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Photograph: Anna KuceraHouse of Mirrors at Sydney Festival 2017

The 10 best things we saw at Sydney Festival 2017

Written by
Dee Jefferson

This year's Sydney Festival was comprised of 150 events – more than 454 performances, across 46 venues, featuring 1021 artists (from 15 countries). God knows, you can't see everything – but the Time Out Sydney team sure gave it a go. Here are our favourite exhibitions, shows and installations from 2017 – we hope you caught some of them too.

1. House of Mirrors

"Navigating this maze of mirrors and optical illusions is especially fun after dark – and the experience is ever more disorienting if you've had a few cocktails beforehand. We were told it's possible to complete the maze in 60 seconds – but where's the fun in that? Our tips are to spend a bit of time playing with the illusions, then to stumble around until you creep yourself or your companions out, before finding your way back out again."

Richard Katz with the 'binaural head' in The Encounter
Photograph: Prudence Upton

2. The Encounter

"The Encounter is a trip; at this risk of sounding like your Dad in the seventies, it is far out. If you’ve never taken hallucinogens, it will probably get you close to that sensation – but with nothing more than a helluva sound design and a cracking tale." Read more.

Installation view of Not An Animal or a Plant, works by Vernon Ah Kee
Photograph: Peter Morgan

3. Not an Animal or a Plant

"Vernon Ah Kee’s solo show recognises in its title the criminal absurdity at the foundation of modern Australia, the end result of terra nullius. When the artist was born, months before the 1967 referendum, he was not counted in the population: the physical brutality of colonisation extended by the symbolic violence of erasing culture, denying the people and ideas that were present. In this context, Ah Kee’s statements and hectic portraits are a shout: I am here. We are here." Read more.

Maeve Marsden, Libby Wood and Jeremy Brennan in 'Mother's Ruin'
Photograph: Prudence Upton

4. Mother's Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin

"Marsden and Wood serve as a voice for centuries of voiceless women who are constantly admonished, restricted, and punished for sharing an opinion, for daring to have a drink, for daring to want anything men might have. It’s their defiant anger and deep empathy for centuries of hurting women that elevates this show from a fun history lesson to a complex and deeply moving work of political art." Read more.

Natalie Rose, Mish Grigor and Zoe Coombs Marr in 'Ich Nibber Dibber'
Photograph: Document Photography

5. Ich Nibber Dibber

They say life is what happens when you’re trying to make plans; the ladies of Post might say that Ich Nibber Dibber is what happens when you’re trying to make a ‘proper show’. To make their new show, Nat, Mish and Zoe combed through more than a decade of recorded improvisation sessions for shows including Who’s The Best?, Gifted And Talented, Shamelessly Glitzy Work and Oedipus Schmoedipus. From hours of recordings they stitched together 75 minutes of them off topic, which they perform live: talking about everything from poo (lots of poo), to sex, fingering styles, boyfriends, motherhood, MDMA, Kraftwerk, nihilism, and Australian Idol. It’s hilarious, and full of guilty pleasures for anyone in their ballpark demographic (references to Granny May's, Mitsubishi pills and Keppers are nostalgic delights). But there’s something important here: three women carving out space in the theatre with their work and words and concerns.

Sydney Dance Company dancers in 'Nude Live'
Photograph: Pedro Greig

6. Nude Live

"Who wouldn’t want to see supremely fit and graceful dancers in the buff? However, the experience of walking through the Gallery while six naked dancers sat, knelt and glided around the space was a whole lot less titillating that we imagined. And that’s not a bad thing. … What was surprising about this series of sequences was how simultaneously vulnerable and empowering the dancers were within the spaces they occupied." Read more. 

Briefs: The Second Coming
Photograph: Daniel Boud

7. Briefs

"Briefs is weird and wild with a banging soundtrack and just enough purpose to make it feel worth it – not worthy. If you like your cabaret served with a body shot of tequila from a young Adonis’s chest, then it’s your golden ticket (or shower, depending on where you sit)." Read more.

Installation view of 'Another Day in Paradise'
Photograph: Document Photography

8. Another Day in Paradise

The first wall we encountered featured paintings made by Myuran Sukumaran over the four years before his death. Most were self-portraits, arranged so as to constantly pivot between contained expression and feverish, obliterative strokes that resulted in distorted faces. It instantly, powerfully, conveyed the torturous nature of existence on death row, teetering between hope and despair. The second wall we encountered contained paintings made by Myuran in the 72 hours before he died. It was like a punch in the guts, bringing tears to our eyes. Carefully curated, thoughtfully arranged and beautifully presented: these are the elements behind a great art exhibition. That this show also happens to be about life and death, and about our urgent need to create, make it a must-see. 

Peta Brady, Nicci Wilks and Sarah Ward in 'SHIT'
Photograph: Prudence Upton

9. Shit

‘Fuck’ is a word that can be aggressive, dominating, joyful, sexy and funny – and like many other swear words there are rules about who gets to use it and when. In Patricia Cornelius’ play SHIT, we’re welcomed with a series of expletives at their most confronting and most amusing as three female characters riff on whether or not they could go a whole sentence without swearing. They fucking couldn’t. And it was fucking funny. Billy, Bobby and Sam (whose gender-fluid names are intentional) are three women you rarely see on stage, but in SHIT they’re in your face, loud, energetic and unapologetic. It begs the question: Why haven’t we seen women represented like this on stage before? Flawed, unappeasable, threatening, butch, vulnerable, honest and whole. At times SHIT was distressing to watch, and even frightening; but it was also energising, and galvanising as a rare example of a wholly female team of actors and creatives carving out space in a male-dominated theatre scene. We fucking loved it.

'Imagined Touch'
Photograph: Jamie Williams

10. Imagined Touch: the Deafblind Experience

"An interpreter grabs my hand and says something – I’m not sure what – via tactile Auslan. I don’t know how to respond. Someone moves me, lifts my arm and twirls me in a dance. This I understand. We sway, we giggle, we bow and shake hands. I do this with everyone I come across. The smell of people’s deodorant is comforting, it’s like a clue for the picture I’m painting in my mind." Read more.

It's not all over: you can see Another Day in Paradise and Not An Animal or a Plant through till March at their respective venues.

Check out our hit-list of things to do in Sydney in February.

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