Sydney Festival reveals 2020 program

AAR SF2020 Black Ties - photo by Garth OrianderSet to engage minds, stir souls and transform the city over three big weeks from 8 January, Sydney Festival has announced its blockbuster 2020 program – inviting audiences to discover the best of new Australian and international theatre, music, visual art, dance and ideas in corners of the city both known and unknown.

From Barangaroo Reserve and Parramatta to some of the city’s most unique spaces, Sydney Festival’s 2020 line-up sees Festival-goers of all ages exploring the city through a range of over 75 large-scale public events, exhibitions, installations and performances.

“Sydney Festival brings to our city the newest works from the world’s most adventurous artists,” said Sydney Festival Director Wesley Enoch. “We unearth the interesting, the new and the exciting. Wherever there is a debate to be had, a diversity of opinion or the need to speak the neglected story, Sydney Festival is there. We are proudly diverse. We are equal parts cultural ambition and celebration.”

Festival highlights include the return of all-ages festival favourites Opera in the Domain and Sydney Symphony Under the Stars, and Reg Livermore’s groundbreaking, gender-flexing Betty Blokk-Buster character returns to wow a new generation in Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined, starring Josh Quong Tart.

Multidisciplinary artist Lars Jan and Early Morning Opera will bring essayist Joan Didion’s now-iconic 1979 work The White Album to the stage; and Canadian choreographer Dana Gringas and Animals of Distinction will present their monumental new dance work Frontera.

Elsewhere in the program, French choreographer François Chaignaud and dramatist Nino Laisné present an opera-ballet love letter to centuries of Spanish culture in Romances Inciertos, un Autre Orlando; and French stage and screen superstar Isabelle Adjani gives a searing portrayal of a performer on the brink in a radical restaging of John Cassavetes’ cult classic Opening Night.

In a hilarious new work from two leading First Nations theatre companies – Melbourne’s ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and NZ’s Te R?hia Theatre – audiences are invited to the wedding reception of M?ori woman Hera and Aboriginal man Kane, in the world premiere season of BLACK TIES.

Ensemble Theatre’s Black Cockatoo brings to the stage the largely unheard, remarkable true story of Australia’s first international sports team and its legendary First Nations captain, Johnny Mullagh. Black Cockatoo is directed by Wesley Enoch (Black Diggers) and written by celebrated screenwriter Geoffrey Atherden (BabaKiueria).

Twenty-one years after releasing their critically acclaimed portrait of Howard-era Australia – Who’s Afraid of the Working Class – writers Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela reunite to once again take the nation’s pulse with the funny and ferocious Anthem.

In an exhilarating performance, hip hop dance innovator Nick Power’s brand-new collaboration Two Crews brings together two leading dance crews: all-female Parisian act Lady Rocks and Sydney group Riddim Nation. Meeting for the first time, the crews present a high-energy cypher dance battle, set to music by Sydney composer Jack Prest.

At Parramatta’s Prince Alfred Square, 16 young dancers from FORM Dance Projects and 48 musicians of the Western Sydney Youth Orchestra perform ENCOUNTER – a joyful site-specific work produced by Fling Physical Theatre, and celebrating the extraordinariness of growing up in Western Sydney.

Internationally lauded UK performance artist Bryony Kimmings brings her darkly offbeat, deeply funny and sharply heartbreaking feminist musical I’m a Phoenix, Bitch to the Drama Theatre at the Opera House, after sell-out international runs.

A West End smash-hit and kick-ass feminist ‘her-story’ lesson, SIX is an electrifying all-female pop musical that remixes the history of the six ill-fated wives of Henry VIII. A slick, sassy sing-off that flips the rebellious queens into historical heroines, SIX will be presented at the Sydney Opera House.

Central to the 2020 program, Sydney Festival’s Blak Out program foregrounds First Nations voices, to the fore with stories and performances from First Nations communities across Australia, Canada, Aotearoa, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

Thirty years after its premiere, the world’s best-loved Aboriginal musical, Bran Nue Dae, gets a major revival at Riverside Theatres. Legendary Australian actor Ernie Dingo reprises his role as Uncle Tadpole, in Jimmy Chi and Kuckles exuberant portrayal of 1960s Western Australia.

Marking the eve of an anniversary that many Australians have an uneasy association with, Procession invites Sydneysiders and visitors to come together on 25 January and make their way through the streets of Sydney, for a smoking ceremony led by local Elders, with performances at key destinations along the walk. The event concludes at Barangaroo Reserve at dusk to begin The Vigil.

