The mainstay of Sydney’s high summer season, Sydney Festival, sails back this January with a first-class line-up of World Premieres, extraordinary immersive experiences, cutting-edge public art, Australian exclusives, free events, trailblazing First Nations programming and an epic live music offering.
Once again, Sydneysiders and visitors are invited to rediscover their city differently – from parks to beaches, harbour inlets to retro fun parlours – proving there’s nowhere else but Sydney to experience an exhilarating summer of art.
From 5 – 28 January get ready for 24 days of music, performance, theatre, art, fashion, circus and dance right across Greater Sydney. Featuring 26 World Premieres, 29 Australian exclusives, 15 co-commissioned works and 43 free events amidst an expansive program of local and international highlights, Sydney Festival will host more than 1,000 artists and over 150 events.
This year, Sydney’s iconic harbour will take centre stage, with works and events presented on – and in celebration of – water throughout January, including Puccini’s nautical one act opera, Il Tabarro, performed aboard the Carpentaria lightship, and live music from global roamers, Arka Kinari, whose bespoke sailing vessel serves as both their touring van and stage.
The 2024 event will kick off with a groundswell of luscious sound at Sydney Festival’s own mid-city music fest, Summerground in Tumbalong Park. International headliners, much-loved local acts and discoverable world music gems will turn up the heat as Summerground ushers in the festival’s opening weekend from 5 – 7 January across three big nights of deep soul, dirty funk, reggae, alt pop, indie rock, roots, R&B and plenty of beats, bleeps and horn sections to rattle the ice in your cup.
Nearby, the historic Hungry Mile of Walsh Bay will evolve into The Thirsty Mile – a full swing festival takeover by the water in a cheeky nod to the wharves’ working history and a fierce nod forward to what audiences are thirsty to see change.
This new summer hotspot and festival hub includes theatres, bars, exhibition spaces, cabaret speakeasys and a dedicated late-night club. And for the first time ever, all eight venues in the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct will be activated, with dance, art and performance showcased both on stage and around the theatres themselves.
A bumper Blak Out bill, curated by Sydney Festival’s Creative Artist in Residence Jacob Nash, will present three World Premieres alongside a packed wider program of powerful First Nations work, including the much-anticipated rock n’ roll Warumpi Band story, Big Name, No Blankets.
Meanwhile, the weaving of intergenerational, intercultural and interpersonal stories will be embedded in the very fabric of the festival, from the likes of Broome’s early pearling industry in Marrugeku’s dance piece Mutiara, to extraordinary First Nations stories of Brazil with Lia Rodrigues’ Encantado through to Night Songs at Coney Island – an immersive choral experience balancing darkness and light at one of Sydney’s most iconic attractions.
“Saltwater stories, freshwater stories and the weaving of over one thousand local and international artists. Get ready for a blockbuster summer that speaks to the heart and soul of Sydney – the best harbour city in the world,” said Festival Director, Olivia Ansell.
“With an explosive music program and the biggest to date, 2024 also offers spellbinding theatre, exquisite dance, electrifying circus and immersive experiences that lift Sydney’s underbelly – see you in January at the Thirsty Mile!” said Ansell.
“Sydney Festival brings our city to life in Summer. It opens a new year with a burst of cultural expression and artistic activity full of diverse ideas from around the world alongside a deep commitment to First Nations expression and a championing of the multicultural force we have become in NSW,” said The Hon. John Graham, MLC, NSW Minister for the Arts, Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy.
“The sounds, tastes and emotions of the communities the Festival interacts with kick off any year with great joy. It is why you are in Sydney in January. It is why so many people from around the country and the world want to be here too,” said Mr Graham.
SYDNEY FESTIVAL 2024 HIGHLIGHTS:
9 – 13 January
Presented by Victorian Opera, Il Tabarro sees the first opera in Puccini’s Il Trittico transferred to 1930s Depression-era Sydney and staged aboard the historic lightship, The Carpentaria, in a darkly romantic tale of passion, desperation and heartbreak. Featuring exceptional Australian talent and a live orchestra, this maverick style free event, which marks 100 years since Puccini’s death, makes for an unmissable night under the stars.
5 – 10 January
At Sydney Opera House, 11 dancers transform 140 colourful blankets into shape-shifting costumes and spirits of healing in Encantado – a jubilant dance work designed to re-enchant the world. Over her 40-year career, celebrated Brazilian choreographer Lia Rodrigues has worked tirelessly to build synergies between art, activism and social processes. In Encantado she takes inspiration from the very real environmental and spiritual struggles experienced in today’s Brazil to ask: How can we become close to each other and to the world we are a part of once again?
