McNicholas

Hamlet: Neil Armfield’s production of Australian composer Brett Dean’s adaptation of Hamlet, originally presented at the UK’s Glyndebourne Festival, is this year’s big hitter. And as with last year’s Saul, the Festival says ticket sales are already exceeding expectations.

The Far Side of the Moon: Written and directed by Canadian theatre-maker Robert Lepage, whose acclaimed work Needles & Opium was part of the 2014 Festival, this show tells the story of two very different brothers who become entwined in the history of the Soviet-US space race.

Xenos: Akram Khan, who at 14 was part of Peter Brook’s Mahabharata in 1988, marks the end of his 30-year performance career with Xenos, a dance work inspired by the myth of Prometheus and co-commissioned by the Adelaide Festival.

Bennelong: After playing in other parts of the country, this Bangarra Dance Theatre production exploring the story and legacy of Aboriginal elder Woollarawarre Bennelong will finally come to Adelaide as part of the 2018 Festival.

Freeze! This performance art work – to be presented at the Grainger Studio, Adelaide Botanic Gardens and on Kangaroo Island – sees Dutch artist Nick Steur balance rocks on top of each other “at preposterous, impossible angles”. “There’s no magic, no tricks involved; just him finding the centre of energy of each rock and finding the way in which they will balance each other … that moment where it starts to work is completely mesmerising,” says Armfield.

Dutch artist Nick Steur performs his balancing act. Photo: Alastair Bett

21: Memories of Growing Up: A video installation (showing at the State Library’s Institute Building) for which Swiss artist Mats Staub has recorded the stories of 100 people from around the world of different ages and backgrounds – from a member of the Hitler Youth at the end of WWII, to a drummer in a 1980s British punk band who discovered he wanted to sew – talking about what they were doing when they were 21.

The 2018 Adelaide Festival will run from March 2-18.


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