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adelaide festival centre redux

realtime talks with CEO douglas gautier

Lara Tumak, Amelia Best, Roderick Cairns, <BR />Katherine Tonkin, Austin Castiglione, <BR /> Grant Cartwright, Jet of Blood, InSpace Lara Tumak, Amelia Best, Roderick Cairns,
Katherine Tonkin, Austin Castiglione,
Grant Cartwright, Jet of Blood, InSpace
photo Ponch Hawkes

The Centre has enjoyed some wonderful times in the 70s and 80s but outside the biennial Adelaide Festival, the annual Cabaret Festival and now Wagner’s Ring Cycle (which led to the rejuvenation and substantial improvement of one of Australia’s few great large scale theatre spaces) it had fallen into cultural torpor, its theatres in the dark for up to 40% a year. The new CEO, Douglas Gautier is determined to wake the slumbering giant into new life. We asked Gautier about his memories of the Adelaide Festival Centre when he worked there as an actor in the 1970s. Wagner’s Ring boomed from his adjoining office.


I remember it as it was when I first came here as a young actor when George Ogilvie was directing the State Theatre Company. Anthony Steel was running the place. He had the joint title the way I do; he ran the place artistically and administratively. I think that’s important. I remember lots of wonderful things happening here, musically and in theatre and dance. I remember people being around a lot, and Come Out and all those sorts of things. There were lots of ideas, lots of “mulch.” There was excitement and engagement—people coming here locally, nationally, internationally. There was a good sense of aspiration and a wonderful set of venues. And I still think we do have them, but it’s more about what goes in it than the buildings themselves. So, I remember that and I always counted myself fortunate to be part of it. It gave me great confidence when I started to look at other things elsewhere. I went from here to the UK to work with the BBC as a music and arts producer. I found some interesting things there but I also found a lot of it quite boring in contrast to some of the things I’d seen here in Adelaide. The mix here was good. Justin Macdonell was doing his stuff with New Opera and Myer Fredman; Wal Cherry was ‘going crazy’ up the hill at Flinders University; Robyn Archer was here doing stuff with Wal; George Ogilvie with Rodney Fisher and Helmut Bakaitis … all of that was a really good mix and there was a political commitment to it.

leading with programming

When I was tapped on the shoulder for this job, I said, well look, as far as I’m concerned, the best arts centres in the world are the ones that are program-led. If you look at BAM or the Barbican, Sydney Opera House and others we could name—the Kennedy Centre—there’s no question what the driving prerogative is. It’s programming and the centre itself has strong curatorial control, it works with home companies but it has a very large say in the programming that it does. Without that, you don’t have anything. You become like a garage or a hall for hire. So you’ve got to have a program as a start. And from that will come audience development, box office, sponsorship, the fusion, the yeast, all of that… Without it, you’re gone.

the content

On the one hand, it comes from the home companies. There’s a very strong commitment to have the State Theatre Company in here. It’s their home. State Opera do studio productions. All of that is with us, and their Ring Cycle. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra plays here more and more, especially for the big works. The Town Hall is fine for Mozart or whatever but if you’re going to do Mahler or Missa Solemnis or some of the big stuff, Brahms’ German Requiem, Elgar symphonies, this is where it ought to be. Increasingly, we’re doing that. I want to bring ADT and Leigh Warren back in here, Windmill and some of the small and medium companies. The home companies are important. But, at the same time, it seemed to me that we needed to have some real curatorial say about our own destiny. [Gautier exits momentarily to turn down the Wagner.]


So, we have looked at doing three genre seasons. One is Pivotal: World’s Best Dance. Essentially what we’re doing with that program is joining the dots. Australian Ballet is here (The Nutcracker), ADT (Devolution) and Leigh Warren (Wanderlust). So what else can we put in between? We’re bringing Sydney Dance Company’s Grand and Cloud Gate’s Cursive, from Taiwan (see p38). I had all three parts of Cursive in my Hong Kong Arts Festival program this year. This is the first part. It’s an extraordinary work about the company’s founder, Lin Hwai-Min, taking Chinese calligraphy and ‘moving’ it. It’s had a 30-year gestation and it is just astounding. Quantum Leap is in there too, the Australian Choreographic Centre’s youth ensemble from Canberra.

We want to make the program quite eclectic. It’s got to have some solid backbone for audiences we know we can count on for dance. But what we’re saying to that audience is, look you’ll come along to the Australian Ballet, why not try some other things? And we’re also trying to cross-market to our theatre audience by saying, “Dance covers myriad forms—take a look at what’s there.”

We also wanted to look at international theatre. In our CentreStage program we’re hosting A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Yohangza Theatre Company from Korea. You couldn’t get a ticket for it last year at Edinburgh. There’s a wonderful resurgence in Korean performing arts. We’re also doing Krishnan’s Dairy from New Zealand by a wonderful Indian family who live in New Zealand. It interweaves a story of the Taj Mahal with that of a New Zealand dairy. We’re bringing Theatre des Bouffes du Nord’s production of Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead, directed by Peter Brook. We’re doing Hamlet with State Theatre, which they wouldn’t have been able to do normally—you know what the deal is these days, no cast greater than six or whatever, And, of course, we’re presenting Snugglepot and Cuddlepie with Windmill.