17 – 19 January
A globally touring music production moved by the wind and powered by the sun, Arka Kinari, is set to drop anchor in Sydney Harbour. By night the vessel transforms into a stage for a free, exhilarating performance from Grey Filastine (US) and Nova Ruth (Indonesia), a multimedia duo who use their extraordinary music and cinematic visuals to imagine life after the carbon economy, promote resilience and encourage re-engagement with the sea. In collisions of psychedelic beats, Javanese post-folk and analogue synths with video, design and dance, they express a radically different vision of the possible.BANANALAND
3 – 14 January
Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres raises the curtain on the romping new musical comedy from award-winning songwriting team Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall and director Simon Phillips (all three of whom were behind the smash-hit Muriel’s Wedding The Musical). Opening to rave reviews at Brisbane Festival earlier this year and starring music theatre’s Max McKenna (Muriel’s Wedding The Musical, Jagged Little Pill), BANANALAND follows Australia’s least-loved punk rock protest band, Kitty Litter, as they become an accidental hit on the kids’ music charts. Is Kitty Litter set to become the next Wiggles? (Spoiler: Yes!) Can they buy into their accidental ‘kids’ band’ fame and still keep their heads high? Maybe.
9 – 21 January
Savour Cambodia’s heritage with a spectacular circus celebrating healing, joy and rice in White Gold at the Seymour Centre. Be astonished by hypnotic dance, mesmerising music, live painting and circus arts – spanning juggling, tumbling and teeterboard – dating back 1,200 years. Founded by refugees and based in Battambang, Phare, who are soon to debut at New York City’s Victory Theatre on Broadway, is a unique contemporary circus sprung from a non-profit NGO. It provides free education and training in circus arts, theatre, music, dance and design to students, and in turn, infuses Phare’s work with the reality of their own life experiences.
12 – 14 January
Seasoned circus star and completely unqualified camp leader Dale Woodbridge-Brown can’t use a compass but proves everyone can earn their badge for being their most authentic self. The Faboriginal boy from the bush serves up fierce skills and sass with a lot of humour and heart, proving that even the squarest tent peg can fit in a round hole with empathy, understanding and some silly games. Camp Culture is a join-in-the-fun circus show full of games and activities for any age.Smashed: The Nightcap
6 – 27 January
Everyone’s favourite brunch crew is cruising back to the Wharf for a full season residency at The Thirsty Mile‘s speakeasy – and this time they’re taking charge of the night in Smashed: The Nightcap. Host Victoria Falconer leads a world-class femme-fronted ensemble serving delicious cabaret, exquisite drag, jaw-dropping circus and a live-n-kickin’ dive band, plus a smuggled-in selection of Festival headliners as nightly special guests.
17 – 22 January
SPIN is an interactive guided dance event with three Deaf hosts and a DJ, inspired by club culture and social dance scenes in San Francisco, Mexico, Cuba and Berlin. Created by Australian Deaf dance artist and performer Anna Seymour, it celebrates connection, escapism, hedonism and the power of dance ritual. SPIN is also a playful interrogation of who can belong and coexist in the rave realm – a challenge to assumptions that Deaf people cannot enjoy these spaces.
Night Songs at Coney Island
22 – 25 January
Taking over the iconic Sydney Luna Park for an immersive night-time experience, Night Songs at Coney Island, features artists from the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, vocal soloists Peter Coleman Wright AO and Cheryl Barker AO, a children’s ensemble, and chamber orchestra performing music by Poulenc, Stravinsky and Mahler. This playground setting comes to life with Poulenc’s buoyant and jubilant Sextet for Piano and Winds, before the shadow of grief and loss takes over, set against a community’s lament for atonement sung to Stravinsky’s Mass. Woven throughout the evening is Mahler’s hauntingly personal Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), performed by Coleman-Wright and Barker.GöteborgsOperans Danskompani
23 – 28 January
One of Europe’s foremost contemporary dance companies, GöteborgsOperans Danskompani presents a Swedish double-bill of cutting-edge contemporary dance at the Roslyn Packer Theatre. In Skid by Belgian and French choreographer Damien Jalet, 17 dancers battle gravity on a vertiginous, 34-degree slope – sliding, swaying, struggling back to the top as the dancers are quite literally pushed to the edge of their abilities to perform without toppling down the slope. Then, in Sharon Eyal’s SAABA, an intoxicating dancefloor with pulsating rhythms sees dancers pushing movements to an unearthly extreme. Drawing from the catwalk and club to produce a hybrid choreography, Eyal’s dancers wear flesh-coloured body suits by Dior’s Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri and perform on demi-pointe for almost the entire work.
