The best of Sydney Festival this summer

SF Marrugeku Cut the Sky photo by Jon GreenCelebrating its 40th anniversary and the final year for esteemed Festival Director Lieven Bertels, the 2016 Sydney Festival opens tonight with a spectacular program bursting with free and ticketed events across theatre, dance, circus, opera and contemporary and classical music. We take a look at ten events worth checking out:

Carriageworks: 7 – 12 January
Something between a fever dream and social drama, a lurid performance dealing with madness, obsession and murder, American musician Tom Waits, working with Kathleen Brennan and acclaimed theatre director Robert Wilson, has reinvented Georg Büchner’s raw and unforgiving Woyzeck as a 21st century musical. Two worlds are created: one of the poor German underclass speaking gutsy pre-Brechtian German; another of introspection through Waits’ English songs, giving new dimension to the characters. The illustrious Thalia Theater Hamburg is magnetic in this refined and refreshingly transparent adaptation by the young director Jette Steckel.

La Verità
Riverside Theatres, Parramatta: 8 – 17 January
The internationally renowned writer and director Daniele Finzi Pasca has pulled off everything from an Olympic ceremony and a production with the English National Opera to Cirque du Soleil. Compagnia Finzi Pasca bring their mix of astonishing acts and fantastic visuals to Parramatta in La Verità, ushering in spirit and spectacle inspired by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, with one of his recently rediscovered paintings as the backdrop. Combining circus, clowning, acrobatics, dance and music, Compagnia Finzi Pasca let their imagination run wild in a thrilling experience that is sure to have made that illustrious moustache twitch with delight.

Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent: 8 & 9 January
Alan Cumming, Olivier and Tony Award-winning Scottish actor-singer-author is a shape-shifting trickster, as enthralling and nimble with Shakespeare as he is with show tunes, and an irresistible presence in any room. After wowing them in Brisbane, Lismore and Melbourne in sold-out shows, Alan returns to Sydney with his new show, joined by his long-time collaborator and Emmy Award-winning musical director Lance Horne in a night of song, showbiz goss and general mischief-making in close quarters – just how Alan likes it!

City Recital Hall, Sydney: 14 & 15 January
In their Australian debut, soloists Elise Caluwaerts and Wiard Witholt trace the doomed voyage of mythical lovers Orpheus and Eurydice in Passion. This 21st century take on Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo is from France’s Pascal Dusapin, a composer renowned for his supple melodies, complex textures and mastery of the human voice. With Sydney’s daring contemporary opera company, Sydney Chamber Opera, in full cry and European director Pierre Audi at the helm, scaling the heights of Passion will be an experience not to be missed.

Cut The Sky
Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House: 14 – 16 January
From Broome’s internationally acclaimed dance-theatre company Marrugeku comes this major new work about our relationship with Country – our past, present and future through an Aboriginal lens – that’s as compelling, beautiful and fragile as the land itself.A meditation on humanity’s frailty in the face of our own actions, Cut The Sky begins in the new future and invites the audience to collectively dream up tomorrow with a dynamic fusion of dance, song, poetry and breathtaking visuals.

The Rabbits
Roslyn Packer Theatre: 14 – 24 January
John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s haunting picture book is adapted in this Helpmann Award-winning opera for children and families. A deeply moving story of hope amidst colonisation, The Rabbits sparks imaginations of the young and old, inviting us all to question modern society and our role in its future. The fantastical wonder of this strange world thrills and devastates with the operatic prowess of Kate Miller-Heidke’s exquisite score and performance, alongside a talented cast of opera singers and contemporary music performers. Lavish sets and kooky costumes realise Tan’s pictures in a spectacular tale sure to ignite curiosity, regardless of age.

All The Sex I’ve Ever Had
Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House: 21 – 24 January
A group of Sydney’s over-65s draw on all their wisdom and experience to share true stories of their romantic and sex lives. In this taboo-busting tell-all, the spotlight is at last shone on a part of the population too often rendered invisible, with a show that has touched and tickled audiences all the way from Portland to Prague, Scotland to Singapore. Lovingly crafted by the team behind Haircuts by Children (Sydney Festival 2008) and starring a cast of up-for-it local seniors, All The Sex I’ve Ever Had is a tender encounter with real people.

Drama Theatre – Sydney Opera House: 23 – 24 January
A contemporary Aboriginal story told through movement and dance, SPEAR is Stephen Page’s directorial debut feature film, collaborating with dancers and creatives from his highly acclaimed Bangarra Dance Theatre to bring a visually stunning dance work to the screen. In this poignant reflection on the continuing cultural connection of Aboriginal people, we traverse outback Australia and the gritty streets of Sydney in an intimate journey that brings a modern day myth to the screen.

Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid
Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent: continues to 23 January
A decidedly un-Disney cabaret – sexy spectacle drips into a bittersweet take on what constitutes a ‘Happy Ending’. Join post-postmodern diva Meow Meow as she raucously subverts Hans Christian Andersen’s mermaid tale of teen self-sacrifice, salvation and seduction. A world of old sea shanties and hymns from the Titanic will give way to a glittering array of contemporary originals, as she sails to a land of altered hearts, minds and body parts.

Arquitectura de Feria
Prince Alfred Square, Parramatta: continues to 24 January
Welcome to a fairground like no other. Adults and children play together, twirling handles and spinning pedals to operate the whimsical fairground machines – including a hand-cranked Ferris wheel fitted out with toilet seats and a bicycle-powered carousel with a whirling crocodile and a rocket ship. Recycled objects gain new life in surprising and spectacular ways, in the captivating wonderland of fun that is Arquitectura de Feria.

The 2016 Sydney Festival opens tonight and runs to Tuesday 26 January. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Marrugeku’s Cut The Sky – photo by Jon Green