On the music front we have the Sunday Spectrum series in the Artspace gallery—all crossover music; some of it is classical. I feel pretty strongly that we’ve got to get music into the mix. Womadelaide is a good example. But Womadelaide only happens four days of the year. We think there’s a big audience there. We’ve just got to tap it through our trans:mission program with New York guitarist Kaki King, oud player Dhafer Youssef from Tunisia, the Soweto Gospel Choir, the great jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, and sitar player Pubayan Chatterjee.

desination adelaide

Then there’s a whole summer program. For the last four or five years I’ve been coming back from Asia and sitting on the Tourist Board here and find the place dark over summer and Christmas. I hate that! Sitting on that Tourist Board I was thinking about how you brand—terrible phrase—a destination. I still believe the strong points of difference for Adelaide are probably wine and the arts. It’s also that sort of second city thing, like Chicago, or Edinburgh or Kyoto or Barcelona. That’s the thing we ought to really seriously go for. And if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to find points of difference. You have to make sure that the work is really first rate. You’ve got to have some ideas, which make for national leadership.

the asian connection

One of these ideas is the Ozasia Festival. Look, Australia and Asia are having all sorts of dialogue in terms of business and politics and what have you. Interestingly, I think in the visual arts there is some organised interaction, for example in Brisbane [in the Asia Pacific Triennial, see p8-9]. You can see it in the acquisitions policy instituted at the National Gallery in Canberra, first with Myer and then Ron Radford. But I couldn’t see any systematic approach to it in terms of showcasing and contrasting as far as the performing arts are concerned.

What I’m most interested in is where Australian and Asian artists collaborate and the work of Asian-Australian artists like William Yang, Lindy Lee…ADT, Leigh Warren and Flinders Drama Centre have had connections with Korea and Japan. We want to explore that systematically. Ozasia will happen in October with the Lunar Autumn Festival right smack in the middle of it. So we’re going to do a massive lantern festival that anybody can participate in.

guitar, guitar

Then we’ll have the Adelaide International Guitar Festival in November-December. The guitar is to the 20th and 21st centuries what the piano was to the 19th…The guitar has made its way into just about every kind of music; West Africans have made it their own and the Cubans. The idea started from discussions with David Spelman and his New York Guitar Festival (—we’re going to bring all the festival’s artists out and add all the fine guitar players in Australia in a program ranging from classical guitar and orchestra to a final night tribute to Jimi Hendrix out here on the lawns with lots of musicians interpreting his work, and who are not necessarily rock ‘n roll players at all. We’ll have a battle of the bands. It’ll be a two-week festival: 20% content imported, the rest Australian.


The final piece of the jigsaw is InSpace, which we’re ramping up several notches. Why are we doing that? Well, I walked the city for the first couple of months and looked at all the other places where performance is happening in this city. And, with all due respect to those venues, I just don’t think there is an alternative performing arts centre in the way there is in Sydney or Melbourne, There isn’t one with any real firepower. So I said to Nick Skibinski, who runs InSpace, look, why don’t we take The Space here and rethink it and make it possible for the best of those small and medium-sized companies and individual artists whom we think should be seen by a wider audience and make sure that they have a home. There should be some kind of consistency, an audience thinking if I want to see some cutting edge work, something a bit different, something that’s going to really smack me between the eyes, I know if I go down to The Space most nights, there’ll be something on. So that’s what we’re going to do.

hong kong festival

It was a wonderful experience being Executive Director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival [Gautier was appointed 2002]. I’ve been associated with it since the late 70s when I first went to Hong Kong [to work for Radio Television Hong Kong; later as Director of Corporate Affairs for STAR Television; and then Deputy Executive Director of the Hong Kong Tourist Board] and I’d directed opera for it and some music theatre works in the late 70s and early 80s. I served on the program committee and subsequently the board. The festival has done some fabulous things: commissioned an opera from Tan Dun (Marco Polo); Chinese composers like Bright Sheng had their first major performances at that festival. While I was there we formed an Asian Arts Festival Association. The executive board was Shanghai Festival, ourselves and Singapore Festival and most of the festivals around the region, a crucible for commissioning new work. We commissioned work from China National Theatre which, despite its name, is probably one of the most interesting young companies in China today. That work ended up playing in Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Choreographers and composers from Korea, Thailand, Singapore, India, China and Japan came to work together. And the Hong Kong Festival was very much in the thick of that. The most interesting thing about the performing arts in Asia is that there is great confidence in their cultures because they’re all so deep-seated.

Adelaide Festival Centre,

RealTime issue #77 Feb-March 2007 pg. 47

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