On the Couch with Olivia Ansell

SydFest Olivia Ansell photo by Wendell TeodoroWho is Olivia Ansell?
I am the Festival Director of Sydney Festival. A curator, executive producer and former artist, I get to play ringmaster of Sydney’s cultural calendar each January – collaborating deeply with local and international artists across a range of unique sites to amplify the bold identity of Sydney.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
Learn from hindsight. A reflective gift of truth that you can’t receive in advance.

Who inspires you and why? 
The courageous, intelligent and visionary minds of the many writers, directors, choreographers, composers, devisors, visual artists, musicians and performers whose work makes up the Sydney Festival each year.

What would you do to make a difference in this world?
Continue programming work that draws awareness to the big issues – treaty, climate impact and sustainability, gender equality, inclusivity and social justice.

Favourite Holiday Destination and Why?
Iceland. For its rugged landscapes and the Northern Lights. Even the most seasoned waterfall chaser would be impressed by the blue lagoons, glaciers, volcanoes and cascading falls. Don’t miss Reykjavik’s biennial arts festival in June or the chance to discover the next Bjork protégé … you might even spot where they filmed Game of Thrones.

When friends come to town what attraction would you take them to and why?
During January? The Sydney Festival! Otherwise, a cocktail at Hotel Palisade on level four at Henry Deane. A spectacular view of Sydney Harbour that wraps right around from East to West.

What are you currently reading?
A new stage adaptation of Mahabharata by Miriam Fernandes and Ravi Jain. A contemporary dramatic take on a 4,000-year-old Sanskrit epic that is foundational to Indian culture. With warring families and devious revenge plots, Mahabharata tells the story of an ancient feud with philosophical and spiritual questions that are no less urgent today.

What are you currently listening to?
I was recently appointed to the selection jury of Jazzahead – a German run jazz platform for international musicians to showcase their music. Myself and fellow jury members listened to 87 albums over two weeks. Right now, I’m listening to the remarkable funk guitarist Judith Hill.

Happiness is? 
The medicine you can’t live without.

What does the future hold for you?
Professionally, the opportunity to discover many more exhilarating stories and bring them to stages across Sydney. Personally, I’m currently pregnant with identical twin girls. It’s going to be an adjustment!

Olivia is the Festival Director of Sydney Festival – which runs 5 – 28 January 2024, animating locations across Greater Sydney. For more information, visit: www.sydneyfestival.org.au for details.

Image: Olivia Ansell – photo by Wendell Teodoro