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Sydney Festival's Sprawling 2023 Program Will Feature 748 Performances Across 54 Venues

Sydney Town Hall will be filled with 26 tonnes of sand for a Lithuanian opera, a Shinjuku-inspired magic bar will pop up at Darling Harbour, and live music will take over the 70s-era underground bar beneath Martin Place's Harry Seidler mushroom building.
By Sarah Ward
October 19, 2022
By Sarah Ward
October 19, 2022

When a major arts festival drops its latest program, as Sydney Festival just has for its massive 2023 event, it's easy to start playing the numbers game. The figures are impressive, with the event's second year under Artistic Director Olivia Ansell boasting 748 performances across 54 venues. The lineup also spans more than 100 unique events, 26 of which won't cost attendees a thing. And, there'll be 18 world premieres and 14 Australian exclusives — aka shows that you'll need to travel to Sydney to see if you don't live there, because they won't pop up elsewhere.

All of these stats do indeed tell a story, conveying how widely the festival crew has scoured for top-notch shows; how jam-packed the resulting calendar of performances, gigs and exhibitions is; and how busy the 25 days from Thursday, January 5–Sunday, January 29 are going to prove. And, they help express the most important message there is for audiences: if you're looking for not just a culture fix but to bathe in art, theatre, music and all-round exciting festivities for weeks on end all around Sydney at the start of 2023, then you'd best block out your diary now.

There's no shortage of highlights in the program, no matter what kind of cultural experience take your fancy. Here's perhaps the most surprising one: turning Sydney Town Hall into a beach courtesy of 26 tonnes of sand. No, you won't be able to swim there — but you can watch Lithuanian opera Sun & Sea, which won the Venice Biennale's Golden Lion in 2019, stage its sandy work in the round. The end result explores the climate emergency, is certain to make for a memorable show, and is one of Sydney Festival's Australian exclusives.

Also unlikely to be forgotten quickly: the Australian premiere of Frida Kahlo: Life of an Icon, a multi-sensory art experience dedicated to the iconic Mexican painter. Think: the immersive Vincent van Gogh showcase that's being doing the rounds, or the new Monet one headed to Melbourne, but all about the one and only Kahlo. Hailing from Spanish digital arts company Layers of Reality, alongside the Frida Kahlo Corporation, it'll take over the Cutaway with holography, 360-degree projections and live performances of traditional Mexican music, as well as a virtual-reality system that'll let you step inside the artist's iconic pieces.

Jacquie Manning

Other standouts include Bonobo hitting the decks at the Masonic Centre, and turning its banquet hall into a unique dance party; performance piece In Chamber, which literally takes place in a safe in the basement of the Margot Kimpton Hotel; ROOM, the latest surreal theatre piece by James Thiérrée; and Tracker, which sees choreographer-director Daniel Riley combine dance, ceremony and text.

Or, there's also 16 days of live music inside the 70s-era underground bar beneath Martin Place's Harry Seidler-designed Commercial Travellers' Association building (yes, the mushroom building). That subterranean space remains unrenovated, so expect The Weary Traveller, as the fest-within-the-fest is called, to serve up a huge blast from the past (plus tunes by Alice Skye, Astral People, Automatic, June Jones, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Lil Silva, Party Dozen, Tom Snowdon, Moktar, Two Birds with Bayand, Coloured Stone, HTRK and Potion).

In the same structure, the 28-room hotel itself is being taken over by American artist Kelsey Lu. You'll want to check in for this one, and stay the evening — because In The Lucid: A Dream Portal to Awakening is an eight-hour audio journey.

Peter Wallis

Heartbreak High fans will want to catch Blue, and fans of homegrown theatre as well — it stars and has been written by Thomas Weatherall, and will enjoy its world premiere at Sydney Festival. Or, for something completely different, a Shinjuku-inspired magic bar will pop up at Darling Harbour, transporting you to Tokyo if you haven't already made Japan holiday plans now that the country has reopened its borders.

The list goes on, including Bloodlines, an exhibition paying tribute to artists lost to HIV/AIDS; The Party, which'll celebrate Sydney's LGBTQIA+ nightlife and party culture between 1973–2002; and Retrosweat hosting a big 80s pool party that, yes, will involve aqua aerobics.

Or, there's flamenco dancer Sara Bara in Alma at the Sydney Opera House; Dead Puppet Society and Legs On The Wall's take on the Trojan war in Holding Achilles; drag brunch show Smashed: The Brunch Party hosted by Victoria Falcone; and Prinnie Stevens singing tunes by superstars like Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston and Beyoncé.

Plus, Sydney Symphony Orchestra will celebrate Lunar New Year outdoors at Parramatta Park; Polar Force at Carriageworks explores the extremes of ice and wind by pairing Antarctic field recordings with live industrial percussion; and Restless Dance Theatre's dance piece Guttered is set in a real-life bowling alley.

And, Lego lovers can check out a new Brickwrecks exhibition, which recreates shipwrecks with the plastic bricks. Also, ENESS, who was behind the 2022 fest's Airship Orchestra, is back with Cupid's Koi Garden — which'll give Tumbalong Park a six-metre-tall immersive water-play park right in the middle of summer.

Sam Roberts Photography

Sydney Festival 2023 runs from Thursday, January 5–Sunday, January 29 at venues across the city. For further details and to buy tickets, visit the Sydney Festival website. Tickets go on sale at 9am on Wednesday, October 19.

Top image: Andrej Vasilenko.

Published on October 19, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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