As it did when the program was launched back in November, the post-match conversation with Jonathan Holloway comes back to the bouncy castle. It was with relief and pride that the Perth International Arts Festival artistic director did not have to activate the defence he had forearmed himself with then to deflect questions about any possible controversies. ("By the way, did I mention we will have a life-size Stonehenge bouncy castle?")
Well, Jeremy Deller's Sacrilege, the inflatable Stonehenge in Supreme Court Gardens, proved one of the popular favourites and Holloway managed to produce the biggest, most successful program in the Festival's history without any notable hiccups.
"Who knew that people loved the idea of bouncing on a bouncy castle?" Holloway says. "It was particularly pleasant after 5pm. Those Druids really knew what they were doing. When they went, 'Where are we going to build this?' I bet the conversation went, 'Shall we build it in Perth, very hot, what about building it in Salisbury where it rains?' It's life-size now but I reckon it shrank in the rain."
All jokes aside, high jinks and high art intersected at the cultural crossroads of the 2014 Festival.
Another hit in a park was Bianco, the misfit circus show under the big top in the mini-festival precinct of Ozone Reserve. Initial bookings were slow but quickly ramped up to sold-out levels on the back of great word-of-mouth.
There was rarefied, addictive excellence in Batsheva Dance Company, Denis O'Hare's An Iliad (so thrilling in the Grecian surrounds of the Sunken Gardens), Circa's Opus, Israel Galvan's La Curva and the artistry of soprano Dawn Upshaw's rendition of Maria Schneider's Winter Morning Walks.
The dance was exceptional and deeply nourishing, apart from the disappointment of Beijing Dance Theatre's Haze.
The theatre program was almost uniformly superb and satisfying, with the exception of Robert Wilson's take on Samuel Beckett's one-man play Krapp's Last Tape. It was superb, on its own terms, but most unsatisfying for many.
The penny dropped, while watching Krapp, of a thematic strand running through the program. There was an intriguing chiaroscuro charm to much of the work. Black and white costumes, sets and lighting dominated in Wilson's graphic-novel look, in Batsheva's Sadeh21, in Opus, in A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It), William Kentridge's silent-movie aesthetic and the shadow play of Ryota Kuwakubo's Tenth Sentiment toy-train installation.
Trains were another connection, entrancing visitors to the Paramodelic exhibition at John Curtin Gallery and the participatory I Think I Can model-train town at the WA Museum.
Another weird, less savoury, link was made between Mies Julie at the start of the Festival and indigenous Lear, The Shadow King, at the end. Both dealing with the fallout of white colonisation, they both climaxed with the central female characters stabbing themselves and their unborn babies to death.
Immersive theatre came to the fore in terrific presentations by Germany's Rimini Protokoll (the high-tech Situation Rooms), Britain's Punchdrunk (The House Where Winter Lives) and Look Left Look Right (You Once Said Yes), also from the UK.
Dampening the successes, the opening weekend theatre-fireworks spectacular Veles e Vents failed to fire and the Chevron Festival Gardens was a mixed experience, compounded by some destabilising withdrawals. The penultimate gig on Friday packed the promised powerhouse punch from hip-hop legends Public Enemy.
"The uncertainty in our contemporary music program was probably slightly less than is developing in the contemporary music industry at the moment in WA," Holloway said. "We are part of that circuit and if that circuit has some instability to it we are going to suffer from that."
Holloway says the Gardens attendances matched the heights of last year, although that was helped by one extra night in the venue, and the overall contemporary music audiences were up, with the sold-out gig by The National at Belvoir Amphitheatre.
The younger crowds drawn to the indie-rock programming at the Gardens also could be seen circulating among the record numbers attending the Perth Writers Festival, which had great success with its Game Changers video-gaming sessions in addition to the established novelists, poets and other established literary figures.
Since 2008 the Festival has seen an enormous growth in audience numbers, but it is the depth and breadth of this reach that must be most satisfying to the organisers. Overall attendances totalled 500,000, with about 200,000 of them buying tickets to the tune of a record-setting $6 million, well before the cash cow of the Lotterywest Festival Film season winds up next month.
Overall, Holloway says it was very gratifying to bring the Festival baby in to land.
"It has been a complex festival of big ideas, big statements and exciting artists," he said. "It has challenged people and brought them to new places and brought new places to us."
"The audiences have absolutely responded. It is great that people have stepped up and enjoyed it as much as we have."
THE FESTIVAL HITS
The Shadow King
A triumphant transposing of the Lear story of land, entitlement and internecine conflict into the modern Aboriginal world.
Booker T Jones
The great soul man performed an unforgettable gig to kick off 24 nights at the best outdoor live music venue in town.
There were some scalded-cat moments on the hot plastic but the Stonehenge bouncy castle was a boisterous delight in the evening.
A thrilling reminder of the dramatic power of a ripping yarn told brilliantly by an actor (Denis O’Hare) at the top of his game.
The Refusal of Time
William Kentridge’s multi-media masterwork evokes the march of time centred by the metronomic “breathing” of a big kinetic timber sculpture.
Not By Bread Alone
Breaking bread on stage with the dramatic bakers of Israel’s Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble was a memory to treasure, complemented by the Blackout Restaurant.
Anchored by a terrific band, the ebullient Meccano-set acrobatic high jinks of NoFit State Circus made this, as predicted by reviewer David Zampatti, the runaway festival hit.
The audience numbers were way up and the quality of the sessions invariably outstanding.
We were lucky enough to get not one but two elegant, challenging and witty productions from one of the best dance companies in the world.
THE FESTIVAL MISSES
Veles e Vents
The 20-year old fireworks-theatre opening spectacle felt a bit stale and demonstrated the limited international pool of artsy outdoor extravaganzas.
This explicit inter-racial South African drama came with a huge reputation but the histrionics felt repetitive and overplayed.
Krapp’s Last Tape
Robert Wilson is the emperor of the avant-garde but many locals thought he’d forgotten his clothes with this white-face take on Becket.
The impact of this Beijing Dance Theatre production was cruelled by poor forward-rows sightlines caused by a built-up stage and by choreography that fell short of its ambitions.