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Sparks set to fly at Perth s arts festival
Threepenny Opera. Picture: Lesley Leslie-Spinks

A year after flying French acrobats scattered a blanket of feathers over Perth, another Gallic troupe is set to make sparks fly on the first weekend of the 2013 Perth International Arts Festival.

The free drumming and pyrotechnics spectacle BPM (Bombs Per Minute) by Les Commandos Percu comes to Langley Park on February 9 after having opened the arts festival for the 2012 London Olympics.

"We wanted something big and dramatic," Perth Festival artistic director Jonathan Holloway said before launching the 2013 Festival program tonight.

"It is intended to be almost the exact opposite of this year's Place des Anges, which was gentle and beautiful and soft and dreamy. This is more 'kaboom'. The pyrotechnics are all quite close to the audience so it gets the pulse racing."

Mr Holloway expects BPM to attract 40,000 people as one of the highlights of the three-week festival, which opens on February 8 with a low-key evening of Shakespearean sonnets in Nyoongar language and music from Archie Roach at Matilda Bay. The public will then be invited to the adjoining University of WA to watch LUMINOUSnight, a light show to celebrate 100 years since students first arrived at the campus.

Mr Holloway's second Festival features Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, the National Theatre of Scotland, Dublin's Gate Theatre, the Berliner Ensemble, Sydney Theatre Company, the Ballet National de Marseille and British conductor Sir Richard Armstrong.

The contemporary music program is led by gothic-world music duo Dead Can Dance at the Perth Concert Hall and by funk titan Maceo Parker, indie rocker Cat Power, Seattle hip-hop artist Macklemore and David Lynch's muse Chrysta Bell at a revamped Festival Gardens.

"My first Festival felt like a first date with all the flowers and chocolates," Mr Holloway said. "This one feels like a more complex conversation and taking some of those ideas about or place in the world further. It feels a richer Festival in terms of complexity."

The City of Light, as Perth was dubbed by astronaut John Glenn in 1962, will be lit up by many Festival events including Scattered Light, acclaimed American artist Jim Campbell's extensive light-globe canopy in Kings Park.

"There is a whole sense of light and dark and illumination throughout the Festival, Mr Holloway said. "If there was a Festival theme, that would be the nearest thing to one."

Families can look forward to the Spanish surrealist dance show Clouds, the new WA play Duck, Death and the Tulip, the juvenile labyrinth The House of Dreaming and Polyglot Theatre's interactive rubber-band forest Tangle. The small-top Circus Ronaldo from Belgium will put on a show in Northbridge's Russell Square.

Canadian literary great Margaret Atwood headlines a Perth Writers' Festival bill which includes Anna Funder, Dennis Lehane and China Mieville at UWA.

The 2013 budget is set at $17.5 million, up from $15.7 million this year due largely to $1.5 million extra from Lotterywest, taking the State agency's commitment to $7 million. About 187,000 people are expected to spend $4.8 million on tickets.

PIAF's popular outdoor film season begins at the Somerville and Joondalup Pines on November 25.

The Festival runs from February 8 to March 2. General public tickets go on sale on Monday.

TEN HIGHLIGHTS:

BPM (Bombs per Minute): French pyrotechnic-percussion troupe Les Commandos Percu will come out with guns blazing on the opening weekend. (Langley Park, February 9)

Clouds: Spanish dancers Aracaladanza create a charming family show inspired by the surreal art of Rene Magritte. (Regal Theatre, February 14-17)

The Secret River: The Sydney Theatre Company assembles a dream team to adapt Kate Grenville's colonisation novel. (His Majesty's Theatre, February 25-March 2)

Bluebeard's Castle: Sir Richard Armstrong and Lisa Gasteen lead a Bartok operatic double bill with the WASO and WA Youth Orchestra. (Concert Hall, March 2)

The Threepenny Opera: Led by Robert Wilson, the Berliner Ensemble makes its first and only Australian appearance with a Brecht-Weill musical theatre classic. (His Majesty's Theatre, February 6-11)

Mission Drift: Nearly five centuries of the American Dream played out in a raucous night of blues, gospel and jazz from New York theatre group, The TEAM. (Heath Ledger Theatre, February 22-March 2)

Margaret Atwood: The Man Booker Prize winning author of The Handmaid's Tale, The Blind Assassin and The Flood leads the literary line-up. (Concert Hall, February 23)

Dead Can Dance: The gothic-world music duo reform for their first Australian visit in 20 years (Concert Hall, February 9)

The Truth 25 Times a Second: Human flesh and steel ladders feature in Chinese visual artist Ai Weiwei's collaboration with the Ballet National de Marseille. (Heath Ledger Theatre, February 8-11)

Philip Glass: The maestro of minimalism presents his complete 29 Piano Etudes after writing the final three just for PIAF (Concert Hall, February 16)