The program for the 2024 Adelaide Festival has been unveiled and it is a first for incoming artistic director Ruth Mackenzie and chief executive Kath M Mainland. It promises excellence, continuity and a showcase of emerging works that may prove to be future classics.

“We were both here for the 2023 festival,” says Mackenzie, “but that was the last one for Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield – which went incredibly well, as all of their festivals have. It is a particular moment for a new team when you are looking at your first festival, 2024, and then ’25 and ’26.

“At the same time as we are starting there is a new director at Avignon [which Adelaide has always considered its sister festival] as well as at the Edinburgh International Festival. There is an interesting synergy between us as we are all wondering: ‘What is a festival in the 21st century?’.

“In his Avignon event in July this year, [director] Tiago Rodrigues has been ruminating on how artists can help us understand urgent issues and reconcile issues from the past, while the slogan for [director] Nicola Benedetti at Edinburgh was: ‘Where do we go from here?’.”

Bringing experience from events in Europe and the UK – including the Holland, Manchester International and Chichester Festivals, plus the 2012 London Olympics – Mackenzie is seeking a lively mix of distinguished artists familiar to Adelaide Festival audiences, as well as young, new vibrant practitioners both Australian and international.

As part of her future strategy she has added Netherlands-based Wouter Van Ransbeek from the Holland Festival as associate director to scope emerging work and established repertoire for 2025 and 2026.

The operas have been locked in for the next three years, with the first already announced. Canadian Robert Lepage returns with his production of Stravinsky’s short opera The Nightingale and Other Fables. Having provided numerous highlights to Adelaide Festival programs – from The Dragons’ Trilogy in 1988 to more recent works such as Needles and Opium and The Far Side of the Moon – Lepage will be a welcome return.

Other favourites returning in 2024 include Barrie Kosky, director of 2017 Adelaide Festival masterpiece Saul, as well as The Magic Flute (2019) and The Golden Cockerel (2023). This time he is bringing his recent production, for Germany’s legendary Berliner Ensemble, of Brecht and Weill’s celebrated creation The Threepenny Opera.

Berliner Ensemble’s production of The Threepenny Opera. Photo: supplied

Laurie Anderson will present the Australian premiere of I’ll Be Your Mirror, invoking her late husband, musician and poet Lou Reed, at the State Library of South Australia’s Circulating Library. It is built around AI-created works developed while working as AI artist-in-residence at the Sia Furler Centre at Adelaide University. Anderson calls I’ll Be Your Mirror “a 21st-century ouija board”.

Celebrated choreographer Akram Khan will stage a reimagining of Kipling’s The Jungle Book (including reference to climate change and a change of gender for Mowgli), and Berlin’s Schaubühne theatre director Thomas Ostermeier will bring a stage adaptation of Édouard Louis’ memoir Qui a tué mon père (Who killed my father), performed solo by the author.

Another favourite of Mackenzie’s is Elizabeth Streb with her “Extreme Action” choreography combining dancers with contraptions called Action Machines. Streb says it’s not dance and definitely not acrobatics or circus, while Mackenzie notes that she doesn’t even like the word choreography. This intriguing hybrid work is titled Time Machine and will be presented at Her Majesty’s Theatre by Streb Extreme Action, which is also performing at next year’s WOMADelaide Festival.

Also making her Adelaide Festival debut will be conceptual artist Marina Abramović (appearing digitally), who, with the Marina Abramović Institute, is curating Takeover, a participatory endurance project in the Space Theatre.

In her announcement, Mackenzie spotlights a new generation of festival artists, such as playwright-actor Thomas Weatherall, a Kamilaroi man whose one-person play Blue was a stand-out in this year’s Sydney Festival. Blue will be presented at the Festival as part of State Theatre Company’s 2024 season and will be performed by Callan Purcell, who recently played Aaron Burr in Hamilton. 

Melbourne collective Pony Cam, in league with theatre artist David Williams, will present Grand Theft Theatre, a collection of their favourite fond and formative theatre moments, some of which were gathered from travelling-on-a-budget visits to previous Adelaide Festivals in their younger days.  And, from Greece, comes director Mario Banushi with his play-without-words Goodbye, Lindita, which has been hailed as the work of the next Romeo Castellucci.

