Adelaide calling

Updated: 2015-11-13 08:23

By Chen Jie(China Daily)

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The Australian city's festival center has just inked a deal with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. Chen Jie asks the artistic director about what to expect.

The best-known arts center in Australia probably is the Sydney Opera House, but Douglas Gautier always feels proud that the Adelaide Festival Centre, which opened three months before Sydney's in 1973, was the first of its kind in the country.

On opening night 42 years ago, Gautier, now CEO and artistic director of the center, was a drama student at the Flinders University and had a walk-on part in the opera Fidelio.

Ever since, his passion for theater has led to a long career in this field. Next year will be his 10th anniversary running the Adelaide Festival Centre, and Gautier's push to bring in a vibrant program includes signing a cooperation memorandum with China's National Centre for the Performing Arts to share resources.

"It's a privilege to have this connection with the NCPA," Gautier told China Daily when he came to sign the memo in Beijing recently. "Adelaide is a smaller city but a pre-eminent festival city. We would like to exchange ensembles and share educational programs.

"The importance of exchanges is to put people together and then come out with ideas, the planning of the future, that their thinking brings."

He also noted that his center has the Bob Hawke Fellowship, established by Australia's former prime minister for young artists. Gautier said they plan to share the fellowship with the NCPA to look for Chinese talents to come to Adelaide.

Adelaide Festival Centre now has four festivals every year, including Come Out Children's Festival in May, the Cabaret Festival in June, the Guitar Festival in August and OzAsia Festival in September.

Launched in 2007, the Guitar Festival has shows, competition and a one-week summer camp to train guitar players. An enthusiastic classical guitarist himself, Gautier says he knows China has many talented guitarists such as Yang Xuefei, and the NCPA has chamber musicians and concerts, so he wants to get Chinese players to perform at the Guitar Festival in Adelaide.

"We are always willing to present Chinese works, touring Chinese works in Australia, where Chinese have become the second-largest population and Mandarin has become the second language," he says.

In the past 10 years, the Adelaide Festival Centre has presented productions by the Shanghai Ballet Company, the Shandong Acrobatics Company, the Shandong Song and Dance Theater, the National Theater of China, and works by Tan Dun, Jin Xing and other contemporary artists.

Last year, they co-commissioned the Chinese Tao Dance Theater with Sadler's Wells to create 7. The piece had its world premiere in Adelaide as part of the OzAsia Festival.

This October, his center presented leading Chinese director Meng Jinghui's play Amber, which was co-commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Shanghai International Arts Festival and the Singapore Arts Festival in 2005 when Gautier worked as executive director of Hong Kong Arts Festival.

"The great thing about Meng's work is, it's always changing, growing, but the basic idea, basic fabric is there," he says.

Because South Australia and East China's Shandong province have had sister-city relations for 30 years, Adelaide has introduced many shows from Shandong. Gautier is eager to broaden the vision outside Shandong because of his longer bond with China's arts scene.

After he graduated from Flinders University, he joined the South Australian Theatre Company. Then he was awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Britain, studying media and stage arts. In 1977, he joined the BBC as a music and arts producer in London.

In 1979, the BBC was recruiting someone to work with Radio Television Hong Kong for a six-month attachment. Gautier did not know where it would lead but was just keen to do that. He moved to Hong Kong.

To prepare for the job, he started meeting people who were interested in Asian music and seeing things that he'd never seen before, such as Chinese opera, and his interest was piqued.

At first, the music and arts channel of Radio Television Hong Kong was all in English and it primarily broadcast Western classical music. Gautier suggested making the channel bilingual and printing the program in English and Cantonese.

He could not leave Hong Kong after six months: He felt not only that Western classical music was fully embraced by young people in Hong Kong, Chinese mainland, South Korea and Japan, but that there was much to learn from the home cultures of Asia since they were going through an extraordinary period.

In 1979, Willy Tsao founded the City Contemporary Dance Company in Hong Kong and served as artistic director. Gautier produced contemporary productions choreographed by Tsao.

Gautier's love for Hong Kong and Asian culture made him stay for 25 years, holding several key positions including director of corporate affairs for Star TV, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Tourist Board and executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival.

He married a Chinese woman and they have two girls who speak perfect Cantonese. Hong Kong has become his second home.

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(China Daily 11/13/2015 page20)