The 2021 Adelaide Festival program was prepared in the most turbulent year of the festival’s 36-year history. Even the program launch, originally scheduled for November, had to be postponed after Adelaide’s stop-start lockdown. Despite the erratic circumstances, the festival announced today it will go ahead over 17 days from February 26 to March 14, with 70 events across theatre, music, opera, dance, film, food and visual arts.
Among the key attractions: The Plastic Bag Store, an installation by New York artist Robin Frohardt, who’s flying into Adelaide to oversee its recreation (after two weeks in quarantine) in the old Harris Scarfe in Rundle Mall. On first glimpse, the installation – which had a successful run in Times Square earlier this year – appears to be a pop-up supermarket. But on closer inspection, it’s a tragicomic ode to plastic waste: every handmade frozen dinner, box of breakfast cereal, milk container, deli salad and piece of fruit and veg is 100 per cent plastic, sourced from the streets and bins of New York City.
Another installation is Race Cards, by UK-based performance artist Selina Thompson. The piece features 1000 questions about race, written on cards. Audience members are invited to read as many as they can, then choose one to answer. It feels especially timely now, in light of the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
While most other Australian arts festivals have adapted to Covid with exclusively local line-ups, Adelaide Festival’s artistic directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy have pressed go on a number of international shows.
“We wanted to ensure Adelaide Festival remained true to a 60-year tradition of bringing great international artists and events to our city, while simultaneously supporting Adelaide companies and others from throughout Australia,” the pair said in a joint statement.
“We’ve also found ways of giving Adelaide audiences ‘international’ experiences so they remain connected to the thrilling and urgent creative voices of artists beyond our shores.”
In addition to bringing international performers and ensembles to Adelaide, the pair have also programmed a four-part Live from Europe series, which will enable Adelaide audiences to “attend” international performances live-streamed from Russia, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. Importantly, guests will watch the performances in a theatre setting – not at home – and the artists will be able to see and hear the audience. “They’re all happening in real time on the other side of the world,” say Armfield and Healy.
In another example of accessibility, the program’s opera showpiece, Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will be live-streamed to venues across SA, addressing both the geographical and financial barriers that have affected attendance at previous opera events.
The 2021 festival club, dubbed The Summerhouse, will be the hub for the contemporary music program. The all-Australian bill includes San Cisco; Ben Lee; Mo’Ju (previously Moju Juju); Wafia; Donny Benét (whose ’80s Italo-disco tunes are a real vibe); DJ Late Nite Tuff Guy (who’ll play a dedicated Prince set); and a celebration of the new wave of First Nations hip-hop artists (including Ziggy Ramo, JK-47, J-Milla and Adelaide’s Jimblah).
The music program also includes Melbourne band the Tarantinos performing the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction, and Adelaide’s Shaolin Afronauts playing the Mad Max 2 soundtrack alongside a live screening of the film.
Another cinematic highlight: the world-premiere of Molly Reynolds and Rolf de Heer’s documentary about actor David Gulpilil – My Name is Gulpilil – co-presented by the Adelaide Film Festival. It’ll screen alongside a retrospective of eight iconic Gulpilil films, including Ten Canoes, The Tracker, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Walkabout and Storm Boy.
Other highlights: Set Piece, from the creative team behind the 24-hour 2019 Adelaide Festival hit The Second Woman; Fangirls, one of the standout Australian theatre hits of 2019; and Guttered, a site-specific work at Kingpin Norwood by Adelaide’s multi-award-winning Restless Dance Theatre. There’ll also be a free opening weekend event at Adelaide Oval headlined by Jessica Mauboy.
It’ll be bookended by Ngarku’adlu on the final weekend of the festival. Ngarku’adlu, which means “let’s eat” in Kaurna language, is a two-day food event showcasing native Australian ingredients and food culture. Choose from a casual picnic on the Barr-Smith Lawns at the University of Adelaide or a fine-dining dinner at the SA Museum. The menus will be curated and prepared by some of Australia’s finest First Nations chefs and suppliers – including Clayton Donovan (Australia’s only Indigenous hatted chef and the star of ABC television’s Wild Kitchen) and SA’s Warndu – and interwoven with stories and knowledge shared by cultural leaders.
Adelaide Writers’ Week will be one of the first literary festivals in the world to return, with authors and audiences gathering together in person. (International authors will appear virtually, live-streamed into the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden.) The 2021 line-up includes Richard Flanagan, Kate Grenville, Richard Fidler, Sofie Laguna, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull over six days of free open-air readings, panel sessions and literary conversations.
“We know that people will look back on the 2021 festival as one to remember,” Healy and Armfield said in a press release. “We hope that it will also offer opportunities for renewal and restoration and a boost of energy, optimism and joy that comes with each Adelaide Festival’s abundance of creative imagination.”
Adelaide Festival will run from February 26 to March 14. Tickets are on sale now.