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Sydney Festival announces its first three shows – including an underwater band

Written by
Dee Jefferson

Sydney Festival have made their first line-up announcement for January 2018 – and top of the bill is Aquasonic: a project from Danish ensemble Between Music that is part concert, part art installation – and entirely under water. The five members of Between Music perform an entire set in individual aquariums, playing specially designed subaqueous instruments, and using an unusual singing technique that doesn’t produce bubbles. The entire effect is otherworldly: think siren song meets Cocteau Twins.

Aquasonic premiered in May 2016 – but Between Music have worked with universities, scientists and divers over the last nine years to develop their instruments, which include a ‘hydraulophone’ (or underwater organ – powered by water instead of air). The project started almost by accident, when artistic director, singer and composer Laila Skovmand experimented with singing into a bowl of water.

RIOT performance image
Photograph: Fiona Morgan

Sydney Festival have let two others shows out of the bag: The Town Hall Affair, from New York theatre collective the Wooster Group; and RIOT, a alt-cabaret variety show from Ireland, starring drag queen and marriage equality activist Panti Bliss.

The Town Hall Affair – the Wooster Group’s first appearance in Australia – is inspired by the controversial 1971 panel on women’s liberation held at Manhattan Town Hall, in which feminists including Germaine Greer and Jill Johnston faced off against Norman Mailer, the pugnacious author of The Prisoner of Sex. The show ‘recreates’ DA Pennebaker’s 1979 documentary Town Bloody Hall, with Maura Tierney (ER; The Affair) starring as Germaine Greer. With the Women’s Marches a recent memory, this snapshot of second wave feminism bears a look – with topics ranging as far as the vaginal orgasm and pan-lesbianism.

The Town Hall Affair featuring Scott Shepherd, Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk, Greg Mehrten and Maura Tierney
Photograph: Steve Gunther

RIOT promises politics with a hefty dose of partying, marrying queer culture with comedic acrobatics (courtesy of dance duo Lords of Strut among others), Irish dancing (!) and club culture. It took Dublin Fringe by storm in 2016, winning the Best Production award, and has become a somewhat unstoppable beast. It will play the Spiegeltent in the Meriton Festival Village throughout Sydney Festival.

Sydney Festival runs January 6-28. Tickets for Aquasonic, The Town Hall Affair and RIOT are on sale now.  The full line-up will be announced in October.

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