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Perth Festival 2023: Artistic director Iain Grandage reveals 70th anniversary season with Bjork and more

Tanya MacNaughtonThe West Australian
Bjork's Cornucopia will close Perth Festival 2023.
Camera IconBjork's Cornucopia will close Perth Festival 2023. Credit: Supplied

Perth Festival artistic director Iain Grandage is beyond thrilled that, after two years of featuring local performers, the festival’s 70th anniversary can be celebrated without pandemic-induced border restrictions, welcoming international performers to create alongside those local artists, as we honour stories from here and further afield.

“The vision was to welcome back as many international artists as we could, but international artists who were wanting to collaborate with local artists,” Grandage explains.

“For me, there’s one thing to share beautiful art from around the world inside the festival, but it’s an even better thing to have those artists working alongside local artists.”

There was no one else at the top of Grandage’s wish list best to do that than art-pop musician icon Bjork, who will return to Perth for the first time since 2008 to close Perth Festival with an Australian exclusive season of her live concert experience, Cornucopia.

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Co-directed by Bjork and Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, Cornucopia is a sci-fi pop concert based on her environmentally themed 2017 album, Utopia, with additional songs from new album Fossora and hits from her 30-year solo career.

Perth Festival artistic director Iain Grandage.
Camera IconPerth Festival artistic director Iain Grandage. Credit: Jessica Wyld

Described as a feast for all the senses, the theatrical week-long riverfront residency featuring musicians, flautists and a local choir will be performed in a custom-made pavilion on Langley Park to an audience of about 5000 a night.

Grandage admits Bjork at Perth Festival is a dream fulfilled, having included the popular singer-songwriter with uncompromising artistic vision in his 2018 pitch document when applying for the artistic director position.

“On the top of that list of who I would like to invite to the festival was Bjork,” he says.

“The person from Australia who was on that list was Tim Minchin, who came inside the 2021 program; that was a little easier to give him a ring.”

Bjork's Cornucopia will close Perth Festival 2023.
Camera IconBjork's Cornucopia will close Perth Festival 2023. Credit: Supplied

The Icelandic supernova is the epitome of Grandage’s theme for next year’s event, Djinda (meaning “stars” in Noongar), having featured a theme throughout each year of his Perth Festival tenure — Karla (fire) in 2020, Bilya (river) in 2021 and Wardan (ocean) in 2022.

“Before I was this, I was a composer, and there’s this thing for creatives called ‘blank page syndrome’ where when the entire world is your oyster, as it is with an international festival, the possibilities are almost too numerous, and therefore you wonder how best to give reason to your choices,” Grandage says.

“By having a theme, it helps focus conversations, it helps define some of the size of that page of possibility and also, it helps you ponder a similar theme across a number of different art forms, and therefore see the ways the art forms connect.

“I’ve found it, as have the artistic associates, a lovely way of defining our thinking and certainly defining what Noongar stories we would like to tell. It’s always led towards some very beautiful stories for us to feature in opening events or other events in the festival.”

Perth Festival 2023 opening event Djoondal.
Camera IconPerth Festival 2023 opening event Djoondal. Credit: Louise Coghill

As is the case for Perth Festival 2023 free public opening event Djoondal at Lake Joondalup on February 10-12, honouring the Noongar creation story of the spirit woman with long white hair who created the milky way and whose name lives on in Joondalup, with a spectacle of ancient storytelling, music and technology featuring lights, lasers and drones.

“The programming team always begin with these dreaming sessions with Noongar artists,” he shares.

“This was the story that got shared and then it was very clear that story needed to be told in the place where that story lives.

“What I like about the stars is that in Noongar folklore they are children, and there’s something about the handing down of knowledge from Elders to children that feels very appropriate in this world. That knowledge sharing and appreciation of old stories inside the context of the 70th anniversary festival, but also looking forward as we always do with children and their future care.”

Bikutsi 3000.
Camera IconBikutsi 3000. Credit: Supplied

With too many Perth Festival 2023 highlights to mention, the program includes Music of the Spheres with WA Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Theatre Company’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stephanie Lake Company’s powerful drumming/dance work, Manifesto, and urban-afro-futuristic dance show Bikutsi 3000 by Blick Bassy.

Virginia Gay in Cyrano.
Camera IconVirginia Gay in Cyrano. Credit: Supplied

There is also Black Swan State Theatre Company of WA’s presentation of Melbourne Theatre Company’s Cyrano by Virginia Gay, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet with Noongar composer Maatakitj (Dr Clint Bracknell), WA Opera’s Carmen at the WACA and WA Ballet’s Ballet at the Quarry: IN Cognito.

Kronos Quartet.
Camera IconKronos Quartet. Credit: Lenny Gonzalez

The 20-night contemporary music program will be presented at The Rechabite featuring acts like Kae Tempest, Peaches, Bikini Kill, Bon Iver and Nakhane, while A Day of Ideas and Writers Weekend return, along with Lotterywest Films that opens on November 21 with the Australian premiere of Blueback, adapted from Tim Winton’s acclaimed novella.

The visual arts program includes Michaela Gleave’s Between Us on AGWA’s rooftop, a new public artwork inviting visitors to help create a collaborative poem that will be translated into Morse code and beamed out into the night sky.

Michaela Gleave.
Camera IconMichaela Gleave. Credit: Diana Panuccio

Grandage says he hopes Perth Festival goers across the program arrive with joy and leave with even more affirmation of how lucky we are to live here.

“Both from the stories of this place, but also the way we get to celebrate the finest artists from around the world and have them share their stories, their artistry,” he says.

“We get to carry that both in our hearts and minds for a long time to come.”

Perth Festival is on from February 10 to March 5, 2023.

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