The longest running festival takes place in a city which inspires artistic dreaming like nowhere else on Earth, Director Wendy Martin tells NOW! Jakarta.

Chevron Gardens at Elizabeth Quay, Perth. Photo courtesy of Perth Festival/NOW!JAKARTA

How has the festival evolved over the years? 
Perth is one of the world’s youngest cities but it hosts the longest-running arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere. In 2019 the Festival celebrates its 66th birthday. It grew out of the University of Western Australia’s annual summer school entertainment nights as a ‘festival for the people’ to meet community demand for cultural nourishment after World War II. Since then, the Festival has spread beyond the university campus to embrace the entire city and its people. The festival has led decades of cultural growth in Perth. It has supported the development of Western Australia’s major ballet, orchestra, opera and theatre companies, and has been a platform for local and international artists to exchange ideas and influences. Music, dance and theatre shows have had their world premieres here in Perth before touring internationally. The festival and this city share the most dynamic region in the world, the Indian Ocean Rim and East Asian time zone where more than 60% of the world’s population lives. Every Artistic Director brings their own life experience, passion and unique vision to the Festival. The thing that remains constant is Perth, its people and its unique position on the western edge of the ancient Australian continent overlooking the Indian Ocean.

What's it like being part of the longest running festivals and what has your experience here been like compared to the other festivals you've worked on?
One of the first things I discovered when I arrived in Perth in 2015 was how treasured the Festival is by the community. Each summer for 65 years the Festival has brought thrilling international arts experiences to the world’s most remote capital city. In much larger cities like Sydney and London, where I have worked in the past, arts festivals compete for attention in a crowded calendar of attractions. I have been determined to make a Festival that could only happen here in Perth, where the Indian Ocean, Swan River and vast open spaces inspire artistic dreaming like nowhere else on Earth. I have loved discovering the things about the city and the South West of Western Australia that make it unique. I have been inspired by indigenous Noongar culture and the extraordinary environment of the South West – one of just 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world. I am particularly excited about the 2019 return of Boorna Waagniny: The Trees Speak, a landmark event that turns Perth’s beloved Kings Park into a nocturnal wonderland. It’s a vivid expression of Noongar culture and a call to action on climate change wrapped up in the most spectacular and unforgettable experience.

Perth Festival Lotterywest Films at the outdoor cinema of UWA Somerville.

What is your criteria for selecting the broad range of programmes at the festival?
We present work by the world’s visionary makers, as well as celebrating Western Australian artists and stories. At the heart of our dreaming and planning is a commitment to celebrating diversity. The 2019 Festival presents the Australian premiere of Mozart’s The Magic Flute from Komische Oper Berlin and superstar opera director Barry Kosky. A joyous production using animated film and live action with a 1920’s silent movie aesthetic. We explore the cultures of our geographical neighbours. Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam bring their breathtaking acrobatics and stunning live music in their show Lang Toi (My Village) while Chinese and Australian performers bridge cultures through the universal power of music and dance in One Infinity.

We invite our audiences from around the world to discover the brilliant work being made here in Western Australia. The 2019 program includes seven world premieres of Western Australian work, all made through the lens of artists working in our unique corner of the world. A show that ticks all the boxes for me is Sunset, from Perth’s Strut Dance with Maxine Doyle from the UK’s Punchdrunk theatre group. Punchdrunk has pioneered a game-changing form of theatre by creating epic stories for roaming audiences to experience inside abandoned buildings.

Sunset is presented in the heritage site of an Old Men’s Home on a cliff above the Swan River. Inspired by its history as a home for elderly farm workers, prospectors and convicts, an amazing cast will transform Sunset into a place where classical myth collides with WA stories.

 Boorna Waanginy.

Can you tell us a bit about how the festival reflects Perth as a city?
Summer time in Perth is distinguished by warm dry days and beautiful balmy evenings perfect for enjoying fantastic arts events outdoors. Our spectacular 2019 opening event Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak will beckon visitors and locals alike to Kings Park, Perth’s beautiful central city playground and a treasure trove of botanical splendour and biodiversity. We also celebrate the great outdoors in our two beautiful outdoor cinemas showing the very best international films on big screens under the stars. Our Chevron Gardens contemporary music venue invites people to dance the night away to the world’s most exciting live acts on the bank of the Swan River against the backdrop of the CBD. We will present an eclectic line-up of irresistible music from funk to soul and rock and roll. The Gardens are a place to gather together with artists and audiences from around the world and enjoy food, drinking and dancing whether or not you have a ticket to the main stage.

Although it's hard to pick a few, what would you most recommend for Indonesian audiences looking to visit the festival?
Kings Park is one of the biggest and most majestic inner city park in the world, with more than 6 million visitors each year. Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak will give Indonesian visitors to Perth a unique opportunity to experience a magnificent showcase of our Noongar culture and to appreciate one of our State’s most popular tourist attractions in a new light. The light and sound spectacular will showcase two streams of understanding about our land – Noongar knowledge and modern science – within the beauty of our unique natural environment. The nocturnal walk-through experience is exclusive to Perth.

I also am passionate about dance and we have invited two of the world’s most exciting dance artists South Africa’s Dada Masilo and Ireland’s Michael Keegan Dolan, to bring their thrillingly reimagined productions of the classic ballets Giselle and Swan Lake. Perth indigenous contemporary dance company Ochre has collaborated with India’s Daksha Sheth Dance to present Kwongan (Sand), that will dazzle audiences in an outdoor setting amongst the trees at the Fremantle Arts Centre. While the Western Australian Ballet invites audiences to dine under the stars before watching dance in the amazing setting of a rock quarry converted into an outdoor amphitheatre at City Beach.

Ranjit Jose

Ranjit Jose

Ranjit is a previous Editor of NOW! Jakarta. A cultural journalist and anthropologist by training, he has reported on arts and culture for a variety of publications in the USA and Indonesia.