An essential fixture of Sydney’s summer calendar, Sydney Festival today embarks on three weeks of theatre, music, dance, family-friendly and free events that transform the city in a diverse celebration of culture, country and coming together.
“Our hearts go out to our fellow Australians. We are acutely aware of the situation confronting many of us right now,” says Festival Director, Wesley Enoch. “We are seeing unprecedented fires and loss. This is a terrible time in the history of our Land. At times like this, the importance of gathering as a community is self-evident, and I firmly believe that artists, and the arts, play a vital role in giving us strength and supporting resilience – stepping up to help tell our stories, to make sense of our collective experiences, and to lift our spirits when we so desperately need it.”
The festival signals its commencement with Proclamation, a large-scale art installation conceived by Aboriginal artist Jacob Nash. 250 flags fly at Barangaroo Reserve from January 8 to 26, created from designs submitted by participants across Australia. The flag designs explore Australians’ diverse ideas about land and our sense of belonging to land and country.
Continuing its commitment to presenting the very best Australian and international theatre, music, dance and ideas, this year’s Festival is hallmarked by a distinct array of the newest works from the world’s most adventurous artists, along with the largest number of commissions of new work in Australia.
First published in 1979, Joan Didion’s landmark work of New Journalism The White Album was described as “an extraordinary report on the aftermath of the 1960s in America … brilliantly interweaving her own ‘bad dreams’ with those of a nation confronting the dark underside of 1960s counterculture.”
In Joan Didion’s The White Album genre-bending director Lars Jan juxtaposes actor Mia Barron reading Didion’s highly theatrical text against a “play within a play” that happens onstage behind her, giving action to Didion’s words and making comparison between the ’60s social collapse described in the essay and the living nightmare of present-day injustice and violence.
Canadian avant-garde choreographer Dana Gingras presents the Australian premiere of Frontera – a cutting edge, large-scale work created with her company Animals of Distinction.
Gingras brings together an extraordinary triumvirate of collaborators. Renowned contemporary artist collective United Visual Artists create a syncopated and staccato field of light and projections for the stage and Canadian post- rock band Fly Pan Am perform a live score that includes the field recordings of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Dave Bryant.
At the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Reg Livermore’s ground-breaking, gender-flexing Betty Blokk-Buster character returns in Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined, starring triple-threat Josh Quong Tart. Inspired by the original 1975 staging and created with Livermore’s imprimatur, Betty’s coterie of reinvented has-beens, battlers, freaks and survivors is set to wow a new generation of revellers.
Life – the show, the latest production from Strut & Fret, the mad-genius makers behind previous Festival hits LIMBO and Cantina, is a joyful celebration of what it means to be alive – from first meeting to first mating, from birth-control to breastfeeding. Life – the show contains drug references, full frontal nudity, attempted pyrokinesis and adult concepts – AKA exactly what you’re expecting!
Elsewhere in the program, hip hop dance innovator Nick Power’s brand-new collaboration Two Crews brings together two leading dance crews: all-female Parisian act Lady Rocks and Sydney group Riddim Nation for an exhilarating immersion in global hip hop dance culture. Collaborating for the first time in a cypher set to music by Sydney composer Jack Prest, Two Crews puts Lady Rocks and Riddim Nation to the test in a high energy display of fierce style, crew tactics and party rocking fun and funk.
At Parramatta’s Prince Alfred Square, 16 young dancers from FORM Dance Projects and 48 musicians of the Western Sydney Youth Orchestra perform ENCOUNTER – a joyful, site-specific work celebrating the extraordinariness of growing up in Western Sydney.
In a hilarious new work from two leading First Nations theatre companies – Melbourne’s ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and NZ’s Te Rēhia Theatre – audiences are invited to the wedding reception of Māori woman Hera and Aboriginal man Kane, in the world premiere season of BLACK TIES. As the biggest mob of Aunties, Uncles and cousins from both sides of the ditch converge, will Hera and Kane’s perfect day end in chaos? This irreverent and immersive new work is co-commissioned by Sydney Festival.
In a coup for Sydney audiences, award-winning Canadian Indigenous composer and musician Jeremy Dutcher will perform at City Recital Hall. Dutcher’s and post-classical re-arrangements of rare archival recordings of his First Nations songs, has distinguished the young performer, as he easily traversed from classical musician to someone firmly embedded within the contemporary canon.
For those looking to entertain the young people in their life this January, the program is packed full of family-friendly options including Laser Beak Man, the hyper-coloured superhero, whose story is ingeniously brought to life by Dead Puppet Society with over 30 beautiful hand made puppets, a live score by Sam Cromack of Brisbane indie rock act Ball Park Music and the voice of ABC presenter and journalist, Leigh Sales. Laser Beak Man is a rollicking, fun ride for everyone from ages 8 to 80.
Australia’s favourite 90s electro-rock band, Regurgitator, bring their very fun and very silly POGOGO SHOW for kids to the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, performing The Really Really Really Really Boring Album – a number one hit on the Children’s iTunes chart – co-written by the ‘Gurge’s Quan Yeomans and Ben Ely, with Peter Kostic, Jerico Wallace and Ben Ely’s kids. Audiences can expect a classic Regurgitator-style mash-up of punk, hip-hop, funk and fun for the whole family.
Time Flies is the joyful and gravity-defying new work celebrating 40 years of Australia’s national youth circus, Flying Fruit Fly Circus. Featuring the entire ensemble performing together onstage for the first time, Time Flies is a thrilling display of acrobatic and aerial artistry from our country’s top young circus performers.
At Darling Harbour’s Tumbalong Park, the astonishing Dodecalis Luminarium rises to life. Created by Architects of Air, the enormous air-filled dome pops up for the duration of the Festival. A free, family-friendly event (with ticketed entry times available for those who want to skip the queue), audiences are invited to explore an immense, radiantly lit labyrinth of winding paths and soaring domes that come to kaleidoscopic life, as daylight shines through Dodecalis’ translucent fabric.
A special bushfire appeal concert, featuring a mix of Sydney Festival 2020 artists and their friends – including Regurgitator, Custard, Dan Sultan, Polish Club and Art vs. Science – takes place this Saturday 11 January at the Metro Theatre, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal and WIRES – Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organisation.
Additionally, Sydney Festival dedicates its fundraising efforts across the Festival to the appeal, taking collections at major events – including Symphony Under the Stars at The Crescent, Parramatta Park and Dodecalis Luminarium at Darling Harbour – as well after performances at multiple venues, including the Sydney Opera House, over the coming three weeks.
Sydney Festival takes over the city from 8–26 January
For full program details visit: www.sydneyfestival.org.au
Main photo credit: Daniel Linnet
Sydney Festival 2020
8 – 26 January