2013: Thanks for the arts memories

Jim Campbell with Scatterd Light at PIAF 2013. Picture: Ian Munro/WA News

It was an illustrious start to the year as Winthrop Hall was bathed in light for the University of WA's centennial party. It also was the opening night of the Perth International Arts Festival, featuring Jim Campbell's exquisite Scattered Light installation.

By that time in early February, the frivolity of Fringe World was already in full swing in the Perth Cultural Centre and other Fringe hubs.

The four-week fiesta of cabaret, theatre, comedy, music and general good times was a huge hit with audiences and artists alike, making many people sit up and pay attention to the power of the arts to remake the urban fabric.

By the end of 2013, though, we had sobered up a little as the light was doused on the Art Gallery of WA's mini-blockbuster series of exhibitions from New York's Museum of Modern Art. Blamed on poor audiences and high overheads, its curtailment was a blow for gallery director Stefano Carboni and a slap in the face for those wanting to see the best in international modern art. Sadly, they were too thin on the ground.

The State Government said it had poured more than $12 million into the modern masterpieces exhibition and was not prepared to put in any more. The Van Gogh, Dali and Beyond, which wrapped up at the start of this month, was the third and, as it turned out, last in the planned six-show series.

Meanwhile, the shadow of State austerity also hung over plans for the new $428 million WA Museum redevelopment after Treasury toe-cutters sliced nearly $66 million from the forward estimates in last week's Mid-Year Economic Outlook.

The August Budget had initially allocated $155.8 million to get the project started but the outlook statement released by Treasurer Troy Buswell said cash flows had been updated to better reflect progress so far and the expected construction schedule.

The estimated completion date remained unchanged, with the doors due to open in 2020.

The need for the new facility was highlighted by the crammed circumstances in which visitors viewed the Secrets of the Afterlife exhibition of Egyptian artefacts from the British Museum.

Although tightening purse strings meant bread was in limited supply in the arts, there was no shortage of circuses to keep the public amused.

Cirque du Solei toured Perth in several incarnations, starting with its insect-world extravaganza Ovo and stretching the bounds of credulity in more ways than one with The Immortal, its homage to Michael Jackson co-produced by the late star's estate.

Even Cavalia, still galloping along under the giant white tent at Belmont, traces its lineage to Cirque after being established by the Montreal circus co-founder Normand Latourelle.

The ever-impressive Slava's Snowshow was the best of a good bunch of circus shows, ranging from Circus Ronaldo at the Perth Festival, Trixie and Monkey and a phalanx of other bawdy shows at the Fringe, Circus Oz and Spiegelworld, which packed Crown Perth.

In the Crown Theatre, Barry Humphries called time on Dame Edna and his other lovable grotesques after nearly 50 years. Also packing them in were the big-budget musicals Jersey Boys, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, South Pacific and the arena version of Jesus Christ Superstar, starring Mel C and Tim Minchin.

That other Tim, Winton, proved with his third Black Swan State Theatre Company play Shrine that as a dramatist the multiple Miles Franklin-winner writes great books.

Great stage writing was beautifully realised by deft direction in two hipper Black Swan shows Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Mother…… With the Hat and David Greig's Midsummer (A Play With Songs). Other dramatic highlights included the two old pros Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy, A Clockwork Orange, Duck Death and the Tulip and Storm Boy from Barking Gecko and such Perth Festival stunners as The Secret River, Watt and The Threepenny Opera.

In the world of dance, Ochre Contemporary dance showed its promise and WA Ballet continued from strength to strength. Australian Dance Theatre dazzled with its Giselle-inspired G, its first Perth show in 17 years.

The classical music charge was led by two Dutch bands at opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum, Andrew Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra waltzing away at the Perth Arena and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Perth Concert Hall. Forgive me, Rieu fans, but only the Concertgebouw makes the highlights reel this year.

There was a changing of the guard at the WA Ballet to begin the year, with Aurelien Scannella replacing Ivan Cavallari. At the WA Opera, New York opera conductor Joseph Colaneri replaced Richard Mills and oversaw a strong year on the stage.

The year ended with WA Symphony Orchestra's English principal conductor Paul Daniel handing the baton to Israeli Asher Fisch. Daniel's best was a first-rate account of Mahler's Seventh Symphony while Fisch whetted appetites with a magnificent reading of Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.


