Mix  ...  <em>Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage</em>, left,  pushes  boundaries; <em>Flamenco Hoy</em> is the latest work from Spanish director Carlos Saura.

Mix ... Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage, left, pushes boundaries; Flamenco Hoy is the latest work from Spanish director Carlos Saura.

The Adelaide Festival enters a new era with a program unlike any other in its renowned history next March when it becomes annual after more than 50 years as a biennial event. The difference is a wide selection of ''adventurous'' contemporary music.

''There is an obvious emphasis on the music program,'' says the festival's new director, David Sefton. ''I am applying a similar rigour to contemporary music that we always bring to other art forms.''

The music includes three nights of Unsound Adelaide, which Sefton describes as ''most interesting new music'' with artists from Europe, Britain and the US, as well as the Australian-German group Severed Heads using tape loops and dissonant sound effects.

Stark ... <em>Kamp</em> uses puppets as inmates of Auschwitz.

Stark ... Kamp uses puppets as inmates of Auschwitz. Photo: Supplied

Other artists include Archie Roach, Ireland's Glen Hansard with the Frames, veteran Californian songwriter Van Dyke Parks and ''one of the best live bands in the world'', Goran Bregovic and the Weddings and Funerals Orchestra. Neil Finn and Paul Kelly will perform a free concert as the opening event on March 1.

Sefton came to Adelaide from California, where he ran UCLA Live for nearly a decade. In London before that he started the annual Meltdown festival at Royal Festival Hall in 1993, with it going on to be directed by the likes of Elvis Costello, Nick Cave and Laurie Anderson.

Sefton agrees people would not have expected to find such a musical selection in previous Adelaide festivals.

His appointment is part of a strategy to lower the average age of festival audiences without changing the emphasis on the best international arts performers available.

''It's a balancing act,'' he says. ''We still want to engage with traditional audiences who expect the program to take risks and be fairly radical.''

He says other festival directors are also trying to entice younger audiences. ''I don't think the musical program is very radical in comparison to what others are doing. New and interesting music makes sense in a festival context.''

The rest of the program includes a new show, Nosferatu, written and directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna of the Polish theatre company TR Warszawa. Based on Bram Stoker's classic novel, the show is co-commissioned by the festival with music by America's John Zorn.

''This is the first international commission [by the festival] for a long time,'' Sefton says. ''I want to make new work happen.''

The festival's programming budget is $6.5 million, out of a total allocation of $14 million, with $8 million coming from the state government.

Another European production is Kamp, by Hotel Modern from the Netherlands, which uses eight-centimetre-tall puppets as inmates of Auschwitz that are then filmed and shown on screens.

Internationally acclaimed dancer Sylvie Guillem returns to Australia starring in 6000 Miles Away with a program by three of the greatest contemporary choreographers - Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe and Mats Ek.

There are several contemporary dance productions.

Belgium's Ultima Vez company makes its Australian debut with the re-mounting of What the Body Does Not Remember by Wim Vandekeybus. It explores what occurs when things happen automatically - falling in love or the instant before an accident.

The renowned Spanish film director Carlos Saura brings his latest project, Flamenco Hoy, to the program exploring past and future flamenco with young performers.

A company Sefton says is pushing boundaries in the same way as New York's famed Wooster Group is the young Brooklyn company BBB SongPlay, which is presenting Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage , incorporating a seven-piece rock band.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' album Murder Ballads is the inspiration for a new Australian work, Murder, by the Sydney visual and physical theatre company Erth. The show will premiere at the festival, exploring contemporary society's obsession with death.

More than 130 people will be on stage, including the Adelaide Symphony and a 60-person choir, for performances of the music to Kubrick's classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, while it is shown on giant screens.

Regular Australian visitors Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet will perform together and separately while the visual arts program will feature the first Australian retrospective of Anderson's art.

''It was the biggest contemporary art show in the world last year and it is a coup to bring it here,'' Sefton says.

It will complement the biggest Turner exhibition seen in Australia, Turner from the Tate, at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

The Adelaide Festival runs from March 1 to 17.