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15 Next-Level Things You Have to See at Sydney Festival 2017

See some sports theatre, dive into a giant ball pit or explore one of 2017's most important exhibitions.
By James Whitton
November 07, 2016
By James Whitton
November 07, 2016


in partnership with

See some sports theatre, dive into a giant ball pit or explore one of 2017's most important exhibitions.

Sydney Festival has dropped their program for the 2017 festival — and it's nothing short of sublime. From January 7-29, the city's creative spaces will be taken over with every type of art and entertainment imaginable. The upcoming festival encompasses circus craft, insane architecture, music, art, theatre — the whole shebang, really — and in 2017 the venues will stretch from Campbelltown to Carriageworks to a carpark in Blacktown. All up, 46 spaces will be used by more than 1000 artists over the 23 days of the festival.

To say there's a lot on is an understatement. While we'll try to hit up as many of the 150 events as we can, we've had a good, long look at the program and come up with ten Syd Fest events you simply cannot miss. These should help you decide how, where and when to whet your cultural whistle.

  • 15
    Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise

    Potentially one of the more important events at this year’s Sydney Festival is this posthumous exhibition from Australian Myuran Sukumaran. Now a household name in this country, these works were all created during Sukumaran’s incarceration in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison.

    Curated by 2011 Archibald winner Ben Quilty and Campbelltown Arts Centre director Michael Dagostino, Another Day in Paradise displays not only Sukumaran’s work, but works by other artists specially commissioned in response to the death penalty. This exhibition brings to the fore the discussion surrounding capital punishment around the world, and opens up a dialogue regarding art, redemption and rehabilitation.

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  • 14
    House of Mirrors

    Fresh from freaking people out at Tasmania’s Dark Mofo festival, the House of Mirrors arrives in Sydney to mess with our minds. Far from your average house of mirrors, this bad boy alters your perspective — literally and figuratively — by altering dimensions among thousands of optical illusions, and promises to baffle the brain. Take on this epic labyrinth and discover the true art in getting yourself out of a maze. The House of Mirrors will be open from 4.30-11pm each day.

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  • 13
    1967: Music in the Key of Yes

    It’s a blight on the history of our nation that it took 66 years after federation to allow the first inhabitants of this land the right to be part of it. In 1967, over 90 percent of Australians voted to amend Sections 51 and 127 of the constitution, which allowed Aboriginal Australians to be legislated for by the government, and to be part of the census.

    In celebration of the people that made this essential change a reality, a collection of Australian musicians — including Dan Sultan, Thelma Plum, Radical Son, Leah Flanagan, Stephen Pigram, Yirrmal and Adalita — have collaborated to create a multimedia homage to the citizens that fought for civil rights and brought us closer to unity. Employing footage from the time and a soundtrack that harks back to our collective past, this one-night-only Sydney Festival show in the Opera House’s Concert Hall is remembrance of what was achieved, and an exploration of what is still left to be done.

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  • 12
    Moses Sumney

    Listening to Moses Sumney is a distinctive and unique experience — like floating on a dark cloud with a silver lining, or teetering on a razor’s edge between euphoria and melancholia. Armed with nothing but a guitar, a loop pedal and his ethereal pipes, Sumney creates a soft vortex of swirling melodies and rolling rhythms that seem to draw the audience into his world, and away from the corporeal.

    Fresh from a UK tour and a collaboration with The Cinematic Orchestra, Sumney is bringing his collection of soulful musings to Sydney Festival for a single night on Saturday, January 14. What’s more, he’ll be performing in St Stephen’s Uniting Church on Macquarie Street. When every song is an experiment of the soul, you know this is one gig worth checking out.

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  • 11
    Champions — Martin del Amo

    Part of the joy of theatre is going to see someone do something that you can most definitely not do yourself. In the case of Champions, it’ll be a case of watching people do two things that I, personally, can’t do: dance and play football.

    FORM Dance Projects, led by Martin del Amo, have created this piece to compare and contrast the two disciplines, and to examine the common aspects that join these two separate methods of athletics.
    Crafted in conjunction with the Western Sydney Wanderers’ W-League team and with commentary from Channel 7’s Mel McLaughlin, this piece dances the sport from training, to warm up, all the way to winning.

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  • 10
    The Encounter

    The story goes that, in 1971, National Geographic‘s Loren McIntyre found the source of the great Amazon River. Earlier this year, author Petru Popescu published his version of the story, called Amazon Beaming, in which Popescu details how McIntyre found a tribal chief with whom he was able to communicate — telepathically. That is, with their brains. Yep.

    This instance of multimedia theatre, showing at the Opera House, really challenges the audience to approach the production holistically, in terms of their senses. Taking the idea of telepathic communication, legendary director Simon McBurney and theatre stalwart Richard Katz project all the sound from the piece straight into the ears of their audience through headphones. McBurney pushes the audience’s imagination to immerse themselves into the humid and mysterious environment of the Amazon.

