Performers took their last bows last night to close the Perth International Arts Festival, having helped make it the most successful in recent memory.
An array of big stars and buried gems were rewarded with record attendances and invariably warm reviews over the three-week Festival, the second under artistic director Jonathan Holloway.
The scope, diversity and prescient programming of Festival 2013 was crystallised during its second weekend. That was when Philip Glass presented the world premiere of all 20 of his Etudes, with the final three commissioned by PIAF, when the white-hot Macklemore and Ryan Lewis electrified the Festival Gardens and when La Marea redefined what could be done with street theatre.
Big names, such as Glass, Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet, Margaret Atwood, the Berliner Ensemble and the Gate Theatre Dublin delivered. But many of the pleasures came from low-key shows such as Duck, Death and the Tulip, The History of Everything and the enchanting Scattered Light at Kings Park.
The major disappointment for many was The Truth 25 Times a Second, the Ai Weiwei collaboration with the Ballet National de Marseille.
The Festival burst its banks at the box office, selling 190,000 tickets and exceeding its $4.8 million target with six weeks of the outdoor film season still to run.
Many shows sold out and the expanded theatre and dance program drew an unprecedented average capacity of 90 per cent.
Added to this was the success of Fringe World, which turned the Perth Cultural Centre into sideshow alley for a month. Perth audiences had demonstrated a hunger for arts and culture, Mr Holloway said.
"We have no idea what the saturation point is any more," he said. "The accepted wisdom doesn't hold any more in Perth. If you make a big, big offer, people respond in a way that is surprising and exciting for the future."
Mr Holloway reached for the fireworks metaphor in explaining how festivals enabled societies to release their pent-up energy positively.
Calling for more flexible venue and licensing regulations, he said PIAF and the Fringe had shown that controlled, proportionate release was the difference between a beautiful firework and a devastating bomb.
"Regulations do make it more difficult to produce a festival in WA than many places but when you achieve it, the results are huge and fantastic," he said.
On seeing All the People in the World, the installation at the Perth GPO that counts us all as single grains in various piles of rice, The Weekend West was reminded of the exchange that concludes the David Mitchell novel Cloud Atlas, now made into a film: "Only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean.
"Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?"
This Festival found those connections in so many ways. Top international artists worked with local emerging talents, tens of thousands swarmed through the hive of the Perth Writers Festival and common ground was found between shows in pubs, parks and proscenium arches. The pyrotechnics spectacular BPM gave the Festival the blast-off it needed on the opening weekend to counteract the closure of the Festival Gardens because of the St Jerome's Laneway Festival, which took over the Perth Cultural Centre.
All but this week of the Festival's contemporary music program overlapped Fringe World, whose success arguably pruned attendances in the gardens.The last of more than 820 events unfold tonight with Antibalas in the Festival Gardens and Bluebeard's Castle at the Perth Concert Hall.
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