Sand, Sun + Sea: Sydney Festival brings the heat with 2023 line-up

Sydney-Festival-2023-Sun-and-Sea-by-Rugil?-Barzdžiukait?-Vaiva-Grainyt?-Lina-Lapelyt?-at-the-Teatro-Argentina-2021-Rome-Photo-by-Neon-Realism-©-Courtesy-of-the-artistsSydney Festival returns this January to give the city its sizzle with an exhilarating line-up of vibrant ideas, irrepressible creativity, remarkable talent and pure summertime revelry across 25 days from 5 – 29 January 2023.

Playing host to its largest lineup of international artists since 2019, the second program from Artistic Director Olivia Ansell features 18 World Premieres and 14 Australian Exclusives from across a full program of over 100 unique events – 26 of which will be free – featuring 748 performances traversing 54 venues.

Literally taking the city as its canvas, the 2023 program will encourage Sydneysiders and visitors to see Sydney differently with site-specific programming unfolding all over town, inviting audiences to revive the long-forgotten haunts of old-world Sydney, engage in familiar locations in different and unusual ways and immerse themselves in emerging spaces beyond their doorsteps.

The city’s venues, gardens and urban sites will be reimagined and revitalised specifically for the festival – think an untouched 1970s underground cocktail lounge springing to life in the central CBD; Old Government House in Parramatta Park transformed by the stories of the Dharug people; or an operatic beachscape transported to Sydney Town Hall.

As in previous years, Sydney Festival remains a repository of diverse and cultural storytelling and performance, buoyed by specially commissioned works and collaborative projects and the event’s distinct sense of place. The 2023 program will champion women-led and female identifying creative representation, environmental advocacy and powerful truth telling.

“There is nowhere better than Sydney to experience an exhilarating summer of art. Made possible by over 1,000 local and international participating artists and the rich diversity of stories and cultures shared,” said Artistic Director Olivia Ansell.

“Please join us this January to see the city anew – from proud First Nation stories, inspiring international collaborations and remarkable one-off events to underbelly immersive experiences that only a city like Sydney could conjure,” said Ansell.

Minster for the Arts, Ben Franklin said the NSW Government is proud to be the largest single financial supporter of the Sydney Festival, which is on track to attract thousands of people from Sydney, NSW, across Australia and internationally to support our creative and 24-hour economies.

“In 2023, the Sydney Festival presents an exceptional program, showcasing Sydney’s magnificent art and cultural spaces. I invite you to indulge in what promises to be an unmissable festival, and enjoy the incredible homegrown and international talent,” said Mr Franklin.

Frida-Kahlo-Life-of-an-IconFESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Transforming Sydney Town Hall with 26 tonnes of sand, the award-winning Sun & Sea is far from your average day at the beach. A sellout at the 2019 Venice Biennale where it was awarded the Golden Lion, this durational English-language opera work in-the-round – also in-the-sand – confronts themes of climate emergency with humour and power.

Written and created by Lithuanian artists Rugile Barzdžiukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte, Sun & Sea also enlists Sydney clubs, choirs and performance to localise to Sydney’s audiences and beaches. A bona fide hit of the international festival circuit, Sun & Sea arrives at Sydney Festival for its exclusive Australian presentation.

In a blockbuster coup for Sydney, appearing for the first time in Australia, a unique biographical exhibition will saturate the walls of the Cutaway with the work, spirit and story of one of the 20th century’s foremost artists: Frida Kahlo.

Co-created by the Frida Kahlo Corporation and the renowned Spanish digital arts company Layers of Reality, Frida Kahlo: Life of an Icon is multi-sensory experience that encompases captivating holography, 360º projections, traditional Mexican music performed live and a virtual reality system that will literally transport visitors inside Kahlo’s most famous works.

Curated by Sydney Festival’s Creative Artist in Residence, Jacob Nash, the festival’s Blak Out program is led by the world premiere Tracker – an ambitious interweaving of dance, ceremony and text by choreographer-director Daniel Riley.

Developed by celebrated First Nations creatives including playwright Ursula Yovich (Man With the Iron Neck, SF2019), director Rachael Maza AM (Black Ties, SF2020), celebrated composer James Henry and in-demand visual artist Jonathan Jones, Tracker explores the life of Riley’s Great-Great Uncle, Alec “Tracker” Riley and the complex legacies of decisions made in the context of racist colonialism.

The bygone CBD beacon that is the Harry Seidler-designed Commercial Travellers’ Association building will be brought to life once again as The Weary Traveller – a late-night festival haunt and pop-up venue.

Deep beneath the busy sidewalks of Martin Place this slice of 1970s Sydney – think red shag carpet on the walls and velvet padded booths – will play host to 16 nights of bespoke and intimate gigs from local and international artists, including Alice Skye, Astral People, Automatic, June Jones, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Lil Silva, Party Dozen, Tom Snowdon, Moktar, Two Birds with Bayang (tha Bushranger), Coloured Stone, HTRK and Potion.

Above the underground bar, in the mushroom-shaped round of the Commercial Travellers’ Association’s 28-room hotel, American artist Kelsey Lu presents a world premiere durational work that travels far beyond the regular constraints of contemporary music and art. In The Lucid: A Dream Portal to Awakening, Lu has crafted an 8-hour audio journey that examines how sound, mood and music can influence our thoughts and expand our imagination. Guests are invited to check-in and experience a one-night stay in another sonic realm with Kelsey Lu as their guide.

