Sydney Festival reveals 2019 program

Sydney Festival Pigalle - photo by Daniel LinnetThe annual cultural celebration, Sydney Festival returns to transform the city from 9–27 January 2019, delivering the highest quality art and big ideas. January’s blockbuster program features 18 world premieres, five Australian premieres and eight Australian exclusives alongside a variety of new Australian co-commissions.

“Sydney Festival knows how to throw a party, start important conversations and welcome the world to our shores,” says Wesley Enoch, Sydney Festival Director. “We are just like the people of Sydney. We are risk takers and adventurers, leaders and influencers.”

“We are the site of the first British colony and home to cultures going back over 40,000 years, we are pioneers and creators, the storytellers, visionaries and innovators. We are diverse, coming from all corners of the globe with all abilities and reflecting the myriad facets of being human. We are born here, live here and visiting.”

“Sydney Festival 2019 brings together a vibrant collection of dance, theatre, music and visual arts over 19 days that will set your soul alight and give you memories that will last a lifetime,” added Enoch.

Roslyn Packer Theatre becomes the home of two international hit theatre shows in January: Beware of Pity – a Complicité and Schaubühne Berlin theatre collaboration directed by the internationally renowned Simon McBurney coming exclusively to Sydney Festival, and HOME – a magical meditation on safety and shelter by award-winning theatre performer, director and absurdist Geoff Sobelle. Audience interaction builds throughout HOME to culminate in a giant wine-swilling life-affirming celebration.

The Festival Garden and the world-famous Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent return to Hyde Park in January to feature Pigalle – a new festival commission. Set in a Parisian nightclub, Pigalle is a carousel of music, muscles and abandon from the makers of Velvet – starring Marcia Hines, iOTA and Bangarra’s Waangenga Blanco.

The tent will also showcases a diverse musical lineup that includes Orquesta Akokán – a 13-piece mambo band direct from Cuba; South African neo-soul singer and queer icon with charisma to burn Nakhane; American art-pop composer Julia Holter; the godfather of Ethio-jazz Mulatu Astatke backed by the eight-piece Black Jesus Experience; acoustic desert-blues trio Les Filles de Illighadad; and sparkling stars of the cabaret world Paul Capsis, Camille O’Sullivan and Le Gateau Chocolat.

Parramatta and Western Sydney host an exciting Sydney Festival commission and cross-cultural collaboration Shànghai MiMi. Set in 1930s Shanghai, the cabaret experience captures the heady melting-pot of live jazz, daring acrobats and burlesque that, at the time, earned the city the moniker of ‘Paris of the East’. The multi-award-winning burlesque icon Moira Finucane directs the show’s cast, which hails from four continents.

The much-loved free festival concert Sydney Symphony Under The Stars returns to The Crescent in Parramatta Park on 19 January, whilst the weekend before Circus Comes To Town offers three days of free and ticketed performances as well as a parade for the whole family.

At the Sydney Opera House, Gabrielle Wang’s award-winning novel A Ghost in My Suitcase is adapted for stage, telling the family story of a young girl’s trip to her ancestral home in China and into a world of ghost-hunting.

Sydney’s iconic venue Carriageworks showcases a curated offering of powerful new works, Australian premieres and pieces to stretch audience horizons. La Passion de Simone sees the Sydney Chamber Opera perform Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s work in a daring new production by rising star Imara Savage.

Directed by Gideon Obazanek, One Infinity invites the audience to form part of the show, in a cross-cultural music and dance collaboration featuring dancers from Dancenorth and Beijing Dance Theatre; The Chat explores Australia’s criminal justice system in a theatrical collaboration with ex-offenders; and Dancenorth presents Dust – a dance work with Jessica Moss (Thee Silver Mt. Zion) on violin and an architecturally designed set by award-winning Liminal Spaces.

Daughter – a one man play dividing crowds across Canada and Edinburgh, explores toxic masculinity, while pop rebel Neneh Cherry brings her new Four Tet produced album to Carriageworks – her second ever visit to Australia in a nearly 30-year career.

The festival is pleased to be working again with Belvoir on its biggest production to date, Counting and Cracking – chronicling four generations of a Sri Lankan family’s immigration to Australia staged at Sydney Town Hall. The production features 16 actors, is set in a vibrant, colourful Sri Lankan town hall and is served with a communal meal for the audience.

The Belvoir St Theatre comes alive with Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story – a Klezmer-folk story of two Romanian Jews seeking refuge in Canada. The production stars Ben Caplan and is inspired by the true tale of playwright Hanna Moscovich’s great-grandparents. The theatre also stages William Zappa’s sweeping nine-hour rendition of Homer’s Iliad in The Iliad – Out Loud – a dramatic reading of the bloody panorama.

