With most international borders still closed, it makes sense that the 2021 Sydney Festival program has a keen focus on local talent. But festival director Wesley Enoch has developed the line-up in a way that feels intentional and fresh – not a consequence of covid-19.
“People have asked if I’m disappointed covid has affected my last festival, but it’s been clarifying,” he told Broadsheet after the announcement. “It’s shown me what I believe in: community, relationships with people, trusting artists who are connected to their communities, First Nations storytelling and issuing the invitation for people to feel safe. That’s all there.”
His fifth – and final – Sydney Festival takes place over three weeks all around the city, with 130 events across a new open-air stage with Harbour views, Carriageworks, public gardens, a cathedral crypt, small gig venues and even in your home.
Humans 2.0 – Carriageworks
Brisbane-based circus ensemble Circa is following up their 2017 Sydney Festival premiere of Humans with Humans 2.0, featuring 10 of the company’s finest ensemble members pushing the boundaries of circus and acrobatics while celebrating what it means to be human, at a time when connection is more vital than ever.
Sunshine Supergirl – Sydney Town Hall
Sunshine Super Girl is transforming the civic landmark into a tennis court to celebrate tennis legend and Wiradjuri woman Evonne Goolagong, who went from playing against a tin wall in Barellan to becoming the first Indigenous woman to win a Grand Slam – and then doing it 13 more times.
The Last Season – Carriageworks
Drawing from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to discuss environmental destruction is The Last Season, a compelling production by dance theatre company Force Majeure. This time it focuses on the role humanity has played in the current crisis of ecological devastation, and what comes next.
The Vigil – The Headland at Barangaroo
The Vigil, a free night of performance and reflection on the eve of Australia Day, is back for its third year. It’s an opportunity to consider Australia’s Indigenous heritage, as well as its colonial institutions and contemporary multicultural migration, from dusk on January 25 until dawn on January 26.
Allowed and Local – Inner West and Parramatta
First the lockouts, then the lockdowns – Sydney’s live-music scene has been dealt blow after blow, but this mini-festival is hoping to inject life back into the city’s nightlife. The diverse program, curated with help from Sydney Fringe, features live shows from local artists (E^ST, Alice Ivy, William Barton) and record labels (Astral People, Dot Dash, Dew Process). It’s taking place across some of the city’s most iconic and storied gig venues, including The Lansdowne Hotel, The Marly and The Vanguard.
Bhoomi: Our Country – Seymour Centre
A collective of musicians, dancers and writers weave ancient texts, myths and traditions into a recital that looks at the way ancient art practices exist and thrive in a new context. Inspired by stories of Bhoomi, the Hindu goddess of the Earth, the performance is also a collaboration with Dark Emu author and historian Bruce Pascoe and honours First Nations peoples and their relationship to Country.
To Cook Cook or Not – Sydney Town Hall
On January 25, listen to First Nations artists come together to debate fundamental questions about our past. Hosted by Miss Ellaneous, it will be a lively discussion about the significance of Captain Cook and the narratives that define what we think of as ‘Australian’.
Duba – Carriageworks
Duba means “earth” in Sydney language, and visual and physical puppetry company Erth has put on a multi-sensory tour into our planet with flora and fauna faced with possible extinction. It’s inspired by international conservation zoos, and places the vulnerability of our world front and centre.
The Cleaners – Centenary Square
There aren’t many moments in life in which you’re invited to throw paint in someone else’s living room, but The Cleaners may just be your first opportunity to do so. A hit at the 2019 Bleach Festival and Splendour in the Grass, this free large-scale installation invites onlookers to catapult the paint balloons from a giant slingshot inside a suspended shipping container as hapless ‘cleaners’ try to minimise the damage (and eventually, we hope, join in on the chaos).
Groundswell – Customs House Forecourt
Feel the earth move beneath your feet in this free, large-scale immersive installation in the Forecourt outside Customs House, Circular Quay. Groundswell is a new work by award-winning artist Matthias Schack-Arnott, who fuses sound and movement into evocative, atmospheric experiences. Just stand on the platform and watch how it responds to your every movement.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Sydney Festival.