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Ten Shows, Parties and Installations to Lose Yourself In at Brisbane Festival 2019

Walk through fire, see a theatre show in a cavernous warehouse and dance to house music backed by a gospel choir.
By Sarah Ward
September 02, 2019

Ten Shows, Parties and Installations to Lose Yourself In at Brisbane Festival 2019

Walk through fire, see a theatre show in a cavernous warehouse and dance to house music backed by a gospel choir.
By Sarah Ward
September 02, 2019


Walk through fire, see a theatre show in a cavernous warehouse and dance to house music backed by a gospel choir.

It's that time of year, Brisbanites. Yes, it's spring — but it's also time for Brisbane Festival. Every September, the huge annual event takes over the city, serving up every kind of creative performance that artistic director David Berthold can think of. In 2019, that's a hefty list.

Get ready to walk through fire, lose yourself in a maze of doors, watch theatre in a warehouse, see a classic ballet completely reimagined and listen to a bedtime story — when you're not celebrating the birthday of a Brisbane icon, worshipping at the altar of house music and watching a saucy cabaret, that is. The program goes on, as it always does, spoiling fans of art, music, performance, comedy, cabaret, installations and culture for choice in a very big way.

From Brisbane Festival's 2019 lineup, which features 454 performances of 83 shows over 23 days between September 6–28, here are our must-see highlights.

  • 10
    Fire Gardens — CANCELLED

    Already a hit everywhere from Stonehenge to The Kremlin to Melbourne, French art collective Compagnie Carabosse is bringing its acclaimed Fire Gardens to Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, filling the Gardens Point spot with thousands of fire pots, sculptures and terracotta urns. For four nights pathways will be illuminated, burning pyres will sit in trees, huge spheres will roar and crackle with flames, and structures will be set alight in the middle of ponds. The installation will also take visitors through a blazing maze-like realm, and feature luminous animatronic sculptures.

    Given that the group has been starting fires professionally for more than 20 years, Compagnie Carabosse knows what it’s doing — not only when it comes to safely cloaking a huge expanse of grass, plants and trees in flames, but in tapping into humanity’s innate fondness for and primal attraction to fire. Expect live musicians performing French music, adding to the radiant ambience. More than 40,000 people are expected to make their way through the huge work, so nabbing a ticket in advance is recommended sooner rather than later.

    Images: Sylvie Monier, Regina Marcenkiene and Vincent Muteau.

  • 9
    1000 Doors

    Let’s see what’s behind door number one. Or how about door number 1000? After blowing our minds last year with the incredible House of Mirrors, Australian installation artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney are headed back to Brisbane Festival with the fittingly named 1000 Doors. Visitors will choose their own adventure, cutting a path through an endless labyrinth of doors, screens, portals and gateways in the Cultural Centre Forecourt. No two people will experience the work in quite the same way once they step across the threshold.

    While there’s no word yet on what you’ll encounter on the way — hopefully no deathly four-guard, two-door riddle, à la Labyrinth — the artists have hinted to ghosts, time-travelling and “past inhabitants”. We suggest you have your wits about you.

    Image: James Morgan.

  • 8
    Yang Liping's Rite of Spring — Peacock Contemporary Dance Company

    More than 100 years ago, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky crafted The Rite of Spring. The ballet became famous not only for its tale of ritual and sacrifice during the eponymous season, but for its avant-garde music and choreography. Indeed, since first premiering in Paris in 1913, it has been held up as one of the 20th century’s masterworks.

    Returning to Brisbane Festival after her 2017 hit Under Siege, Chinese choreographer and dancer Yang Liping has reimagined this iconic piece — filtering it through Chinese and Tibetan culture, and taking particular inspiration from the two nations’ symbols of nature. Hitting the stage between Wednesday, September 25 and Saturday, September 28, the result is a fusion of old and new, east and west, and movement and music, complete with Yang’s expressive style, 15 dancers, plus designer Tim Yip, who won an Oscar for art direction for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

  • 7
    Blanc de Blanc Encore

    Ready yourselves for a night of risqué cabaret that’s sure to get your heart racing. This Brisbane Festival, the Spiegeltent will channel all the glitz and glamour of 1920s Paris during a fully immersive burlesque extravaganza. With toe-tapping jazz, beguiling burlesque, circus tricks, side-splitting comedy and amazing music, Blanc de Blanc Encore is the kind of party that would make Jay Gatsby jealous.

    If you attended the first iteration of Blanc back in 2016, you’ll remember the infectious fun and frivolity which ensued. If not, you best get a ticket this time around. Taking place from Thursday, September 5 to Saturday, September 28, the show will feature some big international names, including singer Vanessa Renee Jordan (Postmodern Jukebox), aerial artist Reed Kelly (Cirque du Soleil) and Spencer Novich, an award-winning clown who’s performed all over the globe.

