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10 things you need to know about the tenth Vivid Sydney

Written by
Time Out editors

Vivid Sydney has announced its program for the tenth annual festival, which has now grown to become the largest festival in Australia – attracting 250,000 overseas visitors to Sydney, specifically for the winter showcase of lights, music and ideas. Here are the ten things you need to know about this year’s event, which takes places from May 25 to June 16.  

1. LOL, Ice Cube is coming to Sydney Opera House

Ice Cube
Ice-effing-Cube at the House
Photograph: Supplied

If you wanted to see Solange Knowles in one of her four exclusive performances for Vivid Live, you’re already too late. That ballot has bolted. However, in possibly the most surprising news, West Coast rapper and actor Ice Cube will be performing four shows at Sydney Opera House from May 25-28. If you want to see the NWA founding member, these four shows are your only chance in Australia this year. Also on the Vivid Live line-up: California’s psychedelic pop duo Mazzy Star, Cat Power – celebrating the 20th anniversary of album Moon Pix – and the Aussie debut of Daniel Johns and Luke Steele’s musical project, Dreams.

2. Trippy, Australian nature-inspired projections will light up the Opera House

Metamathemagical – Artist impression by Jonathan Zawada
'Metamathemagical' by Jonathan Zawada
Artist impression: Jonathan Zawada

Australian artist and designer Jonathan Zawada is the man charged with creating the projections for Vivid’s most iconic site: the Sydney Opera House sails. He’s created a series of geometric sculptures that will mutate and reform in continuous motion, inspired by Australian flora. They’re designed to look as though three-dimensional sculptures are sitting inside of the sails, rather than projected onto the curved surface. You’ve probably seen Zawada’s work before, even if you don’t know his name – he’s designed high profile album covers, including Flume’s 2016 album, Skin.

3. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie make Customs House their home

Artist Impression by Ample Projects
'The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie'
Artist Impression: Ample Projects

Australian kids have been growing up with May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie since they made their debut in 1916. A century later, the gumnut babies are going to leap from the page onto the facade of Customs House at Circular Quay. You can see their stories unfold each night as they try to evade the big, bad Banksia Men. The projections use Gibbs’ original illustrations and are the work of Ample Projects.

4. Heaps Gay are taking over Sydney Town Hall with a party for the qweens

Heaps Gay party photo
Qweens of all forms will take over Town Hall
Photograph: Kate Pardey

Imagine the queerest dress-up party in a landmark Sydney building and you’ll come close to what party starters Heaps Gay have in mind. The Heaps Gay Qweens Ball on June 9 will feature Qweens in all forms, with performances from Electric Fields (who are also part of a Studio Party at the Opera House with Kuren), Handsome and Imbi the Girl. They’ll have burlesque dancers, a leather show, drag qweens, drag kings, bio qweens, voguing houses and one big dress-up competition hosted by Hannah and Eliza Reilly.

5. Luna Park “lights up” for the first time

Luna Park Vivid Sydney Render 2018
Luna Park joins the Vivid Light program for the first time

There’s a brand-new precinct for this year’s Vivid Light program – one you may have overlooked in the last ten years thanks to its already luminous aesthetic – Luna Park! That’s right, the grinning entrance and the landmark Ferris Wheel will light up… in a different way to normal – this time with more LEDs. Every night from 6pm, there’ll be a large-scale projection over that Coney Island façade called ‘The Spirit of Fun’, showing artworks, characters and the ‘soul’ of the park moving around. Not creepy at all.

6. Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II will be projected on the Maritime Museum

Blue Planet BBC footage

Photograph: Supplied by BBC/Takayuki Shimizu

Darling Harbour gets to keep its water fountain, but this year the real drawcard to Cockle Bay will be the rooftop of the Australian National Maritime Museum, who’ve scored the rights to BBC Earth and Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II. There’s very little info about the projection, but it’ll be free – unlike the Planet Earth II Live in Concert at the ICC Sydney Theatre on May 4, which costs $71.20-$183.25, but does feature the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Australian actor Eric Bana narrating the show.

7. Bangarra returns to the Harbour Bridge pylon

Artist impression of Eora: Dark Emu

Artist impression: Bangarra Dance Company

Australia’s leading Indigenous dance company Bangarra has made the Harbour Bridge’s southern pylon its Vivid home for the last few years, showing consistently beautiful and moving dance films. Last year they paid tribute to one of Australia’s most mythologised individuals from the days of first contact: Woollarawarre Bennelong. This year they step back in time to look at the relationship between Indigenous people and the land, long before colonisation in Dark Emu. Expect stunning visuals from creators Jacob Nash and Stephen Page, with Bangarra’s dancers performing, painted with light.

8. Government House gets in on the act

'Aqueous' by artist Jen Lewin
'Aqueous' by artist Jen Lewin
Photograph: Morgan Sasser

The Royal Botanic Garden has long been a major precinct for Vivid, with installations and projections scattered through the grounds. There’s plenty to see in the garden this year, including Aqueous, a light-up pathway coming straight from Burning Man, and a forest of illuminated trees. But for the first time, the Government House façade will be covered with projections. Just make sure you keep it down out front – the building is the official residence of NSW Governor David Hurley, and you don’t want to disturb his Netflix sesh.

9. A terrifying puppet will welcome visitors to Barangaroo
If you thought the demogorgon from Stranger Things was creepy, wait until you see the creature taking over Barangaroo. Created by puppet masters Erth Visual and Physical Inc. and Bangarra’s Jacob Nash, a towering, luminescent figure will be ushered through the Barangaroo precinct until 9pm each night. Vivid is also promising a killer dining experience around Barangaroo, with family-friendly menus; which will be lovely assuming your little ones aren’t too traumatised by puppets.

10. James Cameron headlines the Vivid Ideas program

James Cameron
Jim Cameron will talk about his subaqueous adventures
Photograph: Mark Thiessen/Nat Geo Creative

The Avatar and Titanic director James Cameron is visiting Sydney to officially open the exhibition James Cameron – Challenging the Deep on May 29 – but you knew that already. What you didn’t know is that he’s giving a talk at City Recital Hall on May 27 with Australian science, footy and film nerd Adam Spencer. The Vivid Ideas program also features a game-changer talk with Dare Jennings of Deus ex Machina and Mambo fame, plus game developer Jane McGonigal.

Start planning how you’ll fill your belly come Vivid time.

Words by Emma Joyce and Ben Neutze

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