Perth Festival will overflow with Western Australian creativity as they celebrate the 2021 theme of Bilya (river) this summer. Just as the river is a source of revival, play and reflection, Perth Festival 2021 will be both celebratory and contemplative, focusing attention on local brilliance that would thrill audiences anywhere in the world. The world may not be making its way to Perth at Festival time – but in so many ways it is already here, making up the rich diversity of the Western Australian community.
The Festival opens with City of Lights, kicking off a 21-night spectacular takeover of the Perth Cultural Centre – and Tim Minchin (pictured above) performs the world-premiere of his new album Apart Together orchestrated live in concert with West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Kings Park.
The centrepiece of City of Lights will be the epic imaginary world of Bilya Beneath, an hourly immersive 360-degree spectacle of music, projections and animations washing Perth Cultural Centre’s buildings in vivid colour in tribute to Northbridge’s submerged waterways.
As Perth Festival’s new home for 2021, City of Lights will also bring live music and other tasty treats from the State Theatre Centre of WA Courtyard to the street fare of Lantern Lane behind The Rechabite and all venues in between. The full Contemporary Music program will drop on Thursday, January 21.
WA Museum Boola Bardip hosts several special events, including the exquisite One and Many chamber music series staged under the famous Blue Whale, and the landmark exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters from the National Museum of Australia.
“Perth Festival 2021 is a love song to this place – to its people, its artists, its stories, its river,” says Artistic Director Iain Grandage. Bilya also honours the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River). It is deeply entwined with the creation story of this place through the presence of the Wargl, the embodiment of all fresh water sources for Whadjuk Noongar people. “This is the first and pre-eminent story of our river,” Grandage says. “But a river runs through us all – our histories and bloodlines entwined – leaving memories everywhere.”
Productions along the river speak to the many histories of this unique place we call home, including Witness Stand at significant sites from Mandoon (Guildford) to Wadjemup (Rottnest), BESIDE at Peninsula Farm in Maylands and The Cherry Orchard at Sunset Heritage Precinct in Dalkeith.
South of the river, the Festival will come to a joyous conclusion on Sunday, February 28 with Wild Things (pictured above), a takeover of Perth Zoo where families can share a different habitat with WA’s top authors, musicians, performers and other creative creatures. Other family fare includes Barking Gecko Theatre’s new show HOUSE and Freeze Frame Opera’s The Little Mermaid.
Indigenous-led art continues to be at the heart of Perth Festival, with highlights including the Noongar-led walking performance Galup at Lake Monger, the Noongar dub of Bruce Lee’s iconic kung-fu film Fist of Fury Noongar Daa and Koort (Heart), Gina Williams’ and Guy Ghouse’s song cycle in Government House Gardens. Yirra Yaakin also brings an Indigenous voice to the queer love story The Sum of Us, the play that inspired the 1990s Jack Thompson-Russell Crowe film.
The extensive 2021 program also includes 18 world premieres and 44 Festival commissions, more than twice as many as in 2020. “It’s a joy to celebrate the work of local independent artists,” Grandage says. “The program is filled with exciting new commissions which reflect the breadth and reach of our shared community.”
These include Black Brass, a feast of music, theatre and storytelling by African-born writer and performer Mararo Wangai, the choose-your-own theatre adventure of The Last Great Hunt’s Whistleblower, Ian Sinclair’s poetic family drama Whale Fall and Jay Emmanuel’s new play Children of the Sea, whose young migrant cast take the audience on a gripping voyage of survival.
New dance works abound, including world premieres of Co3 Contemporary Dance’s moving Archives of Humanity (pictured above), Emma Fishwick’s mesmerising Slow Burn, Together and the multi-venue promenade of MoveMoveMove presented by the Blue Room.
They share the 2021 program with acclaimed, established Festival favourites Black Swan State Theatre Company, West Australian Ballet, West Australian Opera and WASO.
WA’s magnificent State orchestra will delight audiences in many ways across the 2021 program. The combined musical might of WASO and the WA Youth Orchestra join Noongar singers Barry McGuire and Della Rae Morrison for Dreams of Place, two special opening-weekend concerts at Perth Concert Hall. In an epic concert event later in the Festival, WASO and Voyces choir supplement Rachel Dease’s soaring soundscapes from her brand-new album Hymns for End Times at His Majesty’s Theatre.
Warm summer evenings and glorious music make an intoxicating mix for the Valentine’s Day treat of The Jazz Line, a journey through jazz’s greatest moments in the gardens of Government House, and WA Opera’s two-night 30th anniversary special presentation of City of Perth Opera in The Park in Supreme Court Gardens on the final weekend of the Festival.
Beneath UWA Somerville’s famous pines, the 17-week Lotterywest Films (pictured above) makes an opening night splash on Monday, November 30 with the Australian premiere of the WA-made Venice Film Festival hit The Furnace. The ever-popular film season promises many idyllic nights under the stars all summer with some of the biggest names in international cinema including Olivia Colman, Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Tucci, Gael García Bernal and Mads Mikkelsen – plus surfing champ Jodie Cooper.
The Festival will also continue to celebrate WA’s burgeoning literary scene by spreading the Literature & Ideas Program across three weekends and extending events from Fremantle to Perth to Joondalup. Hot spots will be the Day of Ideas: Just Beneath the Surface with a multitude of Noongar voices leading vital discussions about our river and our city at Perth Concert Hall and the Literature Weekend at His Majesty’s Theatre.
Local luminaries like Craig Silvey, Elizabeth Tan, Rebecca Giggs and Rebecca Higgie will shine alongside live-streamed guest stars such as Julia Gillard, Trent Dalton, Maaza Mengiste, Brit Bennett and Kate Grenville. The full Literature & Ideas program will be announced on Thursday, January 21.
The Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery’s survey of celebrated WA artist Olga Cironis, Dislocation, will be a highlight of the Visual Arts Program, as will an extensive Abdul-Rahman Abdullah retrospective at John Curtin Gallery and The Gathering, a seminal PICA exhibition by First Nations artists from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, reflecting on gatherings of people, ideas and objects in large numbers in challenging times.
“There are so many fantastic stories in Festival 2021 which reveal new and unexpected insights into who we think about when we say, “We are Western Australians,” Grandage says. “We hope this Festival will be a beacon for us to gather around in all our wonderful diversity here on Noongar Boodjar. We can’t wait to share it with you.”
Perth Festival runs from Friday, February 5 to Sunday, February 28, 2021. Lotterywest Films runs from Monday, November 30, 2020 to Sunday, March 28, 2021. For more information and to buy tickets, head to www.perthfestival.com.au