Sydney Festival announces 2016 program

Sydney Festival Woyzeck Thalia Theater HamburgEach January, Sydney Festival enlivens and transforms Sydney with a bold cultural celebration based on the highest quality art and big ideas. In 2016, Sydney Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary and the final year for esteemed Festival Director Lieven Bertels with a spectacular program bursting with free and ticketed events across theatre, dance, circus, opera and contemporary and classical music.

Sydney Festival 2016 is comprised of 157 events, a staggering 89 of which are free. With 383 performances across 34 indoor and outdoor venues, Sydney Festival 2016 features 902 artists from across 22 countries. With 11 world premieres, 20 Australian premieres and 8 Australian exclusives, summer in our beautiful city is not to be missed.

Sydney Festival has a long history of presenting Australian premiere works, bringing to Sydney some of the world’s greatest artists. Exclusive performances headline the Festival with Germany’s famous Thalia Theater Hamburg and director Jette Steckel who will make their Australian debut with Woyzeck – a stage adaptation by Robert Wilson, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan.

Aacclaimed choreographer Anne Teresa de Kaesmaeker returns to Australia with her company Rosas to present her earliest choreography Fase Four Moments to the Music of Steve Reich, a seminal piece in the evolution of contemporary dance, and major dance concert work Vortex Temporum – a thrilling and extraordinary collaboration across art forms by Rosas and contemporary music ensemble Ictus.

Sydney loves a good party, and what better way to celebrate 40 years than with The Flaming Lips in The Domain, for free! Headlining the famous free concert Summer Sounds in The Domain, The Flaming Lips are a musical force to be reckoned with offering cult favourites like She Don’t Use Jelly alongside chart hits as Do You Realize?? and live performances that are simply unrivalled.

From Barangaroo Reserve to Vaucluse House, Sydney Festival will take over several new venues and unusual spaces in 2016. Sydney’s new creative playground, the Cutaway at Barangaroo Reserve, will be home to one of the largest community participation events presented in Sydney Festival’s history, with French artist Olivier Grossetête’s fantastically epic The Ephemeral City, and another pop-up installation titled The People’s Tower at Darling Harbour also.

Art and architecture will collide as we gather the community to help build monumental cardboard structures. Also in the Cutaway at Barangaroo Reserve, Shaun Gladwell’s newest video work, Skateboarders vs Minimalism will premiere in a large projection along the western wall in a commission by Catriona and Simon Mordant AM. Both works can be enjoyed from a bird’s eye view on a free Flying Fox – zipping between the cardboard buildings and video installation on a giant 165m zip line.

In 2016, some of the biggest international names in classical music come together for exquisite collaborations. Opening the Festival with a hauntingly beautiful encounter between voice and visuals, baritone superstar Matthias Goerne and visual artist William Kentridge perform Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise.

On the closing weekend of the Festival, Anima Eterna Brugge will perform Australia’s first ever Beethoven symphonic marathon on period instruments in Anima Eterna Brugge Beethoven’s Symphonies. Taking place over five consecutive evenings, Beethoven’s exuberant Ninth Symphony will raise the roof of the Sydney Opera House in a grand finale performance with Sydney’s own Australian Brandenburg Choir.

Collaborations between Australian and international artists shine in 2016 when Sydney Chamber Orchestra team up with European director Pierre Audi in Passion, a 21st century retelling of Monteverdi’s l’Orfeo by French composer Pascal Dusapin.

In a new work created exclusively in digital format and co-commissioned with Holland Festival, Australian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke performs the enigmatic title role in the interactive song cycle The Book of Sand. Created by Michel van der Aa as three parallel layers of music and film, viewers create their own path by switching between storytelling layers in an accessible work available Australia wide.

Immersive experiences and community works are central to this year’s theatre events. In The Object Lesson, audience members are welcomed into a towering installation of haphazard trinkets, objects and souvenirs as actor and illusionist Geoff Sobelle explores our relationship with everyday objects in a magical act of storytelling.

Inspired by real-life human reactions to trauma, Catherine McClements is joined by local community choirs in The Events – an extraordinary fusion of theatre and music, whilst in a taboo busting tell-all performance, Sydney’s over 65’s draw on all their wisdom and experience to share true stories of their romantic and sex lives in All the Sex I’ve Ever Had.

Sydney Festival will present new Australian works of magnitude and cultural importance with the Helpmann Award-winning opera The Rabbits, and Stephen Page’s directorial debut feature film SPEAR by Bangarra Dance Theatre. In a major new work by Broome’s internationally acclaimed dance-theatre company Marrugeku, Cut the Sky explores our relationship with Country – our past, present and future through an Aboriginal lens – and humanity’s frailty in the face of our own actions.

Hyde Park’s hugely popular Festival hub Meriton Festival Village returns with a variety of thrilling circus, comedy and cabaret shows, activities and a wide range of contemporary music performances. A world premiere and new Australian work by Sydney Festival favourite Meow Meow headlines the Festival Village in Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid, and award-winning actor-singer-author Alan Cumming returns to Sydney with his new show Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs!

Australia’s leading circus company Circa will invite audiences to enter a world of physical daring in the beautiful and truly virtuosic What Will Have Been. Djuki Mala will thrill adults and children alike with their high-energy and stunning fusion of traditional Indigenous culture, contemporary dance and storytelling, and Family Week will return with a jam-packed week full of family shows and free fun.

The Parramatta program is larger than ever with the new Festival hub in Prince Alfred Square hosting a program of free events for the duration of the Festival and a large scale fairground like no other. Recycled objects gain new life in surprising and spectacular ways in the captivating wonderland of fun that is Arquitectura de Feria. Compagnia Finzi Pasca will also bring their mix of astonishing acts and fantastic visuals to Riverside Theatre in La Verita – a circus spectacle inspired by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí.

In Sydney’s inner west, the hugely popular Festival within the Festival, About An Hour returns to Carriageworks. With a long weekend of diverse 60-minute events spanning theatre, dance, music and storytelling from Australia, France, Japan and the UK, tickets are just $35 giving you maximum bang for your Festival buck.

To celebrate our 40 years, London based-photographer Eva Vermandel has brought our history to life with an evocative series of portraits scattered throughout the city in the special free installation 40 Portraits. In another free installation, music and environmental sounds weave through the landscape of one of Sydney’s most beautiful outdoor spaces – the garden at Vaucluse House, Sydney Living Museums in Pleasure Garden.

“It’s such a privilege to be part of the 40th anniversary of Australia’s favourite summer arts festival,” says Festival Director Lieven Bertels. “Sydney Festival has commissioned and presented a record-breaking number of new Australian works, and takes pride in creating unique opportunities for Australian and international artists to collaborate.”

“Over these forty years, we have taken audiences on a wonderful voyage, and our 2016 festival is an important milestone on that trip!”

The 2016 Sydney Festival runs 7 – 26 January. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Woyzeck – photo by Krafft Angerer