Adelaide Festival, one of the biggest events on the city’s cultural calendar, is back in March celebrating its 60th anniversary. Expect 18 days of innovative theatre, dance, music and visual art from Australia and all over the world.

A major highlight is glowing outdoor art installation Fire Gardens – by world-renowned French collective Compagnie Carabosse, who will return to Adelaide Botanic Gardens after appearing at Womadelaide (on a much smaller scale). The city's green lung will transform with fiery sculptures, terracotta urns and handcrafted fire pots, all holding thousands of flickering individual flames.

A very different (and free) installation will transform Rundle Mall into a playground for children and adults – visionary Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi will create an interactive “doll’s house” you can walk through.

The festival’s theatre program taps into the zeitgeist with productions that explore identity politics, gender relations and the climate catastrophe. Leading the charge is centrepiece play The Doctor, a gripping modern adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 classic that subverts gender, race and class – fresh from London’s West End. There’s also award-winning Mouthpiece, which asks knotty ethical questions about authenticity and a writer’s appropriation of other people’s stories; Cock Cock ... Who’s There?, a confronting and important exploration of gendered power dynamics, online dating and consent; and family-friendly Belgium production Dimanche, a whimsical and wordless call to arms to tackle climate change.

Bound to satiate fans of the festival’s previous marathon theatre events The James Plays, Roman Tragedies and Kings of War is nine-hour epic The Iliad – Out Loud, bringing Homer’s ancient play into the 21st century.

The inspired and darkly comic Cold Blood combines finger tutting, cinema and theatre into one tiny performance (“nano-dance” as its creators call it) backed by the music of Nina Simone, Schubert and Doris Day. Also defying categorisation is virtual-reality musical theatre Eight featuring Aussie singer Kate Miller-Heidke and individually experienced via a VR headset.

The festival continues its flagship opera programming with Mozart’s Requiem, directed by Italian firebrand Romeo Castellucci and backed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. And Breaking the Waves, based on the controversial 1996 film by Lars von Trier, with a score by American composer Missy Mazzoli (who's been called “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart”).

The floating Palais is gone. In its place is a new pop-up site for the contemporary music line-up – The Workshop – in the bowels of the Adelaide Festival Centre. It’ll host international indie acts Kevin Morby, Weyes Blood and The New Pornographers alongside local talents Didirri and Clare Bowditch and laser king Robin Fox. There will also be a musical tribute to the late Dr Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, better known as Gurrumul, featuring elders from Galiwin’ku, Elcho Island.

The dance program is equally diverse, ranging from ballet to hip-hop, including a dance battle between a Sydney hip-hop crew and a Parisian all-women crew. And Enter Achilles (an acclaimed performance at the 1996 Adelaide Festival and later a film), which examines toxic masculinity against the backdrop of an English pub.

The free opening night event in Elder Park is back, this time with multifaceted Aussie talent Tim Minchin. And fireworks.

And Adelaide Writers Week returns with six days of (free) open-air readings, panel sessions and twilight talks in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. Authors include Jokha Alharthi (who won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize for her novel Celestial Bodies), Ma Jian (one of China’s most potent critics, banned in his homeland and currently in exile in London), Maxine Beneba Clarke (award-winning Australian writer of Foreign Soil and The Hate Race), journalist Ruby Hamad (and author of White Tears/Brown Scars) and award-winning writer Bruce Pascoe (author of Dark Emu). A commemorative book, Adelaide Festival – 60 Years, will be among the titles launched during the week.

The program also encompasses the already-announced Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art and Womadelaide.

Adelaide Festival runs from February 28 to March 14, 2020. Tickets are available online.