With new festival director and charming Belgian Lieven Bertels at the helm, there was always going to be a different feel to the Sydney Festival when the programme was launched in late October. There had been hints at a more esoteric festival with the already-announced shows David Byrne and St Vincent, Semele Walk, Archie Roach and Urban. And when the full programme was revealed at a gala feast at Town Hall, there was a smorgasbord (ahem) of treats laid out to keep us frothing with anticipation. Here are some of our picks:
Some in the media have turned the "no opening night" thing into a massive whinge-fest, but look closer: Day One of the Sydney Festival will this year be a huge all-day affair with some very quirky offerings indeed. It begins with Fun Run, which sees a bloke named 'Humphrey' completing a marathon on a stage in Hyde Park, accompanied by DJs, pyrotechnics and his dance troupe, 'Haus D Humps'. Then a giant rubber ducky will be towed into Darling Harbour (of course). And finally, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are joined by a cast of soul legends for a free concert in the Domain.
Plenty to get excited about here, lovers of sitting in the dark – and there's an international flair to it all: Neil Armfield's hugely anticipated staging of Kate Grenville's The Secret River for the STC; the Royal Shakespeare Company's The Rape of Lucrece; Eraritjaritjaka from Switzerland's Theatre Vidy-Lausanne; Kuwait's look at the Arab Spring, In the Eruptive Mode; New Zealand-Fijian-Brit love story Masi; and Murder, which features puppets and is based on Nick Cave's Murder Ballads. For something lighter, there's also the STC's School Dance and The Blind Date Project, which sees Bojana Novakovic (love her!) set up on blind dates with different actors each night for some splendidly awkward improv.
If you like a bit of a challenge, or you just like to swing your booty around like a wind-blown pendant light, Bertels is catering for you: Rian is the work of Irish company Fabulous Beast combines traditional Irish movement with West African influences, while Sacre – The Right of Spring sees hunchbacked dancer Raimund Hoghe mirrored by a strapping young mover in a show that taps into ideas of likeness, trust and desire. But our pick is definitely Concrete and Bone Sessions, in which skaters and BMXers create a 'dance' show at Dulwich Hill Skate Park.
On the music front, it's hard to go past the Sydney Symphony and Sydney Philharmonica playing the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey live during a screening of Kubrick's great film. But there are treats beyond that too: David Byrne and St Vincent, Mercury nominee Lianne La Havas, Archie Roach and Brooklyn darling Sharon Van Etten.
Even the hardcorest opera fans find traditional Chinese opera a tough sit, but we're assured that pleasures abound in the two traditional operas heading to Sydney as part of the festival: The Peony Pavilion and The Jade Hairpin. For something a touch more traditional, Spanish company La Fura Dels Baus presents Verdi's A Masked Ball in association with Opera Australia. Then there's the Vivienne Westwood-costumed Semele Walk, of course.
Festival in the Garden
The Famous Spiegeltent is back, naturally, and there will be treats aplenty inside: circus, vaudeville and eroticism in Cantina, Frank Woodley and Simon Yates pairing up for quiet comedy Inside and party-starter Hot Dub Time Machine.
Time Out's interview with Lieven Bertels.
Time Out's pick of the best homegrown shows at this year's Sydney Festival.