Although the devastating bushfires continue to rage in NSW despite massive downpours of rain, there are still plenty of things open in Sydney and plenty of businesses, artists and cultural institutions that need your support. Make the most of all our gorgeous city has to offer, even in times of stress. This week the Lunar New Year welcomes the Year of the Rat, and January 26 will be acknowledged in different ways.
Make sure to check the air quality before you go out, and be extra careful if you have breathing difficulties. Check out our comprehensive listings below and be sure to check out our curated guides to all the fun things to do in Sydney, including top attractions, art exhibitions, theatre productions, activities for kids and more.
Things to do in Sydney this week
Head to Chinatown on the first day of the Year of the Rat, where the streets and laneways will be buzzing with food and entertainment. The street party marks the start of the Sydney Lunar Festival, the biggest Lunar New Year festivities outside of Asia. Eat good-luck foods such as dumplings, noodles and glutinous rice cakes from one of the area’s many restaurants, market stalls or food trucks. Then take a selfie with a pair of giant golden robot rats, which will form part of this year’s Lunar Lanterns display in Circular Quay. Keep your ears peeled for the cacophonous sound of lion dancers roaming the streets; after dark you may even see a luminous ten-metre long LED dragon. In addition to the roving entertainment, there’s the Lunar Spectacular Show featuring cultural performances ranging from Korean drumming to Japanese hip-hop. Carnival games, craft activities and face painting make this a treat for the whole family.
On July 25, 2017, Australia lost one of the greatest musicians of our age: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. To celebrate his legacy and a remarkable musical gift that defied barriers and crossed cultures, this touching tribute to his talent has been created on Country in North East Arnhem Land. Part ceremony, part concert, this deeply moving, world premiere event pairs the songs of Gurrumul’s final, posthumously released album, Djarimirri (Child of Rainbow), with the songlines that have existed in his lands for thousands of generations, performed by members of Gurrumul’s family alongside the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The traditional songs, dances and forms of expression that inspired Dr G’s final record will also be performed by Yolŋgu songmen, their voices woven into the fabric of Gurrumul’s singular musical vision on the stage of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. Following the 6pm performance of Buŋgul – which has very purposefully been programmed on the evening of January 25 – members of the audience will be able to join the Procession as it heads to Barangaroo for The Vigil. A fitting conclusion for a performance celebrating the way Gurrumul’s art embraced diverse musical influences while enshrining the most essential parts of his Aboriginality, The Vigil offers a moment of reflection on the story of modern Australia and the ongoing impact of colonisation.
WugulOra, meaning ‘One Mob’, starts with a traditional smoking ceremony to mark the morning of January 26. The event is to welcome the day and to share in the strength and resilience of the world’s oldest living culture. Actor Luke Carroll will serve as master of ceremonies and there will be performances by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers and singers, including our 2017 Eurovision representative Isiah Firebrace and the Koomurri Aboriginal Dance Troupe. The national anthem will be performed in both English and Eora before both the Aboriginal and Australian flags are raised on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
From dusk on Saturday, January 25, a fire will be lit at Barangaroo Reserve for all who wish to gather at the park and contemplate the significance of this time for many First Nations Australians. The family-friendly vigil is open to all and will provide a safe space for people to spend time reflecting on the impact of colonisation in Australia, starting on the anniversary of the night before the First Fleet arrived. There’ll be musical performances and stories of country from current and future community Elders. The ARIA-award winning Dan Sultan will head up the performances, alongside choral and poetry performances and traditional music. Sydney Festival artistic director Wesley Enoch will also address those gathered. You’re welcome to drop by at any time from dusk till dawn while the fire is alight.
Yabun is a long running Survival Day gathering in Camperdown that provides a positive space for people to share in the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country. 'Yabun' is a Gadigal word that means 'music to a beat' and the free festival includes stages of live music, a Corroboree Ground where traditional Indigenous dances will be performed, market stalls to browse and workshops for kids and adults in arts and crafts, sport and more in-depth discussions around contemporary issues faced by the community. The 2020 musical line-up features a huge name in Aussie music, Dan Sultan, bringing his soulful alt-rock to the mainstage. Joining him will be contempoary folk artist and former NT Australian of the Year Shellie Morris; soulful Indigenous and Tongan artist Radical Son, blues man Buddy Knox, hip-hop protégé Philly; rising star Miiesha, a 20-year-old woman from the small community of Woorabinda in Central Queensland; and Gamilaroi hip-hop artist Kobie Dee.
