Sydney Festival’s 2019 program has just landed. Here are the highlights.
Summer in the city
Each summer, Sydney Festival brings the whole city to life for 19 days with a program packed full of dance, theatre, music and visual arts. Helmed for the third time by festival director Wesley Enoch, 2019’s blockbuster program – which runs from 9–27 January – includes 18 world premieres, five Australian premieres and eight Australian exclusives. It’s a multilayered affair that examines the human condition from all perspectives and riffs on three key themes: migration, at a time when the world faces the largest movement of refugees since the Second World War; human endeavour, reflecting on 50 years since the moon landing; and the feminist movement, which has been highlighted again by the #metoo and #timesup campaigns.
“Because we are in January, we are the country’s cultural New Year’s resolution,” says Enoch. “We pose questions that you keep asking yourself for the rest of the year. From New Year’s Eve through to Australia Day, we’re inviting people to enjoy our city. People come from all over Australia and the world to enjoy Sydney in summer, so we need to put on a party for them as well.”
Highlights of the program include two international hit theatre shows presented at Sydney Theatre Company’s Roslyn Packer Theatre. Based on Austrian writer Stefan Zweig’s 1939 novel, Beware of Pity is a co-production between world-renowned theatre companies Complicite and Schaubühne Berlin. Performed in German with English subtitles and described as bold, technically adventurous and sexually charged, this is a show that transcends language barriers. Pitched as life-affirming and meditative, Home, by award-winning theatre performer, director and absurdist Geoff Sobelle, sees a house rise from an empty stage and audience interaction building throughout.
Crazy about cabaret
For a heady dose of cabaret, check out Hyde Park’s Festival Garden where the much-loved Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent hosts Pigalle. Starring musical treasure Marcia Hines, Aria-nominated singer and actor iOTA and Bangarra dancer Waangenga Blanco, this new festival commission is set in a Parisian nightclub to a soundtrack of 70s classics.
Or head to Parramatta, where the Riverside Theatre hosts Shànghăi Mimi: a sumptuous spectacular inspired by the decadent world of 1930s Shanghai and directed by Australia’s groundbreaking performer and director Moira Finucane.
Performing at Carriageworks, Neneh Cherry is one of this year’s musical highlights. With a career spanning 35 years, look forward to hits like Buffalo Stance as well as tracks for her new Four Tet-produced albums Broken Politics and Blank Project. Other musical picks include American art-pop composer Julia Holter, South African neo-soul singer and queer icon Nakhane, and 13-piece Cuban mambo band Orquesta Akokán, all at the Festival Garden.
At the core of Sydney Festival is Blak Out, its Indigenous program which this year brings First Nations stories from across Australia, New Zealand and Canada centre stage. Highlights include Spinifex Gum, a powerful staging that sees Marliya, a choir of young Indigenous women from Cairns, perform songs penned by Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill of The Cat Empire at the Opera House alongside Briggs and Peter Garret.
A large-scale sign spelling ALWAYS, designed by Bangarra artist-in-residence Jacob Nash, will preside over the festival on the Barangaroo headland, evoking the immortal words: ‘always was, always will be, Aboriginal land’. And on the eve of Australia Day, at sundown on the 25 January, festivalgoers are invited to Barangaroo Reserve to join the all-night, fire-side Vigil, for a moment of reflection and the chance to consider the country before the First Fleet arrived. The dusk-to-dawn event will be accompanied by musical performances and stories of Country from current and future community Elders and is sure to be a poignant and transformative experience.
New Year’s reflection
This year’s program offers moments of joy, fun and reflection: a perfect way to start the New Year. “Sydney Festival has a reputation for being embracing of so many different things,” says Enoch. “Have fun, enjoy the amazing uplift that the city can have in January, but also use the time to consider what you bring to the world.”