Australian Made: Wesley Enoch unveils fifth and final Sydney Festival program

2021-Sydney-FestivalEmbracing the city and its cultural instigators like never before, artistic director Wesley Enoch and his team have realised an entirely “Australian made” program that will manifest throughout the city through 130 events across three weeks from 6 – 26 January 2021.

From Parramatta to Chippendale, Sydney will provide the canvas for 21 days of engaging and immersive events, exhibitions, workshops and talks. After a year hallmarked by uncertainty, the 2021 program reflects an unwavering commitment to, and celebration of, the very best Australian art, artists and the audiences who love them.

With public health and audience safety of paramount concern this year, much planning has going into ensuring that the 2021 festival is a Covid-safe environment. All 130 events and festival venues will be deploying Covid-19 Safety Plans and implementing all mandatory Department of Health regulations including capacity and social distancing measures, as well mandatory registration where required.

In response, this summer’s Sydney Festival is set to embrace the outdoors like never before, with a spectacular new Covid-safe pop-up stage at Barangaroo Reserve. At an impressive 32 metres wide, The Headland stage is set to outdo both the Capitol and the Sydney Lyric in size, and will be decked out with twin side screens offering close-up views of performers.

Set against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour, the stage will feature the festival’s biggest theatrical performances and companies – from Bangarra to Sydney Symphony, Paul Mac to Paul Capsis – over 16 nights for just $25 a ticket.

The Headland stage will play host to The Pulse – an astonishing new work by Australia’s finest circus company, Gravity & Other Myths, which brings together 30 acrobats and a 30-strong choir into a shimmering mass spectacular; Bangarra Dance Theatre will present Spirit: A Retrospective 2021 a powerful collection of dance stories taken from the company’s 30-year repertoire; while electro-pop icon Paul Mac and a choir of Sydney’s finest singers will pay homage to musical legend George Michael in the celebratory The Rise and Fall of Saint George.

Elsewhere in The Headland program, Sydney Symphony Orchestra will premiere The [Uncertain] Four Seasons – a work where climate data is harnessed to reimagine Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in an ambitious collaboration between composers, designers and scientists; and the inimitable Paul Capsis and iOTA will unleash RAPTURE: a song cycle of Desire and Ecstasy, Murder and Mayhem – a contemporary song cycle spanning ecstasy, godlessness, love and pain, featuring the songs of Megan Washington, Deborah Conway, Deborah Harry and The Kinks.

Completing The Headland program is Songs of Don – which sees Katie Noonan, Christine Anu, Suze DeMarchi and Emily Wurramara join forces to pay tribute to one of Australia’s greatest musical troubadours, Don Walker.

Created specifically for the festival in direct response to Covid restrictions, The Headland stage is designed to bring the very best Australian performing arts to as many people as possible this summer in the safest possible way, with each ticket securing audience members a dedicated, socially distanced spot.

“Sydney Festival 2021 is all about kick starting the Australian arts sector by injecting more than $6million into the pockets of those who have done it tough,” says Enoch. “Over 1000 artists, companies and venues have come together in a rare sign of solidarity to produce and promote an All Australian Made program that will showcase our country’s creative, cultural and artistic excellence.”

“Our internationally acclaimed, homegrown talent have found themselves grounded in 2020 but at Sydney Festival 2021 you can see how the very best of the world can be in your own back yard. Our Covid Safe planning means there will be fewer tickets on sale for January so it’s get in quick and secure your ticket to bring your friends and family together to celebrate Sydney in Summer,” said Enoch.

NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin echoed Enoch’s comments: “I am absolutely delighted that Sydney Festival is going ahead this January. It is testament to Wesley’s programming vision and tenacity that he has managed to pull together an entirely Australian program – with the very best of Sydney artists, arts organisations and more coming together under the Sydney Festival banner.”

“In particular, the festival’s new Covid-safe Headland stage at Barangaroo will be something to behold. I encourage all Sydneysiders to come out and safely participate in what will be an extraordinary cultural experience this summer,” said Minister Harwin.

Alongside the Barangaroo program, the festival’s headline events include: Sunshine Super Girl – the theatrical celebration of Wiradjuri woman Evonne Goolagong’s life story which will see Sydney Town Hall transformed into a tennis court; and The Last Season – a provoking new work of dance theatre by Force Majeure that explores human survival and environmental destruction. Inspired by Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, The Last Season features stage icons Pamela Rabe, Olwen Fouéré and Paul Capsis, alongside a cast of 15 young performers.

Following their global smash-hit Humans (SF17), virtuosic circus ensemble Circa returns to the festival with a new intimate and joyous love letter to humanity, HUMANS 2.0. Co-written by Tasmanian playwright Nathan Maynard (Palawa) and Aotearoa writer Jamie McCaskill (Maori), Hide the Dog is a truly trans-Tasman creation. Directed by Isaac Drandic (Noongar), this uplifting world premiere production celebrates friendship, culture and the world’s last Tasmanian Tiger.

