By Mark Eggleton
If you’re looking for a near-perfect day at the Adelaide Festival (3-19 March, 2017), it starts with breakfast at a cafe on Adelaide’s Peel or Leigh Streets, says the Festival’s director Rachel Healy.
Healy is returning to her hometown with co-director Neil Armfield for their first Adelaide Festival and they’ve put together an eclectic and exciting program for what is acknowledged as being one of the world’s favourite annual arts events.
“It can be much harder to program a festival in a big international city such as London or New York because there is so much else going on all year round. But in smaller cities such as Adelaide and Edinburgh, we can create what are regarded as the best festivals in the world,” says Healy.
“Because the city is walkable, we really take over the city, and what makes it exciting is putting together a series of events that could only happen here, that could only happen in the context of Adelaide.”
Feed the mind and belly
A good example of the festival being part of the city’s fabric is the way you can make a complete day of it. Following breakfast, the ideal day continues at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden for a session at Writers’ Week and a small browse of the book tent before morning tea.
After picking up a book from one of the Week’s writers in the tent, it’s off to the Art Gallery of South Australia to sample Versus Rodin: Bodies across space and time followed by a long, late lingering lunch at Peel Street restaurant to sample Jordan Theodoros’s supremely fresh and delicious creations.
After lunch, maybe a visit to the South Australian Museum to wander through the exhbition Yidaki: Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia. Then it’s off for a few quiet beverages on the rooftop at 2KW, one of Adelaide’s stylish rooftop bars.
As night descends, it’s time to experience one of the festival’s showstoppers: Neil Armfield’s brilliant adaptation of Kate Grenville’s 2005 novel The Secret River which is being staged in the stunning natural outdoor amphitheatre setting of the Anstey Hill quarry. Alternatively, there is the Australian premiere of Schaubühne Berlin’s searing adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III from director Thomas Ostermeier.
After the theatre, says Healy, festival goers should head to the Riverbank Palais, the Festival’s nightly club on the Torrens riverbank, to party the night away.
Then … bed, sleep and the next day, kind of a repeat but with a whole new exciting itinerary.
Healy and Armfield’s first Adelaide Festival together might be slightly smaller than others but according to Healy, “it’s a festival with no B-team”.
Packed with unmissable highlights
“Everything in the festival could be a headliner. We have carefully curated each event and ended up with a series of works that could not lose, so it’s hard to choose a favourite. It’s a bit like trying to choose your favourite child.
“The job for Neil and I, is to put in front of an audience the most exciting, thrilling and memorable works we can and while we’re starting to see some themes emerge, there are no overarching themes,” says Healy.
If there is any thematic consistency, she suggests it could be the question of land ownership – The Secret River – or the landscape through music – Italian trio La Gaia Scienza playing 19th century chamber music from the likes of Schubert – or conflict, the subject of the sound installation Gardens Speak from Lebanese-British artist Tania El Khoury, featuring the stories of 10 Syrians whose untimely deaths are just a few of the thousands of untold stories emanating from Syria’s brutal civil war.
For Healy, the key to programming a festival is to share great human stories and that starts with lived experiences.
A highlight, and a coup, is the return of former Adelaide Festival director Barrie Kosky with his extraordinary production of George Frideric Handel’s Saul. For Healy, it’s a rare opportunity for Australians to celebrate a “really remarkable artist who has gone on to be globally significant.”
“Barrie (Kosky) has almost singlehandedly rekindled the interest and popularity of opera as an art form. Saul is so thrilling – a remarkable singular vision and a great centrepiece for our first festival,” Healy says.
Something extra special is the Chamber Landscapes program curated by Anna Goldsworthy at the UKARIA Cultural Centre (formerly Ngeringa Cultural Centre) at Mount Barker Summit. For Healy, the centre, which is built through the generosity of the Klein family, is a rare example of an individual with a vision giving a city a great cultural institution. She cites Sydney’s White Rabbit Gallery and Hobart’s extraordinary MONA as other examples.
“These are people who should be acknowledged and celebrated because they have given these gifts to our nation,” she says.
UKARIA is just one example of how Adelaide has transformed itself in recent decades according to Healy. Coming home for the festival she says the city has really changed.
“It was always known for its food and wine culture but it has evolved. We’re a city filled with young remarkable chefs and restaurateurs and they all support each other. Our great food and produce has become part of everyday life for a great deal of people in Adelaide.
“I’m so looking forward to sampling some of these chefs’ creations down at the Festival Club every night but then again I’m looking forward to all of it – the whole Festival program.”
The Adelaide Festival runs from the 3rd of March to the 17th of March, 2017.
For more information about South Australia, click here.
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are at Adelaide Airport.