Fringe World: So many great shows, some questionable ones and oodles of barmy, balmy atmosphere that screamed: here we are and this is now.

Scattered Light: The people of Perth fluttered around Jim Campbell’s exquisite light-globes installation in Kings Park like mesmerised moths.

The Secret River: This magnificent Australian genesis story of frontier conflict from the Sydney Theatre Company was an instant classic at the Perth International Arts Festival.

Jersey Boys: The bio-musical of the Four Seasons transcended the fan base in its perennial tale of mateship, loyalty and persistence set to pop chestnuts thrillingly arranged for the 21st century.

A Clockwork Orange: British ensemble Action to the Word stepped out from the giant shadow of Stanley Kubrick’s film version to brilliantly adapt Anthony Burgess’ tale of youth violence and mind control to the stage.

Perth International Jazz Festival: After curating a strong inaugural program, much of it free, organisers were blessed with superb weather and healthy, responsive crowds. Bring on 2014.

Jesus Christ Superstar: This arena spectacle honoured the rock-opera pomposity of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s creation and showcased the talents of Perth’s own Tim Minchin as Judas.

Driving Miss Daisy: Acting royalty Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones played off each other without missing a beat as the elderly matriarch and her black chauffeur.

G: After a 17-year wait, the Australian Dance Theatre returned to Perth with G, its high-octane, emerald green remake of Giselle.

Denis Kozhukhin: The Russian pianist gave the concerto performance of the year with WASO in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3.

Other Desert Cities: Director Kate Cherry and her first-rate cast and design team ensured Jon Robin Baitz’ play of internecine conflict was one of the most polished, sophisticated productions in the State Theatre Centre’s short history.

51 Shades of Maggie Muff: The delightfully dirty Irish parody of the Anastasia Steele mummy-porn phenomenon was no masterpiece but it put bums on seats, and that’s what hits do.

Slava’s Snowshow: Even after several repeat visits, the beauty, technical prowess and breathtaking joy de vivre of Slava Polunin’s clowning troupe remains one for the ages.

Onegin: This dramatic ballet about double unrequited love was performed with grace and aplomb by the burgeoning WA Ballet Company.

Storm Boy: As with Duck Death and Tulip earlier in the year, Barking Gecko’s Storm Boy (co-produced with the Sydney Theatre Company) was thrilling for young audiences and fulfilling for their parents (and grandparents).

Boats: In a great year for children’s theatre, Terrapin Puppet Theatre’s rollicking sailors’ yarn, Boats, sailed off with the awesome Awesome Festival.

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra: From Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the Dutch flagship orchestra dazzled on its first visit to Australia.

Beethoven Beer and Bratwurst: The Perth Chamber Orchestra struck gold at Fremantle’s B Shed with a novel and moving performance that shook up preconceptions of classical music.

Brief Encounter: UK’s Kneehigh Theatre took us on a thrilling theatrical ride in its wildly inventive shake-up up Noel Coward’s film and play. It was a tragedy that the season was curtailed because of poor ticket sales.

Cavalia: Majestic horses, pageantry and first-rate acrobatic tricks beneath a giant big top. What’s not to like?


The TEAM’s Mission Drift at PIAF was David Zampatti’s favourite show of the year (though not all that many others’); Caleb Lewis’s Death in Bowengabbie at The Blue Room; Belvoir’s I’m Your Man was a noble, inventive look at the boxing world; young Perth mezzo soprano Caitlin Cassidy singing Rossini’s Cruda Sorte! at a Morning Melodies at His Majesty’s Theatre; the Kronos Quartet in a moving reading of Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11


Michael Jackson: The Immortal: What was even stranger than this creepy, thematically shambolic mish-mash of Michael Jackson idolatory was that Cirque du Soleil was behind it.

MoMA series: The exhibition partnership between the Art Gallery of WA and New York’s Museum of Modern Art brought some undoubted masterpieces to Perth but misfired when it came to making the numbers add up.

Alienation: in a year of relative on-stage inaction from the Perth Theatre Company, this alien-abduction play created plenty of off-stage drama between the company and playwright Lachlan Philpott.

Jeremy Denk: the American pianist’s solos were admirable but in ensemble with the Australian Chamber Orchestra his playing sounded worryingly anaemic.

- Hits and misses by Stephen Bevis, David Zampatti, William Yeoman, Neville Cohn