Let’s start by answering your first question: yes, the duck is returning.
Everyone fell in love with Florentijn Hofman’s five-storey tall inflatable rubber duck and thus Sydney is likely to rejoice that it’s coming back to our proud waterways. Last time it was in Darling Harbour, now it’s navigating the Parramatta River to its new temporary home between Pavilion Flat and Government Farm.
That’s only one of the returning favourites this year: we’re getting a Spiegeltent AND the Circus Ronaldo tent in the Festival Village in Hyde Park, plus the Lennox Theatre will be all dolled up in Parramatta – and the enormously popular About An Hour programme at Carriageworks. Festival in the Domain is also happening, with Summer Sounds and Symphony in the Domain, and Fast Festival Feasts makes a welcome return.
What’s missing, though, is the big opening night celebration: we’ve got no Festival First Night setting Hyde Park alight. And there have been suggestions that this year’s Festival is a bit formidable for casual arts enthusiast, with some unfamiliar names and a (relative) lack of big obvious drawcards.
To which we say: how threatening can a festival be when it boasts a Stonehenge Bouncy Castle?
Let’s just say that again: Hyde Park’s Festival Village, which this year will be three times as big as normal, features Sacrilege, an inflatable installation – or, as we know it, bouncy castle – that replicates Stonehenge, and upon which you can leap and cavort – exactly as we assume druids did in times of old.
For dancethusiasts: Sasha Waltz’s choreography is pretty damn impressive on land, so just imagine what it’s going to look like when it’s in a giant water tank on the Lyric theatre stage. Her spectacular production of Dido and Aeneas involves a massive aquarium, as well as the music of Berlin’s Akademie für Alte Musik and Vocalconcert Berlin. This will be the Semele Walk of the 2014 festival. Trust us.
For art fans: Kaldor Public Art Projects are presenting the work of Roman Ondák in Parramatta: the installation Swap (that was so beloved as part of the 13 Rooms exhibition) and a brand-new piece, Terrace. Both require your involvement, so ensure you’re there.
And theatre? Black Diggers is going to be the talk of the Festival, since it shines a light on a hitherto largely ignored piece of Australian history – the story of the Aboriginal servicemen who fought for Australian in World War I. It’s making its world premiere at the Opera House for the Festival.
For lovers of the contemporary music: Where to start? There are some welcome regular visitors (Amanda Palmer’s doing ten days of whatever she fancies doing at the Spiegeltent, Kurt Vile has solo and band sets on offer), some huge surprises (groundbreaking electronic duo Matmos, former Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins – which is astonishing since he was almost killed by a massive debilitating stroke in 2005), and some familiar faces in unfamiliar settings: REM’s Mike Mills is part of the all-star band recreating Big Star’s cult classic Sister Lovers, former Battles man Tyondai Braxton is doing his multimedia HIVE+ performance, and there’s a double bill of experimental work in the form of Hurricane Transcriptions and Laborintus II, by Lee “Sonic Youth” Ranaldo and Mike “Faith No More” Patton respectively.
And that’s just scratching the surface: there’s film, there are tours, there’s magic, there’s stuff for kids: look, just get your hands on the programme. You're going to have a busy January, so you'd best be prepared.