Festival sings to the stars

Seven Sisters – Photo credit: Jess J Wyld

Perth Festival turns 70 this year and looks to the stars, with an exciting program that invites the world back in and is packed with possibility.

By Ara Jansen

There’s nothing more human than sitting looking at the stars and wondering what it all means, says artistic director Iain Grandage. 

Iain Grandage

Celebrating the theme of djinda – stars – Perth Festival is looking both to the heavens and into the cosmos of the heart this year.

“It’s certainly a theme which can make us all feel connected – to each other and to the world,” says Iain, as the festival prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary. 

After a few years of restrictions this year’s theme is all the more perfect for reaching back out into the world – and indeed up to the stars – to reconnect with the power of art, with others and ourselves.

Djoondal is the free opening event, an immersive show using cutting-edge technology and ancient storytelling to tell the tale of the spirit woman with the long white hair who created the milky way and lives on in Joondalup.

Highlights of the festival are set to include musician Bjork’s rare performance of her theatrical extravaganza, Cornucopia, the thrilling gothic cine-theatre Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Sydney Theatre Company and the dance-drum sensation Manifesto.

Bjork Cornucopia – Photo credit: Santiago Felipe

Heading indoors this year, the contemporary music program takes over The Rechabite. It’s packed with a varied menu from Bon Iver, Peaches and riot girrrl pioneers Bikini Kill to psych rockers Mdou Moctar and Flewnt’s Boorloo Block Party. 

“The energy in this room is going to be amazing. There’s a great diversity in the program which is powered by the fact that pop and contemporary music have the wonderful ability to be right on the pulse of contemporary society. This is the first time we’ve had international artists for a few years and the world has changed a lot in that time. I’m keen to hear what they have to say.”

The 2023 visual arts program explores not only the stars but the darker spaces between them with exhibitions, a series of short films and a new public artwork you can contribute to called Between Us.

Iain says he continues to be proud of the festival’s ongoing commitment to local Indigenous storytelling in all its forms. This year’s festival includes a meditation on women’s stories called Punkaliyarra, the WA Youth Theatre Company performing the world premieres of Seven Sisters and an inspiring outdoor concert called Songs for Freedom.

The much-loved Kronos Quartet celebrate its 50th anniversary by collaborating with Noongar composer Mattakitj for a world premiere, alongside presenting signature pieces from their vast repertoire. Reimagining John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes, The Cage Project is turned into a three-dimensional world at the hands of sound artist Matthias Schack-Arnott and French pianist Cedric Tiberghien.

Strange Jekyll and Hyde – Photo credit: Daniel Boud

There’s also the always-popular Lotterywest Films at the Somerville until April and the Literature & Ideas program at the Fremantle Arts Centre kicking off later this month.

“Looking at the stars is a very healthy way to gain some perspective on what we think we can achieve. For the last few years, we have paid more attention to our own space, and now it’s interesting to welcome visitors from other places and first nations artists from around the world. There’s a great sense of energy about that and a great appetite to connect.” 

Perth Festival runs from February 10 to March 5. For program and ticketing details: www.perthfestival.com.au