Programming a top-line Australian festival with a judicious selection of highly-sought international and local acts isn't for the faint of heart, even when the going is good.
Add the myriad uncertainties and complexities so bountifully gifted by COVID-19, and things really start to get tricky.
For Adelaide Festival's co-artistic directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield, compiling their penultimate program for next March has been uniquely challenging.
"Last year was incredibly tough, but a huge number of local artists - not all - could access JobKeeper," Healy says.
"That meant a company like Adelaide-based Gravity and Other Myths, which is a contemporary circus and physical theatre troupe, could get together and create a major new work because they chose to spend their JobKeeper on future development."
That major new work, The Pulse, sold out and became a talking point of the 2021festival.
"And because no overseas artists or companies were working back in March, many were willing to engage in our digital live-streaming series," Healy says.
"We all came into 2021 thinking nothing could be as hard as last year.
"We were wrong."
Not only has there been no JobKeeper this time round, she points out, but the "crisis energy" of last year has been replaced by an "emotional flatlining" among many arts and culture workers.
"People are just dead behind the eyes," she says.
Looking overseas, the situation has also changed.
"Europe and America have got back to work, which means companies and performers are busy. They've got real invitations, so they're unwilling to experiment with digital live-streaming."
In terms of enticing international companies to actually come to Adelaide, Healy and Armfield very much hope hotel quarantine will have been scrapped in South Australia by early 2022.
"We've had to say, 'worst-case scenario, you'll have 14 days of quarantine in a medi-hotel'. And the sad reality is that three-quarters of them have said 'no'."
It is very much to Healy and Armfield's credit, then, that in curating their sixth festival, they have managed to include nine world premieres, six Australian premieres and 17 Adelaide exclusives in a 71-event program that belies the straitened circumstances in which it's been put together.
And what better way to kick it off than with a one-night-only acrobatic spectacular from Gravity and Other Myths.
A co-production with Edinburgh International Festival, Macro will take over Adelaide Oval's Village Green on the evening of Saturday, March 5 for a free, 75-minute performance.
A collaboration with Indigenous dance group Djuki Mala, or the Chooky Dancers, the world premiere will encompass 30 performers, a choir, a soundscape of "ancient Celtic rhythms" by Scottish musician and composer Aidan O'Rourke, monumental projections and fireworks to boot.
"It will be a completely difference experience from The Pulse - different music, tempo, scenes - but that heartland quality of Gravity and Other Myths, which is a kind of larrikin, stripped-back, honest connection between each other and out to the audience, will remain the same," Healy promises.
Healy was born and raised in Adelaide but worked for many years in Sydney, including 10 years as general manager of Belvoir theatre company while Armfield was artistic director.
She returned to her hometown in early 2016 after she and Armfield were appointed to lead the festival.
One of the first shows she went to see was Gravity and Other Myths' A Simple Space at Adelaide Fringe.
"We were huddled cheek by jowl in this boiling tent, but I was blown away by what I saw and felt like this company could take on the world," she says.
The festival began working with the company shortly thereafter.
One of the international acts to say yes to Adelaide is a contemporary dance production born of a three-way partnership between Germany's Pina Bausch Foundation, Senegal's Ecole des Sables and the UK's Sadler's Wells.
Regarded as being among the 20th century's leading choreographers, Bausch created what many consider her signal work, The Rite of Spring, set to Stravinsky's modernist ballet score, in 1975.
"It remains the most seminal, talked about and important Rite of Spring for which choreography has been created in our generation - or any generation, really," Healy says.
The work, which has rarely been staged since, will be performed by 38 African dancers brought together by the grand matriarch of African dance, Germaine Acogny and her Ecole des Sables.
"It's a studio and creative hothouse for contemporary African dance," Healy explains.
Although Acogny knew Bausch, they never performed together. However, when Acogny saw The Rite of Spring in 1975, she was deeply moved by it.
"Germaine felt that Pina understood something about the African roots that are buried in the notional Slavic rhythms that Stravinsky created," Healy says.
"She knew this was a work that should be danced by African dancers, because contemporary African dance technique is quite different from the European model. It's more about connection to the earth and connection to ritual."
In what is a double bill, The Rite of Spring will be paired with Common Ground(s), created and performed by Acogny along with French dancer Malou Airaudo, a founding member of Bausch's company, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.
"This is easily the most challenging work we're bringing to Australia because the dancers are coming from 14 different African countries," Healy says.
"Artistically, it feels bold and ambitious, everything that Adelaide Festival is here to do."
One of the most poignant and timely works in the program is Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan, a new oratorio composed by Joseph Twist, with a libretto by playwright Alana Valentine and novelist Christos Tsiolkas.
In March 1972, University of Adelaide law lecturer George Duncan, who was homosexual, was found drowned in the Torrens River close to an area known to be frequented by gay men.
At the time, homosexuality was illegal and persecution of gay men by SA Police's vice squad was common.
The murder of the academic eventually led to South Australia becoming the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality, in 1975.
Three former members of the vice squad, Brian Hudson, Francis Cawley and Michael Clayton, were eventually charged with manslaughter - in 1986. Only two, Cawley and Clayton, proceeded to trial, and both were acquitted in 1988 after refusing to testify.
To this day, his murder remains unsolved.
"It's such a peculiarly South Australian story - the homophobia, the kind of place Adelaide was in the 1970s, but also, paradoxically, the fact that it was the first state to grant votes for women and the first to decriminalise homosexuality," Healy says.
"It's now been 50 years since his death and it feels like an important moment to be telling this story."
Directed by Armfield, the world premiere will feature solo voices, a dancer, the Adelaide Chamber Singers and a chamber orchestra conducted by Christie Anderson.
For punters after a high-octane burst of energy to reinvigorate them after pandemic torpor, rising choreographic star Stephanie Lake's new work, Manifesto, could be just the ticket.
"Nine drummers, nine drum kits, nine dancers - what a concept," Healy says of the world premiere.
Healy's 30 years of experience as an arts administrator and artistic director are being put to good use on the federal government's Creative Economy Taskforce.
She has been on the COVID-response taskforce since its inception last year and was recently appointed the new chair.
The taskforce has assisted with the implementation of arts funding and provides strategic advice to federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher.
"We are a country of only 25 million people, so most organisations have to tour and they also have artists they collaborate with right across the country," Healy explains.
"The federation isn't acting like a federation at the moment. The relationships are fractured, therefore the industry is fractured."
Healy points to the lack of an insurance scheme to protect venues and producers in the event of a snap lockdown, as well as ongoing uncertainty about how each of the state and territory's roadmaps will intersect.
"It's fantastic that NSW is opening up, which means that venue-based organisations like the Sydney Opera House or Belvoir can start to operate, and long-range musicals like Hamilton can reopen.
"But there is a vast industry that needs to be able to create works that can bounce between all the festivals."
Then there's the commercial music scene, which is also reliant on touring, from small bands playing to 400 people in a pub to stadium concerts.
"These are the engines that drive huge amounts of employment in Australia," Healy says.
"There are many uncertainties and contradictions to deal with as a result of this fractured federation, and the taskforce's focus is on ascertaining certainty across every possible area."
Adelaide Festival runs from March 4 to 20, 2022.
For more information, visit adelaidefestival.com.au
Australian Associated Press