Sydney Festival continues to place its Indigenous program, Blak Out, at the core of the festival and in 2019 features First Nations stories from across Australia, New Zealand and Canada. “Indigenous storytelling is central to living in this landscape,” says Enoch.

“There are important lessons to learn about how we live with and on this continent. We are committed to providing that platform through our Blak Out Program, especially in creating rituals around 26 January.

Biladurang is an award-winning intimate solo work, created by Joel Bray and performed to a bathrobe-clad audience in a hotel room, and Man With The Iron Neck is a powerful new work from Ursula Yovich and Legs On The Wall about a family grappling with life after suicide.

The biennial Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival returns to showcase new and distinctive theatrical voices. The Weekend, itself a product of Yellamundie, premieres as a solo work by Henrietta Baird. Telling the story of one woman’s vengeance for the hundreds of First Nations women currently missing in Canada, Deer Woman introduces a powerful solo performance from Blackfoot actor Cherish Violet Blood to an Australian audience for the first time.

In an extraordinary co-commission called Spinifex Gum, Marliya, a choir of young Indigenous women from Cairns, perform powerful songs by Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill of The Cat Empire at the Sydney Opera House alongside Briggs and Peter Garrett. America’s Adrian Piper and Amrita Hepi, Indigenous to both Australia and New Zealand, explore the blak experience of skipping in The Ropes at Cement Fondu.

Preceding Australia Day, the festival is hosting an all-night bonfire vigil from sun-down on the 25th to dawn the following day, with stories of Country from current and future community Elders. The Vigil allows a moment of reflection for attendees to consider the country before the First Fleet arrived, and the profound impact the arrival had on Australia.

For the duration of the festival, a large scale sign spelling ALWAYS – designed by Bangarra artist-in-residence Jacob Nash, will also sit on the Barangaroo headland, declaring that it ‘always was, always will be, Aboriginal land’.

In a celebration of creativity, technology and significant human endeavour, three free interactive art precincts at World Square, Barangaroo and Darling Harbour mark 50 years since humans landed on the moon.

“The 50th anniversary of the moon landing reminds us of a time when we were driven by a cultural ambition to explore space,” says Enoch. “Through competition and collaboration the world looked to the sky, solving problems and taking the population of the world into an imaginative state. This is the kind of collective thinking we might require if we are to tackle climate change and sustainability.

Sydney Festival is challenging the city to collectively cycle the 384,400km from here to the moon. Participants can contribute on the Lunar Velocipede (stationary rickshaw bike with wings) or 16 other stationary bikes at Fly Me To The Moon at World Square, or donate kilometres from their own bike rides or spin classes.

Apollo 11 investigates 11 heroes of space travel through three-metre-high astronaut models at Barangaroo South, and Moon Drops offer the opportunity for Sydneysiders to experience weightlessness on super-sized water-filled droplets that can be stepped, rolled or jumped on.

In true Sydney Festival tradition, unusual spaces around the city are being transformed into arts venues. The Seidler Salon Series returns for its second year, to enliven Harry Seidler-designed buildings with unique concerts. These include Los Angeles harpist Mary Lattimore playing her signature musical loops, as audience members float in the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre pool, experiencing both open-air and sub-aquatic sound design.

Masters of Modern SOUND offers an after dark journey through the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ exhibition Masters of modern art from the Hermitage with a live soundtrack provided by sonic artists. T5 Tank Sound Project uses the impressive resonance of huge decommissioned WWII military fuel tanks hidden in Mosman and Blak Box pops-up in Blacktown for a surround sound ‘deep listening’ experience. A Silent Disco threatens to disrupt the serenity of the State Library of NSW, and Until engulfs the foyer of Carriageworks with a large scale installation of shimmering crystals by visual artist Nick Cave.

Following two successful years as Festival Director, Sydney Festival has announced that Wesley Enoch will have his tenure extended by two years to a five-year term, now ending in 2021.

“When Wesley agreed to take the helm at Sydney Festival I was thrilled,” said David Kirk MBE, Chair of Sydney Festival Board of Directors. “His reputation as an innovative artist and leader of arts organisations preceded him. As a fantastically fresh thinker he promised to challenge and excite Sydney in equal parts.”

“Well, he’s delivered in spades, his programming has focused discussion on the deep roots that we all share as Australians, whilst simultaneously championing art that is accessible for all Sydneysiders and visitors to this city. The extension is well-deserved and I look forward to seeing what he brings in 2020 and 2021.”

The 2019 Sydney Festival runs 9 – 27 January. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: Pigalle – photo by Daniel Linnet