It hasn’t been smooth sailing for Sydney Festival in the last two years. With covid cancellations, controversy over international funding, boycotts and soggy weather woes, its been marred with many issues. Logistical problems aside, it’s hard to negate the diversity and vibrancy the festival has brought to the arts and cultural sector in Sydney since its inception in 1977. Every year, the city has transformed into a kaleidoscope of colour and activity courtesy of the mammoth event.
Last year saw over 150 excellent experiences across the art, theatre and music arena. This year, they’re levelling up in a big way. There’s a staggering 748 performances lined up in their 2023 program across 54 venues in the city. These include art, an artificial beach, internationally acclaimed exhibitions, live performances, theatre productions, immersive experiences, dance shows and events for the family. Regular festival locations like the Opera House, Carriageworks and the MCA will be back to hosting events.
“There is nowhere better than Sydney to experience an exhilarating summer of art. Made possible by over 1,000 local and international participating artists and the rich diversity of stories and cultures shared,” Artistic Director Olivia Ansell said.
Sydney Festival 2023 Highlights
You’ll want to start clearing out your calendar for January 2023 because there’s a lot on the horizon you won’t want to miss. To begin with, an artificial beach made out of 26 tonnes of sand will take over Town Hall. Lithuanian opera Sun & Sea, written and created by Lithuanian artists Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė will take centrestage and address themes of climate emergency on-site. It’s a festival circuit favourite around the world, most recently winning accolades at the 2019 Venice Biennale where it was awarded the Golden Lion.
In a major coup for Sydney, the festival has managed to secure a biographical exhibition on one of the 20th century’s most revolutionary surrealist painters — Frida Kahlo. The exhibition, titled Frida Kahlo: Life of an Icon, will be housed at The Cutaway in Barangaroo and will feature dazzling holography, immersive projections taking over the venue, live Mexican music performances and VR technology to transport you straight to some of Kahlo’s most recognised works.
Other highlights include Tracker, which combines dance, ceremony and text by choreographer-director Daniel Riley and 16 nights of live music beneath Martin Place’s Commercial Travellers’ Association building. Expect music by Alice Skye, Astral People, Automatic, June Jones, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Lil Silva, Party Dozen, Tom Snowdon, Moktar and more.
Above the underground bar, American artist Kelsey Lu will present The Lucid: A Dream Portal to Awakening — an immersive 8-hour audio journey that examines how sound, mood and music can influence our thoughts and imagination.
Get lost in Swiss-French performer James Thiérrée’s’ Room — a stunning collision of dance, mime, acrobatics, music and thrilling stage effects. Sara Baras, an acclaimed Spanish flamenco dancer and choreographer will bring an intoxicating showcase to the Sydney Opera House. Plus experience the buzz and energy of Tokyo right here at home courtesy of a Shinjuku-themed Maho Magic Bar in Darling Harbour.
Over in Western Sydney, Kalabanté Productions will entertain crowds with contemporary circus performances at the Riverside Theatres and Sydney Symphony Orchestra will celebrate the Lunar New Year at Parramatta Park with Sydney Symphony Under the Stars.
Other festival standouts
There’s a lot more lined up across dance, music, theatre and art. Sydney Festival fixture Carriageworks will host a number of art events and exhibitions including Paul Yore’s Word Made Flesh, a huge queer performative celebration called Bloodlines and Thea Anamara Perkins: Stockwoman which questions how First Nations peoples should be portrayed in Australia.
The Parties at UNSW Galleries will spotlight LGBTQIA+ nightlife and party culture in Sydney from 1973 to 2002 and experimental jazz drummer Chloe Kim will take over the MCA for an exclusive event.
Dance lovers can look forward to a presentation by Aussie stalwarts Elena Kats-Chernin (AO), choreographer Meryl Tankard (AO) and visual artist Régis Lansac (OAM).
Several one-off musical performances are also on the cards by talented artists like Tim Freedman (The Whitlams); singer/songwriter Martha Marlow and experimental jazz musician Chris Abrahams (The Necks). Oh, and there’s Bonobo bringing a huge dance party to the Masonic Centre.
Families can look forward to a jam-packed program to keep both kids and adults entertained. Hide the Dog is a world premiere theatre work for the whole family taking place at the Opera House. The Australian Museum, on the other hand, will delight visitors with Erth’s Shark Dive, an exhibition about all things sharks.
One to get excited for is Brickwrecks by Ryan ‘The Brickman’ McNaught who needs no introduction. His LEGO models will this time round come to life with stories about shipwrecks. Plus there’s Retrosplash! an 80s-themed pool party that blends workout and aqua aerobics. Dress in your best 80s attire and dance to your favourite throwback tunes surrounded by palm trees and lights.
Airship Orchestra will be back in 2023 and bring heaps of splashy summer fun with Cupid’s Koi Garden — a six-meter-tall water-play park. You can also enjoy an aerial collaboration The Air Between Us, created and performed by New Zealand dancer and choreographer Chloe Loftus and award-winning Māori dance artist Rodney Bell. For theatre enthusiasts, there’s Blue at Belvoir Street Theatre, a melancholy tale about a young life at a crossroads.
Also watch out for A Broadcast Coup, a new comedy by Melanie Tait (The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race) and Multicultural Comedy Gala at Riverside Theatre that showcases Australia’s rich diversity and features Australian comedians Akmal, Dilruk Jayasinha, Rebecca De Unamuno and Ting Lim.
Circus, comedy and cabaret combine in a heady mix for Circus TrickTease’s Werk It and Prinnie Stevens will take us through the music of Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé and more with The Lady Sings the Blues.
There’s a lot more coming and there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes and interests. Check out their full program here and get planning — it’s going to be a summer to remember.
The Sydney Festival will be held from January 5- January 29, 2023 with 26 free events, Australian exclusives, world premiers and more. Tickets are now on sale, get more info here. Select highlights from the festival will be available to livestream from home.
(All images supplied by Sydney Festival).