The Vigil is an opportunity to gather campfire-side at Barangaroo Reserve and experience a night of stories, performance and reflection. Held from dusk on 25 January until dawn on 26 January, The Vigil is a time to reflect on and consider Australia’s Indigenous heritage, its colonial heritage and contemporary multicultural migration. Hear live music from Archie Roach and guests alongside choral and poetry performances that showcase the resilience, beauty and joy of First Nations cultures.

Also at Barangaroo Reserve, 250 flags fly in Proclamation – a large-scale art installation exploring Australia’s diverse ideas about land and country, belonging and possession. Participants Australia-wide are invited to submit images online that reflect their precise or ephemeral ideas of, and connection to, land, country and belonging. See the Sydney Festival website for details on how to participate.

In a world premiere theatre production from Moogahlin Performing Arts, Muruwari playwright Jane Harrison’s The Visitors transports audiences back to 1788 to a pivotal moment in history. Seven senior First Nations lawmen meet on the shores of Gadigal land, as strange, tall ships dock in the bay, to debate the question: “Should these strangers be welcomed, or should the clans rise as one and resist?”

Three major video works from Kudjala/Gangalu artist Daniel Boyd will map the walls of Carriageworks with Boyd’s infinite cosmos of compositions and prismatic colour; while REMEMBER ME – a monumental illuminated text work by Melbourne-based Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie – stands outside Carriageworks as a searing reminder of the massacres and the survival of the real sovereigns of this country, the Aboriginal people of Australia.

Spanning 100 metres in length, Radiant Flux sees Perth artist Rebecca Baumann cover every glass surface in Carriageworks with dichroic film to create a kaleidoscopic world of colour and light; while Sydney artist Kate Mitchell uses electromagnetic field imaging equipment to photograph the auras of participants in All Auras Touch, creating aura images for each of the 1,023 recognised occupations in Australia – a snapshot of country right now.

At the National Art School, Who Are These Strangers and Where Are They Going? is a timely and powerful showcase of the work of Badtjala artist Dr Fiona Foley; while at Artspace, multidisciplinary artist Taloi Havini’s immersive new exhibition Reclamation highlights the complex ties between Havini’s place of birth (the Autonomous Region of Bougainville) and Australia.

First Nations artists Blak Douglas, Karla Dickens and Jason Wing team up with curator Djon Mundine OAM and Mosman Art Gallery to present Three Views – taking over secret sites in the Armoured Casemates at Georges Head Battery to offer darkly humorous First Nations perspectives on Sydney Harbour.

Campbelltown Arts Centre hosts The Island – a career-spanning survey of the work of one of the most prominent and important contemporary visual artists working in Australia today, Vernon Ah Kee.

Sydney Festival continues to shine a spotlight on unique, important and often neglected stories: the 2020 program presents a range of works reflecting the diversity of the human experience.

Award-winning Australian choreographer Stephanie Lake unleash her most ambitious work to date with Colossus – a hypnotic, visually stunning masterwork that sees 50 bodies move as one, Colossus features pre-professional dancers from Ev & Bow, NAISDA, New Zealand School of Dance and Sydney Dance Company.

In The Mermaid, performance artist Hanna Cormick’s confronting work re-contextualises the medical devices she lives with to manage various health complications; exposing often invisible topics around the social model of disability and rebelling against a rare disease and its limitations.

Master showman and magician James Galea reveals all in Poof! Secrets of a Magician – a hilarious, confessional adults-only magic-themed show that poses a series of questions-in-songs such as Are All Magicians Gay? and asks what happens when you know all the secrets and lose touch with the magic in your own life.

In The Aspie Hour, charismatic performers Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley use their shared love of musical theatre to debunk common misconceptions about their Asperger’s syndrome, in a heartfelt, hilarious show that celebrates the life-changing glee of big-hearted song and dance.

True West is a season of independent theatre from Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta, celebrating contemporary voices and stories from Sydney’s west – featuring the world premiere of award-winning director Dino Dimitriadis’ take on the James Elazzi-penned Lady Tabouli; and play readings of Boom and Garage Sale.

In Double Delicious, stellar storyteller-cooks Benjamin Law, Elizabeth Chong, Valerie Berry, Raghav Handa and Heather Jeong reveal the secrets of their stories and dishes, serving up intimate, affecting tales while slicing, stirring and plating personally and culturally significant cuisine.

Strut & Fret – the mad-genius makers behind LIMBO (Sydney Festival 2014 and 2015) and Cantina (Sydney Festival 2013) – bring together a cast of international prodigies and deviants for the Spiegeltent cabaret spectacular LIFE – the show.

The 2020 Sydney Festival runs 8 – 26 January. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: Black Ties – photo by Garth Oriander