    Image: Blanc De Blanc, Jacquie Manning.

  • 6
    River of Light 2019

    Every year, when Brisbane Festival rolls around, two things happen. Firstly, the city explodes with an array of arts, culture and music performances. Secondly, it explodes with colour and light thanks to a big riverside light show. In 2019, the latter is called River of Light — and if you saw the vivid display last year, you’ll want to return for a new luminous combination of awe-inspiring combination of water fountains, lights and lasers.

    A free ten-minute show taking place at 6.15pm, 8pm and 9pm each night between September 6–28, it’s designed to spin another traditional story over Brisbane’s brown snake of a waterway. And, to make it happen, Yuggera and Toorbal man Shannon Ruska will once again team up with Oracle Liquid. Catch it from the Arcadia precinct, on the South Bank Cultural Forecourt, over a few beverages.

  • 5
    Invisible Cities — 59 Productions and Dance Ballet Rambert

    For five nights only, a seemingly ordinary Yeerongpilly warehouse will become a pop-up theatre — and the location for one of Brisbane Festival’s big productions for 2019. Invisible Cities will take over the cavernous site on Fairfield Road. As well as setting up a 1050-seat site that’ll only operate for the show’s run, the project will unleash a blend of theatre, choreography, music, water, sand, projection mapping and other dazzling technical elements, all to transport audiences to three fantastical cities.

    Here, you’ll experience the joyful city of Zenobia, the golden confines of Beersheba and the seductive allure of Isadora. And, you’ll feel the exploring spirit, too. Loosely based on the 1972 novel by Italian writer Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities follows the relationship between 13th-century Mongol conqueror and emperor Kublai Khan (Danny Sapani), and Venetian explorer Marco Polo (Matthew Leonhart). The production makes its Australian premiere at Brisbane Festival, direct from its debut at the Manchester International Festival.

  • 4
    The Church of House: Groove Terminator

    Hitting the city with not just a bang, but with a whole heap of banging tunes, this year’s Brisbane Festival launches with one hell of a house party. No, you’re not destined for the suburbs. Instead, The Tivoli will echo with the sounds of 90s house music, with Groove Terminator leading the charge,

    GT will perform his famous retro ‘House 5 DJ’ mix — but he’ll have company, too. This show isn’t called The Church of House for nothing. Singers from the Gospo Collective and Brisbane’s Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts will form a gospel choir, while guest vocalists and other DJs will join in. The party kicks off at 8pm on Friday, September 8 and dressing up to suit the occasion is heartily encouraged. This is a whole different kind of worship.

  • 3
    Riverstage Birthday Bash

    It has played host to everyone from the Beastie Boys to The Chemical Brothers — plus plenty of festivals, too — and is one of the city’s main live music venues. And, on Saturday, September 7, it’ll be exactly 30 years old, with the Brisbane Riverstage launching on the same date in 1989.

    Brisbane Festival is celebrating the occasion, naturally, with help from Hot Dub Time Machine, Cub Sport, Confidence Man, Last Dinosaurs and Clea. They’ll all take to the stage as part of a huge birthday bash that also doubles as a one-day festival — and, thanks to the headline act (aka Tom Loud), you can expect plenty of retro tunes. We’re guessing that more than a few late 80s bangers will feature as he hits the decks, because this shindig is all about nostalgia.

  • 2
    Communal Table — Dancenorth

    Usually when you head out to see a show, you grab a bite to eat beforehand — whether you tuck into something quick at home before you leave or hit up a restaurant on your way to the venue. That’s not the case with Communal Table. At this world premiere performance, which hits Brisbane Festival between for four days this September, having dinner is all part of the fun.

    The latest venture from Dancenorth, the production weaves a shared meal into the proceedings, with food, wine, conversation and dance all on the agenda. The Communal Table name isn’t just symbolic, so prepare to sit down with 87 other folks, enjoy a shared Mediterranean feast and make a few new friends — all while enjoying performances choreographed by eight of Australia’s top dancemakers.

  • 1
    Bedtime Stories — Urland

    When was the last time you sat down, got cosy and listened to a story — and gave it your full, undivided attention? We’re not talking about watching TV, streaming Netflix on your phone or plugging into a podcast during your commute. Instead, Bedtime Stories wants to recreate a sensation that you probably haven’t experienced for years.

    A live radio play, this Brisbane Festival production is the creation of Dutch performance collective Urland, with Thomas Dudkiewicz talking you through the kinds of fantastical tales you used to hear when you were a kid. The show’s particular story focuses on strange and menacing creatures that are brought to life on a dark and creepy night — and, to ramp up the atmosphere, it’ll take place across Tuesday, September 17–Thursday, September 19 at a secret location on King Street in Bowen Hills.

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