Adelaide Festival returns in March with 71 events including nine world premieres, six Australian premieres and 17 exclusives. The 37th festival program – the sixth for artistic directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield – will run over 17 days from March 4 to 20 crossing the worlds of theatre, music, opera, dance and visual arts.

Among the key attractions: celebrated artist Patricia Piccinini’s magnificent Skywhales, hot air balloon whale-like creatures, which were recently seen gracing the skies of Canberra, and another Rundle Mall installation – in the vein of 2020’s A Doll’s House and last year’s The Plastic Bag Store – this time a circular tilting platform with 40,000 illuminated ball bearings that anyone can walk on to compose oceanic soundscapes. There'll also be a free opening event by local circus company Gravity and Other Myths and dance sensation Djuki Mala from North East Arnhem Land, featuring a 30-strong acrobatic troupe, a mass choir, fireworks and giant projections at Adelaide Oval.

Also at Adelaide Oval on the opening weekend will be Aussie band Icehouse, celebrating the 40th anniversary of iconic song Great Southern Land. Festival club The Summerhouse returns to the Torrens Riverbank with an eclectic music line-up featuring The Whitlams, Genesis Owusu, Connan Mockasin, Ngaiire, Montaigne, Ladyhawke, Babe Rainbow, Client Liaison, Late Nite Tuff Guy and plenty more.

Theatre highlights include Sydney Theatre Company’s landmark production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which performer Eryn Jean Norvill plays all 26 characters. And Blindness, an immersive adaptation of Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s novel depicting the aftermath of a global pandemic, told entirely through 360-degree binaural sound. Two shows invite you to sit down and listen to a stranger: Sex and Death and the Internet, an intimate, intergenerational one-on-one that’s part date, part Q&A, and The Nightline, which invites you to pick up a phone and guiltlessly eavesdrop on real-life stories, rants, confessions and private thoughts compiled from over 600 anonymous calls left between the hours of midnight and 6am.

A joint commission between Adelaide Festival, Feast Festival and State Opera pays tribute to Dr George Ian Duncan, on the 50th anniversary of his 1972 murder, which triggered gay law reform that led to SA becoming the first Australian state to decriminalise homosexuality. The oratorio is directed by Neil Armfield and choreographed by Lewis Major.

The festival’s major dance work is a new interpretation of late German choreographer Pina Bausch’s iconic work The Rite of Spring, performed by 38 dancers from 14 African countries. Another exclusive Australian premiere is Juliet & Romeo, a dance-theatre sequel-of-sorts to the Shakespeare tragedy in which the star-crossed lovers are now 40-ish, approaching a mid-life crisis and in the midst of couples counseling.

“We welcome audiences to a festival that refuses to curl and shrink, to aim low and take it easy,” artistic directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield said in a statement. “A feisty and defiant festival that begins with a phalanx of young bodies colliding and hurling each other through space, and ends with a hundred and fifty breathing humans pleading for the pain in our lives to fly away.

“We invite audiences to experience the release of primal dance, of exhilarating performance and how the spark of collegiate music making can jump centuries. It’s all there again for the taking: a celebration of body and soul and how great it is to keep them together”.

Umbrella events Womadelaide and the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art also return, as will the free Adelaide Writers Week – running from March 5-10 in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden – with a line-up of nearly 80 writers and personalities including Liane Moriarty, Hannah Kent, Annabel Crabb, Christos Tsiolkas, Stan Grant, Benjamin Law, Claire G. Coleman and Robin DiAngelo, plus former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull together in conversation.

Adelaide Festival 2022 runs from March 4 to 20. Tickets are online now.