19 – 20 January
Directed by Amber Haines and Kyle Page, Dancenorth Australia joins forces with three-time Grammy nominated Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote and sound artist Byron J. Scullin to create a soaring composition evoking pleasure and possibility. In Wayfinder, an undulating sound sculpture condenses and expands this scintillating score, immersing audiences in a new sonic dimension. Japanese-Australian visual artist Hiromi Tango offers her joyful, heart-expanding artwork to both the stage design and costumes for this sublime new performance.
Are we not drawn onward to new erA
16 – 20 January
Acclaimed Belgian innovators Ontroerend Goed return to Sydney Festival with a captivating and innovative call to action that stands at the point where visual art, theatre, poetry and political protest meet. Winner of the 2019 de Fringe First Award, Are we not drawn onward to new erA reflects the this-way/that-way tensions of a world on the brink in a technically masterful and jaw-dropping palindromic production.Ode to Joy (How Gordon got to go to the nasty pig party)
16 – 21 January
Created by writer-director James Ley, the riotous Ode to Joy (How Gordon got to go to the nasty pig party) follows Scottish civil servant Gordon as he attempts to abandon his homonormative behaviour for a sex party in Berlin’s Berghain. One of the succès de scandales of the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe, Ode to Joy (How Gordon got to go to the nasty pig party) is a ribald rites-of-passage queer play about love, hedonism and kinky sex with strangers.
The Chosen Haram
16 – 21 January
Award-winning Scotland-based circus artist Sadiq Ali delivers a heady mix of love and nightlife, expertly performed on Chinese poles and set to a banging soundtrack. Based on Ali’s personal experience and candid interviews with members of the LGBTQI+ community who identify as (ex) Muslim, The Chosen Haram deals with themes of sexuality, faith, addiction and the intricacies of Islam. Stacked with physical humour, pain and joy, it’s a love story like no other.
Orpheus & Eurydice
12 – 31 January
Awe-inspiring acrobatics meets exquisite music in a contemporary reimagining of Orpheus & Eurydice presented collectively by Opera Australia and Sydney Festival. Projections seamlessly integrate surtitles into the action on stage, as brilliant singers come together with the trailblazing circus artists of Circa, one of Australia’s most successful cultural exports. Starring French countertenor Christophe Dumaux as Orpheus, performing opposite Australian soprano Cathy-Di Zhang, who makes her role debut singing both Eurydice and Amor under the baton of conductor Dane Lam.Soliloquy
17 – 18 January
In Soliloquy, Melbourne recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey subverts the hierarchy of traditional concert music presentation by inviting 32 untrained participants to share a stage with a musician and a professional contemporary dancer (a thrilling rare performance from Stephanie Lake). This untrained chorus will create a performance around Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute, working to simple directions – Soliloquy is all about listening – to become a living part of the music in an enthralling, unique ritual unlike anything experienced before.
Send for Nellie
10 – 14 January
The World Premiere of Send for Nellie tells the true tale of the most impressive career in Australian cabaret you’ve probably never heard of: the legendary singer and cross-dressing cabaret artist, Nellie Small. Written by Alana Valentine, co-curated by Kween G, directed by Liesel Badorrek and produced by Sue Donnelly, this bold new work unearths one of our great untold stories in song and Nellie’s own words, with powerhouse performer Elenoa Rokobaro centre stage and dressed to the nines.
An Evening Without Kate Bush
18 – 21 January
UK singer-performer Sarah-Louise Young and Russel Lucas’ award-winning chaotic cult cabaret rejoices in the raw and fearlessly pioneering artistry of one of the most influential voices in pop culture: Kate Bush. Far more than an act of mimicry, An Evening Without Kate Bush is a spellbinding, shape-shifting, communal spectacle for new and diehard fans alike.
It’s a Sin: Songs of Love and Shame
Cabaret powerhouse and Helpmann Award-winner Michael Griffiths takes audiences on a very personal, funny and sometimes melancholy deep dive into the songs of pop superstars The Pet Shop Boys – musical beacons for gay men growing up and coming out. Directed by Dean Bryant, It’s a Sin: Songs of Love and Shame sees Griffiths bring his inimitable cabaret style to PSB classics like Rent, Love Comes Quickly, Suburbia, You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk and Go West.
The 2024 Sydney Festival runs 5 – 28 January. For more information and full program, visit: www.sydneyfestival.org.au for details.
Images: GöteborgsOperans Danskompani: Skid – photo by Lennart Sjöberg | BANANALAND (supplied) | Smashed: The Nightcap – photo by Ruby Sam Clark – Artwork by Green Peas for Breakfast | GöteborgsOperans Danskompani: Saaba (supplied) | Ode to Joy (How Gordon got to go to the nasty pig party) | Soliloquy – photo by Pia Johnson