Rounding out the headline program is H.M.S. Pinafore – director Kate Gaul’s wild reimagining of Gilbert and Sullivan’s masterpiece that puts a 21st-century spin on the song-strewn mockery of class, patriotism and the rise of unqualified people to positions of power; and cult rock musical classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Hugh Sheridan and Casey Donovan – which will play at the Enmore Theatre.

The beloved Sydney Symphony Under the Stars returns to Parramatta Park. Once again, conductor Benjamin Northey takes up the baton for a program ranging from the classics of the 18th and 19th centuries to the great film scores of the 20th century. And nothing – not even a global pandemic – will muzzle the famous cannons of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

To understand another person, try walking a mile in their shoes. A Mile in My Shoes is a unique popup store that lets you do just that. Entered via a giant shoebox, the space invites visitors to try on a pair of shoes that belong to someone else (a refugee, a war veteran or a surgeon) and to listen to their story. It might be a tale of loss and sadness, hope and love, of odds overcome. No matter whose shoes you walk in, A Mile in My Shoes will take you further than you ever imagined.

Dead Puppet Society (Laser Beak Man, SF20) returns to the festival with HIVE MIND – an innovative new installation that sees large floating bees arranged among the trees at Vaucluse House to inspire a sense of wonder in the natural world. A constantly moving installation that brings these tiny insects to life using movement, sound and light, HIVE MIND uses the movement of the wind as the puppeteer, highlighting the vital role played by bees in preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystem.

Songstress Casey Donovan brings her powerhouse vocals and rock star band to the City Recital Hall stage for Casey Donovan in Concert. Together with Daniel Edmonds (musical director) and their songbook of iconic hits – featuring the music of Joni Mitchell, Eva Cassidy, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé and more – this special evening of music will remind us that Casey Donovan really is queen of the power-ballad.

In Maureen: Harbinger of Death writer and performer Jonny Hawkins pays homage to his late friend, Maureen by sharing her acerbic life advice. Framed by Jatz crackers, velvet and cigarettes, Maureen invites audiences into her bohemian living-room for a journey of exquisite storytelling.

Thirty-year-old Fatima, under pressure to marry and have with children, seeks glory at the Queen Lebanon Australia pageant in a bid to gain her prospective in-laws’ respect in the high-spirited play, Queen Fatima! Written by the acclaimed James Elazzi (Lady Tabouli, SF20) and directed by Paige Rattray, Queen Fatima! is a heartfelt comedy about celebrating our differences.

Addiction, corruption, environmental destruction. At best it seems our species has an irresistible need to self-harm. At worst, we seem bent on wiping ourselves out. Provocateur Mitch Jones (aka Captain Ruin) imagines our dystopian future in AutoCannibal – a visceral blend of clowning, performance art and physical theatre that takes us into a world in which only one human survives.

Rewired: Musicals Reimagined by Hayes is the latest production by award-winning musical theatre and cabaret ensemble Hayes Theatre Co. Directed by Richard Carroll Rewired sees Genevieve Lemon, Toby Francis, Sheridan Harbridge, Ryan Gonzales, Max Lambert and Elenoa Rokobaro rework a selection of classic musicals like you’ve bever heard them before.

In Universal Woman, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra celebrates the remarkable creative achievements of Hildegard von Bingen, the twelfth-century polymath whose life story and body of work continue to resonate through the ages. A Sydney Festival exclusive, Universal Woman takes place amid the spine-tingling acoustics of St Mary’s Cathedral Crypt, with five performances led by Brandenburg musicians on period instruments as well as singers from the Brandenburg Choir.

In a virtuosic kaleidoscope of music, 12 Hands 6 Grands will see audiences experience six of Australia’s best pianists playing six grand pianos at Sydney Town Hall. Here, Piers Lane, Artistic Director of the Sydney International Piano Competition, has invited six of Australia’s best female pianists to join in this rare collaboration.

Returning for the third time and cementing a new tradition of cleansing and consideration, The Vigil returns to Barangaroo Reserve, offering an opportunity to gather together and experience a night of performance and reflection on the eve of Australia Day. Taking place the morning after, the WugulOra ceremony celebrates the strength and resilience of Australia’s First Nations peoples
through dance and song.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore concluded that the pandemic had shaped this year’s Festival and made it more important than ever. “The Australian arts sector has suffered badly during the pandemic and I think many people have come to appreciate and value just how much it enriches our lives,” she said.

This year’s Festival will not only bring relief and joy to audiences as we leave the pandemic behind, it represents a vote of confidence in the Australian arts and cultural sector. Sydney Festival 2021 will showcase new Australian art with bold contemporary programming that reflects the spirit of our city,” said the Lord Mayor.

The 2021 Sydney festival runs 6–26 January. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: 2021 Sydney Festival Shows (supplied)