View Comments
Festival ensemble will leave lasting mark
The Truth 25 Times a Second.

The outdoor films have been running for 2½ months and the first exhibition opened last week but the Perth International Arts Festival is about to unleash all the forces at its disposal at the weekend.

Many of the hundreds of international artists have already arrived, including headliner acts the Berliner Ensemble and the Ballet National de Marseille.

There are 77 cast and crew alone in the Berliner Ensemble's The Threepenny Opera, which opens at His Majesty's Theatre tomorrow night.

The 61st Perth Festival starts officially tomorrow with Beginnings, a free twilight gathering at Matilda Bay featuring Archie Roach, an Aboriginal choir and Shakespearean sonnets performed in Noongar after a season at London's Globe Theatre. People will then be free to cross the road to join in the LUMINOUSnight centenary celebration at the University of WA.

On Saturday night, the French fireworks and drums show BPM (Bombs Per Minute) will light up Langley Park after being the curtain-raiser to Britain's cultural olympiad last year.

After the success of the Place des Anges feather-fest in his first year last year, Festival artistic director Jonathan Holloway said there was no fear of suffering "second-album syndrome" this year.

"It is kind of like the 61st album syndrome really for the Festival, given the number of extraordinary things that have happened (since it began)," Mr Holloway said.

This year's program is bigger than last year, with more theatre, dance and free family events. It includes 31 Australian premieres, 25 Australian exclusives, three world premieres and more than 820 events and 250 film screenings.

The $17.5 million budget is up from $15.7 million last year, mainly thanks to $1.5 million extra from Lotterywest, taking the agency's commitment to $7 million.

About 187,000 people are expected to spend $4.8 million on tickets. Sales are tracking ahead of last year, with 20 shows either sold out or selling fast.

"Our ambition is to grow the Festival at a pace that is right for the city," Mr Holloway said.

"The feathers were a game-changer and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We will always have had the angels.

"This year we build on that and there will be some more surprising and exciting moments, some of which even we don't know about."

Mr Holloway said the conjunction of the curated Perth Festival with the open-access Fringe World festival, which opened two weeks ago, was great for the health of both organisations and for audience choice.

"I think the two balance each other out," he said.

"We have not seen any negative impact at all on what we are doing. It is just plus, plus."

The Perth Cultural Centre, already buzzing with Fringe events, will be enhanced further when the Perth Festival opens its revamped Festival Gardens tonight with a sold-out performance by American funk titan Maceo Parker.

The temporary 1250-person venue behind the WA Museum has been bolstered with more free performances, extra furnishings inspired by the CY O'Connor pipeline and a new late-night food market.

Over the railway line in Forrest Place, more than 26 tonnes of rice, each grain representing the 1.54 billion people in our time zone, will be arranged in varying, shifting piles in the Perth GPO building to tell a statistical story of our region.

"Festivals can give temporary transformation that shows the city in a new light and can lead to permanent change," Mr Holloway said, citing the 2010 Jeppe Hein water installation, which led to the permanent placement of a bigger version in Forrest Place three months ago.

A successful arts festival did more than transplant international artists and shows; it also helped graft that international excellence on to the existing local creative stock, he said.

Two examples this year were BPM, which features more than 20 local performers, and the free Argentinean street performance La Marea in Subiaco, which has been remade with a specific Perth flavour with dozens of local actors, directors and writers.

"I don't think festivals should fly in and fly out," Mr Holloway said. "I don't think they should rock up in a place, do 23 days of stuff and then run away. It doesn't grow the market."

The Festival runs until March 2, with some of the key events reserved for the final week, including the world premiere of the Sydney Theatre Company's frontier drama The Secret River and the Indian aerial dance show Shiva Shakti.

"We have things coming to a crescendo and that is difficult in a festival straddling four weekends," Mr Holloway said. "See everything. March is for sleeping."