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Australia WOMADelaide 2021 to kick off as arts festivals 'peek' from under the COVID-19 shadow

00:34  04 march  2021
00:34  04 march  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a star filled sky: Womadelaide 2021 will be held at just 25 per cent of its usual capacity. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton) © Provided by ABC NEWS Womadelaide 2021 will be held at just 25 per cent of its usual capacity. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

A year ago that WOMADelaide director Ian Scobie announced backstage that it could be the "last time we are all together" for some time.

By "we", he meant the record 97,000 audience members and artists in attendance.

By "last time", he was referring to pandemic restrictions that would begin seven days after the festival.

Twelve months later, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prompt lockdowns across the world and put other festivals in doubt, Mr Scobie is a day away from opening WOMADelaide 2021.

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"The arts everywhere were decimated," he said.

"They have been the first to shut down and possibly the last to re-emerge and, in that sense, WOMADelaide is particularly lucky because we're peeking out, as it were."

WOMADelaide is part of a global circuit of six WOMAD festivals and, after being the second-to-last iteration of the festival before the world shut down, it will now be the first to reopen.

Festival reduced to one stage

But it has not been without compromise.

SA Health's COVID-19 management plan meant WOMADelaide had to reduce the seven-stage festival to one stage with a maximum capacity of 6,000 audience members — all of which have to be seated in numbered, socially distanced seats.

"We quickly worked out that we couldn't get that number of seats in that configuration in Botanic Park (where it has been located since 1992), because there would be too many trees in the way," Mr Scobie said.

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"We thought of Elder Park, but again, there was too many broken up sight lines with the rotunda and Torrens Lake."

The team even considered Adelaide Oval.

"Adelaide Oval is a beautiful oval, but it is a completely enclosed sports arena and we really wanted something that has that heritage of WOMADelaide, and the sense of being in a parkland setting," Mr Scobie said.

The team settled on King Rodney Park in Adelaide's eastern parklands, where the festival would take place as a series of sunset concerts over four nights, or what Mr Scobie described as "25 per cent" of its usual size.

"It's a new version of the festival, so that in itself is quite exciting," he said.

He added that dancing would be allowed at the festival, but people could only do it directly in front of their numbered seats.

Archie Roach's farewell

The festival still managed to attract some big names, starting with Archie Roach and Sarah Blasko on Friday night and finishing with Midnight Oil and the First Nations collaborators from its mini album, The Makarrata Project, on Monday.

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"Starting with Archie Roach, and then having the Makarrata, is a really important spiritual bookend of what this festival has stood for, both culturally and also in terms of its politics, and how the arts can make a significant statement about where we are as a people and a nation," Mr Scobie said.

"It's also really poignant to have Archie Roach giving his farewell performance, as he performed at the first festival in 1992."

Other artists include Lior, Nigel Westlake and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Tash Sultana, Kaiit Waup and Miiesha.

The latter two were added to the bill to replace Sampa the Great, who in January cancelled shows in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney due to "changing border rules".

It was symbolic of the issues facing the WOMADelaide team, who were faced with booking artists for a world music, dance and arts festival at a time when international travel was heavily restricted and state borders were closing at a moment's notice.

Mr Scobie described the uncertainty as "terrifying".

"Look at the Auckland Arts Festival — they were due to open on Thursday but Auckland's gone into a seven-day lockdown," he said.

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"In Perth, the city went into lockdown a week out from the festival."

New Zealand festival cancelled

New Zealand's WOMAD festival, which typically takes place shortly after Australia's, as it did in 2020, this year will not be held at all.

Other festivals in Chile and Spain are yet to be confirmed, although a WOMAD festival remains scheduled in the UK for July and in November on the Canary Islands.

Mr Scobie said Adelaide was "incredibly fortunate" to be able to proceed with the event, which is taking place in the middle of the Adelaide Festival and Adelaide Fringe — which itself last finished in 2020 on the eve of Australian pandemic restrictions.

"It's really terrific and a great tribute to everyone involved, from all the health professionals, to the government listening to health advice and acting on it," Mr Scobie said.

"It makes you appreciate the advantages that Australia has."


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