Belvoir is kicking off its 2020 with one of its biggest hits of this year: Duncan Macmillan’s bittersweet, uplifting monologue about a child who starts keeping a list of all the brilliant things in the world in an attempt to ward off their mother’s depression. It's now 20 years later and they're still keeping that list and finding it useful in a brand new way. There’s one major difference this time around: instead of Belvoir's original star Kate Mulvany, the show will be performed by Steve Rodgers. Rodgers was the co-director of the original season (alongside Kate Champion) and actually stepped into the role for the final week of the Sydney season when Mulvany scored a role alongside Al Pacino in American TV series Hunters. “Stevie is so beautiful in the role and so truthful in it,” Belvoir's artistic director Eamon Flack says. “The responses to it when Stevie took over; there was that same sense of people being wowed and touched by it. It’s a pretty magnificent idea.” Every Brilliant Thing started with sold out runs at three consecutive Edinburgh Festivals and was eventually filmed for broadcast by HBO. The Belvoir production is performed in-the-round, and the performer uses all of the audience to help tell their story. Read our four-star review of Belvoir's 2019 season.
The annual cultural celebration is the big one on Sydney’s summer must-do list, and the festival’s contemporary programming always manages to surprise. Last year’s highlights included the Helpmann Award-winning Counting and Cracking – a play that transformed Sydney Town Hall into a Sri Lankan village, and Joel Bray's very intimate solo show performed inside a hotel room, Biladurang. In 2020, Sydney Festival will run for 19 days from January 8-26. The program will no doubt include experimental art and premiere performances. Check back in on Wednesday, October 30 to read about the full program.
For ten years now, Judith Neilson's four-storey temple of contemporary Chinese art has stood proudly in Chippendale, showcasing an enviable collection of bold, playful and frequently provocative work. We've seen room-filling sculptures of bondage and sex toys, flying human-insect hybrids soaring above visitors, and even a silver sculpture of a crucified Jesus, complete with a Mickey Mouse head. So it makes sense that the gallery would want to celebrate some of its finest moments at the end of its first decade, which is exactly what it's promising in Then. The exhibition will bring together works from White Rabbit's earliest exhibitions alongside works from the collection that haven't been exhibited before. All up, there'll be more than 60 works on display and, as always, entry is totally free.
From the outside, the spectacular luminaria created by UK company Architects of Air look a little like retro spaceships landed from an alien planet. But if you venture inside the Dodecalis luminarium, which is popping up in Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour from January 8, you’ll discover no invading super race. Instead, you’ll find a labyrinth of uniquely curved and beautiful tunnels lit in dazzling colours. As you move from cathedral-like dome to dome you’ll experience the calming effects of this environment – you’re even encouraged to sit and just take in the ambience. Architects of Air is a company led by artistic director Alan Parkinson, and has been making luminaria since 1992, having toured 21 of their structures to more than 40 countries. They’ve previously exhibited a different luminarium in Federation Square in early 2018 and have brought two different structures to the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House. You can explore the Dodecalis luminarium for free or instead pre-book online for $20 to ensure you don’t have to wait in line. It’s open from 10am to 6pm on Monday to Wednesday, and 10am to 5pm on Thursday to Sunday.
Australia’s hugely diverse community of Western Sydney is set to mark January 26 with an all-day program for people of all nationalities and ages. Beautiful Parramatta Park is the setting for the 15-hour festival that begins at 6am with the aerial spectacle of one of Sydney’s biggest balloon launches and caps off with a performance by Australian indie pop heroes Sheppard. If you’re quick you can take part in the tethered balloon rides for $20 – registrations close January 15 – and witness the city from a jaw-dropping height. Central to the day’s frivolity are two solemn events: a Welcome to Country Ceremony acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which the event is taking place, followed by the Citizenship Ceremony where some of our newest Australians take their pledges. There will also be a Thank a Firey stall where you can offer messages of support and make a donation to the Rural Fire Service Association. The curated music program is again a big drawcard to Parramatta Park. Joining ‘Geronimo’ stars Sheppard will be Triple J Unearthed winner Asta and X Factor finalists Jess & Matt. Catch this poptastic line-up at the Crescent Stage from 5.30pm. Over on the Playground Stage, the kids’ entertainment lasts from 8.30am to 2pm. The irrepressible Bananas in Pyjamas will appear in performance and for meet and greets. Cookie Monster and Elmo are part of the Sesame Street Down Under show, and watch out for kids’ comedian Sean Murphy. From 2pm the stage is given ove
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