Goodbye, Lindita is a wordless theatre work from Mario Banushi. Photo: Theofilos Tsimas

Other theatre productions include I Hide in Bathrooms, a new work by Adelaide artist Astrid Pill with collaborators Ingrid Voorendt, Zoë Barry and Jason Sweeney, to be presented by Vitalstatistix at Waterside in Port Adelaide; Swiss director Milo Rau’s Antigone in the Amazon (Brazil/Belgium), an amalgam of film and live acting; and a work-in-progress from Andy Packer and Adelaide’s Slingsby, to be spread over three festivals, entitled The Tree of Light.

There will be two First Nations premieres in 2024. Opening the Festival and being performed on Glenelg Beach (Pathawilyangga), Baleen Moondjan, is a major new commission from Stephen Page, former director of Bangarra Dance Theatre. Drawn from a story told by his grandmother from the Ngugi/Nunukul/Moondjan people of Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), it celebrates communities’ totemic connection with the baleen whales. The design, featuring giant whale bones on the beach, is by Jacob Nash, with music composed by Steve Francis.

Guuranda, created by Jacob Boehme, is a collection of Narungga Creation stories from SA’s Yorke Peninsula. Performed by a group of First Nations artists from that community, it is a mix of story, song, puppetry and dance featuring songwoman Sonya Rankine and songman Warren Milera, with artwork is by Kylie O’Loughlin.

Restless Dance Theatre will present new work Private View. Photo: Matt Byrne

Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre also has a premiere for 2024. Created by director Michelle Ryan, with music written and performed by Carla Lippis, Private View (to quote the program) “invites audiences into a world of secret desires and dreams, exploring taboo subjects of love and sex”. Australian Dance Theatre will present another new work by Daniel Riley, Marrow, at the Odeon in Norwood; Riley’s Tracker was presented as part of the 2023 AF and is having a return season in South Australia this month.

Angélique Kidjo will perform for one night only at the Festival Theatre. Photo: Fabrice Mabilot

A highlight of the music program will be a one-night-only concert by five-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo at the Festival Theatre, which will see her share songs from her new album Mother Nature, supported by Noongar singer-songwriter and guitarist Maatakitj. Songwriter Lior and composer Nigel Westlake will return with their acclaimed song cycles Compassion and Ngapa William Cooper, this time accompanied by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Other features of the extensive music program range from the Chamber Landscapes weekend at UKARIA, curated by Australian Chamber Orchestra director and violinist Richard Tognetti pondering the concept of “Nothing”, to a “Daylight Express” series of lunchtime concerts at Elder Hall. Music Viva will host Long Lost Loves (and Grey Suede Gloves), featuring mezzo-soprano Anna Dowsley; the Goldner String Quartet will play three concerts as part of their final season; Adelaide Chamber Singers will perform Carl Crossin’s composition “There Will Come Soft Rain”, and, likely to be in keen demand, excellent Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson will play the most awaited “Goldberg Variations” since Glenn Gould.

The centrepiece of the visual arts program will be the 2024 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art with the previously announced theme Inner Sanctum, which will see curator José Da Silva contemplate “the imagination as a place of refuge and sanctuary”. A group exhibition at Adelaide Contemporary Experimental under the wry banner of Yucky will centre on the experiences of people who are living with disabilities, chronically ill or neurodivergent, while the work of 20 mid-career South Australian artists will be showcased in Neoterica, a follow-up to 2022’s Neoteric.

Director Louise Adler’s line-up for the 2024 Adelaide Writers’ Week includes Elizabeth Strout, Mary Beard, Trent Dalton, Anna Funder, David Marr and Alexis Wright, with the full line-up to be revealed nearer the time.

Ruth Mackenzie puts up the final image in her showcase presentation. It is a list: 17 days, 64 events, 16 world premieres, 12 Australian premieres, 23 Adelaide exclusives. But she is still asking the questions: What are festivals for? And how do you work with artists and citizens to understand how to build a festival for the future?

In the meantime, the program is out. The 2024 AF is on its way.

The program for the 2024 Adelaide Festival (March 1-17) is now online.

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