Sydney Festival

See our top 20 picks of the 2019 program
Sydney Festival 2017 Festival Village photo by Jamie Williams
Photograph: Jamie Williams Sydney Festival Village, Hyde Park
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There’s no event as inextricably linked to summer in this city as Sydney Festival. The annual three-week event, running throughout January, always features an eclectic line-up of theatre, dance, circus, music, visual arts and talks. It’s primarily an arts festival, but its remit extends far beyond – it incorporates a ferrython on January 26 – to get you out and about any way that it can.

This festival is Wesley Enoch’s third, and he’s just extended his contract for another two years, meaning he’ll also helm the 2020 and 2021 festivals. For 2019, he’s got two particular things on his mind.

The first is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, which Enoch says we could look to as a model for how we can tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.

“It was a collective cultural ambition around the world, even through competition,” he says. “This idea that 50 years ago, without war, there were great technological advances, and a great collective pursuit and understanding of the world.

“It cost billions of dollars even then. For me, there’s a lovely connection with climate change, and this idea that actually we need more collective approaches to dealing with this rather than the individual, even though the politics of the day are very much about individualism.”

There are several moon-focused installations in his festival, including a series of “moon drops” at Darling Harbour, which invite locals to jump or roll over giant water-filled droplets.

The second of Enoch’s preoccupations is trying to find a way that the three pillars of Australian society – the Indigenous cultures that have existed for tens of thousands of years, the colonists who arrived in 1788, and the migrants that arrived following the repeal of the White Australia Policy – can be brought together.

There are works about migration and plenty in there about the Indigenous experience, including Joel Bray’s one-man show Biladurang, the return of the Bayala language classes,  and a huge installation from Jacob Nash called Always.

And as always there’s a huge line-up of shows in the Hyde Park festival village, led by Pigalle, a new circus-cabaret starring Marcia Hines and created by the people behind Velvet.

Top 20 picks of Sydney Festival 2019

1
Beware of Pity Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Gianmarco Bresadola
Theatre, Drama

Beware of Pity

icon-location-pin Roslyn Packer Theatre, Millers Point
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It hasn’t been too long since Sydney Festival featured a show by Simon McBurney. His five-star production of The Encounter, which landed here in 2017, used an extraordinary three-dimensional sound design to make the one-man show feel like it had a cast of hundreds. Now he’s back with a genuine ensemble piece.

2
Shanghai Mimi Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Yang Xiaohuo
Theatre, Circuses

Shanghai Mimi

icon-location-pin Riverside Theatres, Parramatta
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Moira Finucane is Australia’s unofficial queen of burlesque, but she’s turning her attention to Asia for this show and drawing inspiration from Shanghai in the 1930s, when it was arguably at its most culturally revolutionary.

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3
Counting and Cracking Belvoir Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Daniel Boud and Malith Hegoda
Theatre, Drama

Counting and Cracking

icon-location-pin Sydney Town Hall, Sydney
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Counting and Cracking is an epic new play that will have its premiere as part of Sydney Festival. It brings together 16 actors from five countries to tell a story of Australia today. Belvoir is moving out from its Surry Hills home for January to take over Sydney Town Hall, transforming it into a Sri Lankan town hall.

4
Home Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Jacques-Jean Tiziou
Theatre, Drama

Home

icon-location-pin Roslyn Packer Theatre, Millers Point
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American theatre-maker and illusionist Geoff Sobelle was last seen in Australia in 2016, when he brought hundreds of cardboard boxes to Sydney Festival in The Object Lesson. In that show, he conjured up stories and worlds from the boxes and the items within them, but in Home he performs an even greater miracle: he brings an entire two-storey house to life before our eyes.

Time Out says
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5
Man with the Iron Neck Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Brett Boardman
Theatre

Man With The Iron Neck

icon-location-pin Sydney Opera House, Sydney
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Legs on the Wall always makes visually stunning theatre, often combining aerial performance with more traditional storytelling. Man With the Iron Neck is the company’s latest work and features a script by the brilliant Ursula Yovich about a young man who loses his best friend to suicide.

6
Children jumping on 'Moon Drops' art installation
Photograph: Zee Shake Lee
Kids, Fairs and festivals

Moon Drops

icon-location-pin Darling Harbour, Sydney
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For many people, their greatest memories of Sydney Festival are those unexpected moments of joy as they interact with an artwork on their way to or from a ticketed event. This year, the big, free art installation that’ll bring you that magic moment is ‘Moon Drops’ – a giant waterbed that you can walk, jump and clamber over to experience the feeling of weightlessness. 

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7
Biladurang Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Pippa Samaya
Theatre, Drama

Biladurang

icon-location-pin QT Sydney, Sydney
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One of the best things a festival can do is make you look at a city, and the spaces within it, in a slightly different light. That’s exactly what happens in Australian dancer Joel Bray’s Biladurang, in which he invites a group of around 16 people into his suite for a glass of bubbles and some rather intimate confessions. 

Time Out says
8
Pigalle Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Daniel Linnet
Theatre, Circuses

Pigalle

icon-location-pin Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney
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If you saw Velvet, the popular disco-inspired circus-cabaret, you’ll have some idea of what to expect from this new show. Like Velvet, it stars Marcia Hines, is set vaguely in the 1970s, and is directed by Craig Ilott. But this new show is inspired by Quartier Pigalle, a neighbourhood in Paris famous for its eccentric nightlife.

