Perth festival 2023 opens to the world – with Aboriginal techno, Björk’s promise and uncomfortable truths

The profile of bare feet pushing the world across the dark theater. Four women lead across the stage, eyes bright and defiant, their limbs and hips whirling as if they were made of liquid adrenaline. With every absurd gesture, every primal pulse, the women suspend in the air the dream of freedom – a vision of Africa without colonization.

Bikutsi 3000, which had its Australian premiere at the Perth festival, is an afro-futuristic performance by Cameroonian artist Blick Bassy that takes a bold political step: focusing on women as agents of liberation from Africa’s treacherous history of imperialism, and dance as their only weapon. . The ensemble of African women includes two local Aboriginal dancers, Liani Dalgetty and Kristyn Lane, who take part in the celebratory march towards freedom.

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“In many ways, the patriarchy has failed us,” says Bassy, ​​speaking from his home in Bordeaux. “When I was writing this story, I wanted to create a world where women could lead Africa, not through violence, but by taking us back to our roots, our language, our traditional values.. . it’s about remembering who we are.”

International shows like Bikutsi 3000 are a welcome transition to the Perth festival, boldly asking us to re-imagine world history, after the fruitful but entirely indigenous years of Covid. The theme of the 70th anniversary is Djinda, the Noongar word for stars, and this year the Perth festival is opening its arms to stars from all over the world including Björk, the Icelandic pop icon who brings her Cornucopia extravaganza; US band Kronos Quartet, collaborating with Noongar composer Maatakitj (Dr Clint Bracknell); Virginia Gay’s acclaimed retelling of the classic play Cyrano, presented by Melbourne Theater Company; as well as many international literary and musical stars from poet Kae Tempest to Sahara psych-rock legend Mdou Moctar.

If the murmurs are true, the extraordinary cost of presenting Björk has resulted in a program that has gone backwards this year – but even so, what it offers is certainly worth it. world class, and the people of Perth are embracing it. The fourth program curated by artistic director, Iain Grandage, continues its emphasis on First Nations authenticity; the cornerstone of the festival that has a deep impact, he says, and allows other artists to feel comfortable in telling their stories.

This approach is reflected in Djoondal, the free open event to be held at Lake Joondalup, a place steeped in the dreamy tales of the cosmos, which the Noongar people describe as a “mirror to the stars”. Enveloping the audience in a hypnotic bubble of light, dancing drones and pulsating Aboriginal techno beats, Djoondal breathes new life into the story of the spirited woman with the long white hair who created the way of the milk cow, and whose name lives on Joondalup.

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Created by a team of artists led by Ian Moopa Wilkes, the brains behind last year’s Perth festival performance Noongar Wonderland, Djoondal takes a Noongar-futuristic approach – a method of storytelling that conveys indigenous perspectives on the past and future , often reimagining reality. in line with ancient knowledge.

While many may draw comparisons to Ilona McGuire’s Moombaki, the ultra-slick Noongar storytelling drone show being presented at the Fremantle Biennale, Djoondal seeks to achieve something entirely different. It gathers the past and the future together in a tight knot of wonder, splicing ancient practices with contemporary challenges and allowing the audience to consider how indigenous knowledge could greatly improve our future. As the young woman who gingerly addresses the audience at Djoondal’s conclusion says: “We are not the problem, we are the solution.”

Presented at the Perth Concert Hall, the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra’s Music of the Spheres is a feast of classic arias and new works that pay tribute to the universe. The shining stars of the show are undoubtedly Gumbaynggirr and Yamatji’s wife Emma Donovan, whose rich, velvety jazz voices are completely disarming in such a formal setting. Her original piece, Yira Djinang, reflects the cosmological wisdom of the First Nations and is sung partly in her father’s Noongar language: “Look up to the sky now … the place of the long silver hair.”

Seven Sisters is another unmistakably magical production from the WA Youth Theater Company (WAYTCo), a play performed under the cosmic shadow of night, in which young actors grapple with the timeless nature of time and the weight of an uncertain future. Co-directed by Noongar-Greek theater maker Cezera Critti-Schnaars and WAYTCo artistic director James Berlyn, Seven Sisters will open over the four weekends of the festival, each at a different outdoor venue.

The performance begins with a serial chorus of voices expressing their understanding of the dreamlike story of the Seven Sisters. A young actor with cerebral palsy cries, if there is something as perfect and miraculous as the milky way, how can they live in the same universe? Another speaks of their anger at not fitting in with their family, of being a “gay foreigner floating on a rainbow”, and one expresses their sadness at being physically disconnected from their homelands in Congo and Tanzania .

Makaela Rowe-Fox comes up with a very touching moment, instead of gazing into the black abyss above, which looks straight ahead at an audience of mainly theatergoers: “As easy as it could be telling you how beautiful the stars are, I. can’t do that if I can’t see them!” She talks about the bright sky hiding the stars, capitalism, the ecological crisis and , finally, on the disproportionate pressure this puts on young people.This uncomfortable truth hangs in the air.

“I’m sick of being told I’m the future. Like stars, old people are from the past but they are also our future,” she says. “The future, is not young. It is ancient.”

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