Opera on a Lightship, Courtney Barnett, a New Music Fest and a Giant Octopus: Sydney Festival's 2024 Program Is Here

More than 150 events will take over the Harbour City, featuring 1000-plus artists, including a waterside Walsh Bay Arts Precinct takeover, a Kate Bush cabaret and a huge Blak Out lineup.
Sarah Ward
Published on October 26, 2023

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On the water, near the water and from the water: that's one of the ways to look at the 2024 Sydney Festival lineup, which has just been announced in all of its 150-plus-event glory. When the Harbour City welcomes back its annual arts fest in January, the event will make the absolute most of its setting. So, cue a version of Puccini's opera Il Tabarro onboard the Carpentaria lightship in the harbour, a waterside Walsh Bay Arts Precinct takeover and a towering giant octopus sculpture that you can get closer to via a kayak tour.

As proves the case every year, the festival's program will and does go on. In her third year at the helm, Artistic Director Olivia Ansell has compiled a hefty selection of things to see, do and experience — and if you're a fan of getting a snapshot via the numbers, the figures are impressive. Running for 24 days from Friday, January 5–Sunday, January 28, Sydney Festival 2024 will feature more than 1000 artists in bringing its showcase to audiences. Among the events, there'll be 26 world premieres, 29 Australian exclusives and 43 free activities.

If seeing Il Tabarro performed on a boat piques your interest, you can catch the free one-act production at the Australian National Maritime Museum without spending a cent — but you do need to book. Or, you can watch from home via the livestream.

Keen on hanging out at the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct? That part of the program is called The Thirsty Mile. On offer there: theatre and art, cabaret and dance, bars and speakeasies, and also a late-night club Moonshine Bar. This is where you'll marvel at a 46-metre-long installation Hi-Vis, a sculpture by Michael Shaw; enjoy a cabaret tribute to Kate Bush; and watch a Swedish dance double from GöteborgsOperans Danskompani — and that's just for starters. Also joining the bill: dance event SPIN, which is both interactive and guided; sunrise yoga sessions; and art exhibition Talking Posters: Garage Graphix 1981–1998.

Sarah-Louise Young Onstage, Claudio Raschella Photography

A eight-legged sea creature scurries onto the program thanks to Te Wheke-a-Muturangi: The Adversary by Māori artist Lisa Reihana, which'll make its home in Watermans Cove in Barangaroo — well, once the octopus has been assembled from 1000-plus pieces — to explore the tale of the discovery of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Another huge highlight is Summerground a new three-day Tumbalong Park music fest with a lineup that includes King Stingray, Electric Fields, Cimafunk, Queen Omega, The Brand New Heavies, Dem Mob, Beckah Amani, The Teskey Brothers, Full Flower Moon Band and more. Hopping between genres will be a big feature, spanning everything from alt pop and R&B to soul and reggae, all across the first weekend of the broader festival.

Sydney Festival's Blak Out program is similarly worth hitting up the event for alone. ILBIJERRI Theatre Company's world-premiere production Big Name, No Blankets will pay tribute to the Warumpi Band; dance performance Mutiara will also make its debut, as set among Broome's early pearling industry; Anita Heiss adapts her own novel Tiddas for the stage; and GURR ERA OP will feature four Torres Strait Islander women who were born on the mainland explore the impact of the rising sea.

Other standouts on the full lineup include Courtney Barnett playing a two-part performance at City Recital Hall; Night Songs at Coney Island, which will feature choral tunes at Luna Park; and Encantado, which will tell First Nations tales from Brazil thanks to Lia Rodrigues' choreographer, 11 dances and 140 bright blankets, and heads to Sydney Opera House. Also, Arka Kinari will be hitting the harbour with its music production that's powered by the sun and moved by the wind, and Kate Miller-Heidke's new musical-comedy Bananaland will make its Sydney debut,

Darren Thomas

Elsewhere, Dinosaur World Live will continue Australia's fascination with the ancient creatures (see also: Jurassic World: The Exhibition, for example); annual favourite Sydney Symphony Under the Stars: Pictures in the Sky returns to Parramatta Park; theatre production Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World riffs on murder-mystery podcasts; Orpheus & Eurydice gets reimagined in contemporary times by Opera Australia; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales' Louise Bourgeois: Has the Day Invaded the Night or Has the Night Invaded the Day?, Kandinsky and Tacita Dean exhibitions all link in.

And, also on the music roster: everyone from sitarist Anoushka Shankar and Irish folk singer Lisa O'Neill to Joe Camilleri and Deborah Conway paying tribute to Elvis Presley, plus a feast of tunes at the ACO Neilson.

Sammi Landweer

Yes, 2024 is set for a busy start. "Get ready for a blockbuster summer that speaks to the heart and soul of Sydney — the best harbour city in the world," said Ansell.

"With an explosive music program and the biggest to date, 2024 also offers spellbinding theatre, exquisite dance, electrifying circus and immersive experiences that lift Sydney's underbelly — see you in January at The Thirsty Mile,"

Lennart Sjoberg

Moritz Kustner

Sydney Festival 2024 runs from Friday, January 5–Sunday, January 28 at venues across the city. For further details and to buy tickets from 12pm on Thursday, October 26, visit the Sydney Festival website.

Top image: Mark Tantrum.

Published on October 26, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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