Adelaide Festival returns in March 2024 with 64 events including 16 world premieres, 12 Australian premieres and 23 exclusives. The 39th festival program – the first of three curated by artistic director Ruth Mackenzie and chief executive Kath M Mainland – will run over 17 days from March 1 to 17, spanning theatre, music, opera, dance and visual arts.

The festival will open with the Australian exclusive Baleen Moondjan, a
contemporary ceremony by choreographer Stephen Page, in his first major commission since leaving Bangarra Dance Theatre. Inspired by a story from the Ngugi/Nunukul/Moondjan people of Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) as recounted by Page’s grandmother, the dynamic dance-theatre work celebrates First Nations cultural connection to totemic baleen whales – set among giant whale bones on the Glenelg foreshore.

It’s one of several First Nations works in the program alongside Guuranda, from Narungga/Kaurna theatre-maker Jacob Boehme, which tells the Narungga creation stories of SA’s Yorke Peninsula while weaving together theatre, song, puppetry, dance and visual art. Plus, there’s the world premiere of Australian Dance Theatre’s Marrow, under artistic director Daniel Riley, which explores our historical inheritance; and Blue, the debut play by rising star and Kamilaroi man Thomas Weatherall (recently seen in Netflix’s Heartbreak High reboot). The tender monologue, whose Adelaide season will be performed by Callan Purcell, dives into the beauty, joy and pain of growing up.

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Other major highlights include an Australian exclusive work curated by boundary-pushing conceptual artist Marina Abramović through the Marina Abramović Institute: artists from Australia and around the world will be invited to create site-specific, long-durational works (which Abramović will “intervene in” digitally). And there’s an exhibition by American artist and avant-garde musician Laurie Anderson, who was the inaugural artist-in-residence at Art Intelligence, a collaboration between the Australian Institute for Machine Learning and the Sia Furler Institute at the University of Adelaide. The show, I’ll Be Your Mirror, will feature works generated by AI during Anderson's tenure at the uni, including an AI-generated version of the bible, which was first shown at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. The artist will also appear via live stream for In Conversation with Laurie Anderson.

Leading choreographer Akram Khan returns to the festival with a new work based on The Jungle Book. The much-loved story is reinterpreted through the eyes of young climate refugee Mowgli, who’s been driven from her homeland and arrives alone in a deserted modern city. Other works also spotlight climate action and biodiversity loss, including virtual reality exhibition Gondwana, Brazilian-Belgian collaboration Antigone in the Amazon and community project Create 4 Adelaide.

“When a festival comes together, common threads and shared concerns among artists from around the world start to emerge and shape the program,” Mainland said in a press release. “This year, a resounding global concern revolves around climate change and the deterioration of our natural environment as artists and communities take centre stage in the quest for solutions.”

These shows (and more) join the previously announced operatic centrepiece, Stravinsky’s The Nightingale and Other Fables, directed by the acclaimed Robert Lepage, and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s two-day festival within a festival, Floods of Fire.

Under Mackenzie and Mainland the festival’s contemporary music strand – previously featuring the likes of Lorde, Ladyhawke and some of Australia’s best musicians – is all but gone, which is likely to disappoint younger festival devotees (especially when Perth Festival scored Bjork, Bikini Kill, Bon Iver and Peaches this year). But music fans can hear the songs of Hiatus Kaiyote in Dancenorth Australia’s joyful hit show Wayfinder, and Adelaide star Carla Lippis in Restless Dance Theatre’s Private View, which invites audiences into a world of secret desires. And Womadelaide returns with a line-up featuring reggae singer-songwriter Ziggy Marley, British jazz wunderkind Yussef Dayes and Swedish folk favourite José González.

Other associated events – Adelaide Writers’ Week and the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art – are also back in 2024.

Adelaide Festival 2024 runs from Friday March 1 to Sunday March 17. Tickets are available online now.