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9
Production shot on stage at One Infinity
Dance

One Infinity

icon-location-pin Carriageworks, Eveleigh
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Our every movement, our smiles, our frowns, our expressions of surprise are learned by mirroring; watching One Infinity, former Chunky Move director Gideon Obarzanek’s new work with the Jun Tian Fang Music Ensemble, the audience is asked to not only consider, but put into practice the commonplace adage that to mirror is to learn.

Time Out says
10
Always Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Brittney Griffith
Art, Installation

Always

icon-location-pin Barangaroo Reserve, Barangaroo
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The phrase “always was, always will be Aboriginal land” has long been an important slogan for the Aboriginal land rights and sovereignty movement. Bangarra Dance Theatre’s designer-in-residence Jacob Nash is creating an artwork that refers to that slogan for Sydney Festival.

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11
Bayala Language Classes
Photograph: Jamie Williams
Things to do, Classes and workshops

Bayala

icon-location-pin Multiple venues
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Bayala translates to ‘speak’ in Darug – one of the first languages spoken in the Sydney area. Sydney Festival first introduced free Indigenous language classes as part of its program in 2017 to celebrate the Aboriginal heritage of our city, and this year they’re continuing that commitment with classes in Parramatta, Sydney CBD and Ultimo.

12
The swimming pool at Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre
Photograph: Dirk Meinecke, Architects Harry Seidler & Associates
Music, Jazz

Seidler Salon Series

icon-location-pin Multiple venues
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You can hear Seattle cellist Lori Goldston fill the corners of Seidler Penthouse; listen on as Australian pianist Elena Kats-Chernin plays within the confines of Harry and Penelope Seidler House; or submerge yourself in the swimming pool at Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre to let Los Angeles harpist Mary Lattimore’s music wash over you.

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13
Person with headphones at a nightclub
Photograph: Supplied
Things to do, Pop-up locations

Silent Disco

icon-location-pin State Library of NSW, Sydney
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Shh! Dance like no librarians are watching in this Friday night silent disco in the State Library’s newly refurbished (and licensed) galleries. Sydney Festival is putting on a boogie between the bookshelves for all ages. 

14
The Iliad Out Loud Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Hugh Hamilton
Theatre, Drama

The Iliad Out Loud

icon-location-pin Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills
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Look, it’s time you faced it. You’re never going to read The Iliad. Between the six seasons of Orange is the New Black available on Netflix and Game of Thrones, you’ve got better things to do with your time. But what about if you could experience all of it in one fell swoop, and have it delivered to you in a theatrical setting? 

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15
Nick Cave "Until"
Photograph: James Prinz
Art, Installation

Nick Cave: UNTIL

icon-location-pin Carriageworks, Eveleigh
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American artist Nick Cave – not to be confused with the Australian singer-songwriter – is bringing 16,000 wind spinners, 24 chandeliers, 10 miles of crystals, thousands of ceramic birds and one crocodile to Sydney. 

16
Masters of Modern Sound Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Marian Abboud
Music, Dance and electronic

Masters of Modern Sound

icon-location-pin Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
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The Art Gallery of NSW’s big summer show this year is a brilliant journey through the evolution of modern art, featuring paintings from European masters including Picasso, Matisse and Monet. It’s an absolute treat for the eyes with these boldly evolving modern styles all jutting up against each other in the space of one gallery.

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17
Le Gateau Chocolat Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Eli Schmidt
Theatre

Le Gateau Chocolat: Icons

icon-location-pin Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney
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Le Gateau Chocolat is a favourite in festival spiegeltents and will be making his return to Sydney with this show, which premiered in London in 2016.

18
Terror Nullius
Photograph: Supplied
Art

Just Not Australian

icon-location-pin Artspace, Wooloomooloo
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Soda_Jerk's latest film splices together classic pieces of Australian cinema into a political revenge fable that challenges Australian mythology. Expect to see Pauline Hanson alongside the characters of Mad Max while the voice of John Howard rings out across the desert.

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19
The Beehive Sydney Festival 2019
Photograph: Philippa Bateman
Art, Film and video

The Beehive

icon-location-pin UNSW Galleries, Paddington
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It was more than four decades ago that journalist and anti-development activist Juanita Nielsen disappeared from the streets of Sydney. Nobody knows exactly what happened to her, but it’s believed she met a violent end due to her opposition to the development of Victoria Street, where tenants were being evicted to make way for more apartment blocks.

20
Since Ali Died - Omar Musa - Griffin Theatre - Batch Festival 2018 - photo by David Charles Collins
Photograph: David Charles Collins
Theatre

Since Ali Died

icon-location-pin Multiple venues
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Rapper/poet Omar Musa’s new work places his hero and icon, Muhammad Ali, as a touchstone in the centre of the piece. From his interaction with Ali’s legacy spins the stories of Musa’s life, which hasn’t been the same since Ali died. He tells these as a mixture of song and spoken word, rap and banter.

Time Out says

Tick off your Sydney bucket list

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