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  • 9
    The Beach at Barangaroo

    After an incredibly amazing day of chilling at the beach, there’s nothing worse than being trolled by millions of grains of treacherous sand all throughout your car, your clothes – everything. Thanks to this event, sand dramas are a thing of the past.

    There’s no better place to host an artificial beach than the imposing, architectural blank space at Barangaroo’s The Cutaway. Dreamed up by the off-beat team at Snarkitecture, from January 7-29 (excluding Mondays) the concrete void of the Cutaway will be transformed a beach of 1.1 million balls with no sunburn, no sharks and no worries. Dive in.

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  • 8
    Institute - Gecko

    The UK’s Gecko Theatre Company approach their performances as a collaboration of media, using theatre, dance, and stage and its props to create an environment all of their own. Their newest production Institute is a bewitching combination of stagecraft and choreography that manipulates the audience’s perception of the players and their surroundings. Witty, funny, and shocking all at the same time, the performance, crafted by Artistic Director Amit Lahav, plays on your mind as it presents itself as both baffling and beautiful in equal measures.

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  • 7
    Jacob Boehme: Blood on the Dancefloor

    Jacob Boehme is no stranger to the combination of theatre, dance and even puppetry to create his own multidisciplinary performances, and his latest dance work Blood on the Dancefloor is another shining example of this. A man of Narungga and Kaurna descent, after his diagnosis with HIV in 1998, Boehme took his plight to his elders, looking for answers. This limited performance at Carriageworks is the culmination of his search, a physical monologue that explores the human connection of blood to memory, to the land, to our history, and to each other.

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  • 6
    Imagined Touch

    For most of us, a world with sight and sound is so natural, so normal that it’s almost impossible for us to comprehend a world without them. In Imagined Touch, deafblind artists Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens invite us into this life, to experience the world of art in the way that they do: without sight or sound. Wearing vision-limiting goggles and chunky headphones, the visitor takes on a unique experience, relying on the remaining senses to feel the story presented by the artists.

    Imagined Touch will also be presented as a self-guided free installation at Carriageworks from January 10-14.

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  • 5
    iD - Cirque Eloize

    Set in the eclectic milieu of the metropolis, the performers of Cirque Eloize mix modern and contemporary dance, circus trickery and a blend of curated multimedia. The 15 different performers specialise in 12 different disciplines, and these combine to create a celebration of the unique creatures that live side by side.

    Director Jeannot Painchaud has taken the show all around the world, where the song remains the same — the ideas put forth by the Canadian circus troupe resonate around the global centres of multiculturalism. A new type of Big Top experience with bells and whistles in tow, this is one circus act worth checking out.

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  • 4
    Still Life

    Still Life, directed by Dimitris Papaioannou (the man who gave us the pomp and splendour of the Athens Olympics opening and closing ceremonies), is a series of unique individual performances combining to form a hallucination concocted by the director’s mind. Inspired by the myth of Sisyphus, the Corinthian king tasked to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, Papaioannou tasks his actors with eccentric feats that call to mind the mundane drudgery we face every day. Especially Mondays.

    The character of Sisyphus has inspired philosophers from Kafka to Camus, spurring them to assert that happiness can be found in the acceptance of our lot, and in the revolt against the melancholia that can result. In Still Life, Papaioannou shines the light of this continental philosophy on the lives of his audience.

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  • 3
    Measure For Measure

    Heralded as a scathing indictment of contemporary Russian society, Declan Donnellan takes Shakespeare to Moscow in this collaboration between Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre and UK-based Cheek By Jowl, examining of the very nature of the society we live in, and the relationships we build.

    Shakespeare’s classic focuses on the characters of an inept ruler, a corrupt official and a novice nun, demonstrating the inequalities and shortcomings of society. Donnellan’s version is performed entirely in Russian (with subtitles, don’t fret), transposing this idea onto the cultural canvas that is modern Russia.

    Plus, we can’t wait to hear someone say, I’ll pray a thousand prayers for your death in Russian.

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  • 2
    BRIEFS: The Second Coming

    Brisbane’s boys of burlesque are back, bringing their newest show to Sydney Festival 2017. The internationally renowned all-male troupe described as an Aussie Cirque du Soleil meets RuPaul’s Drag Race returns for another round of outrageous entertainment in the aptly titled BRIEFS: The Second Coming.

    Expect their unique brand of circus acrobatics crossed with drag artistry, with ample lashings of satire, silliness and too-close-for-comfort talk and tricks thrown in for extra fun.

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  • 1
    Home Country — Urban Theatre Projects

    It’s the ethos of the Urban Theatre Projects to breathe a new and unique life into Australian stories, and Home Country promises to be no different. Director Rosie Dennis presents this story of identity and place in a triptych, spread out across three levels of a car park in Blacktown. The play is a collaborative effort between Urban Theatre Projects and Blacktown Arts Centre, bringing the issues of home faced in a multicultural society to fore, all set against the sunset over the Blue Mountains.

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