The no-clues title of James Thiérrée’s latest work of surreal theatrical imagination barely scratches the surface of what you will see. ROOM is the most ambitious work yet from the Swiss-born auteur and his Compagnie du Hanneton; a sprawling, magical, restless collision of dance, mime, acrobatics, music and jaw-dropping stage effects.

In an Australian exclusive at Sydney Opera House, one of the greatest flamenco dancers of her generation and any other, Spain’ Sara Baras returns to Australia to present Alma, an ensemble showcase in which flamenco embraces bolero, leading onto siguiriya, soleá, caña, rumba and buleria. A leading choreographer and director as well as a dancer, Baras weaves colour, shape and sensuality into this intoxicating new work which premiered in Seville in 2021.

In the city’s west, at Riverside Theatre, Afrique en Cirque sees Guinean/Canadian troupe Kalabanté Productions take contemporary circus to dizzying new levels of fun. Drawing on the Nyamakala tradition of circus practiced in West Africa, the talented troupe of performers and musicians will showcase their infectious energy and remarkable agility exclusively for Sydney Festival audiences.

Old Government House in Parramatta Park will become a wholly Dharug place for several days for Dyin Nura (Women’s Place) while Brenda L Croft’s commanding portrait photography is projected across the façade, illuminating the site’s enduring significance for First Nations women.

Accompanied by two evenings of music and performance, audiences will gather on Dharug land for communal celebration and reflection, while at Barangaroo, Croft’s stripped back and steadfast portraits of the First Nations women and girls who are contemporary sovereign warriors and avatar-sentinals of Cammeraygal woman Barangaroo will watch over the headland.

Featuring the world-class Dutch ensemble Asko|Schönberg, Antarctica arrives in Sydney following a landmark Amsterdam debut, the daring product of an all-Australian creative team and cast, now ready to shine on home turf. Realised by the Sydney Chamber Opera, Antarctica is a mesmerising exploration of the historic, mythic and scientific beliefs inspired by the last great wilderness on Earth.

Welcome the day and kiss goodbye the night in this concert in two parts: Call to the Morning, Call to the Night. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith arrives from the US to help usher in the new year with an outdoor sonic ritual at dawn for Call to the Morning. Tucked behind Milk Beach along the Hermitage Foreshore of Sydney Harbour audiences can bathe in ambient sounds and reflect on the stillness of the city.

Later, as darkness descends, Call to the Night will see Bonobo – one of the biggest names in dance music – play a one-time party in the brutalist Masonic Centre’s Banquet Hall. Known for melding organic and electronic sounds into multi-layered atmospherics, full of tension and release, his DJ sets are equally dynamic and twice as unexpected.

On the evening of 25 January at Barangaroo Reserve, Vigil: Awaken will be created by Jacob Nash and Stephen Page – a ceremony of traditional Eora stories that look towards the future, presented towards the Western side of Sydney Harbour incorporating smoke, song, dance, light and design.

SF23-Step-into-Paradise---Blackfella-Films-and-the-ABCSYDNEY FESTIVAL AT HOME

From the stage, to the couch: highlights from the Sydney Festival program will be available for livestream throughout the festival, from full length production to talks and in conversations. Other works will be accessible free of charge and on demand, allowing audiences near and far to catch up and discover more.

Recorded live by QPAC during the Brisbane Festival world premiere season, audiences will get a chance to see this exciting new Australian production of Holding Achilles (Dead Puppet Society and Legs on the Wall) at home and on demand for a limited time, following the season at Carriageworks.

Available on demand, Step into Paradise is the story of Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson’s remarkable creative partnership and enduring friendship. Together they looked at Australia with wit, irreverence and astonishing imagination to create a distinct Australian fashion like no other and gifted it to the world. This is an evocative ride through their dreams, fame, triumph, tragedy, their riches, losses, determination, rebellion, the racism, their sexuality and heartbreak.

Circus Without Borders is a documentary about Guillaume Saladin and Yamoussa Bangoura, best friends and world-class acrobats from remote corners of the globe who share the same dream: to bring hope and change to their struggling communities through circus. Seven years in the making, this tale of two circuses – Artcirq and Kalabante – is a culture-crossing performance piece that offers a portal into two remote communities, and an inspiring story of resilience and joy.

Traversing movement, music, and art, Powerhouse Latitudes is a series weaving the stories and voices of Western Sydney. Nine artistic commissions explore themes of distance, audibility, and perspective–drawing inspiration from the Powerhouse collection across three distinct films available free and on demand.

Premiering at the historic Blouza Hall in Granville, an iconic former cinema and one of the many locations from the films, the program’s launch event will also be broadcast live, bringing the artists, cast, and collaborators together for a night of film, live performances and music.

Four outstanding shows from the most recent Sydney Festival program, Stay, Erth’s Prehistoric Picnic, The Pulse and Italian Baroque with Circa, have been selected to share with the audiences at home and on demand. Recorded by Australian Theatre Live in January 2022, these carefully crafted, high quality, multi-camera films will reproduce the theatre experience for viewers who might not usually get the chance to see such works.

The 2023 Sydney Festival runs 5 – 29 January. Tickets are now on sale. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Images: Sun & Sea by Rugile Barzdžiukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte at the Teatro Argentina 2021, Rome – photo by Neon Realism © Courtesy of the artists | Frida Kahlo: Life of an Icon (supplied) | Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson in Step into Paradise – courtesy of Blackfella Films and the ABC