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Nine reasons to visit this year's Brisbane Festival

Ben Neutze

Of all Australia's major arts festivals, we've got a soft spot for Brisbane. It's in September each year, which means it comes around just when we're ready to head north and enjoy the sun. With a focus on music, the crowds tend to skew a little younger than Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide, and the party vibes are a little stronger.

So what's in this year's program, the final to be directed by David Berthold? A tonne of live music, theatre, large-scale art events and more. Here are nine reasons to start your summer early at Brisbane Festival.

1. Melbourne Festival hit Fire Gardens is taking over the botanic gardens

Last year, French artists Compagnie Carabosse transformed Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens with massive fire sculptures, creating an art walk like no other with thousands of fiery urns. Melburnians were drawn in the night like moths to a flame, and the entire run sold out before it even opened. If you missed out on a ticket, you can catch Fire Gardens in Brisbane's City Botanic Gardens, where it will run for four nights. And yes, there are still tickets available for every session.

2. The always brilliant Briefs boys are coming home

We love Briefs, the Australian all-male burlesque troupe that's been taking its thought-provoking party shows all around the world to ecstatic crowds for the last few years. They're constantly on the road, but their home base is in Brisbane, which makes it fitting that they're bringing one of their most successful shows home. When we saw Close Encounters at Sydney Festival, we gave it a rave five-star review, declaring: "The mere existence of this show is radical."

Photograph: Kate Pardey

3. Three comedy legends are playing new shows

Cal Wilson, Anne Edmonds and Sam Simmons are three of the most inventive comedians on the local stand-up circuit, and each of them is touring a stellar show this year. Wilson and Edmonds are playing the Queensland Performing Arts Centre's Cremorne theatre, while Simmons is bringing his typically surreal show to Brisbane's historic Tivoli theatre.

4. The festival is undertaking its most ambitious show ever

We love a big show, and Invisible Cities is going to be massive. So massive, in fact, that it's being performed in a huge warehouse owned by Queensland Rail, which is, according to Berthold, the only space the festival could find big enough for the show. When you walk into the space you'll join 1,000 people sitting around a stage. At first you won't see much apart from a bare stage, but entire mystical cities come to life using projection, technology, music, choreography and architecture.

Created by UK company 59 Productions (who were responsible for all the video work at the London 2012 Olympics), the show is a loose adaptation of a book by Italian writer Italo Calvino. In it, explorer Marco Polo describes 55 fictitious cities that he apparently encountered on his travels. Invisible Cities is having its world premiere at Manchester International Arts Festival this month before heading to Brisbane. We'll be the second country in the world to see the show.

5. Chinese superstar choreographer Yang Liping is taking on Rite of Spring

Australian audiences who caught Yang Liping's Under Siege at the 2017 Brisbane and Melbourne Festivals couldn't stop raving about the visual spectacle and inventiveness of the performance. Now she's bringing a new ballet to Brisbane, divided into three sections. The first and third are composed by Chinese composer He Xuntian, and the middle part is set to Stravinsky's score.

Photograph: Qiansheng Zhao

6. Brisbane River is lighting up every night with a local story

Last year nearly 500,000 people went to the Arcadia festival village and saw the free ten-minute light, laser, water and projection show called River of Light. It told the Aboriginal story of the serpent that wove the river; this year's River of Light tells the story of European settlement in Brisbane, from an Aboriginal perspective. It's a little known story, and one that might surprise you, playing several times each night.

7. A new Australian musical is having its world premiere

If you're a musical theatre fan and haven't heard of Yve Blake, we've got a strong feeling you soon will. She's been writing bits and pieces for quite a few years now, but Fangirls is her mainstage debut. It pays tribute to the young girls who fall crazy hard for boy bands, following 14-year-old Edna, who's in love with Harry from the world's biggest band, True Connection. Paige Rattray is directing the show for Queensland Theatre.

8. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra is playing all your classical faves

Symphony for Me has been a Brisbane Festival favourite for several years. The concept is simple: regular members of the Brisbane community who've got a strong connection to a piece of orchestral music share their stories. They get to sit on stage and hear that piece played live by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Most don't consider themselves classical music fans, but there's a classical tune that takes each of them back to a pretty special moment. The concert usually sells out at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre concert hall, but this year is being taken outside to Riverstage, and admission is totally free.

9. Kate Miller-Heidke, the Amity Affliction, City and Colour, Jacob Collier, Emma Louise, Holy Holy and Tia Gostelow

Brisbane Festival always has a strong live music line-up, but this year there's an even greater focus, because the city's great 9,000-capacity outdoor venue, Riverstage, is turning 30. The festival is celebrating with big shows every Saturday night, including an opening party with Hot Dub Time Machine and a closing night party by City and Colour. The Tivoli is also an essential music venue this festival, with intimate, in-the-round shows by Paul Dempsey, No Mono, Emma Louise and Husky.

Can't splash out on interstate arts travel? There's plenty of spectacular theatre in Melbourne this month.

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